Brian Keenan correspondence
For over a year from autumn 1987, Jack Conrad (CPGB) corresponded with the late Brian Keenan, a leading member of the IRA, while he was held as an Irish POW in a British prison. Here is their correspondence in full.
September 30 1987
Dear comrade Rhys
I received the very welcome issue 53 of The Leninist today, September 30, so no harm done by my original postal error. While it is not my normal practice to correspond with journals other than those of my own organisation - ie, the Irish republican movement - I wish to take this opportunity, at your suggestion, to pass some comment in regard to the paper.
Firstly, I want to thank you sincerely for sending The Leninist to me in the first place. While I may have occasion to dispute some of the premises from which various contributors have engaged in polemics on the Ireland question, in general I find myself to be comfortable with much of the general content of the paper. I would certainly appreciate a more regular supply. I did receive irregular supplies since October 84, but this year has been particularly poor. I can only assume, from the tone of your letter insert, that the future supply will be better. I hope that will be the case.
I would appreciate some personal contact with a comrade connected directly to the paper, if that is at all possible. My intention, at this stage, would not, however, be to engage in overt debate in the columns of the paper. I’m sure you will appreciate that, as a political POW, I do not have ready access to all types of written material which would be of specific interest to me.
In this respect, fraternal contact with someone like Jack Conrad would be most welcome. I realise, of course, that valuable personnel engaged in revolutionary activity are not always in a position to correspond in a meaningful way. I will, however, leave my request in your hands. I mention comrade Conrad specifically because of his obvious personal interest in the Irish question.
In the interim I wish every success to all comrades at The Leninist.
With fraternal greetingsBrian P Keenan
October 21 1987
Dear comrade Brian
Thank you for your recent letter, which we were very pleased to receive. In answer to the point you raised about the irregularity of the paper, this is essentially due to technical problems (though our typesetting has been hit by several postal strikes, so there are problems and problems) … Anyway as to the hitches we have had with computers, etc, we have, touch wood, overcome most of them. So you should get the paper through roughly every two weeks. If for some reason it doesn’t [arrive], please let me know.
Since you have been receiving the paper (since October 1984) there have been some articles that you may have missed that may be of particular interest to you - in particular, three supplements on Ireland, which provide the theoretical basis of our position, and another three supplements on South Africa, which broadly outline our view not only on SA, but also the attitude communists take to national liberation movements. If you haven’t had them we’ll send them in. In fact, if you want a complete set of back issues, we’ll put them in the post. (What is the best way of sending numbers of papers - individually or all together?)
You say that you do not normally correspond with non-republican movement journals. If this is a general practice I think it is a mistake. I’m not just referring to The Leninist, but the entire spectrum of opinion in Britain and for that matter internationally. I presume most groups send you their publications. The voice of Irish freedom fighters should ring out through these publications at least. It should be heard as widely as possible. Certainly when it comes to the opportunist left in Britain, most of their papers would find it very hard to refuse to print letters from Irish POWs. You and your comrades could therefore play a really major part in the struggle to defeat chauvinism in the workers’ movement in Britain. You have the time and the moral authority.
I would be interested in your opinions on this question; and, while I’m asking for your views, would you pass comment - briefly if you must, detailed if you can - on the centre pages of issue 54 and the Congress 86 review. Your knowledge, perspective and experience would be invaluable to us. If you want more material on these questions, or anything else we can lay our hands on, we will do our best to oblige - do the authorities restrict printed material sent in, either officially or by losing it?
In solidarity and friendshipJack Conrad
October 26 1987
Dear comrade Jack
I was pleased to receive your letter of October 21 1987. I am glad that future deliveries of the paper seem assured - I am very appreciative. On the question of postage, I think a saving is possible if you send me four copies in one envelope. I will distribute to my comrades - Paul Kavanagh, Pat Magee, Gerry McDonnell. Any change in personnel here and I will notify the paper immediately.
Regarding your offer of back issues - could you send me the three attachments on Ireland for Pat Magee and for me, parts II and III on South Africa. I only have part II of the supplement on the CPGB from September 86, so any additional ones there also. I have some difficulty in maintaining adequate files, and, as I would like all the back issues, it wouldn’t be prudent to ask for them - however, thank you for the offer.
You make some precise observations on my reluctance to correspond with journals other than republican movement publications. In the main, that is a personal decision which I wish you to respect. You are, however, entitled to an explanation. I will be brief for now, but will expand or debate any point on your request.
I have been in prison for eight-and-a-half years. In that time I have received journals from almost all of the organisations in the left spectrum. With the notable exception of The Leninist I was propositioned by each for ‘moral authority’ endorsement of their own particular brand of support for the ‘freedom fighters’.
You may gather I reject the terms in parenthesis - anathema to me in fact. They smack of the chauvinism you rightly object to. I reject them not for literal meaning, but in the normal usage context used by elitist groups.
In all instances I withheld endorsement and finally stopped what I had considered to be fraternal correspondence with individuals because of incessant demands, even though I had made my position clear from the outset.
I will not be, and have never been, party to the type of sectarian propaganda rampant in the internecine war of the opportunist left. Unfortunately, the groups involved are all too willing to use theoretical debate as de facto endorsement of their individual sectarian positions.
Further to this experience in prison, I have had in the past considerable experience of the opportunist left in action. Not only during my active years in the republican movement, but before that. I have a trade union organisational background, and I had ample opportunity to study the economism of the labour aristocracy. Neither am I any stranger to the consequences of opportunist decisions taken by the old Communist Party of Northern Ireland, and latterly by the Communist Party of Ireland. Even the actions of Screwback [Michael] O’Riordan, whom I respect, have left a bitter taste.
In regards to the other left parties in Ireland I won’t go into details. No doubt you are well aware of their reformist or infantile left positions. I cannot afford the idle luxury of public debate with such people, in Ireland or here.
It was not idle curiosity that prompted me to write to The Leninist. In analysing the issues I did receive, I was attracted to their position, not just on Ireland, but in general - further, I admire the stand taken within the CPGB itself. I therefore wished to have fraternal contact with you, with a view to debating relevant issues.
My position on public correspondence is rigid at the moment, but it is not a finite position. I did not come to the republican movement from any spontaneous, sectarian or nationalist direction. In the adverse social conditions of Belfast in the early 60s I came to decisions about where, and in what fashion, I wanted to propagate my revolutionary beliefs. I believed then, and I believe now, that the vanguard must be forged within the republican movement. The potential is there as in nowhere else.
Ideological evolution within the republican movement has a constancy of direction which will eventually create a steeled vanguard. I may not be happy at the evolutionary state, but speed is not of the essence. Any personal potential I have to influence within that milieu, while curtailed at present, will nonetheless be used from within. I know only too well how narrow the tightrope is, and the ideological difficulties, and I cannot afford to indulge in tangential personal campaigns which may exacerbate these difficulties.
I trust your experience will fill in the blanks and allow you to be sympathetic to this explanation. In short, for the moment, I am happy to see the republican movement make definitive statements in public - my role is to influence the formulation of future statements. Come back to me as you wish on this.
You pose questions on the Irish Republican Socialist Party article and on Congress ’86. Well, comrade, it would be unforgivable of me to comment on Congress ’86 since I haven’t read it - have you a spare copy? I will deal only with the article by comrade Alan [Merrick]. It is never a mistake to hold such opinions - everyone can learn. It never ceases to amaze me, however, how many ‘theorists’ are alive and active in Ireland today. I am deeply suspicious of many, who in my own experience, rush to pay lip-service to communist principles when faced with favourable exposure.
You too will have experienced the consequent result of actions by some who attempt to make this unscientific analysis ‘fit’ Marxist theory. Please don’t suspect sectarian motives, but I am sceptical, to say the least, of IRSP acceptance of Lenin as the guiding hand on party organisation. Knowing well their own antecedents, I seriously doubt their present capabilities to conduct a sustained, disciplined programme of internal indoctrination.
Leaving that aside, the article itself was excellent. The position articulated on women - ie, separate sections - was perfect, and in fact one of my own bones of contention with Sinn Féin. I disagreed completely with them and their decision of 84 in this respect. I trust that particular error will be rectified in the future. The issue will always be decisive and will lead to alienation, especially when coupled with mandatory executive positions. I am totally opposed, see it as reverse chauvinism, and it must exacerbate an already insufficient understanding between comrades.
I have a few differences of opinion on the section concerning nationalism and internationalism. While I firmly believe that a revolutionary organisation must theoretically relate to all other such struggles - each separate struggle has at the same time socio-economic peculiarities. Ireland in particular has very complex social structures. The struggle in Ireland, as against all others, past or present, is unique in the inherent opposition to any perception of class war. Communists must in the first instance be practical.
Comrade Alan quite rightly gives the relevant quote from the Communist manifesto, “that communists must disdain to conceal their views and aims”. But in the extension of this surely the only principle involved in this is that “they declare that these ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions”.
Now I contend that the republican movement have declared their intention on existing social conditions - in the only practical way at present. I don’t believe that it would be of revolutionary benefit for communists to stand up and be counted in public, and in fact could be counterproductive. Whether Gerry Adams is or isn’t a closet Marxist is irrelevant. I have no doubt at all that the many communists in the republican movement make their positions clear where it matters most at the moment. I feel their present position deserves more sympathetic appraisal from fellow communists. Pragmatism is often a hard master.
Whatever the interpretation of this principle, I feel the present position within the republican movement is more correct than pseudo-self-appellation by economists. I tend to be doubtful of comrade Alan’s description, and indeed your own, of Ireland as a medium-developed capitalist state. Unquestionably, capital accumulation has taken place to some extent at a native level, and standards of living, for those left in Ireland, are on a par with European countries.
However, I feel that if all relevant statistics were analysed in juxtaposition with each other, it would be seen that underdevelopment has primacy in economic terms. I didn’t believe that perceived development can be judged in isolation to the instance of ever increasing immigration, ever decreasing educational standards, and the obvious underdevelopment of the agricultural infrastructure. The majority of constant capital is transient and shouldn’t be even considered in the equation.
I would welcome your opinions on this - you no doubt gather from my remarks that I am absolutely opposed to the economistic cries for further transnational investment. As always, however, I have poor access to relevant, up-to-date economic statistics.
I agree, of course, totally on the maximum importance of a party organ. I won’t get into a polemic on the possible petty bourgeois nature of the republican movement. The job of An Phoblacht/Republican News is clear. It must articulate our aims, educate internally and externally, and propagandise the political impact of every single action taken on behalf of, or against. Obviously I mean imperialist action against. AP/RN has not as yet achieved an altogether acceptable standard. There are obvious logistical problems, and editorial continuity can be sometimes disastrous. However, I believe that AP/RN is an embryonic Iskra - we shall see!
On a practical level, comrade, you must realise that many young (and old) republicans are now being exposed to Marx and Lenin for the first time. It is apparent to me, from information received, coupled with personal knowledge, that there is a danger that Marxist theory could be learned by rote. That would be disastrous if it wasn’t coupled by continuous and progressive indoctrination procedures via party organs.
I know SF are making some progress on this subject, and at least the POWs in Long Kesh are to be congratulated on their own recent publication: Questions of history - perhaps you will send me your views on that some time. Given the position I know the republican movement to have reached, I believe the IRSP are coming from a point very much in retard of that. I further believe they hold many infantile left views, and it will be very difficult for them, if not impossible, to make any organisational advance.
On an aside, comrade: I know well the inherent problems of spontaneity, and certainly the republican movement at one stage fell into that trap. However, I find it difficult to accept that so many different communists today seem incapable of recognising the present potential of the republican movement, nor do they appear to be cognisant of the internal purification taking place there.
There seems to be an incessant cry for the need of a ‘new’ vanguard to stand outside, albeit in alliance with, the republican movement. I think it is too simplistic to believe, as some seem to, that the republican movement is analogous of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries in respect of some new embryonic Bolshevik Party. There is a manifest difference in the historical materialism pertaining to Russia and to that of Ireland. Neither in concepts of the capitalist mode of production is there any parallel in the situation faced by the soviets then and that faced by the Irish proletariat today.
Principles don’t change, I know, but I would welcome your views on this. Labour-power is decreasing in Ireland today, the proletariat has experienced the epoch of capitalism in full flow. How does the decreasing revolutionary potential of labour-power relate to the necessity for increased perception of class difference? While I reject spontaneity as above, I don’t believe that communists in Ireland today can afford to ignore the dynamism existing in the republican movement, cannot afford to have that dynamism retarded in any way and must take full cognisance of the role of left nationalism within that dynamism.
Comrade, it is late at night, my eyes aren’t as good as before, my mind has gone a bit dull. Please forgive my atrocious writing and rambling thought - I do, however, get much pleasure in writing to you. I await with anticipation.
November 9 1987
Dear comrade Brian
Forgive me for not being a prompt replier. There just never seems to be the time to do anything. Our CPGB is just about to have its 40th Congress - which will result in the most politically significant split in its ranks since its formation in 1920. On top of that we have the Gorbachev phenomenon in the USSR, sending all our pro-Soviet sycophants into crisis, and important developments in Ireland. So I am working on three pamphlets - one on the British road, one on the USSR and one on Ireland - as well as struggling to produce a fortnightly every fortnight.
We shall, as you suggest, send you four papers (and we hear you have a new comrade transferred to Leicester, so we will send you a few extra). We will also send the supplements on Ireland (these will form the basis of the above mentioned pamphlet) and those on South Africa.
On your not engaging in public debate, this is, as you say, your decision. And I will, of course, not pester you. We can always come back to this question in the future.
I just feel that republican prisoners have enormous moral authority, which should be used to maximum effect. While I do take your point on the petty bourgeois left, I feel it is as important for you to recognise what is, and is not, possible in Britain, as it is necessary for revolutionaries in Britain to recognise that they have a sacred duty towards Ireland. At present we who stand on genuine communist principles are doomed to be a tiny minority, even a sect. Our arguments can easily be dismissed as sectarian squabbles.
On Congress ’86 - no I do not have a spare copy - but I’ll do my best to get hold of extra copies from over the water - or, failing that, I’ll photocopy one for you. As to the IRSP [Irish Republican Socialist Party] - you are right to be sceptical. But in our view all countries need a genuine Leninist CP. There are no exceptions to this. I think you are most likely right - in Ireland this will come from the republican movement - in the broadest sense of the term.
This does not mean we think the present leadership of Sinn Féin/IRA are not revolutionary. Of course they are. A Leninist CP would fight for a revolutionary alliance with the forces of the republican movement, employing the principle, ‘March separately, strike together’ (see the South Africa supplement on this question re the SACP and the ANC). The IRSP will be tested, first and foremostly theoretically - the new Starry Plough [paper of the IRSP – produced under the influence of The Leninist] is typeset and now looking for a printer, so let us see what they have to say.
Ireland is certainly a medium-developed capitalist country - yes, dominated by imperialism, but with local finance capital. Read our supplement and we’ll continue this debate. We argued this out with comrades from the IRSP. This is, as I’m sure you are aware, very important, not least in terms of socialistic possibilities in Ireland. But, as I said, read what we’ve got to say and then you can come back armed.
I certainly accept that the republican movement has shifted to the left. But, no, I do not agree that AP/RN can be considered Ireland’s Iskra. Why? Simply because of the class nature of the republican movement. AP/RN is a good left nationalist mass paper; it has much to teach us in terms of mass impact and propaganda.
We can and must fully argue out our views on the republican movement after you have read our supplements. This will give you our views in a far more systematic and lengthy form than I can do in a letter. The supplements on Ireland (and SA especially on communists and national liberation movements) will give you something to get your teeth into.
Comrade Brian, I know my letter is short, but keep writing at length. Your remarks/assessments (eg, on IRSP, RM, the feminist question etc) are invaluable - and I promise you I am not saying that to butter you up or anything such thing. That is not to say I agree with all you say. Both our ideas can develop (and possibly draw together at a higher level) through debate.
I would be interested in your comments on Enniskillen [on November 8 1987 an IRA bomb killed 11 people during the remembrance day parade], especially re G Adams. The Morning Star’s headline screamed, “A blind act of blind hatred” (quote from CPI). The Soviets called it a “barbaric act”. I expect you know other hypocritical comments from Thatcher and co. Our editorial will be on it in [The Leninist] No56. Whatever the IRA says about mistakes, or British army fault, it was an act of war. War is nasty, bloody and innocent people often get killed.
This does not mean we would do an Enniskillen, but we will defend the violence of the oppressed unconditionally. Is there a danger that Sinn Féin’s electoralism is gradually shifting its attitude towards the armed struggle? Given the history of the republican movement, there is always such a danger. What do you think?
Some final points:
One. Would you be interested in any of our Turkish comrades’ books? I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Two. I am eager, by the way, to hear you view on Gorbachev and the world communist movement.
Three. Yes, Brian, your handwriting is difficult, I am afraid; any chance of taking a bit more care - I’m positive that I’m missing some of what you write - if only I could supply you with a typewriter.
This should be a basic democratic demand in the modern world. In the 19th century we got pen and paper, in the 20th we should have word processors. My handwriting, as you might have guessed, is far worse than yours. In fact so low have prices of word processors become, it is years since I wrote at any length using pre-computer age technology.
In closing let me wish you well and make you an offer you can’t refuse. If you hear of any new books you particularly fancy, we will see if we can get them as review copies, and if there is time perhaps as Christmas/new year presents for your Leicester comrades.
Yours with communist greetingsJack Conrad
November 19 1987
Dear comrade Jack
I received your welcome letter and also the back issues of the paper. Many thanks - I was delighted with them. Sorry about my writing - do your best. I delayed this reply, knowing that your congress was in session. Can you send me your views on that? What will replace the Star?
To your letter.
A small point, if you recheck my last letter, you will see that I refer to AP/RN as an “embryonic” Iskra. I believe that, and anyway I’m sure you will agree that, because of Lenin’s pragmatism in relation to his necessary association with Plekhanov in the initial production of Iskra, the first issues were not the brightest sparks.
So it is with the Marxists in the republican movement: pragmatism dictates that we move surely, but slowly. At the moment, an internal paper has had the first three monthly issues printed. I have high hopes that this paper can be used as a stage upon which all of the contradictions can be debated. The resultant theories will make their way to the pages of AP/RN. It is manifestly true that revolution cannot be completed without proper theory.
I have just received this week a copy of Congress ’86. I will make a short critique. I believe the desire to create a ‘vanguard party’ is genuine. There are, however, some factors motivating this desire which appear to me to be very opportunist. Comrade John in his introduction makes very deliberate side swipes at Sinn Féin in his use of the term ‘Fenian’. He presupposes, by inference, that SF would in fact not cooperate with genuine Irish socialist parties. In this mistaken supposition, he finds proof of SF infatuation with establishment parliamentarianism.
He further confuses the present virulent opportunism rampant in the bodies of the Irish socialist (sic) parties with social chauvinism. He makes a dishonest inference that there are, in fact, organised socialist parties in Ireland, outside the republican movement, who strive for material and social liberation. Who are these parties? His historical analysis of the 1934 congress is flawed in juxtaposition with present circumstances. That original congress could not be refounded, nor should it be a desirable step at the present time. I say this because the underlying proposals in establishing such a congress would be the creation of a Leninist vanguard. Such a party, coming from such a congress, would in actual fact be a party of the rearguard.
Lenin explained exactly the reasons for, and the functions of, the vanguard in What is to be done? Only as a consequence of this long struggle against revision and opportunism in the ranks of the social democrats could such a document be written. You know only too well that the ideological struggle he had waged, especially in the preceding three years, was a struggle between the most knowledgeable Marxists in Europe. Only when unity was no longer a possibility did he split the party. Even after the split he continued to wage fraternal struggle with the Mensheviks - not because he hated them, but more because he believed their tendencies could be corrected.
Let me parallel the circumstances of the initiation of the vanguard then to the circumstances surrounding a similar proposal now. In Ireland today the proletariat are amongst the most conservative in the world. The concept of class war is neither understood nor voiced. The so-called Labour leaders are purely engaged in crude economism. The opportunism and revisionism of the CP and the Workers Party are all too obvious. A number of other left sects are pursuing their own sectarian objectives. A congress of such people, in the de facto absence of support for armed struggle, could not seriously be expected to advance one iota the revolutionary tenets of Lenin.
Look at what he says on the vanguard: “In our time, only a party that will organise really nationwide … can become the vanguard of the revolutionary forces” “… a tribune for nationwide … can only be an all-Russian newspaper.” “We must attract other classes … they will see that we represent a political force” “… in order to become such a force in the eyes of our outsiders, much persistent and stubborn work is required to raise our own consciousness”. “It is not enough to attach a vanguard label to rearguard theory and practice” “… the opportunist rearguard will be replaced by the genuine vanguard of the most revolutionary class”.
How can I fail to understand the need for such a vanguard? The republican movement already hold some of the above credentials and I firmly believe that when [the] republican movement reaches the ‘third period’ of Lenin’s era, the vanguard will be raised within our own ranks.
Comrade, so much has to be done in Ireland before such a thing can even be thought of. That the authors of Congress ’86 should attempt to tack the vanguard label in front of a party of their own creation is blatant opportunism, and the concept is doomed to failure. Is it not opportunism that prompts the authors to suggest my inference that the republican movement is incapable of understanding Marxist theories? They even attempt to confine the “revolution in progress” and that leadership of the revolution, the republican movement, to the mushy ground of “opportunism and reformism”.
