Actualizing Seamus Costello’s Anti-Imperialist Front

Introduction

Shortly before Seamus Costello was assassinated, he pioneered a proposal to several organisations. You can read the section fully here (https://foreignlanguages.press/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/S13-Costello-5th-Printing.pdf) at page 97. It is titled ‘The Anti-Imperialist Broad Front’. The basic premise of the idea was that several organisations, Communist, Republican, Socialist, would combine together and propose a common agreeable platform to campaign on. The piece is written in good faith and in no meant to initiate an attack on any of the fraternal organisations. If an issue arises, feel free to contact me directly or leave a long winded rage post at the bottom which I probably won’t read.

The platform would include the following positions:

  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 who 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 Irish anti-imperialist Front will oppose all forms of imperialist control over our wealth and resources.
  6. That the Irish Anti-Imperialist Front rejects a federal solution and the continued existence of two separate states in the six and 26 counties as a denial of the right of the people to sovereignty and recognises the only alternative as being the creation of a 32 County Democratic Republic with a secular constitution.
  7. That the Irish anti-imperialist Front demands the convening of an all Ireland constitutional conference representative of all shades of political in Ireland for the purpose of discussing a democratic and secular Constitution which would become effective immediately following a total British military and political withdrawal.

End.

The demands in of themselves are uncontroversial and broadly agreeable. They are far sighted enough to explicitly include commentary on wealth and resources, which can today be extrapolated to include the American Chamber of Commerce and the finance capital of the European Union. Indeed, in updating them, one would change little. Where this proposal falls down is the actual functional mechanics as to how it would work between the groups and how campaigns would function. This piece will propose a series of mechanics with concrete proposals and in short, a means of actualizing the Broad Anti-Imperialist Front.

Representative

From the very beginning, each organisation involved must have equal representation. I would propose a system of either 2-3 delegates, but each organisation carries with it one vote. The delegates would form a committee style body that would discuss points of organising and subsequently feed them back. The respective executives of each organisation could decide to either a. invest power in their representatives to make on-the-spot decisions or b. feed them back to their respective executive bodies for a final decision.

Campaign issues

This one is relatively simple because it already occurs in one area most groups are familiar with: anti-racism and anti-fascism. The Republican movement adopts a clear cut anti-fascist position. I believe this can be replicated within the trade union movement, housing unions, social campaigns, political pressure, limited electoral scope and more. In fact I would wager that people from different organisations probably already overlap into different campaigns or attend different events – they simply do it without making a conscious effort to collaborate.

Trade Unions

I would hope that most Republican organisations encourage trade union membership and participation. On that presumption I would propose that cross-left collaboration should exist within the trade unions. Common positions on certain issues, common candidates for certain structures and common strategies, particularly against right wing hacks who very obviously all work together.

Housing Union, namely CATU

I hope that those who are in CATU take no sinister reading from this paragraph, it is not intended that way. The Republican movement, particularly in the mid 70s made a big turn to social campaigns. Bobby Sands recollects his time organising a tenant and housing union. There is absolutely no reason any Republican organisation should not be promoting membership of CATU, especially in areas where CATU is struggling to develop. CATU, like industrial unions, is the perfect melting pot to consolidate and solidify a unity of left wing organisations – but it is also a vehicle that builds broader power for our class. A recent piece by a comrade in the CYM illustrates that point well: https://cym.ie/2021/09/29/the-community-action-tenants-union-an-organisation-of-peoples-power/

Anti-Imperialism

If the broad principles laid down by Seamus Costello are agreeable, then they can form the nucleus of political demands and positions regarding the continued British occupation of Ireland alongside the hyper-exploitation of Ireland by American and European finance capital. In unifying and clarifying all anti-imperialist forces, the collective voice of all organisations combined would be stronger. This would not be particularly different to the semi-unified campaign against the EEC that was carried out in 1972. It should be noted that yes, analysis of what imperialism and anti-imperialism constitutes differs in each organisation, but there is effectively no way to challenge or supplement said analysis without substantively engaging in it in good faith.

Political Education

It is clear from speaking to members of a vast amount of different organisations that political education levels and standards vary. This is neither a good or bad thing and deserves no moral judgment. What could be experimented with are broadened out political residential schools involving members of all constituent organisations, either discussing, debating or learning about a pre-agreed set of agenda items. Perhaps one such model could be that organisations take turn drafting up an agenda for such a residential so that a wider view of the priorities, as well as weaknesses of each movement are put forward.

Prisoner solidarity and opposition to extralegal political courts (Diplock & Special Criminal)

Again, there exist levels of co-operation on this ground already, but I think for organistaions that have no political prisoners it is essential to be involved because at one point in time they very well may have those prisoners. It is essential that a sense of unity and commonality exists among organisations outside to the plight of prisoners convicted in the kangaroo courts in both jurisdictions. It is important that campaigns, pickets and protests have cross-party support. It is equally important to exchange information on the functions of the special courts. Who sits on them? How do they function? What happens when you are charged under the Offences Against the State Act? What recourse (if any) do you have? I personally learnt a lot more outside the CYM and CPI respectively by engaging other Republicans than I did inside either organisation. This was an issue I sought to rectify within the CYM as General Secretary by interviewing and inviting speakers who had went through the process. Every generation of young communists, republicans and anti-capitalists should be aware to the workings of the political police and courts.

LGBTQ+, Feminism, Anti-Predator Unity

It is a common theme that men expelled from one organisation, have a habit of finding themselves in another organisation. I have seen this occur firsthand several times. The lack of communication, and to some degree trust between organisations, has led to this process continuing. It is completely intolerable and unacceptable. There should be no refuge for predators or abusers in any left wing organisation. In order to achieve such a status quo, a level of communication and trust must exist between the respective organisations.

Organisations should challenge each others records on how they treat victims who come forward, rather than hiding behind the pathetic excuse that it is “sectarian to do so”. In doing so, they will set a higher standard for all of us.

Although organisations on the left all clearly row behind progressive campaigns (Abortion rights for example) I firmly believe that more should be done to link socialism republicanism to feminism. There exists a rich historical precedent for this connection in the organisations of the Irish Women Workers Union and Cumann na mBan, but it strikes me that this link has been severed for some time. As far as I know most organisations have a womens section, or a womens committee, or a womens officer, or all three — it is nigh time some form of overlap existed between the respective left organisations of a similar womens structure.

Public events and Unified Commemorations

Depending on which city you are in, different organisations come out for different things. I note that attendance for events such as May Day seems to be sporadic and seen as a “labour” thing. I firmly believe that the entire Republican movement should come out for International Workers Day with the same efficacy and passion as done for H-Block anniversaries and other events. Not only will this foster a more natural link to the trade union movement, but it will clearly vindicate the oft quoted Connolly quote that “Labour is the cause of Ireland.. the cause of Ireland is Labour”.

Additionally, I am likely not the only one who sees Easter Rising commemorations being duplicated as silly. It is time to consider and do our best to converge. The commemorative events belong to no one tradition or party, they never did, and never will. They belong to the sole and incorruptible inheritors of Ireland, the working class. In acknowledging that this is more complex than I have laid it out to be, I would propose it is started small and for events that are seen to be less significant, before culminating in larger and more grandiose events.

Electoral politics

Organisations have adopted differing strategies, ranging from total disengagement to running independent Councillors who are then members of organisations secretly. Whichever strategy it is, a level of collaboration already exists. We all know which Councillor or TD to approach and regularly do so. Perhaps the future could yield a common electoral strategy (including a policy of non-engagement or boycotting). The only way tor each that, however, is through discourse.

Self Defence, Health and Substance Abuse

Drinking culture is not a phenomenon that suddenly stops at the gates of political organisations. It has its tentacles everywhere. From rampant cocaine use to constant drinking, substance abuse is a plague on on our class and the many movements that fight for it. I think it would be hugely helpful for organisations to promote their members in training together in the same clubs, but equally so to posit a pro-health approach. We want our communities to be healthy, we want the people of Ireland to have long and disease/cancer/illness free lives. In order to do so, we must be a vanguard of change when it comes to cultural activities.

32 County Democratic Socialist Republic

Although it is highly unlikely that groups will agree on what a post-capitalist Ireland will look like, in my view that discussion should be taking place. Costello aptly identifies a constitutional assembly. I think we should be going further and considering a draft socialist constitution and logically, what consequences a new constitution would entail. Perhaps a commonly organised mock referendum on such a constitution?

Conclusion

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list and there are certainly subjects that are missing, it is a general overview of items that I would classify as priorities for class struggle. In identifying these issues, I would suggest that any further or consequential left unity should be issue based and any prior contradictions worked out beforehand, so that when it comes to action, the action is unified. One of the main failures of “left unity” in Ireland is that its proponents demand that it be abstract i.e don’t talk about the differences, focus on the common areas of agreement. This inevitably leads to splits and break ups of groups. I would propose that the chronology of such an approach is reversed. Issues are first discussed, the contradictions or differences explored and when common agreement is found, followed by activity. I was going to leave a list of organisations, but I’ll avoid that controversy for now and simply say that all Trotskyist organisations should be completely excluded.

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