éirígí’s Easter promise – two views
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The first piece was written by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght, a long-time Irish Marxist activist and writer, associated with Socialist Democracy. (I assume he is still a member, but I’m not totally sure.) He sent the article to the blog via a mutual acquaintance. Since I want to encourage contributions from a viewpoint which is both socialist and recognises the centrality of the national question, I’m running Raynor’s piece along with a second view from myself. I’d also encourage folks to read éirígí’s own report and watch the video of the Dublin commemoration (both here).
éirígí’s Easter Promise
by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght
Eirigi’s Dublin Easter Commemoration was impressive. Despite a last blast of the coldest recorded March weather, at least a hundred people of all ages, more than on the previous years, came to parade and listen to the orations.
But what message went forth? By now, this writer has enough experience to distinguish the cover of the rhetoric from the core meaning. Here he came away having seen a movement groping its path in a generally progressive direction. Brian Leeson’s keynote presentation was a significant advance on that which he presented at éirígí’s conference eighteen months ago. It was a blistering attack on capitalism from the standpoint of that mysterious force Socialist Republicanism. Such rhetoric has been used in the past all too often to cover the abandonment of the revolutionary core of Republicanism with the verbiage of social concern; it was a technique of Official Sinn Fein before it proclaimed itself the Workers Party. Leeson’s speech was different; if it emphasised the economic crisis, this was particularly proper in Dublin.
It did not ignore the British occupation. It made especial mention of Stephen Murney and his arrest for possession of photographs likely to aid acts of terrorism (Does anyone not have such photos?) The reading was Connolly’s “To the Citizen Army”.
To mention this last is to mention a major weakness in the ceremony. To make the Citizen Army a major focus is formally a revolutionary gesture. As a guide to immediate action over the next year, it is a diversion. It was the workers resistance to the bosses that created the ICA, not vice versa. A Citizen Army now would threaten to degenerate into another INLA or an IPLO, a waste of good militant cadres in militarist adventures.
The trouble is that the Army was presented as the only concrete guide to the way to guide the struggle from here to victory. This tends to devalue the actual work being done by éirígí militants on the ground in ShellTo Sea, the Turfcutters campaign and against the new taxes. More generally, it evades the main problem facing those fighting capitalism, that system’s co-option of the official leaders of the major official working class organisations, unions and Labour Party alike into the work of mending the very system the natural operation of which has been and is ruining their followers. This was a tendency recognised by Connolly after 1913, though he saw it mainly as a problem of the long established British unions. Today, it is possible to recognise it as a general problem infecting the bureaucrats and placemen of all workers’ movements. Armed struggle alone will not cure it. Mass struggle will. It may not be as dangerous as armed struggle, nor as charismatic. Certainly, it will be more difficult. Nonetheless, it will be through an organised hegemonic political force mobilising the exploited and oppressed to resist the oppression of the bosses and their bought political lackeys up to and including strike action that the way will be cleared for the underdogs to take state power for themselves.
This truth was not mentioned on Easter Sunday this year, yet nor was any alternative presented. Eirigi remains in a state of political chassis. Overall, however, it is moving slowly in a positive direction.
The writer went away more hopeful than he came.
Philip Ferguson response:
I’m very pleased that Raynor went away more hopeful than he came. I think éirígí is the most positive development on the Irish left in over thirty years – essentially since Costello and his comrades established the IRSP (and its associated military wing) and that its attractive power to consistent anti-imperialist leftists is substantial.
My disagreements with Raynor’s piece, which I assume will appear also on the SD site, are disagreements among comrades.
Firstly, on something of lesser political importance. I don’t know if Raynor counted the colour party and/or the band (the latter of which had travelled from Glasgow to take part), but I think there were substantially more than 100 people who took part in the Dublin event. It was certainly a great deal smaller than the Belfast commemoration but the official éirígí tally of almost 200 seems closer to the mark; I’ve found éirígí to be pretty scrupulous when it comes to giving figures (unlike the sillier elements of the left who think hyperbole and exaggeration of numbers have some useful part to play in left politics).
On the political side, Raynor thinks the reading from Connolly was not the best choice and making the Citizen Army part of the focus was mistaken. I think, however, that Raynor misunderstands the nature of the event. It was a commemoration of the Rising and as such had two points to it: firstly, to commemorate the actual historic event of the Rising and, secondly, to talk about Ireland today in relation to what the women and men of Easter Week had set out to achieve. So the reading, Connolly’s “To the Citizen Army” was entirely appropriate to the first function of the event. In fact, it was particularly important because who we identify with in the past is an important marker to how our politics develop today.
To the gas-and-water socialists, it isn’t important to identify with any past revolutionary current. Indeed, quite the opposite. The past is full of revolutionary republicans and the centrality of the national question, so it needs to be largely ignored. It seems to me that the choice of the Connolly reading is part-and-parcel of éirígí nailing its colours to the mast as not republican merely, not socialist merely, but the organised expression of the most politically conscious elements of the oppressed mass of the Irish people. In 1916 it was the ICA that embodied that most, not the IRB or the Irish Volunteers (which is not to detract from the revolutionary-nationalist nature of much of the Volunteer movement).
