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How soon is now? August 21, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Ireland, Irish Politics, Marxism, Northern Ireland, The Left, Uncategorized.
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The relationship between other parties and Sinn Féin in the run-up to the General Election has already been discussed here. That looks like a serious can of worms. However, an even more interesting can of worms must be the status of Sinn Féin as a possible coalition partner in government. To date most parties have ruled out such a coalition – which is interesting in itself.

Sinn Féin is, apparently, for the moment beyond the democratic pale. Or…not quite beyond the pale, as it is permitted to stand in elections at all levels within the society, but the idea that it might actually enter government at this point in time is somehow anathema. Now the great contradiction is that the political dynamic of parties within the Republic of Ireland has at least rhetorically, as expressed in numerous Dáil debates and elsewhere, for Sinn Féin to give up violence and become a ‘normal political party’, and moreover for it to do these things in part so that it could exercise power in a devolved administration at Stormont. The rationale between the strict differentiation between the ‘national’ parliament in Dublin and the ‘regional’ or ’subsidiary’ assembly/executive at Stormont. That both exercise power over citizens (or more accurately subjects in the North) appears to be less important.

I’ve posed this question before on Politics.ie, and one response I received was that if SF went through the same process as the DL, ceasefires (while the OSF), a change of name, a reconstruction of the party, the jettisoning of the party leadership then, and only then, would it be ready for government.

To be honest I think this is inadequate, and worse, a misreading of history. Firstly DL didn’t go through that process – or not exactly. And it strikes me that it overstates image over identity. (Incidentally I’m always entertained by the charge that Sinn Féin is in some respect ‘Marxist’. I don’t think so. Left wing reformist – at best, to use the jargon. And to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen…I’ve been a member of a Marxist party, and Sinn Féin are no Marxists).

Let me explain, it is true that the Workers’ Party went through a number of name changes. There was Sinn Féin, Official Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin – The Workers’ Party, The Workers’ Party, and then the Great Split where the leadership of the WP effectively reconstituted themselves as the Democratic Left in the early 1990s. But what’s important about this is the following. The names changed, but the personnel didn’t. Those who had leadership positions within the party during the 1970s still held leadership positions during the 1990s. Indeed – whisper it quietly – some have gone on to do quite well in another party.

The reconstruction of the party is a different issue – and it was one that the WP’s opponents used to use as a stick to beat it with on a continual basis. The WP, as with many supposedly Marxist parties, organised through the principle of democratic centralism, in other words once a decision was agreed democratically by the party it was meant to be adhered to with a rigorous discipline. Often that meant the decision was never resubmitted to the party membership and it allowed the core party leadership to retain considerable control over the membership. This isn’t unusual in political organisations, but openly adhering to this principle elevated it’s significance.

DL dropped ‘democratic centralism’ but – perhaps inevitably due to the small size of the membership – tended to be driven by the leadership rather than the membership.

Ceasefires. Hmmm…tricky one this. Official Sinn Féin certainly did ceasefire back in the early 1970s. However, as Vincent Browne has maintained (throughout something of a career of studying the WP in an earlier incarnation of Magill), a ceasefire is not a decommissioning. The unfortunate reality is that the Official IRA maintained an existence throughout the 1970s and on – and if we are to believe the FBI and the UK security forces it still exists. Indeed, it’s hard to countenance anyone who was a member of the WP in the 1980s and early 1990s being unaware of the nebulous existence of such a body. And it wasn’t entirely nebulous either. Yet, no decommissioning was ever carried out by the OIRA. And it’s arguable that the activities it appears to have been involved in – such as counterfeiting – posed as great, in not a greater, potential threat to the state than the localised, often murderous, activities of the PIRA.

If one is to argue that PSF sought to overthrow the Republic of Ireland and replace it with a different state, is that in itself radically different from the variation on a theme that the Workers’ Party also proposed? Both argued (although it’s interesting how SF is moving towards more mainstream positions) that a revolutionary change was necessary that would utterly transform this state.

The chronology is interesting. Democratic Left sprang into being in 1992. By 1994 it was a part of a Fine Gael led government and by 1999 it had merged with the Labour party. I don’t for one second wish to impugn those who were members of the party, but this is a remarkable transformation from hard-line Marxism, which was the particular political brand the WP promoted, linked to a still extant paramilitary organisation that had not jettisoned any of it’s weaponry (and it’s worth bearing in mind that at the time of the original PIRA/OIRA split the latter was for some time the larger organisation in terms of personnel and weaponry, and even the attrition during the 1970s and the further split with the INLA left it – so it is believed – with considerable firepower).

Compare and contrast with Sinn Féin. A process of political engagement from the 1980s onwards. A number of cessations during the 1990s leading to a complete end of armed activity against the state in the North and South. An internationally monitored process of decommissioning carried out thoroughly enough to satisfy the hard-headed individuals overseeing it and most recently the disbandment of the Provisional IRA. Indeed the background noise of paramilitary inspired violence (punishment beatings etc) has reduced to a whisper. Granted PIRA was an organisation that was directly responsible for the death of many more individuals than OIRA. Yet the journey it took and the destination it arrived at suggests greater effort and – arguably – greater sincerity on the part of those who made it, however self-serving, or deluding, that might have been.

And worst of all is the sense that while Fine Gael may take a decade or more to deal with Sinn Féin, that too is but a matter of time. Some day, and apologies if I’m upsetting anyone, there will almost inevitably be a coalition involving SF, FG and Labour.
With Fianna Fáil and Labour that eventuality is probably much closer.

And time for what? To expiate all previous sins? Is that actually possible? I’m not sure that it is. It’s worth considering the Sean MacBride who was Chief of Staff of the IRA during the 1930s was part of the first Inter-Party government as Minister for External Affairs.

But if we hold Sinn Féin to a standard it is interesting that we appear to hold others to a different standard. And although I can see differences between the Workers’ Party and Sinn Féin they’re not on such a scale as make the comparisons invalid.

Finally, I’m raising these issues not because I think Sinn Féin in government is necessarily a good thing, or a bad thing, but simply out of curiosity as to the reasoning behind the current seeming fatwa against their participation and a further curiosity as to how long such a fatwa is expected to last.

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1. donagh - August 21, 2006

It is interesting that Pat Rabbitt was in Sinn Fein /The Workers Party in the 70’s at a time, according to Browne’s numerous charges, when it would have been very difficult to be ignorant of the OIRA’s hand in bank robberies in the south. But the very fact that the possibility of a conjoining of FF and SF is being talked about so much is a way of preparing the public. That and the sound of Fianna Fail backbencers carping on about the need to return to the ‘left’ of the party. Precision of terms is not very important for a party that relies on sentimental historicism

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2. WorldbyStorm - August 21, 2006

I take your point, but wonder if it’s entirely correct to see this through the prism of FF and it’s ambitions for power.

The broader questions remain. What is the relationship within a democracy between parties – and particularly a party like SF which has taken a certain path which leads it into the democratic fold?

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3. John O'Neill - August 23, 2006

Hi Worldbystorm

If you are interested in the ‘transformation’ of the WP 1960 – 1990’s, I have a number of articles (some from DL perspective). I was a member of the WP for some 12 years and am involved in the Irish Socialist Network, a group that has no links with the WP although some of our members are former WP and DL.

