IRA Bombings and British Government Manoeuvres: Gangsters Against the Working Class

Commenting on the IRA ceasefire in the Workers Voice 74 we wrote that all the major capitalist and imperialist interests were united in wanting a “peaceful solution” to the Irish conflict. We argued that the reason an agreement was only signed at this point in history was because

...both the IRA and the British state have had their heads knocked together by the US since it is now in the US’ interest to establish a more stable world order for it to dominate.

Why has this conflict flared up again? The short answer is that it is part of the manoeuvres between the Great Powers which have been increasing since the Cold War ended.

Why the British Government

Contrary to Irish Nationalist mythology, the British Government has wanted to get rid of the Ulster Question ever since Ulster became a drain rather than a benefit to British imperialism back in the 1960s. But what the British ruling class cannot afford is to be seen to be driven out of Ulster. They fear that this would undermine the very integrity of the United Kingdom. The IRA alone were not, and are not, capable of driving the British out. The history of the last quarter of a century amply demonstrates this. It was only the direct pressure of the USA under Clinton which could force the British to the negotiating table with Sinn Fein in the first place.But once the Major Government had got an IRA ceasefire it was in no hurry to give the IRA the credibility of winning a place at a conference table.

Added to this fundamental position has been the short-term weakness of the Tory Government who suddenly found themselves beholden to Ulster Unionists in a whole range of areas. The unspoken deal was that barriers to further “progress” on peace would have to be raised in return for Unionist support at Westminster. The first of these was decommissioning of arms (i.e IRA arms and not those of the British state). When this was brushed aside by the US Senator Mitchell’s commission then the idea of an election (which would only reflect the fact that nationalists are in a minority in Ulster and this is where we came in) was thrown in as a further delaying tactic. Above all, though, it was the humiliation of dealing as equals with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, which worried the British ruling class. The public admission that the British state (“we do not talk to terrorists”) had held talks with Sinn Fein/IRA for years, and in secret, seems to have made the prospect of talking to them in public even less palatable.

IRA Bombings

On the other hand, throughout these fifteen months, the IRA and Sinn Fein have become increasingly desperate. As we wrote in Workers Voice 74:

Despite the promised investments there are still problems which could hinder the normalisation process or entirely subvert it.

The most glaring of these was that:

On the Republican side it is also possible that some of the armed groups will not play the game that their leaders have chosen. This could result in realignments and splits with sections still preferring the bullet to the ballot.

Even before the so-called ‘ceasefire’ ended the IRA was asserting its authority as a proto-state with its vicious campaign against petty criminals and drug dealers in its ‘own’ areas. But this was only a holding operation to give the IRA’s activists something to keep them busy until the British Government finally caved in. The long delay in starting talks made it clear that Sinn Fein was going nowhere. Even the bourgeois press has been predicting that the IRA would restart the bombing ever since the British stalled talks last summer. The Sinn Fein leadership became increasingly desperate in their threatening rhetoric as the stalemate continued. In fact they had been caught in a cleft stick. If they hold back the IRA then they would get continued backing of US imperialism against the British (who are also under US pressure in Bosnia - see Internationalist Communist Review 14). If they didn't unleash the IRA then the British ruling class could go on stonewalling. After 15 months the IRA/Sinn Fein leadership were in a difficult position.

Now the IRA military Council has been given a free hand to try to bomb the British back to the table. “Bombing the British” meant the same as bombing in Ulster - it was the working class that would be the victims. If there is any rationality, from the IRA point of view, to the bombings in London then it must have been intended to get the US back into the frame and force the British state to move on instituting “real talks” with Sinn Fein. The calculation has to be that the US imperialist interests (which are bound up with domestic election campaign) means that the Clinton regime cannot be seen to be distancing itself further from Sinn Fein despite the atrocities. It is significant that Adams is being allowed back into the US (even if not given official welcome of 1993). The IRA itself has now reached an impasse from which only behind the scenes US pressure on the British Government can rescue it. In the meantime the current climate could give the British state the opportunity of convening all-Ireland talks without Sinn Fein. This will not bring “peace” any more than the previous attempts but it will make it more difficult for the IRA to dominate the nationalist agenda.

