Just as the Respect Party, the latest incarnation of a new UK Left Party looks like it is imploding, in the last week or so Ireland has witnessed the loss to local government of yet another three of Sinn Fein’s more able Councilors, Marie McKeegan resigned her seat on Moyle Council and Dublin’s Nicky Kehoe, one of SF’s longest serving public servants announced he was stepping down and would not be contesting his Dublin City Council seat at the next election . Whilst Fermanagh Councillor Bernice Swift has been suspended from the party over making public her belief that the northern Policing Boards are little more than window dressing. No political party can afford to lose able and articulate local councillors such as these three, and there is no doubt in my mind that these resignations are entirely due to the democratic deficit which is at the heart of SF.
When the SF party leadership have had contentious issues that they wish to push as party policy they have a history of steam rolling these unpopular policies through on the bases of a nudge, wink and side of the mouth speak; and whilst doing so hinting that there is more to their support than meets the eye. Time and again the leadership have used this strategy to gain the necessary support from their membership for their proposals to become party policy. Such behavior was especially prevalent when it came to getting the SF membership to support joining the Policing Boards which had been established under the GFA; and which in reality meant SF recognizing the presence of a British police force in Ireland.
Having witnessed this type of strategy being used by the Shiner leadership on a number of occasions, it is difficult not to conclude that the SF Party has no internal management structure beyond nudge, wink and smear; and if this fails to reign in intelligent and talented critics and win them over to the leadership’s strategy, rather than allow their critics to form a minority faction within the party, the Adams leadership brings military type discipline into play. Which treat’s all those who refuse to bend the knee as a threat to the very future of the party; and thus the order goes down the line that these critics must be ruthlessly cut down, expelled and if possible isolated in the process.
This type of ‘democratic centralist’ behavior for obvious reasons is totally counter productive when it is practiced by a progressive party which claims it’s aim is to extend democracy, not restrict it further. It is sold to the membership as the way of world, thus to stay ahead of the game SF must do likewise. Any dissent to party policy is for internal debate and party conferences and not for outside consumption, once the decision is made the matter is closed; and the members of SF must publicly follow the party line religiously .
Which may be true of the Leninist and Stalinist methodology, but it is not how democratic socialist parties worth their salt should act. For example Left wing members of the British Labour Party have regularly voted in the British House of Commons against Labour governments, yet they remain in the party and the same is true of countless political parties throughout the world. Before someone claims I am a mischief maker whose only interest is to attack SF I’m not, for this ‘democratic deficit’ is something that infects left wing political parties beyond Irelands shores and it has become one of the main stumbling blocks which prevents the left making major electoral gains internationally.
In this last week we have seen the differences between George Galloway and his supporters and members of the SWP who are also members of England’s Respect Party, break to the surface and undermine years of hard work. The fact that Respect has a ‘democratic deficit’ at its core makes it all the harder to solve political or strategic differences internally when they arise, as the party appears to have no democratic mechanism bar expulsion or resignation for one or the other of the parties involved.
This democratic deficit within the Left exists due to the fact that far to many leftist fail to recognize that the world has moved on from the days of Storming the Winter Palace and the General Post Office. Today the European working classes have far more choices in their daily lives and we expect to be offered the same in the political arena. It is almost impossible for a member of a Political Party to agree with every single policy of the organization they are a member of; and this is as true for the political Left as it is the Right. For comrades to pretend that they are in total agreement is not only to deny some of their own individual beliefs; but is an act of contempt towards the electorate.
For example in Party’s like Sinn Fein or Respect some will support abortion and some will not. If abortion became party policy should all those who are against abortion suddenly become advocates of a woman’s right to choose or up and leave. Of course not, if that is what they believe there should be enough space within their Party which enables them to stick by there principles and attempt to bring both party and country around to their way of thinking. For if a party cannot contain people with differing social and political principles what is its use. True any party needs a common thread to hold it together, with SF that should be equality based on socialist idea’s, internationalism and the reunification of the Irish nation politically.
The Intellectual life of a political party should not cease between elections or Party conferences as most Democratic Centralists wish. Nor should debate be restricted to the party membership. For it is only with honest and rigorous public debate that a political party becomes comfortable with itself, its platform and gains the respect of the electorate. In todays world to be successful a party must be a broad church. Do not misunderstand my use of this term, I do not mean multi faith but a party that has certain core beliefs, three of which I have aforementioned in the case of SF. Above all else a progressive party must have the mechanism in place that can resolve political deference’s internally by democratic debate and accountability. Sadly it seems both Sinn Fein and the Respect Party have some way to go before they reach that stage.
Never the less no one on the left should feel smug about the two party’s difficulties, for if either or both party’s were to implode that would leave a whole swathe of working class people without adequate representation in the corridors of political power, whether at a local or national level and worse many of them might become disillusioned with progressive politics. Thus it is imperative that the lefts democratic deficit is challenged and replaced with an inner party democracy based on democratic accountability.
If anyone still doubts the viability of a Democratic Left Socialist Party, they need look no further than Germany where Die Linke [The Left] Party was formed out of a left-wing split from the SPD, which then amalgamated in June 07 with the remnants of the Socialist Unity Party and anti capitalist activists to form Die Linke Party. Since its foundation it has created a mini political earthquake in German politics, having become the nations 3rd largest party. With upwards of 14% of the vote and 53 members in the Bundestag and is set to enter a number of the regional parliaments the next time around. Elsewhere in Europe millions of working people are desperate to be represented by a progressive democratic left party, but if they sense any new party is simply more of the same old unaccountable crap, they will desert it at the polls for the devil they know.