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Sinn Fein: Or the Party of Symbolic Republicanism

David Kruidenier • 31 August 2006

Writing a paper for a college course a few years back, I stumbled upon an excellent article written by Donnach Ó Beacháin entitled From Revolutionaries to Politicians: Deradicalization and the Irish Experience. The article traced the evolution of Fianna Fail, from a small group of radical revolutionaries ready to pick up arms to reunite the country to an institutionalized political party that relied more on radical rhetoric than it did on any sort of goal to actually end partition. While jotting down similarities between Fianna Fail — from its ascension to power in 1932 to the present day, and Sinn Fein from the late 1970s until the present day — I was startled to flip back through the pages and see the copious comparisons. I began to substitute Fianna Fail's name with Sinn Fein's, and the article still made perfect (non)sense. Some examples:

Describing Fianna Fail's transformation after embracing constitutional politics (i.e., ending its abstentionist position on Free State elections), Ó Beacháin asserts:

"To those within the republican movement who maintained the traditional policy of abstentionism and opposition to the state, the party embarked on a ruthless campaign."

This is demonstrated aptly in the recent alleged involvement of Provisionals in preventing a meeting of dissident republicans in Derry. Sinn Fein and the PIRA have shown little tolerance for anyone questioning the hallowed GFA, or Sinn Fein's obvious hunger for power and mainstream political legitimacy. But instead of the power struggle that developed between the IRA and Fianna Fail after 1936 (when Fianna Fail banned the IRA), the current IRA has acquiesced to Sinn Fein policy following a concerted and brilliant coup d'etat by Gerry Adams and Co. The CIRA, RIRA, INLA, and ex-PIRA volunteers have become the IRA of the 1930s.

de Valera rewarded those IRA volunteers who lay down their guns against the state (both Irish and British) with positions in the Special Branch, the army, and the police; and when, not if but when, Sinn Fein sits on the policing board, former PIRA volunteers could find themselves with jobs in the PSNI (Provisional Service of Northern Ireland). It may seem farfetched now, but can we really disbelieve anything at this point? Ó Beacháin notes that "with the IRA banished to history, Fianna Fail stood to gain considerably as the sole beneficiary to the valuable republican ideology left behind, which it could now treasure and parade as its own." Replacing Fianna Fail with Sinn Fein here is not ludicrous at all. During the recent hunger strike commemorations, we witnessed Sinn Fein's hollow rhetoric concerning its lionizing of INLA volunteers — who they've historically viewed not as comrades, but rivals — that everyone who was not a SF acolyte found disgusting.

For rhetoric is the instrument of political parties, is it not? Ó Beacháin quotes Italian political philosopher, Roberto Michels, who asked "whether the structural properties of political parties are conducive to the realization of the Endziel" ('end goal' [in this case, Irish unity]). He ultimately concluded that "the whole process [was nothing more than] a tragicomedy in which the masses devote all their energies merely to effect a change of masters." And most importantly, "that the growth of the party organization weakens the commitment to the revolutionary aim." As Sinn Fein legitimizes itself at the cost of the Endziel, it will ultimately become Fianna Fail in its ideological elasticity, and anyone who opposes its fluid policies (i.e., rhetoric) will find themselves banished to a political Siberia.

According to Ó Beacháin, for Michels, "power is always conservative" (has Sinn Fein not become increasingly more conservative over the years? They might dispute this in comparison with other nationalist and unionist parties, but they have become more conservative nonetheless). No one (not least Sinn Fein) would challenge the claim that Fianna Fail is solely a political party of symbolic republicanism. By this I mean that its republican principles, the means to the goal (Irish unity), have become rhetorical and reformist rather than radical and transformative. Sinn Fein is headed down the same path, and even if one day they manage to hold power for as long as Fianna Fail has, it will no longer be the revolutionary party it once was — "its leadership composed of politicians by accident, those of the revolutionary generation" — but a hierarchical, bureaucratic, organization deradicalized by the complexities of power politics and another failed institution in the quest for a 32 county, socialist republic.


Source: Ó Beacháin, Donnacha. "From Revolutionaries to Politicians: Deradicalization and the Irish Experience," Radical History Review 85 (2003) 114-123.























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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

3 September 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Sinn Fein: Or the Party of Symbolic Republicanism
David Kruidenier

Public Commitment or Public Relations
Martin Galvin

Suits You, Sir
John Kennedy

False Memory Syndrome
Ray McAreavey

True Faith
Eamon Sweeney

Not the Cathal Goulding I Knew
Liam O Comain

Dark Days Ahead
John Kennedy

Return to Conflict No Alternative
David Adams

Sir Reg's Party Games
Anthony McIntyre

A Secret History of Irish Music
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Unionism's Favourite Nationalist
Dr John Coulter

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 7
Michael Gillespie

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 8
Michael Gillespie

Trotsky and the Ghetto of the Sects
Mick Hall

Global Conscience Not US Capital: The Case for Liberal Intervention
Gabriel Glickman

Letter to Bertie
Michael McKevitt Justice Campaign

27 August 2006

The Price of Our Memory
Anthony McIntyre

In the Balance
John Kennedy

The Time for Revolutionary Marxism is NOW
Darren Cogavin

No! To A Holy War
Liam O Comain

Rendition Collusion
Eoin McGrath

Rendition Flights
John Kennedy

An Open Letter to Martina Anderson
Dr John Coulter

An Honest Writer: Cristóir Ó Floinn
Seaghán Ó Murchú

A Dual Presidency: An Improbable Solution to the Irish Problem
Michael Gillespie

Michéal Mhá Dúnnáin

Petition Calling for a Referendum on Irish Unification
Patrick Lismore

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 5
Michael Gillespie

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 6
Michael Gillespie

Number Crunching
Dr John Coulter

PFI Ventures Show the Con in all its Sordid Splendour
Anthony McIntyre



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