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Peter Hadden

Has Republicanism reached an impasse?

(March 1996)

From Militant Labour, No. 236, March 1996.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Despite the massive pressure of tens of thousands of people on the streets demanding peace, the IRA, as we go to press, have still not restored the ceasefire.

Yes, the collapse of the peace process was due to eighteen months of stalling by the government and by local sectarian politicians. But this in no way justifies the decision by the IRA to restart their campaign. More than two decades of struggle and sacrifice only demonstrated that the military tactics of the Provisionals could not succeed. Rather it provided the excuse for years of state repression, while at the same time vastly increasing the divisions between the Protestant and Catholic sections of the working class.

Futile Methods

A return to the old methods can only prove even more futile and counter-productive. The only people who will benefit are those sectarian bigot’s on both sides who see political salvation as lying somewhere on the other side of a sectarian confrontation.

Those factors which allowed the old campaign to be sustained over decades are largely absent today. It began in the early 1970s as a revolt by Catholic working class youth; enraged by poverty and by repression. Seeing no other avenue of struggle they turned in anger to the armed methods of the Provisionals believing the promise of IRA leaders that a British withdrawal could quickly be achieved.

There is no such youth revolt, no flood of energetic young recruits into the IRA’s ranks today. Nor is there any expectation of success. The idea of driving the British out has long been abandoned. The IRA statement announcing the resumption demanded a “negotiated settlement”.

Sinn Fein’s call for a date for all-party talks has been met by Dublin and London. The difference now is between Sinn Fein’s presence in talks “without preconditions” and Sinn Fein’s presence after an IRA ceasefire. Whatever the rights and wrongs of these two positions, this difference is no basis for an armed struggle. The resumption “must go down as the most stupid, blinkered and ill-conceived decision ever made by a revolutionary body anywhere ever before in history”. Not our words but those of long serving IRA prisoner Joe O’Connell written from his British prison cell and published in An Phoblacht/Republican News.

Split in movement

Despite all denials the republican movement is obviously severely split. The unease of prominent Sinn Fein members, like Gerry Adams, is only thinly disguised. Should the views of the hardliners continue to dominate an open split will become increasingly likely.

But did the Canary Wharf bomb not succeed in shifting the government and the Unionists? No. Insofar as there has been any shift by the politicians this has mainly been in response to the mass peace movement which has demanded not only peace but political progress. This is not to say the bomb had no effect. To say that the IRA’s actions are counter-productive is not to say that they pass unnoticed without leaving a mark.

The IRA does have a military capacity – not to shift or drive out the British – but to stir up sectarian reaction in Northern Ireland. The fear created by the Canary Wharf bomb has not been fear of a new and effective “anti-imperialist struggle” by the IRA, but fear that any new campaign could push Northern Ireland over the precipice towards all-out sectarian conflict.

It was in recognition that the IRA campaign could not succeed that the Sinn Fein leadership tried to find another road. The problem is that the political strategy they have chosen – the building of a broad nationalist alliance – is no more effective. It is based on the lie that right wing nationalist politicians and capitalist governments can somehow deliver an answer to the problems of working class Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Gerry Adams now states that: “It is not that we had any illusions that we were going to advance the republican objectives through negotiations, but we had the hope that there could be a conflict resolution phase take place.”

After this he hoped to say to the IRA “well this is not what you have been fighting for, but it has been brought to a point where progress could be best made. ( Irish News, interview 24.2.96)

This has proved too little of a carrot to dangle in front of the militarists to get them to accept the terms demanded by their nationalist “allies” as outlined by the Mitchell Commission.

So republicanism finds itself caught between two cul-de-sacs, the nationalist cul-de-sac of Adams and the new even narrower military cul-de-sac pursued by the militarists. The tragedy is that there was and still is another course. The working class are the only force who can bring about positive can be done using the methods of mass struggle, not individual terrorism.

If after the ceasefire the republican leadership had turned their backs on right wing nationalist politicians and instead offered a hand of friendship to the Protestant working class things could have been very different.

One of the most positive features of the ceasefire was the politics which began to develop in Protestant working class areas, if people in organisations like the Progressive Unionist Party had not been faced with a unified bloc of nationalists but with working class republicans concentrating on class questions, these processes could have gone much further.

A united class movement could have – and still could be re-built. The way forward for republicanism is to abandon nationalist solutions, including the impossible objective of a capitalist united Ireland.

This does not mean accepting the status quo, including the present state. Instead republicans could play their part in common struggle with the Protestant working class for a socialist solution, the achievement of a socialist Ireland and a socialist federation of Britain and Ireland on a equal, free and voluntary basis.

If the Sinn Fein leadership re ally want to “take risks for peace” as Gerry Adams often says, they have the option of choosing a socialist road and helping transform Irish politics. A turn to political action, and to socialist ideas, by the peace campaign would help draw the best and most radical sections of both loyalists and republicans to the alternative banner of class unity.

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