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The Left Archive: “Militant” Special Irish Edition from January 1972 February 25, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Militant.



An interesting addition to the Archive today. Here we have Militant’s Special Irish Edition, from 1972.

It has to be said, this is a fairly crisp and clean production. Note the almost tabloidesque presentation and the stark photography.

But it is, naturally, the content which is most important. I won’t say too much because it’s a fairly short and easy read. But to whet your appetites, here we have a cri de couer from Militant to the Official IRA and a critique of the Provisional IRA. Needless to say neither body matches up to the exacting standards of Militant. Nor is it entirely clear from the text how some circles are to be squared. For example we are told ‘the organisations in Ireland today can be judged by their attitueds towards the Protestant workers and towards the British Labour movement. The living standards of the Northern Ireland workers are being attacked by the Tory governments at Westminster and Stormont in the interests of British capital. In this sense the plight of Catholics today in Ulster will tomorrow be the plight of workers in Glasgow, Cardiff and Liverpool’, which might seem to tip to an east/west political focus. Not at all, for we are later told that “In Ireland, the national question can only be resolved on the basis of a United Socialist Republic. The demand for socialism must be raised…”. Hard to see a clear way forward in that context. And the final paragraph doesn’t really clarify things one way or another…

“When the mass of the Protestant working class of Ulster begins to break the stranglehold of Tory Unionism, when those sections of the small farmers and workers of the 26 counties who support Fianna Fail begin to move, under the pressure of the capitalist crisis, in the direction of working-class unity; when capitalism as now, cannot satisfy even the most basic human needs of jobs, houses and comprehensive social welfare policies, then the development of a mass all-Ireland party of Labour will make the achievement of a United Socialist Republic of Ireland seem possible.”

Indeed. No problem there then.

So the answer, predictably, is workers unity, as the headline on the last page indicates. There is a laudable emphasis on the more progressive manifestations of class struggle across the 20th century and the instances – few, very few – where some nascent unity manifested itself are detailed (a line that OSF and after would also focus in on).

For those of us familiar with such things it’s interesting to see the familiar names on show here. For here is Peter Taafe (and there is Peter Hadden) writing about Two Nations…Bankruptcy of theories of O’Brien and the “Marxist” sects, that latter would be BICO to you and me.

In a way the future evolution of their approach to the North is laid out here – I’m thinking in particular of the policies of the Socialist Party.

It’s all fascinating, and if there is one problem it is that everything is shaped to a Militant agenda, rather, perhaps than dealing with the facts on the ground as it were. But, at heart it’s more right than wrong, and one cannot fault it for attempting an analysis.


1. Mark P - February 25, 2008

Thanks for that, WbS, it’s interesting and I haven’t seen it before.

The most notable thing about it, as you note, is the fairly obvious continuity between the politics it espouses and the current politics of the Socialist Party, 35 years later. Now you can view that as stubborness or as a refusal to change with the times, but such consistency has been very rare amongst Irish left organisations over that period. The article about the Provisionals is I think very good, and quite prescient in terms of the impact the armed campaign would have. The piece on the 2 Nationists is also excellent, although that’s more of antiquarian interest.


2. WorldbyStorm - February 25, 2008

You’re very welcome. I know the SP has text based archival material, but I couldn’t find actual scans of Militants. I have a number from the early 1970s and one from about 79 or so which I’ll post up sometime over the next number of months.

There certainly has been a continuity. I agree, the two articles you ref were pretty good.


3. dilettante - February 26, 2008

I was always aware that the SWP was set up as a satellite of the British party.
While being aware of the British connection of Militant/SP, I was (perhaps naievely) less aware of them being a similar British satellite.

Does anyone know:
– at what point did it become Militant Irish Monthly?
– when did they get their Abbey Street offices?


4. WorldbyStorm - February 26, 2008

Did it predate the casting into the wilderness from Labour under Spring? Don’t they have offices up beyond Thomas Street?


5. Jim Monaghan - February 26, 2008

John Throne was the major figure in getting them off the ground.
On the National Struggle they were like Sticks without the nastiness.
Like a lot of groups they want pure class struggle, something emerging from a strike not something messy involving an oppressed nationality. I am not sure they were even comfortable with feminism


6. Redking - February 26, 2008

“they were like Sticks without the nastiness”.

Jim, you need to be careful coming on this site saying things like that!

some of us are not that bad……


7. Garibaldy - February 26, 2008

Interesting to see no reference to a socialist federation of the Isles. Was this a policy developed after this period, or was it in place then, but the emphasis in this edition was left off it?


8. Ed Hayes - February 26, 2008

Yes, Throne a Donegal man, recently wrote a memoir and is now in America I think, was the most influential in the early days. They were certainly in Abbey St in the 1980s. Indeed I remember them making the RTE news because of a Special Branch raid on the offices. They also ran Labour Youth until about 1987-88.
I found the 1972 issue very interesting because although the line was similar the tone WAS different from Militant in the 80s, certainly in my memory. The nod towards the bravery/heroism of Provo volunteers would not have ever been uttered in the 1980s. In my expereince Militant were ‘like the Sticks’ but without the pro-state line, they never called for support for the RUC etc. But they were extremly hostile to the Provos, and wouldn’t take part in any type of anti-repression campaigns that Sinn Fein were involved in. Though EF would turn up on his own selling papers! I would say that while they were overall consistent the 1972 issue shows that they were appealing to the upsurge in pro-republican feeling at that time in nationalist Ireland while by 1983 or so, when I first met them, that mood was well gone.


9. Mark P - February 26, 2008

1) Militant had offices on Middle Abbey Street in the 1980s certainly, but I’m not sure when they first had them. I’m told that when they moved out they found the remains of a number of old listening devices and, as someone notes above, they were raided by Special Branch in that period. By far the greatest focus of the Irish political police has always been the Republican movement, but they clearly didn’t forget to keep an eye on sections of the left too.

2) I’m not sure when Militant Irish Monthy was launched. The paper has had an almost comical number of different names over the years including, but not limited to, Militant, Militant Irish Monthly, Militant Socialist, The Voice, Socialist Voice and the Socialist.

3) Ed is correct when he distinguishes between the underlying politics, which are much the same as today, and the tone, or the way in which those politics are presented, which has changed as the circumstances change. Militant in Ireland recruited its first supporters in the North, at the start of the Troubles, from amongst young people who had been involved in the civil rights movement. The context of that movement certainly shaped the language, although I think Ed is wrong on the particular example he raises. Many Socialist Party or Militant publications over the years have remarked upon the bravery of individual republican volunteers, while vigorously criticising the futility and indeed counterproductiveness of the armed campaigns.

4) John Throne was indeed a significant figure in the early years of the organisation, although Peter Hadden and Joe Higgins were also prominent from early on. In a slightly later period Dermot Connolly was probably the single most important influence.


10. Ed Hayes - February 26, 2008

For what its worth Mark, I think their line on paper at least was about the best put forward on the far left.


11. WorldbyStorm - February 26, 2008

Thanks for that MarkP. I always thought Throne was from the US. Interesting. The raid on the Militant offices was pretty silly stuff, I don’t recall it directly, but I do remember it being mentioned in Horgans “Labour the Price of Power”.

Slightly tangentially, if one wants to ascribe ‘nastiness’ to Sticks, I think that the initials EH might have more than a resonance there…


12. Garibaldy - February 26, 2008

On the idea that calling for support for the police was pro-state. I’d have thought it was driven more by the desire to see an end to sectarian terrorism than any adoration for the state. It was in the interests of ordinary workers that terrorists were locked up. Just like it was in the interests of the Catholic Church’s, business peoples, or any number of groups in society. Doesn’t mean that calling for people to give information on terrorists was pro any of these groups. It was a pro-workers position.


