From Insurrection To Parliament

Northern Ireland’s ‘Orange State’, a durable term inserted into the political lexicon by the author Michael Farrell, is a core theme of this recent book on the Provisional IRA. Written by one of the guerrilla group’s most astute former members, Tommy McKearney, the work seeks both to explain the origins of the Provisional IRA’s campaign and assess its impact. This is no kid glove appraisal of the subject matter but a bare knuckle analysis conducted with the mind and eye of one who both participated and observed.   

While more than a few veterans of the armed struggle view the IRA campaign as an unmitigated failure in that it achieved nothing of the traditionally stated republican goals, McKearney however is a calibrated evaluator. The collapse of the Orange State, which with analytical significance he dates much later than the 1972 collapse of unionist political rule, he considers a significant strategic achievement of the IRA campaign. It also allows him to explain its longevity, which has baffled other observers given that the IRA ended its war in exchange for terms it had previously rejected in 1974.

Any acknowledgement McKearney might give to the IRA campaign for having dismantled the Orange State is quickly tempered by the assertion that in its place a new sectarian state has emerged which oversees a sectarian society as deeply polarised, if not more so, than previously. The work is scathing of Sinn Fein’s de facto acquiescence in the application of neo liberal economic orthodoxy and its endorsement of establishment politics, describing the Provisional IRA’s move ‘away from the radical anti-establishment world out of which they had arisen.’

Once cited approvingly by a serving Taoiseach for having argued that republicanism must be uncompromisingly democratic, McKearney neither hand-wrings nor absolves himself of responsibility for the IRA’s actions. Self- alienated from all strands of physical force republicanism he maintains his intellectual honesty by identifying, in measured fashion, with the IRA campaign, feeling that it was an unavoidable insurrectionary response to repression for which there was no peaceful remedy. The British state lacked both the structural capacity and political will to compel a just outcome that would have foreclosed the use of nationalist armed violence to redress the North’s democratic deficit. 

Crucially McKearney argues that the rise of the Provisional IRA was by no means inevitable. Alternative British state strategies, available but not given due consideration, that did not include a withdrawal from the North, could have prevented the costly political violence that was to follow direct British military intervention in 1969.

As the book contends, what made the Provisional IRA an appealing option was its arrival on the scene equipped with a readymade plan of action which matched the temper of the time. Given the close alignment between unionism and the British state, nationalists whose horizons expanded no further than the reform of Northern Ireland were susceptible to the IRA logic that such reform could only be achieved through separatism and the total rupturing of British state power which was considered as a life support machine for unionism.

There remains room for the author to make explicit the relationship between dynamics and strategy. McKearney persuasively makes the case that the energy behind the Northern nationalist insurrection, despite being spearheaded by the IRA, was limited to being against repression rather than being for a united Ireland. Analytically, however, the scrutinised should be denied the latitude to fashion virtue from necessity. While the Provisional IRA settled for a reformist internal solution to the problems of the North of Ireland, the bulk of the evidence thus far is that it waged a revolutionary long war to prevent any such outcome. It managed its defeat rather than avoided it, and the dismantling of the Orange State should be assessed in that light.

McKearney’s proposals for a way forward will not be greeted with enthusiasm by many of his former colleagues opposed to Sinn Fein. The Good Friday Agreement brought an end to the national question ‘for most of the island’s population’ and the demise of the Orange State; the constitutional issue has been ‘resolved.’ Armed republicans who persist with political violence are an ‘anachronistic irrelevance.’ McKearney feels that the only strategic space left open to republicanism in the North is to make common cause with progressive tendencies within the Unionist working class. While this remains outside the loop of current oppositional republican thinking, McKearney is determined to argue for real power sharing at grass roots level rather than the power splitting charade that currently operates within the Northern executive.

While maintaining that partition remains an important issue and simultaneously calling for a socialist republic, the Left perspective of McKearney would at the current juncture see greater strategic potential in resisting ‘the City of London’ rather than British rule per se. 

Tommy McKearney, 2011, The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament. Pluto: London.


  1. I like the cut of your jib Tommy,going to get a hold of this book,I remember sometime ago Tommy had another post here on TPQ and I recall I didnt agree with what he had to say, but this to me is not only encouraging but possibly the only way to go,Tommy is if nothing a thinker of the calibre we desperately need,great post Anthony

  2. One man's opinion is good as the next. What will make the difference for the current dissenters, is if they have the will to to organize and hold on. Only then will they be allowed to sit at the table.

    In the battle of ideas and ideologies often it is those who are willing to wage the war of attrition who's idea's are then assimilated into the mainstream.

    From afar it seems that Sinn Fein have become co-opted by the system and no longer have any real idealogical center.

  3. Ó Donnchadha,

    that is spot on. SF has no ideological centre. It is very much a reformist party in the mould of the Workers Party whose footsteps it walks in. Ans it would not hold to a reformist ideology if iot meant a threat to its power. It's one of those parties that could swing to the far right as easily as it would to the far left.


    whatever about Tommy's ideas, they are his own. Many of his views I would not agree with but that is intellectual life. I tried getting the review into the Guardian and Irish Times but with no success. The book is very much worth a read. It does not present the IRA campaign as an unmitigated failure but at the same time shows how far short it fell off its goals and how little it setttled for.

  4. Read the book recently. An enjoyable read and the little 'stories' Tommy uses to introduce each chapter were a treat.

    Think however left wing socialist politics are a megga 'turn-off' for people. There are many valid and educational points in the book. It attempts to wring some good out of the war after so many invested so much; but to attempt to go along with it leaves me feeling slightly skitzo.

