To George on SF and IRA

Philip L Ferguson PLF13 at
Mon Nov 1 14:39:29 MST 1999

>George: "Two wings of an overall movement, the Republican movement." What
>you >call "Republican Movement" includes more than Sinn Fein/IRA. It would
>include >other republican organisations and individuals. To simply
>collapse the >"republican movement" into Sinn Fein/IRA is to fetishise the

George, you're not listening.  I never said the Republican Movement
consisted of only two organisations.  I said it consisted of a number of
organisations and listed them.

I use the term Republican Movement in the sense that members of it use.

I didn't include groups like the IRSP and INLA, for instance, as they
describe themselves in different terms: they call themselves the Socialist
Republican Movement.

I'm not sure whether Socialist Democracy (formerly People's Democracy) just
calls itself a Marxist organisation or a socialist republican organisation.

>I dont accept your point either that the two dont form the one
>organisation. >The IRA has been the organisational and political basis on
>which Sinn Fein >rests. Sinn Fein has been the subordinate organisation
>within the Provos. The >Provos have been called such by Sinn Fein and IRA
>members because they know >that essentially there is just one organisation
>which is why the term Provos >has been used.

George, again you are not listening.  I told you - as someone who was a
member of SF for the best part of 8 years, including a full-time organiser
- that they are NOT the same organisation.  I am not making it up, or
observing some republican ritual for the mass media, when I tell you *yet
again* that SF and the IRA *are* two separate organisations.  How much more
plain can I make this?

I also poionted out in my last email that *some* people in the IRA are also
in SF and *some* people in SF are in the IRA.  But they are still
*separate* organisations.

Indeed, the leadership/s would be very stupid people indeed if the two
organisations were really one.  That would have made the job of the Brits
and the southern state a great deal easier and would have precluded a lot
of people from joining, since people join different wings of the overall
movement depending on where their talents lay.

Chemistry was my worst subject at school so I figured I'd be more a
liability than a help if I joined the armed wing, whereas I had a lot of
good political organising experience, so I joined the party-political wing.

>It has apparently been dropped because for opportunist reasons the
>>leadership of the Provies have dropped it in its efforts to betray
>what they claimed was their aim --32 county democratic socialist republic.

Actually, there is a very sound political argument for maintaining two
different organisations.  A Marxist organisation in Ireland would, in my
view, have an armed wing as well, otherwise such an organisation would just
be spouting rhetoric.  The point is that the political wing needs to be
dominant and 'call the shots', as it were, and to have the politics that
can do that.

It is certainly true that from the formation of the Provos in 1969-70, it
was the military wing of the Movement which called the shots, certainly up
until the early 1980s (This was also true in the Movement before the big
1969-70 split; the IRA did entry work in SF from the end of the 1940s and
quickly took it over.)

During the 1980s I would say things changed in the relationship between
military and political wings of the Provos.  The new leadership of SF, the
Adams northern cabal basically, gradually became more important than the
military leadership.  I would say by the early 1990s, the political
leadership was the more dominant.

There are several reasons for this - for instance, a chunk of the northern
political leadership (Adams, McGuiness, Rita O'Hare (who lives in the
south, but comes from the north where she is still wanted)) actually came
out of the IRA struggle of the 1970s in the six counties.  So they had a
massive amount of prestige for their role in the armed struggle in the
north during the 1970s, and replaced the older southern-based leadership of
Ruairi O'Bradaigh and Daithi O'Conaill.  Secondly, is the H-Block struggle,
the mass mobilisations of that time and the election of several hunger
strikers to Westminster and Leninster House (the southern parliament).
This gave a whole new weight to political struggle and was followed by SF
win scores of seats in local body elections in the north.  Third was the
containment of the armed struggle in the north, which made political
advance critical, especially in the south.  I would say these three factors
gave a whole new weight to the political leadership.  It would also be the
case that the military leadership just didn't have the politics to resist a
rightward-moving Adams and co establishing hegemony over the Movement as a

There are probably additional factors, but I am just writing off the top of
my head at present as I'm very busy this morning with other stuff.

