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Interview with Tomás Mac Giolla in Hot Press… July 16, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left, Uncategorized.

As ever I’m very grateful to the person who forwarded me this… It’s an interview in the latest edition of Hot Press with WP luminary Tomás Mac Giolla. And it’s quite a read covering the Aldershot bombing by the OIRA, the murder of Seamus Costello, the relationship with North Korea and the history of the WP from SF onwards.

The Aldershot bomb attack, carried out by
the Official IRA, killed five women and an army
priest at the 16th Parachute Brigade headquarters
back in 1972. As you were on the Army Council,
you must have had prior knowledge of what was

No. I didn’t. As soon as it was announced, Goulding
came to me to tell me what happened. It was a
total shock to me. He told me that they felt (it was
necessary) with all the pressure because of Bloody
Sunday and the fact that paratroopers were involved.
He felt that he should do something and he already
had a lot of information about Aldershot and a
number of other barracks in Britain. He had a lot of
people in England working for him on intelligence
and knew exactly what to do. He had somebody,
whom he praised greatly, do the job. He actually
went there in a car – with the bomb in the car – and
parked the car in the correct place up near the
officers’ mess. And got away.
Even in terms of the aims of the Official IRA at
the time, that bomb was a disaster, killing more
civilians than military personal.

Unfortunately we didn’t have the expertise of the
Provos in bomb-making. The timing was something
like 10 or 15 minutes out and the bomb went off too
soon. It got all the people who were serving up the
grub. In another 10 minutes the officers would have
been in there sitting down. Anyway, he told me that
story and said that he was sorry. He always opposed
bombs. He said he was totally against bombs because
they’re always indiscriminate.
Were further bombs planned?
He was assuring me that there was no question of
more bombs or anything. It was a one-off. He had the
intelligence and he had the guy who could do it. And
he did it, but he made a fucking mess of his timing.
It was the old 1940s system – the old alarm clock type
of bomb. The Provos were the bombers; we weren’t
bombers. But, in any case, it was a dreadful result
altogether because we did exactly the same as the
Provos were doing – killing innocent civilians.
Do you know who planted the bomb?
I never heard the name of the person… But I was
furious. We were the Workers’ Party and we blow up
the workers – the girls serving. I think there were five
or six. It was a shock to Cathal as well. He explained
to me why he did it and what he did. I said, ‘OK, I’ll
forget about it’. So, I just forgot about it – or did the
best I could to forget about it.

Can you shed any light on the assassination of

Until a good while after, I was quite certain that
it was his own crowd. There was great bitterness
developing in the INLA at the time, which eventually
erupted into a battle between the Army Council
and the Headquarters. There was big differences of
opinion there. But then I discovered, after that, a
certain gentleman boasting of it up in the North!

After leaving Sinn Fein, you then went on to
establish The Workers’ Party, which is no longer
a political force. You must be very saddened by

I’m a bit pissed off. The people that voted for us
are still not voting for anybody else. In fact, we had
a new class to describe (our voters): the underclass.
The underclass were never heard of until we came
into force. Suddenly there was an underclass. Not the
working class – but the underclass. The funny thing
about Obama is, his campaign was the first time in
America that class was brought into it. They don’t
recognise the working class over there, but they don’t
recognise the underclass here.
The party was always accused of having a
Stalinist ideology.

Stalinist was the big thing against us. Stalin died
in 1953. We hadn’t a clue about Stalin. That media
thing – a bias against the Workers’ Party – didn’t
work in election time because the working class
people knew that we stood with them. And we were
doing the things they wanted us to do – whether it
was housing issues or reform and so on. That’s what
they voted for. The same thing happened in every
town. It happened in Cork. It happened in Galway.
It happened in Dublin. It happened in Waterford
and up in Dundalk. We had Donegal and Mayo as
well. We got a couple of councillors in the North. The
working class areas understood exactly what we were
talking about. It was expanding at a great rate.

How annoyed were you with De Rossa when he
formed Democratic Left?

Absolutely furious. I knew him for 30 years. I knew
him since he was a young fella. He never had one
question about any part of our policies. Never! He
was at Ard Chomhairle meetings and everything
– and he never questioned anything we did. He
never gave even the slightest indication that he was
opposed to what we were doing. I was over 65 and the
funny thing was that my father died at 65 and my
mother died at the age of 63. I always felt that I’d be
lucky if I got through my 60s. I was 69 – coming up
to my 70th birthday. That’s basically why I decided
to get out, but anyway when I resigned he was
automatically elected (leader). He was in the Dáil
with me at the time. He was very prominent and
he did everything correctly in the Dáil. So, when it
happened it really shocked me because it transpired
that they’d been having meetings in the Dail that I
didn’t even know about!
Who was having meetings and why?
There were six of us (Workers’ Party) TDs there
– five of them were meeting secretly. I didn’t know
a thing about it. To me, the whole thing was total
treachery. Absolute, total treachery. And very
deviously done. I began to see the coming together of
the press and the other political parties, in particular
Ruairí Quinn, and also Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. All
delighted to get rid of this ‘dreadful’ party. The whole
thing was organised for a couple of years, at least,
before it happened. That’s one thing that gets me
down. That was why Ruairí Quinn acted so fast. We
(The Workers’ Party) had seven TDs – we were about
to have 10 in the following election. We had three
seats coming up for us. And this would have seen
the end of the Labour Party. Ruairí Quinn could see
it coming.
The former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte and
his successor Eamon Gilmore were among the
Workers’ Party TDs at the time.

I’d written Rabbitte off a long time ago. Rabbitte,
I can’t stand. Rabbitte nearly destroyed the Labour
Party. And now they put in Eamon Gilmore! Are you
listening to Gilmore? All they’re saying is how bad
this government is. He’s afraid to mention the word
tax. Absolutely afraid to mention it. He had a full
quarter of an hour on the radio yesterday and he
never mentioned one idea about how the government
would get more money. And all the things he asks
them to do require more money. And more money
and fucking more money. And he hasn’t one idea
where to get the bloody thing. But, anyway, I had no
time for Rabbitte at any stage. I don’t think he has
anything genuine about him. He’s good with the
media and the smart aleck remarks and that. But I
trusted De Rossa to the limit. I was sure that I knew
him – that I knew him well. We went back a long
time. 30 years. I knew him since the time he was 17.
He was one of us. Himself and Rabbitte had done the
dirty in any case.


Why did the party have links with North Korea?
We were in touch with them when the partition
took place. We compared each other with being
partitioned north and south. This was an example of
when Britain split a country in two: the Americans
thought they could do the same – and they did.

There’s more… well worth a read…


1. EamonnCork - July 16, 2009

I actually have time for the Workers Party. But this is a terribly disingenuous interview. Two points leap out. 1. The Aldershot bombing is excused largely on the grounds that the OIRA were not bombers like the Provos. As if in fact the incompetence of the bombing somehow reflects well on the organisation. 2. And the killing of Costello is glossed over with the suggestion that it was fair enough to think the IRSP might have done it themselves, they were always fighting among themselves and then put down to one gentleman from Belfast. I’m not too sure about the explanation about North Korea either come to think of it. But I must get the magazine and read the whole interview. The WP into DL stuff is interesting.


2. Long Memory - July 16, 2009

Aldershot was far from the only bombing carried out by the Official IRA; in fact the OIRA had several accomplished bomb makers in their ranks and throughout 1971-72 there were attacks on BA and RUC barracks, shops and pubs that served BA etc, council offices and such like. Sorry to see Tom re-writing history but we should be used to it.


3. Fergal - July 16, 2009

MacGiolla is great on Rabbitte and Gilmore and the latter’s refusal to raise the issue of tax.I think most people on this site would agree that it was greed,in its various guises,that got us into the whole “Celtic Tiger” mess.There is only one(legal)way of putting manners on greed….tax.


4. Colm B - July 16, 2009

Regarding North Korea, what exactly does ‘We were in touch with them when the partition took place’ mean? The final partition between North and South Korea took place following the end of the Korean war (1950-1953). Since the WP/SFWP/OSF did not exist in 1953 and its very doubful that the SF that did exist at that time was in touch with the North Koreans, its hard to know what he means.
I was on the party’s international committee in the 1980s and went to NK in 1989. My own memory is that this WP-NK link was quite late in developing probably in the early to mid eighties and, whatever else, had nothing to do with partition.
In any case I’ve written before on what I think of NK, a ‘Stalino-Confucian God King Autocracy’ which is probably one of the most anti-worker states in the world.


5. EamonnCork - July 16, 2009

Colm (or anyone else who remembers)
As regards his portrayal of the founding of the DL as a bolt from the blue which came when the WP was about to supplant Labour as the main party of the left, how true is that? This is a genuine not a facetious question. I was in London during the late eighties and early nineties so I have no idea how something like this played out at the time.


6. Colm B - July 16, 2009

It was certainly not a bolt from the blue. An intense struggle had developed in the party from after the elections in summer of 1991. This was a complex crisis which arose from a number of factors. Ive written about my analysis of the split elsewhere on CLR so I won’t rehash those arguments but the accounts given by both sides are based on half-truths and largely self-serving. For example while they claim to have only discovered about it at the last moment most leading figures who formed DL knew of the existance of Group B/OIRA all along and in some cases had no real problem with it until very late in the day. On the other hand their traditionalist opponents pretended in public that the armed group did not exist while justifying it in private. Both sides were involved in all sorts of skullduggery and manouevering before the split, so there were certainly no angels.

Of course all sort of tensions had existed previously between elite factions but now it was out in the open. A series of open meetings attended by the parties Ard Comhairle, party cllrs , TDs, chairs of committees etc intensified the divisions. To be fair to TMcG he seems to have remained aloof from this emerging division and was probably surprised by the rapidity with which De Rossa et al split from the party after the Special Ard Fheis in early 1992, but no one could have been unaware of the growing division before that.


7. Jim Monaghan - July 16, 2009

I was told that Rabbitte and Gilmore did not really want De Rossa in their new party either, consigning him with McGiolla.
Tony Gregory had a soft spot for McGiolla.


8. EamonnCork - July 16, 2009

It strikes me I’ve fallen into the old trap of focussing on the bombing and shooting stuff as if this was the most important thing about the WP in its various incarnations. Which it wasn’t by a long chalk. Sorry, these were just the first things that caught my eye. I can see the WP book being reviewed in these terms, with a little bit left over to discuss who was nasty to Mary McAleese on Today Tonight. There was a bit more to the party than that.


9. Mick Hall - July 16, 2009

Who conducted this interview, time and again Mac Giolla gave (s)he an opening yet they failed to follow through, partition of NK, OIRA bomb, implosion of WP, killing of Costello, Stalin.

By the way, how can anyone in a leadership position of a socialist party claim not to know much about Stalin. a man who put the black spot on socialism in the West for the last 4 decades of the 20th century.

By the early 1970s there was so much verifiable information in the public domain about Stalin’s crimes, only a half wit or a deceitful stalinist would make such a ridiculous statement. For Tomas to make such a statement today is beyond the realms of the ridiculous and before anyone suggests it I am far from being a Trotskyist.

Finally in the lead in to the five WP TD’s walking away from the party, would the rank and file membership of the party have been involved in the debate, or was this ‘debate’ restricted to the leadership cadre?


10. Dubliner 15 - July 16, 2009

It seem that the above is only a tiny/selected excerpt of the interview…a lot of stuff is followed up in the actual article, which is 5 pages in the mag.


11. Maddog Wilson - July 16, 2009

I suppose i am going to get it the neck, but i think that given the circumstances in 1972 the attack on Aldershot was justified. Apart from the number of people killed by the British Army in the North, the Parachute Regiment was the ‘ lead’ counter insurgency unit in the conflict. They were trying out certain techniques such as setting up ‘kill Zones’ around Army Bases. In Ballymurphy on Internment night they killed or fataly wounded i think 15 people, In Derry 14 people and later in July 72 at Corrys timber yard in Whiterock 6 people. To attack the officers mess in one of the biggest army bases in Britain was in my opinion justified. Because those killed apart from Captain Weston were civilians, everyone condemns it in retrospect, but as Eamonn MCcann wrote in ‘ War In an Irish Town’, and i am no fan of his strand of politics, if a bucket full of British Officers had been killed there would have been ‘ Dancing in the streets of Derry’.


12. EamonnCork - July 16, 2009

Is Stalinist a fair description anyway? By what measure could the WP have been described as Stalinist? I mean, as far as I remember, Stalin wasn’t a figure who bulked very large in the party’s ideology. They were Marxists but is Stalinist really fair? Or is it just a convenient insult? I was talking to a former WP person recently and he said he was genuinely surprised to see this Stalinist tag being brought up and that it’s been used more now than it was when the party was actually a political force.


Starkadder - July 16, 2009

Eamonn McCann, who was always unsympathetic to the
WP, described the party as “Stalinist” in an Magill article about
Eoghan Harris years ago. IIRC, Harris claimed the WP
was only Leninist, not Stalinist.


13. WorldbyStorm - July 16, 2009

I think you’re pretty much right EC. In my years in the WP throughout the 1980s I never ever recall being handed material relating to Stalin or being lectured about him or indeed that period. Indeed even Lenin wasn’t really discussed that much. To be honest it was more Marx and then the form, democratic centralism, etc, etc. I say that incidentally as one who would be profoundly antagonistic to Stalinism. I think that those who make the charge forget that the party came from a Republican background and therefore that strand was very important in it. Sure, there was an identification with currently existing socialism as it was seen i.e. Cuba, the USSR, but God, I’ve never thought that per se meant Stalinism. I think it’s this identification, which in some respects was genuine with workers states and struggles (however naive), in others to a degree opportunist in the sense of hoping to use the influence of the USSR (and again the post REpublican thing was important there in terms of sticking it to the Provo’s by denying them that option, particularly during the 1980s as they radicalised politically).


14. Pete - July 16, 2009

I think MacGoilla tries his best in these excerpts to tell the truth without incrimanating himself. Can you name to me any Irish political figure who has publicly stated they sat on a committee which voted to commit murder? How could Tomas say that? On the NK stuff its difficult territory for the WP at the moment. Maddog I’m not sure about that 15 in Ballymurphy figure was it not more like 5? But as for Aldershot an unfortunate outcome to a daring and neccessry operation, a tragedy about the cleaning ladies but wasn’t a para-padre got as well? I can’t think of a more justified killing, it’s just a pity that more of the officer scum were not got.


15. Garibaldy - July 16, 2009

I think Fergal hits the nail on the head in comment three. The most pertinent part of this interview – as I’m sure Tomás would say himself – is the issue of presenting a left alternative in the midst of the present crisis. Especially given the vicious anti-worker agenda proposed in today’s report in the south.

On Eamonn’s point about surprise, I read the interview as saying he was shocked at De Rossa’s involvement in the split, and at the underhanded way it went on, rather than saying he was unaware that there were discontents in the party. Which, as has been discussed here before, were brewing. I know that people who were prominent in opposing attempts at the 1991 Ard Fheis to redefine the party ended up going DL, and that was a shock to people too. That’s what I think this meant.

There is a tendency when people talk about all this to assume that the person you are talking to understands what you mean, and grasps the subtleties, when in fact that is not the case. I think that may well be the case here in this interview; that Mac Giolla is assuming his meaning is clear to the journalist/audience when it won’t be. I take this to be the case about the bombing. I take the point to be that the IRA never engaged in a bombing campaign such as that which the Provos were engaged in in the early 70s that cost so many civilian lives.

On the point about Stalinism. I think WBS hits the nail on the head, even if his use of “from a republican background” and “post-republican” will earn him a firm slap on the wrists. History is an important part of the Party’s identity and tradition. Let’s not forget that it was the Wolfe Tone Societies that set the stage for Goulding’s New Departure. That very sentence should tell people about how it is the republican tradition in Ireland that lies at the core of the Party. The Party’s education programme both then and now as I understand it has always been about Ireland much more than anywhere else. So this is why Mac Giolla is right when he says Stalin didn’t mean that much. There are those in the Party who know the ins and outs of the Soviet Central Committee in the 1920s, and those for whom they don’t matter one bit. It is a great mistake to see The WP as a typical CP.

I also think that Stalinism has become a more used term of abuse here because of the delegitimising effect of the collapse of the USSR in many people’s eyes of support for the Soviet Union from the 1960s forward (as though it were the same as the 1930s. Hobsbawm loves to quote the Amnesty report from the 1970s that on torture in east and west for example). Also Trotskyism and anarchism have grown greatly in relative importance on the Irish left, and it is a word they like to use. On top of that, it was a convenient way to present those to adhered to class politics as dinosaurs in the DL split.

The USSR, Cuba, Vietnam etc all mattered as practical examples of the power of socialism to unite people and forge liberation. But WP policy has always been formed primarily by local conditions, and it was the very responsiveness to local conditions on which the successes of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were built, as WBS and Colm B can attest.

On the era before the DL split. Colm B is right that he has come on here and explained his point of view at the time, and fair play to him, because he responded to some questions I had, and did so in an open manner that I respected. But with respect, I think that the version he gives here is just as biased as those he is critcising. I wasn’t a party member at the time, although I had some awareness of what was happening, but everyone I have talked to across the country whether in the leadership or not has told me that they were aware of problems before 1991. And the idea of elite factions is one I think coloured by Colm B’s own political position at the time and since regarding the internal workings of any political party. I’ve certainly never had any awareness of any elite faction, and again every sort of member I’ve spoken to participated in meetings and debates around the time of the split. In fact it was the ordinary members refusing to tow the liquidationist line that resulted in them walking off.

But like I say the key part of the interview is that which touches on what we must do faced with the present crisis.


16. Phil - July 16, 2009

It is a great mistake to see The WP as a typical CP.

I’m sure I should know this, but bear with me – was there in fact a CPI or did the WP occupy that niche? I’ve always assumed the WP had the local franchise simply from the split’s use of the name DL, but I realise it’s just an assumption.


17. Maddog Wilson - July 16, 2009

I seem to remember quite a few people died of their wounds, after Bloody Sunday the Paras themselves scrawled graffiti on walls in West Belfast. 15, 14 and 13, which referred to the death toll at McGurks bar, Ballymurphy and Derry minus some who died of their wounds.

Weston was the padre but i doubt if he ever gave the last rights to his comrades civilian victims.


18. Garibaldy - July 16, 2009

Phil there was and indeed still is a CPI. Its members were prominent with the-then republican movement in the civil rights campaign in NI, and one of the reasons for the Provo split was the-then movement’s cooperation with them (at least that was a reason the Provos themselves gave). There was a major falling out in 1977 over a discussion document that said it might need foreign capital to create a larger Irish proletariat as the Irish bourgeoisie was too lazy and farm-centred to do it itself. At the same time and since, I think it’s fair to say some CP elements gravitated towards the Provos. As I think mac Giolla mentions in the interview, there was also competition for the affections of the Soviets, which I think it’s fair to say the CP were losing towards the end.


19. Gypsy - July 16, 2009

Well my recollection of the events that led up to the vote in the Marine Hotel are more in line with Colm’s and I say that as one who ended up on the opposite to Colm after the split. Perhaps the fact that you are a member of the WP might colour your own political position. Have you spoken to many ex-members? I think the fact that a lot of the people I knew who were active in the WP at the time didn’t stay or didn’t go with New Agenda in it’s own way speaks for itself. I think a lot of them thought differently about whether there were elite factions in the party and decided a pox on both your houses.


20. WorldbyStorm - July 16, 2009

While agreeing with most of what you’re saying Garibaldy, I think one crucial issue is to remember that in 1991 the party was pretty big. There was lots of room for factions and the leadership(s) were riven with them, after all, how else to explain the split and the events afterwards? I think I could easily identify three factions, perhaps four actually and I’d have known people attached to each of them. I’d been in London for a while up to about six months before the split and it was amazing to me to return to all the politicking and jockeying for position.


21. Garibaldy - July 16, 2009

That’s certainly possible. And I think it’s true of some people. But I also think that exhaustion and depression after seeing how several decades of hard work ended up played its part in many people withdrawing from political life as well. And I wouldn’t seek to claim that my position is objective. Few if any of us are here, including possibly yourself.


22. Garibaldy - July 16, 2009


I haven’t made myself clear. I wasn’t suggesting that there were no factions. I was suggesting that it wasn’t a question of elite factions fighting above the heads of the membership but of splits that ran through the Party, from top to bottom.


23. WorldbyStorm - July 16, 2009

Yes, I’d largely agree with that. I can only think of one faction I’d seriously consider ‘elite’ during the period of the 80s and that was Harris et al. But they too had linkages everywhichway.


24. Colm B - July 16, 2009

An interesting discussion indeed comrades. Unfortunately I havent got the time to respond tonight but I will try to come back to the debate tomorrow especially on the issues of elite factions in the pre-split WP.


25. WorldbyStorm - July 16, 2009

That’d be great, thanks Colm.


26. Mark P - July 16, 2009

On the issue of Stalinism:

Stalinism is not being used simply as an insult, nor does it mean personal adoration of Stalin himself. It’s a political current, adhering to certain distinctive political positions – a stages theory of revolution, socialism in one country, the popular front, admiration of at least a subset of the Stalinist dictatorships – all of which the Workers Party shared, and continues to share, with the other Stalinist Parties worldwide.

It is entirely disengenuous for Garibaldy to go from defending the Stalinist suppression of the Spanish revolutionaries and arguing in favour of the Workers Party’s ongoing fraternal links with the Workers Party of Korea in other threads to claiming here that “Stalinism” is just a term of abuse.

That said it is certainly reasonable to point out that the Workers Party was subject to domestic as well as international influences, from the CPI, from the broad tradition of Republicanism, from changing conditions on the ground and so on.


27. Garibaldy - July 16, 2009

Umm, where did I defend the suppression of anybody? I’ll look forward though Mark to your thoughts on Trotsky and discipline in the Red Army and the suppression of dissent in relation to the his and his followers’ attitudes to militias and the absence of a need for a disciplined army in Spain.


28. WorldbyStorm - July 16, 2009

You see that’s where, despite my considerable dislike of Stalin and particularly the fetishisation of the man that I part company with you Mark P. I could posit that you could hold many of those positions you propose without being in any sense a Stalinist. A stages theory? That seems to me to be one of those things up for grabs, who knows if it’s correct or not? Socialism in one country, likewise. Makes as much sense as trying to start revolutions in many, etc, at least on a pragmatic basis. Popular front? Can’t see the problem myself. The only one you quote that to me has any legitimacy is the ‘admiration for Stalinist dictatorships’. And even that’s problematic. Can we seriously compare say 1970s Czechoslovakia with NK, or Yugoslavia with Albania, or even Hungary with Cuba and argue that they were a seamless and undifferentiated whole that one terms ‘Stalinist’? I don’t think that’s an intellectual position, let alone a utilitarian one, that holds much water. And speaking of admiration, can’t I admire CZ under Dubcek, Yugoslavia in general terms and aspects of Cuba without a) buying into the totality or b) being a Stalinist? By the by, I have no time for the WPs links with NK, and never did.


