Ireland, what the future holds

jbm7 at jbm7 at
Tue Aug 3 06:21:27 MDT 1999

Since we are debating Ireland I enclose this document from 1990. A lot of
it is outdated. I think that armed action by Republicans for the
foreseeable future would lead to further Omaghs. I, also, think that Irish
Revolutionaries are going to have to tackle the negative aspects of the
native revolutionary tradition, that is militarism and elitism. But it
will have to do that while avoiding throwing out the baby of revolutionary
nationalism with the bathwater. The historic bits are still accurate. I
would add that the author has not a great writing style.
Jim Monaghan

The survival of the Irish national question

IS THERE an Irish national question any longer? Events since the
Anglo--Irish Treaty of 1921 and, more particularly, the inconclusive
struggle of the last 20 years have caused the national question to be
reexamined, in a number of cases by people of genuine goodwill.

Traditionally, Marxists have described the Irish situation as being one in
which the island-nation is oppressed by its neighbour and where opposition
to this oppression tends to be a progressive struggle preparing the way
for and, indeed, leading into the struggle for socialism. How this
struggle is envisaged has varied. At first, Marx and Engels believed that
its victory must await that of the British workers; later they supported
the nationalist rising of the Republican Fenians in the 1860s; and,
finally, they concluded that the constitutional tactics of the Parnellite
Home Rule movement, which had start-ed to eliminate landlordism, could
also subvert the imperialist state machine that held the country. In their
time, Lenin and Trotsky continued to accept the Home Rule perspective,
partly because most of the landlords’ holdings had been or were being
purchased by their tenants.

After the Easter Rising of 1916 had opened the way for a new and partially
successful national democratic revolution; the belief that land reform had
blunted Irish revolutionary fervour disappeared: communist leaders,
includ-ing those such as Radek who had dismissed Irish national claims
altogether, united to support the Irish Republic. What is more, this
support continued after the leaders of that Republic had signed it away in
the 1921 Treaty with Britain, leaving its cause to be upheld in arms by
the majority of its military force (the Irish Republican Army, or IRA),
unsupported by the majority of nationalists.

Opposition to the Treaty has been continued by Lenin and Trotsky’s heirs
in the Fourth International. In particular, although it was not
immediately clear that the partition of Ireland was to be the core of
Britain’s reformed domination of the whole country (only Ireland’s James
Connolly, executed after the Easter Rising, had foreseen this), Britain’s
ability to surrender on everything else has established this truth. So not
only does the Fourth Inter-national stand with those who fight for Irish
unity and independence with all means possible, but it considers that
their struggle must become one for workers’ power if it is to be

This position is consciously opposed by many, including some former
anti-imperialists in the Irish labour movement. Some of these insist that
Irish nationalism was counter-revolutionary and anti-democratic from the
start, objectively if not subjectively. Most would accept it as generally
progressive until the 1921 Treaty. The subsequent partition of the country
is interpreted by them, however, as being no more than acceptance of the
Ulster Protestant democracy’s alleged right to self-determination. Its
justification is assumed by reference to the undoubted Catholic
sectarianism of the present Republic of the nationalist 26 counties. That
state’s constitutional bans on abortion and divorce are considered
adequate explanations  and, for some, excuses for the political and
economic discrimination maintained by the Ulster regime and its
proletarian supporters’ readiness to follow some of these islands’ most
reactionary politicians in the name of religion against class. After all,
it is accurately remarked that most of the Republic’s workers are also
tied to bourgeois parties. The weakness of their economic base com-pared
to the Northerners’ is not recognized as a natural cause for this, or else
it is used economistically to prove northern workers’ superiority rather
than to start questioning why, with their advanced base, their
consciousness is backward.

All this is held to prove the British dimension as either non-existent or,
at least, irrelevant. Irish capitalism is as strong as it can be; its
weaknesses are internal (and, if explicable, due mainly to 26-County
Catholicism). If there is an outside imperialist exploiter it is the
United States of America, which threatens all Western Europe equally.
Irish-British relations are like those of Belgium and the Netherlands,
Portugal and Spain, Denmark and Germany: states formerly in client-patron
relationship but now equal partners in the (West) European Community. If
the North of Ireland is to resolve its prob-lems, this will be through
democratic reforms enforced by Britain, if from outside, and, in the
economic sphere, grubstaked by the EC and the USA. The 26-County Republic
can contribute only by suppressing its irredentist claim for Irish unity.
The fight for Irish unity will not only not lead to social-ism, but is an
undemocratic diversion from that end.

