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Foreign observers at Ard Fheiseanna and Annual Conferences? November 13, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Stephen Collins describes a scene familiar to a fair few on this site from the 1980s…

The background to the latest demarche by the Independent Alliance goes back to the 1980s when the Workers’ Party embarked on its Marxist-Leninist journey and established relations with a number of communist regimes around the world.

One of the features of party ard fheiseanna was the arrival of a group of men from Asia who took their seats for the opening Friday evening session in the near-empty hall, waiting patiently for proceedings to begin.
They usually had to wait some time as the Workers’ Party members may have been nominal Marxists but they retained Irish notions of time and were usually still clustered chatting outside or having a pint in nearby pubs when the conference was due to start.
On inquiry from journalists, it emerged that the earnest gentlemen were the fraternal delegates from North Korea, one of the poorest and certainly one of the most repressive regimes on the planet. Leading figures from the Workers’ Party including party leader Tomás MacGiolla and general secretary Seán Garland visited North Korea on a reciprocal basis.

I know there were DPRK reps, but weren’t there also on occasion PRC ones. And Soviet as well. Plus fraternal others? Who else was there, can anyone recall?

And what of other parties? Any unusual, unlikely or just plain strange delegations from abroad invited or attending?

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1. Joe - November 13, 2017

I remember a story from a departed comrade back then. That some delegation from DPRK was coming to meet the Party in Dublin. Cue a big rearrangement of the shelves in the bookshop in Gardiner Place with a load of Kim Il Sung (or whoever it was) tomes placed front and centre. The DPRK comrades asked ‘do they sell?’, ‘is there much interest’. ‘Oh yes, big time’, was the reply.

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2. Gearóid Clár - November 13, 2017

As well as representatives from the Celtic nations and Basques, there were Portuguese attendees at Provisional Sinn Féin ardfheiseanna during the late 1970s/early 1980s (can’t recall exactly the year(s)).

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3. Joe - November 13, 2017

A droll comrade attended a late eighties WP Ard Fheis with me. At one point in the proceedings the Party’s International Secretary took to the stage to welcome the international fraternal delegates, by reading out their names and affiliations one by one.
My droll comrade noted that, despite the WP being a strongly peace loving party, different levels of applause could be heard depending on what organisation the international fraternals came from. So the comrade from something called the World Peace Congress got a polite round of applause but the man from the PLO got a big loud bualadh bos and a cheer.

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Colm B - November 13, 2017

World Peace Congress was Soviet front, very critical of Wests nuclear weapons, strangely silent on Soviet ones etc.
Had lots of clergy, no doubt sincere, international equivalent of the liberal vicars beloved of popular front era stalinists.
Bit like the naive (or not so naive) liberal intellectuals in the CIAs cultural fronts of the 1950s.

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dublinstreams - November 13, 2017
Starkadder - November 14, 2017

According to Wikipedia, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance
is the Irish branch of the World Peace Council (which might explain the former group’s refusal to condemn Putin ):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Peace_Council

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4. Jim Flynn - November 13, 2017

Of course DPRK was far from a poor state in the 80s – but went did the truth ever bother the blueshit Collins

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5. Colm B - November 13, 2017

I was on the WP international committee in late 80s, got on it cos of my orthodoxy, my enthusiasm for liberation movements and being Sean Kenny’s sidekick. Got kicked off eventually for arguing for breaking with the Koreans – no one supported me, not even the future DLers who made such a song and dance later.
Perhaps surprisingly, orthodox CPs were underrepresented at ardfheiseanna, at the time, probably because of the desire by WP not to be seen as a communist party but also cos of Communist Party of Ireland blocking WP relations with those CPs. Of course the CP of the Soviet Union were always there.
As for the Chinese, they were just there from the Chinese embassy, as indeed were a rep of the Brit embassy and maybe even the US one – that was just convention: all Dail parties invited reps from the main embassies to their Af.
I think some of the links harked back to when WP saw itself as left-wing national liberation movement. Anyway from my memory, apart from Kim’s komrades, regulars were:

Independent Labour Publications: a libertarian left faction in BLP, very hostile to USSR but agreed with WP on North.
Union Democratique Breton: left regionalist group that had evolved out of Breton nationalist movement. Brittany’s stickies! Although WP had friendly relations with Euskadi Eskerra, a similar outfit from Basque country, I never came across them at AF.
Muhedeen e Khalq: left islamists opposed to iranian regime, morphing into weird personality cult.
PCI: the Italian CP were regulars in the later 80s despite different views in the WP on eurocommunism.
Pacifist Socialist Party: a Dutch left-socialist party which had reps in parl etc.
Cuban Communist Party: often the ambassador from London attended.
PLO: but never the left factions, such as the PFLP, who were close to IRSP.
Meretz: the israeli left-socialist democrats, pro-two state solution.
ANC:but never SACP – see orthodox CPs above.
FLMN: but strangely I don’t remember any other Latin American reps, though Chiltean exiles in Ireland did attend.

The WP had strong relations with the Iraqi baathists in the early 80s but this waned as decade wore on. This was partly due to baathist massacre of Iraqi CPers (apparently Kurds don’t count).
Forgive the boring detail, I’m not just an ex-stickie but a geographer by trade and an international politics nerd.

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sonofstan - November 13, 2017

Not remotely boring.

