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The Left Archive: Making Sense from the Workers’ Party, 1991 October 11, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Irish Politics, Marxism, The Left.


Here wp-1-copy.pdf is a curiosity from the Workers’ Party. A magazine produced by that party which rather grandly termed itself “Ireland’s political and cultural review”. A4 in format. Two colours on the cover – black and red, wouldn’t you know? – and 30 odd pages long.

This issue is particularly interesting because it predates the split in the WP by months. You might think that there might be some hint of the split in the text. You might well be wrong. Which I think as a broad reflection of the tensions within the party is quite remarkable. Remarkable if only because the tilt is towards the group that would later form the Democratic Left. So we find Pat McCartan (then a TD) writing about divorce. A rather good book review by Pat Rabbitte and some interesting articles including one by Stephen Hopkins on the PCF which is clearly aligned with the modernising tendency within that grouping. We also find Gerry O’Quigley’s article on socialists and economics which is as applicable today as it was then (and for more see here). Most intriguing is an article by then (and I think now) Irish Times journalist and former WP member Paddy Woodworth which discusses various events inside the life of the party in the previous five years for one page then… stops. The next page is blank. So we get half an article. I have no knowledge as to whether this was part of some great conspiracy, I tend to doubt it… because a short story later in the issue (which I haven’t scanned) is also missing a page. I’m certain someone could enlighten us either way.

I have other WP material which I’ll post up, but the tone is rather different. This – to me at least – is not that dissimilar to Marxism Today, Gerry O’Quigley namechecks ‘post-fordism’, with perhaps a very very slightly harder political edge (although not quite in the league of some of the material so far seen in the Archive) but also incorporating a strongly cultural bent. Methinks Gramsci was getting quite a look in at this point in the development of the party.

But what is curious is that the older ‘traditional’ line is not really evident. The editorial is predictably strong on the first Gulf War (although quoting Chomsky and Fisk seems to hint at a very different future). Sure, there is the ritual obeisance in the Gary Kent review of ‘Hidden Agenda’ at the alter of anti-Provoism. Granted the US is given a lash by Noel McFarlane. But, to my eye, it’s all a bit half-hearted. In a way it seems to point to the reality of what one is left with if revolutionary jargon (or cant – delete as applicable) is stripped away.

Still, the Woodworth article is great. For a sense of what the party was like and the lines that weren’t crossed, let alone approached in terms of discussion, it is revelatory and tallies with my experience. Woodworth appears fairly disdainful of both old, new and Harris wings of the party. And the ghost of 1989-1991 and the collapse of the USSR permeates the piece.

I really wish the other page had been printed.


1. Garibaldy - October 11, 2007

Interesting stuff. Clearly a product of the soon-to-be DL faction. Of particular interest is the praise of the Labour Party in Mac Cartan’s article but the serious and sustained attack in the discussion of the Presidential campaign. Moves towards the future? As for Woodworth’s article, on public discussion being curtailed by the need for unity, surely it tallies with the experience of virtually any political activist in almost any party. What is more interesting is the fact it was published rather than what he was saying. But clearly this reflected the dominance of the futyre DL people over the magazine, looking to justify their evolving plans.

The most interesting thing about the article about socialists and economics I thought was the mention of the need for new theoretical and empirical work. This is a language that it seems to me was not taken at all seriously by the TDs who had already decided they wanted to run the party in their own interests, but was taken seriously by people who were conned, and who left The WP in good faith, believing that New Agenda or DL was supposed to be a real socialist political party. Perhaps WBS you might be in a position to comment on this type of member.


2. Garibaldy - October 11, 2007

PS I have a copy of ‘The Future is Socialism’ by Des O’Hagan from I think 1993. Would you be interested in it? I think it would be a good companion piece to ‘Patterns of Betrayal’ when you put it up.


3. Mark P - October 11, 2007

It’s interesting that Kelman conributed a long piece to this. I wonder what the connection to him was?

Also of interest are the adverts: Who were Aurora Art Publications? And Paul Bew’s claim that a repsol book would long be remembered seems a bit optimistic a decade and a half later.

More generally, I actually found it jarring to read even these proto-DLish opinions from the likes of Rabbitte. Even though this stuff was clearly to the right of traditional WP orthodoxy it is still light years to the left of where most of the writers would end up just a few years later.


4. WorldbyStorm - October 11, 2007

Garibaldy, two things. First, that would be great if you could scan that. Really interesting (lash it along the worldbystorm @ eircom.net, ignore the spaces it’s all one word). Secondly, I take your point entirely about almost all parties (bar Noel Brownes SLP! IIRC) curtailing public discussion in order to promote unity, and Woodworth was very much looking on from an idealistic viewpoint. I would also completely agree with you as regards your points re Gerry’s article. I was involved tangentially in aspects of the international side of the DL and was very keen on promoting links with non-social democratic parties of the left in Europe – the post communist parties or the Red/Green parties of the Nordic countries and so on. Perhaps it was me, but I noticed almost no appetite on the part of the hierarchy to push for same. It was but one of many disappointments as regards DL for me. And yet that was the space explicitly carved out – according to those who knew that the DL was meant to inhabit. Left of Labour, more modern (for which also read ‘effective’) than the WP. Thing was with a cohort of TDs largely disinterested in any theoretical aspects – indeed coming from where they did, actively hostile to same – I think it became very much process based… i.e. we have an MEP, do the work of an MEP, we have six TDs, do six TDs work. Don’t worry too much abuot the ideology. I’ll post up the DL equivalent magazine soon. Some interesting stuff has come in from John O’Neill.

