12th November 2009

According to D.R. O’Connor Lysaght in his Early History of Irish Trotskyism, the League for a Workers Republic was formed in March 1968. Those involved in its foundation included Sean Matgamna, Peter Graham, Paddy Healy, and Liam Daltun. It arose out of a split within the Irish Workers’ Group. The LWR soon became a strong force within the Dublin Young Socialists. Early members of the LWR included Carol Coulter, Basil Miller, and Dermot Whelan.

In early 1970 a group within the LWR left the organisation. This group ‘supported the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI ) and demanded immediate affiliation of the LWR to the ICFI. This was unacceptable to a majority of LWR members, despite overall political agreement with the IC, because of a remaining lack of clarity on certain questions, and unease over various aspects of the IC’s politics, notably the positions of the British Socialist Labour League on Ireland’ (Workers Republic, April 1974). Dermot Whelan was among those who left in 1970. This group became known as the League for a Workers’ Vanguard, later simply Workers’ League. It was linked with the Socialist Labour League.

In the summer of that year (1970) Peter Graham left the LWR, and joined the International Marxist Group  which was the British section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International . Peter was shot dead in October 1971. His body was found in a flat near the corner of St. Stephen’s Green and Harcourt Street. Peter had been involved at an unspecified level with the Saor Éire Action Group , and his murder, for which no-one was ever prosecuted, was rumoured to have been linked to a Saor Éire internal dispute. (Saor Éire were principally bank robbers, and had killed a garda, Richard Fallon , in 1970 during a bank raid.)

In 1970 the Young Socialists put forward a strategy for a new socialist labour party, one that would unite revolutionary socialists on both sides of the border. The resulting organisation was the Socialist Labour Alliance (SLA), which attracted support from various individuals and groups. According to John Goodwillie, the SLA was ‘largely comprised of intellectuals, who were more interested in debating socialism than in practical activities. Its ideological disputations increasingly immobilised it as an organisation, leading to an outflow of members… The situation was further confused by the Young Socialists themselves being immobilised by a struggle between the LWR and the “Left Opposition”, later to become the Revolutionary Marxist Group. Although less pervaded by arid dogmatism, they rejected the struggles of the working class as the primary area of interest and argued instead for involvement in the student movement, in the women’s liberation movement, in the fringes of the Republican movement.’

In 1972 there was a split within the ICFI, and the breakaway group, which was free of SLL influence, became known as the Organising Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International (OCRFI ). The LWR affiliated to this breakaway group. Dermot Whelan rejoined the LWR in 1974, and wrote a pamphlet which outlined his analysis of the SLL .

Around Sept/Oct 1972 Brian Trench wrote an article for the SWM’s Internal Bulletin, (no.4), which gave an overview of the various left groupings in Ireland. He inferred that the LWR had less than twenty members. He found the LWR to be ‘seriously orientated towards the working-class movement’, although the praise came with the caveat that the group was ‘chronically sectarian and arrogant.’

In 1974, the LWR launched a theoretical magazine, Revolutionary International, which was sold outside the GPO on Saturday afternoons. In June of that year, the LWR called on people to vote Labour, with ‘no transfers to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, or Aontacht Éireann! Smash the coalition!” The address of the editor was given as 13 Lwr Camden Street, Dublin 2. Contributors included Carol Coulter, Dermot Whelan, and Brian Miller. The editorial said that in the previous two years, the group had become members of The Organising Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International, and had undertaken ‘an investigation and criticism of the Two Nations Theory, a version of which [the group] held, and corrected our position.’

(The LWR had previously held that the northern Protestant population constituted a ‘nationality´rather than a ´nation´.)

The editorial also said that the Young Socialists, ‘which… took up a lot of attention and resources, now have a proper national committee and are bringing out their own paper.’

In June 1974 a newspaper called Young Socialist began publication. Its office address, 13 Lower Camden Street, was the same as that for Revolutionary International, and was published concurrently. It contained an article from the Drogheda Young Socialists, as well as a copy of the Young Socialist Manifesto .

The paper also mentioned that the group had ‘two representatives on the student bodies in Trinity College Dublin and one in U.C.D.’ ‘While we recognise that only under a Socialist workers government will education become a right and not a privilege’ it said, ‘we must fight to defend the gains already made and must carry the fight to the trade unions and workers’ bodies to force the government to restructure the education machine. It is the working classes who are suffering most under the present, corrupt system, and it is only with their support that we can force the government to act.’

To return to Revolutionary International, June 1974. The group was focused on national and international matters – including the national wage agreements, the North, militant republicanism, the crisis in international capitalism and its expression in Ireland, Britain and Europe, and the recent coup in Chile. The events demanded answers, and, nailing its ideological orientation to the mast, the editorial said that ‘only the Trotskyist movement, the living continuation of Marxism, can give those answers.’ A statement of intent was also given. It said:

‘In this magazine we will fight for scientific socialism (Marxism) among the advanced sections of the Irish working Class, and against bourgeois ideology in all its forms, whether religious or the pro-imperialist liberalism of a small section of the Irish bourgeoisie and its intelligentsia, represented by the likes of Conor Cruise O’Brien. We will take up and expose all revisions of Marxism which try to dress up the ideas, outlook and method of the bourgeoisie in left-wing and even Marxist phrases in order to make it palatable to the working class. We will fight for internationalism, against the isolationism born of history and fostered by the bourgeoisie, from which the Irish working class has suffered. This will include drawing the lessons of the struggles of the working class in other countries, and fighting for real solidarity and a revolutionary internationalist outlook among Irish workers, and against the nationalist prejudices fostered by the bourgeoisie and their agents. In the course of this we will bring reports and analysis of the need and the fight to rebuild the Fourth International, and will do all in our power to initiate and pursue discussions with all militants for a revolutionary international. This has particular meaning in the context of the fight of our international tendency for an open conference of all militants interested in the building of a revolutionary international, opposed to Stalinism, and pledged to defend the gains of the Russian Revolution.’

The June ’74 edition had an article on the Two Nations theory, written by Carol Coulter, which set out to undermine BICO’s claim to be communist. Drawing heavily on the writings of the BICO-led Workers’ Association for the Democratic Settlement of the National Conflict in Ireland (W.A.) ‘which despite its title, is composed mainly of students’, Coulter stated that the WA’s policy is summed up thus:

‘Full recognition of the Ulster Protestant nation’s right to remain in the U.K. state; full recognition of the democratic rights of the Catholic minority in the North, and the Protestant minority in the South.’

BICO, she adds, ‘is less blatant about their positions’, but she quotes from a BICO pamphlet, The Two Irish Nations:

‘The one nation dogma creates nationalist division in the working class, since it attempts to impose on the Protestant workers a nationality which they reject. The two-nation theory is the only basis for unity across national lines.” (p.39)

BICO drew heavily from Stalin’s definition of a nation. Essentially, Stalin’s analysis was that: ‘a nation is a historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture…. It is only when all these characteristics are present that we have a nation.’ [for more on this see here ] BICO took as their basis the uneven industrial development of the island in the nineteenth century, with industry taking off predominantly in the North. Coupled with a shared language and psychological make-up, the Protestant people of the North therefore constituted a nation. Coulter countered with reference to Lenin on nations, particularly his Critical Remarks on the National Question , where he says: ‘if we want to grasp the meaning of self-determination of nations, not by juggling legal definitions… but by examining the historico-economic conditions of the national movements, we must inevitably reach the conclusion that the self-determination of nations means the political separation of these nations from alien national bodies, and the formation of independent national states.’

Coulter concludes:

If, for example, the Protestants wanted independence from British imperialism, which undoubtedly oppresses them, and also their own state, if a national democratic movement existed on this basis, pledged to independence and a genuinely democratic state, if they were opposed to existing oppression, then of course no Marxist could or would argue with their right to self-determination. But this is not the concrete reality of the case. Protestant nationalism, if such it can be called, is not primarily concerned with democracy, quite the opposite, it is concerned with privilege, with the maintenance of inequalities. It is not concerned with fighting existing oppression, but with state institutionalisation of oppression. It is not concerned with independence from imperialism, but with participation in the spoils of imperialism. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to the nationalism in which Marxists see a progressive content, a “general democratic content”. The relationship of this kind of “nationalism”

The LWR also opposed the national wage agreements. In an article written by Dermot Whelan, it called the Employer-Labour Conference:

‘a completely corporatist body, and in structure and aim … no different from the syndicate organisations of fascist countries such as Spain and Portugal. Through this body and the National Agreements it has come out with, the ruling class since late 1970 have shackled the entire workers’ movement to the needs of Irish capitalism, have begun to pauperise and weaken the resistance of the workers and effectively turned the unions into policemen of the state and employers.’

