We are publishing here a speech given by Phil Mitchinson at
the 2005 International Marxist school in Barcelona. Dealing with the
history of the centuries old struggle for freedom in Ireland, and the
part played in that history by republicanism and socialism, as well as
the political developments that have led to the current impasse. Phil,
who died tragically in 2006 at the age of 38 would have celebrated his
42nd Birthday on 25th February. His commitment to the revolutionary
ideas of Marxism and his boundless optimism were an inspiration to the
lucky few who knew him well. Phil needs no monument, his ideas and his
spirit are testament enough. Phil was instrumental in the pioneering
work that made this website possible and for that we are eternally
grateful. We will finish what he started.
“An Irish Republic, the only purely political change in
Ireland worth crossing the street for will never be realised except by
a revolutionary party that proceeds upon the premise that the
capitalist and the landlord classes in town and country in Ireland are
criminal accomplices with the British government, in the enslavement
and subjection of the nation. Such a revolutionary party must be
socialist, and from socialism alone can the salvation of Ireland come.”
These words written by James Connolly almost one hundred years ago
contain the basis of the perspectives and tasks of the struggle in
Ireland. The idea that the national liberation of Ireland, its freedom
from British imperialism – and consequently today Ireland’s
reunification, can only be achieved by the revolutionary struggle of
the working class for socialism – is repeated a thousand times in the
writings of James Connolly – the greatest Marxist born in the islands
of Ireland and Britain – who, just seven years after these lines were
written gave his life in the cause of that struggle. Wounded in the
Easter rising of 1916 and so unable to stand he was strapped to a chair
by the army of British imperialism and shot dead.
I could easily fill the next hour or more reading extracts from Connolly’s writings –
“Only the working class remain as the incorruptible inheritors
of the struggle for freedom in Ireland”, “The cause of labour is the
cause of Ireland, and the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour, the
two cannot be dissevered” – and it would be worthwhile. All
comrades should read Connolly. Here we find the most modern ideas,
ideas that are more relevant today than ever. It is our duty to rescue
those ideas from the clutches of the nationalists who have twisted and
distorted the memory of Connolly and buried him beneath Dublin statues
and street names.
In the same way in his own day Connolly struggled to rescue the
ideas of that great revolutionary democrat Wolfe Tone, leader of the
United Irishmen, who, one hundred years before Connolly, drew the
“Our freedom must be had at all hazards. If the men of property
will not help us they must fall; we will free ourselves by the aid of
that large and respectable class of the community – the men of no
Writing about Wolfe Tone, and unwittingly about himself, Connolly said “apostles of freedom are ever idolised when dead yet crucified when living.”
Four years ago I had the privilege of speaking at an international
school on the life and ideas of James Connolly. At that meeting there
was no-one present from Ireland. Today we are delighted to welcome two
comrades here as visitors from the Irish Republican Socialist Party,
Johnny from Strabane and Neil from Cork.
Of course our International does not yet have a section in Ireland. For my part, I am with Connolly when he wrote,
“a real socialist movement can only be born of struggle, of
uncompromising affirmation of the faith that is in us. Such a movement
infallibly gathers to it every element of rebellion and progress, and
in the midst of the storm and stress of struggle solidifies into a real
I believe that there is now an historic opportunity to construct out
of the crisis of Irish republicanism, out of the impasse of Irish
capitalism and out of the Irish workers’movement just such a
revolutionary party as Connolly demanded.
That is a struggle “worth crossing the street for.”
There is no alternative. Just read what passes for analysis in the
bourgeois press – the Manchester Guardian or the Belfast Telegraph
attempt to explain the latest failed attempt at devolution (The Good
Friday Agreement and Strormont) in terms of psychology and personality,
of Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley. Or worse they blame the ‘stubbornness’
and ‘moodiness’ of the Irish as a national characteristic!
The inability of capitalism – of the Irish and British ruling
classes – to solve the problems of Ireland cannot be explained away by
national insults, nor the whims of sectarian politicians.
In these terms either the problems of Ireland can never be solved – ‘it’s in their nature’,
the self-justification of those with no answer. Or, all that is needed
is to change the leaders of the sectarian parties – the fantasy and
illusion of those utopians who believe the GFA and Stormont can be
revived once the ageing Ian Paisley dies.
