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Workers’ International News, April 1945


Bob Armstrong

Ulster in Transition

National Question


From Workers’ International News, Vol.5 No.8, April 1945, pp.11-16.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Protestant ascendancy caste, which forms the majority of the population of the six North-Eastern counties partitioned from the rest of Ireland and ruled by Britain, originated in the successive plantations of disbanded Scottish and English mercenaries from Elizabethan times onwards. These “settlers” occupied the best land and, when modern capitalism arose, most of the decisive industries were owned by Protestant capitalists who ruthlessly practised sectarian discrimination against Catholics; keeping them out of the skilled occupations whenever practicable and, when business was bad, boycotting them from employment altogether.

Bigotry, marriage, economic ties and the need for protection bound the Orange capitalists, along with the bureaucrats of Church and State, to the British. In the years preceding the first World War when the British Liberal Government, dependent on the votes of the Irish Party at Westminster for survival, made clear its intention of granting a moderate measure of Home Rule to Ireland the Ulster Orangemen, led by Sir Edward Carson, made preparations for an armed rebellion to resist the exclusion of Ulster from the United Kingdom. The conspiracy was backed jointly by German Imperialism, preparing for war with England, and by the British Tory Party and the General Staff which engineered a mutiny of officers on Carson’s behalf at the Curragh, near Dublin.

Lenin described the Carsonites and the aristocratic Curragh mutineers as men who acted like revolutionaries of the Right. Carsonism has often been spoken of as the first European fascist movement; and certainly the methods and practices of the Carsonite chiefs sound startlingly familiar to-day and reveal how unoriginal was the later fascist technique. The unbridled demagogy which flowed from their lips thanks to a complete absence of the “gentlemanly” inhibitions which cramped the style of their bourgeois liberal opponents (Churchill and Lloyd George excluded); their hero cult, spectacular bluff, penchant for flashy ceremonies; their drilled hands of drunken pogromists; their contempt for parliamentary law and order and their alliance with the High Command show then to have been the authentic forerunners of the future fascist leaders. Nevertheless socially the two movements were quite distinct, for the fascist hordes were trained to smash the organisations of the working class whereas the Ulster Volunteers consisted to no small extent of Protestant workers belonging to the Trade Unions.

Despite the menace of Germany’s exports British capitalism was still firmly entrenched within the Empire and strong in the world market; and the Orange working-class, steeped in class-collaboration, was loyal to the core. The Orange Order aimed not at a naked class dictatorship but at a Protestant caste domination which, backed by British bayonets, would hold at bay the spectre of Irish Nationalism and the loss of profits and bureaucratic perquisites that would be the consequence of its triumph.

The British Tories, for their part, were motivated to incite the Carsonites and seduce the Army officers by their panic before the wave of militant syndicalism which swept across Britain in the first years of George V’s reign; and they were prepared even to establish an open military dictatorship in order to shatter it. However, the first World War intervened before the class struggle in England reached culmination point; and, in the years which followed, the superannuated Liberal Party shrunk into the sidelines while the function of serving bourgeois democracy like a piece of blotting-paper, absorbing and drying up working-class militancy, was much more efficiently performed by the Labour leaders. Feeling safer for the time being, the Tories resumed the mask of parliamentary legality.

Vested Interests and the Border

The foregoing is important not merely as an historical background, showing the initial reasons for Britain’s partition of Ireland. Rather it leads us straight to the heart of the contemporary Irish question, explaining why British Imperialism’s financially unprofitable partnership with Orange reaction has held fast despite years of diplomatic jockeying by Eire statesmen and British liberals. The German guns landed at Larne in 1913 are not forgotten. Britain keeps a friendly clasp on “Ireland’s Right Arm” lest it help to grip her by the throat.