This particular piece of prejudice led me to suspect their underlying motivation. There is a letter in the November 7 issue of … the Republican Sinn Féin paper. You will be aware of the reactionary nature of RSF in light of their condemnation of the action of Enniskillen. Anyway, in that letter, which is one of almost total support for RSF, a lot of very similar language to that of the Congress ’86 document is noticeable. It is even more noticeable, however, that not a single mention of Marx or Lenin on the vanguard is made. The letter does however call for a Republican Congress.
The letter is signed by four prisoners in Long Kesh. Now I am almost certain that these people are in fact co-authors of Congress ’86, and if they are, then their opportunist conspiracy is fully exposed.
To continue the critique, however: the authors make a very unproletarian statement in claiming that the northern status quo serves the interests of any part of labour, even if that section of labour is reactionary loyalism. Capitalism serves only itself. Not to understand this basic fact is a fatal flaw in the authors’ attempt to appear as proletarian internationalists.
Assuming that the primary purpose of Congress ’86 was to initiate a vanguard party; presuming that such a party is to have any chance of winning hegemony over the proletariat; then it rationally follows that such a party can only consist of the most professional revolutionaries capable of interpreting and using Marxist-Leninist theories.
I find it amusing therefore that the authors should attempt to justify and prove their Marxist credentials by unnecessarily including in Congress ’86 a section on dialectics. Marx said that “dialectics is the science of the general laws of motion”. It is a “science” to be studied comprehensively, to be fully understood. It is not something that should be treated as an art form - something that should be written about carelessly. The least the authors could have done was to refrain from misinterpreting Marxist economic doctrine in an open invitation to other Marxists to join with them in building a vanguard.
To say the least, I don’t think a cursory study of the law of value such as Conforth’s (which I believe to be the source reading) entitles the authors to rush into print in an effort to prove credentials. I would clearly love to see the initiation of a vanguard: one must be eventually be created. I am sceptical about the opportunist reasons behind the so-called Communist League of Long Kesh issuing Congress ’86. A vanguard created by these people would surely be a party of the rearguard. Pragmatism must dictate future development until such time as a vanguard is a real possibility. I long for the day!
Your own articles on Ireland are certainly excellent. However, we must debate to conclusion your perception of ‘medium development’. I do not argue that local banking capital is merged in some percentage with industrial capital. It is, however, the method of holding and distribution of interest occurred in the formation of finance capital, which will dictate actual development in socio-economic terms.
Take, for example, the present accumulation of industrial capital and local money capital in Jefferson Smurfit. This company was nominated in the market this year to be Ireland’s first billion dollar company. Its original development was Irish-based. Its present capital accumulation is made up of a minimum 25% equity held in US trusts. It holds a large percentage of Eurobank and other money capital. It is at present virtually liquidating its Irish holdings and exporting the majority of its monopoly capital.
Local finance capital is so weak in relation to transnational investment that it also transfers possible development capital in partnership with its industrial relations in an effort to keep liquidity. In general in Ireland there is a very large accumulation also of constant capital in the hands of the transnationals. This constant capital in the pharmaceutical and electronic industries is of very little benefit to native socio-economic development.
The large profits available in the recent phenomenon of the financial services field circulate only in the sphere of the international stock markets. The underdevelopment of agriculture is self-evident. The attacks on third-level education and the parallel encouragement of immigration are an obvious attempt to restrict any form of labour-intensive development.
The immigration rate itself disguises the rate of underdevelopment because it enables the maintenance of a false national standard of living. It is speculated also that as much as 15% of local banking capital is contributed by savings directly accumulated from capital repatriated by immigrants. Almost 70% of free-state exports are in the manufacturing area, 80% of which are exported by foreign-based transnationals. Only 17% of the GDP is created in agricultural sector using 18% of the workforce.
From a socialist perception, the socio-economic underdevelopment seems a more specific analysis. Parallel to this, even in the Six Counties, over 50% of the labour force are now employed in the public sector. A Financial Times analysis in 1984 states that: “The Six Counties is now in danger of losing its entire manufacturing base.”
Realising the extent of the diversification of labour at present, it is difficult to see how labour-power can be united in concerted action against capital. I believe the only potential catalyst at present is the struggle for self-determination. It is within the context of that struggle that we will be able to politicise the working class. In the first instance, British imperialism must be seen as the fountainhead of Ireland’s ills, and world imperialism with native capital must be clearly shown to be its collaborators. The task ahead is monumental and I believe the only way is to firstly radicalise the republican movement.
You ask for my comments on Enniskillen. I have written a letter, in agreement with my three comrades here, to AP/RN and the Andersonstown News on Sunday last. I expect you will read it soon. My feelings about Enniskillen are expressed in that. Let me know. I was, of course, disgusted with the opportunist statements from, in particular, [?], the Morning Star and - surprise, surprise - the RSF. To your further questions: I was less than satisfied with Adams’ initial reaction. I was not entirely happy with the IRA official statement.
No, I don’t believe that Sinn Féin is shifting its ground on the armed struggle. No, I don’t believe that it is remotely possible that, even given its history, the republican movement will edge into reformism - now, or at any time. I don’t deny that contradictions are inevitable until such time as our ideological base is secured.
Sorry to disappoint you, comrade, but I have a very low regard for the world communist movement. It appears to me that many of the factors which led to the collapse of the Second International are once again present in what should be an affiliation of proletarian internationalists. There appears even to be a greater validity in the fraternal relationships of national liberation movements. The gains of 1917 are being squandered in an orgy of revision and opportunism. Some of the affiliated invitations to the 70th Congress [?] would surely cause Lenin to turn in his grave.
Gorbachev has embarked on a very dangerous journey. I will forever defend the Soviets against factional criticism. The advances they made were, and are, real. Socialism everywhere owes existence to Soviet sacrifice. Any loss for the Soviets is a loss for each of us. It is however, very difficult, to defend the bureaucratic centrist faction of the CPSU.
When Lenin wrote Better fewer but better he did so in the full knowledge that a burgeoning bureaucracy would forever prevent the “withering away” of the state. His NEP and reorganisation of Rabkrin [Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate] were a positive attack on bureaucratic centralism. Unfortunately ‘All power to the soviets’ has not advanced to the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.
I’m all for glasnost and perestroika, but reform must begin deep within the CPSU. When Lenin asked that “the cloth be measured several times before it was cut” he didn’t mean that it shouldn’t be measured at all. Possibly glasnost could create conditions within the soviets where political revolution in the interests of the proletariat is a possibility. The manifestation of glasnost, however, outside the soviets seems to me to be openness in compromise with imperialism.
It appears that eclectic decisions are taken on occasions to abdicate responsibility in ‘hot spots’, in relinquishing regional influences to imperialist diktat. Any retreat in the face of imperialist pressure only further strengthens imperialism. There is no doubt that the cause of proletarian internationalism needs a world communist organisation under the patronage of a strong Soviet leadership. I don’t believe that to be the case at present.
I think the malignancy of Eurocommunism has been assisted in its growth by the revolutionary failings on the part of the centrist CPSU. I don’t believe that there can be peaceful co-existence with capitalism. That is a monstrous contradiction in terms. The old talk of a ‘general crisis’ of capitalism is somewhat hackneyed now. Imperialism is moving inexorably towards crisis and when the ‘general crisis’ does come, not only will we need a strong world communist organisation, but if we don’t have the patronage of a strong and uncompromising Soviet Union then I fear the only result will be massive global war. History has taught this lesson repeatedly: why is the potential ignored?
Comrade, I have been at this bloody letter for over three hours now. I’m exhausted. To finish:
Many thanks for your ‘new book’ offer - really. I don’t know what is available. Perhaps, if anything worthwhile is available you will find something for me. Comrade Paul here asks if anything by Alexandra Kollontai is available - he has special interests in that field - indeed we all should have.
Only four copies of the paper are necessary - myself, Paul, Pat, Gerry. Incidentally an amusing scenario just flashed before my eyes. Presumably in the interests of ‘unity’ we might see the B and ICO [British and Irish Communist Organisation] assist in building a vanguard party. I’ll have a nightmare tonight. I see these people are churning out the most blatant revisionist books and pamphlets under the ‘Athol Books’ Belfast label. I wish the IRA would blow it up.
I hope to hear from you soon. Comrade, I have just reread this with the same difficulty you had. Sorry, I can’t seem to write properly when in full flow.
PS. I see you have the same printers etc as The Next Step (Revolutionary Communist Party). Any significance in that?PPS. Can you supply What is to be done? in pamphlet form? It would be appreciated.
November 26 1987
Dear comrade Brian
Your letter, November 19, was very interesting (and you will be pleased to know that I am having less trouble with your handwriting - either because I’m getting used to it or because you are making an effort to write clearer for me - or most likely a combination of both). You have raised many points and made many comments, Let me first say that on the bulk of what you say I am in complete agreement. Most of my disagreements are minor, though there are, of course, some areas where we take very different positions - this is a good basis for us both to go forward.
I could simply pick out the main areas, but I think it would be more useful if I comment point by point on your letter.
1. I don’t look upon AP/RN as being an Iskra, embryonic or anything like it. Why? Mainly because of the class nature of the republican movement. It would be wrong of me if I did not make my position on the republican movement clear. Our attitude towards it is broadly similar to our attitude to the ANC, Swapo, PLO, etc. I think we have best explained our theoretical position on this field of communists and national liberation movements in one of the supplements on South Africa - I think it was No3. It is better you look at that, then take me up, rather than me doing a thumbnail sketch.
2. Pragmatism. I think your use of this word is open to misinterpretation; in fact I think it is wrong. Tactical flexibility is not the same as pragmatism. I take your meaning on Plekhanov; nevertheless, whatever tactical compromises were necessary, there can be no doubt that Iskra was uncompromising when it came to principles. I have not heard of the internal paper you mention - I take your word that it is developing theory in the republican movement: the more debate there is, the better.
3. On Congress ’86. I agree with many of the things you say about it: eg, dialectics, etc. Nevertheless our position is one of sympathy. No matter how amateurish, misguided on certain issues it is, there seems to us to be a genuine desire to confront the necessity for a vanguard (proletarian) party and a genuine recognition that without it Ireland’s revolution can never be crowned with full victory. Because these comrades come from the republican movement it is inevitable that there will be friction between them and it. It is also inevitable that they will make unfounded and wrong assessments. I certainly agree that any attempt to refound the Republican Congress would be a nonsense.
But this does not mean we should dismiss their studies and conclusions as a reactionary plot. Maybe they will go in a completely disastrous direction - I accept your reference to the letter to RSF. There was also a silly letter from them in Irish Socialist. So our position is critical and wary, yes, but sympathetic (at least for the moment). Why? Not only because we consider these comrades sincere, but mainly because we think the question of a vanguard (proletarian) party is the main link in Irish politics. At the end of the day where the initial cadre for such a party will come is for life itself to answer, But we say a party is built from the top downwards, not by a coming together of large numbers who merely call themselves Marxists or communists.
4. We will be carrying a review of Questions of history. I am not doing it but the comrade who is has read your letter and will use the review to (indirectly) answer some of the points you raise re C ’86, etc. I think the central question is the difference between the revolutionary democratic politics of a national liberation movement and the communism of the proletarian party. Can you suggest any names of comrades over the water who might be interested in seeing the review?
5. On medium development. Your answer precisely confirms that Ireland is medium-developed. There is finance capital - but because Ireland is a weak power it cannot expand imperialistically. Finance capital can only operate as a junior partner with imperialism in the exploitation of its own people. Your assertion that Ireland is an underdeveloped - ie, a backward - capitalist country just does not fit the facts. It is a member of the EC; it has native finance capital; it is industrialised. Its working class is big and is slowly becoming more politically conscious (eg, election of Workers Party TDs in south and SF candidates in north - I wish our working class was so ‘conservative’) and in the future they will lead the Irish national revolution uninterruptedly towards the tasks of socialism.
Though it is dominated by imperialism, Ireland has far more in common with medium-developed countries like Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Argentina, Mexico, S Korea, etc than backward capitalist countries such as Tanzania, Chad, Gabon, Zaire, Nepal, El Salvador, Peru, Burma, etc (I enclose a copy of Weak link for you to read, along with the Lenin book).
But please go back to the supplement on Ireland again - your objections would be understandable if we had called it an advanced capitalist country. Our position, as you will have seen, far from seeing Irish freedom coming from a straight labour vs capital battle (like Socialist Workers Movement, Militant, etc) will come through the working class becoming the champion of the oppressed north and south against imperialism (and, yes, their native collaborators - ie, native finance capital) in the struggle for national liberation primarily against British imperialism (this, as you say, is the main contradiction in Ireland). I think when it comes down to it we agree. But when you say the key is the republican movement, I would rather say it is the fight for a genuine Communist Party. These are not incompatible; both can be correct - but I think my formulation is more correct. While a genuine CP might emerge from the republican milieu - a genuine CP still remains the key.
6. On Enniskillen. You will have received [The Leninist] No56. Not surprisingly we agree on the hypocrisy of the British left and the British establishment. But, given the republican movement’s history and Adams’ statement, I do not understand why you do not think it is “remotely possible” that sections of it can edge towards reformism or simply bourgeois politics. What about the two main bourgeois parties in the south - what are their origins if not in the republican movement? What about the Workers Party? This is not to damn the RM out of hand - after all, look at the working class and communist movement, we have our long list of traitors, sell-out merchants and, for that matter, mass reformist parties that used to be revolutionary parties (ie, the Federal German SDP, French SP, CP Italy, etc).
7. This brings me to the world communist movement. You say you are sorry to disappoint me that you have a low opinion of it. Do not be sorry, comrade. You do not disappoint me. I think I agree with everything you say, including the dots on the ‘i’s and the crosses on the ‘t’s. The WCM is broadly like the Socialist International before 1914 - in some ways more so - the main thing that makes it different is the existence of a number of ruling parties - they will not take the side of their ‘own’ bourgeoisie - nonetheless this does not excuse their centrism. I also agree with the content of your main remarks about Gorbachev.
8. On this Gorbachev question. The USSR is important but not as important as you suggest. The USSR is the world’s revolutionary centre. This is an objective fact. But let us not get carried away with the idea that if it fell all would be lost - the working class would begin again (remember the quote in Marx’s 18th Brumaire), We are for openness and for reorganisation. We are, though, against glasnost and perestroika - if you see what I mean. We do not agree that reform must begin with the CPSU. What is needed is socialist democracy and that must begin with the plurality of parties.
9. On peaceful co-existence. No, we do not think these terms are incompatible in theory. Lenin used the term ‘peaceful cohabitation’ - same essence. It should, though, be a tactic not a strategy. After Lenin’s death it went from being the former to being the latter - no small matter - and has resulted in monstrous crimes, from liquidation of Polish CP to offers on ‘international hot spots’. Do not throw out the Leninist tactic of peaceful co-existence with the bathwater of the CPSU’s present bureaucratic centrist opportunism. I enclose a supplement on the question of World War III.
10. Strong Soviet leadership (as long as it is Marxist-Leninist) would be wonderful, but in the meantime we have to fight for revolution without it (and sometimes in the face of its active hostility). Do not be so gloomy. There is no reason why war is inevitable - the forces of revolution are, it is true, very weak on a world scale, but this is temporary - wait and see. Everything tells us that great changes are brewing. Things tend to happen in a rush and when they do, boy oh boy ... A revolution in a country such as Turkey could set off a chain reaction, not only in the Middle East but in both the western and eastern world.
11. Agree on general crisis, etc - see No56.
12. I’m sure you asked about CPGB’s 40th Congress and Morning Star. Can’t find it. Anyway it represented a further quantitative shift to the right. The MS will back a CCG [Communist Campaign Group] party. All in all the ‘official communist’ movement is in a mess and deep in crisis. Good - the old must die for the new to grow. We do not mourn - as Joe Hill advised, we organise.
13. On printers. Morning Litho prints İşçinin Sesi [Workers’ Voice was one of the papers of the Communist Party of Turkey]. Business from [the RCP’s] TNS is, I’m told, very welcome.
As I said. I enclose a copy of Weak link. I also thought you and your comrades might like a couple of other Turkish books as a sort of Christmas/new year/winter solstice gift. I bunged in the RCP’s pamphlet for comrade P - will send K[olontai] soon (pester me) - I know we have a few pamphlets by her.
Sorry I have been rather brief in reply to your many points. I hope you appreciate that this is not an attempt to wriggle out of debate - I am sure if you follow up the references I mention we can take things deeper. I think the most important area of disagreement is the nature of the republican movement - let’s develop the discussion on this - it is of vital, if not of immediate, urgency.
Things are moving in the field of communist politics in Britain. We are taking steps forward, developing new contacts, etc. The changes in the USSR are important here. They have opened up the CCG faction to us in a way we have never experienced in the past. Ireland is an important question with some of them - above all their youth. We have a good reputation on the question with them.
Their problem seems to be that we are seen as too small a group to be credible. They ought to read What is to be done? - I’m sure you agree. Their split will end in disaster and disappointment for them. But many will learn ... we will be there to help them. Success, even very limited success, with them will open up others within ‘official communism’ - those who we are most interested in are the industrial militants which the CCG undoubtedly has.
Suffice to say we are optimistic, whatever happens. We have the answers and the determination. We look forward to the future with great confidence. Inevitably you and I might walk different roads for some time. I am certain, though, that the day will come sooner or later when we are united in the same world party and certain that in the meantime we will both fight the enemy with all the imagination and force we can command.
Victory will be ours.
Fraternal greetings, your friend and comradeJack Conrad
December 9 1987
Dear comrade Jack
I’m pleased to know you find it easier to decode my writing. I was very pleased also with the literature. I have asked my comrades here to study What is to be done? with a view to discussing it with them later. Comrade, you must realise by now that on certain things I walk on a tightrope - and I don’t feel comfortable in defending the indefensible.
I have serious problems with certain aspects of republicanism and if we had personal contact things could be sorted out. We do walk different roads, only because of my present circumstances. Some day we will walk together in a united party of these islands - that has to come.
Incidentally, my letters to AP/RN and Andersonstown News were delivered, but didn’t appear! I will leave that to your own perception.
As always I wish to discuss problems with you in a private and personal way. Your analysis of my last letter is precise and theoretically correct. However, I want to draw back a curtain, as it were.
When considering the republican movement as an organisation, you should always be aware that it is fused, but loosely of separate parts. This is a constant state of flux, with different tendencies rising and declining in an evolutionary manner. In the last 20 years the contradictions have sharpened. While British involvement in Ireland has acted as a catalyst for unity, there has been only uneasy unity. It is, for example, very commonplace to find that duality of membership of separate fronts is not acceptable to many Marxists within the republican movement. The result of this has been that Sinn Féin developed largely in a petty bourgeois way.
Now, in hindsight this was a very serious error, but because of the intensity of fighting against British power, many of the most committed people ideologically just did not have the time or energy to divide their resolve. There were also many manifestations of Sinn Féin ideology which just were not acceptable. Now, because of the usual relationship within republican movement, it was possible for influence to be exerted on Sinn Féin in a pragmatic fashion.
When I use the word ‘pragmatism’ it is used in a way, perhaps incorrectly, which starts from a position more acutely turned to the hidden mechanisms within the republican movement. I am, for example, very conscious of the certainty that a seemingly minor shift in certain power bases would immediately create the possibilities of the integral parts of the republican movement merging into one revolutionary organisation.
Only when these parts merge (and if they do) - and this can only take place in an ideological sense - will it be possible to accelerate. I consider Sinn Féin to have been reborn in 1986, but unfortunately it still contains genes of its doubtful parentage. I have not been happy with certain manifestations of what appears at first sight to be opportunistic tendencies.
My position is always to doubt everything, but at the same time I realise that such manifestations are probably the result of ideological confusion, rather than any budding romance with reformism. There are many who are now exerting more and more influence. I believe that Sinn Féin will be changed. It won’t be easy, but it is highly possible.
The problem for Marxists is this: there is a de facto struggle for national liberation. This struggle is being propagated in the main by the republican movement. There is genuine doubt as to who tails who vis-à-vis IRA and Sinn Féin in the ideological struggle within the republican movement. For sure, Sinn Féin has for a long time been locked into democratic nationalism, and to the uninitiated, the IRA have appeared to be somewhat apolitical. It is fact, however, that an internal struggle has been taking place for many years now, and that revolutionary theory has been gaining ground in this struggle.
It seems very possible from the inside that revolutionary theory will win this struggle, with a very minimum shift in power bases. The resultant accelerating proportion of revolutionary ideology would, I believe, take sudden leaps. The present format of AP/RN could be transformed almost overnight and, since it already has a receptive audience of potential revolutionaries, progress would be rapid.
Now, Marxists can do one of two things. They can attempt to form a Marxist front, either within the republican movement or crossing divides with other potential Marxists outside the republican movement; or they can continue the internal struggle to form an ideologically united republican movement.
