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The Irish Left Archive: “Politics from the Prisons and other Articles about Ireland”: The Workers Revolutionary Party (UK), c.1988 May 4, 2009

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Workers Revolutionary Party.
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An interesting document from the UK based Workers’ Revolutionary Party – and typical of a category of pamphlet published by UK left organisations on Ireland that the Archive will be uploading many more of in the course of the year. This takes a strongly pro-Sinn Féin and IRA viewpoint and seeks, through articles such as “Class Struggle and national struggle”, to position it within a Marxist framework.

The Workers Revolutionary Party, founded by Gerry Healy, has to be one of the most interesting British Trotskyist groupings with a remarkably contentious history. Let’s just say that by the time this document was published that history had brought it to a point where there were two competing versions of the WRP, the WRP (Newsline) which remained centred on Healy and the WRP (Workers Press), the latter being the originator of this document.

Anyhow, whatever its provenance, the introductory piece lauds:

Questions of History written by Irish Republican Prisoners of War and published by the Sinn Féin Education Department… [as] an exceptional book. If previously we thought of self-sacrifice and defiant courage as the prisoners great strengths, now we must add another: they are making a vital contribution to political discussion.

This seeks to set the book within a clearly ideological framework, which is much to the liking of the WRP.

Trotskyism and nationalism are dealt with in an article that notes that Trotsky himself ‘criticised the [1916] Rising’ and continues that ‘Subsequently Trotskyists today play down the importance of the question of national liberation of the working class’. It continues to bring these seeming contradictions with the stance of the WRP to a conclusion which for good measure notes that…

At the same time Stalinist parties – be it the British CP or Communist Campaign Group, or the CP of Ireland – are condemning of ‘terrorism’ ever more loudly. On the present anti-IRA witch hunt – where the issue of defending national struggles comes up concretely – they are with imperialism. As for the Stalinist Workers’ Party, they have long ago accepted partition lock, stock and barrel. It is these people, not Trotskyists who turn their backs on Ireland’s right to self-determination.

Indeed this approach is carried into other pieces, such as “Stand firm against anti-IRA witch-hunt”, written in the aftermath of the Enniskillen bombing which notes that “First off the mark to denounce the IRA, before any of the details were known, was the Soviet news agency, TASS”. Although this isn’t restricted to “Stalinists”… “The “Militant” tendency stands for a similar ‘unity’ – within the confines of the six-county state created by British imperialism, and at the expense of any principled defence of those in military conflict with that state.”

And the central line is expressed as follows:

Revolutionaries must support all struggles taken up by all sections of the working class in pursuit of their class interests. But if backward sections of the protestant working class are drawn in behind the loyalist pogroms against catholics, we must support those who physically oppose them. (In other words, if a protestant worker on a picket line attacks a policeman in the course of picketing, we support him; if a protestant worker attacks the same policeman because he is resisting a loyalist pogrom in the name of bourgeois justice and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, we support catholic workers’ right to defend themselves, and ridicule any illusions that there is anything spontaneously “progressive” about the attack on the policeman).

There’s considerably more to this document than that, but it gives a flavour of it and a sense of the analysis used.

This text and these files are a resource for use freely by anyone who wants to for whatever purpose – that’s the whole point of the Archive (well that and the discussions). But if you do happen to use them we’d really appreciate if you mentioned that you found them at the Irish Left Online Document Archive…

Comments»

1. Garibaldy - May 4, 2009

That’s like half an hour of my life reading that shite that I can never get back WBS.

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2. Starkadder - May 4, 2009

Trotskyism and nationalism are dealt with in an article that notes that Trotsky himself ‘criticised the [1916] Rising’ and continues that ‘Subsequently Trotskyists today play down the importance of the question of national liberation of the working class’.

That’s always puzzled me-why didn’t the “anti-republican left” in
Ireland (WP,Jim Kemmy,) draw on this aspect of Trotsky’s
thought?

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3. Jim Monaghan - May 4, 2009

I agree with garibaldi.
For a few years I was enamoured with this sest. They were called the SLL then, 1969 to I think 1972. I left the LWR of Paddy Healy to join them. I missed out on real politics like the Socialist Labour Alliance because of that.I think I was looking for te Trotskyist equivalent of the one true church. Yes, I cringe with embarrassement at the memory.
Gerry Healy was mad and bad. The sect broke up when it was proved he was a serial sexual exploiter of the worst kind.
Groups like this even when formally correct do not have a real engagement with poliics. They stand on the sidelines and criticise. Give me real political engagement warts and all. Whatever about the sectish behaviour of say the SWP and SP they are involved with living struggles. The WRP and sects like them such as Workers Power, Sparts etc. do not involve themselves with the real world in case they are contaminated. Better to remain in the monastery than risk infection

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4. Starkadder - May 4, 2009

I’m sorry to hear you got involved with the WRP, Jim. I
was reading the Maurice Brinton book “For Workers’ Power” which
describes some of the thuggery of the SLL (Healy’s earlier
organisation) and they seem to have been an awful group of people.

Oddly, despite being born in Ireland, I’ve heard Healy didn’t take
much interest in this country.

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5. Garibaldy - May 4, 2009

Starkadder,

The WP had no need of Trotsky to evolve its attitude to the national question. There were alternative sources to draw upon, as well as the force of circumstances.

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6. splinteredsunrise - May 4, 2009

The SLL had quite a few young people in Belfast around the late 60s, who used to swank around in leather jackets. They all seemed to disappear when the Troubles started. Tom Paulin was a member, believe it or not.

The Healy movement was oddly Brit-centric bearing in mind that its guru was from Galway. But it did manage to maintain an Irish section, the shy and retiring Workers League, for many years. I believe they finally collapsed in the early 90s, although for legal reasons I’m reluctant to go into details.

Jim is right in that they were much like the Sparts. In the sense that they could produce some really high-quality polemics on paper, but it wasn’t until you saw them in the flesh that you realised just what an unpleasant sect this was. Caveat emptor…

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7. WorldbyStorm - May 4, 2009

Yeah, although some of that comes through in the text. Belligerent was the thought that came to my mind while reading it. Which is grand, up to a point, but surely needs something to back it up (that’s also a fascinating insight into it Jim).

On another point, I find it a bit unlikely that they ever had more members than Militant or the SWP as the wiki piece seems to infer. What do others think?

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8. Mark P - May 4, 2009

The Wiki is correct. From the collapse of the old Revolutionary Communist Party up until perhaps the mid to late 1970s, the Socialist Labour League, in its various incarnations, was the largest organisation in Britain to the left of the Communist Party.

Militant and the SWP both have their origins in Healy’s purges of the organisation at the beginning of this period. Cliff and his supporters were expelled for refusing to defend North Korea in the Korean war. Then Ted Grant and his supporters were expelled for refusing to vote for Cliff’s expulsion.

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9. WorldbyStorm - May 4, 2009

I’m amazed to be honest Mark P. How did the SLL manage that? This document perhaps isn’t representative (although from what Jim and splintered are saying perhaps it is) but its tone isn’t one that would seem to be of the sort to bring a broadish group of people with the platform.

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10. Garibaldy - May 4, 2009

Never underestimate the Redgrave factor.

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11. Leveller on the Liffey - May 4, 2009

One of my good mates when I was in London in the 1970s was a local WRP leader and very active hospital shop steward (I even sold Newsline with him at QPR!).

The WRP struck me as a bit messianic although I’m sure they would say committed.

My mate (at least) was rooted in his community and seemed to have a few people active but whether they were actual WRP members/supporters or Lefty/community heads like me who didn’t mind giving a dig out now and then is open to question.

I don’t believe that the WRP had anywhere near as many members as the Millies or SWP.

