Peter Hadden Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Peter Hadden

Northern Perspectives


Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

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

1. The events of this summer have created a new situation, more volatile and less predictable than before. The period after the decision to allow the Orange Order to march along the Garvaghy Road Northern Ireland came perilously close to civil war.

Then with the Orange Order’s July 10 decision to cancel four parades there was an instantaneous and dramatic drawing back.

2. There are times in history when events become concentrated, when deep changes are telescoped into a narrow historical opening. The short space between Drumcree and the climb down by the Orange Order was one such period. Conflicting pressures which had accumulated over several years on the parades issue reached a form of resolution in these few days.

3. This was a vital turning point which, to some extent, has reshaped the conflict. During the Troubles there have been a number of decisive pivotal moments – the entry of the troops, Bloody Sunday, the 1994 ceasefires for example – which provide an historical line beyond which the direction or shape of events is altered. July l0th was one such pivotal moment. This is the only starting point for an understanding of what took place over the summer and what is likely to take place now.

4. The new ceasefire and the probability of talks including Sinn Fein and some unionist parties does not take us back to 1994 and the previous IRA cessation. At that time hopes and expectations were raised that some degree of reconciliation might take place and that a settlement would be reached.

5. We did not share in these illusions but warned instead that, left in the hands of sectarian parties, no lasting solution would be possible. However, based on the strong momentum of the peace process and the overwhelming mood which was for compromise and peace, we did raise the prospect that there might be an interlude in the Troubles.

6. The 1994 IRA and loyalist ceasefires followed on from a united and powerful class movement demanding a halt to paramilitary campaigns. When the IRA campaign was called off it had reached a point of stalemate and exhaustion. By contrast the new ceasefire comes as part of a nationalist offensive spear-headed by an assertive and confident republican movement.

7. The talks reopen at a time of unprecedented sectarian polarisation. A process of separation of the two main communities has been underway for some time. Our 1995 document on the National Question, (reprinted as Troubled Times), tried to assess how far this had gone. It raised the possibility that given the strong mood for peace this process could be reversed and a tendency to integration could emerge.

8. This was beginning to take place – until it was cut across by the collapse of the IRA ceasefire and the dispute over parades, especially over Drumcree. The last two years have seen the process of division dramatically accelerated – to the extent that, should this continue, it would require us to re-examine our programme on the national question. Politically, the sectarian divide is now almost total.

Geographically, the communities have moved further apart and the figures given in Troubled Times which show the decline of mixed communities are now probably an understatement of the situation. Most important, the sense of being either Catholic (nationalist) or Protestant (unionist) has intensified and the sense of a common identity has declined.

9. Moods, which by their nature are inconstant and ever changing, are hard to define over a long period. However it is possible to detect a significant change over the last two years. This has not come in a single wave but in a ceaseless process of ebbs and flows. A harder, more sectarian and, on occasions, extremely confrontational mood has developed, especially since Drumcree II in 1996. The greatest change has been in Catholic areas. There has always been an undercurrent of Catholic sectarianism but never before has it reached the confrontational levels seen at times over the past two years.

This is an ominous change which we need to analyse carefully and in some detail.

10. Against this background it is less likely that the new ceasefire and new round of talks will lead to an “interlude” in the sectarian conflict. More likely there will be a continuation, possibly even an intensification of the Troubles but in a somewhat different form. “Reconciliation” and “compromise” are not words to describe what has taken place or what is likely to occur as the backcloth to talks.

Rather, left in the hands of the now dominant sectarian political forces, the “peace process” is more accurately a “repartition process”.

11. These are very difficult circumstances for the work of the Socialist Party. The weakening of the Labour movement and rise of sectarianism makes hard going for our ideas. Nonetheless it is possible to make headway, building, in the short term, on the ones and twos who stand out against the sectarian tide.

12. To do so we must first and foremost develop a clear under-standing of what is taking place. Without this the pressures of nationalism, unionism and sectarianism in society will inevitably seep into the Party. Our most immediate task is to provide a class analysis which can steady the Party and its periphery.

13. We need to identify the fundamental processes and separate these from the surrounding fog of complex and often contradictory developments. In characterising the various political forces we must picture them as they are, not as they see themselves, nor necessarily as they are seen in their communities.

Because we are working in a charged and polarised situation in which sensitivities have been heightened all-round the terminology we use in internal party material to describe political forces, political issues and why they are raised, may not necessarily be the terminology we use in our interventions and our public material.

14. We may, for example, characterise organisations which emerge in working class areas as sectarian. Whether and how we put this forward in our public material will depend on concrete circumstances. Where they have a basis of support and take up issues of genuine grievance, but to a sectarian end, bald denunciations would achieve nothing.

We have to intervene skilfully and sensitively finding other ways – their lack of democracy and accountability for example – to point up their shortcomings.

Developments in the Catholic community

15. The 1994 IRA ceasefire came about partly because the military campaign had reached a point of stalemate and exhaustion, but also in part because its theoretical basis had been undermined. In the years after the Anglo Irish Agreement the IRA leadership came to accept that the British ruling class had no long term strategic interest in holding on to the North. The corollary of this was a realisation that the real obstacle to a united Ireland is the resistance of the Protestants. To one degree or another all sections of the republican movement have come to understand this – if not consciously then semi consciously – and have changed their tactics accordingly. In turn our characterisation of the republican movement must also change.

16. In the early 1970s a significant layer of Catholic working class youth turned to the military methods of the IRA to hit back at the repression of the British army and because they concluded that the mass action of the civil rights movement had not worked. At the time we opposed the IRA campaign arguing that mass action, not individual terrorism was the only way to defeat imperialism. We accepted that the mass of the youth joining the IRA believed they were fighting for some form of socialism, albeit vaguely defined, but criticised the IRA leadership who stood on a nationalist programme which, at best, paid occasional lip service to socialism. We also argued that, whatever the intention of those involved, the military campaign and the limited nationalist programme would alienate and infuriate the Protestant community and would divide the working class.

17. When the new Adams-McGuinness leadership took over at the end of the 1970s, and when the aftershocks of the hunger strikes brought the rise of Sinn Fein in the early 1980s, the republican movement put forward a more radical image. Sinn Fein’s propaganda in Belfast put social and class issues high on the agenda. At the time we resisted the common illusion that Sinn Fein were in the process of becoming a socialist organisation and described their policy as the same old nationalism but disguised in a radical camouflage.

18. Since then the republican movement has moved politically to the right. It is a peculiar formation which combines what in reality is the programme of right wing nationalism with more radical methods of struggle. The current world juncture, marked by a decline in socialist consciousness and a weakening of the organisations of the working class, but at the same time as massive discontent has built up within society, has thrown up nationalist movements with similar characteristics elsewhere.

19. In the 1970s the political as well as the military sights of republicanism were trained on the State. The IRA always had within it a blatantly sectarian current but the dominant thinking at that time was that the Protestants would come round once the British were forced out. Therefore a head on sectarian confrontation was to be avoided at all costs. Whether they recognise it or not, the acceptance that the Protestants are the real obstacle changes entirely the direction of republican activity – whether it be political or military activity.