29. Mark P - July 16, 2009

Well, WbS, the WP had fraternal links with the regimes of all of those countries you mention (except possibly Albania, and then only because the Albanians got uppity), so they certainly saw important continuities between them!

The point is not that Stalinism is an undifferentiated bloc, but that its variations take place within a certain framework, much as Sweden and Chad are both capitalist countries but by no means identical. Or much as Keynes and Friedman were both capitalist economists. It is also possible to share one or some of the beliefs of a political ideology without supporting that ideology – I agree with a lot of the political positions of the WSM, but that doesn’t make me an anarchist.

Stalinism, as I said earlier is a system of political thought with certain common political positions. All of the ruling parties of the countries you name, without any exceptions, held all of the positions I outlined in my previous comments. All of them. So too did the Workers Party and it still does.

That doesn’t make any individual member of a Stalinist Party into an admirer of Stalin or even a political Stalinist. People join parties for all kinds of reasons and subscribe to the various positions of those parties to varying degrees. But if you don’t understand that the Workers Party was Stalinist in its politics and was intimately linked to the Stalinist regimes and parties around the world, then you’d misunderstand much that party’s history.


30. Pete - July 16, 2009

So Mark P you are using Stalinism as a term of abuse by attempting to link anyone who holds anyone of a number of strategic left positions, which have by the proved quite effective, with a psychotic troubled dictator who was dead before the WP was founded – do you belief your use of the term Stalinist serves any constructive purpose?


31. Mark P - July 17, 2009


Those “strategic left positions” were all held by that “psychotic troubled dictator” and the movement around the world which holds to them, and with which the WP identifies, originates as a distinct trend in the split in the Marxist movement between his followers and those of Trotsky. Up until relatively recently all of the regimes we were discussing and indeed the WP would have proudly defended not just the Stalinist regimes or Stalin’s political views but Stalin himself. Now they stick to the regimes and the policies but abandon the personality of their patron because he’s become a bit embarrassing.


32. Pete - July 17, 2009

Ah, now I see mark you clearly have idea of the WP’s actual positions or have no intrest in doing anything but promoting a cartoon version of history that amounts to lies. Can you provide any statement by any WP leadership figure, or indeed any WP member, apart from some who later joined the CPI or Harris which contains any support of Stalin. Mac Goilla, Garland, Goulding any of them, ever?


33. Pete - July 17, 2009

Actually any evidence at all of any main party figure ever ‘proudly’ support – you won’t be able to because it never happened.


34. Mark P - July 17, 2009

Unfortunately the Workers Party days of prominence long predate the internet, so the bulk of their output on historical matters simply isn’t readily available to must of us. Are you saying that the WP simply never said anything at all about matters of international Communist history (which seems unlikely), or that it did comment on such matters and took an anti-Stalin line (which seems even less likely). I note that you exclude some WP figures from your challenge, which indicates that you accept that at least some of them openly argued in favour of Stalin.

The WP is fortunate not to have been around while Stalin was, so unlike the CPs it doesn’t have a library of contemporaneous material arguing for Stalin in the disputes of the time. All of the parties it allies itself with internationally do have such a collection however. It is also very clear that the WP (a) adopted all of the distinctive political positions of Stalinism internationally and that (b) it has aligned itself openly with every Stalinist regime in the world.


35. alastair - July 17, 2009

wasn’t a para-padre got as well? I can’t think of a more justified killing, it’s just a pity that more of the officer scum were not got.



36. WorldbyStorm - July 17, 2009

Mark P, that’s simply incorrect. This site has been assiduous in putting material into the public domain, warts and all about the WP, and other formations. You’d have to go a long way to find much more, in general terms than expressions of support for then existing states, something that from an ideological point of view was hardly the sign of outright Stalinism since much of it was expressed as support in the context of imperialism from the US/West.

And there’s a key phrase in your point #34…

“The WP is fortunate not to have been around while Stalin was, so unlike the CPs it doesn’t have a library of contemporaneous material arguing for Stalin in the disputes of the time.”

It wasn’t, and it didn’t. And to retrospectively map that viewpoint back onto it is frankly intellectually – whatever about politically – untenable. If you had any knowledge of the make-up of the WP during the 1980s you’d know that ‘Stalinism’ was very much not a part of its agenda (indeed realistically outside of the CP at times, CPI (M-L) and perhaps BICO and a few other odds and ends “Stalinism” in any functional sense hasn’t been a serious strand on the Irish left. A diffuse Marxism, sometimes shading into Leninism with support for the USSR and other states of a similar nature was the characteristic of the WP. And this was by no means totally uncritical, as the approach of the party to the developments in the USSR during the period proved.

As for the links the WP has with NK now. I think they’re hugely problematic i.e. they shouldn’t exist. To put it mildly, but that is as much a function, I suspect of the WP’s diminishing numbers and how that operates in terms of its general approach as anything else.


37. Mick Hall - July 17, 2009

Of course the real point is not whether the WP leadership went around crying up Stalin, but whether they made any attempt to arm their cadres by educating them about the crimes of Stalin and the disastrous consequences for socialism that flowed from those crimes. (they did not)

Remember the WP was setting out its stall as a left reformist party with a republican tint. People like Tomas were well aware that if they had openly praised the old butcher, workers would give them a very wide birth.

The fact they made no attempt to deal with the legacy of Stalin speaks volumes, indeed one can tell from their links with NK they had no problem with Stalinist structures and that this was eventually to lead to the WP implosion was in my view natural justice.

I’m pushed for time but will return to this later.


38. Phil - July 17, 2009

I’m a bit surprised to see people seriously debating the term ‘Stalinist’. Can we just take it that it’s derogatory shorthand for ‘pro-Soviet’ – which the WP clearly was, kind of – and get back to the OP?


39. Pete - July 17, 2009


I see now that you have rolled back on your attempt to characterize the WP as some form of Stalinist sect – so now they must be battered for not being a Trotskyite sect imbued with their obsessions about the ‘great beast’ – I think as Phil points out it maybe best served if you don’t return to this later.

I have sometimes think that Trotsky’s expulsion and failure has always been the real attraction to his politics for some, they didn’t have to try and understand anything that happened in countries that at least attempted to socialize economic control and it also appealed to the teenage rebel streak. I don’t want to get into name calling though and do recognize that some attraction to the Soviet system was born out of “big man” attraction for some and a nasty authoritarian streak – can we maybe just accept that the WP was a party that grew from unique Irish revolutionary traditions and that name calling has never got the Left anywhere? We do agree on that don’t we?


40. Colm B - July 17, 2009

The thread has developed somewhat since I last intervened into a debate about the WP and stalinism. For what its worth, I largely agree with Mark P’s analysis of the WPs politics but think its probably inaccurate to simply label it or indeed the current CPI as Stalinists simply because, after Stalin’s death, most western european CPs evolved adherence to a ‘milder’ version of the same basic ideology and some eveolved later into fully fledged social democratic parties. It might therefore be more accurate to term this current ideology Brezhnevism or Orthodox Communism. This makes it clear that the question is not really about open positions adopted regarding Stalin but about a set of core attributes including some or all of the following:

A continuing belief that the USSR was a socialist state and that its legacy should be defended.
A more or less social democratic/reformist outlook in capitalist democracies.
Support for authoritarian states such as China, Cuba and NK (very different beasts it must be emphasised).
Largely uncritical links to trade union bureacracies.
A readiness, despite revolutionary rhetoric, to enter bourgeois coalition governments.
On internal democracy these parties vary with all being organised in a top-down manner, mostly dominated by an inflexible, long standing leadership, but some being more democratic than others (for example despite their dire politics the PCF does allow de-facto tendencies and there is real debate and ideological struggle within that party).

These traits certainly characterise the French, Greek, and Portugese CPs to whom the WP has close links and the international alliance of CPs (the title escapes me) to which the WP is linked if not formally affiliated.
I’ll come back to thos elite factions later…I promise.


41. Mark P - July 17, 2009

No, Pete, we cannot simply look at the WP in an Irish context because if you leave out its conscious decision to align itself with every Stalinist regime and its conscious decision to adopt each and every one of the defining Stalinist political positions then you leave out much of what the WP actually was and actually represented.

I find myself absolutely baffled by WbS insistence on reducing Stalinism to a question of the degree to which an organisation personally worship Stalin. As I have repeatedly said, I am not using the term in that way and pretty much nobody who uses the term uses it in that way. Stalinism is a political movement, which has as its defining characteristics adherence to the Stalinist states and adherence to certain clear political positions. The WP, like the other parties it looked to, was loyal to all of the Stalinist dictatorship and supported each and every one of the political positions common to international Stalinism. Therefore, it was and is a Stalinist organisation.

On the issue of personal fidelity to Stalin as an icon, that simply isn’t significant to my argument or to my use of terminology. However, as a side issue I would be interested in seeing if the WP members, current or former, here can produce any WP material from its heyday which was critical of him.


threequarks - July 17, 2009

i can only give my own personal account, but my memories of WP are definitely not Stalinist – that was the CPI.

revolutionary Leninist with a green tint is a more apt description. Lenin certainly was admired as an icon.
Trotsky was hated – that was the IRSP/INLA lot

in simple terms you could break it down as follows:
CPI: Stalin
IRSP/INLA: Trotsky
WP: Lenin

of course i’m open to criticism by others who remember the WP, but thats my memory of it anyway down in Cork.


42. EamonnCork - July 17, 2009

As a side issue I’d also be interested in seeing if there is any material from Fine Gael during this period explicitly denouncing Stalin. Because if there’s not, Fine Gael also stand convicted of Stalinism. (I jest).


43. threequarks - July 17, 2009

i grew up in a WP supporting household, and my memory is more of Lenin rather Stalin. In fact Stalin was practically airbrushed out of history by the WP.

Its fair to say that the WP was Leninist with a strong republican nationalist tint.


44. EamonnCork - July 17, 2009

I’m not too sure about that republican nationalist tint. I happened across a report from 1980 the other day when MacGiolla led the way at Dublin Corpo in condemning a Tony Gregory resolution which expressed concern about conditions in the H Blocks (Gregory was seconded by Brendan Lynch, was he Labour?). That would have been pretty much par for the course for the party on matters republican, I think. Though, interestingly enough, in 1981 when the H Block candidates stood, there were big transfers between them and the SFWP people. SFWP got the biggest H Block transfer in Dublin North East and Waterford for example and MacGiolla’s voters gave more transfers to the H-Blocker in Dublin West than to anyone else.
Presumably Hot Press refrained from headling the piece – MacGiolla Guerilla.


threequarks - July 17, 2009

of course it was republican nationalist – but they hated the Provos/SF. i can only speak for my own experiences but even nowadays SF is bitterly hated with a vengence by ex-WPers.


Leveller on the Liffey - July 18, 2009

Not all but where is Malachy/Gandhi in this debate?


45. Colm B - July 17, 2009

To retrun to an earlier debate on this stream, I want to outline in more detail what I mean when I refer to the existence of elite factions (or elite currents/tendencies is you prefer those looser terms) in the WP during the 1980s. (Sorry comrades, I off work today hence the burst of CLR contributing).

First of all why do I use the term ‘elite’ to describe these factions?

1. Most ordinary members (by which I mean members active in the constituencies with little contact with Head Office etc.) were unaware of the existence of these groupings. Factions were banned under ‘democratic centralism’ and most members believed this to be the case in reality. To use myself as an example: From 1981/82 when I got involved with the WP until around 1987-88 I genuinely bought the party line that there were no factions. It was only when I became involved at a central level through membership of the International Affairs Committee and the leadership of WPY that I began to get a real picture of the tensions and divisions at the top of the party.

