“Left, Left? Marching with the Right…”
“Hysterical spurts are of no use to us.
You can see them chanting at all demos for any cause. They always carry politically correct posters. They are noisier than any one else. They are very good at chanting, with the experienced “lead singer” and the response choir who knows their well rehearsed text. Actually, this is the only thing they do professionally and with genuine pleasure. Noisy manifestations are their specialty. Their style and methods of recruiting have something of the Jehovah Witnesses. Indeed, invariably their participation in any demonstration ends up with calling on people to join their organization.
One day they support the peoples of Yugoslavia, Iraq or Palestine. Another – striking nurses, bus drivers or refugees in danger of being deported. Placards will be ready on time, exactly the same as in the hands of their comrades in other countries. Where do they get money for this? I do not know, but one source who I trust claims that covertly they do not shy away from publishing pornographic magazines to raise money for their party publications. Still these might be just malicious rumors. They can’t be that cynical, can they? On the other hand, nobody beats them up in the street, nobody arrests them. No revolutionaries come out of their ranks to become the pride of the Irish people.
They are much more willing than anybody else to criticize other leftists for what they see as their insufficient radicalism, their preoccupation with routine, small-time, “non-revolutionary” activities aimed to provide everyday assistance on a local level, to organize a working class neighborhood and to give its residents faith in their power to fight back. At times, one can get the impression that their main enemy is not world capitalism, which, as they claim, is about to expire anyway, with the world revolution coming shortly all by itself like the Last Judgment. One can even get the impression that their main enemy are other leftists rather than world capital, because so many of their activities are designed exclusively in opposition to other left groups and used not so much for the officially proclaimed purposes but rather as a pretext to accuse their “brethren” in the lack of radicalism. In the heat of their prosecutorial remonstrations the struggle against world capitalism and its very existence somehow imperceptibly recede to the background. Indeed, why bother with world capitalism if it is about to go all by itself…if only those “fake leftists” stop being spoilers?
I met Grace Lally and her comrades at the protests against the war in Yugoslavia. She is classical representative of that revolutionary type who scream loudly in the anticipation of the Shiny Future.
I cannot say that she does nothing else. On one occasion the loud screams of Grace and her comrades helped to save one family from eviction by their landlord. This idealist young woman, with a short boyish haircut is also an absolutely honest, deeply convinced in the truth of her ideas representative of her organization – the Socialist Workers Party of Irish Trotskyites.
At first, she clung to me. It was not only her passionate desire to recruit another soul for her organization. The fact that I was Russian made it very special for her. And when she learned that my close relative, my grandmother’s brother, was a close associate of Sergey Kirov and was repressed after Kirov’s assassination Grace was swept away: it was obvious for her that I could not be a “Stalinist.” “Her relatives took part in the revolution!” – she recommended me to her party comrades with awe in her eyes, even though grandfather Vasily was only 17 in 1917 and was only beginning his political life. And, to her mind, since I was not a “Stalinist” it meant I was… She was full of Trotsky’s quotes and did not make secret of this. At once she instructed me that the main mistake of my country was that we did not wait till the world revolution comes. This blue-eyed girl, wrapped in a Palestinian kerchief, with her soldiers’ boots on, did not experience anything even remotely close to what our grandfathers and fathers had gone through so that my generation could get free education and medical care, have childhood free of need and humiliation. She did not care at all about the real achievements of our socialism, far from perfect but quite real. For her it never existed in the first place, it was only a “bureaucratic dictatorship,” even though our country had solved most of the problems, which her comrades in the West are only hoping to solve… by their vocal cords. What if here there lies the secret of their nihilistic attitude to our country? How dared we to have solved those social problems on our own, without the help of their vocal cords, before they have solved them…?
Abroad I missed the language of Marxism. How often one can hear from ordinary people in the West words like “the dictatorship of the proletariat” or “internationalism”? So I stayed with these ?rots for quite some time until two things completely demoralized me. The first of them was the utter futility and senselessness of shouting their slogans--it was not enough for me just to “let my steam out” against Bill Clinton and Nato—and the quasi-religious expectation of the world revolution that would come and save us all, without us moving a finger to bring this revolution closer.
