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Peter Hadden

Northern Statement

(March 2005)

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 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 may have been 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. A new phase has opened in the conflict in the north. The situation is now more unstable, less predictable than at any recent time, with one dramatic development following another on a page-turning basis. To attempt to draw very definitive conclusions in the middle of these events is a bit like trying to review a film after watching only the title sequence.

2. The situation at present is in a state of flux with one accusation and revelation about the republican movement following fast on the heels on another. We have to try to analyse what is happening so we can have some idea where all this is headed and in order to assess what impact it will have on the movement of the working class and the consequences for the work of our party.

3. This does not mean that it is not worthwhile analysing events and drawing conclusions, provided we understand the limitations. If we do we can have the huge advantage politically of foresight over astonishment as was demonstrated at the end of last year when the talks collapsed.

4. But we have to do so somewhat tentatively at this stage. Until the dust thrown up by all this settles a little it is very difficult to draw clear conclusions. The one thing that is already certain is that these events will have far reaching consequences.

5. We will have to continue to monitor the situation and produce further and more extensive material as things becomes clearer. This statement is therefore merely an update that deals only with the most recent events and their consequences and draws what conclusions we can for our work.

6. The convenient explanation that these events were triggered by the Northern Bank robbery is quite wrong. This new turbulent phase actually began two weeks before that, on 8 December, when the talks aimed at restoring devolution, dramatically collapsed.

7. After 8 December there was no prospect of restoring the Assembly for at least a year, and only a slender hope after that. None of the parties would have been prepared to enter serious discussions before the May local elections and the Westminster election, which most likely will also take place in May.

8. After the elections it would be a short count down to the summer and the marching season. The earliest that real negotiations could have taken place was the Autumn, with every possibility that they would lead to another breakdown and a repeat of the current deadlock.

9. As soon as they walked away from the talks, amid the smoke of mutual recriminations about photographs and “sackcloth and ashes”, and before the Northern Bank raid and subsequent events, the governments and major parties were already looking to the elections, not to further discussions. Their upper-most concern was to see if the election results might give them a boost and therefore an edge in any subsequent negotiations.

10. All parties to future talks, if and when they take place, are now waiting to see if the elections confirm and continue the upward march of the DUP and Sinn Fein at the expense of the UUP and SDLP. The strategy of the British and Irish governments will, in part, depend on the outcome.

11. We will also have to evaluate the election results and assess the impact they will have on what remains of a “peace process”. It is possible that last year’s breakdown, the Northern Bank raid and its aftermath, and then the election and a possible rise in sectarian violence over the summer, could mark a decisive shift in the situation. Elements of this are clear at the moment but it is too early to say if a qualitative change has yet taken place and if the Assembly, Good Friday Agreement and associated baggage have been consigned to history.

Why the talks collapsed

12. These events have confirmed our general analysis of the “peace process” and of the overall character of the period we are in. This period began in the period of theoretical confusion that followed the collapse of Stalinism when great ignorance was passed off as great wisdom. That was the time when soothsayers of capitalism like Francis Fukayama declared the “end of history”.

13. That sentiment, translated to the national question and to situations of intractable conflict like Northern Ireland, was used to underpin the view that this was now a period of “conflict resolution”. We withstood all this and explained what the “peace process” actually represented. We explained that, left in the hands of right wing governments and right wing sectarian politicians, it would never succeed in bringing a lasting solution.

14. While we never ruled out the possibility of temporary deals here and there along the way, we argued that the main characteristic of this process was not an accommodation between the two communities but a creeping territorial war. We explained that what was being achieved was an unprecedented level of sectarian division that could be measured in geographical segregation, in a huge polarisation of attitudes as well as in bricks, petrol bombs, threats [one line missing] was more of a “repartition process” than the “endgame” which most commentators initially termed it.

15. With this understanding we were not caught off guard by the political manifestation of this division in recent elections. All elections in Northern Ireland are, to one degree or another, sectarian headcounts. But recent elections have resulted in an unprecedented political division into the two main sectarian camps.

16. The initial years of the peace process, just after the ceasefires and at the outset of the talks, saw a mushrooming of new political forces, the Women’s Coalition, briefly the Labour Coalition, and the PUP. Then came the years of sectarian division, with Drumcree as an annual centrepiece. Subsequent elections have seen the grinding down of the smaller “middle ground” parties and also of the once more substantial Alliance Party.

17. What emerged was two sectarian camps made up of the DUP and UUP on one side and the SDLP and Sinn Fein on the other, with very little left standing in between. Within these blocs there has also been the unmistakeably trend towards the hegemony of the DUP on one side and Sinn Fein on the other.

18. There were those who played down the significance of what was happening and argued that this did not represent a swing to the political extremes, but rather a shift by Sinn Fein and the DUP to the political centre. According to this line of argument, the leaders of both Sinn Fein and the DUP had their eyes so fixated on ministerial seats that they would cut a deal and, since, unlike the SDLP and UUP, they did not have to guard their backs against accusations of “sell out”, this would be the “deal to end all deals”.

19. There is no doubt that Sinn Fein would like to be part of a northern administration, seeing this as a boost to their electoral prospects and eventual ministerial ambitions in the south. DUP leaders, especially the leaders-in-waiting who are impatient to emerge from the political shadow of Paisley, are ambitious careerists who would like to be in power.

20. The subjective whims of politicians are not to be entirely discounted, but they are not the main factor is determining what will happen. The key factor is the division in society which both the DUP and Sinn Fein have helped widen and which their growth reflects.

21. For this reason we did not join in the media driven euphoria whipped up as soon as talks began last autumn, that it was already “a done deal”, that there would be a great deal of “posturing” and then the DUP and Sinn Fein would sign up.

22. On the other hand we did not exclude the possibility that some sort of deal could be worked out and that the Assembly might be restored for a period. We did however rule out that this would represent any real “accommodation” or provide the basis for any lasting settlement,

23. In any case it is a gross oversimplification to say that Sinn Fein and the DUP have moved to the centre ground and become the SDLP and UUP “Mark 2” respectively. Both these parties are peculiar formations; starting out from very different points on the political compass and, while it is true that both have moved some way along the road mapped out by the British and international establishment, it is also true that they have not yet evolved into stable bourgeois parties in the conventional sense.

24. The DUP started out as a political expression of clerical sectarian reaction. It has spiced its sectarian and religious demagogy with a measure of populism in order to gain a hold in protestant working class areas. Within it there are many elements – the clerical reactionaries around Paisley with their large rural support and a younger, more secular and more urban wing.

25. Its emergence as the predominant party of unionism means that it has also attracted a number of people from the UUP who previously would have kept their distance from what they would have regarded as the ogre of “Paisleyism”. There are undoubtedly those within it who would readily agree to share power, not just with the SDLP, but with Sinn Fein.

26. But the DUP is also a continuation of its history. Leading figures from both its clerical and its more secular wings have had links with paramilitaries like the early UVF and more recently the LVF and with various sectarian militias like the Ulster Clubs and Ulster Resistance that have emerged on the back of mass mobilisations of the Protestant community.

