In 1973 The Plough the publication of the Revolutionary Marxist Group, the Fourth International in Ireland published a very interesting article. Just after the Saor Eire prisoners in Portlaoise prison issued a statement, certifying their resignation from the S.E. as they believe it had ceased to play a progressive role.
Saor Eire Farewell to Arms. + RMG Statement link here- The Plough Vol. 3 No.2
The formation of Saor Eire (S.E.) was not a freak coming together of later day Buch Cassidy’s as some would have us believe. On the contrary it came into being as a result of the political and military controversies which took place in the Republican Movement in the sixties after the failure of the ’56-62’ Border Campaign. Saor Eie’s emergence was a single event for the Fovement and it for shadowed the more dramatic Official/ Provisional split which occurred at the Army Convention (Dec. 1969) and the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis (Jan. 1970).
Crisis of the Republican Movement.
As a result of the real need for a political orientation , to break Sinn Fein’s isolation from the Working-class , a left- wing trend developed within the movement. Unfortunately the chief’ political commisar “ was a certain Roy Johnson who had received his political baptism in the British Communist Party and The Desmond Greaves Connolly Association. While it cannot be denied that Johnson was instrumental in shifting Sinn Fein in a left direction he could take it only as far as his Stalinist training would allow.
The emphasis was placed on the economistic reformist line and the concept line of stages theory as the grand plan for the Irish Revolution. Rather than viewing the process of the revolution as being a complex combination and intertwining of the national struggle and the class struggle, the stages theory was dogmatic abstraction. It saw achievement of a Workers Republic as being a very protracted affair with distinct and separate stages. The first stage it envisages would be the democratisation of the Orange statelet, and then abolition of the border, and finally when the Catholic and Protestant workers held each others hands like innocent children , then and only then could the united working class think in terms of a socialist revolution. An inevitable complement to this reformist line was a de-emphasise on the running down of ,the armed wing.
As a reaction against these anaemic politics elements in the Irish Republican Army resigned from the organisation. Left-wingers did so because they disliked the reformist socialism of Johnsonites and right wing (more correctly apolitical ) nationalists dropped out because of the running down of the army. These grouping came together about 1967 and “formed “ Saor Eire. The left-wing was reinforced by several people who had been in the Irish Workers Group, an organisation influenced by Trotskyism. Besides the left and the right wing , elements there was a third element that latched itself on and whose association with SE was a purley parasitical one. This grouping was composed of people who were on the periphery of the Republican Movement and it would be charitable to describe these people as gangsters.
Therefore Saor Eire was not a homogeneous organisation. It had no centralised military command let alone a common political leadership. It was a loose alliance of diverse groups who on occasion co-operated together in joint actions and used the umbrella name Saor Eire. Needless to say the criminal element used the name as a cover for their own exploits.
From a military point of view the Provisional IRA is a similar alliance but under the impact of the present struggle in the North the left and right wings have been welded into an effective fighting force and any criminal elements have been quickly disciplined. Saor Eire, because it operated in a totally different political situation in the South, soon became an isolated group of urban guerrillas divorced from any political activity. Under these conditions it never achieved the unified stricter of the Provisional’s and eventually some of the right-wing apolitical elements degenerated and fell in with the criminal faction.
A Political Contribution.
A resent Portlaoise statement, in which these revolutionary militants pledged themselves to continue to strive for a Workers Republic, shows how wrong it is to tar with the same brush all those associated with SE. In spite of all their experiences they remain dedicated revolutionaries their courage and tenacity has to be applauded by republican and socialists. Their contribution to the struggle in the North must be stressed. When the situation in the North blew up in August 1969 there were precious few arms available to defend the nationalist minority. The SE militants fulfilled a useful purpose, which is not denied by anybody, in channelling arms to the North. They also provided funds (expropriated in bank robber) for arms purchases ;gave arms training to Northerners, before and after the August pogroms, and participated in defence of the Bogside. Having said this would be failing in our duty as revolutionary Marxists if we did not take a critical attitude towards their concept of how revolutionary change is to be achieved, in the South. Any criticism we do make is not done as to score cheep political debating points, but rather as an attempt to learn from their mistakes so that revolutionaries in the future will not repeat these same mistakes.
The only time that they publicaly expressed their views clearly and concisely was in the short explicit “Saor Eire Manifesto” published in May 1971. It was quite obviously drawn up by the let of SE. Because it states that the main enemy of the Irish working class is British Imperialism, which controls Ireland both militarily and economically, within the 26 Counties having a neo-colonialist relationship with Britain. Therefore the “struggle must be in the 32 County context and not solely confined to the North”, and Imperialism” must be smashed and replaced by a socialist system. The Manifesto also totally rejects the staged theory and the following quotation show that they had a very good understanding of the fundamental dynamic of the Irish Revolution: “There can be no distinct separate stages in the Irish Revolution. True there are stages but these stages overlap each other and the tasks posed are inter-woven, thus giving a uninterrupted revolution which will drive out the forces of British Imperialism and their agents once and for all from Ireland. Unless this lesson is grasped by Republicans we are assigning ourselves to endless defeats”.
Another valid pint that is made is that previously republicans have viewed the fight for self-determination in purely military terms and that what is needed now is an analysis structured around the concept of the uninterrupted or Permanent Revolution. This is neatly put when they say: Their reasons for failure are diverse but it is one of politics. They failed to understand and were incapable and unwilling to grasp dynamics of the Irish Revolution and the interrelationship between its Socialist and Nationalist aspects”. They also emphasize that Revolutionary armed violence is essential in order to smash the Imperialist connection and that “at some stage during the Irish Revolution it will be necessary to defend ourselves against the forces of the Free State”.
Armed Struggle Vs Mass Struggle.
So far so good. But the conclusion that they derived from their overall analyisis, linked with their ‘Debrayist ‘ concepts of armed struggle, led them into a political and military cul-de-sac. One of the weaknesses of this analysis was to ignore the unevenness of the development of the Irish Revolution. The political situation in the North was and is far different from the South. Precisely because the National Democratic Revolution (1916-21) had been aborted (it’s prim task was to achieve a 32 County Independent Bourgeois Republic) and the six Counties remained under direct imperialist domination , the spark for the socialist revolution would come from attempt rectify this subversion of the Democratic Revolution.
Thus the North would naturally be the cockpit of the struggle and the first face (rather than stage) would be centred around the smashing of the Orange State. The anti- imperialist attack in the 26 Counties will for obvious reasons, develop at a slower pace. But because the predominant ideology of the Southern working class is still Republican (although in certain periods it remains in low key) they can be mobilized in support of the National Struggle. Witness the demonstrations in Dublin over Bloody Sunday, the MacStiofain arrest and the protests against the” Offences Against the State Amendment Act’. From such mobilisation, in the future inevitable due to British imperialism, necessary to increase repression North and South owing to the failure of its political ‘solutions: an anti- imperialist movement will develop in the South. The Free State will increasingly come into collision course with this movement and from the heat generated the struggle may take a 32 County dimension. Flowing from this a 32 Country Workers Republic could possibly materialise.
But what is essential to grasp is that armed struggle in the South,to succeed, can only be based on such a mass movement in the Free State. To try to establish an urban guerrilla movement in the Free State, as Saor Eire did, before these conditions ripen means to court disaster. Surely these are the lessons of the ’56-’62 campaign. Unless the masses sympathise with the guerrilla forces they will remain indifferent to their fate however courageous their actions. It is correct to see the Free State as the enemy of the National Struggle, but it is incorrect to launch an armed attack before the political situation has matured. In the present the main task of the revolutionary forces in the South is in building a broad based anti-imperialist front which can mobilise the Southern working class in defence of the struggle in the North thus lay the foundation for the opening up of a second front. From such a movement will a serious assault be launched on the Free State.
Unfortunately we haven’t been able to cover all the political and military posed by the S.E. Manifesto. We have been only able to deal, very briefly, with the main mistake of S.E. There are many interesting points raised in the manifesto which need discussing, but we hope that this article will stimulate an open debate in the Irish Left and these other issues will be more fully discussed.
Revolutionary Marxist Group respond to Saor Eire GHQ press release 1973.
The Revolutionary Marxist Group, supporters of the Fourth International in Ireland, was formed in 1971 by former members of the League for a Workers Republic and Young Socialists.
It published a theoretical journal, Marxist Review, and a newspaper The Plough which became Socialist Republic in 1975.
The RMG changed its name to Movement for a Socialist Republic in 1976 and merged with Peoples Democracy in 1978. The fused group kept the name Peoples Democracy for the organisation and its publication was Socialist Republic (incorporating the PD journal Unfree Citizen).