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Another letter in the Irish Times

On 21 Spetmber the following letter appeared in the Irish Times:

Sir, – Prof Fitzpatrick begins his article by decrying the lack of a nuanced approach on the issue of abortion and wonders why people are so entrenched in their positions on the issue (“In the media everyone is pro-choice or pro-life. I am both”, News Review, September 16th).

Such entrenchment is hardly surprising, however, given that we are dealing with the most central element of human rights, the right to life, and also with the issue of what it is to be human. The pro-life side of the argument considers that once the position is passed that one human being has the right to take the life of another, regardless of the circumstances, then a boundary has been passed which is both repugnant in itself and has severe and all too predictable ramifications.

While Prof Fitzpatrick’s article evinces compassion for prospective parents faced with intolerable dilemmas, it ignores the very real ethical crisis posed by the extinction of another life. To some extent he proposes to circumnavigate this crisis by distinguishing between what he terms an embryo and “a viable foetus”. However from the point of view of human rights the distinction is moot.

The argument, as always, comes down to whether a child in the womb, at whatever level of development, can be considered a human being and accorded the rights consonant with humanity.

If not, then there is no moral issue with abortion. If so, then it is correct absolutely to condemn those who seek to impose it on the innocent unborn.

Human life has an absolutely clear beginning; it is the moment of conception, just as it has, as far as our mortal existence is concerned, an absolutely clear end; the moment of death. Is it not legitimate to have absolute respect for that life at all periods in between?

Our understanding of what it is to be human is at best limited, with science increasingly revealing human powers and capacities that we do not yet fully understand. Are we not best advised to treat this extraordinary thing, humanity, with the respect that it fully deserves?

The professor puts forward a regime of what he considers limited availability of abortion, though there are clearly contradictions in his proposal.

However, repealing the Eighth Amendment will inevitably lead, regardless of any legislation published in advance of the referendum, to a widespread availability of late-term abortion for any or for no reason.

This has been the experience in other jurisdictions, and if one has any doubt that it would apply in Ireland one has only to look at the egregious recommendations of the recent Citizens’ Assembly on the matter, where that body put forward an abortion regime unprecedented in any other western country, and which would have represented a descent into barbarism for Ireland.

It is in many respects not surprising that they would have done so, for once a principle is gone, it cannot be partly retained. You cannot have “small bit of abortion”, and certainly not in a constitutional democracy.

– Yours, etc,
Co Clare.

I wrote the following reply which was published in today’s (22 September) issue of the Irish Times:

Sir, – Michael Leahy’s letter includes an amazing paragraph that describes the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly as egregious and supposedly unprecedented in any other western country and which, if implemented, would represent a descent into barbarism.

As Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, chairwoman of the Citizens’ Assembly, has made clear to the Oireachtas committee examining the Eighth Amendment, the assembly’s recommendations were made on the basis of carefully considering the best scientific evidence and were the result of a process that was “fair, balanced and impartial”.

Mr Leahy would do well to look at the example of Canada, which for nearly 50 years has had an approach to abortion provision that is far more liberal than the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly. Does anyone seriously think that Canada represents an example of “barbarism”? In fact, internationally the correlation between democratic progressive societies and liberal abortion access is almost exactly the opposite of what Mr Leahy implies.

– Yours, etc,
Co Cork.

I do of course have to explain that my “democratic progressive societies” comment is made in the context of the existing capitalist world we live in. In the context of potential future socialist and communist societies, and the first few years of the Russian Revolution, imperialist Canada would not rank so well.


“The left is dead! Long live the left!”

I recently attended the week-long “Communist University” organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain which had a major theme of learning lessons from the Russian Revolution. During the event those of us in attendance coming from a Trotskyist political background were challenged over our understanding of the historical record in 1917 and specifically over the extent to which Lenin’s April Theses represented a change in the political perspectives of the Bolsheviks.

New research on this question was presented which I was not previously aware of so in the days following my return to Ireland I took the time to go through the material referred to, along with other material from the time. Which resulted in my writing a letter to the CPGB’s journal Weekly Worker (see below).

As I tried to explain in the letter this is more than a simple issue of an abstract dispute over an historical issue but is something which has real implications in current day politics. The CPGB are attempting to legitimise their position of treating working class political independence as a tactical, rather than principled, question through reference to this new historical narrative.

