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Peter Hadden

Northern Perspectives

(May 1991)

From The Socialist, October 2008.
Copied with thanks from
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 Irish SP/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 or the Socialist Party.

1. The Marxist tendency in Britain has played a decisive role in forcing the Tories to ditch Thatcher and scrap the poll tax. Our general perspectives have been brilliantly borne out by these developments. They vindicate our ideas of mass action and Marxist strategy and tactics. The defeat of the Tories on the poll tax will embolden and raise the confidence of the working class in the struggles ahead.

2. The British economy is now in the grip of a deep recession. The boom, which lasted from 1982, has now ended. It was this boom, along with the spineless role of the leaders of the labour and trade union movement, which laid the material basis for 12 years of Tory rule. The middle class and sections of the working class, particularly those in private industry, saw a real rise in earnings in this period.

3. This situation has now ended. The British economy went into recession in 1990. This has continued into 1991. In his budget speech, Tory chancellor, Norman Lamont, admitted that the recession was deeper than they had initially anticipated. He predicted that Gross National Product (GNP) would fall by 2% in 1991. Unemployment has now officially surpassed 2 million. The Confederation of British Industry project that it will rise to 2.6 million by the end of the year.

4. This recession is a consequence or Tory economic policies and the parlous state of the British economy. Government economic strategy in 1989-1990 included the raising of interest rates in order to squeeze inflation out of the system. However, this step helped choke economic activity and led to the recession. Nevertheless, had the Tories maintained lower interest rates, inflation would have spiralled out of control, leading to a recession at a later stage.

5. The root of this economic crisis also lies in Britain’s decline as an industrial power, its failure to adequately invest and therefore its inability to compete with its major rivals. In 1880, for example, Britain’s share of world manufactured goods stood at 38%. Today it is only 6%.

6. Notwithstanding this, the Tories believe or more accurately hope, that the economy will recover this year or in 1992 and this will lay the basis for a fourth successive general election victory for them. Economic recovery is not the most likely perspective. Economic perspectives, by their nature must he extremely conditional. It is possible that the downturn in the economy could slow or even halt, this year or next. This would not immediately or automatically lead to a new upturn. The latest economic reports have already dismissed predictions of an early upturn as premature. It’s most likely that the recession will continue to the end of 1991, at least. Developments in tile world economy, if the slowdown continues or if the world economy moves into recession, will be of crucial importance to this weak, third rate economy.

7. Perspectives for the Tories at the next general election remain conditional. This is due to a number of factors, not least the pro-capitalist right wing leadership of the Labour Party and the trade unions. It is not so much a question of who will win but who will lose the next general election. Kinnock and Labour’s right wing leadership are hated by whole sections of the working class, the youth and the minorities. Even so, Labour can still be elected by workers “holding their noses”, to ensure that the Tories are defeated.

A new Labour government would be a government of counter reforms. Kinnock and the right wing reformist leadership of the Labour Party would come under the pressure of tile working class and the capitalist class. In the initial stages a honeymoon period would probably exist. However, as Labour failed to deliver the pressure and the opposition of the working class to their right wing policies would mount. The Marxists could act as the catalyst to such an opposition.

8. However, a Tory victory cannot be excluded. Such a result would have a stunning effect on the working class and the youth. But this would only be of a temporary character. This Tory government is already in disarray and crisis. A new Tory government, especially if it was returned with a slender majority, would be a weak and vulnerable government from its inception. A new Tory government, coming to power during a recession would he more akin to the first Thatcher government of 1979–83. This period witnessed a generalised offensive on the part of the working class. These were years of mass struggles, general strikes, regional strikes, national strikes, mass demonstrations, etc. The Labour Party in Britain swung rapidly to the left. The working class in Northern Ireland fully participated in this general offensive, it was in the forefront of all the major battles and indeed was the first region to organise a general strike against Thatcher. This period also witnessed a politicisation of the trade union movement, with Trades Councils standing candidates in elections. The trade unions shifted to the left. Any future generalised movement of the working class against the Tories will fully involve the working class in the North. There has always been a tendency for the working class in the North to assume a front rank in struggles, in terms of militancy and solidarity. These events were cut across by the boom and sold out by the leaders of the labour and trade union movement.

9. Events in Britain, the South and internationally, will have a decisive impact on the perspectives for Northern Ireland. Events in Britain can have a direct effect on the class struggle in the North. But events in the South, especially with shifts to the left in the trade unions, the Irish Labour Party and Southern Irish society in general will have an effect on the consciousness of Protestant and Catholic workers in the North.

