Volume 2, Number 47
9 August 2005
E-Mail Newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party
1) Editorial: "The Weekly Worker and the IRSP"
2) "Ireland Needs Marxism"
3) "Alter the Border?"
4) "Left Republicanism"
5) A Response from the IRSP to the Weekly Worker
6) What's On
EDITORIAL: "THE WEEKLY WORKER AND THE IRSP"
This edition of the Plough deals solely with issues raised by the CPGB
and its paper, the Weekly Worker. On the 4th of August 2005, the
Weekly Worker, the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain,
printed an article entitled "Ireland Needs Marxism" which we reproduce
below. The article reprints a number of incorrect statements
attributed to G. Ruddy in 1998. This despite the fact that the IRSP
gave a systematic rebuttal of the false allegations made by the
original article by John Bridge. In the late 1980s those who later
became the CPGB had a fraternal relationship with the then political
leadership of the IRSP. Despite this CPGB did not have the courtesy to
address their critique to the IRSP before they published it in their
newspaper. The IRSP response was published in the Starry Plough
newspaper. We will give Peter Manson the benefit of the doubt that he
was unaware of our response.
Now let us again rebut the false allegations made by the CPGB,
Manson's comments are in capitals.
YET ON DECEMBER 5 1998 THE IRSP OVERWHELMINGLY VOTED AT ITS CONFERENCE
TO ABANDON THE ONLY GENUINE BASIS FOR WORKING CLASS EMANCIPATION. IT
DITCHED ITS 1984 COMMITMENT TO MARXISM AND THE BUILDING OF A COMMUNIST
PARTY (DESCRIBED AS "PREMATURE").
This is of course totally untrue. What actually happened was that the
following motion was proposed by the comrades from Dublin as follows
"The Dublin Cumman IRSP call on this Ard-Fheis to commit the party to
becoming a genuine revolutionary party of the working class. We
believe that this can only be achieved by offering the working class
an alternative to the capitalist system of production, control, and
exchange. That alternative society must be based on 'need not greed'
and an end to capitalist exploitation. We therefore propose that this
Ard-Fheis commit the party to becoming communist and internationalist
with an ideology based on the Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx
and Frederick Engels in 1848. We propose the party aspires toward
Marxism with a full commitment to the Manifesto."
The motion was withdrawn and a decision taken to hold a conference on
the ideological direction of the party the following year. In the
course of the debate the CPGB alleged that, "GERRY RUDDY, POLITICAL
SECRETARY AND DE FACTO MAIN SPOKESPERSON, QUESTIONED THE RELEVANCE OF
MARXISM TO THE 21ST CENTURY AND IN A COUP DE GRACE TELLINGLY ASKED WHO
HAD ACTUALLY READ MARX RECENTLY. NOT ONE OF THE 100 OR SO DELEGATES
RAISED A HAND."
What was actually asked was "who has recently read the Communist
Manifesto recently?" None of our comrades had. This has to be seen
against the following background. The 1998 Ard-Fheis was the first to
be held in over 14 years and came shortly after the party had suffered
armed attacks from the Torney gang which had killed Gino Gallagher,
who had spearheaded the politicisation of the Republican Socialist
Movement. Those attacks had come only 7 years after a previous effort
was made by what became the IPLO to wipe out the RSM. During that
period of time politics had taken a backseat and indeed a previous
leadership of the movement had tried to stop any political
developments in the movement. Indeed the decisions taken by the 1984
Ard-Fheis on Marxism had been used by some former comrades to justify
the assaults on the movement.
So in 1998 we were in the process of re-building the party and
reuniting the movement. Rather than pass wonderful sounding
resolutions that signified nothing the party rightly took the decision
to postpone the discussion when it could be more thoroughly debated at
a special conference to examine the roots of our politics.
"IN A KEYNOTE SPEECH COMRADE RUDDY EXPLAINED THAT WHAT HE UNDERSTOOD
BY REPUBLICAN SOCIALISM WAS A NATIONAL SOCIALISM."
This is of course without a semblance of truth. It is also unworthy of
the CPGB to try to link a radical republican socialist organisation
with Nazism. Twice over a seven-year period the CPGB have repeated
this foul lie. A cursory reading of any of the speeches delivered by a
wide variety of IRSP speakers including Comrade Ruddy over the past
seven years would show clearly the internationalist perspective of the
"...BUT AT THEIR DECEMBER 1998 ARD FHEIS THEY ADVOCATED A 'COMMUNITY
POLICING AND JUSTICE SERVICE' TO BE JOINTLY FINANCED BY THE BRITISH
AND IRISH STATES - A POSITION NOT DISSIMILAR TO THAT OF SF."
This refers to a discussion paper tabled by one comrade in the
leadership to raise debate on issues such a punishment beatings, etc.
It was not formally approved as policy.
"THE TRUTH IS, WITHOUT THE COMPASS OF MARXISM ANY SOCIALIST GROUPING
WILL BE ALL AT SEA. THE IRSP IS NO EXCEPTION. APART FROM ONE BRIEF
PERIOD IN THE 1980S, IT HAS ALWAYS TENDED TO POSITION ITSELF AS THE
LEFT CRITIC OF SINN FEIN - AND WHEN SF MOVES TO THE RIGHT, SO WILL THE
IRSP IN ALL LIKELIHOOD."
It is very clear from this that the CPGB have absolutely no idea of
what the IRSP stands for. They have obviously read nothing of what the
party has written over the past ten years. Incidentally does the CPGB
think that the only time we were not left critics of the Provos was
when they were running educational seminars for the IRSP and our
movement then had the "right line"?
"DESPITE WHAT COMRADE O RUAIRC SAYS ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
NATIONALISM AND REPUBLICANISM, THE IRSP IS FIRST AND FOREMOST A LEFT
This is just abuse from an organisation that sees it self as the
centre of all truth and correctness when it comes to all things to do
For the benefit of our readers we outline some of the resolutions
passed by the organisation since 1998. In 2002 the following
resolution was passed.
a) The IRSP is a revolutionary Marxist organisation, and that by this
we mean that the IRSP believes:
b) Class conflict is the motive force in human history;
c) The IRSP stands unreservedly and exclusively for the interests of
the working class against all others;
d) Only the creation of a 32-county Irish socialist republic can
provide the means by which Irish national liberation can be realized;
e) That there can be no socialism without national liberation in
Ireland, nor can there be national liberation without socialism;
f) That there is no parliamentary road to socialism, because socialism
cannot be forged by seizing the bourgeois State apparatus; nor is
there a guerilla road to socialism, because a social revolution
requires the active participation of the masses; and therefore a
socialist republic can only be established through the mass
revolutionary action of the working class in the political, economic,
and social spheres;
g) That socialism means the ownership of the means of production,
distribution, and exchange collectively by the entire working class,
with an end to wage labour, an end to production for profit and its
replacement by a system of production based on human need; and
h) That socialism must be administered democratically by the working
class itself, recognising the class dictatorship of the workers,
because the vast majority of society is formed by that class. This
does not suggest the need for a political dictatorship of a single
party. Rather it calls out for a class dictatorship, administered
through new working class institutions created to permit the greatest
degree of political freedom for all working people.
Also in his address to that Ard-Fheis, G. Ruddy said in reference to
the party: "It is internationalist, it is socialist, it is republican,
it is Marxist."
Two years later at the following Ard-Fheis, Cde. Ruddy said: "The
survival of the human species must of necessity make us
internationalist. If nothing else ever so clearly defines the
differences between ourselves, the IRSP, and other republicans who
have capitulated to a narrow sectarian influenced nationalism, it must
be our internationalism following well in the footsteps of Wolfe Tone
and James Connolly."
In 2004 the first resolution passed by the Ard-Fheis read as follows:
"Ard-Fheis reaffirms that the IRSP is a republican socialist party
influenced by the writings of Tone, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Connolly,
Mellows, Costello, and Power."
It is sobering to think that an organisation like the CPGB, which
seems to specialise in analyzing the political errors of other left
wing organisations, could not take the time to do their research
right. The above quotations can be found on the IRSP web site. Indeed
anyone who has read the Starry Plough and/or the Plough could never
doubt the internationalism of the IRSP. At the least we accuse Manson
of sloppy research.
The IRSP has held its hands up and admitted errors and mistakes.
Indeed it has criticised past actions by the INLA, which itself held
its hands up and admitted grievous errors in the past. We do not think
we have the keys to the holy writ of Marxism. In historical terms we
are a relatively young organisation that has just come out of a war
situation over the past 30 years.
But we will take no lessons in Marxism from an organisation that not
only retrospectively justifies the partition of Ireland but also would
be happy with a re-partition of the island. Partition was not just a
crime against the nationalist working class, it was a crime against
the unionist working class. To retrospectively justify it now as the
CPGB do is to compound that crime.
Thanks, comrades, but no thanks all the same.
[By John Martin]
IRELAND NEEDS MARXISM
Weekly Worker 588, Thursday August 4 2005
What is so unusual about Irish republicans laying down their arms?
Nothing whatsoever. In fact Irish 20th century history is replete with
numerous examples of just that. Those who once took up arms against
the British or Free State rulers have frequently ended up abandoning
the revolutionary struggle, seduced by the allure of the bourgeois
Certainly that is what Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have in mind.
With Sinn Fein already the main republican/nationalist party in the
north and steadily increasing its proportion of votes in the south,
Adams and McGuinness have rather bigger ambitions than some ministry
in the Six County statelet. They aim to transform Sinn Fein into a
dominant all-Ireland constitutional party - if not the dominant party.
What is different about the current peace process is that never before
have arms been handed over to the powers-that-be. Usually they have
simply been left to rust. Of course, the unionists and rightwing media
complain that it is not happening quickly enough, and that Sinn
Fein/IRA do not really mean what they say, but the fact is that,
however symbolically, weapons have been "put beyond use", as verified
by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD).
In fact September 11 2001 has made it virtually impossible for a petty
bourgeois movement like the IRA to continue its war - to do so against
the backdrop of the 'war on terror' would be to cut oneself off from
many areas of traditional support, not least in the USA. So the deal
that was signed on Good Friday 1998 can now be seen even more clearly
as a turning point - there is no going back to the armed struggle.
The IRA statement of July 28 reflects this. While still containing
several areas of ambiguity, it is more explicit than any previous
declaration. "All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms," it reads.
Volunteers must "assist the development of purely political and
democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means" and "must
not engage in any other activities whatsoever". Units must "engage
with" the IICD to "complete the process to verifiably put its arms
beyond use … as quickly as possible".
Although Sinn Fein has helped to run the Six Counties, and intends to
continue doing so, thus recognizing its legitimacy, one thing it is
still insisting upon is that it will not directly support its armed
bodies of men in the shape of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
When SF spokespersons are pressed on the question, they attempt to
skirt around the difficulties by saying that they 'understand'
individuals who feel they need to report crime to the police, but they
themselves do not regard the current policing arrangements as
acceptable. This leaves it in something of a quandary, which is hinted
at by the IRA. Its statement notes, almost as an aside: "The issue of
the defence of nationalist and republican communities has been raised
This is an issue of no little importance. There are, after all,
probably thousands of illegal arms in the hands of the various
loyalist paramilitary groups (a question that is considered by the
British establishment as secondary when compared to IRA weaponry),
which have in the past demonstrated that they have no compunction in
using them to carry out often random murderous assaults on Catholics.
And state forces - both those of Northern Ireland and the UK itself
have been responsible in the past for brutal attacks on working class
republican areas. Thus the IRA statement, having informed us that this
whole question has been "raised", goes on cryptically: "There is a
responsibility on society to ensure that there is no reoccurrence of
the pogroms of 1969 and the early 1970s."
Some commentators have interpreted this to mean that, since the IRA
believes that official "society" cannot be trusted to do so, it will
be forced to retain some arms itself. In this connection great play
has been made about the absence of the word 'all' in the IRA's
commitment to "put its arms beyond use".
Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern may say in their joint response to the IRA
statement: "It is more important than ever that progress is made in
extending support across all sections of the community for the new
policing arrangements throughout Northern Ireland" (July 28). But this
is easier said than done, for reasons explained by that viciously
anti-republican Irish Times columnist, Kevin Myers:
"When the old RUC, aided by loyalist gangs, began its incursions into
nationalist areas of Belfast in 1969, the IRA was helpless to resist.
Many hundreds of catholic homes were burnt down and thousands of
Catholics fled. The graffiti that appeared in nationalist areas read,
'IRA = I Ran Away'.
"The Provisional IRA resulted from that calamity. Deep in its DNA is
this core value: it will not allow nationalist/republican areas of
Belfast ever, ever, to go unarmed. The IRA leadership would no more
countenance a disbandment of its capacity to 'defend' such areas than
the British army would announce that henceforth it would no longer
defend the realm.
"No doubt many might think such comparisons ridiculous. But if the IRA
were simply a sweet and reasonable organisation, we would not have had
36 years of strife" (The Daily Telegraph July 30).
Others might think it would hardly be "sweet and reasonable" to trust
the PSNI any more than the Royal Ulster Constabulary before it. From
the point of view of working class republicans, it would be extremely
foolhardy not to retain some weaponry for defensive purposes -
especially when you consider that only last week feuding elements of
the Ulster Volunteer Force were showing that they still have the
capacity to assassinate and brutalise their opponents.
In any case, for all the talk about 'verification', no-one can ever be
sure that all IRA arms have been 'decommissioned'. Apparently its
arsenal includes "three tons of Semtex, 588 AKM assault rifles and 17
DShK heavy-duty machine guns", if you believe British intelligence.
But if they know so much detail, you might ask, then how come state
forces have never been able to locate, let alone seize, such a haul?
In the end everybody will have to take the IRA's word for it.
However, IRA decommissioning is not the central question. Sinn
Fein/IRA have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt over the last seven
years and more that they have no intention of halting their
transformation into a constitutional force - the gains have been too
great for such a reversal to be contemplated.
So does this statement represent the final act of "surrender", as
alleged by The Sun (July 28)? In my opinion this is just as absurd as
Ian Paisley's claim that the dismantling of army surveillance towers
and lookout posts, which began the following day, was "surrendering to
the IRA". Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party is also enraged by the
fact that troops stationed in Northern Ireland are to be cut by more
than half, to 5,000, by 2007. The hated Royal Irish Regiment, formed
largely from the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), is to go. In 1970 the
UDR replaced the 'B specials' - a force which was overwhelmingly
protestant and worked hand in glove with loyalist terror gangs. But
the DUP ludicrously suggests that the "people of Ulster" will now be
unprotected, should the IRA decide to resume its armed struggle
(which, of course, it will not).
In fact the state remains armed to the teeth - there is no requirement
on the British army to decommission its weapons of suppression.
However, it is ludicrous to talk about "surrender" - the IRA has
clearly not been defeated. It is also missing the point to say that
Adams has sold out. Yes, he has turned his back on the revolutionary
republican tradition. But his socialism was always national, always
fake. Sinn Fein/IRA were never principled working class partisans.
Rather, however heroically they fought the British occupation, they
are nationalists following a petty bourgeois programme. No one should
be surprised when such people discard the Armalite in favour of
constitutionalism - there is nothing innately revolutionary about
For nearly three decades Britain was unable to rule the Six Counties
in the old way and the nationalist masses refused to be ruled in the
old way. But the historic compromise reached between the British state
and republicanism ended the revolutionary situation. It is therefore
foolhardy to demand, or imply, that the only principled way to fight
the British, even now, is through the bullet.
Of course, we communists favour an armed people - even if at this time
we are limited to making propaganda. But armed struggle is merely one
tactic open to us - we are equally prepared to contest elections (even
to the assembly of a gerrymandered, illegitimate statelet). What is
paramount is not this or that tactic, but the programme we fight
And programme is what is desperately lacking amongst Irish
revolutionaries. True, they all call for unity, independence and
democracy for Ireland, but that is about as far as it goes. We are for
the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the British state and
British troops from Northern Ireland. There must be a freely elected,
all-Ireland constitutional assembly, whereby the Irish people can
decide their own future without Blair setting the agenda. We advocate
and fight for the fullest democracy. That means a federal Ireland with
self-governing autonomy, up to and including the right to separate,
for the British-Irish minority.
There can be no right of present-day Northern Ireland to
self-determination. The six-county statelet was founded in 1921 on the
cynical basis of permanently institutionalizing the oppression of the
catholic-nationalist minority. We do not, and cannot, support the
right of the British-Irish majority in the north to oppress the
catholic-nationalist minority. But the British-Irish, as a
historically constituted people, must be won voluntarily to Irish
unity -and this can best be achieved through a federal solution,
whereby the area containing a clear British-Irish majority (one county
and four half-counties) has the right of self-determination up to and
In the early 1970s Sinn Fein adopted a programme, Eire Nua, which
advocated a "federal Ireland". But this ignored the living
cultural/ethnic divisions, and instead sought to revive the "four
historic provinces" - Connacht, Munster, Leinster and a nine-county
Ulster. This singularly failed to address the objective British-Irish
question in a democratic manner.
Comrade Liam O Ruairc has contributed some very useful articles to the
Weekly Worker in recent months, detailing Sinn Fein's turn to
constitutionalism. He correctly states: "What fundamentally
distinguishes Irish republicanism from Irish nationalism is that it is
not simply about desiring independence from Britain, but that it is
intrinsically connected to establishing democracy in Ireland. The
national question is part of what Marx and Engels...called the
process of 'winning the battle for democracy'" (Weekly Worker June 2).
But the revolutionary socialist republicanism that the comrade
espouses is lacking in one respect: it fails to embrace anything
approaching a programme to win over the British-Irish population -
perhaps, like so many others, Comrade O Ruairc would dismiss the
notion of the necessary voluntary unity as legitimising a "unionist
veto", although it is nothing of the sort.
However, the absence of such a programme amongst Irish revolutionaries
is merely a symptom of a larger failing. Comrade O Ruairc is a
supporter of the "Irish Republican Socialist Movement" - a term
usually employed to refer collectively to the Irish Republican
Socialist Party and its armed wing, the Irish National Liberation
Army. He states that the IRSM is "well placed" and has "the necessary
credibility" to renew "the republican and socialist projects" (ibid).
Yet on December 5 1998 the IRSP overwhelming voted at its conference
to abandon the only genuine basis for working class emancipation. It
ditched its 1984 commitment to Marxism and the building of a Communist
Party (described as "premature"). This is how John Bridge, a fraternal
visitor from the CPGB, reported the proceedings:
"Gerry Ruddy, political secretary and de facto main spokesperson,
questioned the relevance of Marxism to the 21st century and in a coup
de grace tellingly asked who had actually read Marx recently. Not one
of the 100 or so delegates raised a hand. In a keynote speech comrade
Ruddy explained that what he understood by republican socialism was a
national socialism. His vision was of a 32-county state where the
workers would receive back the full fruits of their labour" (Weekly
Worker January 7 1999 - Comrade Ruddy is, by the way, one of the
comrades listed by Comrade O Ruairc to whom the arguments developed in
his June 2 Weekly Worker article "owe a lot").
IRSP comrades may slate Sinn Fein for implicitly recognising the
state's right to police nationalist areas in Northern Ireland, but at
their December 1998 Ard-Fheis they advocated a "community policing and
justice service" to be jointly financed by the British and Irish
states - a position not dissimilar to that of SF. This acceptable
police force would be "unarmed" except when "dealing with dangerous
situations" (riots, no-go areas, paramilitaries, violent strikes and
The truth is, without the compass of Marxism any socialist grouping
will be all at sea. The IRSP is no exception. Apart from one brief
period in the 1980s, it has always tended to position itself as the
left critic of Sinn Fein - and when SF moves to the right, so will
the IRSP in all likelihood. Despite what Comrade O Ruairc says about
the difference between nationalism and republicanism, the IRSP is
first and foremost a left nationalist formation.
But he is right about one thing: "no serious revolutionary movement or
process can be built in Ireland outside or apart from the republican
tradition" (Weekly Worker June 2). Specifically it cannot be built
apart from the element that is working class and socialist. The heroic
tradition of Seamus Costello, Ronnie Bunting, Patsy O'Hara and Ta
Power can and must be positively integrated into the communism of the
[By Peter Manson - CPGB]
"ALTER THE BORDER?"
Hopefully the three pieces in last week's Weekly Worker, by Liam O
Ruairc, Peter Manson and myself will stimulate some wider discussion
and debate, and not just in Britain. Hopefully these and earlier
pieces, mainly by Liam, are being read within Ireland itself.
In a comradely spirit, I would like to make a couple of comments on
Peter's article. I always have a problem when British leftists refer
to the Provos as a 'petty bourgeois' movement; especially when so many
of these comrades regard the British Labour Party as a 'workers party'
(albeit of the deformed and degenerated sort). In fact, for most of
their existence, the Provos are far more of a working class movement
than the British Labour Party is today. I'm aware that Peter is
referring to the Provos' politics, rather than their social
composition. Interestingly, the British Labour Party's politics have
never transcended petty-bourgeois politics, yet I don't see too many
British leftists continuously using terms like the bourgeois British
Labour Party or the petty-bourgeois British Labour Party. British
leftists have a strange double standard of calling the British LP
'working class' on the basis of its supposed social composition/base
and yet calling Irish republicans 'petty bourgeois' on the basis of
their politics. I might also add that while British capital provides
substantial funding and support for the British Labour Party, no major
section of capital provides funding for the Provos (although, that
will most likely change over the next few years).
In short, describing the Provos, as 'petty bourgeois' is neither
correct nor helpful, especially when a different stance is taken to
the far more pernicious British Labour Party.
Peter also argues they were never revolutionary nationalists. Yet if
you look at who Lenin described as revolutionary nationalists in his
time, it is rather difficult to deny that description to the Provos in
the 1970s and 1980s.
The practical problem with some of Peter's terminology and analysis is
that it actually treats the evolution of the Provos as a straight line
from 1969/70 to what they are now. Everything is predetermined
because, after all, that's what the petty bourgeoisie and petty
bourgeois politics do. This approach was not of much use within
Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s.
The problem of the Provos was certainly, as Peter more helpfully
indicates, a lack of a serious revolutionary programme. This, of
course, is also an affliction of left groups more close to home, like
the British SWP which, unlike the Provos, made – and still makes
– the claim to be Marxist and whose social composition is far less
proletarian than that of the Provos during their evolution leftwards
In terms of his comments about the IRSP, I hope that there will be a
response to Peter's criticism. I don't think the IRSP has any vested
interests in defending errors; any more than Peter's own current has
in defending a number of wrong and bad positions in the past. I
certainly agree that Marxism is the basis for building a revolutionary
movement in Ireland in the 21st century and, as I've said before,
Marxism in Ireland means a positive engagement and identification with
the republican tradition. It's impossible to be a revolutionary in
Ireland without being a republican, although there's no shortage of
gas-and-water socialists over there at present.
Lastly, we come to the 'British-Irish' question. I gather that there
are differences about this within the CPGB/Weekly Worker current and I
assume that my position is pretty similar to the minority view. The
problem is the entire conception of the 'British-Irish'. While this is
supposed to be a recognition of an historical reality, it is no such
thing. No one in Ireland, apart possibly from a few neo-fascist
cranks, would describe the unionist population in the north by such a
term. It is basically an invention of the old British-Irish Communist
Organisation in the period in which they moved away from republicanism
and towards capitulation to British imperialism. The actual historical
process that has gone on in Ireland is the fusion of various peoples
arriving on the island at different times into a single people we call
the Irish. The Irish nation only emerged in the 1700s, an objective
historical process which was reflected politically in the formation of
the United Irishmen movement. It's no accident that this movement was
almost totally founded and led by Protestants.
The separation of much of the Protestant population was the conscious
policy of the British state in reaction to the tendency of historical
development to create a single nation and unitary nation state in
Ireland. This process was artificially blocked by British control of
the island, in a similar way to how the imposition of apartheid
retarded the development of a single South African nation and
attempted to break it up into discrete 'races'. The idea of a
'British-Irish' nationality in Ireland is as erroneous as the idea of
a 'white' nationality in South Africa with a right to
self-determination. (I might add I have the same attitude to the
two-state position the CPGB/Weekly Worker majority holds on Israel,
but I'll leave that for another time!)
The political implications of concocting a 'British-Irish' nationality
are to make a major concession to the imperialists – e.g. to
advocate a two-state 'solution' to the Irish national question, a
solution the imperialists themselves attempted in 1921. Your
majority's position just seems to want to alter the border.
Anyway, while critical of some of your analysis in relation to
Ireland, I am heartened by your existence as a political current and
as one of the few currents around which is prepared to openly discuss
and debate these vital questions in your paper. My own donations go to
the Anti-Capitalist Alliance here in New Zealand, but I'd certainly
urge people in Britain to donate to your Summer Offensive appeal. The
Weekly Worker is surely a must-read for any serious leftist in
[By Philip Ferguson]
In his article (WW 4 August), Peter Manson raises a number of issues
relating to Irish republicanism.
"It is missing the point to say that Adams has sold out. His socialism
was...always fake. No one should be surprised when such people discard
the Armalite in favour of constitutionalism -there is nothing innately
revolutionary about their nationalism."
However, to paraphrase Peadar O'Donnell, the problem is not that Adams
is not a socialist - he doesn't claim to be one - the problem is that
he claims to be a republican whereas he has moved to the nationalist
position. He has ditched innately revolutionary republicanism for
innately reformist nationalism. At this stage, the important political
debate is not that between republicanism and socialism, but the debate
between republicanism and nationalism. Though the question of
socialism cannot be chronologically separated from the struggle for
the republican position, the latter has logical priority.
The Adams strategy blurred the distinctions between republicanism and
nationalism, between republicanism and Catholic defenderism. An
alternative strategy needs to re-define those boundaries and rescue
republicanism from being seen simply as a different face of the
nationalist and defenderist project. Peter is absolutely correct when
noting that "what is paramount is the programme we fight under". In
the present conjuncture, we are back to the debates of the 1930s and
the Republican Congress. Should the immediate aim be the Republic or
the Workers Republic? To reach this aim is the best vehicle the party
or the united front? Those questions still haven't been clarified.
Last year, there was an attempt to set a Congress of Republicans
of those involved were for the Republic, others for the Workers
Republic, a few defended the Belfast Agreement, most opposed it, some
supported armed struggle, others not.
Peter writes that "the IRSP is first and foremost a left nationalist
formation" rather than a Marxist party. Given the opposition between
nationalism and republicanism, the term 'left republican' or 'social
republicanism' is more adequate. It stands in the tradition of Tone,
Emmett, Lalor, Connolly, Mellows and Frank Ryan. Of all those, only
Connolly was strictly speaking a scientific socialist. Liam Mellows
wrote that to call his ideas 'communist' was "silly" (CD Greaves, Liam
Mellows and the Irish Revolution, Lawrence & Wishart, 1971, p.377).
In the words of Tom Barry, Frank Ryan was a patriotic Irishman with
left wing sympathies. In a letter to a newspaper, Ryan wrote: "The
future lies in working-class rule. In my opinion not in the Communism
advocated today, but certainly in that direction. That explains, at
once, why I associate on a platform with the CP and at the same time
why I would not join the CP. And eventually the gap between CP policy
on the one hand and the Fianna Fail IRA policies on the other hand
will be filled by a new movement. We will have to slog along for
that." (Irish Press, 1 May 1935)
Historical evidence thus substantiates Peter's characterisation. Also,
none of the left republican figures or organisations ever fitted
within a strict definition of a communist party, for example being
based on the theses and resolutions of the first four congresses of
the Communist International, accepting the 21 points of admission,
etc. However, left republicanism is the best starting point for those
in Ireland who want to forge the vanguard and build a party of a new
type. Where else can you begin? It is the current that has the most
'family resemblances', as Wittgenstein would have put it, with
Peter would object that a left republican programme "fails to embrace
anything approaching a programme to win over the British-Irish
population". I have never heard the Ulster Protestants refer to
themselves as 'British-Irish' and very few would claim the status of a
distinct nationality, however for reasons of convenience I will refer
to them here as the 'British-Irish'. How does one challenge Orangeism
and Loyalism and win over the 'British-Irish' as Peter calls them?
One has to make a clear distinction between the 'British-Irish'
population and Orangeism, loyalism and unionism. An ethno-national
group should not be confused with a particular political ideology. Not
all the 'British-Irish' are loyalists. Maintaining the distinction
between the two is essential if one wants to encourage 'British-Irish'
breaking away from the reactionary Orangeism, loyalism and unionism,
and currents independent of them emerging amongst the 'British-Irish'
A left republican programme would accept the right of the
'British-Irish' to define themselves as they want. Social
republicanism does not have a problem with people considering
themselves to be British or believing in the Protestant religion.
Everyone in Ireland has the right to hold on to his or her own
identity, culture and perceived nationality. For example, there are
Chinese people in Ireland who consider themselves to be Chinese and
are holding on to their language and culture, the same with Polish or
Nigerian people, etc. So if the Protestant people in the North
consider themselves to be British and not Irish, republicans should
have no problem with it.
The programme would challenge the 'British-Irish' on what they mean
whenever they talk of their British identity and culture. For example,
if one talks of Irish identity and culture, one can point major
writers, music, architecture etc. However, whenever the
'British-Irish' claim to be celebrating their culture, it is limited
to the flying of Union flags, marches and bonfires. Is that all what
their culture and identity is? How many writers for example has the
'British-Irish' tradition produced? They should be challenged on their
lack of culture and contradictions. If wearing a Rangers top and a
sash while singing The Billy Boys and banging a drum is a culture,
then every social group, sect and bunch of ideological crackpots can
claim the status of a culture and a separate identity. More
specifically, the 'British-Irish' should be challenged on how they
relate to their progressive heritage.
There are lots of things in the British culture and history that left
republicanism can identify with, think for example of the democratic
tradition of the Levellers, the Chartists, etc. Many Protestants who
consider themselves to be British only hold on to one
aspect/expression of British identity: the monarchy, nostalgia for the
Empire, etc. Left republicans would point that there are other ways of
being British, why don't they explore and appropriate for themselves
all the progressive British heritage?
Commentators have recently talked about "Protestant alienation". There
is a deepening crisis in Protestant working class areas in the North.
Apart from poverty and unemployment, Protestant working class
communities suffer the daily brunt of paramilitary oppression and
gangsterism. The 'British-Irish' should be challenged on the lack of
social and economic content of both loyalism and unionism. Contrary to
republicanism, it has no democratic social and economic content, which
would be able to articulate solutions to those problems. Orangeism,
loyalism and unionism are unable to correspond to the needs of the
'British-Irish' people. It is unfortunate how this crisis has
encouraged so few Protestants to question the relevance of unionism
Ideally, the emancipation of the 'British-Irish' working class should
be the work of the 'British-Irish' workers themselves. However, there
are two major obstacles to this. The first problem is that working
class Protestant communities are characterized by a weak political
culture, and this has had a major effect on its ability to develop
outward and progressive looking policies capable of developing their
positive potential. It has few thinkers. The second problem is that as
long as the British state guarantees that Northern Ireland will remain
part of the United Kingdom, the unionist population has no incentives
to question and change their position. Unionist and loyalist
intransigence is proportional to the lack of resolve in confronting
it. That leaves republicans and socialists pessimistic about winning
over substantial sections of the Protestant population.
What elements of the 'British-Irish' population are the most likely to
chart a progressive move forward? Within the working class, a
rudimentary trade union solidarity still remains, residue from the
large scale Protestant working class participation in the
manufacturing industry prevalent in the building of industrial Belfast
- linen, textiles, engineering and shipbuilding. Every working class
district had, until recently, many men and women who had involvement
at shop steward or convenor level within their union, and those
organisation skills learnt in the unions lent discipline to the
Protestant community. Also, in most predominantly Protestant districts
today, most of the "social cement" is provided by, or within the
sphere of influence of churches. The influence of Protestant clergy in
the resolution of community problems has been noticeable. At their
best, the influences of church leaders and the labour movement were
seen in the development of the Northern Ireland Labour Party. At its
height it had 4 Stormont MPs in the 1960's. Those are the elements of
the 'British-Irish' population who have the best chances to challenge
Orangeism and unionism from within.
Finally, non-nationalist republicanism challenges all manifestations
of nationalism and sectarianism. Republicanism should not be
identified with romantic cultural nationalism. More specifically, it
refuses to identify Irish culture and identity exclusively with one
single cultural form (i.e. Irish language, supporting Gaelic games,
etc). A more diverse and inclusive approach to culture influenced by
republicanism such as the Field Day project provides an alternative to
This is the most realistic programme to strengthen what is best in the
'British-Irish' population without making any concessions to
Orangeism, Loyalism and Unionism.
[By Liam O Ruairc]
A RESPONSE FROM THE IRSP TO THE WEEKLY WORKER
To the Weekly Worker:
A critique of the Ard-Fheis of the IRSP in Weekly Worker (7th January
1999) began with a general discourse on submission which was both
insulting and patronising to a revolutionary organisation with a
record of resistance to omperialism for 24 years. The IRSP have been
accused of many things in the past. Some criticisms have been well
justified. However the criticisms from John Bridge most certainly are
not. Twelve main criticisms are made.
1. While we have gone forward organisationally we have made an
This criticism following the patronising introduction implies that we
are bowing to the prevailing reactionary mood. Because the IRSP looks
at the world as it is not as we would like it to be do we stand
condemned. For the first time in many years the IRSP has become
actively involved in political struggle. That is not only an
organisational advance, it is a political and ideological advance. Of
what use are paper resolutions proclaiming our revolutionary purity if
no organisation exists to implement the resolutions?
2. We passed an "overwhelming vote against reaffirming the party`s
1984 commitment to Marxism and building a Communist Party."
This is just untrue and is truly worthy of a "Sun Award for services
to journalism." What did happen was that a motion committing the party
to a "full commitment" to the Communist Manifesto of 1848 was referred
back on the grounds that few of us had recently read the Manifesto (if
indeed many of our members had ever read it). It was clearly stated by
leading comrades that they did not wish to vote against the motion but
considered it premature. The leadership also committed itself to
calling a conference to consider the ideological development of the
party. No motion relating to "building a communist party" existed.
3. A number of prominent comrades displayed their Irish republicanism
and professed ignorance of Marxism. No one had "actually read Marx
This is a gross distortion of a complex and genuine argument. The
political secretary, John Martin, in opposing the Dublin motion
pointed out the reality of the situation. Few comrades had read the
Communist Manifesto and that it was ludicrous to ask comrades to
accept something they had not read. Furthermore it was premature to
rush into decisions without the fullest democratic discussion. The
Dublin comrades refused to withdraw their resolution so it was
referred back by a overwhelming majority to the incoming leadership.
As for that cheap jibe about "Irish republicans" coming from a
organisation that prides itself on being a British party, well, we are
Irish republicans and make no apology for that.
4. A leading comrade questioned "the relevance of Marxism to the 21st
Does John Bridge never question or critically re-examine his core
beliefs? Or is everything from the great gods of Marx, Engels and
Lenin above re-examination? Is Marxism a mantra to be chanted or a
method to be tested? No doubt John will let us know.
5. In a keynote speech republican socialism was "national socialism."
This is just an appalling lie. It did not happen. Once again we see
the makings of a Sun journalist emerging here. The constitution of the
IRSP specifically calls for a Socialist Republic "based on the spirit
of workers unity and internationalism." The keynote speech was part of
a process to raise ideological debate amongst the comrades in the
movement which, according to John Bridge, "is frighteningly low and
left illusions are rampant."
