Century of Endeavour

The Desmond Greaves Journals

From November 1945 to the end of the decade.

(c) Anthony Coughlan / Roy Johnston 2002

The copyright on the original Greaves Diaries resides with Anthony Coughlan, with whom right of access and permission to publish any extracts must currently be negotiated, prior to their eventual deposition in the National Library of Ireland. Copyright relating to these abstracts belongs also to Roy Johnston, any extracts from which must be cleared by both parties.

Enquiries to RJ at rjtechne@iol.ie; Anthony Coughlan is contactable at his home address at 24 Crawford Avenue, Dublin 9, phone 00-353-1-8305792.

I am indebted to Anthony Coughlan for the opportunity of doing some analysis of the material in the Greaves journal, which he kept, intermittently, for some decades; I have partially analysed, from the perspective of my own narrative, what is available from 1945 up to his death in 1988. The full analysis, based on his correspondence, published writings and other accessible papers, awaits the Greaves biographer and/or some historian of the British or Irish Marxist intellectual tradition, if one can be found who is prepared to abandon the usual myopia regarding Ireland and all things Irish, and give Greaves his due. I have concentrated on those entries where his thinking on Irish politics, and the politics of the Irish in Britain, is recorded. As usual, I use italics where the text is primarily my comment, or my abstraction and analysis of a major chunk of CDG text. The commentary is of course exclusively mine and should not be taken as representing the views of Anthony Coughlan on the matters referred to.

Volume 7

The first entries I can find relating to Ireland, in the period relevant to my own memoirs, are in December 5-7 1945:

Dec 5: 'I attended a branch meeting of Holborn Communist Party ... ET (Elsie Timbey) was there, and I went to her flat to meet her Ceylonese friend Wickramasingh who returns to Ceylon tomorrow. She (ie presumably ET) agreed with my proposal to liquidate the Connolly Association as JS (Jimmy Shields) suggests, but along certain special lines, which would keep what we have now.'

This indicates that the CA in 1945 was in effect a CP offshoot, over which they had complete control at this time. Of course this was before the CA adopted the Constitution under which it still operates, long after the demise of the CPGB. This constitution, which was drafted by CDG, was adopted by the CA annual conference in 1955. Ten years before this, the CA must have in effect been a narrow sectarian body, judging by the Greaves counter-proposal, outlined below.

Dec 6: 'I saw PC (Pat Clancy) in the evening but though I reasoned long and hard with him he remained obdurate, the CA must stay.'

Dec 7: 'The long awaited Irish Committee (of the CP) meeting took place tonight, when the decision on the JS (Jimmy Shields) proposals were to be made. It was quite interesting to note that this time, JL Dooley was there in person, and his understudy... (pejorative labels) Bagenal Harvey had not considered it necessary to attend. I set out clearly what I thought to be the right course:

(i) to make our main object building a broad movement round the paper

(ii) to transform existing CA bodies into committees of the paper

(iii) to alter the character of the paper so that the Hugh Delargy group would participate in its production

(iv) to press our work among the Irish through the Party channels from the British side.

'Clancy attacked the whole thing fiercely, called it Browderism, and said he would insist on seeing Pollitt if it went through, and much more. ET supported me. Mary Sullivan (MSI) supported my broad policy but wanted to keep the CA; the same went for P(acky) Early. Flann (Campbell) wrote saying he was impressed by my argument that 2/3 of the circulation of ID (Irish Democrat) was done by CA and he proposed to keep it in existence but to find out if there was another way of selling the paper (what realism!).

'And then JL ("Pat") Dooley spoke. When I had finished he had given me a look of slightly embarrassed displeasure, mingled with a touch of the kind of respect that a rogue gives another who has outwitted him. JLD always thinks in terms of "getting away with" something. He was obviously in a quandary. He had prepared, as we could see, a tirade in favour of liquidation. He found me proposing it. As his interest was more to oust me than to solve the political problem, he was inclined to change sides, but he had so definitely declared that the CA should be liquidated that he couldn't go back on it. His remarks were therefore lame. He "wanted to sit on the fence" (the joke was that I had built him the fence to sit on, did he but know it) and confined himself to saying that what was wrong with the CA was the 'character of the leadership' adding... that he didn't want to make a personal attack on me.

