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Peter Hadden

Northern Perspectives, 1980

(October 1980)

Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Editorial Note from ETOL: Peter Hadden drafted nearly all of the Northern Perspectives documents for the CWI in Ireland.
These documents were discussed/amended as needs be at the Irish CWI National Committee and then taken to the Irish CWI conferences for debate. They were meant to offer a broad political forecast, to help orientate the political work of the membership.
While some small modifications were made in the discussion process, it would be fair to say that the final documents are essentially those drafted by Hadden, which is why they are included in this collection.

On a world scale society is entering a period of upheaval unprecedented in human history. Ours is the most revolutionary epoch mankind has yet experienced. The 1970s have seen the ending of the prolonged post war economic upturn and the switch of the capitalist economies to a new period of decline.

Revolutionary developments in Europe, in the underdeveloped world and also in the Stalinist states have already taken place. During the course of the next decade these enormous class movements will most certainly be dwarfed by events to come. Never before have the objective conditions for the development of the ideas of Marxism in every corner of the globe been better.

Such is the only starting point from which a correct analysis of the perspectives for Northern Ireland can be made. It would be impossible to fully appreciate the possibilities for the growth of Marxist ideas in Northern Ireland on the basis simply of the developments taking place within that state. Always the ideas and perspectives of Marxism have been truly international.

But never before has there been a period in which events across the globe interact as they do today, and as they will during the revolutionary upheavals of the next decade. The Polish strikes have sent a shock wave across the world. The capitalists, in their gleeful presentation of these strikes through the mass media, are sowing wind from which they will reap a whirlwind. Workers in Europe, in America and in Northern Ireland also, will see in the actions of the Polish workers a vivid demonstration of the enormous power of the working class, a power which can be used at home, just as it was used in Poland.

Such has been the effect of a class movement on the scale of the Polish strikes. It is obvious that the effects of revolutionary movements of greater magnitude would be that much greater.

In the course of the next decade the opportunities for the Marxists to take power in an industrialised country will open up, providing the work is done correctly. A successful revolution in any advanced country, would once and for all transform the world situation. Its shock waves would be felt in every country in the world. In Northern Ireland they would flatten any barriers of sectarianism which reactionary bigots might erect to keep them out.

The general tendency internationally is now firmly to the left. Of course there will be aberrations and exceptions, periods in which the tempo of events will slacken, countries in which opposite tendencies become manifest for a time, but in the main, the pull of world developments is now a leftward pull.

Ten years ago the first signs of the ending of the economic boom were felt in such events as the 1968 General Strike in France and the opening of a protracted pre-revolutionary period in Italy. These were as early storm warnings – portents of mightier events to follow.

As part of these first reawakenings workers in parts of Belfast, Derry and other areas took to the streets in 1968–69. The issue of civil rights for the Catholic minority provided the spark. But the fuel of discontent which burned during this period was provided by the class anger of the workers. From 1968–70 this discontent disrupted and upended every single aspect of social and political activity. A genuine mass outrage existed which, with correct ideas and leadership, could have united Catholic and Protestant workers in a struggle against their exploiters.

Baulked by a combination of state repression, sectarian provocation, political opportunism and, above all, by the failures of the Labour and Trade Union leaders, this basic class anger was forced to spill over into other directions. It was because the class potential of 1968 was not fulfilled that the basis for the development of sectarianism was laid.

The years after 1970 were dominated by sectarianism. The ideas and actions of bigots were given a momentum as never before. In this sense the events of 1968–70 were above all a defeat for the working class movement. Neither the Labour Party, nor the Trade Unions had directly involved themselves in the civil rights activity. But they discovered that abstinence does not bring absolution. Quite the opposite. For the failures of its leaders during this period the movement was made to suffer a bitter penance. Because it had not offered a vehicle through which the youth could direct their class anger and because of its failure to provide a challenge to sectarianism the movement was defeated without having directly engaged in battle.

Years of sectarian violence, the rise of huge paramilitary armies and above all the raising of the threat of division along religious lines over the heads of the working class movement itself – these were the forms of the Labour Movement’s penance. After 1970 it was compelled to conduct a retreat. Its political wing, previously taking shape as an expanding NILP, was brutally ripped to pieces and thrown to the winds. Its industrial wing was forced to fight a rear-guard action against the open agents of division, even within its own ranks.

Thus, at the very dawn of this most revolutionary epoch internationally, the Labour Movement in Northern Ireland suffered a severe blow. In 1974–75 a world recession ushered in a second wave of revolutions. The Portuguese revolution, the tremors being felt in Spain, events in Greece and the movements in Angola, Mozambique and the other African countries all signalled that the working class was finding its feet on an even higher plane than in 1968.

While economic crisis drove society to the left, the Northern Ireland working class found itself ankle deep in the acids of bigotry. Events such as the reactionary Ulster Workers Council stoppage of May 1974 simply underlined the degree to which Northern Ireland jarred with general world developments.

The perspective of Marxism at that time was that the economic crisis, the failure of the paramilitary organisations and of the major political parties to show a way out, the international movements of the working class would inevitably make themselves felt in Northern Ireland. Alone the Marxists clearly explained that the working class and its organisations, despite being weakened by sectarianism, remained the potentially decisive force in the situation. Alone the Marxists retained, from the outset of the present troubles, a confidence in the ability of the working class to struggle. Marxism explained that class ideas would manage to resurface despite the objective difficulties.

In general terms and even down to points of fine detail, this earlier prognosis has been proven correct. The ideas of the paper, and only these ideas, have been confirmed and enriched by the physical unfolding of the class struggle. In this is to be found a tremendous vindication of the superiority of the ideas and methods of Marxism over other currents of thought alive both within the broad Labour Movement and within society in general.

After 1975 things began to turn onto their heads in Northern Ireland. Generally speaking, up to this point, the star of the bigots had been on the ascendant. Again, generally speaking, in the period after 1976 the ability of sectarian organisations and individuals to command support, respect or even attention has been in decline. Once again, in general terms, the first years of the last decade were years of defeat for the Labour Movement and of a weakening of the unity of the working class. In the more recent period the trade union movement has been able to consolidate itself and the class as a whole has been able to take a few steps onto the offensive. Above all, the unity of workers, demonstrated in various forms of industrial activity, has been strengthened immeasurably.

1980 had brought a new recession to a world capitalist system already racked with problems of growing unemployment, low investment, spare capacity and inflation. With this recession and also in the brief interlude of partial upturn which will follow it, ever new movements of the working class will take place. Already, 1980 has brought the movement of the Swedish workers, paralysing this most healthy of the capitalist economies in a general strike. Stagnation affecting the Stalinist bloc has brought a wave of strikes to Russia and other countries. The actual drop in production in Poland, the mismanagement of the economy, the chronic shortages have all combined with the combative mood of the Polish workers to unleash a strike movement of revolutionary proportions.

No longer is Northern Ireland at odds with such developments. Instead a transformation of the situation within the North has taken place. The working class is now primed for struggle. Class issues already dominate over the actions and the propaganda of the bigots. Both from within Northern Ireland and also from the South, from Britain and from the international situation, the irresistible pull of the class struggle is and increasingly will make itself felt.

Undoubtedly, the slow and painful transformation of the situation since 1974–75 has been a protracted process. There has been a slow and agonising decline of the paramilitary organisations. In fits and starts, through periodic bursts of activity and relapses, the Labour Movement has inched forwards. The most critical factor in slowing the advance of class ideas has been the question of leadership.

It was a failure of leadership which baulked the growth of the class movement in 1968. At that time the trade union and Labour chiefs were resting on a volcano of discontent. Its explosion was marked by an enormously accelerated temp of events. For a period of years after 1968 the fervent activity of the masses tore up all that stood in its path. The heightened political sensitivity intensified and heightened every development. In such a period, even minor social tremors could have an earthquake effect on events and on the swiftly transforming the consciousness of the masses.

Hence the disintegration of all existing political forces. Within months of the emergence of civil rights as a physical force the hold of the ideas and the apparatus of the old Nationalist Party was destroyed. In turn as quickly as the Civil Rights Movement developed it declined, leaving the revolutionary energies of the youth to find a harsh form of expression in the ranks of the Officials and the Provisionals.

From nothing the forces of right wing loyalism turned the impressive looking monolith of Unionism to mush. These were days when not even the “safe” seats of Prime Ministers remained safe. Ultimately, life within the Protestant ghettos was to be profoundly altered by the dramatic rise of huge paramilitary armies.

Such are the grotesque repercussions of a revolutionary energy which fails to find for itself a revolutionary path along which to move. In a most distorted form the mushrooming of the UDA and of the Republican groups provided “in memoriam” a testimony to the revolutionary potential which had existed and had been squandered by the leadership of the Labour Movement.

Such can be the decisive and dramatic effects of lack of leadership in a period of upheaval. In a different period, under different conditions and with a different mood within society, the scars imprinted by failures at the top take a different form. By 1975-76 the energies unleashed half a decade earlier had been spent. Intensified activity became its opposite. Support for sectarianism and sectarian based organisations turned to opposition. Apathy, war weariness and political cynicism developed in the ghettos. Inevitably those areas most infected by the previous mood of revolt became the most stale.

Since 1975 repeated opportunities to break this deadlock have arisen before the trade union leaders. They have arisen and been dropped by these same leaders. The Better Life For All Campaign was smothered by the bureaucracy. The potential underlying the early peace marches was missed. The magnificent actions of rank and file trade unionists in smashing the loyalist attempt at a sectarian lock out in 1977, and the possibilities posed by this victory, were shamefully missed. Every avenue which pointed the trade union leaders to a decisive crushing of the forces of sectarianism was shunned.

In the situation which existed after 1975 these squandered opportunities did not have an effect like that of the failings displayed in 1968. They did not provide a new lease of life for sectarianism. Instead, the general political deadlock was deepened and the death agonies of the bigots was prolonged by the simple fact that no organisation existed to put them out of their misery.

The paradox of recent years has been that while the decline in support for all the major political parties has been obvious, the percentage of the votes for these parties has generally been maintained. The situation is explained by the lack of any alternative or, in other words, by the problem of the leadership of the Labour Movement. In the first years of the 1970s the Labour Movement faced objective handicaps. Events weighed heavily against its development. It would have been possible to advance but only on the basis of bold and strenuous action to change the objective situation. More recently these objective handicaps have been removed. The failure of the movement has been a failure to take advantage of a favourable situation.

Internationally, Marxism has explained the phenomenon of the Italianisation of the political process. On a world scale the working class is the decisive force in society. The experience of numerous struggles demonstrates that the workers are prepared to fight and to make enormous sacrifices to achieve their objectives. However, the hold of right wing and reformist ideas on their organisations acts as a halter on the class. Physically the working class has the power and determination to transform society. What is lacking is a revolutionary leadership capable of spear heading that change. On the other hand, the ruling classes are too weak at this stage to attempt to decisively crush the workers organisations. The result is a form of stalemate. Society is ensnared in an extended process of struggle in which neither side can immediately sight a decisive victory and which, from the point of view of the working class, can only be broken by creating a leadership seeped in the ideas of Marxism.

In Northern Ireland, in a different sense, a similar stalemate has developed. The weakness of the leaders of the Labour Movement has granted license to a host of bigots and to the state to continue with their various activities despite lack of support. The check of class opposition has not been fully applied. Yet the unity of the class and of their organisations, as established by such events as the crushing of the UUAC stoppage, remains impregnable to the enemies of the movement. From this there has emerged a political deadlock which has in turn tended to increase the apathy of the ghettos. The perspective of Marxism has always been that it will take a renewed outburst of class anger to eject society from this situation.

This perspective has been confirmed. April 2nd signalled a fundamental change. It was not a defensive action as in 1977. Rather, it represented a leap forward from the platform of basic unity built by the movement through their defeat of Paisley and Co. in 1977. Albeit shakily, inevitably bearing many defects attached by years of relative inaction, April 2nd was a qualitative advance. It placed the movement in forward gear. It wetted the appetites of the best activists for further action. It demonstrated enough of the power of the organised working class to stimulate the demand that this power be extended and more effectively armed.

That the situation in the North has already undergone a transformation – this must be the starting point of all perspectives discussions, and for the work of the Marxists. No longer are we in the position of discussing the future possibility of united action by the working class through the trade union movement. What must now be discussed in detail is the development of the class struggle from the basis of class unity which has already been realised.

The demonstrations on April 2nd were both a confirmation of the change in the situation and a portent of things to come. In almost every major town a demonstration was held. Even in what are little more than villages there were some marches. April 2nd was an outstanding event in the calendar of the class movement in the history of the Northern Ireland state.

It was so, not because, but in spite of the role of the trade union leaders. Reluctantly, and with the pistol of an enraged rank and file pointing at their skulls, the Northern Ireland Committee sanctioned this demonstration. In its preparation they gave a display of timidity and ineptitude to which trade union activists in NI have grown accustomed in recent years. April 2nd was in truth a half-day general strike, but it was called anything other than a general strike by the leaders. In the run up to the event shop floor meetings were not organised by the union leaders to explain the issues. No supply of leaflets explaining why the protest was called were issued.

Yet in all areas there were magnificent demonstrations. This was because the mood of the trade union rank and file was for action. Enraged by the policies of the Tories they were prepared to seize the half chance offered by their leaders and publicly express their protest.

It was in those areas where Trades Councils, local activists and to an extent supporters of the paper played the leading role in preparing the demonstrations that they were most successful. The huge meeting held in Belfast was a confirmation of the potential power of the Labour Movement. It was not marred by a single incidence of sectarianism, nor by any evidence of sectarian tensions. Yet even this meeting, because it, of all the marches, was most closely under the dead hand of the NIC bureaucracy represented only a fraction of the potential which existed.