Please be aware that I personally do not endorse any of the articles as they are all written by people who had/have a WP involvement and therefore justify their own political slant, but if you are interested I can email them to you (they are all in word format)

You should keep an eye out for a book on the OIRA/OSF/SFWP/WP/DL/ORM due next year by Brian Hanley/Scott Millar (publishers Allen Lane?)

If you want a WP position on the split with the DL they have a pamphlet entitled “patterns of betrayal” – check their website for availability.

PS – Tech note; Its really difficult to read the comments on your site.

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4. WorldbyStorm - August 24, 2006

Tech note noted! Documents would be great.

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5. John O'Neill - August 25, 2006

Worldbystorm

Do you want me to post the documents here? Or send them to an email address?

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6. John O'Neill - August 29, 2006

First Article

I assume that its ok to post this here as no one has objected. Its written by Eoin O’Murchu, a former leadership member of Official Sinn Fein and editor of their newspaper “The United Irishman”. He left and joined the Communist Party after a leadership struggle and became General Secretary of the CPI until he resigned. He currently writes in “The Village”magazine. The article was first published in the CPI’s Theoretical Magazine.

Eoin O’Murchu
THE WORKERS’ PARTY~ ITS EVOLUTION AND IT’S FUTURE

A CRITIQUE BY EOIN O’MURCHU

ORIGINS AND EVOLUTION
Speaking at the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown in 1967, Cathal Goulding, then reputed to be chief of staff of the IRA , declared “We decided……. to make an all out attack on the take over of Irish assets by foreign interests……… This movement has only room for revolutionaries, for radicals, for men with a sense of urgent purpose, who are aware of realities, who are not afraid to meet hard work, men who will not be defeated and who will not be deceived”

And the following year, at the same commemoration Sean Garland, now general secretary of Sinn Fein, The Workers’ Party further elaborated the point: “This changes drastically our traditional line of tactics. There are no longer two different types of republicans: physical force men and politicians. We in the Republican Movement must be politically aware of our objectives and must also be prepared to take the appropriate educational, economic, political and finally military action to achieve them.”

These statements mark the first real public acknowledgement of a shift in orientation in the Republican Movement from a secret army, with only the most superficial of political understandings, to a serious, and constitutional political party, with Dail representation and a clear influence on the politics of the country.

It is an evolution that took place increasingly against a background of political crisis and inevitably ambiguities and differences of direction disrupted the process, it is an evolution, too, that perhaps marks the last stage in the development of the old movement for national independence out of Which Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were also born.

Sinn Fein The Workers Party, then, goes back in continuity to the original capitalist Sinn Fein party of Arthur Griffith, to the revolutionary nationalist alliance led by Eamon de Valera during the War of Independence and subsequent years to the irredentist republicans of the post Fianna Fail era. But, in truth, as the opening quotations make clear, SFWP’s roots lie more in the physical force tradition, in the IRA which rejected first the treaty, and then the deValera reform of that Treaty which is the real bunchloch of this state. It is through understanding the IRA that we can begin to understand Sinn Fein, The Workers Party has evolved.

The post Treaty IRA was always riven by suspicion of ‘poIiticians’ by the physical force men, by fear of the corrupting impact of participation in the new state’s institutions by the remoteness and sterility of the rather legalistic way it defined its objectives and, essentially, by a basic division between left and right. The right had only one strategy: to resume the armed struggle, and-the political purposes of that, armed struggle became less and less significant comparison to the principle of armed struggle itself. The left, through Saor Eire, through Peadar O’Donnell’s use of An Phoblacht, the IRA paper of the Thirties as a vehicle for social agitation, though ultimately the attempt to develop the Republican Congress sought to redefine the aim of the Republic in terms of social change, of social as well as national revolution.

The leadership of SFWP identified themselves with this Left position from the very start of the New Departure – as It was called -in the Republican Movement in the Sixties. But, of course the Left position had been internally defeated in thirties. The IRA of the forties had degenerated into a mindless bombing campaign with only the vaguest of objectives, and with Fianna Fail victorious in the secret war in the prisons of those dreadful years.

After the war, the IRA returned to prepare for yet ‘another round.’ It stood aside from the political struggles of that time, and indeed drew some solace from the ultimate disintegration of Clann na Poblachta. In 1956, the other round began again. The military campaign of 1956 62 was in itself a total disaster. It provided a new crop of martyrs, Sean South, the most notable, but had no military or political effect whatever
It was the crucial turning point however, for it marked the utter discrediting of the new Right Republicans and their strategy. The young men whose commitment to their ideal was cemented by a shared experience of prison, of being on the run, of being in action, were forced to reassess their lives, their hopes and their future activities. The decisive influence in this, without any doubt, was Cathal Goulding.

For most of the ‘56 ‘62 period, Goulding had been in prison in England, where he had politically educated himself by voracious reading of revolutionary texts – an international and not specifically Irish pedagogical method – and was unsullied by the mutual recriminations that always affect defeated guerrilla groups. Goulding initiated a very self critical examination of the whole development, and experience of defeat – in which it was particularly rich – this critical examination of the whole development of the Republican Movement. The results were embodied in a document “In the 70s The IRA Speaks.” published in 1971.

The main conclusions of this self examination were that the IRA had no solid ‘political base’ amongst the people, and that its concentration on military struggle had ignored the political aspects of Britain’s presence in the North and the changing nature of the relationship between Britain and Ireland as a whole The document summarised their experience “The Irish Republican Army had become remote from the people. The people respected the stand, which they were taking and indeed they cheered on from the sidelines. But they were spectators arid not participants in the Republican struggle against British Imperialism”. This analysis is, perhaps, a bit too optimistic as to the degree of sympathy which the 56 – 62 campaign generated,
But there was certainly no denying the lack of popular support. The overwhelming conclusion was that there should be no repetition of such campaigns, that the Republican cause had to be understood in terms of the social and economic needs of the Irish people, that the struggle was not one about abstract definitions of freedom, but about changing the conditions of life and the ownership of wealth on which those conditions depended.

The IRA declared: “Our objective was to be the Reconquest of Ireland, not simply to place an Irish government in political control of the geographical entity of Ireland, but to place the mass of the people in actual control of the wealth and resources of the Irish Nation and to give them a cultural identity.” The means to achieve this objective were seen to be by organising economic and cultural resistance, by political action to defend rights and win reforms, and by military action “to back up the people’s demands, to defend ‘the people’s gains and eventually to carry through a successful national liberation struggle”. There was thus no sharp break with the assertion of the legitimacy of armed struggle, but limits were placed on the context of such legitimacy whose ultimate direction had to be – as in fact it has been – a rejection of armed struggle as a relevant concept, at least in the existing cond1tions of the 26 counties.

