jump to navigation

Irish Left Open History Project: The Socialist Party of Ireland 1971 – 1982 November 27, 2009

Posted by leftopenhistoryteam in Irish Left Open History Project, Socialist Party of Ireland (1971-1982).
trackback

SPI73REPORT

As a means of opening the discussion on the SPI the accompanying document was donated by Mark P (for which many thanks and many thanks also to the SP for allowing us access to some documents from their archive) and seems entirely suitable for the Open History Project. It provides a report by the Socialist Party of Ireland (not related to the contemporary Socialist Party) on their 1973 National Congress.

The SPI was a split from Official Sinn Féin which took place in 1971 with a small cadre believing that the larger group was overly exercised by the national question and insufficiently Marxist-Leninist. The SPI never achieved national prominence, but in adopting some positions not dissimilar to BICO (and working with BICO) it foreshadowed developments in the WP later in the day (and some of its members returned to OSF and later the WP). But the party ultimately merged in 1982 with some from BICO and Jim Kemmy’s Limerick group as the Democratic Socialist Party.

The Lost Revolution gives an overview of the genesis of the party as follows:

Internal unease at the perceived primacy of nationalist politics over social agitation resulted in several Dublin activists resigning from Sinn Féin in the aftermath of the 1971 Ard Fheis. Among those who left to set up the Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI) were former leading figures in the Dublin Housing Action Committee. most were also OIRA members who had already left following disputes over the movement’s political direction that surrounded the 1970 IRA General Army Convention. In order to help fund the new party, SPI supporters robbed £1,000 from a post office in Ballymun. Despite some allegations of intimidation, relations between SPI members and their former comrades remained relatively good, with several rejoining Sinn Féin within a few months. The new group would eventually adopt a view on the ‘national question’ strongly influenced by the British and Irish Communist Organisation’s ‘two-nations’ theory. It was openly pro-Soviet and unashamedly adopted Communist iconography. But outside of Ballymun, where it campaigned consistently on local issues, the SPI failed to make a discernable impact and never numbered much more than a few dozen activists.

The Lost Revolution doesn’t expand on the dispute at the Army Convention and that is a matter which would be worth exploring further.

Wikipedia gives a broader outline:

The Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI) (Cumann Sóisialachais na Éireann in Irish) was a minor left-wing political party which existed in Ireland from 1971 to 1980.
The SPI was set up by ex-members of “official” Sinn Féin. It was formed on 13 December 1971 in Dublin and published its political manifesto on 19 January 1972. The SPI saw itself as a hard-line Marxist-Leninist alternative to the Communist Party of Ireland, which it criticised for its “blurred philosophy, loose structure, of discipline and unity”. The SPI opposed the friendly stance taken by the CPI towards official Sinn Féin, which it saw as a “mixture of petit-bourgeois radicals, nationalists and ultra leftists”. The SPI supported the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Moscow Declaration of 1969.
It staged its first national congress in Dublin on 1–2 December 1973. The congress elected a seven member central committee comprising of Fergus Brogan, Desmond Hughes, Deirdre Uí Bhrógáin, Éamonn Ó Fearghail, Seamus Ó Reachtagáin, Fergus Quinlan, and Séamas Ó Brógáin.
In the late 1970s, the party started discussions with several other groups with a similar policy on the National Question, including the British and Irish Communist Organisation (B&ICO) and the Limerick Socialists headed by Jim Kemmy. Eventually the three groups merged forming the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) with one elected representative in the Dáil (Parliament). The DSP eventually merged with the Irish Labour Party which became a junior partner in a coalition government.
During its life, the SPI was very active in campaigning for divorce (Divorce Action Group), contraception (Contraception Action Campaign), abortion (Right to Choose) and, in particular, opposition to nationalism and the campaign of the Provisional IRA (Socialists Against Nationalism). It supported the Two States Theory which accepted the right of the Unionist population of Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom until such time as a majority of the population choose otherwise by democratic means.
The party’s head office was at 23 Parliament Street, Dublin 2. In 1976, it renamed itself the “Socialist Party”.
Several SPI members ran as independents in Irish elections, the most successful being Eamonn O’Brien[1] from Ballymun, whose performance in achieving over six percent of the vote in the Dublin County North constituency in the 1977 General Election[2], encouraged Official Sinn Féin on the parliamentary road. He also joined the Workers Party and later the Labour Party and represented ballymun as a city councilor.
The party’s publications, Vanguard and Advance, set a new standard for left-wing publications, using modern layout and photographs in a high quality reproduction format.
On 1 December 1982, the Socialist Party dissolved itself into the Democratic Socialist Party.

That concentration on an activist approach to issues such as divorce and contraception is also of great interest for it foreshadowed a shift towards such issues by the left more generally during the 1980s. Clearly whoever wrote that had access to the Report of the 1st National Congress.

The Report itself neatly lays out the SPI line on a matter of topics, particularly in the opening speech from the Congress. Of considerable concern was the EEC, joined that year, the FG/Labour coalition, ‘preparations’ for a move away from neutrality, national wage agreements. This is couched in a language of direct confrontation with the state and the ‘treachery’ of the trade union movement.

On the North the party was clear that only by ‘bringing to the fore [...] class issues’ could the situation be resolved and that it was certain ‘that campaigns of bombing and counter-bombing, murder and assassinations, produce only negative results which serve the interests of imperialism’.

On international relations the party welcomed ‘the constructive foreign policy of the Soviet Union [which] has made the greatest contribution to the establishment of an enduring peace based on mutual respect for sovereignty of states and non-interference by states in each other’s internal affairs. The Soviet/Federal Republic of Germany treaty has ended the cold war. The Soviet-American agreements make peaceful co-existence between the two great powers into a principle of state law’. It also lamented the overthrow of Allende in Chile.

One notable feature is the emphasis on party discipline. While this concept of ‘discipline’ isn’t enunciated entirely in full but is reiterated as a defining aspect of the party it is clear that it is bound up with an internal party structure which utilises democratic centralism and is posited as a distinction between them and Sinn Féin and indeed their perceived greatest rival on the left, for the Central Committee Report makes note of the following:

We must refer to the existence of the organisation called the ‘Communist Party of Ireland’, because it is as a direct consequence of its failure that two parties exist claiming revolutionary leadership of the Irish working class.

