Peter Hadden Archive   |   ETOL Main Page


Peter Hadden

Correspondence with SWP
over Left slates in elections

(Summer 2003)


From The Socialist, October 2008.
Copied with thanks from Irish SP site.
Marked up by Ciaran Crossey.


Editorial Note from ETOL: In Spring 2003 the SWP in Northern Ireland approached the Socialist Party and other parties, groups and individuals inviting them to participate in a socialist slate to contest the Assembly elections. Below we have published the correspondence between the Socialist Party and the SWP which deals with this discussion.

This collection Comprises 5 documents:

  1. The SWP proposal for a socialist slate
     
  2. SP initial reply
     
  3. A further circular letter from the SWP
     
  4. SWP Proposals for a Belfast discussion, June 14th
     
  5. Socialist Party’s Regional Executives response

The SP documents were essentially drafted by Hadden, which is why they are included in this collection.



Document 1: SWP proposal for a socialist slate
in the Future Assembly Elections

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Dear Comrades,

We wish to urgently raise the prospect of a socialist slate in the Assembly election scheduled for May 29th.

The widespread expectation is that if the election goes ahead it will be no more than the usual sectarian head-count. There is a crying need to assert the relevance of class by presenting a socialist alternative.

The development of the anti-capitalist movement and the related emergence of the anti-war movement has re-drawn the political terrain in which socialists operate. There are opportunities open to the left which weren’t there a couple of years back. We think a real effort should be made to realise these opportunities.

We have to be realistic about what’s possible. But we also have to use what possibilities there are.

Time is very limited. But together we mobilised thousands in 48 hours for the Bush-Blair war.

A few points which we think are worth noting:

  1. If the only candidates going forward are from the usual communal parties and liberal alternatives, a significant minority will have no candidates of their choice. The existence of this minority and the fact that, in our view, it is growing will not be recorded. The left minority will not have been mobilised or consolidated.
     
  2. The need for a socialist alternative arises in practical terms from the fact that PFI, water privatisation, public sector cuts etc. are all that’s on offer to workers from the sectarian deal which delivers communal politicians their places on the gravy train.
     
  3. The anti-war movement which pinnacled on Feb 15th showed the impact a united front approach by the left can have. Of course, an electoral united front is a different matter. But the general lesson remains.
     
  4. No other candidates will make opposition to war and capitalism central to their campaigns.
     
  5. The SWP, SP, the CP and others could stand individual candidates. But none of us would make the impact we might make together. A united approach would have the potential of “national” impact, rather than aiming at building a purely local base.
     
  6. Credible socialist “independents” such as Mark Langhammer would be more likely to entertain the notion of a left alliance rather than be drawn into the orbit of a single party.
     
  7. Concretely for instance, the notion of Joe Bowers, Carmel Gates, Eamonn McCann, a leading firefighter, a sacked airport worker, other campaigners etc. standing under one umbrella would be of great significance and interest.

We don’t under-estimate the difficulties that would arise. After all, they have arisen in the past. But we believe the pros far outweigh the cons.

As for the programme an alliance of socialists would put forward: Agreement might centre on opposition to imperialist war-plans, opposition to sectarianism and oppression, a pledge to use seats won or influence gained to help a fight against privatisation and for decent wages, union rights etc., support for a woman’s right to choose, integrated comprehensive education.

We don’t offer this as a definitive list. Obviously, there’d have to be discussion of what to include. There might have to be accomodation on issues such as policing, the Belfast Agreement, etc. But we’d envisage the main thrust would be to campaign to realign politics here along the line of class and not of community.

We are circulating this proposal to the CP, the SP and individuals who might be interested. Again, we don’t have a definitive list. You may wish to show this to others who you think ought to see and might consider it.

We ask you to discuss this within your organisation and respond urgently. The most obvious aspect of the matter is the shortness of time. We look forward to hearing from you. This idea is a runner if we all want it to be. If it is, you might agree we should aim for a meeting to thrash out the practicalities this coming weekend.

 

Fraternally,
Eamonn McCann,
On behalf of the Northern Committee of the SWP



Document 2: Initial reply by the Socialist Party

Dear Eamonn,

The Regional Executive Committee of the Socialist Party has discussed your recent letters on the idea of a socialist slate in a future Assembly election.

We have been discussing with a number of individuals and organisations the possibility of running candidates for some time and these discussions are ongoing.

We are hopeful that a slate of credible candidates could be put together on a broad “anti-cuts – anti-privatisation – defend public services” platform. This might involve community campaigns and would most likely not be an explicitly socialist slate.

