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Peter Hadden

Northern Perspectives


Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Editorial Note from ETOL: Peter Hadden drafted nearly all of the Northern Ireland Perspectives documents for the Committee for a Workers International 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.

In all sectors of the world the processes of revolution are accelerating. The period now unfolding will be the most unstable, most revolutionary in human history. The 1980s have already been characterised by class upheaval, revolution in Poland, attempted counter revolution in Spain, civil war in Central America, war between Iran-Iraq, falling living standards in the citadels of capital, the USA, West Germany and now even Japan, and not least by huge movements of the working class in Sweden, in France, in Greece, in Belgium, in Southern Africa, in Australia – to name but some.

These movements, above all the defeats as in Poland, have already set out starkly the contradiction between the power of the working class on the one side and the absence of a leadership on the other. The betrayals of Stalinism and Social Democracy, together with the weakness of the forces of Marxism, mean a protracted death agony for the systems of capitalism and of Stalinism.

The protracted nature of the revolution does not detract from its extremely sharp and explosive character. Not only are events now on a revolutionary scale, they are at a revolutionary tempo. The possibility of sudden and sharp changes are impregnated into the situation. A revolutionary tendency has to be prepared for rapid and sharp shifts of consciousness, for dramatic new developments which can transform and retransform the situation.

The potentially explosive character of the period renders any perspective, by its nature, extremely conditional. Even the best and clearest perspective can be overtaken by events. It is increasingly possible only to outline with certainty the general processes. The manner in which these processes will work themselves out plus the question of timescale, must be checked and rechecked against actual developments. Only events themselves will decide in the end.

Through these storms, through victory and setback, the underlying process world-wide is unmistakeably to the left. Even the developments in Britain are alone sufficient to demonstrate this process. There, despite obstacles and setbacks, the radicalisation of the working class and off the trade unions and the Labour Party has continued.

In Northern Ireland the decline of capitalism and the destabilisation of society has taken a peculiar form. Due to the rottenness of the leadership of the main workers organisations, sectarian and other reactionary moods have been permitted to develop. Such moods can temporarily cast a cloud across society, making it difficult to distinguish the real potential for a united working class movement. Within such a difficult environment for socialist ideas, those who lack a world viewpoint will inevitably draw incorrect conclusions. In this period of world crisis; of the interlocking of the world economy and more and more of the movements of the working class internationally, it is absolutely impossible to work out the prospects for any single country on the basis of events within that country alone. This is doubly and trebly the case when the temporary swings to the right in that society leave it totally out of gear with the world-wide movement to the left.

Even should there be further periods of semi-reaction in Northern Ireland these can be rapidly overtaken by developments in the South, in Britain, in Europe or internationally. The coming to power of the working class in any advanced country would immediately transform the balance of forces internationally. It would send out shockwaves of revolution which would stand all previous political and class relationships in Northern Ireland on their heads. World perspectives is the only starting point for Northern Irish perspectives.

Part 1: The Economy

The basis of the crisis of capitalism and of Stalinism is the inability of these systems to develop the productive forces. The era of the post war boom is decisively closed. Instead the three main sectors of the world, the advanced capitalist countries, the colonial and semi-colonial world, and the Stalinist states, all face a period of simultaneous, integrated and unprecedented crisis.

Between 1971-75 the Russian economy averaged a growth rate of 7.4% per year. By 1979–80 this had slowed to a little over 3% and is set to contract further. For the rest of Eastern Europe the picture is similar or worse. In Poland there will have been a consecutive drop in production over four years, worse even than the capitalist economies in recession. Last year alone industrial production fell by 19%. The existence of the totalitarian bureaucracies has become an absolute fetter on the further development of these economies. For capitalism as a whole things are even worse. At the tail end of the boom in 1964–73 GNP in the seven major industrial countries grew at an annual rate of 5%. Between 1973–79 this slowed to a yearly growth of 3%. In 1980 and 1981 the figure was a miserly 1%. World trade in manufactures, which during the boom had swelled at a rate of 12.5% per annum, grew by less than 2% in 1981 and is not likely to do better in 1982.

The economies of the OECD countries, the main capitalist nations, grew by 1.3% in 1980, 1.3% in 1981 and are not expected to surpass their 1980 figure in 1982. What these figures mean for the underdeveloped countries can be gauged from the projections of the World Bank in its 1981 report. This estimates that even a growth rate for the industrial countries of just under 3% would mean a staggering 230 million of the numbers of people in the world living in absolute poverty. Yet even the sustaining of a modest 3% figure is beyond the reach of capitalism.

The exceptional growth rates of capitalism during the boom period are only a memory. From an era of general upswing stretching over more than two decades it has entered a period of general decline. Within the boom there were periodic crises. So this era of contraction will be punctuated by small upswings. This cyclical movement from boom to slump is the nature of capitalism itself. What has changed is that the tendency is not towards expansion but it is downwards. Production levels lost in each recession are not recovered in the following upturn. The troughs of each recession tend to be deeper. Each recovery becomes more half-hearted. In addition there has been a tendency for a speeding up of the cycles of capitalism with the boom periods becoming shorter.

It is this rapid movement from recession to partial recovery, then to recession and back again, which stamps out the revolutionary character of the period. Under such conditions of violent alteration, the consciousness of the class is subject to transformation and retransformation, the overall tempo of the class struggle is accelerated, all existing ideas, even those formerly most firmly rooted, are rocked from their moulds.

The increasingly world character of the class movement derives from the developments of production itself. Both capitalism and Stalinism have carved up the world and created a global market. In turn the economic crisis has become an integrated crisis affecting simultaneously all the three sectors of the world to a degree never before experienced.

On the question of interest rates and indebtedness alone, this can be seen. In the west the main capitalist powers have tried to gain an edge for themselves by jacking up their interest rates to unprecedented levels. These measures came after an explosion of lending, especially to the underdeveloped world, and a huge rise in indebtedness east and west. Higher interest rates, especially in America, instantaneously adds several twists to the screw of indebtedness since most repayments are made in dollars.

It is estimated that every 1% added to the three month dollar interest rates burdens the poorer countries with an extra one billion dollars in debt interest per year. To obtain the currency to pay off the international loan sharks these countries rely on their exports, mainly of primary products to the west. The recession, by slackening demand for these products, has led to a fall in price and a fall therefore in export income. As a result the underdeveloped world is trapped between the hammer of high interest rates and the anvil of falling demand for their exports. For the Latin American continent as a whole it already takes the income from two years exports merely to service the annual debt.

The states of Eastern Europe are also becoming ensnared by the cost of borrowing. During the late 1970s the total debt of the Comecon countries rose at an annual rate of 20%. Poland’s debt, which to service alone consumes 70% of the country’s hard currency earnings, is followed by the mounting indebtedness of Rumania and Yugoslavia in particular. For the Stalinist states, as with the colonial countries, indebtedness becomes an opium. They can only endure its affects by becoming more addicted. To pay off their debts they must maintain their economies and to do so they are forced to borrow more.

In turn this vicious cycle has already led to a crisis in the financial systems of the west. The ending institutions are now being forced to allow more countries to reschedule their debts to avoid a major default. Between 1975–80 nine countries were involved in major debt rescheduling. With the recession the need for further rescheduling is increased. The opium of debt has its reverse effects on the banks and governments of the west. The only way they can ensure the repayment of past loans is to loan more. In short, the entire financial system resembles a huge skyscraper built upon a few dozen matchsticks. In and through the system there runs the possibility of a complete collapse.

This is but one aspect of the integrated nature of the world crisis. Politically and economically the effects of the crisis in any area now reverberate around the globe. The collapse of production in Northern Ireland is part and parcel of the world crisis of capitalism. Prospects for the North’s economy as with every aspect of a perspective can only be gauged correctly from the standpoint first and foremost of the prospects for the world economy. The crisis of capitalism is a crisis of production. The huge increases in technique and capital investment required to service the boom also drove up the relative value of constant capital and consequently ultimately led to a falling rate of profit (or return on investment.) In the 1960s the rate of profit for the key capitalist economies varied from around 1% in the case of Italy to over 20% in the case of Germany. By 1975 this had been reduced to 0.8% in Italy, 3.5% in Britain and 9% in Germany. Since then there has been a further fall.

With a falling rate of return from industrial investment the capitalists have tended to switch to investment in service industries, such as hotels and catering, and to speculation in land, offices, art treasures, precious metals etc. The rise in real interest rates has also made it more attractive to simply allow capital to lie fallow in the financial institutions.

The fall in the rate of profit is one of the underlying causes of the current capitalist contraction. It arises from the contradictions inherent within capitalism and is insoluble on a capitalist basis. All the efforts of capitalist governments to halt the crisis through measures either of reflation or deflation are doomed. During the boom years reflationary or Keynesian measures were adopted. These policies ended up in the catastrophic slump of 1974–75 and in the phenomenon of stagflation – stagnation of production coupled with the uncontrollable inflation.

The collapse of the speculative mini-boom of 1973 into the worst recession since the war drove the capitalists from Keynesianism. Instead they turned to the economics of the 19th century, to the philosophy of laissez faire capitalism, of reduced state intervention and reduced state spending.

These deflationary measures, or monetarist policies, are aimed at checking inflation through higher interest rates and monetary controls. Also, using unemployment as a weapon, the monetarists have attempted to lower real wage levels and thereby boost profits, hoping that a recovery of profitability will lead to a new upturn.

But monetarism has merely aggravated the problems of the capitalists. It is not possible to crudely apply the methods of the 19th century to the entirely different conditions of monopoly capitalism. A huge percentage of the market of the capitalists now comes from state spending. Even the attempts to reduce state spending have been unsuccessful. The rise in unemployment has meant a rise in state hand-outs through social welfare. At the same time unemployment has tended to cut state revenues because of a fall in income from taxation. Reagan’s efforts in America to, at one and the same time, reduce state spending and reduce taxation is, as one economist put it, an attempt to square the circle. It is a doomed attempt which would simply lead to a huge budget deficit, a fall in the confidence of the bourgeoisie in both the economy and the currency, and therefore to high interest rates and falling investment.

The capitalists cannot be induced to invest simply by the holding down of wages. Less paid out in variable capital or wage does mean an increase in the potential surplus out of which the capitalist draws his profit. However, the very deflationary action of holding back wages also undermines the ability of the working class to buy back the goods they produce, depresses demand in the market, and takes from the capitalist the ability to realise his profits by selling his goods. The very measures taken to jack up profitability and investment then lead to a fall in investment.

High interest rates are perpetuated by the policies of US capitalism. So long as rates are high in America the European capitalist powers are forced to partially follow suit to prevent a fall of their currencies against the dollar and, a worsening of their terms of trade, since three quarters of world trade is conducted in dollars.

In the current recession, this policy, on top of already depressed demand, of destocking and of a high percentage of spare capacity throughout industry, have made things far worse for industrial and manufacturing capital. Previously interest rates have tended to fall during recessions in line with the fall in demand for credit. The deliberate policy of high interest rates plus other deflationary measures, applied during the recession, have prevented a recovery in 1980, 1981 and could possibly postpone a recovery until 1983.

By making it more expensive to obtain the .necessary credit high interest rates make it difficult for the capitalists to get out of recession. Monetarism has simply succeeded in depressing the world economy and extending the recession. The British economy has been in continuous recession since 1979. In America a brief period of growth in 1981 has been choked by the deflationary policies of the government. This year the US economy has again lurched downwards into the second recession in two years and the third in seven. February 1982 brought the highest rate of business failures since 1929–31.

Monetarist policies as applied in Britain have also failed even from the capitalist point of view. Thatcher has turned the recession into a virtual collapse. Between 1979–81 manufacturing output fell by 20% as opposed to a fall of 11% in the slump of 1929–31. 14% of manufacturing jobs have been lost in this period.

In Britain the crisis of capitalism takes a particularly sharp form. The failure by British capitalism to reinvest its profits has reduced their share of both the world and domestic market. So long as the total volume of world trade expanded at the rapid pace of the boom years, this relative decline was cushioned and disguised. Now with the contraction of trade and the fall in domestic demand, its full effects are nakedly exposed.

Underinvestment over the years led to a lowering of the productivity of British labour relative to its rivals. British goods became less competitive. At the outset of the current recession the productivity of labour in Britain was only half that of West Germany and two-thirds that of France. Thatcher’s monetarism was designed to drive down wages and create more profitable conditions for an increase in investment and thereby in productivity.

Due to the inherent contradictions of capitalism and to the failed remedy of monetarism her quack solutions have backfired. There has been a sharp drop not only of production but of investment also. Between the first quarter of 1980 and the first quarter of 1981 manufacturing investment fell by 20%, reducing it to its lowest level since 1964. Total capital spending by British industry fell by 5% in 1981. Total investment, excluding leasing from the service industries, slumped 30% between the last quarter of 1979 and the last quarter of 1981.

Despite all the protestations of the Tories, investment levels remain relatively higher in service industries than in manufacturing. The gap is widening, not closing. In addition, the abolition of exchange controls has accelerated the tendency of the capitalists to invest abroad. Private investment overseas has increased tenfold over the last ten years.

Even a limited U-turn on the part of the Government, and in fact they have already been forced to make many partial U-turns, would not restore the competitiveness of British capitalism or, on its own, lead to a sustained recovery. British capitalism is chained to the developments within world capitalism, particularly the measures taken in America. The possibility of a continuation of the world recession makes the outlook particularly bleak for Britain. The National Institute has estimated that even with a slight upturn in the world economy in 1982-83, British industry at the end of that period would not even have managed to recover to its 1980 mid-recession levels of production.

At best the British economy, either this year or next, will feel the feeble effects of a brief and weak international recovery. This will be followed by a new descent into a probably deeper recession. With the existing spare capacity in industry there will not be any significant recovery of investment. Inflation, which has been lowered by the recession, will not fall much below its level of 9% and will rise again when a new upturn raises world prices. Unemployment will not fall much below the three million mark before being set to rise again.

This, the most optimistic prospect, is on the basis of a world recovery during this year or possibly at some time into the next. But rumbling like thunder in the distance, there is a worse scenario which haunts the capitalists. In America there is a serious concern that failed attempts at a recovery, if repeated more than once or twice, could trigger a collapse in confidence and turn the recession into a crash. Other factors in the world are potential triggers of a new and worse 1929.

There is the political destabilisation, the possibility of the erection of tariff barriers precipitating a trade war, the possibility of a major country defaulting on its debts, all of which could shatter the present delicate trade and monetary relationships.

It is most likely that the capitalists, aware of the consequences of another 1929, will manage to stave off this nightmare for a period. Nevertheless, a slump of these proportions, while not the most likely immediate prospect, could not be entirely ruled out. Over a period of further cyclical swings of capitalism this will become a likely perspective unless capitalism can be overthrown first. A crash would be catastrophic for all the capitalist powers, not least the already weakened British capitalism.

Northern Economy

The Northern economy is firmly tied to the fate of both British and world capitalism. It shares all of the agonies of world capitalism in recession and does so in a most acute manner. Its distinctive feature is that while it shares the woes of capitalism it misses out on the pleasures. The past cycles of boom internationally have, by and large, bypassed Northern Ireland. Neither manufacturing production nor industrial production as a whole recovered from the 1974 recession. In 1979 production had not regained the levels of 1974. Since then there has been a further collapse equivalent in terms of lost production, and worse in terms of job losses, to the fall in Britain. As had been predicted in advance by the Marxists, what were years of partial recovery elsewhere resulted in nothing more than a pause in the decline in Northern Ireland.

All that has changed since the 1974–79 cycle has changed for the worse. There is less basis than ever for a recovery. As well as the worsened conditions for world capitalism there are the particularly depressed conditions of the North itself. Together these make up such a gloomy picture that even right wing capitalist economists have begun to openly discuss the possibility that there will never be a recovery.

Manufacturing industry is the real motor of any potential future expansion. The manufacturing base in the North has been steadily eroded over two decades. As in Britain it has suffered from chronic under investment. This is particularly the case in the older engineering, ship-building and textile industries which have traditionally

Provided the skeleton of the economy and which are all in irreversible decline. In these sectors and overall it has been the failure of the capitalists to raise the productivity of labour through the development of technique which has left them uncompetitive.

As in Britain as a whole the capitalists have preferred to rely on cheap labour, shift work, night working etc., to allow then to extract the maximum profits from existing machinery rather than invest. In 1978 new capital investment in manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland was £680 per head as compared to £825 per head in Britain, itself one of the lowest figures in the OECD. The difference in the figures measures the greater share of the North’s economy taken up by the older traditional and now declining industries. Also in 1978, taking manufacturing industry as a whole, the value added per worker was £6,880 in Britain and only £5, 062 in the North.

This lack of investment, together with the structure of manufacturing industry reflected by these figures, has eroded the basis for recovery. During the 1960s the fall in employment and production in the traditional industrial sectors of shipbuilding, textiles and heavy engineering was toughly offset by the growth of new industries; chemicals, electronics and above all synthetic fibres.

Almost without exception the new areas of growth were a result of foreign investment attracted by the lucrative policy of grants and concessions of the then Unionist administration. Most new companies were offshoots of the huge multinationals – Courtaulds, ICI, Goodyear, Michelin, Grundig, ITT, etc. Home based industries remained either uneconomical or small scale. New potential growth industries were foreign owned. This left the North precariously placed to face the recession of 1974–5 and since 1979. The dependence on outside investment meant a double exposure to the crisis in the world economy while internally no basis existed to generate growth.

By the early 1970s new investment from abroad began to dry up. The continued decline in the traditional industries meant that manufacturing employment began to drop. Since 1974 all sectors have been in simultaneous decline and manufacturing employment has nosedived. The man-made fibres industry has been almost wiped out. In recession there is a tendency for the huge multi-nationals to rationalise production. The tendency to close down branch factories and switch production closer to the major markets has severely affected the North. Much of the rickety industrial base built up during the 1960s has disappeared entirely.

The collapse which was begun in 1974–75 merely slowed up until 1979. Since then the new world recession, and the monetarist measures of the Tories, have brought about an even worse fall. Between 1979 and the start of 1982 22% of manufacturing jobs were lost. 20,000 jobs went in 1980 and 20,080 in 1981. There are now 40% fewer such jobs than there were in 1966.

