Towards a Republican Socialist Strategy for the 21st Century
That Irish Republicans do not need to worry about creating the conditions for Revolution in Ireland in 2009 – the Revolution has already begun. Young people are already in almost open revolt. Unemployment has reached over 11% in the free state and is rapidly rising. Pension funds have been wiped out and savings are in the process of being wiped out by price inflation. In the 06, the devaluation of Sterling has already wiped out the saving of Working Class people to a large extent. The only question Republicans need to ask is on what basis, for what objectives, and using what tactics and strategies, do we join an already started and present Revolution.
The Financial Crisis
A major change in the actual conditions that Republicans face today is strongly in our favour. Both the British state and free state have been severely weakened by the global recession. How long this crisis will last is hard to tell, but optimistic capitalist economists are predicting it to last between five and ten years more. Since the signing of the GFA, armed struggle has been all but impossible, as both the Brits and free staters could pump billions into creating the illusion of "progress" and "consent." Today we see the economic crisis revealing the harsh reality behind the fireworks and glitter of the GFA. This gives Republicans a once in a lifetime chance to press home our project - but only if that project has been firmly tied to the economic struggle of the ordinary people. The Fenians realised this fact, in the 19th century, when they got full square behind the land agitation of Michael Davitt's Land League. We must do the same. Today people will ask "what's in it for me" and I’m glad they do. Too many IRA Volunteers have selflessly given their all, just to have some Gombeen cash in on their sacrifice. We must be able to tell people what's in it for them, not be disgusted at their question. The Republic must offer the Irish people better conditions of living, not just change the accent of their exploiters, as Connolly put it. Republicans must take advantage of the financial crisis and fully harness the anger of the landless workers.
A review of types of strategy tried in the past
I think the first step in considering what might work as successful tactics in the struggle ahead is to discount what certainly wont work. Here are the strategies, which have been tried and shown to be failures:
In the first place is British Constitutionalism. This has been tried since Daniel O'Connell and never got anywhere - indeed it just fortifies British misrule by co-opting enough of the native population to subvert resistance. The core of the PSF Stormonteer strategy is pure opportunism. It is a pacification process, which leads to the abandonment of class struggle and the promotion of a native petty gombeen class, tied to the party. It also leads to the criminalisation of righteous Working Class resistance and to the justification of the armed robbery and violence of the landed ruling class. This is treachery to Republicanism and Socialism.
In the second place is the liberation of territory. This has been tried many times in Irish history. The IRA made certain parts of Ireland very difficult terrain for the enemy during the Tan war, but British promoted counter revolution saw the whole of the 26 counties being misruled by proxy after 1921 and the continuation of English common law and the capitalist economic system. The last attempt at winning territory from the enemy was ended at Loughgall, when eight of Ireland's finest gave their lives. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam dílis. So, given the massive force of British arms in Ireland, winning territory seems out of reach. Another tactic that has been used is to hope that the British people will put pressure on their government to leave Ireland. Towards this end, several bombing campaigns over the decades have been carried out in England along with campaigns in the six counties. However, political and humanitarian considerations have made it impossible to carry out a bombing campaign that would inflict enough casualties to make a major impact on English public opinion. The RM has never been able to stomach inflicting the large numbers of casualties, including civilian casualties that would put significant pressure on the British government. The idea of embarrassing the British government into leaving with a few bombs like the Baltic Exchange and Canary Wharf is unrealistic. There is no embarrassing a system that is inherently evil.
A bombing campaign, which would damage the British economy enough to bring pressure to bear would involve thousands of tons of Semtex or other high explosive, and cost tens of millions of euro per year to the IRA, along with the loss of many Volunteers. Such a campaign seems very far off, and there is nothing to power, finance and supply it.
Propaganda by deed is always useful in any war, but is never considered a strategy in itself. The Easter Rising is probably one of the world’s most famous examples of propaganda by deed. It certainly kick started a Revolutionary process, but as soon as that famous week was over the questions had to be asked “where to now, and what for?” Tragically for Ireland, reactionaries and counter revolutionaries supplied their own answers – and made them stick.
