Ireland needs Marxism

What is so unusual about Irish republicans laying down their arms? Nothing whatsoever. In fact Irish 20th century history is replete with numerous examples of just that. Those who once took up arms against the British or free state rulers have frequently ended up abandoning the revolutionary struggle, seduced by the allure of the bourgeois mainstream. Certainly that is what Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have in mind. With Sinn Féin already the main republican/nationalist party in the north and steadily increasing its proportion of votes in the south, Adams and McGuinness have rather bigger ambitions than some ministry in the Six County statelet. They aim to transform Sinn Féin into a dominant all-Ireland constitutional party - if not the dominant party. What is different about the current peace process is that never before have arms been handed over to the powers-that-be. Usually they have simply been left to rust. Of course, the unionists and rightwing media complain that it is not happening quickly enough, and that Sinn Féin/IRA do not really mean what they say, but the fact is that, however symbolically, weapons have been "put beyond use", as verified by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD). In fact September 11 2001 has made it virtually impossible for a petty bourgeois movement like the IRA to continue its war - to do so against the backdrop of the 'war on terror' would be to cut oneself off from many areas of traditional support, not least in the USA. So the deal that was signed on Good Friday 1998 can now be seen even more clearly as a turning point - there is no going back to the armed struggle. The IRA statement of July 28 reflects this. While still containing several areas of ambiguity, it is more explicit than any previous declaration. "All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms," it reads. Volunteers must "assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means" and "must not engage in any other activities whatsoever". Units must "engage with" the IICD to "complete the process to verifiably put its arms beyond use "¦ as quickly as possible". Although Sinn Féin has helped to run the Six Counties, and intends to continue doing so, thus recognising its legitimacy, one thing it is still insisting upon is that it will not directly support its armed bodies of men in the shape of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. When SF spokespersons are pressed on the question, they attempt to skirt around the difficulties by saying that they 'understand' individuals who feel they need to report crime to the police, but they themselves do not regard the current policing arrangements as acceptable. This leaves it in something of a quandary, which is hinted at by the IRA. Its statement notes, almost as an aside: "The issue of the defence of nationalist and republican communities has been raised with us." This is an issue of no little importance. There are, after all, probably thousands of illegal arms in the hands of the various loyalist paramilitary groups (a question that is considered by the British establishment as secondary when compared to IRA weaponry), which have in the past demonstrated that they have no compunction in using them to carry out often random murderous assaults on catholics. And state forces - both those of Northern Ireland and the UK itself have been responsible in the past for brutal attacks on working class republican areas. Thus the IRA statement, having informed us that this whole question has been "raised", goes on cryptically: "There is a responsibility on society to ensure that there is no reoccurrence of the pogroms of 1969 and the early 1970s." Some commentators have interpreted this to mean that, since the IRA believes that official "society" cannot be trusted to do so, it will be forced to retain some arms itself. In this connection great play has been made about the absence of the word 'all' in the IRA's commitment to "put its arms beyond use". Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern may say in their joint response to the IRA statement: "It is more important than ever that progress is made in extending support across all sections of the community for the new policing arrangements throughout Northern Ireland" (July 28). But this is easier said than done, for reasons explained by that viciously anti-republican Irish Times columnist, Kevin Myers: "When the old RUC, aided by loyalist gangs, began its incursions into nationalist areas of Belfast in 1969, the IRA was helpless to resist. Many hundreds of catholic homes were burnt down and thousands of catholics fled. The graffiti that appeared in nationalist areas read, 'IRA = I Ran Away'. "The Provisional IRA resulted from that calamity. Deep in its DNA is this core value: it will not allow nationalist/republican areas of Belfast ever, ever, to go unarmed. The IRA leadership would no more countenance a disbandment of its capacity to 'defend' such areas than the British army would announce that henceforth it would no longer defend the realm. "No doubt many might think such comparisons ridiculous. But if the IRA were simply a sweet and reasonable organisation, we would not have had 36 years of strife" (The Daily Telegraph July 30). Others might think it would hardly be "sweet and reasonable" to trust the PSNI any more than the Royal Ulster Constabulary before it. From the point of view of working class republicans, it would be extremely foolhardy not to retain some weaponry for defensive purposes - especially when you consider that only last week feuding elements of the Ulster Volunteer Force were showing that they still have the capacity to assassinate and brutalise their opponents. In any case, for all the talk about 'verification', no-one can ever be sure that all IRA arms have been 'decommissioned'. Apparently its arsenal includes "three tons of Semtex, 588 AKM assault rifles and 17 DShK heavy-duty machine guns", if you believe British intelligence. But if they know so much detail, you might ask, then how come state forces have never been able to locate, let alone seize, such a haul? In the end everybody will have to take the IRA's word for it. However, IRA decommissioning is not the central question. Sinn Féin/IRA have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt over the last seven years and more that they have no intention of halting their transformation into a constitutional force - the gains have been too great for such a reversal to be contemplated. So does this statement represent the final act of "surrender", as alleged by The Sun (July 28)? In my opinion this is just as absurd as Ian Paisley's claim that the dismantling of army surveillance towers and lookout posts, which began the following day, was "surrendering to the IRA". Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party is also enraged by the fact that troops stationed in Northern Ireland are to be cut by more than half, to 5,000, by 2007. The hated Royal Irish Regiment, formed largely from the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), is to go. In 1970 the UDR replaced the 'B specials' - a force which was overwhelmingly protestant and worked hand in glove with loyalist terror gangs. But the DUP ludicrously suggests that the "people of Ulster" will now be unprotected, should the IRA decide to resume its armed struggle (which, of course, it will not). In fact the state remains armed to the teeth - there is no requirement on the British army to decommission its weapons of suppression. However, it is ludicrous to talk about "surrender" - the IRA has clearly not been defeated. It is also missing the point to say that Adams has sold out. Yes, he has turned his back on the revolutionary republican tradition. But his socialism was always national, always fake. Sinn Féin/IRA were never principled working class partisans. Rather, however heroically they fought the British occupation, they are nationalists following a petty bourgeois programme. No-one should be surprised when such people discard the Armalite in favour of constitutionalism - there is nothing innately revolutionary about their nationalism. For nearly three decades Britain was unable to rule the Six Counties in the old way and the nationalist masses refused to be ruled in the old way. But the historic compromise reached between the British state and republicanism ended the revolutionary situation. It is therefore foolhardy to demand, or imply, that the only principled way to fight the British, even now, is through the bullet. Of course, we communists favour an armed people - even if at this time we are limited to making propaganda. But armed struggle is merely one tactic open to us - we are equally prepared to contest elections (even to the assembly of a gerrymandered, illegitimate statelet). What is paramount is not this or that tactic, but the programme we fight under. And programme is what is desperately lacking amongst Irish revolutionaries. True, they all call for unity, independence and democracy for Ireland, but that is about as far as it goes. We are for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the British state and British troops from Northern Ireland. There must be a freely elected, all-Ireland constitutional assembly, whereby the Irish people can decide their own future without Blair setting the agenda. We advocate and fight for the fullest democracy. That means a federal Ireland with self-governing autonomy, up to and including the right to separate, for the British-Irish minority. There can be no right of present-day Northern Ireland to self-determination. The six-county statelet was founded in 1921 on the cynical basis of permanently institutionalising the oppression of the catholic-nationalist minority. We do not, and cannot, support the right of the British-Irish majority in the north to oppress the catholic-nationalist minority. But the British-Irish, as a historically constituted people, must be won voluntarily to Irish unity -and this can best be achieved through a federal solution, whereby the area containing a clear British-Irish majority (one county and four half-counties) has the right of self-determination up to and including secession. In the early 1970s Sinn Féin adopted a programme, Eire Nua, which advocated a "federal Ireland". But this ignored the living cultural/ethnic divisions, and instead sought to revive the "four historic provinces" - Connacht, Munster, Leinster and a nine-county Ulster. This singularly failed to address the objective British-Irish question in a democratic manner. Comrade Liam O Ruairc has contributed some very useful articles to the Weekly Worker in recent months, detailing Sinn Féin's turn to constitutionalism. He correctly states: "What fundamentally distinguishes Irish republicanism from Irish nationalism is that it is not simply about desiring independence from Britain, but that it is intrinsically connected to establishing democracy in Ireland. The national question is part of what Marx and Engels "¦ called the process of 'winning the battle for democracy'" (Weekly Worker June 2). But the revolutionary socialist republicanism that the comrade espouses is lacking in one respect: it fails to embrace anything approaching a programme to win over the British-Irish population - perhaps, like so many others, comrade O Ruairc would dismiss the notion of the necessary voluntary unity as legitimising a "unionist veto", although it is nothing of the sort. However, the absence of such a programme amongst Irish revolutionaries is merely a symptom of a larger failing. Comrade O Ruairc is a supporter of the "Irish Republican Socialist Movement" - a term usually employed to refer collectively to the Irish Republican Socialist Party and its armed wing, the Irish National Liberation Army. He states that the IRSM is "well placed" and has "the necessary credibility" to renew "the republican and socialist projects" (ibid). Yet on December 5 1998 the IRSP overwhelming voted at its conference to abandon the only genuine basis for working class emancipation. It ditched its 1984 commitment to Marxism and the building of a Communist Party (described as "premature"). This is how John Bridge, a fraternal visitor from the CPGB, reported the proceedings: "Gerry Ruddy, political secretary and de facto main spokesperson, questioned the relevance of Marxism to the 21st century and in a coup de grà¢ce tellingly asked who had actually read Marx recently. Not one of the 100 or so delegates raised a hand. In a keynote speech comrade Ruddy explained that what he understood by republican socialism was a national socialism. His vision was of a 32-county state where the workers would receive back the full fruits of their labour" (Weekly Worker January 7 1999 - comrade Ruddy is, by the way, one of the comrades listed by comrade O Ruairc to whom the arguments developed in his June 2 Weekly Worker article "owe a lot"). IRSP comrades may slate Sinn Féin for implicitly recognising the state's right to police nationalist areas in Northern Ireland, but at their December 1998 ard fheis they advocated a "community policing and justice service" to be jointly financed by the British and Irish states - a position not dissimilar to that of SF. This acceptable police force would be "unarmed" except when "dealing with dangerous situations" (riots, no-go areas, paramilitaries, violent strikes and demonstrations?). The truth is, without the compass of Marxism any socialist grouping will be all at sea. The IRSP is no exception. Apart from one brief period in the 1980s, it has always tended to position itself as the left critic of Sinn Féin - and when SF moves to the right, so will the IRSP in all likelihood. Despite what comrade O Ruairc says about the difference between nationalism and republicanism, the IRSP is first and foremost a left nationalist formation. But he is right about one thing: "no serious revolutionary movement or process can be built in Ireland outside or apart from the republican tradition" (Weekly Worker June 2). Specifically it cannot be built apart from the element that is working class and socialist. The heroic tradition of Seamus Costello, Ronnie Bunting, Patsy O'Hara and Ta Power can and must be positively integrated into the communism of the 21st century. Peter Manson