2. The personnel of the factions consisted of a relatively small section of the membership. Most of the ‘factionalistas’ were either leadership figures (Ard Comhairle, Party Committees etc.) and their close cohorts and/or so-called intellectuals and/or members of specialist sections (Trade union activists and members of Group B/OIRA). Its worth pointing out that since the factions had blurred edges people drifted in and out of them.

3. The factional struggles were largely conducted behind the scenes. This ensured that the myth of the ‘factionless’ party could be maintained both for public and internal consumption. This was as a result both of a party culture which imbued even the factionalistas meaning that they did not want to be seen as just that and, mainly on the part of the Harris/Smullen grouping, a hyper-conspiratorial way of operating. A measure of the success of the ‘factionless party’ myth was that even hostile outsiders such as Vincent Browne who burrowed constantly for dirt of the WP does not seem to have been aware of their existence.

4. This meant that debates about the fundamental direction of the party, if they happened at all, happened largely behind the scenes. So, for example, the rapid move towards an economistic stages theory position in the late 70s did not arise from open debate but from successful behind the scenes work by the Harris/Smullen grouping which led to the de-facto adoption of the Irish Industrial Revolution as core economic policy. Later a gradual and low level rivalry grew between the so-called Euro-communists and the Traditionalists about the political strategy of the party in the south and to a small degree about relations with the communist states. These were often bitter divisions but were successfully kept out of the open sphere of party life.

5. Despite the short-hand titles I’ve applied for convenience sake the main factions ideological positions evolved over the 1980s. Again this evolution was largely internal to these groupings rather than being the result of wide participation in open debate by the mass of members.

6. The real ideological divisions between these factions rarely made it to the surface in the form of debate in the party publications. Yes there was some debate in the publications but rarely on fundamental direction or no-go zones (USSR etc.). It was only at a very late stage that some of the tensions appeared in the official publications.

7. The initial cracks in this ‘hidden system’ appeared when Harris attempted, in 1989, to change the direction of the party fundamentally, swinging it sharply to the right. He tried to do this by using an initially willing De Rossa and then by attempting to surreptitiously use his faction to pre-empt debate by having the Necessity of Social Democracy document circulated and adopted de-facto just as the IIR had been. So strong was the culture of avoiding criticism of leaders even then that, despite the fact that there was huge unease with De Rossa/Harris’s speech, especially the references to the unemployed etc., there was little open debate or public criticism of it within the party.
This time the rival factions fought back belatedly and in the process opened up the hidden life of inter-faction rivalry and debate. This in turn then led to a real and fierce open struggle on fundamental issues between the Traditionalists and Parliamentarians which came to involve a somewhat gobsmacked mass of the membership in 1991-92. The proof of the pudding is the amount of members who just dropped out after the 1992 split: this had genuinely come out of the blue to them since both the tone and content of the debate had been largely hidden from them prior to 1991 or 1990 at the earliest.

To briefly describe the main factions:

1. The Harris/Smullen grouping. This outfit really was an organised tendency, a party within the party. They were formally organised in the secret cumainn. They had their own publications via the so-called Research Section. They were tightly dominated by one central figure, Harris, who almost solely responsible for developing their ideological positions. They worked in a conspiratorial manner to push their lines (paranoiac anti-provoism, uncritical pro-unionism, economism, rabid anti-trotskyism etc.) both within and outside the party. They engaged in spinning and vilification against their rivals, real or perceived, within the party. They were certainly resented by the other factions but they easily outmanoeuvred their less organised and less-ideologically confident rivals until the late 80s when the balance of power shifted in the party. Smullen’s sub-grouping of working class constituency activists from the north east of Dublin and trade unionists, though a wholly-owned subsidiary was quite different in both class and ideological terms. I guess you could call them genuine Stalinists but that’s veering into another debate.
2. The Eurocommunist/Parliamentarians/Social democrats: This was a much looser grouping, more ideologically diverse, which only really fully coalesced in the late 80s but certainly came into existence earlier. Initially you had ‘intellectuals’ such as Hazelkorn, Patterson, Gillan etc. but other leadership figures such as Geraghty etc. were associated with them. As time went on this loose current merged with the ‘pragmatists’ mainly TDs and councillors and their close cohorts, more interested in constituency matters but hostile to Harris’s conspiratorial sect and also the traditionalists due to the embarrassment (for them) of association with republicanism/communism. This stream really went on to become the core of DL’s leadership. They started out broadly believing in the left-reformist goal of a parliamentary road to socialism but gradually evolved into plain old social democrats.

3. The Traditionalists/Republicans/Orthodoxos. They were very dominant in the North but also influential in the South given their historic role and hold over key positions. Their organisational strength was their domination of Group B/OIRA. That is not to say that the other factions did not have a toe hold in the armed wing or that they disapproved of its existence, at least up until 1989. They say themselves as the real guardians of the republic but they were also strongly influenced by soviet-style ‘Marxism-Leninism’ so that they combined traditional republicanism with orthodox communism (or Stalinism if you will) to a greater or lesser extent. So for example O Hagan was the most pronounced advocate of Marxism-Leninism while people like O Cionnaith, still saw themselves as primarily republicans or republican socialists.

4. This is not to say that other minor divisions did not emerge occasionally, usually at a local level,: for example the split of the Waterford Peoples Party from the WP which, I am told, was largely caused by a dispute with Paddy Gallagher, the former TD, who was initially aligned with Smullen but later went with the Parliamentarian wing. But such small splits or factions had little impact on the party overall and did not lead to any major debates across the party. The same goes for the small radical left ‘campaigning party’ grouping of mainly ex-WPY members that I was involved with in the 1990-1992

You could write a book on it this so all I’ve done is given a flavour of the era which I hope convinces those who doubt the accuracy of my use of the term ‘elite factions’. Hopefully the upcoming book on the history of the WP will illuminate and clarify some of the points I have made.


threequarks - July 17, 2009

great summary.
the faction descriptions are quite accurate – thats how i remember it growing up in Cork.


46. Jim Monaghan - July 17, 2009

The ironic thing is that in the early days Garland and McGurran were seen as the friendliest to Trotskyists from abroad.
The Provos were never fond of Costello because he displayed little tolerance for the stupidities about absentionism and the nonsense about the First Dail.In fact Costellos lack of patience alienated potential allies. In the Officials his call for a renewed leadership with the ousting of the old guard lost him support. Friednships counted for more than politics.
Gerry Foley who had been close to Garland (recently attacked by O’Hagen) had reservations about the Guerrilla tactic/strategy of the Provos. Ireland was a factor in debates where a section of International Trotskyism who were carried overboard by Guevarism and Foley opposed this tendency.
On the IRSP I always felt that they were in thrawl to militarism early on. For a number of factors.
One they had to try and become a third force where the Provos and Officials were very established.Difficult as the forces of repression had got their act much better together by that stage.
Two. The preemptive strike by the Officials threw the balance towards the militarists.
Allied to the above I suspect that many who had been thrown out of the Officials for good reasons now saw a home that could not refuse themn easily. The IRSP needed all the help they could get.

On Stalinism. I remember leadership figures saying wistfully that if they had cauterised the Provo threat early on they could have controlled the momentum.This was quite commonplace and fed into the athmosphere So when the Costello split occured they acted.
Republicanism had many splits in the past, I strongly believe that Stalinism made the malevelonce much worse.
Interesting that in all the splits in ETA (Basque country) none of the splits have dropped a committment to Basque independence or allied with the Spanish government against the militarists. afaik.
The Officials did not just target MacAleese in RTE. They did the same all over the place.The dominant wing was the media people. This to me overshadows all the good they did. On a previous discussion the Irish people was discussed. This paper did more to make slum landlords and allied muck worried than any tribunal.
Trotskyist groups(mostly) respected the right of the IRSP to exist, whether attacked by the Official IRA or the heavy gang.


47. Mick Hall - July 17, 2009

Lets be clear and try at least to put behind us silly insults based on peoples hatred of Trotskyism or anyone who condemns Uncle Joe.

Stalinism is a malevolent current within the international working class movement. It grew out of the Soviet bureaucracy, whose best interest it at first came to represent and after Stalin’s death it gradually reverted back to this role. The State bureaucracy both in the USSR and the peoples democracies was its core support base. Not the working class or rural workers and when the USSR was on its last legs, this is why hardly a single worker came out onto the street in defense of the Soviet State.

The reason parties like the WP (to a lessor extent) the CPI and in the UK CPB, still believe Stalinism and Leninism are two of a kind is because the leaderships of these organizations and their forerunners, refused to dig into their party’s past and deal with the legacy of Stalinism.

The word has nothing to do within insulting those who supported the USSR.

The workers party ‘was’ partially a Stalinist Party, although whether some of its leaders understood this may be debatable. It is not only its top down structure, its lack of internal democracy where the tops made all the running whilst denying the mass of the membership the right to join factions, etc, the continuation of the OIRA well beyond its sell by date and when fighting the Brits was a distant memory, the way that it supported driving out other socialists and Republican voices from sections of the southern media.

But the main reason why I consider it Stalinist is because almost its entire international platform was built around and in support of the Foreign Policy of the USSR, just like the overwhelming majority of the worlds CPs.

For it was Stalin who demanded the worlds CPs should be mere creatures of Soviet Foreign policy, as demonstrated by the ridiculous summersaults CP leaders made when Stalin agreed a pact with Hitler.

Also it is this which explains the WP link with NK. If I am mistaken about this, can anyone give me an example of where its international program differed with the foreign policy of the USSR?

In no way does this make all members of the WP Stalinists, nor come to that the members of West European CP’s.


48. Pete - July 17, 2009

“Fighting the Brits” – Group B had other reasons to exist not just a trot dream of national liberation by cultural extermination – and funding a revolutionary party in a ethnical manner not being the least of them
Also the last time I looked Irish republicanism does not equal wiping shite on walls and not eating your greens
Stalin this stalin that – Stalin was a cunt end of, and I think most people in the WP reliased that no matter what crap Mark wants to say


49. WorldbyStorm - July 17, 2009

Can we also avoid the word Trot. I like it no more than I like the charge of Stalinism.


50. Colm B - July 17, 2009

“Funding the revolutionary party in an ethical manner”…indeed. I wonder what actvities might raising those funds have entailed?…Purely ethical methods I presume, sort of like fair-trade, ethically sourced, environmently friendly gangsterism eh?


51. Pete - July 17, 2009

Not being bought by bussiness is the most ethical manner I can think of – and your right about the term trot WBS it should be consigned to the dustbin with Stalinism


52. WorldbyStorm - July 17, 2009

Mark P “I find myself absolutely baffled by WbS insistence on reducing Stalinism to a question of the degree to which an organisation personally worship Stalin. As I have repeatedly said, I am not using the term in that way and pretty much nobody who uses the term uses it in that way. Stalinism is a political movement, which has as its defining characteristics adherence to the Stalinist states and adherence to certain clear political positions. The WP, like the other parties it looked to, was loyal to all of the Stalinist dictatorship and supported each and every one of the political positions common to international Stalinism. Therefore, it was and is a Stalinist organisation.

On the issue of personal fidelity to Stalin as an icon, that simply isn’t significant to my argument or to my use of terminology. However, as a side issue I would be interested in seeing if the WP members, current or former, here can produce any WP material from its heyday which was critical of him.”

I’m reducing it to that because the other tokens of ‘Stalinism’ you offer, stages theory, etc, etc could easily be held by non Stalinists. I’m not suggesting that Stalinist parties don’t exist, but again, and here I’d take issue with Mick. If all ‘Stalinism’ is is an adherence to the Moscow line, something which developed I think in the WP both from a wish to sidestep the CPI and also from a genuine solidarity with what was perceived as the only existing anti-imperialist pole, despite all its flaws, I think that’s a very overblown use of the term. Colm B has a better definition which is a sort of Brezhnevism, or Orthodox Communism, something I’d agree with not least because cult of personality etc simply doesn’t (can’t!) enter into the picture there either.