This fall has hit all the main manufacturing sectors. Since 1980 30% of engineering jobs, 40% of those in clothing, 22% in the food, drink and tobacco industries, and a huge 49% of textile jobs, have gone. Worse, from the point of view of any recover, over half the job losses since 1979 have been in firms which closed entirely. Many more have been as a result of partial closure. The oxygen of a partial world recovery will not revive the dead! What remains of the economy is very largely confined to the older indigenous industries. 60% of manufacturing jobs are now in indigenous industries, mostly in sectors which are in world-wide decline.

World economic perspectives rule out a sustained growth through foreign investment. Even a limited pick up in the world economy will not lend either to a significant upturn in new investment from abroad or to any significant revival of the surviving foreign firms all of which have tended to shed labour in recent years.

Alongside economics, politics are also a factor in this. The capitalists, in considering new investments, look not only for a high rate of return but also for a suitable political environment. Political instability deters investment. While the troubles in the North have not been the cause of the economic crisis they have added to it. Nor will such an upturn generate growth from domestic industries. If anything these industries will find themselves even less competitive in the context of a new boom.

This is not to say that the industrial base is set to contract to nothing. There can be limited areas of new investment. Even for purely political reasons there will not be a total decline. Already the Tory Government has been forced to forego its declared principles and give huge hand-outs to clearly unviable industries such as Harland & Wolff. It is the fear of the political repercussions of such firms which has forced them to maintain jobs at huge expense. The same political factors have been at play in continuing to the very last moment the huge hand-outs to the bottomless pit of the unviable De Lorean company.

Despite all the measures of the Government, all the lucrative hand-outs to bribe the capitalists to invest, there will still be no real recovery. The world-wide crisis and the particular and severe crisis of capitalism within Northern Ireland override all other factors.

Quite apart from the continuing shake out of industry employment is also affected by the natural increase in the labour force. The labour force in the North is expanding at an annual rate of 14%, twice that of Scotland which itself has the highest figure in Britain.

During the 1970s the potential labour force grew by 100,000. Of these only 24,000 managed to get jobs in the North. From the standpoint of capitalism the remaining 76,000 were a surplus population. Of these 40,000 emigrated. The rest joined the dole queue.

This was during a period when the fall off in manufacturing employment was partially compensated by a rise in employment in the service sector. There were 247,000 service sector jobs in 1970. Ten years later this figure had grown to 325,000.

Now cuts in Government spending are beginning to reduce the number of jobs in the service industries. It has been estimated that expenditure cuts over a two year period since June 1980 are likely to lead to a loss of 12, 000 jobs, half in the public service and half in construction, Neither the so-called economic package introduced by Prior at the beginning of 1982, which it is estimated will at best produce 2, 000 new jobs, nor the aid packages from the EEC, will make any significant impact on these figures.

The destruction of manufacturing jobs, a fall in agricultural employment, expenditure cuts, a rapidly expanding labour force, all at a time of stagnation in the world economy – together these can only lead to an overall rise in unemployment. It may be that a brief interlude of mild expansion world-wide can give a pause to the decline in Northern Ireland. In general the process of deindustrialisation will continue.

Northern Ireland presents one of the clearest examples in the world of capitalism at war with the enormous power and potential of its own manufacturing and industrial base. The system of private ownership and or production only for profit has come into conflict with the capacity of the productive forces. As Marx explained the forces of production strain at the restrictive barriers of private ownership and of nation states and national markets. Capitalism survives by beating down and destroying this productive power. In Northern Ireland idle factories, scrapped machinery and wasted skills are the debris of capitalism in crisis. Northern Ireland expresses the impasse of capitalism, an impasse begun in the economy but carried through into politics, science, technique, culture, into every thread of the fabric of life.

The National Question

The effect of capitalism’s inability to develop production is carried through to the national question. When capitalism was capable of playing a progressive role in developing industry, integrating trade, and improving technique, it also drew together the peoples of certain areas, developed among them a common language and culture and thus created the nation states of Western Europe, America and Japan. Marx pointed to the development of the nation state as one of the great achievements of capitalism. It overcame the particularism of feudalism, provided an enlarged market and thereby permitted the development of large scale industry.

By its very achievements capitalism gave the nation states an immeasurable superiority in terms of production, wealth, military and economic technique over the rest of the globe. This permitted the development of Imperialism, and the carving up of the underdeveloped areas of the world into spheres of influence to be plundered by the major powers. The achievement of nation states in the West led to the trampling of the ethnic and tribal rights of the colonies. The direct and indirect enslavement of the colonial world to the economic, political and military might of the superpowers denies them any possibility of development on a capitalist basis.

As Trotsky explained, the tasks of the bourgeois revolution – the distribution of the land, the unifying of the people in a common territory, the development of a nation state cannot be carried out by such elements of a native bourgeoisie as exist in these countries. Instead these tasks fall to the working class. These bourgeois tasks, given the combined and uneven development of society in the underdeveloped world, can only be accomplished as part of the socialist revolution, first of all on a national and then on an international scale.

By its conquest of the underdeveloped countries, capitalism ensured that the question of national, tribal and ethnic division will remain a burning scar right up until the socialist transformation of society. In the present epoch of crisis and stagnation the national question in these areas has been severely aggravated. Already the colonial world has been sunk into a seething ferment of racial, religious, tribal and national conflict from which it can only escape through the unity of its peoples in the fight against both capitalism and landlordism.

Even within many of the advanced capitalist states the national question has only been partially resolved. With the onset of the crisis scars of nationalism which had seemed to have healed have reopened. There is hardly one country in Europe which does not have a national problem to some degree. In Britain the potentially destructive volcano of Scottish and Welsh nationalism seemingly dormant for centuries, has shown that it can re-erupt. Spain is racked by the age long question of the national demands and rights of the Basque and Catalan peoples and by rising nationalist feeling, in areas like Galicia and Andalucía, where previously such feelings did not exist. In Belgium this incurable problem for the capitalists has been one of the factors in reducing this formerly most prosperous of the capitalist states to Italian levels of political instability.

The reappearance of the ugly blemish of nationalism within the advanced capitalist nations is a result of the economic crisis on the one hand and the failures and crisis of reformism on the other. Neither in the colonial world, where the question takes its ugliest form, nor in the advanced capitalist countries can capitalism solve this problem. Because the system is unable to develop production it is likewise incapable of integrating its peoples and developing culture. Rather the destruction of the productive forces means also the pushing back of culture. It threatens nation states such as Spain and Belgium today, Britain, France even Germany tomorrow, with the danger of break up from within.

Far from resolving national antagonisms capitalism in its protracted death agony is characterised by wars between nations and national conflicts within nations. As the crisis deepens the danger of wars, civil wars along national and ethnic lines, racial conflict, and the break- up of nation states, will also increase. All will depend on the role of the organisations of the Labour and Trade Union Movement in cutting across these processes.

This is the world vista. As always it is necessary to begin from a world viewpoint. What remains of the national problem in Ireland and in Northern Ireland proved insoluble during the period of capitalist boom and is doubly insoluble in the period of crisis. Capitalism is incapable of unifying the national territory and peoples of the island. Reunification of the country on a capitalist basis is not possible. Nor can it achieve a reconciliation of the tensions within the North and solve the problem of stabilising the Northern state.

Lastly, it has no alternative to the permanent presence of the British troops

The Border

British Imperialism divided Ireland primarily in order to break up the movements to unity in struggle of the Irish working class, North and South, Catholic and Protestant. The over-riding fear of the British capitalists, and of their Tory and Liberal representatives, was that a revolutionary movement would develop in Ireland and would merge with the movement of the working class in Britain.

There were other reasons, military and economic, behind the precise formulation of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, which divided the country. Imperialism, at this stage, was not prepared to cede complete control of Ireland. For military reasons they wished to maintain direct access to her naval bases. Also, with the overwhelming concentration of industry in the North-East, the creation of the new Northern Ireland state permitted them to directly control the most industrialised area.

But these factors were secondary to the foremost question of using the Border and thereby sectarianism to divide the working class along religious lines. The Northern state was an artificial construction, carved out of the national territory of Ireland at the whim of British big business. It was born in blood and at the cost of a terrible entrenchment of national antagonisms.

Partition has been used as a device to enslave the Protestant working class to the landlords and capitalists of Unionism and to implant a barrier of nationalism in front of the developing class consciousness of the Catholic working class, North and South. Its success in 1920 and since has been due to the failures of the leaders of the trade unions and the labour organisations in both parts of the country.

By the 1950s and 1960s the interests of British Imperialism had changed. The economic upswing dulled the class struggle. Neither in Ireland nor in Britain did there exist the prospect of any immediate movement to social revolution. Partition, as a measure to divide the working class, was not immediately necessary.

Furthermore, the military decline of British Imperialism and the development of long range nuclear submarines tendered the issue of the ports of Ireland an anachronism. Finally, the dropping of the tariff barriers by the Southern state reinforced its position as a client state firstly of British and then of world capitalism. British capital looked both North and South for potential sources of investment and saw no purpose in the continued political division of the country.

In fact, the border had turned into its opposite for the ruling class. It had been introduced at a time of social instability and class warfare in order to whip up sectarian bitterness and thereby protect profits. In the period of the boom, with relative stability worldwide, partition merely served to perpetuate political instability in Ireland and thereby represented a threat to the very profits it bad been introduced to maintain.

At this stage the British ruling class would have preferred to do away with the border and unify Ireland on a capitalist basis in the hope that it would develop into a politically stable economic satellite of Britain.

Even in this period of economic expansion capitalist reunification proved impossible. Political superstructures, erected to serve the needs of a class, can attain a life force of their own and can survive long after that class no longer has need of them.

The Northern Ireland state was hoisted out of nothing and propped up on artificial limbs supplied by British capitalism. After fifty years those who administered, made up and directly benefited from the state apparatus, resolved to maintain its existence. Those who comprised the Unionist state machine had built for themselves a nest egg of privilege which they were not prepared to relinquish.

For the mass of the Protestant population the fifty years of the Northern Ireland state had been a little changing period of poverty and of the ever present threat of unemployment. Yet the prospect of capitalist reunification could offer no attraction whatsoever to these people. The poverty-ridden Southern state, with its lower standard of living and with the influence of the Catholic Church within it, could only be a positive repellent. Protestant workers feared that they would finish up as a discriminated against minority in an all-Ireland state.

It’s impossible to win the mass of the Protestant population to support the idea of a capitalist united Ireland. If the issue were to be forced by the British Government, or anyone else, the Protestants would resist. When British Imperialism made tentative moves in the direction of reunification in the 1960s they immediately found their way barred by the Unionist state apparatus on the one side and the fears of domination of the Protestant working class on the other.

Now, as then, any attempt at coercion of the Protestants would require force and would be resisted by force. The result would be a sectarian civil war. In such an armed conflict the strongest military force would be the Protestants. In the 1960s they had an estimated 100,000 legally held private firearms, they had the RUC, the RUC Reserve and the B Specials. All that has changed is that the B Specials have been replaced by the 7,500 UDR, the RUC and the RUC Reserves have been built into an 11,500 force and added to these is the new factor of the Protestant paramilitary organisations. These groups would merge in the event of a civil war and would fight with the intensity of the Jews in Palestine after the war, simply because their backs would be to the sea.

The outcome would not be reunification. At best the result would be a Lebanon. But if the civil war were carried through there would be wholesale slaughter and the eventual bloody repartition of the island. An entirely Protestant statelet would be created in part of the existing territory of Northern Ireland. The Catholics would be forcibly expelled just as the Protestants would be removed from the present border areas.

Reactionary military regimes North and South, half a million Catholic refugees in the South, an unending guerrilla war of attrition against the Northern state, a huge reinforcement of sectarianism – these would be the results. The class movement would be thrown back for years, depending on events internationally.

British Imperialism trembles at such a prospect. In the first place the effects of such slaughter would spread to the cities of Britain. Internationally they would face repercussions, bearing, as they would, the odium of responsibility. In Ireland itself their property and their trade would be engulfed.

Fearing that they would unleash a conflict which they know they could not control, the capitalists, by the end of the 1960s, had been forced to shelve their plans for reunification. At this time their efforts were overtaken by the explosion of the Civil Rights agitation and the complete destabilisation of the Northern state. By then every attempt to dismantle the gory apparatus of Unionism and appease the demands of the Catholic minority, had proved too little and come too late.

The British would still have preferred to remove their direct presence from Ireland and remove the border. But while looking with longing in this direction they were forced by events to move in the opposite. They had no option, from their point of view, but to send in the troops for an indefinite stay.

A decade of failed solutions and endless violence has erased the lessons of the 1960s from the minds of some, at least, of the political representatives of the ruling class. These are lessons which will quickly be relearnt. In their delusions of grandeur the Thatcher wing of the Tory Party have convinced themselves that they can be the people to at last resolve the Irish problem. Since all other solutions have failed they have considered that perhaps the best answer might be reunification. In part this explains the setting up of the series of discussions between the Irish and British Governments.

Exactly those obstacles which barred this path in the 1960s still exist, except in a sharper form. If capitalist reunification could not be achieved during the 1960s it will not be achieved in the context of the economic crisis and in the aftermath of a decade of violence.

The discussions, initially between Thatcher and Haughey, did raise the possibility of changing the constitutional position of the North. One scheme conjured up by the Tories in their delusion of statesmanship, was the possibility of a condominium or joint ownership of the North by the South and Britain. Such a scheme is a complete non-starter. The further the Tories push any rearrangement of the present constitutional position the more they will get their fingers burnt, and the more they will eventually be forced to retreat.

While the particularly senile representatives of British capitalism have been prepared to seriously consider the possibility of ending or moving to weaken partition, the Southern representatives have had no such illusions. For Haughey these talks were mainly aimed at throwing up a diversion from the problems of the economy. If talks between the present or any future Southern Government and the government in London take place it will be for this reason that the South’s politicians take part. The Southern Irish bourgeois are not capable of playing any role in uniting the country. Emerging late onto the scene of history, they share with their colonial counterparts a common effeteness, weakness and a slavish subordination to more dominant external capital.

The Irish bourgeois and their capitalist parties may give verbal support to the aspirations for a united Ireland. In their hearts, their stomachs and their wallets they dread and will always end up opposing reunification. During the troubles their main concern has been to prevent the violence in the North over-spilling across the border. Reunification would bring the troubled to their doorsteps. It would add to their present headaches the problems of a million hostile Protestants and half a million easily disaffected Catholics.

Should there be a continuation of the London-Dublin summits the question of reunification will not be the major question. If it is raised as such it will very quickly be dropped. However the capitalists in both London and Dublin are in favour of co-operation in other matters. If not openly in the form of summits and talks, it is likely that measures of co-operation on economic and especially on security questions will be stepped up behind the scenes. If an all-Ireland court and other joint security measures, probably short of open extradition, could be achieved then, from the capitalist point of view, further talks would be worthwhile.

Even if MPs from Westminster, the Dail and perhaps a future NI Assembly were to be included in the summit discussions nothing further would be achieved. It is the real balance of forces in society, not the good will or otherwise of politicians, which is the determining factor. The living barrier of a million Protestants will not disappear just because a few politicians are brought into the act.

Devolved Government

The border cannot be removed on a capitalist basis. Nor can the ruling class succeed in patching up a settlement within the borders of the Northern state. To act to end partition would evoke immediate chaos. Not to resolve the national question by ending partition leaves in existence an inherently unstable state which, if capitalism remains, will ultimately lead to chaos. For the ruling class there is no way out.

With their efforts to achieve reunification baulked, the capitalists have had no option over the past decade but to attempt to patch together some form of solution within Northern Ireland. During the first years of the 1970s they were faced with a polarised community, and a total revolt of the Catholic population which provided the fuel for the setting up of the Provos’ campaign.

Imperialism adopted then a policy of concession and repression. With one arm it used its naked military power against the Provos, against other paramilitaries and against every popular movement of opposition to their policies. With their other arm the bosses simultaneously attempted to appease the Catholic middle class and their representatives by offering concessions.

The enormous convulsions which had polarised society had turned politics inside out, had created huge paramilitary armies and had unleashed the fury of years of sectarian violence, made light work of the neat political “solutions” constructed by the ruling class. If a house is built on top of a live volcano not even the strongest building materials or most sophisticated methods of construction can save it. The ground moving from under it will pull it down. It was the convulsive movements within society which inevitably ripped apart first of all the power-sharing Assembly and then the Convention and demolished every other political scheme drawn up by Imperialism.

After 1976 the tempo of events subsided mainly through exhaustion. The Catholic population, in particular, had become war weary after years of struggle. In this new atmosphere it was no longer necessary to entice the Catholic middle class with concessions. The inertia within society gave a passive toleration among both sections of the community to Direct Rule.

For a period of years the ruling class dropped their fervent bid to come up with a settlement. They concentrated all their forces on the military defeat of the Provos and the drawing in of the reins on all other paramilitary forces.

As previous documents have explained this could only be a temporary policy. Moods of inertia, just as moods of revolution, do not last indefinitely. Nor is it possible to rest indefinitely on bayonets without eventually becoming spiked. The ruling class merely postponed their efforts to construct some new form of self-government. Their strategy was to use the breathing space of direct rule to gain a military dominance which would permit them to impose a solution, if necessary, at a later stage.

At the beginnings of its life this Tory Government decided to test the political temperature by beginning a series of discussions around proposals to create a devolved administration. Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins toyed with the notion of imposing his proposals should agreement not be reached.

Atkins and his class were to learn the significance of the inherent possibility of sudden and sharp changes. The over confidence of the Tories in regard to a new assembly was matched by their over confidence and the arrogance of their approach on the issue of prison conditions. Thatcher miscalculated OD the mood within the prisons and generated the fury of the H-Block hunger strike. Atkins’s devolution proposals were melted out of existence by the sectarian tension which developed around the H-Blocks. Yet the ending of the hunger strike has brought another sharp turnaround in the situation. The defeat of the prisoners has been a severe blow to the Provos. The resolution of the strike immediately eased sectarianism. This has created in turn a new opportunity for the ruling class to consider some form of devolution.

Prior, a Secretary of State gifted with more intelligence and flexibility than either his predecessors or the Tory Cabinet he serves, has produced a scheme for a new Assembly.

His proposals for a devolved administration which, either by consent or by his approval, could over a period be given powers through a process of “rolling devolution”, is a more flexible, more elastic approach than previous. However, it is set against precisely the same problems as was the 1974 Assembly, and later the Convention. Its elasticity simply permits the new proposals to stretch around and over the divisions within society. A new Assembly itself, like any capitalist institution, can solve nothing. And, as every child knows, every piece of elastic has its stretching and its breaking points!

It is possible that elections to an assembly will take place, possibly in the autumn. But given the explosive nature of the period and the necessary conditional character of a perspective this is by no means certain. Instability outside is now also a factor to add to the instability within Northern Ireland itself. Events in Britain could cut short the life of the Government. A crisis within the Tory Party could lead to the removal of Prior from Northern Ireland. Either way the Assembly proposals would be threatened.

If elections do take place it is possible that they will be boycotted by some of the major parties. It is more likely however that the parties, including the Official Unionists and SDLP who have come out against the scheme, will have little option but to enter the fight. If an Assembly is established, it cannot be ruled out either that some agreement may be reached to give it a periodic lease of life. Should this happen, certain functions such as health, education, environment and possibly housing, might be devolved. Although there is a provision in the White Paper allowing for the devolution of the control of security there is no possibility of full and real control being taken out of the hands of Westminster. There can be no return to a Stormont type regime, albeit it one camouflaged by power-sharing or a mutual consent between bankrupt politicians from both sides. The inherent possibilities for violence cannot be papered over.

Nothing in real terms would be solved by the setting up of an assembly and the entire structure would be set to collapse at any time. If sufficient air can be pumped into and retained within a sunken ship it can be made to float. But this would not make it seaworthy. It would only take a pin to sink it. Likewise a new Assembly if it could be puffed into existence would be inherently unstable, inherently prone to disintegration.

It is most likely that such a body would break up in division long before the powers mentioned could be handed over. Even if this was not the case it would still solve nothing. So long as capitalism remained in existence it would be a question that sooner or later the instability and the divisions within society would tear it apart.

The 1974 Assembly was not destroyed because of any lack of good intentions among those within it, but by the sharp social antagonisms. While temporary inertia may have muffled these divisions they still remain. On the basis of capitalism the situation is set to reignite at any time. Political stability cannot be achieved and maintained. Even during the 1950s and 1960s the Northern state was never stable. In the new era of mass unemployment economic collapse and falling living standards social upheaval is certain.

What is at question is not whether enormous social struggles will take place but only the form they will take. Either political life will be rocked by the development of a united class movement of workers struggling to end the squalor of capitalism or else, at a certain stage, there will be a re-emergence of sectarianism but in an even more ferocious and destructive form than in the 1970s. Either way the dreams of the capitalists of a political settlement through some kind of consensus within Northern Ireland will inevitably be ground to mush.

The Troops

In 1969 the British Anny was sent onto the streets only because the ruling class had no alternative at that time. The capitalist alternative was the possibility at civil war. Just as they would like to be able to hand over their direct political control of the North, so they would like to withdraw the army. From their point of view this is ruled out.

The army has been chiefly used against the Catholic population, and the Provisionals in particular. Their objective has been to crush the paramilitaries and restore control over society to the state. Yet even the army tops recognise that a victory in their terms does not mean an end to the violence but the reduction of violence to “an acceptable level.”

The ruling class as a whole is well aware that the best the army can achieve is a temporary containment. There is no military solution. At best the strategists of capital hope that the army actions can create the conditions for a political solution which then in turn might create conditions to permit the troops to be withdrawn. The problem they are now coming to face is that there is and eau be no capitalist political “solution” and therefore there can be no withdrawal.

Thus, the role of the army is, by use of repression, one of containment and then of re-containment. It is a role which they are doomed to continue for as long as capitalism continues. Much as the ruling class would like, there is no way they can withdraw the troops. Even if a semblance of peace was restored for a period, the possibility would remain of an upturn in violence at any time. The very act of withdrawing the troops, other than if there was a movement of the working class towards the taking of power, would immediately reignite the tensions. It would post the question of who should control security.

In the Catholic areas there would be movements to self-defence in fear of another 1969. Paradoxically, the very act of a government of moving towards withdrawal would provoke such upheaval as to force their rapid redeployment.

It is true that there has been a rundown in troop levels as the security situation has eased. There are now less than 11,000 regular soldiers in the province. But this rundown is not a carefully phased withdrawal. The army strengths are related to the levels of violence. When the violence increases, as it did at the time of the H-Block crisis, troop levels are increased also. If there was a prospect of the violence and the potential for violence being removed entirely then there could be a withdrawal. There is, however, no such prospect or possibility.

Likewise there can be no “Ulsterisation” of the security forces in the sense of the handing of these powers to a local body. The phrase “Ulsterisation” as it has been used is a deception. The recruitment to the UDR has not been the recruitment of an Ulster security force but of another regiment of the British Army, under the authority of British Army chiefs of staff. In any case, the British ruling class have no confidence in the UDR. In “delicate” situations or for difficult operations they use and win continue to use their mote dependable regiments.

There is no sense in which the UDR or the RUC can be “reformed” into an “acceptable” force to whom control could be ceded. In the first place such reform is a political, not a military question. It would require the establishment of state institutions which also were acceptable, and of a political settlement which involved the Catholic community in the running of the state. It is not simply a question of who is in the UDR but also of the nature of the local body which controls it. Again the problem is that such a political settlement is impossible.

It is for these reasons that real control of security could not be handed over to a local assembly. Even if there was power-sharing the very fact of control over security would be the issue to break up that cosy agreement. The Provisional campaign would be stepped up against an “Ulsterised” security force. The retaliation by that force in the Catholic areas would pull the Catholic representatives out of government or else would entirely discredit them within the Catholic communities.

To withdraw the troops or to hand over security to the Protestant RUC and UDR would provoke a civil war unless the Labour Movement intervened with its own defence organisations and opened up a struggle for power.

Only if a civil war were to take place, and if a huge move in this direction took place the army would be incapable of preventing it, would the troops be withdrawn. At that stage the worst would have happened and the ruling class would be forced to pick up the pieces by trying to come to terms with the military governments which would most likely then emerge in both parts of Ireland.

Aside from this horrific, but extremely unlikely prospect, the task of achieving the withdrawal of the army falls to the Labour Movement. As with the issue of the border and the question of ending sectarianism this and every other aspect of the national problem can only be solved by the working class as part of the struggle to transform society.

The border will only be removed as part of the socialist transformation of society. When the Labour Movement goes forward it always draws together the working class, Catholic and Protestant, North and South, This has been a law of historical development understood only by our Tendency. Before partition, the movement, both industrial and political, emerged on an all-Ireland basis. In the late 1960s the movements to the left both North and South created a tendency towards unity. The joint pressures of the working class at this stage even forced the leaderships of the Labour Parties, North and South, to set up a Council of Labour linking both their parties.

The Tendency has also understood that this law is true in reverse, When the movement has been thrown back there has been a tendency to the drawing apart of the class and of their organisations, North and South.

So it was, during the black years of the early 1970s, that the setbacks affected both North and South cut across the tendencies to class unity across the border which had existed during the 1960s. For example, the Council of Labour was frozen and then scrapped by the leaderships of both parties. Now, but on an even higher level, the movement towards the integration of the struggles of the class, North and South, are set to re-emerge. Already the youth work of the Tendency has shown in outline what will happen. As the youth move today, under the guidance of the Marxists, so the class itself, on the basis of events, will move tomorrow.

The effects of the huge struggles in the North will tend to overspill into the South and vice versa, The transformation of the trade unions will transform the conference of ICTU into a forum for discussion of the demands of workers throughout the country. Today this conference is totally bureaucratised and not seen as of much relevance by the trade union membership. Tomorrow it can be looked to by workers, Catholic and Protestant alike, as a vehicle to press their demands for class action.

The movement of the class will strengthen the all-Ireland bond of ICTU. It will also draw together the political wings of the movement. When a Labour Patty evolves in the North it will move rapidly to the left. There will be a corresponding development of the Irish Labour Party which also, on the basis of events, will be propelled to the left. It could not be otherwise than that the tendency for these parties to come together will be re-established. The question of the reformation of a Council of Labour, this time as a fighting apparatus, will re-emerge. Events will tend in the direction of the forcing together of the structures of the two Labour Parties.

In the future, as in the past, the struggles of the working class will tend to come together. This will inevitably affect the class organisations. It will be the experience of these great events which will shape the consciousness of the Protestant working class and convince them to fight alongside Catholic workers and the workers of the South for their common objectives.

Reunification itself, like every other unresolved feature of the national problem, is ultimately a question for the Tendency. It can only be achieved, on a socialist basis. It is therefore a task which rests on our shoulders, to be accomplished as an almost incidental feature of the socialist revolution itself.

So the troops, outside of a civil war, can only be withdrawn under the revolutionary pressure of the class struggle in Ireland and in Britain, most likely also as a direct task of the socialist revolution. With the development of the workers’ organisations things will again change for the ruling class. The threat of the socialist revolution, as in 1920, will transcend all other threats. The repressive measures of the army, at a certain stage and depending on the balance of forces, would be turned against the working class. A revolutionary movement, by replying with a class appeal to the ordinary soldiers, would open up class divisions within the army. With such an appeal both in Britain and Ireland, and by demonstrating in action its will to change society, the working class could win over the army ranks. The ruling class would then have the choice of with-drawing the troops to avoid mutinies or else moving directly to a civil war, not on religious but on class lines, not just in Ireland but in Britain also.

On the world scale and in Ireland the solution to the problems of national aspirations and antagonisms is now more than ever wound up with the tasks of the socialist revolution.

These perspectives on the border and the troops would not be fundamentally altered by the coming to power at a later stage of a left Labour Government in Britain. Left reformists such as Benn, who would be a candidate for the head of such a Government, may sincerely wish to see the army withdrawn and Ireland united. It is possible that these objectives could be part of the programme on which such a government would be elected. It is also possible that, particularly on the question of reunification, the Government might attempt to take a few steps along this road.

But as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. A left reformist Government, moving on the basis of capitalism, would be stopped in its tracks by the same problem which faced the ruling class in the 1960s and face Thatcher at present. There would even be an added twist and an added resistance from workers in the North if one of the capitalist parties were in government in the South. It would then be a question of asking workers to swap a left reformist, Benn type government, for a government of green Tories. In reality, just as a left reformist Government would be forced to retreat on the economic questions, so on this issue and so on the question of the troops.


Sectarianism is an incurable sore under capitalism. It is a permanent legacy of the past policies of British Imperialism, maintained on the one hand by the impasse of the productive forces and by the failures of the reformist leadership of the trade unions on the other.

In 1968–69 the trade union and Labour organisations had an opportunity to transform society. The cowardly and reformist leadership allowed this opportunity to slip by. The real tragedy of the time was the total absence of a Marxist tendency capable of intervening. Even a relatively small cadre organisation, provided it was rooted in the mass organisations, could have forced the movement to act and could itself have been rapidly transformed into a mass force on the basis of events.

All this potential was lost. The scale of the opportunity, as previous documents have explained, can be measured in reverse by the scale of the reaction which resulted. During the early 1970s the tendency towards working class unity, which had existed for more than two decades, was thrown back. All the workers’ organisations were pushed onto the defensive.

The trade unions had to retreat while the budding Labour Party was routed and eventually atomised. sectarianism, and its political and paramilitary manifestations grew at an outstanding pace.

These were years of black reaction. Not until 1975–76 did things begin to change. By then the exhaustion of the population after years of mass activity, of sectarian killings, of repression and of the Provisionals’ campaign, began to show. Open opposition to sectarianism began to be expressed. The Better Life For All Campaign and later the Peace Movement developed.

Through these movements the working class demonstrated their powerful opposition to sectarianism. First of all, through the Trades Councils and embryonic Trades Councils in Derry, Lurgan and Newry workers took strike action and organised mass demonstrations against the sectarian killings. The trade union leadership had no option but to give a partial expression to the angry mood of their members by beginning the Better Life For All Campaign. At this stage the trade union leaders had the opportunity to decisively smash sectarianism.

Sadly these leaders strangled the Better Life For All Campaign almost at birth. Nonetheless, the anger of tens of thousands of workers at the activities of the sectarians remained and searched out an expression. Finding the doors of the trade unions locked by the union tops, this anger eventually burst to the surface in the form of the spontaneous mass demonstrations around the banner of the Peace Movement. In its early stages this was a genuine mass movement, especially of working class women. But, without leadership or orientation, it inevitably degenerated and dissolved.

Yet these two movements together profoundly affected the situation in the North. Through both these movements, the working class, despite the absence of any leadership, successfully challenged the bigots.

Together, all these factors profoundly changed the situation after 1976. Support for all the paramilitaries fell distinctly. The tolerance and even support for the bigots turned to disgust.

At this stage the situation would have been entirely transformed but for the lack of a leadership at the head of the workers’ organisations. After 1975 the trade union leaders had opportunity after opportunity to break sectarianism – the Better Life For All Campaign, the Peace Movement, the ill-timed and ill-fated UUAC Stoppage, the initial movement against the Tories in 1980. On each occasion they drew back, avoided a mobilisation of the working class and let the opportunity run through their trembling fingers.

On each of these occasions sectarianism was rebuffed either directly or indirectly. Because of the partial nature of each movement the bigots could regroup and prepare to strike back. Yet at no time has sectarianism developed as before. This has not been for want of effort on the part of Paisley, of the Provos and others. It has been because of the changed mood of the mass of the working class. Out of the bitter experience of the near civil war of the early 1970s there has developed a hardened resistance to sectarianism.

There has been a tendency for sectarianism to decline. Because of the weakness of the trade union leaders this has been a protracted an uneven decline, punctuated by periodic upsurges of violence, stretched over years.

Such an uneven development of the class movement is now a feature of the world situation. It is a consequence of the failures of reformism, the relative weakness of reaction and the missing subjective factor. In Northern Ireland, past upheavals together with the national and sectarian tensions give this protracted process a distinctive character. On the one hand the situation contains a constant potential for the re-emergence of sectarianism. On the other hand the mood of the class, and the latent strength and underlying unity of the workers’ organisations, places a limit on the extent to which a movement towards sectarianism can develop before it provokes an even fiercer movement in the opposite direction.

In the course of the development of the class struggle periods of retreat, even of reaction, are inevitable. Marxism does not base itself on such exceptional movements but stands on the processes of the revolution itself. Behind the immediate ebb and flow of events it is always necessary to see the general direction of development.

The H-Block crisis was one such period of mild reaction. It brought an upsurge of sectarianism which nonetheless did not contradict the general character of the present period, of a falling off in sectarianism and a pushing forward of the class struggle.

To understand even the ABCs of development it is necessary to examine not just the surface characteristics of an event or a movement, but also the context in which it takes place. On the surface H-Block was a return to the dark days of the 1970s. Every political tendency, every commentator treated it as such. Only the Marxists were able at this time to explain these developments correctly. The perspectives of the Tendency, worked out at the time, were confirmed ten times over by what happened.

Had ten prisoners died on hunger strike in 1972 or 1973 the consequent wave of violence could have over spilled in the direction of a civil war. It was precisely because they recognised this danger that the ruling class gave concessions to end a hunger strike by Republican prisoners in 1972.

The mood in all areas was different in 1980–81. While the hunger strike increased tensions and polarised the community it did not recreate the bitter sectarianism of the early 1970s. The movement in the Catholic areas was a movement, first and foremost, of sympathy for the prisoners, not of support for the Provisionals. This mass movement was given a sectarian expression by the silence of the trade union leaders which left the sectarian and green Tories who were in the leadership of the H-Block committees with a monopoly of the agitation and propaganda on the issue.

The apparent upsurge in nationalism in Catholic areas, especially in the working class areas, was no more than skin deep and was spread on top of an underlying opposition to the type of sectarian violence which had characterised the early 1970s.

In both Protestant and Catholic areas the polarisation, especially at the time of the death of Bobby Sands, stemmed from a fear of sectarian violence, not a mood of support for sectarianism. For all these reasons, neither the mass activity nor the sectarian tension could last. When the mass upheaval tore open the Catholic areas from 1968 onwards it did so on the basis of a population which was fresh to struggle. H-Block found the Catholic population already exhausted, inert and partially demoralised after the bitter defeats of ten years of struggle. It was the enormous sympathy aroused by the sacrifice of the prisoners which over spilled the angry mood of the Catholic areas into momentary mass action.

For a very brief period, mainly at the time of the first deaths, there was a movement on the scale of the civil rights and other previous agitation. But a population drained by a decade if incessant struggle could not maintain such hyper-activity indefinitely. As soon as the first cracks developed in the hunger strike campaign the mass movement waned. Despite the sympathy for the prisoners a feeling of disillusionment deepened the demoralisation of the Catholic areas. In its turn this permitted the Government to ride out the deaths in the prisons. Similarly, the sectarian tension, because it was based on fear, largely subsided even during the course of the hunger strike. The communities were drawn apart before the death of Bobby Sands mainly because of a fear of what would happen. When his and subsequent deaths did not lead to pogroms or civil war the fear and consequently the sectarian tension very quickly subsided.

At the close of the 1960s the failures by the Labour Movement helped set off a chain of events which stretched out almost over a decade. Society was swung to the right. Now it is a period on a world scale and in Northern Ireland of a general movement to the left. It is also a period internationally of violent instability, of the convulsive movement of events, both to the left and, for periods, to the right. As a result it is a period characterised by sudden and violent shifts in the consciousness of the working class.

H-Block brought such a sudden transformation. This in its turn has been followed by a no less sudden re-transformation. Such is the nature of the present epoch. Since the end of the hunger strike there has been a dramatic ebbing of sectarianism. The underlying direction of society to the left is now dear. This tendency away from sectarianism will continue to be the dominant tendency for the next period.

However, the lessons of the H-Block experience must not be lost. Understanding nothing and learning nothing the very same blind empiricists, who hid their faces and cried “civil war” during the hunger strike, now declare sectarianism and its paramilitary manifestations to be finished.

Once again Marxism stands on the processes. There is a tendency for sectarianism to decline. But it will be an uneven tendency, made all the more uneven by the complete rottenness of the leadership of the working class. Within this general tendency there will inevitably be future swings to sectarianism, possibly even periods of partial reaction akin to or even worse than that of H-Block.

The potential for the re-emergence of sectarianism is now ingrained into capitalism in Northern Ireland. It will remain as a threat to the working class movement right up to the socialist revolution itself. Only in the process of the construction of a new society will it be finally extinguished. It exists as a potential physical force and even as an element of the consciousness of a large section of the population. Whether it is pressed to the background depends fundamentally on the weight and activity of the class organisations. If the class struggle could advance in a straight line it would never re-emerge. But because it cannot, because there are inevitable slippages, sectarian organisations, like other reactionary organisations elsewhere, will from time to time have their opportunities, however limited.

While such reverses can and will occur, the dominant movement is to the left. A civil war as an immediate prospect is now ruled out. Before it could again become a possibility the workers’ organisation will have had not one but many opportunities to transform the situation.

This is not because of the absence of reactionary groups who would be prepared to deliberately precipitate such a catastrophe. The paramilitaries are at their most dangerous when in their present weakened position. They are capable of seeking to remedy their desperate plight with equally desperate measures.

The defeat of the hunger strike has left the Provisionals and INLA more isolated than at any time for years. The killing of Robert Bradford was deliberately intended to prompt the Protestant paramilitaries into retaliation and set off a new wave of tit for tat killings. In this way the Provisionals hoped to capture lost ground. A section, at least, of their organisation have calculated that the path to salvation lies, for them, through a sectarian holocaust. Inside every paramilitary group there are those who would share this conclusion.

What bars their way is the resistant, basically anti-sectarian mood of the working class, both Catholic and Protestant. Bradford’s killing did provoke outrage among Protestants. This was an outrage based chiefly on a mood of opposition to all killings, not a cry for revenge. The UDA and UVF, sensitive to this, kept their fingers from their triggers.

If there were to be a new campaign of assassinations this, under present conditions, would quickly generate a movement of opposition among Catholics and Protestants. The paramilitaries, by attempting to ignite sectarianism, could ignite a hostile movement within the very areas in which· they are based. While their desperation may drive them to more such acts as Bradford’s killing, their instinctive fear of a movement of the working class in their own areas will most often force them back, either sooner or later. In the present atmosphere it would take enormous events to tip the scales back towards sectarianism. These events themselves would each carry the possibility of counter movements, to the left. Were there to be a sustained drift towards sectarian confrontation there would be a counter movement at a certain stage. Most likely this would take the form of a movement into and through the trade unions as was the case in 1975-76. The existence and the growth in the influence of the Tendency will make it also a factor in this. It was the complete absence of the subjective factor which in the past permitted the trade union leadership to remain totally passive. Already the best, of the activists have learnt from the experience of their past actions against the killings, the growing influence of the Marxists, particularly within the Trades Councils, can be a factor in articulating the mood of the best activists for action and in forcing the unions or sections of the unions to intervene.

Before a civil war could become even possible, the working class will have the opportunity to cut across such a development. Only on the basis of continued failures, and missed opportunities, stretched over a whole period can the perspective of civil war re-emerge. Even then, in the context of the enormous struggles taking place on a world scale, any huge event, such as a general strike in Britain, or the South, or the coming to power of the working class in a single country, would complete cut across these moves to reaction.

In this favourable situation the perspectives can be overwhelmingly optimistic. The dominant tendency in the North has historically been the tendency towards unity not to polarisation. Now this is likely to be reinforced. This optimistic perspective is not drawn from the clouds. Rather it is firmly based on the conditions of life endured in common by Catholic and Protestant workers, on the never broken tendency to class unity, on the enormous traditions of united struggles in the past, on the bitter experience of a decade of sectarian violence, on the colossal strength of the working class internationally, and, above all, on the stormy and revolutionary nature of events of the present epoch world-wide.


Like sectarianism, the Provisionals are in a process of decline. Their contraction, since 1972, is crystal dear. From almost a mass organisation, with quite extensive support in the working class areas, they have been reduced to small nucleus which at best is tolerated in these areas.

The Provisionals’ campaign has only succeeded in demonstrating the bankruptcy of individual terrorism. Only the mess movement of the working class armed with a class programme and leadership can change society. Socialism can only be established by the conscious action of the working class, not by small armed detachments claiming to act on its behalf. The road of individual terror is the road to isolation and defeat. The greater the base gained at any stage by such groups as the Provisionals, the ERP, the Tupamaros, ETA etc., the greater the damage they are capable of inflicting, not on the capitalist state, but on the working class movement. At the outset of the Provisionals’ campaign the Marxists explained that it would merely provide the state with the excuse to step up repression and that the Provisionals, isolated from and repugnant to, the mass workers’ organisations would not be capable of withstanding that repression. H-Block was the terrible vindication of this analysis.

In an entirely underdeveloped society where there is no working class there can be a role for guerrillaism. Even then such a form of warfare can only bring down the old order by going over from isolated guerrilla actions to conventional warfare. A victory under such conditions, for what would be a peasant army, could only result in the establishment of a Bonapartist regime, either of a bourgeois or a proletarian character. The very best which could be achieved would be a regime of proletarian bonapartism, modelled on the monstrous caricatures of socialist states of Russia and Eastern Europe.

Where there exists a working class, even as a minority of the population, there can be no justification whatsoever for the adventurous methods of individual terror. In Russia the working class were only 10% of the population yet they took power, drawing the other oppressed layers behind them.

In Northern Ireland the working class comprise the majority of the population. There is no other force capable of defeating Imperialism and changing society. Urban guerrillaism is opposed by Marxists not for moral reasons, but because it sets back the class movement and can never succeed.

The Provos’ campaign carries a double measure of lunacy. It is based on the minority of the population and can only provoke the opposition of the Protestant majority who are also the majority of the working class. Even if the impossible were accomplished and the Provos succeeded in defeating Imperialism they would not be one step closer to the reunification of the country or to socialism, instead they would have opened up a civil war, the defeat of the Catholic population, genocide, repartition and the other results already mentioned.

From the very start the decline of the Provisionals, other than if a sectarian civil war should occur, was inevitable. Their inability to benefit to any great extent from the effects of the hunger strike is a measure of the extent to which this decline has already progressed.

Had the H-Block deaths occurred ten year’s previously they would have had a similar or greater effect than events like Bloody Sunday in supplying the Provos with a mass base. At that time a combination of factors drove the youth to the Provos. Army repression came on top of unemployment and poverty to create a mood of anger and a desire to strike back among the youth. The silence of the trade union tops, together with the opportunism of the civil rights leaders, closed the door to mass action. The apparently quick and easy response of the bomb and the bullet seemed the only course open. Once again, during the hunger strike, the youth were enraged by poverty and repression. The silence of the Labour Movement was even more deafening. Yet only a small handful were drawn into the ranks of the Provos.

The new factor which prevented a repeat of the mass movement of the past was simply the Provos campaign itself. The camera of history cannot be switched into reverse. The futility of individual terrorism had been demonstrated in practice. As a tactic it had been carried to the extreme by the Provos and anything which is taken to the extreme tends to exhaustion.

In 1971–71 the attraction of the campaign of bombings and shootings was that it seemed to the impatient youth to offer a speedy way of striking back. After ten years of protracted struggle the delusion that individual terror offers a quick solution could not be resurrected in anyone’s mind.

Not for years have the Provos even claimed to offer a speedy victory. Originally they actually opposed the prisoners’ decision to call a hunger strike because it inevitably would mean a full scale confrontation with the state. Given their military strategy of along drawn out “war of attrition” the Provos leadership were anxious to avoid such a confrontation.

The tight cell structure of the organisation, which had been forced by their decline, also reflected their strategy of a protracted struggle. This is the structure of an isolated group which is reconciled to and prepared for a long period of isolation. The Provos have bombed themselves out of a position where they could offer the attraction to the youth they once bad. Even if there had been a mass surge of youth towards their ranks the cell structure would not have permitted the organisation to recruit more than a handful.

The Provos were incapable of making any major gains from the swelling mass agitation during the hunger strike. They have been less capable of withstanding the shocks associated with the subsequent collapse of this mass movement. For them the ending of the hunger strike has been the worst of all possible worlds. At a stroke it rendered lifeless the one issue which had been the central focus of all their propaganda for more than five years. At the same time it created an even blacker mood in the ghettos.

Faced with demoralisation among the population, and obviously some demoralisation in their own ranks, even the tighter structure of the Provos has begun to show signs of stress. The cell structure had been designed to render the organisation impervious to military penetration, more efficient, more covert and more resistant to pressure. However, the consequences of a false method of struggle are unavoidable in the end. Strong organisation is only effective if linked to correct ideas, correct tactics and a correct orientation. If an apparatus becomes demoralised through the use of incorrect methods it is a rotten apparatus no matter into how many shapes it may be folded.

The Provisionals reorganisation into cells was really a recognition that their decline had reached a qualitative stage and that the old, semi-open organisational methods would no longer do. It was partially effective in slowing their decline. Since the hunger strike the emergence of a new batch of informers has inflicted quite severe damage on this structure. In fact the Provos have been weakened to an extent which it would have been difficult to foresee, especially during the hunger strike.

The Provos have been weakened but not incapacitated. Despite speculation to the contrary, the possibility that they might now be forced to call off their campaign is not a real one. There is a faction within the Provos who wish to put greater emphasis on political activity. Some of their members may have become temporarily intoxicated by the success of their candidates in Fermanagh-South Tyrone and in the Southern General Election of 1981. Such success may have created a thirst for political action.

There is no possibility of the Provisionals evolving from a war machine into a political machine. It may be that political activity, through Sinn Fein, will be stepped up both North and South. The result again, both North and South, would not be a political breakthrough but, unless there was a complete retransformation of the situation, would be a political slap on the mouth.

To judge the prospects for Sinn Fein on the votes for their candidates during the hunger strike would be like judging the performance of car by how fast it could be towed. The H-Block votes were entirely exceptional, a product of an extremely exceptional period. To generalise from such foundations would be extremely foolish. In general the votes for Sinn Fein and the other H-Block candidates were sympathy votes for the prisoners and nothing more. The halving of the Sinn Fein vote in the 1982 General Election bears this out.

The representatives of the sect, People’s Democracy, and of the IRSP, who won seats on Belfast City council during the hunger strike will discover to their horror that the votes they gained were for the prisoners, not for them. Were there to be an election today neither of these groups could hope to hold their seats.

In the border areas, where there is a traditional right wing nationalist vote. Sinn Fein candidates could fare better. It is quite possible that they may hold the seat in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, depending on who else should stand.

But the ability to attract traditional republican votes which would otherwise go to the IIP or Unity candidates is no political breakthrough. The Provos began as a military machine. While the military campaign may be the basic cause of their decline, it is the sole reason for their existence. It will not be called off in favour of political action. More likely the effect of future political setbacks will remove the ground from those who argue for greater emphasis on political means and will knock the organisation back more firmly towards its military base. Every para-military organisation in the North has had its flirtation with political methods. Every such flirtation has only led them to reject the politics of mass agitation and return to the politics which created them, that of the cudgel and the pistol.

It is also extremely unlikely that the military success of the army can ever reduce the Provos to such a state that they would be forced to abandon the campaign. Military victory, to the army, means reducing the Provos, just like the violence itself, to “an acceptable level”. While isolation, demoralisation and sophisticated methods of intelligence and repression can vastly curtail the Provos activities, perhaps even effectively silence them for long periods, set against this there is the permanent instability of the situation which gives them a capacity to re-emerge.

The army intelligence document, Document 38, gives the army’s perspectives for the Provos: “The Provisional IRA has the dedication and the sinews of war to raise violence intermittently to at least the level of early 1978, certainly for the foreseeable future. Even if ‘peace’ is restored the motivation for politically inspired violence will remain. Arms will be readily available and there will be many who are able and willing to use them. Any peace will be superficial and brittle. A new campaign may well erupt in the years ahead.”

This is an entirely correct assessment. It could be printed in a perspectives document of the Tendency without quotation marks. The Provos campaign, really a series of campaigns or offensives, each followed by reverses and periodic regroupment, can continue almost indefinitely. Sources of arms and sources of finances exist. At the centre of the IRA is a battle hardened core which will not surrender lightly the campaign. While H-Block overall was a sharp reversal it will have provided a certain layer of new recruits, not great in number, but sufficient to maintain a limited campaign, as the army document states, “for the foreseeable future.”

The decline of the Provos is set to continue. This is not a straightforward process but rather a spiral of decline with periodic bursts of activity, followed by periods of relative lull. The downward tendency is marked by the greater difficulty experienced in developing and maintaining each bout of activity and the mote defined character of each period of semi-inaction.

Nonetheless the campaign can be continued and, within it, there can be movements of frenzied activity akin to past activities, but unsustainable. A form of terror campaign, even if haltingly continued, is now ingrained onto capitalism in Northern Ireland – if not from the Provos as a whole, then from a section of this organisation, if not from this source then from the INLA and if not from them, from some new force which could emerge. Terrorism on a semi-permanent basis is the shadow of mass unemployment, poverty, political and economic stagnation and of reformism. As with the national question in general, this symptom of an unresolved national problem will only be finally settled in the process of the socialist revolution and after.

As they decline the true nature of the Provos will become clear. They emerged at the end of the 1960s from a right wing rump within the old IRA. They were its most sectarian, most nationalistic, most militaristic, anti-socialist section. They developed at the whim of a wing of the Southern capitalist class, who wished to develop them into a club with which to shatter the leftward movement among the Catholic population North and South, and to destroy any move to class unity in the North.

Their origin expresses their true character. The accidental factors which gave them a mass base among the Catholic working class after 1970 obscured this character. To retain this support the organisation had to cover itself with a camouflage of socialist phraseology. An appearance of socialism temporarily contradicted the real essence of the organisation.

In decline, the tendency is for the essence to be exposed. They will tend to be pushed back to the bedrock of traditional right wing Republican support, particularly from among the rural areas. The organisation found its feet first among the petit-bourgeois. While events combined to give it a proletarian skin, its skeleton, heart and brain remained that of a petit-bourgeois grouping. In the future it will be marked more openly by the traditional petit-bourgeois nature of Republicanism.

As the movement of the working class develops the Provos will be forced to redefine themselves in response. Insofar as there remains a genuine element among their ranks, It’s undoubtedly is still the case at least among the prison population, these as individuals can be drawn behind the class movement. The organisation as a whole will be more likely pushed to the right.

As the working class tends to unite in struggle end as the youth, Catholic and Protestant, move towards socialist ideas and to a Labour Patty the energies of the Provos will more and more be concentrated on attempting to cut across these developments. An organisation whose roots are implanted among the petit-bourgeoisie is subject to the same violent swings as these unstable social layers. F laced with the threat of a limited working class it is possible that the Provisionals would move not just to the right, but dramatically to the right, driven by the frenzy of sections of the petit-bourgeois. It is possible that they could end up tail ending or forming a part of a movement of a fascist or semi-fascist character among the Catholic population.

A further factor committing the Provisional to continued military activity is the existence of paramilitary rivals. The INLA has staked its future on an attempt to out-Provo the Provos. Not having the same base and therefore more divorced from the reactions of the Catholic population to their actions, the INLA campaign has been more adventurous and more deliberately provocative than that of the Provos.

During the hunger strike it opened its ranks in a manner which the Provos structure would not permit. It may have gained a layer of new recruits from among the more militaristic of the Catholic youth. Such gains and such methods are a very weak foundation on which to base a campaign, particularly at a time of general apathy and war weariness among the population. The looser structure of the INLA leaves them less resistant to hostile pressures. They are capable of advancing by spurts when the level of activity among the population is high. But they have been shown to lack even the Provos capacity to retreat and regroup. The fact that their roots are not so deeply sunk in the population may permit them greater license for military adventures. It also leaves them more prone to attack from the state.

While it is not likely that imperialism can succeed in totally destroying the Provos this is not necessarily the case with the INLA. If the military advances by the state since the hunger strike have stunned the Provos they have devastated sections, at least, of the INLA. Its apparatus has been found to be full of informers. With a lower standard of recruits than the Provos, it is constantly prone to the problems of demoralisation and of informers.

On the loyalist side Imperialism was capable of almost entirely smashing the UVF by means of arrests, informers etc. Whole regions of its organisation, including its command structure, were simply wiped out as the confessions of informers began to pour in. It is now possible that the army can achieve at least a similar measure of success with the INLA.

Always a. measure of the crisis within a para-military group has been the outbreak of feuds between different factions. The loss of the momentum of the hunger strike has opened a deep chasm between the Provos and the INLA, and has also revealed deep cracks within the INLA itself. There at least three major splits within this group. Sections of its organisation operate virtually autonomously.

At best the process of splits, feuds and counter splits will continue. At worst the organisation will be atomised by the pressure of Imperialism on the one side and by the mounting internal divisions on the other. The INLA·IRSP were born in a feud. Every breath of their existence has been marked by internal and external warfare between different factions and against rival organisations. If their death agonies are to commence they will fall to pieces as they were born, and as they lived.

Loyalist Groups

The loyalist paramilitaries display all the ugly features of paramilitary armies in decline. They suffer the same problems as the Provo’s and the INLA, but in a more immediate and sharper form.

These groups evolved out of the sectarian reaction in the Protestant areas. They were formed by conscious bigots. Their base has always been in the urban areas, not among the working class but among its most backward strata and chiefly among the lumpen proletariat. Only initially and very briefly did a broader section of the Protestant working class, because of a temporary mood of fear and outrage at the Provo’s, give them support.

Unlike the Provo’s the loyalist groups were never capable of disguising their reactionary core. Contrary to the belief of groups like the Officials there was never the slightest possibility of the loyalist paramilitaries moving to the left. It is true that at the very beginning there were occasional ripples of vague class murmurings within their ranks. These were snuffed out. The support of a broader layer of the working class very quickly peeled away, leaving these groups where they belong – on the extreme right.

The entire active membership of the UDA and the UVF are now largely lumpenised declassed gangsters – the scum of society and certainly not the leaven to give rise to a new socialist movement among Protestants. Almost from the word go the UDA, UVF and others have been characterised by vicious feuding between rival war lords in different areas, each striving to get to the top using the methods of open gangsterism and corruption,

The star of the loyalist paramilitaries is to be found on the right and its direction is to the right. For all their occasional attempts to paint themselves in a more reasonable guise, groups like the UDA are reactionary to the core. Just as the Provisionals are a military machine, so every one of the loyalist paramilitaries are murder machines. From time to time they may dip their fingers into community politics, involve themselves in campaigns on local issues, or, as recently with the UDA, participate in elections.

However, they are neither community groups nor political parties. Their political hold on the Protestant areas has not been the grip of ideas but the grip of fear and because of the lack of an alternative. Their political appeal is the appeal of the club, the gun and the “romper room”.

Lacking the deep emotions and traditions of nationalism to give them roots, and without the same degree of army repression to drive the youth towards their ranks, Protestant paramilitaries have shrunk much more rapidly than their foes. They have virtually no resistance to the countermeasures of the state. When the army has moved to curtail their military operations, this has been accomplished with relative ease.

