The Socialist Labour League and Irish Marxism (1959 – 1973): A Disastrous Legacy
Organisation: League for a Workers Republic
Author:Dermot Whelan
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Discuss:Comments on this document
Subjects: Socialist Labour League

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

7th January 2008

Here, for your reading pleasure, is a document issued in 1973 by the League for a Workers’ Republic entitled: The Socialist Labour League and Irish Marxism (1959 - 1973): A Disastrous Legacy.

Believe it or not there is a sort of BICO connection which I’ll get to in a moment… Still, in order to understand the history that led to this document and what it contained it is necessary to give a brief overview of one branch of Trotskyist thinking in Ireland.

wiki  gives a good history, but for those of you disinterested in following the link here is a potted outline. The LWR was a split from the UK based Irish Workers Group which had split from the Irish Communist Group. That was a straight Maoist/Trotskyist split between the redoubtable B. Clifford and others such as Sean Matgamna (who I have a most interestingly linked piece of material for the archive which I’ll put up in a couple of weeks). The LWR started up apparently due to unease at the way in which London was the base of the IWG. Matgamna was onside, but eventually left for the UK and fame and fortune (of sorts).

Various luminaries sallied back and forth and were part of or close to the LWR including a young Paddy Healy later of the TUI (and recent candidate for the Senate… Rumour has it that Seamus Healy, apparently his brother, was also involved. Anyone care to substantiate that?). Carol Coulter was also a name that cropped up.

Still, the Socialist Labour League? How did that enter the equation? Well, the SLL was, as a perusal of the document posted here will tell you, the precursor of Gerry Healy’s infamous Workers Revolutionary Party (by the by, in retrospect reading about the ferocious level of ‘activism’ demanded of your average WRP member it was of the sort to make even the most seasoned WP activist blanch!) that had some members in Belfast and sought to extend its franchise into the Republic. In doing so it encountered the LWR, attempted to combine with it, and the upshot is recorded in a somewhat less than fraternal analysis presented here.

So one will see allegations of ‘secret factions’ (p.6)… An individual on the SLL side who ‘led a life of petty-bourgeois bohemianism as student at Trinity College Dublin’ (p.8)… Charges of the ‘two-nations theory of the LWR’ and references to ‘groups won from OSF in Derry and Dublin’ (p.13) and a clear split on an approach to the North at the very point where it was spiraling out of control - note the way in which the approach to McStiofains arrest becomes a litmus test of revolutionary spirit. Indeed for all the claims and counter claims of Pablo-ite heresy (interestingly in relation to contacts between the Officials and the SLL (p.9) ) or otherwise it is this latter which I suspect is the real issue here, in that the SLL was seen as a carpetbagger.

The LWR is fascinating for having tenuous links at various times both with Gerry Healy and also the International Marxist Group although these links tended to lead to splits in what was presumably quite a small membership. That this dynamic was repeated appears to have somewhat escaped those at the coal face.

Later in the 1970s the LWR entered that most remarkable of Irish left parties, the Socialist Labour Party of Matt Merrigan and Noel Browne, before ultimately faded away. Others apparently associated with it include Alex White, now a Labour Senator

And as for Dermot Whelan whose name is on this document? Why - according to wiki - he went and joined Sinn Féin. Of course!

Incidentally, I don’t want to sound snide about the LWR. However super-heated the language they at least had the good sense to note some relevant issues on the ground.

More from League for a Workers Republic

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 08 Jan 2008 22:32:46

    That’s him then… he hated the WP… or so we were told. Nah, I guess he just hated them…

    I was at Greendale in the late 70s and I know of two in Greendale who were DSP members (they went onto no small measure of fame 😉 )… but I don’t recall any LWR people there. Oddly enough my old English teacher told me years later that he’d been in OSF and then onto SFWP…

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  • By: dilettante Tue, 08 Jan 2008 22:41:24

    Don’t forget a lot of people hated the WP back then 🙂
    The LWR people in Greendale would have been around more in the mid/late 80s (and they were young enough not to have been there in the late 70s).

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 09 Jan 2008 07:50:18

    I’ll have to find out more about this. I’m very intrigued…

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  • By: Starkadder Wed, 09 Jan 2008 18:26:30

    “I don’t recognise Starkadder/O’Connor Lysaght’s notion of two-nationism from anything going on at that time. And it is certainly not backed up by the document. Statkadder, are you sure there is not a bit of a mix-up with the Irish Workers Group in your linked page?”

    I don’t know, Dilettante. I don’t know much about the
    LWR & IWG, and I simply assumed D.R.O’C L was
    correct. Maybe he mixed up the two groups.
    Or maybe the IWG developed a similar analysis
    to the B&ICO independently.
    However, I still think Lysaght’s critique of the
    2-nationists is valid.

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  • By: Joe Thu, 10 Jan 2008 17:12:56

    I taught my HDip hours in Greendale in 1980-81. A few years later an ex-SWP man said to me that there was an LWR woman in that school. I had an idea at the time who it might have been but I’ve forgotten the name!
    I do remember a strongly nationalist/republican few on the staff – that was the time of the hunger strikes. One teacher came in with a black armband after a hunger strike death. The story went that some parents complained and the principal passed on the complaints. She came in the next day in black from head to toe.
    Have I told this story before on CLR?!!

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 10 Jan 2008 18:34:06

    No, but I think I know the teacher you are talking about re the hunger strikes. A good teacher.

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Sun, 13 Jan 2008 15:45:34

    There’s an interesting story behind the Healyites’ links with Ireland. Back in the 60s the SLL had a bit of a youth following in Belfast (including a young Tom Paulin!) who used to hang around in leather jackets looking hard. After the Troubles broke out they turned towards a shy and retiring disposition.

    And in fact they survived quite a while. When the WRP imploded in 85-86 the Irish group stuck its head above the parapet to support the Cliff Slaughter faction. They even carried on into the 90s IIRC before dissolving in murky circumstances.

    Still, I’m intrigued by the AWL doc.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sun, 13 Jan 2008 16:29:41

    I’ll forward it to you over the next week or so (it’s huge and in two parts) and you can cast an eye over it. If you’re interested in making any comments that’d be great… or as I think I said in an email (I’m presuming I’m using the correct one on your website) posting it on both here and ss…

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  • By: dilettante Sun, 13 Jan 2008 19:41:37


    “There’s an interesting story behind the Healyites’ links with Ireland.”

    Is that not more the Gerry Healyites than the Paddy Healyites?

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Mon, 14 Jan 2008 09:39:38

    Yeah, the Gerry Healyites. And of course the two intersected a bit from time to time. Then again, there’s the story of Paddy Healy’s sock drawer…

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  • By: Seán Ó Tuama Fri, 10 Oct 2008 15:44:32

    A very late intervention in this debate as I have just seen this document. Thr LWR, of which I was a very briefly a member in 1970, then had a two nationalities theory which differed from the two nations theory in that they also supported the the right of self determination of the nationalist minority in the six counties ie to join the Republic (effectively repartition).This line was opposed by most YS members in Dublin,, including me, who took a line supporting the national struggle, eventually leading to a split, most of those leaving forming the RMG. Seamus Healy was an LWR member.

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  • By: Left Archive: “James Connolly and the struggle for Marxism in Ireland” – Article from The Labour Review, monthly journal of the Workers Revolutionary Party (UK) c.1981 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Mon, 22 Nov 2010 07:41:19

    […] The Left Archive already has a piece of documentation from the WRP itself and the WRP linked Workers League and an interesting analysis critiquing the involvement of the SLL/WRP in Irish Marxism from the League for a Workers’ Republic. […]

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Mon, 22 Nov 2010 11:09:05

    Vance was a Belfast TUist. Last I heard he was involved in solidarity with Bosnia, shipping releif to Tuzla to a workers committee there. The SLL group in Belfast were from a protestant background.

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  • By: PJ Wed, 09 Feb 2011 13:10:45

    Any chance we could get a few copies of the LWR newsletter from around 87 to 89. I recall elaborate justifications of the RSF side of the split. Anyone?

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Wed, 09 Feb 2011 14:04:21

    The LWR made a premature judgement on Adams calling him the new McGiolla.This would anticipate many of the criticisms made later of implementing tory cuts by being part of the admin. in the North.As far as I can recall there was not a criticism of the ceasefire as such

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  • By: Conor McCabe Wed, 09 Feb 2011 15:00:47

    In reply to Jim Monaghan.

    I interviewed Jackie Vance as part of the oral history archive, Jim. Last September. A very interesting man, I have to say.

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  • By: PJ Thu, 10 Feb 2011 00:24:23

    I’m thinking of the period before the ceasefire, they put out some fascinating stuff around the SF split. It would be a useful and nostalgic addition to the archive

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  • By: PJ Sun, 27 Feb 2011 01:48:21

    I’ll dig these out and scan them to post here next time I’m back in Ireland – in 2012.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sun, 27 Feb 2011 08:05:58

    In reply to PJ.

    That would be brilliant PJ.

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  • By: Left Archive: “Torture Casebook – The Ulster Dossier, Socialist Labour League [later Workers Revolutionary Party], October 1971. « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Mon, 26 Mar 2012 02:24:08

    […] The Left Archive already has a piece of documentation from the WRP itself and the WRP linked Workers League and an interesting analysis critiquing the involvement of the SLL/WRP in Irish Marxism from the League for a Workers’ Republic… […]

    Reply on the CLR