Socialists Against Nationalism
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

14th July 2008

All the greats - eh? A short document this week only four pages long. Socialists Against Nationalism, a ‘campaign’ group established in the late 1970s/early 1980s by the Socialist Party of Ireland (not, I hasten to add the current SP), the British and Irish Communist Organisation, the Limerick Socialist Organisation and ‘individual socialists’. As far as can be determined this was the precursor of the Democratic Socialist Party, led by Jim Kemmy, which later merged with the Labour Party.

As a campaign how long it lasted and how successful it was is unclear. Although as regards the latter point it is worth reflecting on how many a left (or later liberal or right-wing) Irish political career clearly drew a degree of inspiration from the sort of analysis put forward here, that the only way to working class unity was by eschewing the ‘call for a 32 county Socialist Republic [which] is nothing more than the old nationalism newly dressed in a socialist guise’. Actually that in itself is a remarkable statement from an avowedly left-wing body given the longevity of the socialist Republican approach in Irish politics during the 20th century.

But then again, considering issues of success or failure, some the central ‘demands’ in the leaflet have been fulfilled - look at the list on page 3- although their avowed aim of extirpating ‘nationalism’ has not. But then consider again the image on page 1 which makes a clear visual linkage between the most extreme form of ‘nationalism’ and Irish nationalism. Hard in that context to take entirely seriously their idea that they wanted to ‘organise public debates with socialists and others who still hold the traditional nationalist viewpoint’, or indeed that ‘traditional nationalism’ equated with what appears to be a pogrom. And consider again the viewpoints expressed in the recent past on various historical issues which chime with that sort of viewpoint.

I can find reference to them in Seanad debate here  (John A. Murphy giving an interesting analysis) and here .

Any further information on this campaign would be of considerable interest, as would any material from the DSP.

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  • By: Hugh Green Tue, 15 Jul 2008 12:10:46

    On ‘legitimate’ targets, Billy Wright, who was far more intelligent and articulate than the semi-moronic Adair, had figured that any Catholic was a ‘legitimate’ target because killing Catholics meant that the IRA would end up losing support among its base as it continued with armed stuggle.

    From the point of view of the state, one can see how this modus operandi would bring results, whereas a pogrom proper might have been counter-productive.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 15 Jul 2008 15:54:08

    I’m sure an area can be cleansed relatively quickly. That said a full scale pogrom surely requires a sense that those perpetrating it won’t meet equal and opposite or greater force.

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  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 15 Jul 2008 16:58:43

    Well indeed. Maybe that’s what the UDA expected in the early 1990s with their ‘nullification’ of Catholics document.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 15 Jul 2008 17:33:34

    I mean in time as well… i.e. no retribution eventually. Hard to envisage that was feasible for Nationalism as a worldview, whereas Loyalism pre proroguement had at least some sense their leash was longer, which I guess is what hugh was saying.

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  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 15 Jul 2008 17:37:25

    I understand what you’re saying. Hard to know. If things had ever got that bad, they would have been relying on the intervention of southern/UN troops too, and some form of effective repartition.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 15 Jul 2008 17:45:03

    But presumably they wouldn’t have wanted to be seen as the ‘bad guys’ in this and pogroms, all out pogroms would have been a short cut to that. That said, I don’t for a second doubt that the capacity for pogroms is in every population…

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  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 15 Jul 2008 17:57:28

    Yeah, but it is most likely that had any pogroms occurred in the north, then ones carried out by Catholics would have been going on at the same time as ones in which they were the victim elsewhere. It really would have been open civil war. But cleansing can occurr on a smaller and more long term scale. As the residents of Torrens Avenue in north Belfast can attest. I think we’re in agreement.

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  • By: Starkadder Tue, 15 Jul 2008 18:24:23

    Appartenly, Socialists Against Nationalism were active
    from 1978-84. A Google Book Search revealed the
    organisation is briefly mentioned in
    “Troublesome Business: The Labour Party and the Irish Question”
    by Geoffrey Bell.
    WBS, if you go to the local library (or have deep pockets)
    then the Irish Times Digital Archive can be searched for
    info about groups like SAN, CPI (ML), OSF etc.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 15 Jul 2008 19:09:21

    I’ll give it a look at the library.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 15 Jul 2008 19:10:45

    Here’s a question G. Were there ever mass evictions in Newry or other towns close to the border? I mean short term rapid ones?

