Ireland: The Socialist Answer
Organisation: Socialist Organiser Alliance
Contributors: Info
Geoff Bell, Seán Matgamna
Collection:The British Left on Ireland
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

6th October 2008

This is not the place, nor is there the time, to chart the unusual history of the groups centred on Sean Matgamna  - himself from County Clare. But here is a document “Ireland: The Socialist Answer” under the Socialist Organiser imprint from June 1989 which seeks to bring their analysis to bear on ‘Ireland’, or more particularly ‘Northern Ireland’. Those of us who have watched the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty  chart its idiosyncratic path in recent years (and those who most likely have seen the same with its predecessors) will recognise some of the same tendency to avoid the usual approaches to these issues. That this may not be an unalloyed good goes almost without saying.

Because of its length this will be posted across two weeks and in two or four parts - for those of you on dial-up who may find downloading very large files too time consuming. Think of it as a beautiful part-work, as the Mail on Sunday tends to put it - although, granted, they’re hardly in the business of disseminating left-wing political material. There are some oddities of the internal organisation of the document so that articles start on the back page and continue on an inside page. To be certain of where you are it is probably best to consult the contents on page 3.

To be honest - and as ever - there is much to like and much not to in this document. It has interesting essays on the various positions of left groups in Ireland and outside. Some of the discussions now seem archaic - many of the formations have either dissolved or moved onto entirely new positions. The overall context has been altered utterly by two decades of history. And yet this has to be one of the most comprehensive, if flawed, attempts to come to terms with the issue of the North.

If my hackles rise at the term ‘Catholic revolt’ used from the contents page, or indeed even the concept of a socialist ‘answer’ as if there is a simple reductionist solution rather than a multi-layered evolutionary process, that is not to say that there is much to think about, even if only in the manner in which the analysis is so subjective.

All that said it is also worth recalling what John O’Sullivan once wrote, amongst other prescient comments, when he noted that:

O’Mahony’s [Matgamna’s] theoretical journal, Workers Liberty, is currently the most stimulating read on the Left and makes one wish that such a keen intelligence could be freed from the constraints of short term factional and organisational appetites. However, the logic of total immersion in domestic Labour Party matters will soon reduce political discussion to Militant bashing, so read it while you can, as the journal is unlikely to maintain its present level for long.

Finally on a slightly different issue, just what was it with further left journals in the UK and Ireland and the various iterations of Gill sans serif? Marxism Today used it, this used it, some WP material used it and others have used it. Yes, I know Gill was socialistically inclined, but even so… When everything starts to look like MT then surely a bit of differentiation is no harm?


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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen Linken - eine Auswahl « Entdinglichung Mon, 06 Oct 2008 09:25:57

    […] Republican Socialist Party (IRSP): Hunger Strike Bulletin, Nr. 1 (1980) * Socialist Organizer: Ireland: The Socialist Answer – Part 1 […]

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Mon, 06 Oct 2008 10:53:01

    Sean was in the original Irish Workers Group with Gery Lawless, Ranor Lysaght, Michael Farrell, Liam Daltun, Eamonn McCann.
    When it split between Lawless on one side and Paddy Healy on the other, Sean had an alliance with Paddys League for a Workers Republic.
    He did an entery in IS and later was in an alliance with Alan Thornets Workers Socialist League. Thornett currently leads the Usec group in Britain.
    If you judge influemce by publication rate Sean is very influential. Funnily he is following the trajectory iof an earlier stalinist split from the IWG or ICG which lead to the ICO nad BICO. He is a 2 nationist on the North and effectively pro Israel.

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  • By: Dunne and Crescendo Mon, 06 Oct 2008 15:08:15

    I remember Socialist Organiser used to be called ‘Zionist Orange-iser’ by various wits of my acquaintance.

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  • By: Dunne and Crescendo Mon, 06 Oct 2008 15:09:42

    Matgamna is not ‘effectively pro-Israel’ Jim; he is just pro-Israel. He supports a ‘pre-emptive’ strike against Iran.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Mon, 06 Oct 2008 15:16:07

    On a footnote he has puiblished an interesting book of Max Schachtmans(probably spelled wrong|) writings. Max S was the effective intellectual leader of American Trotskyism until he began the slow slide to rightwing social democracy.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 06 Oct 2008 16:11:53

    Jim, what is/was he like as a person, did/do you know him….

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 06 Oct 2008 16:20:26

    I think it’s an interesting position he finds himself on Israel. He clearly thinks (and Sullivan noted this) that he has a consistent view which is based in some sort of national rights. I think supporting pre-emptive strikes is bonkers, but I think I know how he arrived there.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Tue, 07 Oct 2008 08:44:46

    Sean was/is very bright and charming. I saw him in action when I was in the LWR. The LWR was leaning to Gerry Healys SLL. It eventually split with a group lead by Dermot Whelan joining the SLL. I went with them. I still have nighmares about Healyism.
    Matgamna argued against. We ignored what was his real experience.
    I met him next in the aftermath of Paddy Grahams funereal. He was friendly with the LWR amnd many in the Saor Eire Milieu.
    I suppose all this derived from the old IWG./ICG.
    At that stage Matgamna was a fan of the American Trotskyist James P. Cannon. (There is a recent bio by Palmer of this great founder of the CPUSA and American Trotskyism. Also a friend of Liam O’Flahertys brother.)

