Paul Maloney on Ireland
donaloc at peterquinn.com
Mon Jul 8 06:36:05 MDT 2002
I guess I have the responsibility of answering to this - although mostly
it's just a rehash of previously made points. I have been keeping quiet for
various reasons but now it appears that this won't be a problem any more.
>I feel it is important to emphasise the primacy of class struggle.
This is effectively an allegation that we, Republicans/Republican Socialists
don't use such an analysis. We do, however, we don't close our eyes to the
fact that the classes have serious fault-lines created by both economic and
wider political, social and cultural influences.
My challenge to your piece is that, as Ed noted, it is economistic and
objectively pro-Imperialistic - you seem to wish to inhabit a world where
Catholic and Protestants workers will unite to fight both domestic
capitalism and British Imperialism. Such a situation would be nice -
wouldn't we all just love it - however, reality is slightly more gritty and
The Marx quote:
"Both for the production on a mass scale of this
communist consciousness, and for the success of the
cause itself, the alteration of people on a mass scale
is necessary, an alteration which can only take place
in a practical movement, a revolution: the revolution
is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling
class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also
because the class overthrowing it can only in a
revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck
of ages and become fitted to found society anew"
>Its important to savour the implications Marx makes
here. Past battles, national chauvinism, tribal
chauvinism and all other perceived differences are
washed away by a a mass movement of the working
class and subsequent revolution.
Yes, as per Marx's vision - all these things will pass away before a mass
communist revolution. However, this quote does not attempt to understand the
situation in a colonial state - in Ireland, even if the working class united
we would still have imperialism to prevent our accession to power. What is
needed here is a little more specific analysis - a little more Lenin. Irish
politics in the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st Centuries cannot
be understood or deduced from the writings of Marx on England, France or
Germany in the late 19th Century, no more than they could in Connolly's day.
Your criticism of republicanism could equally be levelled at Connolly in
1916 - where do you go then?
British Imperialism - I think Paul recognises the historical context - on
this we will not disagree.
He raises the contribution (and reminder about the absolutely non-Democratic
underpinnings of the Six county state) :
>While formally democratic, the electoral system was rigged
so as to guarantee a permanent Protestant majority,
although the world developed the impression that one
man, one vote meant that nationalists were denied the
vote, it was an issue that affected both communities,
although it did affect the Catholic community more.
The unionist government maintained a system whereby if
you could not pay your rates, you were denied a vote
in local government elections; on the other hand, if
you were a local business man with several properties,
you received a vote for each.
This impacted differentially - clearly, Nationalists were worse off.
However, poor Protestants were also completely disenfranchised.
>Paul notes past collaboration by Protestants and Catholics in the cause of
the working class and oppressed - 1798, 1803, 1907, 1913, a soviet in
Belfast in 1919, joint work in the North against unemployment in the 1930s.
All this is true - and there's more too - however, we must also look at the
decisive 'force' in Irish politics - not the people but British intervention
and subsequent partition. This has stood as a barrier to the achievement of
those goals which we all share as socialists - it is in working against
these fundamental barriers that we must judge all our efforts. There are
some on this list who feel that the influence of British Imperialism is
merely being replaced by that of US Imperialism. That may be true to an
extent - however, we cannot advance to where we need to go without ridding
ourselves of the border. Objectively the interests of Nationalist Ireland
are those of an independent people deciding its own future - that is what it
is by definition. Objectively the interests of Unionism will always be tied
to the British Capitalist Oligarchy and its fundamental source of power will
not be the Unionist people themselves but a foreign power (which is
imperialist/capitalist by its very nature). The crisis of Unionism is the
uncertainty over that power base's intentions. Republicans gain our power
from our roots in local communities - it is what has sustained our campaign
for as long as we have fought - and whether or not we are perceived as
working within a Capitalist framework just now - so long as we maintain
democratic cohesion and grassroots involvement - the internal contradictions
will determine our line in the longer term. (And that's making the
assumption of a non-revolutionary leadership - something which is just
>Even over the last twenty years there have been repeated
attempts to achieve unity. Where action has been taken by
the workers of Britain, as in the strikes of the health
workers, firefighters, and other groups, the workers of
Northern Ireland have participated. Despite the
crushing pressure of sectarianism, the trade unions
and some community organisations remain the only mass
organisations in Northern Ireland not divided on
sectarian lines. In fact, the level of trade union
membership in Northern Ireland is higher than in
Britain in proportion to the population.
