Unfree Citizen, Vol. 4, No. 29
Date:9th June 1975
Organisation: People's Democracy
Publication: Unfree Citizen
Issue:Volume 4, Number 29
View: View Document
Discuss:Comments on this document
Subjects: Northern Ireland Consititutional Convention, 1975 United Kingdom European Communities membership referendum, 1975

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

5th October 2009

Although there is People’s Democracy material in the Archive this document, donated by Mark P and the Socialist Party - for which many thanks, provides a useful snapshot of their less theoretical promotion from the mid-1970s. Unfree Citizen is printed in much the same format as the United Irishman, an off-A3 size. Note the use of the colour green and the subheading, For a 32 Co. Workers’ and Small Farmers’ Republic. The use of a full size photograph taking up the cover depicting Loyalist paramilitary groups marching, under the headline Loyalists Set Up Army Council, and with a further footer “On the Brink - Unite and Fight” is a striking political and visual configuration.

The accompanying article is on page 3 and details in slightly less extravagant language political moves within Loyalism which it argues means that ‘we are on the brink of a Loyalist takeover in the North which would put Craig and Paisley in power, give the assassins of the UDA etc. A freehand, and institute the most savage system of repression since the 1920s’

One clear sense from the newspaper is that of an activist party. So there are short articles about PD members being arrested and charged due to their involvement in campaigns and, in one instance, found carrying a list of MRF and British Army surveillance unit cars. This reinforces a sense of a party that is strongly at odds with the state.

There’s also an overview of the results of the Northern Convention and how this affects the balance of power amongst Loyalism and Unionism in the North. The footnote to that article is of particular note where it takes to task Sinn Féin and An Phoblacht…arguing ‘the idea of an alliance between Republicans and Orange extremists dies hard’. There’s also an interesting piece on the last page about a miscommunication on the subject of the EEC referendum within the party.

International affairs are also covered with reports on Argentina which links the situation with death squads to the UVF, UDA and UFF and the situation in Vietnam, which at that point in time had ended in victory for the NLF. All told a professional publication.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 05 Oct 2009 21:25:00

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    Ah, okay, I see what you mean about the numbers and the overlap, presumably which would have driven the push into SF the following decade – no? And the political, well maybe not vacuum, but whatever on that side as regards SF allowed them to operate politically.

    Re sects. That’ll get me reading. 🙂 I’ve never read Cannon and I really should. It makes sense too. I wonder, just as a rule of thumb, whether if a movement has more than one ideological strand, say Marxism and Republicanism, or whatever, does that predicate against sect like behaviour because it captures, so to speak, too many people for behaviour or ideology to be too easily reducible to too simple formulas. Would that tally with the spectrum concept?

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Mon, 05 Oct 2009 22:09:35

    I think isolation is an important thing too. The way the two Communist Parties were very different animals. The Dublin party being more intellectual, also smaller and more isolated, which is probably why they were more rigidly Stalinist. The Belfast CP has tended to function much more like a small labour party.

    Different strands can’t hurt though. This is where The Lost Revolution has been a bit of an eye-opener, because I knew the WP was very different north and south, but for a party that was supposed to be strictly democratic centralist it’s amazing how many strands were operating, ideological, occupational, geographical. It shouldn’t be a surprise, because I keep bringing up the fluidity in the Provos – at least the more political side – and how the ideological line depended on which individual volunteered to write an article.

    Wohlforth has a segment in The Prophet’s Children where he talks about how parties don’t just have programmes but also personalities, and I think that’s a useful way of looking at it.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 06 Oct 2009 09:36:30

    In reply to splinteredsunrise.

    Yeah, that rings very true re isolation. It’s the old thing of how even kicking against an environment the environment will kick back and shape you. There’s a question, was the Belfast CP bigger than the Dublin one?

    That’s pretty much what I took away from it, how at every phase the idea of the WP as a monolithic entity was just simply wrong. Granted some of the strands were elite strands, but look Joe who comments here and I were in the same branch and yet we’d have had and still do considerable divergences on issues. I’ve said before I knew of a couple of Trotskyist influenced members even late into the 80s (movement loyalty I suspect played a part there…).

    ARgghhh… another book for me to read… Charlie Brooker had a piece on that in yesterday’s Guardian. Very true I thought. By the by I’m re-reading Christopher Lasch, one of the US populists. Neither left nor right… erm… Interesting, if deeply flawed stuff. Ever check out his stuff? Reminds me of Fennell… to an extent.

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Tue, 06 Oct 2009 11:32:29

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    I do still enjoy reading Fennell, and I’ve a piece of his from the 80s that I might transcribe and put up…

    Yes, the diversity of the WP is something that needs to be brought out. I mean, if you were in Dublin and you thought of a WP politician you might think first of Mac Giolla or de Rossa; the first person to come to my mind would probably be Sullivan; out west you would have had Joe Sherlock or Seamus Rodgers, who were very different figures again. And below that at branch level, even more so.

    The CP has traditionally been bigger in Belfast than Dublin, and they probably still have a couple of hundred solid supporters in the north. Mainly Protestant too – I know Jimmy Stewart came from quite a tough Presbyterian background. That was probably the big attraction of the CPNI for people like Goulding in the 60s I suppose, a path into that elusive Protestant working class.

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  • By: Colm B Tue, 06 Oct 2009 14:49:58

    I think ‘sect’ and ‘cult’ are overlapping but distinct terms: obviously the term sect, politically, denotes a small isolated group cut adrift from life in general while the term cult indicates something more sinister, big or small, an organisation which really dominates and a persons whole life in the manner of a religious grouping such as the Scientologists, Moonies etc.

    My own take on this is that while there are genuine left cults (The Spartacists etc.), these are fairly rare. On the other hand a number of left groups display some cult-like features to a greater or lesser degree. I would think that the key features to look for are:

    A small number (sometimes one) of internally unchallengeable ideological gurus.
    A propensity to pressure members into constant high-octane activity.
    A lack of real, ongoing internal debate at a grassroots level.
    Differences of opinion at a leadership level dealt with via splits and expulsions.
    An almost evangelical faith in the coming revolution based on the view that all that is needed is a bit more hard work by members.
    A propensity to gobble up members time and to deliberately, or as a side product of this time-snathching, largely reduce the individuals social cirlce to fellow-members.
    And so on..

    Now movements can display some of these features but not be a cult and movements can transform form cult-like to just common or garden left. Size matters of course in that it is easier to impose these features in a small group, but that does not mean that you can’t get large left-cults..Healy’s WRP being a good example.
    Ironicaly you can have very authoritarian/rigid party’s which are not cults probably because of their mass membership: the classic western European stalinist parties such as the PCF being good examples.

    I have’nt read Wohlforths work but Ive come across Dennis Tourish’s material on this topic which is interesting. But both have other fish to fry in this regards: Tourish was a member of the CWI (Militant) in Ireland and, as far as I know, Wohlforth was a leader of the Sparts in the 1960s. They have both studied political cults as part of their academic work, which does not mean its not of value, but might have an impact on how they view these things.

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  • By: NollaigO Tue, 06 Oct 2009 17:18:40

    Wohlforth was a leader of the Sparts in the 1960s

    Even worst than the Sparts- Gerry Healy’s US franchise!

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  • By: Mark P Tue, 06 Oct 2009 17:35:27

    He was a leader of both, sort of. Wohlforth was a leader of the Revolutionary Tendency of the American SWP, the body which became the Sparts.

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  • By: Chuck D Wed, 07 Oct 2009 12:36:16

    Was the PD of 1968-69 very different from the PD of this newspaper?
    Have reviewers of the Lost Revolution noted this diversity mentioned above?

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Wed, 07 Oct 2009 15:09:49

    Whether PD changed is a matter of viewpoint. One leader of PD in the old days feels strongly that Lost Revolution took too much of the Sticky viewpoint on the struggles within NICRA.
    PD last big intervention was the H-Block/Armagh movement where they played a pivitol role in persuadibg the Shinners to adopt a mass action approach mobilising large numbers in support of the prisoners.

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  • By: Mark P Wed, 07 Oct 2009 16:20:15

    I’d have thought that the fact that PD changed dramatically wouldn’t be particularly controversial. It started out as a broad, even chaotic student movement but by the time of this publication it was a smaller but more stable political group.

    If I have the timeline right, at this point it was just about to merge with the Movement for a Socialist Republic and become the Irish section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International – ie it was explicitly adopting Trotskyism of a sort.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Wed, 07 Oct 2009 18:48:32

    By the time it merged with the MSR/RMG it has moved away from the Loyalist Takeover and the premises which flowed from it. This was the strategy that flowed from the document “Mass Action Vs Militarism”.
    Initially the fused groupd did not join the FI, that came later.

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  • By: Frankly Mr. Shankly Wed, 07 Oct 2009 19:19:31

    Is it true some wanted a Citizens Army set up at that time Jim?

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Wed, 07 Oct 2009 19:40:09

    IIRC the merger was 1978 and the international affiliation was at the 1981 World Congress. 1975 would have been a transitional phase, after the physical force wing had departed to the IRSP but before the loyalist fascism thesis was abandoned. I think it’s fair to say that PD had a very strong empiricist bent – Farrell’s line was more or less that the UDA walked like a duck and quacked like a duck, therefore it was a mass fascist movement. That probably reached its peak around the UWC strike, which on the other hand the BICO reckoned to be a basically sound movement of the insurgent working class.

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  • By: Mark P Wed, 07 Oct 2009 20:31:03

    Speaking of PD, I see that their successor organisation has a rather bile filled (even by their standards) response to the Lisbon results. Has anyone ever considered commending the merits of Alka-Seltzer to John?


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  • By: Frankly Mr. Shankly Wed, 07 Oct 2009 20:51:30

    I often read their blog and it does give the impression that nothing, absolutely NOTHING would ever make them happy.

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  • By: Mark P Wed, 07 Oct 2009 22:02:40

    Crotchety doesn’t even start to describe it. It’s sort of like a political group consisting entirely of Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau.

    Even by their standards though that article is a gem. Just sheer bile and not even particularly coherent with it.

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  • By: John O'Neill Thu, 08 Oct 2009 08:39:20

    Tourish, Dennis and Wohlforth, Tim On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left
    reviewed by Bob Pitt What Next? No.17


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  • By: Mark P Thu, 08 Oct 2009 13:06:17

    The review’s summary, that the book is “malicious and incoherent” just about sums it up for me. Pitt is also right that Wohlforth’s earlier book, “The Prophet’s Children” was considerably better.

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Fri, 09 Oct 2009 08:57:37

    […] * People’s Democracy: Unfree Citizen, Juli 1975 […]

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Fri, 09 Oct 2009 13:39:40

    On the Citizen Army. I would say that if there had been Loyalist encoursions PD and it’s supporters would not have been found lacking. As a then member of the MSR I can say this wothout claiming anything.

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