governments and mainstream parties want rid of the
IRA because its very existence is an implicit threat
to established ideas of law and order and to the
stability of the Northern and Southern States. In
the wake of the Northern Bank robbery and the murder
of Robert McCartney, they are demanding that Sinn
Fein ditch the military wing and lead their followers
into full acceptance of the political and constitutional
The socialist objection to the IRA is different.
The Governments are encouraged by the fact that
the Provisional IRA would appear to be less popular
today than at any time in the last quarter century
in the working-class Catholic areas of the North
where it has been most deeply-rooted. This isnt
on account of the supposed immorality of robbing
a bank. But the multi-million pound, trans-national
money operation in which the IRA appears subsequently
to have been involved clearly had nothing to do
with leading people to liberation, in any sense
of the phrase, or with ending partition. Instead,
it indicated that IRA activities arent aligned
with the interests of the people in whose name it
purports to act. The IRA was hanging out with a
different class of people entirely.
The brutal killing of Robert McCartney illustrates
the same point.
Some former members and supporters of Sinn Fein
and/or the IRA have concluded that whats needed
is a reformed or refurbished Republican Movement,
with a leadership committed to true Republican ideals
rather than to personal or political advancement.
They largely attribute the current debacle to bad
leadership, wrong turnings or sinister motivation
on the part of Gerry Adams and his associates. This
is an inadequate conclusion.
At the heart of the tradition represented in Ireland
by the Socialist Workers Party is the idea
that socialism must come from below, that it cannot
be imposed or bestowed upon the working class from
above, whether by parliamentarians or paramilitaries,
but can be accomplished only by working-class people
themselves organising in their workplaces and communities
to advance their situation, ultimately to overthrow
the capitalist system.
Commentators have contrasted the role of the IRA
in the 1970s in the Short Strand and the role now
exemplified by the IRA members involved in the McCartney
killing. Once they were protectors of the community,
it is said. Now they are oppressors. There is truth
in this as far as it goes. But it misses the connection
between the IRA then and now.
The IRA may on occasion have given the community
physical protection, particularly in the circumstances
of the early 70s. But it was never answerable
or accountable to the community. It has sometimes
styled itself the peoples army. But
it organises and operates out of sight of the people.
It was and is, necessarily, a clandestine organisation.
Its members are oath-bound to give total allegiance
to paramilitary chiefs who, far from finding validation
in endorsement by the people, must keep their very
identities hidden from the people.
This is true of the IRA in defender as well as oppressor
mode. Is one of the keys to understanding the transition.
Every ruling class voice is currently raised high
urging Republicans to ditch paramilitarism, become
totally respectable and join the conservative consensus.
Forgiveness and glittering prizes are on offer to
those who accept. This would represent abandonment
Republicans who think of themselves also as socialists
should reject the blandishments of the bourgeoisie
and turn instead to the socialist ideas of self-liberation
which alone offer a road forward.