MarkP, I think that indicates – in fairness – that there was an openess to cultural left influences. But yes, the irony that all wound up in Labour wasn’t lost on me.


5. Garibaldy - October 11, 2007


Interesting to see you use the word effective as what modern really meant. I take it to mean electable through the abandonment of principle (itself a consequence of our political culture being obsessed with Parliament and the absence of a mass labour movement that allows left forces in other European countries to bring serious pressure to bear outside the legislature).

I was talking to someone who said that one of the TDs had told him it was time to wind up the branches as the parliamentary party would be the cutting edge. No response to his query as to who would hold the sword. I have to say I’m surprised that many good people bought the line that the DL leadership gave when they harboured such sentiments. If I remember right, Patterns of Betrayal predicted all this.
I’m also curious as to why many of them never either tried to form their own groups to continue, or return whence they came. Presumably after decades building a party they didn’t want to start all over again.


6. WorldbyStorm - October 11, 2007

Well that was the whole thing. “Effective”, which in a way I agree with you often, if not always, meant the abandonment of principle.The DL was meant to be leaner, more modern, better able to bring the democratic socialist message, or whatever than the WP. Sometimes I think that many of those involved fell in love with the idea of change for changes sake rather than simply building on what had been before – they’d been through OSF, the SFWP, then WP. It was almost as if it was time for yet more change! Yes! That would do the trick! Incidentally Pat McCartan told me just before the New Agenda conference that he favoured “the Peoples’ Party” as the name of the new organisation. Hmmm…. as someone else pointed out, that was the name of any number of European rightwing parties. But after all, if you detach completely from ideology, it’s like the old saw, it’s not that you believe in nothing, you tend to believe in everything…

A couple of thoughts on your other points. I think it’s important not to underestimate the huge affection and loyalty there was to De Rossa in particular. I didn’t really know him that well so it wasn’t as much a factor with me one way or another, and I think I’ve previously indicated my attitude to McC. As to later on, well quite a few I know went into the Labour Party. Others I found out subsequently joined the ISN and still others, like myself wound up here contributing to the Cedar Lounge Revolution… 😉


7. Garibaldy - October 11, 2007

I think the De Rossa thing is a very important point now you mention it, from people I talked to who had ended up in the Labour Party solely because their family had been De Rossa people. I also remember talking to someone who took the huff when he heard DL described as social democratic – in 1998 when the merger was clearly about to happen!

I read people like Breathnach now and other ISN people and wonder if they had doubts about the party model at the time, or if this evolved only after the USSR collapsed. It seems to me it’s often a justification for their actions, rather than a reason for them.


8. Mark P - October 11, 2007

I suspect that two things largely explain the failure of significant leftish elements around DL to throw up significant new groups when it became clear that they’d been sold a pup.

They’d been through one bitter split, with many people dropping out altogether. In the context of the general retreat of the left and the labour movement in the 1990s along with the “death of socialism” propaganda that was current, I suspect that few had the stomach for it. Starting a serious faction fight, splitting and then establishing and building a new organisation takes energy, commitment and political certaintly. These are things which I suspect were in short supply amongst potential DL dissidents in that period.

Secondly, and on a related note, I suspect that the nature of the DL organisation probably made organised opposition difficult. By this I don’t mean that it was the kind of monolith which the old WP presented itself as. I mean that it didn’t have an active, grassroots membership, organised in branches and meetings where big political issues were seriously discussed. I get the strong impression that there wasn’t much political life in DL. It’s hard to organise dissent amongst a passive membership.

If you think about it, it is astonishing how little the WP and DL between them have left behind. Half a dozen careers as mid tier liberal politicians. The WP rump. Some drinking clubs and commemorative meetings in the North. A bit of the ISN. Not much to show really, when you consider just how strong the WP were.


9. Garibaldy - October 11, 2007


Not entirely fair I think on how much is left. Did you read Roy Garland’s piece on today’s Nuzhound? Worth a look. On top of that, there is also the matter of involvement in the trade unions and other community groups, and the few remaining councillors.

But clearly, and this is something that the SP may well find out without the TD, as I said above, the political culture here is very much centred on parlimentary politics, and without representation you soon drop out of the media, and thus out of the public eye, and consciousness. The TDs gave The WP a very disproportionate profile. But they were effective due to the coherence of the line and strength of the analysis and vision. The Greens and PSF both lack this, and that is why in the Dáil they punch at a far lower level than The WP did it seems to me.

The success of The WP was I think a bit of a hothouse flower. However, the once in a lifetime event of the collapse of the USSR sapped the strength of the extra-parliamentary left, and thus greatly reduced the chances of recovery. This is I think probably particularly true in the unions. If you look at where the CPs are strongest in western Europe now, it is precisely where they had strong extra-parliamentary organisations, especially trade unions, to fall back on. This I think is why the remaining elements are not what they might have been.


