Electronic Starry Plough
First Monday

Electronic Starry Plough: The Enationalism of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement by Michael Dartnell

This paper takes the case of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement (IRSM) as the point of departure to discuss how insurgent political movement use Web communications. From mirror sites in Ireland and North America, IRSM supporters regularly use Web technology to relay the group message to a global audience at http://www.irsm.org/irsm.html. The resulting direct media contact gives the IRSM unprecedented access to global civil society. By referring to the IRSM Web site, the types of messages transmitted, the forms of transmission (text, video, audio, e-mail or other), and target audiences (national, global, political elites, media), this paper outlines some of the issues and challenges posed by Web-based anti-government media. The Internet and the Web do not constitute a threat to state power as some analysts suggest but at the same time they significantly alter political communication. The IRSM is a case of "enationalism", that is, the representation of a place as home to a specific group of people. Unlike traditional nationalism, enationalism is not tied to physical space or territory, but to representation of a network of relations based on a common language, historical experience, religion and/or culture. It is about both memory and future projection of a place as the home for a given group. In this light, new media will likely co-exist with other forms of political communication for some time.


The Enationalism of the IRSM
Northern Ireland and Ireland: The Socio-political Context of IRSM Information
Web Site Analysis

Nationalism is a difficult conceptual issue in Political Science and International Relations since the term and the phenomena it represents do not resemble liberalism, conservatism, fascism, communism, socialism or any of the other major political movements of the post-1789 political world. During much of the twentieth century, it was believed that nationalism was redundant, a sign of political and cultural underdevelopment whose relegation to the sidelines of political history was made definitive by the dominance of capitalist-communist universalism. Both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. after all were multiethnic, multiracial and multicultural entities in which many believed that difference was being abolished by industrial progress. Of course countervailing tendencies periodically burst forth in the form of Ukrainian nationalism, black nationalism or political Islam, but such phenomena were not regarded as signposts on the motorway of human development. The emergence of a multitude of national identities on the global scene since 1989, then, came as a surprise because nationalism does not fit comfortably into the eighteenth century materialist assessments of both left and right.

Benedict Anderson argues that a nation is an imagined political community. In this construct, nationalism differs from other political ideologies insofar as it always appeals to a specific and limited public. Anderson says that political community is imagined because its members never know the majority of the other members with whom they identify. The community is also limited because "even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations" [1]. Despite these conditions, the nation is conceived as the arena in which peoples' freedom can be realized on the basis of their inter-relations. The ability of nationalists to imagine their fraternity has given the ideology its great power and resilience since the eighteenth century.

Tom Nairn echoes Anderson's theory when he argues that "the true subject of modern philosophy is nationalism, not industrialisation; the nation, not the steam-engine and the computer" [2]. Nairn holds that the fragmenting impact of modernisation in fact stimulates a social reaction in the form of a focus on ethnicity, which becomes the way to preserve community and self-identity in the face of uncertainty and change. His view is amplified by David Miller's argument that nationalism has a number of advantageous impacts

"it provides the wherewithal for a common culture against whose background people can make more individual decisions about how to lead their lives; it provides the setting in which ideas of social justice can be pursued, particularly ideas that require us to treat our individual talents as to some degree a "common asset", to use Rawl's phrase; and it helps to foster the mutual understanding and trust that makes democratic citizenship possible." [3].

Beyond these advantages, Miller defines nationalism as the celebration of an attachment to a historic community [4].

Instead of attachment to history, enationalism represents a different type of political phenomenon. At the same time, if one accepts Nairn's argument, enationalism is also a variety of response to modernisation. Enationalism is about the representation of a place that is home to a specific group of people. But unlike traditional nationalism, enationalism is not tied to a physical space or territory. It is instead tied to the representation of a network of relations based on a common language, historical experience, religion and/or culture. As in the case of www.akakurdistan.com, enationalism is about both the memory and future projection of a place as the home for a given group. The articulation or representation of enationalism is, critically, transnational in character as opposed to spatially focused as in traditional nationalism.

Traditional nationalism always included an element of transnational diaspora-linked politics [5]. The difference with enationalism is that it is driven by new media that make the diaspora into active agents instead of episodic participants. Enationalism is different in another way. As Foucault points out, the end of nationalism is the development of states' forces and their abilities to compete with one another [6]. Enationalism reconfigures competition out of a territorial locus and into a virtual one. Just as the search for territorial equilibrium led to the Westphalian state-based international order, so the search for an equilibrium of Net-based knowledge and the development of power will lead to a new global power structure. In the case of enationalists, this development could emerge in several ways that follow the lines of Held's globalization thesis [7]. On the one hand, enationalists could adopt a sceptical stance regarding globalization and posit enationalism as a response. Alternatively, enationalists could turn into nationalists transformationists who seek change through the globalization process.



