A Tradition Winds Towards Its End
In the most recent edition of The Plough (Volume 2, Number 49) Liam O Ruairc responded to criticisms raised by republican socialist activists who had recently resigned from the IRSM in protest. It is notable, but not at all surprising, that the primary focus of the original criticism--the IRSP's Political Secretary, Gerry Ruddy--made no response. Ruddy has been the chief architect of the IRSP's turn towards reformism, which was evident in devoting a recent hunger strike commemoration speech to the problem of "joy riders", despite the excellent speech delivered by the events keynote speaker. The counterpoised speeches from the event demonstrate the sharp contradictions evident in the IRSP today, where revolutionary traditions increasingly find themselves at odds with contemporary campaigns.
The differences between Liam O Ruairc and myself expressed in the present debate partially reflect a difference in the understanding of what constitutes Marxism, but it also lies in the experience of Irish republican socialism within the ranks of the IRSP of two individuals from distinctly different periods of time. While Liam comments that, "I don't think that the 'good old days' Peter is referring to ever existed," they are strongly present in the my own memory of the struggle. It was the direct observation of the changes in the IRSP away from its roots that led to my own recent resignation.
As to the issue of what constitutes Marxism, I will not take the time to defend James Connolly's Marxism. I have often argued that Connolly was among the leaders of his day in advancing the analysis of Marxism and one of the finest working class Marxist theorists the world has ever known. I have made no secret that I come from a tradition commonly known today as Council Communism. I will not attempt to express an orthodoxy associated with that tendency, but rather speak to the perspective I have derived from it. To me, one of the most important things the IRSP represented for international socialism was the image of a genuinely proletarian revolutionary party. The IRSP, in my experience, was a party whose membership and leadership were drawn overwhelmingly from the ranks of the working class and the program of the party was shaped through the independent analysis of its membership, confronting the very real contradictions of contemporary capitalism in Ireland.
Unlike most socialist parties in the developed nations of the world, the members of the IRSP were often not extensively read in the literature of Marxism. It was not unusual for them to be unclear on the nature of the historical struggles within international socialism and could be at a loss to understand the meaning of some of the technical jargon of Marxism. Yet they vindicated the views of Marx and Engels themselves about the nature of socialism over and over again, by drawing from their own experience as working people in struggle against imperialism to reach consistently revolutionary positions.
At least until the cease-fire of the INLA in 1998, the IRSP was a pariah of the Left and it was this status that helped to maintain its revolutionary traditions. When one has no chance of being invited to the table for discussion with the ruling class, one is not tempted by the siren song of reformism. When one is confronted by the likelihood of arrest and incarceration, or of assassination by state forces or reactionary death squads, it is not hard surprising that the idea of operating within the status quo holds little appeal for you. Moreover, when others claiming to be revolutionaries are seen to prefer the company of more 'respectable' parties, with far less revolutionary programs, one is not tempted to follow their example and march into the morass of pointless reformism.
Accordingly, the IRSP as a party was forced to rely upon itself to determine its course forward and in doing so; it consistently provided the Irish working class with revolutionary leadership. It is small wonder that the IRSP was the first organization in Ireland to embrace a call for free abortion on demand in Ireland, back in the 1970s; that it early on developed extremely progressive views in relationship to the gay and lesbian communities of Ireland and members of those communities within its own ranks; that in the early 1980s it had virtually all of its leadership positions filled with women comrades--the IRSP did not need to learn its revolutionary program from the texts of orthodoxy, it was created from the experience of its working class members engaged in direct confrontation with the forces of capitalism and imperialism.
