The Socialist Workers’ Party Turns Poetry Critic

Kevin Higgins is a popular Irish poet and the author of a recently published collection entitled Time Gentlemen, Please.

IS THE far left dominated by bullies who have abandoned many of their principles to ‘get into bed’ with questionable elements? Is it time for the Left in Ireland to look hard at where they are and what they stand for?

The acclaimed Galway poet Kevin Higgins will launch his second collection of poems Time Gentlemen, Please in the Galway City Museum, on Saturday at 1pm. 

Kevin admits that Time Gentlemen, Please represents “a moving on for me from the far left causes which I used to support”.

“From the age of 15 to 27 I was an active Trotskyist,” he says. “I was the leader of the anti-poll tax campaign in the London Borough of Enfield when I lived there. From the age of 27 until, say, 38, a couple of years ago I thought it was a pity socialism was clearly now not going to happen. I was in a kind of mourning, I suppose. But now I think that, for all its faults, the society we have is far preferable to anything the ‘comrades’ would bring, were they, Lord protect us, ever to stumble into power.”

Yet it would be a mistake to think Kevin has suddenly had the tragedy/bad taste to become Galway’s Christopher Hitchens. Far from it.

“I don’t like George W Bush. I don’t support the Iraq war,” he declares. He was featured in the 100 Poets Against The War Anthology and retains his admiration for the writings of Leon Trotsky and George Orwell.

Indeed Kevin is something of a Galway George Orwell – a man firmly of the left, but never a blind, sycophantic, adherent.

“I think I have held firm to my principles, while at the same time evolving but I think the far left have abandoned many of theirs,” he says. “I have seen in practice too that issues such as workers rights, a basic fundamental issue for anyone who claims to be on the left, have been abandoned by elements of the Galway left in favour of building an ‘anti-war’ alliance which contains all sorts of questionable elements.

“There is more to politics than the Iraq war; and America isn’t to blame for all the world’s problems. The other thing that has really struck me is that, these days, the far left seems to be dominated by bullies. People who are more interested in browbeating than reasoned argument.”

The influence of Orwell runs deep as reflected in the poem ‘Firewood’. “It was provoked by an article I read in Socialist Worker last year which said, among other things, that ‘It’s problematic to describe what’s happening in Darfur as genocide’! I kid you not.”

In this moving poem, quotes from the article are juxtaposed with the growing fears of a mother who is stopped at a check point by armed men who may be soldiers or militants. Like that other left leaning admirer of Orwell, Billy Bragg, Kevin is more concerned by injustice against human life and dignity, and sees that as being above narrow political agendas.

The SWP apparently “take issue” with Mr Higgins’ poetry:

Having read the article in the Galway Advertiser about Kevin Higgins, we wish to address his quote from “Socialist Worker” concerning Darfur. We are sorry that an “acclaimed” Galway poet would use a quote out of context.

The Darfur war was being depicted as genocidal “Arabs” slaughtering “black Africans” –this bore little relationship to facts. However, the depiction fitted the Islamophobic view of Arabs as violent aggressors and the portrayal of Africans as “ever the victims”.

It was problematic to label the conflict “genocide” in as much as such a term did not convey the complexity of tensions, political overspills, civil war, shifting alliances

Creating ‘Arab’ versus ‘African’ was bogus, but powerful – in whose interests? We are alarmed that Higgins would disingenuously use a quote – for his own interests.

“Socialist Worker” aims to give readers a greater understanding of world politics than the controlled mainstream media. Socialists deplore war — the senseless killing, suffering and waste — and the agendas hiding behind military interventions.

Is Higgins a self-professed socialist, just like an Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, if he thinks that, “the society we have is far preferable to anything the comrades would bring”. So, children living in poverty denied adequate housing and education, people dying from curable diseases or on hospital waiting lists, and millions of innocents being slaughtered in resource wars, are acceptable?

Maybe Higgins had an unhappy childhood in Militant, or maybe he would have been better off if he had found masturbation. He definitely didn’t find the socialism that many on the far left in Galway envisage and work towards: true democracy, peace and equality, whether one lives in Ireland or elsewhere. Thankfully, he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Nice to know that the SWP are the same gobshites the world over.

In other news, these clowns are proposing the creation of a “new left party” in Ireland. My guess is that they’ll be looking to form an alliance with Lefebvrist catholics.


Here is the offending poem:


A bone field fifty metres by fifty.
It’s problematic to describe this as genocide.
I gather firewood at eight o’clock in the morning.
My son clings to my dress. Men in uniforms
with military insignia stop their car
and throw him into a fire. Then five of them
one after the other. I am paralysed.
It’s problematic to describe this as genocide.
The solution is not military intervention. We demand
the US keep its hands off Sudan.
Children start jumping out windows
when the Janjaweed come into the school.
The police begin firing. Everyone,
mainly babies and the elderly,
falls down. I am standing on bodies.
A military barracks.
No bathroom. People stay still,
suffering their wounds.
People stay still. No bathroom.
A military barracks. I am standing on bodies,
fall down. Mainly babies and the elderly.
Everyone. The police begin firing.
When the Janjaweed come into the school,
children start jumping out windows.
The solution not military intervention.
The US keep its hands off Sudan, we demand
It’s problematic to describe this as genocide.
I am paralysed. One after the other,
five of them. They stop their car
and throw him into a fire. Men
in uniforms with military insignia.
My son clings to my dress.
At eight o’clock in the morning I gather firewood.
It’s problematic to describe this as genocide.
A bone field fifty metres by fifty.


(the non-italicised lines are quotations from eye-witness accounts from Darfur)

from Time Gentlemen, Please (Salmon Poetry, 2008)

You can also see Kevin Higgins reading the piece here.