13. Ed Hayes - February 26, 2008

Ahem…thats the RUC we are talking about here, a force up to its neck in collusion with one set of the terrorists. And a force that most nationalists instinctively distrusted. This is 1988 we are talking about not the PSNI of 2008.


14. WorldbyStorm - February 26, 2008

I always felt that was the most unconvincing part of the WP platform back when I was in it. Like, how did the RUC morph from the armed wing of Stormont into a force it was okay to recognise in 1984… just like that. Say what one will about SF but they did wait until long after Patten and the reformation of policing to give the nod. And in my heart of hearts I can’t blame them – while in no way condoning actions against the RUC.


15. Garibaldy - February 26, 2008

Party policy since what 1975? was for a democratised police service. Similar to what has since emerged. The RUC had its rotten elements, as did other parts of the state security apparatus. It also had its officers dedicated to fighting terrorism, and doing their job. The WP needed no lessons on collusion from anybody. Especially after October 1975, when the Secretary of State said it was up to the Provos to police their own areas during their attacks on the Republican Clubs. Launched from the British-provided and monitored Incident Centres after the cops and soldiers had been basically pulled off the streets.

As for how the RUC morphed. There were reforms, some of which were rolled back and some weren’t. In addition, its direction had been taken out of the hands of local unionist politicians, so the situation was clearly different to the Stormont days. But – and this is the point when blood is running in the streets – no matter how bad the RUC was, the terrorists were worse. They were the ones doing the most damage to the working class, and to its interests. That was why it was okay to call for people to give information on terrorism, while still calling for a reformed police service.

By the by, I wouldn’t overestimate the rejection of the RUC for most matters. The reality is that always – right throughout the Troubles – people interacted with it when necessary, regardless of their politics, although clearly people saw it as oppressive with regard to raids etc. Which it was. Yet it wasn’t until the Provos threatened to kill people serving them that they could not get served in shops.

And this goes to WBS’ point about PSF’s attitude to police reform. The refusal to join the policing board was a farce, as was obvious to anybody on the ground for years in advance. It was done for several reasons, none of which had very much to do with genuine concern over policing. It was to be able to still pose as militant to some followers, and – much more importantly – to appear as a better and more militant defender of interests than the SDLP in the struggle for electoral dominance. Once that was achieved the policing thing was inevitably going to follow shortly afterwards.


16. WorldbyStorm - February 26, 2008

True to a degree, but… I was at the Ard Fheiseanna, and there was nothing like a full throated call for disbandment of the RUC in the way that we saw happen post 1998, or even much other than pro-forma calls for reform. I understand the rationale you present and go some way with it, but… the RUC/UDR were involved in collusion with the very terrorists you rightly excoriate. So it’s simply not as if they were in any sense a neutral force. And since they weren’t they had to go.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not buying into any PSF mythology on all this, and I agree that the delay in joining police boards was ludicrous, but… the sort of reform they wanted was much more extensive and much closer to that which was actually implemented than that which the WP wanted. How could it be otherwise? They came from one position to ultimate acceptance of an NI police force. The WP came from another.


17. Garibaldy - February 26, 2008

I can’t speak to your experience, but the policy document that was drawn up in the mid-70s remained the basis of written policy up until Patten, which of course The WP supported. There may well have been a sense among some members that root-and-branch reforms were not practical while violence continued but I don’t know if that influenced discussion at the Ard Fheiseanna.

What I would say is that the reform of policing would have been seen as integral to the development of a culture of human rights as laid out in the plan for a Bill of Rights with a strong constitutional court to enforce it rather than something to be taken in isolation. As far as I’m concerned, nobody I know was ever under the illusion that the RUC – or any other police force – was or could be politically neutral. Having said that, I think it was widely recognised across non-unionists in NI that the UDR was a different beast to the RUC. Much more overtly political and sectarian. Both the UDR and the RUC had to go, and policing had to change, especially once the terrorist campaigns ended. Equally, and frankly, without some of the work done by the police, the number of deaths suffered by workers in sectarian violence would have been much higher.


18. WorldbyStorm - February 26, 2008

I think your last sentence is open to question which I won’t get into here this evening due to lack of time. Suffice to say that when the opportunity arose Patten effectively sought to shut it down…


19. Garibaldy - February 27, 2008

Well I’m thinking of people like Jonty Brown, who put Adair away despite difficulties put in his way by others in the police. But this issue raises the question of how we should view loyalist paramilitaries. Mere creatures of the state or autonomous movements, or perhaps both at different times?

It seems to me that the loyalist paramilitaries certainly began off their own bat, both the UVF before 1969 and the UDA, which no-one can doubt was a mass movement at its inception and up to and beyond the mid-70s. We need to remember that for nearly a decade up until the late 1980s the loyalists were virtually moribund in terms of the numbers they were killing. If they were being constantly used as an integral part of government strategy, then this is unlikely to have been the case.

The re-emergence in the late 1980s was, it seems to me, a combination of a number of factors. One was people like Brian Nelson and other agents. But we need to factor in responses to the Anglo-Irish Agreement from outraged unionists. This was at levels close to the early 70s, and saw so-called respectable people linked closely once more to violence. A generational shift also occurred. There were societal reasons for the upsurge in loyalist militancy. So we shouldn’t be surprised that there was an upsurge in violence in the years around this time, though we should of course condemn the way it was facilitated.

Some people like to suggest that every loyalist murder was carried out with collusion. Partly this is because it suits them to think that loyalists are incapable of independent action, and partly it helps political struggles. It isn’t though a reflection of reality.

How far Patten’s reforms were motivated solely by the policing needs of NI, and how far by politics is of course another issue.


20. Ciarán - February 27, 2008

“The RUC had its rotten elements, as did other parts of the state security apparatus. It also had its officers dedicated to fighting terrorism, and doing their job.”

Was that the official Sticky line? Were they really so driven by anti-Provo sentiment?


21. Garibaldy - February 27, 2008

That’s my personal view. The WP line was that terrorism and sectarianism were killing workers. And that it had to stop. Therefore people with information should give it to the police. It wasn’t hatred of the Provos. It was a desire that workers could go about leading their lives without being murdered for their religion.


22. WorldbyStorm - February 27, 2008

But that’s the central flaw. The police were not a neutral agent in this. They were structurally sectarian, open to abuses, etc. And I’m not dismissing for a moment that there were good people within the RUC who did avoid those pitfalls – perhaps a majority of same, simply that as an organisation it didn’t have the credibility or legitimacy to provide policing on any level within the society. In those circumstances to turn to them to protect workers seems odd in the extreme when elements within that force were colluding with others (although I agree – not all loyalist violence was the result of collusion) to see workers killed (one might also add that the scattergun approach of loyalist violence almost of its nature led to indiscriminate deaths of workers).

Patten might well have been political, but that’s to look at the cosmetic aspects of it and disregard the fundamentals. Here was a British Conservative who was overseeing with others root and branch reform and reformatting of the RUC. Simply because the Provo’s were wrong on a raft of issues doesn’t mean that their critique of the RUC was incorrect and the problem is that here, as in some other areas we see where the WP took a line influenced by that sort of dynamic which put it not merely at odds with the bulk of nationalism (and I accept that’s not a view the WP saw itself having to adhere to) but more importantly with reality.


