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Monday, 15 January 2007

And the skies are not cloudy, part 2

So today we will continue our exploration of what a programme for revolutionary change in Ireland might look like, taking the 1970s Éire Nua as a jumping-off point. Actually we will row back a bit from Éire Nua as such in the next couple of posts and deal with some underlying methodological issues which need sorting out. For the benefit of my irritable chum from the Socialist Party, who is dying to get me writing about water charges, I should give an advance warning that this post will contain a few sweeping statements which will be counter-intuitive for most Irish socialists. Maybe he should prepare to amp up his critique from “slurs” to “outrageous slurs”.

First off, I want to argue that an approach to politics which is cast purely in terms of “left versus right”, or even “Labour versus Tories”, is totally inadequate for a serious investigation of Irish politics. Political categories which may be perfectly reasonable for analysing politics in England (although less so for Wales or Scotland) fail to translate meaningfully to either the North or the Dominion of ‘Éire’, despite some pretty sophisticated efforts to make them do so.

Leaving the North aside for the moment, in the South the major ideological division is, very broadly speaking, between Republicanism and Dublin 4. These are of course shorthand terms which need further definition. “Republicanism” in this broad sense is not identical to the active republican movement, with which it has a complicated relationship. Rather it refers to the de Valera consensus established in the 30s and 40s, representing the degeneration, although not the total reversal, of the Revolution. I should emphasise that although neither Fianna Fáil nor Sinn Féin Nua are republican in any operative sense, they are popularly regarded as such by the general public (consider workers’ identification with Social Democracy as an analogue). D4, again in the broadest sense, represents the recrudescence of openly counter-Revolutionary politics, combined with an aping of historic British and Protestant-colonial mores, and a generalised hostility to “Irishness” as such. The odd points of the D4 programme with which I might have some sympathy, its (very mild) anti-clericalism and (extremely limited) sexual liberalism, are subsumed in the whole and therefore their progressive import is nullified. This is the ideological tendency which dominates the broadcast and print media in the Free State, much of the state’s institutional infrastructure and the majority of Oireachtas members in all parties bar Fianna Fáil and the Provos.

(Parenthetically, it is worth observing that British Marxism, in virtually all its tendencies, is heavily influenced by liberalism, and this has been carried over into the London-centric left groups in Ireland. Members of those groups would of course vigorously reject that identification. My point however is not that these socialists share the conscious positions of the tofu-eating South Dublin neo-democrats – they don’t – but rather that they inhabit the same cognitive universe.)

So any socialist programme for Ireland has to begin by recognising that tasks remain from the unfinished National-Democratic Revolution, and rather than hoping for a simon-pure socialist revolution, socialists should be trying to harness democratic struggles to the struggle for socialism, of which they form an inseparable part. I don’t have the time at the minute to go into a theoretical exposition of permanent revolution, transitional politics or the united front – all of which are aspects of a common political method – but the intimate connection between the democratic revolution and the socialist revolution should be axiomatic. Indeed it’s perfectly obvious to a halfway thoughtful republican who has no knowledge of Trotsky’s writings. It takes the dogma of economism to insist otherwise.

There are concrete issues flowing from this, both in terms of the sectarian colony in the North and in terms of the deformation of the Saorstát and its specific dependence on Britain, which should be the red meat of any kind of radical politics in Ireland. In my next post I’ll deal with how Irish Marxism has handled the question of democratic demands.

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