Vol. 1-No 11
September 14th 2010
1) Not the same as in the 60’s
2) Political Law-Breakers or Common Criminals?
Not the same as in the 60’s
Recently the President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez called on the guerrilla fighters in Columbia, both the FARC and ELN, to 'reconsider' armed strategy. Speaking to a labour forum in Caracas he said,
"I believe that the Colombian guerrillas should seriously consider what some of us have done. With all respect, the world today is not the same as in the 60s,"
Guerrilla groups like FARC and ELN will not achieve political power by continuing their armed resistance.
"I don't think there are conditions in Colombia that allow them to take power in the foreseeable future. Instead, they have become the main excuse of the empire to penetrate Colombia deeply and from there attack Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba,"
Chavez is leading the efforts to turn Venezuela into a socialist state, has already seen off one attempted coup by pro USA forces and believes that the USA (which he refers to as the “Empire”) are prepared to ferment right wing inspired unrest to de-stabilise the Bolivarian revolution he is leading in Venezuela.
Chavez is not a pro –imperialist, nor a pacifist, nor one easy swayed by capitalist or defeatist propaganda. He is well aware of the dangers posed to the left in South America. Hence his words should be noted, not only by FARC and the ELN, but by activists world wide.
There is no foolproof way to smash capitalist not to achieve national independence nor defeat Imperialism. If there was then the world would be socialist by now! Methods successful in one country or continent do not necessarily easily transfer to another country or continent. Sadly some people ignore the lessons of history and keep repeating the same mistakes that lead to defeat and disillusionment.
During the 1960s following the success of the Cuban revolution revolutionaries, Marxists and nationalists throughout the world looked to see if the Cuban revolution had any lessons that could be put into practise. It had been lead by Castro who took a small band of guerrilla fighters into the mountains and eventually seized power as the reactionary Batista regime collapsed.
The success of the Cuban struggle led to copy-cat guerrilla bands mainly in South America. Unfortunately some did not take heed of the writings of Marti, quoted in Che Guevara’s “Guerrilla Warfare: A Method”.
“He who wages war in a country when he can avoid it is a criminal, just as he who fails to promote war which cannot be avoided is a criminal”
Now while Che was committed to armed struggle in South America in the sixties this was not an abstract position based on the correctness of armed struggle regardless of the socio economic or political situations. Indeed he explicitly rejected small-scale guerrilla warfare led by small groups of men isolated from the masses.
“those who want to undertake guerrilla warfare--- forgetting mass struggle implying that guerrilla warfare and mass struggle are opposed to each other. We reject this implication for guerrilla warfare is a people’s war; to attempt to carry out this type war without the population’s support is the preclude to inevitable disaster. The guerrilla is the combat vanguard of the people…. Supported by the peasant and worker masses of the region and of the whole territory in which it acts. Without these prerequisites, guerrilla warfare is not possible”
He stressed the importance of the political work to be carried out by the vanguard and defined revolutionary war as “a great politico-military operation” of which guerrilla warfare forms only a part. Indeed he was scathing about adventurism
“Assaults and terrorism in indiscriminate forms should not be employed”
“---to make use of popular organisations of workers, professional people, and peasants who work at sowing the seed of the revolution among their respective masses explaining, providing revolutionary publications for reading, teaching the truth”(Guerrilla Warfare)
Che’s position was in line with the finest traditions of Marxism. He knew that in the unlikely event of a revolutionary socialist movement coming to power then capitalist forces would do what ever it could to overthrow that movement. He did not see a peaceful road to socialism being possible because of the reactionary forces lined up against it but at the same time he rejected militarism or adventurism.
Like most revolutionaries with an understanding of the nature of Capitalism/Imperialism he regarded armed struggle essentially as a tactic. This position was also held by another revolutionary from the sixties, Hugo Blanco in Peru.
