Pamphlet published by Militant, 1984.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
Editorial Note from ETOL
Peter Hadden drafted the nearly all of the Northern Ireland Perspectives documents for the CWI in Ireland. These documents were presented to the Irish National Committee and the 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, even though they were published in the name of Militant.
Our epoch is the epoch of the socialist revolution. On a world scale an unprecedented movement of the working class against capitalism in the west and the system of Stalinist totalitarian misrule in the East has begun. Despite the apparently unique and exceptional nature of events in Northern Ireland, it is these world processes which are the first essential key to an understanding of what is taking place and what is likely to take place here.
In 1928, Trotsky, countering the perfidious Stalinist theory of Socialism in one country wrote: “In our epoch, which is the epoch of imperialism, i.e. of world revolution and world politics under the hegemony of finance capital, not a single communist party can establish its programme by proceeding solely or mainly from conditions and tendencies of development in its own country. “
Since these words were written, mankind has experienced economic collapse, world war, a quarter century of expansion and a new period of recession. The economies of the world are integrated as never before. It is now only possible to speak of a world crisis and a world movement to revolution. Trotsky’s words, addressed to the conditions of 1928, apply except with ten times the force, today.
The impact of revolutionary events in any country are now felt worldwide. The Polish events of 1980–81, although defeated, had a powerful effect on the consciousness of a new generation of workers internationally. Living workers’ power on the streets was shown on the TV screens of tens of millions. So also the Iranian revolution, before it donned the ugly disguise of Islamic fundamentalism, also captured the attention of millions of workers, especially the youth.
General strikes and revolutionary movements, especially in the key advanced countries or in Russia, will have a powerful bearing on the workers’ movement even in a seemingly isolated area like Northern Ireland. To date we can measure only the effects of movements which have been partially or wholly defeated. Nowhere has the present generation seen the workers take power.
A new October 1917, anywhere in the developed world is on the agenda within the next fifteen, ten or possibly even five years. Such a victory would change forever the world balance of power. From that event to the complete elimination of capitalism, of landlordism and of Stalinist misrule would be only a matter of time. Such an event would fundamentally interrupt whatever processes would then be under way within Northern Ireland and would propel society here towards revolution.
That is why world perspectives are the only possible starting point for a perspective on the events in any country whether a major power or an area of relatively secondary significance such as Northern Ireland. Those socialists in Northern Ireland who wish to maintain a correct and balanced approach to events should be steeped from head to foot in an understanding of world events, with of course a particular emphasis on Britain and the South.
The recession of 1974–75 marked the definitive ending of the post-war economic boom. An era of economic, growth and relative stability for capitalism gave way to the present era of stagnation, crisis and revolution. Along the fault lines separating historical epochs’ are to be found the most profound social shocks and upheavals. As Trotsky put it “a transition from an entire boom epoch to one of decline or vice versa, engenders the greatest historical disturbances and it is not hard to show that in many cases revolutions and wars straddle the borderline between two different epochs of economic development.”
1974–75 drew the line of distinction between the period of capitalism’s fastest ever growth and that of its most severe decline. Not surprisingly history has placed the flag marks of a wave of revolutions along this line. In the colonial world there were the important victories in Angola and Mozambique. There was a revolutionary situation in Argentina. In Europe the Portuguese revolution left capitalism hanging in that country by only the most slender thread. There was a revolution in Greece, the beginnings of revolution in Spain and a swing to the left in many of the countries of northern Europe.
Capitalism survived by courtesy of the Stalinist and reformist leaderships of the workers’ organisations. These gentlemen and ladies refused to take power even when, as was the case in Portugal, the revolution placed it in their laps.
Revolution cannot stop halfway. Every revolution which is unconsolidated makes way for counter-revolution. All that is in question is the degree to which the movement will be thrown back. Betrayal and defeat halted the revolutionary tide of 1974-–75 and allowed the ruling class to mount a limited offensive.
Processes are never uniform. In a period of revolution there will be countries less affected or unaffected and countries entirely out of line with the mainstream of world development. In 1974 Chile was in the throes of vicious reaction. In Northern Ireland the key event of that year was the UWC stoppage. Nevertheless on a world scale the general character of the time was clear.
The last years of the 1970s and the opening of the 1980s brought a period of retreat for the class organisations, of defensive actions and of defeats. Again this is a characterisation which is true only in a general sense taking into account the inevitable exceptions but based on the most important developments.
Events such as the invasion of Afghanistan, the taking of the US hostages by Iran and later the Falklands episode, temporarily strengthened the ruling class. So did the political victories of Thatcher and Reagan, and later Kohl. The 1974 recession and the fear of Latin American style inflation in Europe and America saw a rejection of the Keynesian economic, policies of the ’50s and ’60s and the turn internationally to monetarist solutions. Top place in this strategy was given to the cutting of living standards and the weakening of the bargaining power of the working class.
In 1979 the capitalist economies entered a net recession just as the ruling classes turned to these measures. Monetarism extended and deepened the recession driving up unemployment in every major country. The dole queues swelled to proportions not yet seen since the 1930s. The relative weakening of the bargaining power of those workers still in jobs was used to introduce cuts in wages and in the social wage. For the first time since the war the teeth of capitalism were bared and the realities of what was at stake were placed in front of the working class and their organisations. The working class was prepared to fight. Workers as they became affected turned to their organisations but they found that the leaders were not prepared to mount any serious struggle. The result was partial struggle and defeats. Recession and mass unemployment, coming on top of and accompanied by political and industrial set-backs combined to have a stunning effect on the class struggle.
In America the movement suffered the destruction of one small union, PATCO, give-back clauses and other concessions being forced into contracts, and a fall in the membership of the main unions. This was an extreme example of what was taking place in many countries. In general terms these were years of setback and mild reaction in the capitalist countries.
These defeats have not been of the major character of the wounds inflicted on the working class in the 1920s and 1930s. There have been no Italies, Germanies or Spains where the counter-revolution spearheaded, by the fascists atomised the mass workers’ parties and the trade unions.
After the betrayal of the 1926 General Strike and in the economic collapse of 1929–31 the membership of the TUC fell by half. Since 1979 the TUC lost only about 1 million members, the result of a shrinking of the industrial workforce, not of the breaking of trade unionism on the shop-floor. The workers organisations, including those in America, have emerged from this period of setback, more or less intact.
One of the many sided effects of the post-war boom has been the strengthening of the working class and its organisations to a previously undreamed of degree. The working class now has virtually inexhaustible reserves of energy and strength. It can absorb not only defeat, but a series of defeats, even those of a quite major character. This strength excludes the possibility of the ruling classes in the main countries moving to risk civil war to impose a Bonapartist “final solution“ for a whole period.
In this period the counter-revolution cannot be decisive. Retreat prepares the way for advance just as an advance not carried to the end will give way to retreat. Temporary exhaustion makes way for renewed fighting spirit. And in every new movement the working class, especially the more class-conscious layer, absorbs the lessons of its past experience and the movement takes off from a more advanced position as a result.
The years of retreat have come to an end. 1983 has marked the beginning of a new wave of class militancy. This renewed offensive is a world movement. In Latin America, for the first time in history, it is only possible to talk in terms of a continental or sub-continental revolution. Latin America stands to the fore of the world revolution as the key area of the globe at the present time. Within this overall key there ate a number of countries which in turn are keys to what is happening in the sub-continent. Chile, Argentina and Brazil now vie with each other for first place in this front rank area of the world revolution. In these three countries in particular, huge struggles are taking place and will continue as the Latin American revolution searches for the decisive missing factor of a revolutionary leadership.
In Asia and Africa important struggles are taking place not least of which are the movements of the most powerful force on the African continent, the black proletariat of South Africa, and the mass movement against the Marcos dictatorship in the strategically important Philippines.
In Europe there were partial general strikes in Belgium and Holland in 1983. West Germany, once the symbol of capitalist stability and worshipped like an icon as such by the reformist leaders of the European labour movement has experienced its most serious labour conflict since before Hitler, in the form of the fight for a 35-hour week.
But it is the countries of southern Europe where, on the European stage, the revolution is most advanced. There, the relative lull of recent years, has decisively ended. In France the honeymoon of the Mitterrand Government is over. Key sections of the working class have moved to resist its austerity measures. In Spain a long and deep period of disillusionment is ended and the trade unions are on the offensive. The resistance of the Italian workers to cuts in the Scala Mobile (wage indexation) was shown in the recent demonstration of over 1 million workers in Rome. In Greece the revolutionary crisis is more advanced and, but for the leadership, the world revolution could have been begun three or four times in as many years, and could now be begun, on the shores of the Aegean.
Now in Britain, and as part of this overall movement, the working class is at last on the move against Thatcherism. The current miners’ strike will be the most important industrial dispute seen in Britain since 1926. Its effects will dwarf those of the important miners’ victories in 1972 and 1974.
Already this strike speaks volumes about the nature of this new phase of the class struggle. The post-war boom encouraged illusions in capitalism, in the state, and also, by allowing concessions and rising living standards had a certain softening effect even on the working class. The recession since 1979 and its effects have tempered the working class and hardened it for battle. The new round of struggles will be like acid in burning away the illusions of workers in the system.
As with the fight of the French steelworkers, this strike is being fought with a bitterness and a determination not there since the 1930s. It is a strike begun with a high consciousness of what is at stake. The semi-totalitarian use of the state apparatus, especially the police, marks a new stage in the class struggle in Britain and underlines the new period which has been entered worldwide.
What are the factors which have precipitated this new class offensive? On the one hand the movement has been pushed back to such a point that, like an unbroken spring, it has recoiled. In the British coal-fields, the French steel and coal communities and the Spanish shipyards, the feeling is that enough is enough.
But the overall most important factor has been the reviving effects of the partial upturn in the world economy. The relationship between the economic base of society and the political movements nurtured within it is complex and can be apparently contradictory. As Trotsky explained, it is often not the fact of a boom or a slump which prompts class struggle. Rather it is the passing of one into the other which jolts the consciousness of the masses and spurs activity.
In the present epoch both moves to recession and to recovery can act as triggers of social unrest. Whether they do so and in what manner depends on the conditions of the time. History moves not to the dictates of abstract formulae but to the reality of what is. In 1979, recession, coming on top of industrial and political defeatism and with the class held in the arm-lock of reformism, acted further to dampen the class militancy. Under such conditions it can take an upswing to restore the confidence of workers and give them the encouragement to take action.
The present mild recovery has partially stemmed the tide of redundancies. Even without a recovery in employment, the expansion of markets, swelling of order books and increase in production can be enough to let the workers know that their bargaining position has improved. They sense that the balance of class forces has tilted in their favour and that strikes can be won.
During the recession the Marxists explained that an upswing of sorts was inevitable, but that far from solving the problems of the capitalists this would make matters worse for them by producing a new and more ferocious movement of the working class. Already this has been confirmed. A period of revolutionary movements in some countries and of strikes and general strikes throughout the capitalist world has begun. Already in a whole series of countries, including Britain and Ireland North and South, the possibility of a general strike is now implicit in the situation.
The coming to an end of this upswing and the return to recession, possibly deeper and more severe than 1979, will not mean a re-run of the events since then. A new recession coming on the back of a period of class struggle can hugely intensify that struggle. What will happen will depend entirely on the concrete conditions existing at that time.
Historical development never proceeds in a straight line. History is moved not by a single, but by many interacting factors. Factors which are of secondary importance can at certain moments become decisive, while the primary elements can be outweighed for a time.
It is the objective factor of the economic crisis which creates the conditions for the socialist revolution. But the socialist revolution, unlike past revolutions, is a conscious act which cannot be accomplished by the working class without a leadership both aware of its historical task and prepared to struggle to the end to carry it through. Nor, as the Polish events have shown, can the political revolution to remove the Stalinist bureaucracies be successful unless a leadership can be built. At those moments when events place society at the threshold of the socialist transformation, the subjective factor of leadership becomes the question of questions.
At every decisive turn of events the working class enters the battle with a leadership which it has inherited from the conditions of its own past. After 1974-75 it entered the stage of world revolution with a leadership which had developed during the 25 years of boom and who reflected in ideas and attitudes the huge strengthening of reformism, and the enormous illusions in the capitalist system which had grown up in that time.
It is the contradiction between the over-ripeness of the objective conditions for revolution and the lack of a leadership expressed in the grip of reformism and the weakness of Marxism which shapes the character of events in this period. This contradiction explains the extreme volatility of events and makes the process of revolution both uneven and protracted. A whole period of wars, of revolutions, and of counter-revolutions, of defeats and of victories, will be necessary before this contradiction can be resolved and Marxism can become the decisive force within the working class movement.
The working class movement can never go forward by a single line of advance. Rather it moves by fits and starts, through periods of intense activity and through periods of demoralisation. Only over a period can the general direction be seen. In this period of overall advance every struggle, every victory and every defeat leaves its mark on the consciousness of the class and through the transformation of their organisations. No experience, no matter how bitter at the time, is entirely wasteful or lost from the point of view of the revolution. The key to the present period is the question of the leadership. It is the rottenness of the twin shades of reformism; Stalinist and Social Democratic or Labour, which acts as the present line of defence for the capitalists of their system. Not lightly does the working class discard its old leaders. Only when their role is demonstrated by events will they move to do so.
In the last analysis, reformism, of all shades, left and right, is synonymous with betrayal. This lesson clear today to Marxists, will only become apparent to the mass of the class through painful experience. Betrayals and defeats are not only the inevitable consequence of reformism, they are, where a reformist leadership exists, an unfortunate but necessary preparation for revolution. Not in a simple, uniform manner, but through turmoil within society, within the working class organisations and stretched over a period, will it be possible to forge a new Marxist leadership to take society forward.
The world revolution which this generation are witnessing is a race against time to build Marxism as the decisive force within the mass organisations of the working class before repeated defeats ultimately weaken the workers movement to such a degree that the ruling class are prepared to risk Bonapartist counter-revolution and civil war.
At this stage conditions are more favourable than ever for the Marxists. Marxists in Northern Ireland must carry out their work conscious of the favourable situation worldwide and the consequences this will have for their struggle.
The capitalist system is in organic crisis. The powerful productive forces are in rebellion against the anarchy of capitalist relations of production. They have over-reached the limitations placed upon them by private ownership and the nation state.
There can be no return to the exceptional years of the post-war boom. Then growth rates of 6%, 8% and 10% were normal. Even at the tail end of the boom from 1966–73, Japanese capitalism managed to record an average growth rate of 9.8 %. World trade throughout the whole period grew at an average rate of 11.5%
During this boom the cyclical rhythm of capitalist production remained. There were periods of downturn and periods of accelerated growth. But the general curve of development pointed sharply upwards. The boom was made possible by the peculiar conditions which existed after the Second World War by the defeats of the post-war movements of the working class, by the application of new technique introduced by war production, by the massive intervention of the state to bolster capitalism and by the dropping of tariffs and the enormous expansion of world trade. To a certain extent, for a brief period, and at a huge cost for the future, capitalism overcame its own contradictions. Through massive state intervention and through the opening up of the world market it partially overcame the limitations of private ownership and the nation state.
The years since 1974 have levied the cost of this expansion. The productive forces have crashed back against their limitations. Even mighty Japan, still in robust health compared to the sickly state of its main rivals, has felt the effects. Between 1975–82 its average growth fell by half on that of the previous seven years to 4.4%. For the same period the US economy recorded a miserable 2.1 % growth.
Movement from an epoch of boom to an epoch of slump is recorded not only in the statistics of production but also by a crisis of ideas among the economists and advisers of capitalism. Until 1974 the ruling classes had been taught to worship the economic theories of Keynes, of deficit financing. The result was that at the time of the ruinous recession of 1974 the capitalists found themselves staring over the precipice of hyper-inflation. They drew back, discarded the old teachings and in place of the god Keynes put the new god, Friedman. From worshippers of deficit financing and “pump priming“ they became worshippers of “sound money“ and monetarism.
The monetarist solutions of a return to the laissez faire economies of the 19th century do not work. The state makes up a quarter to one fifth of the market of private industry. Cuts in state spending, cuts in wages, and the creation of mass unemployment, reduce demand in the economy. Workers cannot afford to buy back the goods they produce. The market becomes glutted and the capitalists are forced to shut down machines to cut off their excess production.
Monetarism is no solution. But neither would a return to the tried and failed ’solutions’ of Keynesianism. It is impossible to find an answer in the realms of distribution and exchange to a crisis which originates in the system of production itself. For the capitalists there is no way out. The system has entered a period of stagnation and decay. Yet, at the present time, the ruling classes are trying to find some comfort in the fact that a certain upswing is taking place.
It is true that in 1983 a feeble recovery of world capitalism began, although some economies had started to move out of recession earlier. This recovery has been led by US capitalism which recorded a quite marked growth of about 3.3%, quite typical of the figure for the first year of a recovery in that country. Elsewhere the picture has been one of more sluggish growth. The main capitalist economies, the OECD countries as they are known, averaged about 2.5%. Europe stood low in the table with a rise in overall production of about 1 %.
This upswing bears no relation to the period of the post-war boom. It comes in the context of a general crisis and is, in fact, part and parcel of that crisis. Capitalism, now with its best face on view, still reveals the scars and pock marks of a system in overall decline. In boom there is boom and slump. So in recession the cyclical pulse of capitalism continues. There cannot be permanent recession. At some stage the economic processes of the recession work themselves out and a partial, at least, recovery takes place.
In the recession from 1979 a large percentage of the drop in GNP, especially in Britain and America, came through massive destocking. This cannot last for ever. At some point stocks must fall to the level where they must be rebuilt or where demand is met less from shelves of warehouses and more from the production lines. This alone could prompt limited growth in production.
The creation of mass unemployment, lowering of wages and the destruction of constant capital during a recession can partially restore the capitalists’ rate of profit, creating conditions for some degree of a return to economic activity. Also the continued wear and tear of machinery, plus the fact that consumer goods eventually wear out, can prompt some rekindling of demand in the market.
In the present upswing, while these features are present to a degree, the key element has been a strong recovery in consumer demand. In America the upswing has been led by the demand for cars and housing. As in Britain, consumer spending has risen, not because wages have gone up or unemployment down, but because workers have eaten into their savings, reducing the savings ratio to very low levels.
A boom based only on consumer spending cannot last. At some point savings will run out and demand for key components fall. Whether the upswing can be sustained depends on whether the capitalists start to invest, and in particular to invest in new factories and new machinery to expand production. Without this the boomlet will eventually burst. To date there is little sign of such re-investment.
America is still the key capitalist country. It accounted for half of the total increase in GDP of the OECD countries in 1983. As the economy leading the upswing what happens there is vital for the rest of the world. The indications are that the American recovery will not be long-lasting. With increased arms expenditure and huge tax concessions, there has been some recovery of investment in 1984. This investment has largely been directed towards service industry or towards automation of production, not towards expansion of output through new areas of production. Manufacturing industry is the source of all real wealth.
The American manufacturing base is still contracting. The number now employed in manufacturing is now down to the level of 1967. There are features of the crisis which will tend the capitalists away from investment. First and foremost there is the general tendency of the rate of return on investment to decline.
During the post-war boom the rate of profit fell in every major country. There is also the existence of excess capacity. Why should the capitalists put in new and more productive machinery when existing plant is more than sufficient to meet demand? During the recession US industry recorded capacity levels of 67.3%, the lowest figures in the 35 years since records were first kept. After a year of upswing there is still almost 20% spare capacity in US factories. The bosses may undertake limited investment to speed up production, or to replace machines which are worn out, but they have no incentive to pump dollars into new productive capacity. Instead they prefer to destroy the forces of production which already exist. Worldwide we now have the madhouse phenomena of capitalist economics – spelt out in closed mines, steel mills and factories.
High interest rates are a further disincentive to the capitalists. During the recession interest rates defied the economic laws of gravity. Other factors being equal the fall in demand for credit during a recession would tend to force interest rates down. Yet after 1979, assisted by monetarism, especially the school of ‘Reaganomics’, interest rates stayed high. Real interest rates (those adjusted for inflation) are now between 6-10% throughout the capitalist world. In simple terms this means that the credit necessary for the capitalists to finance a recovery has become, more expensive.