It is not Paisley, nor Adams, nor any individual sectarian
politician, but sectarianism, that poison which British imperialism
injected into the veins of Ireland; that Frankenstein’s monster to
which they gave life, and are now powerless to stop, which prevents
capitalism from solving the Irish question. The inability of that
system to provide jobs, houses, healthcare and education for all,
continues to spread that poison – which in turn is the lifeblood of the
sectarian politicians – even into the ranks of the one class in Irish
society able to solve both the national and social questions – the
Now, it is impossible to understand the situation in Ireland outside
of the context of its whole historical development, and the entire
Fifteen years ago amidst imperialism’s euphoria at the fall of
Stalinism, they deluded themselves into believing they could solve the
national question in Palestine, for example, and in Ireland. Instead,
the changing balance of forces internationally served to violently
shake up international relations and world politics. Rather than being
solved the national question reasserted itself – their efforts in
Palestine and Ireland ending in tragedy and farce.
In the case of the former Yugoslavia imperialism reopened wounds and
caused wars on the continent of Europe for the first time in half a
It is against this new international background of war and profound
instability that we must see the so-called peace process in Ireland and
the perspectives for the Irish working class.
Above all when dealing with the national question we have to be
concrete – which working class, with what history and tradition, in
what concrete circumstances? As Connolly explained in his pamphlet Erin’s Hope, “The
interests of labour all over the world are identical, it is true, but
it is also true that each country had better work out its own salvation
on the lines most congenial to its own people.”
In other words it is not enough simply to call for workers’ unity –
of course, Protestant and Catholic workers have more in common with
each other than with Irish bankers, or British industrialists, or with
Adams and Paisley. As true as this is on its own it is no more use than
standing on a street corner in Barcelona or London or Paris and
declaring the need for the working class to overthrow capitalism. If
this was all that was required to make a revolution it would have
succeeded long ago.
As Marxists we have to get to grips with the outlook of the Irish working class as it is
and not as we might like it to be, in the real, concrete situation. To
grasp the direction in which events are moving, in order to intervene
and build our movement.
The 31st August 1994 marked a turning point in Irish
politics with the declaration of an unconditional ceasefire by the
Provisional IRA. For 25 years the Provisional IRA fought an armed
struggle with the declared aim of driving out British imperialism and
reuniting the island of Ireland. With more than 3000 dead on all sides
not one single step has been taken in that direction – on the contrary
quite a few strides have been taken further away.
This represents a crushing defeat for the policy that Marxism has
always called individual terrorism, a campaign of bombings and
assassinations, which could not defeat British imperialism in centuries.
The Provisional IRA have been forced to follow up their cease-fire with a statement confirming “the complete cessation of violence” and that their arms are “beyond use” and they will go still further in the coming months, desperate to rescue the Good Friday Agreement.
But it will never be enough for Paisley. Paisley and co. have one
policy – fear. ‘You see’ they say ‘If the Provisional IRA are willing
to do this the British government must have promised them something.’
Two thirds of Unionists in a Belfast Telegraph poll now oppose the
Good Friday Agreement. In the annual violence around Orange Order
marches, or in the results of the recent elections, we see a clear
indication of the opposition of a Protestant majority even to the
shadow of concessions. They would not accept one step in the direction
of becoming an oppressed minority in a united capitalist Ireland, which
could not provide them with jobs, decent houses, hospitals and schools.
Of course, British imperialism has no such plan – much though they
might like to disentangle themselves from the whole costly,
destabilising mess that they have created. They have given a few
concessions, released a few prisoners; changed the name of the RUC to
the PSNI. In turn Sinn Fein sell these meagre concessions and the
hysterical reaction of Paisley and co. to gain support. But in reality
Adams and McGuiness have swapped their lofty ideals for ministerial
portfolios in a parliament that never meets.
It is ironic that for decades before the Good Friday Agreement the
so-called centre ground of Unionism and Nationalism, the UUP and the
SDLP, held a majority. The degree to which Stormont has entrenched
sectarianism is in part demonstrated by the fact that the DUP and Sinn
Fein now have the majority ensuring that Stormont cannot meet and the
Good Friday Agreement cannot work.
After nearly 30 years of armed struggle the Provisional IRA and
their strategy has been defeated and the goal of a united Ireland is
further away than ever.
Instead of peace there are peace walls; segregation in housing and
jobs has increased; and Stormont has constitutionalised Partition and
the leaders of Sinn Fein have accepted it. The Nationalist bourgeoisie
in the south long ago abandoned any claim on the north.
