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Our view on decommissioning
The question of IRA decommissioning has been the subject of comment for some years. While it has always been clear that all the right wing forces in society have supported decommissioning and republican dissidents have opposed it, it has not been so clear what the attitude of socialists is. Some have gotten away with writing columns on decommissioning without telling their readers what their own views are. So what is the socialist attitude to IRA decommissioning?
The first point to make is that we are not pacifists. We do not believe that imperialism or the Irish capitalist class will simply give up their political and economic power because, if it happened, a majority of the working class voted for socialism. There is a long history of democratic socialist movements being repressed despite their legality and democratic credentials. It is enough to mention Chile and the year 1973 to illustrate what is meant. Force, in defense of the revolutionary movement is not therefore merely a likely eventuality but a certainty. The history of the north of Ireland demonstrates that defense of vulnerable working class communities will also be on the agenda.
The real ‘sell-out’ by republicans therefore came not when it decommissioned some arms but when it signed up to the Mitchell principles of ‘non-violence,’ which applied to everyone but the state. The socialist view was put by the German revolutionary Frederick Engels:
‘No party, unless it was lying, has ever denied the right to armed resistance in certain circumstances. None has ever been able to renounce that ultimate right.’
Of course when the Mitchell principles were first signed up to, rank and file republicans were quietly told that this was just to con the British. It was another example of what continues to pass as politics inside the republicans - a cynical lie. For socialists this makes it much worse.
This is because we never had any illusions that a small guerilla army was ever going to defeat imperialism, never mind establish socialism. The former could never be defeated by a small army and the latter can only come about through the mass political activity of the working class itself. This meant we cared less what republicans continued to think about the possibility of IRA action in the future and much, much more about what it told the vast majority of Irish workers ‘not in the know’ - that only state violence was acceptable. Since workers have ultimately to reject this view in order to engage in political action that can realistically promise a victory for socialism this message sat in stark opposition to advancing such an argument
Of course republicans have never viewed Irish workers as being capable of fighting imperialism or socialism for themselves. A small army or smart politicians requiring their votes was the only role they ever felt happy with. Mass political movements have a tendency to get out of control and controlling the struggle was always more important to republicans than seeking its widest development.
This brings us back to the question of the actual arms that exist. Socialists reject the view that the capitalist state should have a monopoly of force or the means to apply it. Arming the people is a democratic demand that goes back before the beginnings of the socialist movement in the 19th century. Unfortunately IRA arms have not been the possession of a risen people seeking justice but the ownership of a movement that has shifted from opposing imperialism to supporting Irish capitalism. When this started to happen, the real ‘sell-out’, whether the IRA surrendered its guns or not was not a question of principle for socialists. The arms that the IRA had, and still have, are at the disposal of a political project which socialists utterly reject and oppose.
It might be ventured that the existence of an armed IRA at least offers some reassurance that vulnerable catholic working class communities will have some protection from loyalist paramilitaries and their hidden, and sometimes not so hidden, support from the armed forces of the state. This however ignores the fact that the political project to which republicans are now bound hand and foot means their subordinate incorporation into that state. The days of pretending to oppose the state while seeking to join it have gone. Republicans now openly call for, as their number one priority, ‘stability of the Good Friday Agreement,’ i.e. stability of the state. This will sooner or later mean openly supporting the states own armed wing – the new RUC.
What should the IRA do with their arms? We would say, offer them to the communities under attack from loyalist bombs and bullets. What do I hear you say – there is no one organised to take them and keep them for such purposes? Then creating such genuine popular organisation and mobilisation becomes the key task and the question of guns is completely secondary.
Opposition to the state and defense at the present time involves the same task - opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and all its works, whether this be the new RUC or the extension of the process to calls for negotiations between loyalist bigots and parents trying to get their kids safely to school.