Britain, far from deriving superprofits out of her occupation, of N.E. Ireland, suffers a considerable financial loss; for, while it is true that there are British businessmen 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 area 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 is mulcted annually from the English tax-payer 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. As the example of bourgeois Zionism in Palestine also shows, it is more convenient to rule with the help of Gauleiters with a certain mass basis than through outright military force alone. It is probably cheaper, and certainly safer politically; especially when it is borne in mind that if Britain dispensed with its subsidies to the Carsonite crew it would have a simultaneous (though far from united) Orange and Nationalist revolt on its hands.

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. This 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 pay-master. Orange “ loyalty” has its world market price.

Eire and the Border

As her neutrality in the war underscores, Eire 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 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 “industrialisation” period, begun a few years ago, is at a close.

A chronic unfavourable balance 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 Eire. The world war has only accentuated this disintegration. To-day there are a hundred thousand unemployed within the 26 counties of Eire; 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 in importance.

Irish bourgeois nationalism has 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 countries within the framework of the national state would only hasten the decline of the already stagnant heavy industries of the North without furthering 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 away to the victory of social revolution or to fascism. There could be no middle way. It is easy therefore to understand why the Eire bourgeoisie, who will have to face a revolutionary situation at home when the workers employed in the British war effort are thrown in the scrapheap must dread the social consequences of the ending of partition.

Against that dread, however must be set the fear of a new imperial oppression. Britain needs Northern Ireland, and would like to occupy the whole of Ireland, because of its naval bases and general military importance to her. The Eire bourgeoisie, for its part, is acutely aware of the danger threatening it from the British bastion in the North, and the campaign of the British Press the Eire Ports must have thrown them into a cold sweat. For in the epoch of the industrial revolution England used her political control to stifle Irish industries at birth and in the period of the declining world market, it is quite natural to assume that Britain would make use of military reoccupation in the interests of her own manufacturers. She would break down the agricultural export price level and crush the small-scale urban industries, the fruits of tariff autonomy, out of existence. Or so the Irish bourgeoisie fears. Primarily though it is not as a means of acquiring new vested interests, but of better protecting the existing ones against imperialist encroachment, that the Eire bourgeoisie crusades against the Northern occupation.

However, the anti-partition campaign cannot be viewed in the simple light of a struggle for improved military positions for the Eire Army. Certainly that has some importance. But not even a genuine believer in the superior qualities of the “Celtic warrior breed” could doubt the outcome of a full scale Anglo-Irish war, even if the British were deprived at the outset of the advantage of their base in the North.

Like the ruling classes everywhere, the Irish bourgeoisie’s patriotism is inseparable from its property interests. Partition is a crime crying to heaven for redress because their imperialist enemy is at the gate. Partition is a virtue because it keeps the working class – the supreme enemy – divided. That is why class-conscious workers have always reacted to bourgeois anti-partition oratory with a healthy scepticism. Nevertheless the anti-partition campaign is something more than platform tub thumping, although something less than a constructive aim. As a matter of fact it is the common property of almost all political parties in Eire. It is the national ideology – the class-collaboration cement of an oppressed people.

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 a part of the national territory and may, yet again lay a claim to the South of Ireland.

When Toni Williams was hanged by the Stormont regime in 1942, flags were flown at half mast throughout Eire, 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 to conscript Ulster in 1941 created a crisis in Eire 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 the 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 Eire ports; for, besides the huge numbers of Irish in British industry and the Army, the English workers, in uniform would not go willingly into an aggression against the “almost English” people of Eire.

But in a short space of years either the social revolution will have triumphed in Britain or a fascist dictatorship will have come to power. The English socialist revolution would almost certainly be the world’s end for the Eire bourgeoisie. But a fascist England would have only less catastrophic consequences. For fascism would ensure a new lease of life, on a lower level, for British capitalism and in the struggle for dwindling markets, the red clouds of a new Imperialist war would gather over the Atlantic, and the need of fortifying Ireland would imperatively present itself to the English bourgeoisie.

To sidetrack the class struggle by focussing attention on the external danger and thus, at the same time, to keep the masses in a state of patriotic readiness to resist aggression: to preserve green the memory of England’s crimes against Ireland in the minds of foreign publicists, especially Yankee, so that Britain’s imperialist rival may never be embarrassed by the lack of a sufficiently altruistic, democratic motive to justify its intervention should the need for stretching its “protective” wings across the Irish Sea present itself. Therein lies the three-fold significance of the Eire bourgeois crusade against Partition.

Catholic Church 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. Moreover, their Catholic faith helped generations of pariahs to keep their heads erect by imbuing them with a sense of being superior in the sight of Heaven to the semi-atheist English. 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 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 Eire 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 Fail 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 at 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.

In Northern Ireland the pogrom atmosphere of the “troubled times” combined with the policy of sectarian education to bring about the segregation of the workers into Protestant and Catholic districts. It is only necessary to take a cursory glance at the windows to tell the politics of the street. In the proletarian republican quarters there is a mass display of Catholic icons; while in the adjoining Orange areas portraits of their Imperial Majesties are ostentatiously in view. The queen of England here, the Queen of Heaven there! Christ and his mother hung up at the windows and outside the doors of the workers’ houses in the Falls Road area are Irish flags, flaunting their irreconcilable hatred for imperialism.

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 ideas 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. However, it is by demonstrating the political line-up of the Churches with capitalism, rather than by attacking the Christian ideas in a vacuum, that this task can best be performed. Owing to the lack of an Irish Marxist literature scattered advanced workers, standing out in lonely isolation to an environment of religions backwardness, have frequently been closer to the ideas of the Secular Society than to dialectical materialism. Confounding base with superstructure they have magnified Catholicism into a system revolving on its own axis, independent of capitalism and demanding an equal opposition. Here simple atheism is seen to be no more than an inverted form of the religious attitude, for it can only explain the hold of the Church by attributing a power superior to all reasoning to the Word. Catholic Theology is such a potent poison that those who swallow it rarely recover. It is forgotten, however, that once the whole of Christendom was Catholic.

Certainly all our party comrades, as well as the advanced workers generally must be instructed in the materialist philosophy of which atheism is an integral part. Yet it cannot be doubted that even a good proportion of class-conscious workers will continue to perform nightly genuflexions to the God of the priests, if no longer to the priests themselves, for some period even after the proletarian dictatorship has been achieved. Only when the last traces of the old soil are finally ploughed under will the materialist philosophy grow to full bloom and the old religious nonsense be vanquished forever.

In the meantime the main enemy to be overcome is the capitalist state. It is natural for an isolated worker, influenced by the formidable, experience of an encounter with Catholic fanaticism in the flesh, to feel that nothing can be done until we first “storm Heaven”, but any political party which tried to make a programme of this idea would be only a part of the petit-bourgeois-reformist wing. The League of Militant Atheism, which functioned for a brief spell under Stalinist auspices, only played into the hands of the Catholic Action rabble-rousers while at the same time diverting the vanguard from the essential task of mining capitalism at the base. A League of Militant Atheism could no doubt perform an important pedagogical service in a society based on socialised property, because then superstructural survivals would have become the main object of attack, but it is a piece of arrant nonsense to make a frontal attack on religious doctrine under the present social circumstances in Ireland.

The cowardly Eire 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.

Certainly political Catholicism must be fought. 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 combatted. 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. Thundering denunciations of plots to burn the chapels, of the impending nationalisation of women, etc., will pour from the pulpits. Naturally we are not naive enough to believe that this will have no effect on the side of the counter-revolution. It will dispel illusions concerning the neutral role of the Church among large sections of workers, but others will be impressed. The Church will find it easy to incite bands of street-corner Vendeeans to break up meetings and wreck the property of the working-class movement. It is even probable that in Eire the Church will take the initiative in setting up its own fascist party.

But there is no unbridgeable gulf between the peasant smallholders, the backward City masses and the class-conscious workers. As a matter of fact the unorganised layers of the oppressed, the down-trodden slum-dwellers of town and country, have a burning sense of the injustice of things, and the instinct to rebel. They are not dumb and cowed like sheep. If they were, fascism with its gospel of violence and its pseudo-radicalism could not appeal to them. 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 this 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 Orange Basis Amongst the Workers

Lord Craigavon, the late Premier of Northern Ireland, once described Government as “a Protestant Government for a Protestant people”. This remark was not let slip by accident The inculcation of sectarian bias is a major task of government. Cabinet Ministers have to conscientiously set the tone. The present Prime Ministers, Sir Basil Brooke, once declared that he would not have a Catholic about his place.

The Orange demonstration of 12th July which commemorates the routing of the native Irish at the Boyne, has none of the light-hearted tolerance of mere historical pageantry. Rather it is a roll-call of the fanatical dupes of Orangeism, officially backed by the Stormont State to keep alive sectarian hate. On the 12th only a spark is needed to kindle the pogroms.

As in the days of the Boyne, conflicting social interests continue to masquerade in the guise of religious bigotry. Protestant clergymen must thank their God for the caste set up established by the British which gives them not only an influential voice in State affairs but even big congregations. More than a third of the six-County population is Catholic. In relation to the whole of Ireland from the Protestant standpoint Irish republicanism is a near and real danger. While the alternatives confronting the Protestant workers seem limited to a choice between fraternising with the nationalist workers in the soup-kitchens of a capitalist Irish republic, or upholding the continuance of the British connection preference for a remaining within the imperial state frontiers, is a simple matter of common sense bread and butter politics. In the past it has meant employment for the majority and maintenance for the out-of-work at the cross Channel rates unemployment benefit. Stripped of religious trappings, the Protestant workers Orangism is at basis no different ordinary social-patriotism. It is only cruder and more bellicose because the “foreign” danger is acute and more constant.

The Northern Ireland Labour Party is a political wing of the Protestant Ascendancy caste. In a crisis involving the regime itself its leadership would unhesitatingly range itself on the side of the big battalions of the British. However, in the past all the major gains of British reformism have been almost automatically applied to Northern Ireland paid for out of the subsidies of the Imperial Exchequer without the intervention of the Northern Ireland Labour Party. Thanks to this, the Protestant proletariat dispensed with the need for independent Labour Politics. Prior to the Willowfield bye-election in 1942, the handful of parliamentary victories won by Labour in 20 years of electioneering were made possible only by the votes of nationalist workers eager to keep out the Unionist candidate. This compelled the Labour Party to veil its Orangeism, to whittle it down, even under the leadership of die-hard Midgley until the time of his open apostasy drew nigh. An ambiguous stand on the Irish question was fatal to Labour’s reputation amongst the Protestant workers who had been badly frightened by the nationalists victory in the South and whose state of, nervousness continued when the rise of the new IRA, the aftermath of the 1916-22 “troubles” grew into, the incipient stages of a second Civil War. Fear of republicanism was the basis of the rock-like Unionist majority. The petty improvements advocated by the Northern Ireland Labour Party weighed less than thistledown compared to the danger of losing everything in a bourgeois Irish Republic. The Tories were resolute Orangemen, eager for repressions. The milk and water Orangeism of the Labour Party looked like watered-down fenianism to the panicky protestants. When there exists no basic difference in the politics of rival political parties the masses will cleave to the more determined, especially in face of an external menace. Armed with a Press monopoly and a clear-cut programme of action the Tories easily stampeded Protestant workers into believing every victory for the wavering Labourites brought nearer the dangers of the economic anarchy of Republic.

However, in addition to solidarising with the Tories in defence of a joint vested interest in the Border the organised, workers have also class interests to defend against these selfsame Tories. Even simple Trade Union politics involves struggles with the bourgeoisie. The mass of organised workers, although prone to betray sectarian bias, at a time of genuine danger to the “common” interests, are not so readily duped as to fall for the “republican menace” invoked by the bourgeois Press during every strike.

