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Open letter to Socialist Democracy from the Irish Republican Socialist Party

The following three questions were asked of Socialist Democracy. The reply from SD was written by John McAnulty. Comrade John ignored the first two questions until page 7 of his nine-page reply.

1. Do you think the IRSP has sorted out the problems that bedevilled it in the 1980s and into the 1990s (most especially the feuding)?

2. Do you see it as a basically healthy left organisation today?

3. What is your attitude towards taking some initiative to bringing together socialist republicans - IRSP, yourselves, Bernadette, the Blanket/Fourthwrite people (yes, despite their support for the awful SEA election campaign), at least at the level of some kind of regular public forum, to try to develop a serious revolutionary political alternative to the Provo sell-out and GFA?

The IRSP are now responding to the answers from the SD. The SD has made no attempt to deal with the IRSP in the response to the questions.  Socialist Democracy is completely out of touch. We had no discussions around the emergence of The Blanket. As we understand it The Blanket project arose around a number of ex-provisional prisoners who reject the direction the Adams/Mc Guinness leadership are taking the provisional movement. It is true we have been at many conferences but at none organised by Fourthwrite. We are not and were not involved in that project.

As SD did not exist in 1974 who exactly were involved in discussions with the IRSP? Perhaps John for the sake of historical accuracy could elaborate?

As regards the very important question of military dominance John is formally correct. Indeed a number of comrades including Bernadette McAlliskey walked away from our movement after they lost by one vote a motion on this very issue at the Ard-Comhairle. In walking away, as indeed John¹s tendency also did, from confronting the whole issue of the leadership of the anti-imperialist movement Bernadette and others (including for a time the present writer) made a bad error of judgement. It was left to others to wage a political struggle against an increasingly militaristic tendency in the republican socialist movement. Those who walked away severely weakened the political tendency and indeed it became almost extinct with the assassinations of Seamus Costello, Ronnie Bunting Noel Little and Miriam Daly. But there were others who fought for socialist, indeed Marxist leadership of the anti-imperialist struggle. The most prominent of these was Ta Power, INLA volunteer and Marxist. John jumps from 1975 to 1998 and simply ignores nearly 30 years of political struggle and dismisses our whole history with the phrase “no real independent political theory could arise.”

What does this mean? Does it mean that the IRSP had no politics- that there was no internal debate and that the republican socialist movement had no politics or political positions? If that is truly what John thinks then perhaps he has read too much of the gutter press and not enough of what we have said are saying and will continue to say.

Has John read the Ta Power document? It deals exactly with the whole question of the primacy of politics. Unfortunately for the primacy of politics Ta was killed and those who retained control of the IRSM began a process of de-politicisation that culminated in the shame of a ceasefire declaration from a courtroom dock by a failed and discredited leadership.

From 1994 a political fight-back led by Gino Gallagher but supported by class conscious members won the movement back to its core values and re-asserted the primacy of politics. In the bitter struggle to achieve that Gino was assassinated. The collective leadership that emerged then was opposed to the pacification process that began long before 1994. In reaching our position on the Good Friday Agreement we had no “help” from the theoreticians from the so-called Marxist left. Indeed we have no recollection of requests from any of the left sectarian groups, heavily imbued with static versions Marxist theory for meetings for discussions or even critiques of our politics. After all we claimed to be socialists heavily influenced by Marxism and were clearly anti-imperialists within our ranks armed volunteers who saw themselves in the traditions of James Connolly.

Now maybe we read different versions of the Marxist classics but I don't think that, Marx, Lenin, Connolly or Trotsky said that the most class-conscious revolutionaries should denigrate ignore or belittle anti imperialists. Socialist Democracy have made no effort to convince anti-imperialists the virtue of SD politics or of the value of Marxism.

Now let us turn to the slanders on our membership that John has propagated.

1/ We are inside the tent that supports the GFA

2/ Our position on the GFA is only the view of a few individuals and not a programme of political opposition.

3/ He implies that the INLA ceasefire was to gain material benefits for our membership.

We have consistently opposed the GFA and opposed the pacification programme to weaken the anti imperialist struggle and have taken our arguments into as man areas and people as we can. Every Ard-Feis in the past 10 years has taken a consistent position in relation to these matters. The membership has supported that position. Is John McAnulty seriously suggesting that these members, many of whom have served many years in imperialist jails, voted for something they did not understand- that they are too stupid to understand and have been bought of by the Brits. The position of the leadership, John, is the position of the membership and the position of the membership is the position of the leadership. Attempts to suggest otherwise are insulting and demeaning to our membership.

We also do not take kindly to the implication of being bought off coming from a tiny group that has pranced up and down on the sidelines of the anti-imperialist struggle criticising those who were actually trying to solve the national question. Have you heard the phrase “hurler on the ditch” John?

We do not claim to have been always correct or that we have the way the truth and the light. We have been our own strongest critics and internal debate in our movement is healthy and constructive. We have yet to ascertain how John can say
“we are far from sure of the position of the of the few members of the IRSP we come across on the two key issues of the GFA and the partnership deals between Irish capital and the union bosses.”
Really John read the Starry Plough, read the Plough, visit our website. That's where you come across our politics not from some alleged meeting with our membership that did not take place. Don’t confuse casual conversations with serious politics. I f you really want to know what we think get your group to ask for a meeting with our leadership.

It's always good to talk.

Now to briefly answer the questions John avoided

Do you think the IRSP has sorted out the problems that bedevilled it in the 1980s and into the 1990s (most especially the feuding)?

Yes absolutely but we do not regard what happened as feuding.

There was a clear agenda to destroy the Republican Socialist Movement in order to pave the way for the final settlement of the Irish Question by the imposition of the two state solution along so called democratic lines to allow for further penetration by international capital.

There is a collective leadership and the primacy of politics is paramount.

Do you see it as a basically healthy left organisation today?

We maintain we are. There is a high level of political debate going on but only John McAnulty can answer that question. To facilitate him gain information we are quite prepared to arrange for Socialist Democracy to meet with five of our rank and file members provided Socialist Democracy allow us the same access to their membership.

What is your attitude towards taking some initiative to bringing together socialist republicans - IRSP, yourselves, Bernadette, the Blanket/Fourthwrite people (yes, despite their support for the awful SEA election campaign), at least at the level of some kind of regular public forum, to try to develop a serious revolutionary political alternative to the Provo sell-out and GFA?

We support such moves and have participated in the efforts to reach some sort of common position. As the largest organisation of those mentioned we have taken initiatives in the past and been completely ignored by the rest of the so-called Republican socialist left. We currently work well with all those mentioned and have good fraternal relations with them. On the doorsteps we know that there is a yearning for an alternative to the pacification process. We all have a major job in ensuring that yearning is given concrete expression. We will play our part in that task.

John Martin

Political Secretary of the IRSP

In response to your open letter.

John Martin is correct to note that I was asked two questions about the IRSP and one about unity and answered the question about unity with only a footnote about the IRSP.

There’s a reason for that.

I responded to the question about revolutionary regroupment because I felt that any discussion of it was important and that it might be of some help if my own organisation presented its view of the state of the working class and of the issues around which regroupment could take place.

On the other hand my views of the nature of the IRSP are neither here nor there and discussion of them is not going to advance the cause of the working class one iota.

The IRSP response confirms all my fears about the dog’s dinner of abuse such a discussion would entail.  It also confirms all my suspicions about the nature of the organisation.

To restate again the main content of my letter.  I believe that a republican regroupment that will lead the next stage of a working class fightback is unlikely.  I believe this because, despite the time that has passed since the first republican ceasefire and the six years of active Provisional republican attempts to support the stabilisation of the British colony in the North, the political opposition has remained that of a tiny minority and it has failed to develop a political alternative. The main cause of that failure is the refusal of the republican political resistance to agree opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and social partnership as the political basis for a fightback.

If this analysis is correct then it is of some significance.  The tasks that would arise if there were the possibility of a relatively rapid and large-scale growth of a political resistance are quite different from those where we are looking for the ‘primitive accumulation’ of relatively small groups of revolutionaries and the hesitant growth of independent working-class organisation and action.

What has John Martin to say about this?

Next to nothing!

‘We support such moves’ (towards unity) he says, but is this form of unity likely? What would be the political basis for unity? He argues with some heat that his organisation opposes the GFA and ‘have taken our arguments into as many areas and people as possible’ so the implication would be that opposition to the GFA would be the basis of unity.

That’s not my experience.  

I remember early discussions with republicans following the establishment of the Stormont assembly around the questions of elections. The usual issues of participation, boycott and abstention from the new assembly were discussed. The leadership of the IRSP was quite clearly of the view that the assembly could be used to make political gains.  A strange opposition that does not call for the downfall of the chief mechanism on which the GFA rested!

The early attempts to build a united opposition centred on the Fourthwrite group.  It then split with the Blanket on the issue of the Blanket’s refusal to accept that we should have a common policy, essential if a political opposition to the GFA were to emerge. The IRSP member went with the Blanket group! 

Up until recently a leading member of the IRSP was also a leading figure in my union.  I am totally unaware of any occasion on which he brought the issue of the GFA into the union, although I gave him a number of opportunities to support my interventions on the issue.  I then stood for the executive committee of the union on a platform of opposition to social partnership and the GFA.  The IRSP response was to run a campaign in the union in support of a member of the Socialist party who was also standing. I was not surprised.  My understanding was that both the SP and IRSP opposed bringing up the issue of the GFA inside the union and that both had a policy of uniting with the trade union bureaucracy who were implementing the policy of social partnership rather than campaigning against them.

My experience is that the IRSP, to an even greater degree than most of the republican groups, opposed making opposition to the GFA the basis for united political action.

Even if we were to jump over the little hurdle of uniting without having anything to politically agree about there would still be an outstanding problem – that of the IRSP’s history.

John Martin may well ‘not regard as feuding’ the bloodbaths that occurred inside his movement and prefer to see it as ‘re-asserting the primacy of politics’. I can assure him that not only Socialist Democracy, but also the majority of the Irish left and of Irish republicanism, have a different view both of this and of the history of the INLA overall.

Finally there is John Martin’s comment about ‘the hurler on the ditch’.  This is a standard rant against socialists, based on the republican militarist assertion that there were two struggles – the real struggle of the armed groups and the lesser struggle of the socialists, political activists and indeed, the whole mass of the Irish working class.

My response is a shrug of contempt. If I and the members of Socialist Democracy represent some lesser breed of revolutionary why are you sending me open letters?  What could you possibly have to say to me or I to you?

Our belief was, and is, that only a mass mobilisation of the working class could possibly confront imperialism successfully.  The history of the armed groups and their political representatives would appear to confirm our view.

I presume this closes the correspondence.

John McAnulty



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