Semtex or socialism: the Future for republicanism

This article reflects my own views and not necessarily those of any group or the Frank Ryan Society as a whole.

Semtex or socialism: the Future for republicanism

Irish republicanism should not be an ideology attracting debate in Ireland in 2011, its continued existence serves as a testament to the tenacity of its adherents but also as a reminder that the failures of the GFA have aided its recuperation as much as the efforts of republicans. From amidst the betrayal of the working class that the GFA was, a new resistance has emerged. There is now a plethora of groups, both militant and political contesting to challenge the status quo. I hope to examine the role that republicanism has in the future of the country as well as analysing the pitfalls of various strategies being put forward.
Constitutional nationalism secured a tremendous victory through the ideological decommissioning of the provisionals once revolutionary programme. However this was not a consequence merely of military failure on the part of the PIRA or as a result of the desire of the Adams leadership to gain power. Rather it was the logical culmination to a movement that had become wedded to a flawed political analysis. Ultimately it is irrelevant whether the PIRA decommissioned its weaponry or declared a permanent ceasefire. The PIRA had failed in its aim to act in a revolutionary capacity as early as the late eighties.

The long war strategy was blinkered in its approach; all it sought was ultimately a more favourable accommodation with the British government. Sapping the will of an imperialist power through a protracted guerrilla campaign ignored the glaring problem of a 26 county capitalist state that served the interests of its imperial neighbour. The northern leadership installed by Adams and McGuiness was reflective of the increasingly parochial nature of the armed struggle. Combined with this were the practical consequences of “ulsterization” resulting in the PIRA increasingly confined to targeting the RUC and UDR. This reduced the political impact of the armed campaign further increasing its futility.

This was mirrored politically by the altering analysis adopted by the PSF leadership. Increasingly the class struggle was confined to rhetoric whilst a pan nationalist front was sought with the middle class conservatives of the SDLP, the party that was so frequently lambasted as the tool of the imperialists. The rest as they say is history and the coalition with the right wing DUP implementing Tory cuts was the logical conclusion of this brand of provincial politics. However republicanism was not killed off by the GFA as some commentators seem to suggest. Rather it was forced to confront some of its own contradictions and failures. The results were not immediately evident. The existing republican groups post-GFA including the 32csm, RSF and IRSM were very much out in the cold. The attempts to maintain an armed resistance were well intentioned but suffered from a political climate infused with the narrow minded pursuit of normalization as well as the genuine desire of many working class communities to achieve a respite after bearing the brunt of the conflict. The tragedy of Omagh was engineered by the British government but the strategic thinking, or lack thereof that led to it was a gift to those banging the drum for “peace”.
In the hysteria whipped up by the media, militant republicanism was declared to have heard its death knell. This was short-sighted and showed an ignorance of history. The failure of PSF to accommodate its supporter’s aspirations with its own political requirements in coalition government ensured that republicans would continue to reject the new arrangement in increasing numbers. The alternative however did not present itself readily for examination. The traditional rhetoric espousing armed struggle as an end in itself represented a dwindling constituency. Traditional militants could continue to offer resistance albeit in a severely restrained fashion but to what ends?

The economic consequences of the GFA worked in the favour both of republicans and PSF. As a burgeoning catholic bourgeoisie lent its support to PSF so too did the working class communities that had traditionally sustained the PIRA reject the agreement as they were left out in the cold. Enough crumbs from the table had fallen initially to soothe the angst of many activists. As this peace money dried up too did the patience of many working class people evaporate. Rampant anti-social behaviour levels led to the severe disenchantment with the “reformed” RUC who looked and sounded awfully like the old RUC as they oppressed working class republicans.

The republican groups who opposed the agreement grew in strength. They also began to develop their own strategies and outlooks. The IRSM took the decision to reject the armed resistance favoured by other groups. Instead they sought to develop politically and to focus on building their support and rejuvenating their movement. The 32csm chose to broaden its political programme beyond the sole aim of being a watchdog of Irish sovereignty. They continued to support the armed struggle as a key component of challenging normalization. Eirigi emerged as a new republican group and then political party. RNU pushed the agenda of unity but have coalesced as an entity in their own right. RSF continue to promote Eire nua but the CIRA have suffered debilitating splits to the extent that they have now exited the stage as a serious military group. ONH have declared themselves uninterested in developing a political analysis yet RNU seem to act in some capacity as a political conduit for their strategy.
None of these groups have a definitive strategy if they are being honest. Vagueness and rhetoric is too often substituted for substantive answers. Yet this criticism can be levelled quickly and unfairly. Behind such uncertainty lies the reality that many republicans did not expect to be where we are now. For most the hope that the flame could be kept flickering seemed to be the best hope for the future. Yet this is not and cannot be the only hope for young republicans. It is essential that republicanism align itself once and for all with the working class struggle in the context of the liberation struggle.

Each of the groups existing today offer different roles within this struggle. It is also true that republicanism must seek to cooperate with genuine revolutionary socialists in different traditions than our own. The economic terrorism being carried out in the 26 counties cannot be viewed as anything other than a key issue for the republican struggle. The IMF is a more powerful opponent of the Irish working class than the British government. Their occupation of our country will enact a terrible legacy that will scar the Irish working class for generations to come. Capitalism and imperialism in Ireland are inseparable. There will be no removal of the occupation without the destruction of the capitalist institutions that enable it and give succour to its proponents. The grubby capitalists of the Free State are the eager allies of the British government. From the inception of the Free State they have protected the class interests of the powerful. Their deference to the Catholic Church was merely symptomatic of this wider problem. The reactionary policies of these pioneers of parish pump politics have been ingrained in the 26 county political system. It will not be reformed, rather it must be destroyed.

The dedication to the class struggle has not been as virulent as republicans should aspire to. Capitalism in Ireland has accommodated itself to the crisis and has provided its own safeguards to protect the interests of the financiers and politicians. However the organized left groups in Ireland to a large degree have been complicit in this situation. They have failed again and again to challenge capitalism’s grip in Ireland in a revolutionary manner. They have rejected the analysis of Marx and Connolly who understood the role that national liberation movements have to fill in colonized nations. Frantz Fanon too could point to the importance of situating national liberation in a revolutionary context as a precursor to the class struggle which must ultimately come to the forefront.

Today the left are floundering to find a role. Their electoral success owed much to the unprecedented disenchantment of the Irish working class with the political institutions in the 26 counties. They are now serving as eloquent advocates of working class interests; however they are little more than a sideshow within Leinster House. The plight of the working class will not be resolved in the plush corridors of power but in the streets as the state is confronted in all its apparatus through strikes, civil disobedience and a refusal to make the working class interests subservient to the demands of international capital. Connolly wrote about the formation of the ICA that “so since justice did not exist for us, since the law instead of protecting the rights of the workers was an open enemy and since the armed forces of the crown were unreservedly at the disposal of the enemies of labour, it was resolved to create our own army to secure our rights”.

The role of the ICA was as a militant element of the class struggle. This element is non-existent today. This is as much due to the nature of the labour movement as it is to the failures of republicanism. The process of social partnership has been a creeping cancer in our trade unions, slowly decaying their will and sapping their grassroots anger. The IRA is not a suitable replacement at the present moment. Yet the IRA has proven itself to be a revolutionary and anti-capitalist force through their actions in the past years. Their role as the vanguard of national liberation must also extend to acting in the interests always of the Irish working class.

The future for republicanism then is to wed itself intimately and completely with a revolutionary socialist movement. Those that disavow revolutionary politics are inevitably accommodated to reactionary compromises. However this process will not be a rapid one. Politically republicans can and must make the persistent case that social and national liberation must be a twin track process, encompassing all shades of republicanism and socialism in Ireland.

The other option is for republicanism to act solely as a national liberation force. This was the role the provisionals rushed to fill. Ultimately much of this cause is wrapped up with localised grievances. As such when these grievances are addressed by capitalism and imperialism then the revolutionary potential of the movement will dissipate and flounder. There are those who today would scoff at the idea that their comrades would ever abandon the cause. They must cast their minds back to days when anyone challenging Gerry Adams’s reputation as a revolutionary would be viewed as a lunatic or worse a counter-revolutionary! Ultimately any republican that contents themselves with merely changing the administrative name of the 32 counties would do better to sign up to the GFA. Merely changing the flag is not worth the life of one working class man or woman. Their sacrifice demands a greater price. It is the destruction of the economic system that enables their daily humiliation and degradation.
So we must look to the future. We do not have great numbers, resources or support. Yet we have that great aspiration that cannot be met by the political programmes of the reformists, Free Staters or the Brits. That is the liberation of our people from all forms of oppression, the destruction of capitalism and imperialism in Ireland and around the world. I will conclude with a quote from Connolly that seems most apt. “is the outlook then hopeless? No! We still have the opportunity to forge a weapon capable of winning the fight for us against political usurpation and all the military powers of earth, sea or air. That weapon is to be forged in the furnace of the struggle in the workshop, mine, factory or railroad, and its name is industrial unionism”.

No ceasefire in the class war, victory to the working class and the IRA.



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