[Marxism] Further on Ireland

Philip Ferguson philip.ferguson at canterbury.ac.nz
Mon Dec 11 18:44:02 MST 2006


You have sent a deluge of emails. I can't hope to answer all of them.

>I think one thing needs pointed out is that the Nepalese have committed very clearly to 'putting their arms beyond use' through a verifiable process.

A big difference is that the IRA disarmed *before* any radical alternative institutions have been established and the institutions the leadership of New Sinn Fein are going into are ones established in partnership with the imperialists.  Martin McG being deputy to Ian Paisley is quite different from achieving the abolition of the monarchy in Nepal, for instance.

>The Guevara quote is fine and I can understand where he's coming from. He refers to the semi-colonies. The north of Ireland is not a semi-colony but an outright colony. So what he says, entirely correct in its own right, doesn't apply to Ireland. You also misrepresent the belief in the revolutionary potential that SF sees in the Irish comprador bourgeoisie.

Guevara was referring to countries whether they were directly or indirectly ruled by imperialists.  His point was that in the epoch of imperialism the completion of democratic tasks requires a socialist revolution. 

>I see you restated the *Trotskyite* libel that Lenin adopted *Trotsky's* position between 1905 and 1917. 

Another interesting example of your method.  I never stated anywhere that Lenin adopted Trotsky's position.  I said Lenin's position in 1917 was different to his position in 1905.  The main reason for this, in my opinion, was not Lenin's conversion to Trotsky's view but the fact that important changes took place within Russia in the intervening period including the growth in social weight and consciousness of the working class and the obvious incapacity of the bourgeoisie to create even a radical bourgeois republic.

>I recently read Two Tactics recently and then read the April Theses - I tend to agree with those who see the same politics just at a different temporal point on the dialectic. 
He even uses the same formulations. This is why I have termed your arguments Trotskyist. You appear confused as to whether we have to have a one-stage revolution or not. I don't think in terms of stages - that method of analysing struggle is useful but it makes you susceptable to idealisation.

Lenin's *method* was the same but his views were certainly not.  In 1905 he thought that the most that could be achieved was a democratic republic, a perfectly reasonable assumption at the time given the concrete conditions of Russian society.  However, even then, he thought *the working class* would have to lead the process.

By the time of the April Theses he had come to the view that much more was possible and necessary - ie a socialist revolution.

By contrast, your views are the opposite.  Nowhere do you talk about the working class leading the struggle for a democratic republic in Ireland, as Lenin talked about in the case of Russia in 1905.  Let alone workers leading a socialist revolution which would solve the democratic tasks.

Moreover, Ireland in 2006 is a lot more developed than most of Russia was in 1905 or 1917 and most people in Ireland are workers.  So the objective of revolutionaries in Ireland today, if they were to be Leninists, would be to lead a revolution to establish a 32-county socialist republic.  Of course, this position, which you denounce as "Trotskyite" was the official policy of Sinn Fein and the IRA until recently.  Now the policy is merely to get into power in the partitionist parliaments in Stormont and Dublin.  The leadership is quite clear about this, but you attempt to dress it up as some kind of "democratic revolution" which is in line with Lenin.  What a joke.

>I also want to clarify that SF's policy is actually to set the lowest rate of corporation tax to 17.5% on an all-reland basis - of course there are higher rates potentially. That represents an increase in CT in the South (from 12%) but a decrease in the North (from 20%). It doesn't matter much anyhow as rarely do such commitments survive the realities of contact with power. The focus is on getting a united Ireland fiscal base to underpin further unity. Surprisingly the DUP are calling for an all-Ireland tax rate too - in their case reduced to 12%.

Well, a moment of frankness.  Yes, even this piddly bit of reformism is likely to be abandoned when SF gets into government.  And, as Danielle pointed out, the tax from the north still goes to Britain anyway.

>No, you are misrepresenting SF here. Nobody thinks that British imperialism can be benevolent. They think that they must be struggled against and that the surest basis for that struggle is involving the greatest numbers of people behind Republican politics.

This is a joke.  The leadership engaged for years in secret diplomacy with the Brits behind the backs of their own membership, let alone the bulk of the population.  NSF doesn't mobilise masses of people around anything.  Its whole perspective depends on the demobilisation and depoliticisation of its base.  

>I think it is yourself who is confused. Revolutions start where the people are at - not where the 'theoreticians' are at. Irish society as a whole is not objectively revolutionary. Those sectors that is potentially objectively revolutionary - mostly concentrated in the north and on the sidelines in the South - have differing foci. In the north, the focus is national liberation - and this is best expressed through the 'concentrated' form of imperialism that is the British military presence and the role of British direct-rule ministers running every aspect of people's lives. In the south, the focus is primarily on the disadvantage of living outside the Celtic tiger and beyond its benefits. The task is really to link the two struggles and to develop their similarities through programmes like the 'equality agenda'.

