Seamus Costello & Republican Socialism – Past, Present and Future.
Friends and comrades,
Today we mark the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of the founder of the IRSP and the INLA – Seamus Costello. Seamus was not just a pivotal figure in the most recent stage of revolutionary struggle in Ireland but a giant of Republican Socialism. Republican Socialism, indeed today is a Party, a movement, and an ideology of our own that Seamus bequeathed to us in his own blood.
On days like today, we should always remember in our thoughts, and recognize the sacrifice and suffering, of the family of Seamus Costello and also his many old friends and comrades still with us today. Those who fought north of the border with Seamus as far back as the Operation Harvest/Border Campaign of the 1950s, and men and women who along with Seamus founded the IRSP and the INLA in 1974.
The IRSP would like to send comradely greetings to all Republicans and Socialists fighting against injustice and oppression at home here in Ireland, and also those Socialist and Communist Movements facing the might of the Imperial war machine around the world. We also send a special word of solidarity to all Republicans and Socialists currently incarcerated in British and Irish prisons.
This and every October, we gather to remember and commemorate the organisational brilliance, revolutionary practice, and the commitment and sacrifice written in the blood of Seamus Costello.
The foundation of our Movement in 1974, has proven to be a crucial moment in time in which Seamus, among others, but primarily Seamus Costello, saw the importance of fidelity to, and the relaunching of, the original project of James Connolly. The historical line that runs from Connolly to Costello is one that transcends traditional republicanism and represents the most radical, and the only truly revolutionary position in Ireland today – that of Republican Socialism.
So, what then comrades, is Republican Socialism? What is this revolutionary ideology passed onto us from Connolly and Costello – and what makes it the radical lifeblood of the revolution to come? First of all, what sets it apart from the traditional republicanism of Pease and Tone is its commitment and sworn allegiance to the working class first and foremost. For us there is no going back to quarrels and arguments over past and lost battles – but marching forwards alongside, and shoulder to shoulder with the Irish working class.
The insurrection at the GPO in Dublin in 1916, that pure revolutionary moment, very much in the philosophical sense as something after which nothing could ever be the same again, was the pinnacle of the revolutionary Republican movement. Irish Republicanism, from its very beginnings took from and placed itself amongst the most radical ideas of its day. Provoked by oppression at home, and inspired by the crushing of royal tyranny on the continent, Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen movement brought together the fierce and noble tradition Irish physical force resistance, with a political strategy and a vision for a new, fair, just, and indeed a free Ireland.
The truth of this vision and its universal impulse, (illuminated, we should remember, so eloquently by Seamus Costello at the oration he gave at Wolfe Tone’s graveside in 1966), and the undying light of its revolutionary fervour has been manifested through the force of arms at continuing points in Irish history. From Vinegar Hill to the Fenian Rebellion of 1867, time and again Irish revolutionary forces have been to the fore in pushing forward the vision of Tone. This period of course culminated in the glorious Rising of 1916 followed by ensuing Wars of Independence, and the counter-revolutionary reaction of the civil war.
This key period in Irish history saw the emergence of James Connolly and the Irish working class movement. Indeed comrades, after the insights and contributions of James Connolly the coordinates of Revolutionary Republicanism were unquestionably altered. Connolly was the first to theorise and practice the revolutionary truth that the cause of National Liberation, and the cause of Socialism in Ireland were one and the same. Seamus Costello of course was true to Connolly’s line and saw through the fad which the Official Republican Movement presented in the 1960s and early 1970s, seeing through them as the mere expression of the latest theoretical political fashion of the day, merely paying lip-service to the cause of Socialism and reverting to the ‘gas & water socialism’ of which James Connolly has previously forewarned and described.
His break with the Official Republican Movement, through the formation of the IRSP and the INLA, represented not just the willingness to confront British occupation of the 6 counties – but rather more radically a break with traditional Republican orthodoxy itself. Seamus’ vision was of a movement with a sworn allegiance to not that of nation, but to the working class. This conscious decision by Seamus Costello set our Movement on the road to Revolutionary Socialism, married to the Communist Ideal of holding the wealth of the nation in common, to be equally shared and enjoyed by all. National Liberation represents a key step on the path to Socialism in Ireland, as the partition of Ireland is one of the core strategies and tools of imperialism with which the British, Irish and International bourgeoisie keep Ireland’s working class fettered and chained to the perpetual exploitation of Capitalist ownership. This is the key insight of the Republican Socialist Movement, and the motivation of its members and activists. Our goal is a Socialist Republic, led and controlled by the working class. Following the best traditions of Connolly, and Costello I now quote Thomas ‘Ta’ Power, writing from the depths of a British gaol in the late 1980s:-
“WE MUST MAKE NO SECRET OF THE FACT THAT WE ARE A REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST PARTY… TO HOLD THE NATIONAL QUESTION ABOVE ALL OTHERS IS TO ISOLATE ONESELF FROM THE PEOPLE AND RESULT IN INEVITABLE DEFEAT …WE MUST INVOLVE OURSELVES AND THE MASSES IN ISSUES WHICH AFFECT THEM”.
Here we see Ta Power reaffirming Seamus Costello’s break with traditional Republican orthodoxy, and emphatically foregrounding the revolutionary socialist nature of the IRSP and the Republican Socialist Movement. Our task is to universalize Republican Socialism, and embed our politics in every county in Ireland and in every single working-class community. The Irish Working Class over the course of the past decade or so has come under an unprecedented attack as a result of ongoing International crisis’ of capitalism, a process of a radical realignment of the productive forces in Ireland, Europe and the wider world. It is the working class who are being made to suffer the consequences of this realignment through mass unemployment and emigration, attacks on employment rights, and endless and mindless policies of Austerity.
If we are to follow Seamus, then now more than ever we should be redoubling efforts to make inroads into the consciousness of our own class. It’s our own people, our own working class families and communities who are under attack and are being forced to shoulder the consequences of the failings of capitalism. It is therefore sometimes hard to understand the apathy and lack of fight that apparently affects the working class today. Where is the fight-back? We hear people ask. The working class, as has often been the case in history, has been beguiled by nationalism, organised religion and other base lowest common denominator cultural distractions. Today we see this in the form of well established mass-media propaganda and even a proto-fascist neo-nationalism peeping its head above the parapet and distracting the Irish working class with an onslaught of racism and bizarre conspiracy theories. We know of course that they do this in the service of Capitalism, and that the final role of fascism is as an insurance policy for Capitalism and private ownership.
Such ideological devices help to keep the working class from realizing that it is they themselves who produce the wealth, and they themselves who deserve the fruits of their own labour. Comrades, Karl Marx thought us that consciousness is a reflection of the political economy. A persons thoughts tend to be shaped by his or her political and economic circumstances . He famously wrote:-
“It is not the consciousness of men that determine their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”
The memory and example of Seamus Costello implores us to enter the field of consciousness among the working class and engage in the ‘Battle of Ideas’. This is a battle we are consistently losing, and we can no longer continue to do so. Breaking into peoples consciousness, and forging a politically conscious working class agenda is the task in front of us as revolutionaries. This is not a task we have to enter into blindly – the path is illuminated by Seamus Costello who showed us the way. While we have often floundered and found our way blocked, lessons from the past can help us overcome any obstacle that stands in the way of our movement and the emancipation of the working class. Let me quote Rosa Luxemburg to emphasize the point:-
“The Working Class demands its right to make its mistakes and learn the dialectic of history. Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest central committee.”
The causes of injustice in Ireland today, are the same causes which created the problems of poverty and inequality that the Ireland of Seamus Costello suffered. These said causes are the Capitalist Mode of Production and its inherent contradictions. The answers to these can be found in the radical thinking and analysis of Seamus Costello and if we apply his analysis and vigorously pursue them then we are on the right road. Our task first is to liberate our class from the false consciousness which currently binds it to the status quo. The Neoliberal capitalist consensus, spouted daily by mass media outlets which so poisons the everyday lives of our class needs to be smashed and overcome – the ideological veil must be lifted so as to reveal the true nature of capitalist ownership and the effect and hold it has on our society. We must do this by winning people over to Republican Socialism. Seamus Costello provided the template, it is up to ourselves to follow his example by throwing ourselves into the daily struggle. Comrades, strike a blow for the working class, and do it with confidence and passion as Seamus did.
Seamus’ assassination, which in effect and aftermath proved to be the cruel taking of revolutionary light, by the dark forces of counter-revolutionary reaction, is a reminder to us all that our Movement, the Irish Republican Socialist Movement, is one born in blood. From its foundation, Seamus lead our movement against the savagery of British imperialism and the brutal injustices of the capitalist economic system. After the death of Seamus, many brave men and women of the IRSP and the INLA kept the struggle alive, many facing death, imprisonment, starvation and torture. This we must never forget as we carry forward the legacy of Seamus today.
Republican Socialists do not fear the cruelty of prison, nor the fury of this miserable tyrant that is imperialism and capitalism. As well as standing with the Working Class in our communities, we also stand as a bulwark against the emerging far-right and proto-fascist movements in Ireland. We will not be found wanting in repelling and defeating hatemongers and conmen who seek to manipulate and confuse the Irish working class. We see you for what you are, and are confident that the working class will soon trample you into the ground, and crush you beneath its heel.
We note the emergence of those who jump around and wave, shout for attention as they seek to claim the legacy of Seamus Costello. Those who slight and affront Seamus’ memory by self-aggrandising and identifying as ‘Socialist Republicans’, misunderstanding or indeed totally missing Seamus’ break with Republican orthodoxy, and not daring to adopt the name and ideology of Seamus’ own christening – Republican Socialism. The Republican Socialist Movement is the movement of Costello, the IRSP his Party. The followers of Costello are Republican Socialists. In this we shall not be moved, and in this position of conviction we say to our comrades on the Republican left, and the Irish left more generally, that our door is open to genuine cooperation and to all those who want to align with and join the revolutionary socialist movement and party of Seamus Costello, the IRSP.
The Movement of Costello is indeed alive and well, and continues on his revolutionary line. Today, determined and confident, as much as ever we remember Seamus in our hearts and by our force of will we carry on his fight.
Today, as in Seamus’ day… We Owe Our Allegiance To The Working Class!