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Left Archive: The Proletarian, Paper of the International Socialist League of Ireland, August 1988, (ISLI). November 26, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Socialist League of Ireland, Irish Left Online Document Archive.

To download the above document please click on the following link: PROL ISLI

Again many thanks to Roasted Snow for the above document which is one of a number which he has donated to the Archive and which will be appearing across the next six months.

This paper was published by the International Socialist League of Ireland. The ISLI was a Trotskyist party allied to the International Socialist league in the UK, which itself had split from the version of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party led by Cliff Slaughter early in 1988, where it had been organised as the ‘Bolshevik Faction’. No mention is made of the British party in the text.

It has a varied contents, from a front page news story about a ‘Sinister Special Branch Operation’ detailing alleged intimidation of trade unionists by RUC Special Branch, to pieces on Privatisation, the Anniversary of Internment, a critique of the IRSP and a piece on ‘SF seeks change in military strategy’. It also includes ‘Perspectives of the ISL on Unionism, the working class and the revolutionary party.

Perhaps unusually for the left the paper outlines a process towards revolutionary socialism, which while clearly aspirational does outline some elements of such a transition.

It notes with some optimism:

…the scene is one of wildly oscillating positions out of which is emerging great revolutionary potential. There now exists a revolutionary situation in Ireland which can and must be fostered and transformed into revolution itself by the conscious activity of a revolutionary party giving essential leadership to an otherwise politically disorganised proletariat.

And it continues:

Only in this way can the Irish working class and rural masses as a whole unite in actin, expel British imperialism from Ireland, expropriate the Irish, British and International capitalists and set up a workers government based on soviets (Community councils).

It suggests that it will be foundation for a revolutionary party:

It is therefore urgent that an Irish revolutionary party be built out of the ISL to lead the Irish working class and its allies to revolution. In the process the corporatist links of the trade unions must be broken, the bureaucrats replaced by revolutionary fighters and the unions transformed into active revolutionary organisations.

And it exhorts readers in the following way:

Factory and Community Councils (Soviets) must be set up and organised to replace the existing bourgeois administrative structures. Unable to provide the necessary community services and facilities, the later must be smashed and their resources expropriated.
Hospitals, schools, nurseries, old people’s homes, health centres, recreational centres and so on must all be taken over, staffed and run by the communities to prevent the total destitution of those communities and towards the foundational organs of revolutionary government.

The ultimate aim being:

The aims of the all-Ireland party must be the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship based on soviets, the rigid separation of church and state and the relegation of religion to the status of a private affair, the nationalisation of all banks and major farms and industries, and the implementation of revolutionary socialist poetics.

Roasted Snow adds:

I am not sure if this paper made it South of the border in any great strength.The ISL was led by Jonathan Lacey and Belfast based. Had a few activists but, with respect, with meagre resources published this and a student paper ‘Red Banner’. Adopted a typically WRP sectarian approach to the revolutionary left. The paper was sold door to door in Nationalist Working Class districts of Belfast. Was aligned to The Marxist Party in England associated with Vanessa and Corinne Redgrave. Jonathan put a strong emphasis on cadre studying dialectics via the Gerry Healy school of thought. Vol 14 very important. Yet it’s position on the republican movement was correct re; ceasefire and this before the collapse of the SU.

Apologies for the quality of the scans. Due to the nature of the original print many of the photographs are very murky.


1. Mark P - November 26, 2012

This is fascinating. I’d never even heard of this ISL(I). Am I right in assuming that they weren’t around for very long?

Their origins seem a bit murky. They are described as allied to the British ISL (which still exists, in a very low key way) but later on are described as being aligned to the Marxist Party. This is a little peculiar, because the British ISL were a split from the anti-Healy version of the British WRP and were aligned with Morenoite LIT internationally, but the Marxist Party were a pro-Healy splinter from the pro-Healy WRP version. So they were at opposite ends of the post-WRP constellation.

That they repeatedly start talking about dialectics in this issue and are selling a book by Healy gives textual support to them being aligned with the Marxist Party by this (early, its issue 4) stage.

I’ve never really been clear about the various incarnations of Healyism in Ireland. There was an SLL in existence in the run up to the Troubles which then disappeared. And then in the early to mid 80s, there are at least a few people in Belfast who are mentioned in accounts of the WRP’s disintegration. And then there are these people in the late 80s, linked by turns to two different WRP splinters. Was there any organisational continuity between these groups? Or was it a case of Healyism dying out and being reborn repeatedly?


Roasted Snow - November 26, 2012

They were aligned to the Marxist Party and pro Healy.


2. Mark P - November 26, 2012

A bit of googling only makes things murkier.

Firstly, it appears that there at least five different groups aligned with the British Healyites and/or some British post-Healy faction at various points in Ireland:

1) The SLL in the 60s.
2) The League for a Workers Vanguard/Workers League in the 70s. This was apparently a little group of the British SLL’s supporters in Belfast, which then went into the League for a Workers Republic and split it, leaving as the LWV.
3) The group led by Lacey, called the International Socialist League of Ireland.
4) A group apparently called the Irish Socialist League.
5) A group based in Dublin called the Irish Workers League.
6) A group supporting the Anti-Healy WRP’s Workers International called the Revolutionary Socialist Group.

The last four groups are very confusing. They all appear between 1985 and 1990. They are mentioned only in a very small number of online sources, and these sources are contradictory on some points and, not to put too fine a point on it, some of them aren’t really sources that strike me as overly reliable.

The International Socialist League of Ireland is mentioned in one of the documents in the archive here, “The Irish Marxist: Journal of the Marxist Leninists of the University of Ulster Labour Club”. This was a group linked to the Leninist, the predecessor of Britain’s Weekly Worker, and it’s a polemic against the ISL(I) and Lacey in the rather gossipy and personalised style Weekly Worker readers will be familiar with. This piece indicates that the ISL came into existence in 1985, ceased publishing Proletarian by late 1988, but was still publising its student paper Red Banner by the Summer of 1990. It describes the politics of the ISL(I) as Healyite.

The other online mention I can find is in Gerry Downey’s rather rambling book length account of the death of the WRP. Here a man named “Lacy” is described as leader of a group in Belfast. Downey describes him unflatteringly and says that he left the Special Congress of the Anti-Healy WRP (Workers Press) in 1985 to go and join up with the Pro-Healy WRP (Newsline). If this is accurate, and assuming that this is the same group (as we probably can), this would indicate that the International Socialist League was probably never connected to the British ISL. It would however fit well with the group later being aligned with the Marxist Party.

The other three groups appear only in Downey’s document at least as far as I’ve found so far. The Irish Socialist League was also linked to the WRP (Workers Press), seemingly linking up with them in 1986 having encountered the British group at some event to commemorate the Easter Rising (Downey says the 75th Anniversary, but addition says otherwise). This group was, Downey says, led by a Felix Quigley an was also based in Belfast. It split from the British WRP (Workers Press) with Mike Banda and than disappeared after Banda renounced Trotskyism.

The Irish Workers League was set up by a couple of Dublin based contacts of the Anti-Healy WRP and then ended up breaking off its relationship with the British group in a row over the national question in Ireland within a year or two. Downey describes the people who set up the IWL as having been in the leadership of the old Workers League (ie the continuation of the League for a Workers Vanguard in the 70s). Its a bit ambiguous but it sounds like the WL had ceased operating at some point and that the IWL was a new group founded by some of the same people.

There are other people here who may be able to add more detail and correct errors.


3. Mark P - November 26, 2012

I forgot to mention above the last group, the Revolutionary Socialist Group. This was the last Irish group allied to the WRP (Workers Press). According to Downey it was the Irish section of their Workers International as late as 1990. I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else.

Conor McCabe has some interesting material on the League for a Workers Vanguard here: http://irishlabour.com/?p=221

And he has also put up a length piece by Dermot Whelan, a polemic against the SLL in the early 70s, which includes a history of the LWV to that point. According to Whelan, the SLL in Ireland, which was based in the North, underwent a period of growth in 1964 but had been reduced to a small group by 1969. It’s not entirely clear whether the remaining SLL personnel actually joined the League for a Workers Republic, but they were certainly involved in the Healyite group which came out of it, the League for a Workers Vanguard (later Workers League). There’s no evidence of this group still existing by the late 70s.

