‘From Radicalism to Reform’ – Meeting Report (Mon 19/01/09)

By Seamus Clancy – Frank Ryan Society, UCD

While it is often joked upon that at every meeting the first issue to be discussed is the split, the meeting on the 19th of January 2008 held in the New Theatre in Temple Bar entitled ‘From Radicalism to Reform’ certainly asked more questions than it answered. The aim of course was never to formulate a ‘correct’ answer or position. And it certainly wasn’t an attempt at ‘left unity’ or for that matter a launch of a new radical republican project.

Billed as an attempt to look critically at the republican and trade union movements over the past thirty years, the two main areas of radicalism traditionally and perhaps now historically, the public meeting covered a range of issues from public transparency within the financial and construction industries, the accountability of elected representatives, the historical role of working class struggles, the attack on public services both at an ideological and material level, the current financial crisis.

The second phase of the meeting, and most of the contributions from the floor, focused on the current state of the mainstream republican movement, the trajectory of that movement since the seventies, the value and weaknesses of Marxism as a valuable descriptive ideology, the role of the state in nullifying radical and indeed revolutionary dissent, the relationship between radical organisation and movements with the state and the current state of the said republican and trade union movements.

As can be imagined with such a diverse range of subjects under discussion and commented upon an attempt at unity this was not! The panel consisted of Mr. Kevin Bean, academic at the University of Liverpool, Mr Anthony McIntyre, former republican prisoner and writer, Finn Geaney of the Dublin Trades Council and TUI with Mags Glennon reading out a statement on behalf of the BATU workers who have bravely been on strike since May 9th last year.

This statement from the BATU strikers roused a tirade of abuse from a belligerent individual who attacked the strikers and made excuses for Scab O’Shaugnessy and his cohorts. He seemed more motivated by a visceral hatred of ‘trots’ rather than any sense of class solidarity. This heckler threatened to disrupt the event but was ably challenged by the chair, Ado Perry, and the overwhelmingly young members of the audience.

From a constructive point of view a public meeting on the question of radicalism during a time of recession and as a result more than likely political instability signals hopefully the start of a debate not on the crisis within the financial institution or of the crisis within the government but of more relevance perhaps to radicals themselves is the crisis within the left. A recent example of this is after the No to Lisbon vote, no organisation and/or movement benefiting from the resounding defeat given to the establishment parties of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour that supported the EU constitution Mark 2.

However one point of unity that most people probably agreed on by the time the meeting finished was that mainstream republican and trade union movements were undoubtedly reformist and any notion of radicalism has now been discarded. That new ideas are required. And new ideas always come from new thinking.

Anthony McIntyre shares his thoughts on the meeting on his blog, The Pensive Quill. Contrasting both reports, its fair to say the Frank Ryan Society took more from the meeting than Anthony did. Nevertheless, we enjoyed Anthony’s erudite and honest contribution to the discussion and are delighted to note his willingness to speak at another FRS event in the future




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