From Workers’ International News, Vol.5 No.9, July-August 1945, p.14-20.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The shooting of a policeman during a gun battle in Easter Week, 1942, led to the imposition of the death penalty on six youths, one of whom was subsequently hanged. In the days immediately preceding the execution, revolt and insurgence was in the air, even if not on the order of the day. On the eve of the execution the Republican Army caused a statement on its aims and principles to be circulated widely in Protestant neighbourhoods – a rare occurrence which fed the rumours of impending insurrection: Subsequently the authorities claimed to have frustrated a “coming-out” by the timely discovery of an arsenal at Hannahstown, near Belfast. The Republican insurrection – assuming that one was in fact planned – had been effectively aborted, and the IRA was debilitated by the capture of so many of its members. The police struck with an iron hand and the nationalist community as a whole was thrown very much onto the defensive, Cage cars nightly patrolled the nationalist areas, seldom returning to the police barracks without a cargo of suspects. Bombs were flung at the police and, to facilitate the fight against this practice, the authorities imposed a curfew, which lasted approximately three months and penalised over fifty thousand workers.
It is instructive to study the fluctuating fortunes of the Labour Party during the crisis and its aftermath. A bye-election to the Stormont Parliament held in the curfewed area ended in a bitter defeat. The pseudo-Republican candidate, Donnelly, gained an easy victory, not on the strength of his own programme – he had none! – but by virtue of the help offered him by Midgley whose insulting tirades against the martyred Republican youth proved ruinous to the Labour candidate. Barely three months later, however, the West Belfast bye-election to the Imperial Parliament revealed that the Republican workers had in the interim swung spectacularly to the Labour Party; enabling it, despite an adverse Protestant vote, to gain a seat at Westminster for the first time in history. What had happened to effect this lightning conversion of the nationalist workers? In the first place, Midgley’s secession and Beattie’s agitation on behalf of the internees had redeemed the tarnished prestige of the Party. The other side of the metal was opprobrium towards the charlatan “Republican” party – whose candidate, Corvin, forfeited his deposit in this latter election.
It was a negative, despairing mood which had driven the nationalist workers behind Donnelly. However, the Donnelly movement led neither sideways nor forwards. Its mission was neither to reform nor to overthrow. It held out a reasonable hope neither for to-day nor for tomorrow. Rejecting work inside the Stormont parliament on the grounds that gerrymandering and British control render the existing parliamentary set-up farcical and likewise hostile toward the IRA’s physical force doctrine, the “Republican” Party sits back and curses at life’s complications. Consisting of a loose agglomeration of Catholic sectarians, abstentionist nationalist MPs at loggerheads with the official nationalist party, and a few workers momentarily fooled by the Republican label, the Donnellyite movement had begun to die before it even had time to achieve the stability and continuity of a party. An adverse turn in the class-struggle may resurrect it in future, but its spells of popularity can never be more than highly transient.
In supporting Labour the average nationalist worker reasons thus:
“Unlike the bourgeois nationalist parties the Labour Party may really come to power. If it stands by it promises it will bring us some freedom from police persecution and perhaps also improve workshop conditions and build some decent houses.”
Beyond such modest reforms the Republican workers cannot expect great deal from Labour’s rule. The regime of Stormont has left them little faith in the possibility of achieving fundamental aims by parliamentary methods. However, even under a reformist Labour regime every concession accruing to the nationalist workers, whether as members of the minority or members of the working-class, will still have to be fought for bitterly in the teeth of capitalist opposition. The fulfilment of a programme of reforms will depend, therefore, not so much on the Labour Government itself as upon the regroupment of the masses around a revolutionary party which will at once act as a medium for exerting pressure on the vacillating Labour bureaucrats and as a weapon for intimidating and demoralising the reaction.
