A response to Gerry Adam's article published in the Irish Times on 12-2-96
It was the absence of negotiations and the consequent failure to address and resolve the causes of conflict which made the re-occurrence of conflict inevitable.
The absence of negotiations are not what make the re-occurrence of conflict inevitable. What make the re-occurrence of conflict possible is the deep-seated contradictions inherent in six county society and indeed in Irish capitalist society as a whole. To suggest the absence of negotiations as cause is to mistakenly confine to surface phenomena the cause of conflict. Again negotiations don’t necessarily resolve the causes of conflict. It is the struggle between social classes that can lead to the resolution of conflict. Furthermore it is simplistic to suggest that the ending of the ceasefire meant a re-occurrence of the conflict. Even during the so called Provo ceasefire conflict continues under other forms. Furthermore the character of negotiations is no more than a reflection of the relationship of power between the classes. Gerry Adams, not recognizing this fact, fetishes negotiations.
The people of this island do have the ability to come to an agreed and democratic accommodation. The vehicle for this is democratic and inclusive dialogue and negotiations.
If the people of Ireland do have this ability then this is tantamount to falsely claiming that the struggle for national self-determination of the Irish people is superfluous since discursive activity can be substituted for this struggle. The only thing that has significance is dialogue; all else is meaningless. This is postmodernism at its most cynical. Language substitutes itself for reality. Adams fails to understand that the character of specific dialogue reflects the asymmetrical power relations that underpin it. Words on their own are meaningless. The success of a political interest participating in dialogue is a function of both its political power and the character of its relationship with the relevant different political powers. It is not a function of its debating skills. If the Provos had no political power the Irish, British and American bourgeois governments would not have given it anything like the attention it has received.
The IRA cessation was, itself, the culmination of a long process of dialogue within Irish nationalist opinion aimed at identifying a method of resolving the conflict and building a lasting political settlement.
Again for Adams dialogue produced the IRA ceasfire. Words take on the power of concrete struggle. The armed struggle of the IRA generated dialogue, words, and these words in turn generated the IRA ceasefire. Adam’s mystifies the power of words. He is the prisoner of words and images. Consequently his world is one of fantasy; an Irish Don Quixote. The real situation is that the Provos ceased their armed struggle because of concrete political considerations and not because of mere dialogue.
The very fact that the IRA found it necessary to end the ceasefire is proof of the limitations of dialogue, of language. The IRA bombing in the London docklands has already generated a modification in the political situation in a way that dialogue could not. Indeed the only reason that Sinn Fein have been allowed to even talk with the Irish government is because of the political significance of their armed campaign. If the IRA had not waged their campaign then no dialogue would have taken place. Therefore it was not, as Adams believes, language that led to language. The gun compelled the bourgeoisie to enter into talks with the Provos. The problem is that the guns of the IRA are not proving powerful enough to achieve an independent 32 county republic.
The Irish Government of that time, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and key elements of Irish America were all agreed that inclusive negotiation, without preconditions or vetoes, is the only way to resolve the conflict and secure a lasting peace. It was agreed that peace could be achieved only by replacing the failed political structures with a new political arrangement on the island, based on democratic principles of agreement and consent.
If the only way to resolve the conflict is through "inclusive negotiation" then why has it not been achieved? If a settlement, as Gerry Adams believes, is simply a matter of the different parties sitting around a table to talk then there can be no reason why all the parties would object to this. However because it is far from as simple as this the parties have not engaged in this inter-communicative exercise. It has not been achieved because words have their limits and are not as Adams believes the essence of social being. The armed conflict reflects class interests which are concrete material interests. A resolution cannot then be a simple matter of discursive reason; of the application of reason to a socio-historical problem. A problem of this kind can only be resolved through politics which entails class struggle. Social conflicts never have and never will be solved by means of discursive activity.
There was an intensive and unprecedented dialogue within Irish nationalist opinion in its broadest sense, a dialogue which required courage, imagination and a new approach on all sides, not least on the part of the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and the SDLP leader, John Hume, who, despite intense opposition, turned their backs on the failed policies of isolation and took the risk required in the building of the Irish peace process.
Whether the dialogue "required courage, imagination and a new approach" is irrelevant. Of relevance, however, is that Reynolds, Spring and Hume were simply serving their own class interests by engaging in such dialogue. They "turned their backs on the failed policies of isolation" simply because they had found another and perhaps more effective strategy to either crush, encourage the Provos to surrender or accept a compromise. Sections of the Irish bourgeoisie had changed their strategy in an attempt to further stabilise bourgeois conditions on the island. But it must be remembered that it may be "the failed policies of isolation" that played a strategic role in generating the kind of Provo leadership that is prepared to fall for what maybe a new strategy of sections of the bourgeoise.
With a clear commitment by all the major Irish nationalist parties proactively to pursue a new, negotiated and democratic political arrangement, and a public commitment by the British government to convene with the Irish Government the necessary peace talks to achieve this agreement, the Sinn Fein leadership gave an assessment to the IRA leadership of the prospects for a lasting political settlement. It was on the basis of clearly-stated commitments and agreements that the IRA announced a complete cessation of military operations on August 31st, 1994.
The above remarks suggest that the present Sinn Fein leadership accepted the word of its enemy, an enemy it had been struggling against for over twenty five years. Adams does not understand that these manoeuvres by London may have formed part of a political strategy to defeat the Provos. Adams now wants to criticize the British government because the Adamites may have made the significant political mistake of naively taking their enemy at his word. However there are those who would suggest a more sinister reason for their apparent political innocence.
In the 18 months of the IRA cessation, the British government stalled the commencement of all-party peace talks time and time again. The unilateral dumping of the Mitchell report, and the introduction of a unionist proposal for a six-county election, placed an unbearable strain on the peace process. Sinn Fein warned repeatedly of the dangers. Our warnings were treated as threats when they were intended to alert those responsible that the peace process needed to be consolidated and built upon.
Again all this simply proves that words are not a substitute for concrete reality. If it is only a matter of rational dialogue then there is no reason why Unionism, London and Dublin cannot sit around the table with the Provos to arrive at a solution. This has not happened because social problems in the six count state Ireland cannot be reduced to mere words.
The stalling, the negativity, the introduction of new preconditions was steadily undermining the position of those, myself included, who had argued that a viable peaceful way forward could be constructed.
The above remarks mean that Adams admits that his position has been undermined which can only mean that the Adamites may have played a vital part in the Provos suffering a defeat at the hands of the Tory government. Adams does not understand that this may be just what London intended as part of a possible strategy to split the Provos and make its defeat easier. This may then mean that the Adamites are John Major’s best allies.
Against this background and with consternation I, and those who had worked to put this peace process together, watched as Private Lee Clegg was released and then promoted, as David Trimble and Ian Paisley marched through the nationalist community in Garvaghy Road, as Irish prisoners were mistreated in English jails, as plastic bullets were fired at peaceful demonstrators, as nationalist homes continued to be wrecked in RUC raids. And, most fundamentally, we pointed out, with a growing sense of desperation, that there could be no negotiated peace without peace negotiations; that without peace talks there was no peace process.
Adams may be surprised to know that there is nothing new in this. This is the kind of conduct British imperialism has engaged over many years. More surprising might have been the discontinuation of this conduct by the British state. Given British imperialism’s enduringly oppressive role in Ireland it is ironical that the Adams’ leadership naively believed British imperialism’s promises. Then when the British bourgeoisie fails to meet these promises it engages in posturing that suggests surprise. Such a naive belief in British imperialism’s good intentions mistakenly suggests that imperialism can play a non-oppressive neutral role and that it is not inherently oppressive. The politics of the present Provo leadership, the Adamites, also paints American imperialism in bright colours by depicting the Clinton administration as facilitator of the struggle for Irish national self-determination. In this way it promotes the view that British and American imperialism are progressive and not essentially oppressive of other peoples. Essentially then the Adams leadership is pro-imperialist.
Attempts to isolate Sinn Fein failed in the past. The Taoiseach knows that our party is committed to dialogue, that we are not involved in armed actions and that we have a democratic mandate.
Adams declares that Sinn Fein is "committed to dialogue". This is a truism of no political significance. Many political organizations, including fascist ones, are committed to dialogue. But they are committed to many other things too. It has been known for many years that Sinn Fein have always been committed to dialogue. It has always been known that Sinn Fein, as such, are not involved in armed actions. However Sinn Fein has been under the control of the IRA leadership and the latter has been engaged in armed action. Sinn Fein has enduringly supported the armed struggle of the IRA and has been its political arm. There is also dual membership of both organizations. The only reason Sinn Fein have received more than generous media and political attention is because of this relationship to the IRA. It may also be because the Adams leadership is in the process of betraying what was the original political aim of the Provos. There is no other reason why the bourgeoisie now treat as royalty the leadership of an organization that it has so persistently sought to suppress, sometimes with great savagery, over many years.
What of those whom we represent? Are they to be discriminated against by the Irish Government in a crude attempt by that government to pressurise an organisation for which Sinn Fein and our electorate have no responsibility or control? The Taoiseach also knows that I have honoured every commitment I made. He knew how fragile the peace process was. All of us have to reflect on our stewardship of the peace process. Mr Bruton must reflect, as I must, on the lessons of the last 18 months.
Sinn Fein have a responsibility for the existence of the IRA by their failure to seriously criticise it and by their general political support for the actions of the IRA.
One thing is clear. It is not possible to make peace in Ireland unless the British government wants to make peace also. It is also very important that the Taoiseach's unilateral decision to refuse to accord Sinn Fein our democratic rights is set aside so that we can all find ways through dialogue to rescue the peace process.
This is tantamount to claiming that there cannot be a successful struggle for national self-determination by the Irish people. Political conditions in Ireland depend, according to Gerry Adams, on whether "the British government wants to make peace". No longer is it a problem of the Irish masses defeating British imperialism and thereby forcing its troops out of Ireland. Instead the masses simply wait until British imperialism wants to take its troops out of Ireland.
Contrary to what Adam claims the struggle for national self-determination of the Irish people can only achieve success through the establishment of a workers’ republic or a federation of workers’ republics supported by sections of the petit bourgeoisie. Such a workers’ republic or federation of workers’ republics can only be consolidated through the establishment of a federation of workers’ republics on both the islands of Ireland and Britain.