    A great book. Votail SDLP and save yourself 30 yrs of trouble.

  5. Larry,

    Tommy is a Marxist in that he shares the broad marxist critique of society. Interestingly, some traditional economists have come round to the view that Marx adequately grasped the systemic nature of capitalist society. But like many others who are descriptive Marxists Tommmy realises the gap between describing and prescribing. Prescriptive Marxists have come up seriously short on strategies and for this reason Tommy, if I do not misrepresent him, is flexible and does not beat the rhetoric drum, arguing for the dictatorship of the proletariat to be set up in the morning.

  6. Just to let you know that I have published an interview of Tommy in a French magazine (A Babord in Quebec) on his book. The interview was reprint in a Basque newspaper (Ekaitza). I have ask him an question that was not printed in the article. I have point out to him that his way forward is similar to what Eamon McCann proposed in War and An Irish Town. He answer was interesting and presented what was in his eyes the must important achievement of the IRA. He said that he agree on must of what McCann wrote. But the main different between him and McCann is that he believe that to establish a socialist republic the Orange State had to be smashed. So fro him the IRA was essential. After the abolition of Stormont, the path taken by the republican movement (especially in the beginning of the 80's) weaken the revolutionary nature of the republican movement. If I am correct, he formed in the 80's a communist republican association.

  7. Larry

    far from left wing socialist politics being a megga 'turn-off' for people I do not feel it is an exaggeration to say people are once again listening to the left, the French socialist party is way ahead in the polls for the forthcoming presidential election, the left as a whole did well in the southern general election and the greek left is jointly polling 42% in polls.

    True we still have a way to go, not least because of our own mistakes but the days when we opened our mouths and you could here the grown streets away are now passed.

    Capitalism is in crises and it’s the task of the left to other an alternative which is practical in the 21st century, not one that is marooned in the early 20th. In many ways the arab awakening has been a wake up call for the left.


    Not sure if you meant reformism has no ideological centre or just SF. Myself I feel either is open to argument.

    On Tommy's book, I found it interesting Morrison came out of the SF ghetto to condemn this book in this months AP/RN, I hope Tommy replies to his critique, as it is not often an opportunity like this arises.

  8. A.M.

    I enjoyed the book. Society in general has been well and truely brainwashed/conditioned to be repulsed by marxism. Media and tv etc. I don't think people in general want to 'go there'.

  9. Organized Rage,

    I don't think voting for the French Socialist Party is listening to the left. The only thing socialist left in the French Socialist Party is the name.

  10. Mick,

    I do feel reformism has an ideological centre of gravity. I don't think SF has any core ideological position that it would not abandon for office. I think it is a party that would sit comfortably on the extreme right if it would get its leaders more power. Tommy McKearney once said that SF's bottom line was that it had no bottom line. I find that an apt summary.

    On the Left, certainly in Ireland with the United Left Alliance, people are listening to a Left critique. They have 5 TDs and are doing a lot of good work on behalf of the people who elected them. They have made left ideas more relevant than was the case for a long time.

    Will it last? I don't know. I suppose it depends on the crisis but I don't think that Left ideas are likely to acquire hegemonic status within society. And the history of the Left on an international scale has been less than laudable.

  11. Organised rage

    'left' parties in Europe seem more centre right to me at times. In Ireland when the IMF came in the nation voted the blue shirts in, [FG].

    mackers, a few TDs and independents does not equate to an organised coherent left. The political monopoly by FF + FG is under no real threat.

  12. Larry,

    watching it from where I sit it seems that the Left is organised and coherent but is simply not big enough. 5 Left TDs is not a large force. But I think society is better off for that Left presence in the Dail than not having it. I voted labour in the last election only because they were the closest to anything Left in the Louth constituency. But that was as close as I am to the sun. I would vote the ULA if they had a candidate here.

  13. Years of pulpit politics on behalf of Rome/church of England etc and the landlords with divine inspiration urging the faithfull to pray for the overthrow of communism has left a legacy of pushing a boulder uphill by a few ie, Connolly, Mac Diarmada,Larkin etc, then we have had to put up with those who used the working classes and their cause as a stepping stone for their own advancement,the crisis we face at the moment is I believe an opportunity to advance the cause of the left,if we dont one thing for sure the people on the ground are going to suffer,and as history has taught us when people are pushed into the ground ,they tend to look for someone to blame and the jews or other minorities may become their target urged on of course by the real culprits those who created the mess we find ourselves in.

  14. Been There, Done This, Done That.
    No Matter what the foot soldier has done, be it under Communism, Leftism, republicanism, Freedomism,Unitedism, their will always be a Leader, and under that leader will be his hand picked henchmen to administer to those who desent, they are articulate in words (Lies), scheming to twist comments by those who disent from there views and political achievements, be it a sell out to the british crown, whom they now work under and are paid by, yet, i cannot differentiate between De Valera and the present ,so called, Republicans "SF". now, to you Anthony, I have the utmost respect for you and all those who dissagreed with "SF", because I Knew they were paving a political road for themselves, with the help of the british, and, urinating onmthose Ten Brave Men of 1981. Think about this very very carefully, why are that scum still alive, they hounded anyone who opposed them, and to this very day, still do, with lies , promises of a united Ireland, Its in our blood and will always remain, we are an Island, We are Irish, No Matter what your religion is, we are one nation with freedom of speech and religion, BUT, WHO WILL THE LEADER BE?, and, Will we all be taxed the same to keep them in power so as they can have the same big mansions and the same stormont government buildings?, to bow to the crown forces which is still on our ISLAND, the RUC still working on secret files to set people up for things they have never done, the psni/ruc/het, have any of you any idea how many documents have been destroyed to safegaurd these so called republican puppets "SF", how many have jumped on the band wagon to write books, have paid interviews on national television to state nothing but a pack of lies. I sincerely hope a few of you will understand this comment.
    Can we ever have a united Ireland, equality for all, irespective of colour or creed.?, or will we end up like communist china, which is just one big tyrany rip off. its always the people (foot soldiers) who have to pay, the generals always win, its called, The Circle Of History. so wtf did we do it for in the first place?. Because we obeyed ORDERS.