The Enationalism of the IRSM

The Starry Plough [8] is the emblem of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement (IRSM). The image was used by the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) in 1914 and became its official emblem. The early version of the starry plough was set on a background of green bordered by a gilt fringe. It flew above the Imperial Hotel in Dublin during the 1916 rising. The IRSM adopted a modified version of the flag, with white stars on a blue background. The organization uses the image to point to its links with Ireland's struggling class warrior predecessors, militant Irish socialism and ICA leader John Connolly in particular. The Starry Plough is a symbol of working class militancy as well as a flag of rebellion, class war and social revolution. The electronic Starry Plough in the title above refers to the transposition of the IRSM symbol onto the hypermediated environment of the Web.

All social and political movements base their appeal for support and messages to the public in identitarian terms. Movements use symbols to define the lines of debate and establish boundaries. Boundaries can be moral, as in the case of charivari, which was used in Medieval Europe to shame, taunt and intimidate. Boundaries may also have more abstract purposes and "enclose elements which may, for certain purposes and in certain respects, be considered to be more like each other than they are different" [9]. In politics, boundaries have been largely territorial since the seventeenth century. The ways through which territorial political boundaries have been expressed includes flags, parades and national symbols. The symbolic expression of politics also occurs among non-state actors in politics. The IRSM is an example of one such non-state actor that has now introduced its symbolism into an electronic environment.



Northern Ireland and Ireland: The Socio-political Context of IRSM Information

The context of IRSM information is particularly complex given that it straddles two distinct sovereign states, the U.K. and the Irish Republic. Much of the IRSM focus concerns Northern Ireland and the thirty-year civil conflict known as "The Troubles". The conflict grew out of the divisions between Northern Ireland's 1.69 million inhabitants, who are almost evenly split between Catholics (38.4%) and Protestants (50.6%) [10]. The conflict has been exacerbated by economic decline over the past century, although the region has recently experienced significant growth [11]. Before that, civil conflict and economic decline produced a distinct set of social conditions: at the end of the 1980s, about 40% of the workforce was employed in the public sector, especially in security-related areas such as policing and prisons. Northern Ireland developed a form of dual economy in which people employed in the public sector had relatively comfortable lives while those who were unemployed, poorly-paid or working part-time did not [12].

The dual economy was also based in identity-based inequalities. In 1991, Catholic males were over two times more likely to be unemployed than their Protestant peers. Inequalities were also present in terms of occupations. In 1991, 29% of Catholic males were white-collar workers as opposed to 39% of Protestant males. Over the last 30 years, Protestant males have been over-represented in security related occupations and services, management and administration, and skilled engineering while Catholic males are over-represented in lower-level skilled and paid manufacturing and construction jobs. The historically disadvantaged Catholic community made gains over the past 30 years, but its overall socio-economic position is still inferior to most Protestants. A Catholic middle class has moved beyond serving its own community to positions of responsibility in the public sector, but still has not achieved proportionate representation in occupations and equalled Protestants in the economy [13].

In political terms, the Northern Ireland province or "statelet" has undergone many mutations. Territorially, it incorporates six of the nine counties from historical province of Ulster. Because it does not incorporate the entire province, the IRSM views it as a political misnomer to call the region "Ulster" (as do Protestant unionists and loyalists) and instead refers to it as Northern Ireland. The region's political system was founded on principles of representative democracy and individual rights and liberties that are regularly seen in free and contested elections based in universal suffrage. However, the practical functioning of liberal democracy has not been so clear cut [14]. Political structures have been subject to constant change and protests. From 1921 (the date of partition and creation of the Free State in the south) to 1972, Northern Ireland was governed by a regional parliament at Stormont. This form of Home Rule was, ironically, opposed by unionists when they were part of a single Ireland. The Stormont assembly legislated for local affairs and left foreign affairs, trade, taxation, and defence to Britain. Stormont was abolished by the U.K. Parliament in 1972, after years of civil unrest and political violence and the British government took control of Northern Ireland from Westminster in an arrangement called "Direct Rule". From 1974 until the Good Friday Agreement was implemented in 1998, the Westminster Parliament approved all laws for Northern Ireland and placed local government departments under control of a Secretary of State.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the British government attempted to devise a settlement to re-instate local regional government. The efforts failed due to unionist intransigence and nationalist boycott. The GFA of 10 April 1998 is the most recent attempt to establish a constitutional mechanism in the form of community safeguards and a 108-seat assembly proportionately elected by single-transferable-vote. The new assembly has legislative and executive authority over agriculture, economic development, education, the environment, finance and personnel, and health and social services. The Assembly also set up a number of statutory committees to assist during the transitional period. A nomination process of candidates to the executive is designed to equally represent nationalist-republican and unionist-loyalist parties.