It continues:

The most obvious fault of the CPI – and the one which ensures that it will never gain mass support – is its capitulation, ideologically and organisationally, to Sinn Féin. The ‘official’ Sinn Féin organisation, with which the CPI is in permanent alliance is an unstable mixture of petty-bourgeois radicals, nationalists, and ultraleftists…

We must make it clear that our difference with the CPI is not just on their attitude to the national question. The truth is that the CPI lacks not just one but many – one might almost say all – of the characteristics of a communist party: and the logical and inevitable result of its vague philosophy, its loose structure and its lack of discipline and unity is its imminent collapse into opposing factions, which points to the absolute necessity for a new organisation.

This sense of distinctiveness permeates the document. But it’s also fair to point to the admission that:

The membership of our party is small – we are without doubt the smallest workers’ party in the world’

And yet, a most intriguing one at that whose influence on certain aspects of Irish political life may have been greater than their numbers. It’s hard at this remove to understand the trajectory of their development from more orthodox than the CPI to the DSP. More information gratefully accepted.

Addendum by WBS: I knew quite a few people in the WP who had been through the SPI, indeed the first time I heard about the SPI was probably in 84 in the party club having a pint at a table up against the street side surrounded by old-timers who looking back were probably barely out of their twenties but at the time seemed like wisdom incarnate. There was no question that even though they’d left and the party had disbanded at that stage they still had good memories of it, almost as if it were a rite of passage. Worth drawing attention to the annotations in the text of the document above by a later, rather more critical reader.

About these ads

Comments»

1. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - November 27, 2009

[...] The Socialist Party of Ireland 1971 – 1982 * Sinn Féin: United Irishman (incorporating Resistance), November [...]

Like

2. Mark P - November 27, 2009

That document cracks me up, not so much because of the original document itself, but because I can really see some earnest supporter of my own organisation repeatedly incribing “Not a Single Perspective!” in the margins.

The 1970s SPI seem to have been quite “hard” in their self-image as the real revolutionaries as opposed to the quite hopeless CPI and the Officials where were allegedly “unstable mixture of petty-bourgeois radicals, nationalists, and ultraleftists”. Although come to think of it, there was probably an element of truth in that description of the Officials in 1973, given what was about to happen in 1974.

I’m curious as to how such a spiky organisation ended up liquidating into the not wildly radical DSP, led by Jim Kemmy. Obviously there was a certain convergence on the national question with Kemmy and with the former BICO elements (hence “Socialists Against Nationalism” or whatever it was called). At what stage did they give up on the revolutionary communist stuff?

Also, both WbS and the wikipedia article refer to people in the SPI ending up back in the Workers Party – was there a split, or did people simply drift in that directions as the WP occupied the centre of gravity on the Irish left? Certainly, the WP of the 80s would seem to have shared a great deal politically with this early 70s incarnation of the SPI – it seems like a more natural place for them to end up than the DSP… although both the DSP and the WP seem to have eventually served as a funnel into the Labour Party for many.

Like

3. WorldbyStorm - November 27, 2009

Mark P, those are the questions I’d like answered. How did such hard line orthodox communists fold into the DSP? I just don’t get it. They’re like euro-communists but not… And as you say how many went to the WP? It’s all a bit of a puzzle.

Like yourself I think the NOT A SINGLE PERSPECTIVE! stuff is brilliant…

Like

Joe - December 1, 2009

Well WBS, one of those listed above on the SPI’s executive in 1973 went on to join the WP in Dublin Nth East in 1987ish – Des Hughes. Des went on to become a full-time official with SIPTU. He’s retired now but still hale and hearty – I met him on the ICTU protest march a few weeks back.
At least one other major player in the anti-McCartan majority in Dublin Nth East at the time was also ex-SPI as far as I know. WP and later Labour Cllr Eamon O’Brien in Ballymun was another.

Like

Joe Davis - August 2, 2011

Hi,
I ‘m Joe too (Joe2) ?
Im also proud to have been an active member of the SPI during the 1970s. Setting national party ideals back then was idealist, and impossibly so. Most of us were probably close to burnout by the 1977 Local Election. That 6% of the vote was never the result of Christian Socialist prayer-meetings, but the massive commitment to the “Learning by Doing” exercise which it was, of course.
Jioe Davis

Like

WorldbyStorm - August 3, 2011

Joe, that’s great stuff. Quick question, just on foot of what others have asked here, how is it some people from the SPI went in with the DSP? It just seems much less rigorous than the SPI.

Like

4. Mark P - November 28, 2009

Yes, it’s a bit of a mystery.

Unfortunately, the SPI, judging from previous discussions here, seems to be one of the few organisations on the Irish left without an ex-member who comments here!

I seem to recall an issue of their paper expounding the joys of reeducation camps in Laos, which while certainly an entertaining view isn’t one I can see sitting well with Kemmy.

Like

5. splinteredsunrise - November 28, 2009

The NOT A SINGLE PERSPECTIVE

Like

6. splinteredsunrise - November 28, 2009

Sorry, the NOT A SINGLE PERSPECTIVE stuff is fantastic. Somewhere I have a second-hand copy of Joe Hansen’s The Leninist Strategy of Party Building filled from cover to cover with marginal notes scribbled in pencil in what I think is Icelandic. I have absolutely no idea what it all means, but I doubt if it’s as to the point as the above.

Like

Mark P - November 28, 2009

I particularly like the bit where whoever added the notes has responded “Well, what are they then?” to the part in the document where the original writer says something along the lines of “We all understand the reasons why we are we small…”

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2009

It’s brilliant. But you know as an exercise every group should do the same. Write a pamphlet and then go through it checking what is left hanging. As few hostages to fortune as is possible.

Like

7. WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2009

It’d kill me not to have a translation splintered! Did you come across any SPI members on your travels?

Like

8. splinteredsunrise - November 28, 2009

I never did as it happens. BICO yes, and they are an odd bunch. But it does bring home just how eclectic OSF was in those days, doesn’t it? You really had every possible tendency.

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2009

Which to my mind was it’s great strength. You’d wonder about the SPI, why did they go where they did? Why did they do what they did? It’s really puzzling and intriguing.

Like

9. splinteredsunrise - November 28, 2009

Although, if you’re looking for left exotica, I have met a couple of people who were in the Red Republican Party…

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2009

Ah, now there’s exotica…

Like

10. Jim Monaghan - November 28, 2009

On ex SPer. Seamus Rattigan is active in PANA.I think he has a website promoting the Irish language. I liked it. The RRP, split form PD, mostly joined the IRSP. Same perspective, ie the Brits will hand over to the Loyalists, need for defence of Ghettoes.

Like

11. Mbari - November 28, 2009

I love the NOT A SINGLE PERSPECTIVE too. I recall reading a copy of the Revolutionary Communist Tendency’s “Who Needs the Labour Party?” that had been angrily written on again and again by a Labour supporter. “No!” “Ultra-left!” “What about Thatcher!?” etc.

Like

12. EamonnCork - November 29, 2009

With reference to Kemmy, I was trawling through some old Magills yesterday when I came across an open letter to Fine Gael, John Kelly in particular, from Conor Cruise O’Brien at the time of the hunger strike. O’Brien accused FG, seriously, of being too republican for suggesting that perhaps the British might make some concession to prevent anyone else from starving to death. He commended to them Jim Kemmy’s staunch anti-republicanism which he found exemplary. I felt somewhat sad about this, given Kemmy’s brave stand against the church in Limerick on abortion and contraception. Weren’t The Fashions, who recorded the classic spoof Country and Irish number All I Own In Dublin Are The Bars, members of the DSP? I remember the Western Journal’s C and W correspondent not realising it was a joke and giving it single of the week in the early eighties.
The marginal notes are great, all it needs is a stick figure with a speech bubble coming out of his mouth saying, “You can’t fool the children of the revolution.”

Like

13. WorldbyStorm - November 29, 2009

I always think of Kemmy as a remakably conflicting character for those of us on the Republican Left.

Like

Fergal - November 29, 2009

As regards Kemmy,why did people vote for him?Was it because he was championed by the Cruiser or for what may be termed social reasons,anti-poverty,trade unionism,housing etc.The same is true of the WP in the south.

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 29, 2009

I look at it this way. I joined the WP because of its strong constituency presence where it lived, because of its clear left of Labour stance, it’s Marxism, etc. But also because it was effective on the ground. Despite a sort of nascent Republicanism (influenced by a family background and believe it or not by a copy of PIRAs “Freedom Struggle” which I’d be interested if people could tell me the legality of posting it up on the Archive) went with them and stayed with them. I’ll bet many who voted for them did so precisely because of their concentration on social issues. And feck it, it being the 1980s who could blame them? I guess that’s a pretty utilitarian way of looking at things, but… that’s how politics works I guess.

Like

14. Crocodile - November 29, 2009

WbyS, do you believe it’s possible to be leftwing in Ireland while not having any sympathy at all for republicanism? Possible to be of the left but to reject any attempt to justify physical force? Possible, even, to be a unionist and still of the left? I don’t think you have to be Eoghan Harris or Conor Cruise O’Brien or Jim Kemmy to fall under any of those headings.

Like

Tim - November 29, 2009

I’ve often wondered about that, Crocodile.
Indeed what even is Republicanism? It sure meant something very different between 1798 and 1916. How can you even be a Republican while living in a republic? isn’t it just the opposite of a Monarchist?
As far as I know (it’s been a while since I was a member) the Labour Party has always distanced itself from Nationalism, and the Republican movement has, in my mind, never known the difference between nationalism and socialism (so, it is National Socialism??).
Also, I think Joe Higgins’ party has also distanced itself from the armed struggle.

Like

15. WorldbyStorm - November 29, 2009

I think one can surely be a leftist and disavow armed struggle. Can one be leftist and not Republican in the sense I use the term. Well clearly people are, but to me that would be to ignore a longstanding and honorable tradition. Unionism and leftism. Hmmmm… I’m in various minds about that. I think yes one can, but… I think it’s interesting that left wing thinking in the Unionist party and the PUP more recently seems to have linked back more to the Protestant working class than the working class in general (that’s a bit of a generalisation but Dawn Purvis’ comments on the Stormont regime recently are instructive in that regard). Issues of relationships to power come into play there (some might call it imperialism, but I’m leery about that term for various reasons too arcane to detail here). Re Nationalism and Socialism, I think the thing is that Republicanism has known the distinction between Nationalism and Socialism but in practice on the ground found it difficult – as we see in histories such as the Lost Revolution – to come to terms with the power dynamics that existed within communities. Indeed one could argue that the history of OSF was precisely forged in attempting to negotiate with those different poles and remain Republican, and that more recently SF has had to rework and refashion the concept to allow for it to move beyond militarism, simple or otherwise.

Like

Crocodile - November 29, 2009

I remember one of the regular posters here remarking that he could never bring himself to vote for Sinn Fein because he had lived through the seventies and eighties and I’d share that reluctance. The economic policies of SF appeal, but I knew a family that lost someone in the Enniskillen bombing and maybe I’m not able to get over that.
I know some northern socialists who are Protestants and unionists and do not think of themselves as Irish at all – and I argue with them too. They’re not monarchists – far from it – but they’re none too impressed with what we’ve made of our republic. And reading today’s papers it’s hard to disagree.

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 29, 2009

I’ve heard that argument, but it strikes me that it’s too limited. Irish independence rests in large part on the concept of representation and self-determination. The Republican part of that is central. I’ve never bought into the de Valera concept of the people have no right to be wrong. That’s precisely what people do have the right to under any proper representational system and that can include mistakes made by default and ignorance. As for what ‘we’ve made of it’. I don’t think you should include yourself in that ‘we’, I know I don’t. I think a relatively small bourgeois political elite in tandem with the Church bear the greater part of the responsibility. Yes, a remarkably passive society went along with that control, but that control was pretty terrifying in its ‘soft’ power and capacity to push dissidence to the margins.

