From International Socialism (1st series), No.92, October 1976, pp.22-23.
EIGHT years after the civil rights march in Derry which spurred the growth of a massive and militant movement against Unionism and later the British imperialist presence in Northern Ireland, the ‘Irish problem’ remains a festering sore in the sick body of British capitalism. Neither the emergence of the peace movement nor the Southern government’s introduction of an ‘emergency’ and far-reaching ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation are likely to produce anything like a remedy.
British Labour and Tory governments have been unable, and unwilling, to impose the kind of political arrangement in the North to which they have been committed for some time: a reformed Northern Ireland administration which would accommodate the aspirations of the Catholic middle class to be involved in the handling of power. They have conceded to far right loyalist obstruction and have been harassed by the massively disruptive military campaign of the Provisional republicans. Yet neither hard-line loyalism nor militant republicianism have the forces to push the balance decisively in their own favour.
A conflict confined to the Six Counties of Northern Ireland and with only an occasional spill-over into Britain and the 26 Counties of the South could never break through that deadlock in a radical direction. It is precisely in order to confine the republican struggle to those borders that the British and Irish governments have armed themselves with new and more repressive weapons. The circumstances which would give events in the North an entirely new turn are likely to be generated outside the North – and outside the political limits of a struggle aimed exclusively at uniting Ireland by driving the British troops out of the North.
Workers in the 26 Counties and in Britain have a determining role in unravelling the complicated knot which is Northern Ireland politics and which overshadows much else of what happens in Ireland. A withdrawal of troops forced by the pressure of the working class movement in Britain, as well as by opposition in the Six Counties, would take from loyalism its most significant prop. The level of the struggles of British workers against unemployment, wage restraint and the ‘strong state’ affects that of Northern Ireland workers. Where the links of solidarity are formed, those struggles can help undermine the ties of Protestant workers to loyalism and loyalist organisations.
The workers of the South can in their economic struggle and in their defence of democratic rights against the state and against the church demonstrate to Northern Catholic workers an alternative to republicianism and nationalism. They can, too, begin to show Northern Protestant workers that those who are most consistently opposed to imperialism are also those most thoroughly opposed to all facets of capitalism, to sectarianism and to clerical domination of any kind. There are also possibilities for co-operation and contact in trade union and industrial spheres, more limited than for British workers. It is in part for these reasons that the Socialist Workers’ Movement, whose perspectives the following articles represent, places the main emphasis of its efforts to build a politically independent working class movement and within that a revolutionary party on the generalisation of struggles against unemployment, wage restrictions and state interference in the trade unions. The SWM has, in distinction from most tendencies on the fragmented Irish Left, considered that the national question was one to be solved by a working class fighting for socialism – not one that could be solved at an earlier stage by different class forces.
SWM has differed from the optimists of the Irish Left who, in one case, have believed that the struggle of the nationalist population in the North could, and would, provide the impetus for an all-Ireland movement for socialism. They have differed, too, from the pessimists – sometimes the same people, at a different period – who for two years after the Ulster Workers’ Council strike of May 1974 foresaw a re-imposition of loyalist power in the North through a bloody take-over and following it, the spread of brutal reaction throughout Ireland. SWM never held the view that the present conflict could lead to a ‘progressive’ or ‘reactionary’ civil war.
For this, and for its continuing strategic priority to work in the working class movement of the 26 Counties, SWM has been given the tag of ‘workerist’ and ‘economist’. The apparent relegation of the ‘national question’ to a lower priority has surprised even comrades in other countries who share many of the organisation’s general views and methods. But the analysis of the Northern conflict has been borne out in practice. And events have tended to confirm as correct the perspective for building a future revolutionary organisation around socialist workers tested and experienced in the specifically working class struggles.
SWM was founded five years ago, in October 1971, and today has centres in Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Galway and Belfast as well more scattered support elsewhere. It has always been a majority working class organisation and its monthly paper and other publications have been largely addressed to class-conscious workers mainly active in the industrial and trade union fields. Intervention in the anti-imperialist movement or in campaigns against repression has been geared to convincing workers that these are also their active concerns and to bringing working class organisations and methods to bear on those struggles.
Of the revolutionary groups, SWM has the most effective implantation in the working class movement and the most developed public presence. It has been the only one of the revolutionary groups – or, indeed, of the left groups – to make a determined effort at organising solidarity for the Portuguese workers (through a series of public meetings addressed by a comrade of the PRP), at developing public debate with the supporters of republicanism (through a series of meetings addressed by Eamonn McCann), at showing support for the isolated bank strikers (through a meeting addressed by a striker). SWM has been active in organising resistance to the ‘emergency’ legislation in the South (through a meeting addressed by two delegates to Dublin Trades Council and through support for joint activities in Limerick). It gives active support to the Murray Defence Committee (for two people facing execution).
This level of activity in recent months contrasts with the general disorientation of the Irish Left. Its further development, and the development of the strategy partly laid out in the following articles, can depend to a significant extend on the support of comrades elsewhere, as well as on the growth of the organisation in Ireland. For further information and details of publications, as well as for subscriptions to The Worker, the paper of SWM, readers are referred to: SWM, First Floor, 24 Talbot Street, Dublin 1.
Last updated on 20.1.2008