Left Lineages


ANALYSIS:Rocky road to Dáil success marked by sharp political turns for left-leaning TDs

COMRADES ALL. Some 18 TDs elected to the 31st Dáil trace their personal political lineages back to 1970s and 1980s and the proliferation of bitterly divided, and some might say exotic, socialist and Marxist parties to the left of the Labour Party.

Today the majority of them, now firmly in the bosom of Labour, have rejected revolution, embrace wholeheartedly its centrist social democratic values, and are politically indistinguishable from their Old Labour colleagues.

A minority, those associated with the United Left Alliance (ULA), still adhere to Marxism and the ideas of Leon Trotsky. (Traditionally, a key dividing line in the revolutionary left has been between adherents of the latter and of those of the Soviet Union and Joe Stalin, seen by Trotskyists as having betrayed the “democratic” ideals of the Russian revolution).

Seven of these 18 TDs, including Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and his predecessor Pat Rabbitte, came from the Workers Party (WP) which emerged from the split in Sinn Féin in 1970. Its politics were explicitly Marxist, close to those of the Communist Party, though from its inception it provided a home both to those who described their position as “socialist”, “left social democrat” and to outright Stalinists.

The WP split in 1992 with the majority leaving to found Democratic Left (DL), which in turn merged with the Labour Party in 1999.

Earlier, in 1990, the small “left social democratic” party associated with Limerick’s Jim Kemmy, the Democratic Socialist Party, had also joined Labour en bloc – three of its adherents are now TDs.

One former member of the DL, Catherine Murphy, will now sit as an Independent, while the still extant Workers Party, still avowedly Marxist, also lost a councillor, John Halligan, who will join her.

The Trotskyist left includes the Socialist Party (SP), the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), and the now deceased League for a Workers’ Republic (LWR). Of these the largest was the Militant Tendency, in its various incarnations – Militant Labour after being expelled from Labour in 1989, and then the SP. Three new TDs cut their teeth with the group: Joe Higgins, Clare Daly and Joan Collins, although Collins parted company with it to join the broad front People Before Profit (PBP), now to be reunited with the SP in the informal alliance of the ULA.

Alex White and Séamus Healy were at one stage members of the much smaller LWR, although the former had long parted company with it before he joined Labour. The two will sit opposite each other on government and opposition benches.

Having resolutely spurned over the years any “contamination” by Labour’s social democracy or the trade union “bureaucracy”, the SWP has seen its purist zeal finally rewarded with the election of Richard Boyd Barrett on the PBP/ULA slate. Although the ULA should work as an informal marriage of convenience, attempts to create a party out of its constituent elements may prove more difficult. Ideological purity on the hard left comes easier than the much-desired oxymoron that is “left unity”.