Sunday, May 24, 2020

The cult of Irish Republicanism (2009)

From the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Real IRA and the Continuity IRA represent nothing but the pale ghosts of yesterday.
For over a hundred years now Ireland, and particularly Northern Ireland since it came into existence in 1921, has been politically structured by what Sean O’ Casey called, in one of his memorable plays, The Shadow of the Gunman. The gunman, and more recently in deference to the times, his female equivalent, has been legal and illegal, protestant and catholic, brave and cowardly but at all times and in all guises, a dangerous irrelevancy as far as the working class is concerned.

Ruling classes everywhere mythologise the politics of their regime in order to conceal the fact that their wealth and opulent lifestyles are based on the poverty and degradation of their subject classes. In Ireland that process has been further mystified and obfuscated by years of colonisation and the deliberate action of Britain, the colonial master, of introducing religious sectarianism into Ireland’s toxic tribal mix at the beginning of the 17th century.

That evil, the curse of inter-religious conflict, was part of Elizabethan England’s strategy for a final solution to the problem of Gaelic resistance to English rule in Ireland which was most formidable in the province of Ulster. In 1603 the native Gaelic people were driven from their lands; their lands were confiscated by the Crown and gifted in large tracts to undertakers favoured by the English Court. In turn the beneficiaries of this act of imperial theft introduced tenants from Scotland and northern England and it was no accident that these were largely protestant.

The plantation of Ulster was simply part of the process whereby ruling classes further their interests and build empires. The incoming ‘planters’ were not the villains in the piece; rather were they innocent instruments of a power-hungry imperialism; poor peasant farmers following a promise of a better existence – in fact many would have been the descendants of earlier ‘Scotti’ emigrants who left Ireland in search of a better life in Scotland. History should have absorbed the conflicts created by the plantation of Ulster but, history is largely fashioned by economics, and a radical dichotomy in the land tenure between the province of Ulster, the area planted, and the rest of Ireland was to foster bitter new conflicts between opposing forms of nationalism, each concealed in a quasi-religious political doctrine; bitter, nauseous and wholly irrelevant to the interests of the working class on the island of Ireland.

Karl Marx might well have been thinking of Ireland when he said:
  Men make their own history but they do not do it 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 land question
In pre-capitalist society the means of life was the land. It was the means of production and just as in capitalism now, where social class is determined by whether one is a working functionary within those means or an owner of those means, so in feudal Ireland where one stood in relation to the ownership and control of the land determined their social status.

Even for feudalism, Irish land law was brutally harsh with virtually no rights either in law or in custom attending the lot of the tenant. He was a tenant-at-will, the will of his landlord; without any security of tenure, ‘fairness’ of rent or right to any compensation for any improvement to his holding or his habitation. Indeed one visiting English agronomist is reputed to have said, not as an insult to Irish peasants but in criticism of their conditions of tenure where improvement carried the penalty of higher rent or even eviction, that it was an encouragement to the peasant to learn to live like a pig.

Because they were vital instruments in the strategy of conquest the Ulster planters could reject the absolute servitude of the native peasant in the country and, accordingly, their landlords had to grant them what later became known in Ireland as The Three F’s: Fixity of tenure, Fixity of rent and Freedom of sale of what was effectively their leaseholds. In Ulster this practice became known as ‘Ulster Custom’. It created circumstances in which a surplus over immediate need could be made and where leaseholds were sold and could be aggregated making smallholdings into farms and peasants into small farmers. It extended the use of money within the community thus establishing an essential element in the development of trade: a purchasing power.

Industrial revolution
By the time of the Industrial Revolution Ulster had its nascent capitalist class and it developed apace with the development of capitalism in Britain, a development enhanced by the general level of literacy, a burgeoning commercial trade and a not insignificant number of immigrant entrepreneurs. During the mid-19th century, referred to by the economist Hobsbawn as The Age of Capital, Ulster underwent rapid development in shipbuilding, heavy and light engineering, as well as textiles and rope-making. In fact Ulster industry became an integral part of British capitalism; dependant for energy and raw materials on Britain and its Empire and vitally beholden to the then-prevailing system of Empire Preference for its market.