While we would generally be in favour, where possible, of a united left or socialist slate in elections, we do not believe that the basis exists for a political bloc of this character at this stage in Northern Ireland.

The forces to make up such a slate do not exist at present. We have quite fundamental political differences with other groups on the left. This does not mean that we absolutely exclude standing in an alliance with others on an agreed minimum platform, provided our candidates had the right to go further and stand on the programme of the Socialist Party.

Such a bloc would only be justified if it could make a considerable impact in the election. We are not convinced that the forces for a credible political alliance of this character exist at present.

Nor can we ignore the fact that we have profound differences with other groups, including the SWP, on the national question and issues, like parades, that arise from it. These issues come up in all elections in Northern Ireland, but especially in an Assembly election fought around the central question of the future of the peace process.

The experience of our sister party in England and Wales in the Socialist Alliance is also a concern. Our comrades had no choice but to withdraw from this body when a decision was taken to impose a party structure on it. To stay within it under these conditions would have meant, for example, ceding political and organisational control of the election campaigns of our sitting councillors to a central executive in which we were a minority.

Should we decide to put up candidates in a future Assembly election we would run as Socialist Party. We would like to do so as part of a broader umbrella of “anti cuts, anti privatisation” candidates. If some of these candidates won seats it could be a significant step towards the creation of a new mass political organisation of the working class, and it might then be possible to consider concrete initiatives in this direction.

We are happy to discuss these issues, understanding that such a discussion would have to deal frankly with differences on ideas and methods and with problems we have encountered in various “united front” activities in the past. In this light we regard the idea of a “Left Assembly” or a “socialist slate” as premature at this stage.

 

Peter Hadden,
On behalf of Socialist Party
Northern Regional Executive Committee



Document 3: Second circular from the SWP

May 12th 2003

Dear Comrades,

I am following up the letter of last month in which, on behalf of the Northern Committee of the SWP, I raised the prospect of a socialist slate in the Assembly election then scheduled for May 29th. Of course, the election was postponed. However, the case for a socialist bloc in the next Assembly poll, whenever that is, registering as “Other” and putting defence of the public sector at the centre of its campaigning, remains as strong as ever. We would like to pursue the idea.

A number of points in favour of a united left intervention were made in the previous letter:

It was suggested that the development of the anti-capitalist movement and the related emergence of the anti-war movement had re-drawn the political terrain in which socialists operate, and that there were opportunities open to the left now which weren’t there a couple of years back.

It was suggested, too, that the programme of an alliance of socialists in the North might centre on opposition to imperialist war-plans, opposition to sectarianism and oppression, a pledge to use seats won or influence gained to help the fight against privatisation and for decent wages, union rights etc., support for a woman’s right to choose, integrated comprehensive education, etc.

This wasn’t offered as a definitive list. It was recognised that there’d have to be discussion of what to include, and that accomodation on various issues might be necessary.

As a means of making progress, we are now suggesting that a number of individuals who generally agree with the proposal should jointly issue a call for a conference of the Left in the North to launch an electoral initiative. This, we believe, would give the project a better chance of success than a call seen as coming from one organisation. We believe such a conference should be inclusive and democratic and should be open to political, trade union, community and campaigning groups.

We are circulating this letter as widely as possible to relevant groups and individuals. We have no objection to the letter being passed on to relevant people we have inadvertently omitted or don’t know of.

If people willing to sign a letter calling a Left assembly of the sort envisaged here contact me, I’ll undertake to arrange a meeting where we can come together to make the practical preparations.

 

Fraternally,
Eamonn McCann,
On behalf of the Northern Committee of the SWP

Herewith text of letter distributed a few weeks back. Hope it’s fairly self-explanatory. As mentioned in our conversation this morning, there’s no objection on my side to it being scattered among anybody you think might be interested.

 

Eamonn



Document 4: Planned discussion at Belfast meeting

Dear Comrades,

RE: Meeting to discuss Left Unity: Belfast Unemployed Centre, Saturday June 14th, 4.30 p.m.

In a letter in April on behalf of the Northern Committee of the SWP, I raised the prospect of a socialist slate in the Assembly election then scheduled for May 29th. Of course, the election was postponed. However, the case for a socialist bloc in the next Assemby poll, whenever that is, registering as “Other” and putting defence of the public sector at the centre of its campaigning, remains as strong as ever. We would like to pursue the idea.

