Socialist Labour Party Constitution
Date:November 1977
Organisation: Socialist Labour Party
Contributor: Info
Dave Neligan
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

6th April 2015

Many thanks to Peter Mooney for donating this document to the Archive – one of many from his collection that will be reproduced here in coming months.

This eight page A5 leaflet is the constitution of the short-lived Socialist Labour Party. As the Introduction by Dave Neligan notes:

The SLP was founded in November 1977 when a decision was taken at our inaugural conference in Liberty Hall Dublin to form a new political party. Its aim is to create a genuine socialist democracy in the 32 counties of Ireland.

It notes that:

Such a society will depend on the initiatives of many thousands of people and it will require dedication and unselfishness which we believe is readily available. We have set ourselves uncompromising standards in order to achieve our aims.

Ireland is a society that for too long has tolerated acute poverty, emigration and unemployment, with the consequent gross wastage of resources and the affronts to human dignity.

We believe that no other political party in the country will produce the necessary changes to bring about the creation of new wealth and the redistribution of wealth power from the rich to the working class and that, therefore we have a role in socialist education and agitation.

Through our local branches and various associated groups, Young Socialists, Womens Rights, unemployed and trade unionists we believe in a thorough democratic involvement of our membership in decision-making and action and that this is a vital factor in the creation of genuine socialist democracy.

The objectives of the party are outlined clearly:

  1. It’s objective shall be the creation in all of Ireland of a Democratic, Secular, Socialist Republic, based on the social economic and political teachings of James Connolly’s Workers Republic.

  2. It shall therefore seek the total overthrow of all imperialist, neo-imperialist, capitalist and neo-colonialist interests in Ireland. It therefore commits itself to securing a withdrawal of the British presence in all it’s forms from the 32 counties in Ireland, including the withdrawal of British troops from the 6 north eastern counties of Ireland.

It engages with the Irish language, Arts and Literature, ‘freedom of political thought and activity of all its citizens’ and:

  1. It recognises that sexism and discrimination against women in all its forms divides and holds back the struggle of working people for a democratic socialist society. it therefore commits itself to a forceful policy in order to bring about greater awareness that such demands are in the interests of all working people, women and men.

The structure is described in detail. Constituency Branches, AGM’s, Branch Executives, National Executive and so forth. It also notes that:

A party member may also be a member of an organised political tendency within the Party, and of non-party political or quasi-political organisations. However the member shall be required to give his or her public loyalty to the Party and its Programme.

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  • By: Gerryboy Mon, 06 Apr 2015 12:06:35

    That last paragraph about political tendencies being allowed within the party enabled a couple of small cranky groups to bombard the general membership with their pet notions. They turned out to be Suicidal Tendencies, and as party meetings were held and additional policies were adopted (by whatever dwindling numbers of remaining members attended) people silently shrugged shoulders and drifted away. Eventually the only parliamentary member of the party, Noel Browne TD, signed out in disgust at some statement issued about armed struggle. The party lingered for a few years before the remnant decided to dissolve. What wasted energy and time.

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  • By: roddy Mon, 06 Apr 2015 21:59:25

    Why did a republican like Matt Merrigan take anything to do with Noel Browne?

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  • By: Joe Tue, 07 Apr 2015 16:00:25

    In reply to Gerryboy.

    Thanks Gerryboy. You were there obviously. I’d love to hear more of your memory of the experience.
    I wasn’t active politically as a seventeen year old in 1977 but I was watching from the sidelines. My impression all these years later was that the SLP consisted of a mix of well-meaning, not too ideological, Labour Left and left of labour types plus the small cranky groups/Suicidal Tendencies you cited.
    Who were the Tendencies at the time? SWM? IWG? Not Militant, I don’t think.
    A pity that the non-Tendency people weren’t organised or committed enough to see off the Tendencies and keep the Party going. Or is that unfair?
    And what’s the learning for the fabled ULA-type left formation or a left social democratic formation that some people are crying out for in the present day?

    I’m thinking back to my own time in the WP, circa ’85 to ’92. And how quickly all that energy and activism dissolved and dissipated. How come I and so many others didn’t stay active in anything much once the Party imploded? Was it all, as you put it, wasted energy and time?

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  • By: Alibaba Tue, 07 Apr 2015 16:34:23

    In reply to Joe.

    Gerryboy: It is important to note that, to the surprise of most members, political tendency rights were agreed at the founding conference of SLP, without a single individual voting against it. In practice this meant that a tendency group could announce itself, hold it own meetings and issue its own papers inside the party. They put forward motions, not because they were cranks; but on a principled basis. When such motions fell, and outside these events, they were expected “to give his or her public loyalty to the Party and its Programme” and appropriately so.

