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The Left Archive: Marxism Today, Communist Party of Great Britain, Special Irish Number, June 1973 – Part 1 November 10, 2008

Posted by leftopenhistoryteam in Communist Party of Great Britain, Communist Party of Ireland, Irish Left Online Document Archive.
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Here is a document that should be of some interest.

You can find copies of Marxism Today over the years available here. However they currently run from 1978 onwards. This edition is a bit earlier and significantly different in tone. As ever the point of the Irish Left Archive is to not just give you the text but also a sense of the physical presence of these documents… the materiality of it, as it were.

Anyhow, Marxism Today, venerable journal of the Communist Party of Great Britain and later cheerleader of the Euro-communists devoted this edition to the issue of Ireland. And this it does in a series of interesting articles.

Some of the names will be familiar. This shouldn’t be surprising since they are culled from the Communist Party of Ireland. Here is Michael O’Riordan, writing on “The White Paper on Northern Ireland”. There is Betty Sinclair writing about Trade Unions in Ireland.

Others are less so.

The concerns are those of the further left during this period – and after. The North, The Common Market and so on. And the CRA is prominently featured. Notable is the absence of any British voices.

It’s a nice production with a more than faintly academic aspect to it. Scientific socialism indeed. Hence the journal-like pagination starting at page 161. The Starry Plough on the cover is a nice touch, and one that links it directly to the iconography of the CPI. And for those of us familiar with more orthodox forms of communist organisation the advertising at the back of the journal will bring back memories.

Due to its size I’ve split it into two files, both 5mbs each which I’ll post over the next two weeks. I’ll also post the full file next week.

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1. Garibaldy - November 10, 2008

Excellent stuff WBS. Really, really interesting.

Bit surprised at Jimmy Stewart taking democratic rights in the 1790s to mean Catholic Emancipation given that the poor of all religions lacked the votes. Kind of a lack of class analysis, even if it is a brief summary of 800 years of Irish history. I also note the absence of any blame for the failure of the UI attributed to the forces of Catholic reaction. That seems to me to be a blindspot which still affects certain members of the CPI when it comes to analysing the north.

I wonder if the CPI produced an analysis of the 1960s and early 1970s now, would it look like Tom Redmond’s, with its praise for the Republican Movement and bitter denunication of the Provisionals, who are very clearly demarcated as not being of the left. I suspect that it would not given the eagerness of elements within it to attach themselves to the Provisionals. I agree with Redmond that the sound of gunfire stirs the romantic soul of certain elements, but unfortunately this proved true for many elements of the British Left, including people within the CPGB.

The analysis of the White Paper was interesting. It seems that people didn’t realise the extent of resistance the Council of Ireland would provoke.

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2. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen Linken - eine Auswahl « Entdinglichung - November 10, 2008

[...] * Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB): Marxism Today, Special Irish Number, Juni 1973, Teil 1 [...]

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3. Communist - November 10, 2008

I suspect Garibaldy that the CPI’s shift in analysis may have had something to do with the Workers party’s abandonment of the socialist republican position they espoused as Official Sinn Fein in 1973, to the pro-Unionist stance they took by the 1980s.

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4. Garibaldy - November 10, 2008

Has its analysis of the north shifted? It is hard to tell.

I suspect the shift in attitude to The WP has more to do with the Irish Industrial Revolution, and the fact that the CPI had been eclipsed in the favour of the USSR. There is also the issue of change within the CPI itself. The northern people, many of them from Protestant backgrounds, understood the reality of sectarian division and murder. Many of the southerners did not, and were intoxicated by the whiff of grapeshot, especially around the time of the hunger strikes. Yet, despite certain elements seeking closer connections with the Provos, as far as I can see they remained opposed to the Provisional campaign as anti-working class. Was that not the thrust of the open letter to the Provisionals from 1987 I think it was?

