The Left Archive: The Communist Party of Ireland and the “Irish Socialist” from the late 1980s September 28, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Communist Party of Ireland, Irish Left Online Document Archive.
I’ve always been fairly intrigued by the CPI. It has had a remarkable, some might say even a tenacious, ability to remain extant in the face of all the slings and arrows of the Irish political system (or in spite of that system might be a more accurate description). Despite the fact that the support for the further left is quite minimal, despite the fact that it supported a political system that was excoriated by both Church and (as Donald Horne would put it) the Public Culture and that it came under sustained attack for that support, despite the fact that it was more or less unquestioning in its support for ‘actually existing socialism’, or rather the one state which gave it a go, the CPI has survived. Those of us of a certain age may remember Left Bank Books, the WPs short-lived attempt at a left bookshop down on the Quays in Dublin. Short-lived being the operative word. No such problem – indeed none of the high-falutin’ trendiness of the name ‘Left Bank Books’ for the CPI which even today manages to run the more astutely Connolly Books (although the goodwill and support of individuals such as the worlds most progressive builders Wallace shouldn’t be overlooked there).
In many respects the CPI was and is admirable. The issue of Irish Socialist here
(4.5 mbs approx) is well worth a read for determining the particular worries of the party (and as a counterpoint to the IRSP newspaper posted up in the Left Archive last week). Their chiding of the WP is fascinating in itself. it must have been difficult for the CPI to view their rise during the 1970s and 1980s with many of the same policies as the CPI (well, bar the idea that one should vote FF!). Of course the national question was the biggie. And here the CPI took a line which would be reasonably progressive being resolutely antagonistic to the armed struggle but still clearheaded enough to see that the then status quo was a busted flush. Something the WP never quite got. In a way what is remarkable is not how much has changed – farewell Namibia as a cockpit of global change but hallo again and again and again to the Middle East.
Still, I wouldn’t join it, and problematically for the CPI, neither would most on the left. Because it raised one major problem.
What exactly did it do?
Who would be a communist when one could be a Militant/Socialist, or a Socialist Worker of SF or WP – as was? The Soviet experiment had failed and 1968 was arguably crucial in pushing a disconnect between the CPI model of communism and students or others. The WP in the 1980s mopped up a huge reservoir of those who wanted an activist Marxist party model. Don’t laugh, but the DL served a similar function for at least part of the 1990s, and today SF (and offshoots such as Éirígí) do much the same.
My own personal reason was a combination of a certain aversion to the Moscow line (Dubcek was always a hero of mine, Tito also in his own way, and reading Rudolf Bahro made me fairly certain that socialism with a human face was a damn good idea, but not one likely to be practised with any seriousness in the SU, and sure while the WP might well have been Moscow’s pal in all but name at least there was some some blue water there) and the sense that for all the good intentions the CPI was a talking shop. The CPI popped up in the unions and here and there, but for such an avowedly collective organisation it seemed oddly individualistic. I’m not sure how much that fed into a broader dynamic of disinterest in the CPI, but the fact that other political formations were littered with former CPI members (I’m thinking say of people involved in community activism, the LP and so on) tells its own story.
But for all those criticisms one cannot fault individual CPI members – or at least not much. They have hauled the flag and banner out for many a meeting or protest. Their very existence was and is an exemplar and they have had the advantage of locking into a broad communist fraternity, one which ironically contained, and contains, a huge diversity and range of opinions. The truly legendary Mick O’Riordain was a tireless contributor to the Irish Times letter page. I vividly recall his apologia for the Soviet incursion in Afghanistan and while as Emerson noted consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, I was somewhat amused by his rather less effusive response to the US intervention in that same country some twenty odd years later.
So today the CPI remains part of a network of various ‘traditional’ CPs. Their fraternal party in the UK is the Communist Party of Britain – probably best known for their prominence in the Stop the War coalition.
The CPI has an interesting take on the Soviet Union.
Sufficient time has now passed since the demise of the Soviet Union to assess what that counter-revolution has delivered. Though under attack from its first days, the Soviet Union was able to transform the lives of millions of people for the better, in comparison with the feudalism and colonialism they were rescued from by the October Revolution. This was never acknowledged amidst the advertised promise of the post-Soviet utopia. Throughout the history of the Soviet Union one of the pillars of the propaganda war waged against it was presenting a bogus contrast between a caricature portrait of “life under communism” and the treasures that awaited its citizens once capitalism had come to their rescue.
…As the leadership of social democracy retreats from its own goals and preaches neo-liberalism as the only economic model, imperialism aims to stir up ethnic tension within the former Soviet republics, particularly in the southern states, such as Georgia and Uzbekistan, and to install compliant governments. This is carried out in alliance with organised criminal gangs masquerading as entrepreneurs.
Their aim is to destroy any potential co-operation between Russia and the western republics—primarily Ukraine—with the ultimate prize of the vast oil reserves in the Caspian basin and the Black Sea. An additional weapon in the armoury of imperialism in this context is the use of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as conduits for money, ideas and personnel seeking to secure their interests throughout the former socialist countries and to prevent any return to socialism. These bogus organisations provide a cover for imperialism’s political machinations and aim to subvert any nation that challenges neo-liberal orthodoxy…
In short, the dismantling of the Soviet Union has been catastrophic, impoverishing millions of its former citizens and encouraging imperialism’s confidence in imposing unfettered market solutions in western Europe by threatening that cheaper, unregulated labour will be used or imported if organised labour tries to retain its hard-won working practices, benefits, or health and safety requirements.
Some interesting stuff there.
In the policy platform there are also many interesting elements.
Note their view of the EU which is pragmatic, albeit negative, to a fault:
We would welcome the break-up of the European Union, but the possibility of that happening at this time is slim, particularly as Ireland, one of the smaller member-states, would be vulnerable to the economic consequences. If one or more of the bigger countries were to withdraw, that would open up a completely new scenario. Our strategic position is to work for its break-up, but we must develop tactics that bring new forces into play and defend Irish national interests. This presents new challenges to those forces that share our understanding of the European Union.
Their view of the GFA:
The consensus reached in the multi-party negotiations resulting in the Belfast Agreement marked a rejection of the use of violence to achieve political ends in favour of a political and constitutional arrangement, with protections built in, through which they could pursue their aims. The Belfast Agreement provides for
• a power-sharing arrangement capable of exercising executive and legislative authority, with protections built in to avoid the domination of one section of the community over the other
• joint North-South governmental bodies to implement shared polices
• the decision to join a new all-Ireland political structure or remain within the United Kingdom to lie with the people of Northern Ireland.
Communists are well aware of the nature and limitations of the political “solutions” for Ireland that the hegemony of international capitalism is prepared to accommodate and accept. While fully recognising its faults and shortcomings, the CPI supported the Belfast Agreement and continues to do so.
Some years ago – and I know I’ve mentioned this before – I was talking to a former member of the CPI who told me with all seriousness that while Gorbachev had been little better than a traitor Andropov was the real deal who, had he lived, would have steered the SU to a better place, a bit ‘more free’ I think the phrase was. But not too much. Hmmm… (Incidentally, one has to admire the hammer and sickle T-shirts now available on the CPI site with the legend ‘Made in Ireland’ underneath them. Would I buy one? You never know)
But that is to evade the point of the various CPs. As the CPI notes:
Its aim is to win the support of the majority of the Irish people for ending the capitalist system and for building socialism—a social system in which the means of production, distribution and exchange are publicly owned and utilised for the beneﬁt of the whole people.
In the absence of any clear route to winning this support it is hard to see and in a way this reminds me of that other great casualty of left history, the legendary SPGB, which in a way retreated into an ideological cul-de-sac that negated the need for any particular activism. Sure, the revolution is coming, but in its own time. Truth is neither the CPI, or the SGB, are alone in such a position despite the assiduous hand waving of their larger rivals on the further left.
And in fairness to the CPI it is no slouch when it comes to operating as a sort of think tank on the left, the recent Greaves Summer School being one such. But it’s an odd position, isn’t it. Respected, affection for individual members and with some fondness for the overall entity (perhaps more for its oppositional stance in the past than its actual ideology). Still, as legacies go that’s probably a bit better than the poor old WP – eh?
I’d be fascinated to hear from others on this topic. As you’ll gather from above my contacts with CPI members has been quite limited so these are only my own impressions. And perhaps the last word should go to the CPI in their summation:
The Communist Party of Ireland is a partisan party of the working class but not a sectarian one. We do see and understand the need to build alliances, to walk the road with those forces that will walk the road with us, both on immediate demands and for the transformation of our society. We champion the cause of our class within the broader labour movement, in the political, social, cultural and gender spheres of struggle. The challenges facing our class and nation are manifold; but it is only in class struggle, with the development of the consciousness of workers, that advance will be made and sustained.