Response to Phil
donaloc at peterquinn.com
Mon Feb 4 06:20:55 MST 2002
Sorry for the delay in responding, I have been hard-worked over the last few
Phil: The problem with this kind of stages theory is that the first stage
becomes permanent. And the socialist stage is always deemed 'unrealistic'.
I fully agree with you here. This is the main danger; however, it is our job
to ensure that it doesn't become permanent. Indeed, in the Irish case, the
stage will be very clearly defined by our seizing of state power. Again, I
think that we can expect elements within our own party to point the finger
towards the time not being ripe - that's where we have to have arguments to
back ourselves up and the internal connections necessary to force change.
Phil: To take an example from the struggle itself in the late 60s: *on
the Officials' old stages theory had a certain logical resonance/sense, but
*in practice* it was a disaster, leaving the northern nationalist masses
defenceless and leading inexorably, via reformism, to outright
The stickies programme was not grounded in reality - that's my main point of
contention with them.
P: Hiding the 'real' programme is never a good idea. At best it amounts to
trying to deceive the masses. At worst the supposedly 'fake' programme of
reformism becomes the real programme over time - usually fairly quickly.
I don't believe that we are hiding our true programme - you can get copies
of our policies - these still 'walk the walk' as Danielle said but our
short-term policies are determined by an appreciation of just where we stand
>As Brian Keenan said, if we won
>the war today we would lose power tomorrow.
P: Brian might have been a good soldier, but this betrays a lack of
revolutionary politics. The war was never going to be won today, and no-one
on this list who is opposed to Good Friday supports a resumption of armed
What is this, an argument or just a chance to slag off Brian. If you read
what I wrote, he never stated that we would win the war today - he preposed
this situation to make a point about our ability to seize power and to hold
onto it. Wherein lies your disagreeance?
>That's the reality on the
>streets, we just don't have enough people to run a national economy,
>social system or whatever. We would have to take in existing civil
>servants with all their innate prejudices - we must gain experience of
>running the state - that way we will make the transition to the
>socialist republic less traumatic.
P: But "taking in the existing civil servants with all their innate
prejudices" is exactly what you are doing now.
You miss the point - we are not in state power now - we are in a period of
struggle in trying to build sufficient strength to seize power. You are, of
course, correct in saying that the Civil Servants are totally committed to
their own agendas and effectively control the other ministers.
Also, gaining experience in running a *capitalist state* will not make a
tranisiton to socialism less *traumatic*. Even if we left aside the fact
that running a capitlaist state merely serves to keep that state going, not
to undermining it, we are still faced with the *fact* that the *first
purpose* of a socialist revolution is to *smash the capitalist state*, not
gain experience in how to run it.
P: Your dichotomous arguments here belie a large chasm between us in terms
of understanding of the nature of the six-county state. The existing state
is not 100% Capitalist, there are no such things - there are however,
complex, capitalist dominated systems with Socialist (partial) safety-nets -
which have been forced out of them through working-class struggle in the
past. In the case of the North, we have an NHS - surely you wouldn't destroy
this? - well then we will need to know how to run it. What about the few
Nationalised industries/sectors, what about running the education system,
the training system? It's not at all clear that you fully understand the
immediate tasks of a successful revolution - it's not lets get rid of all
the capitalists - it's usually where are we going to get the money/food to
feed those who are starving as a result of the transition? Who do I get to
organise this? How can we ensure electricity is being generated and
transmitted? Then we can get onto: how do we stop capital flight? How can we
better organise the nursery school sector so that it is better orientated
towards the needs of the people/equality-proof it. All this requires
detailed knowledge, that's why we are trying to develop our own socially-run
economy to run it from both sides.
Your notion of: here is a capitalist state - here is a socialist state, a
complete difference. I'm not using this as an excuse to justify reformism -
I know the direction we're playing in but the state is contradictory in
nature - that's Dialectics 101. Ireland is even more contradictory, it's
divided in two with both ends under attack from imperialism of two different
types. This is not to be understood in terms of an excuse for reformism - we
are still committed to the Revolutionary seizure of power - but in the
interim we must retain a capacity to effect meaningful change and to build
sufficient political support for the coming day.
Furthermore, I must add in response to your attacks on the Social Economy, I
really feel you have some idealised form of socialism in your head that I
don't see. For me, there were problems in terms of inefficiency and top-down
decision-making procedures in the Soviet Union. This reduced productivity.
The solution to this is in increasing the utilisation of cooperative
structures, in particular with regard to basic service provision, e.g.
retail. However, these forms of economic unit are also useful in the arts,
educational and even small-scale industrial sectors. I still see the need
for state control and ownership of the major industries and utilities and
for a solution to the Agrarian issue but for me that's the basis of our
initial form of socialism. I can see us building towards that. You may
criticise this as market socialism - I understand your criticisms, but
that's a whole lot better than what we have now. The rest can follow
gradually. Achieving this within the next thirty years without a general,
spontaneous revolution around the world will be good going. If something
happens elsewhere which puts this schema into the air we can achieve this
(and perhaps more) more quickly.
P: I notice that the prisoners who studied Marxism in jail and who advocate
this policy as the road to socialism are good at wheeling out Gramsci-isms
like 'hegemony', 'dialectic of struggle' and no doubt they talk about 'war
of positions' as well. Unfortunately, however, what they have imbibed is
not Gramsci *the revolutionary* but the Laclau/Mouffe bastardisation of
Gramsci in which these terms are used to justify a reformist practice of
administering capitalism that would have poor Antonio spinning in his
The dialectic of struggle can be used as an excuse for reformism - I fully
understand this - in effect it can excuse gradualism. The key determinant is
whether your leadership is, after-all, committed to seizing power and
wielding it effectively in the end. Arguably, this is a risky strategy - but
with the ongoing onset of more generalised crisis of capital, the population
should be more receptive towards more radical policies and this will enable
the movement to adopt such. It's all a question of not moving too far ahead,
yet pushing as far as you can. Yet again, another reason for those committed
to change to be active *within* as opposed to *without* the movement.
>To think that somehow making Stormont fall would push us forwards
>in our struggle and widen our support-base (the critical issue at all
>times) is a fallacy. Nationalists demand us to take a role now that we
>get a small chance to.
P: I think you put the cart before the horse. Brownie Adams and co. decided
years ago to pursue a course which, at some point, led them to realise they
would not only take seats in Stormont (not a question of principle) but
also take posts in the neo-colonial government (which is a question of
principle). They denied this for years whenevr anyone said this was what
they were doing, eventually, by hook and by crook, got this policy accepted
by the membership - mainly by shutting off other options. So it was not a
question of the nationalist masses demanding they did this. They did this
*first* and then sought to pull the nationalist masses behind them.
Blaming the masses is the common cry of reformism. Oh, we didn't want to,
but public opinion forced us to!
And not giving a damn about where the masses are, or what they want, is the
common cry of sectarian micro-groups. I believe that the current strategy
has caught the imagination of the Nationalist masses - they certainly demand
local government and our supporters are no less vocal on the issue.
P: Also, it's not simply a question of making Stormont fall, but of the
in which SF could have operated in Sormont if they were really interested
in advancing the revolution. I agree with Liam that SF could/should have
gone in and formed the Opposition. Let the Unionists and SDLP form the
governemnt and take responsibility for closing hospitals, running the
police force, administering the neo-colonial state in all its unglory. The
SF could have organised opposition in the streets to hopsital closures,
education cuts, police operations etc etc - and been in a very strong
position to appeal to the Prod working class over the heads of the Unionist
politicians. So instead of taking responsibility for making choices about
which health services in which area are going to be closed, within the
confines of a state organised on religious lines, SF could have taken
responsibility for organsing oppsotion to *any* health cuts and doing so
across the religious divide. The re-establishment of Stormont offered
opportunities for republicans to show that they were far better champions
of the interests of Protestant workers than the Unionist parties are and
might have been able, over time, to make some inraods into the protestant
working class who are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the
patricians and sectarian demagogues who have led them for the past two
This strategy seems straightforward enough until you start thinking of the
nature of Stormont in the past - if you think that the SDLP would be capable
of defending our population against the Unionist parties alone in the
government - you must be mad. Going into this form of Stormont would be
impossible to justify - what would be the difference between this and the
old-Stormont where all decisions were biased towards members of the Unionist
community. Who would get the blame? Your lack of understanding of the
intricacies of the situation in the North undermines your ability to
properly analyse the situation. As for Liam doing so, I suspect he hasn't
thought what would be a Stormont without SF in the executive look like - 5
UUP 3 SDLP 2DUP. What Republican/working-class Nationalist would accept
government by that - if we had to abide by your constraints I would prefer a
slow defeat in the armed struggle. At least that way, we would retain
credibility with our support population.
In essence, you are trying to jump too far ahead - yes, we would like to
push for outright Socialism, but we are forced to defend (and promote)
equality. If we can halt privatisation of Water, post offices or PFI/PPP in
the meantime, then we will, if not, we'll just have to put it down to our
powerlessness and redouble efforts to increase our power overall.
P: Instead, by helping operate the neo-colonial, sectarian state, SF have
themselves even more unpopular with Protestant workers, decreased the
possibilities for breaking down the religious divide within the working
class, and made it easier for British and US imperialism to dictate the
As far as Protestant workers go, I think we're not doing a bad job. We could
always do better, we should continually return to/publicise the origin of
all evils being either (a) our lack of self-determination (the retention of
powers by the Brits) and (b) the incapacity of the SDLP/UUP to provide a
government for the people. As far as your alternative goes, for every 1
Protestant worker we gained through our commitment to Socialism we would
loss 100 Nationalists (through our ultra-leftist non-defence policy in
regard to Unionist attacks). In effect, you are proposing the political
equivalent of the Stickie's military non-defence policy. You have learnt
nothing from history. We face some very nasty forces, they cannot be allowed
to have their way in terms of our base-population.
Finally, just let's imagine that somehow SF could have demanded that
Stormont had a safety mechanism whereby the SDLP could oppose any given
decision - thereby defending the Nationalist community. Let us also imagine
the scenario where the SDLP did this and, moreover, that they defended the
working-class Nationalist population equally (although I think you know that
this is an unlikely occurance in both cases). We would have lost a key role
in the defence of our own community - how do you think that this would go
down. To say we would have made ourselves an irrelevance is an
understatement - worse still, we would have undermined our own political
strength - through cowardice and inability to think strategically.
P: Donal, what do you think James Connolly would have made of all this? Or
he one of the terrible people who is fixated on a 'pure' movement?
I would think that Connolly would identify all the options for struggle -
evaluate each one and then decide on the course (to which he would stick
doggedly). You seem to shoot from the hip. You take a 'Golden Rule' - don't
go into coalition governments - and apply it to Ireland (or the Brit
occupied bit) and think that you are right - I believe this was one of
Stalin's problems as a theorist - as a Trotskyist I would expect more. Let's
return to Lenin, the concrete analysis of concrete situations. That way
we'll go alot further.
P:There is a big difference between 'liberation' - the act of the oppressed
themselves - and an Irish unity overseen by, and underwritten by,
imperialism. And the end-product society is very different in each case.
In the elite form of change, the underlying power relations - ie the class
relations - stay the same, in the liberatory form of change, the class
relations are abolished.
The fact that the model of the SF leadership is the Arafat and ANC model,
suggests that, whatever else may be on the agenda, it is not liberation.
Independent of the situation in South Africa or Palestine (and I don't think
you have your head around the latter in any case), seizure of power by
representatives and members of the Republican community (which is embedded
in the Irish working-class and small farming communities north and south)
will yield a class revolution by definition.
You also seem to be oblivious to the internal dialectic within the movement.
The movement is certainly not one big homogenous top-down monolith - you
must know that yourself. I see you posted on Gerry Adam's attendence at the
WEF (following Arafat) - but other papers carried details of events which
detail the fluid relations within our movement (Sunday Times - Irish
edition - I don't know of the authenticity of this piece - the paper is very
anti-Republican). In any case, Gerry raised the issue of Bloody Sunday at
the meeting as an example of how state-terror needs to be addressed. In any
case, we'll use any means to liberate our country from occupation - as the
old saying goes, "we would welcome the devil himself to rid us of the
British". Once we get National Self-determination - we'll be *able* to
pursue a better line of march - there will be 15 more years of this process,
many more opportunities for the anti-Republican Sunday Turbine to attack us.
In regard to Bloody Sunday and it's irrelevance to our current phase of
struggle - I think the attendence by over 30,000 and support right across
the Socialist-Republican-Nationalist spectrum shows that you are in a small
minority. As Eamon McCann said, the significance of this event is that it
points towards the hope which those who are currently victims of
state-terror should have that they will receive justice. The IRSP posters
said: Bloody Sunday - The Murder of Irish Working-Class people. I think that
this is sufficient reason to support the families in their quest for
As far as everyone placing blame and then moving to a Truth and
Reconciliation inquiry - I would support this. I would like to see the truth
being shone at those elements responsible for atrocities in the past. The
same scum are still in positions of power within the military bureaucracy -
such investigations should weaken the hands of the 'securocrats' and hasten
the demilitarisation process.
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