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Trump, Sanders, Corbyn and the Irish Election: An Historic Opportunity for the Left?

This time last year if you had suggested that Donald Trump (or Drumpf as John Oliver would have us believe) would be the GOP presumptive nominee, that a self style “Socialist” in Bernie Sanders would have seen off all but Hilary Clinton in the Democratic race or that Jeremy Corbyn would be Leader of the Labour Party, then the advice would have been to retire quietly to a darkened room with a nice cuppa and catch yourself on.  

kshamaSocialist Seattle City Councillor Kshama Sawant.

The latest seismic shock to hit politics occurred in the Irish Republic where all three “establishment” parties took a hammering. For the first time in the history of the State Fine Gael and Fianna Fail failed to capture a healthy majority of the popular vote between them. Like the Lib Dems in the UK, Labour paid the price for being the minority party in coalition, taking an absolute shallocking. Their vote fell from 20% to 6%

A terrible side affect of Labour being the facilitator of Austerity in Government resulted in the blood soaked ghouls of Sinn Fein/ PIRA donning the clothes of the Left. The Party of gangsters and murderers took 15% of the vote but the real shock was the Independent parties who tied with FG at 28%. Many of these included Anti Austerity candidates, and in Limerick the Socialist Party (the successors to Militant Tendency)candidate Cian Prendiville came within 600 votes of unseating sitting Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan. 

So just what is going on?

The latest inevitable crisis of capitalism which resulted from the 2008 Banking Disaster hit the working class incredibly hard. But the opposite was true for the richest in our society. Less than a month before the 2015 UK General Election the Sunday Times Rich List reported, “Britain’s billionaires have seen their net worth more than double since the recession, with the richest 1,000 families now controlling a total of £547 bn. Their assets have increased from £258 bn in 2009, a rise of more than 112%”. The Tories were returned to Office, but with just 24% of the electorate endorsing their pro Austerity policies.

Many of the 76% who didn’t vote for the Conservatives, and who could only see Ed Miliband and Labour endorsing Osborne’s economic policies, decided to first of all take the streets in mass demos organised by the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity. When the Labour establishment decided to, “allow” a Left candidate onto the Leadership ballot nearly 1/2 million joined a bottom up campaign and Jeremy Corbyn rode the wave to victory.

In the USA Barak Obama defied the odds by first of all seeing off the Clinton Machine in the 2008 Democratic Primaries and then winning the presidential election promising, “Change You Can Believe In”. Whilst it is true that Obama has shown the kinder and more caring side of America he has been held hostage by a vindictive Congress, so a Presidency filled with hope has become one where the voters are sick of Washington political machinations which bear no comparison with real life . The Republicans on the Hill seem more interested in stopping Obama governing than doing anything positive themselves. Thus the rot has set in.

Donald Trump has had enough said about him. Suffice to say he’s a demagogue. A rabble rousing, inadequate man filled with hate based most likely on self loathing because he didn’t get parental approval. Or something. Therefore everyone else has to pay the price for his Freudian, Oedipusal  night mare. Following Daily Show Trevor Noah’s lead Last Week Tonight anchor, the Brummie John Oliver perhaps sums up the Trump phenomena up best.


The voters feel disenfranchised, taken for granted and not listened to. The Democratic Party and the Unions are stitched up and can never form a pro worker narrative.

But there is hope State side.  Kshama Sawant a Socialist Party activist was elected to Seattle City Council in November 2013 on a radical programme. Her victory included a demand for a $15 minimum wage which was achieved when the Mayor endorsed her motion. Kshama believes in the principle of a workers representative earning a workers wage. $77,000 of her wage is re invested into the Labour movement. She was re elected with an increased share of the vote last November.

Senator Bernie Sanders is a self identifying Socialist (more social democrat in reality) and has served as an elected representative in Vermont for over 40 years, the last nine years in the Senate. His campaign is the polar opposite of Trump’s, and is based on the hope that if America adopts his brand of Socialism which includes heavily taxing the Corporations and work place democracy then workers will feel a real difference. It make seem anodyne, but in the context of the US Bernie’s campaign is a paradigm shift for the Democrats. He has pushed Clinton very hard and won New Hampshire with an astonishing 60% of the vote. But Super Tuesday saw Clinton’s hold over the Unions, the South and the BAME vote deliver her to the position of presumptive nominee.