10. Mark P - October 11, 2007

On your point about the ISN, Garibaldy:

You should remember that the ISN, despite being very small, has included people who went with DL, people who stayed with the WP and even people who joined the DL after the split and had never been in the WP. So we aren’t talking about a single political tendency, responding at the time to the WP split and the evolution of DL. Instead it’s a bunch of people who reacted in a range of ways at the time, but in retrospect think that neither the WP rump nor DL had it right.

From talking to ISN people I do get the impression that they see themselves as having been critical of the WP and DL at the time, although in different ways. For instance, some seem to have gone with the DL not because they necessarily preferred its formal politics but because they thought it might have more democratic space in it. That attitude necessarily implies at least some disagreement with the form of the WP.

The ISN have evolved over time though, and they have put much more stress on their particular organisational views as time has gone on. I think important reference points along the way might be a period of working quite closely with the Socialist Party (a small group hanging around a larger one has a certain pressure on it to clarify or elaborate on its political disagreements or its members will vote with their feet), the addition of a couple of ex-SWP people (broadening the first hand experience of existing left groups) and some interaction with the anarchoid milieu.


11. Garibaldy - October 11, 2007


I know the ISN is a broad church. I don’t have much experience of it as I’m not from the south. Although it does seem to me that some people fell into it by accident, having burned bridges elsewhere. On the clarification and elaboration, it’s a bit ironic that they are creaking towards a form of party organisation, many of its leading members having said a great deal about rejecting the party model.

I think the logic of effectiveness requires a party model. The Latin American experience is interesting. Chavez for example has moved that direction. The 1990s anti-capitalist surge politically achieved precisely nothing long term, like the hippies, due to the lack of organisation.


12. Mark P - October 11, 2007

I don’t think that the ISN ever rejected the idea of a party, Garibaldy. They did after all agitate for an SSP type party and quite recently were involved in the CIL, which was conceived as I understand it as a first stepping stone towards a future party. They just want a party to be organised in a particular way.

I don’t agree with their views on the “party question”, and I’m dubious about how coherent they are, but I think that you are misrepresenting them somewhat. I’m sure one of their members will be along to correct us both in due course.

On what the WP left behind: I don’t think that you’ve really refuted my point here.

You make reference to the unions and community and activists, but you’ll have to be more specific. What exactly have the WP left behind in terms of community activists who are still active? I met the odd ex-WP type in the anti-bin tax campaign, but not as many as you might expect. What have they left behind in the unions? In so far as I’m aware of ex-WP trade unionists it has tended to be in the form of pro-partnership bureaucrats, rather than the rank and file militants they must once have been.

The WP rump itself is next to moribund, aside from the drinking clubs and the (commendable) work of the two remaining councillors in Waterford. I don’t mean to sound hostile there. I’d like to see more of them, but in heading for a decade of activism in Dublin the Workers Party have rarely been visible as anything other than a few ageing men with a banner on an occasional demonstration. The only exception in recent years was a couple of dozen people leafletting O’Connoll Street during the Garland extradition campaign. I would be genuinely interested to hear about what the WP actually does.

Of course there is no DL rump at all.

On your point about the CPs in Western Europe, I take your point that the split and decline of the WP has to be seen in a wider European context, but I’m unaware of the influence of major CP disappearing in quite such a complete manner. Even the much weaker CPGB has left more behind – a few political groups, an appreciable political influence on the Labour Party, sections of the union machines, a range of books about its past and so on.

I also take your point about the SP discovering for itself the joys of losing Dail representation, but the WP was a multiple of our current size on the ground, in terms of votes, almost anyway you care to measure it.


13. Mick Hall - October 11, 2007

extremely interesting comments and article.


14. Garibaldy - October 12, 2007


On the ISN by the party model, I meant the vanguard model. Which I think it’s fair to say the ISN does reject. A high proportion of its members, including several of its most prominent ones, once belonged to various organisations that followed that model. I wonder did they feel the same doubts back then, or have the doubts emerged as they have found themselves without a party to belong to. But as you say others are better qualified to speak for themselves.

I wasn’t attempting to refute your point that it’s surprising that The WP of old hasn’t left more behind. I’d agree. But I think that your characterisation was less than rounded so I rounded it out a bit. I also think that the absence is more explicable than it appears at first.

The first is that the discipline, coherence and influence of The WP gave it an appearance of having greater strength than it in reality had. Again, I suspect that this is something other parties are familiar with. In addition there was little alternative. As I see it we are almost talking about two processes. One was the opportunism and egoism of TDs and councillors that is always a risk with any elected politican, that may have been brewing before 1989, and that had its chance with the collapse of the USSR. The same is true of people in other influential positions.

The other is the general crisis surrounding the decline and fall of the eastern European states. So Harris, for example, would have been on his own had he proposed the necessity of social democracy in 1980 or 1985 but by 1988 and 1989 he had a more receptive audience. And for personal and historical reasons, he got a response among many of the members in influential positions it seems to me. Had the DL thing been merely the TDs or had the loss of important members in influential positions not been accompanied by the loss of the TDs, then much more would have been left behind. In the stronger European parties in countries with stronger labour traditions, the storm was more easily weathered. The decline in the Irish labour movement over the last 20 years is there for all to see, making it still more difficult for any political party to get the type of influence The WP once had, or was perceived to have had.

In terms of what The WP does, I think I’m going to respond only in general terms, as I think the discussion could become sidetracked. I think part of the problem might be that people are active who might not be known to you, due to the absence of some of the influential positions in the past. Take the bin tax thing. The General Secretary at the time was prosecuted, so you may only have come across ex-WP people, but they were involved. Same too with the unions and community activism. I think geography is an issue here too. We tend to know our own areas best, and might not appreciate what goes on elsewhere.

More broadly, and connected to what I said above, there are issues that face the entire Irish left. The first is the much smaller proportion of people interested in politics and in political activism, never mind socialism. The cultures of trade union involvement, of reading and self-education etc have greatly declined. For example, I once had a conversation which included SP people of long standing. They were saying (and I assume this is correct but don’t know for sure) that there had been a shift in its membership, so that it was more heavily weighted towards student radical-types than had been the case in the 1980s, when it had a higher proportion of traditional workers in it. I think this is indicative of the fact that the organic links between Irish left-wing political parties and members of the working class are not what they once were.


15. Mark P - October 12, 2007

1) I don’t think we disagree about the ISN and the party. They certainly do reject what they regard as a “vanguard” model.

2) I also think that we broadly agree about the split and decline of the Workers Party. Two major factors were the emergence of a social democratic wing of the organisation and the linked pressures caused by the collapse of the Stalinist regimes and a retreating labour movement.

As for the reasons for the emergence of a social democratic wing, we may only agree partially. Part of this was certainly the kind of pressure and temptations which participation in the capitalist electoral system can create. But I think that another part of this process was that these very people were coming up against the limits of the Workers Party’s political approach. The WP acted as if fundamental social change could be enacted through parliament, and presented itself in that way publically. Privately it may have held a more revolutionary view of social change, either way it certainly organised and behaved in a different, harder, way.

This kind of thing – attachment to the Soviet Union, the existence of the secret militia, Stalinist party organisation, revolutionary rhetoric and terminology and so on – was a hindrance in the pursuit of effective parliamentary reformism. If change, major reforms and so on, can be won through parliament then all the semi-Bolshevik stuff is pointless and actually counterproductive. And the public representatives who are going to be judged by their voters on the basis of their ability to deliver are perhaps the most likely people to draw those conclusions.

3) With all due respect, you don’t say much about what the Workers Party actually does these days, even in general terms.

4) I quite agree that times have been difficult for the left for quite a while. As far as the specific point about the Socialist Party is concerned, we certainly do have more student members than we once had. A decade ago there were at most half a dozen student activists in the SP, so the fact that there actually are some now has to represent an increase!


16. WorldbyStorm - October 12, 2007

Just a very quick word on Breathnach. I didn’t know him in the WP days, but knew him a little in the DL days. It was my impression that even as early as 93/94 he played some sort of oppositional role within. That’s only my interpretation and others may know better. Certainly in my experience he was highly cynical about some aspects of the party pushed by the leadership.

I’ve some thoughts on the above which I’ll share later…


17. Garibaldy - October 12, 2007


Just quickly on the SP point. It was intended neither as criticism nor praise, but as an illustration of a wider issue, namely that the left as a whole is having difficulty engaging broad sections of the working class as effectively as it did in the past.

On the role of Parliament. Parliament can effect real change in people’s lives, and that should not be ignored. One need only look at the welfare state (or absence of large parts of it in the south) to see that. Can we really say that if there had been a strong left presence in the Dáil forcing socialist ideas and policies onto the legislative agenda that the bourgeois parties could have so easily resisted redistributing more of the recently created wealth? There is a role of Parliament in creating and defending democratic and redistributive reforms (and let’s not forget that in 1992 the south lacked many of the attributes of a normal liberal state, divorce being an obvious example addressed in this edition of Making Sense). That said, The WP never argued that Parliament on its own was enough. Revolutionary social change requires a mass movement active on a broad front. It seems to me the TD’s agreed with that and accepted it but then the Soviet Union went, and all bets were off. WBS may have a different view.

In terms of activity. I didn’t go into details for the simple reason that such a conversation has the potential to take a wrong turn into sniping (comments about drinking clubs and moribund may not be entirely helpful in avoiding that). I will say that WP members continue to do what they have always done. When I say WP members are active in the trade unions, it is true that they do not hold as many full time positions as they once had. But its members remain active in TU branches, and at various levels of trade union structures, north and south. Its members remain active in community groups. Cork provides some good examples, as do places like Downpatrick and Maghera. It continues to provide advice centres, and representation for people at tribunals, social security appeals etc. This type of thing remains important in making a real difference to the lives of individuals. And of course there remains the political campigning – including the distribution of tens of thousands of Look Left across the country on a regular basis. The campaign against sectarianism in NI continues, both at an ideological and a practical level. Pamphlets are regularly produced. Meetings take place with other political parties, government bodies, the NI Human Rights Forum, trade unions, small farmers’ organisations etc. The WP remains involved in anti-war work, and other campaigns (e.g. the Spanish Civil War commemorations, water charges, neutrality) that draw people from a range of backgrounds. The WP continues to co-operate with communist and workers’ parties in other countries. I agree not all of this work is as visible as say standing outside the GPO on a Saturday afternoon, but that does not mean it is not ongoing.

