Socialist Digest, No. 1
Organisation: The Workers' Party
Publication: Socialist Digest
Issue:Number 1
Summer 1991
Type:Publication Issue
View: View Document
Discuss:Comments on this document

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

25th April 2011

This is a pamphlet which was edited by a range of members of the Worker’s Party albeit interestingly that is not indicated upon it, and printed by party press Repsol . Those involved were: John O’Neill, Aidan Hughes, Fearghal Ross, Orla O’Connor, Joe Ruddock, Colm Breathnach.

It’s intention is detailed on the back cover:

Socialist Digest is a review containing articles from various left journals which are largely inaccessable to Irish readers. The intention of the compilers is to stimulate debate and discussion on the left in Ireland. The Digest is a cooperative, non profit-making venture which is published on a quarterly basis: Any suggestions with regard to the inclusion of specific articles are welcome.

Notable is the sense that this was very slightly apart from the Workers’ Party.

The essays and articles collected within are introduced on the Contents page by short descriptions. For example:

In “Preface to Chaos” Boris Kagerletsky, a former dissident and now a leadership figure n the new Russian Socialist Party outlines the crisis situation that the USSR finds itself in and attempts to interpret the intellectual background to the present chaos.


In “Crisis of Socialism or Crisis of the State?” Simon Clarke argues that the left must break decisively with the statism of the fallen Eastern European regimes.

And it concludes with…

Finally, in a thought-provoking article, Andre Gorz outlines what he sees as the main elements of a New Agenda for the Socialist movement in the advanced capitalist world-centred around the limitation of economic rationality.

Given that the first incarnation of the formation that split from the Workers’ Party barely a twelve months later used the name ‘New Agenda’ one wonders is there a conceptual linkage.

It is telling that Gorz is included, as is a contribution by the ‘Socialist Ecological’ group Sera, a clear opening to red green philosophy.

And added to that it is clear that this is positioned directly on anti-market, anti-statist and anti-orthodox Marxist ideological terrain, though one that is to the left of social democracy, and can be seen as an attempt to delineate that terrain for the Workers’ Party during this period.

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  • By: Colm B Mon, 25 Apr 2011 20:09:57

    As WBS indicates I was one of the editors of the publication. I have indicated before that a number of members and ex-members of WPY had begun to develop a broad political position distinct from both the emerging social democracy of the parliamentarians and the stalinism of the old guard at this time. Our position was confused, left-euro-communism or something like that. We were not a coherent faction just a bucnh of individuals who wanted to have an impact on the opening debate in the party.

    Socialist Digest was aimed at influencing that debate. We hoped that by reprinting articles from various left journals (NLR, Monthly Review etc.) we could show that the choice was not confined to either social-democracy or stalinism. The only reason we managed to get Repsol (the WP publishing coompany) to publish it was that F. Ross managed to persuade his father (P. De Rossa) that we should have the right to do so. It definitely wasn’t an official party publication nor did it have the support of the parliamentary wing. The ‘New Agenda’ article title is entirely conicidental, though the choice of Gorx’s article indicates our ideological confusion. I think we brought out about three issues but I’m not certain.
    JON might add or subtract from my hazy memories!

    Again, as Ive already indicated, the loose grouping that was behind this publication did not survive the split in the WP. Some of us went with DL, some stayed in the WP. Later on some of us were involved in forming the ISN. It is my opinion that if the WP had remained united for a few more years that we could have built a serious radical left grouping…who knows?

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  • By: RepublicanSocialist1798 Mon, 25 Apr 2011 20:45:46

    It’s certainly an interesting publications. That Sera article was pretty spot on about Green Politics generally speaking being more influential in wealthier more developed countries in Western Europe. Here it would mean being supported (well certainly with the case of the Green Party) by the more urbane and wealthier sections of society (look at the constituencies where the Green Party held seats)

    The one thing about the 92 split was that it occurred at the worst possible time (same year as a general election).
    It would be interesting to see what would have happened if it remained as it was or the old guard decided that reform was necessary and would’ve supported the motion.

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  • By: HAL Mon, 25 Apr 2011 21:26:34

    In reply to RepublicanSocialist1798.