Like

Tim - November 29, 2009

You make a vaild point about Unionism and leftism.
I wonder has it always been so clear cut. My Ulster forebears were certainly prepared to turn to armed struggle to secede from a united Ireland had it been granted in 1916-20, and many up North still would. Unionism is, after all, both another nationalism, and a different way of being Irish.
If left and right are determined by opposition to, versus maintenace of, the status quo (just one interpretation of course), do they switch sides as the status quo changes?
In the event of a United Ireland, would a loyalist secessionist group seeking independence from Ireland not muddy the waters of the left/right dichotomy?

Crocodile – no doubt you’re aware that many Northern Protestants don’t call themselves Irish because they feel the term has been co-opted by nationalists. Sad, but true.

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 29, 2009

Tim, I couldn’t agree more that Unionism is another nationalism and therein lies its own entirely tricky legitimacy. There was a strong strain of Labour unionism in parts of the North, and the history of the NILP is instructive in that respect. Which reminds me, does anyone have any NILP material? Got to say I think there is an element of positioning in terms of the use of the term left… Think SDLP and again there’s also the history of PIRA is also illuminating given that it was initially a shift from left politics (in part, not in whole) but then later saw leftism used as a stick to beat people with (so to speak). And then later that leftism was – shall we say – modified particularly more recently when we see different dynamics appearing north and south in terms of relationships to state or sub-state power.

I know that dynamic too about Northern Protestants… but it’s also true that there is a strong strand who do consider themselves Irish and also British… of course Protestantism south of the border had to come to its own accommodation with Irishness. And did. Mostly.

Like

Tim - November 29, 2009

There are, it’s true. It bothers me how many Unionists refrain from calling themselves Irish, even though I understand their reasons; rather stand up to those who want the term to mean something different than capitulate to them.

A northern Republican friend of mine told me a long time ago that he thought the likes of the PUP were more amenable to dialogue than other Unionists. So maybe the class consciousness is still alive somewhere.

Like

16. WorldbyStorm - November 29, 2009

I think the PUP is very interesting in that regard.

Like

17. splinteredsunrise - November 30, 2009

There’s the old Labour Unionist tradition which by this point is now basically reduced to Roy Garland, Chris McGimpsey and possibly Fred Cobain. Sylvia Hermon is a strong New Labour supporter at Westminster but doesn’t seem to have a particular orientation to the working class. But yes, Labour Unionism always was very much couched in terms of the Protestant working class, and not really less so for the PUP who really come out of the Tommy Henderson tradition.

I couldn’t help thinking there of the CPNI manifesto in 1945 talking about a strong and prosperous Ulster linked to a strong and prosperous Britain… although they had gone over to the Greaves analysis some years later.

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2009

The CPNI certainly shifted with the times. Why one wonders is Hermon so New Labour?

Like

John O'Farrell - November 30, 2009

I worked a bit with Sylvia Hermon on some pro-European stuff a few years ago and found her:
1) obviously at odds with most of her UUP chums on the EU, especially Trimble, who is in the Better Off Out camp;
2) obviously about ten times more clever than the typical UUP – the ‘Lady Penelopey’ image and accent might fool the more cliched North Downer, but she is a serious bluestocking who was teaching law at Queen’s before Trimble and McAleese were scrapping over the dusty tomes;
3) She is genuinely liberal, in the sense that you tend to assume that most academcs in the UK are – socially liberal, employed in the public sector and therefore more comfortable within the New Labour big tent.
Which tells us something else, and that is there are a sizable minority of Unionists who are bereft of that siege mentality that nationalists (esp, southern soft nationalists) see as being a duty as well as a right.
Hermon is as British as, say, Harriet Harmon or Margaret Beckett or Caroline Flint or Margaret Hodge. She just happens to come from a region and a political culture which prides itself in living down to its reputation.
Which is why Sir Reg and UCUNF had better watch out if they think that they can parachute Wee Ian Parsley to grab the North Down seat and get away unscathed.

Like

splinteredsunrise - November 30, 2009

I agree about Sylvia. So popular is she in North Down that I’d back her to hammer anyone UCUNF can put up against her. Especially if Alliance give her a free run, which they might do just to scunder young Parsley.

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2009

Wait, has she gone over to Alliance? Have I missed something here?

Very interesting John. That’s a real insight into where she’s coming from.

Like

splinteredsunrise - December 1, 2009

No, she’s not gone over to Alliance. But there is talk that they might not run against her. They did give her a free run again Bob McCartney IIRC.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 1, 2009

Sorry, I misread you. Yeah, that’d be no harm for them either…

Like

Big Bad Bob - April 7, 2010

John,

If she’s so “pro-European”, why did she sign up with the DUP and the Wintertons to a referendum on Lisbon?

If she’s so “liberal”, why is her voting record on gay rights somewhat mixed?

Oh, and why, by the way, did she vote for the Iraq War but against any inquiry into it?

Just for the record, she’s pro-nuclear too.

One just hopes the electorate of North Down are not similarly fooled.

Like

18. EamonnCork - November 30, 2009

I was surprised to discover recently just how central Kemmy’s views on republicanism were to his politics. For example he told the Irish Times when he was elected for the first time that his first priority was securing the abolition of Articles 2 and 3. Is it possible to be socialist without being republican? I suppose it is, in the same way that there were members of the republican movement whose politics would have otherwise been considered as right wing.
One reason, I think, that the WP come in for so much criticism from republicans is that they never seemed to apply the same rigour of thought to unionism as to nationalism. And also that their anti-republicanism eventually seemed to become extreme. WBS posted a piece here by Eamonn Smullen which is scornful about concerns about the human rights of republican prisoners, Tomas McGiolla voted against a Tony Gregory motion calling for an inqiuiry into conditions at Portlaoise and they seemed in general to take the ‘green fascists and criminals, there’s no talking to those people,’ line about the IRA. Kemmy would have been similar.
I also think that one reason left wing opponents of republicanism come in for so much criticism is that they spent a lot of time at Ard Fheises praising every variety of anti-imperialist revolution under the sun while disdaining the one on their doorstep. OK, you could argue that there were complications in the North which people on the ground were aware of but that was probably the case with other struggles which the left lent uncritical support to as well.
I’m reminded of Eric Hobsbawm’s dismissal of the IRA as proper revolutionaries because of their nationalism. It struck me that this was very handy for Hobsbawm as it left him in the position of being able to be on the side of revolution in general without being allied to the people who might place bombs among his friends in the British establishment. Revolutionaries were people who were far away, terrorists were people who were close to home.
As regards the links between unionism and labour, the picture I can never get out of my head is of Len Murray, then head of the TUC, visiting the shipyards at the request of Andy Barr, then head of ICTU, during the UWC strike and being unable to get more than a handful of people to work and suffering dogs abuse for trying to do so. I believe that the UWC strike was regarded by Two Nations theorists as being a positive thing yet it seemed a prime example of the fact that not all working class organisation is left wing.