23. Garibaldy - February 27, 2008

Again, WP policy since the mid-70s called for the root and branch reform of the RUC, and the emergence of a democratised police service. As I said above, The WP supported the Patten reforms. The question is not whether the RUC was perfect, which it blatantly wasn’t, but whether if people gave it information, more terrorists would have been convicted and more people’s lives would have been saved. I think the answer is undoubtedly yes. Therefore, it was in my view the correct policy even if it was a very difficult and unpopular one. I also think that the dynamic for this was about people dying, and not about being seen to be not nationalist.

More broadly on collusion, if we are to understand it then the question of timing needs addressed. Frankly, I’m of the opinion that the early 70s apart, systematic collusion, as opposed to individual members giving information to terrorists, was a product of around 1987 forward, and not representative of the majority of the Troubles. This issue is too often looked at as a seamless whole rather than examined within each set of concrete circumstances. Let’s look at the big arms shipment the various loyalist groups clubbed together for in the late 1980s. This is sometimes claimed as being organised by the state. That may be true, yet the RUC seized the UDA’s contingent and arrested those involved. I think that is a demonstration of the complexity of this issue, and the benefits that could acrrue from police work. A simplistic approach is to this issue misrepresents the reality.


24. Jim Monaghan - February 27, 2008

Sorry for the nasty gibe. There are many ex sticks with good attitudes. I worked with one in PANA who broke over Bosnia.
The SP refuse to recognise that the national struggle is at base progressive and put a stupid equals too sign between Loyalism and Republicanism. Refusing to acknowledge that they were free to work in Nationalist areas selling their paper but not in Loyalist areas.
I am amused at the alliance between the Grantite split and the IRSP. Some reinvention of past positions. Isn’t politics wonderful.
By nasty sticks I am referring to the witchunting athmosphere esp in RTE but not restricted to it.
There is a truth to the gibe that the stick aganda was to set up a East German type system where there would be only one party.


25. Mark P - February 27, 2008


Statements like “the national struggle is at base progressive” are pious, vacuous and meaningless. What struggle? waged by whom? for what ends? under what circumstances? With what methods? With what results? The issue is not an abstract one. Your claim that Militant “put an equals sign between Republicanism and Loyalism” is a caricature of their position – they refused to cheer on the IRA’s campaign of bombings and assassinations and they refused to whitewash sectarian actions carried out by Republicans, but they did not argue that there were no differences between Republicans and Loyalists.

The claim that they were free to work in Nationalist areas and not in Loyalist areas is, by the way, false. Work in Loyalist areas was periodically more difficult, but they nevertheless carried it out throughout the Troubles and they were on the receiving end of occasional attempts at intimidation from Republicans too.

I recommend to Jim, the article on the Provisionals in the paper archived in this thread. While some of the more dismal left nationalist grouplets were howling their support for the “armed struggle” (from a safe distance), Militant said that (a) it couldn’t win, (b) it would lead to the death or imprisonment of a generation of activists, (c) it would further divide the working class and (d) it would allow the British to enormously ramp up the state apparatus of oppression. Three and a half decades of history have rather conclusively ended that argument.

I can at least share your amusement at the relationship between the Grant/Woods splinter group in England with the IRSP. A marriage of desparation if ever there was one, given that the two groups have had practically nothing in common.

WbS: No, Throne is definitely Irish. He was one of the earliest supporters of the Militant in Ireland and was prominent in the organisation up until the mid-1980s or so, when he left the country to work for our sister organisations in other parts of the world. He’s been in America for, I would guess, a couple of decades, which partially explains the lack of connection to reality on the ground here in his lengthy internet writings.

I’m surprised that you never encountered him if you were active on the left in Dublin in the early 1980s, although I suppose the Workers Party wasn’t exactly well known for encouraging its members to fraternise with the rest of the left.


26. Mark P - February 27, 2008

By the way, I am told that near the height of the Workers Party’s growth there were discussions within Militant about sending people into the WP.

Sister organisations of the Militant in some other parts of the world had operated within Stalinist parties and, where there were two reformist workers parties, they had also managed to combine working in both from time to time. The Workers Party at that stage was eclipsing the Labour Party in Dublin and was growing rapidly elsewhere in the South, notably in Waterford.

Obviously this would have to be approached very carefully given both the undemocratic nature of the WP regime, the relatively tight knit nature of the party as compared to for example the massive French CP and, of course, the fact that the WP leadership maintained their own goon squads.

The WP imploded before these discussions became serious.


27. WorldbyStorm - February 27, 2008

That’s interesting MarkP, were these restricted to Militant or were there links to like minds in the WP? In truth though I’m not sure the internal party culture of WP was notably anti-democratic. Indeed I’d suspect you’d have been pleasantly surprised how like the SP it was.


28. Mark P - February 27, 2008

WbS: I don’t know much about these discussions as they predate my political involvement by a long time. People have mentioned them to me on a few occasions, so I’ll ask someone for details.

My guess (and it is only a guess) is that the thinking probably went something like this:

1) The Workers Party was growing rapidly and has become a kind of small mass organisation. What’s more it was increasingly becoming the party which more radical workers looked towards. Militant wasn’t in the Labour Party because it had any great affection for the official party policies but because its role as a party of the working class. So if the WP was challenging the LP in that regard in a serious manner, then serious thought would have to be given to those changing conditions.

2) As it grew, the Workers Party seemed to be moving well beyond the kind of ultra-tight nit semi-conspiratorial organisation of its Republican roots. It had thousands of members (and tens of thousands of voters) who had no background in particular republican families. What’s more most of these members had joined because it was becoming the obvious thing to join if you were a radical worker. It was the force active in your community or union.

3) These people were not as firmly wedded to the organisation and its leadership come hell or high water as its old guard were. What’s more most of them were unlikely to be all that irretrievably attached to the areas of its politics that Militant would be opposed to. That is, serious headway could possibly be made on issues like Stalinism and the Eastern bloc or the nature of the trade union bureaucracy. Even on the North, there was I would guess an opening for arguments which took a fundamentally pro-workers unity line but which didn’t give backing to the British state and weren’t obsessed with “getting” the Provisionals.

4) These arguments could be much more effectively carried by fellow WP members than they could be by LP members.


29. WorldbyStorm - February 27, 2008

Very interesting stuff indeed. I’m intrigued as to the response from some of our WP contributors.

If you ever wanted to write it up as a post you’d be very welcome.


30. Garibaldy - February 27, 2008

Again with the giving backing to the British state. I’ll say it again. There is a difference between calling for people to give information on sectarian terrorists killing workers to the police and support for the British state. Unionists support the British state. The Workers’ Party is, was, and always will be (despite the efforts of people who went DL) a republican party inspired by Tone and Connolly as much as Marx and Lenin. In fact it is the legitimate heir to the republican tradition in Ireland.

Calling for people to give information to the police was done quite simply because that was in the best interest of workers. Putting workers’ interests first is after all the raison d’etre for a socialist party.

Seeing as Mark raised the issue, perhaps he can tell us what Militant’s position was on what people with information regarding sectarian murder ought to do. Do nothing? How is that going to help the person about to be murdered or just murdered and their family? Or did Militant not have an open position, and just keep quiet about the issue? If so, that strikes me as a failure to provide leadership.

On the possibility of infiltrating The WP, while clearly people were taken in who shouldn’t have been, especially in the south, I’d have been very surprised if it had been successful. As was demonstrated with the Smullen issue, even the emerging liquidationist faction dealt harshly with those who were off message. So running around promoting Militant’s ideas (had people managed to get in in the first place) was a guaranteed way to get expelled.


31. Mark P - February 27, 2008


Telling people to go to the RUC involved essentially endorsing that force as the defenders of working class people. Militant understood that some people would and others wouldn’t, and didn’t get into the business of condemning people based on that. Instead as far as a small socialist organisation was concerned, the key question was encouraging the working class to unite and act itself on these issues.

That’s why Militant’s emphasis when there were sectarian murders was to attempt to build working class pressure on the paramilitaries through demonstration and, in many cases, strike actions. This strikes me as a much better approach, and one which provides substantially more in the way of useful leadership, than an approach the logic of which turns both the socialist organisation and those elements of the working class which listen to it into auxilliaries of the British security forces.

As for the possibility of entry work in the Workers Party, it never happened probably for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Workers Party were only big enough for it to even be an issue for a short period of time and secondly, the nature of the WP would have made it extremely difficult – given the likelihood that its leadership wouldn’t be squeamish about purges, and given the existence of OIRA goon squads in the background.


32. Garibaldy - February 27, 2008

I agree entirely on bringing pressure to bear on paramilitaries using trade unions and other organisations – several of which were dismissed by the paramilitaries as WP fronts such was the extent of WP involvement. Nevertheless there were and are occasions where that type of general pressure is useless in the moment.

For example, by the logic of the position you outline if I saw a unit from either side on the paramilitary divide about to shoot across the peaceline then I should do what I feel best, and not ring the police who might be in a position to stop the sectarian murder. This is to put individual qualms above both socialist principles and the lives of the people involved.

Added to which, the idea that in that circumstance one became an auxiliary of the British security forces rather than a defender of innocent workers is wrong. Using such language is also to engage in the condemnation you say that Militant sought to avoid.

Are you seriously saying that to have given information on say Johnny Adair or the people who carried out Darkley was to become an auxiliary of the British state and thus to be guilty of abandoning socialism? I find this an incredible position. And one that places concern over image above the real flesh and blood of workers.

Just out of curiosity. Even the Provos say people should now give information on dissidents to the police. Is that the SP’s position, or does it remain as it was before?


33. Mark P - February 27, 2008

You are (deliberately or otherwise) missing the second sentence of my post. Here it is again, for your convenience: “Militant understood that some people would and others wouldn’t, and didn’t get into the business of condemning people based on that”.

That is, if you as an individual gave some information to the RUC about some action by some paramilitary group or other, whether that be a sectarian shooting, or some bit of extortion by the military wing of the Workers Party, Militant wasn’t interested in singling you out as an individual “who had abandoned socialism”. Similarly if you refused to assist the enforcers of the rule of the British capitalist class Militant weren’t in the business of condemning your personally. The role of a small socialist organisation isn’t to police those kind of decisions. Attempting to do so inevitably leads to choosing between the various paramilitaries (including your organisations own version) and British forces and essentially siding with one sectarian, anti-working class faction or another. The RUC, and the state forces in general, were not above the Troubles, they were part of the Troubles. The Workers Party found it convenient to forget that.

What does taking a policy of encouraging people to inform to the RUC if they have information about paramilitary activity actually mean? It means subordinating yourselves as an organisation to the British state apparatus. It inevitably means presenting that state apparatus to the working class as their saviour, or at least the best protection they have. Militant was wise to stay well clear of such foolishness.

Instead it argued for the working class itself to take action against the paramilitaries, through pressure within the community and through exemplary strike actions. The Workers Party sometimes did that too, as you rightly say, but it tried to combine that with an approach the logic of which meant acting as little short of auxilliaries for the British forces. It also was notorious for its support for liberal, non-class based initiatives against violence which I think was another serious mistake but that’s another issue.


34. WorldbyStorm - February 27, 2008

This is a genuinely fascinating discussion. To me at least…


35. Garibaldy - February 27, 2008

I wasn’t missing the second sentence of your post. Hence why I said to say that giving information on terrorists makes an organisation an auxiliary of the British state goes against your claim in the second sentence that Militant did not judge people for giving information or not.

I don’t believe that saying that members of terrorist organisations that carry out sectarian murders (which would be all the unionist and nationalist groups) should be put in gaol is picking one above the others. Nor is it foolishness. Again, wanting people like Adair to be put in gaol while agitating against the violence at other levels is not contradictory but complimentary.

As for your comment about becoming involved in non-class based initatives against violence. To say that The WP should not have co-operated with other groups to oppose violence is, quite frankly, ultra-left sectarianism of the worst kind. Let’s very clear about this. The violence was a class issue. Virtually 100% of civlians killed were from working class backgrounds. Ending the violence was the most pressing demand for workers whose blood was running in the street. To say that agitation against violence should have been vetted on class grounds is foolishness.

By the way, the PSNI, like every other police force, is an instrument of class rule. Does the SP now think in a post-GFA world that people should give information to the police on groups who seek to continue the violence? If not, why not?


36. Garibaldy - February 27, 2008

One other thing. The WP consistently encouraged workers to demonstrate their rejection of sectarian violence – not sometimes. The WP, and its members over the years, consistently mobilised against and stood against sectarian violence. Be it physically in the early days with vigilante duty; or in later years WP members in trade unions and other organisations encouraging them to mobilise for peace; or standing in elections to offer a progressive anti-sectarian alternative no matter what the circumstances were. It never shirked hard decisions, or hid from them. No matter what the cost was in support, votes, or lives taken by state forces or sectarian terrorists of all hues.


37. dilettante - February 28, 2008

Wasn’t there a Militant idea of a “workers militia” to “defend workers against sectarian attacks” at some point?


38. Garibaldy - February 28, 2008

There was some talk along those lines in the early days. Never materialised.


39. Mark P - February 28, 2008

I had assumed in my earlier post that you were deliberately missing the distinction I was making Garibadly, but having read your later post perhaps I wasn’t being clear enough.

You asked me directly if Militant during the Troubles thought that someone giving information to the RUC about some sectarian murder was “abandoning socialism”. My response to you was to say that Militant didn’t get involved in denouncing individuals who went to the RUC or did not. The organisations was well aware that some people would and others would not.

From Militant’s perspective the task of their small socialist organisation wasn’t to police those kind of decisions but instead to pose an alternative – that of united working class action against sectarianism.

The Workers Party on the other hand, driven both by their loathing of the Provisionals and their softness on the British role in Ireland, went far beyond arguing for working class action (which, to their credit, they did do) and right into pushing informing to the RUC as a key part of the solution. This was wrong both tactically and in principle. It in effect reduced the organisation to an auxilliary of the British state forces at least on this issue and at the same time it served to obscure the fact that the British state forces were not above and outside the Troubles but an integral part of the problem. The working class, not the British, should be the force socialists look towards.

Militant wasn’t interested in judging individuals on the decisions they made in the kind of ultra-difficult circumstances you describe. That’s not what the organisation was for. It did however disagree with the Workers Party political presciptions – the idea that the paramilitaries were so reprehensible that the British state had to be backed against them. This particularly applies to the Republican paramilitaries of course, because as you are well aware the British forces were at least as interested in helping the Loyalist paramilitaries as they were in stopping them.


Yes, Militant argued for a trade union backed defence force to protect working class areas against sectarian attacks. As Garibaldy notes this was an idea that had some resonance at one point, but it never happened.


