[Marxism] Dialectics, development and Ireland

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Tue Mar 30 20:43:31 MST 2004

Donal writes:
  > However, my general point is that Phil tends to present arguments as
  > cast-in-stone with no temporal direction and no processes. That's pretty
  > much equivalent to a formal logic approach which allows for a
  > presentation of the (bourgeois) present as the end of history. Well its
  > not.

And none of the critics of the current trajectory of the Provo
leadership, including me, argue that it is.

In fact, we have tended to fairly consistently argue that this is all a
process - indeed that the leadership set out on a course a number of
years ago that has developed a logic of its own, which has meant an
evolution further and further to the right and away from anti-imperialism.

You obviously disagree, but it is not realistic to claim that we don't
see this as a process.

As for dialectics, we know from dialectics that processes develop 
through contradictions and that the contradictions are resolved (albeit 
giving rise to new contradictions).

So (briefly) here's my dialectical analysis.  The contradiction between 
Provo republicanism and imperialism in Ireland has been resolved by the 
former capitulating to the latter.

This has created a new contradiction in which the alignment is now 
between the oppressed and those groups who attempt to provide leadership 
to them on the one hand and the forces of imperialism and collaboration 
(with the Provo leadership being part of this element) on the other hand.

A strategy for liberation now has to take into account a changed (and 
very unfavourable) balance of forces in which the anti-imperialist side 
is smaller and weaker than at any time in the past century.  On the 
positive side there is a mass, collective memory (at least in the north) 
of decades of militant struggle which cannot be easily erased, despite 
the ideologues of the Irish version of the 'New Times' thesis.

  > What's needed is to see we're in a process. The problem is where is
  > it taking us. He doesn't even argue at that level. If he did, it would
  > be more interesting (and challenging).

"The problem is where this is taking us".  Yes, indeed.  And this is
exactly the point that critics of the GFA, both in Ireland itself and on
this list, have made over and over again.

The argument is that the process is taking the Movement further and
further away from anti-imperialism and into a politics whose highest
horizon is to be part of the management of the six counties.

A classic example of the logic of this process is the demand for 'parity
of esteem' for both loyalist and nationalist traditions in Ireland.  One
problem with this is that loyalism is a totally reactionary ideology and
movement which represents the oppressor and has always existed to crush
the Croppies.  Another problem is that it abandons a materialist
analysis of the cause of oppression as a socio-economic-political
phenomena and sees it as a problem of culture and esteem.  Another
problem is that it locates the loyalists rather than the British state
and British imperialism as the source of the problem.  So the strategy
becomes persuading the British to persuade the loyalists to. . .

This is an argument that people like Danielle and I have made
continuously on this list the whole time the debate with Donal has been
going on, so the allegation that I don't argue about where it is taking
the Movement is very strange.

Indeed, we even had an argument about the process of disarming and where
this was heading.

So we have repeatedly argued about the direction of motion both of
specific aspects of the struggle and the big picture.

On the argument about living in the past and holding on to old 
principles and ideas when the world has moved on.

1. This charge has a fairly disreputable history, as it was used every 
time a leadership did deals with the imperialists (or the southern 
state) and was directed against the people who continued to hold 
anti-imperialist positions.  It is also a rather 'New Labour' type argument.

2. There are plenty of examples where those of us who oppose the GFA and 
present strategy have not held on to old pseduo-principles and ideas. 
Critics of the GFA, like Bernadette McAliskey, the IRSP, James Daly and 
others, rejected abstentionism in the south *before* the Provos did. 
The most left-wing opponents of the GFA also argue that there is no 
basis for resumption of the military struggle in the north, so that's a 
fetish people haven't maintained.  And I could go on and on.  It'snot 
likey we're Second Dail dogmatists.

3. Donal says the people who continue to hold certain old principles are 
"very few" (or maybe he said "very, very few", I can't find his email 
just now).  Well, they're a minority, for sure.  But look who they are - 
people of the calibre of Bernadette, Brendan Hughes, James Daly, and 
others, including the IRSP/INLA.  They are also people who, over the 
course of the 1970s and 1980s, were *repeatedly* proven correct as 
against the Provo leadership.  The IRSP was proven correct over stuff 
like abstentionism in the South, they were proven correct over rejection 
of the Provos' 'Eire Nua' federal Ireland and in favour of a unitary 
state, they were proven correct over the issue of serious election 
campaigns and an electoral strategy in the north at a time when the 
Provos were attempting to sabotage campaigns like Bernadette's 1970 EEC 
electoral campaign.  So, maybe, Donal, they might just be right this 
time around as well.

Lastly, you seem to place a great deal of store on the growth of SF and 
also on attacks on SF by the existing establishment.

But, as James said, "The grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand 
men."  It remains to be seen whether the Provos are going to march their 
new recruits up the hill and then back down again.  But my money says 
this is what they're doing.

The other thing about growth is just who is joining and why these people 
didn't join when it was rather more difficult to be a member.  The 
post-GFA influx, it seems to me, is likely to pull SF further rightwards.

After SF was reformed way back in 1917, and it became clear that the old 
bourgeois-nationalist IPP was finished, loads of people who had opposed 
the 1916 Rising started joining SF.  Even some of the bishops swung 
behind SF, along with much of the middle class anda  few of the 
bourgeoisie.  Needless to say a big chunk of these new members and 
supporters formed the basis for the Treatyites in 1921.

AS for attacks on SF by Bertie Ahern and the Brits and so on proving how 
radical SF is, well the southern establishment attacked Fianna Fail in 
the late 1920s as dangerous extremists and even sometimes as 
"communists" because FF had, on paper anyway, quite a radical programme 
when it started.  (One of the notable features of the first FF party 
executive was the presence of socialist-republican women veterans of the 
ICA, 1916 and the left generally.)

The attacks on FF didn't really say much about FF's real politics and 
trajectory in the late 1920s.  The attacks simply showed that Cumann na 
Gaedheal wanted to cling on to power and were upset at the idea that 
they might lose the fruits of office to a new establishment.

And, of course, what happened was that the people (FF) who Cumann na 
Gaedheal and the bishops attacked as dangerous radicals turned out to be 
the new establishment.  Since 1932, FF has been in power most of the 
time in the South and has been every bit as collaborationist and every 
bit as good at operating neo-colonialism as the Treatyite party and its 
descendants.  Indeed, it's no accident that it was a Fine Gael-led 
government and not an FF one that declared the South to be a Republic 
and not part of the British Empire.

Today, Ahern and the other FF cronies are upset at the development of SF 
as an electoral rival for the same reasons that Cumann na Gaedheal was 
upset at the emergence of FF as an electoral rival in the late 1920s and 
early 1930s.

The old German guy noted the tendency of history to repeat, first as 
tragedy and second time round as farce.  The Treaty and the period 
thereafter was the tragedy, when pan-nationalism won out over 
republicanism and socialism and the Irish working class and masses paid 
a heavy price.  Eighty years on, we are witnessing the farce.

Anyway, I'll leave it here because, as usually happens with this 
argument, it reaches a point where everything is just being repeated.

I'm happy to await new developments in Ireland before taking up the 
thread again.


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