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‘The Old World is Dying and the New World Struggles to be Born.’ Call the midwife, Ireland needs a new left party. July 9, 2020

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Thanks to Shane Faherty for allowing this to be reposted. Much appreciated. Originally posted on

Modern Distortions Culture, society and history, at the beginning of the month.

 

In keeping with the spirit of our times, on Tuesday I watched an online ‘meeting’ with Paul Murphy TD of RISE (formerly of the Socialist Party/ Solidarity) and Brid Smith TD of People Before Profit. It was a virtual version of the public meeting that most of us on the left know, but may not necessarily love.

I wanted to know whether the new party being mooted was a runner and what form it would take. Paul’s organisation RISE have been making overtures to members of the Green Party who may be disillusioned with their party entering government with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. He argues that they should leave the party and, along with other groups on the left, launch a new party. Similarly, People Before Profit released a statement proposing the formation of a new left party. Another small group called Independent Left, many of whom are former PBP members, released a statement welcoming the move. The elephant in the room in all of this is that Rise and People Before Profit are part of a parliamentary grouping called Solidarity – People Before Profit. Solidarity have said nothing on all of this. Solidarity and People Before Profit operate a marriage of convenience for electoral and parliamentary purposes. Until last year, they were evenly matched electorally, with 3 TDS and just under 30 councillors each, based on significant gains made at the previous local and general elections. The local elections of 2019 reduced the numbers of councillors for each party. There were gains for Sinn Fein and the Greens, and this was an indication of things to come.

Background of Solidarity – People Before Profit

At the core of both Solidarity and PBP is another party. In essence, each of these parties is a party launched by a Trotskyist party to have a slightly broader appeal. Detractors often use the term Trot as a slur, but essentially a Trotskyist is just somebody who wishes the Soviet Union had been communist. PBP was launched by the Socialist Workers Party in 2005. The SWP had a long history of launching front organisations and everybody laughed at them. Surprising, however, PBP gained some traction and has many members who are not members of the SWP. In 2018 the SWP renamed itself the Socialist Workers Network in recognition of their role inside PBP. The SWP was part of an international organisation called the International Socialist Tendency. Most Marxist parties are members of international organisations, which reflects the view that socialism must be international.

The Socialist Party launched the Anti-Austerity Alliance out of the anti-water charges campaign. They later rebranded the AAA as Solidarity, in order to reflect a broader political remit. Initially Solidarity had many members who were not members of the Socialist Party, but this doesn’t seem to be the case any more. The Socialist Party was part of an international called the Committee for a Worker’s International (CWI). In 2019 there were a number of acrimonious splits in the CWI when the Socialist Party of England and Wales, a moribund and grey skinned organisation which was the tail that wagged the dog of the CWI, took umbrage at the Socialist Party of Ireland adopting a number of correct and successful positions. The awkward thing about the CWI was that a lot of member organisations were in countries that were former parts of the British Empire and the SPEW was used to bossing them around. Not so much international solidarity as cultural imperialism. The majority of sections sided with the Socialist Party of Ireland and in a bizarre twist of events, the minority faction kept the name CWI while the majority became the International Socialist Alternative, which is a much better name in fairness. A handful of Irish comrades inexplicably remained with the CWI and called themselves Militant Left.

Separately but simultaneously Paul Murphy left the Socialist Party and Solidarity and took a small group of people with him. They called themselves RISE and came to constitute a third component of Solidarity – People Before Profit. In the 2020 general election, PBP retained their three seats. Paul Murphy retained his seat as did Mick Barry of SP/Solidarity. Shockingly Ruth Coppinger lost hers. Sinn Fein and the Greens gained seats in her Dublin West Constituency at the expense of Solidarity and Labour (good riddance to Joan Burton though). Ruth Coppinger was a fantastic TD and activist who played pivotal role in repealing the Eighth Amendment and numerous other campaigns. The loss of her seat was bad not just for Solidarity but for the country.

Following his departure from the Socialist Party, Paul Murphy has cooperated more closely with People Before Profit, in particular since the last general election. That he and PBP are jointly launching this initiative without the Socialist Party is not surprising, although it is disappointing.

I am a former member of the Socialist Party

I am a former member of the Socialist Party and still support the party. I don’t agree with them on everything. I don’t agree with Paul Murphy on everything. I don’t agree with People Before Profit on everything. I do, however, agree with all of them on enough that I could be in the same party as all of them. Provided that party was democratically run and had clear and accountable structures and processes.

I wish parties on the left would spend as much time trying to keep members as they do trying to recruit members. There are thousands of people out there who are former members of the Socialist Party/Solidarity and SWP/PBP. These people joined for a reason and they left for a reason. You can’t dismiss their departure as a lack of ideological purity or commitment. You need to listen to your members. If people don’t feel their voices are heard inside an organisation they leave. The internal democracy of Irish left parties is deficient, but more than that, a culture tends to pervade where those who express an opinion that is different from the leadership don’t have their opinions heard. Instead it is explained to them why they are wrong. Let’s call this cadresplaining.