Behind the Manoeuvres stands Imperialism

In the era of imperialism, capitalism demands that every state fights for every scrap of surplus value, and this means also defending its territorial integrity, including the prevention of rivals from gaining footholds in areas of special concern. By any rational standards there is little further purpose to the war in Ulster. However, in the imperialist epoch, rationality comes up against internecine fight for survival. It is the continued rivalry between two of the major powers, the US and Britain, that lies behind the continued struggle in Northern Ireland. It is no accident that the British Government which for twenty five years denied that “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland were a “war” (since it did not want “to dignify IRA terrorism”) now repeatedly talk of “ending the war”. This is because the end of the Cold War has brought the US greater freedom to meddle further into the Irish affairs of its former key ally and make the situation more critical for the British Government which for twenty five years denied that “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland were a “war” (since it did not want “to dignify IRA terrorism”) now repeatedly talk of “ending the war”. This is because the end of the Cold War has brought the US greater freedom to meddle further into the Irish affairs of its former key ally and make the situation more critical for the British ruling class. It is not beyond imperialism to achieve a certain balance for a fixed time in a given place (whilst rivalries rage into war elsewhere, like Bosnia) but, at best we are talking of uneasy truces. The potential for further conflict is never far away. This is the nature of an imperialist peace. Only the working class holds the key to ending this continual drift towards greater conflict.

The Working Class is Internationalist

Those so-called socialists (who we would call the left wing of capitalism) who argue that it would somehow be progressive if Ireland were to be reunited have yet to say who it would be “progressive” for. The capitalists naturally all have their (false) hopes. A highly skilled but low-waged workforce in both Northern and Southern Ireland offers some incentive to the big capitals. The British would cut the costs of maintaining a garrison in the North and US capital would find that it could dominate the whole of the Irish economy more easily. However given the existence of the EC, and the fact that both the US and Britain will continue to vie for control in Dublin, little will change. Above all the capitalist economic crisis which led to the start of the demands by the Catholic working class for better conditions in the late 1960s has not gone away. A bit of investment in a small island is hardly likely to make a major impact on a world economy stagnating at the end of a cycle of accumulation.

A united Ireland would certainly not be progressive for the working class. Throughout the modern history of Ireland the bosses have been able to use the sectarian divide to create splits in the working class whichever section of the ruling class was dominant. The Ulster Protestant working class hardly lived in the lap of luxury after the Second World War, but in the Orange statelet they were divided from the workers of the Catholic minority who were denied housing and job rights on a massive scale, reinforced by the most gerrymandered electoral system in Europe. The Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein grew specifically on the basis of this divide and by the time the British ruling class woke up to the fact that this was actually going to lead to a threat to their own state, Ulster had already become a financial nightmare for British capitalism. If Ireland were to be united under capitalism it would only reverse the present situation with the UDA (financed by the British state) playing the role of the IRA. In any event the working class in both Eire and Ulster would gain nothing. They would still have the violence of Irish Republicanism and the British state visited upon them for causes which are not their own.

In the last century revolutionaries could give support to some national struggles. Although they were all bourgeois some of these struggles were progressive in the sense that they laid the basis for a further growth of capitalism and therefore of the working class. Arguments about nationalism and national liberation are much clearer in the present imperialist epoch. There are today no national movements which expand capitalism. All are the tools of one or other imperialist interests. The only class which is universally opposed to this imperialism is the proletariat. The working class is, as Marx said, the negation of all nationality. He might have added that it becomes so only when it acts for itself, i.e. that revolutionary class which is alone capable of overthrowing the capitalist mode of production. Today capitalism continues to exist only through the growth of a monstrous barbarism. The decline in living standards for the masses, the wars, the famines, the nationalist atrocities are not mere accidents of history. They are the natural products of a social and economic system that is profoundly decayed. Only the working class, through its position as the collective producer class of the wealth of society, can offer an alternative. It can only offer this alternative if it can unite. This means not only striking collectively at the appropriate times on the economic front but also uniting against all the artificial divisions imposed on it by bourgeois society. Whereas in the last century, when capitalism was still growing progressively and laying the material basis for a better society, national unification could represent a better future, today workers are offered nothing from capitalism’s continued existence. Workers’ interests now lie completely outside the society which we maintain with our labour power.

National Oppression still undoubtedly exists. But the solution to that oppression cannot be found by addressing the problem in terms of the so-called “right of self-determination”m i.e. as a question of establishing a new capitalist state. This is the road to more war and more barbarism. It allows capitalism to manipulate the working classes into siding with their own bourgeoisies. In short, there are no progressive nationalisms. The real solution is a lot more difficult and will take a lot longer. It can only come about through the destruction of the capitalist system on a global basis, through a recognition that “workers have no country” and through the international unity of the working class. The International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party has been created as a step towards this. We appeal to communists everywhere to enter into debate and discussion with us as part of the process of forming the future World Party of the Proletariat.


Friday, March 1, 1996

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