News of further Labour Party and Socialist Party resignations has emerged over the last few days. Leading Labour Lefts, Patrick Nulty TD and Councillor Cian O’Callaghan have now left the party. Colm Keaveney TD and Nessa Childers MEP have left the party also. Nulty himself had lost the Labour whip shortly after winning the Dublin West By Election following the death of Brian Lenihan. Both he and Cian O’Callaghan were at the forefront of the opposition to coalition after the General Election. However it is evident that the Labour Left remains isolated. The Campaign for Labour Policies has not taken off, and Paul Dillon the Campaign’s spokesman has left the party himself.
It is no wonder that party members are angry with the programme of the right wing leadership in the coalition. The Labour Leaders have tail ended the Fine Gael agenda with terrible consequences for working class families. Labour ministers have presided over welfare cuts and attacks on the public sector; as a mere glance at the detail of the Haddington Road agreement would demonstrate. Here is Patrick Nulty’s statement:
“I have taken the decision to resign my membership of the Labour Party. This was difficult because I have been a member of the party for over a decade. However, it was necessary.
“I no longer believe that membership of the party is any assistance in advancing the political ideas which form the cornerstone of my value system. These ideas are social justice, equality and the creation of full employment with quality work in our society.
“I still have great regard for the many decent, hardworking Labour members, supporters and public representatives who share my thirst for a better Ireland. However, the leadership of the party and in particular the cabinet ministers who have sacrificed core social democratic demands for their own personal political ambitions, have brought the entire political system into disrepute.
“Trust in our political system with citizens has been broken. This means there is a need for new ideas and social movements that are accountable to citizens not powerful interests.
“The most recent example of the Government hitting the most vulnerable hardest is the announcement that children with special education needs will not receive the resource teaching hours they require next September.
“The Government has imposed savage cuts to housing adaption grants specifically provided to people with disabilities who need alterations to their home. We have personal insolvency guidelines published which seek to micro manage the personal finances of hard pressed families and we have seen cuts to Child Benefit which Labour had sworn to protect.
“These are not the actions of a party that is acting in the interests of working people and a just economic recovery. That is why I have resigned. I am optimistic about the future of our country and I will continue campaigning for the radical change that is needed.”
However while it is evident that there is a crisis in the Labour Party, it is as yet unclear as to what the left TD’s and party members who have left the Party will do next. The United Left Alliance after some initial success has to all intents fallen apart. But in any event it is unlikely that ex Labour TDs could easily work with the former ULA components, even if that was on offer.
Feasibly a new technical group couldl be formed in the Dáil, comprising the recently departed TD’s and others such as Tommy Brougham who have been outside the party for some time, with maybe a couple of Independents. Under the current economic and social conditions, it is unlikely that such a group would last very long, unless that is it was linked to a new political formation, with members and a political programme.
But what sort of political programme?
Patrick Nulty spoke recently at the Jim Connell School in Meath and raised a series of ideas written by Dr Tom Healy of the Nevin Institute.
- Do no further harm, meaning: Continuing cuts in public spending must be stopped.
- Invest in infrastructure: Telecommunications, energy and water infrastructure are key weaknesses for the economy of the Republic.
- Afflict the comfortable: Introducing a wealth tax on the French model, which would raise more than 500 million euro a year.
- Comfort the afflicted, who have borne the brunt of the recession.
- Begin a negotiated, orderly write-off of Anglo-Irish/INBS debt
- Strengthen a process of public and private sector reform, particularly corporate governance and regulation
- Develop a stronger, dynamic and competitive indigenous sector
- Reform our banking sector once and for all.
The capacity to develop this alternative is essential now. Tinkering at the edges of an austerity model that has failed has nothing to offer young people who have been badly let down. A 360 turn is now required, and it is one that only the Labour movement can lead.
The programme of the Campaign for Labour Policies raised many of the same ideas in their “Budget 2013” Campaign, namely:
1. Invest in Growth and Jobs
2. Repair Public Finances by Taxing High Income Groups
3. Expand Public Enterprises, Don’t Sell Them Off
4. Increase Labour Rights in the Workplace
5. Repudiate Odious Debt
These ideas represent a left reformist Keynesian programme. The programme combines taxes on the rich and investment in “Public Works”, as well as a commitment to ameliorate the position of the poor. The programme calls also for more regulation and control of the banks. If Labour was to break from coalition and fight for these policies it would certainly gain support. However, the programme unfortunately does not go far enough.
