|Irish Revolutionary Forces
|An Phoblacht [IRF]
|Volume 1, Number 1
|Comments on this document
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Please note: Issues 1 and 2 of An Phoblacht were added to the Irish Left Archive on the Cedar Lounge Revolution together, with the following commentary.
Many thanks to Jim Lane for providing the Archive with these documents.
These documents, An Phoblacht, Issues 1 and 2, were published by the Irish Revolutionary Forces, a Cork based republican socialist group composed in the main of former members of the IRA, in September and November of 1965 [for more information see here ]. The IRF would become Saor Éire in 1968 (a copy of their publication, People’s Voice is in the Archive).
These are detailed publications with a broad range of topics addressed of concern to those writing in them. It’s tone is questioning and in obvious opposition to the then Sinn Féin leadership which they considered was essentially deeply conservative and effectively dictatorial in its political line. Indeed they were explicit that their critique about the ‘Socialist Republic’ being foisted upon the Republican Movement in the late 1960s was a sign of its centralisation and political and military weakness.
For example in Issue 1 there is a piece on Progressives Versus Traditionalists: Where does Republicanism Stand? which in its introductory paragraph notes;
Many within that ever narrowing circle of “Sinn Féin Reliables” were noticeably shocked earlier this year when the UNITED IRISHMAN questioned the sanity of Abstentionism in its editorial columns. Frankly, we were more than a little startled ourselves, because this was the first occasion since beginning publication that the U.I. has even hinted at the fallibility of the party line.
It also criticises the IRA from the left as in the following piece:
Most of us are no longer surprised by anything the republican Movement does. however, the IRA statement on the ‘Midleton Anti-Landlord War’ sent a good few of us hardy sceptics rocking. it is not that we object to the ‘Army’ entering into politics. No indeed. We have always held that revolutionary politics and military action are indivisible. But, what sort of politics is this with its: ‘We demand that the de facto government’ do this, and ‘We demand that the de facto government’ do that?
It’s a queer sort of revolution. And to say the least, the whole statement smacks of social democrat influence. We can’t say that the IRA is improving itself by changing from a bourgeois democrat to a social democrat ticket. There’s little difference between them to any revolutionary.
The documents provide amongst the longer articles relevant quotations from a range of figures including ‘Priests on Politics’ and there are articles on Viet Nam: America’s Dirty War, Physical Force: It’s Role in the Irish Revolution and news items from around the world focusing on ‘guerrilla, as well as other forms of revolutionary political action’.
Issue 2 has a number of interesting pieces including one entitled ‘Nationalism is Not Enough’, an analysis of a speech by Cathal Goulding in Drogheda and a long article on the attack by Republicans on HMS Brave Borderer ‘as it departed Waterford’. In the piece which notes that ‘unfortunately no casualties were inflicted’ the anonymous contributor notes that ‘it is a great pity that such men [‘as those who had the courage to take up positions on the banks of Waterford Harbour’] don’t come together with likeminded parties throughout the country, and form a revolutionary party more compatible to their general sentiments. Because they can’t be sure they are never going to receive much co-operation from the crowd they are now tied to’.
One particularly interesting point is that made by Aodh MacElroy where he notes:
…it is not sufficient to make annual pilgrimage to the graves of the martyrs, to do homage and commemorate the hoe roes of yesteryear. Better by far to neglect the pilgrim journey and spend the time mastering the philosophy which motivated the actions of those whose memory we justly revere. Far too many lay their tributes at the shrine and leave as they came, empathy of understanding of what deep motives impelled these men to give their lives for a cause they counted higher than life itself. There is no respect for the dead in remembering the manner of their death, while the cause for which they died lies buried in obscurity and forgotten by those who should keep it alive. James Hope, Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, Henry Joy McCracken and James Connolly fought to free Ireland not only from the rule of an alien power but to free her also from the rule of an alien class – and it is that alien class that now rules Ireland.
The working people of Ireland must grasp the fact that the national bourgeoisie have won THEIR REVOLUTION, and are no longer a revolutionary, but a reactionary force. This ruling group are now interested only in maintaing their own privileged position and state power over the Irish people, and everything they do will be with that objective in mind.
It is important to contextualise this with other material issued by this group and others associated with it during this period and after. Jim Lane has noted elsewhere that the ‘kernel of the message that [we] sought to pass on to Republicans’ was that the struggle had encompassed bourgeoise democracy in Tone’s time and revolutionary socialism in Connolly’s time.
To give a sense of the general direction of the documents it is perhaps most useful to provide some quotations from the Editorial on the front page of Issue 1 the aims of An Phoblacht are outlined:
The object of this paper are simple: to restate, in terms of existing conditions, the political philosophy that has motivated doctrinaire Irish Republicans from the beginning; to combat all forms of revisionism parading under the banner of Irish Republicanism; and to expose and combat all other pseudo-revolutionary propaganda, especially that aimed at exploiting the deep-rooted grievances of the nation’s working class, by diverting their energies from their true interest — the realisation of the revolution — and attempting to commit them to the attainment of crypto-bourgeois objects.
We are revolutionaries who accept the principles of Irish Republicanism as understood by Wolfe Tone and all subsequent Irish revolutionary theorists. Consequently, our aims are the reconstruction of the nation along the lines compatible to the welfare, security and advancement of the common people of Ireland — that great bulwark of integrity who, throughout the centuries of national adversity, have constituted the heart, the body and the soul of Ireland.
It is scathing of ‘Saturday-night revolutionaries’ and ‘Grattan nationalists masquerading in the garb of Wolfe Tone’ or ‘those spurious individuals who hide their parliamentary leanings behind a revolutionary vocabulary’.
It suggests that:
[The Irish people] are shrewd enough to see that the self-styled nationalists who operate in Leinster House, and the republicans who exhort them to elect Sinn Féin to a 32 county Parliament, differ more in terminology than in essentials. Consequently, although the political hair-splitters of the presently functioning Republican Movement have, apparently, mesmerised themselves with their own sophistry they have fooled very few others.
It asserts that:
If we are to regain our position in the vanguard of Irish radicalism; if we are to again secure a mass support behind the banner of Irish Republicanism; then we must first return to that social, political and economic programme that is both implicit and explicit in our revolutionary tradition.
To regain the backing of our people we must return to that path first blazed by Wolfe Tone, and which was so explicitly defined by his contemporary, Jimmy Hope, who said: ‘It was my settled opinion that the condition of the labouring class was the fundamental question at issue – and there could be no liberty till measures were adopted that went to the root of the evil’.
These documents provide a clear insight into a very specific strand of Republicanism during a period of evident change.