Irish Emigré Trotskyism in the mid-1960s: Notes by a Participant

Submitted by dalcassian on 5 April, 2014 - 4:26

[Workers' Fight and the Trotskyist Tendency of the International Socialists – now the SWP – were forerunners of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty. This is only an outline account, part of a longer article “AWL’s record on Ireland”.]

The politics of the Trotskyist Tendency on Ireland in 1969 were rooted in the work of the small group of socialists who produced the journal An Solas/Workers’ Republic in 1966-7, under the umbrella of the Irish Workers’ Group, a mainly émigré and mainly London-based organisation.

The group producing Workers’ Republic was the original nucleus of the Trotskyist Tendency and of the Workers’ Fight group. In the first year of our existence as a group, up to the appearance of the first Workers’ Fight magazine in October 1967, we produced An Solas/Workers’ Republic, occasional leaflets, and a pamphlet on the important class struggle then being fought out by dockworkers in the British ports, our other main area of work.

Rachel Lever and the present writer produced Workers’ Republic, with the help of Gery Lawless, the secretary of the Irish Workers’ Group for most of that time. In the course of doing that we came up against the fundamental questions of Irish revolutionary politics, and tried to answer them — on Republicanism, physical-force and peaceful methods, the “completion” of the “national revolution” aborted in 1921-2, the nature of the Northern Ireland state and of the 26 Counties, whether Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution had any relevance to modern Irish politics.

Here I will say only as much as is necessary to make the story understandable.

The Six Counties state, with Home Rule and limited sovereignty, is as old as independent Ireland — strictly speaking, a little older, since the establishment of a Belfast parliament in 1921 preceded the setting up of a 26 Counties parliament in January 1922.

It was a great fact, and seemingly immovable. By the 60s, it had even secured a lot of passive Northern Ireland Catholic support.

The people of the Six Counties, Catholic as well as Protestant, had the benefits of the British post-1945 welfare state. Many, perhaps most, were or seemed to be reconciled to things as they were.

Britain guaranteed that there would be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland — that is, its union with Britain and not with the rest of Ireland — unless the majority there wanted it. For practical purposes Dublin accepted that and policed the Six/ 26 Counties settlement, while simultaneously it made propaganda against partition: it had an ambivalent and contradictory position.

The Protestant majority in Northern Ireland was then about two-to-one. Greatly disproportionate rates of Catholic emigration ensured that the balance would not soon change dramatically.

That meant that no Northern Ireland political process could ever satisfy those of the minority who questioned the existing arrangement; and that, in turn, recommended violence to some of the minority. But violent methods did not “work”, either. IRA efforts were feeble — a nuisance rather than a threat to the Six Counties state, and with small active support from the Catholic minority.

The Catholic “Nationalist Party” in Northern Ireland looked to Dublin as “their” government, and stood aloof from the structures of the Six Counties state, rejecting it, but impotent to change anything fundamental.

In the first near-half-century of the Six Counties state, no big political mobilisation of the Catholics had taken place. The Northern Catholics had been beaten down during the War of Independence (1919-21) — which in the Six Counties was a communal-national civil war — and immediately afterwards, by a combination of the British Army and Orange militias. They had never risen out of that defeat.

The politics of the Trotskyist Tendency were shaped in the flurry of reactivation on Northern Ireland in the mid 1960s and after. I had been a member of the Connolly Association (the Communist Party’s “Irish front”), but in the process of coming to understand the CP had concluded that the CA’s Stalinist-ersatz Fianna Fail nationalism had nothing to do with socialism. Since it was manipulative and in the last reckoning Russia-serving, it had not much to do with real Irish nationalism, either.

I considered myself a Republican, but thought that everything that was positive and politically viable in revolutionary Republicanism was subsumed in revolutionary socialism — the politics of the early Communist International and of the Fourth International of Trotsky’s time. I put it like this in 1967:

“All the essential goals of all the past defeated and deflected struggles of the Irish people over the centuries against oppression and for freedom of development and freedom from exploitation, can now only be realised in a Republic of the working people, as part of the Socialist United States of Europe and the world.” [Towards an Irish October, (The “Manifesto of the IWG”) 1967]

The work we did in Workers’ Republic was part of the attempt by the IWG to work out a working-class political programme for the Irish situation.

Here we need to understand what the IWG was, as well as the political situation in which it worked.

