Looking backward: Workers' Liberty 3/26

Sean Matgamna: finding my way to Trotskyism, part 2: from "communism" to "orthodox Trotskyism"

Published on: Fri, 18/12/2009 - 10:06

Sean Matgamna

It was very hard to distinguish between criticism of Stalinism - which is what the Communist Party's "communism" was, of course - and basic hostility to the ideas of communism.

All I had, I suppose, was a general notion of a world which would be organised like a good family, a caring family. It was very primitive, but also very heart-felt.

I was torn for a long time - for two years, in fact - by inner conflict about such things as the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956. I finally decided my indecision was self-indulgence, and I joined the YCL.

As I've said, a strange thing was that what I'd

What is to be done?

Published on: Thu, 17/12/2009 - 12:58

Sean Matgamna

V. Credo
Trotsky knew:
I see the bright green strip of grass
Beneath the wall.
And the clear blue sky
Above the wall
And sunlight everywhere
Life is beautiful
Let the future generations cleanse it
Of all evil, oppression
And violence
And enjoy it to the full.

Zbigniew knew:
Go upright among those
Who are on their knees:
Let your anger be like the sea
Whenever you hear the voice
Of the insulted
And beaten.

Marti knew:
With the poor people of the earth
I want to share my fate.

Connolly knew:
Impartiality as between
The strong and the weak
Is the virtue of the slave.

Marx knew, Engels knew:

Working Class Life in Ennis in the Mid-Twentieth Century: Sean Matgamna Examines His Own "Roots and Branches"

Published on: Thu, 17/12/2009 - 12:51

Sean Matgamna

[See also Savage violence in Irish schools - why did people stand for it?,
Mary plays nuns' schools
and Schoolbooks]

Like many revolutionary activists over the ages, Sean Matgamna was an immigrant, someone shaped in his thinking by the shifts and contrasts from living in one culture to living in another.

The differences in the 1940s and 50s between life in Ennis, the small west of Ireland town I grew up in, and in a city like Manchester, were immense.

To travel from Ennis to Manchester was to travel between different worlds. Ennis then was nearer to Thomas Hardy’s mid-19th century England

What would my 18 year old self say to me now?

Published on: Thu, 17/12/2009 - 12:36

Sean Matgamna

[This is a copy-edited and slightly expanded version of the text in WL.]

What would my 18 year old self say to me if, somehow, we could meet?

Possibly: “I know thee not, old man!” More likely: “Where’s my hair?”

Seriously, he’d be disappointed at how little I’ve managed to do, and maybe impatient with the plea, “I did my best”. I might tell him Orwell’s comment: “Everyone’s life seen from within is a failure”. He’d say: “Maybe, but that doesn’t change anything”.

Indeed. I might cite Trotsky’s explanation to C L R James that the revolutionary socialist movement, if it is that and not an

The dilemmas of "communism"

Published on: Thu, 17/12/2009 - 12:19

Sean Matgamna

At 15 I fell in love with the idea of communism — the image, the goal, the seduction, the hypnosis, of it. I fell in love with the idea of humankind as a great caring family, a world governed by class and then human solidarity. I’ve never fallen out with it. Everything I see in the capitalist reality around me has reinforced and strengthened it — renewed and yet again renewed my conviction about it.

I have shifted in the sense that I tend to take — and believe I should take — a longer view of things, beyond the instant agitationalism of the would-be left which is opportunistic in the sense

Debating theories of the USSR

Published on: Thu, 17/12/2009 - 12:08

Sean Matgamna

Workers’ Fight — the initial group of what is now the AWL tendency — inherited the “orthodox Trotskyist” view that the USSR and the other Stalinist states were “deformed and degenerated workers’ states”. Why did we take so long to move away from that view towards the conclusion that the Stalinist states were in fact a new sort of exploitative class system?

My presentation in a debate we held in 1976 may help explain. We had recently merged with the Left Faction of IS (SWP). They held that the USSR was “state capitalist”, though they rejected Cliff’s specific theory. (In fact, they were unsure.

The AWL: from "orthodox Trotskyism" to the "Third Camp"

Published on: Thu, 17/12/2009 - 11:21

Sean Matgamna

I disagreed strongly with the Healyites’ decision to bail out from the Labour Party in 1963-4. But it’s not really true that I broke with the Healyites over the Labour Party. It was a consideration, but I don’t think I would have broken with the SLL if I had disagreed with it on what could be seen as a tactical question. I don’t think I would have had the self-confidence to break with them if it were not for their Third-Period-Stalinist style strike-breaking in the apprentices’ dispute.

By the time we came to start the Workers’ Fight group, after breaking from the RSL (Militant) in 1966, it

Working-class solidarity: how British dockers built it and how they lost it

Published on: Thu, 17/12/2009 - 10:29

Sean Matgamna

Nothing will ever efface for me the memory of my first real strike — on the Salford docks — the first time I saw my class acting as a surging, uncontrolled force breaking the banks of routine capitalist industrial life and, for a while, pitting itself against those who control our lives.

Docks strikes were quick and frequent then, in the mid-’60s. Dockers fought back; they stood together. Lord Devlin’s Commission of Enquiry into conditions in the ports reported that to get a strike going in Liverpool often all that was needed was somebody running down the quays shouting “everybody out.”

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