Making Sense, No. 20
Date:1991
Organisation:Workers' Party
Publication:Making Sense
Issue:Number 20
January/February 1991
Contributors:Pat McCartan, Maurice Sheehan, Lorraine Kennedy, Pat Rabbitte, Jim Kemmy, Gerard O'Quigley, Stephen Hopkins, Gary Kent
View: View Document
Discuss:Comments on this document
Subjects: Divorce Industrial Relations Act, 1990

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

11th October 2007

Here is a curiosity from the Workers’ Party. A magazine produced by that party which rather grandly termed itself “Ireland’s political and cultural review”. A4 in format. Two colours on the cover - black and red, wouldn’t you know? - and 30 odd pages long.

This issue is particularly interesting because it predates the split in the WP by months. You might think that there might be some hint of the split in the text. You might well be wrong. Which I think as a broad reflection of the tensions within the party is quite remarkable. Remarkable if only because the tilt is towards the group that would later form the Democratic Left. So we find Pat McCartan (then a TD) writing about divorce. A rather good book review by Pat Rabbitte and some interesting articles including one by Stephen Hopkins on the PCF which is clearly aligned with the modernising tendency within that grouping. We also find Gerry O’Quigley’s article on socialists and economics which is as applicable today as it was then (and for more see here ). Most intriguing is an article by then (and I think now) Irish Times journalist and former WP member Paddy Woodworth which discusses various events inside the life of the party in the previous five years for one page then… stops. The next page is blank. So we get half an article. I have no knowledge as to whether this was part of some great conspiracy, I tend to doubt it… because a short story later in the issue (which I haven’t scanned) is also missing a page. I’m certain someone could enlighten us either way.

I have other WP material which I’ll post up, but the tone is rather different. This - to me at least - is not that dissimilar to Marxism Today, Gerry O’Quigley namechecks ‘post-fordism’, with perhaps a very very slightly harder political edge (although not quite in the league of some of the material so far seen in the Archive) but also incorporating a strongly cultural bent. Methinks Gramsci was getting quite a look in at this point in the development of the party.

But what is curious is that the older ‘traditional’ line is not really evident. The editorial is predictably strong on the first Gulf War (although quoting Chomsky and Fisk seems to hint at a very different future). Sure, there is the ritual obeisance in the Gary Kent review of ‘Hidden Agenda’ at the alter of anti-Provoism. Granted the US is given a lash by Noel McFarlane. But, to my eye, it’s all a bit half-hearted. In a way it seems to point to the reality of what one is left with if revolutionary jargon (or cant - delete as applicable) is stripped away.

Still, the Woodworth article is great. For a sense of what the party was like and the lines that weren’t crossed, let alone approached in terms of discussion, it is revelatory and tallies with my experience. Woodworth appears fairly disdainful of both old, new and Harris wings of the party. And the ghost of 1989-1991 and the collapse of the USSR permeates the piece.

I really wish the other page had been printed.

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  • By: Justin Fri, 12 Oct 2007 13:48:29

    Sorry that should have “raised all boats”

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  • By: Joe Fri, 12 Oct 2007 14:58:33

    One other point of info for Garibaldy. The ISN has members active in the North, specifically in Belfast.

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  • By: Garibaldy Fri, 12 Oct 2007 16:25:57

    Joe,

    Thanks. Now you mention it I saw the article saying the PSNI was still the RUC advertised on the ISN website.

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  • By: Joe Fri, 12 Oct 2007 16:47:50

    Hold on there now Garibaldy. I don’t know of any article that said the PSNI was still the RUC. You may be referring to an article on the police in the first issue of the ISN magazine Resistance. I didn’t agree with a lot in that article myself but I never read it as saying that the PSNI was still the RUC. The ISN is a broad church. It encourages open debate and allows the holding of different positions within its membership and also allows members or groups of members to state publicly their viewpoints even if those viewpoints conflict with the organisation’s majority position. The article on the police to which I assume you are referring was the view of one member, a good comrade and friend of mine, but I didn’t agree with it and hope to publish an alternative viewpoint soon. But to repeat: I never read it as saying the PSNI was still the RUC and I think you misread it or you are being mischievous in saying that it did.