Of course the CPGB are hardly unique in using examples from the past ripped out of their historical context to justify current day practice. However at their event I was perhaps more conscious of this process, and motivated to write my letter, because of the attendance at a number of sessions by members of the Platypus political group ( .

This was the first time I had engaged with members of Platypus in any significant manner. I found their political critiques of the tendency of many present to draw simplistic, and therefore usually largely inaccurate, historical analogies with current situations quite interesting. Their “The left is dead! Long live the left!” slogan also seems to capture the reality of the very poor state of the left as it currently exists.

Unfortunately the conclusion of Platypus to this situation is what amounts to an extreme form of sectarianism. I use the term “sectarianism” here to mean refusing to engage in campaigns around immediate issues facing our class where there is agreement around the demands of that campaign but disagreement on other questions of strategic programmatic importance or as in the case of Platypus disagreement over the basic methodology of Marxism.

Platypus have taken this to such a degree that as a group they refuse to participate in any of the struggles of our class or even take any political positions in the abstract on current day events. In the sense I use the term they have no political programme. It is hard to see how academic study of the works of Marx can actually lead to a real understanding of Marxism as a social science when there is no praxis involved.

So for any political activist, like myself, Platypus, for all their interesting critiques of the non-Marxist liberalism of most of the existing left, are worthless as a guide to action.

Which is not to say I won’t read more of their critiques and check out their suggested reading material as perhaps there are elements of their work which will prove useful for me in the real world of class struggle.

[My letter to Weekly Worker]

I attended the Communist Party of Great Britain’s 2017 ‘Communist University’ event – the first time I have done so in many years.

One item that kept coming up throughout the week was how to assess the significance of Lenin’s April theses. CPGB comrades argued that, while the theses did mark a change in direction for the Bolsheviks in 1917, it was just a minor adjustment among comrades all pretty much on the same page and which was more or less consistent with all that had gone before, especially in regard to continuity of the slogan for a ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’.

To back this up, the CPGB make much of the recent work done by academic historian Lars T Lih on the degree of difference within the Bolsheviks concerning Lenin’s April theses. I have now read the five pieces on this question that Lih has published so far (available on John Riddell’s blog – – as part of a projected seven-piece series) and write this letter to highlight what seems to be a significant problem with the narrative being presented.

The problem is that Lih and the CPGB find themselves in opposition to the central political figure involved in this 1917 dispute, as outlined in Lenin’s Letters on tactics (, written in the days immediately following his presentation of the April Theses.

Lenin provides the following context for writing Letters on tactics:

“Both the theses and my report gave rise to differences of opinion among the Bolsheviks themselves and the editors of Pravda. After a number of consultations, we unanimously concluded that it would be advisable openly to discuss our differences.”

As an aside, CPGB members and supporters might do well to note Lenin’s emphasis on “openly” in reference to this case, with the clear implication that doing so was the result of a democratic decision which presumably had gone the other way on other issues.

So how did Lenin describe the opposition that met his presentation of the April theses?

“… we hear a clamour of protest from people who readily call themselves ‘old Bolsheviks’ …”

How did Lenin characterise the “old Bolsheviks” who were making this “clamour of protest”? He wrote:

“The person who now speaks only of a ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ is behind the times; consequently, he has in effect gone over to the petty bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle; that person should be consigned to the archive of ‘Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary antiques (it may be called the archive of ‘old Bolsheviks’).”

And yet, throughout Communist University, it was exactly the “revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” slogan which the CPGB claimed was a central expression of the unbroken continuity of Bolshevik politics. We can only imagine what Lenin would have made of the idea that a political organisation in 2017 would still be holding firm to this slogan, taken from what must now be a very old and mouldy archive.

In his April theses, Lenin proposed an orientation towards agricultural labourers and the poor peasantry, as against the peasantry as a whole. Alongside this he rejected any political support to the provisional government, critical or otherwise, and put forward the perspective of “a patient, systematic and persistent explanation” that soviets are “the only possible form of revolutionary government”. Within about a month (according to Lih’s research) this was to manifest in the Bolsheviks’ public use of ‘All power to the soviets!’ that replaced ‘For a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ as the main slogan regarding the nature of state power.

Perhaps the reader will at this point be wondering whether this discussion about political struggles in the Bolshevik Party in 1917 has any relevance for politics today. I believe it does and present the following related discussion at Communist University as evidence.

In a CU session on the rise of what is being called ‘populism’, I recounted my experience in Ireland with Sinn Féin’s role in the anti-household/anti-water charges movement and more specifically my criticism of the Socialist Party’s refusal to take a principled position of ruling out participation in a government with the openly pro-capitalist Sinn Féin, as they do with what they understand to be the three main capitalist parties (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party). As I have detailed on my blog (, the Socialist Party consider this to be a question of clever tactics.

Jack Conrad described my understanding of working class independence as a matter of principle, which provided a framework for making concrete political positions and actions, as being a “shibboleth” and instead, exactly like the Socialist Party in Ireland, presented such decisions as merely tactical.

In what he somehow seemed to think was a killer blow against my insistence on the principle of working class independence being a guide to political programme, Conrad presented his understanding of the “cross-class alliance” that he believes both made the Russian Revolution and constituted the initial revolutionary government. This being the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry as a codification of the slogan, ‘For the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ – which, as we see above, Lenin in 1917 described as belonging in the “archive of old Bolsheviks”.

The CPGB link their narrative about the supposed “cross-class” nature of the forces that made the Russian Revolution to the supposed continuity of Bolshevism around the slogan of the ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’. This is then used to justify their “extreme tactical flexibility” approach to the question of applying the principle of working class independence in the here and now.

So, for the CPGB, the mass uprising of the proletariat supported by the peasantry against bourgeois rule in Russia in 1917 is supposedly directly politically equivalent to popular frontist alliances between proletarian and bourgeois parties in 2017!

All this political mumbo-jumbo is just an attempt to justify a rejection in concrete political practice of working class independence as a core principle of revolutionary Marxism. A clearer example of opportunism masking itself in an ahistorical reading of Marxism is harder to imagine.


Letter in Irish Times

My letter published in the Irish Times of Thursday 24 August

Sir, – I am pleased to note that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was willing to spend at least a couple of hours discussing the matter of reproductive healthcare and access to abortion facilities with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. For far too long Irish politicians have ignored this issue on the basis that the matter is supposedly of no interest to their constituents. The consistent evidence of repeated opinion polls shows this is not the case.

The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution denies every woman and girl in Ireland the right to decide how she is treated during pregnancy. And worse, it criminalises those who make decisions outside this restrictive constitutional framework.

The inaction by Irish politicians regarding the reproductive rights of women – which in advanced western democracies like Canada are rightly understood to be fundamental human rights – cannot be accepted any longer. It is therefore to be hoped that the Taoiseach will return from his trip committed to holding a referendum on removing the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution as soon as possible. – Yours, etc,

Co Cork.



Quiz Night for Cork Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment




What post-repeal legislative framework should the movement to repeal the Eighth Amendment be arguing for?

At the recent special strategy conference of the national Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment there was discussion on whether the Coalition should take a position on what legislation should come into force following the successful removal of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution.

No votes were taken at the conference so it is impossible to judge which position had majority support among the affiliated groups represented but I felt there were five distinct views being outlined by various speakers in the discussion.

Firstly there were those who argued that the Coalition, as a Coalition, should take no position on post-repeal legislation.

This was in accordance with the following section of the Rebels4Choice pre-conference contribution to the strategy discussion:

As a Coalition keep the focus on Repealing the Eighth Amendment. Don’t get drawn onto the ground of tying a referendum to repeal the 8th to what legislation should replace the current restrictive law after the Constitution is changed. Individual groups within the Coalition can choose to take positions on what legal framework, if any, should come into force after the 8th Amendment is repealed but that should be done separately from the Coalition.

As one of the Rebels4Choice representatives at the conference I argued for this in both a workshop session and the main strategy discussion.

Of those who were in favour of the Coalition taking a position on what legislation should replace the existing repressive laws following a successful repeal there were four positions put forward.

The most radical of these was for the Coalition to argue for free, safe and legal with no legal restrictions, just normal health care regulation of the provision of abortion services.

The recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly were the pivot point for the other three positions. In order of decreasing radicalness these were:

The Coalition to argue for the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly to be presented as the bare minimum for any future legislation.

The Coalition to argue for the implementation of the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly.

Lastly there was the proposal for a plebiscite, or public consultative vote, to be held at the same time as the Repeal referendum on the four options for extending availability of abortions put forward in the Citizen’s Assembly recommendations:

  • Fatal Foetal Abnormality
  • Health
  • Socio-economic
  • Without restriction up to 12 weeks

With the Coalition calling for all four options to be passed.

As compared to the other two positions using the Citizen’s Assembly recommendations as their reference point this is in effect arguing for those recommendations to be the maximum possible basis for new legislation. This is quite strange given that the groups supporting this are trying to project themselves as the most militant pro-choice section of the movement to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

The idea of proposing a plebiscite is an interesting tactic which I think is definitely worthy of further consideration but if it is directly linked to having the Citizen’s Assembly as the maximum possible outcome then it should be rejected.

Rebels4Choice argues for the decriminalisation of abortion services with those services being treated as any other medical procedure decided by the individual woman in consultation with her health care professional in the context of free and widely available abortion services with appropriate health care regulations to guarantee the highest possible quality of care. If it was considered necessary for the Coalition to take a position as a Coalition I would argue for this to be the position taken.

Alan Gibson
(in a personal capacity)


Follow-up on my non-membership of Solidarity

Last night in Cork I attended a Solidarity “open meeting” that they had advertised on their flyer at the 4 July public meeting where I became a member (if only for 6 days).

I didn’t want to disrupt the event by making it all about me so I only distributed my Open Letter at the end of the meeting. I did however get to ask a question of Mick Barry, which was in the context of his presentation, about why they don’t rule out a coalition with Sinn Féin in advance like they do with Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

In Mick’s summary he responded by saying it was a tactical question to do with connecting with the working class base of Sinn Féin who have illusions that Sinn Féin are representing their class interests in some way. One of his examples being that many will vote SF #1, Solidarity #2 (and vice versa). The cynic in me thinks this electoral consideration is the major component in Solidarity’s refusal to rule out a coalition government with SF.

After the meeting I had a discussion with a couple of the Socialist Party members in Solidarity. Once again the difference was presented as tactical as they are 100% certain Solidarity would never be in a government coalition with Sinn Féin because SF would never agree to an anti-capitalist programme for government which is a red-line issue for the SP. They are just being cleverer about how they engage with SF members.

The supposed real difference, and reason they rejected my membership application, was my 18-month old reference to them (AAA before the last election) being willing to be a junior partner in a coalition government with Sinn Féin – which they take as an affront to their credentials as principled socialists.

It is true that I have speculated, and continue to speculate, that in a situation where there actually was the concrete possibility of forming what would be described by everyone as a “left government” including SF that Solidiarty/Socialist Party would not be able to stand up to what would be the massive pressure from their working class base to join that coalition government instead of “being responsible” for letting in a right-wing government.

Now maybe I am wrong about that, and who knows for certain as it is necessarily only specualtion, but I think it relates to the heart of the problem.

They are building a party/movement which doesn’t say “No government coalitions with any capitalist parties” but rather something like “No government coalitions with some capitalist parties but discussions with other ‘non-establishment’ capitalist parties over the programme for a coalition government”.

By changing the issue from one of principled opposition to crossing the class line to one of tactical discussions over programme they have created a movement/party which has blurred the importance of the class line and therefore will have contributed to the pressure they would be under if a “left government” coalition with SF, or any other “non-establishment” capitalist party, was concretely on the agenda.

This is particularly aggregious coming from an organisation which claims to stand in the political tradition of Leon Trotsky.

Trotsky described it this way:

“The left centrists seek to present this question as a tactical or even as a technical maneuver, so as to be able to peddle their wares in the shadow of the People’s Front. In reality, the People’s Front is the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch.”

As the SYRIZA debacle in Greece has shown this is just as relevant today as it was when Trotsky wrote those words in the 1930s.


Open letter to members and supporters of Cork branch of Solidarity

On Tuesday 4 July I attended a Solidarity public meeting in Cork. At the end of the meeting I filled out a membership form, #1131, which was accepted at the desk, as was my €10 membership fee.


Subsequently I received an email timestamped 10 July 2017 at 17:45:

Hi Alan,

I understand that at our public meeting on Tuesday night, you filled in a Solidarity membership card and paid a membership fee of €10. These were accepted by a Solidarity member who was not aware that you were previously not accepted into membership.

As you know, in December 2016 your application for membership of the then Anti Austerity Alliance was rejected by a unanimous decision of our local committee. This decision was based, in part, on the fact that you had fundamental and well established disagreements with the AAA’s politics and approach. For example, at the time of the last election you explicity called for people not to vote for the AAA, stating that we would: “capitulate and participate in a “progressive” Sinn Féin-led government – haggling only over minor details in the programme for government and ministerial positions.” This is entirely consistent with your approach to the AAA/Solidarity as expressed in a number of speeches and articles since we launched in 2013. It’s hard to see how this can be squared with a genuine commitment to help build our project now.

The Anti Austerity Alliance has changed its name to Solidarity. We feel the name better reflects our political orientation, but it does not represent a new organisation or fundamental political shift on our part. Similarly, I see no evidence that anything has fundamentally changed about your own approach.

Given that nothing is altered since December, it should have been clear to you that the decision we made then still stands and you are not accepted into Solidarity membership.

We will refund your fee as last time.

Conor Payne
On behalf of Cork Branch of Solidarity

I replied (10 July 2017 at 18:56) as follows:


I am glad to see you are no longer repeating the untrue slanders about my supposed role in an anti-AAA witch-hunt in the Cobh anti-water charges/meters campaign.

As regards the issue of political difference which you say should exclude me it appears I was confused about what I had understood was now the position of Solidarity.

You accurately quote from my analysis of the last general election and what I put forward as the reason why I was unable to call for a vote to the AAA.

As the AAA explicitly and openly refused to rule out a governmental alliance with Sinn Féin there should be nothing contentious about my statement. Given the relative social weight of the organisations involved at the time of the election any possible coalition government involving Sinn Féin and AAA/PBP would necessarily have been in the context of the majority/minority I outlined.

However I had assumed that based on the type of movement/organisation Solidarity says it is trying to build, as outlined by Paul Murphy in his interview on 3 July, that this position must have been updated.

Unless of course you believe that there was a possibility that the openly pro-capitalist Sinn Féin organisation would somehow be willing to be part of a government coalition that was in line with the sentiments outlined by Paul:

“That everybody who stands for a society based on the interests of the majority as opposed to the 1% at the top should come together. Everybody who stands for a woman’s right to choose. Everybody who stands for those kind of policies based on people power movements from below. Those who believe in turning society effectively upside down, saying the wealth and resources should be in the hands of the majority instead of the minority.”

Despite whatever may be our differences about how to get to the goal of this kind of society I think it is quite clear that I fall within the boundaries of “everybody” who agrees with those goals.

On the other hand the truth is that Sinn Féin, as an organisation, quite clearly does NOT fall within those boundaries.

I therefore presumed that this would exclude any possibility of Solidarity participating in a governmental coalition with Sinn Féin and thus the previous red line issue that had stopped me from calling for a vote to the AAA no longer existed.

As you seem to be standing by the position I critiqued at the beginning of 2016 it appears I must have been wrong in this presumption.

Therefore you either think Sinn Féin, as an organisation, does believe that “the wealth and resources should be in the hands of the majority instead of the minority” or these are just meaningless words with no relationship to what kind of governmental coalition you would be prepared to join.

If either of these is the case then yes indeed I am not interested in being a member of Solidarity as this is a class-line I as a revolutionary Marxist am not prepared to cross.

Can you also confirm that this most recent decision was also the result of a vote by the Cork local committee?

Comradely regards

So I have a few questions for members and supporters of Solidarity.

  • Do you think the argument for not voting for the AAA that I outlined in my blog post in February 2016 (for the full post see is incompatible with membership of Solidarity?
  • Do you believe that the openly pro-capitalist Sinn Féin organisation could be part of a left government that had as its aim “turning society effectively upside down, saying the wealth and resources should be in the hands of the majority instead of the minority.”
  • And if you do not believe that is possible why doesn’t Solidarity tell the working class this truth by ruling out, in advance, a government coalition with Sinn Féin – just as it does for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party?