The situation of the unorganised masses is different. Unprotected by a craft monopoly the competition for jobs is fiercer. Furthermore, amongst the poorest workers physical poverty is supplemented by a corresponding by level of culture. It is in the mixed districts of the slums, therefore, that sectarian strife runs highest; and, as we found in the case of Catholicism, so likewise with Orange sectarianism it is the impotence of reformism which throws the unorganised masses into the arms of the reaction. If the present social system is not considered subject to any radical transformation there is nothing left to do but to cling jealously to every pittance of privilege the system yields.

Sectarianism a Major Weapon Against the Left

War conditions have immensely heightened working class political consciousness and a hitherto unknown spirit of solidarity exists, made possible by relatively full employment. The mounting wave of strikes engendering a revulsion from Tory-Unionism among the Protestant masses for the first time, has resulted in a corresponding abatement of sectarian feeling. A small but growing band of the most advanced workers are already influenced directly by the Fourth International propaganda of the Socialist Appeal. The Stalinist membership has expanded hugely, entirely owing to the fight of the Red Army, and the Labour Party has the support of masses for the first time in its history. But the great majority of left-swinging workers still stand on the outskirts – naive advocates of “unity”, puzzled by and impatient of the antagonisms rending the labour movement because they have not yet accumulated sufficient experience to make programmatic appraisals. However, notwithstanding this inevitable confusion over banners it is clear that a new stage of working-class development has been attained, qualitatively different from the pre-war Trade Union mentality because it is tending towards conscious rejection of the capitalist system, It is revolutionary feeling lacking a programme to crystallise around.

The workers are Proud of their new-won proletarian solidarity. Nevertheless, even now partial retrogressions: to the old sectarian psychology are by no means excluded. It is easier to break with political Unionism than with Unionist ideology. The umbilical cord tying the workers to the old sectional interests can only be cut clean through by a process of revolutionary surgery. However, the Trotskyist movement is too weak organisationally to undergo any lightning development in the immediate future. Meanwhile the Labour leaders are forced to make radical grimaces to suit the rising militancy of the workers – indeed, more than that, they objectively aid the revolution by their campaign for a majority Labour Government which, by exposing their own programmatic bankruptcy, will pave the way for the victory of the Fourth International. Nevertheless, these are not leaders but bureaucratic empiricists stuffed in the old prejudices which they are thus organically incapable of assisting the workers to overcome.

That the old caste spirit still persists is shown by the stingy, resentful, suspicious attitude of a number of the workers towards the Eire war workers. To our knowledge, apart, from the Trotskyists not a single unit of the labour movement – not even a solitary Trade Union branch – protested against the iniquitous legislation passed by Stormont against the Eire workers who must now renew their permission to reside in Northern Ireland every six months. This Act, which on paper also embraces British residents in Ulster, will, it is elementary to deduce, be applied exclusively against Eire workers. By mutely condoning this piece of sectarian legislation the Labour leaders prove that they are completely lacking in an alternative to the Unionist policy of discrimination.

Only a programme for a united Workers’ Ireland as an integral part of the Socialist United States of Europe, by opening up an entirely new vista of material well-being and international co-operation, can eradicate this grudging, miserly fear of being swamped out lay the Southern workers in the post-war struggle for jobs. However, the reformist leaders are incapable of even programmatically transcending the capitalist system and the national state.

Meanwhile the Stormont rulers, who see in this upsurge of Labour militancy the greatest menace they have yet faced, will fight desperately and cunningly to insert a sectarian wedge into the serried ranks of the workers. The possibility that they will meet with a certain measure of success cannot be gainsaid, especially if the decisive struggle for power is extended for long into the post-war period for, with the coming slump in employment and the maturing of the Anglo-USA antagonism, there will be plenty of inflammable material lying ready to be set ablaze by the bigots and sectarian-mongers. Already the counter-offensive is under way. The recent governmental crisis led to the formation of a completely reconstructed Cabinet composed of the most notorious Orange die-hards, One of the first steps taken to revive the spirit of sectarianism was the decision of the Minister of Public Security, the renegade Labour leader Midgley, to rescind the ban on the 12th of July procession, which was prohibited at the outbreak of the war.

