It is easy to see why Sinn Fein have joined the grotesque chorus of
fawning tribute to the bellowing bigot. Here in the south, Adams' New
Sinn Fein, having missed an historic opportunity to make a difference
to politics in the Republic during last year's election, have become
just another small party with no defining identity or unique appeal.
That difference is badly needed. County wexford is a place where FF
canvassers throw sweets at children (literally), workers drive round
with their bosses political allegiances displayed on placards tied to
their vehicles and believe that their boss puts food on their table.
Try to explain that its the other way around and they scoff, genuinely
bemused by the suggestion. The Celtic Tiger has not been accompanied
by any political progression and SF failed to offer a resolute
alternative to the corrupt paternalism that passes for politics in
In the north, however, SF's place in the political establishment is
well defined. Not as representatives of republicanism, however. That
long and honourable tradition has run its course. Each previous
occasion of republican rebirth followed a defeat and a period of right-
wing consolidation. This time there was no military defeat; there will
be no re-birth. The Provisionals have delivered the one thing that the
British state, over centuries, could not achieve by force; the willing
accommodation of the republican constituency.
What was defeated was the independent thought, the radical ideas, the
belief in change and the will to enact it. Ideas that existed not in a
vacuum or atomized among disparate individuals but wrapped up in a
disciplined, principled and determined organization. An organization
that inspired not only its own but millions around the world who could
see its potential precisely because it challenged the power of the
The place of SF is defined now by the place of the DUP. The opposing
role of the British state in defining Irish Republicanism has been
replaced for SF by a strong, confident, mainstream DUP. Each need the
other, each owe their necessity at the heart of the political
establishment to the need for a counter-balance. For SF, the most
sectarian, intransigent, right-wing manifestation of unionism serves
their interests much better than more moderate voices. SF have made
the transition completely; no longer a party existing to promote pre-
determined goals but, like every other establishment political party
in a liberal democracy, they search for reasons to be. Their policies
are chosen to ensure their own success, not because their members hold
them to be ideals worth struggling for. As SF institutionalize the
wholly artificial division of the north's working class and become
strangers to their own political heritage the labels will inevitably
deteriorate into the Catholic and Protestant constituencies and, like
a stopped clock, the British media will finally be right.
The consolidation of this victory over ideas is ever more apparent as
the British capitalist state seeks to copper-fasten the exclusive
acceptance of its own ideology. Paisley, in his farewell diatribe, all
but repeated his sack-cloth and ashes speech and other unionist
commentators later hinted at an agenda concerned with creating public
consensus around the view that Republicans were entirely responsible
for the war; not calling it a war is just the start of this process.
Young people are told that both nationalists and unionists died
fighting along side each other in the first world war. War memorials
are dusted off and murals painted over.
The irony that a conflict claiming some three thousand lives should be
reconciled by the celebration of Irish, British, French, German,
Russian and American workers slaughtering each other on an industrial
scale will be lost on those promoting this macabre citizenship lesson
but the choice is no accident. No-one is proposing the United
Irishmen, the 1912 belfast shipyard strikes or the many belfast
protestants joining the IRA before the late 60's as a model for unity.
This is not the benign restoration of society freed from conflict, it
is the carefully orchestrated imposition of the victors' ideology.
In Britain we are far ahead of you along this path of selective
history, simplification and falsification. It is impossible, almost a
century after the event, to discuss the First World War rationally.
You cannot say, outside of the socialist press, that hundreds of
thousands of young British men died for no more reason than their
generals told them to. You cannot say that for those generals it was
simply a matter of winning battles as if they had been at Agincourt or
Waterloo or Drogheda. You cannot say that Britain, Germany, France and
America were all partial democracies, that there was no way of life or
political system at stake for any party to the conflict. You cannot
appear on British television on the eleventh of November without
wearing a red poppy. To do any of these things invites the tired old
jibe of insulting the memory of those who fought for their country.
This political correctness of the right is stronger now than at any
time previously. The stolen youth of Edwardian Britain are venerated
in order that we don't get angry at the monstrous system that required
them to be machine-gunned in neat rows for a few yards of mud. And so
that, if need be, we will let it happen again.
Paisley is a crude religious fundamentalist who was part of the
problem and held the peace process hostage to his own triumph. Saying
so isn't a refusal to accept that things have changed, its a refusal
to accept that things cannot change.