The Labour Party stands pledged to a programme of civil liberties, but, it has no programme for superseding the capitalist state which in Northern Ireland is an Orange, sectarian state. Employers, Unionist politicians and the whole Stormont officialdom have a vested interest in keeping the Catholic areas in a state of incipient revolt. If there were no IRA it would be necessary to invent one and, in fact, the new IRA is their creation – a product of the Special Powers. These embattled interests, which can only perpetuate their rule in a divided Ireland and a disunited Ulster, would resist the introduction of ordinary civil liberties to the last ditch. A Labour regime would not last for ever, or even for very long. Either the proletarian dictatorship or a retrenchment of the reaction along totalitarian lines would succeed it. Either the working class will utilise the greater degree of liberty afforded by a Labour Government to raze the existing state to the ground or the Orange capitalist state will put an end even to the modest liberty of belonging to the reformist Northern Ireland Labour Party.
Meanwhile at the last Labour Party Conference it was resolved that the Party should take the initiative in inaugurating a Northern Ireland Council of Civil Liberties. This is a welcome development from the days of Midgley. The Trotskyist movement has conducted a long campaign for the setting up of such a Council to combat the injustices meted out under the Special Powers Acts. Militants in the Labour Party, and the workers generally, must see to it that this decision is really implemented by the building of a genuine Civil Liberties Council supported by and representative of every section of the Labour movement. Militants in the Eire Labour movement must demand similar measures.
By bringing into the clear light of day the full unimpeachable facts on every case of arbitrary search, arrest and intimidation; by demanding full facilities for enquiry into every case of alleged police intimidation and brutality; by spreading information regarding the insanitary over-crowded conditions under which political prisoners live; by exposing the farce of the police-influenced Internees’ Appeals Tribunal and, in short, by making a public display of samples of the British “democracy” being daily meted out to hundreds of Ulster citizens, a Civil Liberties Council has a revolutionary role to perform. It can hasten the downfall of the regime. It can set on fire the conscience of the whole community, shaming and shocking even the Protestant petit-bourgeoisie into protest.
The fight for civil liberties is an integral and immensely important aspect of the class struggle. It is instructive, therefore, to perceive from this angle how low the Stalinist renegades have sunk in their clownish eagerness to act as sycophants to Tory Unionism. Stalinist policy, as is well known, is to give undivided attention to “democracy’s” battle against Hitler. However, the tyranny endured by the Ulster minority is too near at hand and affects too large a number of workers to be passed over in silence. At their recent Congress, therefore, the Stalinists passed a resolution “demanding” an end to sectarian discrimination in the hiring of labour and “insisting” on various other laudable changes in the direction of greater justice for the Catholic workers. However, this was a resolution for the record only. Civil liberties cannot be wrested from the vested interests without the maximum effort of a united proletariat, but complete and unconditional independence from the Orange capitalist state is the prerequisite for proletarian unity. The Stalinists, however, are the most steadfast and unswerving supporters of the Orange Tory Cabinet.
Actually, the Stalinist Party is completely opposed to the extension of civil liberties. Its recipe for ending discrimination against the Catholic workers clearly amounts to this: – “Put the Protestant workers in the same boat: abolish civil liberties for them also!” This can clearly be seen from the 13th March 1943 issue of their paper Unity. In a front page editorial, while whole-heartedly professing agreement on the need for special powers, they permitted themselves to indulge in a light criticism of the sectarian character of the Civil Authority (Special Powers) Acts, and – without forthrightly demanding the abolition of these acts suggested that the British Emergency Powers Act would be a “fairer” weapon in the hands of the Government. This is equivalent to a demand to abolish hanging in favour of electrocution. It is not the sinister name “Special Powers”, or a few embroidered phrases which constitutes the essence of the Civil Authority (Special Powers) Acts but the actual powers of repression vested in the state. The British Emergency Powers quite as totalitarian in scope, would function equally well as a sectarian weapon in the hands of Stormont for there is nothing of a categorically sectarian nature in the wording of these Acts. It is because hitherto Stormont has used them almost exclusively against the Catholic population that the stamp of sectarianism is attached to them.