Like

19. EamonnCork - November 30, 2009

One other thing. It seems to me that Kemmy went for the Conor Cruise O’Brien line that the war in the North had arisen because of an ambivalence down here about violence and the presence of irredentist republicanism. But surely the major factor was the discriminatory and repressive nature of the Northern state. Otherwise the war wouldn’t have kicked off following the attacks on the civil rights marches. We were just as irredentist in 1963 and 1966 as we were in 1969 yet there was no war those years.

Like

20. Joe - November 30, 2009

Is it possible to be a socialist and not a republican? YES.
Is it possible to be a socialist and a unionist? YES.

Like

21. sonofstan - November 30, 2009

I’m reminded of Eric Hobsbawm’s dismissal of the IRA as proper revolutionaries because of their nationalism. It struck me that this was very handy for Hobsbawm as it left him in the position of being able to be on the side of revolution in general without being allied to the people who might place bombs among his friends in the British establishment

it may have been handy, but Hobsbawm had prior and more cogent reasons for opposing nationalism than that.

Like

22. NollaigO - November 30, 2009

Is it possible to be a socialist and not a republican? YES.

So socialists can accept heriditary heads of state?!

I remember an American socialist visiting the Six Counties in the 1970s. He was very impressed with the slogan” Fuck the Queen”, which he often heard in nationalist areas, regarding it as a revolutionary slogan.

He was right!

Is it possible to be a socialist and a unionist? YES.

William Walker’s troops go marching on!

They don’t have many members!

Like

23. Joe - November 30, 2009

“So socialists can accept heriditary heads of state?!”

Absolutely not. Perhaps I should have put in the word Irish in front of republican. I am a socialist. Which kind of Irish republican do you insist I should be – Fianna Fáil, the republicans who have run the country pretty much since 1926? or PSF, the republicans who gave us 30 years of sectarian slaughter? or IRSP, who ditto?

“They don’t have many members!”

Which implies that they have some members? Therefore, yes, it is possible to be a socialist and a unionist.

Like

24. Ramzi Nohra - November 30, 2009

A socialist could believe in the union, but i’m not sure if they could believe in the orange order, the employment practices of the major unionist employers or the main “security” policies of the northern statelet for most of the past 80 years.
In short, such a person would probably be a bit of a pariah from the Unionist establishment.

I’m also not sure how a socialist could supported the forcible inclusion of areas where there was no popular support for the union inside the partitioned area (eg South Armagh, Fermanagh and Tyrone etc).

I would echo EamonnCork’s views on some of the socialists who became unionist apologists. There were all sorts of national liberation movements supported worldwide, while extreme disdain was reserved for the ones a couple of hundred miles up the road. To be consistent you would have thought these socialists should be arguing eg The PLO should have been concentrating on building links with the Israeli Jewish working class before thinking about an independent Palestinian Homeland….

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2009

That’s very much my view on the matter. Of course the fact is that socialist or not all these categories crash against the rock of actually existing power structures. I agree that in all this its vital to remember the nature of the Stormont state (and not forget some aspects of the Southern state albeit in a different way). In that context being a unionist and socialist required considerable ideological acrobatics (God know BICO provide a pretty good example) and indeed right through the 70s and on until very recently. The remarkable thing is that we do see in the PUP and some areas of loyalism facets of progressive thinking. But that’s very different from being a unionist apologist when actually existing unionism for much of the time has been an unlovely thing and certainly no more lovely than FF or the more conservative aspects of FG, hardly the sort of comrades you’d expect socialists to seek out in the South.

Like

Tim - November 30, 2009

I’m not sure if the PUP demonstrate much you would identify with Marxism, but they are surely in touch with the ‘working class’ (where their support base lies). My connections with loyalism are nonexistant these days, but during times in Belfast I remember being told there was an understanding between them and some nationalist groups – at least a mutual respect, and even a willingness to work together on some issues, although not openly. These are the “ideological acrobatics” you speak of (good term, I might borrow it..!).
Irish nationalism is unique, I think, in that whether a Nationalism is ‘left’ or ‘right’ is largely dependent on whether the nation in question has its own country or is dominated by another. Ireland has both! Hence the contradictory outlook, and why FF ended up seen by many as Irish tories. Where the nationalism considers itself of the ‘left’ that is largely based on the idea of that nation as an oppressed class.
This analysis is simplistic, but in that context, loyalist secessionists from a united Ireland would have to be regarded as a liberation movement….

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2009

Well, I’ve never bought into the ‘false consciousness’ idea of Unionism or loyalism, that offered an alternative they’ll suddenly become Republicans, or Nationalists and jettison their loyalism and Unionism. But, I’d hope that given the opportunity for people to work together there might be space for some sort of shared viewpoints that would mean we wouldn’t go where loyalist secession would be necessary. Or at least not sooner than loyalism or Unionism could accommodate itself to it.

Like

25. NollaigO - November 30, 2009

In the Irish context, a unionist is someone who believes in the political union of the United Kingdom of Great(!) Britain and Northern Ireland. The depth of ideological significance in such an affirmation is surely in opposition to a socialist outlook.

But perhaps ” There is another Union”…… I feel a hymn coming on.

Like

Tim - November 30, 2009

There’s a big difference between being a republican in principle and an Irish Republican. republicanism (in theory) within Ulster protestantism was eventually traded for monarchism (if you want to call it that) for practical reasons not philosophical ones.

As for the view that “There were all sorts of national liberation movements supported worldwide, while extreme disdain was reserved for the ones a couple of hundred miles up the road”

Well, a common view is that while many ‘liberation movements’ were facing mass murder in their home countries, routine torture, rule by whim by despots, slavery, forced migration, genocide and massive inequalities, the ones ‘just up the road’ were facing some of their citizens being slightly poorer than others, and that was hardly a reason for war.

