Ireland 1967 – 2007

by Gerry Ruddy

(The following article is essentially a speech delivered by veteran socialist-republican activist Gerry Ruddy at an international gathering in Barcelona in August 2007.  At the time, Gerry was a leading figure in the Irish Republican Socialist Party.  I’ve fixed some typos, added some punctuation and a couple of footnotes.  In a couple of places I’ve slightly altered a few terms to make them clearer to a New Zealand audience and a wider non-Irish audience.)

Karl Marx on Ireland:
“I have done my best to bring about this demonstration of the English workers in favour of Fenianism (i.e. republicanism). . .  I used to think the separation of Ireland from England impossible. I now think it is inevitable, although after the separation of that may come federation.” (Nov 2nd 1867 letter to Engels)

“It is in the direct and absolute interest of the English working class to get rid of the their present connection with Ireland. . . The English working class will never accomplish anything until it has got rid of Ireland. The English reaction has its roots in the subjugation of Ireland.” (Dec 10th 1869, On Britain, Moscow 1953, p501).

In January 1967 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was set and thus began the whole process of events that people in Ireland usually refer to as the “troubles” It is important to take an overview of the last 40 years, study the mistakes, the wrong assumptions, the errors and successes for the left during that time.
I will divide the period into three broad phases:
1) The democratic phase
2) The armed struggle
3) The reformist stage

While I recognise this is a crude division it is a useful tool to gain an overall picture of the last forty years and of course to learn valuable lessons from that period of struggle.

In 1967 Ireland, as now, was divided into two states. The Northern Ireland state, with its own local government under complete unionist control, discriminated against catholics/nationalists and its local ruling class saw themselves as firmly British.  It had an economy firmly based on heavy industry and directly linked to the British economy. However the Unionist ruling class became anxious following the election of the British Labour Party to power in 1964. Sections of the Unionist Party leadership recognised that they would have to make some small reforms to satisfy democratic demands for reform. They also recognised that relations were beginning to thaw between the Irish Republic and Britain. This was due to the decisions by the Irish bourgeoisie to abandon protectionism.

“Foreign investment, particularly in exporting industries, was made welcome. In 1956, new investors’ export-derived profits were made tax-free for a fifteen-year period. Restrictions on foreign ownership of industry were phased out, with full repeal in 1964. Recognizing the importance of low-cost imports for the exporting industries, tariff barriers began to be lowered. Still outside the Common Market, Ireland entered into a free-trade agreement with the UK in 1965” (James B. Burnham, “Why Ireland Boomed”, The Independent Review, v. VII, n.4, Spring 2003, pp537– 556).

Indeed by 1973 both Britain and Ireland had joined the EEC and this marked a fundamental change in the relationships between the two countries. There was now an imperative to remove obstacles to better relations between the two ruling classes. The biggest cause of friction was the situation in the north of Ireland. The largest parties in the Irish Republic had their roots in the republican movement in the1920s, resented partition and saw their role as guardians of the northern nationalists, though mostly in a theoretical sense and rarely in practical matters.

In Northern Ireland in local government elections businesses had multiple votes and only ratepayers were given the vote. Discrimination was the norm both on the part of Unionist business and also state bodies. Supporters of the Unionist Party were rewarded for their loyalty to the state by the awarding of contracts, housing, jobs etc. Control was exercised through organisations like the Orange Order, a reactionary body designed to create an all class alliance that kept protestant workers apart from catholic workers. But other sections of the ruling class saw no need for change and in 1967 a ban was imposed on the Republican Clubs[1] leaving republicans with no democratic means to express their republicanism. This was at a time when the IRA was almost non-existent and republicans were moving towards purely political activity. Irish Republicanism was then going through major changes.

Following the total failure of the IRA campaign from 1956-62 the Republican Movement had taken a left turn under the influence of people close to the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Connolly Association based in Britain. Despite much opposition from traditionalists and volunteers strongly influenced by Catholicism the ‘leftists’ had by 1967 won control of the Republican Movement. They appeared to be a radical populist party campaigning on nationalist and social issues. But, of course, appearances can be deceptive. Beneath the surface there were all sorts of contradictions within Irish republicanism. Strong nationalist tendencies existed and there was a pro-Catholic tendency that saw Protestantism, Free Masonry and Judaism as enemies to be feared.

Against a background of the governing party of the 26 counties/Southern Ireland, Fianna Fail, having abandoned the nationalist protectionist policies introduced by its founder Eamon de Valera in the 1930s, Sinn Fein saw itself in the position as the true guardian of Irish republicans and regarded the introduction of free trade as both a capitulation to the forces of international capitalism and also opening up the dreaded prospect of communists coming to Ireland to take up Irish jobs and threatening “our own Christian way of life”“- if we become members of the European Economic Community no restriction can be placed on the entry to Ireland of Communists from Italy, France or any other Common Market country” (Tomas Mac Giolla, Nation or Province: Ireland and the Common Market, Dublin 1963).

But what the leadership of the Republican Movement failed to realise was that the attempt to build an economy around protectionism was always doomed to failure given the increasing internationalisation of capitalism. Fianna Fail as the representative of the native bourgeoisie saw that their future interests were tied in with those of international capital. During the 1950s over 800,000 people emigrated from the south of Ireland, poverty and unemployment were high but the Republican Movement ignored these social evils and concentrated solely on an armed campaign in the north. Indeed by 1967 the Southern ruling class had all but given up on the national question, seeing their future economic prospects tied up with the European Economic Community and closer economic and political ties with Britain.

In an effort to cultivate support the Republican Movement, noting the growing interest in socialism worldwide in the sixties and influenced both by the war in Vietnam and the developments of the Cuban revolution, began to speak the language of socialism. Indeed over a weekend a small number of the leadership of the IRA, without a serious debate among its rank and file, simply declared that the goal from now on was the establishment of a Socialist Republic. This decision was not done for ideological reasons but was based purely on pragmatism. However what should be noted and learnt from that was that the socialist model the Republican Movement imported lock, stock and barrel was one based on the official communist parties i.e. those loyal to the state bureaucracy in the USSR.

It is no coincidence that that was the model they chose because the Republican Movement, being heavily militaristic-orientated, saw the Stalinist model as perfect. There could be no serious democratic discussion within the organisation. The leadership saw themselves, the army council of the IRA, as the de jure, the legitimate, government of the Irish Republic, proclaimed in 1916 and endorsed by the 1918 general election.

In practice the melding of Stalinist and militaristic control worked well for the Republican Movement. Volunteers of the IRA were ordered to join mass organisations, vote for named individuals and loyally carry out whatever the leadership dictated. Those who dissented were either labelled right-wing Catholics or Trotskyite wreckers. Tomas MacGiolla, formerly on the right wing and President of Sinn Fein, wholeheartedly embraced the new direction. These shifts in ideological orientation are characteristic of mainstream republicanism.

“Sinn Fein began as a rightwing petty bourgeois organisation. In the 30s the movement was socialist in name. In the forties it was Corporatist and Vocationalist. By the sixties it had gone for Socialism again, in the seventies back to Corporatism before becoming socialist again in 1982. But it has accomplished all these changes in social outlook by remaining unchanged in its nature as the militant wing of Irish nationalism” (Pat Walsh,  Irish Republicanism and Socialism, Belfast, Athol Books, 1994, p255).

During the armed conflict the Provisional movement swung a number of times from right to left and back again depending on circumstances at the time. The republican leadership knew that adopting a leftist stance would soak up the energy of the left and refurnish their ranks as well as giving them international credibility with revolutionary movements worldwide.