Once again people saying The WP became pro-unionist. Perhaps you can show me where The WP said this. I know that the constitution has always had a democratic, secular, socialist unitary state on the island of Ireland – a Republic as its goal. The WP sought peace and an end to terrorism, the restoration of local democracy in the north, and a strong bill of rights, while seeking to confront the sectarianism that divided the workers of Ireland. That looks quite a lot like the programme outlined by the CPI in the magazine. WP members lost their lives in pursuit of that goal, and were on the receiving end of loyalist paramilitary attacks into the 1990s. It seems they never saw The WP as taking a pro-unionist stance.

And if the CPI, or – more accurately I think – some people within it shifted analysis of the north in response to what another party was doing, doesn’t say a whole lot for them does it?

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5. Communist - November 10, 2008

Gari, if you ever met Workers party members in the unions or at meetings during the H-Block crisis or indeed at any time during the 1980s in Dublin you would have never heard them even say the word ‘republican’ about their party. Read your own party’s newspapers or magazines from that time. I remember calling for the release of the Birmingham 6 was dismissed as ‘provo loving’ and ‘sectarian’. Suggesting that there was miscarraiges of justice was sneered at. I have noticed that of late the Workers party seems to have become greener with age.

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6. Communist - November 10, 2008

Before I forget, I think that the CPI’s Protestant members in the north would strongly dispute your claims. They, and not southerners, pushed for a policy that opposed BOTH armed campaigns and British imperialism.

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7. Garibaldy - November 10, 2008

I don’t know about what people in union meetings in Dublin in the 1980s were saying – though I can imagine that some of those who buggered off before and during 1992 may well have been reluctant to use the word republican. However, the Party constitution was clear. Its aims were clear. It still went (and goes) to Bodenstown and held (and holds) Easter commemorations. Wolfe Tone and Connolly remain the two figures in Irish history given as examples to follow.

As for the trade unions and the H Blocks. Provo intimidation of northern trade unionists and burning the ICTU office in Belfast probably didn’t encourage people to support them.

What The WP was not – and what it is not now – is green. It remains what it always was, despite the emergence of opportunist tendencies, and their attempts to dump the north. A party committed to anti-sectarian republicanism that seeks the unity of the Irish people to create a society with the fullest possible democratic control of all aspects of life.

I’d be interested as to why you think it has got greener.

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8. Communist - November 10, 2008

Because you are talking about a united Ireland and republicanism. The Workers party in my experience simply did not. And the H-Blocks campaign mobilised significant numbers of trade unionists. Ask Jimmy Kelly of ATGWU, he spoke at your conference recently, and he led a complete walk out from Waterford Glass after Bobby Sands died. I cannot remember the Provos burning down the ICTU office, and as a trade union activist I’m sure I would have noticed. Given that several prominent northern trade unionists, including members of the CPI, for whom it was not easy by any standards, given where they lived and worked, were active at the time in anti-repression campaigns I don’t know why the Provos would have done this. Did rioters do it maybe?

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9. Communist - November 10, 2008

I should note that the late Matt Merrigan, whom most would agree was a major figure in the labour movement, was a supporter of trade unionists against H-Block. Did he burn down the ICTU office?

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10. Pete - November 10, 2008

Forget about the H Blocks – yeah the WP were maybe to zealous on the issue but did you protest when so-called Republicans shot down socialists in the Ghettos and Prod workers… if you didn’t march then don’t go on about the suffering of men in the H Blocks.

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11. Pete - November 10, 2008

By the way Jimmy Kelly has moved on he recently had an article printed in the new WP magazine and talked at the AF I think. Leave the ‘national question’ the to historians

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12. Communist - November 10, 2008

The Communist Party did protest when ‘so-called Republicans’ did those things. Communist shop stewards organised stoppages against sectarian killings. We also protested when the Workers party’s armed wing tried to impose their will on their critics. The CPI was consistent in a way that Gari’s party was not. Gari was discussing a magazine from 1973 so that counts as history.

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13. Communist - November 10, 2008

Furthermore and a final point (i hope). The CPI had quite a few members who had been Official Sinn Fein members during the period of the magazine above, in both Dublin and Belfast and who left because of the move of the party towards a pro-union position. Some of them are still prominent in the unions in Belfast. They could explain better to Gari and Pete the process than I.

