Congress '86, No. 5
Date:1988
Organisation: League of Communist Republicans
Publication: Congress '86
Issue:Number 5
Winter 1988
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

13th June 2016

Many thanks to the person – they prefer to be called Master McGrath – who donated this and others documents to the Archive. It expands a section which has needed extra materials for quite some time.

The League of Communist Republicans was a group of Republican prisoners in H-Block who split with the Provisional IRA during the 1980s. As noted previously:

With the end of abstention by Sinn Féin at the 1986 Ard Fhéis there was a mass resignation of about 100 IRA prisoners in Long Kesh. Of this number a smaller group combined in November 1986 as the League of Communist Republicans. Their position was interesting since they argued that the armed campaign was of limited use at that point in time (and who better to know?) and that Sinn Féin was retreating from the left.

And:

One of those pivotal to the LCR was Tommy McKearney who developed their programme (reproduced, not quite in full due to missing pages, in the last pages of the PDF above):

WE STAND FOR: 1. An independent Sovereign Republic of All Ireland. 2. A Revolutionary Democratic Government, under the control of the Workers and the Small Farmers. 3. Administration of the State to be under the supervision of a National Assembly which practices Direct Participatory Democracy, ie deputies are subject to recall. THE STATE MUST GUARANTEE ITS CITIZENS: • Work at an acceptable wage. • A home suitable to the citizen’s needs. • An education to the highest level compatible with the citizen’s ability. • Full and comprehensive healthcare. • Social Rights including: Divorce Contraception and abortion Separation of Church and State Meaningful equality between the sexes. To allow the Workers’ and Small Farmers’ State exercise control, it is imperative that the commanding heights of the economy, Finance, Trade, Industry, Production and Communication, be brought under the Democratic control of the Revolutionary Democratic Workers’ and Small Farmers’ Republic.

Furthermore:

As can be seen this had deliberate resonances with the 1934 Republican Congress. Their slogan ‘A Workers’ and Small Farmers’ State’ was an attempt to remedy what they saw as the original error by Ryan and others at that Congress. And as a further echo of this their journal was named Congress ‘86.

This edition of that journal, dating from winter 1988, numbered 5, offers an excellent insight into their thinking during this period. In eighteen or so pages a considerable number of topics are covered including ‘The Price of Sovereignty’, ‘Direct Democracy’, Emigration, Nicaragua, Woman Against Poverty and a piece entitled ‘Tories out North and South’. The main article on the front page is on extradition, particularly that of Robert Russell. The piece on Direct Democracy extolls that form of political organisation suggesting that ‘we need direct participatory democracy because – Direct Participatory Democracy implements the Manifesto’. There’s a fascinating piece on the aftermath of the Sinn Féin-SDLP negotiations which argues that the ‘rift’ between the two parties ‘may not be unbridgeable’ and suggests that:

A reading of the document released by both parties at the end of the negotiations, shows clearly that on only two issues is there real disagreement. These concern the role of armed struggle and whether Britain is a neutral actor on the Irish scene’. Given the centrality of both of those elements to what would later be termed the Peace Process that appears prescient. In a not dissimilar vein theres a critical analysis of ‘Armed Struggle’, a pamphlet issued by the Communist Party of Ireland (part of the the text of which can be found here in the Archive).

There’s also an exchange in letters between a US based correspondent and a ‘reply from the H-Blocks’ on the nature of Congress ’86. This gives a good overview of the development of Congress ’86 from the early 1980s onwards and notes:

Ideologically, we moved away from the IRA/SF in the early 1980s. But the straw that broke the camel’s back and led us to sever our links was the Ard Fheis of 1986.

And it continues that:

…we believed there was the potential to broaden the struggle into the 26 Counties [on foot of the ‘mass movement’ of the Hunger Strikes campaign and after]… in short to agitate among the unemployed, the low paid and the small farmers. in shot agitate and organise for a Workers and Small Farmers Republic.

Sadly things were not taken in this direction. SF’s stranglehold stifled the growing activity of the people… the political movement drifted along into electoralist Social Democracy. The promotion of class consciousness was contemptuously pushed aside. Left Nationalism with its socialist rhetoric was in the ascendancy.

Interestingly the writer argues…

In principle we had no objection, nor have we now, to taking seats in Leinster House. …

And:

The use of physical force should be regarded as a tactic , not as a principle.

There is considerably more, including analyses as to why in their view the ‘Officials’ and IRSP ‘went wrong’ and criticisms as regards the Marxist characteristic of both.

In sum an important addition to the Archive. A number of questions remain. Did Congress ’86 find a political expression in terms of campaigning or other activities and when did it disband? Any insight into these questions would be very useful.

