Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

On the Turn to Industry, the American SWP and other questions of IMG history

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The IMG was the International Marxist Group, the British Section of the Fourth International (FI) in the 1970’s. This is an interesting Phi Hearse article for anoraks (!) who study the history of radical-left political currents. It analyses the Fourth International “Turn to Industry” Policy of 1979 and following years. This policy, in my opinion, contributed to a political decline of People’s Democracy (PD) in Ireland in the 1980’s – although that was not the only factor. We live and learn.

Others may make a different political judgement, and that’s OK. One of the FI people I worked closely with in the 1980’s was Gerry Foley, an early target of the American Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), which drove the FI “Turn to Industry” Policy at that time. However, for most of the 1970’s, Foley and me were on different sides in FI debates, and did not agree about the history of that period. Some of Foley’s co-thinkers were known for endlessly going on about “the ultra-left turn” of the 1969 FI World Congress, and guerillaism. That all happened before I joined the FI in 1974, when that debate was on the way towards a reasonably amicable conclusion. Even more bizarre, rival groups went on and on about “Pabloism” – a debate belonging to the 1950’s! These days you still come across comrades endlessly droning on about the 1969 World Congress – some of these people, like me, were not directly involved in those discussions at all! So, I do not endlessly drone on about the 1979 “Turn to Industry”. – John Meehan

An update, two observations from an online discussion :

Liam Mac Uaid :

A couple of observations to supplement what Phil has written.

The turn made very little sense in Ireland at the time. It was a period of mass emigration from a country with a very small industrial base. This was accentuated in the north by the fact that most of the skilled industrial jobs were not open to Catholics.

I remember informing the branch that I’d got the job in the sewers. My mother had said to me something along the line’s of “Tommy’s niece’s husband is looking for men to work in tunnels”. I’d been reading a lot about Vietnam at the time and it seemed a useful revolutionary field of knowledge.

There were a couple of American SWP members at the meeting on the revolutionary tourist circuit and they were very impressed by this application of the line.

The American SWP’s influence was ultimately quite pernicious internationally. The Barnes leadership were imitating the Mormons and sending people all over the place. Along with the Ross group they were encouraging people in Ireland to liquidate into Sinn Fein. A complete political liquidation would have been the only way to enter an organisation controlled by the Army Council. Those who followed their advice and are still politically active became part of the Provie grantocracy. Though the political degeneration was pretty rapid.

My first few months in England were no fun. I got a job in a chemical factory where the least lumpen worker was in the National Front. It was simply what the job centre had given me. This would have been the SWP US dream, but it was grinding and futile. As Phil says, comrades who got jobs in unionised, strategic jobs were able to do useful things.

This Jim Monaghan observation adds another interesting jig saw piece to the picture we paint : “My partner, Jackie, had an argument in New York with SWPers, when they refused to accept that large sectors of industrial employment was barred for nationalists in the 6 counties.”

John Meehan :

I remember an interesting turning point at one meeting. I am unsure about the exact date. I will try to find it. I had been warning for a few years against the “turners” and the dangers of the American SWP policy. I was making little progress inside PD. Then Malik Miah and another SWP turner – I think his name was McBride – were over for a PD Conference. A group of PD comrades met these two Americans privately. This meeting was set up by two firm supporters of the American apparatus. The idea was to draw in extra supporters. The baptism and brainwash manoeuvre backfired. Quickly afterwards one particular comrade made his way to me in a very determined fashion. This was a revelation moment. This comrade, who rejected the road to political and personal doom was Trutz Haase, a German Born guy who had settled in Dublin. Trutz said to me – I did not believe what you were saying about the American SWP and the Turn up till now – but you are right! I think the Americans were advocating that comrades get jobs in “heavy industry” which a) did not exist in Ireland at that time and b) we were going through one of those regular bouts of hideous mass unemployment. Trutz became a very supportive comrade to me, but also a very close and supportive friend – that friendship endured long after he dropped out of PD.

The following was written by Phil Hearse, in April 2020, in response to comments on the Socialist Resistance discussion list. We are grateful to Phil…

On the Turn to Industry, the American SWP and other questions of IMG history

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