Allan Armstrong addresses some of the issues raised in Ireland’s Partition: Coda to counterrevolution by John McAnulty.



 a) Introduction

 b) A Socialist history of Irish history but with some blind spots

 c) Unionism and British identities

 d) Building a coalition for Ireland’s reunification

 e) Under the guise of opposing Neo-Liberalism, a worrying accommodation to the Hard and Far Right

 f) Taking on the Hard Right’s and Liberals’ hypocrisy

 g) Developing ‘internationalism from below’ solidarity



 a) Introduction

Ireland’s Partition: Coda to counterrevolution begins within an introduction by its author John McAnulty.  John is a veteran Irish Socialist, active in revolutionary politics since the 1960s.  He was a member of Peoples Democracy (PD), which he represented on Belfast City Council from 1981-85.  PD dissolved in 1985 and John became a leading member of the Trotskyist, Socialist Democracy (Ireland), which is a sympathising section of the Fourth International.

Emancipation Liberation and Self Determination (EL&SD) has posted many articles by John covering Ireland.  Although John has visited Scotland and spoken at a Scottish Socialist Party conference fringe meeting organised by the RCN (predecessor to the RCF which publishes Emancipation, Liberation & Self Determination)), and I have attended Socialist Democracy weekend schools in Ireland, John has been opposed to a central aspect of RCN/RCF politics – the exercise of Scottish self-determination.  However, EL&SD frequently posts articles by comrades who disagree with aspects of our politics, especially if they provide good accounts of particular political situations.  And John with his long experience in Socialist politics in Ireland has often done this.

John’s introduction states that his new book “is about Ireland’s partition, but it is not a history.  It is a polemic which sets out to refute the idea that the arrival of the Peace Process in some way will lead to an Irish democracy and to argue that working class mobilisation is required to expel the British and overthrow the existing capitalist order.”[1]

Emancipation, Liberation and Self Determination (EL&SD)  is also keen to help bring about Irish reunification and shares John’s doubts about the institutions of the Peace Process being able to provide a suitable vehicle for this aim, and about a Sinn Fein-led constitutional nationalist campaign being able to achieve it.  EL&SD also prioritises the role of the working class, but we add an emphasis upon the need to be organised on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis with our class united in its diversity.  Furthermore, whilst Socialists should have “the overthrow of the existing capitalist order” as their aim, there can be a danger that, in the absence of a revolutionary situation, this can lead to an abstract propagandist approach to politics.  This would be unable to relate effectively to the immediate political conditions, where democratic demands are important.  Socialists don’t make support for the overthrew of the wages system a precondition for supporting strikes to improve or maintain workers’ pay and conditions.  Irish reunification is also an immediate demand, rooted in the already existing socio-economic and political conditions.

And, at the moment, economic, social and democratic struggles are taking place in a period when the Right is in the ascendancy.  Resistance to this Right around immediate demands provides ‘schools of struggle’.  Socialists’ active participation in these struggles provides a good opportunity to advocate our wider ideas.  But the “overthrow of the existing capitalist order” requires a new International Revolutionary Wave.  This amounts to more than the sum of Left social democratic, national governments, which sometimes take office through existing constitutional means and electoral timetables.  Historically they have never led to the “overthrow of the existing capitalist order,” and indeed have always acted as a block to such an aim.

In widening the base of support against both Right Populists and neo-Liberals, EL&SD sees Irish reunification as being a key component of a strategy to break-up the UK (also directly involving Scotland and Wales) and what remains of the British Empire.  In ‘Brexit Britain’ the Right operates on an all-islands basis, which for them includes 6 counties British-Ulster/Northern Ireland and 26 counties Ireland.  John’s book examines the history of the First Irish Republic, within a wider international revolutionary struggle. However, at that time, only the very first elements of all-islands thinking appeared. These are particularly associated with the Scottish Workers’ Republican/Communist politics of John Maclean.  But Maclean’s politics were soon marginalised and either forgotten or misrepresented following the defeat of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave.[2]

However today, the UK faces much wider national democratic challenges, not only in Northern Ireland/Ireland but also in Scotland and Wales.  The British Empire has largely been reduced to overseas tax havens (e.g. the Cayman and Virgin Islands), which along with the UK’s offshore tax havens (the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man), mainly benefit the City of London.  The City of London is also linked with USA’s Wall Street.  Both the US and UK states prioritise the defence of their corporate financial sectors, but with the UK now acting as junior partner.

Again, this is very different from the period in which the First Irish Republic emerged.  After the First World War, the British Empire attained its maximum territorial extent.  The British ruling class had not given up on remaining the world’s imperial leader.  This was the reason they entered the First World War in the first place.  But just before this war, when the UK was still the world’s dominant imperial power, the British ruling class became divided over whether to concede or to crush Irish Home Rule.  The liberal unionists and constitutional nationalists thought Home Rule would strengthen the Union and Empire; conservative unionists (including the misnamed Liberal Unionists) and reactionary unionists thought it would weaken it.

What shocked many British liberal unionists and Irish constitutional nationalists at the time was the readiness of British conservative unionists to unleash reactionary unionist forces and to utilise anti-democratic and violent methods.  This has become a continuous feature of unionist politics, and when the challenge was to break with the UK state altogether, then liberal unionists have been prepared to resort to such methods too, often with the  backing of constitutional nationalists.

And every anti-colonial movement against the British Empire faced suppression, whilst Partition was not only enforced in Ireland, but also in India, Palestine and Cyprus too.  It wasn’t until the Suez debacle in 1956, that the majority of the British ruling class finally accepted its future depended on continued life support from the USA, hopefully in a ‘Special Relationship’, to defend what remained of the British Empire.  And again, back in 1919, it was John Maclean who highlighted the beginnings of renewed inter-imperial tensions in his The Coming War with America[3](even if the eventual line-up in the next world war which he predicted turned out to be somewhat different).

In the UK, EL&SD is currently helping to develop a strategy to counter the authoritarian populism and reactionary unionism promoted by a British, Hard Right, Tory government.  This is why we seek to create a wider all-islands alliance to pursue this.  The political space is opening up for such a strategy because there is minimal opposition from neo-liberal economic and liberal unionist political forces to the rising Right.  Indeed, their own earlier economic and political actions contributed to this rise.  Labour and the Lib-Dems are wedded to the existing UK state too.  Their rush to embrace the defence of the UK was highlighted when they joined David Cameron’s Conservatives in the pan-unionist, ‘Better Together’ alliance during Scotland’s IndyRef1 campaign from 2012-14.  And Labour’s defence of the Union was continued under Jeremy Corbyn.[4]

Furthermore, today, Sinn Fein, SDLP, Aontu, SNP, Alba, Plaid Cymru and Propel all pursue constitutional nationalist approaches to Irish reunification or national independence.  Members of these parties (particularly in Aontu, Alba and Propel) promote or tolerate quite reactionary social ideas and practices.  Some constitutional nationalists can be more spirited in opposition to reactionary unionism than liberal unionists.  Others such as the SDLP and Plaid Cymru have not fully broken from seeking a new liberal unionist devolutionary settlement, however unlikely that may now be.  But no constitutional nationalist party is able to break through the limits imposed by the profoundly anti-democratic Union state with its Crown Powers, which buttress the power of the British ruling class and the City of London.  Despite the UK being formally a parliamentary democracy, sovereignty lies not with the people, but with the Crown-in-Westminster.

