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The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.
- Hubert H. Humphrey





Anthony McIntyre


If the funny little men of Trotskyite sects were ever to find themselves without a political home surely the right would construct a cult for them and call it the 87th International or something similarly grandiose. 87, however, would mean there are more Internationals than cult members.

Terry Eagleton, in his book The Gatekeeper, is exceedingly funny when writing of his experiences with such types.

"They would chase up and down the ranks of other people's marches, handing out leaflets to explain why they were not taking part in this revisionist, centrist, class collaborationist venture ... most of the group's energies were directed not to the conflict with world capitalism, but to the rather more urgent war against other left wing organisations ... the whole membership of the organisation could have been fitted with ease into a public lavatory."

Yet he observed 'how seriously such miniscule bodies tend to take themselves'. All the more brought into focus by the fact that no one else views them other than derisorily.

After our meeting of the West Belfast Anti-War Coalition last night I wondered if Eagleton had secured for himself in advance a window on our fractious little world. By the time I had walked out in exasperation as they prepared to set about each other a number of people who work in Conway Mill, the site of the meeting, asked me if it was in fact a gathering of the 'War' coalition - 'seems to me they are knocking lumps out of each other' one man said. I could do little but smile. I sensed he had seen them at it before. Anybody remotely familiar with them certainly has. I felt a bit silly about complaining - if I choose to go to a Punch & Judy show I can hardly demand my money back when the puppets start to fight.

For while there seemed no more than ten of us present for the meeting at least three factions of the Left were there. One from Socialist Democracy, another from the Socialist Workers' Movement and a third who was formerly a member of Gerry Healy's Workers' Revolutionary Party.

The weekly meeting usually starts at 7 o'clock but last week we were informed that the working masses could not make it from the factories in time; only students could manage that feat. So we started at 7:30. But last night must have saw the working masses on overtime coming up to Christmas as they were unable to shake of the shackles of the workplace in time for that either. Last week also the Socialist Workers Party representative told us that the revolutionaries from other areas were converging on Conway Mill to meet with us to strategise and collectively pool our experiences. When they did not arrive he told us that they had decided to meet us in the pub instead - it being thirsty work stopping these wars abroad.

When last night's meeting kicked off the chair invited us all to make comments on how we thought the previous week's activities had gone. I suggested that they had went nowhere and that �mass rallies� attended by sixteen at Belfast City Hall were having no impact other than to attract the curiosity of passers by puzzled by our motley crew alternatively howling then growling something about Palestine. Immediately, the socialist worker went on the defensive. Despite coming from what may just about scrape into the lower reaches of the credible section of the Left he decided to view this with incredulity, interpreting it as an attack on his party. Such was his sensitivity on the matter that I fully expected to be called an agent of the bourgeois media as I contemplatively fingered my press card.

I didn't have long to wait. The broadside, however, came not from the socialist worker but from the revolutionary worker. What were our objectives he demanded to know? A strange question it seemed, given that we were meeting as an anti-war movement and we could assume that stopping the war was our goal. A 'negative' demand he informed us. What strange Marxist wisdom accompanied with quotes from some obscure tract penned in 1937 by Trotsky I wondered, would be hurled my way for my grave ideological error? Obviously guilty and in need of re-education for erroneously labouring under the misapprehension that stopping people getting killed was positive enough, I awaited my fate. Thankfully, it was not a re-education camp in the Felons or the Gravediggers'. Cell 26 in H-Block 4 with all its bores seemed preferable to that. The revolutionary worker spared me, if only temporarily. We must be anti-imperialist he told us.

Not one to be lured by the rhetoric and undeterred by the social gulag - I don't care if they never let me into the Felons again - I expressed the view that anyone, anti-imperialist or otherwise, who favoured an end to the war could serve in our anti-war coalition. And for my grave deviationist sin I was denounced as a supporter of imperialism. There would be no Marxist Nirvana for me. Not even a Stalinist purgatory where I could serve out an interim stretch reading the Collected Works of Trotsky. It was difficult to suppress the urge to laugh as I gazed around the room seeing so many smirk and snicker. They had heard it all before. The staple diet for the sects with their socialism for simpletons. I just can't understand this Marxist philosophy of diabolical mutterism - extra tuition in the re-ed for that one, no doubt.

