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The Left Archive: “Socialists Against Nationalism” Campaign Leaflet c.1979/80? Socialist Party of Ireland, British and Irish Communist Organisation, the Limerick Socialist Organisation. July 14, 2008

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish Left Online Document Archive, Limerick Socialist Organisation, Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI).


All the greats – eh? A short document this week only four pages long. Socialists Against Nationalism, a ‘campaign’ group established in the late 1970s/early 1980s by the Socialist Party of Ireland (not, I hasten to add the current SP), the British and Irish Communist Organisation, the Limerick Socialist Organisation and ‘individual socialists’. As far as can be determined this was the precursor of the Democratic Socialist Party, led by Jim Kemmy, which later merged with the Labour Party.

As a campaign how long it lasted and how successful it was is unclear. Although as regards the latter point it is worth reflecting on how many a left (or later liberal or right-wing) Irish political career clearly drew a degree of inspiration from the sort of analysis put forward here, that the only way to working class unity was by eschewing the ‘call for a 32 county Socialist Republic [which] is nothing more than the old nationalism newly dressed in a socialist guise’. Actually that in itself is a remarkable statement from an avowedly left-wing body given the longevity of the socialist Republican approach in Irish politics during the 20th century.

But then again, considering issues of success or failure, some the central ‘demands’ in the leaflet have been fulfilled – look at the list on page 3- although their avowed aim of extirpating ‘nationalism’ has not. But then consider again the image on page 1 which makes a clear visual linkage between the most extreme form of ‘nationalism’ and Irish nationalism. Hard in that context to take entirely seriously their idea that they wanted to ‘organise public debates with socialists and others who still hold the traditional nationalist viewpoint’, or indeed that ‘traditional nationalism’ equated with what appears to be a pogrom. And consider again the viewpoints expressed in the recent past on various historical issues which chime with that sort of viewpoint.

I can find reference to them in Seanad debate here (John A. Murphy giving an interesting analysis) and here.

Any further information on this campaign would be of considerable interest, as would any material from the DSP.


1. ejh - July 14, 2008

That may not be the most restrained illustration I have ever seen on a leaflet.


2. Garibaldy - July 14, 2008

Not restrained, but a great image nonetheless. I fail to see how a socialist republic is the same as old-fashioned nationalism. Supercilious attitude from people who saw themselves as pure Marxists.


3. Garibaldy - July 14, 2008

That second link doesn’t seem to be working either.


4. ejh - July 14, 2008

a great image nonetheless

Well, not all that great. What’s going on with the woman on the ground? Who’s supposed to be doing it?


5. Garibaldy - July 14, 2008

You don’t think it’s a good evocation of nazi brutality? From the helmet and coat of the soldier, that’s who I understood it to me, and I took the whole thing to be a comment on the German army’s behaviour on the eastern front, but maybe that is wrong.


6. ejh - July 14, 2008

You don’t think it’s a good evocation of nazi brutality?

No, it strikes me as crude and salacious.


7. Garibaldy - July 14, 2008

Effective propaganda is in the eye of the beholder I guess.


8. deiseach - July 14, 2008

The sort of image used by the USSR during the Great Patriotic War to, um, stir a desire to defend Mother Russia. But the USSR wasn’t socialism, so that’s okay


9. Starkadder - July 14, 2008

“I fail to see how a socialist republic is the same as old-fashioned nationalism. Supercilious attitude from people who saw themselves as pure Marxists.”

People like Eamonn McCann, who would have been against
Ulster Unionism, would also have been scathing about
many aspects of Irish Nationalism as well. The desire
for a unified Ireland is quite compatible with opposition
to the Catholic Church and gombeen capitalism.

IIRC, the main members of Socialists Against Nationalism
were Jim Kemmy, David Alvey,* Manus O’Riordan
and Fergus Brogan.

I think they might have
been like the other B&ICO-inspired group,the
“‘Workers’ Association for the Democratic Settlement
of the National Conflict in Ireland’,an anti-nationalist
group that attracted many non-B&ICO

I believe Kemmy was also critical of the H-Block
Hunger Strikers, although he also pointed out
that prisoners in NI were being unfairly treated.
I suspect comments like this explain why
Kemmy never became a Republican hate
figure like Conor Cruise O’Brien or Eoghan Harris.

*Alvey also worked as a canvasser for Kemmy
at one point.


10. Garibaldy - July 14, 2008

BICO et al saw any desire for unity as automatically Irish nationalist, yet the republican position (I regarded the socialist bit as tautology) was for unity but inspired by an internationalist political philosophy.


11. WorldbyStorm - July 14, 2008

I’m with ejh, I think the image is highly offensive in the context of what it seeks to say about Irish nationalism.

What is interesting is that the word Republicanism is not used once in the leaflet, which in a way underpins your last point Garibaldy.

Starkadder, I have some poorly copied Workers’ Association material. You got any more?


