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The Left Archive: The Prospects Before Us – Revolutionary Marxist Group, 1970s January 17, 2010

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Revolutionary Marxist Group.
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REV MARX GRP 78

The Revolutionary Marxist Group is an intriguing Trotskyist formation on the Irish left from the 1970s. Never very large it consisted of former members the League for a Workers Republic and Young Socialists, according to Wiki. Some of our regular contributors will, no doubt, add detail to this picture.

This a fascinating document, written by the pseudonymous “Robert Dorn”, that attempts in a number of chapters to provide a rationale (perhaps retrospectively) for the political position of the RMG and potential alternatives. In the course of engaging with that there’s some good analysis in here of Republicanism and Irish politics.

This ideology makes only fitful pretence to the Socialism claimed as the ideal by the movements in Britain and Europe. Here, of course, we refer to militant Republicanism (Gardiner Place and Kevin St.). At a later stage of development, we will have to face up to a further fact: that the form of Republicanism that exercises most hegemony over the workers is, still, neither that of Gardiner Place nor that of Kevin Street, but the pretender of Upper Mount Street; the Fianna Fáil cuckoo. The extreme vagueness of Republicanism [sic] precepts (basically: ‘Break the connections with England and you’ll be all alright’) enabled this situation to come about. the victory of the ‘Yes’ vote in the recent referendum exposed the limitations of militant ‘Separatism’ and the creed could give no reason such a vote was incompatible with their basic views.

And the mention of certain groups places this within a clear historic timeline.

The circumstances that have made for the predominance of Republican ideology in the Irish working class have prevented any sort of serious opposition from being counterposed to it. The Irish Labour Party developed from a rigorous application of a syndicalist economist interpretation of certain aspects of the teachings of James Connolly inevitably becoming an expression of petty bourgeois Social Democracy. Such an ideology only has its staying power in the metropolitan state of imperialism. Basically, Irish Social Democracy accepts that ireland is another such state. This is at loggerheads with the facts. It has cut off the I.L.P. from any permanent claim on Republicans and has left it to depend entirely on imperialism’s ability to industrialise Ireland: and ability, as we are seeing, of only limited range. The development of an apparent ‘Tribunite’ tendency around the Liaison Committee of the left is not based on an internal ‘Tribunite’ base, but on the influx of debased Trotskyists and Stalinists.

There are also harsh words for the Communist Party of Ireland…

But, of course, there is a further complication. Real Communists might have been able to survive and develop better than the vanguard with which (until recently) the Irish working class has been lumbered. The history of Irish Stalinism includes 1 1/2 liquidations of its party. The first (1923) was to accomodate to the Syndicalist, Larking. The second (1941) (in the Twenty-Six Counties only) was aimed to overcome the embarrassment that would be given to the USSR by its allied party supporting the war effort of Russia’s ally and Ireland’s oppressor.

There’s also some background to Trotskyism in Ireland.

A more certain Trotskyist strain was already developed. This was amongst certain of [Michael] Price’s followers but also amongst members of Fianna Éireann who were disillusioned with the lack of politics of the Republican leadership…After the War, these formed a short-lived Revolutionary Socialist Party of Ireland which constituted to the only Irish section fo the Fourth international to date. This never grew beyond twenty. It was liquidated early in 1950…

Later many of them were to be prominent around Noel Browne, during his last period of organisational independence. However, by this time, they had lost most of their original revolutionary fervour. They did not try to create a proper Bolshevik Party out of Noel Browne’s National Progressive Democrats…

A complaint – however sardonic – one doesn’t hear every day.

The document also deals with the RMG itself and clearly delineates its ideological position:

In January 1972, we broke finally with the LWG and its YS. In February we held our founding Conference. Since then, we have been guided by three main lines, as defined by the faction fight, as much as anything.

(1) A general agreement with Comrade Ernest Mandel’s analysis of the developing crisis in world capitalism. (Though, in detail, a disagreement with his delineation of the qualitative change from Imperialism to neo-capitalism) and a resultant support for the Fourth International.

(2) The general view that the main propaganda field is on the national issue.

(3) Affiliation to the SLA.

The weakness is, that except for the first and Comrade MacGregor’s bluepring for action in Northern Ireland, nothing much has been done to spell out this (in itself correct) strategy.

There’s a most interesting analysis of the prospects for entryism to either Official or Provisional Sinn Féin where one of the reasons not to try the former is..

…it’s traditional activism harnessed to the policies of its leadership means that real entry work will entail activity, not alone time wasting, but of an actively counter-revolutionary nature. Trotskyist entrists will have to agitate for a ‘Northern Irish Bill of Rights’ and to sell the United Irishman with its libellous attacks on our politics. (This is more than was expected of Troskyists in the Labour Party). In the case of Kevin Street, there is always the pitfall of its undoubtedly Fascist (Fennell) wing and that it will distort the course of the struggle.

There are many names already familiar to those who have studied this topic over the years, and it’s written in a readable and in places highly entertaining style. Well worth considering.

Comments»

1. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - January 18, 2010

[…] Revolutionary Marxist Group (RMG): The Prospects Before Us […]

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2. Jim Monaghan - January 18, 2010

As a former member I worry about all the spelling mistakes.( even worse than my own)
This was a contribution to an internal debate, it was probably shared by the majority of the org,
The organisation arose from a split in the League for a Workers Republic which was led by Paddy Healy.Peter Graham if he had lived would have been a founder. Amongst the founding group were Anne Speed, currently in SF and a prominent SIPTU official. Brendan Kelly was the intellectual heart.Kelly was not the writer of this.
The group closest contacts internationally were with the British IMG of Tariq Ali. Initially the IMGs Irish “experts” were Gery Lawless (note the one r, Lawless wrote using tha name of Sean Reed, funnily he used that name in writing for the the IS paper) and later Bob Purdie. An early breakaway was a french cde who had the pseudonym of Ruairi O’Conarie. This used to cause endless confusion with contacts who were expected an Irish speaker and not someone whos english was less than fluent. O’C defected to the IRSP whose strategy was a little bit (in my opinion) more ultraleft.
An interesting aside was a debate with the BICO about whether pre Elizabethan Gaelic Ireland was feudal or pre feudal.
The prognosis of the group was that the explosion in the North was uncontainable by Imperialism and the Britsish would do a version of what happened in Rhodesia and hand over power to a Craig led alliance. Thus causing a Bombay St. writ large.Read the bourgeois papers of the time a lot of serious commentators though the same.This necessitated calling for Republican unity in defence of vulnerable ghettoes.
With Speed the group was heavily involved in the Womens movement esp. in Irish Women United.
The politics of the grouip paralleled Peoples Democracy with both the ultraleft phase and the later mass action phase coinciding.
I was a perpetual dissident in the group when I joined but I have warm personal memories of the dedication of the members.
Very bright people from the Young Socialists who had the burden of leading a small group in what were to say the least exciting times. There was little time to work out nuanced approaches to an emerging military struggle and the consequent repression.

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3. Joe - January 18, 2010

“An interesting aside was a debate with the BICO about whether pre Elizabethan Gaelic Ireland was feudal or pre feudal.”

Surely the time is ripe for this debate to be taken up again. This Cedar Lounge contributor demands that the documents from this debate be found and posted up. Then we can all pile in with our views.

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LeftAtTheCross - January 18, 2010

Terrible pity the Sindo doesn’t devote more column inches to this type of historical analysis.

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WorldbyStorm - January 18, 2010

I’m taking both your thoughts under advisement 🙂

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shane - January 19, 2010

Presumably they were arguing that it was feudal? I was reading The Rise of Papal Power in Ireland last night. It was written by the Campaign to Seperate Church and State (a BICO front group) in the 80s and takes a very low view of Gaelic Ireland compared to Feudal Europe (and it is a view that is massively opposed to the Aubane Historical Society/Irish Political Review/ChurchandState current nostalgia for Gaelic Ireland). Its arguments although shallow were extremely interesting and well put; it ignored, however, the impact of the Normans and galloglasses on the development of Irish Gaelic society.

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4. Mark P - January 18, 2010

It’s an interesting document, more for its vitriolic assessments of pretty much every group on the left than for the strength of its own analysis. About the nicest sentiment the RMG seem to have had for any other group was a kind of paternalistic condescension towards People’s Democracy and the Saor Eire Action Group. The early SWM comes in for particular scorn. Whatever their flaws of course, the SWM was to continue and thrive in a way that the RMG never managed.

The stuff about the SEAG affiliating to the Socialist Labour Alliance and the urgent pressing need for the RMG and/or the SLA to create a military wing was a bit peculiar.

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Mark P - January 18, 2010

I’m amused by the way to see the continuities of particular, seemingly incidental, quirks of small groups over years. Socialist Democracy, which is I suppose the nearest thing to a successor to the RMG, is still a tiny group with a Spart like enthusiasm for denouncing everyone else. The SWP are still regularly accused of having a great fondness for running its own front campaigns, a behaviour their ancesters are accused of in this document.

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5. Jim Monaghan - January 18, 2010

The RMG were not sectarian like the Sparts or vene Socialist Democracy. Relations with theWM were cordial. The height of its influence (leaving out the hayday of the original PD) was the H-Block movement. Through Speed it was very influential aroung Irish Women United. It played an active part in stopping the Murrays being hanged. This would have opened up the way for a lot of others.
In fact at obne stage it was hoped that the SWM would merge with Bernadetts split from the IRSP (forget name) and that then the merged group wpould merge with the united PD> The SWM changed their mind and I think went in the direction of the SLP. Putting all their eggs so to speak into that which would have had no resonance with B’s group.
These are hardly the acts of a sect. Kelly’s view was that the way to a party besides organic growth was through splits and fusions.
For instance while being wary of the militarism of the IRSP we all recognised the possiblilities of that milieu. Please note that where the IRSP ended up was not predetermined. While Costello was a traditional Republican militarist the IRSP was hurtled into a dependence on military self defence from birth but sin sceal eile.
The document above was not an official one but a contribution from one member, whose output makes him a sort of Trotskyist equivalent of Desmond Greaves.
Going back to the merger dream, this would have given a group of more than 100 mwmbers, with a base in nearly every city. This group would have had the ability to mnake an impact in the H-Block struggle.
I am an old froiend of John MacAnulty of SD whose personal courage and committment needs no defence but the sectarian tone and spart type holier than thou (pr lefitier than thou) irritates people at nearly every meeing they go to.The RMG particularly Kelly but I would say the same about Speed) were always open to developments welcoming any opening.
Oh If you wish to see the majority viewpoint on current affairs in the RMG at the time look at articles under the name of Conway.
On small grouips and even largher, they have to satrt from somewhere. John Throne started with nothing. Whether they will last, grow, become more or less relevant then only history can judge. Trotskys favourite party in the Fourth wa sthe American SWP. They are now like a mormon sect who make Daniley De Leons group look sane.
The RMG could not cope with the demands of the H-Block movement. After it was over faced with the apparent move of SF to the left and it’s obvious huge proletarian base, first a group around Kelly collapsed, followed by Speed and another layer after.Again if you worked with say Paddy Bolger, Phil Flynn down here at the time it would be easy to see how attractive it was to take the left move as being substantial and wanbt to be part of it.
The history of the far left is strewen with groups which grew during good times and were destroyed in bad times or who missed various boats along the way. The history of the RMG as fairly respectable and it played a role way above it’s numbers in various struggles of importance. It ran out of steam.

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6. Mark P - January 18, 2010

I’m sorry Jim, but compiling a list of every left group in the country, including ones with a dozen members, and then roundly abusing them all is precisely the sort of thing I associate with the Sparts (and for that matter Socialist Democracy and the second IWG). It’s not just a matter of the arrogant tone, it’s the fact that one of the main tacticis proposed is basically to propagandise at the rank and file of other small left groups in the SLA. Maybe that wasn’t reflective of the RMG’s general approach, but this document possibly reeks of it.

The RMG/PD/SD groups tended to fall apart in the medium term because of their strategic orientation to the Provisionals and their line on the national question. Small groups who persistently hang around much larger ones had better be pretty damn sharp and clear on their differences with the larger one or the members will vote with their feet. Why would any enthusiastic young revolutionary join or stay in a small group which was itself convinced that a larger group was waging the real struggle?

By the way, the Sparts use exactly that same phrase about “splits and fusions” when they talk about how a mass party will be built.

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7. Eamonn Dublin - January 18, 2010

Jim could you say where Peter Graham was buried?

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8. Eamonn Dublin - January 18, 2010

I mean in which graveyard did his funeral take place?

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9. Conor McCabe - January 18, 2010

Peter Graham is buried in Deans Grange cemetery.

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10. Conor McCabe - January 18, 2010
Mark P - January 18, 2010

Great stuff there Conor.

The magazine article obviously had considerable cooperation from people on the far left (or was written by someone on the far left). Even the slightly silly overblown stuff about the Fourth International providing the guns for Cuba and Hungary and having “ways of dealing” with its enemies are as likely to be bragging from the source as confusion from the writer.

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Conor McCabe - January 18, 2010

Cheers Mark. Have to say I was confused by the reference to the Fourth International and Cuba and Hungary – certainly it was the first time I’d heard of it. I take it that it’s bullshit then?

The magazine This Week seems quite interesting. Only came across it for the first time when researching the RMG and Graham’s murder. It comes across as Left-wing (my definition 🙂 ), and some good investigative journalism. Kind of a well-written, well-structured Village.

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Conor McCabe - January 18, 2010

Oh, and the photo-journalism in This Week is top-notch. some wonderful iconic images of Haughey which I have to reproduce and put up on the web – including one of somebody tying Haughey’s shoelaces for him, another where he’s walking out of prison, etc. And of course the images from Graham’s funeral.

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Mark P - January 18, 2010

I can exclusively reveal that it is definitely bullshit. None of the many and varied Fourth Internationals had any act or part in the Cuban or Hungarian revolutions, although one of the smaller and odder FIs did get persecuted a bit by the Cubans after the revolution.

The part about Algeria, oddly enough, isn’t bullshit.

Have you any idea who published/edited/wrote for This Week? I noticed that the article didn’t seem to be signed.

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Conor McCabe - January 18, 2010

Gery Lawless was in Algeria, and came back proclaiming it to be the future, apparently.

With regard to This Week, not sure. I’d have to go over my notes again.

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Conor McCabe - January 18, 2010

On Algeria, isn’t there a documentary on Mandel where he talks about gun-running to Algeria? I remember watching it and up until they interview the actual guys involved, I was thinking, “this is student romanticism”, but yeah, Mandel was apparently involved.

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Conor McCabe - January 18, 2010

Good old YouTube. Not Mandel but a guy being interviewed on the Mandel documentary about giving arms assistance to the FLN.

http://tinyurl.com/yed5yok

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splinteredsunrise - January 18, 2010

Raptis was deeply involved in clandestine support for the FLN, at some risk to himself. It’s said that they made him Minister for Abandoned Properties, which would be a nice position for an FI leader.

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11. splinteredsunrise - January 18, 2010

The author is indeed unmistakable. That’s a lively little document that I hadn’t seen before, and the round of denunciations gives a bit of a flavour of the then existing left. Interesting take on the two SFs.

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12. Starkadder - January 19, 2010

According to here, “Robert Dorn” was once used by
O’Connor Lysaght as a pseudonym.
http://www.workersrepublic.org/Pages/Ireland/Trotskyism/trotskyism.html

I wonder did he write this as well, or was “Robert Dorn” a
general RMG pseudonym ?

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splinteredsunrise - January 19, 2010

You can spot the style a mile off. It’s a bit like going through old Militant docs, you always know which ones Grant wrote – only he’s a bit more easy going than Ted.

