Feb 19 2019

BREXIT AND WHAT IT MEANS IN IRELAND

The E&L blog  has been reporting the situation in Ireland since we started up. However, during  current Brexit negotiations , the  ‘backstop’ has pushed the issue of Northern Ireland to the fore. We are publishing two articles which share a lot in common in their analysis of Ireland, but which offer differing perspectives on the role of the EU. The first is written by David Jamieson and first appeared on the Commonspace blog. The second is written by Allan Armstrong and forms the seventh chapter of his new pamphlet From Blatcherism to Maybynism.

 

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  1. ANALYSIS – MICRO-POLITICS ISN’T ENOUGH – WE MUST ADDRESS

THE  PARTITION OF IRELAND

 

Debates around the UK border in Ireland and the so called ‘backstop’ bring the crisis elements of the British state into sharper focus. Continue reading “BREXIT AND WHAT IT MEANS IN IRELAND”

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May 01 2014

‘Emancipation & Liberation’ RIC Special Bulletin, May 2014

The RCN produced its second  RIC Special Bulletin in May. It includes the articles the following articles:

1. What happens after September 18th

2. Support the struggle for real self-determination in a Scottish democratic, secular and social republic

3. Winning internationalist allies in Ireland

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Edinburgh RIC branch proposals to RIC National Forum in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote on September 18th are appended after the RCN bulletin.

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1. WHAT HAPPENS AFTER SEPTEMBER 18th?

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The Radical Independence Campaign has been growing from strength to strength. Beyond the official national SNP front ‘Yes’ organisation there are many independent campaigns. People are developing a real thirst for political engagement. This will not be sated by putting an ‘X’ on a referendum ballot on September 18th. People are looking for a new Scotland in a better world.

Continue reading “‘Emancipation & Liberation’ RIC Special Bulletin, May 2014”

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Mar 30 2013

David Douglass reviews – Adrian Kerr, ‘Free Derry: protest and resistance’.

Adrian Kerr, Free Derry – protest and resistance, Guildhall Press, 2013, pp. 224, £11.95

 

th-2From the declaration of ‘Free Derry’ on August 9 1971, when the solidly working class and republican community seized control of their own area of the city of Londonderry, to the time of the Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire in 1994, the price paid and the degree of resistance mounted within it was hugely inordinate, by comparison with occupied Ulster as a whole.

One hundred and twenty-two people lost their lives in and around the Free Derry area, including 73 civilians and republican volunteers, and 49 members of the security forces or civilians working for them. Over 3% of the total deaths for the whole of the conflict occurred in an area containing less than 1% of the population of the north of Ireland. The largest number of killings were committed by the ‘security forces’ – 46 died at the hands of either the British army or the Royal Ulster Constabulary, 33 of whom were civilian non-combatants.

Continue reading “David Douglass reviews – Adrian Kerr, ‘Free Derry: protest and resistance’.”

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Nov 15 2012

GENUINE SELF-DETERMINATION MEANS ACTING AS REPUBLICANS NOW

Allan Armstrong will be introducing the workshop on Republicanism at the Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow on November 24th, along with Neil Davidson of the SWP, Graham McIver of Solidarity, and a speaker from Republic Scotland. He has been asked by the conference organisers to prepare an outline of his talk, so that those attending are better prepared for the workshop discussions. Here is Allan’s contribution. The full list of workshops and other conference arrangements can be found at:- http://radicalindependence.org/

The Left’s usual approach to the monarchy

Most people understand a republic to be a state without a monarch. When socialists are asked why they oppose the British monarchy, they usually concentrate their criticism on the antiquated class structure this upholds; and the high cost of maintaining such a parasitic institution, especially now the rest of us face austerity.

However, the UK is a constitutional monarchy [1]. This means the queen exerts little power in her own rightThe fragility of royal political influence was shown over the Windsors’ inept handling of the ‘Princess Di Affair’ in 1997. Yes, the royal family enjoys obscene privileges in terms of property, income and status, but these are rewards given for its role in supporting and promoting the interests of a wider British ruling class.

Far more important than the royal family itself, is the political system it fronts.  Despite the existence of a parliamentary democracy centred on Westminster, with its devolved offspring at Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont, we still face very real political constraints.  These lie in the state’s profoundly anti-democratic Crown Powers.

Continue reading “GENUINE SELF-DETERMINATION MEANS ACTING AS REPUBLICANS NOW”

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Sep 12 2012

SHADOW DANCER

By the early 1990s it was apparent that the IRA had been militarily defeated by the British. The fantasy that an organisation of a few hundred active members could beat a professional army of tens of thousands backed up a a massive police and intelligence apparatus was laid bare. The resulting demoralisation made it very easy for MI5 and the RUC to recruit informers. Depending on which estimate you accept it’s claimed that between 20% to 30% of the organisation’s members were providing information to the police or MI5, a weakness that seemed to become more common in the upper reaches. Freddie Scappaticci, who had a key role in the IRA’s counter intelligence section, fed information over a number of years which resulted in the arrests and assassinations of people who considered him a comrade. These jailings and killings enabled the British to prune the Republican leadership by getting rid of its most uncompromising members and, as the accounts of Scappaticci’s story reveal, they were willing to approve the murders of large numbers of unconnected people to preserve their informants. Such is the moral high ground of imperialism.