The Russian People’s Will Party was the classic exponent of individual terrorism. With bomb and revolver it sought to extirpate the worst Czarist bureaucrats and intimidate the remainder into resignation. In France to-day the De Gaullites and Stalinists carry out systematically planned assassinations on a considerable scale. With the IRA, however, individual terrorism is not a regular form of struggle: True, armed expropriations are carried out. Persons suspected of giving information are sometimes shot. Republicans tracked down by the police in the ceaseless combing for wanted men, illegal drilling, and arms dumps will sometimes try to shoot their way free. Nevertheless, premeditated assassinations are rare. During the past four years one or two detectives in Eire have fallen victims to planned assassination, while in the North one prison warder has been shot “according to plan” and a number of police were injured by bombs thrown during the curfew crisis. Two Ulster policemen have lost their lives during this period, one at the hands of armed expropriators of doubtful connection.
The IRA adheres to the principle that England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity, and seeks to preserve its forces until auspicious conditions mature for striking a blow of genuine military consequence. Even the tragic bombing campaign was directed more against property than against lives, although lives were lost, and it was undertaken not in the naive hope of terrorising the British into a withdrawal from Ireland but mainly to publicise to the world, and the Irish nationalist masses in particular, the Republican declaration of war against Britain. 1t was the imminence of world war, holding out the possibility of a German victory over England, which led to the spectacular intensification of Republican activities in the spring of 1939. On the outbreak of war the IRA welcomed the Axis as partners in the common struggle, and undoubtedly, if England had been struck sufficiently crippling blows, the Republicans would have risen.
The IRA and the French Stalinist Party, as it is to-day, have striking points in common. Justifying themselves by the sophistry that the Soviet Union must be defended by all means (excepting revolutionary means!) the Stalinists solidaridise with Churchill and Roosevelt and preach contempt and even hatred towards the German masses. Similarly, in the supposed interests of the fight for national independence the IRA solidaridises with the Axis and instils into its members a contempt for the British workers. Both movements subscribe to the doctrine of a fighting elite. Neither is able to draw the bulk of its following into an active participation in the fight against foreign occupation. For that a programme is necessary – a social programme which the workers will feel it is worth staking anything to achieve and which holds out a genuine hope of commanding the sympathy and, ultimately, the collaboration of the soldiers and workers of the enemy country.
Socialists have frequently fallen into the error of confusing the negative violence of the IRA with revolutionary violence. However, more than the proclamation of abstract republican principles and a recourse to violent methods of struggle against imperialism is required to make the IRA a revolutionary organisation. Revolutionary violence is positive violence, aimed at effecting a progressive transformation at the base of society. Even the frankly terrorist People’s Will Party was snore deserving of the name, revolutionary than the IRA because it aimed at least at achieving a change in Russian agrarian production relations.
Incapable of setting in motion its own nationalist masses around a programme for social liberty the IRA, its sincere idealism notwithstanding, could scarcely rise beyond the role of a saboteur squad engaged in helping one imperialism against another. An IRA rising would strike a demoralising blow at the revolutionists in Germany and occupied Europe by placing the prestige of Ireland’s age-long fight for national freedom at the disposal of Goebbels. For although they are certainly not “Hitler’s agents” in the crude Stalinist sense of the term the Republicans are by no means sufficiently hostile to fascism, which they do not understand, to make any clear distinction between themselves and the fascists. Again: an Irish rising could have profound revolutionary repercussions among the British workers, but only providing it was a social revolution besides being a fight for national independence. It is only when the workers can clearly see the connection between a struggle taking place abroad and their own domestic class struggle that they can be roused to sympathetic action. A nationalist rising which failed to advance the cause of socialism in Ireland would have only a negligible influence on the British workers, without whose active aid the rebellion would be swiftly crashed under the weight of England’s military superiority.
However, the possibility of the IRA forming the state power over a period cannot be excluded. This could happen should, for instance, the triumph, or imminent triumph, of the British revolution release the imperialist pressure on Ireland and bring the Orange state to the brink of collapse at a time when the Irish workers were not yet sufficiently prepared for the seizure of power. In combination with Fianna Fail in the South the Republicans could effect the state unity of Ireland but the people, reduced to unimaginable pauperisation, would remain as disunited as ever. The regime would be one of crisis, ushering in a new phase of the breakdown and decay of Ireland’s economy.
