The IRA "Stand-down" - Final Proof that "National Liberation Struggles" are Imperialist Proxy Wars

The murder of Robert McCartney by thugs belonging to the IRA, the military wing of Sinn Fein opened up a serious crisis for Sinn Fein and the IRA. Their first reaction was like any other bourgeois outfit to organise a cover-up and intimidate witnesses. However, it was one murder too many for the supposedly "nationalist" population in Northern Ireland. The campaign of the McCartney family highlighted the fact that what had once been seen as a genuine struggle for social equality had descended into pure gangsterism. Gemma McCartney even compared the IRA to the Nazis. The recent snub to Gerry Adams by the US Government, the condemnation by Senator Edward Kennedy that the "IRA's ongoing criminal activity" was no longer to be winked at by one of their staunchest US supporters plus the fact that Bush met the sisters of Robert McCartney when visiting the US to get support from Irish-Americans in the fight for justice for their brother, have all added up to put pressure on the Sinn Fein leadership to change tack.

The key role of US Imperialism

For months (since the Belfast bank raid) the British and Irish Governments' have been freezing Sinn Fein out of their discussions in an attempt to get them to abandon for good "the armed struggle". In real terms it has, of course, done so but the IRA has also continued its rule in Catholic areas with its usual measures of punishment beatings and other forms of terror. In short, British and Irish pressure had made little difference. The real change has only come about since the US financial support for the IRA has begun to dry up. It was only when Sin Fein saw what the position in the USA was that they started to rethink their strategy. Any spectacular IRA armed actions have been ruled out by the US state, which ultimately controls the flow of funds, since 9/11. Now the US world-wide imperialist "war on terrorism" has caught the IRA and Sinn Fein in its cross-fire. It is no longer relevant to US plans whilst the staunch loyalty of British support for the USA in Iraq has brought it at least this benefit. This demonstrates beyond any lingering doubt that the Sinn Fein and IRA project is not really about national liberation at all. As with all such struggles in this epoch, it is mainly just a question of choosing who is your imperialist paymaster. When the Good Friday Agreement was first signed in 1997 Gerry Adams was feted at the White House and Sinn Fein was definitely in the ascendant. The change in US policy towards "armed struggle" (which had been financed by Americans for decades) has brought about the enforced "stand-down" of the IRA.

And Sinn Fein had a lot to lose. The IRA "stand-down" is a further step in the attempt by Sinn Fein to get the US-UK brokered Good Friday Agreement back into action. Sinn Fein had previously thought that it could simply wait for the demographics of Northern Ireland to work in its favour and eventually it would become the majority party, probably leading to an end of partition in another 20 years or so. The problem is that, if Sinn Fein did not do something to get the Good Friday Agreement implemented, then they, as a political force, might not have been around to benefit in twenty years' time. As long as they did not condemn the armed struggle and decommission the IRA, then there was no hope of getting back into the corridors of power in Stormont.


You might have thought that the Unionists would have welcomed the IRA's abandonment of the armed struggle. You might have thought that the Democratic Unionist Party, the majority Unionist Party would have happily accepted the "surrender" (as they could have presented it) of the IRA. But the Paisleyites of the Democratic Unionist Party which poses as the electoral wing of Unionist murder gangs know that Sinn Fein's aim is to get the power-sharing arrangements of the Good Friday Agreement accepted so that one day they will be dominant in the Executive. This is why they sent out "Dr No" (the self-styled "Reverend Dr" Ian Paisley) to denounce it, and to denounce the immediate steps of the British Government to withdraw some of the 11 000 British troops in the province (still more than are in Iraq).

Naturally too all the gangster-mafias (of all denominations) have announced their opposition on their websites. The loyalist thugs, who were previously financed by British Secret Services, like the IRA splinter groups, now have the more immediate benefits to lose through their domination of drugs, protection rackets, "community" initiatives, etc.

The Democratic Unionist Party has been the beneficiary of its constant rejection of any negotiations with the nationalists. In the past the official Unionist Party has put up a succession of leaders who ultimately tried to help the British state establish some kind of devolution in Northern Ireland but every time they were brought down by a rejection from the Protestant working class. The most dramatic of this was the Ulster Workers Council Strike of 1974 which scuppered the Sunningdale Agreement, the first power-sharing proposal.

The DUP retains the time-warped vision of the old Unionist bourgeoisie. Its supporters believe that have benefited from partition for sixty years and see no reason to surrender those benefits now. But Paisley and his cronies are also in a difficult situation. Why are they unable to deliver a response like the Ulster Workers Council "strike" in 1974? The first reason is that they have lost most of the old Orange industrial base (shipbuilding and engineering, in particular). Orangeism is no longer central to the economy of Northern Ireland, let alone the UK. Second, the strength and commitment of the UK-US coalition has increased as the war in Iraq has made the two Anglo-Saxon powers closer allies. Finally, the DUP has been built on rejectionism of what other Unionists were prepared to concede. Now they themselves are the leaders of Unionism the members of the DUP are in no position to "outflank" themselves but find themselves as the dominant political force in a six counties neutered by the vital interests of the British state, backed by the US and, for what its worth the Irish Republic and indeed the EU.

The latter coalition has in effect done a deal with the DUP's political enemies, Sinn Fein, who are looking for and expecting "jam tomorrow" - snouts in the trough of the state structures North and South in the short-term and a further boost in a generation's time with realignment of the states. Sinn Fein, by abandoning gangsterism, can get on all the police committees and other security bodies in Northern Ireland and become part of the official state (instead of being a state within the state). In the South they are hoping to make electoral gains amongst the nationalist middle classes as the only party which "gets results".

None of this offers anything for the working class, Catholic or Protestant, North or South of the border. We have condemned from the beginning any notion of support for either nationalism or unionism. Both are ideologies which the bourgeoisie has used to divide the Irish working class north and south of the border. We reject too all those so-called socialists who have tried to pretend that the struggle of the nationalists, whatever the real social oppression of the non-Unionist working class in Ulster, has anything to do with a fight for a socialist society. They have been telling us for nearly forty years that support, critical or other wise, for the IRA was support for the "anti-imperialist fight". The latest deals between Sinn Fein and the leading imperialist players in Ireland shows just how blinkered this argument has been. Not only has this struggle not been anti-imperialist it has, as the last few weeks have fully demonstrated been a plaything of imperialist manoeuvres. Real internationalists operate on the lines laid down by Marx that "workers have no country", and the more we fight the curse of nationalism in all its forms, the quicker will a conscious communist kernel grow inside the working class everywhere.

CWO - August 2005

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