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Inside the world of Dissident Republicanism
Wednesday April 12, 2006 01:02 by Terry
The Real I.R.A.
As we approach the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising this article looks at anti-Agreement Republicanism by reviewing its press.
The three main dissident republican political organisations are the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, and Republican Sinn Fein. This article reviews their publications, which are The Starry Plough, The Sovereign Nation, and Saoirse.
These groups are all much much smaller than the mainstream or ‘Provisional’ Sinn Fein, but given the latter’s acceptance of the Unionist veto aka the principle of consent, that is that changes in the constitutional arrangement for Northern Ireland must be endorsed by its electorate, as well as their downsizing of the military arm, it is the dissidents rather than the Provisionals who carry on the spirit of what Irish republicanism meant for most of the 20th centuary.
Conflict Archive CAIN
Wikipedia on Real I.R.A.
Ireland's Own, republican website
Davy Carlin article on dissidents
The Nationalism Project: site for the study of nationalism
Na Fianna Éireann
Cumann na Saoirse Náisíunta
Irish Republican Socialism Movement
the leadership of Ógliagh na hÉireann
To The Irish People from the Republican Movement
These Easter statements were all posted to the Indymedia Newswire
Racked by splits, with a poor reputation, incapable of using its chosen means – military force, which is in any case incapable of realising its goal, and with its erstwhile comrades going down the path of the Workers Party one might see this as the nadir of Irish republicanism.
However throughout the much of the 20th century Irish republicanism meant isolated micro groups, this was the case in the 1940s, the 1950s, and the 1960s. Rather than being an inevitable by-product of the “British presence” republicanism became a significant mass phenomenon at two particular junctures, firstly as part of the international backlash against the Great War (1918 to 1923) and secondly by taking advantage of a crisis produced by the left wing mass agitation around civil rights issues (1968 onwards).
The Starry Plough
Of the publications of dissident republican organisations the Irish Republican Socialist Party’s The Starry Plough is easily the most intelligent. Though as we shall see that is not an achievement worthy of great acclaim.
The Irish Republican Socialist Party, or I.R.S.P., is the political wing of the Irish National Liberation Army (I.N.L.A.), and collectively they are known as the Republican Socialist Movement.
The issue of The Starry Plough I looked at was number 1 of series 11, and appears to be undated, though I bought it late January 2006, and it seems to have been current for then, that is, this is the winter 05/06 issue.
The front page editorial is an interesting piece, which sharply distinguishes the I.R.S.P. from the strategies of other dissident republican forces, rejecting “republican unity” as “no other republican group shares our analysis.”.
It slates the continuing attempts by the Real and Continuity I.R.A.s to mount a ‘military campaign’, writing that: “Those who have engaged in armed struggle have waged an ineffectual sporadic and pointless campaign totally divorced from the reality of everyday life in the North of Ireland.”
Another article inside the paper points out that as the Provisionals were unable to achieve anything approaching victory from their ‘military activity’, and no one today has the capacity to even imitate them, it follows that there is nothing to be gained from continuing the ‘armed struggle’. The I.N.L.A. went on ceasefire in 1998.
The editorial also points out recent splits within the ranks of the other dissidents (both in the Continuity and the Real) and criticises their obsession with the Provisionals. We are getting to the interesting parts now, it also claims that: “There are huge issues affecting the working class that need to be tackled now and if republicans are not in the forefront of the class struggles then Irish republicanism will become an irrelevance to the needs of the Irish working class.” .
“ The only road forward is the political road. Only be engaging in the everyday struggles of the working class can we make revolutionary republicanism relevant to the class. Come join with us in the only struggle that will make a difference.”
There are a number of things which can be said about this, but most appropriately to a review, how does the rest of the paper reflect this agenda?
