At any rate, to cushion the blow, we will be resuming our popular series on the revolutionary programme. I should, I realise, explain why we’re taking Éire Nua as the source for this discussion. This is partly for biographical reasons, because I’m familiar with the attempts to marry the programme to revolutionary practice, and partly because, whatever criticisms I may have developed in the interim, I still have some affinity for the old orange pamphlet. (This is why I can’t easily discuss the very interesting programmatic history of the Officials. I agreed with the first page of the Irish Industrial Revolution, but it seemed to go downhill after that.)
In the summer of ’71 I hove down to Leitrim, singing songs nobody knew and stories left undone. To metropolitan Dubs, Leitrim is Ireland’s answer to the seventh circle of hell, but if your roots are in South Derry it holds no terrors. Actually, heading out west was dead useful, as I was just in time to play a small part in the Dáil Chonnacht movement. No only did that mean spending some time with the wonderful Mayo and Conamara republicans, who really are a different breed, but getting a real taste of revolutionary political agitation. Those young people who think revolutionary politics is all about roads and hospitals don’t know they’re born.
Regional differences come into play here. As I’ve explained before, in the 1969/70 split the Officials had almost total domination of Dublin and the east coast, while the Provos were based mostly in the rural South and West. The North was in play for a while, depending on who could get guns to which areas. This tended to reinforce the stereotype that on one side were radical political sophisticates and on the other were conservative Catholic gunmen with no concept of politics beyond what you would hear on a Wolfe Tones LP.
There was of course some truth to this, particularly in the North where many, many Provos were essentially apolitical Defenders, and where the needs of Defenderism reinforced the apolitical trend. Above all, in the North the supremacy of the army was absolute. You could be in Sinn Féin, and lots of people were regardless of the party’s illegality, but the party was basically a front-cum-support network for the army. You had little standing if you weren’t a military man, and political nous was a poor substitute for a reputation as an operator. (As Grizzly himself has reason to know. If you can find anyone who was on an operation with the Dear Leader, I’ll buy you a pint.) In the South things were different, and the stereotype was much less applicable. The party had a life of its own, and you could play a useful role as a political agitator. This is the contradiction at the heart of republicanism, being a popular democratic movement and at the same time a military conspiracy.
Anyway, the programme. Even 50 years after the War of Independence, you could still find a pretty substantial population of irreconcilables who had never given allegiance to the Saorstát, and never would. These weren’t by and large “men of no property”, but men and women of little property, small farmers, schoolteachers and the like. If you had gone to the big Dáil Chonnacht meetings around the province, you would not have noticed an overabundance of rough-and-ready Ballyfermot types, but rather an awful lot of corduroy slacks and tweed sports coats. This was really the republican base outside of the Pale.
And the thing was that we had a programme that was perfectly attuned to the needs of that base. The Sticks called it Poujadism, or green fascism; we called it Comhar na gComharsan and linked it back to Pearse’s Sovereign People and the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil. The nationalisation of natural monopolies, workers’ control of industry, rural cooperatives and radical federalism might have seemed like an eclectic mix, although, with the exception of federalism, practically everything in Éire Nua had been part of the common discourse of the united Sinn Féin in the mid-to-late 1960s (we dumped the tincture of Communist Party Stalinism and kept the rest).
How this programmatic discourse melded with the larger revolutionary project is a subject I’ll be explaining in more detail. This involves quite a bit of thought about political methodology, and about problematic issues in both republican and socialist ideology, not to mention the difficult overlap between the two. I hope readers will get something useful out of this.
Rud eile: In mentioning the Defenderist nature of the Northern Provos, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Northern Sticks were also rather different from their Southern comrades. Anyone who’s been in the WP will bear that out.