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Left Archive: “Ireland”, Sinn Féin The Workers’ Party – Autumn 1981 November 8, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Workers' Party.
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IRELAND SWFP 1981

This is a notable document, published as it was at the height of the Hunger Strikes in the North and it clearly exemplifies the attitude of SFWP towards them and towards Provisional Sinn Féin. It’s important to note that this was intended for circulation outside Ireland, particularly amongst left and progressive forces which explains the explanatory note on the front detailing an SFWP perspective on the nature and genesis of the ‘Provisional Alliance’ and a certain stolid explicatory tone to its contents.

The leading article is headed ‘Order End to Hunger Strike says Sinn Féin The Workers’ Party’. It details a call from the ‘standing Committee of SFWP.

It was not enough for the Provisional leader Mr. Gerry Adams, to tell the prisoners this. Neither is it enough to say that if they come off the hunger strike the people outside will understand. They must be given a firm directive. If the Provisional leadership want an end to the hunger strike they must tell the prisoners this.

Perhaps reflecting the difficulties of articulating this message in the broader context the article also ‘affirm[s] the policy of an end to direct rule from Westminister and the establishment of a democratic devolved government in Northern Ireland with civil rights of all citizens guaranteed by law…’ and continues with an attack on Margaret Thatcher headlined ‘Iron Maiden’ although there is an effort to generate a linkage between her and PIRA… ‘The tragedy is that many innocent people have already died outside of the prisons due to the intransigent attitude of both herself and the Provisionals’.

It bluntly states that ‘SFWP has no sympathy with any of the Provisionals. We know well the kind of monster that has been created by the Blaney’s and the Haugheys. We do not forget the many victims of the Provisionals killed, maimed or terrorised. Likewise we hold no brief for the State or sectarian forces which have contributed to the present polarised and explosive situation in Northern Ireland.’

There’s considerably more, from H-Block – The Socialist Perspective to a piece on ‘Ireland’s political parties – who condemns the Provos?’ which lists each Irish political party and their stance on that issue (there’s an interesting admission in the entry for SFWP itself: ‘in some rural areas there would possibly be an emotional response in support of the Hunger Strikers’. This follows a certain thread of counterposing the rural and the urban throughout.

On Page 3 there is a photograph entitled ‘Members of the Provisionals give the fascist salute at the funeral of hunger striker Raymond McGreesh, May 21, 1981’, which is clearly meant to dovetail with an article explaining ‘Why the Provisionals Are Fascists’. It’s hard to credit that any such salute was given, it certainly wouldn’t be characteristic of the iconography of Republican funerals.

There’s also a grim photograph on page 7 accompanying that article. The article argues that PIRA should ‘be seen in the same context as the Red Brigades in Italy, the Baader Meinhof gang in Federal Germany, ETA in Spain, the neo-Nazi’s of France and Italy… It is known that some links have been established between the Provisionals and British Fascist Organisations. A Conference of European Fascists held in Belgium some time ago was attended by representatives of the Provisionals’. This is an interesting assertion given that there has been and remains a profound antagonism on the part of British fascist and neo-Nazi groupings towards the very concept of Irish Republicanism.

More interesting again is that the article name checks specific journalists as ‘[giving] more coverage than necessary to the H-Block campaign’. It also considers ‘Backward elements’, these being those ‘dominating’ the Gaelic League and the Gaelic Athletic Association, ‘Maoists’ and makes some unusual political linkages. For example murders of Gardai are attributed to ‘Provisional/ultra-left Maoist gangster elements’. Then there is the assertion that due to the presence of Fr. Denis Faul as RCC prison chaplain, ‘it is hardly surprising then that most of the prisoners see themselves as being engaged in a religious or Holy War’.

The language and interpretation that infuses the document may well be in part explicable both by the political goal of demonstrating difference between two organisations both sharing the name Sinn Féín, casting the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin in a profoundly negative light internationally and by the text inset on page 2 which references the October 1975 conflict between PIRA and the Official IRA and members of OSF and PSF. The legacy of that and other conflicts is evident in the bitterness of the analysis – the young daughter of an OIRA member was murdered in the feud and that and other actions where people on both sides died were such as to generate very real political and psychological effects that would reinforce and exacerbate already existing approaches.

But added to that is perhaps a recognition that the political terrain in Northern Ireland was altering fundamentally, from their perspective, for the worse in the wake of the Hunger Strikes and with the rise of much more politically oriented and, in truth, left-leaning Sinn Féin.