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12. Mark P - May 4, 2009

The key factor is that they had a headstart. After a lot of rather unprincipled manouevering, both by Healy himself and by his then masters in the international leadership of the Fourth International, Healy had ended up in control of the British Trotskyist organisation. After he had finished purging “The Club” of his various opponents and rivals, he still had a functioning organisation containing a lot of quite serious and dedicated people, while Grant, Cliff and the rest had only small circles of co-thinkers.

Secondly, this document from the navel gazing (and rapidly disintegrating) anti-Healy faction of the WRP isn’t really representative of the approach of the Club and the SLL in the period when it was actually growing and establishing itself as an organisation of a few thousand. We are talking about thirty or forty years earlier, and while the organisation was always a madhouse in certain respects it did have a certain dedication in the way it built itself – recruting quite heavily from the CPGB in the wake of 1956 for instance.

Thirdly, it had control, for a period of the Labour Party Young Socialists. As Militant were to prove in a later period, this is a very useful position to hold in recruitment terms.

Fourthly, even in the later WRP (pre-split) period, they maintained a ferocious drive to recruit, sometimes by methods that would be considered a bit “unconventional”. They ran football leagues and discos for working class youth, for instance, which apparently would sometimes feature an interruption to the music in which Healy or some functionary would harangue the bewildered youth about Pabloism.

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13. Jim Monaghan - May 4, 2009

They had and lost some serious people. Peter Fryer who was a Daily Worker journalist (paper of CP UK) who broke over Hungary. He wrote a great book on the uprising. He was an eyewitness.Nice guy who wrote a good pamphlet on plain english.Brian Pearce who was a serious historian on a par with Thompson was another. Tom Kemp who had a reputation as an economist was there alos.
They made a breakthrough over Hungary when a group of CP intellectuals broke. They lost them all except Cliff Slaughter who stayed for the final break up
They got the Redgraves. Politically mad as well.
The eldest of the Behan brothers who later became an anarchist.
The group in Belfast were from a Protestant background.The last I heard they were in the Slaughter break away and were involved in aid to Bosnia.
I fell that there is a problem with afr left groups when they recruit a certain number tey get a rush of blood to the head and thing that the joint ghosts of Lenin and Trotsky (substitute Mao or Stalin) have come to rest in the main leaders head.Tis happened with Healy, Lambert in France and probably the worst was Posadas in Suth America who was strange to say the least.The trick is to stay grounded. I have a rule or two. One if it is not a tea break topic at work it is not on the order of the day, secondfly If I know 90% of the people at a meeting/march etc. we are going nowhere.
I left when I disagreed with them about Republicanism. This was 1972 and I saw the Republicans especially the Officails as a very good development. To say the least the Irish leader and Healy were dismissive. Healy was very vulgar about it. I think his vulgarity was part of his attraction for upperclass types like the Redgraves. Of coursed enouncing people as middleclass and thus unable to understand workers is a common device to stifle dissent.(workers do talk like that type of stuff)

On a footnote when they controlled the Young Socialists in the British LP they had the Beatles perform at concerts in Liverpool.
John Lennon was close to Traiq Ali for a while in the rival IMG.

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14. WorldbyStorm - May 4, 2009

Yep, that dynamic of the individuals leading groups getting messiah like complexes is amazing – and in left parties too!

Interesting that that should be the issue you had to break on.

MarkP, okay that definitely makes sense. Discos! Great. In a way though that’s not the worst way to organise… but.. but…

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15. Omar Little - May 4, 2009

I had often heard that they did the best of the Trot groups from the CP’s crisis after Hungary. Peter Freyer’s little book mentioned above had a big effect. Brian Behan was the Behan brother, who joined the SLL, author of ‘With Breast Expanded.’ Like all the Behans a bullshit artist of the highest order, if entertaining.
The Healyites had a presence in Waterford, a couple of whom are still leading union activists in the town.

