Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Red Plough · Vol 6-1 October 2016

The Red Plough

Vol. 6-No 1

 October  2016

 Some Reflections on the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising

Perhaps as we move towards the end of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising it is worth reflecting on some of the issues that have emerged.

The  1916  Easter  Rising  was  an important event in world history as well as in Irish history. It was the first in a series of anti-imperialist uprisings during the 20th century. Not only did it inspire masses of Irish people but it also acted as a guide for other peoples under the lash of the European Imperialist powers.  The  1916 proclamation set out what the Rising was all about
It lit a fire that has not yet  been extinguished.

For that great achievement to be denigrated by politicians and vested interests including the media and revisionist academics shows how far we are from the attainment  off the goals and ideals off the men and women of 1916. 

Former Taoiseach John Bruton-revisionist!
Failed politicians and revisionist academics have tried to argue that there was no need for the Rising; that Britain would have eventually conceded Home Rule. Balderdash! Britain had already suspended Home Rule promised the Unionists their own little statelet(Northern Ireland ) and had no desire to grant even limited autonomy to the Irish people. For they recognised very clearly that the future of the British Empire was at stake. To weaken on Ireland would send a message to the subjected peoples of that Empire that liberation freedom and self- determination was possible.

And so it proved. All around the British Empire emerging nationalist rebels sough to learn the lessons of the Irish revolution and apply lessons from it in their own oppressed countries. Eventually even the British recognised that the "Winds of Change "  in Prime Minister McMillan  words  were blowing and Britain turned away from its imperial ambitions and turned towards Europe -albeit reluctantly.

However in Ireland those who came to power were so afraid of the history of their own country that the politicians of Fine Gael and Labour opted to turn  the anniversary into a gesture of reconciliation with Britain. Rather than co-operating with those who still control part of Ireland, it would have been better to have invited the representatives of those nations who following Ireland's stand, broke free from the shakles of Empire to celebrate national self determination.

The turning of the 100th anniversary into a piece of comic theatre called “reconciliation” with the adding of the names of all combatants who died  given equal prominence on a wall in Glasnevin Cemetery is to be utterly condemned.That call by the representatives of the Irish ruling class shows how far they are prepared to accommodate to British interests. Irish rebels were fighting for the freedom of their country while British soldiers were fighting  to suppress that freedom. One is progressive, the other is reactionary.

The volunteers in the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers can in no way be equated with the soldiers  of a British  imperialist army, responsible for the introduction of concentration camps, ethnic cleansing and rape torture and massacre and the plundering of the assets of many countries around the world.

The only basis for reconciliation that socialists should advocate is that  between the  working classes. That alone would radically transform the nature of this society. 

Some left-wing groups tend to see occupation forces as workers in uniform. There are not. They are the enemy of all that is progressive. The view held by some leftists that there is no difference between republicanism and loyalism and that they are two sides of some sectarian coin is the absurd outcome of blinkered adherence to a rigid ideological straitjacket that owes more to political sectarianism than it does to genuine marxism.

Equally  there is sometimes a tendency for Irish  republicans to boast about their non-sectarianism. For example the  painting of a mural of Edward Carson, the leader of pro-Imperialist and reactionary Unionism,  on the International Wall along the Falls Road was a step too far by provisional Sinn Fein.
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It also shows how much the Sinn Fein leadership has bought into the Free State establishment’s embrace of “reconciliation” Edward Carson was a reactionary prepared to create a civil war rather than see an independent Ireland He was an out and out pro-imperialist reactionary and has no place on any wall celebrating the men and women of 1916.

Bending over backwards to appease the more extreme elements of loyalism or unionism  by either  republicans or socialists is just plain wrong. At the same time republicans need to acknowledge that some of their actions in the past had more to do with sectarianism than with republicanism. The Kingsmills Massacre of 10 protestants because they were protestants was a war crime. Those involved engaged in a blatantly sectarian act and have no business calling themselves Republicans then or now.

It needs to be said loud and clear that the Rising was justified . The so called promise of Home Rule was never going to be implemented. An alliance of the Tory aristocracy, the British ruling class and Unionist industrialists began  armed resistance to the Liberal Party’s implementation of Home Rule. It was these people who brought the gun back into Irish politics. Britain never had, and still has, no intention of re-moving itself from the Island of Ireland. 

