[Marxism] Re: "Gas and Water Socialism": Reply to Eamon McCann by Philip Ferguson

James Daly james.irldaly at ntlworld.com
Wed Apr 21 10:26:08 MDT 2004

Reply to Eamonn McCann by Philip Ferguson

Eamonn McCann's essential argument is that "To attack the current Sinn
Fein leadership for reneging on principles is to miss the main point:
they are not deviating from but are following closely along the path
trodden by every previous Sinn Fein leadership because of their
nationalist ideology."

McCann suggests the logic of republicanism has always been to sell

This is wrong on a number of accounts.

Firstly, it lets the SF leadership off the hook. In fact, the
republican goal has always been an independent Ireland with
fundamental socio-economic change in the interests of the people of no
property. Even in periods when this was poorly articulated, this was
still the underlying aim.

In recent years that has been abandoned in exchange for the chance of
assisting the British imperialists in running the six counties. And
this would logically be complemented by a future coalition arrangement
with Fianna Fail in helping administer neo-colonial capitalism in the
other twenty-six counties.

People who see no good reason why the sacrifices of the past several
decades should be thrown away like this have every good reason to view
this as a betrayal.

Secondly, there is an inspiring tradition of republicans who did not
sell out, beginning with Wolfe Tone and continuing through Robert
Emmet, Fintan Lalor, the Fenians and IRB section led by Tom Clarke and
Padraic Pearse.

Thirdly, since McCann declares himself to be a socialist, there is the
fact that the founder and greatest figure of Irish Marxism, James
Connolly, was a republican. He was a republican because he was a
Marxist and understood that you cannot be a Marxist in Ireland without
being a republican.  Connolly understood the difference between the
nationalism of the imperialist oppressor and that of the national
liberation struggle.

Connolly understood that rejection of republicanism per se by some
"socialists" had no progressive or redeeming elements. It simply meant
capitulation to imperialism and, thus, to the existing state of
affairs in Ireland.

The fact that McCann's own organisation managed to sit out the
struggle in the north, not able to summon up so much as the energy to
throw a stone against thousands of occupation troops, indicates the
sorry state of his "socialist" alternative to the Provos. One can't
help but be amused by the idea of an Irish SWP-type group in Iraq
today. Presumably they would be counselling the Iraqis against
anything so outrageous as armed actions against the occupying forces,
although I assume Iraq is safely far enough away that they can support
the slogan of self-determination there which they find so hard to
identify with in Ireland itself.

Indeed, in the local body elections the SWP-CP front, the Socialist
Environmental Alliance, managed in its tame manifesto to evade mention
of the thousands of imperialist troops in the six counties. Their
highest horizon in relation to the local sectarian police force,
meanwhile, was to suggest that if any SEA candidates got elected they
would monitor its activities. Very revolutionary indeed. I'm sure the
British ruling class and their fellow bourgeois in the six counties
are losing sleep over the daunting revolutionary aims of the SEA!

McCann, of course, also does not mention the political trajectory of
all those "socialists" who have evaded the national question or failed
to take a lead in the struggle for national liberation.

What happened to those whom Connolly labelled "gas and water
socialists" for failing to take up the national question in the early
1900s? What happened to the Irish Labour Party after Connolly, as it
forsook the national question? What happened to the Officials when
they abandoned the national question?

History would tend to suggest that there is a logic, a clear
opportunist and rightist logic, to the politics of those "socialists"
who take fright at the revolutionary - and therefore difficult -
implications of the national question and prefer their "socialism" to
be less arduous and more of the gas and water variety. They all moved
right and accommodated themselves to the existing state of affairs.

McCann's group, with their desire to merely monitor the RUC, while
"fighting" within the confines of social democratic trade unionism for
a bit of butter on the workers' bread, are hardly an inspiring
alternative to the political bourgeoisification of the Provisonals.
They merely represent the other side of the same coin.

If there is to be any serious challenge to the status quo in Ireland
it has to retrieve Connolly and develop a Connolly-type perspective
for today. That means uniting the national and class questions and
building an all-Ireland revolutionary movement against imperialist
domination and its local allies and underlings, partition,
sectarianism and the exploitation of the working class and small

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