I remember a number of years ago I was handing out leaflets at a Sinn Fein meeting in Conway Mill on the Falls Road in Belfast. It was about the relatively new peace process and it would be fair to say that the leaflet was not celebratory of the new initiative. I was outside the room, although inside the Mill complex, but since the Provos came to regard the whole of West Belfast as theirs it came as no great surprise that one of their number decided I was trespassing on their territory. As the years have gone by, and if rumours are to be believed, this is less and less their territory and more and more their property.
I was collared (not very roughly) by a then prominent Sinn Fein councillor and pulled (not very strongly) over to another prominent Sinn Fein member, Denis Donaldson. The councillor wanted to know from Donaldson was it not alright that I should be handing out leaflets critical of Sinn Fein but should be told to get lost. Denis Donaldson was no more interested in me giving out leaflets than the man on the moon and couldn’t even give a full shrug of the shoulders in apparent indifference; he couldn’t either be bothered to grunt any disapproval or otherwise.
The councillor was a bit exposed so he mouthed some vague displeasure to no particular point and I meandered back to outside the door to give out the rest of the leaflets. As a comrade of mine put it, the Provos were more tolerant of other opinions when they were less ‘political’, when they confined themselves overwhelmingly to shooting and bombing, than they were to become during the peace process.
The point of this reminiscence is that Denis Donaldson was obviously the go-to guy at the meeting who determined what (or who) was allowed, in other words from ‘the army’. Denis Donaldson was later revealed as a long term agent of MI5 and is now dead. He was shot after being exposed as a spy in a remote and ramshackle cottage in Donegal. The rather pathetic circumstances of his death were fitting to someone who, unlike other agents, appeared too demoralised even to run in an attempt to save himself.
Now he has become a headline again because an ex-British soldier has alleged he was shot by the Provisional IRA and not by a ‘dissident’ IRA, which had claimed responsibility. The headlines have been made because the ex-soldier has now written a book about his activities in the north of Ireland and accuses Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams of having sanctioned the killing. Adams, through his lawyer, has denied it.
One of Donaldson’s notable activities was his involvement along with two other men in an alleged Sinn Fein spy ring at Stormont. He was subsequently charged only for prosecutors to drop the charges “in the public interest.” In such cases “the public interest” is anything but the public interest and is invariably in the state’s interest.
In the south of Ireland an inquest into his death has been delayed 20 times at the request of the Garda Síochána due to concern that a detailed journal found in Donaldson’s cottage contains information about the organisation of the republican movement and about his activity as informer and the activity of the state forces. It’s doubtful either Sinn Fein or the British State want the contents revealed.
So we have an ex-soldier selling a book making one claim and Adams making the opposite claim. The ex-soldier also claims that he was previously going to seek to join the IRA before then joining the British Army. He regards himself as a republican and supports Sinn Fein today, indeed he claims he did so even when serving for the British Army in Ireland! One can hardly think of anything more bizarre! Indeed it’s hard to think of anything less credible, except for Gerry Adams’ claim that he was never in the IRA. So on purely a priori grounds of credibility the ex-Brit appears to come out on top. Does it matter?
In so far as it impinges on Adams it simply reminds one of his lack of principle, unwilling and incapable of defending what was the primary dogma of republicanism – driving the British out of Ireland by armed force. After this was surrendered nothing remained sacred. Following this betrayal there has no repentance of Gerry who has denied his movement more than three times. Any further promises – to oppose austerity etc – are open to charges of relying on the same level of credulity necessary to accept his claims to non-membership of the IRA.
In so far as the headlines recall the murky intrigue of the ‘dirty war’ it reminds everyone who lived through it of just how dirty it was. It was well enough known that loyalist murder survived upon the tolerance and sponsorship of the British state. What has become clearer since the ‘end’ of the various armed ‘campaigns’ is the degree of this sponsorship. But even more revelatory has been evidence of British penetration of the republican movement and the betrayal of genuine republican activists by agents of the British State inside the movement.
What all this history has demonstrated is that the conspiracy of the state cannot be overcome by any revolutionary conspiracy. Irish republicanism is pathologically disposed to such conspiracy and has failed again and again.
As I near the end of reading a recent biography called ‘Karl Marx – a Nineteenth Century Life’, one consistent feature of Marx’s political activity recorded in the book was his opposition to conspiracy as the means of working class organisation. The political activity that won Marx to socialism and which he in turn fought for again and again was the open organisation of the mass of workers, in struggle for their own objectives based on their own class interests. It was Marx’s view that these interests are ultimately revolutionary and either the workers became conscious of them, became revolutionary, or they “were nothing.” Freedom cannot be made behind the backs of workers. A class cannot come to control society without being aware of its control.
A movement that perennially fails to recognise such basic truths signifies one of two things. It is incapable of learning or its goals are essentially not about the freedom of the working class. In both cases conspiracy becomes a favoured means of organisation since, like Gresham’s law, bad organisation drives out good.
Add to this a militaristic outlook and all the horrors of the dirty war are almost inevitable. It is however not inevitable that sincere working class people end up in such demoralised circumstances that death is almost invited.