27. At this point the DUP want to keep all these forces at bay. During the recent talks they wanted to negotiate a deal that they could have allowed them to claim that they had tamed Sinn Fein and the IRA and had “secured the union”. However, should they feel the ground shift away from them as when Thatcher presented them with the Anglo Irish Agreement as a finished work, most leading members of the DUP would be prepared once again to flirt with extra parliamentary methods.

28. Sinn Fein has shifted ground considerably over the past two decades. The radicalism and the socialist phraseology of the early 80s is just a memory. One expression of this shift to the right has been the “Armani” trend of the key leaders who are now only too content to strut the boards set out for them by the US establishment in particular.

29. This does not mean that the Sinn Fein leaders have now acquiesced into a new role as well paid administrators of the status quo. There is an element of this in what they are doing and it is the direction the British ruling class, along with the Irish and US establishment, has been trying to entice and pressure them.

30. But there is another side to the new turn of republicanism. Perhaps the most significant change during the years following the 1994 ceasefires was the emergence of a strident and confrontational form of right wing nationalism which, at least for a period, developed a powerful grip on the Catholic community.

31. Sinn Fein was to the fore in promoting this and, in turn, has emerged as its political expression. The “war” in the sense of the war against the state, which was how the IRA volunteers saw their campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, is definitively over for this leadership.

32. It has not been replaced by acquiescence or accommodation but by a sectarian conflict, a war of attrition fought under fine sounding banners like “culture”, “rights”, “equality”, but which at bottom, stripped to its essence, is a sectarian war fundamentally over territory.

33. Sinn Fein’s strategy is not simply to exchange armalites for ministerial cushions and be done with that. Their aim is to be in government, north and south, and they see their role in a northern Assembly as important in giving them an electoral boost in the south. They would like to present themselves as the all-Ireland voice of nationalism and portray future participation in the two governments as a concrete step to a united Ireland. Insofar as they have a worked out strategy it is to push unionism in the north back politically and territorially so as to bring about a piece by piece deconstruction of the northern state.

34. Sinn Fein is not a purely political organisation. It is the political vehicle of republicanism and is interwoven with the IRA, the movement’s military wing. In terms of its former role in conducting a military campaign primarily against the state, the IRA is now redundant. But with regard to current strategy of republicanism and especially to the ongoing sectarian conflict it is far from redundant.

35. If Sinn Fein has been the vehicle for the political dominance by republicans of Catholic working class areas, the IRA has been their instrument of physical control. Separating these two aspects of republicanism is no easy matter. It goes far beyond opening arms dumps and decommissioning weapons that were for another war, now over.

36. The instinctive methods of republicanism are those characteristic of any “guerrilla” army that has found its way to power; not democratic methods, but coercion and repression to ward off political challenges and maintain control. The lofty sounding manifestos and glib sound bites that are the public face of Sinn Fein have less sophisticated roots in the arm twisting and gangster methods of the IRA in the communities.

37. There is a clear contradiction between the direction the Sinn Fein leadership has been pulled by Imperialism and both their history and their present methods. Ultimately, if they were able to sit in government, north and south, sign up to policing bodies and implement right wing economic policies, and were to maintain this over a period, this contradiction would be resolved either by a split or by the leadership successfully standing down the IRA. But this point has not been reached and will not be reached.

38. A deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP would not have lasted. The ongoing conflict on the ground, of which both these parties are an expression, would have torn it apart probably sooner rather than later. It is interesting that in the final days of the talks, when an outline agreement had been reached, and most commentators expected a deal, there was little of the euphoria that had surrounded the Good Friday Agreement.

39. In this more sober atmosphere some journalists even drew conclusions similar to our own; that any deal would be little more than the DUP and Sinn Fein agreeing that one would “look after” the Catholics, the other the Protestants, or, in other words that it would be a recipe for the Balkanisation of Northern Ireland. Seamus Mallon, former SDLP Deputy Chief Minister in the old Assembly, also used this formulation, conveniently forgetting that it was the “Balkanisation” already brought about under the similar deal between his party and the UUP that provided the wellspring for the growth of Sinn Fein and the DUP.

40. When the talks failed, the British government published the terms of the “almost agreement” hoping this would create public pressure on the DUP and Sinn Fein to implement it. The details of what had been agreed reveal an unwieldy and unworkable arrangement. Concessions to the DUP, ostensibly to provide checks on what previously were completely unaccountable ministers, but really to introduce elements of majority rule, are interwoven into the power sharing arrangement that divvies up ministerial positions between the sectarian blocs.

41. As a concession to Sinn Fein the government agreed to remove the power of suspension. The Assembly would have been a sectarian tug of war with unionist MLAs challenging and confronting their Sinn Fein ministerial colleagues and vice versa. When some issue – whether the policing of a parade, the closure of a hospital, or any of a hundred and one possible banana skins – resulted in the inevitable sectarian deadlock, but this time with the suspension mechanism gone, the only alternative would be the fall of the government and a new election. A new election fought amid the fallout from the collapse of the Executive would most likely produce only more of the same but worse.

42. There is no prospect of a lasting settlement on the basis of capitalism. There can be deals, agreements, even a series of agreements but, because they cannot resolve the underlying basis of the conflict, these can only be episodic in nature and will come apart.

43. The basis of the national conflict is the opposition of the vast majority of Protestants to a capitalist united Ireland and the long term impossibility of permanently reconciling Catholics, especially working class Catholics, to the existence of a state which has offered them discrimination, oppression and poverty.

44. The British ruling class has intervened to prevent this conflict over spilling towards civil war, first by leaning on the Protestant majority while attempting to contain and defeat the revolt that developed in the Catholic community and then, during the peace process, by trying to reach an “inclusive” agreement that was fundamentally based on an attempt to sign up the Sinn Fein leadership to acceptance of the status quo.

45. Successive British governments, despite the occasional fanfares that surrounded agreements and “breakthroughs”, have never been able to go beyond a holding operation. In the absence of agreement, government policy effectively becomes the endless search for an agreement, the use of interminable on off negotiations and the prospect of negotiations as a cover for direct rule.

46. This can go on for some time, but not indefinitely. Demographic changes such as the “greening” of the west and the overall increase in the Catholic population have had an impact, increasing nationalist confidence and adding to unionist insecurity and unease. The process can be very protracted but, unless it is definitively cut across by a movement of the working class and the creation of a working class political alternative, the underlying direction is towards conflict, not peace. It is this which is likely to determine where Sinn Fein or some offshoot of Sinn Fein that retains its working class roots will end, not just the whims of its leaders. And likewise the DUP.


47. The failure to complete the deal that the two governments thought was all but done has led to a shift in their strategy. They were faced with the certainty of a year’s delay before there would again be even the possibility of an agreement. What had happened showed that, even then, a deal would be very hard to achieve, and impossible without a further movement by republicans on arms.

48. So the governments speedily positioned themselves to put pressure on Sinn Fein. Most of the blame for the ending of the talks was placed on the republican movement for their refusal to allow photographic evidence of decommissioning. The cold shouldering of Sinn Fein had begun before the Northern Bank raid took place.

49. The raid gave the government an opportunity to dramatically tighten the screws on the Sinn Fein and IRA leadership. When they thought there was still life in the peace process both the Westminster and Dublin governments had turned a partial blind eye to the criminal activities of the IRA.