One point of difference I always had with the Socialist Party was that I never felt they did enough to bring about a new broad-based left-wing party, although they always claimed this was something that they believed in. Their argument was that such a project was doomed to failure unless the conditions were right. In the past 30 years we have had every set of conditions imaginable and yet somehow a new party has not magicked itself into existence. There comes a point where you must re-examine your strategy. That I hold this view won’t be news to anybody in the Socialist Party who knows me. However, I feel now more than ever that now they need to take the initiative and be proactive in launching a new party.

The new left – right divide in Irish politics           

We have heard a lot of talk about the sweeping changes in Irish politics. What is clear is that there is now a left – right divide in Irish politics that never existed before. That Fianna Fail and Fine Gael were not even able to assemble a simple majority between them is incredible. We may not have gotten a decent government this time but we are witnessing the death of the traditional two party system. The Labour Party, the traditional third wheel and fake left option are nearly obliterated as a result of their history of supporting austerity governments. The Greens have willed themselves out of existence by using their resurgence to prop up the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael government. It seems they have not only forgotten what happened the last time they went into government, they have forgotten what happened in the election afterward. Still, the number of votes they received shows people are concerned about environmental issues, and this on its own is not a bad thing. The opposition to the government then is Sinn Fein (a party which has attempted to evolve from being the political wing of an armed group into being a big tent left nationalist populist party), the Social Democrats (a party that models itself on Northern European social democratic parties without learning any of the history) and Solidarity – PBP. There are also a large number of independent TDs encompassing a broad range of views.

Sinn Fein surged in the last election, not because of their past but in spite of it. They ran on a left-wing programme and, even if everyone on the left knows they are not serious about implementing it, it resonated with voters and won them support. The Soc Dems also experienced a growth in support, but it was a long time coming and not quite as surprising. The socialist left must not only point out the failings of other parties, we must show we are better than them. And the socialist left has done this. With Repeal, with water charges and a myriad other campaigns the socialist left has shown it can have a profound impact on discourse and has succeeded in shifting the conversation in Ireland firmly to the left. It is not good enough that other parties are then able to take advantage of this groundwork. The socialist left has proved its capabilities in adversarial situations, now we must prove our capabilities in imagining and constructing a new political, social and economic reality.

What is necessary to succeed

A new left party must put forward a clear and unified message and fight a unified campaign. The arguments on minor points of policy can be had inside the party. With open and fair debates and democratic processes we can hash these topics out and come to agreement on a clear programme. The United Left Alliance of 2011 was a missed opportunity for the left but there are lessons to learn. There were no democratic structures and members of the ULA who were not members of the component organisations of the steering committee had no say in the organisation. Clare Daly’s gravitation away from the ULA and the Socialist Party opened up fissures for which there was no recourse for a resolution. Any new party has to have new structures and new leadership. If the Socialist Party don’t join the new party it will just be an expanded PBP and this would not be ideal. This could lead to its failure or alternately, it could be a roaring success and the Socialist Party will find themselves eclipsed.

The Socialist Party is right that a new party is meaningless if it only comprises the usual suspects. A new party must attract thousands of new members to be successful. But in order to do this it must first exist. The Socialist Party must engage with PBP and Rise and any other groups or individuals to launch a party that is pluralistic but socialist and secular. That sets out a clear anticapitalist programme for elections but also engages in grass roots struggles. That fights against racism, sexism homophobia, transphobia and all forms of bigotry. That fights against the destruction of our planet for the sake of profit. That situates all of these struggles in the fight for socialism. There is a definite space here for Solidarity – PBP to launch a new party and potentially win thousands of supporters. They have an advantage in that they are already in the public view and have been the clearest voices advocating socialism in Ireland. A party launched by Solidarity – PBP  could win back former members of its constituent organisations, defectors from the Greens or Sinn Fein, perhaps some left wing independents and their supporters, those who already identify as left but are not in any party and more importantly young people and workers who have never been politically active as they never felt any party represented them.

Jeremy Corbyn’s success in winning the leadership the British Labour Party and Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic Party nomination show that where a clear left-wing position is articulated it can win massive support. However, they also show that where the right is strong inside a party they would rather surrender power and ruin the party than hand control to the left. The media of course were complicit in attacks on Sanders and Corbyn in particular, but each was limited by trying to work inside a party where there was massive resistance to change.

In Britain or America it is nigh on impossible for a third party to break through as people fear that voting further to the left will throw their vote away and benefit the right. Ireland has an electoral system that encourages pluralism, even though we did have a de facto two party system for years. The left are not tied to a larger party in order to guarantee success. Proportional Representation Single Transferable Vote means that people have nothing to lose by voting left as, if their first choice does not win, their vote goes to their second choice etc. In addition, the fact that coalitions are commonplace means you do not have to convince people you will win the most seats in order to justify them voting for you. You just need to make it clear who you would and would not go into coalition with and under what circumstances. A new Irish left party could act as a magnet for left wing support in the manner Corbyn or Sanders did, but be unencumbered by having to work inside a compromised establishment party. Elections are only part of what is necessary in order to defeat attacks on the working class and ultimately win socialism, but engaging in them is an important part of the struggle.

However, there are a range of parties looking for support on the left. If the socialist left look like they are more interested in long winded debates on minor points of policy than attaining power, you can hardly blame people if they decide to hold their noses and vote for Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein after all looked serious about taking power. Yes, only socialism can deliver the changes necessary to satisfy the material demands of the many, deliver equality to the oppressed and halt the destruction of the planet. Other parties who claim to be left promise change but will always capitulate to the demands of capitalists, but if we haven’t looked like we are serious in winning support for socialism, we can only blame ourselves when we fail. It is time that the socialist left gave the Irish people the option of a cohesive left-wing party and this has to happen soon. By the time the next election comes the space will have closed if the left aren’t organised Sinn Fein and the Social Democrats will have taken their support.

I hope a new left part comes into existence, because that is the party I want to join. If, like me, you are an independent socialist who would like to examine ways to make this happen please feel free to get in touch.

Comments»

1. sonofstan - July 9, 2020

Thanks for that.
If nothing else, best and clearest explanation of the CWI split which a comrade in England tried, and failed, to explain to me during the UCU strike.

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2. tomasoflatharta - July 9, 2020

An excellent post

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3. alanmyler - July 9, 2020

We’ve had a plethora of new left parties in the past few years. The SocDems, RISE, Militant Left, Independent Left, the new Joan Collins party whose name I can’t recall. We don’t need another new party. If someone can explain to me how a different new party can overcome the practical and theoretical reasons behind the existing multitude of Left parties then fair enough. In the meantime we have one vary large and electorally successful left-of-centre nationalist / populist party that is quite possibly going to be in government after the next general election. All the talk in the world about new left parties is just that, talk, compared with that reality.

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Wiki Man Dave - July 9, 2020

I read it more as merging the three Trotskyist parties together more formally, not creating a new party.

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alanmyler - July 9, 2020

So what’s the suggestion here, that they unite as an electoral front (they have already) or that they unite more substantially than that? What’s the benefit of the latter? And given the deep ideological zeal of each of them and the long standing differences between the various strands of international Trotskyism is it really likely that those differences could be smoothed over and for what ultimate purpose, presumably the project would have to be more significant than electoralism in the RoI? And supposing this miracle did happen, what would be the result? One result I can guarantee you is that the opponents to the deep merger within each party would split, leaving us with the same number of parties albeit with a different membership configuration, and the remaining rumps that split off would be even more pathologically zealous than before. So, if it’s just an electoral pact, well that’s already there. If it’s something more substantial, ok fair enough go off and try that, but maybe leave us all out of the loop until you’ve made some progress that lays the foundations for a possible electoral project that other formations might be interested in talking about. Breath holding not advised.

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Shane Faherty - July 9, 2020

Thanks for your comments Alan. I really do appreciate you taking the time to read the heading and skip straight to the comments. Fortunately, I have written a blog post which addresses all the points you raise. If you scroll up you will see it.

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alanmyler - July 9, 2020

Thanks for the sarcasm Shane but I did read the post. Can we keep the tone civil please, this isn’t FB or Twitter.

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pettyburgess - July 9, 2020

What he’s arguing for is a small “s” socialist party which various currents and groups would be part of and would maintain their own organisation within. So not a merger into one homogenous party but something more closely bound than the current Dail alliance. Other people (and groups) would be able to join it and have the same democratic input as anyone else. What he’s talking about structurally, if not necessary politically, is I think something like the Portuguese Left Bloc or the Danish Red Green Alliance, a membership party with organised platforms/factions/whatever inside it.

I’d also like to see something like that. I don’t think a homogenous party is possible or desirable given where we are starting from. But I do think that a more unitary structure than currently exists is possible and would have big advantages. If it had a reasonably functioning democracy and a certain critical mass, it could pull in people from a wider swathe of the further left than the three S-PBP components.

I also don’t think that international Trotskyist divisions are the main barrier, or even a significant one at all. The barriers are domestic. To be blunt about it, I can’t see the SP being at all interested. In their absence, PBP, already the largest group, would necessarily be hegemonic. Can others accept that? Can PBP open up enough to make that acceptable?

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tafkaGW - July 9, 2020

Yes – see my comment under. Didn’t read this first.

The barriers are also organisational – these parties come from a culture of everything being decided by the central committee and the members being persuaded to fall into line. Up to the point that there is a split in the party.

Another such party would be a waste of time IMHO.

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tomasoflatharta - July 9, 2020

This is spot on.

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Shane Faherty - July 9, 2020

More or less. I think you highlight a lot of the possible pitfalls. It doesn’t mean they can’t be overcome. My own preference is for a party where every member is member of the party but can also be a member of a faction or caucus inside the party. The leadership is directly elected by the membership and policy is voted on by membership. I think in order for it to succeed there would have be a majority of members who were independent of any faction. I agree with you about the SP not being that interested,but i think if something began to take shape it would be hard for them to ignore it.

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Shane Faherty - July 9, 2020

It might seem wildly aspirational but the context is important. This is an individual response to an initiative being floated by PBP and RISE. Its purpose is to encourage a broader discussion but is grounded in the belief that any new formation has to be better than just PBP 2.0

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alanmyler - July 9, 2020

But it also needs to be better than ULA 2.0 too, right, so what if anything has changed to suggest that’s a possibility? Genuine question.

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Shane Faherty - July 9, 2020

Absolutely Alan. And if I was sarcastic above, it is only because I thought you were being outright dismissive without engaging with my points so apologies if I picked you up wrong on that. It does have to be better than ULA 2.0 and that is why it is important to engage with the question of democracy form the outset. Essentially the ULA had no democratic structures or accountability. In hindsight, it was inevitable that as soon as one of the component organisations had a strop it would collapse. There were a large number of people in the ULA who were not members of any organisation. These people had no voice at national level and neither did members of the SP, PBP or WUAG who may have dissented from the party line.
I think that you have to have an organisation where every individual member gets a vote on policy and for the leadership. Yes you can be part of a faction and that can advocate a certain view and you can debate the issues, but the ultimate decision has to be democratic.If policy has to be decided by consensus among 3 groups and leadership has to be appointed by these 3 groups the new grouping will be be doomed to failure.

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pettyburgess - July 9, 2020

No problem with aspirations, Shane, but there’s an important distinction between what might be an ideal result and what actually is a feasible way to start.

I don’t think there’s some unchangeable reason why the SP could never play a role in a broader party. Maybe they manage to put themselves at the head of some post Covid movement against austerity, get the wind in their sails and finally decide that the conditions they’ve been waiting on for decades have arrived. Maybe something starts without them and they eventually decide they can’t ignore it. Lots of things change. But right now? The last thing they want is deeper entanglements with other existing forces on the left. They are set on ploughing their own furrow.

In their absence I don’t think that there is going to be anything like a ULA2. That was a very specific way of dealing with a socialist left divided between two very evenly matched groups surrounded by a smaller layer of others. It didn’t work even in those circumstances.

Now PBP is clearly the strongest force on the left (meaning here everyone left of SF) and is on a different scale to the other bits of the left that might actually be interested in building a strong party of the left. That places a certain responsibility on other people to understand that they can’t expect to have equal weight in the.ULA manner. That size carries democratic rights with it. But in particular it places a responsibility on PBP to allow room for others if they are serious about politics on a bigger scale. Maybe that means inviting others into a kind of PBP plus. Maybe it means starting something broader.

The question really is, what’s PBP’s perspective? Do they think that they can just scale up as they are? For that matter, what actually are they? A broad party? Or the SWN’s periphery?

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Alibaba - July 9, 2020

I think it means a broader party where the net is cast wide and the organisational question of how the party is run is crucial. There is enormous distrust of the authoritarian stranglehold that blighted the left in the past, not to mention the current organisations devoid of genuine democratic internal life. However, the dispiriting record of previous times will not discourage many new potential members if that rotten record is overhauled .

For example, where there are political differences they can be debated and decided internally in a democratic fashion. Once done, all members should show loyalty to the party action programme. This compromise means some members, especially the far-left, will have to live with a line they don’t fully support, but at the same time they could put their ideas openly to bigger numbers moving left. The priority is direct and united action making the components’ sectarian interests, for which read their recruitment mania, secondary to the building of a militant party oriented to workers and one which will never enter coalition with FF or FG.

For those readers who are thinking: Dream on! — you have a point. But a refusal to learn anything or to take advantage of this rare opportunity to participate in a broad-based party where leaders are not controlling the ranks (the ULA, remember) will shirk the responsibility to explore this proposed new initiative seriously. Don’t be that person, I suggest.

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4. The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born – call the midwife – Ireland needs a new left party | Tomás Ó Flatharta - July 9, 2020

[…] cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2020/07/09/the-old-world-is-dying-and-the-new-world-struggles-to-be-born-c… […]

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5. roddy - July 9, 2020

I havent time to comment .I’m organising a party in the “big tent” in the field in front of the house.

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Joe - July 9, 2020

A mission retreat? A revival meeting? A fleadh? A funeral?

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Joe - July 9, 2020

A band practice?

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roddy - July 9, 2020

I think there will be “populism ” in the big tent.Is that some type of “beat combo” m’lud?

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6. tafkaGW - July 9, 2020

The central question for me would be:

So-called ‘democratic centralism’ or a genuinely democratic party organisation?

Would various factions / streams be recognised as they are in die Linke, for instance? A broad church needs naves.

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Shane Faherty - July 9, 2020

I would be in favour of something like that. I think a genuinely democratic organisation with factions inside it woudl be the ideal.

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7. Joe - July 9, 2020

“The local elections of 2019 reduced the numbers of councillors for each party. There were gains for Sinn Fein and the Greens, and this was an indication of things to come.”

Is that accurate re Sinn Féin? I thought they had a bad council election and lost seats…. and then had a great general election and increased their seats. Which, as the song says, goes to show you never can tell.

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tomasoflatharta - July 9, 2020

Factually accurate

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8. Fergal - July 9, 2020

Don’t want to be a killjoy but the old world ain’t dying… capitalism is flexible… if the conditions change it changes contorting itself like some kind of spider’s web… 15 years ago no capitalist want banks to be nationalised… 5 years later they were clamouring for it … and how that changed the lot of ordinary people?
This is why capitalism survives and thrives…

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9. pettyburgess - July 9, 2020

I suppose the basic issue with calls for broad parties of the left is less “what” and more “how”. Too often there’s a refusal to engage with the existing organisations as they are. Where they aren’t wished away entirely they are wished into something other than what they are, with different politics or projects or interests. It’s a genre of arguments that veers too much towards “I wouldn’t start from here”.

The subset of these calls that were at all concerned with practicalities for a long time had more or less one usually unspoken mechanism in mind: get the SP and SWP into one organisation and then the space for others would be created by balancing them against each other. Things have moved on though.

The SP have had a difficult couple of years and have are not at all interested in the rest of the existing left. There’s RISE on the scene now, but while their organisational and political approach is one that independents might find a lot more congenial than that of the SP or the old SWP, they do not have anything like the capacity to launch a broad party. PBP are the strongest organisation and over time the SWN has become more deeply enmeshed in mass politics, less doctrinaire and less controlled. To a large extent the ball is in PBP’s court.

This wasn’t true a couple of years ago. It might not be in a couple of years time. But unless the unions decide to go all in on the RtoC party or something similarly unexpected, the only way we are seeing a strong, broad party that has a hegemony over the left is if PBP decides to be or back one.

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Colm B - July 9, 2020

Of course the situation is crying out for such a broad party of the left but one of the key problems is that if the main group/groups who initiate a broad party are not internally democratic, there is little chance that the broad party itself will be in any real sense democratic because that would be too threatening to the internal regime of these groups.
So, if we take it that the SP won’t participate, we’re left with PBP as the dominant organisation in the proposed broad party and the problem with that is…well….PBP. As far as I can see it is not a democratic organisation, it is effectively run by the SWN leadership. Of course they can do it this with a light touch but if any serious dissent emerges it would be squashed. I have never in all my years in politics seen an organisation dominated by the SWs in which they genuinely tolerated the possibility that their leadership could be seriously challenged or their perspectives rejected.
Ok, you might argue that they’ve changed so I would ask for the evidence: When was PBPs last delegate conference? Is there a record of the debates and votes? Were there any close votes on motions? How was the leadership elected?
These questions pertain to the fundamentals of a democratic organisation so if the answers are negative then PBP can’t really form the basis of a genuinely democratic broad party. If that is the case perhaps RISE, Ind Left and others who share a commitment to both radical socialism and internal democracy would be better forming a democratic revolutionary socialist organisation which will then have the weight of numbers to play a major if not dominant role in a broader party.

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Shane Faherty - July 10, 2020

All valid points. It could be worth putting the questions you raise to PBP. They are the ones calling for this initiative so it is up to them to prove themselves. It could be no harm to draft an open letter to them raising these points. I was at a public meeting in Galway when the SWP were launching PBP and I raised questions around structures and governance. A prominent, now former, member of the SWP really flew off the handle with me for asking. 15 or so years later I think the points I raised still stand. In terms of combining the weight of numbers from those outside SP or PBP, it is worth discussing and it is a discussion I would like to have with anybody who is interested. My own view would be that an Independent bloc is essential to put pressure on them a. to launch a new party and b. to make sure it is democratic.

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Alibaba - July 10, 2020

+ 1. Ensure this democratic provision is made known in advance and agreed by one and all, as well as a shared political platform.

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Colm B - July 11, 2020

I agree that the SWs have a much more soft approach but that has been the case for a long time, since they took their “popular front” turn during the Iraq War. You are correct, politically they are too soft, being always anxious to keep those to their right within their fronts, happy. But they won’t tolerate a serious challenge to their dominance and the way they ensure that is by not having democratic structures. I’m all for a broad party but without clear democratic structures it’s bound to fail.

Given that the SP and PBP are the main shows in town, I agree that they will have to play a major role in any new formation but unless there is a strong democratic pole holding them to account it will fail.

As for the SSP, you’re right the core group did evolve from the sect-like Militant but that evolution was clear before the SSP was formed: they had begun to have open internal debates, more democratic procedures etc. The SSP in its heyday had vibrant internal democracy , though that doesn’t mean there still wasn’t problems.

I haven’t been a member of the SSP for years. I left it after it began to degenerate into what it is today, an undemocratic sect.

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pettyburgess - July 11, 2020

Colm, it may well be that the best option available at the moment is to form a genuinely democratic small Marxist party centred around RISE, Independent Left etc. But that means accepting that a broad, democratic, small “s” socialist party with a real presence in national politics and an organised Marxist presence in it isn’t on the agenda at the moment. If we want the latter in the short to medium term, then we either looking for something that PBP is central to in some form or hoping for a deus ex machina solution of some kind (like a bunch of unions suddenly deciding to pour huge resources into Collins outfit).

That may not be possible. I’m as familiar with the history of the SWP as you are. But organisations evolve. You are in the SSP, founded by Scottish Militant Labour, a sect with a long and not very democratic past.

I’m not in PBP. I can’t tell you how they function internally now or how they may evolve. I can tell you that they, or the SWN, are not the old SWP. They have an ability to commit to projects over a period that the SWP did not have. They have an ability to work with others in campaigns without screwing them for some short term advantage that the SWP absolutely never had. They don’t concentrate on selling papers or trying to recruit to the small but perfectly formed “revolutionary party”. Their political approach isn’t to try to always be more revolutionary than thou, if anything they tend to be a bit soft. Whatever they are or may become it doesn’t make sense to think of them as the SWP of 1997 for all eternity.