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13. Jim Monaghan - January 19, 2010

Michel Pablo or Raptis was heavily involved in gun running to the FLN. He was associated with Mandel but M was not involved. Along with Raptis the other main person was a son-in -law of Sneevliet, Murdered by the Nazis, founder of Dutch, Indonesian and Chinese CPs.The other main Trotskyist tendency supported the MNA of Messali Hadj. Lawless had an idea that there was a parallel to Ireland with the Officials being like the MNA and the Provos like the FLN and the result here would be similar.
Pablo was the secretary of the FI and responsible for the line of beleiving that there might be a World War and that the Trotskyists had no choice but to join the CPs.Besides Gun running they helped the FLN forge papers and banknotes. This was very risky as the french state had no reservations about murdering FLN people and their supporters. There was a massacre in Paris during the war. See recent obits for Daniel Bensaid the French theorist and leader of the LCR and lately the NPA. Remember at this time the French CP did little or nothing to support Algerian Independence.
“Small groups who persistently hang around much larger ones ”
I suppose unless it was permanent deep entry into Social Democracy. The RMG saw (in my opinion quite correctly) that the Northern Minority was subject to an enslaught by Imperialism, the Kitson strategy for lack of a better phrase. It and PD worked closely with SF in various fronts. Preserving independence just for the sake of it would be sectarian. When there was an apparent move left it had consequences. That this move by SF toward politics continued across the spectrum to where they are now is a subject of dbate.
I have a fairly good Bio of Mandel. He visited Dublin twice I think.First time in 1972 where he met an Ard Comhairle member of Official SF.
A footnote on Cuba, I agree that these Trotskyists were to say the least a little odd, but interesting that Guevara had a soft spot for them and used to get them out of jail and discuss the problems of the transition to Socialism with them. There is a website by someoone called Tennant of Cuban Trotskyism.
Of the Trotskyist leaders after WW2 Mandel was the most attractive and least arrogant. He was a serious economist and theorist. He escaped the Germans twice in WW2.
Remember that the RMG was led by 2 people who were 20 at this stage. Graham was dead and Lysaght while an intellectual resource was not the leadership type. Lysaght stengths do not lie that way and his writing style is a touch obtuse and abstract.Lysaght did so much work before others on Connolly and the Limerick Soviets which was then used by others who had better luck getting published. His “Republic of Ireland” analusis of the 26 County state is still interesting even though it is decades old. Mercier Press published it.
Look at documents written by Conway or Adam and see the line of the majority.
Oh the RMG were prominent in the womens movement and the Contracepetive Action Programme. Easy to forget the trailblazers now that we take some right for granted. Except for the SWM I challenge any other groups record on secularism and womens rights compared to the RMG.
The pseudonyms were individual.
Was “The Week” one of Vincents Brownes efforts. Or am I getting it mixed up with Nusight.
On style I remember Sam Nolan saying that he knew within seconds what tendency someone belonged to from the style alone nevermind what was being said. Oh there is an artiucle by Grant in an old Workers Republic of the original IWG.

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14. Mark P - January 19, 2010

“I suppose unless it was permanent deep entry into Social Democracy.

Not at all. The long term orientation to the Labour Party meant that Militant had to be very clear and very sharp about its disagreements with the Labour Party leadership, about its analysis of the Labour Party and about the role Militant itself was to play. If it hadn’t been it would likely have seen a long term membership drift to Labour rather than from Labour.

As it happens, in Ireland Militant lost precisely one person to the Labour Party when the break came. That’s despite being a fair bit larger than the RMG/PD/SD when they were continuously losing members, including leading members, to the Provisionals. And of course, whatever their subjective intentions about encouraging a movement to the left, those RMG/PD/SD members who joined the Provisionals went native pretty much instantly.

The RMG/PD/SD essentially situated themselves as cheerleaders for the Provisionals. That sort of group never has much of a future. Even if an orientation to the Provisionals had been correct or useful (and I don’t think it was but that’s a different argument), for a little group to actually get anywhere with it they would have had to be much harder on the Provisionals, much clearer about the role of their own smaller organisation, much more critical of every aspect of the Provisional’s work. You don’t win people over by telling them that they are already in the organisation that’s carrying out the real struggle, so carry on and well done.

On an analytical level I tend to place the RMG/SD/PD line on the Republican movement in the same context as the USFI’s temporary obsessions with Tito, Mao, Castro, students, new social movements, the Stalinist Parties, etc. They constantly looked to whatever social force seemed to be in motion in order to find an alternative path to socialism that didn’t rely on the boring old organised working class.

“Deep entry” is not the same thing as long term entry, by the way. Militant were never “deep entryists”. That more properly refers to the kind of entry tactic carried out by Healy in the days of “the Club” or the Lambertists within the PS.

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ejh - January 19, 2010

Militant had to be very clear and very sharp about its disagreements with the Labour Party leadership, about its analysis of the Labour Party and about the role Militant itself was to play

You sure about that? It’s not obviously possible to be clear or sharp about the role an organisation is to play if you’re neither clear nor sharp about the fact of that organisation’s existence.

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Mark P - January 19, 2010

Militant members were very clear about the fact that the organisation existed! And the discussion above is precisely about members of the organisations concerned.

The fact that Militant had to publically portray itself as a newspaper, with readers groups and supporters rather than branches and members, was certainly a disadvantage in recruiting members as opposed to retention of those members.

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15. D_D - January 19, 2010

Jim Monaghan (comment 5 above) repeats some misleading remarks following on from some of the (generally fascinating) information on the Irish Left Archive entry for the Independent Socialist Party on 25th September 2009 at https://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2009/09/25/irish-left-history-project-independent-socialist-party-1976-1978/

In the Cedar Lounge ISP post of 25th September the second paragraph quoted from the Wikipedia entry says:
“The party entered discussions with the Socialist Workers’ Movement (SWM), with the aim of forming a joint organisation, but the SWM chose instead to join the Socialist Labour Party in 1978. As a result, the Independent Socialist Party decided to disband.”

This is incorrect. The SWM did not choose not to fuse with the ISP. It was the other way round. (Much to my own great disappointment.) The decision of the SWM to join the Socialist Labour Party had no direct connection with the ISP. The SLP was formed some time after the ending of the proceedings with the ISP and the SWM’s decision to join the SLP was made entirely on considerations of the need to relate to this new development.

Jim comments on the ISP thread (25th September) that “There was a hope that after this merger [SWM/ISP] that the PD/MSR fused group would then merge with them.” This is the first I ever heard of this prospect or its mention. Unless the years have erased it from my brain. I can corroborate that RMG/MSR relations with the SWM were cordial. Or perhaps distantly courteous, and at times co-operative, would be my truer recollection. The SWM had a tendency to look down our supposedly proletarian noses at our cousins’ supposed attraction to extra-working-class forces.

At one point a thread over at Splintered Sunrise (11th October 2009 ; http://splinteredsunrise.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/the-inla-stands-down/#comments ) broke off into an historical footnote relating to the proposal to fuse the SWM with the early IRSP in 1975 or thereabouts. This touched on the Independent Socialist Party and the prospect a few years later of fusion with them. I reproduce extracts below from that, at times light-hearted, thread.

BTW the documentation of all this should now be in the Mike Millotte, John Goodwillie and Jim Larragy deposits (NLI, ILHA and NLI respectively I think).

From Splintered Sunrise ‘INLA Stands Down’, 12th October 2009.:

D_D said,
The SWM considered the possibilities of unity with the IRSP at a point when it [the IRSP] had large support and far less emphasis on militarism. This was consideration and the actual line, decided by majority at an SWM Conference, was to reject a proposal, from within the SWM, of fusion with the IRSP.

Doloras said,
I heard that the SWM leadership was split evenly on the issue in 1975, and that Eamonn McCann was the deciding vote not to go with the Irps. True/false?

D_D said,
It’s documented somewhere, I expect. Maybe in my shed. There’s a new interest in the history of the far left which is leading to the exhumation of old publications and documents.
My memory is that the SWM leadership was split fairly evenly on the fusion proposition. It was a Conference vote, so not only the leadership voted. I don’t remember Eamonn MCann’s vote, or any one vote, being decisive. What does stand out is that on the day, unexpectedly to me, the worker members, or some of the worker members, including the leading member Ken Quinn, met at lunch time (for lunch) in the nearby Four Seasons pub. They were all strongly against fusion with the IRSP. Perhaps I had just sat with that table. I think I might have been invited. Their opposition swung it for me (my old socialist Dad had previously advised strongly against). The vote against was larger than a margin of one, if memory serves me right.

Mark P said,
Factionalism!

Mark P said
In my urge to denounce you at a thirty five year remove, I forgot to ask you to go rummage in your shed the next time you are feeling bored. That sort of material would be fascinating to have up on the web.
Speaking of which, does anyone have a copy of the special issue of the IWG (Mark 2) “Class Struggle” on the history of the SWM? I used to have one but can’t find it. If you have one, send it to WbS so he can stick it in the archive.

