On February 14th a Convention of the Left was held in Derry City. The main sponsors of this meeting were the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party of Ireland and the Green Party. Under the banner of the Socialist and Environmental Alliance they had contested the election to the Northern Ireland Assembly (see article by John McAnulty) in Derry City and East Londonderry County. This is a critique of this Convention, which first appeared in The Plough no. 27, the bulletin of the IRSP.
A non-party socialist described the course of the meeting as follows:
1. IRSP delegates, who had turned up in good faith, amounted to over 20% of those present.
2. The SEA platform displayed a willingness to allow speakers to discourse at great length, unless they happened to be republican, and more specifically, IRSP.
3. Discussion of the necessity of an anti-imperialist, anti-partition basis to any class struggle, or indeed campaign, in the North, was effectively precluded, despite the feeling of the meeting that it should be dealt with.
4. When it appeared that Republican Socialists were swaying the meeting, a member of the platform pronounced that they would object on principle to being a part of a grouping, which included the IRSP. The outcome of the meeting was, should we have needed it, a lesson in the primacy of principled politics. Those who criticize the IRSP for being
part of the problem might be better advised to examine the bankruptcy of their own solutions:
a) While these pure Marxists might find the writings of Connolly, Larkin and Costello too parochial to deserve study; they can hardly disown the writings of Marx (or indeed Lenin).
b) For Marx, Ireland was a classic example of a colony. The unity of the working class in such circumstances was almost impossible, as a large proportion of them were wedded to the imperialist ideal. The descendants of the colonists saw themselves in the main as a class apart, because of the privileges, which the British state had provided for them in return for their support. This contradiction between these two, artificially created, sections of the Irish working class could, according to Marx, only be overcome by the removal of the problem: The British colonial presence in Ireland.
c) Despite the (relative) independence achieved by the 26 counties, the problem, and solution, has not changed in any meaningful way.
Northern Ireland remains a colony, maintained for no other purpose than to perpetuate the divisions within the working class outlined by Marx over 150 years ago.
d) These are the facts, and no attempt to avoid them will make them any less true. However, avoidance has a long history, most famously, and disastrously, following the Second World War. Both the CPNI, the small Trotskyite groups, and eventually the NILP sought to build class politics in the North as part of an internal solution. These efforts were of course made in good faith, but they were based on the flawed assumption that if the border issue was skirted around it would simply go away.
e) It would be pointless to comment on this analysis, other than to ask where these groups are now, except that this is the same solution as is now being put forward as a programme by the putative
Convention of the Left. That this exercise has developed into a debacle will come as a surprise to few. However, like all experiences it has had its uses, in that it has clearly drawn the line between the radical left and the reformists. This line is National Liberation.
mainstream left (as they would wish to be perceived) in the North, believe that they can convince loyalist workers to abandon generations of prejudice by not broaching the subject, which most concerns them. One has to wonder at the arrogance of those who think that the working class are stupid, but who seek to lead them in any case!
Loyalist/unionist workers are part of our class. They also happen to be wrong. There is no quick fix to this contradiction within our class. However, honesty about our goals, and specifically our republicanism, are necessary prerequisites for our interaction with them. We have nothing to hide.
Finally, there is no such thing as
normal politics. There is only politics that serves the working class, and politics which do not. Clearly, and unfortunately, the current
Convention of the Left falls into the latter category.