Policy Statement

Address by Seamus Costello to the Troops Out Movement conference in the Mansion House, Dublin on September 18, 1976.


I am addressing this conference on behalf of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, and for the benefit of those who are not familiar with our policies I would like to give a brief summary of the origins of our party and of the political principles upon which we are organized.

The IRSP was founded in December 1974 by a group of active republicans, socialists and trade unionists, who recognized the need for a revolutionary socialist party - for a party that understood the relationship between the national question and the class struggle in Ireland, and would have a programme of political action based on this understanding. Our ultimate goal is to end imperialist rule in Ireland, and establish a 32 county democratic socialist republic with the working class in control of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Most of those involved in the formation of the IRSP were active members of Sinn Fein Gardiner Place until we reached the conclusion that the leadership of that organization were unwilling to accept that a struggle against imperialism was in progress, and incapable of mobilizing the Irish left in support of that struggle. The repeated failure of the Gardiner Place leadership to implement the democratic decisions of their own organization, or to allow for an honest and free internal debate of their failure, left many of their most active and politically conscious members with no alternative but to form a new party.

Our party is organized on an all-Ireland basis with approximately 800 members. We accept the principles of democratic centralism, and produce a quarterly internal bulletin which promotes debate on matters of policy, strategy, and tactics within the party. We also produce a monthly newspaper called "The Starry Plough". Our main activity since our formation has been to promote the concept of a broad front in support of the struggle for national liberation, and against repression, North and South. We are also involved in the current campaign for the repeal of the death penalty in the 26 counties, and for the reprieve of Noel and Marie Murray who are currently awaiting execution. We are also involved in organizing the campaign against unemployment and the campaign for the retention of political status in Northern Ireland prisons.

I want now to elaborate on our concept of a broad front and the demands around which we believe it should organise and campaign. Our first and most important demand is that Britain should immediately, and publicly, renounce all claims to sovereignty over any part of Ireland or its coastal waters. Secondly, Britain must immediately disband and disarm all of the locally recruited, pro-imperialist forces such as the UDR, RUC and RUC Reserve and withdraw all troops from Ireland. Finally, Britain must release all political socialists. We believe that these demands are attainable, and that the development of normal class politics throughout the whole country will follow as a natural development. Every republican and socialist organization in this country supports the demands which I have just outlined, and in our opinion, the vast majority of Irish people would also support them if given the opportunity. During the past 12 months, we have attempted to give them this opportunity by promoting the concept of a broad front. We have held a series of discussions with members of all republican and socialist organizations at either rank and file or national leadership level. At rank and file level in all organizations we found an almost-unanimous desire for unity in the struggle against imperialism and an ever increasing awareness of the power of the reactionary forces ranged against us.

Unfortunately, the widespread desire for unity in the struggle which exists at rank and file level is not reflected in the attitudes of the leadership of some of the organizations involved. At the very point in the struggle when unified action is absolutely essential on all fronts, we found leaders more concerned with maintaining their own positions of influence, or in pursuing faction fighting and vendettas against former comrades. We found some whose political judgements were so perverted by the irresistible urge to automatically do or say the opposite to what some other republican, or socialist organization, said or did that they were prepared to concede victory to the main enemy.

At the very point in our history when a thorough and all-embracing reassessment of overall strategy and tactics is so vital to the success of the struggle we found leaders unwilling to admit or concede the slightest possibility that they ever made a mistake. Some say that the civil rights strategy as expounded in 1968 and 1969 is still valid and that the democratization of the six-county state is the central demand. They expect Britain to impose a Bill of Rights on a loyalist majority whose position of marginal supremacy depends on the total denial of civil rights to the nationalist minority. They say that the most revolutionary demand in Ireland today is "peace at any price," and prove their point by marching with the most reactionary elements of Irish society - the elements whose true slogan would be "peace with exploitation" rather than "peace with justice." The same people, who profess to be socialists and democrats, have even gone to London to deny the democratic right of the British working class to demand a British withdrawal from Ireland through the "Troops Out Movement".

Of course, all of the opposition to the broad front concept does not come from the ex-revolutionaries now turned reformist. It comes as well from some sections of the ultra-left who fail to recognize the connection between an unemployed worker from a multinational concern and the presence of imperialist troops in the country. Finally, the opposition to a broad front comes from leaders who recognized the changing nature of the struggle in '69 and '70 but didn't have the ability to create the necessary popular support for their actions. Because they were nurtured in the tradition of the heroic and lonely sacrifice and the tradition of carrying on the torch to the next generation, they saw themselves as an elite sect who would hand freedom to the people on a plate.