Comments»

1. Jock McPeake - November 8, 2010

There were some who believed this type of roaring and shouting. A lot of them in Dublin I’d say. At most basic level we opposed the provos because of what they had done to our comrades and friends, and were still capable of doing. But it was stupid to pretend that they weren’t political prisoners. They were.

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2. HAL - November 8, 2010

Does the document say they were not political indeed it implies they were by stating that they should be ordered off the hunger strike.

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3. Ramzi Nohra i - November 8, 2010

It pretty much states they are fascist /neo Nazi hijack types.

At least they criticise all sides of the conflict however, rather than saving all their bile for the provos.

Have not read the full article however, will do so tonight.

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4. Jim Monaghan - November 8, 2010

Interesting that a party led by McGiolla (or should I say Gill) uses Brady rather than O’Bradaigh.

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anarchaeologist - November 8, 2010

Maybe because it was for an international readership who would have problems with the Erse? It’s funny though all the same.

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fada lover - November 8, 2010

Well Jim, we can’t all be named after counties

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5. anarchaeologist - November 8, 2010

I was a young fella working in a glass factory during the Hunger Strikes. I remember Kieran Doherty’s election agent visiting the factory just before the election. He did the usual walkabout, accompanied by what seemed to me to be strangely enthusiastic senior management (he might even have been presented with a piece of cut crystal afterwards). There was one older bloke there, a SFWP activist with great politics who continued to argue against the Hunger Strike over the summer and who was of course more or less boycotted by the other workers as a result. He was very strong on the line that they were not political prisoners, a position I argued with him again and again. I particularly remember his calling the Provisionals ‘dissident, right-wing Nationalists’, a phrase I loved and see here again.

I never got the impression though that his antipathy towards the Provos was based on what they’d done to comrades and friends. Maybe Cavan was different in this regard?

The funny thing is that SFWP politics would have been very popular in working-class Cavan at the time, although it hardly ever registered at the polls. Yet it seemed to me that that this build-up in the level of class-based political consciousness completely dissipated after the Hunger Strikes. For the ultimate benefit of FF rather than the Shinners.

The shot from the Raymond McGreesh funeral is fascinating too. I’d never seen it before or heard of its existence. Is it doctored I wonder? At least one of them is identifiable, was there a Provo response?

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Blissett - November 8, 2010

Was there much of an RUC presence/harrassment at the funeral? Perhaps it would not have been unusual to give RUC officers the ‘sieg heil’ treatment in such instances?

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anarchaeologist - November 8, 2010

But right beside the coffin?

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6. Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

This from the Irish Times of May 22nd 1981 by Andrew Pollak (it turns out the above photo is from the removal, and not from the actual funeral).

“The only jarring note was the Nazi-style salute given by the young stewards guarding the route as the coffin emerged from the hospital grounds.” The report describes it as mostly a family affair, and mentions stewards, but not the security forces.

I am more than happy to be corrected here, but as far as I know, the police tactic of interfering in funerals was only really stepped up in the mid-1980s or so. The impression I had was that they kept their distance from the hunger strike funerals.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

Just as a follow up, Fionnaula O’Connor’s report of the funeral says from the IT of May 25th says that the RUC and British Army were conspicuous by their absence, although two helipcopters arrived to drown out Ó Brádaigh’s speech. The speech is quoted as saying that the struggle would continue “until British hands fall nerveless or a just judge has taken his vengeance”.

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Joe - November 8, 2010

I am more than happy to correct you Gari. I distinctly (29 years on) remember seeing and reading reports of the RUC and/or the British Army interfering in the funeral of one of the hunger strikers by raiding the house where the body was and arresting a number of men who were preparing to be the colour party. It would have been the funeral of one of the last few men to die.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

Thanks Joe.

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7. EWI - November 8, 2010

Re: the fascism, holy war and maoist claims. Stark raving bonkers.

Any chance that a certain Sindo pundit was involved in crafting this?

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8. DublinDilettante - November 8, 2010

While they were wrong about many things, arguably the Workers’ Party’s greatest legacy was in challenging the unquestioned nationalism (whether outright or disguised as Leninist self-determination doctrine) of the Irish left. Which is why their decline, and the recent atavistic Green Turn of the rump, was so unfortunate.

The piece above obviously gilds the lily throughout, of course. It’s interesting that the CPI are accorded almost twice as much space for admonishment as every other party, although their reactionary nationalist outlook hasn’t evolved or improved with the passage of time.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

I assume DD that’s a suggestion that The WP has become more green or nationalist. The Party continues to define itself as republican, as it has always done, contrary to some people’s impressions. But that is republicanism not as solely a desire for indepndence, but as a revolutionary democratic and egalitarian political philosophy which sprung to life in the era of the American and French Revolutions and that has found its fullest expression in socialism in modern society.

