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Fourth International

Theses on Ireland


From Fourth International, Vol.5 No.4, April 1944, pp.123-126.
Copied with thanks from the Workers’ Republic Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Vested Interests and the Border

Britain, far from deriving super-profits out of her occupation of the six North-Eastern counties of Ireland, suffers a considerable financial loss; for, while it is true that there are British businesmen with Interests In Ulster, it is also certain that these interests would be completely compensated, and a residue retained, if the British exchequer were to withdraw its subsidies towards the upkeep of the swollen Orange bureaucracy and the maintenance of social services in Ulster at the British level. Even in wartime Ulster is a depressed area. Despite the 40,000 skilled workers driven to find work in British war Industries there are still 25,000 officially unemployed out of a total population of a million and a quarter. Peacetime unemployment is considerably higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Several million pounds sterling are mulcted annually from the English taxpayer for the upkeep of the Orange puppet statelet.

The fact is, however, that British overhead expenses in Ulster fall into precisely the same category as do grants to the armed forces, or the police – even when these expenses take the form not of direct outlays on behalf of the colossal Ulster police force, and other sections of the state, but of maintenance of social services and the provision of orders to Ulster Industry during the “normal” depression periods. Britain maintains its garrison in Ulster, not primarily as a means of coercing the Irish people, but to counteract the possibility of a rival imperialism establishing a military bridgehead in the British isles. The occupation engenders sentiments of revolt, however, and necessitates the preservation of “order”, i.e., the coercion of the nationalist population...

The Orange bosses and bureaucrats, for their part, need to have their fingers directly dipped in England’s economic pie. That is why they are given representation in the Westminster Parliament. At a time when great monopolies largely derive their super-profits by a barely-concealed plundering of the Exchequer, and when worthwhile orders come only to those directly in the swim it, is a life and death question for Ulster capitalists to maintain a direct connection with the British state. That is why all De Valera’s promises of virtual autonomy for the North within a united Ireland, if only Stormont would agree to sever its direct connection with Britain, have gone unheeded. Without State representation at Westminster their industries would die, for out of sight is out of mind. If Britain sacrificed them in a deal with De Valera they would look for a new imperialist paymaster. Orange “loyalty” has its world market price.

Éire and the Border

As her neutrality in the war underscores. Éire is de facto a sovereign Irish Republic, notwithstanding the slim pretence of British Dominion status kept up by Westminster. British Liberalism bought out the absentee landlord class (with the Irish peasants’ own money to be sure!) to stave off a revolutionary seizure of the land. The Easter Week rising and the Anglo-Irish war brought an end to the foreign occupation of the South. Under the De Valera regime fiscal autonomy has enabled a host of petty manufacturing industries to struggle into being. Saddled with exorbitant interest rates on capital borrowed from British investors, and dependent on British monopolies for all primary materials, costs have been excessively high; and the dwindling, impoverished population cannot provide a market sufficient to absorb at a profitable level the output of labour-saving machinery in use elsewhere. Already the pathetic “industrialization” period, begun only a few years ago, is at a close.

A chronic unfavourable balance of trade, rapidly dwindling foreign assets, a falling birthrate, mass unemployment and wholesale immigration to England revealed that the incurable maladies of world capitalist economy were eating at the vitals of the new sovereign statelet of Éire. The Second World War has only accentuated this disintegration. Today there are a hundred thousand unemployed within the 26 counties of Éire; while scores of thousands of others have been forced by unemployment into British war industries or the British armed forces. The export of men, sending home part of the proceeds of their earnings, has come to rival the agricultural export industry in importance.

Irish bourgeois nationalism had already exhausted its mission as a vehicle for the development of the productive forces before any real development took place. International socialism alone can ensure a fresh upswing in production for Ireland; and it is precisely for this reason that the one uncompleted task of the bourgeois revolution, national unification, can only be solved by the proletarian revolution. The inclusion of the six Ulster counties within the framework of the national state would only hasten the decline of the already stagnant heavy industries in the North without furthering the development of Southern industry to any appreciable degree. National unification under the capitalist system, by plunging the hostile Protestant proletariat of the northern industries into permanent unemployment, would either lead straight to the victory of the social revolution or to fascism. There could be no middle way ...

At times in the recent past the nationalist fervour of the common people of Ireland must have seemed dim, or dead, not only to the casual observer but to the workers themselves. But it only lay dormant, ready to blaze into life again. For the famous patriotism of the Irish people is something more than a traditional hangover, or a state of mind induced by bourgeois propaganda. It is an emotion of revolt, engendered by centuries of national degradation, kept alive by the knowledge that yesterday’s powerful imperialist oppressor still occupies part of the national territory and may yet lay a claim to the South of Ireland.

When Tod Williams was hanged by the Stormont regime last year, flags were flown at half mast throughout Éire, the shops of the main Dublin thoroughfares closed as a mark of respect and protest rallies, organised by the Reprieve Committee, were held throughout the country. The threat of conscription in Ulster in 1941 created a crisis in Éire overnight and a wave of anti-British sentiment swept over the Southern workers. The workers’ patriotism is their pride in their age-old fight against imperialism. This is an ennobling sentiment, notwithstanding the poisonous bourgeois chauvinism mixed into it by the capitalist politicians and their reformist and Stalinist hangers-on who at all times seek to manipulate the freedom-loving aspirations of the workers for their own reactionary ends.

The rich ranchers and rentiers are pro-British. The small farmers and the basic section of the bourgeoisie which is interested in production and trade for the domestic market look to England with strong forebodings. Britain is still a bourgeois democracy and it is not so easy just yet to get down to seizing the Éire ports; for, besides the huge numbers of Irish in British industries and the army, the English workers in uniform would not go willingly into an aggression against the “almost English” people of Éire.

Catholic Church’s Mass Basis

If Ireland has hitherto proved to be the most impregnable of all the Vatican’s citadels, this is not due to accident. During centuries of national degradation the social classes were mixed into a common Catholic cement by the British, who persecuted the native Irish ostensibly on account of their Catholicism ... Sentiment against the foreign imperialists was always uppermost and the masses encased themselves in the rituals and doctrines of the mother Church as in a suit of armour in lieu of more material means of defence. Catholic fanaticism the more easily became synonymous with the spirit of outraged nationality because, unlike in the other countries, the Irish priesthood never directly functioned as an exploiter.

For 700 years Ireland was a colony. Against this, for barely two decades an uncertain independence has lasted for the South; and, during this time, the fledgling Éire statelet has been sedulously inculcating a psychology of national exclusiveness among the masses by fostering all those ideological distinctions and cultural pursuits which set the Irish apart from the neighbouring English nationality. It is well to remember in this connection that in its long-drawn-out trade war with Britain the Fianna Fáil Government received the backing not only of the bourgeois and peasant interests involved, but also of the majority of the workers. So long as imperialism remains intact in the North and a serious threat to the South, and until the workers find a revolutionary socialist leadership, we will have to reckon with the power and prestige of the priesthood ...

On the surface the Catholic church looks unassailable. Yet its coming eclipse can be discerned precisely where the appearance of strength seems greatest. A picture of Christ on the Cross pinned to a Falls Road window is a demonstration against the imperialist status quo, but the Church cannot lead the change. The republican workers will throw away their icons as soon as the ideals of socialist internationalism begin to take shape among them.

To expose the treacherous role of the allegedly neutral Christian ideology is an essential part of the struggle to develop a revolutionary consciousness among the workers ...

The cowardly Éire Labour Party, on the other hand, has consistently pursued a shameful policy of appeasement towards the Catholic Church, even going so far as to claim that its programme is in conformity with the Pope’s Charter of Labour.

The Church will be a colossal weight on the side of counter-revolution. It is one of the main propaganda tasks of our movement to explain this to the workers. Every insolent interference with the affairs of the labour movement must be combated. In particular the role of the Vatican in the present European situation must be mercilessly exposed. It would be treason to socialism to keep silent on grounds of expediency.

In every important strike the bourgeois press is forced to drop its spurious neutrality. So likewise, in the hundred-and-one minor sorties leading up to the decisive revolutionary struggle, hunger marches, strikes, during every spate of which the bourgeoisie and its henchmen will take panic and cry ‘wolf’, the role of the clergy will become more and more obvious...

It is reformism, holding out no hope of escape from the drab routine of poverty, that turns the backward masses over to conservatism and clericalism and in a crisis makes them storm troopers of the reaction. Notwithstanding its tirades against the Stalinist bureaucracy, to which it attributes the original sin of the Bolshevik Revolution, it is precisely thanks to the opportunist politics of Stalin that the Papacy is still a world power despite its notorious role in Spain and elsewhere.

However, the era of Stalinism and reformism is drawing to a close. The great class struggles impending throughout the world will find an echo in the remotest corners of rural Ireland. Certainly reactionary clericalism will still retain a formidable following but the majority will be won for the revolution.

The Nationalist Workers

At present the living standards of even the Southern workers depend in the last resort upon the British Empire. It is the Colonial Empire which bolsters up profits, salaries and wages in England, thus permitting the absorption at a relatively high price level of Éire’s agricultural export, on which the remainder of the economic structure rests. Freedom of access to the British market and state independence especially in regard to fiscal policy are the twin needs of the Éire bourgeoisie and, so long as they cannot surmount capitalism, also of the workers. The Northern nationalist workers, on the other handy are as economically dependent upon direct incorporation into the United Kingdom as are the Protestant workers. In the days of sufficient peasant tillage the Catholic masses had an economic stake in fighting for an Ireland freed from the British grip on the land. Today, however, when all trades and occupations draw their life blood from the heavy industries which only survive by virtue of Ulster’s political unity with Britain, a bourgeois united Ireland could only bring pauperisation to its most ardent partisans – the Northern nationalist workers.

