Mere weeks before yet another brutal cuts budget in Ireland (backed by the Irish Labour Party as a junior partner in coalition government), the United Left Alliance (ULA) appears to have fallen apart.
Formed in November 2010, the ULA won five seats in the Daíl in the February 2011 elections. The Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party formed the bedrock of the organisation, along with the Tipperary-based Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG).
However, the ULA has been plagued from its inception by problems of programme, democracy and the attitude of its two major components, which have led to constant tensions and prevented it from realising its initial large promise.
It never really became more than a top-level lash-up between Ireland’s two largest revolutionary Trotskyist organisations, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Socialist Party (SP). Its programme is a watered-down list of social democratic demands. It falls somewhere between using the Daíl to support and publicise workers' struggles and offering a governmental alternative to Fine Gael and Labour.
The SWP in particular have been averse to adopting a revolutionary programme, a reflection of its opportunist desire to choose its slogans on the basis of what “catches the mood” rather than what is needed to strategically orient the working class. A leaked internal SWP bulletin in February shows that the party has all but given up on sustaining the ULA. This was confirmed with the re-launch of its People Before Profit front in October, with an even more catch-all approach.
Compounding the confusion has been the lack of internal democracy. Most decisions were made by an unelected national committee dominated by the SP and the SWP leaderships. Apparently it has only been since April this year, when a group of non-aligned members won the right to representation, that minutes have been circulated to the membership.
The proposed ULA conference in November now looks to be not happening, and the last few months have seen the organisation rocked by the ignominious resignation of ex-SP TD Clare Daly and the departure of the WUAG. It is possible that too much has been lost for the resuscitation of the project in its current form to be a viable, or indeed desirable, option.
What is needed is a open and democratic revolutionary party putting forward a programme of transitional demands rooted in the struggles of Irish workers, aiming to increase the class-consciousness and organisation of the working-class, and indicating the ultimate aims of the struggle for socialism.
This can only be built by the patient work of socialists in the labour movement, not through the means of a top-heavy electoral alliance with a passive membership.