RNU statement on Angela Nelson resignation: some comments

Below is the statement that the Republican Network for Unity put out following Angela Nelson’s resignation from Sinn Fein:

“RNU take the opportunity to salute the courage and honesty of Lisburn city councillor Angela Nelson in her decision to resign from the Sinn Fein party, following its leadership’s illogical and undemocratic decision to engage publicly with the British monarch.

“We concur with Angela that it is not the role of republicans to engage with monarchy in any form and furthermore reject the notion that outreach to the protestant community should be attempted by hosting an unelected and pampered aristocrat who represents only a privileged minority within society.

“It is a welcome sign of the times that the well documented undemocratic & coercive nature of Sinn Fein decision making is beginning to be challenged by that party’s grass roots.

“RNU recently decided to withdraw from engagement with the Sinn Fein leadership believing that the hosting of the British monarch was proof positive that they were not serious about perusing revolutionary goals in Ireland. However we stated clearly that our door remained open to the grass roots for negotiations on how best to reverse those retrograde steps taken by their leadership in recent years.

“The decision made by Angela Nelson demonstrates that revolutionary republican ideals remain alive and well within the Sinn Fein grass roots, while this is the case we believe there is scope for healing whatever divisions exist within the republican socialist family.”

My comments:

Firstly, these comments are being made in the context of my being sympathetic to RNU and are meant in a comradely spirit.

I think it is wrong to say that the decision by the Adams-McGuinness leadership to play meet-and-greet with the British queen was an “illogical and undemocratic decision”.  It was actually completely logical.  In fact, what that leadership has been doing ever since Adams opened secret communications with the Brits whenever it was – the mid-1980s? –  has been completely logical.  In the early stages of the building up of that relationship, it was still possible for the central leadership to pull back.  However, by the early 1990s, certainly by the time of the Downing St Declaration in 1993 at the latest, the trajectory of Gerry Adams and his cabal was very much established.

At the time I was the national secretary and full-timer in the anti-extradition campaign as well as being heavily involved in political work in the Liberties area in Dublin and education officer for the Dublin comhairle limistear.  It was abundantly clear to me that Adams and co. had embraced pan-nationalism – a political and class outlook that has nothing whatever to do with republicanism – and were supportive of the Downing St document but just didn’t dare say so, because it would have given them away.  Members of the leadership who weren’t “on line”, like Jim Monaghan and Rose Dugdale, had already been pushed out.

It took more than a decade of further manoeuvring and manipulation before they played their full hand and, vital to this, was the standing down of the Army, itself a fairly protracted process.  But each political step, each new embrace of some crappy pan-nationalist position, was pretty carefully considered and calculated, people like Tom Hartley and Jim Gibney were used as kite-flyers to test how the wind was on various issues.

In any case, once you’re on a certain trajectory it takes on a logic of its own.  While I think it would be very naive to think that by 1993 and certainly by the time of the Good Friday Agreement, the Adams group weren’t systematically pursuing a plan, in a sense it doesn’t matter.  By 1998, at the latest, the dye was not simply cast but also set, or whatever metaphor you prefer.  Even if they had’ve wanted to turn back, and I don’t believe for a minute they did want to, it simply wasn’t possible.  To use one of Adams’ own metaphors, by that stage “the bus to Cork” was an express; it wasn’t going to be stopping, let alone turning back.

So the line from formally replacing republicanism with pan-nationalism, then welcoming the Downing St Declaration (just not saying so), then welcoming the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements, disarming the Army and then largely dissolving it, entering a power-sharing Stormont arrangement, sitting on policing boards, making nice with the British queen, has been entirely logical.

Secondly, it may not have been democratic in the sense that the rank-and-file never got to vote on it, but democracy in the Republican Movement has long been democracy for a layer of people at the top and not for the membership.  So it was “democratic” in the same sense that anything is democratic in the Provos.  The leadership decides and once they’ve manoeuvred and manipulated to the extent that they’re fairly sure of carrying the day, then – and only then – is there a vote.  The Free State government works in a similar manner.  They usually refrain from a referendum unless they’re sure of victory and if they screw up and it goes against them, they manoeuvre and manipulate and then have another vote, one they’re sure they can win.

The last sentence of the RNU comrades’ statement says that the Provo rank-and-file are basically sound and there exists the possibility “for healing whatever divisions exist within the republican socialist family”.  But the Provo rank-and-file have also changed.  The working class militants who used to make up the rank-and-file have increasingly been replaced by the same kind of people who used to join the SDLP and Fianna Fail.  They are not partisans and defenders of “revolutionary republican ideals”.  If they were, the Adams’ leadership would have been overthrown a long time ago.

Moreover, with all due respect to the comrades of RNU, the Shinners today are not any part of any “republican socialist family”.  The socialist-republican family is éirígí, the IRSP and the RNU.  Plus a significant number of formally unaffiliated activists of this political standpoint, including myself.  This is the family whose divisions need to be not so much healed – because there aren’t any big rows between the three groups anyway – as simply overcome.  The divisions need to be replaced by serious political discussions about joint work and the possibility (and desirability) of establishing a single socialist-republican party.

I’m not doubting there are individuals within the Provos, even at this late date, who will do the right thing and get out of what is now merely a constitutional-nationalist party.  But they won’t be won over by pretending that Sinn Fein is anything other than a constitutional nationalist party and its leadership is anything other than handmaidens of the British state in the north and friends of business both sides of Britain’s border in Ireland.

In the 1960s every moderate demand for basic democratic rights in the north ran up against the brutal reality of the Orange state and one-party Unionist rule, managing the six counties for Britain.  Today, that specific Orange state is gone.  However, the six-county state is very much alive and well.  Today, every single struggle for very basic things like more democracy and better living standards runs up against the brutal reality of a six-county state presided over in no small way by the Shinners, managing things for Britain.

Lastly, I’d recommend the comrades of RNU read Donnacha Ó Beacháin’s excellent Destiny of the Soldiers; in particular look at where the IRA’s naivete in relation to de Valera and Fianna Fail got them in the 1930s.


Posted on July 10, 2012, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, Democratic rights - general, General revolutionary history, Irish politics today, IRSP, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Public events - Ireland, Repression and resistance in the six counties today, Republicanism post-1900, Social conditions. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on RNU statement on Angela Nelson resignation: some comments.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: