Issue 4-2022 small

11 September 2003 Edition

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Giving everyone a part to play

Suspension of the Assembly should not represent political stasis for republicans, argues DOMHNALL Ó COBHTHAIGH, but an opportunity to develop new sites of struggle.

MANY REPUBLICANS are aggrieved by the continued failure of the British Government to call elections for the Assembly - with all its attendant implications for North-South institutions. Some may feel that this heralds the end of the Good Friday Agreement as a vehicle to forward the pursuit of national liberation. This may be true, and we might be looking at a renegotiation in the future - however unlikely this might appear at present.

Some may even feel that the antidemocratic behaviour of the British Government represents a "call of the republican bluff'' - that, in short, the Peace Process is blocked or at a conjuncture. This latter position may, I feel, often be rooted in a fundamental misconception of the current republican strategy.

It is, after all, a commonplace that this strategy is based exclusively upon electoralism. Contrary to this, I feel that it should be recognised that the strategy relies upon a wider conception of struggle - one in which the Republican

Movement seeks to engage its various opponents in an ever-widening number of "sites of struggle''. Consequently, the power struggle (i.e. that conducted by "leadership'' in negotiations) on which most people focus is really only a concentrated form of the underlying conflict. Seen in this light, the suspension of the narrow field of democratic practice at Stormont represents, not a mere obstacle to political advancement - signalling a dispiriting and disempowering period of stasis - but an opportunity to adapt; to widen the variety of political engagements in which republicans challenge our opponents. It offers a challenge for us to get beyond "electoralism'' as the primary arena of struggle - to open a second front in the struggle for political strength.

Most republican activists and most republican-minded and even progressive people are engaged in this second front already. Surprisingly, activists do not always realise that community activism or work as trade unionists is of such

vital political importance. The oft-quoted adage that "everyone has their part to play'' is not fully developed by republicans in a strategic manner. We must begin to approach the sometimes isolated actions of individual activists with reference to their strategic location in terms of the overall struggle and connect them with the work of other activists or, more often, the work of non-party political "progressives''. We must begin to achieve synergy between the varied spheres of activity of the many republican activists within the party and without, interweaving and co-ordinating their efforts - valuing and harnessing each and every activist's progressive efforts and moving away from narrow conceptions of what `activism' means. The party needs to oversee this in a strategic and comprehensive manner to ensure its maximum effectiveness. Previous strategies have not been conducive to such an approach: activists were pariahs and subject to exclusion on the back of "atrocities'' committed (both real and distorted). We, too, have been to blame for not seeing gaps for activism and making more political capital from the reactionary behaviour of those seeking to exclude us from any position of real power in the institutions of civic society.

The possibility of such a campaign is clear from the success of those activists who have already made significant contributions in the field of community development in various parts of the island. The potential of a similar engagement with the trade unions is clear from even a cursory assessment of the disproportionate power wielded by the now defunct Workers Party (often continuing to this day) throughout the trade unions in the 26 Counties and in parts of the North. It is not simply enough to recoil from these challenges using the excuse of three decades and more of antirepublican bureaucracy. We can avoid these arenas of struggle no longer.

It is perhaps not surprising to see how we might, at times, become limited by electoralism. A movement capable of pursuing an agenda of power-building within civic society requires a high degree of political education and strategic organisation. Yet the logic of the current phase in the process yields precisely this requirement. Civic Society has the capacity to offer a springboard from which to pressurise the undemocratic policies of the British Government.

Moreover, the construction of a republican hegemony (involving a broad alliance arguing in favour of Republican objectives within the trade unions, community groups, faith communities, professional organisations and non-departmental public boards and institutions) is a requirement for undermining the very foundation of the Six-County statelet, and necessary for the delivery of any form of democratic socialism.

Of course, there are other structural issues, such as the continued reactionary nature of most elements of the State apparatus (North and South) e.g. policing structures, the judiciary, defence services and the civil service itself. And even these, in the right conditions, could all become further areas of contestation or "sites of struggle'', key to the process of the "reconquest of Ireland'' as envisaged by Connolly. All these vistas were opened as potential battlegrounds by the Peace Process: it is a sign of British weakness that they are attempting to close the electoral arena.

If there is one corollary to all this, it is that we should reconsider what it means when we talk of engagement with community groups, trade unions, professional organisations and the rest of civic society. It should mean a lot more for republicans than those from a liberal democratic background. Yes, it is about listening and representing, but, within our strategic context, it must be about involvement, empowerment and the challenging of reactionary ideology or illusions through the promotion of a republican agenda. In the last instance that cannot be leadership-led, only leadershipencouraged: it must happen at grassroots. We must encourage a wider empowerment, a step-change in participation, by our wider support base and progressives generally, on behalf of and behind the republican agenda: the agenda of democracy and equality, the logic of which is integration and unification.

That this latter is possible is determined by the underlying socio-economic underpinnings of partition, modern-day imperialism and neo-liberalism. As republicans, we must find a way of awakening this slumbering colossus of historical determination. We are charged with a task requiring an organisational capacity to fully create "community for integration'' and the basis for popular-democracy. The challenge facing republicans and our support-base is akin to a cultural revolution in our process of revolution: with the door to liberal-democracy blocked, it is time to look towards more direct and challenging forms of democracy; all of which will dovetail into our political agenda.


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