Activist with keen interest in IRA and a passion for humanity


Gerry FoleyTHE CIVIL rights movement and the early years of the Northern Ireland troubles attracted the attention of radicals from abroad, excited at the possibility of major social change. As the violence intensified and political considerations were displaced, their level of interest declined.

One of the more committed and accomplished of these was Gerry Foley, a left-wing American journalist, intellectual and political activist, who died suddenly last month at his home in Mexico, aged 73.

Foley took a keen interest in the evolution of the official wing of the republican movement which had split away from the more militaristic Provisionals in December 1969 and espoused socialist ideals.

He had hopes that the “Officials” would build a mass movement, North and South, that would eventually unite the two parts of the island under the banner of Connolly socialism.

As he wrote in one of his pamphlets: “After the failure of the 1956-62 guerilla campaign, the traditional nationalist movement, the IRA, had been forced to rethink its historic positions.

“In this process it moved away from concentrating exclusively on guerrilla warfare in the name only of national unity and full independence. It began to develop a programme of political action based on the immediate needs and aspirations of the mass of the people.”

His involvement was sometimes met with suspicion and his commentaries on the subsequent violent split which marked the formation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party were denounced by one leading Official as “a classic example of CIA manipulation”.

Foley dismissed the charge, adding that conspiracy theorists always believed that “it is not observable political processes that shape world history but dark, obscure forces”.

He was a particular admirer of long-time republican Seán Garland who he described as “a devoted and pure-hearted revolutionary”. For a time, Foley had high hopes for Garland as a socialist leader.

More recently, he opposed the attempts to extradite Garland to the US for his alleged role in an international counterfeiting conspiracy aimed at destabilising the US dollar: “I would hate to see him in the clutches of a brutal imperialist government.”

He was also a strong political admirer of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, civil rights activist and MP for Mid-Ulster.

An enthusiastic linguist, Foley had a reading knowledge of numerous languages, including Irish, and was said to be fluent in more than a dozen. He had a collection of an estimated 10,000 books.

One of his fellow socialists, Jeff Mackler, wrote of him: “He spent 50 years fighting to free humanity from every form of capitalist barbarity, oppression and exploitation. He did it with a twinkle in his eye, an engaging passion for all things human, at near-poverty wages, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment.”

Foley’s first encounter with radical politics came as a graduate student of Russian literature in the University of Indiana at Bloomington, Indiana. He joined the Fair Play for Cuba Committee which was initiated by the US-based Socialist Workers’ Party and its youth wing, the Young Socialist Alliance, to defend Castro’s revolution against US intervention.

Foley did further graduate study at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and then went to New York City where he worked full-time with the SWP, under the direction of Joseph Hansen at Intercontinental Press.

It was Hansen, one of Leon Trotsky’s secretaries during the latter’s exile in Mexico, who gave Foley his early journalistic training.

Foley covered the 1974-75 revolution in Portugal that overthrew the Salazar dictatorship and the 1979 revolution in Iran, which swept the Shah from power.

He developed political differences with the SWP and left for Paris in 1980 where he worked at the magazine, International Viewpoint, published by Trotsky’s Fourth International.

A decade later he returned to the US to work for Socialist Action, founded by disillusioned SWP members, as the international editor of its newspaper.

He died less than a week after moving from his semi-retirement residence in Mérida, Mexico to San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the mountains of Mexico’s poorest state of Chiapas, perhaps from the strain of moving his enormous book-collection into his newly rented home.

He never married and is survived by a brother and sister.

Gerry Foley: born June 20th, 1938; died April 21st, 2012.