Vol. 2- No 37
E-mail newsletter of the
Irish Republican Socialist Party
Sunday May 22nd 2005
3)Behind the betrayal
4)Basque Political Prisoner In England
This edition carries two important articles by Liam O’Ruaric and Philip Ferguson on the evolution of Sinn Fein (Provisional) from a Republican Party to that of a nationalist Party. The articles were first printed in the Weekly Worker the paper of the CPGB in late April and early May 2005. Electoral success may have temporarily blinded genuine republicans to the disastrous path that the Sinn Fein leadership has embarked on. But sooner or later the failure of the Pan nationalist strategy will force a rethink for those still believe in the concept of a socialist republic in Ireland. Its time all of us who adhere to Connolly Socialism started to get together and plot the way forward.
Liam O Ruairc, a comrade from the Irish Republican Socialist Party, looks at Sinn Fein’s evolution under Gerry Adams over the last 20 years.
The transition of Sinn Féin from principled revolutionary organisation to opportunist, reformist, constitutional nationalist party has been the subject of many a commentary. The whole process traces its roots to the 1980s. Before the end of that decade, the party was gradually becoming incorporated into the institutions it was supposed to overthrow, mainly through the pressure of electoral considerations and clientelist expectations.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the IRA’s stance regarding constitutional politics was “quite simple and clear-cut ... outside of a 32-county sovereign independent democracy, the IRA will have no involvement in what is loosely called constitutional politics” (‘IRA attitude on elections’ An Poblachtach/Republican News September 5 1981, p20). However, the movement soon introduced the tactic of contesting elections through Sinn Féin. “Who here really believes that we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if with a ballot paper in this hand, and an Armalite in this hand, we take power in Ireland?” declared Danny Morrison (‘By ballot and bullet’ APRN November 5 1981, p2).
The ‘Armalite and ballot box’ strategy was born. The purpose of contesting elections and giving an increasingly important role to Sinn Féin was not in order to become some respectable constitutional party, but to introduce a new tactic in the anti-imperialist struggle. The reasons advanced for electoral interventions were, first, that it showed that the national struggle was political, not criminal, in nature. It is difficult to label people as criminal when tens of thousands go out to vote for them. It also refuted the British government’s propaganda that the Republicans were a small isolated group receiving no substantial support.
British strategy also demanded the representation of the nationalist community in the north by constitutional nationalist parties like the Social Democratic and Labour Party and, by challenging its electoral monopoly, Sinn Féin was destabilising the government’s plans (This is made very clear in ‘Revolutionary politics’ APRN April 25 1985, p2. See also ‘Ballots and bombs: electoral tactics complement armed struggle’ APRN February 18 1982, p1). SF portrayed itself as being socially radical and representing the interests of working class people, in contrast to the SDLP’s electoral pool of conservative, middle-aged and middle class voters.
Danny Morrison reassured the movement that tactical electoral intervention would not lead to constitutionalism and reformism: “Sinn Féin will be fighting the elections to consolidate republican support and build a revolutionary organisation which will defend the struggle, not a constitutional party to replace it.” The Provisional movement is not “going sticky”, “there is no parliamentary road to a united Ireland or socialism” and election results “cannot either prejudice the future or the primacy of armed struggle” (Peter Arnlis, ‘The war will go on’ APRN September 16 1982, pp6-7).
This was a fundamental point of principle. In 1984, Martin McGuinness stressed that it was “the combination of the Armalite and the ballot box” that would achieve victory, but made clear which was the weightier of the two: “The Irish Republican Army offers the only resolution to the present situation. It is their disciplined, well-directed war against British forces which will eventually bring Britain to withdraw. We know that elections, while important, ... will not achieve a British withdrawal. If Sinn Féin were to win every election it contested, it would still not get an agreement on British withdrawal ... We recognise the value and the limitations of electoral success. We recognise that only disciplined, revolutionary armed struggle by the IRA will end British rule” (‘We will never be slaves again’ APRN June 28 1984, p7).
For his part, Gerry Adams declared that “to think that the British can be ‘talked out’ of Ireland is contemptible” (The politics of revolution: the main speeches and debates from the 1986 Sinn Féin ard-fheis, including the presidential address of Gerry Adams p11) and concluded: “The history of Ireland and of British colonial involvement throughout the world tells us that the British government rarely listens to the force of argument. It understands only the argument of force” (‘There is only one alternative’ APRN February 2 1989, pp8-9). But within a decade Sinn Féin and the IRA had totally abandoned such a stance, and gradually transformed themselves into a constitutional nationalist movement. How did this come about?
The first reason was that the leadership was intent on broadening the base of the movement, and was prepared to pay the price through a dilution of its radical socialist and later republican principles if necessary. It first made clear that the party was not going to be too radical, as this might scare off potential supporters who would be more conservative. When elected president of Sinn Féin in 1983, Gerry Adams declared: “We must be mindful of the dangers of ultra-leftism and remember at all times that, while our struggle has a major social and economic content, the securing of Irish independence is the prerequisite for the advance to a socialist republican society. Therefore ... republicans have a duty to beware of any tendencies which would narrow our demands and our base. This is true not only of forces outside our movement, but also of tendencies within our party” (presidential address APRN November 17 1983, pp8-9).
