Broad Front - We Almost had it and let it Slip from our Grasp

Guest writer Tony O'Hara with some thoughts on republican unity. Tony O'Hara is a former blanketman. His brother, INLA volunteer Patsy O'Hara, was one of ten republicans who died on hunger strike in 1981.

A simple deduction that I realised in 1981.

While we split and split again and retreated to hide in our little corners taking up most of our energy ridiculing every other group, we will never achieve anything. I could spend a year outlining what I like and do not like about every group in our little country and when I finish there I could do the same about other countries. But what’s the point?

Waste of time.

Instead, I have always pointed out that the greatest achievement we have had since 1971 was the unity under the H Block/Armagh Committee.From 1980 and 1981 as our Men and Woman endured Hunger Strike, most put aside differences and marched together in tens of thousands. We had the makings of something great. And when the Hunger Strike ended, the SF leadership ignoring the opinions of every other group and individual wanted the Committee to continue as a single issue calling for repatriation of the POWs in English Gaols.

I was at the National H Block/Armagh Committee leadership meeting when the late Daithi Ó Connail submitted the proposal. I told him and the others that it wasn't enough.

In February 1982, I attended the final recall conference of the National H Block/Armagh Committee in the West County Hotel.This public meeting was packed mostly with members of SF to ensure that the vote went their way. Every other group pleaded to the room that we should carry on as a Broad Anti Imperialist Front, with the main agenda being an end to British occupation of Ireland. I remember reading the IRSP's 5 point proposal that had been drawn up By Seamus Costello, Bernadette Mc Aliskey Tony Gregory and others at the founding of the IRSP in 1974. It was as a basis for broad unity. And everyone was prepared to accept changes of all the points so long as they enhanced the overall objectives.

My heart was breaking reading it knowing that it was falling on deaf ears. I knew that day as we left to go back to our corners that we had lost the greatest opportunity to build on our success. And for nearly 30 years I watched split after split happen.

In 2011, I seen a glimmer of hope on a world scale with the Occupy Wall Street event. Look how this snowballed globally. I watched hoping that people can see a platform to unite us all under common issues like world poverty, globalisation, environment etc, etc, etc. And as the novelty wore off, all the groups retreated to the wee places they occupy and started up their habitual backstabbing and grumbling about everyone and everything except themselves. Republican's and Socialists Of Ireland and anti-Imperialists of the world, we don't need a leader or a king to show us the way. We need to wake up and realise that we are pissing against the wind trying to go it alone. Only in Unity do we have a chance to win.


  1. On Faceboook Rory Stafford described this an "Excellent article by Tony O'Hara"

  2. It is an excellent and timely article.

  3. The problem is not that we let it slip from our grasp but the irreconcilable politics between those who are still wedded to vanguard type politics and those who don't just pay lip service to the old Marx saying' that the task of workers emancipation is the task of workers themselves.' Nobody is asking the most important question – what do we mean by ‘socialism’?

    Should the country be ruled by a parliament, by workers' councils or even by a one party dictatorship? Should it be old-style left Labour or libertarian socialism? Should it be sympathetic to the regime in Cuba, or even to the totalitarian Stalinist dynasty in North Korea? Where would freedom fit into things?

    Anarchists have a good record of working alongside others to win whatever victories are presently possible and of using methods that encourage working class self-confidence rather than reliance on personalities or leaders.

    However when it comes to the proposals for ‘left unity’ we need to look at what is on the table and distinguish between left co-operation and left unity. For example we have once again witnessed the end of the largest social struggle in the 26 counties(campaign against household charges) since the land league movement due to the fact that left trot parties were more interested in carving up areas for electoral opportunities rather than empowering local people building self management and confidence.

    The failure of the left in the last century was, to a very large extent, that it adopted the political organisation of capitalism in promoting a system of choosing some person or party to govern the working class.

    This emphasis on leaders and parties is also a legacy of the failure of 20th century 'socialism'. Let us not forget that practically all of this left takes its inspiration from the Bolshevik party and its state capitalist dictatorship in the old Soviet Union. What we need today is not some sort of united front of existing minor parties, but rather a break with that whole methodology.

    Most importantly, real socialism is inseparable from freedom and direct democracy. Freedom to speak, to discuss, to travel, to organise, to take control of our own lives. All those effected by a decision should have the opportunity of taking part in making that decision. We need to reject any vision of socialism that does not explicitly oppose the division of people into rulers and ruled.

  4. Great stuff Tony no doubt and a lot in it that can lead to a decent discussion. Get a better look at it this evening when I get home

  5. Sean,
    If by the 'campaign against household charges' you mean the campaign against property tax. This issue utterly failed to engage the people who are really being hammered by ongoing austerity.
    The Lumpen Proletariat and the less well off working class, who neither own nor aspire to own property.

  6. Indeed it is; and we on the left, whether in Ireland the UK or elsewhere, need to be reminded of the need for unity and ignore what Tony writes at our peril.

    On the core issues of the day you could not place a cigaret paper between most members of the various socialist and republican groups. Yet this is ignored and comparatively minor issues and ideological differences become insurmountable problems which cannot be overcome.

    If you scratch below the service these high minded pseudo intellectual differences often are little more than personality clashes which far to often take precedence over the needs of working class people.

    Cheers Tony

  7. Seems like Tony just wants to put the boot into Sinn Fein again-

    If there were others there at the time why did they not all band together without Sinn Fein and do their own things-or did they need Sinn Fein to hold their hands during the war which was getting hot and heavy again in that time we are talking about-no-it maybe looked like to much hard work and there was a home to get back to-
    and a Sinn Fein to blame-

    You would think that people were talking about now-a-days when they
    go off on one-there was a war going on back then in case no one noticed-

  8. Tony

    Great article, concise and to the point..

    Also,I ofund this worthwhile reading!

    H-Block/Armagh Broad Front -An Assessment

  9. MH-

    Many would accuse your party of 'hijacking' (for want of a better word) the H-Block/Armagh Committee.

    Political opportunism has become the heart & soul of your party..

  10. To Michael Henry 1st - My article was a true account of history. Simple stated without trying to put the boot into SF or any other group.
    Did you expect me to leave out the fact the the H Block/Armagh committee ended because SF didn't want a broad front?
    But I suppose you view anything negative said about SF as putting the boot in. And one message you missed from my contribution was that in the long term, a broad front will have to include SF too. No matter how nauseous that may seem to people. I will not be replying anymore to your attempts to distort or label my article.

  11. Sean , I read your contribution with great interest. I was sorry you couldn't resist a widespread dig when you stated
    ''left trot parties were more interested in carving up areas for electoral opportunities rather than empowering local people building self management and confidence''.
    Thats what I mean about retreating to our hidden corners and backstabbing.If you named the people you are referring to, this blog would be taken up with useless arguments and counter arguments on trivial matters, wasting time and energy, when it could be better spent on productive things.

    I was delighted with other parts.I do believe that we need a new analysis for the 21st century. But we also need to have a simplified agenda drawn up that the ordinary person can understand. And we do need something new. But no matter who tries to start this will be labelled from the outset. e.g If AM wanted to host a meeting to form a new group/party people would point out that he is a revolutionary Socialist journalist/thinker etc thats the ones that like him, The one's that don't would be backstabbing and calling him everything under the sun they could think of to put people off. That would apply to you and me and anyone.
    Thats why I believe that the various groups and individuals need to get together and begin discussions.
    Start with a blank page and cut out the rhetoric and draw up a new way forward that will be as revolutionary as I believe Seamus Costello's was in 1977.

  12. MH -

    'If there were others there at the time why did they not all band together without Sinn Fein and do their own things'

    Rather than engage within Republicans groups who oppose their strategy and find a common ground to creat Republican unity, your party revels in internal turmoil & splits because it justifies their pandering to imperialism agenda. Something akin to Oliver Twist:

    'Please sir, Can I have some more!'

    Given your party's U-turn in political direction it very is clear that Lord Gerry is a modern day 'Home Ruler' and is set on repeating the mistakes of 1922 by leading his flock down the path of constitutional nationalism.

    Let's hope that your party doesn't go too far back in time & rekindle their Zionist links & start regurgitating this..

