Gerry Ruddy interview – additional questions

A few days back I was re-reading the interview with Gerry R and a couple of additional questions struck me.  I’m sticking them up here, but I will also add them to the original interview.  While I sympathise with Gerry’s point about Stalinism and external gods and blind following, I should add my own view that the Trotskyist movement is full of the same phenomena.  Some people would trace this to the ‘original sin’ of ‘Leninism’, but what strikes me is the remarkable difference between the substantial amount of democracy within the Bolshevik Party – people openly disagreed with each other, including with Lenin, in the party press, for instance – with the closed world of so many sects and cults, “Stalinist” and “Trotskyist” alike.


Philip Ferguson:  Could you tell us about PD’s relationship with the Officials and the Provos in the immediate aftermath of the 1969/70 split.  Quite a lot of people, especially outside Ireland, tended to take things at a fairly superficial level and see the Officials as the genuine left and the Provos as right-wing, but PD seemed to have a much more nuanced view and a much better understanding that the Provos were much more complex than that.  For instance, I’m aware of the working relationship – however fraught – between PD and the Provos (eg in the Northern Resistance Movement), but I’ve never heard of any working relationship of any sort with the Officials.

Gerry Ruddy:  Yes that is also my recollection.  On a personal level I was more sympathetic towards the Officials, particularly around my home town where PD existed for a while  and there was a small level of co-operation.  Personally I regarded the Provos then as a right-wing traditionalist organisation, but in areas like Belfast you could see  more radical elements like the Price sisters, Rita and Gerry O’Hare and the McDermots who were also in PD.  So it was natural that a good working relationship developed with the more progressive elements.  Later on  PD produced a joint work by Michael Farrell and Phil McCullough, then, as now, a leading Provo.  On the other hand, people like Ronnie Bunting and the Rosatos,  also in PD, gravitated towards the Officials.  It has to be taken into account the politics of it as well.  We were for smashing Stormont, so were the Provos, while the Officials and the CP were for the democratisation of  the six counties and the retention of Stormont.  Also, of course, you had the clash of personalities, with individuals becoming like ‘hate’ figures, such as the ‘devil’.  All very immature of course, but that was the way it was.

However let us not paint too black and white a picture; it was much more nuanced than that.  I remember in the immediate aftermath of internment speaking around the place and calling for the two IRAs to unite and fight the Brits and this always got an enthusiastic response from the audiences.  We shared platforms with all tendencies in those days.  Also the Officials in Derry were very left-wing  and there was a good relationship with them.  (Later, of course, a lot of Derry Officials went with Costello and helped establish the IRSP/INLA.)

Indeed I specifically remember that PD (I think mainly Fergus O’Hare and myself) organised a joint St Patricks Day March involving both the Provos and the Officials.  (As a minor footnote  I was attacked in the Sticks’ paper as a political guru for PD and also by the Provo paper as, I think, a fireside socialist .)

I suppose the thinking behind  much of what PD did was to win the more militant elements of republicanism towards a socialist and marxist perspective.  And then the question became can you do that from without or within?  I took the latter route, based on my own experiences, and others took a different route.

Funnily enough a similar question is posed today to marxists and socialists ?  Do you write off those militants attracted towards militant republicanism and disassociate yourself from them or do you hope to influence them?


PF: Were you surprised when the Officials pretty quickly evolved towards Moscow and the East European bureaucratic states?  Why do you think republican militants like Cathal Goulding and Sean Garland went that way?

GR: No, I wasn’t really surprised, because in those days many genuine people looked towards the Soviet Union for a version of socialism and it did have the credibility from its struggles in the Second World War.  It was also the time when Cuba looked like it could be a model for socialism in Ireland.  And the USSR supported Cuba.  So it was natural for many to look to the USSR for support.  Personally, while I preferred the USSR to the  USA in those days, I had no illusions about Stalinism.  I knew then, as I know now, what it entails – a slavish devotion to the leadership, a lack of democracy from below and non-participation in the control of the economy.

Also its highly-centralised leadership driven from the top down has an obvious appeal for those in charge of a military organisation.  The Adams’ leadership in the Provos also perfected that type of leadership.  How else can one explain the long delay in splits from both the Provos and the Sticks?  The trust in the leadership seems to me to have overcome any independent thinking that the membership might have had.  Read, for example, about the likes of Brendan Hughes and  Brian Keenan and wonder why it took them so long to realise that what they stood for and believed was being betrayed.  It is painful to read.  I, in my later years, have tried not to get into the politics of personalities, a very difficult thing – for example I respect the position that Gerry Kelly, for whose release I and other people campaigned in the early seventies, finds himself in, though I don’t agree with it.  I think I understand how politics can bring one to places they never meant to be.  So Stalinism, with its certainty, its control etc has a powerful influence on those who need to follow some kind of “god”.  Losing the will to believe in external gods, and with a belief in humanity, I decide to stay on the side of the vast majority of the people of this world and if this entails being accused of being a “Trotskyist” then it’s a badge I wear with pride.

Read the full interview here.



Posted on February 14, 2012, in Civil rights movement, Historiography and historical texts, Irish politics today, IRSP, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Repression and resistance in 1970s and 1980s, Republicanism 1960s, Revolutionary figures. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I was answering the question about the sticks and the USSR. My comments should be seen in that light.I readily recognise the closed system some “trotskyist” groups also operate and I have little sympathy for that approach.

  2. Yep, sure. If you think those initial comments of mine detract from your answer or are a bit confusing, I’d be happy to remove them.
    Al the best,

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