They have achieved this unity by being blind to the crimes of the British
State in Ireland, by ignoring the rottenness which lies at the core of every
level of Government here, by pampering the worst tendencies within militant
Loyalism. The ATGWU in Harland and Woolf said nothing for decades about the
treatment of (the few) Catholic workers who had to work under Loyalist
graffiti and a culture of fear. The six counties are an object lesson to
revolutionaries around the world at the complete inability of trade unions
to serve as an effective weapon in some places. I remember hearing a certain
Republican (reputed to be a senior member of the movement) discussing his
activities within Derry Trades Union Council who sacked him for leading
wildcat strikes for better conditions. The Trade Union leadership here would
make the average Union bureaucrat in Britain seem positively revolutionary.
Any decent Trade Unionist gets the chop.
Let's look at the case of Mick O'Reilly as an example. He opposed Social
Partnership, adopted the rebel ILDA, opposed the Nice Referendum and was a
generally staunch advocate of the working class. He was fired. By a British
leadership with it appears, I am sick to say, complicity from
anti-Republican elements of that union. Does this example not demonstrate
what would be the outcome of actually trying to deliver socialism within
this current framework? To me, as with Connolly, the national democratic and
the socialist objectives are identical; to try to achieve the second without
the first is fallacy (and vice-versa).
When the civil rights marches were brutally attacked
by reactionary Protestant bigots, there was widespread
sympathy among Protestants. With a Marxist leadership,
the basis could have been laid for a united movement
of Protestant and Catholic workers to take on the
menace of sectarianism and fight for jobs, houses and
decent wages for all. The Civil Rights movement put
forward a number of progressive demands for equal
rights and civil liberties. However, they did not have
a clear class perspective. This constituted an
insurmountable obstacle, given the history of
sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland.
Well, we're not going to get into raking old coals but the key difficulty
was that the British military were not prepared to watch the growth of such
a cross-community movement. Neither were the Unionist state or the Unionist
organs of hegemony. They effectively shattered it by force and by threats.
Perhaps with a much better leadership, things could have been handled
better - who knows - but what would your response to Bloody Sunday be?
>The majority of Protestant workers were, in reality,
marginally better off than their neighbours. According
to a government report, in 1976 in the Protestant area
of Shankill Road in Belfast 79% of houses had no
inside toilet, 81% had no hot water, and 49% were
living on less than £25 a week. Under these
conditions, the Protestant bigots could present the
Civil Rights movement as a threat to the Protestant
population. One of the leaders of the movement,
Bernadette Devlin later admitted that "we realised
that, however nicely we put it, more jobs for
Catholics meant less jobs for Protestants. That was a
realistic fear of theirs."
Yes, I think Bernadette McAliskey was right on this. I'm surprised no-one
realised it back then. Indeed, there is a strong current of anti-Unionists
feeling within Nationalists which is just wanting to reverse the coin of
disadvantage. Having said that, there are reflections of the PUP here -
Protestants have a 'cold house' why? Because Nationalists are insisting on
Equality, Now. They complain about "Sinn Fein's In Your Face Politics" as if
there is some easy way to demand equality. Please sir can I have some
>The whole history of the struggle in Northern Ireland
demonstrates that the only way to solve the problem is
on the basis of a class programme. The moment you
abandon the class, all is lost. Many left groups,
bowed to the pressure of nationalism, with predictable
results. The leaders of Sinn Fein, while paying lip
service to a socialist Ireland in the dim and distant
future, insisted that the struggle for socialism be
postponed until the "question of the border" was
I like the way you attribute words to our leaders I have never heard.
