The great James Connolly once said "The day has passed for patching up the capitalist system, it must go." His words ring true more so now than they ever did, and should be noted by some factions within the broad left of Irish politics. The underlying debate that simmered at the ULA forum in Liberty hall (25/6/2011), was on the type of programme that a new mass party (when the ULA goes that way) will adopt. The Socialist Party put forward the case for a strong and principled 'socialist' programme, with a clear and explicit route towards a socialist society. The Socialist Worker's Party and People Before Profit called for a socialist programme too, but one that is less explicit and is focused more on daily struggle for reforms, with 'socialism' as the "long term" aim. In this approach, they are making a grave error. The objective situation has arrived, and in diverging from DeValera's famous 1918 injunction, "labour must wait", it must be put forward that labour must wait no more!
It must be recognised that reformism is a cancer to the socialist movement, and its only cure is a strong, explicit and principled programme towards a socialist society that is under the democratic control and ownership of the working class. The danger of reformism is clear for all see, with any social democratic or labour party that has ever been in existence being dragged to the right by the flawed idea that by creating a catch-all broad front based on reforming capitalism, with socialism as some 'abstract' distant goal. Trying to create a mass movement of people united against austerity attacks is one that must be supported, however not providing a clear and detailed path towards a socialist society to that mass movement, and trying to convince them of socialism as a "long term aim" is a mistake. A party without a clear programme towards socialism will be mired in long term reformism. Socialists must have faith in the working class.
The reformist ideas of some elements within the ULA may not be explicit, in so far as they talk of socialism to their comrades, but are implicit in their methods, with a fear of socialism being proclaimed in public as part of their programme. On numerous occasions at the ULA forum in Liberty hall, I got a sense from certain speakers from the floor of a sense of shame about their socialist ideas, with one proclaiming to be a "revolutionary socialist", but did not see the need to have a clear revolutionary socialist programme for the ULA. Amazing! Maybe this sense of public shame in socialism has been inadvertently taken into their psyche due to the historical negative attitude to socialist ideas in the mainstream media. In reality, it shows a lack of confidence in a strong socialist programme and a lack of faith in the working class.
It has been suggested (para 3) by a comrade that if "the ULA was to establish itself on a revolutionary program, this would hinder its capacity to engage broader sections of the population... and would alienate many who through a broader configuration could move towards socialist ideas over time." This in my opinion is a flawed analysis that shows of a lack of confidence in socialist ideas and a shift to the right. The objective situation for a strong socialist programme is here. We are living in the biggest crisis of capitalism since the 1930's. Revolutions, uprisings and protests are happening across the globe. We don't need to wait until sometime in the future, the time has arrived.
Engaging broader sections of the population it seems includes right wing T.D's such as Shane Ross in the Enough referendum campaign, who have no problem sticking the boot into the working class on other issues. This type of 'broadfrontism' will demoralise the working class when they see that the people that the SWP have formed broad fronts with, support austerity attacks against them, and it will be counterproductive in the longer term.
So, what form of strong, principled socialist programme should the ULA adopt? The initial ULA programme drafted before the general election was a good starting point but essentially quite weak. It is my view that Trotsky's Transitional Programme (TP) must provide the template for a ULA programme. The TP aims to link Marxists to the day to day struggles of working class people, fighting for gains that ease the pain of austerity attacks from the capitalist class. However the TP also places demands on the system that can not be realised by the capitalist system and exposes the system's limits. These demands include a job for all, a shorter working week with no loss of pay, wages tacked to inflation, early retirement, top class public services, equality for all etc etc. These are demands which will not be conceded by the capitalist class, and therefore expose the logic and limitations of capitalism to the working class. The demands provide a 'bridge' from the objective position of working class struggles to the direction of fundamentally changing society through the working class taking over, replacing capitalism with a democratically planned economy. In the words of Trotsky
|"It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demand and the socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat."|
The bridge between the objective and the future is the key and it is something that is missed by reformists.
"Classical Social Democracy, functioning in an epoch of progressive capitalism, divided its program into two parts independent of each other: the minimum program which limited itself to reforms within the framework of bourgeois society, and the maximum program which promised substitution of socialism for capitalism in the indefinite future. Between the minimum and the maximum program no bridge existed. And indeed Social Democracy has no need of such a bridge, since the word socialism is used only for holiday speechifying."In seeking to create a broad front with a weak programme that does not explicitly provide a path towards a socialist society, elements withing the ULA are limiting themselves to the minimum / maximum programme that Trotsky spoke of, and fail to provide a bridge towards socialism. In this way, it is they who are being 'abstract', an accusation that was leveled at the Socialist Party at the ULA forum. In seeking this programme for the ULA, they will be wedged in a fight for reforms, with no real plan on how to arrive at the socialist society that we all (SP, SWP, PBP, etc) want.
This fraternal debate is one that I have no doubt will go on within the ULA. It should not be taken as a sign of a 'split' as some will claim, but should be acknowledged as a difference in method that should be debated in an open and transparent way. During and after these debates, it is important to remember that we share much more in common than to that which we disagree on. We all seek a socialist society under democratic worker's control, and that common goal should always bind us together.
Be Moderate? We Only Want The Earth