Irish republicanism is in a profound state of crisis and is rapidly decaying almost by the week. Scandals such as the expulsion of political prisoners from what are supposed to be republican prison wings while heroin dealers and thugs from the Sinn Féin militia are accepted with open arms are only recent examples of this longstanding atrophy. We are all familiar with the catalogue of unexplained “mistakes”, “errors” and – this excuse is my own personal favourite – “strategic decisions” that have transformed Irish republicanism into the risible and badly deformed phenomenon that it has become. Unfortunately, these patterns are now so well established and familiar to us that they could be described as long-term phenomena due to their manifestation over the two decades that have passed since the reimposition of Stormont
The persistent problems that have become so established now that they appear like permanent hindrances to progress include the manipulation of republicanism by those who want to make a living from it, including collaboration with criminals towards this end. We also have the never-ending factional rushes for numbers with which everybody is familiar. Varying with regional and national intensity, they always conclude with the disturbing appearance of very malign and dangerous people at republican events and platforms as if they had never threatened or attacked republicans in the first place. There is also the admission of proven criminals, along with the politically suspect, because, nowadays, it really isn’t a problem if somebody sells heroin, fences stolen property, burgles houses, tortures people who owed them money, or called for people to give information to the police when they were in Sinn Féin. Apparently, these are essential skill sets for some organisations.
Egos, Spectacles and Inconsistency
More than once, the mindlessness of self-appointed leaders has culminated in a number of dreadfully embarrassing and, frankly, sinister spectacles. These include the acceptance of Sinn Féin murder gang members onto prison wings, the already-mentioned collusion with criminals and the provision of political send-offs for people killed in drug feuds (because some people really would do anything to be seen pinning a Tricolour on a coffin, no matter whose remains lie within). The sinking of reality under the weight of lies and distortion has also seen the diversion of supporters’ attentions toward the simulation of radicalism that was Dublin’s profit-driven “war on dealers”, itself a wholly disproven fantasy that now has its sequel in the ongoing, inhumane attacks on young people in the six counties for which there is little genuine support. These are all reflections of how those who want to be in control inhabit a permanent, unmoving present moment that is centred on satisfying their desire for power and servicing them with financial gratification, and of their doing so without thought for the future before us or for the lessons of the past.
On a more theoretical but equally opportunistic level, we also have the temporary abandonment of abstentionism at election time by people who then, suddenly, oppose partitionist assemblies all over again when they can’t get into them. This was neatly illustrated in 2016 by the rush of “independent” councillors and their hangers-on in Derry to secure a seat in Stormont, a prize that would have come along with privately longed-for bonuses, such as the lucrative advisory positions, salaried support roles and generous expenses payments that are draining public finances. Accompanying this duplicity we have the fake community groups and phoney “mediation” fronts that are all bidding for profitable slices of counter insurgency funding.
The all-too familiar spectacle of the deliberate collapsing and “rebooting” (as it has been described by one group) of various political campaigns has also become a permanent fixture of the republican experience. From the Free Tony Taylor campaign, to the IRPWA and the sabotaging of popular efforts to free the Craigavon Two, prisoners must look on as their campaigns limp from one control bid to the next. The evidence of this consists of the ill-conceived and often badly written statements that blight social media (the most recent one was, simply, unreadable), trying to tell people what they can’t do, what they can’t think about, what they can’t say and who they must exclusively obey. These sad expressions of assumed authority are released whenever it is believed that enthusiastic campaigners capable of making a difference must be subordinated to the interests of a particular faction (the unaligned are always deemed to be particularly threatening and untrustworthy). They also appear when people are perceived as being too independent in the eyes of cliques more interested in controlling and even hindering objectives than in achieving them. Profoundly disastrous events in themselves, these attempts at control are further, very clear symptoms of the political rot that is eroding interest in and support for republicanism.
Established Patterns of Chaos
But is all of this as chaotic as it appears? Or are there deeper patterns at work, influences that, strangely, have consistent and specific logics, dynamics and energies of their own? Even a cursory examination of these examples will reveal the truth to anybody who really wants to know why things are going wrong. Of course, some will remain in denial and it can be difficult to persuade someone who wants to deny reality about the material facts that influence our place in history. The resulting, heavy cost paid for wilful failure is a price that is too often met in full by others. When the thoughtless acceptance of such impositions keeps people in prison, facilitates the application of state-driven coercion, silences debate and makes Irish republicans look as obedient and thoughtless as your average neoliberal consumer, then affairs have well and truly reached a spectacular peak of self-inflicted political failure.
All of these groups have inherited the old doublethink that has ravaged the minds of Sinn Féiners, and they now mimic and perpetuate the familiar practice of saying one thing publicly while doing the complete opposite in private. Then, within very short periods, they often announce a completely polar stance all over again – advocating taking seats in Stormont, for example, and then calling for it to be burned down as soon as an election has been lost, as happened in Derry. This is because inconsistency is fundamental for those who serve themselves rather than an ideal: deluded egos thrive on forcing the acceptance of their own inconsistencies, while parties and campaign groups are worn down or depopulated until they exist in name only. This is more than straightforward lying and from a structurally-focussed position it is easy to see how harmful such mendacity is, because political self-destruction can never be reversed by pressing imaginary organisational “reboot” buttons. Instead, what remains is the wreckage of intentionally disabled groups through the rejection of the successful and popular efforts of motivated and initiative-driven activists and people capable of creative and constructive thought.
Neoliberalism in Miniature
Aligned with all of this are the very explicit imitations of late capitalism in miniaturised but no less harmful forms by all of these organisations. Their assimilation of capitalist practice mirrors neoliberalism’s infliction of the very same strategies on entire populations in order to hobble popular political will and erode the individual’s grasp of his or her own consciousness, situation and potential. The objective behind this is purely destructive, and little of any use remains when discourse, policy and practice cease to make sense. However, once people’s ability to reason is sufficiently corroded, rendering them permanently compliant, they become very useful to manipulative organisations and their apparatuses. The problem for those who sit on these silent cliques is that their own weak-mindedness is very infectious, something that we see so very often in the thoughtless and carelessly composed control statements mentioned above – bad thinking is, after all, very contagious among the egocentric. It is also symptomatic the old-fashioned totalitarian moulding of thought and diminishment of language that George Orwell identified in his essay, “Politics and the English Language”, updated for the corporate-totalitarian, technically fascistic environment that pertains today.
There is no doubt that some people won’t want to accept or even acknowledge that these problems exist. For them, it’s probably too late, anyway. But if people trust their own judgment and believe in themselves and not in the flawed, Orwellian positions of those who want to think and speak on their behalf, then they will remain capable of recognising the problems that have eroded these organisations from within. Only when enough people start to think for themselves can a new, genuine and reality-focussed republican politics be developed, as distinct from the fraudulent simulations of it that are now so widespread.