A few years ago demonstrations and meetings of this character would not have taken place. In this sense April 2nd, stands as a testimony to the already changed mood of the working class. To the NIC this event marked a climax in their fight against the Tories. They hoped it would dissipate the pressure for further action. Their hopes will be cruelly dashed, workers have been given a glimpse of their power. Inevitably, under the whip of further attacks on living standards the demand for further act ion will develop. In this sense April 2nd has provided a small scale model of the greater events to come.


It has been the general correctness of the analysis of Marxism which opens the way to the development of its forces. Only the strategists of British Imperialism, from their class point of view, have also been capable of examining and evaluating developments and drawing generally correct conclusions. The leaked strategy document of Imperialism showed, for example, that in their “Perspectives” the future potential of the Labour Movement is soberly analysed While the gallery of learned professors, sectarians and the ultra-left have written off the Labour Movement, the political and military strategists of the ruling class have been more considered in their conclusions.

In 1968–69 British Imperialism wished to prevent a sectarian civil war. They were shaken by the waking nightmare of their factories going up in flames and their international trade affected. To “resolve” the age old Irish question they would have been prepared, at this stage, to end partition and establish some form of united Ireland. Events proved the impossibility of such a development.

For a period after 1969 the ruling class were forced to perform a holding operation, carefully attempting to balance between two enraged and hostile communities, studiously, but only narrowly avoiding the catastrophe of facing against both at the same time, consciously striving to develop a political middle ground on which they could lean, and at the same time ruthlessly smashing the opposition of the Provisionals and Officials and, as necessary, of the Protestant paramilitaries.

While the mood within the ghettoes was electrified their answer was that of the glove and the clenched fist, of concession and repression. Whether they projected to the forefront a rifle butt or a friendly “political dialogue” depended entirely upon the immediate situation. Concessions were necessary to appease the middle class, bolster the middle ground of politics, and disguise, both at home and abroad measures of vicious repression in the ghettos. Hence the incessant discussions with political leaders and the pressure for power-sharing as a sop to the middle class representatives within the Catholic community.

Concessions as a sap and cover were essential when the enraged mood within society demanded a disguise for the military repression. But when the mood of workers became apathetic, when support for the paramilitaries turned to disgust, when even foul atrocities carried out by the state forces provoked only limited opposition and when the major political parties were viewed with scorn, the need to appease their leaders disappeared.

In 1974, 1975 and 1976 the attempts by Imperialism to construct some form of regional self-government collapsed in undignified disarray. The power sharing Assembly of 1974 was exploded from view, while the petty bickering of the participants within its successor, the Convention, succeeded in bringing the entire structure crashing down on their own heads.

Its demise, and the reinforced apathy of the ghettos, permitted Imperialism to abandon such schemes for a period, and to concentrate on the chief task in hand – the smashing of the Provos. Initially, political initiatives, Government papers, talks, Assemblies and Conventions had been rushed into being because the ruling class had faced a situation which was out of their control. These devices were used to buy time and to create some elbow room behind which they could manoeuvre. With the Convention laid to rest the strategists of capital found that events were no longer totally beyond control. Their energy could be concentrated on physically tightening their grip. Both hands could be freed to draw in the reins of political and military control.

This has been explained in past documents. It has also been pointed out that the change in policy of Imperialism would be temporary. Under the conditions which developed after 1976 Direct Rule was the best means of extending their control. The need for some form of devolved Assembly was pushed to the background for a period but was not relegated from view altogether.

It has always been the strategy of the ruling class to reintroduce at some stage a form of devolved government. In the past they had no choice to do so given the explosive situation. The latest White Paper, now known as the Atkins Initiative, has been introduced not as a concession, but as a means to an imposed solution. Whether or not it succeeds in setting up a new Assembly will depend more on the capacity of Imperialism to impose it than on the deals which can be conjured up between the major political parties.

The current talks with the politicians on this document are aimed at testing the ground for the imposition of some form of political arrangement. The Thatcher government is anxious to come up with some settlement or, at least, to be seen to try. These talks have been organised more in hope than anticipation. For the Government it is a matter of heads we win, tails you lose. If the talks were to succeed in obtaining the backing of a majority of the parties the way would be opened to elections to an Assembly. This in turn would provide an excellent cover, particularly for show to American Imperialism, for the continued execution of Imperialism’s military policy. It would also act as a scapegoat for the economic ills of the province. If, however, the talks end in ignominious failure those who will carry away the heaviest weight of discredit will be the chiefs of the NI political parties. Atkins, on behalf of his class will shrug his shoulders and complain that “at least we tried“. Imperialism will be free to consider all the options then open.

In the meantime the endless process of talks, and talks about talks, keeps the politicians busy and out of the hairs of the government on other questions. It also creates the impression that an effort is being made to come up with a solution – an impression which is carefully projected abroad by the Tories.

However, Northern Ireland is not Zimbabwe, and even there the so-called settlement of Lord Carrington threatens to fragment into bloodshed at any moment. It is extremely unlikely that the current round of discussions will lead to agreement between any section of the Unionists and the SDLP. It is the division between the two main Unionist parties and between the SDLP and IIP which provides a more effective barrier to agreement than the gulf separating these two blocs

To survive, politicians in Northern Ireland must be able to look over their shoulder and see what is going on behind their backs. The SDLP leaders fear that concessions on their part would allow them to be outflanked by the more openly nationalistic Irish Independence Party (IIP). Open warfare is the state of relationships between the Official Unionists and the DUP. Not hostility to the SDLP, but a constant struggle to out manoeuvre each other, is now the key factor in determining their actions.

Paisley agreed “on principle” to discuss with Atkins and the SDLP. Professing their “loyalty” and screaming of betrayal the Official Unionists declared that it was their “principles” which kept them standing in the rain outside Stormont. Chemically distilled these “principles” would be seen for what they are – the personal ambitions and deep seated interests of the who lead these parties.

Paisley’s agreement to talk followed on his victory over the Official Unionists in the EEC poll. In the Westminster elections his DUP had wrested two Belfast seats from his rivals. The prospect of outright electoral victory over the Official Unionists makes an election enticing to the Paisleyites.

And as Paisley acts the Official Unionists oppose. Electorally they are now the major Unionist Party, the leading party of the majority. What Paisley stands to gain they risk losing. And so they have firmly stood their ground on ·the “principle” of “no discussion with Republicans.” They have threatened to boycott an election if any compromise on power-sharing is reached.

It is most unlikely that fresh talks will do anything to unravel this sorry mess. Faced with no agreement the ruling class, who clearly wish to see some institution established at some stage, will have a number of options. They can prolong yet again the talks. This would bring no greater chance of success. Alternatively, ways and mean of going over the heads of the parties could be tried. The possibility of a plebiscite on devolved government and limited power sharing has been suggested This is not likely to be pursued.

In the first place, the mood of the mass of the people is entirely apathetic to the wheeling’s and dealings between Atkins and the political parties. In the past, changes in the political super structure provoked fierce discussion, including discussion within the Labour movement. The Atkins talks have been virtually unnoticed, let alone formally debated by any section of the working class movement. They are most certainly not a talking point in the workplaces, the pubs, the shops where workers meet.

A plebiscite on some aspect of a new political scheme could very easily turn out to be a double edged sword. Under conditions of apathy the result would be hard to determine. It is unlikely, though not entirely ruled out, that Imperialism will use this weapon.

A further option is the watering down of the proposed Assembly to a talking shop with no executive powers which might produce some new scheme for more devolution in the future. In other words, a new version. Modified to meet the conditions of 1980, or the old Convention is being considered. “Rolling devolution” is the latest catchphrase of the Stormont bureaucrats.

It cannot be ruled out that, even without the agreement of the main parties, such an Assembly will be imposed, possibly with elections in the spring of 1981. In this way the threats of the Official Unionists to boycott elections would be put to the test. However, this would most likely be a proposal for some powerless debating chamber. It would not be easy to persuade the parties to participate in this body. Recognising this, the ruling class would adapt their policy of concession and repression to fit their approach to the politicians. While with one hand coercing them to enter such a body, with the other they would offer the cushion of huge salaries to dull the impact of their blows. However, the problem would remain that a powerless Assembly or a new version of the Convention would be rent with dissensions just as were the last two attempts at self-government. If Paisley’s vote were increase the existence of such a body would simply be to provide protein and energy to the DUP. And the British ruling class are not yet convinced that Paisley has been or can be moulded into a “reasonable” politician.

Rather than take on the parties at this stage it is more likely that Atkins will find it necessary to further extend his political deadlines. The timetable surrounding the entire process may become even more elastic. In May 1981 elections will be held to local government. If these are to result in a significant readjustment of the balance of strength of the major parties the position for Imperialism might be eased.

The easiest option would then be to await the outcome of these elections and keep all options open until then. Overall, it is most likely that the question will be postponed at least until May, quite possibly to be re-postponed then.

The question of whether, when or in what manner a new Assembly might be constructed is not the central issue for a perspective. It is not possible to be precise on this question. Subjective factors, even the stupidity of Thatcher and her cohorts, together with general developments in Britain and inside the Tory Party, can affect the issue. In addition, the future development of a fighting Labour Party, if no form of Government had been set up in the interim, would alter the attitude of a Tory government towards individuals like Paisley. With the overriding objective being to prevent the growth of Labour, the ruling class would most likely favour giving concessions to the politicians, which they would rule out today. Sixty years ago the British ruling class lovingly created the sectarian institution of Stormont in order to smash the unity of Labour. Now they want a Government basically free of open sectarian connotations. Tomorrow a changed balance of forces can result in a change of policy.

What can be definitely be stated as a perspective is that with or without a devolved government the ruling class will not achieve a “solution” even in their own terms to the problems of Northern Ireland. An Assembly would not be capable of stabilising itself on a long term basis. Even if the structures were to survive it would be impossible for one party or a group of parties to form a stable administration. No election result as in Zimbabwe is possible. No new Stormont can be created.

Whether or not an Assembly were to be given powers is not the question. With or without powers it would be unstable and torn with dissent from start to finish. If it were to be a purely advisory body the very issue of lack of powers would become a focus for Paisley and others. If it were to be given powers these would allow it to administer such fields as health, education, housing and social services. It would not be given control of security. Under present economic conditions its sole responsibility would be to administer the cuts in the Welfare State. This fact alone would be sufficient to deny it a stable existence.

With or without an Assembly the real solution of systematic and ruthless repression will be maintained. An overall correct estimation of the mood within the ghettos has provided Imperialism with the licence to step up their repressive methods. The switch from overt to covert methods, the construction of a sophisticated apparatus of repression, total ruthlessness in executing their policy, a determination to ride out the temporary opposition and unfavourable publicity caused by the details of some of their atrocities rising to the surface – these hallmarks of the approach of the military chiefs all stem from their, to date, correct judgement of the lack of support for the Provos and the war weariness, particularly in the Catholic ghettos. In addition, the virtual destruction of the Protestant paramilitaries, at least as effective offensive organisations, has permitted them to point their gun sights in the one direction. Finally, the continued failure of the Labour Movement to act against repression has allowed them a free hand.

The horrors of H-Block are the consequence of these factors. First and foremost, Imperialism bears the responsibility for this atrocious and degrading protest. Special category status was withdrawn from the prisoners in March1976 primarily to crush the command structures which had been built up inside the prisons. The objective was to demoralise the prisoners, and to sap their ability to struggle when released.

The reverse side of this was the determination of the prisoners to resist. Combined, these factors prepared for a bitter confrontation. The precise form of this struggle, above all the tactics employed by the prisoners, have been mainly for to the failure of the Labour Movement to take up the question and the placing of all outside protests in the hands or under the control of the Provisionals and their various front organisations. The failure of the Labour Movement to fight on the question was a factor in presenting the Provisionals with a clear field. In turn, the association of every word uttered about H-Block with the sectarian antics of the Provos has erected immense obstacles in front of those within the class organisations who attempted to raise this issue. The Provos have made it immeasurably more difficult for the Labour Movement to intervene. Thus cause has become effect, and effect cause.

The result is stalemate. No-one could have expected this protest to continue into its fifth year. Yet this has been precisely what has happened. If Imperialism has been relentless, their determination has been matched measure for measure by the H-Block inmates.

At the beginning of this year the potential volcano of H-Block began to show signs of turbulence. It threatened to explode in such a manner as would have had a profound effect, for a period at least, in the North as a whole and in the Labour Movement in Britain. The prisoners threatened to intensify their protest by beginning a mass hunger strike. Had this been successfully done it is quite possible that concessions could have been won. A hunger strike would have aroused more sympathy than the present vile form of protest which, to a certain extent, assists the propaganda of the prison authorities and the government and actually alienates support. Were the Labour Movement to mount a serious campaign on the question, offering the prisoners an alternative form of struggle, the question of ending the present form of protest MIGHT have to be raised. A mass hunger strike with the possibility of a number of deaths would have meant an increase in support for the Provos and INLA, money for these organisations from America in particular, hostile publicity internationally for Britain and, not least, the possibility of sections of the Labour Movement in Britain becoming involved. It is quite possible that the Government would have been forced to give way on some, at least, of the main demands of the H-Block protestors.

