The New IRA and socialist-republicanism in the twenty-first century
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At the end of July, several different republican military currents came together, following a period of co-operation and months of discussions. The currents involved are the Real IRA, the Derry-based Republican Action Against Drugs, and independent groups of armed republicans. The merged organisation has adopted the name Irish Republican Army, picking up the baton abandoned by the Provisionals. The New IRA promises to wage armed struggle against the British state, including its six-county component, until the British government is forced to the negotiating table and agrees a schedule for withdrawal from Ireland.
The organisation announced its formation in a statement shown to Guardian reporter Henry McDonald. McDonald was driven from Derry to an isolated road in Donegal, where he was handed the statement, took it down on his notepad and then the original statement was burned! Below is the statement as published in the Guardian – it is what McDonald took down, presumably word for word, before the original was burned:
Following extensive consultations, Irish republicans and a number of organisations involved in armed actions against the armed forces of the British crown have come together within a unified structure, under a single leadership, subservient to the constitution of the Irish Republican Army.
The leadership of the Irish Republican Army remains committed to the full realisation of the ideals and principles enshrined in the Proclamation of 1916.
In recent years the establishment of a free and independent Ireland has suffered setbacks due to the failure among the leadership of Irish nationalism and fractures within republicanism. The root cause of conflict in our country is the subversion of the nation’s inalienable right to self-determination and this has yet to be addressed. Instead the Irish people have been sold a phoney peace, rubber-stamped by a token legislature in Stormont.
Non-conformist republicans are being subjected to harassment, arrest and violence by the forces of the British crown; others have been interned on the direction of an English overlord. It is Britain, not the IRA, which has chosen provocation and conflict.
The IRA’s mandate for armed struggle derives from Britain’s denial of the fundamental right of the Irish people to national self-determination and sovereignty – so long as Britain persists in its denial of national and democratic rights in Ireland the IRA will have to continue to assert those rights.
The necessity of armed struggle in pursuit of Irish freedom can be avoided through the removal of the British military presence in our country, the dismantling of their armed militias and the declaration of an internationally observed timescale that details the dismantling of British political interference in our country.
Signed Army Council, IRA.
The emergence of the New IRA raises a number of critical questions. Given that all the firepower of the Provos could not, after almost three decades, shift the British state, what chance does the New IRA have of doing so? Is it possible for a military-led struggle in a tiny area like the six counties even to make any serious progress? Is a military response to the betrayal of those who called the shots in the Provisionals any way forward? Given that militarism in Ireland has always led to collapse and disaster, is it even part of the answer? Now we’re in the twentieth century, isn’t it time to just move on and forget about any sort of IRA, just as the Fenians moved on from the Young Ireland movement and Connolly moved on from the Fenians?
Over the next few months this blog will be trying to develop an analysis of what socialist-republicans need to take forward in this new century and what we need to discard. The discussion will include a number of people in different left-republican organisations, along with independent revolutionary activists.
To start things off, here’s what I think is decisive:
- The national question, although it currently moves only a small section of the Irish people, remains absolutely central to any serious struggle for human liberation in Ireland. Socialism can’t exist in one country, let alone a fraction of a country!
- Only the working class can lead the national struggle because only the working class has nothing to lose but its exploited and oppressed state; conversely, the working class can’t free itself without freeing Ireland.
- The British state won’t withdraw from Ireland unless it is forced to do so, and neither are the ruling classes on both sides of the border likely to relinquish economic and political power; they will have to be expropriated.
- The British and Irish revolutions are bound up together. It’s inconceivable that the struggle for national liberation and socialism in Ireland could be victorious without a massive political-social crisis in Britain that crippled the British ruling class. While most of the British left haven’t got a clue about ‘the Irish question’ and simply can’t be relied on when the going gets tough, it’s unlikely such currents would survive even the beginnings of a massive class shake-up in Britain; new, harder left formations would begin to emerge. In the meantime, it’s vital for Irish revolutionaries to ‘feel out’ the ground in Britain in terms of building political support networks based around class fighters.
- Militarism is an absolute dead-end; not only can it not drive out the Brits but, when the guns are in charge, the politics are inevitably under-developed. This means that when the military movement eventually needs a political wing, as it always must even at just the level of organising support for prisoners and publicising the armed cause, the politics that emerge cannot develop to the level required to meet the complex challenges of the Irish revolution. Also, when the militarism becomes exhausted, as it always does, the lack of revolutionary politics mean that lowest common denominator politics replace the guns and bombs. The result of militarism is disaster after disaster. Militarism is not the opposite of reformism; it’s simply the other side of the same coin.
- A conscious revolutionary-political movement, a political vanguard organisation, is needed. Politics have to be in control and when the time comes to establish a military element to the struggle, the politics have to call the shots. The political movement has to be militant, both in order to challenge the three states that block the cause of human liberation in Ireland and also to ensure it provides radical working class youth with a real alternative to militarism.
- The exact form of the military aspect of the struggle cannot be known in advance, although what it can’t be is (ie militarism). Rather, the development of the overall political conditions reach a point at which the particular form of military element necessary becomes clear – workers’ militias, armed communities, armed wing of the socialist-republican party, an armed party, or any other formation or combination of formations.
There’s no place in this for reformism, militarism or mere Irish nationalism. The vanguard can only be built on the basis of revolutionary socialism (as opposed to the gas-and-water type only too prevalent on the Irish ‘Marxist’ left) and revolutionary republicanism (as opposed to mere nationalism, which is too sectional). Such a vanguard needs to settle accounts with the past, being absolutely clinical in examining what is dumped – including commemorations of people who had appalling politics, like Liam Lynch – and what is developed further in the context of the twenty-first century.
And, it must be said, the merger of the militarist currents into New IRA surely must press upon socialist-republicans the need for a process of coming together of all those whose aim is the workers and socialist republic. The answer to the New IRA is not condemnation but the building of a united, revolutionary, socialist-republican party.
Read also: Conclusion to ‘The Failure of Irish Republicanism, 1908-1927 For an examination of how republicans, not least through militarism, lost the initiative shortly after Bloody Sunday, see here.
Posted on August 2, 2012, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, éirígí, Economy and workers' resistance, General revolutionary history, Irish politics today, IRSP, Partition, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Public events - Ireland, Repression and resistance in the six counties today, Social conditions. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.