The Whelan document:

Click to access LWR_PAMPHLET.pdf

Gerry Downey’s document:

The University Marxist article:

Click to access cpm-ml.pdf


4. WorldbyStorm - November 26, 2012

And then there are these people in the late 80s, linked by turns to two different WRP splinters. Was there any organisational continuity between these groups? Or was it a case of Healyism dying out and being reborn repeatedly?

Hard to know, I’ve always suspected that any organisation associated with Healy tended in the main to be built around members of the WRP who found themselves back in Ireland rather than entirely organic growths. That may be unfair but that’s how it seems to be.

Whether that was deliberate strategy on Healy’s part or simply something that happened is difficult to tell. So perhaps it was a case of Healy associated groups appearing again and again but never being able to make serious hay.

RE the contradiction between being aligned to one form of Healyism or its rival/opposite, that’s an interesting one.

More documents needed for the archive from the groups you reference above.


Mark P - November 26, 2012

On different strands of Healyism, remember that the splinter groups eventually came to outnumber the grains of sand on a beach. And some of them, like the ISL in Britain, moved over to other international currents, in their case the Morenoite LIT. They weren’t all the same, and in particular those groups descended from the Anti-Healy wing tended to be markedly less nuts.

While you are right that no Healyite group ever made “serious hay” in Ireland, I don’t think that they were all simply composed of a couple of people who’d been in the British group and a few hangers on. As I understand it, there were certainly a few dozen of them at various points, most notably in the mid 60s, and some of them, like the Belfast trade unionists Jim mentions, seem to have stuck it out for a fair while.

I’d be somewhat surprised if all of the groups listed above managed to put out a publication, by the way. The Revolutionary Socialist Group, for instance, strikes me as a prime candidate to have never put anything in print, but maybe someone knows differently.


WorldbyStorm - November 26, 2012

I must see if I can get some of the docs listed below.

That’s a fair point re how there were a few dozen of them. There must have been given the multiplicity of members. Still, interesting if someone gave us a view from the inside, as it were.


Roasted Snow - November 26, 2012

Jonathan was English by birth and his formative WRP years spent in England.


Jml - April 30, 2021

No, went to work in Ireland age 15, never in WRP. Suffered serious psychosis, not treated. Will clarify rest sometime.

Liked by 1 person

5. Phil - November 26, 2012

I liked the situationist overtones of this bit

the nationalisation of all banks and major farms and industries, and the implementation of revolutionary socialist poetics.

but it turns out to be a typo – should be “policies”. Shame.


Jim Monaghan - November 26, 2012

Yes, they split the League for a Workers Republic. The pro Gerry Healy group then joined the SLL group in Belfast and formed the League for a Workers Vanguard, later the Workers League for obvious reasons.Belfast had Jackie Vance later I think in the Slaughter tendency.The Belfast group were mainly of a protestant and trade union background. Dave Fry, Terenure, led the Dublin group. He died. Dermot Whelan was another. Dermot later joined SF. He is very bitter abd now regards Trotskyiosm as a deviation.
I was in the LWR and went with them. The biggest and most stupid mistake of my life. The LWR was a healthy formation.
These groups were total sects.


Phil - November 26, 2012

Dermot later joined SF. He is very bitter abd now regards Trotskyism as a deviation.

[Brian Behan] did a lot of reassessing, eventually rejecting Leninism and becoming an anarchist.

And just this morning I was reading about Mike Banda’s post-WRP trajectory – denouncing Trotskyism in favour of a fairly old-school reading of Communism, then arguing that Marxism as a whole was moribund & urgently needed an infusion of nationalism(!).

There does seem to be a pattern here associating the WRP circle with political burnout, or at least burnout as a Marxist.


6. Jim Monaghan - November 26, 2012

Oh a little history. The SLL had a litlle group before this in Dublin. They were allied to Brian Behan who was previously an industrial organiser of the CPGB and later for the SLL in London. It left/collapsed when Behan broke with Healy. Behan was later an anarchist and I think died in Brighton.


CL - November 26, 2012
7. irishanarchisthistory - November 26, 2012

Yes, Brian Behan died 10 years ago in Brighton. He was the brother of Brendan Behan. After his experiences in the CPGB and then the SLL he did a lot of reassessing, eventually rejecting Leninism and becoming an anarchist.

