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Peter Hadden

Northern Perspectives


Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Editorial Note from ETOL: Peter Hadden drafted nearly all of the Northern Irish Perspectives documents for the CWI in Ireland.
These documents were discussed/amended as needs be at the Irish CWI National Committee and then taken to the Irish CWI members 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.

World Background

1) Since last autumn, when discussions between the London and Dublin governments about a new political initiative began to become public, our organisation has published a wealth of material analysing in depth these new developments.

2) This has been of critical importance in steadying the organisation and preparing for a possible new turn in events. While other political tendencies have been blown completely off course, we alone have been able to comprehensively explain how this potentially new situation has arisen and what new future possibilities it now opens the ability to reassess ideas in the light of new developments is a critical test of those who claim to be Marxists. The fact that we have come through this test well; that we have enriched our understanding and added to our theoretical armoury in doing so, should give every member renewed confidence in the future of our organisation.

3) Because we have already produced so much recent written material and because further material will be necessary as events unfold and present a more finished picture of this phase to the troubles, this statement can be confined to a quite brief update. It should be read in conjunction with key theoretical articles carried in the paper, the Bulletin, the Militant International review and also with the recent pamphlet which covers the background.

4) We are unique in that we alone have been able to put developments in Northern Ireland into their world context. It is the failure of the strategists of other political forces to do so which is at the heart of their transparent inability to explain what is happening.

5) For us the starting point of the perspective for any country is the world background. Concretely this means that the analysis and conclusions of the latest documents of our international, plus the most recent perspectives statements for Britain and the South, are the necessary starting point for an understanding of the situation in Northern Ireland.

6) Fundamental is our characterisation of the present epoch as one of depression for world capitalism. The organic nature of this period of crisis and contraction is only partly disguised by the continued cycle of booms and slumps, even when the booms have a protracted character such as that which lasted for most of the 1980s.

7) The ’80s boom, accompanied by a downturn in the class struggle and a turn to the right at the head of the trade unions and workers’ parties, and followed by the collapse of the Stalinist regimes after 1989, has created a new and more complicated world situation. The seeming certainties of the decades after the second world war when conflicts in world relations were limited by the cold war stand-off between the capitalist west and Stalinist Russia and China have gone. A new era of instability and conflict, of wars, civil wars, of revolutions and counter-revolutions has begun.

8) On the one side these events have had a disorientating effect. They have compounded the rottenness which exists at the top of the mass “reformist” political organisations of the working class and the trade unions, whose leaderships are so firmly enslaved by the ideas of the market and capitalism that the title “reformist” strictly speaking, no longer applies. Other forces such as the republican movement in Northern Ireland, although blind to the significance of world developments, have nonetheless been forced to review their strategies because of them. Just as the ANC leaders in South Africa and the Arafat Fatah faction of the PLO in the Middle East, were wrong-footed by the collapse of Stalinism and the seeming hegemony of imperialism, so the republican leadership have been theoretically winded by these events. In turn the apparent moves to compromise and settlement in South Africa and Israel/Palestine have led the IRA and Sinn Fein leaders to draw further incorrect conclusions.

9) Their difficulty stems from their inability to understand and interpret the real significance of world events. South Africa and to a lesser extent the Middle East, are one side of the process. There, especially in South Africa, the revolution has in a sense entered a democratic phase with democratic illusions uppermost. This is understandable given three things; the role of the ANC leaders, the denial of democratic rights to the black masses and also changed world conditions.

10) The other side of world events paints a different picture – not the democratic resolution of national and ethnic conflict, but their bloody escalation. After the collapse of Stalinism our organisation was alone in retaining its bearings. We pointed out that the notion of a new world order policed by US imperialism, sometimes through the blue hats of the UN, would very quickly prove an illusion. Instead of order there would be turmoil and upheaval. Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda and many other cases have confirmed our view. As the Financial Times, commenting on the situation in Bosnia in April was forced to admit; “The reality of the new world order is proving very different from the prospectus offered in 1990–91.”


11) On the one hand the legacy of the 1980s and the collapse of Stalinism has been a downturn in the class struggle in the advanced countries. Politically there has been a certain growth of the extreme right across Europe. But it would be entirely wrong to overstate and draw false conclusions from these developments. The collapse of Stalinism has not opened a new epoch of reaction. Today it is the crisis and failure of capitalism, not the memory of the fall of Stalinism, which is uppermost in the minds of the new generation who will make up the class fighters of the future.

12) The 1993 Air France strike which ended in victory, and forced the right wing Balladur government to retreat, gives a better illustration of the real balance of class forces than does the continued downturn in struggle in Britain and the North. A revival of the tempo of class struggle is noticeable across Europe. Although Britain lags behind at this stage it will catch up, quite probably with a vengeance, in the future. Although the situation is complex and the processes extremely uneven, the general direction of events is towards greater class polarisation, an intensification of the class struggle and a radicalisation of ever increasing layers of the working class and the youth.


13) There can be no capitalist solution to the Northern Ireland problem. This unambiguous conclusion has been a bedrock of our analysis since the troubles began.

14) In defending this conclusion we have always been careful to avoid oversimplifying the situation. We have never presented a picture of an uninterrupted, accelerating descent into a Bosnia. Historical laws and processes always work themselves out in a complex and contradictory manner. The fact that no lasting settlement is possible on the basis of capitalism does not exclude periods, possibly even quite protracted periods, when the partial exhaustion of the sectarian forces allows a form of stability to be achieved. In fact such periods, expressing the stubborn unwillingness of the working class to be taken down the road of civil war, are inevitable.