The constitutional nationalists’ strategy has been based on pushing the post-1998, liberal unionist, Peace Process and Devolution-all-round deal further.  This deal claimed to recognise ‘parity of esteem’ between Irish Nationalists and ‘Ulster’/Northern Irish-British Unionists (those not accepting the official  Irish Nationalist/Republican or Ulster Unionist/Loyalist labels are constitutionally ignored); and the equality of the four (in reality three and a bit) nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  But far from further extending the limited self-determination gained under the Peace Process and Devolution-all-round, these concessions are now being rolled back by the Right.  In Ireland, the confrontation over the EU Protocol has become an issue for the Tories and even more so for Unionists and Loyalists in Northern Ireland.  Such attacks on the liberal unionist legacy are a constant political feature of ‘Brexit Britain’.

John examines  the record of those liberal unionists and constitutional nationalists pressing for Home Rule before the First World War. This was a time when there was a social Liberal UK government. Under pressure, they had introduced some genuine social reforms. This was also a time, when the British ruling class was more confident about being able to maintain the British Empire as the dominant force in the world.  Yet, under mounting extra-constitutional pressure, encouraged by the conservative Right and delivered by the reactionary Right, they buckled.

Today’s constitutional nationalist calls for Irish reunification and/or Scottish and Welsh independence take place went there is a reactionary unionist, Right authoritarian, Tory government.  Its members are deeply aware of the UK’s declining economic and political position in the world.  Far from promoting genuine socio-economic reforms, which benefit the working class, this government promotes a continuous counter-reform project to dismantle the welfare state and protective labour laws.

Liberal unionism is asleep, only to be prodded into activity as a  ‘fire and theft insurance’ policy, should any growing movement for greater self-determination or against the all-pervading ‘New Corruption’ threaten the Hard Right’s project.  And if those capitalist backers of the constitutional nationalists also take fright, their ‘Indy-Lite’ political representatives would join the liberal unionists in trying to help-out the British ruling class too.  Their aspiration, a direct reflection of the amount of capital their capitalist backers control, is for a junior national managerial buy-out of British assets in their nation.  Their new ‘Indy-Lite’ states, in Scotland and possibly Wales,  are to be achieved under the existing US dominated corporate-dominated world order.  They would be updated versions of the Irish Free State, which remained subordinate to the UK and British imperialism. Although today US imperialism has pushed British imperialism into junior partner status.

The US’s own junior UK partner would still be in control of the long reach of the Crown Powers; the City of London would still run Scotland’s financial sector; and the British High Command, itself subservient to US controlled NATO, would be still in overall charge of Scottish armed forces.  Before the First World War, the constitutional nationalist supporters of Irish Home Rule faced fewer obstacles. But it took the emergence of an Irish Republican opposition in 1916 before the British ruling class treated the demand for national self-determination more seriously.

This review approaches the issues John raises from a Republican Socialist stance. It will look at John’s historical precedents from chapters 6 to 10 and duplicated to some extent in chapter 1, 2 and 5.  It will see how they contribute to the political situation we confront today when trying to being about Irish reunification.   It  will also examine the two principal non-Socialist ways of thinking and political forces that have contemporary influence on the Left.  These could be characterised as Liberal and Radical Separatist.  In this review, Liberal is not used in its party sense, but to describe a politics based upon pressing for and recognising rights enforced by the state by  legal means.  Radical Separatism also has a long history, and its proponents can be seen in a wide variety of Movements, which are not necessarily directly politically related, e.g. Dissident Irish Republicans and Radical Feminists.

This review is only seen as an initial contribution*.  I very much hope others will join the discussion and add to our wider Socialist thinking and our ability to organise, based on their own knowledge and experiences.


b) A Socialist history of Ireland but with some blind spots

Since the whole purpose of John’s history of Partition is an attempt to provide a politics to overcome Partition today, it is worth jumping to his concluding chapter 10.  A couple of statements jump out at you. John wants to puncture some of the current Liberal and Left myth making  – “With {their} happy clappy stories of a border poll, organised willingly by the British government that will see a sweeping majority for unity and immediate agreement to a United Ireland.”[5]

This is followed by John’s clear rebuttal – “When it came to frame the peace {in the 1990s} it was in the context of the Government of Ireland Act.”[6]  That 1920 Act had also framed the December 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty.  Providing no restraints on the Unionist Labour, armed Loyalist gangs that took part in their pogrom in the Belfast shipyards in April that year, the British government let these and other Loyalists determine the full territorial extent of the already agreed partition principle for Ireland.  This would maximise the territory under direct UK control.  So, as John writes, they utilised ‘the Specials’.  The ‘A’ Specials were incorporated into the new Royal Ulster Constabulary formed directly from the Royal Irish Constabulary.  The ‘C’ Specials dissolved into loyalist paramilitary forces.  The ‘B’ Specials became an official terror force with the blessing of the state.”[7]

The 1921 Treaty also put the Crown in the position of determining what was and was not constitutional in the Irish Free State.  The same goes for Northern Ireland with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and its successors .  Therefore, as John argues, it is not surprising that “the content of the Good Friday Agreement has been constantly redefined in the interests of Britain and the Unionists.” [8] And, although the UK state’s constitutional remit is now confined to Northern Ireland, the British government can resort to other methods to enforce its will upon the Republic of Ireland.  This is being shown over the Northern Ireland Protocol, with Boris Johnson’s government threatening to go it alone in defiance of an agreement he had already signed up to with the EU.  The Tory government is also exerting British pressure to destabilise the already shaky Irish economy.

John’s main historical section starts with Chapter 6.  Here John outlines Ireland’s colonial and imperial past.  There is much in this that is useful for Socialists today, who want to understand this historical background.  Although it somewhat misleadingly states that, “Ireland was Britain’s first colony.” [9]  However, those first colonies back in the eleventh century were not promoted by Britain, which did not yet exist, nor even by England, but by feudal Norman French mercenaries and conquerors.  They did bring over English, Welsh, Flemish and Scottish colonists, although whether these people thought of themselves in these nationality or ethnic terms, is unlikely at this time.  From the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland, under James I/VI in 1603, you might talk of British colonists, but again this is not how they saw themselves.  They considered themselves to be Anglo-Irish or Scotch-Irish.  The antagonism between key sections of these two groups could, at times, be as marked as their antagonism towards the ‘mere Irish’.  John’s lack of clarity here reflects a weakness in this book, when it comes to examining his understanding of the wider nature of the UK’s unionist state, the nations which make it up, and the peoples and classes who have inter-acted with each, other, both negatively and positively, in the history of these islands.

Today, we have some unionists, Right and Left, who want to describe Ulster Unionists as the ‘Irish-British’ or ‘British Irish’.  In the Republic of Ireland, there is a small, once more influential, but now declining group, who maintain a Rightist, pro-British unionist stance.  Eoghan Harris, ex-Workers Party theoretician and one-time Sunday Independent columnist, provides a leading example.[10]  He detests Irish Republicanism, both during the 1916-23 struggle for Irish independence and during The Troubles from the late 1960s-1998.  Rueing the failure of the British government to hold on to all of Ireland, following Irish Republican ‘blowback’ after the slaughter of the First World War; and later the UK state’s inability to completely defeat the Republican Movement by 1998, Harris gave his support to George Bush’s and Tony Blair’s bloody and disastrous Iraq War in 2003.

Today, trying to derail the rising support for Irish reunification, some neo-Irish Unionists offer a renewed Irish-British deal to subordinate a reunited Ireland to the UK.  Ireland would be allowed to reunite after re-joining the UK and signing up to the ‘Empire-Lite’ Commonwealth.  This would amount to the acceptance of the original 1912 Third Home Rule Bill before the ‘Ulster’ opt-out amendment, but under today’s Union and what remains of the Empire.  If the 1998 Good Friday Agreement has misleadingly been characterised as “Sunningdale {1973-4} for slow learners”, this neo-Irish Unionist deal would be for very slow learners!

These days, there is rarely a Rightist stance, which doesn’t find its echoes on the Left.  The social imperialist and unionist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) and the abstract propagandist social unionists of the CPGB-Weekly Worker, represent such thinking.  They are proponents of a ‘British-Irish’ identity which doesn’t exist.  The people they hope to offer support to are the Unionist and Loyalist, ‘Ulster’-British.   Left British unionists claim that, if Socialists support a new ‘British-Irish’ identity, this could lead to the ‘Ulster’-British acceptance of a future federated Ireland, as yet territorially undefined.  Far more likely, this would be a recipe for the old UDA’s ‘nullification’ proposals, when they proposed the ethnic repartition of Ulster.[11]  And such proposals may raise their head again if the DUP ceases to be the majority parfy after the May 2022 Stormont elections. Perhaps it’s not surprising we have had no AWL/CPGB-WW reports of their solidarity meetings on the Shankill and Newtonards Roads or in Sandy Row.  Maybe, if politics ever pushes these two groups into support for Scottish independence (don’t hold your breath), they will advocate ‘self-determination’ for Airdrie, Bridgeton and Larkhall!


c) Unionism and British identities

John’s Chapter 7 goes on to provides an outline of Irish Unionist history.  Although this seems to have become detached from the headings to Chapter 2 – “Irish unionism was once nationalism.  It was always anti-democratic.”  However, that nationalism was never Irish-Irish, but always a provincial Irish-British nationalism.  It developed after the political marginalisation of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy and the integration of the Scotch-Irish in Ulster, following the 1801 Act of Union.

For much of the nineteenth century, and right up to Partition in 1921, these Irish Unionists did consider themselves to be Irish-British.  After that, though, British nationalism became transferred to the very definitely not Irish, but now emphatically Ulster-British.  Indeed, so determined were these Unionists not to be Irish, that they rejected the term Northern Irish, which David Lloyd George’s War Coupon Coalition government wanted them to adopt for wider British imperial purposes.  And today, one of the things many Unionists hate about the UK-imposed Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is that their beloved old Royal Ulster Constabulary has been renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland, again for wider British imperial purposes on these islands.

But if you seek Irish reunification today, this begs the question – how do you win over significant sections of those currently living in areas that have been largely peopled with Ulster Unionists and Loyalists?  Sinn Fein and other constitutional nationalists look forward to a demographic ‘solution’ by which the number of Irish Nationalists/Catholics overtakes the number of Ulster Unionists/Protestants.

It is possible that some more middle class, liberal unionists (like those associated with the Alliance Party), could come to accept a reunited Ireland, and make their peace; just as many conservative unionists did in the Irish Free State after 1921, and in the Republic of Ireland after 1948. Others, including reactionary unionists, who had been very actively involved in bloody suppression, thought it wiser to leave for Great Britain, 6 counties ‘Ulster’, or other parts of the British Empire.  However, today unless a significant proportion of those workers currently living in Loyalist dominated areas are broken from their ‘Ulster’-British identity, then even if they still only constitute a quarter or fifth of the population, the continuing paramilitary presence (strongly concentrated in certain communities) would have the capacity to destabilise things and frighten the middle class, in particular both the Alliance aligned unionists and the SDLP aligned nationalists.

Some Dissident Republicans would be prepared to bolster any demographic transition, which is unlikely to be passively accepted by the ‘Ulster’-British, with a  return to the ‘armed struggle’.  But today, Dissident Republicans can only operate from deep within the most Nationalist/Republican of communities.  Their activities attract the attention of the PSNI and M15.  During ‘The Troubles’, when people from the Nationalist/Republican communities faced everyday harassment from the British army and the RUC, on their way to work, shopping or leisure facilities, and even in their homes, there was widespread support for the IRA as Defenders.  However, this situation has largely changed following the Good Friday Agreement, so this once widespread support is no longer there for the ‘armed struggle’.   Although the PSNI’s more half-hearted attempts at policing Loyalist intimidation continues to cause resentment.

Confined as their activities largely are, within the most Nationalist/Republican communities, then it is not surprising that Dissident Republicans’ resort to the use of guns and explosives leads to such tragedies as the killing of Lyra McKee in Derry in 2019.[12]  And in their eagerness to access guns and explosives, above all else, it is also not so surprising that the Dissident Republicans can be penetrated by the security forces.  The MI5/FBI and Gardai, appear to have managed this this in the run-up the, Real IRA’s tragic bombing in Omagh in 1998.[13]

Some Dissident Republicans have their own political ‘solution’ to the problems presented by the large Unionist/Loyalist community in Northern Ireland.  For example, like the AWL and CPGB-WW, Republican Sinn Fein (formed as a breakaway back in 1986) also wants a new federal Ireland.  Although this would be with different and more definite boundaries.  These would be based on the old four Irish provinces of Leinster, Munster, Connacht and 9 counties Ulster.  Back in 1920, Sir James Craig already clearly understood that a 9 counties Ulster would leave Unionists/Loyalists in a minority there, and undertook the brutal actions required to control 6 counties, two with Nationalist majorities.  Today, as demographics, even in their 6 counties ‘Ulster’ laager, are undermining a Unionist majority, then its Loyalist ‘No Surrender’ defenders are more likely to retreat to the 1981 UDA plan, with its ‘nullification’ proposals for Nationalists in Belfast, County Antrim, North Down and North Armagh.

However, whether it is through Irish Nationalist attempts at political negotiation, or by Dissident Republican attempts at ‘armed struggle’, a considerable number of Unionists/Loyalists, so long as they remain attached to an Ulster-British  identity, will view these as attempts to turn the tables.  They will see this as leading to a new Nationalist/Republican/Catholic ascendancy.  They are quite likely to take what they see to be appropriate action.  The politics of the electoral head count could quickly lead to the politics of the body count.

There are some Socialists, though, who think you can skirt round the existence of workers being brought up to think of themselves as British Unionists/Loyalists or Irish Nationalists/Republicans (enshrined in the post-GFA agreements) by uniting them around immediate economic issues in trade unions.  It is indeed possible to have short term trade union unity and action, as was shown in the Belfast engineers’ 44 hours strike in 1919,[14] and around another immediate economic issue, in the Out Door Relief (ODR) campaign in Belfast in 1932.[15]  And there have been several recent cross-community strikes within Northern Ireland.

Some Socialists put down the  setbacks in such struggles to  the lack of wider official trade union support, or to the weaknesses in the leaders of political organisations, which workers have been involved with or related to.  However, those who took part in each of the earlier heroic struggles were soon targeted by the  Loyalists, state  and the employers.  Thus their 1919 struggle was followed up by the Labour Unionist pogrom[16] in 1921; and the uniting effects of the Outdoor Relief campaign in 1932 were broken up in the  Orange Order provoked pogrom of 1935.[17]  As soon as the Unionists, Loyalists and the Orange Order raised the issue of whether Unionist/Loyalist/Protestant workers were prepared to unite with Nationalist/Republican/Catholic workers to undermine ‘their state’, the previous impressive support for solidarity action around economic issues largely melted away (apart for a very small minority).  Undermining the politics of Unionism, Loyalism and the Orange Order and their Ulster-British identity takes a much longer process of political engagement, and one not confined just to immediate economic or trade union issues. It also requires a clear understanding of the nature of the UK state.

Even today, cross-community, economic struggles still face considerable problems, not least the commitment of trade union leaders, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and its semi-detached, Northern Committee.  They are both involved in real and attempted social partnership deals within their existing states.  In Northern Ireland, these are also backed by the TUC.  Meanwhile, the STUC and WTUC back the Devolution-all-round institutions in Scotland and Wales.  All these attempts at partnership deals have the effect of reducing trade union leaders’ role to acting as a personnel management service, assisting their governments and the employers to keep their workers in line.

But this goes one step further.  In the Republic of Ireland any militant action is seen as a threat to the Irish government’s acceptance of the agreed EU leadership’s institutions to manage the deep crisis there.  The major contributor to this crisis in the Republic had been successive Irish governments’ backing for the bloated property and financial sectors, before and after the 2008 Crash.  And this dependence has been reinforced by the backing the Irish government now needs from EU leaders over Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

But in Northern Ireland any militant workers’ action is seen as a threat to the post-GFA institutions.  When the issue of Irish reunification is raised, some full-time trade union officials might be prepared to support the idea sometime in the future.  But they would likely soon be spooked if their Unionist/Loyalist members deserted their unions. Their attitude to re-unification would be quite like that of the SDLP and Alliance Party and the middle class in Northern Ireland, whose incomes and lifestyles, most full-time trade union officials share.

There is also the additional factor that, although there is quite extensive trade between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (and hence employers in both either being opposed to Brexit or wanting only a soft Brexit), the wages and conditions for their respective workplaces are negotiated quite independently.  This is the case even for companies which operate on both sides of the border, e.g. Lidl, just as it is say for Germany and France both in the EU.  And in Northern Ireland, there is a considerably bigger public sector, from a percentage in employment point of view.  This employment is based around the activities of the devolved statelet, so the  divide, between ‘North’ and ‘South’, is further accentuated.  Indeed, even in Scotland, such devolved administrative institutions also lead to different wages and conditions negotiating frameworks compared to the rest of the UK.  These conditions have led to the formation and maintenance of separate trade unions, e.g. Northern Ireland Public Services Alliance (NIPSA) for civil servants, and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) for teachers and further education college lecturers.  These two trade unions dominate pay and conditions negotiations in their particular areas.  And this is given an additional twist in Northern Ireland, where most primary and secondary education has been constitutionally divided between the state (read Protestant) and Catholic sectors.  The Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU) organises in the official state/Protestant sector (alongside the all-UK NASUWT), whilst the (all-Ireland) Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) dominates the official Catholic sector.

It is true that Unionist/Loyalist and Nationalist/Republican workers, as well as using the local shopping and leisure facilities confined to their own communities, have long shopped in their city or town centres’ major shopping malls; have gone to some of the same leisure facilities, e.g. downtown cinemas and music venues; as well as often working in the same workplaces, increasingly so since the GFA (especially in the public sector).  But these, in themselves, do relatively little to change their Unionist/Loyalist and Nationalist/Republican politics, or their Ulster/Northern Irish-British or Irish identities, especially as these are actively promoted under the post-GFA arrangements. In politically more quiescent times, as promised under a ‘Peace Dividend’, workers from both communities may show mutual toleration and limit the expression of their differences to what they see as humorous banter.  But as women well know, ‘harmless’ behaviour (e.g. jokes, displays of sexist calendars and pictures) can provide a cover for some who behave in far more threatening ways.  Toleration is not equality.  In changed circumstances, with greater economic or social instability, open advocates of sectarian intimidation can find wider support, as shown in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast.

What is required is the breakdown of the old ‘No Surrender’, Ulster Unionism and Loyalism, largely based on Protestant sectarianism and support for the British Crown and Empire and of the old Defender, Irish Nationalism and Republicanism, largely based on traditional Catholic values. This also means a reassertion of the real principle underlying democratic Republicanism in Ireland, which is based on the sovereignty of the people.  In many parts of the world, a  more restricted view of Republicanism as the absence of a monarchy provides a cover for authoritarian populist leaders, one-party and military dictators.  Furthermore, in the UK, the monarchy (although very highly privileged) only fronts the British ruling class’s anti-democratic Crown Powers, based on the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Westminster.  And even in the ‘republican’ USA, the democratic principle of the sovereignty of the people was undermined by the transfer of the Crown Powers from the UK. These were divided between the President, the Supreme Court and the Senate.  A new American ruling class forcibly clamped down on the popular democracy  after  the War of Independence.  The American House of Representatives has fewer powers than the British House of Commons.  When press baron, Rupert Murdoch, gave his support to a republican constitution for Australia in the 1999 referendum, he wanted the Crown Powers transferred to a president – probably hoping it would be himself!


 d) Building a coalition for Ireland’s reunification

In Northern Ireland, there have long been some cross-community personal relationships and intermarriages, which do break down this divide for those directly involved.  But in the past, such contacts have often become the first targets for attack in troubled times.  Today there is more scope for such cross-community relationships and they are growing.  Furthermore, a breakdown in the community divide is already occurring, particularly amongst younger people within both communities.  They increasingly reject both the Catholic hierarchy (especially after all the internal scandals which have been uncovered) and those bigoted, mainly Presbyterian demagogues, who try to impose their own social values.  Reactionary activities are often backed, openly or behind-the-scenes, by politicians, who either go along with or tolerate these.  This in turn leads to a decline in support from young people for parties accepting the GFA-allocated political labels – Unionist/Loyalist and Nationalist/Republican.  It is mainly the younger people who have become involved in impressive cross-border actions (not yet seen in trade union struggles) over gay and abortion rights.  And, as the growing multifaceted crises of environmental degradation mount, the Border is seen as either irrelevant or an obstacle to the major changes which are needed to save humanity.  Many young people and others concerned with the environment can already see that.

Today, social and environmental issues are more likely to produce the cross-border relationships and activities which can contribute most effectively to bringing about Irish reunification. These can break down old British Unionist/Loyalist and Irish Nationalist/Republican politics and Ulster-Northern Irish-British and Irish identities.  Social and environmental issues are not something external to the working class.  Although this is how many more Economistically-minded Socialists see workers, claiming they are mainly concerned with ‘bread and butter’ issues.  However, workers don’t just spend time in factories and offices (or work from home under Covid-19).  Workers are more rounded human beings.  We  spend our  more valued time in social intercourse with families, partners and friends at home, in our communities, or downtown.  Many of us also visit urban and rural parks, as well as travelling to wilder environments, to enjoy interaction with landscapes and wildlife.

In the past, it has sometimes been struggles outside the directly economic realm that have eventually brought about more effective workers’ organisation in that arena as well.  In 1931, the massive struggle to defend the Scottsboro Boys, nine Afro-American teenagers falsely accused of raping a white woman in deeply racist Alabama,[18] was organised by many of those who went on to launch the new unionisation drive associated with the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organisations (CIO) from 1935.

Furthermore, today, as well as the many young people, who do not so easily fit into the sectarian political straitjackets of Unionism/Loyalism and Nationalism/Republicanism, or Ulster-Northern Irish-British and Irish identities, there is another major group, living in Ireland, ‘South’ and ‘North’,  who do not fit at all.  These are the migrants who will be the worst affected by any hardening of the Border.

Traditionalists, whether Protestant or Catholic, sometimes publicly reject migrants.  We saw this in Loyalist attacks on East European Roma in Belfast in 2008; and in the reactionary Peter Casey’s bid for the Irish presidency in 2018.  Sinn Fein, with its Left Populist turn (after its failed Right turn in the 2018 presidential election), published its 2019 manifesto, Giving workers and families a break.  Whilst this manifesto had many supportable policies and defended asylum seeker rights, it also stated, in its Immigration section, that “Sinn Féin does not want open borders.”[19] So, when migrants attempt to try to cross the UK and Irish /EU Border, how much support will they get?  This is a moot point when migrants are not being perceived as being part of Sinn Fein’s “Demographic trends {which} suggest a nationalist voting majority in the north is close”[20].  However, this is not so bad as those sections on the British and Irish Left, who claimed a mandate for Brexit following the 2016 EU referendum.  This was on a franchise which excluded EU residents (and 16-18 year olds).  Perhaps, Republican Socialists, following the USA precedent of the Scottsboro Boys Campaign and the emergence of the CIO, will need to follow another US precedent in their campaigning for the free movement of migrants across the Border – the ‘Underground Railroad,’[21] which smuggled black chattel saves across another border – the Mason-Dixon Line. This would go well beyond the activities of Borders Communities Against Brexit, backed by both Sinn Fein and the SDLP, which looks to the EU bureaucracy and Joe Biden’s  US government, to prevent a further hardening of the Border.

John’s historical analysis of the United Irishmen is very brief despite its crucial significance in the development of both Ireland’s and Republican history.   Though he does clearly state in chapter 2 that “the 1798 rising of United Irishmen was a real threat to British rule.”[22]  But this is immediately followed by a description of all the reactionary forces which contributed to the defeat of the United Irish.  And this defeat is returned to in chapter 7, where “Democratic revolt by Presbyterians in the United Irishmen was savagely repressed”.[23]

What is needed today is an upgrade of the United Irishmen’s most serious cross-community challenge ever to the UK state.  In the 1790s they made a concerted attempt to create a new Irish national identity to overcome the old divisions  They called for the unity ‘Protestant {Anglican}, Catholic and Dissenter’ {mainly Presbyterian), who could otherwise be termed  Anglo-Irish, ‘mere Irish’ or Scotch-Irish, in a new Irish Republic. And debates went on about ending black chattel slavery, encouraging Irish Gaelic culture and women’s rights .

And despite the absence of the term ‘women’ in the United  Irishmen, women did indeed play an important part in the United Irish activities, including the 1798 uprising.[24]  They included Anne Devlin, Mary Doyle, Betsy Gray, Jane Greg, Mary Ann McCracken and Martha McTier.  And a Republican coalition today for a reunification of Ireland would include both the exploited and oppressed of all religions and none, speaking any of the languages found in Ireland.  So, as an immediate demand, substitute the United Irish’s, religiously defined Irish nation of ‘Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter’, or ethnically defined  Anglo-Irish, ‘mere Irish’ and Scotch-Irish, with a  new civic Irish nation  – an Irish Republic of all citizens, both native-born  and migrant, and inclusive of  women and  LBGT+.  And it is by organising a coalition, which places workers, united-our-diversity, and with ‘internationalism form below’ links to the fore, that the ground is best set up for John’s concluding flourish a “workers republic.”[25]


e) Under the guise of opposing Neo-Liberalism, a worrying accommodation to the Hard and Far Right

John’s reluctance to examine the changing nature of Irish and British nationalism, including its hybrid versions, is tied up with his desire to avoid ‘identity politics.’  “Identity has replaced democratic rights, self determination and opposition to imperialism”.[26]  However, as soon as you ask, “self determination for whom?” and “opposition to which imperialism?” you see that specific identities or labels cannot be avoided.

John wants to target the seekers and promoters of national, women, gay and, as we shall see for him, the particularly ‘nasty’ transgendered identities.  Instead, John looks to working class-led campaigns for “democratic rights, self determination and opposition to imperialism.”  But once you remove all those ‘identities’ from your ideal working class, it begins to look remarkably white, male and straight!  This is the sort of thinking that in the Right’s hands can lead to the championing of a ‘white, male (and usually straight) working class’.

Furthermore, it wasn’t the new ‘break the glass ceiling’ Liberals or the ‘Radical Separatists (be they nationalists, feminists, gays or transgendered people) who first pushed ‘identity politics’.  That has long been done in the Labour Movement.  We have seen the promotion of sectionalism, blue collar versus white collar, and the widespread acceptance of a ‘national’ working class ‘getting its place under the capitalist sun’.  This has led to many, including Labour politicians and trade union leaders, Right and Left, accepting ‘honours’ and a place in the House of Lords.[27]  Today Hard Right Tories make the same appeal to ethnic British workers in the name of ‘levelling-up’. Meanwhile those Radical Separatist calls for scatter-gun ‘naming and shaming’, so useful in pursuing any personal grudges and getting the attention needed to advance one’s career, were anticipated in Mao-Tse Tung’s Chinese Communist Party’s ‘rectification campaigns.’

It’s not so much the use of the term ‘identity’ which Socialists should be concerned about but the ability to distinguish between the exploited and the oppressed on one hand, and the exploiter and the oppressor on the other hand.  Once this distinction is made it becomes much easier to dismiss calls by Liberal and Radical Separatist identity promoters to support a Zionist Jewish ethnic ‘identity’ backed by the oppressive Israeli state.  They equate this with others giving support to a civic Palestinian ‘identity’ oppressed by that same state.

This distinction between oppressor and oppressed also undermines Liberal ‘Cultural Traditions’ NGOs in Northern Ireland.  They claim that Irish Nationalists/Catholics should celebrate Loyalist marches and bonfires, as if they are nothing but friendly neighbourly celebrations, a bit like Morris dancing, Halloween nights or Hogmanay parties!  But don’t turn up in solidarity cross-dressed, wearing green or bring along an Irish tricolour!

John’s criticisms of transgendered people represent a wider contemporary, if sometimes unwitting, accommodation to some Right wing ideas.  Since Brexit we have seen Socialists who want to claim the support of workers who are vociferously against Neo-Liberalism but who are also prepared to give support to decidedly reactionary forces, e.g. UKIP, the Brexit Party and Hard Right Tories.  In this, such Socialists inadvertently acted as outriders for far larger, Hard Right (and potentially for Far Right) forces.  It is to the credit of John and Socialist Democracy (Ireland) -(SD(I) – that they opposed Brexit/Irexit and the illusions of the Left Brexiteers.  EL&SD has posted SD(I) articles to add to our all-islands ‘internationalism from below’ opposition to Brexit.[28]

The important thing to realise is that since 2008, Neo-Liberalism has lost its political hegemony, whilst the global economic order, dominated by the US, Wall Street and the City of London, is being undermined by inter-imperialist rivalry, particularly between rising China and declining USA.  The Hard Right resort to economic protectionism and authoritarian politics, e.g. their bilateral treaties, constant external and internal bordering with new walls and ‘moats’, ever-increasing surveillance activities, and their removal of constitutional and legal constraints upon Populist politicians and capitalist buccaneers. These are not designed to maintain a global Neo-Liberal  order.  In economics they are leading to ‘Neo-Liberalism in One Country’ , and in politics to ‘Neo-Illiberalism’.  This is what the rise of the authoritarian Populism signifies.  Those Socialists, who still see the old Neo-Liberals as their main enemy, have sometimes provided cover for the rise of the Hard Right.

And in these islands, it was the Hard Right’s 2016 Brexit victory, which marked their growing ascendancy.  In Northern Ireland, Brexit was promoted mainly by the reactionary unionist DUP, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and Loyalist paramilitaries and by some conservative unionist UUP members.  Here was their chance to unravel the ‘parity of esteem’ of the Good Friday Agreement.  Socialists in People before Profit (PbP) (originally an SWP front, now for its successor, the Socialist Workers Network ), the Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI) (with its much smaller and separate section reflecting Partition in Northern Ireland), the Workers’ Party and the politically related Communist Party of Ireland, also supported Brexit.  And so too did the majority of Dissident Republicans.  However, only the PbP had enough support to field a Left Brexit-supporting candidate in the 2017 Westminster general election.  In this electoral competition where the DUP and TUV led the Right Brexiteers, and PbP led the Left Brexiteers, the Right gained 98.1% of the Brexiteer vote, PbP 1.9%.  This was not a very encouraging balance of forces!

But Brexit has also gained the backing of Aontu, founded in 2019 as a socially conservative breakaway from the constitutional nationalist Sinn Fein, with some SDLP breakaway support too.  Aontu sees Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland’s previously shared EU membership as being responsible for undermining traditional Catholic social values over women, gays and transgendered people.  And in this, they have been prepared to link up with the equally socially reactionary, Protestant fundamentalist supporters of Union and Empire and those reactionary Protestant fundamentalists and traditionalist Catholics, who form the base of the Hard Right in the USA.  Aontu has 2 councillors in Northern Ireland (still less than the Socialists).  But its vote overtook that of PbP in the 2019 Westminster general election.

In the Republic of Ireland (which was given a severe doing over by both the EU and UK governments following the 2008 Crash), people first became aware of latent Europhobia in the 2018 presidential election.  The openly racist, anti-Traveller, anti-migrant, Peter Casey came second with 23% of the vote, much of this at the expense of Sinn Fein.  This contributed to the breakaway of the aforementioned all-Ireland Aontu.  It now has 1 TD and 3 councillors in the Republic of Ireland, mercifully still smaller than the number of Socialists TDs and councillors.  Irexit is also supported by the more Right  Populist, Irish Freedom Party (IFP), which actively courted Nigel Farage (a bit like George Galloway in the UK).  And beyond them, in their support for Irexit, are Hard Right TDs like Noel Greilish and the Far Right, National Party and Renua.

Following the 2016 Brexit vote in the UK, Irexit became  publicly supported by Socialists in PbP, Solidarity (the SPI front in the Republic of Ireland) (and the more marginal and already declining Workers’ Party and CPI).  In the 2019 local elections, PbP lost 7 councillors, Solidarity lost 10 (although internal splits were also a contributory factor for both.)  In the 2020 Dail general election, PbP lost 1 TD, Solidarity lost 3.  The biggest winners by far were Sinn Fein, which had made a Left turn.  Sinn Fein emphasised the importance of Ireland’s continued membership of the EU, in their Left populist manifesto, Giving workers and families a break.   And the growth of Hard Right opposition to the EU was not expressed so much by votes for parties like Right Populist, Aontu and IFP, or the still marginal Far Right, National Party and Renua, but for independent Hard Right TDs like Greilish.

However, opposition to the EU forms just one part of the Hard Right’s authoritarian Populist offensive.  Even more important to them is overthrowing the whole legacy of the socio-economic gains made by Women’s and Gay Liberation Movements, in the late 1960s and earlier 1970s, during an International Revolutionary Wave, symbolised in the USA by the 1973 Supreme Court,  Roe v. Wade amendment.  The latest weapon the Hard (and Far Right) has found to assist them in their crusade is opposition to transgender rights.

This is why it is worrying that John goes on to oppose those supporters of transgendered people who want a “wide-ranging legal framework supporting self-identification.”[29]  And his reasoning is much the same as that of the Left Brexiteers in relation to the Neo-Liberals and their outreach organisations.  These “existing movements are incorporated into NGOs and government sponsored community organisations,”[30] forming part of a Neo-Liberal elite.  Instead, John gives support to those gender critical feminists who want women’s spaces to be based on biological sex, not socio-cultural gender.

Yet the prime motivation behind the original Women’s Movement was to break out of the conservative and reactionary, hetero-sexual straitjackets, imposed upon them in work, family, leisure, cultural and sexual activities. These restraints were justified on grounds which equated biologically determined female sex with socially determined women’s gender and sexuality.  The resurrection of such arguments today by gender critical feminists can only lead to the thinking, long upheld by the Right, that if women don’t prioritise having children, then they aren’t fully women.  It is only the recognition of the socially determined nature of gender and sexuality, which offers women and  people from an LBGT+ background more freedom.  This can also provide a real challenge to capitalism’s social reproduction relations.

As with the Left Brexiteers over Brexit/Irexit, John does not look at the Rightist political origins of transphobia which critical gender thinking accommodates itself to, whist trying to distance itself from its more rabid supporters.  All those parties and organisations, which John so rightly opposed over Brexit/Irexit, will line up with gender critical feminists against transgendered people – the DUP, TUV, sections of the UUP, the Far Right in the Loyalist paramilitaries  and in the National Party and Renua, as well as the Catholic bishops’ conference, the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, the Islamic Cultural Centre and the Orange Oder, which ganged up against the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution criminalising abortion.

The original source of such anti-transgender thinking comes from the very well-funded religious Hard and Far Right in the USA.  In the UK and Ireland this began as largely disconnected online trolls, targeting individual transgendered people. But they now have a highly organised political campaign, with its own front organisations, also targeting transgender organisations and other supporters. They receive  considerable US Hard and Far Right financial backing.  This campaign  has also developed outreach into other not initially Right-motivated bodies, e.g. Mumsnet in the UK. The Right has been pursuing its ‘culture wars’ ever since their setbacks in late 1960s and early 1970s.  Today’s ongoing attacks on transgendered people are only the first phase in  their salami tactics to be stepped up next against gays and women as well.  And any Left critical gender theory supporters would soon be trampled in the Right stampede, just as Left Brexiters were over Brexit.