The Connolly Association bestrode Irish émigré “left-wing” politics. That was a by-product of the fact that the Communist Party and the CP-influenced Labour Left were large, imposing, and in essence constituted the extant labour movement “left”. Through the CPGB, the CA had a vast network in the British Labour movement for the dissemination of its ideas, and for getting "anti-Partition resolutions passed. Beyond this CP "left" there were three small Trotskyist organisations and some anarchists.

There existed in London a scattering of Irish left-wing critics of the Connolly Association. “Trotskyism” on Ireland, in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, was the SLL and, from the early 60s, its Northern Ireland supporters. The two central leaders of the organisation in the late 50s were both Irish, Gerry Healy, a Galway peasant who told people that the Black and Tans had shot his father, and Brian Behan, a Dublin proletarian (Brother of the writer Brendan and the folk singer Dominic).

From May 1957, when it regained a weekly paper, The Newsletter (Its previous paper, Socialist Outlook, had been proscribed by the Labour Party in July 1954 and ceased publication in October that year.)the SLL, under the influence of Brian Behan, commented on the class struggle in Ireland, treating Partition as a background fact. It reported on Noel Browne's activities, the Dublin Unemployed Movement, and things like that. John Byrne, one of the Irish Trotskyists of the 1940s, worked with the SLL in London, and may have joined it for a while.

The fact that the SLL at that stage did not focus on Partition has led some commentators, and in the first place Rainer Lysaght, to excise the SLL in the late 50s and early 60s from the history of Irish Trotskyism: they didn't concern themselves with the "National Question" and therefore could not be Trotskyists in the sense that Lysaght and the rest of the, "The National Question is the Permanent Revolution in Ireland", brigade are. This is arbitrary, a piece of question-begging ideology -- a variant of historical falsification.

In late 1959, something new appeared in Irish émigré politics, the Irish Workers’ Union. It was set up as an anti-Stalinist alternative to the Connolly Association. It had some support from the émigré Irish “establishment”, including some priests, and the Catholic press in Britain, who were very exercised by what they saw as the threat that “the Connolly Clubs”, as they called the CA, posed to gullible young immigrants.

The IWU was very hostile to the Stalinists and to the CA. A clause in its constitution banned “communists” and fascists from membership, modelled perhaps on the rule then in force in the TGWU which banned “communists and fascists" from holding office.

Yet the IWU was not right-wing. It aspired to be a left-wing, “socialist”, alternative to the CA. One of its founders, perhaps the main mover, the late Michael Callinan, was, though a Catholic, a sort of syndicalist. He had been involved in the political wars between the Stalinists, Catholic Action, and others in the Australian labour movement.

Inevitably the IWU attracted leftists who were anti-CA and anti-CP, but who were still influenced by Stalinist ideas, or who supported Russia against America from a critical, vaguely Trotskyist, point of view. One of those was Pat O’Donovan, who would be a member of the Irish Workers’ Group. He was associated with the SLL and with Brian Behan — perhaps had been a member for a while.

O’Donovan wrote an article in the SLL paper, The Newsletter, early in 1960, critically evaluating the IWU and proposing that leftists should help transform it. For that he was expelled from the IWU.

Brian Behan broke with the SLL politically — he was expelled, Gerry Healy-style, on the eve of the 1960 Whitsun conference — and rapidly became an avowed syndicalist-anarchist. He joined the IWU. Evidently others did too, people of varying left-wing politics. John Palmer of IS was an early member of the IWU, in 1960 or 61; so, I believe, were Liam Daltun and Gery Lawless.

Political “processes” unfolded in the IWU, of which to my knowledge no account and no documentary record exists (in contrast, incidentally, with the IWG, from which I possess upwards of 300 documents — letters, bulletins, circulars, financial statements, etc.). Those processes broke the initial framework. A number of ex-Republicans — and at least one one-time ultra-Catholic Maria Duce ex-Republican [If you want details, see The Lawless Case, ECHR 1960/1 Series B, p 165 and pps 167-8] — made their way to the IWU, or its offshoot. They looked to the independent socialist left in Ireland, around the one-time Cabinet minister Noel Browne TD, and to such elements as the Dublin Unemployed Movement, which had elected its own TD, Jack Murphy.

By 1962, they had started to produce a small bimonthly printed paper, THE IRISH WORKER. Its editor at one time — according to one account — was the late Dick Walsh (Richard Coleman Walsh), who would become a prominent Irish Times columnist and write for such papers as the Observer as Coleman Richard.