  15. Andre

    The fact the French socialist party's presidential candidate is standing on a platform which is well to the left from their previous programe, tells us they believe the electorate is open to left ideas, as far as the point I am making, whether they betray their electorate is neither here nor there and in any case this will depend on how well the socialist left can motivate mass support in parliamentary chambers and on the streets.


    The importance of having a strong radical left, is its very presence can drag the reformists leftwards, and if it has parliamentary representation can expose their backsliding on a national platform.

    The problem much of the european radical left has faced in recent years, especially in England, was best highlighted by Che in the 1950s, when he told the then leaders of the Cuban Communist party, they cannot even imagine what it would be like to gain power, let alone work towards it and grabbing it with both hands.

    If we have no belief in our own abilities to change society, why should anyone vote for us, let alone gamble their very life on a revolutionary throw of the dice.

    In other words as far as building the left is concerned confidence is the key.

    For all Adams bad points which we often trot out, he never lacked confidence, and still manages to instil it in his supporters.

    We can carp all we like, but since the economic shit hit the fan Sinn Fein has been solid in the south, do I believe they will lead us to a bright sunny upland, probably not, but when they are doing the right thing, I see no point in spreading disillusion and despair.

  16. André,

    Tommy and others, once it was accepted that the Provisionals were heading for the place where they are now, formed a separate Marxist body which would allow them space to promote a Left perspective. The thinking behind it informs his political activism today.


    what has SF being solid on in the South? Some individuals have. But already you can see how they are reaching out for mainstream economics. And as sure as night follows day we know the leadership will screw its constituency and abandon everything it says now. Do you think for a minute they would ever default? Not a chance of it

  17. Anthony a cara can you or anyboby with the tech knowhow flag up Wendie Austin,s Talkback show on BBC radio Ulster today,,,The main discussion was about the continuing detention of Marian Price, the dup,s chair or ex chair of the justice committee lord Morrow was a principal speaker, it would really be worthwhile if the folks here could here the rants of this obvious bigot.I wonder would his attitude be different if his lvf ass liking side kick Mc Crea was banged up without due process.?

  18. Organized Rage I agree with your last post i.e, re Che and Adams ,we must have confidence and belief in our abilities.its is the strongest weapon in our arsenal I think,mind you a nuke on our side would have an impact on the debate.

  19. Marty,
    can lend you the book if you like, although you and Albert seem to share the same snails pace with certain authors.
    Neither of you got through Kevin Bean's book and Albert only managed the first ten pages of Tommy Mc Kearney's book and that took all of four months.

  20. Lol Nuala your right hon re Kevins book, I need to be on the lake Huckleberry Finn style to read a book like Kevins, if Tommys is of a similar nature then its gonna be a long long summer,I will borrow yours if its ok ,its not out of date is it?

  21. marty

    Your point about the N bomb is true, given how the USA has behaved since 1989, I do not feel it is an exaggeration to claim it was the Soviet A bomb, which kept the piece during the so called cold war, as without it I have little doubt the US would have used their A Bomb again.

    History may well judge Melita Norwood, the spy who came in from the Co-op, as one of the 20th centuries most influential figures.

  22. Marty,

    try this link

  23. Anthony a cara yer a gem, thats the link .well worth listening to,Marie and the girls were at that meeting in the Tower hotel in Derry last night re Marian I reckon qsf ,s Mc Cartney has reported back to his bosses that a head of steam was building up over this issue and hence todays movement of Marian, That dipstick Morrows comments are well worth listening to if for nothing else so that we can all see how far he and his ilk have really "moved on" about a half a sash length if you ask me .

  24. Organized Rage,

    My post was not to say that I don't believe in the abilities of the left. Au contraire, I believe in the abilities of the left. But I am distrustful of organization that considers power more important than changes. In Quebec, for the past forty years the left voted Parti Quebecois. This Party took for granted the vote of the left and decided to re centered its politic to win the vote of the middle classes. Six years ago, a large portion of the left formed Quebec Solidaire. This party (that I am a funding member)totally dedicated to the left has been able to promote with a lot of success alternative politic ideas. We have now one MP, its not a lot, but his voice is well eared on mainstream medias. There is a reemerging of the left in Quebec since the formation of Quebec Solidaire. That is for me the way forward for the left.

  25. Marty,
    Albert says take as long as you like, it will give him of a chance to savour the return! Same drill he will bring it to work on Tuesday, if that's ok?

  26. People are gonna start talking Nuala hon I think the flowers are a bit of a give away,and Marie is gonna miss that wee red dress some time,but what the heck I,m game tell big AL same time same place oh la la la...Mata Hari how are ya ...

  27. André,

    'I am distrustful of organization that considers power more important than changes.'

    That succinctly sums up what the Left faces. The temptation to go into office knowing full well no change can be made often proves overwhelming. It is a bit like the Labour Party in Ireland. Ideas are dropped in order to become electable. Once elected even more ideas are dropped.

    Organised Left knows this as well as the next person and is just as critical of it. I think his general point is that even a Left discourse is better than no Left discourse.

  28. AM,
    "I think his general point is that even a Left discourse is better than no Left discourse."

    I can't be in disagreement with this.

    But I still wonder in the case of the French Socialist Party if it will still maintain the left discourse in the second round. At that time the party will have the vote of the left, it will have to look elsewhere to secure victory. But I hope I am wrong.

  29. Andre,

    I guess it is about trying to ride the crest of that discourse while it is in vogue knowing full well that it will be abandeoned by those who use it for purposes of power rather than change. I guess you are right. The French SP will abandon it just as the parties here have done likewise.

  30. The taxman has taken over Ibrox and decided they are going to rename the stadium the Inland Revenue Arena....IRA for short...Admittedly this is only Provisional...but as such each game is a guaranteed SELL OUT....

  31. Itsjustmacker,

    A lot of good points here. A view has formed within my mind over the years that republicanism as we knew it was susceptible to the Stick virus. And once that takes hold there follows all the practices that the Sticks engaged in and for which the Provisionals endlessly criticised them. The Stalinist mode of organisation, the endless lying, the curbing and crushing of dissent – all in the interests of a leadership driven by power rather than any ideology. Interestingly, some of the strongest critique of the Stick virus comes from activists who were in the Sticks for a long time and who have come to reflect on the trajectory. They are very politicised people and intellectually adept.

  32. Marty,
    Albert says, ignore the gossip and he hopes you do better than him in relation to the book but sadly he doesn't think so.

  33. AM.

    Anthony ,That thought about the Stickies has been in my mind for about 25 years, they new they, "SF", were going down the road of no return, they were briefed by the brits with their secret meetings, I thought it would be correct to add this statement by Adams in 1984.

    , "Statement By Gerry Adams
    "There can be no such things as an Irish nationalist accepting the loyalist veto and partition. You cannot claim to be an Irish nationalist if you consent to an internal six county settlement and if you are willing to negotiate the state of Irish society with a foreign government."
    quote, by Gerry Adams in 1984
    Thats exactly what SF have done, It goes to show what a shire of liars they really are, and, always have been, and, at the beginning we were all duped into believing them, that is until 1998. so this is to the SF spies who may blog on PQ, ask your chief about the 1984 statement..

  34. As John Mc Girr used to say Nuala "oh ye of little faith" I,ll get through this book might take longer than Mickeyboy catching himself on but time and patience will take a snail to Juseralem as an old Camlough man used to tell me ,

  35. AM,
    the stick virus that you observed in the republican movement, was also present in the left in general. in the 1970, the left was self-destructive. Maoists, Trotskists, Maxist-leninists, etc, were condemning one another. In the 80s, during the return of the right, the left was exhausted. One of the first to develop a coherent left thinking in Quebec said "socialism is freedom, but if you are not careful it cant enslave you"

  36. oups, I wanted to write "it can enslave you"

  37. Andre,

    guessed that!


    still haven't had a chance to listen to the rant which one is always certain to get from Maurice Morrow. The DUP know the victory they got yet people like Morrow always want that little bit more. Croppies lie down and sing the Sash while lying there. It is that bigoted mentality which will endure for quite some time to come.

  38. AM,
    I am not sure what you mean by "guessed that!" It must be my english!

  39. Andre,

    the typo - that it can enslave you

  40. Really worth listening to Anthony and to think that man is/ was chair of the "justice committee" scary a cara, qsf have got into bed with some quare fellows no doubt.the researcher ,professor who.s name escapes me now for which I apologise who has spent countless hours in the prison really tore strips out of Morrow, Wendie Austin was excellent as well, worth listening to.

  41. Itsjustmacker,

    this sort of statement is to be found all over the Provo discourse. It strikes me as legitimate that the gap between such statements and what the position today is should be up for discussion. If the Provos can give plausible accounts for having moved on then people will listen. If they only try to suppress discussion people will be suspicious


    Anthony ,That thought about the Stickies has been in my mind for about 25
    years, they new they, "SF", were going down the road of no return, they
    were briefed by the brits with their secret meetings, I thought it would be
    correct to add this statement by Adams in 1984.

    , "Statement By Gerry Adams
    "There can be no such things as an Irish nationalist accepting the loyalist
    veto and partition. You cannot claim to be an Irish nationalist if you
    consent to an internal six county settlement and if you are willing to
    negotiate the state of Irish society with a foreign government."
    quote, by Gerry Adams in 1984
    Thats exactly what SF have done, It goes to show what a shire of liars they
    really are, and, always have been, and, at the beginning we were all duped
    into believing them, that is until 1998. so this is to the SF spies who may
    blog on PQ, ask your chief about the 1984 statement..

  42. Marty,

    I just listened to that Talkback piece. I will put something out about it. He is a bigot through and through

  43. Marty Cullen a cara a lot of what you have said is on the money ,There was a few times in the past when the working class from both communities came together in 32 with the ODR riots and in 34 there was a contingent from the Shankill rd republican congress at Bodenstown who to the eternal shame of republicanism were attacked,however these are a few examples of when the unionist masters control slipped,and workers found common cause and put religious bigotry aside .my point is that it has surfaced,working class unity that is, however briefly in the past and now with the conditions we all find ourselves in today there may never be a better time for those on the left to organise into a credible alternative than what has went before,

  44. Itsjustmacker,

    had to repost as I left half your comment in the earlier one:

    this sort of statement is to be found all over the Provo discourse. It strikes me as legitimate that the gap between such statements and what the position today is should be up for discussion. If the Provos can give plausible accounts for having moved on then people will listen. If they only try to suppress discussion people will be suspicious

  45. To my mind the protestant working classes in the north were very similar to the white working class who lived under the apartheid regime in South Africa. Like those in the north, they to organised in trade unions and had strong similarities with workers in Europe and elsewhere. They to suffered from poor housing, they fought hard to make gains in the workplace. Yet both remained loyal to their oppressors. Until the apartheid regime fell in SA and right up until today in the north.

