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What’s left? The Irish Left in 2012 August 2, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.

Way back in 2008 or so I mentioned this Indymedia thread which considered numbers on the left in Ireland.

Here’s what one contributor wrote about the overall numbers per organisation.

Here’s my guess re. the existing groups. I think I’m right in my figures (corrections welcome).

Labour Party 2,000 (mostly paper members)
Sinn Fein 1,500 (many up north)
Eirigi 70
IRSP 200 (but mostly inactive ‘family’ members)

WSM 60
ISN 25-30
Organise 5 or 6

SWP 150
Socialist Party 150
Workers Party 100
Communist Party 60 to 70

And then you have a collection of little groups like the crowd around Joan Collins in Crumlin, the remnants of WCA in Cabra and Seamus Healy’s machine in Tipperary.

Overall, not very impressive, unfortunately.

There was some doubt about the precise figures, but interesting to consider if the numbers have overall ticked upwards since the crisis kicked off… Has the ULA drawn people who were not active in pre-existing formations, or who had become inactive, back into political work. And what of the CAHWT? Has that operated at all as a conveyer belt towards the political parties, of whatever flavour?

Then again, what about the travails of both the Labour Party and (and I know this is a stretch for many of us) the GP (and notable that they’re not included in the above figures?

Or let’s put it a different way. Any educated guesses as to the numbers involved in the broadest (and most generous/naive) definitions of the left and then what the numbers are in terms of more restrictive definitions? And how has the situation changed?


1. PaddyJoe - August 2, 2012

That’s a tricky one at the best of times, isn’t it? Doubt you’ll find any two people who can agree on a definition of ‘the left’ at this remove.
I’m not sure that an estimation of card carrying members of various parties is very helpful either.
Actual membership of political parties is only an iceberg indication of their real or potential support.
FF at its height only had a few thousand genuinely active members.


WorldbyStorm - August 2, 2012

Fair points. And I’m not thinking about this in a purely forensic way, ie WP x, SP y, etc, etc. That’d be too prone to subjective analyses. To be honest I’m more interested in what people think of the very point you make about ‘indications of real or potential support’. But for example, that’s a good starting point. Does the left in Ireland have say 2k activists in total?


Tawdy - August 2, 2012

I`d say there are more than 2,000 activists on the left. I feel that a lot of left activists don`t shout out their politics, they lead by example. They would not be quoting Lennin, Marx, Connolly etc in their everyday situations. They would be active outside the party structures but finding it difficult.


2. D_D - August 2, 2012

I wrote this on ULA membership figures elsewhere:


[Early this year] it was established that among about 400 [ULA] members, the SWP and the SP had 27% each – an amazing symmetry reflecting the main division of the Irish far left into two organisations of similar weight – with 7% of the PBPA members being non- SWP. …WUAG supporters had never joined the ULA as individual members …So about 40% of ULA members could be said to be non-aligned.

In March 2012 the ULA office provided a list of 22 ULA branches for the purposes of canvassing for the non-aligned elections. Many of these seem to be restatements of areas where there are SWP or SP branches and in some of these there has been little sign of specific ULA activities. The list included no ULA branches in Tipperary or Sligo.

… Most non-aligned members of the ULA have similar general politics and a primary attachment to the ULA itself. But it is firstly a technical category of all those who are not members of the PBPA, the SP or WUAG. The SWP is not itself affiliated to the ULA, but through the PBPA … So non-party members of the PBPA are not non-aligned and some of the non-aligned are members of small groups: Socialist Democracy, the Irish Socialist Network and Declan Bree’s Sligo grouping. (Many of the Sligo independent socialists may not, as in the case of WUAG, have joined the ULA as individuals at all).

Current ULA registered membership figures (June 2012) are basically the same. The 388 ULA members consist of 156 “non-aligned” members (that is, all outside the three founding groups), who variously belong to Socialist Democracy, the ISN and the Sligo group along with those — far more – who belong to no grouping; 107 Socialist Party members; 117 in the People Before Profit Alliance, mostly Socialist Workers Party members; and eight (not a typo!) Workers and Unemployed Group members.
[At the end of the April 28th ULA conference Seamus Healy TD said that the ULA has] maybe 600 members: 370 registered and 200 to 300 not registered. [Seamus would have been familiar in Tipperary with some of the 2-300 not registered!]