By now the grouping was called the Socialist Republican League. It included former members of the IRA such as Phil Flynn, and former members of the IRA splinter known as the Cristle group after its leader, the prominent athlete Joe Cristle (which had worked with another splinter, Saor Uladh [Free Ulster]) — Liam Daltun some of the Geraghty brothers, and Gery Lawless.

The SRL went through political turmoil and crisis. Its politics were pretty much the same as those of the IWG in 1965-8, which will be described below. The paper ceased publication, after about a dozen issues, in 1963.

The SRL had some links with the Socialist Review group (forerunner of IS) — of which John Palmer was a member from 1960 or 61 — and with the RSL, later the Militant tendency and now the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal, but then British section of the Pablo-Mandel Fourth International, which Daltun and Lawless supported. (IS and RSL collaborated in producing a paper in the Labour Party Young Socialists, Young Guard.)

A letter in an old file, citing Liam Dalton as source, says that a crisis, perhaps the terminal crisis, in the Socialist Republican League was triggered, in 1963, when one Of the Gerrity brothers proposed that formal links, an affiliation of some sort, be established between the Socialist Republican League and the Socialist Review Group, distant (very distant!) ancestor of today's SWP. It was opposed by Gery Lawless and others.

Now a new force appeared — Maoism, “revolutionary Stalinism”. Russia and China began to fall out in the late 1950s. From 1960 the Chinese made trenchant criticisms from the “left” of the mainstream Moscow CPs. Beijing directed its criticisms not openly against Moscow but against the “Tito revisionists”, and Moscow replied targeting the Albanian “dogmatists”, but everyone knew what this game of political blind man’s buff meant. The Chinese produced “Marxist” criticisms of such ideas as the Western CPs’ dogma of a parliamentary road to socialism.

If Marxism is scholasticism, Marxist right lay with the Chinese. It was good stuff — if you forgot, or never knew, who was making the criticism, and what they were. From the beginning of the so-called "Cultural Revolution" in China, in mid-1966, Maoists tended to be raving lunatics, waving their little red book of magic-working quotations from Mao. Not at the beginning. They appeared as left-seeming Marxist critics of the main Stalinist parties. Some of what they said was quite like what Trotskyists had been saying for a long time.

(For instance, on the advice of the SLL’s North West organiser, Bill Hunter, I had used the first public statement of the Chinese, Long Live Leninism, on Lenin’s 90th anniversary in April 1960, as part of the case I was trying to make within the Young Communist League against the parliamentary road to socialism and so on).

The Chinese also harked back to Stalinism before it turned “right” in the mid 1930s; they defended and glorified Stalin against the “Khrushchev revisionists” in power in Russia and Eastern Europe (except Albania).

As the Russian-Chinese dispute moved towards an open breach, sympathisers of the Chinese emerged in the western CPs. In Britain, the first public Maoist group came out of the CP in September 1963 — the Committee to Defeat Revisionism (Marxist-Leninist) — and started to publish a big monthly paper, Vanguard. When its leader, Michael McCreery, died of leukemia in 1965, it disintegrated into many small tribes of would-be revolutionary Stalino-Maoists.

Elements of the London Irish left rallied to the Vanguard (including Noel Jenkinson, who, later, as a member of the Stalinist-led "Official IRA",would be convicted for bombing the officers’ mess at Aldershot army barracks in 1972, in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, January 1972. He would die in jail).

The Irish Communist Group emerged out of this and out of the remnants of the Socialist Republican League, in 1963-4. If I understand it, the process was as follows.

In 1963, Liam Daltun initiated a series of on-going discussions involving a wide spread of Irish leftists in London — Trotskyists like himself, “anti-revisionist” Communists, and left Republicans. About the same time, the Vanguard group (CDRML) leaders decided to organise an Irish sub-section of their own, to compete with the Connolly Association and perhaps lay the basis for a “Marxist-Leninist” group in Ireland.

The two small streams converged, or already overlapped, and early in 1964 formed an organisation called the Irish Workers’ Group, which very soon changed its name to the Irish Communist Group. It was an independent organisation, not the front which the Vanguard group had projected. It included Stalinists and Maoists — the future Irish Communist Organisation and British and Irish Communist Organisation — who had fallen out with McCreery; the main Vanguard man involved in negotiating, Andy O’Neill, did not join. Neither — for some months, perhaps a year — did Liam Daltun, because of personal difficulties.

