Thursday, 27 September 2007

"Twenty Theses on Sinn Fein's Strategy"

The situation in Ireland has been undergoing some interesting changes of late, which the wombats will take up in a more detailed post soon. Not least - and not least contentious - is the role that Sinn Fein are playing there, and whether or not they have "sold out" in the struggle for a Democratic Socialist Republic.

There have been various splits in the republican movement over the years, and little has changed, with a new split developing a little over a year ago, mostly in Dublin, called éirígí. There have also been some moves of late to regroup those outside of Sinn Fein. So, the role of Sinn Fein, and whether they are a block to the movement or not, has become one of pressing urgency.

The wombats are here re-posting a contribution from Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh to the Marxmail e-list as part of a discussion going on there. We do not necessarily agree with his views, but consider them an interesting appraisal of one perspective on the question.

"Twenty Theses on Sinn Fein's Strategy"

Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh

Phil has written a number of articles in which he attempts to portray Sinn Fein and the Republican movement as having 'sold out' and myself as covering for them.

Before jumping to conclusions people should understand the situation in Ireland sufficiently. The only person emailing facts was attacked for the source of their facts - Phil would rather use epithets to conduct a 'marxist' analysis.

I don't have a huge amount of time to explain my take on things (insofar as I can express it openly) but here goes...

1. Sinn Fein are as committed to achieving its ultimate objective of a Thirty-two County Democratic Socialist Republic as it has ever been.

2. That narrow programme would probably garner no more than about 10% of the total vote in a popular election either side of the border - socialism itself right now is not a huge selling point in an Ireland which has just experienced considerable growth as a result of an FDI-led growth spurt. National feeling in the Free State is largely limited by an acknowledgement of the need for the consent of a majority in the north for reunification. Parties which stand on a strong socialist platform like the SWP get paltry levels of support.

3. So logically, Sinn Fein must promote that agenda by the most effective means possible: politics. In the context of the current 'agreement', Sinn Fein believe that its political goals can be achieved through political (and democratic) means. This is not a result of Sinn Fein lowering its standard from revolutionary to reformist but as a direct result of the success of the IRA's military campaign against the British. In a sense, the state is no longer unassailable from within as it has been forced to accord equal legitimacy to Sinn Fein's demands to those of bourgeois parties.

4. From this perspective, the northern state itself is a battle-ground. Sinn Fein's entry into PSNI structures is a case-in-point where the party is waging a determined struggle on a range of issues from the routine arming of the PSNI to community-empowerment policing structures (CRJ). Elements within the PSNI are struggling very hard to prevent that agenda. British MI5 as a result of the negotiations has committed themselves to playing an external role in that struggle.

5. All negotiations are a concretisation of struggle, they reflect the relative balance of forces at the time of the negotiations themselves. That is one reason why the process of Irish integration has grown rather than shrunk over time - it reflects the growth of popular support for Sinn Fein in electoral and political terms across the north and border counties.

6. Sinn Fein attract around 25-30% of the vote in the north currently. Despite historically low levels of mass mobilisation or political engagement across Irish society, Sinn Fein does still command a substantial mass level of adherence. This is primarily because the party does not campaign directly on its ultimate objective but on its immediate policy platform which is more limited and focussed around Irish reunification. While the party has a substantial vote, in reality, it ends up that the other parties who constitute around 70% of electoral representation tend to side with those elements within the state which wish to hold back radical change.

7. Despite the fact that other political parties represent little by way of substance and SF as a representative political party 'punching above its weight' - the party is badly outgunned across most sites of struggle because other parties tend to end up effectively acting as conduits for the status quo civil service agenda. The end result is that change has been less than might be hoped for but a constant demand for change across all aspects of local and regional government. However, the party is achieving greater successes by linking outwards with civil society and popular opinion as its agenda is largely 'populist' and as such the civil service agenda can be confronted effectively where issues are opened out to the people.

8. Key to this is the trend within the party which emphasizes a strategic commitment to participatory democracy and participatory forms of governance.

9. As with anything the development of the party in this direction is combined and uneven.

10. The DUP which is currently acting as the bulwark of unionism is under serious pressure from its grassroots from engaging with Republicans in a power sharing administration and in all-Ireland institutions. This may or may not have impacts on the viability of unionism in the medium-term.

11. SF has not accepted consent. However, the party has taken the step of working within a system where consent is enshrined. This was the most substantial compromise made by the party and some found it difficult to accede to working in such a framework saying that this amounted to an ideological commitment to consent. At the same time, the current arrangements reflect the opinion of the bulk of Irish people and the position of every single other party of substance in the island. No change is possible without proceeding from the standpoint of the bulk of Irish people - as such, the party has been forced to negotiate and act within a framework outside itself. This is a substantial problem that radical critics of Sinn Fein are in denial about - the people themselves do not view the continued existence of the North as a British colony as illegal. As a consequence military options do not have sufficient levels of support to be sustainable. Indeed, it is likely that political options of rejecting the Peace process will leave their adherents sidelined in political terms from the action. The situation post-1998 is qualitatively different than previous to it given the overwhelming support of the Irish people for the new arrangements.

12. Economics lies largely in favour of Irish reunification. In terms of Agriculture, Environment, the Economy and Energy the argument for all-Ireland approaches is unassailable. Even hardened pro-British parties like the DUP are now calling for the adoption of integration across these sectors. Any such changes to the base will have tremendous impact on the political super-structure over time. As Engels said, "According to the materialistic conception of history, the production and reproduction of real life constitutes in the last instance the determining factor of history."

13. Sinn Fein is not the only party to recognise this. The largest party of the Free State (Fianna Fail) has indicated it will now actively pursue an all-Ireland structure. Fianna Fail is the definitive party of the Irish big bourgeoisie (mixing both comprador and national bourgeoisie elements). This is reflective of the fact that the Free State [Dublin] Bourgeoisie recognise that they have a natural interest in exploiting opportunities on an all-Ireland scale. The rate of investment from Dublin to Belfast is substantial and is supported by the Dublin Government pumping £600m into infrastructure for the north. This money is not for nothing. Dublin is preparing the ground for reunification on the back of economic integration.

14. This move north is on the back of Fianna Fail's success in hammering Sinn Fein in the recent Free State elections. Fianna Fail decimated the left in those elections - the SPI (CWI) which had a TD and was hoping for a second lost their only seat. Sinn Fein went down from 5 TDs to 4 but this reflected a failure to achieve grandiose targets of up to 15 seats. In essence, this reflected the working class hopefully voting en-masse for the party of the big bourgeoisie to retain 'the good times'. As such, it is a transcient victory and Fianna Fail recognise that with its substantial northern electoral base, Sinn Fein remain a serious threat to Fianna Fail - largely because of that party's core support deriving from the working class and the potential to lose a fraction of the (powerful) national bourgeoisie to Sinn Fein - as has happened in the north.

15. Fianna Fail are also interested in the money. Sinn Fein despite its limited achievements has remained as a bulwark against corruption and has been very active driving an equality agenda. This does not suit big business interests and Fianna Fail believe that Sinn Fein need to be and can be attacked on their home ground.

16. While this represents a serious threat to Sinn Fein given the disparity between the level of support for Sinn Fein's ultimate objectives of a Socialist Republic and its current levels of political support, there are a range of opportunities associated with Fianna Fail coming north. Not least is that Fianna Fail will hasten Irish unity as they will be able to speak more effectively to sections of unionism which see their loyalty as stemming from material advantage. In the future, this economic-based loyalty to Britain will be replaced by a more pragmatic attitude based on profit-making. Given the all-Ireland economic dynamic this is a very persuasive factor.

17. Sinn Fein contesting elections against Fianna Fail in the north will also sharpen the party's own focus on what it stands for. Key to this is a commitment to Equality and Participation. Equally, the struggle to effectively democratise the Police through the accountability mechanisms negotiated will assume greater importance in awakening wider consciousness around the need for radical outcomes. Sinn Fein's work within institutions and use of political power will inevitably and eventually contribute to a radicalisation of Irish society, north and south, as cross-border institutions bed down.

18. At the same time, power-sharing in the north has opened the door to Sinn Fein engaging with unionism at grassroots levels and will accelerate the process whereby working class unionists begin to challenge their political affiliations to conservative parties. This process, however, is much more involved than might be otherwise assumed. It reflects the strength of the ideology of loyalism and sectarianism. In a sense, it is akin to countering attitudes of racism in the US south.

19. The contours of the struggle are therefore complicated. It is guaranteed that anyone without a comprehensive understanding of localised politics based on practice will come unstuck if they attempt to apply simplistic models to strategy. Ireland is divided artificially but this division is reflected in popular consciousness. Ireland is at once a neo-colony and a colony. Large sections of its indigenous working class are materially privileged and have a material interest in maintaining this relative privilege. That situation is doubly complicated in the north. I seriously doubt whether Sinn Fein will be taking any advice from groups or individuals who have been signally ineffective in advancing their struggle in their own countries.

20. Sinn Fein's entry into institutions cannot be dissevered from the success of the IRA's military campaign. This campaign has opened the state up for struggle. Effectively, SF are engaged in a war of position with elements from within the state itself and other political trends. The British Government, itself composed of various trends, retains a material interest in Ireland as expressed variously by the Northern Ireland Office, British MI5, etc. The direct interest of the British Government, in particular its Treasury, in curtailing moves towards further devolution or independence is related to its struggle to contain Scottish demands for Independence. None of these factors are simply coterminous and they can be contradictory. All of which makes for a variety of viewpoints.

Nothing is guaranteed for Sinn Fein and the Republican movement. The state itself may be able to withstand Republicans and tie down their struggle for years. However, I doubt this given the economic and political trends we see manifesting themselves today. Similarly, Sinn Fein remains focussed on its goals so let us hope they are successful. If not, Eirigi is performing a useful task in collecting all those individuals who find that they cannot believe in the current strategy so I wish them well too. If Sinn Fein is to succeed, it will need all the allies it can get in prosecuting the struggle.

I hope that this explains things a little more than Phil's simplistic rantings about Sinn Fein's engagement in a capitalist state and just giving up on the freedom struggle.

Le meas,



Dave Riley said...

What a load of crock! The core consequences of the Good Friday Agreement -- which served to actively demobilise the nationalist struggle -- is not even considered.

I was covering that obscene exercise in rapproachment for GLW and there's not a good side or a Plan B hidden any where within it. It was a massive sellout of the whole struggle as SF worked actively to occupy the middle ground and make a pitch to the British imperialist state and its Unionist opponents.

People should not mix up the question of ending the guerilla campaign -- a totally failed tactic -- with other manoevres. in effect, the engagement nationalist community has been poorly served by SF.

You also have to recognise that that the economic changes in the 26 counties have given the Irish bourgeosie a new edge such that they wanted the 'struggle' to unite was totally expendible and in effect SF was complicit with that.

The problem is that lefts like Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh are welded to SF like people are to the Laborism here. So you get tripe like this covering for the deed s that have been done in the name of Republicanism.

Unfortunately, the situation on the Irish left has only got worse as the recent election results indicate.
Anything worthy that may come out of that fallout -- will occur OUTSIDE of SF.

Red Wombat said...

Indeed, that's one of the central reasons why the marxists and activists that form the core of eirigi split away a year ago in the 26 counties.

The nature of SF *appears* to be more fluid than that of Labour or Labor, however, and with a bit of left rhetoric the leadership manages to keep many of them within "the project" with the hope that either their is a secret plan, or they can easily win it back.

The eirigi split appears to have been over a number of other matters (not the GFA), but the upshot is not so dissimilar a conclusion to our own - SF (at least in the 26, and probably in the 6) are an aspiring (and ascending) party of business, whose only interest in the "rank-and-file" is to hold on to a base, which they still do - on an increasing basis.

The questions then arise, however, of what are those on the republican left doing to capitalise on this situation, and what to make of or do with the left within SF?

It should be noted that the wombats only posted this because it was the closest to a coherent "defence" of SF as has been bandied about of late, and deserves being disected on that basis.