South Africa and the IRA… August 29, 2011Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Sinn Féin, The Left.
It’s interesting in view of the recent discussions on this site as regards the 1960s and the relationship between Communists in Ireland and Republicanism to contemplate the information that Kadar Asmal’s memoirs recount cooperation between a member of the Communist Party of Ireland and the IRA in the early 1980s in order to assist in an Umkhonto we Sizwe [MK or the armed wing of the ANC] attack on the apartheid regime in South Africa
Such an attack seems to me to have been entirely justified at that point in time and most, I suspect, would find it difficult to find fault with the IRA for assisting in it. And following on from that there are a number of aspects of this anecdote that bear further consideration.
Firstly that MK thought the IRA was a good fit for assistance, rather than any other non South African organization [given the anti-ANC rhetoric of it as hardly better than a Soviet front from right wing circles perhaps it is indicative that Irish people were called upon].
Secondly that – if Asmal’s account is correct – there was such a significant degree of trust between those named in it that such contacts were feasible. Again, considering the utter hostility towards communists, at least on a rhetorical level, within certain sections of the Republican Movement pre and post split that hardly a decade later a communist could purportedly go to the IRA for assistance is hugely revealing.
Thirdly that the IRA itself would permit members to operate in such a fashion on behalf of another movement in another state.
And of course those are only the most obvious ones that spring to mind.
Of course one doesn’t want to make too much of this in those respects. This may be incorrect in whole or part. Moreover ideologically given the direction adopted under the more Northern based leadership of the Republican Movement in the late 1970s such actions would have seemed vastly more legitimate and appropriate than in the previous decade – although the suggestion of contacts between a CP member and the IRA still seems quite remarkable given the previous history.
But it’s an area that is often underexplored, the influence of communists [and clearly there must have been some influence on a personal level at least to be able to persuade the IRA to carry out acts on behalf of a non-Irish political formation of the left] of various stripes on Sinn Féin and more broadly in the 1970s and 1980s, most obviously in the influx of former Peoples’ Democracy members in the latter decade whose political outlook was one that was increasingly dubious about militarism as an approach – with all the implications that their arrival with that mindset had for the subsequent course of the conflict.
This isn’t in any sense to criticize any of those players mentioned above. Quite the opposite, if one can think of a clearly legitimate contemporary struggle it was that against apartheid and it is to the credit of all involved in this latest revelation that Irish people and the IRA played a small part in its overthrow. Furthermore I tend to believe that it was precisely by the establishment of and through such links that the conflict came to a conclusion to be replaced by exclusively political means.
Nor by pointing to these linkages and interfaces is the intention to throw out the ‘red scare’ stuff which unfortunately characterizes so much of these discussions. One can rightly have criticisms of communism as historically as applied in various examples across the globe while recognizing the sincerity and courage of communists [as indeed one can do with Republicans of all stripes] and communist formations in this state and other states – who worked long and hard on behalf of their class – all the while simultaneously noting that the working class in this society as others has always had the capacity to recognize the oppressions under which it labours.
Indeed as was put to me the other day by a good friend, there’s a danger of slipping into a patronizing discourse that centers on the idea that only the influence of a small number of individuals from outside Republicanism on Republican formations could shift Republicans leftward when in generation after generation the evidence is that once the limits and constraints of militarism are demonstrated then the class nature of the society comes sharply into focus and Republicans seeing this seek themselves to expand the range of their contacts and bring others into the struggle.
But given the coincidence of interests across many metrics, with reference to antagonism to partition, or a shared sense of the failure of capitalism and the manifestations of the state on this island as well as a natural identification with the men and women of no property, small wonder that Republicans and communists and others on the left would find a fair bit of common ground, even while admitting differences. And small wonder too that in terms of the dynamic aspect of Republicanism in the latter quarter of the last century across a range of formations that elements on the left would be attracted to it either in alliance or by joining.
It will also be fascinating to see if more anecdotes like this emerge of a pattern of previously unheard of but actual IRA involvement in various liberation struggles around the world during that period.