    They were never fodder for fascism as many middle class liberals concluded, far from it as many men from both places signed up to fight the nazis.

    Their loyalty to reaction was on a par with say craftsmen in England in the first half of the 20th century, they were thrown bigger scraps from the masters table than the unskilled workers, thus many of them voted tory and later for thatcher, who went on to trash the very industries many of these skilled workers earned their living from.

    This deindustrialization spilled over to the north and any one up-manship became a distant memory for most of the protestant working classes.

    Sadly many still cling desperately to those memories and remain loyal to a United Kingdom which no longer exists. Only Belfast would have a heritage centre which glorifies a ship that sunk on its first outing with the loss of so many lives. It is not as if the yards did not build plenty of successful ships.

    I remember taking part in a debate before the OIRA ceasefire in the early 1970s, about the officials supposed turn to the protestant working class. Whilst it might have ticked all the politically correct leftist boxes, more realistic comrades new it was a lost cause before it even got off the ground. If you think it through it was infantile, your shooting and blowing up all these workers hold dear and then expect them to support you. please!

  46. AM

    No Problem Anthony, believe it or not,I thought it was my fault. Theres meself sitting with a wee brandy looking at the screen, and saying to meself, bejesus, should have gone to spec savers, Yes, it is something which should be debated, Im sure Gerry (brit) Adams would even deny, or State, "I dont recall sying anything like that, But, If I did, I surely ment it at the time, But, as you know, Times change"

  47. For some reason this comment from Marty Cullen got deleted. Must have been me hitting the wrong box! Here it is again

    It is interesting to see that Tommy McKearney has a new book published , I must read it soon as it is of personal and political interest to me.

    It is interesting to note the roads both Official and Provisional Sein Fein have travelled. Both are now integral parts of coalition governments albeit in separate jurisdictions. Both have accepted a neo liberal approach to economic policy.

    Tommy talks of the need for a movement of the left to contest neo
    liberalism of the present administrations. It is an approach that suffers from one serious flaw - the need for Northern Protestants to actively participate in such a movement and furthermore to move toward a republican frame of mind. I from my experience of working class active politics cannot envisage that happening. It was always a hope when I was in the Workers Party that the Protestant working class could see the need for common cause. They didn't and felt more secure in their traditional roots and culture.

    Politics is about achieving mind change and it is important to have
    intellectuals to encourage and create conditions for change. It does come
    down to boots on the ground and knocking doors and devoting considerable time to talking to those who need to come on board. I remember canvassing for Democratic Left in Cookstown in 1993 on my own in a traditional Unionist stronghold. I wasn't attacked or physically threatened but it depressed me that out of 200 doors knocked only three were opened. Time is precious for those who want change.

  48. Andre,

    The Stick virus despite being peculiar to republicanism has certainly being replicated elsewhere. You will notice that when a person is affected by the Stick virus in the Irish republican context they ommediately begin condemning others for what they did themselves and assuming the position of those they previously condemned. They support armed British police, criminalise republican opposition, support the use of informing, grow addicted to electoralism - it goes on ad infinitum.

    While I like Left ideas I have been alienated from the left organisationally because of the sectarianism they love. What animates them more than any other issue is the hatred of another Left group. The only thing they would unite against paradoxically is an attempt by someone to unite them

  49. Mick,

    the IRA was closer to the Nazis than the unionists were. It might have been for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons but what short-sightedness it demonstrated.

    Even today there are many within the Provos who would not baulk if a fascist position was embraced in the morn. And those that did baulk would tell you that you need to be on the inside fighting against the trend.

    Some historians reject the aristocracy of labour framework for trying to understand the unionist working class and emphasize instead its view that Irish Catholicism was more repressive than Britain.

  50. AM

    The problem with the argument that Irish Catholicism was more repressive than Britain, is it just does not stand up, as the former at worst, only oppressed Irish people, whereas the British State oppressed peoples throughout the world.

    Including working class unionists who due to their loyalty to the crown, have found themselves today politically defenceless.

    There former privileges long gone, trade union membership a distant memory, and without a political party to represent their interests. Indeed it is worse than that as all of the norths major political parties work against their best interest.

    Myself I do not see any real evidence that SF could become a fascist party, I feel that analyses misses the point about fascism, and how Capital uses it at times of dire economic or political crises, when it feels its interests are threatened.

    The core support base of fascism and that of SF are complete opposites, as history shows. If any northern party has the human flotsam which could turn to fascism it is the DUP. It core membership is made up of the lower middle classes and middle class professionals, which as European fascism has shown are the core support base of nazism.

    Because some people do, or support bad things, it does not make them Fascists, just bad or stupid people.

  51. Mick,

    The essential thing is that NI unionists seen it as more oppressive to them. Secondly, it was part of a global system that oppressed people worldwide.

    The privilege argument had long lost currency in many circles as to why the unionist working class stayed loyal to the union. Long after they were bought off or could be bought off they were still loyal. Talking to loyalists as to why they did they felt British democracy was deeper than Irish, they could be part of a British Labour movement and a society that was demonstrably anti-fascist during WW2 in a way they felt the South of Ireland was not.

    I think the analysis of fascism has moved on since Trotsky’s day and the term is sociologically applied to a diverse spectrum of regimes. I don’t believe SF is fascist or would go fascist but were it to go fascistic (to use a perhaps a more applicable term) who in the ranks would say ‘no’? Do you believe they would be more loyal to their anti-fascist sentiment than they were to their republican sentiment? And we know how easily they abandoned that.