Electoral manipulation has historically been the greatest obstacle to a properly functioning liberal democracy in Northern Ireland. Given long-standing divisions between the Catholic minority and Protestant majority, voting patterns tend to reflect ethnic identity. The electoral system is a main structure through which different identities are expressed. Protestants mostly vote for Unionist parties that advocate maintaining the Union with the U.K. and preventing assimilation of Protestants within a united, Catholic Ireland. The evolution of the electoral-party system is thus vitally important for understanding "The Troubles". After partition and creation of the Free State in 1921, the Northern Ireland electoral system was based in a proportional representation (PR) system of single transferable vote (STV). By the mid-1920s, PR facilitated emergence of political parties that threatened the ruling Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). The UUP government "realized that PR had allowed the electorate a measure of choice incommensurate with Unionist Party ambitions" [15] and replaced PR with the British plurality or "first-past-the-post" system.

The electoral threat was not only nationalist and republican organizations, but also marginal Protestant parties that wanted to break ties with Britain and form an Independent Northern Irish State as well as labour and socialist parties. The change from PR to plurality voting drastically impaired electoral competition: Unionists represented 66% of the population, but controlled 85% of all local authorities by the late 1920s [16]. Plurality voting remained in place until PR was re-introduced in 1973. Predictably, abolition of the plurality system led to increased fragmentation of the Unionist vote and more electoral power for the main Catholic parties, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Sinn Féin. However, PR only applied to local elections since Direct Rule provided that real political power was held by the Westminster parliament whose elections were determined by the plurality system. Given the high Catholic birth rate, the unionist community feared that its regional and local government power would diminish. Manipulation by re-drawing constituency boundaries became common. The highly polarised nature of Northern Ireland was further accentuated by slicing electoral boundaries through communities, creating Catholic minorities out of demographic majorities.

Another barrier to democratic rights and freedoms in Northern Ireland is the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The PTA was implemented as a temporary measure in 1974 in response to authorities' need to "fight against terrorism". One section of the PTA allows authorities to detain suspected terrorists for up to seven days without laying a charge. Critics of the PTA argue that this section breaches the European Convention on Human Rights and infringes on citizens' basic civil rights in a liberal democratic state. The PTA also prevents suspected terrorists from entering other parts of the Union (i.e., Scotland, England and Wales), which limits individual freedom of movement within a single sovereign state.

Threats to freedom of speech also exist in Northern Ireland. Although many papers either implicitly or explicitly express sectarian sentiments, some observers "suggest that sections of the media have served the interests of the British state by acting as channels for the dissemination of government propaganda" [17]. The state has periodically placed real limits on freedom of speech. Between 1969 and 1993, about 100 television programmes on "The Troubles" were banned. In 1988, the U.K. government imposed a ban on all programmes that contained interviews with individuals either directly or indirectly linked to illegal paramilitary organizations. It was not revoked until 1994. The media has also been affected by self-censorship due to the threat of legal sanctions and restrictions on media production [18].

The Republic of Ireland is the parallel context in which the IRSM is active and it presents dramatically different conditions from the North. The Republic has had extremely strong economic growth over the past ten years. The economic growth rate in recent years has been about 8% and unemployment declined from 18% in 1987 to 8% in 1998 [19]. In 1999, the GDP increased by an estimated 9.5% and incomes have started to increase for all groups in spite of inflation [20]. Politically, the Republic is a parliamentary democracy with an electoral system based in proportional representation. Recent political issues in the Republic have centered on managing the consequences of growth: for example, income inequalities, corruption and new social values. The overall picture is one of the dramatic transformation of an impoverished, highly religious society on the margins of Western Europe into a dynamic social, economic and cultural formation. Given this context, the IRSM focus on the Republic emphasizes social issues, rather than nationalism.



Web Site Analysis

The IRSM provides an umbrella for a number of related organizations that are included on the Web site at http://www.irsm.org/irsm.html [21]: the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP); Irish National Liberation Army (INLA); the British wing of the IRSP; and, the Irish Republican Socialist Committee North American (IRSCNA). The Web site [22] is divided into sections on IRSM history and principles, group statements and communiqués, the IRSM "Honour Roll", the IRSP, IRSCNA, IRSP London, contact information, and links. It is also organized according to kinds of documents. In May-June 2000, the site featured approximately 267 texts in all, ranging from less than a page to 10 pages in length. The shortest and most numerous texts were political communiqués and the longest historical pamphlets. Except for dated press releases, all documents on the Web site are undated and anonymous.

The first group of documents on the site are generally analytical. The analyses pertains largely to the domestic situation in Northern Ireland and especially "The Troubles". The IRSM explains its interpretation of the Troubles and proposes ways to resolve the conflict. Its analysis includes theoretical texts on Ireland and the struggle for Irish national liberation as well as historical documents by Irish republican socialists like James Connolly, the Irish socialist leader executed for his participation in the 1916 Easter Uprising. The theoretical texts also examine capitalism and economic development from a Marxist-Leninist perspective. In addition, the site outlines IRSM positions and policies and contrasts them to other nationalist groups. It also contains a number of statements that refer to a wide variety of topics, with particular attention to how IRSM activities respond to domestic and international events. Lastly, several sections on the site commemorate members and support political prisoners. These pages list IRSM members killed in action (the group uses the term "assassinated"), and a "prisoner of war" section lists IRSM members who are in prison as a result of their activities.

IRSM Political Goals and Analysis

The Web site addresses a number of conflicts. Above all, it focuses on the conflict over British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, which is called a struggle for national liberation. The site also focuses on the IRSM struggle against capitalism and its goal of creating a workers' republic in Ireland. In addition, the site addresses the conflict between the IRSP-INLA and other Republican movements, particularly Sinn Féin (SF) and the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) as well as the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA). The IRSP-INLA carefully distinguishes its republican socialism from the republican nationalism of SF-PIRA. The IRSM aims to secure national liberation of Northern Ireland and establish a workers' state on the entire island [23]. The movement defines its republican socialist national liberation struggle in order to distinguish it from mainstream nationalism. The IRSM sees the latter as a form of chauvinism produced by advanced capitalist states. It argues that Britain in particular has an imperial ethos and foreign policy. The IRSM contends that national liberation is a struggle to liberate national territory by expelling such an external, imperial power. In this way, the IRSM identifies its struggle in Northern Ireland with others in Cuba, Vietnam, Angola, and Algeria.

The IRSM defines itself as a socialist organization that is committed to armed struggle. It says that this distinguishes it from republican organizations that have abandoned class struggle and now define themselves as mainly nationalist, such as SF-PIRA. The IRSM alleges that SF-PIRA positions conform to the material interests of the Catholic petit-bourgeoisie. However, the IRSM at the same time distinguishes itself from what it calls the 'reformist' socialism of the OIRA (now the Workers' Party) out of which it developed organizationally [24]. The IRSM says it is part of Ireland's 'green' Marxist history.

Green Marxism is based on James Connolly's writings and activities [25]. Connolly held that British imperialist policies were the "prime mover" of the "Irish Question" and that the causes of the conflict were exogenous. According to this argument, after British imperialism seized Irish Catholic land in the North and settled Scottish colonists on the best acreage, U.K. policies then separated the Protestant and Catholic working classes according to a "divide and conquer" colonial policy. Connolly thought the only way to solve Irish problems was to get rid of the British presence through a national liberation war and establish socialism. The two processes were inextricably linked for him. IRSM Green Marxism follows Connolly's theory, arguing that "The Troubles" are a result of British imperialism [26]. The IRSM argues that the British used partition to divide the Irish working class between Catholic Republicanism and Protestant Loyalism. In Northern Ireland, the Unionist parties used the cleavage to manipulate legitimate Protestant working class concerns over civil and religious liberties in a united Ireland and tie its material interests to British imperialism. The Catholic working class, for its part, was duped by conservative republicans into believing its interests were identical to the Catholic middle class [27].

As the above analysis suggests, the IRSM views the governments of both Northern Ireland and the Republic as illegitimate. The IRSM sees the North as an imperialist statelet set up by a foreign occupation force and, as such, impossible to reform. The organization sees the only solution as reunification of the North and South and their joint transformation into a socialist workers' state. The Irish Republic is seen as an illegitimate "bourgeois class-state" that gave up armed struggle against British imperialism. It moreover aided in persecuting militant republicanism (particularly socialists) and "watered down" its claim to sovereignty over the six counties of Northern Ireland. The Irish Republic is also viewed as a state beholden to the "medieval" interests of the Catholic Church, which further de-legitimizes it [28].

