Peter Hadden, Belfast Young Socialists, Officials’ Civil Rights demand – inadequate at this stage, Militant Irish Monthly, No. 7, Nov 1972.
Transcribed by Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Over the past few years, the Official Republican movement has attracted many young workers who have seen it as a vehicle for the overthrow of capitalism in Ireland. Yet with the recent material produced by the Officials, in particular the September issue of the United Irishman, many of these people must be wondering just how high on their list of priorities the leaders place the struggle for socialism.
The editorial of this issue points to British imperialism as the main enemy of the Irish people. By imperialism they men “not just the murderous army presently terrorising the North. It means the whole system of financial exploitation and robbery, of cultural assimilation and destruction, which that Army is meant to defend. In other words, our main enemy if the speculators, the bankers, the foreign investors, the landlords and their agents in Fianna Fail and the Unionist Party.” This is the kind of unequivocal class stance which has swelled the ranks of the Republican clubs with Catholic workers. But in no way does the bulk of the material in the UI put forward any ideas which could mobilise a movement of the working class against “the whole system of financial exploitation.”
Rather, as the lead article puts it, the Officials believe that “... the issue in the North of Ireland is CIVIL RIGHTS NOW. On that there can be no compromise and no talking. We do not want prevarications; we do not want bombings; we do not want sectarian killings. We want full guaranteed democracy.” Inside the same message is repeated. An article headed Why Britain won’t give civil rights states: “Despite sectarian divisions, despite Provo bombings, civil rights can still save the day.”
Statements such as these bear no relation to the position of the editorial. They show that the republican leadership have completely failed to learn anything from the turmoil of the last four disastrous years. Over 600 people have been killed since these “troubles” began. These deaths will be as nothing in the event of an all-out civil war.
Already William Craig, high priest of reaction, has promised another 1,000 deaths by Christmas. For socialists, there is only one conclusion which can be drawn from the present situation – the need for working class unity.
Catholic and Protestant workers today confront each other in an arena of destitution and poverty. It is the people of the small terraced streets, the disease-ridden slums, and of the large working class estates, who are now preparing for battle. These people, whose interests are identical, will be the losers in any sharpening of the sectarian conflict.
Yet rather than build towards class unity, the Official leadership are claiming to reactivate the NICRA claiming that “it has proved itself to be the only organisation which can unite disparate elements of the anti-unionist population in demonstration and protest.” – in other words, Catholic unity is being sought!
For the socialists of the republican rank and file a fresh CR campaign will entail their linking arms with the Nationalists, greet Tories, and the others spokesmen for middle-class Catholicism who have been consistent only in their attempts to mislead the catholic working class.
And what of class unity in the struggle against “the speculators, the bankers, the foreign investors ...”? Protestants have not, in fact, been forgotten. The UI also argues that the demand for democracy is “one which could also be found acceptable by many even unionist people”. These “even unionist people” who are prepared to back only one minimum call for civil rights, are, in the main, the moderate sections of the Unionist Party, the Alliance Party and all those representatives of the ruling class who see that it is in their interest to defuse the situation by limited concession which would remove the most blatant aspects of the fifty years of gerrymandering and discrimination.
Some Protestant workers may look upon the ending of Unionist misrule as “acceptable”. Gusty Spence and the UVF, as the UI points out, have indicated their opposition to unionism as we have known it. So too have other representatives of grass roots loyalism, such as the UDA. But a campaign for mere democracy will have no appeal to the rank and file of these organisations, it will prove impotent in the face of the present sectarian divisions.
As the Officials are only too willing to point out it has been the campaign of senseless destruction waged by the Provisionals which, more than any other factor, has been responsible for hurling the Protestant working class into the arms of the reactionary ‘loyalists’ factions. Yet it was not the Provisionals who created the sectarianism. The first serious clashes took place long before the present campaign began. In August 1969 when the Lower Falls was invaded, the Provisionals had not even been born. In the months prior to this civil rights had been an enormous force amongst the ‘anti-unionist population’. It did not ‘save the day’ then. What grounds are there for assuming that today, when sectarianism has ten times the hold it had in 1968/9, it will be capable of doing any better?
The early civil rights marches, despite the savage tactics of the Unionist bully boys in uniform who were sent against them, attracted no lasting support and the eventual hostility of the Protestant working class. And why?
