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Independent Left: Socialism in Ireland, Everything you ever wanted to know August 31, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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This from Independent Left is useful, a sort of run-through of Irish socialism from its beginnings to the contemporary period, almost a primer for those recent to the area, but it is always important to consider and reconsider the overall area.

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1. Colm B - August 31, 2020

Ok one last comment. If I was in Ireland these day’s, I’d join Ind Left. I was most impressed with Conor Ks talk on the podcast. In many ways I think ILs trajectory is very similar to the project that the ISN embarked on in the 00s but failed due to a variety of circumstances largely beyond the control of those of us who were members.

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2. Joe - September 1, 2020

“due to a variety of circumstances largely beyond the control of those of us who were members.”

Really? I always thought it was all my fault 🙂

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3. jc - September 1, 2020

If possible, can you hint at the circumstances that made it hard for ISN? Were they unique to ISN or did they represent more general problems? Any obvious lessons for Independent Left or other left projects now?

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Colm B - September 1, 2020

Good point Joe. I’ll give it a try.

First, the ISN was operating in a tighter space between the Leninist SP and SWP on the one hand and the anarchist WSM on the other. All three were expanding, united and active, which made it difficult for a new organisation to break through. Nowadays the situation is much more open. The WSM are far smaller and both the SP and SWP are less dominsnt and are more vulnerable to splits.

Second, we were squeezed ideologically. Our positions were subtly different from each side, making it harder for us to recruit. If you were into the libertarian aspect you went for WSM, if you were more into the revolutionary aspect you went with the SP/SWP whereas the ISN seemed to be neither fish nor fowl. I think our ideological position was broadly correct but hard to sell.

Third, the fact that most of us came from a WP background was a disadvantage. Yes, it meant we started with a group of experienced activists, which allowed to the ISN to punch above its weight in campaigns etc. but in the long run it was a handicap. Others on the left just saw us as a WP splinter or legacy group. It also meant that despite our best efforts it was a tough call for new people to join – I’m guessing it felt too much like an old sticks club.

Finally, we were starting out in the latter part of the Celtic Tiger period so the overall conditions for recruiting people were less favourable than later years when the ISN was fading away.

Finally, because we didn’t come from the Trotskyist tradition we weren’t good a recruiting. We just didn’t have the neck or whatever, we were almost embarrassed by recruiting. We didn’t do what the other groups did, actively recruiting in uni’s etc, we just hoped that our campaigning work would naturally attract recruits.

I think we did lots of things right but as the song goes, it was just that the time wasn’t right.

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Colm B - September 1, 2020

Sorry, I meant “good point JC”

Of course it was all your fault Joe, counter-revolutionary enemy of the people. I just have’t worked out whether you were working for the CIA or the GAA

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WorldbyStorm - September 1, 2020

So, all Joe’s fault! 😉

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Colm B - September 1, 2020

I’ve yet to unmask his fellow conspirators, but when I do there’s going to be a show trial…any chance we could book the Cedar Lounge, vodka and caviour for the the audience.

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sonofstan - September 2, 2020

Zoom trial!
There’ a voting gizmo you can use with it.

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roddy - September 1, 2020

I once worked on a building site with a member of WSM.He preached at me constantly in a manner which could be only compared to the most annoying evangelist found in ultra orange circles up here.I eventually told him to fuck off when he assured me Peadar O’Donnell was “NEVER a Socialist”. I heard some time later that his wife kicked him out and he had become somewhat less than PC in his attitude to women.(Another trait which often comes through in “evangelist” types).

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terrymdunne - September 3, 2020

Just for the sake of clarity the group called WSM being discussed in this thread is the Workers’ Solidarity Movement – an anarchist group concentrated in Dublin (but by no means exclusive to there), with its high-tide – thus far – maybe ten years ago?; another group called the WSM – World Socialist Movement – was prominent – relative to the rest of the far-left – in Ulster in the 1980s. These groups share a similar vision of socialism as not meaning Soviet-esque state ownership, but the anarchist one would have a more nuanced take on O’Donnell https://struggle.ws/rbr/rbr5/peader.html

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WorldbyStorm - September 3, 2020

Thanks Terry, I was thinking the WSM (anarchist one) wouldn’t be that negative about O’Donnell, who to my mind is one of the great Irish socialists. The other WSM was the SPGB aligned one?

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terrymdunne - September 3, 2020

Yup, World Socialist Movement is the international network, SPGB the British section, World Socialist Party was the Irish one, I have only encountered them south of the border once, but as I say, apparently they had a noticeable presence selling their publications in Belfast city centre in the 1980s/maybe early 1990s.

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AdoPerry - September 1, 2020

I always thought the ISN had potential. Hard workers and solid enough politics. A loss to the left.

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alanmyler - September 2, 2020

When I was looking for a party to get involved with, after my brief introduction to political activity with Labour in the 2009 local elections, I had a good look around the various parties on the further Left and went to a few public meetings to get a flavour of the various groups. I eventually narrowed it down to either the WP or the ISN. I went with the WP in the end, mostly because of discussion about the party here on the CLR. Had it gone differently maybe I would have joined the ISN instead. BTW I don’ think an old sticks club is necessarily a bad thing. It’s a pity the ISN didn’t achieve that critical mass that would have ensured its continuation, it seems to have had more self-awareness about the shortcomings and blindspots of further Left politics than many of the others.

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Colm B - September 2, 2020

Although I obviously disagree with the choice you made, it sounds like you made it in a rational, deliberative manner. I think most people join orgs on the basis of who they know, who they’ve worked with in campaigns.

When I joined the WP in the 80s it was just that it was the most active and biggest party to left of Labour. Coming from a strong republican family, ironically, the WP in my eyes seemed to combine republicanism and socialism. The party was very active in UCD at the time as well, so the looked like the only viable option.

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pettyburgess - September 2, 2020

The recruitment thing is important. The less democratic but very recruitment focused socialist groups, not just in Ireland, are quite unlovely in a few ways, but they are very good at replicating themselves. Nicer or just more relaxed groups can find it hard and tend to fade away if they have an extended difficult period, while your classic Leninist sect just puts its head down and grinds away at recruitment.

The WSM were much less recruitment averse than most anarchist groups, so they were able to benefit from anarchism having a sub cultural “moment” in a way that most anarchist groups around the world failed to. But when that fashionability disappeared, so did the flow of new recruits. When people started to drift away in various directions they didn’t respond by redoubling efforts to recruit in ones or twos in the sect style and seem to have more or less faded away.

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4. Joe - September 2, 2020

“I’ve yet to unmask his fellow conspirators, but when I do there’s going to be a show trial…”

Turn informer or we’ll kill you… Joe he answered no.

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roddy - September 2, 2020

At the very least you’ll be excised from all the old photos .

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Joe - September 2, 2020

Actually there is a photo. The Branch have a copy of course so I won’t be excised from that one.

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Colm B - September 2, 2020

I can now reveal that Joe has been working for the enemy for years, before he destroyed the ISN, he single handedly engineered the split in the WP.

My question to you Joe, is where were you in 1969? Do you deny your role in the splitting the republican movement, you running dog of imperialism?

I’m enjoying this too much, I think I’ve been reading too much Soviet history books.

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5. Wiki Man Dave - September 2, 2020

What happened with WSM? They were very active when I left Ireland in 2015. Came back last year and I haven’t come across them at all. And yet left wing politics is more popular if anything than when I left. Plenty of competition I guess.

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Colm B - September 2, 2020

I think they just splintered due to intense strategic differences and lost a lot of leading members, heading off in all different directions. The late Alan Mac Simon who was probably their most well know member withdrew as far as I know. Some of them zoomed off to form the bizarre Kautsky/Stalin fanclub that now dominates the WP, while other such as Chekov Feeney just dropped out of politics altogether (going by his online presence seems to be channeling Steve Jobs these days).
The loss of so many key people just undermined the whole project.

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alanmyler - September 2, 2020

The Stalin fanclub aspect of the WP is greatly exaggerated, for the record.

