The Irish Question: A Socialist Analysis
Date:1976
Organisation:Socialist Party of Great Britain
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

17th January 2011

Here is an interesting pamphlet from the general direction of the Socialist Party of Great Britain , not to be confused with the Socialist Party of England and Wales, a venerable formation which can be dated back to the Social Democratic Federation from which it split in 1904.

An avowedly Marxist party, it eschews Leninism, nationalism and war. Its basic objective is:

The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

This is to be achieved through democratic elections and presently prevailing institutions, an outcome which the SPGB admits is beyond its capabilities at this point but which it seeks to hasten through political activity and consciousness raising. This piece cannot do justice to the history of the SPGB, but both the wiki page and the late and great John Sullivan  deal with it in some detail.

The document is in part a reprint from the SPGB Socialist Standard = though it also seems to address an international and/or European audience. It’s overall thesis is one which is positioned within discourse which is heavily critical of Republicanism and Irish independence. This is perhaps best exemplified in the text by the chapter entitled ‘The Irish Capitalist Republic’ on p.19 and in particular the discussion of James Connolly:

Just before he was tied to a chair and shot by a firing squad in May 1916 the injured James Connolly is said to have remarked ‘the socialists will never understand why I am here’. Well might he have felt guilty, from a socialists and working class point of view, about what he had done. For he was being executed for his leading part in the Easter Rising, an armed insurrection aimed at establishing, with aid from Imperial Germany, an independent, and unavoidably capitalist, Republic of Ireland.

It continues:

Before the war Connolly, who was well acquainted with Marxist and socialist ideas, had been a prominent and successful trade union organiser. At the time of his execution he was the secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and ‘commandant’ of its armed defensive force, the Irish Citizens Army. This had been formed in the course of the great Dublin Lock-Out of 1913 to protect union members from police violence and intimidation, but Connollly turned it into a Republican body. He himself was almost certainly admitted to the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood before being appointed commander of its forces in Dublin during the rising.

And from this concludes:

The IRB had no social programme and was simply dedicated to using physical force to establish an Irish Republic. The Declaration of the Republic which was proclaimed from the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin does, it is true, express a few democratic and reformist sentiments, but only in the vaguest terms. Its main concern was obviously ‘The Republic’.

It is scathing about the southern state but also about the processes that led to even partial independence.

In 1965 an Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement, providing for full free trade between the two countries after ten years, was signed, and since 1973 Ireland, along with Britain, has been a member of the Common Market (EEC). When this process of full economic re-integration with Britain is completed Ireland will be back where it was before 1922 - and the thousands of young men who sacrificed their (and other people’s) lives ‘for Ireland’ will be clearly seen to have died and killed merely to have got about thirty years protection for Irish capitalist industry to catch up with the rest of Britain plus a few superficial political changes, which when they weren’t for the worse, amounted to little more than ‘painting the pillar boxes green’ as the popular saying accurately puts it.

And its position on the conflict in Northern Ireland is therefore unsurprising:

During the 1930’s the IRA rapidly degenerated from a popular movement into the small gang of terrorists it is today.

The document critiques all left wing formations, the Leninist concept of ‘Imperialism’ and both the Trade Unions and the Civil Rights movement who it argues ‘must take responsibility for the current violence in NI. For their reformist campaign helped unleash the passions that have put the clock back fifty years. The very nature of their campaign - a fairer deal for Catholics under capitalism - meant that they were seen to be and in fact largely were a Catholic sectarian movement’.

And it’s solution?

Socialism alone can end this, by making the means of production the common property of all mankind so that they can be used to provide abundance for all. The struggle for Socialism will united rather than divide the working class because it does not set worker against worker over the few crumbs capitalism has to offer but is so clearly in the interests of them all.

An interesting addition to the Archive from the British left.

More from Socialist Party of Great Britain

Socialist Party of Great Britain in the archive


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  • By: NMcC Tue, 18 Jan 2011 10:15:23

    The above comment was by way of letting you know that the The Socialist Party in NI is alive and very much kicking!

    On a more serious note, there is a couple of pamphlets published by ourselves that would sit well in your archives. One is Ireland, Past, Present and Future (probably the definitive statement from the SPGB on the so-called Irish Question) and the other is The Anglo-Irish Agreement – its Irrelevance for the Working Class, published, unsurprisingly, in 1985.

    The writer of both pamphlets, Richard Montague, in fact, is also the man whose letters regularly adorn the Letters page of the Belfast Telegraph as alluded to above.

    Now in his mid-80s, Richard would make an interesting contributor to this blog, as he knew all of the most prominent Trotskyists in Belfast in the 1940s and 50s. Indeed, I think there is an interview online somewhere, conducted by a researcher of some sort, in which Richard relates quite a bit of this history.

    Richard has been notified of this blog so he may take a look in later.

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  • By: Darren Tue, 18 Jan 2011 10:53:33

    “Now in his mid-80s, Richard would make an interesting contributor to this blog, as he knew all of the most prominent Trotskyists in Belfast in the 1940s and 50s. Indeed, I think there is an interview online somewhere, conducted by a researcher of some sort, in which Richard relates quite a bit of this history.”

    Hello Nigel,

    I’m guessing you’re referring to this interview:

    Discussion between Richard (Dick) Montague and Ciaran Crossey

    I presumed it would have already been linked to on The Cedar Lounge Revolution, but I can’t see it.

    PS –
    “I am exceedingly proud, not to mention utterly astonished, that someone remembers the Socialist View!”

    I loved the Socialist View. I subscribed to it for a couple of years when I was callow youth in the SPGB. At times I thought it was a better magazine than the Socialist Standard, but don’t tell anyone I said that. 😉

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  • By: Mark P Tue, 18 Jan 2011 12:20:54

    Well, you’re right that I wasn’t looking all that hard! I really was keeping an eye out for you holding public meetings or distributing literature on demonstrations, though.

    If you have a copy or two of “Socialist View” it would be well worth getting it to WorldbyStorm for the archive here. That as you probably know is also the name of the Socialist Party of Ireland’s current magazine.

    Does the World Socialist Party have meetings still?

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  • By: Richard Montague Tue, 18 Jan 2011 12:52:38

    Nigel is right. in the immortal words of that emenent contemporary statesman, Gerry Adams, “We haven;t gone away, you know.”! Our immediate history must surely have demonstrated the accuracy of our analysis and there is substantial evidence in the Zeitgeist, Citizens of the World, et al, that (happily)our views are being purloined. Richard

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  • By: FergusD Tue, 18 Jan 2011 13:30:08

    Pardon my ignorance, but who is the THAT (Sean Doherty) that this one isn’t – if you follw?

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  • By: Mark P Tue, 18 Jan 2011 14:02:47

    He was Minister for Justice under Haughey and famously had journalists phones bugged. A former Special Branch man and a gombeen politician of the old school.

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  • By: NMcC Tue, 18 Jan 2011 18:49:40

    Hello Mark. Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure if there are any copies of the old Socialist View knocking around. I’ve individual copies in my own archive, but I wouldn’t mind holding on to them still. I’ll ask if there is any available from SPGB HO at Clapham High Street.

    No, we haven’t held a meeting for a while. This is largely because the methods of contact and for exchanging views have been so utterly transformed over the past decade or so. These days, most of our contact and arguing is done online. We certainly haven’t ruled out future public meetings and the comrades in the UK are still holding them, along with Summer Schools and so on.

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  • By: NMcC Tue, 18 Jan 2011 18:56:17

    Hi Darren,

    Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me. Actually, there were a few comrades who told me that they preferred the Socialist View to the Socialist Standard…I, of course, thought they were both quite good!

    So, you were a member of the SPGB then? When was this? Was it in Belfast?

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  • By: Mark P Tue, 18 Jan 2011 19:02:16

    If you have access to a scanner you could scan them and email them to the archive? Or if you don’t, I’m sure that someone here will volunteer to send them back to you after scanning them!

    Also, just to clarify something because I’ve seen you refer to yourselves as the “Socialist Party” here and also you asked Darren if his time in the SPGB was in Belfast. Is the name of your organisation in Ireland officially the “World Socialist Party of Ireland”?

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 18 Jan 2011 19:07:50

    NMcC, many thanks for commenting here. As Mark P suggests it would be great if you could contact us as regards any material you have that might be suitable for the Left Archive. If push comes to shove I’m happy to scan it in and return documents to you. The email is worldbystorm AT eircom.net with the AT replaced by @ and the spaces removed on either side of the AT.

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  • By: Darren Tue, 18 Jan 2011 19:11:02

    Nigel,

    I wasn’t a member of the SPGB in Belfast.

    I’m no longer a member of the SPGB because I transferred membership to the WSPUS when I moved to the States a few years back.

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  • By: NMcC Wed, 19 Jan 2011 09:15:37

    I’m not sure if this will post in the right place. Apologies if it doesn’t.

    Hello again Mark and WorldbyStorm:

    Aye, that’s no problem, I’ll see about getting what copies I have scanned and forwarded to you. Actually, this discussion concerning existing copies of the Socialist View has had me laughing uproariously. When we brought out the magazine we were a pretty active and energetic bunch in Belfast Branch and, as we printed the thing ourselves, we frequently went overboard in our estimation as to how many copies to produce. Usually this meant that we were left with 1000s of extra copies to dispose of. I used to live in Forthriver Road in Belfast, a staunch loyalist area and did so for over 20 years. One day I decided to dispose of the outdated copies of the View that I had by clandestinely depositing 1000s of them in a council skip situated in Forthriver Crescent. Having done so successfully without being discovered, I congratulated myself on a great operation and went home.

    The next morning I was going to work on the bus and happened to glance out at Forthriver Crescent on my right as the bus passed right by and, to my horror, was presented with the most bizarre sight: almost the entire area as far up the road as the eye could see was strewn with Socialist Views! The local kids had evidently discovered the magazines in the skip and had had great sport decorating the place with them! To make matters worse, a relative of mine lived in Forthriver Crescent at the time and realised immediately where the magazines had originated. “I bet that was you who threw those fucking Socialist crap magazines in that skip”, says he to me later. “What magazines?” I replied innocently. “Well, they must have came from you”, he snorted, “There certainly isn’t TWO fucking Marxists living in Forthriver Road!”

    It reminds me of the old joke told by Alexi Sayle. As the son of 2 CPers, apparently, he had a very traumatic childhood on account of his bed being only 12 inches from the ceiling. Underneath it were 40,000 unsold copies of the Morning Star!

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Wed, 19 Jan 2011 09:51:11

    […] Socialist Party of Great Britain: The Irish Question: A Socialist Analysis – A “Wereldsocialisme” Pamphlet […]

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  • By: Mark Hutton Thu, 20 Jan 2011 06:43:57

    Very interesting never saw it being sold in London

    Keep up the good work

    Mark

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  • By: Ciarán Thu, 20 Jan 2011 08:30:22

    The same Con Lehane who had been in the ISRP? And the same TA Jackson who would join the CP and write Ireland Her Own?

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  • By: Bekogirl Thu, 20 Jan 2011 08:58:16

    Yes. The very same.

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  • By: Darren Tue, 05 Apr 2011 03:30:50

    For those interested, the latest issue of the Socialist Standard carries an article on the recent Irish Election:

    http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/apr11/Irish_Election_result_no_change.html#top

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 05 Apr 2011 06:31:29

    Thanks a million for the link.

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  • By: Mark P Tue, 05 Apr 2011 12:59:34

    The Irish section of Militant?

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  • By: Darren Thu, 07 Apr 2011 04:13:10

    “The Irish section of Militant?”

    I think the author’s showing his age 😉 but the editors should have changed it, imho.

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