IRSM Revolutionary Principles and Policies

As a revolutionary party with Marxist-Leninist principles, the IRSM believes in a dialectical unity of revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice. This means that the organization aims to put its revolutionary ideas into action. For the IRSM, revolution is the overthrow of the social, political and economic system in all of Ireland and its replacement with an entirely new order based on what it sees as people's needs, their welfare and national independence [29]. The IRSM revolution is a two-phase process based on: 1) the end of partition and seizure of the state; and, 2) set up of a "dictatorship of the proletariat" and construction of socialism under IRSM leadership. The IRSM favours abolition of parliamentary democracy and the party system and their replacement with a system of representation by a single revolutionary party [30]. The IRSP revolutionary programme distinguishes its principles as the foundations of a revolutionary programme from policies, which are determined by given historical situations and thus more flexible. It views policies as a matter of strategy and tactics and principles as goals.

IRSM policies are divided into two groups: 1) power policies; and, 2) reconstruction policies. Power policies are geared towards the first revolutionary phase: the seizure of state power. Reconstruction policies are designed for the subsequent phase in which socialism is built. The IRSM sees armed struggle as a power policy (i.e., not a matter of revolutionary principle) that can be renounced if it furthers the organization's revolutionary principles [31]. As a political party, the IRSP has formulated a series of positions:

  • Britain must renounce claims to sovereignty over Northern Ireland or any part of Ireland;
  • dissolution of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve (RUC Reserve) and withdrawal of British troops from Ireland;
  • release of all political prisoners and grant of amnesty;
  • British compensation for those who suffered from imperialist violence and exploitation;
  • opposition to imperialist control over Ireland's resources and wealth;
  • rejection of partition and view of both states as illegitimate;
  • convening an All-Ireland Constitutional Conference to develop a democratic and secular constitution; and,
  • armed struggle as an inherent right of the Irish people to achieve self-determination and national liberation [32].

The IRSP not only concentrates on revolution, but articulates a point-of-view on a series of issues concerning daily life in Northern Ireland. The party argues that Britain set up a sectarian state in Northern Ireland and deliberately fostered working class sectarianism as well as a women's movement divided between support for national liberation and pro-imperialism [33]. It charges that the dominant role of the Church in Irish society strengthens patriarchy because it perpetuates patriarchal social values that oppose abortion, divorce, birth control and women's entry into the workforce [34]. The IRSP argues that the power of the Catholic Church over society must accordingly be limited. The group notes that while birth control is legal in the Republic, those using it are stigmatized, doctors with Catholic values often refuse to provide contraceptives, and women need their spouses' consent to be sterilized, which implies that they belong to men. The IRSP advocates easy and unconditional access to birth control. Given that abortion is largely illegal in the Republic and North, the IRSP supports pro-choice movements and legalized abortion. It also supports the right to divorce, pay equity, free childcare, the fight against healthcare cutbacks, tougher sentences for rapists, an end to strip-searching, and an end to discrimination against lesbians.


The IRSM has released about 129 statements on internal Northern Ireland issues [35]. The statements cover issues such as: Loyalist violence; the peace process; U.K. troops and the British government; the RUC; prisoners-of-war; the Derry Monument to hunger strikers; domestic calls of solidarity; unionism and parading; and, miscellaneous political statements. They range from commentary on policing policy in Northern Ireland, condemnations of British or Irish government positions to pay equity. "Revolutionary statements" released for May Day reaffirm the necessity of building socialism and fighting for workers' rights. The authorship of most statements is unknown. Statements that denounce loyalist violence or comment on its increase are frequent.

The Northern Ireland peace process is often addressed. The IRSM opposed the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), calling it a failure. At the same time, the movement supported SF in the GFA election and called for no compromises in the negotiations over arms decommissioning in which it played no role. The INLA provisionally renounced armed struggle while the IRSM condemned British security forces and the RUC for violence and corruption. A final group of statements on the Web site focus on unionist actions, parades, solidarity with Irish lesbians and gays, and marking the anniversaries of armed struggle. Many IRSM communiqués respond to foreign events, either as memorials and/or commemorations [36], calls of solidarity [37] or condemnations [38]. INLA communiqués largely concern armed struggle. Most commemorate volunteers who died for the cause while others take responsibility for attacking military targets, deny responsibility for assassinating loyalists, and concern cease-fires. A final component of the Web site are links that cover a wide range of movements and organizations. Four categories of links include republican socialists [39]; solidarity links [40]; other pages of interest [41]; and, other documents [42].