Next month, the Northern Conference will take place. It will draw several hundred people, including speakers and attendance from a wide range of political, union, voluntary, and community activists. International speakers will also attend, from Britain and from Iraq. What it demonstrates is the extent to which The WP remains an active part of political life in NI, engaged with the debates and the process of politics.

The WP has its problems certainly, as others do on the left. It is far from being the force it once was but it remains engaged politically in a wide range of activities.


18. Eagle - October 12, 2007

I have to agree with Mick that this is really interesting even though (a) I come from the ‘right’ and (b) some of the groups mentioned above are a mystery to me. Anyway, I have some questions/points. (And, I’m not trying to be a wise guy. I’m genuinely interested in your views.)

One need only look at the welfare state (or absence of large parts of it in the south) to see that. Can we really say that if there had been a strong left presence in the Dáil forcing socialist ideas and policies onto the legislative agenda that the bourgeois parties could have so easily resisted redistributing more of the recently created wealth?

This is one of the great mysteries to me about people from the left. I understand your perspective, but do you genuinely believe that there would have been all this “recently created wealth” if we had a greater socialist legislative agenda over the past decade? From my perspective, it is exactly the absence of such an agenda, indeed the dismantling of the welfare state, that has been fundamental to the boom.

Revolutionary social change requires a mass movement active on a broad front.

To my mind the greatest social change in this state over the past twenty years occurred with no mass movement. When I first came here, working class families were still predominantly
‘traditional’ families. That is absolutely not the case these days.
Has this been good or bad for the ‘left’?

The cultures of trade union involvement, of reading and self-education etc have greatly declined. Why? Is it related to the issues raised in this article (http://www.independent.ie/education/latest-news/pupils-have-switched-off-school-by-age-of-15-1164464.html)? Again, when I first came here one thing that struck me was how learned the people were who I met (well, men mostly, I didn’t talk to as many women in pubs, etc.). Men who were average factory workers seemed so knowledgeable about history, world affairs, etc. Many of these men seemed to have finished their formal education at 14 or so. Nowadays you meet some young men who have a Leaving Certificate and you get the feeling that they never want to learn anything again. Is mass education killing the people’s interest in learning?

Two more questions and, again, I’m not trying to antagonize anyone.

(1) Why should the average working class person really care about the war in Iraq or whatever?

(2) Has the almost complete success of the feminist revolution drained the life out of what might have been the working class ‘left’?


19. Garibaldy - October 12, 2007


As a onetime fellow mets fan, I share your pain.

Anyway, on your point about the economic development in the south over the past decade and a half or so. Clearly the almost total lack of regulation in the building industry that cost a lot of lives in the 1990s, the corruption of the planning process, the lax attitude to taxation etc did make it easier for companies to make massive profits quickly. However, it would be wrong to think that this came about due to a sudden explosion in the mercantile and entrepreneurial abilities of the Irish people for no reason. There was a lot of money invested by the state, and the EU, in creating the human (eg education) and transport etc infrastructure necessary for the development. Without this strategic investment directed by the state, the boom could not have happened the way it did. Having said that, obviously the economic boom cannot be accredited solely to state planning. Ireland was in a favorable position in terms of the EU, wages etc. My point about the Dáil was that larger proportions of the tax returns etc could and should have been invested in social programmes. But after the split in The WP there was no significant voice in the Dáil to push this programme. A better deal on social partnership for the workers might also have been likely. Basically, business has had it almost entirely its own way, but the conditions for growth were there and would not have been removed by some extra taxation or more redistribution.

On the education/culture of self-improvement thing, I think that this is an extremely complicated process, involving (among other things) the depoliticisation and demoralisation that occurred during and after the Thatcher/Regan era (politics doesn’t matter on the one hand, postmodernism on the other), the success of the End of History thesis, the rise of a celebrity-obsessed, get rich quick culture, (perversely) the rise of new forms of communicative technology which have resulted in a demand for immediate information and impatience, the shift from improvement of mind to improvement of the body, and also the increasing demands of work, which allow us less time to ourselves. It’s not mass education – although education is becoming increasingly functional and less about a rounded individual – that is at fault. More the cultural assumptions of people shaped by the media etc.

On the social change thing. We’re sort of talking at cross purposes. What I meant (and I suspect Mark meant it too) was change in the nature of relations between classes within society. You mean social in the broader sense. In that sense, in the sense of people’s attitudes and practices, they can and do change without the need for conscious direction or agitation. On the family, I think the breakdown of family structure and social cohesion more generally has probably been bad for the left. It leads to atomisation, and the collapse of exactly the sense of solidarity that the left needs to thrive.

As for Iraq etc. Our lifestyles depend on the exploitation of others. Then there are environmental issues. We are all in this together, and we should care.

As for feminism. The persistent gap in pay, the continued subordination of women in many respects suggest you may be over-optimistic at its success. I don’t think it has drained life out of the left. I think only the left can solve these problems. The disaster for NI politics that was the Women’s Coalition bears this out I think. But there is an issue about single-issue or identity politics that has undermined the left, and will continue to do so, until a way to successfully integrate them into a left programme can be found. This will require a greater sensitivity towards the mental superstructue created from the material base.