The next stage was not just avoiding the dangers of being too far on the left - it was about abandoning any pretence of being socialist republican: “The republican struggle should not at this stage of its development style itself ‘socialist republican’. This would imply that there is no place in it for non-socialists” (G Adams The politics of Irish freedom p132). The excuse was that “This inevitably must narrow the potential support base of the republican movement and enable other movements to claim that they are ‘republican’ though they are not socialist: for example, Fianna Fáil or the SDLP” (G Adams Signposts towards independence and socialism Belfast 1988, p13).
Any principled leftwing position, in so far as it would narrow the support base of the movement, had to be rejected. Adams finally admitted in an interview: “I don’t think socialism is on the agenda at all at this stage except for political activists of the left” (Irish Times December 10 1986). The movement’s growth would be weakened if it could not rely on some conservative support.
If Adams understood the dangers of ultra-leftism, he certainly did not understand the dangers of opportunism. The movement’s growth was everything; the principles nothing. And the next target was not socialism, but republicanism itself: “We need to avoid ultra-republican positions” (G Adams Signposts towards independence and socialism Belfast 1988, p16). If the movement’s republicanism was too orthodox, it might not appeal to people who are simply nationalists. Ultimately, Sinn Féin would abandon republicanism all together to maximise the nationalist agenda. Republicanism was gradually diluted into nationalism.
Concerns about widening the base of the movement were closely related with that of widening its electoral support base. If the party wanted to become the majority nationalist party in the north and make considerable electoral progress in the south, it would have to increase its share of the vote, and appeal to people who are neither socialists nor republicans. Adams emphasised that the vote for Sinn Féin from 1982 to 1984 was a “principled republican vote, as opposed to a nationalist or catholic vote ... it is ideologically sound ... We have been stating our case bluntly and dogmatically, we have not been trying to be ‘all things to all men’ and our vote represents the people who came out in support of our position” (‘Steady progress and an injection of reality’ APRN 21 1984, pp2-3).
In a television interview, Adams even went so far as to say that it might be a bad idea to overtake the SDLP electorally, as this might lead to a diminution of social radicalism. But, as the movement gradually transformed itself into a party of votes, it was less and less concerned about what is politically principled. For example, in 1985, SF decided to support women’s right to have abortion - only to reverse that position in 1986. This had less to do with abortion being immoral or wrong than with the opportunistic reason that it would go badly with the southern electorate in general and conservative nationalists in particular, and prevent the party getting more votes.
The objective increasingly became to win the votes of traditional middle class SDLP or Fianna Fáil voters. So a core socialist republican vote became a republican vote and finally a nationalist vote. A very revealing recent example of this was given in a report carried in An Phoblacht of the 2001 Westminster elections in West Tyrone. In the contest between the SDLP and Sinn Féin, there could be no doubt as to how the party represented itself:
“In the past days the enthusiastic reception canvassers have received on doorsteps, including in staunch SDLP strongholds, have confirmed that Doherty’s support has never been so strong … ‘This constituency is overwhelmingly nationalist and it is nothing short of a disgrace that a unionist politician opposed to the peace process was elected last time,’ says Pat Doherty. ‘Now is the time for the nationalist people of West Tyrone to rally around a party and a politician who will lead from the front to strengthen the peace process and effectively represent all the people of this constituency on the issues that matter the most, which include inward investment, transport infrastructure and demilitarisation.’ … Sinn Féin is seen … as the only nationalist party committed to negotiating further concessions on issues like policing and demilitarisation. But beyond the figures and the short-term considerations, the battle in West Tyrone is also a symbol of the direction nationalism is taking and the future of the Six Counties … The rise of Sinn Féin across the Six Counties will further confirm a trend of recent elections: Sinn Féin is the fastest growing party on the island and is becoming the largest nationalist party in the north” (my emphasis - ‘Pat Doherty to win West Tyrone’ APRN June 1 2001, p6).
From once opposing the ‘collaborationist’ and middle class SDLP, Sinn Féin now tries to replace the constitutional nationalist party and appeal to middle class and conservative voters.
Another reason for Sinn Féin’s evolution is that from the second half of the 1980s onward, central to the Provisionals’ strategy was the building of ‘broad fronts’. But the question is, on what political basis is the front built, who qualifies and how broad should it be? According to Adams, “We have to proceed on the basis of the lowest common denominator and at the level of people’s understanding” (G Adams Signposts towards independence and socialism Belfast 1988, p16). This means building fronts on so broad a basis that they can encompass everything from the catholic church to corporate Irish America.
In practice, the Provisionals sought to accommodate and build a ‘pan-nationalist alliance’ with Fianna Fáil, the catholic church - and the SDLP, instead of confronting them, as in the past: “Rather than denouncing the party, republicans should take a constructive approach with the SDLP” (‘Broadening the base’ APRN June 30 1988, p3). This could only but seriously weaken republicanism’s anti-partitionist thrust, as those elements have always been much more hostile to the IRA than to British involvement in Ireland.
When Sinn Féin did succeed in building such alliances, it was not on its own terms. It is not the Dublin government, the SDLP and the Clinton/Bush administration that have come to the republican position, but rather the Provisional movement which has moved to the constitutional nationalist position.
The price of the inclusion of republicans in the pan-nationalist alliance was the exclusion of republicanism. Sinn Féin has allowed those conservative elements to lead the whole nationalist struggle. Constitutional nationalism is the emphasis upon unity by consent, and republicanism has become subsumed within a partitionist nationalist project. The people who have always sold the struggle out are the people Sinn Féin was now relying on. Their aim was to effectively decommission republicanism, and they succeeded. The price of meetings with Clinton or Bush in the White House or of joint initiatives with the leadership of Fianna Fáil were ceasefires, unilateral acts of decommissioning and defeat.
When elected president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams expressed his support for the armed struggle of the IRA: “Armed struggle is a necessary and morally correct form of resistance in the Six Counties against a government whose presence is rejected by the vast majority of Irish people ... There are those who tell us that the British government will not be moved by armed struggle. As has been said before, the history of Ireland and of British colonial involvement throughout the word tells us that they will not be moved by anything else” (presidential address APRN November 17 1983, pp8-9).
But electoralism was soon to take its toll on Sinn Féin’s commitment to support the primacy of armed struggle. In 1985, all Sinn Féin local election candidates had to sign a republican declaration giving unequivocal support to armed struggle. But after the British government introduced legislation making compulsory for anyone standing to reject proscribed organisations or illegal activities, the 1989 Sinn Féin ard fheis authorised councillors to sign up to this ‘anti-violence’ declaration. So, when it comes to a choice between votes and expressing support for the armed struggle of the IRA, the party chose electoralism. Sinn Féin had thus repudiated the Armalite in favour of the ballot box long before it signed up to the Mitchell principles.
In the meantime, SF faced the contradictions of ‘going into the state to overthrow the state’. In 1985, it decided that its elected representatives in the north would take their seats on local councils. An editorial in An Phoblacht promised: “Within the councils of the Six Counties, Sinn Féin elected representatives will challenge the basis of the state itself and that is why they are seen as a threat both by the loyalists and by the so-called ‘constitutional nationalists’” (‘No illusions’ APRN May 2 1985, p1). In theory, the republican objective was to overthrow the northern state. That was what the IRA armed struggle was about. But, while the IRA was bombing and destroying City Hall as a symbol of the state, Sinn Féin councillor were de facto accepting the state and trying to make it work by using it as a source of income, funding community initiatives, investment for social development projects, etc. Rather than providing an alternative structure to the state, as Adams had earlier envisaged in his jail writings, Sinn Féin was now susceptible to cooption by the state.
A few years later, it was evident that Sinn Féin’s attitude towards the state had evolved: “As one Sinn Féin councillor observed, ‘The loyalists and the council officials were genuinely apprehensive of Sinn Féin in the council chamber, but within a short period of time they saw that we were genuine and reasonable” (‘Advancing under attack - Sinn Féin in the council chambers’ APRN March 2 1989, pp8-9). The reason was that, for the purpose of running city councils, there were practically no differences between Sinn Féin and the other constitutionalist parties. Mairtin O Muilleor, a well known Belfast Sinn Féin councillor, admitted that, “When it comes to ‘bins, bodies and bogs’ (the normal issues at council meetings), we are only a few degrees to the left of the SDLP” (‘Broadening the base’ APRN June 30 1988, p3).
Brendan O Brien, the security correspondent for RTE who cannot be suspected of republican or leftwing sympathies, was one of the first who recognised the significance of this process: “In the 1970s, abstentionist republicans would never have considered ‘recognising’ Belfast City Hall. It was the bastion of unionism and of the British state. The republican movement would have none of it. They would insist on abstaining from the state until Britain was forced out through the IRA campaign ... By 1993 Sinn Féin had 10 seats at Belfast City Hall and were looking ahead to a nationalist majority on the council. They were claiming it as their own, despite the union jack flying overhead and all the symbols of unionism and empire inside. This would have far-reaching implications for a movement which regarded itself not just as republican but revolutionary. They were joining the system, not tearing it down” (B O Brien The long war Dublin 1999, pp47-49).
Sinn Féin had de facto accepted the legitimacy of the state years before it signed up to the Belfast agreement. Unionist dominance of Belfast city council ended with the local government elections of 1997. The first Sinn Féin lord mayor of Belfast to be appointed was Alex Maskey for the year 2002-03. Photographs of him sitting with a union jack in his parlour and proudly wearing his mayor necklace would have been unthinkable two decades ago and symbolised how far Sinn Féin had accepted the institutions it was once pledged to overthrow (see B McCaffrey and A Maskey Man and mayor Belfast 2003).
This was also true of the recognition of the legitimacy of the southern parliament. The republican movement traditionally considered itself to be the legitimate government of Ireland, and the IRA the sole legitimate army. When elected as president of Sinn Féin, Adams stated: “On the question of Leinster House, we are an abstentionist party. It is not my intention to advocate a change in this situation.” He promised the delegates that he was not “about to lead you into Leinster House” (presidential address APRN November 17 1983, pp8-9).
The problem is that, once the legitimacy of the Dublin government is recognised, there cannot be two legitimate governments and two legitimate armies; one has to recognise that the official Irish army is the only legitimate army and that an illegal army is therefore illegitimate. The republican objective is to bring down Leinster House, not enter it. However, in 1986, in order to grow electorally in the south, the Provisionals dropped abstentionism and recognised its legitimacy.
Denying that the current leadership “are intent on edging the republican movement on to a constitutional path”, Martin McGuinness then declared: “I can give a commitment on behalf of the leadership that we have absolutely no intention of going to Westminster or Stormont ... Our position is clear and it will never, never, never change. The war against British rule must continue until freedom is achieved ... We will lead you to the republic” (The politics of revolution - the main speeches and debates from the 1986 Sinn Féin ard fheis, including the presidential address of Gerry Adams pp26-27).
Eight years later, the ‘war against British rule’ was over, and five years after that Martin McGuinness was a British minister of education in the Stormont assembly …
Behind the betrayal
Former Sinn Féin member Philip Ferguson recalls and analyses the organisation’s move to the right - and points a finger at the British left
In last week’s Weekly Worker my socialist republican comrade, Liam O Ruairc, outlined major developments in the degeneration of the republican movement (Sinn Féin and the IRA) into constitutional nationalism (April 21). As a former Sinn Féin activist, including being a full-time organiser for several years, I would like to add to the picture by looking at some of the internal developments and disputes, the external context in Ireland and globally and the role of the British left in this degeneration.
I joined Sinn Féin in the middle of 1986 and left Ireland permanently at the start of 1994, although I was out of Ireland for much of the 18 months before my final departure. My period of activity coincided with the beginnings of the rightward shift although, at the time I joined, it appeared that leftwing politics were dominant in both major wings of the movement (party and army). In particular, in the late 1970s and early 1980s it appeared, certainly to me, that the republican movement was in transition from revolutionary nationalism, in the sense Lenin used that term, to revolutionary socialism.
Given that a generation of radicals in oppressed nations had made this transition in the years immediately following the Russian Revolution, it seemed perfectly feasible to me that Irish republicans could also do so.
This view was reinforced by a number of factors. The movement was overwhelmingly working class in social composition, and the Irish bourgeoisie and most of the middle class (especially in the south) were completely hostile to the national liberation struggle. In addition, hundreds of comrades were in prison and studying Marxist texts there. However, the lowering of the horizons of the movement, or at least of its leaders, began to manifest itself not long after I joined.
IRA volunteers: took on the world’s number two imperialist power
It is important to put this in a wider political context, as this leadership was not merely a bunch of ageing yuppies, like the Blairites, but a layer of working class fighters forged in the crucible of a life-and-death struggle in the nationalist ghettoes of the north, especially Belfast, taking on the world’s number two imperialist power. Critiques of them as ‘middle class’ by social workers and teachers belonging to Irish Trotskyist groups which had never summoned up the revolutionary spirit to so much as throw a stone at the occupying imperialist army never much impressed me (and do not today either).
A major problem was simply the objective conditions which the republicans had to confront. They faced not only a powerful imperialist enemy, but also repressive state apparatuses both sides of the border in Ireland. The south, for instance, maintained continual harassment and repression of republicans all the way through the armed conflict of the past generation. It was much easier to belong to any of the small Trotskyist groups than it was to be in Sinn Féin in any part of Ireland.
In the wake of the 1981 hunger strikes and the mass mobilisations around them in Ireland, republicans made advances electorally, thereby showing they were not a small and isolated ‘terrorist’ or ‘bandit’ group, as portrayed by the British and Irish establishments. The ruling classes on both sides of the Irish Sea were determined to roll back these gains and did so using a combination of repression against republicans and their base and carrots for communities prepared to separate themselves from the republican movement. The Dublin government and the Stoop Down Low Party (SDLP) in the six counties, both of which were threatened by the rise of Sinn Féin and the radical instability that might ensue from this, stepped up collaboration with the Brits.
By the late 1980s, the republican movement had been pushed back to its hard-core base. Clearly, neither relying on armed struggle as the major strategy nor combining electoral politics and armed struggle (the ballot box and the Armalite) were sufficient for holding off the renewed offensive of the British state and its lackeys in Ireland. A rethink was necessary, and this did actually take place.
Unfortunately, it took place in very unfavourable international circumstances. There were two elements to this:
1. the collapse of national liberation movements elsewhere, along with the collapse of collectivism associated with the Soviet bloc;
2. the dismal politics of the British left.
While the republican movement had never regarded the Soviet bloc as a model, the collapse of that bloc had the effect of widely discrediting any form of collectivist-oriented politics, including genuine revolutionary socialism. There was certainly no Bolshevik Party leading a healthy revolutionary process in Russia or anywhere else that could inspire the republican movement leadership to move leftwards, as had happened with revolutionary nationalists immediately after 1917.
Moreover, the collapse of the Soviet bloc had helped disorient national liberation movements everywhere. The FSLN, under pressure from Washington and the demise of the Soviet bloc, had shifted rightwards, as had the FMLN in El Salvador, and similar groups elsewhere in central America. The African National Congress-South African Communist Party was moving towards an accommodation with the South African ruling class and its political representatives, in which formal race laws would be abolished, but capitalist social relations maintained and strengthened. The Palestine Liberation Organisation was being given the right to run a few refugee camps in exchange for ending the struggle against the Israeli state.