The revolutionary - and by now anti-imperialist - worker continued in his effort to drag the meeting down a futile path when he demanded that we all support some anti-imperialist programme that would supposedly chart out the future government of Afghanistan - it was laughable. The socialist democrat agreed with him on that. Well, he would wouldn't he? With an ability to disperse an audience quicker than tear gas he, with revolutionary fervour, was determined not to allow the revolutionary worker to hog all the irrelevance for himself. But why not draw up one for Saturn while they are at it? There are as many there who will pay attention to it as are in Afghanistan.

People who are not listened to even in the pubs of West Belfast - and all manner of strange things are listened to in those places - and who, in some cases are actually physically avoided like the doomsday preachers in the centre of town - are now going to devise the system of government for the Afghanis. Somewhere in my mind I could just visualise both the members of the Northern Alliance and Al Qaeda dodging the daisy cutters in the caves of Tora Bora debating what the irrelevant left of West Belfast suggest for the future government of their country.

It all brought back memories of a few years ago when the Good Friday Agreement was being discussed in these areas. Ludicrous as it now seems I agreed to participate in a leaflet distribution campaign against the agreement. The leaflet was drawn up by people associated with the revolutionary worker. The first part was okay if I recall but the alternative to the Good Friday Agreement was the Workers' Republic. We got laughed good-humouredly out of Springhill as I tried to cut the leaflet in half to save myself embarrassment. Of course it was easy to laugh at us. Waving little red flags without, as Lenin says, having the slightest idea or means of getting anywhere near socialism, was no challenge to the pro-Agreement dominant power structure in West Belfast. Any serious questioning of that leads to you being picketed and threatened by the thought police. Somehow that is not a fate awaiting the advocates of workers' republics. What threat do they pose? It very much reminds me of the comment Sean Lemass made in relation to the Irish Labour Party - harmless docile men not to be accused of going red as they were simply not going anywhere.

Despite the presence of the three sects there were only two armed with agendas. The socialist worker was there genuinely to oppose the war rather than subject us to the gobbledegook and Marxist rhetoric. Pity that he allowed himself to be goaded by the socialist democrat into waging war on the others. Despite the best efforts of the chair, tension filled the air as each watched the others beadily for the first sign of ideological deviation. The muttering and murmuring started when the chair pointed out that potential supporters and genuinely radical people shy away from anti-war coalitions if they see the irrelevant left there. A seemingly obvious point when it is considered the number of friends who decline to go 'to listen to X & Y talk bullshit'.

You are a 'chicken shit sitting on you dick' one howled at another. 'Dickhead' the reply. Tempers rose. The revolutionary worker made a brave attempt to calm matters down only to be virtually threatened by the socialist worker. The socialist democrat who started it all closed his eyes contemptuously and pretended to sleep. A smile of almost orgasmic pleasure creeping over his face as he relished the blow to another on the left. A smile that tuned to horrified shock when he himself was then called something from the obscurantist dictionary.

If a Martian was to land tomorrow and set himself the task of discovering what the strategic objective of the left wing sects was he could only conclude that each sets itself the goal of becoming more irrelevant than the next. As a friend who refused to go to the meeting precisely because the irrelevant left would be in attendance said of them that they are characterised by the perspective of 'I must be right. There are even fewer listen to me than to you.'

The war in Afghanistan and perhaps elsewhere in months to come is far too important a matter to allow opposition to it to be eroded by a bunch of sectarian squabblers who attend nothing in a spirit of comradeship or cooperation but rather as part of an exercise in one-upmanship. Despite being the irrelevant left it paradoxically has a relevance - to every right wing strategist and political activist who desperately wishes to depict a negative image of the future of socialism. 'Look at that lot ha ha ha. What you see is what you will get'. This squalid little amalgamation of Trotskyite sects and breakaway cults has devitalised and demoralised many of those who want an alternative future.

If the anti-war movement in Ireland is to bud into a flicker of real life it must be built away from the irrelevant left. The most positive contribution the irrelevant left can make is to disband and allow the remaining genuine activists in their number to move creatively.

There may be something in what Jeremy Hardy said: 'Ironically, perhaps, the best organised dissenters in the world today are anarchists, who are busily undermining capitalism while the rest of the left is still trying to form committees.'

And what we had reinforced yet again last night was that nothing is impossible until you give it to a committee of the irrelevant left.





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