Workers Vanguard No. 935

24 April 2009


British Troops Out of Northern Ireland Now!

Defend Irish Republicans Against State Repression!

The following article is reprinted from Workers Hammer No. 206 (Spring 2009), newspaper of the Spartacist League/Britain, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).

The Orange state in Northern Ireland has unleashed a wave of repression against Republicans in the aftermath of the Real IRA’s killing in March of two British soldiers in Massereene British Army base in Antrim and the killing of a police officer in Craigavon by the Continuity IRA. These attacks by IRA [Irish Republican Army] dissidents on state forces came in the midst of a public row in which police chief Sir Hugh Orde was forced to admit that the British Army’s “Special Reconnaissance Regiment” (SRR) had been deployed to crack down on IRA dissidents.

Even prior to these killings there had been a massive increase in state repression against Republicans, which targets the whole Catholic population: the last quarter of 2008 saw a 245 per cent increase in the number of people stopped and searched by police. Now the police are conducting sweeping raids and roundups in Catholic areas, which have led to riots in Craigavon and Belfast. A Catholic bar in North Belfast was attacked with a pipe bomb and a Catholic primary school in the same area was daubed with Loyalist graffiti. According to the Derry Journal (16 March), Irish nationalist dissidents fear for their lives. One said: “It is only a matter of time before one of us is taken out by the Brits or some branch of their so-called security agencies. It is always a possibility but it seems more likely now.” Among those arrested are prominent Republicans Declan and Dominic McGlinchey (Junior) as well as Colin Duffy who has now joined others on hunger strike. Release the detainees! Down with Orange state repression!

The killings of two British soldiers and a cop were met with obscenely hypocritical declarations against “terrorism,” not least from the British Labour government which is part of the world’s biggest force for terrorism as seen in the brutal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. British imperialism’s murderous record in Northern Ireland includes the killing of 13 Catholic demonstrators on Bloody Sunday in 1972 and countless deaths in collusion with the Loyalist death squads.

Obscenely Sinn Féin, which for many years was subject to repression by British armed forces and those of the Orange state, joined the denunciations of the IRA dissidents. Gerry Adams condemned the shootings as an attack on the “peace process.” In fact the aftermath of the shootings shows that the only significant change brought about by the “peace process” is the disarmament of the IRA—something decades of state repression by the British military failed to do—in exchange for “power sharing” between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists in Stormont, the historic seat of Orange-supremacist government in the province. This imperialist-brokered “peace” deal is premised on the continued oppression of the Catholic minority under the heel of the sectarian Orange state. The fundamental nature of that state as created by the British at the time of partition remains unchanged. It is today what it always has been: a heavily militarised, anti-Catholic, police state. Although the British Army no longer patrols the streets, having reduced their presence in August 2007, some 5,000 British troops remain there as backup for the heavily armed Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI, the renamed RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary]), while the Loyalist paramilitaries have not disarmed. In May 2007, Sinn Féin agreed that its representatives would sit on the new Policing Board, absurdly claiming that they would ensure “the PSNI are publicly held to account” (An Phoblacht, 17 May 2007). Police accountability is a myth also frequently peddled by reformists. In Northern Ireland as elsewhere, the capitalist state is the executive arm of the ruling class and cannot be made accountable to the working class and oppressed. It must be shattered in the course of workers revolution, led by a revolutionary workers party, and replaced with a new state power of the working class. Coming from the petty-bourgeois nationalists of Sinn Féin, the pledge to hold the PSNI “to account” is a whitewash of the anti-Catholic nature of the Orange statelet. To underline the fact that little has changed, when Orde called in the SRR as part of a major crackdown on Irish nationalists, he didn’t bother to inform the Policing Board.

From the point of view of the working class, the killings of these British military personnel and a Northern Ireland cop are not criminal acts. However, in most such terrorist acts, innocent civilians are among those killed or maimed. Among those injured in the shooting were two workers delivering pizza to the army barracks, one of whom was a Polish immigrant. The obscene claim by the Real IRA that both workers were “collaborators” with the British shows the reactionary (and racist) logic of nationalism, which purports to represent its “own” people and writes off all “other” people as the enemy. This outlook frequently leads to acts of indiscriminate violence against the working people.

We stand for the military defence of the Irish nationalist organisations in their conflicts with the British Army, the Northern Ireland state forces and Loyalist paramilitary groups. At the same time, we oppose and condemn communalist attacks by the Irish nationalist forces on the Protestant population as well as indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets in Britain and in Northern Ireland, such as the Omagh bombing in 1998. These indiscriminate actions are indeed crimes against the working class of these islands. Politically our programme is counterposed to the terrorism that is carried out in the service of the nationalist programme which cuts across the class unity of the workers in the struggle against their common enemy: the capitalist class.

Our perspective requires the internationalist unity of the working class throughout the British Isles in a struggle against British imperialism, the Irish clericalist state and the Orange state. We fight to eliminate all forms of national oppression, from a proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist perspective. Thus we call for British troops out of Northern Ireland as an integral part of our programme for an Irish workers republic within a federation of workers republics in the British Isles.