Despite the Good Friday Agreement, and the St Andrews agreement they have refused to implement what they had promised. No Irish Language Act, no money for the huge backlog of Inquests going back forty five years.and so on.  So  a hundred years apart the British Ruling class is still treacherous in the way it that it deals with Ireland. And that is 100 years of British breaking of promises.

That should be no surprise to Irish republicans. Every time Irish republicans entered into negotiations with the British they were mislead, cheated and betrayed or acquiesced in their own betrayal. But what is surprising  to some  Republicans is that a  large section off the Irish ruling class have little or no interest in completing the National revolution begun in 1916. They should not be surprised. The Irish bourgeoise  have a vested interest in the maintenance  and continuation of capitalism in Ireland. Whether  in Fianna Fail, or Fine Gael,or the Labour Party or Sinn Fein, there have always been leaders prepared to accommodate and compromise with capitalism. They may all claim allegiance to the Proclamation but their actions say otherwise. The Irish ruling class are quite content to be junior Partners with International Finance.

1916 has been called the “Sinn Fein” rebellion. Sinn Fein was not involved in the Rising. Current Sinn Fein parties have no more right to claim to be the inheritors of 1916 than Irish nationalists and Irish socialists. After all Sinn Fein when first established was in favour of a Monarchy ruling Ireland and supported Home Rule. In fact 1916 saw the coming together of a broad alliance of groups and interests.  There was the Irish Republican Brotherhood. There was the Irish Citizen Army. And there were the  Irish National Volunteers. Indeed there were even members of the Hibernians there.Those in the Irish Citizen  Army were socialists, and under the leadership of James Connolly, had no illusions about the politics of those they were in an alliance with. James Connolly had no time for Sinn Fein believing they and nationalists would betray any revolutionary struggle for socialism. And so it proved for it was some of the nationalist fighters in 1916  went on to betray the ideals that they  once fought for.

However there is little point in modern-day Republicans denouncing the betrayals of Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera or Gerry Adams or indeed the betrayals of the Labour leadership. The failure of that leadership to struggle for socialism and instead to follow in behind the Civil War parties meant that the working class had no one to represent their interests.They accepted the dictate of de Valera that “Labour must wait”.  But to decry the betrayal of others with-out learning lessons is simply to piss against the wind.

The acceptance of partition by  all the mainstream political parties in the South meant that the northern nationalist working class  were left to the mercies of bigoted anti-Catholic Big House Unionism. A bitterly divided working class in the North  was cruelly exploited manipulated and controlled by bourgeois leaderships. Only occasionally were there sparks of class unity and that was usually followed by bitter sectarian rioting shooting and murder inspired by big house unionism. The then leadership of northern nationalism was quite prepared to acquire in the continuing partition of the country. After all the Catholic middle classes got some of the crumbs from the Unionist table so long as they did not rock the boat. Hence their leader in the sixties, Eddie Mc Ateer famous acceptance of Unionisms paltry reforms saying 
Eddie McAteer

 “Half a Loaf is better than no loaf”

The subsequent loss of support for the nationalist party caused panic in the catholic middle classes.They saw support swing towards both militant student movement with their dangerous talk of socialism and the militant republicans who also seemed to embrace some form of socialist ideology.

So they jumped onto the civil rights train as it was moving and tried to steer it towards respectable politicking . And they called them selves the Social Democratic and Labour Party in order to attract militants away from the new lefties on the block. But in reality it was the same old nationalist leadership with the catholic teachers replacing the old role of the Parish priest, and the landlords, the solicitors and the bar owners all flocking to claim leadership of the civil rights struggle. The SDLP now stands for the Solicitors, Doctors and Landlords' Party.(Not that Sinn Fein don't have their own share of Landlords!)

Like the SDLP all the republican organisations that emerged also paid their homage to the ideas of socialism even if for some of them the ideas of Marxism were a tad step too far.

The republicanism founded by the United Irishmen under the leadership of Wolfe Tone was based on the concepts of liberty equality and fraternity. Under future republican leaders, such as James Connolly, Liam Mellows and Seamus Costello the wider concept of socialism became part of the Republican outlook. Practically all of the existing republican parties and groups today include a commitment to socialism. Traditionally Irish republicanism has seen itself as non-sectarian internationalist and progressive. Indeed these sentiments are  articulated every year at Easter commemorations. 
Seamus Costello

However James Connolly’s socialism in the aftermath of the Rising was downplayed. His  class analysis was even neglected by the labour movement. The Catholic Church sensing the mood of the nation presented  the national Independent struggle as a struggle for a Catholic nation and sadly some Republicans bought into this.
Eamon de Valera taking the advice of the Catholic Church adopted  a Catholic Constitution for the 26 counties state in 1937.

