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Republicanism’: Neither Strategic Nor Republican
The concept of what has become known as ‘strategic republicanism’ has become one of the favourite mantras of the Sinn Fein leadership in recent years, particularly in its dealings with the Republican grass roots. The most recent example was the appeal of Adams to Republicans to ‘think strategically’ in relation to the beginning of the disarmament of the IRA, which is, of course, the beginning of the end of the IRA; after all, what use is an army without weapons?
The SF leadership have advanced the notion of ‘strategic Republicanism’ as part of a grand overall plan to deliver the Republican Holy Grail of an ultimate British withdrawal and an end to partition. Central to their position has been the continual re-affirmation that their commitment to traditional Republican objectives remains as solid as ever, despite all the evidence to the contrary. So when grassroots Republicans have the (very occasional) temerity to question how SF’s administration of British rule in the North serves to undermine British rule, or how signing up to a Good Friday Agreement which has the Unionist veto written into practically every clause actually weakens the Union and the Unionist veto, they are met with a knowing ‘nod and a wink’ and told that this is part of the great plan to dissolve the union. No doubt when SF take their seats upon the Policing Boards and thereby confer a de facto legitimacy upon the RUC (sorry! PSNI) this will be justified in a similar manner.
This brings us to the definition of what ‘strategic Republicanism’ actually is. Essentially it is an Orwellian device used by the SF leadership to convince the rank and file that the political reality which they see unfolding before their eyes is actually a virtual reality and that self-evident defeats are really ‘strategic’ advances towards unchanging goals. The reality is that this leadership has presided over the ongoing de-republicanisation of the Provisional movement and has led Republicans to defeat. They cannot admit this, so they have to dress up defeat as something else. (“Let’s call it ‘a new phase in the struggle’!”) What is the evidence for this?
That the Provisionals spent 30 years seeking to end British rule, yet the British remain in control of the North The Provos sought a united Ireland, yet the GFA has entrenched partition more firmly than ever before and SF have signed up to the Unionist veto SF said there would be ‘no return to Stormont’ and we have Stormont back The RUC remains intact, with a change of name and cosmetic reforms ‘Not a bullet, not an ounce’ was superseded by the IRA’s “courageous and imaginative” step to “save the peace process”
When grassroots Republicans question how any of the above can be seen as anything other than the reverses which they clearly are, they are told to ‘think strategically’ and, above all, to ‘trust the leadership’ The implicit agenda is that the leadership is composed of such remarkably skilful strategists and tacticians who remain committed to Republicanism, but are simply pursuing it through a ‘cute’ strategy which cannot be revealed to the rank and file. After all, comrades, “there are no armchair generals in this leadership” and you wouldn’t expect Gerry to reveal all the aces he has up his sleeve! If this leadership had shown half as much cuteness in dealing with the British and the Unionists as they have demonstrated in persuading their own base to accept the slaughter of one sacred cow after another there might perhaps be reason to trust their abilities. Instead, the cardinal error that the SF leadership has made has been to assume that, from a relatively weak position, they could create a peace process and then through their involvement republicanise that process. Far from SF republicanising the political process, it is in fact the process which has de-republicanised Sinn Fein.
The reality of this ‘strategic Republicanism’ is twofold. Firstly, it self-evidently is not Republicanism at all, since however one defines the latter, at the core lies an opposition to British rule in Ireland and the upholding of the Irish people’s right to self-determination. Republicanism is not about ministerial portfolios at Stormont and helping the British to govern here in a more liberal and enlightened manner. When Martin Ferris contended in a recent discussion with myself that ‘Republicanism is stronger now than in thirty years’ he was clearly equating Republicanism with the SF vote. The latter may be at a thirty-year high, but political parties are not synonymous with ideologies and the electoral growth of SF has been paid for in the dilution of Provisional Republicanism to the point where the only meaningful distinction between SF and Fianna Fail is the existence of an IRA which has now been given notice of its impending redundancy.
Secondly, this leadership, which makes such great play of its strategic abilities, does not actually have a strategy for ending British rule here. Try asking (as I have done) leading members of SF ‘what is your strategy for bringing about a British withdrawal and an end to partition, how do you propose to take us from A to B?’ All you will get back is a series of meaningless SF clichés about ‘making politics work’ and, of course, ‘trusting the leadership’. Truly, this Emperor has no clothes and ‘strategic Republicanism’ has neither strategy nor Republicanism.
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