This is the squalid, treacherous setting of the new film Shadow Dancer. Whatever the intention of its writer Tom Bradby, a former ITN journalist, it may be the first film ever made in which the hero is a relentlessly determined IRA counter-intelligence officer.

Continue reading “SHADOW DANCER”

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Feb 26 2010

Republican Socialist Convention Debate

The contribution by Allan Armstrong (SSP International Committee) at the Republican Socialist Convention in London on 13 02 2010

Allan Armstrong (SSP) welcomed the participation of the veteran campaigner, Peter Tatchell, a ‘republican in spirit’, to the Republican Socialist Convention. However, there was a formalism about the republican principles Peter advocated. This was because Peter had not analysed the real nature of the British unionist and imperialist state we were up against, and the anti-democratic Crown Powers it had its disposal to crush any serious opposition. Nor did Peter outline where the social and political forces existed to bring about his new republic.

Back in the late 1960s, socialists (e.g. Desmond Greaves of the CP and those involved in Peoples Democracy) had been to the forefront of the campaign for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland – equal access to housing and jobs, and a reformed Stormont. The particular Unionist/Loyalist nature of this local statelet, and its relationship with the UK state, was largely ignored or downplayed, in an otherwise militant and vibrant campaign. Every repressive institution used by the UK state is prefixed by ‘royal’, e.g. the RUC, ‘her majesty’s, e.g. the prisons, whilst ‘loyalists’ is the name given to those prepared to undertake the more unsavoury tasks the UK state doesn’t want to own up to in public.

Socialists paid a high price for this negligence, when 14 people were gunned down in Derry by British paratroopers on January 30th, 1972. The socialist republicanism, which should have informed the struggle had been absent, and the Civil Rights Movement gave way to the combined physical force and later political republicanism of the Provisionals. When Irish socialist republicanism did emerge, the leadership of the struggle had already largely passed to others.

Some of those earlier socialists, such as Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey, recognised the need for a new socialist republican approach. However, the Provisionals were adroitly able to widen their political base, and keep genuine socialist republicanism marginalised by a resort to populism, through addressing some social and economic issues. Now that the Provisional leadership has made its deal with the UK state, under the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements, these populist social and economic policies are being jettisoned.

There is a strong lesson in this for socialists in Scotland and the UK today. Scotland, with its valuable oil resources, and key British military bases, is far more central to British ruling class interests, than Northern Ireland was in the 1960s. There is a growing National Movement in Scotland. Many supporters link the idea of an independent Scotland to an anti-imperialist vision (opposition to participation in British wars and to NATO) and to defence of social provision in the face of ongoing privatisation. This National Movement is wider than the SNP. Meanwhile, the SNP is taking the road of parties like Catalan Convergence, PNV (Euskadi) and Parti Quebecois. Its leadership is seeking a privileged role for the Scottish business within the existing corporate imperialist order. The SNP is tied both to the ‘Scottish’ banks and to cowboy capitalists like Donald Trump.

The SNP’s election manifesto pledged support for an ‘independence referendum’ to address the issue of Scottish self-determination. Although, the SNP leadership has been in full retreat over this issue, it will not go away, since there is a wider National Movement, and the probable election of the Tories at Westminster will once more raise the political stakes.

The SNP has no way of achieving Scottish independence. It is too tied to Scottish business interests, which want no more than increased powers for themselves – Devolution-Max. Recently, Salmond has come out in favour of the British monarchy. What this means is that the SNP accepts that any future referendum will be played by Westminster rules.

In the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum, when the British ruling class was split over the best strategy to maintain their Union, the non-political Queen was wheeled out to make an anti-nationalist Christmas speech, civil servants were told to bury inconvenient documents, mock military exercises were launched against putative nationalist forces, whilst the intelligence services conducted agent provocateur work on the nationalist fringe. Compared to the role of the British state against Irish republicans, this was small beer. However, given the timid constitutionalism of the SNP, a further resort to Crown Powers was not needed at this time.
Furthermore, the taming of the once much more militant Provisional Republican Movement, so that it now acts as key partner in British rule in Ireland, shows that the British ruling class has little to fear in the ever-so constitutionalist SNP.

Today, the British, American and EU ruling classes are united against any move towards Scottish independence, so will be even more determined in their opposition than in 1979. This is why any movement to win Scottish self-determination must be republican from the start. It must be prepared, in advance, to confront the Crown Powers that will be inevitably utilised against us. Because genuine and democratic Scottish independence represents such a challenge to British imperialism and the UK state, we need allies in England, Ireland and Wales too. We need to be committed to a strategy of ‘internationalism from below’. We are socialist republicans and link our political demands with social and economic campaigns. This was the course advocated by two great Scottish socialist republicans – James Connolly and John Maclean. This is why the SSP is in London today seeking wider support.

A reply to Allan Armstrong’s arguments from Nick Rogers, CPGB (Weekly Worker 805, 18 02 2010)

Allan Armstrong of the Republican Communist Network and the SSP turned to the national question in Scotland. He thought Peter Tatchell’s rather abstract republicanism was exactly what was not needed.
The Scottish National Party had shown that it was prepared to play the parliamentary game to prove that it did not pose a disruptive challenge to the corporate status quo. It was now in favour of retaining the monarchy – not even offering a referendum to the Scottish people on the issue.

A Scottish republic, on the other hand, would ditch the monarchy, throw out USA and British military bases, and reverse the cuts and privatisation. The British state would use all the resources at its disposal to resist the loss of North Sea oil and the Trident bases. Scottish republicanism was a strategy to strike a blow against the imperialist UK state, break the link with the US and build internationalism from below.

Toby Abse declared he took a Luxemburgist position on the national question. Far from believing the break-up of existing national states to be progressive, he thought the creation of a European state would provide better opportunities for socialists.

I said… we should encourage a class-based identity that encompassed migrants and the working class internationally.

However, in Scotland and Wales there clearly was a strong sense of national identity and national questions existed. The demand for a federal republic was the way to relate to the question, both in England and in Scotland and Wales.

The English must make clear that they had no wish to retain either nation within a broader state against the will of their people, but neither would they force them to separate. As for socialists in Scotland, comrade Armstrong’s argument hardly provided a ringing endorsement of the case for independence, since it would be precisely the conciliatory SNP that would lead moves to split Scotland from Britain, making every attempt in the process to avoid rocking the establishment boat.

The strongest possible challenge to the British state was to be made by the working class across Britain – and preferably across Europe, raising the demand for a European republic.

David Broder and Chris Ford of Commune spoke after me and expressed support for the RCN’s internationalism from below and the perspective of breaking up the UK. Comrade Broder did not see why unity with Europeans was more important than, say, with Bolivia, where British multinationals were just as involved as in many European countries.

Comrade Ford spoke about the opportunities the national question created for socialists. The break-up of the UK would strike a blow against a major imperialist state. For his part, comrade Healey thought that the break-up of the UK was as inevitable as the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Time was now fast running out and in a short reply comrade Armstrong commended the arguments of the Commune comrades, while telling comrade Abse and me that our arguments were typical of the “Brit left”, without actually replying to them…

Comrades Colin Fox (SSP Co-convenor) and Allan Armstrong attended as representatives of the SSP’s international committee. Treating England as a foreign country is bad working class politics and fails to recognise the reality of the British state.

A reply from Allan Armstrong (24 02 2010)

As Nick points out in his reply, I believe his comments are indeed typical of the ‘Brit Left’. The reason I didn’t reply to him at the second Republican Socialist Convention, but stated that Chris Ford and David Broder of the commune had made some of the points I would have used, was that I wasn’t given the time.

The preference of the SSP International Committee would have been for the second Republican Socialist Convention to have devoted far more time to the discussion of the relationship between the National Question and Republican Socialism.

The non-attendance of many from the British Left, invited by Steve Freeman of the Socialist Alliance (Convention organiser), still did not create anything like enough time for this debate. The first session contributions by Peter Tatchell and Colin Fox usefully highlighted the debate between bourgeois and socialist republicanism, whilst Mehdi Kia (Middle East Left Forum and HOPI) was most informative about the current situation in Iran.

However, personally, I thought the last session could have been sacrificed in order to enable the broader discussion on the National Question to be aired. The ignorance and lack of comprehension of much of the British Left over this issue needs to be addressed.

If, as I had hoped, there were also to be speakers from Ireland and Wales, then time for discussion would have been even more curtailed. Neither Dan Finn of the Irish Socialist Network, nor Marc Jones of Plaid Cymru/Celyn were able to make it. I thought that any republican socialists in England would have made contacts amongst the quite extensive Irish republican and socialist republican community in London, but this turned out not to be the case. I then suggested to Steve that Ann McShane (Ireland) and Bob Davies (Wales), both of the CPGB, be invited instead to fill the gap and enable the debate between Left Unionism and Internationalism from Below to be more fully aired.

So, let’s examine Nick’s points. I’ll start at the end of his contribution. Treating England as a foreign country is bad working class politics and fails to recognise the reality of the British state.

The first point I would make is that Nick must hardly have been listening. The whole thrust of my contribution (see above), taking on Peter Tatchell’s abstract republicanism, was exactly to highlight the imperial and unionist nature of the British state, and the formidable anti-democratic powers the British ruling class has under the UK’s Crown Powers.

Nick, somewhat revealingly, talks of me treating England as a foreign country. Now England certainly is another country. This is even recognised under the terms of the Union – which recognizes England, Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland (officially Northern Ireland, but colloquially and wrongly, Ulster) as separate entities. However, I have never used the word foreign to describe England. Is that how Nick describes Ireland, France, or any other country in the world? There are some words and phrases, such as social dumping and foreign which I think form part of the language of hostile nationalist forces and should be rejected in socialist discourse.

