OF all I would like to thank the Desmond Greaves
Summer School for inviting me to address this, its
17th annual school. The theme of this lecture is
important to me personally as an activist of the
Communist Party of Ireland. I am politically partisan
and an activist, and my analysis is based upon that
experience. But I hope also to be able to articulate
a politics that will provide the basis for further
discussion and debate with those who may share some
or part of this analysis.
title of this paper is "Prospects for the Left
in Ireland". I suppose it would be fair to
say that the state of the left in Ireland right
now could be summed up as not good currently, but
with good prospects in the future.
on the left should not see their role as simply
expressing critical opinions and passing "profound"
judgements on developments, but rather in seeking
to shape the future by their day-to-day engagement
in various struggles, understanding where the key
struggles are and identifying those areas of key
political importance which need to be developed.
To engage in the battle rather than argue around
the echo of the battle, is the key. The left needs
to develop a more strategic approach to politics.
rather than presenting a shopping list of immediate
demands of what the left should be "calling
for", I would like to put forward a number
of areas in which I think the left and all those
who believe in radical change should attempt to
find unity of purpose, and then concentrate on developing
the political forces required to secure progress
in these key areas.
influence of the left cannot and will not grow in
some abstract way but only by its ability to identify
correctly the inherent contradictions within Irish
society and to develop the capacity and ability
to mobilise the people by giving leadership and
developing alternatives to expose the duplicity
of the establishment.
nearly ninety years have pass since James Connolly
and his comrades seized the GPO, raised the flag
over that building and struck a blow for national
freedom against colonialism and imperialism, the
political legacy and goals that Connolly left us
remain unfulfilled. The struggle to establish a
sovereign republic and ultimately to establish a
socialist Ireland remains with us.
key theoretical and practical contribution that
Connolly made was to insist on the necessity of
linking the two streams of radical Irish political
thought, the socialist and the anti-imperialist
nationalist. He argued that labour must take up
the challenge to make the cause of Ireland its cause,
for without taking on board that political task
it could never achieve its socialist goals.
the nationalist forces he argued that their goal
of national independence would never be achieved
fully or sustained unless they addressed the social
and economic questions, that the economic and social
structures, if not changed, would deliver little
or nothing to the mass of Irish people, in particular
to the working class and rural poor.
the struggle we face is to win back economic and
political powers ceded to the EU and to build structures
that will bring about community reconciliation in
the North, which, if the current process continues
and develops, should pave the way for a more integrated
national economy and evolving political structures.
Our people north and south have experienced Partition
in different ways, which in turn has shaped how
they perceive or experience and understand the processes
taking place in our country. This gives rise to
different but interconnected priorities which our
people, north and south, need to face up to and
the left needs to address and champion.
The South faces different challenges and priorities.
Today it is the almost complete loss of whatever
political and economic independence was achieved
since Partition. It is also one of the most open
economies in the world.
the Irish political elite are active junior partners
in the construction of the new imperial entity called
the EU. Just as the leadership of the Home Rulers
wanted home rule, not to further independence but
to have a seat at the imperial table in London,
to benefit from the imperial plunder and exploitation
of the empire, today's elites are willing servants
of the interests of the European Union and the emergence
and growing imperialist ambitions of the EU. They
want to be part of this great imperial project and
to be beneficiaries of its global strategies for
state is also dominated by and is to the interests
of US imperialism. The use of Shannon airport is
the latest example of this subservience. This is
due to a number of factors, first and foremost of
which is the domination of US transnational capital
would like to cover just three areas that I feel
the left should address and establish as strategically
important at this time because the united action
of the left is more than just electoral strategies.
title of this session begs the question, who or
what is the left? How do we define the left in contemporary
Ireland? Who is in, and who is out? I think these
questions can be best or only answered by first
defining what the main questions facing our people
are. The following I believe are the key areas which
mark out the ground on which different political
primary question is the European Union and the recovery
of lost economic and political powers as part of
the process of reshaping European co-operation in
a more democratic arrangement and less centralised
structure; The Good Friday agreement and the struggle
for a new politics. Finally, the re-establishment
of a more independent, revitalised labour and trade
union movement. Irish politics do not exist in a
vacuum, nor are they free from developments at a
European or global level. They are shaped by those
developments, by the pressures exerted upon us by
imperialism. The starting-point from a left perspective
must be to recognise that imperialism is a global
system. It is not a collection of policies.
world is now under grave threat. Environmental degradation
goes unchecked. Global warming once dismissed as
"loony science" is now accepted as fact
by the majority of ordinary people and the scientific
community. Millions of people across our planet
are dying of hunger and curable diseases, and AIDS
is now almost out of control in Africa. Yet we live
in world of unprecedented wealth and material goods.
We have the scientific and technological means to
harness the world's resources to better the lives
of the majority of the world's population, yet it
is not done. Why?
is shaping and changing the world to meet its economic,
political, military and strategic priorities. At
the same time it is meeting with resistance across
the world. It is not getting its own way all the
time. An example of this was the worldwide peace
marches by million of people against the drive for
war in Iraq by George Bush Junior. We did not succeed
in preventing the United States and its allies invading
Iraq, but these protests did have an impact and
shaped how the war was prosecuted.
to imperialism is growing right across the world,
with various degrees of success. We are can see
growing resistance to neo-liberalism across Latin
America, the victory of Chávez and the emergence
of other progressive governments on that continent.
