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Four Reasons for Ideological Shift


Liam O Ruairc • January 27, 2005

While one [Irish News] reader's letter correctly pointed out that the Provisional Movement's radical move was to take up SDLP policy (24 January), the author's explanation of that new departure is insufficient.

The first reason for such a shift is that there is an essential discontinuity between the Provisional movement and the Republican tradition. Traditionally, the Catholic population of the North has been Nationalist rather than Republican. Remember that it was in 1983 that Gerry Adams became the first ever Sinn Fein MPs to be elected in Belfast.

Even De Valera couldn't achieve that. Anthony McIntyre has correctly argued that the Provisional movement was more the product of certain structural factors rather than tradition spawned ideological factors, and was born out of conjonctural protest rather than the reigniting of some long dormant flame. Provisional Republicanism is for the most part a post
1969 phenomenon, it truly arose from the ashes of Belfast's Bombay Street in 1969 and not the rubble of Dublin's O'Connell Street in 1916. Many people joined or supported the Provisional movement because they needed to defend their homes and streets and suffered from economic discrimination, political and cultural marginalisation and state repression; and not because of a strong sense of traditional republican ideology and history.

This is why the pejorative label 'sixty niners' is applied to the vast amount of militants who joined the IRA in reaction to the loyalist pogroms of 1969. They joined to defend their homes and streets, not the 1916 Republic. Strictly speaking, they were more 'armed nationalists' than Republicans. The Provisional movement provided the organisational means for defence, defiance and dissent. Given that Northern Catholics were more Nationalist than Republicans and the dominance of 'defenderism', the move towards a constitutional nationalist position is not surprising.

The second reason lies in the contradictions of the electoral strategy.

During the 1980s, the Provisional movement adopted a strategy that combined armed struggle with electoral interventions. The problem with elections is that that the more rigid the principles, the fewer the votes, and the more diluted the principles, the more the votes. At first, it presented itself as a 'Socialist Republican' party. But this had no appeal to those who considered themselves simply Republicans and not Socialist Republican. So it dropped the 'Socialist' label and stated that a vote for Sinn Fein was not a vote for Socialism but for Republicanism. But, if Sinn Fein was to limit itself to a 'Republican' constituency, its electoral base would be limited to those sympathetic to Republicanism. So in order to increase its number of votes, to extend its base from Ballymurphy to Balmoral, it had to appeal to the middle class Catholic Nationalists who vote SDLP and Fianna Fail in the South. While in 1985 Adams had suggested that it might not be a good idea for Sinn Fein to overtake the SDLP electorally, as it would result in a dilution of social radicalism, by November 1986 he was telling Irish Times that socialism was not on the agenda. The party increased adoption of the SDLP's rhetoric and positions gradually followed. The aim was to become the largest 'Nationalist' party.

The result is that now Sinn Fein styles itself and its constituency as 'Nationalist' rather than Republican.

The third reason is that the electoral strategy began a gradual process of institutionalization and bureaucratization of the Provisional movement. In theory, the Republican objective is to overthrow the Northern and Southern states. That was what the IRA armed struggle in the North was about. But while the IRA was bombing and destroying City Halls as a symbol of the state, Sinn Fein councilor were de facto accepting the state and trying to make it work by using it as a source of income, funding community initiatives, investment for social development projects etc. Rather than providing an alternative structure to the state, Sinn Fein was now susceptible to cooption by the state. This pragmatic acceptance of the state reinforced an increasing ideological vacuum and growing political schizophrenia. For example, the Republican movement traditionally considered itself to be the legitimate government of Ireland, and the IRA the sole legitimate army. In 1986, Provisional Sinn Fein, in order to grow electorally decided to recognize the legitimacy of the Southern Irish parliament and Dublin government. The problem is that once the legitimacy of the Dublin government is recognized, there cannot be two legitimate governments and two legitimate armies; one has to recognize that the official Irish army is the only legitimate army and that an illegal army is therefore illegitimate. But the Provisional have kept on holding to their army up to this day.

The fourth reason is the logic of pan-nationalism. Since the 1980/1981 hunger strikes, the Provisional movement has increasingly turned towards the Dublin government, the SDLP and corporate Irish America, the Catholic church and relied on secret diplomacy. This 'broad front' culminated in the 'pan-nationalist alliance' of the 1990s. But how 'broad' can you get?

This seriously weakened republicanism's anti-partitionist thrust, as those elements have always been much more hostile to the IRA than to British involvement in Ireland. It is not the Dublin government, the SDLP and the Clinton/Bush administration that have come to the Republican position, but rather the Provisional movement which has moved to the constitutional nationalist position. Republicanism has been diluted in the pan-nationalist alliance.

I believe that those four reasons best explain the Provisional's movement political and ideological shift towards the positions of the SDLP.




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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.
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Index: Current Articles

28 January 2005

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The Road to a Mafia State
Anthony McIntyre

Help is On the Way! Lawyers, Guns, Money...& Golf
Karen Lyden Cox

Four Reasons for Ideological Shift
Liam O Ruairc

Tilting at the Windmills
Mick Hall

Looking Down the Barrel of Freedom
Fred A. Wilcox

Saor Eire Again
Bob Purdie

Sex, Lies, But No Videotape
Seaghán Ó Murchú

25 January 2005

The Danger of Securocrats
Mick Hall

Criminality Accepted as the Norm
Davy Adams

The Rapture
Brian Mór

Bertie Talking Bollix
Anthony McIntyre

Pact Impact
Dr John Coulter

Holocaust Revisited
Anthony McIntyre



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