50. When a million pounds was stolen from the MACRO store on the edge of West Belfast, a robbery their intelligence agencies told them was carried out by the IRA, they did little more than shrug their shoulders. Similarly with the cigarette heists at Gallagher’s and across the border.

51. The difference with the Northern Bank robbery was not just the amount of money stolen. It came at a very different moment in the talks process when the governments had already decided to put the Sinn Fein leaders out in the political cold for a period.

52. Following the robbery it is not just a question of trying to pressurise Sinn Fein, The governments seized on it as a chance to try to inflict the maximum damage on them electorally. In the south, Fianna Fail in particular has a very direct interest in checking Sinn Fein whose continued electoral advance is likely to be largely at their expense.

53. The Southern government began to prepare for their current massive offensive against Sinn Fein by starting to seriously probe and amass information on their activities after the last election. Those like “Justice” Minister, Michael McDowell, who was uncomfortably restrained by his colleagues’ concern not to disrupt the talks, is almost gleeful in his vendetta now that the restraints are gone.

54. A reverse for Sinn Fein in the Westminster and local elections, might give the British government the added option of setting up the Assembly and Executive without them.

55. Hence the press conference by Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, placing the blame for the robbery on the IRA. Hence the accusations and denunciations by both governments.

56. If the SDLP were to regain its position as the major party of nationalism, the government might consider calling another Assembly election in the hope that the new parliamentary arithmetic would remove Sinn Fein’s effective veto and allow the SDLP and DUP to discuss a deal. If this goal remains unachievable and Sinn Fein retain their position as the first party of northern nationalism, the intention is to pile as much hostile pressure on the republican movement as possible in the hope that this will give them little option but to jettison the IRA.

57. On its own, the Northern Bank robbery is not likely to have a huge impact on Sinn Fein’s vote in the North. Banks are viewed by most working class people as bigger and more sophisticated robbers than the gang who got away with £26.5 million.

58. In the South, where the national question is less a factor in reinforcing their support, it, or revelations about other financial rackets, could have a greater effect especially if proof were provided that even the Teflon leadership of republicanism could not brush off. But an election is someway off and other issues can emerge which can dim the memory and impact of this raid.

59. The governments are now intent on piling the maximum pressure and inflicting the maximum amount of damage on Sinn Fein. We cannot rule out that they have further serious revelations about IRA criminality up their sleeve, which they have sat on while they were trying to entice the republican leadership but which they may now drip feed to the press right up to the next southern general election. We therefore have to be somewhat open about their electoral prospects.

60. Other issues can also emerge to blemish the image that Sinn Fein try to project of themselves. Potentially more serious for them in the north than the Northern Bank is the brutal murder of Robert McCartney. His killing caused a wave of anger and revulsion, especially in the Short Strand, where he lived and in the near-by Markets area. The identities of the IRA members who murdered him are common knowledge in both these areas as is the fact that the IRA has attempted to intimidate witnesses into silence.

61. Although this killing was not an IRA operation the fact that IRA members carried it out and that – at the time of writing – the IRA has tried to cover their tracks has caused enormous anger in districts that have been Sinn Fein strongholds. People have compared the horrific nature of this attack to the horrors that the Shankill Butchers inflicted on their victims.

62. This incident is an extreme example of the way in which sections of the republican movement have come to assume they can act as overlords of working class areas and the brutal, autocratic methods some are prepared to use. The backlash has gone beyond the immediate incident to focus on these methods. In an unprecedented development “PIRA scum out” graffiti has appeared in the Short Strand.

63. This killing could have an effect on Sinn Fein’s support in certain areas. Their East Belfast council seat is largely based on their vote in the Short Strand and could be lost. It is possible that the republican movement will be forced to take some action against those responsible in order to try and limit the fallout from this killing.

64. Whatever happens, the reaction by the McCartney family and the community has given a vivid example of how future movements of the working class can isolate the paramilitary organisations and break whatever stranglehold they have over the working class communities.

65. However, despite the angry reaction to killing and despite the revelations that have followed the Northern Band robbery it is still not likely that Sinn Fein will be significantly damaged in the May elections. The lack of any viable alternative in Catholic working class areas is an important factor. The SDLP barely exists as a party on the ground and its most prominent leaders have either retired or are on the verge of retirement.

66. Even if the electoral rise of Sinn Fein is slowed or halted there is little or no chance of the SDLP regaining its position as the biggest nationalist party. It is also still more likely that the SDLP will lose ground, at least in the Westminster election.

67. They are very likely to lose at least one of their Westminster seats to Sinn Fein. Without the Northern Bank/Robert McCartney etc. they could well have faced a meltdown, losing all three of the seats they now hold.

68. This is still possible although a shift of middle class votes back to the SDLP may allow them to hold one or two of their seats. The key contest will be in Derry where SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, will defend John Hume’s former seat. If he should lose it to Sinn Fein, despite all that has happened, this could spark a crisis that could mark the beginning of the death agony of the SDLP as a major political force.

69. On the unionist side the DUP are likely to at least maintain their distance over their UUP rivals. Like the SDLP, the UUP could also face Westminster meltdown. And should party leader, David Trimble, lose his seat to the DUP, as is possible, his party would also face a major crisis.

70. Elections are always an imperfect snapshot of consciousness and difficult to predict. However, despite the efforts of the government backed by the media to produce a favourable result, it is unlikely that the SDLP will make up ground on Sinn Fein, while the exposure of the IRA only adds to the discomfort of the UUP, making them even more open to the DUP charge that they sat in government with “terrorists” and “criminals”.

71. So long as Sinn Fein remain the leading nationalist party the terms of the Good Friday Agreement give them a veto over any political arrangement. SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, claimed that Tony Blair has tried to convince him to take the SDLP into a voluntary coalition with the unionist parties without Sinn Fein. Unless his party manage to overtake Sinn Fein at the polls this proposal would be an act of political suicide on his part and is a non-starter.

72. If as, is more likely, Sinn Fein and the DUP emerge from the election as the two main parties the only way that the new Westminster government would be able to make progress would be by forcing further and more significant concessions from the republican leadership. Sinn Fein are likely to find their former “friends” in the capitalist political establishment arraigned against them in a consensus that the IRA must disband before they can participate in talks.

Where now for the republican movement?

73. The next period will test how far the republican leadership are prepared to or are able to move in this direction. This is a major crisis for the republican movement. Their recent strategy has come up against its limits and, with the overall situation now in flux, they will have no clear idea how to proceed.

74. One of the abiding myths of the peace process is the idea that the present leadership of Sinn Fein and the IRA worked out a political and “peace” strategy at the start of the 1980s and have spent more than twenty years trying to bring the republican movement along behind them intact.

75. The real truth is that the current leaders have groped their way blindly through this period. They have had no clear strategy or consistent direction. They have reached their present position by zig-zaging empirically from one failed strategy to another.

76. They became the de facto leadership of the IRA because they opposed the ceasefire that had been imposed by the southern based leadership in 1975. Yet, by the end of that decade, the military campaign that they vowed to continue was at the point of exhaustion.

