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Irish Left Archive: The Split, from Sinn Féin, c.1982 October 12, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Sinn Féin.



A very short document this, produced by Provisional Sinn Féin for internal distribution in the early 1980s around the time that Sinn Féin, The Workers’ Party became the Workers’ Party. This is unusual for the thoughtful treatment of the 1969 split which is almost painstakingly fair in its analysis recognising some of the dynamics at work that played out in the radically different perspectives of that period. Telling, perhaps, that this should come just after the point when the Workers’ Party jettisoned the name Sinn Féin.


1. Fergus D - October 12, 2009

Some very odd things here for me:

Three tendencies in the RM are identified in the document, but this does not include Right and Left tendencies? which means there weren’t any (odd) or this is avoided (odd). What does it mean by revolutionary tendency? Social(ist) revolutionary or national(ist) revolutionary? Does the revolutionary tendency just mix insome social agitation to forward the national(ist) revolution or does it have diferent goals?

Terms well used by “Marxists” appear such as revoloutinary versus reformist but what are they applied to here – revolutionary versus reformist socialism or “revolutionary” versus reformist nationalism?

There is generally a lack of a left wing perspective altogether. It is in fact about the IRA as a defence force and about the primacy of “physical force republicanism” is it not? Maybe that’s not odd then coming from PSF.


2. Mark P - October 12, 2009

I think that you are broadly correct Fergus.

It reads like something produced by one of the semi-Marxist types who were coming to the fore in the Provisional movement in the 1980s, in that it mixes leftist terminology into a fundamentally traditional republican outlook. Analysing the IRA split in left/right terms would have tended to lead to awkward conclusions for such people (although not necessarily for the early Provisional leaders), which is why this constitutionalist/militarist/revolutionary framework is used instead.


WorldbyStorm - October 12, 2009

Very much agree particularly with your last sentence.


3. tgmac - October 12, 2009

Not all revolutions have been marxist in origin, nor marxist lead, nor viewed from a marxist standpoint. Revolutions, revolts, resistence have been lead from other standpoints, and when one talks or writes about people, in a general or in a specific tones, one doesn’t necessarily have adopt a Marxist analysis or overlay an intricate framework based on a revised historical analysis. It seems Marx understood this concept fairly well. Many revolts and resistence movements have been historic specific and aim at achieving specific aims, given limited resources and population acceptance, to what is seen as accruing support in terms other than surplus value of labour and other Socialist ideas. Again, I believe Marx wouldn’t have had a problem with this situation. Afterall, it can be argued Marx much admired concepts such as Liberty, Fraternity and Equality.


WorldbyStorm - October 12, 2009

That’s true, but… in the context of the document it seems odd that they avoid grasping the issue of ideology in any clearcut way.


4. Mark P - October 12, 2009

On a further note, the idea that the Officials were “constitutionalist” (an ill defined concept if ever there was one) in 1969 or 1970 is plainly ridiculous. It might have made sense from a traditional republican perspective in 1982 to describe the Workers Party in such a way, but trying to apply it to the Official IRA in 1969, whether by directly describing them as “constitutionalist” or by implying that they were on the road already, just doesn’t fit the facts.


WorldbyStorm - October 12, 2009

You’re correct that it seems odd from the viewpoint of 1982, but even in 1968/9/70 it was the idea that SF reps if elected could enter Stormont/Dublin that was the central ‘constitutional’ issue. And yes, the reality of the OIRA etc at that period does make it a little moot, but that’s the way it was perceived in Republicanism.


splinteredsunrise - October 12, 2009

That’s very true. Trad-republicanism has always taken the view that dropping abstentionism is the first step on the road to constitutional nationalism, whether the advocates of same believe it or not. See countless issues of Saoirse for this argument at interminable length.


Worldbystorm - October 13, 2009

It’s the key issue in a way along with armed struggle. Everything else is secondary, don’t you think?


5. Fergus D - October 12, 2009

tgmac – take your point, but in 1969 you would think SF would be more knowing and after all operating in an age when Marxist or revolutuionary socialist ideas were well known. the document doesn’t mention social revolution at all really (obligatory reference to 32 county socialist republic notwithstanding). It wasn’t really part of their outlook I would argue. I would agree with Mark P, “traditional (Irish) republican” best describes PSF/PIRA then (and now?).


6. tgmac - October 12, 2009

Fergus D – From my experiences, and I was located in a rural area, the perspective wasn’t related to terms of Socialism but in terms of creating social fairness and cultural awareness. There were, of course, Socialists involved during the 60s and early 70s period in towns like Derry, Dungannon, Strabane and the such. During the beginning, and I was fairly young, I just didn’t come across a Socialist perspective but was aware of its presence. The prevalent outlook was, and still is, an utter hostility towards brit troops. Contrary to popular thought, we didn’t dislike our Unionist neighbors but abhorred and took no shite from any involved in the security aparatus. We took ownership of our areas in a physical and psychological level like never before.

There was a change in the late 70s and early 80s and Socialism, or what we popularly took for socialism, became a more prominent factor. This, I noticed, was especially true around the many small factories that then dotted the country.

Still, I would say that the broad Republican movement and its supporters would more identify with French Republican sentiments; when they bother to think about politics at all. There is still a large number of Socialist leaning members in SF and an ethos that is left leaning throughout imo. Being particularly fond of Marx’s analysis, though, I can’t always square SFs stance with what I’d think are ideal policies. The left in SF has alot of work to do.


WorldbyStorm - October 12, 2009

That’s a fair analysis. It’s the old issue in Republican and left politics trying to get a balance. Hard to do in a way that is satisfactory to both positions.


7. splinteredsunrise - October 12, 2009

It’s surprisingly fair to the other side in the split… although my sense of the style is that it probably wasn’t the work of a PD refugee but rather someone in the Adams kitchen cabinet, which was very ostentatiously leftist at the time (Tom Hartley was going around quoting Fanon, though I never sensed that anyone but Tom took that at all seriously). There are some fairly disingenuous references to certain events in Belfast that fit well with Gerry’s progress. I’m thinking of the reference to criticism of the leadership coming from people who had dropped out years earlier. That might apply to Twomey or Cahill, but they were Adams allies of long standing. It doesn’t apply to his great enemy McKee, who was active throughout the 1960s. Also bear in mind the young Gerry’s closeness to the McMillen-Sullivan leadership in Belfast.

Also interesting in the way that it separates out the juridical and tactical arguments for abstentionism. The traditional argument is made out to be one argument, and not necessarily the most important one.


8. Garibaldy - October 12, 2009

Doesn’t TLR quote Adams saying basically this thing about people he had never seen sight nor sign of criticising the leadership after August 1969? Backs up SS’ theory. McKee of course came in for massive criticism for allowing a colour party to go up the road without a tricolour.


9. splinteredsunrise - October 13, 2009

He did indeed, though Gerry had other beefs with him. It really wasn’t surprising that he would end up in RSF at the end of the day.

Gerry talks along those lines in Before the Dawn about people he’d never seen nor heard of before. I find this difficult to believe, because Belfast republicanism at the time was based around a handful of extended families, and Cahill and Twomey, who had left years before, were both mates of Gerry’s da. Of the others – Steele, Drumm, McKee, Martin – it’s difficult to imagine that he hadn’t met them or at least known them by reputation, even if they were seriously out of favour with the leadership. Had Gerry just said those people hadn’t been very active in recent years, he might have been convincing.


10. Jim Monaghan - October 13, 2009

I think membership of the Republican movement can and was not just confined to those active in either SF or the IRA at a specific time. I doubt Uinseann McEoin was a member of a specific cumann but would have regarded himself as an active republican with his membership of say the Wolfe Tone society and his publishing operations.Bizarrely it had something in common with those on the formal left who are not members of specific left parties because of various reasons.
On of the Price sisters referreed to a time when Belfast couild barely fill a bus for Bodenstown.The Price father was an old time republican.
I would guess that many would have regarded willingness to take up arms in say defence of the ghettoes qualified as membership rather than attending meetings.Possible comparison with being an active/militant trade unionist not just a question of attending meeting there either.
One member of Adams kitchen cabinet was an ex member of PD but also from a Republican lineage.


11. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - October 16, 2009

[…] Irish Workers Group, 1966-68 * Sinn Féin: The Split […]


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