'When the vote was taken on a self-contradictory resolution of Mary Sullivan, Elsie Timbey and I were for liquidation, and Dooley abstained, the others carrying the day. No wonder I sometimes feel that that nothing on earth can be done with such noodles. I've never seen such a daft bunch of ha'porths. Then JLD asked questions designed to imply that I was incompetent, and piped down after being replied to, and we went home.

'Now this marks, I have a feeling, the conclusion of my work in the Irish movement in London, in future I shall be working with it, as part of a wider order of things. What will happen is that now PC will take over, and JLD will put through his scatterbrained schemes - all will be well at times, at other times all will be ill, and they'll go on from crisis to crisis in the good old Irish way. "God mend their wits", as somebody said.'

Later on December 13, there is a reference to CDG's showing the Irish Committee minutes '...to JS who looked rather ill... JS's comment was "Ach we'll just have to let them learn from experience. They've just got no idea of Irish politics in this country!" He seemed a little weary of things...'

This episode sets the stage: CDG was seeking in 1945 to develop a broad-based Irish movement, with a real role for people like Delargy, though hampered by the need for absolute top-down control under Party discipline.

Dec 30 1945: CDG plans for the year 1946. He hopes to 'complete Irish book by December'; the political agenda includes the International Affairs Committee, Irish and Dominions Committees...; recreation '..theatre, less, except Irish..'. He also plans a trip to Ireland in March-April.

Jan 4 1946: '...The Irish Committee was held in the evening with PC, MSI, ET and myself. I think things are better. There is a prospect of getting PC on full time this summer, getting Packy Early (PE) to do the London District job, and that in a couple of years time having a group of people to send back to Ireland. I will also try to find people who would quit their jobs there. Farrington wrote saying that he was recommending the acceptance of my book by L&W.'

Jan 20 1946: 'In the afternoon Grove-White called. He has been a second time to Germany and this time has a far more balanced picture of what is going on there. He has also been to Dublin and has seen John Ireland. There has been a great interest in the USSR in Dublin since the censorship was lifted, and things look very hopeful in comparison with their appearance hitherto...'.

Jan 31 1946: '..went to the International Affairs Committee and later to Elsie Timbey's. I saw RPD (Rajani Palme Dutt)... and the rest of them. It was a good meeting. With Elsie I helped her to prepare a statement to next week's Irish Bureau..'.

Feb 26 1946: CDG gets an invitation from John Ireland to come to Dublin in May.

March 18 1946: CDG meets TA Jackson who has a proof copy of his book Ireland Her Own, priced at 18/-, which will 'keep it out of the hands of those I wrote it for ... fucking publishers..'. He despairs of seeing a cheap edition in his lifetime.

March 27 1946: (Clancy) '...says Frank O'Connor has been over here and says Sean O Faolain has severed his connection with the Bell, leaving Harry Craig in sole possession. So one wonders what will be the fate of the periodical...'.

March 28 1946: there is a reference to a meeting of the International Affairs Committee; Dutt has gone to India; JS took the chair. 'By all accounts things in the 6 counties are bad, but BS (Bob Stewart) has gone over to give them a little help and advice. I was glad of this as it was just what I pressed for when I went to see JS a week or so ago, and he was so gloomy. He is more gloomy and a little disillusioned now. I think it is because he thought he would live to see the revolution, and now he knows he will not.'

April 3 1946: there was an Irish Committee meeting, attended also by Flann Campbell, Elsie Timbey and Pat Clancy, at which one Maitland turned up from Belfast, from the EC of the NI CP.

April 8 1946: CDG went to see Leslie Daiken about publishing poetry; the latter claimed to have made money doing so, via Dylan Thomas and an 'artists international' circle. Daiken however had it in for CDG because he was supposed to have left the Irish Democrat in the lurch. CDG regards Dooley as being the source of the 'poison'. Bagenal Harvey it seems has left Central Books, for accepting cuts from publishers, and is now out of the Party, '...so Dooley is at any rate deprived of one of his stooges..'.

April 9 1946: we have CDG's first encounter with Gerry Curran, by whom he is impressed; he has written short stories and a play.

April 15 1946: CDG reviews Arnold Marsh's book Full Employment in Ireland for the Democrat.

May 1 1946: Gerry Curran showed him a letter from his sister Nora '...which must typify the anxious questioning mood of the Irish youth which all attempts to isolate the country fail to exorcise or keep out, questionings on religion, morality and sex for the most part. They are years behind us.'

May 8 1946: '...Irish Committee in the evening with FC (Flann Campbell), no doubt to JLD's (Dooley's) instructions, trying to liquidate it, or as good as do so. We had decided to ask JLD to do a pamphlet. FC had approached him and between them they had decided "there are more urgent things". So that is his lordship again...'.

May 15 1946: CDG went to Woolwich to Packy Early's CA branch; only 2 turned up.

May 16 1946: CDG felt he had to show his notes for the Fabian meeting in Dublin to JG Bennett '..the object of this being to show that there was nothing up my sleeve.. he made some interesting and useful suggestions... went to see Elsie Timbey who gave me the addresses of the Irish-Soviet Society in Dublin..'.

I was in touch with the group in Dublin which was expressing post-war interest in the USSR; we regarded it as a possible focus for the development of left-wing thinking. Apparently CDG did also.


Volume 8

Volume 8 runs from May 17 1946 to September 30. It begins with his visit to Dublin; he was met by Beatrice Browne (BB) a Labour Party stalwart; the Central Branch of the Labour Party was the only active one. John Ireland had built it up. There was a move to break it up because it was not territorial. CDG suggested that if it was territorialised then they might influence everybody.

He met with 'Keatinge' the secretary of the Fabian Society (this Keating was a cousin of Justin Keating; he afterwards had a career in the Irish diplomatic service; we encountered him during the tail-end of his college career; he attended some Promethean meetings. Greaves consistently added an 'e' to the spelling of his name; I suspect that he did not connect him with Justin Keating who subsequently became an important Irish contact. I am indebted to Paul O'Higgins for this insight.).

Greaves met John (de Courcy) Ireland then for the first time, in the front square of TCD. Greaves never gives him the de Courcy label; nor did we at the time.) JI was uneasy about the lack of preparation for the meeting; only 12 turned up; JI had been engaged all week and could not put CDG up. He was interested in what CDG said, and '..his attitude improved somewhat..'. A student called Foster asked good questions. He came with CDG to the Pillar where they met with BB, and then they went on to the Bakers Hall where there was a packed meeting with about 120, including many old CA members from London. Good meeting, good questions, CA in high esteem. CDG however was dubious about the wisdom of forming a Communist Party. Had supper with the President of the Trades Council.

I recollect a meeting in Bakers Hall addressed by CDG, perhaps it was this one, but I was then at school, and it could have been a subsequent one; it was my first encounter with CDG. John Swift, the progressive secretary of the Bakers Union, had established a library and conference centre, the Four Provinces House in Harcourt St. He aspired to make it an intellectual centre for the emergent post-war Left. It subsequently fell foul of Archbishop McQuaid. At this time however it was a regular venue for meetings and lectures on political matters, which were well attended.

May 18 1946: He recorded a close encounter with an FF TD for Limerick in his hotel, and formed the impression that he was parish council material. He met with Sean Nolan and Michael McInerney (former Editor of the Irish Democrat, then working for the Irish Times, for which he became Political Correspondent); the latter had written up the Bakers Hall meeting, but the Irish Times had not published it. Eleanor O'Brien was there. He met later with a Glun na Buaidh supporter who was critical of McCaughey's IRA supporters.

May 19: CDG went to see RN Tweedy in Carrickmines. '...distinguished old man.. had been trying to get the government to do something about peat... they were too much in the pocket of the coal importers... Mrs Tweedy is treasurer of the Irish-Soviet Society which now has 120 members and can hold meetings in the Mansion House..'.She always traded as Anne Peach; I don't think she was married to Tweedy.

May 21: CDG interviewed the secretary of Glun na Buaidh, who denied that they were fascist; he gained the impression that they were just confused and would be ready to go any way which might lead to something. He goes on to a lengthy encounter with trade unionists Lynch and Kyle; there is talk of Bill O'Brien; he encounters JI at St Patrick's, discovers that he is teaching on £250 per year. Then on to John Nolan's bookshop, where he discovers McInerney and Watters, JI it seems having put the latter up, to CDG's indignation. BB gave him butter before he went to the airport.

These early impressions of post-war Ireland suggest hints of political awakening, with progressive forces seeking a focus; the Irish Soviet Friendship Society provided one, of sorts. I remember attending one of its meetings. Patrick Kavanagh turned up, exuding hostility however. There was a kind of pro-British, ascendancy-fringe flavour; the Soviet Union was looked up to because they had helped Britain win the war.

May 24: Dooley wants to employ Sid Maitland as an organiser, and to sink the Irish Committee. There is a mention of Ewart Milne in this context.

May 26: '...Grove White called. I told him of my Dublin experiences. He advised me to apply for a job with the Turf Board. But this would mean getting myself thoroughly identified with science, and God knows every year I stick at it makes me more heartily sick of it, and even the bait of £1000 a year scarcely tempts me. He hopes to return to Dublin himself as soon as he as secured his divorce.'

I find it hard to understand why CDG did not take this up; he could have been an influential technocrat as well as helping to develop the post-war politics. Was it perhaps that he preferred to have an arms-length association with Ireland? Or was it that he was basically uncomfortable in the company of his peer-group of engineers and chemists, having himself originally trained as a botanist, and made the switch to chemistry during the war, 'chancing his arm' in another branch of science which was in emergency demand? This needs to be teased out in biographical mode.

During June 8-11 he went cycling in the North of Ireland, a long weekend; Belfast, Banbridge; he establishes a rapport with local people he meets, and picks up samples of political views from the grass-roots. Later on June 13, back at the West London CA, he regales them with his Dublin trip, including his encounter with the FF TD, and they accuse him of 'anti-Irish prejudice'.

On July 4 1946 CDG has a further encounter with Gerard Curran; the objective is to help the latter get settled into some sort of job; there is a further encounter on July 26, in the company of a young Dubliner called Doran.

August 9: CDG got news of Dublin via Beatrice Browne who was in London; the LP Central Branch had been disbanded on grounds of not being residential-based; CDG reiterates his view that it might be no harm to distribute its politicised members among the other branches. She is critical of John (Sean) Nolan, who '...refused to defend Celia Prendergast who was "driven out of the Party by Betty Sinclair". They are all fighting on personal issues. But now, she says, Nolan is forming a "Connolly Club". I'm suspicious of it. Oddly enough both they and McCullough (the Belfast CP Secretary) tell Irishmen emigrating to England not to join the CA but to work with the Party. Irish consistency! For all that there is plenty of good material, if only somebody would set himself the task of unifying it and giving it a common policy and organisation, and - above all - tactics..'

The foregoing is an early warning of the chronic antagonism which develops between the emergent Irish Left and the Connolly Association. Then on August 19 there is a long entry dealing with the internal politics of the industrial research group. This is raw material for whoever as biographer takes seriously CDG's applied-scientific background. It is steeped in socio-technical issues relating to the relative roles of physics, chemistry and management. Much as I would like to, I am not going to chase this hare, at this time.

On August 24 there commences a long series of entries dealing with CDG's experiences on a vacation cycle tour, during which he stays in youth hostels and cheap hotels, visiting Belfast, the Sperrins, Derry, Letterkenny, Creeslough. There is a long stay at Tra na Rossan youth hostel in the far north of Donegal, where he records market-researching the 'Federal Solution' concept, and meeting with a 'National Democratic Party' activist. Throughout the trip, which continues until September 14, when he reaches Dublin after covering the West and the South, he records the ideas of the people he encounters and engages in conversation. Molotov is seen as a problem; war with Russia often seen as inevitable.

From Donegal he goes back to Strabane and Omagh, then on to Enniskillen, Belcoo, Manorhamilton, Sligo, Collooney, Swinford, Castlebar, Westport, Leenane, Oughterard, Galway, Limerick, Foynes, Listowel, Tralee, Killorglin, Waterville, Sneem, Killarney; he has much to say about the people he encountered in Sneem; then on to Cork via Kenmare and Macroom.

In Cork on September 10 he has his first encounter with Michael O'Riordan on September 10: '...an excellent man, without fear, and of good proletarian character. We had a long discussion until about 10pm...'. It is a pity he does not record this discussion with the same detail.

This was the year there was no summer; it rained and rained; the harvest dragged on well into September in sodden fields; volunteers went out from the towns to help; the yield was poor from the exhausted soil; there was actually a real threat of starvation. CDG mentions in passing that one of the people he met was doing voluntary harvesting, but apparently has no appreciation of its significance, though he had interacted with farmers, one of whom was critical of the type of tractor being imported from Britain, and of the 'machinery pool' concept, where the farmers had misused them. '..this Russian idea of community farming is no good'. This however was not the problem; according to JJ it had been generated by the Fianna Fail wheat policy in the 1930s, which had exhausted the soil, making the growing of wheat in the 1940s when it was strategically necessary all the more difficult.

CDG finally arrived in Dublin, via Waterford, followed by a spell in the youth hostel in Donard, when he encountered some TCD students. He got the boat back to Liverpool, after a botched attempt to meet with John Ireland, who seemed to be rebuffing CDG's attempts to make meaningful contact. I confirmed subsequently, in recent times, with John de Courcy Ireland (as we saw earlier, CDG never credited him with the deC) that he did not see eye to eye with CDG at this time about the potential role in Ireland of a Communist Party. He regarded CDG as an outside influence, pushing too hard to encourage the early formation of such a Party.

The foregoing odyssey, as a perceptive outsider's view of Ireland from the seat of a bicycle in the 'summer' of 1946, along with the socio-technical entry of August 19, is eminently publishable; both could form starting points for a multi-aspect memoir focused on CDG himself.

September 24 1946: back in London CDG encounters Gerry Curran again, who has been helping Flann Campbell with the Democrat; he had been offered a clerical job by the Labour Exchange. The CA lads however were advising him to get a job on the building sites, '...after which he could with ease disappear and do what he liked - so they told him..'. One can sense the disapproval; we have here an example of the cultural mismatch between intellectuals and workers; we will see more of this later.


Volume 9

Volume 9 begins on February 18 1949 and continues up to May 7 1950. Unfortunately there is no record for the intervening period, during which the Irish Workers League was founded, and in whose inaugural meeting CDG intervened, explicitly on behalf of the British Communist Party, with disastrous effect. I expand on this episode elsewhere. The background to this episode in the previous decade has been elucidated by Emmet O'Connor in a paper given to the 2007 Greaves Summer School, in which he exposes the insensitive and counter-productive intervention of the Comintern, via the CPI, in the 1934 Republican Congress. The role of Greaves and the CPGB in the attempt to help develop an Irish Left in the 1940s was, on balance, much more positive, despite the initial gaffe, the lessons of which were learned, at least by some.

The journal vol 9 begins with a long saga about the loss of electric power in his flat in Cockpit Chambers, and getting it fixed. Holborn electrical supply had been 110V DC up to about 1948 or '49, and this crisis could have been due to the changeover to the national grid at 230V AC, for which the wiring would have been inadequate. There is a long entry dated Feb 18 1949. This in the end gets round to the question of the CA meetings in Hyde Park, which had been seriously heckled by anti-communist hecklers. CDG sort of suggests that the message they were trying to convey was, so to speak, asking for it. Speakers were Sean Mulready, Pat Dooley and Bob Doyle. Mulready's arguments for 'secular education' and Bob Doyle's Spanish Civil War reminiscences did not on the whole go down. One can see CDG's groping at finding a way of conveying a progressive message to the Irish people, and not yet succeeding.

Greaves and the Lysenko Episode

Feb 19 1949: Alan Morton, a botanist and Greaves's oldest friend from his young days in Liverpool, is in the next room, after opening the Engels Society's discussion on Lysenko. 'Old Haldane is there calling everyone who does not agree with him ignorant. I only wish I had time to sail into these scientists myself.'

This is a revealing entry. CDG around this time spoke to the student group in TCD on the Lysenko question, and it was quite clear that he had bought, and was trying to purvey, the Stalin line, which had been sold to Stalin by a time-serving agronomist Lysenko, who thought that a projected short cut to improved agricultural production, even if phony, was the road to preferment. The present writer attended the meeting; so did Justin Keating, who subsequently spoke to the TCD Fabian Society along similar lines.

The result of this episode was that genuine scientific research into genetics, the like of which has led to the elucidation of the role of DNA, had been in effect banned in the USSR. This held them back scientifically for decades. JBS Haldane saw through this at the time, and resigned from the Party. He had been on the Editorial Board of the Daily Worker. JD Bernal prevaricated, though his experimental technology, based on the X-ray analysis of large-molecule structures, transmitted through his student Rosalind Franklin (whom many consider was equally deserving of a Nobel Prize along with Watson and Crick), enabled Watson and Crick to elucidate the DNA structure. Greaves at this time clearly bought uncritically the Stalinist model for the interaction between science and the State. Insofar as the present writer, and indeed Justin Keating, were influenced in this direction, for a time, it undoubtedly was due to Greaves's influence, rather than that of Bernal. The present writer's rejection of Stalinist orthodoxy, which took place in the late 1950s and matured in the early 1960s, undoubtedly contributed to his move towards political republicanism via the Wolfe Tone Society. I was however willing to accept the possibility of internal reform in the USSR, right up to Gorbachev-time, and persistently sought out Soviet scientific contacts, despite the barriers imposed by the Soviet bureaucracy.

May 17 1949: In an extended entry about the internal politics in Powell Duffryn, the firm for which he worked as a research chemist, it emerges that CDG gave a paper to the Coal Research Club which was received with acclamation. He still apparently had a career in applied science before him, and was appreciated. Why did he drop out? This question remains to be answered satisfactorily by his biographer. Was it because he felt he was becoming redundant, with the role of the 'Carbon lab' being questioned?

May 18 1949: there is a record of their agonising over the draft of the pamphlet which was in the end published as How to End Partition. The issue was how to deal politically with the proposal then on the agenda, that Partition be ended in return for an Anglo-American deal bringing Ireland into NATO. '..we should declare that we stand for unity without conditions, and if the supposed conditions arose we should praise the unity and condemn the conditions..'. He goes on '..I am afraid the whole thing might lead to a civil war...'.

June 26: after putting the July Democrat to bed he got on the boat train, on the Friday of the Whit weekend, and went to Waterford, took the bus to Cork, cycled to Dublin stopping at the youth hostel in the Galtees, climbing Galtymore. Rapidly passing through Dublin on this occasion the only news was that Sean Mulready was separated from his wife (Mollie) and 'RJ and JMC have got girls'. This would have been just about the time I first met up with Mairin Mooney whom I married in 1952. JMC was Malcolm Craig, a student of economics and a stalwart supporter of our student group.

Back in London on the Tuesday he is again into Powell Duffryn politics; there is a redundancy scare. Later he has a visit from Eoin ('the Pope') O'Mahoney, who is inaugurating a campaign to release the Belfast prisoners.

The final entry in this book is May 7 1950, after a long gap; it deals with Hyde Park meeting experience, and gives a sketch of the characters of some possible recruits picked up. There are no further entries in 1950.

[1950s Greaves Journal] [Greaves overview 1945-1968]
[To 'Century' Contents Page] [Century: Ch5 pt 2, late-1940s overview]

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