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Report on a public meeting on the radical politics of the late 60s 70s

16 September 2013

A video of this meeting can be viewed at the Irish Republican & Marxist History Project website

A meeting in Dublin to commemorate Republican and Socialist history found itself in intense discussion of the current struggle following major defeats of both currents, drawing on the past to help map a path to the future.

The meeting, by The Irish Republican & Marxist History Project, was organised to evaluate the role of the republican socialist group Saor Eire in the 1960s and to look at the links between Socialism and Anarchism. It was attended by working class militants: veteran republicans from the 50s, modern republicans, socialists, anarchists and young people new to politics.

The history of Saor Eire was outlined by Chair Raynor Lysaight. The name was in fact used by three groups in different geographical locations, two being attempts to form left republican groups and the Dublin group a fusion between Trotskyists and republicans. They recruited a number of idealistic and determined youth and were involved in some dramatic events such as the bombing of Nelson's column in Dublin. The groups dissolved, with political prisoners resigning en mass to protest criminality within the external armed groups.

Alan McSimon, formerly of the Workers Solidarity Movement, presented a picture of the unrestrained violence of the state against dissidents. Beatings and torture were commonplace, the emergence of the heavy squad meant a dedicated group authorized to obtain confessions by any means necessary.

The Anarchists found themselves in a desperate struggle when Noel and Marie Murray were convicted of the murder of an off-duty Garda while robbing a bank. Noel's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but it took an international campaign to prevent Marie Murray's execution.

John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy explained that the Trotskyist movement had re-emerged in the 60s as separate organizations North and South. The Dublin movements involvement in Saor Eire reflected a more general turn in the Fourth International towards endorsement of a guerrilla strategy in Latin America. The "foco" theory of Che Guevara was not effective and was eventually abandoned.

The issue of physical force in the North arose out of the pogroms of '68. It led to the re-establishment of the Irish Citizen Army, but the whole question of physical force was seen in purely defensive terms. Later, with more widespread armed conflict, the formula of the supremacy of the political organization over any physical force wing was adopted.

There was much more to the issue than this, but the Republican formulation of the "cutting edge" of the armed struggle was utterly wrong. The cutting edge of revolution was the working class itself.

We should identify the elements that made the upsurge of struggle possible. These included the resurgence of the working class itself, the discrediting of an old Stalinist leadership and emergence of a "new left," an explosion of youth, international solidarity around Vietnam and the growing strength of the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

In the discussion which followed historical points were entangled with a recognition of the dreadful assault on the working class today and the need for a new resistance. A new movement to actively pursue open discussion of a political programme of resistance is clearly urgently needed.


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