Like

Ramzi Nohra - November 30, 2009

Well, that would be one reading of the situation in the North!
I dont think many people would say that the situation in the North was that the only problem was “that some citizens were slightly poorer than others”. In fact a lot of unionists wouldnt now think that were the case.

B-specials were are ye? etc etc

However I would agree that the problems in the north were not the same as facing the vietnamese, s.a black people, palestinians etc.

However in the period being talked about there were tangible issues in the North eg internment, state sponsoring of dealth squads etc which would have been deemed worthy of comment- if they had happened in more “trendy areas”. I mean, the WP were suporting ETA at one stage. (I think post-Franco, but could be wrong).

Would agree with your point on irish republicanism versus republicanism in general however.

Like

Fergal - November 30, 2009

Tim -“the ‘ones just up the road’ were facing some of their citizens being slightly pooer than others,and that was hardly a reason for war”but for thousands of people it was and it went on for well over two decades.
Tim-“while many were facing mass murder,routine torture,rule by whim by despots,slavery,forced migration,genocide and massive inequalities” -this sounds like what many countries went through after the victory of many “liberation movements”,the FLN’s Algeria anybody?
Eamoncork- Kemmy’s dream of getting rid of articles 2 and 3 can only be seen in an all island context,why else would a Limerick person be so moved by what Belfast people thought of a piece of paper,albeit a legal one.I remember when the bould Jim expressed pride that the Soviet hammer and sickle was flying over Shannon while Gorbachev was landing there-don’t know how those who suffered under the disaster the was the Bolshevik liberation movement would have reacted to Kemmy’s words.The Soviets were miles and miles away just like Cuba,where even to this day its liberation movement is celebrated by leftists who should know better,see the anarchist house painter Sam Dolgoff’s “The Cuban Revolution-a Critical Perspective” for more.

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2009

Tim there’s some truth in what you say although repression went beyond poverty even if that was inescapably bound up in it. But events do have their own dynamic. 1969/70 didn’t happen in a vacuum. What came before added fuel to the intensity of the flame. That’s not meant by me as an apologia, I think there were strong pragmatic and moral arguments for ceasefiring early early in the conflict, but this wasn’t an outbreak of mass psychosis.

Like

Starkadder - November 30, 2009

There are British Conservatives who oppose the UK Monarchy. There
might be Unionists/Loyalists who oppose the Monarchy as
well (maybe in the PUP?) although I don’t of any myself.

Like

splinteredsunrise - November 30, 2009

There may be, although I imagine they’d take a low profile on that issue. But post the United Irishmen, what we’re talking about is not just loyalty to the Crown but specifically loyalty to the Protestant Crown. That’s why you get all these worried articles in the News Letter about Gordon Brown maybe tinkering with the Act of Settlement.

Like

Tim - November 30, 2009

the monarchy I could take or leave. I really don’t care. I may even be republican in principle. But on the issue of the Act of Settlement, I think the issue has always been that of potential divided loyalties rather than anything else. While nowadays it may seem silly to suggest a Catholic monarch is just a papist stooge, for most of history that was a very real fear.

Ramzi Nohra – you make good points. I think most of those tangible issues began after the start of the war, to be fair, although that doesn’t diminish their reality. Escalation of violence is always a problem, and it didn’t always start with the civil rights movement – which was predated by the IRA’s border war of 1956-62, which, it could be argued, was fought to destroy the NI state rather than to right perceived wrongs.
I think the Republican movement, maybe, has never quite untangled the National question from workers’ issues etc, and I would rather see the day when we can divide on right/left issues like everyone else…

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2009

I’d agree with you there, albeit I suspect it will remain within different but linked jurisdictions for quite some time to come. I think the real genius that’s necessary is to allow for the expression of identity and representation within all island and all islands contexts. How that would work I have little idea, but somehow we have to square sovereignty on this island and some forms of institutional links eastwards at least in transitional form. And yet that has to satisfy both RoI sovereignty and UK sovereignty.

Like

26. Crocodile - November 30, 2009

Is republicanism compatible with monarchism? No, obviously.
But is it compatible with violence? Not any more, in my book.

Like

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2009

I think that too may be correct. I’d love to think it has moved into a different context, but for it to work I’m convinced there has to be a left element to it to avoid the FF route.

Like

27. EamonnCork - December 1, 2009

Interesting discussion. But there was more to repression in the North than a slight difference in incomes, for one thing there was the electoral gerrymandering which left catholics wildly under-represented in places like Derry, for another there was the unfairness of housing allocation and sectarian employment practices in local authorities. Added together these did indeed provide tinder for the flame. Just because the North wasn’t El Salvador doesn’t mean it wasn’t extremely repressive. I’m surprised anyone would make an apologia for the Stormont state.
You can see the mentality behind that state in the following extracts from a speech given by Martin Smyth, then Imperial Grand Master of the Orange Order, at a social study conference in Dungarvan in August 1974, on the topic, “How a Northern Protestant sees the Republic.” “Many of us Ulster Protestants regard the Irish republic as a very sick country. We do not think this just because people drink too much. We see it as a place from which too many people emerge with an anti-social Mafia type attitude . . . it is the place of origin of many extremists, people unable to settle down to any form of stable, public spirited and responsible living. In the South of Ireland, however, there is one factor lacking which in Ulster evokes acute conflict. There is not in the Republic a large number of non-Roman Catholics whose performance Roman Catholics have to measure themselves against.
“The troubles in Northern Ireland have arisen from the fact that the Roman Catholic part of the community has imposed upon itself many of the same social and psychological handicaps that have also been imposed in the Republic, a bad, sectarian education system, lack of acceptable qualifications for the better types of unemployment, unplanned families leading to the seeking of dead end jobs by early school leavers. Their Protestant neighbours . . . tend to achieve more and are marginally more successful in certain directions. Unwilling to attribute some of their disadvantages to their own way of life, the Roman Catholics attribute all failures of achievement to discrimination against them.”
Remarkable stuff. It probably goes without saying that people holding such a view of a neighbouring community may not feel it incumbent upon them to grant civil rights, let alone power sharing, to that community. It’s an attitude born out of a bigoted notion of cultural, if not racial, superiority, rather than some fear that the Catholics were going to rise and throw the Protestants into the sea. I can certainly recall having had conversations with members of the Protestant population both North and South where there was, intended to be good natured, reference to the superior work ethic and reliability of their community.
Smyth was a mainstream Unionist politician so I would presume this viewpoint was not an isolated one. The question is, given this attitude, what the Catholic population should have done once it became clear that the civil rights movement was going to meet with violence. Give in, suck it up and accept the fact that they were an underachieving underclass who had only themselves to blame for their second class status? Say, “It mightn’t be great Paddy but sure don’t they have it worse in Guatemala.” Whether Irish republicanism is socialist or not seems to me beside the point in that case. Anyone who nods at the repression implicit in the state in the North and tries to excuse it seems to me to be on very dodgy ground. Had NICRA been driven off the streets in 1969 and there been no reaction at all, the state in Stormont would never have changed. I’d agree with WBS that the republican movement carried on for far too long and inflicted needless casualties but one must remember, in the words of one journalist, “The Provisionals, let us not forget, were not the cause of this war but the consequence . . . it would be hard to say that Northern Ireland is not run by a colonial administration through the services of something like a police state.” The journalist? One Kevin Myers, writing in Magill in 1978. I wonder what this Provo fellow traveller is doing these days?

