Three weeks ago I published a short, tongue-in-cheek article highlighting the rarely discussed relationship between the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Ireland and its sister party of the same name in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately the post raised more than a few hackles with the SWP’s dour supporters. Some seemed particularly irate by my description of the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA) as an electoral front for the Socialist Workers Party. This despite the fact that the SWP effectively controls the PBPA and does indeed contest elections using its name. Apparently entryists do not appreciate having their entryism being made public, even if they claim no such political strategy is taking place. As one correspondent wrote in an email:
Everyone knows the SWP works with the PBPA so why are you discussing it?
Another reader accused me of launching a “green slime” attack on the party in order to favour Sinn Féin in the then forthcoming regional election to the northern assembly. As it turned out there was no need for any such attack as the SWP-PBPA had inflicted enough damage on itself through its myopic anti-European Union position during the UK Brexit referendum last summer. And as I have pointed out before, I am technically a SWP-PBPA voter, at least in my second and third preference votes.
Of course, the Socialist Workers Party in Ireland is a frenemy of the Socialist Party (SP). This parallels the situation in the UK where the SWP’s sister branch fights for the far left vote with the SP’s mother organisation, the similarly named Socialist Party (formerly, Militant). Confused yet? In any case, the enmity between the otherwise identical Trotskyist groupings perhaps explains this report featured in the official newspaper of the British Socialist Party, examining the recent Stormont election.
People Before Profit (PBP) said it was fighting to win two seats in West Belfast.
PBP was subjected to a sustained smear campaign from Sinn Féin, who distorted their correct call for a vote to leave the European Union from a left perspective and attempted to lump them in with the DUP, Ukip and right-wing Tories.
Undoubtedly, this had an impact, particularly in Catholic communities, due to the widespread – but incorrect – perception that the EU is a guarantor of minority rights.
While PBP often talks about being ‘neither unionist nor nationalist’, ‘neither Orange nor Green’, this is not an accurate reflection of its actual political positions or of how it is perceived. PBP election literature boasted it is a ’32-county party’ which stands for a ‘socialist republic’ – language of the republican movement which would immediately alienate even the majority of left-leaning Protestants.
The positions taken by their representatives on flags, parades, housing, a border poll and other contentious issues put them firmly in the ‘Green’ (Republican) camp and this is how they are seen by many working class people.
Trots like nothing better than damning those they deem to be ideological apostates. Elsewhere in the article the Socialist Party in the Six Counties makes no bones about its real objective. Using the possible entry of Britain’s Labour Party into the politics of the north-east of Ireland as a vehicle for future growth. Just as it once hoped to do the same in the United Kingdom itself, back in the days of the Militant tendency, when it functioned as a covert party-within-a-party.
The Labour Party in Northern Ireland has grown dramatically and moved to the left since the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. The party has become an important reference point for a layer of workers and young people looking for a left alternative to the politics of sectarian division.
Unfortunately, the central leadership’s ban on official Labour candidates standing here remains in place.
It could have appealed to the tens of thousands who have been enthused by Corbyn’s anti-austerity message and re-popularised the idea of class politics as an alternative to sectarian division. Regardless of the outcome of the current review into Labour Party policy on standing in Northern Ireland (due to report in the summer), local activists must not allow another such opportunity to be missed.
Fears of a capitalist united Ireland now loom large among the Protestant community.
The SP’s ultimate goal, whether it is the mother party in Britain or its regional branch in Ireland, is a so-called Socialist Federation of the British Isles. That is, the subsuming of this island nation into a new sovereign state along the lines of a Trotskyist United Kingdom. This would be a return to the London-based hegemony of old but with the Red Flag rather than the Butcher’s Apron flying from the mast.
It is one of the reasons, as an old Socialist Party member lectured me many years ago, why the party opposes the reunification of Ireland. A reunited Irish nation-state would make the transition to a socialist Britain harder to achieve by advancing the cause of capitalism in “these islands”. Or some such convoluted nonsense. There was more, much more to it than that but most of the argument turned on ideological arcana which left me singularly unimpressed. The SP stalwart evidently saw the UK-administered north-east as some sort of possible foothold for the party’s uncompromising brand of socialism in the United Kingdom.
Noticeable from the newspaper article is a preference for terms like “Catholic” and “Protestant” rather than “nationalist” or “unionist” (not that these things are automatically equatable). This represents a fixed denial of the realities of the complex ethno-national makeup of “Northern Ireland”. Likewise, only the most committed ideologue could fail to see the inherent contradiction in this position on the continued partition of our country:
Fears of a capitalist united Ireland now loom large among the Protestant community. This dynamic will tend to sharpen the sectarian questions and polarise society further. Sinn Féin has adopted a triumphalist tone and already stepped up their agitation for a border poll.
Many Catholics may want to express their right to ‘self-determination’ on unification in such a poll, but given that Protestants still make up a majority of the population in the North, it would not win and would only dangerously whip up sectarian tensions further.
Would it be unfair to say that the Socialist Party is for semi-orange Trots and the Socialist Workers Party is for semi-green ones?
That’s a really interesting point re the use of Catholic and Protestant. If the rhetoric about the large parties being sectarian, or as was said by one member elsewhere online the assembly election was just another ‘sectarian’ contest, it is I suppose consistent that they’d use the religious terms as identifiers, but it is oddly contradictory, as you point out, given that the conflict isn’t purely religious (indeed in some ways it isn’t religious at all but actually about… well… differing national identities). Indeed there’s a real sense of them trying to squash the divisions into a framework of their own making rather than addressing it as it really is.
Given how ineffective the far left are does it really matter?
Not only are they red, but they’re white and blue as well.
I have mixed feelings about the “far left”. If they did not exist it would be necessary to invent them to reign in the strong nei-liberal element in SF, as well as challenging their neo-Stalinist sense of infallibility and entitlement. (I say this as someone who voted SF in the recent Stormont election) Throughout the Troubles the (British) SP claimed to give “unconditional but not uncritical support” to the provos armed struggle. Now that the Provos have a semblance of power they oppose them. Meanwhile in Derry PBP was seen to cooperate with elements of dissident militaristic republicanism. My best wish for such groups is that they would get a landslide victory and form a government. They would then be faced with the challenge of Realpolitik in a real world. Would they be up to it?
I’m not sure if that is true of the UK SP, though the SWP certainly did its bit (far more than is acknowledged in terms of intelligence, safe-houses, etc.).
I’m a Solidarity-AAA voter myself, as well as SF, but a cautious one. There is much I like but a lot of crap we could do without.