éirígí’s Easter promise – two views

?????????????????????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.

  1. This is probably somewhat off-topic, but I’m curious for your take on this.

    As much as éirígí impresses me, and on the whole they do very much, I would agree that their stated position on abortion is disappointing to say the least, especially when compared to the IRSP’s principled stand on the issue. Personally I’ve been feeling very uneasy about éirígí since they released their Abortion and Related Issues statement. Stopping well short of “As soon as possible and as late as necessary” was bad enough, but the fact that party members who are opposed to the position are permitted to abstain from supporting it just reeks of moral cowardice. Caving to reactionary elements within the party and society as a whole on this rather fundamental issue is deeply concerning, particularly in regards to éirígí’s commitment to other core socialist republican values.

    I am curious as to how you’ve reconciled éirígí’s position on abortion with your continued endorsement of the party, or am I making mountains out of molehills?

  2. Thanks for your comment.

    My view on abortion is very clear; I’ve had that position all my adult life. The fact that I found the éirígí position on the issue very disappointing (especially in the 21st century) is not, however, going to lead me to review my whole attitude to the organisation. I’m not sure about “reactionary elements within the party”; do you know what positions are held on other issues by the people who don’t support abortion as a woman’s democratic right?

    I’m not too bothered by the idea that people who don’t support the position don’t have to actively campaign for it. Democratic centralism is a rather misunderstood concept. In the Bolshevik Party people could write articles in their press disagreeing with party positions – disagreements could be openly expressed. And they were an underground party in very repressive conditions. That culture has been largely lost on the ostensibly Marxist left, and it needs to be retrieved. Making party members actively campaign for politics they don’t agree with isn’t much of a goer with me.

    I’m interested in a democratic right to choose position – as early as possible, as late as necessary – but I don’t have an issue with people being free to disagree with that position in a revolutionary organisation, including publicly disagreeing with it, and not being made to campaign for it. There’s plenty of other campaign work to be done!

    I think the issue of abortion is more complicated in the oppressed nations than in the imperialist centres too, because there is a history of the dominating powers often trying to reduce the population of the dominated nations. So there have always been revolutionaries in the dominated nations who have a different view of abortion and see it as a kind of population control measure rather than as a woman’s right to choose. I disagree with that position, but I think it’s important to understand it.

    I used to know people in the Provisionals, for instance, who opposed the right to abortion but had revolutionary views on most other things and were prepared to risk their lives for the struggle. At the same time, there is a whole layer of Irish society that has entirely reactionary views on workers’ rights – never mind socialism – who support the right to abortion.

    It’s one of the contradictions of Irish politics, connected to the complex ways in which the national question has historically affected the society and people’s consciousness.

    In terms of my support for éirígí, the party would have to have more than one position that I thought was seriously flawed before I’d stop being a partisan. I’m more interested in the way things are generally going – the open embrace of Connolly (and the fact that Connolly was a Marxist) and the embrace of Costello, for instance, impress me at least as much as their position on abortion has an off-putting effect.

    I’m glad the IRSP has a good position on abortion. The more they push that, the better. As I’ve said before, my view is that the IRSP and éirígí should be establishing a working relationship, hopefully working towards a future merger. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much motion in that direction from either side.


  3. Thanks for the thorough response, always a pleasure reading your posts.

    “Reactionary elements” may have been not the best phrase as I don’t know the all the politics of the individual members who have those opinions, but I certainly would characterise that opinion as reactionary.

    I suppose my concern was less about the abortion issue itself and more about the fundamental ideology underlying it and how it could potentially be expressed down the road. I always worry that socialists and republicans will fail to notice the threat of comrades not as progressive as themselves, history is full of examples demonstrating this. But you raise a lot of good points, my level of concern was probably more than necessary, seeing bogeymen where there aren’t any.

    And I say all this as a Clann éirígí member, I still think that they have the best overall framework towards the Republic, and the work that dedicated activists do every day regularly reaffirms my belief. Just curious as to your take on the issue. Cheers.

  4. I’m also a Clann member. It would be interesting to know who the folks are who have the more conservative views on the abortion issue. One of the long-term political problems, it seems to me, is that the abstentionism of many republicans on social issues – divorce, abortion, gay rights – left that field open to what I’d characterise as anti-republican and even pro-imperialist middle class liberals.

    Back in the early 1980s Ruairi O Bradaigh was arguing for a republican campaign for the right to divorce. Although the O Bradaigh people were often painted as some kind of social conservatives by the Adamsites, some of them (including O Bradaigh himself) were more progressive than some of the Belfast ‘radicals’ in terms of wanting to campaign for the right to divorce and so on. Unfortumately, Ruairi got shafted shortly afterwards and the northerners took control of the party as well as the army and that was the end of any possibility of a campaign for the right to divorce.

    Republicans lost a lot of ground, because the anti-republican liberals then hegemonised the issue and it became another stick with which to beat republicans and paint the Movement as some sort of backward, catholic, peasant nationalism.

    These days, the movement is missing the boat on the abortion issue. However, I feel there’s some very good progress on pretty much everything else. Also, there’s some scope for comrades to do some work around the issue of abortion.

    But it’s still a sorry state of affairs when the PUP has a more advanced position on the issue than a layer of socialist-republicans. I think it also makes it harder to develop Clann éirígí and wider support in other countries. While radicals abroad will respect the right of the party to make its own decisions on these questions, to many such radicals in other parts of the world that particular position will look like catholic nationalism rather than socialist-republicanism.

    As I say, I was very surprised by the position, especially as it runs quite counter to the overall political development of the movement. It will be interesting to see how the contradiction works itself out. . .

    I wonder what position the RNU has, if any?

    Lastly, I identify very strongly with the point you made about “I always worry that socialists and republicans will fail to notice the threat of comrades not as progressive as themselves, history is full of examples demonstrating this.”

    I think you’re dead right. In my view, the pan-nationalism of 1918-21 was the classic case, and it continued into the civil war which was in part lost because of the crappy politics and dithering of a chunk of the anti-Treaty leaders, most especially de Valera and Lynch. More recently, we’ve seen how the ‘northern radicals’ who took over the Movement from O Bradaigh and O Conaill turned out to not be very radical at all.


  5. I’m also a Clann éirígí member and as much as éirígí impresses me, and on the whole they do, I think that their stated position on abortion is disappointing it will change with time I hope.

    On the Rayner’s report on Eirigis Easter commemoration. Is it not good that he took the time to write a report of how he feels the movement is moving. .At least Rayner has gone to the last three Easter commemorations in Dublin.Has attended many of the Eirigi events, demos and pickets.
    This Rayner who was in Derry in 1968 with his comrade Peter Graham where are the rest of his generation?

  6. Yes, I wonder about the rest of the generation. I guess a lot of them went home and settled and found a place within the system. Good that Raynor is still true to the principles of his youth. That’s certainly worthy of respect.


  7. A catholic peasant (and self-confessed reactionary element) responds:

    Thank you for two interesting articles on the éirígí commemoration- Phil’s reply hit the nail on the head.

    On the issue of abortion I do not see how it can be equated with republicanism or socialism.

    I do not see anything particularly reactionary about upholding the dignity of every human being, regardless of age, sex or disability; nor anything particularly revolutionary about supporting a system which sees millions of born and unborn human infants killed by Maria Stopes, Planned Parenthood and a handful of other multi-billion euro ‘charities’.

    Even if support for abortion on demand were a good thing, it does not follow that it is a socialist or a republican thing. Speaking Esperanto, putting fluoride in drinking water, protecting the red squirrel, or banning the burqa may be good things in themselves, or they may not; but they are not necessarily socialist or republican.

    Connolly was quite clear of what should constitute the aims of a socialist republicanism and what social issues should have no place in our programme. For him socialism was an economic theory, not, as some lefties tend to see it, an all-encompassing philosophy that contains within it the answer to every human question. Socialism is about the control of the means of production, nothing more. Connolly may of course have been wrong, but as one of the foundational thinkers of socialist republicanism we should at least listen to what he has to say-

    “Finally here are my last words. I claim that the demand of the S.L.P. for absolute unity in all things essential can only be maintained when linked with absolute freedom of opinion on all things nonessential. And if I am asked how are we to know a non-essential principle, I reply that any principle which we would not feel it to be our duty as Socialists to establish by force of arms if necessary is nonessential.

    I personally reject every attempt, no matter by whom made, to identify Socialism with any theory of marriage or sexual relations.

    Socialists are bound to agree upon one fundamental, and upon that only. That fundamental is, in the language of Father Kane, “that all wealth-producing power, and all that pertains to it, belongs to the ownership and control of the State”. Hence, upon all other subjects there is, and will be, the widest possible diversity of opinion

    In the first place, I have long been of opinion that the Socialist movement elsewhere was to a great extent hampered by the presence in its ranks of faddists and cranks, who were in the movement, not for the cause of Socialism, but because they thought they saw in it a means of ventilating their theories on such questions as sex, religion, vaccination, vegetarianism, etc., and I believed that such ideas had or ought to have no place in our programme or in our party … We could not claim to have a mission to emancipate the human mind from all errors, for the simple reason that we were not and are not the repositories of all truth. These simple propositions, as they appear to me, I saw to be neglected by the tendency on the part of the European Socialists as a whole to make their press and platform the stumping ground for every idea that had the distinction of being unconventional or in any manner a protest against established ideas.

    Bebel’s Woman is popular because of its quasi-prurient revelations of the past and present degradation of womanhood, but I question if you can find in the whole world one woman who was led to Socialism by it, but you can find hundreds who were repelled from studying Socialism by judicious extracts from its pages. I believe it is destined to be in the future a potent weapon against us in this country. And it is a weapon put into the enemy’s hands without obtaining any corresponding advantage for our side.

    Such non-essential principles would be those of theories of Marriage and Religion. On these, therefore, I claim the fullest and most absolute freedom of opinion. On the question of Wages and Prices my attitude is different.”

  8. Reactionary Catholic Peasant,

    I take issue with your post for a number of reasons.

    First of all, comparing abortion and related issues to what someone chooses to eat is absurd. Vegetarianism is a non-issue, it is not controversial in any sense. No one gets harassed, intimidated, jailed, or murdered because they don’t eat meat, whereas all those things can and have happened to people involved to any degree with abortions.

    Secondly, not taking a position on an issue is the same as siding with the powerful. Not taking side on the national question means siding with the British, not taking sides in a labour dispute means siding with the bosses, not taking sides on the right to abortion means siding with religious fanatics of all denominations. If revolutionaries do not take a position on an issue, conditions will not change after the revolution. You know this as well as I.

    Thirdly, issues like abortion, the right to divorce, etc are all intimately relevant to republicanism and socialism, they are derived from the same underlying philosophies: freedom and justice. Proclaiming yourself for political and economic justice, but not for social justice is a contradiction in terms.

    Fourthly, your Connolly argument depends on the right to abortion being defined as “non-essential”. They are non-essential to you because you oppose it. Myself and many others feel it is an essential issue. And even if Connolly had clearly written, “I oppose the right to abortion”, that does not make it gospel. Connolly was a man, a brilliant man, but a man nonetheless. Trying to turn Connolly into an infallible demigod is a disservice to everyone, it is much better to understand his programme and value it for it’s own merits, not simply because it was written by Connolly.

    Finally, I have never encountered Bebel’s woman and I fail to see what bringing it up adds to the discussion.

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