Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
Editorial Note from ETOL
Peter Hadden drafted nearly all of the Northern Ireland Perspectives documents for the CWI in Ireland. These documents were presented to the Irish National Committee and the CWI conferences for debate. They were meant to offer a broad political forecast, to help orientate the political work of the membership.
While some small modifications were made in the discussion process, it would be fair to say that the final documents are essentially those drafted by Hadden, which is why they are included in this collection, even though they were published in the name of Militant or the Socialist Party.
1. Following the Assembly elections we produced a short statement End of the road for the Assembly? which analysed the results and dealt with the prospects for the upcoming talks. This update should be read in conjunction with the post-election statement and with the document, Towards division, not peace, which contains a more fundamental analysis of the events leading up to the “peace process” and to the current political impasse.
2. The general conclusions of the End of the road for the Assembly statement hold good. This is the case despite the more optimistic gloss many commentators have attempted to put on recent events.
3. The initial reaction of the British and Irish governments to the DUP and Sinn Fein gains in the Assembly election was to search for some scenario in which this result could be reversed. They hoped that the DUP, somewhere along the line, would be exposed and that the UUP could recover lost ground. The idea of another election later this year was even mooted with this in mind.
4. Waiting for a banana skin to upset the DUP’s political momentum is not much of political strategy. If there were to be another election, it would most likely reinforce the trends shown in all recent elections and lead to an even more difficult situation.
5. Jeffrey Donaldson’s decision to leave the UUP and join the DUP has not strengthened Trimble’s hand within his own party. Donaldson’s departure has been followed by a significant haemorrhaging of UUP members towards the DUP. The UUP has been left in considerable disarray.
6. Meanwhile a significant section of those opposed to Trimble have stayed, some finding the idea of following Donaldson into the camp of Paisleyism too distasteful, others calculating that the departure of the most prominent leadership contender leaves more room for their ambitions.
7. Trimble’s position remains tenuous. It is most likely he will be challenged and removed before the European election, but, if this does not happen, there is little doubt that a bad showing for the UUP in that poll would be the end of the road for his leadership. His replacement by someone like Reg Empey would mark a step to the right, to a more hard-line position. Those pundits who are predicting that the DUP will move to the centre to take up the ground the UUP has occupied have missed the fact that the most obvious movement that is taking place is the shift of the UUP in the opposite direction in an attempt to make up lost electoral ground by out DUPing the DUP.
8. A new and more hard-line leader might stem some of the support now drifting to the DUP but would be unlikely to make a fundamental difference. No matter what face stands at the helm of the UUP the chances that another Assembly election would see them make any inroads into the DUP vote are slender indeed. More likely the advance of the DUP would continue and it is therefore extremely doubtful that Blair will attempt such a desperate gambit.
9. Instead, the two governments are now forced to pin their hopes for progress on the DUP eventually shifting their position and cutting a deal that would allow Sinn Fein back into government in a restored Assembly. The decision of the DUP, Paisley included, to meet with Bertie Ahern, and the fact that this party has been prepared to sit, albeit rather uncomfortably, around a table with Sinn Fein, have been trawled as evidence of a new more pragmatic approach.
10. Even if Paisley blocks progress in the short term, the governments can take some comfort from the fact that his star is clearly on the wane. His decision not to stand in the European election has been widely interpreted as a first step to retirement. The hope is that the DUP, in the post-Paisley era, will discard much of the clerical fundamentalism and will start to travel the same road as Trimble and other former unionist “hard liners”.
11. If the only issue were the careerist ambitions and subjective whims of individuals like Peter Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson, there might be a basis for the optimism of those who foresee an early deal leading to the DUP and Sinn Fein sitting down together in government.
12. Unfortunately for Blair and Ahern there is much more to the current impasse than this. As we have explained in previous material the period of the peace process has been one of increasing sectarian polarisation. Society is now more divided both geographically and politically than before the ceasefires. The violence may have declined but the gulf separating the two communities has widened significantly.
13. The Assembly election result was the entirely predictable political reflection of this division. It is true that the sectarian parties spent most of their time during the years of the supposed “peace process” whipping up sectarian tensions and have contributed to the polarisation. Now, dialectically, they are constrained by the divisions they have helped widen.
14. The underlying reason for the political impasse is the erosion of support for the Good Friday Agreement among the Protestant community. The rise of Sinn Fein and, with it an apparently more strident form of nationalism, has alarmed Protestants. This, together with a sense that the territorial, demographic and political sands are shifting from them, has created a sense of insecurity, especially in Protestant working class areas.
15. Even if those who would like to succeed Paisley at the head of what is now the biggest unionist party were prepared to swallow hard on their election promises and share power with Sinn Fein, they would find it very difficult indeed to stand against objective processes which are hauling them in an opposite direction.
16. It is not excluded that some new deal will be arrived at in the long term. Like the Good Friday Agreement such a pact between rival sectarian blocs would only amount to a papering over of the cracks in society and would be liable to collapse at some point. A real and lasting settlement is not possible on the basis of capitalism, and particularly so when it is engineered by right wing sectarian parties who, in the last analysis, have a vested interest in keeping the two communities apart.
17. A deal in the short, or even in the medium term, is, however, unlikely. While the parties, the DUP included, have published their proposals for the negotiations, they have done so more with an eye to the upcoming elections than to any attempt to cut an early deal. Although the willingness of the DUP to come up with various options for the restoration of the Assembly has been trumpeted as a sign of “flexibility” and “new thinking on their part, the reality is that the opening positions of the parties show a widening of the gap between unionism and nationalism.
18. The emphasis of the DUP’s proposals is for an internal settlement – after the IRA commit hari-kari! – with a diminishing of the role of the north/south bodies, while Sinn Fein and the SDLP are both trying to outdo each other by elevating an all-Ireland dimension. All these proposals are put forward more as manifestoes for the coming elections than as the basis for any immediate settlement. The DUP are trying to counter the image of a party that can only say “no” and present themselves as more serious negotiators for unionism than the UUP. Sinn Fein and the SDLP are trying to out-green each other in order to present themselves as the authoratative voice of nationalism.
19. The main concern of all the parties for the moment is not to make a breakthrough in talks but to make a political breakthrough in the Euro election in June. Sinn Fein and the DUP are likely to emerge as the largest parties in this election, both winning a seat. If this happens the question then will be whether the UUP or the SDLP pick up the third seat.
20. If, as is likely, the European election further consolidates the growing hegemony of the DUP and Sinn Fein, this will increase the polarisation and make things still more difficult. There will be no serious effort to renew the talks over the summer and, come the autumn, the thoughts of the parties will be beginning to crystallise around the next, and for them, more important electoral test of the Westminster election due the following year.
21. While it would be wrong to exclude the possibility that some very significant gesture by the IRA could open the way to a fragile agreement this is the less likely prospect. The British and Irish governments are, by now, probably reconciled to a long drawn out process of negotiations which at least provides the fiction of a political process. They hope that in the long term the absence of any workable alternative other than conflict will bring the DUP round to accept some form of power sharing with Sinn Fein.
22. The difficulty is that the longer the impasse, the less the credibility of the Assembly. By next autumn, unless there is a dramatic breakthrough, it will have been in suspension for two years. By then the real question that most working class people will be asking will not be why it is not up and running, but why the redundant MLAs are still paid salaries and expenses for doing nothing.
23. Over the past year there has been a decline in the number of sectarian incidents and attacks. The summer of 2003 was relatively quiet with the marching season passing off without a major confrontation. Nothing has been resolved, the polarisation remains as before, but the temperature of the conflict has dropped by a few degrees.
24. This has created a slightly more favourable atmosphere for the talks, and yet there still has been no progress. As the talks drag on over months and possibly years there is no guarantee that this situation will continue. Issues like parades, which provoked massive confrontations during the first years of the peace process, may have become relatively dormant but could reignite. At bottom the conflict is now about territory and the demographic changes which provide the sectarian fuel are still on going.
25. While the paramilitary ceasefires are holding, more or less, the paramilitaries remain active. Even if much of what they get up to is down to maintaining control of “their” area and takes the form of what is euphemistically known as “housekeeping”, their actions when exposed can put a major spoke in the talks process, giving the excuse for further prevarication and delay.
26. The right wing governments and the right wing, sectarian parties are incapable of coming up with a lasting solution. The antagonistic fears, uncertainties and aspirations felt by Catholics and Protestants, especially by those in the working class areas, are irreconcilable in the long run on a capitalist basis.
27. Capitalism is no longer able to play a progressive role in developing the productive forces and raising living standards. Its inability to offer the prospect of a better future for the mass of working class people means that it cannot take even one significant step towards resolving the national problem where it arises anywhere on the globe. Rather, the tendency in this period is for a sharpening of national tensions and conflicts.