Certainly, there is a realisation of what we can achieve at this time - we
are only a relatively small party, the third biggest in Ireland - besides
the course of world history over the past ten years haven't exactly
encouraged Socialists to 'come out' and wave the flag in an ultra-leftist
manner. The central point is that socialism as a system will only be
implemented by a movement with a big following, within some form of unitary
state. To think otherwise is some sort of myopicism. The question is how do
we get that result - Do we go out of our way to alienate potential
supporters? Do we phrase things defensively? Are people out there jumping
with anticipation for the revolution - if so, why is the SWP confined to a
sect existence. The other reality is that Sinn Fein is not homogenous - sure
we're nearly all working class or farmers - but there are many out there who
don't even know what socialism is let alone support it. The process is one
of Freirian education - a dialectical process. If you can't get with that,
then you can't do politics in a big party.
>The idea that the working class must set aside the
fight for socialism until the "border question" is
resolved is false from start to finish. ie "a
(Stalinist) two stages theory." The only way to solve
the national problem in Northern Ireland is through
the united class action of the proletariat, leading to
the overthrow of capitalism in the North and
South of Ireland.
As for this Trotsky - Stalin stuff, I'm going to pass. I have huge problems
with either the two stage or the permanent revolution. As I've said before
they both seem like charactatures of the sort of analysis we need. The
fallacy of your formulaic approach is the corollary (which is incorrect)
'the only way to solve the national problem in NI is through the united
class action of the proletariat'. In all likelihood the six counties will
disappear into oblivion in the next 15 - 20 years - simple demographics will
do that. The anticipated Unionist backlash will be little more than a
whimper - look at what's happening in Drumcree - five years ago that
attracted hundreds of thousands - this year it was a couple of hundreds.
Phil's/Gary's view is that this is part of the global resolution of
difficulties coming from the dominance of US Imperialism - just as Gibraltar
is being settled by the forces of EU Imperialism. If so, we need to know how
to use these forces to our own benefit - while the goings good. Then we can
go our own way. Such examples illustrate the sort of limitations which the
old formulas of long dead theories impose upon us. Concrete analysis of
If all we needed was the commitment of a unified working class - the
worldwide revolution would have been completely many times over. There are
other non-economistic forces at play - we need to recognise them and analyse
how to overcome them. That's a difficult call to make - if you want to
criticise you have to get your hands dirty in the detail. I also feel it
takes a real comprehension of forces on the ground - involvement with these
mass forces and a little global insight.
>Trotsky argued that, in the modern epoch, the historic
tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution,
including the national question, could only be solved
by the working class through the revolutionary
reconstruction of society.
I guess that's what happened in South Africa then?
>A similar idea was
expressed by the James Connolly who, polemicising
against the Irish nationalists, asked who the
"Irish people" were, and gave the famous answer: "Not
the rack-renting, slum-owning landlord; not the
sweating, profit-grinding capitalist; not the
sleek and oily lawyer; not the prostitute pressman -
the hired liars of the enemy...Not these are the Irish
upon whom the future depends. Not these, but the Irish
working class, the only secure foundation upon which a
nation can be reared."
You think that this piece confirms the theory of Permanent Revolution - why
did Trotsky write the book? This merely notes that the Irish people's
interests (from a National perspective) are precisely those of the working
class - his great argument of the identity of the Socialist and
anti-Imperialist tasks in the concrete case of Ireland in the 1910s. Your
difficulty is in distinquishing between objectives and strategies. People
like yourself had great difficulties with Connolly's involvement in 1916 -
indeed, I see Ted Grant still needs to ignore the role of the Volunteers in
the Easter rising to 'purify' Connolly's involvement in what might otherwise
be classed as a 'popular' frontist sort of action. Let's not forget the role
of the 'middle-class' Nationalists in that action - let's make these
experts' difficulty all the greater to illustrate their complete inability
to analyse the need for strategic actions (which don't always concur with
your long-term objectives or the 'pure socialism' which these cult leaders
preach in their splendid isolation).
