By Finn McKenna
From 18 to 21 August, Socialist Party members North and South and visitors from International Socialist Alternative (ISA) joined together in Glendalough to participate in the Party’s annual Summer School, the first since the pandemic. The weekend was a success with 130 members and supporters attending over the course of the four days.
An exciting schedule of political discussions and workshops combined with activities and socials to make a hugely enjoyable and educational event.
Topics on the agenda included among others commissions on: ‘Resisting the rise of the far right’, ‘The relevance of James Connolly’s Labour in Irish History‘, ‘Rebuilding militant trade unionism amongst a new generation’, ‘Capitalism & the origins of racism’, ‘Socialism & the fight for trans liberation’, and a commission in Irish on ‘Cad is Sóisialachas Ann?’, with plenaries on ‘War & capitalism
– how can we end both?’, ‘Understanding the world so we can change it – an introduction to Marxist philosophy’, ‘Our bodies, our lives! Against the right-wing backlash: Marxist analysis of gender- & sexuality-based oppression; & what we need to end it’, and ‘Crisis, reaction & revolution: The revolutionary strategy of ISA for the 2020s’.
We asked several of our young members, who participated for their first time, to give their thoughts about how the weekend went:
“As a relatively new member of the Socialist Party, this year’s Summer School in Wicklow was truly such an eye opening and enjoyable experience and has also provided so much scope for further learning for the future. I already feel that each of the sessions I attended have really developed and strengthened my knowledge of the Party’s values as well as its key areas of focus and how best to implement these in our wider society.
Being able to attend sessions such as ‘The revolution & the party we need’, ‘War & capitalism —how can we end both’ as well as an introduction to Marxist philosophy, has really helped to solidify my understanding of what it means to be a Marxist as well as to highlight the vital importance of a strong socialist movement today given our current global situation.
It was also a wonderful opportunity to meet with fellow comrades, from both close to home and further afield. It was so rewarding to be able to engage in discussions with people from different international perspectives and with such a beautiful setting as Glendalough, I came home feeling refreshed as well as excited to be even more involved in the Party moving forward.”
“The Summer School in Glendalough was a fantastic post-pandemic weekend full of political discussions.
I’m a 6th year student who joined the party less than a year ago, and the school really solidified my understanding about why I became involved with the Socialist Party. Both the commissions that analysed current issues while explaining a socialist way forward, and the people I met and talked with, removed feelings of doomerism that I and many other young people experience. As a young person I often find it paralysing to read about trans lives under capitalism, about the war in Ukraine or about the way in which mental health is treated in capitalist Ireland. But the way that commissions were held made me leave with a sense of motivation and a concrete way forward.
I think the commission I found the most interesting was titled ‘War and Capitalism — how can we end both?’. Mick Barry did the lead-off. He quoted Carl von Claueswitz who famously argued that ‘war is a continuation of policy by other means’. War is used as a political instrument by world leaders when they cannot get what they want peacefully. Wars are made by the ruling class, to the detriment of the working class. Ordinary people gain nothing from war but are coerced, or more often, forced to kill each other for the gains of the capitalist class. Mick also pointed out that war is an extremely profitable industry for the producers of arms.
It’s shocking for me to learn about this war through a Marxist analysis because in school we are taught that war is triggered by one ‘bad guy’ or because Western powers are ‘defending democracy’ when in fact war is a horrible outcome of the system of capitalism. What I appreciated most about all the commissions that I attended was that they always offered a way forward.”
“The Summer School in Glendalough Co. Wicklow this year included a variety of excellent discussions on important issues facing working-class people.
The plenary on Marxist philosophy, focusing on dialectical materialism and how we Marxists understand the world, was particularly interesting in the context of other discussions on issues such as transphobia, gender oppression, racism and the cost of living crisis. All of these issues are extremely pertinent to the working class and the class struggle and having a Marxist method to understand them is vital.
A number of the commissions paid particular focus to the National Question here in Ireland and the legacy of the Troubles today. These discussions are especially important as the National Question in Ireland begins to sharpen in the current political context, North and South. One of the important lessons I took from these discussions on the national question is that even as the class struggle moves forward, this doesn’t necessarily mean that sectarianism is pushed back. In the context of Northern Ireland, the sectarian divide can appear stronger now despite numerous strikes by workers across the North.
As the cost of living crisis bears down upon working class people, workers are taking strike action to fight for better pay and conditions, yet this is in the context of the most sectarian election with the religious divide clearer than ever in Stormont. As the capitalist crisis deepens, the national question and sectarianism will come to the fore. It is vital for any socialist revolutionary party to take a correct approach to these issues, an approach based on workers’ unity, solidarity and the struggle for socialism.”
“My first Summer School experience was an excellent one, full of thought-provoking discussions, Marxist education, and camaraderie. It took place in the heart of Glendalough, in a hostel surrounded by tall, forested hills and lakes which were warm by Irish standards.
Over the weekend I attended a number of excellent commissions. Outside on the grass we discussed the metabolic rift and ecological crisis under capitalism while the sun very aptly scorched our scalps. The lead offs touched on a myriad of problems capitalism poses to the planet – the depletion and destruction of the earth’s natural resources, the improper disposal of waste due to a desire to increase profits, the disconnection of people from nature, and the displacement and harm done to living beings on earth due to human-led ecological destruction.
One important question the commission posed was what can we as socialist do to raise the consciousness about this link between environmental catastrophe and capitalism? How can we highlight effectively and succinctly capitalism’s inability to provide solutions to a climate crisis it has caused?
The national question commission highlighted the urgent need for collective struggle particularly in the face of collective misery. Working-class Catholics and Protestants will experience the same gruelling effects of the cost-of-living crisis, which has hit the North harder than anywhere else on these islands. The discussions highlighted the need to reject the “solutions” capitalism offers regarding the nationalist question, solutions which always require the coercion of one group over the other and which increases the division between both communities, i.e. the coercion of Catholics to remain within the union despite their aspiration for national-unity, or the coercion of Protestants into a capitalist united Ireland against their wishes.
The summer school allowed for us to meet with comrades all over Ireland, and with comrades who travelled internationally to be there, not only for us to attend and contribute but also to connect, share ideas, and have further discussions over a pint (or a soft drink), or while on a hike in beautiful Glendalough. It was an overall excellent experience and I look forward to attending again.”
“The time I spent in the Glendalough summer school made me feel many different things. Sometimes I felt intimidated by the advanced discussion comrades were having both in and out of sessions that showcased my own ignorance to myself, sometimes excited by the prospects of the opportunities and eruptions that will occur in society that those discussions also examined, but in large part, the major feeling was a renewed sense of commitment.
One of the things that stood out from the many contributions and discussions experienced was the idea of rejoining the party in fuller commitment. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but later on, I realised what it meant fully. I’ve only been officially in the party for a month, so I presume other comrades took this on a more personal level, but it showcased to me that I hadn’t fully committed to the party. At many points, both in my short time at the party and over the weekend, comrades would mention to me something about theory or strategies I didn’t fully understand. I nodded along to make sure I didn’t look ignorant. Still, I realise the lack of commitment that showed, i.e. a desire to keep up appearances rather than broaden my knowledge and perhaps help my comrades as best I can. I realise how silly this is now. From the many conversations and discussions I was involved in, one thing was made clear that the party was wide-ranging, international and full of generous people. No matter how silly my question was, comrades were only too eager to answer it.
Of course, I learned a lot on a more specific level, from the national question and our solution to it and Marx’s writing on the environment. But I think this idea of recommitment was the biggest thing I got from it. I hope to use this recommitment and realisation going forward to aid my comrades and the people of the world as much as possible.”