Red Patriot, Vol. 5, No. 42-43
Date:1976
Organisation:Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist)
Publication:Red Patriot
Issue:Volume 5, No. 42-43, December 1st & 14th 1976
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

16th August 2007

Continuing the trawl through the archives this week I turn to the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist Leninist). And never was a hyphenated two word suffix so important in political terms. Because you see the CPI (ML) were not like other parties. Others might organise in constituencies, others still might harbour utopian dreams. But for the CPI (ML) the thought was as important, indeed more important, than the deed. Their publications were important but the membership was more important. Some might be Marxists, others might be Leninists, but only the CPI (ML) members were true Marxist-Leninists. Sure, first in 1965 they rejected Kruschev, but rejection became addiction as they then claimed to be Maoists, in 1978 they rejected Mao, then turned to Albania and Enver Hoxha, and all the while retained a startling fondness for Stalin. Quite how this translated into practical activity was never entirely clear. There was the “Spirit of Freedom” group which I seem to recall giving talks broadly supportive of the IRA and after that? Not much really. They had long long before I encountered them, contested elections in the North, but I never saw much evidence of any serious political activity by them outside of student unions.

To be honest - and I dislike saying this about any left organisation - I found the members of the CPI (ML) an unlovable bunch. The words arrogant and conceited spring most readily to my mind. And this was peculiar because for a group with a membership as small as theirs they had no real reason to be either. Tommy Graham wasn’t so bad, and I never knew Doris, but others I found extremely antagonistic.

Now granted, being more or less the sole Stick in SU politics at the time didn’t help - but it wasn’t directed personally at me but rather a diffuse antagonism to all beyond the party. Where ever one or more would gather there was a point when the talk about ideological purity became wearing. Usually that point was sooner rather than later. And with no disrespect to them, at the time hearing about the joys of Marxist-Leninist thought in relation to Albania (Albania!) always seemed a bit sort of — well twee. On the theoretical side they never amounted to much. I may be being a little unfair here, but I can’t think of one fresh idea they brought to the feast and in a way that was quite predictable. They weren’t about fresh ideas. Instead - with a steadfastness that would have been recognised and admired by Archbishop Lefebvre - they maintained a steely adherence to stale stale ideas centered around a reductionist Marxism.

And in a way it’s important, but probably impossible at this remove, to convey just how profoundly odd they were. Modernity had seemingly passed them by. Graham was blessed by what seemed initially to be the great good fortune to look rather like someone from the 1930s Supreme Soviet - the only problem being that that someone happened by a further somewhat more careless accident of fate to look rather similar to one L. Trotsky. That he - and others assumed the demeanour of those same members of the Supreme Soviet was hardly coincidence. I could never quite work out whether they were in any real sense serious. Why would one join them? What was the attraction of one of the most utterly and rightly discredited strands of left thought in history? After all Stalinism wasn’t exactly a pretty word in the political environment of the 1970s and 1980s, whether it was dressed up in Maoism or the thought of Enver Hoxha. The CPI and WP - for all their admitted faults - were more engaged on a critical level and had taken on board the idea that the Stalinist period was not an unalloyed good. And if one were that picky, the SWM or Militant offered brands of Marxist Leninism entirely untainted by Stalinism. Or coming at it from the direction of Republicanism why not just join SF rather than acting as a cheerleader? So the question was, and to some degree still remains, was this all some sort of elaborate hoax, or art performance or just a rather middle class endeavour?

But a greater part of any antipathy I had to them was simply due to the enormously sectarian approach they took to all other elements on the left. Everyone else was a ‘sham’, a ‘lackey’ or part of a ‘clique’. All had sold out but them. One might think it impolitic to lift your political discourse almost wholesale from the rhetoric of the 1930s show trials but woe upon anyone foolish enough to suggest that Stalin might be not be all they cracked him up to be…

Actually all the blood and thunder about Stalin and Hoxha always seemed to be a facade. They were always trailing around on PSF’s coat tails, in a sort of exaggeration of the SWM’s fetish for all things Republican and militant. And their vehemence about the national question or Marxist-Leninism tended to seem detached from reality. Their periodic visits to Albania raised hilarity more than admiration - one wonders what the Albanians made of them. Although one suspects that as with many of these groups the fact that they didn’t have an ‘army’ meant they didn’t really count.

Curiously though on a day to day level they garnered a lot of respect in the strangest places. Perhaps it was because Doris had been head of USI, or Graham and another guy had been Presidents of the SU’s in the DIT, or perhaps it was the sterness of purpose they projected, but I saw otherwise intelligent people nod approvingly at some fairly asinine pronouncements simply because of the source they came from. And always, always that tendency to overstate.

John Sullivan once wrote  of their British comrades:

The CPB(M-L) from the beginning adopted an ingenious device to avoid the danger of being torn apart by the political disagreements which were destroying their rivals. The party deliberately confined itself to making very general statements of opposition to imperialism and support for the working class. The only exception to this was support for guerrilla warfare, such as had brought Mao to power. The British labour movement’s adaptation of Mao’s tactic was to consist of localised strikes which were not to make the mistake of linking up and making generalised demands. To do so would be equivalent to the peasant masses lining up in massed formation to oppose an imperialist army, instead of taking to the hills. The strategy went down well among Reg Birch’s right-wing colleagues on the AEU executive where he was comfortably ensconced. They had always wanted to avoid fighting the employers, and as they lacked the power to stop local shop stewards leading a fight, Birch’s ideas suited them nicely.

That might have been as a result of belonging to such a minority strain in Irish (and Lord knows) global leftism. A typical speaker from CPI (ML) would assume a declaratory mode much in the style of Lenin addressing the most recalcitrant of Bolsheviks even when making the most minor of procedural points on some student union matter. They didn’t tend towards the old trick of much of the student based left of assuming a Dublin or working class accent. Probably for the fairly sensible reason that few enough of them were working class, indeed in my recollection there was more of a tendency to adopt a very slightly faux Northern tone.

A close friend of mine at the time - very much not a WP supporter - expressed a passing interest in the CPI (ML) and for years after would have members arrive at his door unannounced to hector him about their policies. His partner happened to be English and both he and she were extremely upset by the vehemence of the rhetoric used by the party when discussing the North to the point that on one occasion they were asked to leave and never return.

Anyway, enough impressions. Here is a copy of their journal Red Patriot from 1976 (note how the year punk broke passed them by!). This was I think just before the Sino-Albanian split, but already the primacy of Hoxha is evident. I can’t help but admire the excuse on the back of the journal for the absence of No. 42 which ‘was due largely due to obstacles which the Red Patriot Editorial Staff cannot avoid but must deal with by revolutionary means…’ or the apologia for Lysenko and his enormous achievements through the correct application of dialectical materialism.

But it is the language that is most telling. Some of the articles appear to have been written in a fairly level headed fashion, but between them are pieces presented in an almost enraged discourse that for those who knew them in the flesh is all too recognisable.

According to wiki the Irish party folded in 2003, but as a postscript John Sullivan writing of their fraternal comrades across the water;

The CPB(M-L) then (in the mid-1980s), abruptly and without explanation, altered their world view and declared that the Soviet Union, previously described as an imperialist state ruled by counter-revolutionaries, was a bastion of socialism. Did this mean that they were bidding for the Moscow franchise? It was not as simple as that, and an understanding of the party’s reasoning demands a grasp of dialectical thought. Stalin had established that there could be socialism in one country. Therefore, there had to be a country for socialism to exist in and Russia’s claims were the longest established. The ‘Tankies’ in the CPGB hoped that the CPB(M-L) would dissolve its separate organisation and return to the fold to assist in the fight against the ‘Euros’, but it was already too late. Secrecy has become an obsession with the CPB(M-L), and members have taken to denying that their organisation exists, or that they know anything of its history! How can a non-existent party be dissolved? Members do not divulge either their membership or the party’s existence to colleagues at work. Their journal, The Worker, still exists, but is no longer sold openly. Sociologists of religion are familiar with this phenomenon through the study of the revolutionary sects of the seventeenth century, some of whom survived for a very long time by adopting passivity and a secretive way of life. The CPB(M-L) may be slowly disappearing from view: if you are in touch with any of its members, it is essential that you do nothing to alarm them, as it would be a loss to science if they become so secretive that they can no longer be studied.

