As the threat of an Irish far-right continues to grow, Joe Daly takes a look at some of their recent tactics, from attacking Direct Provision residents to shamelessly scaremongering over so-called ‘family values’.
While imprisoned by Mussolini’s fascist regime between 1926 and 1937, the great Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci wrote in his prison notebooks, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born, now is the time of monsters”.
There is an important lesson in this observation by Gramsci for the broad left in Ireland.
Irish society is being thrown into yet another deep crisis by a decaying capitalist system which cannot resolve any of the underlying problems in society. The far-right in Ireland is desperately seeking to exploit the coming economic turmoil. They want to feed off public anger so they can build a broad base among working people by demagogically presenting themselves as an anti-establishment saviour.
As the fault lines in Irish politics widen it will be vital for the socialist left to have a clear understanding of the far-right elements in Ireland, their tactics and strategies as well as how we defeat them.
To date the far-right parties have failed miserably to achieve any electoral success. They have propagated a violent, anti-immigration, racist, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+, climate-denying, patriotic sovereignty platform. In the GE 2020 they failed to elect a single candidate and achieved less than 1% of the vote in most constituencies. Even high-profile candidates like John Waters in Dún Laoghaire and Gemma O’Doherty in Dublin Fingal got less than 2% of the vote.
It is also a good sign that Peter Casey’s campaign was decisively rejected at the polls. However, other independent candidates like Verona Murphy and Noel Grealish, while not directly linked to the far-right, did nonetheless get elected partly on the basis of racist dog-whistle messaging which should act as a warning to the left.
The failure to achieve any electoral success for the far-right is partly due to the lack of a significant historical base in an oppressed, anti-imperialist colony like Ireland. But it is also due to an active left, and the strong socialist policies put forward by parties like People Before Profit, Rise, Solidarity and even Sinn Féin, which spoke to the needs of working people who may otherwise have been susceptible to far-right narratives.
While these sinister forces have failed to make electoral gains, they have had some success in mobilising on the streets and in communities in the past few years. Their tactic of pouncing on flashpoint issues and twisting them to suit their agenda shows their weakness as a movement but also their potential to grow if they are not faced with a serious left opposition.
Ideologically the far-right bases itself on a toxic mix of crazy conspiracy theories, “ethnic or native Irish” extreme white-nationalism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and racism. They want to redefine Irish nationalism, which has traditionally (though not always) taken a more progressive anti-colonial, anti-imperialist form, with an international concern for national liberation of oppressed people and social equality.
The leading members of the far-right in the south are almost all linked directly to the ultra-conservative Catholic right in Ireland which began to consolidate itself in reaction to the Repeal campaign. This historic defeat has provoked a renewed vigour in the Irish far-right, highlighted by their role in nasty campaigns such as the protests against Asylum Seekers and Direct Provision. The latter was done, not from a humane position in the way that many anti-racism campaigners in Ireland have been protesting against Direct Provision, but from a racist one rooted in Nazi replacement theory.
Feeling their privileged position in Irish society under threat by the growth of the left, the Catholic right aim to whip up the poorest, most demoralised, sections of the working class, as well as the bankrupted and enraged middle class layers, into a social movement that can be used to target minorities and smash the organised working class and socialist left.
While these groups claim to be anti-establishment, their ultimate function is to actually protect capitalism by breaking all working-class opposition to it, directing attention towards other minorities and oppressed groups instead. During the coming crisis big finance capital will increasingly rely on the far-right as the ability of the capitalist state to rule in the old way is greatly undermined by working class resistance to austerity.
With distrust of the establishment, the state and corporations at an all-time high, space has opened up for far-right conspiracy theories to take root and grow. Playing on people’s fear these are used in place of a scientific explanation for the chaos of modern society; actually caused by the capitalist system of exploitation driven by the profit motive.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 there has been a huge growth in unscientific claims about links between the virus and 5G technology. This is not that surprising given the amount of misinformation about 5G technology which already existed before the pandemic.