In May 1975, Workers Republic carried an article on recent student elections in TCD. It mentions two of the candidates, Carol Coulter and Anne Connolly.

In April 1976, Workers’ Republic changed format, and became bi-monthly. The articles were longer, and more in-depth. Publication of Revolutionary Struggle was suspended, “as Workers’ Republic will fulfil its function.” Contributors to this theoretical/discussion publication included Willie Ryan, Carol Coulter, Harry Brent, Anne Williamson, Mary Quigley, Frank O’Reilly, George White, Seamus O’Brien, Frank Smith, Mary Johnson, Chris Connor, Terry Brennan, John O’Hara, Margaret Grey, and Frank Smith.

The LWR also participated in the Socialist Labour Party, and although it never formally dissolved, by the late-1980s the group had ceased to have any form of a noticeable presence.


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  • By: Billy Whelan Thu, 12 Nov 2009 15:43:03

    Perhaps a bit of digging from enterprising scholars might find out how Kevin lost all the friends he had in Leeson St and Cyprus St in the early 1970s?

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  • By: Sidders Thu, 12 Nov 2009 18:45:22

    It won’t surprise to hear Kev was felt to be a ***** and asked to leave Belfast

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 12 Nov 2009 20:03:24

    Wrong thread… and please, no rumour or innuendo…

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  • By: Starkadder Thu, 12 Nov 2009 22:48:07

    I think there was only one issue of “Revolutionary International”
    ever published. I wonder what Coulter thinks of her radical
    past nowadays.

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  • By: dilettante Thu, 12 Nov 2009 23:59:41

    The mainstay of the LWRs International Centre for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International was the Parti Communiste Internationale in France. When the majority of the PCI entered the Parti Socialiste the ICRFI faced serious difficulties (not sure if it still exists in some form). If I’m not mistaken the demise of the LWR took place fairly soon afterwards.

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  • By: Conor McCabe Fri, 13 Nov 2009 00:14:22

    In reply to dilettante.

    Cheers dilettante. Would you have a year for when that happened? even roughly?

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  • By: Mark P Fri, 13 Nov 2009 03:08:00

    The OCRFI became the FI-ICR in late 1981 or 1982. It then declared itself to be “the” Fourth International in 1993, but its known as the FI (La Verite) by people outside its ranks who care about such things because a bunch of organisations call themselves the Fourth International. It was led by Pierre Lambert until his death and it remains one of the larger Trotskyist currents.

    In France it leads a (slightly) broader party currently called the Parti Independent Ouvriere (POI) which claims a membership about as big as that of the New Anti-Capitalist Party set up by the LCR and bigger than that claimed by Lutter Ouvriere, although it has a lower public profile then either and gets substantially less votes in elections.

    It certainly ran an entryist faction within the Partie Socialiste for many years, although unlike the entryism more commonly practiced by Marxist groups at least some of their followers in the PS tried to keep their affiliations secret – Lionel Jospin was one such member. It suffered three splits of note in the 1980s.

    Stephane Juste was expelled with his followers in 1984. It lost a faction to the PS in 1986 and then this historian Pierre Broue and his supporters were expelled in 1981. I suspect that the 1986 split was the one that dilettante is referring to. That split was led by Jean Christophe Cambadelis, who is currently an MP, and it involved a group of hundreds but certainly not a majority of the organisation.

    That split would certainly fit with the disappearance of the LWR.

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  • By: ejh Fri, 13 Nov 2009 09:30:14

    Has anybody ever done this stuff on Mastermind?

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Fri, 13 Nov 2009 09:33:32

    The LWR left the OCRFI after an international gathering in Caracas. Copulter left subsequently. She set up a broafd journal called Irish Reporter. It was quite good. I think it has morphed into a small punlishing operation.
    I was in the LWR. Alas, I left for “pure” Troptskyism in the shpae of Gerry healys SLL. A waste of time.
    The LWR for all its faults was not dead in the wood sectarians. Paddy healy is someone I have a lot of time for and he has stayed the course.
    On Saor Eire. They were a group of very sincere Republicans, respected across the Republican milieu. Liam Walsh who died in an explosion was highyl regarded. They were I suppose native Guevarists. They rregarded their task as being suppliers to Norther Republicans. I would disagree with them but would respect them on the basis of what I know and wht I have being told.
    Graham was an interesting person, very charasmatic. He was an electrician.
    The RMG did not see tehmselves as neglecting the workingclass but felt that the National Struggle was central to the struggle. They were themselves very young and the firts of their families to get third level education. remember the huge influx at that time. Anne Speed did not go to college and was as working class as you can get.
    The incredible challenge of the North hit a group of young militants, for all thier mistakes they did not do badly in answering the challenge. I feel that they were able to learn and moved from ultraleftism to a broad frond method of working.

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Fri, 13 Nov 2009 10:46:08

    […] League for a Workers’ Republic, 1968 * The Workers Party: Patterns of Betrayal – the flight from Socialism: Papers and Viewpoints […]

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Fri, 13 Nov 2009 11:52:27

    The LWR international was the Lambertists. Thouigh I always thought Paddy Healy had a lot of sense and never allowed Lambert and co dictate what should be done in Ireland.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Fri, 13 Nov 2009 11:56:15

    The LWR international was the Lambertists. Thouigh I always thought Paddy Healy had a lot of sense and never allowed Lambert and co dictate what should be done in Ireland.There was a big compendium produced abour their suide of the split with Lambert. Along with the Irish group I think the bulk of the then South Americans went.Lambert had a significant group in Argentina “Politica Obrero”. Still exists. In Bolivia they were connected to a long time Trotskyist called Lora (recently died). They are still in the ruling party in Brazil even though the main Trotskyist groups have left due to Lulas drift to thr right.

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  • By: Dr. X Fri, 13 Nov 2009 11:58:07

    In reply to Starkadder.

    I knew nothing of her radical past before reading this thread. But she has never joined the Gadarene rush of those who will bore you to tears with their patronising speeches about how they were left-wing when they were young but they grew out of it. . .

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  • By: Mark P Fri, 13 Nov 2009 14:28:44

    In reply to ejh.

    Yes, at least once.

    A member of the English Socialist Party once did a specialist subject round on British Trotskyism since the war.


    He won the episode.

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  • By: Starkadder Fri, 13 Nov 2009 23:37:41

    In reply to Dr. X.

    I always thought Coulter was a good journalist.

    According to the Linen Hall, there was a second issue of

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  • By: Irish Left Open History Project: League for a Workers’ Vanguard / Workers’ League – 1969 to c.1978 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Wed, 06 Jan 2010 07:46:00

    […] League for a Workers’ Vanguard was formed in Belfast in 1969, later infiltrating the League for a Workers’ Republic and leading a breakaway […]

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  • By: League for a Workers’ Vanguard / Workers’ League – c.1969 to c.1978 | Irish Labour and Working Class History Wed, 06 Jan 2010 08:55:56

    […] League for a Workers’ Vanguard was formed in Belfast in 1969, later infiltrating the League for a Workers’ Republic and leading a breakaway […]

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  • By: Irish Left Review · League for a Workers’ Vanguard / Workers’ League - 1969 to c.1978 Thu, 07 Jan 2010 00:00:22

    […] League for a Workers’ Vanguard was formed in Belfast in 1969, later infiltrating the League for a Workers’ Republic and leading a breakaway […]

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  • By: ‘Student Revolt!’ (Workers Republic, Autumn 1969. No.25) « Come here to me! Tue, 22 Nov 2011 16:58:48

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  • By: Small loans Mon, 13 Nov 2017 01:13:00


    Irish Left Open History Project: League for a Workers

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