Ireland and the Socialist Countries
Date:January 1986
Organisation: The Workers' Party
Contributor: Info
Seán Garland
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

9th August 2010

This document, Ireland and the Socialist Countries, taken from a speech by Sean Garland in 1986, presents an uncompromising picture of Workers’ Party support for the Soviet bloc. It argues that:

Ireland does not exist and as we well know, cannot exist in isolation from the struggle of the two socio-economic systems, Capitalism and Socialism, in the world today. Irealnd falls within the field of gravitation of these systems with each one having its own specific influence. Up to very recently and in most areas of Irish society still, it has been the conservative, reactionary forces that have directed and aligned Ireland on the side of capitalism.

From there the text suggests that post-war foreign policy in the west was shaped to ‘bleed the Soviet economy dry, to force the Soviet Union to devote valuable and scarce resources to defence’. It argues that the Soviet Union and ‘socialist’ countries were sincere in peace and references proposals by them for disarmament.

But it argues that ‘there can be no neutrals’ in a conflict between Capitalism and Socialism. And it explicitly identifies with ‘National Liberation Struggles’ and posits that without Soviet influence and assistance many would have failed.

Under the heading ‘The Central Question’ it proposes that…

… It is clear that when we talk about Ireland and the socialist countries and our attitude to them we are in fact talking about a good deal more. We are talking about our attitude to the entire revolutionary scene in the world. For us there can be no middle ground in the struggle to abolish capitalism and achieve socialism. It is, and I repeat, essential for us who are living under capitalism that we look beyond what the media in our society report about socialism and the socialist countries.

And goes further, while diverting into an attack on ‘the Trotsky tradition’, and argues for a complete identification with the Socialist Countries.

As a summation of the WP point of view at this time it is useful, however it is striking how relatively late in the day it is. Consider that in the Soviet Union the first measures implemented under Perestroika and Glasnost were coming to the fore. Consider too that the WP although clearly sympathetic to Soviet style Marxism still remained somewhat distinct from it. And it is worth noting that within a few short months disarmament talks would, largely, succeed.

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  • By: fergal Wed, 11 Aug 2010 15:16:47

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    WbS,I think you’ve touched on a really important political issue which is essentially wishing for yourself what you would wish other people to have.It links in to Jim’s comments on certain people glorifying tower blocks abroad and criticising local examples.For some people on the Left council housing,public healthcare,transport that calls itself public,state schools are always for other people and rarely if ever for them.
    The failures of Eastern Europe have sullied socialism and continue to do so.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 11 Aug 2010 15:31:38

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    That’s a real problem. The disconnect between say the British Labour Party and their constituents was enormous. And yet, for all their imperfection what of this…

    Another issue is what precisely is going on in Marxist Leninism when we wind up having family concerns kicking into action?

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 11 Aug 2010 15:32:49

    In reply to Jim Monaghan.

    You’d wonder if that dynamic fuelled a hyper loyalty to the USSR then and afterwards? A sort of seeking to prove they were ‘redder than red’, so to speak.

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  • By: Garibaldy Wed, 11 Aug 2010 15:36:37

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    Good thing no-one is advocating mimicking the former socialist states then.

    I spent part of last night watching a documentary about Stalingrad, and then another one about the Battle of Kursk. (Scary to think that the damage done to Stalingrad doesn’t match that done to Pongyang during the Korean War.) There are many things achieved by the former socialist states that we should be grateful for and admire.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 11 Aug 2010 15:50:32

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    No dispute there. There were solid achievements. Also some clear lessons that will assist in the next round of building socialism.

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  • By: Paschal Wed, 11 Aug 2010 22:09:54

    I find some of the comments in this thread quite frankly depressing. Yes the situation within North Korea is bad and the living conditions of its population poor but we cannot disconnect this from the realities of Koreas history and the current extent of alienation that North Korea is subjected to. The preoccupation of those that still label themselves Trotskyists with kicking the last vestiges of any form of socialism in the teeth is remarkable given the history of the left since the fall out from the calapse of socialism in Eastern Europe. The effect of this was to push all remnants of the left , from social democrats to communists to trade unions, to the right or to irrelevance in the repostioning that followed. And yes, that included the Trotskyists parties. Incidentally, in terms of cults of personality and ultra leftist parties, isnt this the pot calling the kettle black? Lets face it, very few of us would like to live in societies where revolutions have taken place. Thats why they had revolutions in the first place. and if they lose their way along the course of time the least that can be expected is a modicum of support from those that consider themselves progressive. If alternatives exist in any countries then of course support them, but blanket critisism only aids those whom would prefer, in the case of North Korea, a larger militarised zone on the border with China.

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  • By: Doloras LaPicho Wed, 11 Aug 2010 23:53:49

    In reply to neilcaff.

    Wikipedia entry on Juche says “the writings of classical Marxism are generally forbidden for lay readers in North Korea”, but that might not be any more reliable than Radio Free Asia.

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  • By: yourcousin Thu, 12 Aug 2010 01:19:30

    In reply to yourcousin.

    Forget mimicking, supporting an empire that did what the USSR did and NK continue to do is a crime in and of itself. This is not the critical support, but saying it is “us” or “them”. That is what is interesting about this document is that multiple decades after the mistakes were made there is still unwavering, vocal, bi-lateral world view. This for me is quite damning as many good folks/unions/campaigns suffered from red baiting here in the states. So to hear someone proclaim the same argument from the other side, is even more disgusting.

    Forget Stalingrad, forget Kursk. Remember the Warsaw ghetto, remember the partition of Poland. Remember the Russian rape of Eastern Europe during their “liberation”. To quote a great line about being grateful, “what’s this ‘we’ shit, kemosabe?”. From a historical, personal, philosophical poin of view I find little to admire or be grateful about in terms of Hitler or Stalin. It is only a shame that Eastern Europe and Russia had to pay for the delusions of two maniacs.

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  • By: Garibaldy Thu, 12 Aug 2010 01:54:13

    In reply to yourcousin.

    Another way of looking at it might be that the mistakes happened decades ago, and didn’t reflect the reality of the situation in the Soviet Union or eastern Europe any more. As for the world view. The reality at the time was that there were two hostile poles. One was the pole of imperialism. One of the pole of trying to build socialism, for all its faults. More often than not, one had to choose one side or the other, particularly when faced with fascism, or movements not that far away from it.

    I certainly won’t ever be convinced that the negative aspects of the USSR’s actions during the era of WWII outweigh the positives.

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  • By: yourcousin Thu, 12 Aug 2010 03:10:42

    In reply to yourcousin.

    The reality at the time as it is today is that we live in a multi-lateral world where those who tell you it is only black or white and only us or them are selling you a load of bullshit. That concept is designed solely to keep people form digging deeper and looking beyond a veneer. Seriously, please explain how the Russians occupying Eastern Europe through force of arms against the wishes of the populace is not Imperialism?

    The point is G that the likes of the WP and the USSR never actually admitted that the things they did wrong were a mistake, let alone wrong in a moral sense. The things that happened were wrong, not in a tactical/strategic sense, but very much in a ethical/moral sense. It goes beyond local or isolated acts which can be contributed to context or a “few bad apples”. That is the point. You cite a Soviet soldier’s sacrifice in Stalingrad as exemplary and yet fail to see how sending the comrade next to him to the Gulag for ten years for privately criticizing Stalin as less worthy of moral judgement. How about the mulitude of Russian soldiers machine gunned by their side, or sent as suicide waves? Is this part of the glorious cause for humanity as well? I do not mean to belittle those sacrifices but do you think that those who undertook those tasks were all fanatics? Those were thinking, feeling, human beings who were murdered by their own government.

    I mean we can come back to the whole Hitler built highways argument. If taken out of an ethical context one could easily dismiss the concentration camps and death camps (two different if overlapping entities) by pointing to the “achievements” of facism. It is not only the ideological repercussions (spelling) of facism which revolt me, but it’s human consequences.

    The golden rule has stood as a universal rule because it strikes a very basic cord. I would like to think that in the new world that we all are attempting to build (in our own ways) is a reflection of the kind of world we ourselves want to live in. I know this may come across as simplistic, but what can I say? I’ve never been able to feed my family on ideology and so haven’t bothered.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 12 Aug 2010 06:45:52

    In reply to Paschal.

    But is that anywhere near the likely outcome? China is no poster child for ML.

    I’ll certainly give critical support in various contexts to various regimes, but I have limits.

    One could also add that one doesn’t have to be a Trotskyist or a social democrat to find it difficult to give anything close to support to NK.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 12 Aug 2010 08:34:21

    In reply to neilcaff.

    That’s a fair point, although the overall thrust of the regime is fairly clear to see.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Thu, 12 Aug 2010 09:22:52

    “I find some of the comments in this thread quite frankly depressing.”
    One I am sure the population of North Korea find it even more depressing.Could I suggest that some people when they find reality depressing, decide to ignore it in favour of living in an alternative reality or in irreality.
    “Always look on the bright side of life”.
    A mirror image in fact of our native rulers, who tell us that things are getting better. Oh, Does anyone remember Berties infamous remark.
    My answer is”the truth will out”

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Thu, 12 Aug 2010 09:25:31

    […] The Workers Party (WP): Ireland and the Socialist Countries […]

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  • By: yourcousin Sat, 14 Aug 2010 00:49:23

    In reply to yourcousin.

    You know G, at some point in the future I’ll return to Ireland. I’ll most likely email before hand and see if you want to grab a pint. No doubt the perpetual debate which we engage in will come up and then there will not be the option to simply ignore it. You may say the same thing but sometime, somewhere, I’ll get an answer from you yet.

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  • By: Garibaldy Sat, 14 Aug 2010 01:17:49

    In reply to yourcousin.

    Definitely let me know if you’re coming. Wasn’t ignoring you. Things slip down the list of comments and get missed. I’m perfectly happy to admit that the USSR, and indeed the WP, made mistakes, or did things that were wrong. Although we might disagree on exactly what those were to some extent anyway. I think the sending to the gulag was wrong, or but that it does not outweigh the positives of the soldiers who fought against Nazism, plus the other achievements.

    As for the suicide waves, or the machinegunning of those who retreated. Nasty and brutal. But the result of desperate times, and not typical of the regime. And it may well have been necessary to defeat the nazis during the most desperate times.

    It’s the human consequences of socialism that interest me too. And I don’t think that the negative human consequences of the struggle to build socialism in the USSR and eastern Europe outweighed the positives, and certainly not to such an extent that the whole thing should have been rejected.

    And I do return to the point that no-one wants to recreate the regimes that existed there, and especially not the extreme measures that were taken during the various wars. And even if they wanted to, the circumstances that led to them do not exist in modern conditions. But I’m also aware that very often, those faced by the Soviets would have done worse to them had they not taken all the necessary steps to defeat them. I feel the same about the Terror in the French Revolution. I don’t think these things were or are inherent in revolutionary politics. The extent of counter-revolutionary activity from domestic and foreign sources seems to me to be a key determinant. Over on Splintered, I mentioned a book called The Furies by Arno Meyer, about violence in the Russian and French Revolutions. I would pretty much adopt his attitude.

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  • By: Logan Sat, 14 Aug 2010 08:00:57

    If you want to learn about life in North Korea, I would recommend a book called “Nothing to Envy – Real Lives in North Korea” by Barbara Demick.

    It is available in DCC public library, and it really shows how messed up the system is there.

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  • By: andy newman Fri, 27 Aug 2010 19:25:07

    In reply to Jim Monaghan.

    “Given a choice of living in South Korea instead of North Korea, give me the South any time.”

    Any time?

    Remember that prior to 1987, South Korea was also a harsh military dictatorship where socialists like ourselves would have ben in danger of imprisonment, torture, etc.

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  • By: The fascination with the Irish "loony left" - Page 8 Fri, 03 Aug 2012 14:16:13

    […] Korea! – Indymedia Ireland And here's a piece on the Worker's Party support for the former USSR: Left Archive: Ireland and the Socialist Countries, taken from a speech by Sean Garland in 1986, Work… Yes, that venerable Irish leftist Sean Garland. We here will have a party when he croaks. And […]

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  • By: Ed Fri, 03 Aug 2012 15:36:50

    In reply to The fascination with the Irish "loony left" – Page 8.

    Ah, good to see the loons are still dipping into this site to rip off its content. A brief glance through the frothing madness of that thread is enough to explain why there’s no traffic in the opposite direction.

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