Brian Hanley said,
At the risk of being completely out, as far as I know Eamonn McCann was not a member of the SWM in 1975; he joined in 1983. As for the IRSP he was very close to them when they were formed (he attended Hugh Ferguson’s funeral for instance) and would have been more likely to support joining them I would have thought. But Eamonn is still around so why not ask him?I had heard the story of the SWM’s industrial members swinging the vote against joining before, D_D, and it seems to be the case.

D_D said,
But of course, Eamonn was, much to our frustration, never a member of the SWM in the 70s. Then he exasperated some of us even more by joining, and giving the kiss of life to, the SWM in 1983 just after we had departed in1982. (But we’re all together again now, it seems).
A very interesting epilogue to this is the emergence of the Independent Socialist Party, mainly from the IRSP. This group, led by Johnny White and Bernadette McAliskey (and Tommy McCourt?), among others, was perhaps the branching-off from Republicanism that came the nearest ever to the socialism of the revolutionary marxist left. More recent parallels might be Tommy McKearney or, perhaps, Eirigí.
The SWM were without any division (except maybe from the IWG faction) for fusion with the Independent Socialist Party, and prolonged talks, joint seminars (at least one) and joint Internal Bulletins (at least one) were engaged in. These came to naught. Much to my own disappointment, unlike with the outcome of the IRSP fusion episode. At least one active member of the SWM went into the ISP (Hiya, Brendan. Hope all well). The later history of the ISP is an area I know little about. There is obviously a lot to be recalled about the small left groups two and three and four decades ago.

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16. Conor McCabe - January 19, 2010

Great stuff D_D. The Jim Larragy papers are not catalogued yet, but if you ask them nicely in the National Library they’ll call them up for you. I spent about two days before Christmas going through them. Absolutely wonderful stuff, including the internal bulletins of the original Irish Workers Group (with Sean Matgamna, Gery Lawless and Eamonn McCann going hell for leather for each other), and a copy of the IWG special on the SWM that Mark P mentioned in the cut and paste comment above.

For what it’s worth, here’s my skeletal key to the Larragy papers, pending proper cataloguing by the NLI:

Jim Larragy papers – National Library

Acc. 6468. Box one

1. Early History of Irish Trotskyism, by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght
2. Notes towards a history of the Communist Party of Ireland (possibly Lysaght?)
3. History of Irish Socialism, (possibly Lysaght?)
4. Kathleen Ni Houlihan’s Newest Savior, by Maurice Ahern, New International, March 1936
5. Internal Bulletin of the Irish Workers Group, (1960s). Price 2d.
a. No.2 – c.1965. Contains constitution of the IWG
b. No.4 – c.1967/8 – Matgamna/Lawless fight
c. No.7 – c.1968. Has an article by Lawless on the origins of the Irish Workers Group,and his conversion to Trotskyism in the Curragh in the 1950s.
d. No.13 – article by Trotsky on 1913, translated by Brian Pearce
e. No. 9? – c.1967. Articles by Gery Lawless and Eamonn McCann
6. AGM report, meeting held 13 October 1968, Moran’s hotel, Talbot St.
7. Irish Militant, July 1966 – Aug 1968
8. An Solas, Feb 1965 – nov.1965

Acc.6468. Box 2.

Folder one

1. I.S. and Ireland. Document of Workers’ Fight. December 1969.
2. International Socialism 51. Ireland.
3. International Socialism 59. Perspectives for the Irish Left, by Brian Trench
4. Internment week in the Political Histages Release Committee, 1974
5. SWM internal bulletins, no.12, 13, 15, 16, 19.
6. Notes for members on IRSP
7. More notes for members on IRSP
8. Internal Bulletin, 20, 22, 23,
9. Entry to IRSP, c. May 1975
10. Internal Bulletin, 24, 25,
11. Thirty Theses, June 1975
12. Internal Bulletin, 26,
13. Perspectives after the split in the I.R.S.P. (Jan 1976)
14. Three Day Week: The Need to fight It. Pamphlet, Feb 1975
15. Which Way for the Left? Pamphlet, Nov 1975
16. The Working Class and the National Question. Pamphlet, July 1974
17. The Northern Crisis and the Role of Socialists. B.Trench. July 1977
18. Socialist Worker Review. May 1978
19. Perspectives for the Feminist Federation. Dec 1979
20. Socialist Worker Review. Feb.1978, April 78, June 1978, September 1978, Undated.
21. H-Block: Workers Action Can Win. Pamphlet. July 1981
22. Socialist Workers Movement, Bulletin, no.1, November 1981
23. What We Stand For. SWM pamphlet. 1984
24. Stop the Witchhunt. 1988. Relates to Militant and Ireland.
25. SWM, AGM, 1989
26. SWM Conference, 1989.

Acc.6468. Box 2.

Folder two

1. An Solas, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16
2. Workers Republic. 1967. No.17, 18, 20,
3. Workers Republic, published by the League for a Workers Republic, no.23-26
4. The Irish Revolt:1916 and After. Sean Murray. Pamphlet.
5. Notes on Workers Republic, Oct 1969 to Dec 1970
6. Notes on Socialist Labour Alliance
7. The Socialist Workers Movement, a Trotskyist Analysis. Irish Workers Group. Oct. 1992

Acc.6468. Box 3.

Contains detailed guide to the archive, by Jim Larragy. Material relating mainly to Socialist Labour Party and IWG faction within.

Acc.6468. Box 4.

1. Workers Power, 1978-1992
2. Class Struggle, no.1-25 (1987 relaunch onwards)

Acc. 6468. Box 5

1. The Worker (SWM) – 1972-1991.

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17. Mark P - January 19, 2010

That looks like a great haul there Conor. Thanks very much for the outline. Finally a copy of that IWG pamphlet about the SWM! Ancient internal bulletins!

By the way, was the 1970s “Socialist Worker Review” mentioned above an Irish publication or a British one? I know that in the 1990s the SWP produced one issue of a journal with that name.

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ejh - January 19, 2010

Rather more than one, I think

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Mark P - January 19, 2010

The Irish SWP, I meant ejh. The Irish SWP produced one issue of a “Socialist Worker Review” in the late 1990s. Then in the last decade it twice launched similar magazines but with other names (Resistance and New Left Journal).

I understand that they are considering launching an online journal now.

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ejh - January 19, 2010

Ah, OK, I did wonder but I thought it was still SWM at the time.

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18. Conor McCabe - January 19, 2010

I’d have to go back in and check. At the time I was more interested in getting an overview, and I only read the 1960s Irish Workers Group and the League for a Workers Republic stuff in any detail. We’re working through the Trotskyist groups in alphabetical order, so I don’t think I’ll be going back in to the Larragy papers until we get through the “S”s. The Movement for a Socialist Republic (Revolutionary Marxist Group) is next.

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Mark P - January 19, 2010

Ah, I suppose D_D might know though, if he was in the SWM at the time.

Which groups are you planning on doing, by the way?

So far there’s been the IWG, LWR and LWV, right? And you say that the MSR/RMG is up next.

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19. Conor McCabe - January 19, 2010

Funnily enough, I’d include the Independent Socialist Party in that list as well.

The list we have for Trotskyist groups (with date of publication in parenthesis) :

Independent Socialist Party – (25 Sept 2009)

Irish Militant Tendency – (2 Oct 2009)

Irish Workers Group [London/Dublin 1960s] – (15 October 2009)

Irish Workers Group [Dublin 1977] – (29 October 2009)

League For a Workers Republic – (12 November 2009)

League For a Workers Vanguard – Workers League – (6 Jan 2010)

Movement For a Socialist Republic – Revolutionary Marxist Group

People’s Democracy [mid-1970s]

Republican Socialist Tendency

Revolutionary Socialist Party

Socialist Labour League

Socialist Workers’ Movement

Socialist Workers Tendency

Students for Democratic Action

Workers Alliance for Action

Young Socialists

The Young Socialists wasn’t a trotskyist group per se, we know, but its story is important in the re-emergence of Trotskyism in Ireland in the 1960s.

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Mark P - January 19, 2010

Ok, you have me stumped on one of these above: Students for Democratic Action. Who were they?

Am I correct in thinking that WAfA was the IWG’s current in the SLP, while the RST was the RMG current?

There have also been some other groups, although they seem to have been very small and ephemeral.