“ In principle we are not against such activities as assaults on banks and police headquarters they are part of the revolutionary struggle of the war of the people against their enemies- ---but they must be the fruit of the growing class consciousness of the people --- must be carried out when the masses have arrived at an understanding of their necessity and regard them as their own acts their own form of struggle”(Page 350 The Leninist Strategy of Party Building “J.Hansen Pathfinder press 1979)
The relevance of these quotes to our current situation in Ireland should be all too evident. Recently the Irish News carried an interview with a spokesperson for a group called “Oglaigh na hEireann” (O.n.E.)–not to be confused with the “Real Oglaigh na hEireann (IRA) nor the Continuity Oglaigh na hEireann (IRA). This group has claimed responsibility for a number of bomb attacks in recent months. Indeed there have been 49 bombings so far this year compared to 22 during the whole of 2009. The increase has been put down to former members of the PIRA defecting to O.n.E. The devices have become much more sophisticated and complex. Indeed so much so that British security chiefs have drafted in a senior counter explosives officer to plan a strategy to deal with the upsurge. Experts in bomb disposal work are now regularly shifted between work in Helmand province in Afghanistan and Belfast.
Some of the political commentators and politicians have suggested that the republicans behind this armed campaign or either mad or criminal and that the occasional rioting that has occurred in a few areas of social and economic deprivation is due to feral youth being manipulated by older criminals. For example
“And throughout those years the foot soldiers were the young and unemployed, the bored and under-educated. In short, the easily exploited, looking for a thrill and a cause to give meaning to their grey lives. The recruitment tactics employed today by those groups, which see themselves as the inheritors of the Provisional IRA's legacy, are no different to those of the early 1970s: organised "recreational" rioting coupled with a contempt for the forces of law and order and the state they represent”
(David Sharrock The Independent 07/09/10.)
Such comments might satisfy the supporters of the current constitutional set up in Belfast but does little to add to understanding what is going on. It also grossly underestimates the motivation that drives republicans. Republicans in the main are motivated by a vision of a different Ireland from that which we have today. They do not lead “grey lives” but have a grasp of reality beyond the understanding of some political commentators.
Furthermore they recognise that the unionist veto is a major barrier to the reaching of a permanent democratic settlement that allows the different traditions to live together freed from Imperial interference.
12 years after the ‘signing’ of the Good Friday Agreement there is still no consensus on how the north’s institutions should work. Parading is still a major problem for a small number of nationalist areas that are put under siege from the Loyal Orders. Almost one in five 18-24 year olds is unemployed. The building trade once a huge employer of northern nationalists is in recession and now huge cuts are promised for the public sector reducing working class access to vital services. Sectarian attacks still continue undisturbed by the prevailing political consensus. Sectarian attitudes still play a major part in the day-to-day life lives of the inhabitants of the six counties. A statelet whose borders were decided by sectarian headcounts and whose first fifty years of existence was dominated by a sectarian and bigoted parliament and whose security forces defended the sectarian practices of the rulers for most of their existence does not shed sectarianism that easily.
Despite the abolition of the RUC and the establishment of the non-sectarian PSNI no one should doubt the function of that same PSNI. It is to enforce the will not only of the local assembly but also that of the Westminster Parliament, the still supreme controller of the Northern statelet. That is why it victimizes the families of those who politically oppose the northern state settlement. Those who oppose the current political settlement where by political or military means are not “traitors” or “mad” or “criminally motivated. They are republicans seeking that which republicans have sought for more than 200 years an independent and sovereign Irish R republic based on the freely expressed will of the people of the whole isle.
The question facing all of us who dissent from the current settlement is how to win support for our positions? Is it by the methods currently employed by some sections of Republicanism?
In their interview with the Irish News O.n.E. recognised that they did not
“not have enough support in the nationalist community, or sufficient activists, to achieve their goals.”
But that they intend to
"nick at the heels of the Brits"
"In the future, we will target the British apparatus, should that be in Belfast, Birmingham or London."
It admits to having only a small number of members and very little support, but says it is determined to wreck political stability in Northern Ireland.
"What we intend to achieve is to continually upset and expose this myth of normalisation.
O.n.E. have no political wing. So one can only take as its strategy the essentially negative position as outlined above using solely armed force to disrupt while leaving the politics alone. That is no way either to build a revolutionary movement nor win the support of a substantial section of the Irish people. It also allows those in power to continue to exploit people without fear of serious political opposition. Furthermore such tactics originally developed in the past by PIRA and INLA did not achieve any of their goals. Tho’ PIRA sold the GFA as a success, at least the INLA had the good sense to admit that the armed struggle had failed.
And it will fail again if it is seen as the only way forward. There is no mass support for it nor is there as yet much opposition to the current pacification process going under the name of the “peace process”.
Indeed the divisions amongst those in opposition to the current settlement has reached almost Monty Pythonesque levels of ridiculousness that would be funny if it was not so serious.
In both the 1970/S and 1980’s there was some limited support for armed struggle within the nationalist population. In the seventies this was because arising out of the civil rights struggle there had developed a mass struggle that won the sympathy not only of the majority of the people on the isle but also huge international support. The reaction of both Unionism and the British in beating people of the streets with both batons and bullets gave a certain justification for the limited use of arms. That it was limited was clearly recognised by the then leadership of PIRA, which called at least two ceasefires in the seventies. The leadership of the OIRA indeed as early as 1972 called a ceasefire but allowed a limited response for its volunteers under the policy of defence and retaliation, (a position also adopted by the INLA from 1995 until August 1998)
In the eighties the attitude of both Unionism and the British to the jail struggles and then the hunger strikes of 80 and 81 drove many inspired by both the courage of the hunger strikers and the mass campaigns around their demands into armed groups. Unfortunately both the leaderships of the PIRA and the INLA did not have (with the exception of T Power) leaders who cold distinguish between tactics and strategy or see the relevance of politic activism. So gradually the armed struggle was dragged into occasionally bouts of sectarian tit for tat killings, leaving vast sections of the northern population living in fear and retreating even more into entrenched sectarian attitudes.
Perhaps that was inevitable given the ways and means British Imperialism had nurtured protected and armed sectarian forces through out their control of Ireland. But even that fact does not absolve Republicans from sectarianism. To indulge in sectarianism is a total betrayal of all that Republicanism stands for.
In the current circumstances now is most definitely the time for the use of arms. If the largest and most effective armed guerrilla force in Western Europe since the 2nd World War could not force a British declaration of intent to withdraw from Ireland, then snipping at their heels, will certain not, nor persuade anyone that that is the way forward. After all even the current arrangements clearly shout to the world that this, i.e. the North is not a normal state. The current playacting at Stormont is a clear indication that this is not a normal society.
Continuing armed action only allows those in Stormont to pose as statesmen and men and women of peace when they are part of a process that is tearing the heart out of the best parts of the Welfare state and dismantling gains achieved by the working class over generations.
It is not by bomb booby trap or bullet that the process of change can begin. It is by those republicans who share a class analysis coming together to work with others of the same ilk and with the broad mass of labour and working class organisations to oppose the vicious attacks on the lives of working people right across the British isles that the possibilities of change comes. Then linkages between different aspects of struggle can be made. Waging class struggle is also waging anti-imperialist struggle and by linking the two is the only way forward to unite a badly divided class.
Verbal sloganising about socialism is not the way to gain support. Neither is the pontificating of groups who see themselves as the lone hope for the working class going to make the slightest bit of differences. At a time of the greatest crisis for capitalism in over 80 years is it too much to ask for a coming together of those who share the same basic world views to unite and fight. Our enemies are to our right, not to our left and we should not reserve our greatest venom for those with whom we disagree marginally. While we can march separately we should strike together for in the unity of the class lies the way to the socialist republic.
Political Law-Breakers or Common Criminals?
( On Liam O'Ruairc's Essay, For The Pensive Quill August 23rd 2010)
Liam O'Ruairc presents a very comprehensive argument in support of 'special category status’; completely devoid of emotion it sticks to the cold hard facts, in a manner, which would put most highly paid lawyers to shame. In fact none of this evidence could be disputed. Nevertheless it highlights a contradiction.
In arguing that republicans are being treated as 'political' because of the legislation used to effect their arrest and trial, then after conviction are imprisoned and incorrectly labelled as criminals, requires recognition of the legitimacy of that anti-terrorist legislation in the first place.
I can't see how it is possible to have it both ways, either 'The Terrorism Act 2000' is accepted as legitimate and those arrested tried and convicted under it are treated as political prisoners, or the act is challenged as illegal under international law and those who resort to violence for what ever reason, are criminalised.
I would suggest that the slogans calling for restoration of political status have more to do with garnering support for republican military actions outside the prisons than the actual status of the prisoners.
A few weeks ago I heard the Father of one of these prisoners speaking, on the radio, about conditions in the prisons and at no point did he call for any form of political recognition or status for his son. His main concern was to end the inhumane treatment of prisoners focussing particularly on the completely unnecessary, cruel, and degrading practice of strip-searching.
In his article, Liam poses the question,
“are there any grounds to label Republican prisoners as ‘criminals’?” and sets about testing this against various international laws especially the articles of the Geneva Convention, concluding that these do not offer grounds for political status. Liam then quotes from the 1978 Glover Report, which stated,
' Our evidence of the calibre of the rank and file terrorists does not support the view that they are mindless hooligans drawn from the unemployed and the unemployable.'
The problem with citing this evidence is that three decades and two referenda have passed and with these the conditions which prevailed at that time! We all know that laws of any Country are an expression of the policy goals of the dominant social group, and that the dominant social group here is not the majority, i.e. the Working Class, nevertheless the law does reflect a measurement of what is acceptable across all strata of society, and the fact that we have a Human Rights Commission at all, is an example of this.
Looking at one particular combatant group, the I.R.S.P.; This organisation declared a ceasefire in 1998 using the reasoning, that the vast majority of the people of Ireland declared their wish for an end to the 'troubles' in the referenda of that year. Following that ceasefire every succeeding Ard Fheis unanimously agreed the continuation of the ceasefire, and that criminal activity was not part of their programme. More recently the organisation has declared its intention to pursue its political objectives 'by exclusively peaceful means'. This begs the question; 'why then does that organisation have members in prison?'
The 'Real' and 'Continuity' groups and Oglaigh na h -Eireann are still active militarily and their supporters are among the most vocal in the prisoners debate. These groups have chosen to ignore the will of the Irish people as expressed in the referenda, and continue to use guerrilla tactics and have used the issue of 'political status' of Republican prisoners as one of the reasons why they choose to stick two fingers up to the rest of us.
As someone who readily accepted the actions of the PIRA, OIRA and INLA as being a war against imperialism, I was also among those who recognised that this was not revolution and that the longer it continued the more counter-revolutionary it would become. I believe that history has proven this analysis correct, and as predicted the Provisionals have become centre-right, constitutional politicians, presiding over the economic oppression of the working class.
The so called 'dissident' groups have either failed to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, in which case they could at best be called misguided, or more likely they choose to use violence as an end, rather than as a means to an end, which in my view makes their activity 'criminal'.
A revolution requires mass support of the working class, which the Provisionals never had, (there was a mass turn out for the funerals of the hunger strikers, but that was a protest against injustice rather than a vote of confidence for the war). When they split from the original movement in 1970 they rejected any Marxian analysis of the situation with some leading members of the new movement pouring vitriol on the idea of socialism in Ireland. Their tactics completely alienated the protestant working class supporters of the civil rights movement, and cut across any chance of the working class unity, which could have been the seeds of a mass movement for a socialist Republic.
Republicans are very fond of quoting Pearse,
'Ireland unfree shall never be at peace',
without understanding what he meant by 'freedom'. Freedom of the majority of the Irish people will not be achieved by small groups of armed nationalists, it can only be achieved by a mass movement, and when you add Patrick Pearse's famous quote to another famous one by James Connolly,
'If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you',
you will begin to see what he meant by freedom!
Today's Republican militarists are compounding the failures of the Provisionals, and in doing so are committing a crime against the working class in Ireland.
Independent Workers Union
UNEMPLOYMENT MARCH & RALLY 18th September 2010
Dungannon to Cookstown
Assemble 10:30 Market Square: Depart 10:50
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