Now, the CPGB takes some pride in the solidarity work of HOPI, a united front organisation it initiated. Do CPGB members consider Iranian socialists to be foreign? Does the CPGB secretly think that joint work can not be effective because British and Iranian socialists don’t live in the same state? Nick invokes a mythical international unity provided by the British Left. However, a great deal of the CPGB’s work has been trying to combat the opposition of the largest ‘Brit Left’ organisation, the SWP, to HOPI. The largest socialist organisation in Scotland, the SSP, voted to support HOPI at its 2008 Conference.

The SSP is more than willing to go to meetings in England, Wales and Ireland, organised by others, to argue the case for united action across these islands. Internationalism from below is a hallmark of how the SSP tries to organise. Our International Committee organised the first Republican Socialist Convention in Edinburgh, with socialists from all four nations. The SSP has subsequently sent speakers to both England and Ireland.
Whatever reservations we may have had about the limited time for discussion of the National Question, Socialist Republicanism and Internationalism from Below, provided by Steve at this Convention, we engaged fully, providing two platform speakers and another three members in the audience.

So let’s now look at the second largest ‘Brit Left’ organization, which was invited to participate, the Socialist Party. I will quote Nick’s explanation for their failure to turn up at a meeting with representatives of the largest socialist organisation in Scotland. Quite possibly SPEW deliberately avoided a potentially embarrassing meeting. Embarrassing for who? Certainly not the SSP.

Nick also says, We should encourage a class-based identity that encompassed migrants and the working class internationally. So how does the British Left, which Nick champions, match up to this? Last year we saw the EU electoral challenge by the Left British chauvinist ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ campaign (with its notorious opposition to ‘social dumping’), bureaucratically cobbled together by trade union officials, the SPEW and CPB. It also had the somewhat incongruous Left Scottish nationalist bolt-on provided by Solidarity (although to their credit, many of its members refused to engage, and one prominent member advised people to vote SSP).

In contrast the SSP stood as part of the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance EU-wide electoral challenge, bringing Joaquim Roland, a car worker member of the New Anti-Capitalist Party to address meetings in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.

So, given the choice of ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ and the EACA, where did the CPGB stand? Quite frankly it made itself look foolish. It never raised the idea that ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ should form part of the EACA’s international campaign. It placed nearly all emphasis on demanding that ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ put support for citizen militias in its manifesto (support for migrant workers facing combined state, employer and union official attacks would have been far more appropriate). Then, failing to get support for citizen militias, told people to vote instead for the Labour Party and hence the very non-citizen militia, British imperial troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere! Even the SWP and SPEW didn’t stoop this low.

When Nick mentions his support for a class-based identity that encompassed migrants, he also fails to mention the woeful record of the ‘Brit Left’, in Respect or the Campaign for a New Workers Party over this issue. The SSP voted at its 2008 Conference to give its support to ‘No One Is Illegal’.

Chris Ford made the valuable point that the UK state, far from uniting the working class on these islands, divides it. The ongoing partition of Ireland is only the most striking case. The bureaucratic institutions of the British Labour Party, and the trade unions (TUC, STUC, WTUC, and the Northern Committee of the ICTU) frequently divide workers and play one national group against another.

Nick takes up the argument made by Toby Abse, to elaborate his own position. Toby had argued that the successive acts of Union {1535-42, 1707 and 1801} had had the effect of creating a united British nation, and that the British working class and its institutions were now organized on an all-British basis. Therefore, following Luxemburg, he believed that attempts to address the National Question in Scotland or Wales were either irrelevant or divisive. To be consistent, Toby should have argued that all UK state institutions, currently devolved on a ‘national’ basis, should be abolished, since they must, from his viewpoint, promote disunity.

However, Nick, who has certainly also called himself a Luxemburgist in the past, is now a member of the CPGB, so in opposing Toby, he has to make some contorted arguments. The CPGB believes there is a British nation and a British-Irish nation (the Protestants of the ‘Six Counties’) but only Scottish and Welsh nationalities. So Nick goes on to say that. In Scotland and Wales there clearly was a strong sense of national identity and national questions existed. First, you would wonder, if the historical thrust of the creation of the UK has been to bring about a united British nation (for most of the ‘Brit Left’, Ireland quickly drops from view!) and a united British working class, why you should consider it at all worthwhile to make any concessions to what could only then be reactionary national identities.

The reality, however, is that the UK state was formed as part of a wider British imperial project, which tried to subsume Welsh, Scots and Irish as subordinate identities. Whilst the British Empire ruled the roost, there was a definite thrust towards a British nation, but this was partly thwarted by the unionist form of the UK state. Once, the British Empire went into decline, those still remaining hybrid imperial identities, Irish-British, Scottish-British and Welsh-British have gone into decline too, as more people have asserted their Irish, Scottish and Welsh identities. This decline in British identification has been most rapid amongst workers and small farmers, whilst support has been clung to most fiercely by the ruling class and sections of the upper middle class.

