Principled Stand

In an interview with an American newspaper correspondent at the home of the violent flare-up in hostilities between the IRSP and the Official IRA in Belfast in 1975, Seamus Costello defined the "main ideological differences" which existed then between the IRSP and the Officials. Although the interview dealt largely with matters which were of more immediate urgency at the time, and which have subsequently been overtaken by other developments, extracts from it are given here as an illustration of Seamus Costello's consistently revolutionary approach to the problems involved, to the problem of co-operating with other anti-imperialist forces, and particularly to the problem of combining possible parliamentary activities with the general political struggle for national and social freedom. In its historical perspective, it illustrates, too, the enduring quality of a serious and principled analysis of current issues in contrast with the forgotten ephemera of opportunism.

Q. What are the main ideological differences existing between the IRSP and the Officials?

The principal ideological difference would be in our attitude towards the national question. Basically, the position of the leadership of the Officials is that there is no hope of achieving national liberation until such time as the Protestant and Catholic working class in the North are united, and therefore there is nothing which can be done in political terms or in any other terms about this particular issue. Our attitude, on the other hand, is that the British presence in Ireland is the basic cause of the divisions between the Protestant and Catholic working class in the North. It follows that the primary emphasis should be on the mobilization of the mass of the Irish people in the struggle for national liberation. The Left should play a leading role in this struggle. The rank and file of the Official movement, at the 1972 and 1973 ard fheiseanna, put forward a policy which would have led to a more militant approach on this question, but the leadership frustrated its implementation. The Official republicans gradually degenerated into taking a reformist position on a number of very important issues.

Q. Would you be willing to co-operate with loyalist groups on short-term economic and social issues?

Any approach to the loyalist and Protestant working class in the North must be on the basis of a principled political approach. There is no use going to some loyalist group and asking them for co-operation with housing on the Shankill and Falls Road, and at the same time pretending that we are not socialists and we are not republicans. The approach to the loyalists must be an honest one. We must explain to them what all aspects of our policy are. We must explain, for instance, that we are opposed to the British presence in Ireland and that we are not merely opposed to that presence because we want to establish a Catholic republic in the whole country. We are opposed to it because we regard it as the principal means of dividing the Protestant and Catholic working class and because we regard the British presence in Ireland as the principal obstacle preventing the emergence of class politics in Ireland. If we approach the Protestant working class on this basis, we may manage to convince some of them, at least, that our approach is correct. We see no point whatsoever in co-operating with them on short-term issues while at the some time trying to fool them about our politics. If we were to do that we would be in the same position as the people in Belfast in 1913, whom Connolly described as "gas and water" socialists. The Official movement has tried this particular approach and has now moved into a position of what we would call "Ring-road Socialists." In other words, they are prepared to adopt a common stand with loyalist organizations on the question of the ring-road in Belfast, and to hope or believe that the Protestants will not suspect that they are really republicans or socialists. We feel this is a very dishonest approach and that ultimately it is a counter productive one.

Q. You state that the IRSP is not an abstentionist party. If you get candidates elected to the Dail, what kind of role will they play? The role of a social democratic party (e.g. the Irish Labour Party)?

When we say we are not an abstentionist party, we mean we are not a party, in principle, committed to abstention. But there are circumstances and conditions under which it might be desirable to abstain, and if we felt that it was tactically desirable at any particular point in time, in either the North or the South, to abstain from parliament, then we would do so. That would depend, however, on the circumstances. If a situation existed, for instance, where there was a possibility of large-scale dissatisfaction on the part of the people with either the 26-county parliament or the six-county parliament, then abstention on our part would be a legitimate tactic. As for IRSP representatives in Leinster House, we would see their primary task as one of highlighting the policies of the IRSP, using the parliament as a platform for the pursuit of these policies and for achieving publicity for them. But members elected to parliament would have to be active in politics outside the parliament, i.e., in extra-parliamentary and agitationary politics on the streets. We see a direct relationship between the successful struggle on streets in pursuit of any particular political objective and the presence of people in parliament. We don't see parliament as an institution that is likely to produce the results which we want from a long-term point of view. We don't see it in a reformist way. We see both parliamentary institutions in Ireland as institutions that have to be abolished if we are to make progress towards establishing a Socialist Republic.