Socialist Fight unconditionally defends those Irish Republican militarists that carried out the executions of British Army soldiers at a barracks in Antrim earlier this year, and killed the officer of the PSNI colonial police force in Craigavon. The British Army are in Ireland as imperialist occupiers, denying self-determination to Ireland and maintaining the last major colony of the British Empire (the occupied 6 Counties of Ulster that comprise "Northern Ireland"). The soldiers were going from the occupation of one country to occupy another. For this reason, British Army soldiers are certainly 'legitimate targets' of those fighting for a united Ireland, free of imperialist forces and free of the Border that divides not only the Province of Ulster and the Irish nation, but also divides the working class. That is where we are in agreement with the "republican militarists".
However, we need to ask what do the republican militarists think can be gained from a resumption of the guerillaist strategy, "armed struggle", by a dedicated, secretive minority that failed so decisively when carried out by the P-IRA on the basis of much more support than is enjoyed by its splinter groups? We need to propose alternatives.
British troops were re-introduced in 1969 to ensure the maintenance of the border dividing Ireland since 1921 and to defend British interests in a much broader context than 'just' in Ireland. The Provisional IRA emerged as the defenders of the beleaguered Irish nationalist minority. Their goal was to "get the British soldiers out" of Ireland. Their campaign enjoyed mass support among those Irish nationalists under occupation, as well as among Irish immigrants worldwide.
This support peaked in 1980 and 1981, when Republican prisoners went on hunger strike to win their rights as Prisoners of War against Margaret Thatcher. Hunger Strike Committees sprung up all over the world, mostly in former British colonies. The working class of much of the world was mobilising in defence of "the men behind the wire" against world imperialism as represented by the British Government.
Thatcher's intransigence, with the total support of Labour’s shadow Home Secretary, former Northern Ireland Minister Don Concannon, an NUM sponsored former union official, and the cowardly inaction of much of the far left, caused the deaths of ten hunger strikers between 5th May and 20 August 1981. A brief look at the worldwide reaction to the death of Bobby Sands on 5th May shows its powerful anti-imperialist effect. This is from the Wikipedia account:
In Milan, 5,000 students burned the Union Flag and shouted "Freedom for Ulster" during a march. In Paris, thousands marched behind huge portraits of Sands, to chants of 'The IRA will conquer'. In France, many towns and cities have streets named after Sands. Examples include Nantes, St Etienne, Le Mans Vierzon and St Denis. In the Republic of Ireland, his death led to riots and bus burning. In Dublin, the famous Moore Street market closed for the day of Sands funeral. In Liverpool a march in support of Sands took place from Upper Parliament Street to the Pier Head, chanting "Bobby Sands MP".In 2001, a memorial to Sands and the other hunger strikers was unveiled in Havana, Cuba. After the 1979 Iranian revolution the government renamed Winston Churchill Boulevard to Bobby Sands Street. In the Indian Parliament, opposition members in the upper house Rajya Sabha stood for a minute's silence in tribute. A large monument dedicated to Irish protagonists for independence from Britain, including Bobby Sands, stands in the Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia.
It was besieged by enraged Liverpool Orange Lodge members along the whole route. The International Longshoremen's Association in New York announced a twenty-four-hour boycott of British ships. Irish bars in the city were closed for two hours in mourning. In Hartford, Connecticut a memorial was dedicated to Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers in 1997. The lower house of the New Jersey Legislature, voted 34-29 for a resolution honouring his "courage and commitment."
The all-Ireland Hunger Strike Committees and the mobilisations, were dominated by Sinn Fein who used them to build popular front alliances with Fianna Fáil and Labour local councillors in the south. Their policy was no confrontation with the southern state forces and this was rigorously enforced in this second revolutionary situation in May 1981 following the death of Bobby Sands; the other was in August 1969, both, of course, were all-Ireland upsurges.
In the late 1970s early 80s the radicalisation in Ireland was always to pressure the British state to negotiate a way out, so the roots of 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) were firmly planted then. SF used the hunger strikers as voting fodder. But the only force that could have got the Brits out was a united front with the British working class. However, except for currents like Irish Freedom (RCP) and some others, the ‘Brit left’ refused to give unconditional support and fight the Prevention of Terrorisms Act in the unions etc. It was this early British version of a War on Terror that exposed the chauvinism of the British left on Ireland.