Why do not the rebellious Republican youth seek emancipation through a working-class party? How explain why, twenty-six years after the Bolshevik Revolution, they cling with stubborn faith to such a hopeless and antiquated form of struggle? Because the provocations of the Government engender a rebellious spirit which seeks assuagement in belligerent actions runs the most facile explanation. However, while the instinct to rebel against imperialist oppression is aroused with almost the automatism of a reflex action, the mode of resistance chosen by the oppressed, the methods and aims of their struggle, are by no means so rigidly determined. These depend upon a multiciplicity of conditions chief of which is the stage of class consciousness and political maturity reached by the proletariat; and that in turn is largely determined by course of the international class struggle.
The reformists and Stalinists querulously chide the Republican workers for remaining captive to narrow nationalist outlook, for refusing to face up to the larger issues – namely the war effort to defend “democracy”. These people solemnly assure us, that the narrow nationalism of the Republican workers is due to a “narrow nationalist psychology”. Beyond this meaningless tautology they dare not venture lest unwittingly they hint at the true political explanation – the corrupt opportunism of this self-same reformist-Stalinist fraternity. It is the big power nationalism, the British Imperialist jingoism, of the Labour and so-called Communist leaders which repels the Republican workers from the working-class movement and binds them to the tradition of Sinn Fein (Ourselves Alone). They belong to a section of workers who for years have been subjected to systematic persecution by an infamous regime owing its existence to the British Imperialist State; and all this time the British workers, led by corrupt lackeys of imperialism, seemed to be sitting back comfortably, impervious to the plight of the nationalist workers in Northern Ireland. It is only when the “larger” issues begin to have a bearing on the fight to end imperialist tyranny at home that the Republican workers, will take cognizance of them.
It may be that only a handful of the active Republicans will be won in future into the Trotskyist movement. Workers who have devoted the most ardent years of their youth to the task of building an organisation at risk and sacrifice frequently cling to it with blind loyalty long after its legitimate successor has cast an obscuring shadow over it. However, the Republican Army comprises only a fraction of the Republican working class, Outside its ranks stands the class-conscious section of workers who have remained aloof from the Labour Party and the Stalinist Party on account of their connivance with Imperialism while at the same time rejecting the IRA on class grounds. It is chiefly from these workers not only leaves the caste bigotry of the workers unchanged, but actually leads to a strengthening of the bonds of ideology uniting them to the bourgeois politicians belonging to their own particular side of the community. For instance, during the period of the Stalin-Hitler pact the Communist Party’s flirtation with the nationalists organisations had the double consequence of sustaining the worst illusions of the Republican proletariat ant at the same time, hopelessly alienating the Protestant workers. The effect of the present line-up with Orange reaction on the Republican workers we have shown elsewhere. Among the Protestants the Stalinist Party has registered formidable gains over the past two years. Membership has probably increased seven or eight-fold. These new recruits consist mainly of worker and petit-bourgeois elements completely new to politics; drawn towards the “left” out of admiration for the Red Army but, most of them, unemancipated from the old jingoist mentality. On the other hand the strike-breaking role of the Stalinist Party has alienated most of the experienced industrial militants among Protestants.
Following upon Hitler’s invasion of the. Soviet Union, the Eire section of the Communist Party, afraid to proclaim openly the new policy foisted upon it by the Kremlin – the ending of Eire neutrality – quietly dissolved itself into the Labour Party. Hitherto, despite its imposing record of treachery, Stalinism has always brazenly tried to justify itself in the eyes of the workers. In this single episode is contained the whole preceding twenty years of Stalinist degeneration, political bankruptcy and its moral spinelessness. The greatness of Bolshevism consisted not merely in its capacity to withstand the material blows of the reaction but, even more, to swim against the current of popular feeling. Stalinism gives a few short grunts and then sinks to the bottom.
Midgley lorded over the Labour party when he was its leader. However, this show of autocracy was tolerated only so long as it did not run counter to the fundamental interests of the bureaucracy. Directly a cleavage arose over a basic question the bureaucracy asserted its supremacy. Midgley, already a Labour member of parliament, aspired after Cabinet honours; which obviously would not be offered to the leader of a party bent upon ousting the Tory Unionists from power. Midgley’s problem therefore, was to foist an election truce agreement on the Labour Party in exchange for a place for him in the Cabinet. Naturally, his colleagues in the bureaucracy refused to sacrifice their own parliamentary ambitions on the altar of Midgley’s ego. To bring him to heel the Executive resorted to a calculated “provocation”. Beattie, representing the “nationalist” wing of the party, was elected parliamentary leader over Midgley’s head. The affronted autocrat straightway demanded the revocation of this decision and, failing to achieve tins, deserted the party on the excuse that it was capitulating to Republicanism. The bureaucracy tried hard to effect a compromise and finally only expelled him after he had already formed his new organisation, the Commonwealth Labour Party. For, providing he could have been persuaded to accept defeat on the loam issue, a chastened Midgley, harnessed alongside Beattie, might have remained an important asset to the Labour Party. Ins reassuring presence would have helped to counteract the adverse effects in the Orange constituencies of Beattie’s overtures to the Republicans, and vice versa. In Northern Ireland the caste division of the workers makes a system of double bookkeeping – always a necessary device of opportunist parties – particularly expedient.
Midgley was the most outspoken reactionary in the Labour Party, but only because he had the opportunity of coming to immediate terms with the reaction. The remainder of the bureaucracy can only climb to power through a Labour Party General Election victory. While it is commendable to resist a temptation, no virtue is involved in hewing to necessity. Moreover, while piously denouncing Midgley’s entry into the undemocratic Stormont Cabinet these bureaucrats condone the position of the Labour Ministers at Westminster. Yet the crimes of British Imperialism in India, which Bevin and Attlee freely participated in, are already of infinitely greater magnitude than any which could fall within the provincial scope of the Stormont regime.
It is therefore hypocritical, besides being a barren and dilletante pursuit, to indulge in abstract moral comparisons, as is the practice of the self-righteous “loyal” leaders. For our part, while preserving complete independence from the reformist bureaucrats on all questions, we support every aspect of policy and every practical action forced upon them, whether by rank and file pressure or by the pressure of their own ambitions, which adds to the independence of the workers separating them from the bourgeois parties and heightening their hostility towards them. Therefore, we support the Labour Party demand for a General Election as against the Stalinist-Midgleyite policy of a truce with the Tories. A Labour Party General Election victory will usher in a new and higher phase of the class struggle, subjecting the reformist leaders to the test of practice at a time when immediate socialist measures will have become a matter of life-and-death urgency to the working-class. Reformism’s decline in prestige will be matched by a corresponding growth in the influence of the revolutionary party.
On the other hand, we are not in favour of submitting the sectarian Commonwealth Labour Party to any sort of parliamentary test. A party which bases itself upon sectarian disunity aids only the Orange dictatorship and cannot be considered a section of the Labour movement. At present Midgley’s party is an auxiliary wing of the Tory Unionist Party. Tomorrow it may well become a fascist organisation. Certainly its predominantly proletarian composition does not exclude this possibility. Directly Midgley began to smell of fascism most of the present members – to-day drawn towards Midgley by their violent hatred of Catholicism and nationalism – would abandon him. Nonetheless, in a period of prolonged unemployment large numbers of the most backward, prejudice-ridden masses would gather round him. Midgley himself no longer has any real stake in the proletarian organisation. On the other hand, although he is a Cabinet Minister he has not as yet become assimilated into the Tory-Unionist Party bureaucracy. He remains an irresponsible, unstable element; a free-lance Labour Unionist. It is in this lack of a secure anchorage that the danger of him lies. When the capitalists begin to cast around for a Fuhrer to foist upon the workers, Midgley, whom nature and circumstances have endowed with manifold qualifications, will stand high on the list of candidates.
In contradistinction to a Tory regime a Labour Government cannot enter conspiracy with the aggressive forces of the bourgeois state against the mass organisations of the working-class, the Trade Unions and the Labour Party itself, upon which it depends for its own place in politics, No more can it secretly foster fascist movements. However, this is not to say that the Labour leaders in themselves constitute a serious barrier to the counter-revolution, fascist or otherwise.
But fascism triumphs only after the proletariat has exhausted itself in unavailing efforts to seize power. However, the bourgeoisie cannot foresee whether in fact there will be an ebb-tide of revolutionary hopes or whether on the contrary the deluge will sweep them away. When the swing of the pendulum is violently leftwards and the reformists are losing all control, the bourgeoisie is compelled to attempt to avert disaster, even at the risk of hastening its doom, by unleashing naked military and police terror on the workers. Thus during the British General Strike in 1926, Churchill was on the point of issuing firing orders to the Army when the capitulation of the treacherous leaders absolved him from the need. During the ascending revolutionary curve the White Conservative reaction is a more immediate danger than fascism.
In Northern Ireland, where there is not as yet even the nucleus of an avowedly fascist movement, the colossal body of regular and auxiliary police – well drilled and equipped with arms, and anti-socialist to the marrow – is a constant menace overhanging the working class. The warning of 1932 cannot be forgotten when the police fired into a peaceful, unarmed, unemployed demonstration, causing wounds and death. Far more fundamental causes are to-day driving the workers towards bitter class struggle. Hence, it would be criminal on the part of those claiming to represent the workers to fail to prepare for the recurrence of similar incidents on a far vaster scale.
It is idle chatter to speak of introducing civil liberties into Northern Ireland without placing the demilitarisation of the police force at the head of the agenda. We demand, therefore, that the Labour Party places to the forefront of its programme for power the withdrawal of the right of RUC members to bear lethal weapons of any description. Furthermore, we demand that it pledges itself, upon coming to power, to disband the state-financed auxiliary police force, the “B” Specials and demand that the funds at present allotted for the upkeep of this Orange partisan body be used instead for the purpose of arming and training workers’ defence guards, under Trade Union control, to resist the threat of fascism or of any force of the reaction which might engineer a coup d’etat.
Within limits the class struggle in Northern Ireland has its own internal rhythm of development, which may lag behind or race ahead of the British, However, in the last analysis, the balance of political power existing between the workers and capitalists of Britain exercises a decisive influence in determining the nature of the regime.
A fascist dictatorship in. England would inevitably produce its Ulster equivalent. Owing to a previous lag the revolutionary curve might continue to ascend for some time after a British revolutionary situation had dissipated itself; but immediately a basic change set in, directly a fascist regime had installed itself on the other side of the Channel, the Ulster workers would be powerless to avert a bourgeois dictatorship in one form or other. Similarly, a triumphant socialist revolution in Britain would be followed in quick succession – if not automatically – by the assumption of state power by the Irish proletariat.
A reformist Labour Government at Stormont would be unable to maintain itself for long in the face of an entrenched Tory regime at Westminster; for if, despite its minority position in Parliament, the Tory Party in past years proved sufficiently powerful in the work of sabotage, and resourceful enough in the invention of calumnies, to bring about the untimely downfall of the two MacDonald Labour regimes; and if at a later stage, operating through the machinery of the Federation of British Industries, they conspired to close the New Zealand Government’s channels of trade – notwithstanding New Zealand’s relative independence of Britain as compared with Ulster, it may be accepted without discussion that the British Tory Government would move into action against a Stormont Labour regime with ruthlessness, effrontery and ruinous effect.
The choice confronting the unfortunate Labour ministers would be reduce. to one of running a risk of provoking a state overturn by the workers should they postpone the introduction of radical social changes or, alternatively, of being crushed in the vice of an economic boycott imposed by the Imperial State should they prove themselves lax in the defence of property rights and the maintenance of order. Caught in the midst of a withering cross-fire from three directions – from the workers, the Republicans and the Imperialists – the Labour regime would inevitably succumb to mortal wounds. However, during its brief tenure of office the commands of the Imperialist dispenser of gold and food would be harkened to like the voice of God, God, though feared, is not in all things obeyed. The Labour reformists could not implement to the full the dictates of their Imperialist overlords without in doing so, eternally disgracing themselves in the eyes of the nationalist population that the cadres won from the Republican side of the community will be drawn.