The Stormont Tories will fight to the death to retain their posts and perquisites. The Labour leaders, competitors for office, are a nuisance to them. The Labour Party is a safety valve diverting the leftward surging masses into the safety zone of reformism, and to that extent it is a blessing. But it is also a menace, for it can be utilised as a recruiting ground and as a cover by the revolutionary cadres. The Stormont CID has already instituted enquiries into this possibility, for naturally they prefer to strike down the Trotskyists in the open while they are yet small. If the Tory junta is forced to limit itself to verbal attacks on the Labour leadership for the moment this is not on account of its strength but rather through fear of exposing its intrinsic weakness, thereby driving the masses behind the revolutionary banner. Sooner or later events will compel the Stormont junta to strike out on the path of Franco and Hitler, but the time is not yet opportune. Right now its main pre-occupation is to keep the Trotskyists small and isolated, stabbing at them surreptitiously through job victimisation, and to weaken the Labour movement as it whole by a flanking movement rather than by a frontal attack. Stormont fears the tide of revolutionary labour and likewise stands in mortal dread of a resurgence of militant nationalism. Both the one and the other are inevitable, however. To use the republican danger to smash the menace the left: To strike at the nationalist population: To fan every trifling incident into a crisis, to hound and stampede the Catholic community until the direct-actionists are goaded into terrorist reprisals which Stormont can use to sow distrust and discord among the workers: To divide the ranks of organised labour and to galvanise the backward Orange workers into pogromist activities. That is Stormont’s plan of campaign to defeat the challenge of the working-class.

The Nationalist Workers

The revolt of the Six-County nationalist workers is not occasioned directly by economic causes. They are neither the drudges nor starvelings of British Imperialism, though certainly the badge of Catholicism exposes them to an undue share of peace-time joblessness owing to the operation of the Special Powers Act and the policy of boycott practised by many employers. Still the larger part of Catholic unemployment is attributable to the “normal” impersonal decay of the capitalist system and equally affects the Protestant and British workers. For the rest, the same working conditions and unemployment benefit scales exist for both sections of the 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 Eire’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 Eire bourgeoisie and, so long as they cannot surmount capitalism, also of the workers. The Northern nationalist workers, on the other hand, are as economically dependent upon direct incorporation into the United Kingdom as are the Protestant workers. In the days of self-sufficient peasant tillage the Catholic masses had an economic stake in fighting for an Ireland freed from the British grip on the land. To-day, 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.

Falls Road nationalism is not a constructive programme for an alternative form of government. The IRA seldom, if ever, think in terms of production, exchange and distribution or forms of government. It is their profound hatred for the existing regime which spurs the Republican youth to belligerent action. The whiplash of the special Powers Acts, the victimisation and indignities meted out by the Stormont State, lie at the bottom of the Republican revolt. Under these special powers all but the meekest, most ineffectual nationalist organisations have been driven underground or browbeaten out of existence. Warned by experience of the futility of attempting to build an open organisation to voice their challenge, the Republican youth turn from politics to the philosophy of direct action.

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

  1. its mass following amongst the Protestants based on Britain’s financial bribes and the spectre of Republicanism.
  2. constituency gerrymandering;
  3. the Civil Authority (Special Powers) Acts which give almost unlimited power to the colossal army of 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 it 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 premises without a warrant and to confiscate or destroy property.
  3. Arrest and internment may be ordered on suspicion.
  4. Habeas corpus is suspended and internees and their relatives may be prevented from either seeing or communicating with one another.
  5. One of the most sinister clauses elates 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.

(Continued in next issue)

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Last updated on 1.10.2005