Monday, July 27, 2009

A view from 2007 about what was going to happen to Sinn Féin- Was it accurate?

Below is a comment and an article I received to the Post "Can Sinn Féin change from within?"  Once again I felt the contribution was too valuable to leave as a comment so I've posted it as an article.


I came across the article below and it was printed in the Socialist Voice in July 2007. This paper is the mouth piece of the Communist Party and I feel the article should be dusted down and looked at again today.

The article more or less predicted what was going to happen to Sinn Féin following the results of the 2007 election. It predicted that we would be squeezed out of the media and our strategy of over reliance on electoral success, and our elected representatives, would lead to decline or stagnation.

We are all aware of the debate going on at present within the party and personally I think we need to look at things in terms of what works and what doesn't. Radicalism reformism, it's all a load of bolox! The objective is a 32 county socialist republic and that essentially means the destruction of two corrupt states and helping to create a new Europe. Therefore our intent is clearly radical. The means of how we get to that object is however not clear at all.

However, the article below is written by somebody from outside the party and its analysis of what would happen to Sinn Féin should be looked at by all those people interested in advancing the ideals of Sinn Féin and helping us get to the creation of a 32 county socialist republic.

Remember this was written in 2007


Republicanism tripped up by the national question

The fall-out from the failure of Sinn Féin to make an electoral breakthrough and the loss of an important Dáil seat in the Dublin area continues to rumble on and to cause much debate within the republican movement.

Sinn Féin had hoped to capitalise on the momentum following its success in the Northern Assembly elections and the re-establishment of the Executive. The peace process provided Sinn Féin with great photo opportunities for leading individuals, particularly Southern personalities. They had easy access to the Taoiseach’s office, as well as to Downing Street and the White House.

They now find themselves in a situation where the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive continue to take root and are bedded down, leading to fewer political crises that could propel them into the limelight and give them the opportunity to appear to be central to any solution.

Their strength in Dáil Éireann is reduced, and the technical group that gave them a platform in the last Dáil is now obsolete. Fianna Fáil was clever enough to mop up the independents to make sure that minority parties will have little or no say.

Sinn Féin will now have to operate in a more hostile corporate media environment, with photo opportunities becoming few and far between and with less access to the Taoiseach’s office and Downing Street. There is the likelihood of becoming just another small party, receiving little publicity and with invitations to appear on television beginning to dry up.

As we have pointed out many times in Socialist Voice, the political establishment, both in Ireland and Britain, was not unduly concerned about republican weapons and their decommissioning but was more concerned about securing the decommissioning of radical republican politics.

The comment reportedly made by Pat Doherty, that there was “too much ideology” in Sinn Féin, will come as a surprise to many within that party. The leadership are clearly attempting to circumscribe the nature and the extent of the debate allowed and the conclusions and lessons to be learnt from the debate now under way.

Judging by some statements by leading republicans, they would have settled for a similar deal to that secured by the Green Party, with a “green paper” on Irish unity thrown in. In the majority of constituencies where Sinn Féin did badly, left-wing independents polled well. Many working people were not impressed by talk of being “ready for government.” They have had the experience of the Labour Party being ready for government for years, promising everything and delivering little.

People understand politics from their own immediate experience and demands. What may be a priority for one person or group or a particular section of the population may not automatically translate itself throughout the Irish countryside. Nor can one political strategy cross over where there is a different set of problems and demands that require a different political strategy. The national question is more than just partition, and progressive forces need to take a much broader approach to its resolution.

Simply having a strategy for getting into and staying in government, regardless of what you stand for or do while in government, will lead only to growing opportunism, demoralisation, and defeat. The left has to get back to radical street politics, with the mobilisation of working people, uniting them on clear demands and goals.

Republicanism is a limited ideology if it is not connected to the transforming of society and the empowering of working people. It is empty if it does not address both political and economic democracy. Fianna Fáil can call itself a “republican party,” but we know that there is little of republicanism within its ideology.

Republicans are faced with a dilemma. You can’t be in government in the Northern Executive implementing conservative policies while in the South be engaged in making radical demands and taking radical political actions. Is not the point of being in government fighting for and, more importantly, implementing people-centred policies, providing the means to broaden out the struggle and building the potential forces for progress? It is not less ideology that we need but a deeper understanding of the nature and course of the struggle.

The national question, as the CPI has argued for decades, requires a more sophisticated political strategy, centred on the interests of working people. This will require the unity of all progressive forces, united in joint action. It will take time and patient political coalition-building.

The over-emphasis on electoralism fosters a false sense of politics and in many instances disempowers people and reduces them to mere election fodder. Republicans need to address the nature of opportunism and what gives rise to it.