In 1967, despite the slow turn towards a leftist orientation, the then Republican Movement was probably best defined by its emphasis on armed struggle, a rejection of parliamentarianism and contempt for the ordinary non-republican people. Of course there were exceptions to this and Seamus Costello, later to found the Irish Republican Socialist Party, built up a strong base for republicanism among ordinary working class people by a militant class struggle in his local area of Bray in Southern Ireland.

In 1967 within the wider left there was a growing interest in the writings of James Connolly, Marxist and republican and a central leader of the 1916 Easter Rebellion, stimulated by the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Even the servile and catholic conservative Labour Party began to allow the word socialism within its ranks, even going so far as to boast that the “Seventies will be socialist.” (It should be noted that the Irish Labour Party is not a mass party of the working class but more a collection of constituency parties based around the personality of the local elected members and sharing a conservative social outlook.)

In the north a strategy was developed by a loose alliance of republicans, communists and liberals to advocate a struggle for democratic rights within the British Northern Ireland state. This led to the foundation of the civil rights movement (NICRA) which brought thousands on to the streets in pursuit of democratic reforms. First the democratic stage, which would entail the struggle for democracy in the North, then the growing over of that struggle into the ending of partition and the establishment of a national government for the whole of the island. Then and only then would the issue of socialism be raised.

But, in essence, what this approach amounted to was a demand for a capitalist Ireland and that certainly held no appeal to pro-British Protestant workers nor indeed for many workers and unemployed people who had to emigrate from both parts of Ireland in the sixties, seventies and eighties due to the levels of poverty and unemployment then existing. Remember, the so-called Celtic Tiger only came into existence in the mid nineties. But while republicans were involved in the civil rights struggle they did not necessarily control it and more right-wing republicans regarded demands of British rights for British citizens as anathema and un-republican. The approach by NICRA, while an astute move politically, was based on a clearly separated two-stages approach to the whole national question in Ireland.

It then found itself at a loss when the inevitable happened and the narrow “democratic” demands could not contain the wider democratic demand for a united Ireland. But by that stage the leadership of the Republican Movement had become so tied into the stagest approach from a leftist stance that they could not shift gear and the right-wing republicans gained the ascendancy by their militancy within nationalist areas. Naturally there were other perspectives. The ideas of Trotsky began to circulate more widely in the sixties and the radical student movement called People’s Democracy was heavily influenced by Trotskyism.

Two separate key ideas evolved from the debates of that time. One that a campaign for civil rights, if it didn’t also campaign for economic rights, would alienate working class protestants for whom the struggle for civil rights was in essence simply a struggle for catholics. Therefore if catholics gained then they, i.e. the protestant working class must lose out in the field of jobs and housing. This line argued strongly that unless the whole issue of class was raised then the struggle would inevitably end up in sectarian fighting. Unfortunately some groups adopting that position then came to denigrate those who were campaigning for civil rights as sectarian. While on paper they paid lip service to the struggle for democratic demands they never seriously engaged in the democratic struggle, retreating each time they spotted possible sectarian issues rising.

They failed to recognise that Lenin, following Marx himself, saw that the vanguard needed to be in the forefront of all manifestations of discontent in society and that included so-called democratic demands.  As Lenin noted, the role of a revolutionary was as “a tribune of the people, able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it take place, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; he must be able to generalise all these manifestations to produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; he must be able to take advantage of every event however small in order to explain his socialistic convictions and his democratic demands to all in order to explain to all and everyone the world historic significance of the proletariat’s struggle for existence (V.I. Lenin, What is to be done, Peking, Foreign Languages Press, 1978, p100).

A separate but related outlook stated that a link needed to be made between the struggle for civil rights, the class struggle and the whole issue of imperialism in Ireland. This line of thinking was eventually to see the emergence of the Irish Republican Socialist Party.

1. THE DEMOCRATIC STAGE

The democratic stage of the struggle lasted from 1967 until approximately 1972. That stage was itself made up of three separate stages. Stage one -the liberal stage – was when the key features of the NICRA under the guidance of the Communist Party was to lobby influential people, influence the leaderships of the trade union movement and seek the assistance of British Labour MPs. However, against a background of almost total indifference from the Unionist ruling class, pressure mounted and NICRA agreed to move up to stage two with street protests.

Stage two – the street protests – changed everything. In full view of the world media the local police, the RUC, batoned protestors off the street, including the respectable members of the nationalist population. This galvanised not only the student population but also many within the nationalist working class population who had not as yet seen the relevance of the democratic phase of struggle to their lives. They came in their hundreds then in their thousands onto the streets as their justifiable anger at years of oppression boiled over.

The leadership of NICRA was now attracting the attention of the nationalist middle class who had for so long avoided political struggle. They now jumped on the bandwagon and attempted to draw the struggle into purely reformist and peaceful avenues of protests, despite the continuing violence from the RUC and its supporters within loyalist working class areas. Whipping up the fears of the protestant working class was easy for the Unionist leadership, for the loyalist working class had the first pick of the jobs and housing available to working class people. Many of them were marginally better off than their catholic equivalents but, of course, many were also worse off. However they saw themselves as having more in common with their capitalist leaders than their fellow workers. So while a political struggle began for control of the civil rights struggle between conservative elements and the more militant and more class-orientated students/republicans and socialists, the democratic struggle movement developed into its third and final stage.

Stage three – the mass struggle – was when the political consciousness of the nationalist working class reached its highest level under the pressure of huge working class areas suffering regular raids, being tear-gassed and the state reintroducing internment, torture and brutality as part of its everyday weapons of harassment. People began to take control of their own areas, and established free zones outside the control of the state forces. Inside these free areas political discussion and debate between republicans and socialists developed at a high theoretical level. However there was also a struggle for control of these areas, which sometimes erupted into intra-republican violence.

Tensions had been caused by the failure of the IRA in 1969 to defend nationalist areas when the RUC/B Specials and loyalist mobs initiated a pogrom against the nationalists, leading to the largest movement of civilian populations since the Second World War. Despite the fact that the few volunteers to defend the nationalist areas were all members of the Official IRA and stayed loyal to that organisation, the newly formed Provisional IRA skilfully manipulated the facts to emerge as the so-called defenders of the nationalist population. Many working class catholics flocked to join them and many of these were motivated by desires for sectarian revenge against the protestant mobs that had attacked catholic areas.

Hence a bitter political and military struggle was to begin that ultimately saw the end of the mass struggle which reached its peak after the British occupation forces massacred 14 civilians demonstrators in Derry on January 30 1972, since called Bloody Sunday. The effect of Bloody Sunday was to encourage recruitment to the PIRA who seemed the more militant. They launched an economic bombing campaign, which took a high toll of civilian casualties, further alienated protestants from republicanism and saw a downturn in the mass struggle.

The guerrilla campaign also intensified loyalist reaction, which took the form of individual murders of any catholics. But it should not be forgotten that any democratic advances for the northern nationalists had always been met with by violent loyalist reaction. The popular way of expressing this, then as now, is best summarised by the writing on the wall KAT (Kill all Taigs, ie catholics). Hundreds were killed from 1972, but the security forces of the state, which partially sponsored and trained these loyalist killers, denied these were sectarian killings and called them “motiveless murders”.

It is now clearly established that the British state endorsed the murder campaign of the loyalists. British agents handed over files of nationalists to loyalist murder gangs. They gave them guns. They trained them and directed a terror campaign against the broad nationalist /catholic population. And still today they refuse to acknowledge their collusion. Irish republicans need take no lectures from the British state on so called “terrorism”.

2. THE ARMED STRUGGLE

By 1974 mass demonstrations had ended, the Provisional IRA continued with its economic bombing campaign, the nationalist population was at the receiving end of a murder campaign led by loyalist paramilitaries under the influence, direction and control of the British security forces and the RUC. This in turn led republicans down the path of sectarian actions and it has to be admitted that all republican organisations were guilty of this cardinal error.