And finally, the tactic of making the occupied 06 ungovernable has been tried. One obvious problem with this tactic, in itself, is that it has been tried for long periods, especially during the 1970s and early 80s, and it simply hasn’t worked. It is possible to give the 06 a highly militarised atmosphere without a great expenditure of resources. The almost complete dependence of the 06, as a political entity, on British state violence is relatively easy to demonstrate. You can certainly make the 06 a very tense, surreal and even dangerous place to live, but making it actually ungovernable is another matter. Enough people will always be dependant on state money and state structures to allow government to continue to a quite acceptable level. Supporters of the occupation will continue to derive enough benefit from it to outweigh the discomfort of living in a militarized zone. This can only be even more true now that PSF have joined the state system, so that there will be individuals in every single neighbourhood who have a vested interest in the continuance of the occupation and the colonial capitalist system. To make the 06 actually ungovernable would take a very great expenditure of resources. The problem is that it always requires much greater energy to stop people doing something than it takes for them to continue doing it, i.e. the RM has taken on itself the major expense of trying to stop the British state functioning in Ireland. This leaves the RM with no time, energy or resources left to actually begin the work of building the Socialist Republic, which certainly can be done while the occupation continues. Instead of putting the British state at the disadvantage of trying to stop the running of the Republic, Republicans have put themselves at the disadvantage of trying to stop the running of the British state.
As far as I can see, the above are the tactics that have all been tried in one way or another and have all failed completely. However, that is not to say that one, or a combination, of the above may not prove useful in certain circumstances and for the achievement of specific strategic objectives. But none of the above, or no combination of the above, furnishes the strategic ground for a successful campaign. Something else is needed.
The South Vs the North as the Driving Force of Revolution
From a psychological perspective, Revolution is always driven by anger. Anger is the motivating force - anger against some injustice.
So where does the Irish Revolution source it's anger from? There are two main sources of political anger in Ireland. On is ethnic and one is economic. In my view, the conflict in the 06, while limited to the 06, is always going to be essentially ethnic in character. The economic conflict is sidelined. In the past great efforts were made to seek the sympathy and understanding of people in the 26 for this British Vs Irish conflict. Naturally enough, when you think about it, neither sympathy nor understanding were generally forthcoming, as hardly anyone in the 26 has ever experienced ethnic conflict personally.
So we see that ethnic anger is limited to the 06, and will not resonate in the 26. What about economic anger? At the moment the 26 is positively bubbling with economic anger. So here we have a massive source of Revolutionary anger which will also resonate in the 06, as most Irish people are subject to economic injustice. In short, while ethnic anger is limited to the 06, economic anger is generated by all 32 counties.
It seems clear to me that the Revolution must be based solidly in economics and must be fought equally in all 32 counties. I believe it was a great mistake in the 1970s to limit the conflict to the 06 and use the 26 simply as a supply base. Limerick is just as much a stage for Revolution as Belfast - maybe even more so. Republicanism has always morally shunned participation in the ethnic conflict between native and planter, and yet, has often left itself in a position where that was the main conflict it was actually involved in. This fact was made crystal clear when PSF agreed to enter an assembly in Stormont, where the ethnic conflict is institutionalised and positions guaranteed, indeed frozen, along ethnic lines. Economic conflict is left entirely outside the door. Every day, ethnic micro-ministers perform virtual ethnic battles so that their camp followers can get their sectarian/ethnic jollies without any blood being spilt. How long can such a farce continue?
