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Irish Left Archive: Unfree Citizen, Newspaper of Peoples’ Democracy, July 1975 October 5, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, People's Democracy, Uncategorized.
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unfree cover

UNFREE75 lores

Although there is People’s Democracy material in the Archive this document, donated by Mark P and the Socialist Party – for which many thanks, provides a useful snapshot of their less theoretical promotion from the mid-1970s. Unfree Citizen is printed in much the same format as the United Irishman, an off-A3 size. Note the use of the colour green and the subheading, For a 32 Co. Workers’ and Small Farmers’ Republic. The use of a full size photograph taking up the cover depicting Loyalist paramilitary groups marching, under the headline Loyalists Set Up Army Council, and with a further footer “On the Brink – Unite and Fight” is a striking political and visual configuration.

The accompanying article is on page 3 and details in slightly less extravagant language political moves within Loyalism which it argues means that ‘we are on the brink of a Loyalist takeover in the North which would put Craig and Paisley in power, give the assassins of the UDA etc. a freehand, and institute the most savage system of repression since the 1920s’

One clear sense from the newspaper is that of an activist party. So there are short articles about PD members being arrested and charged due to their involvement in campaigns and, in one instance, found carrying a list of MRF and British Army surveillance unit cars. This reinforces a sense of a party that is strongly at odds with the state.

There’s also an overview of the results of the Northern Convention and how this affects the balance of power amongst Loyalism and Unionism in the North. The footnote to that article is of particular note where it takes to task Sinn Féin and An Phoblacht…arguing ‘the idea of an alliance between Republicans and Orange extremists dies hard’. There’s also an interesting piece on the last page about a miscommunication on the subject of the EEC referendum within the party.

International affairs are also covered with reports on Argentina which links the situation with death squads to the UVF, UDA and UFF and the situation in Vietnam, which at that point in time had ended in victory for the NLF. All told a professional publication.

Comments»

1. Jim Monaghan - October 5, 2009

This should be looked at in context. There was a real and papable fear that the British would let their proxies off the leash and that there would be a massive pogrom. PD had this position calling it a Loyalist takeover on Rhodesian lines. Hence the call for defence and a United Front approach to defence.
Later PD changed their analysis and published a document called “mass action vs militarism”. My point is that your strategy follows your evaluation of what is happening.While I opposed the catastrophist/armaggedon analysis I do see why many comrades had this analysis. Belfast was a scary place then especially if you lived in a nationalist ghetto especially the small ones which would have been hard to defend.
Interesting the comment on the Republicans having illusions in Loyalism. I though this was unique to the Officials and the wilder excesses of the BICO.

PD members got a hard time from the agents of the state. I am sure their leadership were top of various hit lists. Mind you Loyalism seldom targetted, as far as they were concerned any taig would do.

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2. WorldbyStorm - October 5, 2009

Thanks for that clarification Jim. That makes perfect sense in the context of the document.

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3. Mark P - October 5, 2009

While I’m sure that members of PD did get a hard time from the state, I’m not sure that carrying around details of the movements of plain clothes British forces was the wisest thing to be doing in the circumstances.

Overall, I agree that the paper is quite professional looking. The analysis however is borderline hysterical. Am I right in thinking that PD was in serious decline at this point?

Next time I’m in the Socialist Party office, I’ll have a dig around the archive and see if I can find any more of these. It would be interesting to trace an evolution over a period.

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WorldbyStorm - October 5, 2009

Please do. That’d be absolutely brilliant and much appreciated Mark.

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4. Brian Hanley - October 5, 2009

On the point of ‘illusions in Loyalism’. I think the context may have been a statement by Daithi O Conaill that the UWC strike was in the ‘Wolfe Tone tradition’ and various Provisional statements at the time that an independent Ulster would be a step forward; weaken British rule etc.
It’s often forgotten that a delegation from the UVF leadership met O Conaill and Brian Keenan (and maybe others, I don’t know) during 1974 for talks (in Monaghan I think). When Scott Millar and I interviewed Billy Mitchell (who was present at these talks) he said he thought O Conaill was interested in some political arrangement with them.
I have no idea about the real extent of all this but of course it was a factor in the belief of some in the Belfast Provos that the southerners were ‘soft’ on Loyalism.

