For all his political career Jeremy Corbyn opposed Europe. He stood against Europe in the 1975 referendum and repeatedly cast his Commons’ vote against EU Treaties. For the Islington North MP and the hard left, the EU was a committedly capitalist project to be smashed.
The Corbyn conversion to the European plan is symbolic of the erosion and slow death of left-wing euroscepticism.
Under the cover of worker rights and free movement of labour, many on the traditional left have shuffled from Brexit to Bremain.
Eamonn McCann, People Before Profit (with a call for Lexit), and a handful of left wing stalwarts hold the faith.
One of the shufflers (lesser realised and understood) has been Sinn Fein. The loss of the republican movement from the anti-EU lobby underscores the slow death of left-wing euro-scepticism.
Sinn Fein’s loss of its eurosceptic feathers also represents a major ideological compromise on the part of the republican movement.
The euroscepticism of republicanism, until recently, was bright and muscular and unequivocal.
It is inscribed in its canonical texts.
“Another aspect of economic imperialism at work is the export of raw, unprocessed materials: live cattle on the hoof, mineral wealth, fish caught by foreign trawlers etc. Further, from 1958 on, the Free State abandoned all attempts to secure an independent economy, and brought in foreign multi-national companies to create jobs instead of buying their skills and then sending them home gradually.
‘Africanisation’ is the word for this process elsewhere. Control of our affairs in all of Ireland lies more than ever since 1921 outside the hands of the Irish people.
The logical outcome of all this was the full immersion in the E.E.C. in the 1970’s. The Republican Movement opposed this North and South in 1972 and 1975 and continues to do so. It is against such political economic power blocks East and West and military alliances such as NATO and the Warsaw Pact. It stands with our Celtic brothers and the other subject nations of Europe, and with the neutral and non-aligned peoples of the Third World; it seeks a third, socialist alternative which transcends both Western individualistic capitalism and Eastern state capitalism, which is in accordance with our best revolutionary traditions as a people.
The position of the Irish Republican Army since its foundation in 1916 has been one of sustained resistance and implacable hostility to the forces of imperialism, always keeping in the forefront of the most advanced revolutionary thinking and the latest guerrilla warfare techniques in the world.”
Irish sovereignty that is total and “indefeasible” is a cardinal ideal of Easter Week. The “ideals” clearly avow national sovereignty and abjure outside interference. The Proclamation reads:
“We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.”
The text proclaims an “Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State”, not a Republic as a semi-Sovereign dependent Member State inside a larger Union.
Read ‘Conned – A German view of Ireland‘, a seminal article that charts how under Europe there has been an inexorable flow of Irish resources into foreign hands.
The “ideals” as expressed in the polemics of Connolly and Pearse are also transparently against foreign interference, whether it be political or economic.
These are not hypothetical Pearses and Connollies, tailored to my biases, their “ideals” are clearly expressed.
Padraic Pearse, “nothing so new-fangled as a socialist or a syndicalist [but] a Catholic and Nationalist“, wrote in 1913:
“Before God, I believe that the root of the matter lies in foreign domination. A free Ireland would not, and could not, have hunger in her fertile vales and squalor in her cities. Ireland has resources to feed five times her population: a free Ireland would make those resources available. A free Ireland would drain the bogs, would harness the rivers, would plant the wastes, would nationalise the railways and waterways, would improve agriculture, would protect fisheries, would foster industries, would promote commerce, would diminish extravagant expenditure (as on needless judges and policemen), would beautify the cities, would educate the workers (and also the non-workers, who stand in direr need of it), would, in short, govern herself as no external power—nay, not even a government of angels and archangels— could govern her.”
Yet today, as the ‘Conned‘ article showed, Ireland is stripped of her fish stocks and mineral resources, and is impeded from managing her peat bogs.
Irish railways are nationalised, but EU Directive 91/440/EC requires Member States to allow open competition.
Ireland has certainly diminished “extravagant expenditure”, but that has been done under the EU fiscal whip hand.
Ireland is less about home industry as fostering foreign industry and facilitating foreign commerce, all helped by its Big-business friendly tax code. Ireland is now a tax haven in all but name, with domestic productivity levels that are dwarfed by the activity of foreign multinationals.
The ubiquity of European subsidies, American capital and unfettered international finance in Irish economic life would be particularly repugnant to Connolly.
“If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists.”
And yet today Ireland is hugely dependent not only on English bankers and capitalists, but it is hugely reliant on English goods and consumers. English is Ireland’s biggest import market and Ireland’s second biggest export market. And as David McWilliams wrote, an economic attack on Britain is an economic attack on Ireland.
“The Labour Movement in Ireland stands for the ownership of all Ireland by all the Irish.”
“Labour seeks that an Ireland free should be the sole mistress of her own destiny, supreme owner of all material things within and upon her soil.”
To understand the traditional euro-scepticism of the republican movement it is instructive to consider the words of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh who split from current Sinn Fein at the 1986 ard fheis to form Republican Sinn Fein.
Certainly the radical prose of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh sounds a lot more like Connolly than the pro-EU establishment utterings of Adams and Anderson.
The twice chief of staff of the IRA between 1958 and 1962 wrote in December 1970 that Irish republicans who support Europe “are deluding themselves and deluding others”.
Ó Brádaigh wrote in the Irish Independent:
“In the 26 Counties all the symbols and trappings of freedom were gradually won, but despite limited efforts in the 1930s and 1940s, the new State remains a new colony, an example of unfinished and interrupted revolution, territorially, economically, culturally – a model of “Neo-colonialism”.”
The president of Provisional Sinn Fein from 1970 to 1983 and of Republican Sinn Fein from 1987 to 2009 continued:
“James Connolly maintained that “the whole age-long fight of the Irish people against their oppressors resolves itself in the last analysis into a fight for the mastery of the means of life, the sources of production in Ireland.”
… There are many calling themselves Republicans who would be perfectly satisfied with the name of a Republic for all 32 Counties while leaving the present social, economic and cultural system unchanged – or worse still, integrating it with the rampant capitalism of the EEC. They are deluding themselves and deluding others.
For the Republican Movement only a struggle on many fronts will achieve the Republican objective of restoring the “ownership of Ireland to the people of Ireland” (1916 Proclamation).”
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh opposed the 1998 Amsterdam Treaty and in 2008 the Lisbon Treaty. He said that under Lisbon Ireland’s status in Europe would be that of a mere province in an imperialistic superpower, a United States of Europe. He said in his November 2008 speech:
“The anti-Lisbon campaign took the usual course of postering, leafletting and canvassing. Our appeal for a “No” vote was based on four main points:
The creation of an undemocratic superstate – a United States of Europe (the 26 Counties to be like Virginia in the USA or Bavaria in Germany);
Increased militarization; Erosion of neutrality; The privatisation of public services and unfettered capitalism.”
He welcomed the No vote. But the mandarins of Brussels forced Lisbon through with a second plebiscite. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh said ahead of that vote:
“We must be ready to go out again and campaign for “No” to a new EU in which our status would be that of a mere province in an imperialistic superpower, a United States of Europe.”
Des Dalton, President of Republican Sinn Féin, said in September 2008:
“This campaign [against the Lisbon Treaty] is part and parcel of the struggle against imperialism.”
Séan Ó Dubhláin, RSF Ard Chomhairle member, said on November 10 2013:
“Be under no illusion, the British and Free State and the wider forces of imperialism stretching from Washington to Brussels have a strategy and that strategy is to wipe out revolutionary opposition in Ireland.”
“Republican Sinn Féin would go farther. Its Social and Economic Programme, SAOL, NUA, A New Way of Life, states.
Finance, Banking and all key industries must be brought under public, democratic or social control, and the scope and extent of local community banking, like the Credit Unions, should be extended, so as to serve the needs of local people”.”
The current republican movement talks of the poison of British imperialism, but hasn’t so much to say about America who has inherited Britain’s role as the centre of capitalist imperialism, something Connolly would surely not discriminate on, as Ó Brádaigh said:
“United States involvement in imperialist wars has seen neutrality violated, with Shannon Airport used as a staging post and our airspace transgressed.”
(Though Adams mentioned European imperialism and Shannon airport here.)
The ‘Principles of Republican Sinn Fein‘ express the party policy on Europe:
“Republican Sinn Féin believes the growing European Union is becoming a world superpower in its own right and will become involved in the “resource wars” of the 21st Century. It does not believe that Ireland, with its history of being a colonial possession, should involve itself in the oppression of other nations that the growing EU will eventually mean.”
Republican Sinn Fein said in their New Year Statement for 2016:
“Participating in Leinster House or Stormont are not revolutionary actions.
However those on the left who think that Leinster House can be a vehicle for revolutionary social, political or economic change are greatly mistaken. Once you accept the legitimacy of the State and its obligations to the EU and international finance capitalism you are immediately shackled to the same programme of neo-liberal economics that has decimated people and nations across Europe and in the developing world. Irish Republicans have always recognised this and so have refused to be enmeshed in apparatus of partition or British rule. It is for the same reason we refuse to engage with the political arm of the new imperialism in the form of the EU.Those who think that they can ride both horses, the constitutional and the revolutionary, fail to learn the lessons of history. We call on people not to be distracted by those who promise much and deliver little. Hold out for real revolutionary change.”
In this special centenary year we have heard a lot about the “ideals” of Easter Week 1916.
These “ideals” have been cast as the answer to some of our most pressing questions, on everything from gay marriage to water charges. But it’s unlikely, as Diarmaid Ferriter wrote, that these are the issues Connolly and Pearse had in mind.
Ireland’s relationship to Britain and the world is exactly what they did have in mind in 1916.
Yet on the most important question of today, the relationship of Ireland towards Britain and Europe (and the wider question of sovereignty self-determination), not once have the “ideals” been raised.
Just as Sinn Fein has metamorphosed from a revolutionary party into a constitutional nationalist party not much different from the SDLP, so it has metamorphosed from a eurosceptic into a europhile party.
All year we have heard about the “ideals” of Connolly and Pearse.
“Had Pearse and Connolly and their comrades gone on to form a working government Ireland today would be a better place, and a fairer and more equal society. So that is the challenge facing us.”
Adams and Sinn Fein have repeatedly claimed inheritance of the 1916 Rebels:
“It is this noble tradition and upon these core values, espoused again in the 1916 Proclamation, that Sinn Féin makes our stand.”
Yet for all this patriotism reinforced by repetition about “ideals”, I can only sense distortion.
Easter Week happened and I respect those who revere it and cherish it as the founding event of modern Ireland. I don’t however respect those who bend those words and events to suit current events, and those who bend other words out of sight to hide inconvenient facts.
Their own words show us that Connolly and Pearse were for the nation state as the best and only unit for Ireland, and were against any supra-national arrangement.
For my money, allegiance to the Republic and ideals of Easter Week requires euroscepticism and a Brexit followed by an Irexit. (For the record I want a Remain vote and am a European unionist for the same reason I’m a Irish unionist.)
The republican movement claims descent from Connolly and Pearse, yet at the same time deviating from them.
If Irish republicanism can deviate so radically from the “ideals” on the matter of Irish national sovereignty and self-determination without repudiating itself, then Irish republicanism can surely radically deviate from the old conservative notions concerning Britain and Ireland.
If allegiance to the Republic of Easter Week doesn’t require Brexit, then the possibilities are endless.
Brian is a writer, artist, political cartoonist and legal blogger.
Actively tweeting from @brianjohnspencr. More information here: http://www.brianjohnspencer.com/