Century of Endeavour
Additional Related Publications (post-millennium)
Official Irish Republicanism, 1962 to 1972
Sean Swan; Lulu 2007(c) Roy Johnston 2007; comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
IntroductionIn the introduction he surveys prior work, after characterising the Belfast divisions as being 'entirely ethno-sectarian and devoid of class content', which situation rendered powerless and irrelevant the official republican belief in the 'common name of Irishman' (Wolfe Tone) coupled with the 'more novel faith in the unity of the working-class'. He classifies the existing literature as journalistic, academic and autobiographical.
The journalistic group includes Bowyer Bell, Tim Pat Coogan, Bishop and Mallie, Kevin Kelly, Brendan O'Brien, Peter Taylor, Brian Feeney and Ed Maloney; he regards the latter as being the best history of the Provisional process but regards its view of the Officials as being coloured by a Provisional perspective.
The academic group includes Mike Milotte's Communism in Modern Ireland, which Swan regards as '..an immensely valuable history of Irish communism..'; in the context he mentions in passing Emmet O'Connor's 1920-23 study of IRA contacts with Russia. We have also Eddie Rooney's Sociological Analysis (PhD thesis), Pat Walsh's Irish Republicanism and Socialism which he collates with Henry Patterson's Politics of Illusion. Both of these works question the compatibility of socialism and republicanism, in arguments dominated by an ethnic-nationalist 'two-nation' model.
In European history the ethnic and geographic national processes have complex interactive roles. The Marxist theory of nationality is rooted in the development of the capitalist market. The two roles sit uneasily in the British model for a unified State under English hegemony, with Scotland and Wales subsumed, in effect under English hegemony, into an emergent 'British' nation, in the context of the development of a British Empire. In this context the Irish colonial nation had an uneasy relationship with Britain, with multi-ethnic population attempting to develop a capitalist market on the fringe of its stronger neighbour. The 'Home Rule All Round' process had the potential for allowing an all-Ireland market to develop as partner in the imperial project, and this had much Protestant support. The opposition to Home Rule was fuelled by Tory-Orange collaborative gun-running via Larne in 1914. This successfully prevented the all-Ireland devolution process, and gave the emergent Irish anti-war independence movement more of an 'ethnic' flavour than it otherwise would have had, though it did attract significant support from the Protestant community. It could be argued that the Irish nation does not yet exist in full as a geographic and economic entity, and that ethnic divisions have stood in the way. The extent to which these were actively encouraged by Tory-imperial interests was considerable, and difficult to ignore. It could be argued that when Finland gained its independence, its Swedish minority managed to make the transition, without being armed by Swedish monarchists and without partition being imposed. The numbers are comparable (but see note pp58-9). The Home Rule movement was also aware of the process of secession of Norway from Sweden, in 1904. There were Swedes in Norway at the time. There is much scope here for comparative study of various episodes in European nation-building.
Also in the academic group is MLR Smith's Fighting for Ireland which attempts to analyse the emergent Provisional military strategy, in a context where the Provisionals were far from being a homogeneous bloc, Anthony McIntyre's Structural analysis 1969-73 and Richard English's Armed Struggle all concentrate on the Provisional process, having little time for the 'official' position. He includes Thomas Hennessey's Origin of the Troubles, though to my mind this slipshod book does not deserve academic status; it should be ranked with the journalistic stuff, as it depends largely on the right-wing press. I had occasion to review it for Books Ireland; maybe I was too kind to it.
Swan also mentions an autobiographical group which includes, as well as my Century of Endeavour, Sean Mac Stiofain's memoirs, and those of Derry Kelleher, Liam O Comain, Fionbarra O Dochartaigh, Bernadette Devlin, Paddy Devlin, Conor Cruise O'Brien and Eamonn McCann. Biographies of Joe Cahill (Anderson), Gusty Spence (Garland) and Gerry Fitt (Murphy) are also mentioned. He claims to identify a gap in the coverage of the developing relationship between the process and explicitly Marxist organisations, in a context where the Irish Workers party (the Irish Workers League successor) and the CPNI were able to unite as the CPI. I did treat this marginally, though from the angle of my attempt to develop an independent democratic Marxist approach to the national question, decoupled from the process which led to the formation of the CPI. The latter was Moscow-dominated and hostile to the contemporaneous 'Euro-communist' democratisation process, to which what we in the republican movement were doing was perhaps analogous, though there never was any organised link. I had read Gramsci and Carillo.
Context and ContradictionIn this section I pick out some of the key issues identified by Swan. The first arises in the 2005 debate in the Irish News between Martin Mansergh and Liam O Comain, on the nature of Wolfe Tone's principles. The former held that Tone regarded unity as the means, while the latter held that Tone acted without the unity but expected it to follow. I must say I agree with Mansergh. Swan brings Michael McDowell in, via the latter's contention that there existed an attempt to unite the '...Orange tradition with the cause of Irish republicanism..' and he correctly demolishes this using the well-known history of the Orange movement, which was avowedly monarchist, anti-republican and anti-Catholic from its foundation in 1795, being '...a conscious effort to create disunited Irishmen'.
On p43ff Swan leans on Engels' concept, borrowed it seems from Hegel, of the 'non-historic nation', defined as '..lacking the primary historic, geographical, political and industrial conditions for independence and viability..'. Engels however in his subsequent writings on Ireland needs perhaps to be evaluated differently; in his 1849 assessment of the European national questions he had primarily the Balkans in mind. Swan concedes this (p47) and suggests interesting parallels with the Czechs, as analysed by Otto Bauer. We get references also to Munck, Connolly and Stalin, and pick up the correct impression that the various Marxist analyses of national questions contain many contradictions, few if any of which are creative generators of Hegelian syntheses.
Then on p57 we pick up that the term 'nation' when first used in the Irish context referred to the colonial 'nation' of the Protestant Ascendancy, and Tone generalised this to include the Dissenters and Catholics. The aim of a secular State was shared with the French republicans. But then we get Marianne Elliott: 'Catholics had been invited to join the republican movement but finished by taking it over'. This influenced Protestant attitudes to Home Rule in 1905, when Arthur Clery was reflecting on 1798. The latter went on (p65) in 1907 to make the case for partition of Ulster to give a small enclave in the north-east, in which Catholics, as a small non-threatening minority, would be well treated. Swan concludes the chapter by quoting Sean Cronin who, writing in 1980, concluded that Tone's formula was probably no longer relevant today. So we are left with many questions about the existence and nature of the Irish nation, and the validity of the aspirations of the republican movement.
After the HarvestThe chapter begins with a highlighting of 'communist inputs', with a footnote referencing a meeting on 26/01/1969 between republican and CP leaderships which discussed the 'Commission Document'. It adds a claim that there was additional inputs from the Soviet Union, though nowhere in the remainder of the chapter is there any credible support for this assertion. I certainly was never aware of any. He overviews the earlier 1950s campaign, and identifies the role of Leo McCormack, who had been a CPGB member, and served on the IRA HQ staff; when in jail in the Crumlin Road he gave lectures on Connolly, much disapproved of by Jimmy Steele.
Goulding and Mac Stiofain were jailed in England for their role in the Felstead raid in 1953. Goulding was in jail with Klaus Fuchs, while Mac Stiofain was in with EOKA people from the then active movement in Cyprus. Swan makes much of the Fuchs contact, suggesting that it was responsible for Goulding's conversion to Marxism. Tressell's 'Ragged Trousers Philanthropists' and Jack London's 'Iron Heel' are mentioned as having been involved in the process, from an unidentified source; books more remote from current problems of Marxism in the Irish context are difficult to imagine! Fuchs was a nuclear physicist, primarily motivated by a political conscience in the context of the nuclear weapons problem, in my recollection. The EOKA influence on Mac Stiofain is however totally credible; were not the EOKA leadership associated with the subsequent right-wing 'Colonels Coup' in Greece?
Sean Cronin (p79) is credited with attributing Mac Stiofain's tactics when leading the Provisionals to EOKA influence. The version of the 'military plan' in Garland's 1966 'captured document' certainly sat uneasily with the political component of the document, to which it bore no relation. I was dismissive of it when I got to see it, but later identified it as a precursor of what subsequently happened. The document was the measure of the internal contradictions within the Army Council at the time; Goulding if he had an ounce of Marxist understanding should have blocked it, but presumably he felt he had to humour Mac Stiofain and keep the militarist wing onside while the political programme developed, from which it was hoped some at least of the militarists would learn. This was my judgment at the time.
