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Socialist Review, December 1993

John McAnulty


No unity in the Union?

From Socialist Review, No. 170, December 1993.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Kieran Allen writes (October SR) about the mistakes made by People’s Democracy. Yes – we made plenty. We are willing to admit that and to discuss the lessons which can be learnt from our history. In fact we believe that a critical assessment from a socialist perspective would mark a big step forward for the development of the Marxist programme for Ireland.

On the evidence, we won’t be looking to Kieran Allen to provide this. His article is the opposite of political analysis – a completely unserious ferrago based on the conflation of 25 years of political development into the airy dismissal of ‘mindless militancy’. He then damns us with faint praise in order to ‘prove’ his pet nostrum – that economic militancy will unite Catholic and Protestant worker.

In fact any serious examination of our early history points the other way. The early People’s Democracy, despite a great deal of political naivety, worked hard and consistently to build unity of Protestant and Catholic workers. Not only did we stand candidates in all areas, sell papers and run a whole series of campaigns, but we did in fact physically unite Catholic and Protestant in our own organisation.

What went wrong? The answer has little to do with mindless militancy and a great deal to do with Loyalist violence, British repression, state pogroms and the physical intimidation of members who lived in Loyalist areas. Our experience, like many other elements in the history of the working class in the north, shows the impossibility of workers’ unity within the confines of the sectarian state.

Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Kieran Allen says that as material conditions worsen for Protestant workers they will radicalise and can go to the right or left. That is not true. Radicalisation is taking place in the context of a sectarian state and the implantation in the class of Loyalist reaction that grows daily more vicious. This can be challenged, not by recruiting activities of a far left organisation, but by building a stronger left current within the Irish working class as a whole.


John McAnulty

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