Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

ULA: What kind of party do we need 3

with 2 comments

ULA: What kind of party do we need? 3

Head, heart, hand and footwear.

A guest post

It would be a pity if people were less than enthusiastic about political discussion, education and development inside the ULA. Am I picking up such lukewarmth, fired with a little impatience for activity and against talk, from some of the party-members at ULA meetings? That would be an irony from comrades who organise public meetings on ‘Marx and the crisis’ and weekends on topics as diverse as Ancient Slavery and William Morris. But no more ironic than restless recruiters talking down formal membership or newspaper publishers opposing outright a publication for the ULA.

A disdain for political discussion and analysis in local ULA branches of large questions like ‘what caused the financial crash?’ or ‘should NATO be bombing Libya?’, which you might get alongside a tolerance for education and discussion as an enhancement of ‘activity’, on topics such as ‘what are people’s legal rights on non-payment of water charges?’, could reflect a certain view of the ULA. Such as: the ULA for placards, housing conditions and candidates and the revolutionary organisations for politics.

If this is a widely held assumption it is not held by those who look to the ULA as something on the way to a collective as political, as rounded, as engaged and as real as any of the long standing groups that predate the ULA and will perpetuate themselves within and without the ULA.

There is room for both kinds of discussion in ULA branches, for the theory on Monday of the shoe leather worn out on Thursday and also for the theory behind the worldview that draws people into left politics in the first place. For, if you like, staff work about the battle and for grand strategy, and even philosophy, about the war. Both.

The culture of this or that political party on the socialist left should not exercise us here and let us just say that deeds are what count, action is at a premium and activity is to be saluted and the hard worker honoured. Contrast with the expected duties of rank and file Labour Party members, vote and canvas, is only to the advantage of the active former. But it is not because the ULA is or should be some kind of ‘old Labour’ hybrid (which is not the same thing as a combined formation of marxists, radical socialists and left social democrats) that a level of hyperactivity should not be expected of all or even most ULA supporters. Any party that aims to have significant numbers must base itself on, well, the working class (employed and unemployed), including those who work at home or have other duties in daily life. Most people will have time for at most one or two evenings or activities a week for a political organisation.  A party that hopes for the adherence of the mother with young children, the worker who needs to work overtime, the parent who drives the kids around on a Saturday morning, the teacher who has to return to 30 darlings in the morning, the activist already active in local youth work or as a shop steward, will keep its pace of activity at a rate to suit all. And without allowing a hierarchy of presenteeism to sort the ‘better’ members.

A digression that is not a digression at all. The Irish left is fortunate, if that fortune is employed, in recently receiving into its ranks one of the foremost marxist intellectuals and popularisers in the English speaking world, John Molyneux. In his time he has had the honour of being assailed in a book review by Raya Dunayevskaya. Furthermore, he has been, in my view, as far out on the critical edge of the organised far left as it is possible to be while staying an organisational loyalist. Some of his stuff will certainly be included in my promised little bibliography around the subject of what kind of party we need. Every time I attend a protest these days John Molyneux hands me a leaflet. Admiration and nothing but should go to someone who combines great knowledge, experience and prestige with the footslogging of the infantry.  But I hope John brings his balance and educational capacities into the ULA on the range of issues – besides Egypt 🙂 – he has so much to offer on. When he speaks on ‘What is Socialism’ at the ULA Forum workshop on Saturday afternoon he will be painting  – another of his interests 🙂  – broad strokes of what socialism really is and not just promoting  a particular product. Mick Barry will be worth hearing too. But I can’t resist ‘New Workers Parties – Lessons of Europe’ at the same time, and I expect Mark P at that one too.

Des Derwin

2 Responses

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  1. […] tomasoflatharta.com/2011/06/23/ula-what-kind-of-party-do-we-need-3/ LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  2. There isn’t really much I can disagree with here, at least not your central points about the ULA.

    1) Yes, the ULA should have regular political discussions both at branch level and at wider forums. A branch should be for organising and reporting on activity, certainly, but it should also be a place for talking about political ideas, theories, analysis. I would be surprised in the extreme if you were detecting any reluctance on that score from the Socialist Party.

    2) Yes, activity norms should be flexible.

    Mark P

    June 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm


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