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The fight for a new workers’ party and unity on the left Chapter 3
Left unity in Ireland

Andrew Johnson

3rd May 2005

The question is, how does this discussion illuminate a way forward for the Irish left? To get a sense of what we should be doing, it will be necessary to look at the missed opportunities and failed initiatives of the past several years, and to do so in an uncompromising way. This may distress the unity shouters who believe sharp polemics are one of the left’s major problems, but it is absolutely unavoidable for a serious unity project.

Why Higgins is not Sheridan

The Socialist Party frequently argues that Ireland is not the same as Scotland, therefore the example of the SSP is irrelevant. However, there are some striking similarities. The water tax campaign actually involved broader layers of workers, for a longer period of time and with a higher degree of politicisation than the poll tax struggle in Scotland. At the end of the campaign, Joe Higgins was in a remarkably similar position to Tommy Sheridan in terms of his public profile and credibility. If Higgins had appealed for the formation of a new left party, he would certainly have got an enthusiastic response.

But Higgins made no such appeal, and concentrated instead on building up the SP as a standalone sect. Why didn’t he take a risk? Higgins is certainly not lacking in personal courage. Part of the reason lies in the developing split between the CWI and its Scottish section, as the Glasgow leadership developed empirical positions which did not tally with the perspectives coming from the London centre. More importantly, Ireland poses political issues much more sharply. The SSP, quite deliberately, does not take a position on Ireland, even at the expense of lacking a coherent policy for tackling sectarianism in Scotland (historically an offshoot of Irish immigration).

Since then, the SP has developed a practice of using its advocacy of a new mass workers’ party not as a strategy informing action but as a shield to avoid involvement in any left realignment. Dermot Connolly, a former leader of the SP, argues, “The SP position, that we are in favour of a new party, but there is no basis for it now, and their hostile attitude to any discussion of this question, and implacable opposition to any initiative in its direction, gives their inclusion of this demand in their programme a purely formal character.”(1)  Typically it is argued that, while the SP favours a new party in principle, conditions are not yet ripe. Often this is supplemented by the claim that the SP has a mystical connection with the working class that leaves them uniquely placed to forge real unity with a significant layer of workers. So, writing of recent unity meetings flowing from the bin tax campaign, Michael Murphy of the SP tells us, “Socialist Party representatives at these meetings have argued that this ‘initiative’ is premature and that the fresh forces of working class activists that would be needed to launch a new political formation in Ireland do not at present exist, but will emerge from future struggles of the working class.”(2) 

What we have here is the standard caricature deployed by the SP, that others on the left believe you only have to call for a new party and it will be created. This gives the SP an excuse to ignore any and all such calls. However, what gives this caricature some force is that there is more than a grain of truth to it. There have been too many attempts on the left to build unity without any idea of what it is for and on what programme it should be based. As Socialist Democracy argued during the attempt in 2001 to set up a Socialist Alliance, unity requires a political objective. Simply bringing together the existing left on a lowest common denominator basis, as Dermot Connolly points out, would just be a recipe for a sectarian circus.

It is true that the SWP has spent the last number of years calling for an electoral bloc with the SP, without however asking what this bloc would do. It is also true that some socialist militants have dedicated themselves to bringing these two groups together as an end in itself. And Murphy is correct when he argues that a new mass workers’ party will require a rising tide of class struggle. However, a new workers’ party will not spontaneously emerge from economic struggles, but will have to be fought for politically. There will be all sorts of pre-formations which will have to be put to the test of events. So, while the existing left does not have the resources to launch a new party, it can take significant initiatives in that direction.

For example, Murphy says that new parties are on the agenda in other countries because of the mass anti-war movement. Yet, when well over 100,000 people marched through Dublin against the invasion of Iraq on 15 February 2003, the SP did not call for a new party even though a mass audience was there, some at least of whom would have been receptive. Similarly, the bin tax struggle at various times saw hundreds of working-class people moving into activity, many of whom might have been attracted by a united left formation. But the SP, though it exaggerated the support for the bin tax campaign, argued that there was no audience for this alternative and the only option was to try and get a few more SP councillors elected. We have here a peculiar mix of fatalism, the belief that a new mass workers’ party will come along eventually, together with the ultimatist sectarianism seen at bin tax rallies when SP speakers called on the workers to join the CWI.

