Ireland: Socialist Party Resignations - Build a mass Socialist Alternative

Many politically active workers and young people in Ireland and beyond will be scratching their heads over this weekend’s spat between the leadership of the Socialist Party and former Socialist Party TD Clare Daly. A series of statements and counter statements have done little to clarify what are the real political differences between the SP and Daly who is widely acknowledged as a hard working and respected TD. Unfortunately, the issues aren’t going away easily, the right wing press will make sure of that.

Despite her statements to the contrary there has been much speculation to suggest that Clare resigned due to her support for the tax cheating independent TD Mick Wallace. Wallace was recently ordered to pay over €2,100,000 to the Revenue Commissioner after it emerged the property company he ran during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years avoided paying over €1,400,000 in VAT liabilities.

The Socialist Party has claimed that it was division over this issue that led to her resignation. It is clear that the ULA must oppose the tax avoidance and hypocrisy of the rich if it is to build an effective challenge to the coalition and pose the need for a socialist Ireland. 

One issue that Clare has brought up however is concern over the development of the ULA. As she explains in her statement:

 “Unfortunately the potential of the ULA has not been fully realised and it is now time that the component organisations prioritised the building of the ULA.”

After the General Election there was a period of activity around the ULA but that seems to have waned. Around the centre of Dublin the lamp posts are festooned not with ULA posters but with PBPA and Socialist Party posters, advertising separate meetings, on the same subject, sometimes at the same time.

In a recent speech at the launch of Kevin Higgins’ book “Mentioning the War” in Dublin Clare made some interesting points regarding the operation of some of the left groups in Ireland

 “It is clear that the practices of some of the left groups, probably because - or largely because - they are struggling to survive and build in a hostile environment, have not been ideal. That is putting it, probably, mildly. I’d go even further and say that these practices won’t be adequate for the period ahead and that unless these groups learn some of the lessons and change their practices then they will be bypassed by history, because I don’t think that ordinary people will tolerate some of the undemocratic practices outlined in some of the pieces in Kevin’s book.”

Obviously this statement should be taken in context, here is the link to the whole speech Speech by Clare Daly T.D. at the Dublin launch of Kevin Higgins’ Mentioning the War which was transcribed for the Irish Left Review. But in the light of recent events it acquires a greater significance.

The Campaign against the Household and Water Taxes has quite rightly taken centre stage for the last few months. But even then the rivalry between the biggest groups in the ULA hasn’t been too far below the surface. There are clearly contradictions between the political positions of the SWP and the SP, which in the absence of an electoral campaign would tend to grow as the SP and the SWP compete to build their own organisations. These include the attitude towards the Labour Party and also the question of a 32 County structure for the ULA.

Joe Higgins has raised doubts as to whether the SP could work with Clare Daly in the United Left and has claimed that 4 SP full time jobs might be at risk as a result of her departure. Clare Daly has stated that she wishes to continue as a ULA TD. We support that idea; likewise we support the idea of the ULA becoming a genuine party of the working class to the left of the Labour Party.

It would be a shame if the rivalries between the leadership of the Socialist Party and the leadership of the SWP or this spat between the SP and Clare Daly should stand in the way of that. While Labour is the main party of the working class in Ireland, the Labour leaders have tied themselves to the coat tails of Enda Kenny and the Troika. Unless Labour breaks with the coalition they stand to be slaughtered in the next election. The experience of PASOK in Greece, PSOE in Spain and the British Labour Party who have all lost General Elections during the economic crisis illustrates that without a break with right wing capitalist ideas the workers patience can become exhausted.

Looking towards the future, it’s clear that the Irish working class faces a very difficult time. While Leo Varadkar might have said that FG are not after renegotiating the Croke Park Deal, you would not get a good price at Paddy Power on that. The prospect of a savage budget attacking pensioners or as they say measures to"contain ageing-related spending pressures”, there will be further Property taxes, estimated at an average of €300. Three times the current figure, it is indeed the thin end of the wedge.

Fighting austerity requires a militant struggle and a clear programme. There is precious little room to manoeuvre in the Public Sector. The task is to force the cuts off the agenda by defeating the government. That requires a political struggle and a militant and resolute trade union leadership. The ULA needs a programme that can win the best of the workers and the youth to the ideas of Marxism, that can then provide an alternative to Gilmore’s reformism without any reforms.

We have commented before that the Socialist Party have watered down the programme that they defended in the days of the Militant Tendency, when they were inside the Labour Party:

 “The other key element, but the most important is the question of the ideas of the organisation. The programme of the SP in this election was a watered down version of the programme of Militant in the past – when, that is, the comrades were actually inside the Labour Party fighting against coalition and in favour of socialist policies. A Socialist alternative needs to be clear and unequivocal.

Ruth Coppinger’s election manifesto called for Democratic Public Control of the Banks and for a Socialist Ireland. But what type of democratic control of the banks? In the past Militant argued for Democratic Workers’ Control of the Banks and big industry, also for a Socialist United Ireland. These are important points. In the same edition of Militant from March 1982 that we quoted earlier, John Throne called for Labour to fight for its founding aims and objectives, that is “a 32 county Socialist Workers’ Republic”. The present SP line is far less clear than this and does not clearly identify how much of the country the demand for a socialist Ireland actually applies to. Is the SP still in favour of a 32 county Socialist Workers’ Republic of Ireland?

Ruth also called for an “economic bailout that would help ordinary people in Ireland and throughout Europe”. Who would provide an economic bailout for ordinary people? Capitalism is in crisis. The only guarantee for working people is that capitalism means more austerity. Without a complete break with capitalism there is no prospect for an end to austerity for the foreseeable future. In the past Militant argued for a massive investment in a huge scheme of public works that would mop up unemployment and get the economy moving again, but it also argued that in and of itself this would be insufficient without a socialist plan of production. There is no prospect of “an economic bailout that would help ordinary people” on the basis of capitalism.

Ruth’s manifesto calls for a 1% increase in corporation tax and for an end to tax exemptions as well as a 10% wealth tax.These are left reformist policies, in reality they don’t challenge capitalism. They are essentially reformist demands that most middle of the road Labour Party members would support.”

Dublin West by election Labour wins but now the coalition must be broken

Capitalism in Ireland and internationally is at an impasse. In the absence of a mass socialist alternative this impasse will be protracted.  The workers are crying out for a genuine alternative

There has never been a better time to fight for genuine socialist policies; the nationalisation of the banks and big industry under Democratic workers control and management, cancellation of the debts and a 32 County Socialist United Ireland.

But to seriously put forward these demands the ULA needs itself to be  re-structured with open mass membership, a democratically elected leadership , the end of clique politics from the current leadership and its extension in to the 6 north eastern counties. Such a development would then open up at least some possibilities of reaching out to those workers who are forced into sectarian strait jackets because of the sectarian structures of the northern state.

If the ULA were to become a genuine party of the working class, a genuine continuation of the ideas of Connolly and Larkin then the task of transforming society across the whole island of Ireland would be that much easier.