IRELAND - SINN FEIN: FROM THE BULLET TO THE BALLOT?
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Ireland - Sinn Fein: From the bullet to the ballot?
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A Conference of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Movement was held in Dublin at the end of January to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the calling of an Irish Parliament (Dail) in 1919. The importance of this meeting lay not in the condemnation of imperialism and foreign capitalists (their own capitalists being not so bad, one presumes) but in the turn being inaugurated in their strategy. It signals a hegemony of the political over the military wings in the Provisionals and is almost identical to similar debates which tore the I.R.A. in half two decades before.
The last twenty or so years has seen the direct involvement of British military and intelligence forces in the six counties of Ulster which are a part of the United Kingdom. It was the Labour Government of Harold Wilson, aware of the inadequacies of the Protestant ruling elite in containing the unrest amongst the Catholic population over civil rights, which sent in troops in 1969, with the excuse of protecting Catholics from the brutality of the notorious 'B' Specials of the Ulster Constabulary. But who were to protect the Catholics from the British Army? The role of the British Army was shown in the massacre of Bloody Sunday in 1972 when a demonstration was fired upon. A reorganised Provisional I.R.A. has since stepped up it's campaigns against the British Government, not only in Northern Ireland but also in Britain, Germany, Holland - anywhere they felt they could strike back.
Northern Ireland had become more and more an armed camp riddled with informers, surveillance operations, divided areas partitioned by massive fences, with almost every conceivable counter-insurgency device being used. England, the inventor of concentration camps during the Boer war in South Africa, has little to learn from anybody else about such techniques. It is in Ulster where all the latest theories of anti-guerrilla operations are tried out, a.. massive training ground for the Army.
Unable to successfully strike against the occupying forces, the I.R.A. targetted civilian support industries, everything from builders to removal firms which serviced the Army units, as well as off-duty police and part-time soldiers. Bombing campaigns hit civilians as the military were harder to get at. Deaths were piling up on both sides leading to the elimination of the hard-core elements of the I.R.A. active service units. Spectacular events were depended on to off-set the growing losses.
The furore following the shooting of three I.R.A. members in Gibraltar last year highlights the problems for both sides. The I.R.A. wanted a publicity-grabbing event whilst the British Government required them to be stopped by any appropriate means. The result was that the active service unit was eliminated in the open in the streets of a British colony in front of witnesses. The methods which had been used in the rural areas of Ulster were now shown in all their brutality before the general public. The state forces will stop at nothing to counter any attempt to challenge them. Experience gained over the centuries in all parts of the globe are used to wipe out any attempt at armed resistance.
The campaigns in Ulster that had involved «softer» targets, that is civilians and non-active security forces, and the killings of members of Catholic and Protestant members of para-military groups (often described as sectarian killings) raises the question of why those particular people were killed. Corruption, bribes, protection rackets, sectarian «God Fathers» on the Protestant and Catholic side, makes it suspicious why such-and-such an individual was killed and for whose interests. It was against this background that the statements of Sinn Fein were important.
Gerry Adams, the President of Sinn Fein, criticised recent operations which had led to an «exceptional and regrettable level of civilian casualties» and warned that if they continued it would lead to an undermining of morale amongst republican supporters. The vice-President, Martin McGuinness, announced that the I.R.A. had disbanded a unit in Fermanagh «because the killing of civilians is wrong».
A few days before, the Provisional Republican paper, «An Phoblacht», printed an interview with a spokesperson of the I.R.A.'s leadership which confirmed that a unit had been disbanded and disarmed for the killing of a former policeman. In commenting on the unfortunate consequences of civilian deaths, the I.R.A. was making it clear that it would be subordinating itself to the political requirements of the movement.
«As I said, we realise that we have a responsibility to correct the problems and refine our activities so that they do not hinder but complement efforts to build a broad-based front against imperialism.... Having said all that, it is our intention to encourage the climate for radical politics in Ireland and to assist that process.»
The provisionals had for many years presented the strategy of an armalite rifle in one hand and a ballot box in the other, preferring to fight on both fronts at the same time. It is now clear that the political side will have preference from now on. The political strategy was expressed by Adams as a recognition that they could not win by themselves. He further declared that «elitism and dogma is finished» - in other words, everything is up for grabs. Overtures had already been made to sections of the Protestant side and that their interests must be taken into account. The only way Ireland could be reunited was with their cooperation.
