An Essay on the History of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement
The Irish Republican Socialist Movement is proud to publish this essay written by Thomas “Ta” Power on the history of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement, and his analysis of how the Movement should be reorganized to overcome past weaknesses it had encountered.
The essay called for the armed aspect of the movement to subordinate itself to the political direction of the party. In Ireland, where physical force has been inseparably linked to the concept of republicanism for centuries, and where the party, if it existed at all, as usually no more than an apparatus through which the army spoke, this was a virtually unheard of concept.
What makes this essay of particular importance is not simply the concept it proposes. It is important because Ta Power was an imprisoned member of the Irish National Liberation Army at the time the essay was written, and that the ideas advocated in the essay were later accepted by the INLA with overwhelming support. The armed wing of an Irish revolutionary movement called for its own subordination to the political leadership of the party, and proclaimed the party to be the leadership of the movement as a whole. This is what makes Power’s document of truly historic importance.
Beyond its departure from the traditional form of Irish revolutionary organization, Power’s essay is a painfully honest review of the history of the Irish Republican Socialism Movement, analysing its weakness and strengths, acknowledging unpleasant facts, and offering concrete means of countering these problems in the future.
Before Ta Power was able to see the full effect of his ideas, the embodiment of the very problems he identified so well left him dead – murdered in a cowardly ambush under the flag of truce. In January, 1987, Ta Power was shot and killed, with INLA Chief of Staff John O’Reilly, while they were waiting to meet with members of a group calling itself the “Irish People’s Liberation Organization.” The IPLO was composed of members of several factions purged from the INLA during the preceding four years for having brought the organization into disrepute through their criminal activities. Once bitter enemies, the IPLO leaders were joined together for the sole purpose of attempting to destroy the Irish Republican Socialist Movement. The IPLO attacks nearly succeeded in destroying the Irish Republican Socialist Movement, but the adoption of Ta Power’s analysis and proposals helped the organization to rebuild and continue, free from the problems that once plagued it. Since the attacks in 1987, the INLA has been free of the internal factional disputes, as well as from the stigma of criminal elements reputed to be within its ranks.
The IRSM salutes the memory of Ta Power, who remains an inspiration to us. His memorial will be a 32-County Socialist Republic of Ireland.
This essay is just a broad, general view of the emergence of the IRSP, what it arose from, what historical conditions and needs gave birth to it; what role it has played, and what role it has still to play. Another essay aimed at analyzing its faults, criticizing the root cause of these, and proposing the necessary remedies will be forthcoming.
This essay is just a broad and general view of the emergence of the IRSP, what it arose from, what historical needs and conditions gave birth to it what role it has played and what role it still has to play. Another essay aimed at analysing its faults; criticising the root cause of these and proposing the necessary remedies will be forthcoming.
The 4th December 1974 is the date when the IRSP publicly and formally announced its formation, but it didn’t spring up fully formed out of the blue; it, like everything else, had its roots in history, going back to the 1960’s and the leftward direction which the Republican Movement was embarking on.
The Republican Movement at that time, as indeed throughout its history, was a monolithic movement, ideologically united and disciplined in its strategy and tactics. It contains an element, which disciplined in its strategy and tactics. It contains an element which embraced the old traditional militarist approach to resolving the national question, whilst its biggest element was the now avowedly socialist element and their approach involving Republican involvement in all social and political views and issues of the day throughout the entire country.
A trend was already developing “within” this element a very influential and leading sector which while sprouting the socialist approach and a need for armed wing to confront imperialism and its allies in Ireland, was steadily working towards a fully reformist position on the national question with an abandonment altogether of an armed confrontation with imperialism.
Yet there was a smaller element which maintained that both the national question and the social question were inextricably bound up, that both must go forward together i.e. the national liberation struggle in the six counties alongside the class struggle in all of Ireland. This element was personified primarily in Seamus Costello.
The events of 1969 in the six counties and the dropping of the abstentions policy of the Republican Movement resulted in a crisis emerging among the above elements, leading to the mainly traditionalists splitting to form the Provisional Republican Movement.
It is one of these events in history that while those who spilt were right as regards having to confront imperialism in the six counties, at the same time they lacked the ideological outlook and ability to expand the struggle, to mobilise the mass of Irish people in active support of the struggle.
Whilst on the other hand those who probably possessed the ability to do so were leading towards a reformist position and the denial of the struggle for national liberation altogether. This was the Official Republican Movement.
The position of part of those who stayed with the Officials – Costello etc was one in which they saw the best possible conditions existing for the developing of a revolutionary movement.
The events of 1969 resulted in an influx of new members into both the Officials and the Provisionals to fight British rule, and whilst the Provisionals engaged in a far greater role in this fight, the Officials were also very active. Basically the rank and file wanted to expand the struggle while coming up against a leadership resolved in stopping the struggle.
The introduction of internment in 1971 was a blessing in disguise for the leadership, as it allowed them to gradually wind down their involvement in the struggle, as many militants were interned, arm supplies began to dry up etc, but this did not go by without some opposition.
Earlier moves which may have led to a split in 1972 concerning Joe McCann and others who were aware of the leadership’s intentions to call a cease-fire, and to which they were totally opposed. However this ended as McCann was shot dead by the Brits in April 1972, the Officials declared a cease-fire in May 1972. Costello in later years declared he should have split there and then instead of continuing to work inside the Officials to try to change it. He hated splits as they led to demoralisation, acrimony and possible feuds.
The Official Leadership refused to accept that a struggle against imperialism was in progress. Their line was that the struggle in the six counties divided the working class Protestants and Catholics and that they must first unite them before they could challenge imperialism. This was the false strategy which ignored the fundamental fact that partition, and all that it implied, divided the working class and that this must be removed to achieve the unity of the working class.
Throughout 1972-73 more militant policies were promoted in the Officials in relation to the national question, but the Leadership frustrated and refused to implement these. Instead, they launched a concerted campaign to isolate the main protagonists of this more revolutionary line which resulted in Seamus Costello being suspended in 1973. Here onwards the differences between Costello and the now openly reformist Leadership was out in the open.
Much discussion took place all over the country and inside the jails as well, on their respective positions, with the Leadership of the Officials trying to stifle debate, tainting people, issuing threats and finally expulsions, especially Costello at the 1974 Ard Fheis. The dismissal of Costello formalised what was already a fact — “the parting of the ways” of a revolutionary and reformist strategy on the national question.
Costello was in the process of forming a new party when he was formally dismissed. Events now proceeded at a quickened pace over the remaining months of 1974. With revolutionary, republicans, socialist and trade unionist coming together, the IRSP was formed.
The same process took place at the Officials cage in Long Kesh as well, when it was announced in December 1974 that this new political party had been formed under the slogan, “FOR NATIONAL LIBERATION AND A SOCIALIST REPUBLIC”. Its announcement resulted in widespread defections from the Officials all over the country, i.e. those who had been most active and politically conscious members.
The Leadership, in order to halt this and wipe out the IRSP, loosed armed attacks on IRSP members in Belfast in early 1975. After several months of feuding three members of the IRSP were dead and many others wounded.
The arms the Officials had starved and denied their own membership to confront imperialism had been delivered in plenty, in a counter revolutionary manner to be used against those who had formed a new movement, in order to confront imperialism.
This onslaught brought a halt to resignations from the Officials, it also frightened off many of those who would have joined the IRSP from outside the republican movement and overall it badly affected the growth of the party. At this point we must examine what made the IRSP different from both the Officials and the Provisionals.
On the national question! That it couldn’t be resolved until the Protestant and the Catholic working class “united”, that the six counties could be democratised, that a bill of rights was needed etc.
This position ruled out the national liberation struggle, it ignored the fundamentally sectarian nature of the six county states and how the Brits through this maintained their rule and influence over the entire country.
At this time they still had a one-sided concentration on the national question, they were still controlled by the old traditional leadership which advocated a “federal solution” which Adams was later to refer to as “a sop to Loyalist” they concentrated on the military effort to the exclusion of revolutionary politics throughout Ireland. They maintained their abstention position. Costello criticised the Provisionals for their “elitist and conspiratorial approach” which was no substitute for the development of a peoples struggle.
Most of the following are the direct words of Seamus Costello, upon outlining the programme for the IRSP.
We must make no secret of the fact that we are a revolutionary socialist party, prepared to give leadership on the streets as well as in the elected chambers, and that we are out for a socialist republic (or a revolutionary socialist state) part of that struggle for a socialist republic entails resolving the national liberation struggle and ending British imperialist intervention.
We stand for the unity of the anti-imperialist struggle and class struggle.
What are the vital social issues of the day? Along with the national question there exist many strands to the anti-imperialist struggle. To hold the national question above all others is to isolate oneself from the people and result in inevitable defeat.
We must involve ourselves and the masses in issues, which affect them: political agitation, propaganda etc should not be confined to the six counties.
There is no parliamentary road to socialism, but elected members should use such chambers as a platform for the pursuit of our policies and for achieving publicity for them, but members elected to parliament etc would have to be active in politics outside parliament, i.e. extra parliamentary and agitationary politics on the streets.
We see both parliamentary institutions in Ireland as institutions that have to be abolished if we are to make progress towards establishing a socialist republic.
When we say we are not an abstention party, we mean we are not a Party, in principle, committed to abstention. But there are circumstances and conditions under which it might be desirable at any particular point in time to abstain from parliament, and if we felt it was tactically desirable then we would do so.
Ultimate Goal: To end imperialist rule in Ireland and establish a 32 County Democratic Socialist Republic with the working class in control of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
Broad Front: This advocates the maximum degree of Anti-imperialist unity. We recognise the absolute necessity of securing a constitutional solution to the present crisis, which will allow the Irish working class the freedom to pursue there interests as a class in the context of the development of normal class polities.
In our view, the first step in securing a constitutional solution, which meets this requirement, must be for Britain to concede the right of the Irish people to exercise total sovereignty over their own affairs.
This objective can only be achieved through the creation of a united struggle on the part of all Anti-imperialist Organisations. We would therefore support the formation of an Irish anti-imperialist front composed of delegates from affiliated organisations who support the agreed political programme of the front.
The primary objective of the front would be to mobilise the maximum degree of support for its declared objectives throughout Ireland. The front should clearly be seen as the LEADERSHIP OF A MASS MOVEMENT against all forms of imperialist control and interference in Ireland.
The front should have sufficient support and assistance from its affiliated organisations to enable it to open a head office with a full time staff. We propose the following political demands as the basis on which an Irish anti-imperialist front should organise:
- 1) That Britain must renounce all claims to sovereignty over any part of Ireland or its coastal waters.
- 2) That Britain must immediately disband and disarm the UDR, RUC and RUC Reserve and withdraw all troops from Ireland.
- 3) That the British and 26 County Governments must immediately release all political prisoners and grant a general amnesty for all offences arising from the current conflict.
- 4) That Britain must agree to compensate all that have suffered as a result of imperialist violence and exploitation in Ireland.
- 5) Recognising that no country can be free and independent while it permits imperialist domination of its economic life, the anti-imperialist front, will oppose all forms of imperialist control over wealth and resources.
