Monday, August 08, 2011

Outside the machine: notes on Ruairi O'Bradaigh

[Several months ago I was asked to contribute to a proposed book about the history of the British left since 1956. My contribution was to take the form of a very short abstract, which could be expanded into a chapter if the book were accepted by a publisher. I suppose that I could have written something about my mate EP Thompson and the 'New Left' movement he helped to create in the late 1950s and early '60s, but I've just published a book which dwells on that subject, and I worried that I'd end up repeating what I'd already written there.

I decided to write something about Irish Republicanism and its impact on the British left during the Troubles. It might reasonably be asked what possible insights a thirty-something Kiwi who has never visited Ireland could have about such a subject. I certainly agree that it would be quixotic for me to try to recapitulate the story of the Troubles in great detail, or to analyse in definitive detail the effects of the Good Friday Agreement from the other side of the world.

I'd like to think, though, that someone who examines a very complicated and parochial society and political scene from a great distance and an unusual angle can occasionally see something which eludes locals. My friend Carey Davies, who admits to being a Yorkshire national chauvinist, argues that one of the best things about living in New Zealand is the odd angle this place provides for observers of northern hemisphere societies.

In the introduction to my book on Thompson, I argued that I might have been able to see some of his preoccupations - his identification with obscure and provincial cultures and societies, for example, and his sympathy for peoples fighting the enclosure of their land by capitalist 'modernisers' - with a certain clarity, because of my residence in the South Pacific. I'm sure there are things that I missed because of my location, things that Carey and others northerners can pick up.

I'd like to think that the oft-remarked parallels between New Zealand and Irish history, and between the Maori and Irish fights against imperialism, offer a potential way into Irish Republicanism for a Kiwi.

It's impossible to read about the decision of the Irish Republicans to set up a parrallel, anti-colonial state in 1919 and not think about the separate parliaments, police, and dog tax collectors of the Kingitanga movement. The arguments of Irish Republicans about whether or not to abstain from imperialist institutions like Stormont and Westminster resemble the difficult debates within Tainui over whether or not to recognise Pakeha local and national governments in the early twentieth century, and similar debates going on now in parts of Tuhoe Country, in Northland, and on the East Cape. The story of the revolt against conscription in Ireland during World War One reminds us of the resistance to the same policy in the Waikato and Tuhoe Country at the same time.

But the connections between the fight for tino rangatiratanga and the fight for a free Ireland don't have to be deduced by academics or left-wing theorieticians: they've been grasped by the fighters themselves. It was a group of Irish Fenian miners calling themselves the tribe of 'Aorihi' who supported Te Kooti during his war with the New Zealand state, selling him ammunition during secret meetings in Karangahake Gorge. It was Maori members of the Patu Squad jailed in Mt Eden in the aftermath of the 1981 Springbok Tour who wrote to Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers in Long Kesh prison to express their solidarity with the Irish cause.

I settled on the veteran Irish Republican Ruairi O'Bradaigh as a subject about a month ago, because he seemed, like EP Thompson before him, to be a man whose ideas are profound enough to transcend the political circumstances which prompted them. That doesn't mean, of course, that his ideas are necessarily correct.

O'Bradaigh's involvement in an armed struggle inevitably makes it more difficult to discuss his work in a detached way. In countries distant from a national liberation struggle there is always a danger of either romanticising or automatically condemning the protagonists of that struggle. My father-in-law is a veteran of an Irish band which played the Auckland and Waikato pub circuit in the eraly 1990s, and he recalls how he'd often be asked to play a song celebrating some IRA raid or bomb in the middle of happy hour or a raucous function. He always refused, because he was disgusted by the idea that the bloody details of war could be fitted snugly into a song and a good night out on the other side of the world.

I can understand my father-in-law's criticism of the easy romancing of the Troubles, but the kneejerk condemnation of the IRA and Sinn Fein in the media and amongst my schoolteachers during the 1980s was surely just as smugly self-righteous.

Looking back, I can appreciate how differently the wars in South Africa and Ireland were presented in the media and in classrooms during the '80s. Both the IRA and the ANC were killing people with bombs, organising riots, and engaging in peaceful politics by holding rallies and distributing propaganda, but the media and my Social Studies teachers seemed always to emphasise the violence of the Irish, and the peaceful actions of the Africans. Nelson Mandela, who with every justification had waged a bombing and shooting campaign against the South African state, was presented as a second Gandhi, while Martin McGuinness and other IRA leaders, who were waging a similar sort of campaign in Nothern Ireland, were likened to Nazis.

Of course, both romancing and demonising are ways of avoiding investigation and reflection, and the sort of uncomfortable ambiguity which is such a common result of investigation and reflection.

I have been intermittently lost in the forest of literature on the Troubles over the past month, and what follows is an appallingly long draft of an abstract for an essay about Ruairi O'Bradaigh and the British left. It represents a hunch rather than a firmly-held point of view. I apologise fulsomely to the unfortunate pair of scholars who made the mistake of asking me to write something for them. I'll list and discuss some of the sources on O'Bradaigh in a later post.]