    It seems to me that the New guard didn’t seek reform but rather the abandomement of the Republican/Socialist nature of the WP. Members in the North were abandoned and pretty soon all vestiges of Republicanism and later Socialim were sidlined for perceived electoral success.It wouldn’t have taken much convincing for De Rossa to agree to this journal,when you consider the revisionism that was being published in “Making Scense”. The truth is that the old guard was the bulk of the membership and the new guard was precisely that ,an influx of new members aided and abetted by the new general secretary ( a relation of De Rossa )who issued and blocked memberships before the Dun Laoighre special Ard Fheis.

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  • By: Budapestkick Mon, 25 Apr 2011 21:57:52

    In reply to HAL.

    I really couldn’t comment on most of that but I think it seems a bit odd to claim the new guard were composed entirely of recent recruits. De Rossa himself would presumably have been one of the longest serving members of the WP while I’m pretty sure our own WBS was in the DL for a while (I stand to be corrected). I do agree that the proto-DL were well on their way towards a complete abandonment of socialism (look at them now). As for the timing of the split, that’s certainly true but if you look at the completely different directions that the DL and WP respectively took afterwards, it’s hard to see how it could have been avoided.

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  • By: HAL Mon, 25 Apr 2011 22:24:41

    Im not saying that the New Guard was entirely new members but they had been bulked up preceeding the conference and along with the disenfranchisment of many old guard members,read branches they nearly won the day.

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Tue, 26 Apr 2011 08:52:24

    […] The Workers Party (WP): Socialist Digest, Nr. 1, Sommer 1997 (u.a. mit Artikeln von Boris Kargalitzki und Andre […]

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 26 Apr 2011 09:30:50

    In reply to HAL.

    Except F. Ross and Colm and myself (though I was just an ordinary WP member and not part of any group even of likeminded individuals) had been members of the party through the 1980s IIRC (I joined in the early 80s). So by that metric, and I would have strongly identified with the thrust of the above document in terms of being Marxist but shifting away from orthodox Marxism and incorporating and engaging with other areas (particularly red/green thinking), which ‘new’ guard are people talking about?

    But I think that’s to try to formalise what were pretty loose alliances. Some people I’d have considered reform minded stayed with the party, others who were less so went with DL. Personalities played a much greater role than might be imagined.

    There’s also other aspects. The whole ‘reform’ stuff was totally overblown. the party had already staked out a position ahead of the collapse of the Easter bloc that was essentially euro-communist (though I think documents like this were a great shift towards adding some weight to that, if only the party had been more open to it). Given that all the factions were represented all the way up to leadership level it seems perverse that there had to be some great split to codify it in party formation terms.

    Re DL. Well, I don’t think you’d find either Colm or indeed myself disagreeing that it was shedding socialism.

    But then both Colm and myself left the DL at or before coalition.

    Personally I was very very unconvinced by the headlong rush out of the WP, not mrerely does it appear to me to have been a tactical and strategic error of massive proportions in terms of a self-inflicted wound on a viable working class party, it smacked of people who weren’t willing to stand their ground, particularly when they had a majority of opinion, or were willing to make a long argument, and in that respect I believe that they were utterly opportunistic. And no surprise to see them wind up in the LP hardly a decade later.

    I should add one further point. On the Republican/Socialist axis you mention HAL. What Republican axis in 1989? The Party, bar some ritualistic stuff at Bodenstown had shed that long before the split in functional terms. It used to drive me mad how little sense of our own history people inside the party had, even long-standing members, and little or none for many new recruits.

    Indeed it was only after the split that there was a sort of coming to terms, however slowly, in the party at least as far as I can make out, with that past and a stronger emphasis on Republican language and thinking.

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  • By: HAL Tue, 26 Apr 2011 11:25:48

    In reply to HAL.

    Get a copy of this pamphlet.

    Patterns of Betrayal,
    The Flight from Socialism (1992) Workers Party CEC €2.50 HQ
    If anything those that remained were guilty of not fighting their corner much earlier.

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  • By: Mark P Tue, 26 Apr 2011 14:05:23

    This is a very interesting document, not so much because of the merits of the articles included but more because of how it came to be published.