Swan goes in some depth into the transfer of leadership in 1962. There was the makings of a 'new departure' in this process (p86). Similarly in the Irish Workers League there had been various attempts to understand and interact with the republican position, going back to George Jeffares in 1951, and indeed earlier. Sean Murray and Micheal O Riordain both had IRA backgrounds. The 1951 leadership however was dismissive of Jeffares' initiative, regarding the 1951 IRA as an insignificant rump. Jack Bennett during the 1950s in the CPNI attempted to get them to address the political problem of partition, which he identified as divisive of the working class.
Swan goes into the role of Desmond Greaves and the Connolly Association, covering much of the ground touched on in my 'Century', but he introduces an unnecessarily abrasive note with his reference to the 'Greaves kindergarten' (p95) of which he regards Coughlan and myself as being members, also Kelleher. This I must say I find patronising and offensive. There was certainly a Greaves network, of people who had worked with him, and picked up some of his feeling for the 'civil rights' approach to the partition question. The Connolly Association went back to the aftermath of the Republican Congress, and the CPGB had a hand in helping to set it up, in the 1930s, but by the mid-1950s it had developed its own constitution, and attracted many politically-minded emigrant workers without their necessarily being CPGB members, though undoubtedly some were. Greaves tried to mobilise the Irish emigrants primarily in the Irish interest.
On pp100-103 Swan weaves a fantasy about a Moscow influence in this context. He builds on the Fuchs contact mentioned above, and links it with unsubstantiated comments from Ruairi O Bradaigh and Sean Mac Stiofain, harking back to the Casement saga, and bringing in an alleged change in KGB policy attributed to Shelepin. This adds up to unsupported re-iteration of Mac Stiofain's claim that Coughlan and I were 'Moscow agents'. I could make a much more credible claim that Mac Stiofain was a British agent. Did he not serve his time in the RAF? Was his role not to rebuild the IRA into a force such as to keep the Protestant population loyally unionist, and provide the British Army with a live training-ground, such as to enable their top brass to declare that 'the war in the Falklands was won on the streets of Belfast'? Did the British not release remains of martyred dead at times such as to give foci for Mac Stiofain to emerge as leader of the militarists and nip political left-republicanism in the bud? Come off it, Sean Swan. Give credit to Coughlan and me for doing what most emigrants aspire to do, get a job back home.
In the final section Swan goes into the foundation of the Wolfe Tone Directories, which evolved into the Wolfe Tone Societies. He goes in some depth into the Constitution of the latter, picking up perceived parallels with the thinking in the CPNI 1962 'Ireland's Path to Socialism' which went via a reformed Stormont. We were not conscious of this at the time, but in retrospect it confirms our instinct that the forces for Civil Rights reform in NI should include Protestant working people organised via the trade union movement. He goes on to evaluate the obstacles to the development of left-republican politicisation, the key one being abstentionism, seen as crypto-Fianna Fail.
1964-5 Problems and SolutionsThe chapter begins with a reference (p119) to the Army Council being the 'legitimate government of the Republic', without however giving the background to this claim, which is interesting. Tom Maguire, of Cross, Co Mayo, was a TD in the Second Dail, who remained a supporter of the post-FF Sinn Fein. He along with other deputies used to meet from time to time, with a rump which had nominal quorum status according the Dail rules, as the legitimate government, usurped by the Free State as set up under the Treaty. As they died off by degrees, the quorum became more fragile, so on the last occasion when they had a quorum, they met in Maguire's house, some time around 1938, and passed a motion vesting the rights of legitimate Government in the Army Council of the IRA. There is a group photo of the event hanging on the wall of his living-room, which I saw on one occasion when I visited. I personally did not take this seriously, but it seems many do; it represents a sort of republican apostolic succession. Later, after the 1970 split, I remember being phoned by a journalist and asked for comment on the subsequent handover by Tom Maguire, in his personal capacity, of the 'government of the Republic' to the Provisional Army Council. I forget what I said at the time, but clearly the continuity of handover from the Second Dail, however attenuated in real significance, has serious mythological value for some.
