It is interesting to discuss Republicanism with a variety of organizations and groupings in Ireland. There seems to be a series of different currents emanating from the civil war and previously as well. What sort of Republicanism is there and for who? What kind of political dissidents cultivated the Republicanism of their time and what sort of socio-economic circumstances informed their Republicanism?
It is thought provoking to consider this question; largely because of the large amount of Republican splits, sects, sub-groups and political entities which all claim to aspire to what they outline as the single real interpretation of Republican thought. They all claim some sort of lineage either to the 1916 Martyrs, or the anti-treaty IRA, or the Republican Congress. Some then continue to align themselves to pre-provisional/official split IRA. Others in the more contemporary camp believe that new methods must be examined to pursue the Republican cause in Ireland which reflect some of the radical policies of the 1970s/1980s but forsake armed struggle.
Others and this constitutes the more deluded grouping would consider Fianna Fail Republican. The sad part is that under strict technical terminology, it is a Republican Party. Rome, was a Republic despite maintaining an oligarchy. Yet we must contextualize Republicanism to Ireland. Any political entity can describe itself as Republican with a minimal amount of input – yet not every party can ascribe itself to Irish Republicanism.
In 1867 the Irish Fenian Brotherhood made a declaration that would resonate with the following generations all the way until the 1916 Rising. In many ways the IRB characterized Republicanism for that generation. The declaration specifically outlined that the material wealth of Ireland should belong to the people of Ireland.
Wolfe Tone, previous to this declaration spoke and wrote clearly on the ‘men of no property’ taking back possession of their island. Additionally, it is worth noting and James Connolly outlines this very well – that those who partook in the most struggle were not the senior clerics of the Church, nor the landed aristocrats, landlords or big farmers but literally those with no property or possessions, the peasant-worker class.
So in this mixture of Republicanism(s) where does the trail continue? How does it continue and what factors characterize it? The run up to the 1916 Rising showed the strains of Republicanism find different routes and do ideological battle with one another. Constitutional Republicanism which sought a reconciliatory path to a semi-freedom within the Dominion and a militant, armed Republicanism led by the IRB and the Irish Citizens Army which imbued much of the declaration of 1867 and further advanced it. The political party that James Connolly founded demanded complete control over the means of transport, production and industry within Ireland.
So in what context does Connolly’s Republicanism fit in here? Does it deviate, or does it continue the tradition once established by the IRB? Connolly also rejected the parliamentary road to securing independence for Ireland, but he also considered the idea that the organized working class must keep the rifle close by for a confrontation with the ruling Irish bourgeois.
Where does this bring us in a contemporary situation? What sort of Republicanism exists today in 2017 and how do we determine and discuss it? The confluence of forces represents the distinctions it did before. There are Republicans who ascribe to a limited understanding of Republicanism and it’s interesting because both Connolly and Mellows wrote significantly about this subject.
For them, what was a Republic worth if the landlords continued to collect rent and the commercial institutions continued to exploit the people? What was it truly worth if the only difference in your employer was their accent? A different way was needed and necessary.
In as far as we are concerned, the conditions of contemporary society have changed so dramatically that the roles of multinational corporations, commercial institutions, bankers, vulture funds and for the most the power of finance capital plays a huge role in Irish economic affairs. As a consequence and through this economic leverage, huge political influence is also exerted. It is worth adding that the role of the EU must also be taken into consideration when scrutinizing Ireland’s relationship to the outer world.
So this leads us back to Republicanism in Ireland. It was and is a force that is styled as one of liberation, but what is liberty in itself for a sovereign nation? In fact, what is sovereignty? In the eyes of Socialist Republicans the concept of sovereignty is inextricably linked to ownership of all industry, transport, infrastructure, natural resources and finance sector by the people through the state. Many Republicans have come to terms with the capitalist system and formed compromises in order to pursue the removal of the British occupation from the 6 counties.
What is the removal of the occupation worth in tangible terms if we continue to struggle against the multinational corporations and the vulture funds? What is it worth if the EU continues to rob the people of Ireland? What is it worth?
The national question of liberation and the social question of the transfer of political and economic power to the working class are one and cannot be disunited. That is my Republicanism.