The Revolutionary Socialist League began as a small breakaway body of Trotskyist intellectuals closely associated with the Labour Party in Britain during the height of the Cold War. In 1964 it founded a radical newspaper, Militant, to promote its far left agenda, eventually giving the grouping its new name, the Militant tendency. From this era onward it sought to gain influence over the mainstream party through a strategy of infiltration and entryism. For a brief period in the 1970s and ’80s it enjoyed some clandestine popularity, gaining access to the leadership of Labour and control of its youth wing, the Young Socialists.
However its conspiratorial nature and obsession with in-fighting eventually became its undoing and by the 1990s it was forced from the party, emerging first as Militant Labour in 1991 and then as the Socialist Party with a relaunch in 1997. However the grouping invariably fielded candidates for election under the guise of various front organisations including the Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Alliance, the Socialist Green Unity Coalition, the No to EU – Yes to Democracy group, and latterly the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, albeit in each case with minimal returns (unless one counts the anti-EU Brexit vote in the UK which the SP enthusiastically supported).
Interestingly this very British cadre of Trotskyist radicals also had a “regional” branch in Ireland during the 1980s, similarly known as the Militant tendency. Looking to London for inspiration – and direction – it sought to control the local Labour Party, albeit a more staid version of the one in Britain. Despite the same entryist tactics as its UK peers, the grouping failed to make much headway in the far more conservative arena of Irish politics and was eventually expelled from the mainstream party in 1989, briefly emerging as Militant Labour before renaming itself the Socialist Party (SP) in 1996. And like its mother party in the United Kingdom, the Irish SP joined an international communist organisation called the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), a controversial governing body for a number of far left parties, based in London.
Since 2011 the SP has stood for election using various front organisations, including the United Left Alliance (ULA), the Cross-Community Labour Alternative (CCLA) and most successfully, the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA). The latter grouping was in turn part of an electoral coalition with the People Before Profit Alliance, a front organisation for the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a rival Trotskyist grouping whose British sister party, of the same name, competes with the original Socialist Party in the UK. For reasons best known to itself, the Socialist Party has now decided to rebrand the AAA as Solidarity – the Left Alternative, albeit with some controversy. As well as a new logo (apparently an off-the-shelf purchase from Shutterstock with some amateur editing in Photoshop) the front group will require a website, social media accounts, emails, branded publications, promotional materials and so on. But to what effect?
One has to wonder at the ideological hollowness of the non-republican left in Ireland, its conspicuous lack of confidence in its own identity, and frequent recourse to electoral or campaigning subterfuge. While members of the Socialist Party/AAA/Solidarity may look down their noses at Sinn Féin and its off-shoots for their insurgent backgrounds it seems that the SP finds it equally hard to abandon its own conspiratorial or entryist roots.