A number of points in favour of a united left intervention were made in the previous letter:

It was suggested that the development of the anti-capitalist movement and the related emergence of the anti-war movement had re-drawn the political terrain in which socialists operate, and that there were opportunities open to the left now which weren’t there a couple of years back.

We are circulating this letter as widely as possible to relevant groups and individuals. We have no objection to the letter being passed on to relevant people we have inadvertently omitted or don’t know of.

Date and time of meeting again: Belfast Unemployed Centre, 4.30 p.m., next Saturday.
Meeting to discuss these ideas.

 

Eamonn McCann



Document 5: Socialist Party response
to the SWP’s call for a “socialist slate”

June 14th 2003

The Socialist Party is issuing the following short statement to clarify our position on the call made by the SWP for a socialist slate in the Assembly election.

The SWP have organised a meeting on 14 June in Belfast to discuss this and have issued invitations to left parties, groups and individuals, including some members of our party.

Apparently some people have been assured that the Socialist Party have agreed to participate in the discussion about the formation of a socialist slate. We want to clear this up in case there has been any misunderstanding about our view.

We received the initial letter that was circulated by Eamon McCann on behalf of the Northern Committee of the SWP. We considered the proposals carefully and, on 20 May, sent a reply outlining our position. (copy attached)

This letter points out that we have already held discussions with a number of people about the idea of a “Defend public services” slate. It sets out some of the difficulties we have with the SWP proposal which we regard as, at best, premature. There is no ambiguity about our position.

We have not received a reply to this letter, nor have we had any discussion with the SWP about it’s contents. Nor did we give any indication that we would be participating in the 14 June discussion.

We have now decided to send an observer to this meeting solely in order to ensure that the reasons we are not in support of the SWP proposal at this stage are accurately represented.
 

Working in Broad formations

We are in favour of the maximum unity of the left. For years we have campaigned for a new mass party of the working class to challenge the right wing and sectarian political forces. We will support all genuine moves to build such a party. If it were created we would participate within it.

We are also in favour of working with others on the left, where unity on specific issues would make a greater impact than acting independently. This will only work where there are democratic methods of decision making and where differences are not glossed over or suppressed, but all those involved can put forward their own ideas.

We believe our record on working in broader formations speaks for itself. For many years we have worked with others in the unions in broad left and other opposition groups. We have participated in many community campaigns. On the electoral front we have worked with others, despite considerable political differences; most recently in the Labour Coalition.

While working within broader organisations we have, until very recently, faced criticism from of other left groups, including the SWP for doing so. The SWP consistently opposed working in broad left formations in the unions, arguing that it was wrong to seek election to leading union positions and criticising us for doing so.. The SWP also attacked us for participating in elections, accusing us of “electoralism”. This was the charge made against us when Socialist Party member, Joe Higgins, was elected to the Dail representing the Dublin West constituency. We have stood in Westminster and local government elections here, as well as the Forum and Assembly elections. The SWP did not support us. In fact there were occasions when they advocated a vote for Sinn Fein against us.

This does not mean that we exclude working alongside the SWP, and others on the left. During the war we attempted to do this. No doubt other issues will arise that will require some degree of co-operation.

In deciding whether such co-operation would be beneficial we have to decide whether the difficulties that arise in linking with others with whom we disagree on quite fundamental questions are outweighed by benefits of united activity in advancing the class struggle.
 

“Socialist slate”

With regard to the SWP proposal for a “socialist slate” we do not consider that this is the case. There are a number of reasons for this, including the following:

  1. It reflects a misunderstanding of the way in which a new party of the working class will be built. A party that will have an impact in elections will emerge from struggles, both industrial and social, that impact in the working class communities. There are a number of broad campaigns against cuts that are considering running; the HOPE campaign to save Omagh Hospital is an example. These campaigns are broad and could not be brought within a socialist umbrella at this stage. However if they did stand they could get a good vote which would be of more significance than a “socialist slate” consisting of two or three existing left groups which got a very small vote.
     
  2. There are profound political differences between ourselves and others on the left on many issues, not least on the national question and on issues that arise from it. In a broad grouping there would be room for such differences which could be discussed over a long period to see if common ground could be arrived at. However a “socialist slate” or “socialist unity” implies a much greater degree of political unity. Given the differences that we have had with the SWP and others on the left on issues like parades and sectarianism, we doubt that there is the basis for political unity. We do not agree with an approach of sweeping such differences under the carpet and discussing only the things we agree about. Experience demonstrates that this is a recipe for division, not unity, as differences on difficult questions will inevitably arise in some way.
     