    I think SF and the DUP are mirror images of each other – authoritarian and populist. I don’t see either going fascist although either party leader would have no qualms about it if there were votes in it.

  52. I think the analysis of fascism has moved on since Trotsky’s day and the term is sociologically applied to a diverse spectrum of regimes.


    I do not believe my analysis of Fascism had much to do with Trotsky, although he did analyse it correctly and what the left needed to do to defeat it in Germany in the early 1930s. That analysis is based on the facts on the ground where Fascist regimes have existed, whether it be Germany, Italy or Chile, etc.

    The reason mainly middle class sociologists and politicians are so keen to spread the term fascism so thin, is because the analyses I made would force them to face up to some very uncomfortable facts about their own class.

    When was the last time any of these cretins said the main bulwark against fascism is and has always been the working class, these creeps have helped to rewrite the script. Only last weekend I watched part of a TV programe in which senior members of the British royal family were portrayed as opposing the rise of Hitler and members of the British aristocracy were to the fore in rescuing german jews.

    Never mind in the real world at the end of WW2, Tony Blunt was sent to Germany to retrieve the correspondence of members of the royal family in which they praised and offered their support for Hitler. (Plus the tory upper middle class Chamberlin government refused to raise the quota which would allow large numbers of German jewish children to enter the UK legally.)

    It is not because we workers are more noble, or intellectualise fascism more than the lower middle class and sections of the middle class which supported it. Its just workers have nothing to gain from Fascism, unlike the two classes I mentioned, and given history we would have to be brain dead to believe fascism can offer us anything but blood and tears.

    As Trotsky wrote, as far as fascism is concerned, for the working class there will not be enough passports go round. Thus if we wish to survive we have no choice but to oppose. I feel most workers instinctively understand this.

    The reluctance of the unionist working class to reject unionism is due to their own experiences, or rather lack of them. Large sections of the English working classes were also conservative, many supported the Tories up until 1945. It was only the experience of WW2 and the achievements of the Attlee government which finally won these conservative workers over.

    These experiences did not occur in the north, unionist workers were given the gains of the NHS, etc, without going over to Labour politically. Thus their experiences were totally different to most west european working class people, they had no, or very little personal experience of social democracy. ( I'm ignoring the NILP as it was an adjutant of unionism) Thus unionism was able to claim credit for what the LP and workers in the rest of the UK had achieved in struggle.

  53. Mick,

    Trotsky was right in my view on Fascism in his day but unfortunately his ideas were ignored at terrible cost. I think most Marxists tend to rely on the his analysis of fascism which is more about the economic circumstances that bring fascism about rather than viewing it in terms of regime characterisation. I think this is done by these Marxists for political reasons and it also helps them keep control over labelling strategies. They for example deny the theocratic fascism concept because it suits in terms of political alliances with reactionary elements within Islam, even though one of their intellectual antecedents Tony Cliff spoke of clerical fascism.

    Marxism does not own the term fascism and as with most discursive terms it meaning is positional rather than fixed. The analysis has developed since the day of Trotsky no matter how right he was in his strategic application. It has been broadened and expanded, and in many ways has become detached from its economic anchor, coming to function as a politically autonomous term. We even see people being described as having a ‘fascist’ personality. Marxists tend not to like that.

    There are many people other than ‘middle class sociologists and politicians’ who use the term in a way that it was not initially devised. And workerism hardly negates their right to do so. If a regime is brutal and emulates fascist methodology without sharing the core ideological tenets of fascism then it will be useful for some analysts to incorporate the term fascism into their political discourse. The Left, paradoxically, do this all the time – labelling people they disagree with as fascists. And then they fall back on the economic content of fascism and away from its political form when their own allies are accused of fascism.

    The main bulwark against fascism during WW2 was US imperialism, Stalinist USSR and Churchillean England. To argue that it was the working class seems misplaced to me even though they did the fighting, as they invariably do in armies everywhere. They are even in Iraq and Afghanistan putting down the people there.

    I think it too economic reductionist to start reading off objective interests that we will describe and then ascribe to workers who might well reject the definition. I am suspicious of the idea that workers ‘instinctively’ understand things anymore than the rest. It seems somewhat essentialist whereas I think people grow into perspective, are brought to them and so on. In the end some workers will fight reactionary regimes while others will support them. Their perspective may in the end be shaped by the discursive formations they are confronted with rather than economic theory about monopoly capital. And discourse might win them across to positions we abhor.

    Fascism has offered blood and tears, and in no small measure, but in that respect it is a bedfellow of Marxism which has delivered much the same.

    There are many analysts who disagree with your assessment of the NILP. While your view has largely been my own there is enough space to argue that there was a left constituency within unionism which was more concerned with working class issues. At the same time they were not going to buy into the notion that their interests were going to be better served in a conservative Catholic state. Have a look at the policy debates within unionism during the inter war years and you get a sense of how strong working class demands could be.

  54. I do not wish to labour this issue, but some of the points you raise deserve a reply, you mention what you call clerical fascism, yet I do not remember those who tag the Iranian regime thus, using it to describe those of Mussolini and Pinocet, yet both were close to the Roman church. No surprise there as that church is full of petty bourgeois priests and rich middle class professionals seeking forgiveness.

    Fascism is a very pacific thing, and to understand it properly in my view if you detach it from its economic anchor you simply disarm yourself. It becomes a case of bad people doing bad things and if you cut off the head all will be well. This viewpoint has always been how Capital and its intellectual gofers have preferred fascism to be portrayed, and it has proven to be disastrous, for if we look at how some of the most murderous fascist regimes came to power, it was through the ballot box, this was so in Germany, Italy and the current regime in Iran.

