What kind of party for Ireland?

Peter Manson talked to Kevin McQuillan, a former leader of the Irish Republican Socialist Party and now in the Liam Mellowes Society

You have said you stand for a revolutionary socialist party. Do you mean a communist party?

I would define myself in essence as being a communist, as do a lot of other comrades I’m speaking with. We are interested in reforging a revolutionary party of the working class in Ireland, but one cannot over-estimate the effect that the collapse of the Soviet Union had on the perception of what communism represents, and what sort of society we’re actually after.

We are trying to dust off and show the true meaning of communism. So what we’re saying in the Irish context is that it’s almost like a transitionary period to the reforging of a communist party.

We find the debate about the nature and role of the Party in the Weekly Worker very stimulating. It goes against the grain of the petty infighting within the left that has been self-destructive and demoralising.

So the two aspects of what you’re saying are that the name itself is a difficulty and secondly, it is a little premature?

Yes, we still have the legacy, the remnants of the old Communist Party of Ireland, whose politics were decidedly dodgy. We have to cope with that.

Would you differentiate between a revolutionary socialist party and a communist party?

No. There seems to be a realignment of politics and political parties. Nothing is as clear-cut as it once was: left v right. Communism represented a certain position; socialism another. Things have become a lot more blurred. There are so many ‘socialist parties’, but are they in essence truly socialist? Or are they social democrat with a radical tag?

So we’re actually about redefining all these things. A lot is being looked at in the discussions we’re having in Ireland - the relevance of Marxism in the 1990s, etc. From a personal point of view, as a communist and unashamedly so, what we’re trying to do is help discussions in what we broadly call a socialist republican forum, ideally leading to the reforging of a truly revolutionary communist party.

So the socialist republican forum is a possible transitional step towards a communist party?

 It depends on how the dialogue’s going. People like ourselves in the Liam Mellowes Society, who are trying to act as a motor for these discussions, have been around the country; we’ve talked to a number of people. We are speaking to the remnants of various groups and to individuals - former members of the League of Communist Republicans in Long Kesh and other independents - and we have regular meetings with the leadership of the republican socialist movement.

In Britain we’ve identified a vacuum, as the whole of politics moves to the right. There is a danger that this vacuum can be filled from the extreme right. So we think that there is a real space for open and honest communist politics. Isn’t there a similar vacuum in the Six Counties? And what about all the genuine revolutionaries of the IRA and the INLA who must be saying, ‘What was it all for?’

The Irish Labour Party mirrors the British Labour Party and is in a coalition with the extreme rightwing and a social democrat party - the Democratic Left. There is no party that’s truly of the revolutionary tradition.

I have also identified the danger of the continued existence of the paramilitaries combined with an influx of republican workers to the North of Ireland, and continuing high unemployment, were the ‘peace process’ to continue. You could very easily see already armed, already blooded rightwing terrorists engaging in racial violence.

As revolutionary socialists, as communists, we have to be prepared now. The struggle will have to take on a different form - not purely in support of armed action against the British state forces.

But there is a difference. In Britain there has been an absence of armed revolutionary violence; there is a communist movement which already has a niche cut out for itself. The revolutionary left in Ireland never really managed to make ground in the absence of a clearly defined organisation - nobody would argue that the INLA and the republican socialist movement were. A number of Marxists found themselves in Sinn Fein and the IRA.

Now in the absence of an armed struggle they are in a purely nationalist organisation, which will not now have any chance at all of assuming a revolutionary left position. They will now be seeking other accom-modation. It’s down to us to have discussions with these comrades and see whether we can move forward together.

Yes, there is a political vacuum that will be filled by the right in Irish society. It is only through having dialogue and open and honest debate between comrades who claim to be Marxists, communists, revolutionary socialists that we have a chance of reaching a party at the other side of it.

You seem to have a rather modest view of your own potential role in forming a vanguard.

I like to think that I reflect a view that would be common among ordinary working class people. One of the things that I think tends to put people off is pretentiousness. Whether it’s the SWP or whatever, they say, ‘You should join us because we’re the only true revolutionary party of the working class.’

I think we have to review all the previously held icons and self-held ‘truths’. We have to approach things from a very open and honest position. My position is if your politics are true then that truth will become self-evident.

Maybe what you’ve seen coming from the remarks I was making was my own self-scepticism, and what I view to have been a complete failure by a lot of comrades to seize the initiative. I remain confident of the future. I remain committed to the development of that party, but I will not be as foolhardy as to think that it will happen overnight or will happen without long and hard work.

Irrespective of what people think, developing and building a revolutionary party with the correct politics and the correct programme is a lot more difficult than engaging in a purely armed struggle.

I’m not suggesting that you should be claiming that it’s you and a few of your comrades who are going to do it. I’m saying that we should be posing, ahead of everything else, the urgent need for a communist party.

What we’re saying is we need to bring people together beforehand. The politics that myself and other comrades will be arguing will ostensibly be those of revolutionary communists, and if you win other comrades to your position on various single issues that are raised because of the correctness of your politics, then ultimately you will be able to say, ‘We have agreed on these positions and are effectively taking a communist position.’

That stands to reason from my way of viewing, rather than immediately saying, ‘Let’s all get together and form a communist party.’

We have put forward the possibility of a Communist Party of the United Kingdom coming onto the agenda. We are both fighting the same enemy - British imperialism, and with the ending of the revolutionary situation in the Six Counties and so its possible extension into the whole of Ireland, shouldn’t we then all be in a single organisation against that common enemy?

I can see your analysis, but I don’t think it’s a realistic option. The overtones, rightly or wrongly, are those of the ‘one-nation’ theory. It’s important that we, as communists and therefore internationalists, develop and build our own party, and have very close and extensive links with comrades in the Communist Party in Britain.

So great has been the advance in technology that cooperation and debate between communists from Ireland and Britain can be effectively worked out and action dovetailed, which would virtually be as effective as what you’ve stated.

Could that overthrow the British state, or are you looking for a lower level of cooperation?

If in the ideal scenario, through the leadership of a communist party, we were able to overthrow British imperialism in Ireland, that would go a long way to promoting the communist movement in Britain. It would indicate the beginning of the end for capitalism. We all have the obligation to work for that defeat in Ireland. We’re talking about intermediate steps of party building, not of pursuing the goals of the revolution.

So what forms of cooperation do you envisage?

We are very much in a proto-party stage. It would be very previous of me to lay out plans that have not been fully worked out. But I do believe that close cooperation is necessary if our common aims are to come to fruition.