>James Connolly had warned decades earlier: "If you
remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green
flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the
organisation of the socialist republic, England would
still rule you. She would rule you through the
capitalists, through her landlords, through the whole
army of commercial-industrial institutions she has
planted in the country"
This is Connolly's summit for me - made flesh by his action in Dublin in
Easter with the ICA. He writes something completely in parallel with Lenin -
they agree entirely on the identity of Imperialism with Advanced Capitalism.
In fact, once you have read 'Imperialism: The highest Stage of Capitalism',
Connolly's statement is a tautology. That is not to play it down at all - he
worked this out through his own struggle and his own reading of Marx. It is
amusing that we hear these words spoken in criticism of ourselves when it is
we who have fought hardest for that socialist republic against the arms of
the British military. Note, by the way that Connolly says: "if you... hoist
the green flag...unless you set about the organisation of the socialist
republic". Connolly doesn't expect the socialist republic to be achieved
this side of National Liberation. He, clearly, has his feet on the ground.
If he adopted your recommendations - he would have been better off working
in the trade unions and not joining that 'terroristic conspiracy' which was
Easter 1916. Surely, Connolly took the initiative and central role away from
the working class with his antics? Or perhaps, the ICA, like the IRA today,
are representatives of the working-class Republican and Nationalist
community. Perhaps you fail to see the level of community support necessary
to maintain and sustain a war against overwhelming power for over 30 years.
If it was just individuals, they would have been wiped out pretty promptly.
>The Peace Agreement
Of course, we agree in your critique of the twenty-six county economy.
>In contrast, the
North's manufacturing base has drastically eroded. The
Agreement sets out to create more favourable
conditions for profitable investment in the north,
as well as the south, by international capital. But
this means, in essence, more favourable conditions for
the exploitation of the working class. The
pact is a response to the demands of global finance
capital and the insistence, in particular, of
Ireland's largest investor, the United States.
I'm sure that's the way they would see it. But the agreement was only the
concretisation of a particular balance of forces at a particular time - as
seems likely next year the executive will fall and the Brits will have to
institute joint-authority. It doesn't say much for the stability of FDI.
Meanwhile, we have to push for as much socialism as possible - e.g.
replacing PFI/PPP with Bond issues/public sector borrowing, meeting the
massive shortfall in public sector capital expenditure and pushing for the
expansion of indigenous and social economy sectoral development. Our people
are also getting educated by the experience and the movement is developing
better ways of dealing with very challenging problems.
>Collaboration between the north and south will enable
the free movement of capital, while a cessation of
hostilities will create more stable conditions for
investment. One thing, however, remains constant
between the old and new arrangements. The cultivation
of sectarian divisions in the working class has been
the key mechanism through which the ruling class
has prevented the emergence of an effective opposition
to big business.
Just where you see this seething mass of working class fighters, I don't
know. Perhaps you could let me know when their next meeting is happening.
Most people down my way think that Socialism is a 'nice but wrong' theory
leading to mass murdering dictators - and that's the educated ones. We have
to convince them of its reality by the success of our actions - that's the
reality in which we live since 1991.
>The Agreement seeks to enshrine these religious and
communal divisions as the basis of political life in
Ireland. What distinguishes this agreement
from previous attempts to restructure the political
system in the north is the inclusion of Sinn Fein.
>From the standpoint of international capital, this
is critical for creating new social and political
mechanisms for keeping the working class divided and
Perhaps any agreement which operated in the North would need to take these
(very real) divisions into account. You couldn't run a Northern Executive
without such controls as the Unionists would just get back to Stormont 1960s
style. As far as working-class division is concerned - it may surprise you
but most people drink their political grouping from their mother's milk.
Pending the full integration of the National territory and the subsequent
sea change in thinking, I really can't see much changing.
>Given the pro-business character of the Agreement, how
has it been possible to secure such a substantial vote
in favour? In the first place, the parties to the
Agreement were able to capitalize on two widespread
and related sentiments: a consensus that the status
quo was intolerable, and a growing belief that the old
programmes of republicanism and unionism offered no
viable way forward. There is no question that the
vote, although in a politically confused form, revealed a
weakening of the grip of nationalist and sectarian
politics on broad layers of the working population.