I do not believe objective conditions exist for the first option because of the following reasons: the number of genuine Marxists outside the republican movement who support the national liberation struggle could be numbered initially in single figures. Because of this unpalatable fact Marxists within the republican movement would be unlikely to get consensus agreement for fear of strengthening potential opportunism within the republican movement. The contradictions have not been sufficiently illuminated yet for me to have any confidence in such a premature action.
The second option remains, for me at present, the only one. The internal paper Iris Bheag is being issued by the SF education department and has up to now issued four monthly editions of eight foolscap pages. I have made one contribution so far under a pen name, and in defence of Marxist-Leninist analysis [under the name Pow Wow].
I have high hopes that Iris Bheag will be of great assistance to us in illuminating inherent contradictions. The paper is being used by POWs and I feel, from information received from other prisons, that pressure will be mounted which cannot be ignored.
Incidentally, I now have concrete information that the authors of Congress ’86 are in league with Jimmy Brown [formerly of the Irish National Liberation Army, he became a member of the short-lived Irish People’s Liberation Organisation] and are in fact the people who openly support the reactionary Republican Sinn Féin. I think this fact must indisputably put them all firmly in the opportunist camp, and exposes both their infantile left analysis and their pseudo-Leninism. A vanguard party emerging from such initiation would surely be a step backwards.
I have no doubt that all my comrades would welcome your review on Questions of history. May I make a suggestion. Without using any reference to me, would you be prepared to send it to the SF education dept, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1. Possibly you could also invite correspondence from them. I believe they may print it in Iris Bheag and that would be great if they did. I think that, while Questions of history was a tentative step forward, it was a very good effort under the circumstances in which it was penned, and shows clearly that the young POWs in Long Kesh are examining all aspects of traditional republicanism.
I am not all happy with your apparently arbitrary specification of “medium development” on the grounds of the presence of finance capital. I most certainly do realise that you judge this ‘preciseness’ to be crucial to the ‘weak link’ argument. I don’t believe that it is crucial in revolutionary terms, any more than the term ‘neo-colonial’. It is very interesting to note that not a single country of those classified as medium-developed has a history of colonisation by an imperial power. Please examine this crucial factor.
Development, from a socialist perception, can only mean that the economy sustains progressively more people in a better mode of life than before, and that fewer people are so badly off, and that agricultural/industrial development is not finite.
I firmly believe that Ireland is an exception to your theory. Ireland is an ex-colony of imperial Britain. There is virtually no development of its natural resources. Agriculture is seriously underdeveloped. Constant capital is almost entirely accumulated in movable light-industrial units, which could not be expropriated to any native advantage. The workforce has been decimated by immigration to such a degree that less than half of all born since 1960 can find native employment. Division of labour is at an all-time high.
The justifiable arguments used by R Yürükoğlu in the Turkish analysis just do not fit the Irish case. This question is very serious, comrade, since the whole concept of labour-power is being called into relief. It is indisputable that Ireland, with 79% of its workforce unionised, has the objective conditions for proletarian hegemony, but that is much too simplistic. Up until now, their every action has been economistic, to the detriment of political consciousness. Yet consciousness will not rise unless revolutionaries make it happen. As you say, only a genuine CP will have a chance to do this, but, comrade, where is it to come from if not from the republican movement?
All of the parties on the left are articulating absolute support for transnational investments, with the increasing ogre of deficit financing, and the unionised workforces are quite happy to follow that mood. Now I don’t blame the proletariat at all - the fault must be ours - but I think you are over-optimistic to believe they are to any degree politically conscious. The cruel fact is that, as yet, the national liberation struggle remains the only real catalyst to heighten the political consciousness of the proletariat. We must learn how to use it to do just that.
On peaceful co-existence, yes, I certainly agree when it is a tactic, and clearly seen to be so. When it becomes another name for retreat, then it can only strengthen imperialism. That can never be justified.
On the USSR, and your reference to the plurality of parties on the road to social democracy. I have great difficulty in believing that the democratic institutionalisation of ‘parties’ can ever lead to communism. I know what you are saying, but consider this: the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in a way manifests centralised corruption (sic) - but would not a pluralist society decentralise corruption, with a consequently much more difficult solution?
You say that you do not agree that the CPSU must be the first target of reform. Would Lenin not have targeted the party exactly as the first target? One thing is sure, he realised that bureaucracy could not be reformed until the division of labour ceased to exist in consciousness. With a state of such immense size and variance, I believe that reform must begin within the CPSU to have any chance against such a complex bureaucracy. Pluralism may in fact exaggerate the difficulties at present.
No, comrade, I didn’t like Adams’ statement on Enniskillen - I think that may come back to haunt him.
Comrade, I do hope you get back to me before Christmas. In the interim I wish you and all the comrades at The Leninist a good holiday. Perhaps over the next few months you can suggest schemes for castrating the Irish church - all of them. They remain the most durable enemy of the proletariat. Sometimes I despair over the bastards. I don’t need to tell you that the hierarchy in Ireland have more influence than the mullahs.
They often appear to be indestructible and remain always potential catalysts of fascism. That god of theirs is on everybody’s side, as long as they take the field against the proletariat. We must make do with Lenin, but that should be enough. Take care, comrade. Don’t get too inebriated over the holidays.
Your comrade and friendBrian Keenan
December 29 1987
Dear comrade Brian
Sorry for not replying earlier. It is not just the Christmas grind, but sheer weight of work - which, of course, is no bad thing. We’ll have the next edition of the paper out soon - after some delay - and in 1988 we should be able to maintain our fortnightly schedule. Yes, yes, your writing is far easier to read than before - thanks for making the effort.
You will be interested to know that we will be carrying a letter from the Long Kesh League of Communist Republicans and a review of Questions of history. Indeed we have a front page on the Irish question. I would be interested in your comments on these and, of course, the other articles.
I’m glad that you were pleased with the lit - I know you and your comrades will make good use of it. It’s not for nothing that revolutionaries have dubbed prison their university. Organised, disciplined study is vital, though. As you know, nothing can be achieved through browsing. That is why I would suggest that you set yourself specific tasks, a specific project, to be capped at the end of the day by a publication - as it were, your prison PhD. What do you think about something along the lines of Marxism and the national question?
Your remarks on the republican movement were very enlightening: you make your position very clear. But I still detect some haziness. You rightly say that the republican movement is made up of different trends, etc. This has always been so. But what do these trends represent? Above all, what are the class (I am referring to this in ideological terms) origins, the direction and perspectives of the leadership of your movement?
We have no need to mince words, comrade. We both understand fully that the republican movement is a petty bourgeois movement. Perhaps where we differ is on the future. I would say that the republican movement - ie, Sinn Féin - cannot but remain petty bourgeois - it certainly will not evolve into a genuine Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. This is not possible.
Why do I say this? Why am I so certain? This is something that takes a great deal of explanation and we will in the future, I am sure, go into this question in great detail. For the moment, though, let me leave you with some food for thought.
1. Communist Parties (I am talking about real, Marxist-Leninist parties) are built top-downwards. They are not the result of the unity of people who are brought together on the basis of some broad platform, but the product of a protracted ideological and political struggle - from the top down.
2. Study Lenin’s struggle for a Bolshevik Party: it is a treasure house for all of us. Iskra was not a mass-circulation paper, a transformed AP/RN: it was designed for and read by advanced workers. Its editorial board was merciless towards all non-Marxist trends in the revolutionary movement; within the RSDLP it sought out and hunted down all ideological deviations like economism, revisionism and legalism.
3. Communist parties are the voluntary union of those committed to Marxism-Leninism. There is no room for alien class trends in our movement or those whose aim stops short of communism. We take as our starting point world revolution, we subordinate the interests of our own nation, our own national interests to the interests of the world revolution.
Can we expect SF to accept all this? Hardly!
Communists should, as Lenin said, march separately from revolutionary nationalists, but strike together You have our supplements on South Africa - have a look at what we had to say about the relationship between the ANC and the SACP. Lenin’s attitude towards the Kuomintang, which we quote, is still applicable. There is nothing wrong in principle with dual membership, but everything must be done to protect the political independence of the communists - no matter how embryonic their organisation is. If this is not done, disaster can result and certainly the possibility of building a genuine CP is put in jeopardy.
How will a genuine CP be built in Ireland? This will be decided by you Irish comrades and by life itself. Nonetheless, I am absolutely certain that the republican movement will provide a broad swathe of the initial cadre for a genuine CP. Indeed it is quite possible that developments within the republican movement could provide the focal point, the hub around which a genuine CP can be built. In my view what is crucial now is that very nucleus. Numbers at the moment are irrelevant.
Remember the mighty CP of China was founded by a dozen or so members; the world-shattering Bolshevik Party had its origins in the majority split or the majority tendency of the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP, which was in relative terms then a tiny, indeed an embryonic, organisation.
Do not fall into the trap of taking the so-called ‘inheritors’ of Bolshevism in Ireland at their word. None of them are Marxist-Leninists. They are ideologically confused and eclectic; above all, they take an abstentionist position towards the living revolutionary struggle in the north - this is criminal, not communist, not even revolutionary. They are not our yardstick. We must win their members, junk their petty bourgeois dilettantism.
Yes, Sinn Féin will change. It will most likely move to the left. This will involve all sorts of conflicts and contradictions - elements (even leading ones) moving to the right, as others move to the left. What is certain, though, is that things will not stay still. That much is obvious. But, as I have indicated above, I see no possibility of Sinn Féin evolving into a genuine CP.
Also as I have indicated above, that does not mean your struggle, your political evolution is not in Sinn Féin. You have a duty to that movement and the comrades in it, and you should use all avenues open to you - Iris Bheag, The Leninist, AP/RN and any left publication that will open its letters columns, etc, to the voice of a genuine communist.
I am not urging any “premature” move, Organisationally you must stay where you are; politically you must move as far and as fast as you can. Frankly, comrade, I do not believe you have illusions in Sinn Féin and its possibilities. You (like many good revolutionaries in Ireland) are just unsure of where to go now. This debate is central to us and we must continue it.
I have planned an article, for publication in a month or so, on the question of building CPs - it is, after all, a question that confronts workers in all countries. For us there is only one genuine CP in the world today (not that there are no other Leninist organisations) and that is the CP of Turkey.
We in Britain are confronted with a CCG split which claims it will “re-establish” a Marxist-Leninist party in our country - as you will see in our next paper, we consider such grand claims to be utterly fallacious.
On Congress ’86. JB [Jimmy Brown] is not directly associated with it and, as far as we know, they do not support RSF. Anyway, we do not suggest for one moment that these comrades have the answers: merely that they, like so many in Ireland, are asking the right questions. Surely we should be able to state openly where we differ with them, while at the same time respecting their sincerity. Unless they are police agents, thieves or knaves, what other attitude should communists take?
On medium development. Precisely it is crucial to revolutionary strategy to know whether a country such a Ireland is or is not medium-developed. It effects the whole strategy we develop. We are, after all, materialists, not dogmatists. Countries which are medium-developed invariably face the need to struggle for a democratic revolution - but, as in Russia, there is a very real possibility of taking revolution uninterruptedly towards the tasks of socialism. Why? Because revolutions in medium-developed countries can and must be given an unmistakable proletarian stamp.
What will decide this, as you indicate, is not numbers, degree of trade union organisation, etc - these are the objective conditions which allow proletarian hegemony. What is crucial is the subjective factor - the vanguard CP. This is the instrument which will enable the proletariat to exercise a power and influence way beyond its numbers (in Russia the proletariat constituted no more than 10% of the population). Moreover, revolutions in medium-developed capitalist countries are direct products of the crisis of imperialism; revolutions in such countries can have a profound impact on the imperialist heartlands. They are in a real sense precursors of revolutions in advanced capitalist countries.
Characterising a country medium-developed is not arbitrary. It is a broad, but scientific definition employed by Lenin, still used by the CPSU, but undoubtedly deepened by RY.
You say “not a single country” I used in my examples of medium development have had a history of being colonised by an imperialist power. Maybe true, but it is also not true. The examples I can’t remember, so maybe you are right, but how about South Korea - it was colonised (Japan); Pakistan (Britain), Egypt (Britain), Singapore (Britain), Taiwan (Japan) ... and I could give you more.
Development in Ireland is most definitely distorted. We are aware of this - look at our supplements on Ireland. Yes, it has been drained of people (there are millions of migrant Turks throughout Europe, by the way, and as well as them millions of Pakistanis, Mexicans and other peoples from medium-developed countries have been forced to migrate). We are not trying to fit Ireland into Turkey, but use the scientific tools of Marxism-Leninism to analyse Ireland’s socio-economic development.
On the working class in Ireland. We agree that the national question is the main contradiction in Ireland. We also agree that what is needed is working class leadership. As you rightly ask, how is this to come about? The key to working class hegemony is communist leadership - until we have a proletarian vanguard in Ireland, the working class will wallow in trade union politics or tail the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie. I have no illusions about the present level of consciousness; all I know is that it is developing - the Six Counties and even the election of Workers Party TDs in the south indicates this.
On plurality. Why the problem, comrade? Have a look at Lenin’s State and revolution. This has absolutely nothing to do with social democracy - we want genuine socialist democracy. We know no principle that says there should be only one party under socialism: everything tells us there will be many. In the fight for revolution it is quite likely that a number of parties will ‘strike together’; quite possible that a number of parties will, as it were, ‘take power’ through working class organs of struggle being transformed into organs of power - eg, soviets - in which a whole range of working class parties, tendencies and organisations are represented.
In post-October Russia the Left SRs sat in the Bolshevik-dominated government. The Left SRs, Mensheviks and Right SRs were only banned (as with bourgeois, non-soviet, parties) when they actively took part in counterrevolutionary plots.
Take Ireland. Your national revolution could take place under proletarian hegemony, but Sinn Féin and other revolutionary organisations will in all probability fight with us. If that is the case, it is quite possible (depending on their strength and loyalty to the revolutionary order) they will find a place either in government, or at least as ‘loyal opposition’ parties. Should we ban Sinn Féin on principle?
Communism will only be achieved by extending socialist democracy to such an extent that it negates itself and renders itself no longer necessary. Before that, under full socialist democracy, if a group of workers get together and decide to form a party, why should we stop them? What have we to fear?
On the CPSU. We have plans for a pamphlet. The question I raise for you to consider now is what sort of party it is. It is a continuation of Lenin’s party, true, but surely there have been very important (qualitative) changes. Yes, it is a working class party (but so is the Labour Party), but is it a truly Marxist-Leninist party? If it is not a truly Marxist-Leninist party, then what strata does it represent? Centrism is no individual foible: it is a socio-political phenomenon. What we say is needed in the USSR is more than reform, but a political revolution. For that to happen it is vital that a genuine Marxist-Leninist vanguard emerges - only then can the proletariat in the USSR fully operate as a class for itself and carry out this task.
On the church. Yes, it certainly needs combating. Ireland has produced many fine revolutionaries - but more than one of them have been held back because of catholicism. Take Connolly, let alone Adams. The real question is again, how to fight it? Generally through patience. Much as it appeals to me, we can have nothing to do with the ‘We’ll hang the last capitalist with the entrails of the last priest’ nonsense. Religion will die slowly. To persecute it will only strengthen it - Ireland (and Poland) is a classic example of this.
I am sure that when things open up in ‘officially atheistic’ Albania, the church will rear its ugly head. We must stand with Lenin on this one. The socialist state must be neutral when it comes to religion; the party must be militantly atheist.
To close, again sorry for the delay - I’ll do my damnedest to be more prompt in future. I’ve done my best to get a bit of work in over the Christian/heathen festival - but it is hard with family demands, etc. Thanks for the wishes and the advice re alcohol - yes, we have a great deal to do and sobriety is no bad thing. What about 1988? I can smell change in the air.
All around us things are building up for momentous developments - the stock market crash, ‘official communism’, social democracy, the Middle East, Iran, Turkey, USSR, eastern Europe - everything is becoming unstable. Good - the old must go into crisis for the new to develop. Comrade, we are entering into truly great times. The future of our species will be decided in the 20th century or at least in the first decade or so of the 21st.
We are approaching a far more important crossroads than 1914; what 1917 began our generation must finish. What a time for revolutionaries! So here’s wishing you a productive new year. Comrade, study, study, study. Any help I can give, I’ll do my best … all you have to do is ask.
But after you have studied you must come out into the open - Ireland and Britain could do with a Lenin, but it is not essential. Revolutionaries can and must stand on the shoulders of others. We do not all have to be geniuses, but we do have to be determined and single-minded ... and time, as always, is never on our side.
Yours in friendship and comradeshipJack Conrad
January 16 1988
Dear comrade Jack
Many thanks for your letter and books - I am really appreciative of them. I can assure you that I never cease studying, my only problem being a limited library. So any books I get are gold dust to me. I do have a programme of study and certainly Marxism and the national question is of particular interest to me. My problems in that respect are that a lot of Marxist theory, including Marx himself, tend be Eurocentric. While Stalin contributed some limited exposition on Marxism and the national question, he was primarily concerned with the Russians, and may even have been guilty of Greater Russian nationalism.
I believe that he saw Ireland as an ‘anomaly’ in the whole question. Unfortunately, the triumvirate of Luxemburg, Stalin and Trotsky have left a legacy of confusion on the question. I believe that Lenin, rather than Marx, gives a more realistic appraisal of the question, since Lenin was more aware of colonial and neo-colonial problems outside Europe. Something Marx did not get to grips with.
Modern Marxists like Eric Hobsbawm have further confused the issue, certainly in respect of Ireland, and to a lesser degree, the same issue in the neo-colonies. Incidentally, do you classify Ireland as a neo-colony? Anyway, Jack, any help or literature on that and other issues will be most welcome. I am particularly pleased with İşçinin Sesi publications and I hope you have some more to come. Do you by any chance have a formulated ‘critique’ of modern Trotskyist tendencies?
Comrade, your letters do me the world of good. I’m sorry in being slow to reply. I have been in the wars with our people at home. I told you that I had penned a letter to AP/RN and Andersonstown News immediately after the Enniskillen incident. As you know, something went wrong, the letters weren’t presented. I launched a very little attack on this issue. The answers were not satisfactory.
Today, Saturday, I was horrified to see an edited version of my original letter in the Andersontown News. Crucial sentences were omitted. Being charitable, I will accept that the letter was printed finally to appease me, and the editing was innocent. Unfortunately coming now, after two months and often very unsatisfactory statements recently from SF and the IRA, my letter appears to be accepting, without any reservations, present positions. I feel very frustrated and I consider that I have lost this particular battle.
I am not disheartened though and now I must attack from a different direction. Many contradictions are appearing lately and I must find a method of echoing them - at least within the republican movement. I think Iris Bheag is my only choice for the present.
Comrade Alan’s [Merrick] front page of No57 on Ireland was excellent. I deeply regret that the IRA statement of December 3 was even issued. It raises enormous contradictions and could only have been made in an opportunistic way, albeit defensively. That, coupled with SF policy statements made since ard fheis 87 raises anxiety.
I will, however, continue to my present methods until such time as I am successful, or reach an immovable object. Comrade Alan’s review of Questions of history was very balanced. Advise him that Eire Nua is no longer SF policy - multiple changes since that particular document - however, the contention about “classless socialism” is still valid. I cannot disagree with him.
Your information on Congress ’86 authors is at variance with mine. JB was involved, at least an outside liaison/fronting, etc. The authors have definitely committed their support to Republican Sinn Féin. Of course, they are not knaves, etc, and deserve sympathetic appraisal. There is, however, I believe, an opportunistic content to their motives and this stems from hereditary ties within the republican movement family. Anyway, Jack, it is a moot point, and a lot of what they say makes sense.
Application, however, is another problem, and, as you concisely put it, where do I go from here? I think you should remember this, though. While I accept completely that in an ideological sense the republican movement is a “loose collection”; the party must be built from the top; there is a difference, however, in tendencies which are arrived at innocently and those arrived at consciously.
For the present, I believe that mistakes are being made through lack of knowledge. Honest revolutionaries are working furiously in the wrong direction, only because they don’t know anything else. I must do my utmost to create change.
You can help enormously in this respect, being ruthless with me, but also advising, etc. I am glad that you appear to understand my position perfectly. Certainly any premature move on my part would be disastrous. It will take time to break down antipathy to communist principles. Most, if not all, of that antipathy is totally groundless fear, and as a result of church/state education. The attitudes of so-called communist parties don’t help either.
Your argument on ‘plurality’ is very convincing. Must I, however, give up all hope on the CPSU? Can the legacy of Stalin-Brezhnev not be eschewed? Recent Gorbachev moves against corruption - for example, in the Uzbek republic - are surely encouraging. The mental division of labour, the major obstacle to democratisation, is perpetuated by the bureaucracy certainly - but could this not be corrected by a CPSU under good leadership? That Gorbachev has introduced a new market economy does seem to be dangerous - but would ‘plurality’ make a difference in the drive towards democracy? Should glasnost not be given some time?
Yes, Jack, the world is approaching a crossroads. Japan will develop political muscle as a consequence of their awesome financial muscle. The contradictions raised then between Japan-USA-Europe will be immense - surely in the next 10 years. But what of communist unity? It seems that liberation struggles are the only progressive forces at work. Eurocommunist trends will undoubtedly degenerate into national chauvinism in the event of imperialist crisis. Where is the catalyst which will organise proletarian internationalists? I fear a rerun of 1939!
