Review of The Lost Revolution: The Story of The Official IRA And The Workers Party by Alex McGuigan
Brian Hanley and Scott Millars’ book The Lost Revolution is as near a definitive history of the Official Republican Movement as there is available. At over 650 pages The Lost Revolution requires a fair degree of commitment but it is well worth it. Unlike Ed Moloney’s ‘Secret History’ of the Provisional IRA, this is far from a hatchet-job and although there will be some uncomfortable retrospective reading for old and not so old Stickies, the authors are fairly sympathetic to the Officials aims, if not their means.
The ‘Lost Revolution’ charts the progress of Official-style Republican Socialism from the 1969 split in the Irish Republican Army, which initially saw two competing IRA’s who became known as the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA. The Official IRA, overtly the more Left-wing entity, became known colloquially as The Stickies due to their opting for adhesive backed Easter Lilly badges to differentiate themselves from the Provisionals and that moniker literally ‘stuck’ to them for over four decades. (The Provisionals were initially nicknamed ‘pinheads’ due to their Easter Lilly badges being kept in place by traditional pins but unlike their separated comrades in the Officials, that nickname didn’t last!)
The Lost Revolution goes into great detail of the trials and tribulations of the early Official IRA following the 1969 split and the various internecine feuds with their old comrades, which they refer to as ‘pogroms’ although it would be fair to say that both IRA’s were prolific in their near fratricidal feuds and indeed revisited their definition of pogroms on members of the then fledgling Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) who were formed from the more militant elements of the Officials. The book goes some way to challenge the later blatant anti-Republican revisionism that the Sticky leadership adhered to, especially when they achieved favoured status from the British government in later years following their 1972 indefinite ceasefire. Hanley and Millar are not shy in identifying the malevolent influence of Eoin Harris and the near hegemonic grip the Sticks had on various sections of the media and specifically RTE.
Seamus Costello, the emergence of the Irish Republican Socialist Party and the INLA from the most radical elements within the Official IRA does not receive particularly favourable treatment from Hanley and Millar but that is to be expected considering the authors’ background. However, The Lost Revolution does not maintain the fiction of the Official IRA’s supposed non-existence and clearly charts it’s continued existence as possibly the Stickies worse kept secret throughout the years. The authors recount the Officials’ (in their various guises from Republican Clubs/Official Sinn Fein to Sinn Fein/The Workers Party, to eventually just The Workers’ Party ) dubious fraternal relationships with RUC Special Branch, the NIO, Loyalist paramilitaries and Unionist politicians while acting as possibly the most vocal critics of the Provisionals and indeed Irish Republican Socialists – who they described as“Costello’s gutter-rats!” Ironically, Seamus Costello is respected and commemorated in equal measure over 30 years after his murder by the Officials, yet few will remember Tom Gill..
The Officials/Workers Party certainly had many brilliant ideas, for instance their cadre education camp at Mornington and building strong fraternal links with the former Socialist countries. No-one can doubt their commitment to their project and the Lost Revolution confirms that. For the dedicated Sticky cadre, their ends always justified the means and no departure from traditional Republicanism or indeed Republican Socialism, was too much of an ideological stretch for them in their pursuit of political power and respectability. There are invaluable lessons for contemporary Irish Republicans from the Officials’ political journey from literally boom to bust! At the height of their political influence, especially in the Southern 26 counties, they had 7 TDS in Leinster House and came within a whisker of eclipsing the Free State Labour Party. Unfortunately for the Workers Party the various contradictions within their movement contained the seeds of their own destruction, as their mixed bag of Social Democrats, Stalinists, professional politicians, professional thieves, secret paramilitaries and anti-paramilitaries eventually caused unreconcilable contradictions. The rest is history – with the majority of the Southern and parliamentary party morphing into Democratic Left and finally merging with the southern Labour Party. The rump of The Workers’ Party which was left with two TDs, the more Stalinist politicos, the Northern element and the Official IRA members eventually split again, with the supposedly more Republican element forming the Official Republican Movement (ORM). The more or less moribund Socialist Network has its’ origins in that split.
Today The Workers’ Party and Official Republicanism is a mere shadow of it’s former self. The party has a couple of councillors in the south of the country and as more ‘69ers’go up the road to Milltown in Starry Plough covered coffins, their presence in Belfast is maintained by a couple of drinking clubs. In the words of Tom Gill (Tomas MacGiolla):
“It took twenty five years to build into a great and effective party and it has been smashed from within in a week!”
As a postscript there are indeed serious lessons for contemporary Irish Republicans to be learned from the machinations of the Officials, their tactical dumping of core values and their journey to near political power. Provisional Sinn Fein‘s current dash towards political respectability, posing as a centrist party in the north while posturing as a leftist party in the 26 countiesw looks very like repeating the mistakes of their old adversaries. The Lost Revolution: The Story of The Official IRA and The Workers’ Party is invaluable reading for anyone with an interest in Irish Republican politics and it will no doubt be political commentators and the fourth estate’s primary reference in years to come when examining the activities of the Stickies and their various incarnations
“Yes, ruling by fooling, is a great British art with great Irish fools to practice on.”
(James Connolly From The Irish Worker, September 1914)