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Socialist Workers Network/RISE discussion

"If I were you, I wouldnt start from here"

6 June 2022

Recently a document promoting a merger between two groups in People before Profit, the SWN and RISE, was leaked on the internet. It does not appear to have provoked much interest outside the ranks of PbP, yet it is of significance.

What it is, is one of the final echoes of the broad left party strategy that consumed many socialist groups over recent decades. In Europe that current began with a bang and ended with a whimper.  In Ireland it began and ended with a whimper.

Irish exceptionalism is based on the absence of a mass workers party.  In Europe the socialist groups aligned with social democratic and Eurocommunist groups, adopting a reformist programme and a concentration on parliament and electoral politics. Initial growth was followed by failure.  In Ireland the groups were forced to align with each other, given a Labour party and a large section of the trade union leadership tied in partnership to Irish capitalism. It became evident that the reformism and electoralism were not forced on the socialists by association with bigger parties but simply reflected a long-term retreat in the face of capitalist offensive.

It should be remembered that the vehicle for broad leftism in Ireland was not PbP, but an earlier vehicle called the United Left Alliance. Organisational sectarianism between the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party tore it apart. In the aftermath the SWP throve inside PbP, but the price was liquidation. The SWP became the SWN, another current in a body that didn't really see the relevance of a socialist programme. The Socialist Party organised around Solidarity, but its more doctrinaire position saw it split into three fragments of which one, RISE, is part of the current re-groupment.

A strong element of the current discussion is the closure of the surviving mechanism through which a shortcut to mass influence could be imagined. That was a "left" government formed from Sinn Fein in alliance with the socialists and other progressive elements. On the one hand the backtracking of Sinn Fein from rejection of emergency laws and the Special Criminal Court has made it impossible to proclaim them as leftists. On the other hand, the advance of Sinn Fein's electoral support means that they are more likely to take over the parliamentary seats held by the left than to ally with them.

So, the main proposal in the document, a shift in gear from a claimed electoral membership of 4000 to an activist membership of much less than 300, has a material base.  The document says:

 "PBPs finances are perilously dependent on state funding. We need to professionalise our finances, based on establishing payment of a regular subscription for active members of PBP."

In the past the SWP ran a programme of constant recruitment, depending on a high enough level of activity to keep up subscriptions and pay full-timers. The political requirement was revolutionary hyper optimism and street drama.

With the decline in mass struggle there was a switch to electoralism.  This produced large sums in salaries and expenses sufficient to run an organisation, but also produced a completely different political imperative. Rather than dramatic street politics, a quieter and more moderate parliamentary line was necessary to hold together a coalition of disparate voting groups. Widening appeal also meant greater diplomacy in relation to Sinn Féin and the trade union bureaucracy.

However, a problem of a parliamentary orientation is that "really useful" parties are bigger parties and the rise of Sinn Féin seems likely to swamp the reformist left.

So how likely is it that a 180? turn will successfully regenerate PbP and RISE?

Judging by the merger document, not very likely.

The document quotes the Marxist writer Lukács on the need to start from the actuality of the revolution, but it is clear from the text that the authors have not formulated a way to use the concept.

"Actuality of the revolution" can be expressed as the tasks that must be undertaken by the workers in order to challenge for power. That in turn means a description of the concrete contradictions of capital in the real world and of the ebbs and flows of the class struggle.

All that is missing. A fundamental idea around which the Socialist Workers Party defined itself was that the Southern Irish state was an independent capitalist state. Almost every current issue, from the tax haven status, the promotion of vulture capitalism, the drive towards NATO, the chaos around Brexit and attempts to shore up partition have exposed the client nature if the state, but this is not a part of the discussion.

The fact that a debate is taking place amongst the reformist left is welcome. There are barriers, such as full-blown acceptance of gender self-identity and a soft focus on Sinn Fein, but there are also opportunities for new directions.

The biggest weakness is an agenda based on the concerns of the organisations rather than the concerns of the class.

To paraphrase the old Irish saying, if I wanted to take the road to revolution, I wouldn't start from here.


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