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Colm B - September 2, 2020

Not if you read what Gavin CM has written here and elsewhere including a detailed denial of Stalin’s responsibility for the Ukraine famine in the early 30s.
Not if you look at the consistent support for anti- worker authoritarian regime incuding the blood soaked Assad regime and the North Korean God-king. Not if you consider the links with the ultra-stalinist, homophobic, KKE and similar parties.

Alan, I know you’re not a Stalinist, though I disagree with your political position, its an principled one, but I’m afraid the WP is incorrigbly Stalinist; just a week ago, the WPY tweeted support for the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, FFS they are showing solidarity with a dictator not the striking workers!

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alanmyler - September 2, 2020

As I say, it’s exaggerated. Yes there are members who hold such opinions, and while I personally am not a Stalinist (in terms of self-identification at least, I’m more of a Krushchev fan myself) I’m also not an “anti-Stalinist”, without wishing to delve into that water here and now as it’s not something that lends itself to useful on-line discussion in my experience. But the point being that even though there are members who hold and express such views, and yes including some leading members, the party itself and I would say the vast bulk of the membership are not Stalinist in any functional sense. The international support aspect of it is probably the most contentious aspect, as there’s obviously an international eco-system within which the party is connected and part of that involves taking a position which descends from the anti-imperialist politics of previous decades. An interesting aspect of the recent shennanigans within the party up North, where there are in effect two parallel organisations at present, is that the responsibility for international relations within the WP(Official) has moved from the previous holder in Belfast to a new person in Dublin, and that falling out of that there appears to be a shift in the party’s orientation within that wider international community. As to tweets from any part of the party, I don’t use Twitter myself and I avoid getting worked up at this stage about what appears occasionally on the FB feed. The point being that whatever the nature of the party you joined in the 80s, and whatever the perspective you might glean from social media or on-line personal statements from party members, my impression of the party is that it’s somewhat more pluralist in its internal life than the moribund party I joined a decade ago, and I would guess that any similarity with the party you joined in the 80s and left in the 90s would be quite stretched at this stage.

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Colm B - September 2, 2020

I’m afraid the party in the 80s was far less Stalinist than today’s WP because there were significant sections in the party who openly opposed the stalinism of the old guard, though from different perspectives.

I see no evidence of any critical debate in the WP regarding the links and support for regimes that are so awful that to call them Stalinist is a compliment. It may be that such debates happen internally but there’s no hint of them in public. As far as I can see from reading the various split docs and statements, the foreign policy differences between the Official WP and the BC WP are minimal. It boiled down to the penchant of the BCWPers to link up with the absolute lunatic fringe of the Stalinist world while the OWP favours working with the mainstream of world stalinism, the KKE, the Portuguese CP etc.
Gavin CM now seems, from the outside, to be a central figure in the WPs mini-revival and I think it’s fair to describe his politics as stalinist, though with a strange penchant for Kautsky that seems to characterise parts of the US left at the moment.

I guess we won’t agree on this, until the facts prove one or other of us clearly wrong!

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Wiki Man Dave - September 2, 2020

Colm B I wasnt expected the answer to be that they took over the WP!

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Colm B - September 2, 2020

Yep, from Kronstadt to the Kremlin via Kautsky, in a hop, skip and a jump.

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WorldbyStorm - September 2, 2020

Well certainly the Stalinist stuff now – however much the usage is cosmetic, or even as I’ve heard it explained by one observer as being a means of baiting the new left ‘establishment’ which comes from originally Trotskyist roots, an analysis that seems to have some weight though not fully – is extremely alien to those of us who were in the party in the 1980s. Simply put it wasn’t a currency in the party in the sense of ordinary members being ‘Stalinist’, even though no doubt there were some who did see themselves as Stalinist. Part of this being so alien is that the actually existing Soviet Union had itself – however partially in organisational terms – itself had a long reckoning with the Stalinist period and put some distance in some respects between it and then, to however limited or not effect. Moreover eurocommunist strands outside the Soviet bloc themselves had wrestled wtiih the issue, some again with greater rather than lesser success, so bar a hard core of true (or deluded) believers and/or opportunists eager for any measure of seeming power it made near enough no sense to be a Stalinist when the actual USSR wasn’t Stalinist in the sense of focusing on that period. Frankly I’ve felt that the rhetoric of Stalinism subsequently just seems deliberately provocative and pointlessly so in so many ways. Can’t imagine it appeals to most people on this island likely to be swayed leftwards.

