Left Archive: Problems of the Irish Revolution – Can the IRA meet the challenge? by Gerry Foley, 1972 December 12, 2011Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Official Sinn Féin, Workers' Party.
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This document, printed in 1972, provides an overview by US activist and journalist Gerry Foley. Foley who worked for Trotskyist publication, Intercontinental Press spent some time in Ireland in 1970 and in 1972 meeting and interviewing ‘revolutionary nationalist leaders, including Cathal Goulding, the man known as the chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army, and Tomas MacGiolla, the President of Sinn Féin, the political arm of the republican movement.’
When he returned ‘in the turbulent early months of 1972… he went on to tour Europe and Scandinavia with Malachy McGurran,leader of the Official Republican movement in the North, to build an international defines of the liberation struggle in Ireland’.
The document itself is drawn from an essay that first appeared in Intercontinental Press in 1972.
In the introduction Foley outlines the circumstances that led to ‘in May-June 1968, a mass movement develop[ing] among the nationalist minority in Northern Ireland.’
And he notes ‘the rise of this movement also reflected other changes that had been accumulating beneath the surface. 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 program of political action based on the immediate needs and aspirations of the mass of the people.’
One of the first effects of the massive fighting that developed in August 1969 was a split in the IRA. The rise of communal warfare encouraged some veterans of the 1956-62 campaign, who had been opposed or indifferent to the new orientation, to break away from the Official movement and forma Provisional IRA. Although they too have been changing under the pressure of the situation, the Provisionals have generally stressed military action as the main form of fighting the oppression of the Catholic community. The Officials have tried to combine commando group activity with peaceful mass action.
And he notes:
In general the distinction between the two groups has been seen in terms of mass action vs. guerrilla warfare. Smaller socialist groups, which had tended to discount the revolutionary potential of democratic demands, have found themselves either isolated or drawn into the orbit of one or the other militant nationalist organisation, since this was the arena where the struggle for leadership was centred.
And he concludes:
If traditionalism is not dead yet, the pressure of events and the spread of new ideas seems to have dealt it a mortal blow. In the future any radical organisation will have to stand on its political program and not its historical credentials.
In the main body of the article he discusses the then recent declaration by the Official IRA in May 19, 1972, that it was ‘suspending armed offensive operations in Ulster’. And he attempts to parse out the meaning of that statement both in terms of its direct impact and its future implications. What is of particular interest is the way in which Foley points to a range of actions, including the death of an OIRA volunteer, Martin O’Leary, during the Mogul silver mine strike in 1971 and position this within the developing approach of Official Republicanism.
He also notes the various influences on Official Republicanism from ‘British ultra-leftist and workerist groups [in Derry]’ to ‘Stalinism’ and the ‘scholastic fuzziness… of the British Communist Party’. And he argues that there is a danger that ‘since the civil rights movement has not proceeded as expected and the republican leadership was evidently not prepared politically for the actual results – that disorientation will set in’.
And intriguingly given later developments in OSF he argues that:
By its devotion to the ideals of socialism and its uncompromising fight against all the conservative forces in Ireland, the Official republican movement has won the support of a large number of dedicated revolutionary youth. By waging centralised political campaigns and by giving clear political direct, it can weld these youth into the best fighting force in Europe. The main instrument of this process, however, cannot be an ‘army of the people’; it must be the party of the Irish revolution.
That his analysis is critical but sympathetic is particularly useful in getting a sense of the time.