“A plague on both your houses” is the dictum of “progressive” philistines but not of revolutionaries. Imperialist and Republican violence cannot be equated as twin evils. British Imperialism is cause; the Republican bombs and revolver shots effect. We denounce the Republican Army tactics, the bombings and the armed expropriations – not to affronted humanity, at large however, but to the Republican workers themselves. It is senseless adventurism, indeed a gangster form of activity just as the philistines say except that the perpetrators of “outrages” are not gangster elements but politicals pursuing a false path to freedom. We are far from being neutrals. The Imperialist state is our enemy also. It is precisely because the IRA is in reality a diversion, useful to that enemy though feared by him that we strive to undermine it and win its following. We are in favour of defending the Republican victims of imperialism but only in our own way, by our own proletarian methods. We thereby weaken the influence the IRA by demonstrating to the Republican masses that we are equally resolute and much more effective fighters against imperialism.
Protestant-Republican working class unity can be forged only on the anvil of the class war. National independence will be won either as a by-product of the Irish and British revolutionary struggles or not at all. Finally, only the victory of socialism on a world scale will end national oppression forever. The Trotskyist movement alone fights under the banner of International Socialism and, therefore, alone of all parties and tendencies represents the true national interests of the Irish people. It alone is implacable in its hostility alike to imperialism, and to all forms of capitalist rule and alone is the enemy of every manifestation of bourgeois ideology within the ranks of the working class. On the other hand the Communist Party of Ireland – Irish, as it is Communist, in name only – confuses, disorients and increases the disunity of the working class. The Stalinist Party is never permitted to absolve itself from a sense of responsibility towards the capitalist system. This follows from its role as satellite of the Kremlin bureaucracy.
The Kremlin bureaucracy is fully aware that the social stability of the capitalist countries is a prerequisite for its, own plunderous rule over the Soviet working masses. World Revolution constitutes an even greater threat to its vested interests than world imperialism; for while it is possible to hope, that the antagonisms dividing the great powers will always drive one the camps of imperialist predators into seeking an understanding with the Kremlin, no hope whatever can be entertained of the revolutionaries making their peace with bureaucratic tyranny: A revolution in any one of the advanced countries would act as an inspiration and a signal to the Soviet masses to break asunder the chains of Stalinism. Thus, under the totalitarian Stalinist regime, the Soviet Union is as deeply involved as any of the capitalist countries in the jugglery of power politics.
It follows, therefore, that either the Stalin regime will be in the camp of British Imperialism or working in collaboration with its (Britain’s) imperialist-enemies; and that the Communist Party of Ireland will be committed either, to supporting the British ruling class, or to demagogically opposing them. However, opposition to British Imperialism does not mean for the Stalinist Party support for an independent proletarian struggle for national and social freedom. It simply means that an alliance with the Orange dictatorship, on the essentials of the Tory programme, is replaced by an attempted alliance with the bourgeois nationalist organisations on their programme. One form of “national united front” takes the place of another. That is all. The social set-up in Northern Ireland undoubtedly offers the Stalinists admirable scope for the creation on paper of national fronts to suit all purposes. In reality of course either form of the so-called national front is of an equally fictitious nature. This is not to imply that the fiction is without its effects; but these are wholly on the side of sectarian disunity. What happens is this: each fresh about-turn of the Stalinists and the working class in general. They would equivocate and temporise, squirming round in a vicious circle of half measures. Confronted with the imperative necessity of taking sides on an issue, certainly the Labour lackeys would always choose the bourgeois state. But they would take sides weakly. Therefore, Imperialism would not be tempted gratefully to forbear from wrecking their regime; for it would feel the pressing need of restoring a strong, authoritarian Government in Ulster. British “good-will” is not a free commodity on the market. Its price to Ulster is the maintenance of sufficient internal calm to ensure a peaceful occupation.
In all probability, however, a British Labour Government would exist alongside a Stormont reformist regime. The British Labour Party bureaucrats are reactionary to the core. Confronted with a maturing revolutionary situation at home they would not scruple to embarrass their junior colleagues at Stormont by endeavouring to bludgeon the Irish workers with the weapons of boycott and blockade should the example of militant socialist action in Ulster prove inspiring to the British workers. In an outright revolutionary situation such intervention would, as a matter of fact, be not unwelcome to the affrighted Ulster bureaucrats, unable to sweep back the revolutionary tide with their own broken brooms.