BTW ColmB you made a very interesting point about the perception of the WP as being republican in a way. I had a similar perception before I joined.

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WorldbyStorm - September 2, 2020

Mind you, isn’t that some contradiction between Kautsky and Stalinism?

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Colm B - September 2, 2020

I think the perception of the WP as left republicans lingered on into the early 80s. As a teenager in the late 70s as I first started exploring socialist ideas, I definitely saw the Officials simply as the left wing IRA and ultimately that played some role, coming from the republican background, in shaping my choice in around 82 to join the WP.

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WorldbyStorm - September 2, 2020

Talking to various people it seems the hunger strikes sort of saw that cohort leave or just give up within the party. It certainly rankled with me that the party so clearly shifted against a republican analysis. But I guess the sense it was moving forward getting more support and pushing a left line kind of made up for it. It was odd though how the then very recent republican past coexisted with the changing party. In a couple of the houses of party members prominently displayed were arts and crafts made by OIRA prisoners in jail in the North.

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Colm B - September 2, 2020

Yep it’s a peculiar one alrigjt. I wouldn’t besmirch poor Kautsky with Stalinism, whatever his sins, and they were numerous, he did believe in democracy and debate. He would have had no truck with dictatorship.

But in a strange way his peculiarly mechanistic and deterministic take on Marxism, so brilliantly battered by Rosa Luxembourg, found echoes in Stalinism’s, primitive cathecism: the stages theory, diamat, etc etc.

The thing that links them today is rooted in the nostalgia of the Jacobin/DSA mileu for both the concept of the mass-party from the glory days of German social democracy and popular front stalinism. Jacobin is replete with articles that uncritically recount the achievements of popular front style activities of CPs in the past. In their case they clearly aren’t Stalinists but they view both the pre-war SDP and the popular front CPs as models for today’s democratic socialists ( by which they mean left-reformism as they definitely reject any revolutionary strategy). I think in the case of the WP or at least the ex-anarchists who now dominate it ideologically, they have taken this a good deal further, combining adherence to Kautsky’s mass-party line with actual unambigious Stalinism.

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alanmyler - September 3, 2020

I’m genuinely curious to understand what aspects of the WP you interpret as having anything to do with “actual unambigious Stalinism”?

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Joe - September 3, 2020

“Talking to various people it seems the hunger strikes sort of saw that cohort leave or just give up within the party.”

That cohort being the republican cohort, yes?

But it’s interesting, observing from the outside, how the republican thread continued and continues to run through the WP since the hunger strikes and all the way through to now. The ORM split was a split by ‘republicans’ away from the WP. But the WP continued to claim it was republican. The most recent split, mainly in Belfast… one of the only differences I can identify is that one faction in Belfast wanted the party to drop the Starry Plough emblem, the majority faction didn’t. The majority slagged off the minority by calling them unionists. They all still head down to their republican plots at Easter and sport their Easter lillies.

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alanmyler - September 3, 2020

I find that interesting also Joe. I think in part it points to an internal life in the party where there’s some latitude for members to hold views, and even express those views as minority positions, which are contrary to the official line of the party at any given time. For myself I find this new recent towards republicanism by the WP(Official) somewhat discomforting, but I don’t see it as a big enough reason for me to leave the party, so I’ll stay on in there and hope that the line flips back closer to where it was at some stage. So apart from there being a level of latent republicanism that ebbs and flows, and let’s not forget that Dessie O’Hagan defined socialism as the 20th century evolution of republicanism, well apart from that I’d see it as a positive that people can hold such opposing views for decades and still co-exist (until recently perhaps) within the same party while that ebb and flow is fought over.

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Joe - September 3, 2020

Yeah, it’s complicated.
“and still co-exist (until recently perhaps)” … But I’m pretty sure you’ll find that there’s plenty of members of both the parallel parties that see themselves as republicans. It’s always there, as far as I can see. A comfort blanket? A spancel? Who cares! I bet if you asked them, both parties would say they are republican parties.

