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Peter Hadden

Divide and rule – then and now

Peter Hadden interviewed about his pamphlet

(2 May 1986)

From Militant [UK], 2 May 1986.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Peter Hadden, author of the newly republished Divide and Rule pamphlet explained to Militant why this publication is relevant to Northern Ireland today.

“The pamphlet deals with the role of Labour and the working class in Ireland in a period when sectarian division and even the danger of civil war loomed large.

“This period ended in partition, the worst defeat ever suffered by the Irish labour movement. Partition was possible because of the mistakes by the Labour and trade union leaders of Ireland and Britain other than Connolly and Larkin.

“Today the Anglo-Irish agreement has again raised the issue of sectarian conflict to the forefront and today’s labour movement leaders are repeating the mistakes of their forefathers.

“A common capitalist myth is that partition arose naturally from the conflict between Unionists and Nationalists in Ireland. In fact all the major Irish parties opposed partition. It was imposed by the British ruling class, mainly to divide the working class of Ireland along religious lines.”

Revolutionary wave

“1918 to 1921 saw a revolutionary wave in Ireland, movements on the land towards rural soviets, strikes and occupations in the towns. North and South, Catholic and Protestant at one time were all affected.

“British imperialism had other reasons, like maintaining direct control of the more economically developed North and access to Ireland’s ports, but their main purpose was to divide the working class and stop revolution spreading to Britain, hence our title Divide and Rule.”

Militant: How can the Border be overcome now?

PH: “The labour movement could have prevented partition had it placed itself at the head of the national struggle and fought to unite the working class for a socialist solution. Instead the leaders allowed that struggle to fall into the hands of petit-bourgeois nationalists of Sinn Fein. Inevitably it was diverted along narrow sectarian lines.

“On a capitalist basis the national problem is irresolvable and can only result in more and worse conflict. The poverty-ridden northern state cannot be stabilised, but the million Protestants will never accept unity with the present southern state. The Anglo-Irish Agreement proves that any attempts to coerce protestants into a capitalist united Ireland will end up only in civil war and repartition.

“The working class is still the only force that can over-come partition. The key is the unity of the working class both in the North and throughout Ireland, fighting for a socialist united Ireland and a socialist Federation of Britain and Ireland. ̶

Militant: Is workers’ unity really possible given the present sectarianism?

PH: “Yes. Before partition the working class were already potentially the decisive force, now the Labour movement is much stronger. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has 440,000 members in the south and 225,000 in the north.

“On class issues these workers stand together. Despite the last 16 years of sectarian violence not one strike in the north has been broken by sectarianism. Even now, bus drivers in Belfast are taking industrial action in protest against violent attacks.”


“Unfortunately the movement’s leaders have not built on this by campaigns for a socialist solution to the conflict. This inaction allows sectarianism to continue.

“This book can equip socialists and union activists with the real history of the home rule crisis, the origins of the labour movement in Ireland and partition.

“Study the mistakes of the past to avoid them in the future. The real purpose of Divide and Rule is to direct the activities of socialists in Ireland and Britain who support the struggle for a socialist solution.

“Make sure the present conflict results in a victory for the working class, not in a disaster as in 1920.”

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Last updated: 2 May 2014