But in Europe everything appears on the surface
to be going the way the elites desire it. But is
that really the case?
REPUBLIC is now completely emasculated within the
EU. The EU has steadily moved on the inevitable
course of the creation of a centralised superstate.
It was not this or that treaty that was the problem
but the whole process itself; the economic and political
forces driving the EU would always lead and have
eventually led us to this point or juncture in the
history of our nation.
are forces operating within capitalism which compel
it to move in certain directions. Its ability to
do so is determined by the political conditions
that it faces, the resistance that it meets. The
concentration of power and the building of an EU
superstate are an objective necessity for European
monopoly capitalism and its political representatives.
It needs to concentrate and consolidate in order
to protect itself and its interests globally.
we look at the countries that make up the current
EU, all nations and peoples have their own traditions,
historical evolution and experiences. Some have
been or still see themselves as imperial powers
in their own right. Some are advanced industrial
powers with a strong indigenous industrial base,
from which they have expanded and colonised other
countries and built empires, while others, such
as Ireland, have experienced colonial domination,
the impact of which has retarded economic, social
and cultural development.
nations and peoples will experience change at different
points and at a different pace. This leads to uneven
political developments across a range of countries.
Some may move forward towards a more radical process
of change than others.
traditional left takes a number of positions and
views in relation to the EU and its drive for ever
greater integration. Some see it as unstoppable
and in fact as an objective necessity and the outcome
of capital concentration on the European continent;
therefore it is a good thing and it speeds up the
process or movement to a united socialist Europe
- for if you have a united Europe you surely must
end up having a united working class. This approach,
I believe, is very class-reductionist and economistic.
we take a look at the position adopted by the Labour
Party, it may not take such a crude view as I have
outlined, but in essence it supports the central
thrust of integration. Its leaders believe that
the EU is somewhat different, that the European
"social market economy" is different from
the US free-market economy. This view is shared
by the Irish trade union movement. Along with the
wider elements of the European labour movement they
also believe that the best and only way to protect
what they call the "European social model"
is greater involvement in and support for increased
European integration as a bulwark against neo-liberalism.
They constantly state that there is no alternative.
is clear that many from the European social-democratic
tradition, both political and trade union wings,
have failed to recognise that the European social
model is under attack from the very process and
institutions they support. Increasing numbers of
workers across Europe recognise this fact. The establishment
still uses the rhetoric of support for the EU as
a bulwark against the "threat" posed by
the British and US market economy. This highlights
the point I have made about what monopoly capitalism
wants, and that what it can impose is down to the
level of resistance it meets.
in countries which have been able to sustain their
well-developed social policies, structures, and
provisions, due to the fact that they have well-organised
resistance, opposition to the EU is strongest, for
the very reason that they see EU integration as
a threat to those very social achievements. They
already equate attacks upon their social gains as
coming from the likes of the Lisbon Agenda, potentially
from the Bolkestein directive or some variation
on it, and from numerous other neo-liberalist directives,
and the very structure of welfare itself as under
attack from bodies like the EU Commission.
the European Union, with the backing of EU law and
the Commission, governments, including the Irish
government, have been commodifying and privatising
services in accordance with neo-liberalist dogma
and the GATS regulations. This, while simultaneously
enriching a few, represents an attack on the living
standards of the majority. It is driven by the need
of corporate Europe to roll back the working conditions
and social gains that they have had to concede to
workers over many decades. The whole thrust of the
currently stalled EU constitution was and is to
consolidate and facilitate these ongoing attacks
upon workers' rights.
for the left to take a position on current developments
it must define what the EU is, what forces are behind
it, whose interests does it serve, and what is its
nature. This would be central to finding a common
position, thereby leading to common action.
will not deal here with chapter and verse of the
history of European integration, other than to say
that it has been a topic of debate and on the political
and economic agenda since about the 1920s. This
political and economic necessity became a reality
after the Second World War; it was and is driven
by European monopoly capitalism. These forces were
and are tied closely to and dependent upon the big
nation-states, in particular the former imperial
powers. Although imperialism is a global system,
there are still difference of interests and competition
between the states involved.
monopoly capitalism needed both to break and to
combine the European nation-states, in order to
streamline investment, production and the movement
of goods, establish a larger, unified market, and
consolidate labour resources. As separate economic
powers its individiual states they were not capable
of competing with the United States on their own,
due the latter's population size, its low unit production
costs, its global economic dominance, and its access
to vast natural resources under its control, both
domestic and foreign.
United States both welcomed and pushed for closer
co-operation and integration between European states
in the initial phase it supported European integration
as a bulwark against the threat it perceived from
the Soviet Union. In addition its elites were concerned
about the growing strength of working-class forces
in post-war Europe resulting from the role those
forces played in the defeat of fascism. The contradiction
between keeping socialism at bay and building up
a potential economic and political opponent to itself
is now very apparent.
my perspective and understanding, what is being
constructed is a new imperial power with the capacity
to impose its economic, political and military priorities
around the globe. It will be both an ally of and
in opposition to US imperialism at a global level
under different sets of conditions, needs, and priorities.
I don't believe that you can have a benign form
of imperialism, and history shows that. Capitalism
and imperialism have only political, economic and
military interests. The economic forces driving
EU integration, those forces that really take the
decisions, have priorities that are based upon maximising
profits, market share, market penetration, controlling
the ability of labour to defend itself, and global
strategies of domination. They are guided by their
economic and political interests. They do not deal
in such categories as good and bad, just or unjust:
only self-interest rules.
current EU power structures and the structures envisaged
under the now on-hold EU constitution correspond
to and reflect what EU-based monopoly capitalism
needs and requires. All power is to be retained
in the hands of an elite, the powerful influence
of the European Round-Table of Industrialists and
other lobby groups for big business and corporate
interests, coupled with an increasing lack of democratic
part or all of the left agree that the EU is an
emerging imperialist power bloc? Do we only have
one imperialist power in the world today? If people
do not agree that the European Union is an imperial
power, then what is it? The answer to these questions
will determine what your demands are and the political
strategies that you adopt.
you believe that the EU is an imperialist entity,
then we need to continue to oppose it at all levels:
(1) Politically; (2) Economically, realising that
its economic policies not only impact on us, by
call for internationalist and anti-imperialist solidarity
in relation to how the EU imposes harmful economic
policies and priorities upon the world's poor nations;
and (3) Militarily, by resisting its military ambitions,
its efforts to construct its own army and to build
up its own military-industrial complex.
left and democratic forces need to deepen their
understanding of the nature of the EU and what it
is, and where it is attempting to push us. From
that understanding there follow certain political
priorities, the nature of one's demands and the
strategic approach that we should take. For this
will determine how we engage with the EU.
left needs to recognise that the EU itself is now
one of the main obstacles to progressive social
change, and that the erection of obstacles to such
change is one of the key underlying rationales that
have shaped and driven EU integration.
example of this is that the whole thrust of EU economic
policy and directives is to push the privatisation
of publicly owned industries and services,impose
market deregulation and militarisation, the destruction
of social gains won by workers over a century of
struggle, the commodification of everything from
health services, education, and social security
central question in relation to the EU is one of
sovereignty, democracy, and accountability. The
achievement of social and democratic change in Ireland,
as in other EU member states, is made much more
difficult, if not impossible, in the current conditions,
due to the anti-democratic nature and the forces
driving the EU.
power is removed and transferred to the EU level,
the impact of this is an undermining of democracy
at a national level and the building of a closed
system at EU level, free from national democratic
accountability. Issues like poverty, unemployment,
economic policies and priorities become mere technical
issues, to be solved by setting up groups of experts
and consultants to come forward with ideas and proposals
within very prescribed and narrow boundaries, inside
the EU box. The whole process is about the Commission
and the political and economic elites it interacts
with having complete and unchallengeable power.
central thrust of EU policy is about removing political
and economic decision-making from popular democratic
debate and influence, giving people no opportunity
to have a say in decisions that affect their lives.
People are presented with fait accomplis: no discussion,
no debate involving thewm; take what you get.
the last thirty years or more, the struggle for
national independence has been progressively made
more complicated and difficult, as many of the powers
to build and develop an independent Ireland have
been ceded to the EEC, EC or EU. Without those powers
it is near impossible to advance to a socially progressive
Ireland. This has meant in practice that in addition
to the struggles for civil rights, democracy, community
reconciliation in the North and social progress
and change, progressive forces have had to struggle
and continue to struggle against the ongoing erosion
of Irish democracy and sovereignty.
should not be limited to what we have today, in
the main a representative form of parliamentary
democracy. The left should be arguing for more than
just that: we need to be arguing for a participatory
form of democracy, where power and decision-making
are real and meaningful to people's everyday lives,
whether on the factory floor or in the office and
community. Real power must rest is in the hands
of the people.
left needs to take a more strategic approach and
develop tactics that will bring new socal forces
into play to defend and extend Irish democracy.
We need to develop a political strategy to take
advantage of the inherent contradictions in the
whole EU integration process, which will lead to
a situation where the character of the EU itself
are three areas that I believe can deliver change
if we develop the contradiction (1)between democracy
and EU diktat; (2) between the interests of big
business and working people; and (3) between people's
social aspirations and the economic priorities of
HAVE historical experience of building such forces
and alliances and developing the necessary political
demands to bring change about. The experience gained
from the building of the Northern Ireland civil
rights movement is one possible example. It identified
the anti-democratic structures and the inherent
anti-democratic nature of unionism as its Achilles
heel and then challenged it on that basis. We should
examine what were the forces involved and the methods
of struggle on that occasion. I know it is dangerous
to extrapolate a complete, worked-out experience
from the past and attempt to impose it upon today's
conditions, but there are certainly the bones on
which to build.
strategy, if developed by the left and democratic
opinion, would pose a number of questions to the
Irish people and would expose the deep contradiction
between them and the Irish political elites and
between our people and the EU.
I would like to pose two key questions for consideration:
the needs and aspirations of our people be met within
the economic straitjacket of the EU?; Can the EU
cede democratic changes without itself unravelling
and the very character of the EU itself being changed?
I believe the answer to these questions is No. So
the challenge for the left is not to follow the
establishment in some phoney internationalism but
rather to see that the point of struggle at the
national level is in defence of democracy, and at
the international level it is to show solidarity
with other progressive and democratic forces within
the EU and beyond. The left and progressives forces
must present an alternative vision of Europe, one
where the people are central.
recent defeat inflicted by the French and Dutch
electorate on the EU constitution presents renewed
opportunities to engage, or at least we should make
the effort to engage, with those forces that are
pro-EU but opposed to neo-liberalism or the current
direction in which the EU is proceeding. There is
no use in us engaging in the politics of "I
told you so".
