Radical media, politics and culture.

Counter-Power and Corruption from Italy to Ireland

Simulataneous with the developments in the robbery there occurred a ghastly event of much greater political importance. After a row in a bar in the Short Strand area of Belfast, amongst republicans who knew one another, a man was barbarically murdered. The fight involved a gang of IRA members and two local men. One was beaten and had his neck slashed. His friend brought him outside both so as to stop the assault and get him medical attention. they were pursued out of the bar and Bernard McCartney was attacked by up to ten men who hit and beat him before slashing his throat and cutting him open, from the neck to the navel. Afterwards they went back inside the bar, cleansed the place of forensic evidence, took the CCTV tape and ordered those present to stay silent and reveal nothing to the police, as 'this was an IRA matter'. They then retired to a house a nearby to get rid of clothes and other incriminating evidence.

Community outrage was immediate and concretised around the defiant attitude assumed by his family towards the local republican oligarchy. They demanded that the IRA lift any hint of threat towards those who might testify. What makes this situation extraordinary is that all involved would consider themselves republicans.

The dreadful nature of the lynching could not but suggest parallels with savagery of the Shankill Butchers and brought an association with psychopathic violence from which the IRA -- irrespective of the often cold nature of its logic - had until then been free. Ten years ago such an incident would have been unthinkable.

In order to prosecute the war it was necessary to have the active collaboration of the community and not mere passive submission. The IRA attracted many prospective members and were able to choose the best. Involvement meant risk more than privilege, and this same risk demanded discipline. One of the unresolved contradictions within provisional republicanism has been its need to continue recruiting members despite the end of the military phase of the conflict. Immediate dissolution of the military wing would make dissident republican organizations the only game in town for those attracted existentially to that lifestyle. The ceasefire soldiers, 'johnny no-ops' know only the privileges of the organization and none of the risks. Few have experience of prison and the process of political education that it entails.

Last summer, I was in Belfast at a gig in Andersonstown, hauling my booty around on the dance-floor. At the end of the evening some young men called me over. initially they asked me if I was on drugs (alas no!) and then proceeded to inquire about my background, politics etc. They were young volunteers, and boasted openly about it. They were also sectarian as fuck, and taunted me by saying that if I was serious politically then we could go now, get a kalashnikov from a safe-house where they had one stashed, and go kill a 'hun' (sic). I asked the most provocative when he had joined up - 1995, a peace-fire soldier. During innumerable visits to the north over the years no active republican had ever spoken to me in this way about protestants - I was shocked. It provided some sense of the corruption growing within the organization.

Of course the IRA has always had internal problems, but they were kept more or less in check. Intimidation was tolerated within the community on the basis of the force majeure constituted by the struggle against British power and self-defense against loyalist murder-gangs. Warriors, as has always been the case, were afforded latitude to select the manner in which the war would be prosecuted. Now the conflict is no more, the justification for tolerating this behaviour dissipates. The exercise of counter-government is only sustainable within a context where the external forces on the relevant community are mediate resentment at the policing taking place inside the community. This practice has been a recurrent phenomena in Irish history and there is extensive documentation of IRA courts in the 20s etc.

In movements uninfluenced by libertarian ideas the temptation to establish a "state within a state" seems irresistible. In a wonderful book (Andare ai resti) on the mutation in the composition and practices of the italian prison population since the late 60s, Emilio Quadrelli describes how the Red Brigades sought to turn the prisons into 'red bases' for the creation of revolutionary cadre, leading them to impose themselves coercively on other prisoners, establish commissions of inquiry to root out alleged 'informers', set up execution squads and conduct 'trials'.

"For years the institutional apparatus found itself having to chase, clash with, and constrain this sort of constituent power that, through a permanent process of destruction/construction had allowed the establishment of a dual power which not insignificant social classes identified with. But what made the emergence of this strange constituent power really worrying for the legitimate power was its extraneousness to traditional political logic. It was not simply, or not only, a military and political rupture, but even more so cultural and existential. The modes of conduct of the barbarous anomaly [diffuse rban guerilla, the prison population in rebellion] , also organizationally, do nothing other than reproduce a cultural logic difficult for the institutions to grasp. From this point of view the prison represented nothing other than that which on a micro level numerous social groups had experienced And it is thanks to this model that for years power had a lot of difficulty in re-imposing itself on the prison population. The new course, on the other hand, brought everything back within the logic, practices and methods borrowed from orthodox political and administrative models. Between the two worlds there was no longer rupture, but rather continuity." (loose translation from Quadrelli, p.145-146M)

to be continued