The ‘success’ with which the ANC and PLO had gone mainstream appealed to much of the republican leadership, including those who had studied Marxism so intensely while in prison and written radical critiques of the history of the movement. I recall chatting after an anti-extradition conference in Dublin around 1990 to a prominent Belfast republican and former hunger-striker, who had been one of the leading figures in the study of Marxism in the H-blocks and was only recently out of prison. I naturally assumed he and I would be on the same wavelength politically, but was shocked when he started saying to me how we had to take the ANC and PLO as our model and how they would succeeded in ‘mainstreaming’ their agenda.
Of course, the idea was not that the republican agenda would be gutted, but that it would be promoted in a way that made it the central political focus that everyone in Ireland had to address. This was, supposedly, what the PLO and ANC had achieved.
One of the problems faced by comrades who studied in prison and became, at least while behind bars, convinced Marxists, was that it was all theoretical. Since these comrades were locked up for 10, 15, 18 years, there was little opportunity to develop their Marxism in the changing, real world. When they got out there was simply a huge chasm between their intellectual Marxism and the more prosaic reality, including the way the leadership was taking the movement rightwards. A few stayed true to the revolutionary theory they had learned in prison and tried to use it to analyse reality, but for most the chasm was too wide and they quickly fell into it, which meant falling into line behind the leadership.
There was also a good deal of conniving and dishonesty from elements of the leadership, who set out fairly consciously to destroy (either outright or through cooption) the radical ideas gestating in the movement and in the H-blocks in particular.
Around the time I joined Sinn Féin I was involved in typesetting and proofing a book by the H-block prisoners. The two comrades who were in charge of political education nationally in the party, and who saw themselves very much as socialists of the Connolly variety, were very excited about this book, Questions of history. Smuggled out of the blocks bit by bit, it was essentially a Marxist analysis and critique of the history of Irish republicanism.
Rose and Jim saw this as being the breakthrough. Because it came from the blocks and the prisoners had immense moral authority, this book would be read by everyone in the movement, most would be convinced by it, a whole study programme would be organised around it and we were on the way to the republic of Connolly. The book was even to be colour-coded, with questions for discussion and so on and would come in several volumes.
Even though it only went up to the 1930s and was not a direct critique of Provo politics, the first volume of Questions of history was not welcomed in the central leadership. Indeed, the book was pretty much suppressed. Only 2,000 copies were allowed to be printed and these were for circulation only within the movement. Effectively it was turned into an internal discussion document that could never be internally discussed. There was a whispering campaign that the book was ‘ultra-left’ and a shitty review was run in An Phoblacht/Republican News, written by a party hack who had previously been in the British Labour Party and Fourth International (Usec). It was never be sold publicly, never used for a serious internal education programme and the second volume was never even published. Apparently there is now a copy of the second volume in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast.
Having effectively suppressed the radical critique of the POWs, the nationalist elements in the leadership began a scare campaign that the national question was in danger of disappearing from Irish public discourse and everything had to be concentrated on defending the idea of national unity.
This came in the context of two counterposed papers about the way forward being presented within Sinn Féin and discussion of these before and at the annual internal conference (SF usually held two national conferences a year: a public ard fheis, based around reports, remits and election of the leadership; and an internal conference based around discussion papers). The head of the party’s political education, who was also a former OC of the prisoners at Portlaoise, wrote a document in which he warned that the movement itself was being politically partitioned, with armed struggle in the north and clientelist advice-centre/social reformist politics in the south. The paper argued explicitly for Connolly-type politics, uniting the political, social and economic aspects of the struggle on a 32-county basis.
The alternative paper was put forward by one of the party’s two general secretaries, Tom Hartley. Hartley, whose politics seemed quite influenced by the nationalist wing of the pro-Moscow Communist Party of Ireland (CPI), argued in favour of a pan-nationalist front. This would be formed by working for unity with Fianna Fail, the SDLP - and even Fine Gael! - to advance an Irish national agenda. This paper was extraordinary, considering Irish history. It basically turned its back on the lesson of every significant struggle and leader since Wolfe Tone, by rejecting a struggle for national liberation based on the people of no property - a concept at the very heart of Irish republicanism - and advocated class collaboration with the very sections of Irish society which had always sold out the struggle and which were clearly working with the Brits to maintain the status quo.
In order to bolster up the pan-nationalist side, a whispering campaign was mounted that the people behind the Connolly paper were hostile to the armed struggle and wanted it called off. It was more or less implied that a vote for that paper was a vote for the end of the armed struggle. Also, various people were removed from the leadership in both the party and the army without any transparency in the process at all. Supporters of the nationalist position would sometimes go so far as to throw a tantrum, shrieking and carrying on, as if voting for the Connolly position was a betrayal of the nationalist population of the north.
Needless to say, the pan-nationalist position triumphed, and the key architects of the Connolly paper pretty much dropped out.
The shift rightwards also took other forms. When Dessie Ellis was extradited to Britain from the south on a stretcher around the fifth or sixth week of his hunger strike, the leadership were very worried about trouble on the streets of Dublin. There was a march that night organised by the anti-extradition campaign, in which I was the party full-timer, and we wanted to take it to a venue where Haughey, who was taoiseach at the time, was speaking and at least ruin his night. Adams rang me in the anti-extradition office to suggest the march be called off, especially as there was an Ireland-England soccer match in Dublin that afternoon and the leadership worried that republicans and English soccer fans might clash in the streets in the evening. I found this extraordinary. One of our comrades had been handed over to the Brits on a stretcher almost blind and we were not supposed to protest in the capital city because of the presence of English soccer fans.
