THE SOCIALIST SOCIETY
Keynote Address given by Dr Terry Robson at the Launch of the IRSP’s documents:
• Perspectives on the Future of Republican Socialism in Ireland
96 Page Analysis of the IRSP views on the various issues facing the Irish working class.
• Republican Socialist Programme for Ireland
12 page summary of the perspectives document.
I want to take this opportunity at the outset of thanking the leadership of the Republican Socialist Movement for inviting me to address this gathering so that the two documents which are being launched today can reach our working class audience and be used as a tool in raising their consciousness and in developing strategies to build a serious political opposition to the Tories and their Irish collaborators.
My contribution this afternoon is to focus on the building of the socialist society in Ireland.
In setting out the ideas contained in the programme of the IRSP, it is important at all times to recognize and acknowledge the roots of the movement and also acknowledge as socialist revolutionaries that our function and role is to seek to expose the opportunism of those who describe themselves as socialists but who nonetheless have engaged with every conservative administration in the Free State and in Britain to lever themselves into power
The pathetic spectacle of the Sinn Fein leadership attempting to address the current financial crisis by announcing a series of irrelevant measures designed to assist the coalition governments at Stormont and Westminster, was at least embarrassing and at worst politically damaging.
It should not be the function of socialist revolutionaries to assist in propping up the northern state any more than it should be the function of socialist revolutionaries to provide excuses for the continuation of this capitalist system.
Of course many cynics will point to the IRSP and demand that its members ‘get real’ and deal with the realities of life in the 21st century. But tell that to the millions of French workers and students who threaten to bring the state to its knees through strike action and boycott in their campaign of opposition to state imposed cuts. Tell that to the millions of working class people who are going to be adversely affected by the measures expected to be introduced by British Chancellor, George Osborne, Stormont finance minister Sammy Wilson and inevitably by the Irish Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan. And now we hear that thirty CEO’s of major companies including Tesco and Asda support the austerity measures. And still the banks pay out massive bonuses to their executives and additional rewards to their investors.
Does the IRSP have an answer to these problems? I believe that it does! Build alliances of trades unionists and community activists and prepare for the socialist society. Bring the state to its knees and build the socialist society. Nationalise the banks and financial institutions and build the socialist society. Abolish the border, reunite the nation and build the socialist society. There is no other answer to the global financial crisis. Any other solution will inevitably drive the advocates of reform into the arms of the collaborators and their financial backers in the IMF. Any other solution will inevitably result in the working class having to pay for the greed of the few.
So, what is Sinn Fein’s response? What is their solution to a resolution of the crisis? Place a levy on mobile phone companies. Initiate a cut in Minister’s, senior civil servants and MLA salaries and expenses and – wait for it – introduce a 3p levy on the use of plastic bags! Sinn Fein should get real. James Connolly must be turning in his grave. It would have been better for them if they had kept their tongues in their cheeks.
For this reason therefore I want to briefly draw your attention to two important areas which are matters of public concern and to acknowledge the historic and ideological roots of our movement with that of James Connolly. The first area is to expose the hypocricy of those within the establishment who refuse to lay the blame for the current economic and financial crisis on the bankers and their allies as well as to force them to admit that even though we might be satisfied at seeing them prosecuted for what they have done - which is unlikely - it is important to recognize that it is the capitalist system which is at fault. Secondly it is important to look at the arms of the State, namely, its police forces, and seek to provide a constructive alternative to a so-called ‘reformed’ police service, which is truly democratic, accountable and without access to arms.
As to our historic roots: In 1910, Connolly returned to Ireland, first landing in Derry, as organiser of the new Socialist Party in Ireland. He was co-founder of the Labour Party in 1912. He was the Belfast organiser for the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. This Union led the wave of class struggles that affected both Dublin and Belfast. Connolly succeeded in uniting Catholic and Protestant workers against the employers. In October 1911 he led the famous Belfast Textile Workers’ strike. The wave of employee strikes was countered by the employers in the notorious Dublin Lock-out of 1913. On this occasion, Dublin employers, organised by William Martin Murphy, the chairman of the Employers’ Federation and owner of the Independent newspaper, set out to crush the workers and their organisations. The ITGWU replied by blacking Murphy’s newspapers, which led to the lock-out of the workers. Connolly became the workers’ leader following the arrest of James Larkin. He himself was arrested and went on hunger strike, but was released after a week. Larkin and Connolly appealed for help from abroad and in September the first food ship sailed into Dublin supported by British workers.
Hence our roots in working-class action and international cooperation.
The Easter Proclamation bears marks of Connolly’s influence: the egalitarianism of the opening address: ‘Irishmen and Irishwomen … ’; and the socialist demand that ‘We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies’. Connolly was sentenced to death by a British Military Tribunal for his role in the Rising and was executed by a firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol at dawn on 12 May 1916.
Meanwhile more recently, Sinn Fein contribute to the warning by Connolly of a ‘carnival of reaction’ by forging an alliance with the DUP, one of the most reactionary political parties in Europe so that they can share the spoils of localized power. They are either easily bought, or have a ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to politics. Consider for example, Gerry Adams’ disastrous performance on RTE during the Free State elections when he failed abysmally to provide even the most basic understanding of the southern economy.
