The Red Plough
Vol. 3-No 1
The Metamorphosis of Sinn Fein
Sectarianism is not a working class phenomena!
10 facts about Housing in Britain
Small Acts of Revisionism
THE METAMORPHOSIS OF SINN FEIN
The face of Sinn Fein, North and South, has certainly changed over the past twenty years, almost beyond recognition. Once boasting a high level of anti-Imperialist insurrection, particularly in the six counties, Sinn Fein showed much potential to give a revolutionary lead to the rest of Europe. Sadly this did not materialise because the anti-Imperialist struggle was never linked consistently with the struggle against capitalist oppression of the working class. Certainly not from Sinn Fein. The anti-Imperialist struggle against the British occupation of the six counties never gained great momentum in the twenty six. Perhaps socialism was never on the agenda for Sinn Fein despite occasional references to the “32 County Socialist Republic” because the active involvement of organised labour was never on the agenda thus denying workers in the South participation directly in the struggle against British occupation in the six counties.
The struggle waged by the Irish Republican Army (Provisional) against the Orange State and British occupation which did lead to an armed insurrection by the most oppressed sections of society, the Catholics, in the six counties. This soon
'transformed into a war of limited social insurgency against the Orange and British states. The armed insurgency was successful in so far as it made transparent the nature and purpose of the Orange states repressive and oppressive political life'
(The Provisional IRA, From Insurrection To Parliament: Tommy McKearney p.202).
The insurgency was certainly successful in bringing down the Orange state and in this light must be applauded at the very least. The Orange domination, which had been the normal way of life since the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland in 1800 was designed to prevent, at first a minority in the whole of Ireland then, a majority of the six county Protestant working class and rural oppressed from asserting their social and political autonomy.
Instead these people
'gave allegiance to the ruling business and aristocratic elite in return for preferential treatment vis-à-vis their Catholic neighbours' (ibid).
So long as these people could consider themselves better off than their Catholic class brethren they were happy enough thus preventing any class solidarity against the rulers and oppressors of both the Protestant and Catholic working class. Historically when any indication of solidarity between the two sections of the working class was seen the Orange card was shown thus splitting any fledgling movement. An example of this divide and conquer by the employing classes to highlight is the 1932 Outdoor Relief Scheme when Protestant and Catholic workers united, until the Orange card was played, immediately causing deep divisions.
The IRA campaign in bringing an end to the Orange state was to a large extent successful. However bringing British domination down was another matter. With the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the (Provisional) IRA declaration of a ceasefire and later decommissioning of weaponry Sinn Fein entered into something they possibly could essentially have had back in 1975!
This was the year when the same IRA, from an advantageous position, called a ceasefire which the British were to exploit to their full advantage when the IRA entered into covert negotiations. This resulted in the British side adopting a carrot and stick strategy involving two options.
Option a) 'The IRA would be invited to end its campaign and acquiesce with London’s plan for a shared administration in a Northern Ireland embedded within the United Kingdom but in return would gain admittance into the political establishment' (McKearney: P 139).
This is broadly speaking what they have got today.
Option b) 'Britain would use its considerable political and media influence to designate the IRA campaign as a criminal terrorist enterprise, transfer as much responsibility for military operations as possible to local Unionist militias (normalisation or Ulsterisation) and settle back to a long war of attrition at the end of which the IRA would either be annihilated, rendered impotent (and thus irrelevant) or exhausted and thus agree to option A' (ibid).
Now in 2011/12 we have a Legislative Assembly at Stormont up and trotting if not running doing implicitly what London tells them to do. After all it is London and not Belfast who control the purse strings. Sinn Fein are the largest nationalist party in this assembly and therefore in joint power with the Democratic Unionist Party who once swore this would never happen. Consequently Sinn Fein are now part and parcel of the so called government in the six counties with about as much governmental power as a large London borough council. Real power still lies with Westminster.