The social context for this viewpoint will be considered later. Here, it
is enough to say that it comes out of 26-County conditions as much as
those of the Northern Irish Protestant working class. More to the point in
hand, it pro-vides a challenge to revolutionary preconceptions that has
not been answered by the largest Irish revolutionary nationalist party,
Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein’s failure makes it all the more necessary to answer
it here.

The British connection
Ireland’s relationship to Britain cannot be explained simply in the terms
provided by Lenin in his study Imperialism  the highest stage of
imperial-ism. His central concept of twentieth century clientelism through
colonial investment by metropolitan capital has applied to the North of
Ireland since its foundation, but has only been a systematic policy since
1950 when its local industrial situation became more critical. The
Republic has only made serious efforts to import capital since 1958. It is
only since 1972 that its suc-cessive governments have allowed it to become
a major debtor. Even now, three-fifths of its debt (15 billion) is owed to
Ireland’s own banks.

Yet this formal metropolitan status cannot be separated from the
historical context preceding the period when it became significant.
Ireland was export-ing capital before its economy was strong enough to
benefit from such exports. Until the 1960s, it believed it had no easily
worked raw materials one of Lenin’s four main reasons to invest in a
country. The possibility of reducing the price of land sufficiently to
justify its potential for foreign inves-tors was thwarted in the 1880s by
a combination of foreign competition and rural agitation. Labour, though
relatively cheap compared to Britain, was, at least from the moment of
partition, expensive compared to its comrades in Africa and Asia. However,
even when the last two factors  cheap labour and land  were more
encouraging to investors, Lenin’s fourth condition scarcity of capital
remained self-perpetuating. Capital left underdevel-oped Ireland for the
nearby London stockmarket and the more secure and profitable holdings of
mainstream imperialism.

This direct import of Irish capital is only part (and a decreasing part)
of Britain’s interest in Ireland. Its rulers (at first, just the rulers of
England) have always had two basic reasons for their occupation: to milk
its resources and to prevent it becoming a military threat. Other reasons
have come and gone:
the lobby first of Irish Unionists, and then purely Ulster ones,
influenced British policy over the centuries (but it must now be
remembered bitterly that the executors of that policy know no permanent
friends, only permanent interests). On the other hand, military strategic
considerations today include the possibility that Ireland will not just
handicap British defence interests, but might yet become a major social
revolutionary threat (“Britain’s Cuba”, as feared most publicly by British
conservatism’s right-wing, and less openly by more powerful figures). This
possibility was apparent at times during the 19 19-21 Anglo-Irish War and
the subsequent Civil War in the 26 counties, as well as during the
struggle of the last twenty years.

Both these basic reasons for occupation can be questioned and should be
examined further. Certainly, the economic cause has changed over the
years. At first, in the Middle Ages, it took the form of the desire of
England’s aris-tocracy to obtain feudal dues from Ireland’s less-developed
society. Soon, this was reinforced by English royalty’s need for finance,
which became more important as its other supplies were controlled by its
parliaments. Before this could be limited, feudal dues had given way to
capitalist landlord-ism for the British landed interest. The landlords
cleared their estates, aided by the 1846 famine, to produce cattle for the
British market. When this was undercut by competition from the ranches and
freezing factories of the new world, the growth of British capitalism,
industrial and financial, had provid-ed a new conduit for Irish capital
exports. The nationally-owned Irish banks had been founded during the
nationalist agitation of Daniel O’Connell in the early nineteenth century
with the aim of investing Irish savings in projected local industries,
under an Irish parliament. In practice, not only was the said parliament
postponed, but shortage of Irish coal andiron aborted such expan-sion in
the steam age. The banks proved effective exporters of their investors and
depositors’ funds. Eventually, when part of Ireland did get independence
and tried to build a self-sufficient capitalist economy, the banks blocked
these plans and relied on their depositors’ fear of interference with
their eco-nomic self-interest to overcome their mere patriotism at the

Today, Irish banks are ready to advance three-fifths of the state’s debt,
but not to move their investments out of foreign industry. So special
incentives are given to encourage foreign firms to invest in Ireland, with
diminishing success. In this process, it is certainly true that British
interests are outnum-bered by those of the United States: in 1988, new
British investment amount-ed to a quantified £30m out of a total £270.5m
of foreign investment, of which the USA had supplied £179m. The point is
that Britain does have an interest, second only to that of the Americans.
What is more, it is close enough to be the obvious choice as policeman for
all imperialist investors.

