Why Not To Join The Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland)by former members
Why Not To Join The Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland)
by former members.
The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) is currently tearing itself asunder, as its long-standing leadership in London has decided that a sizeable number of its members and national sections have betrayed everything the organisation stands for; Trotskyism, democratic centralism, Marxism, etc., and given themselves over to opportunism and Mandelism. If you don't know what that is, don't worry, it's really not important. And so the CWI is gearing up for a split between those who follow the old guard in London, and those who don't. You can read more about this here: https://telegra.ph/More-documents-from-the-CWI-faction-fight-03-22?fbclid=IwAR0KG0Jbbvd4AcZUjQ62kzVZKa-PlKVTT3iv73ecpkFMS8xnCsuSFOuzLlo
Meanwhile, the Irish section of the CWI, the Socialist Party (or “Solidarity” for electoral purposes), which has positioned itself against the old guard in London, is also eating itself alive as a three (or possibly four) way split unfolds. The established leadership on one side, a small group who support the old guard in London on another, and a group who wish to reform the party, supposedly into a genuinely democratic and inclusive organisation, on the third.
As this this has been unfolding, it got me wondering, “are people still joining this organisation as these internal faction fights are ongoing?”
I mean, think about it. You're a left wing, working class person who decides to become politically active. You contact the Socialist Party looking to join. And the first thing on the party's agenda when you do join is a three way split that's tearing the organisation apart. Would you stick around? Or would you go join one of the many other parties of the left in Ireland.
Well, maybe we can help. Having been in the party ourselves, we are here to give you all the reasons why you shouldn't join in the first place. To clarify, this is not an attempt to undermine the genuine activists in the Socialist Party who devote a lot of mental, physical and financial sacrifice. It’s a political critique of the leadership, that through the culture they create and their weak strategy, damage activists and left wing campaigns.
Work (to death) Without Strategy
The Socialist Party like to have every one of their members working non-stop, on whatever campaigns or issues happen to be in vogue at any given time. Extreme, manipulative pressure is put on all of there members, and particularly those who are young, new, and freshly idealistic to devote every waking moment of their spare time in service to “the revolution”.
The end result of this, almost without fail, is the eventual burning out of these members as their physical and, in particular, mental health deteriorates. The warning signs of this mental stress, no matter how obvious, are ignored. Even when members come to the party's leadership and open up about the effects that this frenetic activity is having on their mental health, the response is to further emphasise the “importance of sacrifice” to the revolution. How everyone is under immense pressure, none more so than the full-time leadership (this martyrdom complex is rife within the leadership, and they never forget to remind you), and while paying lip service how important the health and well being of the members is, the underlying insinuation is that you will be letting people and the cause down if you let up on your activity for even a moment.
Countless “comrades” have dropped out of activity over the years due to the extreme pressure that was placed on them, having subsequently to deal with the consequences, such as long lasting depression and anxiety. Worse still, the Socialist Party, through it's intense demands on each member's time, robs people of the natural supports they would otherwise have in these situations. People frequently lose contact with the friends they would once have had prior to joining the party, as you are encouraged and pressured into giving all your time to the party. Before long, even your social life seems to revolve around this group of “professional revolutionaries”, and stepping aside, taking a break, or leaving altogether becomes more and more difficult, as it will mean giving up the only relationships you actually have with other people.
This frenetic activity is also one of the party's weapons against those members who would question the leadership. By keeping people in a state of constant exhaustion, they can ensure a membership who do not have the time to actually think critically about the party itself. Indeed, many of us who have left will say that it was only after leaving that we had the time to properly think about all the things that are wrong with the Socialist Party. Then we are criticised by the party leadership because we “never raised our differences while we were there”. As if we ever had the opportunity. Indeed, when you do try to take the time to raise differences while in the party, you are told that those differences are unimportant when compared to the work of whatever campaign you are involved in at that time, and that you should shelve your criticism. But, there is already another campaign, ensuring criticism is rarely ever heard.
But, worst of all, is that this constant, soul destroying activity is carried out without any hint of an overall strategy. The Socialist Party latches itself on to every campaign that is in vogue (until they realise they cannot control it) and try to flog as much of its material and recruit as many (though rarely many) members as it can in as short a time as possible. They stand on picket lines with unions in which they have no base or relationship, and shout “solidarity” with every struggle to which they have contributed nothing, only to disappear again once that struggle has dissipated. Wait to see how close the Socialist Party will be with any group of workers once their current dispute has ended. They will move on to the next shiny thing that sticks out. The magpies of the left.
Sectarianism – Everybody But Us Is Wrong
The Socialist Party love to label all others on the political left as “sectarian”. But, truth be told, there is no one more sectarian than the Socialist Party. Many who were active in the Campaign Against Household & Water Charges (CAHWT) will remember how the Socialist Party, in the middle of the campaign, decided that the campaign should rename itself the Campaign Against Property Tax & Austerity (CAPTA). This opinion was universally unpopular with every branch of the campaign not under Socialist Party control. The suggestion was categorically defeated by democratic decision at the campaign national meetings. Did this deter the Socialist Party? No. They simply decided to unilaterally rename the campaign in any local areas where they were the dominate force. So, Dublin West and Limerick got CAPTA, while the rest of the country got CAHWT. But, of course, it was was the other left groups that were sectarian.
This example is only a drop in the water though. From the second you join the Socialist Party you are bombarded with a party leadership that never wastes an opportunity to slag off the People Before Profit Alliance, the Workers Party, the anarchists, and any and every independent left leaning activist who has ever had the nerve to disagree with the party's ideas or tactics.
What makes all of this almost comical, is that if the majority of party members were honest about why they joined they joined the Socialist Party over another left group, the answer would be simply “they found me first”. Of course they claim that it's the party's position on the national question, or some such reason. But these justifications only come about after the fact. Claiming that people were convinced Peter Haddenist in advance of joining the party is just delusional. In reality, if People Before Profit had got to you first, you would have joined them. Making the sectarianism all the more childish.
No Real Commitment To The Working Class
The Socialist Party claims to be party of the working class, but in reality it has only a recurring interest in the working class. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the trade unions. The only mass organisations of workers that exist in Ireland, and yet (in the Republic at least) the party only shows its face in the unions when there is an immediate struggle, and so an immediate opportunity for the party to recruit. When it comes to long term, committed building of the left within the unions, the Socialist Party is always found lacking.
It is important contrast this of course with the work of the party in the North, where they have played the central role in building NIPSA Broad Left, and a block within the largest union in the North that should be seen as a blueprint for what needs to be done in other unions. But, the Socialist Party leadership, far from recognising the importance of building such united left blocks within the unions in the Republic, seem more to see NIPSA Broad Left as a burden.
During the period of campaigning around the Croke Park 2 national agreement (which was eventually voted down by a majority of unions), union activists inside the Socialist Party were told to not to focus on the CP2 campaign, but instead put all their energies into the Campaign Against Household and Water Charges. Despite huge public meetings, in particular the combined teachers meeting in the Gresham Hotel, and the huge mood of opposition that existed on the ground in the unions, the Socialist Party decided that there was a better chance for short term recruitment in the CAHWT activities, and so union activists were told to abandon their union activity. This instruction was ignored by a handful of us, who believed long-term building in the unions was not to be neglected.
As we understand it, the question of orientation towards the unions is now central to the current split inside the party. The party leadership will point to all the picket lines they have stood on over the years as a way to dispute this. But this not a legitimate orientation towards the unions. This is just short term opportunism. There is not a serious approach for members getting involved in Unions with the aim of building a base, but to enter with the objective of recruiting to the party which many have found disingenuous. If there is not a serious approach to engaging in all sections of the working class including building a base in Unions, then what is the purpose of Socialist Party? To recruit members to sustain its low numbers? The elitist attitude filters down from the top from Kevin Mc Loughlin & Laura Fitzgerald. At first, you’ll be impressed with these comrades and their role in the party but there is no denying they are the authoritarian leaders, that they pull all the strings. If you lose favour with either of them, you have no role in the party.
But of course, the party is not a welcoming environment for working class people, whether trade union organised or not. Being run from top to bottom, there is a tendency to round upon any member who makes even the slightest digression away from what is deemed appropriate language or views. More rampant are the attempts to discredit comrades behind their backs. Make no mistake, leading comrades are having discussions about you behind your back and it will only become apparent after the fact by their actions. If you don’t meet their role of what a comrade should be, then there is no place for you in the party. This is different from when you first join the party. Initially, questions will be welcome as you are an “inexperienced” comrade, however, as time goes on, this will change. Young students who are adept at political correctness think they can tear down anyone who uses an incorrect, non-inclusive terms. It is not readily apparent to them that not all working people have had the privilege of 3 or more years of university, (or employed as full-time Socialist Party member), with the freedom to read and discuss new ideas. Some people go to work straight from school, start families early, and simply haven't this time for to be up to date on all these terms that would have been alien to them growing up.
As outlined earlier, the extreme workload that the party puts upon its membership is obviously a barrier to it being appealing to working class people, single parents, etc. When a member of the party cannot attend branch meetings or party activities due to work, family, or childcare pressures, their commitment to the politics is questioned, usually by people for whom the party is literally their full-time job. The ideal Socialist Party member is one who has no family and no job, but can still somehow manage to pay €60 per week in subscriptions to the party.
The Democracy Hypocrisy
Let's start with the obvious flaw in the Socialist Party's ill-defined version of democracy: the slate system. The slate system is a method of elections whereby the outgoing leadership recommends a slate of candidates to be the incoming leadership. The slate has to be voted on as a whole. Anyone can recommend alterations to the slate (i.e. can add or remove names from the slate), but them the alternate slate must be voted on as a whole. So, as opposed to the systems of election used in say the trade unions, where you need only only secure enough votes, proportional to the number of voters, to win one seat, in the Socialist Party, if you add your own name to the slate, you need to win majority support for the entire slate of candidates you're proposing. And in doing, by proxy, need to defeat the entire slate of candidates being proposed by the leadership.
It's strange to us, considering this system now, that anyone (including us at one time) could look at this and genuinely believe it to be democratic. A leadership that perpetually recommends its own re-election, and puts that recommendation, without alternative, to the floor of the party conference, year after year.
“But you have the option of recommending an alternative slate” they protest. But lets look at that concept for a moment. In any other organisation, if you had a National Committee of say 20 people, and there were 200 voting delegates at the party conference (they wish), then quota for each seat would be 10 votes. In other words, if you wanted to be guaranteed a seat, you need ten delegates to vote for you. In other words; a standard democratic election.
But, in the Socialist Party system, the quota in this example would always be 101 votes. As you would need the majority of the entire conference to support your entire alternative slate. So, if you want to be elected, you need to add your own name to the slate, and win the support of 101 delegates.
If that's not bad enough, the flip side of this example is even worse. What if there's somebody you don't want to be on the National Committee? In a normal election, the answer to that is simple; you don't vote for them and you hope (or convince) others not to either. After the vote, that person has lost because they did not get the requisite number of votes. No big deal. Nature of democracy. But, under the Socialist Party's slate system, you would have to stand up and propose a whole new slate of candidates with only one name removed. You would have stand before conference and explain why you want that one person's name removed from the slate, and then, if you are successful, that candidate has to watch as the entire votes, by show of hands, to reject their nomination. Basic human empathy would prevent most of us from putting someone in that position, and an system of elections that makes this scenario possible is repugnant.
So, that's how elections work at the Socialist Party's national conference, but what about day to day democracy? There is none. The Socialist Party run exclusively by a handful people, although increasingly it seems to boil down to two, Kevin McLoughlin and Laura Fitzgerald. Despite the fact that Ireland is a small country with a huge proportion of its population centralised in the capital, the availability of enormous levels of communication technology, and the relatively small size of the Socialist Party (consistently fewer than 300 members), all decisions of both political and organisational matters are taken by a tiny group of members who work full-time for the party. How are these full-timers hired? Why, by the existing full-time leadership of course! Thus ensuring a permanent staff of party loyalists, quick to defend their leadership at every turn.
Around this full-time apparatus is a clique of party favourites. These are the members who have shown the most willingness to bow to the whims of the leadership, sacrifice their time without question, and defend the leadership to the other rank & file members. In reality, this clique is often the training ground for tomorrows full-timers.
Those outside the clique are often deliberately excluded in underhanded ways. People are conveniently left off mailing text lists, left out of WhatApp and Facebook groups, belittled about in private conversation, deliberately ignored, and made to feel like second tier members because they aren't of the leadership cult. As a general rule, most members are either in the clique, or are marking time before their inevitable departure from the party.
Each and every member of the party is expected to pay a membership subscription. Not a fixed amount like most political parties, but an amount that they can afford, but also represents a “real sacrifice” to the revolutionary party. This isn't a problem, in and of itself. The problem arises when that money is spent. There is no democratic oversight over how the party spends the money that members raise and pay into the coffers. In fact, the decisions around spending lie solely with those who contribute the lease financially to the party: the full-time leadership. These are people who are paid from the party coffers, and so are not expected to pay subs themselves. They do not pay for their own rooms at conferences, because attending conference is “part of their job”, so the membership subsidises this (while also paying for their own rooms). The do not contribute anything financially to the organisation, and yet they make all decisions on how the party's funds are spent.
Is it any wonder that the Socialist Party seems to have a built in membership limit of between 200 and 300 members? As they recruit new people, other people leave. A constant revolving door. But this is inevitable when the membership have no sense of ownership over their own party. Paying in subs month after month, selling papers, attending meetings, standing in the cold handing out flyers, and at the end of it all, you have absolutely no say over how the money you raised is spent, or who sits at the top of the party dictating policy and co-ordinating your political activity. If any other organisation had structures like the Socialist Party, they would refuse to have anything to do with them. But “the revolutionary is different” mantra, helps them maintain their democracy hypocrisy.
A Safe Place for Women?
The Socialist Party is currently affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International (CWI). As we explained at the start the CWI is in the middle of a bit of a crisis and is gradually splitting in two, with different national sections picking sides. However, on thing that is clear is that the Irish Socialist Party and the Australian Socialist Party are both on the same side of this split. Which is quite natural, considering the Socialist Party's de-facto leader, Kevin McLoughlin, and Australia's Anthony Main, have been good friends and allies for a long time. And here in lies the problem. The Irish Socialist Party's close relationship with it's Australian sister party.
One of the current, and, we hear, leading members of the Australian Socialist Party's members is a confessed rapist. He raped a member of his own party. This is not disputed, and is not an accusation. It is a fact. He confessed. He was suspended (we think for about a year) because he raped a member of his own paper. He was then, unforgivably, re-admitted to the party and allowed to take on a leadership role.
Before he was re-admitted, his victim was taken aside by the leadership of the party and asked if she would be okay with his being re-admitted. She said yes. And some time later, resigned from the party altogether. We ask you, in what world is it okay to ask a victim of rape is it okay to put her back in the vicinity of her rapist? Rape victims can suffer severe mental trauma, and the last thing that should ever happen is for them to be asked to work in close proximity with their attacker. But this is what happened in Australia, in a party with whom the Socialist Party in Ireland continues to share close ties.
But it doesn't end there. A few years back, the current leader of the Australian Socialist Party, Anthony Main, was accused of being mentally and physically abusive to his then partner, also a party member. The CWI sent people to Australia to investigate this. They found that nothing could be done, recommended that everyone just move on. This incident split the Australian party in two. We have since learned, that some members of the party came forward at the time of the investigation and offered to bear witness against Anthony Main. Those witnesses were never interviewed by the investigators, and the entire incident was swept under the carpet in an attempt to protect Anthony Main. As usual, protecting the party leadership came before all else. And the Irish Socialist Party continues its close relationship with the Australian section, in particular Kevin.
A section needs to be devoted to this man. The de-facto leader of the party (although he cleverly has avoided adopting official titles in this regard), Kevin McLoughlin may well have a world class political mind. But he is also a world class manipulator of Machiavellian proportion. He is rarely an out and out bad guy in any situation. Always level headed, gentle, slow moving, and soft spoken. While at the same time employing a series of hatchet men to do his dirty work for him. Tony Blair, but with a whole platoon of Alastair Campbells behind him.
He convinces young, impressionable people to sacrifice their time and money to the party. Convinces them that the politics of the Socialist Party is more important than their friends, family, lives. The rate at which people who join the party while in university subsequently and drop out of their studies due the conflicts with time the party throws at them is astonishing. And if anyone wants to challenge him and his ideas, they have to get past an endless series of “discussions” with Laura Fitzgeral, Cillian Gillespie, Michael O'Brien, Stephen Boyd or Emma Quinn first.
The Socialist Party is truly toxic environment for any young person (or indeed any person) who wishes to become active in politics. It takes all it can from you, and happily discards you as soon as you become burned out, or worse, confident enough to challenge them.