Category Archives: Revolutionary figures

Revisiting People’s Democracy and the ‘Burntollet’ march

The January 1969 Belfast to Derry march, organised by People’s Democracy, modelled on the US civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965

Last week I watched a video of a public meeting at the CP’s Dublin headquarters marking the 50th anniversary of the explosion of the civil rights movement onto the streets of Derry and the wider six counties.  One of the speakers was Tommy McKearney, someone whom I respect a great deal.  To my unpleasant surprise, however, Tommy wheeled out the old Stickies and CP attacks on “ultralefts” going destructively ahead with activities which unnecessarily provoked violent clashes instead of listening to the advice of more seasoned folk like Betty Sinclair.

Wow!

It’s hard to know where to start in responding to this, so I’m linking to two articles on the People’s Democracy organisation, the civil rights movement and Burntollet.  One is by Matt Collins, from SWN/People Before Profit looking back on the events as a Marxist today and the other is by John McAnulty, a veteran of PD and the movement back then and an active Marxist still.  John agrees with much in the Matt Collins article, which defends PD, while also noting a few things Matt got wrong.

Before linking to these, I just want to say something about Betty Sinclair and the question of ‘experience’.  Tommy is dead wrong to say Bernadette Devlin, Michael Farrell, John McAnulty and the “ultralefts” should have Read the rest of this entry

Fintan Lalor on Repeal, land ownership, insurrection and saving the Irish masses in the Famine

Lalor argued that only a social revolution could save Ireland from the destruction wrought by the landlords and British state through the Famine

The following article appeared in The Irish Felon, July 1848.  It was titled “To the Irish Confederate and Repeal Clubs”.  The sentences in brackets were Lalor’s introduction to the piece.  In this lengthy feature Lalor criticises the Young Ireland movement for the partial nature of its break with Daniel O’Connell and his Repeal Association; argues that the goal of the struggle has to be a social revolution and not simply repeal of the 1801 Act of Union; outlines different forms of insurrection; identifies the landlord class as a garrison class; notes the socio-economic impact of Famine on Irish society; and how a plan of action is needed to fight immediately to save the country from ruin.

I must admit I was sorely tempted to break up the more massive paragraphs!  However, I decided to resist the temptation.  

by James Fintan Lalor

[The paper that follows was written in the last week of January, 1847-just one year and five months ago and was forwarded to one of the leading members of the Confederation for private circulation among the council of that body. I now address it to you just as it was written.]

I see no reason to prevent me mentioning that, in about a month from the date and delivery of my paper, I received a letter from John Mitchel stating that, on perusal and consideration of its contents, he had fully adopted my views, and that he meant to act on them so soon as occasion should fit and serve.                                                                                                                                  – January 25, 1847

My sole wish or attention is to suggest. Any attempt to convert or convince would be useless. Individuals are never converted; they must convert themselves. Men are moved only in masses; and it is easier to convert a million of men than a single man. But neither is the attempt necessary. To you, or any of those whom this paper is intended, the end of the clue-line is enough. You will be able, if you choose, to follow it out yourself. To lead you on, link by link, would be needless and absurd.

To anyone who considers their speeches, resolutions, and proceedings, it will, I think, appear manifest and marked, as it does to me, that the “seceders” have gone into organized action upon mere vague impulse and general feeling; with their objects undefined, their principles unsettled, their course unmarked; without any determinate plan, or, consequently, any fixed purpose – for no purpose can long remain fixed, but must be ever veering and wavering, without a plan to guide, control, and sustain it; and a purpose without a plan to confine and confirm it, is no purpose at all. Such a plan, too, is wanting as a warrant and guarantee to yourselves and to others that your object is feasible and your means adequate ; that you have gauged your enterprise and measured your means; and that the work you call on us to do will not be wasted. There are few worse things, even in the ethics or economy of private life, than labour misdirected; but what should be said of those who would, for want of a full and exact survey and calculation, mislead and exhaust the labour and means and strength of a people? It is not Read the rest of this entry

Bernard Fox letter on the road to armed struggle

The following letter appeared in the October 26 issue of the Belfast-based Irish News.  Bernard Fox spent decades in the Irish Republican Army, including a stint on the Army Council, the IRA’s seven-person central leadership.  He came to oppose the direction the Adams-McGuinness cabal took as they decided to become part of the political establishment across the island.

I commend The Irish News coverage of the emergence of the civil rights association and the events surrounding the Duke Street march 50 years ago. Leona O’Neill’s column (October 9) about her brave father’s involvement and decisions made then were made in response to what he experienced on the ground. However, at that time there were no easy decisions to make.

I was a 17-year-old in 1969 living in the St James’s area off the Falls Road. My interests were sport, the Beatles and girls. I was serving an apprenticeship in an engineering firm where I had many Read the rest of this entry

Some more great stuff on the Irish Republican Marxist History Project

D.R. O’Connor Lysaght reviews Seamus Murphy, Having it Away: an Epic Story of Freedom, Friendship and IRA jailbreak, Bray, Co. Wicklow:  https://irishrepublicanmarxisthistoryproject.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/triumph-and-tragedy-lessons-of-a-republican-prison-escape-by-d-r-oconnor-lysaght/

Video in which veteran republican Richard Behal talks about the Border Campaign and the Republican Movement in the mid-late 1960s:  https://irishrepublicanmarxisthistoryproject.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/operation-harvest-the-republican-movement-in-the-mid-late-1960s/

Seamus Costello in very first issue of ‘Starry Plough’ on differences between IRSP and the Officials

The following appeared in the very first issue of the Irish Republican Socialist Party’s paper, The Starry Plough. in April 1975.  The IRSP was founded on December 10, 1974.  A military organisation, the Irish National Liberation Army, was founded at the same time.

Q. What caused the present feud between the IRSP and the Officials?

As far as we can see, it is the fact that the IRSP is undermining the Officials organizationally, particularly in Belfast where the feud is most intense. During the past 3 or 4 months, since the party was launched on the 12th of December, the IRSP has taken some 200 members from the Officials in the Belfast area. This has led to a situation where, at the moment, the Officials in Belfast have only half the numerical strength of the IRSP. As a result of this, a request was made by the (Official) Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle to the Official IRA to prevent the organization of further IRSP branches in the Belfast area. Immediately after this request, starting on Dec. 12th, a number of our members were kidnapped in the Belfast area. From then until the murder of Hugh Ferguson, we have had dozens of people kidnapped, people beaten up, people wounded through shooting, houses petrol bombed, cars burned and so on. Undoubtedly the immediate cause of the feud is the fact that the Officials are losing members.

Q. What are the main ideological differences between the IRSP and the Officials?

The principal ideological differences would be their attitude towards the National Question as against our attitude. Basically, the position of the leadership of the Officials is that there is no hope of achieving National Liberation until such time as the Protestant and Catholic working class in the North are united and therefore there is nothing which can be done in political terms or in any other terms about this particular issue. Our attitude, on the other hand, is that the British presence in Ireland is the basic cause of the divisions between the Protestant and Catholic working class in the North. It follows from that, in our view, that the primary emphasis should be on the mobilization of the mass of the Irish people in the struggle for National Liberation. We believe, also, that the left in Irish politics should play a leading role in this struggle. Up until recent years, many of us felt that the Official Movement was capable of and willing to do this. Indeed the rank and file of the Official Movement had expressed their views on this at the 1972 and 1973 Ard Fheiseanna, where they rejected the position of the national leadership on the national question and put forward a policy which would have led to a more militant approach on this question.

However, the leadership disagreed with this policy and deliberately frustrated its implementation. The result of this was that the Official Republicans, who, at that time, were the largest single body of organized left-wing opinion in Ireland, deliberately divorced the working class struggle from the national struggle and gradually degenerated, taking a reformist position on a number of very important issues.

