Written: June 3, 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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June 3rd 1974
To the Editor of MLQ
I have recently read the article by GM entitled ON THE ’USEFULNESS’ OF THE ECONOMICS OF PARTITION which is included in the present issue of MLQ. Since GM raises a number of criticisms of my article IRELAND AND THE COLONIAL QUESTION, I thought that it would save some unnecessary and lengthy debate if I were to clarify a number of points at issue.
Although I regard the ECONOMICS OF PARTITION as ’the most useful work of the... B&ICO’, this must be understood as a relative term which is immediately qualified by a reference to the pro-Imperialist line of the B&ICO. On this question there can be little doubt in anyone’s mind. Starting from a basically Academicist standpoint, the B&ICO have consistently denigrated Irish nationalism and fanned Ulster Protestant chauvinism, with the result that they are now, as GM says,’an openly revisionist organisation’ and support, among other things, the role of the troops in Northern Ireland. It is thus frankly nonsense to speak of the B&ICO as my ’mentors’ on this question.
Where the B&ICO have played an important role is in opening up the question of internal contradictions in Ireland from the l8th century onwards, and the effect of those contradictions on later developments. Before the publication of works such as the ECONOMICS OF PARTITION there was a tacit acceptance on the Left that all developments in Irish history could be ascribed to the machinations of “British Imperialism”, and little or no consideration was given to the very real contradictions which developed within Ireland, in particular the contradiction between the northern Protestant community and the indigenous population. In this respect the ECONOMICS OF PARTITION is a useful (not correct but useful) work, and it has generally been recognised as such by its most outspoken opponents.
Having said this, I find that I am generally in agreement with the analysis presented by GM in the present article. He is quite correct to point out that by leaving out bits of history the B&ICO in fact support Ulster chauvinism and adopt a reactionary moralising position. They completely ignore the role played by the British ruling class in seeking to further their interests in Ireland. At the same time GM does not say that there was no objective internal basis for historical developments in Ireland. Throughout Irish history there have been two main factors in operation – the internal contradictions (class forces, development of productive forces) and the external influence of direct British intervention. Neither of these factors can be analysed in isolation from the other.
Although the nature of the internal contradictions and of British intervention has changed since the 18th century, these two factors remain of central importance. In developing our understanding of the present situation, which is clearly a more pressing priority than making detailed analyses of the Linen Industry, we cannot ignore either one of them. If we ignore the internal contradictions, we will be making the leftist error of, for example, the IMG, and substituting romantic phraseology for scientific analysis. If we ignore the role of British imperialism, we will be making the equally unscientific but far more reprehensible ’error’ of taking an objectively pro-Imperialist and anti-working class line.