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14. Garibaldy - November 10, 2008

Communist,

As I say, The WP has always been a republican party. By which is meant forging the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter to create an independent, secular, socialist state. At no time was that not the Party’s long-term goal. Having said that, The WP never took the attitude that labour must wait, and concentrated on practical on the ground politics to improve the lives of Irish workers north and south, and the achievement of democratic reform within NI. Again, a policy fairly consistent with the approach taken by the CP during the 1960s and 1970s through its involvement in NICRA, Housing Action Committees etc. This is what garnered it such support during that period. It refused to subordinate the demands of the working class to what the CPI in the magazine above refers to as bourgeois and petty bourgeois national ones as demanded by nationalists of all hues. The WP’s focus has always been the working class – never the nation.

The ICTU’s Northern office was burnt during the Hunger Strikes because of the ICTU’s refusal to support the strikes, even though it criticised human rights abuses and things like strip-searching. It was on the Antrim Road near the New Lodge Road, and was burnt by Provisionals from that area. The fact you never noticed it does not mean it did not happen. As to why the Provisionals did it. Perhaps you can ask the SDLP people who were intimidated and attacked in their homes around the same time for their refusal to back whatever it was the Provisionals wanted. The answer they would probably give you is that there is a wide and deep authoritarian streak within the Provisionals that has consistently sought to control the areas where they are dominant completely. Why did they shoot the female census taker in Derry during the Hunger Strikes? To enforce the boycott they had called for. Those who were not with the hunger strikers were seen as against them.

If you are interested, Anthony MacIntyre’s blog, The Pensive Quill, has some comments that are pertinent on the matter of Provisional intolerance of rivals in one of his pieces on his recent book launch at the Linenhall Library (for those who may be unaware, MacIntyre did two life terms for his actions as a Provisional volunteer).

On ex-Republicans who joined the CPI. In 1977 at the World Festival of Youth and Students, two former Republican Club members who had joined the CPI were giving the line that the Provisionals were a progressive organisation. When they were reminded that both of them had been shot by the Provisionals as part of what the Provisionals themselves proclaimed as an anti-communist pogrom in 1975, there wasn’t much they could say in response.

Opposing violence and terrorism that resulted in the deaths of ordinary workers and calling for Peace, Work, Democracy and Class Politics is hardly the same as a pro-union position. People accept that the Provisionals can support local democracy in NI, and unity by consent without given up their belief in unity. The refusal to accept that The WP adopted similar attitude is rooted in animus rather than any objective assessment of the facts.

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15. Starkadder - November 10, 2008

Was the faction around Eoghan Harris in the WP, the most
“unionist-sympathetic” (for want of a better word)?

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16. Garibaldy - November 10, 2008

Starkadder,

It’s hard to know with Harris. That group left/was expelled because of disagreements over socialism rather than anything else. I’m not really sure that he had as much to say about unionism then as he does now, though I am open to correction.

One brief point about the use of the term republican. The name change from SFWP to The WP was of course to remove any possible confusion with the forces of sectarian nationalism, but it was also a clear statement of commitment to the priority of socialist politics above all else. However, in the ideology of The WP socialism and republicanism in the tradition of Tone and Connolly are indistinguishable.

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17. Communist - November 10, 2008

There wasn’t a World Festival of Youth and Students in 1977, you may be referring to the one on Cuba in 1978. Our line was not that the Provos were progressive, but that British imperialism was the primary source of the violence. So please get whoever told you the story to refine it. If two people who were shot by the Provos were prepared to take a rational Marxist view of where they came from and why they weren’t going to go away no matter how many times the WP called them fascists, then I would say that points to a remarkable political maturity, utterly missing in many WP members, especially those in the south who never saw a provo, let alone fought them.
As I remember in Havana in 78 there was a leading WP member who had an interesting nickname and who was never very well known for tolerating dissent himself. He spent a lot of time over the years condemning kneecapping. It used to get a lot of laughs from those who knew him.
Opposing violence per se is not a pro-union position. Condemning republican prisoners as criminals and denying that you have any prisoners yourself is a bit more problematic.
If people want to read what the CPI’s position was then the material is available, in the Irish Socialist and Unity. We had protestant working class members who actually stood for elections in their unions and didn’t hide their views. We often called for co-operation with the WP but they seemed to like the Northern Ireland Office better.

