Current Affairs Politics

The Would-Be Revolution Devours Its Children

Joe Higgins TD, the Socialist Party of Ireland
Joe Higgins TD, the Socialist Party of Ireland

As regular readers know I’m no fan of Ireland’s anti-republican Far Left parties, in particular the Socialist Party and the rather more shadowy Socialist Workers Party which lurks behind the People Before Profit brand. The fissile sectarianism of extreme left politics across Europe leaves me cold and Ireland’s tiny groupings can out-perform most when it comes to political cannibalism. Okay, as an Irish Republican the non-Republican Far Left’s ferociously divisive debates about how many angels one can fit on the head of a pin are wearily familiar. Even the high-handed use of mathematically precise terms for ideological arcana are something that I know all too well from debates (and condemnations) within the broad Republican community.

There is a tendency for all political movements of a revolutionary form or focus to enter into the territory of cultism. It is inevitable: the longer the history, the smaller the number of disciples, the more cult-like the tenets of adherence become (and the more furious the response when they are challenged or broken from within). There is also the fatal attraction of “true believerism”. The almost messianic belief that we are the followers of the one and only true faith and stand as a bulwark against a host of apostates and infidels.

Throughout its long history Irish Republicanism has been in many times and in many places all but defined by these ideological phenomena. One need only think of the late 1800s and the fractious global Fenian Movement too see the perils of such exclusionary thinking. And in our present times one can look at the dwindling but still zealous remnants of Republican Sinn Féin and Second Dáil Legitimism to see a ready parallel for the likes of the Socialist Workers Party or even to some extent the more partisan members of the Socialist Party.

And yes, before anyone points it out, I am as guilty as any of the above. For I am first and foremost a Gaelic Republican and Celtic Nationalist: a follower of Tomás Dáibhis, Pádraig Mac Piarais,  Séamas Ó Conghaile, Earnán Ó Maille, Máirtín Ó Cadhain and Peadar Ó Domhnaill.  My own revolutionary minoritism is as self-evident to me as to anyone else (though it turns out there are more of us than I thought!).

All of which rambling leads up to this story prominently featured in the Weekly Worker, a publication of the Communist Party of Great Britain, examining the slow meltdown from within of the Socialist Party of Ireland (via Garibaldy at the CLR). In particular it highlights the organisation’s rigidly authoritarian party structure and the manner is which it deals with even the mildest forms of home-grown dissent. I’m sure that for many casual political observers and readers here it will be something of any eye-opener, a slightly ajar door casting some light into the secretive and restrictive world of the SP’s internal workings. Read it.

3 comments on “The Would-Be Revolution Devours Its Children

  1. Jim Monaghan

    I have to say I don’t think much of O’Donnell, a Stalinist fellow traveller. For me the SP are just unarmed sticks. The SWP while not hostile to the national struggle do not really get the nationalism of an oppressed people.
    I think the national liberation struggle is still valid while the unity aspect is in abeyance n=because of Sinn Fein’s adoption of partnership in a local government. But I think it has broadened into a more 32 county thing with the effective loss of the partial sovereignity of the 26 county state.I think this is reflected in the 26 county area in the SF vote and in the response to the proclamation at one ICTU rally.
    I was annoyed at the pandering to anti Irish sentiment by ULA TDs over compulsory Irish in the Leaving Cert.This reflects in my opinion a vulgar cosmopolitanism rather than a genuine Internationalism.
    In some ways the renewed questioning about what shape a revolutionary party and alliance will take is a good thing. I long for an end of sects with their popes and infallibilities.
    Alas, the dissidents republican groups only offer graves and prison cells rather than a strategy.


    • Yes, one must admit that. I could argue that he softened his stance in later years but there is no denying the uncomfortable aspects of his personal and political history. Both the SP and SWP could fall into that category of “Sticks without guns” though perhaps we should not underplay the significance of that. As much as I dislike both parties (not all mind for there are some very fine people in both) at least they resisted the siren call of revolutionary politics. Though then again the Irish Left, minus the “Republican”, is not terribly revolutionary. I’m sure that says something I’m just not sure what 😉

      The SP and the SWP/PBP when it comes to Irish language rights have a terrible record. Terrible. That despite several high-ranking Irish-speakers in the mix. I suppose it is like Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, both fluent Irish-speaking citizens, both inimical to the language and the rights of those who speak it. A typical Irish paradox in the tradition of Daniel O’Connell, a native Irish speaker who spent considerable energy on destroying his own language in favour of English.

      On the so-called Dissidents I tend to agree. I am a dissident Republican, I suppose, though quite unlike those named so now.

      Those who make up the Republican Resistance seem to lack even the most basic understanding of insurgency as a form of warfare, its dual military and political purposes, and above all its limitations. They are in the main revolutionary ignoramuses which is utterly dispiriting for someone who favours a broad Republican movement of many parties and organisations engaged in political and cultural struggles.

      To believe that leaving pipe-bombs outside foreign-owned banks serves any purpose in a national liberation struggle, tactical or strategic, is madness. It is the ultimate act of cultish devotion, purposeless except to those who fulfil it.

      At least the Fenians of the 1800s had a rationale of some sort to their actions with the “Skirmishers”. It made type of sense in the light of An Gorta Mór and absolute British colonial rule in Ireland, though many of their number disagreed.

      It is enough to say that the “true believers” of the broad Republican movement have spent more time and effort killing each other than the soldiers and paramilitary policemen of the British Occupation Forces. The leaders of the “New IRA” may protest but they have painted themselves with the brush of narco-terrorism. They have no one to blame but themselves.


  2. an lorcánach

    excellent posting there, sionnach – beir bua, p


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