Preface to Ireland: Republicanism And Revolution

Gerry Ruddy, Ard-Comhairle member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, has written a preface to Ireland: Republicanism and Revolution by Alan Woods, published by Wellred Books in 2005. As he says, “Hopefully, it will stimulate debate and analysis. Serious revolutionaries, genuine Marxists, committed Republicans will read this book with thoughtful interest.”

Irish Republicanism is in crisis and not for the first time. Generation after generation of Irish Republicans have thrown themselves into the struggle against the British occupation of Ireland. Some of the finest flower of their generation fell in death and defeat in the struggle. One only has to mention, among others in a long litany of dead, the names Tone, Emmet, Connolly, Mellows, McCann, Costello, Bunting and Power [1] to realise that indeed the best and most radical people of every generation had flocked to the banners of Republicanism. And yet each generation fought and failed.

It is customary to learn from experience and indeed the best elements learn from the defeats of the previous generations. James Connolly was unrelenting in his criticism of the nationalists of his day, having analysed Irish history and quite correctly saw that militant nationalism even when it masqueraded as Republicanism would be unable to deliver full freedom from the British Empire. His writings were so dangerous to the aspirations of the Irish capitalist class that for nearly a full fifty years James Connolly, Marxist Republican socialist, was presented to the Irish people as a good Irish Catholic nationalist.

Liam Mellows, when the armed Republicans split over the Treaty, quickly realised it was a class struggle between Empire or the Republic and they, the Republicans, had to take up the class questions if they were to succeed. To justify his execution, the Free Staters were quick to release his writings and brand them communist in a country overwhelming under the rule of the crozier of the Roman Catholic Church. This was a McCarthyite witch-hunt before anyone had heard of Senator Joe McCarthy.

When the IRA under the influence of radical socialist and communist ideas declared a new political party called Saor Eire, the Roman Catholic Church once more raised its voice and the IRA leadership fell into line. During the Thirties the Roman Catholic Church was to the forefront in attacks against the radical left. It was sufficient to call organisations or individuals communist to weaken their influence.

During the Nineteen Fifties while the unemployed of Dublin were electing two of their number to the Dail on the back of unemployment protests, Republicans were planning Operation Harvest [2] and were told to ignore social and economic issues. The failure of Operation Harvest led to a rethink.

Seamus Costello, who had been involved in the armed campaign, was in the forefront of the swing to the left. With the emergence of the Civil Rights struggle the Republican left was in the ascendancy but with the outbreak of violence the Free Staters with guns and money split the Republican movement and backed the emergent anti-communist Provisional Republican movement. The subsequent decision by the Official Republican movement to back the concept of the reform of the six-county state led to Seamus Costello and other comrades walking away to form a party based around the most advanced ideas of republican socialism. That party was the Irish Republican Socialist Party, a party I have the privilege of being a member of.

The ideas of Republican Socialism have been so dangerous to the powers that be that they encouraged armed attacks on our Party to wipe us out. In the Nineteen Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, armed attacks were launched against our movement leading to the tragic loss of great thinkers and charismatic leaders like Seamus Costello, Ta Power and Gino Gallagher. During all this time our movement made many mistakes. But we have learned from those mistakes. The greatest weapon we have is our ideas. And it was our ideas that lead us to correctly analyse the Good Friday Agreement. We called for a “no vote”, arguing it would institutionalise sectarianism, fall far short of Republican aspirations and copper fasten partition. Our own analysis, we were glad to find, was shared by the author of this book.

Alan Woods has here written a book that will make uncomfortable reading for many Republicans. It is a trenchant criticism of Republicanism based on a Marxist analysis. One does not have to share Alan’s perspectives however to see great validity in much of what he says. Hopefully, it will stimulate debate and analysis. Serious revolutionaries, genuine Marxists, committed Republicans will read this book with thoughtful interest. They will give it the respect it deserves. Of course many others on the left will reject his perspectives and indulge in the usual leftist rhetoric that passes for political criticism. Alan’s past membership of the Militant tendency in Britain will be enough for those who play at politics to write his ideas off without taking the trouble to read them. People of a narrow nationalist outlook will ask what gives him, a Brit, the right to comment on Irish Republicanism. These same people forget that James Connolly was from Scotland, Erskine Childers was an Englishman and Eamon De Valera, a citizen of the U.S.A. Where people come from matters not today.

In a world of rampant imperialism it is clear that nationalism has little or nothing to offer. On the other hand, here in Ireland a radical Republicanism based on the centrality of the working class to its own liberation and the most advanced ideas of the working-class movement worldwide has a lot to offer the working class. That Republicanism must not be confused with those who pander to nationalism and tried to build a pan-nationalist front with the enemies of the working class.

That Provo Project has failed. Despite acts of decommissioning, despite paying homage to the war-mongering George Bush and accepting the restoration of Stormont and making some electoral gains by donning the clothes of Fianna Fail and the SDLP, Sinn Féin Provisionals have seen their elected Assembly closed down four times and their strategy based on the Good Friday Agreement collapse.

Now is the time for a rethink for all those who genuinely have an anti-imperialist and socialist perspective. Hopefully this book will stimulate a new debate for Irish Republicanism. A new turn is necessary. Armed struggle is no longer a viable option and the Republican dream of uniting “Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter” seems pie in the sky when we see the rising levels of sectarianism in working-class districts.

When the members of the Republican Socialist Movement took back control of that movement from an apolitical leadership in 1994/5, they were guided by the writings in particular of Ta Power because he had so much to say about the internal mechanisms within revolutionary organisations. Based on those writings, we have in the RSM returned to our roots of Republican socialism.

We firmly believe that if this book by Alan Woods begins a process by which Republicans and socialists return to Connolly and the best ideas of the Irish and international left, then the future struggle for socialism in Ireland will be greatly advanced.

Belfast, 1st March 2005


[1] Wolfe Tone, father of Irish republicanism died 1798, Robert Emmet died after abortive uprising in Dublin 1803, James Connolly, outstanding figure of Irish socialism and Marxism and executed fro his part in 1916 uprising, Liam Mellows, radical republican executed by Free Staters 1922. Joe Mc Cann, left wing socialist member of the official IRA gunned down by British Army 1972, Seamus Costello, Ronnie Bunting Ta Power founding members of the Republican Socialist movement all murdered by the enemies of the Irish working class.

[2] Operation Harvest was the name of the IRA operation against the Six-County state 1956-61. It was a dismal failure.