Web Site http://theploughblog.blogspot.com/
Vol 5-No 13
Tuesday 11th November 2008
E-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party
2) Belfast Agreement Revisited-Ten Years On
3) Capitalism, The Curse of the Working Class
4) From the media
6) What’s On
Sunday November 2nd saw a march past by a British Army regiment through the centre of Belfast supported by cheering crowds of unionists and loyalists. The overwhelming impression created was of triumphalism. Union jacks waved, the unionist city councillors took the salute and the army band played its music. Truly this march marked the defeat of republican armed struggle, the consolidation of British rule in a part of Ireland and a slap in the face to those nationalists and republicans who backed the Good Friday Agreement.
The huge turnout could be partially explained by the decision of provisional Sinn Fein to organise a protest march in opposition to the parade. Many unionists and indeed many nationalists could not understand their decision. After all they, provisional Sinn Fein, supported the British police force, the PSNI, accepted MI5 having control of political policing, sit on policing boards and local partnerships with the police and in the words of one of the leading figures, Francie Molloy
“Republicans are prepared to work an executive. We are really prepared administer British rule in Ireland for the foreseeable future. The very principle of partition is accepted, and if the Unionists had that in the 1920’s they would have been laughing” (Sunday Times [Irish Edition] March 28 1999)
In truth provisional Sinn Fein only called their rally when other republicans announced that they would protest. Fearing too be outflanked on their ‘republican’ side PSF forgot about reaching out to Unionists and went for confrontational politics. This resulted in a huge rise in sectarian tensions in Belfast.
There were three other protests held. The smallest was that held by the Workers Solidarity Movement (Anarchists) who hoped for a cross community protest against the militarist celebrations.
“We ask anyone who opposes sectarianism, nationalism (either British or Irish) and imperialism, to join us in opposition to the parade this Sunday 2nd November at 11am sharp”
At least, unlike the anti war movement controlled by the Socialist Workers party the WSM were prepared to organise on the day. Unforunately for them they lost the run of themselves before the demonstrations by attacking those others who were also preparing to demonstrate against the RIR parade in Belfast.
“WSM have nothing in common with rival republican organisations seeking to ‘outgun’ each other over the reactionary mantle of nationalism”.
There is a clear distinction between the nationalism of an oppressed nation and the nationalism of an Imperialist nation. Do the WSM really believe there is no difference between the nationalism of the BNF and republicans in Ireland? To even pose that question brings out the lack of theoretical understanding the WSM spokesperson has of Irish Republicanism. The IRSP sees itself as an internationalist organisation based firmly not only on the internationalism of James Connolly but also the universal principles of the United Irishmen based on the revolutionary ideals of the French Revolution. We are not nationalists but we very firmly support the struggle for national liberation from imperialism. That struggle is essentially progressive despite errors and mistakes in its pursuit. The nationalism associated with British imperialism is reactionary. The WSM may say a plague on all your houses but the essence of this position is to end up in the camp of the reactionaries.
The protest organised by éirígí
The IRSP leadership met coming up to the parade to discuss our options. One strongly favoured was to organise a separate protest the day before the RIR march thus avoiding any sectarian clashes. However in the end as part of our commitment to the Republican Forum we decided to support the picket organised by the Network for Republican Unity in the Markets area where about 150+activist gathered for a peaceful picket.
Belfast Agreement Revisited-Ten Years On.
The IRSP position is very clear. In 1998 the I. R. S. P. opposed that Agreement mainly on the basis that it institutionalised sectarianism in the political institutions of the North.
“After thirty years of conflict, civil rights agitation and death destruction and mayhem the end result is that we have now got a more sophisticated head counting exercise. There is now no incentive for people to move away from entrenched sectarian positions”(Political Secretary’s Report to Ard-Feis 1998)
We also pointed out that the issue of sovereignty was so ringed around with pre-conditions and confusions that unionists and nationalists could interpret the issue of sovereignty in the agreement to suit their own political stance. We pointed out clearly that
"Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom"
(Article one of Annnex A of the agreement)
We queried whether the so- called equality agenda would in fact be implemented.
10 years there is still no Bill of Rights, no Irish Language Act and the DUP resisting anything that smacks of a nationalist agenda.
We also pointed out that
“The cross border bodies are not moves towards unity. They are simply pragmatic responses towards the need for capitalist economic efficiency within the context of the European Union. Does any one here think that improved co-operation on issues such as
’animal and plant health.. teachers qualifications and exchanges, waste management social security fraud control, aqua culture accident and emergency services’ (GFA)
was what the last thirty years was all about.?” (ibid)
We also did not believe that the RUC would be abolished or essentially reformed. The RUC became the PSNI and many young catholics are now joining the PSNI with the strong encouragement of provisional Sinn Fein.
At that time we tried to tell the strong republican base that existed in
1998, that in essence the GFA was a defeat for republicanism and that rather than try to work the new institutions by jointly running the north with unionists, (in effect administering British rule,) republicans should form a legitimate opposition within the new assembly and oppose from both a republican and socialist positions the right wing policies being implemented under British direction whilst upholding the republican base positions.
Unfortunately few were prepared to listen to us. They were prepared to put their trust in the ‘republican leadership’. In the intervening 10 years many who once scorned our arguments have since come to realise that they were fooled by that same republican leadership and that our initial position was correct. There have been at least two splits from Provisional Sinn Fein since then and a fracturing of republicanism.
From a Republican perspective the republican position has suffered a serious defeat.
Ø MI5 now have a strong physical presence in North Down,
Ø British regiments are still stationed in the North of Ireland at the level they were in 1968,
Ø British troops can march through the streets of Belfast
Ø a regime still operates from Stormont administrating British rule
Ø and the British Treasury dictates the economic policies that regime implements
Supporters of the Good Friday point out the gains they claim made since the GFA. They point out that it covers a wide range of areas from
“constitutional issues, political matters, institutional arrangements, human rights, equality, policing, justice, language and culture issues.” (Gerry Adams Irish Times April 2nd 2008)
and that progress has been made on these fronts.
Yes. There have been changes. Now we have a vibrant catholic/ nationalist middle class now on an equal basis with protestant/unionist middle classes. In Adam’s own words there is now a “level playing field” (ibid)
The mantra of “equality” is rarely away from the lips of Provisional Sinn Fein leaders. But what kind of equality? Is it equality for the middle classes? Is it the equality of poverty? Is it economic equality?
In the early days of the Civil Rights movement those of us on the left pointed out that one of the consequences of calling for equal rights on issues such as housing and jobs, under the current economic system would be to create less job and housing opportunities for protestants thus further feeding sectarianism within those thus disadvantaged.
Equality under capitalism meant taking from one group and giving to the other. That simply facilitated the old Imperialist tactic of divide and rule.
The Unionist Aristocracy and bourgeoisise in collaboration with sections of the British ruling class argued forcefully against Home Rule at the turn of the 20th century on the grounds of religion, the economy, the interests of the British Empire, strategic military grounds and racism.
They created an all class alliance that linked the protestant proletariat to their industrial masters. Despite the fact that the unionist bourgeoisie was extracting as much surplus value from the protestant proletariat as they could possibly exploit, the protestant masses identified with their exploiters and with the reactionary British Empire fearing a loss of, in many cases, imaginary privileges they had, compared to the catholic masses.
When the first Northern Government was set up in 1921 the first Cabinet looked
“ -like an executive committee of Northern industry and commerce”
(page 68” Northern Ireland ; the Orange State” Michael Farrell Pluto Press 1990)
Protestant workers who either opposed partition or preached socialism were described as “rotten prods” and driven out of their workplaces.
Thus was created an enormous block to Irish independence, a block it must be said, greatly underestimated and misunderstood by republicanism
As the 20th century progressed many Protestant workers formerly ‘privileged’ by easy access to jobs in heavy industry, found their sector in decline. Resentment, hatred, bitterness based on years of indoctrination about the privileges of being British made many easy prey to bigotry and sectarianism. It took courage to stand up to sectarian hatred and there were many trade unionists workers and socialists who did so.
James Connolly, Ireland’s outstanding Marxist writer in the early part of the 20th century had argued strongly against partition on the grounds that it would create a reactionary bulwark against socialism. And so it has proved.
The Good Friday Agreement, far from being but a stage on the road to a united Ireland that its supporters argue, has in fact re-enforced the sectarian nature of the 6-county state by pushing its inhabitants into being either “unionist” “nationalist” or “other” for the purposes of forming an administration.
Adams has argued that
“The British policy in Ireland has changed dramatically… British policy was about repressing republicanism; British policy in the last decade, or so, has been about trying to find some accommodation with republicanism.” (1)
The price to be paid for the inclusion of republicans in talks was the exclusion of republicanism. This means dialogue with Republican leaders and organisations but on the basis of an agenda that excludes the political objectives of Republicanism.
