Historians will wonder at it but the simple truth is that the Labour Party was, in effect, taken over by the relics of the Workers Party
Twenty years ago this week, the Berlin Wall fell, and shortly thereafter, communism collapsed across the subject countries of the Soviet empire. We now know this happened: but we did not know it was going to happen back then. Some days after the wall was demolished by capering youngsters, I was in Prague to report on events there. No one at that point realised what a hall of mirrors communism really was, a few commissars with their power magnified within the minds of the audience simply by the reflective power of the state. But then I saw the communist edifice collapse before my eyes: it was one of the most wonderful moments in my entire life.
A young Irish student there named O hEithir -- the son of the RTE broadcaster Brendan -- introduced me to some of his Czech friends. They knew nothing about Ireland, save the Workers Party, which they detested. "What are these people, the Irish Workers Party?" asked one, with the others listening in, and nodding in agreement. "Why do they come here, telling us we live in a socialist paradise? We live in poverty and humiliation, and they come here for a week, are shown the most touristic parts of imperial Prague by communist party hacks, they tell us how lucky we are, and then they go home. Bastards."
The Irish Workers Party indeed, now incorporated into the Labour Party, can truly count themselves lucky at the poor memory of the media classes, aided no doubt, by the influence of well-placed party-sympathisers. The Czech people had been crushed by the tanks of Soviet imperialism in 1968. Twenty years on, Czechoslovakia had fewer graduates than Nepal and had a growth rate below that of Peru. Before the Nazis had rolled over its democracy in 1938, Czechoslovakia was the third richest country in the world. By 1988, it was the 50th, and almost worse still, it had to endure these fraternal delegations from despised foreign pro-Soviet parties, most especially the Irish Workers Party, telling them how lucky they were.
Through the 1980s, Proinsias de Rossa was a consistent supporter of the Soviet Union: a search in the online archive of the 'Irish Times' (type in "de Rossa" and "Soviet") will show you what I mean. Moreover, the 'Irish Times' political correspondent, Dick Walsh, a very public sympathiser of the Workers Party, wrote approvingly in May 1983: "Indeed, if the Workers Party can be said to have taken over the role of any other organisation it is that of the Communist Party of Ireland. Where the Communist Party has failed to develop a constituency, the Workers Party has succeeded, and has won recognition from the Soviet Union for doing so."
What an honour. And with the wall gone, and with the Soviet smiles fading on their WP faces to be replaced by smiles of the EU -- the new official party loyalty -- all was soon forgotten. Men and women in an open, and relatively free, western European society, who had voluntarily sided with the last imperial oppressors in Europe, against the downtrodden and the dispossessed people of the east, stayed silent, trusting in the benign amnesia of a left-biased media to ignore their role in supporting the Soviet Empire. And by God, they were justified in their trust.
After the wall had fallen, no one challenged the Workers Party about their faithful support for a continent-wide communist dictatorship, with its vast armies of secret police, that had reached from Vladivostok to Riga.
And where laziness and cowardice might not have sufficed to ensure journalistic silence about the true history of the Workers Party, why, the old Stalinist trick of fixing the historical archive might just do.
When in the 1990s and working for the 'Irish Times' I went to write about the Workers Party, I found the party file had been removed from the library, presumably by one of the party faithful working in the newspaper. All the annual ard fheiseanna votes in support of the Soviet Union were thus gone from the record.
The wonderful search engine which today can reveal the archival truth did not then exist, and no doubt the Stalinists thought they had got away with the Big Lie.
And actually, in the shorter term, at least for the duration of their careers, they had. Historians will wonder at it, but the simple truth is that the Labour Party was, in effect, taken over by the relics of the Workers Party, and all that dreary WP reiteration of Soviet 10-year planning was forgotten. No one now remembers Eamon Gilmore forcefully demanding economic policies that rejected private enterprise in favour of state-run industries.
Twenty years ago, when tyranny and armies of secret police oppressed the peoples of eastern Europe, where stood the Irish left? And does it make them feel proud today, that in the one great example of right and wrong in European politics in their entire lifetimes, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the apparatchiks of the Soviet Union?
So, what precisely is the enlightened, socialist, principle which causes a "democrat" to defend foreign, autocratic regimes from demands from democrats for democracy within their own countries? Which begs this further question of course: what does this term "left-wing" actually mean?