Who fears a Left Government? Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin explores the media meltdown that heralded the arrival of People Before Profit’s new pamphlet.
In 1996 BBC journalist Andrew Marr interviewed Noam Chomsky about his theory of the media, Manufacturing Consent. Among other things, Chomsky spoke about the role of the liberal press, explaining how, “The role of the liberal establishment is to set very sharp bounds as to how far you can go; this far and no further.”
The media meltdown in response to the launch of People Before Profit’s pamphlet on Left Government last week was very much of this ilk. Shock, derision, disbelief, and a clear signal that this kind of politics is out of bounds for acceptable discourse.
Hugh O’Connell of the Independent was first out of the blocks, describing the pamphlet as “an incendiary document”. Pat Leahy of the Irish Times was quick to say People Before Profit were “deeply unserious”. The Examiner’s Mick Clifford told us that, “the smart money” was on the party imploding “over passionate disagreements on the minutiae of policy”. Fionnán Sheahan soon followed in the Independent again, describing the pamphlet as “fantastically deluded, but also profoundly insulting to the Gardaí and the Defence Forces”.
Then, yesterday in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar himself took up the issue. His was the most garbled version of all, claiming that the pamphlet explains how the Gardaí, along with, “the Irish Independent, the Irish Times, RTÉ, even primary teachers, the GAA, and taxi drivers are all part of this conspiracy to overthrow the elected left-wing government, under the leadership of [Mary Lou] McDonald, assisted by People Before Profit.”
Needless to say, this is not what the pamphlet says, but it was the set-up he needed to dismiss People Before Profit as “bonkers”.
Bríd Smith’s reply: “I’d rather be bonkers than a Tory like you.”
So what is in the pamphlet that got everyone’s backs up? What does it say that is so extraordinary?
Much of the coverage zeroed in on one sentence:
“In the final analysis they [the wealthy] will deploy the police and army to move against left-wing governments, as they did in Chile when the first self-proclaimed Marxist President, Salvador Allende, was elected.”
Disgraceful indeed. For the crime of mentioning what Pinochet did with US backing in 1973, the pamphlet and People Before Profit are to be dismissed as left wing cranks and conspiracy theorists.
It’s not that the coup in Chile didn’t happen of course. But it’s scandalous to suggest there’s even the slightest possibility that anything like this could happen in modern day Ireland.
It is worth noting that this was also the view of President Allende in Chile before Pinochet’s coup. He thought that “the armed forces are of a proven professional background and deep democratic spirit”, and even put the failure of earlier US plots to overthrow his Government down to, “the loyalty of the armed forces to their country and its laws”.
What the Chile example shows is not that the wealthy will attempt a coup against any and every left-wing Government, as the media depicts it. But it shows the extent to which sections of the state will go to take down a genuinely radical left Government if other methods, such as economic sabotage, fail.
Long ago, in a faraway land across the sea…
Closer to home, it’s been a mere 8 years since a British army general threatened left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with mutiny and “direct action” if he tried to downgrade the army. This, of course, was not the only attack on Corbyn. A vicious smear campaign was mounted against him by the establishment media and the Labour right in an effort to convince the public that anti-semitism was rampant in the Labour Party, and that Corbyn, a life-long anti-racist, was responsible. Indeed, although Corbyn is long gone from his position as Labour leader, the smears continue, and under Starmer the Labour right have embarked on a systematic purge of the left of the party.
This is the tragic result of the Corbynite strategy of attempting to work alongside his bitter enemies. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the Labour Party to support Corbyn’s left reformist vision. Instead of empowering these people to take the fight to the Labour right, Corbyn’s wing made concession after concession to them and dug their own political graves. Now that Starmer is on top, he is showing no such quarter.
State Forces and Left Government in Ireland: Some Clues
But what about Ireland? Surely state forces would have no part in attacking a left-wing government here?
It’s easy to scoff when the possibility of a left government has been quite remote until recently. But even despite this, we have a history that we can draw important lessons from. Cold-blooded murder was committed by state forces on this island, in living memory. The massacre, decades long cover-up and denial of accountability for Bloody Sunday gives an indication of what the state can be capable of when it is challenged.
Meanwhile, in the South, many of our upstanding journalists are scandalised by the suggestion that perhaps the Gardaí might not be on our side. Perhaps they should remember how Gardaí broke the Debenhams workers’ pickets, dragging out a group of predominantly women workers to deny them the redundancy packages they were owed, and make way for KPMG. Perhaps they could think back to the Shell to Sea campaign, where Gardaí took similar action to break resistance in Rossport, again in the service of business interests. Or the Jobstown trials, where Garda testimony was used in an attempt to criminalise Paul Murphy TD and other protesters. Their story was directly contradicted by video footage. Or even, more recently, how masked Gardaí helped a balaclava-wearing private security force evict the Take Back the City occupation on North Frederick Street – all working together to do the landlord’s bidding.
