From the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard
With the recurrence of I.R.A. activity, attention is again focussed on the “Irish Question.” The familiar tragedy of young workers dying for “The Cause” is again being re-enacted.
There are those who would tell us that as Irish workers we must be in the vanguard of the “National Struggle.” Coming from the I.R.A. this means that we should join that organisation, procure arms, and train ourselves in their use. If called on, they say, we will attack the armed hirelings of the State, regardless of whether or not we fall in the fray, dangle on the hangman’s rope, or find ourselves condemned to long years of imprisonment. The militant Republican assures us that we owe it to “our” country; that we must be prepared to sacrifice everything for “The Cause.”
Now if a man considers “The Cause” (either that of the “Republic” or of “Ulster”), to be worthy of his, or his comrades’, blood, then surely its social implications, in relation to the position in society of its protagonists, must warrant much careful consideration.
To think rationally on these matters it is necessary at the outset, to divest ourselves of all will-o-the-wisp notions; all airy legends of the past. We must leave the mythical Ireland of Echoing Glensides and green-clad columns of valiant men, and return to the earthy Ireland of a million-odd slum-dwellers, of 130,000 unemployed, of mass immigration, of T.B. and other poverty-diseases, and of thousands be-devilled by the candour of their wage-packets.
Yes, fellow-workers, this is the Ireland we know; surely the logical starting-point for our researches.
The Real Struggle
Our purpose is to show both the “Nationalist” worker, and his “Unionist” counterpart, that the struggle “for” or “against” the Border does not materially affect his lot as a worker; that the “freedom” much-talked of on both sides, is but the right of a minority class (the Capitalists) to exploit the mass of the people. We would make bold to assert that the Border is but the bastard child of the sectional interests of Capitalism in this country, and that the real struggle of the workers, in Ireland, North and South—as elsewhere in the world— should be against that more evil border that divides the workers from the Capitalists.
To the Republican, Sinn-Fein are hallowed words, indeed; but the workers of Ireland have nothing for which to revere this organisation. It is worthy of note that when formed in 1905 its demands went no further than the claim for recognition of Ireland as a separate Kingdom, hereditary to the British Crown, with “King, Lords and Commons for Ireland.”
Sinn-Fein represents the demands of Irish Capitalism, and the primary purpose of its struggle was to free the native Capitalist class from the yoke of its English competitors. It is true that lip-service was paid to a “National Re-awaking,” but dare our masters ever reveal their true intent?
In the bitter struggle which raged in Ireland in the years 1919—1922 the workers, as always, were called upon to give their blood in the cause of “Mother Ireland!” With the culmination of that struggle, and the ensuing Civil War, the Irish worker was faced again with the reality of existence under Capitalism. On public buildings, police barracks, etc., the Tricolour proudly fluttered, and street names began to appear in Irish. The lot of the wage-slave, however, was no better than before— even if he was a hero-returned. The proud Tricolour flying over the Labour Exchanges was cold comfort to the mass of unemployed workers. The Irish and British Capitalists still loafed idly on the profit, rent and interest, extracted from the Irish workers.
Some will assert that, at least, the British Army had been driven from part of the national territory; certainly the Irish farm workers of the period, who went on strike for better wages and living conditions, knew this to be true—for it was the new Irish Army which the new Irish Government used against them!
Yes, the British were gone; but they were not too long out of Dublin when the new Irish Postmaster-General called on them to send “blacklegs” to help him break the strike of Post Office workers in 1922.
We have not digressed on the “principle” of “freedom”; neither, we are sure, did the thousands of unemployed in 1926 when they heard “their” Irish Government disown them with the callous declaration that unemployment was no concern of the State.
It is true that the sea-green incorruptibles among the Republicans maintained that this was but mock freedom. Their indignation, however, was not because the lot of the worker was as before, but because the Six Ulster Counties were still “unfree.”
They need not have worried, for though the workers of Northern Ireland still existed under the Union Jack, their conditions were similar to those of their class-brothers in the new Irish Free State. The record of both States, and their respective Governments, is one of callous disdain for the lot of the working-class. Both are the handmaidens of Capitalism, and are, consequently, bent to the will of Capital.
The Lot of the Worker
The life of a worker, after he has received whatever education Capitalism deems necessary to equip him as an efficient wage-slave, starts with the search for a job. In Ireland, North and South, with an aggregate total of 130,000 unemployed, this is no mean task, indeed! In most instances the childhood dream of “…. I’m going to be—when I grow up” goes by the board (unless the child, for morbid reasons, wants to be a policeman—for which there seems to be a constant demand in Ireland!). Capitalism does not cater to our talents, much less our whims.
On finding a job the young worker becomes acquainted with the reality of the class-struggle: on the one side the Masters with the porridge—on the other the Olivers, perpetually with just enough to “keep body and soul together,” and only occasionally with enough courage to ask for more.
Whether you are paid wages or salary, you depend for your living upon selling your mental and physical abilities to an employer. There exists a constant struggle between you and your employer over your wages and conditions. Never would you dare to think that as wealth is produced from the resources of nature, by the application of human labour-power, it should wholly belong to those who, as a social class, produce it.
In other words, you accept the class ownership of society; you are prepared to let a minority class (the CAPITALISTS) own and control the means whereby you live. As a consequence of their favoured position these Capitalists can live in any part of the world they choose; they can sell, barter, or gamble away, the VERY MEANS WHEREBY YOU LIVE, AND THE NATIONALITY OF THE NEW OWNER IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
Such an economic set-up makes nonsense of the claims made by Republicans, Unionists, or any other political party, that the people can control their own destinies, by raising this flag, or lowering that. The problems that beset us in Ireland to-day do not originate in our capacity for colour appreciation, in the qualities of Green and Orange. They are problems inherent in the Capitalist system—that system which has the blessing of both Governments in Ireland; that system which would continue to afflict us if the I.R.A. concluded a successful struggle to-morrow.
The Socialist Solution
In Ireland, North and South, we live to-day within the framework of the Capitalist system, and this decadent system would still obtain if we lived in an All-Ireland Republic. “Freedom” for the broad masses of the people, under Capitalism, is but the freedom to choose between wage-slavery and starvation. The English, French, American or Russian workers, with “their own” national governments, are no more free than we in Ireland. Capitalism, with its wages-system, and its class structure, is the common enemy; our common weapon is Socialist knowledge.
To us of the working-class, Capitalism means the continuation of all the rotten, miserable conditions under which the mass of the people suffer. No amount of reforming can change the basic nature of the system, and its effects are not mollified by a flag. It matters not which party administers Capitalism, whether it is Republican, Unionist, Labour or Communist. Each may apply the screw of policy; bless it, curse it, nationalise or de-centralise; the effects, as far as the working-class are concerned, are the same—poverty, insecurity, slums, ignorance, depressions, and wars.
We Socialists affirm that there is but one solution to the problems confronting the working-class; that solution is SOCIALISM. By Socialism we mean the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production (the factories, land, mills, mines, transport, etc.), by, and in the interests of, the whole community, without any distinction whatsoever. No wages system, no exchange, no buying and selling, but instead, the application of the principle; from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs. That is Socialism, and the way out for the workers of Ireland, and the world.
When Can We Have Socialism?
One of the objective conditions necessary to the establishment of Socialism already exists; viz., the development of the machinery of production to the point necessary for supplying the needs of humanity in a free society. The second objective condition depends on us of the working-class: it is a readiness to understand the social implications of Socialism, to accept them, and consequently, desire to make the change to a Socialist society.
And when we do desire to make the change, NO POWER IN THE WORLD CAN STOP US!