20. Justin - October 12, 2007

Eagle wrote
“This is one of the great mysteries to me about people from the left. I understand your perspective, but do you genuinely believe that there would have been all this “recently created wealth” if we had a greater socialist legislative agenda over the past decade? From my perspective, it is exactly the absence of such an agenda, indeed the dismantling of the welfare state, that has been fundamental to the boom.”

But the point is, eagle, who benefits from all that wealth creation? While a minority had an extended party- and the demand for expensive consumer goods has never been higher – and a small minority were taken out of absolute poverty, a large minority of citizens in the south are in relative poverty. This isn’t merely a statistical abstraction. People measure their lives by what they believe to be attainable in the society around them. It can’t be good to believe yourself to be an atomised -and thus both helpless and blameworthy- individual at the bottom of a heap at the top of which a wild party is raging. This of course is Mary harney’s American model and it’s real-world effects can be seen in relation to disparities between rich and poor with repsect to mental and physical health. Not for tnothing has the UN decreed Ireland to be the second most unequal developed country in the world after the USA.

So, if your main aim is wealth creation, who can deny the success of the Tiger? But if the fundamental equality of human beings in any way figures into your equation, we’re in a grave mess.

Might I recommend “Unprecedented growth, but for whose benefit?” by Dr Elizabeth Cullen , an article from a green think tank called FEASTA.

It’s online at http://www.feasta.org/documents/review2/cullen.htm

I’m more red-green than green, so i don’t agree with much of their prespective, but Cullen’s article shows how deeply unequal the south became under the Tiger.


21. Justin - October 12, 2007

Just to add that the percentage of people in relative poverty
doubled from 6% of the population in 1994 to more than 12% in 2001 while, between 1995 and 2002 tax cuts raised the income of the rich by 12%.


22. Justin - October 12, 2007

Mark P
3) With all due respect, you don’t say much about what the Workers Party actually does these days, even in general terms.

Further to Garibaldy’s well-made points about the extent and limits of WP activity these days,the WP has a bi-monthly newspaper called Look Left, soon, I believe, to be made available on their website.


23. Eagle - October 12, 2007


I’ll have to respond to your points about relative poverty later. But, I have to say that I think your (albeit, indirect) argument actually makes more sense to me. You’re saying, basically, that the boom was not a good thing and we shouldn’t celebrate it. I can understand that perspective from ‘the left’ more easily than any attempt to lay claim to what happened or the notion that left wing policies wouldn’t have prevented the economic boom.

I’ll also try to find time to read Dr. Cullen’s article, but I did a quick search and I didn’t find the word immigrant or immigration once, which makes me think she’s A BIG factor. I’ll have to see.


24. Eagle - October 12, 2007

Err. That second last sentence should read she’s missing A BIG factor.


25. John O'Neill - October 12, 2007

I’m not surprised that MS was espousing a DL line as the Editor, PG was a key player in the formation of DL. P Woodworth’s article doesn’t impress me as much as WBS as I believe it’s publication was another attempt to discredit the ‘old guard’ the all new independent minded grouping of TD’s against the OIRA/Stalinist despots. Timing is everything and, as Paddy W reveals, he had departed from the WP five years previous to this article. His attack on Harris would have been acceptable as that faction had been thoroughly discredited by that time by the ‘old guard’ and what I call the ‘Parliamentary leadership’

PG contacted me coming up to the split to convince me of the necessity of reregistration for the Party to move forward. He compared the old guard to the miners in the film ‘Matewan’, engaging in a futile struggle with outmoded tactics and strategies that play into the hands of the establishment (at least thats what I think he meant?) I argued that their faction was blaming all the WP’s problems on S Garland and comrades in the North and I wouldn’t be a part of that.

A few points on comments etc. The art publisher Aurora was a Soviet publishing house.

Over the years I would have been involved in the production of MS and IMO its inconcievable that a page would have been censored – the article would have been dropped entirely before that would have happend.

The Kelman connection was developed by the MS Editor and I recall he spoke (very well) at a WP cultural event in the Teachers Club around the time of the publication of “A Dissafection” I think.

Garabaldy makes an interesting observation about the ISN did they adopt their anti vanguardism when they were in their respective organisations? Firstly, the ISN is broader than you think and less confused than Mark P believes.

When I was in the WP I proposed at an Ard Feis that the membership rules be relaxed because they were too rigid, I put my name to an internal document, along with Colm Breathnach and others outlining an alternative to both the DL abandonment of Socialism and the Old guards orthodoxy. I was also involved in the production of a stillborn publication – “What Next?” (one issue) that attempted to inform Irish socialists of international socialist developments that rejected both social democracy and soviet orthodoxy. Any WP member at the time would be aware of this and after the split I made some proposals at the WP ard feis that got me tagged a Trot (not a good thing in WP terms). Mark P and others from that tradition could attest to my innocence of such a charge!

The ISN started with a few ex WP/DL members and now has members from diverse left backgrounds and many from none.

As for vanguardism, we reject it as a product of circumstances that are long passed and see it as the major stumbling block to a cohesive socialist alternative today.


26. Garibaldy - October 12, 2007


Thanks for the info. Makes things clearer.
Although I’m not sure how SSP-type formation will produce a cohesive socialist alternative. Quite the opposite I’d say. Look at Respect as well. I saw on the CPGB website you were at their University thing. How was it?


27. Justin - October 12, 2007

Eagle wrote,

” But, I have to say that I think your (albeit, indirect) argument actually makes more sense to me. You’re saying, basically, that the boom was not a good thing and we shouldn’t celebrate it. I can understand that perspective from ‘the left’ more easily than any attempt to lay claim to what happened or the notion that left wing policies wouldn’t have prevented the economic boom.”

In his book, After the Ball, Fintan O’Toole argues -if I understand him correctly – that social democratic policies and government intervention -including plies of government money – were indeed behind the Celtic Tiger boom and related elements, such as the initial development of the Internet. The dark side of the boom, e.g. corruptin and tax evasion he puts down to the Right.It’s an interesting argument and, as usual, O’Toole writes with flair and erudition.

But, yes, Eagle, I tend to be of the opinion that a boom is only beneficial if it betters the broader society. What “betterment” means of course is a contested question, but when we get down to cases the research seems to show that health outcomes and life satisfaction have deteriorated for large swathes of the republic’s population during the economic boom (see, for example, the annual Socio-Economic surveys produced by the Conference of religious in Ireland http://www.cori.ie/justice/publications/ansoecrev/ase_review07.pdf
and Elizabeth Cullen’s work)

As with an economic depression, an economic boom is a class issue.If a rising tide raided all boats I’d be a social democrat but this isn’t what seems to happen. A capitalist boom in an Anglo-American economy seems to develop in part from the redistribution of wealth upwards to a relatively small class, which is then in a position to invest and spend prodigiously. In the absence of a large communist or workers party, large elements of the class which does not materially benefit from the boom nontheless buy into the dream and feel themselves to have failed.

The tragedy of betrayal of the WP in the early 90s was that the class could have benefited from Labour and the WP in the Dail when all they got was the social democratic side of the equation. And instead of exposing the deletrious consequences of the capitalist boom, parliamentary Labour spent the decade fishing for Coalitions with FG.


28. Justin - October 12, 2007

Sorry that should have “raised all boats”


29. Joe - October 12, 2007

One other point of info for Garibaldy. The ISN has members active in the North, specifically in Belfast.


30. Garibaldy - October 12, 2007


Thanks. Now you mention it I saw the article saying the PSNI was still the RUC advertised on the ISN website.


31. Joe - October 12, 2007

Hold on there now Garibaldy. I don’t know of any article that said the PSNI was still the RUC. You may be referring to an article on the police in the first issue of the ISN magazine Resistance. I didn’t agree with a lot in that article myself but I never read it as saying that the PSNI was still the RUC. The ISN is a broad church. It encourages open debate and allows the holding of different positions within its membership and also allows members or groups of members to state publicly their viewpoints even if those viewpoints conflict with the organisation’s majority position. The article on the police to which I assume you are referring was the view of one member, a good comrade and friend of mine, but I didn’t agree with it and hope to publish an alternative viewpoint soon. But to repeat: I never read it as saying the PSNI was still the RUC and I think you misread it or you are being mischievous in saying that it did.


32. Garibaldy - October 12, 2007


I was going on my memory of the description of the article on the ISN website. I didn’t see the article. I just looked at the ISN website to check if I was mistaken, and couldn’t find the list of articles again. It’s possible I misremembered it, but that was certainly the impression I came away with. I am certainly open to correction on what the website said.


33. WorldbyStorm - October 12, 2007

Some great stuff on here. In fairness to Garibaldy, Joe, I remember that first edition and it is possible to misread it, although you’re absolutely right, it wasn’t intended to convey that sort of impression.


34. Garibaldy - October 12, 2007

Perhaps if anyone has a copy they can scan it or retype it? Or is the Left Archive not really for contemporary material.


Hope you’ll have time to throw your tuppence worth in on all this in greater detail. I’d be interested to hear more on your experience of DL.


35. Ed Hayes - October 12, 2007

Without being a ball-hopper, isn’t there a bit of an elephant in the living room here? Wouldn’t it be the case that a lot of WP members in the south were genuinely shocked by the fact that the non-existent Official IRA existed? And when the party split, rather than going to DL, they went home. Hence very few former WP people active nowadays, but a lot of them around.
Similarly isn’t there any hint (ex-Trot coming out here) among the WP that maybe having fraternal links with the USSR, the Chinese and the North Koreans is not neccesarily a brilliant idea?


36. Garibaldy - October 13, 2007


On the international links. I guess that some people who went DL started to think that way. Certainly people in the French CP currently think that way, although the more distant it gets from traditional communism, the more it collapses. Most communist and workers’ parties have links with China and the DPRK. But links don’t mean total support. For example, differing parties take different positions on say Iraq, but don’t stop talking to each other because of it.

I would have thought that a large part of the attractiveness to people in the 1970s and even the 1980s would have been a sense of participation within a broader movement that looked like changing the world in the context of Vietnam, Angola etc provided by the links you are talking about.

