[Marxism] Ireland

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Sun Mar 21 16:56:18 MST 2004

> Calvin raises the question:
> how on earth it is possible to build socialist class-consciousness in
> working class protestant areas on a Republican (socialist) platform.

> The only answer is the very Irish one: "If I were you, I wouldn't
> start from here". As Seamus Costello put it in the IRSP document
> presented to a 1976 Convention to discuss a "Broad Anti-imperialist
> Front":
> ******************************
> The fact that a unified and politically conscious Irish working class
> does not exist is a direct consequence of the creation of two
> partitioned states in Ireland...
> *************
> Costello (for the IRSP) then suggested the following political
> demands:
> **********************************
> 6. That the Irish anti-imperialist front rejects a federal solution
> [NB -- JD] and the continued existence of two separate states in the 6
> and 26 counties as a denial of the right of the Irish people to
> sovereignty and recognises the only alternative as being the creation
> of a 32 County democratic republic with a secular constitution.
> 7. That the Irish anti-imperialist front demands the convening of an
> all Ireland constitutional conference representatives of all shades of
> political opinion in Ireland for the purpose of discussing a
> democratic and secular constitution which would become effective
> immediately following a total British military and political
> withdrawal from Ireland.
> ***********************

> This is very different from the path taken by the Sinn Fein leadership
> then and now.

> 1. Their demand was only for a British declaration of intent to
> withdraw. Britain's statement, that it has no vested interest in
> remaining in Ireland but is there only because the loyalists want
> it -- [in Philip's term of endearment, the ordinary Prods -- who have
> recently elected Paisley First Minister] -- is no substitute for
> withdrawal.

> 2. And the 6 County conflict resolution conference would be chaired
>  by Britain, with the Taoiseach playing towards Britain the role Blair
>  plays towards Bush. Costello was clear that Britain had no seat in
>  his proposed constitutional conference.
>   There was a chance for Costello's vision to succeed, and I believe
> "the ordinary Prods" could in those days have given it at least as
>  much consent as the majority of the Irish people later gave the
>  partitionist Good Friday agreement.

> Costello was furious when the person (he did not stay long, though he 
> was a big cheese in his own estimation) who in 1975 gave the IRSP's
> first Bodenstown memorial speech commemorating the green-wearing
> Protestant 1798 Republican Wolfe Tone (handed over to the British by 
> an Orangeman), began "Coming down on the train from Belfast I was 
> thinking what to say (sic), and I thought 'what can we do to make our 
> idea of a republic attractive to Glenn Barr'?" [a leading UDA man].

> Unfortunately most Republicans and nationalists have taken their cue 
> from the maker of that speech, and not from its critic Seamus 
> Costello. This was a trend which the socialist Connolly lambasted, as
> Philip puts it, when he found it in the bourgeois Republican Pearse.

I agree with pretty much all of what james has said.

The problem with the question of building support in Protestant areas in 
the north is, as James notes, that it is the wrong starting point.  In 
fact, it's a partitionist starting point.

No-one would have dreamed of asking as the most important question in 
South Africa in the 1980s, 'Yes, but how do we build support for a 
non-racial South Africa in the white working class communities?"

It is not that the question is unimportant.  It's just that it isn't the 
starting point.

The starting point is organising support for socialist-republican 
positions wherever possible.  At this point in time, such policies are 
going to be mainly relevant in the nationalist working class areas, 
which constitute the big bulk of the Irish working class.

What will open up divisions and rethinks in the Protestant working class 
in the north is the emergence of a revolutionary movement on an 
all-Ireland scale, just as white South Africans were forced to rethink 
by the growth of the black revolutionary movement there.

In the meantime, I do think it is important to pay attention to any 
opportunities at all that emerge for making socialist-republican 
propaganda in Protestant working class areas.

The only thing which James said with which I disagree, and which always 
annoys me, is the reference to Pearse as "bourgeois Republican".  It's 
nbot as bad as calling him a 'Bourgeois nationalist", but it is still 
politically wrong in my view.  In fact, in Ireland, I would go so far as 
to suggest, there is no such thing as bourgeois republicanism, any more 
than there was any such thing as bourgeois Sandinism in Nicaragua.

Pearse was a revolutionary nationalist, in the sense that term was used 
by Lenin.  The classic statement of his *mature* political credo is "The 
Sovereign People", which is as radical as anything any revolutionary 
nationalist has ever produced anywhere in the world.  There is not, and 
never has been, a revolutionary nationalist bourgeoisie, or a republcan 
bourgeoisie, in Ireland.  The national bourgeoisie in Ireland was barely 
nationalist, never mind republican.

Fianna Fail may subtitle itself 'the republican party', but it was not 
republican in any meaningful way, even when it had a left-republican 
programme at its founding and members like Countess Markievicz and other 
left-republicans.  When it was founded it was founded as an explicitly 
partitionist party.  Within a couple of years, its leaders were taking 
the oath of allegiance to the British monarch and a few years later 
administering a partitionist state and repressing anti-partition forces.

And that is the most 'republican' of all the bourgeois-nationalist 
parties!  The rest of them, going back to O'Connell (or, before that, to 
the bourgeois nationalists of the Dublin parliament in the 1780s) were 
only barely nationalist, and many of them weren't even that.

Tone and the United Irish were a reaction not only to British rule but 
also to the inability of the Irish bourgeoisie to play the part of a 
national bourgeoisie as the American and French ones had.  (Itself, of 
course, a reflection of British domination which threw Irish development 
back centuries, as Engels noted, and therefore prevented the emrgence of 
a modern, national bourgeoisie along American and French lines in the 
late 1700s.)

Philip Ferguson

PS: I agree, of course, that Costello's view of the anti-imperialist 
front offered the way forward in the late 1970s.  Sinn Fein leaders 
briefly adopted this position themselves, just as they borrowed a lot of 
IRSP politics in the late 70s and 1980s.  This was the 'broad front' 
idea of SF in the late 80s which led to the formation of the Irish 
National Congress, and which is outlined in various internal SF 
documents and at the end of the (Bernadette Devlin McAliskey) video 
"Ireland: off our knees".  In the IRSP case, the problem was lack of 
takers for the idea outside the IRSP.  When SF took up this strategy in 
the late 1980s/early 90s the problem was that powerful figures within SF 
were already undermining the anti-imperialist front idea with the idea 
of a pan-nationalist front.  And, of course, pan-nationalism in Ireland 
always leads into adaptation to imperialism and then outright 
collaboration because bourgeois nationalism in Ireland is, essentially, 
an impossibility.

More information about the Marxism mailing list