12. Starkadder - July 14, 2008

On the linked note of “Socialists Against Nationalism”, I
found this article by Solidarity (Maurice Brinton’s group)
arguing that the Left should reject “national liberation
struggles”. I’m not sure what Solidarity’s position on
Northern Ireland was-I think they refused to take
sides on it.



13. Garibaldy - July 14, 2008

It might be offensive, but it is still a quality image in the context in which it seems to have originated. And in Troubles that produced Kingsmill or Loughlinisland, I think the dynamic that would see people hung from trees while their houses burnt was certainly present, even if it thankfully never went that far.


14. WorldbyStorm - July 14, 2008

Starkadder, you wouldn’t be interested in putting together a post every once in a while of useful links for leftists on the CLR, would you? It’s just that stuck in your comments they aren’t getting the profile they deserve…


15. WorldbyStorm - July 14, 2008

Ah, well, Garibaldy, you’ll get no dispute from me that the image is pretty well chosen and reproduced. But, pogroms tend to rest upon state power in the main to sustain them and that dynamic certainly wasn’t evident if we’re talking about the nationalist population in the North (note the soldiers in the image – a clear referent to state power).


16. Garibaldy - July 14, 2008

I guess so. August 1969 certainly had some elements of the state participation. Then again, Yugoslavia saw pogroms without state power, no?


17. Starkadder - July 14, 2008

WBS,I have a photocopy of Communist Comment from 1971
with the first paragraphs missing, but nothing from the
actual Workers’ Association.

Something from that
area I would like to see are publications from
the B&ICO’s De Leonist offshoot, the
Communist Organisation in the British Isles
(I heard COBI had a few Irish members as
well as Scottish ones). It would be interesting
to have more info on the B&ICO/COBI
split as well-apparently COBI took a
third of B&ICO’s membership with them.


18. WorldbyStorm - July 14, 2008

Interesting question re Yugoslavia. Does it count if there are links to state powers across regional/national borders?

Interesting Starkadder (rubs hands together)… very interesting… – re the Communist Comment…


19. Garibaldy - July 14, 2008

You mean like the Germans and the Yanks? 😉 If pogroms take place without the backing of the state in which they take place, then there is usually a foreign power involved I’d have thought. I think that’s been the case in the 1990s in Africa too.

I don’t know if this is on the scale to count as a pogrom, but the UDA did cleanse the UVF from the lower Shankill under Johnny Adair in 2000 (I think it was 50-odd families), while similar things occurred on the other side of the fence. That’s certainly the dynamic of pogrom if not the scale.


20. WorldbyStorm - July 14, 2008

Yeah. I don’t know if there is a clear model that sees them only as expressions of mobilised but submerged state/nation activities… so I’m a bit dubious about it. The UDA/UVF one strikes me as closer to gang violence. Is the dynamic the same? For example does the unhinged element where everyone within a target group can become a ‘legitimate’ target remain?


21. Garibaldy - July 14, 2008

In terms of legitimate targets, your wording is quite close to that used by the judge at Johnny Adair’s trial, when he said he had lumped in almost the entire Catholic population as republicans, and therefore fair game. As for pogrom dynamics, we shouldn’t forget the burning out of Catholics in places like Rathcoole at the start of the Troubles, nor the intimidation of Protestants who lived in places like the New Lodge. I do think the potential for pogrom existed in NI – and I imagine the residents of Kashmir Street in August 1969 would have agreed – and we shouldn’t dismiss the darkness of the impulses among many of the most active paramilitaries. Nor, at times, among larger sections of the general population.


22. WorldbyStorm - July 15, 2008

I mean ‘legitimate’ only in the sense that the perception of those making the attack find it legitimate to attack a group/population and of course the simplification that Adair made in his head is symptomatic of that. All that said I think widespread pogroms would have been difficult for Catholics to pull off and sustain, not least because fending off state forces would have been impossible in the medium term. Which isn’t to deny what you say about the darkness of impulses amongst all involved. Indeed you could add to the tacit or explicit support of a state player, opportunity, as a factor which underpins pogroms….


23. Garibaldy - July 15, 2008

You’re probably right, but I’m not sure that cleansing an area necessarily takes that long if you really go for it. To burn the homes or force people out can take a few hours.


24. Hugh Green - July 15, 2008

On ‘legitimate’ targets, Billy Wright, who was far more intelligent and articulate than the semi-moronic Adair, had figured that any Catholic was a ‘legitimate’ target because killing Catholics meant that the IRA would end up losing support among its base as it continued with armed stuggle.

From the point of view of the state, one can see how this modus operandi would bring results, whereas a pogrom proper might have been counter-productive.


25. WorldbyStorm - July 15, 2008

I’m sure an area can be cleansed relatively quickly. That said a full scale pogrom surely requires a sense that those perpetrating it won’t meet equal and opposite or greater force.


26. Garibaldy - July 15, 2008

Well indeed. Maybe that’s what the UDA expected in the early 1990s with their ‘nullification’ of Catholics document.


27. WorldbyStorm - July 15, 2008

I mean in time as well… i.e. no retribution eventually. Hard to envisage that was feasible for Nationalism as a worldview, whereas Loyalism pre proroguement had at least some sense their leash was longer, which I guess is what hugh was saying.