Our own movement, disillusioned by the ceasefire called by the Official IRA and also by its turn towards reformist politics, broke from the Officials and established the Irish Republican Socialist Party and then, two months later, the Irish National Liberation Army. We were now in that phase of struggle dominated by armed struggle. Comrades and friends let me make my own personal position as clear as I can. While I had doubts and hesitations about some tactics used during the course of the struggle by both the IRA and the INLA I supported that armed struggle.

In the early phase of the democratic struggle I, along with many others, practised non-violence in demos etc, I soon got fed up being beaten off the streets and seeing the forces of reaction beating the shit out of working class people. After all it was Trotsky who wrote: “We encounter violence everywhere … we did not invent violence and terrorism … we are born in capitalist violence … we live and die in imperialist terrorism … they are our ‘daily bread’.”

However, armed resistance has a limited time line or else will become counter-productive. Some republicans have elevated armed struggle as the strategy to achieve their aims. They do not take account of the prevailing conditions, the mood of the masses nor the economic, social and political forces at play. By divorcing the armed struggle from the mass struggle, by elevating armed struggle as the only way to defeat imperialism, Irish republicanism failed. Elitism took hold. (There is an elitism that arises in armed groups and one of our comrades, Ta Power, did an excellent analysis of this in a seminal document for the IRSP that began our long journey away from militarism and back towards socialism.)

Not only were the mass of people within nationalist areas slowly becoming disillusioned with the struggle itself as they were reduced to the role of bit players, only to be mobilised at the command of an army council, but many activists, both in the military and political field, became demoralised. There was no attempt to link up the everyday struggles of the people with the overall anti-imperialist struggle. Instead of turning towards the organised working class north and south, Provisional Republicanism found itself in a cul-de-sac going nowhere. And in despair it reached towards the churches and the ruling classes in Britain and Ireland to rescues them from the hole they were in.

The process of winding down the armed struggle and reaching a settlement with Imperialism took a long time but, on reflection, it is now clear that the Provisionals’ leadership were in contact with both British intelligence services and the British government even as IRA/INLA volunteers were dying on hunger strike for political status in 1981. Rather than turning the massive support that the hunger strikes engendered into a mass anti-imperialist struggle Provisional leaders used that emotion to begin the long, slow steps towards parliamentarianism. At the same time the armed struggle continued but, apart from occasional spectacular successes in military terms, was increasingly ineffective and counterproductive.

Armed struggle is not some romantic and heroic way of changing the world. Forget the iconic images on student posters of Che. The reality is different and brutal. Tying an unarmed man with a large family to a bomb in a truck and making him drive it to a military establishment where the bomb explodes! Walk up behind a policeman and blow his head off. Plant a bomb in a restaurant that blows children apart. Order people from a bus, ascertain their religion and then shoot the ones whose religion you don’t like. Plant a device under a car not knowing if the intended victim or his/her family will be in the car when the bomb explodes. Such actions, while having devastating consequences on the victims, also have consequences on the Volunteers who carried them out. Long years of imprisonment, the alienated children, the broken marriages, the broken lives, alcoholism and all for what??? For sharing power in a northern state with Ian Paisley as First Minister and administering British rule.

It can be argued that republican violence was a legitimate political response to state violence. When the INLA killed a leading Tory[2] I personally felt that was a legitimate exercise for it took pressure off besieged nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. But as a long-term solution to the problems of the working class that is not the way forward because “the capitalist state does not base itself on government ministers and cannot be eliminated with them. The classes it serves will always find new people; the mechanism remains intact and continues to function”(Leon Trotsky, Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism, 1911).

No socialist, no Marxist, no human who cares for the future of humankind and the planet we live on, can afford to be a pacifist. There are times when only violence is a justifiable response to injustice. But there is also a time to call a halt to armed resistance if it proves counterproductive. We cannot afford to allow righteous anger to dictate our actions. Yes, we can empathise with the victims of state violence, we can understand the anger of the oppressed, and we can share in the frustrations of the dispossessed. But we have a historic duty to not bow down to the emotions of the moment. We have a duty, as working class militants, to provide clear analysis of the situation, provide the theoretical understanding of the events happening and give leadership to our class both in theory and deed.

