The rise and fall — and Rise — of the Left in Ireland

Paul Murphy’s new group wants a new socialist movement in society. Yet even Fianna Fáil once had a self-proclaimed socialist leader in Bertie Ahern, writes Michael Clifford

The rise and fall — and Rise — of the Left in Ireland

Paul Murphy’s new group wants a new socialist movement in society. Yet even Fianna Fáil once had a self-proclaimed socialist leader in Bertie Ahern, writes Michael Clifford

A new Irish left-wing political entity was born this week. One might well ask whether the country is ready for a new left-wing political entity.

Paul Murphy’s group is called Rise, which stands for radical, internationalist, socialist, environmentalist. The TD for Dublin South West was formerly a member of Solidarity, which was formerly known as the Socialist Party. Rise will, according to Murphy, try to build a new socialist movement in Irish society.

The split that gave birth to Rise is not the typical one known in Irish politics, where splits traditionally lead to rancour and bitterness and occasionally violence. This split is, to borrow from one celebrity couple’s description of the end of their marriage, a “conscious uncoupling”. Rise will continue to work with Solidarity and there is no sign that the entities — Rise is not a political party — will be competing for votes.

The reason for the amicable decoupling was a difference of opinion on strategy. Murphy, and the handful of Solidarity people who left with him, want to spread the socialist message across the left, working closer with other parties and groups to create a united front. Solidarity is, as the name suggests, a bit of a loner. Most members want to remain true to their principles and perhaps regard closer integration as embarking down a dangerous path that could lead to contamination of the purity of their politics. Internal debate on this issue was ongoing for a year and, according to reports, was somewhat tortured.

While Rise will work closely with Solidarity, it makes one crucial distinction that goes to the heart of the split. Rise will no longer be a member of the British-based organisation Committee for a Workers’ International. Don’t worry if you have never heretofore heard of the Committee for a Workers’ International. You are not alone.

Murphy laid out the Rise agenda this week. It is anti-imperialist, anti-war, socialist, feminist, against climate change, and for the separation of Church and State. All of these aims are laudable and shared with the majority of Irish political entities, including Fianna Fáil, which once had a self-proclaimed socialist leader in Bertie Ahern.

Socialism, as interpreted in this country, is a movable feast, so one might well ask how exactly Murphy’s entity will differ from everyone else, not to mind his his former colleagues.

“[Rise] is a new socialist group to contribute to a broader left and a co-operative left,” he said at the group’s launch.

Murphy is a good communicator and effective political performer but his ambition for a broader and co-operative left is doomed. All the evidence suggests that the left in Ireland is incapable of coming together to effect change.

The Left is far more comfortable doing splits than striving to exercise power. The only notable exception to that rule was the merger between the Labour Party and Democratic Left. That was in 1999 and came about a few years after both entities had been part of a rainbow coalition with Fine Gael in 1994-97. Democratic Left, naturally, had previously split from the Workers Party.

Arguably, the merger occurred because these two entities of the Left had tasted power and with it the possibility to effect change in a cohesive and structured manner. Unfortunately for the newly minted merger, it would be another 12 years before they got into government and then it was to clean up an almighty mess in the throes of a recession. Inevitably, following their ascension to power in 2011, there followed a split. This time the breakaway entity came to be known as the Social Democrats.

The Social Democrats are still intact. They did lose one of their three leaders — Stephen Donnelly — but that was more a defection than a split. There was talk last spring that the party was heading for a split, but it’s managed to keep things together. Don’t expect the harmony to persist far beyond the next general election.

Meanwhile, back in the land of Rise, the last genuine attempt at co-operation was the formation of the United Left Alliance after the 2011 general election.

The alliance was loose, as it had to be in case anybody got around to suggesting that a merger might be in order. It was designed to demonstrate that a broad coalition on the left was possible and that the prospect of such a coalition governing should not be regarded as a recipe for chaos.

Unfortunately, the ties that bound the loose alliance were sundered within 18 months.

All that remains from it is a loose alliance between Solidarity and People Before Profit. Nobody in either entity ever mentions the M-word. The difference between the pair is principally that one was once the Socialist Party and the other was the Socialist Workers party. No doubt there are serious differences to their respective ideas in how the world should be run under socialist principles but it’s not anything that the average voter would ever bother themselves about. Whatever the difference is, it’s enough to ensure that the twain shall never bond in a formalised union.

And now we have the latest split that has given us Rise. A case could be made that a better name for Rise would be Fall, standing for Flailing Against (any chance of a) Left Leadership.

Murphy and his current and former colleagues are habitually wont to explain away their lack of political and electoral success by decrying forces in society which are allegedly lined up against them. These include a craven media, self-interested politicians of all other hues, corporate greed, and a duped electorate.

In the search for excuses to explain away their failure to make gains, a little self-examination wouldn’t go astray.

How could they be trusted to run a country when everything suggests that the first item on their agenda to govern would be the split?

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