15) At the moment there is an uncertain situation characterised by talk of peace amid worsening violence. One possible outcome is that this period of “peace initiatives delivered by bullets” will give way to a period of relative stability and of a marked downturn in the sectarian violence. This is not the only possibility, but to a greater extent than at any period since the beginning of the troubles, there is a chance that there will be a significant interlude in the sectarian violence.

16) Already those political analysts and strategists who have continually misanalysed the troubles in the past have displayed the same capacity to misread this new situation. Most see a significant shift in the position of the British ruling class forced by the strength of the IRA campaign. Republican strategists are seeking to find something which allows them to declare that they are on the road to victory while, inversely, some on the loyalist side are ready to pronounce a sell-out and betrayal.

17) In truth the present turn of events has come about through a certain strengthening, not weakening, of the position of the British ruling class. A sure side effect of recent developments has been to confirm the analysis of the changed interests of imperialism which we have put forward consistently since the 1960s.

18) The British ruling class partitioned Ireland first and foremost to divide the working class and help cut across the prospect of socialist revolution in both Ireland and in Britain. The strategic and economic interests underlying partition were secondary.

19) By the 1960s, especially with the advent of free trade with the South the British ruling class would have preferred to withdraw from the North and allow Ireland to be re-united, possibly through an interim federal stage. To borrow from the statement of Tory N. Ireland spokesmen today, the ruling class then determined that their “selfish and strategic interests” in Ireland would be best promoted by pulling out so that they could dominate the country by economic not political or military means. It was their recognition that Protestant resistance would lead to civil war which forced them to put any such plans in storage:

20) Following the revolt by the Catholic population of the North at the end of the 1960s, the ruling class were handed an impossible dilemma. The Catholic working class would not accept the poverty and repression associated with a capitalist Northern Ireland. The alternative of unity with the poverty ridden capitalist state in the South was unsaleable to Protestants.

21) So while retaining this preference for withdrawal the British ruling class were forced to embark on a long exercise in containment, exercised through a mixed policy of concession and repression.

22) Insofar as the less farsighted representatives of the ruling class have thought that they could get their way by repression alone, they have been forced back. The early period of the Heath government (1970–72) saw an attempt to smash the Provisional IRA by military means. This was temporarily abandoned in 1972 and instead the government opened direct negotiations with the Provisionals. At the end of the 1970s the Labour government attempted to win by military means. But they merely succeeded in preparing for an explosion of resentment in the Catholic areas in the early 1980s. Thatcher’s early years in government were characterised by a clampdown using covert methods to try to smash the IRA. It all backfired and by the end of the decade the British ruling class were aware that, while the IRA campaign would never succeed neither could it be entirely eliminated by military means alone.

23) The 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement was the last attempt by Thatcher to isolate the IRA so that they could be more easily dealt with militarily. This failed and the ruling class were forced to conclude that a better way to a settlement lay in involving the republican leadership rather than trying to find a way around them. The re-opening of direct and indirect contacts with the IRA represented no fundamental shift on the part of the British ruling class. Rather it was a recognition that repression alone would not succeed. It was back to the position which had been adopted in 1970 before the Heath government came to power, in 1972 when IRA leaders were flown to London for negotiations and in 1975 when incident centres in Catholic areas formed a point of contact between republicans and the then Labour government.

24) The proposals outlined in the 1993 Downing Street Declaration represent no sudden new departure for either the British or the Southern ruling classes. The Declaration is a rehash, with changes of language more than of substance, of old ideas and old proposals.

25) The Southern ruling class have at no time since partition mounted any struggle to reunify the country. In reality they do not want a united Ireland, knowing that the presence of almost a million hostile Protestants and half a million rebellious Catholics would destabilise the whole country. Their preference is for political and economic co-operation including certain institutional ties with a separately governed Northern state. Their acceptance, in the Downing Street Declaration, of the principle of no change to the constitutional status of the North without consent and of their willingness to scrap Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution as part of a settlement, is merely a public affirmation of what they have privately believed. It is no more than they were prepared to agree to twenty years earlier during the discussions at Sunningdale.

26) The British government proposes a new form of local administration to run services in the North with power shared between unionist and nationalist parties. They are prepared to have permanent North-South structures which would grant the Southern government some degree of involvement in the North. While accepting that any change to the North’s status can only be by the consent of its people, they are prepared to allow any constitutional option to be proposed for discussion, including a united Ireland.

27) All of this was also discussed at the time of Sunningdale. The British government then and still recognises that there can be no purely internal settlement; that some Dublin involvement would be necessary to appease nationalist politicians, but that guarantees must still be given to Unionists to prevent a Protestant backlash. Every major governmental initiative has attempted to juggle these seemingly irreconcilable elements. The Downing Street Declaration is yet another exercise in such juggling, not different in any fundamental way from those which were put forward and which failed in the past.

28) What gives added weight to the current round of negotiations is not a policy shift either in London or Dublin. It is the significant shift which has taken place in the position of the leadership, or a section of the leadership, of the republican movement. The Provisionals rejected Sunningdale out of hand. Likewise the Anglo Irish Agreement was dismissed. Yet this time the same ideas dressed up anew as the Downing Street Declaration have produced, not dismissal, but months of calls for “clarification”. The British government’s letter of clarification has likewise not been dismissed but is to be studied over a period. Republican leaders are busy holding these latest documents from British capitalism up to the light, to see if they can find anything in between the lines from which they can draw comfort. Even if, as is likely, the end result is rejection, or neither rejection nor approval, this change of approach indicates a deeper change of psychology and outlook among probably a majority of the Sinn Fein/IRA leadership.