In fact, this was one of the great weaknesses of the Provo leadership. They wanted to avoid creating any trouble in the south, let alone destabilising the southern state.
From the traditional standpoint, however, of militant republicanism and Marxism, it is rather difficult to imagine driving British imperialism out of Ireland and freeing the country without the southern state being destabilised. It is after all, as Liam Mellows noted back in 1922, not a step towards liberation, but a barrier between the Irish people and freedom that has to be removed.
As it was, the party leadership sent members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade to ‘marshal’ the march and ensure nothing untoward took place - although some of the army comrades later expressed regret and shame about their role.
The leadership also engaged in a substantial effort at what might be called ‘reformism by stealth’. Adams and co knew that they could not come out and say they wanted an end to the armed struggle and a peace deal little different from the 1973 Sunningdale agreement. So, instead of nailing their colours to the mast and fighting for their rotten capitulation to imperialism, we had the spectacle of ‘discussion papers’ on pathways to peace and justice (and later, just to peace).
When comrades critical of this would try to criticise these, the standard leadership response would be that these were not up for votes, they were not official policy: they just ideas that some people thought were interesting or useful. Within a couple of years, however, the positions in these documents were being used as the basis for official party statements. Without being voted on - in fact without ever being seriously debated - they became the de facto, and eventually de jure, position of Sinn Féin (and, presumably, of the army as well).
By about 1992, without the new line ever having been formally voted on, reformism was dominant and the road opened to its full flowering in the form of the republican movement embracing the constitutional nationalism which had been the deadly enemy of republicanism throughout its entire 200-year history.
Another, almost surreal, aspect - indeed it reminded me of Animal Farm - was the suppression of the ‘left’ Adams of the late 1970s and early 1980s and the emergence of the ‘moderate statesman’ Adams. For instance, my local cumann decided to hold regular monthly public forums, starting with one on poverty and featuring Dublin speakers and Bernadette McAliskey. For this forum, we wanted some literature and one of our members, who was also a member of the national leadership and worked in the party’s political education department, grabbed a few copies from her office of stuff written about socialism and republicanism by Adams in the late 70s and 80s that the education department had put together as a little pamphlet. She was physically prevented from taking this material out of SF head office to the forum on the basis that what Adams said in these collected pieces was no longer the party view.
Each edition of Adams’ first political book, The politics of Irish freedom, was re-edited several times to remove certain criticisms of the SDLP and Fianna Fáil and any other views of his subsequently deemed to have been ‘ultra-left’. Needless to say, the first version was much more interesting and inspiring than the insipid liberalism he repetitively churns out in book after book these days.
After about 1992, the shift rightwards gathered more and more steam, genuine left-republicans began dropping away over the next few years and, as the party became more respectable, a new layer of members were signed up on the basis of the new line.
The shift also reflected a dramatic truth about the objective importance of class in modern politics. If you became increasingly hostile to class politics, in terms of a revolutionary strategy based on the working class, this does not mean class politics go away. Rejecting the working class as the agent of struggle and social change simply means there is only one place left to go politically - towards the capitalist class. And so off went the republican leadership - towards the Irish bourgeoisie, the British bourgeoisie and the American ruling class. And the returns for betrayal are always lucrative: positions in power, even if only in Stormont, state money, an end to censorship and the opening up of the media, book publishing deals, visits to the White House and enough money from the States to make Sinn Féin the richest party in Ireland. After years of struggle and sacrifice, the temptations are not hard to understand, even if the capitulation is contemptible.
This sell-out by the leadership of the republican movement has been widely condemned by the British left. This is rather surreal, considering that few of them actually supported the republican struggle while it was being waged. And this brings us to the culpability of the British left, especially the major organisations, in terms of the sell-out.
The rise of the Provos was not an isolated event. It was part and parcel of the massive upsurge of workers and students in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was part of the process that produced the events of 1968 and the rebirth of the far left in Europe.
In Britain, it coincided with student occupations, anti-imperialist protests against the Vietnam war and huge industrial struggles against the Wilson government’s In place of strife legislation and the massive strike wave during the Heath government, culminating in the miners’ defeat of Heath in 1974. The British bourgeoisie faced a militant working class at home and a militant national liberation struggle just a few miles of sea away. If the two had come together, the result would have been at the very least a political and social crisis for the British ruling class - something that class was only too aware of.
There were some auspicious signs. In 1971, over 30,000 people took part in the Anti-Internment League’s march for the withdrawal of troops and an end to internment. In the early 1970s an Irish revolutionary like Bernadette Devlin could be given a rousing response by 4,000 Dagenham car workers during an industrial dispute. Bloody Sunday showed people on both sides of the Irish Sea what imperialist rule meant, if there was any doubt. The possibilities for the British left being able to make common cause with the struggle in Ireland and create a social and political crisis in Britain were real.
