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Obituary: Gerry Foley, American Revolutionary Socialist, 1939-2012

by D.R.O'Connor Lysaght

1 May 2012

The writer does not know how many languages Gerry Foley could read or speak. He knows only that the numbers were increasing throughout his life. The important thing was that he used his gift to broaden the consciousness of his readers in and out of the International. He gained pleasure from his task, but it was a pleasant duty and he took it seriously.

He opened his correspondence with the writer in 1968, after reading the first Plough edition of Socialism Made Easy. In 1970, he came to Ireland to experience for himself the developing national struggle. Relations with him were always professional rather than close. At first, indeed, they were somewhat cool because of different views of the northern situation. Gerry was close to what was then Official Sinn Fein, as current executors of a strategy of limited but real mass agitation for civil rights. Those who would revive the International's Irish Section knew that the ideologists behind this strategy were mobilising for an ultimate utopian aim: a reformed, democratic Northern Ireland that might vote eventually to unite with the Republic. On the other hand, the Irish comrades maintained illusions in the armed struggle and its resonance in the twenty-six counties. In the end events revealed the basic agreement between the two positions. Gerry had to recognise that, after Bloody Sunday and Newry, the Official's attempts to appease the Loyalists was hastening their abandonment not only of their own armed struggle but of mass action itself, and that this retreat was accepted by some of those of whom he had had the greatest hopes. The Irish comrades had to recognise that the armed struggle was tending to alienate support in the republic for any struggle for Irish unity. All comrades were agreed that such support was necessary to achieve unity and that it would involve turning the national struggle into a class struggle as appeared for a while after Bloody Sunday and later, more dimly during the hunger strikes.

Basing himself in Europe as correspondent with the International's journal, Gerry Foley joined the Irish Section. While his work meant that he had to leave the country for long periods, his stays here were valuable not least because of his role as peacemaker in disputes that might have ignited for more serious factional struggles.

His original comrades in America did not agree with his approach. Not only were they moving towards the stages strategy that they had once opposed along with him, but they had developed an approach to organisation that surrendered to the old temptation of sections of the movement: that of "building Trotsky's party using Stalin's methods".  Gerry Foley was expelled from the SWP after a period of dispute that reduced his disappointment considerably.

At the end of the eighties, personal reasons forced him to leave Ireland and its section and return to America, where he joined his fellow expellees in Socialist Action. The writer saw him once more at the International's thirteenth World Congress in 1991.  Since then, a few letters maintained a connection.  Nonetheless, it was known that he continued in the fight for socialism to the end of his life.

Now America has lost a great socialist and Ireland one of her best friends. 


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