Irish Nationalism and British Imperialism, by Robert Dorn (DR O'Connor Lysaght), 1973

Communism and the National Question

The Debate on the Irish National Question

Appendix I: Communists on the Nation

Appendix II: Documents of the Left Opposition (YS) and RMG on the Irish National Question

Basis for a Statement on the Situation in Northern Ireland
Document B, passed at Dublin Conference of the SLA, October, 1971 by DR O’Connor Lysaght

1. The Northern Irish situation is a natural product of British Imperialism's hold on Ireland.

2. The rulers of Britain had to control Ireland through their exploitation of the differences between the ruling classes in Ulster and those in the other provinces of Ireland. Of this exploitation, the political expression is Partition.

3. In the North-East, the bourgeoisie has had its power based on the British market and on the weakening of its workers by its fomenting of religious differences, through work preferences, etc. This system won its ultimate political expression by the 2-1 Protestant-Catholic ratio formalised by Partition. All this has meant:

(a) A united Protestant bourgeoisie (and a class of united, mainly Protestant, landowners).

(b) A subordinate class of Catholic gombeenmen with aspirations that veer uneasily between joining their fellows in the 26 Counties, and achieving equality with the Protestants in the 6.

(c) A Protestant working class, with a disproportionate percentage of skilled workers, and with the attitudes of a labour aristocracy, due to their special work-place privileges. These include first refusals of jobs, last to be redundant, etc. It has a progressive record economically but its gains, thereby, have always, tended to be nullified by its backwardness due to its special position.

(d) A Catholic working class, at the bottom of the scale and, as such veering between passive conservatism and genuine militancy (itself divided between, politically, Republican abstentionism and, economically, industrial action).

4. In the twenty-six county Republic, bourgeois rule has been less complicated. Nonetheless, it has its own specific peculiarities. Its essential international position is neo-colonial, rather than metropolitan. Nonetheless its peculiar geographic closeness to its colonial overlord has led the traditional bourgeois revolution to have more of its tasks completed than in similar countries. In the Republic of Ireland, the tasks of the peasant anti-feudal revolution have been carried out in a specifically bourgeois form due to British capitalism's need for greater security to its west and to its ability to buy the hope of this security through its colonial profits. The nearness of British industry has provided a route which Irish industrial radicalism has used and thus weakened its force in its homeland. These two facts have enabled the bourgeois state power to maintain itself as a recognisably democratic power. On the other hand, the task of national unification has not been and cannot be achieved and the forms of bourgeois democracy cannot be extended to include that of a fully secular state; the Church's special position is necessary to the special position of Irish capitalism and British imperialism.

In particular, this last, cultural, matter has reacted badly on the national unification question by proving to Ulster Protestants their fear: ‘Home Rule is Rome Rule’.

5. The developments of the past fifty years have made major quantitative changes in this basic situation:

(a) As the imperialist snake feeds on its own tail, the centrifugal forces become increasingly powerful against it. This is seen in the colonial revolution.

But nearer the British metropolis, the whole unity of the ‘United Kingdom' is beginning to be pulled apart by centrifugal tendencies. The bourgeoisies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, long junior partners in ‘British Imperialism’ are becoming increasingly aware of this imperialism's deficiencies, through their most sensitive area: their pockets. The workers of these countries became aware, too, of the weakness of the all British political-Labour movement. These facts provide a greater basis than before for Scottish and Welsh nationalisms and for the ‘UDI’ tendency in Ulster Unionism. (But Ulster UDI is too dependent on Irish and British complacency to be practical in the immediate future.)

(b) At the same time, the original one of these petty-bourgeois national forces, that of Ireland, has discovered its limitations and has renounced its virginal dreams of independent capitalism equal to that of Britain. It is prepared to accept neo-colonial status.

(c) As the fact of scientific expansion (not the uses to which it is put) continues, so too, does the fact of the decline of religion. These facts encourage moves by the bourgeoisies concerned toward a federal system for the British Isles.

6. In the last twenty-five years, as a result of the short-term revival of capitalism by its use of Keynesian economics, further temporary factors have been added to those mentioned above:

(a) In the Republic collaboration with British imperialism has resulted in a mushroom growth of small industry, mainly outposts of metropolitan imperialist firms, invited to Ireland by promises of cheap labour. This has had a certain, limited, political result in increased industrial militancy and a turn towards formally independent politics by many workers. But with the present imperialist contraction, the base (and thence, the expression) of this is not likely to survive for long.

(b) In Northern Ireland, the same factors have cushioned the collapse of the traditional industries.

More important, the area's share in the British Welfare State has cushioned the traditional economic rivalry between‘Prod’ and ‘Taig’. For the latter it has stimulated a more confident approach to its problems, expressed in the civil rights movement. For the former it has enabled it to keep Paisleyism up to now as a purely religious-political phenomena outside its industrial organisation.

Here, again, the new crisis of imperialism, expressed, politically, by the Heath regime in Britain can only reduce the cushioning effect of Northern Irish welfare politics.

(c) In the Republic, the need for trained technicians, to man the new hot-house industries encouraged the bourgeoisie to attempt to take more control of education from the Church. This was most fully expressed by the policies of the late Donach O'Malley. For a time it seemed as if home rule might not be Rome Rule.

With the decline of industry, and the resulting increase in unemployment, the state is no longer so keen to educate workers. An unemployed technician represents more waste than an unemployed ‘navvy’. On the other hand, Mother Church has to be boosted for her traditional role as disciplinarian.

7. Accordingly, and after two years of spasmodic fighting in the North, it is possible to make several conclusions:

(a) As of now, the prospects of achieving a united 32 County Secular Socialist Workers' Republic on the basis of economic demands (never very good) are getting worse and will continue to get worse for the foreseeable future.

(b) The prospects of a federal ‘solution’ to the problems of the British Isles remains on the cards. What is being removed from them (and what may well prevent federalism from being achieved) is the prospect of a United Ireland being included in this solution. Economically (a United Ireland would, still, have to be subsidised), militarily (a United Ireland would now mean war between the two communities, this wouldn't help Britain's security), politically among the Northern Irish Protestants (in the British Conservative Party, and in Heath himself, the cause of Paisley has increased and is increasing) there is a logic in the present situation. It impels the imperialists towards a continuance of partition with a Paisleyite regime in the North-East and a more rigorous form of conservatism in the South.

(c) In these circumstances, to call for peace and unity among the workers is simply to mouth slogans. Under Paisleyite pressure the ICTU has had to postpone its proposed peace conference. The Socialist has to fight; he has to choose between two groups of workers. The fact that one lot call themselves 'Protestants’ and the other, ‘Catholics’ should not deter him any more than the fact that in South Africa there are white workers who vote Nationalist. The Catholics could just as well be Buddhists compared to the relevancy of the fact that they are supporting anti--imperialists, while the UVF is fighting on the side of the imperialists. However unpleasant this is, it is a fact that it is on the arms of the Republican movement that the civil disobedience campaign and the prospects of an alternative parliament depend. (In any case, as has been clear from the response, the civil disobedience campaign is just as ‘sectarian' as the armed struggle.) Only an all-Irish national fight, using arms, can defeat Paisley or any fellow-Fuhrers in the Republic.

(d) Having said that, it must be insisted that the Republicans, though courageous, are very much a second-best compared with what ought to be leading, the national struggle: a secular Socialist vanguard movement of the working class. Without such leadership, the struggle is likely to be defeated.

8. What then must be the policies of the Socialist Movement?

Here they are:

(a) Build an Irish citizen army, pending this all support to the fighters of the Republican and Socialist movements in their military fight against British Imperialism.

(b) Demand the unconditional evacuation of British troops and the release of all internees and political prisoners.

(c) Call on workers to agitate in their places of work and trade unions for a demand that a general strike will be called by the ICTU for these aims. Call on the British working class to come out in support; in return give all possible support to the British workers in their struggles on Clydeside, against the Industrial Relations Act, against entry into the EEC. Call on all European workers to strike against British entry into the EEC as long as its rulers oppose Ireland. That the ICTU ceases its collaboration with the colonial and neo-colonial regimes, North and South.

(d) Demand the confiscation of British-owned factories and estates without compensation in the Republic, and of all large factories and estates in areas in the North wrested from imperialist control. If this demand is not implemented organise seizure.

(e) Support the Conference of Civil Resistance in Omagh on October 17th and urge the establishment of a Parliament of the Streets and participate in this.

(f) Demand the immediate removal of the religious interests from education, the repeal of all religious and moral clauses in the Irish Constitution; legalisation of contraception, abortion and homosexuality and the confiscation of all clerical property.

(g) Reduce the hours of the working week without loss of pay, so as to increase the number of jobs available.

(h) Recognise that only a 32 county Secular Socialist Workers' Republic can answer the problems posed by British Imperialism, and its stooge Irish capitalism, North and South. In turn such a state can only survive effectively as part of a United Socialist States of Europe, itself a preliminary to the classless, stateless society.

DR O’Connor Lysaght.

Forward to Appendix II, Document C

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