And obviously the WP didn’t support all Stalinist states. I’m also unconvinced by the ‘capitalism’ embraces all capitalist countries, ‘Stalinism’ embraces all the ‘Stalinist’ countries. The differentiation between the states I suggest, and in particular between orthodox states such as, say, East Germany, Cuba and those where there were efforts to liberalise politically such as under Dubcek, Gorbachev even arguably Yugoslavia, is very marked indeed. It may not be your taste, but its certainly mine in terms of viewing those as progressive developments albeit not necessarily where they ended up. And it’s easy to forget that the bipolar world did force movements of the size of the WP, and larger, into solidarity.

But as important is to remember that both the PCF, the PCI, the CPGB, etc, etc were riven with internal divisions on these issues. Euro-communism wasn’t an import from outside but something that grew within these parties in direct contradiction to orthodox Communism (as Colm B) describes it and worse. And if we chart the progress of that political liberalisation we can see that in many CPs it became if not the dominant tendency certainly one that led to a much greater internal democracy and questioning and eschewing of a simplistic ‘Moscow is always right’ approach.

And again, none of this is to ignore the reality that within Communism there are those who for one reason and another are either outright Stalinists or follow Stalinist precepts. But the picture is much much more complex, IMO, than you present it.

The proof of the pudding is that when the WP split in 91/92 the bulk of the membership went with DL. Now, I suppose there might have been one or two closet Stalinists in there, but it seems unlikely. And more importantly the split was not over Stalinism as such but over the legacy issues from OSF and a secretive culture that certainly was drawn much more (again IMO) from the clandestine roots from which WP grew.


53. EamonnCork - July 17, 2009

I’ll probably get the head taken off me for this but it’s remarkable how much energy and vituperation can still be summoned up vis a vis the relative merits and influence of Trotsky, Stalin and Moscow. Trot, Stalinist and similar terms of abuse get bandied about with a fervour that might lead an outsider suspect that certain parties on the left hate each other far more than they do FF or FG. Just an observation. I’m still recovering from meeting a member of the SWP a while back and suggesting that it was great the SP had done so well lately. apparently this is not a good idea. The WP seems to excite strong emotions in a way no other party does. Can you imagine the crack we’ll have when there’s a full 600 page plus book about the WP to discuss in September? People might want to take the month off.


54. Colm B - July 17, 2009

Yes..THE BOOK…we’ll all need go into therapy for post-traumatic shock. On the positive side it will generate enough discussion to keep one thread on CLR going for a hundred years. You bet your life Im going to annotate my copy!


55. WorldbyStorm - July 17, 2009

Colm, you’ll probably be in it… 🙂


56. Colm B - July 17, 2009

A bit part at most…hope some of the whacky stuff is in it like Smullen’s famous office packed to the rafters with old copies of the FT etc. or a character called Ned urging the crowd to applause by dancing manically in front of McGiolla as he entered the Mansion House for a party rally etc. etc. It might all have been deadly serious but like most left-wing movemnets there was a lot of freaky and funny characters and moments.
I wonder if CLR will get a review copy? Then we can fight over who does the review.


WorldbyStorm - July 18, 2009

I think we should throw it open to anyone who wants to… ie. multiple reviews. Seriously.


57. Garibaldy - July 17, 2009

Stay offline for the day and see what happens.

Firstly, I’d like to address a comment to Mick Hall’s comment number 37. I think Mick that this comment is far from your usual sensible contribution to matters here and elsewhere. To suggest that The WP, because it didn’t spend its time decrying Stalin and because it allied itself to anti-imperialist causes Mick doesn’t like, deserved to implode is unusually short-sighted for Mick. The reality is that the removal from Irish life of a serious and influential party openly dedicated to class politics has been a disaster for the Irish working class. We have seen in the two decades since the DL split the almost total victory of neo-liberal economics in politics and at an ideological level, while what passes for the left has rushed to the centre. Without The WP, the interests of workers have gone largely unspoken in the centres of power just when a radical socialist party was needed most (though Higgins has done well).

On the Stalinism question, in fairness to Mark P at least when he uses the term he has a political conception behind it. Having said that, I think he is wrong in his definition, and I would agree with WBS that there is nothing in holding any or all of these positions that constitute “Stalinism”. I’ve met plenty of self-described Stalinists, and all of them fetishise the personality of Stalin in a way that The WP never has. There is no cult of personality in The WP, nor was there one, despite De Rossa’s best efforts towards the end.

I also think that Mark’s description of socialism in one country as being something that applied or applies to WP politics is incorrect. The WP is and was an internationalist party. Moreover, while The WP certainly believed and believes in developing the Irish economy along socialist lines as far as is possible, this is not the same thing as Mark means when he says socialism in one country, nor what it meant in Stalin’s time. By the time the Republican Movement was swinging to the left, socialism in one country was inconceivable, if only because of the existence of the socialist bloc. The economic plans outlined by the Research Section in those documents it published and the Party’s economic policy more generally were predicated on being part of a broader socialist world.

This is the problem with failing to recognise that historical circumstances change irrevocably regularly, and that nothing from the past can be recreated, except of course as farce. So for a Party firmly fixed on the problems facing workers in Ireland, there is little need to go into the factional fights in the CPSU in Georgia in 1927 because those circumstances can never be repeated.

Again, with Mick and Mark’s comments we are back to The WP’s sense of itself and its history. Discussions of the 1920s and 1930s are and were centred round the Republican Congress and the like, not what was happening in the USSR. And this is entirely proper.

For a lot of people here, the USSR was a non-legitimate entity. However, for the overwhelming majority of revolutionaries worldwide, the USSR was an inspiration, and the Communist Parties were those that people looked to for leadership, and that provided it. And they got a hell of a lot done, as we can see from a world without the influence of the socialist states. And, while I’m at it, I’ll point out that they continue to get a lot done, both where they are in government and in other places like Greece.


58. Garibaldy - July 17, 2009

Oh, and agree with EC in 53.


59. NollaigO - July 17, 2009


Brian Hanley is invited to speak at at the 2009 Greaves Summer School in early September.

Standing room only or contact Taigh na ticéid?

Left wing influences on the Republican Movement in the 60s and 70s….What is Stalinism ?

Key historic moments

End of the 50s campaign: RoB, Chief of Staff, paralysed with indecision.

1969: [Current HI might be interesting]

Post Aldershot:
The movement which burned the Shannon scab buses, sunk cement ships, tried to blow up a transformer at the Mogul Mine County Tipperary in support of a miners strike was a different movement from the Eoghan Harris, Eamonn Smullen inspire one that emerged in the mid, late 70s.


60. yourcousin - July 17, 2009

for the overwhelming majority of revolutionaries worldwide, the USSR was an inspiration

Which just goes to show that my faith in misanthropy is well founded.


61. Gypsy - July 18, 2009

Just for clarity I’d like Garibaldy to confirm that he is talking about the USSR that came into being on December 28th 1922? I could see how revolutionaries might be inspired by the Revolution but not by what came into being on Dec 28th 1922. Maybe it’s just me!
Perhaps with a bit a luck we might all be around for the centenary of October 1917 when maybe a lot of the off-topic discussion on this thread might have a bit more importance.
Sometimes when I see this type of discussion I think I’m caught up in a leftworld version of that BBC tv series ‘Life on Mars’.


62. EamonnCork - July 18, 2009

By the way I found Colm’s post 45 on the Workers Party absolutely fascinating, a terrific mini essay in itself.
Gypsy, might hard to believe that revolutionaries were inspired by that USSR, and he may well have good reason for that, but the fact is that many of them were. The fact that the USSR provided so much funding to third world liberation movements might have a lot to do with this. The people who were inspired by ‘actually existing socialism’ might have been misguided but that was how they felt. John Dunn’s Modern Revolutions is a very good book. Sorry, I just see it on the shelf there.


63. WorldbyStorm - July 18, 2009

There is something of that Gypsy, and I have serious problems with, or perhaps questions about, Leninism, and indeed just thinking back about the WP split one of the main problems at least regarded as such was the issue of democratic centralism which was taken as tokenistic of Stalinism. I don’t agree, not least since DC is really part and parcel of many political formations operation whether implicitly or explicitly and whether adhered too rigidly, or not, i.e. party lines exist far beyond the left.

That said, the USSR and I wasn’t a huge fan, did in material terms constitute some sort of counterweight. I think the argument aired above that social democratic reforms might not have been instituted in the west in its absence is quite persuasive.

EC, never read that. Must do.


64. Mick Hall - July 18, 2009


Of course the majority of the WP membership followed their leadership into the DL, that is the essence of Leninism/Stalinism and Trotskyism come to that. The great leaders always knows best, democratic centralism indoctrinates the membership with being excluded from making the big decisions for themselves.

Irish Republicanism has been especially susceptible to the leadership knows best attitude, this is why whenever it goes pear shaped republicans always look for a sell out. For they refuse to face up to the fact they 9/10 times they are as guilty as the leadership for the failed strategy, as they refused to say no to there leaders earlier enough.

Combining the military centralism of Irish republicanism with a Stalinist methodology was always going to be a recipe for disaster. Time and again when Republican struggles have failed to achieve there aims, there is rarely a proper analyses as to why, it is alway a variation of, Stalin/De Rossa/Adams, etc is a cunt.


My critism of the workers party has nothing to do with the SF/SFWP/WP aligning itself with anti imperialist struggles, unless that is you believe the entire foreign policy was anti imperialist in color.(when it was clearly not, the way the USSR conducted détente with the USA not only betrayed certain liberation movements but in the end played a major role in bringing down the USSR.)

I do not believe I wrote the WP deserved to implode, although I did write the following,

“The fact they made no attempt to deal with the legacy of Stalin speaks volumes, indeed one can tell from their links with NK they had no problem with Stalinist structures and that this was eventually to lead to the WP implosion was in my view natural justice.”

Perhaps I have not explained my self adequately, what I meant was if you set up a party which is built on a top down bases, and operates a system that is democratic centralism in all but name; and then fail to arm the membership with knowledge of the pitfalls of this methodology, i e for example it was previously used to murder two thirds of the Central Committee that Lenin led and which oversaw the October Revolution. Then perhaps it is natural justice when a leadership is able to connive lie and betray in a similar manner.(although thankfully without killing two thirds of their former comrades 😉

By the way it always amazes me that those who operate DC seem to be oblivious to how easy this methodology is open to State infiltration.

As it happens I believe the Workers party was a worthy attempt to build a left republican party and there is much we can learn from it, why, when it began to gain traction it so quickly went to the wall is for comrades more knowledgeable on this subject than I.

It also clearly acted as a university for many young comrades, many of whom who stuck with the struggle right up until this day, some still within the WP and others elsewhere or as indies.

On consigning the words Stalinism and Trot to history I would ask this, how is that possible when so many comrades still view that period as a positive role model and a socialist one at that. I would also ask what do we as socialists in the 21st century owe the tens of thousands of socialists who had their lives stolen by stalinism, the social democrats, anarchists, even loyal stalinists and the Trotskyists.

On the Trotskyists and I realize how much the heirs of the great man infuriate many on the Left, including myself. But what should they do, the founder of their movement was slandered and murdered, as was his son and other members of his family, countless other Trotskyist were also slandered, murdered or sent to the Gulag, some were senior military, political and diplomatic leaders of the Bolshevik state.

Thus it is almost laughable that today some comrades wish to consign them to the dustbin of history, when silence was what Stalin demanded of them if they wished to keep their heads. They courageously refused as unlike most, they new were they to be silent they would be betraying the revolution they had given their lives to.

