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Unity Requires An Objective: Socialist Democracy Replies
We carry above a report by three left militants, styling themselves collectively the Interim Committee for Socialist Unity (ICSU) on the collapse of attempts to build a Socialist Alliance in Ireland. Socialist Democracy has carried detailed reports of the twists and turns of the debate around socialist unity in past issues.
The main thrust of the account – the dreary opportunism and sectarianism of the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party – we accept. However there are elements of the analysis which are skewed and mirror the opportunism and sectarianism that the militants condemn in others.
This weakness is expressed most clearly in their belief that unity stands alone as a demand in its own right. We believe that unity demands an object. You unite around Civil rights, in defence of Women’s rights, for the 35 hour week or for working class revolution.
There’s a word for unity for unity’s sake and damn the politics. It’s called opportunism - the pursuit of ‘opportunities’ at the expense of long term principles. If you adopt an opportunist position you dismiss out of hand arguments that insist on political discussion, a political basis for unity. That’s precisely what these militants do. Throughout they refer to nameless ‘smaller organisations’. What not name them? The list isn’t long – ourselves in Socialist Democracy and the Red Banner group with interest expressed by Anarchists, the left republican ‘Fourthwrite’ group, Red Action and a least one member of the Communist party. Two of the militants of the ICSU spent years of their political lives in our own organisation. At least until the launch of the alliance all were members of ‘Red Banner’ collective. Why isn’t this mentioned?
The fact is that it was ourselves in Socialist Democracy, along with some members of the groups above, who raised the political questions of unity. We had to fight to get the issue of Europe included in the programme – yet this was the only issue on which the Socialist Alliance actually campaigned. We protested the absence of a women’s right to choose in the alliance programme – yet the left are now certain to face a reactionary abortion referendum in the near future, so far without a common position. The position of the three militants was to dismiss much of this discussion, concede to the demands of the SWP and, on at least one occasion, to accuse us of ‘splitting the movement’ by putting forward proposals on programme
The three militants did not fight against the partitioning of the movement, even though, for all of their political lives, they have expressed the belief that opposing the partition of the country was a central task for the working class. They now say that they felt unease on this issue, but they show no understanding of the link between programme and practice – that a movement that partitions the Irish working class by setting up separate ‘unity’ movements on either side of the border cannot even begin to unite that class. This isn’t something that you horsetrade on – it’s something that you have to resist at every opportunity.
The lack of political principle led to a complete misunderstanding of how to conduct a ‘unity offensive’ against the Socialist Party. A political campaign would have been aimed at the members and supporters of the Socialist Party, criticising their leaderships position, putting the case for unity and pointing out, for example, that failure to join the alliance in no way justified a separate campaign on the Nice treaty – an act of undistilled sectarianism given that there were no significant political differences between the two left campaigns.
Instead the comrades adopted a “Ye will, Ye will” approach directed at the leadership which put no real pressure on them and in fact enabled them to defend their record by accepting places on the alliance platform and arguing that they were co-operating with other socialists. One of the most bizarre moments of the Nice referendum was one of the ‘ICSU’ militants shouting “Unity! Unity!” because the two left campaigns had agreed to hold their separate demonstrations at separate times and avoid a clash!
The end result of the unity drive, for these comrades, appears yet another left organisation in Ireland, the ICSU. True to form they fail to give any political justification and announce a policy of passivity. The task of unity reduces to uniting the SP and SWP. If they refuse we must wait until they have a change of heart.
We in Socialist Democracy disagree profoundly. The fact is that a number of small groups and individual militants expressed an interest in uniting in action and in discussing the political basis for left unity. We should be looking for ways to explore and extend that – not sinking into passivity.