Ideologically, there was a bitter struggle to define these new objectives as socialist. The Army Convention of 1965 redefined the IRA’s objective as the establishment of a “democratic socialist republic”. It is to’ be noted that the word ‘democratic’ was included to contrast with ‘totalitarian’, for anti-communist ideology was still dominant and rampant; and in more backward areas, occasional efforts were made to give effect to Army Order No. 4 which banned volunteers from reading communist literature

But these were concessions only, to those whose political development logged behind. Goulding at all times operated with the desire to bring the entire movement with him to win every member over to the new line. But, even so, the pace was too fast for some Daithi O’Connaill, now a prominent Provisional, resigned in protest at the declaration of a socialist objective, and others in the leadership, like Sean MacStiofain and Ruairi Bradaigh were noticeably unenthusiastic about the New Departure. But the young were. Tralee-man, Denis Foley, who stood as an independent in the recent general election, turned the United lrishman the IRA newspaper, into a social agitator, a role developed by subsequent editors, Tony Meade, and, most dramatically Seamus O’Tuathail.

The active membership of the Republican Movement flung itself into housing agitations, fish-ins, ground rent protests, Vietnam solidarity demonstrations and sit-ins. This was politics with a vengeance, and many of the Old Guard resented it.
This resentment came to the fore at the re-interment in ‘69 of Barnes and McCormick, two IRA volunteers executed in England for their part in the Forties bombing campaign. Jimmy Steele of Belfast delivered a traditionalist oration which attacked everything connected to the New Departure, and especially, the co-operation with communists and socialists that was an inevitable part of social agitations. Though Steele was expelled for this speech the grounds of the later Provisional split had been laid. The North, too, of course, was not immune from the New Departure. But the IRA in the North, especially in Belfast, had always functioned partly as a Catholic defence force, and was extremely cautious about revolutionary politics. Nevertheless, many units there, too, threw themselves into social agitations, especially on the housing question. But this issue ultimately raised more serious questions about the North: the question of civil rights. For the Republican Movement, however, activity on social and economic matters went hand in hand with internal political analysis, and particularly political education. Goulding went out of his way to seek experts that could assist in this area. He was able to persuade Dr Roy Johnston to help, despite the latter’s often expressed reservations about the armed wing in the shadows.

Nevertheless, Johnston’s role was considerable. While in retrospect much of his theorising was abstract, he undoubtedly gave a thrust to serious political analysis, forced members to reconsider old prejudices and played a major part in the real politicisation of the movement. But, it should be emphasised too that it was a politicisation which Goulding was working for and for which he had won the support of the majority of the leadership. Of course, the occasional gesture was made to make the military elements feel happy. German owned farms were burned as part of a land agitation. The buses which carried strike-breakers to EL at Shannon were destroyed. And these were not purely gestures to recalcitrant elements, but reflected a genuine ambiguity in people who were in the transition of moving from one form of struggle to another.

But, the Republican Movement did not develop in isolation. Because of its activities in social struggles, the Republican Movement became aware of other political strategies, particularly that of the Communist Party (at that time, in the South, the Irish Workers’ Party). The communist strategy was to fight for “progressive governments, North and South” as a prelude to unity. In the South, this meant a government committed genuinely to defending economic independence and expanding industrial development. And in. the North, it placed a premium on the struggle for equality and democracy, for civil rights.

Communist Party members, like the late Betty Sinclair, were very much to the fore pressing the trade union movement in the North to take action in relation to civil rights. And, indeed, it was on the initiative of the Belfast and District Trades Council that the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was established. The history of the NICRA is reasonably well known but the Republicans did play a crucial part in it especially in stewarding and, paradoxically, in controlling wilder elements.

But despite the Republican protestations that their support for civil rights was on its own terms and not as a prelude to another military round, the unionists, and even many Republican sympathisers, were unconvinced. What complicated the issue was the Republican faithful could only be brought along the new path if they were convinced that the Army was not being abandoned or run down. So, at the very time that the emphasis North and South was shifted to social agitation and mass demonstrations, ironically there was a renewed demand for arms training. The reality, however was that the IRA had few arms left. Little remained after 1962, and resources after that were put into propaganda and educational literature rather than into guns. But the public perception was that the IRA was back in business, and, in the Northern context, able, if needed, to defend the people as Garland had stated at the 1968 Bodenstown commemoration (quoted above) and as spelt out in sundry internal documents.

In 1969, the pace of events began to develop a momentum of its own. The Stormont administration lost credibility as more and more civil rights demonstrations emphasised the existing inequality and the demand for change In the South, too, Republican involvement in struggles was particularly worrying to government leaders. In February 1969, the Fianna Fail government, under the special direction of Charlie Haughey began sounding out dissident elements of the Republican Movement, with a view to developing a split. These activities were carried out by the state’s army intelligence units. The essence, of the Flánna Fail approach was that the social agitations in the South were being carried out at the expense of proper preparations for defence of the Northern minority, and that Republicans were being used as tools in a communist conspiracy. As the North careered down the road of political crisis political manoeuvring, personal jockeying for power, subversion of the IRA, conflicts between IRA and Sinn Fein personnel grew to frenetic levels.

AMBIGUITIES AND CRISIS
In August 1969 Ulster Unionism, unable to adapt itself to the demand for democracy and civil rights, launched an all out attack against the Catholic population. This effort to make the “croppies lie down” was to shatter the unionist state and to send shock waves of crisis through every political institution in Ireland. It brought Britain face to face with its responsibility for the situation in Northern Ireland but divided the political parties in Ireland in confusion and bitterness. The attack began with the RUC assault on the Bogside but the Bogsiders resistance and the solidarity of other Catholic towns throughout the North blunted this assault. In frustration, a pogrom was launched in Belfast, with the RUC and the B-Specials leading Orange mobs in a spree of burning and killing against the Catholic ghettos. At this supreme moment of crisis, it was discovered that the IRA did not really exist as an army. It had no weapons to defend the people. This is not to deny the courage of those who faced the mobs unarmed, pretending that they had guns, nor that the mobs themselves never realised how unprotected the people were. But Belfast Catholics reacted with bitterness and contempt ‘I Ran Away’ was a common jeer at the IRA, but in all fairness there was little justification for it.

It would have been impossible for the Republican Movement to have simultaneously rebuilt its army structure and developed a political strategy, and in any case, how could funds have been found to buy arms for rebuilding the army when the political situation created no base for support or interest? But the victims of Belfast’s pogrom were not impressed by excuses. This was the crisis for which the state army’s intelligence forces had been waiting. The Provisionals were born, but mainly from those who had stood aside from the New Departure and even from the civil rights struggle itself. For the Republican Movement itself what was at issue was the continuance of the new policy. And in particular, two key questions that would give more coherence to the new policy and which were scheduled to be resolved at the 1969 Army Convention and subsequent Sinn Fein Ard-Fheis. These were the dropping of abstentionism and a commitment to build a national liberation front type of alliance.