However, had the Provos reacted to a hunger strike with “solidarity” military action in Britain, the result would have been less certain. Bombs in British cities or the assassination of prominent individuals would have been considered in order to “assist” the prisoners. Such “assistance” would have exposed the total stupidity of the methods of individual terror. The louder the bombs in Britain, the less sympathy for the prisoners. An intense campaign in Britain would have ensured only the defeat of a hunger strike. When the prisoners sought sanction from the Provisionals for an escalation to a hunger strike they received a cold response. This speaks volumes about the strategy of the Provisional leadership. H-Block means money and propaganda for them. It has been the central issue on which they have campaigned in recent years. They have no interest whatsoever in its speedy resolution. A hunger strike means either victory or defeat. It means a decisive confrontation which would settle the issue once and for all. Neither in relation to the prisons, nor in relation to their military campaign, have the Provisionals any desire for head on confrontation. Their strategy is for a protracted struggle.

Either the victory or defeat of a hunger strike would weaken the Provos. One would remove a source of support. The other would increase demoralisation. This is the trap woven for this organisation by the insane methods of individual terror. Accepting the position of the outside leadership, the prisoners did not organise a hunger strike, but the situation remained explosive. The possibility of the protest being escalated remained. Against the advice of their organisations two prisoners have gone on hunger strike. Martin Meehan, well known as a leading Belfast Provo, took his strike to the point of death and then called it off without having won a single concession from the ruling class. So did the other hunger striker. In both cases, even at the final stages, the outside protests were pathetically small.

Faced with two isolated hunger strikes which lacked mass support the ruling class were quite prepared to see these prisoners die. They feared that concessions in these cases would prompt a mass hunger strike. Clearly, they calculated that the death of someone like Meehan would unleash a period of rioting and would give a temporary boost to the Provos. But they would have been prepared to pay this price and would simply have ridden out this violence.

In fact the death of Meehan would have brought no long term benefits to the Provos. In a sense it would actually have been a blow. When the initial wave of anger would have subsided the effect would have been to increase the disillusionment and apathy within the Catholic areas as well as dampen the spirit of the prisoners.

Thus the H-Block stalemate has been prolonged. It is now unlikely that the ruling class will give concessions in response to the type of protests mounted to date. Were the Labour Movement to take up the question and launch a serious campaign the issue would be different. But this is not immediately likely, beyond the effect which the Marxists can have.

However, if the protests were to subside for a period, and if no new developments take place, it is possible that the ruling class would review the position. Were the issue to sink from public attention, it is likely that partial changes to alleviate the worst aspects of the conditions might be introduced. This would be done in order to remove a thorn from the side of the Government who would prefer to have the question resolved. However, it is extremely unlikely that either the present form of protest or the present support organisations will be capable of forcing any concessions. In addition, a change in conditions does not mean the granting of political status.

But nothing exists for ever. Sooner or later some aspect of this situation must break. There are prisoners who are serving life sentences, an unimaginable prospect under existing conditions. Desperation must force some change. Unless Imperialism grants some improvement in the conditions, either demoralisation at failure and defeat will result in a collapse of the protest or else a future mood for decisive action, once again a hunger strike, could build up. Even if concessions on the immediate issues were to resolve the “no wash” issue, the blanket protest could well continue and a re-escalation would be possible. The consequences of such action would depend on the balance of forces at the time.

This is the general perspective. However, Marxists must remain on their toes for any change in the situation. Events can cut across a perspective. A death in H-Block, for example, could transform the situation in the prisons. It is essential to stand on ones toes when faced with a situation such as this.

Overall, the key to the use of repression by the state forces is the mood within the ghettos, and, associated with and reinforcing this mood, the silence of the trade union leaders, quite literally, Imperialism has been able to get away with murder. Increased repression, and the absence of any opposition, has further hardened the mood of dejection, most especially in the hardest hit areas.

The 1980 demonstrations to mark the anniversary of internment were preceded the two H-Block hunger strikes and the “execution” by the police of a teenager for the crime of painting a wall slogan. During riots at the time of the internment demonstrations troops and police were used in force. A teenager killed after being hit at point blank range by a rubber bullet was one result. In the past such actions by the state forces have stirred mass opposition. Yet on this occasion it was just the opposite. In at least three separate incidents, women in West Belfast intervened to stop hijackings and riots, giving commandeered vehicles back to their drivers. It is just such a response on which the methods of Imperialism are calculated.

In military terms there is no doubt that the army are now well on top. The strike power of both the Provos and INLA has been greatly reduced. Capitalising on this situation the military chiefs have been able to reduce significantly the role of the army and increase that of the police and UDR. There are now just over 12,000 soldiers in the province (10,000 less than in 1972), as against 9,000 UDR and approximately 7, 000 police. Some loyalist leaders have disputed, possibly correctly, the officially declared troop strengths, arguing that their numbers have been further reduced.

Most significantly, the police force reappeared in the Catholic ghettos, even handling riot situations. In Derry, for the first time in a decade, they have faced rioters in the Bogside on their own. In the major towns it is the UDR who are now more evident on the streets, at road checks etc., than the regular army.

All this is designed to create the illusion of a return to “normality”. It is proclaimed as a success for the strategy of “UIsterising” the security situation. Every effort is being made to bring the police fully back into the Catholic ghettos. Talks between the RUC and sections of the Catholic middle class and also with trade union leaders have been held – all to make a groomed and spiced RUC appear appetising to representatives of the Catholic community. That the idea of “Ulsterisation” of the security forces is strategic objective of the ruling class is beyond doubt. But between the aim and its achievement there stands an unbridgeable gulf.

The return to “normality” is not so marked when it is remembered that the 9,000 UDR patrol the streets as a unit of the army under the command of British army officers, albeit with harps stuck onto their berets. The much hailed return of the RUC is the return of police jeeps, filled with policemen armed to the teeth with M1 carbines and other weapons.

“Ulsterisation” in the sense of local control of the security forces is not possible. With or without a new Assembly politicians like Paisley will not be given control of even the local security forces. That would be akin to giving a two year old a machine gun as a toy.

Nor is “Ulsterisation” even in the sense of local security forces under Westminster control handling all aspects of security at all likely. It is because the most serious Provo attacks now take place in the country areas along the border that the army is concentrated in these areas.

It is quite possible, even most likely, that further reductions in army strengths and open army activity will be achieved. However, with the prospect of violence of some form for a prolonged period, a total army withdrawal is no more possible than it was a few years ago. The fundamental perspective of Marxism that the troops could only be withdrawn in the aftermath of a holocaust or under the pressure of an aroused Labour Movement has not been altered.

The pushing to the forefront of the UDR and RUC is a reflection of the decline in support for the Provos. Individual terrorism deflates and debases a mass movement. It dulls the instinct of the masses to fight on their own behalf. It ultimately sucks dry its own social reservoirs of support. The Provisionals have developed this tactic to its most extreme point. In return their experience provides in an extreme form a vindication of the criticisms of Marxism of this false method of struggle.

From a movement enjoying mass support in certain areas their activities are now openly shunned even in former strongholds. Only on the issue of repression, and then only in a muffled form, are they capable of mobilising any support. As the Marxists predicted, the base of their military activities has increasingly been squeezed out of the urban to the rural areas, especially the border counties.

Their campaign has been caught in a spiral of decline both in terms of support and effectiveness. When they operated among an aroused and politically active community, every small military action was a talking point. The raised political consciousness acted as an amplifier in broadcasting the shock waves of their deeds. But with a dulled, insensitive mood it has become more difficult to provoke even interest let alone support.

A law of diminishing returns has applied itself to the Provos, and also to their ugly sister, the INLA. In order to push themselves to the centre of attention they require ever more momentous activity. And when that activity is carried out and they begin to slip from people’s attention they require an even greater event to re-establish their prominence. In this sense the greater the success achieved, the greater the problems created.

To blow up individual like Lord Mountbatten or wipe out a platoon of paratroopers may bring publicity, but it does not advance one jot the aims of the Provos, nor does it relieve the problems of Catholic workers. But it does create the problem of the follow up. A campaign of individual terror appears to falter unless it proceeds from one peak of activity to a higher peak. If the death of Mountbatten today produces a certain effect, tomorrow it requires the deaths of two even more prominent individuals to achieve the same result. This law of diminishing returns has ensnared the Provos.

There is no immediate possibility of revival of the Provos or any similar organisation. Only on the basis of a rekindling of sectarianism or of a series of army atrocities on a vast scale, and even then only if the Labour Movement failed repeatedly to intervene, could the Provos receive any substantial boost. Even this would only have an effect on the tempo of their decline.

The perspective for this organisation is of continued loss of support and influence. But, as with all aspects of a perspective, this must be viewed as a process, and as with all historical development, as an uneven process. Undoubtedly, there will be periodic upsurges of Provo activity. An attempt to switch the focus of the campaign to Britain cannot be ruled out. Such upsurges, in the context of overall decline, will become harder to sustain and organise. Each such wave of activity will most likely be followed by ever longer periods of relative inaction.

But Northern Ireland has written out one other feature of the question of individual terrorism which stands as a lesson for the movement internationally. Where violence gains a foothold, where mass unemployment, poverty and despair affect layers of the population, and where the development of the Labour Movement is, as it must be, uneven, it is possible for terrorism to become rooted as an endemic problem. Imperialism has calculated that some form of terrorist violence will remain in Northern Ireland no matter how deeply they can sink their military boots into the flesh of the Catholic areas. Victory for them means effective military control, not peace and stability.

While to fight stimulates a constant headache, not to fight would bring collapse. The Provo leadership have little option but to continue with the campaign. An organisation which has existed for ten years and has been hardened by bitter struggle will not easily be persuaded to commit Hari Kari. If the Provos were to call off the campaign entirely their very basis for existence would be gone. Most likely a rival group like the INLA would deliberately step up their actions in order to attract the more militaristic of the Provos rank and file. Thus, the campaign will most likely be extended virtually indefinitely as far as the Provos themselves are concerned.

Violence in some form, if not from the Provos, then from the INLA, and if not from the INLA, from some other group, has become part and parcel of life. It is the other side of the coin, of poverty, repression and political deadlock. It is something which the Northern Ireland working class will have to endure in payment for the past crimes of reformism. As such, it will most likely remain in some form right up to the socialist revolution, to be finally eradicated only as a new form of society establishes itself. As in Northern Ireland so similar situations can develop in Spain, Italy and even other areas of Western Europe where this symptom of the disease of social disintegration has not yet sunk roots.

Decline for the Provos and for the loyalist paramilitaries means a loss of their genuine basis of working class support. It means that they become stripped to a core of their most hard-line membership. This is the key factor in determining their political evolution.

During the early period of the troubles some people who laid a false claim to the ideas of Marxism pronounced that from the “left wing” of the paramilitaries would develop a united force of Catholic and Protestant. In their total ignorance they decreed that the Protestant paramilitaries would spawn a genuine left wing which would in turn provide the basis for the winning of Protestant workers to socialist ideas. The Marxists predicted at the time that there was not the slightest possibility of any section of these groups moving to the Left. Rather, any genuine workers caught up in their ranks would tend to drop out. This has been the case. The loyalist groups now stand firmly on the right, where they belong. Only their immediate political irrelevance permits certain UDA leaders to disguise their sectarianism with a mask of “community politics” and through various spurious “community” and “research” organisations. Were these to develop any future significance, especially as the Labour Movement develops, these groups would take their place on the extreme right, coated from head to foot in bigotry.

With the Provos the issue is not so much different. Decline in membership and an increased orientation in the rural areas means also a move to the right. The Provos were founded by right wing Republicans aided and abetted by Fianna Fail leaders in the South. They were conceived as a potential battering ram to use against left Republicans and Labour. As events attracted a mass working class support these same leaders were forced to learn a few socialist sounding noises. Marxists at the time explained that the loss of this mass base would reduce the demand for socialist ideas, and would permit the organisations to lurch to the right, always with the possibility of splits occurring.

Today, from the various sects and sectlets in Ireland and Britain, has arisen the claim that the Provos have become Marxists, that they are now committed to the goal of the socialist revolution. As evidence, they point to the “socialist” propaganda of their newspaper, to the statements of the Belfast Provos in particular, and to the radical speeches and resolutions at last year’s Ard Fheis. The Provo leaders have no more, become Marxists than God has become an atheist.

It is true that some articles in Republican News are stuffed full of class phraseology. It is also true that radical sounding noises have recently come from the younger Belfast leadership of the organisation. In all this there is nothing new. The perspective of the Marxists remains valid. The difference between this veneer of socialism and that of the past is that it is now produced as much for the benefit of the sects and of international groups like ETA, as it is for the workers of West Belfast. The Provos core remains extremely nationalistic. If they were to find a political home it would be in the ranks of the new style Nationalist Party, the IIP. Even in Belfast where the leadership is younger there is no “Marxist” or genuine “socialist” base. Perhaps some of these people have become a lot more practiced in the art of deception. But a well-polished veneer is no less a veneer for all the elbow work which has gone into it. In private the Belfast Provo leadership are known to scorn the Marxist label sometimes attached to them. For the Labour Movement these people have a real contempt. Unlike many of the Provisional ranks, even today, the leadership need to be scratched only slightly to reveal their basic sectarianism.

As the class struggle develops it will draw to its side the genuine activists and untainted class fighters still associated with the Provos. Undoubtedly, a section of this organisation will attempt to tail-end the workers movement. They will do so, not to lend support, but in order to divert the movement along sectarian lines. From start to finish the Provos are and will remain the total enemies of class unity. Their role now and in the future, insofar as their activities touch the real movements of workers, will be as the injectors of sectarian propaganda. Any pretence at supporting workers in struggle will be with the intention of preventing that struggle moving to the unity in action of Catholic and Protestant workers. Recently Republican News carried an article on the trade unions. What they had to say about the unions in the North should open the eyes of all who believe that these people have undergone an eleventh hour conversion to the socialist ideas of class unity.

The Better Life For All Campaign is described as having been “effectively imposed cm congress by the loyalist element who control the Northern Ireland Committee.” Workers unity is impossible because “the Loyalist ethic has never displayed any of the magnanimity that this would require.” However, Republicans can work in the unions where there are Catholic workers: “However, there are some factories in West Belfast and Derry where there is plenty of opportunity to build up a Republican presence without the loyalists blocking this.” (Republican News, May 31st 1980)

From the basic core of the Provos, especially as the focus is switched to the rural areas, worse is to be expected. Initially, this organisation was formed to break up moves to class unity in the North. In the future this will be their role, deliberately using both political and military means to foster sectarianism. Connolly once described the Home Rule parties as either “the open enemies or the most treacherous friends of the working class„. These words sum up with precision all shades of pinion within the Provo leadership today.

In the main it is only within the prisons that genuine class fighters are to be found within the Provos. There are those inside who could be won to socialist and revolutionary ideas. Debates even within the H-Blocks on the question of Marxism are the living proof of this. To win any of these people time is the key factor. By taking up and campaigning, even simply or, the issue of decent conditions the Labour Movement could have a huge impact. This could have far more effect in demonstrating the correctness of class and even Marxist ideas, than the sum total of the propaganda with which the Marxist s could reach them.

But inaction by the Labour Movement, a further period of atrocious living, and also the possibility of defeat and demoralisation, could result in the breaking of these individuals as fighters. They would emerge from prison battered into the twisted forms devised by Imperialism and lost to the class struggle for a whole period. Time for action by the unions in Northern Ireland and by the entire Labour Movement in Britain, is of the essence.

Perspectives for the Provos and for the INLA or IRSP are interwound. Little distinguishes these groups. The layer of socialist veneer coating the IRSP is thicker. Their propaganda is more finely and acutely strung with socialist phrases. At core, they differ little from the Provos, except that their base is more likely to be in the urban areas. In effect, their activities are identical. In terms of a perspective of military decline there is little difference.

Politically, the IRSP, partly because of the left wing background of many members, are certain to attempt to tail end the movement of the working class. However, they will be incapable of arising to any greater influence than will the sects in relation to the Labour Movement in Britain. Their role, like that of sections of the Provos, will be as internal saboteurs raising their small voices in such a way as to weaken the real basis of the movement – the unity of the working class.

As with the Provos, and with the violence in general, so with sectarianism. The grip of sectarian ideas is firmly on the wane. Attempts by any of the paramilitaries, the political parties or, in the future by the ruling class, to rekindle bigotry will meet with the opposition of the working class. An immediate effort by bigots to push society back to the tense days of 1972–73, when civil war was a possibility, would also have the opposite effect. The religious poison would most likely end up down the throats of those who produce it. For a period this must continue to be so. A civil war is now ruled out and would not re-emerge as a possibility before the Labour Movement has had not one, but many opportunities to change society.

This is not to say that sectarianism is dead or that the Labour Movement will not have to confront and deal with bigots and bigotry, and even with sectarian ideas within its own ranks. It is merely to describe the present balance of forces which, for a period, lean strongly in favour of the working class.

Sectarianism, like the Provos, has mushroomed and declined over the past decade. But it has not been entirely crushed as a force or as a shade of the consciousness, even of workers. It exists within the minds of some workers, just as backward and even reactionary ideas retain a grip on the outlook of sections of workers in other countries. However, the changed situation has the effect of pushing sectarian ideas to the back of the minds of most workers, and of increasing the sections of the class who consciously see this as an enemy to be contested. As class issues predominate, as workers engage in struggle, the restraining influence of bigotry is exposed.

Nor have the sectarian organisations, political and paramilitary been annihilated. In 1977 the unions had the opportunity to deal what could have been a mortal blow to Paisley, and to the bigots who provided his strong arm men during the UUAC stoppage.

This was not done and these groups were forced to retire, licking their wounds but not beyond recovery. Despite their weakness the loyalist armies have occasionally been able to flex their muscles. Sectarian intimidation and assassination has been periodically stepped up. At the minute such activity meets with the scorn and opposition of the mass of working people, Catholic and Protestant. If intensified and, sustained, from either side, it would recreate the mood for mass demonstrations of workers, against all forms of bigotry.

But the very existence of sectarian groups, and even the latent seeds of sectarian prejudice within the consciousness of the less advanced sections of the working class, are a warning for the future. Mass unemployment, poverty and the hopelessness to which these can give birth, could become fertile breeding grounds for a regeneration of sectarian violence at a later stage. However, for a whole period, the overwhelming class battles which will unfold will push these issues to the background. Only repeated missed opportunities by the working class organisations, and a failure of the Marxists to build in time, resulting in a re-transformation of the entire situation, could re-open the danger of religious confrontation on anything like the scale of the past decade.

The Economy

The present epoch is one of economic crisis. Trotsky in his tentative essay on The Curve of Capitalist Decline explained: “lf the crisis which signals destruction or constriction or at all events contraction of the productive forces, surpasses in its intensity, the corresponding boom, then we get as a result a decline in the economy.”

These words are a fitting description of the war world economy since the early 1970s. From an epoch of relative growth roughly corresponding to the two and a half decades since World War Two, capitalism has moved to an epoch of stagnation and decline. In its wake this change in the direction of the movement of the productive forces has ushered in a new era of revolutionary explosions far surpassing anything found in the preceding annals of human history.

Unprecedented upturn stretching over decades did not abolish the cyclical rhythm of capitalist development through boom and slump. Nor, in this period of downturn, has the cyclical effect been lost. Development through boom and slump is the law of motion of capitalism. Now this development patterns itself according to the description of Trotsky quoted above. However, in this epoch of decay the capitalist eye has been shortened. And as a result its ferocity has been intensified. This is the era of short lived booms followed by sudden and severe downturns, in turn giving way to short lived booms – all with a rapidity previously unknown.

As Trotsky explained: “If periodic replacements of ’normal’ booms by ’normal’ crisis find their reflection in all spheres of social life, then a transition from an entire boom epoch to one of decline, or vice versa, engenders the greatest historical disturbances.”

Just as this is the case so the short and savage economic twists which are the characteristics of this new epoch prepare for unprecedented class explosions. Stability under these conditions becomes a thing of the past. Old modes of thought, old forms of political expression, old organisations – all loose their apparent permanence. During the next decade political consciousness will be rocked by the ups and downs of economic development as never before. Revolutionary ideas can achieve a revolutionary speed of growth.

A few facts illustrate the nature of the period we are in. Other documents and pamphlets on Britain and Northern Ireland analyse in greater detail the crisis of the economy. For the purpose of this perspective a general outline of the tendencies of economic development is sufficient. In 1974–75 the world economy entered its first ever simultaneous recession. In America industrial production fell by approximately 15% between September 1974 and March 1975. In 1974, real output in America fell by 1.3% while 1975 revealed a further decline of 1.4%. America provided a trigger for downturn in all the major capitalist economies.

From the end of 1975 until 1979 there was a period of relative and general upswing. But, as the Marxists predicted, this boom has been surpassed in its intensity by the corresponding decline. The problems of inflation, rising unemployment in many countries, spare capacity and low investment levels were, in general, not dealt with even temporarily. In 1979 the average unemployment rate of 5% in the OECD countries was 1ittle better than the worst figures for the recession of 1974–75.

Now the snares of recession have closed. As the capitalist economies adjust to this contraction most economic forecasts have been revised downwards from their earlier – and relatively optimistic – projections of a fall in production in only America and Britain and a fall in the rate of growth elsewhere. Through 1980 and into at least the first part of 1981 the recession is likely to retain its now aggravated hold with sharper downturns, particularly in Britain and America. Latest forecasts, for the British economy project a fall in real GDP of at least 2.5% in 1980 and an overall fall of 0.4% in 1981. Manufacturing output is expected to decline by more than 5.5% in 1980 and by 2% in 1981.

Of all the major economies none displays more acutely the symptoms of decay more so than that of Britain. At best the British economy managed only halting growth rates during the recent upturn. All the general problems of the economy – rising unemployment, inflation, absolute decline of the manufacturing base, spare capacity and low levels of investment particularly in manufacturing investment – remained undisguised. The fairy godmother of North Sea Oil has not brought a cure. Instead it has merely altered slightly the complexion of the patient.

In fact it has been the existence of this oil, today combined with high interest rates, which has strengthened the pound and as a result made British goods relatively more expensive on the world and the domestic market.

Between March 1976 and September 1979, roughly the period of upturn, total unemployment in Britain rose by 435,000. Manufacturing employment during this period actually fell by 140,000. Recession in 1980 has proven to be sharper than the capitalists expected. Its effect, again particularly on the manufacturing sector, has been devastating. Between September 1979 and April 1980 manufacturing employment fell by a further 220,000. Industrial output between April 1979 and April 1980 fell figures are worsening and will continue to do port on the policies of the Government.

It is from such figures that the capitalists themselves derive their talk of the possible de-industrialisation of Britain. Booms alter only the rate of decline of manufacturing to be followed by slumps, which take a devastating toll.

Low investment remains as the insoluble core of the problems of the capitalists. According to a recent Financial Times Survey 76% of firms report the existence of spare capacity at the levels of 1975. In some sectors, for example in man-made fibres which is of particular relevance to the NI economy, 100% of firms report spare capacity. The tendency in recession has been for the switching off of machinery and for short time working. In a halting upturn this excess capacity will be one impediment to investment in existing sectors of the economy.

This year the Government forecasts are for a drop of between 6–10% in manufacturing investment. A fall in the rate of growth in investment in the service and distributive sectors is also anticipated. Other projections predict a further fall in private investment next year, followed by a recovery over the next two years but only to the level of 1978.

The underlying tendency for a rising, permanent pool of unemployed is also revealed in Britain. Already, the figure has topped two million. With a further industrial shake out caused by the current recession and with an anticipated growth in the labour force of some 200, 000 per annum, it is inevitable that unemployment will continue to rise – and rise dramatically. It is possible that, by the end of 1983 there could be three million unemployed, and within this figure, a rapidly growing stagnant pool of permanent unemployment. Marx’s analysis of the accumulation of misery at the bottom of the social scale will become self-evident, even to the sceptics.

Already a division has opened up between different sections of the ruling class and within the Tory Party itself. Splits at the top are one indication of the crisis. There are those who demand that monetarism be carried to the extremes of lunacy, who make a virtue out of what they see as a necessity and declare the de-industrialisation of Britain a triumph. These represent the finance wing of British capital. On the other hand there are those capitalists, and indeed the CBI, who proclaim, in the words of one industrialist quoted in the Financial Times, “... we did not vote for the destruction of our industrial base.”

Inside and outside the Tory Party the pressure is building up for a U-turn in monetary policy through the relaxing of tight controls and the lowering of interest rates. Under pressure from this sector, and also when it meets head on the power and resistance of the working class, the government will be forced to change course. Especially if a turnaround results from a confrontation with a section of the working class, it is likely that Thatcher herself will be dumped.

However, no amount of cart wheeling by the Tories will resolve the problems of the economy. A more careful mix of monetarist and more expansionist policies cannot alter the, process of decline. A dramatic switch to Keynesianism based on Government borrowing would only exacerbate the problems in the long term. Capitalism offers no solutions.

An aggravation of an aggravated effect. Thus is summed up the position of Northern Ireland in relation to Britain. As Britain stands to economies like West Germany or Japan so Northern Ireland stands with regard to Britain. Northern Ireland today presents a picture to Britain and to the capitalist world of life as it will be after a continued period of capitalist decline. De-industrialisation is, in large measure, already a fact.

All the key sectors of the Northern Ireland economy are in simultaneous crisis. Manufacturing decline is an accelerating process, even during the last years of modest growth.

The only major industries in the province which are locally owned are long established concerns, mainly in the shipbuilding, textile and engineering sectors. In general terms these industries have been in crisis for more than two decades. At first their decline was disguised in terms of the overall economy by the ability of the Government, during the world upswing, to attract outside investment and achieve a limited economic diversification.

Thus while, from 1961 to 1971 the number of jobs in traditional industries fell by 2.6%, those in new Government sponsored industries increased by 106%.

During the early 1970s the beginning of the slow-down of the world economy at first most dramatically left its scars on the older industries. The tendency of capital to diversify into new fields, following the higher rates of profit, was still strong enough to be felt in Northern Ireland – but at a much lower level than before. Between 1971 and 1974 employment in traditional industries slumped by 10% while a 9% growth was achieved in Government sponsored industries. Since the slump of 1974–75 the picture has changed to one be continued decline on all fronts. Between 1974 and 1979 employment in traditional industries fell by a further 15%. Jobs in Government sponsored industries also fell – but by an alarming 17%.

The economic growth assisted by the policies of previous Governments had been lopsided. Branches of huge multi-nationals provide a precarious economic base, especially in periods of recession, when rationalisation can mean the closure of entire plants and the switching of production closer to the main markets. In addition, the chief field of industrial development attracted to Northern Ireland during the 1960s was in the man-made fibre sector. At one time one third of the man-made fibre production of Britain was concentrated in N.I. Now this sector is in severe crisis, outpacing in terms of job losses even the older and more obsolete parts of the economy. If the present pace of decline of output of man-made fibres in Britain is maintained there will be a 22% drop in 1980.

