The left needs to come together in a strong 32 county socialist party, Kieran Allen—National Secretary of People Before Profit—explains.
In September, Wrightbus in Ballymena announced that 1,200 workers would lose their jobs. The owner, Jeff Wright, had paid out £16 million to charity, much of which went to the Green Pastures evangelical church, led by himself. Yet he is closing the plant because it faced a ‘cashflow’ problem.
Wright’s manufacture buses and its workforce contains highly skilled coach builders. In an era when we need to get out of cars and use more public transport, it is a vital manufacturing facility. Moreover, these workers were building ‘green energy buses’, fulled by hydrogen, and in demand outside of Ireland. Yet the workers receive only empty words from their MP, Ian Paisley Junior, who has been subject to investigation because of his undeclared luxury trips to the Maldives. For decades, Paisley and the DUP have built their base in Ballymena by stoking up the fires of sectarianism. Yet when it comes to a major calamity for workers, they have nothing but platitudes.
If ever there was a case for a strong socialist party, then this is it. Socialists want to see Wrightbus nationalised and integrated into an economy that will provide free public, environmentally friendly transport. We also want to challenge the sectarianism that has historically divided workers. And that means naming its fundamental cause, a partitioned island that created the conditions for right wing politicians to foster Green and Orange identities, all the better to squeeze out left wing politics.
Over the past decade, there has emerged the small beginnings of such a party. People Before Profit has established a firm base in both Derry and Belfast, electing five councillors and one MLA. This is despite a ferocious campaign by Sinn Féin to crush this nascent development through a systematic and lying campaign to associate People Before Profit with the DUP as supporters of a Tory Brexit.
In the South, a similar base has been established with the election of six socialists to the Dáil as part of Solidarity-People Before Profit. Almost every week now, there is a socialist voice on the mainstream media articulating a clear pro-worker message.
Yet between these promising developments and the urgent need to create a strong 32 county socialist party, there is a frustrating gap. Worse, in the eyes of the general public, there has been a pattern of splintering on the left, with the latest ‘split’ being the departure of Paul Murphy TD from the Socialist Party.
The narrative, assiduously promoted by the right-wing media, that the left keeps splitting is unfair for two reasons. First, splits are by no means confined to the radical left. The Irish Labour Party split with the departure of members to form the Social Democrats. Sinn Féin and republicanism has a history of splits, with the latest being the formation of Aontú. The DUP has seen a split with the Traditional Unionist Voice seeking the even further shores of loyalism. And of course, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, also emerged from a split.
Second, the radical left faces a genuine difficulty over strategy. Right wing parties who want to manage capitalism have only to stay together to get on a gravy train of money and power. They do not have to devise strategies to overthrow the system. They may despise each other, especially when it comes to candidate selections, but like thieves they stick together. The radical left doesn’t have the same options. And it is here we get to the nub of the problem.
We are living in an era when millions are both questioning capitalism and moving into activity against it. But this is also a period, where there is both a weaker socialist consciousness and a decline in working class organisation. Moreover, this contradiction has become more acute as a capitalist system in decay threatens the very survival of the planet.
One response has been to withdraw from mass movement and to develop a socialist cadre though internal educational and slow systematic recruitment. The hope here is that when there is a new upsurge of working-class struggles, an organised minority will be available with clear politics to give it a lead.
A second response, which People Before Profit has adopted, is for socialists to play an active role in current social movements with a view to winning as many as possible to an anti-capitalist understanding. Inevitably, this means working with those with whom we disagree in a ‘united front’ as this is often the only way to galvanise a mass movement. It requires us to engage with the existing consciousness of working people in order to show how often specific, practical demands for change run up against the limits of capitalism.
By and large—with all its problems—this has been a successful strategy. It has led to the creation of a 2,000 strong looser network, in which committed revolutionary socialists play a crucial role.
But the pace of these developments by no means match the challenges ahead. We have already one firm warning; Oughterard. Here, the tiny forces of the far right have scored their first victory by turning the frustrations of rural Ireland into a movement to close a direct provision centre in their town.
Two things are now needed to grasp opportunities and ward of threats.
First, People Before Profit will enter into discussions with anyone on the radical left who wants to create a strong 32 county socialist party. Where such an agreement cannot be found, we will engage with others in more limited cooperation in movements or in the electoral field. We fundamentally believe, however, that the radical left must break from partitionism if it is to stake out a serious opposition to the establishment, especially in an era where discussion about the border and the future of the two states on this island is at the top of the political agenda. Building a strong 32 county socialist party is an urgent necessity, therefore, that we must collectively grasp.
Our view is that such a party must be free from sectarian dogmatism and be willing engage in broader movements to advance the socialist cause. If there is agreement on these fundamentals, there is no reason why socialists cannot devise an internal democratic culture that respects differences while avoiding a locked-down ‘statement of positions’ that become an excuse for not seeking real change.
Second, the radical left cannot consolidate or grow, if the working people do not have the confidence to struggle. We are currently in a hiatus where an economic recovery of sorts, combined with the absence of mass struggle, has led to a certain disengagement with politics among sections of workers. This will not last, and the looming crisis over Brexit will pose major questions for the economy and for the national question.
The radical left must be willing to play its part in working with the unions and other forces to provide a focal point for new waves of anger. This is why People Before Profit has issued an open letter, calling for wider unity to encourage struggles over housing, a living wage and support for the climate movement. Such unity should also be in evidence in coming electoral struggles.