Book Review:

Adams, Gerry. The Politics of Irish Freedom. Brandon Book Publishers Ltd., Dingle, Co. Kerry. 1986.

The Politics of Irish Freedom is meant by its author to be an exploration of Irish republicanism through the thoughts and experiences of one member. It is not a formal statement of any Republican manifesto, but an explanation of the circumstances that motivate people to join the Republican movement and how they view their cause.

Adams thus writes from a highly unusual position, the leader of the Republican organization (Sinn Féin) writing about the meaning of Republicanism but denying any role as the spokesman for the movement. The resulting work could conceivibly be looked upon as a statement of ideal Republianism from a deep-thinking member of the movement, and as a case study of someone (reluctantly?) placed in the role of spokesman.

His introduction suggests someone philosophical enough to realize that a revolutionary movement is too complex to codify and has different meanings for different members (which is again suggested by the fact that he does not see blind obedience to leaders or uncritical support of the IRA as necessary to support Republicanism). Throughout Politics of Irish Freedom, Adams seems a soft-spoken representative of Republicanism, who both recognizes the need for the IRA ("Without it the issue of Ireland would not even be an issue.") and regrets it ("I wish that physical force had never been part of the political struggle in my lifetime."). After reading The Politics of Irish Freedom, no rational reader could justly classify Adams as the riot-inciting radical that the British government considers him.

Much of the book is autobiographical, describing Adams earliest experiences with Sinn Féin and other Republican organizations. He also analyzes the sucesses and failures of various Republican groups with the hindsight of a experienced and deep-thinking Republican, pointing out when Republicans were too idealistic (such as the descent of the OIRA into a socialist rhetoric club), too disorganized ("the battle of Bogside"), or simply unprepared to handle the latest British machination (as in his discussions of his early political ignorance involving the issues of the Special Powers Act).

Adams also discusses his perceptions of other groups involved in the Six Counties including the British government, the Loyalists/Unionists, the Free State, and other political parties such as the SDLP.

An important section is his discussion of what Britain seeks to gain from keeping Ireland partitioned. The weakening of both the Six Counties and the Free State is described, as well as the resulting economic dependence on Britain that benefits the British. The collaboration of Free State careerist politicians who gain from peaceful relations with Britain receives a contempuous (but probably deserved) overview, and the complacency of other western nations (with regards to British colonialism and human rights violations) is discussed.

Adams also explores the importance of a one-party state to British control of the Six Counties and the manipulation of Loyalists (and/or Protestants) in order to disenfranchise Nationalists. The "opportunism" of the SDLP is shown to have complicated several situations (especially the rent strikes). Adams further discusses how British policy and propaganda lead Loyalists to perceive Republicanism as a sectarian issue and describes the different aspects of Loyalist sectarianism, although he perhaps should have given some more concrete examples here (Ian Paisley receives suprisingly few mentions, but then again, he's hard to explain in any context).

Adams is well aware that the separation of Loyalist and Nationalist is encouraged by the British as a means of maintaining control over the Six Counties, and emphasizes the artificiality of both the sectarian and nonsectarian divisions. He differentiates between the supremecist philosophy of Loyalists and the equality-based philosophy of the Republicans to show that Republicans are not the instigators of major conflict, and that they would probably live and let live (in a freed Ireland) if the Loyalists put down their arms (which is admittedly easier said than done). The role of Ulsterization in creating violent distance between Protestant and Catholic (as British-created subsitutes for Loyalist and Nationalist) is shown to be a major factor in such partisan/sectarian conflict.

Along the way, a fair amount of Republican history is detailed, either in an autobiographical context (showing which events had special effects on Adams), or as discussions of early Republican leaders whose work still has important influence. The most historical chapter discusses the IRA, including the disorganization of IRA response in the early 70s that prompted the organization of the PIRA.

Two later chapters are of considerable importance in understanding the Republican movement, in that they discuss aspects of Republicanism even less likely to be understood by casual observers. "Republicanism and Socialism" attempts to defuse some of the tension invoked in many westerners by the word "socialism" and explains the role of Republicanism in Irish socialist movements. Adams has some stern words for such socialists groups that do not recognize the importance of irish independence in creating a functional socialist society (such as the Workers' Party and Labour Party). For a group-owned means of production to be sucessful, it must be controlled by a group that respects those who produce; as Adams makes painfully clear, no such well-meaing control has been or ever will be exerted by Britain. Socialist parties that do not admit so are either failing to live up to their goals or too confused to be productive.

The chapter which is simply entitled "Culture" explains that the Republican emphasis on native Irish culture is not simply a superiority movement (such as Germany's so-called National Socialists were so fond of) but a direct reaction to British repression of native culture and natural byproduct of the search for a separate national identity. His discussion of ancient Irish communal property is an attempt (a bit streched perhaps) to show how a continuity of Irish of culture could reinforce the need for distinctly Irish political and social structures. Adams also enters into a rare discussion of the weaknesses in Loyalist perceptions of an "Irish Protestant" lifestyle. He suggests the Loyalists are seeking to be British even though the British will not truly accept them as such (similar situations abounded in other British colonies, notably India). He sees the artificial constructions of Irish Protestant culture as yet another impediment to Irish unity, and disparages the notion accordingly.

These, like many of the insights into Irish Republicanism given in The Politics of Irish Freedom, are practically too eloquent to argue with. For a book "squeezed occassional fragments of free time", it is honest, well thought-out, and does an exemplary job of explaining the role of Republicanism in Irish life and demystifies some of the most complex issues (such as the Free State's complacency) of the conflict. The book leaves one wishing Adams had written the Republican Manifesto; his explanations of a revolutionary philosophy are remarkably clear and rational, and very difficult to argue with.

Filed at 01:48:14 AM EDT on 12 June 1992 from Toledo, OH