However, it was a challenge in which the British left totally failed. This was especially true when the British state began to fully clamp down on the struggle in Ireland around the time of Bloody Sunday and, especially, after Sunningdale and then the collapse of the mid-70s ceasefire. The unedifying flight of the British left was also linked to the war being brought to Britain itself. Most of the British left preferred their revolutions in the pages of history books and in fiery speeches they made at Labour Party and trade union conferences. They could support revolutions if they were on the other side of the world and against some other imperialist power, like the US in Vietnam. But a national liberation struggle against the British state that actually thought that if there was going to be fighting and dying some of it should take place on British soil - whoa, that was not in the script for the revolutionary heroes of the Brit left.
They denounced bombings in Britain as if they seriously believed a national liberation struggle against an imperialist power a few miles away, which had incorporated part of the oppressed nation’s territory within its own state, could possibly be won without armed actions, including within the imperialist state (I am not making a blanket defence of IRA bombings in Britain - some of them were stupid: merely establishing the principle about what is entailed in a real flesh-and-blood national liberation struggle).
Essentially the Brit left, in terms of its major organisations (‘official’ Communist Party, SWP, Militant, International Marxist Group) abandoned the Irish national liberation struggle against the British state. As soon as the going got tough, the Brit left got going … as far as possible, away from the Irish struggle. None of those involved in this abandonment therefore have any right to criticise the subsequent abandonment of the same struggle by the republican leaders themselves.
The worst were the ‘official’ CP and Militant, who basically sided with the British state by obstructing any attempts to build a solidarity movement within the British working class and repeating imperialist propaganda about the republican movement. In fact the ‘official’ CP acted in no small part as the actual agent of the British state in terms of TUC policies it pursued within the six counties. The SWP and IMG did their bit more by just simply abandoning any serious prioritising of Irish solidarity work.
I recall living in London at the time of the 1981 hunger strikes. One weekend there would be 250,000 people in Hyde Park protesting about non-existent nuclear wars on the basis of middle class pacifist politics. The British far left would be there in their thousands, selling their papers and promoting their own special brand of militant pacifism. The next week there would be a national march in support of the hunger strikers with a few hundred people - a thousand at most - in attendance and the far left notable mainly for its absence.
Basically, the bulk of the Brit left let the British government kill the hunger strikers without doing a damn thing. Building the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was the soft option and never challenged anything about British people’s attachment to the British nation-state and capitalist ideology. Organising real solidarity around Ireland was hard and not likely to result in immediate large gains in recruitment and paper sales. And it meant challenging trade union politics as a form of bourgeois ideology.
Of course, Marx and Engels had championed Irish freedom and argued that, as long as British workers remained tied to the apron-strings of the British bourgeoisie in Ireland, they would never attain real class consciousness or achieve anything significant in Britain itself. Lenin was devastating about the record of the British left of his day in relation to Ireland. The Bolsheviks ensured that one of the conditions of membership of the Third International was that if a party was in an imperialist country and there was a national liberation struggle going on against your government you had to provide it with material support. Trotsky declared that any British socialist who refused to provide full support for the struggle in Ireland (and India and Egypt) deserved to be branded with infamy, if not with an actual bullet.
Sadly, the great Marxists had sown dragons’ teeth and, in Britain, harvested chickens.
At the end of the day, the republican movement and its struggle capitulated in the context of having been abandoned long beforehand by the bulk of the British left and in the context of the collapse of both the supposedly collectivist Soviet Union and most other national liberation struggles. What is remarkable is not the betrayal of the republican leadership - as pitiful and dishonest as that has been - but the duration of the struggle in Ireland, given the real, material difficulties it faced.
However, the betrayal within Ireland also points up the weakness of a national liberation struggle which does not transcend the political limitations of radical nationalism. It shows that the period in which national liberation struggles could be taken at least to the achievement of independence and some radical social changes by radical nationalist leaderships is over. Only a conscious, revolutionary socialist movement can develop and maintain the politics, strategy and tactics necessary to prosecute a struggle for national liberation with any serious hope of success.
In Ireland, that places a huge burden on the Irish Republican Socialist Party and on other revolutionary republicans and socialists, including former members of the republican movement who left over the Good Friday agreement and leadership betrayal generally.
It seems to me that what is urgently needed are ways to get the dispersed genuine revolutionary forces - not the gas-and-water socialists Connolly denounced - in Ireland talking together and trying to develop a partyist culture among them, based on a Connolly-type politics for the Ireland of the 21st century.
ON MAY 5 BASQUE POLITICAL PRISONER INIGO MAGAZAKA COMPLETED 4 YEARS AS A POLITICAL PRISONER IN BELMARSH PRISON, LONDON.
IN JANUARY OF THIS YEAR HE SUCCESSFULLY MANAGED TO HAVE HIS CATEGORY REVIEWED - AND CONSEQUENTLY DOWNGRADED - FROM 'CATEGORY A' TO THE LESS RESTRICTIVE 'CATEGORY B' STATUS. THIS MEANS HE IS NO LONGER IN THE 23 HOUR LOCK-DOWN MODE IN THE HSU UNIT - BUT IN THE 'HOUSE BLOCK' - WHICH ENABLES HIM TO USE THE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT AND THE GYMNASIUM ON A DAILY BASIS.
INIGO TELLS US THAT DESPITE ALMOST ALL THE CHARGES AGAINST HIM BEING DROPPED, HE IS STILL FIGHTING EXTRADITION, AND THE ONLY TIME HE VENTURES OUTSIDE THE PRISON WALLS IS WHEN HE IS TRANSPORTED BY PRISON VAN - UNDER ARMED ESCORT - TO COURT APPEARANCES TO CONTEST EXTRADITION PROCEEDINGS.
INIGO ALSO WISHES TO THANK THOSE WELL-WISHERS IN IRELAND AND BRITAIN WHO HAVE WRITTEN TO HIM RECENTLY. HE WILL ENDEAVOUR TO REPLY TO ALL CORRESPONDENCE IN DUE COURSE.
===Press Release: Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association.
20 May 2005.
Contact: Marian Price/Martin Mulholland
Phone: 07801 729 412 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Double Standards in British ŒJustice’ System.
The IRPWA view today’s decision by a British Court to free UDA/UFF leader William ‘Mo’ Courtney on bail despite being held on a murder charge as displaying Double Standards given the treatment of Republicans by the same court in recent times. This incident is the latest in a long line of events that highlight the disparity in the way that the British Justice system views Loyalist and Republican suspects. Not only has Mr Courtney been released but also his co-accused Ihab Shoukri was released on Bail a number of months earlier. Shoukri’s Brother André also felt the full force of British Judicial leniency when caught with an illegal firearm and ammunition. Shoukri was initially charged with possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life but was eventually given an extremely short sentence for having a gun without a license. If we compare the sentence handed down recently to a Lurgan Loyalist who was caught with information likely to be of use to terrorists who was given a suspended sentence and that of a South Armagh Republican who charged with the same offence was give six years it is not hard to see a pattern emerging. In late 2003 and throughout 2004 a number of Republicans were released from custody when it was decided that there were no charges to answer or when it became obvious that the RUC/PSNI and the British Army framed these men. Most of these men continually applied for high court bail knowing that they had no case to answer yet the courts refused on almost every occasion. A number of men are still being held in Maghaberry goal on much less serious charges than Mr Courtney and the Shoukri’s brothers yet they too are refused bail on every occasion due to RUC intervention and so called Œsecurity assessments’. Although Mo Courtney has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty it is not lost on the republican community that this right has not been extended to Republicans. It is clear that as loyalists proclaim to defend the same state that the courts administer justice for, then they are treated more leniently than those who do not recognise that same state. The actions of the court and the politically motivated intervention of other agencies of the state in the cases of republicans show that these men are political prisoners and the difference in treatment between Republicans and Loyalists only serves to bear out this fact.
POLITICAL STATUS NOW.
AFRICAN LIBERATION DAY, WED 25 MAY 2005.
EVENT IN SUPPORT OF THE WOMEN IN KENYA
IN FRONT OF BBC, BEDFORD ST, BELFAST, 1PM
This event is being organised by TFS with support of the Nexus Institute
(help survivors of sexual abuse and rape in N.Ireland) & members of the local African community. Phone TFS 028 90747473 for more details and ask for
Annie or Hamish.
For the last 30 years British soldiers have raped women and boys from villages in eastern Kenya. When the women in Kenya took the courageous decision to seek justice, little did they know that they would expose the alliance between both the British and Kenyan Governments to suppress the truth and the painful reality that their own government, though elected by Kenyans, takes instructions from London. The Kenyan government failed to conduct its own investigation and ensure that its citizens received both justice and compensation. Instead the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) investigated itself. The Royal Military Police concluded that of the 800 allegations of rape made, “... no more than 30 are credible.” Is this not like asking an accused thief to investigate the robbery? There has been a smear campaign and all the major British newspapers have published reports on the alleged Kenya rapes and have presented the women as gold-diggers. If hypothetically, African soldiers stationed in the south of England had raped white women from a nearby village would the British Government be satisfied with an African government making the investigation? This case is about justice and both the British and Kenyan Governments share joint responsibility for the horrendous crimes that have been committed.
We have been told that due to threats made to them, the women cancelled a demo last March in Nairobi.
The above has been summarised from information passed on to us by the
London-based African Liberation Support Campaign with whom Tools For
Solidarity (TFS) is affiliated. They have direct contacts with the Kenyan
:The Unkindest Cut
A Cartoon History of Ulster in the Twentieth Century
5th May – 28th May 2005, admission free, Linen Hall Library (enter via Fountain St)
This lively exhibition presents historian and librarian John Killen’s selection of 170 of the best of these cartoons. Demonstrating the characteristic dark humour common to all sides in the north, the selection also suggests some interesting, if quirky, scenarios for a better future.
Date: Wed, 4 May 2005 08:18:28 EDT
Hello - this is a mass mail out with the final lineup for my birthday concert. greetings to friends, family, workmates, acquaintances and apologies to those to whom this e.mail is of absolutely no interest or pertinence. all the best, Peggy
Celebration of Peggy Seeger's 70th year! Queen Elizabeth Hall , London, England
Sunday, May 29 - 7 p.m.
Booking from inside UK: 08703-800-400
Booking from outside UK: +44-8703-800-400
Guest Artists: Billy Bragg, Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy, Calum MacColl, Kitty MacColl, Neill MacColl, Irene Pyper-Scott, Mike Seeger, Pete Seeger and Norma Waterson with instrumentalists James McNally, Roy Dodds, Graham Henderson and probably a few more!
London, UK 0870-382-8000
Email for more information