All of these actions were taken against protest movements and strikes in order to protect business interests and private profits. What lengths would they go to if there was a genuine left-wing government?
Of course, the Chile example was seized upon because it is the easiest part to zone in on, take out of context, sensationalise and discredit. We would not see a coup against a moderate left government – instead, this kind of government would be undermined through other means.
What the pamphlet also lays out is the manner in which sections of the state, the wealthy, and the establishment media will use all means at their disposal to undermine and sabotage any left-wing government. Capital flight, investment strikes, and other forms of economic warfare are all on the cards.
In Greece, for example, the Syriza government that came to power on an anti-austerity mandate was put under enormous pressure by the Troika to roll back on its promises. It called a referendum on the Troika’s demands, which were resoundingly rejected. After the referendum, people rejoiced on the streets, but disgracefully, Syriza buckled to the EU. As the pamphlet says:
“In a staggering about-turn, Syriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras refused to implement the referendum result and instead accepted the Troika’s terms. It signed up to austerity and privatisation which was worse than before. It was a betrayal on a monumental scale.”
Similarly in Spain, the once radical left party Podemos has joined the Spanish Socialist Party in government, introduced anti-worker legislation, a social partnership arrangement with employers, and has presided over the massacre of 37 migrants by Moroccan border forces in collaboration with Spanish authorities in Melilla. When the pressure came on, they were unwilling to seriously challenge business interests and have ultimately been tamed in Government.
While we don’t yet have a Left Government in Ireland, once again we can see indications of the kind of resistance it would face. The media consternation over the pamphlet is, itself, the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s to come if the left comes close to power.
Along with major opposition in the establishment media, the left would also be on the receiving end of attacks from the top end of the civil service. Look no further than the story in The Ditch yesterday about Attorney General Rossa Fanning, who owns two Dublin 6 rental properties worth around €1.5 million. As The Ditch reports, “All three of the Attorneys General who have advised the government on eviction bans since 2020 are landlords”. Little wonder, then, that they might provide strong advice to say that eviction bans and rent controls are unconstitutional!
Left Government: The Possibilities…
There is a point to all of this. We are for a Left Government, not because of some political game or because it sounds nice. We urgently need radical change in our society. A Left Government should set out to bring this about.
Among other things, it could ban institutional investors from housing, take vacant properties into public ownership, reduce rents, and build public housing on a mass scale.
It could end the two-tiered health system and establish a properly funded National Health Service.
It could raise the minimum wage to a living wage and repeal the Industrial Relations Act which restricts workers‘ right to take strike action.
It could get the Church out of our schools and hospitals, and force it to pay proper compensation for its abuses.
It could push for the end of partition and the founding of a Socialist United Ireland.
It could promote peace, defend Irish neutrality and oppose all imperialist ventures, including stopping the use of Shannon Airport by the US military.
It could take on the major agri-corporations who reap massive profits from the exploitation of small farmers and factory workers, bringing about a just transition that empowers workers and treats small farmers as custodians of our lands and our biodiversity. It could introduce free public transport, stop data centre proliferation, and establish a publicly owned energy company that produces energy for need rather than profit.
…And the Pitfalls
These are just some of the things a Left Government could and should set out to do. But as the pamphlet outlines, any government that does so will be faced with savage resistance by the ruling class. Do we really think Denis O’Brien, Larry Goodman and the assorted billionaires that wash their money in the IFSC will lie down and let a Left Government carry on with these measures? Do we really think the Gardaí will not stay true to form and continue to protect private capital? It would be bizarre, and contrary to the facts of history, if they did not. If we are really up to the challenge, we have to be ready for that fact, and build accordingly.
The real fear for the ruling class is the kind of radical democracy being advocated for by People Before Profit: popular assemblies, workers’ democracy, and a serious people power movement that can win gains and protect itself from the resistance of the wealthy. Without this, we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
There are lessons to be learned from the Corbyn’s capitulation to the Labour right, from Syriza’s betrayal of the Greek working class, and from Podemos’ steady slide to the status quo. The pamphlet sets out a positive vision that we can fight for, while at the same time learning from these potential pitfalls and real-world experiences.
Among the lessons are: If you want real change, do not go into government simply to manage the system. Build people power on the streets, build real rank and file workers’ power, and take the fight to the ruling class.
The question is not whether the state and the wealthy will simply roll over and let a radical Left Government dismantle an unequal system. History has provided plenty of evidence that they will not. But will the Left will be up for that kind of challenge?
That’s the question People Before Profit is asking.