Open Season on the Left

Red-baiting in the Opinion pages of Trinity News reached a new peak with the publication of our last issue of term on 13 March. I was reliably informed that a previous issue’s section was written entirely by members of Trinity College’s Young Fine Gael committee, but that didn’t bother me any more than a glance through the Irish Times or a minute in front of RTÉ would.

In the latest issue, however, an extravagantly ridiculous article by Michael Ward deserves serious comment. Ward’s division of the Irish left into three categories excited my interest, as I wanted to see which contemptuous adjective I’d fall under. I was disappointed. The article was a hash of the author’s vague, unfounded impressions, full of sentences like “they oppose any change that the government seeks to enforce purely based on the fact that the government is composed of politicians and all politicians are a force for evil” and “the Irish left seems obsessed with a tyrannical vision of equality that seeks to punish anyone who enjoys success.”

Just as it was full of sweeping statements, Ward’s article was entirely empty of even the most basic facts to back these up. There was not one reference to any article, interview, programme, manifesto or TV appearance. There was no mention of the names of any political parties or politicians. There was not one reference to any campaign, protest, activity, meeting or personal encounter. Ward simply attached a few ranting paragraphs to each of his categories (“protest,” “uncommitted,” and “delusionary,” in case you’re wondering). He painted a picture of a crazy red haze of irrationality and called it “the left.” However, he either cannot or does not bother to produce any evidence whatsoever for the existence of this “left.”

This is most obvious when he describes the programme of the “delusionary left.” While some elements of it do ring a bell, as a whole it does not remotely resemble the programme of any left-wing party in this country, or any outside it that I know of. It is odd that Ward should have had to pluck a fictional left-wing programme from his imagination because the programmes of every party in this country are available at the click of a button.

His indignant smiting of this straw man, meanwhile, simply rehashes very basic pro-austerity arguments which have been refuted a hundred times over. Ward could engage with a very rich debate on the subject if he cared to google the subjects of his criticism for five minutes.

This was a lazy, ignorant piece of writing. In it Ward refused to engage with his opponents and dismissed us in blatantly insulting terms- they “fail to appreciate nuances” and represent “anger not ideas.” Again, no evidence is provided. Left-wing opinions are, it is implied, a neurosis, one that “ultimately stems from a negative view of humanity.” Ward has insulted my intelligence and pathologised my carefully-formed, well-founded beliefs. He has put in print a tirade of abuse directed at a caricature which bears no relation to me or to the brilliant, committed people I work alongside.

Trinity News is a paper of too high a standard to dignify such rubbish with print. The Opinion section has in the past featured left-wing articles. The rest of the section in that issue is, mostly, well-informed and well-argued. However, we do find elements of the same phenomenon in another piece, this one by Karl Shirran. It is an article on Political Correctness which, while it does feature a brief quote from Will Hutton to represent the pro-PC side, is otherwise hugely problematic.

Quite how discouraging racist, sexist and homophobic comments in any way resembles the Gulag or Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four is never made clear. Of greater interest, however, is Shirran’s potted history of Political Correctness. As we no doubt all know, “The basic belief of communism is that the middle-class will rise in defiance of the ruling class and demand a more equal share of society.” Frustrated in this belief in the latter half of the century, apparently, “Neo-Marxists” turned to “minority groups” as “the new downtrodden.” In order to give their pet “minority groups,” and by extension themselves, leverage, the Neo-Marxists invented Political Correctness.

It’s an entertaining creation myth, but similarly to Ward, Shirran’s article combines total ignorance of the left- in this case PC, the New Left, neo-Marxism, Communism, Lenin, the African-American Civil Rights movement, Black Nationalism and second-wave Feminism – with unbridled judgment and accusation.

Would-be commentators have to educate themselves as to what they’re talking about rather than telling fairy-tales or arguing with caricatures. While I’m eager to engage in debate, I’m not going to write entire pieces which simply are simply corrections of the sloppy work of others. In other words, I’m not going to run around after ignorant, ill-informed critics, doing their research for them.

This rule applies to the left as well as the right, of course. But what has allowed these cases of bad journalism to see print is a complacent right-wing consensus which has come to approve any distortion, exaggeration, insult or crazy comparison, as long as it’s all flying leftward.

It’s not enough to demand stricter editorial controls; we need to challenge this consensus. Ward claims that among the left “mentions of class warfare are no longer evident.” Rather a lot of us do in fact talk about class struggle and make it quite evident. And it’s not just the left, but Warren Buffet as well: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” As this struggle picks up, and my side increasingly makes its voice heard, Opinion pages the world over are going to get more interesting.

This article was written in response to Michael Ward’s article, Categorising Ireland’s left