Can There Be Peace Without Justice

Revolutionary Worker #960, June 7, 1998

On May 22, a referendum across the island of Ireland approved the so-called Stormont Agreement. This agreement establishes a new political arrangement in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

The Stormont Agreement was finalized earlier this year, after 26 months of negotiations involving the Republic of Ireland, many of the right-wing Loyalist forces of Northern Ireland and the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein--all conducted under the close supervision of the British and U.S. imperialists, and directly brokered by former Senator George Mitchell, the envoy of the U.S. White House.

This agreement, and its ratification by the first island-wide voting in 80 years, have been widely portrayed as a "Yes to Peace"-- as the beginning of the end of the armed struggle in Northern Ireland.

Peace? For a quarter century, the ghettos, housing projects, farms and prison cells of Northern Ireland have been the staging grounds for a fierce struggle. The Irish-nationalist people of Northern Ireland have, quite simply, refused to be dominated by Britain. And when the British poured in troops and financed a mini-police state of torturers and snitches--the Nationalist people dared to fight back with Molotov cocktails, guns, explosives, mass protests and hunger strike to the death. Through their struggle and sacrifice, the fighters of Ireland's six northern counties made sure that the whole world knew of the poverty, discrimination, and brutal military occupation that has been imposed on their communities.

Britain, one of the world's imperialist powers, has been unable to "pacify" this corner of their empire by military means. So, when the media and governments of this system proclaim that "peace" may be at hand in Northern Ireland, people everywhere ask: "What kind of peace? What kind of agreement? Who will now hold power? Will the hateful hand of British imperialism and Loyalist bigotry now be lifted from the backs of the Irish-nationalist people?"

On paper, the British government has agreed to end its 24 years of direct rule over Northern Ireland. This new arrangement will create a new form of political rule in Northern Ireland--and it represents a recognition by the British imperialists that they have failed to suppress the struggle of the masses of nationalist people in the North.

At the same time, this document does not give the oppressed Irish-Nationalist people the key things they have been struggling for. The Stormont Agreement does not remove British occupying troops from Irish soil. And it does not create a basis for the reunification of the northern six counties with the Republic in the South.

Sinn Fein's leadership has argued hard in favor of the agreement. Despite doubts among the masses of Irish people, a significant mood has developed, on both sides of the Irish border, for giving this arrangement a try--in hopes that this process might somehow lead to a lifting of the brutal military oppression over Irish-nationalist people in the North and to a real improvement of their economic situation.

The reality is that this new arrangement cannot and will not lead to the liberation of the masses of Irish people. It will not end the national oppression of the Irish people, North or South. It will leave intact the domination of the island's people by large imperialist powers. And its answer to the bitter poverty of the masses in the Catholic areas of Northern Ireland is a plan for more exploitation and penetration by imperialist corporations and institutions.

The Stormont Accords and
the Goals of British Imperialism

At the heart of this agreement is a plan to end direct British rule of Northern Ireland by creating a new elected Assembly--that would be supposedly less dominated by right-wing Loyalist forces than previous Belfast governments.

This attempt at a new arrangement in Northern Ireland represents a recognition by British imperialism that 50 years of their policies in Northern Ireland have failed. The northern six counties are clearly never going to become a permanent, stable, pro-British beachhead on the Irish island. The Nationalist minority of the six counties has simply not allowed it. Twenty-five years of brutal military occupation, torture, imprisonment and endless media hysteria have failed to break the organized resistance forces among the people.

In a flurry of symbolic acts, Britain's Blair government signaled that it was determined to change its relationship to the conflicts of Northern Ireland and the North's Irish-nationalist population. British troops have reportedly been displaying a significantly lower profile on the ground in the North's Catholic communities. Blair called for an official re-examination of Bloody Sunday--the notorious 1972 massacre of Irish-Nationalist marchers by British troops. Blair personally met with the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, and he has moved some Irish prisoners to prisons closer to their families. Blair's government convinced the IRA to stop its armed struggle and focus on the negotiations.

Largely because of unbroken mass resistance, Northern Ireland has become a major economic drain on the British government. The British government spends $6 billion a year in Northern Ireland (above what it collects in taxes)--to occupy the region and prop up its militarized economy. And at the same time, Northern Ireland has lost the strategic importance it once had for British imperialism. Its industries have collapsed. And despite the military occupation, Britain's economic grip on both Irelands has eroded.

At the 1969 start of the "Troubles," the supposedly "independent" southern Republic of Ireland was completely dominated by British capital and Britain was the main market for Irish exports. Since then, U.S., Japanese and German imperialists have cut into Britain's action within the capitalist Republic of Ireland. By the 1980s U.S. capitalists owned 50 percent of all fixed foreign investments in the Republic of Ireland. Meanwhile, 44 different U.S. companies are exploiting the labor of Northern Ireland.

In short, the balance sheets of British imperialism have long showed no profit or prospects in continuing to hold Northern Ireland by force. The Stormont Agreement represents a joint plan of British and U.S. imperialism to create some new arrangement on the island that would allow a more peaceful climate for the business of profit-making.

The Fine Print and Reality

The Stormont Agreement addresses the key issue of Irish unification in several symbolic ways:

First, the agreement requires the IRA, Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican government in the South to accept the key principle of pro-British Loyalists: that Irish unification will require the approval of a majority of the population in Northern Ireland--which was deliberately set up to have an anti-unification majority. The Stormont Agreement pledges all parties to the idea that unification can only happen if a major part of the North's Loyalist population support it. This part of the agreement required the Irish Republic to change the paragraphs in its Constitution claiming its right to govern all of Ireland.

Next, the agreement creates two governmental councils: One is a cross-border council of representatives of the southern Dublin government and the northern Belfast government. This council would only discuss some relatively minor practical matters like transportation, cross border pollution, and agricultural policy. Such official links between North and South are supposed to appease those who want to see progress toward a united Ireland. The other consultative council would bring together officials from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and thereby symbolically affirm that they all remain parts of Britain's so-called "United Kingdom."

In practice, Ireland will remain partitioned with no visible prospects of unification. Northern Ireland remains part of Britain's "United Kingdom." British troops remain in place for now, though their numbers may be reduced. And the Irish-nationalist people of the North will remain, for the foreseeable future, under a government dominated by the Loyalist parties.

Concessions under this agreement to the Irish-Nationalist people are often qualified by carefully crafted "fine print." There is a provision for releasing Irish prisoners of war--something that would be welcomed by people all over the world. However, the agreement stipulates that only prisoners belonging to organizations that have "renounced violence" will be released. This suggests that the IRA is expected to turn over its weapons and that, as a price of their release, the prisoners are expected to publicly support such "renunciation of violence."

Several Irish-nationalist prisoners of war were released temporarily by the authorities last month so they could argue for the Stormont Agreement at Sinn Fein's national convention.

Illusions about U.S. imperialism

The key unwritten component of this agreement is a promise that with an end to hostilities will come a flood of tourism and investment that will greatly improve the conditions of the masses of people in the North.

Gordon Brown, the British chancellor, has promised to channel $500 million into Northern Ireland for training, education and infrastructure--if the agreement holds. Brown and British Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam have announced that they will leave on a "major economic mission" to get U.S. investment in the North. Gerry Adams recently visited New York, reportedly to consult with powerful forces on Wall Street.

In Ireland, a myth has been promoted that powerful Irish-American imperialists (like the Kennedys) are just waiting to bring about a flowering of Irish prosperity, once the conditions for peaceful investment have been created. For years, there has been talk of emulating the East Asian economic miracles (though this particular fantasy was quieted recently by the collapse of those "miracles").

In short, people have been told that many of their key problems of poverty and unemployment can be solved by calling off their struggle against British imperialism and by creating more favorable conditions for imperialist penetration of their island. This is a terrible illusion.

U.S. imperialists, who pushed hard for the Stormont Agreement, are not allies of any liberation struggle--but are cold-bloodedly calculating what will serve their interests in Ireland and everywhere else.

And if the unemployed of Belfast want a sense of where U.S. investment leads, there is much that the people of Eastern Europe can tell them. Or the people who live in the urban wastelands of Detroit, or Newark or South Central Los Angeles.

What This Means for the People

Many things about this new arrangement remain unclear and several key issues have not been resolved.

It is not clear how (or whether) Northern Ireland's brutal Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) will be dismantled. This militarized police force is a backbone force of Loyalist reactionaries closely tied to the "Volunteer" Protestant death squads. The Stormont Agreement leaves these murderous dogs on the streets, with vague suggestions of "reform" somewhere down the line.

It is also unclear what will happen with the IRA's weapons and armed units. The Stormont Agreement claims that only political parties that have "renounced violence" can participate in the new Assembly. The British government and the Loyalist forces in the North insist that unless the IRA "decommissions" (meaning: hands over its weapons and explosives) they will refuse to accept Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein into any new governmental bodies. Both the British and U.S. imperialists have made it clear that they expect the IRA to disarm over the next two years.

For their part, the IRA has announced that they support Sinn Fein's current course and the Stormont Agreement, but do not intend to "decommission" under pressure. Parts of the IRA have split off and declared that they intend to carry on the armed struggle against the British and the continuing partition of Ireland.

In addition, the so-called marching season is now approaching--and the die-hard Loyalist forces are determined to continue their ugly tradition of staging provocative marches through Irish-nationalist communities. As we go to press, the mainstream media is reporting that the first days of that "marching season" quickly led to street-fighting in parts of Northern Ireland between Irish-nationalist youth and the RUC police.

These explosive issues could still cause the whole negotiation process to fall apart. However, even if this negotiated agreement holds, the resulting "peace" will not solve the problems of the people. The main problem for the masses of Irish people, North and South--the source of their oppression and poverty--is the domination of imperialism. And a "peace" that leaves that domination intact will never serve the interests of the oppressed. And for that reason, it will never last.

The IRA tried to use its armed struggle to raise the economic and political cost of occupation until the British rulers abandoned Ireland (and their Loyalist forces) to the Irish majority. But without being part of a strategy for real revolutionary power that would dismantle imperialist domination in Ireland, the just demands for ending "partition" and bringing about national reunification can only mean unifying a capitalist Ireland.

As the powerful upsurge of the '70s and early '80s became mired in a protracted military and political stalemate, the inability of many to see a way through to real victory has spread a mood of fatigue within the Irish-nationalist community that has been seized upon by British imperialism to push through the present agreement.

Participation in a partitionist Assembly and the end of armed struggle are being justified as "the best we can hope to get at the moment." But if anything, the decades of struggle in the streets of Belfast and in the torture cells of Britain's H-Block prisons have proven something else: that oppressed people can forge a force powerful enough to challenge the might of empires.

In the most profound way, the just national liberation struggle of the Irish is bound up with the struggle against capitalism-imperialism as a system. Eight centuries of Irish struggle and the intense current oppression of the Nationalist people in the north both speak volumes about the need--and the possibility--of an all-the-way revolution, waged as part of the world revolutionary process.

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