- 6) The front rejects a federal solution and the continued existence of two separates in the 6 and 26 counties as a denial of the right of the Irish people to sovereignty and recognises that the only alternative as being the creation of a 32 democratic republic with a secular constitution.
- 7) That the front demands the convening of an all Ireland constitutional conference representative of all shades of political opinion in Ireland for the purpose of discussing a democratic and secular constitution would become effective immediately following a total British military and political withdrawal from Ireland.
These were the primary differences between the IRSP, Officials, and the Provisionals when Seamus Costello launched the party in December 1974.
After the onslaught by the Officials ended in mid 1975, the movement strove to structure and stabilises its organisation. By late 1975, the party was organised on an all-Ireland basis with approximately 800 members. It produced a quarterly internal bulletin, which promoted debate in matters of policy, strategy, and tactics within the party, and it also produced a monthly newspaper, “The Starry Plough”.
Its main activity was to promote the concept of the broad front in support of the national liberation struggle while also campaigning on trade union issues, women’s issues, unemployment etc.
On March the 12th 1977 it convened the first anti-imperialist conference at the Spa Hotel Lucan, though these talks at the conference broke down. We will examine the reasons later on.
FREE STATE ATTACK
April 1976 saw a concerted attack by the “FREE STATE” to smash the IRSP after a train robbery in Co Kildare, and over 40 members were arrested.
The so-called “HEAVY GANG” marked down 14 of these for in-depth interrogation. Nine were severely tortured and 6 were framed for the robbery. The IRSP offices were ransacked and files burnt and stolen.
The IRSP launched a campaign highlight the torture, frame ups, denials of legal rights and also initiated civil proceedings against thestate for damages. This resulted in civil liberty groups, trade unions in Ireland and abroad calling for an impartial public enquiry. It also resulted in bringing to Ireland for the first time “Amnesty International”, whose findings reported evidence of Garda brutality, the HEAVY GANG by this time being internationally notorious.
It also found that the trial of those framed failed to scrutinise such allegations according to the principles of law, and called for an impartial enquiry.
The government and state, highly embarrassed by the whole episode, white washed the whole involvement of the Garda; it sentenced two members to 12 years imprisonment while another fled abroad.
The campaign to free those convicted again attracted national and international dimensions and both were freed on appeal in 1980. The appeal court gives no reason for freeing them.
Nicky Kelly came back to clear his name and likewise was imprisoned for 12 years. After another campaign and a hunger strike and widespread protest he was released also.
In the six counties and also other parts of these islands the movement actively confronted imperialism, many members being killed or wounded, with many more imprisoned.
At every stage of the struggle the movement was involved, from participating in the Relatives Action Committee, (RAC) in support of the restoration of political status for political prisoners in the six counties, to the formation of the National H-Block committee, and to the formation of the Relatives for Justice to campaign against the paid perjurer system.
Its members in jail, while escaping on two occasions in 1975 and 1976, also embarked on the blanket protest, and were involved in both major hunger strikes in 1980 and 1981 in which three of its members died.
All members of the movement who have been killed while confronting imperialism, who have been assassinated and who have died on hunger strike are all worthy equals, their loss equally regretted and mourned by us all.
All, not trying to draw a distinction between; it must be said that the assassination of Seamus Costello was a severe blow not only to the IRSP but also to the whole anti-imperialist struggle and the struggle for a socialist republic in Ireland.
The sheer stature of the revolutionary Seamus Costello is far too great for what can be expressed in feeble words, yet words are the only to express and convey this stature albeit in a feeble way.
In finishing this section we quote the following:
“Seamus was the greatest follower of my fathers teachings in this generation and I hope that his example shall be followed and that his vision for Ireland will be realised in this generation” — Nora Connolly O’Brien.
“Seamus was the most sincere man I ever had the pleasure to know” — Father Piaras O Duill.
“Without a doubt he was the greatest threat to the capitalist establishment since James Connolly” — Sean Doyle.
“Seamus spoke for the IRSP and give a scintillating display of good humour, history, politics and hard facts. No one who listened to his three hours in the afternoon, and by unanimous demand, two hours repeat in the evening, now doubts that they will either have to shoot him or jail him or get out of his way, but they certainly won’t stop him! Costello, the revolutionary, Marxist socialist whose ambition is a secular, pluralist united socialist republic won’t go away until he gets it” — Dr Noel Browne.
From 1964 – 1974 he held the positions of Adjutant General, Chief of staff and director of operations in the Official IRA and the positions of vice president of Official Sinn Fein.
From 1974 to his death on the 5th of October 1977 he held the position of Chief of staff and director of operations in INLA.
At the time of his assassination he was a member of the following bodies: Wicklow County Council, Co Wicklow Committee of Agriculture, General Council of Committees of Agriculture, Eastern Regional Development Committee, Bray Urban District Council, Bray branch of ITGWU, Bray and District Trade Union Council, of which he was president between 1976-1977, the Historical Society, and chairman of the IRSP.
As can be seen, he personified with himself what he ardently expounded and pursued throughout his life: the unity of the national liberation struggle and the class struggle and how they must go forward together.
Founder of the IRSP and the INLA Costello left no doubt, even when launching the broad front policy, where his allegiance, priority, and aims lay when he stated: “I OWE MY ALLEGIANCE ONLY TO THE WORKING CLASS” following in the expressed his position in the same words. This is the example he set for us to emulate.
So far we have seen the roots from which the IRSP arose, i.e. the leftward direction taken by the republican movement in the 1960’s.
We have seen the historical conditions and needs that give birth to it, i.e. on the one hand the concentration on the national question and the abandonment of the national question on the other, and the need arising to force both the national struggle and the class struggle together.
We have seen the role it played, i.e. in promoting the broad front policy, confronting imperialism, participating in all stages of the struggle in jail as well as on the streets, and finally we have seen the outstanding role that Seamus Costello played.
We come to the final section, WHAT ROLE HAS IT STILL TO PLAY?
Firstly “WE MUST MAKE NO SECRET OF THE FACT THAT WE ARE A REVOLUTIONARY PARTY, PREPARED TO GIVE LEADERSHIP ON THE STREETS AS WELL AS IN THE ELECTED CHAMBERS, AND THAT WE ARE OUT FOR A REVOLUTIONARY STATE”.
What we must do is examine the above statement by Seamus Costello and draw all the necessary implications from it. A revolutionary party must have a revolutionary ideology, an ideology that enables us to analyse the world, the motive force at work in the world, and plan a campaign based on the analysis.
A campaign that is consistent, principled, and bold in its implementation, maxims as a guide to action is an ideology; it represents the historical interests of the working class, which through the medium of a revolutionary party, aims to overthrow the capitalist order and begin the construction of communism.
“We must make no secret of the fact that we are such a party, make no secret of what we stand for and aim for. We cannot try to fool the Irish people and we must recognise that it is fatal to confuse and deceive them.
We must define our socialist republic, explain exactly what it entails; innuendoes, vagueness and good intentions are not enough: The road to hell is paved with good intentions! We must define all this with the utmost clarity so that the Irish people are under no illusion of what we are fighting for.
A revolutionary socialist party means that we must engage in revolutionary politics throughout all of Ireland, both on the streets and in the elected chambers.
It means that we must first identify the major contradictions in Ireland today, which is the continued occupation by the British of the six counties, and the resulting denial of our right to self-determination and sovereignty, the resolution of the national question, partition and all the evils and divisions that spring from it, it entails a struggle against imperialism, it entails the mobilisation of the mass of Irish people in the struggle for national liberation, but it doesn’t mean confining ourselves solely to the national question.
As we said before, there are many strands to the anti-imperialist struggle; it means involvement in campaigns against unemployment, emigration, repression, involvement in trade unions, action groups and EVERYTHING!
We must agitate, propagandise and organise around these issues (but not a reformist manner). There is no easy road to a socialist republic, no short cuts; we must strive towards uniting and politicising the working class no matter what obstacles confront us in our task, for we cannot win our struggle without the working class.
We cannot make the revolution without them, without their active participation in a united and political conscious manner. We need to be able to bring to the fore their expression their deeply felt aspirations and social needs. To bring to the fore their underlying anti-imperialist sentiment, showing up the class nature of the Irish state, establishment parties, etc, in acting to repress, jail and crush their people in order to protect British rule in Ireland.
We must be able to inject into the struggle, or rather, call forth from the people the values and ideals of solidarity, self-sacrifice, non-sectarianism, unity and internationalism etc, values that transcend our own individual existence, that lead to greater awareness, greater participation, and greater aliveness in oneself. We must be somehow able to grip the mass of people if we are to change the world.
But, let’s get matters exactly right: we cannot get this across to the working class unless we are now living and acting upon those values and ideals. The working class ‘know’ who are phoneys, who are hypocrites, self-seekers, self-promoters, careerists etc. None of these have a place in any revolutionary party.
We must show by our actions that we are true to these values, it doesn’t matter in the least if the people or organisation etc of whatever persuasion don’t, or cannot, reciprocate the same behaviour and attitudes – so be it! We must maintain our position regardless.
We must be vigilant that we don’t sink into the morass of sectarianism, mixing, pettiness etc. We must not get involved in unprincipled slanging matches etc, into positions that are sectarian, anti-revolutionary, morally damaging, that give succour to the enemy and that confuse and divide the working class.
We must maintain our criticism of any organisation on principled grounds, and likewise must have the courage of our convictions not to bow to public opinion, with all its prejudices, carefully manufactured and promoted by those prisoners of peoples minds — the press, priests, apologists etc.
We must also present our vision of what a revolutionary socialist state means. When we say in our programme that we want to establish a 32 county socialist state with the working class in control of the means of production distribution and exchange, we must be able to decipher it for the working class to understand what it means.
They must be able to relate directly to it. We must be able to get it across that a new independent Ireland is only possible through a revolutionary change in the ownership of the wealth and resources, that it must be rebuilt on a totally new basis: that it means expropriating the capitalists, allied to imperialism of their control and ownership of the means of production, etc, of organising our economy to produce not for the profit of the capitalist class but for the needs of the Irish people, of promoting values by which we can build a new life on a truly human basis.
We need to explain everything else that springs from this, in simple language and not in academic jargonized phrases, about planning democracy, the all round development of every individual etc.
There also exists at this stage of the struggle, the need to ask the questions. What forces can bring the national question to a successful conclusion? Only the working class. The leading capitalist parties in the 6 and 26 counties have no interest in solving the national question, but rather in crushing those trying to resolve it.
Both maintain their rule through partition and in turn permit imperialism to dominate all aspects of our life. Connolly maintained that only the working class could bring about a victorious conclusion to an age-old struggle for national independence and sovereignty, for besides predicting that the capitalist in Ireland would always compromise with imperialism, he also expanded on the concept that the working class were the “ONLY” class who possessed an “IDEAL” involving the complete overthrow and reversal of the political, economic, and social consequences of the conquest of Ireland thereby meaning the overthrow of the capitalist system the ideal which the working class alone possess being the ideal of a communist way of life.
To quote Seamus again: “British policy must be viewed in the light of their attitude towards Ireland as a whole, not just the 6 counties what Britain wants is to maintain her influence over the whole island. Her military and political intervention in the North is simply a means of maintaining this influence and control.
“Britain knows that if she is compelled to withdraw from the North, she loses all control over the economy, the wealth and resources of this country. She knows that there is a good chance of the creation of a socialist state.
“Britain and the EEC countries also would be conscious of the effect of a socialist state in Ireland on the western European working class. A socialist revolution in Ireland would be an inspiration to people all over Western Europe, the EEC countries have a vested interest as well as Britain, in ensuring that there is no change in the status quo in Ireland”.
And again: “It is still Britain’s objective to find and impose a political solution which will guarantee the continued protection of Britain’s economic and strategic interest in both parts of Ireland.
“Britain also acts as local protector of other imperial interests in Ireland, i.e. the EEC countries, USA and Canada all of which have a vested interest in supporting a British imposed solution in Ireland.
“Finally of course Britain’s strategic interests must also be protected through the imposition of a ‘solution’, which will also ensure that Ireland continues its present policy of pro-imperialist ‘Neutrality'”.
Both these quotes where written in 1975 and 1976 respectively, when we see the basic unity of the imperialist powers with their capitalist allies in Ireland. When we view in the light of the Anglo Irish agreement (Deal) and the enthusiastic support which these imperialist countries give to it, when we see how just today 15th August 1986 – 1989?
The chief of staff of the Irish Army publicly condemning the whole struggle, it doesn’t take much foresight to know that a concerted attack on the whole struggle is on the cards, thus again we must repeat the question “What forces can bring the national question to a successful conclusion?”
At the moment we have a pro-imperialist unity of forces. The basis of the broad front policy is to maximise the support for the anti-imperialist struggle, its aim is to constantly strengthen and enlarge the ranks of the people, of those all opposed to imperialist rule, which constantly weakening, dividing and isolating the ranks of the imperialist and their allies in Ireland.
The working class, being the only class, which will not sell out and compromise with imperialists, must therefore play the leading role in the struggle. The petty bourgeoisie, the small farmers and whatever other groups are potentially hostile to imperialism cannot play the leading role in the struggle. We must try and unite them under the one banner of the broad front.
When outlining earlier in the programme of the front for a constitutional conference etc we don’t see this as the so-called “stages” process in which for example, once we have got rid of the British we will go through a period of capitalist rule, democratisation etc, if we see the working class as the only class capable of resolving the national question; if we see the working class as playing the leading role in a broad front, through the medium of a revolutionary party, and if we see the broad front encompassing the mass of the Irish people, then the scenario of the question of power being the order of the day, for the working class to seize power.
The whole question of a constitutional conference will be to debate the question of power. Anyhow, this will depend on the correlation of forces. Within and outside the country it will open up a period of intense struggle between two fundamental camps.
Ireland, continuing as a dependent capitalist country controlled and dominated by imperialism, and of firmly establishing our sovereignty and building a revolutionary socialist state.
There is no middle ground between the two; there cannot be any middle road. The battle may be delayed or postponed but it must be fought eventually! We must be under no illusions about the utmost clarity if we are to confront it and be successful.
In Connolly’s words “WE CANNOT CONCEIVE OF A FREE IRELAND WITH A SUBJECT WORKING CLASS, WE CANNOT CONCEIVE OF A SUBJECT IRELAND WITH A FREE WORKING CLASS.
We come once more to the role of the revolutionary party, which is absolutely essential if we are to be successful. Without that clear guide role, without a revolutionary ideology, without an analysis of the forces arranged against us, without the application of the correct tactics and strategy the struggle will then fail.
It will be side tracked into compromise if not defeated by failing to appraise the overall situation correctly and becoming isolated from the mass of the people. We must build a revolutionary party.
All of the above is what must be done. It is the basis of what we still fight for. For the role we must still have to play. This is what a revolutionary party must be, what it must engage in, what it must do to help make the revolution.
The tasks that confront us will not be easy, it entails a long struggle, set backs, disappointments and at times maybe probable death! We should again be under no illusions what lie ahead.
It is only by strengthening ourselves ideologically, inculcating in ourselves the values and ideals of the struggle and building up the ranks of the revolutionary party that we will make it.
Finally we must constantly review, criticise and self criticise all aspects of our actions, policies, tactics etc keep appraising the whole situation and keep striving to raise the class consciousness spirit and capacity to fight and win, of the working class.
Marxism tells us that before we can properly solve a problem, before we can work out a plan of action, etc., that we must first analyse the given process, i.e., that we must identify the basic contradiction which is inherent in it and which give rise to its development, and from which everything else springs.
It is this basic contradiction which determines the whole process, other, secondary contradictions, arise out of this – these in turn give expression to particular trends, characteristics, interests, etc., but everything is ultimately determined and conditioned by the basic contradictions.
These secondary contradictions can be tackled. Reformed, changed, but again they will effect no fundamental change in the given process. The only way fundamental change can be achieved is by changing the basic contradiction, which immediately sets in motion a change in all the secondary contradictions, which are dependent upon it.
We’ll take for one example the premises whereby A and B have entered into a dialectical relationship. A is by its nature: democratic, open structures, working openly, have its own priorities, tasks etc. B is by its nature: undemocratic, closed structures, working secretly, have its own priorities, tasks, etc.
In their unity, the question obviously arises of who directs whom? Of who predominates over whom? Different results flow from whether A or B is the predominate aspect of the relationships. This is the starting point from which we now briefly analyses this process.
E.G., the predominance of B over A. Firstly: a definite strategy arises from this – i.e., the need to confront imperialism – but with the added proviso that everything else is subordinated to this end. Therefore secondly: definite needs arise from this, i.e., to make the fullest use of the human and material resources at their disposal.
When it’s asked: what are the imperialists and their Irish allies policy and how do we aim to thwart this? – We get the same old answer, i.e., that it’s necessary to confront them, that the struggle goes on, etc. – we get no analysis, we get no strategy outside this basic confrontation – it eventually becomes an end in itself due simply to the fact that they don’t know of any other strategy, other trends manifest themselves due to this, e.g., psychological traits: there arises the condition of elitism, superiority, etc., that those in A are wankers, bluffers, etc., who always harp on about meaningless things.
Therefore there arises a definite trend of spurning A-type work as being beneath their style, standing, etc.; there arises contempt for those involved in A-type work, etc.
Another trend arises of prestige building, of wanting to be seen and known as being the lad, etc. – that in turn begins to consolidate his position, to build a power base, etc. – these being manifested in 1979-81 and from 1982-87.
A lowering of standards eventually comes into being – where criminal type elements, unsavoury characters, inept individuals are allowed entrance and rise to prominence – the result is constant crises, factionalism, instability, discredit.
It must be asked: why the fatal failure? What you sow, you reap! What you plant, you harvest! If you predominantly plant seeds of B, your harvest an M crop.
If you sow a few seeds of A amongst this – then due to their inferior position, they’ll lose out in the struggle for life, for space to grow, breathe, develop and reproduce. Every single attempt to change this in the past has failed, yet highly intelligent individuals were involved during this period. Why did they fail?
Simply because they failed to confront the basic contradiction – which as we’ve pointed out above is that between A and B they would tackle only the secondary contradictions, e.g., by changing individuals, by launching a political initiative here and there, making some resources a bit more available, etc.
All these did was to give a brief further lease of life before the basic contradiction reasserted itself. It is like revolution. The basic contradiction in society is between the relations of productions, i.e., and socialised production by the working class and private appropriation by the capitalist class.
Everything springs from this. Poverty, unemployment, alienation, etc. To try and change poverty by more welfare benefits, unemployment by more state investment, etc., will likewise as above give a brief lease of life to ease this crisis – but these are only changes in the secondary contradiction – NO fundamental change is achieved as the basic contradiction has not been tackled.
It is impossible to bring about “fundamental change” unless the basic contradiction is tackled. Unemployment, poverty, etc., will immediately be changed once this is tackled and changed.
Therefore we have to ask now: why, if we’re Marxists, do we neglect this? This is fundamental of Marxism! Why do we fail to act accordingly? Marx, Lenin, etc., confronted all fundamentals in a courageous, merciless, ruthless manner. Why do we fail to do so? Is it inherent in us? Are we up to this task? Do we lack the courage and maturity to do this? Are we amateurs and not professionals? We know the lessons of history, we know the mistakes, and we either act accordingly or collapse. Salvation lies in clarity and the courage to implement change!
We come now to our now starting point, which is the predominance of A over B. Again, a definite strategy arises from this plus the need to make the fullest use of the human and material resources at our disposal. The need to confront imperialism is again reasserted, but this time subordinated to the need to build A – to build structures which for once will ensure stability, to inculcate in everyone a revolutionary ideology, etc. Recognising past errors, etc., we must consciously strive to avoid factionalism, power bases, etc.
Out of the predominance of A over B – definite psychological traits will emerge: of discipline, unity, work, theoretical strength, comradeship, solidarity, confidence – these entail the sharing of experience, the raising of political consciousness, the formation of political agitators, organisers, propagandists, until a solid base is created with continuity at all levels.
It is absolutely obvious that this cannot be done on the odds basis, with all the old traits, problems, etc. – it entails completely subordinating B to A – of salvaging the most promising elements in B, etc. This is what changing the basic contradiction means; everything flows from this. It ensures that in the future that all will have gone through the training school of building A; they will all have this background; with revolutionary politics uppermost; with allegiance to A; with being familiar with all the trends in A; with all its problems policies – and never divorced from these.
A common bond must be forged around these – a bond, which will create the qualities of awareness, capability, resilience, consistency, etc., in everyone.
If we recognise that the starting point of anything is the most important thing – for this is what we sow, what we plant – then this point of departure is the ground from which we must launch ourselves.
Those who would cling to the past, to the outworn, put forth the line that we will change, but that it doesn’t have to be so drastic, etc. This is sheer pretence! They are usually agreed upon about what must be done – yet not doing it! That it can be done in stages – yet not following the logic of going to the heart of it and acting resolutely! They end up maintaining – supporting that which is the very problem.
Their so-called good intentions is not enough – the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The burning question – the priority for us is to build a revolutionary party – as Lenin said about the Social Revolutionaries:
“Their terrorism is not connected in any way with work among the masses, for the masses, or together with the masses. It distracts our very scanty organisational forces from their difficult and by no means complete task of organising a revolutionary party.”
The year 1974 was to be an important period for Republican Socialist in Long Kesh i.e. for the group of prisoners who came under the Official Republican Movement, because it was in December 1974 that a small but significant number left the Officials and gave their support to Seamus Costello’s newly formed IRSP.
Since the cease-fire period in 1972 until late 1974 the mode of the Officials in all prisons was far from being tranquil. There was a general feeling of disillusionment among prisoners in the Officials case as to the inactivity and lack of principled leadership from the movement on the outside.
The excuse, put forward by the leadership, for the halt of the armed struggle was that it was counter-productive and a temporary tactic, was being rejected by a substantial number of prisoners – that was at a time when the Brits were brutally hammering the Irish people, torturing, interning, and killing at will.
So one could say that the situation in the cage in Long Kesh was of great discontent and extreme flammable; one spark was all that was required to ignite the revolutionary nucleus, which had been ceaselessly critical since the cease-fire in May 1972.
Reports had been filtering in to Long Kesh for some time about Seamus Costello and his attempts to pull the movement away from the slippery slope leading to the abandonment of the anti-imperialist struggle and acceptance of the reformism path.
