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The Irish Resistance to War

John McAnulty

3rd April 2003

The evolution of the Irish anti-war coalition has been strictly in parallel with the global coalition. The call before 15th February was for mass protest to stop the war.  We saw mass protest beyond our wildest dreams but not only did this not stop the war, it failed to stop the blatant collaboration of our own gombeen leadership, even in circumstances of mass unpopularity where Fianna Fail were widely seen as having stolen the election through a campaign of lies.

As with the global campaign the bulk of the organisation and work has been the province of left-wing organisations who, afraid their own policies would alienate workers, have adopted the language of pacifism and reformism in order to build the movement.

As with the global coalition the local coalition has retained the ability to mobilise very large numbers of people but has fallen into a political and strategic stalemate where the only strategy is to have another protest.

That said, there have been two setbacks that have shown how the failure to address policy and strategy have damaged the development of an effective opposition.

The first of these was the Shannon demonstration of  22nd February.  None of the organisations covered themselves in glory.  The anarchists decided on fairly mild direct action that they appeared happy to leave to themselves.  The socialists, who  should have no difficulty with this tactic but who should have argued for a democratic debate to convert direct action into mass action, fled from the notion of going beyond a totally pacifistic protest and held a separate march. They feared alienating their allies in ICTU, Labour and the Greens who where so horrified by the thought of a few anarchists shaking a fence that they stayed in Dublin.

What then would an effective movement look like?  It would have at its centre the demand for the closure of Shannon as part of the war machine.  It would demand the dismantling of a government that has torn up the very idea of Irish independence.  It would build a democratic movement – the current movement operates through diplomatic negotiations between political parties so activists are unable to discuss the results of action or plan future action and policy.

The second failure was in the North.  Here the left effectively handed over control of the campaign to NICTU, either forgetting or not understanding in the first place that the trade union’s policy of workers unity has always meant in practice capitulation to unionism and stamping down hard on any attempt at independent working class action.  So it proved yet again.  The Belfast demonstration on March 22nd was confronted by the bigot Trimble, who played the Orange card and labelled the anti-war movement disloyal.  ICTU capitulated immediately, with spokesman Peter Bunting announcing that the antiwar movement opposed the war but supported the British troops invading Iraq!  The rally that followed was clearly a funeral, with Bunting telling the crowd that they had frightened Blair and he would never do it again!  The left found themselves assembling in Belfast at the beginning of April to yet again launch an anti-war movement, their dreams of being catapulted to the leadership of the Irish working class ashes in their mouths.

The reality is that many of the organisations supporting the anti-war demonstrations would have very serious difficulties with anything that goes beyond the most polite forms of protest. Labour and the Greens are long-standing supporters of the existing order and stand firmly in support of the idea of ‘national interest’ that justifies the support given to the US and Britain.  ICTU have just signed up to the most craven social partnership deal yet that puts them in bed with the government that they would have to bring to its knees if they were to seriously obstruct the local war effort.  Sinn Fein declare themselves the purest of anti-imperialists while staging the final act of their own capitulation to imperialism – reaching the depths of hypocrisy with St. Patrick’s day junkets in the states to shake Bush’s hand on the outbreak of war.

It is not the job of socialists to exclude anyone.  The anti-war movement is open to all.  But it is not our job to hide our own politics in order to allow other organisations to strike poses while in the end blocking any radical policy or effective action.  An effective movement demands the closure of Irish airspace to the British and US invaders.  It demands a campaign to unseat Ahern and his cronys. It demands an open democratic rank and file structure that allows militants to reflect on policy and action and plan action with all the political organisations putting forward their positions honestly and abiding by the decisions of the mass of militants who want to stage an effective struggle against this war.

The people of Iraq deserve our support.  But not all the battles will be fought there.  The deployment of the Garda riot squad at the ‘ring round the Dail’ demonstration indicates that, while the movement has not set itself the task of winding up the government, the government will be quite determined in winding up the movement.

The time for a phoney war on the part of the opposition is past.  It’s time for a serious and genuine anti-imperialist movement making a direct appeal to the mass anti-imperialist sentiment that lies just under the surface within the Irish working class.



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