And your line about the line flipping back. A friend of mine, still a member as far as I know, described the WP’s progress in the eighties as “We zigzagged forward” – he was happy (he’s definitely not a republican afaik!) that the party would zig one way and zag the other way but that it was advancing all the time… I think he was probably referring to zigging and zagging wrt its version of socialism also.

Any way, good luck to you Alan in hanging on in there. I’m long gone but still sadly slightly fascinated and consumed. Get a life Joe 🙂

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alanmyler - September 3, 2020

Well as I understand it. from a distance I should say, the question of the definition of “republicanism” is one of the dividing issues between the two parts of teh party up North. The official line up to this point had been laid down over many years by Des O’Hagan et al, but there appears to be (and I could be misinterpreting this) an attempt to redefine it as being something closer to perhaps a 70s line? As to hanging in, well I took a break from any active involvement in meetings or anything else so I’m just a passive member these days, I’m well out of the loop, so anything I’ve been suggesting here in comments is purely personal impression. As to zig-zagging forward, I like it, a good way of describing it. I’ve not much time for zealots who know all the shortcuts.

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Colm B - September 3, 2020

Good question Alan re evidence of WPs stalinism. I’m snowed under with work today but will get back on the case this evening.

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pettyburgess - September 3, 2020

You are talking at cross purposes here because Alan is using a definition of Stalinism that involves the open adulation of Stalin as an individual. In an Irish context that kind of gross stupidity is these days mostly the province of the edgelords attracted to the CP’s youth wing. There have always been elements of the WP with that kind of attitude but they were probably more prominent in the days of Harris, Smullen or O’Murchu than they are now and there were always WP people who didn’t subscribe to that stuff.

Colm however is treating Stalinism as a political movement, with a set of ideological positions developed under the leadership of Stalin. And in that sense, the WP deliberately inserted itself into the Stalinist movement in the 70s, adopted the requisite theoretical and ideological views and hasn’t broken with Stalinism at any point since, give or take a bit of flirtation with Eurocommunism in the late 80s. So if you see yourself as part of the same movement as the CPs, think that socialism can be built in one country, support various dictatorships as socialist, have a stages theory of socialist transformation, think there’s a progressive or national segment of the bourgeoisie, etc you are unambiguously Stalinist regardless of whether you own a t shirt with Red Salute to Comrade Stalin The Great Teacher written on it.

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CL - September 3, 2020

This debate is as relevant to the condition of the Irish working class as was the silly argument over whether the Soviet Union was state capitalist or a deformed workers state.

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pettyburgess - September 3, 2020

A cynical comment deployed only to shut down discussion, CL. There are many things discussed here that are of considerably less relevance to the condition of the working class than the politics of one of the historically more serious attempts to build a party that aspires to lead that class. I don’t recall you whining about it on those occasions.

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Colm B - September 3, 2020

Still intend to answer Alan in detail later but really CL, you don’t think it matters to workers if socialists support the massive suppression of workers as Stalinists do? You don’t think that real democracy both in society in general and inside workers organisations matter?

I don’t know if you’re argument is that such issues are a distraction but personally, I never found it a problem to attend to both immediate issues of a bread and butter nature and more long term issues related to ideology and organisation. Today I worked on a complicated case for my union branch, did my days work and hopefully will have time to debate the negative impact of stalinism on the workers movement – of course we have to prioritise but these are not either or choices.

And BTW if you were a striking worker in Belarus the last few weeks, I think you’d know the relevance of this discussion.

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WorldbyStorm - September 3, 2020

In a way I agree with much of your post PB. But… I’ve always thought the definition of Stalinism you offer is a little problematic.

“So if you see yourself as part of the same movement as the CPs, think that socialism can be built in one country, support various dictatorships as socialist, have a stages theory of socialist transformation, think there’s a progressive or national segment of the bourgeoisie, etc you are unambiguously Stalinist regardless of whether you own a t shirt with Red Salute to Comrade Stalin The Great Teacher written on it.”

