Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ireland: Left Sectarianism Damaging the Workers’ Movement.

Ireland votes yes on gay marriage
By Sean O’ Torain

Plenty of blame to go around. - The role of the revolutionary Left in Ireland today.

I have been out of Ireland now for over thirty years. But I have tried to keep up with events. For the thirteen years previous to leaving I was a member of the CWI now the Socialist Party (SP). I was the first member in the South and the first full timer overall. From this background and from the background of later being expelled from the CWI I would like to share a few thoughts about the present situation in Ireland; mainly events in the South. There may be some inaccuracies in what I write due to not being back for some time. I apologize in advance and have no problem with these being pointed out.

I assume we would all agree that the role of the trade union leaders and Labor Party leaders in Southern and Northern Ireland is an absolute betrayal and disgrace. They have gone along with the so-called austerity program which bails out of the banks and fills the pockets of the rich while emptying the pockets of the working class and the poor. I do not need to spend any more time in condemning these forces. I also see that Sinn Fein has joined the austerity program in the North, this is a harbinger of things to come in the South. No surprise there from the people who court the British royalty, Tory governments and the representatives of US imperialism and Wall Street.

Having squarely put the blame for the betrayal and sell out where it belongs, on the shoulders of the trades union leaders and the Labor Party, I would like now to turn my gaze in another direction. There is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the failure to defeat the so-called austerity program.  I am referring to the policies and activities of the left groups and individuals who see themselves as revolutionary socialist. I will be as blunt with them as I have been concerning the trade union and Labor Party leaders.

The role of these left groups is an absolute disgrace. It is utterly sectarian. It is a dogfight. The role of the left individuals is little better. I do not know all the details about the individuals so I will be more careful here and if I am unfairly criticizing anybody please correct me and I will most willingly correct any mistake I have made.  But let us look at these left groups and individuals.

As far as I can see there is the AAA and the PBP.  Then there is the UL. Then there is the Dail Comrades Clare Daly and Joan Collins. Then there is Mike Wallace whom I understand does not consider himself a socialist but who is a fighter on some issues. In the North there is Eamonn McCann. The AAA and the PBP are dominated respectively by the Socialist Party (CWI) and the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP). The SP and the SWP are so sectarian they cannot even have one united front. They each have to have their own united front!!! I also understand the self styled Workers Party is appearing again. There is also the IWU. I do not know the role they are playing.

The Labor Party is at its lowest ever in the polls. The opportunity for building a fighting alternative
Irish protest water charges
has never been greater. Surely it is as obvious as the eyes on your face that all these revolutionary left forces should come together to build an electoral alliance and work together. I shake my head here at the sectarianism and immaturity of these groups, at the counter revolutionary role their sectarianism plays.  What this amounts to is these groups putting what they consider their own petty interest above that of the working class. This does serious damage to the working class movement.

When the ULA was built I did not agree with its objective being to build a new left party. I thought the sectarianism of the various group’s was too great and that it would be better to work together as a united front against the attacks of the austerity program and out of this run candidates as part of an electoral alliance. On this I was proved right. The Tipperary Unemployed group was the first to bolt. They were going to a build national movement. I have heard nothing of this. The SP led by Joe Higgins used the cover of this to bolt next, The SWP kept one foot in as far as I could see and one foot out. The whole thing fell apart. Now as far as I know there is the UL.

The AAA and the PBP are now running together to try and win 7 seats. Last I heard the SWP was running a candidate to try and take Joan Collin’s seat in Dublin. This is so horrific in its sectarianism I can hardly believe it. I hope it is not true. I hope if it is true that leading members of the SWP such as Eamonn McCann and Boyd Barrett will speak out strongly against it. Not only speak out against it but wage an internal campaign within the SWP to get it stopped.

There are all the members of these various groupings. There are the thousands of ex members of left groupings. There are thousands and tens of thousands who have moved into struggle recently for the first time, on issues such as the water charges, gay marriage etc. A whole new layer of the population have moved into struggle. And what do the left groups offer them? A fractured sectarian backstabbing dog fight. It is an utter disgrace. Everybody in these groups should be ashamed of themselves. I am ashamed of myself that I was a sectarian and acted in a sectarian manner when I was in the CWI and what was the Militant back then in Ireland and what is now the SP. I have totally rejected that way of working now just as I have totally rejected other sacred totems such as so-called Democratic Centralism.

