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(en) Ireland: Text of talk at Cork WSM public meeting, 24 Feb 2005. Republicanism in Crisis - Is There An anarchist alternative?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 1 Mar 2005 11:47:44 +0100 (CET)

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Since the beginning of December and the collapse of the latest attempt at the
creation of a power-sharing devolved government in the North, and more
particularly since the Northern Bank robbery, the political establishment -
from Enda Kenny to Michael McDowell through Bertie Ahern to Pat Rabbitte - has
been striving to outdo each other in the stridency of their condemnation of the
Republican Movement. Over the last week to ten days, that stridency has turned
in some circles to a barely concealed glee as sections of the media and some
politicians have joined in the political equivalent of jumping up and down and
shouting “Ha! Ha! Caught you out!!”

I think it was in the 1920s or the early 1930s that Sean Lemass described
Fianna Fail as a ‘slightly constitutional’ party. To listen to what has passed
for political discourse over the past couple of months, everyone seems to be
pretending to be surprised that Sinn Fein has inherited that ‘slightly
constitutional’ mantle. As an anarchist, I have no interest in joining in the
frenzy of condemnation. It is not whether or not Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness
or Martin Ferris are or aren’t members of the IRA army council that is
important. Nor does it matter whether or not – in the words of Bertie Ahern –
Sinn Fein and the IRA are two sides of the same coin. I certainly amn’t too
concerned about anyone relieving any bank of a few pound. Northern Bank is
owned by National Australia Bank whose overall profits for last year were
US$2.68billion. Towards the end of last year National Australia Bank agreed the
sale of both Northern Bank and National Irish Bank in the South for
stg.£967million. These sorts of figures put the money taken in the
pre-Christmas robbery into context. Banks are the bedrock of the capitalist
system, and they’re hardly likely to receive any sympathy from anarchists.

Michael McDowell and I have very different views of what constitutes a crime.
When the government takes money that they’re not entitled to take from the
pensions of residents of nursing homes – one of the most vulnerable groups in
society, I call that a crime. When the same government rushes legislation
through the Dail to attempt to retrospectively make it legal to do what they’ve
been caught out doing, that to my mind compounds the crime. When a mushroom
factory in Mayo pays migrant workers a mere €2.20 - €2.50 per hour, that to me
is a crime. When McDowell’s Department of Justice proceeds to deport an asylum
seeker despite the fact that the appeal supposedly prepared for him by the
Refugee Legal Service has been proven by independent expertise to have been
wholly inadequate, that’s a crime in my book. These are just 3 instances taken
from Tuesday’s newspaper, I could go on and on.

So I’m not interested in all the hypocritical crap about ‘criminality’,
although I think there is a debate to be had about crime, especially
anti-social crime, and punishment – and I think republicans have questions to
answer about the authoritarian methods by which they deal with anti-social
crime but that’s not something I want to get into now. If anyone wants to come
back to it later, I’ll gladly do so.

What concerns me, what should concern all progressive forces and all people who
describe themselves as either socialist or republican is that apparently Adams,
McGuinness etc. see as progressive, or at least a move in the right direction,
the establishment of a so-called ‘power-sharing’ government in the North which
would see Ian Paisley as First Minister. And – until the recent anti-Sinn Fein
frenzy took hold – there was serious talk of Sinn Fein entering coalition
government with Fianna Fail in the South, talk encouraged by the Sinn Fein
leadership. Surely this is the real crisis facing the republican movement. How
have things come to such a pass that republicans came within a photograph of
voting the likes of the two Ian Paisleys, Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster into
ministerial positions???

As an anarchist, as someone who wants to see a new society being built, who
wants to see the current corrupt establishment swept away and replaced by a
truly free and democratic society this is the nub of my criticism of Sinn Fein
and the Republican project. Despite the stated aim of a Socialist republic, the
realpolitick of where they are headed will not bring about anything remotely
approaching socialism. How can the prospect of putting the DUP into power be
justified in the context of a declared aim of a socialist Ireland?

How indeed can anything done by the republican movement for the past decades –
indeed throughout its existence – be said to have advanced the cause of
socialism? Mind you, the Sinn Fein leadership no longer even bothers to spout
the socialist rhetoric. All of their energies throughout the past decade and
more of the ‘peace process’ have been aimed at consolidating a ‘Pan –
Nationalist Alliance’ with the SDLP, the Dublin government and ‘Irish America’.
The ditching of all sorts of policies, and supping with any type of devil has
been justified in the name of ‘furthering the peace process’. Thus when the
warmonger George Bush came to Ireland in April 2003, just a couple of weeks
after the bloody invasion of Iraq, Gerry Adams had no problems with meeting him
while at the same time the streets of Dublin (and probably Cork and other
places as well) were postered by Ogra Sinn Fein with posters which called on
Bertie Ahern to tell Bush of the Irish people’s opposition to the war.

Not alone was Adams unwilling to take a principled stand of refusing to meet
him (in the cause of ‘furthering the peace process’ of course) but apparently
at the meetinghe was unable to bring himself to raise the invasion of Iraq with
Bush. Maybe it would have been considered impolite.

Some might claim that Adams and McGuinness have sold out on the original
republican project, that their acceptance of the Good Friday agreement,
agreement to changing Articles 2 & 3 of the south’s constitution, their taking
of their seats in the Dail and their acceptance of partition and the ‘British
presence’ by virtue of participating in the ‘Northern assembly’ and in
‘devolved government’ combine to prove that the current SF leadership have
swapped revolutionary ideals for respectability – the armalite for the Armani.

But the truth is that where the republican movement finds itself now
politically is exactly where it was always headed. Their socialism has never
been more than rhetoric and their political project has always been about the
building of what has been referred to variously as an ‘Irish Ireland movement’
or ‘Pan Nationalist Alliance’. In the early 1990s, the ‘Peace process’ as it
was to become known, was underway. The British government had effectively
conceded that the IRA could not be defeated militarily. On the other hand
republican strategists were well aware that ‘war weariness’ was setting in and
that a new strategy was needed. At the Sinn Fein Wolfe Tone commemoration in
June 1991, Gerry Adams outlined Republican thinking
“While Dublin and the SDLP refuse to stand up to the British government it will
continue to think it can do exactly what it wants in Ireland…” stated Adams,
going on to put the onus firmly on the Irish government to take up the cause of
Irish unity “…Dublin should seek a change in Britain’s current policy of
maintaining the union to one of ending it and handing over sovereignty to an
all-Ireland government, democratically elected and accountable to the Irish
nation”. According to Adams, the Dublin government should take on the task of
“persuading the unionists that their future lies in this context [ie in the
context of an all-Ireland government] and to persuade the British to accept
that they have a responsibility to influence the unionist position. To secure a
national and international consensus on this the Dublin government needs a
strategy for unity and independence. Such a strategy would involve winning
international support for the demand for Irish independence and would require
the full use of Irish diplomatic skills and resources.”

So basically the strategy as being outlined by Adams was that the Irish
government was basically going to ‘persuade’ the unionists that their future
lay in a united Ireland. The government that was going to do this persuasion,
mind you, was led by none other than Charles Haughey and was at the time
presiding over massive unemployment and poverty. Over the previous 5 years,
severe restrictions on the living standards of workers and the unemployed had
been implemented through ‘national programmes’. The series of
employer/union/government deals which has continued to this day had begun and
workers’ living standards were under huge attack. This was the bright prospect
that unionists were supposed to warm to being persuaded by. Instead of looking
to a strategy which might unite working class people north and south of the
border in a common fight against what was the beginnings of the neo-liberal
economic agenda, looking for a strategy which would aim to smash both states
and replace them with a truly socialist Ireland, the game of playing footsie
with Haughey and his cronies was well underway.

Now, it might seem ridiculously obvious, but it is impossible to go anywhere
without first knowing where exactly you are headed for. And while Sinn Fein
might in theory have the objective of a socialist Ireland, the lack of any real
definition of what is meant by that phrase has meant that the road to socialism
has had some very strange twists and turns.

But maybe there is a grand master plan. Maybe Adams, McGuinness and Gerry Kelly
have a brilliant secret plan which will eventually lead us to the promised land
of a socialist Ireland. Maybe we should just stop all the begrudging and trust
them to get on with the job. Sure when we arrive at the glorious socialist
republic, won’t it all have been worth it.

Or maybe not. You see we anarchists are a contrary lot. We believe in a concept
called democracy – more particularly we believe in direct democracy which
allows every individual an input into every decision that effects his/her life.
We are also sticklers for a concept much loved by republicans too – freedom,
not the type of ‘national freedom’ pursued by republicans though but individual
freedom – the freedom of each individual to live his/her life to its fullest
potential. And - what makes things worse for the ‘leave it to the lads, trust
them, they know what they’re doing’ argument – we believe that the means leads
to the end. What I mean by that is that if you want to create a free, open and
democratic society then the organisations which you build on the way towards
that new society, the paths which you follow, the political tactics which you
use must also be free, open and democratic – the complete opposite in fact to
the political tactics of the republican movement whereby the general
membership’s role in past times was basically to act as cheerleaders for ‘the
lads with the guns’, and more recently the role of the general membership has
become one of being expected to accept without question the leadership’s
pronouncements from on high. Acceptance of political dissension within the
ranks has never been something for which the republican movement has been

I want to look briefly at each of the three topics that I just referred to –
democracy, freedom and how we organise – because I believe they clarify quite
effectively some of the principal differences between anarchists and
republicans, indeed between anarchists and other socialists.

But first I want to go back to something I referred to earlier – the importance
of having a clear goal, of knowing where it is we’re going. The anarchist
society that I want to live in, the only goal that I believe is worth working
towards, is one where the division between leaders and led is abolished. It
will be a society in which everybody will be able to realise his/her full
potential, one in which everybody’s contribution will be valued and which will
put into action that old catchcry of “from each according to ability, to each
according to needs”. There will be full equality for all – an end to poverty,
exploitation and discrimination, it will be a socialist society built from
below - non-exploitative, non-hierarchical and run collectively, based on
direct democracy and direct management of production. I’m not interested in
wasting my energy fighting to overthrow the current set-up merely to end up
replacing one set of bosses for another, to have to end up listening to someone
else telling me what to do. Neither am I interested – and this certainly marks
out anarchists as being completely different to every other political current –
neither am I interested in ending up in a position of power, in being the one
who runs things, who tells others what to do. And ultimately republicans – and
socialists – will, if they are successful, end up in just that position. Of
course they will tell us that they would run society in all our interests but,
because they ultimately see the role of the general working class as being
supportive rather than central involvement, they eventually end up running
things in an authoritarian way. For a successful anarchist revolution to take
place, the democratic structures must be put in place which will allow no-one
authority over anyone else.

That’s the picture of where we want to end up. But how do we propose to get
there? Well that brings me back to the three concepts I mentioned earlier –
democracy, freedom and methods of organisation. When anarchists refer to
democracy we mean real democracy – or as it is sometimes referred to direct
democracy or participative democracy. It has little or nothing in common with
what currently passes for democracy, the parliamentary democracy that allows us
to every 4 or 5 years put a mark or a number on a piece of paper beside a name
of our choice but gives us no input into the actual decisions made or allows us
no mechanism to un-vote for that person if he/she doesn’t do what they said
they would.

Direct democracy is not about choosing who will rule over us. It is instead
about discussing the issues that affect our daily lives, about debating the
pros and cons of any proposed course of action and about everyone having an
equal say in determining what course of action is to be taken. It about coming
up with new ideas, not just giving the nod to a set of proposals already worked
out by some group of leaders.

Direct democracy is also about delegation. Popular local assemblies elect
delegates to carry out particular tasks or fulfil particular mandates, if they
fail to do this they are immediately recalled and someone else is appointed in
their place. Power remains in the hands of the assembly, not the delegate. This
delegation can happen on a local, regional, national and even international
level. By retaining power in the hands of the assemblies, and by rotating the
delegates often, it is possible to ensure that no informal ‘elite’ or
leadership emerges.

Direct democracy is ultimately about - as the Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin
stated – “the government of industry administered on behalf of the whole
community”. It could, I suppose, be described as government of the people by
the people and for the people but not government over the people.

Freedom is another concept which is absolutely central to anarchism. Anarchists
want to create a society in which – as I’ve already said – people can realise
their full potential as free individuals. This is ultimately THE most basic
premise of anarchist thought. That said, there is no such thing as absolute
freedom. As I’ve heard someone else put it, my freedom to swing a frying pan
ends where your nose begins. Or to put it another way the only limits on one
person’s freedom would be that it doesn’t impinge on the freedom of someone
else. Maximum personal freedom cannot be realised at the expense of others.

It is only in a truly socialist society in which the artificial divisions
between us now based on religion, colour, nationality etc. no longer matter
that this sense of freedom can be attained. It is only if we manage to build a
non-hierarchical society without leaders or bosses that that concept of maximum
personal freedom can possibly be attained. Freedom needs a particular social
environment in which to blossom and grow – that environment must be based on
direct democracy and the direct management of production by ordinary people for
the good of all.

Which brings me neatly to the road to socialism. I passionately believe that
the means leads to the ends. By this I mean that if we want to get to a free,
open and democratic society then we need to put such concepts into practice in
our day-to-day lives and political activity. In every campaign in which
anarchists are involved, you’ll hear us arguing for maximum participation and
maximum democracy. In unions, in community groups, in campaigns we want to see
people organise in a democratic way, setting their own agenda, deciding what
they are fighting for and how they want to get there. We don’t sell people
false shortcuts or sow illusions in blind alleys either such as “armed
struggle” or electoralism. Reliance on the tactic of armed struggle ultimately
leads to the vast majority being mere spectators, providing support – in what
has to be an unquestioning way – for what has to be a secret army.
Electioneering, we argue, is not only a waste of time given that no parliament
will ever be allowed to bring about any meaningful change. But worse than being
a waste of time, electioneering actually damages the fight for socialism by
creating a clientist mentality whereby people sit at home and wait for someone
else to sort out their problems rather than taking action themselves. And no
matter how many times a political party or organisation tells us that their
participation in elections is merely tactical, it inevitably becomes the
dominant tactic – again reducing the role of the general mass of people to that
of supporters rather than participants.

People will only learn to be free by exercising their freedom. People learn
about their own power to change society by participating directly in campaigns
which effect their own lives. Direct action transforms those who use it, it is
a means of self-liberation because it gives people a glimpse of what is
possible, a glimpse of their potential power and when all that power is
eventually harnessed we’ll be on the road to a truly free society. The German
anarchist, Rudolf Rocker in his book ‘Anarcho Syndicalism’ said "Socialism will
be free or it will not be at all."

That’s the only socialism that’s worth fighting for, it’s the only freedom
worth fighting for.

Gregor Kerr

More on the 'peace process' at http://struggle.ws/wsm/peaceprocess.html

Discussion of this talk at

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