Foreword to Ireland: Republicanism and Revolution

The message of this book is that the destiny of Ireland is a Workers’ Republic, a free Republic without landlords, bankers and capitalists. It is a message of hope, of confidence in the future of Ireland, the working class and socialism. It is non-sectarian equally addressed to all thinking people from different backgrounds, but especially to the cadres and the youth of the Republican movement, who have paid a very heavy price for the last thirty years and who are now seeking explanations.

We live at a turning point in world history. It is a time in which many idols have fallen, and in which men and women all over the world are thinking hard about which direction to take. For many it seems that the harsh sacrifices made in the course of a lifetime of struggle has been in vain. The old systems of oppression remain in place, seemingly set in stone. They seem to laugh at our efforts to overthrow them. They say to us: “Miserable fools that you are!” Did you really believe you could ever succeed?”

Ours is an age when once cherished ideals are trampled brutally underfoot. It is the age of the cynic, the opportunist, the careerist and the turncoat, of people who permit themselves the luxury of spitting on their own past and encouraging the young people to become like themselves: pitiful creatures with no belief in the past, no life in the present and no hope in the future. Deprived of its ideals, the young generation is being suffocated like a man slowly drowning in a fetid bog.

We have known such periods before: periods of apostasy that always follow hard on the heels of a great historic defeat. They seem never ending, like a dark night that never dawns. But just as the night always gives way to the day, such periods end in new and even greater upheavals. The human spirit cannot remain forever submerged in the Slough of Despond. Beneath the surface of apparent calm and stagnation new forces are being prepared, new contradictions engendered. Sooner or later they will burst to the surface.

I am old enough to remember the period of the 1950s and ‘60s, which also seemed stagnant and never-ending. But I also remember the tremendous revolutionary upheavals in France in 1968, which I experienced first hand. I remember how the supposedly apolitical and cynical youth took to the streets of Paris and fought bare handed against the armed thugs of the CRS. I remember too how this worldwide revolt of the youth found its reflection in Ireland with the Civil Rights movement in the Six Counties, when courageous young men and women faced the wrath of the B-Specials and the Paisleyite thugs.

That movement was an inspiration to us all. I am a Welshman by birth and a proletarian internationalist by conviction. I do not believe in frontiers of any kind because I believe that the nation state has outlived its usefulness and that it is the task of the working class to sweep away all frontiers. But as a Marxist I am duty bound to support every struggle against oppression, whether social or national.

I was a young student in 1968-9, following with passionate interest the dramatic events unfolding in the Six Counties. I did not see these events as something alien to myself. To my way of thinking, the struggles of the youth in Derry and Belfast was my struggle, their enemies my enemies, their cause my cause. How they fought! Yet ultimately their fight did not succeed. It did not fail for lack of courage. If there is one quality that the people of Ireland never lacked it is courage. But we are in a war, and in war courage by itself is never enough to win. How many times in the history of warfare has a big army composed of brave soldiers been defeated by a smaller force of well-trained professionals led by good generals?

They say a defeated army learns well. It would be a very poor outlook if that were not the case! After every defeat it is necessary to adopt that marvellous maxim of Spinoza: “Neither weep nor laugh – understand!” If we are prepared to ponder on the causes of defeat, to analyse them calmly and to draw the conclusions, then we can begin to pull things together again, regroup the old fighters and give them a perspective, win new recruits among the youth and educate them on the correct methods of fighting. We can prepare for the new battles that impend – for such battles are inevitable.

The first condition for a new beginning is to have the courage to face up to past mistakes, not to take refuge in false optimism, lies and self-deception. It is necessary to look the truth squarely in the face. It is necessary to say what is. That can be a painful experience but it is the only way in which one can put the past behind one and take a step forward.

The present work has doubtless many defects. It will have its fair share of critics and detractors, and many will strongly disagree with its central premises. That is not a problem. It is intended to provoke a debate on the central questions of the Irish Revolution. If it does not give all the answers, I hope that it at least has the merit of asking the questions that need to be asked. At a time when most of the Left in Britain and internationally seems to have nothing at all to say about Ireland, that seems to me to be at least something.

The last thing the present work claims to be is original. I do not say anything new here, but merely restate the traditional ideas of what we call Marxism and what I believe is known as Republican socialism in Ireland. Everything I have said and written was said and written long ago – and much better – by that great Marxist revolutionary and martyr of the working class, James Connolly. And when some people ask me why I still defend these “old” ideas, I answer simply: because we still have the “old” problems.

After the fall of the USSR many have written off Marxism as a force in the world and even as an idea. Like a baneful chorus in a Greek tragedy the enemies of socialism chant their tedious lines: the end of socialism the end of Marxism, the end of history. They work on the well-known principle of Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, that if a big lie is repeated often enough, people will begin to believe it.

Yet history has not ended and every day that passes we see that the capitalist system is in an ever-deeper crisis. There is no way forward for humanity on the basis of capitalism. And there is no future for the struggle for the national and social emancipation of the people of Ireland unless it is part of a struggle for the socialist transformation of society. The struggle against the old oppression in Ireland will triumph under the leadership of the working class or it will never triumph. That was the message of James Connolly, and it is the message of the present book. It has been vindicated time and time again in Irish history, and in the most tragic way in the history of the last thirty years. And just as an army needs officers in order to win a war, so the working class needs a party, a programme and a revolutionary leadership to overthrow the bourgeois state and take power into its hands.

The message of this book is that the destiny of Ireland is a Workers’ Republic, a republic of those who Wolfe Tone called the men and women of no property, a free Republic without landlords, bankers and capitalists. It is a message of hope not despair, of confidence in the future of Ireland, the working class and socialism. It is a non-sectarian message equally addressed to all thinking people from different backgrounds, political convictions, religions and other opinions, but especially to the cadres and the youth of the Republican movement, who have paid a very heavy price for the last thirty years and who are now seeking explanations. If it helps even in the smallest way to get people to pause and think on the lessons of the past and the way forward, it will have been worthwhile.

My thanks to Espe Espigares for the design and layout of the book, to Rob Sewell for proof reading and Phil Mitchinson for his advice on different matters pertaining to Irish history and politics. I would also extend my appreciation to comrade Gerry Ruddy for his invaluable comments on the book when it was still in the manuscript stage and his incisive and helpful foreword. I would like to extend my particular thanks to my dear friend and comrade Peter Black, a veteran Irish socialist Republican who originally gave me the idea of this book and provided me with much invaluable documentary material for it.