At the turn of the century the ruling class in Ireland were united in the classical sense in which capitalists are united throughout the world: North and South of the country Catholic and Protestant capitalists found unanimity in their desire to promote and maintain that system of economic organisation based on the exploitation of the country’s wealth producers, the working class.
Unionist and Nationalist, Sinn Fein and Labour, ALL stood UNITED on this issue: capitalism would be the way of life irrespective of the Party that administered it, or the colour of the rag that flew at its political masthead.
As far as the working class were concerned they were not offered a choice nor had they then (or now) the degree of political understanding to make a choice. But, as elsewhere in the domain of capitalism, they were given the fiction that the personnel and location of their government had some bearing on their way of life—that life under Paddy Murphy’s lash was preferable to life under John Bull’s whip, or vice versa.
Needless to say, the Action was suitably embellished with promises on one hand and threats on the other. The ‘British way of life’ vied with a ‘prosperous Ireland controlling its own destiny'; ‘Popish plots’ opposed ‘Orange tyranny’. The seeds of hatred were cast around with abandon of necessity and hatred and violence were necessary weapons in the real issues, AND THE ONLY ISSUES WHICH WERE REAL WERE THOSE THAT DIVIDED THE CAPITALIST CLASS.
Here was the real motive behind the bigotry, viciousness and carnage, the hate propaganda, the ‘national’ struggle and the baloney over flags: Irish capitalism, UNITED in its purpose was DIVIDED in its means.
As the nineteenth century, with its memories of struggle and famine, retreated into the sad past of Ireland’s history it left its peculiarly malformed economic off-spring in the form of a native capitalism, healthy and virile (for the capitalists, of course!) in the north-eastern portion of the country, faltering and weak throughout the rest of Ireland. In north-east Ulster some prosperous descendants of earlier English and Scottish ‘planters’, using the wealth derived from their conquest of the native resources and their direct affinity with their class cousins in Great Britain, had accomplished a high degree of industrialisation.
The Belfast shipyards and the Ulster textile industry (which included the manufacture of textile machinery) was on a par with anything found elsewhere and, of course, other ‘service' industries had developed accordingly. The owners of these resources were culturally, economically and politically at one with British capitalism, enjoying the benefits of a parliament skilled in the artifice of class deception and the markets accruing from Britain’s position as a world power.
In the rest of the country the position was different. Those who had been the victims of earlier English tyranny, allegedly because of their religion, had, after years of struggle, thrown off the yoke that militated against their accumulation of wealth. By the turn of the century the Catholic ‘businessman’ had ‘arrived’ in sufficient numbers to engage in political struggle against ‘English domination’ that enabled their ‘favourably placed’ English competitors (including the powerful and entrenched Northern Irish industrialists) to keep them, the fledging entrepreneurs of the south, in a disadvantageous position.
One of their chief spokesmen, Arthur Griffith, founder member and leader of Sinn Fein, states the motive behind their ‘principles' quite simply:
“It is a comparatively simple matter for English capitalists to crush out their Irish competitors and we must know that this is too often the fate of Irishmen striving to promote the manufactures of this country.
“Under Sinn Fein policy such a deplorable error could not occur . . . and no possibility would be left as far as Sinn Fein were concerned for a syndicate of English capitalists to crush out the home manufacturer and home trader.” Arthur Griffith, Sinn Fein Policy; 1917.
Double Dealing Diplomacy
Thus, briefly, the conflict between the rival sections of the capitalist class: in the North industry was sufficiently strong to resist the encroachments of English competition, while enjoying the wider market and system of economic preference resulting from their association with Great Britain. In the South a fledgling capitalism needed the exercise of protectionist policies in the exploitation of the limited home market—against the time when it could meet competition on a wider field.
Interwoven into the fabric of lies and deceit used by the political manipulators on both sides to gain the power of the working class to their cause, was the double-dealing diplomacy of the political flunkeys of the British ruling class. Concerned with their direct economic interests, their allegiance to their fellow-robbers in ‘Ulster’ and the (then) strategic importance of Ireland as an Atlantic base in the event of war, they used all the dirty weapons in the arsenal of capitalism in pursuit of their ends.
The only issues which were real were those differences that divided the opposing sections of the master class. Aside, however, from their differences there was a unanimity of purpose that revealed itself in the miserable exploitation of the working class THROUGHOUT IRELAND and in the manner in which Unionist and Nationalist elements of capitalism closed ranks to prosecute and persecute the working class and its organisations.