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WorldbyStorm - October 5, 2009

Forgot about that Brian, so I did. On a slightly related note isn’t it amazing how the culture of finger pointing about past deeds done in that leadership as they had, effectively done in the SF leadership before them. Didn’t quite work as well with those who tried the same trick with Adams and Co. subsequently. They’d (A & Co) learned their lessons well.

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5. splinteredsunrise - October 5, 2009

Odd this, a little while ago I dug out my copy of Rayner Lysaght’s pamphlet The Making of Northern Ireland. The bulk of it’s historical, but the intro has some entertaining digs at the ICO and the Internationalists, which probably dates it.

I think the essential point about PD at this time is that they were a sect – they were a few dozen people thinking they were going to take over the country – but they were a relatively sane sect, and had a decent empirical grasp of Belfast. In some senses, before PSF had a public existence PD fulfilled a similar role in terms of mobilising demos and such.

As Jim says, 1975 was a hairy time in Belfast. Not just in terms of the Brits and the loyalists, but you also had the Provo-Official feud (that was towards the end of the year IIRC) as well as the Official-INLA feud. West Belfast is maybe 70,000 people in a little over a hundred streets, and the smaller enclaves were even more jittery. You would need somebody like Kapuscinski to capture the atmosphere.

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WorldbyStorm - October 5, 2009

splintered, was it that few in number in Belfast or on the island as a whole? 24 doesn’t sound like an awful lot and how on earth did they fund or even get the time to produce a publication as polished as that?

I won’t get into how one defines sect…ah, no maybe I will. Would you see that as essentially a numbers based thing, or what other qualities do you think define it? I’m not coat trailing, I’m genuinely interested (probably because I hate to ascribe sect like qualities to left formations, but having had some engagement with the New Alliance Party in NYC in the late 1980s I should know better).

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splinteredsunrise - October 5, 2009

I don’t know the details of PD membership – John McAnulty would be the man for that – but my impression is of a smallish activist core, definitely dozens rather than hundreds, but quite a big periphery. Of course that periphery was very largely a subset of the Provo base as it turned out. PD could call an action and get a big crowd to it, mainly because PSF at the time was really a vehicle for the Provo leadership to function publicly.

How do you define a sect? I don’t think it’s purely a numbers thing. I’ve been dipping into the Aiseirghe book, and that’s an obvious example of a political sect. On the other hand… the WP in the 80s was a big movement, but looked at from certain angles I suppose it had some sect-like qualities. But you can definitely say there were other qualities as well. Maybe it’s better to think in terms of a spectrum. When I said that PD were a fairly sane sect, I was sort of thinking of how, despite the really strange atmosphere in Belfast, if you compare them to what the Trinity ML guys were saying, it’s on a completely different level.

There are some lovely stories in Cannon’s History of American Trotskyism where he talks about the sort of bizarre turnings a radical movement can take, especially when it’s isolated. People like Hugo Oehler or Albert Weisbord are really forgotten figures now, but you can see how people not entirely dissimilar could walk straight into the narrative of The Lost Revolution, no questions asked.

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WorldbyStorm - October 5, 2009

Ah, okay, I see what you mean about the numbers and the overlap, presumably which would have driven the push into SF the following decade – no? And the political, well maybe not vacuum, but whatever on that side as regards SF allowed them to operate politically.

Re sects. That’ll get me reading. 🙂 I’ve never read Cannon and I really should. It makes sense too. I wonder, just as a rule of thumb, whether if a movement has more than one ideological strand, say Marxism and Republicanism, or whatever, does that predicate against sect like behaviour because it captures, so to speak, too many people for behaviour or ideology to be too easily reducible to too simple formulas. Would that tally with the spectrum concept?

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6. splinteredsunrise - October 5, 2009

I think isolation is an important thing too. The way the two Communist Parties were very different animals. The Dublin party being more intellectual, also smaller and more isolated, which is probably why they were more rigidly Stalinist. The Belfast CP has tended to function much more like a small labour party.

Different strands can’t hurt though. This is where The Lost Revolution has been a bit of an eye-opener, because I knew the WP was very different north and south, but for a party that was supposed to be strictly democratic centralist it’s amazing how many strands were operating, ideological, occupational, geographical. It shouldn’t be a surprise, because I keep bringing up the fluidity in the Provos – at least the more political side – and how the ideological line depended on which individual volunteered to write an article.

Wohlforth has a segment in The Prophet’s Children where he talks about how parties don’t just have programmes but also personalities, and I think that’s a useful way of looking at it.

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WorldbyStorm - October 6, 2009

Yeah, that rings very true re isolation. It’s the old thing of how even kicking against an environment the environment will kick back and shape you. There’s a question, was the Belfast CP bigger than the Dublin one?

That’s pretty much what I took away from it, how at every phase the idea of the WP as a monolithic entity was just simply wrong. Granted some of the strands were elite strands, but look Joe who comments here and I were in the same branch and yet we’d have had and still do considerable divergences on issues. I’ve said before I knew of a couple of Trotskyist influenced members even late into the 80s (movement loyalty I suspect played a part there…).

ARgghhh… another book for me to read… Charlie Brooker had a piece on that in yesterday’s Guardian. Very true I thought. By the by I’m re-reading Christopher Lasch, one of the US populists. Neither left nor right… erm… Interesting, if deeply flawed stuff. Ever check out his stuff? Reminds me of Fennell… to an extent.

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splinteredsunrise - October 6, 2009

I do still enjoy reading Fennell, and I’ve a piece of his from the 80s that I might transcribe and put up…

Yes, the diversity of the WP is something that needs to be brought out. I mean, if you were in Dublin and you thought of a WP politician you might think first of Mac Giolla or de Rossa; the first person to come to my mind would probably be Sullivan; out west you would have had Joe Sherlock or Seamus Rodgers, who were very different figures again. And below that at branch level, even more so.

The CP has traditionally been bigger in Belfast than Dublin, and they probably still have a couple of hundred solid supporters in the north. Mainly Protestant too – I know Jimmy Stewart came from quite a tough Presbyterian background. That was probably the big attraction of the CPNI for people like Goulding in the 60s I suppose, a path into that elusive Protestant working class.

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7. Colm B - October 6, 2009

I think ‘sect’ and ‘cult’ are overlapping but distinct terms: obviously the term sect, politically, denotes a small isolated group cut adrift from life in general while the term cult indicates something more sinister, big or small, an organisation which really dominates and a persons whole life in the manner of a religious grouping such as the Scientologists, Moonies etc.

My own take on this is that while there are genuine left cults (The Spartacists etc.), these are fairly rare. On the other hand a number of left groups display some cult-like features to a greater or lesser degree. I would think that the key features to look for are:

A small number (sometimes one) of internally unchallengeable ideological gurus.
A propensity to pressure members into constant high-octane activity.
A lack of real, ongoing internal debate at a grassroots level.
Differences of opinion at a leadership level dealt with via splits and expulsions.
An almost evangelical faith in the coming revolution based on the view that all that is needed is a bit more hard work by members.
A propensity to gobble up members time and to deliberately, or as a side product of this time-snathching, largely reduce the individuals social cirlce to fellow-members.
And so on..

Now movements can display some of these features but not be a cult and movements can transform form cult-like to just common or garden left. Size matters of course in that it is easier to impose these features in a small group, but that does not mean that you can’t get large left-cults..Healy’s WRP being a good example.
Ironicaly you can have very authoritarian/rigid party’s which are not cults probably because of their mass membership: the classic western European stalinist parties such as the PCF being good examples.

I have’nt read Wohlforths work but Ive come across Dennis Tourish’s material on this topic which is interesting. But both have other fish to fry in this regards: Tourish was a member of the CWI (Militant) in Ireland and, as far as I know, Wohlforth was a leader of the Sparts in the 1960s. They have both studied political cults as part of their academic work, which does not mean its not of value, but might have an impact on how they view these things.

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8. NollaigO - October 6, 2009

Wohlforth was a leader of the Sparts in the 1960s

Even worst than the Sparts- Gerry Healy’s US franchise!

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9. Mark P - October 6, 2009

He was a leader of both, sort of. Wohlforth was a leader of the Revolutionary Tendency of the American SWP, the body which became the Sparts.

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10. Chuck D - October 7, 2009

Was the PD of 1968-69 very different from the PD of this newspaper?
Have reviewers of the Lost Revolution noted this diversity mentioned above?

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11. Jim Monaghan - October 7, 2009

Whether PD changed is a matter of viewpoint. One leader of PD in the old days feels strongly that Lost Revolution took too much of the Sticky viewpoint on the struggles within NICRA.
PD last big intervention was the H-Block/Armagh movement where they played a pivitol role in persuadibg the Shinners to adopt a mass action approach mobilising large numbers in support of the prisoners.

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12. Mark P - October 7, 2009

I’d have thought that the fact that PD changed dramatically wouldn’t be particularly controversial. It started out as a broad, even chaotic student movement but by the time of this publication it was a smaller but more stable political group.

If I have the timeline right, at this point it was just about to merge with the Movement for a Socialist Republic and become the Irish section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International – ie it was explicitly adopting Trotskyism of a sort.

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13. Jim Monaghan - October 7, 2009

By the time it merged with the MSR/RMG it has moved away from the Loyalist Takeover and the premises which flowed from it. This was the strategy that flowed from the document “Mass Action Vs Militarism”.
Initially the fused groupd did not join the FI, that came later.

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14. Frankly Mr. Shankly - October 7, 2009

Is it true some wanted a Citizens Army set up at that time Jim?

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15. splinteredsunrise - October 7, 2009

IIRC the merger was 1978 and the international affiliation was at the 1981 World Congress. 1975 would have been a transitional phase, after the physical force wing had departed to the IRSP but before the loyalist fascism thesis was abandoned. I think it’s fair to say that PD had a very strong empiricist bent – Farrell’s line was more or less that the UDA walked like a duck and quacked like a duck, therefore it was a mass fascist movement. That probably reached its peak around the UWC strike, which on the other hand the BICO reckoned to be a basically sound movement of the insurgent working class.

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16. Mark P - October 7, 2009

Speaking of PD, I see that their successor organisation has a rather bile filled (even by their standards) response to the Lisbon results. Has anyone ever considered commending the merits of Alka-Seltzer to John?

http://socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentLeftUnityAndLisbon.html

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17. Frankly Mr. Shankly - October 7, 2009

I often read their blog and it does give the impression that nothing, absolutely NOTHING would ever make them happy.

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18. Mark P - October 7, 2009

Crotchety doesn’t even start to describe it. It’s sort of like a political group consisting entirely of Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau.

Even by their standards though that article is a gem. Just sheer bile and not even particularly coherent with it.

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19. John O'Neill - October 8, 2009

Tourish, Dennis and Wohlforth, Tim On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left
reviewed by Bob Pitt What Next? No.17

http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/Back/Wnext17/Reviews.html#Review1

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20. Mark P - October 8, 2009

The review’s summary, that the book is “malicious and incoherent” just about sums it up for me. Pitt is also right that Wohlforth’s earlier book, “The Prophet’s Children” was considerably better.

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21. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - October 9, 2009

[…] * People’s Democracy: Unfree Citizen, Juli 1975 […]

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22. Jim Monaghan - October 9, 2009

On the Citizen Army. I would say that if there had been Loyalist encoursions PD and it’s supporters would not have been found lacking. As a then member of the MSR I can say this wothout claiming anything.

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