As the Far Right Observatory have pointed out, “people are in a generally heightened sense of anxiety and seeking meaning and understanding to what is going on around them. False promises of understanding still offer promises of understanding, however off-kilter they can seem to others. Combine that with what is not unreasonable public mistrust in private corporations to hide known health impacts of what they sell to people— think asbestos, tobacco, alcohol, thalidomide etc.” It is therefore understandable how these conspiracies have become so widespread, to the point where two masts in Donegal were set alight in April.
Other claims that the coronavirus was created for population control by George Soros or Bill Gates in the form of a “plandemic” ignore the actual scientific evidence for the origins of the virus in wild bats which then mutated to infect farm animals bred on huge, high-intensity commercial farms encroaching on wild habitats.
This untruth was given a massive boost by the actual policy of “herd immunity”. Pursued by Boris Johnson’s government, it amounted to a Tory cull of the elderly, more-dependent section of the population in Britain and the north. One right-wing economist even justified this as economically useful. The failure of the Irish government to protect nursing home residents also fed into this.
But far from being an attempt at population control, the negligent policies of governments like Trump, Johnson & Bolsonaro were designed to keep the capitalist system going, to prevent the shutdown of the economy so that big business could continue to profit while the elderly and vulnerable were just cannon fodder.
This example clearly shows how conspiracy theories act to deflect from the class struggle. The divisive nature of conspiracy theories serves the ruling class, diverting attention away from their criminal policies by blaming scapegoats. Instead, a Marxist understanding of the capitalist system can reveal to us the cause of this pandemic and the social and economic chaos it has triggered.
In their quest to row back recent gains of social movements, ultra-conservative organisations, well-funded by the Christian-right in America, are putting huge resources into co-opting the language of human rights in the form of “freedom of speech” to undermine women’s rights and LGBT+ rights.
In a revealing article in the Irish Examiner in June 2019, Joyce Fegan reported how the evangelical right in America, which is linked to big business interests, has funnelled at least $50million into far-right campaigns in Europe, including Ireland, over the last 10 years.
Organisations like CitizenGo, Focus on the Family, Human Life Institute and the Irish Society for Christian Civilisation gave material support to the “Save the 8th” campaign in Ireland and now they’ve shifted to campaign for “conscientious objection” for medical practitioners and the protection of publicly funded “Catholic hospitals” from losing their “religious character”.
This ultra-Catholic agenda has reached hysterical proportions in opposition to scientifically-based sex education in schools. Unfortunately, due to deliberate misinformation and lies, they have gained traction with their tactic of touting “family values”, “bioethics”, and conflating the issue of the rights of parents to object to the “sexualisation of their children”.
Under the guise of ‘protecting children’, this was taken to a disgusting level in the recent attack on Roderic O’Gorman, the new Green Party Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration. Clearly, the aim of the far-right is to falsely link homosexuality to paedophilia to build a reactionary movement against the LGBT+ community, a community which has undoubtedly been a progressive force in Irish society.
It cannot be overstated that the left abhors paedophilia and calls for adequate protections for children at every level. But we will not stand for any insinuation of a causal link between paedophilia and the LGBT+ community.
And the irony of far-right actors like Nigel Farage-sidekick, Hermann Kelly, and anti-divorce divorcee, Justin Barrett, valiantly championing the rights of children to be protected from paedophilia shouldn’t be lost on us when we realise that these two individuals have consistently and publicly undermined the victims of clerical sex abuse in Ireland and defended rapist priests.
The pretence of defending “freedom of speech” was thrown off very quickly at their opportunistically named ‘Hands off our Kids’ rally outside the Dáil in July. They violently attacked a small group of counter protesters, smashing up their equipment, tearing down their banners and later burning them, displaying it all on social media.
It was very disappointing to see traveller activist John Connors being so easily duped into leading this rally, but hopefully his apology to Roderic O’Gorman proves to be genuine and he decides to re-join the left against these same racists who despise people from his own community.
Whipping up a Frenzied Narrative
A key feature of far-right organising strategy is to use online chat forums like 4chan or social media groups to rapidly coordinate a deluge of online commentary to try to dominate a particular storyline on social media platforms This is then supported by video posts by high profile alt-right personalities, such as Gemma O’Doherty and ex-British soldier Rowan Croft, aka Grand Torino.
