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Niall Mulholland


Peter Hadden – an inspiring life for socialism

(May 2010)

First published in The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales).
Copied with thanks from, 20/05/2010.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PETER HADDEN, Northern secretary of the Irish section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), the Socialist Party, sadly died at the age of 60, in Belfast, on 5 May after a three year battle with cancer.

Peter was a representative at the founding congress of the CWI, in 1974, and then elected to the CWI’s International Executive Committee. Many comrades in Britain will recall the socialist analysis and alternative Peter advanced at public meetings in Britain on the conflict in Northern Ireland. In doing so, he often demolished the arguments of the Labour right wing, the reformist left and the ultra-lefts.

Even in a few hundred words, it is only possible to give an outline of Peter’s full life of socialist activities. During the long years of the ‘Troubles’, Peter and the comrades in Northern Ireland campaigned courageously in very difficult and often dangerous circumstances for workers’ unity and for the building of a mass socialist alternative.

They campaigned against state repression, sectarianism and sectarian killings, poverty and unemployment. Peter actively assisted many workers’ struggles over decades, including workers involved in the Chelsea Girl, Montupet, firefighters, Belfast airport and Visteon disputes. A highly talented speaker and writer, Peter made major contributions on political issues and theory, in particular his analysis of the national question in Ireland and internationally.

Born in 1950, near Strabane, Co. Tyrone, Peter came from a Protestant background. He went to Sussex University, in 1968, where he joined the ‘Militant’, the Marxist tendency in the British Labour Party. The late 1960s was a period of growing youth and working class radicalisation internationally and Sussex was already an important base of support for Trotskyism.

Peter Hadden collaborated and discussed with leading members of Militant, including with Peter Taaffe, who visited the North in 1969, to discuss with members of the Derry Labour Party Young Socialists. During the explosion of the mass civil rights movement in the North, the beginnings of a base of support for Militant were established. In 1971, Peter Hadden moved back to Northern Ireland, committed to building the forces of Marxism.

As well as attracting mass support from Catholics in the North, the civil rights movement initially attracted layers of Protestant youth. But as sectarian bigots and capitalist nationalist and unionist parties attempted to sow divisions amongst workers and to derail the movement, the labour and trade union leaders failed to present a class alternative.

The forces of Marxism were too weak to decisively influence events and the situation across the North descended into sectarian conflict. The Labour government sent British troops to the streets of Derry and Belfast in 1969. On the left, only Militant clearly opposed the troops being sent, warning that they would be used against the Catholic population and working class.

Class position

When many working class Catholic youth turned to the Official and Provisional IRA in the early 1970s, Militant alone on the left argued a clear class position, opposing the ‘armed struggle’. The armed campaign would prove counter-productive, dividing the working class further. Events have proved Militant/Socialist Party correct but at the time those arguments went against the mood in many working class areas.

Over four decades, in the pages of Militant Irish Monthly (later Militant, Socialist Voice and The Socialist), Peter Hadden and the Northern comrades defended this socialist analysis and called for workers’ unity and a socialist alternative. Peter’s many articles, pamphlets and books, such as Common Misery, Common Struggle (1980), Divide and Rule (1980), Beyond the Troubles? (1994), Troubled Times: The National Question in Ireland (1995) and Towards Division, Not Peace (2002), developed a Marxist analysis of the conflict and the national question and elaborated socialist demands, policies and programme.

During the 1970s, Peter worked for NIPSA, the main public sector union in Northern Ireland, before becoming a full time political activist for the Militant/Socialist Party. Peter’s many years of collaboration with NIPSA comrades led to the party’s important support in that union. Militant/Socialist Party supporters have acted as the main left opposition to the right in the union, as well as initiating action, including strikes, by NIPSA members against cuts and poor conditions, and also against sectarian attacks against workers.

In the early 1970s, Peter was active in the Northern Ireland Labour Party, campaigning for it to take an independent class position as the conflict engulfed society. But the policies and inaction of the right wing NILP leaders saw the party disintegrate. Peter and other comrades initiated the Labour and Trade Union Group and the Young Socialists, which called for the unions to resist sectarianism and repression and to build a workers’ political alternative. In conditions of daily bombings and shootings, heavy state repression and sectarian polarisation, the party sought to win the ear of the most politically advanced sections of the working class and youth.

While opposing the republican and loyalist paramilitary campaigns, Militant/Socialist Party always opposed state repression, including the brutal conditions in the prisons, which led to the ‘dirty protest’ and then the 1981 Hunger Strikes. With Peter working closely with comrades in the British Labour Party, such as then NEC member Tony Saunois, Militant was able to open up dialogue with some of the prisoners in the Maze.

Peter played a central role in the rapid growth of the party in the North in the 1980s, reflecting the rise in class struggles and youth radicalisation in Britain, Ireland and internationally. Party-led campaigns, such as the anti-National Front demonstration in Coleraine and school students’ strikes against Tory youth policies, brought new youth recruits. The party organised solidarity work for the striking British miners and held successful rallies supporting Liverpool City Council and anti-Poll Tax struggles, with Peter Hadden speaking on platforms alongside leaders of these Militant-led mass struggles.

However, the intensification of sectarian polarisation following the Hunger Strikes and the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement cut across class movements, to some degree. As during the North’s other tumultuous events, such as the Loyalist ‘work stoppages’ and the events around the Gibraltar Three killings, Peter Hadden anchored the party with a clear Marxist analysis of events and a principled class position. At the same time, he was always soberly optimistic about the possibilities for the party to grow in influence and numbers.

New situation

The split in the Militant in Britain, and in the CWI, in 1991/92, saw Peter, along with the majority, face up to the new world situation and firmly oppose the dogmatic, conservative views of Alan Woods and Ted Grant. It was in no small part due to Peter that not one member of the Northern organisation joined the Woods/Grant split. During this vital debate, Peter visited Italy, on behalf of the majority, to discuss with comrades.

The 1990s proved difficult for socialists everywhere, due to the consequences of the collapse of Stalinism. Many on the left were also disorientated by the developing ‘peace process’ in Ireland and the role of Sinn Fein.

Peter’s role in the formulation of the party’s analysis during this period proved invaluable. The ‘peace process’ would not bring about lasting peace and prosperity, as many claimed, but power sharing between the main sectarian-based, pro-market parties and growing divisions on the ground. Nevertheless, socialists and the working class needed to seize the window of opportunity to develop class politics.

It was Peter who coined the slogan, ‘No Going Back!’ which in the 1990s caught the imagination of the many thousands of Catholic and Protestant workers who went on marches and protests – often initiated by Militant/Socialist Party supporters in trades councils and unions – against a slide back to sectarian conflict. The party’s Youth Against Sectarianism campaign attracted thousands of school students across the North.

For many years, in the absence of a mass political alternative for workers, Militant/Socialist Party members stood in elections. In 1992, Peter stood in the Westminster elections and got widespread media coverage when he and his family narrowly escaped a bombing intended for a nearby target. In 1996, Peter played a crucial role in the creation of the Labour Coalition. Although it did not hold together, largely due to right wing elements, the Coalition did win seats to N Ireland Forum elections, indicating the potential for class politics to break the sectarian mould.

The last decade saw Peter energetically continue to play a leading role in party initiated campaigns, including the very successful ‘We Won’t Pay Campaign’ against water charges. Socialist Youth campaigning on, for example, anti-racism, brought new youth to the party, including those now playing a leading role.

Working closely with the Southern Irish comrades, Peter played a crucial role in helping the development of the party across the border, which bore fruit in many fields, not least in electoral gains. Socialist Party TD and now MEP, Joe Higgins said that he would often seek Peter’s advice on issues set for debate in the Dáil or in Brussels.


Comrades from around the world will remember Peter’s many incisive, valuable contributions at international meetings of the CWI. Peter also made overseas visits on behalf of the CWI, giving important political and tactical help and advice to CWI comrades. Amongst other places, Peter visited Italy, Nigeria, Israel/Palestine, Czech Republic, Greece, Australia, Scotland, Belgium and the USA.

Peter’s passing is a great loss for his family and friends, the Socialist Party in Ireland and for the whole CWI. As the Westminster and Stormont governments prepare for savage cuts, Peter will sadly not be here to play his part in the huge class struggles that impend.

But the inspiring example of Peter’s decades of socialist activity in the most trying circumstances, and his writings, particularly on the national question, will undoubtedly serve as an educator and guide to the new generations entering struggle. The greatest tribute we can make to Peter’s memory is to build a mass socialist movement to finally sweep away the inequalities and poverty of capitalism.

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Last updated: 26.1.2012