Vol. 1-No 2
Wednesday 25th November 2009
1) The Decline of Militant Irish Republicanism
2) Nation or class?
3) From The Media
a. How to fix a rich but unequal country
b. Stop Repression in the Basque Country
5) What’s On
The Decline of Militant Irish Republicanism
Ideologies are not issued self-developed and completed into the ether of the idea rather they are generated by the development of specific historic processes in the real world. Ideas are not primary but secondary reflections back into reality through the mediation of the mind.
Material reality is primary in the evolution of thought just as it is primary in the wider process of the evolution of the species. It was primarily this supercession of the German Ideology, which underpinned Marxism as a Critique of Philosophy. For Marxists, like Hegelians, the Kantian duality of mind and reality is bridged through Praxis or activity on the part of the knower but for Marxists this activity itself is conditioned by reality.
For Marxists, therefore, the Republican ideals which flowered in France and England in the late 18th Centuries only developed and found wider social resonance because society was not only sufficiently developed to generate them but that it was sufficiently developed to give them a social force. The ideals of equality, fraternity and liberty were the idealistic out-workings of the demand of the rising business class to overturn the power of the traditional aristocratic ruling class and the domination of the church.
If there is a crisis in Irish Republicanism then it reflects changing material realities. This post seeks to identify the causes of this historic decline. The first thing to note is that there is an undeniable decline.
The largest militant republican movement, Sinn Féin, has largely ditched what has been understood as traditional republican values. They participate and work in a system based on the principle of consent (i.e. consent of a majority in the north-eastern six counties), they act as Ministers in a partitions parliament owing its sovereignty to the British crown and they promote support for a police service which enforces British laws in Ireland. All this when British troops continue to be based in the north.
Now many Republicans will say that this is a strategic compromise akin to De Valera taking the oath to the British King only to establish the Republic and that it may be to them. But De Valera's actions were considered treacherous by traditional contemporary Republicans just as they are by today's equivalents. Moreover, De Valera wasn't long from swearing that oath to the point of hanging IRA men during the emergency.
Today's Sinn Féin operates in a similar system and with a similar strategy to the SDLP of the past. Gone is its radical socialism instead it has a soft social reformism, which if it has meaning at all in its contact with reality, is largely ineffectual and mostly symbolic.
But there are others within Republicanism who have not gone so far. Traditionally the second biggest group would have been the Irish Republican Socialist Party, which has groups in some towns in the North and a scattering of activists in Dublin and other cities in the Republic. The recent announcement that the INLA was to disband and engage with General de Chastelain's decommissioning body was unexpected but reflected their analysis that the war was over.
(Editor’s note-There is, as yet, no evidence for the above assertions)
The argument justifying this decision to go further than their old cessation is the need to engage in wider left-wing politics through groups such as the People Before Profit Alliance. This should be seen for what it is: further evidence of the historic decline of militant republicanism.
Traditional Militant Republicanism
The main groups remaining outside this trend are the inappropriately named 'dissident' republicans. These groups really should be termed traditional republicans given their consistency with republican ideological beliefs going back to the 1910s and 1920s. They believe in the achievement of Irish unity through force of arms and reject any form of participation in governmental structures predicated on partition or the principle of consent.
These groups are enjoying something of a renaissance of late. Their attacks on crown-forces and bomb attacks are growing in regularity and they are clearly gaining a hearing with some in grassroots republican communities. The causes of this must be sought in the chronic failure of the mainstream 'republican' political agenda as evidenced by the one-sided government in Stormont and the collapse of a cross-border economy enormously reliant on the construction sector.
In the absence of a strong socialist alternative, traditional republican militants are successfully projecting themselves as the real alternative to Stormont and they are finding it somewhat easier to recruit young nationalists. The problem for these groups is that they are largely a reaction to the political development that has occurred in the last 20 years in Northern Ireland; the times have changed. Today, for the first time in the history of the northern state, most Nationalists recognise its legitimacy and accept the principle of consent.
While many Republicans may have viewed this ideological Rubicon as a real-politick concession to devour the northern state from the inside-out, the reality is that the wider population have now normatized the concept. This will not be easily undone. There is, thus, a huge barrier standing in the way of the traditional republican militants. They cannot succeed and it is clear that most of them realise this fact but view their resistance as an existentialist refusal to the system. Yet this is always an inadequate justification for revolutionary action.
Che did not go to Bolivia considering his actions to have no hope - he believed he would succeed but realised the risk. Connolly went out in 1916 hoping for the best but conscious that it was madness given the odds of defeating the British. Indeed, the secret history of militant republicanism has often been just how close to victory risings were if they only realised at the time the weakness of the British. But there are no such hopes for traditional republican militant struggle.
The Changing Material Conditions
Irish Republicanism was initially a bourgeois nationalist movement; hence, Griffith's attachment to the concept of a monarchy and an Irish empire. The situation in Ireland was complicated by the colonial nature of its relation to Britain. Nationalism, which in the imperialist centres of mainland Europe demonstrated its reactionary nature in the revolutions of 1848, remained objectively progressive in Ireland a situation reinforced by the politically-engineered Great Hunger of 1847/48.
With the coming of the new Free State in 1923, Irish nationalism faced a number of challenges. Not least were the growing demands of the new, progressive, socialist working-class politics developed by the likes of Connolly and Larkin and finding military expression in the ICA. But equally, it was presented with the realities of partial liberation. The Civil War confirmed the dominance of the conservative trend within Irish nationalism south of the border yet north of the border the situation remained complex. The Irish Catholics living north of the border were oppressed alongside working-class Protestants - both groups were largely denied the vote.
Nationalism reflected the legitimate demands of Irish Catholics (in particular its middle-class who felt themselves particularly disadvantaged) but it risked alienating a Protestant working-class who were enticed to support unionism through such hegemonic structures as the Orange Order and the panoply of advantageous arrangements established under the 'Protestant state for a Protestant people'.
The Belfast Rates Relief Strike of 1932 held out the opportunity for unity of action for the first time and it is highly instructive how it was put down by the selective targeting of Catholic strikers for murder by the forces of the state.
The growth in a youthful generation educated on the back of the 1948 Education Reform, generated the civil rights campaigns which had the potential to bridge the gap between nationally oppressed Catholics and economically exploited Protestants. But it was not to be - the reaction of the state rekindled militant republicanism - and broke down the ability to develop a more powerful cross-community resistance.
Structural reforms to take off the worst edges of discrimination were implemented in the period of direct rule and the general standard of living rose as the north was more fully integrated into the global economy as an appendage to imperial Britain. The rise of the Celtic Tiger in the historic bargain to big business offered by the Dublin Government (of low taxes in return for employment) resulted in a reduction in the poverty of the Republic and a further consequential erosion in support for militant republicanism.
In these conditions and against the backdrop of a falling level of support for the faltering military campaign of the IRA, the leadership had to look for a way out. They chose a negotiated process, which they felt, held out the prospect of victory down the road. That this has not transpired or likely to transpire may seem obvious to the casual observer today but it clearly was sufficiently obscure at early stages to hold the entire Republican movement together through the bulk of the process itself.
Having got to this stage, the material conditions for the success of militant republicanism no longer exist. However, the growth in unemployment and the perception that discrimination continues in the north through more subtle means than before there is a potential for the tradition to attract young recruits. But with no viable strategy it is hard to see where it can go.
From this viewpoint, the move by the IRSM to dismantle its military operation is sensible. They perceive the need to move forwards. They realise that holding a military structure or weaponry will only prejudice that opportunity and warp their own internal democracy. Their voice will be of importance to the left-wing across Ireland although it is imperative for them to resolve their own position in relation to northern Protestants.
The Need for the Left to Engage with Protestants
The greatest failure of Republicanism has been its inability to effectively engage and transcend the divisions 'carefully fostered' with northern Protestants. The revolutionary opportunity heralded by the cross-sectional 1798 Rebellion was never realised in the period after it. Again and again, when individual Republicans have engaged with Protestants they have ditched their own nationalism, Sinn Féin the Worker's Party being the classic example of this trajectory. Republicans should consider just why it is that some of the most capable republicans, some of its most consistent socialists, have moved away from Nationalism after an engagement with Protestants as Unionists as opposed to simply Protestants as other.
