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Alternative Processes: Can Republican regroupment succeed?

23 August 2007

John McAnulty

A recent meeting titled ‘alternative processes’ on Belfast's Falls Road (Saturday August 18th) showed the strengths and weaknesses of attempts at republican regroupment. The meeting, billed as an exploration of alternatives to the Good Friday Agreement, had on the platform speakers from the SDLP and the Irish Labour party, supporting the agreement, and speakers from eirigi and Socialist republican youth opposing.

The 30+ meeting illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of attempts at republican regroupment. The supporters were young, working class, enthusiastic and with a very serious approach to the discussion.

Weaknesses were also evident. Many Republican groups were absent, and the number of different groups supporting the meeting also illustrated the fragmentation of the movement. With fragmentation went unclarity and uncertainty.

Political insecurity may explain the decision to invite the SDLP and LP. It was certainly a mistake, protested by members of the audience.

As it was, these speakers, speaking to well-prepared briefs, dominated the meeting with a defence of imperialism. Their case was not strong, but it was coherent and they were willing to deploy an arrogant mixture of insult and untruth to support their case. Opponents were called Stalinists and supporters of a bloodbath. The SDLP speaker denied British sponsorship of Loyalist paramilitaries!

The row with the pro-imperialist speakers obscured massive weaknesses in analysis and perspective by the republican speakers. It is simply wrong to explain the absolute political collapse of republicanism in terms of the machinations of the British security forces inside the movement.  It is insufficient to say that, for republicans, militarism is only a tactic.  That’s not what republicans said in the past, and to brush off the devastating effects of militarist ideology is a bit like an alcoholic announcing that they can take it or leave it and are cured now.  A new republican movement really has to explain the mistakes of the past if it is to convincingly advance a new policy.

In the absence of such analysis it is hardly surprising that the solution – a ‘broad front’ built on localist agitation, had a familiar ring.  This is again what republicans did in the past and one of the reasons why they were able to avoid so many issues of class politics. The alternative to a ‘broad front’ is a principled united front, built around genuine political agreement on class issues and common activity on central issues.

In fact the meeting itself was the ‘broad front’ writ small.  Inviting the SDLP and LP on to the platform did not significantly increase the audience for the meeting and acted to prevent a useful discussion. The argument for their presence was that, if we were unable to defeat their arguments behind closed doors, we would be unable to defeat them on the streets.

The problem with that argument is that there is no ‘we’.  The pro-imperialist speakers were faced with a patchwork quilt of different groups and policies.  A regroupment of republicans and socialists would consist of patient political discussion and attempts at joint activity leading to a common programme.

That’s what a number of militants in the meeting called for – a new meeting where an internal discussion could take place.  Let us hope they get their wish.


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