So if you allow that the only truely Revolutionary force in Ireland is anger at economic injustice, where does that leave Unionists in the Revolution? Well, to be honest, the Unionist landed elite will always be able to play the Green Card successfully to keep the Unionist Working Class in thrall. We should not make the mistake the Officials made in thinking that the Unionist Working Class will join the Revolution - they wont. Once the Irish landed elite - both Catholic and Protestant - have been broken, the Unionist Working Class will not have the power to resist a Revolutionary Republic, though there is bound to be sporadic efforts for a while. We should really regard the problem of Unionism and the problem of landed wealth as two aspects of the same problem, i.e. the ideology of extreme individualism, which is in contradiction with the communal good. Ultimately, they are the same reactionary force. A native Irish landowner is just as much a problem as a Unionist, in fact more so. Republicans get too obsessed about what to do with the million Unionists, and completely forget the native landowners and their lackys.
A Republican Blindspot
Since DeValera’s infamous “labour must wait” pronouncement, Republicanism has, while condemning this imperative, actually gone about following it. The stress has been on defeating the occupation and leaving the class struggle till after “freedom” has been won. This is a dangerous cop out that leaves the Working Class open to losing everything just at the moment of victory. Many Republicans say that we should have a Constitutional Conference after the Brits have gone and decide what kind of Ireland we want to have. All this would do is give the forces of reaction time to regroup. We should be absolutely clear from day one what we are actually fighting for. It’s not that ending the occupation is not a good thing in itself. It certainly is, in the sense that ending all colonial misrule is a good thing. But, what we can never forget for an instant is that in Ireland’s particular case we are always and at once fighting two distinct, though symbiotic, enemies, i.e. the native landed elite and the British imperialist state. Any attempt to fight one of these symbiotic partners without fighting the other at the same time is doomed to complete and utter failure. This fact is the rock that both Republicanism and reformist Socialism has always foundered on in the past. Reformist socialists, such as the Workers Party and the Socialist Party necessarily fail because they do not attack the ultimate military guarantee of the native landed ruling class – the physical presence of the British army on Irish soil. Republicans fail because they, time and time again, fail to attack the ultimate object of the British state in Ireland – the native and planter landed elite. The truth of what I’m saying was clearly shown when Jim Callaghan asked his civil servants to look at ways of disengaging from Ireland. The free state elite frantically sent Jack Lynch and Garret Fitzgerald to demand, in no uncertain terms, that the British army should stay in Ireland. To begin a campaign against the British state forces, while leaving the native landed ruling class unmolested would surely be folly of the most unforgivable kind. I have mentioned the traditional Republican response to this criticism: We will deal with the native exploiter when the Brits have gone. Let’s get one thing clear; while the native landed elite still wield power, the Brits won’t be going anywhere. And even if they did, it would not be a case of us dealing with the landed class, but of them using their still untouched massive wealth to buy tens of thousands of mercenaries and weapons of the most sophisticated type to deal with us – as they already did between 1922 and 1924.
Nationalisation of ALL Lands and Banks
The nationalisation of banks can hardly be a very controversial ideal for Socialists, as one bank has already been nationalised under the free state capitalist regime and the rest of the banks are already in a state of semi-nationalisation. But Socialists should wish to see not only the debts of the banks, in bad times, being nationalised, but also the profits in good times. Quite apart from this, the fact that private banks “create” 97% of the money in the system, with governments in the Western world printing only 3% of it, means that democracy has no place in banking and the money supply. This state of affairs needs to stop, and the People need to take full control of their economy and money supply.
