When did you first hear of the 'alt-right'? It might have been during the US presidential election, or else in the last few days following the appearance of someone defending the alt-right on 'Claire Byrne Live' on Monday night, an American by the name of Nicholas Pell. Or maybe you still haven't heard of it.
The alt-right isn't a party. It's barely even a movement. In this country, you would need a microscope to find it. Here, it seems to consist of a few people on Twitter who are ferociously anti-immigration.
Aside from despising the left, they also despise conservatives they regard as safe, establishment stooges, that is, people like me. I've been attacked as exactly that on Twitter. This is one reason they call themselves the alt-right. They are the alternative to wimps like me.
Mr Pell was on 'Claire Byrne Live' because he had written a piece for 'The Irish Times' attempting to explain the alt-right. Cue uproar, in the social media bubble at least. 'The Irish Times' was roundly attacked for printing a piece by a manifest 'fascist'.
But the fact 'The Irish Times' had to track down an American living in Ireland to explain what the alt-right is, shows how tiny it is here.
The word 'fascist' gets thrown around with great abandon. Fintan O'Toole used his 'Irish Times' column this week to try to explain exactly why the alt-right is fascist. Along the way, and without meaning to, he also described many of the characteristics of the hard left, which is vastly more powerful in Ireland than the almost non-existent alt-right, and deserving of far more attention and critical scrutiny than it receives.
He described "the uniformed vanguards, the street battles, the highly developed sense of public theatre" of the typical fascist movement. Leave out the "uniformed vanguard", and you've also got the hard left.
"Street battles"? Consider the hard-left activists who attacked the far-right activists of the tiny anti-Muslim Pediga movement when it tried to hold a demonstration in Dublin in February of last year. Or think of the way a hostile mob, including Anti-Austerity Alliance activists, trapped Joan Burton in her car in Jobstown that time.
"Public theatre"? Think of all the well organised anti-water charge demonstrations. There is no right-wing equivalent of that in Ireland.
Another feature of fascism, said O'Toole, is "the belief everything is defined by membership of a 'racial' group and the belief that the relationship between these 'racial' groups is inevitably a struggle to the death for supremacy".
Substitute social class for racial group and you have a perfect description of what the far left believes. It believes that the ruling, capitalist class is in a fight to the death with the workers and eventually the workers will win and create the classless society. This aim is to be carried out by a huge social and political revolution, one that exploits particular issues, like homelessness, or water charges, to revolutionise the working class.
The hard right is rightly accused of promoting hate. But the hard left belief in class warfare can easily degenerate into hatred as well, except this time not between races or national groups, but between the social classes. This hatred is often deliberately fermented in order to bring about the longed-for revolution.
To fascists, continued O'Toole, "History is a zero-sum game - either we subjugate them or they subjugate us". Again, this is what the far left believes. Either the capitalists win or the proletariat win. There is no other way.
On it goes, right down to the anti-Semitism that is commonly a feature of fascism but is tolerated by the far left (and the not-so-far left) in some of the movements it likes to find common cause with, for example, practically anyone engaged in the fight against Israel.
People Before Profit and the Anti-Austerity Alliance are both hard left. People Before Profit was founded by the Socialist Workers Party, and the Anti-Austerity Alliance by the Irish Socialist Party.
Both groupings ardently believe in the class struggle. Their socialism is not to be confused with social democracy. The Irish Socialist Party is an open and passionate admirer of the Russian Revolution, the centenary of which falls this year.
On its website, the Socialist Party tells us that, "Throughout the year the Socialist Party will be producing articles on this momentous event including its impact on Ireland".
It carries an editorial from 'Socialism Today' praising the Russian Revolution as "the greatest event in history - so far". Note the promise of another, even better revolution. People who believe that the Russian Revolution is "the greatest event in history" currently sit in the Dáil.
A standard tactic of the hard left is to destabilise in any way it can the societies in which it is situated in preparation for the promised revolution, hence the love of radical protest movements and militant action by trades unions, among others.
As reported by various newspapers, two members of the 23-member standing committee of the ASTI are Trotskyists. Militancy is the lifeblood of Trotskyism, which is wedded to 'permanent revolution'. Imagine, for a moment, that the likes of the ASTI had been infiltrated by members of the hard right. It would be the occasion of great national angst and anguish. There would be demands that these organisations root out these members.
The hard left is obviously not going to achieve its pipe dream of a proletariat revolution in Ireland. It is a sign, however, of how badly distorted Irish public debate is that there is far less concern about the undoubted, visible and growing influence of the hard left here than about the publication of an article in a national newspaper by an obscure American sympathetic to the infinitesimally small alt-right.