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ILA Podcast, 7: Mary Muldowney: Trade Union and Left Campaigns, the Socialist Party, and Oral History September 14, 2020

Posted by Aonrud ⚘ in Irish Left Online Document Archive.

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In this episode we talk to Mary Muldowney about her political background and experience campaigning in the trade union movement and working in the Socialist Party; pro-choice campaigns including the Women on Waves ship and the abortion referendums; and her work as a historian, and how that relates to her activism.

Mary is a historian in residence with Dublin City Libraries. She is the author of The Second World War and Irish Women: An Oral History, originally her PhD thesis. She has a particular interest in oral history, and was involved in the founding of the Oral History Network Ireland, edited the Alternative Visions Oral History Group book 100 Years Later: the Legacy of the 1913 Lockout on the centenary of the lockout, and is also involved in the Labour History Society.

As an activist on the Left, Mary has been involved in trade unionism, was formerly a member of the Socialist Party and worked with Joe Higgins in the Dáil, and has been involved in many campaigns over the years.

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1. Jolly Red Giant - September 14, 2020

Interesting discussion – a couple of points of clarification. 1 Dermot Connolly and Joan Collins were not expelled from the Socialist Party. There was intense discussion around their approach during this period and it is possible that at some stage later that expulsion could have been raised as a possibility – but it was not raised as a prospect while these discussions were going on. Despite what is claimed about the Socialist Party – we do bend over backwards (too far on some occasions) to try and find an accommodation with dissenting voices within the party. Dermot and Joan were openly in breach of party rules at the time and this is what led to intense discussions – they chose to leave rather than allow the discussions come to a conclusion. 2. Mary implied that her reasons for leaving the Socialist Party may have been misrepresented within the party. This was not the case – Mary’s role as a member was openly acknowledged and her decision to leave was regarded as unfortunate but understandable.


2. Jolly Red Giant - September 14, 2020

On the wider issue of ‘building the party’ – that is what political parties do – particularly parties with a Marxist perspective. History is littered with missed opportunities resulting from the lack of a revolutionary Marxist party. It is a clear necessity for all Marxists to build a revolutionary cadre and that has to be a priority for any Marxist. This does not mean that a Marxist party prioritises ‘building’ over all else. Winning class battles form the basis for developing class consciousness and this developing consciousness leads to some activists drawing conclusions about the need to join a revolutionary party. It is not a case of either/or. The Debenhams struggle is a prime example – a hugely important dispute that Socialist Party members have played a key role in since the outset. The objective of the Socialist Party in this is to assist the workers in winning this struggle – it is of huge importance for the workers and for the wider working class. It has also been a huge learning process for the workers involved – many of whom are drawing political conclusions about the nature of society. Hopefully, through the process of this struggle some of those workers will decide that joining a revolutionary organisation is an important step to assist the working class in defending their interests and in building a mass movement capable of overthrowing capitalist society.


Daniel Rayner O'Connor - September 15, 2020

‘History is littered with missed opportunities resulting from the lack of a revolutionary Marxist party.’
Just so, JRG, but part of the trouble is that often these opportunities are taken up by more than one claimant to the role of revolutionary Marxist party, which sees the others as its Menshevik opponents to be crushed along with the more obvious class enemies.


3. greatbigeejit - September 14, 2020

I burst out laughing when Mary momentarily wondered if elected was quite the right word to describe her election to a Socialist Party committee. Anyone who has been in a democratic centralist party will understand what she was driving at.

JRG is technically correct that the SP did not expel Joan Collins or Dermot Connolly. Dermot Connolly resigned. Joan Collins was informed that if she stood for Dublin City Council as an independent that it would be considered a resignation. Of course the background to those partings was more complex than that.

The proximate cause was that they had been on the opposite side from the SP in a number of tactical arguments in the bin tax campaign and, rightly or wrongly, the SP and similar groups don’t tolerate that kind of thing from members. The underlying reasons were that Dermot Connolly, the previous leader, had returned after a period in which he had stepped away to find his seat occupied and the beginnings of a change in political direction underway. Such organisations do not cope with having rival would be leaders or rival strategic lines very well. One wins out, the other ends up out. This doesn’t have to be through expulsions and mostly is not.

As far as Mary’s comments go about left groups being more interested in using the bin tax campaign to get elected rather than winning, that amusingly enough was something everyone in that campaign accused each other of on a regular basis.

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