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Seamus Costello and the Anti- Imperialist Broad Front
In many countries fighting for national liberation, the revolutionary forces are coordinated by a 'broad front'. Throughout history, coalition's of anti- imperialist groups have come together to wage a revolutionary class war that seeks to end the exploitation of the working class and establish socialism.
James Connolly understood the importance of such broad fronts for confronting imperialism. For the class struggle to be successful, the revolution must have the support of as wide a section of the masses as possible. It was for this reason that Connolly and the Irish Citizen's Army formed a broad anti- imperialist front in 1916, joining with the Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Brotherhood. Together they would confront British imperialism in Ireland and proclaim a sovereign independent Republic.
At the triumph of the counter revolution in 1923, there was no credible force pushing for an anti imperialist front that would continue the fight for national liberation and socialism in Ireland. Republicanism suffered a series of damaging splits that divorced the masses from the revolution.
It wasn't until the 1930's and the rise of the Republican Congress, that the idea of a new anti- Imperialist broad front became a distinct possibility in Ireland. The Republican Congress brought together republicans, socialists, communists and trade unionists and brought a section of the revolutionary movement in Ireland back to the every day struggles of the people.
The Republican Congress cut through the religious sectarianism and anti- communist hysteria of the time, to promote for the first time since Connolly, a genuine socialist republicanism in Ireland. Such a movement had the potential to unite all religions and revolutionary forces in the struggle for national liberation.
Unfortunately, worker's in the Ireland of the 1930's had not reached the level of class consciences that was required. The population failed to understand that the policies the Republican Congress were advocating would mean and end to exploitation in Ireland and a genuine freedom for her citizens.
Faced with condemnation from pulpits across the 32 counties, many of the driving figures in the Republican Congress would fight and die bravely on the battlefields of Spain, in defence of the Spanish Republic against the fascist hordes. The cause of national liberation and socialism in Ireland would have to wait for another generation.
In 1962, The IRA concluded that 'Operation Harvest' would not be the battle that would liberate Ireland. Despite heroic resistance from IRA Volunteer's against the on-going crime of British Imperialism, republicans decided it was time to dump arms and wait to fight another day.
In a statement ordering Volunteers to dump arms the IRA said ' Foremost among the factors motivating this course of action has been the attitude of the general public whose minds have been deliberately distracted from the supreme issue facing the Irish people - the unity and freedom of Ireland. The Irish resistance movement renews its pledge of eternal hostility to the British Forces of Occupation in Ireland. It calls on the Irish people for increased support and looks forward with confidence – in co-operation with the other branches of the Republican Movement - to a period of consolidation, expansion and preparation for the final and victorious phase of the struggle for the full freedom of Ireland.'
The IRA realised that it's failure to win the popular support and active involvement of a significant section of the Irish population, meant that it's campaign could not be a success. This had a deep impact on Volunteers who began to realise that clandestine and militarist activities alone would not win the support of the Irish people. These volunteers decided that the Republican Movement must win the support of the masses through active involvement in the everyday struggles of the people.
One such volunteer was Seamus Costello. A committed disciple of Connolly, Costello would spend the rest of his life trying to build a credible and effective republican organisation, that would combine the class and national struggle and win the popular support and active involvement in the fight for national liberation and socialism in Ireland.
Costello was one of the main architect's in the shifting the republican movement to the left throughout the 1960's and always lead from the front. Initially siding with the 'Stickies' in the 1969/1970 split, when it became clear that that organisation was sliding into counter revolution, Costello established a new socialist republican vehicle. In honour of James Connolly the group was called the Irish Republican Socialist Party.
Costello intended the new party to become the engine of a re-organised republican struggle. This he believed would be a party that the Irish working class could call their own. In the early day's of the IRSP, Costello won committed republican soldiers, socialists and trade unionists to it's ranks.
At the same time as be active in the 'practice of revolution in Ireland' Costello was also conscience of the need for revolutionary theory and was always looking for opportunities to win as broad a section of the masses as possible to the struggle for national liberation in Ireland.
Like Connolly in 1916, Costello believed that all Irish anti- imperialist forces should come together to confront British Imperialism and Capitalism. This he believed could create a genuine opportunity to win the support and active involvement of a greater section of the Irish people in the fight for freedom then the IRSP or republicans could hope to mobilise alone.
In 1977, to explore options of doing just that Costello drafted a policy paper which has become known as the 'Broad Front' document. Endorsed by the Ard Comhairle of the IRSP, Costello submitted this document to the 1977 'Broad Front Talks' which brought together a number of Irish anti- imperialist groups to discuss the possibility of common ground being found.
Although the talks ended unsuccessfully, socialist republican's today should study Costello's 'Broad Front' document and taking account of the conditions in Ireland today, discuss whether such an approach could be of benefit to the struggle for national liberation and socialism in Ireland.
Is a Broad Front possible or even desirable? What Anti- Imperialist groups if any, should socialist republicans seek to find common ground and work with today?
Revolutionary theory has an important part to play in the struggle for national liberation and socialism in Ireland today. It is for that reason we are republishing here Seamus Costello's Broad Front document in the hopes that socialist republicans will study its merits and arm themselves with any benefits within it that could strengthen our struggle.
The Broad Front- Seamus Costello.
The IRSP fully endorse the sentiments, expressed in the basic discussion document regarding the seriousness of the present political crisis in Ireland and fully support the call for the maximum degree of anti-imperialist unity. We feel that genuine anti-imperialist unity can be achieved and that the basic discussion document lays the basis for such unity provided those present at this conference can agree that the document needs clarification and amendment on a number of important points.
