Socialists in Ireland Battle On

Explanation of failure to reply to earlier communication . . .


Some time ago our premises at Pimm Street, Belfast suffered bomb and fire damage and had to be vacated. The proprietor of a small printery, whose basement workshop in the same building was only slightly damaged, decided to continue in business and agreed to accept incoming mail on our behalf.


Last week this printer decided to go into the unoccupied part of the building in search of some timber and there he came on the front door of the rooms we had occupied. The door had been blown from its hinges and had actually fallen into a lower floor of the building but it still had affixed to it the mail box. Later examination revealed some letters in the box including yours of 29th March 1974.


It is a crazy little chapter from the sad and crazy world we live in; however we now enclose our reply and our apologies.




The enclosed circular will explain why we did not reply to your letter of the 29th March 1974.


The circular gives an insight into the problems we face in N. Ireland at present. We did manage to maintain premises up to two years ago but even this was a dodgy proposition. Our “meeting” night was Tuesdays but most evenings people were afraid to come out and I have memories of sitting long hours alone beside a dirty paraffin stove. Sometimes the foot on the stairs brought mixed feelings; “Good! Someone . . .” but there was the fear that the “someone” might not be good! Just before the premises were blown up they were vandalized by the military and, on another occasion when I foolishly took my seventeen-year-old daughter (who was a Party member) with me, we had a visit from some worthies who were obviously confident that if they could provoke us into starting something they could handle both of us.


Finally, our “national heroes”, the Provos, in pursuit of their “economic war” or their equally intelligent counterparts, the Loyalists, blew the place up. It must have been a victory for something.


After that we tried to get an old slum shop and dwelling in a “borderline” area. It had been vandalized and was going very cheap and I had arranged with the agent to accept £200 deposit and the £500 balance by weekly instalments of £2. Unfortunately, when the crunch came, the woman who owned the place refused to sign the contracts.


Now we have learnt that the premises at Pimm Street have been bought by a tyre trader who carries on his business in the adjoining property. The place is being re-roofed and repaired in a make-shift way and we are hopeful that we might get our old room back.


Of course normal political activity is impossible at present in this lunatic asylum but, still, an address that could be used openly would open some avenues. At present, apart from putting the case to individuals in general conversation (and this with some caution!) we confine our activities to sending the Socialist Standard to various groups and individuals and to the principal newspapers. It is dangerous to write to the papers; both morning and evening newspapers print most of their letters under pen names but require that the writer enclose his name and address; a friend of mine who had a letter published criticizing the Loyalist “strike” of ’74 received a threatening telephone call the following day — this despite the fact that his letter had been published over a pseudonym. Obviously one does not want to put one’s family at risk by identifying one’s home address but, if we get premises, we will use the address openly for letters and the occasional leaflet.


I am convinced that we must show some evidence of our continued existence during this period, however slight or sporadic. To fail to do so will leave us open to the charge of deserting our case when it was dangerous to stand by it. Honest explanation of our smallness and lack of resources can be made for little activity in the present period but we would have no excuse for total silence.


Over the past two months I have engaged in an exchange of letters with the Secretary of a Dublin group who call themselves the Socialist Party. Some progress has been made but the issues of nationalism and religion still prove tortuous (what a dis-service the “Marxist” Connolly did for Socialism!). In my last letter I suggested that I would like to visit the group and, if I get a favourable response, I will take a week-end in Dublin.


Bad as the situation here is I feel it is not without a glimmer of hope. Some of the old loyalties are being scrutinized more incisively than heretofore by many on the political touchlines; the anger of the moment may not reflect this but there is much evidence to show that it is true. Some — indeed, many — of the Loyalists have lost some of their intractable “Britishness” and, equally, many of the Catholic Nationalists have been disillusioned by blatant indifference shown to their plight by a self-preserving Southern capitalism. True, the battles go on; today’s fought in the bitterness of last night’s memories. Increasingly, however, it is only the scarred and the most deeply committed who can maintain the fight on a no-hope diet of hatred. When the anger ebbs the old values will be in the melting pot and while, then, Socialist hands may be few, they will at least be clean.


Richard Montague