Ironically, it was in this climate of bourgeois prosperity in Ulster that Republican ideas began to emerge and the idea of backing those ideas with the threat and the reality of armed force. The idea of republican violence did not come from the dispossessed or the rebellious catholics but from elements within the protestant middle-class who argued that the government – which they generally referred to as the Crown – was supporting discriminatory measures against Irish trade.

Typical of those articulating this opinion was the Belfast industrialist, J Alexander Hamilton who told an audience of his class peers in the Belfast Linen Hall on the 14th May 1784:
  “It cannot be said that the government truly represents our interests in matters of trade or industry nor can we hold faith with the Crown to allow it that right. Our limping independence is on the sufferance of the Crown who again can be influenced by powerful English interests in trade and industry to restrict us and hamper the further development of our trade and industry… What they had the right to give they had the right to take and it is our sacred duty to remove from the crown that right and build our own constitutional structures, our own freedom and the absolute right to plan for the advancement of our own trade and commerce. It is a lesson that has been learnt in America and one that we in this country will have to learn even if it means the broadening of outlook in matters of political concern at home.”
That was the voice that spoke incipient republican rebellion, echoed by Henry Joy McCracken and the northern leaders of The United Irishmen. They were protestants, articulating the problems of Ulster capitalism and allying the rebellious interests of their class, with clarions of patriotism. Their republicanism came from the French Revolution and the American War of Independence via the pages of Tom Paine’s Rights of Man and encapsulated in the vision of Wolfe Tone.

Four years later in 1798 Irish Republicanism staged an abortive rebellion in the name of “Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter”. In Ulster the enemy was the forces of the Crown; in the rest of Ireland, apart from a failed incursion by French forces in the west of Ireland, the rebellion was largely restricted to the county of Wexford where the United Men were largely Catholics, their leader a catholic priest and their primary enemy protestants – inevitably their rack-renting landlords.

While capitalism was developing in Ulster in the rest of the country outbreaks of violence were common. The landlord and the Crown were the enemies of the downtrodden, brutally impoverished serf-like Irish peasant; it was a political struggle that was allied to patriotism only insofar as the Crown was identified with the landlord and the reality of agrarian poverty. The heady days of European revolution in the mid-19th century was reflected in Ireland more in the literature of protest than armed conflict. There was little violence; the patriots of the Young Ireland movement spoke the hurt and anger of a people in despair; people whose staple diet, the potato had for a second year turned to foul putrefaction in the fields; people burying their dead because they could not afford to live on the abundance of cereal crop and livestock that was being shipped out to foreign tables. Early victims of the brutal capitalist doctrine of Laissez-faire.

The Fenians
Within a decade the population of Ireland had been reduced by some two million to an estimated six million. The land was still haemorrhaging its people to England, Australia and, especially, to the United States where Irish conspiracy, rooted in the Clan na Gael was fostering the Fenian movement for republican insurrection in Ireland. The Fenian Brotherhood was closer to the common people preaching a class gospel and angering the Church which caused Archbishop Moriarty, with questionable theological soundness, to speculate that Hell was not hot enough nor eternity long enough to punish them.

The vagaries of world capitalism was having a drastic effect on food prices which were falling rapidly and gravely effecting the income of the Irish peasantry more and more of whom were falling into rent arrears. Between 1872 and 1885 well over 200,000 tenants were evicted and at one protest meeting in response to mass eviction notices served by the landlord, a catholic priest called Geoffrey Burke who had inherited an estate from his brother, a speech by Tom Brennan, a prominent Fenian, demonstrates how far ahead in its thinking the Fenian movement, now in decay, was over the purely nationalist thinking of the Irish Parliamentary Party and its political heirs Sinn Fein. Brennan said:
“You may get a Federal Parliament, perhaps the Repeal of the Union, nay more, you may establish an Irish Republic, but as longed as tillers of the soil are forced to support a useless and indolent aristocracy, your Federal Parliament would be a bauble and your Irish Republic a fraud,” (quoted in The Land League Crisis, N D Palmer. Yale Historical Publications).
Fenian activity was poorly organised and badly coordinated but it left its martyrs to fester in the fecund soil of bitter discontent and, in the incarnation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood it was to light the fuse of Irish Rebellion in 1916 and the subsequent Anglo-Irish War out of which modern Ireland emerged. It is impossible in a short article to knit all the threads of festering revolt that were converging on a political denouement in Ireland: Michael Davitt’s courageous Land League and the attempts to unify the struggle against Landlordism with the struggle of an emerging proletariat played a vital role that ultimately found a measure of success in a series of Land Purchase Acts between 1885 and 1903. These Acts made interest-bearing loans of public money available to buy out their holdings. The landlords made token protest but in most cases were glad to salvage a final settlement from their ill-gotten plunder.

Fledgling bourgeoisie
The story of the part played by the terrible potato famine of 1845/50 in helping to create a southern, largely catholic, middle class, has still to be written but it was a factor among many others in the emerging of a politically-articulate, fledgling bourgeoisie. More importantly for the future of Ireland the political interest of that class was in direct conflict with those of its class brethren in Ulster. Charles Stewart Parnell the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party enunciated the political requirements of nascent southern capitalism in a major speech at Arklow on the 20th August 1885; in precise terms Parnell made clear the economic motive for an Irish government: to protect a weak Irish capitalism confronted by the competition of English capitalism.

Subsequently a more bellicose Sinn Fein said the same thing:
  “If an Irish manufacturer cannot produce an article as cheaply as an English or other foreign capitalist, only because his foreign competitor has larger resources at his disposal, then it is the first duty of the Irish nation to accord protection to that manufacturer.”(Sinn Fein Policy, 1907 Edition)
That was the political policy which underpinned the Easter Rising of 1916 and the subsequent IRA guerrilla struggle to ‘free’ Ireland. The IRA was an army of workers fighting for the clearly-defined interests of their bosses. Ironically, as we have shown earlier, the protection they wanted to achieve for southern capitalists would have been ruinous for northern capitalists. There was no basis for unity.

Since Partition
Since the partition of Ireland in 1921, Sinn Fein and the IRA have undergone many vicissitudes but, effectively, after partition and the defeat of the IRA in the ensuing civil war they had become a cult, a representative of “the dead generations”. In 1962, after an abortive ‘Border Campaign’ that had become its period of attrition a short time after it began in 1956, the IRA confessed its lack of support, accused northern nationalists of selling their heritage for a mess of potage – British ‘welfare’ capitalism – and established constitutional Republican Clubs to pursue social issues. The absurdly sectarian Unionist government – always conscious of the benefits of an IRA threat at election times – immediately banned the Clubs and left the framework for thirty-odd years of sectarian violence.

Does the resuscitated IRA that resurfaced in 1970 and after decades of struggle won a share in the political administration of the entity it set out to banish, disprove our contention that the concept of armed IRA struggle had become a futile cult following their political and military defeat by southern government forces in 1922?

The answer to that question is twofold. Firstly, their very presence in the current northern administration is not a victory; on the contrary, it is an acknowledged recognition of the failure of armed violence to unite a people. Secondly, the IRA of the 1950’s that accepted its political rejection by the people, like earlier incarnations of that organisation, was a purely political movement whereas that of the 1970’s was built around a catholic population under attack. The followers of the republican cult might well have wished it otherwise, but the muscle of the movement that emerged out of the early stages of the recent troubles was catholic and sectarian. Today the question is changed, changed dramatically, and mutations of the Provisionals, like the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA represent nothing but the pale ghosts of yesterday. They are a curse on the body politic and the only progressive act they can commit is to disappear.
Richard Montague

The Crisis: don’t read about it! (2009)

From the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Sun newspaper should be no more abhorrent to socialists than any other capitalist propaganda rag. In a spirit of intellectual equanimity I occasionally take the wretched organ along with more sober rags of the ruling elite in order to gainsay and refute the views of supporters of the profit system.

Now, as the world capitalist system moves inexorably towards another catastrophic slump it behoves the class traitor scribblers of the “popular press” to divert our attention from the problems facing us as a consequence of capitalism’s irresolvable internal contradictions.

But don’t worry - the Sun has a “Happy Page”:
“The pound crumbles, the economy tumbles and Gordon Brown finally rumbles that we are heading for the big recession.
So to take your mind off the sad economic tidings there are plenty of cheery stories scattered throughout The Sun.
And for uninterrupted fun turn to Page 20 our new Happy Page.
If you have any stories or photos that will raise British spirits why not send them to us and do your bit in the War against Gloom effort.”
As the “Real Economy” goes into recession and people lose their jobs, homes and belief in the future of their communities we are exhorted by the Sun to turn to page 20 and have a chortle as workers’ lives under capitalism crumble around our ears.

Socialists have long understood the function of the reactionary media in the intellectual conditioning of capitalist society. Workers are bombarded by propaganda on a myriad of fronts. In the last 30 years the Sun has cornered the market in combining “politics”, gambling and tits with criminal and celebrity witch hunts.

Whilst the world working class is entering a period in which there will be a sustained, angry and possibly violent attack upon our meagre living standards and individual rights by the ruling class, we must challenge the “official” media at every turn, the more apparently “learned” daily journals such as the Guardian, Independent or Telegraph as well as the Sun.

At this time the fanciful notion that “taxpayers money” is being used to stave off capitalist crisis is being promulgated by the mainstream media. Whilst, in reality the capitalist class is using State funds generated on the backs of the labour of workers to prop up the profit system and to provide them with a surplus. The capitalist media are also wrestling all their capacity to prepare us for yet another period of belt-tightening.

The reasons for the failings of capitalism, and the potential to resolve the problems caused to people under the grip of the system are often very near to the grasp of workers’ thinking, both individually and collectively. My trajectory towards socialist consciousness began as a very young man witnessing the “shaking out” of staff at R.M. Douglas Construction Ltd of Birmingham in 1992. I saw proud middle-aged, “company” men, some with over 25 years service, cry openly as they were told they were surplus to requirements for the firm.

So, as the reality of capitalist recession imposes itself once more on the already beleaguered working class the last thing we need to do is to read “Happy News” on Page 20 of The Sun newspaper.
Andy P. Davies

Watching over us (2009)

Book Review from the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Spies, Lies and the War on Terror.  by Paul Todd, Jonathan Bloch and Patrick Fitzgerald: Zed Books £14.99.

The ‘Cold War’ has been replaced by the ‘War on Terror’ as a means of defending the interests of Western capitalism. The identification of a new enemy has paralleled an enormous increase in the amount of snooping that goes on, with governments spying ever more closely on their own citizens. These are the kinds of developments chronicled in this volume.

For the United States in particular, the gathering of intelligence has come to serve the purpose of pre-emptive war, aimed at stopping any perceived threat to the power of the capitalist class before it can be put into action. This may involve ‘creative destruction’ in the Middle East (a term coined by an American neo-con, not by the authors). The idea of a US military presence in the Middle East became a long-term goal, eventually realised in Iraq. In fact, intelligence is sometimes massaged (as with Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction) or deliberately ignored. Consequently much US policy backfires, as when Iran has benefited from the elimination of regional rivals (the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Saddam).

At the same time, and as state and corporate intelligence functions increasingly merge, domestic spying is becoming more and more pervasive. The National Security Agency in the US, for instance, has been monitoring all phone calls made to overseas, and the president has powers to authorise surveillance without a warrant. Sometimes the information recorded is laughable, with Quaker meetings logged as ‘suspicious incidents’, but the spread of government intrusion into people’s lives is no laughing matter.

Similar developments have been taking place in the UK, with increased powers for the police and much so-called anti-terrorist legislation. There have been arrests of people (as in a supposed bomb plot in Manchester in 2004 and one in East London in 2006), accompanied by lurid press speculation and much disinformation from police sources; in neither case was any evidence found, and the arrested were released without charge. Lengthy detention was introduced for those who had not done anything, just supposedly threatened to undertake some action designed to advance a political cause.

The War on Terror, then, not only results in killings on a massive scale in Iraq, Afghanistan and so on, in the interests of Western, specifically American, power. It also leads to the creation and expansion of databases containing enormous amounts of information on people, information that we cannot access, let alone challenge, even if we know it’s there. This book gives a detailed and frightening account of how and why this is happening.
Paul Bennett

Whose news? (2009)

From the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Why are high house prices and high profits considered good news?
We are all used to hearing from the TV or radio that what we are about to experience is the ‘news’. Preceded by a little tune supposed to promote gravitas and/or imply the very latest fast technological process of news gathering we are presented with a sober middle-class gent or couple sporting sensible hair, grey suits and dazzling white smiles. A stranger to our culture may be very surprised that whichever channel is chosen the content of the news is almost identical. Indeed the choice of headlines is nearly always the same; a little odd considering that in this country we have over 100 digital channels! What can be the reason for such a strange phenomena? Could it be that there is total unanimity concerning what is important in human behaviour (this would be the only example of such total agreement within our species) or is there some agenda shared by those who own and operate our media?

It would be fair to say that the mainstream media in this country (TV, radio and newspapers) are owned by a tiny minority. Socialists have always maintained that the media’s obsessions reflect those of the ruling class who own them. The fact that high house prices and high profits are considered good news when it is the majority who are exploited even more as a result gives you an idea of the values shared by the owners of the media. The main disagreements (at least within the newspapers) concern the different commercial interests within the owning class – the dreary and unending European Union debate being an obvious example.

Another element that is thought to contribute to the ‘news’ is topicality – the story should reflect a perspective on a contemporary value or popular obsession. For our general readers it is obviously important that our analysis should begin with a reflection on contemporary events. However part of that analysis for us is a proof of the illusion of novelty/topicality of events within the anachronistic culture of capitalism.

A friend of mine has recently given up his subscription to a newspaper on the grounds that it merely repeats the same old propaganda values whatever the story. This is the essence of ‘the news’ in today’s media. It seeks only to find different stories to ‘prove’ its own value system. The ‘credit crunch’ is either the result of greedy bankers or lack of government supervision of the financial services. It could never be a proof of the instability and irrational nature of capitalism itself.

There arises an inevitable contradiction within journalism between the observation of change and its reporting when restricted by the use of reactionary values and language. It is the nature of language to struggle to find new concepts and metaphors to describe the changing world we live in. When change is accelerated during a revolutionary period this tension can create linguistic confusion and creativity (Christopher Hill’s book The World Turned Upside Down illustrates this wonderfully using examples from the English Revolution).

It is important to emphasise that propaganda is not always consciously produced by a conspiracy of journalists and press barons. I remember Michael Parkinson saying that he never experienced owner/editorial interference during his journalistic career. This, of course, merely emphasises the care taken to employ only political ‘fellow travellers’ rather than proof of the non-propagandist nature of the media. Within the commercial media the usual worker and owner tension can destroy real journalism under the profit and propaganda imperatives of our authoritarian culture.

What is really corrosive to good journalism is to be completely unaware of the political bias that is inherent in any interpretation of events (the news). Of course this is to give the benefit of the doubt to journalists and not to accuse them of downright lies. My father once found himself, in his role as a union shop steward, in the centre of a local news story. After an interview he gave to a journalist he was outraged by what was subsequently printed. This was, in part, testament to his political naivety but it also emphasises that what is printed must fit within the propaganda value of ‘the story’ even if this necessitates downright lies.

What would qualify as news for a future socialist media? Of course when we are in a position to produce stories for the mass media the world will begin to be a very different place. Reporting will surely emphasise the relationship between the rising political awareness of the population and the activities this provokes. Presumably what remains of the present media will portray the changing political landscape as a disaster for the world and everyone in it. A socialist media will initially have to counter this increasingly hysterical propaganda. Then the production of a forum for debate will become ever more important as the need for information to make democratic decisions becomes vital.

As the need to counter reactionary propaganda recedes then the media will transform itself into a vehicle of information and entertainment. Because the need for ‘escapist’ entertainment will also recede I suspect a different, possibly more ‘mature’ kind of fiction will replace it. I hope to live to see a world where fictional characters deal with important political dilemmas rather than personal and romantic ones. And what of sports? I hear the reader say fearfully. Perhaps, at last, competition between those who wish to compete will be confined to the sports arena where they belong.  By this time your writer will be enjoying a cricket game in Jamaica in his role as your Caribbean sports reporter (editors permitting).
Wez.

The Ire of the Irate Itinerant (2009)

From the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard


Your vote means power . . . Don’t waste it on the profit system (1979)

From the May 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

1979 General Election Manifesto

What They Offer
For the past year a General Election has been expected and you, the voters, have been blasted from every direction by the crude sales tactics of the power-hungry political leaders. The Tories have directly conducted an estimated £l-£l¼ million campaign to sell their second-hand policies, while the Labour party have enlisted trade union leaders and union funds to convince you, the voters, to accept policies that would be intolerable coming from the Tories. Now that the election is here the political leaders grovel for your vote. THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN’S election address is different for three reasons.

1. The Socialist Party does not ask you to vote for a would-be leader but to consider the merits of a serious idea. While the other parties consider the voters too stupid to do their own thinking, we recognise and depend upon, your ability to understand our case. In fact, the Socialist Party of Great Britain asks you not to vote for us unless you are convinced by what we say.

2. The Socialist Party does not speak the same language as our political opponents. They talk about “the balance of payments problem”, “the nation”, ‘‘the good of the economy”, “law and order”. Theirs is a system in which able workers are thrown on to the scrap-heap when it periodically becomes unprofitable to employ them; in which houses stand empty while homeless families live in misery because they can't afford to pay for a home; in which food is destroyed while millions starve; in which Christian morality is preached while governments store up piles of arms to destroy the world in the quest for markets.

Socialists speak the language of class struggle; that there is a working class who produce the wealth of society in return for wages or salaries, and a capitalist class who reap the profits simply because they own and control the means of producing and distributing wealth. For Socialists the important issue in this election is—Who is to own the means of life; the wealth producers or a minority of rich parasites?

3. The Socialist Party does not offer you promises of “higher wages” or “ more welfare facilities” or “greater security”. The sad but indisputable fact is that as long as you go on supporting capitalism, its problems will be with you. A system which produces even the necessities of life for sale on the market at a profit causes poverty and insecurity for the majority alongside luxury and power for the few.

Many workers will agree that everything we’ve said so far is only too true. Yes, the other political parties ARE opportunists; yes, there IS class inequality; yes, the real problem IS capitalism. But what's the alternative?

What Socialism Is
The only alternative is Socialism. A society in which the whole community will own the means of production mid distribution of wealth. Class divisions will cease to exist, because instead of the separation between owners and producers of wealth, everyone will own and produce in common. Authoritarian leadership will give way to genuine democracy in which people will really have a say, because no longer will a minority possess power and privilege. Production for profit will be replaced by production for human needs, whereby goods will be freely available for people to take according to their needs. Work will be carried out on the basis of free co-operation instead of the coercion of the wages system. The division of nations will give way to the unity of one world. Inequality based upon possessions, status, race or sex will vanish as human beings create, for the first time ever, a sane society geared to the fulfilment of human needs. Critics of Socialism claim that given free access, people will act irresponsibly. This we dispute. It is perfectly possible for people to act sociably when a Socialist majority puts an end to the rat-race.

THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN is the only party in this election to stand unequivocally for Socialism—although there are others who pay lip service to the idea. Labour says that Nationalisation is Socialism, but state intervention is just another way of managing capitalism. The Communist Party says that Russia is Socialist, when it’s simply a state-capitalist dictatorship of one party. There arc even some trade union leaders who say that Socialism means “responsible wage restraint” when in fact it means the abolition of the wages system.

For the working class, the vast majority of the population, Socialism is the only alternative to the chaos of the profit system.

YOUR VOTE MEANS POWER . . . ARE YOU PREPARED TO GIVE IT ONCE AGAIN TO ONE OF THE PARTIES OF CAPITALISM . . . OR WILL YOU JOIN US IN TRANSFORMING THE SOCIALIST IDEA INTO REALITY?

An Irish rose which smells (1979)

From the May 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Thirty years ago Eire became The Republic of Ireland. What has happened to the promises made then?
Over a hundred years of direct British rule in Ireland ended in 1921 when, by agreement between representatives of Irish nationalism and the British Governmnt, on the one hand, and the representatives of that portion of Irish Unionism dominant in north-east Ulster and the British, two separate Irish ‘Home Rule’ governments were set up in Ireland.

The decade immediately preceding this British-enforced compromise had been fraught with political and religious violence which, though deliberately manipulated by the contenders for political power, had its roots in the uneven development of native capitalism.

The ‘settlement’ of Twenty One offered an excellent solution to the owning class in Northern Ireland. Their struggle was waged with the weapons of bluff and religious bigotry. Aside from the slogans, their real aims were their continued access to the British market and avoiding inclusion in an all-Ireland political entity controlled largely by the political representatives of their fledgling class brethren in the south, whose development required protection from the more highly developed competition of British capitalism.

Equally, the ruling class in the new Irish Free State could be jubilant. They had won sufficient political freedom to legislate for their own immediate needs: tariff walls, import quotas and such other devices as would allow for the undisturbed domestic nourishment of ‘competitive free enterprise’. But more, separation from the industrial capitalism of the North eliminated the possibility of opposition to protectionism and had the added bonus of ensuring a useful clerical control over the working class.

The only black spot on this otherwise cloudless horizon were the ‘politics’ that had been fashioned in the struggle. In the South, some of the republicans remained victims of their own propaganda; they continued to believe in their notions of ‘freedom’ and had to be disabused of such nonsense in a short, sharp civil war in which the new Irish Government demonstrated how much they had learnt of the art of military butchery from the departed Black-and-Tans.

In the North, too, the Protestant workers, who were being primed with blood-curdling bigotry in preparation for a possible war against the Catholic nationalists, put their teaching into effect with a murderous assault on their class brethren who were Catholics.

The ‘settlement’ of Twenty One, and the ensuing internecine struggles, set the political pattern for the future. In the Irish Free State the pro-Treaty party became Cumman na nGaedheal (now. Fine Gael) and formed the government. Later, in 1926. the anti-Treaty party became Fianna Fail and established itself as the main opposition party. What passes for stability in capitalism was finally established in the Irish Free State and the way prepared for the illusionary ‘free choice’ offered by capitalist ‘democracy’.

Northern Ireland, on the other hand, had been deliberately fashioned demographically and geographically in such a way as would ensure the permanence of Unionist rule. There, even the illusion of change was to be denied ; there was to be no ‘swing of the pendulum’ to lull the working class into the belief that things, even if they didn’t actually improve, were improvable.

It is amusing, when members of Fine Gael or Fianna Fail condemn their modern counterparts of the IRA as ‘mindless gunmen' and gangsters, to reflect on their own beginnings. The State that the new government took over in 1922 had been established with the bomb and the bullet; by deeds, if we allow for the heinous development of arms manufacture and military strategy, every bit as violent as those we witness today in Northern Ireland. For example, in the first three months of 1921 the ‘old’ (and, now respectable) IRA shot 74 ‘informers’ after trial by what Irish Ministers now refer to as ‘kangaroo’ courts. During the last six months of the Civil War, the new Irish government executed almost twice as many republican ‘irregulars’ as had the British in the previous six years.

The new Government of Cumman na nGaedheal commenced its presidency over general poverty and mass unemployment (which latter, it claimed, was no concern of the State) and ensured that its full support was given to strike-breaking activities. For example, no sooner had the hated British been driven out of the country than the new Irish government was appealing to the British Postmaster General to lend blacklegs to break the Irish postal workers’ strike and when, in the following year, the farm workers struck against the ranchers, the Government obligingly arrested and interned their union leaders.

In 1926 de Valera, who had been the political leader of the ‘Irregulars’ in the Civil War, forsook the bullet and the bomb and entered the Dail. By 1932 his party, Fianna Fail, had won a majority and formed a government. Fianna Fail were to hold office for sixteen years during which it distinguished itself by introducing anti-trade union legislation such as the Wages (Standstill) Order, the Trade Union Bill and the Industrial Relations Bill—all peripherally associated with the social doctrine of Corporatism, the economic infrastructure of fascism and the social gospel of the Roman Catholic Church.

It all worked well--for the class Fianna Fail represented ; known in Ireland as ‘gombeen men’ who had, as yet, to learn the carrot con trick practiced by their more sophisticated brethren in most other European countries. In the eight years between 1940 and 1948 the taxable profits of this upstanding breed of Catholic businessmen rose by some 200 per cent. In the same period, by skilful use of the legislative weapons placed at their disposal by Fianna Fail, they were able to reduce real wages below the level obtaining a decade earlier.: So successful, indeed, were the capitalists and their pensioned government in reducing wages that even the capitalist-orientated International Labour Office drew protesting attention to the fact. Almost 8 per cent of the population escaped in the emigrant ships during this period of Fianna Fail rule; still, deep in their Celtic twilight, the political hacks of capitalism carried on governing for the rich and privileged and the priests prayed their thankfulness for the virginal state of Irish capitalism and the ‘innocence’ of its wage slaves.

Fianna Fail introduced a new Constitution enshrining the power and the privilege of the priests and the gombeen men and, by implication, constitutionalising the misery and poverty of the great majority. In the meanwhile, the political scum who had ruled before De Valera took over, underwent many vicissitudes. After their electoral defeat in 1932, these ‘democrats’ flirted with the Blueshirts, an openly fascist organisation started by their ex-police chief and they changed their alias to Fine Gael. Time, and political manoeuvering, laundered the reputation of Fine Gael somewhat and, in 1948, Fianna Fail were kicked out by the electorate. A coalition, headed by Fine Gael, formed a Government. A new Republican Party, led by an ex-IRA leader of the Thirties, Se├ín MacBride, and the particularly gutless Irish Labour Party, were Fine Gael’s partners in crime.

It was to be a real change this time! A change guaranteed by the presence of ‘socialists’ and ‘republican-socialists’ actually in government. A change spelt out in the glossy posters of rivers and forests that were going to belong to ‘the people’. It was a time for singing and the people sang: ‘How Can You Buy Killarney?’ Oh, the promises! the hope! the frenetic dedication to the struggle for real change! And, to be fair, there was change: the Government dropped the official title ‘Eire’ and became the Republic of Ireland.

For the Irish workers there was still grinding poverty in all its forms; unemployment, low wages, slums. Only drunken patriotism had a respite in the partial realisation of a dream—and an American businessman did buy part of Killarney—with dollars! But still . . . wasn’t there an enfant terrible in the Government? A real ‘left winger’—and no less a person than the Minister of Health! Sure enough, the Minister introduced a Bill in the Dail to allow ‘free’ medical care for expectant mothers and children up to the age of five years. The Bill would have brought the new republic a small part of the way along which most other European countries had already travelled.

The Catholic bishops, however, would have none of it. It was rank ‘socialism’! The virtue of Christian charity would be endangered and god would be displeased! They ordered the government—the government of the Republic of Ireland—to abandon the Bill. The Government apologised to their lordships and dropped the Bill.

Since 1948, of course, there have been changes. The most significant of these have been brought about by a later, Fianna Fail, Government decision, in the early Sixties, to abandon the economic doctrine of protectionism—which was the lynch pin of Sinn Fein policy before and after the Easter Rising of 1916. It was a final and callous acknowledgement of ‘The Cause’ for which politically ignorant members of the working class had earlier died or suffered imprisonment or maiming.

The history of The Republic of Ireland, which was Eire, which was The Irish Free State, should be studied by those latter-day Republicans who think that their policy of ‘Eire Nua’ offers ’the people’ a real change. Is ‘Eire Nua’ any more ‘revolutionary’ than the ‘Proclamation of 1916 offering all the wealth of Ireland to ‘the people’ of Ireland? We all know what the outcome of that was.
Richard Montague (Belfast) 
World Socialist Party of Ireland