As the Marxists predicted Northern Ireland was completely unable to recover from the knock of 1974-75. In fact between 1970–75, through boom and slump, no major new foreign companies entered the province. Between 1973-79 there was a fall in manufacturing production of 9% as compared to a fall in the UK as a whole of 4%. Also in the years 1971–79 the number of jobs in manufacturing industry fell by 16.4%. Industrial production in 1979 stood at the level of 1974. On the eve of the slump the economy had not even managed to stagger back to the position it found itself in before the last decline

The fall back in manufacturing and industrial production helps explain the rapid relative growth in employment in the service sector. Here the main source of jobs is in the field of public administration. 50% of the workforce were employed in the service sector in the mid 70’s. By 1979 this figure had risen to 71%. Even these bare statistics understate the effect of the collapse of private investment. Many of those manufacturing jobs which remain are entirely dependent on state subsidies and hand-outs. In addition, 64% of jobs in the service sector are direct employees of the state. A great many more of these jobs depend on public expenditure as do a great many others in such areas as construction.

In the past, unemployment was a severe problem in Northern Ireland. But its effects were unevenly spread. Certain areas could boast rates of over 20% while in others it could be as low as 4-5%. Between 1974-79 the industrialised areas, those where lack of jobs has least been a problem in the past, accounted for 22% of the total increase in unemployment. The plight formerly of the mainly Catholic areas is now beginning to bite into the life of the Protestant industrial workers, a crucial fact in shaping future developments.

Only at the very end of the recent upturn was there the remotest sign that N.I. could spray on itself an odour of profit sufficiently attractive to allure outside investment. In 1979 a few new jobs were created. But it has been a case of proceeding from tragedy to farce. The new investment of the 1960s proved brittle when put to the test. How much more fragile is the type of economic development represented by such companies as De Lorean, whose product is already eight months behind schedule despite grants and loans in the region of £70 million.

Such new investment could not halt or even significantly slow the overall decline in employment even in a period of general growth. How much less can it do so in a period of crisis and slump.

The 4% decline in manufacturing production forecast by Coopers and Lybrand for 1980 may actually prove optimistic. Already the first six months of the year have seen 6,336 redundancies, 4,227 of them in the manufacturing sector. Cuts in Government spending raise the prospect of direct job losses in such fields as education and health and the civil service. Cuts in capital spending by Government bodies will lead to the scrapping of new projects and a cutback in building work, all of which will have a reciprocal effect on private sector employment.

As before an upturn in the world economy will have no significant effect in bringing about a recovery in Northern Ireland. For the future it is a case of the worst of all possible worlds. The upswings of the world economy will largely bypass the senile frame of private enterprise in Northern Ireland. Yet its economy will be unable to avoid, and too fragile to absorb, the pendulum of world economic devastation when it enters its downwards swing.

Taking into account short time working, part time workers disqualified from receiving benefit and married women who do not register, unemployment is already over 100,000. It has been estimated that it would require the creation of 6,000 new jobs each year in addition to an emigration rate of 10,000 merely to hold unemployment at present levels. This is because of the declining sectors of the economy whose condition is terminal, job losses in agriculture and population growth. What these figures mean is that the figure of 100,000 will become a base for further rises and not an isolated peak.

As with Britain, the Tories will find themselves overwhelmed at a certain stage by the effects of their policies on Northern Ireland. A change of course will be necessary. In fact the policy of the Government is already full of contradictions. High levels of Government spending in the form of grants to ailing industries are not only being maintained, they are being stepped up. Unviable industries are continuing to receive enormous suns in aid despite threats of Sir Keith Joseph and his co-thinkers in the Tory back benches.

It is for political reasons that this is being done. Over the last 15 years the Harland and Wolff shipyard has received £150 million in Government aid. The economic puritans among the Tory ranks decreed that this must end. If necessary this bottomless drain on Government resources would be turned to scrap metal. In the event, this rhetoric has wafted into the air and the huge hand-outs and concessions, direct and indirect, to Harland and Wolff have been maintained. Orders to build two BP tankers have been given to the East Belfast yard. The price quoted was £50m. They could have been built by Japanese yards for £34 million. Other UK shipyards would have built them in one year less than the time tendered by Harland and Wolff. In short the orders were placed for political, not economic reasons.

This fine “patriotic” gesture, a U-turn of sorts, has its roots deep in political necessity. The closure of the shipyard would turn East Belfast into an industrial desert akin to that already existing in West Belfast. Only this would be a Protestant desert. The social explosions this would threaten would potentially cost the capitalist system more than the immediate bill presented each year by the management of Harland and Wolff.

Continued economic decline can never reach the stage where no economic base and no economy exists. Even the destruction of industry itself and the creation of an enormous pool of free labour would, quite apart from Government aid, draw limited investment.

So it is likely that a certain low level of industrial heart beat will be maintained, on artificial life support systems if necessary, in Northern Ireland. But nothing will disguise the absolute degree of misery which will confront workers. Not alone mass unemployment, but poverty on a worsening scale is now the certain future for an increasing mass of the working class. Already the relative fall in per capita income, which is the lowest in the UK, has meant that it stands at the level of the South. One recent report quotes it as lower. Infant mortality is already higher than in the South or any other UK region. The unemployment rate is just lees than twice the UK average. A greater percentage of families (21%) depend on social security benefits than do anywhere else in the UK. Average weekly income per household is 20% lower than in the rest of Britain while prices are approximately 4% higher. The price of essential goods, above all the cost of energy, is many times greater still.

Trade Unions

Marxists are not crude economic determinists. The economic factor is decisive – but only in the last analysis. Legacies of the past, outmoded ideas and prejudices, even the exhaustive experience of struggle can all affect and distort the development of political ideas. Capitalism in the early 1970s reversed its thrust and entered a period of decline. All the political implications of this are profoundly revolutionary. However, the unfolding revolutionary process in all the advanced countries has been both protracted and many times distorted by the remaining grip of reformist ideas over the Labour organisations.

Nowhere have political developments been more out of line with economic changes than in Northern Ireland. The grip of sectarianism, the role of the state, the partial exhaustion of the class and above all the role of the leadership have acted as anchors limiting and handicapping the moves by workers to struggle.

It is the violent changes of direction of the international economy which bear with them the shocks of revolution. Rapid swings and lurches spell out the disintegration of outmoded ideas. Both recession and boom can in turn act as a trigger to the class struggle.

This general characteristic of the present epoch is subject to qualification by the ebbs and flows of the revolutionary process itself. Truth is always concrete. A perspective must always be rooted in the actual physical conditions within each country and then set against the general developments nationally and internationally.

Not always is it the case that a recession provides the signal for class warfare. It is entirely a question of the social and political context in which the recession bites. In a country where the working class has been involved in struggle but have suffered major and decisive defeats, a downturn in the economy can act as yet another blow. If the class is shaken and stunned by defeats, it is possible that the demoralising effects of mass unemployment and falling living standards could knock it to its knees.

In addition, the role of the leadership in delaying and misshaping workers’ resistance can have an effect. It can result in outbursts of class anger having a regional or partial character and often extremely contradictory moods developing among sections of the workers.

In Britain, mainly because of the role of the TUC tops, the recession has had a temporarily stunning effect on large sections of workers. Mass unemployment in the hands of the Tories has been used as a weapon to hold down wages. But this effect has been a stunning and not knockout blow. Again reflecting the disorientation caused by the effete response of the TUC, the mood of workers is full of contradictions. Even within the trade union movement there have been swings to the right in certain unions, while the overall tendency has been to the left. Yet even in the recession, as the threatened dock strike demonstrated vividly enough for even the Tories to understand, the working class as a whole has the capacity to stage a dramatic recovery. Sudden explosions are not only possible, they are ingrained as a feature of the situation.

The working class of Northern Ireland entered the current recession already partially punch drunk from the blows inflicted upon them from all sides in recent years. There has been a certain weakening of the working class over the last decade. In a perspectives document, as opposed to propaganda material, this point can be made – but even then only tentatively. Only in certain senses has the class been weakened. Mass unemployment and the destruction of the industrial base reduces the combatitive capacity of the class. The creation of an ever widening pool of unemployment makes it more difficult to counter redundancies and maintain wage levels.

In addition, the ten years of sectarian upheaval have not been without their effect. Above all, in Catholic areas, bruised and battered by bigotry and repression, the consciousness of a certain layer of workers has been stained with cynicism. Again it must be stressed that this point made in the context of a perspectives discussion in no way runs counter to the propaganda emphasis of the Marxist paper, which is always to stress the unity and latent strength of the workers.

Finally, the criminal role of the leaders of ICTU, their ability to provide only a demonstration of cringing subjugation, has lowered the confidence of workers in their organisations. Allied to this has been the absence of a developed and competent layer of shop floor activists capable of acting independently of the advice of the leadership. Only now, with the experience of the Better Life For All Campaign, of the UUAC Stoppage and of the April 2nd demonstration is the necessary confidence and experience being developed among the union activists.

All of these factors have slowed the advance of the class movement since 1975. They have also combined to dull the initial resistance to recession. But in no sense has the movement suffered defeat. Sectarianism in the past forced a retreat, not a rout. Since 1975 it itself has been placed on the defensive. Not all areas have been worn down by the troubles. Protestant districts are free of the mood of bitter exhaustion found among sections of the Catholic population. Above all the youth remain unscarred and, in general, are prepared to move into struggle.

Nor have the effects of the industrial rundown been total in wearing down the workforce. In some senses quite the opposite. It is a testimony to the almost inexhaustible reserves of energy contained within the working class movement in such a situation as that of N.I., under assault from every corner, that the percentage of the workforce organised in trade unions has actually increased over the past ten years. Let that single fact confound the pessimists. If the working class under conditions firstly of retreat and then of only halting advance can perform the mighty feat of reinforcing their organisations, both the capitalists and the bigots may well tremble at the prospect of what they can do when fully aroused for battle!

In part the growth of trade union membership reflects, as in Britain, a rapid increase in white collar unionisation, especially in the public sector. Over the last four years the Public Service Alliance has doubled in size to become the second largest union in the North. Its increase has been matched by a radicalisation of its membership. The division of Labour among white collar workers, the creation of factory style working conditions and the erosion of job security have thrown unions such as NIPSA into ferment.

However powerful this sector of the workforce may have become the key and decisive force for change remains the industrial working class. Even in areas like Derry and Strabane, where the industrial workforce has been pared to a minimum, this section will be the spearhead of the coming class movement. The industrial unions remain the decisive power of the trade union movement and special attention must be paid by the forces of Marxism to develop a base in this area.

On the one side there is the retained strength and capacity to struggle of the working class while on the other there are the blows of repression and of unemployment which have often gone unanswered. Every aspect of the situation is contradictory. April 2nd was an undisputed triumph surpassing the development of the movement in most parts of Britain. Yet factories where workforces participated in this event have tamely accepted redundancies. There have been cases of factory closures where the workforce have not had the stomach to offer resistance despite the opposition of shop stewards. In areas there have been local demonstrations against the cuts. Yet elsewhere no open opposition has been organised. In Derry the mood of the class has been particularly sullen and dejected, yet Derry was one of the areas which backed most solidly and enthusiastically the strike call on April 2nd.

The opposite of a determined lead from ICTU is responsible for dissipating the anger of workers in this contradictory fashion. Workers are outraged and prepared to resist the effects of the recession but when shown no means of doing so they can lapse into inaction. It is under such conditions that the recession through unemployment and short time working, can further reinforce this inertia.

But even in an instant the mood of workers can be transformed. This is the essential characteristic of this period. Today there are isolated and generally short-lived outbursts of angry protest. Small, isolated flare ups of anger are a portent of the intense and bitter outrage now concentrating beneath the surface. If isolated fires break out at random all over a forest this is a sure sign that conditions are ripe for a raging forest fire.

On what issue or at what precise time decisive movements of the workers take place is beyond the scope of this document. At the moment unemployment is the central issue. A movement, possibly through the Trades Councils, on this question is possible, even likely. In turn this could infect the shop floor with a new mood on the question of redundancies. One factory occupation, under present conditions, could be enough to stop the rot. It could become a focus for the entire movement.

Wages, the provisions of the Tory Employment Bill, further cuts and closure of services – the issues around which big class movements could spring are legion. In 1975–76 the Better Life For All Campaign began on the issue of sectarianism but instantly spread to an assault on the erosion of living standards. This first decisive move to struggle since the late 1960s faltered through lack of leadership and a background of lull in Britain. This latter factor has been reversed. British society is set to erupt within the next period. Either in the recession or as the world economy turns the corner, big movements of the British workers can be expected. Len Murray confidently announced on the eve of the 1980 TUC Conference that further action such as that of May 14th was not contemplated. Len Murray may well have to eat these fords. National action, a one-day General Strike and even a General Strike itself, are all rooted in the situation. A partial economic about turn by the Tories will not dampen the mood of the workers or offset such upheavals. It could, in fact, do just the opposite.

Such developments must have a profound and decisive effect on Northern Ireland. So, in the slightly longer term, will the movements of the class in the South. In no sense is this a one sided question. Within the North itself are the seeds of confrontation. It is quite possible that workers there could move into action in advance of workers in Britain and could provide an additional spark to the movement in that country. Thus, the Belfast dock strike in a sense anticipated the threatened action by Britain’s dockers and in turn was strengthened by the rumblings in Liverpool, Southampton and other ports. Between Britain, the North and the South also there will be a dialectical process of the interaction of struggle. Although held back by the physical restraints of sectarianism, the experience gained in overcoming these handicaps welded to the genuinely revolutionary traditions of the area can press Northern Ireland workers into the vanguard of the movement in Britain as a whole.

Were it simply a question of the trade union leaders there would be no struggle. To these people the sole battleground of class warfare is the committee room and the negotiating table. But not a day of a perspective, in the context of present social and economic turmoil, can be measured solely by the subjective intentions of the leadership. Neither the TUC nor ICTU will be able to duck the effects of the fusillade of the Tory attacks on their membership. Lack of leadership can result in delays, confusion, in the extreme contradict ions of mood now developing. But, again in the last analysis, the economic factor is decisive.

Those who are not prepared for rapid transformations and re-transformations both in the mood of workers and of the overall situation will fail to keep pace with the events now impending. This is absolutely certain. In certain parts of Northern Ireland a kind of black despair has developed. This mood will give way to the most bitter and unrestrained anger.

In ten years Derry has moved from the extremes of revolutionary upheaval to inertia and exhaustion. Derry will be retransformed. So will those areas of Belfast now sunk most deeply in cynical apathy. Disinterest will become intense political activity. Cynicism among the youth will become an unrestrained desire to change society.

As with the TUC and Labour Party in Britain so with the trade unions in Northern Ireland. Every movement of the class in society as a whole will find its reflection within these organisations. A struggle to convert them into fighting tools of the class has already commenced and will intensify. Gone are the days when trade unionism offered a comfortable nest in which a clutch of bureaucrats could develop comfortable careers.

In NIPSA internal conflict is already at an advanced stage. In other unions they rest on a cushion of right wing and worn out activists who are difficult to displace from their positions. In NIPSA it is because it is relatively easier for fresher and younger workers to move into key positions in the branches that it has been opened up to conflict. Within other unions a similar layer of younger activists will be pressing from below. It may be a more arduous contest but their fight to transform their organisations will leave its mark, as in NIPSA and other public sector unions.

Above all, the Trades Councils will be developed into fighting organs. The Better Life For All Campaign and the April 2nd demonstrations gave a glimpse of the importance of these bodies. Much more so than will immediately be the case in most parts of Britain, because of the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland, the Trades Councils will become centres of opposition to the Government. They will also most quickly reflect the controversies which will shake the entire trade union movement at a later stage. Whereas it is relatively difficult to move a union into action, the Trades Councils are far more responsive to rank and file pressure. Many are recently formed and are graced by being free of a competent local bureaucracy.

By bowing to the pressure to act the Trades Council leaders will accelerate the radicalisation of their own organisations. If they organise demonstrations on issues such as unemployment they will become centres of resistance e to the Tories. This will attract fresh affiliations and the best activists within the unions will be keen to serve on these bodies. It is because of the absence of any other vehicle through which to fight, above all because of the absence of a Labour Party, that the Trades Councils are of such importance in Northern Ireland.

It goes without saying that the influence of the Marxists on these bodies must be extended. The Trades Councils provide a forum through which Marxist ideas can reach into all the unions. It is possible for the Marxists to gain a controlling influence on one or more of these bodies in the course of the next years. This could affect the development of the Labour Movement as a whole, both industrially and politically.

Labour Party

Industrial upheaval and then political. This will be the general law of the development of the movement. Even the slight upsurge in activity during and after the weeks of the Better Life For All Campaign prompted a demand for political action. As the campaign activity was successfully smothered by the bureaucracy so the political ideas were gagged. But in microcosm this campaign demonstrated the shape of things to come. It provided a basis for the perspectives of the Marxists, sharpening and clarifying the issue of a Labour Party. It confirmed the general perspective that the demand for a Labour Party would stalk every action of the trade union movement

In the relative lull which followed the collapse of the Better Life For All Campaign calls for Labour Representation temporally faded out of focus. With the election of the Tories the situation within the unions has been transformed. No longer can the demand for a Labour Party be successfully parried or ignored by the bureaucracy. This issue has been reopened for serious discussion. This is the fundamental ci0cacteristic of the new situation. It cannot be filed into oblivion. Already the thirst of many rank and file activists for political action has made itself felt. Once again real flesh is being placed on this demand.

1970-76 were years of the political disintegration of Labour. This was a process which proceeded relatively quickly or slowly, depending on the pace of events. Now the process of the reconstruction of the political wing of the movement has definitively begun.

Every declaration of class warfare from the Government is a boost to the call for political action. To workers it is a straightforward question. The Tory attacks call for resistance. In the first instance the cry will be raised for mass action, demonstrations, rallies, strikes etc. In the very course of such struggles workers will pose political questions. Every action poses the issue of the form the next stage of the struggle will take. The instinct of a mass movement, once the initial step into activity is taken, is to proceed to ever higher forms of struggle. No matter what the policies of the leadership the s1ogan “Bring Down The Tories” must take root. And side by side with this will run the question: “Who is going to replace them?” More concretely, each and every election, local, regional or national, if fought in the context of class upheaval, will itself raise the question of a political alternative to represent the working class.

Every strike carries political lessons. The sharper the conflict, the clearer the role of the media, the state etc., the deeper the political implications of that struggle. A generalised movement of workers taking industrial and other forms of mass action against the policies of the Government is a high form of class struggle. If a strike fertilises the political consciousness of the activists involved how much more so does direct confrontation between the broad trade union movement and the government of the day. Such a movement is already political. A sharp confrontation will reduce to absurdity the non-political gestures of the trade union leaders as far, at least, as the active layers of the movement are concerned.

One word of caution is necessary, however. No Labour Party has existed in Northern Ireland for a number of years. Those who have argued for a Labour Party have been fiercely contested by the bureaucracy. To do so the NIC have chosen to lean on the prejudices and inertia of the more backward, cautious and worn out layers of the movement. This thick crust of conservatism will not be dissolved in a day. Rather, the general upheavals within society will be reflected in a period of upheaval within the workers organisations. Old ideas are set on a collision course with the fresh demands of the advanced workers and new activists. It will take the mighty blows of class struggle on a grand scale to wear away the prejudices of those at the top and the bottom of the movement who oppose political involvement. When we speak of a reopening of the discussion on a Labour Party we mean that the opening shots in this clash have been fired.

In Britain it took years of struggle within the trade unions at the beginning of this century to put genuine flesh on the demand for a Labour Party. Never was it a case of one industrial battle and a straightforward switch to the political arena. Rather, it was when checks were placed on the industrial movement, above all in the form of the Taff Vale decision, that the union tops were driven to serious political action and that the broad mass were fully convinced of this course.

Similarly in Northern Ireland it has never been the case that a single struggle will transform the political outlook of workers. The experience of the class struggle teaches that workers always proceed with extreme caution, probing every possible angle and alternative before embarking on an entirely new political course. Nor do all layers of the movement draw the same conclusions at the same time. The most advanced, most conscious workers will be more easily and quickly convinced. It will take mightier events to demonstrate to the broad ranks of the movement that a Labour Party is necessary.

Above all it is the experience of the limitation of a form of struggle that persuades the class to seek new forms. Many workers facing redundancy have instinctively turned to reactionary Unionist politicians for aid. They have and will learn the bitter lesson that such people cannot represent their interests. Similarly it will be the restrictions placed by the Tories on the industrial movements of the class, the use of the Employment Act and of the State forces against strikes, for example, which will inject political ideas into even the most resistant of minds.

The creation of a Labour Party and above all its development into a mass force will take mighty events. But it is not a question of decades as. was the case with the developments from the time of the first political stirrings of the Labour Party in Britain. The issue is now surfacing in Northern Ireland in the context of the most revolutionary period in human history. Labour in Britain, in the South and the history of past political actions in Northern Ireland will ultimately act as spurs. Events of the scale of those which gave birth to the British Labour Party can be telescoped dramatically. What, under different conditions, might have been the product of decades can, in a period of world-wide revolutionary upheaval, be achieved in a few years or even less.

Already the outlook of an ever widening layer of activists has been changed on this question. Political involvement has become an issue with a life force of its own. It is being discussed in the union branches and by the best workers and the echoes of this discussion have penetrated both the sealed rooms and the closed minds of the union bureaucracies.

In an extremely distorted fashion this political pressure from below has found a reflection in the wheeling’s and dealings of the union tops. Even their political pulse rate has been forced to change. It was from the union chiefs that the decision came to form a Fabian Society. To the first meetings of this august body were invited leading politicians from such groups as the NILP, Republican Clubs, SDLP, Alliance Party and others. Anybody and everybody who might have shown some interest was invited – anybody and everybody except of course the members of the Committee!

These individuals were accompanied by the leaders of a number of unions, members of the Northern Ireland Committee of ICTU, and an array of former Labour activists – mostly ex-members of the NILP. This bizarre creation proclaimed itself to be a political forum for the left. Significantly, more than 100 people attended its first meeting. Only a few months previously such an attendance would not have been possible. Then these 100 people were mainly buried in their separate political organisations or else were denying any need for political involvement at all.

It was the echoes of renewed class struggle which sent them scurrying to shelter under the leaky umbrella of Fabianism. Republican Club members, bigoted NILP leaders, their bitter opponents in the SDLP, trade union leaders who from time to time have denounced all of these groups – it would seem at first sight that such people would have little in common. But antipodes very often turn out to be twins! Even the NILP and the Republican Clubs can grip each other in a death like embrace – when necessity determines. All of these groups share a common dread of the political reawakening of the working class. For each and every one of them the movement of workers into independent political action can only spell ruin.

Not in order to create a Labour Party, but in order to prevent its creation has the Fabian Society been constructed. All its members share the common idea that the real demand for Labour Representation can be stifled by the shadow, that when offered the pretence, of political involvement the call for real involvement will wither. Above all, the trade union leaders see the blessing of Fabianism in that it permits them to answer their political tormentors inside the movement with the refrain: “But we are involved in politics – we have the Fabian Society.”

Sadly for these leaders this is not a tune which will soften the class aspirations of their members. There is no possibility that the bureaucracy will be able to use the sickly twig of Fabianism as a club to beat down the moves to genuine political movement. Nor could this body be expanded so as to provide a nucleus from which a Labour Party could be developed. Instead it will be maintained as a talking shop – with a dwindling number of participants – and it will suffer the consequences of its bureaucratic control, slipping into political oblivion, and entirely bypassed by the genuine strivings of the working class for a political voice. Fabianism will be a brief and forgotten episode in this period of the reconstruction of Labour.

In like manner the decisions of the Northern Ireland Committee, warmly applauded by the Communist Party and others, to discuss their jobs strategy with the political parties, the MPs, the District Councillors etc., was a further admission, albeit even more distorted than their embrace of Fabianism, that, their role is directly political. Having drawn up their economic proposals they took these to their political enemies, but by doing so inadvertently admitted that these proposals are political.

Workers moving into industrial struggle and seeking political support have quite often turned to representatives of the existing political parties in Northern Ireland. In so doing they express an instinctive understanding of the need for political action to back their industrial demands. Lacking any political vehicle of their own they often seek the line of least resistance and turn towards bigots like Paisley. It is through the experience of the futility of such a course that the class increasingly digests the simple lesson of the need to rely on their own muscle, both industrial and political.

This instinct to follow first of all the easiest course arises from the underdeveloped stag e of the class movement and the backward attitudes which still exist in the consciousness of sections of the class. The shop stewards and more conscious layers will go to existing political leaders not with any enthusiasm, but because they- cannot offer any clear alternative at this stage.

With the top bureaucracy the matter is somewhat different. As always the bureaucracy maintains itself by leaning on and giving expression to those attitudes of the least advanced layers. They turn the role of leadership into its opposite. The decision to hold a conference of trade unions and to invite all MPs and Councillors was a supreme indication of their role. But just as every decision by workers in struggle to seek political assistance is also a declaration of the insufficiency, on its own, of industrial struggle, so the opening of places in the Whitla Hall to bigots was an open declaration that political action was necessary. As with their encounter with Fabianism this was an attempt to deal a blow to political action by presenting the movement with a cheap alternative.

Sadly for the NIC the result was other than anticipated. In their blind rush to escape the call for a Labour Party they succeeded in running headlong into it. The very presence of the politicians was an incitement to political discussion and the conclusions drawn by most of those present were other than those the Northern Ireland Committee would have wished. The contributions fr6m the floor made by the supporters of the paper were extremely well received. Among the active trade unionists in Northern Ireland there was little sympathy for the links with political bigots before the Whitla Hall meeting. After it there was less.

Like any pitiful bureaucrat confronted with a call for struggle the initial response of the NIC on the quest ion of a Labour Party has been to take evasive action. They have in turn donned the theatrical disguise of Fabianism and cowered tinder the shadows of political bigots. But they have evaded nothing. In fact they have only succeeded in sharpening the discussion on independent political involvement.

The perspective now is for a further intensification of this discussion. Renewed struggles against the Tories, the whip of restraint in the form of state action, anti Trade Union laws, etc., events in Britain, above all within the Labour Party, will act as a spur to political consciousness. Increasingly the advanced workers will come not only to accept the need for a party of their own, as many have passively done in the past, but to accept the necessity of fighting to create such a party. From below the demand will be raised. The ideas of Marxism, on this and other issues, will gain acceptance and will then be taken up by new and ever wider sections of the class.

Like every other aspect of the class struggle the battle for political representation will not proceed along a fixed and straight path. It too will suffer its setbacks. But, given the nature of the crisis, it will continue to grow in volume within the trade union movement as a whole. There will be serious discussion on this issue in the trade union branches, and on the Trades Councils. It is certain that the possibility of contesting Local Government elections in 1981 will become an issue at local level. Already, and as anticipated in previous documents, one Trades Council has decided to field a candidate in these elections. This is the first concrete step which has yet been taken towards the reconstruction of Labour. It represents an important breakthrough. It means that the demands of the Committee have been given voice by an important section of the official movement.

The decision to field a candidate also entails the establishment of a political vehicle to assist with the campaign. A Trades Council which decides to contest an election must discover that workers beyond the immediate Council delegates are required.

