Socialists, Republicanism and the Armed Struggle
Date:July 1991
Organisation:Socialist Workers' Movement
Author:Kieran Allen
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

19th May 2008

This week a short pamphlet from the Socialist Workers’ Movement dating from 1991, written by Kieran Allen and entitled: Socialists, Republicanism and the Armed Struggle. To some degree this serves as a backdrop to the piece by Ed Hayes here , from last September on the SWM/SWP and the North.

This pamplet provides an interesting overview of the development of the armed struggle and republicanism. A position of critical support, familiar to those of us who have viewed the approach of the SWM/SWP over the years is articulated towards Provisional IRA, whereas the ‘reformists’ in Official Sinn Féin and the Communist Party are dismissed as ‘following Stalinist politics, [holding] to a ‘stages approach’. It’s not just the usual suspects who come in for criticism. People’s Democracy are lambasted for not having ’ [a] real attempt to argue any particular strategy’. Ironically they are characterised in the latter part of the conflict as ‘becoming uncritical supporters of the Provos, writing off the Protestant working class as semi-fascist and seeing the Catholic ghettoes of the North as the vanguard for the Irish revolution’.

That said, harsh words for Sinn Féin who it is argued ‘are incapable of making an advance towards socialism - [and]… Is unable to reach its own stated goals of uprooting Orange privilege and ending partition. Although it has won the adherence of some of the best fighters in the nationalist ghettoes of West Belfast and Derry, its base is still among an oppressed minority’.

And the SWM? ‘[having] made it clear where we stand in the fight between the republican led struggle and the British army, it is also necessary to subject the republicans to firm criticism over their politics and tactics. This criticism is made from the standpoint of those who support the struggle against the British army and partition. It has nothing in common with the hypocritical and moralist denunciations of those who support the British army’.

But… For those who might question the relevance of such a critique (or indeed whether it would be taken seriously by the ‘best fighters in the nationalist ghettoes’)the pamphlet is very clear that… ‘the experience of the last two decades across the world, however, shows why ours is the absolutely correct attitude’.

The pamphlet does offer a coherent critique (in its own terms) considering the efficacy of armed struggle. That this leads to some ideological oddities - for example the statement that ‘[it] would be wrong [for the SWM] to call for a ceasefire… [because] we as socialists never align with the right wing..’ is an interesting statement on any number of different levels - is perhaps inevitable.

And the solution? Well, not that different from the myriad of paths offered by other, often competing, formations.

Update 19/01/2016: This document has been update to include the original cover images. Many thanks to the Irish SWP member who provided this.

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 19 May 2008 01:12:32

    Not one mention of sectarian killings carried out by nationalist forces, and totally insufficient discussion of those carried out by loyalists. Loyalist gangs were never simply the result of manipulation from the top, and to think that this is the case is to misunderstand their nature. There isn’t any sign of a discussion of the effects of the violence on workers, or on the space for left-wing politics. The account of history offered is somewhat bizarre (and sometimes plain inaccurate). So the reforms introduced around 1970 were not the product of mass action, but of top-down reformism from Britain – this seems to me to totally miss the point about the dynamics for change that were operative in NI at this time, and it is surprising that a group that sees the potential for mass mobilisation in many situations missed the impact of a genuine one that happened under their noses.

    When I read statements like we won’t call for a ceasefire because the right wing does, the first thing that enters my head is Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. Quite close to being the most confused document on NI I’ve ever seen.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Mon, 19 May 2008 08:42:21

    I would put it that the Loyalists were totally sectarian in their actuions while the Provos were sometimes sectarian. I think there is a difference not a nuance. Putting an equals too sign between even the broad Nationalist struggle and Unionism in all its guises is in my opinion not correct.
    On a footnote I was for a ceasefire early on in the group I belonged too. I thought the mass base of the Provos could not win.There is an interesting document form PD when they changed their policy called “mass action versus militarism” which I saw as a breakthrough. This internal debate in PD caused a split “The red Republican party”.

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Mon, 19 May 2008 09:06:13

    Ah, the little yellow pamphlet. Having lost my own copy years ago it’s sort of nice to see it again. The sort of thing that gives schematism a bad name really.

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  • By: Ed Hayes Mon, 19 May 2008 09:09:48

    This was actually quite a revision on the 1980s position of ‘unconditional but critical support.’ This was where KA decided that the armed struggle was counter-productive (nice one, only 21 years after the start of the war). A big deal at the time as it shifted the SWM away from the republican camp. As Garibaldy notes theres a lot of historical errors, which there tends to be in Kieran’s stuff.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Mon, 19 May 2008 10:49:50

    Does anyone remember when the Provos went very annoyed when the British SWP made some criticisms of the bombing campaign. There was a really awful pamphlet as well by Mick Timothy, editor, saying that the Provo campaign was the same as the IRA of the War Of Independence. It was so bad that it could have been written by a revisionist of the Cruiser ilk.The Provos seemed to regard support as being uncritical. Alas, most solidarity work tends to be slavishly uncritical.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 19 May 2008 18:44:16

    Very true Jim. Still, no joy on a cover anyone?

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  • By: Ed Hayes Tue, 20 May 2008 15:23:44

    The ‘really awful’ pamphlet was called ‘The Good Old IRA.’ I think someone other than Timothy wrote it though. We were recomended it in SWM as well, as it supposedly gave the lie to the claims that the modern IRA was completly different to the old. It listed loads of terrible killings from the Tan War. It also claimed that the IRA had no democratic mandate in 1919. Now that you mention it, it was a bit revisionist! What are the odds on Sinn Fein re-publishing it, now that popular mandates are valid reasons for condemning bombs? Btw did you see Pat Doherty praising people for helping rescue the policeman last week? In the 1980s any Catholic who helped a wounded cop would have been labelled a collaborator.

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  • By: Garibaldy Wed, 21 May 2008 00:11:33

    That was Morrison who wrote that Ed right?

    And on the collaborator point, very valid. The worst example I think was the guy forced out of Derry because when he heard his female neighbour screaming and being assaulted, he called the cops thinking she was being raped. Instead it was the local Provos beating her up. They made him leave the country. I wonder how much of the passion of McGuiness’ very welcome and forthright condemnation comes from his personal dislike of being disagreed with though.

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  • By: Ed Hayes Thu, 22 May 2008 10:00:43

    Yeah,Martin would be less forthcoming on say the subject of catering workers being made drive proxy bombs into checkpoints.

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