  1. This is a very good article. Sound analysis.
    You mention there's a debate happening. I don't see any debate aside from this website and Toireasa's article. The party needs to open up a internal process to allow discussion on these matters and we need to do it soon.

  2. Anon Have a look at Declan's piece in An Phoblacht and also the piece by Eoin O'Brion

    Also the letters page in An phoblacht for the last few weeks.
    why don't you write a piece on your opinions and post it as a comment or send it to

    Or simply keep posting your comments on articles here, but please give yourself a name or initial.

  3. I have two comments.

    The first is that its depressing that an article from 2007 can be used in 2009. Is the 2009 debate a continuation of the 2007 debate. Probably is. However we do this we need to make sure that we dont wheel out these posts in 2011 cause we need to solve these issues.

    Secondily : THE CPI says
    The national question, as the CPI has argued for decades, requires a more sophisticated political strategy, centred on the interests of working people. This will require the unity of all progressive forces, united in joint action. It will take time and patient political coalition-building.

    They might have a point. The article states "it will take time and patient political coalition-building" however they then say the CPI has been arguing this for decades.

    While the point they argue may have merit and indeed maybe the best way to proceed its not unfair to point out that the tactics they are using must be not be the best ones and need to be scrapped. What other conclusion can be drawn if as they say they have been arguing this for decades.

    That caution aside its a good article.


  4. As ever the Kearney article is interesting and, as ever, it is interesting not so much for what it says but what it doesn't say. As usual his grandiloquent writing covers for an absence of content. H seems to be entirely oblivious that our movement lacks anything near a viable strategy.
    For years now (like so many others I've spoken with) I've tried to identify a strategy in his writings and speeches and at the end up what I've concluded is that it really comes down to a short-termist pragmatism with the over-riding concern of 'building political strength'.
    If that's it then it's really not much more than a war of attrition and as any student of strategy will tell you a war of attrition is by definition an absence of strategy.
    And this extends not just for the ultimate but the primary objective. Declan seems oblivious that the PFI/PPP that he pushed through in the north undermines our 'socialist republican' credentials that never fails to *highlight*. Our latterday backing of the 'bank bailout' represented a historic capitulation to neoliberalism.
    Last week we saw the AIMC arguing on behalf of property developers in the north - like who else loses if property prices fall? Little thought for young families trying to buy their first house.
    The tens of billions Dublin will waste on the bank bailout not only will be robbed from working class people through massive cutbacks and given to the uber-rich but effectively prostrate Ireland to continued dependency on FDI-led growth *indefinitely*. That money represented the very last chance in a generation to diversify our economy & now it's gone. Not to mention its impact in effectively copper-fastening partition for at least another generation. Now how will we ever hope to pay for reunification?

  5. (Cont'd)
    The least we could have done was oppose it. Ffs, the partitionist labour party even voted against it out of sheer opportunism. Why couldn't we? Answer - we need to get Southern Ministerial seats and then push cross-border integration from above - so we've got to look *responsible*.
    By comparison to revolutionary strategy which balances objective and subjective factors appropriately, Declan's prescriptions are grounded in *acute* voluntarism. To prove this, just consider that in the middle of a cathartic crisis of the national economy - one that has all sorts of implications for the possibility of unity - he never even mentions the economy once. Instead, he grabs a handy headline supplied by Obama and drops a cupla focal.
    Instead, triumph of the will is the necessary factor - now who said that before? Willpower is the solution not addressing the ideological or the credibility gap.
    As for leadership and its heavy burden on him, it would be very easy to pinpoint sundry occasions when anyone expressing the *wrong sort* of leadership was isolated, vilified and then ejected. I know all but the youngest readers will know what I'm talking about.
    Aside from the commonplaces which fill the article, there is no recognition that there is a gaping hole where our party's strategy should be. They have substituted organisation for politics. That is the definition of political bureaucratism - check out Weber! That activists are dropping like flies as a direct result of the ideological vacuum and that leaders such as himself - people who certainly do not lack cunning - demonstrate no inclination to actually listen to the base demonstrates the extent of the problems.
    My take, as I've written before, is that *unfortunately* the party needs to move ever further to the right and downgrade our socialism. As some of the comments on this site indicate perhaps some activists would agree to changing the meaning of the word so that it is a form of social liberalism - the market with a nice face. One word of advice - such a dream world is not possible for reasons beyond this post. God help us if we ever read Connolly's descriptions of what he understood by socialism.
    I ask who is ready to commit themselves to an endless struggle working towards united Ireland of social liberalism. Yet, that is the logical extension of the war of attrition they are waging with the unionists in the assembly. Just consider how strive to be the 'responsible' friend of business.
    Le meas, Z.