Is it really Stalinist to hold out hope that a supracontinental state (actually two in the 1940s) could have developed socialism. The alternative is hoping that there would be multiple socialist revolutions at the same time in a range of diverse states. That’s a hell of a bar to set. Both seem to me to pose massive challenges – the former because the nature of the socialism in one state is as important as the idea of socialism being achieved in one state. As we saw, top down M-L didn’t work in the USSR (which raises the question why people would try to replicate that experiment again) and in the PRC it’s changed out of all recognition to what it used to be that I”m almost minded to sympathise with PJ O’Rourke’s rather troubling description of what an authoritarian state that allows big business etc unhindered might actually be.

I’m also dubious about stages theory being entirely useless. Of course if one wants to go straight to a revolutionary situation fair enough, but how to get there? The track record in advanced capitalist societies is spotty to the point of non-existence.

These seem to me to be in a sense political positions one could argue sincerely on either side of without being somehow not socialist. Rather like transitional programmes. I don’t think the worse of people for arguing for or against them as such.

I’m more convinced on Stalinism, away from the sort of rather idolatrous stuff some profess which seems naive/appalling (and I’ve known people who I like and admire who’ve articulated that for I do not know what reason), is a political practice of authoritarianism that for its own ends locked onto stages and socialism in one state, and could as easily have locked onto other approaches (indeed did). And I think there’s a danger of saying because the Stalinist period of the USSR saw x, y and z adopted therefore we have to set our faces against them. Not that any of those concepts noted above has any particular utility at this point it has to be noted.

Again it seems like a political practice. Cult of personality, tight and anti-democratic political structures, absolute authority for a single figure (or at best a small group), semi or full militarisation of society and party. Lack of pluralism within and without the party. Recourse to violence as a political tool and weapon. And so on. I think one could pencil in democratic centralism as being a part of that practice as well.

I don’t see the post-Stalin period in the USSR as being fully Stalinist. It was by contrast authoritarian but with certain modes of Stalinism still persisting (and with actual avowed Stalinists still existing – indeed its revealing rereading the history of the party debates in the 1980s just how that manifested). Pretty hard authoritarian too, despite an obvious softening compared to the previous period. And so grim that I’ve never understood anything other than a very very critical and contingent support for it (at best).

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Colm B - September 3, 2020

I guess we’ve battered this one to death but I’ll go out with a bang, so to speak because I think Alan’s question deserves a full answer. So at the risk of restating some of the points well-made by PB here goes:

The WP can be fairly classed a Stalinist party not because it overtly classes itself as such but because it displays a series of organisational and ideological characteristics that together fit the classification.

International Links: Go to the WP international page and you will see two links that clearly show where the WP has positioned itself internationally. The party is a member of a grouping called the “Initiative of the Communist and Workers Parties” which groups together the most hard-line, authoritarian communist parties in the continent including a number of tiny ultra-Stalinist parties that have split from the main CPs. This grouping is so bad that the CPI and the CPB (UK) who are also Stalinist parties are not members and nor are the big CPs of France, Spain etc. These are the ultra-Stalinist fringe of communism.

The WPY is affiliated to ironically titled “World Federation of Democratic Youth” which is the old official pro-soviet federation of youth organisations. There they share membership with a broader range of youth groups but it includes a cast of anti-worker villains including ZANU-PF, the North Koreans, ultra-nationalistic CP of the Russian Fed etc. The WPY had as a guest speaker at their summer school a British Stalinist trade union official, Eddie Dempsey, who is a pro-Brexit campaigner, and an active supporter of the Russian-backed rightist warlords in the eastern Ukraine (yes, and I know the other side are fascists as well). Dempsey ran into trouble last year when he infamously stated at a pro-Brexit rally: “people that turn up for those Tommy Robinson demos or any other march like that – the one thing that unites those people, whatever other bigotry is going on, is their hatred of the liberal left and they are right to hate them”, followed by another gem: “too many in the Labour Party have made a calculation that there’s a certain section at the top end of the working class, in alliance with people, they calculate, from ethnic minorities and liberals, that’s enough to get them into power”. These outbursts caused quite a stir on the left so the WPY would have been fully aware of his politics.

