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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Progressive Road

Mick Hall • 1 March 2006

I was recently told that my refusal to recognize that Sinn Fein's days as a progressive political party are long gone is on a par with the way a child sucks on a comfort blanket. Amusing for sure, and I can well understand the anger and contempt certain veteran Republicans feel towards a section of the current SF leadership. However, I do not see this as an either/or question. Indeed, I would go as far as to say to pose such a question and answer it in the affirmative, either reduces one to impotency or back to supporting a rerun of what became a hopeless war.

Whilst admittedly in reality it is an impossible task, it might help if one momentarily divorces SF from its history as the political wing of Oglaigh nh Eireann [PIRA] and attempt to draw a comparison between SF and the type of post USSR, left wing reformist parties that exist on the continent of Europe and beyond.

Take a look at the Sinn Fein's recent 2006 Ard Fheis. No matter what the likes of Jude Collins may imply in the pages of the Daily Ireland, one only had to look at the overwhelming majority of the delegates to understand that SF is a party staffed by members of the Irish working classes. Whilst the SF suits may like to flounce around in their Italian two pieces and silk ties, in the mistaken belief this will entice members of the middle classes to align with the party, the rank and file's dress sense at the Ard Fheis would make them indistinguishable from workers throughout western Europe. Neat, tidy and causal was the dress rigour of these comrades. Indeed, if one were to attend any of the party conferences of those organizations with whom SF is affiliated within the European Parliament, [GUE/NGL], then their memberships would be much of a muchness with the Shinners, both sartorially and intellectually.

If one looks at the resolutions which were submitted to the recent Ard Fheis by local Sinn Fein cumainn, the overwhelming majority were of a progressive bent and concerned issues which are dear to the hearts of progressive political activists the world over. Workers and TU Rights, the Environment, Social Justice [social welfare and benefits], Policing and Community, Housing, Equality and Human Rights, Anti Racism, The Rights of People with Disabilities, Abortion and a Woman's Right to Choose, Support for Immigrants and Asylum Seekers, the sex industry, Gender Equality and Violence against Women, Civil and Political Liberties, Challenging the Democratic Deficit, Democratizing the European Union, International Solidarity, [with among others the Basque and Cypriot people, plus also the Kurds, Cuban, Venezuelan and Columbian, The Iraq war and Irish Neutrality. Local Government, Mental Health and the Rise of Suicide amongst Young People, HIV, Illegal Drugs, Healthcare, Education, Culture agus Teanga. [language]

This list of proposed resolutions put to the Party Conference would make many mouths on the left within the British Labour Party or French Socialists [Parti Socialiste or PS] water with envy if not admiration, and they clearly highlight that SF is far more than an automatic shoe-in as Fianna Fail Mark 2. Members of European progressive political parties such as Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (PRC) or the newly established Left Party [Die Linkspartei] in Germany, which took 54 seats at the last German general election would feel completely at home politically with SF's program. Although, having said this and given the historical trajectory former physical force Irish Republican organizations have taken in the past, the SF rank and file would be wise to be vigilant and continuously demand of their leadership ever more democratic control and accountability.

Lenin demanded that the core leadership committee of a revolutionary political party should in practice be the equivalent of a General Staff in the Military, always ready to oversee and control the Party whilst waging the class war. Tragically by so doing he incorporated into both his party and the state it created the democratic deficit which has brought socialism into disrepute amongst many within its natural constituency.

Irish Republicanism prior to the 2005 PIRA statement made no such pretense, as it had an Army Council as the sole authority whose word was absolute. This has been both a strength and Achilles Heel for Republicans. Although it enabled the movement to wage a military campaign against the British State for decades and in the process sustain internal discipline often against great odds, it also created what can only be described as a leadership psychosis amongst both the party's rank and file and their leaders, not dissimilar to that which existed in the Bolshevik Party/CPSU.

Like the Leninists before them and their malignant mutation the Stalinists, senior Republicans if in office for any length of time, came to equate dissent with disloyalty. Hence Republicanism propensity for walk outs, splits and expulsions, as when political differences arose which could not be contained by the leadership, activists had only three alternatives, bend the knee to the leadership by suppressing their differences internally, head for the door, or await their inevitable expulsion or sidelining from the organization. One only has to read the issue of Republican News which followed the 2006 Ard Fheis to understand that this leadership psychosis is still in place. Almost the entire copy of the paper is given over to reporting the speeches made to the Ard Fheis by various members of the Adams leadership cadre, who also belong to the party's governing body the Ard Chomhairle.

This is not mere semantics on my part for the Ard Fheis like the annual conference of any progressive organization is held up as, and in reality must be the party's foremost democratic forum and an embryo of the type of state the Party wishes to create if it attains governmental office. Thus for the party's main publication to treat it as little more than a propaganda opportunity on behalf of the leaderships is to misunderstand the very essence of what the Ard Fheis should be in a progressive democratic organization.

It should not only be the exclusive property of the membership, and not yet another vehicle of the leadership, it must also be an example of the party in action in all its democratic glory, which will filter down as a living example of democratic accountability throughout the organization and ultimately the society the party membership wish to serve.

To conclude we can say that in its current incarnation Sinn Fein is a left of centre reformist party with a leadership which unless checked has a dictatorial inclination and a liking for populist politics. Despite the latter weaknesses, for me this makes it a thing of value for the simple fact is bar the odd party such as the Greens or miniscule organizations like the Socialist Party, there is no political party with a progressive platform bar SF that claims the allegiance of the Irish working classes.

This is of some importance both to the Irish working classes and Society as a whole. For we are living in times where reactionary and oppressive political ideas are the norm. The media has created the misconception that we life in a society where wealth and power is distributed fairly. Thus this being so it is vital that there is a progressive voice within the political corridors and debating chambers of the nation which can offer an alternative form of politics. One only has to look across the seas to Westminster and Capitol Hill to see the dangers when no such party exists, as it gives the hawks of Capital a free reign to sell their filthy wares to the people without being challenged.

Neo-Liberal economics is the order of the day and at its very heart is the exploitation for profit of the many by the few. In practice this means the top ten percent of earners pay a lesser proportion of their income in tax than the bottom ten percent. In other words the economically poorest people pay proportional more than the economically richest for the infrastructure of the state we all live in, yet the rich receive far more of the benefits and advantages of that same State...

Under ten percent of the population own the vast majority of the wealth in the ROI and UK, the same goes for the land within the UK. This being so, a leading politician like Gerry Adams can be ridiculed in the media for saying it is imperative to build for future generations an Ireland of equals. To understand the arm-lock Neo-liberal economics hold on the societies here, one need only remember that such a statement in the recent past would have been the norm for any major political player in either the UK or ROI, yet today to suggest such a thing is regarded as being preposterous.

Thus it is not scare-mongering to say without a political party whose first interest is representing politically the working classes of Ireland, then that class has a very grim future indeed. History has taught us how an unfettered capitalist system operated and the number of victims it produced, both at home and abroad. Every political party bar those I have mentioned supports, either intentionally or by default, a return to those dark days. Thus the very few who do not must be cherished by all progressive people. That is not to say they are beyond criticism, far from it. Indeed it is the duty of all progressives to demand from SF the very highest standards and when they fail to attain these standards, they should be vigorously challenged, nudged and coaxed back onto the progressive road.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

5 March 2006

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MI5 and Omagh — The Bomb to End All Bombs?
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MANIFESTO: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism

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The Parameters of Free Speech
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MI5 and the Stasi Syndrome
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Misrepresentation of the Republican Position Must Be Addressed
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The Progressive Road
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Imperialism and National Revolution
How the Trotskyists got it wrong

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Nick Laird's Utterly Monkey
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No Dangerous Liaisons
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Another Unjust Execution?
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Sinn Fein Be Warned - The Truth Will Out
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Irish Republican Socialists Show Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution
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Moon Man?

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