Socialist Alternative was a split from the SWP in Dublin, consisting essentially of its UCD branch. It fell apart quite quickly with members heading into the Irish Socialist Network and into the Labour Party. I’m not sure if they ever published anything in print, although they did put stuff on the internet.

International Socialists (Ireland) were a Belfast based outfit consisting of former SWP members. They had a website for a while and produced some longish documents. They ended up merging with Socialist Democracy, quite possibly the last people to join SD. I don’t know if the small number of people involved are still in SD but I rather doubt it.

They aren’t to be confused with the current International Socialists, which is the name the bulk of Belfast SWP reconstituted themselves under after splitting from the SWP last year. It’s a traditional name in that current.

I suspect, Conor, that you know, either in the real world or online, people who were in both SA and the IS(I) grouplets. Although when you are dealing with groups which never got above five or six people you start hitting wikipedia’s “notability” barrier.

Finally, where is the index for this project? There’s a long page linked to at the top of this site, but although it says “scroll down for the index” at the top of that page I can’t actually find it.

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Conor McCabe - January 19, 2010

There’s a couple of publications by Students for Democratic Action in the National Library, which I’ve called up but haven’t read in detail yet (those damn “S”s again).

This is a historical project. Were size to be the key, then the Revolutionary Socialist Party wouldn’t be on the list, and people like Patrick Trench and the small group of activists around The Torch in the early 1940s would be left to decay in archives. The same could be said about George Craig and Jack Vance and the SLL in the 1960s. To think of this project in terms of memberships is to miss the point, I think.

for me, this is about understanding ideas, and the application of those ideas, those conceptual frameworks, to Irish society. for example, one of the more interesting groups to do that, Revolutionary Struggle, had a tiny membership.

In one way, the project is about building an overview of Irish Marxist thought. So let’s get all Dr. Phil about this, that size does not matter. 🙂

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Conor McCabe - January 19, 2010

“Finally, where is the index for this project? There’s a long page linked to at the top of this site, but although it says “scroll down for the index” at the top of that page I can’t actually find it.”

God, everyone’s giving orders to cedarlounge this past week…

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Mark P - January 19, 2010

Not meant as an order.

As far as I can tell from “for the Index of the Irish Left Open History Project please scroll down the page” somebody think that there is supposed to be an index there somewhere, so I’m just letting you know that I can’t find it!

This may be ineptness on my part.

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Conor McCabe - January 19, 2010
Conor McCabe - January 19, 2010

“Not meant as an order.”

I know it wasn’t Mark, just a little joke! 🙂

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NollaigO - January 20, 2010

IIRC
Students for Democratic Action were an amorphous UCD based group in the late 1960s.
I’m not aware that they had affinities to Trotskyism.

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20. Conor McCabe - January 19, 2010

“The Young Socialists wasn’t a trotskyist group per se, we know, but its story is important in the re-emergence of Trotskyism in Ireland in the 1960s.”

Sorry, that should read “in Southern Ireland” as the SLL had a small presence in the North throughout the 1960s.

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21. Jim Monaghan - January 19, 2010

I accept that Des is right than. It was the ISP.I agree wth him it was a lost opportunity not just for both these groups but for the left as a whole. I like to think that we would have welcomed the creation of a large group near enough our politics and not just regarded it as competition. I was not party to this anyway.My soutce would be Bernadette. Gerry F and the American SWP were close to her at that stage. She went to an SWP( american) conference in the USA I think 1977. She was hopeful that there would be a big fusion. For what it is worth I never contribute to Wiki. Not that I have a probelm as such with it.
As regards USFI obsessions. Right this is a point. I wouild point out that Ted Grant was a member of the FI at the stage when defence of Yugoslavia against a Russian invasion was threatened. As well as that it was an opening. Most people on the left regard it as a matter of principle to defend Cuba and to see it as a very positive development. Is this an obsession. I am tempted to get into an archane discussion on various things but this would bore the hell out of most people.
The sad end of the ISP ( I beleive most of them went back to the IRSP and we know where that went.
If and I suppose there are many ifs, the fusion with the SWM had happened and maybe the possible one with PD it would have created a plote of attraction based on mass action which might have overcome the temptation of militarism.Most people will not join something that is small.
Des refers in part to his and others from the SWM.For what it is worth I think that this was also a step towars the distortion of Leninism that the SWP now represents and which annoys so many. The early SWM had a good reputation across many divides.
On deep entry. The joke about in my day was that RSP (this was the name of the Grant tendency) were petrified of talking in their sleep in case anyone found out they were actually Trotskyists.They were the tendency that dared not speak it’s name.Loudly proclaiming what you are is a recent invention.I suppose you are very critical about the alliance beteen Woods and Chavez.

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Mark P - January 19, 2010

Jim,

1) Militant used to have gigantic great pictures of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky at the side of the stage during its rallies, which is an odd way to hide your views. The pages of its paper contained regular references to Trotsky too. The notion that it was some kind of secret that Militant was Marxist or Trotskyist is completely fictional.

It was a secret that Militant was an organisation, because any other stance would have led to immediate expulsion from the Labour Party (which of course had no problem with organisations of the Labour right having members or branches). It was not a secret what the politics of Militant were. Those were rather clearly expressed, whether you agreed with them or not.

“Deep entryism” is a very different approach, one which hides not just the existence of an organisation but the actual politics of the current. This was, for instance, the approach used by the Lambertist organisation in France, where they had secret members who would pretend not to have particularly radical views and who would seek advancement into positions of influence – Lionel Jospin being the most famous example.

The acronym you were thinking of, by the way, was RSL rather than RSP.

2) Yes indeed Ted Grant was a member of the ISFI during the period when it decided that Tito was an “unconscious Trotskyist”, a viewpoint the ISFI and USFI would later apply to Mao and Castro. He was however an opponent of this stupidity, along with the rest of the British Revolutionary Communist Party. The RCP, which was soon to be broken up by Mandel and Pablo using the thug Healy as their local representative, argued that the Soviet/Yugoslav split was a split within Stalinism. And they were right.

3) Defending the gains of the Cuban revolution does not preclude realising that Cuba is a bureaucratic dictatorship.

4) I’m unaware of any “alliance” between Woods and Chavez. I’m certainly critical of Woods’ entirely uncritical championing of Chavez. Which is not the same thing as being hostile to Chavez or to the Bolivarian movement.

5) I forgot to add “third world guerillas” to students, new social movements, Mao, etc when I was listing the forces the USFI has preferred to the boring old organised working class. The constant search for a substitute is the closest thing they have to a defining feature.

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ejh - January 20, 2010

It was a secret that Militant was an organisation, because any other stance would have led to immediate expulsion from the Labour Party

But on the other hand, it did involve telling an awful lot of lies to other people and expecting other people on the left not to blow your gaff. Which pissed those other people off no end. From the point of view of working with other people – assuming that point of view was considered – or of expecting other people to support you when you came under attack, it was a disaster.

Anyway, back to pre-Elizabethan Ireland….feudal or not? Jim, you must remember…

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Mark P - January 20, 2010

But on the other hand, it did involve telling an awful lot of lies to other people

Absolutely it did. That’s an unavoidable overhead of successful entry work in a party which expels left organisations. You can be open about your status as an organisation when you are tiny, but if you get to a size and influence where the party bureaucracy start to notice you you have the choice of being expelled or claiming that you aren’t an organisation.

