Bulletin of Marxist Studies, Vol. 1 No. 4, Summer 1985
Marxism against Sectarianism (Extracts) - by George Edwards.
[Web Editors note:
This document was written in reply to a Sri Lankan ultraleft, known as GM, for the CWI in 1981. It was written by a British member of the CWI and in the middle of the hunger strike here, so the analysis of the developments arising from it are based on partial evidence, and political developments mean that some of this immediate analysis was mistaken, despite this the sections dealing with Northern Irish developments are still, generally, acceptable.
There are other parts of the document where the political stand of the CWI has developed. We are only reprinting the Irish sections here. These extracts comprise the final third, approx. of this long document.
A line with [……] means that some general points have been left out, so that the material relevant to Ireland could be published here. A few minor editorial changes have been made to correct small errors in the original manuscript, but these in no way alter the facts or political stance of these extracts.
References to the Marxists, the Marxist tendency, etc. should generally be taken to mean the CWI organisations and membership. This document was written in a period when the British comrades were inside the Labour Party, hence the use of pseudonyms.
British Mandelists is a short hand term to label the British members of the Fourth International, after the FI's primary leader, Ernest Mandel.
The initial pages of this document were concerned with the Comintern, perspectives after World War 2, guerillaism, the minor political sects, the work in the traditional organisations such as the Labour Party, Stalinism and Reformism, etc.
We would again remind readers that these articles in our archives are being presented to allow a fuller image of the development of the Socialist Party and the CWI on Irish political developments. Some of the phrases, formulations etc. can be, and some are, now outdated and wrong. BUT, at the time they were written the articles reflected our political stance and the development of our material can be seen in the more recent books, documents and articles of the party.
Anyone who wants points to be clarified should contact us at our office, firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Self-determination for National Minorities
Only the Marxist tendency has put forward a correct position on the national question in Ireland, Sri Lanka, India and throughout the world. In order to understand the problem of Ireland perhaps it is necessary to restate some of the fundamental principles of Marxism on the national question.
But at the same time it is not enough merely to repeat the correct ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, it is necessary to 'expand', 'deepen', 'intensify', 'concretise' from the treasury of their works and of course the Marxist material of the last 50 years. The whole work of the Marxists has been to concretise the works of these great teachers.
Every sectarian would be a Marxist master strategist, in the words of Trotsky, if all that was necessary was to repeat like parrots some of the phases of Marxism. That is why it is necessary to develop the theory of Marxism on the basis of the mass movement and on the basis of the experience of the Marxists.
The sects on the other hand, instead of developing the fundamental principles of Marxism, follow in the footsteps of the petit bourgeois nationalists in one country after another. They have not in the least understood the fundamental principles on which Lenin's great policy on the national question was formed. One of Lenin's great contributions was his work on the right of self-determination of all nations, the right of secession of oppressed nations within the framework of the different national states.
However, Lenin laid down stringent conditions on this question. A national minority constitutes a nation, with the right to self-determination, if it constitutes a majority in a certain territorial area, has a common language, and a national culture and consciousness. It is on that basis that we fight for self-determination for the Tamils in the North of Sri Lanka. So in the same way we have this attitude towards the Basques and Catalans in Spain and the Kurds in the areas of Turkey, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East where they form a majority.
The proletariat and the Marxist tendency must fight for the right of self-determination, but at the same time, for the unity of the proletariat under one banner, with implacable hostility to the poison of the small nation mentality and to the poison of national chauvinism, in the words of Lenin. The majority has the right to separate if they so decide, if they so opt for it. But Marxists, as in Britain, in Sri Lanka and in Spain, will nevertheless, fight for the unity of the working class and the unity of the country on a socialist basis, in the form of federation or union. The decision rests voluntarily in the hands of the national minority itself.
This would probably be for a Federation in these countries, although Engels and Lenin regarded this as a rather a clumsy form of State. Nevertheless in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and in all other countries it would be on these lines on which the movement would succeed.
In Russia too, under the Stalinist tyranny, there must be a right of self-determination for the masses in the Ukraine, in Georgia, in Azerbaijan and in other areas where the national minorities are oppressed by the great Russian bureaucracy. Marxists stand for an independent Socialist Soviet Ukraine, with the idea that once it has been established, on the basis of a democratic Socialist Soviet Russia, it would link together all the other independent Soviet states to form a Federation of Democratic Soviet Socialist States. This situation has only developed because of Great Russian national oppression of these nationalities.
This position on the national question does not prevent Marxists from standing for a Democratic Socialist Federation of Asia, Europe, Africa, or of Latin America, all linked together in a World Socialist Federation - the final aim, at least so long as states continue to exist.
This dynamic and dialectical conception of the national question was put forward by Lenin and Trotsky. However, Lenin stood inflexibly for the unity of the workers' organisations, for the unity of the proletariat and of the trade unions in one organisation, throughout the length and breath of the Russian Empire. For instance in Russia, the same Lenin who stood inflexibly for the right of self-determination nevertheless stood just as inflexibly for one Marxist organisation of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party of the Georgian, Latvian, Ukrainian, Russian and the Tartar workers. For example, Lenin was opposed to a separate organisation for the Jews, although he accepted the autonomy on cultural questions of the Jewish masses in Russia. [………………………………..
It is quite interesting to note that in Britain, the SWP, Bernadette Devlin and others, demanded that British troops be sent to Northern Ireland to protect the Catholics in 1969. It is a matter of historical reality, that the only tendency in Britain of Ireland which opposed the sending of British troops to 'protect the Catholics' and put forward a working class alternative, was, of course the Marxist tendency.
The mechanical repetition of correct ideas leads to incorrect conclusions and incorrect policies. In order to understand the Irish question we have to understand it historically. Lenin and Trotsky were categorically opposed to the partition of Ireland in the interests of British imperialism. This partition was undertaken in order to disrupt the social revolution developing in Ireland after the First World War. In the same way, the Marxists were opposed to the British imperialists partition of the living body of India in 1947 into India and Pakistan and they were opposed implacably to the partition of Palestine on the same lines after the Second World War. The policy of British imperialism has always been that of divide and rule.
Legacy of British Imperialism
It is now more than 50 years since the partition of Ireland, and in the same way as in India and Pakistan, it is not possible today to adopt exactly the same stance and the same policy which Marxists would have had at the time of the partition of Ireland. There are a million Protestants and half a million Catholics in Northern Ireland, both overwhelmingly working class in composition.
In order to understand the situation in Ireland, we have to remark that the national origins of the Catholics and of the Protestants are different, unlike the situation in Punjab and Bengal, where it is purely a religious difference. In the North of Ireland the Protestants have their origin in settlers from England and Scotland The Catholics are descended from the native Irish who were oppressed by British Imperialism over a period of about 700 years. It would take too much space to go into the details of the history of Ireland, but this is the position.
The situation in the North today is entirely different to what it was at the time of partition. Partly on the basis of gerrymandering, and partly on the basis of an artificial division of the country and the different provinces of Ireland, a Protestant majority in the north was engineered. In the North the Protestant population forms two-thirds of the population. And unlike the Punjab and Bengal, the overwhelming majority of the Catholics in Northern Ireland are industrial workers.
Of course for decades, undoubtedly, there has been a national oppression of the Catholic minority in the North. Just as a national oppression still continues of the Hindus in both Bangladesh and Pakistan. For decades the Catholics have been discriminated against to a certain extent, mainly on the questions of jobs and housing. The developments over the last 12 years in Ireland have been due to the intimidation and the open domination of the north by the Protestants with the so-called Protestant 'Ascendancy'.
Marxists were against the partition of Ireland and were for the unification of the country. But such a unification is impossible on the basis of a bourgeois Southern Ireland. GM has forgotten the elementary lessons of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution. In the modern epoch the bourgeoisie is utterly incapable of carrying out the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution. According to the theory of Trotskyism in countries where the proletariat plays a decisive role, only the proletariat and carry though the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution and then carry through the socialist revolution. Now historically, since the Second World War, it has been demonstrated that under certain conditions the peasants and the petit-bourgeois in a caricatured form can carry out, in part, the bourgeois democratic revolution and then pass on to a part of the socialist tasks. But this results only in a deformed workers' state, as we see in China, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Cuba and in the other countries of Proletarian Bonapartism.
The Irish bourgeoisie is utterly incapable of uniting Ireland. Southern Ireland, in the eyes of the Protestant masses in the North is a priest-ridden regime with inferior social services, higher unemployment, no contraception rights and no divorce. It has no attraction whatsoever to the Protestant masses. They realise that if there was a unification of the country they would then become an oppressed minority within a bourgeois united Ireland as the Catholics are an oppressed minority in the North.
The biggest irony of the position of the sects, which is echoed by GM, is that the historical, social, economic and military strategic reasons for the British bourgeoisie's division of Ireland have long since disappeared. British imperialism in reality would like a nited ireland! British capital dominates the economy of the South as it dominated the economy of the North. At the height of the disturbances in Northern Ireland we saw the symbolic unification of the stock exchanges of Southern Ireland and Britain. British Imperialism has a crushing domination economically over both Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland.
The strategic reason for maintaining control of the north - fear of war with Germany and the consequent need to secure the naval bases in the north - has now disappeared. In any event, reunification with the South would now guarantee bases both in the North and in the South!
In fact now, with both Britain and Ireland in the Common market it would be economically sensible for the countries to be united into one economy.
In addition, Northern Ireland is now an enormous burden on the British exchequer. The troops that have to be retained in the North cost British capitalism £1,200 to £1,500 million. There are also payments for the social services and unemployment which could easily double that bill. Britain and Ireland has weighed in cold calculation all the possibilities and advantages of a unification of Ireland.
They not only would like a unification of Ireland, but they would like to withdraw the troops and leave Ireland to its fate, as they were compelled to withdraw troops from Egypt, Aden, India, Africa and from other parts of the world. The cost is not worth the tribute that they draw from these countries. British Imperialism would like to withdraw their troops. But why then do they not do it?
The reason is that it would be impossible to do so, without provoking a massacre of the Catholics in the North. The fate of Ireland would be the fate of the Lebanon. In the same way as there was a struggle between the Christians and the Muslims, as a consequence of French imperialism's policy of divide and rule in Lebanon, so British Imperialism is now suffering the effects of the three-century old artificial creation of sectarianism in Ireland.
The national question and the permanent revolution
There are 100,000-armed Protestants. In addition there is the Royal Ulster Constabulary which is the armed police and also the Ulster Defence Regiment which are both composed overwhelmingly of Protestants. Under the circumstances of a British withdrawal, under present conditions, there would be a massive destruction, resulting in immediate civil war and a brushing away of the Irish army. It would be a similar situation to that which developed in Palestine, when British Imperialism withdrew from that country in 1948 and allowed the Arabs and Jews to settle the issue by force of arms. Despite the fact that the armies of the entire Middle East Arabs were used to crush the Israelis, as is known the Israelis emerged victorious from that conflict. As a consequence of a withdrawal from Ireland, there would not be a unification of the country, but most likely two military dictatorships, a Protestant military dictatorship in the North and a Catholic military dictatorship in the South.
On the other hand if we examine the origin of the Provisional IRA and the struggles that they have waged, then we will see that this has nothing in common with the Marxist approach to national liberation. The Civil Rights movement began in 1968/9 without socialist slogans and purely on the basis of narrow democratic rights. As a consequence they could not gain the support of the Protestant workers in the North. It did not appeal to their material interests in anyway. By the way, legislation at this late hour has been introduced making it completely illegal in Northern Ireland or employers to discriminate against any section of the population. Of course, this is discrimination of Protestant employers against Catholic workers.
The Provisionals began as a split in the IRA. The IRA had been captured by a pro-Stalinist tendency. The Provisionals, representing a more nationalist and reactionary section broke away from the Official IRA. Because at that time there was an enormous movement of the workers in the south of Ireland, some capitalist politicians in the South, particularly the recent Prime Minister Haughey and Neil Blaney, secured money from big business interests in the South for the purpose of financing an armed IRA campaign in the North. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were raised. This was intended deliberately as a diversion from the socialist struggle which was being waged by the workers in the South at that time with strikes on a bigger scale than have been seen in Ireland in the whole of its history. The one condition that was being made by big business was that the struggle should be limited to the North and should not be extended to the south of Ireland.
The Provisionals began their struggle on the basis of 'urban guerillaism'. From a Marxist point of view this was the height of madness. A chosen few, an elite, undertake on behalf of the masses to 'liberate Ireland'. Marxists have always explained against the sects, and apparently it is necessary to reinforce this lesson for the benefit of GM, that guerrilla war is the weapon of the peasants and the lumpen proletariat. Never of the working class.
Marxists always proceed on the basis of educating and organising the proletariat as a mass to the overthrow of capitalism. Only in this way can the mass movement of the working class, through its struggles, transform society and create a new society. Marxism, as explained by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, organises a conscious movement of the mass of the workers, moving into action a great part, particularly the youth, but with the support of the overwhelming majority of the working class. Only in that way can the socialist revolution be accomplished.
In Ireland, North and South, the working class is in the overwhelming majority. In the North the majority are Protestant workers, but also with a minority of Catholic workers. The working class in both areas of Ireland are now the overwhelming majority. That provides the basis for the socialist revolution which is the only way in which the unification of Ireland could be accomplished. A unification which would proceed from the point of view of a Socialist United Ireland, linked to a socialist Britain.
As the Marxists explained in relation to Sri Lanka, it would be impossible for the Sri Lankan proletariat to take power without the aid, support and victory of the workers in the mainland of the continent of India. Otherwise the revolution in Sri Lanka would be doomed to destruction by the intervention on the part of the troops of Indian capitalism. In the same way, it would be impossible to establish a Socialist Ireland, without involving the active support and movement of the British workers in sympathy and later in action. Therefore the Marxists understand the need not only for a united Socialist Ireland, but for a Socialist Ireland linked to a Federated Socialist Britain.
Urban guerillaism is a modern form of petit-bourgeois insanity which arises out of the weakness of Marxism and because of the betrayal of reformism and of Stalinism. Trotsky concluded that terrorist organisations would not arise because of the strength of the Communist International when it was still a revolutionary Marxist International. It is the failure of the Communist International and also the effect of the guerrilla wars which were victorious in Vietnam and China that have to the petit-bourgeois students and intellectuals taking to the short cut of urban guerillaism. They wish to replace the movement of the proletariat with the movement of an elite doing the job for the proletariat
In Argentina the Mandelist ERP proceeded from the point of view of this madness, substituting themselves for the working class. This criminal policy can never be forgiven for the Mandelist so-called International. Instead of basing themselves on the working class of Argentina, which was involved on many occasions in general strikes; they sought to substitute the movement of the working class by their own movement. As a consequence they played a part in preparing the eventual victory of the generals and of the military dictatorship in Argentina. Their lies exposed their share of the crime before the court of history. In Uruguay they supported the Tupamaros in the same way, and as a consequence helped prepare the victory of the military dictatorship in Uruguay as well They must take responsibility for this in so far as they supported the stupidity of the petit-bourgeois Tupamaros who behaved in this way. Utterly incapable of organising or winning a majority of the working class they tried to substitute their movement for the movement of the working class, and prepared the way for a disaster in many of the countries of Latin America.
In Ireland at least the Provos split from the Official IRA as prisoners of Irish history. While we can understand the reasons for their actions, nevertheless they are to be condemned from the point of view of the effects that they have on the struggle of the workers both in Northern and Southern Ireland and on the workers' struggle in Britain.
While Marxists fight against this perversion of urban guerillaism in Ireland and Argentina, India, or wherever this method is used, the sects can never be forgiven for their crime in supporting guerillaism in these and other countries. At least rural guerillaism has some sense to it, in those countries where the peasants are the overwhelming majority of the population. But urban guerillaism, terrorism within the cities, which has been supported by all sects, is absolute madness from the point of view of Marxism.
The sects provoked disaster in Argentina, now they want to play the same role in Ireland. Fortunately, they have not even got the support in Ireland that they had in Argentina. They are a negligible force in Britain and hardly exist either in the South or the North of Ireland. Whatever forces they once had have been frittered away as an accomplishment of their stupidity.
The worst fate which could befall them would be if they were powerful enough to secure a withdrawal of the British troops on their terms. Their support of the Provisional IRA has had its effect in Glasgow and other cities of stirring up long dead embers of religious sectarianism which existed in Britain in the past. The Protestant Orange Order, which exists in the North of Ireland also existed in Britain, In fact Baldwin, the Tory leader in the 1920s, once boasted that at least one third of the seats in Parliament were controlled by the Orange vote. That has ceased because of the development of the Labour movement and the working class in Britain.
The sects are demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops from Ireland. The irony is that the Provisionals for not demand an immediate withdrawal! The Provisionals understand very well that that would result in a complete catastrophe for them. Therefore, they want their enemies to oblige them! They demand not a withdrawal of troops, but a 'phased withdrawal' of troops to proceed over a number of years so that the country could be handed over to them against the wishes of the majority of Protestants, This of course is utterly impossible.
The sects actually out-Provo the Provos! Under these circumstances they cannot be taken as serious people who really reflect the ideas of Marxism and an understanding of the situation which has developed in Ireland.
The Provisionals were compelled to deliberately base themselves on the ideas of religious sectarianism, on a split between Catholics and Protestants. In the early stages of disturbances in Ireland, in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, where there were joint patrols of Catholic and Protestant workers and shop stewards to make sure that no communal strike would take place, some of the stewards were killed and houses in or around Catholic areas were set on fire. This provoked a shift in the population greater in proportion than any in post-war Europe. This was viewed with satisfaction by the Provisionals, because they wanted safe havens. Thus, the Provisionals deliberately inflamed the religious divide for the purpose of getting safe areas for themselves in their urban guerillaism.
All history demonstrates the madness of guerrilla wars on this basis. Even if a majority of Catholics in the North and not a tiny minority of the population was actively involved in the struggle of the Provisionals, it would not be possible to gain a victory. A guerrilla war cannot succeed unless it has the support of the overwhelming majority of the population. The reason for the failure of the guerrilla campaign in Malaysia was that British Imperialism rested on the Malays and Indians and played them off against the mainly Chinese guerrillas. The Chinese guerrillas found only mass support in the Chinese areas of Malaysia and as a consequence were routed by the forces of imperialism. In China, and of course in South Vietnam, they had the support of the overwhelming majority of the peasants in their struggle and therefore basing themselves on the peasant masses they were victorious. As Mao explained, the guerrillas have to work like fish in the sea, with the population as a whole providing the support. Of course, this has important social consequences, which has been explained in the many documents of the Marxists. Even if victorious, as in Vietnam and in China, a guerrilla war can only lead to a regime of monstrously deformed proletarian bonapartism, and not at all to a workers' democracy preparing the way to move towards socialism.
However, urban guerillaism, as the whole history demonstrates cannot be successful. By its very nature it can only help in enormously strengthening the military apparatus of the bourgeois state and prepare for the collapse of the forces which are aimed against it, as the examples of Argentina, Uruguay and other countries demonstrate.
Finding themselves frustrated in Britain and having limited understanding of the social consequences it would involve, the Provisionals began a bombing campaign in Britain. In 1974, for example, they bombed two Birmingham pubs, killing 19 workers, both Irish and English. A wave of revulsion spread within the working class in Britain and Ireland. It resulted in raising religious strife where none had existed for generations in Britain. It was only the discipline of the workers and the intervention of shop stewards in many factories in Birmingham which prevented physical fights. Some fights did take place between Irish workers and British workers but fortunately the class conscious shop stewards restored order and prevented an actual pogrom against the Irish workers taking place as a consequence of the bombing,
Marx had already explained the stupidity of the 1867 Clerkenwell bombing by the forerunners of the Provisionals, the Fenians. At least that was not a bombing of innocent men, women and children, but was an attempt to break down a jail and release Irish prisoners. But even this was condemned by Marx, who wrote to Engels on December 14 1867 that 'the last exploit of the Fenians in Clerkenwell was a very stupid thing. The London masses, who have shown great sympathy for Ireland, will be made wild by it and driven into the arms of the government party. One cannot expect the London proletariat to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of Fenian emissaries'.
The International Marxist Group and the IRA
If Marx condemned in such strident terms the Clerkenwell bombers, what would he have said today about the monstrous crimes of the Provisionals both in the North and South of Ireland and Britain? The sects excel in the gentle art of making friends and influencing people! Of course in the opposite sense! Sheer desperation resulted in the Provisionals undertaking this bombing campaign.
The Birmingham pub bombing created enormous trouble for the British Mandelists, the International Marxist Group (IMG). They rushed out a statement attempting to deny their previous support for the IRA. The IMG paper stated that "The IMG has never, and does not now, support the IRA by material, financial or by any other means", (Red Weekly
, December 5th 1974). But in fact throughout 1971 the IMG had, moved closer and closer to the Provisional IRA, after earlier in 1970 having illusions in the socialist phrases of the Official IRA. The IMG paper of that time, Red Mole
, reflected this development through a series of headlines like "Support the Armed Actions of the Irish People" (March 23rd, 1971); "For the IRA" (August 1971); "Solidarity with the IRA" (October 20th 1971) and finally "Victory to the IRA" (November 15, 1971). In fact during 1972 they in effect, acted as a spokesman for the IRA, for instance the main front page headline in the August 7 1972 issue of Red Weekly
was "IRA: We will stay and we will win". Even when forced after the Birmingham bombing to distance themselves from the Provisionals the IMG refused to condemn outright the bombing saying it was merely "a tragic error" (Red Weekly
, Dec. 5th 1972).
It is interesting to note the revulsion that these bombings had not only in Britain, but in the North and South of Ireland as well. For example, the workers at Dublin airport in the South refused to handle IRA coffins of bombers that who were killed in the attempted bombings in Coventry and in Birmingham because of their revulsion at the Birmingham bombers. There is a tradition in Ireland of handling the dead with care, but they refused to handle these dead bodies. And this attitude on the part of the airport workers in Dublin was shared by the working class generally throughout Britain and Ireland. They blacked the coffins of the IRA!
In Northern Ireland itself in January 1976,as a reprisal to sectarian murders by the bigoted Protestant para-military gangs of five Catholics, the Provisional IRA murdered in Bessbrook ten Protest workers coming home from work in a mini-bus from the factory. In reply there were strikes not only of Protestant, but of Catholic workers as well, to protest at the sectarian strife.
In the North of Ireland the only organisations which are non-communal and unite both Catholic and Protestant workers are the trade unions. These are the only non-sectarian organisations and wherever there have been strikes by Catholic or Protestant workers religious sectarianism has not been able to be introduced. On the contrary, they have supported each other. For example when there was a milkman's strike and a Catholic worker picket was shot in the foot by a Protestant religious sectarian, there was a strike by the Protestant workers in a nearby dairy in a demonstration of class unity against this sectarian attack on a fellow trade unionists. The Belfast busmen have engaged in many strikes whenever bus workers have been assassinated by whichever sectarian groups.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The sects have fallen to pieces in Ireland, while the Marxist tendency has built up a modest, but substantial support in the North and South of Ireland on the basis of their tactics, strategy and ideas.
The IRA would have collapsed long ago if it had not been for the stupidity of British Imperialism. In January 1972 when the support for the Provisionals was waning the murder of thirteen workers by the paratroopers in Derry resulted in a General Strike in the South and the burning down of the British Embassy in Dublin. It gave the Provisionals a new lease of life for a number of years.
Again the issue of prisoners' rights which has been taken up fervently by the Marxists in both Britain and Ireland, is an issue on which the Provisionals have managed to maintain a precarious support over the period of the last few years. The last Tory government under the [Secretary of State] Minister Whitelaw conceded what amounted to political prisoners in the Maze prison in Ireland. This was granted in 1972 as a result of a hunger strike on the part of some of the prisoners there. It was the stupidity of certain right wing Labour ministers, Roy Mason and Merlyn Rees, in withdrawing the special category status in 1976 which gave an issue to the Provos to build up support among the population.
The Southern Irish bourgeois defused this issue in the South without openly recognising political status by conceding the right of prisoners to wear their own clothes, to assemble, to have their own food if they wished and so on. As a result the Provisionals support waned in the South of Ireland.
The Provisionals in the Maze prison in the North began a protest, refusing to wear prison clothes. When the warders refused to allow them to go to the toilet without prison clothes, they responded with the 'dirty protest', that is to say urination in their own cells, smearing excreta on the walls of the cells as a reprisal against their treatment by the warders. There again it demonstrated the stupidity and lack of tactical sense by the Provisionals because a strike of this character would provoke a certain revulsion among the population in the South, in the North and in Britain rather than support for the Provisionals.
The Marxists gave their support to the demand for prison reform but they explained that undoubtedly this was a stupid tactic. The Provisionals did not work out their tactics; after 4 ½ years they blundered onto a correct tactic from their point of view on this question. They began a hunger strike in March 1981 with Bobby Sands and as a consequence, using this as a humanitarian issue, gained support. There were possibly 100,000 people at the funeral of Bobby Sands who died as a consequence of the hunger strike. Undoubtedly, as in Derry in 1972, when there was the murder of 13 workers, again this resulted in the momentary revival of nationalist fervour. But now, despite several deaths resulting from the hunger strike, support for the protest has waned to a pathetic level. The national question, the difference of national origins of Catholics and Protestants and the oppression of the Catholics that has taken place during the last five or more decades obviously underlines the division of Catholics and Protestants.
In any event the tactics of the Provisionals have resulted in a gulf even wider opening between Protestant workers and the Catholic workers in the North, It is complete lunacy to imagine that it is possible to bomb and assassinate the Protestants into unity with a capitalist Southern Ireland.
Lenin always explained that class issues are more important than national issues, although it was Lenin who worked out the correct Marxist position in relation to support for national liberation struggles.
Only Marxism can win Protestant workers
The job of Marxists is to raise the level of consciousness of the masses, and first of all the advanced workers to the tasks that are posed by history.
Marxists cannot be swayed by episodic moments of history. They have to understand that the main task is the building of Marxism in Britain, Ireland and throughout the word. This can only be done on the basic of raising the class issues and not subordinating themselves to purely national issues, not to reverse and drop Marx's class analysis on the basis of sentimental attitudes on the question of nationality. That same history which gives the Provos their basis, also dooms them to defeat, because of their incapacity to win the confidence of the Protestants in the North.
Only Marxists in the North and South of Ireland and in Britain can break the vicious circle of repression, oppression and nationalist antagonism by unifying the mass of the working class on the issues which underline the problems of nationalism in reality - the issues of jobs, houses, of bad conditions and so on.
Ireland can only be united under a socialist banner. It will only be united on the basis of a United Socialist Ireland linked to a Socialist Britain.
This can only be done through a conscious movement of the working class in the North and South of Ireland on issues which affect the workers. A movement in the direction of the socialist revolution in the south of Ireland or a movement in the direction on issues of the socialist revolution in Britain, will have immense repercussions in the North of Ireland, cutting across the sectarian divide. Even though the Provisionals have succeeded in deepening the gulf between the Catholics and Protestants in the North they will not succeed in their sectarian frenzy.
A united socialist Ireland would not succeed unless it received the support of the British working class, in and out of uniform, on a class basis. When the soldiers went in originally into the North of Ireland they had sympathy for the Catholic population of the North. It would have been impossible to use them in the way in which they have been used against the Catholic population in particular if it had not been for the campaign of individual assassination which was carried out by the IRA on the basis of urban guerillaism. A class appeal in the North of Ireland, a movement of the mass of the working class in demonstrations and so on, on the basis of the ideas of socialism appealing to the workers in uniform would undoubtedly mean that the imperialists would find it impossible to use troops in Northern Ireland. Thus, as Lenin and Trotsky long ago explained, the fate of Ireland is determined by the fate of Britain, as the fate of Britain is also determined by the fate of workers in Ireland itself.
The question of a workers' defence force, which is not raised by GM - except to say incorrectly that Marxist demand that the workers' defence force should be set up before there should be the demand for the withdrawal of troops from the North of Ireland - nevertheless preserves an enormous importance in this regard. The first armed workers' defence force in the world was actually formed in Ireland. Apparently GM is not conscious of this fact. It began with the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union. It grew out of the need to fight against strikebreakers in the 1912 strike in Dublin. This strike, incidentally, had the overwhelming support of the workers in Britain.
Class action has always provoked a movement for solidarity in the North the South and in Britain itself. We have the stupidity of the IMG in particular who actually put forward the idea that the Protestants should be driven into the sea, that the Protestants cannot be won for socialism in the North. As if it would be possible to gain national unification or a victory of the socialist revolution without the support of the mass of Protestant workers in the North as well as in the South. In fact, the idea that unity between the Catholic and Protestant workers is not possible, is entirely false. On many occasions during the history of the last 50 years there have been united struggles of Catholic and Protestant workers, spontaneous expressions of support, even of solidarity, including during the course of the Provisionals campaign during the last 12 years.
The idea of the workers' defence force arises naturally out of the situation which exists in the North itself. For example, at the time when the death of Bobby Sands was drawing near, fear of religious sectarian attacks in the Catholic areas drew the population around the Provisionals and fear of attacks from the IRA drew the Protestants behind the UDA and the Protestant paramilitaries in their areas.
The only unarmed organisations in Northern Ireland are those of the working class. In this situation it is clear that the fears of the Catholic and Protestant workers of sectarian attacks would only be laid to rest by the organisation of defence by the trade unions which would combine Catholics and Protestants. Such a defence force would guarantee, in the event of forcing British withdrawal - which could only be undertaken under such circumstances on the basis of the movement towards socialism both in the North and South - the solidarity of the Catholic workers and Protestant workers which in turn could guarantee the support of the British workers in uniform as well. They don't like the job that they have to do in Ireland and would be only too grateful if this task of defence against sectarian attack would be undertaken by Irish workers on the basis of the union of Catholic and Protestant workers together. Thus out of the very situation of sectarian conflict itself, arises the need for defence forces.
In Russia the defence organisations of the Bolsheviks were formed when attempts were made by the Tzarist forces to organise pogroms against the Jews. An armed defence force in its turn would succeed in preparing the way for the socialist revolution in Ireland. The fact that the political sects are opposed to the idea of a trade union non-sectarian defence force shows the complete lack of understanding of the history of the working class not only in Ireland but internationally. It is unfortunate that GM should give credence to a reactionary idea of this sort.
This document has only touched on the main issues and dealt at length with the situation in Ireland in order to give comrades internationally a background to explain the situation in Ireland and how it illustrates the attitude of Marxism towards the sects.
This series of articles on Northern Ireland from our archives
are available here.
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