6. The political leadership has not proved "particularly political."
This statement says more about the myopic view of the world of John
Bridge than it does about the IRSP. Do not lecture Irish socialists on
how to run their struggle, comrades. This is another form of
patronising great power chauvinism. How can you write that about a
leadership that has come under armed attacks from loyalists, from
British backed pseudo-republican gangs, suffered physical and verbal
assaults from Provisionals, resisted fierce efforts by British
security forces to compromise our security and politics while
re-affirming the movement's commitment in particular to the political
direction of the famous Ta Power document? We have lost our leader
Gino Gallagher who laid down the direction we should take. Our
comrades in Portlaoise Jail had to undergo a hunger strike to achieve
prison equality with the Provisionals. The INLA accepted the political
analysis of the IRSP over the past four years and transformed itself
into a disciplined, politically motivated, and highly effective
revolutionary force. The IRSP has held two Ard-Fheis in two years
following the failure of previous leaderships to call any since 1984.
The IRSP now has a presence through out Ireland is politically active
and is a growing revolutionary force. This doesn't amount to political
leadership? But producing a newspaper is? And will the newspaper
follow the line of John Bridge and call for all to join the Communist
Party of Great Britain? We think not.
7. There was precious little argument at the Ard-Fheis.
Perhaps that was because the membership had a leadership that it
trusted and agreed with. The implication that debate was stifled is
not true. There was ample opportunity for comrades to speak and the
hall mark of the leadership over the last four years has been its
encouragement to debate, openness and criticism.
8. The standing orders were absurd for barring "personal criticisms
and bad language."
The Republican Socialist Movement has suffered in the past from fierce
personality clashes that helped contribute to an atmosphere which
eventually lead to armed clashes. Political criticism are not the same
as personal criticisms and if John Bridge thinks it is ok to engage in
personal criticisms then he has learned little. As regards bad
language we regard it as immature for people making political points
to bolster their arguments by swearing.
9. "Rather than have a good fight the IRSP leadership opted for bad
peace" - "no lessons were learnt."
This point emerges from the debate about the manner in which the INLA
ceasefire came about. There were many lessons learnt from that
experience and other experiences. Does John Bridge really believe that
we would have engaged in public debate about the ceasefire,
endangering the security of comrades, compromising our positions and
letting the British have full knowledge of who all the key players
are? Suffice it to say that the leadership of the movement acted
10. We were moving to the right calling for state measures and being
totally economistic and producing papers which were "thoroughly
An organisation that stood up to British imperialism for 24 years is
not simply giving up its struggle and becoming an economistic
organisation. For years we have read critiques from the British left
that told us we were this, that and the other. Fraternal criticism is
one thing, this name calling is something else. Furthermore the paper
on community policing was a discussion document and is not policy.
In relation to the drugs problem what do you think the IRSP should
advocate? If not state action then what? DADD activity? The killing of
major drug dealers? It may be an abstract problem to you its real for
11. Cde. Ruddy abstained on a motion on decommissioning!!!!!
What does this mean? Comrades are not allowed to disagree? Should
there be a 100% vote on all resolutions? Or is this really a way of
personalising the problem as John Bridge sees it? Create a caricature
of an opponent and thereby weaken his arguments. Set up leaders in
order to knock them down. The leadership of this party is a collective
leadership. The days of the cult of the personality are long gone from
12. "Scientifically the IRSP can be characterised as centrist."
Well, really! How naughty of us! There is really little to say on
this. The passing of slightly contradictory motions, the tabling of
discussion papers the efforts to chart the way forward all show that
the IRSP is collectively beginning the process of engaging in politics
after years of passivity. It will be for the future to judge us not on
the basis of motions passed but on the actions of our movement
Political Secretary IRSP
Friday, 10 August
Teach na Failte (North Belfast) Fundraiser in the Crumlin Star,
Ardoyne, Friday August 19th 2005 from 8.00pm till late admission
Friday-Sunday, 26-28 August
Seventeenth Desmond Greaves Summer School 2005
A weekend of political thought and discussion from Friday to Sunday,
26-28 August 2005, at the Irish Labour History Society premises,
Beggars Bush, Haddington Rd., Dublin 4.
Friday August 26th at 7.30pm: The Prospects for the Left in Ireland
Eugene McCartan, General Secretary, Communist Party of Ireland
Chair: Robert Ballagh
Saturday August 27th at 2.30 pm: Desmond Greaves as an historian
Mary Cullen and Brian Hanley will evaluate Desmond Greaves's
historical writings and his contribution as an historian
Mary Cullen is an historian and research associate at St Patrick's
College Maynooth, and TCD
Dr.Brian Hanley is a Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Modern
History, NUI, Maynooth, and author of The IRA 1926-36 and other books
Chair: Kevin McCorry
Sunday August 28th at 11.00 am: The Politics of the Peace Process
Owen Bennett will examine the current position of the Northern peace
process and the views of its supporters and critics, and will
consider its relevance for the future of Irish Republicanism
Chair: Finian Mc Grath TD.
Sunday August 28th at 2.30 pm: A forum on C. Desmond Greaves -
personal reminiscences by some who knew him
Gerard Curran, who has been a member of the Connolly Association
since 1952 and is former Literary Editor of the Irish Democrat,
London, which Greaves edited from 1948 to 1988;
Helga MacLiam, Dublin, with whose family Greaves used often stay
when visiting Ireland;
Bernard Morgan, long-time member of the Connolly Association,
Liverpool, Greaves's native city;
Sean Redmond, Dublin trade union official and general secretary of
the Connolly Association in the 1960s;
Chair: Anthony Coughlan, Desmond Greaves's Literary Executor
Full School E15; Individual sessions E5; Unwaged half-price;
Enquiries to Frank Keoghan, School Director, at 25 Shanowen Crescent,
Dublin 9; Tel.: 00-353-1-8423076
How to get there: Buses 5,7,7a or 8 from O'Connell Bridge, Dublin,
alighting at the first stop in Northumberland Road, Ballsbridge.
Haddington Road is first on the left, parallel to the canal.
C. DESMOND GREAVES (1913-1988)
C. Desmond Greaves, whose work and writings inspired the foundation
of this annual Summer School, was one of Ireland's leading labour
historians. He was author of The Life and Times of James Connolly,
Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution, Sean O'Casey: Politics and
Art, Wolfe Tone and the Irish Nation, History of the Irish Transport
and General Workers Union: the Formative Years, The Irish Crisis, and
two books of verse, Four Letter Verses and the Mountbatten Award, and
Elephants Against Rome.