It goes without saying that I would be in favour
of a socialist Europe, but that is not on offer.
The current stage of the struggle should be about
what type of relationship should exist between the
nations of Europe and the peoples of Europe; to
establish equality and mutual respect between EU
member states and with other European countries
that are not members of the EU; to retain the maximum
independence and sovereignty that is possible in
today's world; to share and to co-operate with our
European neighbours in those policy areas that strengthen
mutual support and solidarity around issues of common
concern and mutual benefit. An obvious area is in
environmental and marine protection.
approach the question of the EU from a position
which I hope is shaped by my understanding of Connolly:
that it is only in the linking of the social and
the national that political advances can be made
and secured. Can we advance to a socially just Ireland
when our country is emasculated and subservient
to the interests of imperialism? This is the fundamental
question that must be answered by those who support
the EU and claim to be on the political left.
we had a progressive government in Ireland, what
would its attitude be to EU integration? Would they
support the abolition of the euro, a central plank,
surely, in re-establishing more economic control
at a national level? The left needs to answer the
question: Is European imperialism any better or
different from British imperialism in the past and
US imperialism currently?
REGARD to the north of Ireland we need to look at
the question of imperialism not just as squaddies
wandering around south Armagh but at its political,
economic and cultural influence on the Ireland of
today. For decades some on the left and some republicans
defined the relation of the Irish Republic to British
imperialism as one of a neo-colony, and the relation
of the North and Britain as a direct colony. That
was a very accurate reflection of the relation pertaining
since Partition up to at least the 60s and 70s.
The question needs to be asked, is this still the
imperialism had strategic reasons for bringing about
Partition and sustaining it for as long as it has.
This had nothing to do with protecting the interests
of the unionists or the majority of Protestants
or their traditions. What is the situation today?
Does British imperialism have any further reason
to maintain its control? Is its position more a
hankering for and pandering to past glories, or
does it have any significant reality today?
is clear that the Irish establishment are willing
partners, albeit junior ones, in the building of
the new EU imperialist bloc; so clearly there is
no threat to imperialist interests from that quarter.
Britain does not derive the same economic benefits
from Ireland as it did in the past. The North is
a drain upon its resources. The once-powerful industrial
base in the North, which was linked to British imperialist
interests, has all but gone. Britain still has a
strong ideological influence and base, particularly
within the North. In the South we can also see that
influence through the huge numbers of British papers
bought on a daily basis, and the television and
radio programmes watched and listened to by the
Britain the main - and I would stress the main -
obstacle to realising Connolly's dream of an independent
Irish Republic? Today surely it is Brussels and
global imperialism that stand in the way of that
goal? I am sure the EU establishment do not care
whether there is a unified state on this island
or not. They are and would be concerned about the
nature of thatsState or its possible future government
and the policies it might pursue.
British have stated that they have no economic or
strategic interests in the North. They say that
it is a matter of consent by the majority of the
population, and that they will go along with that
decision. Certainly they have been dragged along
and been forced to implement the Belfast agreement.
This is the context in which the Belfast agreement
was shaped and formed.
need to ask ourselves a number of questions. As
the balance of forces and the political and economic
interest of the Irish elite have shifted from one
of dependence on Britain to being active junior
partners with the EU, how does this affect the strategic
approach of the left in relation to Partition? Does
the adoption of the Belfast agreement mean that
the very narrow view of imperialist involvement
in Ireland, that it consists essentially of Partition,
will wither on the vine? Is this view in fact on
the way to becoming defunct? Has the Belfast agreement
made Partition superfluous?
from a strategic point of view, to have developed
an all-Ireland economy with the necessary evolving
political structures would put the Irish people
in a better position to move forward on other fronts.
The question of the nature of what we are fighting
for cannot be sidestepped or put off. It is the
nature of one's goals and the potential of the forces
who see their interests as lying in the direction
one wishes to bring them, which makes the nature
of one's demand so important and central.
of Britain's diminished direct role, its objectives
in relation to Ireland may not be as dominant as
previously was the case. Nevertheless the left and
republican forces need to keep up the pressure and
develop the necessary political alliances. The desirable
common demand should be that the British follow
through on their stated positions. We know from
experience that imperialism rarely if ever totally
abandons reactionary positions held. They always
take a long-term strategic view. They would be mindful
of the possibility of a more progressive state emerging
in an all-Ieland future on this island.
should be the left's approach to the Belfast Agreement?
How does the left evaluate the possibilities of
political change in relation to both the Agreement
and its impact upon northern politics and potentially
upon the whole of the island? The views of some
republican groupings outside Sinn Féin, and
certain left organisations, could be summarised
by the following assessments of the Belfast agreement:
majority of the traditional left are very supportive
of the agreement, with a few reservations and concerns
about weaknesses. The first three or four points
of criticism reflect the traditional narrow understanding
of imperialism, how it works, how it achieves its
economic and political goals and how those goals
may in fact change, due to the fact that its own
relative strength may alter in relation to other
imperialist formations. Once again I emphasise that
imperialism is a relation, not a set of policies.
Behind these criticisms is clearly the view that
British imperialist interests have remained static
and fixed in relation to Ireland since Partition;
that there is only one form of struggle that can
bring about progressive change - physical force;
that there is some special purity in armed struggle
that removes the possibility of compromise and political
latter three points come from a leftist perspective.
Yes, there is some validity in stating that the
agreement does institutionalise sectarianism. But
at this historical moment it is nonetheless possibly
the best option. Is a return to Unionist "majority
rule" a better option? People experienced that
for nearly seventy years, and what did was the result?
Yes, would not "class politics" be better?
The lines of conflict would be clearer, with two
great social armies facing each other, ready to
do battle. That is the stuff of an impractical idealism.
sectarian divide in the North was deliberately created
and nurtured over nearly two centuries by British
imperialism. It will not just go away because we
wish it, because it gets in the way of "real
politics". Sectarianism is still a potent weapon
in the armoury of certain elements of the establishment.
To pose the social against the national is to fail
to understand real politics.
of us who support the Belfast agreement and who
believe that the priority at this time should given
to political forms of struggle by republican activists
should welcome it. Ending one method of struggle
does not mean, nor should it mean, the end of struggle
as such, but rather that struggle takes different
forms and new forms must be adopted. In this context
we strongly welcome the recent statement from the
IRA on the complete end to all republican military
left should not view the Belfast agreement as an
end in itself but as a vehicle which at this moment
in time has the potential to make advances, to change
the economic and political landscape if it continues
to develop. It provides political conditions from
which we can struggle and develop the necessary
forces to eventually bring about a unitary state
in the future.
Belfast agreement emerged and was supported by the
southern establishment because they believed that
it was the best way to contain the inherent political
instability and uncertainly of the North within
the confines of the six counties. They hoped that
they could construct a sufficiently strong middle
ground, with the UUP and the SDLP holding the upper
hand, to run and control the institutions set up
under the agreement. That has clearly not happened.
It shows one that political struggle can change
the balance of forces.
do not think that the majority of the southern establishment
have any real strategy to advance the possibilities
contained within, and the overall strategic thrust
of, the agreement. It is one of the key weaknesses
of the whole process that there has been little
or no mobilisation of people or political forces
around the expansion of and the development of the
strategic thrust contained within the GFA in the
future of the left will be clearly determined by
its ability to build alliances with other forces
around shared goals. The broad national question
and not just the very narrow view in relation to
Partition is a key area where left activists can
and must find common cause and approaches with republicans.
I say this because not all republicans are, or claim
to be, socialists, and not all socialists necessarily
understand or appreciate the centrality of the national
question in its broadest sense, and consequently
they may not necessarily see republicans as allies.
FORCES CURRENTLY ON THE IRISH LEFT
IRISH Labour Party has traditionally been the largest
party which sees itself on the left of the political
spectrum. There have been a number of views within
the Labour Party. The dominant one has always been
old-fashioned economism or "gas and water socialism".
There has always been a very pro-imperialist tendency
and a small republican labour current.
Belfast agreement did provide, and still provides,
the Labour Party with the opportunity to break away
from its traditional position, confining itself
politically and organisationally to the 26 counties.
It could, if it had a clearer understanding of the
central importance of building an all-Ireland democracy,
and an all-Ireland economy, address the republican
labour base of Fianna Fáil. Yet it still
continues to pander to neo-unionist forces in the
South and does not see nor, it appears, realise
that conditions have moved on. It does not see any
political or electoral gains to be made from taking
a more progressive republican position.
majority of the Labour Party leadership increasingly
view Sinn Féin as being in competition with
its own electoral ambitions, rather than as allies
sharing common goals and shared aspirations. Surely
the Labour Party has more in common with republicans
than with Fine Gael, a party that epitomises and
champions law and order and Partition and is completely
bought and sold to the interests of imperialism?
Multi-seat constituencies provide the opportunity
to build unity without the unnecessary electoral
weakness on the part of the Labour Party could possibly
lead some republicans to believe that their only
option is to seek some form of coalition with Fianna
Fáil in the South, hoping thereby to drive
Irish political and economic integration by being
a partner in the Southern government and being central
in the Northern executive, using the North-South
structures contained within the Belfast agreement
to achieve this. If this approach were adopted,
would this lead to potential tensions within Sinn
may see their priority as to push this approach,
but it could, and I believe it would, lead to long-term
damage to the building of a dynamic broad left in
the South in particular and the whole island in
general. Here the experience of the Labour Party
and Democratic Left in previous coalition governments
should provide a salutary lesson.
is important, but more important is the direction
you are going. It is not so much where one is coming
from but where one is going to.
do not believe that the main objection to Sinn Féin
being a partner in some future government in the
South was or is the guns of the IRA. A much more
important factor is that they are not sure if militant
republicanism has completely bought into the status
quo now pertaining within the South. As Trimble
put it, they need to be "house-trained".
are huge pressures from the establishment and the
EU upon all political forces and organisations to
change their policies, particularly those relating
to economic priorities and demands and most importantly
to accept the EU and our continued membership and
subservient role within it, to accept the central
thrust of the EU elites in building a heavily centralised
European superstate. It is clear that the leadership
of the Labour Party, along with leading elements
of the Greens, have become well house-trained and
are no threat to the establishment in relation to
many of these questions.
clarion call of the establishment is to come into
our political swamp, that there is more to be gained
from joining us than from struggling for an alternative,
because, according to them, there is no alternative.
left cannot afford to allow the current opportunities
now opening up, to leave the development of alternative
political and economic priorities, to the political
forces which now dominate. Nor can the left sit
back and predict that Sinn Féin and republicans
will do this, that or the other and that they will
go the way of previous developments within republicanism.
