The Lost Revolution

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Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, Penguin, £20

Living in Dublin in the 1980s, I was intrigued to meet people who claimed to be both socialists and "true Republicans", and who denounced the Provisional IRA as "fascists". These people were members of the Workers' Party (WP). In the general election of 1989 they won seven seats, a significant achievement for a "Marxist" party in a country where the left had been marginal for decades. But within three years the WP had split, most of the party's TDs joining the more moderate Irish Labour Party.

This book is the first serious attempt to tell the story of the WP, and the split in Republicanism that gave rise to the Provisionals on one hand and Official Sinn Fein on the other.

The Officials renounced armed struggle (but, controversially, retained an armed wing) and adopted a heavily Stalinised version of Marxism. For most people, they never satisfactorily resolved the contradiction between their origins and their opposition to the supposed "fascism" of the Provisionals. But it was the collapse of the Soviet Union that led to their demise. For many leading members, if "actually existing socialism" had failed, then the only option was social democracy and the market.

The Lost Revolution is mainly a narrative account, which means there is no detailed assessment of the WP's politics. But the contradictions emerge clearly. With socialist politics on the agenda once more in Ireland and other European countries, this is a timely and welcome book.