From the July 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard
Violence thrives on political stagnation. While those who endure poverty and deprivation have the illusion of hope dangled before them by politicians, direct and indirect support for the blind alley of political violence will diminish. The British Government are acutely aware of this fact and the various Ministers of State for Northern Ireland have, since 1972. strained their modest talents to find an avenue to some sort of consensus politics in the province.
Unfortunately, violence itself takes many forms and, while those who face the fanaticism of the gun- or bomb-toting terrorists grab the attention of a selective media, other dark forces are at work. The "security forces" are violent, encouraged by the ambivalence of government and a pensioned judiciary. The judges themselves engender conflict, including in their number many establishment figures whose political backgrounds demonstrate their bigotry and role in helping to create the problems with which they now deal. Add to this those who have forged political careers and gained wealth and influence beyond the promise of their mean abilities — people whose popular esteem could not bear the strain of peace and reconciliation — and you have the political combustibles of the Northern Ireland problem.
In this maelstrom of violence, where the most casual or banal of observations can bring the fury of a bellowing Paisley or the inanities of a dead-pan Adams over the air waves, stands Prior and his bewildered team of Tory pragmatists; pragmatically lying, double-dealing and calculating the odds on sell-out, all to no avail.
Only a lunatic could see benefits for the working class in the continuation of violence. History, interwoven with the most appalling social deprivation in western Europe, may explain why members of the working class, on both sides of the politico-religious divide, allow themselves to be drawn into violence. But those who consciously exploit history and social misery to recruit workers onto the futile paths of political violence are the most deadly enemies of the working class.
We know that only when workers understand and support socialist ideas are they beyond the political ignorance of the bomber or gunman. In a majority, they will not only end the present violence but destroy for ever its material base. Having said that, we could hardly be indifferent to anything that might stop the killing and bring about such normality as would allow our fellow workers to make a more dispassionate judgement of the cause of their misery.
The combined forces of constitutional Irish nationalism, after almost a year's intensive study of the "Irish Problem" in the New Ireland Forum, have nothing to say that might bring about peace in Northern Ireland. The contradictory interpretations that Haughey and Fitzgerald put on the Report's findings, immediately following its release, demonstrated that the political con artists of Irish capitalism could find very little to more-or-less agree on without endangering the support of the voting fodder they have carefully cultivated over the years on a strong political diet of emotional rubbish, lies, double standards and doctored history.
The Report dealt with what it claimed were the roots of the problem, citing history and socio-cultural and religious divisions as the principal culprits and the British-devised 1921 Partition of Ireland as the perpetuating agent of these divisions. John Hume, the SDLP Leader, is credited with conceiving the idea of an all-Ireland nationalist Forum — critics say to save his Party from the growing threat of being electorally swamped by Sinn Fein. In his speech following the unveiling of the Report, he pointed out that many other nations throughout the world had been able to engineer political structures capable of accommodating cultural, social and religious differences greater than those that had existed, or exist now in Ireland.
Hume was. of course, quite right and his statement was a factual repudiation of the Forum's contention — subscribed to by Hume — that cultural and religious differences were the origin of the conflict. This being so, we must look elsewhere for an explanation of the cause of violence and division in the country. We must search for a reason, or reasons, to explain why politicians and the class interests they served were committed to the same economic system and yet divided on the question of the political structures that would best maintain it.
The explanation is that, while capitalism existed throughout the country, it was much more advanced and developed in north-east Ulster than it was in the rest of Ireland (see our pamphlet, Ireland — Past. Present and Future). Capitalism had developed late in the south and its emergence was frustrated by competition, largely from Britain. It needed self-government to introduce such policies of economic protection as would ensure its continued development. In other words, those with a growing stake in southern industry and commerce, the emergent Irish middle class, wanted “national freedom" in order to promote legislation that would afford them protection from competition and enhance their capacity to exploit the working class. This aspiration, wholly irrelevant to the needs and interests of the workers, was espoused, first, by the constitutional Nationalist Party and. later, by Sinn Fein. The policy statements of both these organisations were remarkably frank on the subject and the fact that Sinn Fein was able to use emotional rhetoric and anti-working class patriotic nonsense (then, as now!) to persuade workers to invest their lives in their masters’ interests, indicates the dismal lack of working class consciousness that existed in the country.
The reaction from the north, where a highly-developed industrial capitalism was producing ships, industrial machinery and textiles almost exclusively for export, was predictable. Political unity with an area requiring self-government to promote trade protection would have been ruinous. Irish capitalism was implacably divided, not about the welfare of the people, not about jobs or homes or ending the grim poverty that abounded throughout the island. No. The division, the disagreement, was solely about the political structures that would facilitate the growth of their power and privilege.
|Cartoon by George Meddemmen.|
It was this division that was converted into “culture", “patriotism" and political and religious bigotry. Each side wielded power through control of clerics and politicians, historically expert in playing on the fears and prejudices of a politically backward working class and small farming community. Earlier economic struggles had left a legacy of bitterness and bigotry; this legacy was revived and given new vigour and direction by the political and religious spokesmen for each side of the conflict within Irish capitalism. As always, workers would be the death and prison fodder in a fight that had nothing to do with them. On the one side, self-interested leaders like Carson and Craig (both contemptuously indifferent to the working class) and the slumming bigwigs of the Orange Order; on the other, the idiot disciple of blood sacrifice, Pearse, the erstwhile socialist, Connolly and, later, De Valera and his cohorts. Such a division ensured that the workers would don the mantle of ignorance and provide the violence and threats of violence to create a fairy-tale ending for the people of property, north and south.
The Forum Report dare not reveal this as the basis of division in Ireland, hence the rubbish about ancient cultural and religious divisions. Nor is it accidental that the new-found willingness to create political structures that will accommodate these rifts comes at a time when the basis of past division within native capitalism, swamped now with multinational interests, has largely evaporated because of changed economic conditions, north and south. Indeed, it is an open secret that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's interests are well represented among the richer plunderers in the south, traditionally Catholic and conservative and wholly receptive to the fiction that “anti-Christ communism" is extant in Eastern Europe. The nations of western capitalism, including Britain — whose interest in Ireland is now largely strategic — would be very sympathetic to an all-Ireland state firmly within NATO. Northern Ireland is an embarrassment, currently costing Britain some £1.2 billion per annum — an amount which British capitalism, deep in recession, must be deeply anxious to retrieve.
It is against this background that the New Ireland Report sets the stage for a unitary capitalist state. But there are problems. As Marx noted;
Men make their own history but they do not do it just as they please; they do not do it under circumstances chosen by themselves but under circumstances directly encountered. given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. (18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)
The dead generations in Ireland validate Paisley and the Provisional IRA. Both will guarantee that the path to unitary capitalism is a rough one but both can only delay the ultimate verdict of capitalism. Already history is being rewritten and a new political pragmatism is emerging to replace old "principles”. All the indications are that a move towards reconciliation is being actively promoted not only by the Republic, but by Britain, the United States and the countries within the EEC and NATO.
It is estimated that capital in the Republic would have to bear an additional 10 per cent tax burden to meet the costs of unitary capitalism. There is no doubt that this, and the possible inheritance of Northern Ireland's violence, would have a dampening effect on the Republican patriotism of the Irish capitalists. On the other hand, the United States and other interested parties have indicated a willingness to underwrite a settlement in Ireland by promoting investment there — a small price to pay for a strategically-situated Ireland committed to the NATO cause — and there is nothing like the promise of inward-flowing lolly to whet the patriotic appetites of the propertied class!
Nor need the southern capitalists be unduly inhibited about continued political violence. The argument of their political leaders, that a British withdrawal will remove the premise of loyalist violence, is not without credibility and northern violence is costing the south more per capita than it is costing Britain. This financial haemorrhage will continue until there is a solution of the problem — even if limited bloodletting has to be faced.
The New Ireland Forum Report should be studied by the working class in Ireland. The condemnations of violence should be noted, together with the fact that all the main political parties in Ireland, north and south, owe their existence to violence or its threat. The accommodating recipes for peace and reconciliation should be read alongside the literary and verbal patriotism and bigotry of the earlier champions of republican "freedom" and their unionist opponents when the needs of capital dictated division. Above all. the Forum Report should be seen as a vindication of the socialist contention that the causes for which workers have killed and died in Ireland are supremely irrelevant to their interests.
The Forum Report is not an answer to the problems of poverty, unemployment, slums and all the other evils that affect the working and unemployed people of this island. The implementation of the Report’s main recommendation or either of its subsidiary recommendations might conceivably change the forms of violence we live with, but it will certainly not remove the material conditions that makes violence inevitable in a class divided society. Only socialism can do that.
World Socialist Party of Ireland