In 1994 the then leader of our movement, Gino Gallagher, outlined clearly the republican socialist position, in a speech to students: “That is why in the light of the ceasefires and the so-called peace process the Republican Socialist Movement took a conscious decision to take no action that could be construed as endangering that process. Indeed we opened many avenues of communications with others in order from our viewpoint to make more widely known the socialist perspective of our movement. But let me say that whilst we are not prepared to endanger the current process we have no love for it. We remain to be convinced and I doubt if we could ever be convinced, of the genuine intent of the British government. We doubt if after all the flag waving and displays of chauvinism that we have seen recently and will see tomorrow (USA President Clinton in Belfast) the position of the working class, apart from the absence of political violence, will have in essence changed. Unemployment, low wages, ghettoised housing, class-ridden education systems, extremities of wealth and poverty, and people divided by religion and poisoned by prejudice; these things will remain. And they will remain, we believe, no matter how many meetings take place between the representatives of Irish Capitalism and British Imperialism. Major or Bruton will not solve the fundamental problems of the peoples of these isles.”
Two years later Gino was murdered by agents of the British state who had infiltrated our movement. But his analysis 13 years on is still valid. Taking that analysis as our guide our movement convinced the INLA to declare a ceasefire in 1998 and it is why today we try to convince other republicans that the only road to travel is the socialist road.

3. THE REFORMIST STAGE

The Provisional leadership used the armed struggle during the eighties and nineties to wring some political concessions from the British Government as it prepared to move into the reformist stage. The electoral success Sinn Fein achieved following the hunger strikes in 1981 convinced the Adams leadership that the creation of a nationalist broad front with middle class nationalists in the north and with the southern ruling class was the best way to advance nationalist demands. Gone was the radical phase of the early eighties, gone went references to socialism and, in place of anti-imperialist demands for a united Ireland, the slogan of the day became “equality”. The Provisional republican movement were now preparing to settle for equality for Irish nationalists within the British state.

And so began the Adams-Hume talks, negotiations with the Dublin government and, eventually, talks with the British government that led to the 1994 and 1997 ceasefires, the Good Friday Agreement, the St Andrews Agreement and now a devolved Northern Ireland Assembly firmly committed to a neo-liberal economic programme. To achieve this, the Provisional movement decommissioned their weapons, recognised the British claim to rule the north of Ireland, dismantled their army and are now involved in running the police force. It has to be clearly stated that this is not a victory for republicanism. It is certainly not a victory for socialism. The republican armed struggle has been clearly defeated. A united Ireland is now further away than it was in 1967.

The divisions between catholic and protestant workers have never been wider. Vicious sectarian attacks still take place. Working class communities are separated by so-called peace walls, most of which have gone up since the ending of the armed conflict. Sectarianism is institutionalised in the six-county state. And all the while the speculators move in, buy up property and charge exorbitant rents to working class families who are now priced out of the home ownership market. The British (Labour) prime minister wants to reduce the minimum wage in the north and the local administration is preparing to impose massive water charges, rate increases and continues the policy of dismantling public utilities and selling them off to private industry. This all against a background of growing economic instability, not only nationally but worldwide.

The economy in the rest of Ireland which has been buoyant for the past fourteen years has begun to run out of steam. The building trade which helped spark off the so-called Celtic Tiger is facing a slowdown and is likely to see 35,000 jobs lost in the sector over the next 18 months, according to Davy Stockbrokers. All the signs indicate that there will be a downturn in the economy. That downturn will have its biggest impact on working class families. It will have little effect on the 33,000 millionaires. “According to Davy, housing completions will start to fall between now and the end of the year and unemployment will creep up to 5 per cent by the end of 2007 before reaching 6 per cent by the end of 2008” (Irish Times, July 24 2007).

During the armed struggle republicans, except for a brief period, ignored social and economic issues even when unemployment and poverty gripped huge numbers of workers. Instead they became preoccupied by both the armed struggle and “our community” (ie nationalist areas from which the armed struggle was based). Many republicans were also antagonistic to the trade union movement, which was seen by them as pro-British. If Irish republicanism is not to become irrelevant then we argue it must become socialist as well. The armed struggle is over. The last time I counted there were 6 IRAs (Provisional IRA, Real IRA, Continuity IRA, Oglaigh na Eireann, Official IRA (ORM) and Official IRA (WP) and numerous organisations all claiming to be republicans or/and socialists.

That, of course, is a ridiculous situation and serves the Irish working class badly. Instead of all this nonsense as to who are the real republicans and socialists, those who are serious about changing Irish society need to get back to basics – the basics of socialism – the basics of Marxism. I make no claim that the IRSP is the perfect vehicle to carry on the revolutionary struggle in Ireland. It is far from perfect. But it has a revolutionary tradition; a firm base in the nationalist working class, a correct analysis of the current political process in Ireland, an internationalist perspective and an ability to learn from mistakes.

Twenty-one years ago Ta Power, later to be assassinated, wrote a powerful document analysing our movement. He pointed out the way forward and his words are as relevant today as they were then. If every republican socialist, inside or outside, our own organisation followed Ta’s advice then we would have a credible revolutionary organisation with growing influence inside the working class movement:

“A revolutionary party must have a revolutionary ideology, an ideology that enables us to analyse the world, the motive force at work in the world, and plan a campaign based on the analysis. A campaign that is consistent, principled, and bold in its implementation, maxims as a guide to action is an ideology; it represents the historical interests of the working class, which through the medium of a revolutionary party, aims to overthrow the capitalist order and begin the construction of communism. However there are day-to-day tasks that need to be addressed now. We need to stand shoulder with the workers in the public sectors, north and south, that are coming under attack from cuts in their services. We need to campaign for a massive increase in social housing. We need to stand against all manifestations of sectarianism. We need to highlight the continuing injustice of partition and the plight of political prisoners wherever they are. We need to take up each and ‘every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it take place no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects’.”

Forty years on from the beginning of the civil rights struggle, with the national question still unresolved, we face a new situation. The left in Ireland is weak, divided and riddled with political sectarianism. Republicanism is defeated and also bitterly divided. It is clear that the approaches used by both republicans and socialists over the past forty years have failed to make any significant advances within the working class movement. We need to learn the lessons and remember the words of Ta Power.

We must be vigilant that we don’t sink into the morass of sectarianism, mixing, pettiness etc. We must not get involved in unprincipled slanging matches etc, into positions that are sectarian, anti-revolutionary, morally damaging, that give succour to the enemy and that confuse and divide the working class. Marx, Lenin, etc. confronted all fundamentals in a courageous, merciless, ruthless manner. Why do we fail to do so? Is it inherent in us? Are we up to this task? Do we lack the courage and maturity to do this? Are we amateurs and not professionals? We know the lessons of history, we know the mistakes, and we either act accordingly or collapse. Salvation lies in clarity and the courage to implement change! Comrades, that approach is the way forward for the Irish left.


[1] The Republican Clubs were the political wing of the Irish Republican Army in the six counties.

[2] The INLA blew up Tory MP and Thatcher confidante Airey Neave, in his car at the British parliament in March 1979.

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Posted on August 23, 2011, in 1981 hunger strike, Civil rights movement, Democratic rights - general, Economy and workers' resistance, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Irish politics today, IRSP, Partition, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Repression and resistance in 1970s and 1980s, Repression and resistance in the six counties today, Republicanism 1960s, Republicanism post-1900, Unionism, loyalism, sectarianism. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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