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Left Archive: Spartacist Ireland: Spring/Summer 2002, No.1, Spartacist Group Ireland November 28, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Spartacist Group Ireland.
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To download the above file please click on the following link: Spartacist Irlgo

For this donation to the Archive many thanks to Alan Mac Simoin [and good to mention again too the excellent WSM Archive taking shape here].

One of the smallest, yet particularly well known, presences on the further left are the Spartacists. At marches, protests and other events across the decades they have been ubiquitous. Their roots are of considerable interest too. As noted on this useful wiki overview of their international history they are the result of a split from the US Socialist Workers Party in the 1960s. During that period and after they remained small and it appears that it was only in the late 1970s and 1980s that they began to see like minded groups develop internationally. With this expansion, at least in geographic terms, came a split which ultimately resulted in the International Bolshevik Tendency. It is difficult to make an assessment of their current size.

Equally usefully the preamble to this document outlines the development of the Spartacists in Ireland and the rationale behind the publication of Spartacist Ireland.

We are proud to announce the publication of the first issue of Spartacist Ireland, newspaper of the Spartacist Group Ireland (SGI) – formerly the Dublin Spartacist Group – Irish section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist). As stated in our international “Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program” (Spartacist no 54, Spring 1988), the ICL “Is a proletarian, revolutionary and international tendency which is committed to the task of building Leninist parties as national sections of a democratic-centralist international whose purpose is to lead the working class to victory through socialist revolutions throughout the world”.

The establishment of this journal is a modest but real step in the consolidation and construction of an Irish section of the ICL. As VI Lenin explained in Where To Begin (May 1901), the intervention of the revolutionary party is necessary to make the working class conscious of its historic task to overthrow capitalism. Lenin underscored the importance of a newspaper in building such a party.

And…

The banner of the ICL was first planted in Ireland in Autumn 1990 with the founding of the Dublin Spartacist Youth Group (DSYG). Key to the founding of the DSYG was the invention of the ICL into the nascent political revolution which unfolded in the East German deformed workers state in 1989-90. We fought for unconditional military defence of the DDR and for a red Germany of workers councils, for revolutionary reunification through proletarian political revolution in the East and for socialist revolution in the West to overthrow the bourgeoisie.

Today we uphold the Trostkyist programme of unconditional military defence of the remaining deformed workers states: China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam. We stand for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracies whose policies of conciliating imperialism threaten the gains of the social revolutions in these countries – the collectivised economy, central planning and monopoly of foreign trade.

In relation to events closer to Ireland it strongly argues against the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and proposes that:

During that [Afghanistan] war we raised the demand for class struggle at home and called on the working class to defend Afghanistan. Irish/UN Troops out of the Near East, Balkans and East Timor.

Against Labourite chauvinism and Green nationalism the SGI is committed to raising the banner of proletarian internationalism, not least in the context of Norther Ireland. As stated in the ICL’s 1977 ‘Theses on Ireland’ (reprinted in Ireland:workers to power!, 1991) the key components of a revolutionary working-class perspective include: For the immediate and unconditional withdrawal fo the British Army! Full democratic rights for the oppressed Catholic minority in Northern Ireland! Not Orange against Green, but class against class! No forcible reunification! For an Irish workers republic in a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles!

Much of the document is taken up with the Spartacist positions on Ireland and the conflict in Ireland. It notes:

Our comrades [on a visit to Belfast] called for the withdrawal of the British Army; one construction worker replied ‘They should all get out, what we need is a workers army!’ We explained our perspective of programmatically based workers militias to combat Loyalist thuggery and all sectarian terror. We also argued that a just solution will only come about through workers revolution throughout Ireland and Britain.

It also notes:

The 11 September attack on the WTC was a gift to Tony Blair in several ways, not least that the IRA announced on 23 October that they had begun to decommission their weapons. The Britishh government claims to be waging a ‘war against terroris’ in the interests of democracy the ‘civilised world’ against religious fanatics. Terroris anyone? How about the terrorism of the British state, such as the massive bombing of Afghanistan, and before this Serbia, in which this bloodthirsty Labour government took centre stage? … As for religious zealots, there are very few Muslims in NI but British rule there rests on collaboration with a gang of crazed fundamentalist Protestant bigots.

It argues that in 2002:

The Catholics are an oppressed minority living under permanent siege. The plight of working-class Catholic families hit international headlines last summer as school-girls in Ardoyne, North Belfast trying to walk to Holy Cross school with their parents were shown daily on television confronting a Loyalist mob howling vile anti-Catholic and anti-woman slurs and throwing pipebombs, bags of excrement and balloons filled with urine. The British Army and RUC – now renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland – lined the streets and tried to look as if they were making an honest effort to ‘keep the peace’… Catholics know they have as much to fear from the police and army as they do from the Loyalist death squads.

However, it continues:

We oppose the perspective of a capitalist ‘united Ireland’ proffered by Sinn Féin nationalists, a prospect which is used to heighten genuine fears among Protestants of a reversal of the terms of oppression. Fear of being incorporated into the clericalist state serves to compact Protestants behind the Loyalist bigots, precluding a polarisation along class lines and instead laying the basis for a communal blood-bat and forced population transfers.

The fact that the bourgeois state in the South is a Catholic clericalist state is grist to the mill of the Loyalist bigots. The struggle for separation of church and state and for free abortion on demand is key not only for social progression in the South but as a way to undermine communalism in the North. SF shares the clerical-nationalist outlook of FF.

And suggests:

We fight for an Irish workers republic, part of a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles.

The rest of the contents are broad ranging, including amongst other pieces an essay on the racist murder of a Chinese student in Beaumont, the issue of abortion [which includes some very harsh critiques of groups as various as the SWP and the WSM], the then situation in Palestine/Israel and an overview of the charging of anti-privatisation protesters in October 2001 entitled: “Irish clericalist state’s “war on terrorism” targets left, workers and all fighters against capitalist oppression”.

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Comments»

1. Mark P - November 28, 2011

Truly delightful.

I love that distinctive Spartacist writing style, so relentlessly shrill and sneering. Nobody, nobody ever has an honest tactical disagreement. Without exception everyone else is a “wretched” “fake left”, seeking to mislead the working class for never quite explained nefarious reasons. I also love their firm belief that slogans, polemics and analyses need not be constrained by time or place. Just drop in some denunciation of someone else’s views on East Germany in 1980 when you are writing an article about the treatment of immigrants in Ireland!

I had a complete run of these, and was sad to find that I apparently dumped them at some point. They were produced during the brief high point of Spartacist activity in Ireland, when they had as many as nine or ten members.

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2. Jim Monaghan - November 28, 2011

I suppose the disappearance of particist in Ireland meas that he Clerico-Fascists have won.

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LeftAtTheCross - November 28, 2011

There was a guy selling Workers Hammer at the DCTU march on Saturday, so maybe the clerico-fascists shouldn’t rest easy just yet.

Mind you there wasn’t a queue of people waiting to purchase a copy from him either.

Unlike LookLeft of course. As I was chatting to it’s editor-in-chief on Saturday someone politely interrupted me and asked to buy a copy. Progress :-)

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Mark P - November 28, 2011

The Sparts ship their members around all over the world. My understanding is that most of the remnants of the Spartacist Group Ireland were deployed elsewhere. They still have a PO Box, so there might still be someone over here or they might pick up the mail (I can’t imagine there’s too much of it) whenever they send a person or two over from London to intervene into demonstrations.

One of the more peculiar things about the Sparts is that for the most part (and with some important exceptions) they distinguish themselves more by their insanely abrasive style than by the outre nature of their political positions. They are less often arguing completely mad things than they are arguing things in a completely mad way.

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entdinglichung - November 29, 2011

@ Mark P:

arguing for nuclear weapons for Iran and north Korea (including the right to use it) and their position on the allegations against Michael Jackson is completely mad

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3. Starkadder - November 28, 2011

“They were produced during the brief high point of Spartacist activity in Ireland, when they had as many as nine or ten members.”

Ouch! ;)

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entdinglichung - November 29, 2011

how many of them were from the States, Germany and Australia? ;-)

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4. Budapestkick - November 28, 2011

Back when they still had people the Worker’s Hammer used to sell really well. It was cheap enjoyable comedy for the left.

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5. Mark P - November 28, 2011

Also, where’s Revolutionary Programme gone? This stuff should be like catnip to him.

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WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2011

I was hoping to hear his opinion on this.

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6. Martin H. Goodman - November 28, 2011

My compliments to you at Cedar Lounge and to Alan Mac Simoin on posting this issue of Irish Spartacist No. 1. The technical job of scanning is excellent in many respects, including the very good rendering of high contrast text AND reasonable rendering of photos in a relatively small file. Nice use of black and white single bit scanning, with very well-chosen settings. Those doing the work are good at what they do!

You might wish to be aware that in a month or two at the most, I plan to be releasing to the workers movement a digital archive I spent the last 3 years creating, which has pretty near every page of every periodical put out by the Spartacist League USA AND by every international section it has ever had (excepting a very few pages from briefly existing Swedish, Israeli, and Austrian sections). It includes all issues of Irish Spartacist numbers 1 thru 8 (2002 – 2005) and the September 1991 Dublin Spartacist youth group issue.

This Riazanov Library Revolutionary Digital Archive project of the Spartacist League / ICL’s public publications will be the first to be released of several such projects. Marxist Internet Archive / Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On Line (MIA / ETOL) is currently posting early releases from the our next project, which is focusing on American left socialist and communist material between 1912 and 1928, and American Trotskyist material from 1928 to 1950. Both public and internal. This last year I finished scanning all of The Militant / New Militant / Socialist Appeal from Nov 15, 1928 thru Jan 1941. It is all available on MIA / ETOL. In 2012 our work will include scanning and posting for all The Militant 1941 – 1950.

We have worked with other US Trotskyist organizations than the SL, such as the LRP, to help create for them complete, high quality digital archives of their material, and are in the process of working with others to this end.

Our goals are straightforward: To both preserve and make widely available the history of the workers movement. While we take pleasure in making historic material available for researchers and scholars, our core motivation is the hope that, by making this material freely and widely available world-wide, it may in some way increase the chance of our species proceeding to a more just and rational social organization.

Best regards,

marty

Martin H. Goodman MD

Director, Riazanov Library Digital Archive Projects
associated with Holt Labor Library, San Francisco
associated with Marxist Internet Archive.org

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WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2011

Excellent news. Please send us a link when the project is ready to go live. And all credit to Alan for the scanning.

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Jim Monaghan - November 29, 2011

Can I suggest that readers compare say the early American Miliatnt with Spartacist, and then make up their minds whether one is a continuation or a break.

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Martin H. Goodman - November 29, 2011

Regarding links where you can view and download the documents scanned as part of the Riazanov Libary projects:

As I mentioned, Marxist Internet Archive (MIA) and the sub-set of it, Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On Line (ETOL) are where much of the material currently scanned is now available, including main newspapers of the US Trotskyist movement (The Militant / The New Militant / Socialist Appeal) between Nov 1928 (when such first appeared) and Jan 1941 (when Socialist Appeal changed it name back to The Militant). That’s Marxists.org.

Much if not all of this is also being posted on Archive.org by one of our group who also is a prolific author of articles about the American left on Wikipedia, Tim Davenport.

It is my intent to eventually set up a web site dedicated solely to this project, but for now the close working relationships with established purveyors of Marxist documents I have make it wisest, I think, for me to concentrate on the scanning, and leave initial presentation to those who have experience bringing Marxist documents to the world.

I
—marty

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7. Martin H. Goodman - November 29, 2011

I’ve never been a full member of any US or other left group, myself, and think it ill-advised at this point for me to get deeply involved in the threads here involving the SL, other than to offer as references regarding what they did or did not put in their press the archive I’m about to release (some of which, such as Women and Revolution) is currently posted on Marxists.org.

Nor have I any commitment to either defend or attack the SL and the ICL. However, I should note:

The SL’s position on Michael Jackson, and their decision to make it a prominent issue in their press at the time of the accusations against him and his trial, seemed to me anything but “mad”. As I believe will be clear when the complete digital archive of Workers Vanguard (from the first issue to the end of 2010) that I have made is available, while one might criticize their strident style, they made the points that the US bourgeois press reaction to those events reflected the deep racism of American culture, and the deep prudery and puritanism and homophobia of American society. I for one would find it hard to see how a sane Marxist … or other… could disagree with those observations.

Regarding the SL’s position on Iran and nuclear weapons: I can understand how the thought of Abrahamic-religion (Judaism and its two bastard children, Christianity and Islam) religious fanatics wielding nuclear weapons (as is the case with Israel) would be abhorrent to anyone, but the core point the SL made on that, as I understood it, was the possession of nuclear weapons in this day and age is the only means by which a nation may guarantee its sovereignty. Without such (and the means to have them survive attack, and delivery them) any nation is ultimately vulnerable to nuclear blackmail from those nations that do have such. THIS makes sense to me. They specifically pointed out how Iran was dead in the sights of nuclear armed forces of Israel, and as such that it had a right to defend itself. They called for the overthrow of the capitalist and theocratic governments in both Iran and Israel. I think one can reasonably take issue with the notion of any group of clerics being armed with nuclear weapons, but many of the points the SL made regarding that situation struck me as quite reasonable. Including the underlying point that anti-nuke positions taken absolutely on principle tend to be a sub-set of pacifism on absolute principle (as opposed to pacifism as a specific strategy in a specific situation, as used by Lenin and the Bolsheviks with the call of peace in 1917). And that pacifism as a principle in itself is always a losing strategy that plays into the hands of whatever group is currently in power (ie, the ruling class of the capitalist state).