In June, the Far Right Observatory exposed how local far-right groups used 4Chan discussion threads to mobilise international networks of white nationalists in an attempt to hijack the Carrigaline hashtag on twitter and turn the discussion of a vicious stabbing incident into a “racist” attack on a white teenager . Fortunately, this failed as anti-racist activists countered strongly to reveal their agenda to the point where the victim’s family disavowed any links to the far-right campaign.
While this method was also used with some success in whipping up racist fear and anger towards immigrants and asylum seekers in places like Rooskey, Uachtar Ard and Achill in the past 2 years, recently the coronavirus pandemic has clearly shown people the inhumane, racist nature of Direct Provision, where desperate residents are left trapped by the state in cramped conditions as the virus runs rampant. All the while, the owners make a handsome profit from state subsidies.
The global Black Lives Matter movement has inspired courageous resistance by asylum seekers and direct provision residents to speak out and take action. The brave hunger strike of the residents of the Skellig Star centre has succeeded in forcing the government to agree to move them to suitable accommodation. The solidarity shown to the hunger strikers by the general public and left political groups was important and signals the way for a mass campaign to end the rotten for-profit system of incarceration completely.
United Fronts Against the Irish Far-Right
A key to this partial victory has been the conscious work of determined networks of anti-racist groups like the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland and United Against Racism.
In Belfast, United Against Racism were successful in shutting down attempts by far-right the Britain First and the then-councillor Jolene Bunting to organise in Belfast city centre, organising broad counter-protests of the wider left.
These examples point the way to a crucial aspect of how to beat the far-right: united fronts. The anti-fascist, anti-racist left of all hues needs to unite against the common enemy, standing in solidarity with the targets of far-right attacks and in defence of the immediate interests of the working class.
Socialist activists in the trade unions must urgently build networks inside the unions and push their leaders to mobilise against all far-right demonstrations. Left parties must publicly unite on anti-fascist, anti-racist platforms and call on their supporters to work together on this united front without giving up the right to openly disagree and criticise the other.
At the time of writing the yellow vests in Ireland led by fascist Glen Miller are organising a demonstration against corruption under the title “Time For Change” which is a Trojan horse exploiting the genuine desire for change expressed in the general election in February. These individuals have little in common with the mass movement in France.
If we want to prevent a return to the era of monsters, as Gramsci put it, we have to take the far-right threat extremely seriously. A failure to do so in the face of the fascist upsurge of the 1920s and 30s led to disaster for workers and eventually to WWII. It’s time the broad left organised in big numbers, uniting together to drive these nasty groups off our streets. Wherever they might raise their heads!
Really enjoyable read. Loved the Gramsci reference. But as an suggestion it is not always such a binary issue of the right v left. As support of either ignores the strongest and largest part of society which in reality is the centre. I have always leaned and voted left and this also influenced my choice of study, work, and social circle. But the fight against racism and fascism would garner far more support, in my humble opinion, if those on the vanguard reached also to the centre. Other than that great work keep it up.
This is very important. We need to unite around some huge counter demos and not just leave the task to a small core, no matter how dedicated.
I would add to the analysis the point that historically the social composition of these movements is the ruined and marginalised middle-class. And that’s important because they don’t have a way of expressing their anger and perceived needs other than turning out for rallies. They don’t have the ear of ministers, like big business, and they can’t go on strike or protest like working class communities.
As Trotsky put it, they need their rallies so the little worm can feel part of a dragon.
Having massive counter-rallies takes away their momentum and can disperse them back into fragments of dust, but such rallies have to involve very wide numbers, with bands, NGOs, organisations from communities targeted by the fascists, etc. So it needs a credible umbrella group to organise on this scale. I’m not sure who could co-ordinate that as PBP and the Socialist Party are always going to have an eye on their own interests within such a campaign. Perhaps UNITE? A trade union not only has resources and an interest in stopping the rise of fascism, but it would be an honest broker in regard to the possible left rivalries that tend to hamper effective united campaigns.