The Debate on the Irish National
it has been the view of Communists that the people of the thirty-two
counties of Ireland constitute a single nation and that unification
of this country is a necessary revolutionary task.
However, in the last few years, there has arisen a theory that opposes this
directly. In this period it was put forward first (and significantly enough)
by the Fascist journalist, Desmond Fennell, though it actually dates back
to the Liberal Unionist Leader, Thomas MacKnight. However, its most developed, ‘proletarian’ form
was presented by the ultra-Stalinite (and formerly Chauvinist) Irish Communist
Organisation.) Now the British and Irish Communists Organisation).
The Half-Hearted Theory
Before the position of the BICO is analysed (we need not trouble with the
petty bourgeois confusions of Fennell, or of Conor Cruise O'Brien), it is
well that a position between that and the traditional one be considered.
The ‘League for a Workers' Republic’ declared until recently
that the Protestants of Northern Ireland are not yet a nation, but a ‘nationality’.
The LWR did not attempt to define this concept in depth. Nonetheless, it
insisted that such a community, had the right to self-determination.
This theory depends on several demonstrably false assumptions. Firstly, the
term ‘nationality’ seems to have been used generally by the Marxists
theoreticians interchangeably with the term ‘nation’. The only
time the concept has been given a distinctive form was in Stalin’s
Marxism and the National Question in the first long quotation therefrom given
in Appendix I. Here he applies the word to the communities in the Austro-Hungarian
Empire that, in 1848 allowed themselves, in their backwardness, to be used
to help smash the bourgeois national revolutions of the Germans and the Magyars.
These latter were ‘nations’, the others ‘nationalities’.
This is all there is on which to base an analysis.
But it is a starting point. To analyse 'nationality’, it must be related
as a similar social phenomenon to the better defined ‘nation’.
This is, of course, the product of the development of capitalism among a
certain community. It is created by that people's destruction of all possible
barriers to the forming of a single home commodity market. This involves
the development of a common language used in a single geographical
a certain amount of uninterrupted time to give the community, the
developing nation, its final characteristic – a common psychology
manifested in its culture. This process does not stop with the end of the classic, European,
bourgeois revolutions. All that has happened is that, in Asia and Africa
the leadership for such a development is taken from the essentially un-enterprising
anti-national capitalist class by petty bourgeois pre--capitalist elements
(artisans, intellectuals, peasants) in the communities concerned. As a final
point, in these circumstances, the objectively bourgeois struggle to build
a nation has to ‘grow over’ into the struggle for workers' power.
What, then would a ‘nationality’ be? If it has any validity at
all it must be based on a previous stage of historical development to that
from which a nation grows. In other words; it is a retarded, ‘pre-capitalist’,
phenomenon. But there is more to it than that. Because it is retarded, (really
through no fault of its own) its political activities tend to handicap the
development of neighbouring communities into nations. Because its development
is stilted the nationality's leadership (usually feudal barons or tribal
chiefs) will use its position to thwart the socio-economic process that will
cause its obsolesence. The Croats and the Czechs looked to Czarist Russia
to help defeat the actual self-determination of the Germans and Magyars in
1848. In the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Irish
looked to feudal Spain and absolutist France to oppose the rise of the English
nation. (Once again, this was not conscious malevolence, except on the part
of many of the leaders of the Irish nationality). In the twentieth century
the Ibos of Nigeria have allied with Portugal and South Africa to maintain
their separation from the developing Nigerian nation. From this, two more
facts emerge. In the first place, a nationality cannot have the right to
self-determination until the material basis that is the necessity of its
existence as a nationality has been destroyed. Ideally, this should mean
the triumph of the national capitalist revolution and its destruction of
the feudal limits in its subjects' nationalities. (Marx urged such a course
on the 1848 revolutionaries in Austria.) Indeed this did happen with the
classical French revolution, though elsewhere (as with the British capitalists
against the Irish) it was precisely the opposite method that stimulated the
national struggle. In any case, and for what cause a nationality has broken
with its past, a triumphant bourgeoisie cannot grant self-determination for
developing nations under its control, it wants the largest possible market
for itself alone (Even the liberating French revolution was not ready to
lose control over the Flemings and the Rhenish Germans). Only where the national
struggle has ‘grown over’ into the working class struggle can
its protagonists both destroy the basis for opposition from subject nationalities,
and then offer the nation developing accordingly the right to self- determination.
But here again, self determination will mean usually peaceable, rather than
The second point is that the idea that the Protestants of Northern Ireland
are a nationality is an anachronism. Ireland has gone beyond the stage of
development expressed by ‘the nationality’ when Protestant separatism
began to develop.
The Ulster Protestant community had maintained itself as a capitalist society.
Once the institutions developed and maintained by the peculiar (and peculiarly
obnoxious) form of Ulster Protestant industrial capitalism have been removed,
Northern Ireland cannot survive for long by itself as a workers' state, nor
develop as a separate nation. But more of this anon.
The ‘Two Nations’ Concept
The theory of the BICO must be taken more seriously than that associated
with the LWR. The bourgeoisie of the Republic is likely to sell out on its
traditional territorial claim for the north-east. In addition, the petty
bourgeois Republican movements will probably fail to make the most of their
opportunities. Thirdly, the possibility of a Communist movement taking the
lead and bringing the present struggle to success by leading it into proletarian
power is not yet more than a possibility. Accordingly, the BICO's ‘two
nations’ theory may well influence many workers demoralised by defeat
in the national struggle.
In what does the theory consist? It must be said that most of its defenders
are inclined to put forward simply as a bourgeois counter to the nationalism
of the Republic. But it does have a form more in keeping with proletarian
rhetoric. This goes briefly as follows:
The Northern Irish Protestants are a distinct nation.
2. They have, therefore, the right to self-determination.
3. The denial of this right by the Irish Catholics is what divides the working
class in Ireland – Catholic and Protestant.
4. It is in the interests of t.he capitalists both of Ireland and England
to stabilise Ireland by uniting it probably under a semi-Fascist type
5. There is no prospect of developing the present pseudo-national revolution
into a Socialist revolution according to the theory of permanent revolution.
There is no mass Marxist vanguard to lead it. The petty-bourgeois interest – notably
the peasants – that are necessary for this are just not there to
be mobilised. The Irish revolution will have to be a ‘purely Socialist’ one
in which the industrially militant Protestant workers will play a major
role (after they have been weaned from Unionism by the Catholic workers'
recognition of their separate national status).
and Ulster Protestantism
This argument can be faulted in several aspects. Each point is inaccurate
in some ways. First is the question as to whether the Protestants of Ulster
are a nation distinct primarily from the other inhabitants of Ireland, but
also from the other inhabitants of the British Isles. Certainly the Unionists
can claim attributes that correspond formally to a number of Stalin's distinguishing
Their community is, certainly one of language and a nation. Admittedly, the
first aspect, in Stalin's sense (‘We are referring, of course, to the
colloquial language of the people and not to the official government language’ present
author's emphasis) is shared by all the peoples of the British Isles. As
to the second fact, there is an area (the Belfast ‘Pale’ east
of the River Bann) which is recognisably Protestant, albeit with ‘Catholic’ enclaves,
such as Falls Road and the Glens of Antrim.
But there are other points in Stalin's definition that need more consideration.
Are the Protestants an historically-evolved stable community? What is the
nature of their common economic life and 'psychological make-up, manifested
in a community of culture’? It may certainly be argued that the Protestants ‘evolved
historically’ from, Colon-Races. They were drawn originally from two,
rather than one developing nations – the Scots and the English – whose
rulers had to unite to hold their lands against the Irish natives, and finally
in 1834, to hold their industries against disturbance. Whether this is sufficient
for the definition is another matter.
The really doubtful points are those of ‘stability’, ‘economic
life’ and ‘psychology vested in culture’. They also happen
to be the ones, most qualitatively important for the ‘two-nation-mongers’ case.
As we have seen, the three points analysed already are, though valid, so
slight as to mean that, were the other points as slight, there would be no
basis for Unionist feeling in Northern Ireland. However, the psychological,
economic and stability factors have to be taken into consideration before
judgment may be made on the nature of the Northern Protestant community.
And, in particular, the first two are critically important factors in the
community's feelings of separateness from the rest of the Irish people. The
history of their development is limited to, and clarified by, the question
of the existence of the third factor in any nation: the stability of the
The stability factor is by far and away the most doubtful in the development
in the Northern Irish Protestant community. The formalists will object; have
not the Protestants of the north-east been settled for 370 years? But, for
Marxists, communal stability is more than just living in the same place for
a long period. (If it were not so the claims of some nationalists that the ‘Golden
Age’ Irish formed a nation would be true.) Its existence as an aspect
of a nation is bound up with concrete matters that produce such an entity.
Central amongst these is the creation of a home commodity market; in this
task, stability is obviously necessary. Such a market cannot be developed
in conditions of warfare, either civil or inter-state, within its prospective
area. The nation of the English made its appearance on the world scene early;
with its insular position, it could consolidate its capitalist economy without
excessive foreign interference. The nation of the Germans had its growth
retarded for over a century by the Thirty Years War.
The central fact that prevents the Ulster Protestants from being a nation
is this; whereas the communal nature of the nation develops in stability,
their sense of community grew out of the opposite. As will be shown, they
possessed a common economic life, in a sense, but it was developed and maintained
not on the home market of their community but on the Common Market of the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and on the empire thereof. Thus,
the bourgeoisie was able to maintain its prosperity by methods that would
be suicide elsewhere: the maintenance of feuds and divisions within its workforce.
In short, the unity of the Ulster Protestants in distinction to the Irish
Catholics is based on instability; when the community (or at that time, the
two, Anglican and Dissenter, communities) was at its most stable, its presbyterian
elements were in the vanguard of the Irish national revolution – as
a part of the developing Irish nation. This stability was weakened by the
influx of cheap, Catholic labour from the west into a relatively homogeneous
Protestant population to help reduce the wages of the workers therein. On
the instability resulting, the distinctiveness of a united Protestant community
thrived. The split between the two parts of the Irish nation was encouraged
by the Protestant industrialists' need for cheap labour to enable them to
rationalise their concerns, and, later, to maximise their profits. They were
not unique in their use of religion to this end: only more successful than
most due to their lack of dependence on their home market. This communal
division was complemented by the unity of Anglicans and Dissenters. It was
finally given an expression, in state form by the creation of Northern Ireland
(again in the longest period of active instability that Ulster had yet seen).
It is for this reason that the Ulster Protestants cannot be called a genuine
More about ‘Stability’
Up to date the BICO has never really tried to analyse the decisive period
(the first half of the nineteenth century). Its only contribution to understanding
it is to be found in the 0rganisation's publication, The Two Irish Nations,
A Reply to Michael Farrell. At the bottom of page 13, they refer to a passage
in his attack on the theory, ‘New Nations for Old’ – Northern
Star, No. 5, in which he correctly, if sketchily, enough refers the Protestant-Catholic
communal division less to the Home Rule Bills than to the Tory seizure of
leadership in the Presbyterian Synod in 1829. Here is what the Organisation
has to say:
other Nationalist [everyone who doesn't agree with the BICO is,
for it, automatically a Nationalist – Author] propagandists
[Farrell] implies that Cooke's triumph brought about the triumph
of Orangeism and Toryism in the Presbyterian community. Cooke himself
was a Tory and supported the landlord interest. That did not make
his triumph in the theological controversy a triumph for Toryism
‘Montgomery's principle of Church organisation might be called anarchist.
His theology was a transitional ideology between Christianity and agnosticism.
The adoption of his position would have led to the fragmentation of Presbyterianism.
Cooke triumphed as the spokesman of the orthodox Presbyterianism. Though Cooke
was personally a Tory and Montgomery was personally a radical these were not
the issues in their theological controversy. The Presbyterian Assembly remained
liberal and anti-landlord in politics.
'Orangeism and Cooke's leadership of the theological triumph over the Arian
offensive are put on a par with economics in causing the change in the politics
of the Ulster bourgeoisie from nationalist Separatism to Unionism. But isn't
it sufficient cause that (quoting Farrell) 'the North's industry actually
prospered under the Union' (p. 25) 'Belfast had become part of the British
industrial economy' (p. 26) – The Two Irish Nations pp.13,14.
The facts to
reply to this (though it wasn't conceived as such at the time,
being prepared two years before the above) is to be found in our
comrade, DR O'Connor Lysaght's pamphlet ‘The Making of
Northern Ireland'. In it is shown that Cooke's ‘triumph in the theological
controversy’ did not occur in a vacuum: that there is very
tangible objective evidence to explain its meaning, rather than
the BICO's impressionistic one.
To summarise: both Farrell and the BIC0 are wrong when they state that 'the
North's industry prospered under the Union’ at least as far as the
first quarter of the Union's period goes. In fact, the developing industrial
economy of Ulster was in a major crisis in the twenties and thirties, of
the nineteenth century. A major change-over was having to be made from cotton
to linen and from a partially home-based industry to an all-factory one.
In these circumstances, the stresses on the economy were critical, and were
increased by the fact that the weavers were discontented and had shown a
determined activism in pursuit of their needs in the 1810s. Northern Irish
industry was saved by three factors: Firstly, only closeness of the north-east
to the Scottish coal-field could prevent a collapse equivalent to that suffered
concurrently with Irish industry outside the province. Secondly, the large
market of England (and even more of its empire) provided a greater opportunity
for a rationalised Ulster industry than an Irish home market impoverished
And, thirdly, there was religion. It wasn't entirely the rise of Dr Cooke
that was decisive here, it was, also, the civil rights agitation of Daniel
O'Connell (albeit supported by many surviving Protestant United Irish leaders)
with its emphasis on Catholic rights. It was, too, that the Presbyterian
Church was subsidised by the state whereas the Catholic wasn't (again by
O'Connell's intervention). But the subjective circumstances were favourable
to answer the objective needs of the industrialists. Cooke was the leader
of a tendency in Ulster Presbyterianism not just to tighten up matters theologically
but to revive the use of religion to keep the people quiet. (This idea had
been having one of its periodic revivals throughout Europe since the French
Revolution). That he defeated ‘theological anarchy,’ was not
gratuitous: the greater the theological anarchy, the greater the radicalism.
Protestantism itself was originally theological anarchy compared to Catholicism.
The people who supported him knew what they were doing – and it wasn't
for good theology's sake. What it was, was for what happened in the years
to come: two Tory MPs for Belfast under the reformed (bourgeois) franchise,
the admission of Presbyterians to the Orange Order, sectarian riot in Belfast,
regularly, from, 1835 and ‘The North's industry prospering under the
Union.’ All these are rather more definite expressions of political
feeling than are generalised remarks about the continuing ‘Liberalism’ of
the Presbyterian Assembly (which was always outdone by the liberalism of
Montgomery and those who seceded with him, anyway.)
‘Community of Economic Life'?
But this fact not only negates the national nature of the Northern Irish
Protestants, it also weakens the validity of the points on which their national
nature is claimed to depend. The first of these is, of course, its form as
a ‘Community of Economic Life’. Actually, this description would
be more aptly described as a part of such. After 1801, the twin facts of
union and rack-rent landlordism operated, to drive a wedge between the two
communities in the country. On the one hand, the industrial bourgeoisie of
the south was handicapped by the poverty of its potential ‘home market’,
by the loss of potential supplies of capital through the move of landlords
to the centre of the Union government, and by its lack of supplies of raw
material for the production of capital goods. In the north-east its counterparts
had used Ulster custom and absence from economic penal legislation to provide
a stronger base for more developed industrial growth. After the union, they
were closer to the sources of their raw materials and were able to use the
religious differences among their employees to good effect to maintain and
increase their rate of exploitation. So the former died (with some exceptions):
the latter thrived.
But the ability to divide the population of Ulster was dependent on its bourgeoisie's
lack of dependence on that population as a home market. Here it was aided
by a unique historical fact: its position on the periphery of the first industrial
capitalist country (‘the workshop’) of the world. Already, England's
capitalistic pre-eminence had enabled [it] to expand and consolidate itself:
to merge politically with the nation of the Scots and to keep the Welsh divided – north,
south and central. In addition, it was able to expand overseas to build up
the largest colonial empire of any European power. These facts helped to
provide an expanding market, far more satisfactory to the Ulster Protestant
industrialists than the population either of Ulster or of impoverished Ireland
as a whole. In their province, as had been shown, the larger market enabled
them to depend, happily, on the instability of what would otherwise have
been their home market. Bigotry, Unionism and British-Colonialism marched
hand in hand.
A ‘British Nation’?
A case might be made that, as a result of this historical development, what
has transpired is a single nation of the Protestant British Isles. After
all, it is ‘historically evolved’, and the various aspects of
its communal life are in existence. Even the ‘psychology based in a
common (Protestant) culture’ is present, as it is in the Ulster Protestant
community. Taken as a whole, the factor of communal ‘stability’ exists
to a greater extent than it does there.
The BICO will answer this, of course, by pointing to the readiness of the
Unionists to rebel against the British Crown in 1914. But this proves nothing.
Regional risings are not unknown in the early days of nations. Compared to
the Vendée, the seriousness of the Ulster separate ‘national’ claim
was minimal. Its British Unionist allies had a more than 50-50 chance of
winning the next General Election. It had immense support in the British
(Professional) Army, and, probably (as the Larne gun-running showed) in the
British Navy. When the Ulster Volunteers went to war, finally, they fought
for the power that they had defied but recently. No doubt, they were subjectively
serious. But, by itself, seriousness proves nothing.
It was Craigavon, after all, who warned the Unionists that they would lose
their position if they ever actually turned their guns on the British Army.
The current Ulster militancy is based on a similar bluff – magnified
by 60 years, by the continuance of the fact that since 1798 because of its
identification with British Imperialism the community has never known military
defeat (thus any North-South war would be likely to be shorter than many
imagine unless the British returned).
But, whatever it may have seemed at the time, the vision of a British nation
is somewhat thread-bare now. With the rise of a challenge to Britain's monopoly
position from the new capitalist powers of (especially) Germany and the USA
its expansion as a unit began to be checked. The last move in its growth
was to allow the Irish tenants to buy their own land and thus eliminate a
major cause of alienation between them and the rest of the British population.
However, the completion of this occurred only after the First World War had
weakened British Imperialism and after the Irish majority had successfully
asserted its separation, at last, from the Union.
Since then, the process has continued. The break-up of the British Empire
whose colonial super-profits provided the mortar binding together the ‘United
Kingdom’, its vulnerability to the crises of capitalism, have created
centrifugal tendencies within the remaining Union. The junior partners in
the British Imperial Joint-Stock Company are preparing to jump clear from
its inevitable crash. Scotland and Wales are becoming restive. This, though
a petty bourgeois manifestation, has already shown a working class potential,
against the bankruptcy of the official British Labour Party. In Northern
Ireland, for the first time in living memory, or beyond, ‘The Twelfth’ of
1971 saw more of the Province's distinctive Red Hand than of the Union jack.
However, this is of less significance than it seems (or than the Welsh and
Scottish nationalist movements). The Protestant people of Northern Ireland
have recently lost their Parliament and are likely to get it back; at the
same time, they have a share of the Union's Welfare State. (This conceals
a real colonial exploitation but the same exploitation exists in the Republic
and without the welfare benefits). A true national movement would have to
break with the latter, and to threaten the already unstable status quo. Only
if the British government rocks the boat itself (and it has had to do so
to a degree unthinkable a decade ago) might the Red Hands express a separatist
reality – and such a reality would soon find from expediency or from
military weakness, that it is part of Ireland. (But it need not worry. British
Imperialism will play safe and choose Ian Paisley or even Craig before its
obedient servant, Jack Lynch, to keep order in the Six Counties). In short,
the Northern Irish Protestants' ‘community of economic life’ is
based historically not on their home market, but on the market of the whole
British Isles and, even more, on that provided by the British Empire. As
this market has declined (and, with it, Ulster industry) the tie has become
that of a pensioner to his paymaster, but still the basis has been one of
Imperialism. The nature of the ‘community of economic life’ that
helped distinguish the Ulster Protestants from the other people of Ireland
is one of colonial and, later, imperial exploitation such as Socialists cannot
condone and must destroy.
The Community of Culture
Partly because of this fact, the defence of Protestant Ulster's ‘psychological
make-up manifested in a community of culture’ is similarly indefensible.
Even were the Ulster Protestants a nation, the form of its culture would
hinder its right to self-determination rather than otherwise. To a Socialist ‘national
culture’ is not something to be defended regardless of its content.
For example, the burning of widows was for years part of the culture of the
Hindus. A socialist government of India (had such a thing been possible in
the early 19th century) would have destroyed this practice far more ruthlessly
than the British colonial regime did. On this, Lenin had useful things to
are two nations in every modern nation – we say to all nationalist
socialists. There is the Great Russian culture of the Purish-keviches,
Guchkovs and Struves – but there is also the Great Russian
culture typified in the names of Chernyshevsky and Plekhanov. There
are the same two cultures in the Ukraine as there are in Germany,
in France, in England, among the Jews, and so forth.'
'Critical Remarks on the National Question’ in Questions
of National Policy and Proletarian Internationalism. p.25.
Now the culture
of the Ulster Protestants is not entirely retrogressive. They
have a liberal side to their rhetoric when they care to. They have
a considerable repertoire of folk songs (based, mainly on ‘Taig’ tunes).
Nonetheless (and all too many of the lyrics of the said folk songs
bear this out) the outstanding forces in the culture of this people
are, respectively, imperialism and the Protestant religion. This
fact is shown well in what, on the BICO's terms, is the Manifesto
of the Ulster National Liberation Movement, the Ulster Covenant
of 1912. Strangely enough (or is it?) the BICO does not quote it
in its pamphlet on the period; The Home Rule Crisis. However, it
is relevant here:
convinced in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous
to the material well-being of Ulster as well as of the whole of
Ireland, subversive to our civil and religious freedom, destructive
to our citizenship and perilous to the unity of the Empire, we
whose names are under-written, men of Ulster, loyal subjects to
His Gracious Majesty, King George V, humbly relying on the God
whom our fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted,
do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant, throughout this
our time of threatened calamity to stand by one another in defending
for ourselves and our children our cherished position of equal
citizenship in the United Kingdom and in using all means which
may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set
up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland.’
aspect of this is based on the ‘provincial’ industry's
historic dependence on the British Empire. Accordingly, as has
been shown, until recently Ulster was ‘British’ (the
only part of the British Isles to so style itself), its flag the
Union Jack, rather than the Red Hand, its MPs at Westminster the
first to defend the British Empire, the last to accept its retreat.
It boasted itself to be the major supplier of officers for Britain's
armies. (The remainder of the Irish tended to be ‘conscripted
by hunger’ into the rank and file).
What this has meant is shown most visibly (because completely spontaneously)
today by the liberal New Ulster Movement in its pamphlet, Two Ireland
or One? It is useful because it points up the essential bourgeois argument for
continuing partition, but there are more specific grounds for considering
it here. It points out the divisions between north and south caused by ‘The
commemoration of historical figures and events’. It continues:
. . In 1965 the Northern Ireland government was widely, and reasonably,
criticised for naming the new town in North Armagh 'Craigavon’ .
. . . . But the following year there were no criticisms when the
government of the Republic renamed all the Dublin railway stations
after 1916 leaders. For, however heroic the 1916 rising may have
seen to the majority in the Republic, there are many in the North
who see it as a stab in the back.
. . . Unionists have never imagined
that William III, Carson or Craigavon
could be all-Ireland heroes, but
many nationalists seem to think
that the leaders of anti-British
rebellions such as Wolfe Tone and
Patrick Pearse could be accepted
as heroes by Irishmen of the British
a united Ireland, institutions serving the island as a whole would
have to remain carefully neutral as between the two traditions.
This would have quite wide-ranging effects. The Irish post office,
could no longer issue stamps commemorating nationalist leaders
or if it did, they would have to be scrupulously balanced by another
set commemorating unionists. The state could not officially celebrate
the anniversaries of anti-British risings in the way that the fiftieth
anniversary of the 1916 rising was celebrated – because in
a United Ireland there would be too many people for whom such events
were to be deplored, not extolled. The Irish army's annual parade
at the grave of Wolfe Tone would need reconsideration, because
Wolfe Tone, though a Protestant, was not the sort of person whom
Irishmen in the British tradition could accept as a hero of their
own. In practice there would be two possibilities: either the parade
could be dropped, or it could be matched by a parade to the tomb
of some Unionist worthy like Carson’. Two Irelands or
Now the point
is two-fold; both that the NUM can see no discrepancy between
Carson and Craig on the one hand and Pearse and Tone on the other
and that it could do nothing about it if it did without going back
to the eighteenth century.
The fact is that, for a serious anti-imperialist, Ulster Unionist history
does not produce any adequate counterpart to the Republicans (let alone the
few Socialists) of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (The BICO, along
with such of their historian creditors as the sophisticated Unionist, Hugh
Shearman, would claim Tone as a Unionist, or at least an Ulster ‘national’ hero,
but this is essentially an intellectual, not a popular, view.) Certainly
before then, in world terms, the progressive side is, generally, that of
Protestantism. Certainly the battle of the Boyne was a victory for the better
society. (Larkin was one of those who recognised this; in Belfast, in 1907,
he organised an non-sectarian celebration of the Battle of the Boyne: an
example that BICO and the Workers Association might consider emulating).
However, since the Protestant industrialists threw their lot in with Britain,
their cause has not just been one of King Billy's ‘Civil and Religious
Liberties’ superior to those of an Irish Republic but what was, until
the appearance of European Fascism, the most brutally racist predatory force
the world has ever seen: the British Empire. Carson and Craig, with all their
virtues, were conscious upholders of this system. Tone and Pearse, with all
their vices, (and here the Unionists have friends among the Jesuits) were
its opponents. if the 1916 Rising was ‘a stab in the back’ it
was to the Empire, that so richly deserved it – not to the Ulster Protestants.
(As a matter of fact, its planners took care not to involve the north-east
in the greater rising that they prepared). That Unionists could identify
with the British Empire so as to bleed when it is wounded exposes their creed
for what it is.
Even thus now, when the British Empire is, politically, a memory, and as
has been shown, rebellion against England is in the air, its would-be leaders
invoke the examples of colon rather than anti-colonial revolt, of ‘Old
Smitty’ and Golda Maier rather than of the Africans and Arabs who oppose
them. Significantly, the only African they can stand (or could until he denounced
them) has been General Idi Amin.
But more important than the imperial factor is that of the Protestant religion.
Again this plays a bigger role in Northern Ireland consciousness than in
the more secular consciousness of Britain as a whole. It has been encouraged
by the Protestant bourgeoisie's need to divide its work-force and by its
ability to do this without having to worry about its home market. It is still
maintained by the special privileges given Protestant workers in the distribution
of jobs, by the actual geographical constitution of Northern Ireland, with
its Catholic one-third of the population a permanent (but, as such, permanently,
until recently, impotent) threat to the majority, and, indeed, by the opposing
sectarianism of the leaders of the minority – lay and clerical – and
successive Governments of the Republic.
This last fact has encouraged many people who should know better to dismiss
Protestant sectarianism against that of the Catholics. After all Protestantism
compared to Catholicism is a progressive force: the ideology of the bourgeoisie
against that of the feudal nobles. As an historical fact, this is true enough,
but it is no more than an historical fact. By the time of the French revolution,
the bourgeoisie had passed from freedom of interpretation of the Bible to
simple free-thought. Today, Catholic sectarianism cannot be defeated, by
the dogmas of Luther and Calvin, but by the methods of Marx and Engels, Lenin
and Trotsky, in the struggle for Socialism and against (among much else)
all religious superstition.
As a final point on the matter, it is worth noticing that, until now, those
(such as Ernest Blythe, Desmond Fennell and Joseph Foyle) who are readiest
to accede to the Protestant claims have also been those who are most ready
to maintain the confessional nature of the twenty-six county state. Most
recently John K Feeney joined their ranks. It was in keeping, they claimed,
with the psychology of the people. (In reality it was because the Catholic
Church was very useful in disciplining the work-force.) Again, it is clear,
psychological-cultural differences based on a conscious acceptance of imperialism and
of religious superstition are unacceptable to Socialists.
The Nature of the Ulster Protestants – and the work
It is established then that the Protestants of Northern Ireland are not a
distinct nation; their community lacks stability and its most distinctive
features are those that must be liquidated. But, come's the cry, if they
are not a nation, then what are they?
There is no immediate short answer to this question. As has been seen, the
Northern Irish Protestants have been described variously as a ‘part
of a nation’, a ‘nation in themselves’ and a ‘nationality’.
In particular, the workers amongst them have been described simply as a ‘proletariat’,
a ‘labour aristocracy’, and as a ‘caste’.
It is necessary to, adapt Stalin’s definition to what is the Northern
Irish Protestant community; we have:
historically evolved community of language, territory and economic
life, with a psychological-cultural make-up arising out of its
instability as an entity.’
It is not a nation,
it is not a nationality; nor is it a colon-community such as those
of Israel, Algerie-Francaise, and White South Africa. Only in the
first of these cases does the community concerned have a home territory
in which it is in the majority, and, here, the fact of its recent
establishment against the Arabs gives it the colon instability
that the other colon-people possess. Hence, the proletarians of
all the peoples listed constitute a conscious counter-revolutionary
caste, divided from the workers of the subject races.
In Northern Ireland, the land question is not acute as in Israel or South
Africa. Although in most of Ulster a similar situation did prevail, the Protestant
community possessed, from the beginning, a heartland east of the River Bann
and north of the Mountains of Mourne – from which it was never in serious
danger of being dislodged. This original stability has provided, behind
the instability developed as a necessity for industrialism, a certain reserve.
On this, at certain moments in time (notably 1907, 1919 and 1932), the Protestant
working class could draw to join its Catholic fellows against their bourgeois
co-religionists. Such solidarity has been unthinkable in South Africa.
Nonetheless, such instances have remained few and far between, partly because
the actuality of Irish national bourgeois society must repel any genuine
democrat, let alone Socialist, but partly also, because the Protestant workers
a Labour aristocracy. There has been some objection to this description.
How, it has been asked, can there be a labour aristocracy constituted by
the majority of a working class? The answer is very simple: this majority
is merely part of a generally privileged proletarian minority of the workers
of the world. It is made acutely aware of this fact by its position vis-a-vis the
Irish Catholic working class. The differentiation between the two, though
quantitatively small, is made significant by the Protestants' role as
outpost of British power. The Protestant industrialists' share of the British
community did benefit their working class co-religionists and the benefit
was further magnified by the advantages given the latter vis-a-vis their
So the Protestant workers became conscious aristocrats, partners in the system
described by Friedrich Engels:
the period of England's industrial monopoly the English working
class have, to a certain extent shared in the benefits of the monopoly.
These benefits were very unequally parceled out amongst them;
the privileged minority pocketed most, but even the great mass
had, at least, a temporary share now and then. And that is the
reason why, since the dying out of Owenism, there has been no socialism
in England.’ – England in 1845 and in 1885,’ quoted
in the Preface to the English edition of The Condition of the
Working Class in England in Marx and Engels on Britain,
Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1962, p.31.
Engels wrote in the same article: ‘The engineers, the carpenters
and joiners, the bricklayers, are each of them a power, to that
extent that, as in the case of the bricklayers and bricklayers'
labourers, they can even successfully, resist the introduction
of machinery. That their condition has remarkably improved since
1848 there can be no doubt, and the best proof of this is in the
fact that for more than fifteen years not only have their employers
been with them, but they with their employers, upon exceedingly
good terms. They form an aristocracy among the working class; they
have succeeded in enforcing for themselves a relatively comfortable
position, and they accept it as final. They are the model working
men of Messrs Leone Levi and Giffen, and they are very nice people
indeed nowadays to deal with for any sensible capitalist in particular
and for the whole capitalist class in general.’ – Ibid.
Lenin, who has been accused of revising Engels on this was equally specific.
After quoting Engels, he writes:
clearly shows the causes and effects. The causes are: (1) Exploitation
of the whole world by this country; (2) its monopolist position
in the, world market; (3) its colonial monopoly. The effects are:
(1) A section of the British proletariat becomes bourgeois; (2)
a section of the proletariat allows itself to be led by men bought
by, or at least paid by, the bourgeoisie.’ VI Lenin, Imperialism,
the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Progress Publishers, Moscow,
Later, he expanded
this further: ‘Comrades emphasise the point that the aristocracy
of labour is stronger in Britain than in any other country. That
is really the case. After all, it has existed in Britain not for
decades but for a century. In Britain the bourgeoisie, which has
had more experience, democratic experience, managed to bribe the
workers and to create among them a big stratum, bigger there than
in any other country, but which as not so big when compared with
the broad masses of the workers. This stratum is thoroughly imbued
with bourgeois prejudices and pursues a definitely bourgeois policy.’ From The
Second Congress of the Communist International. Verbatim Report,
1921. VI Lenin, Collected Works, 37, p.236.
This is a very good description of the effects of Empire on the Northern
Irish working-class with the additional point that, in political matters,
the ‘section of the proletariat (that) allows itself to be led by men
and bought by, or at least paid by, the bourgeoisie’ and to a greater
degree than in Britain as a whole (as it was only part of it) was coincidental
with the skilled Protestants. Their leaders liquidated completely into the
Unionist Party. The Catholics have tended to support leaders whose opportunism
is a little more hypocritical.
In industrial matters, the Northern Irish Protestant worker was less complacent.
But the constant threat to his job from the Catholic of the Falls enabled
his employer to redress the balance.
It is established then, that the Northern Irish Protestants are not a distinct
nation; their community lacks stability and its most distinctive features
are those that have to be destroyed by Socialists. However (and here the
BICO's second point is to be considered), the after-effects of such differences
can persist after their basis have ended. Despite the destruction of the
Northern Irish Protestants' actual distinctions, the subjective distrust
between the communities in Northern Ireland may survive it.
In such a case, the proposals made below should help to weaken the fears.
Beyond this, it is a matter of strategy whether force be used (and of course
how force be used; the use of individual bombs, a la Kevin Street, destroyed
Stormont. It could not and cannot unite Ireland). But, all things being equal,
it will still probably be best to put Protestants out of their agony (politically)
rather than trying to con them by ‘recognising their right to self-determination'
and hoping for world, European or just British Isles socialist revolution
to subsume the problem that Irish socialists funked.
The BICO's, claim that what is dividing the Protestant and Catholic workers
in the Six Counties is the Republic's claim to that area is untrue. The Republic
claims Northern Ireland as part of the Irish nation and certainly contributes
somewhat thereby to the divisions between the workers, (especially considering
the social and political nature of the Republic). However, the imperial and
religious factors are the basic divides. In particular, the claim to Northern
Ireland would not have the power it has if the workers of the Republic had
not accepted it. And part of the reason why they accepted it was that they
recognised that Northern Ireland was founded on, an anti-worker reaction
to be maintained by an artificial but permanent threat to the Protestant
state from the Catholic third of the population. Even were the Protestants
a distinct nation there is a clear case in this matter, at least for Northern
Ireland's surrender to the Republic, of the Catholic border areas. The BICO
does not admit even this.
The BICO's fourth point is that the bourgeoisies of Britain, Catholic Ireland
and Protestant Ireland are planning to reunite Ireland despite the wishes
of the Protestants. This would be true were the Irish Republican bourgeoisie
a force as powerful as the bourgeoisie of capitalism’s heroic period.
As it is, British imperialism would like, in theory, to unite colony and
neo-colony in one colony and the Northern Irish bourgeoisie would probably
not have any objections provided the resulting 32 county government was able
to keep order and capitalist prosperity. But the bankrupt Irish national
capitalists would have to be paid (and paid regularly) to take Northern Ireland
off Britain's hands, as Harold Wilson has recognised openly. This is scarcely
helpful at a time of economic crisis. Paisley would be cheaper.
Finally, it is, true that due to years of organisational neglect the prospects
for the national revolution to ‘grow over’ into the Socialist
revolution are not bright. The peasantry has been bought: it is not the peasantry
of Vietnam or Bengal. Nonetheless it can and, in places, does, play a progressive
role in land leagues, fishery agitations and co-operatives. Another sector
of the petty bourgeoisie that could be mobilised behind the workers includes
the students. The unemployed is, also, a political reserve. And in the north-east
there exists what amounts to a state of ‘people's war’. It may
be that if the situation were to become less intense, if full civil rights
could be granted with-out decisive Unionist objection and the government
of the Republic recognised the border, then in 10 years working class unity
might be such as to provide a purely ‘factory oriented’ Socialist
revolution. But, leaving aside the ‘ifs’ (in particular the unlikelihood
of the communal long-term Unionist acceptance of Civil rights in a Six County
framework), it is not by any means certain that the workers of the 32 counties
of Ireland will be, in 10 years' time, either more numerous or more revolutionary
than they are now. It is infinitely more probable that, with the BICO's other
policy (support for Irish entry into the EEC) being followed, the Irish workers'
position in 1982 will be objectively weaker than it is in 1972.
In any case, there are three positive reasons for supporting the struggle
for national unification. In the first place, it is objectively against British
imperialism (that this imperialism would like subjectively to reunite Ireland
does not alter this; the terms on which it wants unification are not feasible).
Thus, the Irish national struggle is, once again, helping the struggle of
British workers against their bosses. This has been shown most definitely
by the hollowness of Heath's threats against the striking coalminers. The
troops he would like to use against them are held down in Ulster. Secondly,
for revolutionary Socialists not to participate in the national struggle
(however unsuccessfully) will deprive them of a major immediate weapon and
leave that cause in the hands of a Republican movement that is unlikely to
increase in numbers or in competence. Thirdly, and at the least, there is
a good chance of winning from the Northern Irish state, if only as compromise,
the Counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone and other, mainly Nationalist border
areas. This would reduce cause for working-class division in what would be
left of Northern Ireland, while giving Irish national capitalism a number
of headaches, either military, under correct leadership (the areas concerned
may not long accept Leinster House rule), or economic (it will be taking
on the poorest area of the United Kingdom – without a subsidy). Perhaps
for this reason, Fennell and the Northern capitalist bourgeois vanguard – the
SDLP – have rejected such a new partition in favour of an Anglo-Irish
condominium, which would, in practice, be very like the Green Paper’s ‘Council
It is not enough for a revolutionary Socialist to announce support for a
struggle. He must have a clear programme to show him how he should act in
Believing itself to be an organisation of Scientific Socialists, the BICO
eventually (and not before time) got around to concocting a front organisation
for itself on the Two-Nations issue in August of 1971. This ‘Workers'
Association for the Democratic Settlement of the National Conflict in Ireland’ has
been, so far, the BICO's greatest success in the matter of front organisations,
mainly because no other group, aspiring to Scientific Socialism has been
prepared to support such an organisation. The Workers' Association is composed
of assorted Social Democrats of the NILP variety, orthodox (CP -style) Stalinites
and, of course, BICO. In this front of the blind, inevitably, BICO is the
What, then, are the demands entrusted[ by the BICO to its WA? As the latter
has grown to the stage where it is able to begin to play an agitational role,
it is well to examine them in detail. Already the RMG has made its criticisms
of the ‘Two Nations’ outlook at WA public meetings at the GPO
Dublin. However, these were in the form of leaflets and were necessarily
brief. Here the WA demands can be examined in depth.
They are two in number:
recognition of the right of the Ulster Protestant nation to remain
within the UK state;
‘Full recognition and accordance of the democratic rights of the Catholic
minority in the Northern Ireland/UK state, and of the Protestant minority in
the Southern Ireland state.’
And the WA states: ‘This
policy is one and indivisible.’ These demands have already
been considered. One trouble is that they are based partly on a
number of assumptions that can only be proven over a long period
(ie, that the working class, or, rather, more specifically, the
proletariat, north and south will be stronger, more united, and
more revolutionary in ten years' time if the national claims are
renounced). However there are some ascertainable points on which
the basis for the demands can and should be examined.
The full recognition of the right of the Ulster Protestant nation to
remain within the UK state’ is not in fact denied by the Irish
bourgeoisie apart from a small section of it. (And this section is decreasing;
the bombing of the CIE's Russell Court Hotel was probably the result
of a failure to come across with the usual protection money.) Basically
Northern Ireland would be an embarrassment to 26-county Capitalism, as
it is now to British Imperial Capitalism.
But there is more to it than this. In a recent issue of its bulletin, Two
Nations, the WA puts forward as an immediate demand the Republic's open recognition
of Northern Ireland. But such recognition could only lead to immediate strengthening
of dissident Republicanism both in the Republic and the North-East. And such
a strengthening would be used as an excuse to bring out special powers that
if used would be in hand for use against industrial and social dissatisfaction.
This is happening anyway, and revolutionary Socialists are prepared to accept
it as a risk that will be overcome if the struggle for national unification
is fought to victory. But the Workers' Association, with its essentially
economist perspective of a revolution based on purely working-class demands,
cannot be so sanguine. What it is demanding will mean, in the Republic, an
immediate reduction in democratic rights whatever about their revival with
the alternate revolution. (The BICO is getting round this by denying in Communist
Comment 8/12/72 that the Republic is democratic at all!)
But there are further points to add. The second demand (for democratic rights
north and south) is badly worded if it is not just dishonest. In the first
place ‘democratic rights for the Catholic nation’ means totally
different things for Marxists and for Northern Irish non--Marxists. For Marxists
it means including the right to secession: there can be no ambivalence. However,
this is not so clear in the minds of people without the Marxist international
outlook who understand democratic rights as existing only inside the borders
of the established states. In so far as the Workers' Association (or the
BICO) have tried to clarify this matter, they have done so in the direction
of accepting the petty bourgeois misconceptions, rather than for standing
unequivocally for the revolutionary interpretation. Nor is this necessarily
a purely theoretical approach. If the RMG is proven correct and, yet, at
the same time, the current national struggle is defeated, there will be eventually
a demand in the border areas for secession into the Republic as there was
The matter of Protestant rights in the Republic is, again, a demand, put
in a very ambivalent manner. A genuine democratic organisation would not
demand simply rights for Protestants in a Catholic state. The traditional
democratic demand again recognised by the founders of Marxism – is
for a secular state, without any religious influence (of any sort) in legislation.
To demand Protestant civil rights per se is probably the result of an analysis
that accepts religion as a valid cultural basis for nationality. It ignores
the claims of Jews, Atheists and non-practising Catholics. In practice it
means attacks only on those spheres of Catholic power that the Church itself
is willing to renounce, and to ignore the vital one: religious control of
schools. After all, in the Republic, segregated education does not hurt the
Protestants: it benefits them. It developed, originally, under pressure from
the said Protestants; and it was maintained in Northern Ireland, as much
under Protestant as under Catholic pressure. (Indeed, in this matter, the
Northern Irish State has little to learn from the Republic; the latter has
never appointed a Priest to, be Minister for Education: Northern Ireland
has appointed a pastor.)
There is more to it than this. In the mid-sixties, there were straws in the
wind stimulated by the fifties crisis in Irish industry and the need for
better technical (of its nature, non-clerical) educating, to compete with
the rest of the world. The outstanding figure representing this trend (so
outstanding that he has been practically canonised by the would-be Irish
Liberals) was Donoch O'Malley, the Minister for Education. His death in 1968
was held by the impressionists to have been the sign for the clerical counter-attack.
In fact, the growth of unemployment conspired with the Irish bourgeoisie's
permanent need for the clergy as a socially stabilising force to provide
the reason for the blockage of the puny developments towards secularism.
The outstanding example of this was the surrender of the long-planned community
schools to clerical control.
There are still some faltering moves towards the secular state, the formal
recognition of the Catholic Church's special position has been removed from
the Irish Constitution; hints have been made on Ne Temere. The classic issue
on which Protestants felt their rights denied in the Republic is due partly
to the appetites raised by the ‘wind of change’ in the mid-sixties;
but also due to the Hierarchy's need to assert to everyolne.that it is not
in the way of unity, now that unity (or at least discussions thereon) is
on the agenda. If it didn't assert this, the more determined Republicans
might start investigating its role too carefully. They nearly did this during
the Civil War, but defeat and demoralisation set in: now the circumstances
are more favourable. To end the current struggle can only remove an actual
goad to civil rights for all in a secular society.
In other words, and although it may have the best intentions in the world,
the Worker’s Association is a Liberal rather than a truly Democratic
body. The distinction is important. Liberalism was historically the ideology
of a rising bourgeoisie, strong and confident enough to carry out a liberating
role. Its period of dominance did not, then, last very long. Today Liberalism
is, even in Western Europe, a minority creed representing either the most
brutally reactionary elements among the businessmen or (as in England) small
groups of non-Socialist do-gooders. The first alternative occurs where the
historical base was never strong enough for its tasks – which remained
as mere aspirations. The second recurred where the bourgeoisie had exhausted
its tasks and passed on. Democracy refers to the nature of the tasks to be
carried out originally under Liberalism but, eventually, and today only,
as part of the proletarian revolution.
In its self-defeating practically contradictory demands, the Workers' Association
clearly has more in common with present-day Liberalism of the British variety
than with any form of true proletarian democracy.
Having said this, it should be stated that the ranks of the Two-Nation cultists
include, besides the inevitable trendies and opportunists, a number of potentially
useful revolutionaries, who have been attracted to the idea by the Economism
that has historically developed along with, though in over-reaction to, Irish
Republicanism. For these people, the fact that the Unionist population of
Northern Ireland has a proletarian basis gives it a legitimacy that is not
to be denied easily. The horror of the tactics of Kevin Street does not help
clear their brains. It is to be hoped that this pamphlet may prove more effective.
However, a more serious Scientific Socialist cannot follow the BICO's example
(in many other matters besides the Workers' Association). As has been shown,
the real Communist position is one of defence and support of the struggle
for Irish national unification. However, this is to be distinguished from
the support given by such figures as Blaney, Boland or Ted Kennedy, or indeed,
by the authorities in Kevin Street and Gardiner Place. The struggle in Ireland
is not simply that of one of the peoples of the British Isles against another;
it is part of the struggle of all the workers of the islands to take state
power: itself part of the world struggle for Socialism.
These two tasks are not contradictory. As Marx pointed out, the British workers
cannot be free while they support (however passively) those who oppress and
help divide the Irish. At the same time, as will be shown, the Scientific
Socialist's international outlook does provide a strategy for achieving national
unification that is alternative to that of the traditional Republican. And
this strategy is unlike the other in one important fact: it can deliver the
goods. It was under capitalist conditions that the development of the Irish
nation was stunted and its unification prevented. Nothing that capitalism
has done or is likely to do has changed or is likely to change this fact.
Thus the policies of Redmond, of Griffith and of Liam Lynch have failed to
achieve even their limited aims through betrayal by the capitalists and (in
Lynch's case) through lack of enthusiasm by the Irish workers. Only a mobilised
Irish working class can achieve the unity of the Irish nation. And, once
this is achieved, only the inter-national proletariat can ensure for the
Irish people the fullest development of their human potential.
What, then, is the Communist strategy? It is one most precisely designed
to mobilise for revolution the workers of Ireland and elsewhere. In other
words, the Scientific Socialist cannot let the process of Permanent Revolution
develop by itself, as otherwise it will not develop very far. Permanent Revolution
must be carried out by a vanguard Socialist Party of the Bolshevik type.
And, again, such a Party must have a programme to express its strategy and
to win the workers to it. It must combine the demands that the ‘national’ bourgeoisie
make, but never mean, with those that can alone achieve these aims by mobilising
the Irish workers to take state power and the workers abroad to feel their
strength for this task.
Thus it should not be necessary to say that any set of demands to be made
by Marxists concerning the state of Northern Ireland must include the unconditional
release of political prisoners and the evacuation of British troops. However,
these will remain no more than demands during the pleasure of British imperialism
unless backed by other points in the programme of action.
The proposal made by the petty bourgeoisie that was nearest to a revolutionary
scheme was the creation of an alternative Ulster assembly to Stormont in
the shape, variously, of the ‘Assembly of the Northern Irish People’, ‘Dáil Úladh’ and
the ‘Parliament of the Streets’. No Scientific Socialist could
avoid participating in the one of these with the most revolutionary potential.
As matters were recently, this appeared to be the NICRA body, unless (as
it seems to be) it is absorbed by Stalinite action. As this has failed to
appear, and unless the Northern Resistance Committee fails, (as, indeed,
it now seems to have done) to let it off the ground, the second best would
certainly have been Dáil Úladh. The SDLP's assembly of placemen
could always be seen as no more than an attempt by the Catholic establishment
to defuse the situation.
But the choice of assembly is merely the beginning for the Scientific Socialist.
There can be no question of subordinating his group to what can only be a
petty-bourgeois centre of dual power. Such a body is merely the base from
which the working class can advance. But to do so its party must keep its
freedom of action within it.
As a first essential to such freedom, the party must have a share of control,
over a military force guided by working class politics. It
Republican Army’ can fulfil this role, though individuals or units
of these may liquidate into it. Further description of such an .organisation – a
new Citizen Army – must be hypothetical.
Backed by an Irish Citizen Army, the Party must carry out a political strategy
distinctive from that of the petty bourgeois leaders of the alternative assembly.
It goes without saying that there can be no question of it accepting posts
in the alternative administration that the assembly will establish. The Socialists
must fight within that body for the policies that will mobilise the workers
to continue the revolution, despite Stormont, Leinster House, and indeed
the alternative assembly itself.
Such a mobilisation has two aspects. Firstly, it is using the national struggle
to precipitate the thirty-two county industrial struggle that would otherwise
develop too late for success. Secondly, only Socialist mobilisation can offer
the Ulster Protestants something visibly better than they know.
With these facts in mind, Socialists in the area under the alternative assembly
must urge conscription of wealth including the nationalisation of large factories
and estates under workers' control and the nationalisation of credit. In
case the assembly does not do this the propaganda must be geared to move
the workers in the area to seize the property concerned.
At the same time, the demand for the abolition of unemployment must be raised
in the liberated area. The Scientific Socialists must demand that work be
available for all under the assembly without any loss of pay. This matter
is particularly important in that the area where people are likely to give
their allegiance to an ‘anti--Stormont’, is the one area in Ireland
where the people most need a policy against unemployment. On the other hand,
the Protestants' allegiance to ‘their’ Parliament has been based
on a superior expectation of jobs in conditions where there are few jobs.
Thus, there can be no haggling. The ultimatum must be given; either jobs
for all, or the Assembly of Ulster is forced into oblivion by the Soviet
But the revolution cannot proceed on a purely provincial level. It it does
not spread to the rest of Ireland, at some stage, it will fail. Thus in the
Republic, the party must move to involve the working class as a class, in
the fashion that will advance the Permanent Revolution. Pressure must be
brought by trade unionists in the Republic for a general strike for the release
of internees and the withdrawal of British troops. More immediately relevant,
to the twenty-six county force, is the demand for the seizure of concerns
owned by British and Unionist firms, by the Government or (as in practice
it will have to be) by the workers themselves. This proposal has been criticised
as ‘encouraging nationalism’ in the Irish working class. Certainly,
if that class were poised to seize all the factories in its country, to limit
its vision to those of one group would be a retrograde act. But, it is not
apparent that the Irish workers in general are yet as militant as to put
mass seizures on the cards without the stimulus of the unification issue.
Factory seizures are never to be refused except for a very good reason.
Finally, for the Party, there can be no surrender to religious superstition– north
or south. The alternative assembly (and Dáil Éireann) must
be pressed to repeal and to maintain in non-existence laws regulating private
morals (contraception, divorce, homosexuality, abortion), the demand must
be made for a fully secular education system – throughout the 32 counties.
The demands must be raised, too, for :the nationalisation of clerical property
(in the Emmet tradition) and for the removal of such clerical privileges
as the right to act as Registrar of Marriages. These are important matters.
What-ever the present chances of national unification, they are not improved
by the maintenance of the confessional state, with its divisive effects.
And this is quite apart from the fact that the proposed secular reforms in
themselves are excellent.
Finally, Scientific Socialists, must show by their example that the national
struggle is merely part of the international fight for Socialism. In the
centre of this demonstration will be their organisation's affiliation to
the Fourth International. Already sections of this body have begun to show
their solidarity with the Irish; more will follow. Such actions must be publicised
in Ireland. And the indivisibility of the fight of the Irish workers with
that of the workers of the world must be emphasised in propaganda.
Secondly, it should be recognised that with the decline of the British Empire
the objective economic preconditions for a Socialist Revolution in Britain
are better than ever before. It is the subjective factors that have deteriorated
since 1920; most notably the labour bureaucracy. Engels' prophecy is at last
English working class will lose (its) privileged position; it will
find itself generally – the privileged and leading minority
not excepted – on a level with its fellow workers abroad.
And that is the reason why there will be Socialism again in England.’ Engels,
The strikes against
the Industrial Relations Bill and, more importantly, the Plessey
and UCS. ‘work-ins’ are all straws in the wind; expressions
of a working class trying desperately to overthrow the limits imposed
on it by bureaucratic and demagogic leaders. If it does achieve
state power, in the real sense, before Ireland, the Irish Scientific
Socialist will immediately become a unionist (that is, a unionist
in the literal sense, of course; not in the traditional economic-political-social
sense). In doing this, the Socialist will have to break ruthlessly
with many of his or her Republican allies of the previous day.
The danger will not come from the honest Republicans. It will be presented,
rather, by a form of Menshevism of the post-October 1917 variety. The temptation
will be offered to deny the reality of a British revolution; to find faults
in its operations and to damn it accordingly. In such circumstances, again,
it becomes clear that the Fourth International must encourage its members
in their international duty. And again, it becomes clear that choosing which
International is, thus, more than an academic exercise.
Communism and Republicanism
But what can Communism offer the Republican? Why should he be prepared to
adopt the method and discipline that is so alien to him? If he accepts, he
will have to broaden his horizons, geographically at least. He will have
to recognise more than that the struggle for Irish national unity affects,
and is affected by, struggles all over the world. There has always been a
tendency in Irish Republicanism to do this. But if he wishes to do more than
ally with the Marxist party, he will have, ultimately to accept that his
national aims are subordinate to those of the proletariat of the world, particularly
in the matters that have been shown.
Again, it can be said that this does not mean that Republicans cannot ally
with the Irish section of the Fourth International, nor, indeed, that they
cannot join it, if they are prepared to submit to the discipline required
by its programme. What it does mean is that such discipline is not, primarily,
directed towards the aims desired by Republicans and may come into conflict
with such aims, sooner or later.
For a Republican's acceptance of Communist leadership and discipline, only
one thing can be offered in return: the fact that, in so far as national
unity and prosperity can be ensured, the Communist method alone can ensure
them. As Connolly pointed out, it is only the working class that can carry
through the fight for Irish freedom. This class will not carry through the
struggle unless tangible benefits are offered it for doing so. And in its
demand for such benefits it is becoming increasingly impatient with the claims
of other classes that Republicans have traditionally (and mistakenly) sought
All these facts (though the last one less than the others) are becoming commonplace
to Republicans. But they may still ask why the struggle should be international
and, most of all, they may object to the Communist's denial of their central
belief: the actual existence -of the living Irish nation.
The first point is answered easily enough. Once again, many Republicans are
studying the experiences of foreign national revolutionaries, as Connolly
did in 1915. They are thus paying tribute, however unconscious, to international
experience. What is more, the heroes of the New Republicans are Communists
of sorts: Mao Tse Tung, Guevara and Castro, and Giap and Ho Chi Minh. In
simple terms of national liberation the achievements of such men outdo anything
that can be shown by the advocates of ‘pure’ physical force (or,
even, physical force + social democracy).
There is a further point to internationalism in that the later developments
in such countries as China, Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam emphasise the limitations
of national victories. China is making its peace with the USA, once stigmatised
as the ‘main imperialism’ from which all evil emerged. Algeria
has lapsed into being a French neo-colony. Cuba's failure to spread the revolution
throughout Latin America is leaving it dependent upon the USSR at the cost
of its own industrialisation. Many Castroite cadres in South America are
taking the hint and moving towards the Fourth International. In Vietnam escalation
has meant that the anti-imperialist struggle has spread throughout Indo-China.
All these examples have lessons for the Irish. It is not going to be a satisfactory
situation in Ireland if the revolution there fails to spread to other European
The issue of the collective nature of the people of the thirty-two counties
of Ireland is one on which there may be more ground for dispute between the
Republicans and Communists. Admittedly, the latter do not agree with the
claim that there is more than one nation in Ireland. But they do not agree,
either, that there is as much as one. Taking the definition of Stalin and
Lenin as the yardstick for the concept, they see the people of Ireland
as a whole develop toward nationhood.
The Republican may deny the Bolshevik definition. In this case, he should
offer a better one. If he accepts it, he will have to prove Ireland's present nationhood.
But, by itself, such an approach is too scholastic. By denying the present existence of an Irish nation, the Communist does not deny its future existence.
Rather, and as one of his tasks, he is working to achieve such an entity,
as no capitalist force can now do. He is working for unity of the island
(a conditional task and, as has been shown, one that may be achieved only
within one post-revolutionary state of the British Isles). Also, he is working
to develop all national cultural characteristics, of course in so far as
they do not interfere with working-class state power or its international
future. In his latter task, he can scarcely be less successful than the national
capitalists; by the elimination of the commodity system, the needs of private
trading will no longer sacrifice national culture to imperialism. More than
this, the Government of the Irish Workers' Republic will use its freedom
from imperial pressures to develop the progressive culture of its land.
Thus opposition to Internationalism and Communism is opposition to forces
that are necessary to achieve Irish nationality. This may be denied; if so,
a case has still to be made to argue against it. Simple denial is merely
evidence of fear; of actual lack of confidence in the possibility of the
Irish nation that will arise as an integral entity within the classless stateless