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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

A Firm Part Of The Labour Movement - The ‘Belfast SWP’ (Part 1)


Davy Carlin • 18 July 2004

Introduction - Left parties, activism and sectarianism

This brief introduction is my understanding still developing through my dealings over the years with 'all' left parties. It finishes with a brief background and links to articles of the work that the ‘Belfast SWP’ has been involved in over the last eighteen months. I will do a more extensive piece with various links etc covering the last five years of the Belfast SWP once the article on the NIPSA strikes goes up on the Blanket site, as the strike actions are still ongoing. That article will detail in depth the great civil servant actions and mass walkouts etc, seen in recent times and our involvement within such.

It shall also detail in depth the history of the Belfast SWP over the last five years, some through links, others through diary form. As I had stated before in my West Belfast articles, that when I first became involved in politics several years ago I had sat in a room with a few others discussing how we could begin to effect change. All of us then were almost completely unknown to many in the wider activist and political world. Now when I sit around a table with members of the Belfast SWP I see a whole recent history of socialist activism in Belfast with positive repercussions beyond, of mass mobilisations on both International and local issues, of mass militant workers actions, all of which seen for periods mass Protestant and Catholic unity on issues of common concern. And as I look around the table and upon each face, I see faces that have been to the forefront of initiating and creating such. This history already unfolded I will tell. And of course there is much more still to be written.

I will also write a more detailed account on my ‘practical experiences’ of democratic centralism witnessed from various quarters. But for now a brief look at that issue of Democratic Centralism in which, as stated, I will elaborate on in a later article.

I have learnt much over time of how different sections of the left work, how they think, how they attempt to organise etc. In doing so I have found within some organised sections of the left what I can only describe as an old mindset. This in the sense (in the main within many long-term leading figures) that one can tell exactly how they will react to any given situation ('political inevitability' as I have termed it). With that, foresight, I have found, does tend to give one the edge over time, if one needed to sidestep immense sectarianism and destruction which campaigns. Yet such is now rarely needed as genuine activists can see such behaviour for themselves, due to its obviousness from those still attempting to work as of old amongst a new movement. Therefore in doing so it is they (genuine and respected activists) who now tell others as they see it.

Therefore, such activists, I have found, know themselves through experience who is, and who is not, genuine to work with. So those that seek for party interest the ideological division through petty politics on even a single-issue campaign will and have increasingly found themselves talking amongst each other in a room (or having to go of and attempting to build their ‘own wee thing’) for party interest, as other activists get on with the 'real' issues at hand. I am not saying though that left parties do not hold genuine activists. Of course they do. It is though that some are led by those who hold a destructive mindset, more especially those who operate as of the past. Therefore on the issue of parties I will make myself clear as many have and do ask me my position on such. Firstly it is well known that I hold real problems with the concept of democratic centralism (in practice) as I see it in 'practice' within many organisations.

More especially when it is used in a purist and dogmatic form thus becoming a highly authoritarian tool. Saying this I believe that as Socialists, who seek the most fundamental change of the existing system we need to be extremely organised as the ruling classes are especially so, and who hold, will use, and have used the tools of the severest repression. Therefore organisation is central, but organisation that brings with it activist empowerment, where activists are not solely told what to do but are convinced and won to the reasoning as to why it is to be done, and play a collective role within in. On the question of leadership, leadership comes in many forms. A person who sits on a central, political, steering or executive committee is seen as a leading figure. And in all democratic organisations persons on that committee should – would be elected by, and accountable to members. As I have sat and now sit on such committees (which I do when I believe that they embrace these points I raise), therefore it is not for me a question of committee or not, but whether its organisation and its collective leading will to be democratic, accountable, activist based and participant etc. It is not a question of 'leadership' but of the way one takes and plays a leading role with others. Therefore it is not for me a question of a revolutionary party or not, but how in fact that party organises.

Good 'Leadership' is about adapting to change. For example those that had the rigid unbending stick of a tight centralist organisation when the left was under attack or on the backfoot, that can be understood in part. But attempting to continue such within a new internationally developing activist movement is a different matter. At times one needs to bend that stick not only politically or tactically but also practically. That is not to say that parties do not play a role. Indeed a revolutionary party needs to play, as do socialists, a central role if revolutionary change is to be won. It is though how that role is played and how one sets about it from the onset that will lay the base for the potential success for revolutionary change when that situation arises. Therefore for me it is not that question of is there a need for a revolutionary party. As yes it is needed. Where I differ with many parties is about how one should organise and more especially how one should organise in this period. Also for oneself to try and grasp all the threads together in relation to my developing understanding and ideas on democratic centralism in theory but more importantly in practice. For oneself I am at the stage of searching and attempting to address such questions, looking at historical experiences but combining it with my own real and practical experiences. With that, towards the end of this year I shall hopefully pen my understanding of the 'left, parties and democratic centralism' in both theory and practice. Yet in all that I have been involved in and as I continually learn, this has been the question that has always burned in my mind in relation to my political activism. In the months ahead I shall search as I always done for my own answers. And as like most previously that of religion, that when I acquire my own answers then that will dictate in this case, my political direction in life.

As I have said before, empowerment of persons comes from below, it cannot be dictated from above, as does the empowerment of trade unionists in workplaces or for working class communities. It comes within the process of struggle and within campaigns etc. The development of the new movement has shown new avenues of organising and working together as well as bringing forward new activists. As said before those who still organise and attempt to behave as they had done in the past, then I believe the movement and new activists will pass them by, thus leaving them in a room talking amongst themselves. I believe in working in a fraternal way from the bottom up, empowering activists, prioritising both unity and the campaign, and working democratic accountability. Of course leading roles for activists are needed in the process of organisation, but the organisation should be activist based and such leading 'activists' to the fore. More importantly, being to the fore in a pragmatic rather than a dogmatic way. Being part of the movement and being within the revolutionary party means building and moving both forward, rather that reverting to the actions and purism of the past, which would mean in that case the movement still goes forward (without you) but the party goes back.

Of course as a socialist I seek fundamental change and in winning others to those ideas, but that will only be done, not only in convincing them of political ideas but in the process of, and in the way we actually work with persons within campaigns and struggle. I see a new left in Belfast having emerged, some in parties, others not in parties who are part of, and with many who embrace, the movement. This unity, and the finding of commonality rather than initially seeking the division of ideology has delivered mass workers actions and unity in very recent times on various issues onto the streets of Belfast. It has done so by seeking to reach out and embrace the new on commonality of purpose on issues of concern, while letting those who reek of ideological purism and political sectarianism to wallow deeper into that sewer. It should be a movement of empowerment of communities, of workforces, a movement that holds diversity but can move as one, a movement that seeks unity, a movement which seeks to be activist based. Yet to have real change we need to, while being involved in the movement to always raise the debate as how to win real change, and win others to those ideas of revolutionary socialist politics. Yet as said as with the ARN, like other campaigns, I have found many excellent people, whose priority lays firstly in that fight against racism. I have found also that many organised on the left do at most times (and many of them) tend to put party interest before the issue at hand. This is something that I fundamentally disagree with. I have stated on numerous occasions that one should be involved in a campaign first and foremost for the issue at hand.

Yet while saying that, this should also be the time to raise the issue of how to win real and fundamental change with the best of activists within that course of that campaign or struggle. I have found that actions and as importantly the way they are brought about enables words and ideas to then find a more receptive hearing through that respect for the deliverance (in unity) with others; more especially in the way those collective actions were brought about. When a revolutionary situation arises (and I believe it will do within our lifetime) socialists need to be at the forefront and to the collective lead in both activism and in politics. At the minute while not in a revolutionary situation socialists need to be at the forefront and to be at the collective lead in activism and politics. Therefore for socialists and the revolutionary party that situation in differing periods does not change. But to be successful we need to adapt in other ways practically to change, to bend the stick, and continue to organise but at the same time to be organised.

Since the Falls and Shankill march (recorded on the Blanket), with also at the same time in preparing the ground for building with others a mass anti-war movement, through to building a mass anti-racism rally and mass workers actions, I have leant many lessons. This as I learn much from history and also coming to my own acquired knowledge in large part through practical and life experiences. Below are some Blanket links to and of the 'Belfast SWP' initiations of, and workings within campaigns, within the trade union movement and with other activists over the last eighteen months or so, and my developing understanding throughout them. At times we have held joint press conferences with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) to issue calls for workers and citizens support: such as the Belfast Anti-War Movement (BAWM) and Schools Against War (SAW) had done in opposition to the war In Iraq, through to the Anti Racism Network (ARN) and ICTU joint press conference I had chaired for the ARN rally. At other times we have initiated rank and file workers organisations that have been to the forefront of leading mass militant workers’ actions from below as will be recorded on the Blanket shortly (although some are already recorded as per links below) Yet it is the fraternal workings with others, who put practical unity before the 19th century ideological differences that has delivered.

Of course differences need to be discussed. Yet there are those who believe that every single difference needs to be hammered out before unity is achieved, while we believe that differences can and need to be discussed and debated, but can be done within the course of practical workings together. The difference has been in seeing those who talk amongst themselves and those whom have been to the fore in recent times in seeing thousands and even tens of thousands of Catholic and Protestant workers and citizens standing in unity.  From mass actions against sectarianism, to mass actions of those opposed to war, from mass workers militant actions against poverty pay through to a mass rally against racism.

Therefore some have looked globally and sought to see Belfast as no different and in doing so have acted locally and delivered for periods mass Protestant and Catholic worker and citizen unity

A Firm Part of the Labour Movement - The Belfast SWP (Part 1, our very recent history)

(Recorded on the Blanket - Following the initiation of the Falls and Shankill Road March in Belfast - (1) West Belfast Fire Fighter Support Group - Dec 1st 2002 (2) The Falls and Shankill March as One - Dec 8th 2002 (3) When the Falls and Shankill Marched as One Jan 2003)

(Recorded on the Blanket - Following the initiating of the Belfast Anti-War Movement, Derry Anti-War Coalition and the Stop the War Coalition through to its mass mobilisations, street protests, occupations, walkouts and actions in Belfast and beyond - (1) Belfast Socialists, Capitalism and War - Dec 2002 (2) Belfast, Building a Mass Anti War Movement Part 1 - March 2003 (3) Building an Anti War Movement Part 2, Moving to Action - June 2003)

(Recorded on the Blanket - The end of the year 2003, The Belfast SWP, Following and giving a brief overview of the various campaigns we were involved in that year including standing in elections, - Dec 2003.)

(Recorded on the Blanket - following the initiation of the Belfast Anti Racism Network through to it mass mobilisations and actions. (1) Anti Racist Network statement for Endorsement - Oct 2003, (2) Anti Racism Network ARN), In the Beginning Part 1 - May 2004)

(To be recorded on the Blanket -  A firm part of the labour movement – Part two - Following the initiation of the rank and file based 'Uncivil Servant' and its leading role in the two mass worker militant civil servant walkouts, mobilisations and actions in Belfast (Belfast,  3 – 4000 strong) and beyond – to be published on the Blanket)

(To be recorded on the Blanket – The Anti Racism Network (Part 2) moves out into working class communities all around the North (Community - trade union empowerment, action and local mobilisation against racism).

Apart from the above articles to be put up on the Blanket in the short time ahead I shall also be writing more theoretical articles on various topics, as have stated before that ideas and activism need to go hand in hand.








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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


Historians and economists {subsidized by governments} are very good at creating and perpetuating myths that justify increasing the power placed in the hands of government.
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Index: Current Articles

19 July 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Paravisional Alliance
Anthony McIntyre

Attack Against Antrim Bandsmen reports "Flawed" say Community Representatives
Sean Mac Aughey

A Firm Part Of The Labour Movement - The ‘Belfast SWP’ (Part 1)
Davy Carlin

Israel Builds Another Wall
M. Shahid Alam

15 July 2004

Helping the Brits
Geraldine Adams

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa
Dolours Price

Antebellum Antrim Town - still a cold house for Catholics and a fridge freezer for Irish Republicans
Sean Mac Aughey

Throughly Middleclassed Millie
Marc Kerr

Treating Opression and Depression
Sean Fleming

Wake up, Ireland!
Patrick Lismore

Response to US Designation

Fallen Generals
Anthony McIntyre

John Negroponte: Dorian Gray Goes to Iraq
Toni Solo


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