Northern Ireland Economy

29) The relatively strengthened position of the British ruling class is due to a number of factors. The most fundamental of these is the economic situation. The Northern Ireland economy over recent year’s presents a many sided, apparently contradictory picture. On the one hand it is an economy in deep and intractable crisis, scarred by permanent mass unemployment, rising exploitation and increasing poverty. It is this inescapable aspect of the economy which builds instability in to any political structure which might be set up and rules out a lasting political settlement on a capitalist basis.

30) On the other hand economic growth from 1987–90 and over the last two years, plus huge sums spent on city centre regeneration especially in Belfast and Derry, and on other major projects have created an impression of an economy making progress. A layer of the population have benefited and all this has had an effect, especially against the world background already described, in creating conditions for some degree of political stability.

31) World recession, aggravated by Thatcher’s deflationary policies in Britain, led to a severe economic downturn in Northern Ireland between 1979–83. 40,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in these years. Manufacturing has never since recovered. After 1983 manufacturing employment stabilised at about 100,000. With only minor fluctuations it has remained at this level ever since. Increases in manufacturing output have been achieved through productivity and have not, and are not likely to lead to increases in manufacturing employment.

32) The economy remained sluggish until 1987 when the capitalist powers, fearful of a major slump after the 1987 stock market crash, injected capital to reflate their economies. After 1987 the Northern economy experienced an accelerated period of growth. Between 1987–1990 manufacturing output rose by 18.4% (but without any significant rise in employment).

33) These years of growth did not have the same speculative side as was seen in the south of Britain where spending was fuelled by credit and where house prices soared in a speculative bubble that at some time must burst. The expansion of the financial services sector in Northern Ireland, while it did take place, was as nothing to what was seen in the south of England. The Thatcherite yuppie was not a creature to be found in any numbers in Northern Ireland. So house and property prices remained at sober levels.

34) After 1990 Northern Ireland joined Britain in recession but because there had not been the speculative financial boom, because the manufacturing sector was small, and because of the heavy dependence on the public sector, this downturn was less severe than in Britain. GDP fell by 0.4% in 1990 and by 1.4% in 1991.1992 brought a partial recovery but with an insipid growth in output of 0.1%. The growth for 1993, the second year of this boom, is likely to have been a still sluggish 1.8%. 1994 is likely to see further growth but at an unspectacular rate, provided there is continued expansion in the British and American economies in particular.

35) Since the devastation of the early 1980s the economic pendulum has swung much less violently in Northern Ireland than in Britain and most other countries. The differences between boom and recession are less noticeable, to many people not noticeable at all. This is because of the distorting effects of an economy with a small manufacturing base and overwhelmingly dependent of public spending.

36) Every year the British government balances the books in Northern Ireland by meeting the shortfall of taxation over spending with a direct grant, called a subvention, from the British exchequer. In 1992–3 this amounted to £2.4 billion excluding security, £3.3 billion with security spending added. In total this sum equalled 28% of Gross Domestic Product. The subvention acts a powerful drug regulating the otherwise irregular rhythms of the economy and insulating it from the more violent swings felt elsewhere.

37) The result is an economy heavily dependent on services and on the public sector in particular. Public services in 1992 accounted for 29% of GDP (as against 18%) for the wealth producing manufacturing sector). Services as a whole represent over 70% of GDP. 38% of all jobs are now in the public sector. This shows a slight fall on previous years, but this is mainly due to privatisation. The privatisation of NIE for example transferred over 4,000 jobs from the public to the private service sector. The fact that a third of income comes from the state has helped underwrite consumer spending even in times of recession. Lower house prices in turn have meant that families in Northern Ireland who own their own houses tend to spend less per head on housing than in Britain. The result is a higher proportion left over for other things.

Private sector output per head is only 64% of the figure for Britain as a whole. Yet consumption per head is 82% of the British figure. This helps explain the boom in the private and entertainment sectors. In the late ’80s and early 1990s Northern Ireland became one of the most lucrative outlet for the major retailing chains.

38) Tory economic policies have been applied to Northern Ireland but with less severity than to other areas. The poll tax was not applied. Water is not scheduled to be sold off until 1997, although the strength of opposition and the likelihood of the Tories being removed from office first, means that this may never go ahead. Public spending is set to fall in real terms in Britain by 1.3 % in 1994–5 whereas in Northern Ireland it is to remain static! However the differences are being narrowed. The policy of privatisation and of the formation of agencies and Trusts is now being more extensively applied.

39) These factors, especially the absence of sudden marked lurches from boom to slump give the Northern Ireland economy an appearance of stability. This is added to by the atmosphere of regeneration created by the inward investment both public and private to develop the city centres of Belfast and Derry in particular. The backbone of this has been glitzy multi-million pound projects such as the Laganside development in Belfast and the opening in 1996 of the new conference centre conservatively estimated to cost £29 million. This money is designed to create an atmosphere of progress, to curb support for the Provisionals and to sap their will to continue. There is no doubt that it has had a certain effect.

40) If the economic situation is one key reason why a possibility exists of a downturn or even a halt for a period in the paramilitary violence, it is also the key factor in dictating that this in itself would not amount to a solution and to a permanent end to the conflict.

