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You may remember me from such front groups as… November 20, 2006

Posted by franklittle in Irish Politics, Marxism, The Left.

The Tallaght News is not a periodical that is a regular sight in the Little household but flicking through it last week where it had been left by a visitor I came across an article announcing the establishment of People Before Profit (www.people-before-profit.org) in Clondalkin.  

What struck me about the article was the two PBP activists identified with the launch. One was Gino Kenny. Another, Donal MacFhearraigh. Both are long-time activists with the Socialist Workers Party. Kenny was a candidate in the Clondalkin ward in 2004 and polled remarkably well it has to be said. MacFhearraigh  is an SWP full-timer. Of course, there was no reference to their party background in the article.  

People Before Profit was, according to its website, founded in October 2005 ‘by workers from a variety of local campaigns’. It’s aim is to ‘reverse neo-liberal policies which place wealth creation for the few over the welfare of communities in Ireland’. They believe that ‘the time has come in Ireland for the formation of a real alternative to the political establishment and big parties. This is because there is a cosy consensus relating to policy and perspectives amongst the main parties, much of the media and the state establishment’. 
All laudable enough, but the organisation is widely considered in the Irish left to be the latest example in the long-running series of Socialist Workers Party front organisations. As well as the SWP dominated Clondalkin branch, a glance through the organisation’s contacts lists and articles brings up a long list of familiar names.  Two of the three candidates already selected for the next election are long-standing SWP activists. Richard Boyd Barrett, chair of the Irish Anti-War Movement and an experienced activist is to contest Dun Laoghaire, where he ran under an SWP ticket in 2004 and was disappointed not to get elected. Bríd Smith, another veteran of the SWP election campaign of 2004 where she ran in Ballyfermot, is to contest Dublin South-Central.  

The Galway contact is Maggie Heneghan, of Galway Socialist Workers Party and Irish Anti-War Movement. Kevin Wingfield, the SWP’s standard bearer in Ballymun convened the founding meeting of People Before Profit’s branch in that area. The Derry contact is the Socialist Environmental Alliance, under which banner the journalist Eamon McCann, whose SWP membership is rarely mentioned in his political op-ed pieces for O’Reilly newspapers, contested the last Northern elections.  The organisation’s PRO is Rory Hearne, who is also editor of the Socialist Worker, a former USI official and the People Before Profit contact for Dublin South-East. The organisation’s Waterford contact is Dick Roche, involved in the Waterford Council of Trade Unions and, stop me when this starts to get old, an SWP activist.  This weekend, the organisation will hold a public conference in the Central Hotel, entitled ‘People Before Profit and War: Time for a new left Alternative’. Despite the existence of Labour, Sinn Féin, Greens, Socialist Party, Workers’ Party, SWP itself, the Communist Party and, if you want to be very broad, the SDLP, a ‘new’ alternative is needed. 

A development like this was inevitable after the launch and initial success of RESPECT in Britain. Initiatives by the SWP in Britain are followed slavishly by the SWP in Ireland, very much a subordinate unit in the view from SWP HQ in London. The Anti-Nazi League, the short-lived and failed ‘Socialist Alliance’ experiment, Globalise Resistance and so on. RESPECT has delivered for the SWP in Britain, though their control of the organisation is challenged by Galloway’s dominance of the organisation as the sole MP and in whose constituency the bulk of their councillors are based. 

So what’s the problem? If a group of people, mostly SWP activists, want to attract people into politics under another name, what’s the harm? Isn’t it better to have people politically active and taking on the state than sitting on the sidelines? To have people out on the streets and campaigning, even when it’s for an organisation you might not agree with 100%? Is this another example of anti-SWP sectarianism holding back attempts to build the left? 

Sure, some of the opposition to PBP among the Irish left is down to the innate suspicion anyone who has ever worked with the SWP in any capacity retains for that organisation. Some of it is simple political sectarianism. But there are also broader political points. 

Firstly, the project is simply dishonest. The SWP denies that People Before Profit is a front for their party, pointing out that they only have a minority of Steering Committee positions. But a controlled and disciplined minority of experienced political activists, who happen to be the only people who have a network around the country to set up branches, can dominate an organisation. No attempt is made to bring other organised elements of the left on board, as one would imagine was the plan if this was to be the left alternative they are to discuss at the conference next weekend.  

Secondly, the SWP’s fundamental goal is to build the party. From their point of view they are the only revolutionary organisation in Ireland. They are the elite, the vanguard, the ones who see clearly and are destined to lead the apathetic masses to revolution. Engaging in front groups like this is not about achieving political change or carrying out a successful campaign. Though if that happens, it’s to be appreciated. It is about attracting people to the Socialist Workers Party because the only valid long-term goal is to build the party. Once they have got a few extra members out of it, and that’s something the SWP could do with these days by all accounts, they fold up the tent and move on leaving behind a lot of disillusioned people in their wake, turned off from radical politics from contact with the SWP.   


1. WorldbyStorm - November 20, 2006

That makes me wonder just how many people are in the SWP at present franklittle? Actually, that also makes me wonder how many are in the SP as well?


2. smiffy - November 20, 2006

You must admit, it is kind of sweet the way the SWP keeps setting up these little groups while thinking that no one’s going to see their involvement. They’re like Count Olaf, of ‘Unfortunate Events’ fame. Or perhaps like Wile E. Coyote, forever thinking that THIS TIME it’s going to work.


3. Pidge - November 21, 2006

Every time I see a black and white poster around Dun Laoighaire, it’s a good guess that Richard Boyd Barrett will feature on it somewhere. Even that new “Left Alternative” malarky is run by him, as far as I know.

If I remember correctly, doesn’t the SWP have a policy of infiltrating (I’m struggling to find a less conspirational word) groups in order to draw in members? Or was that specualtion on Politics.ie?


4. smiffy - November 21, 2006

Now now, it’s not just about the posteres being ‘black and white’. There’s a subtle difference between SWP posters and SP/CWI posters, that you have to be a little bit of a connoisseur to spot. Still, if you’re confused, you can always work out which Trotskyist cult is involved by looking at who’s speaking.

On the infiltration thing, I think that might be a confusion of two different tactics. The SWP in particular don’t tend to infiltrate groups, as much as establish them (as in fl’s examples above) without admitting that they’re behind them. There is the rather disturbing tactic of ‘lovebombing’ people who show up to their meetings, in hope of getting them to join (i.e. sell the paper). If you know anyone who’s fallen under the sway of Kevin Wingfield’s devastating charisma, simply offer them hoverbikes to break the spell.

On the other hand, there’s also the tactic of entryism, whereby radical groups would join a much larger organisation in hope of taking it over. I don’t know of any recent examples in Irish politics (although I’ve heard rumours about the lunatic fringe of Youth Defence/fascist types, the guys who threw copies of the Constitution at McDowell for the promotion of ‘sodomy’ setting their sites on RSF, but I don’t know how true it is), but the experience of Militant within the Labour Party (both the Irish and British ones) would be fairly well known.


5. WorldbyStorm - November 21, 2006

Yeah, the typography is key to this. But so is the line.


6. harry - November 22, 2006

The Left has a proud history of getting 5 to do the work of 50


7. tosser - November 22, 2006

Take THAT, The Left!!! >:x


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