This is a partial response to some of the concerns raised in this article by the communist party of great britan. The piece is worth consideration on the grounds that the misconceptions within are endemic on the left. The author (Anne McShane) correctly claims that Ireland needs a new revolutionary party; the ULA (it is argued) provides no such scope. The SWP in particular are credited with attempting to prevent the ULA establishing itself as a revolutionary organization; ''In essence the SWP wants a “radical” (non-socialist) party which is “broad and democratic”. The SP, on the other hand, wants the ULA to adopt a “a socialist plan and a plan for economic development”. The insinuation that the SWP tact towards reformism is based on a common misapprehension which il address here.
McShane highlights an important tactical difference between the SP & SWP; but draws an incorrect conclusion about the objectives of the latter. The SWP; advocate a united front; ie. aim to create a space for leftists to partake in struggle & develop their ideas through interaction with the revolutionary left. To this end the SWP urge against an explicit revolutionary socialist program. The consequence of this tactic will be to establish a broad membership; with an expanding socialist nucleus which radicalizes more moderate elements. McSahne needs no reminder that this is how the bolsheviks advanced within the RSDLP. The SWPs (long term) aim is to develop the front into a vehicle for revolution; but this will only become possible once we ascertain enough support to advance on that basis. In order to ensure this, we need to remain as open as possible, resisting the tendency to erect barriers through the imposition of ultimatums on those who can (and will) move towards socialism through struggle.
The communist party (like the SP) take a formal approach which can lead to isolationism. They propose that the ULA establish itself on a revolutionary program. This however would hinder its capacity to engage broader sections of the population. While a formal orientation towards revolution might seem radical at face value; it would (in practice) alienate many who through a broader configuration could move towards socialist ideas over time. In this respect; the sort of abstract revolutionism advocated by the communist party is a dead end; it would sacrifice our ability to radicalize large numbers on the alter of tactical purity. This is an error made by many on the left; who stagnate under the dead weight of their own morality. Ordinary people wont be convinced of socialism through an abstract document; rather the development of a full program will be the consequence of concrete experience.
The immediate task facing revolutionaries is to convince people to fight for concessions that the current system is incapable of providing. Trotsky referred to such calls as (transitional demands). McShane (due to her failure to differentiate between reformism & transitory propaganda) misconstrues the SWPs approach as a type of ''reformism'' when she claims that ''the last thing we need is a neo-Keynesian attempt to construct ‘socialism’ in Ireland''. In actual fact; the appeal & application of transitional demands leads to a revolutionary juncture. Economic initiatives to cancel the debt; socialize developers assets; nationalize key industry & impose capital/price controls are transitional demands insofar as they cannot be gained within the constraints of the current system. To this extent certain ''reforms'' are revolutionary; & therefore disqualify as exhibitions of''reformism''.
McShane criticizes the SP/SWP for supposedly failing to inform non-party ULA members on developments. The ULA (while in its preliminary stages) has moved towards monthly branch meetings where members are kept up to speed on all issues. McShane goes on to accuse the SP/SWP of being ''united in denying the ordinary membership any real voice''. It is claimed by McShane (& others) that the SWP/SP are holding back the development of branch activity; however as clarified at the recent ULA national forum (which McShane attended), the SWP propose ULA branches organize meetings as frequent as they see fit.
It is also claimed that the predominantly SP/SWP makeup of the ULA steering committee reflects some aversion to democracy; nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that the SP/SWP have a majority on the SC reflects the fact that the majority of active members where members of those tendencies when it was set up. The SWP advocates one person one vote with respect to electing the SC; this is the most democratic method. Unless McSane is proposing that SC positions be apportioned according to factions (an anti-democratic suggestion) - her accusations have no real basis. The ULA will move towards a conference where SC/branch structures are decided; but until then the leadership are representatives of the majority.
Ian McDonnell (SWP Maynooth/ULA North Kildare)