Infighting on the left and a real left-wing alternative

Oh, the infighting on the left. If only they could get along and get their act together, and maybe they’d achieve something.

In the aftermath of #coponcomrades, and after a couple of years of complete lack of consensus around Corbyn’s Labour leadership in the UK, it is easy to feel like the infighting on the left has become a pet peeve of many, interestingly especially those who aren’t actually that far out on the left. And I’m starting to feel frustrated by it. Not the infighting, that is – but the opinions.

As things stand in Ireland, billionaire business man Denis O’Brien is the owner of Communicorp and significant minority shareholder of INM, the companies that control significant media outlets including the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent, the Herald, the Irish Daily Star, Newstalk and Today FM. News Corp, of which the Murdoch family controls 39% of the voting rights, owns the Irish Sun and the Irish edition of the Sunday Times. Our government, at the same time, is fighting the European commission’s call for Apple to repay billions in back taxes, while adding new tax breaks to make up for the phasing out of the double Irish tax structure – anything to please the big multinational players.

What I’m saying is this: Ireland is a fan of neoliberal fiscal policy, and its mainstream media isn’t going to be asking any questions.

But what’s that got to do with infighting? Quite a lot, if you ask me.

I had already left London when Jeremy Corbyn, somewhat controversially, took the helm of the UK Labour party, but the divisions were clear: there was no way he’d ever be a successful leader of a Labour party in a country with a first-past-the-post electoral system, centrist Labour voters said. The hard left was told to give in and accept a softer, more liberal leader. In Ireland, their peers are singing to a similar tune, as the left decries the lack of a viable left-of-centre alternative to end the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael ping-pong game. If only the infighting on the left would stop – then we could all hold hands, laughing all the way to the Dáil.

Except, of course, a conversation like that around #coponcomrades is never going to go mainstream enough to impact on the potential for a real left-wing alternative in Irish parliamentary politics. And sure enough, if we had a Corbyn equivalent, the O’Briens and the Murdochs would fry them long before they became party leader – just like the UK media tried to do.

My problem with the criticism of the infighting on the left is that it’s almost always populist; the idea is that we’ll never make a realistic enough alternative to Varadkar and his crew. We need to get it together and seem like we’re all on the same page; we need to agree on some not-too-leftist policies and bring them to the ballot box – and then we can iron out the details. It’s almost as if people thought that ‘the left’ was this homogenous anti-Varadkar gang, all subscribing to the same politics and the same worldview; as if anyone who doesn’t tick O’Brien’s boxes must be anti-market liberalism enough to be happy to throw just about any other principles under the bus for the chance of a bit of redistribution of wealth.

A republic with a single-transferable-vote system and a neoliberal mainstream media will never make a good breeding ground for new lefty alternatives. The voting system alone is designed to perpetuate status quo in order to favour stability, and a media that plays by the rules of the free market is bound to play into the hands of neoliberal values. Combined, they’re a Fine Gael dream and couldn’t care less about infighting on the left – though given the chance, I’m sure they’d use it if they had to.

If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution. Give me a left-wing alternative that throws working class women under the bus, and I’ll pass. If it’s not intersectional, it doesn’t matter how proud Robin Hood would be.

The left, in and of itself, is anti-establishment; it feeds on the criticism of the neoliberal status quo, not the waltzing with it. So you say we need to play by the rules of the market to get in the door, before we can change the rules of the game? Fine – who will we sacrifice along the way? How much can we play ball and still call ourselves a lefty alternative?

I know so many people who are burnt out right now, activists who are on a break, who care too deeply to stop – until they’re so broken they have no other choice. People give and give and give, because that’s how important this is.

When you say that we need to stop the infighting, you are inadvertently saying that the details don’t matter, that maybe some minorities can wait. Or, if that’s not your intention, you are blind to the power of the status quo and a media that funds the already rich and drinks pints with those already in power. A left-wing alternative was never going to walk in the front door all suited up, shaking hands with Varadkar. And if it wasn’t willing to take the difficult conversations, it was never a true alternative in the first place.