Current Affairs Irish Republican Politics

The Nation-State Of Ireland And The Revolutionary Irish Republic

The long-term republican activist, Cáit Trainor, formerly of the breakaway grouping Republican Sinn Féin, has written an interesting opinion piece for An Spréach, a new independent left-wing magazine. In the article (republished on her aptly-named website, Damn Your Concessions) she repeats many of the core tenets of her former party: no accommodation with the United Kingdom’s continued occupation of the north-east of the country; no recognition of Ireland – the “Free State” – as the de jure embodiment of the revolutionary Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916; no countenance of an end to partition through simultaneous referendums held north and south, with the resulting reunification of the Six County colony-state with the Twenty-Six County nation-state; and so on. It is a short feature but well worth reading in its own right. However I do feel the need to offer a thought or two of my own on what seems to me to be some rather unrealistic and unattainable thinking; thinking very much in accord with RSF’s near-extinct brand of republicanism. So if I may be permitted a few representative quotes.

Republicans oppose the Free State as much as anyone.

The Republic declared and fought for since 1916, that all Republicans pledge their allegiance to, was suppressed in the bitter counter-revolution that followed and in its place the two partitionist states were set up. Republicans since the partition of Ireland have been fighting a war against these two illegitimate states.

….much like the 6-County state, the 26-County State also exists in complete defiance of the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 and re-affirmed through the first all-Ireland Dáil Éireann.

Whatever about its muddied origins in the 1922-23 counterrevolution, can there really be much debate about the legitimacy of the present nation-state of Ireland? It is manifestly a democratic, sovereign and independent polity. One which enjoys the allegiance of a majority of the inhabitants of the island of Ireland; that is, the Irish people as a whole. While there is a republican absolutist argument to be made on the 1921-23 era, one could just as easily see the years between the general election of February 1932 (which saw Fianna Fáil, the core of the anti-Treaty faction, taking power in Dublin) and the implementation of the Republic of Ireland Act in April 1949 (severing the last links with the so-called British Commonwealth) as a period of counter-counterrevolution in the “Free State”. An entity which only existed from December 1922 until December 1937, when it was restored to the status of a republic through a plebiscite-endorsed constitution: Bunreacht na hÉireann (a status which both the former civil war foes, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, made explicit through their actions in the years which followed).

Lobbying for a better Ireland, a more progressive, equitable and prosperous society, is an entirely laudable and necessary cause. Believing that it can only be achieved to its fullest extent through the architecture of a Thirty-Two County nation-state is equally valid. It is a view I share. However, that does not deligitamise the existing structures of Irish nationhood. They are the foundations upon which the greater edifice must be built. When some alternative strands of republicanism speak of modern Ireland as the “Free State”, as an impostor or puppet entity in political thralldom to the UK, they are pursuing an argument which the majority of the Irish people settled at the ballot box several decades ago. Such antiquated opinions, however fiercely felt, simply fly in the face of reality, denying what the inhabitants of the island – both north and south – can see and experience all around them. Modern Ireland is the republic of Easter 1916, no matter how great its compromises or inadequacies. It is the sapling from the seed, with the potential to grow into a tree. And the successful reintegration of the Six Counties into the national territory – in whatever form that will take – should be seen as the end point in not so much an unfinished revolution as a long revolution: one with many “stepping stones” along the way, and with many more stretching away into the future.

(With thanks to the Irish Republican Education Forum on Facebook for the heads-up.)

Advertisements

21 comments on “The Nation-State Of Ireland And The Revolutionary Irish Republic

  1. Repubicans, that is SF: were they really involved in the Rising? Or did they come on the scene a little later?

    • The IV, ICA, CnamB and FÉ all leaned heavily republican, with the influence of the IRB in the background. SF played little role in the actual insurrection, though some SF members were involved in other groups. But it was very much an IRB-inspired affair. Mostly “Fenian”, hardly at all “Shinner”.

      The later 1917-1921 SF was very much a pan-nationalist liberation front with republicans in the driving seat. But non-republican nationalists, the remnants of the IPP and INV, were involved.

      The 1922-23 period saw small “r” SF republicans ally with the SF and non-SF nationalists – and outright hostile southern unionists – to defeat the genuine SF republicans.