Looking back who was correct, Stalin or those who said he was a traitor to socialism. Can any comrade truly put their hand on their heart and say the USSR was truly a socialist State which is worthy of emulating?

Or was imprisoning millions of people in gulags far from a progressive act, but a crime against all we stand for. If so we must surely at least attempt to arm future generations against repeating these crimes.


65. Drithleog - July 18, 2009

It is quite wrong to say that the majority of WP members followed De Rossa and other leadership into Democratic Left. Anyone who was in the Labour Party when DL finally merged into it in 1999 can tell you that the numbers coming from DL were much smaller than they expected. There were constituencies in Dublin where almost the entire membership followed their TD into DL (Dublin South West and Dún Laoighaire) although even in these constituencies there were people who refused to go. Ironically in Dublin North West (De Rossa’s own constituency) the majority refused to back him and stayed in the WP or just went cold – a phenomenon that happened in many constituencies. In Cork City a total of 45 members turned up at a meeting where there was an attempt to hold a vote and have everyone go the one direction. Needless to say it didn’t happen and on the night a total of 11 people announced their resignations. Several people actually came back to the WP within a fortnight. A number of people just went cold or ran for cover against the allegations – A story appeared in the Cork Examiner at the time which said that the OIRA was going to re-engage the British Army and had a huge arsenal of weapons imported for the purpose!

More than half the membership remained in the WP. A few weeks later Tomás Mac Giolla attended a rally in Cork which was attended by almost 100 people (not bad for a party which was supposedly just after disappearing) and some lapsed members rejoined. It was much the same in Waterford where the former TD Paddy Gallagher could only muster a handful of followers.

It is worth quoting in this regard an article which appeared in the Gulliver Column in the Sunday Press of March 29th 1992 covering the aftermath of the WP split – “It is as yet unclear how many people defected along with De Rossa; each side tells the tale most likely to benefit itself. But Labour Party people on the ground, who have a special interest in the left vote, believe that the De Rossa faction has enticed far fewer than was expected”.


66. WorldbyStorm - July 18, 2009

Drithleog, that may be your experience of certain branches, and that’s certainly true that De Rossa didn’t bring anywhere near as many as was expected (not least due to the personalities in his area). but mine is quite the opposite. I certainly don’t accept that more than half the membership stayed with WP. That the numbers were smaller than expected who went to DL, I wouldn’t dispute, I’ll certainly accept that my 2/3rds figure was written too hastily and I was wrong (I was mixing it up with the vote on the reformation), I would amend that to say over half and that was not of the entirety but of those who went anywhere. As you say a large number simply walked away. That too tells its own story.

Mick, I’d argue that the large number followed the parliamentarians not due to brainwashing, or DC, but – I suspect – because there was by then a much larger concentration on parliamentarianism and therefore they believed that was where power would lie. And anyhow, had it been otherwise people would perhaps be arguing that they went with WP because of the iron discipline which allowed for no deviation from the centre line. This is the problem with ‘Stalinism’ as a term. It doesn’t offer us any insight into behaviours which realistically it has nothing to do with.


67. Long Memory - July 18, 2009

There were certainly people in the Officials who described themselves as Stalinists. ‘Trot’ was a label of abuse applied to all real or imagined enemies. Workers Life of late 1982, (October or November? I can’t find it now) lauded the suppression of the Kulaks, the defeat of the ‘counter-revolutionaries’ during the 30s and the suppression of Trotskyism in a feature on the anniversary of the USSR.


68. WorldbyStorm - July 18, 2009

Again, I’m sure there were, and some at certain stages were more or less prominent in leading circles. But the characterisation of the party as “Stalinist” is the issue here.

RE the use of the term ‘Trot’, no doubt that too was bandied about, although I’m not sure any of the documents I have see its usage, but well worth perhaps going back to check them out. Even so that per se doesn’t mean people were Stalinist as such either. Go talk to many a Labour Party person and you’ll hear much the same. That does not in any way validate its usage, I think it’s a slur on an important strand of Marxism.


69. Thoreau - July 18, 2009

Reading all this certainly takes me back …

My own involvement in OSF-SFWP-WP predates most of the events under discussion: I joined in 1973, having become a supporter a couple of years earlier during the campaign against EEC membership when the Officials (along with the Tony Coughlan-Mícheál Ó Loingsigh led ‘Common Market Defence Campaign’) provided the hard core of the opposition. Labour was ambivalent and half-hearted; the Provos were focussed on the North.

I stayed with it until 1979, weathering the IRSP split and working with Seán Ó Cionnaith in the international affairs bureau, being on the first executive of the party’s youth movement (then called the IDYM), and rising to be education officer of the Dubin comhairle ceantair by the time I finally resigned.

I think most members of that era (in Dublin at least) would have accepted the ‘Stalinist’ tag in the way in which it was normally used then: i.e. we regarded the Soviet Union and its bloc as a ‘good thing’ – not that we thought everything was perfect in them, but we believed they had improved a lot and would improve further with the passage of time. By contrast, we viewed the ‘Trots’ as self-indulgent middle-class spouters of slogans who, by perpetually raking over unfortunate episodes in the early history of the Soviet Union, were objectively providing aid and comfort to the imperialists. For example, one of my most vivid memories is of a big celebration held by the WP in a hotel in Lucan in October 1977 to mark the 60th anniversary of the October revolution.

One of my duties as education officer in Dublin in 1978-9 was to give a series of classes to the new members joining the party – a weekly class for five or six weeks that were compulsory for all those who could attend as part of their six months’ probation before becoming full members. Whenever a question was raised about Stalin, show trials, purges, Nazi-Soviet pact, annexation of the Baltic states, Katyn, Hungary, etc., as occasionally happened, my stock answer was to recall the French revolution, Robespierre, the terror, the annexations of Belgium and the Rhineland, the looting of the fraternal republics, etc., before posing the rhetorical question: “but does this mean that republicanism is a bad thing and that we should turn the clock back to absolute monarchy?” At most of the classes there would have been a guest speaker from the leadership – O’Hagan to talk about the north, or Smullen about the economy – and nobody ever said ‘don’t take that line’. So acceptance of the ‘Stalinist’ label didn’t reflect an admiration for the man himself – rather it was a way of drawing a clear dividing line between ourselves as ‘serious’ revolutionaries and certain microgroups who couldn’t organise a piss-up if they’d been handed the keys to St James Gate.

My own slowly solidifying dissatisfaction with the party had nothing to do with foreign policy (I would’nt have been able to stomach North Korean, but that didn’t develop until after I had left). Rather, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with a whole range of policies and attitudes. In relation to the North, it seemed to me that the WP was almost a mirror image of the rightly despised Provos: that while the latter tried to pretend the unionist population didn’t exist the WP spent a lot of its time trying to wish the nationalist population out of existence existence so as to permit the restoration of Stormont – with a bill of rights tacked on. There was grotesque economism which seemed to discount anything that didn’t contribute to the numerical strengthening of the working class as a bourgeois frippery unworthy of the attention of ‘serious’ revolutionaries. ‘Serious’ was one of the highest terms of praise in the WP lexicon and was reserved for those who followed the party line uncritically [in retrospect, the party had some of the attributes of a cult]. So, for example, the environment didn’t matter and the party campaigned for an oil refinery to be built in Dublin bay and a nuclear power station to be built at Carnsore Point. Physical heritage didn’t matter, and those campaigning against the civic offices on Wood Quay were dismissed as well-heeled protesters with no concern for the working conditions of the Corpo’s clerical staff. Culture didn’t matter – indeed, could give rise to suspicions: I can remember being denounced as an ‘elitist’ by a full-time party worker in the party’s drinking club (ironically called ‘Club Uí Chadhain’) because I was having a private conversation in Irish with another member. Civil liberties didn’t matter, so Section 30 censorship of the broadcasting media was a good thing and the party backed the expansion of detention facilities for juveniles (it played well in areas affected by anti-social behaviour).

The publication of Harris’s ‘Irish Industrial Revolution’ was the beginning of the end for me. It had the imprimatur of Smullen’s Industrial Affairs Department but hadn’t been approved by the party’s leadership, much less discussed by the wider membership before it appeared. Because of the adverse reaction, a meeting was held to debate it in the Belvedere Hotel and I was one of those who were most critical, arguing that Harris’s attribution of the deindustrialisation of the 19th century to the Irish bourgeoisie’s supposed aversion to mechanical occupations, rather than to the effects of being in a common market, a common currency area and a common fiscal area with the world’s most advanced industrial power, was an insult to the intelligence. There wasn’t enough time for everyone to speak and the meeting adjourned with the promise of a second session but it was never held. Instead, the second edition of the ‘Irish Industrial Revolution’ appeared with a small footnote towards the start to say that it was intended as a discussion document and wasn’t party policy.

From that point on I noticed a change in certain members’ attitudes towards me: several who had been friendly became noticeably frosty. They were all people whom I would have regarded as being associated with Smullen’s faction (the Led Zepellin’s was one name for them, an allusion to the ‘Ned Stapleton’ cumann which was one of their main centres of operation). Conversely, others who had never before made a critical remark in my hearing began speaking to me about their concerns.

The end for me came with the party’s enthusiastic espousal of European integration at the time of the first direct election to the European parliament. So I was able to say that I left the party for exactly the same reason that I had joined it six years before.

‘No’ to Lisbon!


70. WorldbyStorm - July 18, 2009

That’s a fantastic analysis Thoreau, not that I’d necessarily agree with it all. However I’d very much identify with your thoughts on the policy towards the North, something that was a source of no end of irritation to me over the years in the WP, and heightened while I was in DL for a short few years before leaving.

What’s interesting about your thoughts is that one can map certain of the policies you point to onto different groups…

BTW, the cultural thing is very interesting. I recall on two occasions bringing WP speakers into the institution I was attending in the mid 80s and hear them essentially ignore any issues of relevance to the particular institutions in terms of education/improved access/culture under socialism in favour of screeds on industrialisation.

Let’s put it this way, it didn’t assist in promoting the image of the party as engaged beyond certain (and in all fairness usually excellent ways) areas.


71. Mark P - July 18, 2009

My impression has always been that the WP membership split three ways – those who stayed with the WP, those who went with New Agenda/DL and those who voted with their feet and left entirely within a short period.

DL, as I understand it, was widely regarded as a party of generals without an army. That is, that it just didn’t have a large rank and file. Certainly by the time they merged with Labour they didn’t bring a substantial number of activists with them. Was this always the case, or did the membership shrivel from a more substantial start?


72. Jim Monaghan - July 18, 2009

“as to permit the restoration of Stormont – with a bill of rights tacked on”
Ironic this is roughly what the Provos settled for.History sometimes repeats to a degree. I remember being episodically involved in a campaign on strip stretching. It was taken ver by teh Provo party machine. I remember having a drink with the young new faces. They were more worried about the SWM, now SWP than about strip searching. The same paranoia about trots was there. I recall some (including an ext Healyite) jokingly saying they were members of the Joe Stalin fan club. It boiled down to an intolerance of dissidence Trotskyist or otherwise. The stalinist democratic centralism allied with the army mentality ( people should jus obey orders, we need a disciplined machine to attck capitalism, whatever) creates an unholy brew.
Mind you the Trotskyist groups with their mini Lenins/Trotskys emulate some of this, generally without the violence, here antway, with their fondness for expulsions etc. A friend of mine refers to a loose gathering of his allies as the League of expelled Trotskyists.
We need a end to the holy grail of the one true party.
A personal note. I always found the people around Jim Kemmy as being fairly democratic opponents. Kemmy was very liked by my Limerick friends in spite of his attitude on the National Struggle. The CPI people were generally fairly friendly even though they would not risk anything to support say The ones who were venomous were the Officials.I have since met people from that milieu who say left over Bosnia who I would hold in grest esteem.