The ICG evolved as a strange conglomeration of Stalinists, incipient Stalinists, Maoists, Republicans, and “Trotskyists”. One of its “Trotskyist” participants, Gery Lawless, would later justify himself to me on the grounds that the ICG was committed to “the workers’ republic” — socialism — as the “next stage” in Ireland, as against the typical Maoist-Stalinist assertion that the “next stage” had to be the “completion” of the “bourgeois-democratic” revolution there. That, I think, though it did not justify what Lawless did in the ICG, was true. The Maoists would retreat from it.

From October 1964, the ICG would produce a small duplicated weekly news-sheet, Irish Workers’ News, and from February 1965 a monthly magazine, An Solas. (The group, without the Gaelic scholar Daltun, thought it meant “The Light” in the sense of something like “Enlightenment”. According to Daltun, it means something closer to “The Light Bulb”!)

It seems that all the participants agreed to leave contentious political, historical and theoretical questions between them to be resolved later: meanwhile they would study Ireland and respond to public events as they arose. For this group, the events of the last 40 years — the Stalinist mass murder of Trotskyists, for example — had not yet happened. They would pretend that they had not happened. They would be “communists” of, say, 1928 or 1930, miraculously brought back to life and kept together by the one thing they had in common: that they were Irish. They would suspend not disbelief but their beliefs.

Of course, they couldn’t and they didn’t. Politically, the project was preposterous. Such a conglomerate was possible only if it consisted of people who were very vague about the politics they professed: if they were indifferent to the political ideas, or ignorant of them; or politically unformed, or politically decayed. Some were both politically underdeveloped and decayed.

Though Lawless was listed as editor of An Solas from no.3 to no.8, the Stalinist-Maoists and their natural concerns dominated the publication — and to the extent that the “Trotskyist” editor found himself publicly and in good faith quoting Stalin as a healthy Marxist and communist authority against the idea of a parliamentary road to socialism — and this in an organisation awash with Stalinist ideas, and in a political culture where the main problem was not to disabuse would-be revolutionaries of the foolish notion that the bourgeoisie would let itself be overthrown by a vote in parliament, peacefully, but the quasi-Bakunist, romantic pseude-Republican cult of guns and political violence. An equivalent would have been a reform socialist in the 1930s citing Hitler to prove that you could take power peacefully!

{Which, come to think of it, some of the reform socialists did. The leader of the Labour Party left in the 1930s, Stafford Cripps, cited the example of Hitler to prove that a reforming government could pass an “Enabling Act” and then do what it liked. Militant [RSL] would make the idea its nostrum and mantra for decades.)

Inevitably the ICG divided into Stalinist and Trotskyist sides — in the summer of 1965. That would have been good, a necessary and progressive conflict — except that the “Trotskyist” side was something less than Trotskyist.

Of the Trotskyists, Liam Daltun was the only one who had more than a rudimentary grasp of — or, indeed, more than a rudimentary interest in grasping — the politics they all nominally adhered to; and he wasn't involved for perhaps the first year.

(But Daltun too, as the 5 issues of An Solas which he edited after the split with the Stalinists-Maoists, testify, was far from having completely sloughed off his political past.)

Among the London Trotskyists, Daltun was the political thinker, the one who carried the Marxist political and cultural baggage, and Lawless the bustling “man of business”, always eager to trade in his nominal politics for an advantage, for personal aggrandisement, or for an ego-salve. Daltun and Lawless were as naturally complementary a pair as you could hope to find — even to one being compulsively modest and the other a great braggart and world-class liar!. But they loathed, or better perhaps love-hated, each other, and their strife was a constant source of disruption.

Daltun was troubled — he would kill himself in January 1972 — and was rarely able to function at his best. He functioned well for a while in 1965. Liam Daltun is now forgotten. He does not deserve to be.

With the help of Ted Grant, Daltun produced a serious historical account of the Stalin-Trotsky dispute. {A version of it is in Ted Grant's Book, "The Unbroken Thread", under the title "Reply to Comrade Clifford"}The ICG split in September 1965. The half-dozen “hard” Maoists formed the Irish Communist Organisation. The “Trotskyist” ICG soon changed its name to the Irish Workers’ Group.

What happened was not a separation into Stalinists and Trotskyists, but a hiving-off of the hard Maoists, leaving the “Trotskyists” more or less in charge of a motley crew of soft Maoists, old half-sceptical Stalinists, Deutscherites (liberal,critically Stalinist, Stalinists), and physical-force Republicans. (One of the latter, Phil Flynn, future trade union official, banker, etc., would go home to Ireland and within a short time be on the Army Council of the IRA).

The Trotskyists had not fought to win the group to the politics of the Grant-Daltun document; they had used it only to argue that people should not back the hard Stalinist-Maoists. “Tactics”! That was Lawless: the ascendancy of short-term advantage over the political and long-term viability of the organisation.

It proved to be not just a “tactic”, to be followed up by a drive to win the organisation to Trotskyism, educate it, and render it homogeneous in its fundamental politics. Once the harder Stalinist-Maoists had gone, the group remained a politically inchoate conglomerate, kept together by the fact of being émigré Irish.

Not only was the organisation still a political hodge-podge, now it was far more wildly zig-zagging and unstable — an incoherent mix of physical-force Republican romanticism and violent anti-Stalinism — combined with the delusion that Russia and its satellites were “workers’ states”. Some of the IWG’s members, and politically not the worst of them by any means, were old would-be revolutionary Stalinists, such as Sean Lynch, for example, who had been in the Communist Party of the USA for decades.

The thing that strikes me most today, looking through the file of the post-65 split An Solas again, is how all-pervasive in it physical-force Republicanism was. So it would be, much of the time, in Irish Militant, the four page printed monthly started in February 1966 to replace Irish Workers’ News. (No organic connection with the British Militant group, with which Lawless had had a "client" and patron relationship for a while, or with its 1970s paper Militant Irish Monthly).

I first encountered the Irish Communist Group around Easter 1965, when I was in the process of becoming a member of the RSL (Militant). I joined the ICG sometime in the middle of 1965, to help the “Trotskyists” against the “Stalinists”, as the organisation was beginning to fall apart. I was and would remain active mainly in the British labour movement.

Living in Manchester, I was away from the central area of operations of the organisation, in London. I passively went along with what the Trotskyist faction did, and accepted its account of things. Primarily, I was a member of the RSL (Militant); and though I retained IWG membership after the '65 split and kept in touch with Daltun and Lawless, I was, until October-November 1966, only notionally an IWG member.

Rachel Lever, myself and two others, left the RSL in October 1966, and called ourselves the “Workers’ Fight" group. In October-November 1966, on my proposal to the IWG, Rachel Lever and I took over responsibility for reviving An Solas. The intention, openly proclaimed and mutually agreed between the IWG and WF, was to make it into a general Marxist magazine that could also be used by the Workers’ Fight group in the British labour movement. The other two of the initial four members of the Workers’ Fight group also joined the IWG.

In the first issue we produced, no.15/16, the title was supplemented with the words “For an Irish Workers’ Republic”, and in no.17, An Solas became Workers’ Republic. You might say it was a case of “put out The Light, and then put out the light” — the dim, flickering, grotesquely distorting light of Maoism, pseudo-Republicanism, etc., and replace it with a better one.

In Workers’ Republic I tackled what I saw as the political problems that confronted the IWG — the outstanding political problems that should have been tackled at the time of the 1965 split and immediately after. In the course of doing that, the politics of the Trotskyist Tendency and Workers’ Fight on Ireland were hammered out. I propose from this point simply to state what our beliefs about Ireland and Irish politics came to be. 


From John Palmer, on the IWU

I would like to comment on the most recent in the series dealing with the Irish Workers' Group and - more specifically - its predecessor, the Irish Workers Union.

Sean's account is broadly correct. But it is ludicrous to assert that the IWU enjoyed sympathy from from Irish Catholic clergy or some "unidentified" part of the Irish political establishment. There is not a fragment of evidence for this and Matgamna offers none. To the extent that either of these social groups were remotely aware of the IWU, they would have regarded it as more extreme and dangerous than the Connolly Association which - although wedded to the Stalinist view of history - enjoyed close links with respectable even middle of the road forces in the Labour party - including in Parliament.

It is true that the original 1959 IWU constitution - written as he says by the anarcho-syndicalist, Michael Callinan - banned from membership both fascists and "communists". However this was opposed by some of us from the start (notably Mike Quilty a building worker member of the Socialist Review group, myself (who was to join the SR at about that time) and the late Dick Walsh who co-edited the Irish Worker with me. The ban on "communists" was dropped a year later.

Although a marginal publication, the Irish Worker did briefly enjoy some readership among then (then considerable) Irish building worker labour force in London at that time. Indeed these links were part of the reason why Pat O'Donovan and - briefly - Brian Behan were involved.

The IWU was indeed politically eclectic. It included both some ex Clann na Poblochta militants and some who were in or around the Irish National Union in London (a dissident republican faction sympathetic to Saor Uluadh/Liam Kelly et al.) This may explain why Gerry Lawless and others from the Christle faction gravitated to the IWU prior to its demise and who then attracted some militants - including Liam Daltun (who as SM rightly says was politically impressive) - to what morphed later into the Irish Workers Group.

Dalcassian | 17 March, 2008 - 22:04

The Irish Workers Union and the Catholic Church

What I said about the politics of the Irish Workers Union — not being right wing, etc — should make it clear that when I wrote what I did about the attitude of some priests to it, I was not trying thereby to (so to speak) damn it . Most of what was said by even foul reactionaries like the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church about "communism" — Stalinism — was true... There were some welcoming comments on the I W U in one at least of the Catholic papers. I have notes on it somewhere, which I'll try to dig out within the next few days.
Sean Matgamna

by Sean Matgamna

I undertook to back up the summary comment I made about the attitude of the Catholic Establishment in Britain to the Irish Workers Union.
First, let me repeat: I do not think the hopes and expectations which the Catholic Establishment had for the IWU can be seen as decisive in characterising that organisation. As John Palmer says, rationally, and especially if they could have foreseen how it would develop, they should have been more hostile to the IWU than to the CP and its “Connolly Association” tool. In fact, they saw the new organisation as the declared enemy of their world-wide enemy, “Godless Communism”, and of the other Communists, the Trotskyists. That's what the Secretary of the IWU, Michael Callinan said it was.

This was a time when the Trotskyists had received more notice in the bourgeois press than for 15 years, in part as a result of the trade union activity of Brian Behan on the South Bank building sites (where, of course, many of the militant workers were Irish). The SLL had recently been proclaimed as an open organisation—in February 1959 — and immediately proscribed by the Labour Party.

In the Catholic Herald of February 5, 1960, under the headline: "THE ANSWER TO CONNOLLY CLUBS",under a smaller headline — "IRISH WORKERS FIGHT BACK", Douglas Hyde, interviewed "IWU leader", Michael Callinan. Hyde, who was usually billed as a "former editor of the Daily Worker", the CP daily now published as the Morning Star, was the British and Irish Catholics' leading popular polemicist against "Communism". He was the British equivalent of the American, Luis Budenz, one-time editor of the CPUSA's Daily Worker, who broke with the CP in the mid-forties (Hyde broke in 1948, I think). Hyde was author of a book, "I Believed", about his experience in the CPGB and Communist Party operations in the labour movement.

He introduced Michael Callinan as one who had been a Labour candidate in the 1958 municipal election in Paddington, and who had also stood "some years ago for the Australian Labor Party (non-Communist)" in "the State Parliamentary Elections. In Australia... He had found himself fighting both the Communists and Dr. Evatt's Labour Party." He now, Hyde told his readers, fights both Communists and Trotskyists. He quoted Michael Callinan:

"I know that our emphasis on the Irish workers and our strong Labour bias will not be to everyone's taste, but in my view you can only defeat the activities of of bodies like the Connolly Association by attacking from a leftward position".

Callinan told Hyde that there was a type of Irish worker in Britain who ignores warnings [from the priests] and whose attitude is: "I don't mind if it is Communist so long as it is both Irish and socialist".

Callinan told Hyde that the Connolly Association was divided, and that he had first tried to split it from within. From CA platforms, he had condemned the suppression of Hungary [1956] and the Chinese invasion of Tibet [1959]. He had resigned when Willie Gallagher [long-time CPer and a former CP MP] came to speak at a meeting with which he was associated.

The first aim of the IWU, Callinan told Hyde was "to promote amongst Irish Workers an appreciation of democratic socialist politics... Members of the C P and its auxiliary organisations... are not eligible for membership of the I W U."

Irish socialism, said Callinan, is a thing of co-operatives and credit-unions "of the type developed by St Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia".

