2nd October 2009
It’s remarkable how short the entry for Irish Militant Tendency is on wiki. Here it is …
Irish Militant Tendency was the Irish section of the Committee for a Workers International in the 1970s and 1980s when it practiced entryism in the Irish Labour Party. After being expelled from Labour the group formed Irish Militant Labour, which became what is now the Socialist Party.
Well, yes. But that hardly gets to the root of the matter. How big was it, how many members and so on and so forth. John Goodwillie, in Gralton detailed it as follows:
Militant – formed in 1972 with close links with the British Militant. It has provided a Trotskyist wing in the Labour Party in the republic,and in the North in the Northern Ireland Labour Party and more recently the Labour and Trade Union (co-ordinating) group.
The history is, of course, a bit more complex than that. Militant did not spring fully formed into the Irish left body politic. It had a pedigree all its own. Militant Tendency developed from the Revolutionary Socialist League which was founded in the UK by Ted Grant amongst others and was in part a successor of the original Militant Group of the late 1930s. The RSL organised within the British Labour Party on an avowedly Trotskyist platform, indeed it was initially a section of the Fourth International, but in the 1970s was one of those behind the Committee for a Workers’ International. This life within a larger party was to characterise it throughout its time as Militant Tendency, so-called due to the newspaper Militant first published by the RSL in the mid 1960s, until the ‘open turn’ in the early 1990s. As the newspaper achieved greater prominence the name RSL was superseded by Militant Tendency.
And perhaps it’s unsurprising that as in Britain so in Ireland where it was to be found, as noted by Goodwillie, as a coherent grouping within the Irish Labour Party from 1972. I’ve never been a member of that latter party so I can only imagine how exotic MT must have appeared within Labour (although on reflection any party which could encompass Conor Cruise O’Brien and Stephen Coughlan can reasonably be termed pretty exotic in its own right).
However this coherence brought its own problems as it marked it out as readily identifiable. And while it is true that the British Labour Party was no stranger to groups organising within it Militant Tendency was pretty explicit in its affiliation to overtly Marxist-Leninist forms… indeed there’s something wryly amusing about the wiki entry on the party which notes that:
At its mass rallies in the 1980s the Militant displayed two huge banners at each side of the stage, one showing Marx and Engels, and the other showing Lenin and Trotsky, and never disavowed the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky.
These things are clues. As with the turn against Militant Tendency in Britain during the 1980s by a leadership (and in fairness large sections of a party membership) keen to exhibit its political machismo and impose greater control so a similar albeit lower key dynamic played out in Ireland. Dick Spring was lauded in some quarters for acting against Militant. Still, I was surprised to discover that Militant members were part of the Labour Party right into the early 1990s. My memory was that they’d mostly left by the late 1980s.
Following the explusions there was the relatively brief existence of Irish Militant Labour and then subsequently the formation of the Socialist Party – a path not dissimilar to that travelled by the Militant Tendency in the UK.
So, the question arises, what precisely was the genesis of Militant within Irish Labour? How large was Militant during this period? Did its membership numbers ebb and flow? When was the final breach? Who were the leading lights and did they continue into the Socialist Party (the issue here has articles from Peter Hadden, Alex Wood of Coleraine Labour Party, Peter Taafe – National Secretary of MT UK, John Throne – also of ITGWU, and Finn Geaney – obviously many of these names are well known)? What would be the defining documents published by Irish Militant other than their newspaper? How influential was Militant within the Labour Party? And so on. All information gratefully received.