Reflections on republican socialism in Ireland: Marxian roots and Irish historical dynamics

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Abstract:

Irish socialist republicanism has cast a larger shadow over political thought in Ireland than one would expect either from the number of its historical adherents or from the cogency of its central arguments. In modern Ulster -- where political theory is constantly chased, and often mauled, by engaged political practitioners -- one can witness this ‘disproportionate shadow’ syndrome in operation. Thus, for example, the bold and boisterous Bernadette Devlin was not only convinced by the arguments of the socialist republican thinker, James Connolly, but offered readings of Irish history which turned centrally on socialist dynamics. ‘ Since the treaty of 1921, which freed the south from British rule but severed the north from the rest of the country, the republican target has been a reunited, socialist Ireland . . . From [1801] on national feeling grew and throughout the nineteenth century, there was continual struggle, punctuated by famine and emigration, to end British occupation, British imperialism, and British capitalism; and this was throughout Ireland as a whole.’ These words underline the importance of Devlin's own suggestion that her book ‘may not always be objectively accurate’. In fact, she is simply wrong. Her notion that the post-1921 Irish republican movement pursued socialist objectives is as historically misleading as is her suggestion of ‘continual’ nineteenth-century struggle, and neither argument need detain us. The important point for this current essay is to note that -- like numerous other influential post-1960s Ulster republicans -- Devlin owed a debt to, and had a vision of Irish history built upon, socialist republican thinking.

Keywords: Ireland; Irish Republicanism; Marxism; Nationalism; Socialism,

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Queen's University, Belfast. Email:r.english@Queens-Belfast.AC.UK

Publication date: January 1, 1996

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