In terms of the other half of your question, it was discussed recently on here though can’t remember which thread. As far as I’m concerned developments since 1992 have comprehensively proven that the whole thing was a smokescreen to cover the retreat from socialism.


37. Peadar O’Donnell Weekend 2007 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - October 14, 2007

[…] week as franklittle has discussed Garage and depictions of the rural working class, and indeed as Making Sense was put up in the Left Archive. O’Donnell very consciously moved towards the cultural field […]


38. Redking - October 15, 2007

I was wondering what happened to the northern members of the WP who went into DL and what their persepctive of the whole thing is (anybody out there?)
It’s clear the environment in the North was and is very different from the South where the latter may have made a kind of sense to argue for the possibility of a more leftist social democratic party than Labour being viable. Did the nothern DL members really think that a more leftist party or whatever may have been a serious runner and could have supplanted the SDLP/PSF, if indeed that was the intention?
It’s just that there were leading cadres involved here -the likes of Seamus Lynch, Mary McMahon, PJ McLean, Gerry Cullen, Seamus Rodgers etc-people who had been councillors, parliamentary candidates etc (did Davy Kettles join DL?)
Can’t help thinking there may have been a lot of regrets and bitterness about the subsequent turn of events in being abandoned by their erstwhile comrades in the South.

PS- WBS I’ve got a lot of Making Sense mags including March/April 1992 an interesting one with both sides of the split giving there tuppence worth although Patterns of betrayal deals witha lot of that.


39. Garibaldy - October 15, 2007


I can only say how it appears from the outside, but can answer some of your questions about what northern DL members are up to now. Most of the people you mention are now working in the voluntary sector. The perception (perhaps unfair?) is that many of the people who went DL were tired, and took the DL thing as a way out. Rumour has it that initially after the merger they were told to join the SDLP but there are some ex-DL members in the NI Labour forum. Will be interesting to see if they begin to stand again should Langhammer get his way. Davy Kettles formed the PIS party – party of independent socialists. He gave up his council seat a while ago I think, but remains active in the Trades Council etc. The occasional ex-DLer has also moved back towards The WP.


40. Redking - October 15, 2007

Thanks for that Garibaldy-

I wonder if they were serious about that SDLP proposal as the WP had spent 25 years attacking the Stoops as Green sectarians!
Curious as to why some didn’t go with DL such as Kettles, maybe he saw through the whole thing.

Also there is the case of the apparent expulsion of the whole of the Newry branch of the WP in 1997-several hundred members at the time, although as I understand it not much to do with ideology.
They resurfaced as the- wait for it…..Official Republican Movement!


41. WorldbyStorm - October 15, 2007

Several hundred members? Can that be accurate?

I don’t blame ex-DL people going back to WP. I still retain enormous respect and fondness for the Party.


42. Redking - October 15, 2007

Sorry should have said that that included Belfast members as well-that’s what I was told although I agree it does seem a lot, so maybe exaggerated.

I share your sentiments about the WP, and it takes a lot of courage to admit you were wrong and return to the fold and also I would guess, a lot of tolerance from those who stayed – it was a very bitter split- I think in one of your earlier threads Tom MacGiolla was quoted as saying in Magill he would be on nodding terms with Ruairi O’ Bradaigh, but he has no time at all for De Rossa.


43. Garibaldy - October 15, 2007


The SDLP thing, which I think is true, was just the application of the logic of the DL split, it seems to me. One was to dump the north as soon as possible, and the other was that having spent 25 years attacking Labour as sell-outs, why not join the SDLP too?

I think that there are probably a lot of people who feel similarly about The WP as yourself and WBS, although I suspect most would not want to rejoin. I think that the left might benefit should they discover a way of allying their talents and whatever energy they can spare to it, or some other organisation.


44. Mark P - October 15, 2007

Didn’t at least a few of the prominent people associated with the WP and then DL in the North end up around David Trimble? Paul Bew most famously.

I would very strongly doubt that the ORM split from the Workers Party involved anything close to several hundred members. Several dozen perhaps, or maybe just several members! What was that actually about anyway?


45. WorldbyStorm - October 16, 2007

Yes, at the Conference preceding the split it was clear that the North/South dynamic – always there but never quite as overt – was finally coming into play (curiously like PSF in some ways). Have to say that in addition to the reception of the Peace Process and the Des Geraghty/Rabbitte MEP issue the fact that DL effectively retreated from the North was one of the major reasons for my leaving. On both a strategic and tactical (and principled) level it was wrong and indicated that the focus was Dublin, and more narrowly Leinster House. And when it came down to it, that made no sense because we had a Labour Party already that filled that niche.

That’s true about Bew, et al. I think though it was partially BICO influenced, partially a meeting of minds (Bew was at one point purveying a ‘Marxist’ analysis of Northern Ireland/Ireland of sorts). And who knows what else…

Still he has gone on to greater things with the Cadogan Group….


46. John O'Neill - October 16, 2007


The publication I was involved in was called “Socialist Digest” not What Next and I ceased publication after the DL departure. Three of the editorial went with DL and two remained with the WP.


47. splinteredsunrise - October 16, 2007

As far as the ORM goes, I can’t say how many broke from the WP, but I did hear a well-sourced account of around 200 at the Newry conference following the split.

Since then they’ve kept quite a low profile though…


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