The Red Plough
Vol. 1-No 12
2) Oration at Bodenstown 1966
3) Democracy and the Mass Movement
4) Seamus Costello Interview
5) Loyalism and the Connolly Approach
6) Aims, Principles, and Policies
7) Seamus Costello to the Troops Out Movement
8) The Broad Front
9) Homage to Seamus Costello
Seamus Costello was a pivotal figure in the development of Irish Republicanism in the middle of the 20th century. October is the month of the year when socialist republicans remember his contribution. The Red Plough re-publishes here just some of the writings of Seamus. They are not only of historic interest but also contain some elements of political thought that still have relevance today. The first article the oration at Bodenstown in 1966 marked the historic turn of the Republican movement to the left. The last article is from the Starry Plough in October 1997 just days after his assassination and sums up his contribution to revolutionary politics in Ireland
Oration at Bodenstown
Text of oration delivered by Seamus Costello at the Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown, 1966.
We have assembled here today to pay our respects to the memory of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the father of Irish republicanism. If we, the republicans of 1966, are to pay a fitting tribute to Tone, it is essential that we examine in depth the ideals for which he fought and died. He believed that the Irish people "had but one common interest and one common enemy; that the depression and slavery of Ireland was produced and perpetrated by the divisions existing between them, and that, consequently, to assert the independence of their country, and their own individual liberties, it was necessary to forget all former feuds to consolidate the entire strength of the whole nation, and to form for the future but one people."
His attitude towards the so-called 'Irish parliament' of the day is also worthy of attention. He maintained that the parliament was a totally ineffective body, that it had changed nothing in Ireland, that the social and political order remained the same, and that, as before, the real power lay with the British Government. He realized that until such time as the Irish people united and demanded their just rights that the wealth of this country would either be controlled directly by Britain, or be syphoned off with the willing connivance of a subservient Irish parliament.
Having seen the problems that existed at the time, Tone in conjunction with the other leaders of the revolutionary movement decided that the first logical step towards a solution was to
"break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political and economic evils."
You may well ask why we of the republican movement, 168 years after the death of Tone, find it necessary to advocate the same course of action that he advocated. The answer is simple. We find it necessary to advocate the same course of action because of the fact that the Irish people still do not control their own affairs, and because their economic and political independence is considered a fit subject for barter or sale by our two subservient puppet parliaments. If the Irish people have any doubt about the truth of this statement and want proof of what I say, they have only to take a close look at the situation that exists today in each part of our partitioned land.
In the North, the destinies of one and a half million of our countrymen are controlled by a puppet regime whose existence for some 45 years has depended on the support of British armed forces. This regime has found to its apparent delight that one of the simplest ways of ensuring its continued existence is by the furtherance of bigotry and sectarianism. Ample evidence of this policy can be found in the recent antics of a certain reverend agent provocateur.
These then are the means by which the British imperialists intend to maintain the people of the North in perpetual slavery. These are also the means by which the working classes are divided against their own material welfare. The pro-British capitalist class who control the economy of the North know very well that, when the people reject those who foster sectarianism, their next step will be to demand a just share of the wealth which they create. These are the real reasons why one section of the community are led to believe that it is in their interest to discriminate against another section. Never are they told that the standard of living which they enjoy, at the expense of their victimized neighbors, is theirs by right - rather are they tricked into believing that these natural rights are a reward for their support of the regime. These tactics serve to ensure that a large section of the population of the North remain loyal to the regime and at the same time do not insist on having a bigger share in the wealth.
In the 26 counties the most that can be said of the position is that it contains one evil less religious discrimination is absent. The political and economic subjection of this part of Ireland to Britain is no less complete than that of the North.
However, British control over the destinies of the people of the 26 counties is not as obvious. This is due in the main to the fact that since 1921 they have had the co-operation of successive quisling parliaments in order to ensure that their interests here are fully protected.
The effects of this economic subjection are obvious in every sphere of life in Ireland at the present time. We of the republican movement have no need to tell the Irish people of the sorry mess which has been made of the economy. The politicians are telling us every day. They tell us that this position arises as a result of the workers insisting on having a better standard of living. Never are we told that the profits, which accrue from our labours, are invested abroad by the native and foreign capitalists who control our resources.
We are constantly told that we must work harder for the same wages despite the fact that we have to live with an ever increasing cost of living and an ever increasing burden of taxation. Up to now we have been 'advised' that it is wrong for workers to withhold labour in the struggle to wrest a decent wage from those employers whose only role in life seems to be the exploitation of workers. The situation in this regard has now changed radically, with the introduction of coercive anti-worker legislation. We now find that Mr. Lemass, in his eagerness to please his imperial masters, is prepared to use against farmers and workers the same type of repression which was previously reserved for republicans. It now seems inevitable that the republicans in Mountjoy prison will soon find themselves joined by farmers and trade unionists.
We republicans must not be content to criticize those who misgovern both parts of our country. If we are to regard ourselves as true followers of Tone, we must provide the Irish people with an alternative. It must be a realistic and practical alternative. Our target must be the achievement of the ideals set out in the Proclamation of 1916 - the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for all our citizens.
This in effect means that we must aim for the ownership of our resources by the people, so that these resources will be developed in the best interests of the people as a whole. Some of you may feel that these aims are impossible to achieve until such time as we have an independent all-Ireland government. It is certainly true that some of these aims will not reach fruition until such time as we have an all-Ireland parliament. However, in the meantime, you as republicans have an extremely important part to play in the furtherance of this policy.
It is your duty to spearhead the organization of a virile co-operative movement among the farming community. It is also your duty to use your influence as trade unionists to organise a militant trade union movement with a national consciousness. In short, it is your duty to become active, hard working members of each and every organization that is working for the welfare of all the people and towards the reunification of the country.
You should use every possible opportunity to acquaint the people with our policies on land, industry and finance. We believe that there should be a limit to the amount of land owned by any single individual. We also believe that the large estates of absentee landlords should be acquired by compulsory acquisition and worked on a co-operative basis with the financial and technical assistance of the State.
In the field of industry, our policy is to nationalize the key industries with the eventual aim of co-operative ownership by the workers. The capital necessary to carry out this programme can be made available without recourse to extensive taxation by the nationalization of all banks, insurance, loan and investment companies whose present policy is the re-investment of our hard earned money in foreign fields.
This in short is our policy. This is our definition of freedom. It was Tone's definition, Lalor's definition, Mitchel's definition, and the stated aim of Pearse and Connolly. We can expect the same reaction to the implementation of these aims from the forces of exploitation, whether native or foreign sponsored, as the originators received in '98, '48, '67 and 1916.
Therefore, to imagine that we can establish a republic solely by constitutional means is utter folly. The lesson of history shows that in the final analysis the robber baron must be dis-established by the some methods that he used to enrich himself and retain his ill-gotten gains, namely, force of arms. To this end we must organise, train, and maintain a disciplined armed force which will always be available to strike at the opportune moment.
Democracy and the Mass Movement
(Sinn Fein education conference in Sheelon Sharrock Hotel held on 23 February 1969)
Mr Chairman, Comrades,
1.My intention is to demonstrate during the course of this lecture how the working of democracy at both local government and national government level can be related to the work of mass movements.
2.I will deal first of all with the experiences to our Movement at local level, showing the effects of our activities both inside and outside the local authorities.
3.I then propose to relate those experiences to our Movement at national level, showing what I believe would be the likely effects of our involvement in parliamentary action.
In order to understand the present position of the Movement in Wicklow it is necessary to first of all trace the history and development of the Movement in that area since 1954. You may ask why 1954 ? The answer to that is that the first attempt made in modern times to re-establish the Movement in Wicklow was in 1954. At that time there was absolutely no Republican organisation in County Wicklow. In fact the last period during which organised Republicanism existed in Wicklow was during, and for a short period after, the Civil War.