10. The recession in Britain has so far only partially affected the Northern Ireland economy. The dependency on, and the large size of, the public sector helps cushion the N. Ireland economy to a degree, lower house prices, but importantly the fact that the North benefitted little from the boom has meant that the local economy has not felt the full effects of the recession, yet. The N. Ireland economy is extremely vulnerable to developments in Britain and elsewhere. Already factories have closed, unemployment has begun to rise again and output in certain sectors has fallen.

If there is a deep recession in Britain and internationally the Northern Ireland economy would be devastated. There is a tendency for those sections of N. Ireland industry which close, not to recover. In the recession in Britain led to serious cuts in public spending this would also have immediate repercussions for the N. Ireland economy.

11. Twenty-two years of upheaval, sectarian violence and bloody repression has left its imprint on Northern Ireland society. However, international factors have also played an importantly the role, possibly a key role in holding back the movement or the working class. In 1968–69 N. Ireland society shifted to the left. The labour movement and its left wing could have developed as a powerful force in these years. But opportunities were wasted. This gave way to the bloody sectarian reaction in the 1970s. In 1976 the working class again moved into action. This was against the threat of all-out sectarian conflict and civil war. Class ideas came to the fore. When Thatcher came to power in 1979 the working class moved onto the offensive. Enormous opportunities existed for the labour movement. Again these were frittered away. This prepared the way for new setbacks. The signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 opened lip a new period of sectarian reaction and defeat for the working class. Two decades of reaction and of lost opportunities has led to a certain increased polarisation and sectarian division. These events have been compounded by the retreats and setbacks suffered by the working class in Britain and internationally. Nevertheless, when this situation is reversed, when the working class in Britain and internationally return to the offensive, this will have a dramatic effect on the consciousness of the working class in the North.

12. Imperialism is now engaged in a new strategy to bring the various N. Ireland political parties into dialogue. The Brooke Talks are being held with the Anglo-Irish Agreement suspended as the Unionists demanded. The talks are a reflection of the complete failure of Agreement. Brooke Talks are a new attempt at a capitalist solution. But there is no political, or military, solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland on the basis of capitalism.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement was designed to strengthen the middle ground and prepare the way for a political settlement. It was an abysmal failure. Rather than leading to a solution it made the situation worse. It created a new period of sectarian reaction and polarisation. It was a barrier, rather than a bridge, to dialogue. It has now, in effect, gone to join the previous failed capitalist “solutions” – Sunningdale and the power-sharing Executive, the Convention, the Assembly and the New Ireland Forum. Ultimately the Brooke initiative will be added to this list. The only agreement so far arrived at by the political parties and the London and Dublin governments is the agreement to talk. Even this was a difficult course which lasted 16 months and nearly collapsed several times. But this was easy compared with what is now proposed. Now the various parties must sit down and attempt to arrive at some sort of solution to the political situation. The talks could quickly reach stalemate and fall apart. Additionally, the absence of Sinn Fein hampers the SDLP’s room to manoeuvre. This makes the talks unstable and delicate.

13. It is important, nonetheless, to emphasise that some sort of accommodation could be arrived at. It is not excluded that there could be a referendum to vote on proposals flowing from the talks. There could be elections for a new regional assembly and a new Northern Ireland government could even be established with limited powers and with a certain degree of power sharing. The British ruling class would much prefer this scenario with the SDLP and the Unionists doing much of their dirty work for them. While this is not entirely excluded, the path to such an accommodation is extremely hazardous. Even if arrived at, such an accommodation would not signify a solution. Such a government could never solve the basic problems of N. Ireland life – the poverty, unemployment, sectarianism and repression. It would inevitably disintegrate at some stage.

14. On the basis of capitalism there is no solution and sectarianism will remain. At some point it is most likely there will be a new period of sectarian reaction. The Marxists must be be prepared for such developments. It is also entirely possible that the working class could move back onto the offensive in response to an escalation of sectarian attacks and killings.

15. Marxism has scientifically labelled the campaign or the Provisionals as a campaign of individual terror. As explained in previous documents these methods are incapable of defeating capitalism or imperialism anywhere.

Where these methods have been employed there has been setbacks and defeat for the working class. Marxism is opposed to individual terror, not for moral reasons, but because it is a false method of struggle and cannot succeed. Marxism employs the weapons of mass action - the strike, the demonstration, general strikes and ultimately the mass insurrection.

