The political evolution of the Provisionals

The article below appeared in the July issue of Socialist Voice, paper of the CPI, as an opinion piece under the headline “Provisional Sinn Féin, republicanism, and socialism: Some comments”.

by Eddie O’Neill and Mark Hayes

By any relevant psephological indices, it is absolutely clear that Sinn Féin did exceedingly poorly—perhaps disastrously—in the recent local and European elections; and the results have clearly precipitated some reflective introspection by various party members.

For example, a defeated Sinn Féin candidate in Dublin, Lynn Boylan, has called for dialogue and co-operation with other “left-wing parties” in future, arguing that competition for votes had handed seats to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. She claimed: “I am a republican, I am a united Irelander, but I am a left wing activist.” Indeed she went on to claim: “That’s how we were able to stop water charges—it’s because the left came together and worked together.”

Let’s just leave aside Sinn Féin’s specific role in the campaign against water charges, which is contentious, and concentrate on the more significant ideological proposition about Sinn Féin and its relationship with “the left.”

Over the years the Provisional movement has undoubtedly flirted with socialism as an ideology. For example, the original Éire Nua programme articulated by the Provisionals had a reasonably well-defined social component, with the emphasis on a more equitable and decentralised distribution of resources. By the late 1970s, under a new “Northern” leadership, this trend was accentuated. This was perhaps most vividly expressed in Jimmy Drumm’s speech of 1977 (apparently written by Adams et al.) which stressed the need for social liberation and the importance of standing in solidarity with workers against British colonial rule and the “fascist” Free State. (The speech also, incidentally, rejected a reformed Stormont and power-sharing.)

In this period Adams not only criticised capitalism, he was fond of quoting Connolly, while Sinn Féin explicitly identified itself with the ANC, PLO, and Sandinistas. Some commentators even detected the influence of Marxism; and though this was hugely exaggerated, there was a sense in which Sinn Féin identified itself as an integral part of a global “left” movement. It undoubtedly established its radical credentials through community work and activism in working-class areas.

However, there was always another, more pragmatic and opportunistic dimension to Sinn Féin strategy. This could be detected during and after the Hunger Strike, when the process of politicisation sought to reconfigure Sinn Féin as an electoral force. It was confirmed in a very personal way to one of the writers of this article when a letter was smuggled out of Albany prison in 1983 (written by Eddie O’Neill and Ray McLaughlin, and signed by other Republican prisoners). This missive explicitly addressed “the left” and urged all comrades to show solidarity with the Irish revolution while calling for a “broad front” of left progressive forces to form a common platform against imperialism.

The correspondence was completely disregarded by the Republican leadership at the time. The writing was on the wall: Sinn Féin was moving towards conventional constitutional politics. It eventually came to see itself as the natural repository for middle-class Catholic votes and positioned itself as the successor to the SDLP as the primary representative of the “Nationalist” community.

In relation to the north, Sinn Féin eventually adopted the diplomatic strategy of. . .  continue reading here. . .

Posted on July 7, 2019, in 1981 hunger strike, 21st century republicanism and socialism, Anti-household and anti-water tax, British strategy, Economy and workers' resistance, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Imperialism (generally), Ireland and British revolution, Irish politics today, James Connolly, Political education and theory, Prisoners - past, Provos - then and now, Repression and resistance in 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Revolutionary figures, Unionism, loyalism, sectarianism. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The political evolution of the Provisionals.

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