The Electronic Starry Plough exemplfies of a shift from strictly territorial politics to a system in which multiple and overlapping interests, meanings and authorities are mediated by a global communications infrastructure. While many observers argue that such capacities will produce a radical break with traditional territorial politics, the above discussion illustrates one group that is more concerned to move its media from a traditional to an electronic context without that process having significant impact on their ideas or operations. The migration of all forms of elites to the Internet will certainly not give individuals more input or create radically new forms of community, as some analysts have predicted. Like the Internet, radio and television were initially believed to herald new forms of individualism and community. Their eventual impact, a greatly enhanced role for interest groups, was not foreseen when the technologies were first introduced.

To have an impact through the Internet, a group must either attract a global public or mobilize a specific constituency. Irish republicanism has a long history of successfully attracting a public and did so in the face of other forms of globalization, such as the nineteenth century famine. The famine in fact indirectly produced an affluent and sympathetic Irish-American public for the republican movement. In terms of a specific constituency, the Internet can provide groups outside the mainstream of politics with opportunities to spread their message. The IRSM Web site is most significant in this latter sense and it is here where analysis must assess the "consequences on the characteristics, organization, and goals of political processes, political actors, and political institutions" [43].

Electronic activists such as the IRSM can benefit from today's fragmented public, eroding national boundaries, increased cynicism about governments, and awareness of transnational issues such as the environment and human rights. However, such conditions do not necessarily signal long-term social transformation in the direction of greater participation. Internet access is rapidly growing, but not for most of the world 's population. For the foreseeable future, its impact will be felt within economically and culturally privileged areas of the globe. Electronic activism moreover requires time, energy, and mental effort. Information must be sorted, filtered, interpreted, and utilized before it can be said to have an impact. As a result, it is not clear "whether, on balance, communications ... empower citizens or states" [44]. In effect, global communications mean that we have to re-think how we understand information. The fact that the simple production or reproduction of information on the Internet is not a sufficient impetus to change means that we must consider how to employ its potential [45].

If electronic activism provokes something less than the dramatic overthrow of hierarchies, this will be to change the conditions of sovereignty. Few insurgents and radical groups that are online want to abolish states. Indeed, the IRSM illustrates a group that wants to transform a state rather than reject state-based politics. In fact, states still retain their "core functions", the capacity to wage war and make peace. They also remain the central goal of many political movements, as shown by the large demonstrations that accompany G-8 events, and critical international actors. Electronic activism might unsettle specific governments and substantiate a new global bipolarity between "universal-izing" technologies and specific identities [46], but it might just as easily be subsumed by other, as yet unanticipated, organizing principles. Today's Internet might be more at the point of de-territorializing messages than de-territorializing politics. The former might very well influence the latter, but, as seen in the riots in Genoa in July 2001, the goals of politics are still shaped by national divisions set in territorial units. The IRSM shows the centrality of information and communication in political conflict in the age of globalization. However, a will to deliver messages, a narrative, depends on a social context to give it meaning. In the case of the IRSM, the Irish social context lends significance to an electronic voice that might otherwise disappear without trace. End of article

About the Author

Dr. Michael Dartnell , Research Associate at the Centre for International and Security Studies at York University in Toronto and NATO Research Fellow, 2000-2001, is a specialist on terrorism and new forms of conflict. He is now completing a book, Insurgency Online: A New Form of Global Conflict, which examines how global communications are used by anti-government organizations in many settings, including Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, and Peru. He is the author of a book, Action directe: Ultra-left terrorism in France, 1979-1987 (London: Frank Cass, 1995) and articles on political violence in France and Northern Ireland, international law and terrorism, and terrorism and globalization.
Web: http:www.yorku.ca/dartnell
E-mail: dartnell@sympatico.ca



A preliminary draft of this article was presented at the International Political Science Association Québec 2000 Meeting in Québec City, 1 August 2000, Special Session 19.1: "Deterritorialization and Internet Political Communication". I would like to thank Geoff Kennedy for the excellent research he carried out on the IRSM Web site.



1. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983, p. 7.

2. Tom Nairn, Face of Nationalism: Janus Revisited. London: Verso, 1997, p. 17.

3. David Miller, On Nationality. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995, p. 185.

4. Ibid., p. 15.

5. This was notably the case of Irish nationalism, which developed overseas communities in the U.S. and Australia.

6. See Michel Foucault, "Security, Territory, and Population," In: Paul Rabinow (editor). Michel Foucault: Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth. New York: New Press, 1994, p. 69.

7. See David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton, Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999.

8. The "Starry Plough" refers to the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear or Plough of the heavens.

9. Anthony Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community. New York: Routledge, 1985, p. 14.

10. Based on a 1991 census. Projections on the Catholic-Protestant mix are controversial in Northern Ireland. Current birth rates suggest a Catholic majority in the North around 2010.

11. Manufacturing output is up and GDP grew by 11.6% in 1990-95. Unemployment is 11.2%, but an improvement from highs of 17% in the 1980s. Once a shipbuilding and linen producing centre, Northern Ireland was a net importer of most goods and exported little by the 1970s when the welfare state and a massive security presence were the region's main economic stand-bys. Figures from "Northern Ireland Economic Overview", October 1997, Northern Ireland Office, at http://www.nio.gov.uk/970919.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

12. See Henry Patterson, "Northern Ireland Economy," In: A. Aughey and D. Morrow (editors). Northern Ireland Politics. London: Longman, 1996, p. 127.

13. Joseph Ruane and Jennifer Todd, The Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 170.

14. Political parties include: Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Sinn Féin (SF), Alliance Party (AP), Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP), Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), Worker's Party (WP), Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), UK Unionist Party (UKUP), and Ulster Democratic Party (UDP).

15. Paul Arthur, "Political Parties: Elections and Strategies," In: Northern Ireland Politics. London: Longman, 1996, p. 18.

16. B. O'Leary and J. McGarry, The Politics of Antagonism: Understanding Northern Ireland. London: Athlone Press, 1993, p. 18.

17. L. Bairner, "The Media," In: Northern Ireland Politics, London: Longman, 1996, p. 19.

18. See Bill Rolston and David Miller (editors). War and Words: The Northern Ireland Media Reader. Belfast: Beyond the Pale Publications, 1996.

19. Figures from a report by P.J. O'Connell, R.O. O'Donnell and V. Gash, Astonishing Success: Economic Growth and the Labour Market in Ireland. Dublin: The Economic and Social Research Institute, at http://www.esri.ie/1999_BK_MN_SUM.HTM#AstonishingSuccess, accessed 25 July 2000.

20. "Quarterly Economic Commentary," ESRI, June 2000, at http://www.esri.ie/QEC0600.HTM, accessed 25 July 2000.

21. The analysis of the IRSM Web site was conducted in June-July 2000. Additional materials have since been added to the site, but are not examined here. All references to the IRSM site are to the June-July 2000 version, which is used as a "snapshot" of the site.

22. See http://www.irsm.org/irsm.html.

23. "What is National Liberation?" at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/whatisnatlib.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

24. IRSM, "Why the IRSP?" at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/whyirps.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

25. The IRSM's "Connollyite Marxism" as well as the legacy of "Green Marxism" in Ireland are found in "What is Irish Republican Socialism?" at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/whatis.htm and "James Connolly and Irish Freedom" at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/jc&irishfreedom.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

26. "Irish Republican Socialist Movement-20 years of Struggle," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/irsm20yr.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

27. The IRSM position on the "false consciousness" of the Northern Ireland working-class are found in "Loyalism," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/loyalism.htm and "The Broad Front," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/broadfront.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

28. IRSM analysis of the relationship between the Troubles, British imperialism and capitalism is found in "Capitalism," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/capitalism.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

29. IRSM, "The Road to Revolution," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/rtrinireland.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid.

32. "The Broad Front."

33. "Women in Ireland," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/women.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

34. Ibid.

35. See http://www.irsm.org/statements/irsp.html and http://www.irsm.org/statements/inla.html.

36. African Liberation Day, Kurdish New Year and International Women's Day.

37. Solidarity for Kurdish Struggles and liberation in South Africa.

38. Actions condemned include: arrest of anti-NATO protesters in Italy, imprisonment of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Kosovo war, Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan's "abduction" and death sentence, arrest of Puerto Rican activists, Third World debt, the Pope's comments on Pinochet, sanction against Libya, U.S. extradition of IRSP POWs, and British "acts of international terrorism". The organization also calls for dissolution of NATO.

39. Scottish Republicans (The Scottish Republican Socialist Party), Cyrmu Goch-Welsh Socialists and the Scottish Republican Forum.