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LeftAtTheCross - November 8, 2010

DD, in my limited experience as someone who joined the WP in 2010 it’s simply not accurate to say there is a “Green Turn”. The anti-nationalism is an important element of the WP’s identity, one which appealed to me during that era in the 80s and continues to appeal. Garibaldy’s reply on the WP’s republicanism is a different matter obviously. But on the question of nationalism, maybe you could elaborate why you perceive a change of policy or emphasis?

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9. Jim Monaghan - November 8, 2010

On the Nazi salute. This would have been directed at the RUC. I remember on many occasions the taunt SS-RUC at demos.
If memory serves me right the funereal was the beginning of the IRA unit known as the Barracks busters.The one massacred at Loughgall.
The RUC were to a degree careful with the early funereals, not so with the later.
Beware of photo evidence. There was one of Sands son at his funereal which gave the impression of a boy lost amongst IRA men. When in fact his aunt was at his side.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

Regarding the earlier question of whether the photo was doctored. It appeared on the front page of at least one Irish newspaper, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was in more. I don’t think it’s credible to suggest it was doctored, especially given the Irish Times article quoted above. There are likely to be other reports of it too.

As for the idea that it was aimed at the RUC. As anarcheologist noted above, it seems unlikely the RUC were that close to the coffin, and if this was a regular thing, then there would be other photos. I don’t know of any, but others might.

The fact the photo does seem to be an isolated instance is suggestive that this wasn’t typical. Having said that, there is still the question of why the stewards were doing this. If it wasn’t for the RUC – and there doesn’t seem to be any mention of them in the press reports suggesting that this was aimed at them – then why?

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

Jim,

While I’m as surprised at the fascist salute as anyone else, what evidence do you have that it was directed at the RUC? Beyond an assumption that Provos simply wouldn’t do that sort of thing?

If you look at the photograph, the people making the salute are facing the funeral procession. Are they making fascist salutes at the RUC right through coffin and the rest of the funeral party as if there was nobody there bar them and the cops? On the face of it that would be bizarrely disrespectful of them.

The allegation about the meeting of European fascists is also interesting. If I recall correctly, RSF have attended at least one such gathering in more recent times, presumably more out of desparation for allies rather than sympathy for fascism.

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Budapestkick - November 8, 2010

Yes, but I really couldn’t imagine 1981 PSF making connections with those groups. There was not inconsiderable support for the Provos during the hunger strike and making contact with fascist groups, whether out of desperation or otherwise strikes me as highly unlikely.

Nonetheless, there is a story behind that salute and I am curious to know what it is. Perhaps the photographer just caught them in the middle of raising their arms in a non-fascist salute?

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

The problem with your speculation, Budapestkick, being that the reporters who were there noted it as well.

Is it really that hard for people to believe that some members of a nationalist paramilitary group might hold fascist ideology, particularly one that had the rejection of “extreme socialism” as one of its originating principles? Especially ones in a rural and heavily religious area? We aren’t baffled by the idea of fascists in 1930s Ireland – why is it so hard to believe about 1980s Ireland?

Alternatively, we could suggest they were punks, who were adopting fascist symbolism to be rebels.

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

What, they were all “caught” at exactly the same point in a motion to do something else? And they were starting their salute by swinging their arm in a straight position, fingers extended, out in front of themselves first? Maybe the Brits stole their elbows?

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roasted snow - November 8, 2010

Probably for the benefit of the numerous helicoptors which were used to intimidate marchers and sympathisers at this time. Footage of early funerals often contains that background drone. SS RUC is probably the right interpretation.

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

Presumably these were extremely low-flying helicopters they are saluting towards, hovering a few feet off the ground directly behind the coffin and funeral procession.

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RepublicanSocialist1798 - November 8, 2010

I’d really doubt that Mark given the utter hatred expressed by British fascists towards Irish republicans.

That fascist salute is weird though to say the least. Possibly they were doing it to annoy the RUC but it makes one scratch the head.

As for the document, well Lidl do have nicer economy grade toilet paper.

I’d have no time for RSF but Des Dalton did give a speech to the Republican Communist faction of the SSP.

http://www.republicancommunist.org/articles/misc/G8Dalton.html

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10. Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

Over on p.ie, there’s a thread about the new newspaper (Saoirse Nua) launched by the recent split from RSF. It was just casually mentioned that “foreign nationals” are not allowed full membership of RSF. Hardly the stuff of progressive, democratic, secular, internationalist revolutionary politics. More blood and nation-style stuff. Certain ways of thinking appear not to have gone away you know.

