The 1982 General Election in the 26 Counties was an important test of the Left in Ireland.
The hunger strikes of the year before, in which seven Provisional IRA members and three members of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) had starved to death, had had a tremendous political impact in the South. The Provisional SF/IRA had begun to turn , falteringly at first, to more emphasis on 'the Ballot Box', to supplement their 'Armalites'.
In the 1982 26 County General Election socialist republicans – including the Provos, in their politically under-nourished way - had to decide which of their profiles to present to the electorate, the socialist or the nationalist, the red or the green.
This series of articles in Socialist Organiser analysed the socialist Republicans' politics and performance. The articles led to an illuminating exchange between us and the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political adjunct of INLA.
Full often when our fathers saw
The Red above the Green,
They rose in rude but fierce array,
With pike and gun and scian.
And over many a noble town,
And many a field of dead,
They proudly set the Irish Green
Above the English Red.
... And well they died in breach and field,
Who as their spirits fled
Still saw the Green maintain its place
Above the English Red.
(Old nationalist song)
IRELAND OCCUPIES a position among the nations of the earth unique... in the possession of what is known as a physical force party - a party, that is to say, whose members are united upon no one point, and agreed upon no single principle, except the use of physical force as the sole means of settling the dispute between the people of this country and the governing power of Great Britain...
The latter-day high-falutin hillside man exalts into a principle that which the revolutionists of other countries have looked upon as a weapon, and in his gatherings prohibits all discussion of those principles which formed the main strength of his prototypes elsewhere and made the successful use of that weapon possible.
Our people have glided at different periods of the past century from moral force agitation, so called, into physical force rebellion, from constitutionalism into insurrectionism, - meeting in each the same failure and the same disaster, and yet seem as far as ever from learning the great truth that neither method is ever likely to be successful until they first insists that a perfect agreement upon the end to be attained should be arrived at as a starting-point for all our efforts...
Every revolutionary movement in Ireland has drawn the bulk of its adherents from the ranks of disappointed followers of defeated constitutional movements. After having exhausted their constitutional efforts in striving to secure such a modicum of political power as would justify them to their own consciences in taking a place as loyal subjects of the British Empire, they, in despair, turn to thoughts of physical force as a means of attaining their ends.
Their conception of what constitutes freedom was in no sense changed or revolutionised; they still believed in the political form of freedom which had been their ideal in their constitutional days: but no longer hoping for it from the Acts of the British Parliament, they swung over into the ranks of the 'physical force' men as the only means of attaining it.
James Connolly: 'Workers' Republic', July 1899.