40. Links are provided to the following Web sites: Free Éireann, Irish Republican Writer's Group, Scottish Republican Socialist Party, Scottish Socialist Alliance, 1913 Commemoration Committee, Militant Labour Home Page-Ireland, South African Communist Party, EZLN-Zapatistas, Celtic League, Committee on he Administration of Justice, FARC Home Page, Partido Democratico Popular Revolucionario y del Ejercito Popular Revolucionario (PDPR-EPR Mexico), Kurdistan Information Centre, Y Faner Goch (Cymru Goch's Periodical), Dublin Abortion Rights Alliance, Troops Out! Movement, Friends of Irish Freedom, Revolutionary People's Liberation Party Front (DHKP/C), Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK), Euskal Herria Journal (Basque), MRTA Solidarity Page, Romani Page, Sami People Page, and Widerstand Information and Analysis (German anti-fascist, anti-racist, socialist group).

41. These include: Radical History on the Web, Irish History on the Web, Larkspirit Online Bookshop, Ireland's Patriots, Venceremos Page, The Marxism/Leninism Project, List of Marxist Websites, Irish Struggles, The Irish Citizen Army: Labour clenches its fist, Ireland and British Imperialism, The Marx/Engels archive, Mark's Solidarity Page (Irish-Mexican), and Spunk Press Home Page.

42. These documents are: "Teach na Failte," "Seven Stars," "Communist Manifesto," "Articles by Jenny Marx on the Irish Question," and "If an Agent Knocks: Federal Investigators and your rights."

43. Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996, p. 476.

44. David V.J. Bell, "Global Communications, Culture, and Values: Implications for Global Security," In: David Dewitt, David Haglund and John Kirton (editors). Building a New Global Order: Emerging trends in International Security. Toronto: Oxford University Press, p. 172.

45. See Dan Schiller, "How to Think About Information," In: Vincent Mosco and Janet Wasco (editors). The Political Economy of Information. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1988, pp. 27-43.

46. Castells, p. 3.



Benedict Anderson, 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Arthur Aughey and Duncan Morrow (editors), 1996. Northern Ireland Politics. London: Longman.

David V.J. Bell, 1993. "Global Communications, Culture, and Values: Implications for Global Security" In: David Dewitt, David Haglund and John Kirton (editors). Building a New Global Order: Emerging trends in International Security. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Manuel Castells, 1996. The Rise of the Network Society. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.

Anthony Cohen, 1985. The Symbolic Construction of Community. New York: Routledge.

Michel Foucault, 1994. "Security, Territory, and Population," In: Paul Rabinow (editor). Michel Foucault: Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth. New York: New Press.

David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton. Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

David Miller, 1995. On Nationality. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Tom Nairn, 1997. Face of Nationalism: Janus Revisited. London: Verso.

"Northern Ireland Economic Overview," Northern Ireland Office, October 1997, at http://www.nio.gov.uk/970919.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

P.J. O'Connell, R.O. O'Donnell and V. Gash, 1999. Astonishing Success: Economic Growth and the Labour Market in Ireland. Dublin: Economic and Social Research Institute, at http://www.esri.ie/1999_BK_MN_SUM.HTM#AstonishingSuccess, accessed 25 July 2000; see also http://www.ilo.org/public/english/employment/strat/publ/etp44.htm.

Brendan O'Leary and John McGarry, 1993. The Politics of Antagonism: Understanding Northern Ireland. London: Athlone Press.

"Quarterly Economic Commentary," Dublin: Economic and Social Research Institute, June 2000, at http://www.esri.ie/QEC0600.HTM, accessed 25 July 2000.

Joseph Ruane and Jennifer Todd, 1996. The Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bill Rolston and David Miller (editors), 1996. War and Words: The Northern Ireland Media Reader. Belfast: Beyond the Pale Publications.

Dan Schiller, 1988. "How to Think About Information," In: Vincent Mosco and Janet Wasco (editors). The Political Economy of Information. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.


IRSM Texts

"The Broad Front," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/broadfront.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

"Capitalism," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/capitalism.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

"Irish Republican Socialist Movement - 20 years of Struggle," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/irsm20yr.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

"James Connolly and Irish Freedom," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/jc&irishfreedom.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

"Loyalism," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/loyalism.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

"The Road to Revolution," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/rtrinireland.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

"What is National Liberation?," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/whatisnatlib.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

"What is Irish Republican Socialism?," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/whatis.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

"Why the IRSP?," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/whyirps.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

"Women in Ireland," at http://www.irsm.org/general/history/women.htm, accessed 25 July 2000.

Editorial history

Paper received 17 August 2001; accepted 16 November 2001.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2001, First Monday

Electronic Starry Plough: The Enationalism of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement by Michael Dartnell
First Monday, volume 6, number 12 (December 2001),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_12/dartnell/index.html

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