The Tory regime at Stormont is the oldest in Europe – preceding Mussolini’s assumption of power it has outlasted the Roman Duce. The main props of its rule are: (a) its mass following amongst the Protestants based on Britain’s financial bribes and the spectre of republicanism; (b) constituency gerrymandering; (c) the Civil Authority (Special Powers) Acts which give almost unlimited power to the colossal army of the police.

Ireland was partitioned by the British in such a way as to assure the Tory Unionist Party of a fool-proof majority over its nationalist opponents. Stormont in its turn gerrymandered the six county, electoral seats so effectively that the nationalist voters can only obtain a mere fraction of the representation to which their numbers entitle them. In consequence abstention from the vote has become a tradition in many Republican areas, so much so that a Unionist can get into Stormont by mustering the merest handful of Protestant votes.

Only a few of the far-reaching powers vested in the Civil Authority can be listed here:

  1. By police proclamation publications may be banned, meetings and demonstrations forbidden and a state of curfew imposed.
  2. The police hold the right to enter and search premises without a warrant and to confiscate or destroy property.
  3. Arrest and interment may be ordered on suspicion.
  4. Habeas corpus is suspended and internees and their relatives may be prevented from seeing or communicating with one another.
  5. One of the most sinister clauses relates to the right of the Civil Authority to withhold the right of inquest.

A jailed or interned Republican is automatically disqualified from obtaining his family allowances under the Unemployment Insurance Acts on the grounds that he is not available for work. A former political prisoner or Republican suspect finds it extremely difficult to keep employment owing to the police practice of warning employers against them. An isolated incident may kindle with unexpected suddenness into a crisis during the course of which hundreds of suspects are rounded up and scores of families deprived of a breadwinner, are menaced by the spectres of hunger and debt. This explains why the barometer of parliamentary contests registers such startling overnight changes.

At the last Labour Party Conference it was resolved that the Party should take the initiative in inaugurating a Northern Ireland Council for 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 Éire 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 inquiry into every case of alleged police intimidation and brutality; by spreading information regarding the unsanitary overcrowded conditions under which political prisoners live; by opposing the farce of the police-influenced Internees’ Appeals Tribunal; and, in short, by making a public display of samples of the British “democracy” being 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 petty 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 (religious) 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 March 13th, 1943 issue of their paper Unity. In the 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.

The Communist Party of Ireland

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 a 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 role 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 of 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 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 turnabout of the Stalinists 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 nationalist organisations had the double consequence of sustaining the worst illusions of the Republican proletariat and, at the same time, hopelessly alienating the Protestant workers. 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 petty-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 jingoistic mentality. On the other hand the strike breaking role of the Stalinist Party has alienated most of the experienced industrial militants among the Protestants.

In Éire, following upon Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party, afraid to proclaim openly the new policy foisted upon it by the Kremlin – the ending of Éire 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; its political bankruptcy and its moral spinelessness. The greatness of Bolshevism consisted not merely in its capacity to withstand the material blows of reaction but even more to swim against the current of popular feeling. Stalinism gives a few short grunts and then sinks to the bottom.

Nationalism and Socialism

The fundamental tasks of nationalism awaiting the solution of the approaching revolution are: (1) the healing 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 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 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 religious 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.

Finally, the best Irish nationalists will always be 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.

Labor and the Imperial State

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 ... 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 Labor Government at Stormont would be unable to maintain itself for long in the face of an entrenched Tory regirne 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 two MacDonald Labor 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 to Ulster, it may be accepted without discussion that the British Tory Government would move into action against a Stormont Labor regime with ruthlessness, effrontery and ruinous effect.

The choice confronting the unfortunate Labor ministers would be reduced 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 vise of an economic boycott imposed by the Imperial State should they prove themselves lax in the defense 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 Labor regime would inevitably succumb to mortal wounds. However, during its brief tenure of office the commands of the imperial dispenser of gold and food would be hearkened to like the voice of God. The labor 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 and the working class in general. They would equivocate and temporize, squirming round in a vicious circle of half measures. Confronted with the imperative necessity of taking sides on an issue, certainly the labor 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 ...


Historical Note from Workers’ Republic Website

The Revolutionary Socialist Party, Irish section of the Fourth International was officially recognised on 20 July 1944 and this document was accepted by the European Secretariat of the International.

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