The second problem was that those young people did not want to know what life in my country, the Soviet Union, really was, because this knowledge did not fit in their own mental abstractions of my society. For them, the USSR was equal to, if not bigger evil than world capitalism. They would shut their ears when I told them that my grandfather Vasily Nikiforov, who “did” many years felling trees in a labor camp in the Urals and who in the end had settled there, who lost his family because his wife left him after he was declared an “enemy of the people”—that this grandpa Vasily never said a bad word about our country, about the Revolution or other communists. “We got burned by what we fought for” was his only reply to all questions about Stalin. There was not an ounce of anti-Sovietism in him, not a bit of bitterness or hatred toward the “system” or self-pity. Already politically rehabilitated, my grandfather remained the same committed Bolshevik-Leninist that he was all his life. But this was not what my Trotskyist friends wanted to hear.
A year passed before Grace and I met again at the Labor Day demonstration in Dublin. This time I marched together with my comrades from Sinn Fein, helping them to carry their banner. When Grace saw this she made a face: Sinn Fein was “not radical enough” for her. “ –You and they? How could you? Fie…” In her mind, the activists who work helping to solve every day problems of the working class people, the “nationalists” who defend their community are greatly inferior to the flaming revolutionaries like herself.
Yes, Sinn Fein is not an impeccable Marxist-Leninist party. It is a progressive organization who leads a struggle for national-liberation and eclectically combines in its ranks both bourgeois nationalists and genuine Marxists of the kind I rarely met even during my young years in the Soviet Union. These Marxists have no illusions whatsoever that their unity with the bourgeois nationalists is temporary and necessitated by the current tasks of national liberation. They know that the party will inevitably split in the future after their struggle for full national sovereignty will have succeeded and the struggle for a socialist republic will begin.
The difference between these Marxists and Grace’s religious worship of a mythic Revolution is that they are not waiting for this revolution as for manna, but daily prepare it and for it by working in the very midst of the people, helping ordinary men and women to fight for their rights within their routine existence, and doing this without any pseudo-revolutionary chic and élan. The difference between the “nationalists” from Sinn Fein--let us not forget the fundamental proposition of Marxism-Leninism about the progressive character of the nationalism of the oppressed nation--and the “internationalists” like Grace is that the former DO real work and not just MAKE SOUNDS and DAYDREAM. In truth, their internationalism is much deeper and effective than Trotskyists’ verbal manifestations of support for other peoples.
Eamonn McCann— a journalist from Derry and “the ideological leader of Irish Trotskyists”—is a rather remarkable personality worthy of a separate article. He is fiery speaker who captivates his listeners. I met him first time at the demonstration in front of the US embassy in Dublin during the bombings of Yugoslavia and he at once made impression on me. Only later, after I had heard Eamonn many times, I began to notice that he repeated practically same words again and again; that he used meeting on any occasion—say, in support of Palestinians—in order to attack “the insufficiently left” Sinn Fein, and that, above all, it was the very process of “struggle” that he liked the most rather than achieving the goal of this struggle, as if in that case there would be nothing to fight for. ( I could not help using inverted comas for “struggle”, because people like Eamonn never achieve anything real for the people. This, however, does not prevent them from living quite comfortably on their salary and royalties from their books.)
People like Eamonn and Grace do not change the world. This is why they are allowed to criticize freely and sharply…with words, without getting beaten up and arrested. Capitalism is not afraid of this kind of “religious revolutionaries.” It is the determined, stubborn, and inconspicuous Sinners that Capitalism is afraid of. This is why Capitalism needs Eamonns and Graces. It believes in the old truth: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
“The main goal of this type of parties is the struggle against genuinely progressive forces, who present real danger for existing order, all their shortcomings notwithstanding”. This is the opinion of Gerard, an Irish Republican who knows Eamonn. “For most of their members, being a left “rebel” means just a step in their political schooling before they graduate into “respectable” bourgeois parties and a kind of politicians who are on top today. Some prominent examples of such careers are Peter Mandelson and John Reid from the British Labor Party, former communists who became colonial administrators and governors in Northern Ireland. Peter Mandelson is notorious not only for many corruption scandals around his name, but for being one of the architects of British neoliberalism and the “New Labor” of Tony Blair. British leftists are distinguished by their vocal anti-Americanism while remaining completely silent about the role of British imperialism in the world. They are ready to support every people in struggle for national liberation: from Palestinians to Eastern Timorese. Every one… except the Irish. When it comes to Ireland they become mute, or resort to the favorite thesis of British imperialism about the “equal guilt” of “these impossible sectarians” of the North.”