This links in with the military issue. In 1169, Henry II of England moved
to prevent his vassal, the Earl of Pembroke, from doing as Henry’s
great-grandfather had done and establishing his own independent state
(then in England, now in Ireland) from which to attack his liege lord. To
block this possibility, Henry became ruler of all Ireland, as vassal of
the Pope. Neither he nor his heirs could enforce their rule over the whole
island until after they had renounced their own vassalage nearly four
centuries later. Even then, they could not secure its allegiance. So, to
keep down the Catholic Irish, the English  and later their partners, the
Scots  settled Protestants from their own island, most effectively in the
north-east. New insurrections of the natives led to Catholics being
deprived of most civil and political rights dur-ing most of the eighteenth
century. The repeal of many of these penal laws and the 1789 revolution in
France raised Irish hopes, the disappointment of which led to a rebellion
on a new, Republican programme. Its defeat was followed by Ireland’s
incorporation into a parliamentary union with Britain. Complete equal
rights for Catholics were promised but postponed long enough to keep
nationalist sentiment from dying. New uprisings once again impelled the
senior partner in the union to jettison the Irish landlord interest and
then consider a federal relationship (“Home Rule”). This was blocked by
the north-eastern “garrison”.

A new and more than ever before sustained and broadly-based national
democratic revolution ended in a compromise by which the garrison was
giv-en its own federal relationship within the union, while the
nationalist majori-ty obtained what its leaders claimed was a “stepping
stone” to full independence, which it proved to be if independence
excluded territorial unification.

The garrison that forms the majority in the province of “Northern Ireland”
has kept it in being so that the 26-County Republic can enjoy its
neutrality without worrying the British government. Many would claim that
Irish neu-trality is not such a cause of worry in the nuclear age. In
fact, countries have been destabilized for less (notably, the Micronesian
island of Palau). No country with pretensions to great power status is
likely to feel happy, even now, about a neutral country the size of
Ireland relative to Britain, that blocks its approaches, unless it is
neutral itself. As it is, nuclear submarines belonging to Britain and
other NATO powers are known to patrol in the Irish Sea. A united neutral
Ireland would be in a position to block such craft passing through the
North Channel between Lame in the North of Ireland and Portpa-trick in
Scotland, the narrowest and shallowest sea division between the two
islands. To keep the Channel open, the British government has to control
both its shores; it does so under the present Status quo.

So British imperialism has an interest in Ireland that involves keeping it
divided. Only complete and public acknowledgement of its authority by the
rulers of allegedly independent Ireland, literal and open acceptance of
its sat-ellite status  including entry to NATO and the maintenance of this
posi-tion for at least a decade could justify Britain allowing Irish
unity. Ideally, it would probably prefer such a solution to the present
instability, or even the lesser instability that existed before 1969. The
trouble is that, while the Republic’s response to the struggle to its
north has not been very favourable to the freedom fighters, it has tended
to compensate for this over the years by taking a firmer stand on one
issue open to it: neutrality. This is arguably more formal than real. NATO
planes fly across Ireland and are even guided by a communications beacon
in west County Cork. Nonetheless, such collabora-tion remains covert  more
so than NATO desires. In the last 25 years, neu-trality has been turned
slowly but definitely from a bargaining chip in negotiations for EC
membership into a matter of principle. Over 80% of the people of the
Republic agree with this.

This makes it all the more important for Britain to maintain its alibi. It
will not spurn the wishes of its garrison population in the Six-Counties
of “North-ern Ireland” on the basic issue of the province’s surrender to
the Irish majori-ty. It might even have got away with this had it been
prepared without mass or military duress on insisting that the partitioned
state be administered according to full democratic norms. Instead, from
within a year of partition, it left matters to its garrison, the Ulster
Unionists. They had begun their fight against Irish nationalism on an
openly anti-democratic and imperialistic plat-form, denying the Irish the
right to self-determination. As the struggle pro-gressed, they organized
around the Orange Order, which had been created to fight against the first
Irish Republic rising on that very basis. Its central role as organizer of
Unionism made it impossible for the North of Ireland to be run save on a
sectarian basis that upheld and extended the discriminatory hir-ing
practices common in the area. Today, Protestants have two-and-a-half times
better job prospects than Catholics in all sectors. Britain allowed this
to happen it was interested in its security, not Six-County democracy.