It really depends what you mean Nationalist. The vote may actually represent
something of a war-weariness on the extremes. However, the lament you hear
over and over by middle class political commentators today is 'the centre
cannot hold'. Sectarian politics and Nationalist politics are changing -
they are developing. Instead of old style Catholic 'pioneers' making the
core Republican constituency - it's now celtic or HAVANA/CUBA-topped(in big
letters) youth. Instead of the staid Orange order taking the lead in
Unionism, its loyalist paramilitary superstars. As far as Loyalist
sectarianism decreasing, I think you must be joking.
>The trade unions offered no alternative [to the GFA].
In the south they have played a key role for big business
by enforcing wage restraint through 'Partnership'
agreements with the employers and successive
governments. In the north the unions, which pursue the
same pro-business agenda, were staunch supporters of
the "Yes" campaign.
What those paragons of working-class activism - which retain bicommunial
memberships through their unflinching commitment to socialism??? You really
have to read what you are writing. You alternative for action (through
unions and other non-republican vehicles) are shown to be completely
bankrupt. Where then is your alternative strategy?
>A resolution of the profound social and democratic
problems facing Irish workers cannot and will not be
overcome by attempts to refurbish the existing
mechanisms of capitalist rule. Sweeping away the
legacy of backwardness and religious antagonism requires a
radical restructuring of economic and political life.
Who doesn't believe in this? I do. I think I have a plan or at least general
approach for achieving it. You on the other hand seem content to play
wordgames and literary diatribes with the issue.
> The working class is the only social force capable of
mobilizing all of the oppressed to carry out
such a revolutionary change. The critical question is
the development of a politically independent movement
of the working class, and this requires a conscious
break with the politics of nationalism and reformism.
No analysis of imperialism to be found here, just wordy mantras. It's a pity
Connolly's words have been forgotten so soon. No elucidation of a
potentially successful strategy either. Just haughty words with no support
from facts. No realisation that nationalist anti-imperialism can be a great
vehicle for socialist activism. Ultra-leftism.
> Marxists oppose the methods of individual terrorism,
but not from the standpoint of reformism and pacifism.
We set out from the position that "the task of the
emancipation of the working class is the task of the
workers themselves." The idea that imperialism and
capitalism can be defeated by small groups of "urban
guerrillas" or individual "heroes" is false and
damages the cause of socialism.
Oh yeah. And leaving communities without any defence is a good socialist
tactic. Perhaps to cut the crap here a quote from Bobby Sands (he says all
that's needed here):
"I am a political prisoner. I am a political prisoner because I am a
casualty of a perennial war that is being fought between the oppressed Irish
people and an alien, oppressive, unwanted regime that refuses to withdraw
from our land.
"I believe and stand by the God-given right of the Irish nation to sovereign
independence, and the right of any Irishman or woman to assert this right in
armed revolution. That is why I am incarcerated, naked and tortured.
"Foremost in my tortured mind is the thought that there can never be peace
in Ireland until the foreign, oppressive British presence is removed,
leaving all the Irish people as a unit to control their own affairs and
determine their own destinies as a sovereign people, free in mind and body,
separate and distinct physically, culturally and economically."
>A prior condition for revolutionary change is that the
working class - the only genuinely revolutionary force
in society - must become conscious of its own power.
>From this point of view, the methods of individual
terrorism, the idea that the destiny of society is
determined by a small minority of "saviours" with guns
and bombs is profoundly reactionary. If anyone still
has any doubts on the subject, let them look at the
concrete results of the last 30 years on the working
class, and say in all honesty in what way this has
benefited the cause of socialism and the working class
I guess Lenin would have been a terrorist by your definition. I think you
might forget the IRA was effectively fighting a defensive war. We were
fighting to survive as a people, to not lower our demands for equality.
Finally, the Brits realised that they could not ignore those demands any
longer and that they could not conclude a peace excluding us.
>What concessions have been gained?
