Paul Murphy Socialist Party MEP hosted a Counter Summit to facilitate a series of meetings on an alternative agenda to the EU. Ireland currently hosts the EU Presidency. About 150 attended the largest meeting and possibly 200 attended overall. http://countersummit.eu/time-table/
Columnist with the London Independent and winner of the George Orwell prize Owen Jones spoke on Friday and Saturday night, while ex member of the Scottish Parliament and Celebrity Big Brother participant Tommy Sheridan spoke on Friday and Sunday.
Aside from the interesting journey that Tommy Sheridan has taken away from the CWI (Socialist Party international) and nearly back again with a libel case, jail term and Big Brother sentence in between and my wonderment at the future direction of Owen Jones, what can we think about the summit and the direction of the left in Ireland?
The Friday night rally was really far too long. After the six speakers gave their piece there was a series of contributions from the floor followed by each of the speakers summing up. One memorable contribution came from Alex Gordon (RMT trade union UK) who advocated that the left should campaign to break up the European Union. Tommy Sheridan having entertained the audience with stories of pancakes and mince pieces and their usefulness in explaining politics rolled in with the same proposition.
‘We should be proactive not reactive and call for the break up of the European Union’, the former MSP said. This position reminds me of Tommy Sheridan and the bend to Scottish nationalism of the Scottish Socialist Party. Just as the SSP achieved success in 2003, with the election of six members of parliament, the party made Scottish independence its political focus at that time. Independence has only ever been supported by a minority of Scottish voters.
Posing withdrawal from the European Union, as the RMT spokesman did would go down like a lead balloon in Ireland. Most people support Ireland in the European Union, while in the UK this position would mean allying the left to the position of both the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party.
That left parties and activists should stand on left issues should seem obvious but other contributors in the room did not put clear distance from this view. On Saturday a meeting on the EU relationship with Israel involved writer David Cronin, Zoe Lawlor of the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and a spokesperson from the Socialist Party international organisations.
Ex Socialist Party member and full time organiser of the IPSC Kevin Squires spoke from the floor and explained that the Socialist Party position on Palestine/ Israel was the reason he left the party. He added that: ‘yeah ok the Israeli working class might have a role but their relationship should be on the terms of the Palestinians because the relationship is so unequal’.
British lefts used to say the same about the troubles in Northern Ireland in regards to excusing acts by the IRA and ignoring concerns of Protestants, in effect as lefts they regarded the Protestants as a reactionary mass.
David Cronin in summing up referred to the rockets fired by Palestinians and then urged the audience to ‘wonder why those rockets are being fired and to consider the oppression of the Palestinians’.
General Secretary of the Socialist Party Kevin Mc Loughlin spoke from the floor in opposition to the Boycott Israel campaign. He suggested that apartheid in South Africa did not collapse because of the boycott of South African goods but because of struggle in South Africa itself. He appeared to suggest that this is the reason why the boycott should not be supported, because the boycott is not effective.
My opinion is that the boycott should not be supported because I do not stand with one nation or another. I am opposed to the apartheid wall and oppression of Palestinians but also opposed the nationalist demagogues on both sides from those who do not accept Israel’s right to exist to those who want to bomb Gaza back to the middle ages.
While the experience of the Palestinians is disastrous currently the foundation of Israel as a home state for the Jews is understandable. I am opposed to favouring one religion over another but a state where the Jews can be safe having experience near annihilation through the holocaust and centuries of anti-semitism and pogroms, leads me to understand their perspective.
On Saturday evening before a hastily but enjoyable social event in aid of the Greek Anti Facist Committees, there was a rally on the left alternative to austerity. All four speakers Joe Higgins TD, Richard Boyd Barrett TD, Eoin O’ Broin (Sinn Fein) and Paul Dillon (Campaign for Labour Policies) spoke very well and effectively.
Contributions from the floor were poor in their response, with the most memorable being about the role of robots and a crude challenge from Mick Murphy to Richard Boyd Barrett to ‘not go haring after every other campaign but to focus on the property tax’.
I suggest the four speakers were excellent as Eoin O’ Broin did pose the question to the Socialist Party and suggested that ‘throwing all your eggs in the basket of the property tax’ is a big political risk. Paul Dillon emphasised the role of policies and politics in his contribution while Richard Boyd Barrett accepted that ‘we have failed but we must try again’ although he was not so sure as to what should be tried.
Joe Higgins TD spoke well, but did not answer the point regarding the property tax implementation. He made no reference to the scenario as to if and when revenue come into the picture in terms of making deductions from peoples wages.
Last week, protesters occupied council chambers in different parts of the country. Paul Murphy himself was arrested and released as a result. Afterwards he said to the media ‘we represent the majority’, yet the councillors whose meeting the protesters were disrupting were elected by the people. All publicity is not good publicity.
An alternative left agenda needs to be developed with proposals on policy from tax, local government, justice and enterprise to a left health and education policy but the public are only comforted so far in that they know what the left are against but not what they are for and this is a problem.
One of the speakers Helena Sheehan who has a very active presence online probably got the tone right in terms of perspective arising from this summit. After the collapse of the United Left Alliance she says: ‘Whatever the problems, there is a far better atmosphere on the left today, particularly among members of different left orientations, than there was in the past’. As to the direction of the left, well no one is sure.