From “Smash Stormont” to “we must preserve the peace process” a somewhat contradiction? Or a very shrewd political strategy?. Sinn Fein have also made significant moves upwards in the twenty six counties with fourteen TD’s in Dail Eireann, which until 1986 they did not recognise. However there is no mention of the "32 County Democratic Socialist Republic" which like the “Democratic Programme” of the first Dail 1919 appears to be surplus to requirements.
Could Sinn Fein’s definition of a united Ireland be a partitioned country with them holding governmental positions in both jurisdictions? This country must be capitalist and not socialist, that was just a bit of fun to court, when needed, the international left!
Organised labour play very little part in the plans of Sinn Fein these days as they too are not perhaps needed. Historically there is nothing new about Sinn Fein’s post modern approach because it is very much a mirror image of what has happened before. In the fabled 1918 General Election Sinn Fein polled 73 out of 105 seats for Ireland, labour did not stand (and have perhaps never recovered) in order that they, Sinn Fein, had a clear run. There was very little mention of James Connolly and his plans for a workers state from then on, a bit like today!
It will be the working class who are the only class, if they could only see it, who can bring about true unity and national liberation. The Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and not Sinn Fein should be the dominant republican party with their slogan “national liberation and socialism” which sounds and is the perfect combination. However this is not the case and even if it were would the IRSP go down the same road as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)? They SWP are now calling themselves for practical reasons, “People Before Profit” and sit in the Dail which, like other parliamentary systems, they, the SWP, aimed to bring down?
“No parliamentary road to socialism” was once their cry and is still true today. They are part of a group of TDs styling themselves the “United Left Alliance” along with the Socialist Party, formerly known as “Militant”. Would the IRSP go the same way given the chance? After all they made and are making very few inroads into the Southern working class. Who knows!
Sinn Fein should have been involved with the working class movement promoting Marxist revolution which would include waging armed struggle against the Crown instead of taking the elitist road which can and is resulting in reformism. In the six counties they should be pushing for nationalisation of industries and opposing any form of private production for profit. This is what James Connolly would have done
but, alas, there are no James Connolly's around today. At a time when the working class are looking for credible leadership away from them quislings in ICTU and the Labour Party. Sinn Fein has the party apparatus and structure to give a lead but they won't because after all the huffing and puffing they are, albeit radical, a constitutional party. Will the failure of Sinn Fein to pursue a revolutionary socialist path come back to haunt them? I doubt it as they were never from that tradition.
Sinn Fein have transformed themselves from a “revolutionary republican anti-Imperialist party” opposed to British rule in any part of Ireland, which was the correct policy, opposition to Stormont and not recognising the twenty six counties or the Dail. The first change in policy occurred in 1986 when at their Ard Fheis the policy of abstaining from the Dail was dropped thus recognising the Southern Irish Parliament.
This led to a split when a small group walked out of the proceedings and formed “Republican Sinn Fein” maintaining the policy of abstention swearing allegiance to the second Dail of 1921. Then in 1998 the signing of the “Good Friday Agreement” and entering Stormont as part of government under the British Crown. Support for the IRA military campaign was dropped and they were instrumental in persuading the IRA to call their ceasefire and later decommissioning of weapons. In brief Sinn Fein have gone through a complete political metamorphosis from revolutionary to constitutional. They now accept things at one time unthinkable such as the RUC/PSNI and even sit on the policing board in the six counties. Thus the metamorphosis of Sinn Fein.
Sectarianism is not a working class phenomena!
Having a child with ADHD is “punishment for sleeping with a Catholic”
“no longer hang out her washing at home the smell of Catholics being atrocious”
Catholics who have been born and raised up in the North of Ireland will have had some experiences similar to the above comments. Those comments were said in a workplace. Not in a factory not among blue collar workers as polite society would have us all believe is where sectarianism only lurks-but in a social work setting.