“True, in Ireland we have our own kind of these leftists”- says Gerard. “Take, for example, our Republican Dissidents. They are so obsessed with the idea of “harming Sinn Fein” that instead of a comradely dialogue about our disagreements they are ready to sabotage the peace process for the sake of doing us harm. They also love struggle for struggle’s sake. They have no strategy, no vision. Their line to continue armed struggle in this period of our struggle for national independence plays only into the hands of the oppressor-enemy. Judging from their words and actions, their main enemy is no longer British imperialism but us, the supporters of peace process. As they are screaming that we have “sold out” to the British, their own activists confess their guilt in courts, which contradicts the very spirit of the Republican movement, because he who fights for national and social liberation cannot be guilty before his oppressor.”
Incidentally, there is information that the Dissidents, those “flaming and principled revolutionaries,” have been negotiating with the British full surrender of their arms and dismantling their organization in exchange for amnesty and the liberation of their leader. So much for “flaming revolutionaries.”
…Allen, a friend of mine, is a former member of the Workers Party of Ireland that used to have strong positions here but eventually practically went to pieces. According to Allen, the reason for this was the CIA which bought the leadership of the party. He finds consolations in what’s been going in Cuba. His legs and arms are covered with tattoos of the leaders of Cuban Revolution. He turned his back on his own people. “Cuban Revolution is my revolution! Socialismo, or muerte!” – repeatedly exclaims this man who has no intention of dying for socialism. “I have long given up on everything here. Our people got so mired in sectarianism that they are good for nothing. Only the grave will cure them.”
Allen works in “the lair of capitalism” – a slot machines parlor, whose owner makes millions on the poor people’s addiction to gambling. He has no plans to organize his co-workers—he would fly out of that job at once if he tried. Yet he constantly complains about his boss and praises the ban on gambling in Cuba. Twice a year Allen travels to Cuba with money for a local hospital. He also receives medical treatment there. Over a year ago Allen “broke loose” from the Belfast Solidarity Group with Cuba and founded his own group. No one in Belfast knows why, because Allen did not tell anybody. He confessed to me as “a neutral person”: “In Belfast they are too pro-Republican. They presented the Cubans with the portrait of Bobby Sands and likened him to Che Guevara. How could they! Che was internationalist. Sands – Irish nationalist.” It goes without saying that Allen, who condemns “the hopeless sectarianism of Northern Irishmen,” is a Protestant, while Bobby Sands is a hero of Catholic Republicans.
Gerard comments on Allen’s words: “Che Guevara was proud of his Irish blood. His father was a passionate supporter of Irish independence. If Che were not killed by the CIA agents in Bolivia he would most certainly join us in Ireland in the 1970s. As to calling Bobby Sands just a nationalist, it shows that your acquaintance never read either Che or Bobby. Take, say, his famous poem “Rhythm of Time”. It tells of Bobby’s sympathy and great solidarity with the struggle of many nations – the Vietnamese, native North Americans… It is easy to sit and daydream about a revolution on the other side of the world while doing nothing to change things at home! The position of such people is a good illustration of what I just talked about. There was a group in England who supported the independence of Ireland. But its members accused us all the time in having “sold out.” Do you know what the leader of this group is doing nowadays? Her name is Foster. Today this lady receives a 50,000 pound salary for doing PR work for the US cartel Monsanto that manufactures genetically modified plants. No comments are needed, I believe.”
When finishing this article, I learned the news about the racists in Southern Belfast who forced Jamal Iweida, the leader of the Moslem community of Northern Ireland, and his family to leave their home in Finaghy. Eamonn McCann’s comrades will probably march next week in the streets of Belfast, demanding to put an end to racist attacks. While they will be marching, others, very different and anonymous people will help Jamal and his family to find home and will take measures to prevent this happening to them again…
Authorized translation by Vadim Stolz