The People Before Profit Alliance. Made In Britain?

The Ireland correspondent of the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Henry McDonald, writing in today’s edition on the Stormont assembly election in the constituency of West Belfast:

“Gerry Carroll stood for People Before Profit (PBP), a leftist party with its roots in the Socialist Workers Party in Britain.”

Ouch!

The People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA), as it is properly known, functions as the electoral front of the far left Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a group that does indeed trace its origins to Trotskyist supporters of the British SWP living in Ireland during the 1970s. I won’t go into the labyrinthine details of the organisation’s history here. Enough to say that for most of its existence the SWP has in one form or another spent more time attacking other leftists for alleged thought-crimes against the revolution than it has done tackling the perceived inequities of the capitalist system.

I don’t really have much regard for the SWP-proper or its rivals in the Socialist Party (SP), another groupsicle of Trotskyist ideologues with links to Britain, this time hiding behind the cover name of the Anti-Austerity Alliance. That said, you’ve probably read articles by me praising the Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit coalition for the trojan work it has done in Irish politics since 2015, tackling everything from water charges to corruption in An Garda Síochána. The value of this cannot be underestimated. However it says much for a peculiarly British strand of socialism on this island nation that its main proponents need to obscure their existence behind front organisations in order to contest elections with any degree of success.

Arguably, it was the UK-centric nature of the PBPA’s politics which led it to support the anti-European Union Brexit vote in the United Kingdom last summer. Which, of course, includes the latter’s colonial jurisdiction over the north-east of this country. This puts the grouping more in line with the Corbyn wing of Britain’s Labour Party than it does with mainstream left-wing sentiment here. This very British way of looking at things can be seen in the statements issued by the People Before Profit Alliance in recent years, with their obsession over the “Tories” and references to the “Southern Irish government”.

As I may have said before, we live in a funny old country.

Advertisements

6 comments

  1. On the one hand FFFG etc are Tories. And its not long since Sinn Féin would talk about the Free State .But…you make a good point. Labour is not really perceived as an Irish party outside Dublin. A situation they seem quite comfortable with.

    1. I genuinely admire the AAA-PBP as a beneficial force in Irish politics and a much needed one at that. But the founding parties, SP and SWP, always go nuts when you mention their role as the power behind the electoral front. Usually along the lines of EVERYONE knows we exist as parties so WHY are you mentioning that we exist as parties? Because, y’know, politics. Now I’m getting abusive “green slime” emails from alleged PBPA members. Which tells its own story.

      Labour is in some senses as much a Leinster party as Sinn Féin was an Ulster one. Regional rather national. You’re right about that.

  2. The Corbyn/McDonnell leadership certainly seem to have sent out some mixed messages on the issue of Ireland. On the one hand a very genuine identification with Republicanism from a left perspective across the years. On the other – and this is all too typical of British perspectives, near enough no regard for what the outworkings of a Brexit would be for this island. Even the grudging Remain approach Corbyn took is of a piece with that latter. But then, why are we surprised?

    1. Very true. British politics is about Britain (for which one should read England and its environs). The Corbyn wing, for all its internationalist record, is still going to put domestic concerns above any other concerns. Realpolitik not Irischpolitik. Christ, it’s bad when you can say that centrist Tony Blair did more as the Labour leader for long-term stability in Ireland than Corbyn has done up to now in the same position.

      As for the article more broadly, it was a tongue-in-cheek pop at the SWP-PBPA, flipping off McDonald’a sly dig in the Guardian (I cannot believe that he included it with a British readership in mind most of whom would have asked, “What’s the Socialist Workers Party?”).

      Unfortunately Trots have no sense of humour – or proportion – at all 🙂

  3. I think the ‘very British way of looking at things’ you detect in the PBP statement is largely a product of your imagination. Why shouldn’t they talk about the Tories? They’re the ones with ultimate authority over the North, they’re the ones who called the Brexit referendum, they’re the ones who are handling the Brexit process. It would be a very strange statement on Brexit that didn’t spend a fair bit of time talking about the Tories. And what’s so odd about ‘the Southern Irish government’? It’s the government, it’s in the South, it’s Irish. You can spend as much time talking about the 26 County this and the 6 County that as you like, people have been doing that for decades and it hasn’t undermined partition one jot. If they just called it ‘the Irish government’, someone might say they were accepting that the North was British, not Irish.

    I’m not a PBP or SWP supporter—and I think they made the wrong call on Brexit—but I can understand their irritation at this kind of stuff, ‘a peculiarly British strand of socialism’ etc. What’s ‘peculiarly British’ about it? If anything, the brand of Trotskyism they favour is the product of a very different context, Tsarist Russia, Weimar Germany and the inter-war continental European scene in general; it’s very un-British in fact, it’s not really designed for countries with long traditions of fairly stable, constitutional government (one reason why it’s been pretty marginal in British politics for the most part). For what it’s worth, both the Irish SP and the Irish SWP have been far more successful in recent years than their British sister-parties; they have a real though limited impact on national politics, north and south, whereas the British parties don’t. It would make as much sense at this point to talk about SF having a ‘peculiarly American strand of republicanism’ because of their contacts and funding in Irish-America (and I wouldn’t use that kind of rhetoric).

    I’m not sure where to begin here:

    “It was the UK-centric nature of the PBPA’s politics which led it to support the anti-European Union Brexit vote in the United Kingdom last summer. Which, of course, includes the latter’s colonial jurisdiction over the north-east of this country. This puts the grouping more in line with the Corbyn wing of Britain’s Labour Party than it does with mainstream left-wing sentiment here.”

    How have they accepted the UK’s jurisdiction over the North? Their position is to support an all-Ireland socialist republic; they don’t support partition or British rule. And how does their position on Brexit put them in line with the Corbynites? Corbyn’s Labour campaigned for a Remain vote, which PBP rejects in the statement you link to as ‘sow[ing] illusions in the EU as a progressive force’ (and incidentally they did as good a job of mobilizing Labour voters for that position as Nicola Sturgeon did of mobilizing SNP voters).

    What’s the ‘mainstream left-wing sentiment here’ that you have in mind, if it excludes both PBP and the SP? I can only guess you mean SF, as they’re the only left party north or south with significantly more support than the Trotskyist groups (Labour and the Greens certainly don’t). SF’s position in the referendum was basically the same as the British Labour position, albeit with an Irish inflection because of the local context. And where’s the evidence of Labour simply ignoring the North? One of the amendments they proposed on the Tory Brexit bill would have required that nothing be done which conflicted with the GFA (the Tories and the DUP joined forces to vote that down, which tells you everything you need to know about their intentions).

    1. Fair points, Ed. I don’t have the time to address them all, though I would say that my critique struck home with a good number of readers. Again, I am an AAA-PBP voter in the sense that I vote 1st, 2nd or 3rd preference for their candidates, on a better-left-than-right basis. However there is something culturally British about the politics of, well, the Socialist Party at least. The SWP may be more nuanced, or local, than the former. My discussion of them was more a spin off the McDonald dig and was slightly tongue-in-cheek.

      I’d be more comfortable voting SWP on a straight ticket than SP. I cannot understand why the former does not stand in its own right beyond the claim that its name would put off some voters. So change the name. Why not?

      The use of electoral fronts, of SWP-AAA or SP/AAA/Solidarity, seems underhanded somehow. It is not, of course. My feeling is entirely subjective. What can I say? It niggles.

      But the Socialist Party is definitely iffy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s