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Irish Left History Project: Irish Workers Group (1976) / Class Struggle October 29, 2009

Posted by leftopenhistoryteam in Irish Left Open History Project, Irish Workers Group 1976.
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Class Struggle, November 1977, here (5MB)

Class Struggle, Apr-Aug 1982, here (8MB)

Class Struggle, Dec 87/Jan 88, here (7.5MB)

[Not to be confused with the 1960s Irish Workers Group.]

The Irish Workers Group (IWG) was formed sometime around the end of 1975 following a series of expulsions that year from the Socialist Workers Movement (SWM). In 1977 the IWG produced Class Struggle, a theoretical journal of which twenty issues were produced over the next ten years.

In the first issue of Class Struggle (June 1977), the IWG said that there were two issues which led its current members to break from the SWM

1. The North
2. Women

It claimed that the SWM ‘held positions which effectively reduced the national question to a subordinate role in the programme and strategy for the Irish working class socialist revolution [and reduced] the emancipation of women from both exploitation and oppression to a side issue better left to pressure groups and liberals.’ (p.5)

The group ‘argued for the centrality of the national question and for systematic propaganda, agitation and intervention, in particular the building of united fronts within the anti-unionist population. In this context we saw and still see the importance of raising particular demands on the SDLP as a means of drawing larger sections of anti-unionist workers into the struggle and breaking the hold of the SDLP.’ (p.5)

With regard to women, ‘the left opposition not only won the membership of the SWM to see the strategic necessity of the demands for contraception and abortion on demand but fought for them to be taken up within the Irish working class – as an aspect of this we called for the building of a mass working class women’s movement as a strategic imperative for the group and for the class.’ (p.5)

The struggle against British rule in the North was a struggle against imperialism, and as such deserving of support from socialist groups. This did not mean that the IWG supported the Provisional IRA as such, and certainly not Provisional Sinn Féin – however, while it was able to criticize ‘the petty-bourgeois nature of the Provos’ and their ‘mealy-mouthed catholic nationalist rhetoric’, at the same time, and in the same opinion piece, it voiced support for the Provisional IRA hunger strikers in Portlaoise Jail who were ‘anti-imperialist political prisoners, members of an organisation which has never baulked at the use of violence in furthering the struggle.’ (p.2) It saw the volunteers as anti-imperialist fighters, while the organisation to which those fighters swore allegiance was petty-bourgeois.

The IWG believed in an anti-imperialist united front, and laid out what it considered as the revolutionary perspective inherent to any such front:

1. Drawing the anti-unionist working class as a class to the forefront of the struggle in the North
2. The development of an anti-unionist armed front of workers, socialists and republicans
3. Mobilization for a general strike
4. The emergence of soviets
5. The demand for a workers’ republic

According to the IWG the united front was a tactic, ‘adopted by revolutionary Marxists when

(i) objectively the most pressing needs of the masses can only be defended by united mass action, and

(ii) subjectively, the masses remain under the leadership, programmes, organisation and methods of forces which are not revolutionary forces and are obstacles to both the defense of immediate interests and to the long-term needs and development of the struggle for a workers’ republic.’

Furthermore, the united front was ‘a method by which both aims – uniting the masses on the most important issues facing them, and exposing the false solutions of non-Marxists – can be achieved under the leadership of revolutionary Marxists and their programme.’

Under such an analysis, it was imperative for revolutionary Marxists to oppose those false Marxists who were impediments to revolution. A read through the pages of Class Struggle gives one the impression that the entire Irish left – with the notable exception of the IWG and Provisional IRA rank-and-file members – were false Marxists or reformists, and as such had to be challenged lest they lead the masses astray.

It had small branches in Derry, Galway and Dublin, and members included Andy Johnston, Eddie McWilliams, Jim Larragy, Siobhán Molloy, Brian Parsons and Matt Doherty. In 1977 it alligned itself to the Socialist Labour Party, but the relationship did not last long.

Class Struggle continued to be published until the 1990s.

In 1987 the IWG re-launched Class Struggle as ‘a fighting paper’, with an expanded analysis of its members’ expulsions from the SWM, The article is reproduced in full below.

The main points of the 1987 expulsion article were:

1. The SWM believed that the Soviet Union was State Capitalist, not a degenerated Workers’ State
2. There was a failure within the SWM to link economic class struggle with political class struggle
3. The SWM failed to oppose the sending in of troops in 1969.
4. The SWM failed to recognize the importance of the national question for the working class as a whole.
5. It failed to link the women’s movement to the issue of class struggle, preferring to leave women’s rights to cross-class organisations
6. The 1974 revolution in Portugal showed up the SWM’s lack of commitment to Lenin and Trotsky’s internationalist method.

An alternative view of the expulsions, one from inside the SWM, is available via the John Goodwillie deposit in the Irish Labour History Society Museum, Beggars Bush, Dublin, and the document is also reproduced below in full as a counter to the IWG analysis (1977 and 1987).

Along with Class Struggle, the IWG also published, or had a hand in publishing the following:
Workers Power/Irish Workers Group, The Degenerated Revolution: The origins and nature of the Stalinist states (Dublin, 1982)
Andy Johnston, James Larragy, Edward McWilliams, Connolly: a Marxist analysis (Dublin, 1990)

For many years the address of the Irish Workers Group was: 12 Langrishe Place, Dublin 1.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IRISH WORKERS GROUP: WHERE WE COME FROM (From Class Struggle, No.1, Oct 1987, p.2)


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