For independent socialists in the run-up to the local elections there are a couple of different options available to us to tie in with other groups. There are the remnants of the ULA still looking for a home, there was some movement towards developing a party under the banner United Left, with Clare Daly & Joan Collins and a couple of Councillors. There was some discussion around the rudiments of a programme some months ago. Unfortunately this seems to be still born, as there doesn’t seem to have been much progress over the last couple of months. Considering the lack of apparent movement (there may be something happening behind the scenes I’m not aware of but it’s doubtful), there doesn’t seem to be much drive behind the organisation.
The other development seems to be more interesting and probably has the most potential at this stage. There are a number of caveats attached to this potential however. For instance because it was started by academics there is naturally an academic-heavy make up to the people who’ve been attending the Left Forum meetings. That being said, as it attracts more towards it, we should see the base broadening out to include a wider variety of people. We are already beginning to see this happening, and should these difficulties be overcome, then the Left Forum could be a successful endeavour.
The first thing that should be noted is that LF is not a party, and it’s not likely to become a party before the local elections. In fact it’s not even certain what LF will be, if anything. There needs to be a serious ongoing debate about the nature of the Forum, and it’s vitally important that this isn’t rushed into just to have a slate of candidates for the local elections next year. This would in the long term be counter-productive to the best interests of developing the left in Ireland. There will of course be people associated with LF contesting the locals (there will also be other slates of non-LF candidates), but not under a Left Forum banner.
It’s clear there are going to be a lot of left-wing candidates standing in the local elections. Some of those will be standing under the SP’s newly formed Anti-Austerity Alliance (this is largely made up of SP members and those members of CAHWT who stuck with the SP line), others will stand as PBPA which launched a recruitment drive some months ago. Others however will be standing as independents. It is these independents that need to be brought together under a banner after the elections. There is neither the time nor the funding needed to unite them before the locals and to field them as candidates.
I know this is a bit like putting the cart before the horse, but unfortunately its unavoidable considering the timescale we have to work with. We can’t simply thrash out a unity programme ahead of the elections as this will naturally be a ‘lowest common denominator’ programme that everybody is somewhat happy with, and a lot unhappy with. If the programme is rushed it will have no proper grounding, people won’t feel properly connected to it and will be more willing to walk away as they’ll feel no real ownership of it. The left in Ireland is already in a sorry state without us adding to and compounding that.
It is increasingly obvious that the left is not going to come out of this crisis with any substantial gains. Despite the frantic level of activity over the last couple of years we still failed to prevent Haddington Road, the Property Tax or any of the other austerity measures being foisted on us as the wealthy close ranks and protect their class interests. The best we can hope for now is to slow down the rate of attrition on our social services and the attacks on the working class.
Despite the impact of one of the most serious crises of capitalism in decades, the left have not been able to convince people that capitalism is the crisis. We are nowhere near having the mass understanding of capitalism and the infrastructure necessary to bring about a revolutionary situation. Such is the right-wing nature of our society at this time that modern social democracy seems radical! We are currently in some sort of pre-pre-pre-pre-pre-revolutionary stage. Unfortunately it seems the populist right, in the form of Direct Democracy Ireland and their fellow travellers, have become increasingly visible during this crisis, presenting a new challenge to those of us on the socialist left. Their confidence is up after Ben Gilroy’s relatively strong showing in the Meath East by-election. However none of the other members of DDI have Gilroy’s high profile, they’re relatively unknown in their communities, so it’s difficult to see them doing as well in the locals.
But it’s not been entirely negative for us either. There are still pools of activists that came from CAHWT (and other campaigns) looking to start something progressive, many of those weren’t active before the Household Tax. Most of those ex-CAHWT standing as independents are bringing with them a body of people who are supporting them in their election campaigns. These local groups are in essence nascent branches, and if the more progressive of them could be brought together (again) under a socialist banner they would make a potent force.
Of course if this is to develop into a potent working class movement it needs to develop in its own time, and without outside influences. Some have called for a broad slate of left candidates including the SP & SWP. I think this is a mistake. I think that any electoral compact with two well established parties by an emerging group of independents will automatically see the established groups dominate. I know this is only a slate and not an alliance like the ULA, but in my opinion the same principle applies. We would be seen as being similar to the established parties when we should be trying to make our own way and show we are different to them. We need to be separate from the others in order to not be swamped by them. It should also be noted that those ex-CAHWT groups that are fielding independent candidates have already rejected the SPs approach. Besides the SP & SWP have their broad slates with AAA & PBPA respectively, why would they bother adding independents they’re not particularly fond of?
Of course what all of this means is that we should be following two somewhat contradictory courses. We need concentrated short term activity to get those independent left wing candidates elected in the locals. And we need to engage seriously with the longer term process of developing the Left Forum, or whatever comes from it, into a potent force that can offer a serious alternative.
Now we just have to come up with a programme……….