The first Left Forum took place on the 18th of May 2013. The aim was to create a space for discussion on left wing politics in Ireland and to facilitate more unified work and discussion between left wing activists and those interested in left politics.
The day was broken up into a deliberative session, using global café format, where the state of the Irish left and its short to medium term prospects was discussed in small groups. After lunch a plenary session heard reports back from the groups and opened up a discussion, while finally to working groups on political education and left/alternative media were convened. Below is a brief repot of the day’s events.
Deliberative and Plenary Sessions
About 70 people attended the various sessions. The attendance included seasoned activists and trade unionists, members of various political parties (Workers Party, Communist Party, Labour Party, Workers Solidarity Movement, United Left, Irish Socialist Network,), as well as quite a few people who belong to no parties, some of them new to left politics. About 50 people attended the morning deliberative sessions, where small groups were convened and discussions were had around the following questions:
1) Who is the left?
2) What can the left realistically hope to achieve in the short, medium and long term?
3) How and where might we achieve these aims?
4) What sort of left organisations can help us achieve our goals?
Conveners summarised the morning deliberations and then discussion was opened to the floor. It is impossible to go through all of the issues discussed in the deliberations and plenary here, but some broad areas can be identified. Most defined the left in a broad manner. Some felt the left at times acted in an exclusive manner. Many expressed the need for more left co-operation, some going as far to express the idea of an anti-austerity alliance, others expressing the need for the left to put forward an alternative vision and not solely to be a defensive movement. A disappointment with the disintegration of the ULA was also expressed by some and others maintained a wariness of similar projects in the future. On the other hand, some expressed the need for a unified working class party. In the long term, the issue of socialist transformation was discussed, including a lack of confidence in the current socialist movement. A suggestion was made by a prominent trade unionist representative for a broad manifesto to be drawn up, on which various groups, unions and political parties could agree.
Finally, it was agreed to convene another forum in the autumn. Meanwhile, the current organizing committee would co-opt new members to facilitate this and to keep the whole process on track. It was also agreed the autumn forum would decide on ongoing and democratic structures and strategies. During the summer, the working groups set up in the next session would set to work.
Then the forum was broken into two parallel discussions: one on left media and one on political education
Left Media Session
About 25 attended the left media session, including people involved with Look Left, Rabble, Liberty, Dublin Community Television and various websites and blogs. There were also some researchers in attendance from Dublin City University, NUI Maynooth, NUI Cork and Trinity College. A number of people not yet involved in alternative/community media also attended. The meeting was very much grounded in what could be achievable in the short to medium term with a realisation of available resources.
Much of the discussion centred around the idea of an ‘aggregator’ or ‘clearing house’ website, which might collate the work being published by the various groups and publications onto a centralised website, which might attract a wider audience. The Journal.ie and Broadsheet.ie were cited as examples from the mainstream. There was much discussion on the practicalities of such a venture and the possibilities for funding and staff.
A second area of discussion was one of the need for space, especially as relevant to production of an aggregator site. It was reported that Look Left is in the process of obtaining office space. A third area of discussion, also related to space, was for the possibility of organising training in various areas of media production. A final area of discussion focused on the need to take part in a ‘a site of struggle’ approach to public service broadcasting, intervening in discussions around RTE and the new broadcasting bill as well as the use of state assets, such as the mast network and the UHF spectrum.
The meeting agreed to establish three working groups, one into researching the possibilities of an ‘aggregator’ website, one to look at the area of training and a third to advance the aim of intervening in discussions around RTE and other state assets. The three groups will be reporting back with proposals.
Some participants will be meeting again during the Ourmedia alternative/community media conference being held in Dublin on the 24th and 25th of June.
Political Education Session
About twenty people attended the political education system, made up of researchers, lecturers, teachers, trade unionists and interested people. There appeared to be a general consensus that the ongoing political development of workers, rank-and-file trade unionists and political activists is of central importance. It was pointed out that a number of groups have emerged since the beginning of the crisis, which are in one way or another, geared towards facilitating working-class education and general consciousness raising. It was suggested that the Left Forum should do everything it can to support these initiatives as well as creating our own. Among those mentioned were: 1913 Unfinished Business; Irish Student Left Online; several Marxist/Left reading groups; Look Left Forum; Look Left Magazine; Irish Left Review; Provisional University/We are the University; SWP Marxism weekend; Unlock NAMA; Anglo Not Our Debt; PRAXIS (community and working class self-education); DCTV/Dole TV/Live Register; Trade Union TV
There was some concern about our collective failure to make the best of the resources available. There was some discussion on how to establish an effective network, an educational infrastructure, to ensure that workers/activists around the country know what speakers/facilitators are available and appropriate for their purposes, including those visiting Ireland for short periods. It was suggested that a further meeting be organised to decide on issues/topics around which worker/activist education could be organised, and perhaps drawing up a list of very useful and informative speakers to participate in lecture series and/or workshops in different parts of the country.
There was some debate on what kind of educational form should be prioritised: lectures, debates, workshops, consciousness raising circles, etc. The consensus was that all such forms had a role to play. Heads nodded when one said that we should ‘just do it’ and in the process find appropriate ways of doing political education.
Some felt that political education should be geared geared towards policy analysis and development, whereas others felt that broader vision should shape it. It was hoped that the end goal might be to increase the capacity of the left to provide more convincing analyses and interventions in issues and struggles.
It was suggested that a space needs to be created where we can move from all of the things that we are ‘against’, and work out in more detail what the left is actually ‘for’. The idea of linking the development of a working-class educational infrastructure to the development of a ‘worker’s charter’, to a set of goals, relevant to the working-class in the post-boom period, that all of the left might be persuaded to sign up to, was also floated.
Another suggestion was to hold an organisational conference (next August in Limerick) to work through the problems of worker/activist education, political development, confidence, consciousness and solidarity. The idea would be to work out what has to be done (on an island-wide basis), and what is possible.
There was general and enthusiastic agreement that Left Forum should continue as an ongoing process and that our focus should be on creating and projecting an alternative narrative of what Ireland might be,.