The land of Ireland needs to be nationalised. We see that farmers now get two thirds of their income from hand outs paid for by the urban worker. So its clear that the current structure of farming is uneconomical and can only be sustained by putting a massive burden on urban workers. Farm collectivization has a bad name, but, in reality, this is what the EU has being trying to do for a long time, i.e. to push out the small and middle sized farmer in favor of the large ranch. The trouble with this system is that it puts incredible and unmerited wealth in the private hands of the rancher. Larry Goodman, for example, collects a single hand out every year of half a million euro - just for owning so much land. It makes much more sense to run these large farms/ranches as state farms, with workers doing a 40 hour shift, like any other worker. As I say, all Irish farms are massively subsidized already by the taxpayer. Even if the state farms were no more profitable, or even a good bit less profitable, it would still mean a massive saving for the population in general, as land for roads, factories, schools, homes, hospitals, etc. would already be in state hands, so no additional fee would have to be paid. This would make an enormous change to the very structure of Irish society, as increases in productivity in the workforce would no longer be converted into higher land prices - as happened over the last ten years, and during all times of prosperity over the last several hundred years. Instead of increased productivity being swallowed up by land price inflation, it could instead be put into building up a native Irish industry that would lessen our junky like dependence on the multi-nationals. It’s this retardation of Irish industry that is the real cost of leaving the land in the hands of about 3% of the population.
Anything less than the full nationalization of the land and the banks is merely reformism and opportunism, and in no way merits the sacrifices of IRA Volunteers. It seems to me an obscenity to put the lives of young Volunteers at risk for reformism.
Éire Nua and Saol Nua
I wish to suggest some possible developments on the excellent Éire Nua and Saol Nua documents. As these proposals are set out now, they are a blue print for a future Irish Republic. They assume that the Republic will have been re-established when they are put into effect. To my mind, this is to ignore the full potential of these documents. The Community Councils they propose could and, to my mind, should be the engines of Revolution today, and in the very teeth of the enemy. For this to become a reality, the size of the Community Council needs to be greatly reduced to a maximum of 200 citizens. Community Councils could be set up right now with as little as five to ten citizens, providing goods and services that the community needs and providing employment. Community Councils of 20 members are already common in Venezuela. Funding would be provided by the Army, after an extensive campaign of capital recovery from the 1% of the Irish population who have expropriated 50% of Ireland’s capital. (Most Republicans still have very little idea of the colossal scale of the wealth of these individuals. In 2006 Irish citizens held 2.3 trillion euro in foreign property and stocks, I know it is less now, but it still amounts to almost unimaginable wealth. Getting a billion euro of this, the Republic’s rightful property, would be far less risky than the noble deeds the Volunteers carried out in recent times, and would be equally noble in its conclusion.) Expropriate the expropriators, as Marx put it. These Community Councils would then become institutions of the really existing 32 County Irish Republic. Nobody could then ask where is the Republic – it would exist before their eyes in Irish Working Class communities building a new life for themselves and their children. We already have communities organising themselves around the drugs issue – this would be just one small step further from the excellent work they are already doing, but a step over the Rubicon of actual Revolution.
Even though it sounds like a scandalous suggestion, the enemy social structure can be made to help our struggle in so much as it provides a relatively stable incubator for the building of the Community Councils and the federal structure of the Republic. At all times we use the enemy mercilessly. The Republican Socialist chick feeds happily on the capital which has been ordered and arranged by the capitalist monarchy and free state, and when it is big and strong enough, it casts off the monarchy and free state as a dried up and useless shell.
As Lenin wrote: "To develop democracy to the utmost, to find the forms for this development, to test them by practice, and so forth - all this is one of the component tasks of the struggle for the social revolution." In other words, if we are not actually in the process of testing revolutionary forms of society, then we are not engaged in revolution - we are merely engaged in reformism.
The bottom line is we dont have to wait until the deafeat of the British state in Ireland to start living in the really existing Republic. The Republic can function through Community Councils in the same time and space as the British state. This was achieved to some extent between 1919 and 1921, when Dáil Éireann, the Army, the Republican Courts and some of the county councils operated as institutions of the Republic.
The great lack here was that all these institution, being representative in nature, were necessisarily at a distance from the average citizen. So that when the Treaty of Surrender was put to a vote in 1922 it was generally accepted by people who had never actually been part of the Republic themselves and had viewed it more as an aspiration than a reality.
Community Councils fill in this lack and close the gap between the citizen and the Republic. The citizen is no longer an interested spectator, but a participant and legislator. He or she lives in and through the Republic. The British state and the free state become contemptable intruders.
I believe that Éire Nua needs to take one step forward, away from the Anglo-Saxon representational parliamentary system, and fully embrace Direct Democracy. We don’t need leaders. What we need is self empowered Community Councils, organised along the Federal basis set out in Éire Nua. In a Revolutionary situation, where the enemy is using their armies and paramilitary police forces to try and crush the Revolution, representational democracy is a non starter anyway. What we need is Community Councils that can function in themselves, even when isolated by enemy offensive. Every Community Council is a microcosm of the whole Republic. The enemy cannot destroy the Republic until it has destroyed each and every Community Council. The Community Council, as stated in Éire Nua, is the basic democratic unit of the Republic. All elements of the Republic are contained within the structure of the Community Council. Sounds fragmented? Certainly. Too fragmented for the enemy to defeat, but held together by the great ideals of the Irish Republic and the dignity of Labour, which are, in fact, one and the same ideal.
The Irish people may not be quite ready for this proposal right now, but the free state is falling apart, as is the British state. Even now, working class youth is in revolt, but only the drugs gangs are harnessing their energy and righteous anger – when it should be the Republican Movement.
There is a wonderful scene in the film Doctor Zhivago, where two Revolutionaries have been ordered to join the Tsarist Army marching to meet the Germans, an older man and a young man. The young man sets out straight away to convince the troops to revolt, but the older man holds him back. He points to the boots on the soldier’s feet, and says: Wait till they have no boots.
Spreading the Revolution to Britain is an essential component of success. We have to start looking on the British Working Class as our potential allies and comrades. They are fine people and good fighters. I tell you it made my blood boil to see old age pensioners in England, who had fought the Nazis, cutting back on cups of tea because they can’t afford the water and electricity charges the bástard privateers are inflicting on them.
The Liberal Democratic State
What is a Liberal Democratic State? It is primarily a capitalist state, based on class division and the right of private property. In such a state, the landed elite rule permanently behind a screen known as Representational Democracy. The people put some numbers on a page once every five years, and after that they have no say in what goes on.
The word "liberal" very specifically refers to the right of the landed class to liberally exploit the the landless masses. If you take this right away from them, if you restrict the freedom of the exploiters to exploit, then you no longer have a liberal democracy. A liberal democracy is a mechanism for the minority to suppress and exploit the vast majority.
Certainly anyone who wants the future of Ireland to be a united liberal democracy should support PSF, as they might well, over time, get it. It really dosnt matter how long they take to get it, because you wont notice any difference between the united liberal democracy and the partitioned liberal democracy. If you were a wage slave before, you will be a wage slave after.
Representational democracy is based on class conflict. A party is chosen to rule for five years, i.e. is chosen to use organised state violence (including state radio and television), in such a way as to maintain the privilege of the landed elite. We see that clearly in the case of Fianna Fáil. Over 40% of voters in the free state voted for FF in the last election and the one before, but did they protect even the interests of the 40% who voted for them? Certainly not. We now see clearly how FF arranged things so that a tiny minority could use their land to make massive profits off the backs of ordinary people - tens of thousands of them FF voters. Even now, FF continues to rob the Irish People, including their own voters, to bail out the wealth and privilege of the landed elite.
Representational democracy will always maintain the division of society into classes. In a representational system the landed elite can always use their wealth and position to make sure that the party they have bought will win the election. The election of Barak Obama was as clear an example of this rule as you could wish for. We saw that Wall Street favoured him with hundreds of millions of dollars in donations, and he has returned this favour by appointing Wall Street insiders to oversee the financial crisis, i.e. to bail out the oligarchs at the expense of the workers.
So, if we agree that a classless society, or a society of the one universal class, to give it its more rigorous Marxian term, can never come about through representational democracy, then we must accept that the class conflict can only come to an end through Revolution. So the question is: after the Revolution has gotten rid of class division, i.e. "when there is no distinction between the members of society as regards their relation to the social means of production," as Lenin puts it in "State and Revolution," why would we want to put back a system of election and government based on class division? What good is representational democracy in a society where parties are not representing the interests of one class over another? Where there is only one class interest - the interest of the whole people?