Jack, I will keep you well informed of my progress vis-à-vis the republican movement. Please keep in touch with me if possible. I hope your holiday was good. I was ill for a few weeks!
Oh well - only another six to do!
Take care, comradeBrian
January [?] 1988
Let me start by saying sorry for not being more prompt in replying to you. This is in part the old, old problem of time, but it is also that I feel that it is important to mull over your letters and give them the attention they deserve,
On books - find enclosed some of our Turkish friends’ publications. I know you have Living socia1ism, Weak link and Socialism and democracy, so this should give you more or less a complete set. Trust they will qualitatively improve your library and facilitate your studies.
I also thought I would send you a photocopy of a recent Economist survey of the Twenty-six Counties. While not for one moment being a follower of its typical English subjective political line, I think the description of the south - “the poorest of the rich” - is spot on: ie, it is a medium-developed capitalist country.
As to whether we characterise it as a neo-colony: yes, if we understand by this that the Dublin government operates as a junior partner for the exploitation of its own country by imperialism, if we recognise that the economy in the south serves and is subordinate to imperialism in general and Britain in particular, I think this is correct.
The Twenty-six Counties has no possibility of in itself becoming imperialist. It is no Turkey, South Korea or Brazil in this sense. It is too small, economically marginal, too dependent to seriously contemplate breaking free from the economic orbit of its imperialist big brothers.
Having said that, though, I would still say that in relative terms the Dublin government has some room for manoeuvre. We must distinguish Ireland (north and south) from miserably impoverished and backward neo-colonies like Zaire, Jamaica and El Salvador. These countries are suffering absolute pauperisation. They are being bled white by imperialism and in many ways they are reverting to barbarity. Unlike Ireland they have no room whatsoever for manoeuvre.
Ireland (Dublin) and through the UK the north is a member of the rich man’s imperialist club - the EC. Yes, it is a second-rank member - and has no possibility of becoming a first-ranking member (ie, Britain, France, Federal Germany and to a lesser extent Italy). Nonetheless it is a member; and there is no way that a country like Turkey will get in - read our interview with comrade R Yürükoğlu. That says a lot about both Ireland and Turley.
Anyway, let us continue the debate on Ireland being medium-developed - I think it is absolutely essential that this fact is grasped by communists in Ireland and the correct strategic conclusions are drawn. I cannot stress this enough.
I urge you to read and read again Week link. I think it is a masterly book. In point of fact it is no exaggeration to say it changed my life. It, and the pamphlet Socialism will win (at time of writing I cannot lay my hands on a spare copy - but with luck it should be in the parcel I’m sending you), enabled me to make the leap from half-baked left centrism towards Leninism.
They answered the questions I had been asking but only half-answering. They were milestones in my political evolution and development. That our Turkish comrades have gone to the trouble, and the expense, of translating and publishing so many of their documents into English (and in some cases German and French) is an indication of their true proletarian internationalism - and I for one will always be grateful to them - they allowed me to really begin to think for myself.
It is therefore very frustrating that they have been so slack in publishing in English over recent years. Of course, the bastards have the best excuse in the world - the situation in Turkey is maturing rapidly and they are in the front line of struggle. We will see great things in the not so distant future from Turkey, comrade Brian - that I promise.
Keep your revolutionary senses keen and your revolutionary eyes wide open - they are vitally important lessons there for all communists. Tell me what you think in particular of their attitude towards Kurdistan and Cyprus. I think they are a model for us (see Cyprus question - bad translation of title - it is enclosed and also their programme).
On Marx and Lenin and “Eurocentrism”. Yes, you have a point. But have a look a Marx’s later works on India and Russia. They demand study. Certainly his earlier views on countries such as Ireland and India suffered from a mechanical approach - at least to some degree. But this was fully and brilliantly corrected. Lenin generalised from Marx’s principled and incisive later writings.
They were a model of proletarian internationalism and showed that Marx was no ‘European’ revolutionary, but truly a world revolutionary. His dialectical materialist method is universally applicable because it is true. Therefore I think it is dangerous to belittle Marx in any way. We must defend the unity of Marx and Lenin. Lenin after all was a humble pupil of Marxism, not the inventor of some other ‘ism’. Leninism is only (!) Marxism in the conditions of imperialism.
We communists do not fall into the trap of so-called ‘third worldism’. We know that at the end of the day the future of humanity will be decided in the main imperialist heartlands - the USA, Japan and western Europe (European Community). Revolutions in medium-developed capitalist countries must be seen in this context and it should be fully understood that revolutions in such countries can act as a spark, a precursor for revolutions in the metropolitan countries. That is what makes them so important.
Above all, we know from bitter experience that revolutions even in medium-developed countries (Russia being the classic case in point) which are not given sustenance by revolutions in advanced capitalist countries (ie, Germany) suffer all sorts of problems and deformations.
As to revolutions in backward capitalist countries, they are - without outside aid - doomed to quickly and tragically degenerate - look at Mozambique, which has to all intents and purposes been left to fend for itself - and compare it with Mongolia, which has received massive and sustained aid. The socio-economic-political differences are clear for all those willing to see.
On the ‘triumvirate’ of Luxemburg, Stalin and Trotsky, I cannot agree. They are not to blame. Few, if any, revolutionaries actually follow Luxemburg today. It is opportunism born of today’s capitalism/imperialism which is the problem. Luxemburg wrote many fine works. She was an outstanding revolutionary. Let us not give her away to the opportunist scum - she is ours, not theirs, As to Stalin and Trotsky, in broad terms they both had correct positions on the national question - even taking into account Trotsky’s narrow and dismal dismissal of the Easter rising.
Yes, in practice Stalin put into practice Great Russian chauvinism, but in theory he was perfectly orthodox (a typical centrist). I would thoroughly recommend you reread his work The national question. For all its rather plodding faults, its lack of subtlety, it is an important work in the Marxist armoury - remember, it was written as a result and in the light of Lenin’s direct advice, and JV Stalin was also commissar of nationalities directly after the October Revolution. It is important with L, S and T not to throw out the baby with the bathwater (no, we have no systematic critique of Trotskyism - sorry - one day, one day).
Eric Hobsbawm is excellent (if not 100% correct) on the 19th century; an absolute shit and moron when it comes to the 20th. To a lesser extent, he is like Kautsky - he is a Kautsky epigone. This professor of ‘Marxism’ uses his authority to excuse all sorts of revolting opportunist practices. Like K’s work on early christianity Foundations of christianity, Thomas Moor, etc, and even contemporary (overseas) revolutionary upsurges (K on Russia 1905, H on France 1968) they are worth reading. This does not for one moment excuse H’s treachery. A pox on such ‘Marxist’ historians. When they face living class struggle they go to the dogs.
You have rightly drawn your own conclusions on Andersonstown News and AR/RN. What more can I add except to say that the letters columns of The Leninist are always open to you and your comrades. This, though, as I agreed when we first started to correspond, is not something I will press - at least for the moment - you have been warned. I will only take your ‘no’ for an answer for - well at least five of your six years.
I do not joke, by the way, comrade. Sooner or later the open ideological struggle must be joined. You know as a genuine communist that this is your duty. When you have prepared you must do battle. You must have contacts who have studied, studied, studied in prison only to find themselves quietly shunted aside once outside. As I said in my last letter - prison is a revolutionary university. It must be used as a preparation for practice.
For god’s sake, Brian, someone in Ireland has got to grasp the nettle. Your struggle cries out for a genuine CP. Leaders matter - they are vital, worth their weight in pure gold. Those who have come to the correct idea have a duty to subordinate themselves to it. If we are to be true to what we believe in, we must act, we must let necessity dictate our actions.
Modesty is all very well, but I am not writing to a swellhead, but an honest and genuine communist. I am not seeking glory for The Leninist. It is publishing that matters, not at the moment where. Certainly not in a still rather obscure British publication.
Of course, as I wrote before, premature moves are not a good idea. When you go into print be good and ready, use you six more years at university wisely. By the way, having thought more about what you said in your previous letters and having seen the Starry Plough No1 (!), I must admit that my views, or at least the emphasis I place on where a communist nucleus will come from has shifted towards you and your republican movement. Stay in it, fight in it, change it. (Though I am still convinced that the most determined struggle is needed, this will inevitably include a decisive split.)
Have you seen Starry Plough? Let me know quickly if you haven’t - I’ll bung one in the post to you. I would very much welcome your open and, damn it, if need be your private response to it and my review of it. My rating of the IRSP has dropped somewhat, as you might gather.
As to the LK [Long Kesh] League of Communist Republicans! What confusion! Communist republicans! Communists, they have yet to discover, do not aim for a republic, but the negation of all forms of the state. This, as you and I know, is ABC. Still we must be patent. Better communist republicans than socialist republicans! I’ll come back to the LKLCR in a bit, Just to say as soon as we can - stuff the state.
As Lenin made clear in State and revolution, it is a necessary evil. Incidentally do you have a copy - it is excellent when it deals with plurality under socialism and why it is unnecessary for the proletariat to organise a political revolution under socialism because of the soviet system (which no longer genuinely exists in the USSR).
Before returning to the LKLCR, this gives me a good in on the CPSU. No, do not give up all hope. Nonetheless it is a sectional party of the working class. On this you might be interested to hear the views of Michael Bettany - you know, the spy the Soviets did not employ. He thinks our call for plurality opens the doors for separatists, Jewish dissidents and downright Russian chauvinists to organise. True.
Under a 70-year-old dictatorship of the proletariat, though, what should we have to fear from such types? The Russian Revolution lives on in the collective memory of the Soviet working class - they are not Poles (ie, victims of history), but makers of history.
Do not place one iota of faith in G[orbachev]. He is an utter revisionist. The bourgeoisie love him for good reason. He is not fighting corruption in any real sense. Corruption is endemic amongst the bureaucratic parasites that leach off the socialist state. Including the G family. The entire stratum is guilty. None of them have clean hands. G’s fight against corruption is a sham, it is a sop, a political device against bureaucratic opponents. It is not a genuine anti-corruption drive.
Glasnost and perestroika go hand in hand. It has nothing to do with real socialist democracy. Castro, for all his faults and limitations, has attacked it - and quite rightly. It is rightism. In the next few years this will be decisively proved. Already this technocrat wants to trade the Afghan revolution and revolutionary Nicaragua. What won’t he sell? No, let’s not have any illusions in his so-called openness and restructuring.
Our main aim, in our call for the plurality of parties, is not freedom for reactionary vermin like Pamyat. We are not fighting for Pamyat, but the communist proletariat. Marginalise and defeat those reactionary scum by good old-fashioned communist organisation and polemic - win the masses, use the TV, press and radio and if need be the workers’ militia.
But let proletarian democracy bloom and a real proletarian party emerge. That is what we want. That is what life demands (its nucleus could well come from the CPSU). But, wherever it emerges, life calls for its to be born (the same is true of a genuine CP in Ireland).
Yes, I know Eire Nua is no longer official SF policy. But, as you say, the essence of our criticism is correct. That is why AM quoted it. On Congress ’86 JB was only involved in organising the printing. This is our information. Your point about opportunist tendencies could well be true. But it is the overall direction that concerns us. On this we shall have to wait and see. Of course, some - in fact a lot - of what C ’86 says is crap. We judge it, though, not in where it is wrong, but where it is right. We will criticise the shortcomings, but fully support its call for a genuine CP - it’s the same with the Irps [IRSP].
In some ways I think you are right, re mistakes of the republican movement. Nonetheless, lack of theoretical knowledge is only half the story. There are contradictory class interests as well (everybody knows variants on the ‘They’re not having my bloody pigs’ story). Look at recent statement on how the republican movement does not aim to overthrow the southern state! This leaves the RM reformist in the south but revolutionary in the north. Typically petty bourgeois. A sustained ideological struggle is needed. On this there can be no question.
That we are seeing in my view has more in common with 1914 than 1939, Though both dates have important lessons and parallels for us, Look at RY’s [Rıza Yürükoğlu] Proletarian internationalism. It has very important flaws (ie, Stalin); nevertheless its section on the 2nd International should be closely studied.
Just a line here, comrade. Do you know if everything is okay with comrade G [Gerry McDonnell]? Its just that we’ve not heard from him for some time. Ask him to drop AM a line soon, if you would.
In closing, my dear comrade Brian, let me wish you the best of health. Keep as fit as you can. This is your revolutionary duty. As our trade union militants in Britain say - ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’. And yes, I will not only do my best to keep in regular touch - I will keep in regular touch.
This is not only my revolutionary duty, but frankly I look forward to your letters, because they get me thinking. They provide a challenge to me, give a cutting edge to my thoughts. That and your comradeship are of great value to me. And on that note I will close, wishing you belated new year’s greetings from myself and all Leninist comrades.
Best communist wishes, comrade Brian.
The future is oursJack C
January 29 1988
Delighted to hear from you! I got all the books - great! I already had that Economist survey, Jack - it is useful in many ways. I must now concur (almost) with the ‘medium development’ formulation. The extent of immigration and transient nature of transnational interests in Ireland still leave some doubts! More later, Jack. This will be short.
I have got myself badly behind with letters - even those to my family. I’ll explain. Lately, as a consequence of censorship on my letters, etc. After Enniskillen I have been heavily involved in some polemics with the republican movement leadership. (Incidentally, Jack, please advise comrade Alan not to refer, in any way, to AP/RN or Andytown letters when he writes to the other comrade. I now suspect that AP/RN had been forewarned my letter was a veiled attack on the leadership. That is sad. I hope you get my drift - it’s a lonely war.)
Anyway, dear comrade, I have been, until now, undecided about my next moves. Harsh words have been said (by me). As you know, I told you about Iris Bheag - I was quite excited about its potential. The first edition was in September 1987, monthly. In No3 (November 1987) a member of the SF leadership wrote a fairly nasty letter against what he called the over-use of “jargon” (sic) in the first two editions. He then nominated the “jargon” as “Marxist-Esperanto”.
The articles he complained about in the first two issues had been written under pen names (Iris Bheag - internal Sinn Féin educational publication). I must admit, the articles were a bit confused, but did not warrant this type of abuse from a named leadership figure. I was livid!
I hadn’t at this stage subscribed to the paper - I had been waiting and watching to gauge the levels of debate. In his attack, this person had used the occasion to reiterate his own (and SF’s) position vis-à-vis ‘stages’, bourgeois democracy, etc, peaceful political transition within a new type of united Ireland. I decided I couldn’t afford to wait any longer and made a fairly pointed critique of his letter in issue four under a pen name (although they know who it is from).
He didn’t come back to me in issue five, but I got support from other writers. In issue six (January 1988), however, I was viciously attacked by a philistine who penned the most outrageous letter - a mixture of left nationalism and petty-bourgeoisism. He wrote under his own name. I am convinced ‘he’ is unaware of my identity, and this letter may have been allowed into Iris Bheag (it verged on personal abuse) by a sympathetic editor, with the purpose of giving me a platform (I hope so anyway).
Well, Jack, when I got this issue six (last week) I got to thinking over your own advice. As you know, I didn’t want to make any pre-emptive moves, but got worried that the nationalist trend were in the process of building a theoretical bulwark against Marxists in general.
In the event, I decided to go on the attack. I am still going to use the pen name at present (there are complex reasons why I should), even though the SF leadership know my identity. I penned a five-page article, mostly on the necessity of class interests etc, class war, Leninism in relation to our struggle.
There are a lot of questions frequently asked, and a very heavy attack on the petty bourgeois nature of SF policy, etc. If the letter is printed in February 1988 in issue seven, I think the shit will hit the fan. My primary interest in this action is to demonstrate the availability of strong support to those SF people who may be afraid to write controversial (sic) letters to Iris Bheag. I want to gauge the depth of Marxism both inside and outside the prisons. I also want to chaw teeth [embarrass or tear a strip off]. I hope that the force of my attack will compel certain sections of the republican movement to counter-attack. If I can engage them in open debate, I can then develop a programmatic, ideological struggle. That is what is most needed, especially out in the open.
Hopefully such debates may spill over into the AP/RN itself. At some stage, when conditions are more advantageous, I intend to drop the pen name and conduct further struggle in the public domain (you may not have to wait the five years you promised me). I will do that if and when senior leadership figures commit their intentions to paper, and in a petty bourgeois interest.
I don’t know if my timing is right, comrade, but I felt that I had no options left. I know it will be difficult for you to gauge the problem above, but I will keep you informed as best I can.
I agree about İşçinin Sesi publications - they are quite remarkable. I am disappointed to learn that they are not publishing in English. Jack, I don’t have Marx on India and Russia (hint - sorry!). Also I agree that to be a little bit revisionist could be like being a little bit pregnant - but sometimes I think out aloud - and surely Marx would expect us to reappraise, given the changes that have occurred? Anyway, I know what you mean!
Unfortunately, comrades Luxemburg, Stalin and Trotsky, in making critical errors, however small, on the national question, indirectly gave impetus to the modern-day revision of the ‘stageist’ theory - the ‘all nationalism is bourgeois’ theory was destroyed by Lenin’s polemic against Bukharin. But unfortunately his position has been distorted and the subsequent opportunist positions of modern CPs have done untold damage to national liberation struggles.
Jack, I would be grateful if you could forward that Starry Plough (would they put me on the mailing list, you think?). I have State and revolution, by the way - but anything you know will interest me, I’ll relish receipt. Jesus, I do a lot of begging!
That question you asked re comrade Alan’s correspondent. What can I say? For communists, the struggle is all-consuming - for others it can sometimes be an adventure. You will realise by that what value I place on communist relations, and how difficult it is for me to decide that …! I know you will guard my trust.
I am expecting some of my family over on visits next week - I always get a little tense before visits - but I love them dearly. Things here are much the same - no problems. It would be great if you could visit me someday - I miss the cut-and-thrust of debate, tête-à-tête!
The Israelis have created hopefully their greatest nightmare - interesting contradictions surfacing in the USA over recent events in the camps.
What news of comrade Bilen (ex-TKP)? Is he dead, or part of the liquidation camp (same thing)? Is RY alive? Let me know the latest positions, personalities, etc.
I see the WRP are really hell-bent on a witch-hunt against Healy - it’s like a soap opera!
Comrade, perhaps you will at some point consider, as it were, personal contact. I know anonymity is essential for you in certain circles, but think about it anyway.
Take care, be strong.
February 19 1988
My dear friend and comrade, Brian
Glad to hear things are okay in the nick - in a way no news is good news. Also glad to see you’ve moved on medium development. Not because you have been won to my argument, but because this is the objective position Ireland occupies in the world pecking order. On immigration, as I said in my last letter, this in no way makes Ireland a backward capitalist country (remember Turkey, Pakistan, etc). Nor does the admittedly transient nature of transnational investment.
The two key questions are in very broad terms.
One - the development of native finance capital. This certainly exists, as I showed in our three supplements on Ireland you have in your possession. This is the main criterion we would use to show that Ireland is no backward country.
But two - the inability of this native capital to ‘naturally’ take the country to the imperialist stage shows it is neither a member of the 18 or 20 imperialist nations.
The understanding of medium development is absolutely essential for developing a correct communist strategy. The work I have done on Ireland (indirectly because it is not medium-developed in the full sense, but what I would call a junior imperialist power - South Africa) convinces me of this. And, of course, if you look at Turkey - weak link you will see this is most certainly the case with our comrades of the CPT.
Their whole strategy (see the Programme of the CPT) of winning proletarian hegemony in the democratic revolution, taking it uninterruptedly to socialism, etc, is based on a scientific understanding of Turkey’s place in the world and the contradictions which result from its intermediate position.
In its own way Russia was medium-developed (though because of geography - ie, size, population, history etc - it had managed to become imperialist, albeit under the wing of the western powers: ie, France, Britain). Have you studied Lenin’s Development of capitalism in Russia and his Two tactics of social democracy? They are models of the sort of work you need to engage in.
And this brings me to your developing polemic. I will not mince words - I will speak frankly as comrades should. I would not be in so much of a rush as you appear to be in. So someone slags off “Marxist-Esperanto”. So what! What a prat!
You are in a position which has all sorts of advantages and disadvantages. Let me begin with the disadvantages. You cannot conduct a successful political struggle from a prison cell. This is obvious. You are isolated, dependent on others (including the ‘generosity’ of the people who will allow you to read this letter I send you) for information.
So what about the advantages you have? You have standing. You are a proven fighter and republican partisan. You also have time - not much in a certain sense, but enough. When you are released, the basic questions that confront the movement will still confront it and you will not be an old man. While revolutionary situations are invariably over quickly, have to be grasped with both hands or they turn into their opposites -counterrevolutionary reaction - the situation in the north and Ireland as a whole means that the revolutionary situation in the Six Counties will continue for some time and will indeed spread like a plague south of the boarder.
The British imperialists have - in spite of their subjective intentions - with the Hillsborough accord aided rather than prevented this happening. We always said it was a double-edged sword (in fact, an act of desperation) to draw Dublin into the revolutionary politics of the north. More than that, because of where you are, even if it was correct to cast caution to wind, outside (and often it is) it is not correct for you.
