Fanatical determinism

Eddie Ford debates the revolutionary struggle in the Six Counties in reply to Dave Douglass and Roy Bull

Unfortunately, comrades Roy Bull (‘British humiliated?’, Letters Weekly Worker July 11) and Dave Douglass (‘The IRA and the armed strategy’, Letters Weekly Worker July 4) substitute illusion and wish-fulfilment fantasies for Marxist analysis.

Comrade Bull seems to think that IRA/Sinn Fein can do no wrong and that their actions (Manchester bombing included) are all part of a brilliant anti-imperialist masterplan. Comrade Doug-lass, on the other hand, believes that the Manchester bombing is evidence that the IRA has tragically ‘degenerated’ from its “earlier revolutionary, socialist and internationalist vision”. Both the comrades demonstrate an inability to soberly assess the real balance of forces, both nationally and internationally.

Comrade Douglass clearly does not approve of the Manchester bomb, which for him represents a “strategy of waging war on the whole population” - a view, it has to be said, not too dissimilar to the tabloid press. In other words, it was a ‘bad’ bomb. Comrade Douglass hankers nostalgically for the ‘good’ bombs of the 70s and 80s, when IRA volunteers were “revolutionary fighters”. We can only presume that the comrade had no problems with the Birmingham pub bombings and the Ennis-killen bomb (to name just two, out of many, incidents), which must be examples of the “occasional balls-ups” by the IRA. Never mind, that was back in the good old days when the IRA “made a distinction between the ordinary working class punter and the boys at the top”.

However, the meticulously planned and executed Manchester bomb, which led to no “innocent casualties” (to use Dave’s phrase), is beyond the pale ... ‘No good, comrades, no good,’ mutters comrade Douglass, from the peace and tranquillity of sleepy South Yorkshire.

The comrade’s arguments do not stand up to examination. It is always nonsense to counterpose ‘good’ bombs to ‘bad’ bombs, as if they go off in a political vacuum. Such a line of logic, inherent in comrade Douglass’s comments, represents a slippery slope. First that bomb - ‘bad’. Then this bomb - ‘bad’. Before you know it you have arrived at the social-pacifism of the Socialist Workers Party, or even the rank national chauvinism of Militant Labour (with its ‘unionist’ road to socialism, so redolent of some sections of ‘official communism’ in Ireland). I am confident that comrade Douglass would not want to be associated with such views.

The fact of the matter is that the IRA is, and has always been, a petty bourgeois revolutionary nationalist movement, not a socialist/communist one. Indeed, some of the original pronouncements of the Provisional IRA in 1969/70 were fiercely anti-communist, condemning “godless communism” and so on. This saw many ‘official communists’ labelling the PIRA as “green-fascists” (some still do, as do some ‘Trotskyites’), giving them an ‘excuse’ to abandon the national liberation struggle and concentrate on so-called ‘class issues’. As a result, the Official IRA, and its offspring, ended up as virtually more unionist than the Unionist parties.

Comrade Bull, it cannot be denied, is well aware that the essential nature of Sinn Fein/IRA’s politics has not changed. As the comrade puts it, the Manchester operation was a “continuation of the 25 years of previous guerrilla war”. Comrade Bull also correctly points out the IRA has never conducted a “revolutionary socialist war”: it has “always been a national liberation war, but, for all that, a mighty blow against imperialism nevertheless.”

All true, of course. But the comrade could not be more wrong to believe that it is business as usual and that victory is ‘inevitable’. Indeed, comrade Bull’s letter is marked by a fanatical determination to ignore the political realities confronting the revolutionary nationalist movement in the Six Counties. The comrade does this by hermetically sealing off the Six Counties from the rest of the world and then fantasising about an IRA ‘victory’ against British imperialism, which is conducted in splendid isolation and without any ‘external’ assistance. It is ironic that comrade Bull accuses the CPGB of wallowing in “perfect revolution fantasy”. In reality, it is the comrade who is captivated by fantasy - ie, the fantasy of rigid stageism. First, the national liberation struggle - which is the preserve of nationalist movements. Secondly, the inevitable introduction of ‘socialism’ - which is when ‘we’ suddenly emerge like supermen. No wonder the comrade heaps so much ignorant abuse on Leon Trotsky and so much praise upon the Stalinite bureaucracy.

Comrade Bull sees victory everywhere. Defeat is impossible. The imperialist-orchestrated ‘peace talks’ are, in comrade Bull’s alternative universe, a manifestation of the “unprecedented international pressure on imperialism in recent years”. Who by? Obviously, the talks are merely a matter of working out the finer details of British imperialism’s “negotiated retreat from the original gerrymandered ‘no surrender’ partition”.

To be blunt, comrade Bull has taken leave of his senses. Optimism is one thing; delusions are another. The IRA, and the revolutionary nationalist movement in general, has been sucked into the ‘peace’ talks because it can see no other alternative. Gerry Adams (ie, Sinn Fein/IRA) has been courting representatives of US imperialism in the hope that it will enable him to make the best deal he can with British imperialism, under the unfavourable circumstances which all national liberation movements find themselves in. If comrade Bull does not believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the US-dominated ‘new world order’ is not a setback for the world working class, and revolutionary movements in general, then that puts him in the same company as the most dogmatic Trotskyite (or the SWP), rejoicing at the “collapse of Stalinism”.

Comrade Bull challenges the CPGB to state how the bombs of the IRA “differ from 25 years of previous” bombings. Simple. The IRA was previously committed to the defeat of British imperialism - ie, the smashing of the sectarian Six Counties statelet and the unification of Ireland. All the IRA bombs and tactics, the ‘bullet and the ballot box’, etc, were subordinated to that one aim.

That perspective has gone. The bombs of the IRA now serve the function of getting the most they can - within the framework of the sectarian Six Counties statelet, which will remain attached to the UK state. We do not say this in order to condemn the IRA for “selling out”, as comrade Bull seems to think. We say it because it is the truth, not because we are pointing our doctrinaire “Trot” fingers at the IRA, least of all because of our “sour defeatism”. We too salute the “titanic” struggles of the IRA, but that cannot allow us to sink into subjectivism and ultra-voluntarism. Unfortunately, will alone is not enough.

It is revealing that comrade Bull writes about the “overthrow of apartheid” (my italics). Pure nonsense. The dismantling of apartheid was a great victory for the revolutionary movement but it also represented a necessity for capitalist stability. It is plain to all, especially to the bourgeois commentators and pundits, that the revolutionary struggle in South Africa was negotiated out of existence. A peaceful transition to ‘normal’ bourgeois rule was the result, with imperialism pinning all its hopes on an ANC/Mandela government to preserve capitalist socio-economic relations. A wise strategy, as it turned out.

The ANC (with the South African ‘Communist’ Party also playing its loyal role) worked overtime to disarm the revolutionary movement, quite literally. For all those committed to socialism - ie, working class rule - it was “a setback”, as comrade Bull mockingly writes. A genuine “overthrow of apartheid”, in this sense, would have been a victory, as it would have entailed the overthrow of capitalism.

But, of course, the eminently ‘practical’ and ‘realistic’ comrade Bull finds such notions a source of philistine humour - he prefers the ‘iron laws of history’ instead, which will save ‘communists’ from actually having to make revolution. There is always the IRA, ANC, JV Stalin, etc who can save us all the time and effort and build ‘communism’ for us. ‘Just stop all your Trot carping and moaning and let them get on with it,’ as comrade Bull might say. Indeed, if you were to accept the ‘optimistic’ schema outlined by comrade Bull, you would have to ask why we need a Communist Party at all, with all these ‘surrogates’ and ‘substitutes’ - Red Army, JV Stalin, ANC, Gerry Adams, etc - floating around.

Finally, just for comrade Bull’s benefit, I am quite sure that right now the majority of British people say, ‘Get out of Ireland’. (Opinion polls have consistently shown this over the years.) However, this has nothing to do with a flowering of ‘pro-IRA’ internationalism inside the British working class, but all to do with a deep ‘anti-IRA’ national chauvinism - ie, ‘Let’s get out and leave the Paddies to it.’ Our job as communists is to unite the British and Irish working class, not drive them further apart. We can never do that by acting as uncritical cheerleaders for Sinn Fein/IRA, even if comrade Bull thinks that is the proper role for ‘communists’.

The position of the CPGB on the IRA’s armed and diplomatic struggle is straightforward. We unconditionally support its right to resist British imperialism in any manner it sees fit - there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bombs. But we recognise that the IRA is a petty-bourgeois revolutionary organisation, not a communist one; therefore, its methods and aims are different to ours - no more, no less. We do not subsume, or dissolve, ourselves into the IRA (comrade Bull), nor do we support it only on the condition that it ‘behaves’ itself and conforms to our false expectations (comrade Douglass).

As the old saying goes, ‘March separately; strike together’. British imperialism can be defeated in the Six Counties, if we apply the correct tactics and theory.