CWI Ireland: Attempt to silence critics
Anne McShane surveys the response to CWI member Craig Murphy's honest and forthright article on the Socialist Party in Ireland
The recent publication of an article by Craig Murphy, member of the Socialist Party of Ireland, in the Weekly Worker has provoked some extremely interesting responses.1
The comrade wrote a critique of the internal regime and political method of the SP. He raised the treatment of recent resignations of prominent members and showed how the ordinary membership had been denied the opportunity to properly discuss the reasons behind these resignations.
A membership aggregate was called on July 7 to deal with the departures. The 60 members present were given the resignation letters to read, digest ... and return. The fear is that they might fall into the wrong hands. Like others, Craig was forced to scan through them quickly, given the time constraints imposed. Then the audience was treated to a 40-minute presentation by general secretary Kevin O’Loughlin on the current state of struggle and demoralisation of those who had left. The criticisms made by those who resigned were either ignored or explained away as an anarchistic deviations.
Loyal members took to the floor to denounce those who resigned for their loss of commitment to Trotskyism. Jimmy Dignam, former full-timer, Richard O’Hara former branch secretary, and leading trade union militants Andrew Phelan and Megan Ni Ghabhlain were all dismissed as erstwhile revolutionaries who had now unfortunately retreated from the battlefield. There was nothing to be learned from them, save the necessity of keeping faith in the leadership.
Craig Murphy wanted to hold the leadership to account and to open up a space for real debate. The leadership had evidently thought they had successfully put the thorny subject to bed after the aggregate. But now they were forced, by proxy, to deal with his Weekly Worker article in the social media.
A number of issues have flowed from its appearance on Cedar Lounge, a prominent blog in Ireland. The piece quoted at length from the resignation letter of Richard O’Hara, who had been especially concerned about the “serious democratic deficit within the Socialist Party”.2 He had argued that the slate system used to elect the leadership was a way of guaranteeing the unassailability of the present leadership and attempting to ensure conformity. The lack of minutes, records of votes or reports from the meetings of the executive compounded a culture of secrecy and intolerance.
‘Jolly Red Giant’, a regular contributor to Cedar Lounge and a man with 30 years membership in the SP under his belt, took the writer and his supporters to task. Firstly SP internal structures were no business of anybody outside the SP. Secondly there is no slate system for the national committee - but presumably there is for the executive committee which is elected from the NC. Thirdly there were no issues raised by the outgoing members that needed to be dealt with. There is “no ‘crisis’ - there is no ‘split’ - there is nothing more than an attempt by the WW to stir the sh*t, as they do every week, and then we have others with the odd chip on their shoulder deciding to jump on the bandwagon”.3 He went on to denounce the article as nonsense and gossip - written by an individual influenced by the CPGB. He had written “an article that was riddled with rubbish”. This “non-issue has been manufactured by an individual and the WW - and it has been manufactured to my knowledge without the consent of the individuals involved or the Socialist Party”.4
Others in the discussion forum have helpfully pointed out that the article was written by a real person and that there has been no denial of the occurrence of the resignations or the aggregate. The denials relate to the significance of the departure of these four leading members and the truth of their criticisms. If Jolly Red Giant is to be believed, these were spineless individuals who became demoralised and left without saying anything of relevance. Now that they have gone, they have no right to be listened to or taken seriously. The Weekly Worker had made the controversy up - along with an SP member who came under its evil spell - to destroy the healthy, democratic organisation that is the SP.
JRG has argued that the article should also be dismissed because of the failure of the writer to raise his differences internally before publishing in the Weekly Worker. Well, I cannot speak for Craig Murphy, but from what I understand there are major obstacles in criticising any aspect of the SP leadership internally. In his resignation letter, Richard O’Hara acknowledges that he will face such a reproach. He responds that members “have a duty to think about why this never really happens. Apart from the somewhat difficult atmosphere in the party, the lack of real structures or publications and the top-down approach to political education, the reality is that the fact that nothing has really changed within the party means that one gets the feeling that, no matter how hard one argues, nothing will ever change.”
Craig Murphy is still a SP member - a member who has rebelled against bureaucracy by publishing openly. I understand that the leadership has not used the opportunity of the article to launch an open debate within the organisation - even though it does not have the excuse of his resignation to fall back on. Instead he is vilified because he used the Weekly Worker to publish his criticisms. According to JRG, the paper spends its time “doing nothing except trying to dig up gossip on other left groups”.5 How dare it ask questions about the SP or provide a resource for the publication of articles by disgruntled members?
And what applies to the Weekly Worker applies to the whole workers’ movement. It too has no business knowing how the SP comes to its decisions. The SP wants to lead the working class by keeping it in the dark as to its internal debates and structure. All information will be on a ‘need to know’ basis. In fact its own membership does not even know how the leadership makes its decisions or who stands where on disputed questions. The most they are allowed to do is ‘flesh out’ (ie, implement) the decisions of the executive, which are made in secret and filtered down to the minions.
SP members should take courage from Craig Murphy. He did, by the way, discuss his article with other members and ex-members before publication. He sought to ensure that the views he expressed were those reflective of other critics. He has stood up for what he believes in as a revolutionary. And he has defended his comrades from underhand attacks by the SP leadership - attacks which aim both to underplay their criticisms and to intimidate others from speaking out. It is no doubt difficult to stand up as individuals, but members can act together. The example of comrades in the Socialist Workers Party in Britain collectively facing down its bureaucratic leadership can and should inspire.
Some have had problems with the article appearing in a British journal. They cannot see how this issue affects the left or working class in Britain or why it should be ‘any business of theirs’. The uniqueness of the Weekly Worker in providing a space for open debate is clearly the most important factor. But also there is the question of internationalism - I for one am not a nationalist and I welcome the contribution of comrades in Britain and elsewhere to our debates here in Ireland.
There is a crying need for a genuine Marxist group here in Ireland. The SP and the SWP have lurched to the right in their electoralism - with no mention of awkward questions like abortion to be allowed in any political literature for the forthcoming SP local election campaign. We who recognise the need for a democratic revolutionary party need to make it our business to organise together. I believe we will provide inspiration for those in the workers’ movement who are tired of the tawdry reformism of the existing groups. Marxism is challenging, practical and above all it is true.
There will be a public meeting in late August/early September for those interested in this project. Details to follow.
1. ‘Not for the public domain’ Weekly Worker July 25.