Ireland: the vacuum! – latest editorial of The Plough

We publish the recent editorial of The Plough, which stresses the need to adopt the Marxist method and approach within the Irish republican movement, to raise the class issues at the same time as struggling for a solution to the national question, one being inextricably linked to the other.

Where political vacuums exist there is always someone to rush in and fill the gap with alternatives. The current paralysis at Stormont has created a gap. The failure of the DUP and Provisional Sinn Fein to come to an agreement on the devolution of policing and justice and the inability of the Executive to meet over the summer has lead to a growing disillusionment among some sections of the population. Many nationalists who having once lent their votes to H-block candidates many years ago decided to stick with Provisional Sinn Fein as it moved towards its peace process. They once hoped that, not only would peace break out, but that huge political gains would be made by Northern Nationalists. They indeed did get a cessation of violence but they also got Ian Paisley as First Minister, Peter Robinson as First Minister, MI5 now officially based in the North of Ireland and with full control of security matters relating to Republicans. They also got a local administration under the financial control of the British Treasury and committed to the implementation of the privatisation policies of the Blair/Brown governments. On the plus side it could be argued that reforms were achieved including the reform of policing, the recognition of an all-Ireland dimension, a commitment to equality and human rights and cross border bodies.

Regardless, however, of the arguments pro and anti the Good Friday Agreement, there is as yet no widespread opposition to the agreed political structures in the North. Yes there is a cynicism, and there are doubts among the general population about the long-term stability of the Stormont system but no strong viable alternative exists.

Within what one could call the broad Republican traditions there are conflicting views. Some of the existing organisations that emerged from the Provisional tradition believe in the efficacy of armed struggle while others while condoning street rioting hesitate at calling for a return to armed struggle. Some base their politics on events that happened ninety years ago while others appeal to so-called traditional republican values.

Those who emerged from the official Republican traditions of the early 1970s based their politics and actions on various interpretations of Marxism. They placed class struggle at the heart of their beliefs. Along the way some of them ditched the national question and concentrated only on the class issue. This lead some of them to join the British imperialists in condemning the Republican hunger strikers and labelling anyone who did not share their analysis as "terrorists" or "ultra-leftists". They confused nationalism and the struggle for national determination and so became cheerleaders for rapid industrialisation under capitalism. In this they were accompanied by some of the so-called far left who while formally recognising there was some kind of national question in practice ignored it and made pious appeals for class unity as they attempted to build a base within the trade union movement.

The Republican Socialist movement itself made errors, mistakes and took wrong turns during the years of its existence. That said, there is no such thing as the perfect organisation. To err is human. A sign of the genuineness and relevance of a revolutionary organisation is its ability to learn from its mistakes. Organisations are set up to pursue specific policies and have a clearly defined set of beliefs. They are not set up simple to exist. Once the existence of an organisation becomes more important than the ideals and principles that set it up in the first place then it no longer deserves to exist for it will inevitably corrupt its ideals in the interests of perpetuating its existence.

The current demand by the Democratic Unionist Party for the disbandment of the Provisional IRA's Army Council has a certain amount of logic. After all where it is now is certainly not where it was when set up in 1970, certainly not in terms of beliefs, aims and objectives and certainly not in terms of principles. Perhaps that could be said of a lot of organisations. After all external changes in the world have a direct impact on events in Ireland.

For example, the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major shock for many on the left with a smattering knowledge of Marxism. It was such a shock that many became so disillusioned that they abandoned politics. Those on the right gloated and said it was the end of history and that capitalism had won the class struggle. Previously revolutionary national liberation struggles now began to make peace with the imperialist overlords. Hence the Irish Peace Process. In retrospect it is now clear that the visit of people like Adams and Mc Guinness to the USA in the early nineties was to pay homage to the world's only superpower and promise to forget all that "revolutionary nonsense" they had previously spouted.

Others took from the collapse of the Soviet Union and from the internal sectarian squabbling of far left organisations that Marxism itself had failed. So-called revolutionaries dismissed Marxism as irrelevant to the "real revolutionaries."

Yet Marxism is the only thing that can make sense of what is happening in the world. History was not ended. Class conflicts have arisen all over the world. In recent years the masses in South America have shifted to the left and socialism has taken root in place like Venezuela and Bolivia. Of course that is no guarantee that it will last but it does prove the essential validity of the Marxist analysis.

The IRSP from its foundation in the mid 1970s was always influenced by Marxism. People from Seamus Costello through to Ta Power had an essentially Marxist analysis of the national question in Ireland. Ronnie Bunting was another Marxist influenced at one time by Maoism. The essential document for all republican socialists - the Ta Power Document - is a Marxist document and has guided the leadership of the Republican Socialist Movement for at least the past 14 years and was the guiding document for Gino Gallagher when along with others he began the rebuilding of the movement. But Marxism is not a religion, it is a guide. Those who fetish the writings of Marxism are no better than the fundamentalist preachers who try to ram the Bible and creationism down one's throat.

It is the use of Marxist methodology and approaches that should guide the IRSP in the coming period. We have been consistent in our analysis of the current political peace process and have on that basis clearly pointed out the folly of taking the armed road at this historical juncture. We are not pacifists and we do seek revolutionary change but that will not come about simply because we want it. We have clearly stated in the past that while there is no basis for organisational unity with other republicans there is room for co-operation on matters of mutual interests including demonstrations, pickets, etc.

We have also firmly set out our stall. We are socialists and we firmly base ourselves on the needs and aspirations of the working classes in Ireland. Our way forward is to build the revolutionary party and that means the fullest commitment from all our comrades concentrating, not on blaming other republicans for the political vacuum but posing instead the alternative way forward, the Marxist, the republican socialist road. Without 100% commitment from all those who call themselves republican socialists that road will be all the harder to travel.

At a time of credit crunches, inflation, lay offs, rising food petrol prices and a general air of economic despondency we Republican Socialists need to make sure that the really class issues are raised and not get side-tracked by the blind alleys of anti-social behaviour, drugs, flag waving or sectarian issues. The national question is inextricably tied up with the class question. It is our job to clearly put both to the fore.


Source: The Plough, Vol. 5, No. 9

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