We welcome the IRA cease-fire. Over the last 25 years over 3,000 people have been killed and 40,000 injured. Thousands have been through or are in still prison. The primary blame for these deaths and all the associated suffering belongs with the British state. No cease-fire has as yet been declared by the British state. Likewise the loyalist paramilitaries have not yet declared a cease-fire, and have killed Catholics and bombed a Sinn Féin office since the IRA ceased their military campaign. In these circumstances the IRA cease-fire alone will not bring peace, much less justice.
As we said of the armed struggle in our position paper on the National question.
10. The current tactic of armed struggle as carried out by the republicans is incapable of achieving a solution as it is incapable of delivering a military victory and defeating the British army. In addition the British ruling class cares little for the deaths of individual soldiers in its army.
11. In addition we believe the armed struggle is also faulted as it relies on the actions of a few with the masses left in either a totally passive role, or one limited to providing intelligence and shelter to the few. However it has served to maintain the gains made in the late 60's and early 70's and to protect the nationalist community from some loyalist and state terrorism.
The gun was re-introduced in Northern Irish politics some 25 years ago by the British state and its forces. It is significant that the first death, the first dead solider, the first dead policeman, the first dead child and the first bombing were all at the hands of British or loyalist forces. These forces have yet to lay down their arms. They took them up 25 years ago to smash a peaceful civil rights movement, demonstrating for equal rights between Catholics and Protestants. Reforms have been extracted from the British state since that time. Some aspects of discrimination, most notably around housing have been removed or had their legal basis undermined. Further concessions may have been won in return for the IRA cease-fire, but the legacy of that system of discrimination still remains in the fact that a Catholic is 2.4 times more likely to be unemployed than a Protestant.
Some on the left will see the IRA cease-fire as a sell-out. We don't. The politics of nationalism were always going to lead to a compromise with imperialism, it was only those with illusions in the republican's left turn that thought otherwise. It has been clear for a decade, even to the republicans, that the armed struggle was going nowhere. Britain could not be defeated militarily, and Sinn Fein could not expand on its vote either in the North or South. With the reaching of a compromise in El Salvador, South Africa and Palestine it became no longer a question of 'if' but one of 'when' such a compromise would be reached here. As such the fact, if not the exact terms, of the current settlement with world capitalism are an integral part of nationalism and the logical conclusion of the republican strategy.
Indeed for several years it seemed that the British government would, for its own selfish reasons, refuse to give an inch, being more interested in a propaganda 'victory' than in peace. However it would seem that the massive City of London bombs and the mortar attacks on Heathrow airport, coming on top of a prolonged military campaign, convinced a majority of the British government to bring the IRA into talks. In the 26 counties Albert Reynolds was eager to seize the mantle of the Taoiseach who brought peace to Ireland. On the day of the cease-fire we were treated to a nauseous broadcast by him telling us how he had made the country safe for the little children.
With the Official Unionist Party begrudgingly welcoming of the cease-fire it would seem that within a short time there will be no significant faction opposing it, with the likely exception of Ian Paisley's extreme right wing Democratic Unionist Party [This is not to discount the possibility of the loyalist death squads murdering more Catholics first to show they have not gone soft].
It is far from clear that the British government will fulfil its part of whatever deal has been made. At a minimum these would seem to be early release for political prisoners, amending the 1920 Government of Ireland Act to allow unity if a majority in the 6 counties vote for it and allowing of Sinn Fein into direct discussions. Britain has destroyed the possibility of peace before by refusing to honour commitments. Nevertheless a majority of republicans are aware that the armed struggle cannot inflict a military defeat on Britain, and has become redundant.
The peace process as it is called, will not deliver a united socialist Ireland, or significant improvements apart from those associated with 'de-militarisation'. In addition it represents a hardening of traditional nationalism, and the goal of getting an alliance of all the nationalists, Finna Fail, SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Catholic church. Its appeal to Protestant workers is no greater than the military campaign (i.e. none) and to date republican statements have focused on the need for a De Klerk type figure to lead the Protestants to compromise. It may well be that James Molyneux, leader of the O.U.P. will come to represent such a figure if the initial days of the cease-fire are anything to go by. This approach should come as no surprise to us, it is the underlying bedrock of nationalism. It is the reason we are anti-imperialists rather than socialist republicans.
The cease-fire will make this argument easier to put to activists in the north who to date have put their trust in republicanism, both because of its left veneer and the need to support 'the boys'. Depending on developments it may also become easier over the next couple of years to begin a more sustained approach to Protestant workers. To date this has been almost impossible due to the fact that loyalist death squads have targeted, attacked and even killed revolutionary socialists and anarchists who attempted to work in their community while maintaining a principled opposition to imperialism.
In this sense the ending of the armed struggle, seen as sectarian by one side and which demobilised the other opens up real possibilities for revolutionary politics. At the same time however the left in general and the anarchist movement in particular, is too weak to make significant gains in the immediate future. If the peace holds, the next few years will be a test of our ability to build a viable alternative to the bosses, north and south. But we are aware that 25 years ago the British state smashed something much more modest than what we propose with armed force. We are also aware that sectarianism was used as the weapon to smash any major manifestation of workers unity in the north, not to mention revolutionary politics. If we are successful in building a revolutionary alternative, then somewhere down the road the state will attempt to unleash the same forces on us. Such an attack can only be defeated by mass mobilisations of tens of thousands and not by the actions of a small armed elite.
The ending of the armed struggle cannot simply become part of history. The issue of partition can not be quietly dropped in the interests of winning over Protestant workers. In the short term it would be possible to build workers unity on day to day economic issues without mentioning partition but it would be building on sand. In the past we have seen how instances, some involving very large numbers, of working class unity have been swept away on a tide of bigotry. What' is needed is a revolutionary movement, with consistent anti-imperialist policies, that is composed of workers from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds.
This will be the real test for the left of the cease-fire. It is where the cease-fire assumes its international dimension. All over the world the authoritarian left has collapsed due to the inadequacies of its politics. Building revolutionary movement(s) in Ireland now represents the same challenge faced by anarchists everywhere. Our success or failure depends on our ability to convince people of our politics, demonstrate the ability to fight and win, and give people the confidence to change society. This is the process that can lead to a lasting peace with justice.
Workers Solidarity Movement