Before I even applied to join the IRSP in August of 1981, the relationship between the INLA and the IRSP was explained to me in such a way that I well why Bernadette McAlisky had been shocked when she asked the other members of the original Ard Comhairle of the IRSP to identify if they were members of the INLA and left the room the sole person who had not had occasion to raise their hand. The Ta Power document embraced by the IRSM made plain that only members of the IRSP should be viewed as acceptable recruits to the INLA, though this system of political vetting was not maintained in practice. Thomas Power understood that revolutionary armed struggle required cadre deeply steeped in political struggle, not merely an organisational relationship that claimed the party as the head of the movement. The most capable and effective leaders of the IRSP have always been individuals who have been active in both aspects of the struggle and for most individuals of that type, respectability is gained through revolutionary integrity, not bowing to bourgeois norms and reformism has no appeal. It was this spontaneously arising revolutionary momentum that enabled the IRSM in the 1980s to expose the violation of Irish neutrality by the 26 county government by the INLA bombing of the Mt.Gabriel radar station. It fueled the groundbreaking research carried out by the movement that exposed the NATO machinations evidenced by the technology used in the telephone systems in Ireland's less populous West. It gave rise to the building of alliances with other revolutionary movements such as the PFLP, the PKK, the DHKC-P, the Red Brigades, the CCC in Belgium, and prompted the movement to send members to fight alongside the MPLA in Angola, train beside the PFLP in North Africa, and issue joint statements with the Angry Brigades in Britain.
No one can doubt the influence that the IRSM had on activists in Wales and Scotland, and even the Isle of Man once boasted a Manx Republican Socialist Party. Some of the best of the revolutionary working class activists in Red Action, when it was in its prime, drew lessons from the IRSM and later provided members to it.
When I speak of the revolutionary Marxism of the IRSP, I am speaking of the program developed by the party through the original analysis of its working class members; an analysis that provided a beacon to revolutionary socialists around the world and showed why Marx and Engels had insisted that socialism was nothing other than the class consciousness of working people. To be a Marxist, it is not necessary to have read Marx, it is only necessary to embrace the class-based, historical materialist mode of analysis and apply that analysis to the contemporary contradictions of the capitalist society in which one resides. This is what constitutes revolutionary Marxism, not a knowledge of the literature of the Marxist tradition. Certainly this literature contains much of value, but it cannot be substituted for the indispensable role of innate class-consciousness.
Beginning with the very inception of the IRSM, the movement struggled to embody the advanced section of the Irish working class struggle. In doing so, it could not be other than an example to all revolutionaries whose perspectives lie in the tradition established by Marx and Engels and it was the self-conscious awareness that this was the basis for its program that caused the IRSP to reassert over and again its traditions were based in the revolutionary Marxism of Connolly.
In the period immediately following the cease-fire by the INLA, the IRSP continued to demonstrate that it was the indisputable advanced guard of the Irish working class revolution. The non-aggression pact concept it advanced and the excellent position developed by Paul Little on community policing (which, contrary to the assertion of the Weekly Worker, was not at all like the pale imitation advanced by Sinn Fein) were two examples of original initiatives that provided examples for all others to follow. It was the continuation of this tradition that led the comrades in Derry to put forward the slogan "No War But The Class War" in formulating the IRSP's opposition to the occupation of Iraq. It was not important whether they were aware that they were echoing the perspective of the Zimmerwald Left against the First World War when they raised the slogan, it had still been drawn from the same current of revolutionary analysis that had led revolutionaries to Zimmerwald. Just as it did not require comrade Gino Gallagher to be deeply familiar with the history of Left Communism in early 20th Century Germany to find resonance in the quote he so often quoted employed that, revolutionaries "were dead men on holiday".
However, the more recent past of the IRSP has demonstrated not a growth of its capacity to demonstrate the revolutionary road forward, but rather has witnessed it sinking into the vague and uninspiring language and practice of the broad and ineffective Left. What new positions have the IRSP put forward in the last three years that can be said to have provided an original and revolutionary course for Irish workers to follow? The work around the issue of water privatisation has simply tailed the ground broken by others. The efforts against drug abuse seem divorced from analysis of why Irish working class youth turn to drugs in the first place. Despite having adopted resolutions calling for the building of a revolutionary shop stewards organisation, the party has provided no leadership within the trade unions in recent times.
The only real areas where revolutionary leadership has been provided by the IRSM are in those areas where current or former comrades of the INLA have provided the leadership, such as in the posture assumed in North Belfast in defending against reactionary pogroms and in the initiatives of Teach na Failte in Strabane and Belfast, though in the latter it should be made clear that the genuinely original and inspiring efforts have come from the rank-and-file and not from the non-POW members given administrative roles there.
