The TV Review from the November 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
n the wake of BBC 1's recent series on the Provisional IRA, Channel 4's Witness (15 October, 9PM) sent journalist Simon Sebag Montefiore on a mission to the island of Ireland to investigate the long-standing fascistic leanings of IRA/Sinn Fein. Montefiore had good reason to be the man chosen for this task—his family had been among the victims of possibly the last recorded pogrom in the British Isles when, as Jewish settlers, they had been among those hounded out of Limerick by Irish nationalists just after the turn of the century.
Montefiore's argument was that Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalists par excellence, have long exhibited pronounced streaks of both fascism and anti-semitism. His argument has much to support it. Even today former members of the Irish republican movement will testify to the way in which many Irish nationalists equate the northern Irish Protestants with the Jews, firstly because of the status as displaced ‘immigrants’ into a foreign land and secondly due to their supposedly advantageous social and economic position in relation to the indigenous population.
Sinn Fein has often cloaked its anti-semitism and quasi-fascism behind revolutionary sounding phrases about the creation of a harmonious socialist republican state, uncannily enough rather like the Nazis did. But the wider Irish nationalist movement of which it has usually been the most militant part has not always had such qualms. In the 1930s it was the ferociously anti-communist Catholic Mind which informed its readers that "the founders of communism were practically all Jews. This can scarcely be a mere coincidence . . .” before going on to suggest that Marx. Engels and even Ricardo before them were all part of a Zionist plot. It was the same Irish nationalist movement which gave birth to the Blueshirts, provocatively modelled on the fascist Blackshirts and Nazi Brownshirts and which gave succour to them until it was no longer politically expedient to do so. And it was Fine Gael, long Ireland's second largest political party and the alternate party of government which claimed in its journal United Ireland that “it is a complete mistake to suppose that Italian fascism is merely a crude individual or party dictatorship . . . it has gradually evolved a scheme of social and political organisation which is quite certain as time goes on to be adapted to the needs of every civilised country".
Poison of nationalism
All this was support for fascism and Nazism in word. IRA/Sinn Fein, as Montefiore demonstrated, went further-they showed their fascist leanings in deed as well. In 1940, when the UK ruling class was at its most vulnerable in its war against Hitler's expansionist state, the leaders of Sinn Fein brokered a deal with Hitler's representative von Ribbentrop. When Sinn Fein met with him in Germany he reportedly told them something they already knew—"Our cause is the same: the downfall of England." Montefiore suggested in this programme that the beginning of the IRA's mainland bombing campaign during the Second World War was inextricably linked with this deal, as was—more obviously still—their assistance of German intelligence and the Luftwaffe over the bombings of Belfast, the home of a key shipyard and of munitions factories employing thousands. Evidently, the precious lives of the hundreds of Catholics murdered in these raids must have meant a lot to them.
In exposing such facts Montefiore's rationale was that of a mainstream bourgeois journalist and historian, and quite possibly of a UK unionist as well. It was therefore unfortunate that he did not extend his analysis to take in some of the wider political implications arising from it. Particularly significant is the popular conception—not altogether unjustified—of the hardline loyalist political community as a bunch of fascists with well-known links to the British National Party, the National Front and Combat 18, as well as fascist groups in other countries. But the question which needs to be asked is: are the IRA/Sinn Fein any better, more politically coherent or more progressive? What Montefiore's programme showed, at least by implication, was that they are certainly not and further served to support the socialist argument that nationalism, in whatever its form and wherever it is found, is now a reactionary political ideology that is poisonous to both the minds and bodies of the working class.
And what was it, at a fundamental level, which finally persuaded an already semi-fascist Sinn Fein to engage in an alliance with Hitler? It was none other than the Leninist dogma used by the SWP, RCP, WRP and most of the other elitist ratbags on the British Left that the enemy of an enemy must be a friend. For Sinn Fein with Hitler in 1939-40 read the SWP with Saddam Hussein in 1989-90, the RCP and the Argentinian Junta in 1982.
Sinn Fein and the British Leninists have long been cosy bedfellows—can anyone be truly surprised when their minds have been infected by the same twisted elitist, nationalist nonsense? Is anyone still under the illusion that the elitist left-wing of capital and the elitist right-wing of capital have little in common? And can anyone mount any serious arguments against the logical, socialist position that the working class have no country, no nation states to die for and no interests at stake when nationalists the world over ally themselves with dictators and bomb and shoot their way to a ‘freedom’ that may give some nationalist leaders state power but which is entirely illusory for the bulk of the population—the working class of wage and salary slaves?