      At least until the early 1930s.

      • Thank you. That is rather what I’d thought. It’s not dissimilar to the start of the most recent ‘troubles’. These had their origins with Civil Rights; SF entered a little later. If I may say so, SF are good at rewriting history in their favour.

  2. However outdated or antiquated you might deem her principles to be at least she has some unlike the female leader of Sinn Féin who uses republicanism as a throw away tagline in relation to a party that used to stand for something .

  3. Wee Jimmie

    For God’s sake!
    Getting worked up about the claim that an “Irish Republic” proclaimed nearly a hundred years ago and those who claim apostolic descent from it are the only true state and government of Ireland is up there with “Vengeance on the murderers of Jacques Molay!” as the basis of a political doctrine.

  4. Tend to agree ASF. There’s a point at which fundamentals -however sincerely held – can detach from the lived reality of a broader population. If the overwhelming population of Éire, later the Republic, accepted the legitimacy of the state it seems futile to position oneself as seeing that legitimacy as somehow questionable. It doesn’t mean that one wouldn’t seek through democratic means to change the nature of the state, even radically change the nature of the state, but holding a position so clearly at odds with the general sentiment of the Irish people seems like a losing approach from the off. This doesn’t mean one has to have any great love for the successive governments of the state or state policy over decades (for example the effective abandonment of those in the North who would entirely reasonably expect Éire and later the ROI to uphold their rights during the much of that time period was criminal).

    • Just on the article it seems to me that the criticism of a UI achieved through a border poll while sincerely made is of a piece with that. Expecting the world, or this small enough part of it, to conform to a template developed in the early 1900s and only to that template is to effectively wish away a whole century of events and attitude shifts. And again it doesn’t dovetail with the reality of actual Irish people. I think that were the tricolour to be hoisted across the island as part of a UI on foot of a border poll it would be near incomprehensible to most Irish citizens that this was somehow so deeply flawed as to be illegitimate or something to be boycotted. And if that’s the case one can pretty much give up on other aspects of the project being given any sort of a hearing.

      • Reading similar pieces I’m always struck by the authors’ modern declarations of fealty to the 32 County Democratic Socialist Republic proclaimed in Easter 1916. Except I defy anyone to find that description anywhere in the documents issued by the Provisional Government that April. Or by the Dáil Governments of 1919-1921. Loyalty to a political entity which never formally existed is an even odder thing.

    • Yep, agree with all of those points. One can be quite radical in what one wants the State to become while still recognising what it already is. Indeed, that is a nescessary first step. At some point realpolitik has to enter one’s thinking.

      The other main thrust in Cáit Trainor’s argument, that people should simply boycott and ignore a future unity poll on a point of principle, even if likely to yield a reunited Ireland, is just an abandonment of politics. A dereliction of political duty and leadership.

      At that end of the republican spectrum I’m always reminded of tiny far-left groups faction-fighting over obscure points of principle, acting out these grand gestures of ideological purity while the world is oblivious to it all. And remaining forever and wilfully trapped on the margins because it never requires the hard choices that real politics takes.

  5. ar an sliabh

    All her points are valid. The Republic declared and confirmed in 1916 is the only legitimate Irish state. The Free Irish State as constituted, until 1999 did in fact largely represent the vision of 1916, as it stated an express claim (Article 2) to the 6 county colony. The prevention of the forceful attrition of the colony was simply to the actions of a superior military power, and outside of the Republic’s might. As of the time of the constitutional change, it has surrendered its legitimacy along with the six counties, as the state no longer is defined as the whole Island, which the ratified declaration of 1916 demands. Therefore, declaring the currently constituted Irish Free State a legitimate entity, legitimises the other as well (purely legally speaking), for lack of the claim. To me, such acknowledgement would clearly state that england had the legally undisputed right to the colonisation, oppression, and claiming of territorial rights in the preceding 800+ years. This would (legally) invalidate the Irish struggle concerning that territory, and render all Republican actions criminal. Just like the GFA legally did. It illegitimised the Free State by the removal of the claim to the whole island, declared all Irish National combatants criminals (who were, in exchange for this, ultimate betrayal of the Cause, granted immunity), and is the basis for the prosecution of nationals involved in “insurrectionist” activity by the crown now. Before 1999, I would have agreed with you completely, despite my reservations concerning the treaty in the first place.

    • Personally I voted against repealing the articles. However their removal did not invalidate the state’s legitimacy. Though the quid pro quo in that removal is now up for serious questioning.

      • ar an sliabh

        In my opinion (opinion only) dropping the claim to the totality of the territory, invalidated the Free State as the carrier of the 1916 declaration, and with it, its legitimacy as the state that declaration sought to implement. It simply cannot represent the declaration being a partial territory and acknowledging foreigners’ rights in the decision of unification, and be legitimate in the light of a declaration claiming all of Ireland to be free along with the preceding: “And we know only one definition of freedom: it is Tone’s definition, it is Mitchel’s definition, it is Rossa’s definition. Let no man blaspheme the cause that the dead generations of Ireland served by giving it any other name or definition than their name and their definition.” The changes to the constitution did just that, give it another definition. As for its legitimacy in its own right, that is indisputable.

    • ar an sliabh

      My point was that in my opinion, she has the legal position of the Free State and the colony as defined by constitution and the GFA correct, and is right concerning the 1916 proclamation and ratification. Her calling for ignoring or boycotting efforts of unity and other ramblings in terms of how to address the situation, I cannot agree with at all. Just making sure I am not misunderstood.

      • It’s an old case of she could be completely right, but it doesn’t make any difference – indeed might work against her goals. This reminds me of Official Sinn Féin in the early 1970s prioritising class over the realities of the North. On paper what could be more reasonable than attempting to forge links across working class unionism and nationalism. Problem being that working class unionism was uninterested to the point of total hostility with the idea and the only base that was on offer was working class nationalism. By ignoring that, or attempting to wave it away, it meant that politically OSF and later saw their initially pretty solid support in working class nationalist and republican areas diminish to the point where they were completely marginal (granted the fact of PSF offering a harder edged alternative particularly after the OIRA suspension of armed activities didn’t help, but there was a delusionary aspect to the realities on the ground).

        • Yes, there is some truth to that, but what was the alternative? An offensive military campaign, characterised by urban bombings, which in turn fueled the sectarian nature of the loyalists?

          As well as their shift towards a mass strategy (as opposed to a military one), which led to obvious strategic conclusions regarding political choices, OSF/WP thought that the nature of imperialist control of ireland had changed, with multi-national capital becoming as large a factor as old school British state colonialism.

          It was these analyses that drove the interest in working class unity as victory on a purely nationalist basis, which is what the Provisionals’ militarism was geared towards, especially in the 1970s, would simply have been inadequate to address the modern form of imperialism. In other words, it wasn’t just a desire to unite Catholic and Protestant, though of course that was there too and I think in later years took it took on a simpler more moralistic tone.

          The relative success of the PSF — government in the North and soon in the South — but the absence of any challenge to capitalist control of the economy indicates that the Officials were onto something. And the sectarian division remains very entrenched.

          So the Officials lost and the Provisionals won. But what was left after that victory provided no basis for socialist progress. I don’t think the Official leadership wanted that sort of victory.

          • That’s precisely the problem, there was no mass strategy worth its name in the offing. The north was too starkly divided and class politics couldn’t take light. The prospect for socialist progress was near enough zero. And the idea of them taking on imperialism was implausible given that their base was actually shrinking rapidly. In other words there was no victory to be had from the off. Add to that an adherence to republicanism to this very day, something that made them anathema to loyalists full stop, but regarded with deep suspicion by all other republicans and one can see the problems. The Provisionals often get a bad rap for believing that one more push would see Britain leave, but that delusion was surely equalled by that of the Officials and later WP in thinking class politics would emerge.

            I don’t even think it was a case of the Officials lost and the Provisionals won. Just as the Officials changed from say 1970-1975/6 so the Provisionals themselves changed throughout that period and after. And the Provisionals ‘winning’ in the limited context of emerging as the dominant Republican paramilitary grouping only brought them so far given the broader constraints.

            One of the saddest things for me is reading The Lost Revolution and seeing WP folk (and I’m sure I was one too back in the day) looking at marginal gains in unionist/loyalist areas at elections and thinking this was signs of change when really it seems to me it was hardly more than random fluctuations in the political noise.

            All that said I do think the Officials were, had they had less stellar ambitions, more right than wrong about the prospect for change of Stormont and after and the use of some aspects of mass mobilisation. And I think it intriguing how rapidly a non-armed struggle stance was accepted by Nationalism and Republicanism in the main which suggests that perhaps had they managed the split better and the aftermath there’s just a chance a less dogmatic, perhaps more social democratic, Sinn Féin inflected by more left wing thinking but not as Marxist inclined as the Officials might have been in pole position in the 70s to drive some sort of change. Or maybe not.

            • Actually a book that is an interesting read though I disagree with it fundamentally is The Politics of Illusion by Henry Patterson. In it written in the late 80s, he – from a at one point pro-WP background ultimately IIRC going on to a sort of unionist perspective – argues that by the 1980s the rhetoric of Adams et al and PSF was effectively of a piece with the anti-imperialism of the Officials (pp201). For Patterson Republicanism and socialism (of any form really, social democratic out to Marxist) were irreconcilable in an Irish context. I doubt that analysis is correct. Whether though Republicanism and socialism can command mass support is another issue entirely. Republicanism and social democracy, perhaps. FF kind of tried a mix of that in the 30s, Clann na Poblachta in the 40s and so on. To some effect.

              • I suspect SF is moving – or has moved – towards a form of centre-left social-democratic republicanism. It’s where I sit myself, albeit further left than where SF will probably end up. Given the innate socio-economic conservatism of the Irish electorate it’s arguably the only sensible place for parties of the Left with an ambition to govern to position themselves.

                You could take this as a slowly-slowly catchy-monkey strategy, working to change the system from within. Of course, once within, it’s very difficult – if nigh impossible – not to be seduced by the very forces that you are trying to change. The Democratic Left and Labour Party has provided evidence of that.

              • It was always going to be difficult to forge unity between Catholics and Protestants in the North. But was it delusional to think that a section, say 15%-20% of Protestant workers, would be willing to move, especially over a decade or two? In the context of world politics at the time (1968, Vietnam, strike waves etc) major change seemed possible. And once the ice is broken, progress can steam on from there.

                Add to that, the experience of NICRA and the fact that NILP had some support, which, if nothing else, points to fault lines within unionism. With OSF themselves moving away from straight up nationalism, it must have seemed at least plausible that some common ground could be nurtured.

                And surely the only way to find out was to try. This is the aspect which is different to RSF’s doctrine of Apostolic Succession (which, of course, technically leaves the WP as the Vicar of Pearse): as you say, the 26 county state has a near century of historical legitimacy in the eyes of the majority. RSF close their eyes to that history.

                In relation to loyalists, OSF in the early to mid 1970s, on the contrary, were wrong about the future: Protestant workers remained solidly in the unionist camp. But being wrong about the past and being wrong about the future is different.

                And even then, were OSF contingently wrong or analytically wrong? That is, was a major reason for the failure of that potential 15-20% of Protestant workers to move a result of the Provisionals’ escalating military campaign? If the 1969 programs had occurred in 1971 or 1972 would the Provisionals have managed to get the same momentum given that O Brádaigh and company would have left over abstentionism by then but with a much smaller crew? Or was the historical legacy, from the plantations to the shipyards, just too great a hurdle? I don’t think there was another way to find out but to try.

                WBS: “In other words there was no victory to be had from the off.”
                I agree with this. But it is also why a longer term perspective was needed: to build the strength to be able to seriously challenge both states. Although Marxism — in its original Social Democratic/orthodox Communist version, as opposed to Trotskyism — is a revolutionary ideology, it a *conservative* revolutionary one. That is, following St Augustine, its general line is, “yes, there’s going to be a revolution….but not yet. Our job now is to build the revolutionary organisations”. In this guise, it fits what Goulding and Garland were doing and was a big reason why it was attractive (others include soliciting support from a rival pole, a path to industrialisation etc).