Outside the machine: notes on Ruairi O'Bradaigh

Historians of left-wing politics in the British Isles tend to associate the year 1956 with two seminal events: the neo-colonial Anglo-French invasion of Egypt, which prompted huge demonstrations and helped politicise a generation of young Britons, and the exodus from Britain's Communist Party caused by Hungary's anti-Stalinist revolution and the obscene sight of its repression by Soviet tanks.

There is, however, a third important event of 1956 which has seldom attracted much attention from scholars of the left. On the 12th of December 1956 one hundred and fifty Irish Republican Army volunteers descended on a variety of targets across Northern Ireland. A radio transmitter was bombed, a courthouse was burned, and a police post and army barracks were attacked. The assaults marked the beginning of the IRA's 'Border Campaign', which involved more than three hundred violent incidents in 1957 alone and would not end until 1962. In response to the campaign, both the British and Irish governments interned hundreds of their citizens without trial. Some of the internees were held for years. In its early years, especially, the Border Campaign aroused great support in Ireland. Fifty thousand mourners turned out for the funeral of the first volunteer killed in the campaign, and a number of IRA fighters were elected to parliament in southern Ireland’s 1957 general election.

On the 12th of December 1956 a twenty-four year-old named Ruairi O'Bradaigh was the deputy commander of the IRA's Teeling Flying Column, which crossed the border into the north looking to ambush armed police and attack police posts. During the Border Campaign O'Bradaigh would quickly rise to prominence in the IRA and in the Republican movement as a whole. On the last day of December O’Bradaigh was arrested by southern Irish police after returning from a raid. O’Bradaigh was incarcerated, but in March he was elected to Ireland's parliament, and in September of the following year he escaped from internment and rejoined the IRA, which made him its chief of staff. O'Bradaigh returned to his job as an Irish teacher in County Roscommon after the end of the Border Campaign, but he remained very involved in the Republican movement. After the outbreak of mass violence in Northern Ireland in the middle of 1969 he co-founded the Provisional IRA, and in 1970 he became President of the army’s political wing, Provisional Sinn Fein. He held this post until 1983, when he was pushed aside by Gerry Adams and a group of younger men from the north.

In 1986 O’Bradaigh left Provisional Sinn Fein in protest at the party's decision to abandon its policy of ‘abstentionism’ and recognise the legitimacy of the southern Irish state. He founded Republican Sinn Fein, a relatively small organisation which has been connected with the 'Continuity IRA', a splinter group of the Provisional IRA. Both Republican Sinn Fein and the Continuity IRA have been outspoken critics of the Good Friday Agreement and the role of Adams' Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland's post-Good Friday government. O’Bradaigh led Republican Sinn Fein until 2009 and continues to represent the group at many public events.

During his early years as leader of Provisional Sinn Fein O'Bradaigh travelled frequently, explaining the party’s ideas and seeking support in Europe and America. Despite the war in Northern Ireland and its rhetorical commitment to anti-imperialism and confrontation with the state, Britain's radical left was often very dismissive of O'Bradaigh and his cause. The far left of the Labour Party, the Communist Party, and Trotskyist groups like the International Socialists all distanced themselves in various ways from both the methods and the message of the IRA and Sinn Fein. In the years since his split with Gerry Adams, O'Bradaigh has dropped off the radar of most of Britain's radical left. Active condemnation has given way to what Bordiga called 'the critique of silence'.

Irish Republicans have had a more ambiguous attitude towards O'Bradaigh. He is almost universally admired for his feats as a soldier in the 1950s and ‘60s and for his reputed integrity and selflessness. Many Republicans, though, have come to see O'Bradaigh as a quixotic figure, out of touch with modern Irish life and politics and wedded to noble but dangerously outdated notions of an endless armed struggle against 'the Brits'. Even some of the Republicans who reject the Good Friday Agreement and regard Adams' Sinn Fein with contempt see O’Bradaigh as a man of the past.

O’Bradaigh’s critics have frequently accused him of a ‘mystical’ and ‘legalistic’ attachment to the policy of abstentionism, and a ‘militarist’ hostility to progressive politics.

Under O’Bradaigh’s leadership first Provisional Sinn Fein and then Republican Sinn Fein maintained the traditional Republican refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of both the six county statelet of North Ireland and the twenty-six county state in southern Ireland. Although they sometimes stood successfully for election to the Dail in Dublin, Stormont in Nothern Ireland, and Westminster in London, Sinn Fein members never took seats in these parliaments. Nor did members of O’Bradaigh’s organisations accept the legitimacy of the armies and police forces employed by the governments in Dublin and Belfast.

Abstentionists like O’Bradaigh look for inspiration to 1919, when more than seventy Sinn Feiners were elected to the Westminster parliament during an all-Irish election. Instead of travelling to London and taking their seats, the new MPs established a rebel parliament in Dublin and, eventually, a rebel state with its own army, police force, courts, and taxes. The abstentionist MPs saw themselves as representatives of the Irish Republic proclaimed during the 1916 Easter Rising, and helped direct the Irish Republican Army’s war against British authority in Ireland. After the partition of Ireland in 1922 many Sinn Fein members remained loyal to the Republic of 1916. The old Dail elected in 1919 continued to meet, and claimed to be the real source of authority in Ireland, even after the anti-partitionists had been defeated in the Irish Civil War of 1922-23.

In 1938 the surviving members of the 1919 parliament vested their ‘powers’ in the IRA’s Army Council. Since then, abstentionist Republicans have considered the Army Council to be the true government of all of Ireland. Under O’Bradaigh’s watch, volunteers who carried out bombings and shootings were told that they were acting on the orders of the Irish Republic established in 1916 and maintained by the IRA.

Ruairi O’Bradaigh has argued indefatigably against Republicans opposed to the policy of abstentionism. He co-founded the Provisional IRA in 1969 after a split over abstentionism, and he broke with Gerry Adams over the issue seventeen years later. O’Bradaigh’s critics accuse him of a romantic attachment to the events of 1916 and 1919, and a legalistic rather than realistic attitude to the contemporary Irish states. In the 1970s, even the more radical parts of the British left urged the IRA and Sinn Fein to abandon abstentionism and engage with the Dail and Westminster. Today, in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement and attempts to reform the Northern Ireland state, many Republicans see O’Bradaigh’s continuing rejection of Ireland’s actually existing parliaments as perverse.

But O’Bradaigh’s abstentionism has never been quite as ridiculous as his critics claim. O’Bradaigh has opposed participation in the Dail, Westminster and Stormont partly because he has been convinced that any Republican who enters those bodies becomes, in his words, ‘a part of the machine’ of imperialism and capitalism. O’Bradaigh believes that the careers of men like Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, and Gerry Adams show the perils of entering ‘the machine’.

O’Bradaigh harks back to the Dail of 1919 because he admires the way that its members established their own revolutionary state alongside the British colonial state.

In an internal Sinn Fein document written in 1983, during the struggle with Adams over the direction of the organisation, O’Bradaigh argued that Provisional Sinn Fein and the IRA needed to organise a ‘big successful heave to topple the system’, rather than entering mainstream politics and ‘tinkering with the system’. O’Bradaigh suggested that Provisional Sinn Fein and the IRA emulate the Republicans of 1919 by creating ‘an alternative mechanism of government’ and thereby bringing about the ‘dual power situation which is the essence of revolution’. O’Bradaigh’s advocacy of abstentionism is not, then, a simple act of rejection. As well as opposing compromise with ‘the machine’, O’Bradaigh advocates a revolutionary alternative to politics as usual.

O’Bradaigh’s critics have also accused him of being hostile to left-wing politics, and of substituting military action for a rational political programme. It is true that, during the infighting which split the IRA and Sinn Fein at the end of the 1960s, O’Bradaigh opposed the faction of self-proclaimed socialists grouped around IRA leader Cathal Goulding. But O’Bradaigh’s objection was not to socialism so much as to Stalinism. He disliked the Soviet Union, seeing it as a ‘totalitarian’ society which oppressed nations on its fringes like Hungary and Czechoslovakia in much the same way that Britain oppressed Ireland. O’Bradaigh knew that Goulding and other leading members of his faction like Roy Jenkins had close connections with Moscow’s allies and apologists in the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Communist Party of Ireland. He feared that Goulding and co would try to turn Irish Republicanism into a tool of Soviet foreign policy.

Critical of both 'Western capitalism' and Eastern bloc ‘state capitalism', O'Bradaigh has attempted since the 1960s to develop a distinctly Irish form of socialism. After the IRA’s Border Campaign ended in failure in 1962, O’Bradaigh had realised that Republicans needed to talk about economic and social questions as well as British imperialism. When he stood for Westminster parliament on behalf of Sinn Fein in 1966 O’Bradaigh emphasised not only his commitment to a thirty-two county Ireland and to abstentionism but his support for policies like the nationalisation of large Irish companies, controls on credit entering and leaving the country, and limits on the size of farms. In his articles for the Republican press O'Bradaigh began to quote James Connolly’s warning that Irish independence would be 'in vain' if it were not accompanied by the establishment of a 'just social and economic system'. O’Bradaigh did not only look to Connolly and other left-wing Republicans for inspiration, as he developed his ideas: he kept a close eye on the world beyond Ireland, and in was able to study in some depth subjects like the Algerian anti-colonial struggle and Tanzanian leader Julius Nyrere’s experiments with ‘African socialism’.

In his 1970 article 'Restore the Means of Production to the People', O’Bradaigh argued that the decentralised, communal nature of the pre-capitalist Irish economy could be a model for a modern system which avoided the individualism of capitalism and the authoritarianism of the Soviet bloc societies. O'Bradaigh repeated his argument for the nationalisation of strategic assets and industries, but he favoured placing small-scale industries under the control of local cooperatives. He advocated limiting the power of central government, and giving considerable autonomy to Ireland's regions.

