Our Orientation to the Republican Movement
Organisation: People's Democracy
Author:James Gallagher
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

1st February 2010

This is a bit of a find, and many thanks to JM who contributed it to the Archive. It is a document from People’s Democracy written by James Gallagher from 1984 prior to the move by some of the membership towards Sinn Féin. In this an attempt is made to define the relationship to the Republican Movement.

It notes that:

Anti-imperialist politics today are dominated by Sinn Féin’s turn to the left. Since November 1979, when the National H-Block/Armagh Campaign (NHBAC) was founded, a new relationship of forces has been established within the anti-imperialist vanguard. Under the impact of the NHPAC’s gains, SF has consciously made important advances. Compared with the 1970s, SF now stands for: A broad acceptance of the need for united action on specific issues, even where this means co-operation with forces hostile to the national liberation struggle. Greater involvement in the trade unions, more attention to social and economic issues, planned leadership of particular struggles (e.g. The Dublin communities fight against the drug pushers, active support for the travellers). A more constructive approach to electoral campaigns. Greater programmatic clarity on the women’s liberation movement.

And it also notes:

Sinn Féin has grown significantly. It is more attractive to left wing militants. This includes PD’s ranks and periphery. We must project a new strategic orientation.

Page two is near-illegible on the PDF but it continues as follows:

The best way to broaden the base of the anti-imperialist movement is a systematic and conscious development of the NHBAC’s gains. At the start the NHBAC was built as a ‘single’ issue campaign. Later it moved onto a higher level. It contested elections against reformists of all shades from the SDLP and Fianna Fáil right down to the Workers’ Party and Jim Kemmy’s Democratic Socialist Party. C) Ballot-box and Armalite (i) Sinn Féin took the electoral lesson to heart, has made itself politically stronger, and has won leading NHBAC activists into the party. But a freeze has started to set in. The electoral advance against the SDLP in the 6 counties halted in the June 1984 EEC poll. In the South there is still room for expansion but there is little chance of ending the dead-end principle of abstentionism. This is a serious problem. Disenchantment with the establishment in the South is growing. One effect of this is extreme electoral swings and the breakdown of older established patterns. Sinn Fein is one of the beneficiaries. But so also are the WP, even Fianna Fáil picks up on disenchantment, especially when out of office. There is a basis for ultra leftist anti-parliamentarianism….

In some respects, as with the treatment of the issue of abstentionism this is almost a utopian document, and yet within a few years SF had done precisely that. However, it is notable that the boycott of the Westminster chamber has never been lifted.

An interesting thesis is proposed whereby a National Liberation Front/Anti-Imperialist United Front would be constructed as a precursor to an Anti-Imperialist Workers’ Party.

Fascinating to reflect on the impact activists from PD had as they entered Sinn Féin in the wake of events in their original party.

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Mon, 01 Feb 2010 10:28:34

    […] People’s Democracy: Our Orientation to the Republican Movement”, People’s Democracy discussion document […]

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  • By: Maddog Wilson Mon, 01 Feb 2010 11:47:24

    Reading the document I can see no mention of a desire to win the support of the Protestant working class or to break down Sectarian boundaries In that sense PD continues to ignore the real objective problem in the North and to offer conditional support to the Provos. As mentioned it seems like a rehashed version of the IRSP ‘Broad Front’ informed by ‘ The Orange State’ analysis.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Mon, 01 Feb 2010 12:17:08

    My apologies I posted much of this on teh wrong post. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
    Gallagher was not amongst those who joined SF. Each of those who joined no doubt had different reasons. The first wave included the intellectual leader of the group in Dublin, Comrade Conway. He became a rank and file member of SF. he works in the primary school sector and I do not think he is active politically.( I have a retetince in identifying people who may wish to leave their past behind them. I have not seen him in years)
    The second wave included Anne Speed. Anne at this stage was a clerical worker in SIPTU. She became an official later.
    Aside from the move left (apparent or otherwise) factors included exhaustion. I am sure the rest of the far left will at least see thsi as a factor. The strain in running a national organisation with less than 50 people. Maintaining a presence in everything from Trade Unions, Womens Movement and especially the Prison struggle. We played a role oin the prison struggle well over our numbers. We had 2 peopel on the National H-Block/Armagh committee. (We lost both of them)It just wore people down. PD could not recruit from the Prison struggle. People activated naturally looked to the big battalion. Even the IRSP did not do that well and they had hunger strikers.example we had a picket on the Russian embassy over Poland. I remember the comrades struggling up the road to the embassy. I was quite annoyed (in retrospective unfairly, I was expecting more than people were physically able to do).I dropped out at thsi stage myself. Oh for the joy of an organisation where you can afford a division of labour.
    I was attracted to SF. I was friendly with the Dublin leadership especially Paddy Bolger (now an Impact official). They were leftwing.Phil Flynn was at the height of his influence and there seemed to be a momentum left. If memory serves me right an ex member of the SP attended the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis ( or at least saw it on TV) and was very impressed at the Proletarian nature of it. Then and probably now the SF membership is more workingclass and poorer than the average Labour Party supporter/member.
    In Dublin they were replacing the WP in the poor areas with a militant anti-drug campaign. I would guess the sort of thing that the Irish People used to do. Their members were tough and heroic. It would be the brave drug dealer who would take them on. Adams seemed a genuinely brave leader, it was generally regarded that if he had been in prison he would have led the hunger strike.
    I disagreed at the time with those who called him the new McGiolla.
    Two fallouts since this document. The lesson John McAnulty drew from the H-Block struggle was to buld a tighter more sectarian org. So sectarian that it had no place for Gallagher. By sectarian I would mean that it places the emphasis on where there is disagreement with other orgs and individuals rather than where there is agreement.
    SF played with being a Revolutionary Socialist Party ( I would guess there are some on it’s left who think that is where it should be) and those who got caught up in “practical” politics. The history of SF since the Prison struggle has still to be written, Moloneys book goes into too much of a conspiracy theory.

    Oh Maddog It was a document about the relationship with SF not about the Protestant workingclass.In PD we tended to not repeat every part of teh program in every document. There were other discussions on the protestant workingclass and how they might be weaned away from Imperialism. We were fairly pessimistic that this could be done outside the context of an upheaval North and South which was challenging Imperialism. In this context we thought that an anti Imperialist movement which was secular ( We regarded the secular struggle as part of the unfinished national struggle) could make overtures to protestant workers that might have some effect.In fact we see the most important division of the workingclass is the one imposed by partition.If you look at the North within the context of just the 6 counties you and the SP might be right but we see the struggle as a 32 county one For what it is worth I think it is utopian to expect that some kind of strike wave in the North will clear false consciousness in a brilliant flash. I would regard the Bill of Rights thing as essentially utopian if people see it as a vehicile that could unite workers across the divide. I would of course support any extension of Civil Rights anyway.

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  • By: Rev. Jim Jones & Peoples Temple Choir pt. 1 | Cult Following Tue, 02 Feb 2010 00:40:39

    […] Left Archive: “Our Orientation to the Republican Movement … […]

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  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 02 Feb 2010 00:51:24

    In reply to Jim Monaghan.


    Surely the point of the attempt to forge working class unity in the north was precisely because that was the only way to forge unity across the 32 counties?

    I don’t think the Bill of Rights was seen as uniting people in and of itself (although there probably were elements of the civil rights who thought that its programme could unite those who suffered from the franchise rules regardless of political orientation); more that it would ensure that rights would be protected, especially in a situation with a local assembly. I don’t know about the SP, but I don’t think The WP ever thought a strike wave would remove flase consciousness in a brilliant flash; more that class politics would change the situation gradually I’d have thought (although in the late 60s again it may have been that some thought they were riding the wave of history and it would be fairly quick).

    I’d like to ask you though whether you and others in PD thought that the Provisionals could be a secular anti-imperialist movement. It seems a fairly remarkable suggestion to me given their history.

    As for the point

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Tue, 02 Feb 2010 12:10:10

    Our attitude is that the Northern state was built on discrimination. That the Civil Rights movement arose out of this. And, alas, that when push came to shove that the Protestant population was wedded to this even though for many/most that priviledges gained were little. Putting it bluntly there is a pied noir or poor white attitude amongst the Protesant population which cannot be wished away outside of a sysmic shift. This would be to me a successfull anti-imperailsit movement North and South which is on the way to challenging Imperialism.Take Scotland where you could say that classical class struggle exists, even there , there is a sizeable sectarian mentality predominately amongst the Protestant workingclass which persists, not to anything like the same degree as in the North but there nonetheless. Ignoring differences and pretending they are not a factor is a recipe for defeat. Allisters TUV is a significant force which sees the world through this prism as does probably a majority of the DUP.
    The Provos arose as a reaction to the various crackdowns which culminated in Bloody Sunday. To simplify thing I would regard the Provos at base as secular but with sectarian deformations. I would add that there is also a defenderist mentality arising out of Bombay St. which I find understandable even while disagreeing with it.I would wish that they were better but I deal and dealt with what exists. Not teh same obviously I would wish the ICTU/SIPTU had backbone but I have to live with it and try and change it rather than say set up pure class struggle trade unions.( accept that this is not a great analogy, but you can see wht I am aiming at)The Loyalist orgs were/are sectarian through and through.There was a momentum leftward which was successfuly diverted inot the politics of patronage, hence the wish to revive Stormont from those who brought it down.
    For us working with the Provos owed a lot to the fear that there would be a Loyalist takeover sponsored by Britain with Craig as overlord. Hence the various United Front efforts with the Provos and the IRSP. We opposed an offensive campaign as a diversion from the task of possible defence of the ghettoes.We, also, felt that it could not succeed based on the support of then a minority of a minority. I have always opposed sacrifice for teh sake of sacrifice. Winning is the name of the game not creating martyrs. I felt at the time that this underestimated Britains room for manouvre and that Britain would not do thgis and risk destabilising the island as a whole. But sin sceal eile.The prison struggle was a major effort by Britain not just to criminalise the prosioners and the Republican movement but the nationalist population as well. That is why there was a shift to the Provos amongst the nationalist masses much of which had not supported them up to then.
    On a footnote there was an interesting interview with Goulding in the Irish Times where he gave for him an unjaundiced analyisis of the Provo military campaign, for the life of me I cannot remember when..
    The creation of workingclass unity can be a chimera. There will always be sections which support the status quo whether because of existing prejudices or relative advantage EG Craftworkers are an elite who do not see themselves having exactly the same interests as say general workers.
    When asked what are my politics I sometimes reply half jokingly that in the Irish context I am a 1972 Stick, Republican but not militarist.
    I see the struggle for National Unity and Independence as progressive and unfinished. I feel that to ignore this is to leave a frozen state in the North.I find that the SP do not see any real difference between here Hull or anywhere else. Stalinists used to say that Trotsky underestimated the peasants as a revolutionary force and ignored national liberation struggles. Not really true vis a vis Trotsky but I regret to say true about the SP.
    The WP got caught in a warped view which only saw the Provos as not just a problem/rival but THE problem leading them to ignore Imperialism and everything else.

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  • By: Mark P Tue, 02 Feb 2010 13:09:25

    “Putting it bluntly there is a pied noir or poor white attitude amongst the Protesant population which cannot be wished away outside of a sysmic shift.”

    It’s exactly this sort of thinking which doomed the RMG to be nothing more than a tiny stageing post for a few activists on their way into the Provos.

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  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 02 Feb 2010 13:22:47

    In reply to Jim Monaghan.


    Thanks for the answer. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the northern state was built on discrimination. Nor that the working class supporters of unionism fought to protect what they saw as their institutions protecting them from Lundys in London etc. As for the Provos being at base secular. I guess that depends on what you mean. Are they motivated by theological concerns? No. But are they interested in a politics moving beyond Catholic and Protestants? I still see no serious sign of that, and certainly not at any point in the 70s or early 80s.

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  • By: Q Tue, 29 May 2012 13:25:35

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  • By: Q Tue, 29 May 2012 13:27:27

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  • By: Q Tue, 29 May 2012 13:28:24

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