There are peculiar features of the crises of American capitalism which aggravate these problems. There, a shortage of credit is threatened by the burgeoning budget deficit which now is equal to 20% of GNP and is rapidly rising. The government has to finance this deficit by borrowing from the banks, thus consuming much of the available credit. Interest on this national debt is now the third biggest budget expenditure after defence and social security. If Ronald Reagan serves a second term on the same policies, this advocate of ’sound money’ and ’balanced books’ will have run up a higher budget deficit than all past presidents combined. The ruling class will be forced to take measures to squeeze economic growth in order to try to control this deficit and also to resolve the problem of a second deficit in the balance of trade.
The sluggishness of world trade in this period makes this upswing distinctly different from the conditions of the post-war boom. To allow for expansion the capitalists must be able to find new markets for their goods. In 1983 the volume increase in world trade was a meagre 1%. The OECD forecast that it will grow by 3.5% in 1984 and something less in 1985. These figures represent a miserable achievement when set alongside the 10, 11 and 12% increases recorded during the boom.
Behind these figures lies the reality of an integrated world crisis. The fall in production in the advanced countries affects the colonial countries just as the crisis there spills back into the economies of Europe, America and Japan. When semi-developed countries like Brazil, Argentina and Mexico slash their imports in an attempt to balance the books and repay their debts, they cut the export markets of the major powers. 40% of US exports go to the colonial world. The austerity measures imposed by the US-dominated IMF have meant to give one example, that in the first half of 1983, US exports to Latin America fell by 34%.
Looming in the background is the unresolved question of inflation. It is true that it has fallen since 1980, not because of some wizardry on the part of the monetarists, but because of the slackening of demand during the recession. Yet inflation is an inherent symptom of the disease of the capitalist system. It is a problem made incurable by the very deficits which fuelled the post-war boom and by the billions of US dollars with no backing in production, which were flooded into Europe to stabilise capitalist governments under the Marshall plan. As production levels started to fall in the early ’70s the spreading syphilis of inflation and threatening hyper-inflation appeared.
Inflation levels may have been pulled down by recession. Nonetheless they remained high by the standards of the 1950s and 1960s. Now as the recession makes way for growth the monetarists are dumbfounded that the rate of price increases is already starting to go up. Since the summer of 1983 the inflation rate has doubled in America and gone from 0.5% to 2.9% in Japan. It will rise further this year.
Constraints of markets, of investments and the fact that growth has come to equal inflation imply that this upswing will be short-lived. It will continue through 1984 and into 1985, though perhaps at a slower pace in America. It will not last long beyond that, but at this stage it is impossible to be precise regarding its duration. What is certain is that this represents no new beginning for capitalism. In terms of unemployment it will be scarcely traceable. According to the OECD, 20, 000 new jobs need to be created every day in the main countries, not to end unemployment, but to bring it back to 1979 levels. In Europe the same organisation expects unemployment to rise in 1984 from 16.5 million to 20 million.
The upswing resolves none of the contradictions which are at the root of this period of stagnation and decay. These contradictions will override it. Sooner of later there will be a new recession. Given the precarious position of capitalism and the integrated nature of the crisis it is possible that a new, perhaps more severe, recession could trigger a 1929-style collapse and a world slump. In any event the present possibility of such an economic nightmare will become a probability over succeeding cycles of production.
This is the future for capitalism; not an abrupt coming to an end of the system in one cataclysmic crash, but a downward spiral registered through boom and slump. No longer is it a question of one or two periodic crises interrupting the general atmosphere of growth, but exactly the reverse. Nor can capitalism enjoy the ten year economic cycles of its early phase when it played a historically progressive role in developing production. In the space of ten or perhaps twelve years since 1974 there will have been two recessions, the beginnings of a third and two periods of growth.
In the economic base is moulded the outline of political and social development. All the implications which flow from a spiral of accelerating economic decline are profoundly revolutionary. The capitalists have not entirely missed the point. Last year an editorial in one mouthpiece of capital, the ’Economist’, sadly projected that “another cycle of short-lived growth and prolonged recession could cause the electorate of half the world’s democracies to abandon the belief that today’s more or less liberal economic order can deliver growth, jobs and low inflation.“ Before any great struggle the most clear-sighted strategists on both sides can reach the same conclusions. Today the Marxists and the most forward thinking of the representatives of capital are the only people who have no illusions as to what lies in store.
Alongside this organic crisis of capitalism there is also the crisis of bureaucratic mismanagement of the Stalinist states. In Russia and Eastern Europe the productive forces have come into collision, not with private ownership as in the West, but with the straight jacket of bureaucratic control. Now for the first time the three main sectors of the globe, the advanced capitalist countries, the Stalinist states and the under- developed world are held in an interlocking vice of economic stagnation and are being driven in the direction of revolution.
These are the fundamental features of the period now passing, a period which will be the most stormy, most revolutionary in human history.
Amid the world crisis is the special crisis of British capitalism. Lack of investment over decades has left the British bosses with a declining share of first the world, and now the domestic market. The problems manifest in the world economy apply with extra force to Britain. There Thatcher has carried monetarist methods to even more destructive lengths.
As explained earlier this quack 19th century remedy merely succeeds in destroying the market and leaves the capitalists unable to sell their goods. All that Thatcherism achieved in Britain after 1979 was to turn the recession into a slump. 20% of British industry has been closed down under this government. Britain, once the workshop of the world, last year for the first time became a net importer of manufactured goods.
Between 1979 and the middle of 1983, according to OECD figures, manufacturing investment in Britain fell by 41%. At the beginning of 1983 it was at 1959 levels. In other words Thatcher has managed to obliterate much of the expansion of the boom years. According to the Economist it would now take a 40% increase in investment levels merely to keep pace with Japan. West Germany and America.
Meanwhile the proudly proclaimed objectives of the monetarists have proved unattainable. State spending, including spending on social services, cannot be savaged to the degree that Thatcher would like. Standing in her way is the power of the working class. Thus, with a shrinking GDP, with millions more to be paid unemployment benefit, state spending as a percentage has actually risen under the Tories from 41 % to 44%. Among the ruling class are those who would make a virtue out of necessity. In particular the finance wing of British capital, well represented in the Tory party and in the thinking of bourgeois economists, are quite prepared to allow the manufacturing base to shrink further still. They would like Britain to be turned into a service economy living on the fruits of capital invested abroad.
Already they have gone some way down this road. Between 1979 and the beginning of 1983 British assets held abroad trebled to £375 billion or £1800 for every working person. These strategists leave one thing out of their calculations. That is the power of the working class who will not be prepared to see the mines, mills and factories turned into museum exhibits. To succeed in such an orgy of destruction and closure the ruling class would have to destroy the labour movement.
There are no easy remedies for the capitalists. All the dreams of a bonanza based on North Sea oil have and will come to nothing. From an economic point of view the extra revenue on oil has been squandered on paying the millions of people who have been thrown out of work. By the end of this decade the oil will start to run out and nothing will have been achieved in terms of strengthening and developing the economy.
In fact the oil wealth has had a dislocating effect on British industry. Already the North Sea companies account for between a third and two fifths of the total company profits. Higher returns on oil have drawn capital away from manufacturing industry. Oil wealth has boosted the exchange rate of the pound as many speculators have invested in sterling. An overvalued pound, especially in relation to European currencies, has meant that British goods are less competitive abroad and that foreign imports are cheaper in Britain. Manufacturing industry in this sense has been actually weakened by the presence of oil. So much for the dream of a new oil rich El Dorado in Britain.
Even in the sickly British economy the cyclical rhythm of capitalist production is maintained. Last year there was a slight revival in the growth rate of 2.5%. As in America the main motor of growth was consumer spending. This boom has actually illustrated the weak and uncompetitive nature of British industry.
Over the year manufacturing output rose by 1.5%, far less than what would have been necessary to meet the 3.6% rise in consumer spending. The economic revival has meant the sucking in of foreign imports. British capitalism supposedly made “leaner and fitter“ by Thatcher has lost a further slice of its home market.
All the factors restraining world economic revival are brakes also in the British economy. Industry, even after a year of growth, is still racked with spare capacity. On February 1st 1984 the CBI reported that 2/3 of companies were working below capacity. Where excess capacity has declined it has been mainly due to the recession, not to growth. It has been reduced by the destruction of industry, not by a rise in output. The rate of return on investment is still low. By 1981–2, the rate for manufacturing industry had fallen to just over 3% from just over 6% in 1977. It may have risen slightly during the recession but it is far below the levels often or fifteen years ago.
With inadequate demand, lack of return on capital, industry uncompetitive in a still tightly constrained world market, and with excess capacity in existing plant, the British capitalists have, if anything, less reason to re-invest than their American and certainly their German and Japanese cousins. The CBI predict a rise of 5% in manufacturing investment in 1984, which if it happens would be the first rise in five years. 5% is a humble figure when set against the 49% fall since 1979 and the 40% needed simply to keep pace with the major rivals.
In an upswing, some new investment is inevitable, partly to replace the worn out plant, partly to keep pace with competitors by raising the productivity of labour. But for substantial growth the key is investment which would extend capacity. The CBI project that the new investment this year will use 75% to raise efficiency, 49% to replace old plant and only 18% to extend capacity. For Britain, as for the world economy since all the capitalists are now smitten by the British disease of underinvestment and where the picture is similar, these figures mean that the boom will be paltry and will quickly peter out.
The world tendency is for each new upswing to fail to repair the damage wrought by recession and to fall short of the previous peak of production. Nowhere is this more evident than in Britain. This is a phenomena new to this epoch. Even after the catastrophic slump of 1929, British capitalism by 1933 had recovered to the point where output exceeded that of 1929. At the third quarter of 1983 it still required a 15% rise in manufacturing output to regain 1979 levels.
British capitalism is indeed thinner, but thinner and sicker than it was in 1979. It will not have recovered from the first years of Thatcherism before it is over-taken by the phenomena of a new world recession. Not even the bosses’ project that unemployment will fall. At best they expect a slight stabilisation during this period of growth. Mass unemployment of around 3 million and in reality about 4 million is permanent on a capitalist basis. In a new recession it will rise worldwide and most probably rise dramatically in Britain.
As Britain is to the world economy, so is Northern Ireland to Britain. The North’s economy largely missed out on the 1975-79 recovery. Industrial output in 1979 was still 3% below the previous peak of 1973. After 1979 the collapse in the North ran parallel to that in Britain. Between 1979 and 1983, there was a 14% fall in output and a 30% fall in industrial employment.
The difference from Britain was that this slump began from a much narrower economic base. The North has suffered a process of de-industrialisation stretching back for more than a decade and which, by 1979, was well under way. Since the 1960s the North’s traditional industrial base of shipbuilding, textile and heavy engineering has been in decline. During the ’60s this decline was partially offset by the efforts of the Unionist administration to solve the structural problems of the economy by throwing the doors open to foreign investment.
They hoped to shift the base to modern and expanding industry. At that time of world boom, a number of important firms were enticed by the lucrative grants and incentives on offer. By the early 1970s this source of new employment began to dry up. In 1974 the inward flow of investment turned to an exodus. Firms drawn by grants tended to pull out when the bribes ran out. In 1974 they were given a new reason for doing so with the onset of world recession and the opening of an epoch of contracting markets, spare capacity and low rates of return on investment. Since then the tendency has been for these multinationals to close their branch operations in areas like NI which are remote from the main markets and which do not have the alternative attraction of a workforce prepared to work for third-world wages. The decline of this sector continued through the late ’70s before accelerating into a headlong stampede after 1979. It is now estimated that 6 out of 7 of the jobs created in N.I. since 1945 have been lost.
With both the traditional and the newly developed manufacturing sectors in decline the province has become a virtual industrial desert. In 1970 there were 170,000 employees in manufacturing industry. By 1979 this had fallen to 140,000. Recession, plus the Thatcherite remedy of slashing spending, has reduced this figure to 97,000, not much more than half the real figure for unemployment. There could be no more eloquent expression of the true wastefulness of capitalism than this last fact.
One further indicator of the weakness of manufacturing industry is contained in the figures for credit. Loans from the banks to manufacturing industry fell by £27.8 million between August 1982 and August 1983. Such borrowing now accounts for a mere 12% of total bank loans, a figure which makes sickly British capitalism appear stout and robust with its equivalent of 20%.
Even these facts underestimate the problem. Industrial decline has also taken the form of a reversion from large scale industry to small units of production. Progress has been stood on its head. One of the accomplishments of capitalism was its concentration of production. It created large scale industries, which could employ the most modern technique, could raise to its highest point the productivity of labour and whose appetite for production could no longer be satisfied in the confines of a nation state but only on the world market.
Since the most productive firms are those with the greatest economy of labour time their goods are the most competitive. It is not possible to reply to the world of stream lined large scale production by reverting to cottage industry. The wheel of history and of progress does not turn smoothly in reverse. Yet the majority of new jobs being created in N.I. are in small firms. Despite the overall decline in manufacturing jobs in, for example, 1978-81 there was actually a growth of 13.4% in the number of firms employing less than 25 people. At the same time the numbers of moderately large firms with over a 100 employees fell by 14.8%.
There are now only 30 firms with more than 1,000 employees and only a further 57 with over 500. In total there are only 450 manufacturing concerns that employ over 50 people. Trying to compete either at home or abroad with industry of this scale is like putting to sea against a navy of aircraft carriers, battleships and destroyers with a flotilla of sailing dingies.
The reality is that many small firms exist only as the suppliers of components to large scale industry. To destroy the large industry is to disrupt the ecology of economics and to invite the ultimate collapse of small enterprises also. Employment is only held at present levels by the huge concentration on the service sector. Against the 97,000 in manufacturing industry there are now 329,500 employed in service industries. Even this sector reveals the weakness of private enterprise in any form in Northern Ireland. Between 1981 and ’83 there was a fall of 2.7% of the numbers employed in the private service sector. Against 115,900 working in the private services, 212,000 are on the public service payroll. As a percentage of total employment the public sector now accounts for 45.8% of all jobs as compared to 31.9% in Britain.
From all sides and angles Northern Ireland is completely unviable as an economic unit. The state was founded in 1920 as a purely artificial creation designed to serve the then political needs of British imperialism. It was hoisted into existence on the huge props of massive financial subventions from London. Today it remains completely dependent on this continued British support, According to figures released in an early document from the New Ireland Forum, the British Government subvention in 1981–82 was the equivalent of 29% of the North’s Gross Domestic Product. The Forum report estimates that it will be 36.5% by1993–94.
Even in this puny economy a faint trace of the present economic upswing has been felt. While industrial output overall fell by one percent in 1983 there was a growth rate in manufacturing, actually in excess of that of Britain, of about 2.5% to 3%. This figure needs to be treated with caution. The trends in Northern Ireland are closely in accord with those in Britain, except generally on the downward side of the British figures. Nonetheless, in a small statistical area, the figures for one or two companies, even the delivery dates of a few big orders, can temporarily distort the picture.
Last year’s increase in manufacturing was concentrated on the food, drink, tobacco and clothing industries, reflecting the rise in. consumer demand. Output in the traditional engineering sector continued to fall. The reality is that much of the manufacturing base still exists only because it is fed with massive state subsidies. It would be an exaggeration to label what has happened in Northern Ireland as an upswing or a boom.
This boomlet most certainly does not signify a period of economic revival. Spare capacity haunts industry. For example in the construction industry 25% of building firms and 50% of civil engineering firms are now using half or less than half of their capacity.
Unemployment rose in 1983 and will continue to rise. All that the upswing can effect, as was the case in 1976–79, is the rate at which it will increase. During the recession in 1980–81 redundancies were running at the rate of 20,000 per year. Last year this figure dropped to 12,046. That is the real meaning of recovery in Northern Ireland! At the same time the total number of jobs created by LEDU and the Industrial Development Board was, at 6,200, equivalent to only half of those lost through redundancies. Most significantly only a few hundred of these new jobs came from new inward investment. Most have been in the small business sector, a point already dealt with.
Keynesian methods of increased state spending and state intervention are being tried and failing. As the De Lorean affair has proven beyond doubt, no matter how much money you put up you do not control what you do not own. For those who have not been convinced the £50 million of state money given to the Lear Fan aircraft company, which is fast becoming a De Lorean Mark 11 should be more evidence than enough.
The mathematics of unemployment is easy to compute. According to the NI Economic Council the natural increase in the workforce alone demands an extra 8,000 new jobs each year, allowing for a net emigration of 6,200. On top of this is the natural shake-out of jobs in declining industries and agriculture and the effect of government cutbacks on jobs in the previously expanding public sector. On present figures, simply to regain the 1979 levels of employment would require the immediate creation of 65,000 new jobs. Even if there were to be a brief stabilisation of employment, and even this is unlikely, there can be no recovery of the industrial ground lost over the last decade. Mass unemployment is part of the structure of Northern Ireland, firmly embedded in the economy. According to the capitalist economists of the forum, people whose analysis is based on the hope of growth through the next decade in world capitalism, unemployment in Northern Ireland will be 31.5% within a decade. For thousands of those without work the realisation is growing that their plight is permanent under this system. Already in Jan 1984 45% of the unemployed had been out of work for over one year. For Britain as a whole the figure is 27.1 %, an average which includes the very high Northern Ireland percentage. The gap between the chronic level for Britain and the catastrophic percentage for Northern Ireland sums up eloquently the difference between the economies.
Capitalism offers no way out. On the basis of monetarism there is no answer. Neither would the Keynesian policies advocated by the trade union leaders make the slightest impression on the situation. The truth is that the government, conceding to the reality of what is in Northern Ireland has actually diluted its monetarist approach with Keynesian methods. Huge subsidies have, and are being paid out to private enterprise. Bribes and inducements to multi-national companies which have turned the entire province into a huge enterprise zone are still on offer. The government, which will not aid lame ducks, but allows the laws of economics to run their free course, maintains the subsidy to the lame duck of Harland and Wolfe among others.
There is no way of escaping from the only conclusion permitted by a serious and honest study of the facts. Only public ownership and control through nationalisation of the major sections of the economy can offer a way out.
The relations of production leave their impress on every fabric of social life. It is the economic impasse in Northern Ireland which is at the root of the political and social impasse. As there is no capitalist way out economically neither is there a capitalist way out politically.
The British ruling class have no strategy to resolve the problem. It was they who created it through their methods of divide and rule. In 1920–21 they partitioned Ireland chiefly to divide the working class and safe-guard their class interests both in Britain and Ireland. That step was taken during a period of revolutionary ferment following the First World War and the Russian Revolution. Under the changed conditions of the 1950s and 1960s, with economic boom, with the development of trade relations with the South, and with socialist revolution off the immediate agenda, the British ruling class would have preferred to withdraw from direct involvement in Ireland and to reunify the country. It was in their interests to remove the thorn of instability perpetuated by partition and create a stable capitalist Ireland which they could then dominate economically.
In the late 1950s and during the 1960s they took a few tentative steps in this direction. The possibility of re-unification or perhaps an interim federal arrangement was openly mooted. North-South economic and political co-operation was encouraged. Free trade relations with the South were established for the first time since partition.
Imperialism’s plans ran into the obstacle of the very sectarianism it had created. In the North, even during this period of relative stability, the majority of the population would not have been prepared to enter a capitalist united Ireland. To the million Protestants there was the fear, entirely justified, that in a capitalist republic they would end up as the discriminated against minority. There was no attraction to them in entering a state where they would lose political control and in which living standards and especially the standard of social welfare would be much lower. Had the British ruling class attempted to impose a united Ireland, the Protestants would have resisted and the consequence of a move designed to stabilise and normalise relations would have been the destabilisation of Ireland and the sowing of the seeds of conflict in Britain also.
From the point of view of the Southern ruling class a united Ireland was a subject for Easter commemorations and Ard Fheis speeches, much as socialism is a matter of holiday speechifying once a year on May Day for the right-wing leaders of the labour movement. As James Connolly had explained at the beginning of the century, the native Irish capitalist class had long ago abandoned the national struggle and smugly entered the pockets of British capital. The Southern ruling class had no wish to control the North which would have meant an intolerable burden for them. It has been estimated that for the South to raise its social services to Northern standards in 1969–70 would have required it to raise current expenditure of £143 million by a further £150 million, an increase of 110%. In addition for it to pay-out the equivalent of the British subvention would have required an increase in its taxation of 60%.
These two facts are alone sufficient to show that capitalist reunification was impossible. That was in the period of the boom. In 1969 the British ruling class, faced with a society on the verge of violent disintegration, were forced to abandon their dreams. Instead of withdrawing they had no option but to increase their direct involvement by committing troops for an indefinite period.
During the boom there could be no capitalist reunification. Today, after a decade and a half of violence, in the midst of recession North and South, it is a hundred times less possible. The British subvention for 1920 mentioned above was equivalent to about3.5% of GDP as against over 29% now. The figure given in the Forum report, written as an argument in favour of a United Ireland, states that unity would mean a fall in disposable income of IR£2000 million. Against a present budget deficit of 12% for the South, the estimated deficit for a united capitalist Ireland would be 17%, and this on the basis of no improvement of Southern social services and on the assumption that the violence will end!
There is no force in Ireland capable of bringing about a capitalist united Ireland. The Southern army could neither remove the border, nor could it hold a united Ireland together in the face of the certainty of a secessionist revolt by the Northern Protestants, and the going over to the Protestant side of the RUC, RUC Reserve and UDR, as would be the case in any civil war. The campaign of the Provisionals is incapable of advancing even one step along this road.
The road to capitalist reunification actually leads away from unity and towards Civil war. The further along this road the ruling class might try to go the more serious would be the resistance and the more disastrous the consequences.
At best the outcome would be a Lebanonisation, with the Cantonisation of the North and the turning of Belfast into a Beirut. At worst, if the conflict was fought out to the end, the result would be repartition, the setting up of an entirely Protestant state in the North-East, the driving of Catholics from this area and the expulsion of the Protestant population from the border districts which would be ceded to the South. All that would have been achieved would be the reinforcement of division, the setting back of the class struggle for a whole period, the creation of a huge refugee population and the coming to power of vicious Bonapartist regimes North and South. It would be a mixture of all the horrors of Lebanon and of the Palestinians, except worse.
Only on a Socialist basis can partition be overcome. The re-unification of the country is only possible through the unity of the working class and their organisations, Protestant and Catholic, in the North and South. As the working class movement develops it will naturally tend to draw together throughout the island. The working class will be tied together through a bond of struggle against common enemies. The task of removing the border will be accomplished by the working class as one of the basic tasks of the socialist revolution itself. There will be no unity other than socialist unity.
This is the reality which gives the lie to the conclusions of the so called New Ireland Forum. The fact is that this body was set up by the Southern bourgeois parties for the twin purpose of throwing a lifeline to the SDLP in the North, and also of using the old issues of nationalism to divert attention from the economic and social crisis in the South.
The conclusions of the Forum are not worth the paper they are written on. These venerable gentlemen are not interested in fighting for a United Ireland. Their only interest in the Forum is to use it to help preserve them from the anger of the working class, North and South.
The Forum recommends a United Ireland. It argues that first of all there must be the consent of the Protestants. But there is not the remotest possibility of Protestants voluntarily agreeing to be ruled by Messrs. Haughey, Fitzgerald and Hume. And well these individuals know it! The issue is raised by these green Tories, each in his own way, solely in order to win support for themselves. Each one recognises as much as the other that the proposal cannot be implemented. In fact for Haughey, Fitzgerald and the Southern ruling class the last thing they want to see is it implemented.
Just as a unitary state is unworkable so are the half measures of joint sovereignty and federalism proposed in the report. Under joint authority both the British and Irish governments would have equal powers to rule the North. The idea is a complete nonsense from start to finish. Just the one issue of security is enough to demonstrate this ten times over. Joint sovereignty would not mean peace, especially in the context of economic collapse. What army would patrol the streets? Would it be the British army? In that case what would be the difference? Or would there be joint military operations in the North? In which case all that would happen is that the extra ingredient of Protestant terror to drive Southern troops off Northern streets would be added to the existing situation. In reality it would mean the worst of all possible worlds. It would antagonise everybody to some degree and would satisfy nobody. All that it would take to dynamite the entire arrangement would be the emergence of a new H Block situation, a crisis over supergrasses, over the use of the SAS or over a hundred and one other issues which could blow up at any time.
The continuation and intensification of sectarian and paramilitary violence would mean that the British army would be more and more forced to intervene. The truth is that what is proposed would turn out not to be joint sovereignty at all but a continuation of British control decorated with some cosmetic window dressing by the South.
No less workable is the idea of federalism. Here there are to be two parliaments but security and other problems would be dealt with separately. This can never come about. Even in the hypothetical case that it did, it could not survive. The small question of what would happen when one parliament falls out with the other on security or some other issue is not answered. The Haugheys, Springs, FitzGeralds and Humes are silent.
Federalism, joint sovereignty and capitalist unity are all formulas for the drawing paper only. Not one can be implemented. The effect of a Forum dominated by Green Tories discussing unity and pretending to hold out a green olive branch to the Protestants, will be simply to reinforce Protestant opposition.
Those who will have the last laugh as the echoes of this charade fade will be the bigots like Paisley who will be able to use the Forum in the same way as the right wing Unionists used the Sunningdale agreement of 1974 as a device to win Protestant votes. On the Catholic side it is Sinn Fein who stand to gain most when the failure of the efforts of the self styled ‘constitutional nationalists’ becomes clear.
It is not excluded that the British government might open up discussions with the Southern government on the general terms of the Forum report. If that happened it would not be with any intentions of fully implementing any of the options recommended in the report but firstly to preserve the SDLP, especially with next year’s local government elections coming. They may also seek discussion and agreement on immediate matters such as extradition and the courts. The prime aim will not be to conjure up a new political “solution” but to intensify and coordinate repression North and South. Nothing of any substance can come from the discussions. It is entirely excluded that a ’solution’ based on the options of the Forum can be found.
There are proposals and schemes which have arisen over the years from the camp of loyalism, which, from the opposite point of view, are as utopian as those of the Forum.
An independent Northern Ireland, the suggestion of the UDA among others, is a non starter. The British subvention of £964 per head of population in 1982 rules this out. One estimate of what would have happened if a Unilateral Declaration of Independence call had been declared in the more prosperous days of 1963 concluded that domestic spending would have had to be cut by £50 million a year out of a total spending of £119 million. The closing down of services which would have resulted would have made Thatcher’s cuts seem almost marginal by comparison. UDI would be unacceptable to Protestants and Catholics. Integration with Britain, the position of the Powellite wing of the Unionist party, like reunification, would merely stir a hornet’s nest. Removing the rights enjoyed by the Unionists through devolution, it would satisfy nobody, but would give an impetus to the campaign and demands of the Provisionals, North and South.
It is the economic crisis which now doubly rules out any capitalist solution. So long as the economic problems North and South cannot be solved there cannot be stability. On a capitalist basis they cannot be solved. It follows that on a capitalist basis there can be no answer.
Earlier in her first period of office Thatcher needed to be re-convinced of this reality. The Tories opened up a discussion on various options, including that of greater co-operation with the South. As the Sunday Times in June 1981 commented on these discussions: “a group of half a dozen senior people have been considering, over the last five years, the radical political options and can reel them off – integration, independence, unification (federal or not). The trouble is that this scrutiny has persuaded the Northern Ireland Office only that all options are impossible.”
To alter the constitutional status of Northern Ireland would lead to destabilisation and, if pursued fully, to civil war. The ruling class cannot take this course. On the other hand to leave the constitutional status of the North unaltered is not an answer either. Within the confines of a state riddled with poverty and unemployment, and scarred by some degree of constant sectarian violence, there can be no stability.
For more than a decade various governments have taken political initiatives and tried to find some political solution within the confines of the Northern Ireland state. The Assembly is but the latest example. Like its predecessors, the Assembly has already failed. The early efforts to nudge the parties into some kind of agreement and to entice the SDLP to enter, have all passed by without success. There is no longer any talk of James Prior’s brainchild of “rolling devolution”.
The Tories are well aware that the Assembly has failed. Still they do not dissolve it. For them it still serves a purpose. The Government has spent millions building leisure centres in Belfast. The purpose is to divert the otherwise destructive energies of the unemployed youth. Similarly this glorified political leisure centre at Stormont is maintained because it absorbs the time and energies of otherwise politically out of work politicians. It keeps them busy in a harmless exercise of talking: sitting on committees, going on delegations and deputations and not least, receiving fat salaries· all of which keeps them off the streets.
Beyond this the Assembly solves nothing. It is possible that the Official Unionists will find some pretext to drop their boycott and re-enter. They have no alternative to allow them to make political capital by staying outside. They are deeply split on the question, and not least they are frightened that Paisley’s DUP will manage to outflank them on their constitutional side by its participation.
Their return to make it an Assembly of three Unionist parties would make no fundamental difference other than to probably prolong its lifespan. It is the SDLP boycott which is the key. Outside of a complete transformation of the political situation there are no circumstances which would allow them to return. To do so would only give Sinn Fein the opportunity to become the major Catholic party. In this sense it is the mood of the Catholic areas, especially the growth and potential growth of Sinn Fein which seals the fate of James Prior’s constitutional talking shop.
It is not excluded that a section of the Unionist bloc may embark on a binge of “moderation”. Concerned also about the growth of Sinn Fein, some Unionists may wish to join with the Southern bourgeois and the British ruling class, in throwing a lifeline to the SDLP. From among the Unionists’ ranks the issue of power sharing may be raised.
In present circumstances it is unlikely that any serious moves would be made in this direction. To the SDLP, power-sharing would be a retreat from the demands of the Forum and from their efforts to out do Sinn Fein in nationalism. It is not a question of the subjective wishes of the various leaders but of objective circumstances. In the past the SDLP could proclaim power-sharing as an achievement. At the moment it would be a capitulation. They would be seen crumbling as minority partners into a Unionist government. The party which would gain most would be Sinn Fein.
For the moment, the British ruling class are likely to maintain the Assembly, hoping that the Official Unionists will ultimately re-enter. If within a period they do not they may have no alternative but to close it down. In the meantime it diverts the energies of a few otherwise troublesome politicians like Paisley and provides a partial smoke screen for repression.
With no political answer, Imperialism is forced to rely on military means. During the early years of the troubles their strategy was to blend a mixture of concession and repression. Concessions were given in such measure as it was felt would keep a rein on the SDLP and appease the Catholic middle class.
During the late 1970s with the continued failure of political initiatives, the collapse of power-sharing, and above all with a decline in the support for the Provisionals, virtually the entire emphasis of their policy switched to repression.
Today, with no political way out, the ruling class are reduced to a military holding operation. Their only answer, as in reality has been the case since 1969, is physical containment and repression. All that has changed is that the techniques of repression have become much more sophisticated. Crude and clumsy methods have given way to more selective and covert actions. In place of the mass saturation of areas by the army, of arbitrary arrests, of extensive house searches, there is now a greater reliance on surveillance techniques, on paid informers and on undercover squads such as the SAS.
In every sense the instruments of repression have been fine tuned. One indication of the changed tactics is seen in the figures for house searches. The following are the number of houses searched by the army since 1972.
From the high point of 74,556 to the last year’s figure of 1,494 is no small difference. It does not indicate a let up in repression but its sophistication. It is the replacement of the blunt club by the surgical blade. The purpose is to restrict the physical presence of the army more and more to certain areas. Many routine army operations have been handed over to the UDR and RUC. To achieve this there has been an enormous expansion of these units both in terms of manpower and technique. Together they now have a combined strength of over 18,000. In 1971–72 the RUC budget was just under £16 million. Two years ago the annual budget was £240 million.
All this is designed to further the illusion of normality among the mass of the population. Indeed, in purely military terms, the state is clearly on top. In 1972 there were 10,628 shooting incidents. In 1982 there were 318. 1972 saw 1,382 explosions. 1982 saw 219. In all 468 civilians, soldiers, police and UDR were killed in 1972 as against 107 ten years later.
These figures show that containment has succeeded at least partially. But to contain a problem is only to reduce its effects, not to resolve it. While it may be constrained within limits it is still there. Military means do not provide an answer, they merely deal more or less effectively with the results of a situation for which the ruling class has no answer. The role of the army is simply to hold the violence at bay, or as Tory Minister Reginald Maudling put it more than ten years ago, to reduce it to “acceptable levels“.
In a sense this is the position which has been reached and which has existed for a number of years. The present perpetual but low level of killings is probably the closest to stability which can be achieved on a capitalist basis.
For this reason the troops will remain in the North. In 1969 imperialism was reluctantly forced to put its army on the streets. The alternative was a possible civil war which would have threatened the assets of British companies throughout Ireland and would have damaged British trade abroad.
The ruling class would prefer to withdraw the troops. Despite their military success this is not possible. There is no alternative force capable of maintaining the security of capitalism in Northern Ireland. There can be no “Ulsterisation” of security despite the physical growth and increased role of the RUC and UDR. British imperialism has no alternative but to maintain its grip on security policy. There is and can be no administration in N.I. to which it can hand over control of security. “Ulsterisation” is really a deception. It simply means a greater use of local forces, but these are under the command of the British army and of the Westminster government.
It is because there can be no capitalist solution and no capitalist stability that the army must stay. Under only two possible sets of circumstances could there be a withdrawal. One would be in the event of a civil war or its aftermath when imperialism would no longer have anything to lose. The other would be in a revolutionary situation where the army would be affected by socialist ideas and where the pressure of the working class in Britain and Ireland might force the concession of withdrawal. It was, for example, the Portuguese revolution which destroyed the Portuguese army as an instrument of capitalist rule and forced their withdrawal from Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau.
Outside these circumstances and in particular on the basis of the futile tactics of the Provisionals and INLA, there can be no withdrawal. A holding operation is not a solution. For the moment war weariness and inertia may allow a partial breathing space. This can be purely temporary. The economic catastrophe is a powerful fuel of future social upheaval.
When a system can no longer develop the productive forces that system is doomed. Capitalisms ability to unify society and maintain social cohesion within its national territory depends on its ability to develop technique, raise the productivity of labour and expand the productive apparatus. In Northern Ireland it can do none of these things.
Thousands and now tens of thousands of youth are being given no jobs, no hope, and no future. They are alienated utterly from capitalism and have no respect whatever for its social norms. Unemployment levels two and even three times the size of the manufacturing workforce ultimately mean social dislocation. In the years ahead existing political and social relations In Northern Ireland will be torn limb from limb by the whirlwind effect of the economic crisis.
The ruling class faces immediate sectarian upheaval and catastrophe if the attempt to alter the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and impose a “solution”. To do nothing is also a recipe for disaster. If not immediately, the very existence of capitalism in a divided Ireland means upheaval and, if the labour movement does not show a way out, also opens the road to civil war.
The choice is simple. On the one hand capitalism will continue to exist, in which case society will ultimately be driven towards sectarian carnage. On the other hand the labour movement can develop at its head a Marxist leadership, and the opportunity to end capitalism can be seized by the working class. On the basis of what will happen within Northern Ireland alone, the choice is ultimately a stark one of socialism or civil war.
The working class will have many opportunities to transform society within Northern Ireland and internationally before there can be an all out sectarian holocaust. Contrary to the views of the academic sceptics and pessimists, who seem to sprout in the North’s political climate, it is the enormous strength and firm unity of the working class, albeit sometimes in a latent form, which bars the way to civil war.
In 1968 the political pendulum swung at first, not to sectarianism, but to the left. At the root of the initial mass agitation of that period was class agitation directed against capitalism and Unionism. It united wide layers of the youth and had the potential to draw the working class together in massive protest action. The working class of Northern Ireland was both inspired by, and set to follow, the example of the ten million French workers who in May 1968 shifted power onto the streets and but for their leaders would have carried through the socialist transformation.
A revolutionary opportunity opened also in Northern Ireland in that period. As in France it was betrayed by the leaders of the workers’ organisations. The trade union leaders washed their hands of the social unrest and allowed the civil rights agitation to be misled into a sectarian blind alley. Neither they, nor the leaders of, the Northern Ireland Labour Party, offered any alternative to the thousands of workers and youth who were looking for a class banner. It is the trade union and labour leaders who bear the responsibility for that lost opportunity.
History punishes the working class for the mistakes of its leaders. Failed revolution makes way for counter-revolution. In the peculiar conditions of Northern Ireland this counter-revolution took the form of vicious sectarian reaction. Between 1970 and 1975 sectarianism, in both a political and paramilitary form, held the stage. The labour movement was pushed back. Its political wing, the Northern Ireland Labour Party, because of the criminal role of its right-wing leadership who compounded many times the mistakes they had made in 1968-69, was completely engulfed. The silence of inactivity and demoralisation fell over the trade unions.
Nonetheless even this bleak period is a testimony to the underlying determination, strength and unity of the working class. The unions remained intact. Strikes did take place which united Catholic and Protestant workers. Fighting a decisive action against sectarianism the union rank and file did achieve the victory of by and large preventing sectarian violence erupting on the shop floor. That the integration of the working class in the factories was not destroyed was an achievement of very great significance for future perspectives.
1975 was a turning point. From the autumn of 1974 the working class began to show its industrial muscle. There was a strike by the tanker drivers and the very important strike of the milk industry. The momentum of sectarianism had waned. Support for the paramilitary groups was in decline. In this context an outburst of sectarian butchery late in 1975 and into 1976 brought a qualitative change. The mounting anger of workers over-spilled into class outrage and took the’ form of strikes and demonstrations. There were partial general strikes organised by trades councils and groups of shop stewards in Derry, Lurgan and Newry.
In this bold and dramatic manner the working class placed its mighty body in front of the paramilitaries and demanded that the killings stop. Again in 1977 it was the resistance of the working class which inflicted a temporarily paralysing blow on sectarianism. In May 1977 Paisley, in league with the loyalist paramilitaries, attempted to organise a work stoppage. His aim was to take a step towards bonapartist reaction using the brute power of the paramilitaries as a lever.
The effort failed because the working class failed to be cowed. Instead they look the initiative from below and organised their own resistance. Workers organised their own defence against the thugs, marching as a body into the factories. Bus drivers were protected through estates by women and other workers. In the end the stoppage crumbled into a miserable failure.
Sometimes it takes the whip of the counter-revolution to spur the revolution forward. In 1975, and again in 1977, the working class recoiled from the threat of imminent civil war and moved as a class to crush this threat. In each case it was the determined mood of the workers which was decisive.
Yet the ground gained by the rank and file was not consolidated by the trade union leaders, pressured from below they formed “The Better Life For All Campaign” early in 1976. At that moment, and again at the end of the UUAC stoppage of 1977, they had the opportunity to paralyse the entire province in the mightiest display of trade union and working class unity it had ever witnessed.
In both cases they allowed their opportunity to slip away. They vacillated, discussed action, proposed it, discussed it again, proposed it again, and then again, until the mood was gone and the opportunity lost. Such vacillation and betrayal is not accidental. It runs through the veins of reformism. Right-wing reformist leaders are in general more frightened of the working class battalions, which any bold action might draw behind them, than they are of their enemies.
The trade union bureaucrats understood in 1976 and 1977 that the massive mobilisation needed to eliminate sectarianism would not have stopped there. The entire working class would have risen to its feet. Victory over the bigots would only have whetted the appetite of workers for united struggles on jobs, on wages and on other questions. In the context of Northern Ireland such a movement would have set the unions on a collision course with the state. Industrial activity would have dissolved the non-political posture of the leadership in the hot fire of intense political ferment. Whether or not they were conscious of the fact, it was their dread of triggering a movement which they would be neither able to direct, restrain or control, which persuaded the leaders that to do nothing was the best policy.
Since 1975 the mood of opposition to sectarianism has hardened and deepened. But because of the failure of the trade union leaders, the decline of sectarianism and sectarian organisations, while evident, has been protracted, uneven and never complete. There have been periodic upsurges of violence, there have been periods of quite sharp polarisation of the two communities, but overall the tendency has been away from sectarianism. Events surrounding the H Block hunger strike of 1981 greatly increased the fear and tension in society, and this fear brought a marked polarisation along religious lines. On the surface it appeared that these events could lead to a re-run of the early 70s in the form of massive sectarian violence and intimidation. The figures for violence and death in 1972, the year of Bloody Sunday, and 1982 the year of the aftermath of the hunger strikes have already been given. There was no massive sectarian backlash to the hunger strike deaths. There are many reasons, but the single most important factor was the underlying anti-sectarian mood of the working class, both Catholic and Protestant.
Last year’s shooting of Protestants at a church service in Darkley showed that this is still the mood of workers. This atrocity provoked a storm of outrage, being condemned in both Catholic and Protestant areas. Even one prominent spokesman for the IRSP, the political shadow of the INLA who carried out this butchery, had to eventually condemn it. His statement, forced by the reaction of Catholic workers, gives a clear indication of the true mood in Catholic areas.
In a negative way the Darkley murders, and the shooting of Unionist Assemblyman Edgar Graham around the same time, showed the mood among Protestant workers. These deaths did not provoke a wave of sectarian counter-murders as surely would have been the case ten or twelve years earlier. There is an understanding drawn from bitter experience that revenge actions do not work, and that with a policy of tit for tat killings everybody ends up the loser. On the other hand the Darkley killings did not provoke the working class to reply with united mass demonstrations against sectarianism as they had done against similarly horrific murders in the same area in 1975 and 1976. The reason is that, while outraged, workers understand instinctively the mood within society, and, unlike in 1975, do not feel that civil war is a real threat.
It would now take, not one, but a series of Darkleys, over a whole period, before the possibility of a move in direction of a civil war would re-emerge. Were some sections of the paramilitaries to set out to provoke such a thing, it is far more likely that their efforts would have the opposite of their intended effect.
A sustained period of killings would again act as the whip of sectarian counter-revolution to draw the working class into action. It is most likely that the workers would pick up from where they left off in 1975 and 1977 and act even more decisively to bring the killings to an end. For the union leaders things would not be so easy as in 1975. The important development of Marxism as a force, especially in the trades councils, could force either the entire movement, or at least important sections, to place themselves at the head of the mass backlash against sectarianism.
A civil war is not possible until the resistance of the working class and the power of their organisations is broken. This would require not one, but many, defeats. Even then events on an international scale and particularly in Britain, could cut across sectarianism – even at the eleventh and three-quarter hour.
Sectarianism and sectarian violence in some form and to some degree are inherent in Northern Ireland. They are the scars of Irish history, of fifty years of Unionist rule, and of a decade and a half of violence. In this period of economic impasse they can always feed on the frustrations of the most backward sections of the population. Sectarianism will be present to some degree right up to the socialist revolution and will be finally eliminated only with the socialist reconstruction of society.
To what extent this poison will represent a threat depends upon the role of the labour movement over a period. At the moment the labour movement has the time and the opportunity to push the power of a united working class to the forefront, leaving the sectarian organisations in the shadows.
As in Britain there will be the lulls in the class struggle. There will be periods of retreat and demoralisation, periods in which upsurges of sectarianism will appear to move society backwards. Overall, viewed through a perspective of years, and with the world revolution as an important factor, the general march of events will be to the left.
Developments in Britain have and will have a powerful effect on the class movement and on the sectarian organisations in the North. As is the case on a world scale there has been a definite turn around in Britain, and the working class is now on the offensive. There has been a tremendous speeding up of events and processes. Only one year after its election victory the Tory Government is under class assault. In this climate even a small issue can blow up into a major struggle. The dispute over six printers in Warrington last year almost precipitated a national print strike and contained within it the possibility of a general strike against the Government.
Only the greatest betrayal of the movement since 1926 carried out by Len Murray and the TUC’s right-wing saved the neck of the Tories. Within months of this defeat the movement had shaken off its effects and moved even more decisively on to the offensive. There could be no better example of the explosive nature of this period. Implicit in the situation in Britain and Northern Ireland is the possibility of partial general strikes, regional general strikes and of an all out general strike. Under such conditions any perspective can be, at best, only of a general character and highly conditional.
The most significant battles of this year have been the victorious struggle waged by the Labour Council in Liverpool on the one hand and the fight of the miners to save their industry on the other. In Liverpool the key to success was the existence of an able and determined leadership who were not prepared to betray the movement. In the last analysis it was this subjective element, the role played by supporters of the Militant in the leadership of this struggle, which made the decisive difference in giving the working class of Liverpool the confidence to fight.
The miners have moved into battle with a class determination second to none. They see the prospect of the destruction of their industry, and with it their union. In the mining communities supporting the strike there is a sober understanding that they have no alternative but to fight now, and fight to the end. Additionally the victory of the left in the NUM has been an important factor. The miners expect this leadership to stand behind them and not to sell out, in the way other workers have been betrayed.
This dispute is of far greater significance than either of the miners’ strikes of the 1970s. On both sides the stakes are higher. For the miners it is their future, the future of the industry, and the existence of a strong union which is at risk. For the Government it is not a battle to close one or two pits. Rather it is the Tories’ wish to break the power of the NUM and thereby deal a blow to the trade union movement as a whole.
Thatcher has visions, which will turn out to be sorry delusions when confronted by the real power of the working class, of breaking the back of the British labour movement and moving in the direction of parliamentary bonapartism in Britain. Having dug in their heels the entire strategy of the Government is on the line.
The ingredients are there for a long dispute of a particularly bitter character. It is impossible here to deal in detail with a struggle now in progress where the precise relation of forces is changing day by day. Nonetheless, there are general implications flowing from the strike which will help shape the future course of the class struggle and of the revolution in Britain.
It is most likely that the miners will win some form of victory in this dispute. Having got the bit between their teeth they will not give way easily, despite the role of the TUC leadership. The growing support of other trade unions (something completely hidden by the media) stands strongly in their favour.
A victory for the miners would prompt a general movement of workers. The myth of invincibility upon which Thatcher has survived would be gone. The workers as a whole would gain new confidence in their power. Such a victory, plus its aftermath, might well sec the end of Thatcher, if not the Government.
A defeat, while less likely, cannot be excluded entirely. Mistakes made by the NUM leadership in not sufficiently preparing the membership for this struggle have made it difficult to unify their membership. Divisions in the NUM are a handicap which makes victory more difficult. If the miners were eventually starved back to work it would be a serious blow. It would reinforce the Government and set back the class movement. It would open the way for a period of demoralisation before the working class would again find their feet. But even such an important and serious defeat would not mean the breaking of the trade union movement in Britain.
Nor would it mean that the forces of Marxism would not continue to grow both in Britain and Northern Ireland. A defeat would not be as severe as in 1926 when the movement was weaker and took longer to recover. Even then the movement was not completely cowed. Beaten on the industrial front, workers turned to political action, and in 1926 put a Labour government in power. The following years saw the trauma of a split in the Labour Party at the top and the formation of a national government, and a split in the bottom to the left and the formation of the Independent Labour Party.
It was a period of ferment in the workers’ organisations which could have resulted in the development of Marxism as a mass force. Had the Communist Party been a Bolshevik party and not under the thumb of Stalin’s Comintern, it could have made huge gains both in 1926 and from future events. As it was, their policy of silently tail-ending the Lefts in the TUC General Council meant that their membership were completely unprepared for the betrayal of the General Strike when it came.
Out of such upheavals new revolutionary forces can gain their spurs and grow. But incorrect policies and methods when put to the test of great events can also destroy these forces. The Communist Party in Britain has never fully recovered from the false policies it put forward. at the behest of Moscow, before and after the General Strike.
In present circumstances even the worst option of a defeat for the miners would not halt the development of Marxism m Britain. Provided they work correctly and on the basis of correct policies, methods and perspectives, the Marxists can continue through all the great events of the period, defeats as well as victories. The pace of growth will be determined ultimately by events, but Marxist ideas can grow throughout.
No matter what its outcome, this strike will be a landmark in the development of the consciousness of the British working class. The working class learns through experience. The miners, and through them the class as a whole, are presently being given a lesson in the role of the police and the media. The true class nature of society is being laid bare. Victory or defeat, the lessons will be assimilated at first by the more advanced workers, especially the younger miners and their wives who have been to the forefront of this struggle.
These young miners will place their stamp on the NUM in the months and years which follow the strike. A genuine broad left, not just of Scargill and a few other leaders, but of the rank and file miners, can be built in every area. The grip of the right, where it is still strong, can be broken. Most important for the future, Marxism can become a force among Britain’s miners for the first time since the days of Lenin and Trotsky at the head of the Communist International.
Present events flow out of, and will contribute to the changed nature of social and class relations in Britain. British perspectives are marked by the new speed of events, by extreme volatility and instability, by sudden shifts in events and in the mood of the class and by the sharper nature of class conflict. The process of the British revolution has begun.
The movement will have its ebbs ad flows stretching over a period of years. There will be defeats, even periods of defeats, but the strength of the working class makes any crushing or final defeat impossible for a whole period. Likewise, the class will experience victories, but in every case the absence of a revolutionary leadership means that no victory can go all the way to the overthrow of capitalism. The key to the epoch is the building of this leadership, through the development of Marxism as a force within the mass organisations of the class. Events will create unprecedentedly favourable opportunities for this to be done.
The working class always moves in and through its traditional organisations. This law of history applies very firmly to Britain. It will be to the trade unions and the Labour Party that the masses will move. These organisations will be transformed and retransformed by the impact of events. They will be driven to the left over a whole period. Already the opening shots of the revolutionary process over the past decade have left their mark in the weakening of the hold of right-wing reformism.
In the trade unions the firm control exercised by the right-wing in the 1950s and ’60s is no more than a memory. Whole unions have been moved to the left as in the dramatic recent example of the NUR. Even within the TUC a clear division has opened up between left and right. Len Murray himself, the architect of the “new realism” strategy of dialogue with the Tories, has become the first right-wing victim at this level of the new reality of the class struggle as presented by both sides, by the Tories in banning unions at GCHQ and by the miners in their current dispute.
The tendency in those unions still under the control of the Duffy’s, Hammonds, Grahams and other representatives of the gangster right will be for the weakening of the base and authority of these gentlemen, the transformation of the unions will be uneven and not without its setbacks. It will take more than one battle to defeat a right wing which has been entrenched for decades. As has already has been the case in the CPSA there can be shifts to both the left and the right.
Only as huge struggles radicalise the ranks of the unions, and expose in practise the role of the right leaders, will the stronger tendency to the left be fully apparent. One reason for the extremely contradictory development in the unions is the weakness, until now, of any organised left opposition. In the past the Communist Party had a strong base and played an important role at shop steward level in all the main unions.
This base has now gone. Without exception the left machines built around the Communist Party members have lost whatever muscle they may have had. The bureaucratic and degenerate role of the Communist Party when they did win the leadership of some unions, for example the EETPU, so played into the hands of the right that the left was obliterated in these unions for a whole period. Frank Chapple and now Eric Hammond can thank the Morning Star for opening the way for their extended period of misrule. Union lefts which were based around the Communist Party had so declined by the late ’70s that they were completely inefficient at campaigning against the right. It was the rule of the Communist Party over a whole period which was largely responsible for the victories of Duffy and Laird in the AUEW, a union which had been on the left during the early ’70s. When it is purely a question of a left bureaucracy fighting a right bureaucracy, the stronger apparatus. as in this case, will win.
There will not be a revival of the Stalinists in the unions. Instead the coming events will see the creation of a genuine left. Left caucuses and broad lefts genuinely based among the rank and file are growing and will grow. The recent Broad Left Organising Committee Conference showed that the task of filling the vacuum on the left in the unions has begun.
Events will provide the opportunity for the union lefts, such as those represented at this conference, to grow into powerful movements in every union. Part and parcel of this will be the growth of the genuine ideas of Marxism, which in this way can sink deep roots into every sector of industry, into the factories, offices, mines, railways etc., laying the basis for mass support, among the class at a future stage.
As with the unions, so the Labour Party will be transformed. The experience of the right wing administration of 1974–79 has already moved the party to the left. Only because of the weakness of the left reformists have the right not been smashed totally. Just as has been seen in the unions, the move to the left has been uneven. The right have managed to win back a majority on the NEC of the party. This temporary reversal does not disguise the general swing of the party as a whole to the left.
No complete transformation of Labour has yet taken place. To-date Labour’s ranks have not been filled out with workers. In areas, especially in London, There has been a de-proletarianisation of the party which has instead attracted middle class trendies, today on the left, but tomorrow on the right.
In the heat of the huge struggles which lie ahead tens of thousands of workers, especially the youth, will join the Labour Party and struggle to change it into a party which represents their interests. Sooner or later the days of the right wing will be completely numbered. Already the Healeys, Shores and Hattersleys represent only a rump at the top, especially in the parliamentary party, but backed by the right wing union leaders. These people will lose even that foothold and will be pushed to the side. Labour will move to a left reformist position. A ferment will take place inside the party as revolutionary events open up.
The ideas of the lefts will be tested just as the ideas of the rights have already been. Not one, but a series of left Labour governments are possible, each one pushed forward by the pressure of the masses for a change in society. As with left governments coming to power in similar situations in the past these governments can be pushed further than the leaders and ministers ever intended. They can be forced to introduce concessions that go beyond what capitalism can afford. But sooner or later, as seen in the European examples of France, Spain and Greece, these governments come up against the wall of capitalism itself. Either the system is removed completely or else governments must rule on its terms.
The limitation of reformism, including its left variety, is that it is not prepared to go beyond the limits of capitalism. Its role will be exposed in practice. In all these events there will be opportunities as never before for the ideas and currents of Marxism to go from strength to strength in the British Labour Party. There will be no successful witch-hunt of the Marxists. Any who might be expelled today will leave behind, a bigger base than before the issue of their expulsion was raised, and will be re-admitted tomorrow. On the contrary, it is the witch-hunters who will be witch-hunted by the struggle of the working class to regain the Labour Party.
Even at this stage the role of the subjective factor is vitally important inside the Labour Party. In Liverpool, where the ideas of Marxism are strong, and have a quarter of a century of tradition behind them, the transformation of Labour is well in advance of other areas. The presence of Marxism has stiffened the backs of the left reformists. The result is that in Liverpool right reformism has already been reduced to a small handful of Labour renegades on the city council. Right reformism has been effectively broken here. Marxism is a powerful, almost the dominant force. As Liverpool today, so the entire party of the future.
The crisis in Britain is paralleled and in many senses surpassed by the crisis in the South. With an even weaker economy, a weaker state apparatus, and a powerful working class, which has revolutionary and Marxist traditions, the conditions for a large class movement are over-ripe.
Despite its nominal independence the Southern state has remained an appendage of British and now of US, German and World capital. The native capitalists have been incapable of developing industry and capturing even their own market. Foreign firms are responsible for 70% of manufacturing exports.
The partial development of the economy since the 1950s has come through the dropping of tariffs, the increased penetration of foreign capital, and the offer of bribes and inducements to foreign firms equivalent to what has been on offer in the North. During the 1970s, especially after 1974, the full effects of the world recession on living standards were postponed by state spending financed by massive borrowing.
Now the chickens of all these means of “development” are coming home to roost. The South is experiencing a deindustrialisation equivalent to that of Britain as foreign firms close down their operations. This economic destruction takes place in an economy which has a much lower level of development and a much weaker infrastructure. The years of growth through foreign borrowing have burdened the South with an external debt which in 1984 was equivalent to 60% of GNP and the servicing of which consumes 10% of GNP.
As internationally the ruling class have turned to monetarist solutions, they demand that the working class be made to pay through welfare cuts, education cuts, cuts in services etc., through unemployment and through a lowering of living standards. Unemployment, at 214,000 is almost 17% of the workforce. Living standards fell by about 10% in 1982 and again by about 10% in 1983.
Yet the development of the class movement industrially and politically it is out of gear with the profound social and economic crisis. The responsibility for this lies with the right-wing trade union leadership and with the right-wing parliamentary leadership of the Labour Party.
The Southern working class have shown in recent years that they are prepared to struggle. The Post Office strike, of 1979 was the longest national strike in Irish industry and the longest ever strike of postal workers. The movement over PAYE began in that year and brought hundreds of thousands of workers on to the streets. More recently the determination of workers to fight doggedly to save jobs was shown in the occupations of Ranks Flour Mill and the Clondalkin Paper Mill.
The movements of workers will have their effect on the trade unions, transforming these organisations, as in Britain and the North. Already there have been moves in one or two unions, drawing from the experience of Britain, to establish broad lefts. The industrial strength of the working class is not yet reflected politically. Again, this is the responsibility of the leadership and not because workers are not ready for socialist ideas as the right-wing always proclaim. In 1969 Labour stood on a left programme and won 17% of the vote nationally, including 28% in Dublin. In 1973 the leaders pushed through a decision in favour of coalition. In 1973 they entered the first of the recent disastrous coalitions with the right-wing capitalist party, Fine Gael.
Coalition, especially the more recent governments, including the present, have had a disastrous effect on Labour’s support. Its national share of the vote is not much more than 6.7% according to the latest opinion poll, and could even possibly fall slightly below this. In a recent bye-election in Dublin it had fallen to under 10% of the vote. It is not excluded that if the coalition were to survive tor a further period Labour’s support could fall even further. There is even the possibility that some unions could disaffiliate from the party.
Yet Labour is the traditional party of the working class in the South. The law of history that the working class move in and through its traditional organisations will apply in the South. It may be that the manner in which this law will express itself will be both peculiar and distorted. There is at least a theoretical possibility that Labour could be destroyed as a force by the actions of its parliamentary top. Even in this least likely and worst scenario, there would be a political reawakening of the class at some stage. This would take the form of a reconstitution of Labour in some form.
Against the whinging ultra-left sects. who have turned their backs on the Irish Labour Party and the labour movement, the Marxists and the Militant have always explained that the more likely perspective is for the breaking of the coalition and the movement of the Labour Party, albeit from a small base, to the left. Standing on a left programme it could quickly explode into a mass force, opening the way to a majority Labour government. Recent developments have tended to confirm this perspective, the European elections were a disaster for the Labour Party. Beyond that they showed that no force exists to represent the working class. Labour’s vote collapsed, but no other party managed to win their votes.
As well as being an eloquent condemnation of the disaster of coalition these results were a no less eloquent exposure of the illusion that some other party, like the Worker’s Party for example, can replace Labour. Between the Euro poll in 1979 and that of 1984 Labour lost 100,000 votes. The Workers Party vote in 1984 rose by a mere 4,500 on its 1979 showing. Sinn Fein managed to capture less than 5% of the total vote, a vote partly of traditional nationalists in the border areas especially, and in some embittered youth in areas like Dublin.
The Labour vote did not go to these parties but mostly abstained or in some cases went back to one of the two capitalist parties. No other force can fill the vacuum left by Labour. The perspectives built over the years by the Marxists are correct. Most likely at some stage the coalition will be broken. On what issue and in what manner it is not possible to be exact. But no matter where the final pressure snapping Labour away from Fine Gael will come from the underlying cause will be the mounting pressure of the class struggle.
The break with coalition will be a break with the ideas of right-wing reformism. Freed from this policy, and on the basis of mighty events, Labour will be pushed dramatically to the left. The Marxists, basing themselves on the true ideas of James Connolly, the party’s founder, can rapidly grow in influence. The present relative lull in the class struggle in the South and more importantly the participation of Labour in coalition have a negative effect on the movement in the North.
Generally it has been the case that when the movement leans more to the right, the division between workers North and South has deepened, and the opportunity has been created for sectarianism to develop in the North. The opposite has also generally been the case. Events which push the labour movement to the left have also tended to draw workers together. Labour’s move to the left will in turn accelerate and reinforce this tendency to unity. A break with coalition and Labour standing on independent socialist policies would provide a tremendous attraction to workers in the North.
The strongest tendency in the next period, no matter how unevenly and with what difficulty it may express itself, will be for the movement to advance North and South, and as a result for workers to come together. It will be through this unity of the working class in the struggle and through the moving closer together of their organisations North and South that the basis will be laid for the solution to the national problem. In Ireland, as now internationally, the tasks which remain, remnants of an unfinished distorted bourgeois revolution, are now part and parcel of the socialist tasks and will be accomplished only by the working class moving to change society.
These events, especially in the short term those in Britain, will profoundly affect the situation here in the North. No social or political force in the North will be immune from the powerful attractive force of leftward moving Labour Parties and of a battling militant trade union movement in Britain and the South. Always the tendency in history has been that when the working class moves forward in Britain and in either part of Ireland it tends to move closer together. The coming years will see the movement rising to its feet in all three areas and tending towards unity in struggle.
To say that events in Britain and the South will affect the movement in the North is not to fall into the camp of fatalism and to say that the class struggle in the North can only fold its arms and await developments outside. In fact events in Northern Ireland will also affect both negatively and positively the movements in Britain and the South. All that it means is that, even if during the inevitable ebbs in the forward momentum of struggle, sectarian tensions were to develop, the drift to division would most likely be cut across at a certain stage by the more powerful polar attraction of class upheaval especially in Britain.
Most likely the movement in the North will now develop roughly in tandem, sometimes in front and sometimes behind that of Britain and with that of both Britain and the South at a later stage. This has been the pattern even during the troubles. Statistics for days lost in strikes are one rough indicator of the rise and fall in the tempo of the class struggle.
In 1974, the year of the second miners strike in Britain, 649 days were lost per 1,000 employees. In Northern Ireland, where there are no mines, the figure was 546, distorted on the high side by the Ulster Workers Council stoppage, but also reflecting a wave of strikes which started in the latter part of the year. This strike wave s of longer duration in Northern Ireland perhaps because of the honeymoon effect of the return of a Labour government was lesser in an area where a Labour Party doesn’t exist.
In 1975 NI recorded 492 days lost per 1,000 employees against only 260 for Britain. It was the reversal of the tide of militancy in Britain which cut across the movement in the North and acted to handicap the class in its battles against sectarianism at the end of 1975 and into 1976.
During the late 1970s there was a profound fall off in these figures both in Britain and the North, reflecting the lull brought about by the acceptance of Labour’s policies by the union leaders. In 1979 the movement accepted wage cuts no more. In the wave of public sector strikes during the so-called “winter of discontent“, NI moved to the very front in terms of the militancy expressed there. While in Britain in 1979 the days lost in strikes rocketed to 1,288 per thousand employees, they shot to an even higher figure of 1,421 in NI.
During the years of retreat under the Tories, the North fell back more sharply and further than in Britain with figures for 1980–82 of 99, 147 and 214 respectively. The equivalent figures for Britain were 541, 203 and 378. What can be concluded from these figures is that the pendulum of class struggle has oscillated in NI in a pattern similar to that in Britain, except that its swing has been often further at both extremes. These facts confound the pessimists and the ultra-left sectarians who parrot out the old argument that there can be no class struggle in Northern Ireland “until the national question is resolved“.
Events will transform the labour movement, starting with the trade unions in Northern Ireland. Internationally and in N.I. the period of the boom saw the unions firmly encrusted with a right-wing bureaucracy. In ’68–’69 this leadership left the unions aloof from the social agitation and prepared a further period of retreat which postponed any serious challenge to their position.
In ’75–’76 the major strikes and the struggles against sectarianism brought a layer of new activists into the movement. That date marks the beginning of the end of the unchallenged rule of the right and the start of the process of the transformation of the trade unions. Since then every dispute has left its mark, no matter how slight. The health service strike of 1982 had a profound effect on the health service unions, throwing up new and younger activists, breathing life into branches which had not met for years, and developing joint shop stewards committees where none had previously existed.
Following the dispute much of the momentum has gone out of these bodies. Activity in the union branches has declined and some shop stewards committees have collapsed. Nevertheless the traces of the dispute remain. Future struggles in the health service will not have to run over the same ground but will quickly recapture any organisational territory which has been lost and will move forward from where the 1982 dispute ended.
In this manner the entire trade union movement will be transformed. There will be periods of intense activity, leading to advances in the democratisation of union structures. There will be opposite periods. Each successive struggle against the hold of the right wing will be fought out on a higher level. In the public service unions as a whole marked changes have already taken place. NIPSA, as with the CPSA in Britain, has seen moves both to the right and the left at the top. Even this polarisation of the activists represents a huge advance on the position of a decade ago when the right had a suffocating grip on virtually every pore of the union apparatus and structure. It should be remembered that it is less than a decade since NIPSA organised its first ever official strike by any section of its membership, that being a half-day strike in the Housing Executive.
There has been an enormous change since then but still it only marks a beginning. The mass of workers draw their conclusions directly from experience. The membership of NIPSA have to date only waded up to their knees in the waters of the class struggle. The union has never organised an all-out strike involving large section of its members. With the 1981 Civil Service Pay Campaign and the 1982 Health dispute, the limited usefulness of selective action has been shown. All-out action on a major scale is now on the agenda.
The partial action in 1981 and ’82 had a major effect in dislocating the grip of the right wing in many branches. An all-out strike would go much further in this. Not just a layer of the activists but the entire membership would be blooded in the bitterness of class conflict. Younger and fresher activists would be thrown up, and would challenge for positions at every level.
Not in one battle, but through a series of struggles, the membership of this union will be radicalised and proletarianised. Ultimately this will lay the basis for a decisive shift to the left among the membership and a corresponding transformation at the top. In the heavy battalions of the trade union movement the impact of events will also be felt. It is not possible for ever and a day for the right wing and Stalinist bureaucracies to rule over the union structures which permit no outlet for rank and file participation, where branches do not meet, where delegations are hand picked, and where advancement up the ladder of the bureaucracy is by the laying on of hands from above.
The relatively more open and democratic structure of many of the public sector unions, especially where there are work place branches, has made them more easily reflective of the class struggle and more quickly responsive to change. The day of the industrial unions, which in the last analysis are more important, will come also.
Workers, moving into struggle and coming into collision with the leadership will begin the transformation of the industrial unions. The fortifications of bureaucratic control will be ultimately dismantled. Inactive, semi-prostrate union structures which are a legacy of the boom period and of the early 1970s will be pounded into life by the membership. The still relatively untroubled existence of the bureaucracy will be ended.
Len Murray’s resignation, like all splits at the top of the movement, is a symptom of the tremors and shocks taking place below. Already the beginnings of upheaval within the unions in Northern Ireland has had repercussions at the top. Under pressure divisions are being opened up within the bureaucracy itself. The conferences and meetings of the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU are beginning to show the first signs of a division between left and right. Under the enormous pressure of the mass movement this split will widen and a left will crystallise. At the moment the influence of the Stalinist Communist Party is confined to a top layer of bureaucrats and budding bureaucrats, especially in the unions like the ATGWU. Throughout the troubles the CP members have been organisationally and ideologically synonymous with the bureaucracy as a whole. It is likely that under the impact of the crisis there will be divisions among this layer. Some CP trade union officials will opportunistically gravitate to the left. But even at the top the mainspring of the left will develop outside the Communist Party, more likely among those who will join a future Labour Party.
No matter what happens at this level the Stalinists will be incapable of building a base among the rank and file. The genuine left movement of workers will come into collision with union leaders, including those who are members of the CP.
The complete inability of the Stalinists to build in the ranks of the unions has left a vacuum. Just as in Britain the surge of new layers of class fighters, especially the youth, into activity, will present enormous opportunities for Marxism to consolidate a powerful base in every union. The question of sectarianism, which precludes groups like Sinn Fein, the Workers Party or the sects, from building a serious industrial base, means that, like in Britain only doubly so, there is no political force other than Marxism which can build.
Opportunities will exist for genuine broad lefts to develop in every major union. These will bypass the Stalinists and will provide a healthy forum within which the Marxists can work. As Marxism begins to emerge as a force it can become a key opposition within individual unions and also within NICTU. In turn the strengthening of Marxism will be a factor in accelerating the general process to the left in all the unions.
Of particular interest are the trades councils. These are rank and file bodies and are therefore the section of the movement immediately responsive to the pulse of the class struggle. In 1975–6 it was the trades councils which were pushed to take the lead in the fight against sectarian killings. Workers turned to what had been moribund, even non-existent structures, shook them up and forced them to organise the strikes and demonstrations which began the “Better Life For All Campaign”.
As elsewhere, the ebbs and flows of the class struggle have been registered on the trades councils. For whole periods they have fallen back into relative inactivity. The present up beat in the tempo of the movement will again mean a partial filling out of these bodies.
Just as within the unions, there have been shifts to both the left and the right on these bodies. On the Derry Trades Council the process of transformation has been taken to a far higher level than any other part of the movement in the North. This remains the case despite the fact that through the right-wing control of the officers and executive positions it is now only the backside of this development which is on view.
It was the strength of the Marxists which converted Derry Trades Council from a shell into a fighting vehicle of the class with the highest level of debate and most advanced thinking of any such body in Ireland. By this work Marxists actually won key positions and the left as a whole won a majority on the executive. Under this left stewardship this body grew to its strongest ever position in terms of affiliations and delegates. In 1984 these gains were reversed and the gangster right, by bureaucratic methods, regained organisational control. They were able to do so because the victory of the left had come in advance and in anticipation of developments in the three major industrial unions which still remained under the domination of right-wing officials.
Organisational manoeuvres cannot halt the class struggle. This coup by an unrepresentative right wing polarises the council and adds to the ferment at every meeting. At a certain stage, depending on on the pace of the class struggle, their gains will be undone and the left will regain a majority.
History does not run in circles. Their battles, even in this period of right-wing control, are all an education to the movement, especially the advanced layers in Derry. A new victory for the left would be on a higher level than before. It could only be achieved against the bitter opposition of the right. would reflect a greater awareness on both sides of what is at stake, and would mark the beginning of the end of the undisputed tyranny of right-wing rule in the major unions in that city.
Derry Trades’ Council is important because it has been in the vanguard of the struggle of the working class to reclaim the unions as democratic fighting organisations on their behalf. The ferment of ideas seen in Derry will grip every trades council. Marxist ideas, already an important influence on these bodies, can speed this up.
The trade unions are the main vehicles through which the working class will initially move. They will not, however, be the sole bodies to which the class will turn. With unemployment levels of 50% and more in some working class areas, a huge number of working class people, especially working class women, cannot join a union. Because of the role of the union leadership during the troubles, many unemployed workers and youth do not see them as a vehicle to lead a fight. The traditions of trade unionism, still enormously strong have nonetheless been weakened by the failures of their leaders.
Under these circumstances very important movements can develop on issues such as housing, education, recreation facilities, playground, health hazards on estates, and so on. Already there have been examples of genuine community organisations being thrown up to organise protest.
What happened in Dublin on the question of heroin pushers can happen on any number of issues in the North. Things which today appear peripheral and of little importance, given the explosive and angry mood of society, can become the focus of major campaigns in the future.
It is the absence of a Labour Party which colours these community movements with an added importance. Workers who are not involved in unions or who do not sec the unions as capable of fighting on local issues, have no political vehicle through which to take these issues up. They can move instead to form local organisations for the purpose. One of the big roles of a mass Labour Party would be to help fill this vacuum by organising campaigns on the, immediate burning problems faced by workers in their communities.
The ability of the working class to unite and struggle on the industrial plane poses. in Northern Ireland, the sharp contradiction that politically they remain divided. In the next period the working class will move to resolve this contradiction. A political organisation of the working class will be thrown up out of the big industrial battles that lie ahead. The working class always tends to move in and through its traditional organisations. In political terms in Northern Ireland this means that workers will turn to their traditional political banner – that of Labour. The ultra-left sects who believe that the workers will wake up one day having “seen the light” and move en masse behind their so-called revolutionary banners, will be just as disappointed in Northern Ireland as they will be throughout the rest of the capitalist world. A mass movement tends first of all to move towards the line of least resistance. In political terms the easiest thing is for workers to move to the party which they have always looked upon as theirs. It makes no sense to turn to some obscure little grouplet outside the movement. Before drawing revolutionary conclusions the masses, in Northern Ireland as elsewhere, will have to go through the school of reformism.
Every mass revolutionary force in the past, including all the mass parties of the Third International, grew only when the time was right, out of the ferment and .divisions in the old reformist organisations. Only on the basis of the working class moving to take power in Britain and the South, before a Labour Party had been created in Northern Ireland, would the immediate creation of an open mass revolutionary party be possible.
Today in Northern Ireland there is no Labour Party and with the final and irreparable demise of the NILP, not even the pretence of a Labour Party. Yet Labour remains the traditional organisation of the class. Every time in their history that the working class of Northern Ireland have united in industrial struggle there has been a tendency for the political repercussions of that struggle to be a boost in the fortunes of Labour. Also the reverse. When the class struggle has ebbed, sectarianism has tended to strengthen and labour to decline. During the 1950s and ’60s, the working class was strengthened both industrially and politically. The 1958 Stormont election saw the NILP win four seats. In 1962, after a crisis in the economy and with massive redundancies, especially in the shipyards, it not only retained these four seats, it nearly doubled its vote.
In that election the NILP won 26% of the vote. Other semi-socialist parties, fro example, Gerry Fitt’s Republican Labour Party which won one seat, also picked up what were at root Labour votes. The 1962 poll was the one and only time in the history of Northern Ireland when the vote of the Unionists fell to under 50% of the total. This result showed that the so-called “permanent Unionist majority” was a myth, but a myth which could only be exposed by the one force capable of defeating unionism, the force of a politically united working class.
The retreat of the whole labour movement during the 1970s was a rout for the NILP. This party became a casualty of the sectarian reaction. Not on many occasions in history have the mass parties built up by the working class been completely destroyed. It takes traumatic events to bring this about. In the case of the NILP it was its desertion by the trade union leaders who fled to their “non-political” bunker, the degenerate sectarian nature of its own leadership and the prolonged period of severe sectarian reaction and down-swing in the class struggles which destroyed it.
Labour no longer exists in Northern Ireland in a bodily form. But the tradition of Labour remains as the only political tradition of the working class when they go forward. When the class again turns to political action it will be the discarded banner of Labour that it will pick up and place at its head. The developments taking place today m the British Labour Party and tomorrow in the Irish Labour Party are a double insurance that this will be so, although it is possible that in the short term the return of a Labour government in Britain and the disillusionment which would be bred by the policies of Healey, Hattersley and Kinnock, could set back the formation of such a party in the North if it had not yet been set up. Ultimately, through its moving to the left, the existence of Labour in Britain will be an assistance. The reformation of Labour will not take the form of the rebirth of the NILP. Instead it will most likely be through a move by the unions or a section of the unions to set up a new party.
The present period can be correctly characterised as a period of the politicisation of the trade unions. This process of politicisation stems from objective conditions and is unstoppable and inescapable no matter what the twists, turns and tricks of the trade union leaders.
The day to day experience of the working class teaches, and will teach, that trade unionism and politics are inseparable. Yet the bureaucrats of the NIC of ICTU still manage to maintain the fiction of the opposite. They do so, not by the force of argument, but by managing to stifle all discussion on the question. In this they fly in the face of their own history since the majority of trade unions in Northern Ireland were affiliated to or had a special relationship with that party.
Events will not permit the 19th century nonsense, that the trade unions are not political, to be maintained. The Houdinis of the NIC of ICTU will not forever escape the effects of the growing politicisation of the ranks of their movement. It is likely that the growing pressure for political action will produce splits even within the inner sanctums of the union leadership on this question. Some will come to recognise that the political pressure is too strong and will seek to act, preferring a party under their influence to one which might emerge from below and which might be beyond their control. Others will bend in the opposite direction, fearing that the formation of a party would encourage political discussion and activity and that both it and the unions would be moved to the left as a result. Both sets of arguments will be correct. Circumstances here ensnare the bureaucracy in a trap. It is a question that heads they will lose and tails they will lose also.
At some stage it is more likely that under pressure from below the union leaders, or a section of these leaders representing some important unions, will be forced to act to establish a party. The time scale and details of this process cannot be projected now. All that it is possible to point to is the general outline. History will add the colour and sketch in the detail. No matter what the eventual outcome, the key is that the unions are being and will be politicised.
It is possible that these processes can be accelerated by developments outside Northern Ireland. In 1981 the British Labour Party conference adopted the call for a conference of the labour movement in Northern Ireland to set up a Labour Party here. It was the role of the Marxists in Britain and in Northern Ireland in formulating, articulating and organising for this demand which was chiefly responsible for this advance in policy.
There is a possibility that the British Labour Party may actually initiate such a conference. There has been formal agreement on one important sub-committee that this should be done. However. it is by no means certain that they will go ahead. At every turn they will encounter the resistance and. in cases, the ardent opposition of many trade union leaders in the North.
An initiative of this nature by the British Labour Party is light years away from the idea of the establishment of a region of that party in the North. This notion was first raised in recent years by elements of the right wing of the NILP. It was simply a plea from them for salvation for their rapidly disappearing party. It is still the official position of two or three individuals who still proudly proclaim themselves to be the NILP. Also it is now peddled more loudly by the small group calling themselves the Campaign for Labour Representation.
The Marxists have opposed this call because it is not the best way to build a Labour Party. Labour cannot be hoisted across the Irish Sea and imposed on workers in the North. It must develop out of the day to day struggle of those working class activists who will join and build it.
An attempt to bureaucratically foist a party on the province whether it be made by the British or the Irish Labour Parties would immediately cause resentment among one or other and possibly both sections of the working class. For example, if moves were made to set up British Labour, the alienation of Catholic workers by the right-wing policies of the likes of Healey, Hattersley and Concannon, would be rivalled by the effectiveness of some lefts like Ken Livingstone and the trendies around him in alienating Protestants.
Far more in tune with the needs of the struggles, is the call of the Marxists, now taken up by growing sections of the movement, for a democratic rank and file conference of the trade union and labour movement to create a Labour Party. Once established that party, would then be free to determine its own links with Labour in the South and in Britain.
Fortunately the plea for a region of British Labour is unlikely to be taken up. Within the British labour Party it has little support. It is very strongly opposed by different sections of the party for different reasons. The major unions in the North, especially the ATGWU oppose it. As far as those who now raise this demand are concerned, it is really an excuse for inactivity. In place of a campaign to politicise the trade unions in Northern Ireland they substitute humble pleading to the British Labour Party to do the job instead. This is not the action of a serious political group with any future in the movement but is the politics of a prayer circle.
The politicisation of the trade unions is taking place from below. The central question being raised is what the role of trade union bodies should now be to elections and to politics as a whole. The standard refrain that British labour should organise here is not an answer to this burning and immediate question. Whatever emerges from the discussions at the top, the issue of political involvement will be raised from within the trade unions in the North. The local government elections of May 1981 acted as a catalyst forcing discussion and, in some cases, action on this question.
Most active trades councils discussed the possibility of putting up candidates. Three eventually did. This was a very significant recognition by important sections of the movement of the need for political action.
Local government elections are due again in May 1985. It is certain that there will be widespread discussion within the unions, especially again the trades councils, on what their attitude should be to standing. The increase in the strength of the Marxists since 1981 is a double insurance that this debate will take place.
What will be the outcome it is not possible to predict. Having lost the argument in a number of areas in 1981 the right will resist it more fervently this time. The right wing are under greater pressure now than in 1981. This also means that for them the dangers of bowing to this pressure are greater and so the more intense will be their resistance. Any decision by a section of the movement to fight these elections will be taken more consciously and after a fuller debate than in 1981. It will therefore be an even more important victory than those achieved then.
Even if there are no officially sponsored or selected trade union candidates, the intense debate on the issue will focus the attention of a wide layer of activists on the issue of political action. Whatever the final outcome the process of politicisation will have been pushed onto a new and higher plane. In the event that there are no official trade union candidates there are still likely to be a range of candidates standing on various independent Labour tickets. It is possible that entire groups of trade unionists, outside the official structures of the movement, could come together to put up candidates in their local areas.
The Labour and Trade Union Group, the body which, over a ten year period, has been central to the entire campaign to press the unions into political action, has stated that it will consider putting up candidates, if the unions do not fight these elections. Other individuals and smaller groupings will probably do the same.
It is possible that some umbrella organisation, co-ordinating to some degree, the work of all these bodies could emerge. The fate of such a grouping would ultimately depend on the unions. Labour will grow as the political reflection of trade union struggles. Any genuine labour Party must be based on the affiliation and support of the unions. A body which lacks this and is incapable of achieving it over a period, would not develop. An umbrella organisation of Labour groupings emerging from the local government elections would not be a substitute for the unions moving politically. Either it would win the support of the unions or some unions through recognition and affiliation or else it would at best remain as a ginger group, possibly to be absorbed into a new party when the unions would ultimately move. More than the hazy outlines of what is possible cannot yet be seen.
There is a distinction which now must be made between the formation of a Labour Party, even by the union tops, and its transformation and growth into a mass party. Dependent upon the circumstances of its birth it is possible that a Labour Party would exist for a period before it would develop into a mass force challenging the major parties. Under such circumstances it would be confronted with many dangers. Its formative years would be tortuous and difficult.