The military campaign of the Provisionals and the electoral strategy of Sinn Fein has taken them into an absolute cul-de-sac. Daily the futility of their campaign is becoming apparent, even to an increasing number of members of their own organisation. The setbacks and defeats suffered by the Provos in last few years led to deep soul-searching inside the Provos. The idea of a cease fire was discussed. This however was rejected. The consequences of a ceasefire were too terrible to contemplate – that is a split, a bloody feud, with a section of the movement continuing the campaign. At this stage, it seems that those in favour of continuing the “armed struggle” have the upper hand.

The Provos are now prepared to carry out nakedly sectarian killings, as in the 1970s. In an attempt to maintain their position they are prepared to carry out provocations and incite the loyalist paramilitaries. This adds a new twist to the situation and makes the Provos less predictable. While the Provos presently find themselves in a cul-de-sac, it is important to emphasis that, the factors which gave rise to the Provos – the poverty, repression and sectarianism – remain. The failure of the labour movement to provide an alternative, and the weakness or the forces of Marxism ensures that the Provos, or a section of the Provos, can maintain their campaign at some level.

16. The loyalist paramilitaries carried out a sustained campaign of killings in the first part of 1991.They raised the possibility of a “conditional ceasefire” It is not clear what effect, if any, this will have concretely on the activities of the loyalist paramilitaries. Previous ceasefires announced by the loyalist paramilitaries in the 1970s amounted to little or nothing and collapsed very quickly, they will remain a danger. They are always capable of periodic upsurges. But they will not re-develop a mass base, as the UDA had in the early 1970s. In the Protestant areas, where they exist, it is primarily on the basis of fear and intimidation.

17. The working class remains the key and the most decisive force in Northern Ireland. Despite the defeats and setbacks of two decades, the industrial power of the working class remains intact. Not one strike has been defeated by sectarianism. On the contrary the working class, albeit generally in a passive form, has acted as a brake on the slide to all-out sectarian conflict. However, at times the working class has moved into action against sectarianism. In the mid-1970s when workers were being gunned down almost daily by sectarian gangs the working class intervened and cut across the slide to all-out sectarian war. In the last few years workers, most notably in DHSS, due to a Marxist leadership, have taken repeated strike action against sectarian threats. This example has been followed by other workers in Mid-Ulster, Derry, Lisburn and elsewhere.

Despite everything, the mood of the Protestant and Catholic working class is anti-sectarian and anti-Tory. In terms of membership, the trade unions have survived virtually unscathed. While TUC membership fell 34% in the course of the 1980s, NICTU’s membership has fallen by a mere 6%.

18. The recession will mean new attacks on the living standards of the working class and on jobs and services. The working class will have no choice but to return to the road of struggle. New struggles, strikes, demonstrations, etc. will replenish the trade unions with a new generation of young working class fighters. Fresh layers of workers will move into and transform the trade unions. This process will begin from below, at branch level and on the Trades Councils. The shift to the right and to inactivity in the trade unions will be reversed. Marxist ideas will be taken up energetically, and enthusiastically by the young workers.

During the early 1970s, with the rise of sectarianism, activity in the trade unions, on the Trades Councils and in the trade union branches, declined rapidly. Some branches stopped meeting. In others attendance fell off. However, when the working class moved into action in the mid-1970s a new layer of activists came into the movement. From nothing new Trades Councils were built. New life was breathed into the trade union branches. Again in the early 1980s a new layer of activists came into the movement. In the course of the 1982 health dispute, for example, a shop stewards movement developed from nowhere. This developed in each of the hospitals throughout N. Ireland and assumed the day to day leadership of the struggle. The Marxists played a decisive role on the key shop stewards committees, in the course of this struggle. These events were cut across in the latter part of the 1980s. Events outside Northern Ireland had a profound effect locally. The trade unions shined to the right. The miners’ strike and many other important battles were sold out and defeated. Many workers felt that they couldn’t struggle successfully due to the outright betrayal of the trade union leaders. The confidence of the working class was shaken. Activity inside the unions fell. However, the period we are now entering will see a new revival in the life of the trade unions. There is already some signs of the beginning of this process. The shop stewards committee in the RVH is being revived. The recent public meetings of the Belfast Trades Council have been the biggest for several years. Activity in other Trades Councils is also rising.

There is also signs that some trade unions in Britain may take industrial action. A movement by the British working class would enormously transform the situation in Northern Ireland. However, a huge struggle by the working class in the North can erupt out of the many issues which confronts the working class here. This would give propulsion to the processes which are now beginning. These events will lead workers, especially young workers, back into the trade unions, into the trade union branches and onto the Trades Councils. A new layer of politically conscious activists will be thrown up. Those who have clung to their positions on the union branches, due to inactivity will be ditched. Local trade union branches and Trades Councils will be transformed into fighting organisations. This will be reflected at a later stage in the trade unions regionally and nationally.

