Last weekend the Socialist Party in Ireland held Socialism 2006, a weekend of debate and discussion, in Dublin.
The event got off to a magnificent start on the Friday night as 280 people packed a room to hear Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins debate with well known economist, journalist and author, David McWilliams on ‘Is there an alternative to the capitalist market’.
In his opening contribution Joe Higgins focused on what the catastrophic consequences of the capitalist market has meant for young people trying to buy a house in Ireland as house prices have skyrocketed over the past ten years. Joe pointed out that the blame for this crisis lay with land speculators and building companies. He gave the example of a business consortium that bought 11 acres of land in south county Dublin recently for €32 million and sold it on €85 million two years later!
Joe also talked about the recent privatisation of the state’s national airline Aer Lingus which has been effectively handed over to the anti-union low pay airline, Ryanair. At the same time he also argued for a socialist alternative to the privatisation agenda through public services that under democratic workers control and management.
In his opening remarks David McWilliams argued for a more humane version of the capitalist system. He gave the example of the recent Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, a banker and financier who had set up a bank in Bangladesh to provide loans for its poor. He also argued that Ireland and other European countries were ‘mixed economies’ because certain sectors of the economy were run by the state and therefore it was an overstatement to say that we were a fully capitalist society. When the discussion was opened up to the floor a lively debate took place which dealt with issues such as the ‘race to the bottom’ and the precarious future for the Irish economy as the property market comes up against increasing difficulties.
The following day saw two debates and discussions take place. In the morning Socialist Party member Stephen Boyd debated with Colm Breathnach, a representative from the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and member of the Irish Socialist Network on how the conflict could be ended in Israel/Palestine. In the debate Stephen gave a background to the conflict in the region and argued the need for a socialist solution as well the crucial role the Palestinian and Israeli working class could play in achieving this. Colm argued that he did believe in a socialist solution to the conflict in the Middle East but believed we needed ‘to deal with things as they are not how we would like them to be’. Consequently he placed a question mark over weather the working class in this region could be won to such a programme.
The weekend finished off with a rally on the need for new parties for the working class. Lucy Redler reported on the recent development and successes of the left formation in Germany, the WASG and the role that the German section of the CWI is playing in building this. Philip Stott, a member of the CWI in Scotland talked on the recent formation of Solidarity-Scotland’s Movement for Socialism after socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan successfully took on the Murdoch owned News of the World paper. Philip also dealt with the lessons of the Scottish Socialist Party and the need to build revolutionary parties while at the same building broader parties of the working class. Socialist Party councillor Clare Daly argued that the Socialist Party believed that there was a real lack of political representation for workers in the south of Ireland and that a new party of the working class was needed. This was shown by the recent ‘Bertiegate’ scandal when it was revealed that the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern received €90,000 from his friends in big business. In this incident the major ‘opposition’ parties failed to point out the real issue of this scandal, that being the close links between big business and the political establishment in Ireland. Clare went on to say that a left formation was likely to emerge as a result of more generalised struggle within society and therefore the conditions was the creation for such a party did not exist yet. Peter Hadden, member of the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party talked of the recent St.Andrews ‘agreement’ and the need for a political alternative for Protestant and Catholic workers to the sectarian parties in Northern Ireland.
All in all the weekend was a great success with 20 people expressing an interest in joining the Socialist Party.