Only amongst in the Unionist and Loyalist section of the people living in the Six Counties has a more widespread British identity been retained (although this has moved from Irish-British to Ulster-British). Indeed, it is in the Six Counties that the true nature of British ‘national’ identity is shown most starkly. It is here, amongst the Loyalists, that fascist death squads and other forms of coercion have created the worst repression, way beyond anything achieved by their ‘mainland’ British admirers, in the National Front or British National Party. The British Conservatives have just linked up with those more ‘genteel’ Ulster Unionists, but still sectarian and reactionary.

The moves to break-up the UK have their origins in wider ‘lower orders’ movements, such as the Land League in Michael Davitt’s days, the independent Irish trade union movement of James Connolly (founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party) and Jim Larkin’s days. It was John Maclean (founder of the Scottish Workers Republican Party), with his support, particularly amongst Clydeside workers, who offered the most consistent challenge, from 1919 onwards, based upon active campaigning for the ‘Russian Revolution’ and the ongoing Irish republican struggle. He adopted a ‘break-up of the UK and British Empire’ strategy.This was sharply marginalized as the post-war international revolutionary wave came to an end between 1921-3, allowing a Left British and reformist perspective to strongly reassert itself.

In other words it has been the National Question, which has been to the forefront of the democratic and republican struggle in these islands. Without seeing this, you are left, like Peter Tatchell, supporting a rather formal republic, with no real idea where the support is coming from. Nick conjures up The demand for a federal republic… both in England and in Scotland and Wales. This is but a left cover for the last-ditch mechanism used by the British ruling class, from the American to the Irish War of Independence, to hold their Empire and Union together. The Lib-Dems keep the Federal option in their locker, to be dragged out whenever other mechanisms such as Home Rule or Devolution fail to hold the line.

Colin Fox also made clear in his contribution that the British ruling class could even accommodate a formal republic, if it felt it was necessary. So Nick’s republican suffix to his proposed federalism provides another paper cover. We saw the nature of such republicanism in the Rupert Murdoch-backed campaign for a republic in Australia. What it amounted to was a repatriation of the current Crown Powers, and their investiture in the Presidency. Not surprisingly, this proved not to be a winning formula!

Middle class nationalist attempts to renegotiate the Union have also emerged as the British Empire went into decline. The Irish Home Rule Party, Cumann na nGaedhael, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, and (I would argue) the post-Good Friday Sinn Fein have all fitted this mould. Whatever, their formal political position (e.g. an independent Scotland, or a united Ireland), as these parties have become the vehicles for local business and middle class interests, this has been matched by a retreat from their original stated goals, and new compromises with the UK state.

Just as I would argue that the CPGB’s blanket support for the British unionist and imperialist Labour Party candidates, at the last Euro-election, provides a classic example of left British nationalism in action, I would also argue that any socialists pursuing a strategy which tail ends their local nationalist party, e.g, the SNP, act as Left nationalists.

The strategy behind the SSP’s republican socialism, exemplified in the Calton Hill Declaration, is to take the leadership of the National Movement here from the SNP. To counter the SNP’s own ‘international’ strategy – support for the global corporate order, for the use of Scottish troops in imperial ventures, for the British queen, and acceptance of a Privy Councillorship (Alex Salmond), the SSP’s International Committee counters with a genuinely international strategy based on anti-imperialism, anti-unionism, and internationalism from below.

The British Left tries to mirror the UK state in its organisational set-up. This attempt to apply an old Second and Third International orthodoxy was always contradictory. Applied to the UK it just seems to confuse the ‘Brit Left’. Occasionally debates emerge within the CPGB about, whether to be a consistent Leninist, it should not reconstitute itself as the CPUK, and in the process, add its own twist to Irish partition. Both the SWP and SPEW operate essentially partitionist organisations in Ireland, highlighted by their failure to raise the issue of continued British rule (with its southern Irish government support) in elections there.

The UK currently acts as a junior partner to USA imperialism. It has been awarded the USA license to police the corporate imperial order in the North East Atlantic, and to ensure that the EU fails to emerge as an imperial challenger. Apart from its membership of NATO, the provision of military bases, and such ‘police’ actions as bringing the ‘terrorist state’(!) of Iceland into line to bail-out the banks, the UK performs this wider role, with the 26 county Irish state acting as its own junior partner.

Politically, the ‘Peace Process’ (with the Good Friday, St. Andrews and now the latest Hillsborough agreements) and Devolution-all-round (Scotland, Wales and ‘the Six Counties’) represents the British and Irish ruling class strategy to provide the political framework to most effectively maintain profitability for corporate capital in these islands. In this, these two states can draw upon the support of the EU and the USA, as well of course, their ‘social partnerships’ with the official trade union leaders.

The SSP has realized that the British and Irish ruling classes have a political strategy, which covers the whole of these islands. You could be forgiven for thinking that much of the ‘Brit Left’ finds it difficult to see beyond Potters Bar, or where its members do live further afield, thinking their politics just depends on the latest dispatches sent out from their London office.

Nick somewhat condescendingly says that, The English must make clear that they had no wish to retain either nation {Scotland, or Wales} within a broader state against the will of their people (that’s very good of you Nick!), but then bizarrely adds neither would they force them to separate. Well Nick, we all know the ‘Brit Left’ have no intention of forcing us out of the British unionist and imperial state and its alliance with USA imperialism. That is the problem.

