Ireland (to Walter Lippman)

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Sun Nov 17 17:08:38 MST 2002

Walter says:
> It would be easy to criticize Gerry
> Adams and the IRA leadership for the
> deals they have made (which I also
> don't fully understand) having to do
> with their military disarmament.
> But what should they do if they are
> not in a position to win? This is an
> issue which confronts revolutionaries
> in other countries as well, so I think
> this would be of general interest.

This question has been quite well-answered by Irish revolutionaries like
Bernadette McAliskey (previously Devlin).  If you do a search on her on
the net you will likely turn up a few of her speeches.

As an ex-Sinn Feiner, who would now be generally sympathetic to the
IRSP, I'd say the following.  The first thing is to *be honest*.  Don't
present a stand-off as some great new leap forward, which is what Adams
and co, have done.

Secondly, maintain your independence from the imperialists and their
state.  Don't join a capitalist coalition government, which is what SF
have done in the north.  They have two posts in the cabinet at Stormont.

Thirdly, find a *revolutionary alternative* way forward.  For instance,
I agree that the armed struggle ceased to be worth pursuing at a certain
point.  What was needed was to substantially increase the political
support, before the armed struggle could be ratcheted up.  Now, if we
look at the example of a movement like the Sandinistas in the 1960s and
1970s, we find they used a whole number of strategies and tactics.  When
they couldn't wage armed struggle, they simply stopped and utilised
other methods of struggle and then, when conditions were favourable to
armed struggle again, they got armed actions going again.  They didn't
enter into bogus peace processes and lay down their arms and so on.  The
IRA could have simply stopped armed actions, as the INLA has, without
entering any deals whatsoever with the Brits, never mind taking
responsibility for helping run capitalism in the north.

Fourthly, we have to look at how the struggle reached an impasse anyway.
 In my view a great deal of the responsibility lies with the British
left, which never made Ireland a campaigning priority and which
by-and-large - with a few notable exceptions - left the Irish national
liberation movement to fight alone.  The *bulk* of the British left
showed that it is *absolutely worthless* in any meaningful revolutionary
sense.  They prefer revolutions and national liberation struggles on the
other side of the world, where they can show their solidarity safely and
without ever risking anything themselves.  Deprived of the solidarity
within Britain that irish national liberation fighters should have
gotten, they were left to fight largely alone against the British state.

But there is also the issue of responsibility within Ireland and of
particular political lines.  Within the broad republican movement -
lower case and therefore including both the RM (upper case) of SF, IRA
and related organisations, the socialist republicans grouped in the
IRSP/INLA and elsewhere, and various non-socialist republicans - there
has always been debates about strategy.

The Provos constituted by far the largest force and, along with the
sidelining of the IRSP/INLA because of internal breakdowns, this meant
that in the 1980s the key debates were internal Provo debates.  The most
significant one was at the very end of the 1980s or around 1990 - I
can't recall the exact date - when two completely divergent lines were
posed: one was that the Provos needed to consciously adopt a
Connolly-type perspective, welding together the socio-economic and
national questions on a 32-county basis, the other was that the Provos
needed to embrace 'pan-nationalism' and try to unite all nationalists in
Ireland, across class lines, to 'convince' the Brits to withdraw and
'convince' the brits to 'convince' the Unionists of the benefits of a
united Ireland.  The latter perspective won out - perhaps inevitable
given the world situation at that time - the defeats and sell-outs of
national liberation struggles in Central America, Palestine, South
Africa and the collapse of the Soviet bloc.  But the defeat of a genuine
left perspective in SF/IRA meant that a class-collaborationist and
appeasement policy became dominant.  The logic of this line was to
abandon armed struggle altogether, disarm and eventually disband the
army (the IRA), and join the system.  The Provos have gone the same way
they spent years attacking other people for.

I might add that 99 percent of the time revolutionaries are not in a
position to win.  It doesn't mean you join the system.  The argument
that SF/IRA had no choice but to do what they have done is like arguing
that someone who is in the left in the US and then goes and becomes a
Democrat senator really had no choice because revolution isn't on the
cards in the US right now!


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