H-Block/Armagh Broad Front - An Assessment

The H-Block/Armagh Broad Front Campaign ended with the British Government conceding totally on one of the five demands and half promises on the other four. This is not surprising when one considers the forces ranged against the prisoners and the campaign; British Imperialism's control of the British media, the collaboration of the leadership of the British Labour Movement and the British Labour Party. The collaboration of the SDLP in the North and FF, FG, and the Labour Party and the Irish media AND, it must be said the negative effect of the lack of a clear revolutionary perspective on the part of those engaged in teh armed struggle over the past 11 years. This is how the campaign started in 1979.

Following the commencement of the Blanket Protest by the Prisoners on September 1, 1976 and the work done on their behalf by the RAC's in the 6 counties, it became clear to the Republican Movement that an Ireland Broad Front was needed to bring the attention of the people in the South and throughout the whole world to the plight of the prisoners. The five demands were put forward by the prisoners as the clearest representation of their situation.

Prov. Sinn Fein issued a call for a single issue campaign around the 5 demands. This campaign was to be carried out on a humanitarian basis - this was meant to allow for the participation of those who did not necessarily support the methods of the armed struggle.

The intention was to bring in as many Broad Forces as possible. However, from the outset there were problems of political sectarianism - in the early stages of the campaign Sinn Fein Cummain (mainly in the South) stayed out of the campaign because Sinn Fein itself wasn't too sure about its position on the Broad Front. At the same time the National Committee itself was kept firmly in the hands of Sinn Fein. When elections were held Sinn Fein bussed their members to ensure their control of the National Committee.

In the early stages the Broad Front was composed of Sinn Fein, the IRSP, and small left groups such as People's Democracy, Socialist Workers Movement, League for Worker's Republic and the Irish Worker's Group, etc, left independents and independent republicans with action groups in the main cities. At the ending of the campaign over 400 Action Groups existed throughout the 32 counties.

The positive aspects of the campaign cannot be stressed enough. Britain's criminalisation policy is in tatters; their political interests in Ireland is exposed to the whole world. The Irish Capitalist Class (whether represented by Fitzgerald or Haughey) has clearly exposed itself as thorough collaborators with British Imperialism. The National Question is being discussed in every house in Ireland. It is possible for the Irish people to unite against Britain.

However, the lessons of political direction and democracy must be learned - Unity for unity's sake is a false position. We must learn from our mistakes.

The lack of a political strategy from the beginning to win the 5 demands was primarily responsible for the failure of the campaign. The IRSP must bear its share of the responsibility for not putting forward a clear strategy rather than reacting to the Republican Movement each time they called the tune. The main failures were as follows:

1) the campaign stayed outside the mainstream of Irish life despite the widespread support for the prisoners.
2) at the height of the campaign just before and following the death of Bobby Sands the political thrust of the campaign was focused on the Dublin Government instead of against the British (any pickets or demos against British companies etc were not supported) thus preventing the campaign building on the tremendous anti British feeling throughout the Country, so obvious to us all at the Elections. This line put forward by B. McAliskey and People's Democracy was accepted by Sinn Fein and the National Committee
3) the disastrous tactic of putting forward exclusively abstentionist candidates in the 26 Co. and Westminster Elections, while allowing the people to express their support for the prisoners, this tactic of abstentionism failed to build on the gains made to bring the prisoners struggle forward.


The most obvious lesson is one of necessity for a clearly worked out political strategy before embarking on another Broad Front.

The other serious lessons to be learnt are those of internal democracy and structures. Any future Broad Front must have a Constitution, large organisations must not be allowed to dominate the executive. Policy decisions must be taken with the maximum participation of all organisations and individuals. The question of opportunism must be vigorously fought.

Because this is the first time so many individuals and organisations have worked together nationally, the questions of structure and democracy need a lot more discussion and agreement before going forward.

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