Workers' Liberty 3/26: Looking backward

Sean Matgamna: finding my way to Trotskyism, part 2: from "communism" to "orthodox Trotskyism"

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

It was very hard to distinguish between criticism of Stalinism - which is what the Communist Party's "communism" was, of course - and basic hostility to the ideas of communism.

All I had, I suppose, was a general notion of a world which would be organised like a good family, a caring family. It was very primitive, but also very heart-felt.

I was torn for a long time - for two years, in fact - by inner conflict about such things as the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956. I finally decided my indecision was self-indulgence, and I joined the YCL.

Sean Matgamna describes the "official communist" movement he joined in the late 50s, life in Gerry's Healy's Socialist Labour League and the politics of Militant in the mid-60s.

Marxist Theory and History: 

The AWL, Labour and the Left: 

Publications: 

Working Class Life in Ennis in the Mid-Twentieth Century: Sean Matgamna Examines His Own "Roots and Branches"

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

[See also SAVAGE VIOLENCE IN IRISH SCHOOLS: WHY DID THEY STAND FOR IT?,
MARY PLAYS NUNS' SCHOOL
and SCHOOLBOOKS]

Like many revolutionary activists over the ages, Sean Matgamna was an immigrant, someone shaped in his thinking by the shifts and contrasts from living in one culture to living in another.

The differences in the 1940s and 50s between life in Ennis, the small west of Ireland town I grew up in, and in a city like Manchester, were immense.

Like many revolutionary activists, Sean Matgamna is an immigrant. Here he contrasts his childhood in the west of Ireland with life in Manchester, the city he moved to in the mid-50s.

Publications: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

What would my 18 year old self say to me now?

Sean Matgamna

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

[This is a copy-edited and slightly expanded version of the text in WL.]

What would my 18 year old self say to me if, somehow, we could meet?

Possibly: “I know thee not, old man!” More likely: “Where’s my hair?”

Seriously, he’d be disappointed at how little I’ve managed to do, and maybe impatient with the plea, “I did my best”. I might tell him Orwell’s comment: “Everyone’s life seen from within is a failure”. He’d say: “Maybe, but that doesn’t change anything”.

The very high attrition rate in revolutionary socialist politics is a function of the effect of bourgeois society being prosperous and seemingly the only possible system. It is also a function of the blind-alley, sectist nature of what has passed for revolutionary politics for many decades.

Publications: 

The AWL, Labour and the Left: 

The dilemmas of "communism"

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

At 15 I fell in love with the idea of communism — the image, the goal, the seduction, the hypnosis, of it. I fell in love with the idea of humankind as a great caring family, a world governed by class and then human solidarity. I’ve never fallen out with it. Everything I see in the capitalist reality around me has reinforced and strengthened it — renewed and yet again renewed my conviction about it.

The mass “communist” movement of fifty years ago was a terrible combination of militant workers in the capitalist countries allied with the totalitarian Stalinist powers. In so far as it had a programme beyond what served Russian interests, it was the utterly reactionary one of establishing totalitarian Stalinist states, reactionary most of all in what it meant for the working class and its labour movement.

Publications: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

Debating theories of the USSR

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

Workers’ Fight — the initial group of what is now the AWL tendency — inherited the “orthodox Trotskyist” view that the USSR and the other Stalinist states were “deformed and degenerated workers’ states”. Why did we take so long to move away from that view towards the conclusion that the Stalinist states were in fact a new sort of exploitative class system?

A 1976 speech by Sean Matgamna in a debate on the class nature of the USSR.

Marxist Theory and History: 

The AWL, Labour and the Left: 

Publications: 

The AWL: from "orthodox Trotskyism" to the "Third Camp"

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

I disagreed strongly with the Healyites’ decision to bail out from the Labour Party in 1963-4. But it’s not really true that I broke with the Healyites over the Labour Party. It was a consideration, but I don’t think I would have broken with the SLL if I had disagreed with it on what could be seen as a tactical question. I don’t think I would have had the self-confidence to break with them if it were not for their Third-Period-Stalinist style strike-breaking in the apprentices’ dispute.

The AWL tendency started in 1966 as "orthodox Trotskyist", seeing the Stalinist systems as "degenerated and deformed workers states". In the 70s and 80s, we struggled to apply that formula to events and eventually discarded it as we rediscovered the Workers Party/Independent Socialist League tradition of Max Shachtman, Hal Draper and others.

Publications: 

The AWL, Labour and the Left: 

Working-class solidarity: how British dockers built it and how they lost it

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

Nothing will ever efface for me the memory of my first real strike — on the Salford docks — the first time I saw my class acting as a surging, uncontrolled force breaking the banks of routine capitalist industrial life and, for a while, pitting itself against those who control our lives.

The foundations of working-class solidarity on the docks had been built up by Marxists organising them from the 1880s, work that has much to teach socialists now.

Marxist Theory and History: 

Trade Unions: 

Publications: 

Pages