More from Congress '86

Congress '86 in the archive


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You can join this discussion on The Cedar Lounge Revolution

  • By: Aonrud ⚘ Mon, 13 Jun 2016 10:03:06

    The Fourthwrite article mentioned when the previous LCR document was posted can still be found on the internet archive here: https://web.archive.org/web/20071118172513/http://www.fourthwrite.ie/lcr.pdf

    It says of Congress ’86:

    [Fundraising] allowed the group to publish its journal, Congress ’86: Quarterly Journal of Communist Republican Prisoners and their Associates. The first issue came out in June 1987. Between 500 and 1000 copies were printed. It was on A4 format, with between 12 and 20 pages. The paper was distributed by sympathisers outside the prison. Between 1987 and 1991, 14 issues of the paper were published. From issue 9 onwards, the paper became simply Congress. Almost two thirds of the articles in the LCR paper were of a theoretical nature, dealing with various aspects of Marxism, Republicanism or strategic matters such as the use of physical force, electoralism, etc.

    And in a footnote to the above:

    Congress ’86 was probably very innovative as a concept. It was the first debate journal written by the prisoners and for the prisoners. The provisionals were quick to copy it when they launched their own journal, Iris Bheag, and later The Captive Voice.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: roddy Mon, 13 Jun 2016 12:12:42

    Interestingly Tom McFeely of Priory Hall fame was a member of the league of communist republicans.Despite leaving SF in 86,he was still used to attack SF nearly 30 years later by right wing media and politicians.Not once during the Priory Hall debacle did the media mention that McFeeley had been a strong opponent of SF for nearly 3 decades and his name was thrown at Adams during Dail debates by the usual suspects. Another interesting fact is that one current SF MLA (who I will not name) was a member of “the league of communist republicans”. On release from jail he became reconciled with the “mainstream” movement again.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Mon, 13 Jun 2016 14:45:21

    In reply to Aonrud ⚘.

    “Iris Bheag, and later The Captive Voice.” Iris was interesting, then they decided it was too open and replaced it with the wishy washy “The Captive Voice”.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Aonrud ⚘ Mon, 13 Jun 2016 17:33:49

    In reply to roddy.

    I came across this Guardian article on McFeely while looking for more on the LCR. It’s an unedifying trajectory, to say the least.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/aug/10/tom-mcfeely-hunger-striker-property-bankrupt

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 13 Jun 2016 18:04:52

    In reply to Aonrud ⚘.

    Yep.

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  • By: Mick the Miller Tue, 14 Jun 2016 10:52:24

    It became ‘CONGRESS’ with Issue # 8 (not #9). I used to sell this around the pubs at the time. I still have copies of Issues 1 to 13 and the Special Supplement that came with Issue 4. In latter issues Congress ’86 was supportive of the USSR and Perestroika. Its analysis of the IR movement mov’t was its main strength.

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  • By: Seán Ó Murchadha Thu, 16 Jun 2016 15:03:41

    Tommy McKearney is now a member of the 1916 Societies, although I’m not sure if he holds a leadership role. A lot of his current activism would fall outside his membership of the Societies.

    Laurence McKeown’s book about the republican struggle in Long Kesh, ‘Out of Time’, highlights that there were two significant divisions within the prison in the mid 1980s. One was the LCR led by McKearney, the other was known as the South Derry Group led by McFeeley. The SDG seem to be have been less ideological in their reason for leaving the IRA structures.

    So unless there is other sources out there, it seems that McFeeley was not a member of the League of the Communist Republicans.

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  • By: roddy Thu, 16 Jun 2016 15:54:08

    McFeeley was from North Derry.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 16 Jun 2016 16:22:48

    In reply to Mick the Miller.

    If you ever found your way to scanning them the Archive would be very happy to post them up. Particularly the later ones. Sound very interesting.

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  • By: Seán Ó Murchadha Thu, 16 Jun 2016 17:31:24

    In reply to roddy.

    South Derry Group is what McKeown calls them. It doesn’t appear to be a formal title adopted by McFeeley & Co.

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  • By: Joe Thu, 16 Jun 2016 21:18:26

    What’s the story with those 1916 Societies? Are they are particular brand of disso or what?

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  • By: Mick the Miller Sun, 19 Jun 2016 00:34:55

    The Congress ’86 ‘Special Supplement’ that came with Issue 4 has an article entitled ‘Reject Pan-Nationalist Drift’ jointly signed by McKearney and McFeely.

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  • By: roddy Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:57:06

    As I said McFeely was in the league of communist republicans but it does’nt suit certain agendas to mention that now.

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  • By: Joe Sun, 19 Jun 2016 15:17:37

    In reply to Mick the Miller.

    That’s interesting. I assume their objection to ‘pan-nationalist drift’ was that they would see it as SF going soft.
    The term pan-nationalist front was used by the then WP and the then Sindo and others just a few short years later as a term of denunciation for the Hume/Adams talks.

    All were clearly wrong to denounce it. It led to the ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement and the peace we have now.

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