File Size: 107 kb
File Type: doc
Download File

The Scottish Struggle for Independence and the Broad Front 

Seamus Costello
James Connolly remains among the most respected figures in the republican socialist tradition within Marxism and Seamus Costello, founding chairperson of the Irish Republican Socialist Party was credited by Connolly’s daughter, Nora Connolly-O’Brien, with having best exemplified the political perspectives of her father within the last fifty years.  Among the tactics advanced by Seamus Costello, and perhaps that for which he is best remembered, is that of the ‘Broad Front’.  This position has often been misunderstood, or at least misrepresented, and it is frequently forgotten that the infant IRSP had little success gaining the support of the other organizations towards which the policy was directed.  Nonetheless, the concept of the Broad Front is worthy of the respect that has been accorded it and our purpose in this article is to assess what lessons it may hold for republican socialists in Scotland today.

Costello articulated seven demands upon which the desired Broad Front of anti-imperialist forces in Ireland should cooperate:
·         That Britain must immediately disband and disarm the UDR, RUC, and RUC Reserve and withdraw all troops from Ireland.

That the British and 26 County governments must immediately release all political prisoners and grant a general amnesty for all offenses arising from the current conflict.

·         That Britain must agree to compensate all who have suffered as a result of imperialist violence and exploitation in Ireland.

·        Recognizing that no country can be free and independent while it permits imperialist domination of its economic life, the Irish anti-imperialist Front will oppose all forms of imperialist control over our wealth and resources.

·         That the Irish anti-imperialist Front rejects a federal solution and the continued existence of two separate states in the 6 and 26 counties as a denial of the right of the Irish people to sovereignty and recognizes the only alternative as being the creation of a 32 County Democratic Republic with a secular constitution.

·         That the Irish anti-imperialist Front demands the convening of an all Ireland Constitutional Conference representative of all shades of political opinion in Ireland for the purpose of discussing a democratic and secular Constitution which would become effective immediately following a total British military and political withdrawal from Ireland. 

The original concept of the Broad Front was clearly one of an alliance amongst organizations and the Broad Front proposal called for, “the formation of an Irish anti-imperialist Front composed of delegates from affiliated organisations,” and that the affiliated organizations would be expected to provide material support, “to enable it to open a head office with a full time staff.”

Of the basic concept of the Broad Front, Costello made plain that its objective was to enable a constitutional solution to the partition of Ireland that would enable the Irish workers to pursue their interests as a class, uncomplicated by the continued emphasis on resolving the national question, which had been necessitated by the partition of the island of Ireland.  As such, it clearly advanced what might be termed a ‘stagist’ approach to the republican socialist struggle; first achieving national unity and independence, after which the struggle for socialism could continue.  This was further articulated in an interview Costello did:

The main question which must be resolved is the struggle against imperialism, so that the workers can think in terms of confronting the native capitalist class. That is the principal reason why we want to end imperialist intervention in the country. We want to see a natural political situation develop, with the confrontation which you normally expect between left and right, and in this way to bring the Irish working class into control of the resources and the wealth of the country.”

However, over the course of its development, the IRSP was compelled by objective reality to turn from this two-stage approach and come to the realization that, in fact, the republican socialist struggle was fundamentally indivisible; that is, the fight for national liberation and the social liberation of Irish workers could not be separated, but that the struggle for national liberation was but an aspect of the struggle to create an Irish workers’ republic.  Some of the reasons for this can be ascertained quite early, as in an address to the Troops Out Movement in Britain, in 1976, when Costello said:

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.

Perhaps the most successful manifestation of the Broad Front concept was realized in the creation of the National H-Block/Armagh Committee during the 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes and the tremendous effectiveness of this campaign cannot be ignored in assessing the value of the Broad Front.  At the same time—and here the author of this article can speak from personal experience, having joined the IRSP in 1981—it remained a perpetual struggle for the IRSP to operate within this milieu as a result of the sectarian approach of other organizations who sought to marginalise the Irish Republican Socialist Movement at every turn, objecting to virtually anything that provided enhanced visibility to the IRSM.  Exception was even taken to the badges of the ten martyred hunger strikers made by the IRSP, because the blue exterior circle on them made them clearly ‘Irps’.

Ever principled, the IRSP would not permit the creation of a specific support organization for the IRSM in North America, in 1981, because it was seen as conflicting with the Broad Front policy of the party.  However, when Sinn Fein brought about the demise of the National H-Block/ Armagh Committee in 1983, the party realised that it had little choice but permit the founding of the Irish Republican Socialist Committees of North America. The North American counter-part to the National H-Block/Armagh Committee was abandoned to only the supporters of the IRSM and People’s Democracy, the latter of which would later be swallowed by Sinn Fein.

In assessing the utility of the Broad Front concept for Scotland today, the lessons of the Irish experience—both positive and negative—must be considered; but the unique characteristics of the Scottish republican socialist struggle must be weighed as well.  The first, undeniable, conclusion one must reach is that it is valuable to attain the highest degree of unity of action possible among the various political entities arrayed in the fight for national independence for Scotland generally, and for a Scottish workers’ republic specifically.  At the same time, it must be recognised that this unity cannot be forged at the cost of submerging the specific interests of Scottish working people within the national independence struggle.  As republican socialists were to learn in Ireland, the viability of achieving meaningful independence in the present era, without securing a socialist republic is nil. The capitalist class in every nation today is bound tightly to the interests of the capitalist class in the dominant imperialist nations and it is impossible to conceive of the existing ruling class governing with national sovereignty as their primary objective.  The long legacy of successive 26-county Irish governments providing open and clandestine support to NATO, the ultimate role of the Dublin and London governments as full partners in opposition to achieving an end to partition in Ireland, and the political transformation of Sinn Fein as it now seeks to govern the 6-county statelet in Ireland’s north all testify to this reality.

Accordingly, while unity of purpose can be identified around certain, distinct, objectives aimed at Scottish independence that are shared by those representing the specific interests of Scottish workers with those advocating on behalf of the Scottish capitalist class, it remains essential that in any collective campaigns, republican socialists retain their ability to advance their own line, as well as retaining organisational visibility, within these collective endeavours.  To ensure this, it is necessary that all political formations within the Broad Front have representation in the decision making bodies of the Broad Front and the democratic will of the membership be encouraged, while preserving protections against smaller republican socialist groupings being completely submerged within the whole.  The best way to secure this is for all republican socialist groups participating to forge a collective unity, to the best of their ability, within the broader formation.  It may be necessary at times for multiple republican socialist organisations to advance unity representatives to some of the governing bodies of the Broad Front organisation and this may necessitate rotating the partisan affiliation of such ‘unity’ representatives, in order to assure that the fight for unity doesn’t become a mere mask for efforts of one or another group to manipulate circumstances to achieve a partisan advantage.  Ultimately, the distinctions which separate republican socialist activists into distinct partisan organizations are far less pressing at the present time, than those matters that unify them under the banner of a Scottish workers’ republic.   

In this undertaking, Scottish republican socialists should remain mindful of the position advanced by Karl Marx himself, that classes, not parties make social revolutions; and the objective of all those fighting for a workers’ republic within a potential Scottish Broad Front will be best served by whatever approach can ensure the widest possible levels of participation in that front, and the highest levels of leadership being provided to it, by class-conscious Scottish working people, regardless of their specific partisan affiliation.

Peter Urban is a former member of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement, who served as the North American Coordinator of the IRSCNA for 20 years and as an International Secretary of the IRSP for six years.


return to top