Assuming that the first phases of a revolutionary situation develop in Ulster before the overthrow of the British Imperialist state has been accomplished by the English workers, the logic of the class struggle will compel the Ulster proletariat to establish control over the key industries and to punish refractory capitalists by outright confiscation – measures which the Imperial state will strive to nullify by a full utilisation of all the coercive means at its disposal. The Northern workers will be able to hold out against the hostile machinations of imperialism and the internal economic chaos following the rupture with the British capitalist state, only together with the Southern workers within a system of pooling and makeshift planning until the British proletarian dictatorship comes to their aid. Events will accomplish in a remarkably short space of time the work which centuries have left undone. The tasks of the revolution will weld together the workers and peasants of North and South.
Ulster is a bridgehead which must be held against all corners in the unending battles for world trade hegemony. It is one of a chain of fortresses stretching to the ends of the earth to protect the trade routes and the colonial empire of the British bourgeoisie, upon whose prosperity and stability – with only fluctuations enough to ensure the return of strong Labour forces to Parliament – the hopes of the Labour Party bureaucrats recline. If the English social patriots would prove reluctant to yield up Ulster the Six County bureaucrats – equally dependent on the spoils of Empire – would be no less unwilling to accept secession. Therefore a precondition to Irish Labour unity is a break between the workers and the bureaucrats.
It is reported that at the next Annual Conference of the Northern Ireland Labour Party a resolution is to be moved in support of a Socialist Ireland. Militants in the Labour Party must propose a complementary, resolution demanding a joint Conference to discuss the unification of the Eire and North Ireland Labour Parties. A united Labour Party of Ireland, freed from the bureaucratic stranglehold, could not take the place of the revolutionary party. It would be slow, unwieldy and encumbered by reformist traditions, but the workers composing it would already have achieved an enormous liberation from the old religious caste mentality. A united Labour movement confronting a divided bourgeoisie would strengthen the workers’ confidence in their organised might and hasten the struggle for political power.
The fundamental tasks of nationalisms awaiting the solution of the approaching revolution are:– (1) the sealing of the sectarian breach; (2) the winning of national independence from British Imperialism; and (3) the ending of partition. These form an inseparable trinity. None are realisable as isolated aims in themselves, or possible of attainment except by means of the socialist revolution. Conversely the socialist movement can turn its back on the problems of nationalism only at the price of prostration before capitalism; for a proletariat divided within itself cannot seize state power. National tasks and social tasks are thus inextricably woven together.
The national question is a social question and, moreover, one of the largest magnitude. Hitherto, the prevailing tendency among socialists has been to regard the intrusion of Orange and nationalist banners into the arena of the class struggle as a complication of an exclusively detrimental nature to the Labour movement; as a plague of ideologies, in fact. Most certainly this judgment holds true under all circumstances so far as Orangeism is concerned. On the other hand, the unsolved national question – which is not at all a sectarian issue from the standpoint of the nationalist workers – is not necessarily a brake upon the class struggle but, under favourable circumstances can act as a dynamo upon it, causing violent accelerations of tempo.
For example, had the Imperialist Government dared to implement its threat of conscription in 1941, the unanimous and unswerving determination of the Catholic working-class community to resist would have acted as a potent moral stimulus on the Protestant workers, whose instinctive opposition to conscription lacked an ideological and organisational point of support. The struggle begun by the Catholic workers, rallied in the first stages behind their traditional watchwords, could have led in the course of events to the creation of a united Catholic Protestant proletarian movement waging resistance against imperialism on the programme of an independent Soviet Ireland. The lifelong hatred and irreconcileability of the Republican masses towards imperialism, and its Carsonite marionettes, will harden and energise the ranks of the proletariat in the approaching period of revolution.
Finally, the best Irish nationalists will always be the Trotskyists; for Trotskyism’s conceptions of international solidarity and socialist co-operation alone correspond to the national needs of the Irish people. An isolated proletarian dictatorship, even assuming it were not militarily overthrown could not in the long run prevent a resurgence of sectarian disunity; for ideology cannot take the place of bread indefinitely. With the prolongation of hunger and poverty, the wheels of the revolution would begin to revolve backwards. It is only within a system of world socialist economy that the unity of the Irish people will become indestructible for all time.
Last updated on 3.10.2005