41) For a very significant section of the working class things are not improving, they are getting worse. Derry City centre may have been regenerated but in six of the City’s wards more than 50% of men are out of work. Among those living in public sector housing in Belfast male unemployment is over 50%. In eight out of the 12 Travel to Work areas used as the basis for recording joblessness across the North, the figure for those out of work is 18% or over. These findings are on the basis of the Tory manipulation of the real unemployment figure which is higher.

42) For those in jobs there has been a marked deterioration in wages and conditions. Lack of strikes, and weaker union leaderships on the shop floor, have meant a rolling back of conditions even in the better organised plants. Higher productivity has been at the expense of the stamina and health of the working class.

43) The main growth in employment has been in the retailing and service sectors. Of the top eight companies in recruitment, five are supermarket chains. Many of these jobs tend to be low paid and part-time. Although the total numbers in work have risen in the last two years there has been a shift from full-time to part-time employment. In 1992–3 the total number of full-time jobs fell by 2,290 while the numbers employed part-time rose by 8,640. In all 28% of jobs are now part-time. Women bear the brunt of this trend being forced to accept worse pay and conditions as a result. The figures for the service sector show the difference. Here 14% of males and 46% of females work part-time.

44) There is an increasing gulf between the rich few whose lives are insulated from the violence by their wealth and those who live in the impoverished areas where the effects of the Troubles are concentrated. The golf courses and marinas of North Down and Ards are a planet away from the inner city areas of Belfast. The top one percent now enjoy an average income of £84,000. Meanwhile those at the bottom of the social pile find themselves with a shrinking percentage of the total wealth, and not enough money to make basic ends meet.

45) The poverty, growing joblessness and profound sense of neglect which affects protestant working class areas, especially the inner city areas of Belfast will find its expression in anger, alienation and unless a class alternative is provided, in sectarian violence. In the same way the higher levels of unemployment and the poverty found in catholic working class areas will eat away at the base of any deal which may be struck between the major parties and the British government. If not given a class expression by the labour movement the resulting discontent is also most likely to take a sectarian form.

IRA Sinn Fein

47) The political retreat undertaken by a section at least of the leaders of the republican movement has been a key factor in strengthening the hand of the London and Dublin governments, and the ruling classes North and South. The nature of this retreat and the reasons for it have been analysed in depth in recent public material and need only be summarised here.

48) The Provisional campaign has reached an impasse brought about by wrong ideas and false methods. It was based on the idea that military means were necessary to force Britain to withdraw. In reality the British ruling class wanted to withdraw, even before the Provisional campaign began but could not do so because of fear of a Protestant backlash leading to civil war. The Provisionals by further incensing the Protestants only served to give the British ruling class even less room to manoeuvre. It is now clear that Gerry Adams and other republican leaders accept that Britain wants to pull out. In recent propaganda Sinn Fein leaders have been seeking to make common cause with the British government to “persuade” the Protestants to accept a united Ireland. But if you accept one thing you also must accept all that logically follows. If Britain wants to pull out, if the problem is Protestant opposition, the idea of an armed struggle to force the British out becomes a nonsense.

49) Marxists have always opposed the tactic of individual terrorism, explaining that it tends to lower the consciousness and lessen the participation of the mass of the working class. Individual terrorism substitutes the actions of a few people for the class struggle. In so doing it points the way to isolation and to defeat.

50) However all situations must be viewed concretely. In Northern Ireland, because of the complication of the national question in the form of a Catholic working class utterly alienated from the State by poverty, discrimination and repression, there has been somewhat of a variant. The individual terror campaign of the Provos, especially since it is based on a minority of the population and provokes the hostility of the majority of the working class, can never succeed in shifting the British state. But because of the political and social impasse neither can the state entirely eliminate the Provisionals. In military terms there is a stalemate.

51) This formula “neither can the Provisionals win, nor can they be beaten” is not an equal equation. The government defends the status quo while the onus is on the IRA to achieve change. If neither side moves the other the greater strain will be felt by those who seek change. Although the IRA have the capacity to continue for years, and although they may do so, the possibility also exists of their leadership wearying of the task and seeking another path.

52) The strategy of the armalite and the ballot box, which maintained the IRA through the 1980s, has not succeeded. They failed to escalate the campaign, despite the arrival of large shipments of Libyan arms. Their political achievements while considerable fell far short of what they envisaged. Above all they failed miserably to make a political mark in the South.

53) It is this failure which has brought the current leadership to the point of negotiating what in effect are watered down terms for a ceasefire. Events in South Africa and the Middle East and the illusions Adams and other have developed in institutions of world capitalism have reinforced this powerful trend. It is these processes which explain what is happening inside the republican movement – not the Downing Street Declaration and what is in it or not in it for republicans. The British government and the Dublin government have launched this initiative at this time because they sense the possibility of an end to the IRA campaign. The Downing Street Declaration is more a consequence of moves within the IRA to a ceasefire than the reverse.


54) By comparison to the revolt which followed the Anglo Irish Agreement, Protestant reaction to the Downing Street Declaration has been muted. Although the paramilitaries have escalated their sectarian campaign and although there is a deep feeling of unease in Protestant working class areas, there has been no general movement of resistance.

55) This is primarily due to the mood which exists in Protestant and indeed in Catholic working class areas. The predominant mood is of war weariness, even disgust, at the killings and a desire for an end to the Troubles.

56) This was clearly shown by the events which followed last year’s Shankill and Greysteel atrocities. Pressure came on the loyalist paramilitaries from within the Protestant working class areas after Greysteel to hold back from further such atrocities. The trade union organised protests were the biggest anti-sectarian demonstrations seen since the Troubles began.

57) Given this mood the Official Unionist leaders who have been carefully courted by the Major government, have been able to partly re-assure Protestant fears. The possibility of an IRA ceasefire has convinced many Protestants that the Declaration should be given time. So Paisley’s ritualistic rumblings about treachery have not triggered an active response. His public protest rallies spluttered to an early stop with the mass of Protestants entirely unmoved by his fiery exhortations.

58) Loyalist reaction takes two clear forms. There is the immediate campaign of retribution, revenge and terror carried out by both the UDA and the UVF. These organisation are better equipped than earlier and also have acquired an ability to use explosives. The social and economic decay of many Protestant working class areas and the absence of any class organisations taking up these issues, provides them with a layer of embittered recruits.

59) However these groups have never had any clear ideology or purpose. They have never been able to play an independent role but have always provided the tool of other forces, whether the state or a section of the state who have used them as assassins or some unionist politicians who have leaned on them from time to time. Although they are tolerated in Protestant working class areas there is also strong opposition to their gangsterism and their excesses. The reaction to the brutal killing of Margaret Wright, which included the burning of the home of the Donegall Road Commander of the Red Hand Commandos, shows that the tolerance they are given has its limits.

60) In the event of an IRA ceasefire these groups would come under strong pressure to call off their campaign. The links which clearly exist between sections of the Official Unionist Party and the so called combined loyalist command would be used to press for a ceasefire. Were they to carry on with their campaign under such circumstances they would risk the wrath of the working class communities from which they operate.

61) The second distinct strand of loyalist reaction takes the form of preparation for all out sectarian warfare in the future. This is an increasingly strong current. Many working class Protestants who are prepared to give the current spate of negotiations a chance do so on the basis of hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

62) In the event of an IRA ceasefire, a downturn in the sectarian violence and attempts to put the political structures envisaged in the Downing Street Declaration into place, realignment among unionist/loyalist groups would probably begin to take place. An outline of what could happen is already seen by the rifts in the Official Unionist Party, the formation of the “Craigavon Group” and the behind the scenes contacts between Official Unionist councillors and the leaders of the UDA and UVF in Belfast.

63) A section of the most right wing loyalists are now openly courting the idea of a separate Ulster identity, Ulster nationalism and independence. As an aside it will fall to our organisation to answer the unionist rewrite of Irish history which is already giving ammunition to this trend. At present these ideas are only held by a minority, most significantly by the UDA and some people like ex-UDA leader like Glen Barr. The huge British subvention and the public services it maintains lends a heavy weight to more conventional unionist thinking. Independence would only be attractive to the mass of Protestants as the least worst option if the only alternative seemed to be a united Ireland. Those who are preparing to organise Protestant resistance to any attempt to coerce them are in fact preparing for civil war and independence.

64) The key question shaping events in the immediate future is whether or not there will be an IRA ceasefire. A key section, probably a majority of the IRA and Sinn Fein leaders are clearly in favour of calling off the campaign at some stage in the not too distant future.

65) The British offer of a place in the political sun after three months “decontamination”, plus assurances that all issues will be up for negotiation and probable private agreement on demilitarisation and release of prisoners is probably enough for most of the present leadership of the republican movement. The long delay since the issue first emerged in 1993 seems certainly to be their difficulty in carrying enough of the ranks of the IRA with them to prevent a costly split. The presence of the INLA and Republican Sinn Fein in the wings is also a factor for them to take into account.

66) A deep split and possible feud would prove costly. The fear that Republican Sinn Fein could emerge as a political rival especially in border areas where Sinn Fein have polled well is something which the Adams wing would take pains to avoid.

67) It is impossible to present a blueprint as to what will be the outcome of all this. What is important is that we understand the real processes and are clear as to the real pressures which have brought the republican leadership to the situation. We can then outline a number of possible scenarios.

68) On the basis of no progress towards a ceasefire being made, the so-called “peace-process” could come apart and the hard-liners within the republican movement could get their way. A new attempt at military escalation, again carrying the campaign to Britain, could begin. Loyalist retaliation including further attacks in the South would be likely. But this route represents just as much of a dead end as in the past.

It is extremely unlikely that such a rise in the level of the sectarian violence would raise the possibility of civil war. More likely there would be a reaction as after Shankill and Greysteel and the paramilitaries would find themselves isolated.

69) The one proviso is the reaction of the British ruling class. In the event of an ongoing delay by the IRA in calling off their campaign they would come under Unionist pressure to put the boot in militarily. The weakness of the Major government makes it somewhat susceptible to such pressure.

70) However the real strategists of the British ruling class, including the military, have learned something from the last twenty five years. Since the Downing Street Declaration was issued they have treaded somewhat carefully, applying the military screws a little, but against both loyalist and republicans, and at the same time continuing to dangle the carrot of talks, probably to both the IRA and the loyalists (via Official Unionists) if the violence ends. When a Hunger Strike commemoration was banned from Belfast city centre the military authorities chose to avoid giving Sinn Fein an issue and allowed a follow up march to go to Belfast City Hall the next weekend. While an increase in repression would likely follow an outright rejection of a ceasefire by the IRA, this would s probably stop short of internment or other measures which might once again turn the Catholic youth to actively support or take up the armed struggle.

71) The most likely perspective is that, however long it takes to get there, there will be an IRA ceasefire at some point. Whether there would be a split, either immediately or after a period, and the extent of such a possible schism could only be judged at the time.

72) It is probable that even without an open split that some group, the INLA, Republican Sinn Fein or some other formation, would attempt to carry forward the mantle of an IRA campaign. Again it is not possible to foretell in advance the effect this could have but it is most likely that, in the short term at least, standing against the weight of Sinn Fein and SDLP leaders, it would be an isolated fragment in the Catholic community.

73) Loyalist groups may try to prevent an IRA ceasefire by carrying out sectarian attacks hoping that IRA retaliation would prompt a clampdown by the state. If they sense any deal with the SDLP or Sinn Fein which they think weakens the constitutional link with Britain, they are likely to respond with sectarian fury. But in the event of a sustained IRA ceasefire with only sporadic violence from other republican groups, they would come under pressure to call off their campaign. If such a situation continued the main loyalist organisations might be compelled to do so. Even then sectarian attacks and retaliation would be an ever present possibility.

74) Under such conditions significant changes could take place. The ruling class would probably try to maintain the momentum with a phased release of prisoners. The troop presence would be scaled down. Military fortifications, watchtowers, forts and other evidence of their presence in Catholic areas could be gradually removed. An attempt would be made to reintroduce the RUC, without army backing into Catholic areas. This would be accompanied by SDLP and Dublin calls for support for the RUC and for Catholics to join.

75) Attempts would also be made to implement the political proposals contained in the Downing Street Declaration. Elections to a new Assembly would probably be held and some form of power sharing administration by another name set up.

76) If there is no IRA ceasefire for a prolonged period the British government are likely to try to restart talks between all major parties except Sinn Fein on the setting up of an Assembly. While a successful outcome is less likely because Sinn Fein opposition would narrow the ground for the SDLP to manoeuvre, it is not excluded.

77) All these possibilities can only be projected tentatively at this stage. We cannot foresee precisely how far moves towards a comprehensive agreement will go but we can put forward the conditional prognosis that they can go much further than seemed possible four or five years ago. The difference in the present political and military equation is the possibility of a lasting ceasefire by the IRA.

78) If we excluded the possibility of such an agreement we would be unable to explain it should it come. Illusions would then develop in our own ranks that the problem had been overcome.

79) An accommodation between the main sectarian parties and the London and Dublin governments, even with the added spice of IRA and loyalist ceasefires, would not be a solution. After twenty five years of violence the Troubles will not just disappear as in the blink of an eye. Some degree of paramilitary activity would likely continue, probably of particularly sectarian character, even if on a small scale.

80) The paradox of the present situation is that while some politicians are prepared to swallow the pill of compromise the political gulf which separates the two communities is wider than ever. Whatever possibility exists for a downturn in the violence exists only because of the partial exhaustion of the sectarian forces which were fused together more than twenty years ago. Agreement reached on this basis does not mean that any of the fundamental differences have been overcome. The British government is trying to achieve peace today by assuring unionists that their position is underwritten while hinting to nationalists that their objective of a united Ireland can be brought about by negotiations. This is a recipe for future conflict, not for peace.

81) In terms of their aspirations, the gap between Protestants and Catholics has widened. The Catholic community is more strident in its demands than they were twenty five years ago. The Protestants are, if anything even more hostile to the idea of reunification. The national question may possibly recede for a time but it will not disappear. If nothing else raises it the demographic changes taking place are certain to eat away at the basis of any equilibrium established now.

82) If there was the perspective of a prolonged economic upswing with rising standards of living, the national question could recede as an issue for an extended period. But this is a period of world depression and of the sharpening of national tensions in circumstances where the labour movement does not offer a socialist way forward. A new Assembly would be charged with the administration of poverty, cuts and privatisation. Even if muted by the continued subvention and the likelihood of money being found for projects in some deprived areas, including Protestant working class areas where the feeling of neglect is pronounced, the result would be discontent, anger and opposition.

83) An opportunity would thus be created for the emergence of a united class movement to resist the pro-capitalist policies of the politicians and to tap into the mood of anger felt by Catholic and Protestant workers. Hard-line loyalists and republicans would also seek to exploit this anger in order to whip up sectarianism and put the national issue back centre stage. On the basis of the absence of the labour movement, or of its ongoing failure, to provide an alternative, new and reactionary sectarian forces could emerge.

84) Civil war is never easily arrived at. In Northern Ireland it could not come about until the stubborn resistance of the working class had been worn a way through defeats, demoralisation and a new onrush of sectarianism. It would take huge events, such as attempts to coerce the Protestants or a growth in the Catholic population to the point where the result of a border referendum was no longer secure, to trigger it. But because there is no answer to the problem on the basis of capitalism and because all capitalist settlements will eventually break down, the choice ultimately is either socialism or sectarian civil war.

Labour Movement

85) Despite the quarter century of sectarian violence the trade union movement in Northern Ireland remains basically intact. This is a testimony to the basic instinct of the working class to preserve shop floor unity and in particular to the work of thousands of activists who have strenuously resisted sectarian pressures.

86) The setbacks suffered by trade unions in recent years have been due to the offensive by employers and the Tories and the weakness of the trade union leaders in Northern Ireland and in Britain. The situation in industry in Northern Ireland is as it is in Britain and for the same reasons. Sectarianism has not been a crucial factor in preventing struggles – in fact the most significant movement of the working class in the last ten years have been movements against sectarianism.