In the case of the UVF, it has been virtually decimated by arrests and convictions, leading to detailed confessions, more arrests and more convictions. The UDA has also been vastly reduced in significance. Against a claimed membership of 13,000 the army last year credited it with 4,000. The overwhelming majority of these are inactive members who simply pay their dues because they have no choice. Its murder wing, the UFF, according to the army, would have no more than 30 members. The UVF is considerably smaller and the numerous other splinters – the Red Hand Commandoes, Tara, etc. are mostly either completely or partially moribund.

Like the Provos the UDA have a capacity, albeit far more limited, to escalate their activity. During the hunger strike they were active in a number of areas, stockpiling food and generally attempting to inject a state of panic into the community. They have a clear interest in whipping up sectarianism as they showed at this time. Yet they generally refrained from replying to the killing of Robert Bradford with retaliatory action. It is not that they would baulk at the prospect of a new round of killings. No group is deeper steeped in the gore of sectarian butchery than them. Their caution, and that of the other loyalist groups, stems from their fear of a counter reaction by Protestants directed against them.

The UDA in particular can continue to exist, as much in the form of a group of gangsters and petty criminals as anything else. There is no perspective of a return to the days of 1971, when tens of thousands swelled the ranks of the UDA. In general the Protestant youth are repulsed, not attracted, by the paramilitaries.

This is not to say the guns of these groups have been permanently silenced. Their very desperation can push them to measures of sectarian provocation or retaliation. But as explained, this, under the conditions now opening up, would most likely lead to a counter movement against sectarianism before it could create a situation in which these groups could re-emerge as semi-mass organisations. Only huge events and huge defeats for the working class could open up such possibilities. Even then it is by no means certain that a future movement to sectarian reaction amongst the Protestant population would take shape through the Protestant paramilitaries. There are other potentially reactionary forces which could emerge, and under conditions of mass reaction, could either absorb the paramilitaries or reduce them to secondary an auxiliary role.

Not one of the loyalist paramilitary groups has ever developed a base in the rural areas. There, the movement to reaction has taken a different form. In these areas is to be found the firmest support for the most extreme right wing loyalist politicians, like Paisley. To date every attempt to co-ordinate these sections of the population, into a paramilitary army has floundered. Sectarian reaction outside the towns and cities was in the past directed through the Unionist state machine. More recently it has tended to take the form of recruitment to the UDR and RUC reserve, rather than to private armies.

The problems of distance, and of the individualistic mode of life and consciousness of the rural population tend away from organisations. By contrast the pressure of tight knit communities and of common conditions of existence press the working class together and create a tendency to organise. It is for this reason, and because of their relationship to the means of production, that the working class alone possesses the power to change society.

But the law of history by which the country always follows the town also has its implications for loyalist reaction. In the past it has meant that paramilitary reaction has only been able to organise in the urban areas. The tendency towards the dissipation of the energies of the rural population has only been effectively overcome by the powerful adhesive of the state apparatus itself.

Reactionary loyalist leaders like Paisley have made numerous attempts to weld together a paramilitary structure based mainly on the rural Protestants. No such attempt has been capable of overcoming the natural tendencies away from centralised organisation for more than a brief period.

Paisley’s every effort to construct a unified movement of loyalist reaction under his leadership has floundered. While the 1974 stoppage momentarily drew together the reactionary forces in both urban and rural areas, this unity rapidly disintegrated. In 1976 Paisley and Baird formed a Council of Action, really an attempt to create a third force in the country areas. The Council of Action remained a Council or inAction and the talked of defence force only managed to exist in its press releases. The 1977 attempt to restage the events of 1974 floundered. More recently the attempt to mobilise “hundreds of thousands” in the crusade of the so called “Carson Trail” evaporated in the damp squib of a scantily attended march to Stormont. The Bradford assassination was followed by a further attempts to create the “Third Force”. Since then there have been occasional parades, one or two road-blocks in border areas, but no Third Force.

A consolidated movement of reaction among the rural Protestants has not developed into an organisational form. At present all shades of loyalism are in decline, and are set to continue in decline.

If there is at some stage the emergence of a new movement towards reaction it will not take the form of the past. Developing in opposition to the movements of the working class, it could only gain a base among the most backward sections of the rural population and among the petit-bourgeois and lumpen proletariat in the towns. It would be the social force of the petit-bourgeois and urban lumpen proletariat which could provide the cohesion to bind together the rural support.

Not the paramilitaries, but more likely either Paisley or a reactionary demagogue like him, would provide the leadership. The lumpen remnants of the paramilitary would either merge into such a movement as its physical battering ram or would be side stepped.

Such a movement would be a fascist movement, along the classic lines of fascism, but peppered with the content of fanatical evangelical Protestantism to give it a Northern Ireland flavour. Paisley and Paisleyism have, at present, many of the characteristics of fascism, as have other loyalist group. Paisley’s active supporters are mainly from the petit bourgeois and from the rural population. His recent Third Force rallies have been marked by all the artificial pomp and ceremony of fascism.

The display of certain manifestations of fascism does not in itself create a fascist movement. Craig’s Vanguard rallies of 1971–72 were even more fascistic in style than Paisley’s recent parades. Yet Vanguard was not a fascist organisation, despite the ultra-left’s description of it as such.

To a Marxist the word fascist is not an insult but a scientific term. Applied scientifically to Paisleyism, this is not at present a fascist movement. In the first place the preconditions for the development of fascism of not yet exist in the North. First and foremost fascism is a tool, in this epoch an auxiliary tool, in the hands of the ruling class, for use against the Labour Movement. Over the past decade the ruling class have been concerned to hold sectarianism in check in the North. There has not existed a united working class movement posing an immediate threat to their system. At present Paisleyism is at odds with the wishes of the ruling class. The big bourgeoisie do not back his efforts. The capitalist state was used to help smash his attempted stoppage in 1977. At this stage they wish to held Paisley in check, but not destroy him. To bosses Paisleyism is a reserve weapon not for present but for possible future use against the working class.

A fascist movement can only finally take shape in opposition to a movement of the working class engaged in a series of struggles to change society, and above all with the anchor of reformism preventing them front showing decisive leadership to the other classes, the volatility of the middle layers and the blind frenzy of the petit bourgeois can create a hospitable climate for fascism.

Paisleyism gained its base out of the peculiar conditions of mounting sectarianism at the end of the 1960s. Because of the unique condition of that time and since, he has gained a certain base of Protestant working class support.

The electoral base of the DUP among the working class does not reflect a movement of the workers to fascism. Likewise the support once enjoyed by the loyalist paramilitaries among sections of the Protestant workers was never a support for fascist ideas. In both cases this support actually indicates, in a distorted form, the future potential for the development of a class movement. It shows an unconscious will among Protestant workers to break with the bold of the old Unionist ascendancy. It shows a division, partially along class lines, but not in a class direction, against this old hierarchy.

In fact the support they had among sections of the working class prevented the paramilitaries from openly moving to fascism during their first years. So with Paisley at present. His electoral base prevents him, at this stage, from openly showing his hand on issues such as strikes, opposition to trade unions etc. The emergence of the working class movement in the North, in Britain and the South will recast all existing relationships. It will tend to strip away the working class base of Paisleyism. It will stand the past attitudes of the ruling class on their head. Under these conditions Paisley can be seen as a potential leader of a future of a future fascist movement. He has the capacity as a demagogue, and behind it as a conscious reactionary, to stir the frenzy of the petit bourgeois and to weld together, under the appropriate conditions, the various facets of loyalist reaction into a fascist movement.

The threat of the future development of fascist organisations exists in Northern Ireland as it exists in Britain and elsewhere. It is necessary to see this danger. It is no less necessary to put this threat into its correct perspective. The over-whelming feature of the present epoch on a world stale is the might of the working class. The development of capitalism during the boom very largely eroded the former middle layers of society who had constituted the mass base of fascism in the 1930s. There has been a process of proletarianisation of the former middle class, seen in the enormous growth of white collar trade unions.

In Northern Ireland, despite the rundown of industry, despite the existence of sectarianism, the same balance of forces also applies. While among the petit-bourgeois and the lumpen proletariat there is a basis for the kernel of fascism, the working class remains the decisive force. Neither the Catholic nor the Protestant working class will move to fascism. Among Catholic workers there has been an ever present socialist tradition which would exclude a fascist movement, in nationalist trappings, from gaining a base.

Likewise among the Protestant working class there is a strong trade union consciousness, a Labour tradition, a tradition of democracy and a hatred of the ideas and methods of fascism. Even in the worst moments of the troubles the efforts of quasi fascist groups like the National Front to organise in Protestant working class areas were repelled by the people of these areas.

A future movement to fascism, developing, as it would, in opposition to the united movements of the working class, would be met with the united opposition and resistance of the workers. If they can be given a lead, the working class have the power to snuff out the menace of fascism in Northern Ireland.

The Marxists must be aware of the possible threat of fascism but it is also necessary to have a sense of proportion at all times. Fascism in Britain, in Ireland or in any advanced country, could at best be only developed as an auxiliary force to prepare the ground for and assist in the establishment of a military police state. The fascists themselves will never be able to seize direct hold of the state apparatus as they did in Italy and Germany. Only on the basis of a series of major defeats for the working class over a whole period, only after the working class have, not once but many times, had the opportunity to take power, could there be a consolidation of military reaction.

The retreat of the early 1970’s destroyed the political wing of the movement. At the end of the 1960s the most likely perspective had been for the political movement of workers to swell out the ranks of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and convert it into a mass Labour Party.

This perspective was cut across by events. There was a movement towards the NILP during the late 1960s. The retreat of the trade union leaders from political activity and the rotten social democratic leadership of the NILP effectively curtailed the class movement and allowed sectarianism to develop. The movement towards the NILP changed to a movement out of it. As the trade union leaders more firmly closed the shutters on political involvement they effectively severed the chains which had actively connected them to the NILP. Freed of the anchor of an active trade union connection the NILP leaders were able to compound their opportunism with sectarianism. They deserted their working class base and, by 1974, far from resisting the pressures of bigotry they welcomed them with open arms. In 1974 they supported the reactionary Ulster Workers Council (UWC) stoppage. Some of the party spokesmen were even invited into the inner sanctums of the UWC as advisers.

With this disgraceful act the quantitative degeneration of the party became qualitative. When the same leaders who had trampled on the most basic traditions of labour and openly attacked the unity of the trade unions were given a vote of confidence at a subsequent NILP conference the perspective for the development of a Labour Party was changed. Previously, even as the NILP declined, it had been most likely that a move through the unions towards political action would have led to a turn in and through the NILP, despite the nature of the party leadership. After 1974 it was possible to state definitively that no Labour Party existed. From then it became more likely that a political movement would develop in the direction of the establishment of a new party of Labour, and would largely by-pass the NILP.

The early years of the 1970s were years of political as well as industrial retreat by the working class. The NILP was a casualty of this period. Since 1976 the class has slowly and painfully been able to advance. There has been a tendency, even slower and more painful, for the regroupment of the forces of labour.

The basic perspectives of the Marxists, firmly held throughout these years, has been confirmed. This was that a movement along industrial lines would at a certain stage develop in a political direction. Out of the struggles within the trade union movement would come the moves to create a Labour Party. This would most likely be a new organisation, not a revamped, newly polished version of the NILP.

The tendency towards the filling out of these perspectives is absolutely dear. There have been decisive developments pointing and pushing to the emergence of a new party. No mass workers organisation experiences an easy birth. All are born in struggle. It will be the convulsive struggles now beginning to take place which will shape and then develop a new Labour Party. The process towards its formation is well advanced but it will still take great events to establish this party and then to build it into the political arm of the mass of the working class in struggle.

Recent years have seen both victories and defeats for the working class. These events have been a necessary political education for the active layers of the trade union movement. Even the setbacks suffered have re-emphasised the need for a political voice to the best activists.

Since 1976 there have been repeated movements through the trade unions. Each has been checked. During the last two years the effects of the recession, added to the dangers of sectarian conflict over the hunger strike, have halted the movement. While such checks and obstacles may contain the class as a whole, they can have the opposite effect on the most class conscious activists. They can demonstrate in living struggle the limited nature of purely industrial forms of action.

In the past it has not alone been the fact of a movement of workers through the unions which has led to the emergence of Labour and social democratic organisations. Such a movement had merely been the first pre-condition. It has also taken the experience of confrontation with the state and the government, and of defeats to demonstrate that industrial action alone is insufficient.

Thus the general lull in the class struggle in the North during the put two years has been no lull as far as the question of political representation is concerned. In fact the holding back of the movement, even the threat of sectarianism has been a factor propelling the best of the activists towards political action.

A huge step towards a Labour Party was taken with the decision of the three Trades Councils to contest the Local Government elections of May 1981. On the question of politics as on general questions, the way the Trades Councils move today is an indication of how the movement will act tomorrow. These first concrete steps towards a Labour Party took the form of independent political action by the Trades Councils, not a turn to the few remaining fragments of the NILP.

Within the overall movement the ground swell of opinion in favour of a Labour Party has swelled distinctly. The demand for a conference of labour is now supported by the Irish and British Labour Parties and by a number of unions in Britain and Ireland. This has brought the entire question into sharper and clearer focus.

The final lines of resistance to some political initiative are now found among the top bureaucracy of the trade unions in the North. These bureaucrats, as is the case with all bureaucrats, want only a quiet life. If they understand nothing else about the class movement in Northern Ireland they do see that direct political involvement by the unions would entirely disrupt their previously comfortable existence. The opposition of the right wing bureaucracy is matched in equal measure by the blocking moves which have come from the Stalinist wing. These bureaucrats oppose the call for political involvement for exactly the same reasons as the right wing, except that they have an added opposition in that they do not want to see a political rival to the Communist Party formed.

This resistance of these twin sets of bureaucrats has always been entirely on the level of manoeuvre. Never once has the call for a Labour Party been answered by ideas. Instead of arguments the bureaucracy have relied on the partial inertia of the bottom layers of the movement to shield them from political involvement.

As on other questions a defence which is based on inertia is a weak defence. It is prone to collapse as soon as events shake the movement itself into action. The movement of the working class which will begin on the industrial front and then turn to political solutions, will shake down the resistance of the union tops.

Timescale is the most difficult aspect of a perspective. It is possible to deal only with the general processes. The precision of events can be finally provided only by the events themselves. Nonetheless, with this necessary qualification, it is now clear that there exists a possibility of the trade unions being forced to take the concrete steps to form a Labour Party within the next one or two years.

Elections, either to Westminster or to a local assembly, would possibly crystallise these political processes. It cannot either be ruled out that some kind of conference of labour could be convened even earlier. Such a timescale is a possibility, not a definite perspective. It is also necessary never to underestimate the utterly degenerate nature of the trade union leadership and with it their capacity to hold back events and stretch out a. perspective.

Above all, in a period of sudden and dramatic changes, events can again temporarily cut across what appears even the clearest perspective. A crisis in Britain could result in a snap general election at any time. The trade union leaders might manage to ward off the calls for intervention. Under a new government in Britain the processes might work out somewhat differently. The key is alertness. Going beyond the processes demonstrated by a correct perspective the Tendency must then stand on its toes, prepared for new developments.

But even if a new party has a more protracted birth the fundamental process will remain. Events will drive the trade unions to political action, whether this be in the longer or the shorter term. A delay will only mean an even more painful birth from the point of view of the leadership and a more fiery growth at a later stage.

With all these necessary qualifications in mind, the Tendency must now gear itself up for what is possible. Within a year or two a Labour Party could exist. The result would be that every single area of work, industrial, youth, etc. would be absolutely transformed. The situation would be set for a qualitative growth in the ideas and the influence of Marxism.

In general terms the past perspectives of the tendency for a movement towards a new Labour Party are being borne out. On the details also. Past documents have explained that the pressure for political action would develop first of all inside the trade unions, and would apply itself to the trade union structure and the leadership. It was argued that a party would most likely be formed when the movement from below at a certain stage produced corresponding movement from above. Events have already begun to confirm this perspective in outline.

The pressure for political action has already developed in the trade union branches, on the Trades Councils, and from the delegations to the previously sacred institutions of ICTU and Northern Ireland Committee conferences. Even among the bureaucracy itself the strain has been revealed by the appearance of a few cracks on the issue.

The first instinct of the leadership is to press their heads between their knees in the hope that this political storm will subside. But as the pressure continues to mount they eventually must face an agonising choice. Either they can continue to duck their heads with the horrifying consequences that a party might be formed from below and entirely outside their control. Or they can bend to the pressure, count their losses and establish a party which they would hope to shape in their image. For them it would be a choice of evils. They would have little option but to pick the second and, to them, lesser evil. Paradoxically the growing importance of the Marxists will be a factor in assisting them to make up their minds. Already they are seized with dread at the thought that within the Labour Party the Marxists would wield enormous influence.

At some stage their only means of attempting to halt the growth of this influence will be by taking some form of political initiative themselves, Further delay can, even now, be made to pose problems for the union tops. The opportunity now exists for an initiative to be taken at rank and file level, The position of the Tendency within the Trades Councils is already is a vital factor in this. A conference called under the auspices of one or more of these organisations could receive wide support. It would be a further compelling force on the leadership failing movement at the top over a period it cannot be excluded that the initial steps to form a Labour Party can be taken at rank and file level. For the bureaucracy to act first to prevent this would be the most sensible course for them, but sense does not always dictate their actions. It is most likely that the moves will be forced from above but the longer they delay the greater the possibility that the momentum from below will overspill into the first structures of a new party. It is probable, for example, that, no matter what the opposition of the top bureaucracy, sections of the movement, especially the Trades Councils, will continue to intervene in elections, local and general. Such initiatives would tend to be co-ordinated, links would be established, and the framework of a new party would begin to emerge.

Between such an independent movement of the union rank and file, acting in advance and anticipation of the leadership, and the grandiose delusions of the sects and the other small groups who argue that mass workers parties can be developed outside of the official structures of the movement there is a complete gulf. A few years ago one such small organisation set its face against the laws of history and declared itself firstly “The Labour Party” and then the “United Labour Party”.

The mass of the working class always turn to their traditional organisations. This law, now a fundamental law of the development of the class movement, applied to the situation in the North means that the movement will be firstly to the unions, but then to a political organisation which could only emerge from the struggles within the trade unions and would have to be based on the unions themselves. The experience of the misnamed United Labour party has only reinforced this fact. The laws of history remain in force and in their course they have eroded the face which this pitiful organisation attempted to set against them.