On the “row over the national question” between the the early 1980s Workers League and the WRP. The main person in Dublin, Paul Billings, a one-time chair of the Irish National Union of the Unemployed, joined the IRSP


8. charlie cairns - November 26, 2012

Groups 1-3 are healyite splinters – then there is the SRG, not 100%
In 1970-71 the Belfast Young Socialists, healyite, sold Keep Left, a London paper around the pubs, etc.

The Linen Halll Library in Belfast has the following material.

1. International Socialist League
News sheet of the International Socialist League.
No.1 – No.2June 1985 – July 1985

The proletarian.
1:1 – 1:3, 1:5 – 1:9
Sept/Oct 1987 – July 1988, Sept 1988 – June 1989

2. Irish Soc League
Produced a possible 11 issues of “Irish socialist press” 1985-6
and 1 “Irish marxist review”, 1985.

3. Irish Workers League
“Irish Workers League” – 19 Nov 1982, 27 Nov 1982

Marxist journal – produced in Dublin – at least 7 editions available, more may have been printed, between Dec 1974 and June 1977.

Northern Area of the Workers League.
“Workers league”, An undated edition, No. 2, in 1978.

Revolutionary international – issue No 2, Jan 1975.

Workers news, (Dublin) – July 1983 – Sept 1983

Workers Struggle, by
Central Committee of the Workers League Irish Section
Vol 1 no 2 (Feb 1973) – No. 10 (dec 1973)

4. Socialist Revolutionary Group (not sure if this Healyite without going to the Library, not in a rush!).
Marxist forum = 3 issues, 1989


Mark P - November 26, 2012

Nice work Charlie.

I suspect that “Revolutionary International” is likely to have been a LWR publication rather than something Healyite, although duplicating names would hardly be unimaginable for the Healyites.

The Socialist Revolutionary Group sounds like the affiliate of the WRP (Workers Press) mentioned in the Downey document as the Revolutionary Socialist Group. So kind of post-Healyite rather than Healyite,


9. Joe - November 26, 2012

In the 80s I was on a union committee with someone who I understood was a member of the League for a Workers Republic. And I was told around the same time by an ex-SWP Central Cttee member (now a very senior union bureaucrat) that a teacher in a secondary school I once worked in, which has gotten the a few mentions on CLR, was in the LWR.
I always understood that the LWR was the Irish branch/wing of Healy’s Workers Revoutionary Party, before it burst apart.
Having read all of the above, I am greatly confused. Was there a time when the LWR was the only version of the WRP in Ireland or were there always splinters/factions?


Mark P - November 26, 2012

The LWR started out as an independent group, originating in the collapse of the Irish Workers Group. It quickly moved towards a link up with the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), then the more hard line / doctrinaire of the two main Trotskyist currents internationally. But the ICFI was in the process of breaking up and by this stage there was a kind of cold war between the two dominant sections, the British SLL (G. Healy prop.) and the French OCI (P. Lambert prop.).

The LWR walked right into the middle of that mess and never really knew what hit them. The Healyites quickly split them so as to turn their new split group, the LWV, into an official ICFI section and gain a rotten borough vote against the French. Then the Mandelite USFI split the LWR again. And finally, after the ICFI split down the middle, the LWR fell into the embrace of the French side of that split’s new international grouping, the Organising Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International.

Or to be less long winded about it, they were Lambertists not Healyites. They eventually split from the Lambertists as part of some international breakaway, I think in the mid to late 80s but by that stage they were dying out anyway.


Joe - November 26, 2012

Ta, Mark P. I can sleep easy now with another piece of the jigsaw sorted.


10. Jolly Red Giant - November 27, 2012

Have you guys got nothing better to be doing with your time 😉


Mark P - November 27, 2012

What possible better use of time could there be than documenting and tracking the history of half a dozen extinct Healyite splinter groups in Ireland?


charlie cairns - November 27, 2012

One of the Belfast organisers of the 1980s Healyites, Felix Quigley has moved on!!



11. The Weekly Archive Worker: Housing is theft – housing is freedom « Entdinglichung - November 29, 2012

[…] * The Proletarian, Paper of the International Socialist League of Ireland, August 1988 […]


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