87) On the shop floor and in the offices there is a rolling back of conditions. The threat of privatisation, or of intermediary steps such as Trusts, Agencies and Market Testing, are being used to restrain militancy in the public sector and to undermine existing conditions. The right wing nature of the union leaderships gives workers little confidence that they can successfully resist. Indeed the number of strikes taking place have been until recently at historically low levels. In 1992 Britain lost only 20 working days out of every 1,000, the lowest figure since records began in 1891.

88) The latest Tory legislation, hitting at the automatic check off system of payment of union subs and putting severe conditions on strike ballots, is designed to further ensnare the unions, hitting their funds and making it extremely difficult to organise strikes while staying within the law.

89) These changes are double edged in their effects. The ruling class are ambivalent about the Tory crusade against the unions, a section of them fearful that it may go too far and leave the unions too weak to act as effective policemen of their members. They look to the example of France and other southern European countries where the pushing back of the level of trade union organisation has lessened bureaucratic restrictions on strikes and helped open the way for explosive struggles from below.

90) The abolition of the check off aimed at union funds potentially deals a blow at the powerful union head offices and bureaucracies and may force cuts in some cases. This can mean a weakening of their grip over their members. On the other hand the campaign to re-sign members on to standing orders demands the activation of shop stewards and branch officials and forces them to be in touch with their membership.

91) Public sector unions in Northern Ireland are likely to be dramatically affected by the arrival of Trusts, Agencies etc and by out and out privatisation. NIE privatisation was followed by swingeing wage cuts and a threatened strike. The first year of Trust Status for the RVH saw a 3% cut in staffing levels. The old system of pay bargaining in which public sector unions locally simply acted as a rubber stamp, implementing whatever had been accepted in Britain is under threat with the creation of new employers and the threat of regional pay.

92) When pay and key conditions of employment were negotiated in Britain, members of public sector unions in Northern Ireland could make do however reluctantly with weak and inept local officials and shop stewards. Now these local representatives are likely to be put to the test. In many cases, where there is little or no organisation, conditions will be driven back. The penalty for disorganisation and a weak and servile leadership will be defeats in some cases.

93) In other areas the new situation will produce a shake up of the union structures. Discovering that they cannot afford to make do with their former representatives new layers of workers will come forward to take their place. This will be like a breath of fresh air into the jaded and largely moribund union structures which exist at present. With the excellent positions we have carved out in the public sector we can set an example and accelerate this process. An initiative for the work in the public sector needs to be considered.

94) Beneath the surface calm on the industrial front the mole of revolution is actively at work. The assault on wages and conditions is preparing new battles. Those strikes which have taken place in Britain, Timex, Middlebrook Mushrooms, Arrowsmiths, have been protracted and bitter. This will be the tone of future struggles. A new generation of activists will come into view. Many will quickly draw revolutionary conclusions from their experiences. Our ideas and our methods will grow in stature within the trade unions as we take our place in the forefront of the struggle to transform them into fighting organisations of the working class.

95) The likelihood of ongoing sectarian killings, no matter how the overall situation works itself out, means that further movements of the working class on this issue are now an inherent possibility. These may be localised as workers in one workplace or area take action or they may become generalised in response to big atrocities or sustained spells of killings. We can play a key role in initiating such action and in helping activists draw the lessons of the need for greater trade union involvement in the overall situation. Battles on other issues – facilities, loss of services, pollution, the destruction of the environment, taxes such as VAT on fuel, are possible outside the formal structures of the trade union movement. We have to be alert to such developments and help initiate genuine struggles where feasible.

96) The issue of the politicisation of the unions is a complex one. The early years of the Thatcher government after 1979 saw a radicalisation and the first concrete steps being made to turn the unions away from the non party political stance most had adopted for a decade.

97) The ensuing downturn in strike activity, the absence of new layers of fighters coming forward and the shift to the right by the union tops and by the Labour Party leadership in Britain, reversed this growing politicisation.

98) Among the mass of the working class the call for a socialist Labour Party is not as immediately attractive as it was a decade ago. Few of the major political parties, outside of Sinn Fein, enjoy any warm popular support. Yet it is difficult to expose these parties in the eyes of their supporters. They can continually rail on the national issue while on social and economic questions they enjoy the luxury of permanent opposition. Recently a mood has developed, reinforced by the public speeches and statements of the trade union leadership, that the politicians should get together and sort things out. Rather than a mood to replace them the immediate feeling of most working class people is that their heads should be knocked together to force them to do what they were elected to do.

99) This attitude will not last indefinitely. If the major parties fail to agree and if the Troubles continue as before, or intensify, the working class will become more open to the idea of creating an alternative. If they do strike a deal and enter a new administration they will be given the thankless task of applying Tory budgetary restrictions to health, education, housing and other services. On local councils their willingness to capitulate to Tory demands for privatisation and cuts goes largely unnoticed. In an Assembly the pain of their policies would be widely felt and their true nature would begin to be exposed.

100) With Sinn Fein matters might be more complicated. They are likely to emerge strengthened from the present “peace process”, as they will be able to peddle the illusion that they have made progress and have pushed the British government. For a period the stature of people like Adams is likely to be increased within Catholic working class areas. Even if they did enter an Assembly their base among the Catholic working class might force them to adopt a position of opposition on social and economic questions, although given the hankering of some of their leaders for political prestige this is by no means certain.

The development of united struggles of Protestant and Catholic workers would tend to expose the sectarianism of the Sinn Fein leadership and to open divisions within it, drawing its best activists and supporters to a class position.

101) On the basis of struggles by the working class whether against sectarianism, or on economic questions, political conclusions are bound to begin to be drawn. Unless cut across by the successful coming to power of the working class in Britain or some other key country, the working class of Northern Ireland will have to go through the school of reformism before it finds its way to revolution. It is most likely that moves will be made by the trade unions or a section of the unions to build some form of labour or socialist party.

102) This can be a difficult and painful process complicated by developments in Britain, and to a lesser extent the South. In general we can say that it would take a period of major struggles, of social convulsions, to force the union leadership to set up such a party and before it would really lay roots and challenge the political stranglehold of the sectarians. There is no prospect of the slow development of a labour organisation akin to the Irish or British Labour Parties today or to the other right wing social democratic organisations internationally. A Labour party thrown up on the back of social upheaval in the North would most likely have a left reformist character from the outset. Its internal life would be one of turmoil. Within and around it the ideas of Marxism could quickly gain a base.

103) In the more immediate future it is possible that some of the self-styled Labour organisations might make moves to set up a local party. While remaining firm on our perspective that a genuine Labour Party will only emerge from struggles within the broad labour movement, we need to be careful not to dismiss these people entirely. Some such formation could gain an episodic and temporary lease of life and we might have to gravitate toward it.

104) Right wing Labour in Britain offers no attraction to workers in Northern Ireland and is an obstacle to the formation of a new party under a Labour title. It is likely that Labour will come to power after the next election in Britain, either on its own or with the support of the Liberal Democrats.

While there might be initial enthusiasm in the run up to and in the first period of such a government, its capitalist policies in relation to Britain and the North would make the idea of Labour even less attractive. A move to the left in the British Labour Party would change this dramatically. This is not a short term prospect but it is a likely long term perspective. On the other hand should there be a split in the British party and the formation of a new left reformist organisation this would provide an immediate attraction in the North. We would need to weigh our tactics carefully, even giving consideration to taking the initiative in setting up, or helping to set up, a Northern Ireland section of such a party.

105) At this early stage, before any real politicisation of the movement has begun, it is impossible to be in any way precise as to how events will work themselves out. What we must do is be alive to all sorts of possibilities including peculiar variants of perspectives which we had not previously considered, and to act accordingly.

106) We do not analyse events and try to work out perspectives for idle academic reasons. Nor are perspectives to be used to justify our sitting back and waiting for events to take their course and the working class to come to their senses and turn to us. Such a professorial attitude has nothing in common with revolutionary politics.

107) Rather we face the urgent task of developing our forces so that we can become a factor in the situation and can begin to shape the future. While the sectarians flounder around lacking any understanding of the pace or direction of events, and lacking entirely any sense of proportion, we carefully work out and update perspectives so that we can see how and where to deploy our forces in order to gain the maximum returns.

108) The recent discussions in our International identified the fact that there exists in many countries a radicalised layer of the working class and the youth who are not active in the workers’ parties or even in the unions, but who can be won directly to a revolutionary banner. The open turn made in some countries and being made in others, is primarily to allow us to more easily reach this layer. Where we have made such a turn we have also been careful to maintain our general orientation to the reformist organisations and we leave open the possibility of conducting entrist work in these parties in the future.

109) Although the specific political situation is very different in Northern Ireland from other European countries these general points still apply. The open turn allows those sections of the working class who are beginning to draw revolutionary conclusions to move more easily into our ranks. Objective conditions dictate that they will be a minority at present. We therefore need to maintain a healthy sense of proportion, neither underestimating or overestimating our importance and our potential, and retaining a day to day orientation towards the trade unions.

110) We have long worked under unfavourable conditions and have built a solid nucleus of class fighters. Although we lost ground somewhat in the latter half of the 1980s we have begun to recover. There is now a possibility of a new and more favourable situation opening, a period of crisis for the paramilitary groups coinciding with a new wave of strikes and other class battles.

111) This could present us with the best ever opportunity for growth. At the end of the 1970s, as the class struggle began to develop, we very quickly more than doubled our forces. Greater possibilities could now lie ahead. Even if the sectarian violence continues or worsens the mood of disgust and opposition which could develop would allow us to extend our membership, influence and not least the respect in which we are held by the working class.

112) The key areas on which we need to concentrate our work are the trade unions and the youth. Within the unions we already provide the only organised opposition to the bureaucracy. As new layers move into struggle we will have the opportunity to turn positions of strategic importance into numbers and influence in the workplaces and among the working class.

113) Youth work is dealt with separately. Through our leadership of Youth Against Sectarianism we have a powerful weapon whose potential even we ourselves have only fully begun to appreciate. If opportunities are boldly seized it is quite possible that YAS could point the way to a mass influence among the working class youth. In this field more than any other, we must be prepared to act with speed, with urgency and with determination to exploit every opening. Audacity is the key.

114) Although we are still a small force we have a tradition of struggle and a reputation as determined fighters of which we can be proud. Now after years of painstaking work we have the opportunity to take an enormous stride forward. Future events will allow us to double, treble and quadruple our forces. We are poised to become an important political force in Northern Ireland, on the road to building a mass revolutionary party. The first step is clarity of ideas and perspectives and an understanding by every member of what is now possible.

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Last updated: 20 February 2015