However, after 1945, the British welfare state was applied to its province
on a non-sectarian basis, without changing its sectarian politics (if
anything, they worsened) but at the same time raising hopes that they
could be ended peacefully. The failure to fulfill these hopes began the
present struggle. Although forced to make democratic reforms, Britain’s
good will remains suspect. Its attempt to end the basis of Orange power
through the Fair Employment Bill actually bans positive discrimination in
favour of Catho-lics. The only other way to end discrimination, “levelling
up”, needs more more money than is forthcoming  or even more than the
£500m guaranteed by Britain and the United States when Britain persuaded
the 26-County regime to accept a consultative role at Hillsborough in 1985
in the Anglo--Irish Agreement. (Even here, only £I30m has been paid out.)

Building a revolutionary opposition
The vanguard of the struggle against the occupation is  as it has been
from the beginning, save for sympathetic upsurges on specific issues in
the Republic  a minority cross-section of the Six-County minority. In this
cross-section, unemployed workers and the younger children of the petty
bourgeoisie have a disproportionate influence since they suffer most from
the areas sectarian hiring practices. At the same time, such is the
reasonably represented. The result is a strong, active revolutionary
nationalist area’s sectanan hiring practices. At the same time, such is
the institutional-
institutionalized discrimination at all levels that the local national
bourgeoisie is also reasonably represented. The result is a strong, active
revolutionary nationalist movement representing 35%-40% of the
Six-County’s nationalist population such as West Belfast and the border
regions of County Armagh and County Fermanagh and a significant influence
in those counties across the border whose economies have been weakened by
parti-tion. In all, up to now the necessary struggle for Irish unity is
that of the polit-ical minority of the religious minority within Ireland’s
territorial minority.

This continuing three-fold minority position of the revolutionary
national-ist movement gives superficial justification to the arguments
that the crisis in the North of Ireland can be ended in the North of
Ireland itself, arguments that are not only put forward by
pro-imperialists. Whether this was ever pos-sible is doubtful; its current
impossibility is certain, given the problems of levelling job
opportunities between the religious communities. In practice, of course,
this cannot be done without outside aid, either to hold the ring or to
supply money to level up the difference. For most of its proponents, then,
the “internal solution” is an internal United Kingdom solution. The only
support-ers of an internal Six-County solution (called, significantly, UDL
a la Ian Smith’s Rhodesia) are, spasmodically, groups and individuals
adhering to extreme right-wing Unionism who understand it as an assurance
of perma-nent Protestant power.

The one further point about the “internal solution” that is advocated by
all its supporters  from the Communist Party of Ireland (who hope to
create the conditions for selling Irish unity to the Unionists) to the
Loyalist terror group, the UDA  is the the North of Irish Bill of Rights.
All the drafts of this include provision allowing it to be suspended by
the provincial regime “in case of emergency”. More fundamental in the
Bill’s inability to heel the the North of Irish rift is the fact that such
measures cannot impose unity on divided societies  indeed, such Bills of
Rights can only function insofar as there is agreement around the nature
of the rights they guarantee. Such agree-ment does not and cannot exist on
a Six-County basis.

So the question confronting revolutionary socialists must be: where can
Ire-land’s revolutionary minority seek allies if it is to win? Of course,
there have been, and still are, those who would insist that it does not
need to win allies, only benevolent neutrals. For them, the war will be
won by the Republican movement’s (the term generally used for the major
nationalist organization Sinn Fein and its armed wing the Irish Republican
Army - IRA) superiority of arms  notably supplies of Libyan Semtex
[plastic explosive], heat-seeking missiles and superior mortars. The first
objection to this argument is that it supposes an aggressive armed
struggle. Yet this is not the basis on which the Republican movement gains
most of its support, but rather because its arms protect the nationalist
areas in the North of Ireland against even worse attacks from the British
and Loyalists. Already, it is doubtful whether the Republicans have the
numbers to hold the supplies they need and protect their people.

The second objection is reflected in the fact that those who assert the
possi-bility of their lone victory can also recognize, unlike the
proponents of the “internal solution”, Britain’s determination to keep its
Irish base. Such deter-mination will not be beaten by weapons alone. As
yet, Britain has been able to fight a partly military and partly
democratic struggle; it hopes to hold all the six counties and to win an
internal settlement satisfactory to it. However, if the Republicans ever
looked like forcing its withdrawal, Britain would be able to take the
offensive, rebuild its bridges with the Unionists and abandon civil rights
to fight an immediate and terrible war. This might provoke work-ers in the
26-Counties, as previous British atrocities have done. Whether this result
would tip the scales for Irish unity if achieved in this way is doubtful,
and becomes more dubious the longer the current struggle is prolonged.
More likely, such a war would let Britain lose the less-prosperous Ulster
hin-terland west of the River Ban, while it kept a more secure position in
the areas of the largest Protestant majorities on the west shore of the
North Channel, with some population exchanges.