The SWN is politically and organisationally looser than the old SWP. In any sense you care to name: from the routine of activity to whether or not they care about a member subscribing to Tony Cliff’s variant of State Cspitalist analysis. PBP is looser again. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are genuinely democratic or capable of becoming such, I don’t know. If they are serious about becoming players in mass politics, hegemonising the space to the left of SF and challenging SF than they will have to be able to incorporate (or alternatively establish a wider party involving) a wider range of perspectives. If they can’t and just want to be the biggest sect, then they can’t and others will have to adapt to that reality with more limited projects.

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10. Shane Faherty - July 10, 2020

If anybody wishes to work towards this my email address is shanerty@gmail.com. Even a small group of people sharing the same goal would be a good start. I think an open letter stating what we believe to be prerequisites for a new party could be a start.

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Colm B - July 10, 2020

Unfortunately I’m afraid I m an exile from Erin so I can’t help with the formation of an independent/democratic block but I would certainly cheer it from across the waves. If my memory serves correct both Paul Murphy and Conor Kostick have articulated a critique of the lack of democracy in their former organisations so they should be on board with internal democracy as a precondition for the formation of abroad party.

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Pangurbán - July 10, 2020

The ULA had a governance structure like the Murdoch empire, where the A shareholders had a vote and the much more numerous B shareholders had no vote; the B shareholders were the majority of honest decent leftists who joined to be used as vote fodder by SP and SWP; speaking of which do agendas or minutes of AGMs exist for SWP SP or ULA?

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roddy - July 10, 2020

I cant help either but I’ll open the flap on the big tent and peer out occasionly to see how the new block is progressing.

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Pangurbán - July 11, 2020

Roddy the big tent in your back garden will probably result in you being prosecuted under noise abatement legislation;

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roddy - July 11, 2020

I dont have a back garden.Live in the middle of a bog.

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WorldbyStorm - July 11, 2020

You’re a lucky man roddy. Seriously. There’s few better places, particularly early in the morning when the sun is coming up and there’s a bit of mist on the ground.

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11. gregtimo - July 11, 2020

We already have one underway in RTOC , though the name could be worked on I know, along with a lot of policy work needed along Democratic Socialist lines . SWN/PBP are engaged in some preliminary heading off it can be guessed . Of course it would be nice if they were sincere about leaving behind Leninist ‘Democratic Centralism’ once and for all, but I agree with the sceptical, that it will take them more time to really get there . We arent Portugal with it’s big Maoist and in general very left tradition (which hit austerity worse than ourselves) or Denmark with it’s own peculiar austerity struggle (the glue there was the ‘Left Socialists’ peculiar nationalist/internationalist left which managed to ally Stalinist, Maoist and Trotskyist around them to form something bigger) . We may closest to the Danes? Time will tell what develops here , but I hope it is soon

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WorldbyStorm - July 11, 2020

Yeah, RTOC is not a great name. I can’t see the SP abandoning Leninism, is that likely? I wonder at the viability of a broad group that encompasses both Leninist and non-Leninist wings. I’m no fan of democratic centralism myself any longer so that’s an interesting bridge to cross. I guess Die Linke has some of that broadness though just checked out its wiki page and its membership has really gone down in the past ten years.

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12. CMK - July 11, 2020

It is an interesting, thought provoking piece. I don’t agree with the characterisation of the CWI split (there’s a lot more than meets the eye) but that’s another day’s work.

I think, though, any discussion of a new Left initiative needs to be realistic about where we are at in 2020. Because it is a radically different juncture to, say, 2016.

Any new Left formation will have to have the SOL-PBP parliamentary alliance as a pole or central pillar.

But that alliance will in all likelihood not be here after the next election. The surge is ‘Left’ sentiment, under the deteriorating material conditions for the majority in Irish society is not going to go, at least not now or for possibly a good while yet, to the socialist Left. It is, rather going, decisively, to Sinn Fein.

That is the core political reality any discussion about a new Left formation has to depart from.

At the 2020 general election, 4 of the 5 SOL-PBP TDs were, to all intentions and purposes, elected on Sinn Fein transfers.

The surge in the Sinn Fein vote might not be, probably won’t be, replicated at the next election, but if is doesn’t recede too far, Sinn Fein will capitalise on it.

We can be certain that Sinn Fein’s electoral strategists are working intensely to ensure that that surplus that went Left in 2020 goes to them next time round, by any means necessary.

Every MaryLou McDonald, Eoin O’Broin and Pearse Doherty intervention in the present Dáil will be to build that possibility.

And, given that the post COVID onslaught, being readied in government departments right now, will go after wide layers who are already suffering or never recovered from 2008 and its aftermath, Sinn Fein are excellently positioned to appear as the most, or only, viable option to the establishment parties.

While anyone with a nodding acquaintance of Sinn Fein’s approach over the past 25 years knows they are not a genuine Left party, nevermind a socialist Left party, in the difficult ideological conditions for the Left in Ireland they serve as a good enough ‘Left’ for an electorate finally starting to see that the road is running out for it under the FF and FG duopoly.

The irony, in the context of this discussion, is that Sinn Fein are an quintessentially ‘democratic centralist’ organisation with, by all accounts, a very limited internal democratic life.

And yet, they attract thousands of working class people into their ranks, many of whom stay there and develop into formidable activists in their communities and, increasingly, trade unions. Their relentless focus on bread-and-butter issues (car insurance, for instance) that actually impact on working class peoples’ lives is part of the reason why they are advancing, rather than any big leap towards their brand of republicanism. In manys a provincial town a Sinn Fein meeting can draw a crowd of members several times more than what would turn up on a Saturday afternoon for an ‘all Ireland’ Left meeting in the Teachers’ Club.

My point is that any Left initiative will have to, of necessity, work on the basis of a period, potentially prolonged, of Sinn Fein as the ‘hegemonic’ Left vehicle in the Republic at least. One consequence of this will be a radical reduction in the socialist Left parliamentary representation at the next election as Sinn Fein ruthlessly squeezes those surpluses.

This will be a bad thing in the short term, for sure, but it might also be a positive in the longer term. Let’s see but Shane’s contribution is a welcome, and thought provoking, one.

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sonofstan - July 11, 2020

I’d be nervous about predicting anything to do with an election nearly 5 years hence (assuming this three wheeler stays the course).
First thing: the MSM assault on SF will make previous efforts look like soft ball. Next time, they’ll be actually scared, so expect a full replica of the anti-Corbyn shenanigans. The Guardian will get in on it as well, and they have a substantial readership in Ireland now. Something as insidious as the anti-semitism smear will ’emerge’, I’d bank on it.
Secondly, SF may be disciplined, but, as witnessed by that idiot in Tallaght, they’re dangerously loose with candidate selection.
Thirdly, the left TDs you mention will all be 10 year vets by the time of that election: I wouldn’t rule out their ability to build their vote and get elected on their own by then.

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Alibaba - July 11, 2020

I agree with your first and second argument. Also, to be honest, when I first heard mention of the call for Left unity, rather cynically I thought here comes a generous, self-interested piece of opportunism issued by those whose re-electoral prospects are dim given the surge in the Sinn Féin vote and adept performance. And not forgetting the political activism of the younger generation who will have no truck with the discredited antics and squabbling of left sects. 

As an afterthought I wondered what could be done constructively to build a new radical and far left alternative. Responding to CMK’s: ‘Any new Left formation will have to have the SOL-PBP parliamentary alliance as a pole or central pillar.’,  I think it fair to say this carries a sense of an entitled Trotskyist left draped in fronts and led by organisations who are patently jockeying for position against one another. Same old. Our mutual need is to find allies urgently, to embrace other left organisations and independents, to focus on more cooperation, and to make common cause against the enemy. The primary requirement facing us is to broaden our scope while working together in a more structured and democratic way towards unity. 

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CMK - July 11, 2020

All fair points. But I think the next election will be considerably sooner than 5 years. Very considerably sooner, like, later this year, maybe. I am not sure the media campaign against SF will quite have the impact the campaign against Corbyn had. SF voters probably don’t buy the Irish Times, the Business Post or the Independent (who does, these days?) and, if they do, I doubt they are all that bothered.

The chronic lack of self-awareness of the Irish establishment is going to tell soon enough. The idea that an eejitt like McDowell, who is a Senior Counsel clearing a half a million a year (and that’s in a bad year) has any grasp of Irish society in 2020 is worthy of Alan Partridge. Yet, his opinions are eagerly sought after by the same media, as if they were third secret of Fatima.

Most working class people could give a f**k about the Sinn Fein, the IRA blah, blah, blah. They see Doherty, O’Reilly, O’Broin making sense and speaking to them, and that’s good enough for a first preference.

Sinn Fein are also not going to chasing after political will o’ the wisps either and, in my opinion, demonstrate clearly that to advance in electoral politics any worthwhile Left must focus ruthlessly on economic issues.

RBB is a certainty for the next Dáil; Joan Collins probably, too. And, that’s about it. A good day might see Gino Kenny or Mick Barry scrape in, but SF are no doubt working and planning to make sure that doesn’t happen.

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Alibaba - July 11, 2020

I couldn’t agree more with you about voters’ attraction to Sinn Féin. As for predictions about next elections, I rarely make them, just in case I get it wrong. Still, I doubt the election will happen later this year. Perhaps this, though, is because I wish the Left to get its act together and I don’t want to see another slap in the face so soon.

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sonofstan - July 11, 2020

“SF voters probably don’t buy the Irish Times, the Business Post or the Independent (who does, these days?) ”

I doubt if that many of the former Labour voters in the red wall constituencies who became tory voters read the Guardian, but it cascades.

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13. roddy - July 11, 2020

Dont want to boast but my local SF cumann based in a village would have 30 members.Not all attend meetings but can be called on to do their bit when needed.

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14. Pangurbán - July 11, 2020

The use of MSM for mainstream media is a Trump slogan by now. It’s use should be avoided by progressives

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sonofstan - July 11, 2020

Sorry, boss.

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CL - July 11, 2020

If we don’t use ‘MSM’ what should we use?