The left needs to come forward with its own vision
of what needs to happen in order to establish and
argue for its own economic and social priorities,
but at the same time we need to actively work with
those forces inside republicanism who wish to see
and are struggling for a different Ireland and to
shape the course of history.
should boldly assert that those who believe in the
importance of struggling for national independence
are natural allies of the left, and vice versa.
So, we need to be actively engaged in the battle
of ideas around the future direction of whatever
structures, programmes and policies emerge over
the coming period.
Fianna Fáil and the establishment will be
attempting to establish their domination and influence
and shape how economic cross-border development
takes place. The left needs to exploit the difficulties
and contradictions between what the people want
and what they get, so as to push politics in a progressive
direction. For it is clear that you cannot and will
not outdo Fianna Fáil in Fianna Fáilism.
the history of twentieth-century republicanism is
very contradictory. It gave birth to Fianna Fáil,
which had a radical phase for about a decade or
more; it spawned Clann na Poblachta; it split into
two wings in the 60s, the Provisional and Official;
it produced pro-imperialist organisations like the
Workers' Party, and various ultra-left groupings
and other splits. In addition there have always
been political forces within it struggling to bring
it to the left and to re-connect it with the cause
of labour. In the course of those struggles it produced
the Republican Congress; and leading members of
the Communist Party of Ireland also came out of
have reached an important juncture for both Sinn
Féin and the Labour Party. Do both parties
become mere props to keep the main establishment
parties in government, in whatever combination?
A left-right alliance of the Labour Party and Fine
Gael confronting a left-right alliance of Sinn Féin
and Fianna Fáil? Is this what Pat Rabbitte
wants? Certainly the leadership of the Labour Party
bears most responsibility for this, as they have
turned their backs on any other possible alternative.
once again the question needs to be posed to both
the Labour Party and republicans: do they follow
James Connolly or de Valera?
left must become the champions of the cause of social
emancipation and national independence and proclaim
that the involvement of labour is central to a successful
outcome of that struggle, and not a side issue.
MORE RADICAL APPROACH REQUIRED
LEFT needs to take on board Connolly's strategy
of linking the social and the national dimensions
to the political struggle; that they are one and
the same. There is at this time the necessity to
connect these two key questions to radical political
currents both dealing with the EU and building economic
and social structures which will undermine unionist
ideology among the working-class supporters of unionism.
cannot afford not to see that the struggle for socialism
needs to embrace the national question in its broadest
sense. I believe that a more socially progressive
government in the South would appeal to and win
those who currently support unionism in the North,
particularly among the working class there, to a
more progressive politics and to the idea of a unified
struggle to bring progressive politics and more
dynamic political, economic and social policies
into the northern executive can play a central role
in shaping how the unionist working class view political
changes and developments. It can shape how they
perceive where best their political, economic and
social needs will be met and what sort of Ireland
might be possible and acceptable. Political parties
are both shaped by and in turn shape political struggle
from within and without the political structures
there is a belief among some political commentators
that the political problems in the North will be
settled by the changing demographics - the Tim Pat
Coogan approach: that the numbers game will ensure
that the Catholic-nationalist population will overtake
Protestant-unionists in the next decade, then outvote
believe that this approach is anti-republican and
a very sectarian one and will not provide a long-term,
stable solution. So the role of both the left and
republicans, whether inside or outside of government,
is critical. We need to be active in bringing about
change, by putting into practice what you believe
in, to actively engage with working-class unionism;
showing that what you say and what you do are the
same. Being in government does not necessarily mean
you are the sole or determining factor for the growth
of progressive politics. As experience shows, it
can have a detrimental affect.
Belfast agreement, as I see it, is a means to and
end, not an end in itself. It presents better conditions
for struggle and has the potential to allow the
left and radical forces to build the links and to
establish the connections between the social and
the national in a real and meaningful way.
should remember that social ideas and people's understanding
of how their material needs such as jobs, housing,
education, social provision, equality, as well as
language and culture, can be secured, are shaped
by their experience of where best their social and
economic needs can be met.
any period of time the left needs to develop politics
that are changing and shaping the conditions of
ordinary people's lives. The building of a broad
democratic alliance is essential if we are to win
allies within the unionist community and weaken
and undermine unionism in a progressive direction.
This is where the left, trade unions and other social
movements can bring their experience and ideas to
the table, allowing a progressive democratic alliance
to develop in peaceful conditions. Once again the
question posed by Connolly, of what type of Ireland
we are struggling for, remains very relevant. This,
I believe, will have the potential of moving politics
forward in a progressive left direction.
development of all-Ireland economic and social bodies
will over a period of time take precedence over
what is now the dominant view among many working-class
supporters of unionism, of looking to London for
money and solutions. But this will not happen automatically
or in a progressive, people-centred way: what is
needed is the active involvement of, and conscious
political actions and clear demands and strategies
from, such a democratic alliance as was outlined
need to develop this type of politics. It has the
potential to develop our people's understanding
and their consciousness of what needs to be done.