The Loyalist paramilitaries bear a heavy responsibility for widening
the sectarian divide, the tactics of the Provisional IRA also mean they
share a heavy burden of responsibility. But in the first place it is
necessary to place the ultimate responsibility where it rightfully
belongs – at the feet of British imperialism.
Ireland was England’s first colony and experienced the vicious
cruelty of the Anglo-Saxon ruling class long before the peoples of
Africa and Asia. From the twelfth century onwards the Irish nation was
devastated by a series of wars of conquest – the economy was wrecked,
the people reduced to starvation, and their language and culture
Centuries of brutal oppression under English rule bred a fierce
spirit of revolt and repeated uprisings. The whole history of these
struggles is dominated by the courage of the people’s struggles on the
one hand, and by the betrayal of those struggles at every turn by the
bourgeois nationalist leaders on the other.
It is no accident, therefore, that without ever referring to
Trotsky’s phrase the Permanent Revolution, nevertheless, we find
exactly the same conclusion running through all the writings of James
Connolly. Namely, that the bourgeoisie in the modern epoch is incapable
of solving the tasks of the national democratic revolution. That the
leadership of that revolution has passed to “the men (and women) of no property”, to the “incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom”, the working class, who will not stop at its boundaries but must carry on to the tasks of the socialist revolution.
In 1899, for example, Connolly wrote:
“ The nationalism of men who desire to retain the present social
system is not the fruit of a natural growth but is an ugly abortion,
the abortive product of an attempt to create a rebellious movement in
favour of political freedom among men contented to remain industrial
slaves. It is an attempt to create a revolutionary movement towards
freedom and to entrust the conduct of the movement to a class desirous
of enforcing the social subjection of the men they are professing to
lead… It professes to believe that the class grinding us down to
industrial slavery can at the same moment be leading us forward to
(Apologies to the translators)
When Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government was forced to accept the
idea of Home Rule for Ireland, on the eve of the First World War, Lord
Carson mobilised a mass Protestant force to oppose it. British army
officers refused to carry out the Liberal government’s orders, and the
Tories and Unionists joined together to force the government to abandon
the plan. They feared that Home Rule would mean the end of their power
During the First World War the Irish bourgeois Nationalist leaders
supported their British masters and sent their Irish Volunteers to die
at the front on behalf of British imperialism. As an aside, Connolly
wrote a scathing piece of propaganda attacking Nationalist leader John
“Full stem ahead,
John Redmond said
That everything was well chum
Home Rule will come
When you are dead, and buried out in Belgium!”
The abandonment of Home Rule and then the First World War prepared
the way for the Easter Rising of 1916. Now that would require an entire
discussion in itself. In brief Connolly joined forces with nationalist
elements to stage an uprising against British imperialism – that rising
was betrayed by the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois nationalists and then
put down with great savagery by the British army. They tied the wounded
Connolly to a chair and shot him.
The mass revulsion that followed led inexorably to the war of independence from 1919-21.
At every stage of the Irish liberation struggle, the national
question has been inextricably linked to social problems. The Irish
bourgeois nationalists have consistently betrayed the movement to
further their narrow, class interests.
At bottom the national question is a class question. The
emancipation of the Irish people can only be won through the
emancipation of the working class, which has no class interest in
national or religious oppression. As Connolly insisted, the national
and social liberation of Ireland are bound together – only the working
class can achieve both, the capitalist class are capable of neither.
In 1921, threatened by social revolution the British ruling class
cynically carved up the living body of Ireland, proposing a treaty –
accepted by the majority of the Irish Nationalist leaders – to separate
the north, and a bloody civil war followed in the south.
Connolly had warned before his death that any attempt at such a
Partition would lead to “a carnival of reaction” undermining the
growing unity of the working class.
Four northern counties with Protestant majorities (Armagh, Down,
Derry and Antrim) were lumped together with two with Catholic
majorities (Fermanagh and Tyrone) to create an unstable, artificial
The south of Ireland at this time was predominantly agricultural –
the bulk of industry was in the north where the Protestant working
class had shown its revolutionary colours in the period following the
First World War. In truth the southern bourgeoisie was just as
terrified of the northern working class as the Protestant bourgeoisie
was. They saw the creation of this northern statelet as an opportunity
to rid themselves of the ‘godless Protestants and communists.’
