In a recent video interview, Liam Sutcliffe, veteran republican activist with the IRA and Saor Éire, and one of those responsible for removing the blight of Nelson’s Column from outside the GPO in 1966, was asked how he felt about the split between the Provisionals and the Officials. His answer was that “I thought the whole thing was wrong…I’d never take part in any split again in my life…the thing about it was there were great men on both sides…in the long run we never got an extra blade of grass, and all the deaths, all the hunger strikers…we’re still twenty-six and six”.
The lack of unity, the tendency to split, the failure to forge suitable alliances, the absence of clear purpose and strategy, the failure to do the nuts and bolts work, the concentration on ending partition by driving the English out of Ireland as if that on its own was the means to some end worth having, has meant that we are still twenty-six and six, two failed statelets, instead of the 32 county Irish Republic that republicans claim to be committed to achieving.
It is not as if Irish republicans have not had enough time to correct these tendencies, to produce a tangible explanation of the sort of republic they had in mind, and to communicate these ideas in an effective way to all of the people on both sides of the border. It is now almost 98 years since the Irish Republic was proclaimed, 95 years since the National Programme was agreed, and 92 years since the start of the counter-revolution following the signing and ratification of the Treaty.
But it is not just Irish republicans who are at fault. Irish socialists have demonstrated the same propensity for a lack of unity, a tendency to split, a failure to forge suitable alliances, an absence of clear purpose and strategy, and a failure to do the nuts and bolts work to create the sort of society they claim to be in favour of. Presumably the political framework of that society would be, at least until some better model might be found sometime in the future, a republic.
What should bind republicans and socialists are James Connolly, Liam Mellows and other socialist republican thinkers and activists who shared the common vision of the Workers’ Republic. In fact, as Connolly put it – to be a republican is to be a socialist, and to be a socialist is to be a republican. When Connolly signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic he did so as a socialist republican, and in that document, with his ideological fingerprints all over it, he left the ways and means of achieving the Workers’ Republic to us, republicans and socialists. Thus far we have failed to live up to the task.
In 1897, Connolly published an important piece, ‘Érin’s Hope’, a taste of his writings yet to come. In that, Connolly addressed the issue that some misguided people on the left have found fault with him on, making the spurious charge that he abandoned socialism for nationalism – a risible charge. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin later agreed with Connolly’s position, stating that in history there had never been one example of a ‘pure’ revolution. Discussing the requirements for successful revolution Connolly wrote “we will have based our revolutionary movement upon a correct appreciation of the needs of the hour, as well as upon the vital principles of economic justice and uncompromising nationality; we will, as the true revolutionist should ever do, have called into action on our side the entire sum of all the forces and factors of social and political discontent”.
In 1916, the ‘forces and factors’ were present: republicans, socialists, feminists, militant-separatists, advanced nationalists, cultural nationalists and so on. They united in common cause, and representatives of each of these tendencies share a common plot in Glasnevin Cemetery – the Republican Plot.
Those “forces and factors of social and political discontent” have never been absent during the 92 years of hegemonic right-wing counter-revolution since the signing of the Treaty. They are present today in abundance – various republican parties and groups, socialist parties and groups, social, economic and political grassroots movements, feminists, human rights and peace activists, environmentalists, resources and sovereignty activists, and so on. It is possible to craft a unity of purpose among many or even most of these strands of discontent and dissidence provided a common platform based on a vision of justice, freedom, equality and sovereignty can be agreed. The Irish Republic is the ideal starting point for that.
Today, there is no call for any to sacrifice their lives for the Irish Republic. Instead there is a need to sacrifice: personal pride and ego; rigid political dogma; antagonism based on real or imagined hurt or on misunderstanding or misapprehension; the desire to continue an armed struggle that can achieve nothing of use at this time.
The fight to end partition needs to move south of the border, and needs to move from the physical to the intellectual. It requires the ending of counter-revolutionary misgovernment of the twenty-six and the creation of an ideal model of citizen-driven government to trump colonial government in the six. Who could seriously suggest to the Unionist/Loyalist minority on the island that they should be part of the banana-non-republic of the south? Certainly not any republican or socialist in their right minds. But putting in place a proper republic, with all of the necessary guarantees and all of the obvious advantages in plain view, is the most efficacious strategy for withering partition and uniting the people of the 32 counties. Scottish Independence, if it can be achieved, will help in that.
Achieving a rapid transformation in the twenty-six will require clear communication to the public of both the existence of a workable strategy to put in place a proper republic and of the benefits that would flow to the great majority from such a republic. That requirement entails working around and in confrontation with existing main-stream media using creative communications strategies. That does not present a problem, but is just an important issue to be dealt with.
History has given us a significant centenary in two years time to use to our advantage in moving public opinion towards the development of a proper republic of equals. We can take advantage of that over the two short years leading up to it, or, as has been the case with other opportunities over the past 92 years, we can squander it. It is to our advantage that even among those who have not read the Proclamation yet, or who have forgotten its wording, or who have not had its promises and implications explained to them, there is still a strong emotional bond with it on the part of many citizens.
Taking advantage of the Centenary of the 1916 Revolution requires us to lay out precisely what sort of republic we have in mind. The principles of that republic are contained in the Proclamation and in the National Programme that was created from that template. If we are to demonstrate our serious intent, our openness and our honesty, these principles need to be expanded in a new, comprehensive Peoples’ Constitution of the Irish Republic.
Writing a new constitution is not rocket science, nor should it be a task entrusted to some ‘elite’ group. There are various constitutions already in place elsewhere in the world to be used as examples, but none more suitable as a model or in its content than the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, initiated by Hugo Chavez but drawn up with the input of the people at every stage. Irish republicans and socialists would do well to read that great socialist-republican constitution from the source of the New Enlightenment – Latin America.
In 14 years of dedicated work underpinned by a vision of a better life for all, Chavez and his people transformed the lives of the poor, the oppressed, the abused, the marginalised of Venezuelan society in a way that was unimaginable at the beginning of the revolution. By contrast, in 92 years since quasi-independence, Irish republicans and Irish socialists have failed to lift the poor, the oppressed, the abused and the marginalised of Irish society out of their collective miserable grind – on both sides of the border. That failure is inexcusable. That failure cannot persist.
The first stage in dispelling that failure requires a concerted effort to drive from power the reactionaries who have between them held power in the twenty-six since 1922. Making that effort was never just an option – it was a moral duty, and it is still, today, a moral duty. It demands the putting aside of childish one-upmanship, the spurious notion that ‘my ideas are better than your ideas and my ideas must prevail’, opting instead for the creation of an agreed, shared, broad-left platform designed to complete the revolution for the benefit of all of the people of this island, equally.
Let us take our lead from James Connolly. Let us call “into action on our side the entire sum of all the forces and factors of social and political discontent”. Let us start that work now.