by PAT O’ROURKE
Given the ‘spin’ placed on developments in Ireland, it is small wonder that the recent negotiations to save the Good Friday Agreement continue to cause confusion. Republicans, Unionists, the Blair government and the bourgeois press have all claimed victory and defeat, progress and set back, in almost equal measure. Every shade of opinion as to the outcome of a week’s intensive negotiation has been expressed -from
“the seismic shift of the republican movement agreeing to abandon its position on the decommissioning of arms”
(believe that and you really have lost the plot) to the howl of betrayal by sections of the Unionists. What has added to the difficulty in making a realistic assessment of events is the amount of political choreography applied to the entire peace process.
An over-mechanical concentration on individual steps amid moves within the choreography is to lose the very essence of the dance, the real beauty of which is only appreciated when the steps of each jig and reel are put together to produce the overall performance, the meaning of which can only be grasped by stepping back to appreciate the whole splendour of the performance. Do this and the real ‘Lords of The Dance’ are seen to be the Republican movement and its Sinn Fein leadership.
The bald truth on the matter of decommissioning is that the decommissioning of weapons by the IRA was never and is not a requirement in the Agreement before Sinn Fein can exercise its democratic mandate and take up the seats it has already won. The issue has been used by Loyalists both to delay the implementation of the agreement and to save some face.
The Joint Statement by Ahern and Blair and Blair’s
article serve only to undermine the intransigence of Unionist diehards. By calling the Unionists’ bluff, they will further isolate the real reactionaries from the increasing number of protestant workers who see the Good Friday Agreement as the only way forward. The Brits have finally been forced to take a few hesitant, if somewhat clumsy, steps towards the facing down of the Unionists, and in doing so they have moved nervously towards the position that the republican movement has consistently held and explained from the beginning of the peace process, i.e., that the British government ultimately has to face up to its responsibility to act as ‘Persuaders for Peace”. Trimble’s claim to there being a so-called veto of the republican movement and ‘Men of Violence’ on the assembly masks Trimble’s real fears. The British state is telling Trimble and reticent orangeism that they need now to grasp that for them and everyone else interested in peace and an end to the conflict, the Good Friday Agreement is the only gme in town. “Refuse at your cost” to engage in the full implementation of the agreement and the new settlement for Ireland that it clearly entails, with its cross border all-Ireland bodies -which increasingly will have responsibility for the development of all aspects of economic and social life, an end to the sectarian policing , and to all intents and purposes a withering away of the border leading to a creeping withdrawal of British imperialism -and an eventual reunification of the Ireland.
And to add to Orange misery, the message is being delivered right at the beginning of the marching season, and underlined by the decisions of the Parades Commission on Drumcree and The Lower Ormeau Road.
The Orange marching season is a traditional display of Protestant dominance and colonial oppression. To be denied these two most important vestiges of ‘Orange supremacy’ and the show of strength by the Army and police at Drumcree cannot be underestimated in terms of the impact on Loyalism.
If bourgeois journalists want to see ‘seismic historical’ shifts in position, then they should look to the Ormeau Road and Drumcree and the British State’s abandonment of Orange Loyalism that they represent. It is this abandonment that is the real reason behind the last gasp of orange resistance to the new settlement, a settlement not for Northern Ireland, but the whole of Ireland. The new Assembly, if it gets off the ground, will not be a new Stormont. This point has not been grasped by many in the so called left, nor, sadly, by small sections of confused republicans who continue to snap at the heels of the Sinn Fein leadership, accusing them of selling out and abandoning the 32-county Socialist republic.
The extreme ultra-left view that the Good Friday agreement consolidates partition and strengthens British rule does not hold water or stand the test of historical or scientific socialist analysis .
Today Irish Republicanism is not waging war with the powerful British state that cruelly imposed the 1921 partition, a British state whose imperialist hegemony had still to be successfully challenged by an ascendant American imperialism, a British state which had still not been forced to abandon its colonial possessions in India, China, Africa and the Caribbean etc. It is dealing with a moribund British Imperialism, a mere shadow of its former self.
Moreover the reality is that, given 800 years of Colonial domination of Ireland, its economic/geographic location and centuries of cultural and social connection to the British imperialist heartland, the difficult and specific conditions under which the Irish republican movement have had to wage their war of liberation, the British were never going to leave on the skids of their helicopters from the roof top of Belfast town hall ! Yet this is the scenario the ultra lefts seem to insist upon before they will give support to Irish republicanism, or recognise the historic victory Irish republicanism is delivering against British imperialism.
Nor given Ireland’s proximity to Britain and the many interconnections between the British and Irish working class were they likely to adopt the same kind of divisive colonial-withdrawal policy of sowing fratricidal divisions as they did in India and other former colonies: Ireland is too close to home to leave a bubbling cauldron of political unrest.
More likely they were going to organise as orderly a retreat as possible, and it is in this context that the Good Friday agreement should be seen.
Sinn Fein are not ‘ selling out’ but ‘buying in’ to a step towards imperialist retreat and a United Ireland.
The ultra-left armchair revolutionaries have forgotten the rudiments of Marxist science -if they ever knew them -i.e., that generally economics and the balance of class forces dictate everything.
The continued rise of the Celtic tiger economy, has coincided with the collapse and decline of the British economy, which for decades has been unable to maintain the privileges of decent housing, jobs for life and all the other political and economic perks that went with the protestant orange colonial set up, so much so that a whole section of the protestant working class is in many ways worse off than their catholic and nationalist counterparts. The continued decline of the British economy has pulled the rug from under them in terms of these marginal privileges, which were the real basis of their supremacist ideology and is the cause of growing class-based splits in Loyalism -many protestant workers are as alienated as their nationalist neighbours.
In contrast, throughout 30 years of determined struggle against the British state, demonised and to all intents and purposes living outside the British state, nationalist communities have organised and educated themselves to begin to tackle a myriad of economic and social problems, be it on a small scale and within the confines of what capitalism can offer. Not surprisingly, therefore, more “progressive” working class protestant parties have looked towards their nationalist catholic counterparts as an example of how to organise life on their now equally run down estates, which are equally racked with unemployment, and now increasingly abandoned by the British State.
Meanwhile, in the south of the Ireland, however overplayed and given the continued crisis of capitalism, the Celtic Tiger economy is seen as booming and is looking increasingly an attractive option to be part of for protestant workers in the north. In fact, if the Celtic tiger was not merely a blip in the overall decline of capitalism but the beginning of longer boom for Irish capitalism, the prospect of Northern protestants moving south and even ‘English Navvies’ flooding into Ireland would not be so far fetched but a graphic indication of how far British imperialism has declined -as well as a wonderful historical irony.
It is within the context of this continued British imperialist decline and the determined struggle the republican movement has waged militarily and politically that the recent end-game manoeuvering has to be seen.
Not surprisingly, some Irish republicans have likened this final run-up to the end of the Apartheid era in South Africa. It is worth remembering that in the final months before free elections and the formal end to Apartheid the intransigent pro-Apartheid diehards, Terre Blanche et al, attempted one last-gasp roll of the dice in a futile attempt to rekindle colonial race war supremacy -all to no avail because of the fundamental shift in the balance of class forces that had already taken place. Whether Trimble or dissident loyalists attempt a similar move or whether they sign up for the civilised orderly retreat on offer with the Good Friday Agreement is yet to be seen. What is certain is that historically we are witnessing Ulster’s last stand. Moreover it is no longer a question of Irish republicanism declaring that “Their day shall come”. Their day is come.