The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Reading the Future from the Past

Mick Hall • 26 March 2004

When one looks at the current political situation in the northeastern six counties of Ireland that still come under the British States jurisdiction, it becomes increasingly clear that many radicals and socialists there have reached the same crossroads that their political counterparts, in other European countries and beyond, reached decades ago, in some cases during the first part of the 20th Century. In the North of Ireland, the sheer harshness, inequality, brutality and resistance that had been laying dormant since the inception of the Six Counties State-let and erupted in 1969, had all but buried 'normal' class based political activity as practised elsewhere, due to the sectarianism inherently built within the six county State-let. Thus political allegiances have more often than not been split along communal lines, which on the surface allowed the British State to portray them to outsiders in a crude sectarian manner.

No matter how strongly a socialist may have felt about certain issues that are fundamental to their core political beliefs, the overwhelming majority would have cast their vote along community lines, or not at all. This is as true of Unionists as Republicans and Nationalists. A recent example of this was that socialist members of Sinn Fein, publicly hardly turned a hair, apart from a swift shuffle of their feet, when their Party's Ministers in the Stormont Coalition Government, which was brought about under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, implemented Public Private Finance initiatives whilst in office. These socialist Shinners having been persuaded by their leadership that their community, or rather SF’s position within it, i.e. the bigger picture, came before their individual socialist beliefs.

Now that the PIRA ceasefire, at least as far as militarily fighting the British is concerned, is all but permanent, these SF socialists, along with those who whilst once members of the Provisional Republican Movement have since the signing of the GFA split from SF without returning to supporting the Traditional Republican methods of armed struggle, find themselves for the first time since the northern State-let was set up in all its gerrymandered glory in the same shoes as their European counterparts. That is, should they give their political support, however reluctantly, to a reformist party of the Centre-Left, which Sinn Fein increasingly resembles. Albeit being a Reformist Party that still has the authoritarian and military hang over from the days prior to the ceasefire and the GFA when it was a traditional Republican Party.

Or should they reject this emerging all Ireland Social Democratic Party, the likes of which many European Left socialists have long ago rejected before them, with varying degrees of success. A fair number of whom, especially just across the Irish Sea in England and Wales, by their rejection of all things reformist have ended up spending their political lives in the wilderness, raging against the injustices of a system they are so politically remote from to bring about the slightest change for the better. In their defence, the best that can be said for their impotence is that it ensures that, unlike the UK Labourites, they do not make life any worse for people by supporting a leadership that wages illegal war on Iraq and helps to occupy that unhappy land.

If northern socialists were to accept the latter option, the alternative to Sinn Fein is hardly inviting. Socialists could throw in their lot with the Irish Greens, or one of the 57 Varieties of Irish Trotskyist organisations. Or perhaps if they feel their pond is big enough and their energy intense enough, to attempt to build a new Irish Party of the left, or to begin with at least a coalition of northern leftist groups. Something clearly many of them once hoped Sinn Fein would become.

As to the Trots, as elsewhere there are the usual 57 varieties, of whose individual memberships could gather in a telephone box or two. Socialist Republicans look upon them with a fraternal gaze, admiring their commitment, yet in their hearts knowing full well these so called revolutionary groups, for all their energy and fervour are no such thing, but groups of adolescents led by over grown, mainly middle class ex Public School boys, who believe all political problems can be overcome by a handful of slogans, a willing army of unquestioning paper sellers and studying the great man's words. They are not serious people politically.

The current position the majority of ex SF socialists now hold is none of these, but to stay on the sidelines, sniping away at their former comrades in SF, giving no quarter, exposing every retreat by Adams and Co from all they once believed and suffered for. A United Socialist Democratic Republic. Which is sadly something few of them can now foresee as they once could, not even in the distant Irish mists.

They rage and rain down on Adams' words of exposure, at his every betrayal, real, suspected or otherwise. Yet just as Adams and Co know they are betraying all they once believed in, their opponents on the left know they have no immediate viable political alternative to offer outside of the ranks of Sinn Fein, ever conscious that the northern nationalist working class still desperately need a political advocate. They correctly say that Sinn Fein should have become the opposition within the Assembly and not have helped administer the northern State-let for the British. Yet they themselves refused to play the role of socialist opposition within SF; by so refusing, has not SF slipped further to the right, whereas today its fate, if their words have effect and those leftist that remain within SF leave, may not Adams Party end up being not Social Democratic, but a Christian Democratic Party? It is surely not unfair to ask how can this help the working classes of Belfast, Derry and beyond?

When one looks at the calibre of those Socialist Republicans who once belonged within the ranks of the Provisional Republican Movement and then at the gaping hole that exists within SF as far as experienced socialist activists is concerned, one cannot help thinking, if only. If only these activists were still within the ranks of SF. One of the greatest tragedies of the Irish Republican movement is that history continues to repeat itself. Not as farce as some would claim but as fact, hard and brutally demoralising. After De Valera split the Republican movement by recognising the Free State, Republican socialists remained loyal to the Republican Movement, refusing to enter Fianna Fail. Yet within a decade they too had left the movement or been expelled, forming first Republican Congress in 1934 then drifting into the wilderness or conventional constitutional politics. When one considers that the political climate in the 1930s was more favourable to left politics than it is today, it is difficult to see that away from SF, today's Republican socialists will fare politically any better. Which for the individuals involved, and the working classes is a bitter, bitter shame.



Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

28 March 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Trials Under the Shadow of Irish Emergency Laws
Marianne Quoirin


Sinn Fein A Dictatorship: Martin Cunningham Interviewed
Anthony McIntyre


How to Get to 2016
Brian Mór


Desert Pong

Eamonn McCann


Reading the Future from the Past
Mick Hall


Bush in Haiti: Operation Enduring Misery
Brian Kelly


No Promise, No Hope?
Danielle Ni Dhighe


25 March 2004


Deporting the Burly Bartender: Seán Ó Cealleagh
Seaghán Ó Murchú


For Being Irish in the Wrong Place and at the Wrong Time
Breandán Morley


Lords' Ruling Timed to Stymie Collusion Inquiries

Eamonn McCann


Cannabis Ard Fheis Blow
Mick Hall


Why Growth and Power in Both Parts of A Divided Country Will Do Sinn Fein Just Fine
Anthony McIntyre


In Defence of the Crown
Eamon Sweeney


Game Playing by "Free Trade" Rules
Toni Solo


Social Inequality, Grinding Poverty, State Negligence
Cédric Gouverneur




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices