[Marxism] Ireland - uniting Protestant and Catholic workers

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Wed Apr 7 18:37:31 MDT 2004

>Is it possible to unite protestant and catholic workers on a 
socialist basis without a common position being taken on the national 
question, or, is the very existence of a protestant 'nation' bound to 
totally negate that possibility?

No, it isn't, because the national question is the question of
questions, the key political question in Ireland.

It is certainly possible to form some short-term unity between Catholic
and Protestant workers around some very elementary economic issue, as
happened during the unemployed protests in the 1930s.  But this comes
apart as soon as the Unionist elite plays the 'Orange card'.

What Connolly denounced as 'gas and water socialism' (and what I think
Costello, in more recent times, called 'ring road socialism') is no
match for Unionism when it comes to the hearts and minds of Protestant
workers.  There is simply no way around the national question.

The real task is for revolutionaries to build a mass base in the
nationalist working class and rural poor throughout Ireland and create a
powerful national liberation struggle that will put sufficient pressure
on the imperialists and their Unionist agents to cause a split in
Unionism.  In that situation, intelligent tactics by
socialist-republicans could certainly win over a chunk of Protestant
workers and, indeed, it would be vital that this was done.

In the short term, however, I think only a few individual Protestant
workers will be won over from time to time and they will be rare, but
precious, individuals.

The problem with the infatuation the economistic left has with
Protestant workers, rather than with the majority section of the working
class, is that it always leads to a capitulation to imperialism.  If the
Protestant workers are pro-imperialist, the economistic left works out
that they must not talk about imperialism and, indeed, attack the
anti-imperialists.  So the economistic left, even the best elements, end
up doing spade work for the British state, demonising the same people
the British state demonises - namely, the anti-imperialists.

For people of a Connolly persuasion, the cause of division in the
working class is imperialism so the path to real working class unity is
fighting against imperialism.  In the topsy-turvey world of the
economistic left, the problem is anti-imperialism and the solution is to
not even talk about, let alone struggle against, imperialism.

Philip Ferguson


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