The outcome of the struggle is well known to us today. The investment in blood of the Irish workers—for, as always, it was the workers who gave and the masters who got—is seen in the reality of the two statelets in Ireland.
Since their inception both statelets have shown a marked similarity: the governments of both areas have scarce failed to conceal their detestation of organised labour and both have introduced legislation frankly loaded against the working class. Both, each from its respective point of view, have used the ‘partition’ of the country as a propaganda gimmick to arrest the attention of their electorates from such issues as poverty, slums and unemployment. Spokesmen for each area rebut criticism by drawing attention to the same conditions in the other area!
Things Are Changing!
But things are changing! Changing with a rapidity! that would have seemed almost indecent a decade ago. Now we are in the era of ‘bridge building’, of forgetting yesterday. Now we are advised about the importance of a ‘public image’. Why?
The short answer is that the factors that divided our masters, the factors that demanded the sacrifice of workers’ blood, have now changed.
Industry in the Republic of Ireland, nurtured behind tariff walls and import quotas and infused with ‘foreign’ capital, now feels the need for an expanding market at a time when the convenient European market is trying to introduce a super-protectionist policy.
Similarly in the North, with the decline of the traditional industries and the growth of the light export- orientated industries—often financed by the same companies or corporations which have invested heavily in the South (in both instances, as a springboard, so to speak, to Europe)—there is the need for the expanding continental market.
Yet, more important still—despite ‘principles’ and the resulting struggles of yester-year—is the fact that the economy of the country, NORTH AND SOUTH, is still tied to the British market and with that country begging an entry to the Common Market, the ‘principles’ of both sections of Irish capitalism must be scrapped—under, of course, a smoke screen of new ‘principles’!
Unfortunately for the governmental servants of capitalism in both areas, the change, necessarily rapid, has brought about its problems. After sowing the seeds of bitterness and bigotry—instruments of policy in the North, inevitable consequences of policies in the South— for half a century it is too much to expect, even from a docile populace, an immediate unanimous response to the new policies of the ‘bridges builders’.
The Protestant bigot, Reverend ‘Dr’ Paisley, and those of his kind, have no difficulty sanctifying their actions with suitable quotations from the government spokesmen of yesterday—even if such spokesmen now sing a different tune—and the Irish Republican Army, likewise, can quote political scripture from the gospel written yesterday in blood by the now ‘great men’ of the Southern Irish’Government.
For the working class the whole game is as irrelevant today as it was in the past. Yesterday they had the example of workers in other countries with their ‘own’ government sharing the same poverty problems as the Irish workers. Today we have the example of European workers STILL WITH THE SAME WORKING CLASS PROBLEMS living in the Common Market. As Socialists, knowing full well the nature of capitalism, knowing that that system cannot operate IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCES in the interests of the working class, we feel safe in prophesying that our problems, the problems of the working class, will remain with us whatever the demarcations of capitalism’s market.
Space does not permit an examination of the records and attitudes of the political parties in Ireland. At any rate we are not too concerned in the niceties of their political separation. Suffice to say that they have all lent support to one or other side in the political chess of capitalism.
Whatever their title, Unionist, Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein, Labour or ‘Communist’, they have all put forward the ignorant assumption that they possess the policies and personnel to make a buying-and-selling system, a capitalist system, operate in the interests of ‘the people’.
The fact that it has not worked in the interest of the working class ANYWHERE, under ANY government or ANY political party, whether in the guise of ‘western democracy’ or ‘peoples' democracy’, bears eloquent testimony to their ignorance of the nature of capitalism.
Unlike our opponents we in the World Socialist Party have no plans for running—or being run by—Irish capitalism, petitioned, united, inside or outside the Common Market. We have no urge for taking over the role of government, nor can we claim that, given the opportunity of ‘taking over the government’ (or governments) of Ireland, we could administer capitalism fairly and in the interests of all.
On the contrary, we affirm that no political party, irrespective of its title or aspirations, can run a system BASED ON THE EXPLOITATION OF THE WORKING CLASS THROUGH THE WAGES-MONEY SYSTEM IN THE INTERESTS OF ALL.
That is why our role in the political cocktail of Irish politics is the political education of our fellow members of the working class to the end of achieving mass understanding of why capitalism must always operate against us and why we must choose the Socialist alternative—a wageless, classless society of production for use.
With such understanding achieved, our purpose will not be to ‘take over the government’ but, rather, to gain, democratically, the use of its executive authority and, in concert with our fellow workers throughout the world, to banish such government—along with the system of class privilege that gave rise to it.