This article appeared in The Starry Plough (Dec. 2001/Jan. 2002) the paper of the Irish Republican Socialist Party
It was a momentous day for Republicanism in Ireland. Tuesday the 23rd of September 2001- the day the Provisional IRA decommissioned weapons in order to save not only the Good Friday Agreement but also the Stormont Assembly. The shock waves are rumbling through the Republican heartlands ever since.
A number of phrases are heard –
At least ‘the stickies’ didn’t decommission,
an act of unparalleled treachery,
we told you so and so on.
When the issue was first raised in the early days of the peace process the IRSP was sceptical about the whole process but did not believe that decommissioning was an issue or that any republican group would voluntarily decommission its weapons.
Representatives of the Republican Socialist Movement met with representatives of the Provisional Movement on a number of occasions over the last five years and were assured that decommissioning of weapons would not happen. We had no reason to disbelieve the sincerity of those we spoke with. It was a matter for them; it is still a matter for them.
But for all that there is no doubt that shock, disillusionment, feelings of betrayal, and a shaken trust in the leadership, and a reluctant but necessary step all summon up what strong supporters of the Provisional Movement feel.
Betrayal & disillusionment
Emotions run high and talk of
what about Bombay Street? etc echoes through the streets of Belfast. The image of the burning streets of Ardoyne in 1969 runs through the mind as the northern nationalist working class tries to come to terms with this event.
It is always a good thing to become disillusioned. That is the throwing away of false illusions and the start of seeing things as they really are. The IRSP feel for those whose have feelings of betrayal and disillusionment. Within our own history we have suffered our own disillusionments. So we understand why many out there are feeling bruised and sensitive to criticism.
But now is the time to see things as they really are, not as we wish them to be. When the Civil Rights Movement started not only republicans of all shades but socialists of all shades didn’t know how to react.
Those who later went on to form the Provisionals were reluctant to become involved in what was a reformist movement. Those who later went on to take the Official IRA down a dead end street of arrogant political self seeking saw the Civil Rights Movement as the only way forward and tried to suppress both the emergence of a more militant brand of republicanism and any manifestation of class struggle.
Those of us who consistently and persistently raised social and economic issues within the mass struggle that the Civil Rights Movement became, were derided as ultra left-ists, wreckers, trots and looney lefties. Socialists veered between a full acceptance of the nationalist agenda or swallowing whole a form of British Imperialist socialism under the guise of an exotic form of communism.
Out of all this confusion the Provisionals emerged from the ashes of 69 and the failure of the Official leadership to re-arm the North in a time of increasing political tension. The Provos rejected a reformist agenda and launched an armed campaign on the single issue of Brits Out. Later in 1973/74 the Official Republican Movement split again and eventually the IRSP/INLA emerged to re-establish the Republican Socialist tradition that they felt had been betrayed by the Officials. The programme the IRSP then set out has still not yet been met. We have not yet attained a Broad Front, removed the Brits, or established the Socialist Republic.
Much water has flowed under the bridge since the seventies and there have been many changes. The Provisionals have accepted, albeit 30 years later, the reformist strategy first put forward by the Officials. The reason for armed struggle has gone and their goals can be achieved by political means and the growth of the catholic population. The Good Friday Agreement saw the Provisionals ditch one of the pillars of Republicanism, non-sectarianism when they accepted the sectarian headcount that gave them seats in the Stormont Cabinet.
This can all be very confusing for those who trust in leaderships and go for the personalities in politics. A trust in a Gerry, a Martin or even a Ruaridh will eventually lead to disillusionment. All of us as individuals are influenced not only by our parents and neighbourhood but also by the interaction between our core beliefs and our actions. We are formed in specific historical and economic conditions. We all are, in a sense, prisoners of history and also of the organisations we are members of.
The Provisionals were an all-class alliance merging militarists, disaffected urban nationalist youths and traditional nationalists from rural areas. During the seventies this alliance while capable of launching ferocious military attacks made no political progress. Sinn Fein in the 70‘s was a right wing pro catholic and anticommunist mouth piece for the IRA with the occasional radical articles to appeal to more left wing elements.
When the Hunger Strikes occurred the urban based northern seized the leadership, swung the movement towards the left to soak up the militant radicalised working class youth, the growing republican minded women’s groups and the radical intellectuals politicised by the mass actions around the hunger strikes.
During all this time regular contact was kept up with the British Intelligence services through various contacts. This was because the Provo leadership recognised that eventually they would have to do a deal with their enemy. They knew from the mid eighties that the continuation of the armed struggle was a road to nowhere.
Armalite & Ballot Box
The Armalite and Ballot Box strategy saw the Provisionals make many political gains. They were able to exercise a strangle-hold over most nationalist working class areas in the north and through the exercise of social and economic control, which they had wrestled from the SDLP/Catholic Church, were able to create a middle bureaucracy of supporters who formed the intellectual backbone for their control in the ghettoes. All opposition whether militarily or politically was ruthlessly crushed within their areas of control.