While there  were always republicans who were socialists that socialist element had great difficulties surviving in the Republican tradition. In the 1930s the emergence of the Republican Congress was outside the mainstream republican movement. It split over the differences between a demand for a “Republic” and the demand for  “A Workers Republic” and it soon withered away. In the meantime the IRA itself launched a bombing campaign in England in the late 1930s and early 1940s and some of its members played footsie with German Nazism in the mistaken belief that "England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity”. 

In the 26 counties Eamon de Valera responded by a crackdown on republicanism and executing a number of the republicans.There are few as ruthless as former revolutionaries gone bad.

In the 1950s members of the IRA were forbidden take part in agitation against unemployment and emigration despite the fact that hundreds of thousands were leaving Irish shores and poverty was widespread. Instead the IRA  concentrated on “Operation Harvest” yet another failed armed effort to dislodge Britain from Ireland. 

It was only coming close to the 50th anniversary of the Rising that Republicans began once again to look at the class question. They discovered that indeed there had been the class analysis within Republicanism  and  in particularly in the 1930s. They embraced the writings of James Connolly still Ireland’s greatest marxist.The history of the Republican Congress was re-discovered analysed and lessons learnt. The Connollyite strain in republicanism was being re-established .

However there have also been republicans who flirted with fascism. Some with tunnel vision believe that the time is always ripe for armed actions regardless of the international or national situations. They refuse to learn the lessons of history. Every armed republican campaign have either being defeated or compromised by its own leadership. After over 220 years of imprisonment internment torture death and defeat it would be maybe time for Irish republicanism to have a rethink. The world has today become a very different place from the world of Wolfe Tone. Even the world of Connolly and Pearse  has disappeared. Today no single country can live in isolation without drastic consequences for its people.

There are times in struggle when the use of violence by oppressed peoples or nations may be justified. For example the use of violence to overthrow the Batista regime in Cuba was justified. 
The violence perpetrated by Fidel Castro and his  guerrilla army was necessary to overthrow a reactionary dictatorship. Does anyone deny that the resistance  off the various under ground armies under occupation by a fascist Germany was justified?

Britain throughout its history has used  violence to establish an Empire. That empire was  built on the bodies of people whose assets were stolen, whose   industries  were destroyed and  many were sold into slavery. That is why Britain today is amongst some of the richest countries in the world. Its use of torture rape and pillage were small things for it's ruling class.
Violence is an inherent part of the British class ruling class’s method of ruling.

Was the violence of the Greek Cypriots against the British justified? Was the violence from the Mau Mau in Kenya justified? Was the violence of the Indian people justified? And was the violence used by Irish Republicans justified? Yes is clearly the answer.

But while violence may be justified it is not always tactically wise. One could argue that so the military strategy used by republicans during Easter week 1916 was naive. Some of the leadership believed the British would never destroy inner Dublin. They were wrong.

National liberation movement have used a variety of tactics including rural and urban guerrilla warfare. In Ireland learning the lessons of Easter week Michael Collins adopted the tactic  of mobile guerrilla units, called flying columns and the  use of  hit and run tactics.  It was successful for a while. Later on the car bomb and the incendiary device proved successful weapons in destabilising the northern statelet. But in today's modern world such tactics can be easily defeated. Cameras are everywhere. Every main road  is bedecked with cameras  making secret movements almost impossible. Listening devices are now so sophisticated and small they are almost impossible to find.
Drones are now used to follow targeted individuals. The politics of the individuals can be easily discovered by following Facebook or Twitter. It is no wonder that the gaols are filling up with militant republicans. 

But while modern technology can effectively monitor and control the tactics of guerrilla warfare it is almost impossible to predict mass  terrorist atrocities.Today religious fanatics use tactics of mass terror using suicide bombers and bomb and gun  attacks on civilians to make a point.

That blind fanaticism and fascism is anathema to Republicanism.
Irish republicanism is never likely to adopt the mass terror tactics of religious  fanatics for to do so would be to abandon republican ideology. The leaders of 1916 surrendered when they realised that they could not win and that to continue would lead to even more deaths of civilian casualties. If only other republicans would follow the examples of the 16 leadership and dump their weapons and adapt to cuurent conditions

Capitalism now  is dominate on a worldwide basis. National barriers are  broken down. In response to capitalist expansion socialists have become internationalist and reject nationalism. However that is not to reject struggles for national self determination. In Ireland the struggle  for self-determination, not yet obtained, is a noble and worthy cause. Irish republicanism has always brought together militants with differing ideologies. The original United Irishmen saw both middle-class and working class and peasants trying together to establish an independent republic. 