Could it be? Could they still be here, underground, still producing and distributing copies of Red Patriot? I wouldn’t put it past them…

More from Red Patriot

Red Patriot in the archive


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  • By: Idris of Dungiven Wed, 22 Aug 2007 10:22:40

    The only CPI-ML member I ever met (this is long after their heyday) impressed with his knowledge of Eritrea and southern Sudan. Apparently this was a result of his party’s solidarity work with those areas, something I’d like to know more about.

    He also told me ‘we thought North Korea had the right model, but we were worried they were too soft’. Go figure, as they say. . .

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 22 Aug 2007 14:42:31

    Funnily enough Idris, contextualising that with some unkind words I had to say about Ryanair recently I wonder is that yet more of a very particularist Irish mentality where the worse, harder, more difficult and rigid things were the better. Soft is bad. Human is bad. Emotion is bad. etc etc…

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  • By: Idris of Dungiven Wed, 22 Aug 2007 15:09:02

    The answer is quite simple: the Irish are a nation of bullies, bullies’ sycophants and bullies’ enablers.

    Bitter? Moi?

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  • By: Grendel Mon, 29 Oct 2007 21:47:46

    Just read through “Red Patriot”. Seems basically written by
    Irish verisions of Private Eye’s Dave Spart, but there are some
    interesting articles (the top capitalists in Britain, for instance).
    The mention of Noel and Maire Murray reminds us that they
    were once a big issue for the Irish Left.

    Though I wouldn’t vouch for its accuracy, it was interesting to
    see Brendan Clifford and his wife Angela Clifford might have
    been involved in the (deep breath) Committee to Defeat Revisionism,
    for Communist Unity. If they were in the CDRCU, this must have been before they joined the Irish Communist Group.

    Nowadays, they’re trying to defeat a very different kind of “revisionism”….

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 29 Oct 2007 23:11:24

    The wheel turns, the wheel turns. But generally I find it brings people back to where they started. Which reminds me. I hate that ‘socialists when they’re 20, conservatives when they’re 30’ stuff. Seen that and put it down to cynicism, etc. Sure, life changes people. It has to. But core beliefs should be, y’know (as T. Blair would put it) core beliefs….

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 29 Oct 2007 23:38:22

    I’d love to see the Aubane group theorise how they ended up back where they started if they did. Not beyond their abilities though I’d say.

    Although if Eoghan Harris can claim consistency, maybe they can too.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 30 Oct 2007 08:12:15

    Yes, and I love the way he keeps dropping ‘social democracy’ into his columns. I’m not quite certain that he has got to grips with the concept. Populism, aye, that’s a different matter now.

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  • By: Starkadder Thu, 15 Nov 2007 21:44:33

    “I’d love to see the Aubane group theorise how they ended up back where they started if they did. Not beyond their abilities though I’d say. ”

    Every time somebody brings the subject up online, they get
    angry, insult the poster, and try desperately to change the
    subject. I know, because it happened to me on Indymedia.

    Cornelius Cardew was invovled with CP (ML)?
    That’s interesting-I thought they wouldn’t have approved
    of his experimental music (Not being”socialist realist” music).

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Thu, 15 Nov 2007 23:53:56

    Cardew was a leading member of their British affiliate, what’s now the RCPB(ML). Rod Eley who ended up heading the ML’s over here was in the Scratch Orchestra with him. Cardew did actually have quite a worked-out theory about how his music served the people, but I can’t for the life of me recall the details.

