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Gerry Foley Tributes 

3 May 2012

Below we publish a number of tributes to the veteran Trotskyist Gerry Foley who died unexpectedly on 22 April. 

Gerry Foley and the Irish movement 
Gerry Foley: A personal recollection
Gerry Foley: A Revolutionary for All Seasons
Death of Gerry Foley, first editor of IV

Gerry Foley and the Irish movement 

John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy)

There are many dimensions in which the Irish movement is in the debt of Gerry Foley.

The first example of which I am aware is a paper Gerry wrote in the 1960’s  called “The test of Ireland” in which he restated the socialist analysis of the national question in Ireland in debate with the British movement and helped to educate a number  of the Irish comrades.

Gerry offered ongoing advice and support to the Irish movement, at one stage attempting to settle in Ireland as a member of our organisation. He was punctilious in his approach, never offering direct advice but rather analysing examples for other struggles or from Irish history in order to aid debate.

Gerry always exuded  political clarity, managing to live through the decline and decay of much of our movement without embracing opportunism or retreating to dogmatism.

Gerry’s inspiration was the man himself. By a life dedicated to socialism he showed us what a socialist militant should be. Despite a lack of material possessions he also showed us that such a life can be one of immense happiness, contentment and comradeship.

I cannot resist one footnote. One commentator remarked that when he heard Gerry speak Gaelic he though him Irish, but later found he was American. Gerry was an Irish-American who adopted our country. As far as he, and ourselves, were concerned he was Irish, standing in a long history of resistance and radicalism that still exists even if suppressed by decades of retreat.

Gerry Foley: A personal recollection 

I remember joining People's Democracy in Ireland at the tender age of 16.  Gerry Foley was one of the first international comrades that I met.  I was fascinated by the number of languages he had learnt and was surprised to hear that like that other great revolutionary polyglot Engels, he had learnt Irish, an achievement he was quite modest about.  He seemed to know a little bit about everything, which I suspect was more than just a youthful impression on my part.  Gerry was indeed a very knowledgeable person but without the slightest hint of arrogance.  He would sit down and discuss on an equal footing with me, a then politically inexperienced youth and rather than tell me I was wrong he would just give me the information that would inform my view better.  He was a committed socialist and unlike other international comrades that would visit Ireland he was not a cheerleader for Sinn Féin, he did not advocate dissolving into the petty bourgeois movement.  In fact he was critical of those that did.  I bumped into him in London in 1987 after other former comrades had joined Sinn Féin, he described them as renegades, which at the time I thought was harsh. However, he was proved more than right with the passage of time, Gerry didn't believe in short cuts to socialism, he knew it was a long hard slog.  The socialist movement has lost a truly great, generous committed comrade.

Slán Leat m_ochara

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

Gerry Foley: A Revolutionary for All Seasons

by Jeff Mackler (Socialist Action)

Few revolutionaries, past or present, have devoted their entire adult lives to the socialist cause and as fulltimers. Gerry Foley, who died unexpectedly on April 22, 2012 in San Cristobol de las Casas, in the mountains of Mexico’s poorest state of Chiapas, was one of them.

He spent 50 years fighting to free humanity from every form of capitalist barbarity, oppression and exploitation. He did it with a twinkle in his eye, an engaging passion for all things human, at near poverty wages and thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

Gerry was 73, He died less than a week after moving from his semi-retirement residence in Mérida, Mexico to San Cristobol, perhaps from the exertion of moving his enormous collection of books into his newly rented home. 

His friend Pete, on the scene at the time, told us that Gerry has just left a social event in the large communal area of his apartment complex, where he was chatting with some young people. He returned to his apartment extremely short of breath, immediately collapsed to the ground and died a few minutes later, likely of a heart attack. 

Gerry was among Socialist action’s most dedicated, talented and gifted comrades. Those who knew him will immediately recall his generous spirit, depth of knowledge and analysis, brilliance of exposition, love of live in all its diversity, and enduring friendship. 

Gerry not only read in some 80 languages; he was fluent in more than a dozen, often serving as translator whenever his skills were required. His uncommon language facility was matched by an almost unbelievable understanding of the history and culture of each nationality whose language that he mastered. Books were Gerry’s sole prized possessions. He had a collection of perhaps 10,000 scattered from Oakland to Alabama to Mexico.

Gerry, fluent in Gaelic, was likely among the most informed revolutionaries on Irish history and politics. The Irish struggle for liberation, no matter the setbacks, was never far from his consciousness. Perhaps the affirmation of the socialist cause of the renowned Irish Marxist and Republican, James Connolly, among his heroes, appropriately expresses Gerry’s credo almost 100 years later. Said Connolly, and Gerry so many times, in his own words:

“A real socialist movement can only be born of struggle, of uncompromising affirmation of the faith that is in us. Such a movement infallibly gathers to it every element of rebellion and progress, and in the midst of the storm and stress of struggle solidifies into a real revolutionary force.”

Gerry spent over a year in Ireland working with the Irish comrades, including Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Northern Ireland’s fiery socialist leader and the youngest woman elected to the British parliament. As a professional journalist writing articles for the world Trotskyist press, Gerry’s insights into Irish politics served to inform the revolutionary politics of a generation of political activists. 
Decades later, in 1997 Gerry headed the San Francisco-based Committee to Free Roisin McAlisky, Bernadette’s daughter, who was imprisoned and tortured by British authorities as she and her supporters worldwide defeated a German government-initiated deportation effort based on trumped-up charges of involvement in terrorist activities. Then pregnant, Roisin finally won her freedom but not before being forced to have her baby, while in chains, in a filthy British prison facility. Bernadette, who had won the broad respect of U.S. Black Liberation activists decades earlier when she gave the “Keys to San Francisco,” awarded to her by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, out of respect for her membership in the British Parliament, to the Black Panther Party, joined Gerry at mass rallies in defence of her daughter. 

Tears came to Gerry’s eyes on occasion during his innumerable talks on virtually any subject, as he inserted an Irish reference into his discourse. The Irish struggle for self-determination, the longest in world history, more than 700 years and still uncompleted, was ingrained in Gerry’s consciousness. And if you gave him the opportunity, Gerry would happily recount very major event of those 700 years.

No comrade could match Gerry's deep understanding of the national ?question – the struggle of oppressed people and nations for self-determination, dignity and freedom. He was a champion of all oppressed peoples and despised their oppressors with great passion.

Gerry’s articles have appeared in socialist periodicals around the world. We will soon be publishing a list of many of them. His spirit and dedication to socialist revolution and to building the Leninist party, the pre-requisite instrument for bringing it into being, lives in our party and in its comrades.
He remained an honorary member of our Political Committee to the end, finding the time once in a while to join our deliberations via Skype and take on an occasional assignment. He hoped to attend our August National Convention.

Gerry attended graduate school in Russian literature at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, where he joined the Young Socialists in 1960-61 an organizing committee that soon after became the Young Socialist Alliance, the fraternal youth group of the Socialist Workers Party. This was at a time when the McCarthy-era witchhunt was far from over. When the YSA chapter at Bloomington invited LeRoy McCrea to speak on Malcolm X in 1962, an Indiana witchhunting prosecutor, Thomas Hoadley, saw an opportunity to implement an obscure and reactionary anti-communist law. Three YSA members on campus were indicted on charges of  “conspiracy to overthrow the State of Indiana by force and violence.” Gerry actively participated in this important defence effort, soon to become a national and successful campaign for “The Bloomington Three,” Ralph Levitt, Tom Morgan and Jim Bingham. 

After years of effort by the YSA and SWP the law was declared unconstitutional, an important civil liberties victory for the entire socialist movement and for all others who understood the importance of organizing broad defense campaigns for all victims of capitalist persecution. Gerry defended political prisoners in the U.S. and around the world. He was always among the first to sign us up to defend capitalism’s victims everywhere and was often involved in their defense committees. In San Francisco he was a leader in defence of Iranian political prisoners and a participant in the defence of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Gerry moved on to further graduate study at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he was an activist in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, also initiated by the SWP and YSA. Soon after, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis captured international attention when the threat of worldwide nuclear war was posed by the mobilization of the U.S. Navy to confront Soviet ships headed for Cuba with nuclear missiles. The Cubans, who had two years earlier defeated a U.S.-sponsored invasion at the Bay of Pigs, sought Russian missiles to insure against another such U.S.-backed invasion. 

Gerry was active Cuba’s defense, selling the SWP’s newspaper, The Militant and supporting Cuba’s right to defend itself from imperialist attack. Soon after, Gerry moved to New York City where he joined the SWP and did a short stint as a social worker and joined newly-formed and militant social workers’ union. “I didn’t do too well by city standards,” Gerry told me at that time,” because as I saw it, it was my job to get around all the bureaucratic restrictive provisions of the law and make sure that all my clients got on welfare and received the maximum funding possible.” 

A few years later Gerry applied for a job as translator with the United Nations. He filled out an application requiring that he list the names and number of languages that he could translate. He listed 25. Later, his disbelieving interviewer asked Gerry what he meant by 2.5 languages. Gerry replied that the figure was 25, whereupon the interviewer immediately sent out for a bevy of language specialists from several UN departments to verify Gerry’s claim. Gerry passed with ease and was surprised that he was offered the job on the spot, but with one condition. The UN had a rule that each member nation had the right to challenge its own nationals before their applications could be approved. 
Gerry was eventually notified that his application had been vetoed by the U.S. government. But the outraged staffer who so informed Gerry, surreptitiously included with the UN’s letter of rejection, Gerry’s uncensored FBI file. Gerry told me that it recorded virtually every YSA and SWP meeting he had ever attended, every party position he held, every public meeting he attended and his every landlord’s name and address. Thus, in these pre-Freedom of Information Act McCarthy-era days, Gerry inadvertently became perhaps the first American to see his unexpurgated FBI file. He took some pride in that.

Gerry soon became a fulltime staffer for the SWP, working under the direction of Joseph Hansen in the production of what was then one of the finest weekly revolutionary news magazines in the world, Intercontinental Press (IP). It was Hansen, Leon Trotsky’s secretary during Trotsky’s exile in Mexico, who mentored Gerry in the critical necessity of accuracy in reporting, depth of research, source checking and clear and careful formulations to explain the SWP’s then revolutionary politics. At that time IP was the official periodical of the Fourth International (FI), the world revolutionary socialist organization with which the SWP maintained fraternal relations. Rea_ctionary U.S. legislation prevented the party’s formal affiliation as it does Socialist Action today.
Gerry remained on the SWP staff for some 17 years writing for all its publications, with his articles often reprinted by FI sections. His journalist assignments took him to Portugal, where he covered the 1974-75 revolution that overthrew the fascist Salazar dictatorship, to Iran, when in 1979 a revolutionary wave swept from power the U.S.-backed and installed Shah of Iran and opened the door wider than ever to a socialist transformation. In both cases and in all other instances where Gerry’s knowledge, reporting and language skills took him to far off places to cover revolutionary developments, Gerry collaborated with the FI groups in those countries that were active in the mass mobilizations.

Gerry left the SWP in 1980 to take a staff position on the FI’s new publication, International Viewpoint (IV). He remained in Paris on this assignment for more than a decade. His departure from the SWP, which expelled Gerry bureaucratically retroactively, stemmed from his opposition to the bureaucratic and cult-like practices of SWP National Secretary, Jack Barnes, who, along with a sorely-lacking and compliant youthful leadership team, engineered the SWP’s rejection of its Trotskyist heritage. This was accompanied by the expulsion of hundreds of its most dedicated comrades, including many of the SWP’s founding members from 1938. Many of these comrades soon after formed Socialist action.