40. Garibaldy - February 28, 2008

I see. It’s ok to condemn organisations as adjuncts to British rule but not individuals. This seems to me to be a contradictory position. And merely a way of getting out of having to face up to any difficulties taking a decision one way or another may have caused within the organisation. That’s fine for things that aren’t particularly pressing, but not when lives are at stake. Again, it was better that terrorists were off the streets than on them, free to carry out terrorist murder. The campaigns could only be ended by wider pressure, but in the meantime individuals could be sent to gaol, and lives saved.

NI is a problem requiring a political solution – the only solution being workers’ unity. Wanting sectarian murderers to be gaoled did not alter that perspective. Elements of the security services were up to their necks in collusion (and as is increasingly obvious, not just with loyalists) but other elements would and did act on information given. Hence, say, the people from Mount Vernon ending up in gaol when somebody did come forward. Again, this is different to backing the British state.

In the real world during the Troubles, when large groups of armed people for two decades paid no heed to broader working class opinion which opposed violence, calling for support to be given to the police was the only way that the lives of workers could be saved in the immediate term. No amount of ideological or political purity could alter that fact. Calling for support for the police while continuing political and other agitation against violence was the only option that met the demands of immediate circumstances. To pretend that all the elements of the RUC were the same as say the IPLO or the LVF is simply unsustainable.

On the notion that everything The WP did and said in the North was motivated by hatred for the Provisionals. This is argued for widely, including by people like Harris to justify his ideological flip-flopping. However it is untrue. The analysis of terrorism applied to all terrorists, and all were condemned and struggled against equally. How could it be otherwise? There were enough murders and attacks on party members and supporters by loyalists to ensure they never slipped anyone’s mind.

WP policy was and is for a greater engagement from what people like to call civil society as a way to isolate sectarians and encourage a greater sense of unity. Hence why it has consistently called not only for a Bill of Rights with a strong court to enforce it, but a convention of progressive and democratic forces to give a greater voice to those elements in society whose voices were drowned out by bullets and bombs, and ignored by the political process. An idea taken up and run with by other lobbying groups and parties. However, without the distinctive class perspective of The WP the idea loses its power, as was demonstrated by the Civic Forum, which represented a wasted opportunity in this direction, in part because the sectarian politicians did not want a rival centre of influence to emerge. Attempts continue to try and organise something in this area, though until it receives the backing of the trade union and other groups it will prove difficult. Of course, if it does get off the ground, you may well see it as another liberal, trade-union bureacrat, wishy washy distraction.

And speaking of the real world, I notice that twice you have not answered my question about attitudes towards those engaged in terrorism at this point. I’ll assume this means that the SP hasn’t had a discussion about it, and that this means that the old position continues by default. Comforting I’m sure to the victims of Omagh.


41. Redking - February 28, 2008

We all know the history of the WP and its struggle against terrorist elements within who attempted to divert the Party away from anti-sectarian socialism. Thankfully the primacy of politics was asserted in the end.

“some bit of extortion by the military wing of the Workers Party”

“given the existence of OIRA goon squads in the background.”

These comments sound rather pious given the context of the North and the aforementioned struggle. Frankly they sound like Provo or tabloid slanders – do they serve any purpose in the context of this discussion?


42. Mark P - February 28, 2008


I didn’t bother answering your question about the Republican dissident armed campaigns because they are, post-Omagh, an irrelevance. Even discussing them gives too much dignity to their “campaigns” which are largely fictitious. Their organisational function is simply as a channel for a few naive young lads directly into a prison. I has assumed throughout that you were mentioning them purely for rhetorical reasons.

The meat of your post is typical Workers Party guff, where the role of the British state in Northern Ireland is simply glossed over as are such issues as the class nature of the state. So we get nonsense about a “Bill of Rights” and “strong courts” and “helping the police” which could come straight from the Alliance Party handbook.

I don’t blame the Alliance Party for being supportive of strengthening the capitalist state and supportive of a strengthened British security apparatus in the North. Being a bunch of liberals, devoid of working class politics and incapable of seeing the British state as part of the problem, is their raison d’etre. It’s seeing the same rubbish coming from a nominally socialist organisation that makes me feel slightly ill.

Entirely missing from your post, and from the politics of the WP are the fundamental questions for socialists: whose courts, whose state, whose police? Such institutions aren’t neutral and neither is the British ruling class some kind of neutral arbiter. You don’t have to think that the RUC were equivalent to the LVF to realise that the British security apparatus was a key part of the Troubles, rather than an outside force which could be appealed to to police the Troubles. This is one of the many fundamental problems with the Workers Party – it could occasionally make rhetorical noises about the British state needing to be reformed, but when it came down to it saw the situation as a choice between the paramilitaries and the British state and it consistently chose the British state.

A related mistake can be seen in its non-class appeal to “civil society”, which is yes, “another liberal wishy washy distraction”. The very term “civil society” serves to conceal more than it reveals in a society like that of Northern Ireland. What forces precisely do you mean?

When it comes down to it, you are talking about the right wing sectarian parties, their associated community projects, a few well meaning liberals and the vast British funded “community sector”. You appeal to such forces, much larger than yourselves and completely lacking in working class politics and then, when they inevitably set up something trivial and devoid of “a working class perspective” like the Civic Forum, you complain that it wasn’t what you wanted. I mean what exactly did you think these forces were going to establish? A Soviet in Larne?


43. Mark P - February 28, 2008

Red King:

Those references may be somewhat uncharitable but they seem relevant to me in this particular context. Here we have a Workers Party supporter arguing that part of the political solution to the Troubles was to inform The RUC about paramilitary activity. Yet no mention was being made of the Workers Party own paramilitary activity. Would yourself and Garibaldy argue that those with information about the OIRA’s “fund raising” or other activities should have informed to the RUC, or does that only apply to your political opponents?

In the latter part of this thread, because we have been focusing on the issues we disagree on, it may seem that I am unremittingly hostile to the WP. I’m not. I was raised by WP supporters and I have a great deal of time for the real achievements of that party. It’s because they mattered at one stage that I bother criticising those aspects of their politics where I think they got things badly wrong: Stalinism, the role of the British state, non-class appeals to “civil society”, the OIRA and so on.


44. chekov - February 28, 2008

Unusual to find myself agreeing with Mark P on this issue, but crikey, I’m amazed that the WP can maintain such a line at this distance.

“Elements of the security services were up to their necks in collusion (and as is increasingly obvious, not just with loyalists) but other elements would and did act on information given.”

The colluding ‘elements’ would also act on the information given. We know now that such intelligence was often given directly to the death-squads who acted upon it. It is also worth noting that the good-eggs in the RUC who you wanted people to inform to essentially did what they were told. So, when they were told “such and such a notorious killer is to be let through the roadblock” they did what they were told. Unfortunately, from your point of view, the bad eggs were often the ones devising the strategies and issuing orders.


45. WorldbyStorm - February 28, 2008

chekov, I’m rather impressed (not that that makes any difference one way or another 🙂 ) by the WSM approach to such matters as articulated on the website.


46. Pete - February 28, 2008

This is not a WP view but a private one. Personally I would nearly always oppose the police however in the Northern Ireland context I would applaud people who handed information to state agencies that led to the liquidation of Provo and IPLO civilian bombers and killers. These people were intent on killing and terrorising one million people to become part of a corrupt anti-working class southern state, that’s if you take their blatherings at face value, in reality they were intent on killing and terrorising people in order to maintain a status within a paramilitary subculture which was a blight on the Northern society. One thing I always lament in Provo ‘histories’ such as that produced by Ed Maloney is the reality that targeted state/loyalists assassinations of Provo/IPLO personnel had on bringing these murderers to the table and beginning the long road to normalising politics in Northern Ireland. My perspective does not devalue the bravery of some people involved in these ‘republican’ terror groups but the reality that there course of action was counter productive and needed to be brought to an end by whatever means necessary. If you’re willing to place a bomb which kills kids and other innocents’ then if you get shot in your bed I think that is good enough. Yes there were causes of the conflict but the republican terror groups were working largely autonomous of these causes merely using them as an excuse for brutality. All the realities of the Northern conflict should be laid bare just as the GAL situation in the Basque country was.


47. Pete - February 28, 2008

As for the OIRA can you name the last person they killed and the date of that killing? I can and applaud that organisation for it resilience under pressure and the role it played in attempts to maintain a critical space within Northern Irish society – there is no shame to be attached to the OIRA – the decision by volunteers to deny the political nature of their activities only shows the commitment they had – more than the I’m a solider shite from the Provos – to be a solider is to be a potential murderer to be an armed political activist is a thing of genuine pride


48. Pete - February 28, 2008

As for the OIRA can you name the last person they killed and the date of that killing? I can and applaud that organisation for it resilience under pressure and the role it played in attempts to maintain a critical space within Northern Irish society – there is no shame to be attached to the OIRA – the decision by volunteers to deny the political nature of their activities only shows the commitment they had – more than the I’m a solider shite from the Provos – to be a solider is to be a potential murderer to be an armed political activist is a thing of genuine pride


49. Garibaldy - February 28, 2008


Party policy on illegal activity is clear.

On the dissident issue, it’s becoming more of an issue, given the recent murder attempts, and the threats of more violence and bombing. Never mind their involvement in criminal violence in the south.

I’m am well aware of the class nature of the state and its institutions (see my comment about the PSNI above). Again, The WP did not chose the British state. It chose the route that would lead to the least amount of dead workers, and that would open up the space for progressive politics that the terrorist violence was hampering. I did not say it was part of the political solution. I said it was a means to stop workers being killed.

What we are running up against here it seems to me is the desire to deal with circumstances as they are as opposed to circumstances as we wish they were. So a Bill of Rights for me would be a real achievement with tangible benefits, and therefore worth pursuing even if it falls far short of revolutionising the nature of society (in the same way that anti-discrimination laws, health and safety laws, trade union rights, and democratic reforms were). Same with the desire to mobilise civil society (which does not in my view include right-wing sectarian parties). Reforming the capitalist state to make it more responsive to the needs of its citizens is not strengthening it. Reaction can be forced back somewhat, and valuable things gained. Otherwise, what would have been the point of NICRA, or any struggle for improvements short of revolution?

Socialism is a long way from being on the immediate agenda. Anything that has the potential to enhance a more democratic NI with a more united population is progressive, and can create the condition for socialist politics to flourish. The SP in the north seems to recognise this fairly clearly, with campaigns like the water charges (or the Lisbon thing in the south) involving wide sections of the political spectrum working together for a common cause. And I’m sure you are aware of the possibility an agreed left candidate at the next Euro election – should it emerge, it is likely to be a broadly wishy, washy liberal type. Yet the SP is likely to be involved. Class politics are essential, but in periods or places were reaction is strong socialists must defend and promote even the basics of bourgeois democratic norms. This is an attitude entirely consistent with that of Marx and Lenin.

In fairness I think at this point we come to impasse on the policing issue.


50. WorldbyStorm - February 28, 2008

Pete, I can entirely understand where you’re coming from, and under no circumstances would I support the IPLO or whoever, but… it’s a big step to then support loyalist/security force assassinations, isn’t it? The problem’s didn’t develop with Republican terrorist groups… they were a bit deeper than that.


51. Mark P - February 28, 2008


I agree that broadly speaking we have exhausted the RUC issue at this point. We are unlikely to convince each other and our views are fairly clearly expressed if anyone else is still interested and reading this.

For what it’s worth, although I don’t agree with you at all, it has been a welcome opportunity to engage with the Workers Party’s arguments in a more sophisticated form than we normally hear them.

Unfortunately, my experience of listening to WP people talk about this kind of thing is that they all too often tend to sound like Pete’s arguments above – an embittered, emotional call for Provos and the like to be shot in their beds. I can understand why some old WP hands would feel like that, given the history, but I think that such attitudes have had a pernicious effect on WP thinking over the years. In an organisation or a milieu where for many people that kind of attitude is their gut feeling, it is very difficult to avoid such feelings influencing the organisation’s wider understanding.

When it comes to issues like “civil society”, I think that the WP is also grievously mistaken. I tried to unpick this concept, as it applies to Northern Ireland, earlier. You responded by saying that you don’t think that the sectarian parties are part of “civil society”. So what’s left, precisely? A few atomised liberals and do gooders, weak liberal political parties with an affluent base like the Alliance, and the various community groups.

Northern Ireland has an unusually large “community sector”, but it isn’t an autonomous grassroots movement. These activists and organisations and groups tend to be intimately linked to the sectarian parties or the paramilitary groups. What’s more, they tend to be tied to the British state apparatus through an enormous dependence on grants. Creating this “sector” and coopting whatever previously existed was one of the goals of the British state in managing the conflict and all of the parties have fought to get their supporters noses a place at the trough.

The only movement with a life of its own, beyond the weak liberals, the grantocracy and the sectarian parties is the trade union movement. And the key point about the trade union movement is precisely that it is organised on a class basis. For socialists this is where the action is, not in an amorphous cross-class “civil society”. The Workers Party aren’t alone in making this kind of mistake, it seems to stem from Stalinist politics and the CPI have been just as prone to it as can be seen in their ludicrous Women’s Coalition adventure. The Socialist Party isn’t remotely interested in some cross class “democratic” capitalist alternative, but in creating a working class alternative.

I wanted to respond to you on the issue of reforms, but I’ve already gone on quite long enough. So I’ll leave it by saying that you are quite right that the Socialist Party regularly fights for reforms which stop well short of the creation of a socialist society. Where we disagree with the WP is on what reforms are worth fighting for.


52. Garibaldy - February 28, 2008

On the civil society thing, I think originally I said what people call civil society. It’s a phrase I associate with the Scottish Enlightenment, in a very specific context, and one I am wary of using, but it can be a useful shorthand. I agree almost entirely with your criticisms of the nature of the voluntary/community sector, and the way in which it has been manipulated for political ends by both the state and sectarian parties. Many of them are far from independent and progressive.

But, and here we are again, there are genuinely progressive people involved in this sector. With access to lots of resources and the ability to organise things far beyond the reach of any socialist grouping. My attitude is that if they can be mobilised in favour of progressive goals, then they ought to be. One example comes from the NI Federation of Clubs from the mid-1990s. This contains clubs with links to all sorts of groups and none. Reciprocal visits were arranged across the sectarian divide. It’s not a class organisation, and not a political one, but in that case it carried out a progressive act. Surely if socialists can promote and influence that type of activity, they ought to?

The Left in Ireland, and more especially the north, is very weak. If people are capitalist, but committed to a shared future, then I am totally happy to work with them towards that end. To refuse to do so, further isolates the Left, and removes it from issues that affect people’s lives and are of importance to them. A Left alternative is clearly the goal. But cutting yourself off from others does not seem to me to be the best way to go about it. After all, if the DUP and PSF, UUP and SDLP are happy not only to implement a right-wing agenda but to sustain sectarianism, I’m happy to overlook major differences on economics with the United Community Group, and build a shared future.