This was no off-the-cuff remark but part of a change in strategy prepared some time before. At a Public Meeting in Dublin on January 19th a declaration of a struggle for Irish Unity was reaffirmed not only by Sinn Fein, but also by the hopelessly opportunist Communist Party of Ireland. A leader of the C.P.I. stated that the realisation of a Democratic programme «clearly represented the radical mood of the times». A statement at this meeting was read out on behalf of Adams: this condemned the Fianna Fail Government for its social and economic policies:
«Their self-seeking opportunism, their reactionary economic and social policies, their moral conservatism and their open and active support for British imperialism are in stark contrast to the policies and programme adopted by the First Dail... A million and a quarter people have emigrated from the 26-county state in the last 70 years. One million of the population live below the poverty line. Unemployment continues to rise and the weak, sick and poor are increasingly victims of the Government.»
The conclusion that Adams comes to is that the Irish nation must have sovereignity over its own economy in order to overcome all the problems that the Eire government can not tackle. Whilst not interferring in anyone's criticism on the ruling class in Eire and its actions, we must not let the illusion of national control of the economy slip by. One fundamental aspect of capitalism is that it tends towards crisis and that there are no solutions for it without slump, war, poverty, unemployment and immense suffering for the working class. If large nations, including the United States, can not avoid the ever-deepening crisis of capitalism, can Adams really think that a unified Ireland could do better? In or out, of the Common Market, Ireland (divided or united) will continue being a prisoner of the roller-coaster crisis of the world market. The only way to end the problems of the poor and oppressed in the 26 Counties, like everywhere else, is to abolish economics - that is to establish Communism.
The «betrayal» of nationalism
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Arguments are advanced by the likes of Sinn Fein that the nationalist aspirations have been «betrayed». References are made to the Constitution of 1798 and to the Declaration of the Dail of 1919 as being perfect examples of democratic principles which have been betrayed. This is a fallacy which must be challenged.
All bourgeois classes have advanced forward enthusiastic slogans such as liberty, democracy and national unity in order to arouse the ordinary people to fight for their cause. In the struggle against feudalist absolutism and imperialist domination, at a certain stage it was correct for the working class to make a common front with their own bourgeoisie in order to vanquish the common enemy. At a certain point the antagonistic interests between the local bourgeoisie and the proletariat would lead to an outbreak of class struggle within the «nation», tearing it apart. Every bourgeois revolution has followed this same path, from the French Revolution - with Napoleon clearing the streets of Paris with a whisp of grapeshot - to the declaration of the Irish Republic and the resulting Civil War. The bourgeoisie do not «betray» democracy as such but defend class rule personified by the state. The state is the personification of a national economy upon which classes are based and range themselves in mutual contradiction. There is no element of choice in the matter, but what has been bestowed by the work and struggles of previous generations and are part of the forward march of history. The bourgeoisie, for all its talk of liberty and national accord, are as much prisoners of events as the feudal Barons had been who had struggled, for local despotism.
Any bourgeoisie which takes power has to get the state organised, protect property, develop laws, raise a police force and Army, and functions by-and-large just like the state that had just been overthrown. Soon opponents are thrown into gaol, hostages taken, special courts without juries, internment, etc.; all of these are just what a state is there for. Class rule, can only be defended in such a fashion. And we can say that the state in Ireland called Eire, composing of 26 Counties, is just such a state. In certain instances Eire was the pioneer of various legal measures, such as the Offences Against the State Act 1989, Special Courts, which the authorities in Ulster were to imitate soon afterwards. In one sense, through the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the bourgeoisie have their form of United Ireland, where the population is kept on a tight rein. Isn't democratic bourgeois rule wonderful - you can't move for the Gardai/Police.
Within the bourgeoisie during its revolution there are always differences about how far the revolution should go, which leads to intense struggles within the nationalists. It is this violent conflict which gives credence to the illusion of a «betrayal» by the bourgeoisie. Of course for this or that person discarded by the bourgeoisie, imprisoned or killed, it is most unfortunate, but there is a sense of continuity of purpose for which the new ruling class strives. The disciplining of their own ranks, and the declaration of. war against the working class, are symptoms of a counter-revolution. How else can we judge the Irish Civil War 1921-3? Is there still an uncompleted bourgeois revolution to be accomplished; is the national unification of Ireland an inevitable stage which must be accomplished before anything else can be done? These are questions others can argue over, and they largely fall within the province of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat has other strategies and tasks to look towards.