This meant in effect that when the Movement was reorganised, and indeed right up to the present moment, that none of our members were drawn from traditional Republican backgrounds. We had to start with completely new people who had no experience of, or preconceived ideas about revolutionary political action. I feel that this point is worth mentioning because of the effect it has had on our methods of operation. The main effect as far as I am concerned is that we have being able to approach every phase of our activities with a completely fresh outlook unhindered by any adherence to unnecessary taboos, except those imposed upon us by belonging to a Movement that has in the past and indeed to a certain extent in the present, being guided in its activities by past history, rather than by completely different circumstances of the present.
The first Sinn Fein Cumann was started in Bray in May of 1955. At that time, we had 6 or 7 members, mist of whom had been members of the Cumann in Dun Laoire for a couple of months before that date. From the time the Cumann was formed until the end of 1955, our only activity was the sale of the United Irishman in the town of Bray.
The position in Wicklow remained the same up to the end of 1957, except that we had a slight increase in membership, and we managed to spread the sale of the United Irishman into most of the other populated districts of the county. This was done by groups of 3 or 4 people in cars who managed to cover about 75 percent of the public houses in the county between 8pm and closing time on Saturday nights. In this way we managed to get the paper sold and build up our finances out of the profits after having paid our petrol expenses.
There was no significant change in that position between 1957 and the end of 1959 except that a small number of our members were imprisoned and took part in the campaign. We still only had one Cumann in the county, and the campaign was simply a new topic for discussion in the pubs on Saturday nights. The only effect the campaign seems to have had on the public during this period is that they seemed more anxious to buy the United Irishman. I often suspected that they did this in order to keep themselves informed of the sensational happenings in the North, in the same way as they bought the News of the World to read about other sensational happenings in London or Glasgow.
Between 1959 and 1962 the organisation in Bray began to show signs of disintegration. We were reduced to about 4 or 5 active members and the sale of the paper in other parts of the County outside Bray was discontinued. At the end of 1962 we were selling about 14 United Irishman, all in the town of Bray. The morale of our members seems to have declined in direct ratio to the progress or otherwise of the military campaign. When the campaign ended in February 1962 we again set about putting the organisation on its feet, and by the middle of 1963 we had recruited about a dozen very active people, and had succeeded in re-establishing the sale of the paper throughout the county. In June of 1963 Joe Doyle was released from prison in England, and we availed of the opportunity to publicise the existence of our organisation in Bray. We did this by having a torchlight procession and a rally afterwards. I have always felt that this was the first occasion on which the people began to develop an interest in our existence. We had a number of new recruits following Joe Doyle‚s return, and for the first time since 1959, the national collection was carried out on a county basis. We had already had a very successful year with Easter Lilies sales, and our financial position was quite sound.
Our activities between the end of 1963 and February 1966 were the same was in 1963, except that we re-established the Easter commemorations for the first time since 1924. We also established our first links with the trade union movement during this period and managed to get one of our members selected as a delegate to the Bray Trades Council, representing the Workers Union of Ireland. There seemed to be a growing awareness on the part of our own members at this time of the necessity for involvement in the work of other organisations. This was due in the main to the creation of new policy in the Movement as a whole.
This new policy was brought a step forward in February 1966 when the local Sinn Fein Cumann called a public meeting of all Council Tenants in Bray for the purpose of forming a Tenant’s Association. The immediate result of this meeting was the formation of a very active association with 4 or 5 of our members in key positions on the committee. It also had a very favourable effect from our point of view on the course of the local elections in the following year. I will explain how this came about later in this lecture.
We also strengthened our links with the Trade Union movement in 1966 by inviting the Bray Trade‚s Council to officially participate in the 1966 Easter Commemorations. They agreed to march and they appointed Roddy Connolly, the son of James Connolly, to speak on their behalf from the platform. Their participation in the commemoration served to link the organised working class movement with our movement in the eyes of the people, and subsequently helped us in the local election of 1967. By the beginning of 1967, our organisation in Bray was well poised for the local government election contest. We were still the only Sinn Fein Cumann in the county, however we were in a very strong position both from the point of view of finance and influence with the working class people.
The latter was due mainly to our contacts with the Trades Council and the Tenant‚s Association, both of which represent large number of working class people. The Tenant‚s Association represents about 800 families in the town and the twenty unions affiliated to the Trades Council represents approximately 1500 workers in Bray and the surrounding area. We managed to acquire the support of the Tenant‚s Association by holding a meeting of our own members who were on the Tenant‚s Committee and drafting a questionnaire which was to be circulated to all candidates in the election by the Tenant‚s Association. The Association also informed each candidate that their answers to the questionnaire would be circulated to every tenant in the town and that the people could draw their own conclusions.
The questionnaire dealt with a number of problems about which most tenants had a genuine grievance, and our people on the committee took steps to ensure that the Sinn Fein candidates were the only ones who could give answers that were favourable to the tenants. The result was that the tenants received copies of the answers from all candidates and large numbers of them supported us because of our policy on housing matters. At this stage it may be of benefit to give an outline of the main points from our Election Programme and indicate briefly how the election was fought. The main points from our programme were as follows:
1.That all building land would be brought under the control of the local authorities and that they would be the sole agents for the purchase and sale of such lands at prices related to its agricultural value.
2.That housing should be treated as an essential social service and financed on a non profit making basis.
3.We stated also that we would organise the homeless people (about 300 families) to pressurise the council into building more houses.
4.That we would fight for the introduction of a purchase scheme for all council tenants.
5.That we oppose the introduction of differential rents.
6.That we would seek to have repairs to all council houses done through a direct labour scheme.
7.We advocated the completion of a flood prevention scheme for the Dargle river.
8.We also pointed out the necessity for such things as local bus services, phone boxes, dispensaries, etc.
9.We strongly condemned the Managerial Act, and called for more direct participation by the people in local government matters.
10.We had to explain very clearly in our Election Manifesto that we would take our seats if elected. We had to do this because of the fact that the other parties were telling people that we would refuse to sit if elected. It was also quite obvious to us that no matter what the people thought of our Election Policy they could see no point in supporting us unless we were prepared to sit on the council.
We opened our campaign about four weeks before polling day by setting up a full time Election Headquarters, complete with telephone. During the campaign we gave out approximately 75 000 pieces of literature made up of National Election Manifesto, Local Election Manifesto, Candidate Literature, Voting Cards and hand outs at polling stations. We used 3000 posters. We also had an average of 15 people working every night, either canvassing or distributing literature and we were able to provide transport and man all polling stations on voting day. We were the only party in town that managed to canvass every house, and also to hold numerous public meetings. Our total expenses came to £360.00, and we made a profit of £50.00. The net result was the winning of two seats on Bray Urban District Council and one seat on Wicklow County Council. Having outlined the type of Election Campaign we fought, I feel it is essential that we examine the reasons why the people voted for us. I think the reasons would be as follows:
1.Bray had experienced a long period of particularly bad administrations, resulting in a generally run-down town, and the existing parties were either unwilling or unable to take appropriate action to remedy the situation.
2.Most members of the outgoing council had been at least 20 or 30 years involved in local government and there seemed to be absolutely no difference between one party and another.
3.We had established a good relationship with the people through our involvement in the Tenant‚s Association, the Trades Council and the Credit Union movements.
4.We made no secret of the fact that we were a revolutionary socialist party and that we were prepared to give leadership both in the local council chamber and on the streets.
5.We made it obvious that we were radically different from all the other parties and that we had no time for any party that existed by putting the people under a compliment for things that are theirs by right.
6.We made it plain to the people that if we were elected we would make sure that Bray Urban District Council would be democratised and that they would be able to make their presence felt in the council chamber on any issue that affected their welfare.
7.We fought a better campaign than any other party and people were impressed by the dedication and unity of our members during the campaign.
8.All of the other parties were suffering through internal rivalry between their candidates and we benefited from this.