20. A difficulty in defining the differences within republicanism and in describing the strategies of its various wings, is that we are dealing with people who do not have clearly worked out strategies, but very largely react empirically to events. For example, the emergence of the political strategy in the 1980s came about quite accidentally. It was the quick footed response of the leadership to the opportunities opened up by the hunger strikes. The same empiricism means that there are not clear lines of demarcation between the various camps. The notion of hardliners in one corner, doves in another, those who advocate the armalite and the ballot on one side and those who propose mass protests and the ballot box on the other, is over simplistic. The differences which exist are not oven fired and fixed but are fluid and can very often over-lap. Nonetheless, so long as these limitations are under-stood, it is possible to point to clearly observable wings within the broad republican movement, wings which no matter how much they may overlap at the edges point the movement towards quite different lines of action.

21. As Protestant resistance comes to be recognised as the problem so the divisions between the various wings can be distilled down to differences over how to deal with this problem. The dispute between hardliners and others is really a dispute between those who believe it is best to pressurise and “persuade” the Protestants, and those whose strategy is to take them on and defeat them.

22. The Adams/McGuinness “peace” strategy has been to apply whatever pressure possible, but in particular the pressure of a “pan nationalist alliance”, on the British government and through it them on the Protestants. The flaw in the Adams position is that this alliance, designed to encircle the Unionists and do away with their “veto” on change, is an alliance with other forces who all accept the idea of “consent” – which to Adams has always meant “veto” – by a majority in the North. It is Sinn Fein, not the unionists, who would find themselves “encircled” by this strategy.

Their “allies” among the political and business establishment in the US and in the bourgeois parties in the South will remain allies only so long as Sinn Fein, in effect, abandons the central tenets of republicanism.

23. The term “hardliner” is generally used to refer to those who oppose the Adams line and advocate a return to the military campaign. More accurately this term describes those who favour confrontation – by military or other means – rather than political pressure and dialogue as the means to shift the Protestants.

24. This broader definition covers those who see the whole peace process as a trap for republicanism and would prefer to wreck it. Hard-line militarists prefer to go back to war – some to all out confrontation and civil war – to bargaining with unionists over the terms of an “interim” settlement. Hardliners of a different kind oppose what they see as concessions to unionism. They are among the most forceful in seeking to achieve results on the ground by gaining effective control of Catholic areas and by mobilising the Catholic community to forcibly wrest concessions from the unionists. Instead of waiting around for the results of talks they have been trying to implement change by force from below and leave it up to the peace process, if it is still in place, to catch up.

25. The advocates of this more confrontational approach are the political expression of the harder and more sectarian mood which has developed within Catholic areas over the past two years. This mood has arisen from a deep and genuine sense of injustice. The most dramatic sea change in Catholic attitudes came after the 1996 U-turn by the State over Garvaghy Road. It was triggered by a deep feeling that Catholics had been betrayed, that once again the “unionist state” had triumphed, and was then fuelled by the fusillade of some 6,000 plastic bullets fired by the RUC in the days which followed.

26. The source of Catholic anger has been genuine but its expression has had an ugly sectarian edge. The 1996 confrontation over Drumcree took place in an already sectarian climate in which the working class movement and leadership was invisible. So, unlike past movements against injustice and repression, the mood this time was anti-state, but also heavily anti-Protestant.

27. The overall upsurge in nationalism over recent years can be viewed in a similar light. On the one hand this is an assertion of a cultural and national identity made all the more vigorous by the generations of discrimination and suppression of that identity. It shows that culture and identity will not be erased by repression but, more likely, will eventually flower as a result.

28. On the other hand this is a phenomenon which in its manifestation and its direction is inward looking and sectarian. It is not something which can be viewed as though it were happening outside of time and place. The fact that it is taking place in areas which exist cheek by jowl with Protestant working class areas and that the manner of its expression displays an attitude to the people living in those areas and to their culture has also to be weighed. The cloaking of Catholic working class areas in a blanket of nationalism is deliberately to create a sense of identity which separates them entirely from the Protestant community. It is the national and cultural expression of the ongoing territorial segregation and of the political segregation which at this point is virtually total.

29. This rise of nationalism is a backward step in the consciousness of the Catholic working class. In the name of “diversity” it promotes the idea of a single pure “Irish” cultural identity to which all should subscribe. It is the same stultifying attitude to culture/religion etc. which characterised the first decades of the Southern Irish state, a manacle of uniformity which the population there are no longer prepared to accept.

30. We are not opposed to cultural expression but value all cultures equally. In fact we see socialism as the only guarantee that the best aspects of all cultures can be preserved. But our position on one culture as opposed to any other is essentially a negative one. We oppose restrictions on cultural expression as well as discrimination against any nationality or any culture. But in promoting the fullest freedom of cultural expression, we do not promote or endorse one culture over another. The argument that there is one culture which for some historical or other reason is the appropriate culture for Ireland is narrow and false.

31. The parades issue has been central to recent developments and shows the true nature of what is taking place. We have taken a very different attitude to this than to previous mass mobilisations by Catholics – the civil rights movement for example. The civil rights struggle was an uprising against a reactionary and rotten state. If developed to its highest level, it had the potential to break down sectarian barriers and trigger a united class movement. We gave support, intervened and called for the development of the civil rights struggle into a broader struggle which could win over the Protestant working class.

32. The parades issue is very different. It too stems from a genuine grievance both current and historical, in this case about the routing and the conduct as well as the policing of Orange parades. However, there are rights on the other side which have to be recognised. Whatever our attitude to sectarian institutions like the Orange Order, we do uphold its right to march. Those on the nationalist side who deny this have forgotten the lesson of their own history – that repression is only guaranteed to rally support to the Orange Order, not marginalise it.

33. The Socialist Workers Party, blind to what is actually taking place, have mistaken the opposition to Orange Parades as Civil Rights Mark II. So they have called for the fullest mobilisation, including of Protestants!!, to help block all Orange marches. The absurdity of this position in itself shows the difference with the civil rights movement. If we were to advocate the development of the anti-parades protests to their “highest level” we would not be calling for a united class struggle against the State, but would be promoting a head on confrontation with Protestants which would risk the destruction of those elements of class unity which still exist.

34. Instead we uphold the right of residents to protest and object, and in the case of unwanted parades through entirely residential areas, to halt them. The disputed routes are those which go along main roads, or into town or village centres. In these cases we have recognised that there are two conflicting rights at issue and have called for negotiation and compromise rather than come down on one or other side.

35. While we have opposed the Orange Order’s mentality of domination, as expressed in the demand to march when and where they wish, we have refused to simply turn the sectarian table around. We have not upheld the residents demand for dominance, as expressed in the insistence on no parades without their “consent”. As with the national question generally we are against the suppression of all rights, but, at the same time, do not back the particular rights of one community, over the rights of another.

36. While the anger of Catholic residents at the triumphalism of Orange parades is genuine and legitimate, the rise of the residents groups, and the way in which they have manipulated this anger, is another matter. The controversy over parades on the lower section of the Ormeau Road began in earnest in 1992. It was pushed to the fore by Sinn Fein in order to break the unity which had developed between Catholics and Protestants on the Ormeau Road in disgust at the Sean Graham Bookies atrocity – a united movement which we, through our comrades on Belfast Trades Council, had played some part in shaping.

37. The role of the hard-line sections of Sinn Fein and of republicanism has been to deliberately promote sectarian division. While at times paying lip service to cross-community initiatives they have the same hostility to any real intermingling of communities – and politics – as have the most right wing unionists.

They have struggled to gain effective control of Catholic working class areas and to create an ethos of separation, socially, culturally and politically in these areas.

38. In the case of the Ormeau Road it has been to create a ghettoised mentality among Catholics in the lower part of the Road, so bringing about a reversal in consciousness in what a few years ago was a very receptive area for our ideas. They have played a thoroughly reactionary role in this and the degree to which they have been successful there and elsewhere is a measure of how far things have been thrown back, and how far these regressive tendencies have gone within the Catholic community.

39. Within the broad spectrum of republicanism the leadership of the residents groups generally fall into the hard-line camp. The period following Drumcree, when they found themselves at the head of a mass movement, revealed, not only their intransigence, but their underlying sectarianism. The call, for example, for a “nationalist strike” on July 11th was a thinly disguised attempt to break the powerful unity which still exists between Protestants and Catholics in the workplaces. This strengthening political current is both the architect and the offspring of the hardened attitudes within the Catholic community.

Why the new ceasefire?

40. When the IRA ceasefire was declared in 1994 a minority were opposed and wanted to continue the armed struggle. Lack of progress over eighteen months strengthened this view and threatened a split. The bomb which tore the Canary Wharf area apart was exploded partly to hold the republican movement together. The situation of “neither peace nor war” which followed left the ultimate direction of the movement undecided and could not be maintained indefinitely.

41. Prior to this year’s Drumcree confrontation the predominant mood in the Catholic community was of general support for the idea that Sinn Fein should get into talks and reach some agreement. This was the basis for the increase in Sinn Fein’s vote over the three most recent elections. There was a powerful feeling that with New Labour in office the unionists would no longer have a sympathetic ear in government and that, at the very least, the old injustices would be done away with.

42. The idea of a return to armed struggle advocated by military hardliners had very little broad support. The cold reaction to the shooting of two RUC men in Lurgan, an act which can only have been designed to raise tension and obstruct dialogue over Drumcree, showed that a return to the military campaign would meet with opposition, not favour, among Catholics.

43. Despite the hardening of attitudes on both sides, in the period leading up to Drumcree, the majority of Catholics (and Protestants) would have preferred dialogue over disputed parade routes to all out conflict. The compromise reached at Dromore, where softer voices won out on both sides, was widely seen as the way forward. The anger and polarisation left over from the previous year provided a significant social base for the hardliners in the residents groups and to their counterparts on the other side – but they were still not entirely in tune with the broad mass.

44. Drumcree III, and the decision to clear the Garvaghy Road in the dead of night, changed this. The very illusions which had existed in New Labour added to the sense of bitter disappointment. The sense of alienation, the feeling that Catholics remained as second class citizens, returned in as charged a fashion as the previous year.

45. If there was a change in the aftermath of Drumcree II it was that the rioting and hijacking which followed was, this time, less spontaneous, more organised and orchestrated while the greater consciousness of the sectarian consequences of what was happening made the mood more sinister. The hand of the militarists was clear in the sudden outburst of IRA and INLA activity, the most intense period of such activity for years. The IRA were also involved in the hijacking and blocking of roads.

46. At the same time the hard-line leadership of the residents groups placed themselves at the head of a mass mobilisation of the Catholic community. The rallies, demonstrations and the call for a “nationalist” general strike were to culminate in the physical blocking of the July 12th parades along the Ormeau Road and into the centre of Derry.

47. This mass mobilisation and the accompanying paramilitary activity together had many features of a Catholic “uprising”. It was directed against the State but also towards a sectarian confrontation with Protestants. The sectarian features which emerged – shootings across the peace line, inflammatory speeches and sectarian comments from platforms – were not regrettable excesses, but inevitable foretastes of where this movement was headed.

48. A counter mobilisation by the Orange Order and Drumcree style “stand-offs” on the Ormeau Road and in Derry could have opened the way to civil war. For the ruling class this would have been the nightmare scenario – having to face down two aroused communities at once. Even if they had managed to hold the two sides apart in these flash points they could not have prevented sectarian attacks in other areas.

49. During the immediate post Drumcree period Adams was forced to look on as hardliners embarked on a course which could have destroyed his strategy. Even if the State had managed to hold some kind of line through the 12th July period both sides would have geared up for other confrontations. A countdown would have begun for the August 9th Apprentice Boys parade in Derry. The government’s ceasefire deadline of August 4th, after which, in Mo Mowlam’s words, the “talks train” would leave without Sinn Fein, would be missed.

Adams’ role appears to have been to go along with the post Drumcree upsurge, but in order to try to restrain it. The fact that he was unable to do so shows how far the pendulum had swung towards more hard line attitudes.

50. On July l0th the Orange Order side-stepped the confrontation and transformed the situation. The sense of immediate relief felt in Catholic (and Protestant) areas was almost physical. As soon as the “no parade” announcement was made the confrontational mood fell away. The hard-line responses of some of the leaders of the residents groups now seemed “unreasonable” and “intransigent” and were at odds with the reaction of the mass of Catholics.

51. Hard on the heels of the Orange Order’s climb down came the IRA announcement of a new ceasefire. This provoked few obvious signs of dissent from within the IRA and was generally welcomed within the Catholic community, including the working class areas where Sinn Fein is strongest.

52. On the surface it seems a contradiction that, within days of a massive “nationalist” mobilisation headed by hardliners – some totally opposed to the Adams peace strategy, others with no confidence in it – a mobilisation which had the capacity to turn the peace process into a forgotten wreckage, there could be a ceasefire and only minimal opposition.

53. The explanation lies in the profound impact of the Orange Order decision on the Catholic community. The formal preconditions for a cease-fire had been met before Drumcree. The government had given way on prior decommissioning, a time frame for negotiations had been set, Sinn Fein were guaranteed entry into the talks after six weeks, confidence building measures such as some movement on prisoners were promised. But the announcement of a ceasefire would not take place until the parades issue was out of the way and until the government’s attitude to contested Orange marches was tested in practice.

54. Drumcree left the marching issue unresolved. In the eyes of Catholics New Labour had failed at the first test and its honeymoon was over. The formal conditions for a ceasefire were still in place but the aroused mood in the Catholic community made it impossible at this point.

55. July 10th brought a complete change. It seemed, as Sinn Fein went on to claim, that Catholic “people power” had achieved an immense victory over Orangeism. For the first time in the history of the state the minority had come out on top.

56. By contrast with 1994 the new ceasefire came after what was, to the majority of Catholics, an historic victory. July, in their eyes, provided a practical demonstration that there is an alternative to armed struggle, an alternative which can bring far better results.

57. Faced with a choice of Sinn Fein backed by a mass mobilisation of the Catholic community winning concessions in the talks, or of a return to the armed struggle, no talks and no likelihood of concessions, the vast majority naturally plumped for the former. After Drumcree the peace process and with it the New Labour administration seemed discredited. After July 10th Catholic expectations in both were reinforced. There was an expectation that the peace process will “deliver for us”. It was the powerful weight of this feeling which explained the quiescence of the militarists.

58. A final balance sheet on this summer’s events shows those in favour of a return to war quite isolated and the Adams/McGuinness strategy of a ceasefire and negotiations put back on course. At the same time it strengthened the aggressive and hardline section of the broad republican movement who are less likely to countenance concessions, thereby leaving Adams and McGuinness with less room to manoeuvre in the talks.

