Marxism and Irish politics: Rayner Lysaght and Sean Matgamna debate and discussion

Submitted by AWL on 30 July, 2021 - 12:54 Author: Micheál MacEoin, Rayner Lysaght, Sean Matgamna
Sean and Lysaght debate

Rayner Lysaght (centre) and Sean Matgamna debating

In November 2018, the longtime Irish-based Trotskyist Rayner Lysaght debated with Sean Matgamna, a founding member of Workers’ Liberty, on Marxist perspectives on Irish history and the Irish revolution. The following day they had an extended discussion on related topics. This has been recorded and released as nine videos.

Watch the nine videos, three of the debate and six of the discussion, below.

Three of the debate:

Six of the discussion:

Click in the top left of the image below for the contents of the playlist and to watch other ones:

Transcript of the six sessions of the discussion, and of the key to people, events, and organisations referred to in the discussions


By Micheál MacEoin

In November 2018, the longtime Irish-based Trotskyist Rayner Lysaght debated with Sean Matgamna, a founding member of Workers’ Liberty, on Marxist perspectives on Irish history and the Irish revolution.

Such debates, between divergent theoretical traditions, are rare. They are even more rare in Britain on the particular topic of the Irish Question, despite the prospect of a post-Brexit hard border in Ireland.

Much debate centred around the applicability of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution to Ireland. Lysaght argued that Ireland is still an “unfinished capitalist entity”, its bourgeois revolution “compromised” by the continuing existence of partition and the lack of secularism.

The answer, he argued, was “permanent revolution”, mobilising workers around democratic questions such as national unity and secularism, and for that mobilise to lead to the creation of an Irish workers’ republic.

Matgamna argued that permanent revolution was a hugely important theoretical breakthrough, but that it has limited applicability to the particular case of Ireland. Socially, bourgeois revolution was completed “from above” by successive British government Land Acts, leading to the creation of a capitalist farmer class in Ireland. Politically, the 26-counties became independent. Those processes have happened, in their own way, and cannot be re-run now in a way more favourable to us.

The removal of partition is a question for the workers’ movement to face, by providing a democratic programme which can reconcile the rights of the Northern Ireland Protestants as a minority within Ireland with the rights of the Irish majority.

Only ideological mystification and wishful thinking can see that as “completing” the Irish bourgeois revolution as part of a move towards “permanent revolution”.

Worse, argued Matgamna, the theory of permanent revolution, in the hands of post-Trotsky Trotskyists, has become emptied of its content as a programme for independent working-class action in a revolutionary situation.

With the rise of Stalinist states in eastern Europe, Mao’s movement in China and Tito’s Partisans, “permanent revolution” instead became a way of “explaining” how non-working-class forces could create “workers’ states”. From this it was only a leap towards Trotskyists developing illusions that the militarist campaign of the Provisional IRA could somehow spill over into a socialist revolution.

These issues and more are brought out in the debate. It is well worth watching to educate yourself on Irish history, permanent revolution and the relationship between national liberation movements and socialism.

People, events, and organisations referred to in the six discussion videos

Irish Workers' Group

The Irish Workers' Group (1965-8) was the anti-Stalinist, anti-Maoist wing of the Irish Communist Group, a London-based group which included left-wing critics of the Communist Party both Maoist and Trotskyist. The Maoist wing became the Irish Communist Organisation, later the British and Irish Communist Organisation. The ICG split in 1965, but the IWG was politically an eclectic mix of Trotskyism with other currents. The IWG split down the middle in 1967-8. The Trotskyist faction formed the League for a Workers' Republic; the remnant IWG greeted the upsurge in the North by dissolving itself at about the time the Six Counties crisis erupted in October 1968. Some of those loosely associated with the IWG and more closely involved with the IS organisation (forerunner of the SWP), most importantly Michael Farrell (1944-), played a central part in the civil rights agitation in the Six Counties and in the breakdown of the Six Counties in 1969. Farrell helped found People's Democracy in October 1968. Some members of the IWG evolved into an urban guerrilla organisation, the "Gyevarist" Saor Éire Action Group.

Basil Miller

Basil Miller was part of the troika (with Paddy Healy and Carol Coulter) who ran the LWR. Academic. In the LWR, a sympathiser with the SLL, then a Lambertist.


Carol Coulter (1949-) was one of the LWR leading trio. By background a Sligo Protestant (Tubbercurry not Lissadell). Joined LWR in late 1968. Gravitated towards SLL, then to the Lambertists in 1972. Left organised politics in 1987. Coulter became prominent as a print journalist and writer, and as a lawyer.


Gery Lawless (1936-2012). Dubliner, took part in the Christle IRA split in 1956. Was interned in July 1957. Gave his parole to the 26 Counties authorities and was released in December 1957. His internment became a test case at the European Court of Human Rights. Moved to London, where he became a Trotskyist. Later a tabloid journalist. Gave up on revolutionary socialist politics after1976; became a Labour councillor in Hackney.


"Liam" usually refers to Liam Daltun (1937-72) (sometimes to Liam Boyle, but those cases are clear from context). Liam Daltun was one of those who took part in the Christle split in the IRA in 1956. In London he moved left, joining the Connolly Association and the Communist Party. Became a Trotskyist. Became one of a series of editors of The Irish Worker in 1961-2. In 1967-8 was a central figure in the Irish Workers' Group Trotskyist faction, then became a founder of the League for a Workers' Republic. He killed himself on the evening of Derry's "Bloody Sunday", 30 January 1972.

Paddy Healy

Paddy Healy (1944-), a college teacher, joined the Irish Workers' Group in 1965; became part of the Trotskyist faction in December 1967. A founder of the League for a Workers' Republic in April 1968. When the London LWR group collapsed, he became the central figure in the LWR. Became a sympathiser with the Socialist Labour League, later Workers' Revolutionary Party, of Gerry Healy, and eventually, following Coulter's lead, took the LWR into the international Lambertist tendency. The LWR collapsed some time in the late 1980s.


Peter is Peter Graham (1945-71), a Dublin electrician. Moved from the Stalinist Connolly Youth Movement to Trotskyism in late 1967; was part of the Trotskyist faction in the Irish Workers' Group and a founder of the League for a Workers' Republic. Joined the urban-guerrilla group Saor Éire in 1970, while remaining active in the labour movement as a Trotskyist. With Saor Éire he took part in a couple of bank raids, in one of which Richard Fallon, an unarmed Garda, was killed. Moved to London during the hue and cry for Fallon's killers. Worked with Liam Daltun as a builder, then was a printer for the Mandelite organisation, the International Marxist Group. Moved back to Dublin in mid 1971; was killed by Saor Éire members on 25 October 1971: he was 25 years old.


Rachel Lever (1943-): member of the Irish Workers' Group from October 1966 to 1968. A founder of Workers' Fight (forerunner of the AWL). Moved out of Trotskyist politics in 1982.

Rayner Lysaght

Rayner Lysaght (January 1941- 2 July 2021). Welsh-born, of Irish descent, went to study in Dublin and stayed. Descendant of a famous United Irishman, Arthur O'Connor, of the Chartist leader, Fergus O'Connor, and of Ireland's last High King, Rory O'Connor. Part of the Lawless-IS faction of the Irish Workers' Group, he became secretary of the rump IWG months before the split. Later supporter of the Mandelite international tendency. Has published a number of pamphlets, including a study of the Limerick Soviet during the War of Independence; edited some books; and written a book on the history of the 26 Counties up to the end of the 1960s.

Sean Matgamna

Sean Matgamna (July 1941-). "Pre-politicised" by move from Clare to Cheetham Hill, Manchester, at age 12 with a head full of songs, school history and stories from his mother Minnie Cleary of the Tan War and the Civil War: she had been 17, in West Clare during the Tan terror, after the Rineen ambush; her cousin was "executed" in Ennis by the Treatyites in the Civil War. Became involved in left-wing politics, first the Young Communist League and the Connolly Association. Trotskyist from 1959. Joined the Irish Communist Group in September 1965. Involved in industrial struggle in the ports industry. An organiser of the Trotskyist faction of the Irish Workers' Group. Member of the Derry Citizens Defence Committee, 1969. A founding member of what is now the Alliance for Workers' Liberty.

See Workers' Liberty's channel for other playlists, and individual videos.

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