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  • By: Garibaldy Fri, 12 Oct 2007 17:07:43

    Joe,

    I was going on my memory of the description of the article on the ISN website. I didn’t see the article. I just looked at the ISN website to check if I was mistaken, and couldn’t find the list of articles again. It’s possible I misremembered it, but that was certainly the impression I came away with. I am certainly open to correction on what the website said.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Fri, 12 Oct 2007 17:15:07

    Some great stuff on here. In fairness to Garibaldy, Joe, I remember that first edition and it is possible to misread it, although you’re absolutely right, it wasn’t intended to convey that sort of impression.

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  • By: Garibaldy Fri, 12 Oct 2007 17:29:05

    Perhaps if anyone has a copy they can scan it or retype it? Or is the Left Archive not really for contemporary material.

    WBS,

    Hope you’ll have time to throw your tuppence worth in on all this in greater detail. I’d be interested to hear more on your experience of DL.

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  • By: Ed Hayes Fri, 12 Oct 2007 18:17:40

    Without being a ball-hopper, isn’t there a bit of an elephant in the living room here? Wouldn’t it be the case that a lot of WP members in the south were genuinely shocked by the fact that the non-existent Official IRA existed? And when the party split, rather than going to DL, they went home. Hence very few former WP people active nowadays, but a lot of them around.
    Similarly isn’t there any hint (ex-Trot coming out here) among the WP that maybe having fraternal links with the USSR, the Chinese and the North Koreans is not neccesarily a brilliant idea?

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  • By: Garibaldy Sat, 13 Oct 2007 09:26:10

    Ed,

    On the international links. I guess that some people who went DL started to think that way. Certainly people in the French CP currently think that way, although the more distant it gets from traditional communism, the more it collapses. Most communist and workers’ parties have links with China and the DPRK. But links don’t mean total support. For example, differing parties take different positions on say Iraq, but don’t stop talking to each other because of it.

    I would have thought that a large part of the attractiveness to people in the 1970s and even the 1980s would have been a sense of participation within a broader movement that looked like changing the world in the context of Vietnam, Angola etc provided by the links you are talking about.

    In terms of the other half of your question, it was discussed recently on here though can’t remember which thread. As far as I’m concerned developments since 1992 have comprehensively proven that the whole thing was a smokescreen to cover the retreat from socialism.

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  • By: Peadar O’Donnell Weekend 2007 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Sun, 14 Oct 2007 13:17:35

    […] week as franklittle has discussed Garage and depictions of the rural working class, and indeed as Making Sense was put up in the Left Archive. O’Donnell very consciously moved towards the cultural field […]

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  • By: Redking Mon, 15 Oct 2007 13:18:18

    I was wondering what happened to the northern members of the WP who went into DL and what their persepctive of the whole thing is (anybody out there?)
    It’s clear the environment in the North was and is very different from the South where the latter may have made a kind of sense to argue for the possibility of a more leftist social democratic party than Labour being viable. Did the nothern DL members really think that a more leftist party or whatever may have been a serious runner and could have supplanted the SDLP/PSF, if indeed that was the intention?
    It’s just that there were leading cadres involved here -the likes of Seamus Lynch, Mary McMahon, PJ McLean, Gerry Cullen, Seamus Rodgers etc-people who had been councillors, parliamentary candidates etc (did Davy Kettles join DL?)
    Can’t help thinking there may have been a lot of regrets and bitterness about the subsequent turn of events in being abandoned by their erstwhile comrades in the South.

    PS- WBS I’ve got a lot of Making Sense mags including March/April 1992 an interesting one with both sides of the split giving there tuppence worth although Patterns of betrayal deals witha lot of that.

