What is Wrong with Ireland’s ‘Radical’ Left?


Ireland’s popular struggle against the austerity measures of two rightist governments and its Right2Water campaign have gone from strength to strength over the course of the past decade, and yet this momentum has failed to translate into mass support for the left parties. As support for Sinn Féin wanes in the opinion polls before tomorrow’s general election, and as Richard Boyd Barrett’s People Before Profit Party and Paul Murphy’s Anti-Austerity Alliance lie festering with a combined three to four percent share, we have to start asking serious questions of Ireland’s so-called hard left. No matter how much the people of this country want to see this promised real change, the ‘left alternative’ – once again – has failed.

Criticism is no bad thing, and a healthy critique of political platforms and strategies – especially of those groups and partied of which we are broadly in favour – can only fortify ideas and bolster wider public trust in them. Anyone on the outside of the party structures who has ever attempted to question the tactics and strategies of Boyd Barrett or Murphy is quick to discover that these are not operations keen on transparent dialogue. On the contrary these are stereotypical closed shops. When it comes to having their names attached to massive nationwide demonstrations they have proven themselves to be past masters, but when it comes to support for their parties and leaderships they are rank amateurs.


The bottom line is that the public simply do not trust either of these ‘Socialist’ groupings, and even less the personalities involved. Perhaps the beginnings of this disconnect can be extrapolated from the fact that both People Before Profit and the Anti Austerity Alliance are fronts for the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party respectively, and whilst both lay claim to the Socialist label they have less in common with one another than do Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The Socialist Party, as the militant edge of Labour, were expelled from the Irish Labour Party in the late 1980s, whereas the Socialist Workers Party, as internationalist Trotskyists, have little truck with the single-state or social-democratic socialism of Labour and the Socialist Party, and have not infrequently aligned themselves with foreign revolutionary armed struggles.


Both fronts were created in the hope of winning greater public support from those who might otherwise not vote so far to the left, but ordinary people don’t like fronts and they like even less the thought of being hoodwinked. It certainly doesn’t help matters that both groups have tended towards personality cults. Benign and often smiling as they may be, people used to the running of liberal democratic systems are deeply suspicious of cults of personality. Add to this the fact that the self-styled class warriors who are the focus of both parties’ personality cults – men, incidentally, who I quite admire – are solidly privileged, privately educated, middle class Dublin southsiders.

Ordinary working class people, who have consistently demonstrated their desire for an authentic political alternative to austerity, see through these masks. The lack of translation from public protest to support for the ‘radical’ left highlights their deep suspicion. Tomorrow the whole country will go to the polls and it is unlikely that either People Before Profit or the Anti Austerity Alliance will significantly alter their share of the seats in Leinster House. In spite of the heroic on-street rhetoric of Boyd Barrett and Murphy the left will be filled with left-leaning members of Sinn Féin and an assortment of independents – all without any meaningful sense of solidarity, bereft of all leadership, and – as per usual – it will be ordinary people who will be made to suffer another austerity government.


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