28. The illusion, nurtured in the 1990s, that the system could provide bedrock for the resolution of national conflicts has been shattered. The much vaunted “peace process” in the Middle East has collapsed following the complete failure of the Oslo Agreement. Ironically the only area that is now touted by capitalist governments as an example of successful “conflict resolution” is Northern Ireland!
29. In the early period of the Northern Ireland peace process expectations of a “peace dividend” were deliberately encouraged. The Good Friday Agreement was sold partly on the basis that political stability would provide the basis for significant investment and economic development.
30. None of this has materialised. The economy did benefit from the growth in the world economy that was fuelled and extended by the growth in consumer spending in the US during the mid and late 1990s. The last two years have seen a turnaround, marked by a contraction in manufacturing.
31. Manufacturing output in Northern Ireland grew by 49% between the third quarter of 1990 and the third quarter of 2001. Over the following two years it contracted by 4.6%. Most of the growth during the 1990s was in production for export, as consumer spending in the US, Britain and other markets continued to grow. Manufacturing exports rose by 36% in real terms between 1997 and 2001. But in 2002 they fell by 0.4%.
32. The process of de-industrialisation of the economy and de-skilling of the workforce which has been underway since the 1970s and especially during the Thatcher era, has intensified during the recent slowdown. There were around 5,000 redundancies in 2003 and 2004 has opened in a similar vein – the second week of February saw two long established factories close with a loss of 900 jobs. Expenditure on Research and Development has fallen in the last two years, at a time when it has continued to rise in Britain. A mere ten companies now account for 60% of all R&D expenditure.
33. Jobs that are created tend to be in the low tech sector which now accounts for just less than 40% of all manufacturing employment. This means a switch from higher paid skilled jobs to low skilled and low paid work.
34. The economy remains reliant on service industries and the public sector. Service jobs also tend to be low paid and menial. This sector is also vulnerable to the pressures of the world economy. The idea, for example, that call centres could fill the employment gap left by the decline in manufacturing, has had to be abandoned. The jobs that have been created in these centres of drudgery are now under threat from countries like India where the call centre companies are attracted by lower wages.
35. It has been the public sector that has kept the economy afloat – and acted as a break on the sectarian conflict – over recent decades. The public sector is now under severe attack from the neo-liberal agenda of the Blair government. Wages are being held down and jobs are being cut, as large parts of the public services are being privatised or part privatised.
36. The government may be attempting, with one hand, to construct, a peace process. Meanwhile, with the other, they are pursuing economic policies that are steadily eroding any basis for “peace” or “stability”. It is only a layer of the population, the middle class and those in better off jobs, who have felt the “benefits” of the ceasefires and the peace process. They can go out and spend their money in the variety of expensive restaurants and other entertainment spots that have opened up, without fear of being blown up.
37. For those in the working class areas, Catholic and Protestant, it is a different matter. The peace process has brought no tangible improvement. While the threat of the sectarian assassins has largely gone the sectarian tensions that often quite literally surround the working class areas remain. And the poverty remains absolutely unabated.
38. Over one third (37.4%) of children in Northern Ireland are growing up in poor households. In total, 500,000 people are living in poverty. The gap between rich and poor is increasing. The richest 40% of households currently possess 67% of the total household income, while the poorest 40% have only 17%. The recent Bare Necessities report on poverty produced by Democratic Dialogue, which presented these figures, concluded that “Northern Ireland is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world. ”
39. It is the failure to deliver any real improvement in the quality of life in working class areas that lies at the root of the growing disillusionment and scepticism with the Good Friday Agreement. This reaction to the failure of the Agreement may be different in Protestant and Catholic working class areas, but the sense that it has failed to deliver is common to both.
40. The absence of a class explanation for this failure has led to sectarian conclusions, in the main, being drawn. Protestants see the Agreement as delivering change that they perceive as detrimental to them and feel no benefit. This is why a majority, and probably a growing majority oppose it and are resisting further change.
41. Working class Catholics have an opposite reaction. They also have felt no real benefit but they see the proposed changes as in their interest, “to create a level playing field” etc., and their initial response is therefore to press for more changes to be implemented more quickly.
42. This can change, especially if class ideas and a class understanding of the real reasons for the on-going poverty are understood and if movements develop which can unite working class communities on these questions. If the Assembly were to be restored and were to stay in place for an extended period these conclusions could be drawn quite quickly creating massive problems for those parties, Sinn Fein especially, who draw most of their support from the working class.
43. The Bare Necessities report estimates that 41% of Sinn Fein supporters are living in poverty. Sinn Fein Ministers implementing right wing Blairite policies, as they did in the moments the outgoing Assembly was up and running, would send shock waves of anger and disillusionment through their support and, provided an alternative was there, could open the way for class ideas to emerge.
