Irish Republican News · April 26, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRSP Bodenstown Address
The following is an edited address delivered at the grave of Wolfe Tone by Irish Republican Socialist Party Ard-Chomhairle member, Gerard Foster


Friends and comrades, in 1966, Seamus Costello, founder and leader of the IRSP and the INLA, stood on this very spot, the most revered grave in Irish republican history. He delivered one of the most prophetic orations ever delivered here in Bodenstown; we make no apology for revisiting his oration here today. 38 years ago Costello said of the Six Counties:

“In the North, the destinies of one and a half million of our countrymen are controlled by a puppet regime whose existence for some 45 years has depended on the support of British armed forces. This regime has found to its apparent delight that one of the simplest ways of ensuring its continued existence is by the furtherance of bigotry and sectarianism. Ample evidence of this policy can be found in the recent antics of a certain reverend agent provocateur. These then are the means by which the British imperialists intend to maintain the people of the North in perpetual slavery. These are also the means by which the working classes are divided against their own material welfare. The pro-British capitalist classes who control the economy of the North know very well that, when the people reject those who foster sectarianism, their next step will be to demand a just share of the wealth, which they create. These are the real reasons why one section of the community are led to believe that it is in their interest to discriminate against another section. Never are they told that the standard of living which they enjoy, at the expense of their victimised neighbors, is theirs by right -- rather are they tricked into believing that these natural rights are a reward for their support of the regime. These tactics serve to ensure that a large section of the population of the North remain loyal to the regime and at the same time do not insist on having a bigger share in the wealth.”

Costello was highlighting how Britain maintained its rule in Ireland by sectarian division and social division. Of course Britain could not only have done this by force of arms alone. There are native capitalist classes both North and South of the border that have facilitated British rule because it allowed them to profit. They serve no master but money. They have been a constant block to the Republic.

No matter what guise they went under, or what republican name they choose to call themselves -- such as Fianna Fail-Soldiers of Destiny -- so long as they were in defence of existing property relations they were and are a block to the Republic. In every generation there have been those who have compromised their principles, endeavouring to partially liberate Ireland from the yoke of the British through negotiation that first required the concession of equity instead of social equality.

We regard the Good Friday Agreement as one such effort. Sinn Féin have reaped electoral rewards as a result. They are now the largest nationalist party in the North and have built a base in the South that seems impressive. But in so doing they may well have forgotten the lessons of history. The Workers Party once had similar success in the South. Where are they now? When a political movement ditches its principles it may well have short-term electoral reward but in the long term it will be no longer what it was.

It would be remiss of us at Bodenstown not to highlight that Wolfe Tone, over whose grave we stand, believed in Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.

Liberty includes the freedom to express your views without fear or favour. We call on all who call themselves republicans to recognise the right to dissent, the right not to agree -- the right to articulate minority views. And we call on all republicans to condemn anyone or any organisation that tries to stifle political opinions they don’t agree with. We in the Republican Socialist Movement have endured bitter times in the past. We have learnt that the way to resolve differences is not to take up the gun against our opponents but to respect their views while not agreeing with them.

We have strong differences with other republicans over such issues as the Good Friday Agreement, abstentionism, armed struggle and so on. But we must not allow those differences to embitter us or to demonise our political opponents. If we call for the unity of the working class so also should we call for the unity of republicans on issues on which we can agree. That is why we welcome the growing openness among all shades of republicanism to sit down together and discuss issues. We have long called for a broad front. A few years ago we pushed the idea of a republican forum where republicans could discuss differences in an open and fraternal way and debate how best to move towards the Republic. Therefore we can but only welcome calls for a republican congress. This movement will play a constructive role in helping to bring that about.

But what is unique about our analysis of the political situation is that we assert that the Republic will not emerge under capitalism. Unless the working class as a class take the leading role in the national struggle fighting for social freedom then the end result will be a neo-colony in thrall to international capital. The forging of links between the different sections of the working class is critical to the successful struggle for socialism in Ireland.

As republican socialists we support the continuing dialogue with sections of the unionist working class. However, that dialogue must be an exploration and examination of working class communities’ views, fears and most importantly politics. LIBERTY, FRATERNITY AND EQUALITY for PROTESTANT, CATHOLIC AND DISSENTER are principles which remain the cornerstone of republican socialism. They also represent the best formula for uniting our class.

Seamus Costello recognised in an article that engagement with unionist working class was and is important but equally so there can be no exclusion of republican socialist politics from any agenda concerned with working class politics such as that practicised by the Socialist Environmental Alliance in the North’s European election. Costello wrote:

“Connolly was totally in opposition to this approach. He categorised them as gas and water socialists. Today in Belfast we have what we call ring-road socialists. They are exactly the same type of people. They are, in fact, the leadership of the Official Republican Movement in Belfast. We maintain that any co-operation with the Protestant working class must be on the basis of a principled political position. It must be on the basis of explaining fully to the Protestant working class what all our policies are, not just our policy on the ring road. We must try and politicise them, simultaneously with conducting a political campaign to get rid of Britain. It will be primarily an educational function, or an educational campaign directed towards Protestants in the hope at least that some significant section of the Protestant working class will understand.”

In reaching out to all sections of the working class, including the recent arrivals to our country fleeing economic or political oppression, we must not be afraid to face up to issues. We are told by the administrations in Dublin, Belfast and London, and we are also told by some republicans, that the failed Belfast/Good Friday/Stormont Agreement somehow will provide not only a pathway to peace on the island but is also a stepping stone to a democratic socialist republic. Like Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, this is hogwash.

We are being asked to believe in a new Republican slogan, LIBERTY, FRATERNITY AND EQUITY.

Equity means fairness. It does not mean equality. Equity is not part of my definition of republicanism.

EQUITY CAN NEVER LEAD TO EQUALITY. At its very best equity will maintain the status quo of discrimination of rich over poor, Protestant over Catholic, white over other ethnic groups. And so will the Good Friday Agreement. Importantly, for republican socialists the current political dispensation will maintain, nurture and propagate the divisions in the working class. Irish republican socialists will never endorse any political settlement between Ireland and Britain which has at its heart the destruction of Irish working class unity and the promotion of greed and avarice.

As republican socialists we reject this process as flawed. Already in the North we have major funders of community infra-structure charged with targeting social need talking about a ‘benign apartheid reward’ (Urban 2 Inner North Belfast, Community Empowerment Partnership, 9th June 2004). This is at the behest of reactionary unionism led by the DUP and unchallenged by supposedly progressive unionism within the loyalist community sector.

‘Benign apartheid’ like ‘secondary discrimination’ is a direct result of the sectarian social equity being delivered by the Good Friday Agreement. Supporters of the status quo would have the working class believe this is acceptable because the apartheid and discrimination that results from equity is not the primary motivation but merely an unavoidable secondary outcome of the process. In other words, Northern working class Catholics still remain twice as likely to be unemployed and homeless as they were ten years ago! But that’s okay as in the bad old days of unionist domination discrimination was direct and intentional; today discrimination is merely a benign by- product of a flawed political process. So that’s okay then!

Meanwhile today, working class Catholics are twice as likely to be unemployed and homeless!! We are asked to accept that this secondary discrimination is benign. If this is the case where is the strategy to combat secondary discrimination?

Discrimination either primary or secondary can never be benign or harmless; it can only deliver the continuation of inequality and division. Both are anathema to republican socialists.

James Connolly referred to ‘gas and water’ socialists, Seamus Costello referred to ‘ring road’ socialists in the 1970s and today we have the ‘equitable’ socialists or ‘stepping stone’ republicans. The titles may change but the politics remain the same. All the above require unacceptable compromises of basic republican principles. The core values of republicanism as articulated by Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen, that of liberty, fraternity and equality, were then and remain now the most progressive form of political thought and one that we in the IRSP fully endorse and principles that we hold dear. We remain determined to insure that republican socialism will be a core plank of any progressive agenda that sets as its goal the liberation of our class, our country and common humanity.

In his 1966 oration Seamus Costello laid out the path to the socialist republic:

“This in effect means that we must aim for the ownership of our resources by the people, so that these resources will be developed in the best interests of the people as a whole. Some of you may feel that these aims are impossible to achieve until such time as we have an independent all-Ireland government. It is certainly true that some of these aims will not reach fruition until such time as we have an all-Ireland parliament. However, in the meantime, you as republicans have an extremely important part to play in the furtherance of this policy. It is your duty to spearhead the organisation of a virile co- operative movement among the farming community. It is also your duty to use your influence as trade unionists to organise a militant trade union movement with a national consciousness. In short, it is your duty to become active, hard working members of each and every organisation that is working for the welfare of all the people and towards the reunification of the country.”

As it was in 1966, so it is today.

Comrades and friends here today, get out there and work for the liberation of your class and your country!

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© 2004 Irish Republican News