The political road
The political road

Prominent socialist republican Gerry Ruddy looks at the recent recent decision by the INLA to renounce armed struggle. From the Plough.

The recent decision by the INLA to renounce armed struggle and encourage all its members and supporters to engage in politics is welcome. It is an historic decision and all those involved in reaching that decision deserve the thanks and gratitude of all who are serious about challenging capitalism. It is the end of one chapter in the history of republican socialism. But it should not be the end of republican socialism.

Almost from the introduction of republicanism into Irish political life 220 years ago there has always been a leftist element within republicanism that saw the centrality of the working class or the “men of no property” as the critical factor for the success of republicanism. That leftist trend was woven from Jamie Hope through the Fenians, encompassing James Connolly, Liam Mellows, the Republican Congress of the 1930’s, the left turn of the Republican movement in the 1960’s the emergence of the IRSP in the seventies and the emergence of differing republican groupings all claiming in some way to be republican socialists. Even Adams leader of Provisional Sinn Fein tried to claim he and his organisation were republican socialists in the tradition of Seamus Costello!

On a more serious level there has been the emergence of Eirigi, and the attempt by Eoin O’Broin to give a leftist ideological depth to debates within Provisional Sinn Fein in his book, “Sinn Fein and the Politics of Left Republicanism” and encourage its move towards a form of democratic socialism based on European social democracy.

Furthermore the recent publication of the history of the Workers party/Official IRA in the “Lost Revolution” adds an important addition to our understanding of the evolution of republican socialism and warns of the dangers that can occur when Republicans lose sight of the original reasons why they became republicans in the first place. The book should be compulsory reading for any serious republican.

For far too long many simply used the term “sticky” as a form of abuse rather than seriously try to deal with the intellectual arguments and positions that organisation put forward in its evolution into a sect that ended up as cheer leaders for British policy in Ireland.

Indeed abuse has been the stable form of political analysis for some republicans. “Sell out” “traitors” and other forms of abuse have routinely been applied to any republicans that sought to develop their republicanism from the simple slogans of “Brits Out” or the “armed struggle”.

Indeed there was along period during the seventies and eighties when it was almost considered profane to question the tactic of armed struggle. References to 1916 heroism and the brave guerrilla fighters were enough to end debate.

So it has been a welcome development that after a period of intense debate and arguments the leadership and volunteers of the INLA have reached the decision they did. Perhaps it was always inevitable. The INLA had been plagued over the years with internal bickering, external physical attacks, infiltration from pro-British agents and sometimes-apolitical leaders. When the membership took back control of the organisation from the Torney faction in the mid-nineties a slow process of politicisation took place.

Recognising the changing political situation the organisation in April1996 adopted the position of defence and retaliation and promoted the idea of a Non Aggression Pact to lessen sectarian tensions. The decision to call a ceasefire in August 1998 was another step in moving away from a military strategy. Now the 2009 decision is the culmination of a process that began back in that period 1994/1995.

In the intervening years the IRSP has been almost rebuilt from scratch. It is now in as strong a position has it has ever been despite many teething problems. During all those year of rebuilding it kept its’ commitment to the centrality of the working class in the struggle and reaffirmed it Marxist orientation in all the Ard-Feis since1997.

Indeed it is fair to say that the continued existence of the Republican Socialist movement is as a result of its commitment to a specific form of socialism and a specific form of Republicanism. It rejected nationalism and pointed out the dangers of sectarianism. It placed itself firmly in the camp of internationalism rejecting Imperialism and committing itself to a socialist world.

It is in a long line of Irish revolutionary movement that despite many mistakes were able to rise above petty nationalism and see beyond our own shores. The original ideas of Irish Republicanism arose from the most progressive ideas of the late 18th century and which inspired both he American and French revolutions of that century. These ideas were developed and refined by subsequent generations to include socialist ideas. In the mid 19th century the Fenian brotherhood were influence by the socialist ideas then beginning to take hold in the industrial working classes. James Connolly at the beginning of the 20th century firmly place socialist ideas within the mainstream of republican thought. When the IRSP began to debate moving towards Marxism in the 1980’s the then Chair of the Party, Jim Lane in arguing for the adoption of Marxism as fundamental to the development of the party, pointed out then, as it is now, that Marxism is the most progressive thought of the day.

But of course there were other influences on Irish republicanism. During the 19th century there was a flowering of nationalism among many oppressed peoples. One major influence was that of Italian nationalism and the struggles of Garibaldi to unify Italy. Incidentally because he curtailed the powers of the Papal States Garibaldi and his red shirts were much admired by the northern Protestants!

Nationalism began to influence Irish republicanism. Myths began to be developed by romantic Irish nationalists about a golden past and nationalist symbols began to take hold on peoples’ consciousness. Needless to say the emergence of nationalism in a country under foreign rule is not unexpected nor does it necessarily make it reactionary. Since the mid 18fifties until today there has always been two dominant trends in republicanism, one heavily influenced by nationalism and the other heavily influenced by the most progressive views of the day.

Today with some small sections of the northern nationalist population we see the worst attributes of nationalism as sectarian hatreds take hold. That some sections of republican thought actually use this sectarian hatred, rather than oppose it, is disgraceful.

Some so-called internationalists equate any form of nationalism as reactionary and lump it in with the extreme nationalism of the fascists and Nazis. They do no service to socialism with this approach. Many nationalist struggles can be progressive and the struggle of the Irish for the removal of Britain from interfering in our internal affairs was and is progressive.