Into such a party, alongside the best activists and advanced workers, would also be drawn a great deal of political confusion and the many prejudices which have grown during the fifteen year break in the political consciousness of the class. Sectarian ideas and attitudes would be found in embryo within it. There would be serious obstacles, not least of all its ability or otherwise to adopt a class position on the national question, which it would need to overcome.
It is not entirely excluded that the road to full political involvement may experience one or possibly more false starts before the political consciousness of the class is raised and the movement really finds its feet. The jumble of ideas and prejudices, along with the general grip of right-wing reformism, will be overcome as soon as Labour moves beyond its infant stage and fresh layers, especially of younger workers, move into its ranks.
It will be only on the basis of big events, social turmoil and class warfare, that Labour will develop as a mass force. To challenge the major parties, including Sinn Fein, Labour needs to draw behind itself much of their working class support. Workers, especially the more backward layers of the class, will be cautious and will think many times before they switch their votes from the existing parties. Not to vote for one sectarian opens the possibility that the opposite sectarian will win.
Labour can only overcome this caution by convincing the class that it is a fighting organisation capable of providing an alternative way out. Labour will emerge as a mass party only on the spring board of a mass movement which in its course will transform the trade unions and the consciousness of tens of thousands of workers.
No mass party of the working class can be developed especially in this period except through traumatic upheaval. The mass parties in Britain and the South were forged out of years of intense struggle at the beginning of this century.
In Britain a resolution for the setting up of a Labour Representation Committee was passed by the TUC as early as 1899. This came after a long gestation period when groups like the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party ploughed the first furrows of socialist organisation. When the LRC first met in 1900, less than half the unions took part. It took the £23.000 of fines imposed on the railway unions by the Taff Vale decision of 1901, plus the rising class militancy of the period, to push the majority of unions to affiliate to the LRC and to force that body to decide to stand independent of other parties.
Even then it was not until 1924, a quarter century after the TUC first decided in favour of Labour representation, that Labour was strong enough to form a government. In between were years of intense class struggle from 1908–1914, the first world war, the Russian revolution and the post-war revolutionary ferment in Britain and in Europe.
The Irish Trade Union Congress decided in principle in favour of the establishment of a Labour Party in 1903. Like the TUC position of 1899, this decision had its pre-history in the long involvement of Belfast Trades Council and other sections of the movement in local politics. The 1903 decision remained only a decision in principle. It took the big battles of 1907–1913, the birth of the ITGWU, the offensive by the employers trying to break the power of the new unions, and the looming threat of civil war posed by the presence of rival unionist and nationalist armies in different parts of the country, before flesh was finally put on this principle. In 1912 the ITUC decided to actually set up a Labour Party and changed their constitution to do so.
Still it took the war and its aftermath, a period of occupations, land seizures, general strikes and soviets in local areas, to present Labour with the opportunity in 1918 to become the decisive force in Ireland. In the event the leaders of the party squandered this opportunity as the leaders of Labour, North and South, have squandered every major opportunity since.
It will take events of this character to transform Labour into a mass force in Northern Ireland. The scope and scale of events will be the same, the time scale different. The movement is now stronger. The traditions of Labour have been created. The crisis is deeper and the world events to which it will give rise will be more explosive. What it took the first quarter of this century to achieve in Britain can be accomplished in a few years In the North today. It will be under the impact of huge events that Labour will draw mass support. The same events will propel it to the left. Very quickly as it develops beyond its initial nucleus it will be driven to a left-reformist and, dependent upon events, possibly to a centrist position. It will be a party in a perpetual state of ferment for so long as it exists.
The ideas of Marxism will quickly sink roots in such a party. Whichever way the union leaders turn, Marxism can develop. If they form a party now, Marxism will be an influential force within it from the outset, capable of winning a majority in some areas, and set to grow. On the other hand if they delay until the class struggle is at a more advanced stage they will discover that they have only succeeded in giving the influence of Marxist ideas in the unions and in the class more time to develop. Marxism would then be more influential within a Labour Party from the word go and would be poised to grow even more rapidly.
As the working class draw the lessons of practical struggle, and as they test and retest their organisations and their leaders in battle, Marxism can emerge not just as a tendency within the movement, but as the majority tendency and the majority influence within the working class as a whole. It will be out of the upheavals within the trade unions and within a Labour Party once formed that the forces of Marxism will come.
Every political and paramilitary force now in existence grew out of the period of the troubles at the beginning of the 1970s. All are manifestations and products of the sectarian reaction and the retreat of the labour movement.
When the labour movement returns to the offensive, it will threaten the support of each and every one of these organisations, and will redraw again and again the boundaries between them. Though they do not know it, it will be the future struggles of the working class which will be the most important factor in determining the future evolution of every established political figure, of their parties, of the heads of the paramilitary armies, and those who follow them.
Individual terrorism as a method runs at right angles from mass activity and mass support. It is a gesture of despair which leads to isolation and defeat. At times this clear and accurate picture can be blurred. There can be circumstances and moments in history when groups such as the PIRA can temporarily draw mass or semi-mass bases of support, even among sections of the working class. Above all where the crisis of capitalism is compounded by the running sore of the national question as in Ireland and Spain, this can be the case.
In the early 1970s military repression, economic repression, the failures of the labour movement and the scar of an unresolved national problem combined to give the Provisionals a degree of mass support. At one stage the IRA could attract thousands of recruits and potential recruits but only for a brief period.
Invariably methods such as those adopted by the Provisionals lead to a blind alley. In an advanced capitalist country, or any society in which the working class have developed as a force, it is only they who can overthrow capitalism. The task of socialists is to intervene in the day to day struggles of the working class at all times with a programme and a perspective which can raise the consciousness of the class and take those struggles forward.
Individual terrorism does not raise the consciousness of workers. It lowers it. It allows no role to the masses except to sit, watch and applaud as a small, self-appointed band try, and ultimately fail, to change society on their behalf. As Trotsky put it:
“In our eyes individual terror is inadmissible, precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who will someday come and accomplish their mission.”
Gerry Adams would seem an unlikely advocate of Trotsky’s views on this question. Yet in an article in Republican News intended to glorify the efforts of the Provos, but which acknowledged some past errors, the truth inadvertently slips out:
“Following Bloody Sunday we had thousands of people heading towards us, but six months later we were back to ourselves again. By and large this was because we suffered the lack of a clearly perceived and wide ranging strategy or policy to cope with the difficulties facing us .... We had, from our end, the emergence of spectator politics, where a person who couldn’t join the fight, or was worn out after a period in prison, couldn’t really do much and was basically a spectator.” (our emphasis)
Examining what he believes is a minor error in the Provos’ past history, Adams actually stumbles on the central contradiction between individual terrorism and mass action. Having blurted it out he fails to understand what he has said, and passes on without drawing the conclusions. Not here and there does individual terror reduce the masses to spectators, its whole essence is that it does this. It follows a line of march towards isolation and away from mass participation. Nor does individual terrorism weaken the capitalist state. By providing the excuse for the creation of an armoury of counter-terror, it actually reinforces it. The elaborate apparatus of repression on the streets and statute books of Northern Ireland has been built up only because the state has had the excuse of the “emergency” situation caused by the Provos’ campaign.
Marxism rejects individual terrorism. It does so, not for sentimental but for practical reasons. In Northern Ireland Marxists have always opposed the Provos campaign because it is a campaign which can never succeed. When a tactic of struggle which is futile is taken up it is the responsibility of Marxists to tell the truth to any workers and youth who might be dazzled by it.
The Provisional methods will never defeat imperialism, force the withdrawal of troops, or bring about re-unification. These and every other aspect of the national question can, in this epoch, only be resolved by the working class as part of the socialist revolution. Whether it is deliberate on their part or not – and in terms of its effects it makes not two pence worth of difference which – the Provos’ campaign has divided the working class and set back the genuine struggle for socialism.
There is at least a section of the Provos to whom salvation lies at the other side of sectarian civil war. Recognising that they can never win the Protestants, the only alternative they see is to fight them. In a Magill interview published last July, an IRA spokesman regurgitated the old tales about the Protestants being inherently reactionary, and posed the only conclusion possibly reached by such a line of thought:
“Many loyalists have a supremacist mentality like the Afrikaners in South Africa, the Pied Noirs of Algeria, or the Israelis. They may not have as many privileges but the mentality is the same. It is very possible that the people with that mentality would try to repartition the North – as Harold McCusker MP has already suggested. And they have about 19.000 armed men in the RUC and UDR to help them do it. We do not know how many of the loyalists would take that line, but anyone who opposes Irish self-determination by force will have to be met by force.” (our emphasis)
The downturn in their military activity in recent years is some evidence of the Provos decline as a military force. A further symptom of disillusionment within their ranks has been the emergence of the “super-grasses”. This development shows that many volunteers have no hope of victory. Young Republicans can no longer refuse to recognise the courts and accept long prison sentences believing that a military victory and an amnesty is just around the corner. At the very best, those who can contemplate victory at all, can only hold on to the official perspective of the leadership of a 10, 20 or 30 year struggle. This is the most optimistic outlook the Provos have on offer. Decline has been and will be uneven. Dialectically, while there are factors working to undermine the Provos strength, there are also opposite factors boosting them. At any time one force can be stronger than the other. It is because the dominant factors have been those which isolate them that, over a period, through upswing and retreats, they have declined. Events have tended to give them an impetus from time to time – only to find that through their false methods this impetus is ultimately lost.
They are still subject to conflicting pressures. The same repression which restrains them also antagonises the population and gains them recruits. The political and economic impasse, coupled with the failure of the trade union leaders to demonstrate a better way to struggle, provides the Provos with a certain reservoir, however limited, within the disenchanted and angry youth.
Individual terror can never succeed in defeating imperialism. This is a fundamental point but it is still only one side of the question. Imperialism is incapable of achieving a final military victory. This is the other side. In a society in which the productive forces are in decline, where the politics are deadlocked, and when social development reaches an impasse, terrorism in some form becomes endemic.
A position of semi-equilibrium can be reached when the pressures on the Provos from both sides achieve an uneasy state of balance. There is a low point in their fortunes where the factors working in their favour equal the isolating effects of their military activity. In case any advocates of individual terrorism should misread the point, this is not called “victory” it is called “impasse”.
Such a relative equilibrium can last for a long period of time, possibly until some decisive change in the objective situation upsets the balance. In the meantime there can be a long campaign of isolated shootings and bombings, including periodic upsurges of more intense activity.
This is virtually the state of affairs at the moment. It is likely that the current weak pulse of military activity can be sustained almost indefinitely, given the existing social, political and economic conditions. It will be the development of the class struggle which will upset this equilibrium. In the coming years the working class of Britain and Ireland, North and South, will give not one but many demonstrations of an alternative and better way to struggle. This will yet further erode the illusions among the working class in individual terror.
Above all, Marxism, as it gains it feet and becomes a recognisable tendency within society, will become a magnetic pole of attraction. Many of the best of those of who have looked towards the Provisionals, and more importantly the fresh layer of youth who a decade ago would have turned to their methods, can be won to the banner of socialism in the next period. Nonetheless, even then the unevenness of the class struggle, plus the open sore of nationalism, could still provide the Provos with a certain basis, albeit much reduced. It is not likely that the military campaign would end. It would, however, fundamentally change.
As the class struggle attracted the Catholic working class and youth, the Provos would be more and more forced to fall back on their bedrock nationalist support, mainly in the rural areas, but also among the unemployed, semi-proletarian elements in the town.
In the context of growing class activity and a developing labour movement, the Provos activities would be seen to become, and would become, more openly sectarian and divisive both in intention and effect. The campaign is likely to continue at a low ebb, eventually to be exposed as openly sectarian, and as running counter to the united interests of the working class. Some degree of military activity is now embedded into the framework of Northern Ireland’ and will probably only be dislodged by the socialist revolution itself.
Recent political successes by Sinn Fein do not alter this perspective, as will be explained in more detail later. The Provos are a military organisation first and foremost. They developed because of the military campaigns and only secondly threw together a few ramshackle political ideas as a justification of their actions. Since the recent return to politics under the banner of Sinn Fein there have been a number of reminders, verbal, written and physical, that, as one headline in Republican News puts it. “The War Goes On“. In the interview already quoted from Magill, the same IRA spokesman was blunt on the question:
“We recognise that even if the entire Nationalist population of the six counties voted for Sinn Fein, that wouldn’t be enough. There must be an increase in activity in the twenty six counties so that they also demand that the Brits get out. Even that wouldn’t be enough, because the only thing the colonial rulers will listen to is force. There must also be a big increase of military activity by us and there will be.” (our emphasis)
Any attempt by a section either of Sinn Fein or the IRA to engineer a ceasefire would endanger a split, a feud, and the prospect of a section of the organisation continuing with the campaign.
The existence of the INLA is a further factor ensuring that the Provos do not give up the campaign. During the hunger strikes the INLA picked up recruits among disgruntled Provos concerned that their organisation was becoming “soft” militarily. In the unlikely event of a Provo ceasefire holding, many of their volunteers would switch allegiance. A fact that will cause any section of the Provos’ leadership pondering this option to have second thoughts.
No revolutionary tendency can develop on a firm basis without clear and correct perspectives, correct tactics, and a correct programme. The INLA/IRSP fail by a huge score on all counts. This grouping is based on an infantile perspective. First they believe the Provos will reunify the country with them playing a secondary role. Then when the Provos sell out to nationalism in the capitalist Ireland which emerges, the INLA/IRSP will lead the masses forward to socialism.
Not a line, dot, or comma of this scenario is correct. It is what it sounds, a feeble theory concocted to cover the military activity of the INLA with a few scraps of political justification. Like their ideas, their tactics are completely incorrect. The disastrous policy of insane military adventurism, or “McGlincheyism”, will get nowhere. The INLA are a tiny isolated group. As such they need to be responsive to the mood within the Catholic working class far less than the Provos. Thus they have carried out such atrocities as the Darkley murders, ignoring completely the anti-sectarian mood of the working class. For this reason their organisation, and individually some of those within it, are capable of further wild, dangerous, and provocative actions. They are no friends of the labour movement or the working class in carrying out these deeds. In every respect they bear the hallmarks of a small, permanently isolated, and politically bankrupt sect. They are ridden with division, feuds and executions.
In Belfast alone there have been three or four distinct factions within their tiny organisation. The very existence of the INLA and the tact that it has survived for a decade is an extreme expression of the economic crisis and social disintegration in Northern Ireland. It is most likely that they will cling to some kind of existence for a further period. But they lack the stronger traditions and roots of the Provos. They are easier prey to demoralisation and to division. It has not been an accident that the weapon of the supergrasses has had a relatively more severe effect on them than on the Provos.
For all these reasons it is possible that isolation, depression and demoralisation can atomise the INLA. In the years ahead, especially as the class struggle develops, it is likely that they will suffer dislocation, even to the extent that they might splinter and disappear. What is certain is that they will not develop into a force capable of challenging imperialism.
The fate of their political wing, the IRSP, is as that of the INLA. This body is really an insignificant sect with a grandiose title. It has no genuine independence of existence from the INLA and merits only a line in the most detailed perspective.
Sinn Fein is a different matter. The electoral successes this organisation has had were not anticipated by the Marxists ... or by any body else, including Sinn Fein itself. On the surface the growth of Sinn Fein would appear to contradict all that has been said about the decline of the Republican paramilitaries. This is not so.
The reason for the very significant electoral successes of Sinn Fein is not the Provos’ campaign. In recognition of this the military activity was greatly tuned down so as not to disrupt Sinn Fein’s campaign during the Assembly elections. While it is not a vote for the IRA, it is also necessary to add that it is obviously not a vote against it. While there is not mass support for the military campaign, neither is there an anti-IRA mood among much of the Catholic working class. The Sinn Fein vote is not a vote for the armed struggle, but neither do their links with the IRA fundamentally cut across their support.
The real reason for the vote is the lack of any alternative. To the mass of the Catholic working class and especially to the youth, the SDLP are seen as yet another gombeen party of middle-class careerists. The only party of any substance which appears to be anti-establishment, anti-Tory and anti-repression, is Sinn Fein. Jim Prior summed up the significant Sinn Fein vote in the 1982 Assembly elections, as the people in the Catholic areas, “lifting two fingers to the British government”. For a Tory this interpretation comes close to the mark.
One part of the Sinn Fein support is an anti-establishment, and in a sense, distorted class vote. A very significant section of the vote is quite different in character – the traditional nationalist and abstentionist vote (strong especially in rural areas). This element of Sinn Fein’s support is right-wing and blatantly sectarian.
During each election Sinn Fein has really fought two campaigns, each with their own style of local literature and appeal. One, in the cities, has demagogically pushed issues such as unemployment and housing to the forefront, while the other, in areas like Fermanagh and South Tyrone, has been based on undiluted nationalism, completely devoid of any class content. Sinn Fein’s successes are not the result of some preconceived strategy by the Provisional leadership. Gerry Adams himself has admitted that: “Nobody had actually worked this strategy out.” Rather: “By sheer coincidence, it was the policy of criminalisation, coming to its fruition in the frustration of the prisoners, our inability to correct these conditions and the eventual hunger strike, that accelerated this process.”
It was the hunger strike which presented the election victories of Bobby Sands and then Owen Carron to an unprepared Provisional leadership. Having been propelled blindfolded on a political course and meeting success, the grand electoral strategy of Sinn Fein was worked out. The idea and the justification followed the event. The theme adopted to fit the new circumstances is that of the so-called “ballot-bomb” strategy. This is a contradiction in terms. In an advanced society, the attempt to fight with, as it has been put, “a ballot box in one hand, an armalite in the other” is like mixing oil and water. Just as it is impossible to fire an armalite while marking a ballot paper, so the mutually contradictory methods of mass political activity and individual terrorism cannot be blended into one.
Already the political success has opened obvious tension in the Provisional movement as a whole. To the hardened militarists the fighting of elections is at best secondary and at worst an unwelcome diversion. To some of those toasting themselves at the ballot box success, there must be developing the bud of an idea that military activity merely disrupts their political work.
It is impossible for the two wings, Sinn Fein and the IRA, to co-exist and develop their respective means of struggle without treading on each others toes. Gerry Adams has come close to criticism of Some of the IRA’s tactics, a sure indication of the debate which must be taking place behind closed doors on these questions.
He has stated, for example:
“Although there have unfortunately been some exceptions over the last few weeks the IRA has for some time been adopting more discriminating tactics, has been a bit more refined in its tactics. It is up to them to learn the lessons from the application of the armed struggle.
“I would be confident that if the IRA continue to refine their operations and made sure they had the maximum propaganda and political effect, there won’t be any conflict between what they’re doing and what we’re doing.” (Magill, July ’83) (our emphasis)
By combining mass political activity with individual terror the Provos are flaunting the laws of history and of the class struggle. But all laws can be overridden by special conditions, at least for a period. It is the peculiar circumstances in Northern Ireland which permits this uneasy marriage to survive for the time being.
Political success will not lead to the abandonment of the military campaign which the social and political impasse have embedded into the situation. Nor can the military purists easily dispense with the tactics of fighting elections which draws momentum and success from the same social and political impasse.
Neither side of this debate can easily gain the upper hand. Neither can afford to risk moving decisively against the other. At the 1983 Ard Fheis the clash between the Adams-wing and the old guard bordered on an open split. The result, if this division went beyond the walls of the Ard Fheis and reached the ranks of Sinn Fein and the IRA, would have probably been the bloodiest of all paramilitary feuds. Having reached the precipice and peered into the abyss, Adams, as the newly elected president of Sinn Fein, clearly took a step back.
It is most likely that an uneasy balance will be maintained for a period. But the cost of temporarily fusing together contradictory methods will be permanent tension within the Provisional movement and the possibility of a split at some stage. The political strategy will not be easily abandoned, nor will the electoral base of Sinn Fein simply and quietly evaporate. Their support was gained because of the lack of an alternative. Now that it has been gained things are no longer as they were and it will take the presence of a more forceful alternative to remove it. This is not the first time in Northern Ireland that Sinn Fein has been an electoral force. In 1955 Sinn Fein won two Westminster seats, in Mid-Ulster and Fermanagh/South Tyrone.
In that election they polled 150,000 votes, as against 100,000 in June 1983. At the same time they were making headway in the South where in 1957 they won four seats in the Dail. In the 1959 Westminster election, held during the IRA border campaign, the Sinn Fein vote fell by almost half to 73,000. At the same time Labour was developing to its strongest ever position, becoming the second largest party in the state after the Unionists.
While the similarities between this period and today carry many lessons, so to do the differences. The 1950s were the years of the worldwide economic boom, albeit that the effects in Northern Ireland were only marginal. It was a period of relative class harmony and stability for capitalism. Most importantly the activity and support for Sinn Fein failed at that time to penetrate into the cities. Today there is economic stagnation and political deadlock. There has been a decade and a half of violence and repression. No class alternative exists. For all these reasons the Sinn Fein vote is more deeply embedded than before.
Given the continued absence of an alternative, the Sinn Fein vote will not disappear. It will suffer setbacks brought on by the political bankruptcy of its leaders and by the activities of the Provos. Against this it will have sufficient sustenance in the political, social and economic crisis to, at the very least, keep it going and possibly to furnish it with even greater success than now.
In terms of the Catholic vote Sinn Fein has overtaken the SDLP vote in Belfast and is breathing down its neck across the rest of the province. It is not excluded that they can become the major Catholic party. Unless events cut across them they are poised to make important gains in the 1985 local government elections. Contrary to the imaginings of Gerry Adams, a new 1918 when the Sinn Fein of De Valera swept the boards and destroyed the old Nationalist party, is not posed.
A noted feature of every recent election has been a sharp polarisation in the Catholic areas. There is as hardened an opposition as there is support for Sinn Fein. The SDLP will not completely disintegrate under Sinn Fein pressure. Rather so long as these two remain each others chief rivals the main Catholic vote will be divided into two clear blocks and the SDLP will retain either a majority or else a major share. Both these parties can disintegrate or partially disintegrate in the future, but under the pressure of the labour movement, not under the pressure from each other.
The great events of the civil rights period from 1968 to ’70 exposed the bankruptcy of the old Nationalist Party, threw together the SDLP, and hurled it into an explosive political ascent, The Nationalist party was smashed entirely.
Similarly the great events which again convulsed the Catholic areas at the time of the hunger strike, exposed the client nature of the SDLP. Blindly, and by the force of historical accident, Sinn Fein were able to seize the opportunity, at first with only a hazy consciousness of what they were doing. They have been able to cut a large hole in the SDLP support. Largely because of their links with the Provisionals they have not, however, been able to do to the SDLP what the SDLP did to the Nationalist Party.
It requires huge social upheavals and mighty events to destroy, or partially destroy, old political forces and put new ones in their place. Such events provided Sinn Fein with its base. Even mightier events will be needed to take it away.
The key significance of the Sinn Fein vote is that it shows, in a very distorted way, that the conditions for the development of a mass Labour Party are not just ripe, but rotten ripe. But the laws of dialectics play tricks with history. Having gained support because of the potential for a Labour Party, and through the absence of such a party, the fact of Sinn Fein’s success is now an obstacle to the development of Labour.
Despite the class basis of their support, its effect is to increase the political polarisation and to sour the ground for a united working class movement. The ineptitude of the trade union leaders in holding back from building a Labour Party has managed to contribute one further barrier to the growth of such a party, a barrier which only the big class struggles now impending will fully overcome.
Most likely it will take not just the formation, but the growth of Labour into a mass force to dislodge Sinn Fein. Big class battles will expose in practice the bankruptcy of the Sinn Fein leadership. Class unity demonstrated on the streets and in a political organisation of Labour will answer in practice the arguments of Adams, Morrison and company than Protestant workers cannot be won to a socialist banner. These events will also uncover the real political nature of Sinn Fein. The apparent moves to the left within both Sinn Fein and the Provos are more illusory than real. Reduced to its essence, there are no real differences between the position of Adams and that of O’Bradaigh. All that has changed is the manner in which this position is presented.
The programme of Adams is the same Nationalist programme of his predecessors, but now dressed up in a camouflage of socialist phrases and presented in a, more radical manner. The form may be different, the content is the same. Speaking last year at an IRA commemoration at Kilmichael, Adams spoke of the armed struggle as:
“part of the struggle for a British withdrawal. Once that withdrawal has been secured and Irish independence and democracy restored then the society which emerges is a matter for the Irish people acting as is their right as one national unit without outside influence ... We believe that the securing of Irish independence is a prerequisite for the advance to a Socialist Republican society in Ireland.”
The position of the right-wing nationalists within Sinn Fein is that the struggle is simply to remove the British army and unify the country. Socialism to them is a diversion. The position of the so-called “radical” or “left-wing” is well put here by Gerry Adams. And it turns out to be the same as that of the right! Adams of course is a socialist, but socialism must wait until the national question is solved. In the meantime this diversion must be put to the side and all must unite for the task in hand, removing the British and uniting the country!
Adams has managed to come up with a version, á la Sinn Fein, of the Stalinist and Menshevik theory of stages. This argues that first the national question must be solved before the second stage of socialism can be reached. It is a pernicious theory, which applied to Ireland, turns all the conclusions of Connolly on their heads. As Connolly, echoing Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, explained only the working class are in this period capable of carrying through the tasks previously carried through by the bourgeois class. In doing so they will also carry out the tasks placed by history on their shoulders, the tasks of the socialist revolution.
The key to the unity of Ireland is socialism, not vice versa. Ireland will be free and united only when it is socialist. The act of securing it’s independence will also be the first step to its being reunited with Britain, Europe and indeed the world on the basis of socialist federation. “Sheer Utopia“ will be the reply jointly chorused by the so-called left and right sections of Sinn Fein and by the whole range of cynics and sectarians. On the contrary! It is the fantasy of capitalist reunification, and the justification found in it by their “stages theory“ which is Utopian. Just as Marxists oppose individual terror because it is a false and futile method, so they oppose the ideas of the Sinn Fein so-called “radicals“ because these ideas are a trap for socialists and are capable of leading them only into the cul-de-sac of nationalism. The role of Marxists today is to patiently explain their ideas and to present their alternative to those workers and youth who have illusions in Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein cannot evolve into a socialist organisation. Adams, Morrison etc., are at best radical nationalists, not socialists. It will be the development of the class movement, industrial and political which will fully expose this fact.
A united working class would be a vivid and practical rebuttal of their ideas. It would strip away their support. Sinn Fein can play no role in a united class struggle. As an organisation it is entombed in sectarianism. Even now it can offer only silence to the constant examples of workers, Catholic and Protestant, fighting together through the unions.
Here and there Sinn Fein members are active in an individual capacity in the unions. Overall their organisation is incapable of building a base in this fortress of class unity. Their members cannot sell their papers, openly peddle their ideas or advertise their membership in trade union forums. Within the labour movement the advocates of Sinn Fein and the Provos are isolated today and will become more isolated as the future growth of the movement answers all their arguments.
For a period and in the absence of an alternative, Sinn Fein leaders can uphold the illusion that they are a radical movement of the left. When a Labour Party emerges this will be changed. Such a party, standing to the left of Sinn Fein, would prove an overwhelming attraction to its working class supporters that Sinn Feins base in the urban areas and among the youth would be eroded. What would be left would be the core of traditional nationalism, leaning on this base the most likely ultimate, course of Sinn Fein will not be to the left, but to the right, to right-wing nationalism and to more blatant sectarianism.
Without question the actual course of events will be more many sided than any scenario which can be sketched out now. The uneven development of the class struggle will add the many tones of life to the grey of a perspective. All that can be pointed to are the most likely’ general processes. What is certain is that Sinn Fein will not be a vehicle to lead even the Catholic working class to the socialist transformation of society or even to their own goal of reunification.
The loyalist paramilitaries have declined to tiny rumps. Even the UDA, which once was the largest of all the paramilitaries, has been reduced to a very small active membership. The UVF has been decimated by arrests, especially through supergrasses, and now clings onto only the most precarious existence.
At one stage the UDA in particular had a strong base of support among sections of the Protestant working class. Young Protestant workers were then prepared to march in their thousands in UDA masks and uniforms.
Contrary to the horrified cries of the sects at the time, this did not represent the Protestant working class going over en masse to fascism. The UDA gained its base because of the anger and fear of Protestant workers that their areas were open to attack by the Provisional IRA. In the absence of any non-sectarian means of defence being offered by the labour movement, the way was open for the bigots and reactionaries who formed the UDA to recruit a working class following for a time.
Far from this representing a falling of the Protestant workers under the spell of fascism, their participation in the loyalist paramilitaries produced inevitable conflict. There were even occasions when the glimmerings of class and socialist ideas came to the surface from within sections of the ranks of these groups.
On the other hand the opposite notion, peddled in some left circles at the time, that the loyalist paramilitaries could be moved to the left and become the basis for a socialist movement in Protestant areas, was false through and through. These ugly organisations began as the instruments of right-wing counter terror. They were formed by conscious right-wing sectarians. Both within the UDA, but more especially in the UVF were people who either were, or were capable of becoming, conscious fascists. The UVF for a period in the mid-1970s fell under the control of elements who had close links with fascist groups in Britain. The peculiar circumstances of the mass sectarian reaction of the early 1970s gave these groups a very temporary base of mass support. Inevitably this broader layer of working class membership came into conflict with the vile and sinister ideas of the right-wing bigots’ at their core. Out of the abrasion between the two a few sparks of apparently left wing ideas flew into view.
This was as far as any left development in these organisations could go. They were born on the right and their political evolution would be ultimately to the right. As the Marxists predicted at the time, the tendency would be for these groups to lose their base of support and for their true right-wing nature to be ever more nakedly exposed. This prognosis has been confirmed. The movement of the working class away from sectarianism in the mid-70s was also a movement out of the UDA, UVF etc. It came about in very large measure out of revulsion at their activities. Since then they have displayed all the warts and ugly blemishes which mark the paramilitaries in decline.
By 1975 the UDA and UVF exercised their grip on Protestant working class areas not through the bond of popularity but through the club of intimidation and terror. Their base was more and more reduced to the lowest stratum of society, the lumpen proletariat. Top of the list of their activities went gangsterism, racketeering and crime. Splits and feuds became the order of the day. Primarily these organisations have been reduced to murder machines. In the case of the UVF this is especially the case and has been so for most of its existence.
Even when the leaderships wish to find a new road down which to turn there is nowhere else to go. The UDA leadership, in particular, has attempted to find some respectability for itself by turns to welfare work and also to politics. The image of social worker or politician has not blended well with the long history of sectarian murder. These efforts have only resulted in the leaders getting their fingers burnt. These organisations cannot evolve out of what they are agencies of loyalist counter terror.
It is significant that no large scale campaign of revenge killings is now being carried out by the loyalists. The Darkley killings coming ten or twelve years ago would have provoked a wave of assassinations and other atrocities directed at the Catholic population.
The reason is not that the leopard has changed its spots. The bigots have not been reformed into angels. Instead the key to their holding back is the mood within the Protestant working class areas. The loyalist paramilitaries have no way out. They cannot accept the non-sectarian mood and adopt a new more respectable guise. Nor can they throw caution to the wind and escalate their military activities hoping to rekindle the mood of sectarian bitterness out of which they first sprang. For any of the paramilitary groups, loyalist or republican, to do so would more likely provoke a mood of outrage on the part of Protestant and Catholic workers. This anger would most likely not take the form of support for sectarian counter terror, but of opposition to all forms of sectarianism. A new wave of killings could well succeed only in stirring a backlash against those who carried it out.
A further reason for the caution of the loyalists is the role and attitude of the state. The leaders of these groups are well aware that they are much more openly exposed to counter measures by the state than are the republican groups. At this stage the ruling class does not wish to see sectarianism increased. Were any of the loyalist groups to step out of line on this, the heavy hand of the state would come down against them.
Given the mood of Protestant workers, the fact that there is not the same opposition in these areas to the army and the RUC as in the Catholic districts and because demoralisation in the loyalist paramilitaries breeds informers and supergrasses, it would not be difficult for the state to smash a new wave of counter terror. In a sense the state now has the loyalist groups on a leash. When it suits, the state is now almost certainly in a position to prompt the death squads into action, to kill one or two targets which may be selected. There is more than enough evidence about the attempted murder of Gerry Adams by the UDA to suggest that it may have been set up by the army or police. If and when the murder gangs get too far out of hand the state has more than enough information on them and on the paramilitary leaders to rein them in almost at a moment’s notice.
It is least likely that there will be a major escalation in the murderous activities of the UDA, UVF or others in the immediate period. These organisations will continue to decline. However the same impasse which breeds a continuation of the Provisional campaign can allow the loyalist groups to continue to exist. De-industrialisation, political deadlock, and the continued Provos’ campaign can allow them to continue to hold a base especially among the lumpen proletariat. Desperation can drive them to new and fierce bursts of military activity. The ups and downs of the class struggle will allow time for periodic outbursts of sectarian provocation and retaliation. It is necessary for Marxists to be prepared for such exceptional periods which can, for a time, seem to contradict the main flow of events.
For the UDA and UVF there is no going back to the days of 1971 and 1972. History cannot simply be rerun. The future development of Loyalist reaction will have a different character and class composition from the past. A sectarian civil war is virtually excluded. It could not become a prospect for a whole period. Even in that event the hegemony of Loyalist paramilitaries would not be restored. At most they would play an auxiliary role, probably being absorbed into a Protestant military force whose backbone would be the membership of the UDR, RUC and RUC Reserve who would go over. In the aftermath of a civil war their remnants would either be absorbed into a bonapartist state apparatus or else they would be disarmed and crushed by that apparatus.
Much more likely is a move to the left and away from sectarianism. This would draw the mass of the Protestant working class behind the banners of the labour movement; at first its industrial and at some stage its political banners. Loyalist reaction emerging under such circumstances would be entirely different from that of the early 1970s. One grew out of the betrayal, defeat and demoralisation of the class. The other would arise in opposition to the rising tide of the class struggle. Right wing reaction, bonapartist in character, but in a sectarian form can ultimately develop. The bulwark of such reaction will come from among the existing loyalist forces, especially the political parties.
Realignments to the right, from within the DUP and the Official Unionists, can provide the springboard for moves to bonapartism. In the present period it is not possible for open fascist organisations to perform the role they played before the war. Fascism is not a word of abuse, but a scientific definition of a certain type of movement, an extreme form of bonapartism. In its classical form it is an alliance of petty bourgeois and lumpen proletarians, formed and financed by capital for the purpose of physically destroying the labour movement.
The development of production has ground down the .petty bourgeois stratum on which the fascist ideas breed. In every advanced capitalist country society has become overwhelmingly proletarianised. The enormous strength of the working class prevents modern day brownshirts, blueshirts and blackshirts from posing the threat they did in the past. During the recent elections in Spain this reality was starkly shown when the open fascist parties got less than 1% of the vote.
From the point of view of the ruling class, fascist governments are not an option as before. The bosses, at a time when democratic rights and capitalism cannot co-exist, would prefer to rule through their cousins, the Pinochets and Videlas on the military general staffs, rather than through crazed corporals. They would prefer bonapartist military dictatorships which could employ the methods of fascism, but to which the fascist bands would be merely an initial auxiliary.
Neither in Northern Ireland is there the basis for mass fascist reaction on the scale of pre-war Germany or Italy. The overwhelming pressures within society will be to the left. Neither the Protestant nor Catholic working class will move to fascism. Both have strong democratic traditions and a loyalty to their class organisations. As the labour movement develops it can draw the middle layers behind it. Only the setbacks and ebbs of the class movement would allow for the germs of a fascist movement to contaminate sections of the petty bourgeoisie and de-classed sub-proletarians. On a small scale, by historical comparison and as an auxiliary to the main force of bonapartist sectarian reaction, fascism can develop. Among the Protestant community this would be a movement with the classic composition of fascism but dressed up in the special clothes of right-wing Protestant evangelicalism for the purposes of Northern Ireland. It would be a fascist movement, but perhaps fascism with a clerical collar.
The loyalist paramilitaries could well be absorbed into such a movement as its lumpen physical force battalions. Or they could exist as the auxiliaries of sectarian bonapartism. Whatever is the precise shape of future events, these groups will not be the spearhead of bonapartist reaction. Rather they will be its servants just as they were the servants of Paisley during the UUAC stoppage of 1974.
The National Front have gathered together a few small forces among unemployed Protestant youth, mainly skinheads. They have remained intact and carried out a few activities only because the labour movement has failed to mount a challenge. If they raise their heads any further, the labour movement or sections of it will be compelled to act. When they meet a serious challenge the National Front, because they lack any roots whatsoever in the population, will be dispersed. They will meet the same fate of division and disintegration they have met in Britain. Every revolutionary development contains within it the seeds of a movement of the opposite character. Right-wing ideas will be raised as part of the same crisis which ripens the conditions for revolution.
The strength of the working class internationally means that fascism is incapable of playing the role it played in the ’20s and ’30s. This is also the case in Northern Ireland where the working class have the power and will have the opportunity to crush the bonapartist/fascist movements of an evangelical Protestant or extreme nationalist character whenever they should arise. The key to the successful use of that power is the Question of leadership.
Not one of the major parties in Northern Ireland existed in its present form before the troubles. The sweep of events from 1968 broke up all the old structures and moulded new political forms. After a half century in power the Unionist monolith was shattered for all time. Not a single Nationalist grouping of the pro-troubles period remains even to fight elections, let alone as a force. The NILP, once the second party in the state, has completely been destroyed.
Society was dislocated by the upheaval, the mass struggle and the violence which followed 1968. The tearing apart of political organisations which in some cases had existed as relatively stable entities for decades, was the result.
In this sense, the present political forces are the offspring of sectarianism. They are all products of the particular and peculiar circumstances which emerged at the beginning of the 1970s. All the establishment parties are now largely shells. They are relics of a past period of sectarian ferment which has now subsided. They continue to dominate political life only by the force of inertia. Support as measured by participation within them of enthusiasm for their activities is negligible. In the working class areas, especially the Protestant areas, there is a deeply anti-political mood. The working class and the youth are not to be found within any of these parties.
Yet in elections the overwhelming majority of the votes still go to the four main parties, the Official Unionists, the DUP, the SDLP and the Alliance party. These parties have outlived themselves simply because of a lack of an alternative. No united working class party yet exists and so long as this is the case the Tories and sectarians will continue to dominate despite themselves.
Future social upheaval will redraw the political boundaries along class lines. What exactly will be the outcome cannot be judged at this stage. All that is absolutely certain is that no major political party will remain in its present state. When the Unionist party was finally sundered, it fragmented into many pieces. Only two of these, the Official Unionists and the DUP, remain of any significance. The main energies of these parties are directed at each other. Both seek to become the dominant party of Unionism. One moment their rivalry takes the form of one trying to out-gorge the other ill bigotry. The next they will be found trying to out constitutionalise each other. Neither will succeed in regaining the position of the Unionist Party of pre-1968. Instead the tendency will be for further division not just between the Paisleyites and the Official Unionists but within these parties.
Even now there are splits within both. The Official Unionists are deeply divided, among other things, by their attitude to the Assembly. Once the DUP was a band of faithful and devout worshippers of Paisley. Now the unheard of has happened even in this one man show. There have been divisions even: to the point where independent DUP candidates have stood in elections.
The differences are distorted reflections of the gravitational tug of the class struggle. As the class struggles intensifies so the ties binding the Protestant working class to these parties will begin to be undone. This, not the personalities of the Paisleys, Robinsons, Powells and Molyneauxs, will be the decisive factor in determining the fate of the Official Unionists and the DUP.
Throughout its history the all-class alliance of Unionism has tended to fragment under the impact of the class struggle. The old monolith was not really so monolithic when viewed at close quarters. On every occasion when the working class moved on the offensive, divisions began to appear within it. The Protestant working class areas have a history of electing various shades of independent unionists. All this is a distorted reflection of the class struggle. That Unionism remained united overall was only because the class struggle fell back at just the point where it was poised to leap forward and reduce this monolith to pebbles. Today, divisions, especially in the DUP, are like the cracks which appeared in the former Unionist Party. The DUP leaders have made an especial effort to draw working class votes from the Official Unionists by bordering their sectarian demagogy with a hem of catch phrases about unemployment, housing and other class issues. Hence the disagreements at local level in the OUP are as a political seismograph recording the huge discontent and growing class anger developing beneath them among the working class. The difference today from the past is that the working class movement is set to go further than before. The present fractures and divisions among the Unionists are as nothing to what will come when their working class support is threatened by the rise of Labour.