The final straw came when at the 1974 Ard Fheis. Costello’s proposals, which had been supported by the majority of delegates, were brushed aside by the leadership and Costello himself was formally dismissed. Over the following months, his position was constantly debated in the cage; people were in contact with him when the IRSP was publicly declared as a separate party.
A meeting was held in one of the huts in cage 11, an attempt was made to read out a document in support of Seamus Costello, and when this was denied by the cage staff, all those who were in favour of the newly formed movement got up and left the meeting; they held their meeting which was to form a branch of the IRSP in December 1974.
The numerical strength of this new group was between 20-25, mainly Belfast men. The problem for the newly-formed IRSP was to get away from the Officials and to press for a cage of their own and to acquire camp council recognition. At this period of time in the Kesh a representative from each grouping – Provisionals, Officials, UVF, UDA – meet the prison administration to discuss matters concerning the general running of the jail. This was De Facto POW status.
The separation of the IRSP and the Officials came about a short time after the spilt and especially once the onslaught by the Officials had begun outside. After the Officials had made a number of threats and some minor scuffles broke out, the IRSP members were very high; they still had not received camp council recognition.
Until this had been acquired the future would be unsure and unstable so it was decided that a hunger strike would be embarked upon to gain political status i.e. camp council recognition. A selected number went on hunger strike — during this supporters outside blocked dozens of main roads with vehicles to draw attention to the prisoner’s demands.
The hunger lasted until the prison administration gave in – this was early 1975. Shortly after this five IRSP prisoners escaped from the magistrates court in Belfast, while another successful escape was made by nine IRSP prisoners in cage 5 in May 1976 by way of a tunnel. These were early morale boosters for the IRSP but shortly things began to change! Newly sentenced prisoners were no longer denoted as political prisoners. The Brits were now pursuing a policy and the infamous H-Blocks was built to house all prisoners.
The 1st of March 1976 was the date of the implementation of the Brits criminalisation policy. Any Republican caught on or after this date would no longer receive “special category status” as the Brits called it or “Political status” as the rational world recognised it.
All prisoners were now to be treated as common criminals without any political recognition at all, the effects of this would be felt not only inside the Prisons – because criminalisation was an attempt to criminalise not only the Prisoners but the entire struggle, it was immediately grasped by all Republicans and Republican socialist organisations that the British had once again redrawn the lines of confrontation and opened up another battle front of “their” choice.
The Prisons were the new battle zones, at the centre of which was the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and defeat here for either side engaged was possibly the “beginning of the end”. Suddenly, captured Republicans were thrown back to an active role and again to the forefront of the struggle. Their courage, resolve and mettle would be tested to the full. The tremendous responsibility, which was imposed on them, was a heavy burden to carry, but carry it they did.
With the ending of status came the ending of segregation. The effects of this on our movement was more profound than are sometimes realised. Because of our numerical weakness we were always a minority within the broad republican family and this created further problems for us. The IRA always set the tempo and pace but we “always” retained our separate organisational structures, independence and identity, regardless of the general course of protest/resistance being embarked upon against criminalisation.
At various stages during the protest years there were differences of opinion between us and them regarding how things should or should not develop, but irrespective of the point, it is basically true to say that the impetus was in the hands of the British, and Republicans of all shades adapt and react to the conditions they found themselves in.
These conditions were often hard and brutal and under such circumstances men genuinely bound together in the face of a common enemy. The attitude taken by our members was simply that we are Republican Socialists first, and a member of a specific movement second – with this it was incumbent upon us to follow the general development of the protest etc.
The early years of the protest were filled mainly with the refusal to work or to wear prison clothes; this led to confinement in the cell and the beginning of the no wash/cleaning out strike. The stakes were risen and the Brits determined to succeed gave sanction for an escalation of brutal and vicious onslaught waged by the prison administration, which was designed to break the prisoner’s spirit and resistance. The onslaught was a signal to the prisoners that the Brits were determined as they were brutal, and with this came concrete realisation that defeat here either side would result in strengthening their opponent’s position immensely.
Outside the jails saw the mobilisation of opinion in support of the prisoner’s five basic demands. This gradually gathered in strength and momentum and towards the end of 1980 things would begin to take shape for the final phase of this prolonged battle. At this point it is worth noting that our movement was heavily involved and represented at each stage and development of the protest, both inside and outside the prison.
Towards the end of 1980, the first hunger strike was embarked upon by seven prisoners, one of them being the O/C of the IRSP in the H-Blocks. This ended without the loss of life – but with the issue still unresolved.
A second hunger strike had begun on the 1st of March 1981, the same day the no-wash etc strike was to cease. This was a purely tactical plan as lessons from the previous hunger strike had been well-learned, as we were preparing conditions making it difficult for the Brits’ duplicity and treachery to function in.
Mass mobilisation was undertaken on the streets, this was co-ordinated by the national H-Blocked/Armagh committee. A conglomeration of many different and various organisations under one banner. The IRSP was an active and committed participant on this committee.
This period in Irish history will undoubtedly be looked back on as the watershed in this the final phase of the struggle of our people. The hunger strike ended on the 3rd of October 1981 after 271 days with the loss of ten brave and courageous revolutionary Republicans.
The sacrifice signalled to the world that the struggle of our people was just, popular and undeniably political. Criminalisation was defeated; the Brits lost a major battle and the events of 1981 presented opportunity and conditions for Sinn Fein to adopt a policy of electoral intervention, which dealt another major and totally unexpected blow to the British occupation of our country.
Our movement played a full and committed role in the history of this period – on the streets, the IRSP mobilised in support of the prisoners, and in the prisons our members stood steadfast and firm. Three of our movement’s finest volunteers, Pasty O Hara, Kevin Lynch and Mickey Devine lost their lives on hunger strike.
The British were forced to grant major concessions and the wearing of our own clothes was the foundation from which we set about building and security and environment we have today.
The end of the hunger strike saw a difference of opinions emerging; firstly within the IRA and secondly between them and our movement in regards our next move. Some sections believed nothing more could be achieved by remaining in the isolated protest blocks and they believed we should all go down into the “working” blocks and make our next move from there. There was a general consensus at that time within the IRA for that attitude, and so men started to leave of their own accord.
Our staff believed in moving to the working blocks to facilitate the next moves, but they realised that we were, on our own numerically impotent, but that still didn’t take away the principle of what we believed was the correct thing at the correct time.
Other factors were that we could move in unison, as a movement, and not as individuals, and when there we would establish the structures of our movement and carry out whatever was practical and feasible to strengthen our position. Two months after the hunger strike, on the 3rd of December 1981, our movement left the isolated blocks and went into the mixed wings.
It wasn’t until a year later that the main body of the IRA ended the “no work” strike and therefore ended the isolation blocks. Over a period of time beforehand, they had infiltrated groups of men into the working blocks to build up their structures. The sheer weight of numbers overwhelmed the Loyalists and a campaign was embarked upon to get segregation. It is true to say that it was the IRA, which was primarily behind the planning of this, but our men in the wings again contributed. The Loyalist finally embarked upon a protest, which meant moving them to isolation blocks – thus segregation was achieved.
So far we have spent our time tracing the very broad history of the IRSP in this jail. With that knowledge behind us, no man should be under any illusions about our historical roots in the struggle, which took place in here to achieve the conditions we presently enjoy.
The struggle was a bitter and hard slog in which we all suffered many personal hardships; Three of our finest men: Pasty O Hara, Kevin Lynch and Michael Devine gave their lives. We must ask ourselves why? These men died to restore political recognition of our prisoners in an effort to thwart ant attempt to criminals our struggle. What we enjoy now is De Facto Political recognition.
The question now becomes: What do we do, how do we make the best of the conditions we now enjoy? We must firstly realise that each and every one of us owes a dept to those men who sacrificed their lives for us! The way to repay this is to make the best possible use of the conditions they created for us. We can do this by politicising ourselves so that we can return to the struggle, to strengthen and bolster it etc.
The more politically-aware people who leave this jail and return to the struggle, the quicker the struggle will develop and succeed. It is therefore necessary to draw up a programme for the IRSP in the jail, and it is incumbent on every one of our members to follow the programme with all their energy and enthusiasm.
At the inception of the movement in late 1974, hopes were high that this was the initiation of what was to be a new revolutionary force in Ireland. The potential to build a revolutionary movement with a small, but sufficient nucleus who had firstly provided the impetus in forming the movement, and secondly, who possessed an unparalleled analysis (at that time 1974) of what was required to shift British imperialism and capitalism from Ireland.
That analysis stemmed from a solid ideological base, which was socialist in its outlook, together with the recognition that the armed struggle was not only justified, but also necessary if Britain were to be forced from this country. It was only by the organisation of a solid ideologically sound socialist party actively engaged in the political struggle of the Irish people, combined with a military wing actively confronting imperialism, which would bring victory, and so it was to these ends that the new movement was to strive and organise for 12 years.
We can look back and see that we have not been successful in building either a solid socialist party, or a military machine capable of sustaining an effective military campaign. Our task here is to ask why the movement has not involved and developed into that which it had the potential to be in late 1974.
The task we have set ourselves is enormous because the short history of this movement, a mere 12 years, has been plagued with inner turmoil and internal problems. So in a sense the question – Why has the movement involved developed and fulfilled its early potential? – could be answered in two short words: “INTERNAL TURMOIL”!
That is the accurate answer but it is not adequate or sufficient, for the objective here is merely an attempt to understand the past, so that we may analyse the present and then we can influence the future! It is simply not desirable, for reasons and considerations, to carry out a detailed, day-to-day history of the movement.
Our central theme, focus and concentration will be that of STRUCTURE and we will not get bogged down with the individuals, personalities or groups who have staffed this structure over the years. Mention may be made of individuals, but only in the context of structure. Structure is the very essence, because everything involves around, depends upon and springs from the very structural make up of the movement.
If there are structural defects or weaknesses, they do not easily manifest themselves as such; rather, they tend to be manifested in different forms, which disguise their original, such as lack of internal democracy, lack of coherency and autocratic individuals. But, all those problems can ultimately, be traced back and found to originate from STRUCTURAL DEFECTS.
So if structure is incorrect, many internal problems will follow, but if the structure is correct, then the path should be smoother. Structure is the framework, or skeleton, around which the movement organises. We can list the concepts, each interrelated and interdependent on the other, which form the basis of a structure. The ten points are as follows:
- 1) Politics in command
- 2) Internal democracy
- 3) Absolute legitimacy
- 4) Collective Leadership
- 5) Central authority
- 6) Coherency
- 7) Accountability
- 8) Discipline
- 9) Efficiency
- 10) Effectiveness
The essential point to be grasped here is that point 1 is the rock, the basis from which every thing else stems, so if this is wrong, then all the other points will be retarded and that’s where things are seen to break down, where the cracks appear and problems occur.
Take point 8 Discipline – why is there little? Because there is little coherency point 6 and so it continues. Begin at the bottom, in the middle or wherever you like on this list of points and the effect is the same. The point above is incorrect, all the way up to point 1. Therefore point 1 is the basic problem/contradiction of this movement’s history, every other problem secondary.
Politics were not in command because the party was subordinate to the army. So the present position of the movement reads like this: We are not EFFECTIVE why? Because we are not EFFICIENT why? Because there is not enough DISCIPLINE, why? Because there is a problem with COHERENCY, why? Because there is a problem with CENTRAL AUTHORITY, why? Because there’s a problem with COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP. Why? Because there’s a problem with LEGITIMACY, why? Because there’s a problem with INTERNAL DEMOCRACY, why? Because POLITICS ARE NOT IN COMMAND.
We have found our starting point and will now commence with a three-part draft, beginning with point 1, but remembering that the central theme is that of structure.
Let’s begin with a question: why were politics not in command if we had a revolutionary nucleus, clear and correct in its analysis and political ideology? The fault was not to be found in individuals or their behaviour, politics, ideology, or any other “individual/personal/human” factor, the fault was structured and concerned, “THE ORGANIZATIONAL PRINCIPLE WHEREBY THE ARMY COUNCIL (AC) WAS ENSHRINED AS THE SUPREME BODY IN CONTROL OVER THE ENTIRE MOVEMENT RESULTING IN THE SUBORDINATION OF THE PARTY BY THE ARMY”. This effectively put the army in control, NOT POLITICS.
This first part of the draft entirely with the above structural defeats and concerns the period 1974-1977 in the movement’s history. This structural defect must be considered THE BASIC CONTRADICTION/PROBLEM from which SECONDARY CONTRADICTIONS/PROBLEMS derive.
The logic of the above proposition suggests that to solve the secondary contradictions permanently, one must find and eradicate the basic contradiction. To tackle secondary contradictions without eradicating the basic contradiction is tantamount to catching ones’ tail!
The consequences of this one structural defect, the organisational principle of the AC supremacy, were both pervasive and detrimental to the movement’s early growth and stability, and have been perpetuated with the same negative results right up to the present.
We shall concentrate now on three of the secondary contradictions, which arose in this period of the movement’s history, firstly by analysing each of them separately and finally by identifying their interconnection and drawing together to solve the basic contradiction.
This concerns the role of the army within the movement as we have known it. Persons who are reared and weaned and very much the product of army circles usually dominate the army council. The army council is the governing body, entrusted as executive caretakers of the movement with supreme and unquestionable power. The result of this fact is that favour, emphasis and resources are ascribed to the army, and its needs and requirements are given priority at every stage over the party. It also means that there exists a leadership dominated by “military thinkers” who attempt to impose a military solution to what is essentially a political problem.
To investigate and answer this point it is necessary to digress once again into the relatively recent past.
Following the split in 1974-1975 the national leadership attempted to consolidate the ground that had been won from the Officials due to the split, and plot out a political course and produce a programme which was in line with a truly revolutionary ideology. It was here the first cracks were to appear.
Then, the leadership (AC) were at odds as to the immediate priorities to pursue in line with any forthcoming revolutionary programme. Remembering that the split occurred because of the refusal by the Official Republican Movement to continue ‘ARMED STRUGGLE’ as a necessary tactic by which to confront imperialism and to secure a socialist republic, then it is hardly surprising that the same issue should raise its head again with all the intensity and bitterness of before.
The political policies (on social, economic and international issues) of the Officials was never in dispute, it was their courting respectability on the road to reformism, to the exclusion of all else that forced the parting of the ways. What was envisaged was the creation of a movement in which no ambiguity existed in the pursuance of armed struggle and revolutionary republican socialist policies, a movement that would create a unique blend of politics and physical force as to form a truly ideologically sound revolutionary organisation.
In the six counties the strongest area/base the movement has was Belfast and it was from here that most of the trouble was to originate. From the outset the army council was comprised of people with differing levels of political development, ability and perception. Within this body the argument raged as to which line of action must immediately be pursue as priority: (A) The building of a strong army or (B) The creation of a revolutionary party.
Seamus Costello – a domineering cult figure – pushed, cajoled, argued and articulated the immediate creation and building of a revolutionary party, meaning the majority of the movement’s finance, resources and energy would be directed away from the army. Costello was a strong-willed, politically astute, highly intelligent and capable person, almost an autocrat, around whom the fledgling Movement revolved and bitter controversy raged. The army council was divided from the word go over the issue of ‘WHAT MUST BE DONE FIRST?’
The Belfast lobby favoured the building of the army while Costello argued the case for the party. The general consensus, stemming from the very nature of the supreme body (AC) was such that ‘Armed Struggle’ was paramount, almost sacrosanct, inscribed in many minds as a ‘principle’ rather than a ‘facet’ of political struggle.
Seamus Costello’s plans to build a revolutionary party were reversed and it was demanded that the army should receive immediate priority, i.e., finance, resources, etc. From the outset, this whole argument was seriously flawed, the flaw being a structural one. This political debate was conducted within the parameters of what was essentially an ‘armed structure’ (AC) and from people drawn almost entirely from army ranks.
This structural defect was one which centred on ‘INTERNAL DEMOCRACY’ – internal democracy did not exist in this framework. How could it exist when movement policy was debated within the party grossly under-represented? Where was the democracy here? Within the context of this framework Costello’s plans never really had any chance of success. Costello attempted to convince, through dialogue, military-minded people who possessed a limited political perspective and who singularly failed to realise the importance of the party and the role it must play in the success of social revolution; not when the army has ‘won the war’ but at every step of the way, at every stage of development. The army council argued a strong military line to the detriment of the party for several reasons.
- (1) To establish the movement’s credentials, the quickest way to do this was to operate and by so doing, clearly distinguish the movement from the reformism ‘sticks’.
- (2) To confront British imperialism in a war of national liberation.
- (3) To defend the movement from any further attack. (In the wake of the 1974-1975 feud).
This lobby was running contrary to Seamus Costello’s wishes and so the inevitable consequences were disunity of thought and action within the ruling body of the movement. In other words there was a serious relation of ‘collective leadership’ resulting in ‘no’ consensus in agreement and the failure of defining and agreeing policy direction for ‘all’ to follow.
This in turn led directly to a lack of ‘clarity’, no definite strategy, revolutionary or otherwise, which could be implemented, ‘camps’ or ‘power blocks’ forming, which degenerated into ‘factions’ and ultimately ‘stagnation’.
Two more concepts of structure are evident here – ‘COHERENCY’ was non-existent resulting in no consistency in thought or action nor clarity of purpose. This in turn led to a breakdown of ‘CENTRAL AUTHORITY’ by the forming of individual ‘power blocks’ and factions. By this stage each camp were pursuing their own course of action, Costello mainly the party, the AC armed struggle.
Our second point concerns itself with the role of the party and its development (or lack of it). The party is reduced to a secondary role with its functions and importance being ‘minimised’ rather that ‘maximised’. It is forced to succumb to the dictates of the supreme body – The Army Council.
Seamus Costello had been the architect of what he perceived would be the creation and building of a revolutionary ideologically sound movement. He had personally travelled the country meeting highly-respected and capable people of the ‘left’, around whom the nucleus of a revolutionary working class party would be built.
But, in order to convince this potential nucleus as to the movement’s seriousness and revolutionary credentials, Costello has to either (1) have complete control of the ruling body (the AC) or (2) be part of the ‘ruling body’ which appreciated the ‘primary’ importance of building a party. Unfortunately neither was the case! Costello knew, as any revolutionary knows, that without the proper class-conscious vehicle of the people no revolution would be forthcoming. More than that, the ‘legitimacy’ of the movement’s existence must be called into question, as no revolutionary movement can exist if fundamentals such as ‘collective leadership, internal democracy and a political leadership’ are missing.
National independence with social and economic freedom condemns the working class to the drudgery of everlasting slavery, chained to the coat tails of the native exploiters.
With the formation of the party (IRSP) an Ard Cohmraile was elected and entrusted with the task of building a revolutionary class-conscious party with a revolutionary programme for development. However, in order for this to be achieved, finance, resources, time, and above all a revolutionary mature leadership (the AC), which understood the importance of such, a party was required.
Unfortunately not only did the Army Council lack this crucial factor but also they effectively deprived the Ard Chomhairle the right of autonomy by making it subject to the dictates of the army council. In effect, political development was strangled in the womb simply because ‘internal democracy’ was ignored.
As expected, this move resulted in clashes between the Ard Chomhairle who argued that the role of the party was as important if not more so than the army, and the army council.
It was passionately argued that without the proper political vehicle, no revolution could be won; that working class interests could not be represented, nor would they possess a vehicle for expression, and that the party could not subordinate itself to the dictates of the army as this smacks of the tail wagging the dog!
They tried to convince their opponents that essentially the struggle, which must be fought, is one of ‘class’ as distinct from ‘national liberation’ though both were by no means mutually exclusive; they were compatible in many respects – the ‘Armed Struggle’ was but one strand of a complex web on the road to defeating British imperialism in Ireland and securing a socialist republic. They pointed out that the ‘War’ also entails fighting alongside your class in the spheres of employment, education, social Welfare etc.
At every stage of this complex struggle, while at the same time heightening the class consciousness of the working class by exposing and laying bare the contradictions in the capitalist society, and by so doing, convince them of the need of a ‘new society’ in which the working class will have control of the land and the means of production. However, in order to achieve such a development, pursue such policies and publish such a programme a revolutionary programme was essential. In the prevailing climate no such party could possibly exist. The result of this realisation was that ‘Bernadette’ and people like her felt they were wasting their time and withdrew from the party, all because the army council demanded control over aspects of the struggle that they neither understood nor saw the necessity for!
The logical detachment of the above two points is that the army is elevated above the party, and is seen by the movement’s members as the place to be. As members drifted into the army they become incorporated into a particular way of thinking and viewing things whereby army membership in general and operations in particular is seen as the single most important issue.
This was the prevalent attitude in the years 1974-1975! The ‘War’ was the overriding issue to the detriment of all else, and that is literally speaking from DISCIPLINE, ACCOUNTABILITY, EFFICIENCY, etc. In the six counties the war was pursued with a sense of vigour in relation to the finances, materials and resources that were available. The army was the place to be. In the army the prospects of power was a tangible force, where the romantic notion of the ‘Freedom Fighter’ was seen through impressionable eyes and the ranks swelled with new politically ignorant, anti-party recruits.
Brigade areas took a greater degree of autonomy within which ‘powerblocks’ developed and a “law unto us” mentality was rife. In such a set-up ‘DISCIPLINE’ broke down, or became non-existent in areas.
ACCOUNTABILITY suffered as no one was amenable for their actions, or lack of them, whichever the case may have been, naturally ‘EFFICIENY’ and ‘EFFECTIVENESS’ were further causalities in the overall structure; after all, no ‘CENTRAL AUTHORITY’ could exist in a sea of powerblocks simply because there was no ‘COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP’ within the army council capable of giving agreed direction higher up the structural ladder.
Belfast, being centrally important to the war, became the single most important exponent of ‘the law unto ourselves mentality’ concept and its accompanying structural defects. Belfast strengthened its position and accelerated the ‘structural decay’ by grafting onto its swollen sphere of influence other areas, people and support.
The gulf between Belfast and Dublin widened further with Belfast refusing to acknowledge the importance of the party, but instead increased their demands and pressure for ‘war materials’. Dublin on the other hand consolidated its own position by maintaining a head office, producing a party organ (THE STARRY PLOUGH) and promoting the importance of the party.
To be a ‘macho’ man you had to be in the army and have a healthy distaste for the political party. Not only that, you had to see victory coming about exclusively from the arms effort; anything else was ‘weakness’ ‘sissy’ and ‘not committed’!
The party in the six counties was deliberately allowed to wither away, simply because the mixture of ‘politically naive apolitical’ members in the six counties did not have any idea of essentially what the struggle was about. The membership was young, reckless, impressionable and eager militants, the army council was unable to provide a proper leadership to give revolutionary direction and by virtue of its make-up as outlined in point (1) – it was a ‘militaristic body’ unable to give any other direction, other than ‘Military Victory’!
IN CONCLUSION: Firstly we must recognise and accept that the presence or absence of a revolutionary political party will have a profound affect on the overall development of any revolutionary movement and ultimately the outcome of the national liberation struggle.
Throughout this draft many reasons and causes are evident to explain the direction the movement followed and the internal upheavals which took place in the years 1974-1977. It was seen that the problems were basically a structural one from which many defeats arose and in-turn give rise to other defeats. This put into motion a chain of events, each eroding further the movement’s structural stability.
Ten concepts, which are evident in this erosion of structural stability, were exposed, each essential in the working of any organisation, let alone a revolutionary movement. Each concept led onto a higher level or degree of instability, creating a domino effect and culminating in the sad truth that we did not have a leadership that was entirely, thoroughly revolutionary because concept (1) was missing, the leadership was not politically aware! Around the structural failure lies all other failures in a revolutionary movement.
Below, the main themes of this draft are briefly outlined. Within these four themes can be seen the defects stated earlier – a brief examination should confirm this.
- A) INDIVIDUAL LEADERS OR POWER BLOCKS.
- B) LIMITED PERCEPTION OF THE STRUGGLE.
- C) RULING BODY (A/C) WAS DIVIDED.
- D) LACK OF POLITICAL DIRECTION.
In (A) you had Seamus Costello, the strong minded visionary but very much an “Individual” while you had the Belfast and Dublin camps at loggerheads.
In (B) the struggle was viewed by many (in the six counties) as a ‘military’ one, this had an over-ridding bearing on the rest of the movement because without a solid six county base the movement would be of a negligible importance in the context of a national liberation struggle. The ‘militaristic’ view stemmed from the fundamental lack of political awareness.
In (C) the army council was divided on the issue ‘Army Vs Party’ (hawks and doves scenario) and naturally where such divisions exists at such a crucial level in the movement’s structure; stagnation is the only outcome, followed gradually or rapidly by retardation.
In (D) no coherent revolutionary programme existed which could be agreed upon by the leadership. Because of this, discipline suffered, and with discipline all the other interrelated concepts broke down. Morale slumped among the most advanced party members resulting in a lack of agreed political direction.
Taken collectively (A) to (D) reads ‘disaster’ and although this fact was not readily discernible 12 years ago as it is today, at least now we can see more clearly the factors which prevented development and brought about gradual retardation, and by identifying these factors we should now be in a strong position to take the necessary steps to ensure they are never repeated. This is best achieved by resolving the ‘basic’ contradictions inherent in the movement, i.e., THE PARTY BEING SUBORDINATE TO THE ARMY!
In order to resolve this contradiction, the importance of the party must be recognised and armed struggle placed in the perspective in the context of the overall struggle.
One of the basic fundamentals which must be agreed upon, and which this draft has exposed, in order to resolve the overall basic contradiction, and by doing so, develop a revolutionary consciousness within a revolutionary movement, is ‘THE ARMY MUST BE SUBORDINATE TO THE PARTY’!
This does not – nor do I wish to give the impression that this does – spell an end to armed struggle; on the contrary, it is designed to produce a better soldier. It is the recognition that every military operation must have a political motive. It places the armed struggle in perspective and it guarantees that our volunteers will have the opportunity of developing revolutionary potential, by creating soldiers who are politically militarily aware; who in turn will demand that their leadership will be no less aware than the volunteers, and that no ambiguity exists (throughout the movement) in the pursuance of national liberation and the development of a political social and economic programme for a socialist Ireland.
EVERY SOLDIER A POLITICIAN, EVERY POLITICIAN A SOLDIER!
This next stage of our movement’s history and analysis concerns itself with the period from late 1977 to the end of 1981. Many of the issues and themes covered and referred to here have already be mentioned and expanded upon in the previous draft; therefore they should now sound familiar.
This repetition of events only serves to emphasise the ‘cyclic’ nature of our problems, which essentially have been inherent in our movement’s history due to the ‘basic’ contradiction – (see previous draft) – from which all other structural defects i.e., effectiveness, efficiency, internal democracy, politics in control.
It should be remembered that the central theme of this entire historical analysis is one of ‘STRUCTURE’; however, we intend on concentrating this second stage of the movement’s history, (1977-1981) on one specific structural defect, ‘THE PRINCIPLE OF COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP’!
As pointed out above and in the previous draft, this defect, like all the others, sprang from the basic contradiction of the movements history, ‘THE ORGANISATIONAL PRINCIPLE OF THE AC (Army Council) SUPREMACY’; because of the interrelated nature of the structural defects it is extremely difficult to place any specific defect on a level of importance above any other.
However, as this draft unfolds, we believe that it will become obvious to those who have taken the time to read and analyse this draft that the above-mentioned specific defect ‘THE PRINCIPLE OF COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP’ must be elevated to a plane of equal magnitude and importance to that of the basic contradiction itself – ‘ORGANISATIONAL PRINCIPLE OF THE AC SUPREMACY’.
Only by resolving these two fundamentals can a ‘revolutionary’ movement function as it was intended, i.e., in a coherent, principled, orientated revolutionary manner. Basically, the principle of collective leadership means that the movement’s policy and direction are decided by a ‘collective’ group of people, and not by a single individual.
It is obvious that initiative and ideas have to originate from some ‘individual’, that is natural, the point here is that policy, direction, strategy etc, should be in the hands of a collective group, ‘representative’ of the ‘entire’ movement where ‘consensus’ and ‘agreement’ ultimately decides in effect, the principle of collective leadership ensures that all decisions on policy and strategy will have been carefully analysed and thoroughly discussed before any final decisions are arrived at. No snap decisions; ‘Off the cuff’ remarks can be made!
Such collective debate and consensus guarantees that the chances of formulating incorrect policy or seriously flawed strategy will be minimised. It means that, ‘EFFECTIVENESS, EFFICIENCY, COHERENCY, DISCIPLINE, ACCOUNTABILITY, CENTRAL AUTHORITY, LEGITIMACY, INTERNAL DEMOCRACY AND POLITICS IN CONTROL’ is guarantied, the frameworks of a revolutionary movement.
It is unfortunate, but nevertheless true, that throughout the history of our movement this basic was not at work. WHY? The reason being that the power, control and influence that the rank ‘CHIEF OF STAFF’ bestowed on the individual who fills the position, has been such that the chief of staff has had ‘EXCESSIVE’ power to the detriment of a collective leadership.
The reasons why this has been so differs depending on the era and the particular ‘individual’ holding down the position. Some of these reasons would suggest that it was ‘personalities’ at work, from which seemed larger than life characters; forceful and overbearing characters; ‘dominating’ characters or even intellectual superiority!
Regardless of whatever reason above, that which did not differ was the consequences: Our movement was run like a ‘MILITARY DICTATORSHIP’. ‘INTERNAL DEMOCRACY’ did not exist; one person was in ‘complete’ control, amenable to none for his actions. Making decisions on matters, which he knew little about and cared even less.
The political party as a result, a crucially important part of our movement, did not develop, the movement’s political role was neglected, hence, no revolutionary movement to date has developed which is capable of seriously challenging British imperialism in Ireland and placing the working class in control of the land and the means of production.
All of the above reasons are flawed, i.e., personalities, overbearing, dominating characters etc, sprang from a faulty analysis. The mere fact that this unfortunate ‘TRADITION’ has been continuous and consistent endorses and substantiates the fact that it is A STRUCTURAL FAULT and not the consequences of PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS, such as forceful, overbearing, dominating characters.
There is no doubt that some of the persons who have held down the rank have had personalities and characteristics as described above; but if the ‘STRUCTURAL PRINCIPLE OF COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP’ was enshrined and adhered to in the movement’s constitution, then regardless of the personal characteristics of the Chief of Staff, decisions on policy, strategy, political advancement, would have been ‘beyond’ the individual ‘dictate’ hence the responsibility of a collective leadership.
Failure to abide by and exercise that responsibility, as demanded by principle, would mean automatic dismissal for anyone – CHIEF OF STAFF INCLUDED – who attempted (in good faith/intentions, or not) to flout such a principle.
It should perhaps be emphasised here that the power of the chief of staff has never been ‘absolute’; however, it became so in our movement! The chief of staff, like all other volunteers in ‘theory’ was and is answerable to a higher authority – THE ARMY COUNCIL – but this was not the case! The army council appointed the chief of staff, gave him his brief and allowed him to organise the ‘army’ side of the movement subject to A/C direction, discipline etc while other facets of the struggle were organised and pursued, i.e., the development of a political party.
So again the question – Why did this not happen? – must be posed. The previous draft adequately answers this question as does the theme of this one: The A/C was a militaristic body, who gives priority to the army. In such an environment it is hardly surprising that a person in the ‘KEY’ position, as perceived by the military leadership (the AC), of chief of staff should automatically control and with such an autocratic structure, no principle of collective leadership, could/would exist.
It is as a direct consequence of this that our ten structural defects were able to arise, nurture and develop. Within this structural wilderness the chief of staff became the ‘centre of gravity’ where his ideas, opinions and initiatives flourished and were generally accepted by the staff ‘without’ proper recourse to a decision of collective leadership, which by its nature ‘demands’ the necessary debates, questions, criticisms at this level.
In the era being covered by this draft 1977-1981 we will mainly concentrate on two tragic developments, one at the beginning of the draft (late 1977) and the other at the end (late 1981).
Both developments and their consequences directly relate to the theme of this draft, the structural defects, which invalidated, ‘THE PRINCIPLE OF COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP’.
We will begin with a specific date, 5th of October 1977; this was the day that counter revolutionary forces assassinated Seamus Costello. With the benefit of hindsight we must (albeit reluctantly) accept that the cynical calculation of those who assassinated Costello proved precise and accurate in what effect Costello’s removal would have on the movement.
This one, single individual, Seamus Costello, was priceless and irreplaceable. He was by far the movement’s most capable person; he possessed an unparalleled revolutionary zeal, along with an unshakeable revolutionary ideology.
He was also unique, in that he was the movement-leading link with the past, a republican movement’s pre 1969-70 spilt.
In short, at this early period of the movement’s history, Costello was irreplaceable, but more important to the argument here is the fact that Seamus Costello did not adhere to the PRINCIPLE OF COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP, he was ‘THE’ central figure, an autocrat who held tightly to the reigns of power and around whom the movement revolved.
This meant that once he was removed, without his undoubted ability and leadership a massive vacuum was created and a struggle commenced to fill it. Costello was the cohesive force, the cement between the cracks, the single guiding light.
He left in his wake an inherited legacy that power should not be shared. We failed as a movement in the early months following his assassination to learn anything from his going and as result we were condemned to a road of militaristic autocratic leadership, which spawned structural defects without even realising it.
THE CRUCIAL IMPORTANCE OF COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP CAN BE SEEN FROM A RECENT TRAGIC INCIDENT, FOLLOWING THE SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE DEATH OF MOZAMBIQUE PRESIDENT SMAORA MACHEL IN A PLANE CRASH.
MOZAMBIQUE IS A MARXIST COUNTRY, WHICH WON ITS INDEPENDENCE OVER A DECADE AGO FROM PORTUGUESE. SINCE THEN THE RULING PARTY ‘FRELIMO’ HAS HAD A STRONG COMMITMENT TO BOTH ‘UNITY’ AND ‘COLLECTIVE ACTION’, THIS WAS BORN OF THEIR EXPERIENCES IN THE WAR AGAINST PORTUGUESE COLONIALISM.
SINCE INDEPENDENCE THERE HAVE BEEN ‘NO’ SPLITS WITHIN FRELIMO SINCE ‘ALL’ DECISIONS HAVE BEEN MADE BY CONSENUS.
THE LEADERSHIP OF THE PARTY IN THE POLITICAL BUREAU IS VERY MUCH A COLLECTIVE BODY WITH THE PRESIDENT BEING THE SPOKESPERSON. THESE FACTORS HAVE GIVEN FRELIMO A STABILITY WHICH HAS ENABLED IT TO SURVIVE UNDER SEVERE PRESSURES AND WHICH WILL SEE IT THROUGH THIS LATEST TRAGEDY. This speaks for itself! Let us return to our own problem.
With no disrespect to those around at the time of Seamus Costello’s assassination, there wasn’t simply any individual person there to match his intellectual and political maturity, nor his ability as chief of staff!
It is true that Costello had a number of ‘understudies’ who were extremely capable and who shared the same political philosophy as himself, but these were merely ‘understudies’ and not an integral part of a ‘collective leadership’, and in this void created by his absence, the two trends ‘physical force’ verses ‘political development of the party’ clashed.
Without Costello the buffer zone the balance tilted in favour of the ‘physical force’ men into whose hands fell the leadership and control of the movement.
All emphasis and priority was now geared towards catering for the army and its needs to the detriment of the political party! The position of chief of staff was, however, unchanged in that his power and influence was still seriously excessive.
In the four years, which followed, as many different persons held that rank, this fact alone point to the folly of such developments. In the form of collective leadership; when he failed to produce the desired results, he was removed from office and replaced. This continued for four years, each chief of staff failing and the net result being four years of stagnation and in some areas of policy, retardation.
The reality is, there is no substitute for ‘THE PRINCIPLE OF COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP’; no matter who the individual, or what his capabilities are, no one person can substitute the basic fundamental principle.
So between the years 1977-1981 we can identify the main problem in the movement as lying in the seat of power, at the highest level, and concerning the decision making process – that is what collective leadership essentially is.
The second tragic event concerned a ‘coup’ by brigade staff officers on Belfast against the brigade staff which culminated in the shooting – though not fatally – of the chief of staff.
As outlined earlier this most serious development (as will be seen) had its origins in the fact that collective leadership did not exist and from which sprang all the other structural defects, such as a break down in DISCIPLINE, ACCOUNTABILITY, COHERENCY, CENTRAL AUTHORITY, LEGITIMACY, INTERNAL DEMOCRACY AND POLITICS IN CONTROL.
Taking stock of the developments and stable collective leadership, the absence of a clearly defined political and military strategy, little coherency or internal democracy, insufficient political development and activity, scarcity of war materials to Northern units, it was inevitable that from somewhere, some quarter some level within the movement that growing disagreement would be transformed into dissent, impatience and ultimately internal rebellion and direct action if things at the top did not change quickly.
The proposition implies that the origin of this rebellion would find its impetus from the bottom level of this movement up.
It could come from either of two sources, the army or the party, for both were deeply disgruntled. Unfortunately the latter never realistically had the power, the will, nor the morale to consider, let alone effect any such enterprise to force change; and therefore the expression of this disgruntlement originated in Belfast, within the army.
It began around 1980 and ended in open rebellion in 1981 against the central power in Dublin. The transition disgruntlement to rebellion was over a period of almost two years and evolved in stages.
It was not a clear, clean, overnight transformation – the first stage was in the confines of Belfast itself. A strong lobby of ground support led by several brigade officers demanded that a number of senior brigade officers, including the OC be removed from power because they were, among other things, incompetent and leading the brigade nowhere.
MISSING HERE WAS (1) THE ACCOUNTABILITY FACTOR, HAD IT EXISTED SUCH A SITUATION WOULD NEVER HAVE ARISEN AND (2) DISCIPLINE, REGARDLESS OF THE REASONS, THERE EXISTS PROPER CHANNELS THROUGH WHICH TO EXPOSE AND SEEK CHANGE.
The central power in Dublin were reluctant to agree to this suggestion, and so a ‘coup’ took place in Belfast, the said persons were removed, and in so doing, the new Belfast leadership put themselves in confrontation with the central authority in Dublin.
This sparked of a furious argument between Belfast and Dublin, with the former claiming that there was no other method open to them to initiate change as Dublin insisted on its position being accepted, while the latter claimed that Belfast was subordinate to GHQ staff (central authority) and was out of step and unauthorised to initiate the coup.
These claims and counterclaims are really unimportant to the argument here, what is important and is so blatantly obvious is that there was a ‘gap’ between Belfast and Dublin, with Belfast feeling that it was underrepresented at CENTRAL AUTHORITY level had to succumb to the dictates of Dublin and primarily the chief of staff.
This development effectively broke the chain of command within the movement. Dublin (GHQ i.e. chief of staff) immediately halted all resources and materials to the Belfast brigade and made it clear that unless Belfast accepted their decision, nothing more would be forthcoming.
With this Belfast resigned itself to open rebellion and a number of seniors figures in the movement, including the chief of staff, were shot. This rebellion was an attack on the central authority of the movement and was a sorry day in its history.
Again we can clearly see the structural defeats which where present here, namely NO DISCIPLINE, ACCOUNTABILITY, COHERENCY, CENTRAL LEADERSHIP, LEGITIMACY, INTERNAL DEMOCRACY, POLITICS IN CONTROL AND COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP.
Albeit with the benefit of hindsight, all those instrumental in pursuing this attack on the central authority now fully accept they were wrong. This admission relays the rights and the wrongs of this era and the argument contained within, but that’s another story. Here what we need to understand is “WHY?” this development occurred in the first place.
The answer has already been hinted at and is really quite obvious. All power within the movement lay at the central authority, which the chief of staff dominated. Belfast personnel felt underrepresented at this level and unable to initiate real change.
The central authority was run in an autocratic fashion and they could see no other avenue open to them to rectify their grievances other than the rebellion. So while their action was wrong and should always be seen as such, it is also understandable when viewed in this context.
So once again, we see that this specific development sprang from the structural defects of the movement.
If a COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP had been in place representative of the movement as a whole – which includes the party – then minor grievances like those above would be quickly and fairly resolved and would not fester and evolve into such negative and wholly unnecessary developments, which only result in set backs and damage to the movement and ultimately the struggle.
From the two developments mentioned here we can see the absence of a fully empowered and fully functioning COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP, lead only to uncertainty, instability and the rapid emergence of structural defects, NO DISCIPLINE, ACCOUNTABILITY, LEGITIMACY, INTERNAL DEMOCRACY, etc.
If those sorts of problems are prevalent within the structures of any movement or organisation, then it will be completely INEFFECTIVE in whatever its objective is!
For any ruling body to function properly and rule, then there are certain prerequisites, which must be secured, the most fundamental being that it has LEGITIMACY and the consent of that it claims to rule.
The lower echelons of the movement must acquiesce to the leadership’s right to control and run the movement, and this should only be achieved via DEMOCRATIC type mechanism.
The leadership should then function in accordance with the PRINCIPLE OF COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP, and not in an autocratic or semi-autocratic style, with one person having excessive power and influence over others.
If this is so and one man is as arbiter, the ruler, the decider, then he will also be seen as the undemocratic autocrat, leading ultimately to conflict between him and the lower echelons of the organisation.
If it is the case where two or three persons are seen to be acting in the same way, the only difference is that the autocratic ‘clique’ replaces the autocratic ‘individual’! The consequences are the same – inevitable conflict.
We know of a practical example – one of many exists in socialist countries – where the principle of collective leadership has been tried, tested, and works. Mozambique!
So we are not speaking of the impossible or some unattainable fantasy — ‘collective leadership’ is a proven structure, which works, and not only works but also produces successful revolutions.
COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP is not restricted or confined to central leadership level; it is a process which should percolate from the top down at all, levels within the movement. It is a means for analysis; it promotes consensus, coherency, debate, clarity and progress.
It is a principle which must be encouraged at all levels from ‘cell’ to leadership – in discussing the best, most effective and safest method of operation up to planning and developing of future policy and strategy – political activities at cumman level up to the formulating and publishing of revolutionary programme at leadership level. The process of COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP must be employed!
By creating a broad-based COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP, and the principles of collective leadership throughout the movement, we will bring not only an efficient policy, decision and planning process into being, but it will restore and uphold the movements central authority and legitimacy of such a body and ensure the structural defects which has plagued the movement will not materialised, and ultimately help produce a truly revolutionary movement.
This is the third and final stage of our draft.
It spans the era from late 1981-1986 and as before rather than trying to investigate events/developments on a day to day basis we shall concentrate on two developments in 1982, while generally to the five years as a whole.
Our main theme here will be INSTABILITY, which, at the conclusion of this draft, we will relate back to the general theme of STRUCTURE.
The legacy of the preceding period (1972-1981), which was covered in the two previous drafts, was inherited in full by this era, but two specific developments of 1982 were to directly intensify and compound the already chronic problems of the previous eras.
This resulted in the beginning of a period of intense INSTABILITY, which as the years 1981,82,83 etc unfolded, continued and grew worse. All the structural problems referred to in stage one (the ten concepts) continued unabated and even spiralled and took on greater dimensions.
We shall direct our attentions to early 1982 and concentrate on two developments which were to greatly intensify the movement’s problems, but remember while we are concentrating specifically on 1982, as we broaden out we are referring to and analysing the period 1981-1986 in general.
To get a clear understanding, we will look at each of the 1982 developments separately, and then draw them together to view their direct consequences on the entire movement as a whole.
A factor essential to both these developments is to firstly grasp the overall situation of the movement at this specific time just prior to it. That is, remember, that in December 1981 after a gradual build-up of activity the general authority in Dublin was attacked by the Belfast brigade, resulting in the wounding of a senior member!
The direct consequence of this was, in general, a North and South polarisation. There was in effect a division in the movement. Before this division was satisfactorily healed the first two developments ‘exploded’ onto the scene. That explosion was the supergrass-informer era!
When discussing supergrasses there are two points, which must be fully grasped and understood.
Firstly, that this policy was a totally new phenomenon to hit republicans (scale-wise) and was therefore bound to shake republican organisations to the rafters; and secondly, in relation to a relatively small organisation like ours, one highly-placed informer could cause irreparable damage (as was to happen).
Of course it’s easy to be wise after the cat has bolted, and yes, knowing what we know now, it is possible to implement safeguards to limit and contain such damage from informers, but all new phenomenon cause initial difficulty and hardship simply because they are new and unknown. Without dwelling on the actual numbers and names of persons involved, what we can safely say without fear of contradiction, was what the supergrass-informers did was to almost decimate the movement in the North.
A number of highly placed informers from Belfast, and others from Craigavan and Derry, systematically brought the movement to its knees, by imprisoning the majority of the Northern leadership and activists, either in jail or on the run, and the link with the central authority was not solid, those on the ground in the north were almost leaderless and had to begin from almost scratch. By mid 1982 INSTABILITY reined in the north.
The second development of 1982 concerned the south, and what was the central authority (GHQ). With the attack on the GHQ by Belfast, a great deal of resentment and more accurately, disillusionment hit the ranks of the movement down South. This was only the minor factor, but combined with the major factor, it was to have dire consequences.
The major factor was the imprisonment in the South of several leading figures in the movement. The combination of both these factors was to leave the South in conditions very similar to that of the North — leaderless and demoralised. By 1982 instability reigned in the South.
If we now study both the above developments together, we had a situation which reads like this: a division between North and South, resulting in demoralisation and isolation of some good movement people, both North and South seriously weakened by the imprisonment of key personnel and consequently both areas suffering from intense INSTABILITY!
Combining both developments, it is no exaggeration to say that the movement, both North and South was ‘almost’ decimated with the leadership almost wiped out. The ultimate consequence of the developments of 1982 was to create a massive void (it can almost be said that save for a dozen or more a new movement was built from here). This void had to be filled and with no disrespect to those around at this period (1982 onwards), the filling of this void and the behaviour of the movement thereafter, set the movement on a deeper downward trend direction.
- [DIGRESSION: It is not the objective of these drafts to level blame or responsibility on individuals, nor groups nor specific era’s but to emphasise STRUCTURAL DEFECTS, which create the conditions, which allow individuals, etc to fall foul and retard. In defence of those in control around this period 1982-86 many of their problems were inherited from previous eras, but their mistakes lie in their failure to re-appraise and analysis the situation anew, and take the necessary steps to rectify the problems of the movement, including the rejection of the inherited traits and aspects, and instead, start afresh! This was not done. END OF DIGRESSION]
The filling of this void resulted in the following attitudes flourishing in the movement over this period under discussion:
- 1) Leadership positions had to be filled. (No attempt made to re-structure on more pragmatic basis) This “filling” of positions was carried out on the basis of filling unoccupied positions from the selection of people, friends, etc available, and not on the basis of ‘merit and experience’ having already been proven (there were, however, some exceptions) — this resulted in less-than capable persons holding down senior rank which was clearly beyond their ability.
- 2) Eagerness to quickly establish ‘their’ credentials as leadership material. This resulted in the same old yardstick of progress – a body count – the more Brits/RUC killed the more progress made! No thought in building.
- 3) To facilitate the above, mass recruitment drive – open door policy! This resulted in some undesirable elements being brought into the movement, (no thought of the supergrass-informers) and also a dreadful and almost immoral regard for new recruits, displayed in lack of basic preparation: education, training, anti-interrogation, etc.
- 4) The philosophy of “short term thinking for immediate benefit” (expediency) was at the centre of the movement’s thinking. There was absolutely no time perspective nor projection of thought to the future. This resulted in some of the most disgraceful and dreadful behaviour ever carried out by members of this movement.
The above four points are not entirely exclusive to this era, but they took on new dimensions during this particular era in that they were central, widespread and continuously getting worse!
Many of the ten structural concepts mentioned in part one of this draft can be seen in the above four points, for example in point (1) above INTERNAL DEMOCRACY, LEGITIMACY AND COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP were again neglected here. And, during this era, not once but twice i.e., two different C/S; in point (2) above POLITICS IN COMMAND is again neglected.
During 1981 the party correctly intervened at elections and won a couple of seats in Belfast, but within months this ground was lost. We ‘retarded’ instead of progressing and failed to learn the lessons evident in the wake of the hunger strike. POLITICS WERE AGAIN NOT IN COMMAND, progress was measured in body count: In point (3) above COHERENCY, ACCOUNTTABILITY, DISCIPLINE, EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS, all these concepts totally neglected.
The ironic thing about it is that so closely on the heels of the supergrass psychology/fear, internal security, vetting and recruitment got continuously worse instead of better. Members of this movement carried out a number of despicable sectarian attacks on defenceless, harmless and totally innocent people with our weapons. Granted, they attacked on their own batt, but the failure here lies in the complete absence of ACCOUNTABILITY and DISCIPLINE; point (4) ALL TEN CONCEPTS are typified in this one point, from the first POLITICS IN COMMAND to the tenth EFFECTIVENESS.
The philosophy of short term thinking for immediate benefit without prior consideration of the consequences for the future is totally, utterly and morally wrong! From 1982-1986 things got increasingly worse. A STRUCTURE in practice did not exist, statergy and policy were almost unexistent and the movement functioned in a hip-hop fashion, devoid of any worthwhile foresight.
Again this is not entirely exclusive to this era, but it took on greater dimensions here and is typified in the expansion of the movement’s sphere of influence and operations. Areas which were never within our sphere suddenly sprang into life and burst into action – Newry, Downpatrick and several rural border areas.
Mass recruitment began and these areas were given weaponry and the autonomy to operate as they saw fit. There was little if any preparation, training education etc given to any of these areas. As a result no effective STRUCTURE existed, and therefore there was little CENTRAL AUTHORITY, COHERENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY, DISCIPLINE, EFFICIENCY or EFFECTIVENESS. The fault does not lie with the men on the ground, it is the responsibility of the leadership to lead – this they failed to do!
Between the years 1982 to 1986 the chief of staff changed hands six times! There has been at least two occasions where this transformation of power has developed in an undemocratic fashion, which some may refer to as a ‘coups’ without violence. There has been one serious development involving several incidents of violence in what can only be viewed as purge of some politically-minded persons by ‘military minded’ persons in an attempt to consolidate and reinforce military rule and dictate! These few facts alone conclusively substantiate the chains of intense INSTABILITY, which are being made here.
Those were the developments in the movement on the outside. In the prisons INSTABILITY run riot, and transformed into STARK DIVISIONS with bitter and disgraceful scenes of aggression and violence amongst the divided groups. This development itself (the Crum) is both complex and difficult and is itself a topic in demand of intense analysis reasons as to why the dispute happened there would be considered incomplete. What is important is that there was a dispute and it further added to the INSTABILITY of the entire movement. A dispute, which highlighted the lack of discipline, etc.
The net result of this INSTABILITY is that the movement has literally been pulled asunder and has broken down into ‘camps’ or power blocks. Its image, credibility and personnel have been seriously damaged and demoralised, but the most negative and sinister side effect of all this INSTABILITY has been a pervasive and persistent attitude of conspiracy and mistrust among us.
The reality is this: The attack on the central authority in late 1981 effectively broke the back of the command structure within the movement. WHY? Because those responsible got away with it with complete impunity and simply set about building THEIR central authority.
This move established the PRECEDENT where, if you don’t like or agree with those at the top, or you can’t get your own way with them, then the only way to rectify it is to remove them, either by intimidation, force or treat of force!
Out of the intense INSTABILITY of 1982-1986 sprang several different “trends of thought” groups which ultimately may, or already have, transformed into power blocks, each competing for the reins of power which were ‘available’ because of the void created with the decimation of the leadership in the two developments of 1982.
Each of these different trends/groups/power blocks where and are usually personified in an individual, and that while it is argued that ALL have the interests of the movement at heart, some of them over the years, have got movement personnel (ego – my, our, groups, movements) interests mixed up along the line, while others have quite evidently proved incompetent and reckless in the direction and leadership they gave.
These trends of thought/power blocks have evolved over this past four or five years and are possibly continuing to evolve and change. So, it is relatively easy to understand where the conspiratorial attitude and mistrust springs from – between these or some of these trends of thought.
The present reality is this: in the absence of a CENTRAL AUTHORIY empowered with the legitimacy and prepared to enforce, DISCIPLINE and ACCOUNTABILITY on all individuals and areas within the movement, then these varied trends, groups etc will continue to fester and flourish unabated, and in such conditions, there will be no unity of thought and action and INSTABILITY will continue to rein.
The whole theme of INSTABILITY is equated with the absence of CENTRAL AUTHORITY and the continuing flourishing of different trends. This analysis has claimed that CENTRAL AUTHORITY and INSTABILITY and trends will continue – but the analysis has also claimed in the previous two sections of this draft, that CENTRAL AUTHORITY is dependent on COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP which is dependent on ABSOLUTE LEGITIMACY which is dependent on INTERNAL DEMOCRACY and all these secondary problems are all dependent on the basic contradiction/problem of this movement – POLITICS MUST BE IN COMPLETE COMMAND.
The alarming things about the “trends” spoke of above, is that some insist on, or may insist on “their” analysis, their theories, their pre-conditions and their way, being dominated in the future of the movement. The old precedent of 1981 is still there, and some people believe they can run contrary to what GHQ staff says. There is no room in this movement for autocrats or monopolies of power, there is equally no room for one section to hold the entire movement to ransom with them having it all ‘their’ way or else!
Fundamental principles and priorities need to be defined and agreed upon. This analysis has concentrated on the general theme of STRUCTURE and each of its three parts has concentrated on a specific theme. The writer believes these three themes are the three fundamentals around which the movement should be rebuilt:
- 1) POLITICS IN COMMAND: I.E, the army should be subordinate to the party.
- 2) THE PRINCIPLE OF COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP: The end of autocrats and one-man shows.
- 3) STABILITY: Re-establish central authority – end groups/trends/factions.
As outlined in part one of this draft, from the above principles, a structure can be pieced together and will result in:
- 1) POLITICS IN COMMAND
- 2) INTERNAL DEMOCRACY
- 3) ABSOLUTE LEGITIMACY
- 4) COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP
- 5) CENTRAL AUTHORITY
- 6) COHERACY
- 7) ACCOUNTABILITY
- 8) DISCIPLINE
- 9) EFFICIENCY
- 10) EFFECTIVENESS
Twelve years is long enough to wander in the wilderness, it is now time for this movement to tackle the fundamentals, learn from the past and benefit from our mistakes.
It will take a resolute leadership and the use of a firm but fair hand to drag this movement back onto the rails. Those who stand in the way of development and progress must be cast aside, no one or group will dictate solely the pace and path this movement will take to overcome its difficulties.
Those who seek to impose shackles must be cast aside without hesitation. We either go forward or backward.
Finally let us return to what we said in the first page of part one. There we said our objective in this draft, was an attempt to UNDERSTAND THE PAST so that we may ANALYSE THE PRESENT in order to INFLUENCE THE FUTURE. This is a bold claim to make, and an even bolder one to succeed with.
If we have achieved even part of that success, then the effort has been worthwhile.