The Dead End of Nationalism

Today, disillusionment among Irish nationalists with the disbandment of the IRA in favour of power-sharing in [Northern Ireland Assembly] Stormont is running high. The Sunday Times quotes Richard O’Rawe, a former IRA member imprisoned with Bobby Sands (who died on hunger strike in 1981) saying he would “not have joined the IRA in the first place” if he had been told that power-sharing with the Unionists would be the outcome. “Who in their right minds would do a minute in jail for this?” Rawe pointedly asks (Sunday Times, 15 March). Such disillusionment has led some hardline nationalists to seek a solution by trying to re-ignite the military campaign that the IRA abandoned. Prior to the recent shootings, a 300 lb. bomb produced by IRA dissidents supposedly intended for another British Army base was found in Castlewellan, Co. Down in January.

Irish nationalist movements have always combined, in the words of the IRA, “the armalite and the ballot box,” wielding armed struggle along with diplomatic manoeuvres and appeals to the “democratic” pretensions of the imperialists as pressure tactics. In the changed political landscape resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had acted as a counterweight to the imperialist powers, petty-bourgeois nationalist formations no longer have the diplomatic, military and financial means they once had and have been compelled to accept “negotiated solutions”: the Oslo Accords in the case of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Good Friday Agreement in the case of the IRA.

When Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, former IRA leader who is now deputy first minister in Stormont, stood shoulder to shoulder with Orde and condemned dissident Republicans as “traitors to the island of Ireland,” it was aptly described as McGuinness’s “Michael Collins moment.” Collins led the military struggle against the British and signed the Treaty with Britain that led to the partition of Ireland. Upon taking over the administration of an independent capitalist Ireland in 1922, Collins ruthlessly suppressed the IRA dissidents of the time, executing many of those who continued the struggle against the Treaty and the new Irish “Free State.” From Collins to McGuinness to the IRA dissidents of today, Irish nationalism has inevitably proven to be a dead end for the oppressed whose interests it claims to represent.

The partition of Ireland by British imperialism created the Northern Irish statelet as a reactionary move against the consolidation of an Irish bourgeois national state encompassing the entire island. Since then, the Protestant majority dominates over the Irish Catholic minority. However, the Irish nationalist programme—upheld today by Sinn Féin and the dissidents, and previously by the “anti-Treaty” forces that went on to form the Fianna Fail party—calls for reunifying, necessarily by force in the case of the Protestants, the six counties of Northern Ireland with the southern Catholic clericalist Irish bourgeois state. If achieved, this would simply be a reversal of the terms of oppression, leading to communalist slaughter and forced population transfers.

All nationalism has a genocidal logic, which is particularly acute when two different peoples interpenetrate on the same territory as is the case in Northern Ireland. In such situations, there is no democratic solution under capitalism to the contending democratic rights of national self-determination. While opposing all aspects of national oppression of the Catholic minority, we recognise that the conflicting claims can only be equitably resolved within the political framework of proletarian class rule, in which the capitalist drive for divide-and-rule of the working class in the service of profit has been eliminated.

We have consistently called for immediate, unconditional withdrawal of the British troops and we opposed the imperialist “peace” deal. In 1993 we stated: “Any imperialist ‘deal’ will be bloody and brutal and will necessarily be at the expense of the oppressed Catholic minority. And it would not do any good for working-class Protestants either.” Our article stated:

“The essential assumption, explicit or implicit, in all the ‘peace’ proposals being touted about is that the British Army, with its shoot-to-kill policy, will remain to police capitalist order, backed up by the bloodthirsty Loyalist thugs. The British imperialists played divide and rule in colonies like India and Palestine, and then on their way out sought to wreck these places by whipping up communalism. Today they adopt a racist and arrogant pretence that they are just trying to stop the tit for tat barbarities of the ‘uncivilised Irish’ of all hues. All of [then-leader of the Catholic SDLP] John Hume’s initiatives, including the talks and proposals with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, are based on the premise that British imperialism is somehow ‘neutral.’ All history and the graves of many Irish Catholics say otherwise.”

Workers Hammer No. 138, November/December 1993 [reprinted in WV No. 589,
3 December 1993]

Socialist Party: Union Jack “Socialists”

While the Taaffeite Socialist Party in England was up to its neck in a reactionary crusade for “British jobs for British workers,” its sister group the Socialist Party in Northern Ireland played an equally reactionary role, lining up behind British imperialism and the Orange state in whipping up a chauvinist frenzy against the “terrorism” of the Irish nationalists. On 11 March the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions called a pro-imperialist, anti-“terrorism” rally in which Loyalists, clergy and trade-union bureaucrats united in condemning the Republican attacks on the army and PSNI. The Socialist Party was highly visible and distributed a leaflet titled “No More Killings!” (dated 11 March), which said: “The killings by the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA of two soldiers and a policeman should be roundly condemned by every section of the working class movement,” adding that: “The killings in Antrim and Lurgan are a reactionary attempt to divert the attention of workers away from the class issues that bring people together by stirring up sectarian division.”

