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