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

That’s truly bizarre.

I wonder when that was adopted? You’d presume at some stage after 1986, but then again I’m almost as taken aback at the idea of RSF altering the constitution they’d inherited rather than keeping it preserved to museum standard.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

Don’t know when it came into being. It was mentioned. Utterly biazrre, even if only for the optics.

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11. Mark P - November 8, 2010

On a different note, fellow obsessives may have noticed that the solidarity greetings from Greece printed in this issue were from the KKE (Interior) rather than the KKE. Which is to say, the Euros rather than the Tankies.

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anarchaeologist - November 8, 2010

I was wondering about that. The PCE get a wave too, but I’m sure they were more Tankie at that stage? There are also fraternal greetings to the MPLA.

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

I wonder when the WP moved away from having “fraternal” connections with the KKE (Interior) and its descendent Synaspismos?

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Budapestkick - November 8, 2010

I’m not sure, but I would hazard a guess at the early 90s. The WP in the late 80s in particular were moving away from orthodox Stalinism and sliding somewhat towards social democracy. It is unsurprising that they would have a certain ammount in common with the Eurocommunists.

The effect of the split probably succeeded in pushing a leadership and membership more in line with late 70s SFWP to the fore. This, combined with the visceral hatred of the DL and the impression that it was necessary to defend core WP principles probably led to WP seeing itself as having more in common with traditional communist outlets (for example, the modern KKE) and might also explain the maintaining of connections with North Korea (something the WP should have dropped a long time ago).

Gone off on a bit of a tangent here but I do find the internal processes within the WP in this period fascinating.

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

Any idea when the WP shifted from fraternal relations with the KKE (Interior), or possibly both the KKE and the KKE (Interior), to a fraternal relationship only with the KKE, Garibaldy?

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

The short answer Mark is that I am not sure of the specifics here. It is though possible to have relations with more than one party in the same country; it’s not always an either/or situation. This may or may not have been the case in Greece. Certainly we were in the Communist group in the European Parliament with the KKE from 1989.

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

Well, as has come up here recently, European Parliament groups tend to be very loose affairs. Although it’s probably that the old Communist Group involved more in the way of a political alliance than the later GUE/NGL which of necessity has to include groups with politics a very long way from mainline Stalinism (both to its left and to its right).

But even so, in 1989 the Greek far left MEPs were from Synaspismos, which in its original incarnation was an alliance of the Greek Left (ie most of the old KKE (Interior)) and the KKE. So in 1989 the WP was in a Euro Parliament group with both the KKE and the renamed KKE (Interior).

In the early 1990s, the KKE politically retrenched and purged itself of less vigorously Stalinist elements (including nearly half of its Central Committee). It then left Synaspismos and adopted most of the features we all know and love it for today.

Today’s Synaspismos came out of (a) the Greek Left (the majority of the old KKE (Interior), (b) the other faction of the old KKE (Interior) whose name I forget, and (c) the people purged from the KKE in the early 1990s for being insufficiently enthusiastic in their Stalinism.

All of these people had fraternal relations with the WP at the time of this magazine, whether as members of the KKE (Interior) or as members of the KKE. Yet now none of them do. I’m just wondering when the break came.

Maybe the WP saw the KKE’s split with its own softer elements and with its Synaspismos partners in simiar terms to the WP’s own split with the New Agenda / DL?

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

Mark,

A lot of the groups who left the CPs, or who changed their names or whatever, stopped attending international communist and workers’ party events of their own volition; or formed links with similar parties, and broke off their contacts with the communist and workers’ parties. It wasn’t always a case of the C and WPs breaking communications with them. There were also efforts made to encourage foreign groups to break links with the WP. Some groups, like the French CP, kept links on both sides. As things settled out, it seems likely to me that the two parties began to move in separate circles rather than a conscious decision being made to break off relations, but like I said I don’t know the particular specifics.

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

That’s entirely possible, Garibaldy.

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12. NollaigO - November 8, 2010

A daft bit of political analysis in the document not commented on so far:

Gerry Adams, a trotskyist from Belfast, Danny Morrison, a trotskyist from Belfast.. !!

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Budapestkick - November 8, 2010

SFWP dictionary

Trotskyist = Anyone the SFWP doesn’t like, from the INLA to Barney the Dinosaur.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

Yes this was striking. Two points.

Adams was talking socialist language – and quite a few people on here believed him, among others at home and abroad, including mnay trotskyists who began to see him as one of them. And it wasn’t orthodox Marxism he was talking. A lot of it based on Libya and the like. So not completely out of whack with what was going on.

