An open letter from Paddy Healy of WUAG gives his assessment of the reasons for the disintegration of the ULA, and of the way forward.
I have disagreements with some of what Healy says, and agree with some things. I'll give a response in full as soon as I can.
I would urge anyone concerned with the "political reorganisation of workers" to read Healy's statement and to discuss it.
From Paddy Healy, Former Member of Steering Committee ULA
Socialist Party Withdraws from ULA
Rivalry between Socialist Party (SP) and Socialist Workers Party (SWP) Ends ULA Project.
Towards a New Way Forward
The Socialist Party has effectively withdrawn from the ULA. It has also vetoed the registration of the ULA as a political party.
Prior to the withdrawal of WUAG from the ULA, I predicted that the rivalry between the SP and the SWP , which had already seriously damaged the ULA, would intensify and would kill off the organisation as a credible left alternative. WUAG had already concluded that the activities of the SP and the SWP had made impossible the task of politically reorganising workers in a mass way through the ULA. As such reorganisation is the core objective of WUAG, that organisation withdrew. It will now seek to carry out this mission on a national basis in alliance with like-minded individuals.
The effective break-up of the ULA is a set-back for the left which must be overcome as quickly as possible. This document is a contribution to the necessary discussion. As similar problems are occurring in other countries, it is to be hoped that this document will make a positive contribution to a more general international discussion.
After a brief ceasefire between the two groups after the withdrawal of WUAG, the contention between the SP and the SWP has now reached maximum intensity. Unfortunately the contention has now reached new heights also in the Campaign against Household and Water Charges. This can be seen from the SP statement on its website in which its effective withdrawal from the ULA was announced and from the proceedings of the recent rally (Jan 12, 2013) of The Campaign against Household and Water Charges1.
In the course of the statement dated Dec 14, 2012 the Socialist Party said:
“The Socialist Party has major problems with the political positions and approaches being adopted in the ULA at present. We have communicated to the Steering Committee that we don't see any real or productive basis to pursue our serious concerns in the ULA at this point, particularly given the positions argued and adopted by the different elements at the last Council meeting. ------
For the Socialist Party, the battle against the household and property taxes is a priority, and it will take more of our focus and work and as mentioned, in that context we will be diminishing our participation in the ULA.
However, in doing this we are not in any way stepping away from the struggle to help to build a new working class party on a principled basis. That is precisely what can happen in an organic way, by fighting on these issues which can potentially bring thousands of ordinary working class people into activity, which is essential if a new mass working class party is to be built.”
The Socialist Party has also informed the ULA that it will not be attending meetings of the ULA leadership body known as the Steering Committee. The Socialist Party has veto powers on that Committee. Presumably, it has decided that decisions taken by that body are of no further concern to the SP or alternatively that the residual Steering committee will be unable to take any decision in its absence!!
Given the level of betrayal carried out by the Labour Party in the Budget, the building of a mass left alternative is more urgent than ever. In its statement the Socialist Party says that it is not “stepping away” from this objective. But, clearly, it does not see the ULA playing a role in this. Clearly the formulation “diminishing its participation” is merely a cover for abandoning the ULA which effectively now no longer exists in its original form.
The SP believes that the building of a mass left alternative will occur “in an organic way” through the Campaign Against Household and Water Charges. That is the meaning of the sentence in their statement: “That is precisely what can happen in an organic way, by fighting on these issues which can potentially bring thousands of ordinary working class people into activity, which is essential if a new mass working class party is to be built.”
The CAHWT is their replacement for the ULA as a field for recruitment and agitation.
As the government has made a non-payment campaign against home tax impossible through deductions from pay, benefits and grants and trade union leaders are blocking industrial action, the SP (and the SWP) is driven to proposing unofficial industrial action in a situation where all the evidence is that this is impossible at this time1. There is a danger that the disfunctionality associated with the SP/SWP rivalry could drive the CAHWT and with it the entire left along a suicidal path.
This turn by the SP is a huge error. Political reorganisation of workers is now not only necessary but the ground for it is uniquely favourable. This is clearly shown in recent opinion polls. “The essential rejection by 44 per cent of the electorate of all current possible political permutations is also indicative of a strong level of latent support for a new political party.” (Sunday Independent January 13).
As trade union leaders make it impossible for workers to organise to defeat their enemies by industrial action/demonstrations etc, entire sections of workers are driven towards political reorganisation. That is the fertile ground which now exists and it is being abandoned in practice by the SP and the SWP in favour of individual recruitment to their own organisations.
The three founding groups of the ULA were WUAG, SP and People Before Profit Alliance which includes the SWP. The decision of the SWP, in Feb 2012, to prioritise recruitment to the SWP rather than to the ULA or even to People before Profit has effectively split People before Profit. Joan Collins TD did not attend its most recent national conference and Eddie Conlon, a member of its leadership, resigned from the organisation in advance of the conference. The SWP position was set out in a leaked internal bulletin3 dated Feb 2, 2012.
The same internal bulletin ( issued before the Mick Wallace matter arose and before the resignation of Clare Daly TD from the SP) announced that the ULA had already collapsed.
Clearly the SWP had abandoned the strategy of building a mass left alternative through the ULA (if it were ever genuinely committed to the project) several months before the SP came to the same conclusion.
Why? Why? Why?
At a time when working people are facing the most intense attacks on their living standards for over 60 years, most genuine left political activists, trade union and community activists and people of good intent will be scandalised by the divisions and the attendant acrimony on the left. It is scarcely believable that at a time of greatest opportunity and greatest obligation to working people that the SP and the SWP would prioritise domination over each other rather than the building of a mass left alternative.
I believe that I have a duty to explain the roots of this debacle in an attempt to ensure that it does not recur. The work of building a mass left alternative on a principled basis must continue urgently without the SP and the SWP unless and until these organisations demonstrate in practice that they give priority to politically reorganising whole sections of workers over recruitment to their own organisations.
The SP and the SWP are part of separate international political currents each headquartered in London. Because the two organisations are biggest in the UK, the rivalry is particularly intense there though it exists in several countries. The two international currents are two of the many fragments of the Fourth International founded by Leon Trotsky which broke up during and following the second world war. The founders of these currents had made disastrous political errors2 in the war years which isolated them from the workers movement particularly in France and the UK. (I can discuss this further with those interested)
For many years, I have held the view that the main objective of these organisations is to become bigger and more influential than each other. Despite their protestations, all other objectives take second place. Prioritisation of individual recruitment to competing political sects makes objective analysis of the political conjuncture or realistic assessment of the mood and orientation of workers impossible. Above all, each must be more “revolutionary” than the other. This leads to totally wrong decisions at best and, at worst suicidal policies for the genuine left. It makes entirely impossible the incorporation into the genuine left of layers of the workers springing into new political life. This is not just an Irish phenomenon but an international phenomenon.
Let us look at developments in the ULA in 2012 and attempt to understand them from the above point of view.
Before the Wallace admission on tax evasion, the SWP had decided that the ULA had collapsed and priority should be given by their members to recruiting to SWP rather than to ULA. (See extract from leaked SWP Internal bulletin pasted below)3. SWP members were to publicly criticise their allies. Up to that period the ULA had been relatively successful having elected five TDs and having held a successful conference. It was clear that the ULA hadn’t collapsed. Why then did SWP make this “turn”? Because the SP with two TDs had come to publicly dominate the ULA with Joe Higgins taking leaders questions, this was perceived by SWP as giving SP a major advantage for growth and recruitment with SWP playing second fiddle. Given the long history of in-fighting in the UK, this did not look good from SWP HQ in London! Irish leaders of the SP could be much more effective in assisting their parties in other countries including the UK, to recruit members based on their “success” in the ULA. In order to set up the ULA, it had been agreed by the SWP that decisions would be taken by consensus as befitted an Alliance. But now the SWP launched an aggressive campaign to outgrow the SP. Consensus decision making, they said, must be replaced immediately with one person one vote! This opportunist policy took no account of the fact that the ULA was an alliance of three separate political parties. According to SWP, there could be no waiting until serious political differences4 had been resolved in fraternal internal discussion before a single united party could be formed based on “one person-one vote”. SWP was fully aware that any such decision would break up the Alliance. This cynical policy was designed to appeal to the many new inexperienced people who had joined the ULA and hopefully strengthen the SWP in its rivalry with the SP. Given the history of the SWP in this and other countries, it was widely understood that there was no possibility of the SWP carrying out majority decisions with which it did not agree as was also the case with the other two components because of unresolved political4 differences. The SWP position was a cynical ploy to further recruitment to the SWP at the cost of disrupting the ULA. The aggressive promotion of the SWP had already, at that stage, caused serious tensions within the People Before Profit Alliance. These were further exacerbated when the SWP unilaterally announced, without consultation even with People before Profit, that Clr Brid Smith (SWP and PBP) would stand in the same constituency as Joan Collins TD (PBP) in the next general election!
In the early days of June 2012, Mick Wallace TD publicly admitted that he had intentionally withheld VAT collected from house buyers from the Revenue.
It was clear to WUAG that the greatest possible distance should be put between the ULA and Mick Wallace.