This is how I would approach the task of equipping Ireland with what it needs. Study, study, study. Not just any old stuff but directed, purposeful study which produces a definite outcome How about this?
Introduction: the need for a correct scientific understanding of Ireland. ‘Without revolutionary practice ...”, etc.
1. The nature of modern imperialism.
1.1. The problems in the socialist countries (gains, but gains that are in danger).
1.2. General crisis of capitalism and the danger of a new slump/world war.
1.3. The need for world revolution and the destruction of imperialism/capitalism.
2. Ireland is a weak link in the imperialist chain. Ireland’s class structure. Ireland is a medium-developed capitalist country, under the domination of British imperialism (open world economy means that this not really challenged), finance capital has developed, but no chance of Ireland becoming imperialist. This sharpens and exacerbates contradictions. Not least the national question.
2.1. What is Ireland’s main contradiction? (The national question).
2.1.1. Against the narrow nationalists, against the two-nationists, against the modern economists: ie, Militant, SWM [Socialist Workers Movement - today Socialist Workers Party in Ireland], WP [Workers Party], CPI [Communist Party of Ireland], etc.
2.1.2. The question of national liberation and how struggles of national liberation that do not or cannot take the path towards socialism are incomplete and always in danger of reverting to a neo-colonialist (a classic case in point being the free state) servitude.
2.2. Question of north and south, their economic position, standing and vulnerability (debt in south, industrial decline in north). Growth of working class in south and rising struggle and power of this class. (Our Turkish friends are in contact with [John] Mitchell of IDATU [Irish Distributive and Administrative Trade Union - now part of the Mandate union], by the way, with their Committee for the Defence of Democratic Rights in Turkey. I should be meeting him some time in March.)
2.3. The existence of a revolutionary situation in north - shown by crisis in ruling classes and activity of masses, etc. Developments that produced the revolutionary situation in 1969. Why the revolutionary situation has been so ‘spread out’.
3. Overcoming Ireland’s crisis through revolution. What sort of socialism do we want? What is socialism (dictatorship of a particular class, transitionary stage towards communism). Need for socialist democracy. Plurality. Freedoms and liberties far greater under socialism.
3.1. Need to resolve revolutionary situation - danger of counterrevolutionary terror: ie, unleashing of UVF pogrom. How to resolve revolutionary situation positively - and the need to resolve it positively before it is resolved negatively - ie, fusing the struggle of north and south. Against artificial stages.
3.2. What is loyalism? The ‘protestant people’. Need to break protestant working class from loyalism now. Against waiting till after national liberation. Fascism, its danger and what it is (danger of Dublin as well as Belfast fascism). Against ‘revolutionism in north, reformism in south’ formula.
4. Question of the subjective. Nature of republican movement and need to fuse it with working class movement. Petty bourgeois leadership has always (and will always) bugger things up, compromise. Direction of movement towards working class is good and ‘natural’. Tradition of Connolly - its good (and some bad points). Revolutionary working class is the most consistent champion of democracy (ie, national unity and anti-imperialism) need and possibility of taking revolution uninterruptedly to socialism.
5. ‘Our tasks’. Guerrillaism in north/reformist struggle in south inadequate. The need for a scientific ideology/plan of action. Take what is most advanced from world - ie, Lenin’s party of a new type - and build it in the conditions of Ireland. With it we can make revolution.
6. The need for open and honest comradely debate.
6.1. Against those who attack Marxism under the guise that it is foreign (Russian liberals did this before 1917).
6.2. Against those who attack Marxism under the guise of attacking jargon (would they attack Einstein for using jargon - ie, the language of physics? Of course not!). No truck with philistines - they are merely hiding their petty bourgeois politics. For unity of action and freedom of criticism.
6.3. We defend the heroic traditions of republicanism (the Fenians, etc) by moving forward to victory. Long live the IRA. Long live SF. National liberation through social liberation.
If you produced something along these lines. If you were firm on principle but very clever, very, very diplomatic in your delivery - a slippery fish; generously and wherever possible quote Adams (and other leaders) when you can find something you agree with them on (ie, need for socialism, etc, etc); dedicate the book/pamphlet to him (politics is an art, remember).
In this way you will create a centre of debate that is both granite-hard in its politics but very, very difficult to slag off. Put your critics in a quandary - get Adams or someone with great standing to write the introduction to disarm them. You should aim to write, in other words, an Ireland - weak link of imperialism. Read and reread RY’s book. Lift from it and our supplements - originality is not our aim, scientific accuracy and political effect are.
To write such a work will take some time - a good year, maybe two. If you write it cleverly enough there should be no reason why the republican movement or elements around it should not publish it. It will create a profound impact, a thousand times greater impact than any letter to Andy Town News or AP/RN.
Yes, use a pen name. I’m all in favour of them. You will be known as the comrade who wrote that book/pamphlet. This will establish the ground from which you can then fight. As Lenin said, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no …” You can apologise for lack of full statistics, material, etc - “due to the unfortunate circumstances I am working in”. This would be a good tactical move. You could aim to publish a second, updated, fuller edition once you are out. You could also include your polemic with critics as an appendix in a second edition.
But you must establish a name. You must win a base of support - and frankly this can only really come together when you are no longer incarcerated. In the meantime present yourself as what you are - a loyal member of the republican movement. Argue as you are - a loyal member of the republican movement. Definitely not a splitter, nor a dilettante. Argue simply but effectively. Look at Stalin for style in this respect. He might have at times been rather plodding - but, boy, could he be effective - a veritable steamroller. He hammered home his points, proved one contention and then, and only then, did he go onto the next point. RY has something of this - fortunately it is also combined with Leninist politics and Leninist breadth.
Having produced your magnus opus, you will then be in a position to pen replies to critics and perhaps produce a couple of other works before you get out and into the real cut and trust of politics. Why not write a rigorous (but loyal) critique of Eire Nua - say what sort of programme SF actually needs. Also what about an analysis of the protestant working class and loyalism. The leadership are very weak on these questions. But they should not feel put out by your work. After all Eire Nua, as you have pointed out, has been junked and the protestant working class is a bit of a no-go area.
The protestant working class is perhaps the key to the Irish revolution. It is numerous (in relative terms) and well organised (in economic terms). In some ways like the South African whites, but there is objectively a much greater chance of winning them to our side. They must at the very least be neutralised. They must certainly be understood. It would be a great contribution to the revolutionary movement if you did this. Of course, the leadership (or at least sections of it) might object, but they would only isolate themselves in the process, expose themselves as narrow nationalists.
Emotion is no bad thing. But do not let your heart, but your head, rule what you do. Plan your moves like a general. Play it long-term like a chess game. Make every move serve your overall strategy. What is needed is a CP. So how are you going to get it? Work on the long term. It would be better if the ‘shit hit the fan’ when you are out, not when you are in. Do not compromise on principle. This would be wrong. But if necessary retreat in order to prepare yourself and then strike.
Anyway, let me know what you think. Maybe I have completely misjudged the situation.
I thought you would find the IS publications useful (I’ve now got Socialism will win - find enclosed). On the English publications, I was speaking to RY a week or so ago and he said that they have two books in English planned - one by EE on the nature of the working class and RY has one on the ‘official’ world communist movement’s view of revolution in the pipeline. Also they publish Turkey Today. I’m enclosing some back copies. The next edition is at the printers - I’ll send it to you when it finally rolls off the presses. I’m sure you will find it all interesting. I’ve also shoved in a copy of IS.
I know you don’t speak Turkish - can’t say I do either. But I feel it might give you a sniff of what we are aiming at in broad terms - an Iskra. Page three is a report of an illegal memorial meeting to mark the anniversary of a young comrade (pic) murdered by the Mensheviks/‘officials’ in 1980. She was buried under the hammer and sickle - the first time such a funeral had taken place (this is very relevant to your comrades who still bury their dead with priests officiating).
Page six is about the ‘officials’ new programme - it drops all reference to the dictatorship of the proletariat. The supplement is the speech of comrade RY on the 67th anniversary of founding of CPT. This will be produced in part - especially material on USSR - in above mentioned Turkey Today. Page 11 pic - meeting in the House of Commons organised by Committee for the Defence of Democratic Rights in Turkey with the TUC - what smooth politicians our comrades are. They could even teach Gerry Adams a thing or two - and he is an excellent politician. Anyway hope you find it of some interest.
I’ll also do my best on Marx and India/Russia, Don’t worry about asking and certainly do not feel that it is begging. We had two copies of Starry Plough - I gave mine to RY (We’ve just bought some more copies - there is one enclosed).
From what I had understood the authorities were not letting it through. I might be wrong here - you’ll soon find out if this letter has no SP enclosed with it. But that is what I’ve been told from Ireland. I think you are on their mailing list - you bloody well should be - can you ask the prison authorities whether some of your mail has been impounded? Perhaps they fear it will corrupt you - it might even turn you to violence, even republicanism. What nonsense!
As you will have gathered, RY is alive and kicking - as to B[ilen], he has been dead for a few years now. He was one of the early generation of communists in Turkey. When he died he was in his 80s. RY is a product of the upsurge in the l960s.
On Luxemburg, Stalin and Trotsky. Yes they made mistakes on some questions - but in different ways. On the national question Stalin was orthodox in theory, opportunist in practice. This is to exclude his revival of the stages theory - this is a separate, but related question. Yes, this laid the ground for the revisionist monstrosities that call themselves CPs today. And, yes, this has damaged national liberation struggles - ie, South Africa, Ireland, etc.
Trotsky was abstract and very wrong on Easter 1916, but nonetheless defended the right of nations to self-determination. Luxemburg was a different matter. Yes, a fine revolutionary, but in part because of her hostility to narrow Polish nationalism she threw the baby out with the bathwater. She denied that nations could be given the right to self-determination under capitalism and said it was totally unnecessary under socialism.
Of course, we should not blame these individuals for today’s confusion. This has its roots in today’s socio-economic/political conditions. After all, the revisionists claim Lenin, not in the main S and L (the Trots and T are a different matter). This, of course, says more about our weakness than their strength.
I’m sure we can arrange a visit from a comrade. It cannot be myself, but it could be someone who broadly reflects my views. Let us know about visiting times, etc and we’ll see what we can do.
Comradely greetingsJack Conrad
February 28 1988
Dear comrade Jack
I got all your mail - great - you are the best of comrades, not just for your literature, but for your most valued advice. Firstly - my decision to attack the “Marxist Esperanto” prat would, in normal circumstances (in the scenario you envisaged) probably have been rash - however, I believed I had no choice. I’ll give you a brief history.
Last September 87, the SF education dept issued the first Iris Bheag internal journal. The editor was the driving force in the journal’s appearance. His avowed aims were to aid practical development of SF via internal theoretical discussion. I was very excited at the potential of Iris Bheag, especially when the first issues carried stuff not normally seen in republican literature. The level of debate isn’t very high, but the potential and direction was obvious.
The attack on some of the ‘Marxist’ articles didn’t just come from a prat using a pen name. It came from a prat who under his own name, being a ‘leadership’ figure, offered to give an official ‘thumbs down’ to any form of discussion other than petty bourgeois nationalism.
If I had let this pass, potential inside and outside prisons may have ducked their heads - Iris Bheag would have been stillborn. As it turned out, my letter to Iris Bheag - which was very pointed, released a flood of letters from the Kesh and elsewhere.
The ‘leadership’ figure has not replied to my attack - but some other ‘polite’ stooge did make a reply. I subsequently penned a five-page article against this - firmly nailing the ‘class’ to my method. The article was presented last week, but - more encouraging - a lot of similar articles were penned by other people against both the leadership figure and ‘stooge’. This obvious support for ‘class’ issues will in turn strengthen the hand of the editor and make it extremely difficult for opportunist factions to repress the paper’s direction.
I believe that if I had let this ‘figure’ use the paper to build an immediate ‘bulwark’ against scientific socialism, that would have been a tactical error on my part. I hope I did the correct thing, only time will tell. Please comment!
Jack, you have my mind in turmoil - oh how I want so much to follow the programme you suggest. Do I have the mental capabilities? I don’t know! I have a very simple-minded will, it is my concentration powers which may let me down. Good information is also vital - I tend to exhaust every source available to me. Even bourgeois economic reports are difficult to accumulate and collate - normally when I do get one it is badly out of date. I have hopefully five years Jack - I do intend to use them well.
The IS books are of course invaluable, but I need a preponderance of information on Ireland itself. The challenge you pose on loyalist workers is of particular appeal to me. Perhaps if you talk to Mitchell of IDATU he could be of help to me (he had promised a mutual friend that would write to me, but hasn’t done that so far).
In a way it is tied up to the ‘medium development’ thing - in the 26 counties, according to my figures, less than 30% of employment is in the industrial sector. The socialisation of labour within this is very segmented (to say the least). About 14% are employed in agriculture, etc, and about 56% employed in services, etc. The trades unions, as you are aware, are in general absolutely economistic and don’t hesitate to discipline such as IDATU through their corrupt congress.
Immigration rates tend to camouflage the contradictions (with a healthy dollop of EC investment thrown in). The extent of transnational involvement in the industrial unions and services sectors is at present able to consult the majority of the workers involved, the TUs are quite happy to acquiesce (as for WP also).
Parallel to this, the verbal republicanism of Haughey, etc is dulling the perceptions in regard to the national struggle. My theoretical Maginot line is how, dialectically, do the contradictions between capital and labour sharpen to conditions which objectively are revolutionary?
How can subjective direction be affected now, and at what weakest point? Similarly, the conditions in the Six Counties - 6% in agriculture, industry decimated to about 27% and services (including security, etc) a massive 67%. Where is the labour-power to be generated with such diversion of labour? On both fronts, how can the unemployed, and potential immigrants, be mobilised subjectively?
It is clear to me that we need a CP - I don’t argue that. It is not clear to me how imperialism can continue to at such present profits outside of an agreement on territorial subservience to Nato. It is not clear to me how native finance capital can exploit over a long period, unless in free market conditions.
The lack of raw materials in Ireland is a crucial factor - using dialectics I can only come to the conclusion that, eventually, imperialism intends to underwrite subsistence of a depleted Irish workforce in return for territorial control. Native finance capital and state monopoly capital will tend to move in partnership with transnational disinvestments to pastures new. The only potential for growth will be ancillary industries directly tied to the defence of Nato’s western flank. The present rate of profit enjoyed by imperialism will rapidly decline in Ireland in the face of Japanese/West German/US competition. The lack of raw materials, and even synthetics, will force transnational capital to move, leaving behind a decimated agriculture and an alienated workforce. That would be disastrous in revolutionary terms.
Turkey, for example, has a far stronger claim to being the weak link! A further point in favour of the objective conditions in Turkey is the geographical axis on which American-European capitalism revolves. How would Lenin have viewed Ireland in the present conditions - how would he subjectively couple the national struggle against imperialism to the necessary struggle against the bourgeoisie, given the extent of socialisation of labour?
I don’t for a second doubt that in the definitive collapse/crisis of capitalism in Ireland, unless we have a vanguard ready and willing to apply subjective conditions and initiate the violent overthrow of the Irish bourgeoisie, the moment will be lost. In that respect I am totally committed to building such a party.
I also consider that any form of ‘stages’ planning is absolutely a mistake. The question however, Jack, is this: Do objective conditions exist in the 26 Counties at present for ‘class war’ and can a continuous struggle push the whole way? Is it a fact that without the national struggle being de facto, objective conditions in Ireland would be no different than in the UK in general?
How then (if above) can we use the ‘nationalism’ of republicans in a Marxist way? Is this a homage to spontaneity? The present SF position (as to 1987 ard fheis) - ‘We opt for a constitutional conference, etc’ - and the IRA statement - ‘We don’t intend to overthrow Leinster House, etc’ - are disastrous, as far as I am concerned, and only propagate ‘stages’ harmonics, and can only lead to an ‘importation’ of a bourgeois republic. Further, they will cut no ice at all with loyalist workers, etc.
Unless these positions can be changed internally, we will be in a constant spiral of contradictions. If and when the republican movement changes, if and when a vanguard rises, what are the tasks? The class struggle, certainly - but what are the programmatic progressions? The programme must be workers and peasants - but what are the specifics? Since there is no socialisation of labour on a big scale at present, it is obvious that a ‘programme’ could not envisage centralisation of labour. Lack of raw materials would prohibit native finance capital from generating such a development - must the programme therefore push for decentralised ‘small’ production? Surely such a petty bourgeois idea is not tenable - or does dialectics dictate that such a programme could be considered?
Do the ‘tasks’ therefore boil down to a direct thrust to civil war? How could that be successful - obviously it couldn’t be - without programmatic progression under the capitalist mode of production? Are we back therefore to syndicalism - to a struggle for vanguard control (sic) within organised labour? Is this not economistic, given present objective conditions? Primacy of revolutionary politics does not exist at present inside the republican movement and will not, unless we can somehow escalate the armed struggle into the 26 Counties.
That would effectively destroy any present SF potential in the public arena - but would that be a bad thing? I don’t know if you can follow all this, Jack. I’m thinking out loud, if you know what I mean. I need you to come back to me on all of this - I am constantly thinking a partial vacuum. Write soon.
One, I think you misunderstood the ‘visit’ suggestion. I cannot have any visitors at all unless they are vetted by the home office/police! It is not a question of just arranging a visit as such - there are application forms, etc. Knowing your present circumstances I would have explained possibilities to you ‘in private’ as it were (if you were interested). Your decision!
Two, second edition of Congress ’86 was very disappointing - some of it even counterrevolutionary - also a nice piece of Keynesian economic theory. Still! Starry Plough not bad at all.
Three, I have little on Stalin (I’m trying to get Marxism and the national question) I have an aversion to contacting the [Irish Communist Organisation] (Athol Books). I have Lenin’s Two tactics - but not the development of capitalism in Russia.
Question: Trotsky claims to have suggested basics of NEP to Lenin prior to the 9th Congress. Is that correct? Have you any relevant literature?
Please comment on nationalist tendencies in Armenia!
Jack, my writing is in relapse again!
March 21 1988
Dear comrade Brian
Glad you got the lit okay - here’s some more, including Marx and Engels on India, as promised, and an old (yes, I’m sorry, but still) copy of Stalin On the national question.
Even though Marx and Engels’ writings are early, I think you’ll agree that they show no ‘Eurocentrism’ - they show Marx and Engels always sought to approach questions in the concrete, not with a ready-made European or any other geographical or cultural doctrinaire formulae. I’ll see if I can lay my hands on a cheap edition of Lenin’s Development of capitalism in Russia.
Brian, on your polemic in Iris Bheag. Let me be quite frank: far be it for me to tell you what or what not to do, but, yes, I do think you have been rather hasty. You need to crystallise your ideas. Make them granite-hard - then strike. Your ideas are still in the process of becoming thorough, let alone really hard.
What you say now must carry you into the future. Try and write stuff today that in 10 years time you won’t blush to read.
I know, looking back at The Leninist No1, that, while I would not say things in that way now, our organisation can proudly stand on its platform. As to before The Leninist No1, I cannot say this. When you write, write for the future as well as the present. You are bound to make mistakes. Who doesn’t? So write on areas you are as certain as you can be. Do not speculate or wander into areas you have not seriously studied. You must become authoritative.
Anyway, to continue on your polemic. Clearly the fact that your “Marxist Esperanto” prat produced a “flood of letters from the Kesh and elsewhere”, and that, again as you said, there is a “groundswell” in “support of class issues”, shows that with or without you there is a growing left trend within the republican movement.
What I’m suggesting to you is that you develop a plan to become the leader of this trend, not merely one of its unled (and therefore directionless) rank and file supporters. It is essential that this trend be won to a genuine Marxist-Leninist programme, as opposed to simply mouthing Marxist jargon. This is where a comrade like yourself comes in.
What is needed is a leader, someone who has the courage, the determination and the ability to grasp the bull by the horns and produce something far more profound than a letter (even a five-page one) can ever be.
You are quite wrong to doubt you own abilities. Geniuses are few and far between. Communists, like you and I, have the advantage of standing on the shoulders of some of the greatest minds mankind has ever produced. That is the point. The method is there. All we need do is apply it. Statistics are important, but whether they are bang up to date is not the main thing - what we must concern ourselves with primarily is principles and the socio-economic trends that are working themselves out.
What I would suggest is that you base your work on my three supplements on Ireland - it needs reorientating, thoroughly reworking so that is reflects the debates within the republican movement, etc. I presume you have a reasonably good collection of works by Gerry Adams, etc. This is far more essential than the most up to date and comprehensive statistics.
And as I said, if you make it clear that your document is limited by prison conditions (lack of good library facilities, etc) there will be no problem - you can always promise a second edition. The real point at issue is how you are going to organise your work. I would suggest that we cooperate as closely as possible. What is needed first and foremost is an Ireland - weak link of imperialism.
A work on the protestant working class is very important, but secondary. Perhaps initially you could issue it chapter by chapter in Iris Bheag. If the editor is a good comrade, this would be ideal. But it must be published whole as quickly as possible afterwards.
On the specific matters you are thinking aloud on. I’m sure on a number of questions I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. But here are my comments - brief, but as to the point as I can get, given limitations of time.