Q. What issues in particular?

The principal issues that come to mind immediately are the Civil Rights struggle, the Assembly Elections, the question of taking seats and the question of the rent and rates strike. In all these issues, the leadership of the Officials hesitated to take a stand. They have, for instance, regarded the Civil Rights struggle since 1969, as the only struggle worth taking part in. They ignored the presence of 15,000 troops on the streets. They ignored the torture and terror perpetrated by the British Army on the Nationalist population and they acted as though there was no change in the situation since 1969. In other words, they failed to realize the change in the nature of the struggle in Ireland, particularly in Read the rest of this entry

Lenin (1914) on the British Liberals and the historic exploitation of Ireland

What is taking place today in the British Parliament in connection with the Bill on Irish Home Rule is of exceptional interest as far as class relationships and elucidation of the national and the agrarian problems are concerned.

For centuries England has enslaved Ireland, condemned the Irish peasants to unparalleled misery and gradual extinction from starvation, driven them off the land and compelled hundreds of thousands and even millions of them to leave their native country and emigrate to America. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Ireland had a population of five and a half millions; today the population is only four and one-third millions. Ireland has become depopulated. Over five million Irish emigrated to America in the course of the nineteenth century, so that there are now more Irish in the United States than there are in Ireland!

The appalling destitution and sufferings of the Irish peasantry are an instructive example of the lengths to which the landowners and the liberal bourgeoisie of a “dominant” nation will go. Britain owes her “brilliant” economic development and the “prosperity” of her industry and commerce largely to her treatment of the Irish peasantry, which recalls the misdeeds of the Russian serf-owner Saltychikha.[1]

While Britain “flourished”, Ireland moved towards extinction and remained an undeveloped, semi-barbarous, purely agrarian country, a land of poverty-stricken tenant farmers. But much as the “enlightened and liberal” British bourgeoisie desired to perpetuate Ireland’s enslavement and poverty, reform inevitably Read the rest of this entry

“(T)he clearest exposition of the doctrine of revolution, social and political”: Connolly on Fintan Lalor

James Fintan Lalor, 1807-1849

The piece below is taken from chapter 14 (“Socialist Teaching of the Young Irelanders: Thinkers and Workers”) of James Connolly’s Labour in Irish History (1910).  I’ve broken up very big paragraphs.

. . . But the palm of honour for the clearest exposition of the doctrine of revolution, social and political, must be given to James Fintan Lalor, of Tenakill, Queen’s County. Lalor, unfortunately, suffered from a slight physical disability, which incapacitated him from attaining to any leadership other than intellectual, a fact that, in such a time and amidst such a people, was fatal to his immediate influence. Yet in his writings, as we study them to-day, we find principles of action and of society which have within them not only the best plan of campaign suited for the needs of a country seeking its freedom through insurrection against a dominant nation, but also held the seeds of the more perfect social peace of the future.

All his writings at this period are so illuminating that we find it difficult to select from the mass any particular passages which more deserve reproduction than others. But as an indication of the line of argument pursued by this peerless thinker, and as a welcome contrast to the paralysing respect, nay, reverence, for landlordism evidenced by Smith O’Brien and his worshippers, perhaps the following passages will serve. In Read the rest of this entry

Marx, Engels on the Fenians and the British working class: some letters

Based on their direct experience of political work in Britain, in particular within the wokring class movement, Marx and Engels came to the conclusion that the British working class could never develop independent class politics in their own interests unles sand until they learned to support the freedom struggle in Ireland.

While the two great revolutionaries disagreed strongly with some of the tactics of the Fenians (or the tactics of some of the Fenians), they did all they could to support Fenian prisoners in England and to rally workers, especially in England, around the cause of the Fenians.

Below are some letters by both Marx and Engels from early November 1867:

Marx to Engels, November 2, 1867
The proceedings against the Fenians in Manchester were every inch what could be expected. You will have seen what a row ‘our people’ kicked up in the Reform League. I have sought in every way to provoke Read the rest of this entry

Jenny Marx (1870) on landlords, repression and ‘agrarian outrages’ in Ireland

Jenny Marx with her mother Jenny von Westphalen

The following is an extract from one of the articles that Jenny Marx wrote about Ireland in February, March and April 1870.  She was one of the daughters of Karl Marx, the one who had the most to do with ‘the Irish Question’, for instance campaigning in support of the Fenian prisoners.  The full texts of the eight articles appear in Ireland and the Irish Question: a collection of writings by Karl Marx & Frederick Engels (New York, International Publishers, 1972), pp379-403.