After the Hunger Strikes many said that we gave in with nothing to show for
it. Yet, within years the prisoners had everything they demanded. In the
end, their status was confirmed in the GFA. Just the same, we are dealing
with a changing situation - the 6 cross-border implementation bodies are a
poor trade-off for 30 years of struggle. But that's not what it's about -
change is in the air. I don't need to repeat it all over again.
>Many who joined the Provisionals as 14 or 16 year olds
are now middle aged and have spent all their lives
fighting with no end in sight. Many were in gaol,
serving long sentences. With a Marxist leadership,
many of them could have played an important role,
developing a genuinely revolutionary struggle in the
tradition of Connolly and Larkin to realise the
historical aspirations of the Irish people. The
experience of the last 25 years has dealt a
devastating blow to the false theories of
petit-bourgeois nationalism and individual terrorism
masquerading as "armed struggle" which has destroyed
and disoriented a whole generation of youth in
Northern Ireland. It is necessary to make a new
start. But first of all it is necessary to break
decisively with those false methods which brought
defeat. It is necessary to go back to the ideas,
methods and traditions of the class struggle, not
individual terrorism, of socialist revolution, not
For me, at least, my life was changed by British soldiers and their storm
troops in the loyalist death squads. I laugh at your identification of the
IRA campaign and 'individual terrorism' - someone once told me that every
young man in my village wanted to join up. They had to turn them away. Some
individual terrorism there then. Petit-bourgeois nationalism... I'll have to
tell my friends about that when I get back to my/their housing estates. I
guess peasants have no roles to play in national liberation struggles
either?? Never heard of China this one...
>One of the main reasons why the situation has dragged
on for so long is the fact that the paramilitary
groups are heavily involved in gangsterism and
racketeering. [Not British Intervention then?]
Large amounts of money are obtained
from drinking clubs, betting shops, and also from
protection rackets. Lumpen tendencies appear to be
inseparable from many organisations. Lenin put an end
to the tactic of revolutionary expropriations and
disbanded the guerrilla units as soon as the
revolutionary wave of 1905-6 began to ebb. As part of
the mass revolutionary movement, guerrilla detachments
played an important role. But isolated from the mass
movement, there would inevitably be a tendency towards
demoralisation and lumpenism, degenerating into mere
banditry. The mafia itself originated in a guerrilla
struggle against the Bourbons in Sicily, and the
Triads were originally part of a Chinese nationalist
This is Trimble's recent charge. You must be reading too much Sunday
Torygraph. As for it's honesty against the IRA - perhaps you can inform me.
Perhaps you would slap the FARC for raising money to finance its campaign -
what about the PLO? Not content with painting revolutionary movements as
terrorists, these people call them gangsters.
> Lenin once said that the national question, at bottom,
was a question of bread. Capitalism means a future of
poverty, inequality, uncertainty, and constant
upheavals. The Irish capitalists have had 72 years to
solve the problems of the Irish people and have
failed. As James Connolly warned in advance,
"independent" capitalist Ireland is more dependent on
foreign multinationals than ever before. Formal
independence has solved none of the problems of the
Irish workers. The working people of both North and
South face similar problems. Socialists must fight for
a socialist class position, which remains the only way
out for the people of Northern Ireland.
I don't think that us Irish up here have had much 'formal independence'.
Connolly's concerns were only exacerbated by the partition of the country
and the retention of British influence in the North and neo-colonial South.
>Now I hope that didn't lead to the most sterile of
Trotsky versus Stalin type impasse.
With only passing reference to the Trotsky - Stalin impasse you have succeed
there (although I seem to remember the Officials operating as a Stalinist
outfit?). However, your argument roughly makes the defence: Unionism =
victim of British influence in North, Nationalism = Capitalism in Free
State, Republicanism = nationalism in north tainted by individualistic
terror methods, IRA today = unnecessary proto-gangster organisation, the
Long Struggle against British Imperialism = Foolish Strategy, Trade Unions =
(variously) mass organisations of both communities, the lapdogs of
capitalism and your particular branch of
the Officials/SPI = the only hope for workers unity and a Socialist Ireland
(or is that Federation?). With such deep analysis, I'm afraid the
Stalin-Trotsky debate might be more interesting.
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