But beware of the word struggle! Too many republicans think that struggle equates with the use of arms against the British. What kind of serious revolutionary restricts him/her self to only one form of struggle? The almost exclusive use of armed struggle by republicans in the twenties, the thirties, the forties, the fifties and so on up to today resulted in almost total failure. Some republicans have been reduced to believing that the maintenance of armed struggle is a success in itself without regard to the goals that republican actually have.

The sum total success of the use of armed struggle by republicans has been the legitimisation of the 26 county state in the eyes of its inhabitants and the stabilisation and consolidation of the Northern state under British hegemony. Some return for the generations of republicans killed jailed and demonised over the past ninety years.

On the other hand those who adopted an almost exclusively parliamentary road also failed. Fianna Fail in the Twenties, Clann Na Poblachta, in the Fifties, The Workers Party, Democratic Left in the Eighties and Nineties, and now Provisional Sinn Fein in the Noughties, all succumbed to the lure of constitutional politics and forsook their revolutionary past becoming integrate in to the ruling class and administering capitalist rule in Ireland.

Two major attempts to build a mass anti-imperialist front in the thirties with the Republican Congress and in 1976/77 to build a Broad Front also ended in failure. Seamus Costello a founder of the IRSP advocated the broad front strategy in the mid 1970’s. However his death stymied the broad front approach and subsequent attempts by the IRSP during the 1981 hunger strikes and in the recent past few years to build some republican left unity in action came to nothing.

These three approaches, armed struggle, parliamentarism and broad fronts are not the only actions available to revolutionaries.

Traditionally Marxist groups have worked within the trade unions seeking to win advanced sections of workers to the ideas of socialism supporting workers in defence of hard won rights and seeking to influence significant sections of the trade union bureaucracy to make a left turn and /or establish rank and file groups to mobilise the working class. Some ultra leftists reject such an approach claiming that the trade unions are indeed a reactionary force with their leadership well integrated into the capitalist system. But to adopt such an approach is to leave thousands of trade unionists without a lead to combat the betrayals of the trade union bureaucracy. Surely it is better to fight to win workers within the organised working class to Marxist ideas. For a period the Workers Party had a consistent approach towards the trade unions and established a strong base within some sections particularly within RTE. However they used that base in a politically sectarian way. The Communist Party has always had some influence among trade unionists and both the SWP and the SP have done much work trying to win workers over to their political views.

Others argue that given the strict segregation that operates within the northern state that the best method is to operate at a community level working within the sectarian parameters of the state trying to reach across sectarian divides using community groups and ex political prisoners organisations to build up contacts. Essentially that means operating within one so called community and hope to open up avenues of communication with class-conscious community workers within the “other community. This later approach leaves one open to the charge of gas and water socialism with its echoes of the Walker Connolly dispute a hundred years ago or the accusations thrown against the “sticks” of ring road socialism. It also leaves one open to the charge of pandering to reactionary loyalism by giving credence to former loyalist combatants. Certainly if it means hiding one’s politics or aims, such a charge is justified.

But Left republicans need to ask themselves how do we reach out to the mass of workers with illusions either in British or Irish nationalism? One thing is for certain it will not be easy or quick. Given the strong entrenched hold that sectarian views have over many it is not surprising that many seek short cuts or else give up the struggle al together, but revolutionaries should, rather than see the difficulties, see the opportunities.

There can be no better time to win workers to the ideas of socialism in Ireland. The crisis within the world banking system has seen the Governments pouring money into the banks to maintain the system while at the same time exhorting workers to do the patriotic thing and accept savage cuts in wages salaries and living conditions. North or South or in Britain all workers are under attack regardless of ethnic background nationality religion or colour.

In the South of Ireland the economic crisis means that it is the working class who are bearing the worst of the cuts and there is much scope for intervention by socialists. Fianna Fail has its lowest support for years and the public front line service unions are in militant mood over proposed cuts in wages.

In the North it is imperative that efforts are now directed towards the defence of not only the public services but of the rights of all workers. It would be a bad mistake for the IRSP to shadow Provisional Sinn Fein by echoing the mantras of equality and human rights.

It needs to be clearly stated that there is no such thing as equality under capitalism. Sloganising about equality in the current context of the North simply means the re -distribution of resources away from the mainly Protestant population and towards the mainly Catholic population. Then it becomes a sectarian dogfight over resources. Indeed that was precisely the intent of the British when they negotiated the Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent St Andrews Agreement. It has always been in Britain’s imperial interests to nurture maintain and feed sectarianism in Ireland

Of course revolutionaries should support reforms but need to be very clear that they argue that reforms are not enough to solve the many problems facing the working class. Reformism is the great danger facing revolutionary organisations coming out of one form of conflict. World history is littered with the examples of former revolutionaries who succumbed to reformist illusions once power beckoned or a few crumbs were thrown from the table of the capitalist classes-look at the degeneration of the ANC in South Africa to give just one example.

It is inconceivable that the IRSP particularly with the examples of Seamus Costello and Ta Power before them could go down that path. Certainly the IRSP should re-educate itself in the classic writing s of Marxism and Republicanism. It needs to organise agitate and work with the broad working class movement. It should certainly consider fighting elections, should work within the trade union movements work with other republicans Marxists socialists etc and work to build a mass party of the working class that encompasses all nationalities.

No doubt the usual macho talk will surface on the Internet and in the pubs that the Erps lost their nerves. Despite the confused nature of the October 11th the decision to stand down the INLA is to be welcomed.

The decision was not taken by ceasefire soldiers. It was taken by comrades whose republican involvement sometimes predated the establishment of the IRSP in 1974 and was the collective decision of many comrades who believed in the armed struggle, participated in that struggle and were shot and or jailed for their involvement in the struggle against British Imperialism. It was absolutely the right decision.

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© 2009 Irish Republican News