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Hurrah for left unity?

Rise and People before Profit fusion

7 February 2021

The announcement of a fusion between Rise and People before Profit has been been trumpeted by the new alliance as the biggest left organisation in Ireland and cautiously welcomed by socialist and radical groups generally.

A new unity is to be welcomed. Right?

But that's not exactly what has happened.

This is not a case of two groups moving closer together and eventually fusing. Rather they were united, had a messy divorce, underwent a further series of unfortunate events and the survivors are now recombining.

The biggest reformist left organisation of this type, that all the current actors were involved in, was the United Left Alliance. The actors, in the form of the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party, dissolved the group mainly on the basis of savage organisational rivalry. The Socialist Party went on to split into 3 subgroups, the most visible being RISE. The SWP did not split. Rather it dissolved itself, now existing as a network inside the looser political ecosystem of PbP.

This may seem point scoring. We are where we are. There is some unity. Let's move on.

The problem is that alongside the history there is politics. One of the major problems for the Socialist Party was their rabid hatred of Sinn Fein based on a warped sympathy for loyalism in the North. Paul Murphy and RISE were rejected when he decided that such an approach made him unelectable. The ground has narrowed for PbP also. For decades they have argued for various versions of broad left parties based on reformist electoral politics. The only large Party still standing is Sinn Fein and they are now calling for a Left government that would essentially be a Sinn Féin government. This is a tremendously weak argument.

Kieran Allen of PbP has tried to theorise this position. At the end of the day, he appears to be saying that a Sinn Fein/Fianna Fail government would be reactionary but a Sinn Fein/left coalition would be progressive. Allen goes on to argue that the socialists would not be taking a reformist position because they would look to people power rather than just parliamentary activity.

In reality the socialist TDs are becoming steadily more embedded in the structures of the Dail and their organisations are highly dependent on the funds and expenses available through parliament. Sinn Fein are the only card left in the deck for the many people looking for a parliamentary solution. The new group is attempting to balance itself as critical but friendly left voices in the hope that they can retain their seats in the next election. The likelihood is that they will be decimated if Sinn Fein retains support and stands a larger pool of candidates.

Is there any alternative? The socialists have opportunistically adapted to a feeling of passivity among the workers. What we see today is what we will see tomorrow and we should strive to fit in.

But that's not the case. Many issues, housing, health, public sector pay, are reaching crisis level. For Sinn Fein itself the stresses of Brexit in the North could see another collapse of the administration and the subsequent decline of their party. PbP don't even include Brexit as a discussion point and still believe that Brexit and Irexit can represent a step forward for the working class.

A real political economy that recognises the supremacy of imperialism, a real class analysis of the role of the forces at work, a real listing of the tasks facing the working class, these might initially isolate the socialists, but in the longer run they would lay the foundations for the re-emergence of a workers opposition.

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