The southern bourgeoisie has consistently demonstrated its lack of
interest in reuniting Ireland – they supported its division in the
British imperialism feared social revolution in Ireland. They had
economic interests in the north; the Protestant landlords were linked
to the British Tories; and imperialism had strategic naval and military
Partition led to the creation of a reactionary state based on
Protestant superiority. For more than 50 years Catholics were
systematically discriminated against in housing and employment. There
was formal democracy, but the autonomous parliament –
Stormont – with its guaranteed, in-built Protestant majority was
effectively ‘a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People.’
The so-called police, the RUC and the hated ‘B’ Specials were
Protestant forces. This fostered bitterness and anger in the Catholic
population – it was meant to. The deliberate sowing of national and
religious hatred between Catholic and Protestant in Ireland is yet
another crime of British imperialism.
In order to defeat revolutionary struggle in Ireland the British
ruling class perfected the tactic of divide and rule they would later
use in India and Palestine.
Yet there is nothing natural or insurmountable in this. The unity of
workers in struggle runs like a red thread through all of Irish
history. The first great movement for Irish independence, the
revolutionary movement of the United Irishmen was led by Wolfe Tone,
who came from a Protestant background.
Before world war one, the great workers’ leader James Larkin led the
united movement of Catholic and Protestant workers in the great Belfast
Strike of 1907.
The heroic Dublin workers locked out in 1913 received support from
Protestant workers in Ireland and in Britain. In 1919 the predominantly
Protestant Belfast workers organised wave after wave of strikes.
The 1930s saw united struggles against unemployment.
There was the 1977 firefighters strike… there are many other examples.
In 2002 we saw the magnificent one-day general strike, with over
100,000 workers on the streets, against sectarianism, following the
murder of postal worker Daniel McColgan by loyalist paramilitaries.
Despite the crushing pressure of sectarianism the trade unions
remain the only mass organisations not divided on sectarian lines, and
moreover are linked to the unions in the south and in Britain.
But we must not have an idealised view. The trade unions do not
exist in a vacuum, they too have been affected, particularly by the
segregation of workplaces which has accelerated in the last ten years
(and I’ll come back to this if there’s time)
Nevertheless with almost a quarter of a million members the trade
unions are by far the most powerful force in Irish society. They
represent the basic workers’ organisations for overcoming sectarian
division and promoting working class unity in common struggles for
jobs, wages, pensions, against discrimination and oppression.
At each stage as workers have moved towards unity, the sectarians of
all shades have intervened to prevent it. The Orange Order for example
was established to oppose the revolutionary United Irishmen, in 1795,
and their struggle for independence which was inspired by the French
Revolution. There’s no time to go into it but it was supposed to be to
celebrate the victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne
on July 12th 1690 (hence the name and the date of the Orange marches)…
There’s not enough time either to go into the Civil Rights movement
of 1968-69 (which again was influenced by the events in France in May
1968). The attacks by Loyalist bigots on civil rights marchers
initially created a wave of sympathy for the marchers amongst
But the Loyalists were able to play on those fears of swapping
places with an oppressed Catholic minority, not least because the civil
rights leaders, whilst advancing progressive, democratic demands, did
so within the restrictive boundaries of capitalism. As one of the
leaders, Bernadette Devlin, commented drawing the same conclusion,
“More jobs for Catholics meant less jobs for Protestants.”
There is a stark lesson here. Once one abandons the class position of Connolly, one enters onto a slippery slope to disaster.
The petit-bourgeois leaders of Sinn Fein paid lip service to the
idea of socialism, but only in the dim and distant future, after the
question of the border is settled. First a capitalist united Ireland,
and then, sometime in the sweet by and by, socialism. The sects all
followed suit acting as cheerleaders for the Provisional IRA and Sinn
Fein for decades. The SWP, remember called for British troops to be
sent in in the first place, to protect the Catholic population! (Thanks
to these types the image of republicanism internationally is equated
with the Provisional IRA, no reference was made to the socialist wing
of republicanism, the IRSP.)
They wrote off the Protestant working class as one reactionary mass
– comparisons were made with whites in South Africa. Of course
Catholics were discriminated against, but the Protestant working class
are hardly a pampered elite living a life on luxury.