Ultimately, this is a political problem. One of the main reasons why a new left formation did not emerge from the bin tax campaign, indeed one of the main reasons why the bin tax campaign failed, is that there was no open forum for militants to discuss the lessons of the campaign. We saw this earlier, when in summer 2003 the Irish Socialist Network organised discussions among various small tendencies on the left. It soon became clear that only the ISN and ourselves were interested in discussing the politics of a New Left.

The North is the test

Nothing exemplifies the need for political clarity and a firmly principled stand better than the North of Ireland. It is no coincidence that the short-lived Socialist Alliance in Dublin deliberately took no clear-cut position on the North, partly so as not to alienate the Socialist Party (which however was refusing to take part), but also because the North poses questions of principle in the sharpest possible form. Richard Boyd Barrett of the SWP put it plainly: “I think we should just take a position of calling for workers’ unity, taking a clear stand against sectarianism and any sectarian structures that exist in the NI state. We would probably not get into it much more than that.”(3)  Likewise, when the SWP launched the Socialist Environmental Alliance (SEA) in the North, the alliance took no position on the national question or the Good Friday Agreement, and in fact has still not done so. The apotheosis of this approach was a left unity meeting in Belfast in October 2003, where the Communist Party argued for unity in support of the GFA, other groups urged rejection of the GFA, and the SWP said it didn’t matter!

But it does matter, not least because lowest common denominator left unity – Labourism in other words – in Northern Ireland inevitably becomes left unionism. The whole miserable history of the Northern Ireland Labour Party exemplifies this – a Labour Party that included sash-wearing Orangemen and couldn’t bring itself to oppose chaining up swings on a Sunday, never mind sectarian privilege and discrimination.

There is of course one tendency that has no problem with this history, and that tendency is the Socialist Party. The SP has produced a long stream of literature lionising the supposedly progressive role played by the old NILP and NIC-ICTU officialdom. At various times they have argued that People’s Democracy went wrong in not seeing the NILP as the main site of struggle(4) ; that the civil rights movement could have won over loyalist workers if it had been led by the NILP(5) ; and that the NIC-ICTU bureaucracy should have led the H-Block movement. This last position allowed Militant to claim to support the prisoners while abstaining from the actual H-Block movement, a movement they characterised as “Catholic sectarian”.(6)  Most absurd of all was the coupling of a formal, although rarely mentioned, Troops Out position with the demand for NIC-ICTU to form a workers’ militia.(7)  In the absence of that extremely unlikely eventuality, they strenuously opposed any withdrawal of troops.

It would take us too far from the purpose of this article to devote much attention to the SP’s politics in the Northern Ireland situation. It is however instructive to recall Trotsky’s advice to his American collaborators, dealing with the low political level of American workers: “What can a revolutionary party do in this situation? In the first place give a clear, honest picture of the objective situation, of the historic tasks which flow from this situation, irrespective of whether or not the workers are today ready for this. Our tasks don’t depend on the mentality of the workers. The task is to develop the mentality of the workers.”(8)  The SP, by way of contrast, has developed a sort of reverse Leninism, where instead of the advanced workers taking a lead, the most backward workers have a veto. Motivated by a genuine desire to stand above the sectarian fray, and lacking an understanding of the dynamics of Northern society, the litmus test for any political stance is whether loyalist workers will buy it. Therefore socialists who want to be non-sectarian end up as the Marxist wing of unionism.

This historic line has found its expression in the SP’s practice in the North, which is summarised by their incredible condemnation of Eamonn McCann’s SEA as “left republican” when in fact it is neither left nor republican. The SEA in the North certainly deserves its fair share of criticism, but the SP’s take on it has been a mess of contradictions. Sensibly, Murphy doesn’t attack the SEA for its pink unionist programme – he could hardly do so, as in the meetings leading up to McCann’s candidacy for Stormont the SP were criticising the SEA from the right! Their alternative proposal was for a “public service slate” which didn’t even claim to be socialist, and they followed this logic by giving enthusiastic support to the apolitical Dr Kieran Deeny’s single-issue hospital candidacy in Omagh.