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  • By: ejh Tue, 07 Oct 2008 08:57:30

    but I think I know how he arrived there.

    Well yes, so do I, but the answer is “by applying a formula” which is quite often a way to find yourself in a place you shouldn’t be.

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  • By: NollaigO Thu, 09 Oct 2008 19:34:39

    Seán is one of the two main speakers in a debate in London on the Arab/Israeli conflict this weekend. Dave of the blog, Dave’s Part, describes the situation as follows:

    The other forthcoming ‘must attend’ event is the debate over Israel’s right to nuke Iran, featuring the clash of the Marxist titans Sean Matgamna and Moshe Machover. Yes, it’s comforting to know that – at a time when capitalism really is in crisis and the British National Party is winning hundreds of thousands of votes – the far left is making the best use of its resources. Then again, it’s been ages since we’ve had a good old public Trot bunfight.
    The grudge match takes place on Sunday 12 October at the traditional North London Trot boozer of choice, The Lucas Arms, 245a Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, starting 5.15pm. Does the League Against Cruel Sports know about this?
    Most likely it’ll be standing room early. Me, I’m turning up outside the pub with a sleeping bag the night before, just to be assured of a place.
    Apart from the hyperbola about “nuking Iran” (Seán never advocated or supported that) and describing the rather eclectic group, CPGB, as Trots (CPGB are not the pro Morning Star group, the CPB), Dave (an ex MIG* like myself) is spot on about the far left fiddling while Rome burns. In spite of the far left constantly proclaiming the imminent crisis of capitalism, they have been caught unawares by this particular crisis. Indeed, ár náire, that eccentric right wing American politician, Ross Perot, was years ahead of the left when he observed that ” ..debt is like the mad aunt living in the cellar: all the neighbours know she’s there but nobody talks about it ..” !

    What about a campaign to amend the legislation, which enables the State to confiscate the assets of the crime lords and make the law applicable also to the short sellers, inside traders, those who get massive bonuses, share options, pension payments etc. ” while all around are losing theirs ” ? These people, if they are allowed to continue, will certainly cause much more social misery than the drug dealers with “their powdered happiness”.
    Back to Seán:
    I remember meeting him or seeing him at meetings on a number of occasions in London in the 1970s. In those days he was, like many of us, a Provo Trot. He was definitely influenced by the American socialist, James Cannon’s view of building a socialist organisation: enter social democratic organizations and build factions; conduct unity offensives against “soft centrist organizations” and leave only shells of those organisations behind – an approach which enabled the American CP supporters to dub them as “Trotskyist wreckers”. Seán has tried this approach over the past forty years with little success.
    His skill was with the written rather than the spoken word. While he was an articulate public speaker he did not have the oratorical skills of Eamonn McCann, John Palmer, Bernadette Devlin or even of his old nemesis, Gery Lawless. Sean and Brendan Clifford are two interesting products of the Irish emigrant community in England of the 1960s: both from working class backgrounds with limited formal education. I don’t think that either finished at secondary school but both have become substantial scholars: Seán in socialist history and thought and Clifford in Irish history and other areas.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 09 Oct 2008 21:06:21

    Thanks for that NollaigO. I think, from what you and others say, I prefer SM over BC any day. He may well be very wrong on some issues but he doesn’t seem to irritate people as much.

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  • By: NollaigO Thu, 09 Oct 2008 23:55:09

    Nowadays I agree with BC far more than with Seán .

    Some months ago, I wrote that, when Seán describes his political history,he does not paint what then he was in the 1960s and 1970s

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  • By: Seán Ó Tuama Fri, 10 Oct 2008 13:07:12

    Like NollaigO I feel nostalgic for the old Trotskyist bun fights. They had much more intellectual rigour and intellectual content than most of what passes for left-wing debate this days which (the present blog being an honourable exception) appears mainly to consist of moralistic whining of the PC or workerist variety. When a (very young) member of the Dublin YS in the 1968-71, I think I learned a lot from the many polemical discussions. Unlike some Trot sects, discussions were free with a wide range of views and no line was imposed on the members in a dogmatic way. An mbeidh ár leithéidí ann arís???

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  • By: NollaigO Fri, 10 Oct 2008 13:19:03

    An mbeidh ár leithéidí ann arís???

    B’fhéidir ach tá bfhéidir eile ann, Seán.

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  • By: Dunne and Crescendo Fri, 10 Oct 2008 13:40:59

    “I wrote that, when Seán describes his political history,he does not paint what then he was in the 1960s and 1970s”

    Neither does Brendan Clifford!

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  • By: The Left Archive… re: tomorrow’s post. « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Sun, 12 Oct 2008 11:27:37

    […] by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized. trackback A change in the Archive schedule tomorrow with the second part of Ireland: The Socialist Answer from Socialist Organiser being held back one week to allow a post […]

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