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Joe Craig and John McAnulty
The various contributions in this book represent voices that are marginalised and excluded in most discussion of politics in the North of Ireland. They are voices critical of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement from a broadly democratic and socialist perspective. They are thus also opposed to the despair and hopelessness of the militarism offered by physical force republicanism which continues in its opposition to the State and which is continually held up by supporters of the peace process as the only alternative. By presenting the available choices in this way supporters of the existing process clearly understand that this opposition is not in any real sense an alternative and in fact only strengthens the process. For these reasons the editors of these writings have not sought contributions from these sources.
We do not underestimate the continuing popularity of the peace process and the decidedly minority viewpoint which the authors of this collection represent. But the shine has already come off much of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and positive support gives way more and more to weary resignation, which many feel compelled to accept because they believe there is no alternative but a return to 'violence.' It would be wrong to blame this simply or even mainly on the militarist republican opposition. The threat of a return to violence is constantly held over the heads of working people by those who have gained most from the process - the loyalists and British. That the whole process is an exercise in blackmail is never commented on by a mass media that has dropped all disguise of unbiased reporter and commentator to become unashamed cheerleaders.
But blackmail is only credible if the threat is real and increasingly the threat has become real. Half way through 2001 it was reported that over 100 pipe bombs had been aimed at Catholic homes. Sectarian murder continues. In fact many in northern society have remarked that it has never appeared so sectarian -yet another reason why the popularity of the process has waned. This is not in the least surprising for those of us who characterised the peace process and the GFA as an imperialist offensive that would only strengthen the divisions in the country through institutionalising sectarianism. The increasing bitterness of the Northern State is not a relic of the past but a more or less direct result of the Good Friday Agreement. This is counter to most people's perceptions but it is easily demonstrated.
The process has been built on the idea of 'equality of the two traditions.' But what does this signify other than equality of sectarian bigotry? Right from the start any idea of equality of citizenship, like that contained in the original civil rights movement, is rejected. There is certainly no ambition to assert or create a joint identity defined by class. What else could we expect from an Agreement that requires elected representatives to register their sectarian allegiance before taking their places at the historic site of bigotry, Stormont? The whole process is based on sectarian competition in which the most aggressive defenders of sectarian rights are inevitably rewarded, thus the growth in the DUP and Sinn Fein. The results are seen in Drumcree, pipe bombs and the plumbing of ever-deeper depths of bigotry such as attacks on four-year old Catholic children trying to attend school in Ardoyne. What becomes clearer by the day is that what we are seeing created before us is not the dismantling of sectarianism but its reconstruction. Partition is legitimised through deletion of articles 2 and 3, Stormont is back in action and the RUC is modernised.
Yet still the whole process lumbers from 'crisis' to 'crisis,' never finally succumbing because the supposed opposition, the anti-agreement unionists, are not really opposed. They love Stormont and claim only to want to see the exclusion of Republicans until disarmament confirms surrender. Well justified suspicions remain that this is but a stage in the complete political sterilisation of the Catholic population. On the other side Republicans claim success and huge strides forward which appear to have credibility because of their own party growth but which rest on the complete collapse of their original political project of Brits Out. Smash Stormont has become Build Stormont and we are asked to believe the only problem with it has been that they weren't part of it.
The real nature of the process, its perpetual state of crisis and the widespread illusions in what is going on are perfect illustrations of something Karl Marx said over one hundred years ago. 'Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its own consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life..'
Thus in one sense it doesn't matter what illusions people have in the peace process, reality will impress its way through the rosiest of tinted glasses. It doesn't matter what confusion is caused by these illusions or by the claims of Republicans, again reality is much more powerful. Another example from history is instructive in this respect. When the Russian revolution was destroyed by Stalinism the Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky condemned the claim by Stalin that he represented socialism saying that the forces of history were much stronger than the most powerful General Secretary. The collapse of the Soviet Union proved him absolutely correct and if the second most powerful state on the planet could not protect a lie neither will the supporters of the Good Friday Agreement, including a bigger Sinn Fein.
The purpose of this book is to begin a process that will ensure that democrats and socialists are not just the objects of these historical forces but become its subjects. That the Northern State is and will always be rotten is beyond serious dispute. That we must build an opposition and create an alternative to it is the only question that deserves attention. Many believe that such an alternative is impossible, To the supporters of present Republican strategy who say this we have already given the answer. To sincere doubters and those who are already convinced opponents, we say, you are the alternative! The history of Republican militarism has bred an attitude among many that liberation will come from without, from an armed movement or clever political leaders. We say that liberation only comes from self-activity, from working people themselves becoming politically active. If this book stimulates some to critical discussion of the peace process and others to political activity it will have fulfilled its aim.