As long as control of the banks and big industry lie in the hands of the weak and parasitic Irish Capitalist class and their bosses in New York and London, then any programme of reforms would be subject to the laws of the world market and the decisions of the big business board rooms. Then of course there is the Troika, of the ECB, the EU and the IMF to contend with.
The success or otherwise of any new venture will depend on whether the former Labour TD’s can link into the mood of opposition and the deep dissatisfaction among working people. There is a huge amount of discontent in the state, but that is not an easy task. James Connolly summed this up in an article written in Edinburgh in 1894 Party Politicians – Noble, Ignoble and Local (with acknowledgements to the Connolly Internet Archive).
For some time to come the work of Socialists on all such bodies will not be so much to pass new laws as to infuse into their administration the spirit of the new life, to use all power to inaugurate the reign of justice, to convert our industrial system from a machine for making profit into an instrument for sustaining life, to transform our politics from the government of men into the wise and well-ordered administration of things, to relegate to the limbo of exploded superstitions the old doctrine of freedom of contract between affluence and starvation, and thus, by constantly placing our doctrines and our efforts upon the same platform as the class interests of the workers, to create such a public feeling in our favour as shall enable us to bridge the gulf between the old order and the new, and lead the people from the dark Egypt of our industrial anarchy, into the Promised Land of industrial freedom.
But what of the Socialist Party? Under conditions of severe Capitalist Crisis in the state, the left should be making serious headway. But reports published recently indicate that a number of experienced cadres have resigned the party citing problems of leadership accountability, lack of perspective, programme and a poor regime, but perhaps most importantly a poor attitude towards Marxist theory.
Much of the theoretical and political legacy of the Militant Tendency, from which the Socialist Party trace their history also, has been squandered. The task of Marxists is ultimately to win the majority of the working class to a revolutionary programme. Yet in our opinion the Socialist Party have retreated from that perspective in favour of short cuts and opportunism.
This is most apparent in respect to their political programme which is a long way from the position of the Militant in the past. We have commented before that the Socialist Party have watered down the programme that they defended in the days of the Militant Tendency, when they were inside the Labour Party:
The other key element, but the most important is the question of the ideas of the organisation. The programme of the SP in this election was a watered down version of the programme of Militant in the past – when, that is, the comrades were actually inside the Labour Party fighting against coalition and in favour of socialist policies. A Socialist alternative needs to be clear and unequivocal.
Ruth Coppinger’s election manifesto called for Democratic Public Control of the Banks and for a Socialist Ireland. But what type of democratic control of the banks? In the past Militant argued for Democratic Workers’ Control of the Banks and big industry, also for a Socialist United Ireland. These are important points. In the same edition of Militant from March 1982 that we quoted earlier, John Throne called for Labour to fight for its founding aims and objectives, that is “a 32 county Socialist Workers’ Republic”. The present SP line is far less clear than this and does not clearly identify how much of the country the demand for a socialist Ireland actually applies to. Is the SP still in favour of a 32 county Socialist Workers’ Republic of Ireland?
Ruth also called for an “economic bailout that would help ordinary people in Ireland and throughout Europe”. Who would provide an economic bailout for ordinary people? Capitalism is in crisis. The only guarantee for working people is that capitalism means more austerity. Without a complete break with capitalism there is no prospect for an end to austerity for the foreseeable future. In the past Militant argued for a massive investment in a huge scheme of public works that would mop up unemployment and get the economy moving again, but it also argued that in and of itself this would be insufficient without a socialist plan of production. There is no prospect of “an economic bailout that would help ordinary people” on the basis of capitalism.
Ruth’s manifesto calls for a 1% increase in corporation tax and for an end to tax exemptions as well as a 10% wealth tax.These are left reformist policies, in reality they don’t challenge capitalism. They are essentially reformist demands that most middle of the road Labour Party members would support. Dublin West by election Labour wins but now the coalition must be broken
In the end, the resignations from both Labour and the Socialist Party reflect a similar problem; that is dissatisfaction with the existing parties in the face of the social, economic and political crisis within the state. But it reflects also a big political vaccuum in Ireland. However, it will take big events to wrest control of the leadership of the working class from the reformists, the right wing and the trade union leaders. Likewise the Socialist Party has a big apparatus, even with a left reformist programme it will survive for a period. There are no short cuts. The task is to build a genuine Marxist Tendency with a clear revolutionary programme and the capacity to engage with the most advanced layers of workers and particularly of the youth.