77. At the beginning of the 1980s they opposed the decision taken by IRA prisoners to go on hunger strike against the attempt by the prison authorities to break them, arguing that a strike would be defeated. Thatcher did sit out the hunger strikes and, on the immediate issue of prison conditions, the prisoners were defeated. But this was at the cost of alienating virtually the entire Catholic community and giving the republican movement a, to them, unexpected boost.

78. Through the hunger strikes and the accidental factor of the death of an MP and a by election in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, they stumbled on a political tactic. There was nothing thought out about the decision to develop Sinn Fein as a political force – it was thrust upon them by the victory of Bobby Sands, and then of other hunger strike candidates.

79. This led to the so-called “ballot-bomb” strategy. The political offensive, north and south, was supposed to go hand in hand with a military offensive, the “big push” of the mid-80s. At the time we argued that the attempt to mix the, ultimately, exclusive secretive and elitist methods of individual terrorism with mass political action, would not succeed.

80. By the late 80s it was also clear to the republican leadership that these two supposedly complementary aspects of their struggle were in fact mutually exclusive. Their whole strategy, up to this point was based on a false political premise, their view that British Imperialism wanted to retain their hold on Northern Ireland at all costs.

81. In fact, at least from the mid-1960s, the British ruling class had come to the conclusion that their best interests would be served by withdrawing, allowing capitalist reunification and attempting to dominate the whole island by economic, rather than by military or political means. This was their intent but they could not take a single step in this direction because of the threat of civil war. The underlying irony of the entire IRA campaign was that by, stoking up Protestant anger, it increased the danger of civil war and made it less possible for Britain to pull out.

82. The republican leadership misinterpreted the Anglo Irish Agreement reached between the Thatcher government and that of Garret Fitzgerald, believing it indicated a shift in Britain’s policy whereas it was little more than a restatement of what their policy had been all along. The real purpose of this agreement was to encourage “constitutional” nationalism, isolate the IRA and leave them more vulnerable to repression.

83. The republican leadership, showing the disadvantage of astonishment over foresight, did not understand what was happening and, overestimating the change in British thinking, were worried that they could be outflanked by the SDLP who would be seen to be achieving results while their military methods would be seen to have achieved nothing.

84. The government sensed a shift in republican thinking and so offered them the olive branch of inclusion in the political process, rather than repression and exclusion. So the Sinn Fein leadership entered the peace process on the false assumption that a “change” in Britain’s position now meant that a door to a united Ireland by political means had been opened.

85. Sinn Fein’s strategy through the peace process has been based on a complete misanalysis of the situation. This is the idea that, with the British now recast in the role of “persuaders” of the Protestants and no longer the underwriters of the status quo, Protestant resistance would eventually implode. Reunification could be brought about by stealth and by degree through the political strengthening of nationalism, the relative decline of the Protestant population, and pressure on the ground to gradually erode the remnants of the northern state.

86. The pushing back of the Protestant community has not lessened opposition to a united Ireland. Instead, the growing insecurity and sense that their community is in economic, territorial and political retreat has undermined support for the Good Friday Agreement: Rather than induce submission, it has produced the growing hegemony of the DUP.

87. Last year’s talks failure brought the Sinn Fein leadership. face to face with the limits of their current strategy. There is no possibility of an accommodation with unionists in the north that would in any shape or size act as a stepping stone to eventual reunification.

88. Nor can the status quo hold indefinitely. The relative strengthening of nationalism and the ongoing sectarian conflict over territory, point neither to reconciliation nor to a united Ireland, but to protracted upheaval and eventual repartition.

89. Having reached a dead end the republican leadership now face a hard choice of what direction to take. Things cannot continue as before with one polished shoe walking the corridors of power while the other carries on with the business of physically maintaining control of areas, widening the sectarian division and conducting racketeering on a grand scale.

90. The two IRA statements issued in the aftermath of the Northern Bank accusations warned of “serious consequences” if the IRA was ignored. This does not mean that the republican movement has any intention of resuming the armed struggle. The campaign began in earnest in the early 1970s when state repression, especially the introduction of internment and then, five months later the Bloody Sunday atrocity, drove thousands of young working class Catholics into the IRA.

91. That came on the back of a mass struggle, the civil rights campaign, which was perceived to have failed. Thousands of youth drew the incorrect conclusion that the methods of individual terrorism would be more effective. The ceasefire came about in 1994 after a quarter century of military struggle had not succeeded in bringing about change. There is no basis for a resumption of that campaign now. There is no mass movement of youth looking to the bomb and the bullet as a means of hitting back. Nor is there any mood in the Catholic community to tolerate a return to war.

92. Having issued a verbal warning it cannot be entirely excluded that, in the context of serious attempts to return to a policy of political exclusion, the IRA might go beyond words and carry out some high profile military operation. This would not signal a return to a long campaign which, with their experienced activists now ten years older than at the time of the ceasefire, they are in no position to sustain. Like, the Canary Wharf bomb, planted during an early impasse, any such operation would be a tactical exercise, a “negotiating” bomb intended to force their re-entry into negotiations.

93. An operation of this sort is not excluded but it would a high risk strategy. In the post-9/11 world it would invite comparisons with AI Qaeda which republicans would not want to see drawn. This time the state might sit tight and call their “bluff” leaving the IRA the option either to enter into further military activity which would destroy their political strategy and which could end in a military failure akin to the 50s border campaign, or else to retreat and restore the ceasefire, having gained nothing.

94. A return to war is not a realistic option. But there are no other easy options on offer either. There is no way that Sinn Fein will be allowed to enter negotiations let alone government unless they either disband the IRA or emerge as a political force separated from the IRA. The governments were prepared to allow them into the process ten years ago because republicans had something to offer – the ending of the IRA military campaign.

95. The campaign has now ended and both governments estimate – correctly – that the IRA does not have the capacity to go back to war. They shrugged their shoulders at the recent IRA statements, dismissing them as empty bluster. This leaves the republican leadership with very little bargaining power to use to try to force the establishment to step back from their current “no disbandment – no deal” stance.

96. They will probably try to wriggle a way through this but the ground for such manoeuvring has narrowed to the point that it now barely exists and the basic choice will keep representing itself.

97. The hard truth is that the republican leadership have backed themselves into a cui de sac facing pressures they had not anticipated and with no clear idea what to do. In this situation we cannot say with any degree of certainty what direction they will take. We cannot even rule out absolutely that the IRA will be disbanded although this is not likely, especially in the short term.

98. Even if a section of the republican leadership would be prepared to contemplate this, achieving it would be a different matter. Disbanding the IRA is an altogether more difficult proposition than opening dumps and decommissioning weapons and explosives that the IRA have no intention of using.

99. The IRA is still active on a day to day basis conducting its own “policing” of many working class areas. The continuation of the sectarian conflict, with ongoing attacks, means that most IRA members see themselves in the role of “defenders” of the Catholic community.

100. To disband while this conflict continues and the threat of attack remains would, to many, be seen as equivalent to the actions of the IRA leadership of the 1960s who sold off most of the movement’s weapons following the defeat of the border campaign. Many can recall or have heard passed down about, the “IRA = I Ran Away” graffiti which appeared following the attacks by Protestants and the burning of whole streets in West Belfast which took place in August 1969

101. Disbandment would also be much more than the running down of a paramilitary machine – and not a single paramilitary group has decided to disband itself during the whole course of the Troubles – it would mean an end to the republican movement as it has existed and functioned for decades.

102. Beyond its military uses the IRA is a vast money making machine, which working class people are now beginning to refer to as the “RA-fia”. It’s “assets” include legally run pubs, hotels and businesses as well as the illegal smuggling and other rackets and the proceeds of robberies. It would be a difficult task to unravel the various strands of all of this let alone to “disband” it.

103. In pursuing their political strategy the republican leadership had probably left open the possibility that – they could eventually get rid of the IRA but only when they were in government and able to implement their programme, including their programme for policing. Their aim then might have been to gradually phase down the IRA, since their ministerial positions gave them an alternative means of policing the communities and opened the door to alternative sources of influence and money.

104. If this was their intent it was never going to happen in that way. An assumption that they could implement policies in government that would go anyway to satisfying the demands for change of the Catholic working class, or convince the majority of the Catholic working class that the threat of sectarian attack was gone or that the historic task of republicanism of ending partition was now underway, is completely naive. If they held office for a period the main effect would be erode their working class support, as disillusionment and then opposition to their policies grew and developed.

105. In any case there is no prospect of an agreement that would create institutions that would last long enough or exist in a settled enough form to allow the republican movement to gradually wind down its military arm. That would assume a peaceful and stable outcome whereas the reality of any new assembly would be the heightening of sectarian tension and division, in part whipped up by both unionist and nationalist politicians to cover their own failure to deliver.

106. If they ever had any intent of fully transforming the IRA into a political movement and dispensing with its other activities they needed visible achievements from their political strategy to convince the ranks to either go along or else go away.

107. Hence the conundrum now taxing the republican leadership – they need a successful political strategy to even consider eventual disbandment but without disbandment their political strategy to now is in tatters. There is no easy solution to this. It was one thing to convince IRA volunteers that, in the context of developing all Ireland bodies, Sinn Fein ministers in government north and south, the right of northern MPs to speak in the Dail and other creeping constitutional changes, the political strategy, not the armed struggle, is the way to reunification.

108. It is another thing entirely to convince them to dismantle the military and financial apparatus in return for a promissory note that the Assembly will be restored and that the southern establishment will be prepared to do business with them, but only after they put themselves through a long period of “decontamination” in an isolation unit jointly designed for them by Ian Paisley and Michael McDowell!

109. Even if they were to disband the IRA and even if they could “decontaminate” themselves enough to convince the DUP to let them into government, this would not secure the leadership’s political strategy. The significance of the move, and the way this would be played up by the media, might allow a certain honeymoon but this would quickly be eroded by the failure of an Assembly to deliver any real change for working class people.

110. If they got back into power Sinn Fein, like the unionists, would play the religious card to try to keep the Catholic community behind them by deflecting attention from their right wing policies and turning their attention to other issues. As they did in the now collapsed Assembly they would play the politics of the “colour of Easter lilies. ”

111. Their role through the peace process has been to whip up nationalism and sectarianism when it has suited. When the sectarian anger that they have helped stir up has threatened to get out of hand, they have also taken measures to try to contain and quell it. The IRA has been their main instrument in doing this.

112. Unless the disillusionment and anger at the policies of a new Executive that included Sinn Fein took a class form, it could well express itself in a redevelopment of sectarianism. One aspect of this would likely be the recomposition of republican activists who were formerly part of Sinn Fein and the IRA, along with others, into a new and more hard line variant of republicanism.

113. If the restraint of the central discipline of the IRA was removed, the possibility that some local conflict would spin out of control would become inherent. The position of Sinn Fein ministers, if they had to intervene to stop protests and had to do so hand in glove with the DUP and using the. PSNI as their instrument, would very quickly become untenable. With or without the IRA, a power sharing arrangement between Sinn Fein and the DUP, or between any other representatives of right wing nationalism and right wing unionism, will not bring a solution.

114. Adams, McGuinness and co may consider other options short of IRA disbandment to try to get themselves off the hook. They might try to “disband without disbanding”!, to make public gestures in that direction but maintain the IRA with a profile so low that unionist and government radar will not detect it.

115. This will be virtually impossible under the current circumstances. They might have got away with something like this before the talks collapsed and before the Northern Bank, the McCartney killing and the allegations of money laundering on a vast scale.

116. The problem now is that the DUP and government radar has now been so sensitively tuned that even if the IRA did not exist they would probably still detect it.

117. Another option that has been suggested is that the Sinn Fein leadership will walk away from the IRA in the same way as the parliamentary leadership of the Workers Party severed their links with the Official IRA by splitting off to form the now defunct Democratic Left.

118. The idea of a split of this character has been raised since the start of the peace process. It is based on a false understanding of the nature of the republican movement and what has been happening within it.

119. Within Sinn Fein there is a layer of careerists – “New Sinn Fein” – mostly more recent recruits who have never had any involvement in the IRA. Their role is to provide a more “respectable” face and little more than that. Some may have a high public profile but they carry little weight within the republican movement as a whole and they do little more than read the scripts that are provided for them.

120. Some of these people may now be having second thoughts about whether they joined the right party. If things get hotter some may consider breaking away but, on their own, they would represent very little indeed. Their political life expectancy would be even less than the brief existence that Democratic Left was able to enjoy.

121. A split that involved Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness severing their ties with the army council would be a different and much more serious and much more damaging matter. The idea of a split of this character has been raised since the start of the peace process.

122. The notion of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness ploughing a single minded and courageous “peace strategy”, but with every step restricted by the need to bring along the “hard men”, is an oversimplification and very largely wishful thinking on the part of those who would like it to be that way. There are undoubtedly tensions within the republican leadership but there is no clear water separating its military and its political aspects.

123. Adams and McGuinness breaking away from the rest of the army council would not be a division between existing political and military “wings” but would mean a deep division in the IRA. Sinn Fein and the IRA are not just two sides of the one coin; more often they are merely different reflections of the same side. Within the working class communities the activist base of these two organisations is inextricably interwoven.

124. The current IRA leadership has supported the political strategy and the positions taken by that section of its leadership who have been involved in the negotiations. A large majority recognised ten years ago that the “long war” was over. They were prepared to suffer a split with those recalcitrant dissidents who wanted to continue the “struggle” under-standing that “their day” would not come.

125. A split over whether or not the IRA should continue to exist would be a more serious prospect. Just as the IRA leadership as a whole see the work of Sinn Fein as an essential part of their strategy so the political leadership work through the republican activist base in the communities. If they were to lose that base whether by dissolving it or by breaking from it in order to enter into an agreement with the DUP they would be left perilously exposed.

126. In any case a peaceful split would be virtually ruled out as there would be no amicable agreement on where the huge assets of the republican movement would end up. This plus personal security considerations might well bring about an ironical situation that those who split to pursue a purely political path with no armed wing might need to maintain an armed wing in order to be able to do it!

127. There is no easy course for the republican movement. They are under the combined pressure of the establishment as well as people in local communities and we have to be somewhat open about where they will end up.

128. Their most likely immediate response will be to sit tight and attempt to ride out the storm. While doing this they will most probably lean back to their base in the working class communities in order to marshall and mobilise them around their version of these events. They will adopt the familiar posture of victims and place the blame for everything on the “securocrats”.

