We cannot but express our joy to see the abundant firearms wielded by the loyalist thugs of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF, the military wing of the ‘Progressive’ Unionist Party – an oxymoron if ever there was one!), Orange Order et al turned against their British state master, instead of their usual target, ie, random members of the long-suffering nationalist community. This then, for republicanism, is the concrete fruit of the latest phase of struggle: the thieves are fighting each other; surely it won’t be long before honest men prosper!
Mildest criticism of unionists from police
Australia’s Herald Sun of 12 September reported on the police reaction to loyalist rioting as follows:
“The trouble grew out of Saturday’s annual Whiterock parade, part of a series of processions held in Northern Ireland every year during the so-called ‘marching season’ by members of the protestant Orange Order.
“Marchers were angered by a decision by Northern Ireland’s Parades Commission to reroute the Whiterock march to keep it out of areas dominated by Roman catholics. The Orange Order responded by calling on protestants to take to the streets to protest
“Police Chief Orde said officers were ‘attacked with missiles, petrol bombs, blast bombs, and pipe bombs. They have been shot at’.
“He said police and soldiers fired 450 plastic bullets, and seven live rounds, before order was restored. Police found seven weapons and a bomb factory during raids on Sunday.” (‘Molotovs, grenades thrown at police’)
But there was no censure of unionist terrorism and criminality, and certainly no threat of disqualification from the political process; only the mildest rebuke issued from the ‘impartial’ British state.
Hugh Orde, Chief of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI – the new name for the notoriously sectarian Royal Ulster Constabulary) added: “The Orange Order must bear substantial responsibility for this. They publicly called people onto the streets. I think if you do that you cannot then abdicate responsibility. That is simply not good enough.” (Cited in ibid)
“Simply not good enough”! Imagine the abuse and vilification that would have been employed if the bomb factories and shootings had emanated from republican quarters!
Old (masonic and other) links are hard to break. There may be a real lack of will on the part of certain senior soldiers, policemen and politicians to alter the cosy relationship between the British state and its formerly loyal unionist agents, but the reasons for desertion have become compelling.
Unionist attempts to hang on to lost supremacy
British occupation in the six counties sought to sustain itself from the start by bestowing petty privileges on the protestant population: priority access to jobs, housing etc and a monopoly on the reins of government. In return for these privileges, protestant workers enrolled into the various military and paramilitary organisations that held British rule in place (official, such as the A & B-Specials, RUC and Royal Irish Regiment, and unofficial, such as the UDA, UVF etc). Meanwhile, the loyalist mindset was reinforced by regular anti-catholic pogroms.
Thus unionism was dragged kicking and screaming into the world with the mark of stupid supremacist chauvinism running through it like the letters in a stick of Brighton rock. It cannot survive without this leering culture of lording it over the despised catholic community with whom it lives cheek-by-jowl.
Take away this culture of superiority, however, and you bring the working-class protestants down to earth with a bang. Travel down Belfast’s Shankill Road, and beneath the union jack bunting it is hard to see any great fruits that the unionist workers have won by selling themselves lock, stock and barrel to British capital.
Their dung heap may have been slightly more palatable than the adjoining Falls Road back in the days when preferential employment at the great industrial enterprises such as shipbuilders Holland & Wolfe was assured. But, since collapse of the linen and ship building industries, the crumbs for protestant workers from their masters’ table are in increasingly scarce supply.
Protestant loyalism is stupid because, as surely as the loyalists are used to police the nationalists, just as surely do they also imprison themselves as the slaves of the British capitalist class who run the sorry show. Protestant loyalism is stupid, too, because it fails to recognise the architects of the protestant workers’ misery as the British capitalist class. And it is stupid because it compounds subservience to its oppressor with thuggish brutality toward those who should be its chief allies in overthrowing that oppressor.
Ironically, now the underlying economic basis for unionism is crumbling, it seeks to hold on to the one thing it perceives it has: superiority over the catholics! Hence the waves of violence that sweep the north of Ireland when the unionists are denied their ritual displays of hatred. In recent memory there have been countless examples, but Drumcree and Holy Cross School stand out, along with the rioting of September 2005 across Belfast.
Nationalist aims in sight
But the jig is up! If the crumbs are no longer scattered freely it is because the profits are no longer flowing in to British coffers to justify the massive expense of militarily suppressing an increasingly progressive, militant and uncompromising nationalist community, whose armed representatives it has been unable to defeat. An influential section of the British capitalist class wishes to extricate itself from the six counties. Undoubtedly it has found the criticism delivered by IRA weapons, in particular the mainland bombing campaign, more persuasive than the weapon of Irish political criticism, but, just as the British were unable to destroy the IRA, so the IRA was unable to score a decisive victory over the infinitely better-armed Brits. And so, after nearly 30 years of military struggle came the signing of the Ulster Accords / Good Friday Agreement, when the political struggle once again took centre stage, but with the ratio of forces much altered in favour of Sinn Fein and the nationalists.
If war is the continuation of politics by other (ie, violent) means, the reverse is also true: politics is the continuation of war by other (ie, peaceful) means. All anti-imperialist struggles – proletarian or revolutionary nationalist – invariably pass through stages of development toward the attainment of their goals: now warlike, now peaceful. The goals of the nationalist movement of the north of Ireland, led by Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA, remain the abolition of the apartheid social conditions of discrimination against the catholic community and the removal of the British imperialist forces of occupation that have so carefully nurtured and protected those conditions in Ireland, both before and after partition. Republicans remain committed to abolishing partition, that hallmark of imperialist intervention.
The tactic must be separated from the strategy. It is by the aims of a movement that we judge it morally: If that movement tends towards the liberation of humanity from the yoke of capitalist imperialism, then undoubtedly it is a progressive movement. On the other hand, we judge its effectiveness according to the skill with which it manoeuvres against its imperialist enemies and mobilises the masses to achieve its aims.
Since Sinn Fein and the IRA have pursued and continue to pursue undoubtedly progressive aims, it is incumbent on progressive people everywhere, and especially in Britain, to continue to support their struggle against British imperialist rule in Ireland. The dexterity with which the republican leadership has manoeuvred, and its flexibility in using the tactics of both political and military struggle, have proved extremely effective, both in forcing the British into a gradual retreat and in mobilising the nationalist population for the struggle. Having achieved so much against the armed might of British imperialism, there is every reason to believe that republicans will live to see the their goal of a united Ireland free from British rule realised in the not-too-distant future.
Unionist puppets have been thoroughly integrated into the British establishment for 80 years and are therefore hard to shed. This explains why the repeated backtracking and vetoing of the unionists has been pandered to and tolerated by the British government. Of course, the imperialists may also be hoping that the nationalist community will have a sudden change of heart and put aside its desire to walk the streets without persecution, or that perhaps the nationalist leadership can be isolated and the republican movement split. But the underlying logic of the situation returns and returns, and it is clear that the British have no option but to fulfil their side of the GFA bargain if they are to avoid a return to war (and with troops pinned down in Iraq, they are more than ever inclined towards ‘peace’ in Ireland).
It is in this climate that the IRA issued its historic statement of 27 July 2005, which we think speaks for itself:
“The leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann [the IRA] has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign. This will take effect from 4.00pm this afternoon.
“All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.
“The Army Council took these decisions following an unprecedented internal discussion and consultation process with IRA units and Volunteers. The outcome of our consultations show very strong support among IRA Volunteers for the Sinn Féin peace strategy.
“There is also widespread concern about the failure of the two governments and the unionists to fully engage in the peace process. This has created real difficulties.
“The overwhelming majority of people in Ireland fully support this process. They and friends of Irish unity throughout the world want to see the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Notwithstanding these difficulties our decisions have been taken to advance our republican and democratic objectives, including our goal of a united Ireland. We believe there is now an alternative way to achieve this and to end British rule in our country.
“It is the responsibility of all Volunteers to show leadership, determination and courage. We are very mindful of the sacrifices of our patriot dead, those who went to jail, Volunteers, their families and the wider republican base. We reiterate our view that the armed struggle was entirely legitimate.
“We are conscious that many people suffered in the conflict.
“There is a compelling imperative on all sides to build a just and lasting peace.
“The issue of the defence of nationalist and republican communities has been raised with us. There is a responsibility on society to ensure that there is no recurrence of the pogroms of 1969 and the early 1970s.
“There is also a universal responsibility to tackle sectarianism in all its forms.
“The IRA is fully committed to the goals of Irish unity and independence and to building the Republic outlined in the 1916 Proclamation.
“We call for maximum unity and effort by Irish republicans everywhere.
“We are confident that by working together Irish republicans can achieve our objectives.”
On 1 July, Peter Hain, minister for Northern Ireland (Britain’s latest Irish viceroy), announced that Britain would finally comply with some of its obligations under the GFA – apparently ‘in response’ to the IRA’s recapitulation of its position – towards a ‘normalisation of security’, reducing its massive garrison in the six counties. This was followed almost immediately by media coverage of the dismantling of several much-hated ‘listening posts’ (spy towers) and British military bases.
The above-mentioned ‘normalisation’ consists of a staged, but incomplete, withdrawal of British troops and installations over a two-year period, with initial concrete pledges to dismantle certain bases, especially in south Armagh (famous for its fierce resistance during the armed struggle), followed by further reductions in army and other service levels to a ‘permanent’ military garrison of no more than 5,000 soldiers at 14 core sites. Police are to be demilitarised and to make less use of the armoured vehicles that have long been infamous for their role in terrorising the north’s catholic communities. Pledges have also been made to repeal counter-terrorist legislation particular to Northern Ireland. (We should note that room is left for ‘fluctuation’ of troop numbers, and that ‘terrorist’ legislation in the north has been superseded by sweeping measures applying to all of Britain, including the north of Ireland so long as Britain holds sway there.)
Clearly key aspects of the GFA remain to be implemented (reinstatement of the assembly and institution of the cross border bodies for example), but even these limited moves place the ball firmly in the unionists’ court. They are rapidly running out of excuses for their continued refusal to take part in the political process and the republicans are forcing them on, for in the words of Sinn Fein: “The unionists have nothing to lose, it is the nationalist catholic community that are gaining equality. Everyone wins.”