Ireland Today
Organisation: Sinn Féin [Pre 1970]
Collection:Remembering 1969
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

16th February 2009

An interesting document, this was the report that was produced on foot of a commission established at the December 1968 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis.

A little background is provided by Robert W. White in Ruairí Ó Brádaigh: The Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary:

Motion 17 on the agenda called for the end of abstention from Leinster House. Before the debate could begin - and by prior arrangement - Séan Garland proposed an amendment that would "set up a commission of the persons representing both branches of the movement" to examine how the new political situation "may be turned to the advantage of the movement". (White, 2006, pp141-142).

White continues that:

If the commission;'s report called for "fundamental change", it would then go before an extraordinary Ard Fheis. Séamus Costello seconded the amendment. In doing so he went too far, attacking abstntionism so hard that some suspected the commision would be a sham, its findings already decided. Still, the Garland amendment passed. People in the IRA... Knew that Goulding controlled the new 20-person Army Council and through it would influence the commission. It seemed certain that Sinn Féin and the IRA were headed for significant change.

With that in light - and worth recognising that it takes a certain view of these matters - of most interest, perhaps, is Section 3, "Arguments on Electoral Policy". This lays out in considerable detail the rationale behind abstention and clearly is pivotal in terms of the positioning of Republicanism of whatever stripe that year. That the arguments for abstentionism are covered on fewer pages than those against is a possible indication of the thrust of this document.

An interesting analysis of the class structure of Irish society island-wide is also provided. And the structural proposals are of some interest also, not least the idea of 'specialist functions'.

Above and beyond that is the tone of the document which is an intriguing combination of proscriptive - '[this document] must be studied closely by every member of the Movement... He [sic] must write down his views, in his own words, and send them in to Head Office' and the objective... 'If the Republican Movement becomes a parliamentary party, they will gain the support of the more moderate republicans and lose the support of hard-line militant republicans...'

Incidentally, is that a small joke on page 5 about the class structure of the 26 counties where the upper class is summarised as "1. A completely anglicised Anglo-Irish ascendancy, sitting on the boards of the top companies, which they share with their English counterparts. The names are familliar: Guinness, Goulding, Carroll, Goodbody, Dwyer, Stanley". Surely not.

This text and these files are a resource for use freely by anyone who wants to for whatever purpose - that’s the whole point of the Archive (well that and the discussions). But if you do happen to use them we’d really appreciate if you mentioned that you found them at the Left Archive…

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 16 Feb 2009 11:03:14

    Interesting stuff. Roy Johnston, if I remember right, blames Costello’s intervention (which included I think trying to order people what to do) for screwing things up, which meant that by the next time the debate came up, events in the North had caused it to be interwined with northern policy, giving the dissidents greater support.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 16 Feb 2009 21:38:54

    I don’t know, it seems a bit convenient to blame him, doesn’t it? After all the man remained at the highest levels for years afterwards. That’s not to say Costello wasn’t gung ho on dumping abstentionism, but… y’know.

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 16 Feb 2009 22:09:07

    Yeah, I agree. Just thought it would be good context to add to the White thing. Also meant to say that I thought that there might be some influence from the British Road to Socialism regarding the role the Labour Party was expected to play.

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  • By: Mark P Mon, 16 Feb 2009 22:55:26

    Interesting to see a document that actually played a minor role in major events in recent Irish history.

    Interesting also to see in detail the influence that the Stalinist parties were having on the Republican Movement at that time. Not just the stuff about Labour, which Garibaldy rightly notes bears some of the marks of the BRS. Nor just the very positive remarks about the CP (or WP as it then was in the South, confusingly). But the whole thrust of large sections of the piece consists of a classically Stalinist argument about how to effectively construct a cross class alliance.

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  • By: John O'Neill Tue, 17 Feb 2009 00:42:03

    Are cross class alliances automatically deemed Stalinist? I suppose that SWP with their People Before Profit effort are closet Stalinists?

    Or even more bizarrely, then you might argue that Trotsky was a stalinist. I’m led to believe he was highly critical of the KPD when they declared social democrats ‘social fascists’ and he argued instead for a broad alliance to defeat Hitlers Nazis.

    The recent spate of protests against cuts are, in my opinion, cross class alliances (unless the left has mushroomed overnight). If I support them am I a Stalinist?

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  • By: Mark P Tue, 17 Feb 2009 01:56:20

    John O’Neill said:
    “Are cross class alliances automatically deemed Stalinist?”


    By the way, even if the answer to the above was yes, your Trotsky example would be irrelevant. What he was advocating in Germany was an alliance of the workers parties and not a cross class alliance. Later, after the disaster of the “Third Period”, the Comintern would swing from opposing an alliance with other working class parties into trying to create an alliance of working class forces with the allegedly progressive sections of the bourgeoisie.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Tue, 17 Feb 2009 10:26:51

    I don’t want to get into an arcane discussion on Trotsky. But the T. was for a font with teh SDs against the Nazis. He would not have seen it stretching to the people wh went into alliance with the Nazis. In Spain he felt that the Left gutted their program and dissillusioned the workers trying to keep the shadow of the Bourgeoisie happy.
    Here I don’t see a FG lead coalition as an alternative to this gov.
    The SWP are for a front of Lefts Community groups etc as an alternative. I don’t see it stretching to Bourgeois parties.
    I see problems ith it but I would not condemn it out of hand.
    What do you think of the French NPA?
    We could use a discussion on how to break out of sectarian isolation without compromise.

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  • By: Tim Von Bondie Tue, 17 Feb 2009 10:36:42

    Roy Johnston has a webpage on which he has posted various reviews of his book Century of Endeavour that may be of interest in the light of the above. I think googling Roy Johnston Century should bring to it.

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  • By: anarchaeologist Tue, 17 Feb 2009 11:26:28

    The reviews of the book on Johnston’s webpage are interesting, especially that of Brian Hanley published in Saothar, which Johnston has himself annotated

    Always of interest in this regard is Pat Walsh’s Irish Republicanism and Socialism, which in a convoluted brushstroke deals with the period 1905-1994. This was published by our comrades in Athol Books in 1994.

    I must admit to having a soft spot for Johnston and still find it amazing that he isn’t better known outside of the SRM.

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  • By: anarchaeologist Tue, 17 Feb 2009 11:28:49

    Sorry for the italics… I dunno why the html didn’t work.

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  • By: Remi Moses Tue, 17 Feb 2009 16:03:10

    Could you be less kneejerk Mark P? The point about the document was that there was no definitive socialist road, ‘Stalinist’ or otherwise, the republicans had decided to go down.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 17 Feb 2009 20:06:24

    Aren’t political parties to some extent in and of themselves cross class alliances? Isn’t everything to some degree or another. Seems an odd way to gauge Stalinism when surely a much more simple one would be to suggest that democratic centralist, Leninist, semi-militarised conspiratorial left revolutionary approaches, particularly those that emphasise leading individuals, may (I stress ‘may’, sometimes it doesn’t) result in same…

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen Linken - eine Auswahl « Entdinglichung Fri, 20 Feb 2009 09:56:37

    […] Sinn Féin: Ireland Today. Internal Document of the Republican Movement […]

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  • By: Lison Sat, 27 Mar 2010 12:29:08

    Thank you very much for posting this document. It is a very useful source for me. Decommissioning is the subject of my PhD and all documents related to changes in the republican movement ‘s strategies are precious to me.

    I found a document, a “military plan” and I’m looking for someone who could help me to identify it.


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