28. Garibaldy - July 15, 2008

I understand what you’re saying. Hard to know. If things had ever got that bad, they would have been relying on the intervention of southern/UN troops too, and some form of effective repartition.


29. WorldbyStorm - July 15, 2008

But presumably they wouldn’t have wanted to be seen as the ‘bad guys’ in this and pogroms, all out pogroms would have been a short cut to that. That said, I don’t for a second doubt that the capacity for pogroms is in every population…


30. Garibaldy - July 15, 2008

Yeah, but it is most likely that had any pogroms occurred in the north, then ones carried out by Catholics would have been going on at the same time as ones in which they were the victim elsewhere. It really would have been open civil war. But cleansing can occurr on a smaller and more long term scale. As the residents of Torrens Avenue in north Belfast can attest. I think we’re in agreement.


31. Starkadder - July 15, 2008

Appartenly, Socialists Against Nationalism were active
from 1978-84. A Google Book Search revealed the
organisation is briefly mentioned in
“Troublesome Business: The Labour Party and the Irish Question”
by Geoffrey Bell.
WBS, if you go to the local library (or have deep pockets)
then the Irish Times Digital Archive can be searched for
info about groups like SAN, CPI (ML), OSF etc.



32. WorldbyStorm - July 15, 2008

I’ll give it a look at the library.


33. WorldbyStorm - July 15, 2008

Here’s a question G. Were there ever mass evictions in Newry or other towns close to the border? I mean short term rapid ones?

Just Belfast, in the event of a true civil war, would have been utterly isolated from a hope of respite from the South. And what would the BA be doing in all this?


34. Garibaldy - July 15, 2008

There were certainly large movements across the border right at the very start, and not all from Belfast, though largely from it. For example, a lot of women, children and the old moved out of Derry but not the population as a whole. Belfast Catholics certainly would have been vulnerable, but some more than others. The UDA document I referred to earlier mentioned places like Bawnmore on the outskirts of north Belfast I think, and the Short Strand and possibly the Markets would have been overrun. On the other hand large parts of west Belfast would have been relatively defensible, at least in the short term. Obviously the British army would have decided things one way or the other there, by either standing by. moving in to ‘pacify’, or trying to prevent attacks.

I think though this was only a realistic prospect in 1969, but the UWC could have developed that way, and there have been examples of isolated communities being repeatedly attacked up to this day.


35. WorldbyStorm - July 15, 2008

A close friend and his family left Belfast for Dublin in the late 60s and never returned. I was always struck by the vulnerability of the situation he/they described. Interesting isn’t it how the BA was seen as the last resort/refuge…


36. Garibaldy - July 15, 2008

Yeah the army served that purpose in August 1969. Which says a lot about the nature of the unionist state.


37. WorldbyStorm - July 16, 2008

To put it mildly.


38. Ken MacLeod - July 16, 2008

Starkadder # 17: I don’t think COBI was strictly De Leonist. They admired the early-20th-century British SLP as sort of proto-Leninists, and reprinted William Paul’s _The State: its Origin and Function_. (William Paul was an SLP and later CP member.) But COBI kept a lot of BICO’s ‘anti-revisionist’ politics and added some oddities of their own. A somewhat less strange goup called Communist Formation may have come out of COBI. I guess Paul Cockshott is the guy to ask about all this.


39. Ken MacLeod - July 16, 2008

I should add that Paul Cockshott’s political and economic ideas are elaborated here and are of great interest and originality.


40. Starkadder - July 16, 2008

Thank you for the information, Ken. According to
Wikipedia, the noted Welsh historian Gwyn Williams
(aka Gwyn Alf Williams) was a
COBI member as well.


I knew of Williams from his book “When was Wales?” and
his BBC documentaries on King Arthur.

I have read some of Cockshott’s work and agree that
it is interesting and well-written.


41. Paul Cockshot - August 9, 2008

Gwyn WIlliams was a member of COBI, as were my recent co-authors Allin Cottrell and Greg Michaelson. The split leading to Communist Formation occured over whether it was correct to enter into alliance with Big Flame to stand candidates against the Labour Party in elections. Those of us who went into CF thought it was worth doing, but the huge gap between our Leninism and Big Flames ideology meant that the project eventually foundered.
was the document which codified our differences with COBI


42. Starkadder - August 10, 2008

Thanks for giving us some information about the
little-known COBI, Mr. Cockshot.
I known some members of the Big Flame group were
later involved in the unsuccessful left-wing
newspaper “News on Sunday”.


43. WorldbyStorm - August 10, 2008

Thanks Paul. Big Flame are sort of mythic figures on the left, rightly or wrongly 🙂 . Great link too… Much appreciated. Still, that’s some gap you guys tried to bridge…

I have that book on the News on Sunday, can’t remember who wrote it, and I’m not certain as to its accuracy, but it’s a great read and does get a real flavour of the time… if you want Starkadder I can send it to you…


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