The current state of the Peace Process and the British Lefts response to it

At the onset of the peace process “IRA CALLTHE SHOTS!’ ran the Red Action headline. Back in August 1994 many scoffed.

Then and since the standard line of Republican dissidents and the British Left was that the entire process was designed to emasculate Republican resistance, and for Sinn Fein to even countenance participation was effectively ‘surrender’, and an objective ‘betrayal’ of Republican ideals and nationalist interests.

At every stage of the process, the squeal of ‘Sell-out” is repeated. By far the loudest bawlers in this respect are the same organisations who for over twenty-five years just as stridently denounced armed struggle as immoral. It takes considerable dissembling of reality to be wrong on both sides of a war and peace argument but the British Left have managed it somehow.

When, as now, the wheels are threatening to come off, and when in response Republicans have done precisely the opposite of what was predicted for them, trapped in their own dogma, the Left invariably opt to ride out the contradictory storm.

Of course the kind of thinking that led to the unilateral suspension by Peter Mandelson of the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement, continues to be hard for anyone to fathom. Ostensibly it was to save David Trimble, and with him the Agreement, from the ‘No men’ of Unionism. But rather than strengthening his leadership, every concession served instead, as was predicted, to further weaken his personal position. ‘Moderate Unionism’ so called, which steadfastly refused to prepare its own constituency for change, has inherited the lame duck leader it deserves. With the IRA withdrawing from even cursory contact with the De Chastelain decommissioning body, and the May 22 ‘deadline’ steadily looming, the inability to ratio­nalise, much less rectify, such a palpably anti-Machiavellian strategy, all too visibly now extends to the British administration and Mandelson himself.

That for a time there was consternation in Republican circles at such apparently aberrant British behaviour is understandable. But whatever its impact on Republican’s analysis of ultimate British intentions, the theme of ‘betrayal and surrender’ propounded by the spooks, dissidents and their Trotskyist bedfellows, much like the Good Friday Agreement itself, lies in tatters. In simple terms if ‘IRA sell-out’ was what happened in 1994, why six years later have they still not ‘sold out’? If the peace process was the British strategic victory painted, can someone please explain why the institutions designed, we are told, to ‘enshrine partition, imperialism and the New World Order’ were unceremoniously torn down by the British Secretary of State? In truth, of all the players in the peace process, it is SF, whose agenda the peace process is, who alone have made any intelligent effort to save a it.

Only recently Adams admitted that his party’s strenuous efforts in this regard saw SF go beyond their obligations. This he concedes ‘might have been a mistake’, as it relied on others to show equal commitment.

But if tactical ‘mistake’ it was, it is one unlikely in the short term to be repeated. For even in advance of the successful wounding of Trimble, SF were already ‘moving forward on the basis that a new phase of struggle is now opening up’. In so doing they were turning their backs on the possibility of serious negotiations under present conditions. Instead they will be concentrating on strengthening their own hand, in line with, as was predicted in these pages nine months ago, the inevitable emergence of a ‘Republican plan B’.

In ‘opening up this new phase of struggle Adams predicts that “at some time in the future a

new agreement will be negotiated. We will have to ensure that Sinn Fein is there in a better position to negotiate a better agreement than the one which is now in tatters”, and added with emphasis “we will only get as much freedom as we can take”,

As things stand Republican potential and ambition to do so, is both vast and impressive in equal measure. Never better in fact.

While supplanting an ageing SDLP in the Six Counties is probable rather than possible, and sooner rather than later, SF’s unmistakable ambition is to ‘get in amongst’ the gombeen politi­cians in the 26 counties. “Officially, local politicians from other parties play down the threat they pose at the next general election”, according to the latest edition of current affairs magazine Mogul, “but privately they admire their application and are bracing themselves for big changes in the political landscape”. As SF is the only party that operates on a 32 county basis, ‘big changes in the political landscape’ carry with them an inescapable 32 county flavour. And as night follows day, with it too de facto, and undeniable, if not quite yet de jure, abolition of political partition. Prisoner releases and other ‘concessions’ not withstanding, prospects all round appear to be none too bad for a largely working class movement sections of the right-wing British establishment and the entire British Left, prepared eager obituaries for in August 1994. As the SF trajectory suggests, there appears to be some immutable law, which ordains that the British Left like a flawed compass, must always get everything horribly wrong. Whatever the cunning in the plan, in the opposite direction lies ‘Nirvana’.

Now the same Left, under the banner of the London Socialist Alliance, are feverishly preparing to put their collective theories to the electorate in a unified way for the first time. Though many of the participants, notably the SWP, were dragged into the electoral arena kicking and screaming, an almost triumphalist air, not dissimilar to the type of optimism that greeted the launch in 1995 of the now semi-defunct SLP is once again apparent. The London Assembly elections are on May 4. Given the accuracy of the ‘flawed compass’ thus far, it will be interesting to see, who precisely is in position to ‘call the shots’ come May 5?

Reproduced from RA vol 4, Issue 6, April/May '00