Irish nationalism may unify northern Catholic communities against the British but this is insufficient to achieve Irish unity in a context where the principle of consent is embedded in the constitutional standing of the north. The lack of viability of any military strategy to overthrow that constitutional situation should make any traditional Republican militant reconsider what they're about.
However, we need at this point to reiterate our opinion that working with unionists as parties at governmental level is even less likely to achieve Irish unity as it ends up reinforcing unionist hegemony in their own communities. The conclusions from this analysis are that the tradition of Irish Republicanism has often collapsed to the tradition of Irish Nationalism and that Republicans have failed to find common ground with Protestants as a result of their prioritisation of nationalism over socialism.
The risks of Nationalism
Irish Nationalism is often simply collapsed to anti-imperialism in a broad approach akin to that adapted in colonial revolutions elsewhere in the world but the situation in no two contexts is exactly the same. Ireland unlike most colonial states is partitioned and Ireland has a large non-national minority consisting a majority in one of those states. It cannot simply be concluded, therefore, that the same strategic orientation is correct in all cases. That is to fetishise such a strategic orientation.
Whilst anti-imperialism is always justified, nationalism is not. In the concrete case of Ireland, we have to ask how is it advancing anti-imperialism best by retaining nationalism if all that does in reality is to further reinforce the union? Furthermore, anti-imperialism is meaningful precisely because it is a necessary condition for the self-emancipation of the working class or socialism. As Connolly said merely raising the Green flag is a worthless achievement in and of itself.
Yet, in reifying nationalism (and thereby cementing the union), we are undercutting its logical justification from a Socialist Republican perspective. The only possible arguments that can be presented to this are that unity cannot be achieved through socialism alone or is required as its pre-requisite. The first argument is a preposition and must be tested.
Socialism or Barbarism argues that it is precisely this preposition that must be tested through struggle. It is akin to arguing against socialism on the basis that socialism is not possible. Such specious teleological arguments are insufficient to justify a course of 'do nothing' particularly when their proponents are often 'doing something' which is demonstrably setting back the cause of socialism.
The second argument is more substantial but we believe that it is precisely this understanding, that national self-determination is a condition for the full realisation of socialism which gives content to the national liberation struggle (if it deserves to have a content at all). So in fact, it is only through actively pursuing socialist demands which fail to be delivered by a London-government that unity can ever gain traction in unionist communities. To the extent that such unity is necessary, that is the extent to which that unity is progressive.
The historic failure of the Republican tradition to engage northern Protestants has been its Achilles’ heel for 200 years. Nationalism acts as a barrier to unification and acts of traditional republican militancy will only further undermine the ideological validity of republicanism not just with Protestants but with a growing section of northern Catholics. Socialism or Barbarism calls for revolutionary socialists to work together to develop a new vehicle capable of challenging the neo-liberal consensus and finally resolving the nationalist-socialist dialectic.
Reprinted with permission from Socialism or Barbarism FRIDAY, 16 OCTOBER 2009
Socialism or Barbarism!
An Irish blog dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism. We offer a rigorous analysis of news stories and political developments. Our ethos is for participation, economic democracy and solidarity.
Nation or class?
Nearly 250,000 Irish public sector workers took militant strike action on Tuesday 24th November. Except for areas of severe flooding where emergency workers continued to work with trade union permission there was a magnificent turnout by the Irish working class. Needless to say there was widespread condemnation by the ruling elites. Bourgeois politicians talked about the national interest using terms like “the nation must unite” “we must all pull together” and “we all must share the pain”.
The media also had a go. The Sunday Business Post before the day of action wrote,
“The trade unions will only make things worse with the strike action due to take place this week.
The action is unwarranted - after all, we do not even know yet what is going to be in the budget. What’s more, it ignores the fact that cutting government spending is essential if we are to maintain our economic independence.
It also deepens the divide between the union-dominated public sector and the private sector, going against the partnership ethos that the trade unions have preached for years. On a more practical level, it will also impose unnecessary inconvenience on the entire population. It is, in truth, the last thing we need. (SBP 22/11/09)
The Irish Times also had a go at the workers.
At a time when social solidarity and a sense of personal responsibility are needed as never before, employees in the most protected sector of the economy have behaved selfishly.
