How serious is the far-right threat in Ireland today? The question is being widely discussed because of a series of high-profile protests. At first these were outside asylum-seekers’ accommodation, and more recently they targeted Sinn Féin TDs.
Prominent members of fascist organisations have taken part in these demonstrations. It is not yet clear, however, whether they have organised all the events or joined in opportunistically. Whichever is the case, it is a disturbing development that demands a response.
It is necessary, however, to put into perspective the definition of “far right.” Is it only those nasty, uncouth neo-Nazis, or does it not include a wider spectrum of ultra right-wingers? What about, for example, a party founded by an avowed supporter of Hitler who recruited mercenaries for General Franco?—a party that has presided for the past decade over a cruel anti-working-class neoliberal agenda; a party, don’t forget, that has been kept in power during much of that period by the equally profit-driven Fianna Fáil.
First, though, it is important to analyse the background and context for these dangerous protests. To do so we need to look at this situation in a global setting before dealing with its specific Irish manifestation.
There have always existed reactionary, right-wing political currents for so long as capitalism has controlled the principal means of production. At certain periods in history this has become more aggressive than at other times. We are now experiencing one such period. Trump’s followers in the United States, Europe’s Giorgia Meloni and her “Brothers of Italy” or Jair Bolsonaro’s riotous supporters are but the most strident practitioners of the trend.
Moving in tandem with this tendency is a NATO-led warmongering alliance that is willing to risk nuclear holocaust in order to retain its economic dominance.
The underlying cause for this rising tide of ultra-aggressive reaction is the problems threatening capitalism’s hegemony. The current neoliberal phase was launched during the Thatcher-Reagan era. In what had always been an unequal and brutal economic system the United States and the European Union abandoned even the limited checks and balances afforded by post-war Keynesianism and the welfare state. Neoliberalism became the order of the day.
For just over two decades the system appeared unchallengeable. Then came the economic crash of 2008. Capitalism globally experienced a crisis, and responded by cosseting the wealthy while hurting working people. Central bankers provided cheap money to financial institutions, generating a boom for stockbrokers and speculators.
Yet all the while social welfare and wages were pared to the bone as working-class communities were hammered by austerity. Free-market-led governments simply made Labour pay for mistakes made by Capital.
Nor has the Irish working class been spared this assault on living conditions.
There is a free-market-created housing emergency, the tip of which is marked by tens of thousands of homeless people. This, the most visible aspect of the crisis, tends to obscure the still greater numbers living precariously in rented accommodation. The need for decisive action to instigate a large-scale programme of public housing is painfully obvious.
Yet despite experience of the value of this measure in the past, the coalition parties refuse to act. Adding insult to injury, the Fine Gael leader is now lamenting the withdrawal of some private landlords from the rental market, claiming this reduces the number of properties available for those in need.
Adding to the misery caused by a housing crisis we have also experienced the virtual collapse of the public health service in the Republic. Day after day the media, both mainstream and social, report on the dire situation in our overrun, under-staffed and under-resourced public hospitals and care sector. No such problems are faced by those able to afford private health facilities. Rubbing salt into this wound are the frequent television advertisements reminding the public that the costly private sector has sufficient capacity to treat paying patients immediately on admission.
Under such conditions of hardship and despair it is little surprise that some misguided individuals would unthinkingly vent their anger in the wrong direction.
Let us be absolutely clear about something, though. The issues fuelling these dangerously reactionary protests, and thereby opening the door for far-right exploitation, have been created by those who have governed over recent decades.
The problems giving rise to the protests did not suddenly emerge over the past few months and certainly not with the arrival of those fleeing war in Eastern Europe or the Middle East. In common with other free-market economies, the Republic is experiencing the unavoidable consequences of decades of unbridled neoliberalism.
Consequently, it is not only wrong to blame asylum-seekers for the dire conditions in which we find ourselves: it is also a profoundly mistaken direction to take in order to protest against genuine injustices.
As a recent statement from the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum pointed out, asylum-seekers and refugees are not responsible for the collapsing public health services, money-grabbing landlordism, non-availability of public housing, poor wages, or absence of job security.
The blame lies with the Irish elite: the landlords, both corporate and local, the employers who pay slave wages, and those who govern over this state of affairs. People are right to be angry but must make sure to hit the right target, i.e. the 1 per cent who run and control our lives. The solution is to change the system that’s at fault, not to blame those who are not responsible.
While the right-wing ruling class must carry full responsibility for creating the hardship now affecting working-class communities, it is nevertheless necessary to assess the role of the fascist far right. It is important not to dismiss them as mere bit-players; because, while the powerful may publicly condemn their violence, they will often privately condone and quietly support it. They do so for the crude reason that they see the fascists playing a useful role in fracturing working-class unity.
Such unity is a prerequisite in order to answer the dire situation in which working people now find ourselves. Only a socialist economy, built within a Workers’ Republic, will provide the means to do so. To bring this about requires a politically literate and united working class.
It is this unity that the fascists endeavour to shatter, through employing crude reactionary populist strategies. Our task in the short term must be to combat this tactic by working energetically with the anti-war movement on one hand and simultaneously intensify efforts to strengthen unity among the working class. By doing so we can defeat the fascists and their rapacious patrons.
As a parting word, a couple of appropriate lines from the late Woody Guthrie:
Yes sir, all of you fascists bound to lose:
You’re bound to lose! You fascists:
Bound to lose!