And secondly, remember the target audience of this document.

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

1) What’s “orthodox Marxism” when it’s at home? It’s not a religion you know.

2) No Trotskyists or even “Trotskyists” thought that Adams was “one of them”. Some of the more imaginative of them did think that he was a great anti-imperialist leader, but that’s a different thing.

3) Libya, has precisely nothing to do with Trotskyism. By throwing this in, you are only serving to reinforce Budapestkick’s point that “Trotskyism” was a catch all term for anything SFWP disapproved of. Which, to be fair, is a use of the term with a long lineage in the Stalinist movement.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

I am well aware that Libya had nothing to do with Trotskyism. It was just additional information on why people believed he might actually have been a revolutionary.

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13. WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2010

On the broader issue I think it’s highly unlikely that they were making a fascist salute as the photo depicts, in other words an intentional wish to identify with fascism or nazism. It simply doesn’t compute in terms of Irish Republican (however we cut it) ideology. The idea that that would be done over a hunger strikers coffin is near absurd. Indeed the rhetoric of Republicanism has been very careful to eschew such manifestations.

The links with continental fascist groups has been a bit over done to be honest with no evidence of anything like actual connections R ÓB arriving at some ‘nationalist’ conference in the mid-70s isn’t exactly compelling evidence). There’s no evidence of far right groups, let alone neo-nazi’s, appealing to the Nationalist working class (bar a few odd-bods here and there who in truth would be much closer to Catholic conservatism) across the length of the troubles. No hint of their manifestation as an element of that working class or its political activity. And no surprise there given that it was Loyalism which had links to our nearest home grown fascists in the UK, that fascism was seen as an oppressor ideology, etc, etc.

What on earth would PSF gain from this? The point at which the working class, or significant sections were mobilizing on their behalf, they’d throw it away on such a ludicrous gesture in public?

And beyond that does anyone seriously believe that Adams et al are fascists or ever have been? It’s another absurdity, both in the context of Irish nationalism, Republicanism and in the definition of the term itself.

Fascists? Not a chance.

The big problem for me with PSF in that period and before wasn’t far-right politics, it was the virtual absence of politics.

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

That’s what’s so curious about it, WbS.

Given where they are standing and what’s in front of them, it seems almost impossible that they are making a mocking gesture at unseen cops, still less at helicopters.

But, a slightly over the top love of colour parties aside, the Provos didn’t share a pageantry with the Nazis or with fascist movements more generally. And straight arm saluting was not a common feature of Republican funerals.

So why exactly are they giving what certainly appear to be straight arm salutes? Perhaps we’ll only know if someone who was actually a steward there shows up.

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WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2010

It wasn’t just not a common feature, it was unheard of. It’s unlikely that were there any hint of fascism, in either iconography or in act, in Provo events that this wouldn’t have been picked up on by their myriad political enemies.

Re the photograph, it’s difficult to know what is going on. We can see it’s cropped, it presumably was part of a sequence. Were they caught in the midst of an action, what sort of stiff arm salute was it, and who indeed were they? They look like they’re in the front row or one step back, but it’s near impossible to tell for sure. Given that we can see only a very small area of the crowd and no details beyond it’s impossible to tell what they’re looking at. For example, how close is the car relative to the people saluting (in other words what degree of foreshortening is at work here?). Why aren’t any giving that salute on the far side of the crowd, etc, etc? I have some professional interest and experience in and of visual imagery but I wouldn’t be certain about offering a clear cut opinion on it without that sequence, and the full original.

To be honest, given that it’s the only photograph of such an event it’s hard to place any particular emphasis on this one way or another. I hardly think that the fascist mask slipped once and once only across thirty years.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

It seems to me WBS that in concentrating on the iconography of fascism, you may be missing some other examples of it. I don’t think the Provos as a whole were fascist, but certainly they contained fascist tendencies. And again, I don’t know why people are so intent on denying that possibility. It’s a form of Irish exceptionalism – why exactly should Irish nationalism be unique in having no fascist tendencies?

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

I should add that authoritarian and fascistic tendencies were of course not limited to the provos. One good reason for getting rid of a movement and replacing it with a party.

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WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2010

I’m concentrating on the iconography in this instance because that’s what this discussion has been about.

But politically where is the specific aspects of fascism in their programmes or their ideology? The Provos were many things, and there were subdued right Catholic currents going through them which could turn nasty, but to describe them as fascist in terms of organisation or ideology is to bend the term out of shape. Were there fascist inclined people inside the Provos, possibly, but the majority strike me at that point as being largely apolitical or rather conservative socially or politically which is not quite the same thing.

What is very clear is that the Provisionals did believe in democratic structures albeit within an all-island entity, that they did not believe in a racial chauvinism, etc, etc whateer about their narrowness of vision as regards Unionism. There was a level of internationalism and even a degree of class consciousness, though very limited throughout the 1970s.

Authoritarian tendencies, of course, that’s what armed paramilitary conspiracies the world over suffer from. And the sense of self-righteousness on their part over the armed struggle and their ‘right’ to wage it almost irregardless of the cost doesn’t per se make them fascist. It slots them much more neatly into nationalist and national liberation movements. Doesn’t, by the way, make them right either.

Economically hard to argue that they were in any meaningful sense corporatists, sub FF stuff really, but not out of line with the original SF approach.

Of course, you’re right, there could be fascism in an Irish context given the right conditions but the Provos? It’s too easy a term for a much much more complex phenomenon.

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WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2010

Re your second point absolutely agree. Again, I’m not presenting an apologia for the Provos. Actions they carried out during this and other periods speak for themselves. But they don’t require the term ‘fascism’ to make them worse.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

Who needs racial chauvinism when you have sectarianism? I think though it would be worth having a closer look at the way unionism was talked about. The whole settler thing that cropped up with great regularity (and still does sometimes) has racialist undertones I’ve always thought. There’s also the question of what do we call people who use political force when they know that the overwhelming majority of the people are opposed – and even the majority of the people they are seeking to represent.

It’s not a straightforward question. But the fact it’s not a straightforward yes there were fascists doesn’t mean that it’s a straightforward no they clearly weren’t in any meaningful sense. I think it’s a bit more open than that.

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WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2010

Hmmm… is it quite the same thing though?

It’s a big step from a nationalist/Republican paramilitary in an Irish context to fascism.

Republicans of all stripes believe that within a Republic the rights of all are vindicated, not that some sector would be consigned to second class citizenship or worse. In other words that there wasn’t something innate in a Protestant or a Unionist that made them unable to be acceptable if they changed their mind. That’s sort of different from a belief, as exemplified under Nazism, that one could not change some supposedly essential part of ones identity.

Now you’re right again that that often might mean a lip service to that idea and there’s little doubt there were sectarian aspects to the situation, to put it mildly. But unlike the situation in fascist states there were clear power relationships that made the mapping of fascism onto the situation a bit tricky. Take the settler point. That wasn’t simply restricted to sectarians on the Nationalist side but was a part of some within Unionism and Loyalisms identity (a bit parodic one might have thought).

As regards the use of force without reference to populations, I’m not sure that’s clear evidence of fascism. As you say yourself, or imply, that can lead to an elitist view. But one could point to legacies in our own and others histories which could be used, however inaptly, to validate that stance. Or one could point to the aftereffects of a rupture like 1969 onward through the proroguement of Stormont, etc to see how relatively easily people could get caught up in a process that was murderous but was internally coherent and consistent in terms of providing validation and thereby prolonged the situation dismally.

On a slight tangent I’ve heard some people argue that had the hunger strikes not happened PIRA was finished, and that they’d have been crushed in the mid-1980s. I’m not entirely convinced.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

I think it’s important to remember that fascism isn’t the same as nazism, and that other fascists were less caught up with the racial thing, and for them it was much more about nationalism, protection of property, the interests of the petty bourgeoisie etc.
We can certainly see a lot of that on both sides during the Troubles.

Were Kingsmill or the bookies massacre fascist acts? It seems to me that when put like that, we are talking about a different level than economic ideology and the like. It’s about the way you view other people on the basis of who they are and how they were born. It;s not directly comparable but it does share some aspects of the mentality.

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WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2010

Well, yes, but the problem with that is that we then begin to stretch the meaning of fascism to one where almost any nationalist movement that used force could slip within its definitions and to reiterate what I said earlier, I think it’s important to note that little politics isn’t the same as fascism (of course they were petty bourgeoisie, of course they were in favour of property rights, and so were those, for the most part who went out in 1916 and in the WoI… and that’s typical of our revolution). The IRA wasn’t simply operating in a vacuum, there were objective aspects of the Northern context which were deeply repressive beyond their own activities.

WRT the examples you cite. And I’m well aware of how difficult this is to articulate because even to discuss this seems in some ways to undermine the appalling nature of the acts that took place which is not my intention. But the question is were these systemic attacks that were part of a much wider pattern that was intrinsic say to Nationalist/Republican or Loyalist ideology? And it doesn’t seem to me to be possible to say that they were, that on the contrary they were murderous attacks that took part on a local, yes, sectarian, but also reactive level, between opposing groups who were unable or unwilling to take on the armed combatants on the other ‘side’ but were willing to use terror to maximize fear in order to halt sectarian murders. Part of this was a fatal misperception on the part of the IRA as to effect of their own actions on Protestants and Unionists, in other words that they thought, or were under the illusion, that what they regarded as political acts could be separated in others minds from attacks on their communities particularly where the attacks were focused on RUC, UDR, etc.

And the fact that they were typical only of a relatively short period of the conflict, and that they were characteristic of periods of instability, mid-70s, late 1980s and early 1990s, when political certainties seemed to be less clear cut seems to point to them not being an intrinsic part either of the conflict.

What they did do, and this is unquestionable, is to make opposing analyses have much greater credibility and validity as the situation continued which in a sense is why the document above isn’t regarded at this remove as being without some merit even if the language is overly emphatic.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

on nationalism and violence. I understand what you are saying. As I’ve said, I’m not commited to the idea that those involved with violence in NI were fascists. But I do think some were, with no monopoly among one group. And I think we can say that without tarring everyone with the same brush, nor with stretching fascism beyond any sensible meaning.

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WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2010

There’s another reason for my strong aversion to using the term fascism, though I agree with you there are events and elements that tipped close. In simple utilitarian terms while it might, though I’m dubious about the idea, had some currency in abroad (though it certainly did in the South which remains problematic for Republicans like you and I being applied to all who use that term) it had SFA purchase in the North. Very few would agree however horrific the deeds done by PIRA that say Bobby Sands was a fascist… And so on. In othervwords as an explicatory phrase it had no power and worse again could undermine those using it because people didn’t see their jimmy or maire as fascists but belonging to a very different historical lineage.

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WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2010

“very few republicans and even many nationalists would agree”… Darn mobile.

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Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

That’s fair enough. Although worth bearing in mind that the same holds true on the other side for claims that the Orange Order is fascist or whatever. Alienating. And worth bearing in mind how quick some people are to denounce unionists as fascists.

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WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2010

Again entirely agree and yes we know who didn’t cover themselves in glory on that score. Indeed one of the most abysmal aspects of the last forty odd years was how slow some came to terms with Unionism as an actually existing entity. Not that Unionism could be termed exactly loveable much of the time but even so, when people share a fairly defined space it’s only sensible to get to grips with them. One of the truly depressing aspects of Republican News posted up last week was how simple minded the analysis of Unionism and Unionists was.

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Garibaldy - November 9, 2010

Yeah, that paper was the sort of thing I was thinking of. Religious, nationalist and unreflective. It could tip over quite quickly towards something much nastier – and it was more than nasty enough.

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14. Brian Hanley - November 8, 2010

‘This from the Irish Times of May 22nd 1981 by Andrew Pollak (it turns out the above photo is from the removal, and not from the actual funeral).’

I suppose it would only be fair to point out that Andrew Pollack had been a member of the Official’s Clann na hEireann.
Most of the other analysis (of the hunger strike) in that issue is frankly off-the-wall.

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15. Garibaldy - November 8, 2010

Peter McKenna of the Irish Independent also reported stewards raising their right hands in silent salute, and it was the Irish Independent that carried the photograph on the front page. No mention of the fact it looks like the fascist salute there.

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RepublicanSocialist1798 - November 8, 2010

Forgot to clench the fist methinks.

In hope.

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WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2010

Could be. Who knows?

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16. Dr. X - November 8, 2010

Were the Independent papers as vituperatively anti-republican then as they are now?

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WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2010

I seem to recall that they were. During that period they were closely linked with FG, so unlikely that they were striking out in a new direction.

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

Yes.

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Dr. X - November 8, 2010

Thanks for making me feel young again, lads, if only by comparison.

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Mark P - November 8, 2010

I’m only older than you in spirit!

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17. Dr. X - November 8, 2010

One relevant (IMO) point is that republicanism has it’s own very rich stock of political symbols and rituals, which are to the fore at an event like a hunger striker’s funeral. So why import into an event like that a political symbol strongly identified (and this is less than 40 years after the war, remember) with a different political tradition?

Vanguard is usually cited as a loyalist movement which aped some of the trappings of fascism in its own mass meetings. Did its members ever use the right-armed salute, though?

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18. john O'Neill - November 8, 2010

“Ireland” was the publication of the International Affairs committee of the WP. The content was usually ‘pulled’ together by Sean O’Cionnaith (Kenny). To be fair, most solidarity from left groups would be carried as the purpose of the mag was to challenge the automatic knee-jerk support for the Provo’s on the International left. I have to agree that the term Trot was the ultimate disparaging remark in the WP and was a label strewn about to the extent that it became meaningless, Trotskyist = BAD another term used (sometimes in the same sentence as Trot) was Ultra-Leftist. The Provo’s were simultaneously: Catholic Nationalists, Ultra-Leftists, a fascist militia and a bunch of Trots. I thought we should have called them Narodniks, but it would have never caught on. Have to agree with WBS, the photo is atypical of any other PIRA funeral, but, as we all know, once outside Belfast or Dublin, the locals can be fairly independent in all sorts of ways. Iwatched a programme on RTE1 about nazi’s in Ireland, and one interviewed was a Belgian (I think Waloon, could be wrong) who fought with the SS as a volunteer and had been ‘spirited’ out of Europe, with help from the Catholic Church and ended up joining the Officials! Does that make the WP Neo Nazi’s?

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19. Jim Monaghan - November 9, 2010

John
You refer to Staf Van Veltoven, flemish nationalist. I knew him when I was in the Frank Ryan Cummann.As far as I know Staf stayed withg the Officials during the IRSP split. Manus O’Riordan has written about him.You could google Manus and Staf His family were far left and CP and according to Manus quite ashamed of Stafs dalliance with fascism.
I would distinguish between dalliance with the Nazis and damning Flemish nationalism. They were quite discriminated against. eg shot for not understanding orders given in french during WW!.
The book? is very interesting.
Actually Manus is very balanced in his critiques. I especially like his take on Russell.

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20. Eamonn Grimes - November 9, 2010

‘You refer to Staf Van Veltoven, flemish nationalist’
‘Stafs dalliance with fascism.’
He was a volunteer member of the Waffen SS, and unapologetic about it. He tried to organise an anti-EEC action in 1970/71 with the VMO in Belgium. (Look them up).
Of course had he been a Provo his face would have been all over the magazine featured above.

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21. hold on a sec - November 11, 2010

Garibaldy, the claim ‘foreign nationals” are not allowed full membership of RSF’ was not made nor is it true. An individual who backs those who were either expelled or left after the expulsions stated he personally had a complaint that ‘foreign nationals’ are of course, permitted and that a number of the tellers at the ard fheis were included in these. It was due in no small part to Limerick racist motions the last two years which would led to Des Longs’ massive loss at his bid to Presidency. It was this loss and all their motions losing year after year (no support whatsoever outside of their own area)that would initiate this split, though expulsions from another branch of the movement in Belfast are interwoven. In any case, it is untrue that ‘non -Irish’ are not permitted membership in RSF.

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Mark P - November 11, 2010

The person making the claim, who appears to be a long time RSF supporter and is now a supporter of the Long wing of the split, was claiming that “non-national” are only entitled to associate rather than full membership according to the RSF constitution.

That sounds bizarre to me. Are you saying that this isn’t true and that non-nationals can be full members?

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Garibaldy - November 11, 2010

Here is exactly what was said

“It is relevant because they [“foreign nationals”] are not constitutionally permitted to be members of Sinn Féin, but only associate members. It is also relevant because they were recruited by Dalton.

Their interest in Irish affairs is also unclear.”

On reading it again, I stand by my description of what he said. That looks like a claim that foreign nationals are not allowed to be full members to me. He may have misrepresented the situation, but as Mark P points out, there was no reason to doubt his knowledge.

Whether he was right or not, I guess we’ll take your word over his, although I don’t think you have interpreted his statement properly.

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22. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - November 11, 2010

[…] * Sinn Féin The Workers’ Party (SFWP): Ireland, Herbst 1981 […]

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23. Ciarán - November 11, 2010

‘Likewise we hold no brief for the State or sectarian forces which have contributed to the present polarised and explosive situation in Northern Ireland.’

Why do I doubt that piece was written with a straight face?

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24. seamus - November 29, 2010

Help!!!
Can any of your readers tell me when Provisional s F,stopped say a decade of the rosery at the republican plot what year?
Many thanks
Seamus

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25. roasted snow - March 5, 2011

This funeral image was not one I remember at the time. Did it really occur? Yes it did when Raymond’s remains were carried from Daisy Hill hospital to his home about three miles away. Try this link

or if this doesn’t work type 208:news coverage of the 1981 Irish Hunger Strikes. Half way through this clip. Still can’t explain this but it looks like the Nazi salute. Doesn’t take away from the bravery of Raymond Mc Creesh.

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