1980s >> 1983 >> no-949-september-1983

Party News Trip to Belfast

A report on a visit to a recent weekend education conference run by the World Socialist Party of Ireland.

With only 30 minutes left in which to cover 25 miles, hopes of catching the 1500 ferry from Holyhead were fading fast. We had been travelling 6½ hours; London was 250 miles behind us. Fate had, however, dealt the same blow to our comrades travelling separately in another vehicle. The Islington delegation had missed the boat. A further departure was due at 1715 on a different shipping line, but our tickets were non-transferrable, so we were unable to sail before 0300 the following morning.

The following afternoon, just across the Northern Ireland border, a young man was hitch-hiking to Belfast; of course, we invited him to join us. He got more than a lift, since by the time we reached our destination he had been well introduced to the principles of revolutionary socialism. Having greeted our comrades in Belfast, we prepared for the first evening of the conference. The Ulster People’s College is a richly decorated Victorian house in South Belfast. It was commented that Marx might have had a “buckle in his eye” to have seen workers enter such a place without at least tipping their hats. Inside, the lecture room was dominated by a beautifully made plaque proclaiming the socialist message: One World, One People.

The opening lecture was on The Socialist Alternative, which stimulated much discussion. Disappointingly, there had been no response from about twenty Leftist organisations who had been invited to attend a Challenge to the Left held the following morning, in which a panel of speakers argued that the Left has impeded the road to socialism. Then there was a lecture given on The Materialist Conception of History. This was particularly well attended (over 40 were there), partly due to a letter we had published the week before in the local paper, the Sunday News [SEE OTHER ARTICLE FROM THIS MONTH]. One of the highlights of the weekend was a stimulating lecture delivered by a Belfast member, on the socialist analysis of Irish history. There were also talks on the politics of Reformism, and the economics of the recession.

On the last day of the school, a period was set aside for general discussion. This opportunity was used to plan future activities for the Belfast Branch of the WSPI, which has now been revived after more than a decade of difficulties arising out of the violent conflicts of the city. The Socialist Party of Ireland was formed by the joining together of Belfast and Dublin socialist groups in 1950. Its name was changed to the World Socialist Party in 1958, to avoid confusion with nationalist and reformist groups misusing the term socialist. During the sixties, the Belfast branch fought elections for the City Council and the Stormont parliament. In the early seventies the Head Office was severely damaged by a bombing and then looted and vandalised by the “security” forces. It became impossible to find suitable premises and meetings had to be held in members’ homes until recently, when the Belfast and Armagh branches of the Party reorganised and a regular meeting place has been obtained.

After the weekend conference ended, we were taken on a tour of the troubled areas of the city. Contrary to the picture received through the British media, the violence is limited on the whole to the most impoverished areas. The recession has also played its part in reducing whole districts to bleak, sparse wastelands. The only significant difference between the Catholic slums of the Falls Road and the Protestant slums of the Shankill was in the graffiti that lines their walls.

Crossing the border on our return journey, we were stopped and questioned. We explained that we stood for the abolition of wage-labour and of the profit system. A line of traffic built up behind as we argued this out, and the onlooking soldiers started to fidget impatiently with their machine-guns. The guard finally said that he was happy as he was — checking cars all day for incendiaries, with the permanent risk of being shot, and living on his meagre income.

Lunch on the boat back was appropriately run on free access; after paying £4 each customers can eat as much as they want. Obviously it had been calculated that people would not be able to eat more than £4 worth. So much for the capitalist claim that with free access people would never stop eating. Then, stopping at a telephone box just outside Bangor, we found that a pile of leaflets had been left, against the privatisation of Telecom. It was not long before a socialist response was added, establishing this as our first propaganda and information centre of the area. . . . The red sunset cast its long shadow over the Welsh mountains and we knew that wage-slavery would recommence in a few hours. Visiting our comrades in Belfast had been a brief but beneficial exercise, confirming that socialism is not a mythical beast confined to one part of the world; everywhere capitalism exists and is a breeding ground for socialism.

Ian Churchlow

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