  3. The results achieved by the Scottish Socialist Party in the recent Scottish Assembly election were very significant. However some on the left have misinterpreted these results believing that they were achieved because the SSP has managed to bring together most of the existing left in Scotland. In fact the basis for the SSP success was laid much earlier - in the mass struggle against the poll tax which was led by Scottish Militant Labour, then our sister organisation in Scotland. It should be remembered that, on the back of this campaign, SML made significant electoral breakthroughs. In 1992 they had six councillors on Glasgow City Council. Without this groundbreaking work revolving around a mass civil disobedience campaign, which allowed real roots to be sunk in working class areas, the recent successes would not have been possible. The much more modest results achieved by Socialist Alliance candidates in England are a better indicator of what the unity of existing groups on its own can achieve at this stage.
     
  4. The case that has been made for a “Socialist slate” is based on an overestimation of the impact of anti war movement on the working class and the electoral implications of this. We do not in any way downplay the significance of the biggest anti war movement in history, but we do require a sense of proportion. This was the case also during the war when Socialist Party members had to counter the false ideas put forward by SWP members that each demonstration would be bigger than the one before or that opposition to the war would continue to develop in a straight line irrespective of what was happening on the ground in Iraq. The anti war movement has had an impact on an important layer, especially of young people. As the mess created by Imperialist occupation becomes even clearer, these people can draw quite far-reaching conclusions. But in terms of voting patterns in the Assembly elections, especially in working class areas, the impact is not likely to be significant.
     
  5. For all these reasons the Socialist Party considers that the idea of a broad “Defend Public Services” umbrella, which could unite community campaigns on issues like hospital closures and water charges with trade unionists like the fire-fighters, is a better way forward. If the Socialist Party were to put up candidates we would like to do so as part of such an umbrella. This would not and could not be an explicitly socialist slate. Rather there would be agreement on an anti cuts, anti privatisation platform, but with the right of groups within it to put forward their own programme on other issues. This could be a real stepping stone to the creation of a new mass working class party.
     
  6. The fact that this proposal for unity comes from SWP also causes us some difficulties, given that our experience, including our most recent experience, of working with the SWP. In considering any proposal for an alliance we cannot gloss over the difficulties that we experienced in the anti war movement. Far from demonstrating a willingness to work alongside others in an equitable and democratic manner, SWP members used divisive and quite undemocratic methods that stretched whatever unity existed to near breaking point. This was not just our experience but was shared by others, including some of the trade unions who took part in the movement.
     
  7. Before we could consider any alliance with the SWP we would need a balance sheet of what happened in the anti war movement. We would need to be sure that what went on then would not be repeated. Specifically we are referring to what happened on Day X and at Hillsborough when SWP members split the demonstrations. We are referring to what happened in the “Anti war movement” which was dissolved without reference to any of its members, ourselves included, and then was re-established again without any discussion. We are referring to problems of decisions taken behind the scenes and presented at meetings as a fait accompli. We are referring to decisions taken to divide anti war groups, which were implemented before these groups had even had the chance to meet to discuss them. These were not isolated examples but were our general experience of working in this movement.
     
  8. As we point out in our letter the Socialist Party in Britain had to withdraw from the Socialist Alliance because the conditions imposed on it by the SWP majority made it impossible for us to remain within it. Our party in Britain was in favour of a Socialist Alliance. In fact it was the Socialist Party who took the initiative to set it up. The SWP initially opposed it but, when they eventually did join, they insisted on replacing its federal structure with a centralised party style constitution. The Socialist Party was the only component of the Alliance with elected representatives. The change meant that the election manifesto of our councillors could be drawn up by an SWP dominated executive. The Socialist Party has many important political differences with the SWP and we could not put ourselves in a position where our members could be compelled to stand on ideas we might not agree with.

We would only enter the proposed alliance if we considered that it would have a significant impact on working class communities. This is not the case. Even if it were we would insist on a full discussion on the problems that we have encountered in every past attempt to work with the SWP, as well as a discussion on political differences before we would be prepared to participate.

We are in the process of discussing an electoral initiative as outlined above. If we decide to go ahead and stand we hope that we will be able to work our a “non aggression pact” with the SWP’s “socialist slate” to make sure that our candidates do not stand against each other in any constituency.

Issued by the Northern Ireland Regional Executive Committee of the Socialist Party


Peter Hadden Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 27 March 2015