From Militant [UK], 9 September 1994.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
Twenty five years ago the seeds of the Provisional IRA were sown in the August 1969 pogroms. Heavy-handed actions by the state – especially the July 1970 Falls Road curfew, internment in August 1971 and Bloody Sunday in 1972 – enraged Catholic working-class youth.
At that time the labour movement was silent on these things, there seemed no prospect of mass struggles against repression and so the youth turned en masse to the IRA. The campaign of bombings and shootings appeared a quick way to hit back at the repression and at the poverty and discrimination suffered by Catholic working-class areas.
Militant warned that the Provisionals’ methods were a dead end. We argued that only mass action by the working class could bring about change.
Individual terrorism, that is a campaign based on a small armed force, carried out on behalf of the community who can only look on, can never defeat the power of the state.
We argued that the Provisionals’ methods would prove counter-productive. Instead of weakening the state they would strengthen it, providing it with the excuse to introduce repressive legislation and methods which would be used, not only against the IRA but against all who opposed capitalism.
In Northern Ireland the campaign was doubly foolish in that it was based only on one section of the community and antagonised and alienated the Protestant working class. The only force capable of ending capitalism and all the miseries associated with it is the working class.
The IRA campaign helped divide the working class and so strengthened capitalism. All aspects of our analysis have been confirmed with this IRA ceasefire. Despite Gerry Adams claim in early August that they had defeated the army, the IRA campaign had come to an impasse.
The IRA leaders have been forced to the conclusion that the long war is unwinnable. In the mid-1980s they tried to escalate the campaign into a “final push” and failed.
Forced back to a low-key war of attrition, which might last decades without a result, key sections of the leadership have for some time been trying to call it off.
A political change has also taken place at the top of Sinn Fein and the IRA. Gone is earlier talk of “liberation struggle” and of “socialism”.
In its place are illusions in what has happened in South Africa, the Middle East and in the so-called “democratic” institutions of world capitalism like the United Nations. Gone also are the denunciations of the SDLP – once referred to in West Belfast graffiti as the Stoop Down Low Party – and of the Southern Irish capitalist establishment.
When Gerry Adams talks about a new unarmed strategy for republicanism he does not primarily mean a stepping up of mass protests. He means building a bloc with the SDLP, Albert Reynolds’ right-wing Fianna Fail government in Dublin and Clinton’s reactionary US administration, to push the nationalist cause.
Just as the launching of the IRA campaign in the early 70s was a cul-de-sac for Catholic youth, so the “new unarmed strategy” represents a no less impenetrable dead-end. A military impasse and illusions in “allies” such as Reynolds and Clinton are the real reasons for the ceasefire.
Despite Paisley’s knee-jerk cries of sell-out, the British government have made no substantial concessions to the IRA. Their position on the constitutional position is unchanged. As long ago as the 1960s their preference was for withdrawal so they could dominate a united capitalist Ireland by economic means. The fact that Protestants would physically resist meant that this objective could never be put into practice.
When representatives of British capitalism now say they have no selfish, strategic or economic reason to retain the North, they are not putting a position forced on them. They are stating an objective they held before the Provisionals were even formed.
And they are no more able to put into effect their preference for total withdrawal today than 30 years ago. Rather, two decades of IRA activity has stiffened Protestant opposition and made withdrawal even more difficult.
This is not to say that nothing has changed. From the moment in 1968 when Catholic working-class areas exploded in furious opposition to Unionism, the days when they would accept the status of second-class citizens in a Unionist state were numbered.
25 years of repression has failed to break the resistance of Catholic workers. This, not the Provisional campaign, has meant that the open discrimination of the past has been largely done away with.
The ruling class also recognise that while they can contain the IRA they cannot finally defeat them by military means. So their current strategy is to cultivate the republican leadership, enticing them with the fruits of political involvement.
Probably they will now attempt to put together a package of measures such as the speedy release of some prisoners and a reduction in military activity in Catholic areas. Then they will be anxious to draw Sinn Fein into talks.
On the table will be proposals for a new assembly with some formula for power-sharing. A change to the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, which legislated for partition, to state that if the majority of the people of Northern Ireland want to break the link with Britain, they may do so.
In return, and as part of an over-all package, including some Dublin involvement in the North, the Dublin government are likely to propose the replacement of their territorial claims over the North in articles 2 and 3 of the constitution with an aspiration for unity by consent.
Last updated: 6.1.2011