                But although Marxism is conservative it is still necessary as an ideology. Both yourself and ASF make good points about a left social democratic nationalism being a good fit for much of the electorate. But organisations need *activists* and the ideology is primarily for them. I’m not sure that a vaguer leftish project would have the cohesion or drive to accomplish much.

              • “It was always going to be difficult to forge unity between Catholics and Protestants in the North. But was it delusional to think that a section, say 15%-20% of Protestant workers, would be willing to move, especially over a decade or two? In the context of world politics at the time (1968, Vietnam, strike waves etc) major change seemed possible. And once the ice is broken, progress can steam on from there.”

                A couple of thoughts. Such a position might have been reasonable at the start of the 70s, or even in pre-and immediate post split SF but by the mid to late 70s it was surely evident that it was a non-starter. As noted previously the idea that OSF could appeal to even a small fraction of loyalist working class people might have held water at the start, but after the UWC strike, the 70s, etc, etc? And growing support for Paisleyism?

                “Add to that, the experience of NICRA and the fact that NILP had some support, which, if nothing else, points to fault lines within unionism. With OSF themselves moving away from straight up nationalism, it must have seemed at least plausible that some common ground could be nurtured.”

                I’m deeply unconvinced by the NILP. To me it seems that that was a party that submerged its differences and those of a divided society rather than engaged with them. Re NICRA there the experience is perhaps more positive, but it’s always seemed to me, and I’m open to correction, that those from unionism attracted to it were those who ultimately went on to Alliance. Not all, but it was a middle class strand. And again by 75 surely the evidence was in.

                “And surely the only way to find out was to try. This is the aspect which is different to RSF’s doctrine of Apostolic Succession (which, of course, technically leaves the WP as the Vicar of Pearse): as you say, the 26 county state has a near century of historical legitimacy in the eyes of the majority. RSF close their eyes to that history.”

                I’ve no particular problem with the fact the effort was made. It’s that it was continued long after the reality of the structural elements was obvious. I’ve nothing but admiration for those who persisted, but the question has to be raised given the marginal returns what was the point of the exercise?

                “In relation to loyalists, OSF in the early to mid 1970s, on the contrary, were wrong about the future: Protestant workers remained solidly in the unionist camp. But being wrong about the past and being wrong about the future is different.
                And even then, were OSF contingently wrong or analytically wrong? That is, was a major reason for the failure of that potential 15-20% of Protestant workers to move a result of the Provisionals’ escalating military campaign? If the 1969 programs had occurred in 1971 or 1972 would the Provisionals have managed to get the same momentum given that O Brádaigh and company would have left over abstentionism by then but with a much smaller crew? Or was the historical legacy, from the plantations to the shipyards, just too great a hurdle? I don’t think there was another way to find out but to try.”

                It’s not difficult to blame the Provisionals, but it’s also absolutely crucial to keep in mind that those who stayed with OSF in 1970 or so included many who quite sincerely went on to start up IRSP and INLA. Or to walk away like Tony G in the mid 70s. My feeling is that if the party couldn’t convince a tranche of its own of the robustness of the project, including people who at one time would have been central to a progressive view and most of whom were long trusted too, then how on earth could it convince others? And I don’t say that in terms of blaming people, more that again the structural aspects were incorrect.

                There’s a further thought that I think is worth considering, that OSF’s outreach to unionism was always more stated than actual. Part of that was that unionism wasn’t likely to reach back (and one has to keep in mind too that OSF members were physically attacked and IIRC murdered by Loyalists as well – which indicates the scale of the challenge). But I do think there was a sort of belief that ‘here’s the programme unionists, read it and change’ and a hope that this would occur through elections since actual on the ground activism was difficult – to put it mildly).

                “WBS: “In other words there was no victory to be had from the off.”
                I agree with this. But it is also why a longer term perspective was needed: to build the strength to be able to seriously challenge both states. Although Marxism — in its original Social Democratic/orthodox Communist version, as opposed to Trotskyism — is a revolutionary ideology, it a *conservative* revolutionary one. That is, following St Augustine, its general line is, “yes, there’s going to be a revolution….but not yet. Our job now is to build the revolutionary organisations”. In this guise, it fits what Goulding and Garland were doing and was a big reason why it was attractive (others include soliciting support from a rival pole, a path to industrialisation etc).
                But although Marxism is conservative it is still necessary as an ideology. Both yourself and ASF make good points about a left social democratic nationalism being a good fit for much of the electorate. But organisations need *activists* and the ideology is primarily for them. I’m not sure that a vaguer leftish project would have the cohesion or drive to accomplish much.”