  6. Z,

    You said:
    "The least we could have done was oppose it. Ffs, the partitionist labour party even voted against it out of sheer opportunism. Why couldn't we? Answer - we need to get Southern Ministerial seats and then push cross-border integration from above - so we've got to look *responsible*."

    I understand why they are doing that and even if the strategy is to continue to focus on seats at the table then for argument's sake lets say okay.

    But clearly even within that remit the strategy is not working. If seats at the table remains our goal then fine but the tactics to deliver that sure need tweaking.


  7. Sorry for the 2nd post but I missed you part about the party moving to the right and SF reluctantly leaving the left.

    I dont think thats the issue here. And I dont think that even dumping the term socialism is the issue.

    The problem is that for the vast majority of people the word "socialism" means day-dreaming and talking about radical change, high taxes, revolution and being against everything.

    As I mentioned before, and with the danger of repeating myself, look at the Socialist party's proposal for helping the economy to recover. Its build schools and hosptitals away but no details are included at all. Nothing.

    Thats a sham of a proposal that should shame them but because they are very vocal in telling everyone that they are about defending workers, that they are real socialists, that they are true radicals then other parties of the left leave them get away with such a total failure to contribute anything useful for ordinary workers simply because they tick all the "socialist" boxes

    Its like going for a pint and hearing some lad telling everyone he is a hard man etc.

    There is clearly a reluctance among many in SF to be seen as a hard left party.

    There is also a desire for many in SF to be a socialist party.

    How do we bring them together?

    For me those of us who describe ourselves as socialist republicans need to be able to consider a party like the SP and say while they might say what we want to say its only cheap talk because there are no real proposals with details. Constantly repeating that you are for workers and nationalisation is not good enough.

    This to me is the the divide that we need to be able to get past. Too many people think being a socialist means we will follow the SP path and and tell ourselves and others that we are the most radical party for workers and just end up like them, spinning the line that we are real socialists etc, but having no details.
    NuLabour and the SP - both spin a message like pros but both lack substance.

    (again I note that i aint a sf member so any SP members should not feel angry at SF)

  8. J.
    Good points. And I agree with your earlier comment. The 'seats at the table' strategy is not and probably will not work. Certainly not in the medium term.
    As for the SP, and far be it for me to defend them, I actually think you have them wrong. For a start, they are not about to seize power - so they don't have to have a fully worked programme. It is one of the more delusional aspects of SF in Leinster House that we seem to think that we need to have a fully costed programme that will deliver radical change. It isn't possible and we don't even need it.
    Secondly, they don't even operate on the same playing field. Their programme involves significant nationalisations which should bring in considerable revenue. They don't need fully-costed proposals because they are a revolutionary party which sees the only way to create change is to nationalise the means of production. For them providing details of how schools would be built by raising income taxes x% and corporation tax y% is really to fail to see the main issue which is ownership of production. Furthermore, any revolutionary party really sees that process whereby schools are built and resources allocated as needing to be done by the people/workers themselves as opposed to a party. That is the radical democratic approach - for modern examples look at the Porto Allegre process in Argentina.
    The question is whether you think revolution is realistic - if not, then they are utopians. If you do think so then we are increasingly reformist or centrist as they call us.
    If you conclude the former and socialist revolution is something for the history books only (and capitalism is here to stay) then, yes, the Socialist party talk a good talk but don't deliver anything for the working class apart from higher expectations and a cynical opinion of the mainstream parties. V.

  9. V,

    The socialists will never seize power. They will never even come close to having power. They will not make one contribution to improving the lot of this nation. Avoiding bin charges for a few years in a few council areas across the state does not count as a meaningful contribution to improving the lot of ordinary people.

    You mention how they are not operating on the same playing fieldas as they are a revolutionary party. But unfortunately the rest of us are on a different field. We are paying taxes, taking kids to school, trying to afford the bills and still have some quality of life. Thats where the game is Its not over on some hilly field with the revolutionary talk.
    How can they suggest building schools and hospitals is a way to boost the economy without knowing how many and where. If the SP were in govt. tomorrow what would they say to the people - yeah go to and build schools and hospitals until the economy stabilises. I suppose we could knock the excess schools and hospitals as the next job :)

    The SP believe that events will sweep them to power. But there first task will be not to govern but to figure out what to do. Seeing as how they have no real proposals then they would spend 6 months figuring out stuff.

    they dont need costings because they will never have to use them and an uncosted proposal will always appeal to 2-3% of the people who like the message.

    To have an uncosted proposal is to accept that you are talking about something that will never happen and accepting that.

    People need to be convinced that something will work. When people like the socialist party come out with a bells and whistles view of a great future then people are a bit suspect when there are no details as to how to get there. People dont vote SP because of their revolutionary vision they vote SP because they dont like bin charges, they think Joe Higgins is a decent man etc.

