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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

A Bleak Future

But to document the lies which led to war and the dangers which arose from it is to answer only half the question.
The other half - what should have been done instead? - still hangs above our heads - George Monbiot

Anthony McIntyre • 5 October 2005

Sometime in the mid 1980s, imprisoned left wing republicans reinserted into contemporary republican discourse the term 'Fenian'. While aware that its usage dated back to the 1860s through its association with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, by and large, our most frequent exposure to the term was when unionists, cops, UDR or blanket screws were employing it pejoratively - and always accompanied by the word 'bastard.' The mid-1980s was a juncture when republicanism pirouetted on shifting ideological sands. The movement's long standing opposition to participation in Leinster House had been discarded and the Sinn Fein president of three years, Gerry Adams, informed the Irish Times that socialism was not on the agenda. 'He is only pretending', our own big Grug assured anyone daft enough to listen. It seems he has been pretending ever since and about everything else.

At that time Sinn Fein was some way off from accepting its position as a party of the establishment. It would take a 2001 televised debate between Ruairi Quinn and Gerry Adams - in which the Labour Party leader put in a performance worthy of a GCSE politics student - before the party president would concede that much. In the mid 1980s, he was very much depicted by officialdom as a sort of Gerry 'Crazy Horse' Adams, who was given to making comments to the effect that if Sinn Fein ever disowned the armed struggle it would not have him as a member. It has long since disowned the armed struggle and has him as its leader.

While many of us failed to understand them and played no part in their initiatives, what those left republicans sought to do was chart an alternative path for republican activists because they perceived that under the Adams leadership republicanism would end up roughly where it is today. Such prescience was, of course, greeted with howls of derision. Anyone apprehensive at the direction in which Sinn Fein appeared to be going was marginalised by the republican leadership within the jail on the false premise that they wanted to stop the war. But the jail leadership was well versed in talking nonsense. Outside the prison today the same characters are to be found amongst the foremost practitioners of gobbledegook, on occasion placed in charge of education so that they can clone people to be just like themselves - wholly uncritical and totally devoid of any foresight. To them fell the task of repeating ad nauseum, no return to Stormont, no acceptance of the consent principle, no decommissioning, no 'war is over' announcement. Had they been meteorologists they would be predicting no hurricanes for New Orleans or Texas. When in prison their opponents simply paid no heed to them.

Despite acknowledging the futility and intellectual paucity of the physical force tradition the prison left roughly argued that a blending of the Fenian tradition with that of Connolly's legacy would, at worst, salvage something from the rocks upon which the Sinn Fein leadership was determined to beach the republican project; marooned on a political island of opportunism sans either physical force or socialism.

Circumstances at the time made such a blending improbable. Those most enamoured to the idea were confined within the prison, rarely a crow's nest from which to gain a grand strategic overview that would assist a wider organisational and ideological restructuring. So, the Connolly and Fenian schools continued in their separate grooves. The Marxists worked on organisational and ideological matters in a difficult world increasingly gripped by neo-liberal economics; their panacea, a vanguard party. The dynamiters wrestled with problems which would not yield to the force of their blasts; their answer invariably 'bigger blasts.' But in the post-Soviet world the rising tide of liberal democratic ideology, shielded by the pretence that it was not ideological, former ideological certainties were subjected to sustained erosion. The language used by Hillary Clinton to describe fundamentalists came to be seen by many as an appropriate way of characterising both Marxist and Fenian republicans: 'stuck in a time warp, unwilling to concede a new reality.' Whatever the claims of their respective positions, class and national liberation struggles were rendered marginal by the new era, characterised by Francis Fukuyama as the end of history.

It is doubtful if an alliance between the Marxists and the Fenians could have offered a competitive alternative to the path Sinn Fein were intent on journeying along. Even were both able to bridge the chasm that separated them, aggregating the miniscule resources in the foothills would not in the end solidify into an entity capable of displacing Sinn Fein from its commanding height at the top of the republican mountain.