    Whilst we are on Iran, the main supporters and financial backers of the governing regime, are much the same as the core support base of both European fascism and south American, lumpen elements, the lower middle classes, small traders etc, rich businessmen, (the bazaaree in Iran), and middle class professionals. When it comes to this curse not much changes.

    I agree some leftist have labeled people they disagree with as fascists, but not this leftist, I have always been clear on this, and argued vigorously against it, as it only benefits our opponents, as too does ignoring fascism economic and political roots.

    When I wrote the ‘main’ bulwark against fascism has historically always been the working classes, I meant before it gains power and when workers lived under fascist regimes. If you look at the social class make up of the European resistance movements against German and Italian Fascism, or compare those who supported and opposed Republican Spain, this fact becomes clear.

    Whilst it is correct the USSR, UK and USA played the major role in defeating European fascist in WW2, these countries prior to the war were never a bulwark against Fascism. Two of them signed a love in with Hitler and the third sat the first two years of WW2 out, whilst continuing to trade with Fascist Germany and Italy.

    As to the NILP, yes it could sing from the social democratic song book, but like the Progressive unionist party, when push came to shove it sided with the big house mentality.
    Its members had experience in what I can only describe as sweetheart trade union struggle, but had little conception and even less desire to engage in radical political struggle. The main enemy is at home was a idea which was ‘foreign’ to the NILP.

    I cannot agree with you when you write Fascism has offered blood and tears, and in no small measure, but in that respect it is a bedfellow of Marxism which has delivered much the same. Fascism is a political methodology designed to maintain the ruling class in power in times of great crises. Whereas Marx, along with many others, Darwin, etc, has helped us better understand the world we live in. If you had used the word Leninism I might have agreed with you. As far as I am aware fascism has produced nothing but blood and tears, whilst people who have read Marx have gone on to help change the world for the better. Without Marx there would have been no European social democracy and much else which is good and humane.

  55. Mick,

    You response fails to address the issue of theocratic fascism which should be opposed by anyone on the Left and which the Left in large part has lamentably failed to do. Not remembering Pinochet or Mussolini being called fascist is neither here nor there. Today we have a theocratic fascism that persecuted the Left, slaughtered it in a range a range of countries, and for some reason there is a failure to confront it.

    There are those on the left who stick to a more tight or pedantic view of fascism and do not regard Chile under Pinochet as fascist even though they feel he was as bad as. To me he it hardly matters whether he was technically or wasn’t. He, Videla, Montt, D’Aubisson can be characterised as fascist on the basis of political traits despite differing degrees of underlying economic factors. The Argentines ran a military dictatorship at a particular time which was made through a political choice borne out of a need not to deal with the working class but to obliterate the guerrilla threat (which soon spread to crushing every progressive sentiment)and not because it was a necessary form that capital threw up. Although the mid 70s economy there was always likely to produce a military regime but not necessarily of the sort it got. It could be argued that there was nothing fascist about the content – merely the political form that it took. But few would care because fascism has come to mean something more than it originally was. It has acquired new inflections. Few would defend Videla et al against allegations of fascism (it was more ideologically attuned to Nazism insofar as it had a huge anti-Semite component, but that existed anyway independent of economic factors).

    ‘Fascism is a very pacific thing’

    It is anything but. It is virulent and aggressive. It is worked at and does not creep in like the waves. Nor is it a case of bad people doing bad things. Every government would be called fascist if that were so. The term itself has moved beyond its original meaning and there is no reason why it should not. Who owns meaning?

    Capital can claim no monopoly on intellectual gophers and cretins. Marxism’s own have tried to restrict the use of the term fascist so that they alone could decide who it was thrown at. In doing so they have sought to deny it ever being thrown at themselves. They have recognised the power of its opprobrium and do not want it thrown their own way in response to the brutal dictatorships Marxism has given rise to whether we call it Leninist or not. Leninism was applied Marxism.

    The fact that fascism has come to power through elections coupled with the size of the working class in those countries where it has come to power indicates that it gets strong working class backing. Where the Left were strong in Germany, in cities like Hamburg, Nazism was resisted by working class people but this was far from the case throughout the country. It is also noteworthy that Hitler had few problems with taking in former communists to the Nazi party because he seen in them a type of personality well moulded to fascism. He was not as eager to have social democrats.

    Does the PUP side with the big house mentality? It is easier to argue that SF does that. It manages the Tory cut policies in the North. Why would a working class unionist who felt radical want to align with conservative Irish nationalists when they could align with British workers? They didn’t see Irish nationalism as in any way progressive. They saw it as responsive to Rome. They had a view that the main enemy was at home but happened to be conservative nationalism.

    To be continued

  56. Continued ...

    The semantics hardly matter when it is considered that Marxist regimes killed millions whether we term them Leninist or something else. What is the moral difference between a Marxist starving millions to death or a fascist gassing millions? Marxists have often resorted to the same brutal methods of those they called fascist to stay in power. Europe would have had social democracy with or without Marx. Just as natural selection would have been discovered without Darwin. To suggest otherwise is to subscribe to the great man of history in terms of ideas. Marx was influential but it was really Leninism that carried Marxism out of the ghetto and destroyed millions in doing so.

    For those of us who subscribe to Marxist ideas, we see them as progressive in ways that fascism was not nor was ever meant to be. But we can’t blind ourselves to the crimes of Marxism otherwise our opposition to Fascism is simply an opposition to the economics behind it rather than the brutalisation.