The SEA, as it happens, does not inspire confidence as a potential way forward. McCann has polled very respectable votes in his Stormont and Strasbourg campaigns, although they are not as unprecedented as the SEA make out – People’s Democracy candidates achieved comparable results in the past, and the Stalinist WPI did quite a bit better for many years. However, the extremely poor results for other left candidates in recent years indicate that the left is still in decline, and McCann’s performance in Derry is more a tribute to his personal charisma than a sign of recovery.

The Labour Coalition: Militant before the test of events

In contrast to the “failed” SEA, Murphy mentions the late, unlamented Labour Coalition as a positive example of what can be achieved. It is likely that most of his readers won’t remember the Labour Coalition as it actually was. It is therefore worthwhile recapping the history of that fiasco, and the role played in it by Militant Labour. The context was the beginning of what became the Good Friday process – which Militant claimed was a working-class peace process hijacked by bourgeois sectarian politicians – and coincidentally British Militant’s turn away from Labour towards independent work.

For a while Militant entertained the hope that the PUP/UVF might evolve in a socialist direction – sometimes even claiming they had already done so – and they even advised the PUP on its programme.(9)  Unfortunately, the loyalist paramilitaries were none too interested in a lash-up with Militant. Then, when John Major called elections to his risible “talks forum” in 1996 we saw the launch of the inspiringly named No Going Back. This was a coalition with nobody but Militant in it, and a minimalist programme based almost entirely on the demand for trade unions and community groups to have a seat at the talks table. Perhaps fortunately for Militant, No Going Back was never put to the vote as the Labour Coalition was cobbled together in time for the elections.

What forces were involved in the Labour Coalition? Apart from Militant themselves,  there was Mark Langhammer’s Newtownabbey Labour Party, the best of the bunch by some way; the cranky little sect called the British and Irish Communist Organisation; and various odds and sods with very little in common. The frontmen for the Coalition were a pair of former SDLP councillors, Malachi Curran and Hugh Casey, who had been too right-wing for Hume’s party. The Coalition’s programme, even more than that of the middle-class Women’s Coalition, was a blancmange designed to offend absolutely nobody. Platitudes were offered not only on the peace process, but on any other issue you care to name. One recalls a hapless BBCNI interviewer asking leading Militant cadre Peter Hadden what the Coalition’s position on abortion was. “When we have a position,” Hadden barked, “you can rest assured it will be from a working-class point of view.”

Nevertheless, Militant threw themselves into the campaign. This writer remembers sitting in an SWP public meeting in Belfast as Niall Mulholland of Militant berated the “sectarian” SWP for not calling for a vote for the Coalition. Eamonn McCann replied with a fierce denunciation of electoralism – how times have changed! Despite its anaemic politics, or perhaps because of it, the Coalition scraped together a mere 6500 votes, or 0.8% across the north. As it happened, they came in tenth and, under the rigged electoral system Major had set up to facilitate the loyalist paramilitaries, this was enough to put the Coalition into the Forum. Militant took this seriously enough to call a public meeting celebrating Labour’s “success” in the elections.

Alas, this success was short-lived. The Labour Coalition soon disintegrated amid a welter of recriminations and wild allegations about dirty tricks. Who was right and who wrong is irrelevant at this point, and only worth mentioning for the amusing postscript. The British government had to choose which of the warring factions was the “real” Labour Coalition. Who did the Brits pick to be the safe and responsible leadership of the working class? They picked Militant.

Since then Militant, now the SP, have run for election on their own with conspicuous lack of success – in the 1998 Assembly election being outpolled by the yogic flyers of the Natural Law Party – while their organisation is a shadow of what it used to be. Rhetorically they continue to float various schemes for “anti-cuts” parties while in practice following the logic of building a standalone sect.