As a socialist party, our ultimate political objective is the creation of a unified 32 county Democratic Socialist Republic within which the Irish working class will control the wealth and resources of the nation. This objective can only be achieved through the efforts of a unified and politically conscious Irish working class. The fact that a unified and politically conscious Irish working class does not exist is a direct consequence of the creation of two partitioned states in Ireland, and of the continuing imperialist interference in both parts of the country. The problems arising from this lack of working class unity are painfully obvious. The working class people of the South have been skillfully divided by the allies of British imperialism since the establishment of the 26-county state. For 50 years the Southern working class have been conned into supporting political parties who held out the illusion of radical solutions to both the national question and the class struggle, while in reality they used the working class as a power base for their continued betrayal of both struggles. In the North the Protestant working class were led to believe that the only way in which they could preserve the marginal supremacy which they held over their Catholic counterparts in jobs and housing was through supporting corrupt Unionist politicians and through them the Union with Britain. Their genuine and well founded fears regarding the preservation of their religious and civil liberties in the context of a united and clerical dominated Ireland were also exploited by the same corrupt politicians. At the same time the Catholic working class were conned into believing that their salvation lay in supporting green tory politicians who, while hypocritically advocating the reunification of Ireland, as a guarantee of their ultimate salvation, completely submerged themselves in corrupt Unionist politics in exchange for favours for the class they really represented, the Northern Catholic middle class. As history has shown, the working class, North and South, Protestant and Catholic, have been victims of the so-called solutions to the 'Irish Question' imposed by Britain and her subservient native parliaments. It is still Britain's objective to find and impost a political solution which will guarantee the continued protection of Britain's economic and strategic interests in both parts of Ireland. Britain is also acting as the local protector of the interests of other imperial powers in Ireland. Some of the EEC countries as well as America and Canada have powerful vested interest in supporting a British imposed 'solution' in Ireland. Britain also has to consider the possible effects on internal British politics of the emergence of a united and independent state in Ireland. In our view, if an independent Ireland is to be viable in economic terms, and if it is to provide a reasonable standard of living for the majority of our people, it can only be done through a radical change in the ownership of wealth and resources. In these circumstances Britain and the EEC countries would have every reason to worry about the effects on working class opinion in their own countries. Finally of course Britain's strategic interests must also be protected through the imposition of a 'solution' which will ensure that Ireland continues its present policy of pro-imperialist 'neutrality.' Every British imposed solution including the original partition of the country, the Northern Ireland Assembly...the Convention and direct rule, has been designed to protect these economic and strategic interests. The present policy of the Ulsterisation of the conflict is also clearly designed to perpetuate the division of the country, and the sectarian divisions of the Northern working class. The native capitalist class, acting through the political parties which represent their interests in both parts of Ireland have played a fundamental role in supporting British imperialist interests in Ireland. They have done so because they have now accommodated themselves to the role of overseers for the British and other imperialist economic interests. They have clearly thrown their weight behind the various solutions put forward by British imperialism over the past eight years, and will continue to do so in order to ensure that the one solution which would end their role as the native agents of foreign imperial interests does not emerge. As a party we therefore recognize the absolute necessity of securing a constitutional solution to the present crisis which will allow the Irish working class the freedom to pursue their interests as a class in the context of the development of normal class politics. In our view the first step in securing a constitutional solution which meets this requirement must be for Britain to concede the right of the Irish people to exercise total sovereignty over their own affairs. This objective can only be achieved through the creation of a unified struggle on the part of all anti-imperialist organizations. We would therefore support the formation of an Irish anti-imperialist Front composed of delegates from affiliated organizations who support the agreed political programme of the Front. The primary objective of the Front would be to mobilize the maximum degree of support for its declared objectives throughout Ireland. The Front should have sufficient support and assistance from its affiliated organizations to enable it to open a head office with a full time staff. We propose the following political demands as the basis on which an Irish anti-imperialist Front should organise:
1. That Britain must renounce all claims to sovereignty over any part of Ireland or its coastal waters.
2. That Britain must immediately disband and disarm the UDR, RUC, and RUC Reserve and withdraw all troops from Ireland.
3. That the British and 26 County governments must immediately release all political prisoners and grant a general amnesty for all offenses arising from the current conflict.
4. That Britain must agree to compensate all who have suffered as a result of imperialist violence and exploitation in Ireland.
5. Recognizing that no country can be free and independent while it permits imperialist domination of its economic life, the Irish anti-imperialist Front will oppose all forms of imperialist control over our wealth and resources.
6. That the Irish anti-imperialist Front rejects a federal solution and the continued existence of two separate states in the 6 and 26 counties as a denial of the right of the Irish people to sovereignty and recognizes the only alternative as being the creation of a 32 County Democratic Republic with a secular constitution.
7. That the Irish anti-imperialist Front demands the convening of an all Ireland Constitutional Conference representative of all shades of political opinion in Ireland for the purpose of discussing a democratic and secular Constitution which would become effective immediately following a total British military and political withdrawal from Ireland.
We feel that these demands would secure the active support of all genuine anti-imperialists in Ireland and that they should form the basis for an agreed programme of action by the Irish anti-imperialist Front. We are submitting them to this conference in the hope that we can make a serious contribution towards overcoming some of the problems caused by the divisions existing between the anti-imperialist organizations.