This chauvinist organisation’s idea of “bringing people together” is unity under the Union Jack—whether leading chauvinist anti-immigrant strikes in England or pandering to Loyalists in Northern Ireland, such as former paramilitary killer Billy Hutchinson whom they hosted in their meetings in the 1990s. The leaflet said not one word against the British Army, either for its butchery in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Northern Ireland, which is hardly surprising given that the Socialist Party refuses to call for the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland. Rather they view British imperialism as a force for “democracy.”

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) also supported the pro-imperialist, anti-Republican rallies on 11 March. Addressing the Derry rally, the SWP’s Eamonn McCann said:

“It’s worth recalling that it was protests by ordinary people that gave the spur for the peace process that ended 30 years of armed conflict between the mainly Catholic Republicans, who want a united Ireland, and Protestant Unionists backed by the British state. Time and time again people took to the streets to push the process forward when establishment politicians were blocking it.”

Socialist Worker, 21 March

Indeed the likes of McCann and the trade-union bureaucracy did mobilise the unions in Northern Ireland and peddled massive illusions in the imperialist “peace deal” because, like the Taaffeites, promoting British imperialism as a force for “democracy” is what their programme boils down to. Thus the SWP welcomed the British troops being sent to Ireland by a Labour government in 1969, obscenely declaring that: “The breathing space provided by the presence of British troops is short but vital. Those who call for the immediate withdrawal of the troops before the men behind the barricades can defend themselves are inviting a pogrom which will hit first and hardest at socialists” (Socialist Worker, 11 September 1969).

Britain’s vaunted parliamentary “democracy” is the velvet glove to disguise the mailed fist of the capitalist state—the army, police, courts and prisons whose purpose is to maintain the rule of capital. The capitalist rulers have long used Northern Ireland as the testing ground for domestic repression in Britain: Irish Catholics were indiscriminately targeted as “terrorist suspects” and subjected to the same treatment as Britain’s Muslims today. Shoot-to-kill has been brought to the streets of London as seen in the brutal police execution of Brazilian immigrant Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005.

The Orange state in Northern Ireland has always been a police state, obsessed with repression against Irish nationalists. From the horse’s mouth, this is described by Sean Rayment, a former commander of the Close Observation Platoon (C.O.P.) of the Parachute Regiment—the regiment responsible for the slaying of innocent Catholics on Bloody Sunday—who says that in the 1990s:

“Around 13,000 soldiers, and an equivalent number of RUC officers, patrolled Ulster’s cities, towns and villages, while a bewildering array of covert agencies secretly monitored the IRA. These covert agencies were collectively known as ‘The Group’ and consisted of the SAS [Special Air Services]; 14 Intelligence Company, a covert organisation which conducted close surveillance of senior IRA members; and the Force Research Unit, which ran a network of IRA informers. The military agencies also worked closely with the Special Branch’s SAS-trained E4A teams. The Special Branch also ran their network of informers, as did MI5 which had a sizeable presence in the Province.”

—, 14 March

Little has changed today. The covert forces described above have been replaced by the SRR, a sinister outfit that was involved in the operation that led to the execution of de Menezes and has been active in covert operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today Britain’s MI5 devotes a whopping 15 per cent of its resources to Northern Ireland, against Republicans. The notorious collusion between state forces and the Loyalist killers remains untouched: no police officer will be prosecuted for the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane who was gunned down in his home in 1989 by Loyalists, working with state forces. Such collusion is not some aberration, but par for the course for “democratic” imperialism. One year after the Good Friday Agreement was signed Rosemary Nelson, a prominent Catholic lawyer who reported to the UN that she received death threats from the RUC, was murdered by a Loyalist bomb in 1999.

More than a decade after the ballyhoo about the “peace deal” Northern Ireland society is more segregated than it was before the army was sent there four decades ago and is riven by over 40 “peace” walls. Catholics remain oppressed, and the SWP reports that: “Some 60 percent of applicants for social housing in Northern Ireland are Catholic and 40 percent Protestant. Yet 60 percent of allocations go to Protestants and only 40 percent to Catholics” (Socialist Worker, 21 March).

The task of revolutionaries is to seek opportunities for a proletarian perspective in Ireland and to transcend the religious divide that has been fostered by the bourgeoisie in its efforts to increase capitalist exploitation. This means mobilising the whole working class—Protestant and Catholic—to fight for an end to discrimination against the oppressed Catholics, in jobs, housing and education. We advance a programme of transitional demands based on what workers need, not what capitalism can afford. We fight for jobs for all; work-sharing on full pay and a sliding scale of wages and hours. In Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, these demands point to the need to transcend the framework of capitalist rule, to break out of the problem of scarcity which inevitably pits workers against each other. A planned economy, organised under working-class rule, exercised through soviets (workers councils), would regenerate the former industrial areas throughout the British Isles that have been turned into an economic wasteland by capitalism. To resolve the centuries-long oppression of Ireland and come to a voluntary arrangement with all, including the Protestant community, our goal is a workers republic in Ireland within a voluntary federation of socialist republics in the British Isles, led by a Leninist party.