Throughout all this they were able to retain the loyal support of their base because of their militancy and also their astute political leadership. This leadership was trusted. The development of their peace strategy was an advance from the Armalite etc strategy. It was strongly driven by their support base in the USA. The swing to the left of the early eighties was slowed, a distancing began with anti-imperialist movements worldwide, the suits came in and the advisers multiplied. Now they were appealing to the emergent nationalist middle classes within the north and they began to occupy the ground that the SDLP had once walked on.
That is because they represent bourgeois Ireland. That is why they can occupy seats in a capitalist Government and introduce privatisation schemes into the educational system. Of course they will oppose corrupt practices and use radical phrases but their whole function now as a political organisation is to make Ireland a more effective and efficient place for international capital to invest in. That is the importance of the USA connections.
Obviously the creation of one Republican Governmental system on the isle of Ireland will reduce bureaucracy make easier access for multinationals to Government and speed the integration of Ireland into the whole NATO defence scheme. This will be in spite of the desire of individual Republicans to keep Ireland neutral. Their subjective wishes will come up against the brutal logic of Imperialism and objective reality will always over-come subjective wishes.
He who pays the piper…
Witness the response to the Colombian Three, the Turkish Hunger Strike and the September 11th massacres. There is no way that their principal leaderships will be identified with any radical movements from now on. No matter how much that leadership may support the cause of the Turkish Hunger strikers they can not be seen to do so. Some of the middle tier leaderships will be allowed to associate and participate with safe leftist tinged causes but not the leadership. He who pays the piper calls the tune and be under no illusions the tune is now called from Washington.
That is not to say that the IRSP have all the answers. We don’t. It is always easier to criticise than to put forward solutions. Since the return of the Republican Socialist Movement to its political roots following a bitter political and military struggle in the mid nineties we have been measured in our criticisms of other Republicans. While critical of the Good Friday Agreement and the political basis of the peace process we accepted the verdict of the people of Ireland as expressed in referenda and persuaded the leadership of the INLA to call an unconditional ceasefire. We are for peace. We are for politics. We are for the democratic road. We are against militarism.
But we are not for republicans, or socialists for that matter, taking their seats in a capitalist Government. We are not for decommissioning and we are for the defence of working class areas from sectarian attacks.
I owe my allegiance to the working class
Does that lead to political impotence? We don’t believe so. Our politics have always been based on a class analysis and can be best summed up in the words of Seamus Costello,
I owe my allegiance to the working class. The working class of all countries are our friends and allies. The capitalists of all countries are our enemies. Capitalism is ruthless in its logic as it breaks down national barriers and creates a global economy. There can be no Socialist Republic built in Ireland in isolation. The idea of a socialist paradise isle surrounded by capitalist states is a fantasy. That is why republicans have always been internationalists from Tone to Connolly from O’Donnell to Costello. Republicanism itself was an import to Ireland from France. What is going on today in Afghanistan, in Columbia, in Sierra Leone and Iraq, impinges on the day to day life of people in Ireland. In its relentless pursuit of profit modern day capitalism is no respecter of states or governments. Hence the creation of super states like the European Union.
It is in this context that we in the IRSP are internationalist. The international capital market profoundly affects the Irish working class. Many of the 1200 workers who have only recently been told that they are facing redundancies are instinctively aware of the internationalist nature of capitalism. It is the task of socialists and republicans to bring together the best elements of both republicanism and socialism and create an alliance of the dispossessed within this isle that can successfully challenge the cosy capitalist consensus that accepts the permanency of the capitalist system. The provisional movement has clearly shown by the actions of its leadership that it accepts that consensus. We do not.
An all class alliance of nationalist Ireland while it may weaken the unionist case also weakens the working class. It is a case of labour must wait as De Valera said during the war of Independence. But now it is the current leaders of Sinn Fein who are saying labour must wait.
We disagree. Labour, that is the needs and aspirations of the Irish working class, can not wait, must not wait. They are the only class capable of building a just and equitable society on this isle. That is why we repeat the call we made a number of years ago for the creation of a Republican Forum with which to rally the disorganised and demoralized forces of the left. There is a way forward for the republican and socialist left and we intend to play our full part in rallying the Irish working class. If you are radical, republican and working class play your part. Join us in the struggle.
On to the Republic.
Belfast Socialist Forum
A non-sectarian socialist discussion group has been set up in Belfast. Initiated by Socialist Democracy and supported by left activists and the International Socialists (former members of the Socialist Workers Movement who have resigned in protest at the SWM’s lack of democracy), it is open to all socialists interested in debate and education in socialist ideas.
Decisions on discussions, activities and speakers are taken by open meetings of Belfast Socialist Forum, which is open to all socialist activists.
For further details contact Socialist Democracy PO Box 40, Belfast or ring 028 9060 1555)