19. The tendency has existed for the class movement in the North to move in tandem with the class movement in Britain. When the movement goes forward onto the offensive in Britain, the tendency is for the movement of the working class in the North to surpass it in terms of combativity and solidarity. The nature of N. Ireland society means that questions are always posed in a much sharper form.

However, when the movement in Britain moves into retreat, those retreats and reverses are generally much deeper in Northern Ireland. The latter part of the 1980s has been such a period of reversals and setback. Nevertheless, the next period will not be one of retreat, it will be marked by a new upsurge in working class activity and militancy. However, this will not develop in a straight line. It will be an uneven process with setbacks and defeats as well as steps forward.

On the basis of a generalised offensive conducted by the working class in Britain, workers in Northern Ireland can quickly move into the vanguard of the struggle. It is necessary to add a qualification. It would be fatal and absolutely incorrect to apply this analysis mechanically. It would be incorrect to wait for a movement of the working class in Britain before anticipating a movement in the North. It is entirely possible, even likely that a movement of the working class in Northern Ireland could erupt in anticipation of and ahead or the movement in Britain.

20. It is also necessary to place emphasis on the question of the tempo of events in the North. There is a trend for movements of the working class and the youth to be of an explosive character. It would be totally incorrect to gauge the tempo or events in the next period with the pace of events in the 1980s.

The Marxists must remain on alert as a movement of the working class could suddenly erupt convulsing N. Ireland society. Even on the complex question of the rebuilding of a Labour Party the Marxists must be conditional. It is not totally ruled out, that, on the basis of events, a Labour Party could burst onto the political scene even in the next few years. Issues can emerge from nowhere. One such issue is the plan by the management of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast to opt out of the NHS. This could quickly develop into a major industrial struggle out or which Marxism could make rapid gains.

21. The class battles which lie ahead will force workers and youth to draw political conclusions. The need for the trade unions to take political action and the need for a socialist Labour Party will become apparent, the processes which developed in this direction in the early 1980s - the politicisation within the trade unions and the shirt to the left will be repeated. While Labour remains the mass traditional organisation of the working class, this tradition is not now a living tradition in Northern Ireland. However that tradition will be rekindled. Explosive class battles, such as those in 1907 and 1919 will lay the foundations for the creation of a mass socialist Labour Party. However, the creation of a party could be delayed for a whole period. Depending on events, with explosive developments in society, the patty could move rapidly to the left, even to a centrist position.

22. It is not possible to map out in detail how a future Labour Party in Northern Ireland will develop or what links and relationships it will have to the British and Irish Labour Parties. The national question complicates this issue even further. The creation of a N. Ireland based Labour Party is the most likely perspective. It is most likely that this will be built from below out of big struggles or the working class and the youth.

23. The past period has not been objectively favourable for the building of the forces of Marxism in Northern Ireland, which is probably the most difficult objective situation in Western Europe. While the forces of Marxism have suffered some casualties in the past period, Marxism generally has emerged strengthened, steeled and hardened. The Marxists have played a significant role in a number of important struggles, in certain aspects of our work we have made enormous strides forward.

24. The key to building a mass Marxist tendency is.the youth. They are the most self-sacrificing. They will be the first into action. They will be the first to reject the old ideas of sectarianism and di vision. They are full of energy, enthusiasm and clan. They are not worn down by the past defeats and betrayals. We have already seen many examples of the alienation and despair of the youth. This means that a key priority of the Marxists is to orientate with urgency to the working class youth and ensure that this generation don’t end up demoralised or in the paramilitary organisations. Our work in the trade unions will be vital in this regard as the young workers in the trade unions will be the core around which a mass revolutionary party will be built.

25. The “Red Nineties” will be an explosive decade. The forces of Marxism are poised on the threshold of mighty events. It is in anticipation of these mighty events for which the Marxists have long prepared. That preparation must now be stepped up. New supporters must be recruited, educated, consolidated and trained as cadres. Time is not unlimited. While being patient the Marxists require a sense of urgency. By working correctly the Marxists will be able to decisively intervene in the battles ahead, making rapid gains in influence and numbers. This in turn will lay the basis for the creation of a mass Marxist tendency in Northern Ireland which can become the decisive factor in the situation in the years ahead.

4th May 1991

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