Julian Assandwich - August 2, 2012

My understanding is those figures only take into account SP, SWP activists who have submitted ULA membership cards. From my experience there are many who haven’t gotten around to it. Even excluding “paper members”, their respective counts are probably much higher.


3. Helena Sheehan - August 2, 2012

What this does not take into account are those who are active on the left but unaffilated to any of these organisations. As well as those who were once members (in my case of three of them), there are those who never felt any of them quite fit. They come to demos, blog, etc, but do not join.


Tawdy - August 2, 2012

Precisely the point I was trying to make. You made it much better, with even fewer words.


4. D_D - August 2, 2012

I’ve noticed in recent years that many young activists, including some who joined the ULA, are quite experienced and sophisticated politically without having been schooled in, or members of, one of the marxist or republican groups. This would have been rare-to-unknown in the 20th century.

But it seems that around the time of the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements in the Naughties new activists were able to join these movements and gain a fair political education and a fair experience of the organised left without having to be in one of the groups.

‘Occupy’ would have revived this situation to some extent. Some young women have passed through the radical end of the womens movement without membership of one of the left groups. Perhaps too the internet has provided some alternative means of information and education.


Julian Assandwich - August 2, 2012

There are certainly many activists outside of official organizations. Before the ULA, I would have counted myself among them. Some have since thrown their lot in with the project, many others are yet to be convinced and/ waiting.


5. Jolly Red Giant - August 2, 2012

The numbers you quote from 2008 were way off then and they are even further off now.

LP have about 5,000 all be it paper members

SF, SP and SWP are significantly higher than quoted

I suspect – with no evidence I might add – that the following are over-estimates



Mark P - August 2, 2012

The WSM one was probably accurate enough then. My understanding of their trajectory is that they went from about 12 to about 70 briefly and then back to about 35.


6. lcox - August 2, 2012

My own research on the libertarian left would certainly bear out the comments on the high proportion of activists who are not affiliated to formal party-like organisations. I would reckon that for every 1 member there have typically been (over the last 20 years say) roughly 10 unaffiliated activists, in the sense of people who have some substantive involvement – either as organisers, or as regular participants in actions and events going beyond demos. The area of wider mobilisation in the sense of people who read the literature / website, come to demos etc. is larger again, perhaps by another factor of 10.

I would suspect that this relationship is one of the things which differentiates the different traditions, in that Leninist and republican organisations place particular value on party membership so probably have a smaller participation of unaffiliated activists though perhaps a comparable level of wider mobilisation.

It is obviously different again for the Labour Party where ICTU / SIPTU marches can mobilise vast numbers of people (ie the wider mobilisation is far greater than the formal membership). Not sure about the number of people in e.g. trade unions, community organisations and NGOs who would get involved in Labour-oriented things.

How much all of this matters depends greatly on the kind of analysis one has about how social change happens. Of course the experience of full-scale revolutions, serious social transformations like the civil rights, anti-apartheid or women’s movements or the welfare state and come to that resisting right-wing attacks is very varied, and different organising traditions select particular experiences (and actors to identify with), and place different values on organising as a result.


WorldbyStorm - August 3, 2012

lcox, great comment. Onething that is very clear, and following in from D_D and Helena’s comments, is how many non party there appear to be.


7. Julian Assandwich - August 3, 2012

Whatever history or baggage is there, invites should be extended to all campaigning left groups & individuals to be part of the project to build the new left party. CAHWT has shown we can be a formidable force when we work together.


Tomboktu - August 3, 2012

How has the CAWHT shown we been a formidable force?


8. Membership figures for political parties - August 4, 2012

[…] By a strange coincidence, Cedar Lounge Revolution did a piece on an aspect of this very recently: What The figures are only for left-wing parties, but interesting all the same. My English dam […]


9. Mark - August 6, 2012

Whats the point of this article? It sounds as if you couldn’t be bothered to update it


WorldbyStorm - August 6, 2012

How could I update it in the first place, I didn’t write the original post on Indymedia, but  in fact if you read the quote and followed the link you’d have realised that. But then if youd done all that you’d have also realised that the post sought to encourage discussion on the issue and didn’t seek or expect a definitive answer. 


D_D - August 7, 2012

Mark P, you could tell us the exact current Socialist Party membership.


WorldbyStorm - August 7, 2012

In fairness to Mark P it’s not him who is the ‘Mark’ above.


D_D - August 8, 2012

Oops!! Sorry Mark P 😦


Mark P - August 13, 2012

As WbS said, the above comment wasn’t by me.

Yes, I could tell you the Socialist Party’s current membership, and I don’t personally see any particularly reason not to, but as the SP collectively hasn’t seen fit to publish that information, I don’t really think that it would be appropriate for me to do so unilaterally. And certainly not for no reason other than to satisfy your curiosity. I don’t think it will irritate anyone if I tell you that the SP is bigger than most left activists tend to assume and quite a bit smaller than most activists in mainstream parties tend to assume.

The SP, like the other ULA affiliates, should go about signing up its members to the ULA in a more rigorous way. In my experience, activists in left groups tend to see their affiliation to broader groups and campaigns as a collective one through their group rather than as something they have to individually sign up to, which is something of a bad habit. And one which isn’t cured by sending out the odd email reminding people. The Workers and Unemployed Action Group’s dismal sign up rate to the ULA is a particularly strong example of that.


10. Blissett - August 6, 2012

id be very surprised if the figures for Sf and Labour were ever accurate. Even at a low estimate I would have said 7k plus for Labour then, and 4-5k for SF. Not sure about now, SF probably up, Labour down, but neither seeing a seismic shift


11. dilettante - August 7, 2012

Doing the maths on what D_D and JRG say, there are a lot of SP and SWP members who have not joined the ULA.
Just wondering if anybody can say/speculate why?

And there are a number of people who are not be in a position to satisfy the SP/SWP membership criteria (eg. time commitments) but who would generally support their politics. Would it not make sense for SP/SWP to encourage these people to join the ULA (where the membership criteria are less demanding)?
This way the ULA would hit 1,000+ members in jig time.


12. Jolly Red Giant - August 7, 2012

There are a couple of reasons why some members of the Socialist Party are not signed up in the ULA – 1. there is a significant section of the SP members located in the North and the ULA is not organised in the North. 2. Some SP members will have joined and then forgotten to renew their membership when it falls due, some will live in areas where there is no organised ULA section. some new, particularly young, members will not yet understand the necessity of joining the ULA. etc.

As for D D’s question on the exact current membership of the Socialist Party – well that is a matter for the Socialist Party and its members. I am sure some people can provide reasonably accurate estimates – there are always discussions on the membership of the various far-left groups on different internet forums. I will re-confirm that the numbers mentioned in the linked post from 2008 were way off then and they are way off now.


D_D - August 8, 2012

“…it is a great treat to have heard what I have heard from Protagoras. … Only I find one slight difficulty, which Protagoras will of course easily explain away, since he has explained so many puzzles already. ..”

– Socrates, in ‘Protagoras’ by Plato (328e)


Shay Guevara - August 9, 2012

If we take 107 SP members in the ULA, and assume that the Northern SP is proportionate to the Southern, that gives us around 130. Then add in members who are too forgetful, isolated or unconvinced to sign up to the ULA, and that original guess of 150 seems more or less on the mark.

Then again, maybe the Northern SP has as many members as the Southern SP, and maybe half of their members are too far away, too lax, or too uninterested to be ULA members. In that case 150 would indeed be “way off”.

“The art of measurement, by showing us the truth would have brought our soul into the repose of abiding by the truth, and so would have saved our life.” – Protagoras


13. D_D - August 9, 2012



14. Gearóid - August 17, 2012

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