The Socialist Party originally initiated discussions on the establishment of the United Left Alliance (ULA) because it felt that the attacks on working class people being launched by FF/FG/LP/IMF/ECB had the potential to lead to a widespread campaign of opposition to austerity. The potential could have existed for working class people to draw the political conclusions necessary that would lead them to join a left party. The only way of testing this hypothesis was to stick a toe in the water (in the form of the ULA) and see what happened.
The Socialist Party was never remotely interested in in a simple regroupment / coalescing of existing left groups and individuals. History, recent and far-flung, has amply demonstrated that such a regroupment does nothing to advance the cause of the working class and inevitably collapses as individual components and individuals attempt to make some political capital out of the carcass.
The Socialist Party put a significant amount of work, collectively with others but often on an individual basis, organising meetings and attempting to get people involved in the ULA. After good attendances at the initial ULA public meetings – few people joined. The reason for this is simple – working class people simply did not draw the necessary political conclusions that there was a need for them to join and get active in a left party. This is the reality – I wish it were different, but it is not – and all the fancy wishful desires among some people that if this had been done or that had been done (and its all the Socialist Party fault they weren’t) things would be different, is just sheer nonsense. While left organisations can assist working class people in developing a political consciousness – they cannot ram it down people’s throats and make them ‘believers’ (for want of a better word).
‘Bolshevik,’ an ‘unaligned’ ULA member, writing on Politicalworld.org, has repeatedly stated that there is an inconsistency between the Socialist Party’s attitude to the ULA and its attitude to the CAHWT – There is not. The CAHWT is not a political movement – it is a single issue campaign. It has drawn a new layer of activists into political activity but the vast majority of CAHWT members and the wider public who are boycotting the Household Charge still have not drawn the political conclusions that would lead them to becoming politically active in the ULA. Opposition to the Household Charge required people not to register and not to pay – it did not require them to actively engage in political activity.
Those activists that did attend demonstrations, protests etc did not draw the necessary political conclusions (at least most of them) that would lead them to joining the ULA – so how could anyone expect those who weren’t active beyond boycotting the charge to join the ULA ? The Socialist Party did correctly identify the CAHWT as the vehicle most likely to be the instrument of opposition to austerity (passive as it is) and were also correct in putting the resources necessary into the campaign to make it as effective as it was.
The Socialist Party has suggested that it is possible – no more than possible – that the upcoming campaign against the property tax and water charges offers the potential – nothing more than that – to develop the political consciousness of working class people so that they draw the necessary conclusions that would lead them to joining a new left party. This campaign will, by necessity, be qualitatively different to the campaign against the Household Charge.
Because of the approach taken by the government the passive resistance nature that was effective in the CAHWT campaign is no longer viable. The upcoming campaign requires significantly greater mobilisation, activism, confrontation with the State etc., if it is to have a possibility of success. It will require large numbers of people who to this point have been passive participants to become active in the campaign. It opens up the possibility of the development of a generalised campaign against austerity, the possibility of running anti-austerity election candidates (and that is just one part of the campaign) and the possibility that through active struggle a section of the working class will draw the necessary political conclusions that they need to move into political activity by joining and building a new left party. This may or may not be successful – but the Socialist Party will strive to create the best possible opportunity for it to happen.
A key factor in the current situation is the lack of struggle in the trade unions. The union leadership have managed to portray the shambolic Croke Park Agreement as a victory for trade unionists – ably abetted by the establishment, the media, right-wing economic commentators etc. In practically every public sector workplace the right-wing elements have managed to suppress opposition to Croke Park on the grounds that the cuts would be far worse without it and we couldn’t win anyway because public opinion is anti-public sector. What happens with Croke Park 2 we will have to wait and see – but without industrial struggle an added barrier to political consciousness exists. Similarly in the private sector – when struggle has emerged it has been around job losses, but instead of fighting to maintain jobs, workers have struggled for better redundancy payments. An added safety valve is mass emigration which is now at the levels of post-famine Ireland.
Large numbers of people on the Left grossly underestimate the importance of class consciousness / political consciousness. Without drawing political conclusions on a class basis, it is impossible for working class people to engage in political activity on a socialist basis. I have been a member of the Socialist Party and its forerunner for more than 30 years – there are only a handful of Socialist Party members who have been involved with the organisation longer than I have (and unfortunately for personal reasons I am not remotely as politically active as I want to be). What is the point of my reminiscing ? Despite the fact that consciousness had started to develop to a small degree, political / class consciousness is significantly lower (and I mean significantly) that it was in the late 1970s / early 1980s. There were major industrial battles during this period (post office strike, tax marches, Ranks flour mills and Clondalkin paper mills) etc. Workers losing their jobs occupied not for better redundancy but demanded nationalisation to save their jobs – dozens of workplace occupations occurred in a four/five year period. These industrial battles educated and politicised an entire layer of working class activists (including many of the present day ‘non-aligned’ elements in the ULA). The Militant Tendency trebled in size in two years as small numbers drew revolutionary conclusions. The level of consciousness was significantly higher than the present day and was drawn out primarily by the major industrial battles of the period (period that saw Lynch being dumped as Taoiseach and three general elections in the space of 20 months).
That is the difference – people continue to grossly underestimate how far working class consciousness has been thrown back by the collapse of Stalinism (and the consequential gallop to the right by Stalinist trade union activists) plus the major and ongoing ideological offensive by the bourgeois classes against socialist ideology. The only thing that will break that trend and reverse the low level of consciousness is a reemergence of class struggle on a significant scale and involving large numbers of working class activists. Greece has entered this phase – Ireland at this point most definitely has not. The campaign against the property tax and water charges may prove to be the catalyst – or it may not – time will tell.
Last point – the Socialist Party has and will continue to be criticised for its statement yesterday. The Socialist Party made its decision because it saw the reality of the situation – the ULA no longer has a role to play in developing working class consciousness (for a variety of reasons but primarily because the working class didn’t join). The Socialist Party has been open and honest in its assessment (whether you agree with it or not) and has put its cards on the table. The Socialist Party will continue to work at building opposition to austerity and to attempt to assist working class activists to draw the necessary political conclusions that will lead to the building of a left wing political movement.
Jolly Red Giant 27 Jan 2013