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Peter Hadden

Keeping the Red Flag Flying

(July 1999)

From Scottish Socialist Voice, No. 14, Vol. 2, 30 July 1999.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Peter Hadden is the Northern regional secretary of the Socialist Party, an all-Ireland party affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International. In the past few years the Socialist Party has emerged as a significant force in working class politics in Dublin with the election of a TD (the Irish equivalent of an MP). The party recently won its second councillor in Dublin and looks poised for further advances.

However in the North, the Socialist Party has worked under much more difficult conditions. Hadden, who has campaigned throughout the troubles for a non-sectarian socialist alternative, believes that the ideas he has defended for three decades remain just as relevant today.

“At the beginning of the troubles, we argued that the only way out was through working class unity on a socialist basis.

“We understood the reasons why young people joined the IRA. It was a reflex reaction to repression and injustice and to the fact that a broad movement, the Civil Rights Movement, didn’t seem to have succeeded.

“But we argued that it would be counter-productive and would set back the cause of socialism because it would divide the working class and drive Protestants into the arms of the most reactionary sections of unionism.

“We argued that the only way you could solve the national problem was through a programme which put forward the common interest of the working class people, Catholic and Protestant and the building of a struggle for socialism within both states.”

A struggle of that nature, Hadden believes, would have tended to merge together North and South ultimately leading to the reunification of the island on a socialist basis. In the more recent period, he argues, the national question has moved on. In 1968–69 there was a Northern Catholic minority which was oppressed by the British and the Protestant state.

“But we have had the collapse of the Protestant state, we have had demographic changes. We have now an Irish dimension with the involvement of Dublin, and an international dimension with the United States and Europe involved in the conflict.

“Today, there is still a sense among the Catholics that they will receive no justice within this state. But there is also a growing sense among Protestants that they are a minority and that they are losing the levers of power, that politics has moved beyond them.

“We think that has to be taken into account. It is now increasingly becoming a question of two minorities, both feel aggrieved, both feel they have rights – and they have been set on a collision course one against the other.

“So we think a socialist programme on the national question has to be taken into account. It has to recognise the rights of Catholics not to be discriminated against, the right to full equality, and to express their aspiration to a united Ireland and not to be coerced into a state that they don’t want to belong to.

“But we also uphold now, the rights of Protestants to say that if a united Ireland becomes one of the options, they have the right to decide they don’t want to participate.

“In other words, Protestants have the right not to coerced into a capitalist united Ireland. And even on a socialist basis, while the best solution is a socialist united Ireland, if Protestants were to say to us ‘would we be coerced into it? ’, we believe that in order to convince them of the need for a socialist solution, we would have to say ‘no’.”

But how viable would it be for Protestant neighbourhoods in areas like North Belfast which are surrounded by Catholics to opt-out? Hadden acknowledges that it would be extremely difficult and explains that the Socialist Party would not advocate such a solution.

“The best position would be to change society in the South and change society in the North as part of a wider movement across Europe and to establish a socialist Ireland which would have the maximum decentralization to local communities.”

But he argues that events in the Balkans and elsewhere underline the necessity for great sensitivity when dealing with the fears of national minorities.

“Yes it would pose massive problems and that’s why we would seek to convince Protestants of the benefits of a single socialist state across the island. But hypothetically, if we did not convince them, we would have to look at the practicalities of it. And sadly, the reinforcing of the divisions over the past four or five years actually simplifies the problem because most areas are already segregated.

“I believe you can have the peculiar and complex relations. When socialism does develop, it will be on very complex, difficult terrain. People will have all sorts of aspirations that will have to be catered for and complex arrangements will have to be made. It will not be a simple process.

“It would be better to have than to have a million Protestants recoiling towards reaction and towards civil war.”

Hadden is adamant that the peace process offers no long term solution. He argues that the ceasefires came about because the leadership of the republican movement realized it had reached a dead-end.

“The generation that fought the troubles has reached the point of exhaustion, which brought the, to the point of compromise. That may now take the armed expression of the sectarian division – in the shape of the IRA, UVF, UDA, etc. – out of the equation for a period of time.”

He believes we could now be seeing the end of the IRA.

“The Unionists say the republican movement will break its promise to decommission by next May, but I think that is nonsense. The IRA through Sinn Fein are publicly stating to their own constituency that they don’t want to use these weapons and the armed struggle is now defunct.

“You can’t switch people on and off, you can’t sneak into government then in a few months’ time say, ‘We’re not going to hand the weapons over.’ If they did that they would be pushed out of government and the SDLP would be pushed closer to the Unionists.

“Nor can they just decommission a few weapons. The state is well aware of how many weapons they have and what the weapons are.”

Hadden rejects the idea that the peace process will lead to a united Ireland. Or even a New Ireland.

“The Republican movement has given up 30 years of armed struggle for two ministerial posts in the Northern Ireland Assembly,” he says. “Sinn Fein will enter the government in the North, perhaps also into a coalition with Fianna Fail in the South and there may be some limited cross-border bodies, but it won’t be a new Ireland, it will be the same Ireland.”

Hadden also predicts that even if the gun is taken out of Irish politics, the sectarian divisions will remain. He argues that the peace process has paradoxically heightened sectarianism.

“In one sense, during the troubles, there were certainties about politics in Northern Ireland. Although there was a war, there was a measure of normality. But the declaration of the ceasefire created more instability because people no longer felt the security that they had done in the past.”

He says that politicians on both sides of the sectarian divide have whipped up sectarianism within their respective communities to strengthen their hands in the negotiations.

“The politicians may be coming together at the top, but communities have been pushed further apart at the bottom. There is more tension and more segregation. Sectarian intimidation has worsened and people have been driven out of their houses.

“The contradiction of the peace process is that politicians need to maintain the divisions on the ground because their whole political base rests on sectarianism. Yet while sectarianism is increasing at the bottom, the peace process will remain unstable at the top.”

Hadden acknowledges that parties like Sinn Fein and the PUP have deep roots in working class communities and believes that “whenever joint movements or joint struggles take place, these events will be reflected in the ranks of these parties.”

But he believes they are in essence sectarian parties

“who accept the division and have no concept of how to develop support across the religious divide.What we’ve argued is that common ground has to be built, and that working class people should march together under one banner, rather than under union jacks and tricolours.

“If there’s going to be a socialist political alternative it has to be constructed from outside of Sinn Fein, outside of the PUP, it has to be constructed by community activists, by trade unionists, by people like ourselves.”

Nonetheless, Hadden is not optimistic about the short term prospects for socialism and working class unity.

“The problem is there are no organisations left who represent politically the interests of the working class. In the Euro elections, out of the 700,000 who voted, only 14,000 backed parties that were neither unionist nor nationalist. No one voted for left parties because no left parties intervened.

“That is the reality after 30 years of sectarian upheaval and particularly after a peace process that has widened the sectarian gap. Socialism is now virtually at the point of extinction in a broad public sense and we thank that now has to be rebuilt.”

At this stage, he sees the Socialist Party as playing that role.

“But if in the future, other forces come forward from communities or trade unions and move in a political direction, we would support that, we would encourage it and discuss with these people broader alliances, and temporary electoral blocs, which possibly might lead to a broader political formation.

“We would combine on the basis of what we agreed upon while maintaining the right to argue over differences. But at this particular time, these other political forces simply do not exist in the North.”

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