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 15 Oct 2007 13:55:01

    Redking,

    I can only say how it appears from the outside, but can answer some of your questions about what northern DL members are up to now. Most of the people you mention are now working in the voluntary sector. The perception (perhaps unfair?) is that many of the people who went DL were tired, and took the DL thing as a way out. Rumour has it that initially after the merger they were told to join the SDLP but there are some ex-DL members in the NI Labour forum. Will be interesting to see if they begin to stand again should Langhammer get his way. Davy Kettles formed the PIS party – party of independent socialists. He gave up his council seat a while ago I think, but remains active in the Trades Council etc. The occasional ex-DLer has also moved back towards The WP.

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  • By: Redking Mon, 15 Oct 2007 15:57:51

    Thanks for that Garibaldy-

    I wonder if they were serious about that SDLP proposal as the WP had spent 25 years attacking the Stoops as Green sectarians!
    Curious as to why some didn’t go with DL such as Kettles, maybe he saw through the whole thing.

    Also there is the case of the apparent expulsion of the whole of the Newry branch of the WP in 1997-several hundred members at the time, although as I understand it not much to do with ideology.
    They resurfaced as the- wait for it…..Official Republican Movement!

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 15 Oct 2007 19:11:55

    Several hundred members? Can that be accurate?

    I don’t blame ex-DL people going back to WP. I still retain enormous respect and fondness for the Party.

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  • By: Redking Mon, 15 Oct 2007 20:59:46

    Sorry should have said that that included Belfast members as well-that’s what I was told although I agree it does seem a lot, so maybe exaggerated.

    I share your sentiments about the WP, and it takes a lot of courage to admit you were wrong and return to the fold and also I would guess, a lot of tolerance from those who stayed – it was a very bitter split- I think in one of your earlier threads Tom MacGiolla was quoted as saying in Magill he would be on nodding terms with Ruairi O’ Bradaigh, but he has no time at all for De Rossa.

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 15 Oct 2007 22:09:31

    Redking,

    The SDLP thing, which I think is true, was just the application of the logic of the DL split, it seems to me. One was to dump the north as soon as possible, and the other was that having spent 25 years attacking Labour as sell-outs, why not join the SDLP too?

    I think that there are probably a lot of people who feel similarly about The WP as yourself and WBS, although I suspect most would not want to rejoin. I think that the left might benefit should they discover a way of allying their talents and whatever energy they can spare to it, or some other organisation.

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  • By: Mark P Mon, 15 Oct 2007 22:51:20

    Didn’t at least a few of the prominent people associated with the WP and then DL in the North end up around David Trimble? Paul Bew most famously.

    I would very strongly doubt that the ORM split from the Workers Party involved anything close to several hundred members. Several dozen perhaps, or maybe just several members! What was that actually about anyway?

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 16 Oct 2007 07:25:49

    Yes, at the Conference preceding the split it was clear that the North/South dynamic – always there but never quite as overt – was finally coming into play (curiously like PSF in some ways). Have to say that in addition to the reception of the Peace Process and the Des Geraghty/Rabbitte MEP issue the fact that DL effectively retreated from the North was one of the major reasons for my leaving. On both a strategic and tactical (and principled) level it was wrong and indicated that the focus was Dublin, and more narrowly Leinster House. And when it came down to it, that made no sense because we had a Labour Party already that filled that niche.

    That’s true about Bew, et al. I think though it was partially BICO influenced, partially a meeting of minds (Bew was at one point purveying a ‘Marxist’ analysis of Northern Ireland/Ireland of sorts). And who knows what else…

    Still he has gone on to greater things with the Cadogan Group….

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  • By: John O'Neill Tue, 16 Oct 2007 08:18:39

    correction

    The publication I was involved in was called “Socialist Digest” not What Next and I ceased publication after the DL departure. Three of the editorial went with DL and two remained with the WP.

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Tue, 16 Oct 2007 10:33:52

    As far as the ORM goes, I can’t say how many broke from the WP, but I did hear a well-sourced account of around 200 at the Newry conference following the split.

    Since then they’ve kept quite a low profile though…

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