Disappointingly the answer is not at all. One quarter of one page is given over to class politics – a brief report on the Joanne Delaney case, with no details of any actions around this apart from a cut and paste of a sample letter of protest to Dunnes Stores management. With only an e-mail address to send this to, kinda curious for something in a print publication, it looks suspiciously like this was cut and pasted straight off indymedia.
A report on Maoists in Nepal gets over twice as much space. The Catalan nationalist movement gets six times as much coverage. Most of the paper is taken up with party news and party history.
More fundamentally, as with much left republicanism, socialism and class politics does not appear as an end in itself, rather as a means to a republican end. It basically can be read as ‘do this, we will win support, which can then be used for THE cause’.
Also republicanism isn’t relevant to class struggle, there isn’t an objective relationship between one and the other, collective opposition to one facet of capital, say privatisation, contains seeds within in it for the suppression of capital (socialism), but doesn’t relate at all to a project to establish a unitary state in Ireland. I’m not at all sure how the I.R.S.P. would go about making the links between water tax (for instance) and the necessity to establish an independent united Ireland.
As I said much of the rest of the paper is taken up with party history, a bit on the origins of the 1987 feud, and a bit on Gino Gallagher, assassinated in another Republican Socialist feud in 1996.
These sections are interesting, generally the parts of the Republican press which is of most interest are the historical sections, without them one would be often relying on the journalists’ version of events. A version which is obviously very biased against these groups, and inclined to emphasis pathology and criminality over politics. But then the I.N.L.A. gave them plenty of ammunition down the years for such an approach.
The historical articles seem to be beseeching that so and so murdered in this or that feud was a communist, was political, was a thinker. Though that said the analysis offered of the feuds is, after all, for the most part, that apolitical militarist elements were seeking to get rid of the political types. How that is squared with claiming that one of the factions in ’87 – the Irish Peoples’ Liberation Organisation (I.P.L.O.) suffered from a “mish mash of half-baked and badly digested Marxism.” is unclear.
I can’t really comment on the exact ins and outs of the internal blood letting which has dominated the history of the I.R.S.P./I.N.L.A. since its founding 32 years ago.
However, supposing that all the Paul Williams type stories in corporate media about I.N.L.A. drugs related gangsterism are untrue, and for that matter I don’t see the logic to an organised crime consortium maintaining a political organisation; let’s take it for granted that all that is untrue, and that what is left of the Republican Socialist Movement rejects adventurist militarism and criminality and wants to build a serious class based political movement. Well the cross they bear, that of carrying the history of the I.N.L.A./I.R.S.P., a history of sectarian murder, militarism, gangsterism, and insane internecine violence, doesn’t really offer them much prospects for doing so does it? Like it or not the letters I N L and A are gonna be forever associated with chaotic sprees of murder being carried out by different parts of the organisation against each other.
The Sovereign Nation
‘The Sovereign Nation’ is the publication of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32 C.S.M.), this is the political wing of the Real I.R.A., which split from the Provos in 1997 and gave us the Omagh bombing, that being the single incident which accounted for the greatest loss of life during the Troubles, and which took place in the only town in which the 32 County had electoral representation. This tendency recently underwent a split with some of its prisoners now affiliating to a body called the ‘New Republican Forum’. I looked at the July-August 2005 issue of The Sovereign Nation. There are some parts of this publication which are just plain odd.
Page nine for instance, given over to an article entitled ‘Revolutionary Activism and the State: Security and Counter-Insurgency’, this is a ‘security culture’ how to guide and I would swear it was lifted straight from an American eco-anarchist publication. The language ‘direct action movement’, ‘activist’, ‘security culture’, all suggests very very strongly that is where this article came from and even more weirdly there is a picture of a black bloc. This illustrates the futility of the psuedo-militarist path some eco-anarchist types in the United States have gone down – one would question how liberatory a tactical approach is if it can be adopted by very authoritarian commandist nationalist groups. It also underscores what The Starry Plough would say about the inability of dissident republicans to launch a serious ‘military campaign’, or what some would say about their infiltration, I mean you couldn’t really imagine the Provos at the highpoint of their ‘campaign’ searching through Green Anarchist for tips now could you?
