If nothing else, conservatives and libertarians can admire the sincere socialist belief in improving the material conditions of the working class. Whilst we may show a preference towards private ownership as well as a justified apprehension towards state control over the economy it would be wrong to doubt the good faith from which many socialists argue from, motivated in many instances by conditions of poverty and injustice found in Ireland even if their methods are misguided. From this understanding one finds it absurd the near unanimity by which the Left either through political parties or affiliated organisations champion the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Far from overthrowing reactionary norms and liberating women abortion plays fully into the hands and logic of the brand of neoliberal capitalism which the left seeks to replace. It is contrary to the stated goal of the left of protecting the most vulnerable in society but also at odds with a long history of social conservatism within the general left.
Abortion advocacy is inherently bourgeois
The statistical overrepresentation of working class women having abortions is a well-documented phenomenon. In advocating for abortion many Irish socialists advance what could be the most harmful policy towards working class children imaginable that of prenatal termination. Similar to the demographic role played by emigration since the foundation of the state abortion could very well be another get out of jail free card for the lacklustre Irish establishment allowing for a prenatal reduction in low income children rather than any real reform regarding the welfare of children.
People Before Profit activists may claim to be anti-system radicals however they are in effective alliance not only with big finance but the increasingly state financed and self-organising consensus that is Irish media in the pursuit of toppling Ireland’s pro-life amendment acting as mere shock troops for the system. Lobbying for abortion in no way challenges large capitalists, in fact it only furthers the creation of their desired world of atomized consumers free of tradition and at the mercy of the market.
The left for the most part appears to have seriously given up on cultivating socialism instead preferring to dominate in the sphere of culture, getting corporations to kowtow to social but not economic pressure. In part from this compromise the horrible spectre of the SJW emerges tailored to perpetuating leftist dominance in the cultural sphere who despite mouthing left wing rhetoric is entirely indifferent to the working class. The middle class nature of the Repeal campaign has already been perceived by some commentators on the left beginning to comprehend some of the inherent contradictions within the movement.
Similar to the ‘yes’ vote on same sex marriage referendum in 2015, should the Repeal vote pass in May Irish leftists may be find themselves scratching their heads pondering why they are no nearer to socialism – seeing the “neo-liberal” consensus they despise become further entrenched with the energy that could have been used in a campaign around an issue like housing rights.
Left Wing Social Conservatism
Often forgotten now but there is a strong tendency towards a historical brand of left wing social conservatism. Whilst the Soviet Union was officially the first nation to decriminalise abortion in 1917 it later recoiled from this, even promoting pro-natalist policies as the decades progressed. Trade unions very often informed by notions of Christian solidarity have often shown a remarkable degree of social conservatism not to mention an apprehension towards policies around uncontrolled immigration.
Prominent cultural and literary figures from Orwell to Christopher Hitchens have expressed objections to abortion despite their Trotskyist credentials. In the case of Orwell his strident brand of Christianity (very often carrying anti-Catholic undertones) played a part of his politics. Hitchens an avowed atheist drew scorn from many on the left during the 1990s for his pro-life views and understanding that despite his materialistic outlook a foetus existed as much more than a clump of cells.
Even further back figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft expressed views regarding abortion as being morally reprehensible and at odds with female liberation that would have likely have found them ostracised by the modern left if the treatment recently of Germaine Greer is anything to go by.
Closer to home the Anglo-Irish comedian (and in his early days anti-fascist activist) Spike Mulligan shocked many with his stridently ant-abortion poem “Unto Us” morbidly penned from the perspective of a discarded foetus.
This author and this journal wear their political views on their sleeves however despite this one can still observe a noble history of social conservatism that the modern left is forgetting at its peril, and which if embraced would be far more radical against the current order than anything so far mustered by all the Repeal marches combined.
“All of the children of the nation equally”
Irish Republicanism presents conservatives with a great deal of awkwardness with its tendency towards Marxist struggle and general embrace of left wing politics since the 1960s. Notwithstanding the movement has played host to a variety of pro-life voices both at an intellectual as well as an activist level. The republican intellectual Desmond Fennell has cited attempts at abortion liberalisation as being very much part of the “consumerist liberalism” overtaking Ireland very much the continuation of the work done by British elites in Ireland during the years of occupation. Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín has been outspoken in his pro-life views despite the conflict it brings him into considering his party’s stance. Despite the many issues that conservatives hostile to the republican movement may have, it is evident that there still exists a strong pro-life element hidden within the movement and which may be relevant come May, similar to how disgruntled Labour voters tipped Brexit over the line in 2016.
Pro-lifers of the World Unite?
The social and political conditions from which the Eighth Amendment emerged in the early 1980s have largely evaporated with the effective implosion of political Catholicism in the interim 35 year period. Any pro-life electoral coalition that seeks to retain the amendment ought fully to comprehend this reality and endeavour to reach out to new constituencies otherwise unreached by social conservatism. In Ireland where the right-left paradigm never fully solidified post-1922 there are many people traditionally unresponsive to social conservative causes due to the manner in which the campaign has been fought in decades gone past based solely on religious arguments. Similar to how there exists left-wing arguments against abortion on secular pro-natalist grounds.
The upcoming referendum presents us with a frankly odd opportunity whereby people from across the political spectra can engage in a strange sort of common struggle in the fight to retain the Eighth Amendment. Considering what we know is at stake, it would be unfortunate to miss it.