Here we will give two examples of the continuity of nationalist aspirations and the counterrevolution in the «Free State» of Eire. According to James Connolly, Daniel O'Connell, a leading nationalist during the early part of last century, while talking to an Irishman breaking stones on the side of a road, said that in an independent Ireland he would still be breaking stones. The second, and most -important, example is that of Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein. It was Griffith who became the «theoretician» of the nationalist movement at the beginning of the century, declaring that Irishmen should be willing to work for less money for the privelege of living in their own country (this was, one, part of the nationalist creed that the local bourgeoisie pushed through with enthusiasm). It was Griffith who helped to force through the agreement with Britain that led to the formation of the Irish Free State.
During the agitations and strikes prior, to the First World War, the official Sinn Fein organ regarded a strike as an unpardonable sin. Arthur Griffith advanced himself as the most bitter critic of an independent workers movement. James Connolly, he didn't mind too much as he had one foot in each camp (nationalism and socialism), but as for James Larkin, Griffith had nothing but bitter hatred. Anyone who could put class before nation he had no time for (it is ironical that Griffith derived a grim satisfaction that certain «internationalist» leaders of the English working class became ultra-jingoists during the First World War).
During 1913 Griffith advanced the following positions:
«Sinn Fein is a national, not a sectional movement, and because it is national, it is not and cannot tolerate injustice and oppression within the nation. It will not, at least, through my voice, associate itself with any war of classes or attempted war of classes. There may be many classes, but there can be only one nation. If there be men who believe that Ireland is a name and nothing more, and that the interest of the Irish working man lines not in sustaining the nation, but in destroying it, that the path to redemption for man-kind is through universalism, cosmopolitanism, or any other 'ism' than Nationalism, I am not of their company....
The free nation I desire to see rise again upon the soil of Ireland is no offspring of despair - no neo-feudalism - with Marx and Lassalle and Proudhon as its prophets... I trust no man will tell me he loves all humanity equally well, for I know that the man who loves all humanity equally well can love nobody in particular. I know that the man who loves all his neighbour's children with his own is a bad father.» [Sinn Fein, November, 1913]
The concept of the «free nation» which Griffith puts forward is largely based upon his study of Hungary as a model, along with the economics of Friedrich List, a German bourgeois economist who advocated protectionism as a means of developing a national economy. But independent national economies, if there can be such a thing, do not appear out of thin air or with a snap of the fingers. A national economy can only be welded together by a state, which pulls all the threads together and tries to systematically mould the various industries into a single unit, but for the state to arise there must have been some basis for it in the first place. But once the process had begun the state exercises its authority in defending the economic interests of the new ruling power, which means also turning upon those who appear to be a threat to the new order.
This is not the place to describe the terrible consequences of eight centuries of oppression of Ireland by England but we must content ourselves by stating that Marxists would have preferred the national question to have been settled with the freeing of Ireland from England's political and military grasp. A more detailed study and exposition of the economic and political developments between England and Ireland must be done and will be published in due course. Suffice it to say at this stage that the possibility of full independence for Ireland was killed off both by the slaughter of the rebellion of the United Irishmen, at the end of the eighteenth century, as well as by the Act of Union with England in 1800. This period saw the struggle of both the landed and mercantile phases of capitalism coming into conflict with the imperial interests of England. The thirteen colonies, which became the United States of America, were able to successfully carry out their rebellion, but Ireland was to suffer... tragically the consequences of being so close geographically to England. What had been a common front two centuries ago, a unity between agricultural and mercantile interests became separated, with the disastrous consequences of the famine period (1840s) - the occurrence of the potato blight masks the process of industrial capital writing off whole sections of agricultural areas in the British Isles with the Repeal of the Corn Laws, and shows that what had been a financial calamity in England turned out to be a national death sentence in Ireland - as well as the process of the industrial revolution affecting Ulster. It would take another half century for the land question to really assert itself in the South of Ireland, but in the meantime Ulster's industrial development locked it into England's economic affairs. Through the British Empire and economy Ulster had access to a broader market than could be expected from a developing protectionist national economy. By looking at the last two centuries in economic terms the various tragic events can be explained. What is being fought out is not religious, tribal or purely sectarian troubles but differing economic interests contending for their own development.