Page 11 is the really really odd one though. This contains a full page interview with Shamil Basayev, or Amir Abdallah Shamil Abu-Idris as he prefers to call himself. Making ‘The Sovereign Nation’ possibly the first Irish republican newspaper to carry the immortal line: “In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Glory to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, who created us as Muslims and delivered us with a Jihad on His direct path. Peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad, his family, his disciples, and all those who follow his direct path to the Day of Judgment.”
Basayev is the leader of Chechen insurgents who has claimed responsibility for: hijacking a civilian Aeroflot flight in 1991 and threatening to blow it up, the Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis in 1995, the 1999 invasion of Dagestan (which launched the Second Chechen War), the 2002 Moscow theatre hostage crisis, and the 2004 Beslan school hostage seige.
Basayev is a Wahhabi, a member of the virulently bigoted sect of Islam, predominant in Saudi Arabia, known as Wahhabism. Wahhabism persecutes religious minorities, oppresses women, and of course, looks forward to the massacre of Jews. In total since 1975 the Saudi authorities have spent over 70 billion U.S. dollars on promoting Wahhabism in the Islamic world. This process, kick started by the profits bonanza of the oil crisis, is an important part of the current rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
While some of their former comrades would criticise hardline anti-Agreement republicans for turning a tactic – armed struggle, into a principle (and many leftists would have said the same of the Provos), the 32 C.S.M. seems to have elevated it into a political philosophy. The Basayev interview led me to look at the international section of their website, which unites big bearded Chechen religious fanatics, with Hamas, with Columbia’s FARC, with what seem to be Turkish Leninists of one variety or another. Guns appear to be the common denominator.
This is an organisation which has a military fetish, something which wouldn’t really make it unique in the culture of Irish Republicanism (see songs, murals, websites of action films, general fondness for uniforms).
On to more pedestrian things, a more theoretical article on page ten brings us to the central dilemma for post-Good Friday Agreement militant republicans. This article attacks the Provisionals for supporting ‘National Self-Determination’ as opposed to ‘National Sovereignty’: “this means that if a majority of people in Ireland as a whole decide that there will be no united Ireland until a majority of people in the North decide to, that constitutes national self-determination rather than a partitionist compromise.”
Yeah the sound of waking-up-to-smell-the-coffee. Republicanism could square ‘self-determination’ for 32 Counties but not for 6 Counties on the basis that, under international law, part of a “national territory” didn’t have a separate right to ‘self-determination’ (where that leaves pre-1922 Ireland is unclear), however when it becomes blatantly obvious that the 32 county ‘nation’ would ‘self-determine’ partition you are entering into a problematically contradictory political territory. This means rejecting ‘National Self-Determination’ for ‘National Sovereignty’. How you figure that one out is beyond me. What isn’t gone into is what the above admission means for a programme of armed struggle to force a British declaration of intent to withdraw coupled with, in the interim period prior to withdrawal, talks and votes on a new constitutional arrangement, which would most likely not produce the 32 C.S.M.’s united independent Ireland.
The 32 C.S.M.’s main political activity seems to have been a submission to the United Nations on Britain’s denial of sovereignty to Ireland. A truly quixotic effort. One would suggest they contact their friends in Hamas for information on the value of United Nations’ resolutions.
Saoirse is a Gaelic word meaning freedom, and this is the paper of Republican Sinn Fein (R.S.F.). I looked at the February 2006 edition, though it could have been any one in the last ten years as it doesn’t go in much for variety.
