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"From a distance, all is harmony"

International Viewpoint spirals to the right with its latest article on Ireland

11 June 2022

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, left, and party leader Mary Lou McDonald
speak to the media at an election count centre.

If one were feeling charitable, one could find some excuse for the hymn of praise for Sinn Féin by Thierry Labica in the May edition of International Viewpoint: "North of Ireland: Context and challenges of Sinn Féin’s unprecedented electoral victory in the Assembly elections".

The song "From a Distance" by Julie Gold comes to mind. The regurgitation of Sinn Féin talking points might be excused as a result of sheer unfamiliarity with Irish politics. Thierry Labica claims a massive advance by Sinn Féin in the Northern elections. In fact, their vote did not see any sizable increase. The fragmentation of unionism left them as the largest party. A full analysis can be found at:

What has happened is that the unionists have refused to convene the Assembly. In this they have the full support of the British and the Tory government are now threatening to break the protocol agreed with Europe. This would, despite the election results, be a major defeat for Sinn Fein.

Much is made of Sinn Féin's calls for a border poll, but in this election, they kept silent about Irish unity to focus on becoming top dog in a partitionist assembly.  In any case, the poll is entirely at the discretion of the British. The Secretary of State dismissed the idea within minutes of the election results being released.

The organisation's servile praise of British royalty and assurances of inclusion for the most reactionary strands of loyalism is justified as:

"the most skilful possible respect for deep-rooted identities (“British”, Protestant Unionists and Loyalists) which must be recognized and included, far from any spirit of revenge, in a singular regional multiculturalist nationalism".
In essence an anti-imperialist and class struggle has now been reframed as cultural difference where we must concede to reaction! Nothing is made of their decision to step back from opposition to emergency legislation and the Special Criminal Court in the southern state.

The sheer confusion of the article is summed up by the following quote:

"Sinn Féin has every opportunity to appear as a reasonable organization, respectful of – and fully in phase with – the popular will expressed at the ballot box (whether during the referendum on the EU or following the last legislative elections), anxious to make the institutions work well and to comply with the constitutional framework that is reputed to have made it possible to put an end to decades of carnage"

So, by reasonably supporting the EU and complying with the partition framework of the Good Friday Agreement which is "reputed", unlike other peace settlements imposed by imperialism, to have brought about a genuine settlement, Sinn Féin "could mark the end of the former British colonial stranglehold on the north of the island".

These faulty conclusions could be excused on the basis of a lack of information, but socialists are supposed to have tools to deploy to arrive at a conclusion. One of these is class analysis.

Thierry Labica deploys something else.

"Sinn Féin, the first political force in the south and north of the island, feminized, rejuvenated, led by high-profile female leaders…

Will do what exactly?

Class analysis tells us that Sinn Féin is a bourgeois party. Workers have gained nothing from their capitulation to imperialism. The North is riven by sectarianism and controlled by the British. The southern government in the Dáil operates in the interests of transnational capital to crush Irish workers. Mary Lou McDonald walks a fine line, assuring working class supporters of her radicalism while simultaneously assuring Irish capitalism of their fitness to join capitalist coalitions.

The political line of this article should be repudiated. It goes well beyond previous adventures on Ireland in International Viewpoint.  The editorial team in IV have long been unhappy with the full-throated critique of the Irish peace process offered by Socialist Democracy.  USEC has invested some effort in drawing alternate positions with individual supporters, more recently in joint initiatives with the People before Profit group and especially with the RISE group and their perspective of a left government led by Sinn Féin.  The Thierry Labica article contradicts those initiatives. No Irish socialist groups have ever argued that a Sinn Féin electoral advance, on its own, would mark an advance for the working class.

The article also seems to be a new direction for USEC itself.  We believe that it has always stopped short of directly endorsing capitalist parties. The capitalist nature of Sinn Féin is undeniable and this article breaks a red line.

IV will argue that specific articles are published as a contribution to discussion.  Very well, let them publish this article and we will have the discussion! Though past behaviour by the USEC indicates that it has been loath to have a discussion on Ireland.

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