meet the new boss, same as the old boss

“There’s nothing in the streets
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Are now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight”
– Wont Get Fooled Again

The following is from the site and concerns the latest Provisional IRA statement declaring an end to their military campaign and full endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement which demands putting the IRA’s weapons “beyond use”. Although the statement makes no claim that the IRA will disband, it is assumed that the army’s Active Service Units (the fighting units) will be retired with soldiers asked to now join fully in the various Provisional Sinn Fein campaigns. We may find that a small “caretaker” core remains to periodically meet and acess the developing situation. This caretaker core would most likely be be comprised of members of the IRA’s Ruling Army Council. Either way, the statement makes clear what many have long known – the Provo’s war is over.

The Provisional IRA emerged in 1969-1971 and was the product of resistance to attacks and pogroms by Irish Protestant forces and the British Army directed against Irish Catholic working class communities.

The Provisionals essentially started as a political split from the the then IRA leadership who had ceased it’s armed campaign and instead prioritized a pro-Soviet Marxist and electoral approach to the Irish struggle. When the anti-Catholic riots swept Northern Ireland the IRA had no structure to defend the communities against attack. Individual IRA members sometimes in their 60’s (who had fought the Brit’s in the 1930’s) organized defense battalions with the few arms at their disposal. In essence, the genesis of the modern IRA was based on armed self defense – something the 1960’s IRA leadership seemed incapable of doing. Despite this militant and armed action, the Provisionals had few strategies for the long term.

As the Provisional IRA grew there also emerged strong community organizing initiatives. The purpose of which was to mobilize for the war against the British Occupation. Neighborhoods became no-go areas for police and British armies. The IRA/Sinn Fein, working with communities, became the administrators of order. However, community autonomy and self-management seemed subordinate to the war efforts. According to the IRA, the first stage in freedom was expulsion of the British.

By the late 1970’s the IRA had become a popular national liberation organization with strong socialist leanings. It saw itself as part of the International struggle against apartheid and oppression and made solidarity with the South African and Palestinian resistance movements. Not as radical in it’s politics as smaller Nationalist/Republican groups (like the IRSP/INLA, or the even smaller inner-Provo tendency, the League of Communist Republicans), the IRA had much more substantial support among Irish working class, catholic, and Republican people. As a result, the Provisionals existed as the largest counter-power to British rule in Northern Ireland. Hundreds of people moved in and out of the IRA’s military apparatus. Thousands more supported the IRA directly or indirectly through participation in various Irish Republican clubs, prisoner support organizations, or political solidarity groups. Still, broader political organizing at the community level was subordinate to the war.

By 1994 a Ceasefire was called by the IRA: with the exception of a few brief armed actions, the armed struggle had come to a standstill. While capable of bombing the British to the negotiating table, the IRA was incapable of forcing the British out of Ireland let alone initiating a 32 County Socialist Republic as it’s Aims called for.

The decade since the ’94 Ceasefire has seen, at the tugging of it’s Sinn Fein leaders, the Provisonal movement – without a longterm program for reorganization of society along community based, participatory forms of social direction – embrace not just a British Government partnership, but rejection of the ideal of revolutionary socialist transformation. The IRA have taken the road of the ANC in South Africa, the PLO in Palestine, and much of the rest of the “Left” national liberation movements.

We cant underestimate the difficulties in war, struggle and altering the conditions of our communities and broader society. The IRA and Republican struggle for justice and freedom was a mass experiment. Many have fought, bled, and died for it with a conviction and determination most so called revolutionaries have not the faintest conception of. However, it’s course has come to an end. Since the ’94 Ceasefire there have been several splits and purges, with the exiles setting up new armed groups (Real IRA, Continuity IRA). Legitimate questions exist about the viability of armed action against the British State. It should be asked if those who would continue an armed campaign do so out of habit and lack of a broader strategy? A new strategy would be difficult in that it would demand a radical departure from any previous political course, but necessary if the revolutionary elements to the Irish struggle are to not be lost.

As stated on, the latest developments may provide anarchist revolutionaries the ability to interact and dialogue with rank and file Republicans on the future of struggle in Ireland.

The statement from the IRA is formulated to clearly comply with the various demands made by the British and Irish governments over the last year and to so try and expose the Unionist political parties as the ones opposing progress. As such it not only prepares the ground for Sinn Fein to re-enter government in the north but also for it to go into coalition in the south.
The years of the peace process have seen a real growth in electoral support for Sinn Fein in the south so that it would now be in the position to be a junior partner in a coalition government. By definition this would have to include one of Irelands right wing neo-liberal parties as the major partner. It is notable that the IRA statement lacks even a rhetorical reference to any sort of socialism – not even in the watered down form of the ‘equality agenda’ used in recent elections by Sinn Fein.

The other side of the peace process has been the ditching of much of the radical left rhetoric of the republican movement of the 1980’s. Pragmatism became the new watchword whether that meant meeting with George Bush at the height of the invasion of Iraq, imposing education and health cuts as part of the government of northern Ireland or voting for the bin taxes in Sligo in order to get power in the council. There is still a radically inclined grassroots in Sinn Fein, in particular in the urban areas, but it is a well disciplined one – accustomed to following the pragmatic line coming from the top.

The ‘whiff of cordite’ was always part of the reason this was possible – this and the lack of any serious and sizeable alternative. Now as the IRA disarms and the libertarian movement grows the space may open for a dialogue with many rank and file republican activists.

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1 thought on “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”

  1. from the online edition of The Daily Ireland

    TAKE FIVE: Some things we won’t do

    Published 09/08/2005

    There has been an escalating list of demands made of republicans since ceasefire was first seriously mooted in the early 1990s. Initially it was an end to the physical force campaign, then decommissioning weapons, followed by an insistence that the IRA neuter itself. Difficult as this has been for many old rebels to swallow, there has, arguably, been logic in it. When a campaign ends, it is reasonable that material conditions relating to weapons and armies are aligned with existing political reality. Republicans, however, should remind themselves that bidding farewell to arms should not mean acquiescence with every claim made on them by their opponents.

    Clouding this question is the muddle-headed assertions from those republicans who make a fetish out of physical force. If they are to be believed, Irish republicanism can be reduced to a crude equation elevating militarism to the one and only key component of a progressive political philosophy that has dominated Irish life for two centuries.

    Thanks in no small part to the process involved in rejecting this nonsense, there is a risk that some republicans may now feel that there are no non-negotiable principles. To do so would be a mistake of monumental proportions because while a resort to arms is a decision open to critical evaluation, accepting the British monarchist state is undeniably a fundamental contradiction of republicanism.

    This should be kept firmly in mind when the spotlight moves away from republican arms and towards the next demand that they support the policing of Northern Ireland. It can’t be repeated often enough that uncritical support for the police is uncritical support for the state. The police enforce the law that is made by those who control the legislative apparatus and while the union remains, that apparatus is in Westminster.
    Of course it’s quite in order to give critical support to aspects of civil policing such as crime prevention and traffic regulation but this shouldn’t be confused with endorsement of policing per se.

    The worst possible option is trying to evade the issue by conspiratorial plots to infiltrate the police with “sound republicans”. Conspiracies fail if they are discovered and also fail if they are not discovered since people must be aware of a plan if it is to succeed.

    There is no role for Irish republicans in policing the North. When the union is broken we may reconsider. In the meantime, we remain republican or police. The two cannot be combined.

    Tommy McKearney is a former member of the IRA and now works with ex-prisoners and as an organiser for the Independent Workers’ Union.


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