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Remember Connolly

Philip Ferguson • April 21, 2004

Eamonn McCann's essential argument is that "To attack the current Sinn Fein leadership for reneging on principles is to miss the main point: they are not deviating from but are following closely along the path trodden by every previous Sinn Fein leadership because of their nationalist ideology."

McCann suggests the logic of republicanism has always been to sell out.

This is wrong on a number of accounts.

Firstly, it lets the SF leadership off the hook. In fact, the republican goal has always been an independent Ireland with fundamental socio-economic change in the interests of the people of no property. Even in periods when this was poorly articulated, this was still the underlying aim.

In recent years that has been abandoned in exchange for the chance of assisting the British imperialists in running the six counties. And this would logically be complemented by a future coalition arrangement with Fianna Fail in helping administer neo-colonial capitalism in the other twenty-six counties.

People who see no good reason why the sacrifices of the past several decades should be thrown away like this have every good reason to view this as a betrayal.

Secondly, there is an inspiring tradition of republicans who did not sell out, beginning with Wolfe Tone and continuing through Robert Emmet, Fintan Lalor, the Fenians and IRB section led by Tom Clarke and Padraic Pearse.

Thirdly, since McCann declares himself to be a socialist, there is the fact that the founder and greatest figure of Irish Marxism, James Connolly, was a republican. He was a republican because he was a Marxist and understood that you cannot be a Marxist in Ireland without being a republican. Connolly understood the difference between the nationalism of the imperialist oppressor and that of the national liberation struggle.

Connolly understood that rejection of republicanism per se by some "socialists" had no progressive or redeeming elements. It simply meant capitulation to imperialism and, thus, to the existing state of affairs in Ireland.

The fact that McCann's own organisation managed to sit out the struggle in the north, not able to summon up so much as the energy to throw a stone against thousands of occupation troops, indicates the sorry state of his "socialist" alternative to the Provos. One can't help but be amused by the idea of an Irish SWP-type group in Iraq today. Presumably they would be counselling the Iraqis against anything so outrageous as armed actions against the occupying forces, although I assume Iraq is safely far enough away that they can support the slogan of self-determination there which they find so hard to identify with in Ireland itself.

Indeed, in the local body elections the SWP-CP front, the Socialist Environmental Alliance, managed in its tame manifesto to evade mention of the thousands of imperialist troops in the six counties. Their highest horizon in relation to the local sectarian police force, meanwhile, was to suggest that if any SEA candidates got elected they would monitor its activities. Very revolutionary indeed. I'm sure the British ruling class and their fellow bourgeois in the six counties are losing sleep over the daunting revolutionary aims of the SEA!

McCann, of course, also does not mention the political trajectory of all those "socialists" who have evaded the national question or failed to take a lead in the struggle for national liberation.

What happened to those whom Connolly labelled "gas and water socialists" for failing to take up the national question in the early 1900s? What happened to the Irish Labour Party after Connolly, as it forsook the national question? What happened to the Officials when they abandoned the national question?

History would tend to suggest that there is a logic, a clear opportunist and rightist logic, to the politics of those "socialists" who take fright at the revolutionary - and therefore difficult - implications of the national question and prefer their "socialism" to be less arduous and more of the gas and water variety. They all moved right and accommodated themselves to the existing state of affairs.

McCann's group, with their desire to merely monitor the RUC, while "fighting" within the confines of social democratic trade unionism for a bit of butter on the workers' bread, are hardly an inspiring alternative to the political bourgeoisification of the Provisonals. They merely represent the other side of the same coin.

If there is to be any serious challenge to the status quo in Ireland it has to retrieve Connolly and develop a Connolly-type perspective for today. That means uniting the national and class questions and building an all-Ireland revolutionary movement against imperialist domination and its local allies and underlings, partition, sectarianism and the exploitation of the working class and small farmers.







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