Back in the day, campus revolutionaries sported army surplus jackets and black Ernesto Che berets. Now it would seem they prefer the Harry Potter look. At least this appears to be the case with William Foley, the deputy editor of Trinity News who bears a striking resemblance to a younger Daniel Radcliffe – complete with magical round spectacle frames. One hopes this look is not in anticipation of the disappearing act many ‘leftist’ students pull once they have been furnished with their diplomas and a leg-up onto their career paths. I shan’t be ribbing Foley too much, as that would be judging him prematurely and unfairly. Besides, he is saying what I’ve been saying for a long time.
Other than opening his comment in spectacular fashion with “Leon Trotsky once said;” no doubt to put his rouge revolutionary balls on the table, he sets in about his left-leaning student colleagues for their whimsical commitment to the cause and their downright distain for the socialism of the working class. He is right. Ireland’s intellectual left, perhaps since the end of the Lockout, has been consistently inconsistent in its relationship with ordinary working people. In more recent years the only genuine organic working class strivings have been stone-walled by the so-called left’s self-appointed betters. This intellectual left has succumbed to either the vanguardist bandwagoning of the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party or to retreating, as Foley expertly points out, into safe, anally retentive quibbles over politically correct language.
Here we shall ignore those who have swelled the ranks of the language police. Let the dead bury their own dead. No sooner will they pass through their commencements than they will be tugging on daddy’s coattails and regaling the boys at the yacht club in Dún Laoghaire with yarns of their conversion from socialism. They’re full of bullshit. Let them go.
This vanguard thing is different. It’s still bullshit, but it’s a different flavour of bullshit; it at least has the seeds of something better in it. Eager as he was to recite Trotsky, I’m going to assume Foley is – perhaps unfairly – a vanguardist; a revolutionary of the Fourth International and the permanent revolution. William Foley is spot on the money when he points out the hypocrisy of the university educated left in its rejection of worker solidarity. It exposes the lack of trust the learned élites have for the initiative and experience of working people, and, more damning, hints at their hope to assume command of the coming revolution. This is precisely why the vanguard has never been trusted by the very people for whom it claims to exist.
In every stirring of the proletariat around the world the vanguard has failed, and it has failed because there is no vanguard without the mass support of the working people. Solidarity is everything, and without it the revolution is nothing. Socialism of course needs its intellectuals. It withers and dies without them. Yet an intellectual socialism without the socialism of the worker is dead. Revolutions do not simply happen in order for a leadership to catch on; they are built from the ground up in a participatory relationality between all its parts. This, and only this, is what it means to be united.