129. This has already begun. A series of public meetings, but closed to the press, have been called to discuss the “criminalisation strategy” with senior Sinn Fein speakers. In order to create a bunker mentality in the Catholic areas the governments are accused of trying to criminalise, not just Sinn Fein, but the entire “nationalist” community,

130. In pointing out the double standards of the governments and the establishment who are using the revelations and allegations that they were previously prepared to sit on for political purposes to damage Sinn Fein, they have a point. It is also true that the conviction of Sinn Fein by the media and on the unquestioned word of senior police officers is an abuse of power by the state and creates a dangerous precedent.

131. Just as the individual terror campaign of the IRA gave the state the excuse to introduce repressive measures many of which are still there for possible future use against the working class movement, so the gangster methods of republicanism have given the excuse for political fines and sanctions against political parties which, at a later stage, they might try to use against socialist organisations, for example those who organise mass civil disobedience such as non payment of taxes and charges.

132. The attempt to deflect attention from themselves and onto the state can have a certain impact because it plays on the deep sense of alienation felt in the Catholic working class communities and because, within the propaganda spin and plain lies, there is also a kernel of truth. But half a truth is still a distortion, in this case a conscious distortion. The idea that republicanism is not involved in robberies and money making rackets on a grand scale will not wash generally.

133. The other response of the republican movement could well be to play the green card and whip up sectarianism. It is now in their interest to reinforce the sense among the Catholic working class that they are second class citizens who, along with Sinn Fein, are to be excluded, ignored and overlooked.

134. In the past they have created a sense of beleaguerment by stirring up feelings over issues like parades. However, during the last few summers their main focus was on the talks and the possibility of an agreement. They did what they could to keep a lid on things and intervened to try to stop local conflicts over parade routes from over-spilling into violence that would have derailed their attempt to cut a deal firstly with Trimble and then with the DUP.

135. Their role this summer may be very different. The one foundation of their support that remains secure is the fact of the sectarian division and the fear of sectarian attack that hangs over many Catholic working class communities. In the absence of any alternative people in these areas feel they have to look to the republican movement.

136. When sectarian tensions rise, as they do to a greater or lesser extent every summer, questions such as bank robberies and even the methods used by republicans in the communities, tend to recede. The greater the tension the further into the background they are likely to be pushed.

137. This does not mean that every attempt by republicans – or by unionists and loyalists – to whip up sectarian tension is guaranteed to succeed. Under certain conditions it can have the opposite effect. It can act as the whip of counter revolution and, rather than provoke a sectarian reaction, can prompt the working to unite and take action against sectarianism in general.

138. The credibility of the republican movement has been tarnished, especially over the McCartney killing. It is possible that a crude attempt by them to stir up sectarianism could jar with the mood in the Catholic community and backfire. We have to be prepared to intervene on these questions, opposing sectarianism on all sides and presenting a class alternative.

Prospects for the class movement

139. It is only the working class united in struggle for a socialist solution who can overcome the sectarian division and then, through the overthrow of capitalism and the reconstruction of society along socialist lines, who can finally draw a line under the national question.

140. Given the dramatic events that are now unfolding our first task is to access the impact of the ongoing political stalemate, the crisis of republicanism and the changing strategy of the ruling class. But we can’t leave it at this. We also have to assess the capacity of the working class to find a way out of this situation.

141. The first years of the “peace process” were years of heightened sectarian tension. The working class movement was pushed back by this and by other factors, international factors included, and the latent but powerful unity of the working class which was the main factor in preventing things spiralling out of control during the Troubles, became frayed and weakened.

142. In the more recent period the sectarian polarisation has remained, even intensified, but the tempo of the conflict has waned. In part this is down to a partial exhaustion of the sectarian forces and a drawing back by the broader mass of working class people who recoiled from the prospect of full scale sectarian conflict.

143. It was also down to a certain redevelopment of the class struggle and the emergence of issues that served to unite rather than divide workers. Whereas the complicated international juncture of the 1990s and the setbacks suffered by the workers movement had a negative effect through much of that decade and added to the vacuum in which sectarian reaction was able to develop, in more recent years international issues coming to the fore have had the effect of pushing sectarianism to the background.

144. The anti capitalist movement worldwide had a certain impact on the consciousness of a small but important layer of the youth, pushing them towards radical and, for a small layer, towards socialist ideas. The invasion and then occupation of Iraq has had a much greater impact.

145. Tens of thousands were mobilised in the various protest actions against the war. The most significant mobilisations were the two school student strikes which we organised through Youth Against the War. The first of these was the largest, bringing out about 15,000 students from both Catholic and Protestant schools right across Northern Ireland.

146. When it was able to mobilise large numbers the anti war movement cut across the sectarian divide. Unfortunately the crass nature of the SWP and others in the leadership meant that when the broad mass withdrew from the protests it tended to have a much more one sided image and appeal.

147. Although the mass movement subsided when the war started, the earlier strikes and demonstrations together with the brutal quagmire that has resulted in Iraq, have had a big effect on consciousness. Some of those whose first step on the road to political activity was their participation in the school strikes two years ago are now beginning to draw socialist conclusions.

148. After a long period in which there were no strikes of any significance a number of important disputes have taken place in the last two or three years. These include a series of disputes in education, the firefighter’s pay battle, last year’s protracted civil service dispute, the important struggle of the airport security workers, first against their employer and then against both the employer and their union, among others.

149. All these struggles have been significant in that they have gone beyond those directly involved, drawing support from other, workers and from the working class communities. This was particularly so in the case of the firefighters where the massive public support cut right across the sectarian divide, a unity that was symbolised by the support march across the peace line from the Shankill onto the Falls.

150. These movements represent the beginnings, but only the beginnings, of a new period of resistance by the working class to the neo liberal policies of the Blair government at home, as well as its international role as an agent for US imperialism. Coming after a long period marred by setbacks and defeats this first wave of industrial struggle has had a hesitant and partial character.

151. On virtually every occasion the trade union leadership has played a rotten role and has been a major factor in preventing strikes or, in the case of struggles that did take place, preventing them from developing and taking on a more general character.

152. This was true of the civil service dispute which had the capacity to develop into the most important strike in Northern Ireland in decades; a struggle which, won or lost would have left a huge imprint on society as a whole. This did not happen because the right wing NIPSA leadership refused to escalate the dispute and, instead, allowed the anger and militancy of thousands of low paid civil servants to be run into the sand.

153. In general the top trade union officialdom now act as agents for the government and, in some cases, for the ruling class within the working class movement. Even the “left” general secretaries who were elected in the main British unions have shown themselves to be very little different in practice from the right wingers they replaced.

154. There are exceptions – the PCS leadership in Britain and the FBU Northern, Ireland leadership – but these are unions in which the Socialist Party has a considerable influence. They are exceptions which confirm the general rule.

155. Yet, despite the limiting role of the trade union leadership, and the absence of any mass political alternative to show a way forward for workers, those struggles that have taken place have shown how movements of the working class can cut across sectarianism. Similarly the reaction to the McCartney killing has demonstrated how at a certain point a movement of the working class can loosen the grip of the paramilitaries on working class districts.

156. To go further and decisively break the oppressive stranglehold of these organisations would require a political alternative to be built. The trade union leaders have held back on this also. As with their counterparts in Britain, who have resisted pressure for a break with New Labour, they have attempted to snuggle up behind the local politicians.

157. They chose to ignore the sectarian nature of these parties and the neo liberal agenda which all, with greater or lesser degrees of openness, now embrace. When it comes to the platforms at rallies and demonstrations the general position of the trade union leaders is that the politicians should be included in order to “keep them on board”.

158. It is true that the movement cannot just ignore the local politicians. We are not opposed to pressurising and putting demands on them in order to expose them in the eyes of their working class supporters, but we are not in favour of giving them credibility by inviting them onto trade union or other working class platforms.

159. The union leadership position on this receives an echo from the left – in fact from virtually every one on the left except us. We were a small minority in the antiwar movement when all other forces lined up to argue for politicians on the platforms. The SWP used its, influence in the Anti-Racism Network to ensure that the platform at the rallies it held in Belfast City centre included politicians alongside religious leaders.

160. This provides a cover for the politicians and means that it is harder for the working class to draw political conclusions from these movements. The movement has gone forward industrially as well as on broader questions but the negative role played by the leadership and their imitators on the left means that it has not advanced politically.

161. The one exception, which has shown what is possible, has been the Assembly election victory of Kieran Deeny in West Tyrone on a “Save the local hospital” ticket. Although Deeny is no radical and has proved himself incapable of building on this success, his vote, topping the poll and getting elected on the first count, showed concretely how a movement a on class issues can overspill politically. It proved that class politics, in this case at still at a quite embryonic level, can shatter the monopoly currently enjoyed by the sectarian parties.

162. We cannot predict the tempo at which the movement of the working class back onto the road of struggle will develop. That depends on a number of factors. We take now as a given that the main role of the union leadership will be to act as a brake. But there are other factors which are analysed in other material – whether the world economy tumbles into recession dragging the local economy with it, the severity of the government’s neo-liberal assault, the impact of international struggles and of world events, are only some.

163. Whether New Labour holds onto power, or whether a high abstention by disillusioned former labour voters, plus the emergence of issues like immigration, produce an unexpected Tory victory, will also affect the way in which resistance to the policies of the new government develops.

164. We cannot foresee the precise shape that new struggle will take. All that is certain is that struggles will take place. All that the experience of the two terms of New Labour since 1997, of a relatively low level of resistance from the working class, will not continue indefinitely. The trade union leaders cannot for ever and a day contain and restrict the irrepressible movement of the working class to struggle.

165. It is in the course of these battles, of defeats and of victories, that the consciousness of the working class, beginning with its most combative layers, will be reshaped. Workers moving into struggle will come up against the obstacle of the conservative trade union bureaucracy, not just the top bureaucrats but also the layer of disillusioned ex activists who form a low level bureaucratic crust at branch level and in many workplaces.

166. The struggles that have occurred in the last two to three years have drawn thousands of workers into activity but, in the main, they have not thrown up large numbers of new activists. This process is still largely for the future. When it does take place, and as these activists come into inevitable conflict with the existing bureaucracy, the struggle to transform the unions will begin in earnest.

167. Political conclusions will also be drawn – about the need for an alternative to New Labour in Britain and about the need for the working class in Northern Ireland to have a political voice to challenge the sectarian parties locally and to join with the working class of England, Scotland and Wales in resisting the policies of the Westminster government.

168. The need for a new party of the working class will be put on the agenda by new movements and new struggles. How precisely the process of the politicisation of the unions and the broader working class will take place we cannot precisely predict. The process will be uneven with every possibility of more than one false start but, unless the working class movement itself is checked and reversed, the direction in which it points, towards a new political formation, is likely to become increasingly clear.

169. Events will determine the fundamental shape of this new movement. We cannot substitute ourselves for objective processes and move the working class into struggle. Equally it is wrong to adopt a passive attitude of “waiting on events” as some who claim to be Marxists do.

170. Events are sculptured by objective conditions, which are themselves the product of past events, and by the actions of individuals and organisations, never one without the other. The freedom to act effectively is based on an understanding of the limitations imposed by the objective circumstances in which we operate.

171. Ultimately it is the existence of the subjective factor in history; in the case of the socialist revolution, the existence of a mass revolutionary party able to seize the moment and lead the working class in the overthrow of capitalism, which is decisive.

172. A revolutionary party will not arrive at this moment out of nothing, ready made. It must be formed and built by its active participation in all the events, the ebbs as well as the flows of the class struggle, that have brought history to this point. And in its participation it in turn affects those events; by intervening consciously rather than groping blindly it can speed up processes by pushing in the directions that are possible, by acting as a memory of the movement it can help avoid a repetition of past mistakes and by offering an explanation it can accelerate the development of the consciousness of the working class.

173. Our role in Northern Ireland is not to wait passively for the working class to prepare for us a more favourable moment to intervene. During the 1990s the working class movement was pushed back organisationally as well as ideologically. The more complex situation that has developed presents us with additional tasks over and above those faced by Marxists twenty or thirty years ago.

174. We are faced with some of the problems faced by Marxists more than 100 years ago when the movement was at an elemental stage of development. Ideas of struggle and of the need for socialist change that were once common currency in the movement have to be relearned. Alongside these we have to promote the idea of new mass working class parties and stand alongside the working class in building them.

175. At the same time we know that socialism can only be achieved through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism which, in turn, requires the existence of a mass revolutionary party capable of leading the working class. Side by side with our involvement in the creation of new mass parties we have to build a revolutionary party.

176. We will only be successful if we are able to carry out and simultaneously combine these dual tasks. The present situation shows that no other group on the left is capable of understanding this, let alone carrying it out. The SWP, as ever, provides the clearest example of the tendency of others who claim to be on the revolutionary left to switch from their lofty perch of hysterical sectarianism far removed from the real movements of the working class to grovelling opportunism, organisational and political liquidation ism, when they come in contact with those movements.

177. By contrast we have maintained our ideas and our organisation and at the same time have built a modest but still important influence in the workers movement. It is very significant and no accident that in most of the key struggles that have taken place we, despite our numbers, have played a leadership role.

178. We have intervened in all the recent strikes mentioned above. Some were initiated by our comrades. We played a leadership role in others. In some we intervened from the outside and were able to influence or recruit the key leaders. Put negatively there have been very few significant struggles in which we have not played an important role.

179. There are two sides to this. On the one hand it shows the general correctness of our ideas and methods and leaves us well poised for bigger battles that will take place in the future and also for the task of intervening in the internal struggles to democratise the unions.

180. On the other hand it is a comment on the state of the movement and the fact that there is still only a very thin layer of genuine class fighters who are both capable and have the will to lead struggles. Basic tactics and methods that were once second nature to most shop stewards and activists are not immediately understood or accepted and have to be relearned by all but a very small layer. Last year’s strike at Dessian revealed all of these problems and went down to a defeat as a result.

181. As in industrial struggles, so on other questions also. Our experience in the campaign against water charges, still in its early stages, has already shown that none of the other forces who have taken this up have the first idea how to build for a serious battle. Most don’t have the will and are interested only in a token campaign. Those who are a little more determined have already shown themselves incapable of building a genuine campaign in the communities.

182. The trade union leadership are opposed to non-payment. Some of them are actually in favour of some form of charge. Even if they were capable of mounting a real opposition to the government on this they have no intention of doing so.

183. Many of the other groups that are now part of the broad trade union based Coalition Against Water Charges are also not totally opposed to some form of charge and would be prepared to accept some compromise such as waivers for pensioners and those on benefits.

184. Apart from ourselves the only group that nominally stands for non-payment is Communities Against the Water Tax. The demonstration against the charges called by the Coalition in February confirmed what we already knew; that there are no real forces behind this organisation.

185. It is made up of a few ex-comrades, anarchists and members of other political groups including the IRSP. It has no proper structure and has done no serious activity outside of one area of north Belfast. The SWP have recently made a turn to it, but have done so in characteristically undemocratic fashion. They have simply taken the title for themselves and tried, unsuccessfully, to hold meetings in a number of areas.

186. Communities Against the Water Tax has been promoted by the trade union bureaucracy who have heaped lavish praise upon it while ignoring our campaign. It also has had some media attention. This is a repeat of the experience of the poll tax and the water charges campaign in the south.

187. In the preparatory period leading up to both these struggles a similar range of forces were involved as are now lined up in the Coalition Against Water Charges, The lions share of the publicity went to the trade unions and to groups based on the professional paid community workers. It was only when the charges came in that a real differentiation was made.

188. If water charges are introduced and non payment starts to take off a similar differentiation will take place here. Full time community workers are paid for by government or European funds through the complex maze of grants. They are not paid for by the communities as genuine community campaigning organisations must be.

189. While there are genuine people among them who would like to see a struggle develop on this question, as a group they represent a community level bureaucracy, hugely influenced by the paramilitary and political organisations and part of their overall instrument of control of working class areas.

190. All of these people will at some point run up against the contradiction of taking part in a campaign to withhold taxes from the government which, in the last analysis, controls their purse strings. The most likely scenario, as was the case with the poll tax and the anti water charges campaign in the south, is that this layer will shrink from involvement in a serious non-payment campaign once it has begun. Worse than this, they are likely to playa quite nefarious role in using their positions to obstruct the development of a real campaign.

191. We can’t rule out a certain development of Communities Against the Water Tax as a coalition of every other force against us. For the moment, given the nature of the individuals and groups associated with it, it is not likely to go beyond a media campaign to build real forces in the communities.

192. If the idea of non-payment really takes off it is possible that people in some areas could use this as a title to build around. Groups could also develop under other banners, as in Dungannon, where the name being considered for a non-payment campaign is “Can’t Pay – Won’t Pay”. We have to be alert to such developments and flexible in our response.

193. It appears that New Labour are determined to bring in these charges. If the tories win the election they are unlikely to have a softer attitude. On the other side there is a powerful and almost universal mood of opposition. Although it is still at an early stage it is clear that there is also a determination to resist these charges and broad support for the idea of non-payment as the most effective means of doing this.

194. As things stand it is likely that this will develop into a major confrontation that, like the poll tax battle, could extend over a number of years. If this happens the repercussions will extend far beyond the immediate issue. Water charges raise much broader questions – the privatisation agenda of the government, how public services should be financed and run and, of course, the role of the four main local parties who all, to one degree or another, supported the introduction of charges when they held power in the Assembly.

195. Most important of all, a long drawn out struggle on this would draw working class communities on both sides together. It could go further than any other recent struggle in breaking down the sectarian division and challenging those on both sides who want that division to stay in place.

196. If the struggle ended in a victory, along the lines of the poll tax or the anti water charges campaign in Dublin, it would enormously raise the confidence of the working class and encourage other battles that could push sectarianism even further into the background.

197. The fact of the sectarian gulf being bridged, even if on a single issue, would also have important political repercussions. It would bring working class people into collision with the agenda of the sectarian parties on both sides which is to keep the communities apart. This could prepare the ground for a new party, perhaps initially through water charges – non payment candidates standing in elections.

198. A great deal is at stake in this. It is for all these reasons that we have prioritised our anti water charges work and have already put a lot of resources into the We Wont Pay campaign. If we are successful we could sink roots that could translate into political support in working class communities. This will be a crucial test for our party which gives us the opportunity to demonstrate how small forces, consciously organised, can have an impact on events and can help create more favourable conditions in which to grow.


199. We are working in a difficult period, but a period in which new opportunities are opening up for our work. The 1990s were characterised by a general falling back of consciousness, a decline in struggle and a significant shift to the right at the head of the organisations and former organisations of the working class. It was a complicated and difficult decade for Marxists.

200. The 1990s is now a chapter closed by history. The present period is one of recovery for the working class movement. World capitalism is poised on the verge of a crisis, which has been postponed by the growth of personal credit – and therefore of personal debt – especially in the US and by the emergence of China as a major market for raw materials.

201. The working class is rediscovering the road of struggle, especially in Latin America, but also in the advanced capitalist countries. Consciousness is already beginning to be positively affected by these developments and by the new unstable era in world relations characterised by the bloody quagmire developing in Iraq.

202. This new situation is a more favourable, but still extremely complex. The reawakening of the working class to struggle is both explosive and protracted. There is a subterranean well of class anger attempting to find a way to the surface, but slowed by a lack of confidence inherited from the 1990s and added to by the negative and conservative role of the trade union leadership.

203. Consciousness has advanced but, in historical terms, is still at a low level. There is a greater acceptance of socialist ideas, but there is still not a developed or generalised socialist consciousness as existed in the past.

204. This is a complicated juncture internationally. Within the framework of this world situation we face the special difficulties and complexities of the situation in Northern Ireland. The national question has been aggravated by world factors, especially by the decline in the class struggle and in class consciousness. In turn the national question has been an aggravating factor, dividing workers and roughening the terrain over which a revival of the working class movement must advance.

205. The “peace process” is now at an impasse. Talks that will lead to anything except more talks are ruled out for a whole period. At some point the government may have to “do the decent” thing and moth-ball the Assembly. Meanwhile there is the possibility of a stepping up of the ongoing sectarian conflict.

206. There is also, inherent in the situation, the possibility of the emergence of a new movement or new movements of the working class that can begin to offer an alternative way forward.

207. Our small forces have a critical role to play in helping these movements develop. And as they develop we can build our forces and extend our influence. We can make headway in the trade unions drawing the new younger activists into our ranks. Our work on issues like water charges can help up sink roots in the working class communities.

208. If, out of this work, we can make even a noticeable mark on the electoral front we can use this as a public platform for our ideas and also to strengthen the call for the creation of a new mass working class party.

209. Most important of all is our work among the youth, the most energetic and combative section of society. A healthy revolutionary party, at all levels, must be based on the working class and on the youth. We need to develop our work in the schools, in the colleges but above all among young workers, so that we can win the best of this generation away from sectarianism and to the banner of the socialist revolution.

210. At the moment we are a small force with an influence that far outweighs our size. We need to have a sense of proportion about what we represent. But more importantly we need an understanding of what we can become and a sense of urgency in order to realise this potential.

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Last updated: 19 July 2015