Developments in the Protestant Community

59. Sinn Fein’s argument that “people power” won out in July is one part of the truth. It is true in the sense that the Orange Order and the unionist hierarchy were left in no doubt that they faced a mass movement which was not going to back down, no matter what the consequences.

60. This, though, is not a complete explanation for what happened. There were important parallel developments on the Protestant side which contributed heavily to the Orange Order’s decision to back down.

61. In 1994 the majority mood in Protestant areas was of support for the peace process and for talks which, it was understood and accepted, would include Sinn Fein. There was also a powerful undercurrent of suspicion and of opposition, especially in rural areas among the more backward, more bigoted and less class conscious section of the Protestant population.

62. The strategy of the most far seeing sections of the British ruling class at the time was to draw Sinn Fein in from the cold, and to pressure them into abandoning armed methods and accepting an internal settlement. In return the Northern State would be reformed, some North South institutions would be set up and there would be a promise that Britain would accept any future wish of the majority in Northern Ireland to break with Britain.

63. This strategy was crudely implemented by the Tory government who set out to appease the unionists and humiliate Sinn Fein with their endless preconditions to negotiations. This proved a costly error as it brought the peace process to an end and eventually put a much more difficult process in its place.

64. The Protestant establishment were broadly prepared to go along with the strategy of the ruling class. Unfortunately their political representatives at the head of the Ulster Unionist Party, like the Tories, proved clumsy executors of this policy.

65. The top Unionist leadership of people like Trimble (Molyneaux before him), Magennis and Taylor understood that change is needed in the North to preserve the status quo. Even though they were mistrustful of republicans they were prepared to talk to Sinn Fein, and to make concessions, but only in order to preserve the Union. In part because they have an eye on the DUP and on hard liners in their own party, and in part because of the historical baggage of arrogance and bigoted mistrust they carry, they acted with an intransigence which jeopardised their own strategy.

66. The paramilitary-linked loyalist parties, particularly the PUP, are more in tune with the mood in Protestant working class areas, in Belfast especially. Their more outspoken and direct support for the peace process has been based on their closer understanding of what a return to conflict would mean, but also on their estimation that the IRA campaign had failed and that republicans could be drawn away from violence to work for a better future within the North. Hence the CLMC ceasefire was announced alongside a confident declaration that the “Union is safe”.

67. Paisley has acted as the political spearhead of the opposite view. The DUP and its political lapdog, McCartney’s UKUP, have set out to wreck the peace process. Believing that any negotiations will mean some reduction of the status quo they prefer to have no negotiation.

68. Paisley’s efforts to wreck the peace process have gone well beyond the framework of the constitutional politics which he insists Sinn Fein must subscribe to. A certain regroupment has taken place within unionism and loyalism in opposition to the peace process. The Spirit of Drumcree group voice this opposition within the Orange Order while the LVF do so within paramilitary circles. LVF murders, the petrol bombing of Catholic homes and property, the Harryville picket, the uncompromising stand on parades, together with Paisley’s talks filibustering are “constitutional” and “unconstitutional” expressions of the same thing.

69. In the emergence of the LVF and the Spirit of Drumcree and in the links they have forged with the DUP we see the outlines of a new face of Protestant reaction. This is most firmly based in the rural areas from where it gets its fundamentalist evangelical character. In drawing together more backward rural elements with layers of the Protestant middle class and of the lumpen Protestant this has many of the social characteristics of fascism. But fascism emerges as a counterweight and in opposition to the organisations of the working class, whereas this, at this stage, does not have this feature. It can more precisely be defined as a reactionary sectarian force akin to the most zealous factions which emerged from the Bosnian conflict.

70. In general the mood within the Protestant community has hardened and become more sectarian as the peace process has run off course. Protestants have a growing feeling of insecurity, an increasing sense that they are an embattled minority now that politics appears to be moving onto an all-Ireland stage.

71. The opposition to the rerouting of parades arose in part from a reactionary desire to hold onto a triumphalist past. But the issue has struck a much broader chord because to a community feeling itself in demographic and territorial decline the objection to marches seemed part of a relentless attack on Protestant rights.

72. Hence the correctness of our position on marches as applied to Protestants. By upholding the right to march but opposing the idea that marches can take place anywhere and in any manner, without regard to the rights of Catholics, we separate the genuine concerns of Protestants from the triumphalist aspirations of the sectarians.

73. As among Catholics, the confrontational and sectarian mood among Protestants has varied in intensity. It has been stronger in rural areas and only occasionally has the mellower voice of the PUP been at odds with the feeling of working class Protestants in Belfast.

74. The first Drumcree “stand-off” in 1995 was the work of the mostly rural based hardliners. There was a general sympathy and support for the right of the Portadown Orangemen to march, but not to the extent that the mass of Protestants were ready to become involved. The PUP and UVF intervened at Drumcree to cool the situation and prevent the then Mid-Ulster UVF from attacking the Catholic Garvaghy Road.

75. In 1996, at the time of the second “stand-off”, things were different. There was a much broader, more intense and more active support for the Orangemen’s right to march. So much so that, as the clock ticked towards July 12th, the possibility of a generalised Protestant revolt which would turn into a wholesale pogromist movement against Catholics, edged ever nearer. Even in the working class areas of Belfast there was a charged atmosphere and the PUP, this time, were obliged to support the Orangemen.

76. During these days the aroused, confrontational and sectarian mood echoed the opinions of Paisley and other hardliners. The Official Unionists had little choice but to go along with this movement, some a little more enthusiastically than others.

77. After what turned out to be a pyrrhic victory at Drumcree the angry mood among Protestants subsided – to be replaced by a no less angry mood among Catholics. This upheaval left, as its aftermath, a residue of bitterness which was expressed in the sectarian boycotts and the tit for tat sectarian attacks.

78. This sectarian “residue” provided a social basis for hard liners regrouping around the DUP and for hard line voices to be raised within the Ulster Unionist Party also. This has not been the majority view among Protestants. Rather the predominant mood has been to go along with the peace process, but nonetheless the hardliners have felt themselves sufficiently strengthened to mount an open challenge on a number of fronts.

79. The first year of the talks which was spent haggling over procedures was a sparring match between the Ulster Unionists, UDP and PUP on the one side and the DUP and the miscellaneous mish-mash that is the UKUP on the other. Within the Orange Order the Spirit of Drumcree group has openly campaigned for the removal of the Saulters leadership. The LVF has been formed to draw dissident UVF and UDA members and as a declaration of war on the CLMC and their entire peace strategy.

80. The Orange Order and Ulster Unionist Party leadership would probably have preferred a compromise over Drumcree this year. But the Portadown Orangemen insisted on their right to march and, by so doing, triggered the days of upheaval which followed.

81. A violent conclusion on 12th July would most likely have wrecked the peace process and with it the political strategy being worked out, however clumsily, by the Ulster Unionist leadership. It would have elevated the Spirit of Drumcree group within the Orange Order and possibly led to the removal of the present leadership. Moreover it would have put an impossible strain on the loyalist cease-fires and threatened the positions, not to mention the lives, of the PUP and UDP leadership.

82. The ruling class were anxious to avoid a confrontation on the 12th and there is no doubt that the security advice passed down to the Ulster Unionist and Orange Order leadership by the RUC was that the State could not maintain order and could not protect Orange parades.

83. The Trimble leadership and the Ulster Unionists in “sashes” at the head of the Orange Order, for their own reasons of self-preservation, were willing to accept this advice. The PUP/UVF, facing the undoing of the work done and progress made since 1994, were active on the ground in Belfast trying to maintain calm and applying their form of pressure on Orangemen to convince them not to march down the full length of the Ormeau Road.

84. This provides a fuller explanation of the July 10th climb down, than that it was achieved by Catholic “people power”. The challenge from the hardline leadership of an indignant Catholic community was no bluff. That the glove thrown down in challenge was not lifted was because for their own reasons both the loyalist paramilitary leadership and the unionist hierarchy, wanted to avoid fight. To conclude that future confrontations on other issues will produce the same result, would be a dangerous assumption to make.

85. From the Protestant/unionist perspective the July 10th decision marks an historic change of direction. The parades controversy has fundamentally been about territory, about whether areas are Catholic (nationalist) or Protestant (unionist) and about whether or not the streets can be shared between different traditions.

86. When the Apprentice Boys sat down with residents last summer in Derry, or when the local Orangemen did likewise in Dromore this year, it was out of a certain respect for and recognition of other people’s rights. The Dromore agreement allowed both communities access to the village, but in an agreed manner.

87. The July 10th decision was not taken in any spirit of reconciliation or compromise. It did not come through dialogue, but through confrontation and the rejection of dialogue. It is not a signpost to integration and the sharing of territory, but to segregation.

88. The Orange Order’s retreat back to “safe” Protestant areas indicates a psychological change among all but the most hard-line sections of unionism. In the sense that it marks the demise of the ethos of the old Unionist State, that the majority culture could be exercised over all areas, it is a positive change. But in the sense that in its place there is an acceptance of territorial division, of the attitude that “this is our territory and we will stay in it, likewise you can stay in yours”, it is a very dangerous development. It may be a step forwards from the triumphalism of Drumcree but it is a huge step backward from the more accommodating spirit of Dromore.

89. Although Protestants, especially outside Belfast, were unhappy about this year’s no walk decisions their disappointment was tempered with relief that confrontation had been avoided. These were a few protesting voices on the 12th July parades but overall the opposition was quite muted. The majority of Protestants begrudgingly accepted the decisions and with it, the fact that more areas had become “no go” for them.

90. What happened this summer points to a longer term resolution of the parades conflict based on the seeding of territory and acceptance of segregation by religion. However it is unlikely that the issue will simply die away. The hardliners regrouping around the DUP will still insist on their right to march and their rural basis of support will likely ensure some flash points. Protestants may accept that they cannot march along the Ormeau Road, but the centre of Derry is another matter. Future parades along the walls and through the city centre could provide future clashes. In addition future demographic change, which in most cases means an increase in the number of Catholics living in formerly Protestant areas will tend to produce more contentious routes.

Prospects for the “peace process”

91. The situation is now extremely unstable. This makes it much more difficult to put forward a prognosis even as to what is most likely to happen. We need to analyse what current developments and put forward a programme which offers a class alternative to sectarian conflict, but, in regard to what is likely to happen, we can only offer a more open prescription.

92. A parallel can be drawn with the Middle East. Little remains of the peace process which began with the Oslo agreement. The on/off talks between Israelis and Palestinians have been extended into a process of endless paralysis. Meanwhile beneath the cover of this “peace process” the Israeli government has been implementing its own solution, establishing “facts on the ground” in the form of the settlements around Jerusalem so that the issue of the destiny of the “holy city” is decided in practice long before it ever becomes an item on the negotiating table. The on-going failure of the peace process is now raising the possibility of another war in the region.

93. In Northern Ireland, before the talks have got round to a single substantive item, sectarian groups on both sides have been making efforts on the ground to write out the terms of a settlement based on complete territorial separation. The republican movement has striven to gain effective control of Catholic working class areas, to oust state institutions, other than necessary services, from these areas, and to get them to vibrate to the single beat of nationalism.

94. The growth of the PUP, and to a much lesser extent the UDP, has been a positive change in terms of the politics which was dominant before in Protestant working class areas. The PUP offered a radical and, in terms of the sectarian conflict, a more compromising voice than that of the unionist establishment. By and large they are still playing this restraining role in Protestant working class areas

95. On the other hand the horizons of these parties do not extend geographically beyond the Protestant community or politically beyond a unionist solution. The PUP has partially filled a political vacuum. In so doing they have narrowed the space for genuine class politics and for the rise of a political organisation which could unite the working class. The credibility of the PUP who express the views of working class Protestants in a way that the major unionist parties have never done, reinforces the sectarian divide.

96. The loyalist parties have been impressed by the success of Sinn Fein and have set out to ape them in many respects. In the long run the best of the PUP look to a time when common ground can be found with Catholics and with Sinn Fein, but only on the terms that the border remains. In the meantime the loyalist paramilitaries, like the republican movement in the Catholic areas, are engaged in a struggle to achieve effective control over Protestant working class areas. The PUP stand for cross community initiatives and contacts, but as with Sinn Fein, do so in their own terms. Paramilitary hands reaching across the peace lines and discussing the terms by which the two communities will live separately but alongside each other is a long way from genuine cross community intermingling and an even longer way from integration.

97. Whatever happens at the talks the likelihood is that the efforts of groups on both sides to exercise a controlling stranglehold over working class areas will continue. If this continues the situation will be like the Middle East with talks bringing the sides together at the top but with a coming apart taking place at the bottom. On this basis the process of repartition from below will continue.

98. There is far less likelihood now that the talks will reach round table agreement than there was a year ago, when they were in their infancy. This summer’s events have pulled the two sides further apart. Every increase in the confidence and assertiveness of Sinn Fein is matched in equal measure by an increase in the wariness of all the unionist parties, the PUP and UDP included.

99. The past willingness of the PUP, UDP and also the Ulster Unionists to sit down with Sinn Fein was based on an estimation that the IRA campaign had run out of steam and that Sinn Fein were prepared to cut some deal well short of a united Ireland. After the summer unionists are much more wary of the intentions of the republican movement. Still both the Ulster Unionists and the small loyalist parties will sit down with Sinn Fein at some point. The UUP will do so with a degree of confidence because the format of the negotiations and the government’s Framework document about which they complain so much – actually provides them with an insurance policy against Sinn Fein and against the “republican agenda”.

100. This document sets out the outline of an agreement – a new Northern assembly with power sharing plus an all-Ireland dimension in the form of cross border bodies with executive powers over limited matters. It is a blueprint for an internal settlement which on paper would allow equality in the North in the hope that Catholics would ultimately be prepared to accept the constitutional status quo. The UUP, like Paisley, have made noises about a “nationalist” tint to this document but their real strategy is to take steps towards it in the talks and make these appear to be “concessions”.

101. Because of the complicated voting procedures worked out last year nothing can be agreed in the talks without the support of the Ulster Unionists – and of the SDLP. These procedures were neatly packaged in Sinn Fein’s absence and they allow for Sinn Fein to be outvoted. Even if, despite this, the talks were to go wrong for the Ulster Unionists they have the fall back of registering disagreement or walking out knowing that this leaves the government with only two options – either make concessions and try to put the process back on course, or declare a failure and put their own proposals into operation, via a referendum. And since the government proposals, drawn up by the Tories but accepted by Labour have already been set out in the Framework Document, and are not far off what the unionists would accept anyway, Trimble and Co. have little to concern them. For them the “talks train” is a reasonably comfortable journey which they can take in the knowledge that at best it will halt short of the Framework document, at worst it will reach it, but that no track has been laid to take the “train” beyond it.

102. This is on the basis that Sinn Fein play by the rules. The summer and the confident strides with which Sinn Fein have entered the talks has changed things somewhat. The determination displayed by Sinn Fein and the residents groups over parades, the suddenness of the ceasefire and the claims of Sinn Fein leaders that whatever is agreed in the talks will be a weakening of the union and a lengthy step in the direction of a united Ireland, have caused some re-evaluation.

103. The three unionist parties still in the talks are now much more suspicious that Sinn Fein have no real interest in agreement, that they only want to use the talks as a platform to mobilise Catholics against the status quo and to help edge Protestants into a united Ireland. The UUP will participate in the talks but they will monitor more carefully the role of Sinn Fein inside and outside Castle Buildings and may be prepared to stalemate the process at some point if they feel that a “republican agenda” is winning out on the ground.

104. Paisley and McCartney are unlikely to re-enter the process proper although the ineffectiveness of their boycott tactic, and the DUP’s concern that it could lose its working class vote to the PUP, means that even this cannot be excluded. If they did go back it would be very consciously to try to wreck the talks. This is the role they will play outside but they are not likely to find the UUP gifting them with a “sell out” big enough to give them a mass base. Broad Protestant opposition to too many concessions being demanded by the two governments and the nationalists at the talks would much more likely take the form of a UUP, PUP and UDP withdrawal.

105. How far the talks can go towards round table agreement really depends primarily on Sinn Fein and how far they are prepared to move towards some variant of the Framework proposals. They will find that none of the unionist parties are prepared to accept any “settlement” which is not based on the idea of consent by a majority in the North, nor will they accept the disbandment of the RUC or any too substantial reform which they would see as disbandment by a back door. For agreement to be reached Sinn Fein would need to swallow the Framework terms as the main course, with reform rather than abolition of the RUC and other state institutions as side dishes, and the consent principle in the form of separate referenda North and South for desert.

106. Adams and McGuinness might accept some such out-come, then sell it by trying to reassure Catholics that it is but a staging post on the road to a united Ireland. This appeared to be their past strategy for talks. What happened in the summer has made it much more difficult for them to go down this road should they still choose to do so.

107. The threat from the militarists of a full resumption of the IRA campaign is not immediate but it does exist. Other forces are present in the form of the INLA, the Continuity Army Council and IRA dissidents to make some form of military activity likely. For the reasons already given this would be against the predominant mood and would remain isolated.

108. This is not to say that growing disillusionment with the talks together with the unrelieved poverty, unemployment and hopelessness felt by a layer of the population, could not in the future provide some basis for individual terrorism. Nor, in the longer term, should we exclude the possibility of circumstances arising which would once again provide a mass basis of support among the youth for a return to armed struggle. The changed attitudes after Drumcree showed how this could happen, and also indicated that any new campaign would be more nakedly sectarian.

109. The more immediate obstacle to a deal which would fall too far short of republican objectives comes from the more assertive mood which allowed the ceasefire. The illusions in the peace process are not that it will bring about a reconciliation but are that the confrontations which will take place with unionism, in the talks and outside, will force them back. Victory over the Orange Order has added to the sense that unionism is in retreat and that the clock is ticking towards British withdrawal and a united Ireland.

110. Hardliners now have the option of using the negotiations as a public platform to rally Catholic opinion behind their demands. This could involve protests, pickets, demonstrations and other public activity to mobilise mass pressure to break through any political road-blocks which the unionists will construct.

111. The difference between this approach and what appeared to be the approach of Adams after the first ceasefire is in the attitude to what may be agreed through the talks. Adams and McGuinness had seemed prepared to accede to some new political structures and to work within them while waiting for better times in the future.

112. Today a layer hardliners have been reassured that the “peace process” can be a process of the steady dismantling of the Northern Ireland State. In the event of a deal which set up some “interim” local institutions they might be prepared to use them to try to further that process. But, given the alienation of the Catholic working class from the present state and most of its institutions, they will view anything which asks Catholics to give allegiance to new institutions as a blow to their control on the ground and a step in the wrong direction.

113. The summer has shown that the will of the minority, expressed in mass action, can achieve results. In a distorted manner it has confirmed our arguments against the individual terrorism of the IRA – that it is mass action, not isolated acts carried out by a small group “on behalf of the people” – which is the most effective method of struggle. Some hard liners are sure to draw the obvious conclusion – that mass resistance by Catholics can make any settlement, and with it the present State, unworkable.

114. It is a truism that there can be no agreement if it is actively opposed by more than 40% of the population. So a strategy of forcing concessions but withholding the allegiance of the Catholic working class from whatever structures emerge and thus pressing for more concessions can, it is quite true, make the current State and the present constitutional position unworkable. The flaw in this line of thought is the belief that this salami style deconstruction of the present State would also be step by step journey to a united Ireland. In fact it would be a step by step route to repartition.

115. Conflicting pressures will now weigh on Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership. Their own constituency of activists will press against any “sell out”. Pressure from the US, the Southern ruling class, and from the SDLP will be towards compromise. The rapid reopening of doors in the White House is to give the Sinn Fein leaders another glimpse of the prestige and the lifestyle which would be available should they agree to tread the “constitutional” road. This, plus the lavish funding on offer from US businessmen, is an attempt to turn Sinn Fein into a “normal” bourgeois nationalist party.

116. The ruling class hope that, if tensions subside, and if some obvious steps to “equality” are taken, a sufficient section of the Catholic community will come round to an internal settlement. They hope that a deal based on the passivity of the more inert layers of the Catholic population might be made to stick if given the powerful stamp of Sinn Fein approval.

117. Whether the talks will ever get this far and whether the Sinn Fein leadership will either want or be able to make some deal hold for a time is an open question. But whatever happens in the talks the republican movement on the ground will not cede its control over working class areas without a struggle. The issue of policing is likely to be one early arena in which this struggle is fought out. This issue on its own could derail the whole process and there are other issues with an equally destructive potential.

118. The struggle for the hearts and minds of the Catholic community over the possible terms of a deal will not simply be a struggle between Sinn Fein and the SDLP, but more particularly a struggle within Sinn Fein. If Adams does adopt a dovish strategy there will have to be some form of reckoning with the various hardline currents, especially those who have been strengthened by the events of the summer. Should the Sinn Fein team swallow the Framework proposals the reality would soon sink in in Catholic working class areas that very little of substance had changed. Raised expectations would turn to disappointment and these in turn would give rise to divisions and recriminations within the republican movement.

119. At the bottom, in working class areas, the peace process, in the sense that it was a process of compromise, reconciliation and integration, ended some time ago. A huge question mark now hangs over what is left – the talks process at the top. We need to have a quite open attitude to the question how far the talks can go. They may stagger on in fits and starts; they may fall apart but be put back together in a new form. It is not excluded, even if less likely than before, that they will end in a deal.

120. Even that would not mean a solution but would be against a background of greater than ever polarisation in society. A new assembly, new North/South institutions, would be to administer not relieve the poverty, the declining services and increasing exploitation. Power sharing would institutionalise the sectarian divide and a breakdown would come at some point.

121. It is also possible that the rival pressures within Sinn Fein will effectively cancel each other out, that Adam’s may remain in the process but may be unable to sign up to an agreement. It is technically possible for a deal to be reached on this basis. However since the whole process was elaborately constructed to attach the signatures of Sinn Fein to so a carefully packaged internal settlement this would be a unwelcome outcome as far as the two governments and the SDLP were concerned. With Sinn Fein in opposition to an agreement the result of a referendum in the Catholic areas of the North could not be guaranteed. Even less could the stability or permanence of whatever new Assembly may then be elected.

122. It is perhaps more likely, that the parties will fail to find common ground but would mount only token opposition to a decision by the two governments to put forward a package of their own and to seek approval over the heads of the parties from the “people” in a referendum. Labour’s huge parliamentary majority, the greater authority which it enjoys, while still in its honeymoon phase, and the fact of the votes in Scotland (and Wales) for devolved Assemblies, make this a possibility.

But, even if the government carried a referendum, a new Assembly set up without the approval of the local parties would have all the weaknesses but few of the strengths of an assembly established by agreement.

123. Complete break-down during this “peace process” is also possible. This would run the risk of a return to armed conflict on all sides and even of civil war. The power of what is in reality the British State, which is lifted above the conflict, might be capable of holding society together and carrying out a containment exercise for a further period. But there is a limit to its ability to do this. Drumcree II, and in a different way this July’s events, showed that once the sectarian conflict reaches a certain point it becomes uncontainable. The British army is not big enough or powerful enough to hold the two communities apart. The local coercive apparatus of the state, the RUC and RIR, have been “professionalised” to a point but beyond that point would become “unreliable” and would go over to the Protestant side of a conflict.

124. The British ruling class, throughout the Troubles would have preferred withdrawal and reunification as the best option. They have found it impossible to move even a centimetre in this direction and now recognise that there is no realistic prospect of putting such a policy into effect. Together with their counterparts in the South, they stake their immediate hopes on the peace process hoping that an agreed settlement will allow them to shelve the Northern Ireland problem for a whole period. If the process breaks down they will try to put something back together. In the last analysis they have the option of trying to impose something and then give it a democratic stamp in a referendum.

125. They are continuing with a policy of sops at the top, containment at the bottom, because they understand that should “politics” fail and should the centre in the form of the coercive machinery of the State no longer hold, civil war and repartition would result. We cannot guarantee that they will hold to this position indefinitely

126. The ruling class will be studying the lessons of this faltering “peace process” and the intractable light it has cast on the Troubles. If at some future point there is a complete breakdown and if they can come up with no policy, other than military repression in perpetuity, to prevent the division of society taking place from the bottom up, it is possible they may change their policy.

127. Bosnia stands as a reminder of the dislocation, suffering and immense personal and political cost of ethnic conflict. At the outset of the Northern Ireland peace process the Bosnian “catastrophe” helped promote the mood for accommodation and peace. Now that the fighting has died down the civil war can be seen to have had an end result. Rival factions were able to seize territory. What was achieved by force on the ground was then negotiated, under UN supervision, as a settlement. It is still a catastrophe but also a model of sorts, however grotesque, of how disputes over territory can be “resolved” by civil war.

128. In fact the “Bosnian model” is the unspoken final fallback position of all the sectarian forces at the talks table. They are not prepared to compromise on fundamentals and so if one side or the other cannot accept living in peace on the others terms the only alternative is to live apart. The ongoing process of repartition from below is a first step to the implementation of a Bosnian “solution”. Whether consciously or unconsciously those urging confrontation on July 10th were likewise pushing towards the implementation of this outcome.

129. It cannot be excluded that the Bosnian “solution” would, at some point, become the fall back for the British government also. We know that Labour in opposition discussed cantonisation plans, a hair brained idea at the time. But ideas which are bizarre at one juncture can sometimes find their historical place, It is possible that, if all else had failed the British ruling class might move to carry through repartition from the top, possibly policed, Bosnian style, by UN troops, in order to prevent the more damaging outcome of “unsupervised” repartition carried out by force from below.

130. The increase of sectarianism and rise of nationalism cannot be put down simply to an economic formula. Nonetheless the fundamental root of the discontent from which nationalism springs is the inability of society to provide a decent life or the promise of a secure future. Capitalism creates the poverty and the exploitation which fuels this discontent. It is ruled out that this system, now in an epoch of contraction and crisis, can provide a lasting answer.

131. There is no capitalist solution. The status quo cannot hold indefinitely. A capitalist united Ireland is an impossibility. The dramatic remedy of repartition would not be an end the matter but would be a step into the kind of morass which exists in the Middle East where the repartition of the West Bank has begun.

Conclusion Building the Socialist Party

132. Our role is to explain this and to warn of the road down which sectarian politics is leading. It is also to explain the alternative and to show, in realistic terms, how this alternative can develop.

133. Working class people draw conclusions from their experience and from what they see happening around them. Everyday experience of exploitation, of cuts and underfunding of services, and of the gross inequalities of society, breed anger and give support to our anti-capitalist ideas, our campaigns and interventions.

134. When it comes to the alternative – working class unity and the struggle for a socialist society – it is a much more difficult matter. Our alternative appears to be contradicted, not confirmed, by everything that is happening.

135. The defeats of the 1980s, the turn to the right of the political and industrial leaders of the old workers organisations internationally, and then the collapse of Stalinism, have made the market appear triumphant, while, to many, socialism is still something which has been tried and did not work.

136. Today the idea of class unity seems more improbable, more distant than ever. Even during the worst periods of the Troubles – the early 1970s for example – the sectarian divide was never as complete as now. Most important there was a powerful labour movement made up of thousands of workers whose united class consciousness generally overrode any sectarian outlook.

137. Politically the working class no longer have any voice. The NILP has gone. Even the smaller “left” groups such as the Communist Party and the Workers Party, which at one time had some influence, have all but disappeared. The formation of the Labour Coalition, which did rekindle hopes, has ended, so far, in disappointment.

138. In the past our call for the building of a new working class party was reinforced by the existence of the mass “left” parties in Europe and beyond and by the coming to power of “left” governments which did raise hopes of change. Now these parties have moved to the right and have become, or are in the process of becoming, bourgeois parties. Neither in Northern Ireland, nor internationally, are there parties which give weight to our call for class politics locally.

139. Trade unions also have been weakened by important defeats and are handicapped by a leadership which has followed the social democratic leaders to the right. The number of activists in the unions has declined and the age profile of the membership and of the activists has gone up significantly. The average age of a trade union member in Britain is now 46, that of an activist is higher.

140. Workers have remained members of the unions, but in most cases passively. Beyond the organised sectors a new industry of low paid, part time, casual or contract jobs has grown up, most of which are completely unorganised. It is more difficult to make our call for trade unions to play a leading role in combating sectarianism and building a socialist alternative, sound convincing.

141. To recruit in this more difficult climate we have to do more than show negatively that our criticisms and our warnings are correct. We have to convince the best people who come around us that this situation can change. We have to be able to explain how this change can come about, how support for class ideas can begin to redevelop.

142. Even now the forces of sectarianism do not have things entirely their own way. There exists among the working class a powerful instinct for unity which can never be entirely repressed.

143. This asserts itself to some extent at community level – despite the polarisation and despite the fact that much of the “cross community” organisation is bogus. EU funding, money from the US and the host of other grants available, has created an army of professional workers in the community field. Some of them are genuine activists but the majority are a community level bureaucracy who are to real community struggles what the lower levels of the trade union bureaucracy are to industrial struggles. Despite rather than because of these people, there does and will exist an irrepressible pressure from ordinary people, especially women, on both sides to reach across the peace lines.

144. The workplaces remain the one remaining stronghold of inter community integration. In dealing with the development of class consciousness Marx pointed out that it was the material condition of the working class, living and working together, which created a collective consciousness. In Northern Ireland workers do not live together, but the workplaces, especially the public sector workplaces, remain significantly mixed. This is a difference from what exists in Israel/Palestine for example.

145. Sectarianism, it is true, is a problem in the workplaces. At times of heightened tension there is a tendency for Protestants and Catholics to draw into separate groups, even while working under the same roof. But the common conditions of work, the issues of pay and conditions, always apply pressure in the opposite direction, towards unity and united action.

146. For those trying to divide the working class strictly along sectarian lines the integration in the workplaces remains a huge obstacle. It is likely that these forces will attempt to inject sectarianism into the offices and the shop floor. There are many issues, such as flags, employment quotas, the siting of factories, which can be used to sow division. Sectarian strikes have been called or attempted by both loyalists and republicans. In each case we can debate whether it was a conscious effort to break the unity in the workplaces, but there can be no doubt about the effect.

147. Sectarians will not find it easy to divide the workplaces. The fact that, throughout the whole period of the Troubles, sectarianism has been held in check on the shop floor, shows the gritty resilience of the working class and the powerful instinct to unity. The work-places were the springboards for the mass movements which have united the working class against sectarianism. They can be a springboard for future resistance to the ongoing repartition process.

148. World events will have a powerful bearing on what happens in Northern Ireland and on whether the tendency to sectarian polarisation is set into reverse. In Europe the working class are rediscovering the capacity to struggle. In Italy, France Belgium, Germany and other countries there have been mass movement and bitter struggles, some of which have been won. This is despite the low level and ageing composition of union memberships.

149. Every major struggle finds itself in collision with the class collaborationist policies of the union leaderships. This has been a feature in Britain where the Liverpool dockers have maintained their dispute despite the hindrance of T&GWU General Secretary, Bill Morris. Nowhere was the rotten role of the leadership more clearly marked than locally when the AEEU acted as an organising agency for scabs during the Montupet dispute, The future will see a change taking place within the unions as new activists, especially new layers of youth come forward. This may take the form of increasingly rank and file organisation and the setting up of structures which may be independent or semi-independent of the official union structures for a time.

150. These developments across Europe, but especially as they occur in Britain and the South, will have huge repercussions in the North. New activists who are drawn into struggle will find the political ideas of nationalism or of unionism less relevant and ultimately in contradiction to the conclusions which they begin to draw from struggle. This will be an important yeast for the rebirth of socialist ideas and organisation.

151. The Montupet strike, set against an extremely sectarian backcloth, showed the capacity of Catholics and Protestants to stand together. It would be an exaggeration to say that the old sectarian ties and allegiances were completely broken down, but for the duration of the strike they were put to the background and not allowed to interfere. Even though the outcome was a bad defeat, the experience has left an indelible mark on those who participated. A number have begun to draw class conclusions even in the absence of any broader developments in society to reinforce such ideas.

152. The coming period will see the emergence of new left political forces which will begin to fill the vacuum caused by the bourgeoisification of the old parties. The significant votes for smaller parties in many European countries, not least the votes for the Socialist Party in Dublin, is a beginning of this process.

153. At some point in Britain there will be a regroupment to the left of Labour, in which the Socialist Party is poised to play a significant role. In the South the Socialist Party can quickly grow into a significant national force. These developments will have an immediate impact in the North.

154. The emergence of anti-sectarian class ideas can only be in collision with unionism and nationalism and those who promote sectarian division. Given the degree of polarisation it is inevitable that the opening of class divisions will take place to some degree separately and at a different tempo in Catholic and Protestant areas.

155. These are people we must attempt to reach. This is why our understanding of what is taking place now is important. Unless, for example, we understand and point out the reactionary and sectarian aspect of the rise of nationalism in Catholic working class areas, we will not be able to reach the best people who will ultimately be repelled by the mono-cultural and mono-political straight jacket they are being asked to wear.

156. In the longer term it will take big events, big struggles, and big shifts of consciousness to build a mass challenge to sectarianism. In the initial stages a class alternative will probably take the form of an organisation which straddles the divide and draws support on an individual basis from both communities. But, given the powerful roots of Sinn Fein and the deepening roots of the PUP, the emergence of a mass working class party will necessarily come about through the opening of divisions within and winning over big sections of these parties and their supporters.

157. We are at the early stages of the building of a mass Socialist Party. Our struggle for political clarity and our efforts to work out how class ideas can re-emerge are the necessary foundations for our future work.

158. Today our attentions are paid to the winning of ones and twos. With limited resources we have to concentrate our work in those areas where we will get the best results.

159. The recruitment of youth must be the first priority. An influx of youth would be the best antidote to the tired attitudes which have inevitably been bred by years of difficult work. Among the fresh generation of youth are many who will be repelled by sectarian parties and politics. Many will be turned off politics altogether but there will be those who will be seeking out an alternative. We have to concentrate on the colleges, especially the technical colleges, and use issues such as university fees to gain contacts. We have to change things internally to produce an atmosphere and internal life in which young people can be consolidated and developed.

160. Trade union work is another priority area. As opportunities in the unions declined in recent years we have not carried out the kind of systematic union work we did in the past. We now need to elevate this work but in a somewhat different manner.

We should orientate more to the fresh individuals in the workplaces who we can reach either through direct intervention or through the various left structures, and less to those already active in the branch structures. The ones or twos recruited now to our position of organised opposition to the betrayals of the leadership, can become leaders of future rank and file movements to transform the unions.

161. An overarching strategic task is to raise the public profile of the Party. The demise of other forces has created a vacuum on the left, however small, which we must strive to fill. We need to take immediate steps to use our TD’s position in the South both to get ourselves known and to draw new recruits. We have not given up on the possibility of, through the Labour Coalition, winning the place at the talks which we should rightfully have had from the start.

Although much of the early potential from this has been lost it could still be a huge assistance in extending our influence and building the party.

162. Working in a period of developing sectarian reaction it is not surprising that our active membership has declined and that we have been forced to consolidate our branches, and apparatus. But our organisation is not just a set of structures. It is an historical current coalesced around a set of ideas. Our achievement in this difficult political environment has been to maintain, even enrich, our analysis and our independent class programme.

163. The political situation has been moved on by recent events and we need to update our analysis accordingly. The formulas we used, even two years ago, have to be re-examined and brought into line with the present.

164. Out of the current discussion we can develop a theoretical basis for the work of the next period. Once this is done we need to declare war on any jaded, cynical attitudes which have developed in the course the steps backward we have had to make. Our party must become based on the most active, positive and enthusiastic members. We must return to the method of setting realistic targets working out tasks and carrying these out in an effective, disciplined, revolutionary manner. Opportunities must be seized, the question of growth, of recruitment and consolidation must be faced with élan, with determination and with urgency.

Peter Hadden Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 20 February 2015