First. In bourgeois statistics the percentage of those employed in the ‘industrial sector’ also includes foremen, managers, technicians, etc. It is often assumed that this sector is the only one that produces surplus value. This is not true. Yes, it is the best available area with which we can study the rate of exploitation, rate of profit, but the so-called ‘service sector’ also includes large numbers of productive workers.
Anyway workers, productive or unproductive, are all workers, who together either produce or facilitate the production of surplus value. I would have thought that production in Ireland is in fact highly socialised. True, there are no giant factories: nonetheless the centralisation and concentration of production has proceeded at a staggering pace over the last couple of decades.
Ireland has a higher percentage of trade unionists than Britain (which is very high by any standards). You talk of the corruption of workers. I don’t think this is true, or at least it concerns only a certain thin stratum. What workers lack is leadership!
Second. Economism - you say trade unions are in “general absolutely economistic”. This is a mistaken formulation. Economism is a deviation within the workers’ party (ie, its Communist Party). It seeks to reduce the programme of the working class down to the level of trade union politics. We communists seek to win the leadership of the trade unions. We criticise the present leadership of the trade unions for reformism, not economism.
Third. Of course, you are quite right that there is no revolutionary situation in the south. This should not, though, blind us to the trends which point to a revolutionary explosion in the future.
The contradiction between labour and capital will not of itself produce a revolutionary situation. What produces a revolutionary situation is the inability of the ruling class to rule in the old way and the unwillingness of the masses to be ruled in the old way. What causes this will vary from country to country.
A revolutionary situation will certainly not result from the growing size and concentration of the working class (important though this is). Those who suggest this fail to grasp Marxist dialectics and in fact adhere to mechanical materialism.
You are far too pessimistic about Ireland’s prospects. The development of capitalism is in general always a double-edged sword. Capitalism/imperialism has a tendency to crush the working class and at the same time create and add to it. This is undoubtedly happening in Ireland.
Fourth. On “territorial control” by imperialism. What do you mean by this? A return of direct colonialism in the south? I don’t think this is likely to happen. The advantage Ireland has for US and Japanese imperialism is that Ireland is in the EC (thus access to a vast market), has a relatively cheap source of labour and provides excellent tax relief and other incentives for investments.
The rate of profit is low in general in Ireland, but I would expect that it could be far higher for the capitally intensive transnational corporations. They have massive tax breaks, intensely exploited and relatively cheap labour, so their mass of profits are definitely massive (again in relative terms).
Clearly the crunch in Ireland is coming. Debt is a great problem. You are correct to suggest that the standard of living (the level of subsistence) of the working class in the south will be subject to vicious attack. This could be the spark that sets the Twenty-six Counties aflame (or it could be something else, but an attack on working class living standards, the absolute pauperisation of the working class, is clearly not a minor question).
Fifth. Nato membership is also an important question. I need to look at it and the possibility of Ireland doing a Spain. And yet membership of Nato and the EC is by no means synonymous or automatic. Austria, Switzerland and Sweden (all determinedly neutral) are having talks about EC membership. The south stayed out of World War II in spite of the fact that it was (and still is) a British neo-colony.
Clearly Dublin does exercise a degree of autonomy. To ignore this would be absolutely stupid. Nevertheless, as I say, I need to think more about the Nato question and Ireland.
Sixth. Being a weak link is no competition. It is not a matter of one country being more of a weak link than another. In broad terms medium-developed countries (like Ireland) constitute the prime weak links in the world today. Contradictions cannot be attenuated to the extent that the ruling class in the imperialist countries do through the creation of a labour aristocracy and general bribery courtesy of imperialist robbery and widening the basis of property ownership.
Seventh. Coupling the national and the class struggle is achieved through working class hegemony (through its party) over the national struggle. Conditions in Ireland present no basic problems here. In fact the reverse.
The working class is the largest class in Ireland and the national question lies at the heart of Irish politics. There is no way that in Turkey the working class is the largest class and this certainly was not the case in pre-1917 Russia.
Capitalism will collapse into crisis - not collapse like a building or bridge. You are perfectly right to say that a party is vital, but, perhaps, it will have to be actually built in the midst of a profound capitalist crisis. Who knows - only the quicker it is built, the better.
What is essential is that a Communist Party makes revolution in a revolutionary situation - if it does not the ruling class will seek to impose a counterrevolution - which in Ireland would undoubtedly be a form of fascism. This is not to say that an economic crisis and a revolutionary situation are the same thing - just that an economic crisis usually is one of the underlying causes of a revolutionary situation,
Eighth. Stages in a revolution are not wrong in themselves, What is unpardonable is to seek to impose onto a revolution artificial stages, as the CPI and just about every opportunist scumbag in the world communist movement do.
We do not seek to use the “nationalism of the republicans in a Marxist way”. In fact we fight to overcome nationalism wherever it manifests itself. What we recognise is that in Ireland the national question is the main contradiction. This has to lie at the centre of our programme for revolution.
We understand that only the working class can truly liberate Ireland, it will do this through liberating itself. This has nothing to do with worshipping spontaneity. Worshipping spontaneity would mean tailing the republican movement’s petty bourgeois political programme, constitutional conference and all - or the trade union politics of southern workers.
Fundamental change in the republican movement can come in many different ways. But the essence of what is needed is a genuine Communist Party able to gain the leadership of the Irish working class and then those prepared to fight against the existing state (march separately, strike together) in a revolutionary way.
Ninth. A communist programme consists of two basic features. A minimum programme which sets out the immediate democratic and economic demands of the popular classes. In the abstract, but not in practice, they can be met under the conditions of capitalism.
A minimum programme therefore says that what is needed is revolution and outlines the forces for and aims of this revolution (a form of civil war) against the existing state (that does not necessarily mean the system).
What it also says is that for these demands and aims to be secured and maintained, it is necessary that the revolution is led by the working class (through its party), and that under working class leadership the revolution will be taken uninterruptedly towards the tasks of socialism: ie, against the capitalist system and towards communism. This is the maximum part of a communist programme.
In practice socialism in Ireland would be hard-pressed to survive without a revolution in Britain, though it can be done - look at Cuba. It has survived without a revolution in its natural trading/cultural partner in the USA. Nonetheless the communist programme is intransigently internationalist because the liberation of the working class - ie, communism itself - is an international, not a national, struggle - albeit fought out initially on the national terrain.
Tenth. The republican movement is a revolutionary movement. It is not, though, a working class (remember, we talk of programme, not social content here) revolutionary movement. Armed struggle is a tactic, not a principle.
What is vital for communists at the moment is laying the theoretical groundwork for the bringing together of a real party. Not a sect or a debating society. Let alone a reformist sham like the WP or CPI, but a real, genuine and strong Communist Party of Ireland. In this theoretical clarity is vital. That is why I urge you to take up the task of writing an Ireland - weak link of imperialism as a matter of urgency.
Well, Brian, as I said, I’m sure I got the wrong end of the stick on a number of questions, but there are my comments on your thoughts. The best thing to do is to get down to work - that is the best way to crystallise your ideas. In fact I would say the only way.
Glad you liked Starry Plough. I didn’t think much of No1. But No2 - have they sent it to you? - it is a great improvement. Not that they have made a qualitative break yet from left nationalism. But here’s hoping.
You’ll have seen our comments on Congress ’86. I’ll say no more on it at the moment, except to say that for all the shortcomings - including the sub-Keynesian economics - it is wrong to call it counterrevolutionary. Opportunist will do.
As to Trotsky saying he proposed NEP to Lenin, this sounds like typical post-Trotsky Trotskyite nonsense. I’ll see if I can get hold of a copy of EH Carr’s volume dealing with NEP - from what I can remember of reading it, the last thing Lenin relied on at this moment of time was Trotsky’s advice or suggestions regarding what became NEP.
Trotsky was the main proponent of the militarisation of labour, subordination of trade unions to the state, in effect an advocate of exacerbating the bureaucratic deformation of socialism in the Russia of the early 1920s. No wonder the Trotskyites do not publish the Trotsky of this period, Just as they have an (understandable) aversion to publishing his pre-1917 anti-Bolshevik, anti-Lenin diatribes.
On Armenia - we’ll have an editorial on the question. Let me confine my remarks for the moment to the comment that fake democracy will produce such manifestations of backwardness, there is a great danger of further nationalist outbursts in other parts of the USSR. What is needed is genuine socialist democracy under the leadership of a truly proletarian, internationalist CPSU.
On visits. As it involves the police, etc, I think it would be best that we agreed to meet face to face some time in 1992-93. I’m sure you understand.
I’ll have to improve my promptness in replying. But, as I said above, I’m very keen to get working with you on an Ireland - weak link of imperialism. This would have a profound impact in Ireland, provide a focal point around which the left republican trend can coalesce and be transformed into a genuine communist trend, a nucleus for a genuine CP in Ireland.
Clearly the situation in the north is tinder-dry today. The politico-socio-economic situation in the south continues to mature. History beckons you - its arms are open. Make your mark!
In Britain things are much slower, but they are moving. The working class is shaking off the memory of the defeat of the miners’ Great Strike. We have to ensure it remembers its main lessons, which were rich in revolutionary potential.
The NHS dispute is of great importance, as it provides a potential focal point through which to generalise action against the government. We are doing our utmost to ensure our paper keeps up with developments and keeps to its fortnightly schedule. This, as you can imagine, is no easy task, but it is necessary. I’m sure our ideas will percolate down, though it will take time.
So we are confident about the future. The same cannot be said of the CCG/Morning Star grouping. Nor the Euros. They are all collapsing into chaos. Good riddance we say. Let the bastards go down the plug hole. They deserve it. Roll on the CPI going the same way. Roll on the day genuine communists in Ireland can organise themselves as the CPI.
Brian, I’ll close here. Write back quickly on the Weak link project and let’s get down to work, We don’t have much time, but I’m sure we can do the business. And, if we can, we must. I eagerly await your reply.
Your friend and comradeJack Conrad
April 26 1988
Dear comrade Brian
Find enclosed the latest Turkey Today. I’m sure you will find it of great interest. You should have received two papers since I last wrote - [The Leninist] No64 will be out mid-May.
I’m pleased as punch that you are eager to get to work on our project. And yes, of course, I’ll give you all the help and encouragement I can. I am supremely confident that you will eventually - after much mental sweat -produce a book that will have a profound impact on the revolutionary movement in Ireland (and for that matter beyond).
You are quite right that a genuine CP can only be built on a “strong, clear theoretical base”. You are also spot on when you say that this “must be articulated in the public domain”. Only such a party can fuse the national and social struggle and 1ead the masses in a revolution which overthrows the existing state and which then goes uninterruptedly on towards the tasks of socialism.
Publishing in Iris Bheag is no problem. Indeed it would be a positive advantage. First, it is the ‘natural’ and ‘correct’ course for a comrade like yourself to take. A republican prisoner should use the available channels provided by his movement - it would be wrong to do otherwise. Second, if it proves impossible for one reason or another to use Iris Bheag as a platform, it would be churlish of others in the movement to object if you arrange publication elsewhere initially - say, as a photocopied print-off from an Amstrad word processor and then ‘because of public demand’ as a properly typeset and printed book.
Certainly if it is published in Iris Bheag - and this is what we want - it would provide a great deal of kudos when you have it published for wider circulation: ie, ‘This was originally published in the SF internal education journal Iris Bheag’, etc.
On the Iris Bheag editorial, this should present no problem. As you say, let’s take up the challenge. Perhaps your preface on theory and practice could be submitted to AP/RN - in this way you could kill two birds with one stone.
I would not take up the issue of the IRA’s attitude towards the Twenty-six Counties straightaway. I think this would be a tactical mistake. You should take readers with you. A critique of SF/IRA and the call for workers’ defence corps in the south, etc should be kept for the closing sections of your work.
This would be the correct way to approach the problem in my view. Build up a logical and powerful analysis of Ireland and its place in the world, its economy, history and contradictions; then you can show why opportunist and anti-theorist positions are not examples of tactical flexibility, but represent a positive danger to the struggle and what a correct strategy can produce and what tactics are needed to carry it out.
An Ireland - weak link of imperialism will naturally have an “immediate effect”, as you say, of attracting all left trends in and around the republican movement and, yes, it will also ‘push’ the leadership to declare its position on the social question. It will either come out directly against you (bad) or it will equivocate. It will not, though, come over to your position. This must be understood. At the end of the day there will be a struggle - in one form or another - for the leadership of the revolution. Such a struggle cannot be avoided, but you can seek to fight it on the most favourable terrain.
We must fight and stand for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Ireland - weak link should have no difficulty of explaining how this in no way stands in opposition to non-proletarian popular classes. The fact is, though, that all states are dictatorships. Coalitions are transient: one class or another will rule and it won’t be ‘the people’ - it will be either the workers or the bourgeoisie. The dictatorship of the proletariat in Ireland does not need to be anti-democratic: in fact it has every possibility of being democratic in a way that the present SF leadership cannot even imagine - look at the CPT’s programme.
This needs to be explained, and if it is explained with skill and patience you will win not all those fighting imperialism in Ireland today but eventually ‘the bulk’. Those who we don’t win - because they are petty bourgeois nationalists and nothing more - will be easily made up by bringing into active struggle the huge reserves the Irish revolution has in the north: those who are in reality only passively supporting the struggle; even a section of the now loyalist working class; and above all the (in relative terms) massive working class in the south.
If the revolution in Ireland is to go forward, it will and must involve sharp ideological and political struggle within the revolutionary movement. There is no way this should be put off. To do so is to retreat from the very task of making revolution, which for communists comes before all political and personal ties.
On the ‘protestant’ - ie, loyalist - working class, communists in Ireland must go out of their way to intervene in their struggles. it is not the first priority - we must first organise ourselves and exert our hegemony over the revolutionary masses who are in the north. The next priority would be the working class in the Twenty-six Counties and, having done this, we would be in an ideal position to turn our attention to the loyalist workers.
We would then have something to offer them: class solidarity; not pious resolutions, but active support and above all a Thirty-two County revolutionary state in which we communists would seek to win working class hegemony and in effect make the revolutionary state a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
What did you make of the John Mitchell interview, by the way? I would be interested in your reaction. I mentioned his promise to write to you; he said this must have been a misunderstanding. Anyway it could prove useful if you initiated a correspondence in response to the interview in The Leninist ‑ it might draw him out and speed up his political evolution. He could certainly prove at least a very useful political ally in the future. So he is definitely worth cultivating.
Anyway back to your Weak link. Yes, get down to it straightaway. Write your introduction and send it to me. Then section by section. We can feed it all into a computer and send back, section by section, your original plus my comments and additions for your consideration. This would be the best way to work in my view. Also at the end of the day you will be able to submit a fully proof-read, etc work and not page after page of hand writing. (As an aside, either your handwriting is improving or I’m getting used to reading it - I hardly have any difficulties now, you will be pleased to hear.)
We have just picketed the CCG’s ‘re-establishment’ congress. They are now calling themselves the CP of Britain. The CPB is hopelessly divided ideologically. We predict early divisions and splits. Our picket was very militant. It really upset some of the CPB opportunists - good! It was in sharp contrast to their pathetic ‘congress’.
Also we are going all out to build the largest British contingent on this year’s May Day march in London. Our comrades from Turkey will be the largest, but there is every chance that we will succeed in our aim. We will certainly be the most militant and best disciplined contingent - there is no problem here.
Yes, Brian, the day will come when there will be a genuine CP in Britain and Ireland. Developments in the Labour Party are important in this - left reformism is heading for a crisis that will produce a great deal of political movement and flux. And look at Ireland: as you say, the south is heading for big, big problems. More, the raw material for a genuine CP is rich, politically advanced and is actually asking many of the right questions. What it lacks, as I have said to you before, is a leadership to act as the ideological catalyst.
This is where your Weak link comes in. So let’s get down to work, comrade.
Warm communist greetings, comrade.
Your friend and comradeJack Conrad
June 26 1988
Dear comrade Jack,
Please accept my apologies - I got your April 26 letter, etc - and I am replying now, to my disgust. I had some internal problems here, Jack - also I have suffered quite a severe bout of spondylitis in my spinal column. It frightened me a bit, Jack, because it caused severe headaches - I’ve never had it before.
Anyway, I don’t want to bore you, but apparently the damn thing will get progressively worse, and I must take pain killers. I hate to take tablets at all. I have been told that the attacks will come periodically with increasing frequency. With one thing and another, I have discovered the frailty of the human body. Amazing to me because I have been thrown out of kilter, so to speak.
To more important things. I got the paper, etc - latest edition, also [The Leninist] No65. I liked your supplement on ’68, etc - didn’t like Tommy McKearney’s letter [a former IRA brigade commander and hunger striker], however. But then I haven’t liked much of what I am reading from SF lately.
I am very upset at recent trends and Phil Flynn’s [a former leading member of the IRA, former vice-president of Sinn Féin and at the time a top trade union official] acceptance of a role in a Haughey committee is very worrying.
Before I get on to our project, I’ll let you know what I have been doing. I believe I told you that I had written to a protestant union leader (a spirited communist) on the Six Counties. He has not replied!
I’ll keep trying in that direction though. I have renewed some sort of comradely correspondence with the editors of AP/RN and Iris Bheag - however, I am not happy at all with the replies. I am now in good touch with John Mitchell and hope to cement a lasting relationship with him. I’ll keep you informed on that because no doubt I will need your guidance. With some delays I hope to get into our project, probably using Mitchell’s good offices to help also.
I think, Jack, that there are more serious problems in this than you had envisaged. For example - it is virtually impossible to lay out a Marxist analysis without actually calling for the formation of a proper revolutionary CP. Now, how the hell can I do that from within the republican movement and still remain within the republican movement? You are well aware that at present I will not do anything to damage Óglaigh [Óglaigh Na hÉireann - ‘Soldiers of Ireland’, the IRA]. I seem to be in a catch 22 on this, Jack - will you please come back to me on this problem ASAP?
There is no doubt that the dominant tendency in the republican movement is now in favour of pan-nationalism. The reasoning seems to be that the leadership believe that some form of pan-nationalist democracy would be Ireland’s 1905. They believe that the democratic tasks have not been completed either in the Twenty-six Counties or the Six Counties. Now this is a moot point.
I believe that the bourgeois democracy of the Twenty-six Counties has not only completed its tasks, but is now in decline to the tender mercies of imperialism. While the Six Counties are in a different historical epoch, there too basic democracy has been achieved in the majority view. No form of pan-nationalism can do other than strengthen imperialism. For the Sinn Féin leadership to believe that unity will strengthen native capitalism to the detriment of imperialism is absolute nonsense - at least they seem to believe this - to be honest, I don’t quite know what they believe. Certainly they seem intent on legality with a view to taking power via parliamentary processes.
At present they do not have a class perspective; and it hurts to admit that. I believe the SF leadership would have no option but to come out against me with all guns blazing Jack - would that do terminal damage? Would that cause trenches to be dug? I think it would. I do not want to see further splits on personality lines - splits on theory and practice would be acceptable, but it is very difficult to build a power base from in here. I don’t want to precipitate divisions that I have no control of - do you follow me?
Comrade - have I lost my way a bit? Or am I just a victim of my own isolation? It is difficult for me to take certain steps Jack, because of my Óglaigh roots - do you understand that? Please answer when you get time (I do know how busy you are).
I will follow the 19th Congress [of the CPSU] closely - also trial of these two bastards in Turkey.
Take care - write soon.
Your friend and comradeBrian
June 28 1988
Dear comrade Brian
I’ve not heard from you for some time, I presume you are up to your neck working on the pamphlet. I am eager to read the first section of your Weak link - but let’s keep the correspondence up with at least one letter per month each. Do you agree?
You should have received two or three papers since I last wrote - [The Leninist] No66 will be out in about a week.
Did you hear about John Mitchell’s problems with IDATU’s executive, by the way? They don’t seem to mind him solidarising with faraway Turkey or South Africa. But when it come to the struggle at home, it a different matter. Let’s hope that he can mobilise support against the executive. If he doesn’t, he’s in an impossible situation. Do you have any information on what happened? If you do, please fill me in.
As you will have read, we did have the largest British contingent on this year’s May Day march in London. The discipline and militancy of our comrades marked us off from the miserable, shambling forces of opportunism. In spite of the correct self-criticisms we have made, we took an important step forward, something we are following up with a record-breaking 5th Summer Offensive and the Unemployed Workers Charter lobby of the September 5 TUC. We are moving from the theoretical struggle to the political struggle. This will involve all sorts of difficulties, false starts, reverses, but it can and must be done.
The CCG ‘party’, the Communist Party of Britain, not only had a truly pathetic turnout on May Day, but has, apart from public meetings, taken no initiatives, including in print, since it was formed back in April. What bankruptcy.
Things in Britain are definitely moving. People are at last starting to look again for answers rather than excuses (few, but some). This is an important development, a development I don’t think our organisation has taken full advantage of. We are still to some extent living in the past. We will fight to overcome this problem.
Write quickly - even if it is only a short note. It will be good to hear from you again.
Warm communist greetings.
Your friendJack Conrad
July 18 1988
Dear comrade Brian
It was with great pleasure I received your letter (June 26). We’ve obviously got our wires crossed. So let’s get back into a regular correspondence, as we both suggested to each other.
Sorry to hear about your health problems. Recently so many I feel close to - including now yourself - have gone down with illnesses of one sort or another. As they say, sickness in others makes us appreciate our good health. As you point out, the human body is frail and the one thing certain in life is death. So, as Bernard Shaw said, “Use your health, even to the point of wearing it out. That is what it is for. Spend it all before you die.”
I am sure you will appreciate the quote. Shaw had a brilliant turn of phrase, didn’t he? It is particularly pertinent to atheists, not least revolutionaries like you and I.
The 1968 supplement [in The Leninist] was useful, certainly in its original form. As you would have seen it was an edited version of a speech at the launch of our 5th Summer Offensive. It has been pleasing and instructive that most of those sympathisers who attended the meeting committed themselves in full or in large part to taking part in our drive for funds, which at a minimum of £500 per head is no small matter.
I am fully convinced that Summer Offensive-like campaigns mark out real communist organisations from the false ones. They act as a purge, but also stretch comrades’ inventiveness and steel their dedication. Also our new participants learn from the more experienced comrades, but always teach them one or two new tricks.
It did not surprise me that your “communist protestant union leader” shuns someone like yourself. Under present circumstances a genuine communist would in all likelihood not find themselves head of any union in the north. We can only question the sincerity of those who call themselves communists and are.
Mitchell is another matter. It is excellent that you are in contact with him; he could prove more than just a useful ally in the future. By the way, have you any information on his troubles with IDATU’s executive (it would be of great interest if you did)?
I have decided for diplomatic reasons not to correspond with him. At least not for the moment - getting letters from me might add fuel to the opportunist fire. I presume Mitchell is working to shift the political balance on the exec. He certainly should be encouraged in this.
Now on to your pamphlet. I think you are right and wrong in saying that you would have to come out and call for ‘a revolutionary CP’. You are certainly wrong, though, to suggest that you are in a catch 22 situation. Let me explain myself.
Above all there is the question of form and content. (This is a theme that will run throughout this letter).
I’ve looked back at the plan I suggested for the pamphlet and, as you will see, it emphasises content, not form, and quite rightly.
The republican movement claims to stand on the tradition of Connolly. You can do the same, only with the ‘advantage of hindsight’: ie, Lenin and the Russian Revolution, etc. The content of your argument should be Marxist-Leninist, but there is nothing wrong at this stage in putting this over in an Irish (republican) form. Mao certainly put over his Marxist ideas in a Chinese form. Without going in for his simplifications, there is a lesson to be learnt here.
There is also the question of time. You point out that there is a pan-nationalist tendency in the republican movement, a reformist/constitutionalist tendency within republicanism. The fact that the republican movement is a dynamic, living revolutionary organisation means that over the next few years we will see all sorts of developments.
You are therefore not right to say that the leadership will come out against you all guns blazing. Who knows what the situation will be in three or four years time? I’ve heard that Gerry Adams has recently stated that he regrets saying that “socialism is not on the agenda” - I’m not sure where he said it, but I think it was in a southern paper.
We do not need to take this statement as an example of a conversion on the road to Damascus. Nevertheless, it shows that there are all sorts of contradictions operating in the republican movement. ‘Pan-nationalism’ is constantly coming up against the fact that there is a revolutionary situation in the north. And this situation produces revolutionaries who - given the limitations of the present leadership - are open to advanced ideas. This is where a comrade like yourself comes in.
I don’t exactly know what you mean about the Six Counties being in a different historical epoch. But I don’t fully agree with your formulation about ‘pan-nationalism’. I would describe the whole of Sinn Féin/IRA’s a revolutionary nationalist organisation, but inevitably, given the class position of its leadership (ie, their ideology), there is always the danger of a drift towards compromise with imperialism.
In other words, the republican movement is not a consistent revolutionary movement (only the proletariat guided by the scientific theory of Marxism-Leninism can make a claim to that - it is the only class undeviatingly interested in communism, the only class capable of abolishing itself and through doing this it liberates humanity).
Also, I cannot agree that the democratic tasks in Ireland have been completed. There is the democratic right to self-determination, after all. What is more, in the north there is the most blatant discrimination against the catholic/nationalist minority, and in the south we have a cleric-ridden state, which, among other things, denies women the basic right to divorce, abortion and contraception.
But, given the reactionary nature of the bourgeoisie (orange and green), it cannot complete the tasks of the bourgeois revolution. It is the historic mission of the proletariat in Ireland to complete the bourgeois revolution. Of course, in making the bourgeois revolution, the proletariat will take the revolution uninterruptedly on to the tasks of socialism (see my supplements on Ireland, South Africa and also RY’s works, the TKP programme and naturally Lenin’s Two tactics of social democracy in the democratic revolution, as well as Marx’s writings on the German revolution of 1848-49).
You say you don’t want to see further splits along personality lines. I think you are profoundly mistaken here (my, my, I am disagreeing with you a lot, aren’t I? ... but being mealy-mouthed never does any good, does it?).
There are splits along personality lines in parties and organisations. This cannot be denied. I myself have been blamed for being ‘authoritarian’, ‘intolerant’, etc, by more than one departing comrade. Something I would deny, by the way. Certainly these comrades’ subsequent apolitical collapse or drift into reformism indicates that blaming the person of the leader is a cover for rightism - ie, bourgeois ideas - which we have always fought in our organisation.
The truly personal splits are confined to dead-end cults and sects. If we are dealing with a movement of social significance, with deep roots in society, such splits merely take the form of personality. They do not have this content. But it must be admitted that invariably splits take the form of personality (this applies to bourgeois as well as proletarian politics).
In Britain we had Churchill and Chamberlain, MacDonald and Lansbury and today we have Benn and Kinnock, Thatcher and Heath, etc, etc. The split in the late 60s in the republican movement also took a personality form, did it not? And I hardly need to remind you that in 1903 many could not see beyond the clash of Lenin and Martov, when the RSDLP split down the middle ... With this in mind I take you to task.
The fight for Marxism-Leninism cannot and will not do “terminal damage” to the revolutionary struggle in Ireland. It is the only hope. It is quite possible that in the future the right in the revolutionary republican movement will be known as ‘Adamsists’, while Marxist-Leninists in Ireland could be branded ‘Keenanists’. Or perhaps something less flattering, who knows? - remember, ‘Leninist’ was originally used as a term of abuse. What I am insisting on is going beneath the surface of personality.
As to control, we are not gods. Could Marx control those who followed him? Hardly! In point of fact, so annoyed did he become with some of his ‘followers’ that he declared, if they were ‘Marxists’, he, Marx, was not. Did this mean he should not have penned The communist manifesto with Engels? Surely not! We can fight, but we cannot be sure what the outcome will be.
You are putting forward scientific ideas. Having published, you will have disciples, allies, friends, doubters, detractors, enemies. This cannot be denied. But neither can it be denied that fighting for the ideas of Marxism-Leninism is the duty of genuine communists - a proletarian revolution in Ireland is inevitable, not pre-ordained.
The will, determination, single-mindedness of people in fighting for communism is what makes what is inevitable happen. People make history. But they can chose simply to have an easy life, go off and make money, opt out into cynical isolation or join the enemy. In other words they can choose not to make history. Human beings have consciousness, and revolutionary consciousness has to be fought for. It is not automatic. Without someone like yourself things will not happen. The revolution needs its leaders.
You are right - at least in part - that your doubts are a product of isolation. But surely your isolation gives you the ability to see things more clearly. You have the advantage of distance and the luxury of time - thanks to Her Majesty’s University of the Oppressed.
Lenin used his time in Siberia well. It produced what became What is to be done? Use your time in Leicester equally well. You have the advantage of standing on his shoulders. Produce a book that can theoretically underpin the organisation of the revolutionary struggle in Ireland and give it an ability to finish the job that Connolly started.
Philistines have no understanding of the power of ideas. The tsarists actually encouraged the works of Russia’s early Marxists because they saw its polemics with populism (the equivalent of Irish revolutionary nationalism) as undermining its main enemy.
It is true you are not in ideal conditions. But, if you were free, there would be the thousand and one distractions of everyday life. The British state is in a sense doing you a favour (no, I’m not asking you to tell the governor to give you an extension). That it does not realise that in so doing it sows the seeds of its own destruction is the product of its own decadence, lack of historical vision and arrogance born of the moribund nature of its system.
The real thing is to get down to work. When it is finished, then you can see how the land lies, then we can talk about what form it should take. In the meantime, comrade Brian, concentrate on content. Working will bring you clarity, will bring you certainty and in due course revolutionary results.
I salute your courage and wish you well.
Your comrade and friendJack Conrad
July 21 1988
Dear comrade Jack,
I received your welcome letter, also the CDDRT [Campaign for the Defence of Democratic Rights in Turkey] Newsletter - incidentally, has there been any Turkey Today printed since No82 (winter 1987-88)? My health problem, and my general well-being are much better now, Jack - my only problem is a certain lack of confidence. You must be patient - I am over-conscious of the tightrope I walk.
Give me some time - I need a lot more feedback from Ireland, in more ways than one. It isn’t too easy to get certain information. Anyway, comrade, be assured that I won’t lose heart - as I said before, I have four and a half years now to get my mind, etc, in order. I intend to do just that.
About Mitchell - he is going through the home office vetting procedures at present, to become a registered visitor to me. In his last letter to me he claimed to have survived an internal witch-hunt. I agree with you that if he is outflanked here then he will be in a hopeless position. He does offer, though, to have a cadre with him, so I think we can achieve something, whatever happens. You know, I presume that some of his own executive attempted to have IDATU withdraw organisation from the Six Counties. Anyway, I’ll keep you informed of any relevant developments there.
Referring to Adams’ “socialism is not on the agenda”. He gave an interview in the Dublin magazine In Dublin on April 28 1988. He says he regrets that statement, and claims it was taken out of context (sic), but goes on to further contradictions in his explanation. If you can’t get a copy of In Dublin, Jack, then I will try and get you a photostat copy. Let me know.
I suppose you read that one of the Belfast SF leaders said that he accepted there were contradictions between IRA activity and SF activity. He wasn’t referring to specifics, but rather was making an opportunistic statement in regard to legal and illegal struggle/tactics, etc.
Adams has since tried to smooth over that particular gaffe, but obviously damage has been done. It is clear to me that many SF people (who have not been hardened by action) are hell-bent on attaining the dubious fruits of ‘legality’.
I have got temporary loan of The development of capitalism in Russia and I intend to get stuck into that - I have so much to study, Jack - I cannot afford to go out half-cocked. I hope Mitchell will be able to supply me with things, Jack!
Have there been any further editions of Starry Plough or Congress ’86? I am told from Long Kesh that Congress ’86 people are not over-active, and their support for RSF is an enigma - be that as it may, they can still do good work.
Jack, do you have any stuff by William Paul on Ireland? Also, is [Mike] Milotte’s book [Communism in modern Ireland] worth getting?
Take care, comrade - keep in touch - I’ll do my best!
August 5 1988
Dear comrade Brian,
No, there hasn’t been a copy of Turkey Today out since the beginning of the year. It’s now meant to be quarterly, still our quarterly was more of a thirdly and, as to our fortnightly, last year it was more of a monthly. I will, however, remind the editor of his duties to his long-suffering readers.
But, yes, there are new editions of Starry Plough and Congress ‘86. We’ve only got one copy of each, we had to buy our own Starry Plough. We will be reviewing both in [The Leninist] No68. Frankly, we think that Congress ’86 is in danger of taking a course to the right. Its version of communism points in the direction of the CPI, not Leninism. As to Starry Plough, we have at the moment no direct contact. Nevertheless, for all its vagueness and inability so far to connect theory with practice, the paper is head and shoulders above anything produced by the left in Ireland today.
Glad to hear your health has improved. Health problems are so draining, not only physically, but spiritually. And that brings me to the pamphlet. Brian, in my view, the best thing is to start work. Then you will find out exactly what material you need, what fresh reading you need to do, what adjustments need to be made.
There is such a thing as waiting too long, putting off till tomorrow what ought to be done today. Its like an artist hesitating to make their first mark on a blank canvas. Take the plunge - you can always begin again.
Very pleased that your relationship with Mitchell is developing. I actually read that the exec did call a halt to organisation in the north - is this true? You indicate that it was an attempt that failed.
Yes, I would be very grateful if you could photocopy that Adams quote, and, yes, I have a couple of things by William Paul, the Irish crisis 1921 (enclosed) and his book on the state (which is very rare). By the way, would you be interested in doing a short review of it - 1,000 words - for The Leninist, using a pen name, of course?
I strongly recommend Milotte’s book - it is written from the petty bourgeois viewpoint of the SWM, but is by far the best work on the communist movement in Ireland. It is a must. If you can’t get your hands on it - I’ll buy it for you as a late birthday present. But you must get it.
By the way, you will have seen we have just completed our 5th Summer Offensive - do you think there is any chance of you, or your comrade, Gerry, doing anything for our 6th? I’ve been asked to ask how he is - if you could let us know.
Anyway, I look forward to hearing from you soon, Brian.
All the best, your friend and comradeJack Conrad
August 20 1988
Dear comrade Jack,
This will just be a short letter to let you know that I am still alive. I got your welcome letter and the pamphlet - many thanks. I am enclosing Gerry Adams’ interview with In Dublin magazine. He gave an interview to Magill magazine this month also - did you need that?
That comrade of Alan’s [Alan Merrick of The Leninist] that you made enquiries about. Obviously he is alright, but since my problems with AP/RN, etc (after Enniskillen) I took certain personal decisions regarding mutual trust, etc. Consequently, however regrettable, I keep my business with you private. C’est la vie, Jack!
Mitchell has forwarded an application to be an approved (sic) visitor to me. The home office takes time over these things. I hope it works out and I will keep you informed. While you are correct about IDATU calling for a halt in its Six Counties recruiting programme, John seems very confident that he can reverse that decision. I do know for sure that he still has very active people in the Six Counties. Maybe he is overestimating his friends within IDATU - if so, then he will very quickly be marginalised, and that would be a disaster. I’m just not sure, Jack, how strong he is. I will be very careful for a time, in any case [in fact, the IDATU executive sacked Mitchell].
I have not received any Starry Plough or Congress ’86 since the ones you sent - maybe I am not on their mailing lists. The Congress ’86 people are moving in block to Maghaberry prison. I believe that the home office regime are facilitating this move in full. One must suspect this, since all ‘theoretical’ activists (republican movement) in Long Kesh are kept on the move through the H-blocks, in separate circles. I am sure you will have read about this recently in the press.
It is therefore quite likely that the regime are placing the Congress people together (about 30 men) in harmony in Maghaberry because they perceive Congress as a threat only to the republican movement.
It is very easy for a regime, such as exists in Long Kesh, to control and manipulate the dissemination of knowledge. They control my segregation, censorship, etc, they don’t allow cadres to form. I am very pleased that under such circumstances my comrades in Long Kesh have made so much progress, and from letters they appear to be very confident. Certainly they don’t seem perturbed at all about Congress people - and education is progressing rapidly. Just wait, Jack - we might surprise you yet.
Jack, you said once that you wouldn’t give me longer than the prison time I had left to produce something tangible. Well, I think I might need all of that - I definitely suffer from a lack of confidence. Putting all my thoughts on paper will take some learning. Be patient - I intend to get there - but this is very new to me.
I’ll pass up on a critique of [William] Paul. I found his section on ‘The middle class’ a bit confusing. He seems to couple ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘petty bourgeoisie’ in an almost indivisible way. Perhaps it is just his syntax - but his résumé (and I know it is only that) would tend to show that the vacillating interests of the petty bourgeoisie could never be absorbed into the proletariat in times of crisis. That must fly in the face of history. I make a clear distinction between middle class and petty bourgeoisie - in fact I think that a lot of writers on the left today are very careless about this point.
For example, when average people get told by the left that ‘middle class’ equates with people who live in slightly better houses, work in offices, etc, it tends to camouflage the fact that it is the middle class who alone exploit labour and in collaboration with imperialism! (I haven’t explained this very well!) Am I being pedantic?
However, his article, whilst dated, is very perceptive and could easily be applied today in many instances. I hope the Communist Party of Ireland have a copy! How could the inheritors of Paul’s ideology become what they have become?
My only real critique of Paul would be that he was over-optimistic about what was happening in the Ireland of 1921. Perhaps, like many others, he didn’t understand the primeval strength of either orangeism or catholicism. We have felt that strength time and time again. I am not sure if, even today, it is any weaker. It is, I suppose, weaker relative to the increased strength of the working class.
Comrade, my artistic ability now maximises at making a few soft toys for my grandchildren - hardly appropriate for the 6th Summer Offensive! Gerry paints a bit - but ...! Paul and Pat don’t do any hobbies at all. I’m not being much help to you!
I believe - as I have always believed - that Óglaigh Na hÉireann will neither be dictated to, at present, nor diverted from their struggle by any vacillating talk about ‘contradictions’. I think recent examples bear this out. I still think SF will continue to move (slowly) to the left. Whether it can cross the divide I am not sure. You say it cannot - that it is impossible. Some very strong opinions are being expounded within SF now, Jack - and not all left bourgeois. I am an eternal optimist (how very un-Marx-like).
Joking aside - I am now, once again, in fraternal contact with the editor of AP/RN, and hope to achieve some results in that direction. I am also back in touch with Long Kesh.
I thought the Irish Freedom Movement London march was very good. The Revolutionary Communist Party certainly are very strongly motivated. I get The Next Step. What of the RCG (FRFI) [Revolutionary Communist Group (Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism)] - have they split again?
I won’t shed any tears for Zia - but the Polish miners’ action is very worrying.
Take care, comrade. Write soon.
September 6 1988
Dear comrade Brian
Our lobby of the TUC was a great success. We will carry a full report in [The Leninist] No69, so I won’t say more about it in this letter - just wanted you to know how it went.
Have you got hold of Milotte’s book? Pity about your lack of artistic talent - but I am sure together we can think of something for the 6th Summer Offensive - what about your comrades in LK [Long Kesh], or what about a sponsored something or other?
You will have read our comment on the RCP’s IFM demonstration (at least when the comrades working in the Post Office allow it). No, the RCG has not split since it spawned what has become the RCP. Anyway, glad you are still alive and kicking. Thanks for the Gerry Adams interview. Yes, I saw the piece in Magill.
We all very much hope that John [Mitchell] does overcome the rightist opposition on his EC. It would be more than a shame if recruitment in the north is permanently blocked. It would be a crime. Nevertheless, if he fails, other routes must and will be found. As to his strength (in more ways than one), that is something that will be tested in practice, so you are quite correct to exercise caution.
On Starry Plough and Congress ’86, I can’t speak for the LCR [League of Communist Republicans]. As to the IRSP, I mentioned the problem to one of their comrades, and was assured that you would be put on their list - though, judging from their general ‘Mexican’ approach to organisation, I would not hold my breath.
As to LCR, you will see from the review by our comrade Merrick, that we are far from happy with its political direction - indeed I think we’ve been too soft on them. The LCR is in my opinion going rapidly to the right. More importantly, it is doing so under the umbrella of the world communist movement. It could be the case of the tragedy of the Officials being repeated - but this time as farce. I think this needs saying openly.
From what I understand, not only are the LCR being moved en bloc, but so are the Inla [Irish National Liberation Army - linked to the IRSP] prisoners (and, no, I did not read about this in the press - where was it reported?). What lies behind this I don’t know - but obviously it is of significance. I would have thought that if they wanted to use these groups as a sort of fifth column, they would have grouped them together in Long Kesh itself, not moved them away from it. We will have to wait on developments.
Paul in many ways still shows the confusion of the late 19th century left in Britain, even though his party - the CPGB - was founded on the basis of the theoretical developments and practice of Bolshevism. This British backwardness certainly shows in his handling of the question of the middle class. And, yes, with hindsight some of his remarks seem over optimistic. Yet he was a true revolutionary and communist.
The leaders of both the CPI and the CPGB insult the name of communism. No wonder neither party uses his works. The day will come when we reforge the party of William Paul and recapture the proud name of our party.
Also I think it is important to see some of his optimistic remarks, not in the light of their failure to materialise, but from the point of view of organising revolutionary action. Paul - like all true communists - pointed to what is necessary, if communism was to be achieved. This should be taken into account when passing judgement on all revolutionary predictions. Some will, of course, be plain wrong; others calls to action.
On the middle class. The left tails behind and adopts as its own the ‘conspiracy’ by ruling class media/academia to paint skilled and office workers as middle class. They do this to split the working class and turn sections of it (the upper layer) into Tories who openly identify with the system. The truth is that most skilled and office workers are part of the proletariat, as are teachers and nurses. There is a middle class - or more accurately middle classes. But it does not, as you say, “exploit labour”.
The bourgeoisie and the proletariat are the main classes in capitalist society - primarily not because their size, but because of their relationship to the means of production (or more precisely to the dominant mode of production - ie, capitalism).
In fact, under ‘pure’ capitalism there are only two classes. Under capitalism - the system where commodity production is taken to its highest form - the working class sells its commodity - labour-power - and produces surplus value in return for wages (the value necessary to maintain a worker and reproduce labour through the family).