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16. CL - May 4, 2009

Brian Behan led the South Bank strike against McAlpine in 1958. A great agitator but not much of a writer. He had been ‘elevated’ as a grass-roots representative to the executive of the CPGB. He recalls in the book how as he walked down a hallway in the Kremlin he saw a short little guy coming towards him, with a shorter guy trotting along behind him: the first was Stalin followed by Kruschev.
During the strike Healy held court in a cafe across the street and Brendan Behan came by with bottles of stout to boost morale.
Here’s a link to a piece by Jim Higgins with much insight into the Healyite phenomenon.
http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/critiques/locust/intro.htm

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17. CL - May 4, 2009

Brian Behan “was a fearless and powerful orator at mass meetings and enough of a firebrand to push protests and go-slows to their legal limits and beyond – going to prison twice, in 1950 and 1959. He became a Communist, but found his beliefs gradually crumbling after visits to Russia and China in the mid-1950s, and they collapsed altogether after the Soviets crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956. However, he remained a man of the left all his life.”-from the obit.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/brian-behan-603433.html

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18. WorldbyStorm - May 4, 2009

Thanks for the links CL. Omar, Waterford you say. Intriguing how it’s always been so radicalised, at least in part.

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19. PJ Callan - May 5, 2009

Does anyone remember Newsline been sold outside the gate of TCD. (the gate opposite the cigar shop) I remember buying it sometime around the early 90’s on my irregualr trips to Atha Cliath

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20. D. J. P. O'Kane - May 5, 2009

I do remember one of their splinter groups (International Communist Party, I think) doing a stall outside the Bank of Ireland/Grattan’s Parliament circa 1994. The paper they were selling was called International Worker.

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21. Fergus D - May 5, 2009

My experience of the WRP was in the early 70’s in the UK. At that time Workers Press was a colour daily paper! Must have been one of the first colour papers of any kind in the UK. rumour had it the money was from Gadaffi, but could juts have been the Redgraves and other film types. It did have a lot of articvles about the Middle East though.

I remember once as I walked into the student union (yeah I was a hairy leftie) two WP ppaer sellers, standing either side of the door asked me if I wanted a copy. I read it fairly often but didn’t want a copy every day (or even week), so I said no. To which one replied “So you support the Tories then!” What! Quite a leap but typical. If you didn’t support the WRP you were probably a facist. Hard to get them to actually discuss stuff – all polemics. Their formal Trotskyism was weird . You could say -“right slogan, wrong time” – which of course makes it the wrong slogan. “General strike, force the Tories to resign, elect a Labout Government committed to socialist policies!” day in day out, regardless of the situation.

More on topic – did anyone on the left get “Ireland” right in those days, or even now? As someone from an Irish background growing up the UK I didn’t see any left group/party which seemed to have any great insight in the 70-80s.

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22. WorldbyStorm - May 5, 2009

Fergus D, thanks, that’s pretty illuminating, particularly your point about ‘their formal Trotskyism being weird’… to me they seem oddly similar to Maoist strands, not on programmatic grounds but in tone.

That’s a great question you ask. I don’t have an answer myself. Does anyone else?

DJP and PJ. That rings a bell about outside Trinity.

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23. Fergus D - May 5, 2009

WorldbyStorm “to me they seem oddly similar to Maoist strands, not on programmatic grounds but in tone” – yes I can see that, especially to the weirder groups like the CPE etc.

Actually there may a connection. I was told, but I am not sure how true it is, that Healy left the CP when they went from the ultra-left third period to popular frontism (Wikipedia claims he left the CP in 1937, which might fit). So maybe he was actually stuck in a form of Stalinism that was similar to Maoism, but dressed in the clothes of Trotsky’s Transitional Programme, applied in inappropriate ultra leftist ways (of course we all have our ideas on what constitutes ultra leftism!).

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24. WorldbyStorm - May 5, 2009

I know what you mean 🙂 But that does sort of make sense. Doesn’t it? It just struck me how vivid the language was and how deep the antagonism to rival groups. I mean, of course that goes with the territory of left politics, but… it just seems a bit more heated. I presume it was a bit less so at the height of its powers?

