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The SWP and the Household Tax campaign

category national | bin tax / household tax / water tax | opinion/analysis author Thursday February 09, 2012 18:18author by Glen Clifford - Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (personal capacity)author email glenbiff at gmail dot com Report this post to the editors

This post is a quick response to an SWP internal members bulletin, which was presumably leaked by one of their members - available to read here: It gives an insight to the real views of the SWP on a number of issues including the ULA and the CAHWT. I want to take up some of their points relating to the Household tax campaign, which I object to and to offer what I think is the real situation with the campaign.

"*Household tax*"

SWP IB: "It’s only a matter of time now before the State pulls out the heavy guns and starts to pile the pressure on people through the media and through threats as we approach March. It’s vital that we win local groups to the demand for protests- not only in words but in action in order to resist this pressure. Alan Shatter has already been in the Sunday Papers threatening legislation to take the fines directly from wages."

GC: This is true, the state will be launching their offensive quite soon and it will be vicious. However, based on the views expressed In this piece, one can only take it that the SWP do not take that fact seriously. Only by building and strengthening the national non-payment campaign, with thousands of ordinary people becoming actively involved can the government’s assault be fought. Protests will of course play an important part in the overall strategy of the campaign, the SWP are not alone in calling for protests, certainly not amongst the Left which they seem to be implying. What they are alone in, is only calling for protests (which is often the case), or more accurately prioritising the organising of protests over - even at the expense of - building mass non-payment.

SWP IB: "Overall the level of payment is still only 5% which means a huge 95% of people are still holding out. But the substitutionism of some on the left is appalling and will suffocate the ability of the campaign to effectively resist."

GC: It’s worth pointing out that the SWP’s record in participating in major battles of the working class in Ireland or indeed in Britain is poor – particularly in those battles that involved the tactic of ‘non-payment’. SWP members in Britain paid the Poll Tax, they played little or no role in the successful Dublin Anti-Water charges campaign in the 1990s and played a wholly negative and conservative role in the Anti-Bin Tax campaign of 2003-04. Anyone involved in those campaigns can testify to the veracity of that statement. I’m not sure what the SWP understands ‘substitutionism’ to be, but if they mean in this case, left-wing activists substituting themselves for activity amongst the mass of working class people, then they could not be further from the truth. Had the SWP paid attention to what was discussed and agreed, by the national Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT), as the best approach to fighting the tax, they would know that the key task that has always been stressed is; to turn as many working class people as possible, into active builders and organisers of the campaign themselves. This is without doubt, a far more difficult task than simply encouraging people to go on protests, but it is necessary to have this aim because it is the only way the campaign can be successful. Surely this is the opposite of a ‘substitutionist’ approach?

SWP IB: "Sometimes left wing activists who have struggled long and hard in isolation underestimate the capacity of people."

GC: As is indicated later, this is true of the SWP and nobody else involved in the campaign. It is clear that the SWP have and do underestimate the potential to build a campaign of ordinary people strong enough to defeat this tax.

SWP IB: "They suggest a campaign *purely* of non-payment and believe that slow, methodical canvassing of areas will be enough in itself to defeat the government."

GC: If done correctly and successfully, this is undoubtedly what will defeat the government, but nevertheless nowhere has anyone suggested that the campaign should consist “purely” of this. It’s also worth stating that anyone involved thus far should know there is nothing ‘slow’ about the campaign.

SWP IB: "This electoralist perspective which leaves the mass of people as passive and the activists substituting will not find itself capable of resisting the onslaught of the State."

GC: The ‘electoralist’ accusation is aimed at the Socialist Party no doubt, but again if the SWP paid attention they would see that Anarchist activists in the campaign agree with this strategy, not because that they are happy to facilitate the electoral aspirations of the Socialist Party and others, but because it is the most effective strategy and has been proven so in past struggles.

In dealing with this nonsense from the SWP it’s important to remember that these are the views of the leadership, aimed at influencing their membership. Assuming the tone and content of this ‘weekly bulletin’ is not an exception, one gets the impression that there is a conscious attempt to create a siege mentality amongst the membership – that it’s everybody against the SWP, which anyone not in the SWP would know to be absurd.

SWP IB: "Where we have an influence in a campaign we should be calling protests. It’s time to show in practice that it works.

We should also get into the routine of having one good nights canvassing with as many locals as possible before our branch meetings.

The response from our SWP leaflet has been great with 7 text joiners last Friday and another group of texts following the weekend’s stalls. We have to keep getting those leaflets around as much as possible at household activities.

Remember: campaigns don’t last forever and there is a limited window of opportunity to start the process of targeting key individuals who want to take the fight further for recruitment to the SWP. The stronger the SWP the stronger the voice for a bottom up dynamic and radical campaign will be and the more will remain when the campaign comes to a lull."

GC: This last statement won't be surprising for anyone who has experience of the SWP and how they operate. It has long been remarked about the SWP that they don't take campaigns seriously, constantly jumping from one to the next, staying the course only as long as the potential to recruit to the SWP remains. And here it is from the horse's mouth. Whlie there is nothing wrong with a party trying to recruit new members, in fact if a party didn't try to recruit new members there wouldn't be much point in that party existing, the problem with the SWP is that once again, this often takes priority over or is done at the expense of building a successful campaign.

On the question of a stronger SWP being good for the campaign, not surprisingly I disagree. The CAHWT has a 'bootom up dynamic', ie it is democratic and it is radical - in the sense that it is a campaign that can take on the full might of the state and win - not because of the influence of the SWP, but despite it. There's little doubt that if it was left to the SWP the campaign to fight the Household Tax would most likely join those other 'bottom up' and 'radical' campaigns that went nowhere; namely Right to Work and Enough!. What's posed in relation to the Household / Water / Septic Tank Tax battle is something infinitely more significant. At this stage it is strangely pessimistic and cynical for the SWP to talk about the campaign in terms of a 'limited window of opportunity' or coming to a 'lull', when in actual fact a more likely perspective is that this campaign and battle may last for months and even years before a it comes to a conclusion. Activists in the CAHWT should be aware of the views of the SWP leadership on these matters, while acknowledging and welcoming the excellent and dedicated work that many of the SWP membership can and will contribute to the campaign. As for members of the SWP, they should question the political positions of their leadership, look at the role of the SWP in past struggles and be open to discussions with others in the campaign who argue a different approach to fighting this attack.

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