O'Bradaigh argued that Ireland suffered from a 'triple minority' problem, pointing out that the Protestants, the nationalists trapped in Northern Ireland, and the Irish-speakers of the west of the country were all vulnerable groups whose rights needed to be protected. A decentralised state and economy were the way to do that. In the 1970s, as he struggled to negotiate a peace deal in Northern Ireland, O’Bradaigh repeatedly insisted that the Protestants of the north were 'part of the Irish nation', and criticised Republicans who wanted to subject them to the rule of the 'confessional' state which had been established in the south after 1922. O’Bradaigh’s vision of a multi-polar Ireland enabled him to meet and dialogue with Protestant politicians who usually refused to go near Republicans. Many of O'Bradaigh's ideas became Provisional Sinn Fein policy. His vision of a decentralised Ireland was reflected in the Eire Nua policy, which called for the country to be split into four self-governing provinces, including a twelve-county Ulster. A federal government based not in Dublin but in the small County Westmeath town of Athlone would have responsibility for Ireland's foreign policy and defence.

When Adams and his allies pushed O'Bradaigh out of power they did so partly by attacking his vision of a postcolonial Ireland. Adams and his supporters appealed to sectarian hatred of Protestants in an effort to discredit O'Bradaigh's Eire Nua policies. They characterised the notion of a self-governing Ulster province as a sop to Orangemen, and insisted that Ireland's Protestants should have to accept domination by a Dublin-based government. Cynically employing 'orthodox' Marxist language and appeals to the authority of the Soviet Union to win over left-wing grassroots members of Sinn Fein, some of O'Bradaigh's opponents condemned his proposals for workers cooperatives and an agrarian socialism as reactionary and utopian.

In recent decades the end of Cold War historiographical orthodoxies, the publication of long-unseen manuscripts, and the efforts of scholars like Karl Anderson and James D White have helped bring attention to the later Marx’s belief that socialism could be built on pre-capitalist foundations in agrarian or semi-agrarian societies on the periphery of the global economy. Marx’s late claims about the revolutionary potential of the Russian peasant commune and the Iroquois Federation contradict the dogmas of Stalinism, and resonates with some of O’Bradaigh’s ideas.

O’Bradaigh’s political vision has not been realised in Ireland, but in other places there are signs that it might not be as quixotic as some critics have made out. The rural-based development schemes and state-sponsored cooperative movement in contemporary Venezuela might almost have been based on the blueprint O’Bradaigh laid out in ‘Restore the Means of Production to the People’. O’Bradaigh’s notion of a decentralised postcolonial society finds a parallel in Evo Morales’ Bolivia, which is experimenting with what indigenous activist and scholar scholar Jose Aylwin calls a ‘multinational state’ in an effort to reverse the centuries-long oppression of the Aymara and Quechua peoples.

O’Bradaigh’s ideas may have considerable value for indigenous peoples' movements in regions like Polynesia, Melanesia, and North America, where abstentionism and the construction of institutions of ‘dual power’ have been common tactics amongst peoples faced with powerful colonial and postcolonial regimes. Some of O'Bradaigh's ideas may well transcend his location and the complicated and sometimes tragic story of his career. He is thinker who deserves serious attention rather than ridicule.

As it discusses how to deal with the success of nationalism in Scotland and Wales, and confronts the problem of how to advocate socialism in a deindustrialised society, Britain’s radical left could do worse than consider the thought of Ruairi O’Bradaigh.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In consequence of armed opposition ordered and sustained by England, and the defection of elected representatives of the people over the period since the Republican Proclamation of Easter 1916 was ratified, three years later, by the newly inaugurated Government of the Irish Republic, we hereby delegate the authority reposed in us to the Army Council, in the spirit of the decision taken by Dáil Éireann in the spring of 1921, and later endorsed by the Second Dáil.
In thus transferring the trust of which it has been our privilege to be the custodians for twenty years, we earnestly exhort all citizens and friends of the Irish Republic at home and abroad to dissociate themselves openly and absolutely from England's unending aggressions: and we urge on them to disregard England's recurring war scares, remembering that our ancient and insular nation, bounded entirely by the seas, has infinitely less reason to become involved in the conflicts now so much threatened than have the neutral small nations lying between England and the Power she desires to overthrow.
Confident, in delegating this sacred trust to the Army of the Republic that, in their every action towards its consummation, they will be inspired by the high ideals and the chivalry of our martyred comrades, we, as Executive Council of Dáil Éireann, Government of the Republic, append our names.
Seán Ó Ceallaigh (Ceann Comhairle)
George Noble Plunkett
Professor William Stockley
Mary MacSwiney
Brian Ó hUiginn
Tom Maguire
Cathal Ó Murchadha
Dublin, December 8, 1938.

3:43 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Statement from the CIRA Republican Prisoners, Maghaberry and Portlaoise prisons
In a statement the Continuity IRA prisoners in Maghaberry jail, Co Antrim on May 29 declared their support for the leadership of the Republican Movement and their continued resistance to British rule.

“We the Republican Prisoners of War in Maghaberry are engaged in a struggle against the British state and its agents. We restate our determination to resist all attempts to criminalise the fight against British rule in Ireland.

“We congratulate the Republican people of Ireland who have taken to the streets in support of our struggle for political status. Without your continued support we cannot succeed.

“It is with this in mind that we the Republican Prisoners of War incarcerated in Maghaberry herby reiterate our support for Republican Sinn Féin, the leadership of Republican Sinn Féin and CABHAIR. We salute their unswerving commitment to the principles of the 1916 Proclamation.

“It is with deep regret that we have become aware of a campaign to undermine the Republican Movement and by doing so to undermine the POWs. We wish to state Republican Sinn Féin and CABHAIR have our full support and confidence and that no other bodies outside of the Republican Movement represent our views or have the right to speak on our behalf.

o/c CIRA POWs Maghaberry Jail, Co Antrim.

The POWs in Portlaoise prison, Co Laois also stated their support for the Leadership of the Republican Movement and their continued support for their comrades in Maghaberry jail in their fight for political status.

“We extend solidarity greetings to our comrades engaged in the struggle to uphold their right to political status. We oppose British rule in our country and those who collaborate with it.

“We affirm our support for Republican Sinn Féin and CABHAIR and pledge our allegiance to the Leadership of the Republican Movement.

o/c CIRA POWs Portlaoise prison, Co Laois


3:51 am  
Blogger Ochlophobist said...

This was a fascinating read. Thanks.

9:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When did Rory Brady become Ruairi O'Bradaigh?

12:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brits have the same exaggerated sense of justice as Americans and extreme injustice such as the unpunished murder of a father of four will stick in their craw forever and for all time until the perp is punished. Any society that believes a cop is incapable of being a perp is already doomed to die the death by a thousand cuts.

9:39 am  
Anonymous MAN OF PEACE said...

Why does this man not repudiate violence and try Gandhian tactics?

At his age he should be more sensible.

10:26 am  
Blogger Sensa said...

Thanks for your post, Scott. Have printed it out so as to digest/consider. All best.

7:02 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:09 pm  
Anonymous embound said...

'Why does this man not repudiate violence and try Gandhian tactics?'

Why does the kauri experience an orgasm of the spent grenade-cone?

10:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Few want to admit that the UK remains an imperialist country, and Ireland an occupied territory.
Maybe as Orwell said bombs will wake them from their slumber.

10:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS Is it actually true that Republican Sinn Fein and the Continuity IRA are connected?

Take into consideration this press release from RSF's then-leader:

RSF Has No Military Wing
"Republican Sinn Féin has continuously said that it has no military wing nor are we the political wing of any other organisation. We now repeat that

"What are the sources of the so - called 'Independent Monitoring
Commission' for its information?

Evidently they are British 'securocrats' and similar bodies in the 26
state. These Dublin sources are those who ten years ago circulated to the
media, news of the existence of a bogus group named the 'IRNA' (Irish
Republican National Army) of which nothing more has been heard. Such
sources are heavily biased and are not to be trusted."

Ruairi O Bradaigh

10:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And also:

US State Department McCarthyism

Statement by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, President, Republican Sinn Féin

Republican Sinn Féin is a separate and distinct political organisation dedicated to the national liberation of Ireland. It has no military wing nor is it the political wing of any other organisation.

The US State Department, which has been notoriously pro-British over the decades, in its current report says that Republican Sinn Féin is an alias for the Continuity IRA. This is a blatant misrepresentation and an attempt to brand a long-standing Irish Republican organisation as a candidate for the latest bout of McCarthyism under the cover of the recent Patriot Act enacted since September 2001.

It also seeks to repress legitimate opposition to the Stormont Agreement and the promotion of the ÉIRE NUA alternative to it. The President of Republican Sinn Féin has been banned from the USA for over 30 years and other leading members have been likewise excluded in recent years.

This repression and misrepresentation will not deter our members from their political activities at this time or in time to come.

Republican Sinn Féin, Teach Dáithí Ó Conaill, 223 Parnell Street, Dublin 1, Ireland

10:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And one more quote:

"I hereby declare that the Continuity Executive and the Continuity Army Council are the lawful Executive and Army Council respectively of the Irish Republican Army, and that the governmental authority, delegated in the Proclamation of 1938, now resides in the Continuity Army Council, and its lawful successors."

Comdt. General Thomas Maguire, last surviving member of the 1919 Dail, 1986

10:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the IRA Army Council is the Governmental Authority of the Irish Republic, naturally all of its acts are the legal acts of the legal armed forces of the Irish Republic. In short, they are Revolutionary forces acting within Revolutionary law. So the Continuity IRA is in true terms acting legally. The imprisonment of its members is illegal.

12:42 am  
Anonymous Garibaldy said...

With the best will in the world, I have to say that I find the re-casting of Ó Brádaigh as a socialist (or in Matt Treacy's case an anarchist) somewhat incomprehensible.

Leaving aside questions of the links PSF under his leadership formed with various ultra-right nationalist groups in the rest of Europe (never mind the anti-leftist rhetoric used before and during the 1975 pogrom and links in the US to the right wing there), there is not, and never has been, any real class element to his political analysis. This is made all the more clear when you look at the actions as well as the rhetoric. Yes, leftist rhetoric occasionally got used by Ó Brádaigh when it suited. But he is, always has been, and always will be a nationalist. Actually, he said something similar about MacGiolla - that he never held his role against him as he was always a socialist. Doesn't sound to me like the words of someone who considers themselves as a serious socialist.

I don't know if you saw the debate on Cedarlounge about the authorship of what became Éire Nua, but it seems possibly that the document was originally drafted by Roy Johnston (who supposedly still has the first draft), and that it was used by the Ó Brádaighs to give some intellectual heft to their splitting from the Republican Movement. If that's true, it further undermines the argument I think.

1:41 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Garibaldy,

thanks very much for your comments, which I'll mull over. I appreciate hearing from someone with your first-hand knowledge of Irish politics.

Do you think there's been a tendency in recent years for people to begin to think about O'Bradaigh as some sort of socialist? I did think that Robert White's 2009 study of the man pointed in that direction, and I notice that some of the reviewers of White's book argue for O'Bradaigh's socialism.

Is there is a danger of creating a dichotomy between nationalism and socialism? Hugo Chavez has been characterised as a bourgeois nationalist, and not a socialist, on account of his invocation of Simon Bolivar and Venezuelan nationalism, but a certain type of socialism is surely embedded in his version of Bolivarianism. Nationalism and socialism seem to go together for the Chavistas.

Could it be that O'Bradaigh's Republicanism has always had a certain conception of socialism as one of its necessary and sufficient conditions? I certainly find it hard to read about O'Bradaigh's confrontations with Cathal Goulding in 1969 and Gerry Adams in 1986 and not feel that he was the one upholding revolutionary ideas about the state and about how the opposition to the state should organise.

O'Bradaigh seems to have correctly seen Goulding's faith in direct rule from Britain and lobbying in Westminster for the reformist utopianism it was, and I was struck by the way he actually invoked revolutionary socialist tradition to make his argument against Adams in 1986.

You suggest that Jenkins produced Eire Nua, but the fact remains that O'Bradaigh was the one who championed, and continues to champion the policy. And what a fascinating and thought-provoking policy it is! Besides Eire Nua, I think O'Bradaigh's attempt to think out a 'middle way' (we can't really the phrase 'third way' any more, can we?) between Stalinism and capitalism is very interesting, and his ideas about local co-ops as the building blocks of a rural socialism really do resonate not only with Marx's late work - work that is only really coming into the light of critical discussion now - but with important English socialist thinkers like Morris and EP Thompson.

Is there another contemporary Irish Republican and/or socialist thinker you think has more to offer in the ideas department than O'Bradaigh? I don't mean that last question to be rhetorical: as you may have guessed, I'm a bit of an ignoramus when it comes to Irish political thought...

3:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Garibaldi. What do you think is the legitimate government of Ireland?

If not the CIRA-AC then WHAT???

10:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The first item on the agenda is the split."
-Brendan Behan.

11:03 pm  
Anonymous Garibaldy said...


Sorry for how long this response is. Verbosity is a major problem.

I think there has been a number of people looking more closely at what Ó Brádaigh and others in the Provos were saying for a number of different reasons. Interest in Adams' political development, interest in ideas of imperialism, dissastisfaction with what is seen as a WP-inspired narrative of backward Catholic gunmen versus modernising socialist revolutionaries, interest in the much more complicated politics of the early 1970s than is often realised, or whatever. I think there is also a move to portray the provisionals as always being political, whether to retroactively justify what Adams has done, or something else. So yes, I'd say there has been a move to portray Ó Brádaigh (and the Provos) as more socialist.

My view has always been that there is such a gap between Provisional rhetoric and the reality on the ground in the north in particular that it shouldn't be taken seriously. There were left-inclined people who went with the Provos in 1969 or after, but it was never the dominant or even I would say a central trend in the politics of the organisation itself.

I am also think that the number of active Provos in the likes of Belfast and Derry (never mind Tyrone or Armagh) in the early 1970s who considered themselves as socialist was tiny (there's enough testimony from Provos to back this up I think). There was a moment (as you referred to) when people began to speak a certain language, partly from the spirit of the times, partly to get access to weapons, partly from competition with others, but I don't believe it was ever much more than skin deep.

I think if you look at PSF in the north in the 1970s, it was, in functional terms, non-existent, and certainly politics was not part of their military wing's behaviour.

I don't believe that socialism has been or is a central part of Ó Brádaigh's conception of republicanism. I do think, unlike the majority of the Provos, Ó Brádaigh had an ideological commitment to a core set of ideas, and he's stuck by them, namely the Second Dáil argument. There's no socialist aspect to that core belief at all, and that has been what has defined him, and continues to do so.

Part II to follow

11:49 pm  
Anonymous Garibaldy said...

As for his view of the state and opposition to it. He rejects the specific states in Ireland. I don't see any sign that he rejects the bourgeois state or capitalism in general. One thing about reading the United Irishman and looking at what the Republican Movement was doing in the 1960s and early 1970s was the extent to which it was overwhelmingly about the south, and overthrowing the corrupt political and economic system in the south. Ó Brádaigh and the Provos, in my view, lacked that, being focused on the north. Their aim was to drive the Brits out, and maybe then set about trying to establish Éire Nua. The Goulding programme was about revolution in the south and in the north. So Ó Brádaigh has a militant attitude towards the states, but not, I would say, a revolutionary one.

Regarding the north, it's worth looking at the reforms enacted by 1970 to see the extent to which reform was possible. Never mind, of course, looking at it today. Reform of the state was possible. NICRA achieved a lot (and not through lobbying in Westminister), and what came about in the 1990s could have been had in the 1970s. So I'm not sure that reformist utopianism is an accurate description. Certainly less utopian than thinking that violence - and especially indiscriminate bombing and ectarian violence - would usher in either physical unity or unity among Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter. Never mind a military campaign today. Utopian doesn't even begin to describe that.

To be honest, I think Éire Nua and subsequent developments have reflected, as well as some of the thinking of the Movement in the 1960s, a continuation of the cooperative ideas of the late C19th/early C20th, corporatist ideas inherited from the 20s and 30s, Catholic social teaching (as Matt Treacy points out), and trying to keep in step with the language of revolutionaries abroad. But again, when I look at the actions of Ó Brádaigh and his various parties, as well as people like Jimmy Steele and others who had no time for politics, never mind socialism, I can't help but regard it as a fig leaf.

I've read the recent Anderson book. I wasn't wholly convinced by it, but it was extremely interesting. I thought making Ireland and the US part of the periphery was wrong-headed.

Regarding socialism and nationalism. I'd argue that national liberation is different than nationalism, but the two are often confused.

As for a contemporary thinker with more to offer in the ideas department. As you know, I've a dog in that fight, being in the WP. I don't want to single individuals out, but obviously I'm of the opinion that the WP has much more to offer in that area than other parties. If you want to email me, I can send you some stuff garibaldy2 at

11:50 pm  
Anonymous Garibaldy said...

As for the question about the CIRA Army Council, I suppose I must ask which one. I think there are three at the minute.

11:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe Ieland has three govts then?
Three CIRAs, 3 govts?

1:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Garibaldi. Do you agree that IN PRINCIPLE the CIRA AC is the government of Ireland??

If not...what IS?

12:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'the real government of Ireland consists of about 7 old men who meet in a cow shed somewhere in the midlands every Saturday night before they go to the pub?'

1:07 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks very much for those new comments Garibaldy.

I should clarify that I don't think that the advocates of a continuing armed struggle in Ireland are paragons of realistic political strategy.

The quixotry of the contemporary armed campaign was symbolised, for me, by the Real IRA's recent bombing of several banks in Northern Ireland. In a number of European nations vast crowds have taken to the streets to protest against the role of the financial sector in capitalism's crisis. These movements appear to operate from the bottom up and have produced a great deal of discussion about the nature of capitalism and democracy.

But instead of learning from the mass movements in places like Greece and Spain, the real IRA has decided, apparently, to substitute itself for a mass movement, and throw bombs into banks. Where the left in Greece and other nations fills the streets, the Real IRA phones in bomb warnings and empties the streets!

A very different situation existed, of course, in 1969, and reading White and other historians of that time it is hard to see Cathal Goulding's refusal to arm the Catholic population of Belfast and his faith in direct rule from Britain to head off an anti-Catholic pogrom as anything less than foolishly utopian.

As an aside, do you think it likely that O'Bradaigh actually supports the current armed campaign of the CIRA and similar groups very wholeheartedly? He seems to have been instrumental in calling off the Border Campaign in 1962, he tried to make peace in the mid-70s, and, according to at least some commentators, he held the CIRA off from launching an armed struggle until the IRA announced a ceasefire in 1994.

The CIRA seemed for a long time to target property rather than people, and the split in the organisation last year seemed to be precipitated partly by the unhappiness of northern members with the southern leadership's lack of militancy (obviously the criminality of some of the northerners was also important). I have read that the southern leadership of the group did not endorse the 2009 killing of the PSNI man Carroll.

O'Bradaigh has often denied any connection between Republican Sinn Fein and the CIRA. This of course has to be taken with a grain of salt, but is it unreasonable to think that he either is not involved with the CIRA's Army Council, or else has been on the Army Council and has tried to forestall armed action that goes beyond symbolic damage to property? It's just hard for me to see him as foolish enough to endorse pointless violence. I may be naive, though...

3:17 pm  
Anonymous Garibaldy said...


Agree with you on the futility of the real ira actions. Demonstrates again how violence of this type stands in the way of progressive politics, as though the 1970-97 period hadn't done the same.

As for Goulding and weapons in 1969. I suppose the first thing is that Goulding and McMillen and others were clear that the IRA wasn't intended to be a Catholic defence force, though it would take steps to defend people from state repression or sectarian violence if necessary. The sectarian violence thing cut both ways - Brendan Hughes recounts being part of a sectarian mob that was prevented from burning protestant homes by the IRA about September 1969 in Voices from the Grave.

It's worth bearing in mind that the IRA in Belfast before August 1969 had very little support, and that the number of people willing to store weapons was tiny. One of the recent WP historical pamphlets on this era quotes of a quartermaster from 1969 saying that before August 1969 it was very hard to find somewhere to store weapons but that after August people would have kept a tank if you'd asked them.

I'm also not sure that there is any evidence that there were many demands for weapons coming from people in the areas where the IRA was based. Take Derry for example, where the Republican Clubs were a very active part of the civil rights campaign, and a growing force in alliance with others. Eamon McCann recounts a conversation where the local OC Johnny White told them they had 3 guns. There's no memory of the IRA supposedly running away there because the defence was effective without firearms (and Brian Hanley has recently demonstrated the I Ran Away thing is probably a myth anyway).

Goulding certainly did seek to prevent arms being used if it would inflame sectarian tensions, but at the same time, it's questionable if there was a demand for them from outside the Movement until August blew up.

It's an interesting question about Ó Brádaigh. I think he believes that violence must be used at least intermittently, if only to make a point. Your scenario of him being a restraining influence seems plausible to some extent, but there are other reasons for the way the CIRA has developed too I think, that might well be more important (infiltration, attitudes in NI, the fact it's very southern based, the type of person it attracts etc).

12:33 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today however it is SOLELY about Republican principles and about resolving the national question, with an ever weakening military and many of it's forces spread out across the world such as Afghanistan i do not believe they will ever have the same force here nor will be willing to send it if they seen that they haven't pacified the Irish and are dealing with intensive resistance once again. I do believe that most people saw after the GFA that the national question had been solved and an Armed campaign would certainly prove otherwise and force it once again back to the forefront. Remember the Brits didn't pull out of the 26 because they couldn't sustain themselves there as they certainly could but did so because they knew that there would be always sustained resistance from generation to generation and didn't see the point in staying in a nation where they can't fully govern over, it was pointless for them as they knew they could never win. I do agree armed action shouldn't just be used for the point of it but if the Brits seen that all their effort of decades of trying to pacify Republicans had ultimately failed and that it had regrown i do believe that there would be more chance of our objectives being achievable. Remember the Brits were more willing to send the troops in and did so before the mass unrest started whenever the UVF and UPV were bombing economic targets sporadically in 69. Today they are less likely to do this and the troops are only brought in at small numbers to aid in certain raids etc

1:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Garibaldy stated 'Their aim was to drive the Brits out, and maybe then set about trying to establish Éire Nua' This is not true and the group with whom Garibaldy is a member - the Workers party (stickies) - also has an armed wing as it killed loyalist politician attending a public meeting regards the setting up to the Ulster Dail ( regional government). To be clear here this group killed a member of the protestant/unionist community BECAUSE of his willingness to discuss a new Ireland.

6:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you might find this helpful regards Eire Nua.

i found your article on irbb also

6:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:34 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for those comments anon, but I couldn't find anything at the end of the last link. It's a pity that I'm so distant from Ireland: it'd be interesting to chat in person with some defenders of the Eire Nua policy and of abstentionism...

2:14 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

And that's a very interesting piece from Splintered Sunrise...

3:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The (still rather) new President of RSF has a blog

Very good. Check out the latest few entries.

6:35 am  
Anonymous Garibaldy said...

"Garibaldy stated 'Their aim was to drive the Brits out, and maybe then set about trying to establish Éire Nua' This is not true and the group with whom Garibaldy is a member - the Workers party (stickies) - also has an armed wing as it killed loyalist politician attending a public meeting regards the setting up to the Ulster Dail ( regional government). To be clear here this group killed a member of the protestant/unionist community BECAUSE of his willingness to discuss a new Ireland."

Just quickly. There were enough statements from the provos stating they were trying to drive the Brits out, and enough people killed by them in that aim, to suggest that my quoted statement is in fact true.

As for the idea that there were actions taken by the Officials in order to ruin the Dáil Uladh project. This was fantasy at the time, and remains fantasy now. Especially the idea that people engaging in dialogue would be killed for it.

9:17 pm  
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11:06 pm  

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