The SSP, though, is quite prepared to take the lead in making this decision ourselves. However, we will continue to insist that the break-up of the UK and ending of British imperialism are something that workers throughout these islands have an immediate interest in achieving, and will continue to argue our case to socialists in England, Wales and Ireland. We do want unity, but not the ‘Brit Left’ imposed bureaucratic unity from above, rather a democratic ‘internationalism from below’.

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Nov 14 2009

August 1969

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 18RCN @ 7:25 pm

Patricia Campbell reviews a crucial event in Irish history which occurred 40 years ago. This article first appeared in Fourthwrite (Summer 2009)

August 1969 was the year that transformed the face of the North forever. The civil rights marches of the previous year had launched a movement for change that the Stormont regime found impossible to cope with through normal democratic process.

Used for decades to having its every order obeyed, or at least having those who objected compelled to fall in line, the Unionist Party and its machinery of power decided to resort to the old tactic of subjugation through force. People demanding that antidemocratic practices end would be driven off the streets and battered into acquiescence – or pay a heavy price for challenging the authority of the regime. This method had worked in the past. In fact the very state had come into being through the bloody intimidation of that section of the population that had objected to its formation in the first place.

British governments in 1920/21/22 had allowed James Craig and his colleagues in the Unionist Party to use widespread sectarian violence in order to establish a 6-County state. Between July 1920 and July 1922, 453 people had been killed in Belfast, 37 members of the Crown forces and 417 civilians; 257 Catholics and 157 Protestants and two of no known religion. Of the city’s 93,000 Catholic inhabitants, 11,000 had been forced from their jobs and 23,000 driven from their homes. This was the environment in which the northern state was created.

During the early months of 1969, supporters of the unionist state had viciously attacked a series of peaceful demonstrations. A march by students in January was ambushed outside Derry and clearly identified among the attackers were numerous members of the police reserve, the ‘B’ Special. In incident after incident for the following few months, thus the level of violence increased. The RUC riot squad was responsible for a number of deaths when members of the force used their batons on civilians in Derry City, Dungiven, Co. Derry and Coalisland, Co. Tyrone.

When the Derry Citizens Defence Association (DCDA) was formed in July of 1969, it decided to organise a defence of the Bogside in order to prevent further lethal attack by the RUCC and ‘B’ Specials. The Stormont regime was unwilling to curb the activities of any of its supporters and made no attempt to prevent the Apprentice Boys parade taking place in Derry on 12 August. There was little doubt that rioting was going to break out when thousands of unionists began strutting along the city walls, reminding the inhabitants of their second class status in Northern Ireland. As the Apprentice Boys march was coming to an end the expected happened and fighting between the RUC and local residents intensified.

Unlike previous occasions, the RUC met with stiff resistance from the people of the Bogside and found it impossible to gain control of the area as the DCDA organisation proved effective. Key to the success of the defenders was their decision to occupy the high flats in the centre of the district and use is as a strong point to hurl stones and Molotov cocktails down on the advancing police below.

The struggle lasted throughout the night and into the next day and still the RUC was unable to penetrate the Bogside. Tension grew throughout the North as all sides watched the conflict develop. Nationalists and republicans were anxious to see what could be done to help the defenders while Unionism was becoming increasingly hysterical as it watched its absolute authority being challenged on the streets.

Grassroots unionism was demanding that live ammunition be used against the Bogsiders but Stormont’s cabinet knew that with the world watching so closely, it would be a gross mistake. With the situation under scrutiny, the Unionist regime understood that Britain would exact a very high price from the Belfast parliament if its police force were to be seen to carry out a Sharpville style massacre in Derry with the world’s press watching.

Under increasing siege

With the Bogsider defenders under increasing siege, word was circulated in all nationalist and republican areas that it would be necessary to organise demonstrations to take pressure off the people in Derry. Demonstrations were organised in nationalist towns across the North and RUC and ‘B’ Specials were dispatched to contain the events. In town after town these events grew increasingly violent. Police and ‘B’ Specials began to use the live ammunition that their supporters had been demanding and gunshot casualties were inflicted on nationalist civilians in several towns. In Armagh city ‘B’ specials shot and killed a Catholic civilian making his way home from a local bar.

The greatest violence, however, broke out on the night of the 14th August in Belfast. A protest march had taken place on the 13 and in its aftermath the IRA exchanged gunfire with the RUC, wounding one constable. On the night of the 14th crowds of unionists gathered in the Shankill area and other unionist districts. As daylight began to fade, shooting broke out. Desultory at first and growing in intensity as time went by. As darkness fell, the RUC sent armoured cars equipped with heavy machine guns into the lower Falls and Ardoyne firing into houses and killing several of the occupants.