    If someone said buy this house its beautiful and you'll love it. Its not built though and I wont tell you the square footage, the location, the no. of rooms or when it will be built. But anyhow will you buy the house cause when its built it will be brilliant.

    I for one would augh my head off at him. But yet in politics so called revoltionary parties do this all the time.

    Detail is not the problem the left faces. Detail should be the left's friend but unfortunately the left has become fixated on the theory behind our positions rather than the practical implementation of them.
    Its not surprising seeing as how the left was shut out of real power for so long that this would happen.

    Is a revolution possible. Yeah I think it is. The way the SP imagine, no not really. They are too fixed in their thinking to be able to bring about such a situation.

    I'd rather called a reformist or centrist any day because parties who insist that they are true revolutionaries spend too much time insisting and not enough time making real and lasting changes.

    The Socialist party will not succeed using their current tactics and they will not achieve anything that helps workers. Not one thing. There big achievement on their site is Liverpool council in the early 1980s. It lasted a few years and then failed. There is a theme here and its the theme of failing to make a differnce in people's lives.

    But we leave them off the hook because they say they are for the workers! They defend but dont defend in reality. They fight but dont fight in reality. Its opposition by illusion.

    This here is the issue thats dividing SF I think. People like me are not right wing but when we see the SP we only see the failures and the insistence on more failures so as to be able to pat themselves on the back and tell each other they are true socialist revolutionaries. They certainly dont deliver higher expectaions from the working class of politicans. otherwise all politicians would just go we want a fairer health system but we'll egt back on the details but It'll all come good anyway.

    Socialism is okay its the socialists who are proving the problem.


  10. J
    What you call socialism is not recognisable to me as the same concept. Socialism is the socialisation of the means of production and distribution (wiki). At least that's what Connolly believed and, indeed, that's what pretty much everyone - even British Labour believed before they got rid of clause 4. Churchill was to the left of where you are standing.
    Now if you don't think that's possible and chose to make minor changes to capitalism (that's where the means of production and distribution are privately controlled - again wiki) then yes you are a reformist and yes you will be feted as 'realistic' and 'reasonable' and your spending plans might even 'pass muster' on the TV discussion programmes.
    Now when I joined, we signed up to a 32DSR and I understood that as saying our goal was socialism not social reformism. If you wanted social reformism there was Labour or in the north there was the SDLP. Maybe you joined the wrong party? V

  11. Hi V

    Joining Labour or SDLP? I hope you are joking V.

    Nothing wrong with being a reformer. Indeed every committed Socialist should be a reformer because there cannot be a suddent step change to a socialist society. its not going to happen like that. not in Ireland in 2009. That needs to be accounted for and planned for. It cannot be ignored.

    However I do believe that Irish society can be shifted ever left wards so that it will be possible to then shift to a socialist society which will work and last.

    You say Churchill was to the left of me!

    Thats a bit strong. But you have no basis to say that. What have i written that would indicate I am right of Churchill. Not one thing. I fully back radical wealth distribution, radical changes to irish society such that in ireland a Republic could be built that people all over the world could look at and use as an example of social inclusion and equality.

    The only thing I wrote that may have earned me the title of right of Churchill is that I think too many socialists, and I used the Socialist party as my example, are going about things the wrong way.

    on this i fully agree with Eoin o'Broin who said we have to ask why is it that the Left Republican project keeps on failing in Ireland. He extended that into an evaluation of why socialism failed to gain traction in ireland around the national revival era.

    Eoin points out that even Connolly was guilt of bolting a radical Fenian republicanism onto an already existing socialist formula designed for a different political and social context.

    JJ lee the historian is quoted by Eoin as saying Connolly's "fatal tactical error was his reluctance to acknowledge the existence of rural Ireland".

    Again later Eoin says that C's socialism had little relevance for the Irish agri-sector workers.

    Connolly did not succeed in capturing the interest of the agri-sector.Why?

    What mistake was made and can we avoid it?

    Was he having a pop at Connolly. No, just pointing out that like Connolly we want to succeed in changing Ireland and to do that we have to be self-critical and adapt.

    I have not said anywhere that a genuine 32 county socialist Republic is a bad aim.

    I have though tried to be clear in arguing that the way Socialism is pushed by the Socialist party is not going to succeed in making even the smallest change.

    I belive goals should be achieved, not simply aimed for.

    Sinn Fein can be a socialist party but it must be one that delivers. Left Republicanism has repeatedly failed over the last century. It needs to be asked why?

    If that puts me right of Churchill then at least I have Eoin o'Broin beside me to talk over things.

    I do think that we can have a robust conversation around this without falling out though.