The fact is that the elitist and conspiratorial approach is no substitute for the development of a people's struggle. The wonder is that after six years of active struggle, some of those involved are not prepared to re-assess their strategy and tactics. The confusion, weakness and divisions which exist throughout the anti-imperialist movement was heralded in the carnival of reaction which Connolly spoke of. The imperialists and their native capitalist allies are more united than ever before in pursuit of their solution. If our analysis of the situation in Ireland today is accepted as being correct, we would like to know the attitudes of all organizations towards our call for a total re-appraisal of strategy and tactics. In particular, we would like the comments of those represented at this conference. If this conference serves the function of opening a debate on the fundamental problems confronting the revolution in Ireland it well have served a very useful purpose in our view.

The IRSP is fully committed to the struggle for national liberation, democracy and socialism in Ireland, and we understand the relationship between the national question and the class question: the presence of British troops in Ireland is but one manifestation of the imperialist presence and must be seen in the context of the overall relationship between Ireland and Britain. Some people say that Britain would really like to withdraw from Ireland and that she is only waiting for a suitable opportunity to do so without losing face. The principal advocates of this particular argument are, of course, the native capitalist class whose position of power and influence is guaranteed through the maintenance of the constitutional status quo. They promote this idea mostly to confuse and de-escalate the struggle and thereby secure a return to a position of "peace with exploitation." The fact is that British economic interests in Ireland can only be guaranteed through her continued military and political presence here and through the maintenance of partition. Partition has been the instrument through which the working class in both parts of Ireland have been divided for almost 60 years. In the south the green tories of Fianna Fail have always had more working class support than the Labour Party. They have had this support because they were regarded as the party that would end partition and complete the national liberation struggle. Of course, the orange tories in the North kept their working class support in line by convincing them that their position of marginal supremacy could only be guaranteed through the preservation of the union and discrimination against the nationalist minority. Both sets of tories could thus continue their exploitation of the entire working class and effectively prevent the development of class politics in the whole island.

Even if Britain didn't have to protect her own economic investments in both parts of Ireland, she would still be under tremendous pressure to stay and protect the interests of American and European multinationals who also control large sections of our economic life. Almost every important sector of our economic life is now subject to exploitation by British and other multinational concerns. The most obvious areas are oil, gas, mineral resources, hire purchase, insurance and banking companies, light and heavy engineering companies, textiles and man-made fibres, motor assembly, fertilizers, and fisheries, the construction industry, and finally the breweries and distilleries. As you can see from the list it doesn't leave much in the control of the native capitalist class. In many instances they have been bought out and now fulfill the function of a compliant and obedient managerial corps.

As a revolutionary socialist party we are conscious of the international implications of our own struggle. We regard our struggle as part of the world-wide struggle for the emancipation of working class people. Our contribution to that struggle must be to create an independent socialist state here in Ireland, and at the same time extend solidarity to all genuine revolutionary movements abroad. An independent socialist state based on the history, traditions, and cultural identity of our own working class, would be an inspiration not only to the British and European working classes but to oppressed peoples everywhere. Our enemies are, of course, also conscious of the possible effects of a successful anti-imperialist struggle here, and can be expected to give moral and material support to Britain as an insurance against an upsurge of support for socialism in their own countries. The existence of support groups abroad, particularly in Britain, are of paramount importance to the success of our struggle. The anti-Vietnam war movement in America succeeded in making the Vietnam war a live issue in domestic American politics and eventually played a major role in compelling an American withdrawal from Vietnam. We believe that the Troops Out Movement and the British trade union movement can play a similar role so far as Ireland is concerned. You have the potential to make the Irish struggle a live issue in domestic British politics, and this will ultimately be the key to success or failure in our struggle. For our part, we must accept the responsibility for overcoming the divisions that exist in the ranks of the anti-imperialist movement, and producing the organizational structures which will be capable of demonstrating to the world our determination to secure our own emancipation. If we fail to demonstrate the stature and vision that will be necessary to accomplish our goal we have no right to look for your support.

We are confident that the momentum of the past seven years can be maintained and that even if the leaders of the various revolutionary organizations are not capable of giving the necessary leadership in a rapidly changing situation, then new leaders will emerge from rank and file level to fill the vacuum. Too many sacrifices have been made for us to fail now, so let us move forward to victory. We have nothing to lose but our chains, and in breaking them, we also break those that bind you just as securely as us.