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The danger of political expediency in the referendum campaign

So things are moving along very well in Cork. Not only is there a central office with canvassing having started in the city but the whole county is being organised in a federal manner.

Cork County is split into 4 main areas, West, North, East and Mid (Macroom and the N22 corridor) which coordinate work between the towns in those areas – helping each other out with stalls and canvassing etc. Plus there is a county-wide committee which oversees any county-wide activities that may be decided on.

However I have realised (well had it pointed out to me) that a diary outlining the day-to-day organisational details of the campaign is not really what a Marxist should be writing about. The politics are what is important.

In my next blog post I’ll be outlining the arguments I’ve found to be most effective – both for engaging undecided voters and deflecting the dirty tricks of the antis.

But in this blog post I’d like to deal with the problem of political expediency which is raising its head in the Together for Yes campaign.

Specifically a position paper produced by the national office of Together for Yes dealing with the Govt’s proposal for 12-week unrestricted access to abortion –

This position paper has gone beyond what I had previously understood to be the Together for Yes position – that the campaign considered the Govt’s proposed legislation, based on the Joint Oireachtas Committee recommendations, to be the MINIMUM required. Instead this position paper makes a much more positive endorsement of those proposals as providing THE answer.

“Together for Yes considers that these [AG: the Govt’s proposals] are workable and reasonable proposals to allow women and girls to access the abortion services which they need, in a safe and regulated medical environment within the Irish health system.”

As it is written this statement is simply untrue. To be factual accurate it would require a “most” qualifier before “women and girls”.

It also seems to be implicitly implying the campaign believes that allowing abortion only in cases of, what the position paper itself describes as, “exceptional circumstances” (and we can be absolutely sure the circumstances will indeed by very limited and exceptional), for terminations beyond 12 weeks is “reasonable”. What this will concretely mean is that some women will still be forced to travel if they need a termination. In my opinion that is very far from “reasonable”.

When I have raised my concerns about this with other activists the most common reply is that this changing of the content of our message, as opposed to the tone and use of particular words and phrases, is necessary to win over the infamous “middle ground” of undecided voters who are open to being swayed by the “this will open the floodgates” rhetoric of the anti-repeal side.

I could perhaps understand this as a “clever tactic” if the referendum represented the complete and final end of the struggle for abortion access in Ireland. But even in the best case scenario – a big majority in the referendum followed by legislation based on the most liberal interpretation of the Govt’s proposals – there will still be a mountain of work to be done by pro-choice activists.

The post-referendum legislation will still be significantly short of what is required to meet the needs of all women and girls. That is the complete decriminalisation of abortion access with appropriate health care regulations to ensure safe provision of the service – just as with any other medical procedure.

The Together for Yes leadership do not seem to see how having actively promulgated the idea that the Govt’s legislative proposals are THE answer will negatively impact on the future struggle to extend abortion access to cover ALL women and girls who make the difficult decision to terminate their pregnancy.

Alan Gibson
Personal capacity



“Crisis Pregnancy Clinics” – coming to Ireland?

See John Oliver’s report on the scourge of “Crisis Pregnancy Clinics” in the USA.

Coming to Ireland after we repeal the 8th?

Mobile clinics sitting outside the surgeries of GP’s providing medical abortions – could it happen here?

Is there any link between anti-choice activists in the USA and those in Ireland? Would they fund this kind of thing?

I think we all know the answers – the struggle will continue after 25 May.

So get organised to win the referendum and stay organised to push back against the inevitable reaction of these bastards and their well-funded friends from across the Atlantic.


Repeal the 8th Amendment

I plan to start a diary charting my involvement in the Together for Yes campaign to remove the 8th Amendment (article 40.3.3) from the Irish Constitution. So watch this space – assuming I have any followers left after a long time away from WordPress.



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