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Was It All Worth It?
Republican Voices, Edited by Kevin Bean and Mark Hayes;
reviewed by Jim O’Rourke in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism


“Was it all worth it? When we bring about the removal of the British and a democratic socialist thirty-two county Republic, when the wealth of this country is handed back to the people, when there is justice, freedom and equality – then I’ll say it was worth it” - Brendan Hughes.

The political context in Ireland has changed since this short book was published in August 2001. The most recent phase of resistance to British Imperialist rule in Ireland is over for now but “Republican Voices” still has tremendous value for anyone who wants to understand the politics of the struggle against British Rule and in the key questions it raises for the future of the Irish struggle.

The major strength of this book is that it records the views of working class men who joined the fight against British Rule in a very readable format. The book consists of a series of interviews with 6 Republicans who were directly involved in the struggle. These men received their political education at the hands of the British State on the streets and, above all, in the jails. “You were politicised as a Republican every three or four weeks when the Brits would come to your house and beat the shite out of you” says Tommy Gorman.

The contributors to this book were all young men who joined the IRA following the state sponsored assaults on Catholic areas in 1969 and the defeat of the reformist Civil Rights movement. Tommy Gorman in Belfast “witnessed (Loyalist) mobs on the rampage and cops actually throwing petrol bombs. If the upholders of the law break the law, then there is no law.” He joined the IRA in 1970. The contributors admit their political outlook at this time was limited to community defence and fighting Loyalist sectarianism.

In the early days of the Provisional campaign Tommy McKearney argues that there was an exclusive emphasis on seeking a military victory and that politics was seen as an afterthought to the armed campaign. Later on, many Republicans realised that the military campaign had to be linked more closely to the needs of the people. Eamonn McDermott describes the debate in the prisons “The jail was a place where politics were developed. The struggle had to make a difference to people’s lives. It was not just a question of ‘Right the Brits have gone. Now we can all go home.’ There were some traditionalists who were uncomfortable with Marxism. There were others who took Marxism seriously and even formed the League of Communist Republicans.

The book contains dramatic accounts of the Hunger Strikes of 1980 and 1981 by some of those who participated. Tommy McKearney identifies three possible strategies for the Republican Movement after the defeat of the Hunger Strikes in 1981. Firstly, the respectable parliamentary road, secondly, the old tried and failed militarist option, or thirdly, the building of a Revolutionary mass movement linking up with the daily struggles of working class nationalists. Significantly, this third revolutionary option was never seriously discussed by the Republican Movement, let alone attempted. McKearney describes the vast numbers who joined the mass movement on the streets at the time of the Hunger strikes but says that Sinn Fein “were sitting on it like an old hen sitting on an egg. Sinn Fein smothered some of the spontaneous social resistance at birth.” Gerry Adams and some of the Sinn Fein leadership were also hostile to attempts by prisoners in the H Blocks to develop a Marxist analysis of their struggle. The second part of the document “Questions of History” written by POWs in Long Kesh was suppressed by Sinn Fein and has never been published.

Brendan Hughes condemns the new exploitation carried out by middle class Nationalists, which is an inevitable part of the so-called Peace Process. He writes of his own experiences of casual labour in Belfast: “people (are) working for £20 to £22 a day. These builders and employers would claim to be Republicans…I know dozens and dozens of ex-prisoners who have no alternative but to work for these unscrupulous people and I’m pretty sure it’s the same on the (Loyalist) Shankill Road.”

Brendan Hughes’ analysis of the Peace Process is a sobering one: “What we hammered into each other time after time in jail was that a central part of British Counter Insurgency strategy was to mould leaderships that they could deal with. I look at South Africa and I look at the situation here and I see that the only real change has been in appearances. No real change has occurred. A few Republicans have slotted themselves into comfortable positions and left the rest of us behind. In many ways the nationalist middle class has been the beneficiary of the struggle. It has not been Republicans, apart from those Republicans eager to join that class.” But when nothing has changed and when former Republicans sit in Stormont administering anti-working class policies like the Private Finance Initiative, how long can the new consensus hold?

Republican Voices edited by Kevin Bean and Mark Hayes
Published by Seesyu Press. 142 pages.
Available from Republican Voices, PO Box 31, Belfast BT 12 7EE.
Cost Stg£5 or Irl£7.50 (+P&P £2)



Read About the Belfast Book Launch of Republican Voices





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