People Before Profit Confuses Pundits- Socialist Politics On The Rise.

Following its recent electoral breakthrough People Before Profit has been variously denounced as essentially unionist and essentially nationalist. Sean Mitchell, PBP North-South Coordinator, replies.

Socialist Worker

People Before Profit Confuses Pundits- Socialist Politics On The Rise.

Following its recent electoral breakthrough People Before Profit has been variously denounced as essentially unionist and essentially nationalist. Sean Mitchell, PBP North-South Coordinator, replies.

There is an old joke, frequently told by Eamonn McCann, that if you are from this part of the world, and decide that you are an atheist, then the question immediately follows: “Yes, but are you a catholic atheist or a protestant atheist?” Presumably agnostics get a similar treatment. You can be undecided on trivial matters like the after life, certainly, but surely you have a preferred option on the big questions? “Gers or Hoops mate?”

Sectarianism, of course, was always much more than a difference of opinion over theological questions. Or support for football teams for that matter. Hundreds of years of capitalist exploitation and imperialist divide and rule might be a better starting point. Just a thought. But then there is no doubting, that whatever its origins, the pressure to place yourself into one ‘camp’ or the other in the North is intense and very real. And it reaches into every aspect of life, particularly the sphere of politics.

Stormont

This is most obvious in the case of Stormont itself. Upon entering you are asked to declare yourself as ‘Unionist’, ‘Nationalist’ or ‘Other’. PBP’s two MLAs were asked to do the same. When it came to their turn to register, Gerry Carroll and Eamonn McCann proudly designated themselves as ‘socialist’ instead. (Irish News columnist Brian Feeney suggested that they should have designated as the ‘front for the Trotskyist Socialist Party’. Presumably he thought they were registering at the House Un-American Activities Committee, not a legislative Assembly. Apologies Senator Feeney.)

Still, they did not designate as Nationalist or Unionist. Nor did they simply write ‘other’, even if that’s how they will be treated at Stormont. “PBP isn’t the Alliance Party,” Carroll and McCann boldly declared. “This is the new, radical, socialist alternative,” they said. True, but bit cheeky of them I suppose, seeing as it was Naomi Long and David Ford who alerted us to the fact we could declare ourselves in this way in the first place. Apparently they weren’t too happy afterwards either. But then if you are going to describe where our MLAs sit as the ‘Naughty Corner’, you can hardly complain when they copy your homework.

Question

Very quickly, however, another question seems to follow for those like PBP who define themselves in this way: “I know you are a socialist, but are you a catholic socialist or a protestant socialist?” Or at least this is the question that political commentators seem to be asking themselves lately. One day you open up the paper and there is an article from a pundit like Jim Gibney saying PBP is essentially unionist. Time for the SDLP and SF to unite he says, reignite the old ‘Pan Nationalist Alliance’ pact. More power to his elbow I say.

Then a few days later you open up the same paper and there is an article from the aforementioned Brian Feeney, saying PBP is essentially nationalist. Our votes were in mainly Catholic districts you see. How can we say we are not nationalist when we stand in the tradition of James Connolly he asks? The same Connolly who condemned the “Orange fanatic and the capitalist-minded Home Ruler” alike. Seems obvious to me.

This kind of labelling is intrinsic to politics here. At least for the time being. And I have no doubt it will continue apace for some years ahead. But maybe, just maybe, the tide can be turned, and the question will be one day be asked. “Yes I know you are an atheist, but are you a socialist atheist or a capitalist atheist?” Worth a try at least.

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