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Left Archive: Official Republicans Meet in Dublin: A Step Forward for the Irish Vanguard, Gerry Foley, Intercontinental Press, January 22, 1973 November 25, 2019

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in Irish Left Online Document Archive.
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To download the above please click on the following link. foley2.pdf

Please click here to go the Left Archive.

Thanks to Jim Monaghan for forwarding this to the Archive.

This short piece adds to the collection of articles and publications written by Gerry Foley. In this one he discusses the Official Republican convention in December 1972 in Dublin. He writes:

Irish republicanism is unique. It is a traditional movement that continues the age-old struggle against the social relations introduced by the conquest of Ireland, a fight so ancient that its motivations are more instinctive than conscious. It combines bits and pieces of contradictory philosophies and outlooks whose implications have never been developed in a consistent way.

And he notes the 800 delegates and visitors at the convention in the Mansion House. He suggests that the outlook was more ‘international’ and the ‘sale of political literature… seemed to have been expanded’ with books by American Trotskyists, including his own.

This snapshot of a movement at a time of expansion and optimism is striking. He quotes the treasurers report mentioning, ‘plans for the building [Dublin HQ] includ[ing] a modern walk-around bookshop, new offices for the United Irishman and SF Secretariat. A Library room… a room for press conferences, and Cumainn meetings’.

He also suggests that ‘in the area of political analysis important progress has been registered in breaking with conceptions that proved one-sided or overly rigid in the past’.

He notes that ‘condemnations of the ‘Provisional Alliance’ have ‘become almost a ritual in OSF’ and ‘serve no rational purpose’. And he points to this being ‘essentially moralistic, metaphysical absolutism’ which ‘weakens the militant nationalist current in general’ and ‘poison discussions and introduced an atmosphere of dogmatism and suspicion. In particular, blaming all the defeats of the past year on the Provisionals is unpleasantly reminiscent of the Stalinist practices of looking for traitors when things go wrong. A more materialistic analysis would be to analyse objectively the factors that enabled the Provisionals to grow and to play the ‘disastrous’ role Mac Giolla ascribes to them, especially the errors of the Official movement that contributed to the growth of the rival grouping’.

Please note: If files have been posted for or to other online archives previously we would appreciate if we could be informed of that. We always wish to credit same where applicable or simply provide links.

Comments»

1. roddy - November 25, 2019

People tend to forget that a large number of Officials were sympathetic to the provos at that time.This would come to a head with the IRSP split and defections to SF for many years after that.Should anyone doubt that,remember that 5 of the 10 hunger strikers would have been officials at that time.I’m going to wisper this but a teenage Roddy would have been postering and leafletting for the Republican clubs as late as 1975!

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Joe - November 25, 2019

🙂

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tafkaGW - November 26, 2019

Really? Fair play for outing yourself. 🙂

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2. pettyburgess - November 25, 2019

Foley had quite a clear eyed understanding of the contradictions in Official Republicanism at this point. You have the obsession with denouncing the Provos, alongside exasperation at that obsession. You have “workerism” alongside cultural nationalism. You have invective about “Provo-Trots” in the Party paper while Trotskyist pamphlets are pushed by the party book stall. He was however too optimistic about how these contradictions would be resolved.

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3. Jim Monaghan - November 25, 2019

His former group, the SWP USA, has put these articles online. Easier to read. http://66.114.139.138/fmi/iwp/cgi?-db=IP_Index_Public&-loadframes

Or here. http://66.114.139.138/fmi/iwp/cgi?-db=NI_Index_Public&-loadframes

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4. John - November 25, 2019

Of course the Official’s should have taken it’s lead from Foley of the American SWP, one of the most sectarian of all the Trotskyist tendencies in the USA who, whilst pretty progressive on organisations outside of the US spent quiet a lot of their own time denouncing other American left formations. It’s a bit, ‘do as I say not as I do,’ isn’t it?

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Daniel Rayner O'Connor - November 25, 2019

‘Whilst pretty progressive on organisations outside of the USA spent quite a lot of their time denouncing other left formations.’
On the above, the Sticks had little to learn from the SWP.

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Colm B - November 26, 2019

Since the 80s the SWP has been a sectarian cult led by madcap guru Jack Barnes but before that it was a large and serious orthodox trotskyist party, active on the ground across USA, with serious internal debates. They played a substantial role in the anti-vietnam war movement etc.
There was a lack of internal democracy, centralised leadership and all those things that the Joes and Colms of the world wearily point to as seeds of destruction but the description you give is of the later degenerated version once Barnes had purged most of its members.
Btw Foley was right about the obsession with the Provos – it was understandable in the context but politically mistaken. This obsession destroyed the Officials in the North, especially once the Harris faction pushed it to its ultimate extreme.

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Colm B - November 26, 2019

Sorry, that should have read John not Joe

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Joe - November 26, 2019

Johns and Colms may sometimes point to a lack of internal democracy, centralised leadership and all those things as seeds of destruction… Joes on the other hand sometimes pine for them.
Like, how the f**k else are gonna get anything bleedin done?
Or, as Joe’s most recent slogan goes: Shut the f**k up and do wot Jez sez.

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Jim Monaghan - November 26, 2019

The SWP became a cult. They were not then. Indeed Intercontinental Press was and is an amazing source for a variety of mainly Left opinion, publishing a lot of documents by other Left tendencies. On a general aside, I am greatly suspicious of the messianic attitude of so many groups big and small. “There is one anointed successor party of Lenin et al” Funnily this is something they share with many of the Republican splinter groups with the line of succession from the Second Dail nonsense.
In 1972 it was all to play for with Official Sinn Fein. I still regard what happened as a huge tragedy. Gerry would not have seen himself as giving THE LEAD, but as someone giving a sympathetic viewpoint in as friendly a way as possible. He engaged with everyone.

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5. John - November 26, 2019

Hi Daniel, that’s exactly the point I’m making. The criticism of the Provo’s was as bad (no worse) as the Provo criticism of the Officials. Or the Irish SP’ s criticism of the Irish SWP (I heard a hardliner from the SP once describe the SWP as the biggest obstacle to progress on the left in Ireland). To say the Officials were more obsessed with the Provo’s than the Provo’s were with the Officials is dishonest. They were struggling with each other for status in the nationalist community, Ideologically on the way forward for progress, for solidarity funding, for material to defend their areas and for members.

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WorldbyStorm - November 26, 2019

I’m not sure I’d agree the obsession was as great in PSF as in OSF at least not once it was clear by the early to mid 70s that OSFs star was waning and that they’d lost enormous ground. Being in the WP in the early 80s and later the obsession if you call it that was fierce. Later in the 1980s were slightly different as WP built up politically in the South and yet for all the rhetoric they were competing in different areas. As to which was ‘worse’ I’m conflicted – the line the Provisionals were ‘fascist’ is about as bad as one can get (as well as inaccurate as noted by no less an authority (!) Henry Patterson on the Times Change years later). Not that the Provisionals were behind the door in their criticism of the Officials and later the WP.

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Joe - November 26, 2019

“Not that the Provisionals were behind the door in their criticism of the Officials and later the WP.”

Provisionals being behind the door became quite a problem for Officials and WP people in Belfast on occasions during the Troubles of course. The problem was that the Provisionals were not behind the door to criticize the Officials but to kill them. And they did just that. And only stopped when the Officials killed them back.

But, for sure, describing the Provisionals as ‘fascist’ was totally inaccurate. The English language still lacks a single-word adjective to describe an armed group which, when seeking hegemony in the community it purports to represent, kills those who stand up to it and put forward alternative views.

Jesus, lads. I really didn’t want to but yiz made me do it.

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WorldbyStorm - November 26, 2019

There are others who might think that description you offer in your third para also applies to what happened to another group again! Now I think there was fault on both sides but… when alternative views were expressed it all got pretty grim.

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WorldbyStorm - November 26, 2019

But it strikes me that we need to get the chronology down. The military conflict between Officials and Provisionals after the initial split was not a huge feature as I understand it until later, so that was a good five years or so before it flared up to the level seen in Oct 75. And is it entirely fair to say that it was about suppressing alternatives, as much as suppressing armed rivals (which is not to justify it but to say that it’s not quite a freedom of speech or democratic activity issue so much as something different). After all the SDLP and other nationalists did manage to function freely throughout the period offering starkly different views to PSF (albeit with harassment and intimidation etc).

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6. roddy - November 26, 2019

All I can say is take the public denunciations with a pinch of salt.Lines of communication were always kept open in local areas between both groups.

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7. roddy - November 26, 2019

You see its easy to detest somebody you don’t really know that well or run into on a daily basis.If I encountered the likes of De Rossa or Harris,I would have to be restrained from throwing a punch.However when I meet old sticks round here,the civility is nearly embarrassing.Last year for instance I attended the funeral of a veteran Republican.He spent a few years on the run for most of the 70s and had family in the H blocks in the early 90s.As is the custom,I carried his coffin and as I stepped out ,4 elderly sticks stepped in to act as pall bearers.They would have parted politically 50 years ago but would all have been”50s” men.Similarily when another veteran died this year ,one of the last to visit him on his death bed was a very well known WP man who many on here would probably know.Again this man had family in the H blocks in the 80s and would have parted company with the WP man decades ago but they had been comrades once and this still counts.

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Joe - November 26, 2019

That’s lovely stuff Roddy.
I read a piece recently about a veteran Sth Derry stick who had just passed away. The piece told how he had taken part in the burning of his H Block back in the day.
As I get on in years, I appreciate the importance of funerals more and more. As the wife’s father used to say “If I don’t go to his, he won’t come to mine”.
And one mellows. I’ll be giving Mary Lou a vote next time because SF advocate building public housing. And Roddy, I enjoy your posts on here now whereas a few years ago they used drive me up the wall!
But Sth Derry isn’t Belfast and it’s a pity (to put in mildly) that things got as bloody as they did there. Harder, I’d guess, to carry each other’s coffins after killing each other decades earlier.
Never again, please God, le cúnamh Dé, insh’Allah.

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8. roddy - November 26, 2019

Ceasefire restored!

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Alibaba - November 26, 2019

Hallelujah!

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9. Colm B - November 26, 2019

IMO two things turned the OSF attitude to the provos from the rivalry that John describes into something else – the rise of the Harris faction and their influence on the leadership but also the 1975 feud. by trying to wipe out the Officials the provos contributed significantly to the mistaken direction taken. I’m not trying to put all the blame on the Provos but things might have turned out differently if that and other feuds hadn’t happened.
But then we’re in the realm of alternative history: what if McMillen or McCann hadn’t been killed? What if Harris had been kicked out early? “Men make their own history but not as they chose….”

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WorldbyStorm - November 26, 2019

Yes, I’d agree with those as key events. Although I also think that the OIRA/INLA feud was central too to the later trajectory of the Officials. As noted above, there was fault on both sides, to put it mildly. But perhaps the reality that there were now two separate groups that the Officials were in opposition to both military and ideologically began to shut down the conceptual room that they could function in as well and started to dictate how they defined themselves not os much as themselves but what they were in opposition to.

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10. roddy - November 26, 2019

What isn’t widely known is that no two Belfast republicans were closer prior to the split than Joe McCann and Gerry Adams.When a monument to McCann was unveiled a few years ago,the event was attended by all Republican factions and Adams was prominent.

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