I have been a Marxist in some shape or form for the last six years or so. However, it was only in May of this year that I felt I had found a group that was serious about organising, building and preparing for revolution: the Irish Marxists, representing the International Marxist Tendency in Ireland.
Before joining the Irish Marxists, I had been a member of People Before Profit (PBP), Ireland’s largest self-described Marxist organisation, for about three years. I settled on PBP, mainly because they were the largest organisation of its kind in Ireland, and thus I saw them as the most likely avenue for change. They have (nearly) all of the ‘anticapitalist’ left TDs in Dáil Eireann. And of the different left-wing political parties in the country, they get the most media attention out of any – especially in comparison to their size.
Importantly also, they seemed like the most sane option. Within the Irish left, there are far too many groups that have come under the influence of Stalinism, or that are made up of bitter, intolerant sectarians. PBP is not like that. Its members are normal, welcoming people who are genuinely passionate about wanting to build a better Ireland.
Its problems are more subtle. And it took me years of being a member to actually figure them out. These hark back to problems as old as the Marxist movement itself: of reform vs. revolution, and how a revolutionary party should organise.
You see, in my short time as a member of the Irish Marxists I have learned more, and been taught more, about what it means to be an organised revolutionary than I ever have in PBP.
There is a real dearth of consciousness within the party. This leads to a confused culture of indifference throughout the party itself. Too often are new members allowed to slip through the cracks. Too often there is little-to-no support to help integrate them, to raise their political level, or to support new branches developing across the country.
I won’t bore you with personal accounts. But at times, getting basic materials out to the branch – like flags, leaflets, supplies for a stall, or one of their full-timers to lend a hand – felt like banging my head against a bureaucratic wall. Little-to-no practical direction or help was given to small branches like mine. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a common feeling across the membership.
I have felt the complete opposite within the Irish Marxists. From my first reading group, to the meetings and activities I’ve been involved in since: what immediately jumped out at me was the high level of professionalism they had, especially for a group so small; a seriousness about itself that you just don’t see in other left-wing organisations in Ireland. It makes the larger groups and parties look amateurish by comparison!
They say they are building a dedicated, hardened, Bolshevik revolutionary organisation – and they mean it. Each member is serious and dedicated about what they are doing, and that builds a culture of seriousness and dedication within the group. Countless times within PBP I took up a job or a task, not because I necessarily wanted to, but because I knew that if I didn’t, nobody else would. And that quickly builds a sense of loneliness and a feeling of burnout among members.
Within the Irish Marxists there will always be someone eager to pick up the slack when needed, which not only relieves you of the individual pressure of feeling like you must do everything yourself – alone – it also drives you to do your fair share. When everyone pulls their weight, you want to pull yours too. When nobody pulls their weight, then what’s the point?
Regular, organised reading groups on Marxism and political discussions should be a must for any revolutionary organisation. After all, as Lenin said: “Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.” That is something PBP decisively lacks, and something the Irish Marxists make the foundation of their activities. Similarly, a paper, a physical avenue to disseminate your ideas and analyses, should be considered a necessity. This is something that PBP hasn’t even bothered with, and something I think the Irish Marxists nailed on their first try.
But most importantly, PBP suffers from a reformist disposition.
Being a party of their size it is understandable, yet no less acceptable, that they would shy away from the ‘scary’ words associated with left-wing politics. You’ll never, for example, see the word ‘communism’ anywhere in their publications. You would be lucky too, to find reference from them anywhere to anything written by Marx or Engels – very strange for Ireland’s largest so-called Marxist party to shy away from our movement’s founders. And most importantly, you will never see them call for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.
Any Marxist worth their salt knows the only way to build the workers’ state and begin the transition to communism is the overthrow of capitalism! So why does the largest ‘Marxist’ organisation on our island avoid using such language?
While paying lip-service to socialism, in its literature PBP regularly blames neoliberalism for all the problems affecting Ireland today. But what do they mean? Are we fighting for some sort of non-‘neoliberal’ capitalism, or for the overthrow of capitalism itself?
In fact, the economic policies proposed on the PBP website mostly amount to public investments, taxing the rich, and ending ‘Tax Haven Ireland’. There is not one single word about expropriation or workers’ control of the economy. But that’s not socialism – that is left-reformism. It doesn’t even begin to tackle the question key to Marxists: who owns the means of producing goods and services. But, as it is stated in the Communist Manifesto, our task should be precisely to “bring to the front, as the leading question, the property question, no matter what is the degree of development of the [movement] at the time.”
Simply put, they have fallen for the electoral reformist trap. By focusing their main efforts on elections, they cater their politics to the ‘electorate’ as it exists, when they should be doing the opposite. They could use their massive platform, including their presence in the Dáil, to raise revolutionary ideas, explaining the impossibility of fundamentally reforming capitalism. Instead they slowly drift away from communist ideas and towards a more ‘respectable’ democratic socialist message.
I hold no ill will toward PBP or its members. I will continue to (critically) support them, and hopefully to stay in contact with people I know within the organisation.
But I do not believe that PBP is a serious, revolutionary outfit that will bring about the change I want to see in Ireland. And I believe the Irish Marxists are all of those things and more.
That, simply put, is why I left PBP for the Irish Marxists.