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Correspondence: Republican opposition 

9 March 2007 

Dear SD,

In his March 6 piece, "Sinn Fein Ard Fheis – New standards in hypocrisy", John McAnulty writes:

"There is no opposition inside Sinn Fein but nature abhors a vacuum and the opposition is emerging in a range of condemnations from traditional republican groups and from ex-prisoners.  This provides a limited base for a new movement, but it will at least do something to slow the torrent of self-congratulatory garbage running out of the Ard Fheis."

I agree.

But this position seems to be in some contradiction with the SD statement on the Stormont elections, which suggests that not one single candidate is worth voting for.

Surely it would have been possible to argue for your view that traditional republicanism does not have the answer while at the same time calling for a vote for RSF candidates?  You could have done this on the basis that at least they had a progressive position on key political questions such as the PSNI and the GFA and St Andrews Agreements and that a vote for them could at least indicate that there was some political crack in the wall.

And what about the candidacy of Peggy O'Hara in Derry?  Surely this deserved support?  This was especially the case because, unlike the fairly closed-off world of RSF or the reactionary Catholic nonsense of Gerry McGeough, the O'Hara campaign was much more open and outward-looking.  Would it not have been useful for SD to have both called for a vote for Ms O'Hara and also for comrades from Belfast and Dublin to have gone to Derry to help out on the campaign and meet the wider range of progressive-minded people who were involved in the campaign and engage with them?  Wasn’t the fact that you didn’t do this a lost opportunity? 

Surely the growing number of ex-prisoners who are criticising the political course of New Sinn Fein, and who were prepared at least to add their names to a call to vote for Ms O'Hara and other anti-imperialist candidates, is something that you want to actively engage with?  And then there are the nearly 2,000 people who appear to have voted for her.

I agree with you that these forces only constitute “a limited base for a new movement” – a new movement really requires a new generation plus some serious motion within the class – but a limited base is still an improvement on no base at all.

Out of the 320 ex-prisoners who signed the statement calling on support for anti-imperialist candidates there must be at least some who can be engaged with about the tasks of beginning to establish a counter pole of attraction to the thoroughly bourgeoisified politics of New Sinn Fein and the gas-and-water reformism of the likes of the SP and SWP.

Philip Ferguson (ex-Sinn Fein, Dublin)
New Zealand

Reply from Socialist Democracy

2 April 2007

Dear Phillip,

The situation as we see it is as follows:  we believe a fall in Sinn Fein support or the rise of a republican challenge to Sinn Fein is necessary if a new resistance is to emerge. That is not the same thing as calling for a vote for all those who oppose Sinn Fein.  To offer active support we would have to convince ourselves and others that the opponents offer at least initial steps on the road to the self-organisation of the working class rather than some blind ally.

This does not appear to be the case when we examine the traditional republicans.  We have just come through a quite savage conflict.  It seems to us that at a very minimum a new movement would have to offer some critique of the militarist strategy that led to defeat and also to have some orientation to the working class and at least initial expressions of class hostility to the Irish capitalist class and its role in advancing the imperialist offensive.

The issue is rather more difficult when it comes to dealing with internal critics of Sinn Fein.  A major problem over the past decade has been the reluctance of even quite sharp critics of the republican leadership to leave the republican family.  The result has been that discussion has been framed as lobbying comrades rather than confronting opponents.  We have always been quite anxious to avoid giving credence to a process than tends to tie people into Sinn Fein rather than separate them.

These views seem to correspond to reality to the extent that the traditional physical force movement did not constitute a serious challenge and it had nothing new to say.  It was of course difficult to make out the views of new departures from Sinn Fein and to what extent their revulsion towards embracing the RUC/PSNI extended to rejecting the process that had led to that embrace.

Another difficulty was that much of the negotiation about candidates occurred behind closed doors and no one involved felt that Socialist Democracy had to be invited. The tendency at these meetings was to put forward a minimum programme – one candidate was touted as being ‘anti-PSNI but not anti police’.  What did this mean?  Support for the Garda? A demand for further changes to make the RUC/PSNI acceptable?

The Peggy O’Hara campaign does seem to have been rather different.  The peace process and collaboration with local capital has been operating in Derry for at least ten years before it was officially unveiled elsewhere and seems to have produced greater disillusionment. There is a much stronger working class base in Derry as opposed to the rural vote for Republican Sinn Fein.  The majority of the hundreds of prisoners opposing a vote for Sinn Fein came from the Derry area.  There are stronger grounds for hoping for a continuing opposition movement here than elsewhere and for the possibility of it taking on an explicitly working-class character. One event, both funny and tragic, marks the difficulty in building an opposition.  The supporters of Peggy O’Hara and the prisoners organised a public meeting and invited politicos introduce a discussion that would help them frame a position.  Unfortunately they turned to Eamonn McCann of the Socialist workers party and Anthony McIntyre of ‘the Blanket’ website.  The first assured them that the national question was no longer an issue.  The second denounced the peace process but concluded that there was no alternative to it.

That we did not involve ourselves in the O’Hara campaign may have partly been due to our own limited resources and isolation.  We will certainly be interested in any attempt to build an ongoing movement in Derry. 

We do however hold to our view that a new movement will be aimed specifically at the working class and will take up the national question as a component element of a socialist struggle against the Irish bourgeoisie. The fate of national liberation struggles around the world seems to give a decisive no to the national question as a motivating force on its own able to create the self-organisation of the working class


John McAnulty



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