At its 2007 Ard Fheis, the members of the Irish Republican campaigning organization éirígí voted to turn itself into a political party. (the word éirígí means rise up or arise in Irish, and was taken from socialist and trade unionist Jim Larkin’s famous quote: “The great appear great because you are on your knees – Arise) It is early days yet, but éirígí seems to have been making steady progress since it was first founded by former members of Dublin Sinn Fein, who had become disillusioned with the direction the SF leadership were taking the movement in. Unlike the SF of today, éirígí believes that electoral and parliamentary politics alone cannot deliver the type of change that is required in Irish society. The lessons of history indicate that the transformation to a socialist society cannot be achieved without the active support and participation of the mass of the Irish people. Eirígí believes campaigns have the potential to empower, politicize and mobilize working class people, who alone can provide the dynamic necessary for there to be a progressive transformation of society. Through campaigning on political, social, economic and cultural issues, éirígí aims to contribute to that dynamic. *
Since its Ard Fheis the membership of éirígí have put the aforementioned into practice and in the process they have been gradually building the Party throughout the thirty-two counties of Ireland. It has recently begun to gain support in the north of Ireland, where amongst others it has recruited socialists who were once members of SF, plus young people who are engaging in political activities for the first time. Unlike many parties on the left it appears to have no interest in personalities and discourages public criticism of other socialist and Republican organizations. Instead concentrating on building éirígí’s presence and getting out its own political message of Left Republican socialism.
As to the future, having only taken the decision to turn the organization into a political party in 2007, if, when and where to stand electoral candidates is still to be decided by the membership. Whilst in the South I doubt it will cause to much of a problem, it will need to be debated thoroughly and with some maturity in the North. Where SF’s head long rush into solely electoral politics has caused consternation amongst many Republicans. A number of Irish republicans due to their experiences within SF have come to believe that they should have no truck with what they regard as a British mockney parliament at Stormont, let alone help administer British rule as SF does these days.
The problem with this abstentionist viewpoint is it leaves whole tracts of the northern nationalist working classes without radical political representatives and leaves the field wide open to the unionists and nationalist lite parties to act as they wish within the Stormont Assembly, without fear of being challenged by a progressive opposition. Whilst there may be a grain of truth in the revolutionary maxim that if voting changed anything it would have been abolished, it is far from the whole picture.
There is little doubt to gain entry to the Parliamentary arena, especially the Dail can give a radical socialist Party a powerful propaganda platform, as the Socialist Party’s Jim Higgin’s demonstrated so ably during his term as a TD.[MP] Socialists should also not over look the fact that historically progressive legislation has been placed on the statute book through parliamentary means, however such legislation is more often than not accompanied by a wave of extra parliamentary activities by the bills supporters.
Finally, with éirígí being a Left Republican Party it is necessary to deal with the question of armed struggle, when I asked a member of the organization from the north of Ireland who was once a member of SF to put the party’s take on the use of armed struggle, he replied in the following way,
“The party defends the right of any people who are subjected to imperialist occupation to use whatever means they deem necessary to remove that occupation. However, we do believe that the elevation of military struggle to a principle as opposed to a revolutionary tactic has retarded the development of the republican project.
The policy of militarism encourages elitism and stifles the initiative of our communities.
Pursuing a military strategy at all costs also divorces the struggle from ever-changing contexts and hence, our ability to capitalize on them. Similarly, we do not believe that the conditions currently exist for the successful prosecution of an armed struggle against British rule in Ireland.”
I could not have put it better myself as his interpretation for me is the bedrock of socialist internationalism.