The Free State has had a varied and erratic approach to the question of economic stability. Every attempt by the left and the republican left to seek answers to the problems of unemployment and poverty was to respond to international crises by seeking either to provide piece-meal solutions, or to bend over backwards to meet the demands of those managing the new global economy. The growth and collapse of the southern economy is well documented::
In the 1990s, the southern economy began the 'Celtic Tiger' phase. The European Union contributed over €10 billion into infrastructure. By 2000 the South had become one of the world's wealthiest nations, unemployment stabilised at 4% and income tax was almost half 1980s levels. During this time, the Irish economy grew by five to six percent annually, dramatically raising Irish workers’ incomes to surpass those of many states in the rest of Western Europe, including Britain.But the onset of the recent crisis demonstrated in no short measure the weakness of the capitalist system in Ireland and exposed the dangers of building a local economy on foreign capital.
How do these developments compare with that taking place north of the border? The tendency over the past two centuries and in particular the period described as the Industrial Revolution, the pro-Unionist, capitalist class located most of the nation’s wealth in the North Eastern corner of Ireland. This inevitably led to the consolidation of economic power amongst the Unionist financial elite and to the inevitable sense of uneven development and to the emasculation of weaker sections of the Irish economy. It led to the inevitable division of the country into two separate states. It also led to the further consolidation of power amongst the Unionist ruling class in Belfast and the systematic programme of discrimination against the minority Catholic population, in particular in that area often described as ‘West of the Bann’.
Now we are faced with the Tory’s introduction of the most savage cuts in public expenditure to meet the deficit – the legacy, if the Tories are to be believed, of three successive Labour administrations. So much for the advantages of union with Britain.
In the north, the coalition of DUP and Sinn Fein go cap-in-hand to Downing Street for hand-outs whilst Gerry Adams continues to make a fool of himself as chair of a panel of the Sinn Fein leadership presenting their recommendations to the crisis of £1.8 billion in savings. But the bottom line is that in whatever way they chose to explain away their collaboration with Unionism, the fact is that they are helping to manage the British economy in Ireland. Meanwhile European workers protesting against changes in pension rights take to the streets in a united effort to resist measures which affect their hard-won rights. While the RUC/PSNI raid workers homes in Derry cheered on by Sinn Fein, French workers are confronting the police on the streets of Paris, Marseilles and Lyons. What a contrast, and what an embarrassment to our tradition of opposition to the state.
This brings me to the second and final issue of this presentation which goes to the heart of the dilemma facing republican and socialist community workers.
Socialists should have no illusions in the police. They are the first line of the repressive arm of the state. This state is, to paraphrase Marx, a committee for managing the common affairs of the middle class. One of these 'common affairs' is the problem of managing the working class and ensuring it is never in a position to threaten private property and the means of production - the basis of class power in all capitalist societies. For socialists the police represent a serious obstacle to realising socialism because it is the function of the police to provide the substance of this management process. This is why, traditionally, many a revolutionary programme has argued for disbanding the police and its replacement by militias formed from the conscious workers themselves - to defend and strengthen working class power - in just the same way that Connolly advocated the founding of the Irish Citizens’ Army.. The obvious difficulty is that calling for the abolition of the police invites derision and dismissal as unreal and impractical.
This has tended to leave the left with very little to say about crime and everyday policing. It is often said that republicans may be good on the diagnosis of crime but weak in what can be done about it, creating the impression that the left is soft on criminality. Obviously, this is not good enough - it leaves us disarmed in front of those communities where crime and anti-social behaviour is endemic. And from an 'orthodox' point of view of progressing the class struggle, there is no development of a strategy to neutralise the police as the first line of the capitalist state. It's an issue left hanging in the air, presumably to be sorted out at some point down the line.
Meanwhile those working within the community sector are confronted with daily dilemmas of having to seek solutions to community demands for law and order.
The IRSP recognises that working class communities bear the brunt of crime and argues for a variety of strategies to tackle it including empowering those communities through the democratic control of policing. At the moment accountability is haphazard and indirect and dominated to some extent by Sinn Fein. It is vital that the IRSP challenge the Sinn Fein stranglehold of this issue. Democratic accountability exists partially through the police committees only, and even then they have no rights over policy or personnel. This is neither a new nor a unique problem
In South Africa following the removal of the apartheid regime the local communities were faced with an upsurge of criminal activity. Simply put, their answer was to ignore the existing policing structures and build localized defense committees with responsibility for law and order. As it was the policing arm of the state which permitted the apartheid regime to continue it would have been impossible to have any confidence in it. Forty years after the murder of Sammy Devenney in this city by members of the RUC and still the Historic Enquiry team haven’t as much as acknowledged or recognized RUC guilt.
The situation in the North is no different. The RUC was formed to defend the state and to provide the state with the justification to continue its programme of religious and political discrimination.
New policing structures need to be built which separate policing from the state. The PSNI man of 2010 who kicks in the door of a republican to search his or her home and take them to Antrim holding centre and then to Maghaberry is no different from the RUC man of 1971 who kicked in the door of a republican to take them to Castlereagh and Long Kesh. Similarly, the PSNI man who carries out these early morning raids is the same man who visits the local community centre with proposals to combat local crime.
At its base, the North continues to be a sectarian state which must be dismantled with all of its institutions rebuilt in the interests of the working class. The Northern state was created and built to represent one section of the population and ultimately to subjugate another section of the population in the interests of the capitalist class, north and south.
The task of Republican Socialists ultimately is to expose the anomalies, build the revolutionary Party and lay the basis for the socialist society envisaged by James Connolly and Seamus Costello. That is why he brought us together in the Spa Hotel in November in 1974.