Consequently, alternatives to the collapse of Provisionalism as a republican project were always going to jockey for position within an infinitesimal contested space. Much of the success of the Provisional strategy lies in what the former IRA prisoner Brendan Shannon describes as its having fought a formidable rearguard action whereby every bridge to link the past struggle with any future republican project was successfully demolished. The Provisional leadership, knowing its constituency so well and intuiting how little it would settle for, has effectively closed down all the space whereby a serious republican alternative to the peace process could be constructed. That there are alternatives is indisputable, but they are ephemeral given that the substance to allow them strategic form simply does not exist in terms of public interest within the republican constituency. While some of the jail Marxists have since prudently abandoned vanguardism and sought to work productively on matters of political economy and combating deprivation, the Fenians showed how little they had forgotten and how little they had learned. Brutalising a defenceless Denis Bradley while he sat in a pub with his son hardly signalled strategic imagination.

For the time being the peace process can live with the Marxists. Their confidence in a teleological determinism has come unstuck. The tide of global events is not at their back and the left as a project has moved into a world of rhetoric. There is no demand from London, Dublin or Washington for them to be wound up, or certainly not through the Ernst Rohm type tactics that Sinn Fein would apply. And with many Irish Trots doing their utmost to ensure that socialism belongs to the sects, whose members, in the words of the late John Sullivan 'can continue to believe nonsense which is continually disproved', the ruling bloc can twiddle its thumbs at what it views as the non-threat from a pond of quacking ducks.

For the Fenians, who have fared much worse, the future is even bleaker. Those who no longer bother organisationally hanker after a past which will always remain there. Those who believe they are fighting a war seem never to realise that they have killed as many agents of the British crown as the Alliance Party. Yet if David Ford were to pronounce himself Alliance chief of Staff, the laughter would echo from Belfast to Brisbane.

There is an expectation that the dynamiters be put out of business. London and Dublin will pursue them with a vigour rarely displayed in tackling organised crime. Armed rebellion against a Northern state endorsed by Sinn Fein will be as strategically futile as an armed campaign against the Dublin government. The physical force tradition bequeathed to the island of Ireland the Omagh bomb. At that point it should have been evident to us all that the solution had grown worse than the problem. George Monbiot in a different context argued that 'those who would take us to war must first shut down the public imagination.' Physical force republicanism, incapable of either shutting down or winning that imagination, seems certain to achieve pariah status. While it is correct for the physical force tradition to claim that no republican died to ensure what Sinn Fein achieved, equally so none died so that republicans could become pariahs.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
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Index: Current Articles

6 October 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

A Bleak Future
Anthony McIntyre

Provos Censor de Chastelain in Bid to Lie About Guns
Tom Luby

Taking Politics Out of the Gun
Brendan O'Neill

Sinn Fein - The Shark's Party
Mick Hall

Live From Hollywood: The IRA Disarms
Harry Browne

Show Us the Money
Dr John Coulter

Doris Dead
Anthony McIntyre

Whatever Happened to... 'er, You Know... Whatshisname?
Tom Luby

The Dirty War Goes On
George Young

Reject All British Institutions
Kevin Murphy

Capitalism Vs Socialism
Liam O Ruairc

Apology to Dr Dion Dennis and CTheory website
Carrie Twomey

27 September 2005

Analysis: Seconds Out — Round 2005
Anthony McIntyre

Reflections: British Victory at Culloden
Anthony McIntyre

Decommissioning Will Reveal Real Problem
Fr. Sean Mc Manus

Inclusive Republicanism
Maire Cullen

Wish List for Unionist Leadership
Dr John Coulter

Sunday World vs. Thugs
Mick Hall

Real and Relative Poverty
David Adams

How the Poor Live and Die
Fred A Wilcox

Poverty — Do You Get It?
Jan Lightfoottlane

Defending Multiculturalism
Anthony McIntyre



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