The International Bolshevik Tendency and Interpenetrated Peoples – A clarification

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07/02/2016 by socialistfight

 Image result for the irish peace process images

The Good Friday Agreement meant acceptance of the Loyalist veto on Ireland’s right to self-determination

By Gerry Downing

Following the publication of my piece, Ireland and Palestine: Interpenetrated peoples and the rights of oppressed nations to self-determination [1] and a subsequent discussion and message exchange with Alan Gibson he challenged me thus:

“I am not asking you to agree with the interpenetrated people’s position and its political conclusions (although I do think that explains situations like the north of Ireland very well). All I am asking is that you retract your claim that the IBT, and its supporters like myself, are pro-imperialist appeaser of loyalism. Or if you want to continue with that absurd characterisation then you at least have the political honesty, and confidence in your argument, to use the IBT quote I provided and then explain how despite this your assertion is still true. Refusing to do this exposes you as a political charlatan who has no interest in political clarity or substantive political debate.”

I replied:

“Of course I don’t think that. And I don’t think I said it. My assertion was that appeasement of loyalism was the objective implications of the theory. I’ll review the conversation and I will apologise if I said or directly implies you or your comrades were appeasers of Loyalism.”

Alan corrected me:

“You said that the implications of the interpenetrated peoples position is pro-imperialist and appeasement of loyalism. You are of course free to make that argument but if a person serious about the political method of revolutionary Marxism did so then they would have to respond to the IBT quote I provided and explain how the clear anti-imperialism and anti-loyalism expressed there was consistent with that supposed implication. Are you such a person? Doing so would look something like: “I have been alerted to the following piece by the IBT “… “Despite the clear anti-imperialist and anti-loyalist position outlined there I still believe …”

The piece Alan quoted is from the 1995 document, An End to the Troubles, Irish ‘Peace Process’:

“The starting point for Marxists in dealing with Ireland has to be unconditional opposition to British imperialist intervention. We are for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland. Marxists stand for the military defence of the IRA in conflicts with the British and NI state forces, and we oppose criminal prosecution and imprisonment of Republicans by the imperialists and their allies. Moreover, the existing order in Northern Ireland, with its marginal privileges for Protestants and systematic discrimination and repression of Catholics, is something that the workers’ movement is obliged to struggle against by all possible means. We are unconditionally opposed to the whole apparatus of Loyalist terror: the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Loyalist paramilitary murder gangs.” [2]

This document relies on the previous Spartacist League/ICL 1977 Theses on Ireland but is an independent IBT document which Alan demands that I assess in its own right. Whilst letting my original critique stand I will therefore seek to prove that “the interpenetrated people’s position is pro-imperialist and appeasement of loyalism” by referring to the political positions taken in that document, and taking the whole document, seek to demonstrate this by showing that it is self-contradictory in several aspects, taking positions in some places that are contradicted elsewhere. I immediately acknowledge that the vast majority of those in the whole Robertson tradition, the ICL, the IG/LFI and the IBT, are either unaware of and/or don’t accept that these are absolute contradictions. I will seek to prove that the Theses on Ireland of 1977 accepted the Loyalist veto over Ireland’s right to self-determination eleven years before Gerry Adams did in 1988 and the Irish ‘peace process’ document backs it up seven years after it was signed. Both documents are therefore a defence of this peace process, even if this is not openly acknowledged. I acknowledge the the ICL did oppose the actual Peace Process in 1988 but their opposition was so conditional as to be almost worthless. In particular the Irish ‘Peace Process’ document accepts the bone fides of Imperialism in the Peace Process discussions by the use of a few quotes from British imperialist politicians. The possibility that Perfidious Albion might be lying is not considered. The understanding shown in both documents of the national question and the rights of nations to self-determination is wrong. The understanding of both documents of the Trotskyist theory of Permanent Revolution is wrong.

The Loyalist veto over Ireland’s right to self-determination

In order to make the case for interpenetrated peoples it is necessary to sanitise the role of British imperialism in Ireland. There is far too much understanding of the problems faced by British imperialism in Ireland. As the words of the old Dubliners’ song go:

Far away in dear old Cyprus, or in Kenya’s dusty sand,
Where all bear the white man’s burden in many a strange land.
As we look across our shoulder, in West Belfast the school bell rings,
And we sigh for dear old England, and the Captains and the Kings.

So in the Irish peace process we get:

“the Downing Street declaration of late 1993, signed by British Prime Minister John Major and then Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Albert Reynolds, in which the struggle for a united Ireland was declared to be a “legitimate political goal.” It also repeated an earlier statement of the British minister for Northern Ireland, Peter Brooke, that Britain has “no selfish strategic, or economic interest in Northern Ireland.”

Instead of seeing this as a clever piece of lying manoeuvring by Perfidious Albion it is taken at face value and designated as:

“a startling admission. The British ruling class apparently now regards the sectarian mini state, which it was instrumental in creating in the early 1920s, as a liability.”

And later in attacking the ICL opposition to the Peace Process:

“The bulk of the British bourgeoisie regards the Protestants as a liability, and would be quite happy to wash its hands of them, and even allow the terms of oppression to be reversed, provided this does not create a Bosnia on Britain’s doorstep.”

And

“To the Tories, the “harmonization” of an all-Ireland market is (they no doubt hope) a means of gradually divesting themselves of an embarrassing and expensive problem handed down to them by previous generations of their class.”

And then, quoting the ICL’s Reuben Samuels, speaking of the Unionist general strike of 1974, who observed:

“The I973 [sic 1974 in fact] Ulster general strike, a 14-day general strike that totally shut down Northern Ireland, demonstrated that the social power and the social weight of the proletariat is there, even if in this particular case it was used for reactionary ends. It was also an entirely anti-British strike. The British had set up the Council of Ireland, which was a scheme for a peaceful, if forcible (through economic pressure) reunifying of Ireland and dumping Northern Ireland, which has become a liability for British imperialism “

—Spartacist No. 24, Autumn 1977

“Nothing moved in Northern Ireland without the permission of the working class” cannot but choke you. This “nothing” is primarily other workers, Protestants who had solidarity with nationalist workers and nationalist workers themselves who were assaulted with fascistic enthusiasm by Loyalist thugs with the covert assistance of the British Army and the not-so-covert assistance of the Royal Ulster Constabulary

This pleads the case of Loyalism and repeats the line of Militant on that same 1974 strike. It certainly was not an “an entirely anti-British strike” no more than the Curragh Mutiny of 1914 [3] was an entirely anti-British mutiny. It was simply a matter of the British state and reactionary imperialist Britain disciplining liberal imperialist Britain and showing them where the real class interests of the British Empire lay. We replied to Militant in IDOT No. 8:

“The skilled Protestant workers, the institutionalised aristocracy of labour who have traditionally looked to Apartheid South Africa, to Zionist Israel and to the US deep South Jim Crow for inspiration, despised the poor ‘papist’ nationalist/Catholic workers and were always determined to form a cross-class alliance to deny them employment, housing, welfare and life itself whenever “croppy” became too uppity. But Militant pandered to them thus:

“The whole basis of life in modern society depends on the working class. Nothing moved in Northern Ireland without the permission of the working class. Even bourgeois commentators, hostile to the aim of the strike were forced to comment on the power and ingenuity displayed by the working class. Thus the Times correspondent commented on the situation in the Protestant Sandy Row district of Belfast…” Between fifty and a hundred men have operated a rubbish clearance service, going round in the backs of lorries while others swept the streets. At the weekend, brown paper rubbish bags arrived and 22,000 have been given to families in the past three days.” Connections were made with sympathetic farmers who supplied the areas with cheap food. [4]

This is the sentence that leaps out at you from that article:

“Nevertheless, the strike also demonstrated in a distorted form and on a reactionary issue, the colossal power of the working class when it moves into action.” Who would express such admiration for a neo-fascist uprising? Would we admire the strength and discipline of Hitler’s Brownshirts because this showed us what these workers could do if there were socialists and not fascists? And remember the material basis for discrimination in the north of Ireland. Here was the real aristocracy of labour that was originally gathered in 1795 in the Orange Order, whose declared purpose in its initiation oath is still to “counter-revolution”. “Nothing moved in Northern Ireland without the permission of the working class” cannot but choke you. This “nothing” is primarily other workers, Protestants who had solidarity with nationalist workers and nationalist workers themselves who were assaulted with fascistic enthusiasm by Loyalist thugs with the covert assistance of the British Army and the not-so-covert assistance of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The various bourgeoisies, from the Irish pro-imperialists to the bedrock of imperialist orthodoxy in the columns of The Times, of course, were not hostile to this strike, supported it but had to be careful in how they expressed their support, as Militant were. Hence the mutual admiration between Militant and the pro-imperialist bourgeoisie here. “Isn’t it great to have the workers going on strike for us instead against us for a change?” is the common theme here supported by Militant. Those in South Africa will recall Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s strikes against the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. Do we all remember how supportive The Times was to the 1926 General Strike and how it complemented the workers on their ingenuity etc.? We though not! [5]

Was KwaZulu-Natal another case of ‘interpenetrated peoples’? It would seem to fit the bill. Human beings are oppressed by the social relations of production imposed by capitalism. Semi-colonial nations as a whole are oppressed by imperialism. The nationalist bourgeoisie here are a semi-oppressed, semi-oppressing class. All conflict takes place in that context and for that reason. It DOES NOT happen because people are mixed up together. This is just nonsense, it has no precedent on the annals of Marxism and neither document produce any quotes from the Marxist classics that suggest such a silly thing. It is an indication of cultism to seek to defend such an indefensible notion. For the Spart family its use is precisely for that reason, it you are collectively defending an absurdity then it becomes a point of pride that no other Marxist current on the planet agrees with you. You are uniquely right and therefore the continuity of Trotskyism.

The Irish Peace Process goes on to say:

“The national question in Ireland remains a major obstacle to class struggle and social progress. While there has been a partial self-determination of Irish Catholics in the South, particularly since the twenty six counties became a republic after World War II, the national conflict in the North still has a major impact on Irish politics. The Northern conflict is not, as Republicans and their guilty liberal apologists on the left pretend, a simple one of an oppressed colonial people fighting against an imperialist occupation. There is a major component of that, to be sure. But the existence of one million Protestants who comprise 60 percent of the population of the six counties means that any attempt to unite the island forcibly will inevitably ignite a sectarian conflict of Bosnian proportions.

And

“While opposing the imperialist presence, Marxists must also oppose the reunification of Ireland against the wishes of the Protestants.”

The national question in Ireland IS NOT a major obstacle to class struggle and social progress. It is an integral part of the form that the class struggle itself must take in order to defeat imperialism and make socialist revolution. Although the author may not be aware of it this line constitutes a repudiation of the Trotskyist theory of Permanent Revolution –

“With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.” [6]

We contend that this makes it very clear that the right to nations to self-determination affords no veto to reaction. There are no workers in abstract, simply defined by the relationship to the means of production in capitalist society, the class with nothing to sell but its labour power. All workers also stand in some relationship to the real masters of life, global imperialism. If they are workers in imperialist countries they tend to be pro-imperialist and accept more or less the patriotism and social values of their own country and the mass media and education system which constantly reinforces the ideology that goes with this relationship to capitalism itself. If they live in a country with a history of struggle against imperialism then they tend to be anti-imperialist – for instance the sympathy of the majority of Irish workers was with Argentina in the Malvinas war in 1982 and the Taoiseach, Charlie Haughey, was forced to express this sentiment in his own Fianna Fáil party, the more anti-British of the two main traditional parties in Ireland. This put strains on his otherwise grovelling relationship to Margaret Thatcher.

The dominant ideology in the Loyalist community is far right pro-imperialism bolstered by a cross class alliance between the capitalists and the aristocracy of labour engendering a feeling of superiority over nationalist workers amongst the Loyalist; and so they support Britain in all its wars. It is to the Loyalist camp that British and European fascists go for support and they find a ready audience. In Dublin on 6 February Irish Republican Left Action Against Fascism cleared the streets of those attempting to rally outside the GPO to form the Irish section of Pegida. Such was the beating they took that it is very unlikely they will ever attempt such a thing again. We cannot imagine such a force emerging from the Loyalist community if they attempted the same thing in Belfast; on the contrary they would get ready Loyalist support but the nationalist community would supply their opponents; and that may well be their next move. Even in the more remote arena of football in the north of Ireland and in the West of Scotland the Celtic fans and nationalists elsewhere sing the Fields of Athenry, a clearly anti-imperialist anthem – “For you stole Trevelyan’s corn, So the young might see the morn”, and fly Palestinian flags to indicate support for the oppressed Palestinians. The Rangers’ and other pro-Loyalists song is the Billy Boys: “We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood, Surrender or you’ll die, For we are The Brigton Derry Boys.” Rangers and other Loyalist fans fly the Zionist Flag to indicate support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.

Sectarian Killings

In an apparent endorsement the Irish Peace Process says:

“The cessation of sectarian killings for the time being by both Loyalist paramilitaries and the IRA appears to have improved the possibilities for unity between Protestant and Catholic workers around class questions. But class struggle could easily be submerged beneath a new wave of nationalism.”

However whilst the cessation of killing is of course to be welcomed the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) has not brought the communities closer together. In fact segregation has increased since the GFA and so has the number of peace walls between the communities. The reason is clear. Before the GFA Loyalist ideology was always seen in some measure at least in the Protestant community as a shameful thing and it was rejected at least partially because of the extreme reactionary nature of its desire to discriminate and oppress. The acceptance of the Loyalist Veto by Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams, and by the ICL 11 years beforehand, legitimised this reaction, it conciliated it and made it respectable. Surveys find that the nationalists are far more likely to want these peace wall to stay than the Loyalists; they have a great deal more to fear.

The BBC reported:

In fact, the number of barricades in Belfast has actually increased since the Good Friday Agreement brought the Northern Irish conflict to an end in 1998. A 2012 study found almost 100 walls, fences, gates and roads forming “interfaces” between communities across the city.

For people living in the shadow of a concrete wall topped with fencing the peace they bring can help cement divisions rather than heal communities. Wall number one, which divides the Falls and Shankill roads at Cupar Street, went up in 1969 following rioting and house burnings in west Belfast. Over the years it has risen to more than six metres. The last one went up last year in the grounds of a north Belfast integrated primary school following a period of local tension. There are 53 Northern Ireland Office maintained peace lines in four towns and cities in the region – 42 in Belfast, five in Londonderry, five in Portadown and one in Lurgan.

However, community relations groups say these are not the only peace lines, with other structures and land being used to keep communities apart. In a survey for the Community Relations Council the Institute for Conflict Research listed a total of 88 peace lines as well as 44 police CCTV cameras. Some are listed as wasteland being used by housing authorities as buffer zones, others include derelict houses as well as walls and vegetation to the rear of homes in interface areas. [7]

And Wiki tells us:

Public housing is overwhelmingly segregated between the two communities. Intercommunal tensions have forced substantial numbers of people to move from mixed areas into areas inhabited exclusively by one denomination, thus increasing the degree of polarisation and segregation. The extent of self-segregation grew very rapidly with the outbreak of the Troubles. In 1969, 69 per cent of Protestants and 56 per cent of Catholics lived in streets where they were in their own majority; as the result of large-scale flight from mixed areas between 1969 and 1971 following outbreaks of violence, the respective proportions had by 1972 increased to 99 per cent of Protestants and 75 per cent of Catholics. In Belfast, the 1970s were a time of rising residential segregation. It was estimated in 2004 that 92.5% of public housing in Northern Ireland was divided along religious lines, with the figure rising to 98% in Belfast. Self-segregation is a continuing process, despite the Northern Ireland peace process. It was estimated in 2005 that more than 1,400 people a year were being forced to move as a consequence of intimidation.

In response to intercommunal violence, the British Army constructed a number of high walls called “peace lines“ to separate rival neighbourhoods. These have multiplied over the years and now number forty separate barriers, mostly located in Belfast. Despite the moves towards peace between Northern Ireland’s political parties and most of its paramilitary groups, the construction of “peace lines” has actually increased during the ongoing peace process; the number of “peace lines” doubled in the ten years between 1995 and 2005. In 2008 a process was proposed for the removal of the peace walls.

The effective segregation of the two communities significantly affects the usage of local services in “interface areas“ where sectarian neighbourhoods adjoin. Surveys in 2005 of 9,000 residents of interface areas found that 75% refused to use the closest facilities because of location, while 82% routinely travelled to “safer” areas to access facilities even if the journey time was longer. 60% refused to shop in areas dominated by the other community, with many fearing ostracism by their own community if they violated an unofficial de facto boycott of their sectarian opposite numbers. [8]

 The essence of the theory of interpenetrated peoples

The Irish ‘Peace Process’ documents says: “But the existence of one million Protestants who comprise 60 percent of the population of the six counties means that any attempt to unite the island forcibly will inevitably ignite a sectarian conflict of Bosnian proportions”. This is an acceptance of the Loyalist veto and is the essence of the theory of interpenetrated peoples. Whoever expected a peaceful revolution? When Ireland becomes reunited there will be fierce resistance from the neo-fascist loyalist murder gangs, amongst others. They must be defeated. They are NOT the legitimate representatives of the Loyalist working class or the ‘Protestant’ workers. To reject a historically progressive aim like Irelands right to self-determination on the grounds that it will be fiercely resisted is to conciliate reaction.

The following extract from The Boat Factory: Life in the Yard, A cultural history of shipbuilding in Belfast shows the long history of the ideology of the labour aristocracy, of its supremacism and of its extreme willingness to impose discrimination on nationalists in defence of this for this. This is the essence of Loyalist culture:

“Sectional disputes were frequent. To take one example, disputes over demarcation between shipwrights and carpenters occurred in 1890, 1891, 1911 and 1913. In that year, the apprentices of Harland and Wolff also went on strike. Less sectional disputes occurred in 1887, over the introduction of fortnightly payment, and in 1892 in support of the eight hour day. Then, in 1919, Belfast’s shipyard workers joined thousands of others in a mass strike for a 44 hour working week.

In the following year, however, the second theme of the shipyard’s socio-political culture was dominant. Responding to the establishment of the Irish parliament in 1919 and the outbreak of the IRA’s War of Independence, loyalist workers expelled some 10,000 Catholics and ‘rotten Prods’—socialists and trade union activists—from the yards.

Outbreaks of sectarian violence involving shipyard workers were nothing new. There had been disturbances during the 1912 Home Rule crisis, and an expulsion of Catholics in 1886. Five hundred loyalist shipyard workers had fought running battles with the police in 1872, and in 1864 ironworkers, carpenters and shipwrights from the yards had been involved in fighting with Catholic navvies engaged in the excavation of new docks. The role of the ‘Islandmen’ in the ‘battle of the navvies’ was commemorated in at least one loyalist ballad:

They sent unto the Island, and they challenged us that day;
For they had guns and pistols to begin a bloody fray;
Our arms we had to find them, but we didn’t dally long,
And we marched upon the Navvies in three columns stout and strong.

Trade union consciousness and sectarian ideas found uneasy cohabitation in the populist unionism of groups like the Independent Orange Order, and in the outlook of working class writers like Thomas Carnduff. The conflict, often violent, between the two, was the subject of the 1960 play, Over the Bridge, by another shipyard worker, Sam Thompson. [9]

I used to drink with a crew in Harlesden of Irish, Scottish, English and West Indians in the early 90s. One weekend afternoon the north of Ireland came up. A man from Aberdeen opined the Robertson stuff about it all being sectarian and people not being able to agree and they were all the same.

No they are not, I asserted if you were a Catholic and married a Protestant you could live in West Belfast with no problems but you could not live in East Belfast (from the statistics above you can see that is an exaggeration but the tendency is definitively there – GD) . They were not the same. “You shut up now or I will stick this glass in your face” shouted the irate Orangeman.

Belfast Riots in July 1920. The immediate causes were the shooting of Smyth in Cork (he was from Banbridge) and the tensions arising from the 12th July (fanned by Carson). The more long term causes were fears about jobs by Protestant workers. Parkinson notes that unemployment was 26% in Belfast at this time after post-war depression. Protestant workers felt they were taking their ‘own’ jobs back.

Parkinson says there was about 93,000 Catholic workers in the city at this time (Parkinson (2004), pgs 33-35) and he estimates that around 10,000 workers expelled including several hundred female textile workers. He says that most of the expulsions occurred within the first few days but some intimidation did occur into the following month and even into early September when Catholic workers would be forced out of work for refusing to sign ‘loyalty’ documents. Also, included were about 1,800 Protestant trade unionists and socialists who were also expelled from their work – the latter were called ‘rotten Prods’ by the unionist leadership (Parkinson (2004), pgs 35-36 & 328). Parkinson further estimates that over the period of the conflict in Belfast (i.e. up to summer 1922), over 20,000 Catholics were displaced (Parkinson (2004), pg 62).

Parkinson also says that there is little evidence that Unionist Party had organised expulsion but that the Unionist leaders failed to condemn them. Carson was later to express his ‘pride’ in the actions of his shipyard ‘friends’ (Parkinson (2004), pg 31). He goes onto say “members of the BPA and other loyalist splinter groups undoubtedly benefited from easy access to their considerable arsenal and were certainly responsible for the initial industrial expulsions and several sectarian murders. Although the unionist establishment may not have co-ordinated the campaign of violence, it is undeniable that the Belfast authorities had been bracing themselves for an outbreak of communal disturbances during the summer of 1920.” (Parkinson (2004), pg 309) He goes on to say that the more incisive deployment of troops in Belfast would have probably reduced the level of violence. McDermott says that “There is no significant evidence that the unionist leadership ordered the expulsions from the shipyards … but … the expulsions mark the beginning of what … the whole of the nationalist community called the ‘pogroms’.” (McDermott (2001), pg 33)
The response by a number of prominent nationalists and republicans in the North in August (including Sean McEntee; Denis McCullough; Bishop McRory and Rev John Hassan) is to set a ‘Belfast Boycott Committee’ which aims to force Belfast businesses to take back expelled Catholic workers by pushing a vigorous boycott of all goods produced in Belfast. They have success with county councils in the South and, while initially reluctant, the Dáil takes responsibility for it from January 1921.

It should really go without saying that the orientation of all serious Marxists should be to those ‘rotten Prods’, socialists and trade union activists’ within the Protestant community and not to the Loyalist oppressors of the best of the workers in that community and the nationalists in general. The existence of these forces is not admitted at all in either of the documents and yet the overwhelming domination of the far right Loyalist ideology was establish by extreme violence in collaboration with the British state. They were driven from the shipyards by Loyalist thugs using the infamous Belfast confetti, metal disks, large ship-building rivets, nuts, bolts and other metal scrap as missiles against the Catholic workers to drive them out of the shipyard in 1920. It really should logically follow that it can only be remove in like manner because we are entitled to assume that the neo-fascists will defend their privileges as violently as in the past so we had better draw the obvious conclusions from that.

And further the Irish Peace Process says:

“The situation is one of interpenetrated peoples: two peoples living together on the same piece of land. Any attempt by one or the other of the peoples to exercise its right to self-determination, that is, to create its own political state, will necessarily lead either to forced population transfers (“ethnic cleansing”), or conquest and subjugation.”

This totally contradicts the opening sentence of this section: “The starting point for Marxists in dealing with Ireland has to be unconditional opposition to British imperialist intervention”. If the Irish nationalists succeed in reuniting Ireland, even under capitalism, that would be a defeat for British Imperialism. It is not a question simply of economics, national defence or wishing to avoid a ‘bloodbath’. The British ruling class are NOT neutral, their undercover MI5 agents constantly collaborated with Loyalist death squads in assassinating not only IRA men and prominent professional opponents like Pat Finucane in 1989, and Rosemary Nelson in 1999, but also random Catholics to spread terror. They infiltrated the Belfast IRA in particular so as to ensure they were either ambushed or they deliberately placed bombs or made sure they exploded prematurely or warnings were suppressed in areas where a great number of civilians were killed, so as to create a backlash. They expended enormous resources in fostering fratricidal warfare within the ranks of Republican Socialism, the IRSP and the INLA etc., recognising the dangerous implications of uniting the working class under the banner of both revolutionary socialism and anti-imperialism, surely the essence of Permanent Revolution.

These are not the actions of a neural force who regarded the struggle as a liability – they do not fear bombs in market places or withdrawing from Ireland but the effect such a defeat would have on the British working class itself. If the Loyalist succeed in crushing the nationalist resistance, and they have succeeded to a great degree by winning Sinn Fein and the IRA over to the Peace Process, then that is a victory for imperialism, with all its negative national and international implications for the global class consciousness of workers, particularly in Britain. A victory over imperialism would enormously strengthen the British working class politically by undermining illusion in the ideology of imperialism and in the benefits they are getting from the booty of Empire. For this very reason Trotsky advocated critical support for Haile Selassie and Abyssinia against Italy in 1936, for China led by Chiang Kai-shek against Japan in 1937 and, hypothetically, for Vargas and Brazil against Britain in 1938 despite the reactionary character of the leaderships of these three nations. I would say the IRA and Sinn Fein stack up pretty well against those; whilst they were fighting British imperialism and its Loyalist agents they were deserving of the traditional Marxist critical but unconditional support. Neither of the two documents even considers this very important Marxist principle in the context of the global class struggle.

This is also the essence of Marx’s famous Irish Turn in 1869. He spelled this out in his letter to Ludwig Kugelmann. It made no concessions to the Loyalists (he had noticed them!) or to the anti-Marxist notion of interpenetrated peoples:

“I have become more and more convinced — and the thing now is to drum this conviction into the English working class — that they will never be able to do anything decisive here in England before they separate their attitude towards Ireland quite definitely from that of the ruling classes, and not only make common cause with the Irish, but even take the initiative in dissolving the Union established in 1801, and substituting a free federal relationship for it. And this must be done not out of sympathy for Ireland, but as a demand based on the interests of the English proletariat. If not, the English people will remain bound to the leading-strings of the ruling classes, because they will be forced to make a common front with them against Ireland. Every movement of the working class in England itself is crippled by the dissension with the Irish, who form a very important section of the working class in England itself. The primary condition for emancipation here — the overthrow of the English landed oligarchy — remains unattainable, since its positions cannot be stormed here as long as it holds its strongly-entrenched outposts in Ireland. But over there, once affairs have been laid in the hands of the Irish people themselves, as soon as they have made themselves their own legislators and rulers, as soon as they have become autonomous, it will be infinitely easier there than here to abolish the landed aristocracy (to a large extent the same persons as the English landlords) since in Ireland it is not just merely an economic question, but also a national one, as the landlords there are not, as they are in England, traditional dignitaries and representatives, but the mortally-hated oppressors of the nationality. And not only does England’s internal social development remain crippled by the present relationship to Ireland, but also her foreign policy, in particular her policy with regard to Russia and the United States of America.

Since, however, the English working class undoubtedly throws the greatest weight on the scales of social emancipation generally, this is the point where the lever must be applied. It is a fact that the English Republic under Cromwell met shipwreck in — Ireland. Non bis in idem! [this shall not happen twice] The Irish have played a capital joke on the English government by electing the convict felon O’Donovan Rossa as Member of Parliament. Government newspapers are already threatening a renewed suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, a renewed system of terror! In fact, England never has and never can rule Ireland any other way, as long as the present relationship continues — only with the most abominable reign of terror and the most reprehensible corruption. [10]

Ireland’s Right to Self-Determination

The Irish Peace Process says:

The Protestants are not actually a fully developed nation. Rather, they are a half formed quasi national grouping, whose political consciousness and identity exists as if in a time warp: they still think they are fighting the battles of the Reformation and the “Glorious Revolution” of seventeenth century England. The ideology of Loyalism is a grotesque anachronism. But it has not been abandoned by the Protestant population. Marxists must frame their demands on the national question to undermine this consciousness, a product of the “carnival of reaction” of which Connolly spoke, and not drive the Protestant working class into the arms of the Paisleyites (or worse) by echoing the Republicans’ demand for “self-determination of the Irish people as a whole.” There is no such thing as “the Irish people as a whole;” the Protestants do not feel themselves to be part of any such people. If there is to be any hope of uniting Catholic and Protestant working classes, it cannot be demanded of the Protestants that they accept Catholic nationalist aims as a condition for participating in common struggle. While opposing the imperialist presence, Marxists must also oppose the reunification of Ireland against the wishes of the Protestants.

Of course the document makes clear its opposition to these forces but then accepts that they have a right to self-determination. Only nations have a right to self-determination. The Ulster Loyalists, the Falkland Islanders, the Gibraltarians, the inhabitants of Hong Kong or any other imperialist outpost have no rights to occupy other people’s lands and claim it for their imperialist masters. This was, in fact, declared a crime in 1960 by the United Nations, that most pro imperialist of bodies which likes to pretend that modern imperialism is not at all as bad as 19th century colonialism. [11]

The Loyalists are not a nation, they do not want to be a nation and do not claim to be a nation. The essence of loyalism is their ‘right’ to discriminate, to assert their superiority over the nationalists in a cross class alliance with their own ruling class and British imperialism. It is not a disagreement between peoples, but a mode of imperialist rule. The “half formed quasi national grouping” should be given a real name; modern colonialist infused with pro-imperialist bigotry. Theirs is a supremacist ideology like Zionism and apartheid South Africa and the Deep South Jim Crow South poor whites. And historically they have made these connections themselves in words and deeds. Ian Paisley received a bogus honorary doctorate of divinity from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina in 1966, to take one example. The sympathy for Zionism of many Loyalists is legendary. And according to The Pensive Quill:

“In January 1988, the UDA intelligence boss and British agent Brian Nelson masterminded one of the biggest consignments of illegal weapons to loyalists since the Larne gun-running of 1914 to arm Carson’s Ulster Volunteers. The loyalist bloodbath bonanza consisted of 200 Russian-made Kalashnikov AK-47 automatic rifles; 90 American Browning 9 mm pistols; around 500 fragmentation grenades; 30,000 bullets; a dozen Russian-made RPG7 rocket launchers, and an unknown number of warheads. The South African weapons had a major impact on the murder rate of the loyalist death squads. According to our sources, in the six years – from January 1982 to December 1987 – before the smuggling of the huge arsenal, loyalists murdered 71 people. In the five years after the weapons’ arrival, loyalists killed 135 people – almost double the rate before acquiring the South African haul.” [12]

That perceived right to discriminate and murder at will is the prime question, not some bogus question of their right to self-determination.

But Alan objects:

“It is not a question of giving a “right of veto” to anyone but just recognising that your solution of calling for the self-determination currently exercised in the south of the island to be extended to the north is not a democratic solution. Given the current political/social reality in the north what would that mean for the democratic rights of the 50% or so of the population who do not want that?

Of course nationalists in the north of Ireland or Palestinians should not accept being second-class citizens. I am not arguing that they should and I find it deeply offensive that you are implying that I am. I am just saying that there is no democratic solution possible within the framework of capitalism. You on the other-hand seem only to be able to counter-pose alternatives within the framework of capitalism and so there is a simple dichotomy between siding with the oppressed or the oppressor. You need to start thinking like a communist not a radical bourgeois democrat. (As an aside I am curious as to why you refer to South African Blacks and Deep Southern Blacks – what are you suggesting in terms of self-determination for them?) I think the nub of the problem is that you miss a central point of the Leninist position on self-determination. It is to encourage working class unity. It is to undercut the political appeal of nationalism, both in the oppressor nation and the oppressed nation. Instead you take the Leninist approach to the right of self-determination as some over-arching slogan in an ahistorical sense – thus gutting it of its real content and political purpose. And as another aside I have re-read your piece today taking notes this time and it really is a quite shoddy piece of work. Creating, and then knocking over, straw men combined with blatant political slanders. Your piece screams of liberal moral outrage rather than Marxist science.”

I have tried to explain to him that differences between the nationalism of the oppressor and that of the oppressed. Lenin expanded it in great detail and the quote the IBT put forward in their fusion with the LTT makes no acknowledgement of this. [13] Supporting existing oppression of the Irish nationalists (NOT Catholics) by Loyalist (NOT Protestants) on the grounds that if you do so the oppression might be reversed completely dismisses the fight against imperialism and the central position this must occupy in the programme of all serious revolutionaries. In Israel it is Zionism repressing the Palestinians, a fear that imperialism’s agents might themselves be oppressed at a later date is a defence of current Imperialist oppression. That is the essence of the argument, interpenetrated peoples is an alternative explanation for human oppression that blames human nature and not the property relations of capitalism and modern imperialism.

That’s the significance of the Lenin Stalin debate, the Great Russian chauvinism of Stalin, the failure of Robertson to call for the defeat of the British Expeditionary force to the south Atlantic in 1982, by far the most telling example of the Sparts’ pro imperialism.

How Christian Rakovsky handles the national question

Look at how Christian Rakovsky handles the national question. Note how different it is from Stalin, from the Lenin of 1913 (as presented so one-sidedly in that quote from the BT/LTT Fusion document) and from the Lenin that took such umbrage at Stalin’s Great Russian Chauvinism as he called it in regard to Georgia in 1922 until his death in 1924. This passage relates how Rakovsky himself developed his views on the subject; these views then became those of the Left Opposition and Trotsky’s own views:

“What was the specific problem which the national question posed for the Communist Party in the Soviet Union according to Rakovsky? In 1919, in the article already mentioned (Relations between the Republics), Rakovsky had analysed nationalism and national culture as specific to the bourgeois state order, an extension of the concept of “private ownership” to the level of the state. Therefore he saw the elimination of capitalist private property as undermining once and for all the basis of specifically “national” consciousness and culture, and he saw the federal and centralizing principle as a characteristic of the socialist order. The problem had presented itself then in terms of the “suppression” of national prejudice, national boundaries etc., and he had been very optimistic in 1919 about the pace at which those would disappear. At the Twelfth Congress that optimism had disappeared: “the more often we discuss this question the further away we are from a communist understanding and solution of the national problem”.

“There were many in the party in 1923 who believed that the national problem had already been solved. Rakovsky asked: “Tell me, comrades, how many of you can explain in what way the October revolution solved the nationalities question?” It did not resolve it, nor could it have. National culture does not cease to exist because the state is a workers’ state or because the economy is no longer privately owned. National culture is “the only way” through which the working and peasant masses will gain access to political and cultural life. “And hand in hand with national consciousness comes that feeling of equality which Lenin speaks of in his memorandum. Because of centuries o tsarist domination, the nationalities are now experiencing that feeling of equality in a much deeper and stronger way than we think.” So the problem posed before the Communist Party was not one of the suppression or “overcoming” of national consciousness. “It (the party) faces the question of how to find the bond between proletarian communist internationalism and the national development of wide layers of the peasant masse with their aspirations for a national life, for their own national culture, for their own national state.” [14]

We have examined Loyalist culture and shown that it is not a culture at all. Irish culture compromise a vast range of literature and works of art, of plays and the theatre performances that moved from London to become based in Dublin during the last decades of the 19th century. Also in this period, in 1884, the Gael Athletic Association began to develop and codify a whole series of unique national games which remain enormously popular today; hurling, Gaelic football, camogie and handball. Although the hurling and football All-Ireland Finals and semi Finals are invariably the biggest sporting events in Europe on the day, with 80,000 + attendances, yet no British press, apart from The Sun which gives the score, or TV station will report the results let alone on the games themselves, but will report on small rugby league and football contests in the south of France with a few hundred in attendance. The expulsion of the forces of the Empire from the south of Ireland in the 1921 still rankles with the British imperialist establishment and its representatives.

Pro-Imperialist Terminology

Finally on the language used in the documents. The offensive terminology like Protestant and Catholic and the British Isles that the documents use is an inadvertent expression of contempt for Ireland’s right to self-determination. Obviously the comrades are unaware that British Isles signifies a territorial claim by Britain to the whole of Ireland. The Irish Government has made it clear to Britain and to international cartographers that it objects strongly to the use of the term. Nevertheless the BBC and other British imperialist spokespersons always uses it in weather forecasts and elsewhere. Tony Blair acceded to the request of the Irish government and used the term “these islands” in the Good Friday Agreement. Its use is a cover for this wrong approach as is, for example, the constant use of the term ‘sectarian conflict’ to excuse and marginalise the role of British imperialism and Protestant and Catholic to designate the opposing camps in the north of Ireland. The correct terms are pro-imperialist and anti-imperialist or Loyalist and Nationalist.

The ICL programme states that: “We struggle for an Irish workers republic as part of a socialist federation of the British Isles” No serious self-respecting Irish citizen would use such a term as is evidenced by the following notes from Wikipedia:

“In standard English usage, the toponym “the British Isles” refers to a European archipelago consisting of Great Britain, Ireland and adjacent islands. However, the word “British” is also an adjective and demonym referring to the United Kingdom. For this reason, the name British Isles is avoided in Irish English as such usage could be construed to imply continued territorial claims or political overlordship of the Republic of Ireland by the United Kingdom.

On 18 July 2004, The Sunday Business Post questioned the use of British Isles as a purely geographic expression, noting:

[The] “Last Post has redoubled its efforts to re-educate those labouring under the misconception that Ireland is really just British. When British Retail Week magazine last week reported that a retailer was to make its British Isles debut in Dublin, we were puzzled. Is not Dublin the capital of the Republic of Ireland? When Last Post suggested the magazine might see its way clear to correcting the error, an educative e-mail to the publication…:

“…(which) I have called the Atlantic archipelago – since the term ‘British Isles’ is one which Irishmen reject and Englishmen decline to take quite seriously.” Pocock, J.G.A. [1974] (2005). “British History: A plea for a new subject”. The Discovery of Islands. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 29. OCLC 60611042.

“…what used to be called the “British Isles,” although that is now a politically incorrect term.” Finnegan, Richard B.; Edward T. McCarron (2000). Ireland: Historical Echoes, Contemporary Politics. Boulder: Westview Press, p. 358.

“In an attempt to coin a term that avoided the ‘British Isles’ – a term often offensive to Irish sensibilities – Pocock suggested a neutral geographical term for the collection of islands located off the northwest coast of continental Europe which included Britain and Ireland: the Atlantic archipelago…” Lambert, Peter; Phillipp Schofield (2004). Making History: An Introduction to the History and Practices of a Discipline. New York: Routledge, p. 217.

“..the term is increasingly unacceptable to Irish historians in particular, for whom the Irish Sea is or ought to be a separating rather than a linking element. Sensitive to such susceptibilities, proponents of the idea of a genuine British history, a theme which has come to the fore during the last couple of decades, are plumping for a more neutral term to label the scattered islands peripheral to the two major ones of Great Britain and Ireland.” Roots, Ivan (1997).

The British Isles, A History of Four Nations, Second edition, Cambridge University Press, July 2006, Preface, Hugh Kearney. “The title of this book is ‘The British Isles’, not ‘Britain’, in order to emphasise the multi-ethnic character of our intertwined histories. Almost inevitably many within the Irish Republic find it objectionable. As Seamus Heaney put it when he objected to being included in an anthology of British Poetry: ‘Don’t be surprised If I demur, for, be advised/ My passport’s green./ No glass of ours was ever raised/ To toast the Queen. (Open Letter, Field day Pamphlet no.2 1983)”

The A to Z of Britain and Ireland by Trevor Montague “…although it is traditional to refer to the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as the British Isles, when considered as a single archipelago, this nomenclature implies a proprietary title which has long since ceased to exist, if indeed it ever really did exist.” [15]

 Notes

[1] Ireland and Palestine: Interpenetrated peoples and the rights of oppressed nations to self-determination

https://socialistfight.com/2016/01/28/ireland-and-palestine-interpenetrated-peoples-and-the-rights-of-oppressed-nations-to-self-determination/

[2] An End to the Troubles, Irish ‘Peace Process’ http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no16irel.pdf

[3] “On his return to the Curragh on 20th March, Paget summoned his brigadiers and informed them that active operations against Ulster were imminent. He indicated that officers with homes in Ulster would be permitted to be absent from duty without compromising their careers. Unwisely (really, not Perfidious Albion again? – GD), he added that any others who were not prepared to carry out their duty were to say so and these would immediately be dismissed from the service. The brigadiers were to put these alternatives to their men and report back; 57 of the 70 officers consulted elected for dismissal. They were led by Brigadier General Herbert Gough who, like many of them, had Irish family connections.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/easterrising/prelude/pr06.shtml

[4] John Throne, Militant International Review No. 9, June 1974. Northern Ireland – the crisis deepens – Postscript, http://www.oocities.org/socialistparty/Archive/1974UWC.htm

[5] IDOT No 8: The CWI and IMT: Right Centrist Heirs Of Ted Grant “Nevertheless, the (Ulster Workers Council) strike also demonstrated in a distorted form and on a reactionary issue, the colossal power of the working class when it moves into action.” Militant International Review No. 9 10 July 1974: https://socialistfight.wordpress.com/wp-admin/link.php?action=edit&link_id=39

[6] Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, 10. What is the Permanent Revolution?, Basic Postulates, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/tpr/pr10.htm

[7] Forty years of peace lines http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8121362.stm

[8] Segregation in Northern Ireland, From Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Segregation_in_Northern_Ireland

[9] The Boat Factory: Life in the Yard, A cultural history of shipbuilding in Belfast

http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/article/384/the-boat-factory-life-in-the-yard

[10] Marx-Engels Correspondence 1869, Marx To Ludwig Kugelmann In Hanover, https://marxists.anu.edu.au/archive/marx/works/1869/letters/69_11_29.htm

[11] Edward McWhinney, Professor of International Law. “The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 14 December 1960. The deliberate location of the United Nations vote – in the General Assembly rather than in the Security Council where a permanent member’s veto would always be available to any one or more of the three permanent members that still had “colonial” legal ties or associations – was an obvious enough choice for the political activist States sponsoring resolution 1514 (XV). And the timing of the vote – in 1960, when the decolonisation process was already well under way – was hardly fortuitous. A working majority in favour of a patently anti-colonialist measure would not become politically possible until the General Assembly’s transformation from its original very narrow base of representation limited to the States members of the victorious wartime Alliance against Fascism to something more nearly reflective in cultural and ideological terms of the world community at large. By 1960, this had begun to be achieved, albeit on an intermittent, or casual, step-by-step basis, over the decade and a half from War’s end. The numerical breakthrough had occurred as late as 1955, when 16 new States had been admitted in one big step to membership, bringing the total to 76. In 1960 itself, 19 new States had been admitted, sealing the emergence of what became, in Cold War terms, a neutralist or uncommitted, majority voting coalition variously styled as the Non-Aligned bloc, the Group of 77, the Bandoeng group, the Developing or Third World countries. It was this informal electoral alliance, that provided the intellectual cohesiveness and also the political-tactical competence to secure the adoption of resolution 1514 (XV) without a single expressed dissent in the General Assembly.”

http://legal.un.org/avl/ha/dicc/dicc.html

Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, Adopted by General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960

http://www.un.org/en/decolonization/declaration.shtml

[12] Loyalist guns from South Africa, September 22, 2012, http://thepensivequill.am/2012/09/loyalist-guns-from-south-africa.html#

[13] From the International Bolshevik Tendency: BT/LTT Fusion Document: For Trotskyism! https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/ibt/bt02.htm

[14] Gus Fagan, Biographical Introduction, to Christian Rakovsky, Rakovsky and the Ukraine (1919–23)https://www.marxists.org/archive/rakovsky/biog/biog3.htm

[15] British Isles naming dispute – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Isles_naming_dispute

Appendix:

An End to the Troubles

Irish ‘Peace Process’ (IBT 1995)

Twenty five years of guerrilla war and repression appeared to cease in Northern Ireland at the end of last summer. In August 1994, the leadership of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) declared a “complete cessation of violence” against the British imperialist state. Two months later, the leadership of the Protestant Loyalist paramilitary groups, the Combined Loyalist Military Command, declared its own indefinite ceasefire, to last as long as the IRA refrained from hostilities.

These events, unthinkable just a short time ago, were the result of years of manoeuvring between the British government and the IRA. Talks between Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein, and John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) became the catalyst for a series of manoeuvres by the British government and the government of the Irish Republic, aimed at coaxing the IRA into abandoning the armed struggle in return for a place at the negotiating table. This in turn gave birth to the Downing Street declaration of late 1993, signed by British Prime Minister John Major and then Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Albert Reynolds, in which the struggle for a united Ireland was declared to be a “legitimate political goal.” It also repeated an earlier statement of the British minister for Northern Ireland, Peter Brooke, that Britain has “no selfish strategic, or economic interest in Northern Ireland.”

Since Northern Ireland is officially designated as an integral part of the “United Kingdom,” this is quite a startling admission. The British ruling class apparently now regards the sectarian mini state, which it was instrumental in creating in the early 1920s, as a liability. The obsolescence and decay of the industries—shipbui1ding, textiles and engineering that were once strategic to the British economy, and the growth of investment from other European Union states, as well as the U.S. and Japan, in the Irish Republic, have made Northern Ireland much less important to British imperialism. With the end of the Cold War, the province also lost much of its military value as a naval outpost. Thus, the main thing keeping Britain in Northern Ireland at present is the refusal of its million and a half Protestants to join the Irish Republic, and the fear of a sectarian bloodbath if Br1t’T1sh”troops were to withdraw.

The current conflict in Northern Ireland began in 1969, with the defeat of the civil rights movement of the Catholic minority. But it has its roots in more than half a century of systematic discrimination and vicious sectarian repression against the Catholic population of the province. Northern Ireland was created as a result of a treaty viewed by the Irish Catholic bourgeoisie as a way to end the War of Independence that erupted in 1918. The independence struggle was prefigured by the armed rising of Easter 1916, in which an alliance of the Irish Citizen Army, a workers’ militia led by the island’s foremost Marxist, James Connolly, and the larger Irish Volunteers, led by Padraic Pearse and other nationalists, tried to spark a mass insurrection against British rule. In the immediate sense they failed. But the bloody response of British imperialism, executing the insurgents without mercy triggered an anticolonial uprising immediately after the war, and forced British imperialism to accede to a limited form of Irish independence. The Irish bourgeoisie was anxious to get the whole dangerous business over with as soon as possible. After signing a treaty that swore loyalty to the British crown and sanctioned the partition of Ireland into two states—a mainly Catholic neo-colonial “dominion” in the south, and a British ruled, majority Protestant statelet in the north—the Irish bourgeoisie, armed by the British, fought an even bloodier civil war to suppress the more radical nationalists who refused to accept the treaty. It is in this period that the foundation was laid for the conflict that erupted in the late 1960s and has lasted to the present day.

James Connolly warned that the partition of Ireland would lead to a “carnival of reaction” that would long cripple the Irish working class, North and South. That is basically what has happened over the ensuing seventy plus years. On both sides of the border, the unresolved national question has acted as a lightning rod diverting class antagonisms into the dead end of national hatred.

The consolidation of a sectarian Protestant statelet in the North meant the systematic oppression of the Catholic population. Catholics were historically discriminated against in employment and housing. Education was segregated, with the state schools reserved for Protestants, and Catholics attending state subsidized church schools. Electoral districts were gerrymandered to prevent Catholics from gaining control of municipalities, even where they predominated. Pogroms by police and Orange thugs have always been an important instrument for keeping the Catholic minority in line. To this day there is not even a deformed expression of working class political independence. The Protestant working class largely supports one or another wing of the reactionary Unionists, while the Catholic working class either supports Sinn Fein, the “radical” party of petty bourgeois Republican nationalism, or the Social Democratic and Labour Party of John Hume, which, despite its name, is not a working class party at all, but rather the party of the upwardly mobile Catholic middle class in Northern Ireland.

The six county Orange fortress state has its complement in the clericalist 26 Padraic Pearse county state in the South. There, Catholic doctrine is written into a constitution that forbids abortion, divorce, and, until recently, even contraception; the Church exerts enormous influence on what in other societies would be regarded as secular affairs. The Labour Party is small by the standard of European bourgeois workers’ parties, and when it does get a taste of office, it is as a junior partner to the hegemonic parties of the Irish bourgeoisie, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, both derived from Republican organizations of the twenties.

The Revolt Against the Union: 25 Years of War

The revolt against the Northern Ireland “Protestant state for a Protestant people” in the late 1960s was part of the international wave of student and working class radical~ ism. The civil rights movement cantered on basic democratic questions of equal rights to vote, equal access to jobs, housing, etc. But the radical students who first organized the civil rights campaigns, although vaguely socialist and ant sectarian in outlook, possessed no clear political program. When the Orange reactionaries used their traditional method to combat “uppity” Catholics——the mobilization of sectarian hatred —the civil rights movement was thus programmatically incapable of making a serious attempt to, shatter the Unionist bloc from within by appealing to Protestant workers on the basis‘ of common class interest.

The result was a wave of pogroms against Catholic working class ghettos, most notably the “Battle of the Bogside” in 1969, in which police systematically attacked the main Catholic area of Derry, and its residents fought back with great courage. In response, the Labour government of Harold W1lson sent British troops onto the streets of Derry and Belfast to restore “order” and put the lid firmly back on. After a short period in which the Catholic population greeted the British troops as saviours, the inevitable clashes between soldiers and the Catholic working class led to the re-emergence of traditional Republicanism as the only force that seemed able to defend the Catholic population against the state and the murderous Orange pogromists.

The old, “Official” IRA had in the preceding years came under the ideological influence of the British Communist Party, and thus deemphasized armed struggle in favour of a more standard Stalinist reformism. Hence, when Belfast’s Falls Road Catholic ghetto came under attack in l969, the “Officials” were unprepared—and nowhere to be found. (Many walls in the Falls Road bore the legend, “IRA = I Ran Away.’ As a result of this humiliating failure, the “Officials” were soon eclipsed by the Provisional IRA, which had split in August 1969 from the parent organization in opposition to the latter’s newfound “Marxism.” Pledged to uphold the historic nationalist and “physical force” traditions of Irish Republicanism, the Provisionals became the dominant group among radical Catholics in Northern Ireland for the next quarter century.

Twenty five years of “armed struggle” have proved that, while British imperialism has been unable to defeat the nationalists, the IRA cannot defeat the British either. Throughout this period, the Northern Ireland statelet has been unstable. h1 1971, the province’s prime minister, Brian Faulkner, abridged the right of habeas corpus and introduced the hated policy of internment, under which individuals could be imprisoned without trial merely for having been accused of Republican activity. Amidst an international outcry after British troops shot fourteen civil rights marchers dead on “Bloody Sunday” in January 1972, the Protestant sectarian administration that had governed the province for half a century was abolished, and rep laced by direct rule from London. An attempt to restore home rule in Northern Ireland on the basis of “power sharing” between Protestants and Catholics, called the Sunningdale Agreement, was sabotaged in 1974 by a reactionary general strike of Protestant workers.

In 1981 repression against the IRA backfired badly. Republican prisoners in Belfast went on hunger strike in response to an attempt by Margaret Thatcher to deprive them of their political prisoner status and reduce them to “common criminals.” The “Iron Lady” sat with arms folded while ten IRA prisoners died. The result of her policy, echoing the executions of 1916, was to provoke a huge outpouring of support for the prisoners. The leader of the hunger strikers (and the first to die), IRA volunteer Bobby Sands, was elected shortly before his death to the British parliament at Westminster in a by-election. Other hunger strikers were elected to the Dáil (Republic of Ireland parliament). This dramatic demonstration of massive sympathy for Republican aims (if not always their methods) among the Catholic population compelled the British government to seek a way out of the Northern Ireland impasse.

Their first attempt was the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. Thatcher signed this treaty with the rabidly anti-Republican Fine Gale government of Garrett Fitzgerald; the intention was to increase cooperation between London and Dublin in suppressing “terrorism. A permanent body, the Anglo-Irish Conference, was set up for this purpose. But it was basically ineffective. It became increasingly clear in the late 1980s and early 1990s that, in order to find any kind of “solution” to the continuing conflict, the British government would have to find some way of conducting discussions with the Republican movement itself.

The opportunity for this came with the new international situation arising from the collapse of the Stalinist regimes. Deprived of a major source of material and moral support by the fall of the USSR, petty bourgeois guerrilla movements in various hot spots around the world, from the Middle East to South Africa to Central America, signed “peace” deals with their oppressors in return for a semblance of power. The force of this example, combined with considerable war weariness among the Catholic population, put enormous pressure on the IRA leadership to seek a “solution” to the conflict. The result is the current highly unstable “peace process.”

Changes in the Political Landscape

The political situation in the Irish Republic has undergone considerable change in recent years. The hold of the Catholic Church and the reactionary nationalist bourgeois parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, has been considerably weakened. The high birth rate of Catho1ic Ireland, and the decline of emigration—a major safety valve, which in the past meant Ireland’s “surplus” youth generally went abroad—has led to an increasingly young population. Over 50 percent is under the age of 25. Irish youth look enviously at the greater rights enjoyed by their counterparts in other European countries; the domination of Irish cultural life by medieval clerics has become more and more intolerable. This has caused major political convulsions: the growth in support for the reformist Labour Party at the expense of the traditional Irish bourgeois parties, which, in turn, led to the election of a well-known Irish social democrat and feminist, Mary Robinson, as President of the Republic in 1990. (Although the position is largely ceremonial, it has great symbolic significance.) Then there was the election of November 1992, in which Labour doubled its representation in the Dáil, and became a major component of the government coalition.

Struggles against the Irish Republic’s oppression of women have played a major role in changing the political climate in the country. The anger of young Ireland exploded in 1992 when the Irish Attorney General, Harry Whelehan, ran to the Irish courts to get an injunction to stop a 14 year old rape victim from traveling to England to get an abortion. This abomination unleashed a wave of anger and protest throughout Ireland, so much so that the Supreme Court was forced to overturn the lower court’s ruling and allow the victim to travel. This, the famous “X case,” shook the Irish clerical state to the core. In the sequel, a referendum upheld the right to travel abroad for abortion and the right to information about abortion services abroad, though abortion is still illegal in Ireland. Bit, by a combination of rulings from the European Courts and protests in the street, the Irish bourgeois state has been forced to legalize homosexuality and make contraceptives broadly available. A referendum on divorce, also illegal in Ireland, is probably inevitable in the near future.

It was the brazen attempt last autumn of Fianna Fail to appoint Harry Whelehan, the tormentor of “X,” as President of the Irish Supreme Court, that propelled the Tánaiste (deputy prime minister), Dick Spring, and his Labour TDs (members of parliament) out of the coalition. This defection brought down Albert Reynolds’ government right in the middle of his “peace process.”

The Irish Labour Party, while acting as the main political magnet for the aspirations of youth, has nevertheless been instrumental in holding them back, regularly participating in coalitions with the very same bourgeois parties that have enforced Catholic doctrine for decades. Governments containing Labour ministers have engaged in mass layoffs and privatizations of state industries. After bringing about the collapse of the Reynolds coalition, Spring took his party into yet another coalition, this time with the more blatantly reactionary Fine Gael party. Joining him in this new coalition was Ireland’s other smaller reformist party, the so called Democratic Left, a product of the evolution toward Stalinism, and now Eurocommunism, of the old “Official” IRA. Thus the so called left parties in Ireland display a complete lack, even in a reformist sense, of any impulse to stand up for the independent class interests of Irish workers.

The social and political landscape of the North has also altered dramatically over the past twenty years. Old patterns of anti-Catholic discrimination have been partly broken down as sectors that were once reserved for Protestants have been opened up. The new and increasingly assertive Catholic middle class is composed of shop owners, professionals and public sector bureaucrats. The situation of the Protestant working class has worsened as the province’s industrial sector has contracted. This, combined with Britain’s desire to extricate itself has partially eroded confidence in the future of Unionism. While the Loyalists’ “hard men” retain a considerable base, particularly among sections of the traditional Protestant petty bourgeoisie threatened by competition from Catholics, in recent years there have been signs that Loyalist prejudice may be losing its grip on the Protestant working class. On several occasions Protestant workers have demonstrated against sectarian attacks on Catholics. The most famous incident occurred last year when shop stewards at the Harland and Wolf shipyard (traditionally a bastion of Orange bigotry) walked out to protest the murder of a Catholic welder by the Ulster Volunteer Force. Events like this, isolated as they are, demonstrate the possibility of transcending g the sectarian divide and developing class based, rather than communal, politics in Northern Ireland.

National and Social Questions

The starting point for Marxists in dealing with Ireland has to be unconditional opposition to British imperialist intervention. We are for the immediate, unconditional withdraw al 0fBritish troops from Northern Ireland. Marxists stand for the military defence of the IRA in conflicts with the British and NI state forces, and we oppose criminal prosecution and imprisonment of Republicans by the imperialists and their allies. Moreover, the existing order in Northern Ireland, with its marginal privileges for Protestants and systematic discrimination and repression of Catholics, is something that the workers’ movement is obliged to struggle against by all possible means. We are unconditionally opposed to the whole apparatus of Loyalist terror: the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Loyalist paramilitary murder gangs. But this is only the beginning of wisdom. The question is: what program can lead a united working class to smash the entire state regime and take power in its own name?

The national question in Ireland remains a major obstacle to class struggle and social progress. While there has been a partial self-determination of Irish Catholics in the South, particularly since the twenty six counties became a republic after World War II, the national conflict in the North still has a major impact on Irish politics. The Northern conflict is not, as Republicans and their guilty liberal apologists on the left pretend, a simple one of an oppressed colonial people fighting against an imperialist occupation. There is a major component of that, to be sure. But the existence of one million Protestants who comprise 60 percent of the population of the six counties means that any attempt to unite the island forcibly will inevitably ignite a sectarian conflict of Bosnian proportions.

The situation is one of interpenetrated peoples: two peoples living together on the same piece of land. Any attempt by one or the other of the peoples to exercise its right to self-determination, that is, to create its own political state, will necessarily lead either to forced population transfers (“ethnic cleansing”), or conquest and subjugation.

The Protestants are not actually a fully developed nation. Rather, they are a half formed quasi national grouping, whose political consciousness and identity exists as if in a time warp: they still think they are fighting the battles of the Reformation and the “Glorious Revolution” of seventeenth century England. The ideology of Loyalism is a grotesque anachronism. But it has not been abandoned by the Protestant population. Marxists must frame their demands on the national question to undermine this consciousness, a product of the “carnival of reaction” of which Connolly spoke, and not drive the Protestant working class into the arms of the Paisleyites (or worse) by echoing the Republicans’ demand for “self-determination of the Irish people as a whole.” There is no such thing as “the Irish people as a whole;” the Protestants do not feel themselves to be part of any such people. If there is to be any hope of uniting Catholic and Protestant working classes, it cannot be demanded of the Protestants that they accept Catholic nationalist aims as a condition for participating in common struggle. While opposing the imperialist presence, Marxists must also oppose the reunification of Ireland against the wishes of the Protestants.

The aim of the IRA/Sinn Fein is the incorporation of the six counties into the existing Irish Republic. The Republicans know that the conflict in Ireland is extremely expensive for the British ruling class, whose power in the world has been declining for most of this century. They aim to manoeuvre the British into abandoning the Protestants, if necessary over a period of years. It is possible they will succeed in the long term; the British ruling class is not keen on continuing the war indefinitely. The then British Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Brooke, stated the position of the bulk of the British bourgeoisie quite baldly in a rather sensational speech in 1991. He said:

“In no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. We stand firmly by that solemn declaration and assurance. But in so doing we acknowledge that there is another view, strongly held by the nationalist minority within Northern Ireland. That is the aspiration to a United Ireland, not simply to the Republic of Ireland which exists today, but to a 32-county state covering all the territory of the island, and worthy in their view of the support of all the Irish people. It is possible to take either view with integrity. It is acceptable to uphold the one or advocate the other by all legitimate peaceful and democratic means….

“The obstacle to the development of a new and more inclusive Irish identity if people want this for themselves is not to be found in Great Britain. Partition…is an acknowledgment of reality, not an assertion of national self-interest.

“In Northern Ireland it is not the aspiration to a sovereign united Ireland against which we set our face, but its violent expression….The British Government has no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland our role is to help, enable and encourage.”

  • Quoted in Brendan O’Brien, The Long War, The IRA and Sinn Fein I985 to Today, I993.

This speech is obviously full of cant, coming from an Anglo-Irish aristocrat representing a ruling class responsible for countless acts of violence against the Irish people. But it was a startling statement nevertheless, designed to encourage the IRA into talks. The “even-handedness” in Brooke’s speech, its condemnation of “violence and coercion” from either community, was seen by sophisticated Republican strategists as a broad hint that, if the IRA embraced constitutional politics, Britain might in some future situation be prepared to abandon the Loyalists. It thus drove the Paisleyites into a frenzy.

Similar language is used in the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993; the Anglo-Irish “framework document” of February 1995 attempts to put this into practice. Its centrepiece is a call for the setting up of a new all-Ireland body, with components from the Dáil and a new “power sharing” assembly in the North, with “meaningful functions at executive level” (i.e., the power to give orders) particularly over economic questions. Although such a body would not have control over the repressive apparatus of the NI state, there is a rider in the document that:

“It would also be open to the North South body to recommend to the respective administrations and legislatures for their consideration that new functions should be designated to be discharged or overseen by that body and to recommend that matters already designated should be moved on the scale between consultation, harmonisation and executive action.”

—Anglo-Irish frame work document, Times (London), 23 February

The British government undertakes to amend or replace the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, which incorporates NI into the “United Kingdom,” and the Irish government in turn undertakes to amend its constitution, in particular articles 2 and 3, which contain a territorial claim to the North.

Actually the main impact of these proposals would be to create, over a period of time, a “harmonized” all Ireland capital market. The intent appears to be to use “market forces” to drive the two parts of Ireland closer together. Economic “harmonization” would undoubtedly create the demand from business for a common currency at some point. It could also have disastrous effects on the North’s aging industries. Northern Ireland, unlike other regions of the “United Kingdom,” receives subsidies to its industries from Westminster that in the past were large enough to shelter the province from the hurricane of mass sackings, cuts, privatisation and deregulation that has swept through Great Britain over the last decade and a half. The Tories did not do this for altruistic reasons; they did it to avoid pouring petrol onto smouldering tinder. To the Tories, the “harmonization” of an all-Ireland market is (they no doubt hope) a means of gradually divesting themselves of an embarrassing and expensive problem handed down to them by previous generations of their class.

But this is a dangerous game. It may lead to a new communal war if the Protestants think they are being short-changed by the British. History suggests that the Protestants will fight if they are confronted with incorporation into the South. Despite all the short term illusions about the “peace process,” which are strong in both communities, attempts to share out the pie more “equally” within the framework of capitalism mean that the Protestant workers, who, despite their privileges, have one of the worst standards of living in Europe, will suffer. And so the “peace process,” far from leading to a new era of harm only between Protestant and Catholic, brings with it the threat of aggravated communal hatred and war.

While the bulk of the British ruling class is committed to the “peace process,” there is also a vociferous minority, with close links to the Loyalists, who seek to sabotage it by provoking Republicans into breaking their ceasefire. This is shown by the noisy campaign of the right wing media to free one of only two British soldiers ever convicted of murdering a Catholic (a teenage girl). It would also appear to have been a factor in the riot instigated by British fascists at the Dublin England Ireland football game in February.

The Left and the ‘Peace Process’

No faction of the IRA or Sinn Fein leadership stands for socialism. The most left wing among them are social democrats who offer “reunification” as a panacea for all social ills. In this they are tailed by most of the British and Irish “far left,” who accuse the IRA of having “sold out” for entering into the “peace process.” The British and Irish sections of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI), Workers Power and the Irish Workers Group, respectively, tend to focus their attack on the IRA and Sinn Fein for “retreating” from their position of forcible reunification of Ireland. Thus they write:

“The IRA has called off its 23 yearlong guerrilla struggle without forcing the British army to leave Ireland and without achieving national self-determination for the Irish people or the revolutionary destruction of Protestant privilege enshrined in the Orange state. Their endorsement of the idea that a peaceful road to unity exists through negotiations with the British state, the Southern bourgeoisie and the Unionists m arks an historic betrayal of Irish revolutionary democracy by Sinn Fein and the IRA….

“The IRA have sanctioned the first steps on a road that leads to complete capitulation before the oppressor and will in time see them take responsibility for imposing bourgeois order on their supporters. The IRA have signalled in their declaration that the revolutionary, anti-imperialist threat from petit bourgeois nationalism is at an end.

“Ideologically and politically, the possibility of a betrayal of this nature has always been lodged in the confused, utopian, petit bourgeois programme of Sinn Fein and the IRA.”

–“After the IRA ceasefire,” LRCI statement, in Workers Power, October 1994

The IRA’s program is a lot worse than merely “confused” and “utopian.” It is flatly counterposed to the interests of the working class; it advocates the creation of an all-Ireland bourgeois state, irrespective of the wishes of the Protestant minority on the island. Perhaps Workers Power (WP) thinks the programs of the Hindu and Muslim communalists who carried out the bloody partition of India, killing many thousands of the “wrong” nationality in the process, were “confused” and “utopian.” After all, many of these were “anti-‘imperialists” too. Marxists defend bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalists against imperialism in situations of colonial oppression, but without giving them one iota of political support. WP’s strictures about the IRA’s “historic betrayal” of “revolutionary democracy” signify in reality that the only thing the IRA has “betrayed” is WP’s illusions in petty-bourgeois nationalism.

Workers Power tries to formulate a program of transitional demands to address the question of how to break Protestant workers from Loyalism. The LRCI statement calls for “jobs for all, decent housing and social services, education and recreation,” and “building organs of workers’ democracy in struggle, workers’ control of the economy and the fight for a workers’ government.” They formulate a series of demands against the twenty-six-county clerical state, as well as the Protestant bigots:

“Total separation of Church and State. The Church must be separated from the Constitution, the universities, schools, hospitals and social services. Not a penny of state finance to any Church. For free and legal contraception and abortion on demand. For free divorce on the consent of one partner.”

This is all completely supportable, indeed obligatory for Marxists. But WP’s position of forcible reunification (and denouncing Sinn Fein as “betrayers” for in reality seeking a more roundabout way of getting to the same goal) contradicts the whole purpose of transitional demands. Transitional demands in the context of a divided working class are a means of enabling the class to transcend its national divisions and make clear to all sections that they have nothing to fear by uniting with their class brothers and sisters of other nationalities or communities in the fight for proletarian state power. The demand for forcible reunification is the opposite. It is an anti-democratic demand that can only drive a stake into any prospect of working-class unity. It proposes, as a condition of working-class struggle, that one section of the working class abandon its communal identity and embrace the aspirations of the other community — which it has historically seen as the enemy. A “united Irish workers’ republic,” which WP calls for, would indeed be the optimal solution. But it cannot and should not be imposed upon the Protestant working class.

The stance of rejectionism and “hard” nationalism, attacking the Republicans for “betraying” their own program, is by no means confined to Workers Power. The self-styled “orthodox Trotskyists” of the International Communist League (Spartacist League of Britain and Dublin Spartacist Group, respectively), when they are not engaging in impotently brutal neo-Healyite polemics against their more conventional centrist/reformist opponents (“pimps for imperialism” seems to be a favourite epithet), actually tail after this “ultra-rejectionist” sentiment. For instance, an article written at the time of the Major/Reynolds Downing Street summit contains the following blood-curdling warning:

“Sections of the bourgeoisies in London and Dublin, together with their Labour and social-democratic lackeys, have seized upon the widespread fear, revulsion and despair over sectarian violence as an opportunity to foist an imperialist-imposed ‘peace ‘deal on Northern Ireland. Any imperialist ‘deal’ will be bloody and brutal and will necessarily beat the expense of the oppressed Catholic minority. And it would not do any good for working-class Protestants either.”

Workers Hammer, November/December I993, emphasis in original

Workers Hammer denounces the IRA ceasefire with headlines like “IRA/Sinn Fein opt for imperialist ‘peace’ fraud” (September/ October I994) and generally posture as the most intransigent opponents of the ceasefire. It would be almost impossible to tell from the SL’s press of today that it was from their organization (in its healthier days) that the International Bolshevik Tendency derived its approach to the question of interpenetrated peoples in general, and to the Irish question in particular. Of course Marxists oppose imperialisms “peace” plans as much as we oppose their wars; the aim of all such projects is to further the interests of imperialism. But to say that whatever “settlement” is eventually cooked up will “necessarily be at the expense of the oppressed Catholic minority” is not “necessarily” true. It could be at the expense of the Protestants. The bulk of the British bourgeoisie regards the Protestants as a liability, and would be quite happy to wash its hands of them, and even allow the terms of oppression to be reversed, provided this does not create a Bosnia on Britain’s doorstep. This is basically what the Loyalists are screaming about. In the days when James Robertson’s international Spartacist tendency (now the International Communist League [ICL]) could still think politically, such a “solution” was regarded as quite likely. Indeed it has already been attempted once. Reuben Samuels, speaking of the Unionist general strike of 1974, observed:

“The I973 [sic 1974 in fact] Ulster general strike, a 14-day general strike that totally shut down Northern Ireland, demonstrated that the social power and the social weight of the proletariat is there, even if in this particular case it was used for reactionary ends. It was also an entirely anti-British strike. The British had set up the Council of Ireland, which was a scheme for a peaceful, if forcible (through economic pressure) reunifying of Ireland and dumping Northern Ireland, which has become a liability for British imperialism ”

—Spartacist No. 24, Autumn 1977

What has changed—the political situation in Ireland or the SL? We see no fundamental change in the former, and the Robertsonites have given no indication that they do, either. Could it be that these ever-so-steadfast opponents of Green nationalism, now in a period of organizational and political senility, are getting a little green around the edges?

Such opportunist deviations show the SL its future. Like the members of Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party, once the bureaucratic shell bursts, for much of their deeply cynical cadre, there will not be much “Trotskyism” left. A straw in the wind is the fusion of a couple of leading ICL cadre in Canada with the fairly run-of-the-mill centrists of the (ex-Healyite) Workers International League/Leninist Trotskyist Tendency, who, of course, share the main stream centrist affinity for tailing nationalism, in Ireland and elsewhere. It is worth recalling that the rightist trajectory of the split led by Alan Thomett in the 1970 from the Heaiyites was an anticipation of what happened to the rest of the WRP when the organization finally blew up.

Marxism and the National Question in Ireland

The IRA’s current dilemmas—as to what mix of “armalite and the ballot box” is appropriate, or wh ether or not to give up the gun altogether—are not our dilemmas. Because we do not share the IRA’s aims to begin with, we do not dispense tactical advice on how best to accomplish them. We oppose their indefensible and criminal attacks on civilians, while we defend their attacks on the repressive forces of the state. But we are opposed to their whole bankrupt nationalist program, which in the end amounts to the creation of a unified bourgeois state under the tricolour flag.

The cessation of sectarian killings for the time being by both Loyalist paramilitaries and the IRA appears to have improved the possibilities for unity between Protestant and Catholic workers around class questions. But class struggle could easily be submerged beneath a new wave of nationalism.

Only a revolutionary program derived from Lenin’s method of addressing the intricate national questions in the former Czarist Empire can provide the means for resolving the conflicting communal/ national aspirations of the two peoples of Ireland. Such a solution requires a concrete transitional program, with demands directed at both economic and national questions. For instance, the elementary demand for equal access to employment and housing for Catholics in the North, if carried out in the framework of accepting the capitalist status quo, could give Unionist bigots an opportunity to paint it as a demand that the Protestant workers take a cut in their slice of a shrinking pie. This would only fan the flames of communal antagonism. A revolutionary organization has to be committed to the fight for more for the working people of both communities—a massive program of public works to eliminate unemployment and rebuild the infrastructure, jobs for all through work-sharing at full pay within the context of an end to discrimination.

Linked to this is the need to prevent a new epidemic of sectarian killings. The working class, Protestant and Catholic, must form its own in defence guards to protect the workers’ movement against. Loyalist gangs, and any extremist Republicans who would stoop to sectarian murder, to derail an integrated working class struggle. Each unit would have to contain both Protestants and Catholics to make its non-sectarian character clear to all, and would have the responsibility of defending both communities against sectarian attack. Such formations would also have a key role in combating British imperialist attacks on the workers’ movement. An integrated workers’ militia would naturally take a leading role in any mass insurrection against British imperialism and Orange/Green capitalism. Such a development could only come about through the successful intervention and growth of a revolutionary Marxist party, sinking roots deep into the proletariat of both communities.

Authentic Trotskyists, while fighting uncompromisingly against British colonial rule in the six counties, seek to defend the democratic rights of both communities.Our attitude is derived from the earlier period of the international Spartacist tendency, when it was a healthy revolutionary Marxist organization:

“Ireland, like other situations of interpenetrated peoples as in the Middle East and Cyprus, is a striking confirmation of the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution. The inevitable conclusion is that while revolutionists must oppose all aspects of national oppression, they must also recognise that the conflicting claims of interpenetrated peoples can only be equitably resolved in the framework of a workers state. We struggle for an Irish workers republic as part of a socialist federation of the British Isles.

The the establishment of a united workers state of the whole island may be preferable, the above demand is algebraic, leaving open the question of where the Protestants fall. This recognises that the nature of the Protestant community has not yet been determined in history. As such, it is counterposed to calls for a ‘united workers republic’ or for a ‘united socialist Ireland’ (where this demand is not simply an expression for left/nationalist or Stalinist two stage theories). Placing the demand in the context of a socialist federation has the additional advantage of highlighting the essential relationship of the proletarian revolution in the whole area and the virtual impossibility of the resolution of the Irish question on a working class basis outside this framework. This, and the strong representation of Irish workers in the working class in Britain, points to the demand for a British Isles wide trade union federation as a method of promoting joint struggle and cutting across the divisions in the working class in Ireland.”

“Theses on Ireland,” Spartacist, No. 24, Autumn 1977.

This perspective could be realized in various ways. The early Soviet state under Lenin and Trotsky used a variety of methods of giving expression to the right of small nations and semi national groupings, from fully fledged republics to autonomous regions to tiny oblasts (these were later emptied of their democratic content with the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state). There could be a loose confederation between the different communities, with redrawn borders. Or even a unitary workers’ state, if it comes about by consent. But such things can only be solved democratically by negotiations between workers’ representatives of the two communities.

A permanent solution to the tangled national conflicts that centuries of British imperialist rule have bequeathed to Ireland can only be achieved through the revolutionary overthrow of both British imperialism and the Orange and Green bourgeoisies, and the creation of a federation of revolutionary workers’ states in the British Isles, in the broader context of an all European struggle for socialism.

2 thoughts on “The International Bolshevik Tendency and Interpenetrated Peoples – A clarification

  1. You ask “Was KwaZulu-Natal another case of ‘interpenetrated peoples’?” and answer your own question – “It would seem to fit the bill.”

    This comment clearly shows your total lack of understanding of the issues involved.

    KwaZulu-Natal, indeed South Africa as a whole, is not a case of interpenetrated peoples.

    See for instance this from the IBT’s major programmatic document “For Trotskyism”

    “In ‘classic’ cases of national oppression (e.g., Quebec), we champion the right of self-determination, without necessarily advocating its exercise. In the more complex cases of two peoples interspersed, or ‘interpenetrated,’ throughout a single geographical territory (Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Palestine/Israel), the abstract right of each to self-determination cannot be realized equitably within the framework of capitalist property relations. Yet in none of these cases can the oppressor people be equated with the whites in South Africa or the French colons in Algeria; i.e., a privileged settler-caste/labor aristocracy dependent on the super-exploitation of indigenous labor to maintain a standard of living qualitatively higher than the oppressed population.”

    Situations like South Africa (and KwaZulu-Natal has an even lower percentage of whites than the overall figure) are EXPLICITLY differentiated from situations of interpenetrated peoples.

    Your continued failure to understand the actual position you claim to be arguing against actually just shows your ignorance of the core of the Marxist position on the right of nations to self-determination – defence of a bourgeois democratic right.

    Lets look a bit more closely at the Trotsky quote from the Permanent Revolution you provide in your latest piece:

    “With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.”

    I presume that given your use of this quote that you agree with Trotsky that only the dictatorship of the proletariat can bring about the complete and genuine solution of the tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation for oppressed peoples.

    Despite this Leninism/Trotskyism recognises that in most cases where an oppressed nation has no separate state there can be some level of democratic solution to the tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation within the framework of capitalism – hence defence of the right of nations to self-determination.

    What the “interpenetrated peoples” position deals with is the very small number of cases where situations of national oppression cannot in any way be democratically solved within the context of capitalism. They can ONLY be resolved within the context of the rule of the working class.

    Your position on the other hand continues to be based on the fantasy that there can be a democratic solution to the national question through self-determination within the capitalist framework in situations of intermingled peoples where a majority, or even significant minority, of the population are opposed to that setting up of that capitalist state (or in the case or Ireland the extension of the capitalist state in the south).

    Or even worse that you have raised the bourgeois democratic right to national self-determination to the level of a Marxist principle and the question of whether its achievement has any democratic content is of no importance to you – that you are in reality a nationalist rather than a Marxist.

    We are BOTH for ending the oppression of people in the north of Ireland based on their membership of the nationalist/Catholic/anti-imperialist community (whatever term you want to use to describe that community of people).

    The difference is over whether there is any solution to this oppression within the framework of capitalism that is supportable by Marxists. You say there is, I say there is not.

    Until you deal with that actual political difference your polemics are not worth the paper they are written on (or screen they are read on).

    As an aside I also note the following which reinforces this conclusion.

    You correctly argue that the neo-fascist loyalist murder gangs must be defeated and “they are NOT the legitimate representatives of the Loyalist working class or the ‘Protestant’ workers”. You also correctly state “It should really go without saying that the orientation of all serious Marxists should be to those ‘rotten Prods’, socialists and trade union activists’ within the Protestant community and not to the Loyalist oppressors of the best of the workers in that community and the nationalists in general.”

    However the clear implication of your “it should really go without saying” is that the IBT have a positive political orientation towards those neo-fascist loyalist murder gangs.

    I will remind you what the IBT’s actual position is – “We are unconditionally opposed to the whole apparatus of Loyalist terror: the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Loyalist paramilitary murder gangs.”

    Why do you continue with these fake polemics?

    Like

  2. Ian says:

    In my view Ireland and Israel/Palestine are separate but related problems, with distinct and separate elements to them, but there is also some commonality. The fervent pro-Zionism of many loyalist bigots speaks to the related nature of the two questions.

    It is hardly likely that either question can be resolved without in some sense the ‘consent’ of the oppressor groups involved. Israeli Jews and Ulster Protestants do undoubtedly possess the material forces to make an overturn of their respective oppressor states unlikely without their capitulation, which is most likely to happen materially if it is first ideological.

    The real problem with the ‘interpenetrated peoples’ position here is that it dignifies the oppressor with the same legitimacy as the oppressed in national terms. It is the Middle East where this is clearest, as the ‘self-determination’ of Israel Jews would not be possible without denying the right to return of Palestinian refugees. 20% of the population of Israel proper are so-called Israeli Arabs: in the Naqba of 1947-9 more than two thirds of the Arab population were violently expelled, Simple arithmetic tells you if that were reversed, there would be an Arab majority in Israel ‘proper’ of more than 60%. Not to mention that the separation between Israel proper and the West Bank/Gaza is utterly artificial. We are talking about a clearly, overwheling majority Arab population if basic democratic norms were observed.

    Not only that, but Israel does not claim to be a nation-state. It claims to be the state of the Jews worldwide. And in bourgeois terms, there is a certain reality to this, as highly influential sections of the bourgeoisie in the US and to a slightly lesser extent Western Europe do regard Israel as their territorial asset. The Spart position dignifies this thoroughly anti-democratic situation as being a conflict of two nations, the Arabic and Hebrew-speaking peoples.

    But the “Hebrew-speaking peoples” do not see themselves as a separate nation from world Jewry, and therefore in trying to make the Israel Jews into a separate nation, you are engaging in nation-building in a strange vicarious sense.

    Marxists should be saying forcefully to Israeli Jews that their pan-Jewish ‘national’ conciousness has no legitimacy and no democratic content, and that they should solidarise with the Palestinian people and endorse the basic demand of democracy – the real Arab majority should rule. They should be saying that their nationalism is nonviable, and trying to engage with the small but highly significant milieu of Israeli/Jewish intellectuals who are attacking the ‘secular’ Jewish identity – the basis of Zionism, as inherently racist and chauvinist and advocating assimilation of Israeli Jews into the majority non-Jewish Palestinian population.

    In Ireland, likewise the Protestants do not claim to be a separate nation. They claim to be part of Britain. The problem for them is that much of the more enlightened section of the British population sees them as a bigoted and retrograde remnant of colonialism, and shudders when they open their mouths. The demand that socialists should make of them is not to build them up into some quasi-national community with ‘national rights’ of their own – which is a denial of their non-nationhood and being an extension of British imperialism. Instead we should tell them the truth; that insofar as they act as separatists, their ‘identity’ is reactionary crap. Those Protestants who wish to be progressives and democrats need to throw their lot in with the struggle to reunify Ireland.

    This is simply an extension of Marx’s point that a nation that oppresses another cannot itself be free. If Israeli Jews, or Protestants in North East Ulster, want to be free, they have to embrace the struggle of the people their privileged non-national oppressor layers are suppressing and/or frustrating.

    It is true that the IBT, Spartacists et al, raise correct demands against the various forces of the state in Ireland, the British Army, or for that matter the Israeli state to an extent. If they did not, they would be as wretched as the overt Shachtmanities like the AWL etc. But their approach to the national question undermines these valid demands, by giving political cover and legitimacy to the oppressor non-national groups that provide the social base for the very reactionary state formations they are denouncing and raising demands against.

    Liked by 1 person

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