When the ULP was formed the Marxists explained that a Labour Party which did not have or could not hold out a prospect of gaining the active support of the trade union movement would be a sect. But ideas and arguments are wasted on the deaf. The ULP continued to delude themselves with the fiction that to have a name was to have a party. Their pitiful showing in the recent South Belfast by-election was a sharp blow to demonstrate their complete isolation to everybody, with the possible exception of themselves.

A conference of labour called by the Trades Councils, even the emergence from this of the basis of a new party, would in no way represent a tendency to by-pass the official structures of the movement. Provided it avoided the pitfalls of ultra-leftism and orientated towards the official structures it could avoid isolation. The ULP pulled, away from the official structures, deafening themselves with their shouts of abuse at the leadership, but, in their enthusiasm, forgetting that the mass of the working class were within the unions and not following.

Any moves now made by the Trades Councils or other sections of the movement, providing the support was carefully gauged and provided they were not taken prematurely, would flow out of the political convulsions within the unions and the political pressures of the rank and file. They would represent a development of this struggle and would be part of the general process of the political re-involvement of the movement as a whole. This is the crucial difference. The greater the scope of any initiative they might take the more certain would be the eventual swinging of at least the key unions behind a Labour Party.

Politics is firstly a question of perspectives. Correct tactics stem from and require correct perspectives. When an independent initiative from the ranks of the movement could be taken with the perspective that the official structures themselves would be forced to respond, such a step would be both correct and necessary.

The trade union leaders have hedged and ducked, but they have failed to avoid the demand for political involvement. Every door they have opened seeking an escape route has slammed shut in their face. Not only do events now point towards political action, they also point towards the creation of a new party, probably initiated through some form of conference of labour.

Not only is it the leaders who have had door slammed in their face. Within and around the movement there exist a myriad of political groupings who have strenuously opposed, for their own reasons, the demand for a conference of labour.

Some have been at pains to deflect the demand for labour representation along a path more suitable to them. It can now be stated more certainly than at any previous time that all the efforts of such groups, from the ULP through the NILP to the Communist Party, will fail. The political options raised by them are doomed.

From a party the NILP have been reduced to a shell, then to a shell of a shell. Now they are hardly even a shadow of that! Always the past perspectives of the Tendency have regarded the N1LP with a cautious eye. While explaining the qualitative nature of their decline it has always been necessary to recognise that they have maintained on paper the affiliation of a number of important trade unions. Because of this it was never possible to entirety exclude the possibility of a turn of some kind, however unlikely, by a section of the unions back to this party.

Now that the actual movement towards a Labour Party has begun to take shape it is possible to be more categorical. During this movement there has not been so much as the faintest trace of any turn to the NILP. On the contrary, it has become more isolated than ever. There is a tendency for political structures to outlast their usefulness. Long after a political organisation passes from the scene as a living force the bones of its structure can remain in existence. Such has been the case with the NILP.

But even a skeleton eventually decays. By the time the rot has begun to erode the pillars of the empty framework of a dead organisation, it is certain that the point of no return has been reached. This is the stage of terminal decay of the NILP. At present the few survivors within this organisation are discussing whether to disband altogether or else re-establish themselves as a ginger group. It is possible that neither of these alternatives will be chosen but that the structure will be maintained for a further period. Nonetheless, the discussion itself is a further sign of irreversible decline.

It is now entirely certain that the NILP could not be reconstituted as the main centre of Labour politics in the North. This is the most important conclusion from the point of view of the work and orientation of the Tendency. Long ago the Marxists correctly turned their back on entry work in this organisation. Any reopening of this tactic would be a waste of resources. It will not be from or to this source that the mass movement will turn.

Rather the pressure for a Labour Party will be most strongly raised by the best trade union activists, none of whom could be persuaded to look to the NILP. The NILP, in real terms, severed the umbilical cord connecting it to the unions when it embraced sectarianism. The formal existence of a degree of trade union affiliation in no way contradicts this. This has been dead affiliation, maintained by some right wing union bureaucracies reflecting the movement of their ranks in the past, but in no way anticipating the direction of the movements in the future. The courting of sectarianism opened a huge gap between the consciousness of the activists and this party. This is a gap which cannot now be bridged. It is now quite clear that future moves to political action will be away from the NILP and to the creation of a new party.

In previous documents the possibility was correctly raised of a recovery of the NILP should there be a prolonged delay in the development of a party. This can also now be virtually excluded as a possibility. A long delay would not assist the NILP to recover. Such a delay could be because events had cut across the overall movement of the class to political action. Under these conditions the NILP would suffer alongside the movement as a whole. Given the rotten nature of its leading elements it would decline and could even disappear. Or a delay could be because of the stubborn and persistent refusal of the union bureaucracy to budge on this question. Were this to happen the tendency to political action among the rank and file would remain and it would remain as a tendency away from, not towards the NILP.

A further possibility not previously discounted is that a section of the bureaucracy could turn to the NILP as a shield against their ranks and against the Marxists in particular. Now this also can be virtually discounted. It is true that the bureaucracy are capable of almost anything in their desperation to hold back the leftward movements within their ranks. The NILP, however, would not provide them with much cover!

Even if the bureaucracy were to attempt to turn to the NILP they would stand little chance of success. There are patients who reach such an advanced state of illness that it would be dangerous to move them. The NILP is at such a low point of frailty that the very act of the bureaucracy of trying to pick it up would most likely be enough to shake it to pieces.

The leadership would attempt such a step only to ward off the pressure of an aroused rank and file. Far from satisfying or releasing this pressure they would thereby intensify it. If they answered the call for a political voice by holding up the shabby and rusty fragments of the NILP, there would be an outrage and an acceleration of the demand for genuine representation. The effect would be similar to their put attempts to project the convening of discussions with the major political parties as an alternative to independent action. Quite apart from the outcry within Northern Ireland a move to the NILP would be totally unacceptable to both the Irish and British Labour Parties and to many of the key trade unions in Britain and the South.

At the very best the NILP can form a part of a new party. It could seek and would probably gain representation within it. This would not be a step to recovery but simply an alternative form of disintegration. Inside a leftward moving party it would- simply form a part of its right wing. Its fate, complicated by the peculiar and twisted evolution of the movement in the North over the past ten years, will be the fate now facing or soon to face the proponents of right wing reformism in all the major social democratic parties of the capitalist countries.

A section of the NILP, plus the remnants of the ex-Maoist sect the British and Irish Communist Organisation, have argued for the formation of a region of the British Labour Party. This call for “British” politics suits well the underlying reactionary unionism of those who raise it. From the point of view of the NILP it is also a plea for salvation. By a region of the British Labour Party they mean that they would be recognised as such.

There can be no possibility, as things stand at present, of such a call being heeded. For different reasons neither the right nor the left of the British Labour Party are willing to take such it step. The trade unions in the North would mostly oppose it.

In any case, a party cannot be flown across the Irish Sea and instituted from above. Those who must form it are those who must build it – the trade union activists. The call is not supported by the best activists now fighting for political representation. The only people to have raised it in the unions are a small number of right wing, semi-loyalist elements, some of whom are already contaminated by past and present contact with the NILP.

The present mood is forcefully in the direction of a new party to be created by the unions in the North. Only if this did not take place over a long period, and if there was a. transformation of the situation inside the movement in Britain and Ireland, could there even begin to open up the possibility of a region of British Labour, or of the Irish Labour Party, being formed. Should this happen it would depend entirely on events at the time as to whether such a party would develop or would be still born. For the moment, there is no possibility of this happening.

It is not excluded that an initiative to begin a party might be launched by the unions in the North, in conjunction with the British Labour Party and/or the Irish Labour Party. Such an initiative might leave open the question of what links a new party would have with Labour in Britain or the South. This step would be entirely different from the establishment of a regional party and could be fully supported.

A further defence against the demand and the support for a new party has been raised by almost all the political groups on the left whose existence gives them a stake in opposition to such a move. Sensing the mood of political anger and aware that a genuine Labour Party would successfully outflank them all, groups like the Communist Party, the Republican Clubs, the United Labour Party and even the NILP, together with individual socialists, have, on a number of occasions, attempted to constitute a political “broad left”.

These unholy alliances are not so much “broad” as narrow. Neither are they to the left in terms of the movement of the most advanced sections of the trade union movement. As attempts to create a grouping which could be attractive to the trade union activist and could thereby hold back the movement towards the formation of a new party they will fail miserably. This is especially so given the unfathomable depths of craven opportunism to which both the Stalinist and social democratic elements among these so-called “lefts” are capable of stooping.

In their opposition to the genuine political movement of the class and in their scramble for survival, these groups have and will have no principles. The ULP split from the NILP in 1974, declaring their differences to be matters of “principle”. Now, when all that has changed is that the NILP has slid a few more degrees down the scale of degeneration, they are prepared to parade alongside them. So are the Communist Party. Even worse, each of these groups have been prepared to widen the net of their “broad lefts” to include such out and out reactionary anti-working class organisations as the Progressive Unionist Party and other political front-pieces for the loyalist paramilitaries.

All these groups feel the intense heat generated by the developing class movement. In their instinct for survival they find this heat melting every shade of political principle they possess. These “broad lefts” are feeble attempts to crowd together for protection. All will fail. There can be no marriage of the structures of these groups. For every attempt at unity there will be a division. Individual trade unionists and socialists like Paddy Devlin have flirted with these alliances in a blind and empirical attempt to ensure themselves a place in a future Labour Party. Such people have an eye on every road in front of them. When the movement through the unions to political representation becomes dear and decisive even to them, they will scramble into its slipstream. Likewise, the Communist Party will have no option, at a certain stage, but to acknowledge the development of a Labour Party and, while attempting to derail it, will be forced to give it begrudging verbal support.

A movement to a new party, probably initiated by some form of conference of labour, is now over-whelmingly the most likely development. This must be seen as a total vindication of the perspectives, slogans and tactical approach of the Marxists over more than half a decade.

If and when the bureaucracy do move it will be to gather the reins of a new party into their hands. They will seek to direct it along lines suitable to them and will work to isolate the Marxists. No matter what steps they take, no matter what rotten individuals they project inside the party, they will not be capable of preventing its movement to the left. Provided no great mistakes are made, neither will they be able to prevent the spread of Marxist ideas or the development of the Tendency as a force within it.

Right wing reformism was reinforced in Britain and elsewhere by the effects of the exceptional years of the boom. Crisis and stagnation have taken capitalism from an era of reforms to an era of counter reforms. The result is a crisis of all shades of reformism. The arguments of the right wing within the mass social democratic parties can no longer hold sway. They have become open advocates of measures of counter- reform, in general their days are numbered. Where they still cling to positions gained during the boom it is with an increasingly precarious hold.

In the North, the right wing themselves smashed their grip on the political structure of the movement. Their policies and methods led to the disintegration of these structures. The movement towards a new party takes place at a time when the entire basis of right wing ideas has been eroded. Under present conditions, it is not possible to create a new party, develop it into a mass force and at the same time maintain it under the control of right wing ideas.

In Spain, during the 1970s there was what would appear to have been an exception, which therefore needs to be explained. The PSOE emerged into a mass party during the revolutionary convulsions surrounding the death of Franco. Felipe Gonzalez, now a creature of the right, at that stage boasted of his “Marxism”. The initial movements of the Spanish working class were broken by the criminal betrayals of both the PSOE and the Communist Party leaderships. Instead of struggling all out for a workers’ government they slavishly cringed to Suarez and prepared the way for a Government of the UCD.

This political blow was reinforced by an industrial blow. The trade union leaders managed to restrain and sap the energies of the class on the question of wages. Mass activity became inactivity. Revolutionary enthusiasm became demoralisation. The masses quickly grew disillusioned with the PSOE and CP leaden. They turned in disgust from these parties and even from the trade unions.

Under these circumstances the rightward moving PSOE leadership were able to carry out a programme of mass expulsions, both of party activists and, through the UGT, of whole sections of that organisation. These vicious measures were taken very largely to arrest the growth of the Marxists. They even went to the lengths of destroying the Young Socialists and, in terms of active membership, eventually reducing the party itself to a rump. On the basis of gangster methods the right, despite the erosion on a world scale of right reformism, managed to carry out a successful counter-revolution within the PSOE and to capture its structure for a period.

In the North, under present conditions, this experience could not be repeated. In the first place it was the special conditions of Spain which allowed the right to make gains. The Spanish working class, with its revolutionary temperament, have a tendency to move quickly into struggle, to rapidly construct their organisations, but also on occasions to rapidly pass through these organisations when faced with disappointments. The Spanish revolution is marked by explosive movements of the class into its organisations, sometimes out of these organisations, but only to move more decisively into them at a later stage.

Secondly, it was only because the Gonzalvez bureaucracy rested on a reserve of funds from organisations like the CIA, channelled to it through the right social democratic parties of Germany and Sweden that it succeeded. This money gave the leadership an independence of action which it could not otherwise have had. It did not have to depend on the membership fees for income and so could afford to dislocate and in some areas even destroy the party apparatus.

The brief reprieve for right reformism in Spain was not due to the strength of the right in Spain. It was a defence action staged by international, not Spanish, social democracy aided by some of the subversive agencies of capitalism.

Finally, even the millions of pesetas from the hands of social democracy and world capitalism have achieved only a postponement of the inevitable radicalisation of PSOE. In the short term, perhaps as soon as the next elections in Spain, the PSOE will be retransformed.

None of these special conditions exist in the North. As a Labour Party develops into a force it will be pushed to the left. The tendency of workers in Britain and in Ireland is to fight doggedly to defend all the gains won in struggle, including the struggles against the right within their own organisations. This will doubly be the case in the North given the continued radicalisation of the Labour Parties in Britain and the South. It will be these parties and the movements of workers, they express, not the leaders of the SPD or SSU, who will exercise the greatest pull over Labour in the North.

The exception of Spain was an exception insofar as the bureaucracy managed to destroy the PSOE. Had it remained an organisation of an active mass of workers, right wing ideas could not have developed a hold. The only way a Labour Party could be preserved as a right wing party in the North would be if it did not develop. While the capacity of the trade union leaders, including and especially the Stalinists, to deliberately set out to strangle a Labour Party at birth should not be lost sight of, the decisive question is the movement of the class itself. A Labour Party will develop as part of the process of the radicalisation of the working class and of the moving of a whole layer of activists into struggle. The active sections of the trade union rank and file, in their thousands, would greet the formation of a new party with enthusiasm, and would set about to build it. A victory won in struggle is never simply handed back by the working class. Having worked for years without a political voice, having waged a battle against the trade union bureaucracy to force such a party to be built, the advanced sections of the class would not permit this victory to be lifted out of their hands by the leadership.

The driving force of an influx of workers would very quickly push a Labour Party in a left reformist direction. With the visible decay of capitalism in Northern Ireland and with the traditions of the working class who can have a Latin rather than a British temperament when it comes to speed of struggle, it could, depending on events, rapidly move in a centrist direction.

Neither the formation of a Labour Party, nor the struggles to develop that party into a mass force, will be simple or straightforward processes. Just as the right wing bureaucracy will not give up without a struggle neither will the sectarian organisations give ground to a class rival without a vicious battle. Both the formation and the development of Labour will involve convulsive struggles.

In these battles, through the ebb and flow of events, the idea of the leaders of a Labour Party, not only right wing ideas but those of left reformism, will be put to the test. In the next period the decisive confrontation within this party and within the movement will be the historic confrontation between the policies and methods of left reformism and of centrism on the one side and the ideas and methods of Marxism on the other.

In the heat of events experience will demonstrate the correctness of Marxist ideas. Marxism, for the first time in its history, can take on a mass character in the North.

Already the existence of the tendency has been a factor in determining the time scale at least of the moves to form a Labour Party. The movement to political action has been created by events. It will be events which will produce the party. Yet the Marxists, by giving dear expression to the semi-conscious groping’s of the class towards political action, have played a role in shaping its development and in accelerating the time scale.

It has been the campaign of the Marxists which has played a major role in closing the escape routes of the bureaucracies and in cutting off the options of the NILP, ULP, CP and others. In addition not a single one of the major organisations which have taken the decision to support the call for a conference of labour would have done so at this stage and in the manner they have, had it not been for the work of the Tendency both in Ireland and in Britain. In this, the slogans and ideas of Marxism are clearly seen to represent the sharpest, most conscious expression of the unconscious movement of the working class.

It has been the correct ideas, correct perspectives, correct methods of work, plus a flexible approach on tactical questions, which has permitted the Tendency to make huge strides on this issue. From classical entrist work in the NILP, when that party had a base and more importantly a potential, the Tendency developed new methods of work as the NILP collapsed. Work through the Committee over a number of years has led to important gains. Independent work has been possible and fruitful, but never to the extent of overstretching the resources, and always with an orientation to the mass organisations and with the perspective of future entry work within a Labour Party. The work through the Committee has been a chapter in the development of the tendency. It will be a chapter which will close in its present form as a new party emerges.

Until then the Committee can have a key role as the spearhead of the campaign for a conference of labour, as a vehicle of independent and semi-independent work and as a source of new recruits. The question of the future of this body after a Labour Party is formed will be a tactical question decided by the Tendency and argued for democratically through the structures of the Committee at that stage.

The present methods of work are those that are allowed by present conditions. The growth of the Tendency is still limited by the objective situation. Above all the absence of a mass party of the class is a huge handicap.

The emergence of a Labour party will entirely transform the position of the Tendency. In a sense the full return on the energetic work now being carried out in all fields will only then be harvested. Gains that are made today, under relatively hostile conditions, in terms of supporters and positions in the class, are as bridgeheads in the movement, carved out by painstaking effort.

Their significance, and the importance of all aspects of the work today, will only be fully seen when objective conditions turn in favour of Marxist ideas and when a mass party of Labour is built.

A further delay in the emergence at a party will make the work of the Tendency more difficult for that period. On the other hand the longer the delay the stronger and more developed will be the apparatus and the influence of the Tendency, the more rapid will be the growth of Marxism within that party. Whatever the precise course of developments there will be tremendous opportunities.

When the Tendency gains a position of leadership of a class organisation today this can be the leadership of the class in that area tomorrow. A healthy youth organisation can be the ready-made nucleus of an official youth section of a Labour Party. It can lay the basis for the mass influence of Marxism among the youth. Local branches of the Committee or the Tendency, rooted in their respective areas can provide the basis for a huge influence, possibly the leadership of future Labour Patty branches in those areas. As a new party forms it will attract the best trade union activists and will provide new and fresh openings for trade union work. In general the influence of Marxism inside the party will go hand in hand with its growth within the trade unions.

Every supporter must consider, reconsider and then consider again these opportunities. Such are the ambitions of the Tendency. Such also are the possibilities, provided the correct work is done at this stage. The absence of a mass party is an objective handicap but it has also its positive side. It gives the ingredient required by the Tendency to build and train the initial nucleus – time.

Time, though, is not unlimited time. When a mass party is formed avenues for fruitful work will open up as never before. Whereas in the past there has been a paucity of recruits, a lack of opportunities, these will abound. Past problems will disappear but will give rise to their opposites. Instead of a problem of opportunities there can develop a problem of insufficient resources to meet these opportunities. At the moment the Tendency wields a huge influence within the Labour Movement, an influence far in excess of the number of committed supporters. But part of the reason for this is the dormant state of the movement. To maintain this influence must mean to develop at least in pace with the development of the movement. To standstill or to advance only slowly, at a time when the class is moving forward at speed, is actually to fall back. Hence the need to strain every sinew, each muscle of the Tendency, in the limited time before a Labour Party emerges to permit the full potential of Marxism to be realised then.


Internationally, it is the youth who are the most revolutionary force in society. In all revolutions and revolutionary movements the youth are to the fore – in Soweto, in Iran, in El Salvador, in Britain and in Ireland. A revolutionary tendency which it not capable of winning the youth is doomed to stagnate. It is they who will always comprise its most vital, most energetic layers.

In general young people have greater energy, are fresher, less worn down by previous struggles, less bound by family pressures, quicker to absorb revolutionary ideas, than are older generations. Working class youth, male and female alike, are the most revolutionary section of the most revolutionary class in history. It is to them that the work of a Marxist tendency, whether it be work in the unions, in a Labour Party or mass work must be firstly orientated.

In Northern Ireland the youth has played a leading role in all the struggles of the last decade and a half. The movement of 1968-70 was very much a movement of the youth. The mass base of the paramilitaries came from the youth. Tragically, the unspeakable, cowardly opportunities of trade union and Labour leaders, the lunacy of the ultra-left and the false policies and methods of the Provos and Officials hammered the explosive energy of an entire generation of Protestant and Catholic youth into a stone wall of sectarianism, A generation has been disillusioned and demoralised.

Hence the double importance of work among the new and fresh generation of working class youth today. Unlike in the past there is no indication today of any significant turn of the youth to sectarianism. Despite the hunger strike the Republican paramilitaries failed to make important inroads among the Catholic youth. Organisations like the UDA and UVF are generally repugnant to Protestant youth. Likewise, no existing potential party could claim a base among young people. Not one has a youth section, other than on paper.

The youth are there to be won to the Labour Movement and to the ideas of Marxism. In the North there are 150,000 youth aged between 15–19, 44% of the population are 24 or under. This is the force which by its élan and determination can rekindle the class struggle and revitalise the older workers. It is these youth who will tend to be to the forefront of strikes, demonstrations, occupations, of every movement of the class. One symptom of the decay of capitalism is the existence of a ferment among the youth. As in 1968–69 such a ferment exists today.

Young people are generally opposed to capitalism. They regard society with a bitterness and a pent up anger. This huge rage stems from the energy of the youth on the one side and their position as a super exploited section of society on the other. Working class youth have no stake in capitalist society. The Northern Ireland Economic Council has estimated that by·1983 90% of school leavers in Northern Ireland will be unable to find a job. The attempts of the Tories to hold back the consequences of such a situation, and to disguise the unemployment figures through youth training schemes on starvation wages, will only increase the bitterness of Youth.

In·addition, as with the YOP scheme, these will give young people an experience of work and of organisation, which will also be an instruction in how to fight.

Together these factors open up great opportunities but also pose certain dangers. The youth already stand opposed to the present system and to its representatives. But in Northern Ireland there is no organisation through which they can give positive expression to their anger. The rottenness of the trade union leadership and the lack of a Labour Party still closes of the possibility of fighting back through the Labour Movement.

Instinctively aware of what they are against but without the consciousness of what they are for, it is inevitable that the energies of youth are partially frittered away. Nihilist tendencies, drunkenness, glue sniffing, degenerate music, ideological cults, gang fights, joy riding – these are but signs of the untapped frustrations of young people.

Even these, in a distorted manner, indicate the dislocation of capitalist society and the potential for socialist ideas. They are also a warning as to what can happen if the Labour Movement continues to fail to provide an alternative. In the past the failures of Labour drove the youth to sectarianism. In the future this can happen again. Youth could be again prey to the bigots.

A turn to sectarianism or the paramilitaries, even with the failures of the Labour Movement, would not be an exact replica of the past. A demoralisation of the youth can take an even more twisted form. Already in the areas of Belfast most scarred by the social ravages of capitalism, nightmare complexes like Divis Flats, the uncontrollable rage of the youth will vent on society, the state, and the paramilitaries alike. Mass unemployment and deprivation has lumpenised sections of these youth.

As capitalism drives back the productive forces it destroys its own ability to harness constructively the energies of society. With mass unemployment and the hopelessness it brings it is only the Labour Movement which can positively harness these energies. If this is not done, if capitalism is not challenged and overthrown, it threatens to pull back the wheel of civilisation. Already in Northern Ireland there are areas where life is coloured by more than a tinge of barbarism. This is a warning to the Labour Movement and to the Marxists. In the longer term the youth will be won to the side of the class struggle where they will make up its foremost ranks, or else their instinctive class anger could be misshaped into a vile sectarian form, and for sections of the unemployed youth there would develop a blind rage and lumpen lawlessness in which there can exist the kernel for the emergence of fascist gangs.

The importance of the youth initiative taken by the Tendency over the last two years is to be seen in this light. With the anger of the youth on the one side and the protracted, ponderous nature of the development of the Labour Movement on the other, it would be fatal to hold back.

The way to the working class is through the mass organisations. This is a law of history which guides the work of the Tendency. Like, any law it is to be applied concretely and flexibly, taking into account all peculiarities and all exceptions. When there is a ferment among the youth, and when no mass class organisation exists to express it, it is both necessary and possible to find a way to the youth independently.

In this period there are always possibilities for work among the youth no matter what the stance of the official organisations. Nationally and internationally this is the case. Where the movement does not provide the channels to the youth these must be found separately.

The building of the Youth branches, the stepping up of the campaigns on unemployment, and other issues which affect the youth – this is immediately the most fruitful work for the Tendency. There must be a direct orientation to the YOPs, to the GTCs, to the factories, to the youth clubs, to all the forums where youth are found. Boldness and audacity at all times and on all occasions are the key. Youth activity must be such as to fire the imagination of the youth.

Those who move into the Youth can be quickly won to the Tendency. With working class youth in particular it can be a very rapid process from joining the Youth to becoming a supporter of the Tendency. Initially the work of constructing youth branches has been difficult. Difficulties notwithstanding, it has shown the potential in every single area. There are now enormous opportunities to develop this work. Even in advance of the formation of a Labour Party the youth branches can be filled out. It is even possible that the youth campaigns could attract a semi-mass base of support.

Just as the youth can be reached by independent work so the movements of the youth can be of a more independent character than movements of the class as a whole. Ultimately it will be in and through the mass organisations that a mass youth section will be built and consolidated. But revolutionary opportunities do not wait on formulas. The youth are not tied to the traditional organisations to the degree of the class as a whole. They are capable of great spontaneity.

Hence the mushrooming at times of organisations like CND, among middle class youth in the main, but also with support among the working class. In the North when the trade unions offer little attraction and where there is a tradition of radical organisations developing outside the movement and surviving for a period with broad support, this is especially the case.

It cannot therefore be ruled out that the youth campaigns could receive a far greater echo than imagined by some comrades. This cannot be a definite perspective, only a possibility, but a possibility which should add an edge of energy and enthusiasm to the youth work.

That movements among the youth can develop in advance and in anticipation of the generalised movement of the class does not in any way contradict the basic position of the Marxists. It is still the case that the working class moves in and through the traditional organisations. The form in which such a movement takes place can be partially contradictory, affecting different layers in different ways at different times.

It is possible to develop a viable youth organisation now. Outside the official mass organisations, such a body could not be indefinitely sustained. This is the key point. The youth can move in advance of the class as a whole. They can also move too far in advance. A force which moves too far ahead ends up isolated and dissipates. Were the activities of the Youth to develop a semi-mass base of support this could not indefinitely be sustained in Isolation. It would need to be followed by a development within the workers organisations, above all a move to establish a Labour Party with a fighting youth section. Independent work among the youth can only be successful with an awareness both of the potential and the limitations of this work.

It must be conducted with sufficient élan to captivate the forward moving energies of the youth, and with the restraint to also control and direct these energies back towards the official organisations of the class.

It is not possible to say what will be the attitude of a future Labour party towards the setting up of a youth section. Inevitably there will be a struggle to see that this is done. As the party grows and moves to the left, and with the existence of the youth organisations in Britain and the South, it is most likely that such a struggle would be successful, If a youth section were established it could be quickly won to the ideas of Marxism, particularly if there already existed a ready-made youth apparatus built up by the Tendency.

A fighting youth section of a left moving Labour Party could add the stamp of official sanction to the type of campaigning work now being carried out through the Committee Youth. It could become a real alternative to hundreds and thousands of young workers. The winning of these to the ideas of Marxism would in turn provide a springboard into both a Labour Party and the trade unions. To hold the youth would indeed be to hold the future.

The Capitalist Parties

The movements of Labour and of youth will turn all existing political relationships in the North upside down. Not one of the major political parties will continue to exist in its present form after a Labour Party has developed into a mass force among Catholic and Protestant workers.

The major parties, both Orange and Green, have many features in common. All emerged out of the extremely exceptional period of sectarian upheaval in the North. All now bear, in a strikingly similar manner, the strains of the ebbing of the sectarian mood.

The convulsive events of 1968–69 entirely disturbed the political relationships of the time. The Unionist Party, which for fifty years had held together, was divided into factions which later became huge open divisions. The monolith of unionism has gone and gone forever. New the political ground once covered by the Unionist Party supports two major parties, the Official Unionists and the DUP, plus a string of minor organisations.

Never in the history of the Northern state had a political monolith developed among the Catholic population comparable to the monolith of Unionism. No party had ever been able to bridge the gap between the mutually exclusive socialist aspirations of the Catholic working class and the petit-bourgeois and reactionary character of right wing nationalism. In 1968 there were a whole number of political organisations with a base in the Catholic community, of which the Nationalist party was only the largest.

All were thrown into a ferment by the convulsions which then shook the population. Their molecules were broken down and later reassembled in the shape of the mis-named Social Democratic and Labour Party. For a period this party drew together the various political traditions of the minority community. It did so not by the attractive power of its own ideas but because of the antagonistic pressures of sectarianism.

The major parties, Unionist, SDLP and the Alliance Party took shape because of the growth of sectarianism at the beginning of the decade. The situation at the time drove forward their electoral base. They stood at the crest of the wave of sectarian reaction.

After 1975 this wave had broken. Since then there has not been the slightest momentum within the situation to carry these parties forward. There was no longer even the slightest movement of the population in their direction. Rather there was a turning away. The working class, Catholic and Protestant, regard all the major parties with scorn, cynicism and contempt. Within these organisations the scars show. Their structures, without exception, are by and large empty shells. They exist as a bedrock of older members, in most cases people who were won to their ranks years ago. The SDLP in particular, in many areas exists only as a name lacking either a structure or a membership.

Above all, to the youth these parties offer not the slightest attraction. Working class youth look on them all, Orange and Green, with a similar bitter contempt. Even among the middle class youth there is not the slightest evidence of any active support for these parties. There is not a single major party which can attract the youth.

Not one has a significant base of young people among its membership. Not one has a youth section. This further underlines the huge impact which a fighting Labour organisation will be capable of making among young people.

History, however, is full of contradictions. On the one hand there has been a clear move away from the major parties. On the other hand the parties have maintained, at times even increased, their electoral base. The explanation for this again lies in the exceptional nature of the present period.

These orange and green Tories have held their electoral base simply because there is no class alternative. As James Connolly once said, so long as the alternative to an orange bigot is a green bigot or vice-versa, so long workers will vote on the basis of “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know. ”

The sectarian political division can never be broken except by a class party. The Tory Alliance Party was formed mainly at the behest of the capitalist class who provided it with finance and publicity, much in the way they formed the SDP in Britain. It was intended to be a safe Tory alternative to the sectarian Tories. Its experience has proven that a Tory Party such as this can never break the political hold of the bigots over large sections of the working class.

All this will be transformed by the development of Labour. The contradiction of the present situation in the North is that despite the huge size and combative strength of the working class, its political voice is worse than weak, it is non-existent. It is the contradiction which gives the period its protracted character.

All the major parties are products of a quite exceptional period. In 1968–69 the wheel of history took a turn and formed these organisations. Now, as workers are beginning to move to construct a political arm, the wheel of history is set to take another turn. As it does it will convulse every one of the major parties.

It is the absence of a Labour Party which permits these organisations to retain their electoral base among the working class. A class party which could sink roots among Catholic and Protestant workers would shatter these all-class alliances it would slice into their working class support and would even draw to its banner large sections of the middle class, particularly the youth.

Labour would also draw out the true class character of these parties. No phenomenon can ever be fully comprehended in terms of itself. Only in terms of something else, of its opposite, can it become fully known. The Tory SDLP, Unionist, DUP and Alliance Parties have not been confronted with a class opposition. They have therefore been partially capable of disguising their reactionary anti-working class nature. The SDLP has been capable of loosely hanging the title “Labour” around its Tory neck. The DUP have been able to issue populist agitation against the closure of industries and on other aspects of Tory policy. The comfortable “all things to all people” screen presented by the Alliance Party has not been broken.

When Labour develops as the class opposite of· these parties their true class outline will be silhouetted. Sooner or later they will be forced to show their hand in opposing its policies, in attempting to block its path, in openly standing in the way of the movement of workers to come together in both industrial and political struggle.

Politically, the emergence of a mass class party, will leave nothing the same. Every political organisation will be forced to realign itself against this new development. As in 1968–69 every political relationship will be disturbed, but in an even more forceful, more penetrating, more destructive manner.

What precisely will be the result of this turmoil in reshaping the parties of the right only events will determine. All that can be stated with certainty is that there will be a drawing away of their support in the direction of Labour, forcing them in turn, over a period, to adopt a distinctively anti-working class stance.

Green and orange Tories will share a mutual hatred of Labour. On all major class questions they will be at one in opposing the movement of the working class, above all the movement towards unity. This does not mean that there will be any tendency among these people to sink their differences and merge in common class opposition to Labour. On the contrary these people will react according to the dynamic laws of the class struggle not the set formulas of algebra.

Labour, far from forcing them together, will, in general, push them to even more extreme sectarianism. The idea which has been raised that a Labour Party will in turn lead to the formation of a unified Tory Party in opposition is an entirely mechanical construction. While the ruling class might wish to see a Tory Party develop which could challenge and prevent a left Labour Party from gaining a majority of seats in the province, they would soon find that this is impossible. Just as the British Tory Party is already decimated in Scotland and in much of the North of England, a similar organisation can never gain a base in Northern Ireland.

In the past the ruling class swung behind the Alliance Party, attempted to use it to break up the hold of the old unionist and nationalist parties, and failed. If they were to repeat the attempt they would fail again. The development of a class party will not lead to a growth of the Alliance along the lines of the Tories in Britain. In fact a rising Labour Party would devastate the present support of Alliance.

When the Alliance Party began to make ground it attracted thousands of former Labour voters who, up until 1970 had backed the NILP. This process will be reversed. Alliance will lose much of its base in areas like East Belfast when challenged by a fighting Labour Party.

In Britain the existence, in the past, of a Tory Party capable of winning an electoral majority gave the ruling class a “democratic means” of answering Labour. Britain was almost unique in having a Tory Party with a base among the population, even among the working class, and capable of winning a majority of seats. Elsewhere the bosses have been forced to rely on coalitions between the open parties of capital, petit-bourgeois parties and, at times, the reformist parties of the working class. Now even in Britain the old “comfortable” political relationships are rapidly disintegrating.

There is no possibility of the ruling class, under the present conditions of extreme crisis, unearthing such a “democratic” means to challenge the threat of a left Labour Party in the North. No Tory Party could gain a social base. Instead the bosses will be forced to lean back on the weapon of bigotry.

The tendency will not be towards a merger of the green and orange bigots but to their spiralling even further apart. Ata later stage the voice of the ruling class will more and more be raised in echo of the virulent sectarianism of the Unionist groupings.

It may be that these parties will continue to disguise their bitter opposition to the demands and movements of the working class. In the past the unionist formed Unionist Labour Association was a false attempt to present this party as an ally of the Protestant workers. But the further the class movement advances the more difficult will be their efforts, the more openly pronounced will be their true character.

In general the major parties will be forced more openly to confront the class movement with sectarianism. This, together with the erosion of their working class support, will force new alignments on the existing Tory groups both orange and green. What precisely will emerge from this it is not possible to say. All that is definite is that these parties in the future will not be as they are today.

Paisleyism, deprived of its working class electoral support, can, as already explained, move to the extreme right. It is likely that the Official Unionists will be retained by the ruling class as the most convenient electoral machine through which to work. But the bosses will wish to hold onto Paisley as a reserve weapon and at a later stage as an open club to wield against the working class. While there has undoubtedly been a penetration of the Official Unionists by the DUP, it is not likely that this could make much more ground or that a merger of these parties would take place. This penetration has been assisted by the particularly weak leadership of the Official Unionists provided by its Molyneaux/Powell wing. It is more likely that the stronger McCusker wing of the party will eventually take control and will be used as a more effective barrier to Paisley.

It is impossible to be anything other than tentative on these questions. Events will vastly complicate what now seems to be even the simplest and clearest processes. The future of these organisations is not a question of things as they are now, but is primarily of things as they will become under the impact of the class struggle. It is not a question solely of what are the wishes of the ruling class but of the shape of events which even the bosses neither foresee nor fully control.

The SDLP was a merger of different political traditions among the Catholic community. For a brief period of years, a moment in history, it has held these contradictory forces together. Under the impact of events it will fly apart.