You might say, well, what if one party wanted, say, legal abortion and another party wanted it banned, would that not be a good argument for representation? Not at all. There is no reason to give one party the rule of the whole nation because of such issues. These issues are better dealt with through Direct Democracy, as they come up. No doubt there will always be pressure groups around various issues in any free society, but there is no need to give one of these pressure groups a virtual dictatorship for five years because of it. This is just a good way to undo the whole work of the Revolution and bring back the class system. Direct Democracy is all that is needed in any classless society.
The superstitious reverence that today's political parties try to promote for representational democracy should be seen for the self serving sham it is. Not only a sham, but an insidious device for the subjugation and robbery of the vast majority by a tiny minority.
The Republican "State" in the Revolutionary Period
It seems to me that during the Revolutionary Period, the Governmental Authority of the Irish Republic should remain "abstract" in relation to the citizens and not make laws for the civilian population. It's functions should be to make war on the landed elite and their partitionist states, and to keep the Community Councils supplied with the capital they need. It will be left to the Community Councils to make laws for themselves. Being institutions of the Irish Republic, their laws will become the operating, de facto, Laws of the Republic, while The Law of the Republic remains the de jure existence of the Governmental Authority and the lawful proceedings of the Army.
So, in effect, we have the state continued in the form of the Governmental Authority and Army, and the state abolished in the form of the Community Councils. The state becomes the excluded element, which gives consistency to the whole (the set of all Community Councils.)
Put in more concrete terms, as there will be no class division inside the Community Councils, there will be no need for a state inside the Community Councils. But, as the landed elite and petty gombeen classes will continue to exist outside the Community Councils, it will be necessary to maintain the state, outside of the Community Councils, for its normal purpose, i.e. the crushing of one class by another (in this case, the crushing of the landed elite and the petty gombeens.) Thus the "fading away of the state" that Marx and Engels looked forward to, happens for the Workers, but not for the class enemies.
The GFA does not give a democratic peace, but a peace imposed by the violence of the native landed class and their British allies, and Irish Working Class capitulation before this violence. Republicans are very frightened by the thought of civil war, that is only natural, but we should remember the words of Lenin on the subject: “We fully regard civil wars, i.e. wars waged by the oppressed class against the oppressing class, slaves against slave owners, serfs against landowners, and wage-workers against the bourgeoisie, as legitimate, progressive and necessary.” (V.I. Lenin. Socialism and War.) The landed elite will never give up their ill-gotten gains and privilege without a bloody struggle; it is folly to think otherwise. But a Republican Socialist campaign based on capital recovery and Community Councils would, from the Republican side, be much less bloody than a campaign based on sending numbers of British soldiers home in boxes. In such a campaign armed force would only be used to capture capital with the least possible casualties and to defend the gains of the Working Class, again aiming for the least possible number of casualties. Killing people is a very costly business, economically, psychologically, socially and in terms of the loss of weapons and Volunteers. It should be kept to an absolute minimum, and certainly no campaign should be based on it.
There are two minorities who press their hegemony on the rest of the population through the threat and use of violence – the native landed class and the Unionists. I believe we should regard the Unionists and the native landed elite and their lackys as, in fact, the same group and not become unnecessarily focused on the Unionists alone. We should begin the work of building the really existing 32 County Republic right now, and take what we need, when we need it from the landed elite. Neither the gardaí nor the free state army are particularly dependable at the present time, as, particularly among the guards, many of them are under severe financial pressure due to their speculations in the crashing property markets at home and abroad. The free state is, thus, in a very vulnerable position. This, combined with the increasing desperation of the landless workers, would lead me to believe that the building of the Republic in the south would be more fruitful today than at any time since 1921.