However, there is a specific ‘Marxist’ link with critical gender theory, which has seduced some Socialists today. This is based on  vulgar materialist thinking, which has continually reappeared on the Left, particularly during times of political retreat.  Such thinking does not make a clear distinction between the biological laws which largely determine the organic world (plants and animals) and the social laws which increasingly determine the human world. They do, however, recognise the distinction between the physical and chemical laws which largely determine the inorganic world (e.g. rocks, soil, oceans, rivers, rainfall and winds) and the biological  laws which largely determine the organic world.  These biological laws are not ‘free-floating’ but recognise the laws of physics and chemistry; just as social laws which determine human activity recognise  physical, chemical  and biological  laws. However, social laws are able to transcend some of these other laws’  limitations and open up the prospect of far greater freedom – social and individual  (the two are linked) self-determination in its wider sense.

During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth , especially under the pressure of imperialism, Social Darwinism had a big impact on Social Democrats and the Second International.  There was strong tendency to interpret the human world, if not always by the  direct application of, then by  analogy with the biological  world.  This had a particularly negative effect when it came to challenging  racism, but biological essentialist thinking also undermined attempts to promote women’s equality.

Today, critical general theorists try to reduce socially created gender – women –  to the  biologically created sex – female.  Thus they say that ‘real’ women have wombs necessary to produce babies.  This, as with the earlier Social Darwinist thinking, overlaps with Right essentialist thinking. It is argued  women’s main purpose in  being a female/woman is  to have children.  Thus for the Right (including their ‘Red’ allies, such as the Communist Party of Russia)  not only transgender women, but lesbians are less then ‘real women’, whilst those women who try to assert control over their ‘biological destiny’, by supporting abortion and contraception, are also seen as undermining families.  In these families the heterosexual male is dominant.  And those women who are infertile are also somewhat less than ‘real women’ unable to increase the number of children needed by the paranoiac racist Red/Brown alliance  to increase White numbers. Here today’s  ‘Reds’ invoking a vulgar materialist Marxism, revived by Stalin,  a few years after the defeat of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave, give their assistance to the Browns or the Hard and Far Right.

Any genuinely critical female/gender theory would assert the distinction between biological sex (which of course does have a major influence on human lives) and  socially created gender.  It is this distinction which helps women, those from a LBGT+ background, and men to move well beyond the biological limitations, capitalism and the Right  try to impose on us.  Such a recognition of the difference between the biological and the social is already preparing the grounds for social  and individual  self-determination in a new society.

For Socialists, the fundamental political issue over transgendered people should be whether or not they are oppressed.  There is plenty of evidence to show that they are, and just as important, that they have resisted this and fought back.  Furthermore, as in the cases of black people, women, gays and other oppressed groups, the majority of transgendered people belong to the working class. We have seen before the sort of arguments directed at transgendered people and now used by gender critical feminists.  They were also used by the reactionary and conservative Right against the Gay Movement.  These arguments evoke predatory behaviour in such ‘safe spaces’ as toilets and designs upon those below the statutory age of consensual sex.  And the arguments that transgendered people threaten traditional, biologically based sexual relations between and men and women, and women’s role in the family as mothers, were originally directed against the Women’s Movement too.

The promotion of such tactics is very handy for male chauvinists of all stripes.  In Scotland, we have just witnessed the emergence of the politically ambiguous Left/Right Populist Nationalist party, Alba.[31]  This is led by former SNP and Scottish government leader, Alex Salmond.  In a major court case in 2021, he was successfully defended against an accusation of rape.  But to marginalise this charge, his QC argued, in effect, that he was only a “sex pest”.  Back in May 2008, Salmond, then an MP took a special flight from Aberdeen to Westminster to vote to limit abortion from 24 to 20 weeks.[32]  Alba has attracted some racists, homophobes and misogynists.  But it has also attracted gender critical feminists. They have risen rapidly in Salmond’s party (and like Tommy Sheridan’s old Solidarity it is basically his vanity party).  They provide a very useful cover for Salmond’s and other members own sexist prejudices and behaviour.

At the moment, transgendered people are often on the frontline of the attack upon our class and its other oppressed members.  They cannot be adequately protected under the existing or any impending new laws, even if we have to try and use these at times.  Better-off liberally minded people, like those privileged Right wing members of the ruling class, who don’t conform to the Right’s sexual stereotypes, can take some comfort in being tolerated behind-the-scenes (well at least until any possible future Far Right’s ‘night of the long knives’).

Nor should Socialists follow those who hope to avoid the Right’s resort to ‘culture wars’, by concentrating on economic issues instead.   We should engage in these cultural battles in the same way we engage in other aspects of the class war – political, economic and social.  Capitalism is an integrated system based on exploitation, oppression and alienation.[33]  ‘Culture wars’ are a reflection of the alienation people experience under capitalism.  And our answer to alienation is to support and to promote self-determination in its widest sense.  Gender self-determination is a good example of this.


f) Taking on the Hard Right’s and Liberals’ hypocrisy

John’s arguments could give succour to the Hard Right.  In these ‘culture wars’, John claims that the new gender critical theory based, feminist and gay “movements” (who are unspecified) “have been savagely criticised by many traditional feminist organisations, now part of a partnership between unions, and government and operating through NGOs”.[34]  Such criticism is seen by many, particularly the Right, as amounting to a ‘cancel culture’.

However, there are no greater perpetrators of ‘cancel culture’ than the Hard and Far Right.  The  authoritarian Right wing of the ruling class is now politically dominant.  They constantly use their control of the state and media to ensure other voices aren’t heard or are suppressed, e.g. their bogus ‘anti-Semitic’ accusations, and their campaigns to dismiss supporters of Palestinian rights from their jobs, all to protect the US and UK states’ key imperial ally, apartheid Israel.  So, even those Radical Separatist, feminist and LBGT+ people, who sometimes do try to silence their perceived oppressors, are responding in this wider socio-political context.  The Socialist answer, however, to the Right’s own ‘cancel culture’ designed to divide-and-rule, should be the promotion of solidarity based on unity in diversity.

It is also important not to get trapped into the notion held by Liberals of defending ‘free speech’.  There is little free speech to defend when the media is dominated by state and corporate bodies; and members of a rich and powerful elite can silence others through threats of court action, and spendtheir money to buy the best ‘justice’ that money can buy.  For Socialists it is far more important to promote freedom of information, and defend its advocates, e.g. whistle-blowers, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange.  Of course, there may also be specific cases of censorship, which the Left would oppose.

The Hard Right already has control of so many media sources – TV, radio, newspapers and online platforms – that they are hardly affected by any Liberal editor’s decision  not to promote one of their usually provocatively tendentious spokespersons.  The Right does not campaign for universal free speech or freedom of information – far from it.  We need to recognise that we live in a class divided society and constitutional, legal and access to media reflect the domination of the ruling class.

And reflecting their wider hypocrisy, we have already witnessed leading Hard Right capitalist politicians, like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Lawson, using the Brexit furore as an opportunity to transfer their investments to the EU.  They can fly in private jets, buy their second, third and more homes in the EU, and avoid all the post-Brexit obstacles faced by ‘ordinary Brits’.  As Covid-19 has shown, there is one law for us and another law for them.

Now, in the current Rightward drifting political climate, some Liberal advocates do try to champion the inherited but threatened Liberal political, constitutional and legal institutions, and the BBC against attacks from the Hard and Far Right.  And there are worse organisations around than Amnesty International,  other Liberal NGOs, or even the BBC, whatever criticisms we may have of them, e.g. the Hard Right’s Migrant Watch UK, Breibart and Fox News in the USA.  Both Right Populists and Liberals may have backing from different sections of the ruling class, but the much more widespread gaslighting and trolling by the Hard and Far Right has a far greater impact upon more people’s lives than those Radical Separatists, who sometimes reply in kind.

From a Socialist viewpoint, the main limitation of Liberals’ arguments and practice is they confine their promotion of class-limited, ‘break the glass ceilings’ versions of feminist, gay and transgendered rights to activity within the existing legal and constitutional order.  Furthermore, given their historical record, don’t expect any Liberal consistency over defence of these rights.  Many Liberals have already capitulated to the Right over migration and ethnic minorities. Some, like Gordon Brown, have even adopted the Far Right’s language, e.g. his call for ‘British jobs for British workers’, first coined by the British Fascist, National Front; and his attempt along with Michael Gove to define British citizenship (read subjecthood) on ethnic criteria.  Following the 2008 Crash of the Neo-Liberals’ socio-economic order, New Labour were among the first to abandon earlier Liberal concessions.  They massively expanded migrant detention centres and promoted Islamophobia, as well as other reactionary measures.  They paved the way for the rise of the Hard and Far Right.

This easy Liberal accommodation to the Hard and Far Right has also been highlighted more recently by the Labour Right’s defence of the Israeli state.  In 2018, its Right Zionist government passed the Jewish nation-state law, with its constitutional guarantee of ethnic Jewish supremacy, which had long been in place in practice.  Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) has been a visitor to, and is a strong supporter of Israel and its new law.  He would like to see ethnic supremacist laws in the UK.  The ‘liberal’ supporters of the Labour Friends of Israel have been (un)remarkably quiet over this.  And Sir Keir Starmer is very likely to return to Brown’s attempt to come up with an ethnic nationality version of ‘Britishness’.  The debate between the Hard and the Far Right, though, is whether you can be British if you fully assimilate to the UK state’s imperialist, unionist, monarchist and chauvinist values (e.g. Priti Patel, Suella Braverman and Kwasi Karteng), or whether you can only be ‘truly British’ if you are white and are born here.


g) Developing ‘internationalism from below’ solidarity

During the 2016 EU membership referendum, many Socialists, including John, quite rightly looked to the defence of the ‘internationalism from below’ achievements made by domestic and migrant workers in mixed personal relationships at home, at work, in universities and colleges, and in their communities.  This intermixing has also greatly enhanced our cultural experiences.  And we also witnessed some impressive solidarity in trade union and other struggles.  Workers from Turkey and Latin America brought their politically more advanced traditions to the Dublin GAMA and London cleaners’ disputes.

All these gains have been hard-won under the bureaucratically imposed, ‘internationalism from above’ umbrella of the dominant  ruling classes in the member states of the EU.  John recognises this.  The EU is an alliance of these ruling classes and their states; it is not a state in itself.  It has no army or police force.  There is no hidden Neo-Liberal European ruling class hiding behind an EU mask.  Such conspiracy theories obscure what is in clear sight – the often very public competition and jockeying by the ruling classes of EU member states and their shared attempts to ensure that the costs of any crisis, economic or environmental, are imposed upon workers, women, small farmers and ethnic minorities.

Many on the Irish Left, who tail ended the Hard Right in their support for  Brexit (or unwittingly contributed to the Hard Right’s emergence in the case of Irexit) have now moved in the opposite direction. This change  has come about as a result of mass mobilisations, including the victory in repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution over abortion rights.  This victory was very rightly celebrated.  Support for transgender rights is now seen to be a way of building on this and pushing for the greater unity-in-diversity of the oppressed.  This is a way of overcoming the Right’s continuous attempt to divide our class.  The massive Me Too and Black Lives Matter Movements have also acted as further contributors to this desire to overcome class divisions, caused in these cases by sexist and racist oppression.  These two forms of oppression are central not peripheral to capitalism and imperialism.

Certainly, Liberals will fight tooth and nail to take over, mislead and, in their own way, divide these movements, as Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and the Democrats have clearly shown.  Radical Separatists, who sometimes promote their own versions of ‘cancel culture’ can also divide the exploited and oppressed.  But abstaining from offering solidarity and participating in mass movements amounts to a form of abstract Socialist propagandism.

We will certainly come up against other Socialists, who go along with some of the illusions promoted under the existing constitutional and legal order, particularly by Liberal campaigners.  The Republic of Ireland still has the power of the Catholic Church deeply embedded into its constitution, with a strong hold over education and health in particular.  Far from the Eighth Amendment referendum victory opening up the prospect of a full women’s choice over abortion rights, the Irish government has handed over the construction of the new National Maternity Hospital in Dublin to the decidedly illiberal Catholic Church.[35]

Meanwhile, the cynical top-down imposed extension of the liberal British abortion laws to Northern Ireland in 2019, to punish the over-cocky DUP for not restoring Stormont, has even less prospect of bringing about a full women’s choice over abortion rights.  The inherited forces of conservatism and reaction are deeply embedded and constitutionally supported in Northern Ireland under the post-GFA political deals despite their liberal coating.  And the constitutional nationalist, Sinn Fein (and SDLP) don’t want to alienate those socially conservative members and voters who have not already departed for Aontu.[36]

Thus, any long-term successful campaigns to advance or even to defend our social provision cannot depend on the existing constitutional order.  John concludes his book with, “Breaking the mould {the impasse in Irish politics} involves presenting a new political alternative, a revolutionary break from today’s more or less universal corruption in favour of renewed calls for a workers’ republic”.[37]  But Socialists need to go well beyond this abstract propagandist alternative.  We need to develop immediate demands which arise from the current conditions we face, and to help create democratic autonomous coalitions to organise  resistance.  And we need to look  beyond Ireland, or Scotland, Wales and England individually to do this on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis.




[1] John McAnulty, Ireland’s Partition: Coda to counterrevolution (IP:Ctc), p. ii (Socialist Democracy, Belfast, 2021)

[2] – p.806


[4] – p.46

[5] John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 10, p.8

[6] John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 10, p.9

[7]  John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 1, p.5

[8] John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 10, p.9

[9] John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 6, p.8










[19] – p.70

[20] – p.11


[22] John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 2, p.3

[23] John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 7, p.3


[25]John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 10, p.10

[26] John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 10. p.4


[28] – pp.47-53

[29] John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 4, p.6

[30] John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 4, p.6




[34] John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 4, p.6

[35] and


[37] John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 10, p.10




also see:

For an all-islands, republican coalition –   Part 1, The changing nature of British rule in Ireland: One response – Allan Armstrong

For articles from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) see:-

Emancipation & Liberation – Irish Coverage from 2002