Politics should be about people and not purely electoral
or ministerial positions. Electoral success will
come when people see that the left have real and
meaningful solutions to fit their needs and aspirations.
We need to get beyond posturing to show what we
are in favour of and not just what we are against.
One of the most widely held views of the left among
working people is that they know what we are against
but little about what we are in favour of.
we have all-Ireland bodies to deal with tourism,
etc. The left need to be pushing for a wide range
of cross-border developments, such as energy, transport,
infrastructural projects, health service co-operation,
natural resources like oil, gas, and fisheries,
fiscal autonomy for the (northern) executive. The
question of a single currency for the whole of the
country, that being the euro, is being discussed
in some circles. I believe this would be a mistake
in the long term. In the short term it appears attractive
in current conditions. But I would re-state that
if we are to have the powers required to develop
more independent economic policies, then the question
of the euro arises. In politics, like life, sometimes
there are no easy solutions. I would argue that
the breaking of the euro could deal a significant
blow to European monopoly capitalism; so this is
not a narrow nationalist position but rather an
internationalist one. There are points in history
where we have only divergence of views and positions
amongst imperialists at our disposal from which
to wage our struggle.
TRADE UNION MOVEMENT
TRADE union movement is central to any advance to
the achievement of progressive change in our country.
The role and involvement of the labour movement
in any potential progressive democratic alliance
is crucial. It is the most significant social force
across the whole of the island. It brings together,
north and south, nearly 900,000 workers. But it
is not without its weaknesses.
figures put the number of unionised workers in the
private sector at around 30 to 35 per cent of all
those employed. The bulk of trade union membership
is made up of public-service workers or state employees.
The work force in the Republic has grown over the
last decade to nearly two million working people,
and it is now multi-ethnic. Working people now far
outnumber those working on or dependent upon the
land. Employment in the construction industry has
grown since the mid-90s from 80,000 to 200,000 workers.
have experienced the most unprecedented and sustained
economic boom since 1993, which is only matched
by China. It was during this period that we had
a floating currency, from 1993 until joining the
euro. We should study this period carefully to see
what are the lessons to be learnt, if any. This
has brought new sets of problems and new demands.
This growth has been due to the high levels of foreign
direct investment (FDI), that is, transnational
capitalist corporations investing in the Republic,
particularly from the US, as they view Ireland as
a gateway or, in their jargon, "platform"
into the EU.
over-reliance on FDI, coupled with the ongoing privatisation
of state and commercial semi-state companies, has
the potential to make our country very vulnerable
to global changes and fluctuations, with potentially
disastrous results. This overdependence on FDI,
taken alongside the economic and fiscal levers already
ceded to the EU, can and will spell real dangers
in the long term for Irish workers. Another feature
that we are experiencing is uneven economic development
leading to uneven social development across the
country. Dublin and its hinterland is bursting at
the seams, while large parts of the country remain
boom has also led to growing inequality. According
to the UN Human Development Index, Ireland ranks
with the US and Britain as the three most unequal
societies in the developed world in terms of the
proportion of the population living below 60 per
cent of median income levels. This is made up of
people dependent on social welfare, on fixed incomes
such as private pensions, the unemployed (4.5 per
cent of the labour force) and the unskilled, small
farmers, people with poor educational standards,
as well as particular categories such as low-skilled
unmarried mothers. These figures were recently backed
up by Combat Poverty research.
are also witnessing the gross exploitation and abuse
of migrant workers in many industries, not just
in construction but in agriculture, in small manufacturing,
etc. These are new forces that the left needs to
address and involve. All this prosperity comes with
a very heavy price tag for workers and their families:
one of the longest working weeks in Europe, one
of the highest productivity levels, leading to high
rates of profits for repatriation; so the level
of worker exploitation is intense.
life-style promoted and encouraged by contemporary
capitalism is taking a huge toll on both the individual
and families and on the environment. The pursuit
of endless consumerism is central to capitalist
ideology and is in fact unattainable and unsatisfiable.
is crucial that the left takes on board the central
role of the organised labour movement and develops
its potential both industrially and politically.
There are no areas of economic, political and social
life that Irish trade unions do not or should not
have a view on and articulate and campaign for,
and upon which their members do not exercise considerable
is the first or basic level where the ideas of the
establishment must be challenged. For if the labour
movement has no vision for itself, of what its role
is within society, or if it has no distinct view
on the nature of society and possible alternatives,
then it will remain caught up in social partnership.
Its ideas, its vision of any possible alternative
Ireland will be blunted. If the left cannot come
forward with an alternative, then the establishment
in all its forms, the boss class itself, newspaper-owners
and columnists, academics, establishment economists,
radio and television will provide it.
unions bring together the largest group of organised
workers in the whole of the country, north and south.
The trade union movement has the potential to be
developed into the most coherent voice for organised
workers and workers in general.
the current economic and political conditions the
trade union movement is losing ground in both influence
among workers and the numbers of workers joining
or who feel the necessity to join it. Social partnership
is sapping its strength and its independence. In
many ways it is creating a very lethargic membership.
It is losing its own identity. This I do not believe
is down to some malign influence and control by
a bureaucratic clique. There are objective reasons
for it. The role and influence of the left is divided
and weak and in many cases ineffectual. The level
of political consciousness is also low. The Industrial
Relations Act of 1990 has greatly affected the ability
of unions to defend their members' interests and
to take effective action, thereby making unions
is deeply entrenched within the trade union movement:
that is the nature of the beast. As the Labour Party
has weakened and declined, the more it abandons
traditional left, even social-democratic, positions
and adopts many tenets of neo-liberalism, the more
neutered the trade union movement becomes.
am not in favour of turning our frustrations with
the current state of the labour movement into some
dogmatic opposition to the ICTU or to union officials
as such. But rather we should recognise that we
need to mobilise trade unionists on the ground by
participation in the democracy within their unions
at all levels.
priority should be to break social partnership and
free up trade unions to act more independently from
the state and employers. We need to recognise that
workers in the main fight for their own immediate
key area surely is that the trade union movement
needs its own all-Ireland economic strategy, geared
towards bringing both economies closer together,
which it can fight for at a national level, north
and south. That would present an opportunity for
workers north and south to fight around common goals.
The challenge is to bring an alternative vision
of a "new Ireland" into the heart of the
debate within the labour movement.
from the above priorities I would like to address
the question of what forces we should be looking
to and the demands that we should be bring forward.
social groupings It is increasingly clear that our
people are frustrated and unhappy with the current
state of the country, and many have voted with their
feet. Many no longer see any point in voting at
all. Others have taken a step away from the etablishment
parties and have voted for minority left parties
and progressive independents. There has been a growth
of local campaigns around a wide range of issues,
local development priorities, the environment, local
services, service charges, water privatisation,
etc. We have radical Catholics expressing opinions
on government policy far to the left of the Labour
Party and trade unions.
government has successfully channelled these groups
into safe and secure control structures, such as
the Social Pillar in Social Partnership, in various
Area Partnership Boards and the like. They have
made many community groups and poverty organisations
funding-dependent to stifle any potential political
development and sap their independence, pull their
political teeth. The challenge facing the left it
to give expression and leadership to this very diverse
set of forces and campaigns. We need to fight for
the vision of a reformed or alternative Ireland,
a society driven by values other than greed, blind
consumerism and environmental degradation.
we need to do is begin to build a broad democratic
alliance. The make-up and nature of that alliance
will be shaped by the nature of the demands that
following are a few proposals for further discussion
the full implementation of the Belfast Agreement.
Develop and fight for an all-Ireland economic plan
which will facilitate the building of an all-Ireland
economy which is centred on the priorities of people
and local communities. Advocate public ownership
and control over all natural resources. Work for
policies aimed at community reconciliation in the
North. Oppose any further privatisation of state
assets, north and south. Internationalise the struggle
for national democracy. Fight for policies that
are centred on mutual solidarity between peoples
and nations. Work towards relations and co-operation
that are built upon respect for national independence
and national sovereignty. Regional regulations should
only be introduced in problem areas which require
united action. National Parliaments or people alone
should determine what powers should be exercised
at the regional or global level. Withdrawal frm
Partnership For Peace and the EU Rapid Reaction
Force. Rebuild the neutrality of this state (Republic
of Ireland). The struggle to expand democracy is
the key to opening up the road to progressive change
and to challenge the ever-increasing situation where
we have democracy in form without real content.
democratic alliance should attempt to embrace the
broad range of forces that I have outlined above.
It should include organisations and individuals
who are involved in the struggle to empower their
communities, those who wish to see a more human
and democratic culture, those involved in the struggle
for women's equality, in particular working women,
those involved in the struggle to protect our environment,
peace activists, those wanting better and more equal
health services. The trade union movement has to
be a central part of any new alliance. We now have
political parties and progressive independents elected
to both the Dáil and local authorities who
would be allies. This alliance should exclude those
who preach or encourage racial or ethnic hatred.
alliance should be from the bottom up and be about
empowering working people and their communities.
It is this growing alienation in political, social
and cultural life that needs to be challenged to
make politics people-centred.
the coming together and greater co-operation between
a party in the Dáil and at local level would
be a significant step forward. But we need more
than an electoral pact or strategy. Any alliance
must be about policies and priorities. If we take,
for example, that we had a left government tomorrow,
what should or would be its view on the EU? So content
is vitally important.
of the first steps in the building such a democratic
alliance is the importance of regular gatherings
such as this. It provides the opportunity for people
from different backgrounds to come together to argue
and discuss in a non-confrontational way the political
and social priorities of the day and to reach common
understandings leading to common actions.
We have had the top-down experience of the Left
Alternative in the 70s, which fell apart for various
political reason. One of its main weaknesses was
its top-down approach. We need more contact, more
discussion and debates at all levels. The building
of trust is the first step towards achieving our
again I emphasise the importance of the struggle
for democracy to expose the establishment and to
hoist it on its own petard.
topic of "prospects for the left" has
been the subject of many meetings, many thousands
of words written, many a pint drunk debating it,
but it appears that nothing ever changes.
are no magic wands to be waved to solve our difference
or our problems. The political conditions have been
favourable and unfavourable for the left. Sometimes
we have made progress; at other times we have suffered
defeats. The ruling elements are not going to make
life easier for us: they are not that foolish or
we know that we can learn from the past to see where
our own weakness lay, and if we overcome them in
relation to the link of the social and the national
struggles then we will begin to finish the task
left to us by James Connolly. For if we do not take
on board Connolly's analysis, then we are doomed
to repeat our own mistakes again and again.