After the local elections of June 1967 we had to lay down new rules of behaviour to deal with the following situations:
I. What would be the relationship between our elected representatives and our own organisation.
II. What would be the relationship between our elected representatives and individuals or organisations.
III. What would be the relationship between our elected representatives and the representatives of other parties.
IV.What would be the relationship between our representatives and the Council officials.
I. In order to maintain proper contact between our elected representatives and our own members we set up the machinery for the holding of regular meetings. We hold a general meeting twice a month on the nights before the local council meets. At our own meeting we discuss all matters on the agenda for the council meeting and decisions are made by the meeting regarding the attitude to be taken by our councillors. We also discuss at these meetings any items that our own members feel should be raised at the council meetings. We decide whether these matters will be raised directly by our own councillors, by the Sinn Fein Cumann through direct correspondence, or through agitation in the mass organisations. Whenever possible we adopt the last course of action in order to build the confidence of the people in their own organisations. It also helps to establish our members within these organisations, and ensures that their leadership is accepted.
II. The contacts created between individuals or organisations as a result of our election presented us with a completely new situation. We found that suddenly large numbers of people and organisations were approaching our councillors for assistance, and we set up a Citizen‚s Advice Bureau in order to meet them. The people we meet in this way can usually be broken into three categories:
a.Individual people who require assistance from someone with knowledge of local government procedure, so that they can overcome some problem that applies to them alone. They are usually people who are entitled to some particular service but don‚t know how to proceed about obtaining it. In these cases our local representatives simply approach the appropriate Council Department and iron out the red tape. We usually find that those people have already approached councillors from other parties, and we are under the impression that we are doing them a favour. We always avail of the opportunity to impress upon them that what they are seeking is theirs by right and that they don‚t owe us or anyone else anything for it. We find that this approach serves to create a spirit of independence on the part of the persons concerned. It also helps to establish our integrity and demolish the hypocrisy of the other parties.
b.If an individual approaches us with a problem that happens to be common to a number of other people we usually refuse to act on his behalf unless he first of all agrees to bring the other people together so that they can all fight together. I can best illustrate what I mean by giving an outline of one particular case. In August 1967 we were approached by a particular individual who had no water supply in this house and who had been trying for 25 years to get Wicklow County Council to give him a connection from a nearby water main. During the course of discussion with him it emerged that there was a total of 13 houses in his locality without water and that they had spent 25 years approaching other councillors without avail. The other parties had simply said „leave it to us and we will look after it‰, but had done nothing about it. This man agreed to organise a meeting of his neighbours which we attended. We pointed out to them that if they were prepared to organise themselves they had a good chance of pressurising the Council into giving them a water supply. They agreed with our suggestion, and formed an association. The association went on 2 or 3 deputations to council meetings and after threatening to withhold rates etc. they succeeded in getting the council to agree to install a water supply. Work will start on the scheme in about two weeks time. These people could not understand why none of the other parties had suggested the same tactics as we had. Again we availed of the opportunity to explain the difference in policy between our organisation and the other parties. The result is that we now have the whole-hearted support of these people, and they in turn have developed a new sense of independence. If other examples of similar cases are required I can give them during question time.
c.The third category in this group is an approach by some existing organisation requiring assistance. Existing organisations are different from individual cases in so far as they rarely approach one party only. They usually contact all parties at the same time if the problem is connected with local government. If they have a long standing problem that could not be solved the conventional manner we usually suggest some form of agitational activity, and we offer whatever technical knowledge which they may require. We have found when dealing with organisations that all conventional means must have failed them before we can suggest other methods. We have established very good relationships with the following organisations was a result of these approaches:
- Bray Trades Council
- Bray Tenant‚s Association
- Bray Housing Action Association
- County Wicklow N.F.A.
- County Wicklow Macra na Feirma
- West Wicklow Development Association
- Greystones-Kilcoole Housing Action Association plus numerous other smaller groups.
We find that most organisations exist in order to improve the living standards of their members, and that a solution to their problems can be found by reference to the appropriate section of the Sinn Fein Social and Economic Policy. Every opportunity should be availed of in order to let these organisations know that the solutions advanced by our local representatives are in fact part of Sinn Fein policy and not just the opinions of individual councillors. If a solution can be found within the existing framework of society so much the better. If solutions can only be found through a completely new type of social and economic structure, then this should be made clear to the organisations concerned and every possible effort should be made to create a head on collision between these organisations and the forces opposed to them. In this way, we will help to create a desire on their part for fundamental changes in the structure of society. This in my opinion should be one of the primary functions of Sinn Fein councillors. If we succeed in this objective the organisations concerned will be prepared to give us political support when we advance the same solutions from our political platforms.
III. The next matter that we had to decide upon was the relationship between our representatives and the representatives of other parties. We decided at the beginning that we would adopt a completely independent stand on all issues, and that if our views happened to coincide with the views of other parties w e would co-operate. In turn if our views were different we would oppose them. In practice we have found that in most cases we have been opposed by the other parties, particularly on issues that require fundamental changes in the structure of society before they can be solved. The result of this is that we have succeeded in exposing the other parties as groups who are only interested in maintaining the status quo. We have been particularly successful in exposing the Labour Party in Wicklow as such a group. This arose because of their attitude in connection with a recent housing scandal, which I can elaborate upon during question time if necessary. The Trades Council in Bray have co-operated with us in this particular case, and we have publicly condemned the Labour councillors for their anti-working class attitude. It should be of interest to note that most of the delegates on the Trades Council are either members of supporters of the Labour Party. The attitude of Sinn Fein councillors should be to avail of every possible opportunity to demonstrate that we are fundamentally different from all of the other parties, and we should not yield to the temptation to let up on the attack either from some short term advantage or because some of them just happen to be nice people.
IV. The relationship between our representatives and local authority officials needs to be examined at this point. Our experience of Wicklow has shown that most of the officials are reasonably honest and dedicated workers and that some of them are quite progressive in their attitudes. However, they are restricted in their activities by the rules laid down by the central authority for the running of local government. This means in effect that in cases where we advocate policies that cannot be implemented through the framework of existing legislation we run the risk of head on collision with the officials. The effect of this can and should be minimised by pointing out at all times that we are opposed to the system as such and not to the officials that are forced to work within the confines of the system. In this way we will succeed in gaining the support of the progressive minded officials, and at the same time we will help to create grave dissatisfaction on their part with the whole local government system. They will gradually become disillusioned and frustrated, and it will therefore be easier for us to in their support for our ideas in the future.
The Wicklow by election was held in March 1968 and at the time we still had only one organised Cumann in the whole county. The election was fought in basically the same way as the local elections except that it cost us approximately £1200 as opposed to £360. As a direct result of the election we were able to form nine new Cumainn in the county. This was about the only advantage gained from the contest. We now have a total of ten Cumainn, all of which are reasonably active as outlined during the course of the lecture. In terms of votes we received approximately 2000 first preference votes which I consider to be a poor return for the investment in time, labour and money involved.
During the course of the by election we found that the greatest single objection to voting Sinn Fein was the existence of the abstentionist policy. I stated at the start of this lecture that I proposed to relate our experiences on local councils to the likely effects of our involvement in parliamentary action at National level. Involvement in parliament can be usefully compared in a number of ways with our involvement in Local councils. As I have already demonstrated during the course of my lecture there is two things that we can achieve through our involvement in local government affairs:
1.We can achieve some short term results within the existing framework
2.We can use it as a forum from which to advance our revolutionary ideas thereby creating a lack of confidence in the whole system. Of course we can only do these things by operating both inside and outside the Council Chambers in a disciplined manner as I have already referred to.
I suggested the same tactics could be usefully employed by even a small group of well disciplined T.D.s at National level working both inside and outside Parliament. I believe that the Republican Movement is capable of producing the proper type of person for this job. And I also believe that we could establish the necessary machinery to control our T.D.s. The people of Ireland are clever enough to recognise the fact that effective power lies in the hands of Parliament at the moment, and in my opinion they are not going to give their support to any party that refuses to recognise this fact and act accordingly.