The leader of the Hunger Strikers in the Maze Prison, Bobby Sands, was elected with 30,492 votes from his death-bed as an MP to Westminster for Fermanagh and South Tyrone as an Anti H-Block/Armagh Political Prisoner. Sinn Fein won the by-election caused by his death from starvation. With Thatcher trashing the industrial base of the British economy at this time - taking on the most well-organised sections of the British working class "salami-style" (first the dockers, then the steel-workers leading to the great Miners' Strike of 1984-5), the mass influx of workers into the branches of Sinn Fein in the 26 County Republic and... the possibilities for a mass campaign to rid Ireland of imperialist domination, led by the organised workers were certainly there.
Good Friday Agreement
However, this seems to have been the beginning of the end for the Provo campaign against the British occupation of Ireland which finished with the signing of the GFA in 1998 and the subsequent decommissioning of Provo weapons. The central occurrence in the intervening years , 1981 to the mid-1990s' striking of a deal between the petit-bourgeois nationalists of the P-IRA and the imperialists of the British Government (the GFA), was the world-historic defeat for the proletariat of the collapse of the deformed and degenerated workers' states of Eastern Europe, the USSR, China etc in 1998-91.
This victory for imperialism dramatically shifted the whole balance of world forces away from progressives and toward neo-liberal capitalism: its effects being seen everywhere with a huge ideological offensive by imperialism, spreading neo-liberal economics everywhere in the world. Politically we saw the collapse of former opponents of imperialism in the form of political formations 'making deals', or supporting nasty, thoroughly anti-working class Governments.
This was collectively known as "the Peace Process", most famously involving the PLO in Palestine, the ANC in South Africa and Sinn Fein in Ireland. In April 2009 Gerry Adams and his team visited Israel and Gaza to extol the benefits of the GFA. Nowadays, Sinn Fein as junior partners at Stormont, sit almost at the top of the new structure of Government for the occupied 6 Counties - overseeing the running of the hated Northern statelet that their predecessors fought and died to destroy, actively assisting the British imperialists in their continued occupation by attempting to legitimise the occupation and its political structures!
It would seem that the aims of those that carried out the attacks on the British Military and the PSNI colonial police force were to de-stabilise Sinn Fein's involvement in the Stormont regime to collapse the structures. From reading the various websites of these republican militarists, including their statements of Easter 2009, it is clear to see that they offer no way forward for the workers and poor of Ireland or anywhere else in the world but by their actions they damage the opportunities for the workers - the only truly and consistently progressive force in modern society, to impose their own solution to the various crises facing them and the planet.
The militarists have a warped idea that the increase in repression that is an inevitable side-product of their 'terroristic' forms of action is in some way progressive (sounds a bit like recommending a vote for the Tories in a British election - 'because the working class need to be whipped like a dog before they shall get off their knees and fight' or something!). Of course the closing down of civil liberties can in no way be to the advantage of the working class, which needs the utmost liberty in order to arrive at a programme for the conquest of political power.
Hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle
Do we share the aims of the republican militarists? Well, they rarely criticise the partitionist Government of the 26 Counties Republic of Ireland and think that 'justice' shall be done if the 6 Counties currently under occupation were to comprise part of a capitalist 32 county united Ireland. We as revolutionary socialists have to ask what the class nature of such a future united Ireland might be, and we stand with James Connolly who wrote in the Shan Van Vocht in January 1897:
If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.That is the story of the 26 counties. We are in favour of a 32 county Workers' Republic in Ireland which would be part of a socialist federation of the islands of Britain and of Europe, and of the whole world. We recognise that the only genuine solution to the present finance and economic crises—as well as for problems such as the "national question" in Ireland—is the ending of the nightmare of capitalism worldwide which is based on the private ownership of everything in the world - a tiny number of capitalists own and control the whole of the Earth's resources.
We fight for a world revolution, the vision of October 1917 in Russia. Easter 1916, August 1969, May 1981, were part of that objectively; the Irish working class needs a leadership that consciously fights for it.
Socialist Fight is published by the International Trotskyist Current.
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