73. Garibaldy - July 18, 2009

I really must stop going offline for the day. There’s far too much happening here.

Regarding Colm’s comment number 45, and the question of elite factions. I think that, like any party, there was certainly always a range of views. The question though is when viewpoints hardened into actual factions. That seems to me to be far from as clear-cut as Colm is suggesting. I would suggest that in fact while there were people who say distrusted such and such a TD (or two TDs) and vice versa, the actual hard division of the Party’s leadership and membership occurred very quickly in the two years or so before the split. The fluidity of people’s positions was such that factions did not form until later in the day, when on a series of key questions the same people took opposing positions time after time. With that fluidity removed, especially with the crisis of socialism provoked by the fall of the USSR, factions became inevitable as people – especially the TDs – tried to use whatever positions they had to get the Party to rip up its roots and principles.

As I see it, a faction emerges when a group of people seeks to enforce its own agenda using means that go against Party rules. In short, while positions within the Party did mean that people might look up to them or be influenced by them, they is not necessarily in and of itself mean the formation of a faction. It is impossible to be a Party member adhering to Party rules and promoting Party policy and be a factionalist. To give an example, while the Industrial Section was promoting party principles it was not a faction. But once Harris tried to use it to further his own ends, especially by the publication of the Necessity of Social Democracy after it had been turned down for publication elsewhere by the elected Party leadership, then it became a faction. Whatever one thinks of the IIR (and I’m a fan of some bits and not others) it was not a factional document, any more than say Henry Patterson’s articles in the early 1980s challenging some assumptions about Marxism and Ireland that can be found here in the Left Archive (and again I have mixed feelings about them) were. There is a clear difference between the IIR and the Necessity for Social Democracy.

Unfortunately I have to go, so I’ll come back to this later.


74. WorldbyStorm - July 19, 2009

Mark P, that’s a very important question, and I’d entirely agree with your analysis that it was a three way split. The best figures I can get are that the DL had a membership of well over 1000 initially (this is according to a study on the DL in the PSAI journal from the late 1990s), not all of the them WP. The figures for pre-split WP were according to itself 3,000 so I think we can take them with a serious grain of salt.

Jim, Mark P can correct me here, but how does the “Stalinist” democratic centralism of OSF/WP differ from the democratic centralism of the SP? That’s not to slag off either grouping, they’re both in the Leninist tradition, but I’m unable to understand how democratic centralism then per se can be ‘Stalinist’.

Re the overall issue Eoin O’Murchu I think put it well once when he wrote:

“The only real issue of this conflict is not about content of policy but of style of work. The majority of the new leadership see that if you are going to be social democratic in content you also have to be social democratic in method. You have tothrow out all sorts of appearances and practices that are not in tune with this, that includes getting rid of democratic centralism, getting rid of hard statements, getting rid of aggressive and confrontational language except concerning the ‘Provisionals’”

I think that ‘social democratic in content’ comment goes a long way to describing the WP in the 1980s and the reality of the sort of party it was developing into during that period.


75. Thoreau - July 19, 2009

I agree with the last sentence – indeed, I’d say that it was true from the late seventies. If I had to pinpoint a moment when the public face of the party became social democratic, I would point to the manifesto for the 1977 general election which left quite a few members unhappy with its limited perspective, although that was seen as merely a tactical device at the time.

So there was a gap – a gulf – at first between the objective content of the party’s programme which could have been endorsed by most social democratic parties in Europe, and the subjective intentions of the membership. I think of one member who came up to me shortly after I had publicly denounced the ‘Irish Industrial Revolution’. Lowering his voice as if he was about to tell me a closely guarded secret, he told me there was a lot of ‘strange stuff’ in the IIR right enough but that I shouldn’t worry about any of it because ‘Smullen has a plan’.

That unspoken attitude was widespread: the party’s policies might be getting more watery by the day, but the leadership had a plan and at the appropriate time, when the political conjuncture was favourable and the party was strong enough, the social democratic mask would be dropped and socialist demands would be put forward.

Not the least problem with this approach is that a party which campaigns on a social democratic programme will attract a social democratic membership over time. Allow the process to continue without interruption for a decade or more and the outlook of a majority in the rank and file will be reformist. The cuckoos will be in a position to take over the nest or, if they can’t, they’ll wreck it.


76. WorldbyStorm - July 19, 2009

That’s absolutely true re attracting a social democratic membership. This is why i find the Stalinist formulation so unuseful, even if it does (and I will agree with Mark P again on this to some degree) describe attitudes amongst some strands within the party. The party was changing far too quickly (hardly a surprise given the churn in terms of events and new members etc) for a fixed line to be taken or applied. Discipline towards the end was definitely much laxer than when I joined. In a way though I don’t blame people for this. It was inevitable that the more the party spread into communities, and I’m talking working class ones here, that that in and of itself would change its character. I think though there wasn’t a sense of how far that process should go or what red lines shouldn’t be crossed, etc, etc.


77. Mark P - July 19, 2009


As I understand it, the WP version of “Democratic Centralism” is similar to that operated by Stalinist parties from the days of the “Bolshevisation” of the Communist Parties on. The chief difference between this conception of democratic centralism and that adhered to by most Trotskyist formations is on the question of factional rights.

As a quick look at Garibaldy’s post above will tell you, “factionalism” or being involved in a faction is considered to be an entirely negative thing, which by definition is against the rules of the party. The Socialist Party, by contrast, maintains that factions are simply expressions of political disagreements which arise naturally. People should have a right to organise within the party for their point of view and if that right is denied to them then all you do is (a) drive factions underground and beyond democratic supervision and (b) hand the leadership, who by definition are always organised, a massive, indeed insurmountable, advantage in internal debate.

There are plenty of other divergences between the Socialist Party’s internal structures and those of the various Communist Parties, but I don’t know to what degree the WP shares the approach of the CPs. Interestingly, the SWP’s structure is closer to the CPs than it is to the SP but the SWP is unusual amongst Trotskyist groups in that regard.


78. WorldbyStorm - July 19, 2009

And in others respects too, I’d hazard 😉

Am I wrong in thinking that that the WP form was introduced by Lenin? I appreciate it was at a time of great stress and danger in the life of the Revolution but it was one of the defining differences was it not between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks?

Secondly, are there any factions within the SP currently, and if not when was the last one extant?

I’m much less exercised by factions than G. I can see arguments both pro and contra. Indeed I’ve written here how I liked the SSP approach.

Just rethinking DC it seems to me the issue of binding decisions of higher formations on lower formations is where trouble can arise. But I’m not sure what is the best way forward on this. I mean, I think of Militant history in the UK with the fracture there in the early 1990s. But this is actually a really interesting discussion which points up my own ignorance on some of these matters.


79. Mick Hall - July 19, 2009

“Lowering his voice as if he was about to tell me a closely guarded secret, he told me there was a lot of ’strange stuff’ in the IIR right enough but that I shouldn’t worry about any of it because ‘Smullen has a plan.”

That unspoken attitude was widespread: the party’s policies might be getting more watery by the day, but the leadership had a plan and at the appropriate time, when the political conjuncture was favorable and the party was strong enough, the social democratic mask would be dropped and socialist demands would be put forward.”
Funny how these things get regurgitated, ask anyone who has left SF in recent years and most will have had a similar experience to the above.

WBS is correct about whose door we should lay the blame for the curse of DC and it is Lenin, although in fairness to the old boy it was Stalin who fined turned it into the brutal methodology it became and no one has any excuse for not knowing where DC could lead, as Rosa Luxemburg mapped this out clearly.

Of course all the smaller left groups that operate DC all claim theirs is open and democratic, it is their opponents DC which is dictatorial. Ask any member of the SWP and they would use the same words to describe their DC set up as Mark P, and would condemn the SP’s version.

In truth anyone who operates this system ends up banning factions if they plot against the majority leadership position. Now the social democrats are able to cope with left, right, gay, black, whatever, factions, who at times work towards changing the party rules and programs. So I see no viable reason why a ‘Left’ republican party should not be able to do the same

That the party’s who operate DC seem unable to do this without expelling comrades or splitting tells me DC is far to ridged to cope with major internal political differences.

There might be an argument for it if the party is underground, but when it is working in a democratic environment it becomes a curse as it gives the leadership an armlock on the members.

Great debate, cheers


80. alastair - July 19, 2009

There’s an interesting documentary from the early eighties; ‘Seeing Red: Stories of American Communists’, which interviews many members and activists from the 30’s onwards. Aside from the external difficulties imposed by post-war anti-soviet hysteria, and the McCarthy witch-hunts, they all pretty much nailed the rapid decline of the party to two reasons; firstly Kruschev’s exposure of the reality of Stalinism, and secondly the realisation that democratic centralism was casting them as dupes. Many of them wonder at how they so easily jettisoned personal responsibility in aid of the party dynamic (which they concede was very effective as a consequence of DC).

Well worth seeking out – if only for the anti-communist archive footage of the day.


81. WorldbyStorm - July 19, 2009

Mick. I think you’re dead right. I’m all for party discipline, and one can certainly see justifications for time delimited actions that might be unusual otherwise depending on context, but I like platform politics too. Although logically one could see a DC style fraction within a platform party (just to be sure).

My major quibble with DC is that I don’t trust others to look after these things. It’s that simple. I won’t hand anything over to people who can then use absolute control. Quite apart from the old issue that if we’re not open and democratic in our processes how can we ask others to be.

What’s amazing is how DC (and it was never really teased out what form of DC) was taken in the Irish mainstream media as an absolute token of Stalinism in the WP. Nothing else though really (bar the affinity to the USSR). They knew nothing of stages theory, etc.


82. Drithleog - July 19, 2009

Democratic Centralism is about more than just banning factions. Factions are banned in most parties. Look at the Labour Party which acted ruthlessly (and correctly from their own point of view) to root out the Militant Tendency. The Green Party recently have made sure that people like Patricia McKenna were isolated but seemed to have learned something from previous problems they had (Cllr. Richard Greene and Roger Garland) so they didn’t go straight for expulsion. Fianna Fáil tolerates people like Noel O’Flynn and John McGuinness to an extent and in some cases use them to their own benefit (it’s not us, it’s them). Even De Rossa in 1992 showed that for all his talk of democracy he was prepared to countenance no opposition, hence his proposal to stand down the entire membership of the party and readmit people selectively. The proposal was dropped only when De Rossa realised the extent of opposition to it. If Garland and Goulding had proposed the stand-down it would have been classed as a purge and Democratic Centralism would have been said to be the mechanism used to implement the purge.


83. Worldbystorm - July 19, 2009

Yeah, that proposal was dismal. In a way I think you’re right. Formal party organisations (maybe most human organisations) use a sort of DC from the off.


84. Jim Monaghan - July 20, 2009

I think that the problem that affects most groups to a degree is thinking they are underground in Tsarist Russia. Even there Lenins main man in the Duma was a police agent.
The banning of factions during the Civil War was a mistake and aided the onset of Stalinism. It started early in the Officials. i think it was 1972 where an Ard Fheis decidded that it diod not need to see a ducument from I think the Garland?Costello faction.
To be fair as others have said the left in Ireland/dublin is littered with the expelled.
Some of it cuases so much bitterness that people would prefer to ally with almost anyone than their former soulmates.
On paper anyway I and many would probably be clsoe to the SWP but they have left an awful legacy of manouvring and let me be blunt deceit that some will have nothing to do with them. I think they have changed and are basically ok but eyes roll up to heaven when I say this to some.
Life is complex and the idea of the all seeing wise leadership needing only a rank and file who can obey orders is a joke, an awful one.
The Bolsheviks contained a diversity of people and ideas. Even with taht it was of it’s time and place.
There is a Costello story that when the split with Bernadette came after his group finished their debates they went down and met the others socially.They needed to give each other lifts home. he went around to everyone and shook their hands and said without minimising the differences they would be on the same side of the barricades in future or words to that effect.
Whatever your views on Costello it was the right thing to say. There will be many turns of the road.
I think if our left leaderships of the Trotskyist parties had been in charge of the Bolsheviks Trotsky would not have been allowed join.