Before the Republican Movement can achieve power, we must succeed in breaking the confidence of the people in the existing Parliamentary institutions, and I would suggest that this should be one of the main functions of our T.D.s. They should also be full time Revolutionary Organisers in their own areas, thereby demonstrating to the people who elected them the fundamental difference between ourselves and the other parties.
In conclusion I would like to give an example of the possibilities that could have been availed of by such as group of T.D.s in the recent past. The discussion on the ESB Special Provisions Bill in 1966 provided a glorious opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of revolutionary tactics within parliament combined with action on the streets. If the opportunity could not have been availed of at that time it could certainly have been used during the subsequent ESB strike. During this strike approximately 50 ESB workers were imprisoned and almost 100 000 workers, most of whom were in sympathy with the ESB men were walking the streets of Dublin for the best part of a week. I suggest that the opportunities thus presented as a result of these circumstances could have been used with effect by a well disciplined revolutionary movememnt acting in consort with its TDs in order to smash the Special Provisions Bill.
The present discussions on the Criminal Justice Bill presents similar opportunities for any party in opposition to avail of them, and with that provocative suggestion which I feel sure raises more questions than it answers, I will now conclude my lecture.
Seamus Costello Interview
Q. What are the main ideological differences existing between the IRSP and the Officials?
A. The principal ideological difference would be in our attitude towards the national question. Basically, the position of the leadership of the Officials is that there is no hope of achieving national liberation until such time as the Protestant and Catholic working class in the North are united, and therefore there is nothing which can be done in political terms or in any other terms about this particular issue. Our attitude, on the other hand, is that the British presence in Ireland is the basic cause of the divisions between the Protestant and Catholic working class in the North. It follows that the primary emphasis should be on the mobilization of the mass of the Irish people in the struggle for national liberation. The Left should play a leading role in this struggle. The rank and file of the Official movement, at the 1972 and 1973 ard fheiseanna, put forward a policy which would have led to a more militant approach on this question, but the leadership frustrated its implementation. The Official republicans gradually degenerated into taking a reformist position on a number of very important issues.
Q. Would you be willing to co-operate with loyalist groups on short-term economic and social issues?
A. Any approach to the loyalist and Protestant working class in the North must be on the basis of a principled political approach. There is no use going to some loyalist group and asking them for co-operation with housing on the Shankill and Falls Road, and at the same time pretending that we are not socialists and we are not republicans. The approach to the loyalists must be an honest one. We must explain to them what all aspects of our policy are. We must explain, for instance, that we are opposed to the British presence in Ireland and that we are not merely opposed to that presence because we want to establish a Catholic republic in the whole country. We are opposed to it because we regard it as the principal means of dividing the Protestant and Catholic working class and because we regard the British presence in Ireland as the principal obstacle preventing the emergence of class politics in Ireland. If we approach the Protestant working class on this basis, we may manage to convince some of them, at least, that our approach is correct. We see no point whatsoever in co-operating with them on short-term issues while at the some time trying to fool them about our politics. If we were to do that we would be in the same position as the people in Belfast in 1913, whom Connolly described as "gas and water" socialists. The Official movement has tried this particular approach and has now moved into a position of what we would call "Ring-road Socialists." In other words, they are prepared to adopt a common stand with loyalist organizations on the question of the ring-road in Belfast, and to hope or believe that the Protestants will not suspect that they are really republicans or socialists. We feel this is a very dishonest approach and that ultimately it is a counter productive one.
Q. You state that the IRSP is not an abstentionist party. If you get candidates elected to the Dail, what kind of role will they play? The role of a social democratic party (e.g. the Irish Labour Party)?
A. When we say we are not an abstentionist party, we mean we are not a party, in principle, committed to abstention. But there are circumstances and conditions under which it might be desirable to abstain, and if we felt that it was tactically desirable at any particular point in time, in either the North or the South, to abstain from parliament, then we would do so. That would depend, however, on the circumstances. If a situation existed, for instance, where there was a possibility of large-scale dissatisfaction on the part of the people with either the 26-county parliament or the six-county parliament, then abstention on our part would be a legitimate tactic.
As for IRSP representatives in Leinster House, we would see their primary task as one of highlighting the policies of the IRSP, using the parliament as a platform for the pursuit of these policies and for achieving publicity for them. But members elected to parliament would have to be active in politics outside the parliament, i.e., in extra-parliamentary and agitationary politics on the streets. We see a direct relationship between the successful struggle on streets in pursuit of any particular political objective and the presence of people in parliament. We don't see parliament as an institution that is likely to produce the results which we want from a long-term point of view. We don't see it in a reformist way. We see both parliamentary institutions in Ireland as institutions that have to be abolished if we are to make progress towards establishing a Socialist Republic.
Loyalism and the Connolly Approach( March 1975)
"Connolly had to face exactly the same predicament. In Belfast prior to 1916, you had people who classified themselves as socialists and who were also interested in ending British rule in Ireland. Their approach to the Protestant working class as on the basis of limited and immediate issues. One of the principal issues, which affected both sections of the working class, was the question of whether or not they could get gas and water into their houses.
Some very militant campaigns were engaged in on these two demands - gas and water for the houses in the working class districts. Republicans and socialists were involved in this campaign on the basis that this was the way to unite the working class. At the same time, these republicans and socialists refused point blank to mention or even discuss the national question with the Protestant working class, on the grounds that if they did, the Protestant working class wouldn't listen to them and that they would lose their co operation on the issue of gas and water for the houses.
Connolly was totally in opposition to this approach. He categorized them as gas and water socialists. Today in Belfast we have what we call ring-road socialists. They are exactly the same type of people. They are, in fact, the leadership of the Official republican movement in Belfast. We maintain that any co-operation with the Protestant working class must be on the basis of a principled political position. It must be on the basis of explaining fully to the Protestant working class what all our policies are, not just our policy on the ring road. We must try and politicise them, simultaneously with conducting a political campaign to get rid of Britain. It will be primarily an educational function, or an educational campaign directed towards Protestants in the hope at least that some significant section of the Protestant working class will understand “
Aims, Principles, and Policies
In an interview with an Italian journalist shortly after the formation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Seamus Costello defined the party's aims and objectives with his customary clarity and precision.
Q. What does your party stand for?
A. We are a revolutionary socialist party and our objective is to create a revolutionary socialist state in Ireland. Part of the struggle for a socialist state entails resolving the national liberation struggle and ending British imperialist intervention, whether military intervention, political intervention or control of aspects of the economy. This is the basic position of the party. We see the ending of British imperialist intervention in Ireland as an essential pre-requisite for the development of the class struggle between left and right in this country. The class forces in Ireland have never developed properly in the last 50 years basically because of the imperialist intervention and because of the fact that the national struggle remains incomplete.
Q. Could you tell us something about the structure of the six-county state and its relation to the non-development of the class struggle in Ireland, especially as regards the position of the Protestant working class?
A. Class politics have never really developed in the six counties because of the nature of the state. The unionist majority, or the loyalist majority, have always enjoyed some marginal privileges. Basically because of their loyalty to Britain, and because they wanted to maintain the constitutional status quo, they have been rewarded with the better jobs, better housing, and up to recent years they had advantages in voting. The organizations traditionally used to maintain this loyalty are the Unionist Party and the Orange Order. They have always crossed class divisions, and always had a large following of working class people. They've had the petty bourgeoisie, they've had the support of the native capitalist class. For these reasons the class struggle has never really developed in the North, and we feel that it cannot develop because of the basic nature of the state, because of the sectarian nature of the state, and because of the manipulation of the sectarian divisions by the imperialists, who deliberately created these divisions in the first place, and subsequently fostered them.
