Tag Archives: IRA

Martin McGuinness, the IRA, and the nature of Civil War

…and no, I never use the term “Troubles”, which is such a cutesy underestimation of what actually occurred – a civil war that lasted for a solid 30 years. With that in mind:

So Martin “Former IRA Commander” McGuiness has died.
Relatively recently, I wrote a Facebook post decrying Sinn Fein for selling out, and amongst other things I singled out McGuinness for his newfound fondness for the Queen of England, as well as his chummy relationship with one of the largest bigots/religious fanatics, Ian Paisley. I’m tempted to write something cute and cheeky now Martin “It’s DERRY, not Londonderry” McGuinness is dead, but I’m not going to. History, especially the history of that strange autonomous zone/apartheid state up north, is far too complex for that kind of simplistic damnation.
And it should be noted that I criticized Sinn Fein from the position of a left wing Republican – I believe that Northern Ireland is IRISH, NOT BRITISH, and the territory has never been British anymore than Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Egypt, or any other headache from the colonial era. There has also been considerable tutting from the Right about Martin McGuinness’ IRA past – the CBC wrote a particularly damning eulogy that, while making a big deal about the man’s role in the Peace Process, condemned him to eternal hellfire for his participation/leadership of the IRA.
This fails to understand, or even have anything remotely close to empathy, the past 400 years of Anglo-Irish “relations” – and when I say relations, I mean brutal invasion, conquest, arbitrary violence, and the complete hegemony of the British state as they revved up for Empire AND cleaned up what they considered their backyard. You know how Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan felt about Central and South America? Kinda like that.
It fails to understand that this was a CIVIL WAR, not some drum circle at a park during the Summer of Love. I can’t believe that I have to explain this, but as a leading member of an army, McGuinness indeed spilled blood. So did the British Army, and I can’t help but notice that no one mentions the significant “other” in this combination; along with the aforementioned 400 years of Empire, more recently the British army was occupied with killing even more Irish people.
McGuinness felt (rightly or wrongly) that the only way that Ireland could be freed would be via kicking the Brits out with physical force. If that makes him a terrorist, then that same condemnation can be applied to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine, Abe Lincoln (hey look! Another civil war), FDR etc, and that’s just running down the more notable Americans.
Another analogy that the IRA actively fostered was that connection with other anti-colonial movements, specifically the Viet Cong. I don’t know how accurate that comparison is, but I will say that no one on earth would ever call the VC terrorists; they were a guerilla, irregular army, kinda like the IRA. I can think of a few British Army units (including the charmers in the paratrooper division) who could also measure up to that whole terrorist sobriquet.
McGuinness talked and acted tough on the TV, then OUT OF NOWHERE began peace talks in secret. You know why he talked a lot of bullshit about violence RIGHT BEFORE he entered talks to end said violence? Because it’s a lot easier to sell the concept of ceasefire with your paramilitary buddies if your Republican stripes are in order and unquestioned. His speeches in the late 80s (which the CBC referred to as “glorifying violence”) were just a tactic, meant to keep the real Republican hawks in line, as well as creating trust across the Republican spectrum that McGuinness and Adams knew what they’re doing. It was a strategy to gradually win over Republicans to their side, then gradually introduce the concept of ceasefire; it is no more the mark of a sociopath, in love with murder, than any given gangster rapper similarly talking a lot of bullshit (without actually doing anything physical).
The Peace Process was by no means perfect, and today there are plenty of dissident Republicans who have fallen out of love with Sinn Fein, who view Adams and McGuinness as sellouts. And from the other end of the spectrum, you have good ol’ Canadian Redcoats who are apparently very happy with Canada’s bizarre constitutional relationship with England; and these people hate the IRA like they hate sin. The loyalists who also apparently constitute mainstream media in Canada are either totally unfamiliar with the rest of the context of colonialism in general and the civil war specifically; it disgusts me that the utterly ignorant are given the job of writing a report on a dead man that looks like the Nuremberg file on Rommel.
Was McGuinness good? Evil? Probably neither, which puts him squarely in the same category as the majority of humanity. But what has to be understood is context; McGuinness did not grow up in an American suburb, and the cutesy term, “The Troubles”, is a grotesque understatement of what was occurring at the time, namely a civil war. A civil war that lasted for around 30 years, and was only the most recent spasm of violence to take place in that conflict zone – and it will likely start again in some form or another during my lifetime. That’s what McGuinness grew up in, and his choice to participate in this violence was mirrored by thousands.

 

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The INLA, PUP,and Marxism in Northern Ireland – Can Marxism beat Sectarianism? Part 1 – The Republican Heritage and a quickie historical tour

Marxism (or more specifically, socialism) has a long storied background in Ireland, a homegrown tradition which has arisen from almost survival-level necessity: in the 1800s, as Ireland was exploited along with every other British colony for raw materials and cheap muscle, people had to band together in order to survive. It was that, or face an ugly little rat race with equally deprived creatures fighting for scraps. This created the first combines, the first worker’s societies, the first unions in the industrialized cities of the North such as Belfast, an economic/industrial powerhouse on the island. It created men like Jim Larkin, James Connolly, and later laid the bedrock for radical organizations such as the SWP and the native Socialist Party in the Republic.

These conditions also created the conditions  for Irish republicanism. The IRA did not begin its existence as a radical socialist organization; it was the birthright of earlier, 19th Century groups that were determined to drive the Brits out by force – they included forebears such as the infamous “Fenians”. Whilst the British Empire was busy butchering its’ young men in WWI, in 1916 the first stones were cast and the irrevocable process of separation began. In the North however, British Loyalists vastly outnumbered their Irish compatriots, and refused to allow Home Rule to become Rome Rule (get it? it’s a really funny anti-Catholic joke that more than anything summed up the mentality of the British loyalists who also happened to be Protestants: the new Irish Republic would be nothing more than a puppet for Rome as far as they were concerned).

The War for Independence ended with a partition of the island, as well as a giant leap backwards for leftism in both Northern Ireland and especially the Republic. The IRA were considered a hangover from the war, and were despised by the new de Valera administration in Dublin. Anti union legislation was established by the former charming gentleman, whose idea of Ireland included maidens dancing in the fields.

In the fifties, an almost satirical, failed attempt to liberate the North took place, entitled (imaginatively) the Border campaign, or Operation Harvest. The IRA were a laughing stock amongst the Irish who were unlucky enough to be born and raised in the apartheid North (IRA stands for I Ran Away was one such wag). But the IRA wasn’t stupid, and it took certain lessons to heart, the most important lesson being Che Guevara’s dictum about guerilla warfare. A fish needs water to breathe, and a guerilla movement needed the hearts and minds of the denizens around them in the community to flourish.

This new IRA took stock and decided that Marxism, especially the orthodox Marxism espoused by Lenin et al, was the clearest way to raise the community’s hopes and hearts. Marxist studies took place, and dissemination of Marxist thought began to circulate in the more urban centers of the North.

Around the time when seemingly the entire world was changing overnight (namely the late sixties), the civil rights campaign for the Irish Minority in the North began in Derry. What was remarkable was that this movement had nothing to do with the IRA (although there are loyalists to this day who still claim that a pacifist civil rights movement was orchestrated by the paramilitary). The civil rights group, perhaps personified by characters such as Eamon McCann and Bernadette Devlin aimed to improve the living conditions of the Irish currently stuck in the North; this was quickly met by almost unprecedented violence. Naturally, the Derry group fully expected push-back – they had modeled their actions on Selma and the American Civil Rights movement – but the violence quickly escalated from attacking marchers to riots in the streets of Belfast and virtually everywhere else in the North, up to and including the wholesale destruction of entire neighborhoods which had sadly lain too close to the opposing sectarian enclave. It didn’t help matters that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (i.e. the police, whose name alone should give one a solid idea of where they stood politically).

The IRA fought back hard, and tried to keep Western Belfast from being wiped off the map. However, the Northern IRA informed their southern counterparts that they were getting slaughtered, and handing out pamphlets om Trotsky and Lenin really wasn’t helping matters. Things came to a head, and an acrimonious split too place between the “Official”IRA splitting from the primarily Northern-based Provisional IRA. The Provisional IRA is the IRA that everyone around the word knows about. The Official IRA/Sinn Fein declared a ceasefire in 1972, stating that the situation was about to devolve into murderous, sectarian anarchy.

This was then followed by yet another split, an even more vicious one that created just as many bodies on the Republican side as it amongst their sectarian foes. In 1974, Seamus Costello, a popular socialist republican politician, felt that even the tiny amount of work perpetrated by the Officials was insufficient, and so he split and formed the Irish National Liberation Army. The INLA was intended to be a genuinely national liberation front, along the lines of the Vietnamese and the Cubans. Within 13 years, Seamus was dead and the organization had devolved into vicious factional in-fighting and out right drug-gang activity. More will be written about the INLA will follow in the next few days.

As for the PIRA, they adopted radicalism as well, although it has been argued that this was not scientific in any sense and was more based on “learning from” (i.e. aping) other national liberation organizations; furthermore, there was a clear delineation between the urban members who leaned towards radicalism, while the rural republicans were more of the classic conservative farmer stereotype who nevertheless despised the English. There is some question, which we’ll get to in part two, as to how genuine those socialist views are, considering the duality of a pan-nationalist Marxism and parochial Irish Republicanism.

The Official IRA “ceased to be” in the seventies, although it is a matter of public record that their masters kept the thugs around in case anyone needed pushing around (or assassinated, in the INLA’s case). Official Sinn Fein became Official Sinn Fein/Workers Party, finally dropping the IRA bit in the 80s. It was one of the stodgier radical organizations, one which ironically drew inspiration and teaching from orthodox British Marxists throughout the 80s. As this was not a particularly popular viewpoint in Thatcher’s Great Britain, many of them traveled to Ireland to begin the revolution there,, only to find the situation wanting as well. The party imploded in the early 90s.

Everything you’ve just read has been framed within the device of republican paramilitary activity. This is not to give the impression that radicalism was hopelessly bound-up with “the boys”; there is a wide spectrum of radical orgs that attempted to varying degrees of success to alter the inexorable flow of violence as well as challenge the hegemony of what amounts to parochial, good ol’ fashioned capitalism.

It has been argued that the former communist apparatchiks of Yugoslavia became “ethnic entrepreneurs” following Tito’s death, and in the cases of some of the leaders of these republican pseudo-socialists, I believe that that moniker applies. Having been unable to offer answers and unwilling to let go of powerful positions, certain personages have utilized a combination of sectarianism and fake Marxism in order to maintain control. The question is to see if true Marxism can exist and rise above the deep-seated sectarianism that is the hall mark of divided, segregated communities. We’ll address this all in Part Two.