So where does this leave Murphy’s case against the SEA? The SEA “failed” with 1.6% of the vote while the Labour Coalition “succeeded” with 0.8%! The SEA has attracted no “fresh forces”, but neither did the Labour Coalition. At least Murphy doesn’t repeat Peter Hadden’s line that the votes for McCann didn’t count because most of them came from Catholic areas.(10)  Finally, Murphy charges that the SEA and Respect are doomed to failure because of bureaucratic manipulation by a far-left sect… need we hang a sign around the SP’s collective neck?

What this sorry story demonstrates is that the sharper the issue the more unprincipled has been the left’s response. There is no avoiding a political response to the crisis of the Northern statelet and a policy based on opposing the landlord, imperialism, for the political slum that exists. Attempts to avoid confronting imperialism lead to a slippery slope which the SP must surely have reached the bottom of when they paraded a UVF sectarian killer as a socialist.

Explaining the failures

What we have presented makes for sorry reading – a history of opportunism, sectarianism and failure. Those who unthinkingly reject what we have said or dismiss it as just the carping of a small group are ironically failing to take themselves or the organisations they look to seriously. As Marxists we must delve beneath the ideological level of what people say about themselves to the material reality that has produced such a mess. While the Irish left is extremely weak – and despite the undoubted good intentions of left activists the entrenched practice of the left ironically prevents it becoming a serious enough force to do anything meaningful about those intentions – it is important to understand that this is not just a matter of bad habits or ideas, but is fundamentally a function of the weakness of the Irish working class. Socialists cannot rise above the limitations of the environment they seek to work in.

The weaknesses of the left reflect faithfully the weaknesses of the Irish working class. Historically small, due to deindustrialisation and domination by imperialism, it has grown up in a very reactionary environment. This has been reflected most bitterly through imperialist-inspired sectarianism which rendered the historically most heavily working-class part of the country a bastion of monarchism and reaction. Partition has created the “carnival of reaction” predicted by James Connolly and by institutionalising the most reactionary aspects of imperialist domination immeasurably weakened the working class. Imperialism has therefore succeeded in dividing the Irish working class for generations and it should therefore be no surprise that it has also succeeded in dividing the left, which has failed to find a united policy against it.

The Southern section of the working class, less ravaged by sectarianism, has been marked by numerical and strategic weakness and domination by nationalism. Its most vital elements have been depleted by emigration. The reversal of some of these historical features through expansion in the Celtic Tiger has coincided with and been coloured by a worldwide retreat of the workers’ movement and widespread dismissal of socialism as a viable alternative. The practical strengthening of imperialism through multinational control of the economy and insertion into the EU has further weakened the working class. Its trade unions refuse to organise workers in the imperialist-owned sector and they support the EU. Thus while the Celtic Tiger has strengthened the working class numerically it has weakened it politically, resting, as it has, on the defeat of the working class mainly through imposition of social partnership.

This historic weakness of the Irish working class is reflected in the fact that, unlike the rest of Western Europe, no mass working class party has ever been built. The Irish Labour Party has never been a mass party. The most significant attempts to build a workers’ party from the native revolutionary tradition – republicanism – have failed because of a false identification of socialism with Stalinism. The trade union movement has historically been much closer to the capitalist populism of Fianna Fáil than the weak Labour Party, and in the 1940s even split Labour on Fianna Fáil’s behalf, justifying this action on the remarkable grounds that the Labour leadership, renowned for its subservience to the Catholic hierarchy, was insufficiently God-fearing.

These historical factors have been strengthened in the last period by working-class defeat, institutionalised by social partnership in the South and the outworkings of the Good Friday process in the North. This has meant that class struggle has been at a very low level for many years, and the lack of a confident, combative working class is mirrored by the political decay of both Labourism and republicanism. This has also affected the organisations of the socialist left, which have traditionally been more dependent on those milieux than they may perhaps like to admit. In the late John Sullivan’s phrase, when the dog dies, the fleas also die.

To sum up – the weakness of the left reflects the weakness of the working class and this is in turn reflects the domination of imperialism. Only the working class could have defeated imperialist domination but it was imperialism that ensured its weakness. This is, for example, the explanation for the problem now facing the left, that Sinn Féin is the latest in a line of republican movements to mislead a section of workers with a pseudo-radical programme. It is reflected at a lower level by the fact that the two main socialist organisations are carbon copies of their parent bodies in the British state.

This of course is only one side of the story. If the working class in Ireland is historically weak it has the potential to take its place beside its international allies in the struggle for socialism. Through the Celtic Tiger it has grown in size and potential power.  The protracted crisis in the North speaks not only of working-class division but imperialist inability to impose legitimate stability. Objectively there is no cause for pessimism. What matters is that the cause of the left’s weakness is understood.

A new initiative

Understanding the tasks of the working class and how the left relates to them is the key work that a project for left unity must undertake. All the left groups and activists will continue to be active, more so if encouraged by prospects of left unity, so increased activity is not the goal. What left unity promises is not more activism but political unity and searching for this is what left unity actually means.

Three individuals prominent on the Irish left, Dermot Connolly, Colm Breathnach and Des Derwin, have issued an open appeal for a campaign to build a “broad political movement/alliance/party… in a struggle to oppose and end global capitalism and its effects.” The Socialist Workers’ Party has welcomed their call saying that “the SWP agrees with that call.” And the letter and their response are published in a recent issue of Socialist Worker.(11) 

To relate to this initiative it is necessary to place it in context and in this contribution we have attempted to do so. The three authors speak about a “global” alternative and the SWP mention a number of unity initiatives in a series of countries. But as we have said, these are very diverse and simply listing them gives no real clues as to what way forward is being proposed. For example, the Brazilian party P-SOL is a result of the failure of the Workers’ Party, by far the biggest experiment in building what has been called an “anti-capitalist” party. Neither individually nor collectively do the organisations listed offer the beacon around which an international movement could coalesce.

More generally we can say that the working class internationally has been on the receiving end of significant defeats from which it has still not recovered. Its trade unions have been willing accomplices in these attacks and have facilitated them. Whether these very heavily bureaucratised organisations can really be won back to be fighting organisations of the working class is an open question.

This generally gloomy picture is reflected in Ireland, if not more starkly, and means we must reject a perspective of unity built on some new “exciting opportunities” as posited by the SWP. This perspective of theirs has been put forward for over a decade yet the working class has not registered significant victories and no mass party representing its interests has been created anywhere.

This does not mean there are no “opportunities” but as a basis for unity this only invites opportunism and we have seen plenty of examples of that. The “opportunities” pointed to are really only examples of the resistance that capitalism necessarily throws up as a result of its contradictions.

Building a new mass party of the working class is not a project of short-term “opportunities” but a strategic, long-term project. By this we do not mean some perspective that envisages the more or less pacific development of capitalism in which a mass party can be incrementally built, as in the construction of the parties of the Second International.

A protracted, crisis-free period of capitalist growth is very unlikely. To this extent we still live in the period Lenin defined as imperialism, where there will inevitably be thrown up possibilities for the revolutionary overthrow of the system and it is only on this basis that we can honestly say we stand for working class independence. If we can only foresee an extended period of capitalist growth without revolutionary possibilities then all talk of really mass independent working class parties is wishful thinking or conscious deception. On the other hand only a revolutionary programme denotes real working class independence. Reformism, or a programme that pretends to ignore the question, logically entails dependence on capitalism and is the opposite of independence.

This is not just a question affecting long-term perspectives, it also informs short-term tasks. Thus we disagree with the SWP decision at its last conference that “The most important task facing socialists in Ireland is the forming of activist alliances with the many different groups and individuals that are taking part in the social movements.” We can think of no social movement that could be referred to that puts forward anything more than the reform of the capitalist system, including the misnamed “anti-capitalist” movement. The task of socialists is therefore not simply to unite the activists (with more activism?) but to win these activists and/or movements (depending on their nature) to a perspective for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. The programme to do this, the methods of organisation etc are all the tasks of socialists, not simply adding to the activism.