So the Republican movement, being still the largest of all Irish
revolution-ary bodies, has a responsibility to maximize its support
outside of its northern strongholds. It has three groups from which it can
choose, beyond its chances of becoming a majority of the Six-County
minority which cannot be an ade-quate substitute for any of the others.
The three are:
 The northern Irish Protestant majority;
 the national bourgeoisie in the Republic;
 the working class in the Republic.
Only one of these provides the correct strategic priority. Appealing to
the Ulster Protestants leads immediately to the “internal solution”. The
vast majority of this community has no interest in Irish unity other than
as part of a socialist workers’ republic and, more to the immediate point,
it cannot itself even make this exception when such a republic is not on
the obvious agenda. What is more, the Protestant majority is particularly
hostile to the Republi-cans armed struggle, whose aim they think is
genocide against them. As long as it continues on its present offensive
basis, its organizers and supporters are the very last people among whom
the political leaders of Ulster Protestant-ism will seek allies.

One group of former Republicans have learnt this lesson with disastrous
results. At the end of the 1960s, influenced by the Moscow-line Stalinist
par-ties (they were then divided along the border), the then united
Republican movement helped to initiate a campaign for limited political
reforms that would give equal rights to both communities, mainly through
the practices already working in Britain. Although these did not attempt
to change the job discrimination on which the North of Ireland is founded,
they did attack directly a number of discriminatory practices,
particularly in housing, and started a chain reaction That exploded when
the Orangemen and their state forces tried to impose military control on
the Catholic areas of Deny and Bel-fast in August 1969. Their inability to
do this immediately led to the rein-forcement of the British Army garrison
and its use as a police force. Indirectly, it also led to the Republican
movement splitting, the minority reverting to the more traditional armed
struggle strategy that, as the only movement, it continues today. The
majority continued to develop the strate-gy of the “internal solution”,
refining it so that it became centred around the the North of Irish Bill
of Rights. However, it began to go beyond its inspirers of the now-united
Communist Party of Ireland (CPI). This group was content to insist on its
strategy’s reformist nature against the revived armed struggle.

 The majority “Official” Republicans went further. On the one hand, they
refused to limit themselves to the CPI’s wish that they should be the
party of the national democratic stage of the struggle, and proclaimed
themselves its socialist vanguard. On the other hand. seeing that the
“internal solution” was failing to win over Protestant workers~, they have
chosen to intensify their commitment to this principle: concentrating on
appealing to and apologizing for Unionism (one of their most sophisticated
ideologists, Henry Patterson, sees anti-Catholic sectarianism as a major
source of socialism); liquidating their army; abandoning the name Sinn
Fein (they are now the Workers’ Par-ty); and attacking Sinn Fein itself as
“fascist”. This has earned them exemp-tion tram Orange strictures against
Republicanism, without winning them more Protestant support. Subsequently,
they have lost nearly all their former influence among the North of Irish
Nationalist minority. Their socialist programme has, however, won them
votes and seats in the Republic where the Labour Party is only just
breaking from a period of 17 years of collabora-tion with the least
nationalist of the major capitalist parties.

One thing should be added. The fact that the Ulster Protestant community,
even the workers within it, arc not immediate allies in struggle against
impe-rialism does not mean that they will always oppose it. The Ulster
Protestant working class has had a developed economic base for longer than
the work-ers in any other part of Ireland. It has produced labour leaders
who compare favourably with most of those elsewhere. Its weakness is that
the conditions that created this base also revived the sectarianism that
negated its effects:

The best leaders of Ulster Protestant workers have tended to be more
politically isolated within their community than other Irish labour
leaders. This can-not always be. Faced with a genuine secular socialist
revolutionary movement that hegemonizes the mass of Irish nationalist
workers and seeks state power actively  a movement that has not yet been
seen in Ireland, but this does not mean that it is impossible  then it can
be expected that Ulster’s workers of both traditions will unite in a
higher cause than that of political rights within one union.

The Stalinists of the CPI do not limit their stagist perspective just to
the North of Ireland. This is but one part of a three-stage strategy, the
second being Irish unity and the third socialism (on a united Ireland
basis, of course, but not beyond this). This enables the Party to see its
first stage in separate parts, north and south. What this means is that
while they seek Unionist allies in the north they work for an apparently
contradictory nationalist alliance in the Republic. In their schema, full
political democracy in the North of Ireland will l)c the condition in
which Unionists will become democratic nationalists. This underestimates
the base of Unionism. What is more, it overestimates the nationalism of
the Irish bourgeoisie as it has developed outside the North of Ireland
since 1921.

In the smaller area, conditions have maintained the revolutionary
potential of bourgeois nationalism; in the larger area, this potential is
practically extin-guishcd outside the border counties. In the Republic,
the capitalists have built a secure base, with an economy more separate
from that of the. North of he-land than it is from that of Britain. This
base expanded industrially in the 1930s under policies of self-sufficiency
initiated by Fianna Fail, the constitu-tional heir of the militant
opponents of the 1921 Treaty. By the end of the I 950s, The policies
necessary to ensure economic independence were too rad-ical for Irish
capital. The economy was reopened to multinational firms with immediate,
if short-lived, success as far as unemployment was concerned. From the end
of the 1960s unemployment has tended to increase, while in this decade it
has engendered a rise in emigration for the first time since the 1950s.

Despite this, the capitalist classes enjoy a measure of stability that is
threat-ened by the activities of their fellow-nationalists in the North of
Ireland. Ear-ly in this struggle, to stave off its spread, they attempted
to reduce economic discontent with increased government expenditure, which
has increased the national debt to a level where it has come to be
perceived as an even greater destabilizer than the national struggle. So,
since 1982, the debt has been attacked by a series of retrenchment
policies. At the same time, the more con-sistent constitutional
nationalists have been reassured by measures such as the 1984 nationalist
forum, which formally reasserted the aim of Irish unity, and then by the
1985 Hillsborough Agreement, which gave the Republic an institutionalized
although purely consultative role in the British-occupied area. This
Agreement was signed was signed by representatives of a coalition of the
old pro-Treaty party, Fine Gael, and the Irish Labour Party. Its
limita-tions were recognized and denounced by Fianna Fail, then in
opposition. But in 1987, Fianna Fail was returned to power and has since
operated as though it never had any doubts.

All sections of the Republic’s bourgeoisie agree about seeing Ireland’s
future through the perspective of being part of the (West) European
Commu-nity, which it values as a source of funds. In fact, such funds do
not compen-sate the Republic for its outflow of public funds. The
Community is offering the whole of Ireland a lump sum of £4 billion,
slightly more than two years interest on the Republic’s foreign debt (~1.8
billion). Furthermore, this mon-ey will have to be spent on reconstructing
the island’s roads to bring them up to West European standards. All that
can be said for the EC’s generosity is that it is considerably greater
than that of the United States.

This account of the development of 26-County capitalism could he
por-trayed as the history of a developed, if inefficient, metropolitan
bourgeoisie. This is, indeed, the interpretation made by the Socialist
Workers’ Movement (SWM), the Cliffite (“state capitalist”) group, which is
one of the largest nonStalinist and non-Republican groups on the Irish
revolutionary left. For the SWM, since 1921 the 26 counties have enjoyed
as much control over their economy as is compatible with capitalism. From
this, it follows that it is capi-talism rather than national oppression
that is, subjectively as well as objec-tively, the primary enemy of the
Irish revolution. The country is too advanced for any strategy of
permanent revolution  socialist struggle emerging Out of the democratic
one  in the sense that it may have succeed-ed elsewhere. Irish unity and
secular democracy are secondary, if unavoida-ble, demands, with the
struggles to achieve them simply “part of the necessary training of the
working class to fight oppression” (Socialist Work-er, January 1989).

The economic facts that underpin this argument are unimpressive. A large
proportion of them depend on the strength of the native banks, still
claiming their three-fifths of the national debt. However, in the first
place, national oppression is not linked directly to economic factors  for
example, Catalo-nia and Euzkadi have been relatively prosperous parts of
Spain. What is more, Irish banking was even stronger and more independent
of Britain at the time of the Anglo-Irish War. Today, all Irish banks,
with one possible excep-tion, are controlled by British interests. And the
one doubtful one (but the biggest), the Bank of Ireland, has at least 40%
of its stock in British hands. They were more independent in 1921. Even
so, then as now, founded to fund an industrial revolution that Lacked the
raw materials to exist, the banks were as much an instrument of national
oppression as of capitalist exploitation. They siphoned off capital
resources that could have been used to fund jobs for those who were forced
to emigrate to find work, whose earnings since 1921 could have provided
only positive payment balances. The importance of the banks to their
depositors in what was, until the 1960s, a predominantly peasant society
has made it impossible for the constitutional heirs of the anti-Treatyites
to deal with them. The most definite challenge to the banks, by the
constitutional Republican Clann na Poblachta in 1948, almost certainly
lost it both votes and seats.
Here again, it is clear that what Wolfe Tone, Irish Republicanism’s
ideo-logical ancestor, called “breaking the connection with Britain” must
mean breaking Irish finance capital. And while schematically the reverse
can be said to be true, the history of the last 20 years shows that, by
spreading the struggle for unity against the uneasy stability that
justifies capital’s resistance and the divided state power that defends
it, revolutionaries can overcome the opposition of the banks and their
depositors. Without the national struggle as the booster  in effect, if
this struggle is defeated  no anti-capitalist revo-lution is likely to
succeed in Ireland for many years.

Before 1922, two Out of three national general strikes were around demands
connected to the national cause. Since then, the only general stop-page
unconnected to the northern issue was an impressive but isolated and
unsuccessful one for a better deal for workers contributing to the Pay As
You Earn (PAYE) taxation scheme. The Socialist Workers’ Movement warns
against socialist revolutionaries “riding the nationalist tiger”. The
danger is there, of course: the last years of national revolutionary
downturn have seen the swallowing of socialist revolutionaries  and in
many cases, their diges-tion  by the said tiger. The point is that these
have been years of downturn. Similar phenomena occurred at similar moments
during and after the Anglo-Irish War. When the struggle takes off again,
an inevitable condition and result of this remobilization will be the
development of We nationalist strug-gle towards a socialist perspective.

There is another reason given (although not used by the SWM) for denying
the subjective political priority of Irish unity. This is the sectarian
nature of the state established and ruled by the leaders of those who
fought for Irish independence and unity. The results of the referenda on
abortion and divorce have had a demoralizing effect on many democrats’
aspirations for a united Ireland. In fact, the fighters in the Anglo-Irish
War did not have strong views about keeping their state free of birth
control and divorce. The Catholic hier-archy did not support the freedom
fighters in this struggle, lest it open its divisions (after all, most of
its members were constitutional “Home Rule” nationalists). It could unite
only to support the Treaty, albeit with necessary token protests against
partition. In the new state, with more than 90% of the population
Catholic, it was natural that the majority Church be in a strong position.
Natural, too, that successive 26-County governments keep in with it by
ensuring that their decisions were guided by it, particularly on sexual
mat-ters. Today, Catholic dominance of the 26-County state is a necessary
part of that state’s stability within the partition settlement; its
political base is strong because of partition.

This does not mean that clericalism can be ignored, any more than that
opposing partition means accepting capitalist economics. Not least of the
weaknesses of the Communist Party’s appeal to the 26-County national
bour-geoisie is that it accepts the degree to which they are tied to
clericalism. Indeed, once partition had been imposed, it was the
constitutional heirs of the Anti-Treaty lighters  Fianna Fail and Sean
MacBride’s supporters of the smaller Clann na Pohlachta  which tended to
indulge in Dutch auctions of sectarianism to keep the priests quiet on
their nationalist demands. In the last 20 years, this historic fact has
provided the excuse, and the current national struggle the opportunity,
for many pro-imperialists to assert themselves as leaders of the only
democratic causes open to them: the struggles for the right to abortion
and divorce. In the campaign for divorce, its leaders’ extreme hostility
to revolutionary nationalism was a factor in its defeat. This hostility
was particularly shortsighted because Sinn Fein does not lean towards
clericalism and has the firmest pro-abortion position of all the major
Irish parties. (It is its offensive military strategy, involving attacks
on Protestant non-combatants, particularly by the former West Fermanagh
Brigade of the IRA, that gives Republicanism its sectarian label.) The
Communist Party is trying to sell the national struggle not to the genuine
democrats who campaign for women’s rights, but to the bigots who oppose
them. It advises Sinn Fein to ally with people who believe that Irish
unity can be achieved under the Republic’s clerically limited
constitution, many of whom would not want it otherwise. The radical
support for abortion and divorce rights (33% in the two referenda, against
Sinn Fein’s 2% in the Republic’s general election) is to be ignored.

Finally, as for the Republic’s national bourgeoisie, the cultural
expression of its inadequacy both as a nationalist force and a developed
imperial metrop-olis is its active role as patron to the opponents of its
expansion. Such oppo-nents exist in all states. In the Republic, the
smallness of the milieu and the continuing limitation of higher education
to a bourgeois elite comprising a smaller share of the state’s population
than elsewhere, has helped ensure that a monolithic view of the Irish
situation is enforced in academic and media life. The bourgeoisie’s
single-minded intellectual dumping of the struggle that led to the
founding of its state may seem strange until it is understood that the
majority of this class has always accepted the Treaty as its title to
state power. Its new enthusiasm is benefitting it. Over the last two
decades, the power of its state against civil liberties has grown with
little protest, since this growth has been directed specifically against

The national democratic revolution cannot and should not seek to expand
its support among the Ulster Loyalists or the 26-County bourgeoisie. There
remains the third possibility: the working class in the south. The
Republic’s bourgeoisie  or, at least, its less anti-nationalist wing
traces its ancestry to those who fought the Anglo-Irish War. Not all who
can claim this inheri-tance were or are bourgeois. Despite the betrayals
of its leaders and the resul-tant slowness of its members to go beyond
trade-union consciousness, despite its backwardness that left many open to
the anti-nationalism of its country’s capitalists and despite the errors
of the Republican movement itself and its inability to appeal on working
class lines, it remains true that the 26-County workers are less hostile
to the struggle for Irish unity than their boss-es. The two major advances
that the struggle made into their area were also its advances towards a
working class strategy. Both the strike after the British Army’s massacre
of civil rights demonstrators on Bloody Sunday 1972 and the Hunger Strike
agitations of 1980-81 involved large-scale, partially spon-taneous,
mobilizations of workers.

The problem is how to build on this potential. On the positive side, it
must be recognized that bringing the struggle into the 26 counties must
involve transforming it into a class one. A programme must be prepared as
the centre for all future struggles around the core and present active
revolutionary demand for a united Ireland. This Freedom Charter must
include transitional demands. These can be developed. Of the transitional
demands, however, it is clear that repudiation of the debt must be
included to release the £1 .Bbn per annum interest for reconstruction, as
well as the savings on the border garri-sons. But the most important fact
about a Freedom Charter is that, once draft-ed, it should become the
central focus of anti-imperialist strategy.

And this raises the negative point Any front to implement a Freedom
Char-ter has to include Sinn Fein, which is probably larger than all the
other anti-imperialist bodies put together. Sinn Fein’s strategy is not
even centred on its own political programme but, rather, on its minimalist
duty to support the aggressive armed struggle that it sees being waged by
the Irish Republican Army. Time and again, this struggle  fought as if its
soldiers can drive the British Army into the sea  has inevitably
blundered, killing civilians point-lessly and increasing hostility to it
from 26-County workers who become more open to the enemies of Irish unity
arguing against any revolution devel-oping beyond the Catholic parts of
the North of Ireland.

The Communist Party’s answer to this, true to its apocalyptic vision of a
grand alliance combining Loyalists and Catholic bigots, is to call for a
cease-fire. (This is the most friendly solution of all the groups that
support an inter-nal settlement.) There are two objections to this.
Firstly, the IRA cannot enforce a cease-fire; there are too many armed
groups already outside its con-trol that dissident elements could join.
More importantly, on the form of the two previous cease-fires in 1972 and
1975, the British and the Loyalists will ignore such a move. For them, it
will be a sign of weakness enabling them to smash all nationalist
resistance once and for all. This reaction may stimulate a revival of this
resistance and even (as such a move did with Bloody Sunday and the Hunger
Strikes) stimulate the reaction in the Republic that is neces-sary for
victory. The trouble is that, as on previous occasions, the process
leading to this escalation will not have been prepared and is likely to
col-lapse. It would be a gamble that should not be taken.

Instead, the fighters should change their strategy within the armed
struggle. They should see themselves not as the vanguard of what is still
a non-existent rising in arms of the Irish people, but as defenders of the
Northern Catholics (on whom their actual existing support depends) and,
still more accurately, guarantors that the existing state repression will
not go beyond a certain point. This will enable them to adapt their
tactics, like their allies, to the claims of the Freedom Charter.

The Irish national question remains acute. It can only be solved by
tran-scending its existing minimum programme of Irish unity through the
process of permanent revolution. Beyond this, it is a long speculation,
but it should be added that this process may mean that the solution of the
Irish question in favour of the oppressed and exploited will be the
greatest revolutionary change in Western Europe since 1945. As such, it is
likely to be the sign that the said permanent revolution is beginning for
Ireland’s neighbours.

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