Feb 19 2019


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.






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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Aug 11 2017


This is the second part of A Critique of Jeremy Corbyn and British Left Social Democracy, written by Allan Armstrong. the first part can be read at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/09/a-critique-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-british-left-social-democracy/






Contents of Part 2

 a.     Why did Corbynism and Left social democracy appear in the UK?

 b.     The rise and fall of proto-parties outside Labour

 c.     To party or not to party, that is the question

 d.     Autonomous organisations

e.      International organisation

f.       Labour bureaucracy or dissident communist sects – a false choice 


 a.      Why did Corbynism and Left social democracy appear in the UK?

i.      One thing that needs explained is how did Corbynism and Left social democracy make a revival which nobody predicted? If we look to Greece, Spain, Portugal, France and Ireland, we can see well-supported independent Left organisations, which have developed outside the traditional social democratic parties. One answer to this question is the sheer resilience of conservative organisational forms in a state like the UK with such a long and deep-rooted unionist and imperial history. Continue reading “A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 2”

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Aug 09 2017


Socialists are now confronted with the unexpected rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the re-emergence of British Left social democracy. This first part of this article by Allan Armstrong will examine the significance of this and make a critical appraisal of their future prospects in the face of the current global multi-faceted political, economic, social, cultural and environmental crisis.

Contents of Part 1

   1.      From May 2007 to June 2017 – the SNP rules the social democratic roost in  Scotland.

   2.     The rise of Jeremy Corbyn and British Left social democracy

   3.     The prospects for Corbyn and British Left social democracy when handling economic and social issues

   4.    The limitations of Corbyn and British Left social democracy when dealing with matters of state

             A.  Brexit

             B. The National Question

a.  Conservative, liberal and unionist attempts to maintain the unity of the UK state since the nineteenth  century

               b.  Corbyn and the National Question in Ireland

               c.  Corbyn and the National Question in Scotland

               d.  Corbyn and the National Question in Wales



1. From May 2007 to June 2017 – the SNP rules the social democratic roost in Scotland

i.     Following the demise of New Labour and its successor, ‘One Nation’ Labour, the SNP has been the most effective upholder of social democracy in the UK. In 2007, the SNP won 363 council seats; 425 in 2012, and 431 in 2017. In 2007, the SNP won 47 MSPs; 69 in 2011; and 63 in 2016, (still easily the largest party at Holyrood). In 2010, the SNP won 6 MPs; 56 out of 59 in 2015, but fell back to 35 in 2017 (still having the largest number of MPs from Scotland by some way). Continue reading “A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY”

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Jun 29 2017


Emancipation & Liberation has been chronicling the rise of reactionary unionism for some time. Following the shift further Right in UK politics after the Brexit vote , this has culminated Theresa May’s deal with the DUP after the June 8th Westminster general election. we are posting this article form Socialist Democracy (Ireland) which examines some of the implications in Ireland. This was first posted at:- http://socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentDUPConservativePartyDeal.html



A Conservative minister remarked quietly after the election that there would be many roads and hospitals built in Northern Ireland as a result of a DUP confidence and supply arrangement with his party. The assumption was that a large bribe would be paid and that it would benefit everyone in the North. Certainly there will be a bribe and it will contain some populist flourishes, but overall benefit will be slight. After all, this is a party that has just blown £500 million of public money in a corrupt “green heating” scheme. The main economic goal of this far-right party is to obtain funding for a public-private investment fund – a honey pot for failing businesses that would be open to the usual unrestrained corruption and leave the poor where they were before. The delay seems to be around the conflicting right-wing positions on Brexit and on the insistence by the DUP on sectarian concessions that are difficult for the British to openly concede on. Continue reading “THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT, THE FUTURE IS ORANGE!”

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Mar 02 2016



This article, written by Allan Armstrong (RCN) in 2015, has now been updated to include a new section 3 on Scotland. It has been moved from its earlier site.

Section A –  The UK State and Britishness

Section B –  From the Irish-British and ‘Ulster’-British ‘Insider’ to the Irish ‘Racialised’ and ‘Ethno-Religious Outsider’ to the new ‘National Outsider’

Section C – Britishness, the UK State, Unionism, Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’ 






The purpose of this article is to examine the concept of the national outsider in relation to Britishness, for the people of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This has been done through the further development of the concept of the outsider used in Satnam Virdee’s significant book Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider [1]. Here he outlines the creation of the racialised outsider [2]. Mary Davis’ earlier, but also significant, Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement (3),  wrote, in effect, about the gendered outsider, without using the term.