And so we come to the unions, which have a proud record during the Troubles. At the time, they stayed away from what might be seen as party politics, and I think that was the right thing to do. But circumstances have changed, and moved on. The TU movement ought to become more involved politically to promote measures in the interests of working people. If it can be persuaded to back a left unity candidate at the Euro elections, that would be a great step forward. Though, unfortunately, I doubt it.


53. Garibaldy - February 28, 2008

Oh, and I agree entirely that one of the important things about this site is that people can and do engage in political debate. Something which we on the Left need to do more of urgently.


54. WorldbyStorm - February 29, 2008

Here’s a funny thing. I was talking to someone who had been in the IRSP the other day (and been very close to Costello) and mentioned that things had moved on and that to some degree the feuds were now in the past… they snorted and said ‘Really? Says who?’. The past is a living memory for a lot of people. But it is crucial to try to break away from that past in one form or another. That’s a generational thing… which is why it’s important to air all this, and to disagree, but maybe to realise there are shared objectives… okay, that sounds pretty glib of me too. I will shut up now… oiche mhaith a chairde…


55. Peter Daly - February 29, 2008

Meanwhile the heavy gang is still about it’s work –



56. Ed Hayes - February 29, 2008

How many IPLO/Provo ‘mass murderers’ did the Loyalists kill in their beds? Bernadette Martin maybe? or the provo killers in Sean Graham’s on the Ormeau? Or the IPLO killers in the bar in Greysteel? or perhaps the active service unit that was watching Ireland v. Italy in Loughlinisland? Or Jim Sullivan’s son?
Pete, not for the first time your talking crap. Even with collusion, as Michael Stone for one has admitted, the UDA/UVF consistently went for ordinary Catholics ‘yabba dabba do…any Taig will do.’ And that says something about Loyalism.


57. Ed Hayes - February 29, 2008

Btw the Provos might be surprised to find that Ed Moloney is one of them. ‘Liguidation?’ unless your a secret agent Pete I find it hard to believe that someone actually uses this term.
Question for you? As Catholics were a minority in Belfast in the 1970s how come they bore the brunt of the sectarian killings, bombings, attacks? Given that they had several armed groups on their side surely they were capable of killing as many Protestants as the Loyalists did of them? But you find that the burnt of Provo activity (despite the undoubted sectarianism in their ranks) is directed at the Army/RUC while almost all Loyalist killings are of ordinary Catholics and Protestants. Ideology makes a difference and puts a brake on; the Loyalists had no brake because hating fenians is what its all about. Would you have supported the British state shooting them in their beds (instead of letting them through roadblocks and giving them files on potential IRA men)?


58. Ed Hayes - February 29, 2008

And finally…what was Northern Ireland before 1969 but a ‘corrupt anti-working class state?’


59. WorldbyStorm - February 29, 2008

Ed, I’m still tending to agree with you.


60. Pete - February 29, 2008

“Would you have supported the British state shooting them in their beds (instead of letting them through roadblocks and giving them files on potential IRA men)?”
The Loyalists death squads were a creature of the security apparatus but did represent a sizeval section of the Prod working class views, so whatever action the state deemed necessary to deal with them so be it. I think you miss my argument, I do not support people being killed but it was necessary, the British state was going nowhere quickly. Provo etc attacks upon it and the Protestant community were just further entrenching the British state and corrupt aspects of it i.e. The Provos/IPLO had to be stopped first – proof of this is that is what happened, once this was done the Loyalists became an irrelevance which must be dealt with as per the SB /MI5.
As for Northern Ireland anti-working class state – yes but NHS, some degree of community housing no Catholic Church domination compared to the corporate gombeen shit hole down south.
So where do you differ with me – was the Provo campaign aiding the Republican agenda or hindering it? Did Provo killings lead to more or less innocent civilians dying? Where they entrenching the British state or a threat to it? Don’t been sentimental be real.


61. WorldbyStorm - February 29, 2008

I’m really really unconvinced by your argument Pete. As easy to turn it around and say that the Provo campaign had to go to the lengths it did in order that the British would then accept greater demands by Nationalists and Republicans when the time came to negotiate. In other words you’re making a virtue of necessity, and that’s surely a triumph of sentimentality over reality.

Incidentally, bad and all as the South was/is, let’s not overdo it. If we’re all going to head for the apocalyptical hills surely that would justify a different sort of response in the south – perhaps a souped up pre-69 IRA campaign. I don’t believe that and I don’t think you do either. As bourgeois societies go the RoI was pretty ordinary if poorer than most.


62. Pete - March 1, 2008

I’m very much of the opinion that an IRA campign should have been directed to the South – here it had the possibilty of success in the North it was always a waste – what have the Republican ideal got from the 30 years of bloodshed in the North – fuck all – there is no such thing as the Republican community. The RoI is not ordinary I think of no other westren state which has had less input from Socialist or Social Democrat ideas full stop


63. Ed Hayes - March 3, 2008

Your off your nut Pete, but do carry on.


64. Pete - March 3, 2008

Why? Ed should the IRA not have directed a poltical campign in the South? Why did it have to be the North was it because of the poor oppressed Catholics needing to see a bit of blood scarfice to honour dear mother Ireland – not really a socialism is it, but keep on troting along


65. Ed Hayes - March 3, 2008

I didn’t say they SHOULD have directed a campaign anywhere. An armed campaign against the south would have been crushed within five minutes by a government with huge popular support for repression. I suppose the provos launched one against the north because they were mostly from there and in the context of de-colonisation they probably thought they could win (not saying they could have, but they thought it) about 200 British soldiers were killed 1971-73, thats more than the Taliban and Iraqi rebels have managed, with bigger countries and bigger resources. I think blood sacrifice for mother Ireland had very little to do with it, maybe in Rory’s head but him and the Roscommon men were not doing the killing (or dying).
Btw I’m glad you feel northern Protestants pain, its just that they must be special people because Stalinists like yourself had no trouble in the past justifying all sorts against whole nationalities that Uncle Joe thought reactionary…so whats so special about northern loyalists? if the Algerian colons didn’t have the right to prevent independence and the Isrealis don’t have the right to stop the Palestinians reclaiming their land then why do Ulster Protestants have the right to prevent the reunification of a country partioned only in 1921?
On the grounds of simple humanity I of course think they have every right to believe what they want, but I’m a chilled out guy and your a raving lunatic so whats your reason for justifying what they do and hating what the other crowd do?


66. WorldbyStorm - March 3, 2008

Erm… can’t we ratchet it back a tad? I’m very very dubious about the proposition that the IRA (actually part of me wonders which IRA) should have taken on the RoI.


67. The Left Archive: “Militant”, 1979 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - May 6, 2008

[…] issue of Militant from October 1979 provides an interesting contrast with the previous one posted in the Archive. The concentration on economic issues is more marked. Granted the previous […]


68. Irish Left History Project: Irish Militant Tendency, 1972 to c.1989 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - October 2, 2009

[…] UK. I’m reposting the issue of Militant from the Left Archive where other copies can be found here and […]


69. Jolly Red Giant - September 10, 2010

Came across this thread while looking for something else. Don’t know if anyone will bother reading it – but I will offer some clarifications on issues raised.

1. The ‘Militant’ organisation in Ireland was officially founded in 1974. MIM began publication in 1973. Up to 1973 it operated with the assistance of Militant members in England who occasionally printed the Irish paper from time to time (hence the ‘Irish Edition’ on the banner of the paper in 1972). This is not to say that the Irish members did what London told them – merely that at the time they did not ahve the resources (numbers and money) to print a seperate newspaper and man its own offices. Throne and Hadden were the two most prominent people initially, Hadden returned to the North after finishing his college at Sussex Uni where he had joined – many of the leading English members of the CWI also attened Sussex at this time. Interestinly both Throne and Hadden were born into Protestant families – Throne from Lifford and Hadden across the bridge in Strabane. The other most prominent early members were Joe Higgins and Dermot Connolly.

2. The comment from dilittante about ‘workers militia’ is partically incorrect. The Militant called for the establishment of ‘local community defence committees’ based on the trade unions. Many of these local defence committees emerged spontaneously all over the North at the start of the Troubles at the same time as the deployment of the troops (who mainly operated, initially, in parts of Belfast and Derry). After a period they were either taken over by the IRA or faded away primarily because of the failure of the TU leadership to offer any support (instead they backed the deployment of the troops).

3. Yes – there was discussions in the Militant about conducting entry work into the WP. My first recollection of this was in 1984-5 with the LP suffering in coalition and a certain momentum generating behind the WP at the time. As Mark P stated – it became clear that shortly after the 1987 election the WP began to tear themselves apart between the opportunist wing and the old stalinist hardliners – so the discussion became moot. To the best of my recollection there was no contact with anyone in the WP and the intention was to send a handful of people into the WP to see if they were attracting left-leaning youth or tu activists and what possibilities might exist for opening discussions with this new layer.

4. The Special Branch raid on the Militant offices in Middle Abbey Street was more farce than anything else. It occurred in the middle of the expulsions from the LP. The pretext for the raid was that Dominic McGlinchey was seen going into the offices – apparently they had mistaken (on purpose) a member of the Militant who had a vaguely similar appearance to McGlinchey, for him. One morning a team of Branch men clambered up the six flights of the narrow stairs to the office on the top floor followed closely behind by Charlie Bird and a camera crew. There were many jovial comments about Bird’s previous membership of the RMG (or WRP) and his coat-tailing of the Special Branch. The raid was mentioned that evening on the news and is now part of the folklore of the left.


WorldbyStorm - September 10, 2010

Thanks JRG. That’s particularly interesting to see more light shed on potential entry into the WP.


70. Captain Rock - September 10, 2010

And funnily enough the WP took the piss out of Militant in their magazine after that raid. And supported Kinnock kicking them out of Labour in Britain.


Mark P - September 11, 2010

In that they were just talking their lead from the British Stalinists, who were (of course) big fans of anti-Trotskyist witchhunts in the Labour Party.


71. Jim Monaghan - September 11, 2010

Charlie Bird was never in the RMG or the WRP. He was in the Young Socialists who were fairly broad church including people who later went on to form the SWM and RMG.This is the origin of the famous picture of C with Tariq Ali at Peter Grahams funereal. Never understood why he felt he had to distance himself so far from his youthful involvements.He wrote a guide to the Irish far left in Hibernia back then, circa early 70s. Probably worth an nostalgiac look.
He was at least a WP fellow travellor in RTE.


WorldbyStorm - September 11, 2010

Thanks for clarifying that re Bird, Jim. Was he really a WP fellow traveller? really?


Jolly Red Giant - September 11, 2010

Dermot Connolly was the person who told me he was in the RMG (from what I recall). I remember someone telling me that Joe Higgins was in the same LP branch in DSE at the time.


WorldbyStorm - September 11, 2010

Jim would know having been in the RMG himself.


72. Jim Monaghan - September 11, 2010

In my opinion yes. He did gopher work for them while in the Irish Times library.
He was chair of the NUJ in RTE and opposed any protests over section 31. I am bemused why he became the conduit for Provo stories later.


WorldbyStorm - September 11, 2010

Ah, interesting. Got to say, Section 31 was a curse, and I was always puzzled by the support of some WP people for it, it’s like didn’t they get how as an instrument it could as easily be turned agin them as the Provos?


73. Jolly Red Giant - September 11, 2010

Just as a follow-up to this in relation to the expulsion of Militant from the LP.

In the early 1980’s the left in the LP was gaining significant support. By 1984 the Militant had four members on the Administrative Council and with Labour Left were neck and neck with the right for control of the AC. The crunch for the right-wing came at the LP conference in Cork in 1984. The LP was buried in coalition with FG. Spring was under enormous pressure and motion after motion was passed at the Conference condemning the actions of LP ministers in the coalition.

The key moment was a motion to change the method of electing a leader of the LP. A motion proposing that the LP leader be elected by a vote of the membership was proposed. It was common knowledge that Michael D Higgins was significantly more popular among the rank and file of the LP than Spring and it was expected that Higgins would defeat Spring in a run off between the two of them. Michael D was chariing the conference when the vote was taken. When it was put to a vote the proposal was passed by about 2:1 of the delegates present. Immediately there was uproar from Spring’s supporters who demanded a card count. The rules stated at the time that the doors of the conference hall should be closed and a card count taken. However, Michael D. allowed the doors to remain open for over 20 minutes as he listened to delaying tactics from the right-wing delegates. During this time every pub in the vicinity of the conference was scoured for Spring’s delegates (he had brought seven busloads of mainly elderly people with him for the day – meaning he had a quarter of the entire LP membership in N. Kerry) or anyone else who would take a drink in return for holding up a card for 10 minutes.

When the vote was finally taken the proposal was defeated by 12 votes. Spring and the right immediately went on the offensive. The next three or four conferences were held in Tralee. At the 1985 Conference Spring brought over members of the Swedish Social Democracy to advise on expelling the left (they had a history of expelling all left-wing opposition). Subsequently, the following two years, Spring had members of the US Democrats at the conference.

Crunch time came in 1987 just after Joe Higgins was nominated to stand in Dublin West. Stagg didn’t want competition for ‘leader of the left’ and backed Spring’s attacks on the Militant, supporting the shutting down of Militant controlled branches in Dublin West. Eamon Tuffy was imposed as the candidate in DW and the expulsions began in earnest with the support of Labour Left.

The Militant maintained a presence in the LP until 1992. I was one of the last to leave. In late 1991 discussions began in earnest within the Militant about moving to establishing an open organisation and campaigning independantly of the LP. There was some intense discussion within the Militant about the ‘open turn’. An intense debate was already underway within the CWI about the ‘open turn’ in Scotland which enventually led to the split by Grant and Woods.

The one major issue of contention within the Militant during the discussions was would we cut ourselves off from influence within the trade union movement by spliting decisively from the LP. These points of contention were raised mainly by TU activists within the Militant. In the end the decision to establish an open organisation was passed without oppositon and just three or four TU activists abstaining (including myself).

With hindsight the Militant should have split from the LP in 1986. It was inevitable that the LP leadership would not tolerate Joe Higgins as a candidate and would move to expel us. In reality we should have taken advantage of the LP being in coalition and ran not just Joe Higgins, but other candidates too, as independant socialists in the 1987 election.

As an addendum – I attended the 1992 LP conference in Waterford – I think I was the only Militant member there as a delegate. A LP candidate from Cavan/Monahghan, Ann Gallagher stood up and said to a standign ovation ‘when I joined the LP we had all these workers and trade unionists. But all that has changed now – now we have real people like doctors, solicitors, accountants and other professionals’. As she got a standing ovation I got up and walked out.


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