>The issue is that to motivate the masses in the north, SF used to use the oversimplified slogan 'Brits Out'. In a sense, this worked because it tapped into something fundamental in the revolutionary nationalist community. The people are focussed on getting British influence out of this island, yet you are advocating doing nothing until we move towards a socialist revolution... People would celebrate in the streets if we got rid of the British military tomorrow.

More confusion.  When did I ever advocate "doing nothing until we move towards socialist revolution"?

To get from here to there requires a massive amount of work, including campaigning around Brits Out.

Of course, as you note, New Sinn Fein has abandoned "Brtis Out" as simplistic - kind of like New Labour has abandoned its old nationalisation formulae as "simplistic", eh?

>Of course not, I've never read Trotsky on China (duh?). 

Funny then that you pretend to know what Trotsky's views were on the subject and are able to pronounce them wrong without ever having even read them.

>Basing the revolution on the proletarian centres was the cause of 1927 

What a nonsense this is.  On this basis, Lenin was mistaken in basing the revolution on the proletarian centres in Russia.  After all, the Russian working class in 1917 was probably no bigger than the urban Chinese working class of the 1920s.

The problem was political, not geographical.  The CCP tail-ended the KMT.  The leaders after 1927 took a different view and ensured such a disaster was not repeated.  My Maoist friends regard CPs following orders from Moscow as a major problem.

>The problem with what passes for analysis both here and below is that it forgets that Russia was at once and at the same time, both an Imperialist state and a state with internal colonies. The colonial power was *at home*. In the case of Ireland, the colonial power is still *overseas*. As for Trotsky's great credentials, does that mean that no ordinary mortal can criticise him when he was wrong? 

Since I'm not a Trotskyist and have frequently criticised Trotsky, this is just more dishonest nonsense on your part.  My point was your total dismissal of Trotsky as if he was some armchair nobody.

>Besides, I could highlight where he was wined and dined by the very imperialists you associate with SF. 

Actually you can't, because Trotsky was never "winded and dined" by imperialists of any sort, let alone the corporate American business interests who are now friends of Sinn Fein.  Repeating this kind of long-discredited smear of Trotsky is going to discredit you even more on this list.

>Your level of argument is typical of someone who can't keep up with the heat.

The fact that you have to resort to long-discredited smears of Trotsky tends to indicate it is you who can't stand the heat.

>Is this why you had to misappropriate Guevara because you know Trotsky was muddle-headed on imperialism?

Why don't you explain how Trotsky was "muddle-headed on imperialism"?  And please do so by reference to Trotsky post-1917.  You know, the Trotksy who wrote that any British socialist who failed to materially support the struggle in Ireland deserved to be branded with infamy if not with a bullet.  Trotsky, of course, was involved in the establishment of the conditions required for partues to join the Third International.  One of these conditions was that parties in imperialist countries had to supply material support (ie money and weapons) to revolutionary movements in their colonies.

Guevara fought for socialist revolutions, not to join imperialist-imposed institutions like Stormont and be deputy minister to reactionaries like Ian Paisley.

>Just because the Moscow-oriented Official IRA called them Trotskyists is insufficient evidence. They would do that anyhow - wouldn't they? Everyone who went against Moscow was a 'Trotskyist'. I don't, btw, hold to the 'stagist' conception. I prefer Lenin's formulation - whether from 1905 or 1917 - neither of which was stagist to me.

I never said the Provos were Trots, I indicated that the Provos one-stage revolution view led to the Officials labelling them the Provo-Trots.  Of course, they weren't Trotskyists, but they were objectively revolutionary.  That is no longer the case, because New Sinn Fein has abandoned any revolution, stagist or otherwise.

You don't "prefer Lenin's formulation", since Lenin's formulation was that the revolutionary party leads the workers to take political power and then proceeds to solve both the democratic and socialist tasks in the smoothest way possible and in whatever order is most suited to the objective conditions.  That, of course, is the view that I support.  

The problem with Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution is not especially that it is wrong but that it doesn't provide - and can't be a substitute for - a concrete analysis of concrete conditions, yet that is how it has been used a lot of the time by Trotksyists.  Lenin's strength over Trotsky was Lenin's ability to analyse concrete situations and see how to advance the revolution.