Like

Tim - December 1, 2009

“I’m surprised anyone would make an apologia for the Stormont state” I hope my remarks weren’t taken in that way. Of course there was repression, but in the context of the 1950s, say, it was mild, when many European countries had dictators and the spectre of the Eastern Bloc was emerging. Perspective, not denial.

Interesting quote – but it turns out even Paisley was right about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church!

Like

28. sonofstan - December 1, 2009

We see it as a place from which too many people emerge with an anti-social Mafia type attitude . .

Whatever else, the bould Reverend had FFs number…..

Like

Dr. X - December 1, 2009

‘A carnival of reaction, North and South’.

Like

EamonnCork - December 1, 2009

He does not support the unionist parties in Northern Ireland in terms of their historical sectarian discriminatory approach to the catholic minority?
Our hypothetical friend was conspicuous by his absence in protests against the aforementioned sectarian discriminatory approach all the same.
And I’d agree that the Catholic church had an undemocratic influence on society in the Republic, I wrote a lengthy post on this two days ago. But I don’t like to see this influence used as a kind of conscience salve for people who wonder why the people in the Bogside and Creggan didn’t just stop whinging and get on with things.

Like

29. Joe - December 1, 2009

“being a unionist and socialist required considerable ideological acrobatics”.

I’m feeling fairly flexible this morning so here goes. A description of a potential unionist and socialist in the latter half of the 20th century:

He’s a Protestant from Northern Ireland. Defines himself as British and Irish. He admires the achievements of social democracy in Britain down the years – access to education for all, the NHS, the welfare state and so on. Likewise he admires great leaders of British social democracy like Keir Hardie and Nye Bevan. He admires Tony Benn. He is active in his trade union. Like most British socialists he doesn’t make abolition of the monarchy his number one priority. In an ideal world, he would want the monarchy abolished but he prefers to concentrate on day to day issues which promote social democracy. He is British and a unionist – that is he believes that Northern Ireland should remain part of the British state. But he does not support the unionist parties in Northern Ireland in terms of their historical sectarian discriminatory approach to the Catholic minority. He believes all people in Northern Ireland should be treated absolutely the same as people in the rest of Britain. He doesn’t see a lot to admire in the Republic of Ireland – its education, health and welfare systems are inferior to and less democratic than those in the British state. The undemocratic and basically evil influence of the Catholic church in all walks of life in the Republic also goes against his socialist beliefs.

Sounds plausible to me! Anybody know him? Maybe he’s even lurking on the site – c’mon out and identify yourself!

Btw, where’s Mark P when you need him? Doesn’t the SP favour a socialist confederation (aka union) of these islands?

Like

Mark P - December 1, 2009

The Socialist Party’s policy is for a united socialist Ireland within a voluntary federation with a socialist Scotland, England and Wales, as part of a broader international federation. It’s a bit wordy as slogans go.

To some extent or other, this is implicitly the policy of all socialist formations which don’t adhere to the Stalinist line of socialism in one country (and I suspect that even some Stalinists would balk at the idea that socialism is possible in one island of 6 million!). The Socialist Party is only unusual in two regards: It is explicit about it and it emphasises the fact that Scotland, England and Wales would also be part of a viable socialist federation. It does this to make it clear that workers in Britain are our strongest potential allies and not our enemies and also to reassure unionists in Ireland.

As far as people who consider themselves socialists and unionists are concerned, well you won’t find any in the SP or I suspect the CP, the other socialist formation with a lot of members from a Protestant background. You used to get quite a substantial number of them in the NILP though.

Like

Tim - December 1, 2009

Joe -I’ve known a few people that fit that description, including a former teacher of mine who was also involved in the civil rights movement. He told me he left when it was clear ‘liberals’ were, he felt, being purged from the movement in favour of a more radical approach.
I was briefly a member of the SP, as I found their approach to Northern Ireland the most palatable.

Like

Joe - December 1, 2009

So it appears that YES it is possible to be a socialist and a unionist all at the same time! What say you WBS? Cad deir tú a NollaigO?

EamonnCork, I’ll see your Betty Sinclair and Andy Barr with a Sam McAughtry.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 1, 2009

Well my initial response was…

Hmmmm… I’m in various minds about that. I think yes one can, but… I think it’s interesting that left wing thinking in the Unionist party and the PUP more recently seems to have linked back more to the Protestant working class than the working class in general (that’s a bit of a generalisation but Dawn Purvis’ comments on the Stormont regime recently are instructive in that regard). Issues of relationships to power come into play there (some might call it imperialism, but I’m leery about that term for various reasons too arcane to detail here).

So presumably it was yes from the off. I don’t think one can be a member of the UUP or DUP and be a socialist. I think it is possible to be in the PUP and be a socialist. I can envisage a left Unionist party albeit, one that eschewed Stormont or majority rule and based its approach in socialism and something like civic unionism – perhaps that’s what the PUP is evolving into. Albeit that sounds like a left version of the Alliance Party… But… there remain problems. If one has issues with the left Republican viewpoint then equally one should have issues with a left Unionist viewpoint since both are effectively rooted in competing nationalisms.