Nevertheless the roots of a Socialist alternative are taking hold in America and it is to be hoped that the Left can build by forming an alternative Party to the Democrats who, like Labour in the UK and Ireland can never deliver anything but crumbs from the table for workers, and only if or when the economy allows it.

Ireland provides an interesting case. In the book, “Making the Difference?: The Irish Labour Party, 1912-2012″ Paul Daly asserts that a depressing pattern emerges for the Party. Following the Left’s catastrophic policy of standing aside for Sinn Fein in the 1918 General Election to Westminster thus allowing Nationalism to trump all other considerations for workers, Labour struggled to gain any traction in elections to Dail Eireann.

The advances made by Jim Larkin and others which saw the Irish working class united and ahead in many ways of their UK counterparts as the 20th century developed, were sacrificed at the altar of Nationalism. James Connolly said, “If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle., unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts will be in vain. England will still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers”. A fantastic analysis which makes it all the more baffling that he joined Padraig Pearse’s nihilistic Easter Rising. The 1916 armed insurrection was spurned by the Irish people until a monumental over reaction by the British gave Pearse the blood sacrifice that was his obsession.

Labour’s electoral blunder meant that the political system in the South did not evolve around traditional Left/ Right lines. Once Winston Churchill told lead Irish negotiator and Defence Minister in the first Dail Eireann, Michael Collins that he would rain down the wrath of the whole British army on Ireland unless a Treaty including partition was signed, the die was cast and Party politics became a head count on whether you were pro treaty, Fine Gael, or anti the agreement, Fianna Fail. FF was led by arch Machiavellian American Eamonn De Valera who sent Collins to London and then hung him out to dry. (Or named Dhu Varren if you are a Scotsman living in Portrush, a long story).

Fine Gael even flirted with Fascism in the 1930’s when Garda Síochána Commissioner and FG TD Eoin O’Duffy formed a parallel to Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts (the Blueshirts) and raised a volunteer army to fight for Franco. Luckily Ireland is more remembered in Spain for the efforts of Frank Ryan, Church of Ireland Pastor Bob Hilliard, Kit Conway and 17 year old Derry man Tommy Woods who joined many other Irish and UK working class soldiers that fought for the Republic in Spain.

Labour’s only hope of power came in the form of coalition. This meant propping up pro market parties (usually FG, occasionally FF). Each and every time it has been hammered at the next election, had to work hard to build it’s base, argued about whether or not to go into Government, done it and been punished by the voters. And the cycle re commences. Labour could point to the historic Marriage Equality referendum and justice for the Waterford Crystal workers, but overall in the last Dail it helped FG implement savage austerity going against all that it was meant to stand for.

With Labour in meltdown the worry is that SF will either be in Government as a coalition partner or, if the logical thing for the Capitalists were to happen and FG and FF entered into Government together that the gangsters would be the Official Opposition. This threat must be seen off by Left and Anti Austerity Deputies, and activists across Ireland coming together to form a new Party which has learnt lessons from the serial failure of Labour to offer a solid Socialist alternative to the pro market, anti worker narrative offered by FG and FF.

As in the UK the public in Ireland are sick of Austerity and tired of the same old politics. In the UK the Corbyn revolution has become a parody of itself. Predictable and out of touch being obsessed with the Westminster Bubble. On the back benches Corbyn and John McDonnell constantly joined Tony Benn and Kate Hoey in the anti EU lobby during Commons votes. Now they are all for it as if they think this means the reactionary Parliamentary Labour Party will lay off them. Similarly they now want to buy Trident, just not arm it! You couldn’t make this stuff up. Satire is alive and well. Who needs Private Eye or Newziods with this pair in charge?

The need has never been greater than now for the formation of a new mass based Workers Party to work in partnership with the Unions and campaign groups across the nation to offer a proper Socialist alternative. Syriza and the rise of Podermos in Spain, allied to the success of Sanders and Sawant in the US tell us the public appetite is there. Act now or see Trump and SF in power and the Tories locked into Government for a generation.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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