Central to the political objectives of Republicanism was
Ø that there would be no internal settlement,
Ø that the Irish people have a right to self-determination
Ø and it's not dependent on the agreement of a majority in the north.
The whole peace process may have included Republicans, but from the 1993 Downing Street Declaration to the final 1998 Belfast Agreement, was always based on the British state’s political alternative to Republicanism since 1972:
Ø an internal solution (a power sharing assembly in the North which includes Nationalists)
Ø with the externality of an Irish dimension (cross border bodies) grafted on it.
The longstanding Republican demands were never serious runners for all party talks, and none of them appeared in the final Belfast Agreement.
Instead we now have political parties based on communal interests. It is in the political interests of the mainstream political parties to maximise their votes within the protestant or catholic sections of the population. So it is in the direct interests of PSF, SDLP, DUP, and UUP to maximise the turn out from their “side of the house”. Now as the administration is a coalition there is absolutely no chance of radical measures, never mind socialist measures, being introduced. After all the budget is allocated from Westminster and must be allocated in accordance with the wishes of the Westminster Government which means implementing neo -liberal economic policies.
So when Gerry Adams of Provisional Sinn Fein argues that,
“The fierce opposition from within unionism and the British system to the Belfast Agreement has stemmed from the recognition that the agreement is a powerful instrument for change.” (Gerry Adams Irish Times April 2nd 2008)
he is being less than honest. The Agreement is an instrument of British policy. It has stabilised the Northern state. And did not the most formidable opponent of change and of opposition to nationalism and Catholicism, Ian Paisley point out that Adams had revised every republican position he ever had and that PSF were now administrating British rule?
‘I did smash them [the Provos] because I took away their main plank. Their main plank was that they would not recognise the British government [in Ireland].
“ ‘Now they are in part of the British government. They can’t be true Republicans when they now accept the right of Britain to govern this country and take part in that government.’
(Interviewed on BBC radio One “Andrew Marr Show” on March 9 2008)
When Paisley agreed to share limited power with Provisional Sinn Fein he knew that the Union was safe.
The 1998 Belfast agreement amounts to the following:
1) The British state has repeated its 1973 Sunningdale declaration of intent to remain in the North until a majority in it asks it to do otherwise;
2) The British state has made it clear that the unionist veto shall remain in place and has strengthened the partitionist ethos underlying that veto by having it enshrined it in the revised Southern constitution;
3) The British state has ruled out any transition to a united Ireland by refusing to state that by a certain date - no matter how far in the distant future - it will no longer have a presence in Ireland.
4) The fact remains that the unionists will determine when the north will join a united Ireland.
This represents the best deal unionists could possibly have won. In the words of Anthony Blair, the British Prime Minister:
'This offers unionists every key demand they have made since partition eighty years ago...
The principle of consent, no change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of the people, is enshrined.
The Irish constitution has been changed.
.A devolved assembly and government for Northern Ireland is now there for the taking.
When I first came to Northern Ireland as a Prime Minister, these demands were pressed in me as what unionists really needed.
I have delivered them all.'
( Blair’s Dawn Call kept the heat on Trimble, Sunday Times, 4 July 1999)
The IRSP has advanced the argument that in the current climate there is no basis for republicans engaging in armed struggle. There is little or no popular support, organisations may well be infiltrated with people hostile to the national struggle and the prospects of any successful conclusion to an armed campaign practically nil.
Republicans need to take a different direction and we have argued consistently that that direction is the class struggle. Needless to say the mere mention of class struggle has the politically sectarian jumping up and down frantically shouting ‘economists, “reformists” “anti republicans” and whatever suitable insult they can think up without having to make up a suitable sensible argument. Worst of all, in their eyes, are those who put forward clear arguments based on a socialist understanding of modern Irish society. They are accused of being trendy middle class intellectuals living in theoretical ivory towers.
Such anti-intellectualism has no place in any revolutionary movement.
It is almost impossible to think of one revolutionary leader from the 20th century who was not also simultaneously a writer and thinker; Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, James Connolly, Padraigh Pearse, Liam Mellows, Mao tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara.
Also in the IRSP itself many of our own leaders including Seamus Costello, Ronnie Bunting, Johnny White, Miriam Daly, Ta Power and Gino Gallagher were critical thinkers, writers and doers, basing themselves on the class struggle.
The IRSP has argued from its inception that without national liberation there can be no socialism and without socialism there can be no national liberation. So in deepening and developing the class struggle we are in actual fact deepening and developing the struggle for national liberation.
Republicans need to remember some wonderful phrases of Wolfe Tone, a founder of Irish Republicanism,
“To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country--these were my objects.
To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissentions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter--these were my means."
"To unite Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter under the common name of Irishmen in order break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils, that was my aim".
"If the men of property will not support us, they must fall. Our strength shall come from that great and respectable class, the men of no property".
We republican socialists need to remember that it is not “our community” we owe allegiance to but to our class.
The Northern economy is heavily dependant on the public sector, services and retailing. Large numbers of people are economically inactive in the North with nearly 40% of the working age population. The education system is socially divisive class based and not fit for purpose. Every year over 1000 pupils leave school without basic qualifications and over 12000 without GCSE passes in Maths and English.
Gas bills are going up. Electricity bills are going up. Water charges are being introduced. Public sector jobs are being axed and replaced by the private sector. Working class families can now not afford mortgages and the state refuses to increase substantially the supply of social housing to meet current needs. There is a slump in the building trade and energy prices are rising dramatically.
In the South of Ireland the economy is now in recession and unemployment is expected to rise to 5.5%or 6% this year. House prices are falling rapidly and as in the North some working class families now find themselves with negative equity. Many now face the prospect of either selling their homes or having them dispossessed and moving into rented accommodation to be at the mercy of landlords. The recent budget was a vicious attack on the living standards of the working class but let the wealthy off almost scot free.
Capitalism worldwide has suffered its greatest shock since the great depression in the1930’s. That Depression aided the rise to power of fascism with the subsequent world war. What happens in the world economy directly affects workers in both parts of Ireland. Neither of the two administrations can protect the working class from the effects of a recession even if they were so inclined. Administrations that include the right wing PD party in the South and the right wing DUP in the North will have as their first priority defence of capitalism and their cronies in the business world. For all Sinn Fein’s professed “radicalism” they are the party that introduced Public Private Initiatives that essentially is privatising the educational system.
For capitalism, that has been one of the outstanding successes of the Belfast /Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein is now working the capitalist system with a gusto and enthusiasm that would turn the stomachs of those who once believed in their left wing posturing.
We say to those republicans shed away your illusions and work towards republican aspirations by joining with growing sections of the working class in taking up explicit anti-capitalist stances. There is now an opportunity to rally working class forces in a fight back against the cuts now being imposed. Are republicans prepared to join in that fight? And be under no illusion when fighting for the working class in these day to day struggles we are also pushing forward the anti-imperialist struggle.
CAPITALISM, THE CURSE OF THE WORKING CLASSES: IF THEY COULD ONLY SEE IT
“Capitalism is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous and it does not deliver the goods” (John Maynard Keynes, economist whose theories included a mixed economy which influenced the post war labour government under Clement Atlee in the UK, far from a revolutionary or Marxist).
There is a nasty rumour flying around telling people that the global capitalist economic system is in some kind of crisis. Some irresponsible people, masquerading as politicians and others as economic experts are trying to claim that the wonderful capitalist system is in its worst state for ‘one hundred years’. These so called people of wisdom must have completely overlooked the events of Wall Street, 1929-30, and what led to the “Great Depression” of the 1930s because according to my maths and political history the 1930s are less than a hundred years ago and the events of Wall Street make what is happening now look little more than a blip.
There are however some people out there, not economists or would be politicians, but ordinary every day people who can see a bright side to this terrible abyss which we are supposed to believe is second only to the bubonic plague. These are the people who for the first time in their lives can actually afford goods and services without accumulating massive debts. One young woman reportedly said ‘I hope this goes on for ever’ for the first time I can afford a house ‘if this is recession bring it on’. Of course this woman will be in a minority because things are not so bad, or good, that everybody can afford a house unless thy have won the pools or the lotto even at reduced prices and those who may be able to are in constant fear of redundancy.
The economic situation we are in merely means that the profits of the capitalist class, bourgeoisie, are down on previous years, it does not mean they are making no profit at all. Of course this is more than that greedy class of parasites can bear so, as a consequence, and to offset their profit reduction they lay off the workforce thus making sure it is the working class who take the brunt of capitalist irresponsibility and instability. This in turn leads to many people being unable to meet their mortgage demands consequently leading to house repossessions by the mortgage companies, meaning in the case of many no job no home. Equally because house prices are falling, which is not too good if you are trying to sell a property, many mortgage companies are reluctant to give mortgages in case the applicants manage to pay the mortgage off before their dying day thus denying the lenders huge profits in interest.
For years now some working class people living in denial have been masquerading as bourgeois. Now it is about time some of these upstarts who for some time have been walking around with their noses in the air claiming to be property owners realised that they are not, no more than a corporation tenant is, because the mortgage company own the house and let the occupier miss one weeks repayment, which is happening, and they will see who the real property owners are! The fact is, in these times the corporation tenant is far safer, as far as security of tenure goes, than the would- be property owner. Corporations tend not to evict without good reason and certainly not for missing one week’s rent.
One of the most grotesque spectres about this whole messy affair is the way the bourgeoisie manage to convince people that lower, affordable, housing and other goods and services is a bad thing and, the irony is that the very people who benefit from lower prices are easily convinced it is a bad thing. The reality is that for some people who, through no fault of their own, have lost employment and home of course this ‘credit crunch’ is a bad thing. For those who the mortgage companies will not give a mortgage to because they cannot debt laden them for eternity it is actually a good thing, though they are among the ones who are convinced it is a bad thing. However for those who can afford to buy a property at a much reduced price, probably out of their nest egg, or at least put a good deposit down without a mortgage and pay the rest of the installments out of their wages, as long as they have wages, the present situation may be seen as a good thing.
Having briefly, very briefly, looked at this comedy of errors called capitalism which we are constantly told is the finest way of managing our affairs (god we must be dead from the neck up) and that the capitalist system is the only way forward (I beg to differ), which for the capitalist class who seldom, as a class loose, it probably is. As far as the working class is concerned, if they could only see it, this imbecile system is probably the worst possible way of their affairs being managed. What is needed is not a bit of tampering with an already corroded economic system but the entire dismantling of the capitalist mode of existence, production, to be replaced with a new competent dependable system called socialism based on the common ownership of the means of production control and exchange, a planned economy and one state run nationalized bank, one employer, the socialist state with the working class in control of the means of production, full democracy both at the point of production and elsewhere e.g. within the communities, and an end to the profit, profit, profit mentality which has gripped society since the industrial revolution and before.
Those who once argued and agreed with head cases like the then US President Ronald Reagan that the former Soviet Union was “evil” should take a look in the mirror and a quick glance around themselves and ask what is so godly about capitalism. Despite the many grotesque distortions in the former USSR who ever heard of the State Bank of Moscow going bust? A Socialist political and economic system would guarantee housing for all, yes Corporation housing with some modifications. An example of these modifications on what we know as corporation housing presently could be perhaps the right, if a tenant wished, to build small extensions or patios provided these improvements to the property do not completely decimate the local environment. People would have security of tenure and be able to sleep comfortably at night without the worry of the bailiffs turning up to evict them the following morning. This kind of political and economic system would not suit the bourgeoisie but then again it is not supposed to. The fact is for the majority of people, the working class, capitalism is unstable, offers no long term security and as far as deliverance of goods and services are concerned, well only if it is profitable.
The moral to this story is that society does not have to be constructed in this unsafe, unreliable semi-imbecile way. There is a better competent method of conducting our affairs, which is not dependent on a small minority making huge, mega, profits on the backs of the majority. That system is socialism.
Irish Republican Socialist Party, Dublin
In response to “Forty Years On . Civil Rights in the plough Vol 5 -12 (http://theploughblog.blogspot.com/2008_10_01_archive.html)
Excellent article. Interesting points raised about SP and SWP too. Left sectarianism is clearly alive and well. Those two organisations have no foundations within the class they claim to represent and yet remain resolute in their arrogance toward republicans!
The IRSP stance on the subject of housing is totally correct and admirable. It is great to see socialist republicans tackle issues affecting all sections of the working class from a principled political position and without discrimination. I believe reps of protestant workers were approached about the march}. Long may it continue.
The fact remains that while an imperialist force remains in this country sectarianism will continue to exist, it is only when a socialist republic is established that we will see sectarianism finally ended and our class can go about organising a nation free from such social ills. It is important to recognise the source of sectarianism in Ireland and of course avoid drifting into reformism. We must tackle immediate issues like this that effect the working class while fully standing behind and promoting with pride our revolutionary politics and never distancing ourselves from our goal to make allowances for anyone.