Q. Is there any situation anywhere in the world with which you could compare the situation in Northern Ireland?
A. I can't think of any example which is parallel in every respect. There may be some general examples. An example perhaps, although not identical but with certain comparisons, would be the French in Algeria. They saw their allegiance to France as a means of preserving their privileged status. There fore they fought to maintain French domination in Algeria. There are some parallels, but in my opinion none of them is essentially identical.
Q. About the working class in the Republic, its level of consciousness both in an anti-imperialist sense and in a socialist sense?
A. In the anti-imperialist sense its level of consciousness is, I think, pretty well developed for historical reasons. Perhaps you could say it is instinctive rather than theoretical. It is something people have inherited for hundreds of years, and in times of crisis it becomes very evident. This sentiment, or anti-imperialist opinion, is there, and we've had many examples of it in the last five ore six years.
After Bloody Sunday when 13 people were killed in Derry by the British army, something like half a million people demonstrated in Dublin. Factories and shops closed and the British embassy was burned. There were 100,000 to 150,000 there the day it was burned. These demonstrations are a manifestation of historic anti-imperialist sentiment or opinion. The major political party here, Fianna Fail, have traditionally got approximately 50% of the votes in every election. Their original motivation was anti-imperialist, or they presented themselves as an anti-imperialist party, and for this reason they gained popular support and still retain that support.
The development of class politics is a much different question. Class politics have never really developed in this part of Ireland. The working class are organized in the trade union movement. In fact. they are very well organized and better than most European countries in terms of organizational structure and numbers - even in terms of militancy.
But there is little or not ideological direction in the trade union movement. Although the trade union movement is officially affiliated to the Labour Party, most trade unionists probably vote for the Fianna Fail party, which represents native capitalism. There is an obvious contradiction there. They are just organized to gain better conditions of work on a day-to-day basis, and to fight for wage increases. But they don't have a perspective for undermining the capitalist system as such.
Working class socialist politics are confined to the smaller parties on the left, who represent a section of working class opinion which, unfortunately, is a minority section of working class opinion.
One of the principal reasons for lack of development of working class or socialist politics is the existence of partition - the fact that the British are still within the country. In the minds of most people this has been the main question in Irish politics for 50 years. The main question which must be resolved is the struggle against imperialism, so that the workers can think in terms of confronting the native capitalist class. That is the principal reason why we want to end imperialist intervention in the country. We want to see a natural political situation develop, with the confrontation which you normally expect between left and right, and in this way to bring the Irish working class into control of the resources and the wealth of the country.
Q. How long do you think it would take, if partition were ended, to bring the Unionist working class in the North to a militant socialist position? And what is necessary for such a development apart from ending partition and destroying the six-county state?
A. Historically, some sections of Unionist working class in the North have been fairly militant within the framework of the six-county state. They have been militant on some class issues. If the British presence in the country were ended, and if the loyalist working class in the North were convinced that it was ended and finished for ever,we feel that the natural tendency on their part would be to think in terms of class politics within this island. In some ways they have different traditions.
They perhaps would have a different definition of what they call civil and religious liberties. They would want those civil and religious liberties protected, and they are entitled to have them protected. They are entitled to have a constitutional arrangement in this country which does protect them. They are also entitled as workers to have their standard of living protected. The key to the development of class struggle lies in this area, because this raises the whole question of class politics - who controls the wealth and resources. In that context, we think class politics can develop, and the Unionist working class in the North will adopt a radical position. How long is it going to take? I don't know. It might happen in a year, it might take ten years. I'm no prophet.
Q. What is the position about education in regard to clerical control?
A. The education system in the 26 counties is a sectarian education system controlled in the main by a Catholic clergy. We are completely opposed to this. We want a secular system in both parts of the country.
Q. How would you see the problem of school integration in the North? A. In principle we are in favour of an integrated secular education system. The difficulty about the present situation in the North is that if we do have an integrated education system, it means in effect that we have an education system which is under the control of the pro-imperialist section of the population. So, in the present conditions we would have to argue and oppose that development. The Catholic community in the North have controlled their own education system. The state has controlled the education of the Protestants or loyalists. While we disagree with the Catholic Church controlling the education system, Catholic education has tended to produce people who have some form of anti-imperialist attitudes and sentiments, and even politics. We think it is better to maintain that than to destroy it. When we have the destruction of the six-county state, we would have a national education system for the whole country which would be secularized.
Q. What in your view is Britain's policy now towards the situation in Northern Ireland?
A. British policy must be viewed in the light of their attitude towards Ireland as a whole - not just towards the six counties. What Britain wants is to maintain her influence here over the whole island. Her military and political intervention in the North is simply a means of maintaining this influence and this control. Britain knows that if she is compelled to withdraw from the North, she loses all control over the economy, the wealth and the resources of this country. She knows that there is a good possibility of the creation of a socialist state. Britain and the EEC countries also would be conscious of the effect of a socialist state in Ireland on the western European working class, in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Belgium and in Holland. A socialist revolution in Ireland would be an inspiration to people all over western Europe. The EEC countries have a vested interest, as well as Britain, in ensuring that there is no change in the status quo in Ireland.
Seamus Costello to the Troops Out Movement
(Address by Seamus Costello to the Troops Out Movement conference in the Mansion House, Dublin on September 18, 1976. )
I am addressing this conference on behalf of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, and for the benefit of those who are not familiar with our policies I would like to give a brief summary of the origins of our party and of the political principles upon which we are organised.
The IRSP was founded in December 1974 by a group of active republicans, socialists and trade unionists, who recognised the need for a revolutionary socialist party - for a party that understood the relationship between the national question and the class struggle in Ireland, and would have a programme of political action based on this understanding. Our ultimate goal is to end imperialist rule in Ireland, and establish a 32 county democratic socialist republic with the working class in control of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Most of those involved in the formation of the IRSP were active members of Sinn Féin Gardiner Place until we reached the conclusion that the leadership of that organisation were unwilling to accept that a struggle against imperialism was in progress, and incapable of mobilising the Irish left in support of that struggle. The repeated failure of the Gardiner Place leadership to implement the democratic decisions of their own organisation, or to allow for an honest and free internal debate of their failure, left many of their most active and politically conscious members with no alternative but to form a new party.
Our party is organised on an all-Ireland basis with approximately 800 members. We accept the principles of democratic centralism, and produce a quarterly internal bulletin which promotes debate on matters of policy, strategy, and tactics within the party. We also produce a monthly newspaper called "The Starry Plough". Our main activity since our formation has been to promote the concept of a broad front in support of the struggle for national liberation, and against repression, North and South. We are also involved in the current campaign for the repeal of the death penalty in the 26 counties, and for the reprieve of Noel and Marie Murray who are currently awaiting execution. We are also involved in organising the campaign against unemployment and the campaign for the retention of political status in Northern Ireland prisons.
I want now to elaborate on our concept of a broad front and the demands around which we believe it should organise and campaign. Our first and most important demand is that Britain should immediately, and publicly, renounce all claims to sovereignty over any part of Ireland or its coastal waters. Secondly, Britain must immediately disband and disarm all of the locally recruited, pro-imperialist forces such as the UDR, RUC and RUC Reserve and withdraw all troops from Ireland. Finally, Britain must release all political prisoners, grant a general amnesty, and abolish all repressive legislation. As socialists, we believe that these demands are attainable, and that the development of normal class politics throughout the whole country will follow as a natural development. Every republican and socialist organisation in this country supports the demands which I have just outlined, and in our opinion, the vast majority of Irish people would also support them if given the opportunity. During the past 12 months, we have attempted to give them this opportunity by promoting the concept of a broad front. We have held a series of discussions with members of all republican and socialist organisations at either rank and file or national leadership level. At rank and file level in all organisations we found an almost unanimous desire for unity in the struggle against imperialism and an ever increasing awareness of the power of the reactionary forces ranged against us.
