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Where now for the Republican Movement?
Eamonn McCann

The governments and mainstream parties want rid of the IRA because its very existence is a challenge to established ideas of law and order and to the stability of the Northern and Southern States. In the wake of the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney, they are demanding that Sinn Fein ditch the military wing and lead their followers into full acceptance of the political and constitutional set-up.

The socialist objection to the IRA is different.

The Governments are encouraged by the fact that the Provisional IRA is less popular today than at any time in the last quarter century in the working-class Catholic areas of the North where it has been most deeply-rooted. This isn’t on account of the supposed immorality of robbing a bank. But the multi-million pound, transnational money operation in which the IRA was subsequently shown to have been involved clearly had nothing to do with leading people to liberation, in any sense of the phrase, or with ending partition. Instead, it indicated that IRA activities aren’t exactly aligned with the interests of the people in whose name it purports to act. The IRA was hanging out with a different class of people entirely.

The brutal killing of Robert McCartney illustrates the same point.

Some former members and supporters of Sinn Fein and/or the IRA have concluded that what’s needed is a reformed or refurbished Republican Movement, with a leadership committed to true Republican ideals rather than to personal or political advancement. They largely attribute the current debacle to bad leadership, wrong turnings or sinister motivation on the part of Gerry Adams and his associates. This is an inadequate conclusion.

At the heart of the tradition in which this newspaper stands is the idea that socialism must come from below. That it cannot be imposed or bestowed upon the working class from above, whether by parliamentarians or paramilitaries, but can be accomplished only by working-class people themselves organising in their workplaces and communities to advance their situation, ultimately to overthrow the capitalist system.

Commentators have contrasted the role of the IRA in the 1970s in the Short Strand, where Robert McCartney lived, and the role now exemplified by the IRA members involved in his killing. Once they were protectors of the community, it is said. Now they are oppressors. There is truth in this as far as it goes. But it misses the connection between the IRA then and now.

The IRA may on occasion have given the community physical protection, particularly in the circumstances of the early ‘70s. But it was never answerable or accountable to the community. It has sometimes styled itself the ‘peoples army’. But it organises and operates out of sight of the people. It was and is, necessarily, a clandestine organisation. Its members are oath-bound to give total allegiance to paramilitary chiefs who, far from finding validation in endorsement by the people, must keep their very identities hidden from the people.

This is true of the IRA in defender as well as oppressor mode. It is one of the keys to understanding the transition.

Every ruling class voice is currently raised high urging Republicans to ditch paramilitarism, become totally respectable and join the conservative consensus. Forgiveness and glittering prizes are on offer to those who accept. This would represent abandonment of struggle. The SWP urges Republicans who think of themselves also as socialists to turn not to the Right but to the socialist ideas of self-liberation which alone offer a road forward.


March 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism