Anthony McIntyre ☠ In 1994 in Tallaght, while at my one and only Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, somebody was looking around for a music CD to conclude the conference.
They were seeking to locate Something Inside So Strong by Labi Siffre which Sinn Fein was eager to adopt as a party theme tune. If I have not confused him with some other event, something in my mind tells me that the person was the talented Belfast wall muralist Danny Devenny. When he was having trouble putting his hand on it, I quipped that they could try Road To Nowhere by Talking Heads.
It was a quip with a sharp edge, reflecting my hunch that republicanism as we had practiced it was coming to the end of its journey. After that it would ineluctably be sucked into constitutionalism, never to come out as anything other than individual leaves falling from a tree that remained firmly rooted in the ground it had hitherto proclaimed as barren, and which could only be irrigated with bullets.
Since then, my instinct borne out, there has been nothing to emerge that has caused me to think that republicanism could be revived. Crucified four years after the Tallaght Ard Fheis, courtesy of an Agreement reached on Good Friday, there would be no Easter Sunday resurrection.
For a number of years following the Good Friday Agreement I conducted, from The Blanket online journal, a running commentary on each layer of the shroud being tightly bound around the corpse of republicanism. These writings eventually found their way into a book titled Good Friday: The Death Of Irish Republicanism. I have never looked back and felt I had called it wrong or wished I had written something less bleak. Nothing since has changed my mind, but has instead served to reinforce my view.
With that in mind it might appear strange that I would contribute to a series of articles on the future of republicanism when I am firmly of the belief that it has no future other than a struggle to escape from the margins. No matter how competently it manages to diminish its own marginalisation, there is zilch chance of it becoming the hegemonic political force on this island. To borrow a phrase, it has unfailingly never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The republican Zeitgeist has passed. The same river of partition flows through the country but the observation of Heraclitus holds good, and it will never be stepped in again.
There is an eminently logical reason for asserting this which also helps explain an equally logical, if wholly unprincipled, reason for the IRA leadership having acquiesced to British insistence that the only solution was an internal one. In recent days it has been explained concisely and lucidly by Ed Moloney in his tribute to the late Rita O’Hare.
the Provos were a different sort of IRA than we had ever known. To be sure they paid lip service to the same ideals and goals as did the traditionalists, especially ‘Brits Out’ and the demand for unification; and they believed in the use of armed force. But what really bugged the Provos, what acted as their recruiting sergeants, what made them both powerful and different, were the Unionists and their hard-line cousins, the Loyalists.
However prosecuted, the public energy that fuelled the IRA’s armed struggle was not a volcanic eruption against the British presence in Ireland but a dam burst against the way the British behaved while they had a presence in Ireland. The solution was easily found – a change in British behaviour and not a British withdrawal: a change that would head off the attainment of the discursive republican objective of a united Ireland by including republicans while excluding republicanism.
The success of that British state strategy is so vividly captured in the image of naked starving blanket men being transformed into besuited well fed banquet men eager to dine on quail’s eggs with British royalty.
Since the leadership’s capitulation to British demands, there have emerged several attempts to give the kiss of life to the republican corpse, the least fruitful of which – and still tending to attract the most attention despite its strategic nihilism – has been the homicidal ideology of physical force republicanism. It holds that is has a right to kill whoever it wants with reference only to itself and its adherents. That sounds more like gangland arrogance than a politics-driven republicanism.
Nevertheless, with homicidal republicanism continuing to feed failure and starve success, the republican project has been, from the state perspective, safely marooned on a make-believe island which nobody acknowledges the existence of other than the few who celebrate being on it. Despite its adherence to national sovereignty armed republicanism has seen that banner jerked from it by the Irish fascists who, their abhorrence notwithstanding, garner more support than exists for the homicidal project of physical force republicanism.
If republicanism is to have any future making it worth the effort, it seems likely that it will lie in the sphere of radical pressure politics. It is not as if there is a shortage of issues around which to campaign and organise. There at least exists the potential to create a republican organising principle. The chances for success on that terrain will be determined largely by the degree to which humility can be embraced and hubris abandoned. Republicanism has to divest itself of an elitist mentality that it is above people who struggle in their daily lives, and which has led it to believe that it can ride into the fray as heroes on horseback with the false promise to save the nation.
If it can manage that much, while placing a strategic priority on the preservation of life in place of a traditional inalienable right to take life, it might just find within itself the ingredients necessary to allow republicanism to become a potent social protest movement able to effect change rather than exist in its current stasis, able only to make nothing happen.
This piece opens up a potential route to both countering the establishment and far right on republican principles if a reassessment in structures and tactics follow. There are quite a few socialist republican groups who do aspire to be a people's movement but they have, at present severe and debilitating limitations, for example:ReplyDelete
Access, most groups are tightly controlled and ideological hence the reason there are so many and they struggle to work in a progressive network. This makes them appear unwelcoming to new ideas.
Paranoia, rather than being open and embracing of recruits of political and social potential they are scarred with the reality of what became the provisionals in terms of infiltration and internal destruction. If physical force was not an element this could relax.
Dogmatism, there isn't one pure way to progress and different people can have different energy and views for progress, a broad church with strong values could be reinvigorated and potentially successful.
The question on contesting for seats, abstentionism or totally ignoring elections is a catch 22, its fundamentally sound in separatist terms to stay out of the system but its also doomed to irrelevance as it cannot be a popular driver of change without an alternative which has traditionally been militarism. If militarism is futile and elections are futile then others will take a ride on the back of your community work. Something new has to disrupt the status quo, Seamus Costello advocated Guerilla tactics inside and outside of parliament, Leinster House Westminster and Stormont even Brussels have only subverted the Republican objective but guerilla tactics for inside the system have not been attempted because it becomes all about votes and power, principles are abandoned. Maybe we need to revisit what the concept of what peoples representatives are and seek to create change using disciplined republican independants who can enter the system and progress the people's objectives calling out the neo colonial, partitionist nature of it while representing the people while advocating for the Republic. An outside broad republican Church, organised and strategic with Independent candidates from it entering the system, could this be parliamentary guerilla tactics?
We should certainly open up discussion on a way forward to welcome new energy and for the times we live in. Bread and butter issues always carry most weight.
Paddy, bread and butter issues remain the same all the way down. People always want them addressed and they will always be there while revolutionary circuses will come to town, perform whatever it is they do, and move on, leaving people with the same bread and butter issues.Delete
I think Direct Democracy Ireland purported to be campaigning for s similar type of representative system to that being alluded to by you. But it seems to have gone so far to the Catholic right that direct democracy is going to look like some cultic idea.
Gerry Adams once advocated direct democracy and instant recall in his jail book, Ireland's British Problem. But it was an idea quickly abandoned.
The Marxist theoretician Nicos Poulantzas ended up thinking the best radicalism could how for was a combination of parliamentary representative and extra parliamentary representation. I think his deep frustration with the problems of trying to extend and deepen socialism may have fed into his suicide.
What does Republicanism even mean and what does it offer the people that's a better alternative to what they already have? As Pat points out it's the bread and butter issues that appeal most to voters. Vaunting and waxing lyrical about a United Ireland always ended with an impasse " What does a UI look like on Day 1, 100, 1000?" This is usually followed by the sound of crickets. That's the real issue facing Republicans.ReplyDelete
@ Steve RDelete
That's a very good question. I'm not beholden to an idea of republicanism, but to answer part of your question:
"what does it offer the people that's a better alternative to what they already have?"
I would say that a clear, committed, egalitarian alternative to the regressive strains that have contaminated unionism.
I once thought unionism was totally irreformable and simply needed to be beaten. Now I do believe that reform is possible to a degree, and maybe a softer, non-prejudiced, open unionism is a better alternative to an all-Ireland republic.
Personally, not least from reading a lot of the interactions on here, I think a new Ireland, which would be a republic but one in which the British monarch was always welcome, is a good outcome.
Brandon I believe the younger generation of Unionists are a lot more amenable to listening to the positions of Nationalists. But it will take a bit of time before the old guard dies off and commonsense prevails. The Eire Nua position would be the runner a a future UI and I'm not talking about some nonsense Unionist majority in an Ulster Assembly I'm talking sensible, practical democratic decision making regarding everyday minutiae. But this ignores a huge problem; convincing the gravy train passengers to vote to stop at the UK station and reroute to the South. Republicans and Unionists however well intentioned they started out are careerists now, and separately FF/FG sure as shit don't want a massive influx of troublesome nordy shinners and bewildered prods to deal with and pay for. Money talks and whatnot.Delete
I don't advocate direct democracy, there needs to be genuine solutions in the form of policies to resolve the problems rather than just having constant referendums. However, the party political constructs evident this week by the Green Partys Neasa Hourigan where she obeys a whip goes against her own moral inclination and votes against the people is fundamentally wrong. To counter this a system where elected representatives represent the will of the people in obvious issues such as extending the eviction ban unconstrained by membership of the private club is not radical at all its right. A petition to recall is a neccesary counter measure to provide some balance to a 5 year term. A genuine socialist programme needs to be developed and implemented which isn't going to be watered down by Party political negotiations and vested interests therefore we have to disempower the parties and empower the People to both participate in democracy and hold their representatives to account. In my view the Republican program should be the one which does this.ReplyDelete
In the modern age direct democracy could be done without referenda. But I don't think it a practical means to manage complex societies.Delete
A whip system has never appealed to me. I think SF was wrong to suspend Peadar Toibin for opposing abortion, even though I disagreed with him. But the whip unfortunately has been legitimised as a means of doing party business. Some think there is no point in joining a party if you want to do your own thing.
The will of the people is a fickle thing. How would it be tested on the particular issue of eviction ban?
In Westminster there is some mechanism for recalling. It was tried in the case of Paisley Jnr but never made the threshold.
Government by politics is not always government by passion and I think most political systems will end up with a minimum period of office longevity as a form of counterbalance against chaos, the demagogue and the upending of every government programme.
How is democracy to be extended and deepened? I haven't seen anything yet to emerge from within republicanism that inspires confidence.
I think your input would be valuable in the first of the series where Francie Mackey talked about a republican media centre.Delete
The current system is rotten and doesn't provide the basics that people work and contribute to in terms of justice, health, education, housing things we can safely say are the people's will but I accept that's subjective but that's my view which I see lots of evidence for .ReplyDelete
The people certainly don't want crisis after crisis and we can see the Neoliberal corruption in front of us, this demands change. The basic sentiment of the proclamation would be a strong guide to any government structure yet we see little effort to that end in terms of national resources and equality instead privatisation and economic disparity.
The Irish constitution doesn't even mention parties only representatives. Parties are fine so long as their agenda doesn't override the common good as it does for the Establishment right wingers of FF and FG, SF will be no different.
A petition to recall must be qualified by mechanisms that prevent its misuse to render it farcical.
As you know my belief is in a system styled upon Éire nua and while this does resemble a direct democracy comparison by calling it participatory I see this as far more than the continuous plebiscite construct albeit this could be technologically easier today. Instead it should have a cascade of participatory structures with autonomy devolved to differing bodies overseen by the people and all alliegences to the Republic.
Is there any system that will not be found rotten by some? Maybe that's no bad thing otherwise there would be no progress if everybody was to think their lot was a good one.Delete
The people elect these governments - that is the only measurable people's will we have. They elect them within an economic system they know not to be socialist, but show not the slightest inclination to changing the system.
Socialism had a great opportunity to make itself an appealing alternative but unfortunately the pigs became farmers and it has lost the trust of a huge majority of people. Perhaps it is not that people would find many socialist ideas repellant but maybe just don't trust anybody to implement them. Is there one party you would trust in office? None for me. We will always find a government but to have better governance we need a robust opposition.
For all the talk of change, the party that made it a campaigning banner only managed to get 25% of the vote. So, I wonder about the demand for change, just how widespread it is.
I pay little attention to the Proclamation - it is too often used like a Bible. I never find it as binding.
The constitution does not have to mention parties -representatives can decide to associate in ways that include parties.
The common good is not something that society seems able to agree upon. It keeps electing people who others warn do not represent the common good.
I am not an Eire Nua advocate. As you know I am something of a globalist. But that is like saying I am something of an Argentina fan. So what!! If Eire Nua brings more democracy good, if not, bad.
At the same time strategies rather than slogans interest me and republicanism has been all too replete with slogans.