As the armoured cars raced through the narrow streets they had little difficulty winning control of these districts. Once in charge, the RUC started to systematically shoot out street lighting. With the streets in darkness and the inhabitants terrified, crowds of unionist arsonists supported by off duty ‘B’ Specials started to pour into the lower Falls and Ardoyne and other nationalist areas in Belfast. IRA units in Belfast were seriously under resourced in August 1969. The republican army’s head quarters staff had taken a decision to reduce its arsenal in Belfast in order to ensure that local unit commanders would not precipitate a sectarian blood bath by undisciplined operations. The decision was well meant and had a certain logic in light of the progress of the civil rights movement but in the context of Northern Irish reality it was a mistaken and naive judgement.

Badly outnumbered they put up a spirited resistance to the counter revolutionary assault and joined by veteran members of the organisation prevented a much greater amount of damage being inflicted on the nationalist community.

It was nevertheless, beyond doubt that the nationalist communities in the Falls and Ardoyne areas had suffered greatly with a huge number of homes burned out and many families driven from their property. The trauma was enormous and evoked memories of the worst days of the 1920s. Within days efforts were being made to find arms and to organise military defence of these districts. The IRAwas to split over the issue and in practice this period signalled the end of peaceful, non-insurrectionary protest.

The British government sent troops into Derry and Belfast but refused to curb the powers of the Stormont regime. In time it became obvious that London had little interest in radically reforming Northern Ireland and the Home Secretary of the time, Jim Callaghan, told nationalist politicians that theycould have ‘reform’ but it had to happen within the parameters of a Stormont regime. This dictate of ‘any colour you like so long as it’s orange’ was to ensure that the very existence of the state had to be challenged if change was to occur and that is exactly what was to happen. Nothing was the same after August 1969. The Orange state was in free-fall.

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Mar 20 2009

Inside Ulster Loyalism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 2:24 pm

by Ed Walsh – Irish Socialist Network (first published in Resistance no. 8)

UVF: The Endgame (Poolbeg, 2008) by Jim Cusack & Henry McDonald

Jim Cusack and Henry McDonald are well placed to tell the story of the UVF, having spent decades building up contacts inside the loyalist scene. If you want to know what happened over the last forty years in the North, this is a very useful book. If you want to know why it happened you may need to take the authors’ political analysis with a pinch of salt.

The two writers are keen to downplay evidence of collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries. While they acknowledge that members of the RUC and UDR gave assistance to the loyalist groups, the authors deny that collusion was systematic. Cusack and McDonald give us a stark choice – either the loyalist paramilitaries were sock-puppets of the British state, or else they must have been completely autonomous. But there’s another way of looking at things which is far more convincing: the UVF and the UDA may have a life of their own, but their effectiveness during the Troubles would have been limited if the state forces had dealt with them as they dealt with the Provos. The spectrum of collusion could range from active support (of which there was plenty) to helpful neglect.

The authors also stress their view that loyalist opposition to a united Ireland would have been strong enough to block its realisation, even if the London authorities had been keen to withdraw. There is no way of proving this claim right or wrong, since London never had any intention of withdrawing and was prepared to commit vast resources to contain and defeat the IRA. Again, Cusack and McDonald are trying to lead us back to the false notion that Britain was a neutral player in the conflict. That said there can be no question that the strength of unionist belief in the North (often intensified by IRA attacks on Protestant civilians) is the most important prop for what remains of British rule in Ireland.

At one point the authors accuse Sinn Fein of taking a Jesuitical approach to the consent principle. But you need a bit of mental gymnastics to pick your way around the issue of partition. In principle, it’s wrong to suggest that partition of Ireland has a democratic basis (it was imposed by the crudest form of military aggression and based on sectarian gerrymandering – the Northern state has a unionist majority because it was designed that way, just like the Serb Republic in Bosnia or the Turkish enclave in northern Cyprus). In practice, however, its hard to imagine an end to partition before a large number of Ulster Protestants are convinced they have nothing to fear if British rule ends.

Some left-wingers would rather kick the national question into touch and concentrate on other matters. The experience of the UVF itself suggests why this approach is likely to founder. Cusack and McDonald describe the post-ceasefire attempt to build a working-class unionist force with a progressive line on social and economic issues that was spearheaded by David Ervine and Gusty Spence. They don’t spend much time, however, asking why that attempt failed. The majority of working-class Protestants have continued to vote for the DUP, despite its right-wing economic policies, while the Progressive Unionist Party {linked to the UVF} has failed.

The authors note that Ervine, Spence and Billy Hutchison never convinced the UVF rank-and-file to adopt their left-of-centre agenda. But talk of socialism and class politics was hardly going to blend with loyalty to a capitalist, imperialist state and its institutions. The British Labour Party has always been crippled by its submission to a political order shaped by ruling class interests. The PUP’s support for British nationalism is an even greater hindrance to any progressive ideas its leaders may have wanted to advance. You can cheer the troops returning home from the colonial occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as so many Protestant workers did before Christmas – but ultimately you are cheering a system that inflicts 40% unemployment on the people of West Belfast, regardless of their communal identity

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Mar 20 2009

Challenging Normalisation On The Streets Of Belfast

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 1:56 pm

A month has now passed since the controversial British military ‘homecoming parade’ in Belfast. While there was considerable media hype in the run-up to the November 2nd military display, there was a noticeable lack of any in-depth analysis as to why the parade was organised in the first place.

Instead, the corporate media ran endless stories on the potential for trouble and clashes between those who supported the parade and those who did not. In focusing on this angle, journalists were only regurgitating the spin of the PSNI and the larger political parties. In the days running up to the parade, talk of “troublemakers” and “dissidents” planning every manner of mayhem filled the column inches. When that mayhem failed to materialise, the media quickly moved on, without ever questioning what the true purpose of the military parade actually was.

So what was the real agenda behind the military display of November 2nd?

The answer is simple. Those who invited the British military into Belfast city centre used the cover of a ‘homecoming parade’ to further the long-standing strategy of Normalisation in Ireland. What, after all, could be more normal than the British army marching the streets of a ‘British’ city? It should be remembered that the original plan for this parade would have seen hundreds of armed troops marching, while military aircraft performed a fly-over across the city. What more powerful image of ‘normality’ could there have been?

This is the context in which éirígí announced its intention to oppose the parade when the idea was first mooted in August of this year. Had it taken place without opposition it would have represented much more than the illusion of normality; it would in fact have demonstrated a high degree of actual normality.

Thankfully, this did not happen. The parade was opposed, and not only by éirígí. By the time the RIR and other British military units marched onto the streets of Belfast a number of political parties, anti-state violence groups and other progressives had come out in opposition to it. At four separate locations across the city, hundreds of republicans and socialists attended protests opposing the triumphalist display.

While the parade went ahead despite these protests, it only did so by mobilising the entire spectrum of unionism and, in doing so, demonstrated the fundamentally abnormal nature of the Six County state. In the weeks running up to the parade, mainstream unionism in the form of the DUP and UUP, ex-British soldiers’ associations and the unionist death squads all worked tirelessly to mobilise their respective supporters.

In many unionist areas, the literal writing on the wall encouraged people to demonstrate their support for the British army and its exploits in Afghanistan and Iraq. In cyber space, a virtual call to arms was issued across social networking websites.

On the morning of November 2nd, thousands of supporters of the RIR lined the route of the parade. Among the crowds, the city councillors who extended the invite to the British army stood shoulder to shoulder with members of Britain’s death squads.

Notorious sectarian killers from Britain’s unofficial militias were lauded as heroes as they sauntered down the street just minutes ahead of their comrades in the official militia passed by. Members of the PSNI stood nonchalantly by as hundreds of thugs chanted sectarian slogans and hurled the vilest of abuse, as well as actual missiles, at the victims of British state violence.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of PSNI members manned a security ring around Belfast city centre to ensure that no protester could get close to the parade. Surveillance helicopters buzzed overhead, providing up to the minute information for the riot-gear clad paramilitary police on the ground.

While this show of combined strength was nominally in support of British soldiers returning from Afghanistan, it was actually intended to send a message to nationalist and republican Ireland. And the message was clear. Forty years after the civil rights movement was attacked by Stormont, the RUC, the B-Specials and the Paisleyite mobs, it was still business as usual.

Despite all of the superficial changes of the last forty years, it was clear on November 2nd that nothing has really changed. When faced with the prospect of peaceful protests against imperialism, Britain responded with the mobilisation of both its official and unofficial forces. The images of heavily armed PSNI members facing unarmed protesters while sectarian mobs howl in the background was reminiscent of the black and white footage of four decades ago.

In an ironic twist, those who hoped to further the Normalisation agenda have only succeeded in highlighting just how abnormal life in the Six Counties actually is. Those who planned a propaganda coup of ‘Ireland at peace’ instead got a propaganda disaster. The hoped for fly-by of the RAF was replaced by hovering surveillance helicopters. The hoped for television footage of crowds cheering the British army was replaced by footage of yobs jeering the relatives of that army’s Irish victims.

While the damage to Normalisation caused by November 2nd should not be overestimated, it would be equally wrong to underplay it. The events of that day clearly demonstrated how relatively small numbers of people can challenge the Normalisation strategy and, in the process, expose the continuing abnormality of the British occupation.

The challenge now facing republicanism is to follow November 2 with other initiatives to re-build popular opposition to British rule.

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Mar 24 2002

Working class opposition to UDA murder

Category: Issue 01RCN @ 8:07 pm

John McAnulty reports on the wave of working class opposition to Danny McColgan’s killing

On the rare occasions that the Irish trade union leadership organise a demonstration against sectarianism in the North the standard left-wing leaflet calls for it to be the beginning of a new movement. Yet the lessons of the last thirty years is that the role of the trade union leadership is to make sure that such demonstrations bring closure to any nascent movement that might give an independent voice to the working class.

Working class opposition to UDA murder

So it proved following the murder of postal worker, Danny McColgan. A movement that began with strike action to proclaim working class opposition to sectarian murder by the UDA, ended with a series of rallies that no longer involved strike action and, indeed, were no longer in the hands of the working class. By working flat-out in a whole series of secret meetings the trade union bureaucracy had managed to construct a unity with the British government and the local employers.

Continue reading “Working class opposition to UDA murder”

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