In 1916 rebellion saw  a coming together of the working classes in the ICA, armed members of the IRB,  middle-class cultural rebels and nationalists. 

Similarly when the provisional movement  PSF/PIRA was established in 1969 it brought together traditional Republicans, urban youth, militant nationalists and those influenced by socialism.There is always been a strong element of nationalism within republicanism. That is the natural consequence of being an oppressed nation. Indeed the cultural revival of the late 19th century played an important part in the revival of republicanism. Creating a sense of Irishness, reclaiming the Irish  language and promoting the GAA and Irish traditional sports were all essential in creating a revolutionary spirit. It was that spirit that ignited  the spark of 1916 and began the struggle  for National independence. However it is worth pointing out that is the main driving force behind 1916 was James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army.

Similarly in the mid 1960s there was a mini revival of sorts. Only this time it was heavily influenced by International events such as the  emergence off popular culture, the Cuban revolution and the Vietnam war. Meanwhile in United States the growing civil rights movement in the United States was getting international interest. 

The election of a nominal  catholic as United States president in 1960 naturally created an interest in Ireland because off Jack Kennedy’s Irish ancestry. Also the convening of the Vatican Council meant a change was also taking place within the Catholic Church. In the north of Ireland for the first time due to the introduction of the welfare state many working class Catholics had opportunities to go to University. Republicanism was not immune to this. In analysing the failure of “operation harvest” some left-leaning Republicans became attracted to the ideas of socialism and of Karl Marx. 

One such person was Seamus Costello. On the 50th anniversary of the 1916 operating he said

If we of this generation are to pay a fitting tribute to the men who died for us all in 1916 it is absolutely essential that we understand the ideals for which they died. The most widespread misconception outside the Republican Movement concerning the men of 1916 is that they had died simply to change the colour of the flag and the post boxes- that they were a group of romantics unconcerned with the everyday problems of the people. Nothing could be further removed from the truth.”
“The first aim of the Republican Movement is to unite all sections of the Irish people, irrespective of class, creed or political persuasions in their demands for political and economic independence.”

“The North today is palace of carefully fostered bigotry and sectarianism. It is also a place where an extremely high proportion of the population is denied the right to have a political organisation which represents their point of view. It is also place where religious differences between Catholic and Protestant workers are deliberately fostered by those whose only purpose is the exploitation of all workers.
It is essential that we understand how discrimination against any section of the working classes works to the benefit of the Capitalist class. The great majority of people in the North are either industrial workers or small farmers who are controlled economically by a majority of the wealthy and privileged capitalists. It is the business of these capitalists to maintain their privileged positions…”

This slow movement towards a class analysis was to become a common feature of all the various strands of republicanism over the next 50 years. The Republican movement in the 1960s was influenced by members and supporters of the Communist Party parties both in Ireland and Britain. 
That is why the phrase “Irrespective of class” was used. Their policy was to include, regardless of class background, all those who would support a United Ireland. This form of Popular Frontism was a standard approach  of Communist parties throughout the world under the influence of Stalinism.  Despite the fact  that such a  policy had repeatedly  failed in China, in Spain and in  a large  number of other countries, they persisted with this failed policy.  It led to the death of thousands of Marxist militants and revolutionary fighters.

To be fair to Seamus Costello he altered his thinking on an all class alliance. Due to his experiences later on in what became known as the official republican movement he adopted the stance that the class and national questions are so intertwined that the struggle for a united Ireland had to be a struggle for a socialist Ireland. In so doing he was adopting a  Connollyite approach.

However his assassination robbed republicanism of an articulate leader and gradually the Provos seized the leadership of the political and military resistance in the aftermath of the hunger strikes in1981.

Their new leadership gradually ditched the leftist rhetoric, isolated the militants and adapted an all class alliance  approach within both northern nationalism and Free State constitutionalism. Contacts established with MI5 as early as 1971 were strengthened in the  1980’s eventually leading to the 1994 ceasefire. During all this time the volunteers and militant Sinn Fein members were fed the line of no sell out, no decommissioning,  no stormont , no acceptance of the police force and no acceptance of the so called Unionist veto.