Only a class programme could reach them, can build unity, the unity
of the working class needed to unite Ireland under the rule of the
working class. Trying to bomb them into minority status in an Ireland
of poverty and unemployment, a capitalist Ireland could not. On the
contrary that only served to drive a section of the Protestant
population into the arms of reactionary loyalism.
So, a capitalist united Ireland was never going to be possible on
this basis. It could only lead to a civil war that British imperialism
could not permit (not least because it would spill over into Glasgow,
Liverpool and elsewhere.)
The idea that the Irish working class should put aside the struggle
for socialism until the border was removed was only a variant of the
Stalinist “two-stage theory”, which has such terrible results in Spain
in the 1930s, in Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere. (This stages theory was
opposed by the Republican Socialists from the beginning, by the way.)
Well, on a capitalist basis they have demonstrably failed, not just
in theory, but in practice, to solve the border question. On the
contrary the results of the last thirty years has been to ratify
partition in the Good Friday Agreement and to entrench sectarianism.
It should now be clear, as it was to Connolly, that only the united
action of the working class mobilised to overthrow the bankrupt
capitalism of the south, the north and Britain can begin to solve the
national question in Ireland.
Everywhere, and not least in Ireland, we must oppose the failed
‘stages’ theory with Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution. In Ireland, in
particular, we must oppose it with Connolly’s ideas (I was going to
read another quote here but there is no time, the comrades will have to
read Connolly themselves)
Connolly’s idea that the struggle for national liberation and the
struggle for socialism are inseparable and only the working class can
The Irish bourgeoisie in the south and their shadows in the
Nationalist leaders in the north are no more able to solve the problems
of Ireland than British imperialism precisely because all of them
remain within the confines of capitalism.
British imperialism would like to be able to get themselves out of
the mess they have created in Ireland, yet in unleashing sectarianism
they have ensured they cannot. They have been trying for decades.
Following the Second World War Britain dominated the south economically
– just as Connolly had predicted – without direct control, and, at the
same time, the ports and industry of the north diminished in importance
(We could have a whole discussion on the evolution of the south –
from De Valera’s attempts at isolation to the opening up of the market;
the role of foreign direct investment, EU funding and, above all, the
increasing exploitation of the working class to explain the so-called
Celtic Tiger; and why new class battles are being prepared there too.)
From the 1950s onwards the existence of the border had become a
costly barrier to the more thorough exploitation of Ireland by
capitalism. For the first time in the mid-1960s talks began between
Irish Prime Minister Sean Lemass and Ulster Unionist leader Terence
O’Neill to try to find a capitalist solution. Now four decades later
those talks are no further forward.
The Good Friday Agreement finds it roots here in the 50s and 60s and
British imperialism’s first attempts to secure a deal between sectarian
politicians, which continued through the Sunningdale agreement of
1973-4; the Anglo-Irish agreement under Thatcher in the 80s; up to the
present episode of a Stormont devolution suspended in limbo.
Meanwhile, the IRA’s ‘border campaign’ of the 1950s was a complete
failure, and in the 1960s the leadership decided to abandon the armed
struggle. At that time the IRA leadership was in the hands of a
Stalinist tendency. The decision to abandon armed struggle was a step
forward or could have been, but the Stalinist leaders were moving in a
Now, Marxists oppose acts of individual terrorism not from a
reformist or a pacifist standpoint. The task of the emancipation of the
working class is the task of the working class themselves. In the words
Connolly repeated a thousand times “peacefully if possible, by force if necessary”
Connolly organised an armed force, the Irish Citizens Army, the
first Red Army in Europe. This was the armed wing of the mass movement,
organised in the first place to defend workers against the attacks of
scabs, and the bosses’ mobs who attacked strikers. The ICA was led by
Connolly, and by Captain Jack White, a Protestant Ulsterman.
A prior condition for the victory of the socialist revolution is
that the working class becomes conscious of its own power – not a wheel
turns nor a lightbulb shines without their permission. To a large
degree the ability to carry that revolution through peacefully depends
on the unity of the working class. Therefore we base ourselves on
Trotsky’s idea, that what is progressive is what raises the
consciousness and self-consciousness of the working class – and
whatever promotes unity – what is reactionary is what lowers the
confidence of the workers in themselves, and what undermines their
At the same time as the leaders of the IRA moved towards reformism,
a hard-line, militarist faction, many on the right wing – backed and
funded by a right wing faction of the southern Tory Party Fianna Fail –
split away and formed the Provisional IRA.
They had no base in the north until money and arms from the south
helped them to gain one. In the ebb of the civil rights movement, and
especially after the massacre of 14 innocents on Bloody Sunday,
radicalised groups of Catholic youth wanted arms to defend themselves.
But the cupboard was bare, the Official IRA had none, mistakenly they
had dumped them, and many of these youth flocked to the banner of the
Provisional IRA instead. The Official IRA was outmanoeuvred.
Around this time there was a split to the left. It is almost a law,
I know Alan has mentioned it before, that mass nationalist (and there
is a comparison here with Republican) movements always tend to split
along class lines at a certain stage.
Long standing IRA leader Seamus Costello formed the Irish Republican
Socialist Party, they declared for Connolly, that the struggle for
socialism and national liberation are inextricably bound together.
From the very beginning the new socialist wing of republicanism (in
reality there had always been a socialist wing within republicanism)
was beset by crises. Their leaders beginning with Costello himself,
Miriam Daly, Ta Power, Gino Gallagher were assassinated either by the
Officials, the state, or the Provisionals, or by criminal gangs. There
was something here to frighten each of them.
This inevitably poisoned and distorted the development of the IRSM.
They made many mistakes, as I think they are the first to admit, and
they have also learned a great deal from them (the only way one can be
sure of avoiding mistakes is by doing nothing). They played a heroic
role in the 1980-81 hunger strikes. Three of their number gave their
lives, Michael Devine. Patsy O’Hara and Kevin Lynch.
Many revolutionary youth have given their lives heroically in this
struggle – and that includes those in the Provisionals as well as those
from a socialist background.
Some of the more political youth, like the IRSP’s Ta Power studied
Marx and Lenin in prison (his prison notebooks would be a valuable
publication if that were possible). He also wrote what has come to be
known as the ‘Ta Power Document’ which some of the comrades will have
read on our website, calling for the supremacy of political struggle
over military action, a turn from armed struggle to class struggle and
socialist revolution and so on, the comrades should read it.
This brings us up to the present. Through the 1980s and 1990s
Republican prisoners like the population as a whole were becoming
war-weary. The Provisional IRA declared a ceasefire. This was the start
of the so-called peace process – an attempt to share out responsibility
for the implementation of a capitalist policy between the bloc of four
sectarian parties, Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the UUP and the DUP, who
between them poll 93% of the votes cast in elections.
The purpose from the point of view of British imperialism was to
provide some stability to more effectively exploit the Irish working
class in the name of profit, and to cut their expenditure on troops etc.
From every point of view this has been a dismal failure. It has
solved nothing for the working class of the six counties. The Stormont
Assembly only met long enough for its members to vote themselves a pay
rise and more expenses. When it discussed policy there were no real
differences between the four main parties, on privatisation, for
Now suspended for the fourth time, in reality it is dead. Oh, it can
be resuscitated periodically perhaps (like any coma victim there is the
danger of brain death, and ending in a persistent vegetative state,
looking at them I fear it’s already too late for most) but as the
promised solution it is dead.
This has created a new crisis in Republicanism. What now? Many, youth in particular will be asking themselves this question.
The descent into gangsterism by one section only exacerbates that
crisis. The impact of the Northern Bank robbery and above all the
murder of Robert McCartney has been to expose this criminal side.
Paramilitary groups on both sides have been involved at one time or
another in drug dealing, money laundering and protection rackets. This
has gone on for years. The Loyalist gangs are currently engaged in a
pernicious turf war along these lines.
Now the cover of political action has been removed to expose more of these criminal gangs.
Isolated from the mass movement there is an inevitable tendency
towards lumpenism and banditry in terrorist style organisation. The
Mafia, as I understand it, originated as a guerrilla struggle against
the Bourbons in Sicily. The Triads were originally part of a Chinese
Nationalist force. Now we have the ‘Ra-fia’.
Following the murder of Robert McCartney graffiti appeared in the staunchly Republican Short Strand Area saying “PIRA Scum Out”
This is an indication of the crisis confronting Republicanism, it is
reminiscent of the period when the old Official IRA moved to reformism
when graffiti on the walls read IRA – I Ran Away. There will be new
splits and divisions in the next period. In the current environment
there is not really the conditions for a new ‘militarist’ split. Some
will be demoralised and lost. Others will be looking for a new way
forward. As for a split to the left – that already happened with the
socialist wing, which can grow in the next period.