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22. Jim Monaghan - January 20, 2010

“Anyway, back to pre-Elizabethan Ireland….feudal or not? Jim, you must remember…”
For what it was worth the RMG regarded the BICO as the theoritical foe to beat. So it took them seriously. Abtruse as it may seem the BICO were the cutting edge providing the arguments in say the Sticks.Kemmy was very influenced by them Practically every theoritical journal of the left deals with issues such as that. In fact introducing historical and other topics is par for the course.
In relating to living struggles it is inevitable that mistakes will be made. The class struggle continiues but it takes forms that can surprise. I supported thise who opposed the turn to Guevarism in the FI. But it would be mad not to relate to this revolutionaty current.
Tito was a Stalinist but the break was an opening in the monolith. Most if not all of the leaders of uprising against Stalinsim in Eastern Euroipoe came from the Stalinist tradition. But and this is the point they were breaking from it. What to do wait for the survivors of the Trotskyist current. They were dead.Trotsky talked of the bureaucracy splitting into the factions of Reiss and the faction of Butenko. You could say that say Imre Nagy was breaking in the directiuon of Reiss, I am not so sure about Tito. Tito when he stabilised the regime ended the experiments in worker democracy. Nagy was executed. The opening to the Titoists was correct when there seemed to be an opening.For a short period many anti-Stalinists rallied to Tito.Djlias actually came slose to Trotskyism in his critique of Titos sate.
The term unconscious Trotskyist is usually used by Healys gang. But if a revolition is uinfolding as was the Cuban one where the objective decisions were leading to an explicit revolution then it is an understandable if wron on theoritical grounds. Cuba had a revolution not lead by a Trotskyist party (footnote I am told that the Lambert current denied it was a socilaist revolution).The fact of the matter is that a generation of revolutionaries in South America tried to replicate the Cuban experience. They were crushed. I remember an Argentinian comrade telling me that it was practically impossible to offer an alternative road such was the attraction. The CPs opposed it from the right but last large parts of their organisations. The Trotskyist tried to offer alternatives from the left but also lost cadre. While hindsight is always useful I find it hard to see how any group that had not led a successful revolution could stand against the Guevarist trend. Look at the ANC, I doubt that your comrades who were in it made many polemics against the Guerrillaist trend.
There is a balance in not chasing after what could be fads and ignoring new sectors coming into struggle. The womens movement is a case in point. Conservative elements (male) in the workers movement sneer at middle class women with their petit bourgeois concerns. I remember the atteempts in my union to stop a donation to teh Dublin rape crisis centre where the fake left allied with the most conservative members to stop it. Both the RMG and the SWM took it seiously. I believe you have now caught up.
Students. Scratch most far leftists and you will find a former student radical. The RMG was working class. Speed never went to college. She had to make a living. Kelly an co were the first of their families to go to college.Ranor and I were the middleclass elements. Graham was an electrician. It is a fact that many students have the time to reflect on the inequities of class society and draw the right conclusions.Right for a short period they are removed from the coal face. Some go up the vast majority go back into the workforce. There is a touch of the old CP line that the workingclass are coalminers and industrial workers.
To me workers are those who have to sell their labour to make a living. Creating a workingclass consciousness is the real task.( on an aside part of this would be reflected in the use of association to describe certain unions in order to distinguish them from more proletarian orgs. But that is another debate).
Never was enamoured by Mao personally.I was sceptical about the Cultural Revolution. I supported the Trotskyist prisoners in China. I have Bentons excellent book on them.Strongly recommend his books.
Trade Unions. Well everyone in the rmg who had a job was an active trde unionist. I was a delegate to the Dublin Trades Council for many years. So was at least 2/3 other members/sympathisers.
Oh new social movements. Could you mean civil rights struggles for gays? I am sure in your current phase this is definitely not true.

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Neil - January 20, 2010

“While hindsight is always useful I find it hard to see how any group that had not led a successful revolution could stand against the Guevarist trend. Look at the ANC, I doubt that your comrades who were in it made many polemics against the Guerrillaist trend.”

Yes they did actually although the documents are not available online unfortunately.

In the main the theoretical basis for the CWI’s opposition to individual terrorism comes from the living struggles our organisations in Northern Ireland, South Africa and Sri Lanka engaged in with these tendencies

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NollaigO - January 20, 2010

I supported the Trotskyist prisoners in China. I have Bentons excellent book on them.Strongly recommend his books.

In fact Greg Benton was part of a large grouping who left Militant in 1973 and joined USFI.

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23. Mark P - January 20, 2010

Jim,

You entirely misunderstand the criticisms leveled at the USFI tradition.

The problem is not that they recruited students, oriented towards a break within Stalinism, supported new social movements, oriented towards guerrilla currents under certain circumstances etc. All of that is perfectly reasonable and for the most part perfectly laudable.

The problem is that they sought to replace the organised working class as the central force in the struggle for socialism with whatever other social forces seemed to be in motion at any one time.

Recruiting students has never been a problem – the Mandelite gibberish about new student vanguards and red bases in the universities was the problem. Orienting towards breaches in Stalinism has never been a problem, but deciding that Castro, Mao and Tito were really Trotskyists who didn’t understand it yet and supporting the bureaucratic dictatorships they established was a problem. Orienting towards people with pro-guerrilla views wasn’t necessarily the problem. Actually advocating guerrillaism and taking up the gun themselves in completely disastrous experiments in Latin America was the problem. In Ireland, apart from the dreadfully foolish flirtation with the Saor Eire Action Group this meant a strategy which put the Provisionals at the centre of their politics.

You may personally have supported the Trotskyist prisoners in China, but the USFI was notorious for its absolute refusal to criticise the Vietnamese Stalinists over the trifling matter of them murdering the once strong Trotskyist movement in that country. It also point blank refused to criticise the Cuban regime for locking up Trotskyists in that country.

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24. FergusD - January 20, 2010

The RSL – cripes somebody dare speak its name!!

Back in 1973?, student bar in Bristol, group of lefties of various Totskyist stripes, including the then Chair of the Labour Party Young Socialists (UK) and of course a leading member of Militant. Along comes someone most of us didn’t know who starts on about the RSL. Leading Militant goes beserk! Had to be restrained by non-Militant Trots, denounces unknown person as an agent provocateur/police spy. Amazing! We all knew about the RSL of course so presumably did the special branch, and certainly the LP. A bit over the top – but amusing!

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Mark P - January 20, 2010

The RSL didn’t exist in 1973. Really. It’s like talking about the Militant tendency existing in 2010. Militant members didn’t like people referring to them as the RSL because (a) that wasn’t their name and hadn’t been for years and (b) it was always used by people who were deliberately making a point that Militant was really an organisation.

It is of course a bit silly to assume that someone being a bit of a prick in a student bar is an agent provacateur but unfortunately none of us have a monopoly on silliness.

The RSL was the name used in Britain before the name Militant was adopted. After the paper was named Militant the organisation always referred to itself by that name or as “our tendency”, including internally.

I’ve heard all kinds of amusing conspiracy theories about how there was still a secret “RSL” within Militant, pulling the strings. I suppose a bit like the OIRA or the Research Dept in the Workers Party.

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25. FergusD - January 20, 2010

Mark P,
He may have been an agent provacateur actually, apparently he had been in and out of numerous groups. But the over reaction was rather typical for Militant on this issue – honestly – who cared!

Still there was far worse silliness from other “Trotskyist” groups at the time (and since) no doubt. And I say that with some sadness.

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26. Jim Monaghan - January 20, 2010

On Vietnam Krivine (the elder) maintained contact with the small group. Regularly in the press of the movement I read about the prisoners in China. In fact I was rereading some stuff while looking for archive material for Cedar Longe yesterday.
It is difficult leading say the Vietnam Solidatity Campaign and at the same time criticisng the regime leading the fight against Imperialism.
I have never seen anything saying Mao was a Trotskyist even in Maitan’s over rosy assessment of the Cultural revolution.Warts and alla I find it difficult to put Castro in the same league as Mao.
Again it is about comparitive analysis. What were your lot doing and saying at the time.(doing I say not just saying and passing resolutions calling for sweetness and light) Give me a Krivine actually leading a real struggle or even a Tariq to those who simply see the struggle as resolution passing at Trade Union meetings and Labour Party conferences.
The debates in the FI were about real struggles. Only when you emerged from the Labour Party were you seen to do much.
In fact your idealised concept of a “pure” class struggle led you to absent yourselves from the living struggle of the nationalist workingclass against Imperialism.
The mistake in South America was seeing as did many that it was possible to replicate the Cuban success in a similar manner. Though it was replicated in Nic. and Grenada. It would have been turning Marxism into a stale mantra if this did not have an effect on the ranks of the FI.
Any living group is influenced by the world around. This can lead to errors and usually does. Only the sectarian pure and pure (De Leonites and their Trotskyist equivalent) could have abstained and not be influenced by what was happening.
EG Did your South African entryists denounce the military adventurism of the ANC. I bet they did’nt as it would have been political suicide.
The RMG steered a difficult path in supporting the Northern revoilt against Imperialism. I felt mistakes were being made but they did not get involved in military adventurism. But this did not menn that they would not have been prepared to activally defend the ghettoes in the event of another generalised Bombay street. And there was a real fear that this might happen. No doubt you would have been asking the ICTU/TUC to do something. Well we can see the fiasco when they tried (and at least there was an effort) to stop the Loyalist Strike).
This sectarian assault on the Nationalist population was of a ferocious scale. But of course with your equals too sign between the Nationalist and Unionist/Loyalist proulations you would no doubt disagree.
Whatever about China neither the Cuban, Grenada or Nic. revolutions were deformed at birth. There was an anti-bureaucratic opening in Jugoslavia fro a short period. It was correct to be open to it and try and give a momentum to it.
Saor Eire.
Peter Graham had personal frendships with some of them, as do I with one of them. Neither Kelly or Speed were particularly friendly to them as individuals or as a group.It was though that this particular Republican group was more open to Trotskyist ideas than the 2 major ones. Whatever the truth of this they were smashed by the state anyway. Likewise the IRSP contained people who were sympa. and open to Trotskyism, they while not smashed by the state( and the Official IRA) were weakened and driven towards an unfortunate suicidal militarism.
The mistaken perspectives of the RMG was based on an honest attempt to come to terms with a living struggle. Your tendency (likewise with the Official republican movement) turned your back on it.