When Labour emerges as a force pushing in front of them the threat of a united working class. Unionism will be driven to its right-wing sectarian roots. What is left of the moderate O’Neill style of Tory Unionism will be trampled on in the right-wing stampede. Many of those with a moderate face today will be foremost in practising the art of divide and rule tomorrow. There can be movements to the right and to the extreme right from within both existing parties. Class upheaval will produce a realignment of all the forces of Unionism.
In 1970 big business poured cash into the newly created Alliance Party in an attempt to shore up the rapidly disappearing middle ground, especially of moderate Unionism. The attempt to create a non-sectarian party loyal to capitalism which could replace the Unionist Party as the main servant of imperialist policy has failed. The Alliance Party were never and never will be capable of becoming more than the representatives of a section of middle class opinion.
As the economic and political crisis deepens so society will tend to become more polarised. There can be polarisation along either class or religious lines. Either way the so-called middle ground of moderate opinion on to which the Alliance Party maintains a precarious hold would tend to disappear. The most likely prospect is for a move to the left and the growth of Labour. A non-sectarian Labour Party would not create as it’s opposite a non-sectarian conservative force such as the Alliance Party. Revolution does not run according to cut and dried patterns or to fit neat and tidy political schemes. Under the conditions of the breakdown of capitalism in Northern Ireland there is no place for a conservative party along the lines of the present British model. British Toryism is being wiped off the map in areas like Scotland, Wales, Liverpool and the North East of England. There where the crisis is at its deepest, an open capitalist party cannot maintain its base.
In Northern Ireland the predominant mood is anti-Tory, and increasingly this will be so. No capitalist party of this nature could sink social roots. Right-wing ideas can only maintain a hold in the North by dressing themselves up in the costume of sectarianism, both the orange and green varieties. At the beginning of the troubles the overriding fear of the British ruling class was that the situation would spin out of control towards a sectarian civil war. Most of their energies at the time were spent on putting this monster which they had created back in its cage. Their support for the Alliance Party at the time of its birth was part of this effort.
All this will change when labour emerges as a mighty force in the heat of revolutionary events. Capitalism’s inability to maintain, let alone develop the productive forces, will paralyse their efforts to exert control over society or over politics. Working class unity, not sectarianism, would then be the major threat facing them.
Divide and rule is a tactic, which like all tactics, useful at times and a menace at others. Today it would disrupt the efforts of the ruling class to disrupt the situation. Tomorrow this same class will rediscover its usefulness.
Partition was imposed in 1920–21 by a ruling class who lived in fear of the socialist revolution in Ireland and Britain. The same fear will haunt their modern equivalents in the future. As was the case before partition, the crisis will produce splits among the ruling class. But as the revolutionary movement intensifies so the decisive sections of the capitalists will most likely swing behind the bigots. Right-wing orange bigots who are today caricatured by the capitalists through their mouth-pieces as something verging on the deranged can tomorrow be presented as saviours. The ruling class will replay the orange card, bolstering Unionism, including its most demagogic and sectarian varieties.
The Alliance Party can hold its ground, among the middle class for a period. Eventually it will find itself squeezed from all sides as that middle ground responds to the pull of stronger forces. Far from assisting it to grow the emergence of a Labour Party would immediately cut into its vote. Many Labour voters switched to Alliance because of the pathetic role of the NILP leaders. They will re-find their allegiance. In addition a fighting Labour Party, which appeared as if it could show a way out, would attract support among the middle class. On all counts the Alliance Party has missed its opportunity and cannot develop into a decisive political force.
In 1970 the SDLP was formed as an amalgam of various political tendencies in the Catholic areas. Sectarian reaction temporarily fused together the divergent strands of opinion, from various shades of nationalism, through middle-class opportunism, to individuals with labour backgrounds and semi-socialist views.
As the intensity of events has subsided these various and divergent strands of political outlook have tended to move apart. The Fitt/Devlin so-called socialist wing has departed. To the nationalist right there, has been the breakaway of the Irish independence Party, whose vote has since been absorbed by Sinn Fein. The remaining careerists and opportunists have decided they must head off this IIP/Sinn Fein challenge by marching down the path of green Toryism and nationalism.
Just as the failings of the SDLP helped prepare the way for Sinn Fein, so the existence of Sinn Fein will possibly help maintain the SDLP for a period. Sinn Fein’s success has polarised the Catholic community permitting the SDLP to rest itself on the firm anti-Sinn Fein vole which still exists.
The political contest between these two varieties of nationalism can continue much as it is at present until a Labour Party develops to break it up. Labour would squeeze especially the working class support of both the SDLP and Sinn Fein leaving them to compete for the traditional right-wing nationalist vote. Squeezed on all sides and dependent upon the outcome of its battle with Sinn Fein for the title of the major nationalist party the SDLP could possibly disappear altogether or be absorbed into some new nationalist grouping,
The factors which will determine the fate of all these parties are complex, interacting, and can only be sketched out in the most tentative manner at this stage. A perspective can deal only with the most likely general processes. Those processes which today appear dominant can be temporarily cut across or even obliterated by events.
All that is certain is that the instability within society will be registered in all the major political forces. As the events of 15 years ago ground the old parties into the dust, the even bigger upheavals of the future will shake to pieces the political edifices which have since been created. There will be fusions, splits, realignments and more splits, all a distorted acknowledgement of the political re-awakening of the working class.
There is no future for the so called Workers Party, the Communist Party or the myriad of ultra left sects on the fringes of the labour movement. These groups are not Marxists. Each in its way represents a complete perversion of the ideas and methods of Marxism.
The Official Republicans, now replete with their new title “The Workers Party“, are a Stalinist organisation with a programme which straddles the boundary between left and right reformism. During the 1960s, the Stalinists entered the Republican movement and succeeded in influencing the genuine leftward moving rank and file. Stalinist methods and policies at the top of the IRA were responsible for the beheading of this leftward movement and bear a large share of the blame for the development of the Provisionals and the set-backs which came after 1968. Despite this leadership, the Officials benefited from the mass upheaval of the early 1970s and gained a huge base among the most radical and best sections of the Catholic youth.
Under the pressure of the revolutionary youth within its ranks the Officials were pushed to a semi-revolutionary or centrist position. But for revolutionary movements, as for revolution itself, there are no in betweens. It is no more possible to halve a revolutionary than it is to carry out and consolidate half a revolution. History is at its, most cruel with organisations who coin revolutionary phrases but fail to draw the necessary political and organisational conclusions to carry these out.
Centrism by its very nature is unstable and un-enduring. Either it moves forward to the ground of revolution or else it will lapse back to reformism. The Officials adopted the position of revolutionary phrase-mongering or centrism at a time when there existed no revolutionary party to draw their rank and file forward, and when the general political situation was shifting to the right. False policies, false perspectives and false methods combined with the pressures of a difficult objective situation to disillusion their rank and file who quickly dropped away.
As their base among the youth was lost the rotten Stalinist leadership were able to secure their grip on their organisation. The Officials moved away from centrism, not to the left, but firmly into the camp of reformism. Their programme today is one of unashamed and sickening opportunism. At a time when even Prior has lost faith in his Assembly the Officials/Workers Party are among its foremost advocates. They are the only party still seriously arguing that everybody should get together in the Assembly so that Prior’s “rolling devolution” can be put into operation. On security their position is only a step removed from support for the army and the police.
Not just their policies but their methods also make the Workers Party repugnant to the mass of the working class. Dishonest and debased political ideas go hand in hand with similar organisational methods. It is no accident that the same organisation whose leaders don smart suits to meet Tory ministers and convince them of their respectability, is also suspected of organisational methods so corrupt that few open paramilitary groups could excel them.
The Workers Party has tried to portray itself as the authentic voice of the working class in order to fill the vacuum left by the absence of a Labour Party. They have and will not succeed. Their leaders will discover that grovelling opportunism does not have the effect on their political careers that they hope for. Among the catholic working class the real history and past role of the Workers Party is known. They are seen for the opportunists that they are and are reviled as such by those who know them. To the fresh youth they lack any real appeal. Apart from their reformist policies their bureaucratic structure and Stalinist methods effectively bars the mass of youth from their ranks.
Despite all their efforts to kick aside the traces of the past, and hide their present activities, they remain and will remain a sectarian based organisation. Protestant workers are not fooled by a new title and a public rejection of paramilitarism. The Protestant working class will move to socialism through the official channels of the labour movement, industrial and then political. There is no chance whatsoever of the unions turning to the Workers Party and no circumstances where it would become the vehicle of the working class unity it’s leadership now proclaims.
Despite what is now the most favourable circumstances of a complete vacuum in the left, the Workers Party has not grown. They now have the double advantage of no Labour Party in the North and Labour in the South in coalition. Yet despite their modest gains in the South where more illusions exist in them, they have made no progress towards filling the left vacuum in the North. Their vote is confined to a small traditional core in Catholic areas which has stayed with them since the early 70s.
When a Labour Party develops, succeeds in uniting workers and stands to the left, they will feel the present ground they stand on begin to shake. Under these circumstances they would be reduced to a small insignificant rump – a political throw off from a previous period of history.
At present the Workers Party leaders are busy doing their best to block the development of a genuine Labour Party. When confronted with the reality of such a party growing before their eyes some of these leaders will probably part company with their present organisation and try to hitch their political careers onto the coat tails of Labour.
Thanks to the pernicious historical role of Stalinism in Ireland and internationally, the Communist Party has not developed. It is now in numerical terms only a sect, but of some more significance only because of its base among the upper echelons of the trade union movement.
This party is a loyal lickspittle of Moscow, faithfully regurgitating the official line on Afghanistan, Poland and every other event which caused dissent in the major Communist Parties of Europe. Even in the absence of a Labour Party this rigid Stalinist party is not an attraction to the working class or youth. When a Labour Party develops, particularly as Marxism becomes a strong current within it, the Communist Party will be pushed back to the verge of extinction. At present the CP can and will make a few individual gains. In the trade unions these will be mainly from among a layer of budding careerists who see that in unions like the ATGWU, a CP card is also a ticket to advancement within the bureaucracy. Outside the unions its gains in the recent period have mainly been among middle class trendies attracted by its liberal programme on issues such as nuclear arms and women’s rights.
Such a combination is not a yeast which will allow it to grow as a force among the class. Its base among the union bureaucracy is actually a barrier to its building a base among the rank and file. The manoeuvres of the CP within the unions alienate the best activists and even the better elements among the bureaucracy itself. The political ideas which give the CP an appeal to liberals and trendies make it repellent to workers.
Only here and there, and in very small numbers, will any genuine workers and youth find their way into the CP. Those who do join will be negatively compensated for by those who leave disgusted by its policies and its stifling internal atmosphere. A leadership which bases itself on wrong ideas, wrong perspectives and which wins by the Stalinist principle of manoeuvre not the Leninist method of open and honest discussion, can only preside over an organisation that is fundamentally and thoroughly rotten. Even at present the rottenness of the CP is reflected in the divisions which exist within it. All the differences which have provoked major splits within the European Communist Parties, are mimicked within it, despite its minuscule size. It has its liberal, trendy Euro-communist wing. It has divisions between its trade union membership on policies and tactics. One section of its membership leans heavily into the camp of republicanism, And so on. These are the unmistakable symptoms of an organisation in a state of decay.
Even now, without a mass Labour Party in existence, where Marxists exist as a force the Communist Party cannot make gains. Where the workers see a choice between the ideas and methods of Marxism and the Stalinist Communist Party they will go to Marxism. In Britain there has been an object lesson which will be repeated in Ireland and other countries in the next period. When Marxist ideas win a majority in the youth wing of the Labour Party, the days of the Young Communist League were numbered, As Marxism grows into the decisive force on the left in the unions, the Communist Party will fade into insignificance. On every front where Marxists are active and making gains, the Stalinists are falling back, In Northern Ireland this truth has already been demonstrated. Where Marxism has won a significant base in the trade unions, the Communist Party has been paralysed. This will be repeated throughout the movement. Also among the youth. Without there existing a Labour Party with an official youth section, pioneering work has been done by the Labour and Trade Union Group Young Socialists which has campaigned on Marxist ideas. As a result, despite its every effort, the Connolly Youth Movement has been pushed to the edge of extinction. If the youth see a fighting alternative they will never move to a Stalinist organisation.
Overall, Marxism as it grows from a small force into a major force will bar the way to the redevelopment of Stalinism in all its forms in Northern Ireland. The ultra-left sects found on the fringes of the movement are of no significance. They are a mere footnote of any perspective, useful only in so far as they brilliantly illustrate how not to put forward ideas and how not to work. To attribute these people more than a paragraph of any perspective is to grace them with more words than they have members. It is not because of their size that they are unimportant. Small organisations with correct ideas can grow. Rather it is because their size is an expression of their total bankruptcy.
These piddling little groups, each outdoing the other in self importance, are light years removed from the genuine methods of Marxism. They lack what is the first quality of a genuine revolutionary organisation – a sense of proportion. They have no understanding whatsoever of the way in which the working class will move. They commit the cardinal error of substituting themselves, their puny structures and paltry publications, for the mass organisations of the working class.
Marxism is a science, the science of perspectives. Marxists must be able to clearly formulate ideas and perspectives and to hold their ground on these ideas even under unfavourable objective circumstances. In the early period of the troubles the supporters of Militant cut their teeth on the most difficult objective situation, They stood against the tide of events defending their programme and confident in their perspective that the tide of history and the class struggle would turn in their favour.
The sects are not Marxists but empiricists. They do not understand processes and are blown here and there and everywhere by the changing tide of events. They are consistent only in their inconsistency. Lacking any perspective whatsoever, virtually all of the ultra-left capitulated entirely to the mood which developed in the Catholic areas in the early 1970s. They abandoned what traces of a class position they may have had and ended up miserably tail-ending the Provisionals.
In the future the class struggle will reach such heights that even these people will notice it. Those who wrote off the labour movement and the working’ class yesterday will find themselves tail-ending it tomorrow. It is inevitable that one or two young people now and again will fall into the hands of these groups. Such people if they remain for any period in their ranks will be thoroughly mis-educated and most likely ruined for good from the point of view of the revolutionary movement. Such gains will be gains made only to stand still. The sects are organically incapable of building anything serious in the North.
This is fortunate because where these groups have managed to raise their voices within earshot of the class movement in the past, they have been capable only of sowing confusion and doing damage. They have raised issues in a hopelessly ultra-left and a sectarian manner. If they did have an influence they would manage only to divide workers. Marxists can completely counter their influence, not by wasting time on these groups, but by building a powerful force which can attract the best workers and youth and prevent them falling into the hands of the ultra left.
The coming revolutionary storms internationally, and the unfolding of the class movement in Northern Ireland, will provide enormous opportunities for the development of Marxist ideas. Women are a doubly oppressed section of society. In every major struggle in recent years women have played a vital role. This was the case, for example, during the 1982 health strike. Through involvement in bitter class struggle the consciousness of this section of the class will be raised and wider layers of working class women will come to the ideas of Marxism.
The role of the miners’ wives in the dispute in Britain has given a breath-taking demonstration of the élan, determination, and inventiveness of working class women as they become involved in struggle. This has been the biggest movement of women since the war. Miners’ wives have been to the forefront on the picket lines, organising collections, and on demonstrations. Women whose former horizons were limited by their domestic tasks have been politicised and many have found their way to Marxist ideas. This dispute is a foretaste of what is to come. Already women in Northern Ireland have a tradition of struggle. In local struggles they have often played the leading role. The tendency in coming years will be for working class women to become involved in industrial, community and political activity.
Women are an important part of the Northern Ireland workforce. Overall there are 256,000 women workers against 403,600 male. Even in manufacturing industry 35,000 or over a third of the workforce are women.
In the service sector women are in the majority. There are 177,350 women workers and 152,100 male in this area. The penetration of Marxist ideas among this layer of the proletariat is a critical aspect of the development of Marxism in Northern Ireland. There can be no successful Marxist newspaper unless it is capable of drawing its readership and support from male and female workers alike.
Above all it is among the youth, especially young workers, but also the unemployed youth that Marxist ideas will find their most immediate and deepest echo. Youth are always to the forefront in revolutionary situations. The Bolsheviks, it was jibed at Lenin, were an organisation of boys! In the Spanish revolution the youth were the first to the barricades of Barcelona and Madrid. More recently in Iran, Soweto and Gdansk, youth have been the backbone and inspiration of revolution. In the miners’ strike it is the young miners who are playing the leading role at meetings, on picket lines and on demonstrations. In the North also young workers have played a vital role in strikes and protests. The beginning of the transformation of the unions has come as young workers have been pushed forward into positions. The youth are the vanguard of the class. They inject each struggle with energy, freshness and élan which in turn can revitalise those among the older layers who have been worn down by past struggles, past betrayals and defeats.
44% of the population of Northern Ireland are 24 or under. For the majority of these youth the system cannot offer a decent future. In September 1983 there were 25,487 young people under 20 out of work. The youth have no stake in capitalism. As the crisis deepens and the effects hit harder they will fight. All that is in question is whether their energy and their anger can be harnessed to a Marxist programme and a Marxist tendency.
In 1968–69 it was young people in the main who took to the streets of Northern Ireland. Finding no leadership to direct their struggles the youth turned eventually to the paramilitaries. The generation who made up this movement and those who awoke to political consciousness during the first years of the troubles, were ensnared by false methods of struggle and their revolutionary energies were squandered. They have mainly ended up either temporarily demoralised or else as victims of the troubles. Two-thirds of those now serving prison sentences of over four years were under fifteen when the troubles started. One third were under nine.
The task of Marxists is to find a way to the youth. Unless the youth are won to the banner of Marxism they can end up in hopelessness and despair and over a period their discontent could again breed sectarian ideas.
Today the Labour and Trade Union Group Young Socialists are attempting to provide a campaigning alternative for the youth. one that all young workers will see as fighting on their behalf. This organisation offers the best hope for the youth. It can be a preface to a future mass Young Socialists, linked to a Labour Party and firmly welded to a Marxist programme.
Marxism bases itself on perspectives. While other tendencies react empirically to events Marxism is able to steer a clear and consistent course, firm always in its basic ideas. Its ability to do this has set Militant and its supporters apart from all other political tendencies in the North and in Ireland over the past fifteen years.
During the early period of the troubles the analysis of Marxism, as put forward in the pages of Militant, appeared to be contradicted by events. Class unity appeared to be negated by sectarianism. The working class movement was on the retreat. The workers’ organisations were reduced to a low ebb of activity. At this time it was possible to convince only the very best activists of the correctness of Marxist ideas. Under these difficult conditions the basis of support for Militant’s programme within the labour movement nevertheless slowly and painstakingly extended.
Today conditions are already different. Events have demonstrated the correctness of the analysis of the Marxists. A wide layer of workers and of the youth are open to Marxist ideas. Already it is possible for the ideas of Militant; to receive a wide acceptance within the labour movement and among the working class in general.
This explains the growing influence of Marxist ideas. Militants; programme is:
More and more this programme is being seen by the most advanced layers of the working class as the only solution. On a world scale objective conditions are now changing in favour of the Marxists. In the future it will not be a question of the ones or twos who will turn to Marxist ideas but of hundreds. of thousands and at a certain stage, of tens and even hundreds of thousands.
Explosive events are on the horizon; class upheavals which will put into the shade even the revolutionary period of 1917–21 which was unleashed by the Russian revolution. In the course of these events and in the space of one, or at the outside, two decades, Marxism, can be built into the decisive force within the international working class, and thus the decisive force upon this planet. The alternative ultimately is defeat for the working class and the opening up of an epoch of counter-revolution which could lead to the nuclear obliteration of humanity. But before this could be possible the working class will have not one hut many opportunities to change society.
In Northern Ireland, as internationally, and as part of the international movement of the working class, opportunities will open up for the development of Marxism as a mass force. The role of those who agree with the programme and analysis of the Marxists is to assist in that development.
Last updated: 21.9.2012