Civil rights, equality and democracy aside from issues such as jobs and houses can never provide a basis for working class unity. For fifty years a few extra crumbs from the Unionist table have gone to working class Protestants. These have been taught to feel privileged, for although there are too few house and high unemployment, they, being Protestant ‘loyal and true’ will get preference. All that equal rights can mean to thee people is the taking away of these few crumbs and the distribution of the misery and squalor equally between Catholics and Protestants. As socialists we do not stand for the equalisation of poverty but for its complete eradication. Not fair distribution of the slums and the unemployment, but decent houses and jobs for all.
Gusty Spence, the UVF and other groups, have attacked the policies of the unionist chiefs only because in a distorted fashion, they have stumbled on class issues. The Woodvale Defence Association have attacked Roy Bradford because he did not answer the claims of discrimination launched by the ‘Roman Catholic Civil Rights Movement’ by showing “Protestant people in need of housing … On the question of discrimination in employment Mr Bradford was unable to answer his critics, he was unable to show the world press the unemployed Protestants who were forced to stand around street corners.”
A campaign on these questions and for a socialist alternative would alone be capable of rooting out sectarianism. To the Official leaders such a campaign must be postponed until repression is ended and democracy guaranteed. But on the basis of capitalism there is no answer to the problems of Ireland. Imperialism has no solution either short of long term, The working class are the only guarantors of democracy, stability and freedom.
In the pages of the UI anyone guilty of fighting for class ideas is convicted of being a Trotskyist sloganiser. In the September issue several articles attempt to expose ‘Trotskyism’. This bogey is being raised at the present time to divert discussion and in particular, criticism of the position of the leadership. It is designed purely and simply to confuse the rank and file. Instead of political arguments ‘Trotskyism’ is condemned by sneers and cheap insinuations. It is claimed that Trotskyists deliberately avoid discussion on the grounds that workers are ignorant and ‘don’t understand words like Trotskyism’, and that despite their ‘well subsidised paper’ Trotskyists have failed to explain the faults of the Republican Movement’s position.
These perversions will not pass for arguments. Readers of the Militant will know that we have devoted considerable space to our criticisms of both wings of the Republican Movement and that our not so well subsidised paper does not have a patronising attitude to the working class.
What is Trotskyism? Certain sects, such as the Peoples Democracy, have masqueraded under the banner of Trotskyism and supported the Provisionals in its name. Marxism grew in a struggle against individual terror. For those in the PD and the Officials who claim that Trotsky deserted this tradition let Trotsky speak for himself: “Individual terrorism is inadmissible precisely for the reason that it lowers the masses in their own consciousness ... and directs their glances and hopes toward the great avenger and emancipator”. Trotskyism is nothing other than Marxism itself. On the question of terrorism and all other major issues Trotsky throughout his life carried the banner of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Peoples Democracy may claim their policies to be the policies of Trotsky. But then the Nationalist Party have always claimed their ideas to be those of James Connolly. One claim is as absurd as the other.
Above all Marxism is founded on internationalism. In the Communist Manifesto Marx points out that communists are distinct in that “in the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independent of all nationality.” In the light of this the condemnation of Trotskyism made by the Officials that it is ‘English’ as opposed to their ‘specifically Irish response to imperialism’, can be dismissed. While it is true that the specific problems of Ireland must be considered, Ireland cannot be abstracted from the rest of the globe. A socialist Ireland would depend on the support of the British working class and the workers internationally to survive.
Republicans should not be fooled by the ‘Trotskyist’ scare now being launched by the Officials leadership. Rather they should examine the present policies being advocated. The ‘specifically Irish response’ of the Officials means a struggle for a democratic settlement as a first stage prior to the struggle for socialism. Rather than an internationalist position this will mean the temporary fusion of the republican socialists of the rank and file with the politically degenerate representatives of catholic nationalism. The Officials only exist because of the growth in class-consciousness which affected the workers within the republican movement over the past decade. On numerous occasions they have issued statements taking up burning class issues and posing an alternative which would answer the problems of Irish workers. Demands for nationalisation and for a Trade Union Defence Force to end sectarianism have been made. These demands remain the only way forward. But where are they now?
The Officials, who represent an enormous step forward on the position of republicanism in the past, are in danger of taking an enormous step backwards if their present political ideas are maintained. They have a choice. Either they remain a Catholic tendency doomed to an eventually declining influence. Or they turn their face toward the Labour and Trade Union movement putting forward a clear socialist programme, in which case they will have a great role to play in the development of a mass movement of the Irish working class. It is the rank and file who must decide which course the movement is to take.
Last updated: 21.9.2012