R.S.F. broke from the Provisionals in 1986, unveiling its’ military wing, the Continuity I.R.A., much later. This split was over some traditional Republican theology which didn’t recognise the 26 County state and as such didn’t take seats in the Dail. In addition the ditching of Sinn Fein’s previous policy on a federal Ireland with a parliament for each province was an exacerbating factor. R.S.F. has been largely a Southern movement, as has been the case with the Real I.R.A./ 32 C.S.M., though they apparently do get support in areas of the North which are not republican strongholds and wherein Catholics are a small minority. The I.R.S.P. is more Northern.
The leadership of the R.S.F. split included a fair slice of the 70s leadership of the Provisionals, responsible for the disastrous 1975 ceasefire, that, and their long inability/unwillingness to blow anything up/shoot anyone, it being over ten years after the split before they started up ‘military operations’, seems to have reduced their attractiveness to Provos disillusioned with the peace process in the 90s. The R.S.F./C.I.R.A. grouping also recently suffered a split, with a number of its’ prisoners quitting.
Saoirse is a more regular publication than The Starry Plough or The Sovereign Nation, coming out monthly. It is however much less interesting, lacking the intelligence of the first (well given the context) or the sheer madness of the second (Basayev).
Motions to the R.S.F. 2005 Ard Fheis sought a greater focus on wider issues beyond just ‘Brits Out’, for example Shannon and Corrib Gas, both of which can be fitted into the Republican discourse of sovereignty.
This isn’t reflected in Saoirse, which is very much single issue ‘national question’ focused. Unlike the 32 C.S.M. R.S.F. claims socialism, though it is much less staunch about this than the I.R.S.P. .
The major article in this issue of Saoirse is focused on the then upcoming Love Ulster demonstration in Dublin on the 25th of February, with a white on red banner headline ‘oppose loyalist march’ on the front page.
There is much rhetorical flourish in the article about Wolfe Tone, Thomas Francis Meagher, and non-sectarianism. Republicans are, objectively, engaged in a communal conflict rather than an anti-colonial one, and any amount of invoking the cold dead spirits of United Irishmen or Young Irelanders will not make any bloody difference to that.
As an aside the article shows how out of touch R.S.F. are. It rhetorically asks would “nationalist parades, of whatever kind, or even civil rights marches” be allowed “down Belfast’s Royal Avenue? The British forces would certainly stop them.”
Except since the early 90s such things have happened, there have been nationalist parades and protests in Belfast city centre.
Saoirse doesn’t explain how opposing the march would contribute to their goal of an independent united Ireland. It claims, as one of the three reasons to oppose the march, that it is a dry run “softening up process” for a visit by the Queen of England
To believe such we must believe that the Love Ulster march was, rather than a protest against the two governments, a conspiracy by them, devised in the strange belief that the population of Dublin, many of whom follow the royal family in celebrity magazines and tabloids, would find a parade of loyalist madmen less offensive than a state visit by the Queen, and would be acclimatised for such a visit by this apparently less distasteful event.
This strangeness, and references to “British backed death squads”, is an attempt to frame the march and opposition to it in Ireland versus London terms. This is a part of the contradictions of Irish republicanism most pronounced in R.S.F..
It cannot be sectarian, blatantly communal or follow an overtly ethnic rather than civic nationalism. It cannot do this as conferring a status other than part of the Irish nation onto Unionists would also confer ‘national rights’ (in the ideology of republicanism) onto Unionists and hence grant them a right to separate, much as the bulk of Ireland exercised a right to separate from the U.K. .
So despite the communal nature of the conflict, and despite the fact if one is to get to a united independent Ireland you’ll have to fight your way through the Unionist population to get there, republicanism veils itself behind platitudes from the 18th and 19th centuries, and aims to continually deny the indigenous aspects of the conflict.
Ironically if it were less sophisticated and more given to religious sectarianism like loyalism it would be better equipped to purse its ends.
According to some histories a factor in the ousting of that part of the 70s Provo leadership which went on to form R.S.F. was that willingness to attempt to accommodate Unionists, a willingness which, of course, flew, and flies, in the face of the reality that Unionists are the enemy, more than Whitehall.