    ‘Israel represents the triumph of Sinn Féin.’ [Sinn Féin, 16 Mar. 1912, p. 2. Quoted in Hession ‘Advanced Nationalism’ (2011)]

    p.s. In relation to the Occupy Movement...

    'Strength through unity. Unity through faith.'

  13. I took part in some of the occupy protests and it is a shame that it fizzeled out.

  14. Tony,

    I would feel aggrieved to be described as a revolutionary!

  15. AM , lol Ok I will change that to Freedom Fighter. :)

  16. Tony,

    writer is about the height of it these days!

    I have just come to be very sceptical about revolutionaries and would never describe myself as one.

  17. AM

    Do you feel progressive is a more fitting word for yourself?
    I would certainly consider your work and liberal leaning views as progressive.

    In regards to SF. How many millions of pounds have they made on the backs of the likes of Patsy O'Hara and the other hunger strikers? I am sure their families have seen none of those monies derived from their young deaths.

  18. AM

    I have to agree with your sceptism about these modern day revolutionary's..

    especially those that go around in a self-dillusional bubble calling each other comrade!

  19. Maitiu,

    it is not a term of self description that I am inclined to use. I tend to apply it to political events or currents. I definitely don't feel comfortable with a revolutionary label. Have seen too much that is draconian and totalitarian with people calling themselves revolutionaries.

    In prison the 'revolutionaries' would label 'contra' anybody who disagreed with them and now I look at what the revolutionaries signed up for.

    A while ago I settled for the Orwell view that nine times out of ten revolutionaries are social climbers with bombs. I agree that the notion of changing the world is progressive but feel that the notion of perfecting it is dangerous.

    They use to have this silly programme in jail 'combat liberalism'. Morrison said to me he opposed it because he was a liberal. I never found him too liberal, apart from jail, but his observation stuck with me.

  20. Fenian,

    as true as that might be there is more to it than that.

  21. AM

    I agree, keeping up with MH's in depth commentary has made me over cynical @ times!! lol

  22. Very interesting quote there Anthony. Though very true on all sides. Most are criminals and social climbers.

  23. Maitiu-

    " How many millions have they Made "-

    The 12 Hunger-Strikers who died during the last and final war did so for their comrades- not for money-

    Those troops who you served with died in Iraq without getting a single dime from the oil companies
    who made billions there-who was the bigger idiot-

  24. MH-

    For the one rare moment we actually agree on something.. The 'Queen & Country' indoctrination is still producing Lizzy Battenberg's conveyor belt of cannon fodder!

  25. Actually MH to be politically correct on the issue it was China who was in Afganistan mining their mineral reserves & in Iraq signing up the oil rights whilst America & Britain were providing them covering fire...Karma is B*tch...

  26. MH
    You have misunderstood what I was saying. I an saying that SF have made millions from selling books about the hunger strikers. SF have made a fortune from using the name of Bobby Sands.

  27. Maitiu,

    it’s not that Mickey misunderstood; it is a case of Sinn Fein incorporated believes they have a trademark on all things republican.
    It is simple they will continue to exploit anything republican if there is a penny to be from it.

  28. In response to Tony,

    I think you are missing my point. There is a clear difference between left co-operation in common struggles(which is important and necessary) as well as debates and discussions which happen all the time and 'left unity' which will never happen not is it desireable because of a gulf in aims, strategy and tactics. Lets say between anarchist communism and more authoritarian shades of 'Marxism' such as Leninism and Maoism. My reference to the anti household charges still stand in relation to left parties such as SWP and SP more keen to get someone elected than building genuine local democratic campaign which anarchists such as the WSM were in favour of. As for 'left sectarianism', it is something anarchists do not suffer from because after all the politics of anarchism is not about substituting the party for the class, which trots and Leninists subscribe too. Thankfully most key struggles that have emerged locally and globally such as Occupy have all been 'anarchistic' in spirit given then commitment to non-hierarchal organising leaving Leninism dead in the water or irrelevant in the 21st century.
    This wee quote from UK Solidarity group in 1970s sums it up for me,

    'Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self -activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.'

    Like mackers I am also wary for people adapting the label 'revolutionary'.