First Prepared: n.d., [1973?].
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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A violent and long drawn-out struggle has been going on in Northern Ireland. This struggle is of great importance not only to Irish workers, but also to the working class of Britain. Workers here must understand what is really going on in Ireland.
The British ruling class rules Ireland as well as this country. It controls the newspapers, radio and television and therefore gives us the kind of reports from Ireland that it wants us to have. The bosses want British workers to have racist ideas about the Irish who they present as a bunch of ’drunken paddies’, incapable of sorting out their own problems and re sorting to violence at the drop of a hat. They want the British people to support imperialist actions against Ireland. Workers who have ever been involved in a strike know how the capitalist newspapers twist the facts. So think how the same press must distort the truth about what is going on in Northern Ireland.
The long history of violence and fighting in Ireland is the history of Irish resistance to English oppression. From the time of the Normans, the Irish refused to accept rule by England and fought to regain their freedom As Britain became a powerful and modern nation, its grip on Ireland grew. After the English revolution brought Cromwell and his parliamentary forces to power, he sent armies to crush resistance in Ireland with extreme brutality. In whole areas, the Irish population was exterminated or forced to flee, and Scottish or English protestant colonies were established. In spite of all the power and ruthlessness of British rule, the Irish continued to resist.
The British ruling class at all times has had two reasons for controlling Ireland and oppressing its people. The first is that the British feared the military value of Ireland to any of Britain’s enemies, Britain’s rulers from feudal times to the present day have feared the possibility of an independent and free Ireland allying itself with their enemies in a war. The second reason for oppressing Ireland has been economic exploitation. English landowners, who had never been to Ireland or cared about conditions there, took over Irish land and drew rent from the peasants, evicting those who could not pay. This economic exploitation grew as capitalism and modern production grew in Britain. During the Industrial Revolution, attempts to establish industries in Ireland were deliberately crushed by the British because they wished Ireland to remain agricultural and to be a ’food basket’ for Britain. During the great potato famine, literally half the population of Ireland either starved to death or were forced to emigrate, and yet food continued to be exported to Britain throughout the famine. It is little wonder that the Irish have fought British rule and English landlords.
Ireland is still dominated by Britain and the oppression and exploitation of Ireland’s people by the British ruling class continues, as does the Irish struggle against British rule and exploitation. So to understand this struggle we must understand the history of Ireland.
By keeping direct control of the six counties of Ulster and by the economic control of, and political pressure on, the Republic, Britain’s rulers still dominate and exploit all of divided Ireland. We must look at the modern history of Ireland to see how this came about.
In the famous Easter Rebellion of 1916, Irish patriots Padraic Pearce and James Connolly led an uprising against British rule. They hoped to spark off a nationwide rebellion by seizing public buildings in Dublin. The British savagely crushed the rebels, shelling the General Post Office and reducing large areas of the city to rubble.
The brutality of British actions, particularly the execution of the rebels after their capture, led to a complete rejection of British rule by the Irish people. In the elections held after the war more than 80% of the votes went to candidates who refused to attend the British parliament, and who held an Irish republican assembly instead. Armed guerrilla warfare was launched against the British authorities. The British brought in the notorious ’Black and Tans’, thugs whose purpose was to terrorise the Irish people.
This struggle showed the British that they could no longer hold power in the old way in Ireland. As the struggle grew, there were fears amongst sections of the nationalist movement that as the working class took the initiative the struggle would take on the form of a fight for socialist revolution. Many sections of the Irish ruling class feared their future positions. This led to a compromise treaty which gave nominal independence to Ireland but which made sure that Ireland remained economically tied to Britain, and that the Irish armed forces were restricted and supervised by British imperialism. This treaty was against the will of the great majority of the, people in Ireland, particularly the partitioning of Ireland with the six counties of Ulster remaining under British rule. The treaty was designed to keep all of divided Ireland politically and economically dominated by Britain. Before this sell-out treaty could be put into effect a bitterly fought civil war took place in Ireland. The ’pro-treaty’ forces, backed by Britain and the Irish capitalists, finally won military victory. So it was only partial and mostly nominal independence that was won by Ireland in the 1920’s. This set the stage for today’s struggle which remains the struggle of Ireland for freedom from British rule.
The six Ulster counties are part of Ireland. Over 80% of the Irish have long made it clear that they wish all of Ireland to be an independent republic. To say that 20% of the people have the right to divide a country would mean that no country could be independent unless its people were absolutely unanimous on the question, which never happened anywhere. Further, the ’loyalists’ are in the majority in only three out of the six counties – so why were the other three counties not permitted to become part of the Republic? Because the division of Ireland makes it economically weak, and prevents the real independence of any part of it.
It is British power that keeps Ireland divided and the ’rights’ of a minority of ’loyalists’ are used to deny the national rights of the majority of Irish people.
Only in so far as religious differences have been the main tool used to maintain British imperialism’s rule. Historically, Britain has always fostered religious divisions and bigotry among the Irish people. By thus dividing the people they could continue to rule. Protestant bigotry, promoted by the Orange Lodges, has been drummed into the heads of protestant workers in Ulster. Northern Ireland is one of the most depressed areas of the United Kingdom, with high unemployment, poor housing and low wages. But with systematic discrimination against catholics in employment, housing and the denial of civil rights, the protestant workers have always been a little better off than their catholic fellow workers. These tiny ’privileges’ have been used to manipulate the protestants.
In the late 196O’s, the campaign for civil rights began. Catholics had been denied jobs and decent housing. The Unionist agents of British rule unleashed all the forces of protestant violence against the peaceful civil rights protest marches. The protestant-dominated ’B’ Special police and protestant mobs attacked catholic areas. In the end, the catholics raised barricades for protection and gave support to the Irish Republican Army, which was the only organisation prepared to defend them against these attacks. The rest of the so-called militant organisations such as the Communist Party of Ireland were all words and no action, which was no protection against reaction.
The present struggle grew out of the oppression and exploitation of Ireland by British imperialism. In particular, it ’grew out’ of the special oppression of the catholic minority in Northern Ireland, and the violence used against them when they demanded their basic rights. This situation was not caused by the I.R.A., nor was it the I.R.A who started the current violence in Ireland. It was only after the attacks on the catholic communities began that the I.R.A. gained wide support.
There is no revolutionary communist movement with any strength in Ireland, able to lead the workers to defeat British rule. Only the Republican movement was on the spot, with the correct, demand for the reunification and independence of Ireland. This movement is not socialist; it is limited in its aims and often very incorrect in its tactics. But it has been the only effective leadership available to the catholic workers of Northern Ireland.
Bombing campaigns that can, and do, result in the maiming and killing of ordinary workers are tragically wrong. The political effect of such terror bombing is to increase people’ support for British imperialism’s actions in Ireland.
But it is quite incorrect to assume that all the bombings are carried out by the I.R.A. Many are carried out by loyalist fascist organisations, or by provocateurs and agents working directly for British imperialism such as the S.A.S., the Special Air Services. The policy of terror bombing whoever carries it out, can only be condemned by communists.
It is British imperialism, by its oppression of Ireland, which has created the situation where violence, including bombing is so common; under conditions of violent oppression, terrible living conditions and the denial of basic rights, men become desperate and angry. The main responsibility for all the death and violence lies with the ruling class of Britain and no-where else.
British troops were sent on to the streets of Northern Ireland to preserve order for one reason only – so British imperialism’s rule could be maintained. To the catholic community of Ulster they are not a peace-keeping force, they are an occupying army, homes are broken into and searched at any hour of the day or night, thousands of men are in prison without trial and violence and torture are carried out by this army. It is tragic that young men from British working class homes are killed serving in the army in Ulster. The responsibility for this lies with the ruling class of this country which sends them to Ireland to maintain its rule.
There is terrible bloodshed in Northern Ireland now while the army is there. The Unionist establishment in Ulster is determined to keep Ireland divided in the interests of the British ruling class. It has whipped up forces of violent reaction among protestant Ulster workers. If the injustice of internment were ended, if the British troops were withdrawn, violence would certainly not end immediately. But once the British imperialist backing for the loyalists was no longer present, and the Irish were left to settle their own affairs, the conditions for the peaceful reunification of Ireland would at last be there.
Ireland with a capitalist economy will always be dominated by imperialism, in practice by British monopoly capitalism and therefore politically dominated by Britain. Real independence for Ireland can only come thorough socialism. To achieve socialism the unity of the Irish working class, both catholic and protestant, is needed. There is only one basis for this unity, that the rights of the majority of the Irish people be upheld and that religious discrimination be destroyed. The interests of the Irish workers demand that Ireland be reunited and all of Ireland freed from British rule. The power of Orange protestant bigotry must be broken in Ulster, and the full separation of church and state achieved in the catholic south.
It is true that thousands of protestant workers are opposed to the real equality and unity of the working class. But unity with catholic workers in a united Ireland is in their own best interests, if they can only be brought to understand this.
Once British imperialism is forced to leave the Irish to settle their own affairs and no longer maintains the division of Ireland by force, it, will be much easier for protestant workers to come, to this understanding.
There is no easy solution to Ireland’s problems. The intense bigotry and hatred that generations of imperialist conditioning has created in Ulster protestants is a great problem. But the reunification of Ireland and the, creation of a socialist republic free from Britain’s rule is the only basis for a just solution which can provide peace, unity and a better life for the whole working class of Ireland.
The main obstacle to this is not the protestant workers but the power of British imperialism. The greatest need of the Irish struggle is the leadership of a revolutionary working class party to unite the workers to defeat British imperialism.
The problems of Ireland must be settled by the Irish. But it is the British monopoly capitalist class that exploits workers in this country and in Ireland that is preventing this.
The chauvinism that the bosses promote among British workers not only helps them oppress Ireland, it helps to keep them in power in Britain itself; there are thousands of Irish workers in Britain, and division between them and British workers helps only the bosses. The only way that militant unity can be built is by British workers supporting the just claims of Ireland for unity and independence.
While Ulster remains under British rule, the links are growing between fascists like the National Front and the Orange fascists in Ireland. The strongest support that extreme anti-working class forces in Britain receive comes from Ulster. Don’t forget where Enoch Powell went to regain a political base!
Economic crisis is growing in Britain and the whole imperialist, system throughout the world. There is great danger that the capitalist ruling class may turn to open fascism to repress working claws struggles in Britain. The practical experience that the British army is getting in repressing the people of Northern Ireland would then be used on the streets of Britain’s cities and towns.
The reactionary anti-Irish attitudes so common among British workers must be fought against continually in trades unions, at work, in daily life and wherever such opinions are expressed. A movement of mass solidarity, with the correct demands of the Irish people must grow among workers in this country. The first demands for any class conscious worker on the crisis in Northern Ireland are that the British army must be withdrawn and that internment must be ended. As workers’ demands such these grow here in Britain, British imperialism will find it more, difficult to continue its oppressive actions in Ireland.