“William Safire, who was a speechwriter for Nixon, describes in his memoir, Before the Fall (1975), how the administration pushed the term “the media.” In the White House, he recalls, “The press became ‘the media’ because the word had a manipulative, Madison Avenue, all-encompassing connotation, and the press hated it.”….
Beth Knobel’s The Watchdog Still Barks (2018) shows a continued growth in investigative and other forms of enterprise reporting from 1991 to 2011. In the face of the severe economic problems afflicting daily newspapers, leading metro dailies have continued, whenever possible, to pursue aggressive, analytical journalism….
https://www.cjr.org/special_report/the-fall-rise-and-fall-of-media-trust.php

Many are familiar with the H.L. Mencken quote; ““Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one”, yet the MSM continues to do important work.
“President Trump is right: Mainstream media ‘do a very good job’
https://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/457834-president-trump-is-right-mainstream-media-do-a-very-good-job

Why should we allow Trumpism dictate how mainstream news and opinion outlets are, or are not, described?
And, does it matter?

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CL - July 11, 2020

The meeja?

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15. roddy - July 11, 2020

As someone who knows my vote ,I can assure you “the Guardian” doesnt hold much sway with SF voters.One Henry McDonald,purveyor of “fake news” before the term became fashionable has seen to that.

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16. roddy - July 11, 2020

Those who see themselves being in a battle to the death with “the devil incarnate”(SF) dont realise that they dont even register with the average SF voter.I recall a neighbour being in my house one night when Michael McDowell was whipping himself into a frenzy as per usual on the subject of SF.My neighbour’s response was “who’s that oul c–t”!

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Pangurbán - July 11, 2020

If there is to be a new party/ front / structure it would be helpful if a few questions were answered
To SP why do you want to federate us with a future UK or your utopian fantasy of it?

To Rise what did Paul Murphy mean when he wrote about rationing the truth he tells to the working class?

And what is the official title of your party as gaeilge?😊😊

To SWN / PBP compare and contrast the treatment of Maria Cahill by Sinn Fein to the response of SWM Ireland in supporting the mother ship over the rape victim in the comrade delta affair.

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17. Shane Faherty - July 13, 2020

There are many important points raised above all of which are crucial to the success of any project for left unity. You can’t pretend the democratic shortcomings of the existing parties don’t exist, that is why they must be engaged with now.

I think creating a cohort of independent socialist who favour a new party is an important step, as is having constructive discussions with people inside those parties. There are many good people inside the existing left wing parties who may be open to a democratic organisation. Glum fatalism is not a particularly useful tool in building the left.

Also, I don’t buy into the idea of Sinn Fein having some glorious destiny that can’t be avoided. It is farcical to suggest that Sinn Fein are the left and everybody supports them now. Sinn Fein’s self image does not reflect the image the general population have of them. If Sinn Fein are in government after the next election it will be a coalition government. The role of socialists is therefore to ensure there is a strong socialist party in existence at this stage to play a significant role. Either in coalition with Sinn Fein or opposing it from the left from outside. Enough said. We aren’t going to stop just because the Shinners say we should!

Since I originally posted this piece I have had a number of constructive discussions and I welcome more.

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tafkaGW - July 14, 2020

Thinking more about what your wrote, on reflection I think that now it is a more propitious time than any within the last couple of decades for a genuine attempt to create a new left party.

And it’s a dire necessity, because we don’t have much time to create and offer a green socialist alternative to the greenwashing of capitalism that the Irish Greens provide to the ruling class.

It has to be intersectional from the beginning, with feminism, anti-racism and social ecology being equally structuring presences – and not glibly subsumed into class struggle as can happen.

As for Sinn Fein, I’d see them as the natural coalition partners of such a party with the role of a left party to force SF to live up to its rhetoric about a ‘socialist 32-county republic’. I’d like to think they can achieve this internally, but I suspect they won’t.

That said, setting up as a competitor for domination of the progressive space rather than a potential ally of SF would be a non-starter politically, considering what is coming down the road with Brexit and the border.

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Joe - July 14, 2020

“As for Sinn Fein, I’d see them as the natural coalition partners of such a party with the role of a left party to force SF to live up to its rhetoric about a ‘socialist 32-county republic’. I’d like to think they can achieve this internally, but I suspect they won’t.

That said, setting up as a competitor for domination of the progressive space rather than a potential ally of SF would be a non-starter politically, considering what is coming down the road with Brexit and the border.”

I was talking to a leading backroom figure in the Social Democrats. He’s on for a coalition with SF. So SF, SocDems, PbP and a few other bits and pieces, probably. Versus the current shower.

Joe weeps, wails and gnashes his teeth.

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Shane Faherty - July 18, 2020

I agree with your form your last point. I think it is essential to challenge Sinn Fein and expose their shortcomings. Taking this approach does not preclude you form working with them when necessary. It is important to distinguish yourself politically and not been seen as a doormat for Sinn Fein to use to take power.

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18. 5 years | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - July 14, 2020

[…] Some interesting discussion on the site the last few days about the longevity of the government (and… I’m in two minds as to the potential lifespan of this crew. Tim Bale in the IT argued that it was likely to ‘last longer than sceptics predict’: […]

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19. Irish Left Unity: a new round of engagement in a year of change, 2020 | Tomás Ó Flatharta - July 28, 2020

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