A team of social workers dealing with Early Years was the setting for such hateful comments directed agains the only Catholic in the team. She was once the Social Worker of the Year for her work with child cancer patients. Yet she suffered terrible sectarian abuse from fellow professionals none of whom were formally disciplined and who continue to work for social services. Only after a four year legal struggle did the trust admitted responsibility. The victim was awarded exemplary damages. Middle class sectarianism is as prevalent as any other kind. What kind of society produces such hatred?
It has always been that way in Ireland. Ever since the days of the penal laws those who adhered to the Catholic Church have been the bottom of the pile in society. British propaganda pictured the Irish as almost inhuman,animalistic even. When religious disputes divided the Christian Churches the British played the “protestant card” and kept the Catholic irish at the bottom of the pile, scorned discriminated and banned.
One organisation that has played a role in this sectarianism has been the Orange Order a specifically anti-catholic organisation. Each year in July it parades to honor the victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. They the loyal Orange men like to assert that it was from that victory they gained their freedom their religion and their laws. Yet William of Orange had the Pope’s support and allied himself to the Catholic King of Spain, among others to restrict France’s power.
After the Boyne he continued to fight on the Pope’s side until the war against France ended with the Treaty of Ryswick. Yet to this very day the Orange Order promotes the myth that their great Protestant hero, King Billy, fought to “overthrow the Pope and popery at the Boyne”.
The penal laws were not designed to simply penalise Catholics alone.
Under William’s rule both Catholics and Presbyterians were banned from practising their religions.
“Anglican Church, to which Catholics and Presbyterians were forced to pay tithes, became the official and only Church permitted to worship legally in Ireland.
In 1704 the Test Act was introduced. Presbyterians were banned from holding office in Law, Army, Navy, Customs, Excise and Municipal Employment. This law was enforced all over Ireland. Presbyterian ministers were jailed for three months if caught preaching a sermon; they were not allowed to perform marriage sermons and were fined £100 (an enormous sum in those days) for celebrating the Lord’s Supper.”(ibid)
Presbyterian Schoolmasters could be imprisoned for teaching. No Presbyterian or Catholics could marry Anglicans or holding prayer meetings.
Of course these restrictions made rebels out of many Presbyterians. During the 18th century many emigrated to the colonies of North America where they became prominent in the struggle of the American colonists against British rule and went on to help found the USA. Back in Ireland northern Presbyterians welcomed the French revolution and became active members of the United Irish men. The defeat of the ’98 and the subsequent Act of Union combined with the mobilisation of Orange Terror drove a wedge between the differing religious traditions. Catholics came increasing under the control of a conservative and anti-revolutionary papacy, helped by British finances for seminaries in Ireland to stop the pollution of revolutionary ideas from Europe.
The British Government through out the 19th century continued to support the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland only reluctantly and under great pressure conceding Catholic Emancipation. (http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/ireland/emancip.htm)
In the second part of the 19th century they fought a campaign against the Land League and later Home Rule. In all of these struggles the British freely unleashed the sectarianism that they nurtured and spawned in Ireland. They used the Orange Order a san anti catholic anti home rule anti land league battering ram to suppress discontent.Only when it got out of control for a time was it banned.
When the 1916 uprising smashed the Home Rule project the British divided the island into two separate states giving the Empire loving Unionists total control of the six counties, as a permanent base to defend British Imperial interests.
50 years of Unionist rule only cemented sectarianism. In small backstreet halls preachers ranted and raved against the Papacy and Rome rule and reinforced sectarian tensions between working class people especially when in moments of great economic crisis they appeared to be moving closer together.
One such preacher was Arthur Trew, a street demagogue, who founded the Belfast Protestant Association in 1894 and preached his hatred from the steps of the Custom House Steps . He also organised protests against Wolfe Tone Commemorations and disrupted Corpus Christi Processions for which he was jailed.
It was this same B.P.A.which on July 21st 1920 instigated workplace expulsions in the shipyards. To protect ‘protestant employment’ destroy left wing influences and get rid of the Trew over 7,400 people were driven from their jobs. Over a quarter were protestants, mainly trade union activists.
