On the 23rd February three comrades of the
International Marxist Tendency attended the Republican Socialist Youth
Movement’s winter day school in Belfast. The school was split into several
discussions on various subject matters, with debate being encouraged
The day began with a lead off on the question of loyalism by
longstanding Irish Republican Socialist Party member Jim Daly. He argued that
republican socialism could not compromise with loyalism. In the tradition of Connolly and Costello,
republican socialists had to be unequivocally opposed to loyalism and
understand that it stands in opposition to a united socialist Ireland and in
support of the continued partition of the island. Jim reiterated that the aim of republican socialists was to unite
the Irish working class both protestant and catholic.
Jim then demonstrated the incorrect positions that Stalinism
and reformism had offered in relation to this. Sinn Fein has now effectively
given up on a united Ireland or talk of revolution. The Irish Communist Party
had split its sections into north and south and only campaigned on economic
issues, in an effort to win over loyalist workers. Such a position offered no
real solution to the divisive national question and was akin to the position of
economism that Connolly had dubbed “gas and water socialism”.
After this Sean McGowan, a leading comrade of RSYM gave a
speech on the central role of the Irish working class. He firstly pointed to
this being the tenth year of the Good Friday Agreement. This was something that
strengthened the union between the north of Ireland and Britain and engrained
sectarianism in the state. Stormont was also being used as a vehicle through
which to launch economic attacks on the working class. This was shown through
the recent introduction of privatisations (PFI).
Sean cited a Sinn Fein pamphlet dating to the turn of the
twentieth century that revealed they had always leant on middle and ruling
class elements, with appeals to men to encourage them to use Irish tailors. The
IRA had been used by Sinn Fein’s leaders to set back the moves of the most
advanced sections of the working class in the 1920s through actions such as
smashing soviets and factory occupations.
The militarist structure and leadership of the republican
movement in the years that followed were used as a barrier to conscious working
class tendencies forming. Yet, within the provisional republican movement there
had been the formation of the League of Communist Republicans within the H
block prisoners. The leadership sidelined this and the mass movement that had
built up around the hunger strikes, as its sole focus on armed struggle saw no
need for a mass movement. Only the Irish Republican Socialist Movement had
tried to seriously mobilise around this.
Sean summed up by stressing that the lessons pointed out by
Ta Power [see The Ta Power Document: An
Essay on the History of The Irish Republican Socialist Movement]
remain largely unlearned; the need for a mass revolutionary party to unite the
working class in its own interests and lead it to a united socialist Ireland.
There remains no alternative for the working class but socialism.
A broad range of points were raised in the discussion that
followed including republicanism’s origins in the struggle of the oppressed
classes, Wolfe Tone’s appeal to “the men of no property”.
Francesco Merli, a member of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign, then led off on the revolution in
Venezuela. He began by stressing the international character of the Venezuelan
revolution, with Venezuela as the fourth biggest producer of oil and also being
surrounded by Latin American countries whose masses have suffered similar
hardships to those suffered by the Venezuelan masses. The revolution clearly is
clearly having an effect on the rest of the world. Francesco gave a brief
history of the Venezuelan revolution, from 1998 when Chavez was elected
president to the present. Recent years have seen a growing radicalisation and
the qualitative change of the Bolivarian movement from one of national
democracy to one that increasingly regards itself as fighting for socialism.
The recent defeat in the referendum on a new constitution showed that the
revolution is far from won and that a struggle against the bureaucracy and
right wing was needed inside the Bolivarian movement.
The discussion following this revealed a spirit of
internationalism amongst those attending the school. A clear interest in events
unfolding in Venezuela was evident. Questions were asked about a number of
issues, including the role that the indigenous people of Venezuela have played
in the revolution and the role of the masses. Francesco stressed the need for a
planned socialist economy in Venezuela under the control of the working class.
The final discussion went into the compatibility between
republicanism and socialism. It was introduced by veteran socialist and
republican campaigner Bernadette McAliskey.
She began by stating this was an important question in the Irish left due to
recent debate over whether republicanism was a hindrance to socialists. She
firstly felt that it was important to define what republicanism was. When it
first began, republicanism challenged the privileges of monarchs and the right
to govern without consent. In a modern sense it extends to the collective right
of self-determination of all peoples, a demand that is an essential part of
As with the case of socialism, republicanism is not an Irish
creation. Socialism extends republicanism’s ideas and argues for the rights of
the working class and explains the economic process of the exploitation of the
|Book stall at RSYM school|
Bernadette went on to explain that socialism in Ireland can
only be carried through on a republican basis. This is a question of the
material conditions. In Ireland republicanism necessitated separatism as part
of achieving national liberation. By the same token, though, the unification of
Ireland could only be achieved on a socialist basis. The experience of
cross-class alliances and fighting for national unity had been a failure.
However, it was emphasised that this was more than just a failure, it was an
inevitability. Sinn Fein had always been on the path towards where it has ended
now. It did not have a class-conscious outlook and the very people that
initiated the call to armed struggle had abandoned it.
The discussion that followed raised the question of the
armed struggle and the role of arms within the republican struggle. Bernadette
argued that, while not militarists, republican socialists defend the right of
the people to bear arms in defence of themselves and the gains that they have
made. This is not a point of principle however.
The day itself was characterised by openness and
discussion that is often missing from stage-managed events that I have attended
previously. A willingness to discuss was shown throughout, yet there was also a
firm but comradely pressing of Marxist ideas. This is an admirable approach and
equally impressive was the attendance of young comrades of school age. This
lays the foundation for further advances for the Republican Socialist Youth