  57. “The fact that fascism has come to power through elections coupled with the size of the working class in those countries where it has come to power indicates that it gets strong working class backing.”


    As our debate seems to have reached the stage where to outsiders we may appear like a couple of deaf guys who are without the ability to sign, it might be time to move on, although before I do, if you seriously believe the German working class were not the main internal bulwark against the rise of Hitler, I suggest you check out the results of the German elections in 1932 and 1933.

    Yes, in all probability Europe would have had social democracy with or without Marx. Just as natural selection would have been discovered without Darwin.(it probable was) So what, that is not how history reads it. Marx and Darwin were important links in the chain of human understanding. To suggest, as some do, the responsibility for Stalinism lay with Marx is preposterous, it is like saying the works of Darwin were responsible for the nazis slaughter of the disabled or Roma.

    Far from it being Lenin who first put Marx’s ideas into practice politically, it was the German SPD, which after his death replaced its founding platform with one which most Marxists had sympathy with, including one of the SDP’s founders Wilhelm Liebknecht, an associate of Engels. Wilhelm helped turn the SDP into an organization which combined political activity with cultural and educational work. Up until the disastrous conflagration of WW1, it was both the template and the bedrock of European socialism. It is a template it would do no harm to revisit.

    Myself I find the word workerism offensive, no one would think of calling say the Lib-dems, or NL as middleclassism, but when workers have the confidence to organize and highlight the past gains their class have achieved we are often derided as workerist.

    We live in a world in which the media and political elites portray working class people in an insulting and detrimental manner and if working class political activists do not speak up for our class, who will?

    By the way, do I really need to remind you when the lid finally blew off the Orange Stalelet, it was members of the catholic working class who came forward to defend their communities and demand the right to a decent life? I do not remember many middle class people coming forward at the time, indeed it is not an exaggeration to say they either sided as a class with the oppressors, or accepted scraps from their table. It was people like Gerry, Adams, followed by the likes of Bobby Sands and one Anthony McIntyre if my memory serves me right, who came from the heart of the working class and for their pains they and their communities suffered much.

    Just as today in Syrian cities like Homs, it is mainly working class fighters and working class communities like Baba Amr which are under attack from their oppressors, whose military are led by those nice, well educated, supposedly sophisticated, members of the middle classes. We lose sight of this at our own peril.

    True our class has many shortcomings, and working class activists understand this better than most, but I see no reason why we should play our enemies game by parading them in public. Far better to attempt to build confidence and pride with the hope of instilling the belief we have the ability to change our own destiny for the better.

    All the Best


  58. Mick,

    ok, given that you think it has run out of steam, this will be my last word on it. So you will understand if I do not return to any reply that you might make.

    My argument is not that the German working class was not a bulwark against Nazism. That it failed is inextricably linked to the fact that many working class ended up supporting the Nazis. Workers swing both ways. There is no such thing as objective class consciousness.

    Marx cannot be blamed in my view for the crimes of Marxism. But without Lenin and Stalin Marxism would hardly have become a world force. Lenin established the first Marxist state and that was an essential requirement of putting Marxism on the map.

    I like the term workerism – it deflates the sloganeering that so often is a major turn off for people considering radical ideas. Workerism as used by me does not actually describe workers but those who speak of the working class in a fashion that hardly resembles what the class is. Even here it is a long time since I heard anyone convincingly describe the working class in a manner that survives analytical scrutiny. Many of the debates of the 70s and early 80s were based on this – Ellen Meiksins Wood, Poulantzas, Erik Olin Wright et al. Were we any more certain at the end of them? I wasn’t.

    The Catholic working class came to defend their communities against the Protestant working class who were burning them. Then the British working class, armed to the teeth, came on the streets in British military uniform and mowed down the Catholic working class, tortured them, interned them. I experienced very few middle class British soldiers. And then the self appointed party of the working class the Communist Party hammered the resistance efforts.

    And now the Catholic working class has shown that what it really found wrong was not what the unionists or British were doing, but that the Catholic working class weren’t doing it themselves. And so today we have it accepting scraps from the table and siding with the British state and its armed police as it sets about trying to mop up republicanism.

    All over the world the working class tortures, kills, represses. They fill the ranks of repressive military machines - in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan. I think we lose sight of that at our peril. While not a fan of Fanon, he had a point. As Napoleon observed - amongst the oppressed are many who like to oppress.

    And if we don’t discuss our problems in public open discussion we are on the road to Stalinism. If the working class is the panacea for the woes of the world then publicly persuade us. We are not the sort of people who believe something only because it is whispered. Have the democratic discussion.

  59. Just finished Tommy,s book,whichI borrowed from our TPQ,s Nuala,I thought this was going to be a heavy read, so it came as surprise to me just how easy the pages slipped by,Tommy,s short stories at the start of each chapter capture in words a vivid picture of the forthcoming chapter,While most of this book is well travelled ground and nothing new, Tommys openness and honesty is refreshing compared to the spin that those who now claim to speak for the prm produce, an example of this is the maneuvering around the abstention debate,to add futher proof to Tommys version I know SF in Belfast which at the time was almost defunct in all but name managed to send a large number of delegates to the debate only to disappear again when the vote went in Adams favour,Tommy has documented the birth of PRM to the present day with a cold clinical eye and he has produced a book well worth reading for anyone interested in our recent past, I loved Barney (met a few like him) who saw the fancy talking blowin as nothing more than a carpetbagger,the "graduate" was his nickname Barney called him "Gobshite" brill, thank f##k we have writers of Tommy and Anthonys calibre and honesty or we would be fed a diet of bullshit on a daily basis and no way to know what we are being asked to swallow is just regurgitated crap from the brit lackeys qsf.