Unfortunately, the widespread desire for unity in the struggle which exists at rank and file level is not reflected in the attitudes of the leadership of some of the organisations involved. At the very point in the struggle when unified action is absolutely essential on all fronts, we found leaders more concerned with maintaining their own positions of influence, or in pursuing faction fighting and vendettas against former comrades. We found some whose political judgements were so perverted by the irresistible urge to automatically do or say the opposite to what some other republican, or socialist organisation, said or did that they were prepared to concede victory to the main enemy.
At the very point in our history when a thorough and all-embracing re-assessment of overall strategy and tactics is so vital to the success of the struggle we found leaders unwilling to admit or concede the slightest possibility that they ever made a mistake. Some say that the civil rights strategy as expounded in 1968 and 1969 is still valid and that the democratisation of the six-county state is the central demand. They expect Britain to impose a Bill of Rights on a loyalist majority whose position of marginal supremacy depends on the total denial of civil rights to the nationalist minority. They say that the most revolutionary demand in Ireland today is "peace at any price", and prove their point by marching with the most reactionary elements of Irish society - the elements whose true slogan would be "peace with exploitation" rather than "peace with justice". The same people, who profess to be socialists and democrats, have even gone to London to deny the democratic right of the British working class to demand a British withdrawal from Ireland through the "Troops Out Movement".
Of course, all of the opposition to the broad front concept does not come from the ex-revolutionaries now turned reformist. It comes as well from some sections of the ultra-left who fail to recognise the connection between an unemployed worker from a multinational concern and the presence of imperialist troops in the country.
Finally, the opposition to a broad front comes from leaders who recognised the changing nature of the struggle in '69 and '70 but didn't have the ability to create the necessary popular support for their actions. Because they were nurtured in the tradition of the heroic and lonely sacrifice and the tradition of carrying on the torch to the next generation, they saw themselves as an elite sect who would hand freedom to the people on a plate.
The fact is that the elitist and conspiratorial approach is no substitute for the development of a people's struggle. The wonder is that after six years of active struggle, some of those involved are not prepared to reassess their strategy and tactics. The confusion, weakness and divisions which exist throughout the anti-imperialist movement was heralded in the carnival of reaction which Connolly spoke of.
The imperialists and their native capitalist allies are more united than ever before in pursuit of their solution. If our analysis of the situation in Ire land today is accepted as being correct, we would like to know the attitudes of all organisations towards our call for a total re-appraisal of strategy and tactics.
In particular, we would like the comments of those represented at this conference. If this conference serves the function of opening a debate on the fundamental problems confronting the revolution in Ireland it will have served a very useful purpose in our view.
The IRSP is fully committed to the struggle for national liberation, democracy and socialism in Ireland, and we understand the relationship between the national question and the class question: the presence of British troops in Ireland is but one manifestation of the imperialist presence and must be seen in the context of the overall relationship between Ireland and Britain.
Some people say that Britain would really like to withdraw from Ireland and that she is only waiting for a suitable opportunity to do so without losing face. The principal advocates of this particular argument are, of course, the native capitalist class whose position of power and influence is guaranteed through the maintenance of the constitutional status quo. They promote this idea mostly to confuse and de-escalate the struggle and thereby secure a return to a position of "peace with exploitation".
The fact is that British economic interests in Ireland can only be guaranteed through her continued military and political presence here and through the maintenance of partition. Partition has been the instrument through which the working class in both parts of Ireland have been divided for almost 60 years. In the south the green Tories of Fianna Fail have always had more working class support than the Labour Party. They have had this support because they were regarded as the party that would end partition and complete the national liberation struggle.
Of course, the orange Tories in the North kept their working class support in line by convincing them that their position of marginal supremacy could only be guaranteed through the preservation of the union and discrimination against the nationalist minority. Both sets of Tories could thus continue their exploitation of the entire working class and effectively prevent the development of class politics in the whole island.
Even if Britain didn't have to protect her own economic investments in both parts of Ireland, she would still be under tremendous pressure to stay and protect the interests of American and European multinationals who also control large sections of our economic life. Almost every important sector of our economic life is now subject to exploitation by British and other multinational concerns.
The most obvious areas are oil, gas, mineral resources, hire purchase, insurance and banking companies, light and heavy engineering companies, textiles and man-made fibers, motor assembly, fertilizers, and fisheries, the construction industry, and finally the breweries and distilleries. As you can see from the list it doesn't leave much in the control of the native capitalist class. In many instances they have been bought out and now fulfil the function of a compliant and obedient managerial corps.
As a revolutionary socialist party we are conscious of the international implications of our own struggle. We regard our struggle as part of the world-wide struggle for the emancipation of working class people. Our contribution to that struggle must be to create an independent socialist state here in Ireland, and at the same time extend solidarity to all genuine revolutionary movements abroad.
An independent socialist state based on the history, traditions, and cultural identity of our own working class, would be an inspiration not only to the British and European working classes but to oppressed peoples everywhere. Our enemies are, of course, also conscious of the possible effects of a successful anti-imperialist struggle here, and can be expected to give moral and material support to Britain as an insurance against an upsurge of support for socialism in their own countries.
The existence of support groups abroad, particularly in Britain. are of paramount importance to the success of our struggle. The anti-Vietnam war movement in America succeeded in making the Vietnam war a live issue in domestic American politics and eventually played a major role in compelling an American withdrawal from Vietnam.
We believe that th"Troops Out Movement" and the British trade union movement can play a similar role so far as Ireland is concerned. You have the potential to make the Irish struggle a live issue in domestic British politics, and this will ultimately be the key to success or failure in our struggle.
For our part, we must accept the responsibility for overcoming the divisions that exist in the ranks of the anti-imperialist movement, and producing the organisational structures which will be capable of demonstrating to the world our determination to secure our own emancipation. If we fail to demonstrate the stature and vision that will be necessary to accomplish our goal we have no right to look for your support.
We are confident that the momentum of the past seven years can be maintained and that even if the leaders of the various revolutionary organisations are not capable of giving the necessary leadership in a rapidly changing situation, then new leaders will emerge from rank and file level to fill the vacuum. Too many sacrifices have been made for us to fail now, so let us move forward to victory. We have nothing to lose but our chains, and in breaking them, we also break those that bind you just as securely as us.
The Broad Front
The IRSP fully endorse the sentiments, expressed in the basic discussion document regarding the seriousness of the present political crisis in Ireland and fully support the call for the maximum degree of anti-imperialist unity. We feel that genuine anti-imperialist unity can be achieved and that the basic discussion document lays the basis for such unity provided those present at this conference can agree that the document needs clarification and amendment on a number of important points.
As a socialist party, our ultimate political objective is the creation of a unified 32 county Democratic Socialist Republic within which the Irish working class will control the wealth and resources of the nation. This objective can only be achieved through the efforts of a unified and politically conscious Irish working class. 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, and of the continuing imperialist interference in both parts of the country. The problems arising from this lack of working class unity are painfully obvious.
The working class people of the South have been skillfully divided by the allies of British imperialism since the establishment of the 26-county state. For 50 years the Southern working class have been conned into supporting political parties who held out the illusion of radical solutions to both the national question and the class struggle, while in reality they used the working class as a power base for their continued betrayal of both struggles.
In the North the Protestant working class were led to believe that the only way in which they could preserve the marginal supremacy which they held over their Catholic counterparts in jobs and housing was through supporting corrupt Unionist politicians and through them the Union with Britain. Their genuine and well founded fears regarding the preservation of their religious and civil liberties in the context of a united and clerical dominated Ireland were also exploited by the same corrupt politicians. At the same time the Catholic working class were conned into believing that their salvation lay in supporting green tory politicians who, while hypocritically advocating the reunification of Ireland, as a guarantee of their ultimate salvation, completely submerged themselves in corrupt Unionist politics in exchange for favours for the class they really represented, the Northern Catholic middle class. As history has shown, the working class, North and South, Protestant and Catholic, have been victims of the so-called solutions to the 'Irish Question' imposed by Britain and her subservient native parliaments.
It is still Britain's objective to find and impost a political solution which will guarantee the continued protection of Britain's economic and strategic interests in both parts of Ireland. Britain is also acting as the local protector of the interests of other imperial powers in Ireland. Some of the EEC countries as well as America and Canada have powerful vested interest in supporting a British imposed 'solution' in Ireland. Britain also has to consider the possible effects on internal British politics of the emergence of a united and independent state in Ireland. In our view, if an independent Ireland is to be viable in economic terms, and if it is to provide a reasonable standard of living for the majority of our people, it can only be done through a radical change in the ownership of wealth and resources. In these circumstances Britain and the EEC countries would have every reason to worry about the effects on working class opinion in their own countries. Finally of course Britain's strategic interests must also be protected through the imposition of a 'solution' which will ensure that Ireland continues its present policy of pro-imperialist 'neutrality.'
Every British imposed solution including the original partition of the country, the Northern Ireland Assembly...the Convention and direct rule, has been designed to protect these economic and strategic interests. The present policy of the Ulsterisation of the conflict is also clearly designed to perpetuate the division of the country, and the sectarian divisions of the Northern working class. The native capitalist class, acting through the political parties which represent their interests in both parts of Ireland have played a fundamental role in supporting British imperialist interests in Ireland. They have done so because they have now accommodated themselves to the role of overseers for the British and other imperialist economic interests. They have clearly thrown their weight behind the various solutions put forward by British imperialism over the past eight years, and will continue to do so in order to ensure that the one solution which would end their role as the native agents of foreign imperial interests does not emerge.
As a party we therefore recognize the absolute necessity of securing a constitutional solution to the present crisis which will allow the Irish working class the freedom to pursue their interests as a class in the context of the development of normal class politics. In our view the first step in securing a constitutional solution which meets this requirement must be for Britain to concede the right of the Irish people to exercise total sovereignty over their own affairs. This objective can only be achieved through the creation of a unified struggle on the part of all anti-imperialist organizations. We would therefore support the formation of an Irish anti-imperialist Front composed of delegates from affiliated organizations who support the agreed political programme of the Front. The primary objective of the Front would be to mobilize the maximum degree of support for its declared objectives throughout Ireland. The Front should have sufficient support and assistance from its affiliated organizations to enable it to open a head office with a full time staff.
We propose the following political demands as the basis on which an Irish anti-imperialist Front should organise:
1. That Britain must renounce all claims to sovereignty over any part of Ireland or its coastal waters.
2. That Britain must immediately disband and disarm the UDR, RUC, and RUC Reserve and withdraw all troops from Ireland.
3. That the British and 26 County governments must immediately release all political prisoners and grant a general amnesty for all offenses arising from the current conflict.
4. That Britain must agree to compensate all who have suffered as a result of imperialist violence and exploitation in Ireland.
5. Recognizing that no country can be free and independent while it permits imperialist domination of its economic life, the Irish anti-imperialist Front will oppose all forms of imperialist control over our wealth and resources.
6. That the Irish anti-imperialist Front rejects a federal solution 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 recognizes 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 representative 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.
We feel that these demands would secure the active support of all genuine anti-imperialists in Ireland and that they should form the basis for an agreed programme of action by the Irish anti-imperialist Front. We are submitting them to this conference in the hope that we can make a serious contribution towards overcoming some of the problems caused by the divisions existing between the anti-imperialist organizations.
As he said at Crossbarry in Co. Cork in March 1976:
"We want to build a society where our children can live in peace and prosperity, a society where they will control the wealth of this country."
"Petty differences and recriminations must be forgotten and the necessary leadership given to the Irish people. No republican or socialist can afford to allow himself to be manipulated into creating disunity in the anti-imperialist forces."
Homage to Seamus Costello (Starry Plough Oct 1977)
Seamus Costello was born in Old Connaught Avenue, Bray, County Wicklow in 1939. He attended Ravenswell National School in Bray. In 1950, at the age of eleven, he moved with his family to Roseville on the Dublin. Road in Bray. There were nine in his family, Seamus being the eldest.
His first interest in politics came when he read of the arrest of Cathal Goulding in Britain in 1953 following an arms raid on the Officers Training Corps School at Felstead in Essex. Costello subsequently "devoured" newspapers, according to his family and at the age of 15, on one of his many visits to Croke Park, he bought a copy of the United Irishman and immediately applied to join the Republican Movement. However, he was told to "come back next year". Costello did and was accepted into the ranks of the IRA and Sinn Fein.
The first Sinn Fein Cumann was started in Bray in the same year, comprised mostly from members of the Dun Laoghaire Cumann, their activity confined to 'United Irishman' sales. However, it wasn't long before it was being sold in every area in Co. Wicklow.
COMMANDED ACTIVE SERVICE UNIT
During the campaign of 1956-62 Costello, at the age of 17 commanded an active service unit in South Derry, their most publicised actions being the destruction of bridges and the burning of Magherafelt Courthouse. Those under his command described him as strict but radiating confidence. Once while resting in a safe house a grenade exploded and set off the full magazine of a Thomson machine gun. Miraculously no one was killed. Costello took the brunt of the explosion and was knocked unconscious. He received back injuries and lost half a finger and was moved back to Dublin for treatment.
He was arrested in Glencree Co. Wicklow, in 1957 and sentenced to six months in Mountjoy. On his release he was immediately interned in the Curragh for two years. Costello, as a prisoner, was described by fellow internees as quiet, rarely Joining others in playacting, preferring deep discussion and reading. He was a member of the escape committee which engineered the successful escape of Rory Brady and Daithi O'Connell amongst others. He is remembered by one internee reading Vietnamese magazines and it impressed Costello that peasants badly armed but with a deep political ideology could defeat their enemies. In later years he always referred to his days in the Curragh as ∏my university days∑. He took part in the critical analysis of the 50∂s campaign, agreeing that it had failed due to lack of popular involvement as distinct from popular support.
HELPED RE-ORGANISE REPUBLICAN MOVEMENT
On the ending of internment in 1959 Costello assisted in the re-organising of the Republican Movement or as Costello put it "the cars started flying around again".
In 1962 he took up a job as a car salesman and, indicative his drive and strong personality had little trouble in becoming salesman of the year of his firm. He successfully fought an attempt to sack him because of his political affiliations by threatening to stay outside his firm's offices everyday until he was reinstated.
BUILT A STRONG LOCAL BASE
Meanwhile he began to build a strong local base in Co. Wicklow. He maintained that Republicans should build a strong home base and that these could then be linked up together at a future date. He also became full time political organiser for Wicklow at this period and developed a strong link with every conceivable organisation in Wicklow that dealt with the interests of the working class. He managed to involve the Bray Trades Council in the 1966 Easter Commemoration and helped found a strong Tenants Association in Bray. He also became involved with the Credit Union movement and farmers' organisations. During this period (1964) he married a Tipperary woman Maeliosa who became active in the Republican Movement.
In 1966 he gave the historic oration at the Wolfe Tone Commemoration in Bodenstown which marked the departure of the left of the Republican Movement, the result of years of discussions within the Movement ably assisted by Costello.
"We believe that the large estates of absentee landlords should be acquired by compulsory acquisition and worked on a cooperative basis with the financial and technical assistance of the State... our policy is to nationalise the key industries with the eventual aim of co-operative ownership by the workers... nationalisation of all banks, insurance companies, loan and investment companies..."
But Costello always maintained not only the right to use armed force but the necessity for workers to be armed and this remained his position up to his assassination. "The lesson of history shows that in the final analysis the Robber Baron must be disestablished by the same methods that he used to enrich himself and retain his ill gotten gains, namely force of arms. To this end we must organise, train and maintain a disciplined armed force which will always be available to strike at the opportune moment" (Bodenstown 1966).