As we have explained, we have been here before. An honest attempt at unity will be evident from the start if it takes cognisance of why previous, very recent, attempts failed. By the same token any attempt that ignores the lessons of previous initiatives can only arouse suspicion, and deservedly so. For us the basic problem, upon which the sectarianism of the left organisations rested, was this – unity requires an object and unless this is agreed then no unity will be possible even if all organisations honestly and sincerely attempt it.

The SWP – we are unsure about the view of the three authors – sees unity as the addition together of the existing organisations to take advantage of opportunities that could not be so taken by a divided left. But this could only be the basis of unity if there were agreement about what these opportunities were and what the left should do about them. Plainly the different activities of the left organisations show that there is no such agreement.

In the past the spur to unity was electoral intervention but this is precisely the most difficult to create without opportunism. The SP argued that the next step forward for the left in elections was getting Clare Daly elected to the Dáil. Others disagreed, but why? Because of their own sectarian ambitions? Or because at some level they recognised that this was a wholly inadequate perspective for the left? But if this was so, why concentrate on elections?

This is the gaping hole in the argument of the SWP. They want to unite the left in their interventions into the campaigns that much of the left is already intervening into. They say the difference is to form alliances in these campaigns but what for? Alliances bring up the question of programme, but unfortunately the SWP is the last organisation to look for on this question, since it has historically prided itself in not having one, even for its own organisation. For the SWP the politics of campaigns are given by the campaigns themselves, which is classic economism, tailing the spontaneous politics of other forces.(12)  There is no open declaration that the purpose of socialists is to lead politically and that this often means separating the working-class position from that of others. The anti-war campaign, which is based on little more than pacifist illusions and diplomatic silences with regard to the Greens, Sinn Féin and the trade union bureaucracy, is a good example. The SWP quest for unity doesn’t seem to promise much more than a more efficient allocation of activists in campaigns that the left is already involved in.

The SWP wants only an alliance but its reasons for wanting this are weak indeed. It apparently would be “more accessible” and have “broader appeal.” Why should a united left party not have more appeal and why should it not be just as accessible? The only answer that comes to mind is that the SWP see themselves as the party and only an alliance around it is really required, one they can recruit from.

In fact the only political purpose of an alliance is that it should become a party.

The fault lines of any unity can already be seen in the very short correspondence already out in the open. While the three authors ground their initiative on an already declared failure of the Labour Party, Greens and Sinn Féin, the SWP is engaged in the pursuit of unity with precisely such forces and has left open the possibility of a leftward advance by Sinn Féin even while in the same issue of its paper its reply to the unity initiative implies the opposite. If the SWP does think that Sinn Féin is irrecoverable then its unity drive with the republicans is dishonest and does not bode well for any professions of good faith in any other initiative. If, on the other hand, its overtures to the Provisionals are in good faith, it calls into question its genuine interest in the current left unity initiative.

The fallacy at the heart of the SWP proposal is revealed by the fact that they state that only tactics divide us yet they propose unity only on tactics!

Basis of unity

Previous attempts have failed because a general desire for unity is not enough and unity on the basis of transient opportunities, even if they existed, is shallow and weak. It is therefore a mistake, as the three authors do, to predicate it on the basis of the perceived needs of the Irish anti-war and anti-globalisation movements. These are far too small for a start and have already proven to be the site of repeated disagreements over everything from principles to tactics.

Unity must be attempted on two bases. The most important must be the search for political agreement and specifically on what sort of party we want to create, what sort of programme it must have, revolutionary or reformist? Areas of difference should be identified and in themselves may be no barrier to unity if there is commitment to democratic functioning, allowing the possibility of minorities becoming a majority. The proposals of the three authors for meetings, journals, and a website to discuss ideas are all necessary and so is the stated commitment to democracy.

The second basis is that unity must become practical. Trust is in very short supply and often those who declare loudest against sectarianism and for free debate are those most opposed to political unity and astringent debate. The authors are correct that it is what people do, not what they say they do, that counts.