So it will be forced to broaden its political organisation to recruit willing helpers. In this way the decision to put up a candidate can very quickly also become a decision to form a local Labour Party linked to the Trades Council – whether the Trades Council delegates, see it this way or not.

It is quite possible that other Trades Councils will take similar action. At the very least the issue will be discussed on these bodies. The propaganda of the Committee will have to be geared to this situation, pressing for the maximum number of candidates, possibly for a conference of Trades Councils to co-ordinate the intervention, hammer out a programme etc.

Whether or not a candidate of the Committee also stands is a tactical question. This will depend on the extent of the Trades Council involvement and also on resources. As in the past the purpose of the Committee fielding one or more candidates would be chiefly to apply additional pressure on the trade union, leaders. It would not be a move in the direction of the conversion of the Committee into a new political party.

Pressure for Labour Representation is set to grow within the unions. It is not possible to predict exactly what forms this will take. The role of the Committee will be to clearly articulate this pressure and give it direction. By extending the influence of this body it can be made to affect at least the time scale of events within the movement.

However it is unlikely that the growing support of rank and file organisations for a Labour Party will result in these bodies simply coming together to form it. It is also unlikely that the Committee would develop a sufficient base to itself convene a Conference of trade unions and form a new party.

The clamour at the bottom of the movement must, at some stage, produce a corresponding reaction at the top. In fear, the bureaucracy have spent recent months attempting to evade the issue. As the possibilities of Labour emerging increase, so their fears will multiply. But the process itself will be unstoppable. When the alternative becomes either political action under their control or else a Labour Party built by rank and file trade unionists, and increasingly under the influence of the Marxists, they will plump for the lesser evil. Sections of the bureaucracy, including the leaders of some at least of the largest unions, will put aside their fear of political action. In the final analysis the instinct for self-preservation is the most powerful instinct of these people. At a certain stage either the NIC as a whole, or else the tops of the major unions, especially the ATGWU, will be forced to take steps to form a Labour Party.

On a different issue this law of bureaucratic self-preservation has been demonstrated. The decision by Belfast Trades Council to organise a meeting of all Trades Council delegates to discuss unemployment came as a blow to the NIC. A very real possibility existed that out of this meeting would come plans for mass action organised by the Trades Councils. Not wanting to organise any action, but neither wishing to be entirely outflanked on the question, the NIC were forced to seek the lesser evil. To cut across the Trades Council conference they hastily convened a meeting of Trades Councils with restricted delegations, and put before it vague plans for further action. This pattern of action on unemployment will be repeated when the same bureaucratic mentalities are faced with rank and file pressure on the Labour Party.

The experience of Fabianism also holds a valuable lesson and a warning as to how the NIC will act in the future. It was no casual omission, no clerical error, no example of forgetfulness, that the members of the Committee received no invitations to the founding meetings of this body. One of the reasons why this society was created was as a weapon against the Committee and the Marxists. Their exclusion was by design, not by accident.

When they move to set up a new party the NIC will attempt to stamp this body not only with their authority, but with their ideas. As far as is possible, they will seek to exclude opposition points of view and, they will drag themselves backwards through fire if necessary in their attempts to exclude the Committee. The call for a rank and file Conference has been raised because it articulates in the most democratic form the best way in which a Labour Party could be formed. But a demand is not a perspective. The NIC, if reluctantly forced to build a Party, will attempt to shape the democratic will of the rank and file, in their own image. Their intention will be to emasculate the calls for socialist action which will have been raised. Most crucial from the point of view of Marxists it will be to gag the supporters of the paper and handicap the spread of their ideas.

The invitations to the Fabian meeting showed how the union tops can forget the past when they are overwhelmed by their fear of the future. They were even prepared to use the remnants of the NILP as a shield against the Committee. There will be many other discredited or partially discredited individuals like Paddy Devlin and even Gerry Fitt, who will be queuing at the door of a new Party. If the NIC were to get their way the ideas of right wing Labour as peddled by the NILP some ten years ago, would be over represented at any gathering to set up a new party. It is possible that such a meeting would take place and that the Committee, as an organisation, would not be invited.

How successful the bureaucracy could be in such objectives would depend entirely on the context in which a Party is set up and the degree to which the demand has gained support among the rank and file.

If it were simply a question of the wishes of the trade union leaders it is certain, for example, that the Committee would be initially excluded. However, these leaders neither understand nor are in control of events. In general the more advanced the stage which the struggle has reached the less the bureaucracy will be able to control even the initial foundations of a Labour Party. In other words the longer they put off the evil day the more evil that day will be for them when it arrives. Comfort today means discomfort tomorrow. In this sense the instinctive caution of the union leaders is an asset to the Marxists in that it gives them the invaluable asset of time to extend their influence. Above all, the task of developing the base of the paper within the trade unions must be seen as paramount. These bodies are a key which will open the door to the Marxists to a new Labour Party when it is formed.

An initial meeting to establish a party might be overwhelmingly made up of the tops of the movement with a disproportionate representation given to outmoded right wing views. The actual building of a party is a different question. A Labour Party cannot exist without both membership and a branch structure. While they might be capable of affecting the complexion of a small meeting of selected individuals, obsolete ideas would have no hold on the fresh activists who would flock into a Labour Party. No matter how it might be formed, no matter who would emerge as its initial leaders, the very opening of the Party to a rank and file would result in an immediate propulsion to the left.

The same development would take place if a party were to be set up not merely by the Northern Ireland trade unions but by the British Labour Party. Even if a region of the British Labour Party were established, while this would probably hinder its initial growth, a swing to the left would be inevitable.

The present discussions within the British Labour Party add a new urgency to this question. The Labour Party NEC has been pressurised to take a stand on Northern Ireland. Eventually this has come to mean that they must make a stand on the issue of a Labour Party. Raised during these discussions has been the possibility of the Labour Party simply extending its organisation to Northern Ireland. There are a section among the Labour leaders who favour this option, some for genuine reasons. It cannot be ruled out that the NEC or the Labour Party Conference in 1981 would decide to do so. However, this remains the least likely option. The bulk of the trade union leaders in Northern Ireland would not be happy with such a development as they would fear that it might alienate some of their members and would open sectarian sores. Also the Labour Party leaders, especially the parliamentary leaders of the Labour Party, are scared of having their fingers burnt and would prefer to keep the whole question of Northern Ireland as far distant as possible.

A second possibility under serious discussion within the Labour Party is that it should assist in convening a Conference jointly with the unions in Northern Ireland. Once this Conference had set up a party they would step back and permit it an independent existence. It is possible that a decision along these lines could force the hand of the NI trade unions and accelerate the development of Labour in NI. Additionally, a decision by even one major trade union in Britain in favour of a Labour Party could have a critical effect. The influence of the Marxists in fighting around this idea in Britain should not be underestimated.

Anew Labour Party will have its birth in a period of social storm. It will draw its first political breath at a time when the grip of right wing Social Democratic ideas is being loosened from the organisations of the working class internationally, and especially in Britain. In the South the Labour Party will be set on a leftward course, with Marxist ideas playing a significant role.

In such a context the Party must immediately explode onto a left reformist road. The trade union tops may chisel and perfect the mould of the new party as much as they like. As soon as they give it life it will explode in their hands. In the process of the growth of such a party there is no possibility, provided the work is done correctly, of the Marxists being excluded.

Within the space most likely of months a battle of ideas, which under different conditions might have stretched out over years and even decades, will be fought out. The influence of the ideas of the right wing together with any poisonous traces of sectarianism carried by old NILP members and others, could be speedily dealt with. The NILP as an organisation has no future. On its own it can now be ruled out that it would provide a base for a Labour Party. If it were to step into a new party it would rapidly submerge from sight. The ideas which its leaders broadcast in the early 1970s have had their day as the dominant ideas of a mass workers organisation.

It would be to a left reformist and even a centrist position that a Labour Party, at a speed dependent on the pace of events, would be thrust. From an early stage the ideas of Marxism could be the opposition. In local areas the Marxists could be the leadership virtually from the word go. Were a youth organisation established the Marxists would quickly assume the leadership.

Only with such a perspective can the importance of present day to day work on the Trades Councils, in the union-branches, in the Committee branches and its youth organisation, be fully appreciated.

A healthy branch of the Committee and a viable youth organisation in any area give the Marxists the possibility of gaining immediate control of the local branch of a Labour Party. Whether or not the apparatus of the Committee is maintained after a Labour Party develops is a purely tactical question which cannot be decided upon in advance. In part this will depend on the nature of the birth of that party, the extent of the midwife role the Committee has played in assisting that birth, and, above all, how this organisation has come to be regarded by the best activists within the movement.

Political parties

An optimistic perspective for the Labour movement is a vista of horror for all existing political parties, large or small. All of the existing major parties have developed into their present form in a period when class political opposition was lacking. All are hideous grandchildren of political upheaval. All, without exception, will be thrown into crisis by the growth of a political movement of Labour.

In recent elections these parties have roughly maintained their votes. The Official Unionist, the DUP, the SDLP and the Alliance Party have stabilised themselves as the four major parties. But the maintenance of their vote belies their political decline which is more accurately measured in the general hostility of workers to politics and the reduction of the active membership of all of these organisations to a handful of aged activists.

The youth will not be found in any of their meetings. That workers continue to vote for Unionist or SDLP politicians is not an expression of enthusiasm for these parties. Perhaps a few years ago when sectarianism had seized hold of society, some workers did look to these politicians as partial defenders of their interests. Not so now! It has become entirely a question of the lack of any alternative. When the choice is between a bigot who wears your colours and a bigot who wears someone else’s colours, some workers are still prepared to vote for the former.

When there is an alternative the matter will be completely different. As Labour develops the strains of class loyalties will be felt at the base of all the major political parties. It is possible that the SDLP could entirely disintegrate. This mish-mash of Nationalists, ex-Labourites, and out and out political careerists was held together for a period by the pressures of sectarianism. Sectarian and military attacks on Catholic areas compressed politics in these areas to such an extent that a supposedly “unified” party of the minority could emerge.

However, the SDLP was never capable of rising to anything more than an unholy and temporary alliance. The lessening of sectarianism and the physical force of political apathy have unfastened the bonds which previously held it together. Its ex-Labourites have already departed, a sure reflection that in the back even of their nostrils the whiff of class warfare have been detected. On the nationalist flank of the SDLP stands the Irish Independence Party. This group, an even more degenerate rerun of the old Nationalist Party, draws the most virulent right wing and nationalistic of the former SDLP supporters. The monolith of Unionism at least managed to survive for 50 years. The SDLP’s attempt to reply with catholic monolith has not lasted a decade.

Its fragmentation will create greater divisions than ever before in the Catholic community, paving the way for a complete polarisation along class lines. The strong Labour traditions of areas like West Belfast, where Nationalism never in its history went unchallenged, will mean that the broad mass of the Catholic workers can be won to socialist ideas. In turn, the SDLP, IIP and others will be left with the crumbs and will be forced to run a race against each other, attempting to out pace each other in bigotry, in order to survive.

The Unionist monolith was shattered to the heavens ten years ago. It cannot be recreated. It was the tensions of social disintegration which hurtled the particles of Unionism apart. In the forthcoming period of mass upheaval there can be no political stability. In this charged atmosphere it will be no more possible to re-establish a political organisation with the support of the overwhelming majority of Protestants than it would be to gather all the dust and lava from a volcanic explosion and replace them in the bowels of the earth.

At present the two major Unionist parties are in a state of open warfare. The Official Unionists wish to remain the major Unionist party while the followers of Paisley wish to don this title. On economic issues, on devolution, on security, the stance of one is immediately challenged and countered by the other.

On the crisis of unemployment and the policies of Thatcher the Official Unionists have been incapable of restraining their enthusiasm. Enoch Powell has been a consistent advocate of cuts and more cuts. His colleagues have been only slightly more restrained in their rapturous support for Thatcher. In short, the Official Unionists have been prepared to openly admit their true nature as an out and out Conservative Party.

Their stance, and his slightly more subtle approach to these issues, has prompted Paisley to engage in a binge of populist demagogy. In order to appeal to the disaffected working class base of support once enjoyed by the Unionists he has spoken against the cuts, has opposed redundancies, he’s attacked unemployment and has denounced the policies of Thatcher.

Both branches of Unionism have been forced to take account of the realities of the class struggle. This is the most significant aspect of all their declarations and counter declarations. The division of opinion at the top of Unionism is a certain reflection of the rumblings beneath the surface. Every opportunist attack on class injustice wrung from the reluctant lips of a Paisleyite is a symptom of the rumblings of revolt which have already rocked the Protestant working class.

It is for precisely the same reasons that the DUP and Official Unionists have adopted opposite profiles on economic and class questions. Both wish, to prevent the infectious spread of independent class agitation. Powell and his friends wish to do so by amputating the affected parts. Paisley prefers the opposite “cure” of injecting poison into the system and working at the problems from within.

As the class movement develops and, in particular, as a Labour Party develops all this will change. Ultimately, the true colours of all these groups, and of other parties such as the Alliance Party, will be exposed to view. A developed Labour Party would leave little room for demagogy. Paisley can act the part of a “bread and butter” politician only in the absence of a workers party. As such a party emerges the sectarian tinge of his propaganda will become more open. His demagogy will be revealed for what it is – a cover for bigotry.

The class struggle will force future realignments between all these parties. It threatens their ability to continue to exist in anything like their present form. It threatens the very existence itself of organisations such as the Alliance Party. The precise effects of the shattering of what was once an all class monolith cannot be foreseen at this stage. In general there will be a realignment, of these parties, there will be divisions and even splits, and through all this the unmistakeable tendency will be of a shift to the right and towards sectarianism, green and orange.

A few metaphysical dreamers, among them the mis-titled Campaign for Labour Representation, argue for the, building of a branch of the British Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the commencement of “normal” class politics. Only hopeless academics could conjure up such nonsense. As though there was anything “normal” about the class struggle. A child with the slightest knowledge of dialectics could dismiss these fantasies.

The “normality” of class politics in the sense of a gentle sparring between Labour and the Conservatives as in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s was the result of one of the most abnormal, most exceptional periods in history. The social conditions of relative stability, and even then only in the advanced countries, were the product of a period of unprecedented growth of the productive forces. This temporary era of boom is gone. It cannot be recreated. Already in Britain “normal” class politics means arrests on picket lines, laws against strikes, the misery of mass unemployment, the emergence of the ugly face of the extreme right within the ranks of the Tory Party and a decisive swing to the left of the Labour Movement.

The development of Labour in Northern Ireland will take place in this context as part of the new explosion of class struggle on a higher plane. The basic concept of dialectics that “things change”, that nothing remains as it was, applies to the class struggle as it does to nature and to society as a whole. The class struggle is a process pet in specific conditions, reflecting those conditions, not an ever repeating circle of shadow boxing.

“Normal” class politics in this epoch of crisis means the growth of left wing and revolutionary ideas among the ranks of the working class and the resort of the bosses and their political representatives to ever more desperate measures to thwart these. There is no possibility of the emergence of Labour in Northern Ireland also giving rise to some pale blue shadow in the form of a new Conservative Party on the British model. Nor will it persuade Protestant bigots like Paisley to drop their sectarian flags and merge their conservative identities with their Catholic counterparts. Rather these kindred spirits on bot6 sides will, over a period, re-intensify their efforts to whip up sectarianism, using all the tricks of demagogy at their disposal. It would not be possible for a party of the centre, such as the Alliance Party, to stabilise itself as the new and rising star of conservatism.

The NILP, the ULP, the Official Republicans, the Communist Party and the myriad of ultra-left sects can find little to comfort them in a perspective of growing class militancy. These have failed to develop in the absence of an alternative mass party of the class. If they cannot make themselves heard when Labour is mute how much fainter will be their pretentious claims to “lead the masses” whenever Labour, is in full voice.

Within the Labour Movement the process of the physical disintegration of the NILP has continued. By now the erosion has bared the final nucleus of the party beyond which it could cease to exist. If the pace of its disintegration has slowed this is only because its final remnants have held onto the corroding shell rather than sink without trace. The Party now consists of a tiny handful of individuals with only the most tenuous connections with one or two extreme right wing trade unions. As already explained, the NILP cannot develop or be developed. It is already on artificial life support systems, having passed the point of recovery.

Without a doubt the NILP leaders will devour each other if necessary in order to crawl into a new Labour Party. The more flexible individuals among them will be prepared to mould themselves into any shape in order to gain admittance. They will denounce the Tories, condemn unemployment and so on. Their past they will deny as vehemently and energetically as the former Official IRA gunmen now condemn “terrorism.” But whether or not one or two ex-NILP hacks scrub themselves clean of the most immediate stench of sectarianism is entirely beside the point.

The Party itself, as an organisation, will be broken. The fact that a few refugees from a shattered army hide themselves behind enemy lines does not take away from their defeat. In the context of the impending social conflict Labour Unionism will not be able to regain its feet.

Strange though it may seem to those who became acquainted with the Official Republicans during their revolutionary upsurge of activity and support in the early 1970s, this organisation bears more than a slight resemblance to the NILP. In programme, in method, in outlook it has become a right wing social democratic organisation. The Stalinist leaders of the Officials have discarded all genuine left wing ideas, and even their left wing pretensions, in a headlong rush to gain “respectability.”

The Officials are in decline. In general terms their decline will continue although, as with the NILP, the hard centre of an organisation is always the most impervious to decay. Already the Officials have been reduced to a rump of their most solid membership, many of whom retain their allegiance because of the need to protect themselves from their paramilitary rivals. In the European election they received a pathetic showing, given the resources they pumped into this campaign.

If the Officials do not suffer from major internal division this is only because they are small and have a low level of internal activity. Increasingly, the Stalinist leadership have become dominant, elbowing aside the more traditional Republican elements. Only in the rural areas is this not the case. If the organisation were to develop the conflict between these sections and between other viewpoints would grow. Crisis and splits would again occur. From top to bottom the organisation is a riddle of contradictions, between their Republicanism and their pretence to be a Workers Party, between their armed wing and their political appeal to moderation and respectability. At every juncture their present finds itself tripping over their past. Because the organisation only clings to a low level of existence these contradictions are on a small scale.

Six years ago the Officials pinned themselves to the false perspective that a united left would be built by them and a left wing splinter from the Protestant paramilitaries. As the Marxists predicted at the time this came to nothing. Now they have presented a caricature of even their own previous position. Working class unity has been reduced to unholy alliances between Republican Club councillors and loyalist councillors who have a working class background, among them some of the most diehard bigots. This degrading attempt to escape the manacles of their own past will not rescue the Officials.

Nor will their efforts to bury themselves in the trade unions come to anything, As the demand for a genuine Labour Party grows they will most certainly be advocates of caution and restraint, timid echoes within the, trade unions of the suffocating role of the bureaucracy. They will continue to tail-end the ideas of the best activists and will be stranded as an organisation when the real movement of workers seeks a genuine political direction.

Of all the groups on the left only the Communist Party, in the immediate period, offers any serious challenge to the Marxists. All of the influence of these Stalinists, above all their control of sections of the trade union bureaucracy, has been and will be used to hinder the development of the movement. In the past the Communist Party have been responsible for curtailing the Better Life For All Campaign and preventing the unions from taking action against the UUAC. In the future they will work. consciously to block the establishment of a Labour Party, using their union positions to delay as long as possible the creation of such an organisation.

In the short term, and in the absence of a Labour Party, it is possible for the CP to make certain and very limited gains. Among the youth and in the unions they will pick up a small handful of activists. Recently their youth section has been forced to imitate the efforts of the Marxists to recruit the youth. It is a testimony to the ideas and methods of work of the Marxists that their youth activity has been far more successful than that of the Connolly Youth Movement, despite their greater resources and the apparatus which backs them. Nonetheless, the CYM have and will attract a few youth, Protestant and Catholic. It is their stance on class unity, their apparatus and the absence of any mass alternative class organisation which permits such isolated gains. It is this which makes a certain limited attention to the CP and CYM worthwhile in the short term.

However, the CP will not develop even to the relative strength of their British counterpart. Any growth they achieve today will only mean conflict in the future. And the larger the gains the greater the conflict. Just as no stable social democratic organisation can be built in this period of crisis in social democracy, so no stable Stalinist Party can possibly be constructed at a time when Stalinism, in the form of the regimes in Eastern Europe and of the mass Communist Parties in the West, is likewise in acute crisis. For the Stalinists to win the youth is to invite into their ranks criticism and questioning of the role of the party, of the Stalinist regime etc. If good trade union activists are won these activists must come into conflict with the dusty layers of Communist Party trade union bureaucrats.

But any gains made by the CP will be slight. Even a prolonged delay in the creation of a Labour Party would not regenerate the CP, above all if the energetic campaigns of the Marxists are continued. The establishment of a Labour Party would open a crisis in their ranks. At the last moment they would be forced to switch their position and give a Labour Party their begrudging support. Most likely they would make efforts to penetrate it and attempt from within to obstruct the development of Marxist ideas. But as an organisation they will play no significant role.

As £or the sects and the now disunited Labour Party which provides us with an example of a Social Democratic sect, they have little importance today and will be no more important in the future. The sects now spend all their energy campaigning on the issue of repression, particularly H-Block. This is the issue at the moment. Soon they will find some other. These random empiricists stumble from one event to the next, organically incapable of consistency, blind to the processes at work in the situation, united only in unprincipled opportunism. But the sects have one thing in common. They are capable of changing their position almost from day to day. Now they are to be found in the wake of the Provos. When the exhaust fumes from the Provos become poisonous to those in the rear the sects will move aside and rewrite their slogans, without stopping to spare a second thought. In the future some of these individuals will no doubt stumble across the Labour Party and fall into it.

The Marxists must be capable of resisting their influence, equipped to answer their ideas and inoculate the new party against their methods. If this is done they will be nothing more than an occasional irritant, not a serious danger.

The Marxists

For a period, the Marxists through the Committee have concentrated on mass activity. The absence of a mass workers party combined with the partial quiescence of the unions forced this tactic. While the organisations of the working class remained largely mute a radical ferment swept the youth. It became possible under such circumstances to attract the best of the youth directly to socialist ideas.

Hence the youth campaign and the heavy concentration on mass postering, leafleting, paper sales, open air activity etc. The path to the youth is the path of boldness. An organisation which does not breathe audacity will not fire the revolutionary energy of young people.

But this turn to mass activity was conducted in an entirely different manner to the haughty political posturing of the various ultra-left sects. To these people the task of winning the mass of workers to revolutionary ideas is no more complex than the unfurling of the banner of socialist revolution and watching the mass of the class attach themselves to it. They operate by groping from issue to issue, occasionally in their blindness stumbling across some cause which attracts attention, but through their entire work demonstrating their organic incapacity to develop. solid roots in the class movement.

The turn of the Marxists to mass activity is as similar to the antics of the sects as is arsenic to honey. The distinguishing feature of a Marxist organisation is that its day to day work is guided by clear ideas and perspectives. Those won through the youth campaign have been educated in the perspectives and methods o£ Marxism. They have been shown that the sustained mass work of today will be transformed by the development of a Labour Party tomorrow to their mass organisation – firstly to the trade unions and then to a Labour Party – the mass of the class will turn, not to small organisations outside the official movement. The youth won today can be invaluable as cadres penetrating the mass organisations. Outside these organisations the activities of the youth and of Marxists, no matter how bold, no matter how enthusiastic, would be completely sterile.

Today it is necessary to run to the point of breathlessness in order to make only limited gains. Only the best workers, and the best of the youth, can be won and consolidated at this stage. Without a mass organisation it would be impossible to hold the broad layers of the youth who express an interest in socialist ideas. But just as the swing to the left of a Labour Party would be accelerated by events, so the support for the Marxists would be enormously increased as soon as a Labour Party emerged.

No longer would it be a battle to drag workers into activity. The need to strain every sinew in order to hold and develop these workers would lessen. Rather the movement itself would be filled out with the best activists, thereby providing a ready made forum for Marxist ideas. Fresh activists would be drawn towards the banner of the paper. Many of those workers who now passively accept Marxist ideas as correct but who remain sceptical and pessimistic, would be convinced by events and would be won.

A turn to careful and systematic entrist work will become necessary as a Labour Party develops. For many comrades today and many others who will be won in the coming years, this will require the development of new skills and new methods of work. A certain retraining and reorientation will become necessary.

But a move to a new and higher level of struggle does not mean the rejection of all that has gone in the past. A change in immediate emphasis from open and direct activity to entrist work in a Labour Party does not mean the complete abandonment of old skills and methods. Even after a Labour Party is formed it will be necessary to explore every avenue for the possibility of mass activity. The advantage will be that this can be done under the banner of a mass organisation. Part of the role of the Marxists inside a Labour Party would be to turn it outwards in order to penetrate even deeper into the ranks of the working class. Today’s type of activity, conducted independent from the mass organisations, will not be the key activity of the Marxists for all time. But it will be supplemented, not abandoned, by the development of mass organisations open to Marxist ideas.

Today the Marxists are engaged in separate work among the youth and in the unions. Tomorrow there will be work among the youth, in the unions. and in the Labour Party also. These separate fields of activity are also the one field of activity. They are both separate and complementing. The youth won to Marxist ideas provide the essential forces with which to penetrate both the unions and a Labour Party. A Labour Party would completely transform the possibilities of growth. It would open up the unions and would provide a much better vehicle with which to draw and integrate the youth. This is a dialectical question.

The ability of the Marxists to develop an influence among the youth, and especially within the unions, means a greater influence for Marxist ideas within a new Labour Party. In turn the growth of that party, the drawing of fresh workers and fresh youth into its ranks will provide a new layer of contacts. The unions are now a key to the Labour Party for the Marxists. The existence of a Labour Party would open a door back to the shop floor.

In the new situation which is developing there will be opportunities for the growth of Marxist ideas and the winning of Marxist cadres such as have never before existed in Northern Ireland. The black years of isolation are ending. It is now possible to lay firm roots in the unions, the Trades Councils and among the youth. With a Labour Party it will be possible to vastly increase the influence of Marxist ideas.

Already the opening of a new situation has led to a period of the most rapid growth ever of supporters for the paper in the North. In part this has been obscured by the dropping away of some former activists who have been worn down by the bitter struggle merely to maintain the ideas in the past. All of these supporters have made a contribution to the building of the paper. They are casualties of a hostile period in the class war. When the movement goes forward the best of these supporters will come back to full activity.

This loss of a few worn out supporters has been more than compensated for. Recently dramatic gains have been made. New supporters, some with excellent positions in the movement, have teen and are being won. The levels of enthusiasm and activity have never been greater. The apparatus is being placed on a sound footing. It is now a question of raising the level of the newer supporters, winning and consolidating the immediate periphery, so that the Marxists are poised to advance as never before. Boldness, a revolutionary zeal and élan, combined with a sober and clear analysis and application of ideas will ensure that the possibilities are seized. The objectively hostile conditions of the past have been an acid test from which the Marxists have emerged strengthened. The nucleus of the nucleus of a future mass revolutionary party has been created. In the decade or so which lies ahead this party can be built.

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Last updated: 20 February 2015