Defense of authoritarian/anti-worker regimes: the WP/WPY consistently defend authoritarian regimes who are perceived as anti-western – Lukashenko’s brutal Belarus dictatorship, Assad’s genocidal clan-regime, Ortega’s weird religio-authoritarian distortion of Sandinismo etc.etc. etc. In relation to more complex situation’s like Venezuela, the WP rightly condemn US intervention and the right-wing opposition but not a word about the authoritarian and corruption of Maduro’s regime. Nor has the WP has never distanced itself from the one-party communist regimes that it was linked to in the past.

The ideas man: Its clear that Gavin CM is now the WP’s leading ideologue. By that I don’t mean Gavin runs the party or dominates it un-democratically, just that in a party that was bereft of a big ideas person for a long time, he is it. You see his stamp on all of the recent developments: the detailed policies, the attempts to recruit young people, the turn to a more republican position in the north etc. So if we take the parties leading ideologist as emblematic of the current politics of the party then here’s the thing – Gavin has consistently argued the standard Stalinist lines when it comes to any contentious historical issue – on CLR a year or two ago, he got into a big debate about Stalin’s role in the famines in the Ukraine during the forced collectivization and he came up with all the standard pro-Stalin tropes – its wasn’t me gov, it was the weather etc. etc. I don’t know what Gavin’s position is on Hungary in 56, Solidarity in Poland, the mass deportations of the ethnic-minorities at the end of WW2 etc. but it would surprise me if he took a different position than the standard orthodox line. I would be happy to admit it if I’m wrong, as a deviation from orthodox line would indicate a positive development. Individuals and parties can change, as I know only too well myself, and I would be the first to welcome a change in the WP’s politics away from Stalinism, but I don’t see any evidence of that right now.

Falsification of history: Now the WP is not the only group who engage in this but in the WP’s case the big lie runs deep. A cursory read of the Lost Revolution, the standard history of the WP which almost everyone, bar the Harris gang, accept is an objective account, will confirm that the WP’s armed wing continued in existence at least up until the beginning of this century and possibly beyond and that it was engaged in criminal money-making activities as well as low scale violence against those who crossed the party as well as dissidents. Now the current WP is happy to be associated with the OIRA of the 70s but continue with the denial of the long after-life of that organisation. In a way they cant admit this because it then means that its opponents both internal and external were correct all along in relation to that accusation.

In terms of domestic policies the WP has recently moved up a gear. Now these are well-thought out, positive reform proposals which, if implemented, would be a good thing. Of course, other than rhetorically they are not linked to any strategy of how these would be implemented or how they link to the goal of socialism. So in effect what you have in terms of domestic policy is left-reformism. That in itself is obviously not a sign of Stalinism, except that many Stalinist parties, such as the Portugesse CP and the KKE, combine the other features I mention above with this sort of left-reformism so this development does not in itself indicate that the WP is moving away from Stalinism.

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alanmyler - September 4, 2020

Colm thanks for taking the time to clarify the Stalinism thing. I’m not going to respond at length, other than to make a few observations.

The international links: I take your point about the IMCWP, and as I’ve said before I’d be more a mainstream CP person myself. Under the new management so to speak I think there might be some moves afoot to establish fraternal relations beyond those fringe parties, just judging fr one of the recent internal party updates.

The ostalgia: While my impression of actually existing socialism wouldn’t be as black and white as your own seems to be, of course I don’t think any but a few really have any ambition to recreate anything like that in any sort of mirror image. Yes there’s a sort of cultural affinity with it, a nostalgia for what might have been if only, and there’s a sort of bonding effect from exaggerating the extremes, stuff about gulags and stasi for example, a defence against annoying trots more than anything else. Of course there is also a rational longing for a multipolar geopolitics and a recognition of the leading role historically in opposing imperialism and supportive the national liberation of the developing world etc. Again I’m not expecting to reach agreement with you on that perspective but only explaining it as I see it within the party and personally.

Falsification of history: honestly a pinch of salt on that one. Whatever about the WP being reformist it’s undoubtedly true that there were and possibly still are some people who had the capacity to act outside of that. I’m not sure I’d take seriously any organization that claimed to be revolutionary that was squeaky clean.

