We are publishing here a speech given by Phil Mitchinson at the recent
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, this should serve as
an introduction to a major article analysing the recent declaration of
the end of the armed struggle by the Provisional IRA which we will be
publishing later this week.
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 –
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
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 property.”
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
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 working class.
Now, it is impossible to understand the
situation in Ireland outside of the context of its whole historical development, and the
entire world situation.
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 century.
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.
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
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
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
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
In 1899, for example, Connolly wrote:
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 national
(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 and privileges.
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 Redmond:
everything was well chum
Rule will come
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 statelet.
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 first place.
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 interests there.
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
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
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
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
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
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 achieve them.
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 to them.
(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
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 reformist
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
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
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
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
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 example.
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
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
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
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
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 constitution.
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 utopians.
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 ‘Catholic areas’.
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
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 ready."