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Irish Marxist rebuts internet slander

We have been asked by Raynor Lysaght to publish the following letter and some of our readers may need some background information to put it in context.  The letter refers to a rather bizarre British sect called the Alliance for Workers Liberty, led by a central guru called Sean Matgamna who has been a figure on the left since the very first attempts to build a Trotskyist movement in Ireland.  The sect, once ultra-republican in its approach to Ireland, now takes a firmly unionist position, in part forced on it by a sharp swing towards defence of the Israeli state which it justifies by acrobatic gyrations which deform Marxism. As with other defenders of Israel they follow a standard technique of labelling opponents anti-semites.  Of late Matgamna has supplemented these theological musings with an account of the early days of the Trotskyist movement in Ireland, heavily laced with gossip and slander.  We are not ourselves willing to join in this arcane discussion, but we do recognise Raynor’s right to defend himself and publish the letter in that spirit. 

Comments on a smear job 

by D.R.O’Connor Lysaght

14 November 2009

Surfing the net the other day, this writer was surprised to see his name taken in vain as being a “second-hand-tale-spinning adoptive Irish nationalist”. Further on, he was intrigued further by a reference to a faction with which he was involved as “conducting an anti-semitic witch-hunt thinly disguised as “anti-Zionism” in the quasi-Trotskyist organisation the Irish Workers Group. It is clear that his old adversary, Sean Matgamna,  is still at it, scattering his fire not only against his official target, Gerry Lawless, but against all who crossed his path from the old SLL to Schachtmanism and, perhaps, beyond. This writer would not bother about answering were it not obvious that these statements have a resonance among the impressionable, as witnessed by the reaction to Matgamna”s screed on the part of Mccullough (18/05/09) and, even more, on the part of Anwen (22/05/09). Accordingly, as his reputation is under at stake he considers it necessary to reply.

1. “Second-Hand-Tale-Spinning.”  Presumably, this refers to the author’s document, “An Introduction to the Early History of Irish Trotskyism”. (If Matgamna has any other examples, he should present them) This work was based on a presentation given to an education class of Dublin People’s Democracy some 28 years ago. It has all the defects of a pioneering work (Historically, pioneers tend to get frozen to death in snow storms, eaten by savage animals, drowned in unpassable rivers, etc.,).  It has been superseded by other works to which the author was happy to give aid: notably Ciaran Crossey and Jim Monaghan’s article on the same subject. Further work needs to be done on the subject. Nonetheless, reading it today, the faults seem mainly to be those of omission. It is difficult to find any major inaccuracy therein.

Admittedly, it is not dependent on printed sources. This is because those sources were not available to the author at the time. What he did was get statements on the earlier period from surviving participants in the struggle, notably, Johnny Byrne, Matt Merrigan and Eamon Corcoran. Though unreliable compared to the printed accounts of the time, such statements are acknowledged as being a form of primary information.

For the later period, the author did rely to a certain extent on Gerry Lawless, though he used his judgement on what to include. For the period after 1967, when he joined the Irish Workers’ Group (IWG), he relied on a third primary source: his memory of events in which he was involved.

2.Anti-Semitism. Matgamna suggests that Lawless was not converted to Trotskyism until after his court case in the early sixties and that that he continued, somehow, to combine his anti-semitism with his public support for the teachings of those well-known semites Marx and Trotsky at least until after the IWG split in 1968.

It is not the business of this writer to excuse the vagaries of Gerry Lawless. It should be said, however, that he could not have been a member of Maria Duce after the mid-fifties, since that body collapsed shortly after the death of its clerical fuehrer in 1954. Lawless may not have been converted to Trotskyism until his association with Gerry Healy in the early sixties. However it is possible, too, that any plea of Fahy-ite influence to the EHCR might equally well have been, as Mick O’Riordan is said to have claimed he said (This is really tale-spinning!) an undoubtedly opportunist ploy to soften the judges. 

Certainly, the present author did not find any anti-semitism during his own brief period as member of the IWG in its last years. He remembers no “anti-semitic witch-hunt thinly disguised as “anti-Zionism” in that organisation in 1967-8. If there had been such a move, he would have been targeted, as, at that time, he was inclined to the Zionist side himself.

What he does remember in that period was the faction fight that gave the group its mortal wound. In it, he was with Lawless, and also with such incipient revolutionary socialist leaders as Michael Farrell and Eamon McCann. He suggests that it is unfair to them, whatever about himself, to suggest that they were part of an anti semitic witch-hunt however disguised.

This is not to say that there were no charges made against the majority faction that could be construed as ones of anti-semitism. In a somewhat turgid document, Matgamna’s ally, Liam Daltun denounced Lawless for including in a broad front a prominent right-wing (and allegedly anti-semitic) member of the London Irish diaspora and quoted a Lawless  supporter as calling for “a real Irish national socialist party.”  Whatever about the first, nobody thought that the second was more than a gaffe or that its perpetrator really kept a swastika armband in his closet or yearned to murder Jews (or, even, that he was trying to do a Tommy Tiernan) . Anti-semitism was not an issue in the struggle; if it had been it would have been the duty of Matgamna and his allies to make it central. In fact, the author sees no reason to change the opinion that he gave in his document that the issues were, in order of importance, the national question, the best way to build a party and Gerry Lawless, and that they were given prominence in inverse order.

3. Adoptive Irish Nationalist. The writer is puzzled by this charge. What does it mean ? If it means that he is an “adoptive Irish national” because he was born in Glamorganshire only to spend most of his life in Dublin, then he can reply that his Irish grandfather left him a claim to Irish citizenship far more natural than the Co.Clare-born Matgamna’s claim to Englishness.

However, it is probable that more is at stake here. The two parties agree on the progressive nature of the struggle to unite Ireland and have both tried to advance it. The difference between them comes on strategy. While, again, neither agreed with the paramount importance of the armed struggle over politics nor with the negotiations for a settlement to which that struggle led inevitably, they disagreed on where work to build the alternative of a mass struggle should begin by being concentrated.

The writer considers that any successful revolution in Ireland has to be developed in the manner prescribed by Trotsky under the heading of Permanent Revolution: “that the complete and genuine solution of [its task] of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation” (Permanent Revolution, New York 1978, P.276.). This would be less definite if the perspective were a two-sovereignty one, at least for the twenty-six county part, but that would leave the six counties more of a conundrum than ever, organised as it is with a majority of its population getting some real, and more obviously perceived benefits at the expense of the minority. The recent Northern Irish troubles were essentially a revolt of this cross-class minority which failed because its leaders’ strategy could not get adequate support from the twenty-six counties, led by the working class majority of the whole island. The potential of that support was shown on many occasions, most notably in 1972, after Bloody Sunday, and during the 1981 hunger strikes. It was recognised and feared by the rulers of both these islands until the consolidation of Sinn Fein hegemony over the struggle convinced them that they had nothing to fear.

The so-called Peace Process has not changed matters. Fundamentally, of course, its aim is to pacify Ireland for imperialism; Britain does not see the maintenance of partition as, in itself, a priority, but it does want to ensure that, if it come, it will be without disturbance to the status quo: instead of a colony and a semi-colony, a single semi-colony. In pursuit of this aim, it is pouring money into its territory to try to level up the communities. It is failing to do this. The wounds on both sides are too great, the Unionists too intransigent and the present slump places Northern Ireland in the position of being an obvious target for cuts. The question must be posed: how will the Process collapse? Will it be to the benefit of the anti-imperialists, or of the loyalists?  At the moment, it seems likely that it will be the latter.

Accordingly, the need is to emphasise the doomed nature of the Process in the Republic itself, to link it with the struggle against the cuts, Nama, etc. and to convince the northern minority, particularly the proletarians, that this is the way forward: a tall order, indeed, but a necessary one.

Sean Matgamna’s perspective is different. For him, Permanent Revolution does not apply to Ireland. It would appear that, to him a successful immediately programmatically proletarian revolution is the most likely scenario. It can be objected that no such revolution has occurred in a country more obviously ripe for it than either or both parts of this island: that it is possible that imperialist decay has made Permanent Revolution a probable rule for the most developed countries. More specifically, the Matgamna perspective makes it both necessary and possible to concentrate the attention, at least of Northern Irish revolutionaries on the unionist working class, rather than on the workers across the border. These unionist workers with their industrial traditions are assumed to be as inherently progressive as industrial workers elsewhere, their obvious political regression due to perfectly reasonable doubts about the progressive nature of nationalist Ireland which can be overcome, in part by such nostra as repartition or Protestant Irish Home Rule. The fact that this regression is related to the use of sectarianism as a productive force in building Ulster industry is not considered. Nor is the corollary possibility that these workers desire not self-determination but ascendancy over their neighbours. That this programmatic failing places them in the proletarian rearguard, rather than the vanguard is ignored similarly.

Instead, it is easy for defenders of the Matgamna-ite faith to paint their opponents’ approach in ethnic terms. Not to give the working-class protestants a leading role in the proletarian revolution from its beginning is obviously a breach of working class solidarity, not a sober recognition of the weakness of that section of the said class. Those who deny that section a leading role, must be contaminated with bourgeois nationalism, and, of course, such a person may well be, like other nationalists, an anti-semite. Throw enough shite at the person, and you can forget that person’s programme.

There is nothing much more to be said. While he considers himself smeared, the writer is not going to try his luck in the bourgeois courts. However, he will be in London on Wednesday, 2 December to address a meeting held by Socialist Resistance at the Indian YMCA Hall in Fitzroy Square. Perhaps his traducers would like to show their faces there?


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