Now Stormont can’t meet it’s back to direct rule from Westminster.
This can only exacerbate the crisis facing the Provisionals and Sinn
Fein; they have no way forward and are desperate to rescue the Assembly.
Amongst the youth in particular there will be huge possibilities for
a revolutionary wing of republicanism – putting forward a
revolutionary, class position, an internationalist position.
I have to come to a conclusion now. British imperialism has failed
to solve the problem it created even with the best conditions, the best
opportunity, it could hope for – an economic boom in the south and in
Britain; the collapse of Stalinism; the failure and defeat of the
tactics of the Provisional IRA – and the best they could manage was
another failed episode of Stormont and a deepening of the sectarian
divide which prevents unification on a capitalist basis.
None of the sectarian parties have any progressive role to play
since their existence feeds on the continuation of the sectarian divide.
The Provisional Republican movement has been defeated. The
petit-bourgeois Nationalist leaders of Sinn Fein demanded an
All-Ireland Referendum, what they got instead was the abandonment of
the south’s claim for 32 counties, the abandonment by the southern
ruling class of the goal of a united Ireland, written into the
The south, the so-called Celtic Tiger has a big role to play but not
the southern bourgeois. The movement of the working class in the south
can play a vital part, as can movements of the workers in Britain, and
indeed revolutionary movements internationally which have so inspired
the movement in Ireland in the past. The revolution in Venezuela can
play a big part.
To get back to the point: British imperialism has no answer; the
sectarian parties have no answer; the Irish bourgeoisie has no answer;
the petit bourgeois nationalist leaders have no answer… you see a
pattern emerging here. As Sherlock Holmes used to say once you have
eliminated all other possibilities whatever you are left with, no
matter how improbable, must be the answer.
Only the working class can free Ireland from British imperialism and
free themselves from capitalist exploitation at the same time.
The task of revolutionaries in Ireland today is – Back to Connolly!
The task is to promote workers’ unity, with a class programme in the trade unions.
Oh, the usual suspects will criticise us that our answer is always
“the only answer is socialism” – that we aren’t practical, that we are
The impact of the poison of sectarianism and the enfeeblement of
capitalism makes this solution far from simple. Let’s just look at a
couple of facts. According to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in
1994 3000 people moved into areas overwhelmingly made up of the other
religious background – buoyed no doubt by the prospect of peace. By
1996 this trend had already reversed with 6000 moving into areas
predominantly of ‘their own’ background.
The 2001 census shows 66 percent living in areas either 90 percent plus Protestant or 90 percent plus Catholic.
Just 5 percent of the workforce located in Protestant areas are
Catholic, and just 8 percent are Protestant in workplaces located in
Catholics remain twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants and
the figure rises to three and a half times if you are a woman. That’s
according to the government’s Labour Force Survey.
These are just a few examples, together with the “peace lines” that
divide working class streets and estates, which demonstrate that
workers’ unity is far from simple, it is not the easy option, but it is
the only option.
It’s not simple but it is not utopian either. On January 18th,
2002, the one-day general strike of Protestant and Catholic workers
against the sectarian killing of postal worker Daniel McColgan, with
100,000 on the streets shows the clear potential for workers’ unity.
There are many class issues, economic issues, and political issues –
the anti-war movement for example – around which unity can be built.
Defending the Venezuelan revolution can play an important role, our
campaign on this question has gained support from Republican
Socialists, and has begun to gain a wider echo.
Against the background of impasse in Ireland, movements of the
working class in the south, in the north, in Britain, and revolutionary
movements internationally, there will be a tremendous and historic
opportunity to build the revolutionary party that Connolly referred to
in my opening remarks, and I want to finish with Connolly too. He
answered all the cynics who would denounce us as utopian and not
‘practical’ in advance when he wrote:
"Revolution is never practical – until the hour of revolution
strikes. Then it alone is practical, and all the efforts of the
conservatives and compromisers become the most visionary and futile of
human imaginings. For that hour let us work, think and hope. For that
hour let us pawn our present ease in hopes of a glorious redemption:
For that hour let us prepare the hosts of labour with intelligence
sufficient to laugh at the nostrums dubbed practical by our slave-lords
– practical for the perpetuation of our slavery: For the supreme crisis
of human history let us watch like sentinels with weapons ever at the