Relocated in Paris, Gerry was a staffwriter, translator and often speaker for IV at conferences and conventions of FI sections. He authored hundreds of articles covering critical events in world politics and joined the French section of the FI, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR). 
A decade later Gerry returned to the U.S. to work fulltime for Socialist action as the International Editor of our newspaper. Beginning in the late 1980’s Gerry’s mastery of Slavic and other Eastern European languages and keen interest in the mass movements in the USSR and Eastern Europe that challenged Stalinist rule led to authoring scores of articles that provided great insight to the revolutionary developments in these countries – especially the critical struggle of the USSR’s oppressed nationalities. Gerry’s assessment of the importance of these developments coincided with Socialist Action’s. For the first time in decades the possibility of building Trotskyist parties in Eastern Europe and the disintegrating USSR has real and immediate potential. He supported our efforts to send Trotskyist delegations to Eastern Europe and the USSR as well as Socialist Action’s contributions to the building of a Trotskyist party in Poland, including the translation into Polish of some important works by Trotsky. Before leaving IV, however, typical of Gerry, he insisted that we underwrite his proposal that he visit Hungary for three weeks so he could “learn the language,” and more effectively follow events in that country. 

Back in the U.S, he was immediately co-opted to Socialist action’s Political Committee, where his knowledge of Eastern Europe and the recent events in the USSR contributed greatly to the depth of courage in our press. Socialist Action’s coverage of revolutionary developments in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Ireland were remarkable in their detail and analysis, often from first hand sources or direct participation in the unfolding events.

Gerry eagerly took on assignments around the world. Following the Zapatista rebellion in Mexico, he visited San Cristobol, Ocosingo, and other cities that the Zapatistas had temporarily occupied, to learn first hand of their impact and to meet with their representatives.

An incident related to the Zapatista rebellion comes to mind that highlights Gerry’s desire to directly connect with the people whose struggles he embraced. I visited San Cristobol to try to meet with the Zapatistas and to observe their negotiations with the Mexican government that temporarily ended their first uprising in 1994. Before I left for Mexico Gerry asked me to bring him back a copy of a dictionary of the language of the indigenous people. At the time, such an effort was literally the last thing on my mind. But, by coincidence, during a press conference following the negotiations a fellow walking through the isles was hawking just such a dictionary and I thought that I would bring it back to San Francisco to surprise Gerry with my ability to make good on his essentially eccentric request. I gleefully handed Gerry the dictionary upon my return and he quickly opened it. In a moment, with perhaps a tiny hint of distain Gerry said, “This dictionary is Xochitl, a derivative of Nahuatl. I need to begin with the root language Nahuatl. It won’t do me much good.” Vintage Gerry! I am sure comrades who knew him have thousands similar anecdotes that highlight Gerry’s magnificent eccentricities.

Gerry Foley touched the lives of revolutionaries around the world, including comrades from other socialist currents that do not share our politics, program and traditions. We have received condolences from many comrades outside our movement, comrades who might have different with us important questions but who respected Gerry’s diligence in presenting our ideas and who benefited from the material that only his skills and experience could provide.

Gerry was one of a kind. To know him was to be enriched in a myriad of ways. He lives on in our deeds and dedication to the revolutionary cause and program that he championed for a lifetime. 

Death of Gerry Foley, first editor of IV

Penelope Duggan (FI)

It is with great sadness that the Intenational Viewpoint team has learnt of the sudden death at his new home in Chiapas, Mexico of the first editor of International Viewpoint, Gerry Foley. 

Gerry Foley was asked to be the first editor and lynchpin of International Viewpoint as the English-language voice of the Fourth International, a role that was no longer played by Intercontinental Press published in New York under the auspices of the SWP.

International Viewpoint was launched with Issue 0 at the end of 1981 and began regular production in 1982. Gerry’s knowledge of Eastern Europe society and languages was important in helping us to follow what was happening in Poland, notably in the early years of the magazine, and then later in the decade the events leading to and following the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, he also followed events in Latin America, the development of the PT in Brazil, the aftermath of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, the development of the PRT in Mexico. Gerry Foley returned to the US in the early 1990s to work on Socialist Action.

Gerry brought to the new magazine the experience of the best days of IP and the SWP. He had been, as he was proud to tell us, trained by Joseph Hansen in high standards of factual accuracy and meticulous sub-editing. This was however secondary to his broad international experience and knowledge, and impressive linguistic ability, which enabled him to feed the magazine with material from political, social and progressive movements from around the world. The continuing existence of IVP today, albeit in online format, stands as tribute to Gerry’s contribution in creating and maintaining it.


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