The fact that SF has made substantial electoral advances both sides of the
border since the ceasefire is likely to have strengthened the hold of the
political leadership over the Movement as a whole.

There is nowhere else for the Movement to go as long as it holds onto its
present form of Irish nationalism.  Irish nationalism, in its revolutionary
form, was kind of adequate for fighting the Brits to a standstill, but not
adequate to win.  That requires the mass mobilisation of the working class,
and in the end the Adams leadership have turned not to the class that holds
the key but to the southern Irish bourgeoisie, Washington and London to
play with.

The hand of Adams and co. has probably been further strengthened by the
militarist response of those republicans who reject the Good Friday
Agreement and either already had separate organisations (Republican Sinn
Fein and the Continuity Army Council) or who have more recently broken away
from the IRA (eg the splinter group that is known as the 'Real IRA''
whether it is just the media who call them this or whether they call
thesmelves this, I don't know as I am a bit out of touch, now being 12,000
miles away.)  The fact that the anti-FGA republicans have responded, as
historically has been the case when the 'politicos' sell out, by apolitical
bombings, has weakened the anti-GFA side and strengthened the hand of Adams
and co (not to mention the southern state).

BTW, in early 1997 I did an interview with Ruairi O'Bradaigh.  We published
excerpts from it in 'revolution' #1, and the full interview was then
published in the NZ Information on Ireland magazine, 'Saoirse/NZ Irish
Post'.  If there is any interest I could post this interview on the list.
O Bradaigh is someone for whom I still have a certain amount of time and

I was a guest at the 1985 ard fheis, the year before I moved to Ireland,
and he was speaking against dropping the ban on entering Leinster House and
started talking about the need to work towards 'dual power' with 'dual
power' being the kernel of revolutionary politics.  I thought this was
quite interesting, because he was the only leader I ever heard talk like
this, although a lot of lefties regarded him as to the right of Adams and
co.  In 1986, the first ard fheis I attended as a member, the ban on
entering Leinster House was dropped and he led a walkout and set up RSF.
He was on a walking stick and hobhbled right past me, as I was on an aisle
seat.  It was quite sad, some older people around me were crying.

Personally, I think the Good Friday Agreement is the end of the Republican
Movement and possibly the end of republicanism per se as it has existed in
the twentieth century in Ireland.  Whether any Marxist current can emerge
that understands the two most important things the republicans did get
right and ensured they dominated left politics in Ireland for three decades
- the centrality of the national question and the need for armed action
against the British state - is an open question.

>British imperialism and the southern Irish state are to a large extent
>>willing to go along with this attempt to separate out the two because it
>is >in their interests to co-operate with the Provos in their strategy to
>betray >their traditional aim.

Well, this I agree with.

The sorry state the IRA and SF have come to today reveals the limitations
of even the most courageous and militant revolutionary nationalism.

Actually, as I close there is one more thing I should point out: the
utterly wretched role of the bulk of the British left.  Most of the British
left, being mainly spineless and opportunistic, never made solidarity work
with Ireland a priority.  The now thankfully defunct British CP actually
went along with British repression by and large, and used its influence in
the British trade union movement to stymie attempts to organise around the
Troops Out position.  Indeed the CP was more well-disposed to the
pro-imperialist Unionist population in the six counties than to the
struggle for Irish national liberation.  Additionally, the main Trotskyist
groups, the SWP and Militant, did as little as possible to organise in
Britain against the occupation of the north.  Militant even openly opposed
the call for Troops Out and always voted against this position within the
British Labour Party.

So a chunk of the blame for the political degeneration of the republican
leadership can also be laid at the foot of the British left which, in
practice, largely adopted a neutral - or downright uninterested - position
in relation to the conflict between Irish revolutionary nationalism and the
British imperialist state.  The republican struggle was largely deprived of
the allies it needed it Britain, with a few notable exceptions.


More information about the Marxism mailing list