I think it’s safe to say that we’re living in turbulent times – you’re probably just after bumping into your uncle shouting about vaccines outside the GPO for the third weekend in a row, the government is about to spend all its time and effort making sure a rowdy poor doesn’t dare travel to one of the numerous countries they spent the last three months ensuring we could travel to, and we’ve all collectively chosen to ignore how many homeless people seem to be dying because of how hard it must be to live as some overpaid cabinet minister dozing off in a convention center. We’re headed into one of the worst recessions of recent history, hundreds (if not thousands) will choke to death over the next few weeks so our planet can have McDelivery again, and Kanye West is probably in the middle of sabotaging his next album. The barbarism part of the old “socialism or barbarism” adage is beginning to rear its Elon Musk-backed head and we’ve finally realized that Walter Benjamin was full of shit when he implied that we’d get aesthetic pleasure out of our collective destruction. Things can only possibly get worse and Naomi Klein’s pleas about the worldwide implementation of a Green New Deal are completely foreign (and fairly funny) not even a full year on from their publication. This is somehow a problem that only you are capable of solving.
I was originally planning on using the above paragraph as the introduction to a piece in which I’d make vaguely sectarian jokes about the rampant infighting within Irish left parties but the past few weeks have completely burnt me out to the point where I am terminally incapable of putting effort into my mindless shitflinging and just resort to writing the same two pieces over and over again. It’s nearly been a full month since my last ramble about how bleak things seem and not much has really changed – Fine Gael are trying to come up with new ways to be utterly psychotic, Jack Chambers is somehow making even more money despite not actually being able to do his job (EDIT: lol nvm), and Eamon Ryan’s special advisors are all high-fiving one another now that he’s retained his leadership without further racial slur usage. The mythical green jersey we’ve all had battered over our heads by the media for the past four months has been torn off – our government have gone back to their usual brand of gombeenism (read: the same gombeenism we’ve seen all year, just with less televised speeches and horrifying press photos) and no longer have to feign anything resembling sympathy for working people. We’ve seen cynical pay rises for junior ministers, the essential gutting of a bill on workers’ rights (as our favourite TD dozed off), and the leadership of the Labour Party trying really hard to somehow be even more useless. We’re back to normal – that is until the Percy French Festival superspreaders ensure that I’m somehow regularly updating this blog for another three months or my habit of constantly touching my face while fidgeting backfires.
One of the minor controversies that’ll probably define our next few years is the one surrounding Barry Cowen – a major B-lister (and alky) within Fianna Fáil who was meant to be our coveted minister for culchies. Something I need to stress for the one or two Americans reading this piece is how chaotic Fianna Fáil are as a party – their utter lack of an ideology and overt careerism often collides with their sitcom dad attempts at populism, creating more of a spectacle than their relatively refined Blueshirt rivals. Fine Gael are a party that try (and fail) to come off as cool and relatable by pretending to have a gay friend – Fianna Fáil’s gay friend is just Daniel O’Donnell. Their ideology and class interests are broadly similar (if not identical) and the two parties can only differentiate themselves through the cultural – with Fine Gael going after the kind of person who performatively listens to episodes of ‘Doc on One’ and Fianna Fáil going after every single deranged U9s bainisteoir in the country. Barry Cowen perfectly encapsulated the smarmy rural charm (and trademark corruption) that Fianna Fáil attempts to project – his whole political career was based around being born into the correct family (and his brother shitting the bed), he somehow managed to stay on a provisional license for decades for no real reason, and he gave off the exact same vibes as the kind of lad who would drink and drive on the way home from watching an All Ireland final. However, problems arose when we all realized he was a bit too dedicated to the bit.
Nobody knows for sure whether Ken McFadden’s claims about Thomas Byrne leaking information on Cowen’s drink driving conviction as revenge for not getting a ministerial position are accurate but I find them funny so we’re going to take them as gospel. The Barry Cowen story was hilarious as it kept on snowballing – his initial round of apologies were essentially deflected as more facts surfaced and Fianna Fáil’s chronic inability to not talk utter shite rapidly backfired. Cowen would have probably been safe if he just owned up to the full story during his first apology (or suddenly relocated to Connacht) – this story would have never threatened the coalition government and our press were essentially just soft-balling it for as long as possible. However the fact that the story somehow managed to drag on for what felt like weeks is what started to concern people – we would have probably found the bodies under Cowen’s house by the end of the month and it was getting progressively harder to feign ignorance around the questions that were arising.
Cowen’s eventual sacking essentially just offered us a collective deflection from the reality of the new coalition – the BIFFO wing of Fianna Fáil got to impotently rage at Michael Martin, the Greens got to pretend that they had placed some pressure on the government, Fine Gael got to pretend that they weren’t in said government, and the rest of us got to watch some of the worst people in the country act flustered for a few days. The Cowen story was perfect as it offered a nearly “safe” controversy – the parties in power could essentially just differentiate themselves along cultural lines on ‘The Tonight Show’ and then go vote together to prevent pay rises for essential workers the next day. I feel that the current coalition (assuming it sticks together) will essentially just survive through these constant, largely cultural controversies – they’re more than willing to bicker amongst one another for months on end but the threat of Sinn Féin gaining even more ground will just lead to the three parties coming together when it counts, even if nobody on the island is particularly enthusiastic about it. But hey, it lends itself well to these blog posts so I guess there’s that.
How has the left fared so far in the past month? Not particularly well. I was being fairly optimistic in my last piece when I underplayed how rampant sectarianism seems to be within socialist parties but the past three days have essentially shone a light on this fact, reminding us of how useless we currently are. The current round of social media pissfights plaguing anyone paying attention to Irish Twitter started out when Gerry Caroll posted a picture of a Black Lives Matter mural on the Falls Road that was painted by members of PBP. People were genuinely angry about the party putting their name on the mural, claiming that this was essentially a co-option of the BLM movement and an attempt to “claim” the protests for the party. The discussion around this mural rapidly devolved into the typical point-scoring endemic to social media – with PBP members questioning what MERJ actually did, MERJ questioning why PBP had the cheek to ask as such, and ÓFF members questioning as to whether they’d get to be considered progressive if they shat on PBP. Nobody really learned anything, nobody had their opinions changed, and nothing was really gained outside of small amounts of Twitter clout. The most egregious part of this non-debate was the genuine farce of seeing members of parties that have actively gone after and fined BLM protestors act superior to an MLA who was actually on the receiving end of said fine – sure these members talk about being against party policy on this issue but their opposition feels cultural in nearly the same way as some Offaly-based Fianna Fáiler shouting at Michael Martin. Material reality was essentially just ignored and we all essentially just accepted that we’d much rather a glorified WhatsApp chat that perfectly followed the “brand” of these protests than anything resembling a broader movement.
There are genuine questions to be asked of People Before Profit and conversations to be had about how groups and parties should engage with mass movements but we as the left are pathologically incapable of sitting down together and actually working them out. Social media has reduced involvement within the left to a constant shitflinging competition where we all prevent even a shred of solidarity from surfacing by performatively being snarky about one another and perhaps we don’t really have the time for that anymore – there are fascists on our streets every single weekend now yet our sole focus at the moment is just shitting on one another. We’ve all just forgotten that we actually need as many people as possible at our protests and rallies and instead focused on systematically attacking any person or group that falls out of our immediate social circle – we don’t want to actually hold power anymore, just accurately reflect a certain brand back at people and make those who fail to do as such feel guilt. There is no broad left without open discussion, disagreement and debate – however, if we spend all our time chasing one another out of our communities and solely focus our energy on disavowing one another perhaps we need to think about what we’re actually achieving. There isn’t (and probably will never be) a perfect or flawless left, just a left that either works or doesn’t – the stakes are too high at this moment in time to gamble on your sect single-handedly bringing us to that first outcome. But hey, if things don’t work out at least we’ll have a fair bit of time to debate the ethics of party leafletting on the train to the death camp.