The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Jack Holland And The Obsolescence Of Republican Socialism

Liam O Ruairc • 18/2/2003

Jack Holland, the author of a book on the INLA, recently wrote an article contrasting a speech made by Terry Harkin, one of the leaders of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement with real estate purchased by some of the leaders of the Provisionals. Holland's point was not that Republican Socialism was "bad", "mistaken" or "wrong", but obsolete. Holland's criticism of Harkin's speech wasn't so much that it was "a vintage piece of leftist babble", but that material changes in the economic structure of Irish society made Republican Socialism a relic of the past and the integration of the Provisional movement into the institutions their movement once was supposed to destroy a necessary consequence of those changes:

The speech represents the fantasy world of aging lefties who still do not recognize the transformation of Ireland from a poor country into a modern European state. The story about the Provo leaders’ real estate bonanza is a product of that new Ireland. Their flight into middle-class affluence is the reality.

For Holland therefore, Harkin and Republican Socialists are some kind of anthropological curiosities "like one of those Japanese soldiers left behind on a remote Pacific island after the end of the World War II who comes charging out of the jungle 20 years later to attack a busload of U.S. eco-tourists." Ironically for a hostile critic of Republican Socialism, there are echoes of Marx in Holland's argument. For Marx, changes in the economic structure of society in the last instance make some ideologies obsolete. For example, it was the development of capitalist production rather than the force of intellectual arguments that made feudal ideas obsolete. For Marx one of the greatnesses of Don Quixotte lay in the fact that the book brilliantly showed that errant knights were an anachronism in the age of the rising bourgeoisie. For Holland Republican Socialism is thus as relevant as charging wind mills on horse back.

Where the difficulties start to rise in Holland's argument is when he introduces pseudo-sociological categories like "modern European state" and "middle-class affluence". Republican Socialists never denied that Ireland, North and South, was a "modern European state", that has enormously changed over the last fifteen years. Where Republican Socialism becomes more relevant than Holland's pop sociology is that Republican Socialists like Harkin would ask "changes, but in whose interests?" and say that those "changes" have benefited some social groups more than others. Republican Socialists would also agree that many in Ireland now benefit from "middle class affluence", but that this has gone hand in hand with the creation of a socially and economically marginalised underclass. The difficulties of
implementing the 1998 Good Friday Agreement are also a sign that the national question is far from being resolved in Ireland. As long as there is an Irish working class, and as long as the national question remains an important issue for the Irish working class, Republican Socialism will continue to exist. However, what is more difficult is whether or not Republican Socialists will be able to find strategies that will enable them to give relevant political leadership to the various social struggles. The problem with Republican Socialism is thus not that the objective material conditions have made it obsolete, but with the subjective conditions.

In many ways, the problems with Holland's argument are the same that have been associated with "modernisation" theories and the "end of ideology" thesis. If Terry Harkin is a Japanese soldier, then Holland's critique of Republican Socialism is perhaps as relevant as the writings of Walt Rostow or Daniel Bell that have been left to the gnawing criticism of the mice decades ago.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
- Thomas J. Watson

Index: Current Articles

27 February 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Blair in Belfast
Sean Smyth


Bernadette Devlin McAliskey Deported from USA
Tommy McKearney


Sinn Fein's Helpful Hints for Upholding Harmony
Eamon Lynch


Jomo Kenyata in the Mau Mau - Never

John Nixon


What Practical Alternatives To Provo Republicanism exist?

Seaghán Ó Dubhslaine


Caoimhe Butterly
Anthony McIntyre


'The Left Isn't Listening' - Really Mr Cohen?

Paul de Rooij


Israel's Proxy War?

M. Shahid Alam


Jack Holland And The Obsolescence Of Republican Socialism
Liam O Ruairc


23 February 2003


Knowing Too Much and Saying It Too Well: Bernadette McAliskey Barred from US
Anthony McIntyre


A Unity of Purpose Against the War
Aine Fox


UK Complete Me
Jimmy Sands


The Left Isn't Listening
Nick Cohen


The Letters page has been updated.




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