There is a useful listing of problems arising from abstention and non-recognition of the de facto legal situations north and south. Then on pp129-30 there is a quote from a report by the Wolfe Tone society analysing the results of the 1964 Westminster elections, which showed that the republican vote had eroded seriously, being actually overtaken by the vote for the British Labour Party. This was presented to the Ard Comhairle on March 5 1965.
On p137 we have the cri de coeur from Sean Caughey in favour of recognising the de facto situation, and the call for a special conference, with the drafting of the 'ten proposals'. These were indeed drafted by Goulding and Costello; I had no hand in this conference, still being a novice and largely unknown, though Goulding and Costello by this time were actively introducing me to key army activists, in a process of helping to persuade them to develop political work via Sinn Fein. The proposals had a rough ride in the Ard Comhairle (p138), which contained hard-core militarist abstentionists like Gearoid Mac Carthaigh. As far as SF was concerned I was still an outsider to be kept at arms length.
The Special Ard Fheis to consider the problem of de facto recognition was in fact a divisive failure; Sean Caughey resigned in despair (p140). It received no coverage in the United Irishman. The (ordinary) Ard Fheis took place at the end of October 1965; I had no hand in it, still being in the undergrowth, exploring the feasibility of localised socio-economic initiatives as part of the education process. Swan treats it in some detail (pp141-46), noting the socio-economic content, and the aspiration to reach out to to the Protestant working-class, of which Swan is dismissive. There was evidence of common ground with current CPNI thinking, and echoes of the then current Marxist-Christian dialogue. The Paisley threat, which was showing signs of taking over the Protestant working-class, was totally underestimated, and Swan homes in on this.
Then on p148 we get a reference to my 'economic resistance' article in the United Irishman, in which I had attempted to introduce some relevant ideas supportive of the politics if Irish unity and independence. Swan links these with Parnell in the 1880s and O'Donnell in the 1930s, somewhat dismissively, and stresses the Fanon reference; he admits they were a long way from Stalinism. This was indeed the case; they were an exploratory attempt to develop a democratic-Marxist approach to economic reform, appropriate to a post-colonial situation, as a basis for development of a broad movement of 'working people' who were, mostly, some way from being the 'proletariat' of hard-core Stalinist orthodoxy.
The full flavour of this chapter emphasises how difficult it was to get rid of doctrinaire abstentionism, despite the evident need for effective socio-economic work relating to people' needs, with the latter being accepted even by hard-core abstentionists like O Bradaigh and O Conaill, in an inconsistent trend towards social radicalism. The contradictions remained unresolved, being expressed in their purest form perhaps in Costello, who while being a militarist was also pushing socialism and the ending of abstentionism (p156).
Control and ReactionThis chapter deals in some depth with the process in which the politicising IRA organised to integrate with and radicalise Sinn Fein. For a time they dispaired of this, as is in evidence on p164 where in July 1966 Tony Meade, then Editor of the United Irishman, was inclined to see the Wolfe Tone Societies as being the makings of a political system to be developed as the alternative to Sinn Fein. This however did not happen, and at the 1966 Ard Fheis (p171ff) the elected Ard Comhairle included Goulding, Costello, Mitchell and the present writer. This was a result of increasing numbers of IRA members becoming SF activists.
Following this there was some critical comment from the ultra-left Militant (p170) which accused the present writer of being 'unashamedly non-revolutionary... immediate aim to take the gun out of Irish politics..'. Swan follows with a quote from the April 1967 United Irishman where I analyse the 'Fianna Fail process' of post-gun politics and suggest an alternative. He then goes into the background to the rise of armed loyalism, which began to be significant in 1966, primarily in response to the early O'Neill reforms (according to Gusty Spence). There were also emerging significant resistance to the Goulding politicisation process among the North Kerry republicans, who had responded with hostility to Denis Foley's earlier anti-abstentionist article in the UI. I made a stand in favour of graveside speeches being primarily political rather than religious events, which aroused some negative comment.
Attempts were made during this period to define 'socialism' and distinguish it from 'communism', to which Coughlan and I contributed in our various ways, but the overall understanding of these issues were somewhat limited. We tried to explain the meanings of the labels, without advocating that the movement should support one or the other. The adoption of the 'Socialist Republic' as a political objective Swan attributes to Costello, and this could be right. Greaves was skeptical of this, sensing the danger of the movement evolving into a narrow left-wing sect; he remarked on the destructive ultra-leftism of the Republican Congress being a precedent from which he felt they should have learned (p200). I agree with this, and did my best at the time to avoid making 'socialism' a policy objective; while working towards developing a neo-Marxist approach to a broad-based national-democratic movement of the working people.
Ireland as it Should Be vs As Is: Jan 68 to Aug 69I am not going to try to outline the arguments of this complex chapter in detail; I hope simply to clarify some references to my own role. I must first take issue with the opening paragraph (p203), which suggests that I was '..wedded to the idea of linking the Republican movement to Irish communism..'. This is a misleading and simplistic description of a more complex aspiration which I had, which can perhaps be summarised as trying to encourage the development of a common democratic Marxist analysis of the Irish national question by those concerned with policy development in the republican movement, the IWL and the CPNI; this would involve all 3 bodies having to drop differing entrenched positions and practices, in a search for an elusive 'broad-left' common ground.
There is on p205-7 some analysis of the complexities of this process, in which I was myself beginning not to believe, as I became increasingly aware of the problems, to the extent that I made the attempt to back-track, declining to go forward for election to the Ard Comhairle, though under pressure I subsequently allowed myself to be co-opted. The abstention problem dominated the Wicklow by-election, where Costello contested, on a credibly left-wing programme, winning 2009 first preferences; his transfers went preferentially to Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in that order. Press comment emphasised the negative effect of abstentionism and positive aspects of his programme, which was not seen in terms of a 'red scare'.
In the latter part of the chapter Swan goes in some depth into the 1968 Ard Fheis, the setting up of the Garland Commission, the resulting 'Ireland Today' document, its interaction with the membership, and with the the CPNI and IWL, in which context emerged what must have been the concept of the 'stages theory', attributed to an interview given in the USA in the mid 1970s by Micheal O Riordain (p238).
Throughout this discussion Swan suggests by implication that what he calls 'Irish communism' was a prime mover, trying to take the process over. The above US quote, which is unreferenced, relates however to a much later period, when the (by then united) CPI and SFWP had entered into an aggressively competitive struggle for a shrinking left-wing activist constituency, with increasingly unrealistic arguments, and the actual scene was dominated by the Provisional military campaign. It is important to realise that the 1968-9 scene was dominated by an increasing common (between SF, IRA, IWL and CPNI) concern over the civil rights approach to reform in NI, and the simultaneous realisation on the part of the republican leadership that the abstentionist problem needed to be addressed if the movement were to influence the politics. The development of a 'broad left' with Marxist understanding was essential if political republicanism was to avoid repeating the FF or the Clann compromising roads. This was a long way from a 'take-over' by the narrow doctrinaire Moscow-dominated parties; on the contrary, it was an attempt creatively to develop a 'broad left' in independent Marxist terms.
Towards the end of the chapter we get an outline of Civil Rights (theory, practice), the Derry events, the mid-Ulster election, Burntollet, Silent Valley and the lead-up to August 69. The weaknesses, inconsistencies and contradictions of the rapidly developing situation emerge. The Swan version is one of many; for the present writer it fails to answer the question 'could August '69 have been avoided?'.
Stormont and the EEC: Aug 69 to May 72This final period treated in the book has been treated before by many journalistic and academic sources; the Swan contribution adds some insights from participants and from the SF, Greaves and WTS records, bringing out the factors that led to the 'officials' militaristic period and the present writer's resignation, as well as the contradictions and external influences that led to the split. The following comments, as previously, need to be read in conjunction with the chapter as a whole, which I am not going to attempt to summarise.
On p290 the question of the 'need to defend the people' emerges, in discussions between O Bradaigh and Goulding, prior to August 1969. Goulding was unprepared, while O Bradaigh was alive to 'rumours of pogroms'. Disarming and disbanding the B-Specials was a political demand. There was indeed no plan to defend the people from the B-Specials, if they were to attack. The question arises, were those in charge of the Specials planning to provoke the republican movement into reverting to armed struggle, or did they respond to false intelligence, originating from some inner group, that an IRA armed plot existed? Those wishing to have to deal with an IRA in armed mode would be capable of generating rumours of pogroms and leaking them to O Bradaigh and Mac Stiofain.
On p294 we have a reference to the 'resources of the State to be used to defend the people in Derry against sectarian violence'. There was ambiguity here: which State? In the context of the NICRA objectives, it was the British State which needed to to be invoked to disarm the B-Specials as a sectarian force. In the context of the HB&B group and the FF hawks, and the emerging Provisional network, it was the Irish State. I recollect trying to make this distinction at the time. It is however far from clear if the republican leadership understood it.
On p301 Swan has a reference to Goulding and Garland inviting Coughlan to join the IRA, on the grounds that he would be 'more practical than RJ'. Swan does not make it clear that Coughlan declined the invitation, in no uncertain terms, nor does he indicate how he was 'more practical'. Nor does he comment on how membership of the IRA by Coughlan was expected to help resolve the August crisis politically, or on what role the IRA was supposed to have in the context. Coughlan and I at the time were still, in our separate ways, clinging to the hope that pressure on the Labour government could be used to get the British to disarm and disband the B-Specials, and address the civil rights issues, in which context the IRA was a positive liability.
On p307 we have a reference to the Barnes & McCormick funeral, addressed by Jimmy Steele; this took place in July 1969, and had been an organising focus for the proto-provisionals. Was it timed deliberately to maximise its impact on the 'provisional' process? The timing was under the control of the British, as indeed had been the earlier Dunne & O'Sullivan funeral in Deans Grange, which gave a platfrom to Mac Stiofain. I have always had the feeling that at the imperial core are clever people who know how to prevent effective united political independence movements from developing. The feeling was reinforced when I subsequently read Kitson's book.
On p309 we have evidence of money for arms for the North, offered to Goulding via Jock Haughey in London, provided political agitation in the South were stopped and a Northern Command established. On the following pages the details of an attempted coup against the Dublin leadership emerge; 'socialism' is out, arms are in. There was FF money involved, and projected assassinations of leading people, including the present writer. The arguments relating to FF support, via HB&B, of the provisional process, as outlined by Justin O'Brien, are amply supported.
On p319 Swan specifies the groups supportive of the provisional movement as including 'southern rural anti-abstentionists'; the anti- here is clearly a slip of the pen; we know what he means. He includes also the Belfast republicans concerned with defence, and also 'elements of Fianna Fail who had Ulster backgrounds'.
The remainder of the chapter covers the 1969/70 Ard Fheis where there was a staged walk-out, the emergence of the Provisionals into prepared locations, the struggles of the NICRA in the new situation, the uniting of the IWP and the CPNI into the CPI, Federalism, War and Peace, Aldershot, the present writer's departure, the EEC and the 'official' ceasefire.
I have little to add to Swan's complex picture, except perhaps that my resignation was totally motivated by rejection of militarism, and had nothing to do with any threat of internment. The Tom Caldwell incident I had forgotten; it was of little significance; he later opened an art gallery in Dublin. I was prepared to talk to anyone who I thought might help to demilitarise the situation. The Smullen 'sting' operation (p338) does suggest that Goulding was rearming post August 69. The Moscow influence on the anti-EEC movement (picked up it seems from Walsh's book) is indirect, derived via the thinking of the European left. The suggestion that Goulding went looking for arms to Moscow via O'Riordan (p338) originates with the Andrews analysis of the Mitrokhin archive, published by Penguin in 2000. In the atmosphere generated by August '69 this is credible; it indicates how crazy the politics became at the time, with Costello buying a trawler, of which he forgot the name!
ConclusionWith Swan's conclusions I must say I find many points of contact. We not not have a real 'nation', yet; it was not created in Tone's time, nor was it created as a result of 1916. Pearse's high regard for the arming of the Orangemen in 1914 was a total misunderstanding of the significance of that disastrous event. The Harris epoch with SFWP deserves more analysis than Kelleher was able to give. Many questions remain unanswered; it is far from clear when, or indeed if, the official IRA has been stood down. The concept of the 'broad left', which respects the utility of a democratic Marxist analysis of the role of capital, and the problem of how to influence and control its investment process, remains elusive. My current personal aspiration is towards a 'green-left convergence' under the threat of the peaking of oil supply and the climate change threat from greenhouse gases.
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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 2007