The day began with a lead off on the question of loyalism by longstanding Irish Republican Socialist Party member Jim Daly. He argued that republican socialism could not compromise with loyalism. In the tradition of Connolly and Costello, republican socialists had to be unequivocally opposed to loyalism and understand that it stands in opposition to a united socialist Ireland and in support of the continued partition of the island. Jim reiterated that the aim of republican socialists was to unite the Irish working class both protestant and catholic.
Jim then demonstrated the incorrect positions that Stalinism and reformism had offered in relation to this. Sinn Fein has now effectively given up on a united Ireland or talk of revolution. The Irish Communist Party had split its sections into north and south and only campaigned on economic issues, in an effort to win over loyalist workers. Such a position offered no real solution to the divisive national question and was akin to the position of economism that Connolly had dubbed “gas and water socialism”.
After this Sean McGowan, a leading comrade of RSYM gave a speech on the central role of the Irish working class. He firstly pointed to this being the tenth year of the Good Friday Agreement. This was something that strengthened the union between the north of Ireland and Britain and engrained sectarianism in the state. Stormont was also being used as a vehicle through which to launch economic attacks on the working class. This was shown through the recent introduction of privatisations (PFI).
Sean cited a Sinn Fein pamphlet dating to the turn of the twentieth century that revealed they had always leant on middle and ruling class elements, with appeals to men to encourage them to use Irish tailors. The IRA had been used by Sinn Fein’s leaders to set back the moves of the most advanced sections of the working class in the 1920s through actions such as smashing soviets and factory occupations.
The militarist structure and leadership of the republican movement in the years that followed were used as a barrier to conscious working class tendencies forming. Yet, within the provisional republican movement there had been the formation of the League of Communist Republicans within the H block prisoners. The leadership sidelined this and the mass movement that had built up around the hunger strikes, as its sole focus on armed struggle saw no need for a mass movement. Only the Irish Republican Socialist Movement had tried to seriously mobilise around this.
Sean summed up by stressing that the lessons pointed out by Ta Power [see The Ta Power Document: An Essay on the History of The Irish Republican Socialist Movement] remain largely unlearned; the need for a mass revolutionary party to unite the working class in its own interests and lead it to a united socialist Ireland. There remains no alternative for the working class but socialism.
A broad range of points were raised in the discussion that followed including republicanism’s origins in the struggle of the oppressed classes, Wolfe Tone’s appeal to “the men of no property”.
Francesco Merli, a member of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign, then led off on the revolution in Venezuela. He began by stressing the international character of the Venezuelan revolution, with Venezuela as the fourth biggest producer of oil and also being surrounded by Latin American countries whose masses have suffered similar hardships to those suffered by the Venezuelan masses. The revolution clearly is clearly having an effect on the rest of the world. Francesco gave a brief history of the Venezuelan revolution, from 1998 when Chavez was elected president to the present. Recent years have seen a growing radicalisation and the qualitative change of the Bolivarian movement from one of national democracy to one that increasingly regards itself as fighting for socialism. The recent defeat in the referendum on a new constitution showed that the revolution is far from won and that a struggle against the bureaucracy and right wing was needed inside the Bolivarian movement.
The discussion following this revealed a spirit of internationalism amongst those attending the school. A clear interest in events unfolding in Venezuela was evident. Questions were asked about a number of issues, including the role that the indigenous people of Venezuela have played in the revolution and the role of the masses. Francesco stressed the need for a planned socialist economy in Venezuela under the control of the working class.
The final discussion went into the compatibility between republicanism and socialism. It was introduced by veteran socialist and republican campaigner Bernadette McAliskey. She began by stating this was an important question in the Irish left due to recent debate over whether republicanism was a hindrance to socialists. She firstly felt that it was important to define what republicanism was. When it first began, republicanism challenged the privileges of monarchs and the right to govern without consent. In a modern sense it extends to the collective right of self-determination of all peoples, a demand that is an essential part of socialism.
As with the case of socialism, republicanism is not an Irish creation. Socialism extends republicanism’s ideas and argues for the rights of the working class and explains the economic process of the exploitation of the working class.
| Book stall at RSYM school
Bernadette went on to explain that socialism in Ireland can only be carried through on a republican basis. This is a question of the material conditions. In Ireland republicanism necessitated separatism as part of achieving national liberation. By the same token, though, the unification of Ireland could only be achieved on a socialist basis. The experience of cross-class alliances and fighting for national unity had been a failure. However, it was emphasised that this was more than just a failure, it was an inevitability. Sinn Fein had always been on the path towards where it has ended now. It did not have a class-conscious outlook and the very people that initiated the call to armed struggle had abandoned it.
The discussion that followed raised the question of the armed struggle and the role of arms within the republican struggle. Bernadette argued that, while not militarists, republican socialists defend the right of the people to bear arms in defence of themselves and the gains that they have made. This is not a point of principle however.
The day itself was characterised by openness and discussion that is often missing from stage-managed events that I have attended previously. A willingness to discuss was shown throughout, yet there was also a firm but comradely pressing of Marxist ideas. This is an admirable approach and equally impressive was the attendance of young comrades of school age. This lays the foundation for further advances for the Republican Socialist Youth Movement.