I believe all of this will be apparent when all of WV is available to all, around the world, to read. In any case, at that point, discussion of what was or wasn’t the SL’s position on a given matter, and whether it made sense or not, can be argued with reference to their public positions as presented in WV, Spartacist, Women and Revolution, and the various publications of the ICL put out in England, Germany, France, Australia, Italy, Mexico and elsewhere, most of which I will also be presenting in their entirety… every issue.

Regarding the question of Workers Vanguard of today vs The Militant of the 1930’s, I’ll go out on a limb and say I prefer the writing of The Militant of the 1930’s, myself. But again: I think it best for all to make that decision themselves via access to all pages of both of those papers. Which the Riazanov Library digital archive project (among many other things) in part now, and very soon completely, is providing.

—marty

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8. Left Archive Index now updated to October 2012 to March 2012 – and some items of particular interest « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - April 9, 2012

[...] And of course the Spartacist Group ireland with a document from 2002 to be found here… [...]

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9. 1952esther - April 9, 2012

I always thought revolutionary politics was well abrasive in its polemics. Marx/Lenin where not known for their Sunday school polemics with their opponents. After all for revolutionary organisations it is not just words look at Chile the Spartacist opposed Allende’s “Popular Front,while the “Fourth International both wing’s supported it.Or Iran where again the left supported “revolution against the Shah”,while the Spartacist called for “down with the Shah down with the Mullahs”the S.L. pointed out in its propaganda what would happen in particular to women under the Mullahs,the building of a revolutionary party with the oil workers at its central core. While Brian Grogan of the I.M.G.actually said in a meeting in London the slogan” God is great” in Iran is a revolutionary slogan. In both of these cases his own comrades suffered the consequences, this is not gloating, I know from those who ended up in the Spartacists. One could go on Poland/Solidarity, not least Ireland. It is not a cosy club if you are part of the struggle for a revolutionary party it is about the correct program for Revolution. Lenin liked Martov but he was unforgiven in his polemics with him.

As to which I prefer Militant or Spartacist. I agree Militant is an easier read, maybe because it had deeper roots in the working class, which gave it more balance. However it changed with its chasing of Cuba,a whole generation who had weathered the storm of the fifties dumped Trotsky’ism for Castro’ism. At least they had a revolution at the doorstep of the beast, before they died.So for me the S.L. struggled to maintain the revolutionary traditions of the S.W.P while fighting for a Trotskyist perspective in Cuba.
My only point here is deal with their politics not their style. As I pointed out above their politics has been correct on a number of occasions.

Patrick ex member

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Mark P - April 9, 2012

Hi Patrick,

One of the central issues with the Spartacists is that their “style” or at least their method, is an integral part of their politics. They have for fifty years been convinced that the first task of a small group of revolutionaries is to split “ostensibly revolutionary organisations”, absorb some of their members and smash up whatever is left. Further, they have a concept of “angularity”, which is the term they use for their approach of being as strident and hostile as possible when dealing with others on the left, in order to mark themselves out as the “real”, unflinching, revolutionaries. This was not, ever, the method followed by either Marx or Lenin, although both were, as you note, pretty rude from time to time.

This behaviour might not have been insane when Jim Robertson and friends first came up with their strategy, but after five decades of no progress, and the examples of many other tiny groups worldwide adopting similar strategies and also making no progress, continuing with it now, without showing any signs of ever reevaluating its effectiveness is surely insane.

On the ins and outs of the various points of the Spartacist’s programme, as I pointed out above, they sometimes have interesting things to say. And their reputation for craziness comes mostly from their behaviour and presentation rather than from a careful evaluation of the content of their analysis of, say, the national question in Palestine or the fate of Allende. I should point out as an aside, however, that the Spartacists were far from alone on issues like the Popular Front in Chile – substantially the same warnings of incipient disaster were made by other groupings, including Militant.

It is worth noting that even in terms of formal programme, the Spartacist’s strategic orientation has an unfortunate effect. Because the vast majority of the working class are written off in advance, at least for the moment, and instead their preferred audience consists of people already in or around other Marxist groups, who already think of themselves as revolutionary socialists, there is absolutely no pressure on the Spartacists to present their programme in way that is even slightly decipherable to people outside that milieu. And there is a pressure on them to always adopt the most ultra-left position, so that they are always “to the left of” or more revolutionary than the groups they are harassing.

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10. 1952esther - April 9, 2012

Mark.P.
It is true they don’t shy away from taking on other peoples politics. Call that “strident or hostile” if you want but to me they raise their program against those they see as Ostensible revolutionaries.As to winning over elements from these organizations who support their program and getting rid of the remainder,all organizations do likewise.The S.L.are more honest then others in this respect. This was demonstrated in the S.L. winning over the majority of the W.S.L. in Britain.

As to whether it is the right tactic or not what other options are their.Their aren’t any shortcuts as I am sure you know. Politics takes no hostages as has been seen time and time again by the S.W.P./Socialist party over many years in their various front groups.The latest being the U.L.A were both try to win people on the U.L.A. program.

Writing off the working class,well if you look at their back issues one can see this is without foundation. Given their size as as small international tendency they attempted to do work in the trade unions,both in Longshoremen Union on the west coast and among the UAW in Detroit. While at the same time intervening in miners and other strikes in the U.S.

In Britain they intervened in the 1974 miners strike mainly selling W.V. During the Steel strike in Britain although small they were very active. Also the great miners strike of 84/85 one their comrades who had being active for many years,and was a shop steward was victimized for his attempts to link B.L. pay claim alongside the miners.

If thats writing off the working class they stand accused. In my opinion given their limited forces they did’ent do too bad. It is is true to say they did seek to win the most advanced workers to their program,they did not pretend to be the leadership.

As to how they present their program when your a mass party one can have many different publications for addressing the masses.When you are trying win cadre and advanced workers,it is a battle of program. However in situations of social explosion like the miners strike that program reaches into sections not open to these ideas before,as was seen in the people attracted to the Spartacist League/Britain.You may love or loath them but to my mind what you see is what you get.

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Mark P - April 9, 2012

I don’t loathe, the Sparts. I’m quite fond of them. I just don’t take them seriously.

I am not criticising them for “taking on people’s politics”, which imples merely a sort of bluntness in argument, but for having a prolonged, fifty year, orientation towards other small left wing groups. That is absolute insanity in my view, particularly when about the best defense of the rationality of this approach you can make is that they recruited some people out of another small and rather bewildered group in Britain some thirty years ago. Is that really a good return on a fifty year strategic orientation? As I said above, it’s possible that this orientation towards other small left groups genuinely looked like a good idea to the Sparts after they’d been thrown out of the US SWP, but I do not see how anybody can still think it is a good idea five decades later. It simply does not work.

You say that there “are no shortcuts”, and I’m willing to go along with that, but there certainly are long and winding roads to absolutely nowhere, and that’s what a strategic orientation based on trying to split other little cadre groups has actually been.

I should clarify that when I said that “the vast majority of the working class are written off in advance, at least for the moment” I was not implying that the Sparts had decided to make students or environmentalists or some other group a substitute for the working class. I meant that they have a position that all or almost all of the “advanced workers” who can be reached with their revolutionary message are already in or around other small left groups, so it is a waste of time to try to address the bulk of the working class directly. Liberated from such trifling concerns as actually being decipherable to the wider population, or presenting their programme in a way that might actually convince someone who wasn’t already a long term Marxist activist, they instead focus their activism almost entirely on the milieu of existing left groups.

Outside of this they do carry out “exemplary” actions on occasion, but even these are intended to display what a real communist group would do if it had the resources to members of other groups. They are vigorously critical of other small left groups which actually try to engage with the working class on a regular basis, describing this as “fake mass work”. Everything to them is secondary to the “battle of programme” with other tiny groups. This has a distorting effect on the programme itself, creating an ultra-left pressure, as there is no need to be relevant to the wider working class and there is every need to seem more revolutionary than thou when appealing to members of the targeted groups.

The Spartacists also have what is, in my view, an entirely inappropriate approach to internal organisation, requiring its members to subordinate their entire lives to the group. That’s a recipe for building a mad house rather than a worker’s party.

On a more positive note, the Sparts do produce quite a lot of interesting historical material.

As an aside, I’m not sure what basis you have for describing the ULA as a “front group”, which is normally understood to mean a campaign or group controlled entirely by a single left group behind the scenes. The Socialist Party and SWP are quite openly a part of the ULA, along with others, and neither exercises some kind of discrete dominance.

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