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Fourthwrite: The Recomposition of Republicanism

There are a number of republican leftists who will dismiss much of the argument about left unity as irrelevant.  They will argue that there already exists a revolutionary tradition that has on occasion developed a mass component – that is the republican movement.  From this perspective the focus of attention would be the future recomposition of republicanism, one of the main vehicles being the discussion magazine Fourthwrite.

At first glance this appears extremely attractive.  Fourthwrite has a sizable circulation and a wide base of contributors from both republican and socialist backgrounds.  It has open debate on a wide variety of central issues such as militarism, the nature of republicanism and the role of the working class. A book is in circulation – Republican Voices.  Fourthwrite has held a series of public meetings and is planning a national seminar of republican and left forces.  There is little suggestion of the sectarianism endemic on the left or of the tendency towards partitionism marking the most recent attempt at left unity.

Fourthwrite commits itself to building a radical alternative to both the Good Friday agreement and to the PPF deal between unions, Government and bosses in the 26 counties.  This makes it appear at lot more focused on central issues than much of the left, but for all that there are problems.

· It took many years for any opposition to the republican leadership to emerge, despite a clear abandonment of the republican programme.

· When the opposition did emerge it was in the main a militarist opposition.

· The tiny minority that looked for a political alternative were mostly unable to break from republicanism.  The Irish Republican Writers Group did not adopt an alternative position but instead called for open debate and included both supporters of the Provisional leadership and even loyalist paramilitaries in the ‘discussion’.

· Obviously there was no real ground for discussion between those forces and inevitably the movement split.  Tony McIntyre reconstituted around a website called The Blanket and attempts to democratise republicanism by a frantic open platform where a cacophony of voices speak at cross-purposes with no communication.  Tony fulminates against the ‘irrelevant left’.  As by this he means all the left his main function is to act as a gatekeeper, directing critics of the Provisional leadership away from the only political alternative available to them.

So the forces around Fourthwrite, led by long-standing militant Tommy McKearney, have made a long political journey and only a small number have completed that journey.  What exists in reality is a network.  It’s great strength – its openness – is in part due to the confusion and political inexperience of the militants supporting the network.  They face exactly the same problems of recomposition as face the left as a whole but have less experience in debating them.

That said the network contains a large audience of genuine working-class militants who want to find revolutionary solutions to the problems facing them.  Fourthwrite attended the early meeting on left unity and that potential debate between former republicans and socialists looked a lot more promising than the partitionist economism imposed on the young movement by the SWP and their supporters.


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