Closer to Berlin - not politically but by begging letter
BACKGROUND:Archives of East Germany’s ruling party reveal decades of political donations to Irish partners, despite doubts about their political prospects
For decades, East Germany’s ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) maintained contacts with a shifting cast of Irish characters. But files seen by The Irish Times indicate that East Berlin’s ambitions for Ireland dwindled under a steady flow of begging letters suggesting their Irish comrades were more interested in raffles than revolution.
The files of the SED central committee reveal no contacts with any of the major Irish political parties. Instead East Berlin engaged first with the Communist Party of Ireland and, later, the Workers’ Party (WP) and its general secretary, Seán Garland.
One of the earliest contacts with East Berlin in the files is a 1963 telegram from Dublin on the 70th birthday of Walter Ulbricht, de facto leader of East Germany from 1950 to 1971. The telegram from the then Irish Workers’ Party (from 1970, subsumed into the Communist Party of Ireland, the CPI, and not to be confused with the Workers’ Party of Seán Garland) praises Ulbricht’s “selfless life’s work” for which “humankind will forever be thankful”.
The same year, the SED invited Irish Workers’ Party central committee chairman John Nolan to address the party’s sixth congress on January 18th, 1963. Some 18 months after the building of the Berlin Wall, the Irish visitor said the “measures taken . . . to safeguard the territory of the GDR have been fully justified”.
Contacts were stepped up after the so-called Unity Congress of March 1970, reuniting the Communist Party of Northern Ireland with the Workers’ Party in the south to form the CPI. Two months later, files indicate the first of many fundraising letters arrived in East Berlin.
A curiosity in the files is a 1970 pamphlet, written by Dr Roy HW Johnston of Rathmines, suggesting that realising socialism’s full economic potential required a “sophisticated cybernetic system” – which he could provide.
An unsigned assessment, most likely from the GDR’s London embassy, said Dr Johnston “is convinced that once transitional political problems are overcome superiority over capitalism will rapidly become evident to all”.
The files suggest SED contacts with Ireland began in earnest in November 1971 when a delegation headed by ZK member Rudi Singer attended the CPI annual conference, bearing greetings from new party general secretary Erich Honecker and “gifts of a slide projector and a camera”.
In his conference report, however, Singer was pessimistic of the CPI’s chances of a political breakthrough on either side of the Border.
He noted a “disorientation and fragmentation” of the Northern Irish working class thanks to London’s “conscious reduction of the conflict to religious struggle”. Dublin, too, avoided class struggle issues by reducing the Northern Ireland question to “an unrealistic concept of ‘national unity’”.