Desmond Greaves held that the peaceful way to end the partition of
Ireland was to secure maximum equality between Protestants and
Catholics in the Six Counties, thereby removing any rational basis
for unionism as an ideology that justified domination over Catholics,
and opening a way for northern Protestants to rediscover in time the
political implications of the common Irishness they share with their
Catholic and non-Protestant fellow countrymen and women.
As an activist in the Connolly Association, London, and editor from
1948 to 1988 of its monthly newspaper, The Irish Democrat, he
pioneered the idea of a campaign for civil rights as the way to
shatter unionist political domination, which was taken up by the
1960s northern Civil Rights Movement. He held that it was essential
for Ireland to win allies internationally for any moves to end
partition and that organised British public opinion, especially as
embodied in the British labour and trade union movement, which the
Irish community in Britain could significantly influence, was the
most important such potential ally.
He believed that in the era of the EU and the near-global domination
of transnational capital, the most important political task for
democrats and the labour movement was to join in an international
movement in defence of the nation state as the fundamental locus of
political democracy, and the only mechanism which history has evolved
for imposing social controls on private capital.
Thursday, 25 August and Friday 26 August
Coiste na nIarchimí
Scoil Samhraidh/Summer School
Ti Chulainn Cultural Centre
25/26 August 2005
Irish Republicanism: can it be militant without being militaristic?
Thursday 25 August
7.00 p.m. Official opening of the summer school by Pat McGinn,
Mayor of Newry and Mourne Council
7.30 p.m. Martin Ferris Sinn Féin TD, Chair: Mike Ritchie
Friday 26 August
10.30 a.m. Mary Lou McDonnell Sinn Féin MEP, Tommy McKearney former
IRA prisoner, Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin MLA, Chair: Laurence McKeown
1.00 p.m. Lunch
1.30 p.m. Historical walk and talk
3.00 p.m. Agnes Maillot lecturer at Dublin City University, Denis
O'Hearn lecturer at Queen's University, Mike Ritchie Director of
Coiste na nIarchimí, John Gray curator of the Linen Hall Library,
Margaret Ward political historian, Chair: Rosie McCorley
I am delighted to invite you once again to south Armagh to the third
summer school organised by Coiste na nIarchimí. The summer school
offers you, the participants, an opportunity to reflect on, discuss
and debate topical issues and explore the opportunities and obstacles
to building a nation rooted in respect for diversity and committed to
justice and peace.
The theme of the summer school, Irish Republicanism: can it be
militant without being militaristic? is very much a live topic at the
moment, viewed much differently depending upon your political outlook.
As an organisation working proactively on behalf of former republican
prisoners, their families and displaced people, you could say we have
been 'militant' in our refusal to accept the status quo and the
discriminatory barriers that currently impact upon the constituency we
represent and deny them full citizenship. In that sense we are
carrying on the tradition from the prisons where republicans displayed
their militancy, as opposed to their militarism, in a host of ways
the burning of Long Kesh, the blanket protest, the hunger
strikes, the escapes, the education programmes, the handicrafts, the
lobbying, the legal cases. This was not militancy for its sake alone
but to challenge oppressive regimes, strive for intellectual and
physical freedom and to create a better way to live with one another.
Our challenge today is to continue that work at a societal level in an
equally militant, but not militaristic, manner.
I look forward to seeing you in Mullaghbawn.
Director Coiste na n-Iarchimi.
Coiste na n-Iarchimi is the umbrella organisation of the republican
ex-prisoner network throughout Ireland. Since its establishment in
1998 it has played a key role in highlighting and lobbying against the
social, economic, legal and societal barriers faced by political
ex-prisoners and their families.
Coiste na n-Iarchimi has gained a reputation for developing radical
and challenging projects which foster greater interaction between
republican ex-prisoners and all other sectors of Irish society. This
summer school is organised under one such project entitled
'Processes of Nation Building'.
Saturday, 30 August
This year's National Hunger Strike Commemoration will take place on
Rosemount Factory, Derry
For march and rally.
Camp Havana Glencolmcille
From Friday 16th to Sunday 18th September 2005 over 100 men, women and
children from every corner of this island - and indeed from much
further away - will gather in Glencolmcille / Donegal. They will
come in busses, by car, bicycle or on foot.
They will erect CAMP HAVANA and walk to the top of Slieve League.
Some will take the challenging hike across the whole ridge,
accompanied by a trained mountain guide. Some will use a more relaxed
walking route and some will only go as far as the bus can take them.
All of them will enjoy Europe's highest sea - cliffs which are
surrounded by scenery incomparable to anywhere else on this earth.
Of course we are not just gathering to admire spectacular scenery. We
will get together in what is going to be the biggest show of
friendship with people from another island, Cuba, ever to happen on
We are making this effort mainly because five young men are serving
lengthy prison sentences in the USA, guilty of nothing but the attempt
to stop terrorism; murderous and destructive acts which have killed
over 3,500 civilians in Cuba - more than the troubles in Northern
These men went to Miami to try and stop the people who orchestrate
this terrorism and ended up in US prisons. They have spent months in
isolation cells; their wives, kids and relations have been denied
The Miami 5 are victims of one of the most brutal human rights
violations in recent history, victims of breaches of both
international and US law.
We want freedom for these innocent men!
With our sponsored mountain walk and the large meeting / concert on
the evening of Saturday September 17th we will achieve;
- Massive publicity and increased awareness about the case.
- Pressure on political representatives (TDs, MPs, MEPs) to act
as opposed to talk.
- Raising of much needed financial support for the campaign and for
another urgent aid project in Cuba
- Pushing forward the world-wide campaign to free the Miami 5
and strengthen the links between campaigners from various countries
(At this very early stage we already know that there will be people
from England, the USA, Austria, Germany and Denmark coming to show
We can and we will free the Miami 5!
Nobody in this world is going to do it for us!
Lend us your support!
Join Camp Havana Glencolmcille 2005!
Get in touch with us now!
On behalf of the organisers of Camp Havana
Phone us at: 028 77742655 (from Republic of Ireland: 04877742655)
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