Socialist Party archives: Added May 27th 2004.

Provisional IRA strategy will not defeat imperialism

The crisis developing in the catholic ghettoes of Northern Ireland after the pogroms of 1969 was the pretext on which the Provisional IRA leadership emerged in January 1970. Because of the failure of the Official republican movement to provide adequate defence for the Catholic workers of Belfast and Derry from the invading B-Specials, RUC and UVF mobs the previous August, big sections of the Catholic youths joined the Provisionals.

After this pogrom, in which Catholics were shot and their homes burned, the appeal of the Provisional IRA to many young workers in the afflicted areas was great. The sight of the British army occupying the Falls and the Bogside, coupled with rising unemployment and deplorable housing and the reluctance of the unionist government to introduce reforms was an even bigger incentive.

The courage shown by many of the Provo rank and file in fighting the British army will not be forgotten. Never again will there be a repetition of August 1969, when half a dozen brave men were left to defend all the falls against the rampaging B-specials and their allies.

Irish workers divided

In the last two years, however, many developments have taken place. The worst of all these is the unprecedented extent to which Irish workers have now been divided. The only movement truly uniting Catholic and Protestant workers - the ICTU - is being torn asunder by sectarianism. The result of this is that the Trade Union's two political wings, the Irish Labour Party and the Northern Ireland Labour Party are being left at the mercy of liberals like David Bleakley and Conor Cruise O'Brien.

The responsibility for this development must, to a certain extent, rest with the leadership of the Provisional IRA for deserting its links with the Labour movement. In the only advice the September issue of An Phoblacht recommends to Trade Unionists is to gaelise their unions. In the present social and political conditions, such advice is not only trivial, but also downright sectarian.

This article is primarily addressed to those members of the Provisional IRA who may now be questioning the usefulness of some of the tactics advanced by the leadership to be used in fighting against British Imperialism, and also to all those socialists and republicans who think that only through the use of the bomb and the gun will James Connolly's ideal of a Socialist Republic of Ireland be realised.

IRA Split

In December 1969, when Ruairi O Bradaigh, Sean MacStiofain and others walked out of Sinn Fein, they did so on the grounds that the aim of building a Socialist Republic of Ireland and all it entailed (i.e. ridding the nation of our own bosses as well as the foreign ones) was not in keeping with their own traditional nationalism of the Arthur Griffith type. "We reject the atheistic Marxism propagated by the Goulding-McGiolla clique", said a Provisional IRA statement in the October issue of An Phoblacht. The ideals of the Officials were too "extreme" for the Provisional leadership.

So instead, they proceeded to give their allegiance to the ideals of Blaney, Boland and Haughey. Realising that this Green Toryism was insufficient to maintain for themselves any long-lasting foothold in the north, they then displayed over their reactionary nationalism a thin veneer of socialism. However, this façade has been broken many times by the leadership themselves. Joe Cahill, when in America, admitted that the provisional were fighting for a republic without "any socialist or communist" ideals, and MacStiofain declared in an interview with The Observer that he was violently anti left wing.

Sectarianism of Provisionals

However mush they may deny it, the leadership of the Provisionals have given their allegiance to the sectarianism of the right-wing Fianna Failers. In the November issue of An Phoblacht there is published an article by Father P F Malone who, in reference to Protestant loyalists in the north, declares that by "refusing to join the South, these British citizens should then be treated as refugees and transplanted to the UK where they can fly the Union Jack and worship Her Majesty to their hearts content."

The military policy of the Provisional IRA leadership bears out their bigoted sectarianism and proves their indifference to the working class as a whole, Catholic and Protestant. Their attacks upon Protestant workers can only be seen as an attempt to provoke Protestant reprisals and civil war. The aim of such tactics is, in the long run, to make the stay of the British army so expensive that the British government would be forced to withdraw it.

In other words, instead of overthrowing British Imperialism through the use of political and industrial activities of the working class, the leadership are attempting to overthrow it militarily. "On the military front, our role has changed from a defensive role…to an offensive campaign of resistance in all parts of the occupied area", said Sean MacStiofain at the recent Ard Fheis of the Provisionals.

Martyrdom, instead of disciplined mass action, is the basis of such tactics. They arise from a fundamental lack of confidence in the potential of the working class to recognise the need to get rid of British Imperialism, to struggle against it and overcome it. They express a certain amount of political and social defeatism.

The leadership of the Provisionals is anti-democratic and elitist because it takes upon itself to make all decisions concerning the oppressed without their conscious participation. They seek to replace the political and social activities of the workers with a "duel in the dark" between themselves and the British army.

Instead of raising the consciousness of the working class as a whole, the tactics of the Provisionals have tended only to make the mass of Catholic workers less active (note the deplorable attendance at the Falls Park rally on January 2nd) and to drive Protestant workers further into the camp of Unionism.

Adventurist tactics

Such tactics are adventuristic, because they try to compensate for the backwardness of the mass movement and the weakness of its leaders with violence. They are self-defeating, because not only do they need informers and provocateurs, but also because they play into the hands of British Imperialism and its agencies by enabling them to shift the responsibility for violence from themselves to the mass movement and thereby further increase repression.

Of course it is true to say that these tactics have introduced a certain amount of confusion into British Imperialism, but this confusion is only temporary, and when the British government finds its 'solution' and begins to implement it, the much deeper confusion introduced by the Provisional IRA into the ranks of the working class will leave them defenceless.

The only way to fight British Imperialism is through class unity in a mass movement, and the only guarantee of long-term success is the Trade Union and Labour movement. But for this movement to be effective in the struggle to build a 32 county Socialist Republic of Ireland, socialists and republicans must fight for the ideals of James Connolly and Liam Mellows inside the Labour Parties, north and south of the border.

It would of course be wrong to call on the Provisional and Official rank and file to just lay down their arms and leave the catholic areas defenceless again. But the individual terror campaign must end, and a start made organising a trade union defence force as the only real defence of both Catholic and Protestant workers.

Militant, January 1972

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