Ireland — Past, Present and Future
Date:April 1983
Organisations: Socialist Party of Great Britain, World Socialist Party
Collection:The British Left on Ireland
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

17th February 2014

Many thanks to the SPGB for forwarding this very interesting document to the Archive.

This document, issued by the SPGB was published in 1983. It joins other documents from the SPGB, the Socialist Party of Ireland (1940s onwards) and the World Socialist Party of Ireland already in the Archive. The contents is broad-ranging offering an overview of ‘The Origins of Sectarianism’, ‘The Roots of Nationalism’, ‘Partition and the Consequences’, ‘Civil Rights and Political Violence’ and ‘Socialism’.

In the introduction, signed by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, it notes that:

It is commonplace to read news reports of killings on the streets of Ulster. The media present the bombs and the barricades, the internment camps and the rubber bullets as unfortunate hiccups which can be overcome by sensible politicians applying their thoughtful solutions.

But there can be no solution to ‘The Irish Problem’ as long as it is regarded as such. There is nothing particularly Irish about it. The poverty which forms the material basis of discrimination and fratricidal strife is inevitable in the framework of the present social system – capitalism.

But while the basic problems are the same throughout the world (even in the so-called ‘communist’ countries where capitalism functions through the medium of the State), the contradictions of the system manifest themselves differently and in varying degrees of viciousness according to historical, political and economic conditions obtaining in different areas.

It is to capitalism then, as it developed in the historical circumstances peculiar to Ireland, that we must look for an explanation of the problems of today.

In a later paragraph it argues that:

The demands of civil rights movement amounted to no more than an insistence that the miseries of capitalism – its inadequacies in housing, job and education – be distributed among the working class without regard to their religion – as if other factors bearing on selection and rejection for these things were not also discriminatory.


The politics of Unionism and Republicanism have become meaningless in terms of the interests of the now largely unified capitalist class; and certainly, neither Unionism nor Republicanism – despite the latter’s flirting with the vocabulary of Socialism – have anything to offer the working class. It is because Unionism, the Border and Ulster are no more than a source of irritation to capitalism – the issues involved having no logic in class terms – that more effective moves for a solution of the Northern Ireland problem have not emerged.

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  • By: roddy Mon, 17 Feb 2014 11:32:27

    I happened to work on a building site in the mid 80s with a member of the “world socialist party” He was easy to get on with at work but had a very narrow definition of socialism.He insisted for instance that Peadar O’Donnell was not a socialist and from what I remember the WSM could literally have met in a phonebox.!

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  • By: Starkadder Mon, 17 Feb 2014 23:12:18

    On a related note, I mentioned before that I saw a 2013 “Socialist
    Standard” that listed the SPGB “British” branches…. including one
    in Cork city. That’s right, they listed a city in the Republic
    of Ireland as “British”. Don’t think that will go down well with
    the average Irish person…

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  • By: Charlie Tue, 18 Feb 2014 15:29:43

    In reply to Starkadder.

    The WSP get a mention in Terry Hooleys biography, at one stage they had rooms in Pottinger’s Entry, off High St, which he used for social events. (He didn’t pay them, which kinda fits in with their anti-money policies!).
    By 1980s they had a presence on Belfast streets, with stall in Cornmarket, but that’s all long gone.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 18 Feb 2014 17:56:34

    In reply to roddy.

    Yeah, never met one myself but heard they were nice enough. Interesting that they didn’t think P O’D was a socialist. Not many would hold to that view I imagine.

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  • By: benmadigan Tue, 18 Feb 2014 23:08:01

    the late Andrew Boyd of Belfast got into a spat with an ultra-conservative castle catholic. A law suit was threatened – damages were demanded. It was all hushed up. Boyd was disappointed “I didn’t want the money. I wanted to force him into making a donation to a charity of my choice – the WSP”

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  • By: Mark P Wed, 19 Feb 2014 02:25:07

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    The SPGB (notoriously) hold that no other groups or parties are truly socialist, and in particular that any demand for any reform under any circumstance is reformist, and thus capitalist. It’s an absolute given that their Irish sister party would regard Peadar O’Donnell as a non-socialist. And frankly, that sort of thing is what makes them so charming.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 19 Feb 2014 07:08:57

    In reply to Mark P.

    I guess it never struck me their approach extended to the individual. It’s logical by their lights (or consistent!) but it has more than a whiff of the ‘born again’.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 19 Feb 2014 07:34:37

    In reply to benmadigan.


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