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25. Red Mole and John Lennon « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - May 5, 2009

[…] 2009 Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, The Left, Workers Revolutionary Party. trackback Speaking about the Workers Revolutionary Party, Leveller on the Liffey has sent this in, a photograph of John Lennon with Red Mole… (for […]

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26. Mick Hall - May 7, 2009

I am away and have only just read this thread, but I thought I would comment all the same as I have some experience of the SLL. I would love to know who recruited Gerry Healy to Trotskyism, for he was a very interesting man, far more than the randy old goat of a demigod he is portrayed as today. He was a man of the 1930s whom by the late 1960s when I first came across him, looked out of sync with the times. He was a great platform speaker who built his speech to a crescendo, but it appeared to me to be so dated.

As Jim has already posted he had some able people around him, you could not join the SLL, you were asked to be a candidate member and it was then decided by the branch whether you were later offered full membership. Many comrades took gaining a party card very seriously. I am sorry to see that éirígí operate this system, its weakness is it gives the leadership far to much power over who gets to be a member , etc.

The SLL used all the usual arguments for operating this system, then flip flopped without an explanation when the WRP was formed and party members were told to go out and literally hover up any Tom Dick or Harriet.

I never regretted my membership of the SLL and I am grateful to the comrades who taught me as a working class teenager to be proud of my class, that we had major achievements to our name, {none of which I had ever been taught about at school etc), and an understanding that internationalism is at the core of socialism and it is impossible to be one without the other. We also studied marxism, revolutionary theory and history, it was not that deep but what it did for me at least was create a thirst for such knowledge

Nevertheless, I soon realized the comrades were running themselves raged with activities that were totally divorced from working class struggles that people like me and mine were engaged in.

I remember attending a trade union aggregate at which Mike Banda asked the comrades who were present what they discussed at their last TU branch meeting, out of about 20 people only two of us gave a report back, Banda then asked when the other comrades last attended a branch meeting, none replied, I wondered what the fuck they were doing there and more to the point what was I.

I also remember ferocious arguments taking place after the Provos bombed the old Bailey. The middle class comrades were all over the place, either condemning the Provos or saying it was our duty to support them as they were workers in struggle. To me this was plain daft and I used the argument already given above about protestant workers committing sectarian acts, or those workers who joined the nazi party and believed that parties socialist crap, should we have supported them. In truth I do believe at that time the SLL leadership understood much more about Ireland than the rest of the UK left.

around this time I read Connolly and Mellows and concluded there were sound reasons to support the Provos, but expecting English workers to be grateful when the Provos bombed London or act supportively was plain daft and never entered my head and still does not. Sadly to my mind the Provos sacrificed the support of the English WC for an Irish newspaper headline and the comforting feeling of revenge, which in reality made it an impossibility to build a mass solidarity movement within England Scotland and Wales.

In my judgment English workers, many of whom had Irish links supported re-reunification, but they saw no reason why in the process they should sacrifice themselves to provo bombs.

Jim’s rule of thumb is spot on, (see comment 13) and for me sums up perfectly why the Trotskyist left, despite the enormous dedication of its cadres, have failed to move beyond the phone box mentality.

Having said that, I would not wish my worst enemy to be governed by the likes of Tony Cliff, Ted Grant or Gerry Healy. I often wonder if the failings of the UK Trotskyist movement could be because not one of its founders understood the working classes in the country they operated in politically, all having been born elsewhere.

But that is another barrel of worms to be argued over.

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27. Fergus D - May 7, 2009

Mick Hall “Jim’s rule of thumb is spot on, (see comment 13) and for me sums up perfectly why the Trotskyist left, despite the enormous dedication of its cadres, have failed to move beyond the phone box mentality.”