    As I understand it, some people criticise the idea of far-left groups being tendencies within a party. They take the view that tendency rights is a recipe for failure. Not so. I can appreciate that some see tendency activity as a factor in failure. I disagree because that inclines to the view that we can’t disagee with one another in internal debates.
    I believe the SLP was short lived because the differences within its ranks were often extreme. It was nonetheless a great precedent in Ireland for politically advanced activists keying-in to the radical climate of 1977-81. It made a great show of its involvement in strikes and campaigns. To call it “wasted energy and time” is a misrepresentation of the great efforts by those of all political hues involved.

    Joe: As you can see I don’t think efforts of the left should be seen as “wasted energy”. Even when they go badly, we can lessons from them.

    You ask “Who were the Tendencies at the time? ” Some groups/individuals, including the SWM, took up tendency rights, having decined ever to argue for them, and formed a grroup within the SLP. The Militant group, now Socialist Party, declined to join SLP and did indeed stay within the Labour Party. The Seamus Healy group attended but left at the initial stage on the basis that Matt and Noel should not have broken with the Labour Party and should not have formed SLP. IWG was a tendency group therein.

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  • By: Alibaba Tue, 07 Apr 2015 16:39:24

    In reply to roddy.

    In 1977 Matt Merrigan and Noel Browne were “deselected” by a Labour regime bent on Coalition; but even so Browne was elected as TD. It was Merrigan’s Labour ‘Liaison of the Left’ faction that floated the idea of a new party. Some of the far-left groups joined immediately, most of them discreetly.

    It was Matt who, as chair of the SLP Congress session, passed the motion for tendencies in the SLP without any peep of opposition from anyone. Truth to tell, he did regret that later and condemned these rights. So what? It must be remembered that Matt was ultimately defending the SLP machine from the militants, who were most often within the tendencies, and their criticisms of a party that prioritised the local elections and declined to uphold the mandating of TDs, support the H Block prisoners or support for abortion rights, to name a few of the issues.

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  • By: Gerryboy Tue, 07 Apr 2015 19:58:38

    @ Joe. I don’t remember the names of the suicidal tendencies that registered themselves, according to the SLP rules, as Factions. I don’t remember if SWM existed substantially in Ireland at the time. Possibly a similar or forerunner group with a different name was there. Matt Merrigan’s name has been mentioned in the blog comments. He had a reputation in the 1970s as a serious trade unionist who championed industrial disputes that the bigger unions kept back from. Within the Labour Party he had a coterie of admirers, being like Frank Cluskey one of the few prominent working class members of the party. Shamefully, the Labour Party never gave him a chance to contest a Dail seat. Conor Cruise O’Brien in his States of Ireland chapter entitled “A Summer Diary” refers in a slightly patronising way to Merrigan by a pseudonym as a trade unionist who aspired to get a Labour nomination. Merrigan lent a hand to causes which didn’t at the time seem to have any votes – he participated in an unofficial enquiry into the Irish prison system chaired by Nobel laureate Sean MacBride, for instance. In private conversation Matt Merrigan was articulate and could entertain the company with wry humour; in public meetings he could be a demonstrative platform orator. A steadfast champion of working class Dubliners. Merrigan may have been a republican in the Connolly tradition, but he condemned the bombing offensive of the provos. Noel Browne TD was a pacifist and regarded the provo campaign as both murderous and a distraction from efforts to promote left wing politics of the Nye Bevan and Tony Benn type in Ireland.

    Joe asks what can we learn from the SLP episode. I think we should put pragmatic social campaigning on behalf of the disadvantaged communities in urban and rural Ireland before theoretical discussions. Beware of middle class trades unions which put the interests of the comfortable first. Emulate the conviction politics of people like Matt Merrigan, Jim Kemmy and Tony Gregory.

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  • By: roddy Tue, 07 Apr 2015 20:50:01

    Merrigan was 100 % in support of the H block prisoners and Tony Benn took the SF line on Ireland. and was highly supportive of Gerry Adams.Browne was in the Cruiser camp on both counts.

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  • By: Joe Tue, 07 Apr 2015 21:14:56

    “I think we should put pragmatic social campaigning on behalf of the disadvantaged communities in urban and rural Ireland before theoretical discussions. Beware of middle class trades unions which put the interests of the comfortable first. Emulate the conviction politics of people like Matt Merrigan, Jim Kemmy and Tony Gregory.”

    Well said Gerryboy. Fully agree. Of course we’d have to manage the conflicting convictions on (what else?) the national question of the likes of them three. But we probably could these days. The Party’s position on “the national question”? The Party supports the Peace Process and the Belfast Agreement.

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