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27. Mark P - January 20, 2010

Jim,

I don’t even know where to start with that there are so many things I think are silly or just wrong in it.

Plenty of people wage “real struggles”, for good reasons and bad and with good tactics and bad. The chief distinction between Militant and the RMG on the issue of Republican paramilitaries wasn’t that the “RMG engaged with a real struggle”, unless you count the clownish tragedy of their Saor Eire entanglements or unless you count cheering on some paramilitary faction from the sidelines as a “real engagement”. It was that Militant realised, right from that start, that the Provisional’s campaign of bombings and assassinations could never achieve any of its aims and would instead be a bloody, counterproductive failure while the RMG cheered them on every step of the way.

Militant argued that the IRA campaign would not lead to a United Ireland and still less to a workers republic but would instead lead to the deaths or imprisonment of a generation of the most politicised Catholic youth, would further entrench sectarian division in the working class and would allow the British to endlessly ramp up the repressive apparatus of the state. This was and remains the traditional Marxist position on individual terrorism. It simply cannot work (unless perhaps your goals are as nihilistic as your methods). The RMG, in keeping with the traditions of their international current, just saw some force in motion, some exciting action, and cheered along.

Of course it didn’t do them much good. As I said above, all it earned them was a continuous loss of members to the Provisionals. As it was they who were after all waging the real struggle in the RMGs eyes, the people who joined the Provos and who rather quickly dropped their socialist radicalism were just following the RMG’s logic through to its conclusion. And the Provisionals were always willing to accept a few new members who could add a thin gloss of theoretical sophistication to their campaign.

It may be “difficult” to run an anti-war campaign and to simultaneously criticise the Vietnamese Stalinists, but it was necessary to do so. The USFI covered up the slaughter of their own comrades in Vietnam, which happened on a large scale, because they thought that being so rude as to mention it would jeopardise their working relationship with the Stalinists. That’s not a minor incident. It goes beyond their refusal to stand up for the (small and rather peculiar) Trotskyists in Cuba when the Stalinists there were persecuting them. The Vietnamese Trotskyists were a significant political force, particularly in the cities. They were also affiliated to the USFI! And yet their “comrades” helped cover up their murders because doing otherwise was inexpedient. I don’t think that’s a much less shameful incident then the Healyites selling photographs of Iraqi leftists to the Ba’athist regime.

These incidents are of a piece. There is an underlying connection between the USFI’s infatuations with Irish Republicanism, Stalinism, Student Vanguards, Titoism, Latin American Guerrillaism, Third World Dictators and all the rest. It’s the search for a shortcut, an easier, more exciting route than building support amongst the organised working class.

And yes, the ISFI as it then was did apply a similar analysis to Mao as it did to Tito and as the USFI did to Castro. I disagree entirely with your claim that the Cuban regime wasn’t bureaucratically deformed. It was and is a bureaucratic dictatorship. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean that you have to ignore or oppose the very real gains the Cuban revolution has brought, but we have to also acknowledge that the Cuban people are not free to elect their leaders, they don’t exercise democratic control over their economy and society and the regime does and did imprison its opponents. The USFI takes as one-sidedly positive a view of Cuba as the SWP does a one-sidedly negative one.

And yes, by the way, our sister organisation within the ANC argued against a reliance on terroristic methods, saying that they wouldn’t bring victory. And they were right too.

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28. Jim Monaghan - January 20, 2010

I think you are gilding the lily on your groups attitude to the Northern struggle. It was not just opposing the militarist approach of the Provos in favour of something better. You put an equals too sign between Unionism and Nationalism. I read your Northern guru Haddon’s polemic against the SWP and that it what I drew from it. I think that a lot of other leftists would put you in the same camp as the Sticks, BNQ as a friend of mine put it (Bad on the National Question). Intercontinental press, the english language journal published by the American SWP as it work for the Usec carried out many campaigns about the Viet. Trotskyists and others. I would have liked more of it, but it was there.Yes, the Usec as a whole had a positive attitude to not just the Cuban revolution but it’s leadership as well. I see problems with the Cuban leadership but will not go as far as you. There are not real soviets and there are other distortions. But the Cubans led a popular revolution supported and activally aided by the bulk og the Cuban people. This makes it different than the imposed revolutionary changes in eastern Europe, now reversed.The distortions/deformations came in because of their dependency on the USSR. It was not born deformed.I remember someone saying that for Trotskyists critical support is all critical and damn all support. If your current respond to the Chavez invit. for a prospective 5th International I would humbly suggest that you make your criticisms closer to 99% of American Imperialism and 1% ( something of that order)the flaws of the Cuban revolution.In case you say I am ignoring these flaws I would just say remember who the main enemny is. The flaws were caused by Imperialism sustained attempt to isolate the Cubans politically and economically.Castro is not a Stalin. Wrong as the treatment of the Cuban Trotskyist was they were not shot. And for wht it is worth I have piublicised the work of Tennant which deals with them.
The North, it was a fact that a significant part of the nationalist supported the Provo campaign. We recognised this fact. This is why we popposed the attempt by the Imperialist to criminalise the prisoners.Because this was to criminalise the whole struggle of the Nationalist population.There are many struggles led by leaderships throughout the world which we would both disagree with vis a vis tactics and strategy but which are in essence struggles against Imperialism. Remember Lenin about pure class struggle , I frorget the entire quote something about thos who expect a pure proletarian army lining up against a pure Capitalist one. We deal with the class struggle as it is with flawed leaderships whether reformists, Stalinists or whatever. I would put the then Provo leadership, the Cubans, Scargill with their flaws on a different plain than the say reformists of the ICTU or even worse the awful Northern Ireland committee of the ICTU.
Whether we like it or not many currents that come into being in the struggle against Imperialism will not emanate directly from our tradition. The Stalinists with their slaughter made sure of that. These have the potential of leading revolutions, a potential made much better if they become Trotskyists, in the sense of absorbing the lessons of marxism. A critical and friendly engagement without arrogance is necessary. When I look at the couurage displayed in especially the Prison struggle I see the bravest and best of anti-imperialist fighters who any movement would/should be glad to engage with and attract to their ranks. Opposing the attempt to criminalise them for me is the starting point.
Talking of the ANC how did you deal with the internal repression of dissidents in Tanzania. This was assisted by the GDR advisors.

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Mark P - January 20, 2010

“Bad on the National Question”, is a badge I’d wear with pride when it’s awarded at the whim of people who have never understood the national question as it actually exists, who have never had anything of interest to say to or about the majority of workers in the North and who have instead devoted their time to cheerleading for a futile and counterproductive bombing campaign supported by about 10% of the Northern population and a smaller part of the Southern one.

It is interesting that left republicanism has consistently been such a disaster. Saor Eire, the RMG, PD, the ISP, the Red Republicans and the like disappeared, the IRSP and IPLO, well the less said the better. None of them could survive in the shadow of the Provisionals, whether trying to run their own “socialist” bombing campaigns or simply standing around and cheering for the larger organisation. The SWM, which had its own leanings in that direction, has slowly but surely moved away from it and towards a working class unity position, which is to their credit.

