Some Thoughts on Irish Republican Socialism
by Jack Meehan 9/30/09
Socialism has traditionally been part of the Irish Republican movement since the early 20th century, when James Connolly, an Irish Marxist theorist, took part in the Easter Rising of 1916. Today, most Irish nationalist and Republican organizations located in Northern Ireland advocate some form of socialism, both Marxist and non-Marxist. The Social Democratic and Labour Party, which was at one time the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland, promotes social democracy, while militant Republican parties such as Sinn Féin, Republican Sinn Féin, and the 32 County Sovereignty Movement all promote their own varieties of democratic socialism intended to re-distribute wealth on an all-island basis once a united Ireland has been achieved. The Irish Republican Socialist Movement, encompassing the Irish Republican Socialist Party and Irish National Liberation Army, has an ideology which combines Marxist-Leninism with traditional militant Republicanism and is said to be the most direct fulfillment of Connolly's legacy.
Sinn Fein claims to seek a new social and economic order which will treat all Irish people equally and promote equality and social justice. They seek to build an all- Ireland economy where everyone can have a dignified, productive, and well paid job and a better quality of life. They want to “redistribute resources in a positive way”, to invest in those parts of society suffering economic marginalization and social exclusion, and to redress all forms of inequality. On paper, this sounds like classic Utopian theory. Unfortunately, in practice Utopia has always proven itself to be a very elusive, if not totally unattainable, goal.
I have been vilified at times for offering criticism to some of the actions and policies practiced by Sinn Fein. I will admit that there are some aspects of their very radical socialist agenda that I, as a Catholic and an American, cannot and will not agree with or accept and for that I make no apologies. However, I want to be absolutely clear when I say that I am in total agreement with Sinn Fein and anybody else whose goal is “free and united 32 county Ireland whose destiny is determined only by her own people”.
One very significant area of disagreement involves the form of government in a united Ireland. There should be absolutely no misunderstanding on the part of Sinn Fein supporters here in the United States that they envision and, indeed, are committed to establishing a 32 county socialist republic. This fact is stated very clearly on their official webpage and further attested to by their membership of the United European Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) which has been described as “a socialist and communist grouping of parties within the European Union”. Members of the Sinn Fein leadership have often gone on record with strong statements of support and admiration for dictators such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and their socialist/communist regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.
Even Sinn Fein’s most vocal detractors cannot deny their steadfast, unwavering, pursuit of a united Ireland, but it is also worthy to note that, in the negotiations resulting in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein agreed to the removal of Articles II and III from the Irish Constitution. This was a very strange position, indeed, for Irish Republicans to take in consideration of the fact that it was these two articles that claimed the “sovereign right of the Irish people to sole ownership of the entire island of Ireland”.
An interesting book entitled, “Sinn Fein and the Politics of Left Republicanism” by Eoin O’Broin was released recently in Dublin amid much fanfare. The author has been a policy analyst and Sinn Fein activist for several years. In his book, O’Broin explores the ideological and organizational origins of the party, and charts its history and recent political development. He also devotes considerable time to assessing its possibilities for the future. He makes the argument that Sinn Fein is part of a distinct left republican tradition in Irish society whose future lies in the “globally resurgent radical democratic left”. One need not be a Rhodes scholar to understand what that statement implies.
While I, as a very proud citizen of both the United States of America and Ireland, could never accept a socialist form of government in the united Ireland of our dreams, it is not my intention to impose my personal opinions on anybody else. But for the record, I do not believe that any political party in Ireland holds a monopoly on Irish Republicanism and, therefore, I do not believe it is necessary to be aligned to any specific political party to be an Irish Republican.
On the other hand, I feel very strongly that all Americans who treasure their Irish heritage and who yearn for “that certain day when Ireland is A Nation Once Again” should be aware that there are many different schools of thought on how a unified Ireland should be structured. For example, in a recent interview, one very well known Irish Republican icon, a veteran of the armed conflict and former political prisoner, stated that before he dies he would like to visit Viet Nam “to pay homage to a courageous and victorious people”.
The Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC is engraved with the names of 58,000 courageous American men and women who never came home from Viet Nam and who are far more deserving of our homage.