He pushed for Sinn Fein to contest the local election of 1967 in selected areas and he stood with Joe Doyle in Bray. Indicative of his organisational abilities is the fact that not only were Sinn Fein the only political party to canvass every house in Bray but they won two seats on Bray Urban Council, one on Wicklow Co. Council and collected more money during the election than they had actually spent during the campaign.
At Council Meetings Costello and Doyle always put their Cumann's views in accordance with what had been decided at their meetings. A strong attempt was always made to involve the people's organisations in any controversy or local issue.
Costello headed huge deputations of local organisations to Council meetings and demanded they be heard. He demanded the public not be barred from Council meetings. So insistent was he that unsuccessful moves were made to have him removed from the Council. He became involved in all local problems; housing, road repairs, water and sewerage, access to local beaches, land speculation etc. and such national issues as ground rents, the anti-EEC campaign, anti-repression campaigns, natural resources, the national question etc.
INVOLVED THE MASSES
Meanwhile Costello and Sinn Fein continued to build their strong links with local bodies always striving to show them their own strength while getting overall republican socialist policies across.
HELPED FORM N.I.C.R.A.
Nationally, Costello had pushed hard for the establishment of the Northern Irish Civil Rights- Association -to involve the mass of. the Northern workers in the- struggle. The: beginning saw some protestant involvement but with the orange card being played, brutality, murder and open repression the campaign changed through the years to a mainly nationalist campaign for national liberation. Costello, unlike many of the other leaders in the Republican Movement, was willing to accept changing situations and adapt, rather than insist that the struggle must be confined to a pre-laid pattern irrespective of the realities and holding back the struggle for national liberation.
A PEACE-MAKER DURING SPLITS
Costello stayed with what became known as the Official Republican Movement in the split of 1969-70 which gave birth to the Provisionals. It was not that he disagreed with the struggle for national liberation and a British withdrawal but that he saw it as a struggle that must take place side by side with the class struggle in the entire country, something the Provos were not to even admit until 1977. Even at this stage Costello showed his willingness to do all in his power to unite the Republican Movement and was in correspondence with Dick Roche and Sean Cronin who were acting as intermediaries.
COSTELLO FORMS IRSP
The change in policy in the Republican Movement from 1965 had seen the movement's involvement throughout the 32 counties in popular struggles, such as housing, ground rents, fisheries, industrial disputes etc. Military actions had been taken in some cases: against foreign (mainly German) land owners in the midlands, against a lobster boat the Mary Catherine ("to protect the Irish shellfishing industry"), against buses carrying scab workers in Shannon, against a mine in support of strikers, against land speculators, rackman landlords etc. These actions were not meant to be a substitute for involvement in the national question but part of the same struggle.
The Officials, however began to abandon such actions in the South and eventually in the North with the ceasefire of 1972. Costello maintained before his assassination that he should have broken away at this stage and not waited until 1974. The two years in question were taken up with Costello fighting a rearguard action to have accepted policy implemented while a section of the leadership implemented their own policies, oblivious to Ard Fheis wishes. Disillusionment set in in the rank and file with many dropping out while a witchhunt began of all dissidents, orchestrated by this clique in the leadership. Eventually Costello was charged with irregularities at the 1973 Ard Fheis and tried by Sinn Fein. He was found not guilty. However the Official IRA tried him on similar charges, with the exact same evidence (ensuring Costello's witnesses didn't turn up) and found him guilty. They dismissed him "with ignomy". Meanwhile Sinn Fein suspended him, despite their having found him not guilty. He was refused permission to stand in the local election of 1974. Costello knew he was finished with the Officials and stood as an Independent Sinn Fein Candidate as he began to organise the setting up of a new party that would entwine the class question and national question as one struggle. He topped the polls for Wicklow County Council and Bray Urban Council where he was immensely popular, being a member of the Wicklow Agricultural Committee and President of Brays Trade Council. The leadership of the Officials were dismayed by victory. He was nevertheless dismissed ("general unsuitability") from Sinn Fein at the Ard Fheis of 1974, memorable for its undemocratic procedures (delegates refused entry at the door because they supported Costello etc.).
In December 1974 Costello along with other disillusioned republicans and socialists, many with years of involvement in the Republican Movement at leadership level and with a deep involvement at local level formed a new political party. There immediately followed mass resignations from the Officials from all over the country, North and South. Entire Cumainn came over. And so was born the Irish Republican Socialist Party named after James Connolly's party of 1896. The word 'Republican' was deliberately put first to emphasise the struggle for national liberation, a struggle that was being abandoned by most organisations claiming the title of 'socialist'.
There had existed a minority opinion in the leadership of the Officials at the time of the Provo split who felt that Provos should have been crushed. The growth of the Provos merely strengthened this opinion. The Officials decided to employ this tactic against the IRSP and picked Belfast to launch their campaign of murder, driving the IRSP into hiding: Costello, who always had a deep appreciation of the damage of feuds and the demoralisation it would cause throughout the anti-imperialist movement, sought mediation with the Officials who refused. Eventually, Michael Mullen, head of Costello's union the ITGWU, acted as mediator and the Officials called off their murder campaign, mainly due to their bad showing in the Galway bye-election and the Northern Ireland Convention election. The feud had seriously effected the growth of the IRSP and stopped most resignations from the Officials. Three IRSP members were dead and scores injured. Indeed a bloody baptism for the IRSP.
STATE CONSPIRACY AGAINST IRSP
In the 26 Counties the state was bent on destroying the IRSP culminating in the arrest of Costello along with over 40 IRSP members supporters and relatives in April 1976. Nine were severely tortured and six framed with the robbery of a train in Co. Kildare. Costello pushed the IRSP to sue the State and brought Amnesty International's first involvement in Ireland when they demanded "a full and independent inquiry" in May 1976 into the arrest of IRSP members and their ill-treatment.
Costello always maintained that there existed a state conspiracy to smash the IRSP and the IRSP has ample evidence to prove this charge.
During Seamus Costello's leadership of the IRSP, he was attempting to building a strong republican socialist party that would entwine the national and class questions as one struggle. He sought to involve the IRSP in all the struggles of the Irish people; trade union work, housing, fisheries, the struggle for women's emancipation, the national question, the struggle of small farmers, tenants, the cultural struggle, sovereignty, the struggle for control over our natural resources and the struggle against repression etc. While the IRSP was suffering from the Official's murder campaign and state harassment it was difficulty for the IRSP to make much headway in these struggles although it was involved in all of them to some extent.
Costello always felt anti-imperialist unity was of the utmost importance and worked hard for it. He was the main person behind the Broad Front talks that took place between anti-imperialist groups throughout 1977, although they failed to form a Broad Front.
OPPOSED INDEPENDENT ULSTER
He was the only leader of national importance that totally opposed unprincipled talks with Loyalists on any agenda other than 32 County Socialist Republic and he totally rejected an Independent Ulster as a "solution" to the Irish or the Ulster question. He could speak to Dublin's unemployed, Derry's harassed population, or Wicklow's farmers and reach them all. No struggle of the working class was too insignificant for his involvement and despite his national commitments, his organisational duties as full time IRSP political organiser, he always found time to honour his commitment to his constituents in Co. Wicklow.
At the time of his assassination [Dublin, 5 Ocotober 1977] he was member of the following bodies: Wicklow County Council, County Wicklow Committee of Agriculture, General Council of Committees of Agriculture, Eastern Regional Development Organisation, National Museum Development Committee, Bray Urban District Council, Bray Branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, Bray and District Trade Unions Council (of which he was president 1976-77), the Cualann Historical Society, Chairman Irish Republican Socialist Party. From the period between 1964 and 1974 he held the positions of Adj. General, Chief of Staff and Director of Operations in the Official IRA and the position of Vice-President of Official Sinn Fein.
James Connolly Archive http://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly
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