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Thursday, 22 March 2007

The Kingstown pimpernel

If you live in Dún Laoghaire, you will in all probability be familiar with this character here. In fact, there isn’t a black-and-white poster goes up in Dún Laoghaire that doesn’t feature Richard Boyd Barrett in some capacity. Richie Boy has of course been a fixture of Irish left politics for quite some time now, longer than you would think from his Peter Pan-like countenance. But I’ve only just discovered his own dedicated website.

And a quite attractively presented website it is too. We, the visiting proletariat, are given a brief biography of Richie Boy and an overview of the divers “Down with this sort of thing” campaigns he heads up. There is the Irish Anti-War Movement, of which our boy is the main spokesman and which is undoubtedly his major claim to fame. There is the People Before Profit Alliance, for which he is the Dún Laoghaire candidate in the upcoming general election. There is the anti-developer campaign Save Our Seafront, which leads me to ponder whether the Kingstown seafront might actually benefit from a little redevelopment.

What you will not find, and eagle-eyed observers of the Irish left will be not at all surprised by this, is an introduction to the Socialist Workers Party. I may be wrong, but I’ve looked over the whole website and can’t say I have seen a single mention of the SWP anywhere. This is despite the fact that Richie Boy has been a member of said organisation for something like 18 years, has spent most of that time on its leading committee as long-suffering sidekick to Swiss Kieran, writes regularly for the Socialist Worker (usually under the rubric of “voices from the movement”, the same device that allows Kevin Wingfield to appear every issue as a spokesman for Ballymun Against Issue of the Week), was a headline speaker at Marxism little more than a week ago and, the last time I spoke to him – which admittedly wasn’t yesterday – was a full-time operative of the SWP.

Before the more excitable Indymedia types start screaming about Cointelpro, I hasten to add that this isn’t some unwarranted exposure. Just about everyone who knows Richard knows he is a high-up member of the SWP. Indeed, he owes his celebrity to the SWP. Richard, you see, is a most pleasant and outgoing chap who makes friends easily. This perfectly complements Swiss Kieran, who is a powerful thinker and impressive speaker, but who is, let’s face it, a little dour and abrasive. This also makes Richard a perfect frontman, a role he has played with aplomb for a good long while now.

The SWP have a somewhat aggravating organisational tic when setting up one of their “united fronts”. The comrades don’t do coalitions; they hold a public meeting and invite people to “join the movement”. They don’t like structures, but on occasion will simulate inclusivity by appointing themselves and two or three non-party figureheads to be a leading committee. Thus it was that, after 9/11, Richard found himself appearing all over the media as spokesman for the fortuitously named “Irish Anti-War Movement”. What the anti-war punters thought about being spoken for by the SWP is an interesting question, but a moot one. Like most of the SWP’s fronts, the IAWM is largely bluff, but a bluff is only a bluff if somebody calls it.

What is striking, for somebody whose whole political CV is based around his leading role in the SWP, is the coyness in mentioning that organisation. Possibly the rationale for this, as with the SWP’s double fronts in the Stormont election, lies deep in the tangled prose of the organisation’s perspectives on a “New Left”, to which I will return anon. But a certain amount of the coyness probably stems from a pragmatic recognition that the SWP name is box-office poison. So, instead of trying to reflect on why that might be so and how the problem could be rectified, we are presented with an elaborate series of fronts, reminiscent of the bad old days when Militant pretended not to exist and held its events under a motley array of cover names. It certainly doesn’t bespeak much confidence in the prospects of “Ireland’s Bolshevik Party”.


ejh said...

Probably not "box-office poison" (people who are venehmently against them are likely to be people who would recognise a leading member when they saw one) but quite likely something to the effect of "don't put them off before they've even got interested". I think it's an unwise approach for the same reason that I thought Militant was: if you start hiding things people will treat you as somebody with something to hide. (You can also put your friends and supporters in an invidious position - do they go along with it or do they not?)

WorldbyStorm said...

Ireland's Bolsheviks, please say it ain't so...

AN said...

I hadn't seen the PBP logo before, is it supposed to symbolise unity between white workers and the incredible hulk?

Michael said...

As far as I can tell, the SWP site doesn't mention him either.

Korakious said...

The last paragraph says it all really.

Also, I find it quite funny how said "socialist" refuse to campaign explicitly for socialism in any of their fronts, taking pains in fact to conceal any relation to socialism they might appear to have.

RepRed said...

While the telephone number on the website is used by many of the front groups it is given as a SWP number here :

and here

It's always the cheapskate ultimate give away for every front they set up.

Frank said...

I have no doubt however, that whether elected or not, Rich Boy's vote will be the 'story of the electon'.

splinteredsunrise said...

I know our chum from the SP is much given to making authoritative claims on the basis of little more than his intuition, but if he will persist in making false claims he won't do it here. I refer him to earlier comments on my lack of organisational affiliation, and I further refer him to Arkell vs. Pressdram.

splinteredsunrise said...

I'm sorry if that got a little cryptic. The Socialist Party's cyber-policeman, who would have done well on HUAC, is now on what must be his third attempt to get me to own up to being a supporter of Socialist Democracy.

Since I'm not a supporter of SD, except in our friend's mind, he'll be waiting a while. In the meantime, I'm sure our friend has other useful things he could be doing.

ejh said...

Being accused of being a supporter of organisations of which one is not a supporter is an experience with which I am familiar (if that's not too convoluted.)

There's too many self-appointed ideology detectives about.