Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's all over bar the shooting

The Real IRA's campaign seems to be directed as much against Sinn Fein as the British state. The latest attacks include not only the killing of a peeler, but also a (failed) pipe bomb attack on a Sinn Fein office. Gerry Adams argues that it is an outright attack on the 'peace process', and risks squandering the fruits of the Provos' struggle - which means it is an attack on the mainstream Republican leadership. There is some truth in this: the RIRA are certainly attacking the existing settlement, and do risk drawing the British Army back onto Catholic streets. That would appear to have been the aim for some time, and it has already been successful to the extent that Sir Hugh Orde took the opportunity of an alleged increase in 'dissident' Republican activity to start bringing in undercover British Army troops to crack down on said 'dissidents'. They in turn waited for three days after this policy was officially announced to start this campaign, which of course is likely to catalyse the militarisation of the hunt.

Although Sinn Fein are taking the unprecedented step of backing the PSNI - still a Protestant-dominated component of the British state - in their crackdown on the RIRA, there has been a great deal of hypocritical whining about how cool and clinical his statement was. Now, Gerry Adams' response to this criticism is vain and indicative of an elitist political outlook: he claimed that it was his wisdom that had manoeuvred the Republican community to where it presently was, and that therefore he should be trusted to know how to communicate effectively with his own base. This is absolute horseshit. The Republican leadership adapted to the realities in the grassroots, not the other way around. But, nevertheless, I fail to see how he could have gone further than to say that the attacks were "wrong and counterproductive" given that it is the explicit position of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA that the armed struggle was until Good Friday a necessity, brought about by the British state's refusal to admit peaceful means for resistance. Moreover, the British Army remains an army of occupation that the vast majority of Catholics do not accept. The issue, then, is obviously the political context in which attacks on troops take place and what strategy is involved. Furthermore, many of the people complaining about this supported the British state's war for as long as it went on, and obviously aren't pacifists. During the course of the war, the British Army killed 105 IRA members - I doubt a single one of those was even considered 'wrong and counterproductive' by Unionists.

Another potential consequence of the RIRA campaign could be to give carte blanche to loyalist groups who - although you don't hear much about them - have not yet decommissioned and show no signs of doing so. So far, the signs are that the loyalist leadership is happy to leave the British state to deal with this. But Gusty Spence, the doyen of the Ulster Volunteer Force, has already explained that his outfit have kept their weapons on the grounds that certain unspecified "activities" could lead them to undertake renewed "resistance". Such resistance would involve the murder of Catholic taxi drivers and postmen, and the shooting up of pubs in Catholic areas. Attacks on Catholic civilians constituted the vast majority of their activities. True, they are generally absorbed in racketeering and drug-dealing these days, even though they are known to 'police' loyalist estates with a supposed anti-drugs policy. Equally true, some of their number have been drawn into the penumbra of the far right, with activists beating up Chinese and black people. But there must be some nostalgia for the old days. As for the UDA/UFF, those poetasters of death, as far as we know they no longer have a gig with British intelligence. But, as their dalliances with sociopathic neo-Nazis and their bloody internecine feuding have demonstrated, they still have a penchant for ultra-violence.

Despite such dangers, however, it is hard to see the RIRA's campaign as anything but a death rattle. They reportedly have 300 members and guns, but little else going for them. They lost the argument inside the Provos, and they aren't about to manufacture a victory now. This is because the majority of the rank and file were not as doctrinally committed to a united Ireland as advertised. The impetus behind the struggle was the desire to seize the whip from the overseer's hand, as it were. When the majority of activists decided that it was possible to obtain civil rights for Catholics within the context of a British state, they overwhelmingly supported it. The RIRA can at most create a temporary state of tension, although I also note that they are capable of certain lexical innovations. For example, pizza delivery men are heretofore reclassified as a "collaborators". But I don't see any other party ready as yet to return to war. And as the Cedar Lounge points out, there isn't in any of this a strategy to unite Protestants and Catholics, or to build any other political basis for the struggle than the simple idea of placing the north of Ireland under the sovereign control of the Republic. Does that really address the needs of the Catholic working class today, much less the majority of the people of Northern Ireland? I mentioned its lack of support recently, but the larger question is, does it even seek popular support? The manner in which it is conducting itself suggests otherwise. Eamonn McCann, speaking for the Irish SWP, puts the case well:

"we reject entirely the strategy of 'armed struggle' carried out in the name of the people but, of necessity, behind the back of the people and without sanction of the people. We rejected armed struggle when carried out by the Provisional IRA. We reiterate that position now.

"The attack comes at a time when the need for working-class unity was never clearer. Here, as in the South and across the water, we are faced with a relentless attack on jobs, wages and public services, from employers’ groups and the governments of Gordon Brown and Brian Cowan. The killings on Friday are a disruption and diversion from these urgent issues.

"We reject the hypocrisy of Brown and others who promote war in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, then profess a belief in peace when this suits their purpose. Brown was preparing to dispatch the soldiers killed at Antrim to kill or be killed in the doomed, imperialist adventure in Afghanistan."