Rayner O’Connor Lysaght Presente!
2 July 2021
Rayner Lysaght at the Frank Conroy Commemoration, 2013
Rayner Lysaght passed away today after a period of illness. His illness went largely unnoticed in the socialist meliu in which he spent his life. Yet he was a central figure in the foundation of the 60s "New Left" reimagining of a socialism in Ireland beyond the Communist Party.
In part this is because the movement that he helped to found, with its full-throated commitment to rebellion and revolution, seen by the state as an existential threat, would be foreign to many of today's activists.
In a very short time he, and his comrade Peter Graham, helped build the Irish Workers Group and the British International Marxist Group as sections of the Fourth International, publish the iconic Red Mole journal, and was associated with the Saor Eire group.
That period in Rayner's life ended with the assassination of Peter Graham in 1971. FI leaders from across Europe rallied around his grave to sing the Internationale. No-one was ever charged with his killing.
Rayner Lysaght behind Charlie Bird and to the left of Tariq Ali
at the funeral of Peter Graham, 1971.
Rayner went on to establish himself as a leading writer of Irish working-class history, rediscovering and reapplying the analysis of James Connolly following a long period of counterrevolution with his 1971 book The Republic of Ireland.
However, he had one major fault. He was someone who lived in the mind and was totally unsuited to dealing with the business of publishing and of working with academia. As a result, much of his work was stolen by academics and then refuted by them in a later wave of revisionism without him receiving the recognition that is usually extended in these fields.
How many remember D R O'Connor Lysaght and his early researches and writings on the Irish working class, the Irish Citizen Army and his rediscovery of the history of the Limerick Soviet? These issues live on, stripped of their revolutionary content by an elite that wants to remember the IRA and the Black and Tans as equality deserving of commemoration.
In later years he received some recognition through the Irish Labour History Society and through the trade unions for publications on the development of the trade union movement in Ireland and he republished privately theoretical socialist works from Ireland and Europe. A major achievement in anyone else's life, the publication of Trotsky's transitional programme As Gaeilge (An Tidirchlar), was a mere footnote in his.
As noted, much of Rayner's work has fallen out of favour. That's because the whole idea of working-class independence, of a Workers’ Republic, has fallen out of favour in a world constrained by a pallid reformism.
Yet Rayner was right. His
opponents were wrong. The promises of peace, justice and prosperity have
come to naught. The reformist current is on the ebb. The tide of revolution
will swell again.