Open and honest discussion of politics will of itself generate trust, but ideas can only partly be tested in debate and trust will only partially be built by it being honest and open. Some practical steps towards unity will be necessary both to test ideas and build comradeship. This means identifying some practical activity where unity is possible. This does not mean the activist unity sought by the SWP, since in most campaigns there is already lack of unity. Selecting areas, or even just one area, of possible practical unity will require prior agreement on functioning, and not just picking a campaign.

We cannot jump from where we are to where we might want to be and wish a new left into existence, and while our task is to elaborate a programme for the whole working class we can only do this with the organisations and individuals that already exist. The first step should therefore be discussion about setting up an alliance, how we do this, how it would work and what its objective would be. For us this would be the creation of a new party/organisation. The authors of the initiative are correct to say that it doesn’t matter what we call ourselves, but it must be appreciated that what counts for democratic functioning in an alliance or movement is not the same as what counts for democracy in a party. The latter for example requires more unity and discipline while the former can include agreement, unity and discipline on a very minimal basis indeed, in which constituent parts are still free to do their own thing. It is therefore important to know what we are and plan to be, even if names are not important.


Achieving unity will not be easy and creation of a real working class party will be even harder. There is no short cut to either. The latter in particular will require huge class struggles that the left is at present ill-equipped to handle, never mind lead. There are no short cuts to be had as a result of “opportunities” or superficial agreement.

Many of the activists who might be involved have been around some time and will have long ago lost the illusion that victory for our cause is imminent. That we are still around shows also that we are not demoralised. We are too small at present to be held responsible for the success or otherwise of the class struggle and cannot simply rely on it throwing up the socialist leadership that will overcome our problems. That means we must face these problems, at least initially, ourselves, with our own resources, our own strengths and our own weaknesses. Patience and honesty are the primary personal qualities required. Our political responsibility is to elaborate political agreement.


(1)  Dermot Connolly, “The Socialist Party, Joan Collins and the bin tax battle”, Indymedia Ireland, 20 April 2004.
(2)  Michael Murphy, “Is it time for new workers’ parties?”, Socialist View, winter 2004.
(3)  Richard Boyd Barrett, interview with Socialist Democracy, May 2001.
(4)  Peter Hadden, “1968 – lessons of the civil rights movement”, Militant, October 1988.
(5)  Peter Hadden, Beyond the Troubles (Militant Labour, 1994), Chapter 3.
(6)  See Militant Irish Monthly, May 1979 for an early argument along these lines. Militant’s limited activity in this area concentrated on promoting a “charter of prisoners’ rights” that was explicitly counterposed to the blanket protestors’ five demands; they also demanded that equal prominence should be given to loyalist prisoners. The SP still relate how the Militant youth representative on the Labour NEC got a resolution passed formally committing the party to support their charter: how much this meant can be gauged by Labour Northern Ireland spokesman Don Concannon’s visit to the dying Bobby Sands to assure him the prisoners would have no support from the Labour Party.
(7)  Militant, 25 September 1981.
(8)  Leon Trotsky, “The political backwardness of American workers” (1938).
(9) Peter Hadden, in Towards Division Not Peace (Socialist Party, 2002), displays nostalgia for the PUP’s not living up to its socialist potential. SP spokespeople will vehemently defend their “engagement” with the PUP, while being extremely coy about what that involved. They rarely mention, for example, their initiative in 1995 touring UVF killer turned PUP politician Billy Hutchinson around Britain and Ireland, presenting him as a socialist and an authentic representative of the Protestant working class.
(10) Peter Hadden, in the January 2004 issue of Socialist Voice, writes of McCann that “almost all his votes would have come from Catholic areas”. Derry is, of course, an overwhelmingly Catholic city. We could just as easily argue that Tommy Black, the SP’s candidate in East Belfast, got nearly all of his votes from Protestant areas.
(11)  See Socialist Worker, 26 March 2005.
(12)  See Richard Boyd Barrett, interview with Socialist Democracy, May 2001.



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