On the other hand, and I think there’s some evidence for this, it’s possible that through left parties the two nationalisms might move towards a process of accommodation and respect for each other and engagement on practical issues. Maybe.

Incidentally, I’m not hugely gone on the notion that you can’t have socialism with only 6 million people.

Like

30. crocodile - December 1, 2009

Does Joe’s putative northern socialist/unionist have a southern counterpart? To whom all of his description applies except, obviously, the first sentence?And for’ Like most British socialists he doesn’t make abolition of the monarchy his number one priority’ could you substitute ‘like most Irish socialists he doesn’t make reunification his number one priority’?

Like

Joe - December 1, 2009

I hope he has Crocodile! And one day the two of them will meet up and form a great movement of non-sectarian progressive socialists that recognises that there are two (however shall I phrase this!) national groupings on this island but that the task of socialists is to work together to build a world, North and South, East and West, in which … you lot know the rest I hope because I seem to have forgotten.

Like

Crocodile - December 1, 2009

Yeah, Joe. Like… what’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?

Like

31. Joe - December 1, 2009

“Our hypothetical friend was conspicuous by his absence in protests against the aforementioned sectarian discriminatory approach all the same.”

Was he though? Was there not a small number of Protestants active and even prominent in the early civil rights stuff? Many e.g. Ivan Barr and Ivan Cooper were nationalists/republicans to be sure but were there not others who weren’t?

Also our hypothetical friend is a good socialist – so he dislikes both the clerical conservative state in the south and sectarian discrimination in the North. He doesn’t use the fact of the clerical conservative state in the South to justify discrimination in the North.

Like

EamonnCork - December 1, 2009

Given what you’ve said about him in the last paragraph, I think our hypothetical friend is acting in good faith. It’s a pity that he’s been marginalised to such an extent. Then again his hypothetical counterpart down here has hardly been at the centre of the action either.
Would Andrew Barr and Betty Sinclair have come into this category? Whatever your opinion of the Communist Party, I do think Barr showed a lot of courage in going into the shipyards during the UWC strike.

Like

32. Joe - December 1, 2009

You’re a better researcher than me Eamonn. But I just put “Ulster socialist unionist” into Google. It threw up mostly stuff that wouldn’t fit my hypothetical friend but it also threw up (12th in the list):

‘Unionist Derry is Ulster’s Panama': The Northern Ireland Labour Party and the Civil Rights Issue
Author: Aaron Edwards a (Show Biography)
Affiliation: a Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK

DOI: 10.1080/07907180802246685
Publication Frequency: 4 issues per year
Published in: Irish Political Studies, Volume 23, Issue 3 September 2008 , pages 363 – 385
Subjects: European Politics; Irish Politics;
Formats available: HTML (English) : PDF (English)
Article Requests: Order Reprints : Request Permissions

Single Article Purchase: £16.00 plus VAT – buy now add to cart [ show other buying options ]

purchase type customer type online access payment method price
Single Article Purchase Any 3 days, 1 user, 3 cookies credit card £16.00 plus VAT buy now add to cart
Issue Purchase Any permanent credit card £55.55 plus VAT buy now add to cart

Members of the Political Studies Association of Ireland receive the journal for free as part of their membership.
To join the PSAI, you can complete a membership form

Sign In Online Sample
View Article: View Article (PDF) View Article (HTML)

Abstract
Debates over the nature, significance and legacy of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement tend to stress its Catholic and irredentist character. This article takes a different approach by examining the role of those activists from a Protestant and socialist background who played important roles in agitating for redress of socio-economic and political grievances. In particular, the article focuses on the involvement of individual members of the bi-confessional Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It considers the NILP’s relationship to other civil rights bodies, such as the Campaign for Social Justice and the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster, and asks how its approach differed …

We might find him in there?

Like

33. Fergus D - December 1, 2009

So far the discussion has stressed and civil rights and economic issues for Northern “Catholics”. That isn’t the main issue for “Irish Republicans” though is it? They traditionally stressed “national rights” i.e. the right to national self-determination encompassing the whole island and therefore the “majoritarian” argument that Ireland should never have been partitioned and that majority wish was for a unitary independent state. Unrealistic as that may have been. But there you have a fundamental difference between those who focus on “republicanism” (I think we should use Irish nationalism as a better term) and socialists who are very much concerned with class and economic power.

But maybe part of the issue then for Northern “Catholics” was that they felt “trapped” in a state they didn’t want. Maybe even if the economic circumstances had been better, and maybe the discrimination absent, they would still have resented being included in NI? Even if you accepted partition (as an unavoidable necessity) the border itself was clearly unfair. I don’t know if that was/is they way they felt, but it is possible and may have dtermined the course of events. After all the SDLP has become a nationalist more than a socialist party it seems to me. Similarly maybe unionists weren’t “half crown” unionists (i.e. economically driven) but at least just as importantly ideologically driven, both by their “nationalism” and religion. However, I think it is a complex issue where within either “side” there actually some quite important divisons (class, religiosity, “nationalism” e.g. on the non-Irish nationalist side: Ulster vs “British”).

As for republican/unionist socialists I found “Explaining Northern Ireland” by McGarry and O’Leary (1995) quite interesting:

http://tinyurl.com/yb4u6eq

Green Marxists (OIRA, much of the British far left), Red Marxists (Militant Tendancy) and Orange Marxists (BICO at least then!) interesting!

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 1, 2009

Nice one Fergus D… a lot of food for thought there. I think you point to a clear problem re the issue of Catholics/Nationalists trapped in a state which accorded them no sense of their identty, which from the off couldn’t for it saw any compromise on that issue as a fundamental betrayal. Indeed one could argue that for all the repressive social legislation the Senate seats in the South were considerably more politically in terms of a gesture than was ever offered to Nationalists in the North. And it’s interesting to me that that tradition remains extant to the point that Ross and Norris (albeit in a restricted constituency) still represent echoes of it…

Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,421 other followers

%d bloggers like this: