From the November 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard
Your regular comments on the subject of Ireland, together with your recent entertainment by the Sin Fein leadership in west Belfast and your reciprocation of their political hospitality in London, has made you both a devil and an angel in Ireland. You have pleased immensely Sinn Fein and its followers and, in the measure of your pleasing them, earned the anger and hatred of the Ulster loyalists. Of course, the mass of the followers of both elements are members of the working class; both largely conservative and tribally religious; both anti-socialist — despite the misuse of the word "socialist" by Sinn Fein and its occasional application to loyalist paramilitaries by equally ignorant journalists and media commentators.
It is a dangerous game you are playing, Ken — this support for the viewpoint of one essentially sectarian, conservative and anti-socialist faction against another. Certainly it is not a tactic calculated to assist in helping the working class in Ireland to realise that nationalism and unionism are two sides of the same coin. Notwithstanding the "revolutionary” blathering of both sides — and, especially, the side you support — what they kill and maim their fellow-workers for is the same old, failed system of capitalism in which workers produce wealth for their masters in return for a wage that guarantees the continuation of their working-class status: their mere poverty on the job or dire poverty on the dole; their slums and second-rate homes, their mean, restricted lives — even the continuation of the very material conditions out of which the present "troubles” emerged.
It is possible, of course, that Sinn Fein has convinced you that they have a plan to eliminate these things and create, in a united Ireland, an oasis of social sanity where poverty in all its facets is banished. Indeed, even a dramatic reduction of poverty would probably be as acceptable to the great mass of Protestant loyalists in Northern Ireland as it would be to the majority of impoverished Catholics in the north and in the Republic.
Would it not be cleverer, more humane and less divisive for Sinn Fein to demonstrate openly to their friends and opponents how they can solve, or dramatically ease, the problems of capitalism than to continue killing and maiming and succeeding only in providing opportunities for working-class kids to spend miserable lives in prison.
It is true that in the past Sinn Fein had few opportunities in the media to present its arguments. But it did get opportunities and it did have, and still has, a weekly newspaper which is widely read in Nationalist areas of the North and is doubtless sent to you. Now, of course, its electoral success has opened the door to full media exposure and the Sinn Fein leadership are given star treatment with ample time and opportunity to state their views. And they do: they talk about the poverty features of capitalism. About the poverty of the poor, bad housing, lack of jobs. Generally, when they mention these effects of capitalism one could be forgiven for thinking that they only afflict those members of the working class who are Catholics; always, unfailingly, Sinn Fein spokespersons ascribe the evils of capitalism to British rule in Ireland.
Get the Brits out! Let Sinn Fein/IRA have control of production and distribution of wealth and they will run the system of wage labour and commodity production in such a way as will solve Ireland's problems. They will succeed where all governments, everywhere, have so far failed: they will run a system based on the exploitation of the working class in the interests of the working class.
Now Ken. we both know that your Labour Party has failed to make any basic change in capitalism and that there is nothing that the Tories have done, or are doing, against the working class that your Labour Party have not also done during its different periods of office. Now it is claimed in the media that you have suggested that Sinn Fein's economic policies are similar to those of the Labour Party. Sinn Fein have claimed to have a social policy based on Christian principles that would involve a synthesis of western "individual” capitalism and Russian-style state capitalism. You might wonder why, given such nonsense, they claim to be socialist except that if you can accept the Labour Party claim to be socialist, it is hardly possible for you to be more confused. But your assertion, Ken, presumably made against the background of some knowledge of the policies and attitudes of Sinn Fein, confuses me — and leaves me worried.
You see Labour policies have been tried in Northern Ireland. Ober-fuhrcr Mason and his equally hypocritical colleague Merlyn Rees, both prominent Labourites, ran affairs in Northern Ireland with all the powers of colonial governors. Despite the fact that they were at various times abetted by "left wingers” like Stanley Orme they failed as miserably as Whitelaw and Prior to remove even one of the social evils on which violence here flourishes.
Being a practical man concerned only with facts you will no doubt appreciate why I am confused by your thinking that Sinn Fein's Labour-style policies will be helpful. On the other hand, I had left out of my reckoning the fact that Labour's traditional excuse for failure is that they had the wrong leaders. Given new leadership . . . It squares admirably with the simplistic ideas of Sinn Fein, who also emphasise leadership as opposed to socialist principles.
What worries me is your recognition that Sinn Fein have nothing more to contribute to the problems of Ireland than a new rag for the masthead of deception and Labour policies. I say “worries me” because, while I am prepared to accept that Sinn Fein share the nonsense of the Labour Party, there is something they do not share with the latter: an acknowledgement of the decision of the ballot box.
As I have observed. Labour governments come and go in Britain. They get elected to office when the non-socialist working class there think they might be able to run capitalism less badly than the Tories. They get kicked out again when they demonstrate that they can not. Always, the Labour Party accepts the democratic decision of the electorate to alternate the political administration of capitalism.
This, at least, helps to ensure that the democratic process is maintained; that a genuine Socialist Party offering a real alternative to capitalism is allowed to function, to define and propagate socialism and, ultimately, to achieve a revolutionary majority for the democratic establishment of socialism.
Sinn Fein and the IRA have no democratic tradition; they have an utter contempt for democracy. Their bogus claim to be heirs to the mandate given to Sinn Fein at the last all-Ireland elections in 1918 is exposed by their leftist vapourings. The ultra-conservative, Catholic majority that voted for Sinn Fein candidates in 1918 were voting for the policies of a party dedicated to Irish independence for the purpose of legislating policies of free trade for a fledgling capitalism in southern Ireland. They would have rejected, and subsequently did reject, even the slightly pinkish policies of social reform offered by the wholly respectable. church-imprimatured, Irish Labour Party.
The Provisional IRA and its political partner, Sinn Fein, were born out of the union of Orange violence and British government indifference. The midwife that attended on the birth of this political mutation was the RUC and the British Army; its swaddling clothes were provided by elements in southern capitalism who feared what they thought (mistakenly) was the growth of socialist ideas in the “official” IRA. The boasted Provo strategy of “an Armalite in one hand and a ballot paper in the other" sums up their contempt for democracy.
There is little hope of them achieving the victory you apparently wish them but. in the unlikely event of them emerging bloody but victorious — could you, Ken. see the collection of unscrupulous, self- mandated. anti-democratic war-lords that are the Sinn Fein leadership, yield to the response of the ballot box when their Labour-style policies had failed as signally in Ireland as they have repeatedly in Britain?
You have given credibility to an organisation which has become a major barrier to the establishment of such conditions as would presage the growth of socialist ideas in Ireland. I think it reasonable to ask you, Ken, to provide facilities for those who advocate socialism as an answer to the problems of world capitalism — including the so-called “Irish problem”. A member, or members, of The World Socialist Party of Ireland will be delighted with an invitation from you to state our case for socialism and against capitalism as favoured by your own party or Provisional Sinn Fein.
Come to that. Ken. it might make the discussion even more interesting if you and a member of Sinn Fein (without the Armalite) were to publicly defend your views in a debate with the World Socialist Movement — either the World Socialist Party of Ireland or the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Looking forward to your early response,