John O'Mahony (Irish: Seán Mac Mathúna; born 1941), better known as Sean Matgamna, is a Trotskyist activist active in the United Kingdom. A founder of Workers' Fight in 1966, he is still a prominent member of the group, now called the Alliance for Workers' Liberty.
Matgamna was born in 1941 in Ennis, County Clare, Ireland, and grew up in the town, serving as an altar boy at Ennis Cathedral. He emigrated with his family to Manchester in 1954 and attended St Peter's Catholic School in Salford.
Early political experience
He joined the Young Communist League (YCL) as a teenager in Manchester and then, in 1960, Gerry Healy's Trotskyist Socialist Labour League, from which he was expelled in 1963. He joined another Trotskyist group, Militant, in 1965 and in 1966 co-authored a pamphlet, What We Are and What We Must Become outlining his views. When Militant refused to circulate it among the membership, he and his supporters left the organisation.
Matgamna, working with two supporters, formed the Workers' Fight group to act upon his views, central to which was a call for Trotskyist unity in Britain. They began publishing a journal for the Irish Workers Group and a handful of others joined the group before, in 1968, the International Socialists (later the Socialist Workers Party) also put out a call for unity. Responding to it, Workers' Fight joined the IS as the Trotskyist Tendency. With other dockers in Salford, he produced an industrial bulletin, The Hook.
Around this time Matgamna, who believed that effective working class rule then existed in some Catholic-majority areas of Northern Ireland, proposed that in the probable event of attacks on this control, that those areas should secede to the Irish Republic as a way of making Northern Ireland ungovernable and forcing open the national question in Ireland. He later proposed granting the Protestant (overwhelmingly Unionist) community political autonomy within a united Ireland. Some commentators have argued that both of these positions are in fact calls for repartition although Matgamna and his supporters have always denied this.
At the end of 1971, the Trotskyist Tendency was expelled by IS and reformed Workers' Fight with a much increased membership. Martin Thomas soon joined, working with Matgamna to take prominent roles in the group. Matgamna became a full-time theorist within the group, moving to London.
Throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s the revived Workers' Fight became more and more associated with Matgamna's leadership. This was accentuated by the disputes that led to the short-lived fusion with the Workers' Power group, which had briefly joined Workers' Fight in a fused grouping known as the International-Communist League. Similarly, when the I-CL fused with the Workers' Socialist League, Matgamna was strongly identified as the central leader of one side in the factional fight that later erupted within, and then split, the fused group.
One key area of disagreement in 1983 was that the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands were considered by Matgamna to have the right to autonomy, a position he worked through during the Falklands War. This approach to the national question has since been extended, in large part by Matgamna, to other communities. Matgamna has also, since 1986, argued strongly for a two state solution - that is states for both the Palestinians and Israelis - in the Middle East - even prior to the overthrow of capitalism in the region.
"Third Camp" position
In 1989, Matgamna, along with many other members of the group's national committee, by then known as the Socialist Organiser Alliance, came to reconsider some of its views on the Eastern Bloc. Rereading works by Hal Draper and Max Shachtman led him to conclude that Third Camp socialism offered an expression of many of the conclusions he had come to. It has been argued by some on the left that Matgamna's embrace of the politics of Shachtman and Draper, which he has described as "the other Trotskyism", merely reverses his embrace of the ideas of James P. Cannon in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s.
Matgamna remains a prominent member of the Trotskyist group he founded, now called the Alliance for Workers' Liberty.
Over the years, he has used a large number of pseudonyms, including Seán Mac Mathúna, Paddy Dollard and Jack Cleary.
- Matgamna, Sean (December 2009). "Working Class Life in Ennis in the Mid-Twentieth Century". Workers' Liberty. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
- Matgamna, Sean (August 2008). "Confessions of a Tridentine Boy". Workers' Liberty. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
- Matgamna, Sean (December 2009). "Finding my way to Trotskyism, part 1: the "manacles" of nations and classes". Workers' Liberty. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
- Matgamna, Sean (December 2009). "Finding my way to Trotskyism". Workers' Liberty. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
- Matgamna, Sean (1994). "Gerry Healy and the Failure of the Old British Trotskyist movement". Workers' Liberty. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
- Lever, Rachel; Semp, Phil; Matgamna, Sean (July 1966). "What We Are and What We Must Become". Workers' Liberty. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
- Greenstein, Tony (2007). "AWL, Imperialism and Lies". What Next?. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
- Croft, Andy; Heisler, Ron; Patterson, Ian; Potts, Archie. "British Political Pseudonyms" (PDF). Left On The Shelf. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
- Sean Matgamna, "The RSL (Militant) in the 1960s – a study in passivity"