Socialism on one country and stages: Historically I’ve no issue with that approach. As to how relevant they are now? Stages yes, I mean I’m a eurocommunism at heart. The other bit, well economically the globalisation and increased sophistication of society and the economy in recent decades make the extraction of any single entity from that quite problematic. That’s one of my biggest arguments for the long road approach we’ve discussed previously. It’s an open question.

Again I’m not attempting to argue with you here. I hear your points, and I accept there’s some degree of validity in some of them. On balance though I don’t see any other political organization on the Left here that better fits my own politics. Warts and all like. The fact that there are many imperfections is actually quite appealing to me, as I don’t tend to warm to people who think that have all the answers and who can justify anything at tedious length. Again I don’t mean you here, I’m thinking more of some of the SP/CWI people who occasionally pop up to attempt to set us straight on whatever.

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pettyburgess - September 5, 2020

WbS, I actually agree that not every part of the Stalinist ideological package has to be part of the package. There was a lot of contingency involved.

Other than socialism in one country, which in the context it was invented in meant specifically the subordination of the world socialist movement to the state interests of the USSR and which was integral to Stalinism, the other ideological planks were added on an ad hoc basis. They were essentially justifications for whatever seemed to be in the interests of the leading group within a particular dictatorship.

There’s no internal consistency between the third period and the popular front. There’s no unbreakable chain leading from the rise of Stalinism to the Stalinist resurrection of the Menshevik’s stages theory for revolution in underdeveloped countries (ie first support the national or progressive capitalists to create a normal capitalist state and only then begin to push for socialism). These were simply theorisations of state interests at a particular moment.

The interests of a party-state are the only thing that con provide a kind of internal consistency to Stalinism. In the absence of a ruling centre, whether in Moscow, Beijing or Tirana, Stalinism tends to dissolve into an incoherent mix of social democratic policies and weird dictatorship fetishist aesthetics.

When modern Stalinist remnants start to do absurd things like lionise Pyongyang or fantasise about Chinese billionaires building socialism, it reflects a dim, not quite conscious, awareness of this problem.

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WorldbyStorm - September 5, 2020

Apologies tied up w computer issues but just to say 100% agree with your reformulation here…

“Other than socialism in one country, which in the context it was invented in meant specifically the subordination of the world socialist movement to the state interests of the USSR and which was integral to Stalinism,”

A catastrophic error which even today in neo and continuity Stalinist parties we see replicated in a sort of unthinking nod towards Russia as is.

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WorldbyStorm - September 5, 2020

“When modern Stalinist remnants start to do absurd things like lionise Pyongyang or fantasise about Chinese billionaires building socialism, it reflects a dim, not quite conscious, awareness of this problem.”

I think that’s very true. To me it really is the reification of power above all else. It’s not that it’s entirely unideological, but the ideology is almost beside the point. Any decision or policy or change or whatever can be justified by the necessity of whatever is necessary on any given day. It seems like a worship or awe of decision making and actions untrammelled by any human consideration whatsoever. Indeed it prides itself on its ‘hardness’. To me that seems the antithesis of real socialism.

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6. CL - September 2, 2020

SF>SFWP>WP>DL>LAB.

The ‘left’-wing revisionism of Lord Bew, Patterson, Hazelkorn appears to have had an influence on this devolution.

The rise of Sinn Fein, North and South, signals the political defeat of this pro-imperial, pseudo-Marxist propaganda effort.-although it still persists as a failed ideology in some irrelevant circles, and is, perhaps, of some antiquarian interest.

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7. roddy - September 3, 2020

With regard to “democratic youth”, in the mid 70s members of na Fianna were told overnight that they were now members of “the Irish democratic youth movement” and that was the last straw for many.

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WorldbyStorm - September 3, 2020

I remember being told around 83/84 by soemone from that era in the WP when discussion turned to youth groups and so on in the party that ‘we don’t intend to make the same mistake as we did with the Fianna’. Thought it was revealing. I imagine that part of that was the outworkings of the IRSP/INLA split? But the Lost Revolution suggests as you say a lot of Fianna members in Belfast left becuase they’ felt they’d been unfairly made out to be militarists. Yet another brilliant coup in terms of keeping the organisation together.

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