True. And it came out in the way they operated in arenas such as the UK Labour Party and various campaigns. They didn’t discuss or debate – they shouted at you. Those of us “who had been around” (increasinlgy large number who had been through at least one group) could identify the source of an “interventaion” within the first sentence. Speakers who were members of a group(let) would propound the “party line” and pretty much leave it at that, with some denunciation of the “leadership” of the LP or whatever. They just couldn’t seem to really engage in debate, discussion and development of ideas.

Actually, in the unios I think they operated mostly just as “militants” and didn’t raise “political issues” much at all.

I’ve kept away from such groups for a long time for such reasons. Has it changed?

Not impressed by the UK left’s approach to Northern Ireland at all. Difficult and complex subject but I couldn’t find much that was attractive anywhere.

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28. Jim Monaghan - May 7, 2009

http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/Healy/
The above has a bio of the infamous Healy by Bob Pitt. I don’t buy in to all of Pitts politics but he is right on the facts.
Gerry Downing, I think an Irish Trotskyist has some material as well.
http://www.scribd.com/people/documents/1544314-gerald-j-downing

I think What Next is an excellent journal. A bit ecletric but always intersting even when I disagree.
Look for the debate between ranor Lysaght and John Sullivan on Connolly.
Healy last major campaign was to accuse the leadership of the American SWP of being KGB agents. I think he sated they wre also on the payroll of the FBI. Doublejobbing as well.
He spent part of World War Two in Ireland when the RCP (the main Trotskyist group) feared they would be banned. They hung around with Paddy Trench and wrote for the Dublin Labour Party journal THE TORCH.
Shhehy Skeffigton was friendly to them.
Oh
Healy was in the end a thug and a bully.
Whatever you can say about Grant he was not that. In my opinion boring without originality.
Cliff, again not a Healy and interesting. I would disagree with him but he was not nasty.
The SLL/WRP burnt 1000s of potential cadre and left little of any real worth.
There is an awful story of where the money came from and the price that was paid.
As regards any campaiging work in the neighbouring island give me the British SWP and the IMG any day over Healy and his ilk. From trade union soilidarity to Ireland.I have alwys found the Militant of Grant anemic.
TheLambertistes are the same in France building parties and fronts with only themselves. Here the LCR and its project the NPA offers hope of a breakthrough.

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29. Mick Hall - May 7, 2009

Jim,

I presume the story is about Saddam.s intelligence agencies in London and the Iraqi CP, etc, if true and I have no knowledge about its veracity, it is as you say dreadful. As to was the Joe Hansen CIA/KGB nonsense. The Workers Press/Newsline was edited I think at the time by a former World in Action journalist Alex Mitchell, who really was a cut above the average, yet day after day it churned out articles about this CIA/KGB plot.

Although in the papers defense I will say its coverage of the Israeli siege of Beruit and the massacres at the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila were second to none, as was its overall coverage of the PLO.

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30. WorldbyStorm - May 7, 2009

Can I thank you all for contributing to this thread. It’s precisely the sort of discussion I’d hoped for when posting up the WRP material, both insightful and cordial (or if people prefer, comradely). It really gives an insight into the times – and how some things have changed and others haven’t.

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31. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen Linken « Entdinglichung - May 15, 2009

[…] Nicky Kelly News (vermutlich 1983) * Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP): Politics from the Prisons and other Articles about Ireland […]

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32. Left Archive: “James Connolly and the struggle for Marxism in Ireland” – Article from The Labour Review, monthly journal of the Workers Revolutionary Party (UK) c.1981 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - November 22, 2010

[…] Left Archive already has a piece of documentation from the WRP itself and the WRP linked Workers League and an interesting analysis critiquing the involvement of the […]

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33. Left Archive: “Torture Casebook – The Ulster Dossier, Socialist Labour League [later Workers Revolutionary Party], October 1971. « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - March 26, 2012

[…] Left Archive already has a piece of documentation from the WRP itself and the WRP linked Workers League and an interesting analysis critiquing the involvement of the […]

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