-This is a time of national emergency. There is no point in vested interests demanding that others should carry the burden of financial repairs, while seeking immunity for themselves. Every individual and group should be required to contribute according to their means.” (IT 25/11/09)
Even the reporters of RTE joined in the condemnation by alluding to the huge backlog of Southern registered cars queuing to enter Newry in the north to shop. They neglected to mention that because of the high cost of living for working class families in the South hordes are now flocking to the north to stock up for Christmas. And who can blame them? For years on top of years the ruling classes in the South have been ripping of the poor with exorbitant prices for poor quality goods, poor public services whilst turning a blind eye to property speculators, corrupt politicians and preying priests and heartless, inhumane church institutions.
Talks between the Government and the unions are ongoing. At this stage there is no doubt that some sections of the trade union bureaucracy view a few days of action as a way of letting off steam and taming the militancy of the workers. But as Vincent Browne points out in “How to fix a rich but unequal country (see below)
actual facts are not taken into account by the political establishment but they should be by the political and trade union leadership of the working class. Days of action should be a prelude to a campaign for a one-day national strike.
Social partnership deals have been used to cut wages and conditions and privatise public services. Governments can rescues the banks with billions of public money but are determined to screw the poor.
Already we have had the pension levy, pay cuts budget and the establishment of An Bord Snip.
Attempts to divide public sector workers from private sector workers should be strongly resisted by the political left. Weaken the public sector and you can be sure the private sector employers will stick the boot into private sector workers. Currently on building sites where non-unionised workers are seen talking to union organisers they are sacked. That’s just a taste of what lies in store for the workers in the private sector north and south.
The struggle for a national strike is a sure fire way to begin the process of politicising the working class and stripping away illusions many workers have in any progressiveness in Fianna Fail and the Green Party. Any independents still supporting the coalition should be ashamed of themselves. They should break with the coalition and form a left bloc in the Dail that excludes any pro-capitalist party.
But there should be no illusions about the Dail. It may represent some vague abstract concept called “The nation” But it is not our nation.
The real power that the working class has is in own hands. A national strike would be but a beginning in the empowerment of the working class and a mighty step on its road to emancipation from the chains of capitalism.
From The Newspapers
How to fix a rich but unequal country
If the top earners paid 43 per cent of their income in taxes and levies, a further €3.2bn could be raised,
JUST A few random facts, not that facts are much in use nowadays. Certainly not facts that contradict the line of the economic and political establishments.
Ireland is a very rich country, one of the richest countries in the world. Even allowing for a deeper contraction in the economy here in 2009 than elsewhere in the EU, our per capita income is still at least 10 per cent above the EU average. We are better off than countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece and very much better off than all the 12 new member states.
There are only 10 countries in the world richer than the rich counties of the EU. They are three oil sheikhdoms (Qatar, Kuwait and UAE), and Liechtenstein, Switzerland, USA, Norway, Luxembourg and Japan. Perhaps now Australia and Canada are richer than Ireland, but, excluding the tax havens and the oil sheikhdoms, Ireland is probably the 16th richest country in the world. Ireland is 110 times richer than the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the per capita annual income is less than $298 (€199). The latter data is from the 2009 United Nations Development Programme report.
Ireland has one of the lowest tax takes – as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) in the EU. In 2007 our tax take was 32.5 per cent of GDP, as compared with an EU average of 40.9 per cent. Only Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia were lower than us. Denmark had a tax take of 49.5 per cent, Sweden 48.9, Belgium 46.1, France, Italy 43.3 and Germany 40.8. Even with the levies, our tax take now would be among the lowest in Europe. (Data from Eurostat.)
It is true, those earning over €100,000 (this includes couples who file their taxes jointly) pay almost 50 per of all income tax revenues. This is not surprising, since this cohort, who comprise only 6 per cent of all earners, get 28 per cent of all income.
Those who earn less than €30,000, who comprise 46 per cent of all earners, get on average less than €15,000 a year and they take just 15 per cent of total income. So 6 per cent of all earners get almost twice the income share as 46 per cent of all earners. (All this basic data on income and tax is available from the Revenue Commissioners, the analysis is mine.)
The 168,627 earners getting more than €100,000 per year got a total income in 2009, according to the Revenue Commissioners, of €32.3 billion. This works out at an average income of €189,770 per year. They are projected to pay a total of €8.7 billion in income tax, which is just 27 per cent of their income.