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Colm B - November 13, 2017

Thank you SofS.
Im afraid it’s the type of stuff that makes my nine year old say ‘shut up daddy, you’re an idiot’ or more usually just ‘yawn’

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WorldbyStorm - November 13, 2017

This is fantastic stuff Colm B. Really brilliant to have it laid out like this. I thought there was an ILP link but wasn’t sure about it. I seem to recall some of their stuff in the bookshop during its brief incarnation on the quays.

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Colm B - November 13, 2017

The ILP were the remnants of the old Independent Labour Party which had broken away from the BLP in the early 30s. At the time they had thousands of members and a bunch of MPs. Their leaders were widely admired socialists such as the Glasgow MP James Maxton and the English campaigner Fenner Brockway. Their strongholds were the industrial heartlands Glasgow/West of Scotland and the North of England.

They were part of a wave of left groups who broke away from social democratic/labour parties in the 30s, rejecting both sociali democracy and stalinism. They called this the third way – nothing to do with Blair’s right-ward shift but rather a commitment to a democratic road to socialism. They even took part in an international alliance called the London Bureau with similar parties. This linked them with the POUM in Spain. Along with other volunteers from LB parties through Europe, ILP volunteers fought with the POUM militia during the Spanish Civil War.

After WW2 with the revival of the BLP, the ILP went into decline.By the 1970s, the now tiny ILP rejoined the BLP. The maintained their left critique of Labour’s right wing leadership but also kept apart from the rest of Labour left, suspicious of the authoritarianism of the Trotskyist groups etc. They still published a magazine and a (weekly?) newspaper called The Labour Leader.

AS a WP rep I attended two ILP conferences during the 80s, one in Leeds, another in Rochdale. I often met their reps at Ard Fheis. In hindsight I can see that their views and publications influenced my ideological evolution: their critique of Soviet-style communism and of the authoritarianism/elitism of liberation movements and also their sophisticated analysis of why public reps moved to the right once elected – due to the pull of institutions rather than opportunism. They did not, however have a clear ideological basis to their analysis of these questions – they weren’t Marxists though they weren’t hostile to Marxism (as opposed to Leninism).

They were fully aware of how different their politics was from the WPs – they found the NK link particularly bemusing. However they agreed with the analysis of the North and did their best to push the WP’s line within the BLP in contrast to the pro-SF position of most of the Labour left.

Sadly they eventually succumbed to Blairism – they supported the Iraq War and ended up advocating a sort of warmed-over 1970s social democracy – more Denis Healy than Keir Hardy. A sad end for organisation with such a distinguished history. If you’ve time to waste, here’s their current website: http://www.independentlabour.org.uk/main/

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WorldbyStorm - November 13, 2017

Yeah, a really interesting group. I hadn’t kept up to date with the later more recent years (ie the 90s). Disappointing to see them following a path so well trodden. Btw I think that’s spot on re institutionalism over opportunism. The latter is understandable as an argument but if it’s correct there’s not a lot of optimism given how many times “opportunism” has occurred. And it’s odd, I remember (and I imagine you do too) all too well conversations with people on Middle Abbey St back in the 90s while I was still in DL who seemed far too comfortable to cosying up to FG when even five or six years earlier in the WP they’d have been much more hostile to the idea.

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6. roddy - November 14, 2017

My old theory again confirmed again.So called “radicals” (in this case the ILP) who support British imperialism in Ireland inevitably finish up supporting imperialism world wide ie the Iraq war.

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O'Connor Lysaght - November 14, 2017

Yes, Roddy, there is a natural tendency there. It should not be seen as developing inevitably.

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7. entdinglichung - November 14, 2017

during the mid-1970ies, the KBW, back then the largest maoist group in Germany and also the maoist KPD did sometimes show sympathy for the Officials but don’t know if this love was reciprocated, both were groups which followed the Chinese “Three-Worlds” stuff in that period

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Joe - November 14, 2017

Mid seventies was a decade before my time. But there were a lot of changes in the Officials from the mid seventies to the mid eighties. In the mid seventies, as the Party began to embrace socialism and, to some extent, move away from its traditional republican roots, there would probably been a broader range of views within it as to what sort of socialism they’d be into and what groups they might link with.
And not just with the Officials/WP. I’d expect that there were a lot fewer Maoist groups to link up with by the mid eighties. They would have declined a fair bit from their heyday by then?

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sonofstan - November 14, 2017

” They would have declined a fair bit from their heyday by then?”

They were not the Mao-West by then, alright

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entdinglichung - November 15, 2017

true, the maoist KPD dissolved itself in 1980 and the KBW in 1985 with their core membership moving to the right wing of the Greens, … the Provos had from the mid 70ies their fan base in Germany among the non-dogmatic-ML group KB and the autonomous and anti-imp (pro-Red Army Faction) scene (from which some Ireland solidarity committees evolved), the latter also generally liked the IRSP/INLA, … think that the DKP generally advocated the view of the CPI

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8. Pasionario - November 14, 2017

Speaking of unlikely Sticky affiliations, whatever happened to this erstwhile party stalwart, now chortling about “political correctness gone mad” and plugging the pro-life movement on Twitter?

https://twitter.com/malachysteenson?lang=en

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entdinglichung - November 17, 2017

reminds me of former Provo Gerry McGeough … there was a lot of solidarity work with him by autonomous and anti-imp groups in Germany when he and Gerry Hanratty were imprisoned there around 1990

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