Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 2/3


Trotskyism in Ireland

Dear Editor

Recently, I received a copy of your magazine’s back number Volume 4, no. 4. Reading your review of Robert Alexander’s International Trotskyism, I saw that his chapter on Ireland is held to include ‘quite the worst examples of ... economies with the truth’, and that by implication this is because ‘the narrative is largely dependent upon O’Connor Lysaght’. Such a statement verges on libel, with this author being given the same treatment as a source that might be given The Short History of the CPSU. As I am the only independently-published Trotskyist historian in Ireland, I think I deserve better.

However, what is more important is the paucity of your criticisms. Yes, I was wrong, I know now that Johnny Byrne went to England in the early 1940s and was subsequently deported back to Ireland. However, despite long talks with him in the early 1980s, this was still a secret to my generation in 1985. As for not mentioning Mattie Merrigan and Liam Daltun disqualifying the chapter ‘as a description of Trotskyism in Ireland’, this is no more than your opinion. For my part, I am aware of Mattie’s services to the Irish left (the more so having read his typescript memoirs), yet of his 40 militant years, his Trotskyist period was very short and comparatively uneventful; most of his achievements were done outside the movement proper. Liam Daltun was different. He was a man of great charm and knowledge, whom I found in the last years of his life to be unable to live up to the promise of his abilities. What is more, you are the first to imply that he deserves mention.

However, the worst piece of writing in your review deals with the murder of Peter Graham. Quite apart from the fact that on his death he was not a member of the International Marxist Group, but of the Socialist Discussion Group that would become the Revolutionary Marxist Group (Irish Section of the Fourth International), you imply that he died because ‘his group was supporting nationalist terrorism as a method of struggle’. This is pure Gerry Healyism. It is not even clear that Peter was murdered ‘by an extreme terrorist faction’. Certainly, I can state that he did not die because ‘his group was supporting nationalist terrorism’ (whatever you mean by that).

In your previous edition, you allow your anti-Stalinism to guide you in publishing a laudatory review of Lee’s The Rape of Serbia, without asking whether Lees’ hero, Mihailovic, had anything political to offer beyond the sterile nostra of greater Serb chauvinist militarist royalism. Before attacking others for bias, you should examine the beam, or beams, in your own eye.


D.R. O’Connor Lysaght

The Editor Replies:

Paragraph one: It is a new experience for me to be accused of libel for pointing out obvious gaps in the record. You are going over the top a bit. And I think your status as ‘the only independently-published Trotskyist historian in Ireland’ might be in for a bit of a knock in this issue of the journal. Sorry about that.

Paragraph two: Johnny Byrne’s past was hardly a ‘secret’ amongst the left in Britain or in Ireland. Perhaps independently-published Trotskyist historians should look at files of Socialist Appeal before sitting down to write, or even talk to those involved whilst they are still in the land of the living. An interview with Johnny exists in the files of Socialist Platform if you want to read it. You never know, you might learn something.

And as one of the proponents of Shachtman’s theories along with Bob Armstrong in In Defence of Revisionism, I would have thought that Mattie’s Trotskyist career was anything but ‘uneventful’. Perhaps we are not talking about the same bloke.

All who knew him are able to say that Liam Daltun’s contribution to spreading the ideas of Trotskyism extends to a bit more than ‘charm and knowledge’. A bit of attention to the files of Irish Trotskyist journals might be a help here, too.

Paragraph three: We both know how Peter was killed, and I do not think it can be set aside by means of bluster. This is also the case with the slogan of your Fourth International at the time, which was ‘Victory to the IRA!’ Stating this is not ‘Gerry Healyism’, but simply fidelity to the record. Nor does it imply that your comrades went in for such activities themselves – the left tends to get its ideological kicks by cheering this sort of thing on from the sidelines rather than taking the risks involved by indulging in it.

Paragraph four: The fire in your last paragraph is misdirected. Revolutionary History is a democratic magazine, inviting the participation of all on the left. I am not a ‘supremo’ who dictates everything that goes into it, nor would I want to be. Perhaps you are assuming something of the sort that happens with the editorial practices of your own tendency’s journals. But for what it is worth, I did not write the review to which you refer in your remarks about Mihailovic. Unlike your Fourth International at present, I have never taken the side of any of the national groups in conflict in the Balkans, since along with Lenin and Trotsky I do not believe that a solution to the problems of the Balkan peoples is possible along the lines of bourgeois nation states.

Updated by ETOL: 29.9.2011