Abstentionism was always a contentious issue, and was not entirely a matter of left-right differences. The original legalistic position; of course, was that both Stormont and Leinster House were creations of the British Parliament and not the Republican institutions established in 1919. Indeed, the abstentionist attitude was at one time shared by Eamon deValera, and even when Fianna Fail broke away from Sinn Fein in 1926 on the issue of abstention it still refused initially to enter the Dail while the oath to a foreign king was required. As time passed and Fianna Fail in the Forties proved worse and more deadly enemies to the Republican Movement than the Free State before them the abstentionist principle increased in importance. In addition one of the underlying justifications of an army was the illegitimacy of the parliamentary institutions. There were many on the Left during the New Departure who mistakenly equated abstentionism with a Leninist critique of parliamentarianism. But in general, it was clear that if the Republican Movement were to concentrate on political struggles, building mass movements on social issues and so on, the electoral process could not just be ignored. Indeed, it was widely felt that abstentionism cost Republicans the chance of building on their prestige won by involvement in such struggles and cleared the way for others to climb to power on their backs. This was particularly the case in the North, where the Republicans had to stand aside and allow a new generation to come to the fore, Including John Hume, Bernadette Devlin, Ivan Cooper and others,

Bernadette Devlin’s situation in fact epitomised the problem. The original Republican nominee was Kevin Agnew, but inevitably an abstentionist candidate would have meant giving the seat to Unionists. The only logical choice was that Agnew should run on a participationist platform – a breach of General Army orders – or he should withdraw in favour of a broadly acceptable anti-unionist candidate. The latter choice was made, but many activists bitterly resented the lost opportunity.

But for the Belfast IRA the issue was somewhat artificial. While Tyrone Republicans resigned in opposition to abstentionism – including, incidentally, Kevin Mellon, now a prominent Provisional – the Belfast IRA was increasingly worried by the growing dangers. It wanted guns, and some of its leadership – like Leo Martin – did not particularly care what agreements had to be made to get them. People like Martin, and the expelled Jimmy Steele, certainly felt that if the price of Fianna Fail’s giving weapons was the dropping of the socialist objective and the ending of Republican involvement in social agitations, it was a price worth paying.

But the New Departure could not survive such a price, and Goulding could not even contemplate paying it. It was decided that the issue of abstention should be pushed for resolution at the Army Convention, scheduled for December 1969. There was to be no turning back, no compromise was felt possible. Some sympathetic observers, in fact, have criticised Goulding for pushing this issue at such a time and in such circumstances. But realistically, what was at stake was the New Departure itself, and to that extent he had no choice. When the Convention met, it voted 39 votes to twelve to end the policy of abstention, though it must be noted that an internal struggle of allegiance in Belfast meant that that major IRA Brigade was not represented at the Convention. But, any case, it would not have affected the decision. Those opposed to the New Departure saw this as the final straw. They withdrew from the Convention and, though a minority established their own Provisional Army Council. The split was now a fact.

But all was not over yet. While the IRA had agreed to a new policy, Sinn Fein had yet to discuss it. And contrary to ill-informed and prejudiced opinion such a discussion would never have been a formality. In particular, abstention was enshrined in the Constitution it required a two thirds majority to remove it. In the event, the resolution failed by 19 votes out of 247 to gain the required majority. But the split could not be denied. Dennis Cashin from Armagh took the microphone and proposed a traditional motion that the Ard-Fheis recognise the Army Council as the legitimate authority of the state. This was now as unacceptable the Provisionals as to Fianna Fail, and there was an immediate walk-out by a quarter of the delegates. But if the debate on abstentionism had ended in anti-climax, a more immediately relevant motion had settled the issue for most of the Provisionals-to-be. This was the proposal that the movement should commit itself to a national liberation front type of revolutionary strategy. To be honest, this was rather abstract theoretics. But it was clearly inspired by the Vietnamese example, and was understood by all sides in the debate to be a clear identification of the movement’s objective of socialism with revolutionary socialism. Its practical effect could only be to bring the Republican Movement into a closer working relationship with the communist parties North and South.
The right savaged the idea. And, indeed, after the split, Provisional spokesmen insisted on calling the IRA which accepted the legitimacy of the convention decision the NLF. They denounced the whole scheme, at home and abroad, as a communist plot, and fervently assured their supporters in the United States that, by contrast, the Provisionals Republic Would be one “untainted by communistic or socialistic ideas.”

Again some sympathetic to the official standpoint have argued that this was another provocative move in the circumstances. But Goulding and McGiolla were both determined that their political orientation would not be diverted by the August ‘69 and indeed felt that It was more essential than ever that the movement keep its political head to prevent the vacuum of leadership being taken over by those who wanted to limit and restrict the scope of political developments. But while these ideological issues were of great concern to those who organised the Provisional split – and certainly of great concern-to the Fianna Fail government, both Haughey and Lynch wings, which helped finance it – the, main slogan by which the new organisation grew was a promise that the people would be defended. Daithi O’Conall, returned to membership after a four year lapse expressed this clearly at the Provisional Bodenstown Commemoration when be declared that never again would crown forces be allowed to run through an Irish town.

The Provisionals, however, took few members of the movement with them, and ironically given their emphasis on the military issues, a higher proportion of Sinn Fein members than of the IRA men. Its leadership were all old and tired names and many of the younger members actually welcomed their departure on the grounds that the brakes on the movement a political development were now removed. But while the Provisionals could not take the majority of the IRA with them even in Belfast, they were able to draw new recruits totally untainted by the political education of the previous year. The bulk of the membership of the two organisations had little knowledge of each other. The split at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis gave the Provisionals another opportunity to present publicly their criticisms. Of course the old canards were resurrected: the guns not available when needed in Belfast had been sold to the Free Wales Army to raise funds for the United Irishman Goulding was obviously anti-Catholic because he hadn’t been seen at mass for years, and that was why he was more interested in revolution in the South than in freedom for the North!

It mattered little to those who pushed these stories that the Free Wales Army was only marginally less mythical than the guns allegedly sold to lt. In reality, the contact with the Welsh had once been optimistically looked at to as a source of explosives, all Welshmen, as is well-known, being miners and explosives experts! And Goulding’s supposed anti-Catholicism reflected more the prejudices against non-Catholics of his accusers.

More formally, the Caretaker Executive, as the Provisional sympathisers styled their break-away leadership in Sinn Fein, listed the main specific reasons for their break, apart from the issues or abstention and the national liberation front: the leadership’s support of extreme socialism leading to ‘totalitarian dictatorship” the failure to protect the people if the North in August 1969; the suggestion that Stormont be abolished and the North brought under direct rule from Westminster; and the internal methods by which Provisional sympathisers had been squeezed out or expelled. Most of these charges were empty or founded on prejudice. The third item was manifestly untrue. The Barricade Bulletins and Radio Belfast, controlled by the IRA in August 1969, all expressly disagreed with such a viewpoint, and indeed, emissaries were regularly sent from GHQ in Dublin to the Belfast leadership to impress this point. But given central charge that the Officials had failed the people militarily, the Provisionals obviously needed to demonstrate their competence in this field.

The immediate consequence, of course, was that the Republican’s energy was diverted to the needs of their internal struggle at a time when major political developments were occurring in the big wide world. Jim Sullivan, Official leader in the Lower Falls, in Billy MacMillan’s enforced absence, might be photographed with General Freeland or British Home Secretary, Callighan, but the Republicans were easily manoeuvred to the side by the church, the green nationalists and the Fianna Fail agents. And important events were occurring. In the immediate aftermath of the August crisis, with the direct use of British troops and a degree of British political attention that the Unionists found most unwelcome, the Downing Street Declaration, which went some way to meeting the demands of the civil rights demonstrators, was issued. But British policy was not so united. There were strongly entrenched elements within the British establishment, the civil service, the Army and the political parties at Westminster who were concerned at the direction of British policy the Downing Street Declaration implied, and the British Army Itself was soon at work to undermine it.

