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Arise ye starvelings from your slumber?

RISE - Socialist Party split leads to new party

06 October 2019

The formation of the new political group RISE (Radical, Internationalist, Socialist and Environmentalist), led by TD Paul Murphy raises serious questions about the future of the left groups in the Dail. However at it's heart lies a serious confusion about the conditions under which socialists should separate and the foundations of unity.

Paul Murphy outlines the programme of the new group as: a green new deal, anti-imperialism, anti-war, socialist, against climate change, feminist and for the separation of church and state. It would contribute to a broader left and a more cooperative left.

He also announced that he would remain within the Solidarity/People before Profit group in the Dail, forming a third strand of that alliance.

The position on the Dail group shows just how unserious the left are about building a united movement. Murphy simultaneously splits and remains united to Solidarity. He does not join PbP even though there is nothing in his programme that differentiates himself from them. It is perfectly evident that the Dail group is simply a way of getting money and Dail resources to share among groups divided by bitter organisational rivalry. If there is no effective agreement between the three groups then it is difficult to see how they can advocate for a broader unity.

The policy statement from RISE is a clone of the recent letter for left unity from PbP. Although the talking points are fractionally different, they belong in the "something that everyone is happy with" school of left diplomacy rather than addressing the needs of  the working class.

For all that, the split brings to the fore serious strategic and political differences that have consequences well beyond the contesting groups. .

The first issue is that of Sinn Fein. Both Solidarity and RISE agree that Sinn Fein is a "bourgeois nationalist party," but Solidarity have an extra classification: Sinn Fein are a sectarian party - they represent Catholics, are anti-Protestant and bear majority responsibility for the troubles above Loyalism and British imperialism.

The fact that Paul Murphy and his group have moved away from this characterisation is very welcome. It stems from the Socialist Party's addiction to the pro-unionist "gas and water" socialism that James Connelly polemicised  against and makes the Socialist Party a narrow sect because of their constant denial of reality.

In fact the Murphy saga has played out again and again. The SP get big enough to win a Dail seat. Their new Dail member is more in tune with popular opinion and is unable to stand by set party formulae. Sooner or later they are told to toe the party line and the split comes.

The second difference between the two groups is in their electoral approach to Sinn Fein. Here both are to be commended for an attempt to draw on socialist theory - all too rare on the Irish left.

The attempt was not a success. Both sides relied on a hermeneutic method common in socialist groups of tossing texts and quotations at each other. RISE were trying to resolve the issue of united front work with Sinn Fein.

The issue of the united front is simply the issue of groups working together. The principles were enunciated by Leon Trotsky as: "March separately, strike together. "

But the context was all important. The united front was seen as an alliance of working class parties.  Later it was extended to involve anti-imperialist parties similar to Sinn Fein when they were in irreconcilable conflict with imperialism. It cannot be applied to the modern capitalist Sinn Fein. After all, for socialists the capitalists are the enemy. That doesn't mean that there can be no interaction with Sinn Fein, but only in a temporary alliance around single issues. Again, as Trotsky said, these can be with: "the devil himself".

All of these ideas and debates revolve around the assumption of an active and independent working class movement. They simply don't apply to the daft idea of watery alliances based around parliamentary activity.

Here the appropriate quote is the old Irish saying: "If I wanted to go there I wouldn't start from here."

The question socialists should ask themselves, the foundation of united action, is: "what can I contribute to the working class in struggle?" The immediate answer is the use of Marxist theory, the result of generations of struggle, to analyse capitalist society today and propose action that can advance workers interests. An example would be protest at climate change. The task is not to shout : "me too!" But to explain that capitalist society is forced by the profit motive to degrade the environment and that, although this or that reform can be pushed through, full protection of the environment involves the end of the capitalist mode of production.

At the moment  the reformist left are unable to do this and organise only around points that are inoffensive and focused on elections. A split that refers back to socialist theory and attempts to reexamine the routine assumptions of the groups at least opens the possibility of a new radicalism.

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