I’m not gilding any lillies when I describe Militant’s view of the Provisionals. Militant made much those arguments in the first copy of our paper. They argued at all times the Provisionals campaign would be a bloody and counterproductive failure. And they were right. All those murders, all those activists lives wasted, and it hasn’t brought us one centimeter closer to a united Ireland, still less to a workers republic. Militant was very clear that British imperialism created the problem, but it understood that the most important immediate impediment to a united Ireland wasn’t by the 1960s the British state but the Protestant population. It’s taken some of our dimmer cousins on the left quite a lot longer to grasp that.

On Cuba, yes indeed Castro led a genuine popular revolt. So did Tito, so did Mao. That’s part of the reason why the USFI tradition fell head over heels for all of them. But all of them set up regimes broadly modeled on the bureaucratised Soviet Union and right from that start, all of them established a dictatorship. Call me old fashioned if you must, but I don’t see how any Trotskyist can support “the leadership” of a bureaucratic dictatorship, as opposed to the genuine gains of the revolution.

As for Chavez, he is a radical leftist leader of a capitalist state. He has led a movement that has brought about significant reforms in Venezuela and he’s to be admired for that. However, we aren’t simple reformists. We think that capitalism has to be abolished in its entirity and replaced with working class power. At this point, it doesn’t seem that Chavez shares that perspective. I think that the socialist left would be well advised to support figures like that in so far as they advance working class interests (and in Chavez case that’s pretty far!) but also to maintain a critical distance. The USFI, of course, is incapable of maintaining a critical distance from whatever or whoever is the subject of its latest infatuation and will accuse anyone who does maintain their critical faculties of being insufficient enthusiastic.

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ejh - January 20, 2010

It’s taken some of our dimmer cousins on the left quite a lot longer to grasp that.

How few, how few have been quite as bright as the Milis.

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Garibaldy - January 20, 2010

“I remember someone saying that for Trotskyists critical support is all critical and damn all support.”

I don’t think that has been the case when it comes to those Trotskyists who have critically supported the Provisionals. Much more the other way round I’d have thought.

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29. Joe - January 21, 2010

I’m trying to get my head around all this. It’s starting to make sense I think. The milis were the Normans, right? And the RMG were the “native” Irish. So when the milis arrived with their modern ideas and technology, it transformed the nature of the society. The Irish initially didn’t really like the idea of towns but they eventually caught on.
So, as ejh said, pre-Elizabethan Ireland, feudal or not?
I’m going to stick my neck on the line here and go for… crypto-feudal.

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30. NollaigO - January 21, 2010

LOL , Joe

The milis were the Normans, right?

B’fhéidir ach tá b’fhéidir eile ann!

Na daoine le Dia, b’fhéidir!

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31. NollaigO - January 21, 2010

B’fhéidir eile:

Uisce faoi thalamh ?!

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32. THATS NOT MY NAMA! - January 21, 2010

As sassanach anois!

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33. Joe - January 21, 2010

TNMN. As sasanach anois = out of an English person now.
As Béarla anois = In English (language) now. [Béarla comes from béalra = (literally, sort of) mouthing (béal=mouth)].
Terrible the way the Gaeilge brings out the finger wagging teacher in me.
Are you still with us ejh? Interesting too that the word milis in Irish means sweet in English. The sweet milis.
Going way back pre-Norman into the realms of legend, we had the Milesians (precursors of the milis?) who, if memory serves, came from Greece. They ran the show here for a while till they were done by the Formorians who got done by the Tuatha Dé Danann, probably not in that order.
Pre-Elizabethan Ireland had the gaelic clan culture – them clans could outdo any trot sect for splits and fusions.
Where this all comes or goes I have no idea but, on pre-Elizabethan Irish society, I’m sticking with crypto-feudal until somebody convinces me otherwise.

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ejh - January 21, 2010

Are you still with us ejh?

See, when I was a kid I did a seance or two but at least I wasn’t the one they were calling on then

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34. WorldbyStorm - January 21, 2010

Crypto-feudal sounds about right to me…

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35. Jim Monaghan - January 22, 2010

On the feudal thing, which arises in discussing Connolly rather rosy approach. Let me point out that there was a change in land ownership from the Clan to the Chief when the chiefs became Earls etc.
Also in feudal Europe when a war occurred the peasants were part of the property transferred. In Ireland there were plantations where everyone was driven to the poorer lands.
Agreed an archaic debate as regards current ploitis but nevertheless of historical interest.
There is a debate in the FI about Chavez. Yes, along with most of the FI if not all Venezuela is considered a Capitalist state but it is in the midst of a process. Whether like Castro, Chavez will be able (I feel he is willing) to drive it to a socialist conclusion, or it will be driven back we will have to wait and see. I hope the workers of Ven. will succeed.
I grant the point that there will always be those who are too uncritical but there are always those who are just critical.
See debate in
http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/
and Socialist Action article by Gerry Foley
Chavez Calls for a Fifth International
http://www.socialistaction.org/foley147.htm
Here we will have to wait and see and do our solidarity in case the USA intervenes.It is unfortunate that your more Grantite cousins rather than build solidarity in the broadest fashion try and own the campaign. If they were not bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan I am sure they would do so.
When an oppressed people go in struggle against Imperialism and the same goes for a group of workers, unless we are the leadership we are not likely to decide on startegy and tactics. But we have to take sides. When Imperialism tries to label 1000s of young workers from the nationalist community as mere criminals. After Bloody Sunday the young in the Ghettoes wanted to fight. I might have advocated other mass action forms of struggle but in that context who would have listened. That they wanted to fight and adopted a strategy that could not win is a fact. But and this is decisive a mistaken apporach is not an excuse to line up with Imperialism. The WP became obsessed with the Provos and demonised the masses who followed them. I know where I stand. I disagreed as an Irish revolutionary with the military campaign (I used to use the shorthand discription that I was a 1972 stick) but not putting this disagreement in the context of the effect of Imperialism and the decision to attack the nationalist population is misguided.
To take a “classic” struggle like the miners. I think that Scargill made strategic mistakes.He was the greatest asset and the greatest liability for the miners at the same time, a titan of Larkinist proportions. But he was their leader and anyone who did not support the miners struggle, well you need to know which side you are on.Not only did the miners lose, the industry disappeared.
In the Middle East like I would guess all of us I would be queasy about living under Hamas or such like but I will not line up with Imperialism against those who fight. It is not for me to lecture those who see in Hamas fighters who are not corrupt and who are willing to fight.
When people talk of unity of workers they should look at the country as a whole, North and South. Partition and the acceptance by the 26 county rulers of it has created a partitionist mentality. I assume that the SP regard this as one country otherwise their comrades in belfast would be in their British section. Leading on from that I assume they regard the national struggle as unresolved as least on a theoritical level.
The line of Haddon and co could be written by any milk and water liberal nevermind socialist.
Groups, parties etc. come and go, Trotskys favourite party, the American SWP is now a mere sect. There are many reasons for this, sometimes repression,, sometimes a lurch into sectarianism, people get worn out, the times are bad etc. The Northern uposurge ran out of steam dut to mainly the militarist approach by the Provos. This meant that those who prioritised it also were weakened.
Some groups continue for evr no matter the objective circumstances, eg the SPGB.
Because of the work the SP and Higgins have done there is a certain momentum and a certain responsibility to the class. There are things you can do or try to, will you put the conservative and narrow interests of the group on top or will you give a lead to the broadest layers to go into struggle. The ICTU/SIPTU have been successful demobilising the workingclass over the last year. I am not saying that with a wave of the hand the SP or any combination can offset this but you have to try.
Alas, I think you will go for a narrow agenda.

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36. Left Archive: Marxist Review, Theoretical Journal of the Revolutionary Marxist Group, No.3, Spring 1973 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - July 19, 2010

[…] by Jim Monaghan, is of particular interest. We’ve already considered some material from the Revolutionary Marxist Group, but this expands upon their analysis and during a period of particular change on the further left […]

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37. Left Archive: Socialist Republic (incorporating The Plough), Paper of the Revolutionary Marxist Group No. 1 c.1975 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - July 16, 2012

[…] noted previously the Revolutionary Marxist Group was a Trotskyist group in Ireland in the 1970s. With members drawn […]

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38. delivering detailed news - November 22, 2017

Interim Management China

The Left Archive: The Prospects Before Us – Revolutionary Marxist Group, 1970s | The Cedar Lounge Revolution

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