Your New Sinn Fein leaders, of course, have no interest in any revolution and you are simply using whatever knowledge of bits and pieces of Marxism you have to try to give a 'left' cover to a policy of sell-out and betrayal.

>Thanks for informing me of the abcs of menshevism. Again, your idealised formulaic terminology undermines the power of your own argument. Menshevism was a political trend within a multi-national imperial state. Ireland remains partially occupied by the British so you can't simply apply models to it and denounce x or y as a menshevik. Besides, I thought making such accusations on this list is a banning offence?

This is pretty dishonest.  You continually evoke Lenin as if you were following a Leninist line in Ireland.  The idea that you can't have Menshevism - ie two-stage reformism - in Ireland is just a plain absurdity.

>Just read it and was re-reading it last week to track down a quote on the tasks of struggle which I inserted into a posting to you - which you subsequently disagreed with... I did laugh but let you away with it.

Oh, you mean the one you ripped out of context? 

The context, of course, of 'The April Theses' was what kind of revolution was possible in Russia.  Since you kept insisting on making analogies with Russia and trying to use Lenin's authority, I showed that the analogy with Sinn Fein entering a reformed Stormont and taking posts in the government would have been the Bolsheviks entering the Provisional Government.  But instead of doing a New Sinn Fein, the Bolsheviks actually set out to overthrow the Provisional Government.

Lenin, of course, also had to argue with most of the Old Bolsheviks over the theses, as they had been trained on 'Two Tactics' and many, such as Stalin, favoured support for the Provisional Government.

>I totally disagree that Lenin suddenly changed tack ideologically between 1905 and 1917 and that he adopted the Trotskyist *model*. 

But no-one here has argued that position, so once again you construct a straw person.

>Lenin's formulation post February was in the context of a failing democratic revolution which remained tied to an imperialist war.

Er, Lenin's thesis was April; the democratic revolution had only just taken place.

Lenin's context was that a democratic revolution couldn't even complete the democratic tasks, much less bring about the emancipation of the workers and poor peasants.

> Lenin started from concrete circumstances like any decent revolutionary marxist. 

Finally, something you have got right about Lenin!

>That's why in different circumstances, the revolutionary tasks changed over time. Just as the revolutionary tasks in Ireland today changed after the GFA in comparison to the period before it.

This is a hoot because you act as if the GFA is some kind of objective condition outside the activity of the Provos.  In fact, the leadership negotiated secretly with the Brits and Dublin for years.  They abandoned republicanism, created a sell-out and then used the new conditions which arose as a result of the sell-out to justify a new course.  And you attempt to give a left cover to it, knowing all the while that your left pretences are not at all shared by the leadership for whom you are covering.  As the Geraldine Adams' piece noted, their whole rationale these days is getting into power, not leading a liberation struggle.

Me earlier:
>>If the Bolsheviks had have followed the line you claim then they would have entered the Provisional Government, not stood outside it with the goal of overthrowing it. 

>You are confused. In April 1917, there had been a democratic revolution which was proving completely incapable of completing the tasks of either the democratic revolution or initiating the tasks of the socialist revolution. The north of Ireland still has not had its democratic revolution yet. So SF couldn't be giving any advice to the Bolsheviks in April 1917.

And the north can't have a democratic revolution - that can only occur on an all-Ireland basis!  Moreover, the New Sinn Fein leadership joining the institutions of the imperialists in the north, including being part of a government led by Ian Paisley, doesn't point in the direction of a democratic revolution.  (I leave aside here the fact that you just said a few paras earlier that you don't believe in the idea of a democratic revolution as a separate stage anyway.)

>The Bolsheviks held a quasi-supportive position in regard to the February revolution until April. That is precisely why Lenin had to fight so hard to reverse it. 

You are muddled.  Lenin supported the February revolution, but not the Provisional Government.  Many Bolsheviks, trained in 'Two Tactics' also supported the Provisional Government.  Lenin was in a tiny minority and had to fight hard to reorient the party around the April Theses.

>That was natural for an organic struggle - realities don't fall into the neat anti-materialist categories that you require. If you re-read the April Thesis, Lenin begins by making arguments based on concrete examples of where the 'democratic' government is failing and stating that they couldn't support such an entity. I was actually going to insert a whole load of these arguments into a previous mail but thought they'd only obscure the discussion. He starts with a conditional rejection. It is only later on in the same piece that he fully develops the rejection when he demonstrates the overall context. That is the Leninist method - practical and strategic together.

No disagreements with any of this apart from the nonsense in your opening sentence about "non-material categories".

All very different from the hum-drum reformism of your New Sinn Fein though, isn't it?

