Since their emergence a few years ago, the 1916 societies have emerged across Ireland in most towns and cities solidifying themselves within anti-GFA (Good Friday Agreement) republicanism. It is a broad church catering for every shade of republicanism based on the central pillar of the 1916 Easter Proclamation and seeking an All-Ireland referendum free from all external influence. Their main activities involve talks, commemorations, history tours and aiming for an All-Ireland referendum.
The 1916 Easter Proclamation remains a core pillar of Irish republicanism today and the 1916 Societies are no different. However as we approach its 100 year anniversary next year it is important that we begin to reflect on its relevance today in an every changing global capitalist society in an Ireland that is culturally and ethnically diverse. What do we mean by ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’?
The Proclamation is ambiguous by nature and offers nothing in terms of what an independent Ireland would look like and how to get there. Irish republicans are always keen to highlight the loaded terms such as ‘equality’ but what does this mean given all progressive political traditions claim they believe in ‘equality.’
As one Irish anarchist writer and activist points out:
The rising was heroic and it did shape the face of modern Ireland, but is there much in the rising for anyone on the left to celebrate? This blow against imperialism after all is somewhat undermined by the description of German imperialism in the second paragraph of the proclamation as "gallant allies in Europe".
And the promise that "The Republic guarantees equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens" holds no threat to the European capitalism of today which also claims to stand for such things.
Despite the fact that the Ireland of the time was deeply divided, right down to the formation of two rival and armed militias the Proclamation simply "claims the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman" despite "the differences" .. "which have divided a minority from the majority". The bitter sectarian divisions that already existed in the Belfast working class were unlikely to be overcome in such a manner!(1)
While anarchists should defend the right to self-determination, we need to ask ourselves is ‘self-determination’ and 'independence', in the real meaning of the word, possible in a global capitalist society run by imperialist powers. Is independence and nationalism a solution to imperialism?
On a global level we have witnessed a changing political landscape and conversation where the struggle and debate has shifted to posing the question to what type of society do we want?
One of the largest guerrilla organizations in the world and component of the Kurdistan national liberation movement, the PKK, is beginning to move away from nationalism towards the building a democratic confederation based on radical grassroots democracy that seeks to smash imperialism but also to build a society based on liberation from all forms of oppression and exploitation including gender oppression and capitalism.
As Dilar Dirik, an activist in the Kurdish women’s movement outlined in her talk on Stateless Democracy: How the Kurdish women's movement liberated democracy from the state.
what type of freedom is it if we do not struggle for all forms of emancipation…this cannot be addressed within the nation state because it is a deeply patriarchal and masculine structure.(2)
It is a question that anarchists answered in the early 20th century as they participated in anti-colonial struggles from Cuba, Philippines and other corners of the globe including Ireland but not limiting their aims to national liberation, but rather sought the self-liberation of the working classes from every oppression -- foreign or domestic, economic or political, cultural or social.
It is worth referring to the anarchist syndicalist Rudolf Rocker when discussing nationalism:
We must not forget that we are always dealing with the organized selfishness of privileged minorities which hide behind the skirts of the nation, hide behind the credulity of the masses. We speak of national interests, national capital, national spheres of interest, national honor, and national spirit; but we forget that behind all this there are hidden merely the selfish interests of power-loving politicians and money-loving business men for whom the nation is a convenient cover to hide their personal greed and their schemes for political power from the eyes of the world.(3)
Therefore, anarchists are opposed to nationalism because it obscures class differences and hierarchy and is essential for the survival of the global capitalist system because without it imperialist powers lose their grip. Indeed one of the reasons we oppose the nation state because instead of enhancing and protecting cultural and linguistic diversity it very often has the opposite effect. The state because of its centralizing nature where power is in the hands of the few, it often acts as the enforcer of one official language, religion etc. We only need to examine the Spanish state and African states riddled with ethnic conflict from a legacy of colonialism.
Republicans will often point to the differences between so-called progressive nationalism and reactionary nationalist movements, that often have a far right agenda.
While there can be differences depending on the political and social context and composition of each movement, Irish republicanism has still not solved its own contention between, on the one hand, an identity rooted in one side of the community in the North and on the other a much more progressive leftist universalist strand that seeks to challenge nationalism.
It is in the context of national and social revolution that we must assess the merits of any All-Ireland referendum. Will it be a step forward in building a new society that seeks to remove the conditions of exploitation and sectarian division or a deflection into a more localized version of green capitalism that is independent only in name?
What is clear is that we must continue to involve and participate in the daily struggles against capital and imperialism by providing a vision that moves beyond the shackles and confines of the nation state because this is something worth fighting for. As James Connolly said; “Organize for a full, free and happy life. For All Or For None. Speed The Day.”