A political bestiary: A reply to Dessie O’Hagan of the Workers Party
7 December 2005
It seems that the most common response to Dessie O’Hagan’s speech has been astonishment that it would be published on a site supposedly devoted to rallying opposition to the threat that Sean Garland may be extradited to face criminal charges in the United States. It is indeed hard to imagine a more sectarian rant, or one more “ultraleft” in the practical sense, despite Dessie’s reformist political perspectives. In fact, it is a characteristic of Stalinism that it combines reformist politics with ultra left-type anathemas. The purpose of this has been to get people who want to fight for socialism to accept every opportunistic lurch of the bureaucratic leaderships and to reject any criticism of these zig-zags as the insidious manoeuvres of agents of the right or the police.
In this history of Stalinism, this approach proved effective in the short run. In the longer run, it has led to paranoia and total confusion. In fact, the prevalence of conspiracy theories on the left today seems to be a result of the inability of Stalinists to explain why the corrupt bureaucratic bosses they looked to as their leaders and exemplars abandoned socialist perspectives and are trying to convert themselves into capitalists. It had to be a result of the diabolic science of the Western intelligence agencies, therefore, implicitly, it is not observable political processes that shape world history but dark, obscure forces—that is the traditional view of conspiracy theorists.
By its nature, Stalinism involves extreme contradictions. Politically, it is a false ideology invented to cover up the real nature of bureaucratic castes that ruled in the name of socialist revolution but in reality had a capitalist mentality that eventually led them to try to restore capitalism with themselves as the capitalists. The real objectives of the Stalinist rulers have been the opposite of what they professed. Dessie invoked the “Spanish Republican heros.” In reality, Communists who volunteered to fight in the Spanish civil war were regarded with suspicion by Stalin, that is, they might be sincere, in which case they were objectively Trotskyist and had to be eliminated. Virtually all of them in the Soviet Union were.
It is thus natural that someone who tries to follow Stalinist ideology as a guide becomes totally confused about reality. They make it up as they go along, like Dessie’s fantastic assertion that I am a “Polish immigrant.” Dessie says that the SWP was infiltrated by police agents. Of course it was. All left organizations are. The Bolsheviks were also,, as is well known. But the SWP, when it was a revolutionary party, responded to this problem the same way Lenin did. That is, it minimized the damage infiltrators could do by maintaining a high political level and demanding a high standard of activity. Actually, in a corrupt totalitarian organization like the American Communist Party, which members could only uncritically mouth the current slogans, infiltrators were much more of a problem than they were in the SWP throughout its history as a Trotskyist party. .
Since reality is always changing, especially in politics, Stalinism is an extremely poor guide. Actually, Dessie now has more in common with the SWP than I do. It succumbed to the same temptations and the same illusions that he did. The youth organization of the SWP now belongs to the World Federation of Democratic Youth, the Stalinist world youth organization. So, it may be that in the diehard Stalinist circles Dessie apparently frequents he will run across some of their representatives and he can discuss the question of police infiltration with them. The SWP is no longer my party, any more than the Workers Party is the party of Billy McMillan or Malachy McGurran. But I at least I was educated to understand the change that took place, and to make my escape and continue to fight for the principles and the kind of party that I devoted my life to. I fear that most of the members of the Old Official Sinn Fein did not see it happening and became trapped. The saddest case is Sean Garland.
When I knew Sean, he impressed me as a devoted and pure-hearted revolutionary. But his weakness was that he was a “practical sort of person,” as he and his friends told me. That is, he was a pragmatist, and it was his pragmatism that destroyed him. Obviously from a pragmatic point of view political principles and ideas are much less substantial than big bureaucratic organizations, governments and their resources. But the underlying reality is different. In orienting to such forces, the old Official IRA destroyed what was its real basis, its historic principles, and as a result it suffered catastrophic losses. The same thing happened to the SWP when it made a similar choice.
Nonetheless, in view of his past devotion to the Irish socialist revolution, I think Sean deserves a dignified retirement. I hope he gets it. I would hate to see him in the clutches of a brutal imperialist government. Moreover, I hope that an effective campaign can be built in Ireland to stop his extradition, not only for his sake but to prevent the United States from victimizing other people in Ireland and Britain that it regards as its enemies.