Feature article: we reprint articles on the Republican movement from the Irish Socialist Worker
The decision by the Sinn Fein leaders to postpone their final verdict on the Good Friday settlement until a special conference reflects growing divisions in their ranks.
Before the last Ard Fheis conference senior Sinn Fein figures indicated that they might be able to take a final decision there. But the scale of opposition, especially from Southern delegates, took them by surprise. This explains Gerry Adams' bizarre suggestion that the party might 'cherry pick' sections of the agreement, urging members in the South to vote no because of Articles Two and Three of the Irish constitution being abandoned while Northern members voted yes to the overall package.
The divisions reflect the wider difficulty facing Republicanism. The armed struggle has come to a definite end. Enlistment in the IRA has declined because most Republican supporters rightly believe that an armed campaign cannot win.
The only alternative available within Republicanism is to enter conventional politics. Fianna Fail, Clann na Pobhlachta and the Workers Party have all made this transition from armed struggle into establishment politics.
The move represents a fundamental shift, but the Republican leadership is playing it down by hinting that it will adopt confrontational politics inside a Northern Ireland assembly.
As one Belfast socialist explained, 'The Adams leadership is very talented and complex. They will put on a left face to cover their retreat. So at the Ard Fheis Adams was assuring his members that Sinn Fein was in the business of revolution. But you can see how hollow this rhetoric is when you compare it with what he said at the Belfast Chamber of Commerce. There he endorsed the call to cut taxes on the profits of Northern companies to bring them more into line with the South.'
In order to win the vote, Adams will use the credibility built up by struggle and suffering to call for 'trust' in the leadership. Already a private meeting of Sinn Fein delegates in the North has come out for the agreement. Opposition to the deal in Republican ranks is also built on a weak foundation because it is focused on Articles Two and Three. Opponents rightly point out they are not the cause of sectarian division in the North but are entirely tokenistic.
The Fianna Fail constitution for Ireland drawn up in 1937 was designed to construct a Catholic state for a Catholic people. It paid lip service to retaking the 'fourth green field'. The North was only used as a symbol of a national wrong that could help unify the Southern population around their new exploiters. The real reason for opposing the deal is that it is a bosses' settlement a capitalist solution to the historic agreement that is aimed at producing stability while modernising the sectarian divisions in the working class.
Gerry Adams is following a historical path that has run from Michael Collins to Proinsias De Rossa.
Republicanism is based on the idea that British influence in Irish affairs is the root of all evils that affect the Irish people. Even the most radical Republicans believe that the class struggle has to be effectively postponed until after the British role in Ireland has been removed. But this leads to a central contradiction because it ignores how certain classes of Irish people have an interest in keeping the present setup.
A hundred years ago James Connolly pointed out that the Irish rich were 'tied by a thousand economic strings' to the British Empire. Today the unity of interest between Irish and British capitalism is even more pronounced. This is why the main capitalist party in the South, Fianna Fail, is content to occasionally use green rhetoric but also to shore up partition.
The other side of the coin is that by ignoring class division Republicans have been unable to relate to the struggles of workers. This is why they are so weak in the South and also why they have not won even a handful of Protestant workers in the North. All of this means that Republicanism can never mobilise the forces that can achieve its goals. It is forced into compromise and the compromises then provoke splits.
Michael Collins was a heroic military leader against the British, but after he opposed land seizures and strikes by workers, he ended up compromising with his opponents. Eamonn De Valera stood out against the compromise but he then took over the Irish Free State and started interning his former Republican allies. One of De Valera's opponents was the IRA Chief of Staff, Sean McBride. But after he abandoned the armed struggle to set up Clann na Poblachta, he joined Fine Gael in a coalition government.
The new generation who took up the armed struggle included the young Proinsias de Rossa. Within ten years the Republican leaders were again turning to parliamentary politics.
Adams is now part of the fifth generation of Republicans to make the shift from armed struggle into conventional politics. It shows that the only revolutionary challenge to the system can come from workers' struggles. As Adams prepares to join Trimble in a cabinet, it is necessary to look for a different road. This means seeking to unite Catholic and Protestant workers in a militant fight that challenges the logic of capitalism itself.
It is only in the course of these struggles that opposition can be built to the sectarianism of the Northern state and the corruption of the South.
The opposition to the Adams leadership comes from militarists who mainly espouse right wing politics. Republican Sinn Fein members, for example, acted as 'bodyguards' on Youth Defence marches in the South. Among their favoured solutions to unemployment is a year's military duty. Harking back to the days of the former Sinn Fein leader, Ruairi O Bradaigh, they advocate a federal Ireland as a way of overcoming divisions. But the core of their strategy is a return to armed struggle. There is little doubt that a new campaign would be conducted in a blatantly sectarian fashion.
The Continuity IRA has already distinguished itself by leaving bombs in mainly Protestant premises while avoiding Catholic businesses. Its counterparts in the INLA have shown an even more reckless disregard for working class lives.
If the IRA could not enforce a British army withdrawal through a determined armed struggle over two decades, the militarist splinter groups have no hope of succeeding. A growth in support for these groupings would only represent a tragic rerunning of history.
In 1975 the founder of Republican Sinn, Fein Ruairi O Bradaigh, brought the IRA's armed struggle to a close with a truce with the British government. While the Republican leaders were lulled by vague talk from the British of 'structures of disengagement', a policy of criminalising Republican prisoners was put in place. When the Republican armed struggle resumed it did so in the most blatantly sectarian fashion when the South Armagh IRA murdered ten Protestant workers in Kingsmills in 1976.
If opposition to Adams takes this militarist direction now, it would only be a sign of despair.