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18. Garibaldy - November 11, 2008

The 1977 was indeed a typo. I heard the story from more than one source, and they said the same thing, though I understand you have a different memory of it.

The Provos were never going to go away no matter how many times The WP called them fascists because they represent a very real and deep-rooted tendency in society in the north. And a very regrettable one, which is one of the main obstacles to the development of genuine left politics there.

As for whether the paramilitaries in the gaols were criminals or not. I guess that a sectarian murder or blowing up a shop in a Protestant area can be politically motivated but whether people involved in organisations that carry out sectarian murder and attacks deserve to be put on pedestals because of their treatment by the state is a different matter. I know USI for example had ten demands for all prisoners, and rejected the elitism of the paramilitary groups who sought to keep ordinary prisoners in poor conditions so they were guaranteed privileges. That seems to me a more humane and progressive response to the problems of treating prisoners.

Left cooperation is certainly vital, now more than ever. In the past, the main problem was as I understand it that people were calling for joint action with forces that were carrying out the sectarian murder of workers. I was just saying over at Sluggerotoole what a great and unfortunately rare example of cooperation the Spanish Civil War memorial in Belfast is. The meetings that have taken place recently between the CPI and WP are certainly positive developments.

BTW, you haven’t mentioned the burning of the office. I assume you accept it now took place.

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19. Baku26 - November 11, 2008

I am surprised at the resurrection of that hoary old myth that the WP was pro-Union. It was a condition of party membership that recruits subscribe to the Party Constitution which was unequivocally republican. I am also surprised at the suggestion that during the H-Blocks campaign and the 1980’s the word “republican” wasn’t mentioned given that not only was it a regular part of the internal discourse but figured as well in publications like Workers’ Life and Making Sense.
In the February 1983 Workers’ Life Des O’Hagan stated that “the Provisionals have gradually dropped all pretences to being in the Republican tradition” and accused them of abusing “the language of Republican philosophy and struggle …” In an interview with Workers’ Life in May 1982 Sean Garland stated that building the Workers’ party was fundamental to establishing a democratic Socialist Republic. Tomas MacGiolla’s Presidential Address to the Ard Fheis in 1981 is replete with references to republicans and republicanism. He stated that Fianna Fail, who had locked up republicans “thought that they had smashed the power of republicanism in Ireland” but discovered that “the Republican ideal was stronger than ever … and was leading the fight for democracy in Northern Ireland”.

Prejudice, myth and memory may do grave injustice to the facts.

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20. Pete - November 11, 2008

Its all got a little lets refight the 1970s here. I think the the above post answers the Republican question. But then again I think Mr Harris (and his fan base) may have walked out in a bit of huff at one of the above AFs and may have been giving Mac Giolla a bit of guff at the time about his Republicanism. of course that hero did not raise concerns about Garland – he was always a man of felxible princple, or favourable McCain/Obama fan.

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21. Old SFWP - November 11, 2008

Don’t go blaming Harris and the RS for all the mistakes. We were all caught up in it. We were all for co-operating with the CPI one minute and then they were provos, but that was never argued out.

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22. WorldbyStorm - November 11, 2008

V. v. true Old SFWP. There’s an awful lot of retrofitting to avoid the truth of charges of hunting with the hounds while simultaneously running with the fox – or perhaps more accurately willing to tolerate those who did so. That’s true of all formations to some extent, but as regards the WP of the 1980s *everyone* whatever their initial or eventual position could play this game. To be honest as the years go by I think it’s a bit of seeing what people want to see… Republican, surely, tinged with Unionism (de facto ather than de jure) no doubt, and so on…

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23. Garibaldy - November 11, 2008

De facto unionism? Do you mean the principle of consent? If however you mean the desire of the opportunists to dump the north, then that is probably fair enough. It does seem though that there may have been a gap between the attitude developing in the north and the south. I don’t think that the DL people in the north were ever seen as unionists for example.

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