While the gradually shedding of these commitments lost them volunteers it won the Sinn Fein leadership the support of the northern nationalist middle classes. By the end of the process that began with the Good Friday Agreement and ending with the St.Andrews agreement the  Sinn Fein leadership had established itself as the major nationalist party in the North and potential king makers in the South. The pouring of vast sums of European money into pet provo community projects muted opposition in their heartlands. 

We are now at a point where the nationalist middle classes are content with the northern state and are increasingly seeing them selves as “Northern Irish”

This gradually assimilation into a British mindset has all but knocked the heart out of republicanism!
Saoradh the latest Party to arrive!

As under the pressure of events Irish republicanism splintered divided and diminished, the emerging splinter groups grasped at any straw that would seem to make them relevant. The concept of the Socialist Republic seemed to fit . And so they all claim  to be fighting  for a Socialist Republic.  However their socialism is essentially a vague aspiration. There is no meat on the bones of their socialism, no clear policies no programme nor a vision of what a socialist Irlean d would look like. Few if any of these groups have a clear political programme that would build socialism.

 That is not to say that there are no socialists within these groups. Many of these militants are genuine socialists hoping to transform society. Some of their leaderships may be well disposed towards socialist ideas. But it is not intentions that determine outcomes.The question needs to be asked of all those who claim to be socialists, what have they done to win people to socialism. What actions have they taken to strengthen the working class, what consistent campaigns have they carried out to expose capitalism ? What socialist education do they deliver to their membership?

Militant republicans spend a lot of their time supporting their political prisoners highlighting their treatment in gaol and organising fund raising activities to support the families of prisoners. And so they should. But if that and ceremonial guards of honour at commemorations are the sole activity they carry out, maybe they should have a re-think. 

The sad fact is that republicanism is very badly divided. There at least nine armed groups claiming to be republican. Even attempts to celebrate the 100th anniversary of 1916 in Belfast with a united parade failed as the IRSP marched separate from the attempted unity one. It is clear there are serious political differences between the groups  but unfortunately few of those groups will spell out clearly what the differences are. It seems that the Sinn Fein mentality “ourselves alone” is catching.
 Are those differences policy driven? and if so surely they should be clearly spelt out, so that not only their membership know the difference but also the people who they wish to win to their side know exactly what they stand for. Or as some suspect are the differences due to personality clashes, super egos and a failure to break from the bad habits learnt in previous organisations?

Irish Republicanism is a serious ideological strand in Irish politics. It should be infused with the democratic traditions of the United Irishmen. not dominated by the cults of militarism or the cults of leadership. It is up to the youth  inspired by the democratic ideals of both republicanism and socialism to forge a revolutionary Party 

At a time in all parts of Ireland when there needs to a class response to the attacks on the working classes the last thing we need republicans diverting their energies into dead end diversions. 

The impact of austerity measures has devastated working class standards of living. More are pushed into poverty, some into homelessness, and many forced to work for shit wages. North and South the working class are under the yolk of Imperialism. 

The class and national question are inextricably linked. To separate them is to actually play into the hands of the ruling class. Unless and until Republicans take the lead in the class struggle there is little or no chance that they will solve the national question. Every armed struggle up to now has failed. To keep going down the road that only leads to death or prison and with no progress towards the Republic is not only futile but counter -productive. Britain's hold on the six counties is now firmer that at any time since 1921.

There has to be a different approach. It has been left wing republicans from James Connolly, Liam Mellows, Seamus Costello and Ta Power who pointed out the road ahead. Connolly gave us the ideas of marxism. Mellows pointed out that without the workers, republicanism was doomed to defeat. Costello emphasised the dual nature of the class and national question and Power outlined the importance of the political role of the organisation
and like the others pointed out 

“we must strive towards uniting and politicising the working class no matter what obstacles confront us in our task, for we cannot win our struggle without the working class.”

Those who neglect ignore or downplay these lessons from our history only condemn future generations to perpetual cycles of defeat."

Al those who claim the mantle of Republicanism have a serious responsibility one hundred years after the Rising to re-evaluate what they are doing, learn the lessons of history and  begin to talk seriously to each other without the petty mindsets of previous years. Otherwise Republicanism is  doomed to send generations to jail while offering little or nothing to the working class. 

Was it for this that the Citizen Army, the volunteers  in 1916  rose up and  for this that Pearse Connolly and the other leaders died? For this?

Gerry Ruddy