After reading the recent report of the visit to the Basque country by leading members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, and the introduction contributed to Alan Woods’ book Republicanism and Revolution by the IRSP’s Gerry Ruddy, there is a widespread interest in finding out more about the political ideas of the IRSP. Therefore we are publishing the following speech, delivered by IRSP Ard-Comhairle member John Murtagh to a gathering of about 200 members of the Republican Socialist Movement at Bodenstown, the burial place of the founding father of Irish Republicanism, Wolfe Tone, on Sunday June 26, 2005. (June 30, 2005)
“From my earliest youth I have regarded the connection between Ireland and Great Britain as the curse of the Irish nation, and felt convinced, that while it lasted, this country would never be free or happy. In consequence, I determined to apply all the power, which my individual efforts could move, in order to separate the two countries. That Ireland was not able, of herself, to throw off the yoke, I knew. I therefore sought for aid wherever it was to be found. Under the flag of the French Republic I originally engaged with a view to save and liberate my own country. For that purpose I have encountered the chances of war amongst strangers: for that purpose I have repeatedly braved the terrors of the ocean, covered as I knew it to be with the triumphant fleets of that Power which it was my glory and my duty to oppose. I have sacrificed all my views in life; I have courted poverty; I have left a beloved wife unprotected, and children whom I adored, fatherless. After such sacrifices, in a cause which I have always considered as the cause of justice and freedom – it is no great effort at this day to add the sacrifice of my life.”(Wolfe Tone)
Once more we gather to pay homage to the ideals of republicanism at the grave of the founding father of Irish Republicanism, Theobald Wolfe Tone. Occasions like these are important to us. Important because standing here today at this graveside we are reminded how privileged we are to be called republicans.
Comrades and friends, to be an Irish Republican is a heavy responsibility for we have a duty to ensure that the high ideals that are associated with Irish Republicanism are maintained and upheld. When the Society of United Irishmen was formed it espoused the most radical ideas and beliefs of the times – liberty equality and fraternity. We in the republican socialist movement still adhere to those basic principles and believe that for our society they can only be truly implemented in a genuine democratic republic for all the people on this island based on socialist values and principles.
Therefore no member of this movement should dishonour the principles of republican socialism by either by word or deed. Unfortunately, past members of ours, people who we once called comrades, have when they were expelled or left this movement, betrayed the beliefs they once espoused.
There are people purporting to be in the INLA involved in drug dealing, protectionism and criminality operating, particularly in the Dublin area. Needless to say they are not part of this movement. We have nothing to do with these people.
However, these criminals do share something in common with the political elites who run both parts of this country. They both have damaged real politics by their cheating, lying, distorting and corrupting influences. Many ordinary working class people have become jaded and cynical about what passes for politics on this island. Double speak spin-doctoring and lying are all that we now expect to hear from the politicians who daily appear on our TV screens. And it is no good for republicans pointing the finger of blame at someone like Michael McDowell and crying that he is trying to criminalise republicans. Like Caesar’s wife republicans should be above suspicion. And that is not the case today.
Comrades, let me be frank. We have a long way to go to reassure the Irish working class that republican socialists are deserving their support. We have a long difficult road ahead of us. Therefore there is a responsibility on all of us here today to ensure that we live up to the high values we expect of republican socialists. Ask yourself, “What have I done in the past 12 months to advance the cause of the Irish working class?. Outside of republican commemorations, have I marched for good causes such as the anti-war movement? Against bin charges or water rates? Have I been involved in pickets? Gone to trade union meetings? Been active in my local community associations? Sold the party newspaper? Indeed, have I written for the Party newspaper? Have I recruited young people to the Party? Have I contributed to the Party’s finances? Have I campaigned against poverty, injustice or repression? Have I read the writings of James Connolly? Do I know anything about Wolfe Tone? Have I educated myself in republican and socialist history and ideas?
Or am I one, who hating the “Orangies” joined this movement so that in the marching season I might get the chance to have a crack at them with something substantial? Or am I a bar room republican content to drink with those who once smelt the cordite, in the hope that people will see me as “one of the boys”?”
Comrades, we in the Republican Socialist movement are not innocents abroad. We know that many of us from the North have been influenced by the sectarian atmosphere that is in the air.
Recent events in Ardoyne raise the sectarian atmosphere and no one can help but be affected. Sectarian attitudes may well rise to the surface. But we do have a duty as republicans to rise above these feelings for we want to build an Ireland that embraces everyone no matter what background. Yes, we have been, are and will be strong opponents of the British directed loyalist murder gangs. But we make every effort no matter how difficult to reach out to the protestant working class to convince them that our vision could be their vision.
We have said time and time again for the whole of our existence as a revolutionary movement since 1974 that tinkering with the current partitionist states on the island will not solve the basic fundamental problems of the island. So long as the northern statelet exists so long will there be instability, sectarianism, and hatred, capitalism and exploitation. The futile attempts since 1998 to establish political institutions based on Stormont have failed. They only mirror the previous failures to establish some form of local government.
There is no widespread grassroots agitation in nationalist areas for the return of a devolved administration in the North. People have seen how the politicians were basically interested in feathering their own nest.
