the issue of Irish national sovereignty relevant at
the beginning of the 21st century? Republicans and
Socialists have no doubts that the sovereignty issue
today is strategically relevant. It is not just because
the sovereignty issue overdetermines many issues North
and South. One of the effects of the "Peace Process"
is that it has effectively transformed the conflict
from a political one over national sovereignty into
a cultural squabble over respect for "identities".
It is about "equality" and "parity
of esteem" between two sectarian blocks rather
than a conflict between the British state and the
Irish people. With the sovereignty issue, we are in
the realm of universality, not in that of ethno-national
particularism. Putting sovereignty as the central
issue strategically reverses the definition of the
conflict as one between "rival tribes".
But how are we to get sovereignty, the "sovereign
thirty two county democratic socialist republic"?
In particular, what are we going to do about it in
the next decade or two?
present, Republicans and Socialists lack a coherent,
medium to long term strategy. However, if they are
serious about the future of their struggle, they need
to have a clear idea of what sort of process they
are going to be engaged in for the next ten, fifteen,
or twenty years, and how this process will enable
them to reach their ultimate objective. What will
be the moving force, the driving engine of this process?
is objective instability and recurrent crisis faced
by both the Six Counties and Free State -in political,
social and economic terms. The British state is unable
to reform the northern problem, and Leinster House
to contain it. The problem will become even more severe
once the difficulties of the Celtic Tiger and northern
economy will increase. The status quo does not work.
The fact that it does not work shows that far from
being all-powerful, it has crucial weaknesses and
can be challenged. The various contradictions and
systemic dysfuctionments provide the objective ground
on which Republicans and Socialists can intervene.
Crisis is our opportunity. Second are the various
social conflicts, latent or open. From the bin tax
protesters in Dublin to the prisoners in Maghaberry,
from the protests outside Shannon base to the young
people in Ardoyne, the present form of social organisation
will inevitably generate discontent and there are
going to be people who are going to challenge it.
This provides a constituency, a social basis for Republicans
if crisis and social conflicts are the necessary conditions
of possibility for a Republican and Socialist intervention,
in themselves they are not sufficient to achieve our
aims. Crisis and spontaneous resistance are not enough
to overthrow the status quo. The primary reason for
this is that there is an uneven development of political
consciousness among the people and that organisation
and strategy are necessary, but are not generated
spontaneously. Most people cannot raise beyond trade
union consciousness or nationalist consciousness.
This means that they understand the necessity of fighting
for better wages or work conditions, but not to overthrow
capitalism, that they aspire to 'parity of esteem'
for Catholics in the North but not end British rule.
and Socialists are the most advanced section of the
people, because of their qualitatively higher level
of political consciousness. The task of Republicans
and Socialists is to develop political leadership,
to give direction to the spontaneous struggles of
the people. Republicans and Socialists have to become
the tribune of the people. The people have little
time for big ideas like "sovereignty" and
"socialism", they are interested by material
benefits, to live better. The "big ideas"
concerning "sovereignty" and "socialism"
must therefore develop out of the "small ideas"
concerned with local grievances, local aspirations
etc. A successful ideology of liberation has to develop
from the living reality of living people. Republicans
and Socialists must work in order that their ideas
become "common sense". We must build on
existing social discontent and develop in a revolutionary
direction. To achieve our aims, organisation is necessary.
The first prerequisite for political leadership is
to develop a programme articulating demands that people
can be mobilised around. This programme should have
a strong "seduction effect", Republican
and Socialist politics have to be presented attractively
enough so that they can 'score' with the people, that
they become desired.
political leadership means that Republicans and Socialists
have to be able to seize and hold the long term initiative.
This means the power to impose on their opponents
the key decisions which dictate the ways in which
the political contest takes shape, develops over time
and moves from one phase to the next. It means being
able to keep on top of the adversaries, to anticipate
their moves so as to counteract and deflect them.
Strategic initiative can be seized and held only by
the application of an appropriate strategy. Essential
to an appropriate strategy are two elements. First,
we must identify the decisive issues, where the most
explosive contradictions tend to be displaced and
condensed. The weakest point of the system must be
identified. This is where we should strike. The second
is to identify the right moment, when we should strike.
For the Modern Prince, the science of politics goes
hand in hand with the art of strategic calculation.
Republicans are not on the level of military capacity
they had in 1972, or behind mass political mobilisation
like in 1981. The majority of the people in Ireland
support the "Peace Process". Where do we
go on from here? A three phase process can be suggested.
During the first phase (2003/2005) Republicans and
Socialists must simultaneously make it impossible
for the status quo to reach relative stability and
increase that instability. At the same time, we must
build our organisational and political credibility.
The forces of Republicans and Socialists are very
small, but they have political consciousness and organisation.
This is something that has to be strengthened and
increased. The opportune moment will probably come
during the second phase (2005/2015) whenever the 1998
Treaty and "Peace Process" will be in terminal
agony, and the Provisionals (possibly then in coalition
in Leinster House) will be unable to deliver what
they had promised. "Moderate" Unionism will
be sidelined by hard line loyalism and centre parties
like Alliance and the SDLP will be irrelevant. The
status quo will be in a position of weakness. This
will be the moment that Republicans will have to seize.
task will be to make this crisis even more difficult
for the enemy to solve. But, crisis in itself is not
sufficient, we need to use it, to turn it to our political
advantage. The crisis and fragility of the political,
social and economic organisation, the instability
provides the ideal conjuncture to challenge the status
quo at its most vulnerable. With the other political
actors on the defensive, Republicans and Socialists
will potentially be able to seize and hold the long
term initiative and provide intellectual and moral
leadership. What should the aim of our actions be?
All of our actions must serve to increase our political
capital, impact and effects. All of our actions should
serve as a political catalyst, and centrally aim to
raise the political awareness and consciousness of
the people. This will enable us to constrain the political
options the British government and the Free State
could introduce, and at the same time shape that very
political agenda. The third phase (post 2015) is the
most speculative. That is when Republicans and Socialists
will be engaged in a process of negotiation. However,
aim is not simply to force the British state to the
conference table, but that at the conference table
the British state will be so constrained that it will
have no other political option but to withdraw. For
that to be possible, the balance of forces would have
to be significantly changed not just in the North,
but in the South and in Britain. This means that the
sovereignty issue will have to be articulated with
other explosive political nodal points. The lonely
hour of "pure" sovereignty never comes.
must be clear as to what the precise political considerations
behind our actions are. Unless we have a coherent
strategy on how we are going to achieve our aims,
we will become irrelevant and end up on the sidelines
of the political scene. The above is intended as a
preliminary discussion of the most decisive issues
at stake. It keeps in line with James Connolly's primary
concern: to devise a strategy to make "Irish
Republicanism no longer the politics of despair but
a science of revolution". (James Connolly,
Selected Political Writings, ed. E Dudley Edwards
and Bernard Ransom, London, 1973, p.171)
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