The double-headed monster of opportunism

Still on the theme of the candidate lists for Stormont, there is a tale almost as odd as that of Bob McCartney’s ability to be in six places at once. (Eat your heart out, Padre Pio!) That is the intervention of the Socialist Workers Party. Readers with even a fleeting experience of the SWP will be aware of their addiction to setting up front groups, so much so that it’s a bit of a surprise these days when they do anything under their own name. But this time around, in deploying two fronts simultaneously, they are really spoiling us.

Since Eamonn McCann has been polling respectable if not earth-shattering results in the city-state of Derry, it was inevitable that he would run this time in Foyle. Eamonn’s candidacy is in the name of his established vehicle, the Socialist Environmental Alliance. One might, then, have expected that any other candidates would run as SEA, as with the SWP’s unsuccessful foray into the Belfast Corporation elections a few years back.

But no! Let me introduce you to 19-year-old Seán Mitchell, who is standing for election in West Belfast. Seán, a most articulate and likeable young fellow, is an active member of the SWP. He is not however a candidate of the Socialist Environmental Alliance. He is the candidate of the People Before Profit Alliance.


The PBPA (or PB4P for the Indymedia trendies) is of course the electoral front being mobilised by the 26-county majority of the SWP for the upcoming elections to the Free State Assembly. Why then is it being extended to the North, when the SWP already has a perfectly serviceable 6-county electoral front? I spent quite a long time in the old SWM, and consider myself reasonably well-versed in the Zen of Kieranism, but this has even me scratching my head. Maybe there was a plan to extend People Before Profit across the North, but Derry parochialism vetoed the move. Or maybe it’s simply another example of the unthinking left. Just when you think these bozos can’t get any dafter, they prove you wrong.

It takes me back to the early 90s, when the Socialist Party bore mid snow and ice the banner with the strange device Militant Labour. There was quite a grand launch in Belfast for Militant Labour, which had been formed, so we were told, from the fusion of Militant, the Labour & Trade Union Group, the Young Socialists and Youth Against Sectarianism. In other words, a group that had spent 20 years pretending not to exist and three of its fronts. The proletariat, who I assume were supposed to be impressed by this blatant sock puppetry, greeted the historic fusion with an enormous yawn.

Such, I fear, is likely to be the fate of People Before Profit on its first electoral outing. Eamonn will probably do all right, but young Seán is almost certain to make no impact at all. The most he can hope for is to get more votes than John Lowry, but that isn’t exactly the same as striking a chord with the masses.


  1. Liam Mac Uaid said,

    February 17, 2007 at 11:44 am

    I’d be curious to see an explanation for this piece of creative thinking. I’ve tried but I can’t work out how the SW manages to be the largest far left formation in the English speaking world.

  2. scribbled said,

    February 19, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Liam, you should remember that the SWP are only about the fifth largest* far left formation in Northern Ireland these days in part because of creative thinking like this.

    As far as the explanation goes, you have to wade deep into the SWP worldview before it begins to make sense. Once you are crotch deep in those murky waters it falls into place. Sort of.

    The SWP have launched the People Before Profit Alliance as their new electoral vehicle. It represents a Respect style abandonment of inconvenient rhetoric about socialism and class, but minus the Muslim community leaders to provide a voting base.

    However the PBPA wasn’t entirely an SWP idea – it’s an SWP attempt to generalise and build on the decision of a few people involved in the ongoing Rossport struggle to launch a loose political formation of their own. This grouping set up an organisation called the Davitt League.

    The SWP saw potential in this and wanted to set up the organisation around the country, but not being stupid they were aware that the name Davitt League wouldn’t be a runner in most places and in particular in the rest of the country. So a compromise was reached. The same organisation would be build in Mayo as the Davitt League and everywhere else as the People Before Profit Alliance.

    This one organisation / two names approach then became a precedent when the decision was made to extend the PBPA organisation to the North. The SWP already had a slightly functional electoral front in Derry in the shape of the Socialist Environmental Alliance. It has a certain name locally and, in the form of Eamon McCann it has a certain vote. However the SEA had already been launched and then died a death in Belfast. In addition it’s socialist nomenclature was out of step with the SWP’s current political approach.

    So the SEA became, like the Davitt League, a branch of the PBPA. It operates under a different name but is part of the same overall project.

    * I would guess that the CP, WP, IRSP and SP are all bigger than the SWP in the North these days.

    ** Sorry about the change in name. Google seems to have swallowed my scrawledincrayon account.

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    February 19, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    I would guess that the CP, WP, IRSP and SP are all bigger than the SWP in the North these days.

    That’s probably correct. If you discount Derry, which is a universe of its own, they are probably smaller than SD and the anarcho-syndicalists.

    Although being better does not make you more correct. During H-Block, PD and to a lesser extent the Irps talked a lot more sense than the Provos, but the Provos were twenty times bigger. There were material, not ideological reasons for this.

  4. AN said,

    February 19, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    And the relative success of the SWP is really confined to England now – and ahat is more only the big cities – and from what i obserev of the relative profiles I wouldn’t be suprised if they were overtaken by the SP in a couple or few years.

    The secret of their successs is:

    i) starting with a certain critical mass won by the IS – inclduing financial stability

    ii) every tactical and strategic turn for 30 years has been based upon the interests of defending or increasing the membership – for example the closure of the SA and lauch of respect was about defending the SWP membersip – from the threat of them turing native as the SA evolved to a party.

  5. ejh said,

    February 20, 2007 at 8:09 am

    I would have thought the secret of their success is that they’re very active in whatever political is happening at any given time.

    They’re also a bit more intellectually creative than the more orthodox groups and this makes them attrative to people who like their far-left politics to be a bit more imaginative than simply re-iterating the same line at great length. Cliff was easily the most creative of the old Trotskyites and I think this legacy still shows.

    Naturally there are problems and drawbacks with both parts of this package and one might argue that these have been noticeable of late.

  6. AN said,

    February 20, 2007 at 6:13 pm


    Surelly while the SWP may have inherted a box of tricks from th IS, and during the 1980s were still coming up with some interesting ideas, is it really triue to say the SWP are intellectually creative?

    The ISJ seems pretyt dire nowadays to me, you only need to read the totle of an artocle to know exactly what it will say, and realy you don’t need to don more than look at the picture on the cover

  7. ejh said,

    February 21, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Who’s Ed?

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