>As I remarked previously, you reveal your idealist thought. The part of Ireland I live in remains occupied by the British. The notion that there could be a socialist revolution in such circumstances is laughable. So your neat little model doesn't apply and you don't get to call me a Menshevik. Unfortunate for you.

This merely reveals your own partitionist thinking.

Heaven forbid that we should think on an all-Ireland basis rather than merely about "the part of Ireland I live in".

Of course, since the Provos stood for a one-stage revolution whose aim was a democratic socialist republic this would mean the whole movement for most of its existence had an absurd "neat little model".

Or, of ocurse, it could be that it used to have a revolutionary view but this has been abandoned under its new constitutional nationalist leadership. 

>All I do is that I seize - like virtually every other colonial revolutionary - on the formulation of the democratic revolution growing over into the socialist revolution. Is it any wonder that not a single colonial revolutionary leader ever thought Trotsky's PR model of sufficient use to use it in their struggle? 

You "seize" it simply in order to give left cover to the capitulation to imperialism currently being practised by your leadership.  If someone asked Gerry Adams if he was pursuing a policy aimed at "the democratic revolution growing over into the socialist revolution" he'd just laugh and think it was a great joke.

>Just a chance thing... The Bolsheviks were far from denouncing February 1917 as a 'sell-out' - what a laugh. 

And who ever said they made this denunciation?  This is another example of your straw people method of argument.

It was the Provisional Government they denounced, not the February revolution.

>Also as for them patiently organising to overthrow the Provisional Government - they actually had to hold the people back in July because it wasn't a generalised outbreak. One can only dream of such radicalisation.

They had to hold *some people* back precisely because the masses weren't ready.  Of course, the objective, as Lenin stated clearly, was to patiently organise and educate to get to that position.  Lenin didn't use the existing level of consciousness as an argument against organising and educating for the seizure of power.  That's something that you do.

>The problem for you is that you are caught betwixt and between. You want to defend Trotsky's idealist position on the unity of socialist and anti-colonial revolutions (against Lenin's materialist formulations in both 1917 and 1905) and use that to attack SF as prioritising the national struggle over the socialist, at the same time you then want to claim that SF are not even advancing the nationalist agenda. 

I've never attacked SF for "prioritising the national struggle over the socialist".  My criticism is more the one you identify at the end of that sentence: that SF are not even advancing the national struggle. 

>You really must get your argument straightened out. I believe that what SF are doing is entirely coherent with the advancing the democratic revolution through a large social demand for devolution and independence while opening up the opportunity for the people at the same time to take the lead in a socialist revolution when that comes of time. You choose not to deal with this argument but a complete misrepresentation of it.

This is a hoot.  "The socialist revolution when that comes of time"!?  Like it is something that just shows up, rather than something that has to be continually prepared and organised for.  In the meantime, while you await the socialist revolution "com(ing) of time" you will help New Sinn Fein form a coalition government with Ian Paisley. 

The above para of yours also makes a mockery of your claim that you don't divide the revolution into stages.  In the para above you have done precisely that.  First off, a democratic revolution - which consists of going into coalition govt with Paisley in the north (some revolution!) and then at some far-off point in the future, "when that comes of time", a socialist revolution.  Absolutely classic two-stage theory.

And, of course, the thing about two-stage theory is that it never gets past the first stage, in fact it rarely even carries out the first stage.  That is the experience *in Ireland* of two-stage theory, whether advanced by the Officials (who went one better and had a three-stage theory) or where the national tasks were seen as a complete stage in and of themselves by the dominant leadership during the war for independence.  Stages theory *in Ireland* always leads to betrayal.    

Me earlier:
>>This is all part of the house-training of New Sinn Fein. The British hold out the carrot and keep taking it away again, so NSF moves further and further away from its old principles. The Brits are now pretty satisfied with how far New Sinn Fein have moved. New Labour types understand this especially well as they performed a similar function in the British Labour Party to what the Adamsites have performed atop SF-IRA. 

>Again, this 'argument' resides at the level of name-calling if nothing else. 

Tis is a bit rich coming from a New Sinn Fein apparatchik.  NSF regularly conducts all kinds of personal smear campaigns against critics of its rightward course.  Some of them are related in the Geraldine Adams' article, which is partly why I posted it here.

>Where is the meat in your argument? This is what characterises anti-SF positions from the left - they have nothing concrete to offer. Even Anthony McIntyre - as twisted as he is (with little to no respect in the Republican community as a whole) - had to admit that Kearney's opponents had nothing to offer by way of realistic vision. No policing until not just unity but socialist unity? I can just see that going down well with communities across the north - who already largely use the cops for routine issues like theft or car accidents. 

This is the typical reformist argument.  We can make the cops more people-friendly.  We can make the capitalist state nicer.  We need to go into a capitalist government in order to get some tiny wee reforms.

Meanwhile the system captures the reformists.  

>What Gramsci said or his ideas of hegemony are not at all clear, unfortunately. His writings were left incomplete and scattered - as was natural given his prison conditions. That is why you can have them appropriated by the likes of yourself on the ultraleft but by the likes of Chantal-Mouffe on the opportunist right. 

Er, I think you mean Laclau-Mouffe!

>Talking about Gramsci's ideas as if they are a well-defined body of knowledge is impossible. Gramsci did not write anything significant about imperialism that I remember - perhaps you might substantiate your statement?? 

I never said he wrote about imperialism.  I said his idea of hegemony was a revolutionary one and explained how and why.  You use it in the same way as Laclau and Mouffe - to carry out a "war of position" within the structures of imperialism, including a coalition government with Paisley.

>I don't think that our role is simply to follow sets of rule book codes about how to proceed with struggle. In fact this is the polar opposite to marxist strategic thought as far as I'm concerned. It is non-materialist. The grounding is Marx, Engels and Lenin but also to complement that with a whole series of arguments on tap which might or might not be appropriate to your circumstances.

And how Gerry Adams and the rest of the leadership would laugh at all this.

Still perhaps they have some use for someone attempting to use Marxist arguments to buttress their much more prosaic constitutional nationalism.  W

Me earlier:
>>It's funny that you have to resort to the Laclau-Mouffe distortion of Gramsci, a pair of hopeless academics, while you turn your nose up at Luxemburg, Trotsky and the actual Lenin. 

>You are amusing. Laclau-Mouffe didn't really distort Gramsci in the way you stated. Their contribution (?) was that they denied the working class as the objectively revolutionary class and that as a result of their move away from the monist conception of history postulated an approach based on a cross-class alliance of the left. 

But this is exactly one of the points you reflect Laclau and Mouffe.  You advocate a cross-class alliance, although you're worse than them, because your cross-class alliance is not of the left, but of the centre and the right.  In fact, your alliance even involves Ian Paisley!

>Name one who has the power to 'bug' the cops on foot of a recommendation from local political parties. Name another system where local policing structures are held directly accountable through monthly meetings of locally elected policing boards. Name a country where those boards can contract the provision of policing services to community-run policing structures. You completely fail to deal with the detail of my arguments but attack in an entirely vacuous manner.

If you think the Police Service of Northern Ireland is going to be anything like a body under the control of the population you are even more naïve than your previous emails suggest.

Me earlier:
>>In the article in the 'Irish Times' about the meeting in Belfast attended by 250 people, mainly opposed to SF's capitulation over policing, an SF spokesperson turned up and mouthed this kind of rubbish. Someone in the audience called out, "Wake him up!" I doubt, however, that you can be woken. 

>That anti-SF meeting is adequately dealt with in the post you forwarded from Anthony McIntyre. A more balanced account is available online at the more gossipy website www.sluggerotoole.com. I take it Anthony knows where the people are at and where they are likely to go.

Well, we'll see if New Sinn Fein can get 250 people to a meeting in Belfast to enthusiastically support the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

>If SF are inadequately housetrained then presumably some life must reside with them? I thought that they were incorrigibly corrupted...

By this stage they are.  The Brits are now rubbing their noses in it.  The Brits want to make absolutely sure that no matter what they do the NSF leades will find some way of justifying going along with it.  

>The IRA have not surrendered - as you know. Again, another misrepresentation.

Of course, they have surrendered.  They weren't beaten, they surrendered.  When you give up everything you used to stand for and destroy your weapons it amounts to a surrender. 

>>Tell me, what workers' struggles have SF led recently?

>Well, what about the Irish Ferries strike? Or the Corrib Gas protests? Or the immigrant struggles in Dungannon or in Dublin? 

Are you seriously claiming that SF led the Irish Ferries strike?

What JScotlive reported about the unease of NSF members at any suggestion of a grassroots campaign against the bin tax is indicative of the real attitude to campaigning on the ground against capitalist attacks.

And as NSF is more and more incorporated within the structures of capitalist political power, the unease about militant workers' struggles will turn to outright hostility.

But no doubt they'll still have you to try to dress up their politics as really all being a clever way to get to the "democratic revolution" - the 'revolution' that makes Martin McGuinness the deputy of Ian Paisley, that makes the police user-friendly and that is, apparently, a six-county 'revolution'.


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