Assuming that these top earners (those earning over €100,000) pay the levies that were announced for 2010, they will pay a further 6 per cent of their income in tax. This will bring their total income tax and levy to 33 per cent of their income.
If the top earners were obliged to pay 43 per cent of their income in taxes and levies, a further €3.2 billion could be raised in income tax and levies (this is a simple calculation: 10 per cent of €32.3 billion).
Even if the double earners who earn less than €160,000 were excluded from these additional taxes and levies and were allowed to contribute at a lower rate, the additional taxes could certainly net €2.5 billion.
44 per cent of all public servants earn less than €30,000 (this information was supplied in a written answer to a Dáil question on November 3rd and the data relates to the income tax year 2007).
75 per cent of all public servants earn €50,000 or less. Since these income figures come from the Revenue Commissioners and apply to total earnings, they include all allowances and bonuses.
Fact 12: Ireland is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world. The OECD calculated in its report Growing Unequal that Ireland was the 23rd most unequal of 29 developed countries.
A consequence of this inequality is that over 5,000 people die prematurely here every year because of this inequality (see the report Inequalities in Mortality by the Institute of Public Health).
Research on inequality, drawn from around the world and, in particular, the US, shows that the more income inequality there is in societies, the more prevalent is an array of social problems from obesity to imprisonment rates, violence, poor health, welfare dependency and low literacy.
Reflection: The Government, aided and abetted by the main Opposition parties and the hordes of economists, refuses to see any relevance in any of the above in devising policies to fix the hole in the public finances.
(The Irish Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2009
SUPPORT THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS,
STOP REPRESSION IN THE BASQUE COUNTRY
The Irish Basque Solidarity Committees has called for the immediate release of 34 youths arrested in the Basque Country today. Speaking today a spokesperson for the campaign stated: “The arrest of thirty four young people in Basque County last night is wholly unacceptable and part of the ongoing campaign against members of the Basque pro-Independence Left. They are accused of being the national and county level leadership of Segi, the pro-Independence Left youth organisation that was banned in 2002. They have done nothing but public and peaceful political work to promote the Basque youth and national rights. They fully endorse the conflict resolution proposals presented by the pro-Independence Left just two weeks ago. These proposals show the Basque pro-independence movement's commitment to a peaceful and democratic process. These arrests and those of spokesperson Arnaldo Otegi and others on October 13 are attempts by the Spanish government to prevent any political solution to the conflict. “Indeed we only have to look at the ongoing extradition attempts of two members of the Basque community living in Belfast to see how far the Spanish authorities will go. “The Spanish authorities need to realise that such actions are counterproductive when there they are set in the context of a wide range of groups outlining a scenario to re-establish a peace process in the Basque County ove the past few weeks. “This initiative needs to be explored by the Spanish Government who can, if the political will exists, end negative actions such as these latest arrests and engage in dialogue to reach a solution the Basque conflict.” The Irish Basque Solidarity Committees are calling Irish society and especially those in government to support the conflict resolution initiatives in the Basque Country and take part in solidarity picket lines organised this Saturday 28th in Belfast (outside Cultúrlann, Falls Road 2.30pm) and Dublin (outside GPO 12 noon)."
In The Red Plough Vol. 1 -1 there was an article entitled “The Political Road”. The Weekly Worker the publication of the CPGB republished it in the form of a letter. The Following e-mail was sent to the Weekly Worker
Re Weekly Worker/793/letters.re The Political Road
This was certainly not a letter to the CPCB.I have no objection to your reprinting it but prefer you make it clear it was from an e-mail newsletter circulated to many on the left called The Red Plough and not in the form of a letter. Fraternally and in common struggle
Subsequently the next addition carried the following. Note the differences
The statement from the Irish Republican Socialist Party on the decision of the Irish National Liberation Army to renounce armed struggle was certainly not a letter to the CPGB (November 12). I have no objection to your reprinting it, but prefer you make it clear it was from an email newsletter circulated to many on the left called The Red Plough and not in the form of a letter.
Gerry Ruddy IRSP
At no stage did the Red Plough make any claim to be speaking on behalf of the IRSP. We assume the Weekly Worker made a genuine mistake.