85. EamonnCork - July 20, 2009

On the subject of admiration for the USSR and the possible Stalinism implied by such support I came across the following quote from Noel Browne in 1970, “Six (sic) countries who, because they have used variants of Connolly’s revolutionary socialism, are, I believe, making their way towards that objective in the broadest sense: Albania, China, Cuba, Hungary, Poland, USSR, Yugoslavia.” Which, I suppose, might show that admiration for actually existing socialism was something which traversed a broad spectrum of the left. I’ve never seen Browne described as a Stalinist. For a start a man who had such problems with party discipline would surely have baulked at democratic centralism. I’m an admirer of Browne, not least because he was far, far ahead of other politicians in decrying the immensely detrimental results of the warped relationship between church and state in Ireland. But it’s funny to see how he’s been recast as a sort of secular saint, a kind of apoliticial social democrat who’d never come up with a statement like that.
I agree with the thrust of Jim’s last statement, I subscribe to the SP’s magazine, Socialism Today and in their piece on Higgins’ election they can’t resist a few digs at PBP. That seems a pity. In a world where the leader of the Labour party doesn’t want to be seen as a man who objects to job cuts, the rest of the left probably needs all the unity it can get.


86. Jim Monaghan - July 20, 2009

I have to say that it depends on who is Stalin. Browne was dictatorial in his own way. There was an interesting take from David Thorllesy brother on it.
On a footnote in teh 50s the Trotskyists Matt Merrigan and John Byrne oriented around Brown and the CP around the unemployed workers movement.
In Browns autobio there is scarcly a mention of Merrigan and a patronising reference to Byrne.
In my LP days the left (late 60s early 70s0 was Browne/Merrigan, a duo so to speak.
People should read Barrington of the Mother and Child.
On another footnote my partners thesis was on medicine Church and State in the 20th century.
Lots of gory stuff like symphiosiotomy.


87. WorldbyStorm - July 20, 2009

EC, that’s very true what you say about Browne. In part I think though you’re right that it’s his secularism which is emphasised as distinct from his socialism. I think the Stalinist issue re the USSR, i.e. that support, or even grudging approaches that might at least accept some positivity, are indicative of Stalinism underplay what you point to. There were many many who had absolutely no interest in that definition who still thought that there was some progressive aspects to the soviet states particularly when contrasted with various issues relating to liberal democracies (most obviously interventions across the globe – although this caused some conceptual paradoxes). I’m not sorry that those states changed, from the point of view of democracy, human rights and indeed socialism there were enormous and in certain instances dreadful flaws. What I’m sorry about is what they (for the most part) changed into.


88. WorldbyStorm - July 20, 2009

Jim, he was clearly a difficult guy in many respects.


89. EamonnCork - July 20, 2009

Point taken WBS. I remember reading that 20%, or some outlandish figure like that, of young women in Moldova were missing. I suspect tributes to 1989 and the end of history would ring pretty hollow in the ears of most of the population of those former Soviet republics whose fate has been to endure pandemic banditry at home and supply the sex trade abroad. The neo-liberal rejoinder that they endure some kind of abstract ‘freedom’ which makes this worthwhile doesn’t hold much water. In fact it reminds me of Gunter Grass’s comments at a PEN meeting back in the seventies in New York, when the abuses of freedom in the Soviet Union were being condemned, that he didn’t see the people of Harlem enjoying much freedom. I suppose this could be condemned as our old friend Whataboutery, but most political arguments contain an element of Whataboutery which is why the term is so unhelpful.


90. WorldbyStorm - July 20, 2009

Sorry, that should have read ‘underpinned’, not ‘underplayed’…

But again I think you’re right. It’s not that there are no benefits, clearly there are. Just that the downside was considerable and perhaps had the situation been overseen more deftly could have moved towards something closer to Sweden than sort of an impoverished Singapore.

There’s a fantastic book by a guy called Peter Van Greenaway (not the film director), I think called the Dissident that was written in the early 1980s. Greenaway was an odd character, wrote the novel the Medusa Touch was based on, and sort of caught in the thriller/very slightly literary fiction area. Anyhow, in the book a guy comes west from the USSR but in the process shows up that the distinction wasn’t perhaps as great between the two and that both had their own hypocrisies. Obviously there was an element of Solzhenitsyn in that, but IIRC the dissident had a more leftwing character. He also wrote a not so great novel called “Suffer Little Children” about the North. Well meaning, but…


91. Garibaldy - July 20, 2009

Things have moved on, but there is one important point about Democratic Centralism and The Workers’ Party I want to make. Without it, De Rossa and the liquidators, would have been able to destroy the Party. But the democratic part of democratic centralism meant that they were unable to because enough of the membership resisted them, and forced them to leave the Party rather than have them take control and destroy it as Drithleog outlined above.

As for the USSR. I find it startling that so many people are professing surprise that in the era of nuclear weapons, aggressive US imperialism, Vietnam, Cuba, Africa, Chile, Palestine etc etc that supporting the USSR was seen as a progressive step. Think of the violence and oppression of the capitalist world on the developing countries in particular, and tell me that the USSR was not on the side of the angels in the bipolar world that then existed. Politics, and revolution in particular, is a practical business played out in the real world, in actually existing conditions. It seems to me that too many people are keen to forget that.


92. Dr. X - July 20, 2009

Well, the USSR was definitely not on the side of the angels in Ethiopia, when it backed the murderous Dergue junta against the Eritreans, the rebel Ethiopian provinces, the Ethiopian peasants and the Ethiopian working class.

In the case of Angola, I’d be more of your way of thinking; if the South Africans and their UNITA quislings hadn’t got a bloody nose courtesy of the MPLA and the Cubans, I think Mandela might well have stayed in gaol and SA would have gone up in smoke a few years later. But there are too many counter-examples (like Ethiopia, like ordering the Iraqi CP to effectively stand down and be killed by the Ba’ath) for cases like Angola to be enough to support the kind of apologetics you’re attempting.


93. Paddy Matthews - July 20, 2009

Think of the violence and oppression of the capitalist world on the developing countries in particular, and tell me that the USSR was not on the side of the angels in the bipolar world that then existed.

Try telling that one to the Czechs.


94. Pete - July 20, 2009

On the USA vs USSR – swings and roundabouts but now we only have swings with likely hell to pay the next time the nutter squad get into the White House. It must be accepted that far from satisfactory GDR, Yugoslavia, USSR, Cuba et al where at least attemtpting to do the right thing re health, education etc – for my part communism is the unachievable aim but on the only reality in our context I’m intrested in is a government along the lines of the post war British Labour government – the Working Class governing in the intrests of all


95. WorldbyStorm - July 20, 2009

Pete, the mad thing is that that is an actually achievable goal and yet the left in social democratic form and in further left form seems to think it isn’t.

Re South Africa, having some small knowledge of the politics of it for one reason and another I’m convinced that both Cuban and Soviet involvement was crucial to weakening the apartheid regime, indeed I’d strongly laud Cuba for what it did over the 80s. Still, I think your point is accurate Dr. X. There are many problematic counter examples and the Iraqi one is a particularly poignant one.

Paddy, I’d agree. But I’d also wonder about a system that when push came to shove managed to deconstruct itself, for worse and for better in the way soviet style socialism did. That’s not to minimise the fact it could all have gone bloodily wrong, but there was absolutely no intrinsic reason the USSR couldn’t have soldiered on another decade or more as things were and yet somehow within all the CP parties, at least in some measure, there was a recognition that change had to occur. It doesn’t invalidate the many flaws some of which were criminally wrong, but nor is it a small achievement given how tenacious dictatorships elsewhere have been in retaining power.


96. yourcousin - July 21, 2009

Politics, and revolution in particular, is a practical business played out in the real world, in actually existing conditions. It seems to me that too many people are keen to forget that.

Hate to cross threads here, but why aren’t the provos ever extended this same olive branch of understanding? Surely, if it can be offered to Stalin, then Grizzly is just as deserving?

And just for the record the USSR is right where it belongs, in the dustbin of history. Just as too many “Irish” Americans get rosy eyed about the six counties too many leftists get rosy eyed about the Soviets and their schenanigans. Never forgive, never forget.


97. Paddy Matthews - July 21, 2009

Surely, if it can be offered to Stalin, then Grizzly is just as deserving?

Certainly the olive branch of understanding was warmly extended to Slobodan Milosevic, beside whom Grizzly and all the other players in Northern Ireland look like a knitting circle.


98. Garibaldy - July 21, 2009


Because sectarian nationalism isn’t a revolutionary force. And there were alternative choices, both in terms of what constituted legitimate tactics and whether there was a need for violence at all.


99. Mick Hall - July 21, 2009

Things have moved on, but there is one important point about Democratic Centralism and The Workers’ Party I want to make. Without it, De Rossa and the liquidators, would have been able to destroy the Party.

That is very interesting as in a different context a member of the SP [England&Wales] made a similar remark to me, he said the party would refuse to merge completely with any new Left Party because it would mean giving up its independent organization and its DC methodology.

The party is against a total merger not because of any fetish about ‘the party’ or DC, but because they fear were any new Left Party to fail, they would be left with nothing.
Dr x
On your point about the Iraqi communists, in an earlier comment I wrote that the Foreign policy of the USSR was what the Russians demanded drove the policies of the pro Soviet CP,s. Not as some still think the demands of the liberation movements. Yes, at times the two were as one, but in other situations this proved disastrous.

You correctly mention Iraq where the CP was forced into bed with the Ba’ath only to be eaten alive, and we still do not know the full story behind the Tudeh party’s position on the Ayatollah Khomeini government in the early days of the revolution.

The Cuban’s tried to keep secret from the Soviets there early work in Africa and parts of South America, indeed it is said Moscow was appalled by Che’s arrival in Bolivia, and instructed the Bolivian CP to withdraw all support from his group in the mountains.

By the way, has anyone since the fall of the USSR conducted or seen a thorough analyses of the value, or not, of its planned economy. It seems to me for us socialists this is an imperative area of study.


100. Garibaldy - July 21, 2009


The Greek CP agrees with you, as they are in the process of a major study of the Soviet economy. I think that an early document has been completed already but I’m not sure whether it is available online or not.

I meant to make one other point about the discussion above. There was reference to The WP becoming social-democratic in form and therefore in content. Clearly the Party was focused on both practical short term goals as well as the long term goal. And clearly there were people who joined the Party who ought never to have been allowed in. However, I think the key point is that the split was so devastating not because a new layer of members who joined who had social democratic tendencies, but because people with an impeccable pedigree in the Party threw overboard principles that they had held for decades in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR.


101. yourcousin - July 22, 2009

So for the Russians, genocide, extrajudicial execution on a massive scale, mass ethnic cleansing, and the brutal surpression of any non-Bolshevik/Stalinist sect are acceptable tactics “in defense of the revolution” but a grouping who were literally born out of the ashes of your quote (ie real world politics) are to be held to a higher account due to their tactics? You’ll forgive me if I see a certain discrepancy (spelling?) there.


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