But first a gesture of reassurance. Militant loyalists on the Shankill Road, demonstrating in October 1969 against the declaration, and the abolition of the B Specials in particular, were given a rude lesson by the British Army to the real meaning of the slogan ‘We are the people.’ But after October there was little change. The RUC were manifestly not co-operating into Inquiries into their misconduct. The murderers of Sam Devenney, indeed, remain protected to this day. The Catholics, living still in fear of another pogrom, wanted real advance. They wanted the spirit of the Downing Street Declaration Implemented. And gradually they began to take to the streets again.

For the Officials, they were now called by the media; this was a straightforward commitment, except that this time they were especially conscious of the public jeers concerning August and of the Provisional menace. For the Provisionals, it posed a difficulty. They could not allow crown violence against the people to go unanswered. It is reasonably clear that the British Army deliberately provoked confrontation. In January 1970, a demonstration in Ballymurphy was harshly put down, and when in the ensuing riot, token petrol bombs were thrown, General Freeland determinedly gave the order to shoot to kill. As young Danny O’Hagan lay dying the British Army were no longer the defenders of the people of a few months before – and the question was put up to the Provisionals in a blunt and stark way. The Officials asserted then, and have consistently asserted since, that this provocation should have been ignored (militarily). Political action on a mass basis for civil rights, they argued, would emphasise Britain’s international isolation. They could be forced back to concessions. Instead the military die was cast.

SINN FEIN AND THE IRA

The assumption of this analysis is that the major developments influencing the evolution of SFWP as a significant Dail political party concern, in fact, developments within the IRA itself. This is a delicate issue for SFWP leaders, and one which they have never handled forthrightly. In fact, they have nothing to be ashamed about in their development for the processes have been genuine ones, but hostile forces have regularly been willing to propagandise in a distorted way over the question. So what exactly was the connection between Sinn Fein and the IRA and how did the development of a new political approach affect it?

The IRA activist who rejected the Treaty of 1921 as a betrayal of the Republic tended to blame the political processes of British administration and negotiation for the “corruption” of formerly loyal Irishmen. While totally lacking in theoretical sophistication, their instincts lay generally in favour of direct rather than representative democracy though this was rarely coherently expressed. In fact, an explanation of the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War reveals an incredible confusion of purpose and objective. The wonder is not that they were beaten, for they had no real political programme, but that they survived at all.

For our purpose here, however, it Is worth noting that this suspicion of political manoeuvrings and rhetoric extended to their own side., Sinn Fein did not lay down the guidelines of Republican policy In the Civil War, and Eamon deValera, formerly president of the Republic, had no higher function than assistant to the Director of Munitions. The Right Republicans resisted throughout the Twenties and Thirties the efforts of Saor Eire, O’Donnell and Gilmore the Republican Congress et al; to embroil them in the dreaded politics, and inevitably Sinn Fein declined to a narrow purist and irrelevant rump. But, given the illegality of the IRA there were obvious restrictions on its scope for public political activity, and in the build up to the ‘56 campaign the IRA favoured a revitalisation of Sinn Fein. However, Sinn Fein’ was always a separate organisation, and while a majority of its members might in specific areas be also members of the IRA, especially among the younger contingents, membership was by no means synonymous and there were occasional conflicts inevitable given the purist and backward nature of Sinn Fein.

But, of course, during the Fifties campaign, Sinn Fein’s role of propagandising for the Republic, of support for the IRA campaign; for defence of prisoners and victims of discrimination was in exact accord with what the IRA needed. After the collapse of the campaign and its formal calling-off in 1962, it was in the IRA that the process of reassessment and reorientation began. Indeed, how could Sin Fein as such decide on such matters when organisationally it had nothing to do with the direction of the campaign or even its calling-off.

Thus it was the IRA volunteers who engaged in fierce political discussion over the meaning of ‘revolution’, ‘imperialism’ and the rest of the vocabulary of an increasingly socialistic youth. Sinn Fein tended by and large to be the preserve of those who had seen better days. When the IRA was won to the idea of political action, its members naturally paid, greater attention to Sinn Fein, but long before the split occurred there were tensions and conflicts, as much to do with the brashness of youth and the caution of the old, with the energy of activists and the passivity of staid conservatives, as any thing else. In fact, it was a frequent complaint at IRA section meetings that long-established members of Sinn Fein cumainn obstructed the new approach and certainly the old guard had a higher proportion of support in Sinn Fein than they did in the IRA

This certainly ironic given the Provisionals emphasis on the military aspect. But in the first year after the split, Cathal Goulding had a high public profile as the reputed chief of staff of the IRA, while many volunteers complained that MacGiolla had not similarly stamped a title of possession on the name Sinn Fein. Within a few years, the public perception was reversed, as indeed the Provisionals military campaign came to dominate the headlines.

The IRA necessarily was more attractive to the more active young men, and cautiously, women too, who believed in supporting the right to fight for freedom, would naturally want to play a direct part in it. While there were some young activists who were not members of the IRA, and while this number increased, especially in Dublin, as the policies of the New Departure came to the fore, most gravitated to the IRA itself. This contradiction was keenly appreciated by the leadership. One of the Provisionals complaints was that in some areas would-be volunteers were discouraged and advised to join Sinn Fein instead, and this was to an extent true. But it shouldn’t be exaggerated. However, much the IRA wished to enhance the role and authority of Sinn Fein, the needs of organisational unity required the army be assured of its ultimate function. After the split there was a curious contradiction in policy. On one hand, the insistence on pushing the motions concerning abstentionism and, the national liberation front had ensured that there would be a split but, on the other, every (private) effort was made to reassure the wavering that the army was not being run down, that its significance was not being demoted, that the traditional aims and objectives remained unaltered.

While the commitment to policy implied in the controversial motions was explicit, practice on the ground tended to be more ambiguous, the lines of distinction blurred. The Officials refrained not just from public criticism of the Provisionals, but even from publicly answering the attacks on them. This indeed, was a disastrous error of judgement. It implied, to many, that the Provisional charges were true and suggested certain duplicity on the Official side. In addition, it was obviously not enough to assert that the IRA was not being run down; physical proof had to be given. Thus the Officials were caught in a trap of emulating a Provisional policy they disagreed with.

The contradictions of this were to become more and more acute in the following years and their resolution very difficult and bitter to achieve. But it is in the process of struggle, against the background of the political events of the early seventies, that SFWP in its present form evolved.

HALF ARMED STRUGGLE

After the killing of Danny O’Hagan in the New Lodge Road in January 1970, the Provisionals increasingly replied to British violence with their own, though it was not until February 1971 that the first British soldier died. Though it must be noted that the British policy was more to turn a blind eye to Loyalist violence, as in the Short Strand in June 1970, this inevitably increased pressure on the Officials as much as the Provisionals to hit back. Matters certainly got worse when the British Conservatives won the 1970 election. The British Army was given carte blanche to pursue its own policy. But it is interesting to note that the area they chose to attack first was an Official stronghold, the Lower Fails, despite the difficult efforts made by Official leaders to head off demands for a more aggressive military policy. The Lower Falls Curfew of July 1970 was resisted in arms, and while the Officials leadership was disturbed at the threat to their political programme posed by such defence, the bulk of the volunteers were delighted that their honour had been restored. The IRA had not run away.

The leadership nevertheless insisted that there was no question of a military campaign. Their internal propaganda increasingly emphasised the socialist political objective they had developed, and conceded a role for military action only in terms of external attack, whether from Loyalists or British Army. Of course, a certain ironic pleasure was taken in that the Provisionals, who boasted so loudly, of their military determination, had stood aside when the British attacked the Lower Falls despite O’ Conaills Bodenstown rhetoric that crown forces would never again be allowed to run riot. But the Officials were constantly aware of how Provisional pressure was diverting the political impetus. Civil rights demonstrations increasingly ended up in riots. There was a reckless willingness to respond to British provocations, and where the Provisionals led, the Officials half-heartedly felt obliged to follow. . .

Despite the Officials public silence, relations between the two were exceedingly bitter. The Provisionals established sole rights of organisation in many areas of Belfast and attempted to enforce it by violence against Officials. Beatings-up and pistol-whippings were frequent, but still the Official leadership would give no sanction for retaliation or for public criticism. By early 1971, with the ‘spiral of violence well-established, the Officials’ own commitment to the civil rights strategy confused by their parallel commitment to military defence, the damage of the Provisionals to the Officials strategy was becoming clearer.

Matters reached a head when an attempt was made to wipe out the entire Belfast Brigade staff, including local battalion leaders, who were meeting in the Lower Falls. In the ensuing battle, however, it was the Provisionals who suffered the only fatality, Charlie Hughes, one of the few Lower Falls members of the Provisionals.
After this, the Officials went on a propaganda offensive that they have never since refrained from. Those misguided individuals who continued to plead for unity were themselves criticised, and Garland wrote a major article on this point in the United Irishman of June and July 1971, in answer to a unity plea by Sean Cronin, published by Seamus O’Tuathail in the May issue. This coincided with the appointinent of Eoin O’Murchu as editor. It is a statement that still sees a central role for armed struggle, but; insistently, only as the last stage of a political struggle and only as part of a revolution of the people themselves. It is a statement too that emphasised internal democracy as a prerequisite for the movement’s struggle for socialism

But perhaps a more important aspect central to Garland’s analysis was that the South was as important a battlefield against British imperialism. “We maintain”, he said, “that the fight against British imperialism is a 32 County fight. The North is not the only battleground. The fight is also to be fought in the South, and in waging this fight the South can also contribute to the struggle in the North.” This was no empty verbalising. Republican involvement in housing struggles, in fish-ins and land agitations was not ended by the Northern crisis, though that obviously dominated the movement’s deliberations and an increased ‘attention’ began to be paid to trade union and industrial matters. But the Republicans were largely apart even from the very issues they wished to be involved in. The IRA blew up construction equipment in Oughterard, County Galway as part of its support for a local land agitation. Military action was taken to support industrial strikers. But the reality was that these actions had the effect of supplanting the people’s own struggles which had been spoken of as the only road to socialism. Tragedy affected them too. Martin O’Leary, a young Cork Republican, was killed blowing up a transformer at the Mogul Mine County Tipperary, in support of a miners strike. But, while the ineffectiveness of these events was to lead to a more radical break with such actions they were at that time still central to the Republicans concept of revolutionary struggle.

Cathal Goulding was quoted in the United Irishman of August 1971 of saying in a graveside oration at O’Leary’s funeral: “When their answer to the just demands of the people are the lock-out, strike-breaking, evictions, prison cells, intimidations or the gallows, then our duty is to reply, as he replied, in the language that brings vultures to their senses most effectively, the language of the bomb and the bullet.” This was, of course, graveside rhetoric, but it is not really that far removed from the speech attributed to Danny Morrison at the Provisional Sinn Fein Ard-Fhèis last year about taking power with the armalite in one hand and the ballot paper in the other. However, it nearly removed Goulding from the scene for a while as he was charged with incitement to violence. However, when an RTE tape of the oration was finally handed over to the police it was inexplicably found to be blank, and the charge failed.

It was as well. The increasing violence in the North was getting out of hand. And while the Republicans commitment to NICRA and the civil rights struggle remained firm, the lure of the gun was getting stronger. Goulding was an important stabilising influence at this time. Internment made everything much worse. For while the Officials continued to oppose a military campaign, and to denounce the Provisionals, particularly for the bombings, their members too were interned. Even civil rights activists as for example NICRA organiser, Kevin Mc Corry, were picked up, and Official Republicans were in the most vulnerable situation. The leadership’s advice that the northern membership should put its head down and ride the storm was easier given than done, and pressure again mounted to play a distinctive role in armed resistance Seamus Costello came more and more to articulate the demands of this kind, though ‘socialism’ was kept as the objective and the point of differentiation from the Provisionals.

Army Council meetings were presented with new lists of targets allowable as part of the policy of defence. As British military pressure increased, defence became impossible, and retaliation was the order of the day. Since retaliation could not always be directly related to the original aggression, this became, as MacGiolla complained, creeping military campaigning. But it was a half-hearted effort at best. The majority of the leadership wanted to restrict the scope of such actions, and was strengthened in this resolve by several disastrous incidents. MacGiolla rushed in, for example, to condemn the killing of Unionist Senator Barnhill, only to discover that a Derry unit of the Official IRA had carried it out. Following Bloody Sunday in Derry, a retaliation against the Paratroopers headquarters at Aldershot went disastrously wrong and more squirming had to be done to defend a policy that was not only indefensible, but was not their chosen policy.

In the South, a massive effort was put into the EEC referendum campaign, but to no avail. The Officials were at a point of crisis. And their politics seemed less and less likely to achieve results. In the North, Joe McCann was killed, one of the most romantic figures of the Official IRA. But just as the push to militarism seemed in the ascent, a killing in Derry was to force a total reassessment of where the Officials stood.

RETRENCHMENT AND THE SECOND SPLIT

The killing of Ranger Best in Derry was one of those totally useless deaths that have been so much part of the Northern tragedy. It was the classic soft target, a local youth who had joined the British Army and was home on leave, and who was even said to have taken part in a riot against British troops earlier on the day he was killed.

His death provoked a reaction of revulsion among local people, and indeed throughout the country. But what is not so understood is that reactions within the Official leadership were equally hostile. There was a vociferous demand that disciplinary action be taken against those responsible, and, while this was headed off, the demand that an end be put to such cowboyism was unstoppable. Within Sinn Fein, especially in the South but also in the North, there was particular outrage. The demand grew that the IRA should declare a truce. An extended meeting of the Army Council decided on this very policy, and the United Irishman published a detailed defence of the civil rights strategy. “The main Issue at the moment in the North is still, as it has been for the last few years, the civil rights issue. We have finally and repeatedly stated over the years that the achieval of civil rights and basic democracy is necessary if we are to make real progress towards winning our aim of a united, independent, socialist, democratic republic.

“We understand that such a republic can only be built upon the combined efforts of all Irish workers…. To achieve this unity of workers, it is essential to overcome the vicious devisions which have been carefully fostered by the alien British regime.”

But even given the IRA’s ceasefire, such a commitment to civil rights and to NICRA was not universally popular. There was a growing feeling among many of the rank and file that there was a third way – neither militarist nor alliancist, but an individual, and indeed, exclusivist, political republicanism. This searching for a ‘third way’ was partly inspired by lingering confusion over the National Liberation front strategy which was part of the split. The Provisionals had attacked it as communist, and many Official Republicans were anti-communist as well, deep down. In addition there was resentment against the Communist Party which had escaped the rigours of internment, and the frustrations of the politically inexperienced against a well-educated and politically conscious party membership.

And there was another factor, slightly harder to define. Sinn Fein, Ourselves Alone, is more than just a name; it is also a description. The Republican Movement has never found it easy to work in co-operation with other political elements. There has been a large element of the one true faith about it, and little sympathy for the theoretical agonising of heretics. Indeed, it was only the total prolapse of the movement after 1962 that brought many members to swallow the bitter pill of working with other parties and worst of all, occasionally accepting their political leadership.

And to complicate matters even further there was the continued pressure from within the Northern Catholic community of the Provisional competition. If military action was to be eschewed it was even more important that the specifically Republican aspect of the movement’s policy be emphasised. Of course, those who did support an Official military campaign were also critical of the policy of working with other political parties that entailed non-commitment to militarism and a counter commitment to, for example, civil rights. Thus, Seamus Costello, who had been the main proposer of the NLF motion at the split Ard-Fheis of 1970, became a main critic of alliance with the communists

From June until October 1972, an organised campaign, of criticism was launched against the “excessive” emphasis on civil rights which ultimately culminated in the dismissal of the United Irishman’s editor, Eoin O’Murchu. There were some other factors involved, so that it would not be entirely true to say that all who voted for his dismissal disagreed with the civil rights strategy. Rather it was a feeling that his particular style of work placed him on a limb which could not be defended.

Nevertheless, it appeared that criticisms of the civil rights strategy would have little support at the forthcoming Army Convention in October 1972. Nor did they. But Liam MacMillen, the OC of the Official IRA in Belfast was most concerned to speak for Belfast itself. Hearing members of his own brigade disputing what position they should take, he pushed a motion through that the issue be referred back to the units so that the delegates could be mandated. Too late, the leadership’s majority found itself outflanked though it must be said that MacMillen himself tended to support the civil rights strategy personally.

Within the debate that followed, both within the IRA and in Sinn Fein, the main protagonists emerged as Goulding and MacGiolla, for the existing position and Costello and Garland, for the opposition. It was not, however, a matter which divided Sinn Fein from the IRA, since the differences of opinion existed in both organisations, though members of Sinn Fein tended to support the existing position.

Costello and Garland indeed made strange and uneasy allies because Garland’s personal friendships lay overwhelmingly on the other side and because he was one of the most abrasive critics of Costelloe’s somewhat opportunist method of political intrigue. Costelloe in fact, saw clearly that the affirmation of a separate Republican Strategy to Republican support for civil rights led logically and inexorably to a military campaign strategy. Garland, however, rejected this logic, though Goulding and MacGiolla were obviously concerned that it did. Costelloe was in a supreme position to organise. As Director of Operations of the Official IRA he travelled the country widely, meeting local operations activists – or rather, would-be activists since the ceasefire curbed all such activities. In addition, Garland had considerable standing in the movement. While his personality was abrasive and blunt, he was trusted as a totally straightforward and honest Republican and Costelloe had the good sense to leave it to Garland to draft the document for change. In the light of more recent developments within the Officials, with which Garland has been identified it is ironic that he appealed away from the drab confines of dour political reality to “the high road to the Republic.” It was an appeal that accorded with the desire of rank and file Republicans to assert their Republican identity while differentiating themselves from the Provisionals. In the event, once Belfast mandated all its delegates to vote for a change, the result was clear cut, and the resumed convention adopted the new position. While the matter was more closely contested within Sinn Fein, the Ard-Fheis vote was also comfortable for change… But Garland certainly carried more sway there than Costelloe. For Costelloe, however, it was the chance to reverse the decision of the previous May for a ceasefire. His attempt to seize that chance paved the way for a second split, and this time, a final rejection of militarism. At the resumed Army Convention, in fact, Costelloe proposed a detailed policy for a military campaign, but this got only very marginal support and was overwhelmingly rejected. However, he applied himself vigorously to the task of winning a majority for his views, and if that could not be done by converting the incumbent leadership then he would work to replace the leadership itself.

While he had a strong organisational position within the Army for this he was on much weaker ground in Sinn Fein. Only three people on the Ard-Comhalrle out of a membership of over twenty could be expected to support his views. Outsiders might wonder why such tolerance was shown to Costelloe while he factionalised with such abandon. It must be remembered that the leadership were all veterans of the 1956-62 campaign. They had suffered together, then gone through years of indifference together, had rebuilt the movement together, experienced the split together. Whatever their personal antipathies, there was a close bond of personal loyalty. Costelloe really had to go .some distance to snap that bond.

But he was very single-minded, he believed, correctly, that the ‘third way’ policy was contradictory: in so far as it meant a rejection o the previous line, it logically called for acceptance of his. And he played on the obvious floundering that the change of policy induced. But he went too far. He was less than cautious in whom he organised his secret lists with, and was suspended for a technical breach of party rules. This posed a problem for him because of the general election of 1973. Despite his suspension, he Stood as an Independent Sinn Fein candidate, and was subsequently expelled for this breach of discipline. Within the IRA too, his efforts to organise a palace revolution led to his court martial and dismissal. But Costelloe was right when he complained that these technical charges concealed political issues. What was at stake was whether or not the movement would develop down the road of becoming a revolutionary party or just another terroristic paramilitary group.

The Split was particularly bitter. The Officials felt that their reticence at the time of the Provo Split had helped to establish the latter as a serious organisation with all the damage that that involved to the movement’s strategy. They were determined not to repeat the mistake. When units defected to the new breakaway the arms they took with them were peremptorily demanded back. The clubs they controlled were claimed as movement property. It was not long before such claims were forcibly backed up and very forcibly resisted. Soon, fights led to feuding pistol whippings to shooting and then to killing.

The Officials suffered most, both in terms of their political credibility and in terms of casualties. Garland was seriously wounded in a shooting incident in Dublin and Billy MacMillan, the Wee Man whose significance for the Officials in Belfast cannot be overestimated; was shot lead only hours after a truce had been agreed. Reluctantly and bitterly, the Officials cast aside further thoughts of retaliation and revenge and got back to their political programme. Costelloe’s subsequent killing, some years later, is thought not to have been an official Official action. But this second split had two main effects on the Officials: A residue of deep bitterness towards the Provisionals and IRSP and the whole paramilitary concept, and the final break with militarism in its own ranks.

THE REVOLTIONARY PARTY

These dramatic developments took place against a background of important theoretical discussion, in which the practical issues of day-to-day policy overlapped serious reappraisal of the movement’s future and its direction. The roots of SFWP’s present position lie in what I have described as the ‘third way’ whose chief protagonist was Sean Garland. Garland launched his theoretical position with a major
speech at the 1972 Bodenstown Commemoration. Garland proclaimed the task of building a revolutionary party of the Irish working class. Inherent in this position was the assumption that no such party already existed. It is quite clear from his contributions to the Sinn Fein Ard.Fheis later in the year that he was contemptuous of the communist slogan, ‘Progressive Government North and South’ which he derided as meaning capitalist governments with one or two communist ministers.

This was implicit. Quite explicit was a round denunciation of the Labour Party, both for the lack of real effort by its leadership in the anti-Common Market campaign and for its decision to go into coalition with Fine Gael. At this time Garland was very much under the influence of Gerry Foley, an American Trotskyist who would certainly have denounced the communist position as ‘Stalinism’ a redolent phrase with, unfortunately little real meaning. The Revolutionary Party speech was inspired by an identification of republicanism with socialism. A teleological approach to history was adopted, such that Tone was seen as a socialist, and Lalor The commitment to socialism emerged as a discovery of the true essence of republicanism.

These are to some extent matters for theoretical debate, but the thrust of Garland s position was unequivocally national. He saw the national revolution, the winning of unity as being socialism, and not just as a step in that direction. Curiously the seeds were being sown of an economist approach that would ultimately elevate the bread and butter issues of the working class as the sole issues of the national question (!), and even to the denunciation of the national question as “mythical” (See Irish
Industrial Revolution)

Garland rooted, however at that time, his revolutionary party concept in the Irish tradition. “We choose from the past…. that which is appropriate to our time. We weld it to the experience of working people today. We make no apology to anyone who is disturbed by this recognition of reality and the historic role of the Republican Movement.

He emphasised rejection of sectarianism and asserted the need for a different approach to Protestant resistance “We do not wish to bomb one million Protestants into a united Ireland. The revolutionary party of the people recognises only the unity of the working class and will not now engage in any campaign which could only have the effect of helping the miserable rulers of the working people to survive” But, there was no rejection of the principle of armed struggle. On the contrary, there was a lengthy defence of its role in revolutionary theory, which was, however, to be sharply challenged by the Costelloe spilt. Garland declared: “Let no one take from this…repudiation of terrorism any suggestion…..that the army of the people will not be used to defend the interests of the working people. We make this condition: that all other means have failed before such action is taken and that the people are threatened with – the mercenary force of the agents of capitalism.” “No movement of the people, no revolutionary party, has the right to demand of the people that they should set aside the weapon that is viciously used by the gangsters who act in the name of the law and in the name of continuing capitalist order. We will not do it.”

Of course only a movement with an existing heritage of armed struggle would be so obsessed with defining its attitude to it so precisely. Garland felt even then that a large element of romantic cowboyism was involved in the whole mystique of armies of officers, of training camps and drill parades. That was not real politics, and his somewhat obscure formulation of the revolutionary party was a definite attempt to move away decisively from structures and concepts of struggle that belonged to a different era.

To give effect to the revolutionary party, there were two key questions: the Republican Movement had to establish itself within the working class, and it had to develop the structure of organisation relevant to this aim. Difficult and controversial issues within the Republican Movement are invariably settled by the establishment of a Commission. The Structure Commission produced its documents in August 1973, and examined the relationship between the IRA and Sinn Fein. There were three positions. One, that the IRA should be abolished forthwith. While this had extensive private support, it was felt too blunt, too likely to provoke the split which subsequently happened with Costelloe’s breakaway anyway. Two, that the IRA an authority as the prime revolutionary force be reasserted. Three, that the IRA be removed entirely from political affairs and Sinn Fein developed as the sole Republican political voice, with the implied understanding on the part of those who drafted this idea that the IRA would in fact wither away and disappear without formal abolition. No formal position in fact seems to have been taken on the Commission documents, because the events of the Costelloe split intervened. Divisive matters should be left to a later stage. But it is reasonable to assume that the third strategy was adopted.

At the Ard-Fheis of 1976 which adopted the name Workers’ Party, MacGiolla made an important declaration that there was no room in the organisation any longer for militarists or those who favoured terrorism. And the Official IRA has never since had any public existence at all. However, despite the strong protestations that all military activity had been ended, there have been a number of disturbing incidents. Guns have been produced on several occasions in Belfast, usually as part of the almost permanent rows over control of the lucrative drinking clubs. Another incident ended in the death of a young man beaten mercilessly with hurley sticks. The culprits were forced to return to face trial in Belfast, where they pleaded guilty to his manslaughter. And it wasn’t all in the North. A serious raid took place in a pub in Dublin’s dockland when guns, iron bars and hatchets were used against a number of former members.
And of course, the permanent question mark hangs over where the funds are found for such extensive organisational activities. There can be no definitive answer to this, but former members of the organisation have been arrested on bank robberies. There can be no definitive answer to this but, certainly, the possibility of substantial funds coming from sympathisers abroad cannot be discounted, though rumours of Russian gold are more wishful thinking than factual. Nevertheless, remnants of military activities, the occasional aberration are to be expected in an organisation with such a history. And none of it should obscure the real shift of ideology and organisational practice that has actually taken place.

But what is not so tolerable is the vagueness with which SFWP discuss this aspect of their past. MacGiolla does not need to make “extensive inquiries in the North”. He has acted consistently to remove militarists from the organisation and need not be ashamed of it. The second key aspect of the revolutionary party development was how to bring the Republican Movement to the working class, how to make Sinn Fein a workers’ party. The first point is that despite Sinn Fein’s established commitment to socialism, it had little connection to the organised working class, especially to the Trade Unions.

In 1972, none of the leadership had histories of trade union activity, and few even had membership. The United Irishman developed an increased coverage of trade union and industrial affairs throughout 1971 and 1972, and a regular industrial column had been established by the middle of 1972. It was not, it should be emphasised, a question of infiltration. This is a convenient slogan for right wing labourites for whom non-revolutionary politics are quite proper and tolerable, but not for other kinds. Infiltration, properly speaking, would imply sending members in to join covertly. The real practice was quite different. There was firstly, and most importantly, a determined effort to win trade union activists to join Sinn Fein; and secondly, members were encouraged to be active in their unions where membership was appropriate.

It is quite legitimate for industrial work to be organised, so long as the rules of individual unions are fully respected. Industrial policies are a matter of concern to all politically active workers, and Sinn Fein was only following in the footsteps of the Communist Party – though it is interesting that they, too, have been accused of infiltration-ism.

Early efforts to organise this work foundered, however. The Republican Industrial Development (which gave rise to the popular slogan Get rid of RID) was quite hostile to Sinn Fein efforts to control it. The IRA, however, following Garland’s Bodenstown speech, was refusing to control it, and for a time it existed in a sort of organisational limbo. There were, however, genuine difficulties. Trade Union activists, especially if they were officials, could not realistically be expected to involve themselves in the day-to-day drudgery of political existence: paper sales, postering, public meetings, and citizen advice bureaus. Sinn Fein itself, of course, had its fair share of the narrow-minded who considered their own limited spheres of activity the most Important, or indeed the sole legitimate ones. The cult of activism led often to the instant picket and the sort of rent-a-crowd politics that had really seen their day. It was increasingly clear that the leadership was out of its depth. Men wi

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7. John O'Neill - August 29, 2006

Sorry, the article was too long to be printed in its entirety. If people are interested send your email address to me at john.oneill@fcp.ie and I will forward you the articles in word format

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