The first part of this article will look at the historically changing position of racialised and gendered outsiders in the UK before the second and third parts address the changing position of the national outsider. Here it will be shown how the post-war British Labour government provided widely accepted ‘insider’ Britishness status for those who held hybrid Scottish and Welsh and ‘Ulster’ British identities. This though excluded the Catholic Irish living in Northern Ireland, giving a continued basis for an Irish nationalist politics based on the Irish national outsider. For a brief period in the 1960s the development of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement raised the possibility of widening the sectarian nationality-based ‘Ulster’-Britishness to create a new more inclusive Northern Ireland-Britishness, However,  an alliance of the Ulster Unionism, Loyalism and the UK state  thwarted this, leading to the re-emergence of a reinvigorated Irish republicanism, which drew support from those still treated as national outsiders by the UK state.

Furthermore, in the context of a  continued imperial decline of the UK, the 1960s saw the existing Scottish-British and Welsh-British identities becoming more effectively challenged. This led to a prolonged attempt by the liberal wing of the British ruling class to try to democratise these identities within a political framework of Devolution. The failure of the Sunningdale Agreement in the face of reactionary unionism, and the 1979 Scottish and Welsh Devolution Bills through conservative unionist opposition, followed later by the lukewarm liberal unionist nature of the 1997 ‘Devolution-all-round’ settlement, have contributed to the emergence of significant numbers of Scottish and Welsh national outsiders in relation to the UK state, whilst still not fully integrating the previous Irish national outsiders. Today, the apparent inability of the UK state, with its strong conservative unionist, and growing reactionary unionist forces, to sustain a more widely supported political settlement has led considerably greater numbers to reject any notion of ‘Britishness’, particularly in Scotland.


1) The notion of ‘outsider’ and ‘toleration’ in relation to the role of the UK state in creating and maintaining Britishness

In some ways the position of black people in the UK from the late eighteenth century, addressed in Virdee’s book, represents an updated version of the toleration that appeared in the early days of capitalist development. This toleration was extended both to religious and ethnic minorities who performed a significant economic role within certain states. Such toleration was found in some city-states, e.g. Venice [4]and then in some mercantile capitalist states, e.g. the Netherlands, England, then the UK. These states produced regulations and developed practices that altered the status of those they tolerated, either for better or worse.

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Aug 10 2014


In the following two articles from Socialist Democracy (Ireland), John McAnulty of chronicles the further decline of the ‘New Unionist’ settlement in Northern Ireland.



Lady Justice Hallet, author of 'On the Runs'

Lady Justice Hallet, author of ‘On the Runs’


When Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss was nominated to head an enquiry into child sexual abuse by leading politicians, there was an outcry that objected to her on the grounds of her position within the establishment. The victims objected to a “safe pair of hands” guiding the enquiry.


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Apr 28 2013


John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) helps to clear up some of the confusion about Thatcher’s legacy with regard to Ireland. Some have argued that, after ditching the hardline Ulster Unionists in the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, she opened up the way to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA). John, however, highlights that, the degree to which Thatcher  was persuaded of the need to sideline ‘No Surrender’ Unionism, was also the degree to the British ruling class sought to maintain sectarian rule in ‘the Six Counties’, but in a new form. The Anglo-Irish Agreement  brought  the SDLP and Irish government on board, in a decidedly subordinate position, to help the UK state in running  Northern Ireland.  This  paved the way, after Thatcher’s removal by the Tories,  for the 1993 Downing Street Declaration. This brought the Republican Movement  on board. The GFA has led to a new partition within ‘the Six Counties’ with the constitutionally entrenched recognition of British Unionism and Irish Nationalism. We can see the roots of the current decay of the post-GFA Northern Ireland political order  in this continued sectarian legacy. Thatcher helped to ensure that this remained central to UK state policy, once she had decided to abandon her previous unquestioning support for the Ulster Unionist Party. 

Some new graffiti on the famous Free Derry Wall after Thatcher's death.

Some new graffiti on the famous Free Derry Wall after Thatcher’s death.

The 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement coincidentally coincided with the death of Margaret Thatcher. Given the recent flag riots, the confirmation of Orange supremacy in the streets and the new pan-unionist unity behind Robinson, the complaints of “lack of engagement” from Sinn Fein and watery threats by the British to withhold funds if the local administration does not move beyond sectarian patronage, it is not surprising if there is public discontent.

That discontent is buffered by a deep confusion. People are repelled by the actuality of the settlement, yet remain convicted that there is a hidden progressive core that will someday express itself.

A similar confusion hangs around the role of Thatcher. Many nationalists believe there were two Thatchers – a bad Thatcher who oppressed the hunger strikers and a good Thatcher who signed the Anglo Irish deal and laid the grounds for the peace process.


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Jan 24 2013

Belfast – “the carnival of reaction” continues

James Fearon has sent the following article to Socialist Democracy (Ireland). We are reposting it here as a follow- up to our other articles covering the Belfast flag riots. These riots have exposed the continuing sectarian nature of the Northern Ireland statelet, and the UK state’s role in maintaining Loyalism as a back-up defence for British rule.

Happier days for Loyalists - Union Jack flies over Belfast City Chambers

Happier days for Loyalists – Union Jack flies over Belfast City Chambers

While northern middle class Nationalism stamps its feet in chagrin at the unwillingness of their Unionist counterparts to call Loyalist protests to heel it is forced to ignore an increasing body of evidence that contradicts its view of Unionism. Widespread among the chattering classes is the view that the issue of the Irish relationship with British imperialism has been put on a stable footing.

In this perspective the North of Ireland, despite some anomalies, is now a place in which the Catholic middle class, increasingly happy with a ‘Northern Irish’ identity, has a considerable stake, and the relationship with comfortable middle class Unionism, based on ‘parity of esteem’, is at the beginning of a long period of steady, prosperous evolution.

What a shock the flag issue has been for them. Nationalist spokespeople react with genuine surprise and abhorrence at the destabilising effects of the protests but it is not so much the display of plebeian bigotry that upsets them but the fact that that bigotry, and more especially the reaction to it, represents the reality of the Northern state, a reality that the Catholic middle class felt that they had the capacity to move beyond.

Continue reading “Belfast – “the carnival of reaction” continues”

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Aug 18 2012


Below can be found two very interesting articles from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) forcussing on particular issues in Ireland. The first  highlights the continued  the sectarian nature of the post-Good Friday state in the North, and the second, the continued lowering of working class consciousness in the South, under the debilitating social partnership of state, big business and the trade union leaders.





The announcement of a plan for the development of the former Girdwood army barracks site in north Belfast was presented by local parties as a major breakthrough in the efforts to regenerate an area blighted by sectarian divisions and social deprivation.  However, when we examine that plan in greater detail, and look beyond the headline statements and carefully choreographed photo opportunities, we find that it actually reinforces the division and deprivation that it purports to be tackling.


A statement from the Dept. for Social Development, which accompanied the unveiling of the Girdwood plan, claimed that it would deliver “shared development opportunities” to support social, sports, economic and residential development.  However, the reference to housing was extremely vague.  The DUP minister, Nelson McCausland, refused to say how many houses would be built.   A map of the proposed development shows only a small proportion of the site being given over to residential use – accommodating as few as one hundred houses.  The residential space is also divided into two separate zones – one near the Antrim Road which appears likely to attract nationalist residents, another on Clifton Park Avenue, just outside the Girdwood perimeter, which seems more oriented towards unionists.  Located between these two residential zones is the so-called “community hub” which will encompass sports facilities and commercial premises.  This is supposed to be a shared facility but given the segregated nature of the housing on the site is more likely to become a barrier or no man’s land.


The plan for Girdwood does nothing to address social deprivation in north Belfast, particularly its chronic housing problem.  There are currently 2,400 people on the social housing waiting list for that district.  And while the residential development of the Girdwood site would not have solved this problem, its capacity to accommodate up to 400 houses would have made a  significant impact.


The flaws in the Girdwood plan are not just a case of poor design.   It is the outcome of a process in which social needs are trumped by the imperatives of sectarianism.  In the case of Girdwood this has been running for some time.   The site was transferred to the Dept. for Social Development six years ago and over that period there have been various plans for its development.  Last year, the then Social Development Minister Alex Attwood of the SDLP unveiled plans for the building of 200 homes.  This was bitterly opposed by the DUP who denounced it as “deeply destabilising”.  When the DUP’s Nelson McCausland came in and took over the department he stopped it from going ahead.  Though it wasn’t stated explicitly the obvious concern of the DUP was that any new housing on the site would be occupied by nationalists.  And if housing were allocated on the basis of need this would certainly be the case.  Current waiting lists for north Belfast show that 74% of social housing tenants are from a Catholic background while 26% are Protestant.   There are also significantly more Catholics than Protestants in the area who have been assessed as in urgent need of housing. The Housing Executive has estimated that 95% of new build housing in north Belfast is    required by Catholics.  This is not to say that there are no housing needs in Protestant areas, but those needs are not as acute and relate more to maintenance of existing properties rather than to new build.


In the new plan for Girdwood  the principal of allocating housing on the basis of objective need, which has come to be known as the “points system”, has been set aside in order to reserve housing for one particular community even where no such need or demand exists.  In order to conform to this communal imperative the Housing Executive has been sending out leaflets specifically targeted at Protestants.   This is a long way from the original remit of the Executive whose establishment in the early 1970’s was seen as an advance for civil rights.


The irony is that such overtly sectarian polices are being promoted under the banner of “a shared future”.  While this may sound progressive it has nothing to do with integration or equality.  Indeed, it has more in common with the concept of “group rights” in apartheid South Africa or that of “separate but equal” in the southern states of the US during the period of the Jim Crow Laws.   It is also worth noting that the Girdwood plan is backed and partly funded by the EU.  This, coming so soon after the announcement of  €1 million in EU funding for the Orange Order,  should dispel any illusion that Europe is going to liberalise the north of Ireland.


The Girdwood plan and the direction of the Dept. of Social Development under the DUP, points to the return of a period when housing policy was used by unionists to maintain control over “their” areas.  The difference is that now it has the endorsement of nationalist  parties.  Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly defended his party’s role in agreeing the plan to redevelop arguing that: “We now have a masterplan which is workable”. However, it is only “workable” because Sinn Fein have capitulated to the DUP’s demands, gaining in return funds to increase their own patronage in the nationalist areas of housing in north Belfast.  Also one should not forget the dogs that don’t bark – the majority of civic society and many of the trade unions remain obstinately silent in the face of this rampant sectarianism. In this the Girdwood plan is reflective of the wider political settlement in the north in which sectarianism has triumphed over democratic rights.




Since the unveiling of the Girdwood plan more information has made public which shows the degree to which the policy of the Housing Executive is being made to fit a DUP agenda.  In relation to the Girdwood site the investigative website The Detail has obtained documentation showing that McCausland held “discussions” with the Housing Executive to ensure that four loyalist areas in north Belfast were included in a new build scheme despite having no sign of  significant homelessness. As well as this intervention in policy there has also been what could be seen as intimidation. In February the Dept. of Social Development, in response to questions form a DUP MLA, published information on the community background of Housing Executive staff working in north Belfast. Less than a week later a car belonging to an employee was destroyed after it was set on fire by masked youths as it was parked outside the agency’s district office in Newtownabbey.  It has now been revealed that McCausland rejected advice from his own officials against publishing this information.  In many ways these methods are an updated version of the old Paisleyite rabble rousing tactics used by unionists to whip up sectarian sentiment then dissociate themselves from any loyalist violence that  ensued.  The fact that the DUP are still engaged in such tactics shows the degree to which it remains a hard-core sectarian party.  With the establishment of the new regime at Stormont it has the opportunity to put its sectarianism into practice.

 Socialist Democracy (Ireland) July/Aug bulletin


also see Northern Ireland – Education Case Study Illustrates Sectarian Reality at:-






The recent activities of the Quinn* phenomenon has focused attention on the workers in his industries, but not in any flattering way.  Sinn Fein, and the petit bourgeoisie in general, wobble all over the place trying to judge which way the wind is blowing and no sincere attempt to give leadership to the workers emanates from Liberty Hall.  Beyond a doubt, if the ruling Gombeen class thought that by crucifying Sean Quinn as a scapegoat they could solve their image problem then without a blink they would do it. They would sacrifice willingly the capitalist that moved a mountain in Ballyconnell to provide the cement for their speculative building frenzy, fed and facilitated by easy money and the neo liberal capitalist ideology that justified it.

Arguments are consistently made for Sean Quinn that he kept his interests local and provided employment for Ballyconnell but the same could be said for any major industry, Adria did it in Strabane, Nestle did it in Omagh, Aer Lingus in Dublin, Waterford Crystal, and all of them did their best to convince their employees, with varying degrees of success, that they had their best interests at heart. Wrights in Ballymena do it today and Sainsbury’s, M&S and all major corporations play a similar game, they attempt to impose their corporate identity on their employees. This has always been the case and the struggle for a class based consciousness had to be fought for by real people, fighting trade unionists, who could see through the bull and organise workers to fight for their own independent interests. The corporate identity that has been imposed on the people of Cavan, abandoned by a government that failed to present any semblance of a plan for industrial or even agricultural development, is no different to that of other corporations. It is just that the neglect of their county has made the imposition of the Quinn corporate identity all the easier.

While local workers demonstrate in support of Quinn because it seems the state is willing to scapegoat him Quinn is still a multi-millionaire with at least €32 million squirreled away that we know about and his family receive handsome remuneration from Russian investments. He will defend his own interests first as he has always done, through a string of financial manoeuvres, and will cut and run when it suits him. For the workers of Cavan and Fermanagh, campaigning on Quinn’s behalf does not represent the actions of an independent working class and it will not serve them well. It represents instead a slavish dependency on a local capitalist enterprise, a microcosm of the national dependence on global corporations. Is this a surprise?

For those who demonstrated in favour of Quinn there is the excuse that there were ties of community and historically established cross class affiliations such as the GAA, which have traditionally glued over the cracks in class stratification in Irish rural society. It could also be said that they have no developed trade union consciousness, but are we to blame the workers for a lack of socialist consciousness? Who really is to blame, the people who were potential recruits or the well paid organisers that failed to develop class conscious self-interest among the work force? Our ‘fighting’ trade unions that know better yet still crawl on their knees to their political ‘masters’ to plead for more time to pay for their economic crimes are the real villains in this scene, it is their failure which means this weakness in a small dependent rural community is actually representative of the whole country.  There simply is no fight in them, they act not as the leadership of the working class but as their management, telling us when we have no other option but to accept redundancies, but they will ‘fight’ for our proper severance money and a proper pension payment, hurrah! They manage the decline in industries by a charade of pseudo negotiation followed by inaction which allows a creeping acceptance of the reality of their master’s power to permeate the consciousness of their membership and finally they cave in with a couple of minor concessions, granted to cover their shame.

Where is the fighting leadership that could have said to the workers of Cavan why wait for Sean Quinn’s go ahead, occupy the cement and glass plants and, take control of them and we will call for similar action in all threatened or already closed industries. Where is the inspirational leadership given to Irish workers that formed the labour movement from 1913 to 1919? Why don’t they take action and then see where Sean and all the vociferous layers of the Irish petit bourgeoisie stand then. Is this thinking beyond the pale for Ireland’s working class leadership? It is a tragedy to see a dependent powerless working class rally in support of the capitalist class, but that tragedy did not drop from the sky. Years of betrayal and neglect have left us with a trade union leadership that is little more than a paper tiger, they blame the workers for every defeat and they sit back and sneer at this sad spectacle, heaping their condescension on the betrayed workers of Cavan and Fermanagh. The Irish working class has been betrayed by these misleaders and the rally in Cavan is a manifestation of that betrayal. Only honest and determined union leadership can provide a beacon for abandoned and powerless workers, but will this emanate from ICTU, the signatories of the Croke Park betrayal and many more before it? They skulk silently in the shadows while the corporate multi millionaire Sean Quinn usurps their role as a workers’ leader because he has more of a claim on those workers than they have, shame on ICTU! But is it such a surprise?


Eddie McLaughlin, 7 August 2012


*            In 2008 Sean Quinn, head of the County Cavan based Quinn Group (builders, hotel owners and manufacirer of glass and plastics), was declared bankrupt. In 2008 he had been cited as the richest man in Ireland.  Originally from a small farmer background in County Fermanagh in the North, and prominent in the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), Quinn enjoyed a meteoric rise under Ireland’s neo-liberal Celtic Tiger economy. His business practices would not have borne much close scrutiny but who cared in Irish political circles –  at least until the Crash, which brought Ireland’s capitalist speculative banking and building boom to a dramatic climax.

Furthermore, as for many Irish (and other) business owners, for Sean Quinn partitioned Ireland  was no longer much of an issue, or at least it wasn’t one that impinged too much on his company’s profits. In recognition of his services to business he received honorary doctorates from both Maynooth (Dublin) and Queens (Belfast) universities. When he realized that under UK law he might only be bankrupted for one year, rather than twelve under Irish law, he unsuccessfully tried to have his case taken in Belfast! However, we can feel fairly sure that, despite Sean Quinn’s current fall from grace, he will not be enduring any of the hardships facing his former workforce.






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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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