World by Storm has a nice piece up on the IRA’s role in helping MK, the armed wing of the ANC, in the 1980s. In particular he sees a strange alchemy at work there:
…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.
He’s pointing to a contagion from the peace process in South Africa to what was to follow in Northern Ireland, and here’s the critical point, transmitted through strong bonds of trust established established in a period when an internationalist tendency was replacing the more fundamentalist nationalism of the founders of the Provisional movement.
It’s an aspect of the Northern Irish peace process that’s probably been under acknowledged in academic literature, and goes some way to explain the sustained interest of the ANC in the small affairs of a far country (or part country).
In his study of Sinn Fein’s peace process strategy, Martyn Frampton ascribes the progressive rhetoric of advancement to the co-option of the South African story into the mainstream Sinn Fein narrative in the early years of the peace process. According to Frampton, the big idea here was ‘transition’:
The obvious attraction of the ANC model for Republicans was the fact that the South African organisation had entered a peace deal, which had paved the way towards its eventual triumph, with achievement of black majority rule. It thus corresponded entirely with the interpretation of the Agreemnt being suggested by the Adams-McGuinness leadership.
What interests World by Storm more than historical matters shaping the peace process in Northern Ireland is the liminal influences in making Sinn Fein such an attractive vehicle for many who came in from the left from the early 80s and after:
…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.