The capitalist class, because it has capital, is able to expropriate the surplus value produced by the working class, and, through using it as capital, reproduces and perpetuates the system through putting it to work through purchasing the labour-power of the workers.
There are other classes in real capitalist society. What they are depends in general on the level of development of that society’s productive forces.
In the 19th century in the southern states of the USA there was a class of slaves, in Scotland a class of crofter peasants. There are also carry-overs from the past. In Britain today the aristocracy to some degree still continues as a carry-over from the feudal mode of production.
Though, in broad terms, in capitalist society those who aren’t capitalists or proletarians are in the middle classes. These people often sell their labour-power - yes, but act as agents, or highly paid servants, of the capitalist class. They identify with the existing order, but sometimes find themselves in conflict with it.
In a country like Britain the middle classes consist of the likes of middle managers, professionals such as lawyers and doctors, architects and academics, as well as the upper echelons of the army and bureaucracy (not the very top, which is part of the ruling - bourgeois/capitalist - class).
The petty bourgeoisie are part of the middle classes. They are a class which buys labour-power, but cannot fully operate as capitalists because of a lack of capital, and therefore they have also to work as workers. This class - characteristically shopkeepers, artisans, small farmers and the like - is very much in decline, crushed by big capital, forced to become proletarians or servants of the bourgeoisie.
In broad terms it - as with the rest of the middle class - vacillates between capital and labour. It has no long-term independent existence. Which class it aligns itself with depends on the balance of class forces and the political skill of the leaders of the main classes.
The fact that in both southern Ireland and Britain the middle classes align themselves with the bourgeoisie is a product of the lack of a communist leadership of the working class. The situation in the north is more complex. It is also transitory. Hence, the petty bourgeoisie stand at the head of the revolutionary movement - at the end of the day there is either the road of proletarian socialism or bourgeois reaction. There is no middle road.
Now onto our project. You say you suffer from a lack of confidence. This is understandable. Confidence comes through doing. It is something few of us are born with. Most - like you and I - acquire it through mastering our subject, whether walking, riding a bike, surviving prison or writing an article.
The only way forward, Brian, is to do. You can wait for your confidence to build up, but such an approach will produce nothing. Ireland cries out for communism. But this will not happen without people, specifically without leaders who are able to act as theoreticians of the movement. It does not take geniuses to do this - though we would hardly turn such people away. It takes people of determination and talent - both of which you undoubtedly possess.
The fact is that we are able to stand on the shoulders of geniuses such as Marx, Engels and Lenin. We also have behind us the practice of communism - the idea of which has dominated world history from the middle of the last century and has won the hearts and minds of tens of millions of the best proletarians the world over: James and Roddy Connolly, Larkin jnr, William Paul, Wal Hannigton - I could go on, but the list is almost endless. This should give you confidence.
Looking at Ireland now, with a revolutionary situation in the north, and the growing signs of instability in the south, along with the fact that the republican movement is stuck in an impasse, what is needed are communist answers. There is in Ireland truly a crisis of leadership developing in the revolutionary movement.
Under such conditions, imagine what impact an Ireland - weak link of imperialism would have. It would lay the basis for revolutionary action, which will in time, lead to socialism in Ireland. Without such a theoretical foundation there can be no communist practice.
It’s always tempting to look to others to do the job - your comrades in LK, for example. But if we are honest, Brian, the task at this moment in time falls squarely onto your shoulders. It is not that you are a genius, but simply that you are the individual in your movement who has come to the realisation that what is needed is a Communist Party. (Whether this comes through the evolution of Sinn Féin, a split in it, a merger of the left and left-nationalist groups, or the building of one distinctly communist group is a secondary question - you are in the republican movement - therefore that is where you must work.)
Never, never think that such ideas start with a layer of people all at once. This has never happened in the whole of human history. It takes one person to first think up a particular idea. If it has social significance, it will soon find itself the property of society as a whole, or a particular class in society. Definite ideas - such as the labour theory of value, gravity, the circulation of blood, general relativity, quantum mechanics, imperialism - come first from the head of definite individuals - this was a truth pointed out by Marx, Engels and Lenin on more than one occasion.
You are the individual who has looked at The Leninist and the experience of the CPT. You have realised that for that party to be built it is first necessary to lay the theoretical foundations: ie, write an Ireland - weak link of imperialism. Do not pass the buck … you must face up to what is needed and throw yourself into it body and soul. And do not belittle yourself. There is no room whatsoever for false modesty. Grasp the task that history has presented you with. Failure is excusable; failure to act is inexcusable.
What is needed is hard work, application and single-mindedness. Doubts there will be, but these will be overcome through practice. Not everything you will write will be correct/true. Some of your formulations will be hazy, others not timely. We can work on the problems together.
But to do so we need something before us. Hence the important thing is to study/write, write/study. At first it will be bloody difficult, later easier. (When I first began writing, it was torture. Now it is just like squeezing blood from a stone.)
Brian, as I said in my last letter, the thing to do is to start work: then you will find out exactly what material you need, what fresh reading you need to do, what adjustments need to be made. There is such a thing as waiting too long, putting off till tomorrow what ought to be done today. It’s like an artist hesitating to make their first mark on a blank canvas. Take the plunge - you can always begin again.
I look forward to reading your first efforts - at least as soon as normal postal services are resumed. I know you will surprise yourself. Your worst enemy is self-doubt: overcome it through action.
Best communist greetings, comradeJack Conrad
September 28 1988
Dear comrade Jack,
I got your welcome letter of September 6 and also No68 of The Leninist. I haven’t been able to get Milotte’s book as yet - apparently it is out of print. I have an order for it though. I just got word today from the home office that John Mitchell has been passed to visit me. I will inform him shortly, although I can’t get any more visits until 1989. I have no further information about him to date.
I hope I get copies of Starry Plough - we shall see. About the moves to Maghaberry prison. I have that information direct from LK [Long Kesh] - 30-40 prisoners moved en bloc. All LCR, as far as I can gather. I’m not certain of some Inla people are included in that. The regime seems to have discounted a fifth column idea (it wouldn’t work in the circumstances), and have opted to give LCR cohesion, probably in an effort to encourage LCR to publicly oppose Óglaigh via media, etc. They appear to have fallen for that, as it would seem.
I understood your definition of middle class perfectly. However, I still get annoyed that much of the left keep on juxtaposing ‘middle class’ and ‘middle strata’. As far as I am concerned the class interests of the ‘middle class’ remain those of the bourgeoisie.
Our own vocabulary lends to confusion. Anyway, Jack, it was a minor point. I regard the middle strata as that of the lower middle class - petty bourgeoisie, and I most certainly identify the southern Irish middle class with the bourgeoisie.
On to the project. Believe me, Jack, I want very much to write. I want it to be good. I’m not ready yet. I do practise writing articles to our own publications, letters to activists, etc. I am learning all the time. And, yes, I have determination, and I know where I want to go. I also know how far and how fast I can go. I must find out very carefully - and precisely - who I can rely on - where I can direct my agitation. Stillbirth will be of no consequence whatsoever - regardless of how perfect the foetus is. Bear with me Jack - I understand and welcome your pressure and encouragement, but at the end of the day I must carry the can if premature moves destroy potential.
Furthermore, I know I have much more work to do - I must fill in many gaps in my knowledge - that takes time and availability of material. I have a fairly decent library at the moment - my problem is continuity of application. I don’t have the greatest memory, and while I retain rudimentary files, my systems leave a lot to be desired. Have you any suggestions on this? I’m sure you have solved similar problems. Any suggestions you make must take cognisance of the fact that I cannot retain unlimited paper work.
I have no doubt at all about what direction I want to go in, Jack. The ‘union of all classes’ position has thwarted the republican movement for generations - we have to break that mould. Sinn Féin’s latest adventure with SDLP pan-nationalism, etc shows clearly their inability to adequately define the class interests of those with whom they would ally.
Iris Bheag has now achieved its 13th edition and is not improving as I would wish - there is still an over-preponderance of articles from the fusions. That clearly demonstrates the backwardness of local cumann [branch] activists in things theoretical.
There is an ongoing SF educational programme, but educators are at a premium. Óglaigh action is at best buying time for us. The extradition problem will not be the catalyst it was believed to be. I had informed you that I had written to a protestant trade union leader in NI some time ago. This man was a self-professed communist and had been involved in some real class issues. I had not had a reply from him. So I asked for a check via a mutual contact. The person did receive my letter, but had decided not to answer. His excuse (which I didn’t believe) was that he believed himself to be under surveillance since receiving my letter. Scratch a loyalist ...! That is now what I believe him to be. I am a little disappointed, but not really surprised. I will keep looking for a breakthrough.
I need your thoughts on some problems, comrade. I will think out loud … I had, for a long time, opposed Irish membership of the EC on ethnic, cultural and economic grounds. The SEA [Single European Act] takes effect now in 1992. Ireland is inexorably tied to the EC at present. Not only would a future isolationist policy (as proposed by SF, for example), I believe, be an economic non-starter: I believe also that proletarian internationalism would become much more difficult for Irish workers. Yes - certainly an SF policy of non-alignment and liaison with socialist and third world countries would be feasible, but would it be as beneficial to proletarian unity within the EC?
In any event, I don’t believe a socialist, non-aligned, Ireland would have a prayer of protecting the revolution. Now I know that state boundaries should not affect the principle of international proletarian unity, but reality dictates that it might be a lot better if Ireland stayed within the EC, as presently envisaged.
What are your thoughts on this, Jack? I don’t think this is black an white at all, and many theories put forward by the left are very shallow and badly thought out. I believe the free-for-all which will commence with the SEA will create very real objective revolutionary conditions in southern Ireland.
If that happens, and if we could take it forward to successful revolution, would it not be better to remain in the EC (if that were possible)? I know that the expropriation of the banking system etc, also defaulting on capitalist debt, etc may force Ireland into isolation vis-à-vis the EC, but I’m speaking of a theoretical concept here, and I am coming up against too many contradictions in the ‘opt out’ scenario. I haven’t included here the possibility that Ireland, in the meantime, may become a willing member of Nato - something I feel is firmly on the agenda.
Take care, old comrade. Write soon - your letters are a breath of fresh air.
PS. Did the Communist Party of Turkey involve themselves in [prime minister Turgat] Özal’s referendum and, if so, in what way?
November 1 1988
Thanks for your letter. Christ, you wrote almost a month ago and I’m only replying now. I’ll do my best to be less tardy in the future.
Anyway on the middle class question again. I think you’re wrong to say the ‘class interests’ of the middle class is the same as the bourgeoisie. The class interests of this class are in the final analysis for the working class to come to power. Only the rule of the working class can save the planet from nuclear destruction, only the working class can put a stop to capitalism’s descent into economic collapse and the pauperisation of the mass of the population.
In broad terms, it is certainly true that the middle class share the same ideology as the bourgeoisie - ie, bourgeois ideology, which is the dominant ideology in bourgeois society. As I wrote to you last month, the middle class “vacillates” between capita1 and labour. It has no “long-term independent existence”. “Which class it aligns itself with depends on the balance of class forces and the political skill of the leaders of the main classes”: ie, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
In other words, there exists no coherent middle class ideology. Its ideas tend to be a hash of contradictory ideas and prejudices (but dominated by bourgeois ideas). That said, it is also important to recognise that without the leadership of communists - who have a scientific ideology - the working class is little better. Without the leadership of the Marxist-Leninist party it remains trapped in the bourgeois ideology of economism. It is therefore true that today bourgeois ideology dominates the minds of the overwhelming majority of the working class, as well as the middle class in both our countries.
The task of communists is to gain ideological hegemony over the working class and in turn gain working class hegemony over the middle class. In this way we isolate our main enemy, the bourgeoisie itself. Under socialism the process of proletarianisation of the middle class will increase markedly. In the meantime as a class it will change from being a servant of the bourgeoisie into the servant of the proletariat and its state.
I don’t think this is a minor question. After all, if communists take a position that it is impossible for the working class to gain hegemony over the middle class, that this class is permanently tied to the bourgeoisie, then we in effect hand over the middle class to our enemy. In Russia the largest section of the middle class was the peasantry. Lenin rightly saw the gaining of proletarian hegemony over the peasantry as a major strategic task for the proletariat. He was quite right: the dictatorship of the proletariat was born because of the revolutionary alliance with the peasantry and survived because the alliance was maintained because of the huge sacrifices made by the working class in the NEP years.
I understand your reluctance to go into print - it is a daunting prospect. But I’ll keep urging you to begin writing. This does not mean rushing out something half-baked, but producing drafts, which can be revised, amended or, if need be, scrapped. Only in this way will what you are studying crystallise, only in this way will you find out what new reading and thinking you need to do. There is no substitute for getting your ideas down in black and white. Too many people mouth off on this or that question one day, only to come out with a completely different line the day after.
You’re the one who will shoulder the main burden of writing our proposed work on Ireland. All I can do is to encourage and offer what help I can. But, believe me, if you actually start work, you will find life takes on a new dynamism, your brain will create new connections between ideas that you only now conceive of in a one-dimensional form. Work will enable you to grasp them in all their richness and earth-shaking potential.
My files have now in the main become the files of the organisation. But, in contrast to you, I’ve got the advantage of working on a word processor, rather then having to deal with huge piles of paper. The main thing is not quantity, but quality. You need statistics naturally. More importantly though, you need clarity of thought, and a firm grasp of what you are doing and where you want to go. Many a splendid book has been written in prison, not least Lenin’s Development of capitalism in Russia.
What is important is not to keep looking for what you call a “breakthrough” from people like Mr X, the protestant trade union official, but fulfilling the tasks before you. It is always tempting to think that others around us are of like mind. This is a mistake. New ideas - and genuine communism is in that sense a new idea - are held first by one person. Then they spread and, if they meet social reality, they will become a material force. This is what happened in Russia. This is what happens everywhere.
You raise the matter of internationalism, non-alignment and the EC. Very important and interesting questions. In my view it is a terrible mistake for the left to bank on national sovereignty and go-it-alone isolation. In fact it is decidedly reactionary. Not only does the left set itself up as advisers to the ruling class, but it is a totally backward position. This is the opt-out position.
Nation-states are becoming ever more an anathema. The expansion of the forces of production mean that the division of labour has become ever more global. What is required therefore is not a vision of the future which has its head in the sands of the past, in the glorification of the world divided into a patchwork of nation-states, but in the future World Union of Socialist Republics. This is the communist position.
A socialist Ireland must be seen in this context. Socialism is, after all, for us communists not an aim in itself, but a necessary evil, a stepping stone to the communist future, which is, of course, stateless and the beginning of a truly human, instead of national, culture. Hence there can be no question whatsoever of a socialist Ireland remaining in the EC. It is a club of imperialist robbers, no different from Nato or OECD. The task of communists in Ireland is not to retreat into non-aligned isolation, but to encourage - with all the advantages state power gives - revolution throughout the world, not least Britain and the rest of western Europe.
As far as I know the CPT’s position on the referendum, was that it was of little importance for the working class. It put its emphasis on the need for the working class to prepare itself for the revolution, which is rapidly maturing. You will see that we carry a speech by comrade Emine Engin in the next edition of The Leninist.
This makes it clear that a revolutionary situation will soon be back on the agenda in Turkey - a revolutionary situation with greater force and potential than that which spanned the whole of the 1970s. The task of the CPT is to lift itself to the point where it can truly exercise leadership of the class. This is not the case yet. The CPT is still one of a number of important left groups. It is not the undisputed hegemon. This is something the comrades are determined to change. Knowing them, I have every confidence that they will succeed.
You are right to do your best to get hold of Milotte’s book. It will, I’m sure, prove very useful to you. What did you think of our review of Congress ’86, by the way? I would be interested in your comments. As I said in my last letter, we are far from happy with its political direction - indeed, as I said, I think we’ve been too soft on them, going as they are to the right and into the arms of ‘official communism’.
Trust you are well, Brian. Yours with best communist greetingsJack Conrad
December 15 1988
Sorry have been so long in my correspondence. I got your welcome letter. I will write to you in detail after Christmas, Jack. This letter will just be short - to wish you a good holiday, etc. Also, could you inform your dispatch side of things that Paul Kavanagh L31888 has been moved to the special unit, which has just opened in Full Sutton.
Full address: Paul Kavanagh L31888, HM Prison, Full Sutton, York YO4 1PS.
He is in there with another POW called Liam McCotter. That leaves three of us still here, Jack.
I got a photostat copy made of Milotte’s book - I couldn’t get a proper edition (out of print).
Just a few quickies - I am sure you are right about Congress ’86 people. I have had no issues of Starry Plough and in fact I haven’t heard much about them at all.
John Mitchell visited me - just prior to his demise. He has since been in touch, but I am afraid it looks bleak. His experiences adequately expose the present trends in union bureaucracy in Ireland - it also shows the very real dangers of premature action. John forgot to cover his back. I can’t afford that to happen to me, Jack. I must move slowly at present. I must combat the trend towards all-class alliances, but it won’t be easy.
I wasn’t too happy about your position re the middle classes. I don’t mean lower middle class, etc - I was referring to the class interests of the middle class. I know that you are separating the big bourgeoisie from the middle class - I am not so sure we can do that. Rightly you say that the largest section of the middle class in Russia was the peasantry - but that was surely lower middle class (petty bourgeois)? I don’t believe that is a correct parallel with the middle class in Ireland. I think the Irish middle class is irreparably lost in terms of revolutionary alliance. This is crucial, Jack. Sinn Féin believes class alliances - with middle class nationalists - is a way forward to democracy. I don’t think that is feasible, and if we don’t correctly spell out the class interests of these people, then we can go nowhere. Please comment on the above!
Take care, comrade. Give my fraternal regards and also my very deep gratitude to all our Leninist comrades. I’ll write in the new year.
January 23 1989
Thanks for your two letters and Christmas card. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in this and that, so I’ve put off writing to you, at least till now.
It’s good that you’ve got the Milotte book. I’m sure you’ll find it useful, even with its SWM slant.
Starry Plough has only had three editions so far. They are blaming problems with printers for this. Though I can’t say I am convinced. They are always telling us why this or that cannot be done, rather than looking to see how things can be done. This is hardly a Leninist attitude.
Glad John visited you. I don’t think his problem arose because of “premature action”, but more, as you say, the political stance of the trade union bureaucracy. Moving slowly is all very well, but the key thing is to begin an open ideological struggle for communism. Ireland needs communism. This will not result from a conspiracy, or the ‘natural’ evolution of the republican movement. From my observations the question of communism is now firmly on the agenda in Ireland. What is needed are leaders to articulate this and thrash out the organisational and political tactics and forms.
On the middle class question again. I think you tend to equate the middle class with the bourgeoisie. This is wrong. The middle class is those sections of the population that stand in between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Yes, in Russia the majority of peasants were petty bourgeois. That is middle class. As you say, this is an important point. It certainly was in Russia.
There were two main views about the tasks and nature of the revolution in Russia in the workers’ movement. Briefly they were:
1. The Menshevik. They said that as Russia’s revolution was democratic - ie, bourgeois and anti-tsarist - it would have to be led by the bourgeoisie. The workers and peasants should support and press the bourgeoisie on in its revolution. Only after the bourgeois revolution could the proletariat begin to think about making their own, socialist, revolution.
2. The Leninists. They recognised that Russia’s revolution was bourgeois in its tasks. But, because the bourgeoisie was cowardly and feared the workers more than the tsarists, they would never make a revolution. Lenin and his comrades therefore said that the working class would have to make the bourgeois revolution in alliance with the peasantry. Having taken power and depending on the balance of forces in the revolutionary alliance, the workers would take the revolution uninterruptedly onto socialist tasks. The revolutionary government would be a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Broadly we argue for an application of the Leninist theory of uninterrupted revolution in Ireland. I would not doubt for a moment that the majority of the upper sections of the middle class would remain loyal to their capitalist masters in a revolutionary situation. But not the majority of the middle class. Yes, I’m proposing an alliance.
But, Brian, there are alliances and alliances. What the SF leadership is after is a reformist alliance in the south with Haughey’s lot and the SDLP in the north. This is something you are correct to oppose. In doing so, though, you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You should argue for a revolutionary alliance - ie, an alliance between all those who are willing to fight for the overthrow of the existing state.
If there was a genuine Communist Party in Ireland, it would be perfectly correct to advance a strategy which included securing an alliance with the IRA and all other petty bourgeois political forces who were committed in theory and practice to the overthrow of the existing state. While doing this, it would, of course, be absolutely essential to guard working class political independence - especially when the party was small and lacking a mass base. This is known as marching separately, but striking together.
Sinn Féin is not a proletarian party (determined not only by social composition, but crucially political programme). It is a petty bourgeois revolutionary movement. As we see from its history and attitude towards the state in the south, it has typical petty bourgeois politics. Today its practice in the north is revolutionary. But in the south it is reformist. Because of its inconsistent revolutionary politics there is always a tendency towards compromise with imperialism: ie, [first Irish president Eamon] de Valera, [Tomás] Mac Giolla [Workers Party], etc. But, having said this, I would not say it was “lost in terms of revolutionary alliance”.
I look forward to your reply, Brian.
Yours with best communist greetingsJack Conrad
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