44. The absence of the Assembly complicates the picture. In the short term it is mainly sectarian conclusions that are likely to be drawn. Whether, and for how long this will continue, depends on whether a movement of the working class can emerge that is able to begin to cut across sectarianism and to offer an alternative explanation that is based on what working class people have in common, not what divides them.
45. This is not a utopian prospect. As is explained in the End of the road for the Assembly? statement, a revival of the class struggle has taken place over the past two or three years. There has been an upturn in industrial struggle. International events, especially the invasion of Afghanistan and, more especially the war in Iraq, have had an impact on consciousness, beginning the process of the politicisation and radicalisation of a new generation.
46. As class and international issues have been pushed to the foreground, the sectarian issues have tended to move slightly off centre stage. This has been an important factor in the relative decline in sectarian attacks and in fighting across the inter-faces. The primary reason has been exhaustion after years of conflict which has gone nowhere other than to see people become more segregated behind more and higher walls. But the emergence of other issues has had an effect in reducing the temperature of the conflict somewhat and, in this way, putting pressure on the paramilitaries to step back a little.
47. During the fire-fighters dispute the West Belfast support group organised a march from the Shankill Road which crossed the peace line onto the Springfield Road where Orange marches from the Shankill are fiercely opposed. The build-up to the march involved community activists from the Shankill and the Springfield areas; people who would have very different positions on whether the marches that usually take place from the Shankill should be allowed across the peace line, co-operating in the preparation. Although the march was small, it nonetheless provided a symbolic indication of the way in which class issues can bridge the sectarian divide.
48. The question of questions is whether and in what way the working class movement, both industrial and political, can develop. We are only at the early stages of the re-development of this movement after a long period of defeats and following the shifts to the right that have taken place at the tops of the trade unions and the former workers’ parties.
49. It is not possible to present a blueprint of how the movement will re-develop. At this stage we can only sketch a rough and broken outline of how things might unfold. Future events will express themselves in a much more all sided, complex and unexpected manner than could possibly be foreseen in even the most thought out perspective.
50. All we can do is work out the most likely general trends and then plot their actual course, constantly updating and correcting our prognosis as we do. A perspective can only be a general guide, but this is immeasurably superior to the method of our rivals on the left which is to stumble in the political dark reacting empirically to events. Even a little foresight gives a big advantage over those who greet events with an open mouth of astonishment.
51. In analysing the prospects for the working class movement we always start out from an international perspective. After the death of Lenin, the Comintern, under the rising influence of Stalin, began to move away from the internationalism of its founders to embrace the idea of socialism in one country. Trotsky, writing a critique of the draft programme of the sixth congress in 1928, commented:
“In our epoch, which is the epoch of imperialism, i.e. of world economy and world politics under the hegemony of finance capital, not a single communist party can establish its programme by proceeding solely or mainly from conditions and tendencies of developments in its own country.”
52. This is true of perspectives as it is of programme. And it is even more true today, given the greater integration of the world economy and the deeper world impact that social and political upheaval in a single country now has across the globe. If we were to analyse the situation in Northern Ireland in isolation from world events we would draw unnecessarily negative conclusions and would make the mistake of underestimating the potential for class ideas.
53. The on-going occupation of Iraq and the growing resistance to the presence of US and British forces is the defining event of this period. As the situation worsens, as the real reasons for the war become clearer and as the lies of Washington and Downing Street are further exposed, international opposition to the occupation will develop. What is happening in Iraq will impact on the consciousness of millions of people around the world, including people in Northern Ireland. Young people, in particular, can draw far reaching conclusions, and a layer can become open to revolutionary socialist ideas, as a result of this situation.
54. The industrial and political movements of the working class internationally will also have an impact on the movement in the north. During the late 1980s and 1990’s the workers’ movement was, in general, on the retreat with a downturn in struggle, a shift to the right within the trade unions and the former mass parties of the working class. Consciousness was thrown back. In Northern Ireland this expressed itself not only in a decline in struggle but in the bitter sectarian conflict of the mid and late 90s and in the further drawing apart of the two communities that took place on the back of these events.
55. The ability of the class movement in Northern Ireland to recover is not dependant on the movement of the working class elsewhere. If we were to put forward the idea that workers in Northern Ireland must somehow wait on developments elsewhere we would be lulling the movement to sleep.
However, an upturn in industrial struggle and a re-emergence of socialist ideas in other countries will have an effect in encouraging similar developments in the north. Movements and struggles in any country can have an impact, but what happens in the south and, most especially, in Britain will have the greatest effect.
56. Recent years have seen the beginnings of a new wave of struggle in Europe, Latin America, and other parts of the globe. Important battles have also taken place against the Blair government which, despite its huge parliamentary majority is now reeling under the weight of the revelations about its lies over Iraq and of the mounting opposition to its nakedly right wing economic and social agenda.
57. The working class in entering these struggles, especially in Britain, has been handicapped by the rotten role of the right wing trade union leaders. During the years of retreat and of downturn both in struggle and in active involvement by the working class in the trade union structures the top bureaucracy has become more and more incorporated into the state. They well fulfil the description given by Trotsky of the trade union tops as “the unofficial police of the capitalist class. ”
58. The right wing bureaucracy have played a conscious role, cap in hand with the employers and governments, in holding back the movements of the working class. This has not been unchallenged and a perceptible shift to the left has taken place, as in Britain where the “more left” candidates have been the winners in most recent trade union elections.
59. In most cases the newly elected “left” leaders in Britain have lacked the will and the confidence to enter into all out confrontation with the government. At rank and file level the intense anger felt by workers at the attacks of government and employers is tempered also by a lack of confidence that struggle can succeed. In part this is a natural reaction to a long period of retreat that has been scarred by many defeats. It is also a lack of confidence in the weak and insipid leadership. Workers who are prepared to struggle will have second thoughts about marching into a serious battle with “generals like these” at the head.
60. The key to the future is the emergence of a new generation of activists who provide a new backbone for the unions and can transform them not just at the top but from top to bottom. In the main, and with some important exceptions, this process is still at a very early stage. The unions have not been filled out with new and younger militants. This reflects the sporadic and partial nature of most of the struggles that have taken place. The bigger confrontations that are inevitable will throw up a new layer of activists who will come into collision with the bureaucracy and who will provide the yeast for the transformation of the unions back into fighting instruments for workers.
61. There has been the beginning of a revival of the industrial movement in Northern Ireland, as in Britain and elsewhere. Some of the recent strikes are mentioned in the End of the Road for the Assembly? statement. Since then teachers, university lecturers, child care workers and civil servants have taken industrial action.
62. These movements have all been partial in character. In the main there has been the same hesitancy at the top as has been displayed in other disputes. There has also been uncertainty among those involved as to how to take the struggle forward and whether more sustained action could be delivered. Nonetheless these and the other disputes that have taken place have shown the anger that has accumulated after years of attacks and the growing determination that action, no matter how difficult, has to be taken because “enough is enough”.
63. The civil service dispute, still on-going at the time of writing, is by far the most significant of the recent industrial struggles. Involving 20,000 civil servants, many of them extremely low paid, it has turned into a protracted tug of war with the New Labour Ministers now in charge and, whatever the outcome, will have term implications for the unions throughout the public sector.
64. It too has been characterised by the abject role played by the right wing leadership of NIPSA. They have held back from escalating the action beyond the initial one day strike, selective action and work to rule. As a result the initial momentum was lost, leading to confusion and some disillusionment among members and allowing the management in the most militant section, the Department of Social Development, to counter attack, victimising activists in order to try to break the action.
65. On the other hand, the strikes and rallies, and the unofficial walkouts that have taken place, have shown the determined, fighting mood of a large section of the membership. Whatever way the dispute develops, this battle will have big repercussions within NIPSA.
66. Already, the elections to the union’s General Council (Executive) have provided a glimpse of what can happen. Despite difficulties in developing the left Time for Change group over the last year, Time for Change increased its General Council representation. Significantly, the key Time for Change candidates from the Department of Social Development, the epicentre of the dispute, were elected. This is a small and early example of how the unions can be shifted to the left on the back of industrial battles.
67. It is events that will move workers into activity and begin the process of transforming the unions. Our intervention can speed and greatly facilitate this. It is significant and not accidental that we have played an important, sometimes a crucial role, in most of the key disputes that have taken place in the recent period. In some cases we have had members already in important positions in the unions or workplaces concerned. At other times we have intervened from the outside, but have been able to influence and, on occasions, recruit some of the best of the leaders.
68. Our role in the unions is vitally important. If we can build on and utilise the important positions we have won we can use them to give confidence to workers to struggle. We have to be able to intervene with ideas and methods that point a way to develop disputes and show a strategy for victory. This is vital at a time when workers have little confidence that major battles can be won. Many things that used to be the ABCs of struggle have been forgotten during the period of retreat and will have to be learned.
69. We can act as a memory for the movement bringing up issues like the need to keep members informed, the need for the democratic involvement of the members thought mass meetings where decisions are taken, the need to raise cash and how to do it, the need to maintain the momentum of disputes and many others.
70. It is very difficult for a single group of workers to take action and win. This is especially so in the public sector where every major struggle becomes a battle against the government. With the Assembly suspended, they are battles against direct rule Ministers, who are charged with implementing Blair’s neo liberal agenda, who are not accountable to Blair and not to anyone in Northern Ireland, and who are therefore very hard to shift. We need to raise the need for co-ordinated action. With a number of separate battles involving different sectors of the public service either taking action or about to take action, the call for generalised action, including a public sector wide strike will become a more concrete issue. It is vital that we get a base in the key public sector unions so that we can press this demand when it becomes appropriate.
71. Activists coming into struggle almost invariably come against the obstacle of the union bureaucracies. The need to democratise the unions, putting the membership back in charge, is obviously posed. Our intervention with our demands for union democracy, especially the call for the election of all officials and the limitation of their salaries and expenses, can get an immediate echo and can also prevent workers from drawing negative conclusions and becoming disillusioned.
72. The long struggle of the sacked airport workers, as much against the T&GWU bureaucracy, including the “left” bureaucrats now in charge, as against their employer, has vividly shown how workers who are let down by their officials can respond to our ideas and programme for union democracy. The mistake of the T&GWU bureaucrats was to underestimate the determination and resolve of the sacked shop stewards. Almost two years after they went on strike and were sacked, the protests by the shop stewards continue to shake the bureaucracy nationally and this has become a cause celebre to the best activists. No single dispute has better publicised the call for union officials to be elected.
73. Our base in the unions, especially the leading positions we hold, can allow us to have an effect on the objective situation. There has already been an opening up of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The fossilised structure that held itself aloof from events through most of the Troubles, other than when they were put under pressure to organise the mass demonstrations against the killings, has been shaken up. There has been a shift to a more pro-active, interventionist position, if not exactly a political shift to the left.
74. Despite the limitations this is an important change. It meant, for example, that NIC ICTU played a co-ordinating role of sorts in the movement against the war. NIC ICTU has also set up the Coalition Against Water Charges. Although this is currently a moribund body the fact that political organisations such as ourselves are able to participate is a step forward on the anti-political stance that NIC ICTU shielded itself with from the late 1960s to the very recent period. We can use our base in the movement to encourage these trends, at the same time criticising their limitations and pointing to how they can be developed.
75. Their previous position was to cower behind the mantra that unions are “non-political” to resist any pressure to take independent political action. Now NIC ICTU are ducking behind the politicians for the same reason. We need to put forward positive proposals as to how the various campaigns that NIC ICTU are involved in can be built.
76. We also need to challenge the all-class approach that is now prevalent, taking up issues such as the platforms given to the sectarian and right wing politicians, and calling for independent action by the trade unions and community organisations. Rather than linking arms with the existing establishment parties we should point towards the need to challenge them by putting up trade union and community based candidates as a step to the building of a new party of the working class.
77. As with perspectives for the re-development of the class movement generally, so it is only possible to present the prospects for the emergence of a new political vehicle for the working class in outline and with very broad strokes. In general terms the period we are in is one of the re-politicisation of the movement. The crushing of the smaller political parties by the juggernaut of political sectarianism in recent elections has left a complete vacuum and an opening for a new formation.
78. A new mass party of the working class will only emerge on the back of events. It will be born out of industrial struggles as well as struggles on social and broader political issues when a new layer of activists come to see the limitations of those struggles and the need for political action. The absence of an Assembly, and the ability of parties like Sinn Fein, without Ministerial baggage, to adopt a radical posture complicates and draws out the process, but, depending on events and, to some extent on our role, should not be able to check it.
79. We can say that the process of the re-politicisation of the movement has begun, but it is only at the very early stages. By and large those struggles that have taken place have only thrown up a small number of activists. Among them only a minority have drawn political conclusions. The forces to make up a new and genuine party of the working class are not there at present.
80. But it not enough to say a new party of the working class will be created by events and then be content to sit in a small political craft paddling around passively, waiting for a new wave of political struggle to carry us forward. The emergence of a new party will be a process and we have to participate from the very beginning of that process. This issue of new formations, how they will develop and what our approach to them should be is dealt with in the latest issue of our Journal. This material should be read for a fuller explanation than can be given in this statement.
81. We have to encourage and participate in every genuine step by the working class towards independent political action. This can take many forms. The election of Kieran Deaney in West Tyrone on the back of the campaign to save Omagh Hospital is an example of how social and industrial movements can find a reflection politically. There can be other single issue candidates who can make a similar impact in future elections. Even though these campaigns will most likely be on a very limited programme, and even thought they may lack any clear conception of how to build on what they have achieved, their ability to make a breakthrough is extremely important. It shows how class issues can burst the logjam of sectarian politics and represents an elemental and instinctive groping in the direction of a new working class party.
82. We also have to be prepared to take initiatives ourselves when we consider the basis exists to do so. This means being able to distinguish genuine steps towards independent political action from premature initiatives or sectarian false starts. In Britain the objective conditions for the launching of a new worker’s party have existed for some time. Yet the various initiatives that have been taken in this direction have all run into the sand.
83. Scargill’s SLP initially had the potential to fill out and provide a significant challenge to New Labour but Scargill refused to open it up into a broad coalition that could encompass the main socialist forces. Instead of developing as was possible, the SLP quickly stagnated and has ossified into an irrelevant sectarian rump. The Socialist Alliance was taken over by the SWP and their insistence on a party structure so that they could exercise absolute control, coupled with their sectarian and undemocratic methods, has ensured that it too has ended as a failed initiative.
84. The latest SWP attempt to go broader by linking up with George Galloway in forming the RESPECT coalition is not likely to fare any better. The SWP have brought with them the same exclusive, top down methods which ensured the failure of the Socialist Alliances. RESPECT also represents a rightward shift from the SA, a move away from the idea of a working class party to the methods of popular frontism; that is of a political bloc involving other class forces.
85. Insofar as these stillborn initiatives have had an impact, their longer term effect is to disappoint a layer of workers and, in this way, to complicate and delay the emergence of a new formation. The SWP’s attempt to inflate the Derry based Socialist Environmental Alliance and do in the north what they have done in Britain will meet with no more success. In an international organisation where the sections slavishly follow the twists and turns of the line set in London, it is hardly surprising that the Irish organisation neatly shadows each political genuflection of its British counterpart.
86. In mid-February they used the Socialist Environmental Alliance to call a grand sounding “Left Convention” in Derry, hoping that the vote gained by Eeon McCann in the Assembly elections would give this meeting some authority. The “Convention” was called in order to get an endorsement for Eamonn McCann to run in the European election.
87. Since the decision to run McCann had already been taken by the SWP, through the SEA, the meeting was really a sham. It only purpose was to bring people together who, when presented with the accomplished fact of a McCann campaign, unless they could come up with some better alternative on the spot, would have no other role than to applaud the decision that had already been made. The SWP hoped this would make the campaign seem broader than it really is. Invitations were carefully issued to achieve this result. The Socialist Party was not invited. The right wing deputy president of NIPSA was invited but the Marxist president, Socialist Party member Carmel Gates, was not!
88. The Left Convention ended up anything but broad. Apart from the IRSP, who walked out, and from some members of the Communist Party who went mainly to observe, it was an SWP meeting made up of SWP members and SWP hangers on. It was certainly not any basis for a European election campaign. If the SWP do go ahead and run we will decide whether we can give any measure of support closer to the election.
89. What is clear is that this is not the basis for the beginnings of a new left formation. As with the SLP and Socialist Alliance in Britain the inevitable floundering of this initiative will only serve to complicate the task of getting such a formation off the ground. This will particularly be the case if McCann’s election campaign is tainted with the ideas of left republicanism. This would reinforce the notion, unfortunately held still by many Protestants, that socialism is synonymous with republicanism.
90. The SWP proposal has however, raised the idea of “left unity” and has precipitated some discussion among our members on this question. We need to be clear on our approach. The call for “alliances” and “unity” at every turn is the latest holy grail of the SWP. In the past this organisation was characterised by the frenzied sectarian methods used to promote the SWP at all times and at all costs. Now, and quite comically, they are raising the demand for unity at all cost, and are doing so with the same petty bourgeois minute to midnight zeal and frenzy.
91. This means that when we question the nature, structure and programme of their various campaigns and alliances before we agree to participate we can expect to be met with indignant accusations of sectarianism, to which we should pay no attention whatsoever. We are for unity in action with others around limited demands or for limited objectives where this results in a broader layer of workers giving support or being brought into activity and therefore has a greater impact. Within such a united front we would reserve the right to argue for our ideas and full programme.
92. What the SWP are proposing under the guise of “unity” is something completely different. In reality what they are establishing are nothing more than SWP fronts, controlled by the SWP and run using the same undemocratic methods as they ran the Socialist Alliances.
93. For years the SWP existed in the ethereal world of sectarian hot air politics. Now they are demonstrating concretely that whenever sectarian organisations make contact with the real world they invariably touch down on the ground of opportunism.
94. The popular front manner in which the SWP fronts are created represents a significant shift to the right on their part. While we would be prepared to make political concessions in the programme of a broad organisation or campaign, we would retain and would continue to put forward our own socialist explanation.
95. The SWP have abandoned the idea of socialism entirely. It is absent from the public declarations or programmes of their various alliances. This might be justified in a genuine organisation where other forces are not yet convinced of socialist ideas. But these organisations are nothing more than fronts for the SWP who have political control. More importantly they do not put forward socialist ideas or a socialist explanation within these fronts or when they speak on public platforms.
96. In preparing to run a candidate for the European election the SWP has put forward the meaningless non class slogan “for a social Europe” as the programmatic basis for the campaign. In the Anti-Racist Network which they set up and which, despite the presence of other forces, they run in a completely undemocratic fashion, they have failed to argue for a class, let alone a socialist approach.
97. The Anti-Racist Network held a rally in Belfast in January and the SWP were able to dictate who was on the platform. They invited the SDLP Lord Mayor, the government appointed Children’s Commissioner and the churches. SWP member Eamonn McCann also spoke, but said nothing to distinguish himself politically from the other speakers.
98. In the past we have made an issue of the composition of the platforms at the trade union anti-sectarian rallies. We have argued for trade union and community speakers and opposed giving a platform to the politicians, the employers’ organisations and the churches. Now the position adopted by the right wing leadership of the movement on the issue of fighting sectarianism has been echoed by the SWP on the issue of fighting racism.
99. Worse still, the Anti-Racist Network has publicly welcomed the involvement of the PSNI in “combating” the racist attacks. They have praised the PSNI for studying the “best practices” of the British police in tackling racism and have called for these to be applied here! Contrast this to the position we have taken throughout the Troubles in calling for independent action by the working class to stop the sectarian attacks and in placing no reliance whatsoever on the forces of the state.
100. We take a similar position on racism. As the only people advocating a class approach to deal with this problem there is a big opening for us in our anti-racist work. Socialist Youth has taken the excellent initiative of launching Youth Against Racism and taking this to the schools. We can make big gains among the youth through this work.
101. While we have to be open, in all our work, to broad political initiatives emerging, the genuine fresh forces to make these up are absent at present and are not likely to emerge in the immediate future. Although we need to keep an eye open for other developments, our main emphasis at this stage must be on building our party, developing our profile and sinking roots in key working class communities.
102. The campaign against water charges, due to be introduced in two years’ time, gives us a vehicle to do this. We need immediately to step up our activity on this question, taking the “We Won’t Pay” campaign into the communities, building a membership and a network of activists prepared to resist this charge.
103. At the moment the landscape is littered with organisations opposing water charges. NIC ICTU have set up a Coalition Against Water Charges to which we are affiliated. All the main political parties, other than the UUP have developed selective amnesia about their role in the Assembly when they acquiesced to New Labour’s demand for water charges, and are now opposing them. Various other groups have taken up the issue.
104. The meetings, debates, seminars that have been held on the issue have shown the vacuous nature of this opposition. Despite our prompting, the Coalition Against Water Charges has done no serious work on the issue. At best, they are for a propaganda campaign which, in the words of one trade union leader at a recent seminar, will continue “until the first bill arrives through someone’s door”. That’s a bit like preparing an army that will carry on fighting “until the first shot is fired”.
105. We are the only organisation seriously advocating a non-payment campaign. Groups like Communities Against Water Charges have argued that people on low incomes will not be able to pay, which is essentially an argument for exemptions.
There is a world of difference between this and our call for organised mass non-payment to defeat the charge in its entirety.
106. We have an opportunity to put real flesh on the “We Won’t Pay Campaign”. This is a major undertaking which will require considerable resources but, if we are successful, it could possibly prepare the way for a political breakthrough. We have to draw the necessary organisational conclusions.
107. The situation in the north is complex and difficult. The objective obstacles to be overcome, given the on-going political impasse and the reinforced sectarianism, are huge. But opportunities are already there to build the forces of Marxism and allow us to have an impact on events. There will be greater opportunities in the next period. The task today is to develop our forces so that we can seize them.
Last updated: 5.11.2013