At its last ard fheis, éirígí also explicitly identified itself with Connolly and the fact that Connolly was a Marxist. That takes things substantially further than where the Provisionals were, even in their most left period. In the latter case, for instance, Adams declared that there were no Marxists in the Provisional movement, something which was patently untrue but did say something about the nature of the leadership cabal around Adams. Unlike the Adams cabal, éirígí is not afraid to be openly Connollyist, identify with Costello and be equally openly unafraid of Marxism.
This brings me to Raynor’s comment about “that mysterious force Socialist Republicanism”. I’ve seen Raynor refer to socialist-republicanism in this way before, almost as if it is an oxymoron. I’m aware that Raynor has seen lots of rhetorical socialism and revolutionary republicanism and so on, so I can appreciate him being sceptical in certain ways. The evolution of the Provisionals into Britain’s latest handmaidens, when a couple of decades ago they claimed to be in favour of a one-stage socialist revolution and many of Raynor’s own comrades joined them, would add to some justifiable scepticism. However, I also think it is a sign of the weakness of the Trotskyism that Raynor adheres to that socialist-republicanism appears perhaps more as a fantasy creature than the perfectly logical political expression of the struggle of the mass of the Irish people for complete liberation.
To me, it is Irish Trotskyism that is the creature of fantasy and socialist-republicanism which is the creature of logic. Republicanism in its left forms has had many false starts, for sure. But it has *started*. There is the skeleton of a tradition of socialist-republicanism. The problem for Irish Trotskyism is that it has never been able to sink any real, lasting roots in the Irish masses. In my view, it is never going to – the reason being that the bulk of the Irish working class is republican (with a small r) and the ‘lower orders’ in Ireland have been, in their majority, republican (small r) for a good 200 years.
This is because republicanism isn’t something exported or grafted on. It is the homegrown, almost spontaneously occurring and reoccurring (after every defeat) spirit of resistance in the Irish people. It isn’t this because of any subjective wish of any individual or even any political movement. It’s simply determined by the realities of Irish society over the past 200 years. For better or worse, and regardless of what anyone may wish or not wish, history has made republicanism the expression of resistance by the Irish masses to British domination and to class exploitation (and, more recently, domination by other imperialists and imperialist institutions).
Socialist-republicanism is the most class conscious form of that political expression of the spirit of resistance (republicanism). It isn’t spontaneous; it’s conscious. Marxism comes into the equation because Marxism offers the sharpest tools of analysis to socialist-republicans (indeed to any republicans striving not merely for the liberation of a geographical area but the mass of the people who inhabit it).
If we go back to Russia, Lenin used Marxism as a set of tools to analyse *Russian reality*. He didn’t start with a ready-made programme, pulled from outside that reality. He polemicised against much of the prior revolutionary tradition in Russia, its conspiratorial and militaristic nature etc, but he didn’t dismiss all of it and he didn’t try to replace it with a set of ready-made formulas from somewhere else. And this is the dilemma that Irish Trotskyism (like Irish Stalinism before it) faces. It is, always has been and always will be, alien to the political soil of Ireland, something artifically grafted on, like a bodily organ rejected by the host body.
Socialist-republicans can certainly learn some valuable stuff from the experiences and writings of Trotsky, but *Trotskyism* – which is really a post-Trotsky concoction anyway – doesn’t, it seems to me, have anything much useful to teach anyone in Ireland. Except, perhaps, what not to do.
I’ll be happy to admit I’m wrong should Trotskyists anywhere lead a revolution. But there’s no sign of that happening. The only time Trotskyists got to be a really significant force in the working class – Sri Lanka in the period after WW2 – they joined a bourgeois government and did pretty much what the Sinners are doing at Stormont now.
In my view, SD has far and away the best politics of the ostensibly Marxist left in Ireland, but that hasn’t helped them at all; they are far smaller than they were 30 years ago, when they were PD, and there’s no sign of that changing. I think SD would be better dissolving and its members joining éirígí. Not as some kind of entryist project, and not to push Trotskyism. But to participate honestly as genuine comrades in the building of a genuinely revolutionary movement, one that has some chance of success.
éirígí is still a very young, new movement. No-one in it would claim the party has got answers to all the questions currently on the table in Ireland. For instance, the party is thoroughly hostile to the trade union bureaucracy in fact, far more so than most of the Irish Trotskyists – but it certainly doesn’t have a worked out strategy for involvement in the unions. That’s something that comrades from SD have more experience and more thought-out ideas on that could be very helpful. The position of éirígí on the right to abortion is disappointing – in 2013! – and that’s also something that SD comrades could contribute on. But it would mean leaving the specific baggage of Trotskyism at the door.
I’d say that for SD comrades the real issue is not whether éirígí will meet the challenge of building a revolutionary movement but whether SD will. It’s not whether éirígí will move beyond republicanism per se – they already have – but whether SD will move beyond the narrow confines of Trotskyism.
Posted on April 8, 2013, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, éirígí, Commemorations, Economy and workers' resistance, General revolutionary history, IRSP, James Connolly, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Public events - Ireland, Repression and resistance in the six counties today, Revolutionary figures, The road to the Easter Rising, Trade unions, Turf cutters, Women. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.