Aims, Principles, and Policies

In an interview with an Italian journalist shortly after the formation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Seamus Costello defined the party's aims and objectives with his customary clarity and precision.


Q. What does your party stand for?

We are a revolutionary socialist party and our objective is to create a revolutionary socialist state in Ireland. Part of the struggle for a socialist state entails resolving the national liberation struggle and ending British imperialist intervention, whether military intervention, political intervention or control of aspects of the economy. This is the basic position of the party. We see the ending of British imperialist intervention in Ireland as an essential pre-requisite for the development of the class struggle between left and right in this country. The class forces in Ireland have never developed properly in the last 50 years basically because of the imperialist intervention and because of the fact that the national struggle remains incomplete.

Q. Could you tell us something about the structure of the six-county state and its relation to the non-development of the class struggle in Ireland, especially as regards the position of the Protestant working class?

Class politics have never really developed in the six counties because of the nature of the state. The unionist majority, or the loyalist majority, have always enjoyed some marginal privileges. Basically because of their loyalty to Britain, and because they wanted to maintain the constitutional status quo, they have been rewarded with the better jobs, better housing, and up to recent years they had advantages in voting. The organizations traditionally used to maintain this loyalty are the Unionist Party and the Orange Order. They have always crossed class divisions, and always had a large following of working class people. They've had the petty bourgeoisie, they've had the support of the native capitalist class. For these reasons the class struggle has never really developed in the North, and we feel that it cannot develop because of the basic nature of the state, because of the sectarian nature of the state, and because of the manipulation of the sectarian divisions by the imperialists, who deliberately created these divisions in the first place, and subsequently fostered them.

Q. Is there any situation anywhere in the world with which you could compare the situation in Northern Ireland?

I can't think of any example which is parallel in every respect. There may be some general examples. An example perhaps, although not identical but with certain comparisons, would be the French in Algeria. They saw their allegiance to France as a means of preserving their privileged status. There fore they fought to maintain French domination in Algeria. There are some parallels, but in my opinion none of them is essentially identical.

Q. About the working class in the Republic, its level of consciousness both in an anti-imperialist sense and in a socialist sense?

In the anti-imperialist sense its level of consciousness is, I think, pretty well developed for historical reasons. Perhaps you could say it is instinctive rather than theoretical. It is something people have inherited for hundreds of years, and in times of crisis it becomes very evident. This sentiment, or anti-imperialist opinion, is there, and we've had many examples of it in the last five ore six years. After Bloody Sunday when 13 people were killed in Derry by the British army, something like half a million people demonstrated in Dublin. Factories and shops closed and the British embassy was burned. There were 100,000 to 150,000 there the day it was burned. These demonstrations are a manifestation of historic anti-imperialist sentiment or opinion. The major political party here, Fianna Fail, have traditionally got approximately 50% of the votes in every election. Their original motivation was anti-imperialist, or they presented themselves as an anti-imperialist party, and for this reason they gained popular support and still retain that support. The development of class politics is a much different question. Class politics have never really developed in this part of Ireland. The working class are organized in the trade union movement. In fact. they are very well organized and better than most European countries in terms of organizational structure and numbers - even in terms of militancy. But there is little or not ideological direction in the trade union movement. Although the trade union movement is officially affiliated to the Labour Party, most trade unionists probably vote for the Fianna Fail party, which represents native capitalism. There is an obvious contradiction there. They are just organized to gain better conditions of work on a day-to-day basis, and to fight for wage increases. But they don't have a perspective for undermining the capitalist system as such. Working class socialist politics are confined to the smaller parties on the left, who represent a section of working class opinion which, unfortunately, is a minority section of working class opinion. One of the principal reasons for lack of development of working class or socialist politics is the existence of partition - the fact that the British are still within the country. In the minds of most people this has been the main question in Irish politics for 50 years. The main question which must be resolved is the struggle against imperialism, so that the workers can think in terms of confronting the native capitalist class. That is the principal reason why we want to end imperialist intervention in the country. We want to see a natural political situation develop, with the confrontation which you normally expect between left and right, and in this way to bring the Irish working class into control of the resources and the wealth of the country.

Q. How long do you think it would take, if partition were ended, to bring the Unionist working class in the North to a militant socialist position? And what is necessary for such a development apart from ending partition and destroying the six-county state?

Historically, some sections of Unionist working class in the North have been fairly militant within the framework of the six-county state. They have been militant on some class issues. If the British presence in the country were ended, and if the loyalist working class in the North were convinced that it was ended and finished for ever, we feel that the natural tendency on their part would be to think in terms of class politics within this island. In some ways they have different traditions. They perhaps would have a different definition of what they call civil and religious liberties. They would want those civil and religious liberties protected, and they are entitled to have them protected. They are entitled to have a constitutional arrangement in this country which does protect them. They are also entitled as workers to have their standard of living protected. The key to the development of class struggle lies in this area, because this raises the whole question of class politics - who controls the wealth and resources. In that context, we think class politics can develop, and the Unionist working class in the North will adopt a radical position. How long is it going to take? I don't know. It might happen in a year, it might take ten years. I'm no prophet.

Q. What is the position about education in regard to clerical control?

The education system in the 26 counties is a sectarian education system controlled in the main by a Catholic clergy. We are completely opposed to this. We want a secular system in both parts of the country.

Q. How would you see the problem of school integration in the North?

In principle we are in favour of an integrated secular education system. The difficulty about the present situation in the North is that if we do have an integrated education system, it means in effect that we have an education system which is under the control of the pro-imperialist section of the population. So, in the present conditions we would have to argue and oppose that development. The Catholic community in the North have controlled their own education system. The state has controlled the education of the Protestants or loyalists. While we disagree with the Catholic Church controlling the education system, Catholic education has tended to produce people who have some form of anti-imperialist attitudes and sentiments, and even politics. We think it is better to maintain that than to destroy it. When we have the destruction of the six-county state, we would have a national education system for the whole country which would be secularized.

Q. What in your view is Britain's policy now towards the situation in Northern Ireland?

British policy must be viewed in the light of their attitude towards Ireland as a whole - not just towards the six counties. What Britain wants is to maintain her influence here over the whole island. Her military and political intervention in the North is simply a means of maintaining this influence and this control. Britain knows that if she is compelled to withdraw from the North, she loses all control over the economy, the wealth and the resources of this country. She knows that there is a good possibility of the creation of a socialist state. Britain and the EEC countries also would be conscious of the effect of a socialist state in Ireland on the western European working class, in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Belgium and in Holland. A socialist revolution in Ireland would be an inspiration to people all over western Europe. The EEC countries have a vested interest, as well as Britain, in ensuring that there is no change in the status quo in Ireland.