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Peter Hunt

Civil Rights and socialism – not separate issues

(February 1974)

From Militant Irish Monthly, No. 21, February 1974.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The coming together of the representatives of capital at Sunningdale, the fissures which have splintered the Unionist bloc, the return to the fold of the Fitts and the Humes, and, all the time in the background, the rumblings of the mighty class battles opening up in the wake of the economic crisis in Britain; these events have caused every political grouping in Ireland to reconsider its ideas and to look back over its shoulder in reappraisal of its past role. The official Republican Movement has been no exception.

In the January edition of the United Irishman, a long interview with Thomas MacGiolla and Cathal Goulding deals with the role played by this movement since 1968 and with the course which they wish to see it take in the future.

This article will cause some eyebrows to be raised within the movement! Every member of a Republican Club has been involved in one way or another in the debate which has raged over the question of the struggle for civil rights and the demands raised by the Republican Clubs in this struggle. Criticisms levelled at the leadership’s confining of the organisation’s intervention to a platform of civil rights issues were defeated at the 1973 Ard Fheis.

Yet the position put forward by Goulding and MacGoilla in this latest article, is a reversal of their own past position, and, by very strong implication, an admission that the demands raised in the past were not enough.

It would be a worthwhile exercise for the rank and file of the movement to read back over some of the material their leaders have published on this question over the years. Issue no. 3 of Teoric; the theoretical journal of the movement carries an article which states that “At a time when civil rights is the only alternative to civil war, we cannot confuse people by calling for socialism now”.

To advocate socialism “is the path of immature sloganeers. We must point out that the ultimate solution is Socialism, that national freedom is a necessary preliminary to the construction of a socialist system”. “Indeed” it asks “if we cannot win civil rights how can we win Socialism?”

This tyre of argument has been constantly put forward by leaders of the Officials. As a result the socialist policies and ideals they have adopted, have been pushed into the background in many of their campaigns. The struggle for democracy and the fight for national freedom are essential. They should have the support of all Socialists.

However, as Connolly many times explained. The only way these things can be achieved is when they are taken up by the working class, as part of the overall struggle against exploitation in all its forms.

National freedom is not a preliminary to the fight for Socialism. The only free Ireland, to repeat the idea advanced by Connolly, will be an Ireland under the control of the working people.

But, in the past, the Officials have fought to separate the civil rights struggle from the day to day struggles of the working class as a whole. The same article in Teoric declares the trade union struggle is “of major long-term importance; but in the short term the struggle for civil rights and democracy over-rides that issue, at least in the North”.

A revolutionary party should “have some of its members involved at the trade union level while the energies of the majority must be put into civil rights”.

Now MacGiolla, outlining past mistakes, states “We also made the mistake of thinking that the real struggle was on the barricades and not in the tenant’s organisations, trade unions and other workers’ organisations”.

Middle Class

The Teoric article pounds those who would fragment the unity of NICRA by “raising issues not central to the objective for which that organisation was formed”. While it is correct to attack the ultra-left sloganeering of PD, one mistake does not correct another. Real unity can only be unity on the basis of a full class programme.

“No” the theoreticians of the Officials would have proclaimed. To raise anything to do with class or socialism will “scare off the middle class”. It would “fragment the entire movement”.

Because of the accept ability of such arguments the “middle class” leaders within the CRA, i.e., the SDLP and others, were allowed to sit unchallenged in the leadership. Now the movement has been fragmented. But not by any left-wing groups. It has been the Fitts, the Humes and the Coopers, having come to power on the backs of the civil rights “unity” who have turned their backs on the movement. It is the SDLP who urge an end to the rent and rates strike.

Fitt and Hume are now mild apologists for internment. And Socialism was to be forgotten by the Officials for the sake of an alliance with these people!

Were the past position of the Officials and the arguments of Teoric wrong? MacGiolla in the latest United Irishman, gives an honest reply,

“Certainly, we failed to see that people whom we trusted at the time, the middle class opportunists like the Humes and the Coopers, would use the mass movement of the people for their own ends and ultimately sell out.

“We must not make the same mistake of reactivating the old demands as well as the old tactics. We must produce new demands which would be relevant to the moment and relevant to the future.”

This is the promise of Cathal Goulding. It would appear that past mistakes are to be corrected. However, in the same issue of the United Irishman an article on NICRA urges it “once more” to “draw thousands onto the streets calling for the release of all internees, an end to harassment and an amnesty for all those on rent and rates strike”. Precisely the position advocated over the past year and more! There is nothing wrong with a mass campaign on these issues but it must be linked with the class demands and aspirations of workers, or else it will be no more successful than its predecessor.

Goulding’s “new demands” did not materialise in this interview. Instead the movement is to concentrate on two fields; firstly to establish a broad front of workers’ organisations, a genuine “National Liberation Front”, and secondly, to break all connections with Imperialism and press for alignments with the countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East”.

No socialist can stand against the unity of workers’ organisations in struggle. As Socialists we stand for class unity, for the strengthening of the power and solidarity of workers. However, the only cement of such unity is a programme which can take up the day to day struggles of workers and link this with the need for socialism.

Basic demands for a minimum wage, tied to the cost of living, for no redundancies and work sharing without loss in pay, for a crash housing programme must be tied to the demand for the taking over of the commanding heights of the economy, the banks, insurance companies and major monopolies so that the day to day needs of the people can be satisfied. Yet this call for nationalisation is missing from the propaganda of the Officials.

No socialist would, likewise, oppose a break with Imperialism. But an alliance with African and Asian states does not in itself constitute a move against Imperialism. The leaders of many of these states represent the rotten feudal and semi-feudal puppets of Imperialism.

Support for the struggles of the workers and peasants of these areas is essential. But such support can only be on the basis of opposition to their rulers. Even in a country, such a Syria, where capitalism and landlordism have been overthrown, the question of a movement to place political power in the hands of the working class must be posed.

A policy of Socialist Internationalism can only be based, however, on a linking of hands with the working class of the world.

For Irish socialists, especially with the developing storms and the possibility of a General Election in Britain, ties must be woven with the might of the British Labour and Trade Union movement, who can be the best allies of the Irish people.

New possibilities are now opening up North and South for the development of a class movement. As MacGiolla points, out there now exists a vacuum on the left. Despite their claims the Republican Movement, on its own, cannot fill this vacuum. With a correct political orientation and with a clear socialist programme its role in the development of such movement could be very important.

Neither North nor South will the Officials be the main vehicle through which the mass of workers will move in struggle. The traditional organisations of the working class will be the arena within which the struggle for the minds of workers will be fought. Only by concentrating or these organisations can the Officials play a major role.

In the North the demand must be raised for the creation of a party of Labour based on the TUs, within which Marxists could work for the adoption of their ideas. In the South the Labour Party, despite its leadership, is the traditional political organisation of the workers.

Without an orientation towards these organisations and without patient work in the trade unions the Republican movement will never live up to the expectations of its rank and file and the Labour Movement will be without many class fighters whose intervention could have aided the struggle for socialist ideas.

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