Anyone needing proof of whether or not the IRSP has a history of demonstrating itself to be an exemplary expression of revolutionary Marxism need only look at the history of the party and the of the movement of which it forms a part. Marxism is not a confining orthodoxy; it is a method of analysis that allows revolutionary members of the working class to chart their course for the transformation of human society.
The IRSP has not merely been a part of the revolutionary Marxist tradition; it has been an example to others as to what it means to represent this tradition in the contemporary world. That members of the IRSP's present leadership choose to make a case for the argument that the party is not Marxists and that its Political Secretary actively opposed a motion by its rank-and-file seeking to identify the party with the perspective of the Communist Manifesto cannot be ignored. Obviously, the present leadership seeks a different path than the road well traveled by the IRSP in its first three decades. This is why my comrades and I chose to resign from the party, believing it more important to preserve the revolutionary example provided by the IRSP in the past than to engage in support work for the IRSP as a increasingly less revolutionary participant in the contemporary struggle of the Irish working class. Having taken this course, I have lost my ability to contribute to the party's development internally and I can only hope that the veterans of struggle within its rank-and-file, as well as its newer members whose of high level of class consciousness drew them to the IRSP because of its revolutionary traditions will decide that they are not satisfied with submerging into the ranks of Left Republicanism and put forward a leadership that will reject the inanity of contesting bourgeois parliamentary elections and mobilising for reforms and will return to a program that seeks to raise the consciousness of Irish working people around the need for revolutionary change, not at some distant point in the future, but now, today, when it is already long past due.
LEFT REPUBLICANISM AND THE GOOD OLD DAYS
A few comments on Peter's reaction to the Weekly Worker debate.
"To embrace 'left republican' as an apt description of the IRSP is toallow the IRSP to retreat from its tradition of revolutionary Socialism.
"Lenin warned against "painting Nationalism red". I think that there is a clear danger of painting Republicanism and Republican Socialism as 'redder' than they actually are. For example, it is typical of Republican Socialists to remove any evidence which does not fit the image of Connolly as a revolutionary Marxist, i.e. Connolly in 1916 asking his wife Lily Reynolds, a Protestant, to convert to Catholicism or the ambiguities of his position on the First World War, etc. I don't think that the "good old days" Peter is referring to ever existed. I maintain my position that the IRSM stands in the tradition of Left Republicanism. Marx and Engels were only grafted fairly late, in 1984. Very few of the members and supporters of the IRSM are actually Marxists. I see Marxism as the radicalisation of what is best within Left Republicanism, but it remains a distinct tradition to that of social republicanism.
"When Liam goes on to quote Ryan, however, his position is not at all inconsistent with the revolutionary socialist program the IRSP hastraditionally embraced... Certainly to distinguish oneself from the program of the CP is not at odds with calling oneself a Marxist.
"But for Ryan, the problem with the CP was precisely because it identified itself with Marxism. The CP was too far on the left for him. And as to the 'left opposition' to the CP, his position was quite clear. Of Trotskyists and Anarchists, he wrote of the general necessity of "crushing this pest once and for all", and specifically backed the destruction of the POUM - "that fascist force in the rear" - in Catalonia. (Irish Democrat, 8 May 1937)
"One could begin with the revolutionary Marxism of James Connolly,which Nora Connolly O'Brien said was best represented in contemporary Ireland by Seamus Costello. That has, in fact, been the starting point from which the IRSP has said it was proceeding since 1984, at least, but from with which it apparently no longer identifies.
"Seamus Costello identified himself as a Republican Socialist; I don't think there are any instances where he publicly identified himself as a 'Marxist'. Interestingly, this is what Nora Connolly O'Brien wrote about Marxism in 1981: "(Connolly) was also a Marxist. But my view is that Marxism is no use to workers today. What was good for one generation is not necessarily good for the next. That is my view and it was also the view of my brother Roddy." (Nora Connolly O'Brien, We Shall Rise Again, London: Mosquito Press,1981, p.64)
Also note that Nora Connolly O'Brien supported not just Costello, but also the Provisionals because of their "unbroken continuity" with her father's teachings.
Those may perhaps be the ramblings of an old woman, but our tradition and movement has had a far more contradictory relation with Marxism than implied by Peter.
But Marxist or not Marxist, one thing is certain, it is that ourtradition(s) and movement have always been revolutionary.-Liam O Ruairc
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