Already the Labourite elements within the SDLP structure have gone. This is a portent of what will happen to its working class electoral base once a mass party of Labour develops. On the opposite front it has been challenged and badly weakened by the splitting of its most virulent nationalist wing and the formation of the IIP.

Nationalist parties have never managed to develop a hold over the Catholic working class. The working class base of the SDLP is without even the strength of tradition enjoyed by the Unionists. It will disappear all the quicker.

Challenged from all sides it is possible that the SDLP could disappear. Alternatively, it may be forced to move openly to the around of right wing nationalism and attempt to hold its own on this territory against the IIP.

Once again all is tentative on these questions. What is important is to see the general process and understand the enormous shocks which lie in store for all these organisations. Marxism weighs carefully all the factors in a situation. Only in this way can a perspective be attempted. Without a dialectical approach it is possible to examine the major parties and see only an apparently invincible electoral base, an armour of sectarianism, and a political dominance which has been maintained for over half a century.

Dialectics goes beyond appearances and examines things as they exist in contradiction and in change. A political structure which seems granite like at a time when there is no political movement of the working class can become like gravel when a movement commences.

Left Parties

The “left” organisations, the Republican Clubs and CP will find their style of existence changed fundamentally with the growth of Labour.

The Republican Clubs, soon to become “The Workers Party”, are no longer a significant force in the North. Their evolution and their demise demonstrates the destructive nature of Stalinism. It was under the ideological tuition of members of the Communist Party that the Officials developed. At the outset of the troubles they held the structures of the old IRA in the tight grip of Stalinism. Their failures were partly responsible for the emergence of the Provos.

When the mass movement developed within the Catholic community even the rigid structure of the Officials was affected by it. Despite the leadership of the organisation there was an influx of youth into its ranks. The youth brought with them a revolutionary drive which radicalised the entire organisation and pushed it in a centrist direction.

The ground of centrism cannot indefinitely be maintained. Ether it will move over to the position of revolution, or else it will subside and lapse back into the camp of reformism. No revolutionary organisation existed which could have assisted the ranks of the Officials to break with the moulds of the Stalinist apparatus and move forward to the position of Marxism. Inevitably the mass movement subsided, the ferment of the youth turned to disillusionment, the influx into the Officials became an exodus, and the Stalinist leadership was able to re-establish control.

This leadership has pulled the organisation back to the camp of reformism, not of left but of right reformism. This has compounded the organisation’s decline. It has alienated the youth. Its electoral base has been shrunk by its opportunism. In the last local government elections, admittedly with the exceptional feature of the hunger strike, it lost all its Belfast seats. Losing support due to their grovelling opportunism the Officials have concluded that the answer is to be even more opportunistic, to trample more on their past, and to more and more court bourgeois respectability. In the conditions which exist in the North this will only serve to isolate them further.

In the South the failure of the Labour leaders has allowed the Officials a temporary electoral boost. This is not likely to be repeated in the North. Even the continued failure of the union leaders to build a Labour Party would not permit them to fill this ground. There would still be no movement of the working class into their ranks.

Two crucial factors are different in the North. Firstly there is the fact that this organisation has already had a base among the Catholic working class, which has given this section of the community an understanding of what the Officials really are. Outside of a small and dwindling base the Officials are regarded as careerists and opportunists by most Catholic workers.

Their attempts to wipe away all open manifestations of their past paramilitary connections will not succeed in winning them any support among Protestant workers, There is no possibility whatsoever of the Officials, in the guise of Republican Clubs, in the guise of the Workers Party or in any other guise being built into the main party of the working class in the North.

The Protestant working class will move to a socialist organisation only in and through the trade union movement. Likewise the main independent movement among Catholic workers will be to Labour. The Officials have no connection with the trade union movement. Even the base they once had of a few key individuals in the unions in the North has largely gone. No matter in how many costumes of “respectability” they parade themselves they will never establish formal connections with the unions.

Nor will there be a new movement of the youth, as in the early 1970s, into their ranks. The conditions of that time cannot be recreated. Nor can the effects of past experience be erased. The Officials did attract the youth once, only to dash their hopes and expectations. They are now largely repellent to the youth who, even if a Labour Party were not to emerge for a period, would look in other directions.

The most likely perspective for the Officials is one of continued decline. If, in the absence of a Labour Party, they are incapable of developing far more this will be the case when such an organisation exists, unites Protestant and Catholic workers in its ranks, is tied to the trade union movement and politically stands well to their left.

At this stage it is possible that the Officials could be reduced to a shell or even disappear entirely. The few genuine elements in their ranks would be drawn towards Labour. In addition quite a number of their leading elements would desert them, if only for the basest, most opportunistic reasons. The Official leadership is made up of careerists and potential careerists, many of whom will come to see that better opportunities for their own advancement might be found within a Labour Party.

As with the Officials, the inability of the Communist Party to develop at a time when there has been no mass working class party makes it certain that this organisation has no potential to develop into a mass force. The emergence of a Labour Party would entirely outflank it. In Britain the movement of the Labour Party to the left has decimated the Communist Party. Its youth section has collapsed. The Morning Star is in crisis, with declining sales. The party membership has fallen steeply. Now, in its last bastion of former strength, the trade unions, the party is very rapidly losing ground. In union after union it is being displaced at the main opposition on the left.

If this has been the case in Britain, it will far more be the case in the North where the Communist Party is already not much more than a sect. Even now, without the challenge of Labour, there are clear signs that the Communist Party has suffered some setbacks, and that even its party organisation is riddled with crisis and divisions.

On the H-Block issue there were at least three distinct positions adopted by sections of the CP or its members. Undoubtedly there will have been some disaffection over the virulent Stalinist position adopted on the question of Poland. There have been major differences raised over the effectiveness of the party within the trade union movement. That such differences can emerge in so small an organisation is an indication of its rottenness and of the bankruptcy of the regime that rules within it.

The positions held by the CP within the trade unions have already changed into a fetter on the organisation. The CP trade union leaders are indistinguishable from the union bureaucracy as a whole. Inevitably they have come into conflict with the union activists and are a further factor in repelling these activists from the CP.

In the T&GWU the CP have built themselves into a powerful position in the union bureaucracy. They have been incapable of using their position to advance their organisation. Rather they have time and time again come into collision with the rank and file. Already there are simmerings of a genuine left opposition to the Stalinist dominated bureaucracy within this union.

While there are a small number of genuine trade union activists still attached to the CP, and while it is possible for them to make individual gains here and there, the general tendency of the union activists is to bypass this organisation.

The key is the development of an alternative on the left, above all the extension of the base of Marxism. In relation to the youth the CP have been forced to take note of the bold initiatives launched by the tendency through the Committee youth. They have attempted likewise to make a turn to the youth using the vehicle of the Connolly Youth Movement (CYM). In the recent period there has been a notable falling off in their youth work. During the height of their activity they failed to attract any significant numbers of youth, especially of working class youth. They have been incapable of sustaining this activity and the CYM has recently been virtually moribund.

It is now becoming increasingly dear that the CP is in an extremely weak position. The divisions among its ranks, the lack of discipline, the lack of fight, and the failing away of the youth all betray a degree of demoralisation within it.

The CP has been incapable of capitalising on the lack of a Labour Party. When a Labour Party emerges it will be further weakened. As in Britain the movement of workers will be towards the Labour Party, not towards the Communist Party. A leftward moving Labour Party will attract the youth. It will attract the trade union activists and the revolutionary workers. The Communist Party, under these conditions, could be reduced to even more of a rump. Its relative influence within the trade union movement would fall sharply. It would relinquish all its potential to make headway among the youth.

As a Labour Party becomes obviously inevitable the CP will most likely perform a political somersault and give verbal support to this party. They will probably attempt to develop a Stalinist core within it.

Should such a core grow into a force within a Labour Party its effect would be to head off the potential for revolutionary ideas which will develop among the party rank and file. In other countries Stalinism has been able to develop such a base, and thereby to derail the revolution, by such methods. In Ireland, it has a long tradition of work inside the Labour Party.

However, in every case where the Stalinists were capable, in the past, of constructing a cage within the mass organisations to confine the movement to the left, there was one common factor. The forces of genuine Marxism were either extremely weak or non-existent, or through mistakes failed to mount a challenge. When a Labour Party develops in the North it is quite likely that the Marxists will be a stronger force with a far greater respect among the advanced workers and above all among the youth than the CP. If the work of building the Tendency is done, correctly it will be possible to close every door, both inside and outside a Labour Party, to the CP’s advancement. The example of the work of the Tendency in the youth field in Britain shows clearly what can happen in the North. The CP are now incapable of making progress among any section of Labour’s youth, now that the youth organisation has been turned into a fortress of Marxism. Rather the building of the youth organisation has effectively destroyed the YCL, the youth section of the British CP.

In the immediate period the CP can continue to pick up a few individuals. At best it will only manage to stand still in terms of membership, taking into account its losses. More likely it will continue to slowly contract. In the trade union field it can still make a few individual gains but is incapable of making any significant advance.

The success of the youth work of the Tendency will not pass unnoticed by the CP. A fresh attempt to launch some initiative on youth can be expected from them. This is not likely to yield any greater results than their last attempt.

Even if the building of a Labour Party were to be delayed there is no possibility of any major revival of the CP. Again the role of the Marxists is a key factor. If the work is done correctly, whether or not a Labour Party quickly develops, the Marxists can be capable of blocking any possible growth of Stalinism.

Firstly in the youth field the superiority of the programme, organisational methods and the far greater élan of the Marxists, sets them far ahead of the CP. If the youth campaign of the Tendency is maintained and stepped up, any turn of a section of the youth to the Stalinists can be stopped.

Secondly, in the unions, the Marxists can quickly move, as is now the case in Britain, to become the organised opposition. In broad lefts, as they form, the Marxists can play the key role, displacing the Stalinists in the process. In the PSA the work of the Tendency over the years has prevented the CP from making headway. It is the Tendency who are recognised by the NIPSA activists as the authentic left. The same process can develop in other unions. It can develop even without the formation of a Labour Party, although the emergence of such a party would greatly accelerate it.

Marxism has become a small factor in the overall situation. In relation to the Communist Party the existence of a genuine Marxist tendency is already a key factor, if not the key factor, in determining its future.

In the past the possibility of limited entry work, on a short term basis, in the CP was considered. There would now be little, if anything, to be gained from such work. The CP does not have a genuine rank and file. It does not have any numbers of fresh youth. Resources put into entry work within it, even on a short term basis, would be more usefully deployed elsewhere, particularly in the youth activity of the Tendency.

Should the situation change this can be reconsidered. Were the CP to pick up a genuine layer of fresh workers and youth this layer would come into conflict with the ideas and apparatus of the party, it might be possible to reach them with Marxist ideas. At the moment there is no such genuine layer, nor is there any likelihood that there will be an influx either of trade unionists or the youth. The Marxists, by concentrating on and developing the existing forms of work, can make doubly sure that this remains the case.

The Sects

The sectarians of the ultra-left are incapable of building in the North. As in Britain, these groups are, at their best, capable of becoming a nuisance, nothing more.

The sects, despite their pompous claims and titles, have nothing in common with the ideas and methods of Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky. They have completely departed from Marxism and do nothing but dishonour its name.

Northern Ireland has been a severe test for political ideas. The sects have miserably failed to withstand its pressures. Not Marxists, but total empiricists, they have easily succumbed to each temporary mood as it has developed. They have been blown first in one direction, then in the other, by events. Class ideas, class analysis and even the slightest trace of a class perspective have all been casualties of their approach.

The self-styled “Trotskyist„ groups have moved a thousand light years from the teachings of Trotsky and the theories of Marxism. To these people the laws of the class struggle are a closed book. They have written off the Protestant working class as “fascist” and “reactionary“. In so doing they have discovered that the working class is not the force to change society. Tail-ending the temporary moods of the Catholic areas they have given their full support to the Provisionals and rejected the class struggle for the insane methods of individual terrorism. They have rejected Trotsky’s theory of “Permanent Revolution”. Theirs is not the position of Trotsky. Rather they share a common ground with the Stalinists and reformists in putting forward the Menshevik theory of stages of the revolution. First of all, they argue, the national question must be solved. Then and only then can there be a struggle for socialism.

This argument, which flies in the face of the writings of Marxism, particularly the writings of Trotsky, has deposited the sects into the camp of nationalism. There they have been prepared to forego class ideas for the sake of alliances with the most reactionary nationalists.

These groups deserve nothing but contempt. They are not capable of consistent or serious work. They will never build anything worthwhile in the North. The orientation of the Marxists must be to the fresh layers of the class and away from the sects. While here and there a few genuine fighters will stray into these groups, in general, there are no potential gains for the Marxists from within their ranks. Where new supporters come from the sects they need to be entirely retrained and re-educated before they can play a role fighting for the genuine ideas of Marxism.

The passing electoral gains made last year by the People’s Democracy represent nothing in terms of the building of the so-called “Fourth International” to which this sect belongs. Two council seats were won on a platform of support for the hunger strike. Not only was the so-called “Trotskyist” position of People’s Democracy never mentioned, nor was the word “socialist“. Their platform was indistinguishable from that of the right wing nationalists who also stood on H-Block tickets.

This support will crumble to nothing. It will not lead to organisational gains but eventually to organisational crisis for People’s Democracy. They will pay the penalty for their opportunism. Already the angry mood over H-Block has subsided. The defeat has left the H-Block committees disillusioned and divided. Because they failed to raise even a single class criticism of the H-Block campaign but joined in its sectarian chorus, the People’s Democracy will suffer from this general disillusionment.

It is not possible to build on false ideas, false perspectives and false methods of struggle. On an opportunistic basis even a sect like People’s Democracy can occasionally, when circumstances permit, appear to advance. But nothing is more certain than that for every gain which they make in this manner today they will end up further back than where they started tomorrow.

The development of the class struggle in the North, far from benefitting these groups, will hurl then into crisis. In Britain various of the sects managed to construct a fickle and passing base among the students and the petit-bourgeoisie at the end of the 1960s. This was at a time when the movement of the working class had not begun in earnest. The base of the sects quickly proved worthless. Now that there is a movement of workers, not to the sects but into and through the Labour Party and the trade unions, every one of the sects has virtually collapsed.

So in the North the chickens will come home to roost for these people when a genuine united movement of the class develops. Their opportunism has driven them behind the flags and banners of right wing nationalism. The development of working class unity in action will devastate their neat theories, will sow divisions in their ranks and will leave them in permanent crisis. These people are empiricists, not Marxists. They do not anticipate developments, are blind to processes, but simply react to events. It is certain that when the working class does move into action what is left of these groups will attempt to redirect their forces in that direction.

They win add a greater socialist colouration to their propaganda and will attempt to erase the memories of where they stood on issues in the past.

Still they will not build. Where they do intervene it will be only to do damage, sowing sectarian division with their ultra-left ideas. Anything they gain they will lose later. Above all, the development of the Marxists will prevent them from gaining a hold in any area. Already the work of the Tendency has been successful in blocking the sects within the trade unions. They are incapable of developing any influence in this area. If the won is maintained and developed the Tendency can prevent them from ever advancing in the trade unions, in a Labour Party or among the youth.

The Tendency

Unlike the ultra-left the Marxists have built on firm foundations. Past perspectives, programme and tactics have been completely vindicated. The Tendency is now poised on the threshold of huge opportunities.

In its formative years the nucleus of the Tendency was hewn out of a situation of black sectarian reaction from 1970–75. Then it was a question of fighting against the stream. Developing and preserving the ideas, and accepting that only minimal returns were possible.

In the final years of the 1970s greater advances were possible, in the trade unions, through the Committee and among the youth. These advances were consolidated into a firm foundation of cadres. In the course of the hunger strike, the solidity of the Tendency was put to the test. Again a period of reaction was opened up. Again it was necessary to battle against the stream, not over half a decade as earlier, but for a period of six months to a year.

H-Block did not damage the Tendency. It completely withstood the temporary pressures of mounting sectarianism. Its effect has been to harden the apparatus and the supporters. Despite the objective situation the Tendency grew more rapidly during this period than ever before. Now in every single field there are enormous opportunities. In the trade union field the Marxists can become the leadership in some areas, and the decisive opposition to the bureaucracy overall. There is now a need to put this work on a firmer, more systematic footing, with more regular, better prepared caucuses and possibly by taking new initiatives in relation to the larger unions.

Among the youth the pace of the youth campaign has already outdistanced the work of all other groups. A viable youth organisation can now be built. This will have a huge potential basis of support among both Protestant and Catholic youth. Over the struggles of the coming years, Marxism can become the main political current among the youth. In turn the youth work, by be in a directed to the factories, the offices and to working class youth as a whole, can assist in the in the trade unions and also in a Labour Party.

A feature of the work which must now also be stressed as never before is the need to win women, especially working class women to support the Tendency. Women bear a double oppression under capitalism. They have been and will be among the best class fighters. Working class women who come to the ideas of Marxism bring also special abilities and a special determination to the struggle. Women in Northern Ireland have played a crucial role in all the upheavals of the past decade in the republican movements, in the movement against repression, in the peace movement, on housing agitation and other class protests and in the trade unions, especially in areas like the health service and public sector.

The decline in traditional employment gives a new edge to this question. Not only do women make up half the population, they are now a rapidly growing percentage of the workforce, most often in the lowest paid, most menial jobs, and in part time work. The facts spell out the importance of winning women through all fields of work, trade union and youth work especially. There are now 223,000 women in employment, a figure which represents 44% of the non-agricultural workforce.

Here also the work of the Tendency needs to be developed and improved by taking up both the general and the particular oppression of women, and by ensuring that women supporters are won and developed at all levels of the Tendency.

Huge gains in terms of the number of supporters who can be won to the ideas are now possible. Past restraints on mass activity among the youth in particular are now gone. It is equally possible now to develop work in both Protestant and Catholic areas. What is today an important nucleus, even before a Labour Party is formed, can be built into an important factor within the situation itself.

Alongside the increasing of the number of supporters must be set the task of the development of cadres and the consolidation of a firm leadership at every level. Huge steps have already been taken on these fronts but even greater strides are now necessary, simply to keep pace with the developing potential.

The Marxists have grown under hostile conditions. The ability of the Tendency to stand against the stream has been demonstrated. Now the objective situation has changed and is changing. While there will be further shocks and setbacks the decisive movement is to the left. On the basis of events on the one hand, and of correct ideas and determined work on the other, Marxism can now be built into a major tendency within the Labour Movement and among the youth and later into a mass tendency among the working class as a whole.

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Last updated: 20 February 2015