I am not against any group. I am against sectarianism. In all these groups and outside all of these groups there are very good people. What is necessary is for a left formation to be developed which has as its priority, yes fighting the so-called austerity, but also fighting the sectarianism of the left. The first cannot be achieved without the second.

I would suggest this. And it will not be easy. All those members in the left groups and former members of the left groups come together openly, state their identity openly and campaign against sectarianism. And in doing so state where they themselves have been sectarian, their organization has been sectarian and that from now on they are going to wage an open struggle in their own organizations against sectarianism and make this struggle public. For this to work the leading members of these groups would have to come out against their own sectarianism, and take up an open struggle against the sectarianism in their own groups and as practiced by their own groups. Over to you Joe Higgins, Boyd Barrett, Eamonn McCann, Mike Barry, Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Dermot Connolly.

And please do not come up with any crap about the need for the internal lives of revolutionary organizations to be secret.  It is mad to imagine that the internal life of revolutionary group in this Internet age can be kept secret. The Bourgeois can listen to just about anything while the left groups are calling for a secretive internal life. These groups are insane. The first step back to sanity is an open struggle against sectarianism, our own and all of the left.

I am part of a small revolutionary group here in the US which is trying to break from these sectarian ways. It is called the Project for a Working Peoples World. We organize on revolutionary socialist principles, no hard and fast line, general revolutionary principles. No 100% agreement on every dot and comma.  We organize on democratic organizational principles and these principles include one that states that members of PWPW can also be members of other groups. But there is one condition-------and it is non negotiable------that members of other groups share the internal life, including differences that exist with the members of the PWPW.  No more secretive B……T.


Anonymous said...

Yea not a bad article and viewpoint. Just one small criticism and that is to explain your idea of sectarianism a bit. I get it I think.

Sean said...

Thank you Anonymous. I suppose I could say that my article had a remnant of sectarianism in it. Assuming that all who would read it would have had experience of left sectarianism and so would get my drift. As you will have seen I was talking about left sectarianism in my article. In Ireland I have to make this clear so as not to be confused with talking about religious sectarianism.

Left sectarianism as far as i mean is it the left self styled revolutionary groups or individuals or for that matter any left group or individual putting what they see as their own interests above that of the working class movement. For example if there is an election in a constituency and different left groups it would be left sectarian not to come together and seek a united candidate around which all would unite. Draw up basic points of agreement have a single candidate fight on these and the different groups could also have material putting out their own points of view, meetings putting out their own points of view but the overall dominant feature would be the unified campaign. I have given the example of Joan Collins where I understand the SWP is running against her . This is the most terrible example of left sectarianism. The SP of which I was a member for many years we were also left sectarian. We dismissed all the other left groups as sects, we said we knew everything and the other left groups were "useless." The SP is still like this. This approach damages the workers movement in many ways. It prevents the development of unified campaigns of the workers movement and so weakens the workers movement. It also repulses many many people, some who see themselves as revolutionary socialists and some who would want to be revolutionary socialists. but they are repelled by the left sectarianism of the self styled left groups. There are more people in Ireland and many many other countries who see themselves as revolutionaries who are outside the revolutionary organizations than are inside these organizations. This shows there is something fundamentally wrong with these organization. Part of the left sectarian organizations is also their internal life. they are run by small secretive cliques which group together to stay in control and whenever any alternative view rises and takes a stand this clique drives out this opposition. I and other was expelled from the International of which the irish Sp is part, that is the CWI and was denied my right to appeal against my expulsion. All the present top leadership of the Irish SP were involved in this. I personally appealed to Joe Higgins to support my right to appeal and he refused saying i had got myself into this trouble and I would have to get myself out of it. I had recruited Joe Higgins to socialism and to the SP. To combat this left sectarianism leading and strong people in the various left organizations will have to stand up and fight this sectarianism in their own organizations. If they do not fight the sectarianism of their own organizations they will have no credibility. they will just be seen as trying in a left sectarian manner to attack other groups. That is why I say over to you Joe Higgins, Boyd Barrett, Eamon McCann, Joan Collins, Clare Daly etc. All members of the left groups have to openly and publicly oppose left sectarianism in their own organizations and in all organizations. A good start would be some of these leading names above to sponsor a conference for a non sectarian left. Comradely and thank you for your post. Please check our Post at Please read in particular t the top of the home page our piece called Project for a Working Peoples World. This lays out a working document here where we are trying to organize in a non sectarian way. Please note in particular th political but especially the organizationally principles on which we are trying to work. We are for a new culture in the revolutionary left movement. Sean Throne.