From Militant International Review, No. 50, March–April 1993.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
Ten years Sinn Fein appeared to some to be a new radical force. Their doctrine seemed to be one of struggle – victory through the ballot box and the armalite. Their propaganda, at least in the urban areas, was laced with socialist or semi-socialist rhetoric.
At that time Militant stood firmly against the illusion held by many, that Sinn Fein’s rise heralded a breakthrough in politics. We pointed out that their appeal only to the Catholic community meant that at the very best they could become majority representatives of the minority, but always a minority within the state.
Their reply, that “victory” would be ultimately achieved not just by politics but by armed struggle, was merely perpetuating another myth. Militant has consistently explained over more than two decades that the Provisional IRA’s campaign is a dead-end. There is no example in history where individual terrorism has been successful in overthrowing a state.
Rather, the Provisional’s methods only give the state the excuse to strengthen itself by introducing draconian legislation and employing brute power on the streets. In Northern Ireland the campaign is doubly doomed because it inevitably alienates and antagonises the majority community, driving them to support the repressive measures introduced to deal with it.
Without explicitly saying so, Sinn Fein’s new document is a tacit admission of this. No-where is there even a hint that the armed struggle can succeed. A special section on ’Armed conflict in Ireland’ merely states that “armed struggle is recognised by republicans to be an option of last resort when all other avenues to pursue freedom have been attempted and suppressed”.
It goes on: “In these circumstances there is an onus on those who proclaim that the armed struggle is counter-productive to advance a credible alternative”. This is true, but there is also an onus on those who advocate armed struggle to say what blowing up police stations – and people’s homes, attacking town centres and shooting policemen etc – will achieve, and of this there is not a single word in the document.
Past reliance on a false strategy has run the organisation against a brick wall and has been replaced by a no less false position – not self-reliance but dependence on outside bodies to come to the rescue and solve ’the problem. This in turn is based on a completely wrong analysis of what the problem is.
Repeatedly this document asserts that the cause of the ongoing conflict is Britain’s determination to hold onto the North. Certainly it was the British ruling class who created the problem by sowing division in Ireland in order to further their own ends.
But since the opening of trade relations with the South in the 1960s, and with the decline of the Northern economy, the British ruling class have had neither economic, military nor strategic reasons for maintaining partition. That they are unable to withdraw is because of the consequences for them would be worse than the existing situation. When Sinn Fein’s document talks of “misleading propaganda about a bloodbath should they leave, and when it states that the rights of Protestants would be guaranteed in a united Ireland, it is flying in the face of reality.
A capitalist united Ireland would be the marriage of two (backward and poverty-ridden states and would never be accepted by Protestants who fear, with some justification, that under the likes of Reynolds they would end up as a discriminated against minority just as the Catholics were in the Northern state. To move down this road would mean civil war and re-partition.
Not understanding this, Sinn Fein argue that the only problem is Britain’s refusal to go: the main conclusion of Towards a Lasting Peace in Ireland is that the Dublin government and the SDLP should enlist the support of international powers to persuade them to change their minds. When they come to deal with the role of the European Community (EC), the United Nations (UN), and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), it is clear that those responsible for drafting this document have been entirely bowled over by the events which took place at the end of the 1980s: the collapse of Stalinism, the long boom of that time, and by the false propaganda put forward by the capitalist powers to describe these events and their significance.
So this document is laced with the terminology of capitalism’s most optimistic pundits, phrases such as a “completely new phase of history”, the “economic re-structuring of Europe after 1992”, and “the political and economic transformation of Europe” etc. All this rings hollow in the present circumstances of depression in Eastern Europe, prolonged recession in the West, and of attacks on living standards, jobs and services and of growing instability throughout.
Sinn Fein propose international pressure to force Britain to withdraw, a UN sponsored conference of all parties in Northern Ireland to resolve the conflict, and oversight by the CSCE and the UN to check abuses of democratic rights etc. When they say that “participation by the United Nations, as guarantor of respect for international law and fundamental human rights could assist discussion to lead to positive action”, they show their failure to understand the true role of this and all such capitalist institutions.
The UN does not represent human rights but the interests of the major powers, as was well demonstrated in the Gulf. The current slaughter in Bosnia eloquently refutes the document’s claim that the UN has “an indispensable role to play In creating a democratic and peaceful future for the whole of Ireland”.
Likewise the CSCE has been formed to allow the major European powers to police Europe. The ’international law’ upheld by these institutions is, in the last analysis, a straitjacket to hold in check those who oppose the interests of capitalism.
Sinn Fein’s new doctrine of reliance on outside capitalist powers is an acknowledgement that their old strategy of building a movement based on the Catholic minority has faltered. But there is a way forward and it is not to be found in beseeching the major powers to intervene. It is the working class who suffer the effects of the Troubles and the working class who have the power to end them.
In Britain the miners and their supporters have shown the power of mass action. A united mass movement of Catholic and Protestant workers, fighting cuts and poverty, and also combating sectarianism, discrimination and repression, could show a way out.
After two decades of failed solutions there is no point in looking to the existing sectarian and right-wing parties, or to the methods which have failed in the past.
What is needed is a united working class movement fighting for a socialist solution. Instead of looking to the Dublin government it should link with the working class of the South to fight for socialism. And instead of appealing to world capitalism, the working class in the North should look to the working class internationally, seeking their backing and support for the struggle to combat sectarianism and poverty here.
Last updated: 29 April 2014