When the northern catholics began to assert their rights in the late 1960’s it was another demagogue, Ian Paisley who stirred up the protestant masses in sectarian hatred. At the same time in the drawing rooms and golf clubs of the protestant upper and middle classes there was general approval for the activities of the same Paisley, while distancing themselves from his crudity.
It is now clear that despite the gains made over the years and the introduction of equal rights legislation sectarian attitudes still seep through the pores of bigots. Sectarian attitudes are not confined to any one particular religious sect. But they are an instrument of state control. For example the PSNI will always be 100% unionist regardless of its religious composition.
There are issues such as marches etc which divide the working classes. But with sectarianism ingrained in the whole of northern society the way to deal with it is not by ignoring it or avoiding dealing with it altogether. Sectarian attitudes must be confronted on each and every occasion it arises. There can be no hiding place for bigots.
10 facts about Housing in Britain
20 million people live in rental accommodation and about half of that figure rent privately.
The average private rent is £8,600 per house per year which is 14% more expensive than owning.
73% of private renters get no help from the state with meeting their rental costs .
Private landlords made a whopping £42,000,000,000 in rental income in the last year.
46% of private rental houses are deemed sub-standard accommodation by the government.
55% of new Housing Benefit recipients are actually the 'working poor' living in private rental accommodation.
The majority of landlords have no previous experience in the housing trade & 1/4 of them make enough profit from renting to sustain a lifestyle, evidence of a quick buck culture if it were needed.
Labour lost more voters since 1997 among private renters than any other tenure type.
Private rental homes in over 2/3rds of cases are 2 bedroom homes where only 1 waged income is present.
Nearly 1 million single parents live in privately rented accommodation putting their children at severe risk of living in child poverty
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------SMALL ACTS OF REVISIONISM
In Irish history there have always been those historians who like to put a different narrative on the relationship between Britain and Ireland. They tend to see that relationship as more benign than malign. (http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=9687).
A sometimes bitter debate has been raging for decades now. That is the way with history.In the light of release of documents there is always a new interpretation put on past events. The debate raging over the 1981 hunger strike has become even more bitter with the release of more documents 30 years after the event. Did a sub committee of the IRA let 6 more hunger strikers die for the political advantage of Provisional Sinn Fein? Or were the Brits totally responsible? The Red Plough is clear whose version of events it accepts in this debate and it is not the one that dominated for about 25 years.
That is a major debate but there are other small acts of revisionism taking place regularly and they almost pass unnoticed.
Recently the republican group, éirígí carried an article about Máirín Keegan, Saor Éire
The almost same article was also carried in The Socialist Voice (http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/SV-85.pdf,) the monthly publication of the Communist Party and on the web site of Socialist Democracy (http://www.socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentDublinMarxistMairanKeegan.html
The only difference was that éirígí referred to the coffin being carried “-by a Saor Éire guard of honour.” while the Socialist Voice referred to “by a guard of honour.” One can draw their own conclusions from the omissionMarian was a revolutionary activists who died far too young from cancer. But the real revisionism in the article is not that but this.
“She also took part in the infamous Civil Rights march from Belfast to Derry in 1969 (that was attacked at Burntollet) “
The piece in brackets is also omitted from the Socialist Voice article. Now let us look at the word “infamous”. My dictionary says infamous is
“well known for some bad quality or deed “
As one who took part in the Burntollet March from the beginning I always knew that the Communist Party, then the CPNI was against the March in line with their then appeals to the better nature of the “reforming O’Neill Unionists”. We, and I include Marian in that we, had no such illusions in the reforming zeal of the Unionists and believed that the boil of sectarianism needed to be lanced. Hence the long March to Derry. We were harassed, hindered and intimidated by the sectarian RUC who led us into an ambush composed of the other arm of the state, the B Specials.
At that time and since I never heard the March referred to as “infamous”. The reverse was the case as many regarded it as the beginning of the end of the sectarian Stormont regime then existing. But as in history revisionism creeps in when you least expect it.
James Connolly Archive http://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly
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