The Trotskyists would like to capture the IWU, Callinan said, but they are unwelcome. One of the IWU leaders [Pat O'Donovan, I guess] had already been expelled as a Trotskyist. The IWU, Hyde reported, had rooms at the top of an old house at Colebrook Road, Islington.

His statement about the need to attack the Stalinists from the left might be either a declaration that the politics he professed were to him just a convenient flag under which to make war on "communism", or Callinan pitching his poitics at more right wing people. Everything I know about him, including his subsequent history, suggests it was the latter.

The kind of "anti-Communism" expressed by Callinan is that of genuine horror at truly horrible things. I don't know exactly how Callinan's membership of political parties and standing in elections squares with his reputation and – I think: I knew him very slightly in the 1970s — sometimes, at least, self-description as a syndicalist.

In fact, of course, historical syndicalism came in many varieties. The Irish syndicalists, Larkin and Connolly and William O'Brien, were syndicalists because they put industrial unionism at the centre of their conception of the conquest of working class power and the transition to socialism — but they did not reject political action; in 1912 they founded the Irish Labour Party as the political arm of the union.
Sean Matgamna

John Palmer | 26 March, 2008 - 17:45


Sean Matgamna has - I readily concede - retrieved a revealing cutting on Michael Callinan from the Catholic Herald. Douglas Hyde was willing to give a sympathetic report to the devil if he thought it would damage the Communist Party. Indeed I recall that at one stage before making his peace with the Catholic Church, Hyde had a variety of friendly contacts with the far left (which was even weaker in the early 1950s than it is today). However the cutting does not indicate that there was any kind of a blessing for the IWU available from either the church or the wider London Irish estblishment. I would have been surprised had it been otherwise. Especially when Michael Callinan lost the battle over bans on the CP and its members within the IWU. A few (admittedly disillusioned CPers) did actually join for a while - one I remember was a "blue union" docker and another a colleague of Hugh Cassidy the leading building worker militant (South Bank strike) at that time.

All said and done this is a footnote to a footnote in the history of the left and Ireland that Matgamna is reviewing. The IWEU left precious little mark on that history - except in so far as it provided some kind of socialist education to groups of militant Irish workers at a time when that was otherwise very hard to come by. Only with the quickening pace of events on the wider left in Britain as the sixties passed by and especially with the gathering storm in the north of Ireland did emigre Irish socialist politics in Britain come to play more than a role on the margins of the margins.
John Palmer

Sean Matgamna
PS Lysaght on Lawless

I've just got hold of a copy of Rayner Lysaght's seminal 1982 (?) work, “Early History of Irish Trotskyism”. It occurs to me that if we are going to discuss the IWU, etc., then we should broaden the discussion out a bit. To that end I quote below a bit of Lysaght's hagiography.
Lysaght is a long-time Mandelite, a Welsh rentier proud of his pedigree, turned Irishman -- and making a stupid a-historical fetish of “the National Question”.
In 1970, or thereabouts, he published a small work - in fact, some of it quite useful stuff - on the history of the 26 County state, and in the blurb listed his ancestors, establishing that he - and not Peter Berisford Ellis! -might be the rightful king of Ireland; a decade ago he published a strange collection of too often useless snippets, mentioning Ireland, from important writings , “The Communists and the Irish Revolution”.
There, amongst other things, he - or someone - cut a phrase out of the Communist International's 1920 Theses on the National and Colonial Question, so that its meaning was entirely reversed and a doctored “Lenin” was made into a Third Worldist akin to Lysaght then. (See the review of it in WL 1/25).
His account of the IWU, IWG, etc., is consonant with that sort of paper-wasting carry-on. (His story of the IWG, and of why and how it split, is straight lying: I'll get to all that, eventually...)
Lysaght: “[Saor Uladh's] members' search for revolutionary politics had produces a man who has as much claim as anyone to the title of father of modern Irish Trotskyism, embarrassing as it may be to his child.... First he formed an Irish Workers' Union. Then he combined with Maoists.... to form an Irish Communist Group.....Founded the Irish Workers Group (IWG) which brought Trotskyism back to Ireland at last...”

And on the Seventh Day, He rested...
Sean Matgamna


Submitted by NollaigO on Thu, 11/06/2020 - 23:53

An Solas does mean The Light, enlightenment depending on context.
Pádraic Pearse had a publication, An claíomh Solais, the sword of light

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