Both of the states established after the partition of Ireland by British Imperialism have not been successful. For example during the first fifty years of both states millions emigrated because their living conditions were abject poverty and soul-destroying drudgery. While the middle classes knelt and prayed in their churches on one day a week the other six days they were exploiting their workers and engaging in total hypocrisy. The two states were confessional states for if people believe their creed or nationality is more important than their class then capitalism and imperialism can continue to exploit the workers.
Unionist domination, bigotry, discrimination and sectarianism have been and are the key distinguishing features of the northern state. Cronyism, corruption, handouts to the rich and a gombeen mentality have been hallmarks of the Free State and its ruling class. In essence both police forces were distinguished for their ability to brutalise, to bully, to lie, to cover up and to repress working class communities. No wonder many working class communities despise the police force, whether it is called the Garda or RUC/PSNI. They are still instruments of state repression.
Over the nearly thirty-one years the Irish Republican Socialist Movement has existed, members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party and the Irish National Liberation Army have been imprisoned by the British imperialist state and its free state allies for their role in the struggle for national liberation and socialism in Ireland. Our class analysis has remained the backbone of republican socialist politics through the years of struggle, both armed and unarmed for a socialist republic. It will continue to do so as we determine the best way forward for our class, our cause and our struggle. We do not ever forget the suffering of the families and loved ones which our fallen comrades have endured, indeed still endure in the uncertain political climate of today. That is why the work many of our comrades are doing in Teach Na Failte is so important for it allows us to remember honour and work with our volunteers who endured the jails of the oppressor.
On the 1st of March 1981 began a hunger strike in which ten republicans, including three of our comrades, died. That hunger strike changed the face of Irish politics and in particular the nature of the engagement between Ireland and Britain. But sometimes what was gained is sometimes lost. Or in the case of the gains won by that hunger strike bargained away. So can I on behalf of our movement condemn the giving away of the gains that the ten dead hungers sacrificed their lives for political status. Those gains were bargained away as part of the Good Friday Agreement. That was a shameful bargain.
I also want to express our solidarity with republican prisoners in the jails of the North regardless of what organisations they belong to. We recognise them as genuine anti-imperialist fighters regardless of our differences on strategy. And of course we send our greetings to our comrades still in jail, especially Comrade Dessie O’Hare, a victim of the vindictive Free state ruling class.
With the changing international situation and the collapse of the Soviet bloc, tactics had to change. Comrades, our movement is inflexible on the issue of principles but exerts the maximum flexibility on tactics. Today’s tactics demand a total commitment to politicisation and the fullest implementation of the principles espoused by the famous Ta Power Document. But we do not fool ourselves by claiming we are on the road to the Republic. No, the Good Friday Agreement has put up an enormous blockage to that road and we need to recognise the seriousness of the defeat that Republicanism has suffered. But while we have suffered a setback in Ireland we can look with satisfaction at the growing worldwide support for socialist ideas. We in Ireland know full well what it means to be part of a community oppressed by colonialism and imperialism, and we stand in solidarity with all peoples struggling against such oppression. Although in response to the wishes of the Irish people the INLA called a cease-fire, the republican socialist movement rejected and still to this day rejects not only the Good Friday Agreement but also the pacification process that runs parallel with the Good Friday Agreement. Whilst believing in national self-determination for the Irish people our movement has never deserted the internationalism that is central to Republicanism in favour of a narrow nationalism. All of you here today and all who are part of our movement need to be aware of the international struggles of the working class taking place around the world. Our movement is part of a wider world-wide struggle for freedom and socialism.
As part of our internationalism two comrades recently were in the Basque country on a speaking tour and expressing our complete solidarity with the Basque prisoners and condemning the efforts by the Spanish state to isolate the prisoners from each other and their families by jailing them many miles from their homeland. Another of our comrades went to Venezuela to see a revolutionary process underway and work with the working classes in their struggle to build a socialist society. This weekend a number of our ex-prisoners have gone with an international work brigade to Cuba to show solidarity with the revolutionary process there. Also this weekend the son of hunger striker Michael Devine and an ex-prisoner are in Istanbul attending a conference on the Isolation of Political prisoners worldwide.
That is a concrete way to expressing our internationalism and our solidarity with the victims of imperialism. That, we believe, is our duty as socialists. We believe you cannot condemn what imperialism is doing around the world without at the same time identifying with the victims of imperialism. And let there be no doubt that political prisoners are victims of imperialism no matter what so-called crimes the allies of imperialism say they have committed. It is not for us to condemn those who resist imperialism. That would be gross treachery to the concepts we hold dear.
We have no time for those who from afar condemn those who practice resistance. These so-called socialists and Marxists are only playing with the notion of revolution. Therefore we say to any young person who might be attracted to the politics of sects like the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party before joining them, ask them about anti-imperialism. They may call for Brits out of Iraq but are silent on Brits out of Ireland. They play at revolution for a few years before moving on.
Comrades, we don’t play. Our hunger strikers did not play at revolution. Our dead volunteers and comrades did not play at revolution. They lived and died in revolutionary struggle. Comrades and friends, you cannot be a committed Marxist or socialist and not be a committed anti-imperialist. So to those young people we say join a real working class party – a socialist party – an anti-imperialist party based on the needs, interests and concerns of the working class – the IRSP.
So comrades as you leave this place determine and decide that over the next twelve months you will play a full part in the struggles ahead whatever those struggles are. And remember always to stand proud as a republican socialist, an anti-imperialist, a class-conscious revolutionary. Forward to the Socialist Republic!