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  • By: R P Dutt Fri, 16 Nov 2007 14:23:10

    See his Stockhausen serves imperialism
    London: Latimer New Dimensions Limited, 1974
    or here http://www.ubu.com/historical/cardew/cardew_stockhausen.pdf
    He abandoned his highly experimental style in favour of something much more accessible, with echoes of Weill, to my ear at least

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  • By: Starkadder Sat, 24 Nov 2007 20:06:00

    Stockhausen got into the height of trouble after apparently saying
    that although the Sep. 11 attacks were evil, they were also
    a “work of art.” He later said the journalist who gave the
    report misinterpreted him, and gave a message expressing
    compassion for the victims.

    After the death of its leader Michael McCreery, the CDRCU broke
    up into several groups. If the pamphlet is correct, then some
    of its members moved to the Irish Communist Group afterward.

    Are there any books about the various left groups in
    the UK/ROI at this time?

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  • By: anarchaeologist Sun, 20 Jan 2008 23:06:02

    There are a few things I’d love to add to this thread when I have the time. The first post is excellent; you’re a modest bunch!

    I never heard that Cardew had a connection with the party but I’ll consult a colleague in the morning who was a long-time member and who knew most of them.

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  • By: Mark Turpin Sat, 21 Jun 2008 18:25:21

    I was a student in Trinity in 1976 when David Vipond of CPI ML was elected as President of the Student Union. He was a compelling speaker and speaking with a megaphone on the Dining Hall steps he could empty the Buttery at lunchtimes in the pouring rain – not everyone agreed with him, but they knew that had to understand why. After he was elected he then disappeared and spent 6 months campaigning against Enoch Powell in the South Down bi-election. After winning 100-odd votes, 5 of them marched back into Trinity behind red banners and claimed a great victory for the working classes.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sat, 21 Jun 2008 21:17:14

    Mark, that’s a nice note to add to the above. I will absolutely give the CPI ML guys this, they could speak. And Doris was legendary, even after the fact. Still, 6 months away from the job… how very…revolutionary…

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  • By: Martin McArov Sun, 22 Jun 2008 05:40:06

    True enough they were capable speakers. I recall them speaking in Cork City (the small side street near Cash’s – where McDonalds is/was?)

    All they had was their party banner, ML Weekly and a few supporters – but they hammered it out to all and sundry.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sun, 22 Jun 2008 09:38:56

    I wonder – on a cultural level – did the Celtic Tiger do them in really? Not much space for such a weirdly archaic political approach in late 20th early 21st century Ireland. Whatever else about the SWP it’s always known how to make at least some effort to reflect back prevailing trends, same is true of the SP but to a lesser extent. Of course, paradoxically (or not, now that I think of it), CPI-ML always seemed at least by the mid 80s to be based around the colleges so there are obvious limitations to that approach. But in a drab Dublin/Cork of that time somehow even Albania mightn’t seem quite as grim as it does at this remove…

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  • By: The Left Archive: “Mastering Bolshevism” Pamphlet from the Internationalists, 1968 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Mon, 21 Jul 2008 06:53:34

    […] when they grew a bit older became the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist Leninist) [of which more here] were founded by Hardial Bains who – it must be admitted – worked prodigiously to promote Maoism as […]

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  • By: J. Sun, 21 Jun 2009 14:44:25

    Excellent archice.

    Just want to say, as has been pointed out, the CPI(ML)’s English counterpart wasnt Reg Birch’s CPBML (note the absence of ()’s – important for spotter purists). Their fraternal comrades were in fact the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist).

    These days known as the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).

    If I am not mistaken, the namechange came when they flipped from Maoism to Hoxhaism.

    They swapped Albania for North Korea when Ramiz Alia did the dirty.

    Hardial Bains’ partner still leads their flagship Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist).

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sun, 21 Jun 2009 16:53:00

    Ah, I didn’t know that J re the CPE (ML). I actually have some of Reg Birch’s stuff which I’ll post up soon. Must see if I can get some CPE (ML) material, unless you have some?

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  • By: Starkadder Sun, 15 Nov 2009 19:46:14

    The Case of Comrade Vipond: Helena Sheehan has a post here
    where she claims he has a link with another Dublin
    institute of higher education:

    http://universitydiary.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/a-place-for-students/

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