    Just Belfast, in the event of a true civil war, would have been utterly isolated from a hope of respite from the South. And what would the BA be doing in all this?

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  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 15 Jul 2008 19:35:18

    There were certainly large movements across the border right at the very start, and not all from Belfast, though largely from it. For example, a lot of women, children and the old moved out of Derry but not the population as a whole. Belfast Catholics certainly would have been vulnerable, but some more than others. The UDA document I referred to earlier mentioned places like Bawnmore on the outskirts of north Belfast I think, and the Short Strand and possibly the Markets would have been overrun. On the other hand large parts of west Belfast would have been relatively defensible, at least in the short term. Obviously the British army would have decided things one way or the other there, by either standing by. moving in to ‘pacify’, or trying to prevent attacks.

    I think though this was only a realistic prospect in 1969, but the UWC could have developed that way, and there have been examples of isolated communities being repeatedly attacked up to this day.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 15 Jul 2008 20:28:04

    A close friend and his family left Belfast for Dublin in the late 60s and never returned. I was always struck by the vulnerability of the situation he/they described. Interesting isn’t it how the BA was seen as the last resort/refuge…

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  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 15 Jul 2008 20:40:37

    Yeah the army served that purpose in August 1969. Which says a lot about the nature of the unionist state.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 16 Jul 2008 06:51:22

    To put it mildly.

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  • By: Ken MacLeod Wed, 16 Jul 2008 12:41:56

    Starkadder # 17: I don’t think COBI was strictly De Leonist. They admired the early-20th-century British SLP as sort of proto-Leninists, and reprinted William Paul’s _The State: its Origin and Function_. (William Paul was an SLP and later CP member.) But COBI kept a lot of BICO’s ‘anti-revisionist’ politics and added some oddities of their own. A somewhat less strange goup called Communist Formation may have come out of COBI. I guess Paul Cockshott is the guy to ask about all this.

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  • By: Ken MacLeod Wed, 16 Jul 2008 13:00:38

    I should add that Paul Cockshott’s political and economic ideas are elaborated here and are of great interest and originality.

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  • By: Starkadder Wed, 16 Jul 2008 18:42:23

    Thank you for the information, Ken. According to
    Wikipedia, the noted Welsh historian Gwyn Williams
    (aka Gwyn Alf Williams) was a
    COBI member as well.

    I knew of Williams from his book “When was Wales?” and
    his BBC documentaries on King Arthur.

    I have read some of Cockshott’s work and agree that
    it is interesting and well-written.

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  • By: Paul Cockshot Sat, 09 Aug 2008 22:32:54

    Gwyn WIlliams was a member of COBI, as were my recent co-authors Allin Cottrell and Greg Michaelson. The split leading to Communist Formation occured over whether it was correct to enter into alliance with Big Flame to stand candidates against the Labour Party in elections. Those of us who went into CF thought it was worth doing, but the huge gap between our Leninism and Big Flames ideology meant that the project eventually foundered.
    was the document which codified our differences with COBI

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  • By: Starkadder Sun, 10 Aug 2008 00:15:17

    Thanks for giving us some information about the
    little-known COBI, Mr. Cockshot.
    I known some members of the Big Flame group were
    later involved in the unsuccessful left-wing
    newspaper “News on Sunday”.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sun, 10 Aug 2008 10:27:46

    Thanks Paul. Big Flame are sort of mythic figures on the left, rightly or wrongly 🙂 . Great link too… Much appreciated. Still, that’s some gap you guys tried to bridge…

    I have that book on the News on Sunday, can’t remember who wrote it, and I’m not certain as to its accuracy, but it’s a great read and does get a real flavour of the time… if you want Starkadder I can send it to you…

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