                There’s a lot to admire in my view about the OSF stance, in some ways the 1970 to 1972 period, possibly a bit after, is the best of it, non-dogmatic socialism, open to a broad range of socialisms internationally and drawn to Marxism without being tied to any of them and prior to Leninism as the only way forward (though the adoption of that ML came much much later in the story). Rooted in republicanism and republican communities but open and aware that more would have to be done to drive matters forward. Also aware of the clear limitations of armed struggle. I am pretty sure that were I politically active at that time that would have been my home, much as for me growing up in Kilbarrack in the 70s the WP became the only real option on the ground (Labour was Labour, SF wasn’t at the races and I was not going to join FF).

                There’s an interesting question, particularly in light of the split in the early 90s just how deeply Marxism was as an as[pect of the party. I hear a lot about the fall of the USSR etc, but my experience as a member from the early 80s to the split was that functionally most members would have fitted entirely comfortably into the British Labour Party and would have been largely left social democratic (and ironically those of us who did go to the UK emigrating were advised to join the BLP – one name I was given… I kid you not, was one K. Hoey).

                In that sense the activism came from circumstance rather than ideology. One thing that always strikes me at this remove is how little ideology there was in a huge layer of members. Educationals were conspicuous by their absence, no great surprise, there was lots of party work to do day to day in communities. Now this wasn’t as true I’ll admit of many who went through in the 70s (but then again look at the names of those and where they ended up and one has to wonder). And one has to ask what are we comparing the activism to? The LP who always even at their weakest had more seats and representation than the WP? The fragments? SF at the time (a better comparison but as we saw later they were well in place to ultimately leapfrog the WP in terms of numbers, geographic spread – rural and urban and across the state, etc). And then there’s the question what of SF whose members became strongly activist across a prolonged period fo time without the necessity for Marxism. I think that OSF missed a trick there, the possibility of a broad Republican movement that was avowedly left wing incorporating Marxist and other strands rather than plumping for a single one.

                None of this is to deny the genuine positives. I think the WP, whatever about its stance on the North was crucial to providing a voice in the Republic in the 80s when with the PDs and others some very problematic right wing choices might have been at the least worsened. It certainly softened Labour’s cough. And re the evolving peace process I think it gets a worse rap than it deserves because the likes of Harris et al really only hit the public eye long after they’d left the party and disavowed leftism (that said the party was no hindrance to them back in the day and was far too tolerant of them).

                One final thought. By the 80s and long before reform it is interesting how at least at ground level any great ambitions – ie taking on imperialism, reshaping the North or building in the Nroth across the working class in the communities was more or less gone. It just wasn’t talked about as a realisable goal. A lot was blamed on the Provisionals but I think the sheer scale of the problems came into sharp focus by the early 80s. AndI think there was a turning away from the north too (which was characterised across society in the ROI) and a renewed focus particularly with electoral success on the more immediate.

                ASF, I was in DL for only a couple of years (you can imagine from my views above that I really enjoyed that couple of years), and left before they went into coalition. But one thing that amazed me at the time, though in retrospect I’m not sure why, was just how pally they were with FG. At meetings I’d hear TDs tic taccing with their FG opposite numbers – and granted this can be a function of opposition, as both were in 1992-4 but it was also indicative.

                I’d generally agree, that SF’s position is centre left and social democratic inclined, some in it are very left wing, others not so much. For myself I’d be comfortable enough in the Left Republican camp – which I’d see as definitely encompassing social democracy and some points to the left – and both aspects are important to me so I’d be wary where they’ll end up. But some very good people in it, Cullinane, O’Reilly and a fair few of their other TDs and Senators are left of centre and even left of left of centre in their positioning.


  6. https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.jsYou think the 26 counties are sovereign? Have you been sniffing glue?

Leave A Comment (Please familiarise yourself with the ASF Terms of Use and Commenting Policy before posting a comment)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: