Bernadette McAliskey on socialism, republicanism and the Peadar O’Donnell Forum

Below is a short video made by the Connolly Media Group, in which Eoin Mc Donnell interviews veteran socialist-republican Bernadette (Devlin) McAliskey about the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum and the relationship between republicanism and socialism in Ireland.  Below it are some thoughts of mine.

I’ve commented elsewhere on the Forum itself, so will mainly make some comments about the relationship between socialism and republicanism in Ireland.  My comments on the Forum are here.

In the interview above Bernadette rightly notes the problem with republicanism as republicanism – that whenever it gets a measure of success it tends to collapse into nationalism; that this is not simply a question of the sell-out by the Provisional leadership, but is a historical trend in republicanism as republicanism.

When it comes to the problem with socialists in Ireland, she suggests it is that they don’t give sufficient attention to people’s sense of belonging and how it is expressed through culture.  At this point, she starts to sound not like the fiery fighter for Irish freedom that so many of us have respected for so long, but like someone who has been on some sort of politically-correct ‘cultural awareness’ course in a Polytech.

The problem with socialists in Ireland who are not republican doesn’t have anything to do with underestimating people’s senses or needs about “belonging” and “culture”.  The problem is that socialists in Ireland who are not republican fail to understand the national question, a question that is not about “belonging” and “culture” (hell, fascists have a keen sense of these, as do loyalists; there’s nothing republican about such “belonging” to some kind of “kinfolk”).

Moreover, this failure to understand the national question leads to a second problem, which I’ve mentioned a number of times on this blog and elsewhere – a failure to understand that the specific historic situation/conditions in Ireland have created republicanism as the political expression of the strivings of the mass of the Irish people for freedom.  As Connolly noted, you can’t really be a socialist, not in any revolutionary sense anyway, in Ireland without being a republican.

The hostility of the Trotskyist groups in particular to republicanism simply expresses their alienation from the Irish masses and that they are essentially offshoots of British left currents rather than an indigenous development of Marxism in Ireland, as Connolly was.  The fact that the CWI in Ireland, the Socialist Party, identifies more with the screws in Maghaberry than they do with the republican prisoners those screws oversee – and brutalise – expresses the alien nature of such ‘socialists’ within Ireland and why, in 40 years, they’ve never managed to establish secure roots in any significant section of the Irish working class.

Which brings us back to one of the problems with the Peadar O’Donnell Forum that I noted in my original comments on them.  The Socialist Party could probably agree to the platform points of the Forum and therefore not be excluded by the Forum (not that the SP would want to join anyway); yet most of the prisoners in Maghaberry would be excluded automatically from participation in the Forum.  How is that right?

Moreover, since Bernadette is a longtime campaigner for the rights of Irish political prisoners, it would seem logical for her to raise this issue with the Forum sponsors.

I disagree with the armed groups that now is any time for military struggle against the British state in Ireland.  I also think such actions, in the current conditions, are counter-productive.  But shouldn’t all socialist-republicans also be totally against the exclusion of the armed movements, and/or their political wings, from anything that presents itself as some kind of non-sectarian socialist-republican forum?  Indeed, I’d go further and say that support for the prisoners should be a platform point of any socialist-republican forum.


Posted on October 1, 2013, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, British state repression (general), General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Irish politics today, Partition, Political education and theory, Prisoners - current, Provos - then and now, Repression and resistance in the six counties today, Unionism, loyalism, sectarianism. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This is a valuable addition to the literature of the socialist and republican movements in their most effectively heroic period. It provides a factually coherent account and does not depend too much on secondary sources. Its time frame is justified, though it could have had an epilogue to describe the political fates of those in the overall movement who had survived the Spanish Civil War; the farcical histories of Clann na Poblachta and the forties Labour Party are relevant here.

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