In Ireland the plundering and even extermination of the tenant farmer and his family by the landlord is called the property right, whereas the desperate farmer’s revolt against his ruthless executioner is called an agrarian outrage. These agrarian outrages, which are actually very few in number but are multiplied and exaggerated out of all proportion by the kaleidoscope of the English press in accordance with orders received, have, as you will know, provided the excuse for reviving the regime of white terror in Ireland. On the other hand, this regime of terror makes it possible for the landowners to redouble their oppression with impunity.

I have already mentioned that the Land Bill consolidates landlordism under the pretext of giving aid to the tenant farmers. Nevertheless, in order to pull the wool over people’s eyes and clear his conscience, Gladstone was compelled to grant this new lease of life to landlord despotism subject to certain legal formalities. It should suffice to say that in the future as in the past the landlord’s word will become law if he succeeds in imposing on his tenants at will the most fantastic rents which are impossible to pay or, in the case of land tenure agreements, make his farmers sign contracts which will bind them to Read the rest of this entry

Jim Lane speech at 1982 Seamus Costello commemoration

Below is the speech delivered by Jim Lane at the commemoration for Seamus Costello on the 5th anniversary of his murder by the pro-Moscow ‘Official’ IRA.  Jim was a member of the central leadership of the IRSP at the time, becoming its general secretary in 1983.  The speech was delivered at Seamus’ graveside in Bray on October 3, 1982.

The original text had some very large paragraphs.  I have broken these up, simply to make it easier to read.  None of the text has been changed.

Special thanks to Mick Healy for passing the original text on to me and suggesting I put it up here.

Seamus Costello

Gathering beside the graves of our patriot dead is a long-established custom for Irish revolutionaries. In doing so, we honour our dead and seek strength and inspiration to help further the cause for which they struggled. Such strength and inspiration derives not alone in recalling the deeds of our dead patriots, but also in restating and clarifying our political philosophy, in terms of existing conditions. The deeds of our dead comrade, Séamus Costello, republican socialist and founder member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party are legion. This year in a fitting and timely tribute, such deeds have been recorded with the publication of a book by the Séamus Costello Memorial Committee. For an insight into the contribution that Séamus made to the revolutionary socialist struggle in Ireland, it is required reading, guaranteed to strengthen our resolve and provide inspiration. Therein can be found not alone an account of his life, achievements and writings, but an excellent collection of tributes from his friends and comrades. No words of mine spoken in tribute could match theirs.

Jim Lane today

Nora Connolly-O’Brien, recently deceased daughter of Irish socialist republican martyr James Connolly, considered him to be the greatest follower of her father’s teachings in this generation and hoped that his vision for Ireland would be realised in this generation.

For Tony Gregory, Séamus “personified more than any Irish man or woman, at least of our generation, the republican socialist – the revolutionary activist who organised and worked in tenant organisations, trade unions, housing action committees and cultural organisations.”

From the young men and women of the republican socialist movement, to whom he was friend and mentor, came the following tributes:

Gerry Roche – “Like Lenin, he was pragmatic in his tactics, and while recognising the corruption of the courts and parliament, he was quite prepared to use them as a platform while remaining totally inflexible in his politics.”

Seán Doyle – “Séamus Costello was a man of the people. He got his degree in working-class involvement, on the streets with his people, campaigning with them for justice.”

Niall Leonach – “He had an irrepressible dedication and energy to carry on with the struggle, to learn new lessons and to break new ground.”

Íte Ní Chionnaith – “Bhí a fhios aige in gcónai go raibh a bheatha i mbaol agus go mbeadh, an fhaí is a lean sé den obair a bhí ar bun aige ach níor lig sé dó sin cur as dó. Ba chailliúint gan áireamh é do phobal na tíre seo, thuaidh agus theas.”

And it was Miriam Daly, first chairperson of the Séamus Costello Memorial Committee and a member of the Ard-Chomhairle of the IRSP when Séamus was murdered, who highlighted the point that made him stand out as a republican socialist, when she said he never  Read the rest of this entry