    As Colm says, it is politically confused. Most of the articles presented are internally more or less consistent, but they aren’t politically consistent with each other. Collectively they seem to represent a reaching out for an alternative rather than actually being an alternative.

    The timing is particularly interesting. This is a first issue and it came out in Summer 1991, which would have been in the period when previously surreptitious factional activity had come out into the open. Colm says that there were two more issues published – does anyone know what they contained and when they came out? The third issue must have come out very soon before the split.

    I’ve a couple of questions about this for Colm and John (or anyone else who knows):

    1) As I understand it, the people behind this (or some of them) were involved in meetings with many of the people who would go on to lead the New Agenda / Democratic Left split. Unfortunately someone has borrowed my copy of TLR so I can’t check, but I think these meetings took place in a leading party figure’s house. Did this magazine stem from an early understanding that the leaders of the NA/DL faction had different, less radical, aims than the people who ended up putting this out?

    Or to put in another way, how consciously was this stuff directed against the views of De Rossa / Gilmore / Rabbitte etc?

    2) It’s notable that all of the material both comes from people outside of Ireland and doesn’t directly address Ireland. Why was that? Was it a tactical decision to avoid engaging with the views of the Irish left outside the WP to avoid being dismissed as disloyal? Or was it that the people involved shared the WPs contempt for the rest of the left? Or was it that there wasn’t all that much agreement between the people involved in the first place and therefore a certain level of remove and abstraction was necessary to stop them rowing with each other?

    3) Did the later issues ever more directly address Ireland or more directly advocate particular strategies for the Workers Party?

    4) Who sold these and who were they sold to? Were they sold by the Workers Party bookshop for instance? Were they primarily for circulation inside the party? How did the Stalinist faction and the Social Democratic faction react to it?

    5) Finally, why Kerala?

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  • By: HAL Tue, 26 Apr 2011 16:37:46

    In reply to Mark P.

    Just who were the Stalinists in the WP at the time,are they still there or have they left.

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  • By: Mark P Tue, 26 Apr 2011 16:47:17

    In reply to HAL.


    When I mentioned the “Stalinist faction”, I was using it as a shorthand for the people who supported continuing with the Workers Party structure and politics as they had existed to that point. As opposed to the “Social Democratic faction” who wanted to dissolve the Workers Party or reconstitute it as a social democratic party to the left of Labour.

    What’s interesting about this document is that it seems to represent a nascent third faction, who wanted the Workers Party to change but didn’t want it to become an outright social democratic organisation. What they did want it to become isn’t clear to me, and I get the impression that it wasn’t entirely clear to them either.

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  • By: HAL Tue, 26 Apr 2011 17:13:57

    Mark P
    Workers Party members regard being called stalinist a lazy insult.
    Your right about this being a third faction,and the term, Third way was often bandied about..Whats interesting is that Colm B also used the term Stalinist to describe the WP although I cant find any document or speech where the WP said they are Stalinist.It just seems that if you have a beef with the WP you call them Stalinist ah well Sticks and Stones.

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  • By: Mark P Tue, 26 Apr 2011 17:27:26

    In reply to HAL.


    Of course “Stalinist” can be used as a content-free insult but I wasn’t using it as such. Stalinism does actually exist. It’s a political movement stemming from one of the major splits in the world Communist movement and involving support for the following (amongst other things):

    1) A “stages theory” of revolution
    2) Popular Fronts
    3) Socialism in one country
    4) A party structure based on that of the CPSU
    5) Some or all of the Stalinist dictatorships

    The Workers Party did not describe itself as Stalinist, but very few Stalinists ever used that term themselves. It did however support all of the “classic” positions of Stalinism as a political movement.

    I don’t mean to divert this discussion away from the document however.

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  • By: Colm B Tue, 26 Apr 2011 20:00:59

    Mark – interesting questions, I’m a a bit swamped at work at the mo but I will try to answer these soon as I get a chance.

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  • By: Guyana plunder update – REPSOL oil spill any day now « propaganda press! Thu, 09 Jun 2011 17:10:40

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