As we pointed out earlier Marxists would have preferred the question of national self-determination for Ireland to have been achieved so that the class struggle could be advanced forward. For Marx the accomplishment of Irish independence would have been like a dagger aimed at the heart of the English establishment and it was hoped that this struggle could help to clear away the obstacles for a revolution in England itself. Marx pointed out that after independence of Ireland from England, perhaps would come federation. Marxism has always poured scorn on the politics of petty nationalism. For Lenin the issue of national self-determination, was vitally important in fighting imperialism and reaction. But that did not mean that national independence was an object in itself. Lenin, amongst numerous examples, pointed out that the right to national self-determination is purely a right and depended on whether the local bourgeoisie was able to accomplish independence. The example of Sweden was given - it wasn't a question of Swedish workers voting in the Swedish Parliament for Norwegian independence, but rather it was up to the Norwegian bourgeoisie to establish its own Parliament and thereby achieve such independence. The example of the Ukraine was given by Lenin as a model of how to look at the main problem. Russia dominated the Ukraine, so does the action of the proletariat re-enforce national oppression? Certainly not says Lenin - the proletarian movement must fight national oppression otherwise it not only re-enforces reaction but accepts the divisions imperialism imposes on the workers movement. National self-determination for the Ukraine, certainly! - but the criminal division of the workers movement between Russian and Ukrainian nations, Never! Marxists have never accepted national divisions not only because the workers have no country («Communist Manifesto») but also because national boundaries are a legacy of the pre-history of the human race and will disappear with Communism. For we Marxists, proletarians (along with the oppressed and dispossessed) in Ireland are our brothers and sisters and they are the ones we are concerned with. We don't give a damn about our «own» nation as far as members of the ruling class are concerned, but seek to further our own class interests as far as going over national boundaries to protect fellow proletarians is concerned. We have no time for all the nonsense which claims that what happens in other countries is purely their own internal affairs and that outsiders should keep out - class politics must come first.
What if the national bourgeoisie is unable to accomplish its historical tasks? Is it the role of the proletarian movement to accomplish them on behalf of the bourgeoisie and only at some far-and-distant time get around to the fight for socialism? The answer to this question, is that the proletarian movement must accelerate its struggle to fill the gap left by an incapable bourgeoisie but without confining itself to the bourgeois phase. In Russia Lenin saw that the Russian bourgeoisie was incapable of carrying out the democratic revolution, which gave the proletariat the opportunity of leaping over this particular phase towards socialism. In a similar vein, if the Irish bourgeoisie are incapable of achieving national self-determination, then it is up to the proletarian movement to lead the struggle for its own interests. There are no bourgeois stages which the proletariat are called upon to achieve before it can commence fighting for itself. The struggle for socialism begins with the emergence of the first industrial bourgeois and proletarians. It is this struggle alone we are interested in.
National independence and counter-revolution
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Marxists have keen for the accomplishment of the democratic bourgeois phase in order to free society and so accelerate the process of the struggle between the national bourgeoisie and their own proletarians. This is the only reason and not for any reverence for democracy and freedom in itself. The events of 1848 showed clearly that there was no other road for the proletariat than the struggle for its own interests. Referring to the uprising in Cracow in 1840, Marx pointed out in a speech on the second anniversary (22nd February, 1848):
«There are striking analogies in history. The Jacobin of 1793 has become the communist of our own day. In 1793, when Russia, Austria and Prussia divided Poland, the three powers justified themselves by citing the constitution of 1791, which was condemned by general agreement on the grounds of its reputedly Jacobin principles.
And what had the Polish constitution of 1791 proclaimed? No more and no less than constitutional monarchy: legislation to be placed in the hands of the country's representatives, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience, judicial hearings to be made public, serfdom to be abolished, etc. And all this at that time simply called Jacobinism! So, gentlemen, you see how history has progressed. The Jacobinism of that time has today become, in the form of liberalism, all that is most moderate.
The three powers have moved with the times. In 1840, when they took away the last vestiges of Polish nationality by incorporating Cracow into Austria, they referred to what they used to call Jacobinism as communism.
But what was communist about the Cracow revolution? Was it communist to want to re-establish Polish nationality? One might equally say that the war of the European Coalition against Napoleon to save the various nationalities was a communist war, and that the Congress of Vienna was made up of communists with crowned heads. Or was the Cracow revolution communist for wanting to set up a democratic government? No one would accuse the millionaires of Bern or New York of communist tendencies.
Communism denies the need for classes to exist: it wants to get rid of all classes and all class distinctions. But the Cracow revolutionaries merely wanted to get rid of political distinctions between the classes; they wanted to give all classes equal rights.
Just what was communist about the Cracow revolution?
Was it possibly that it was trying to break the chains of the feudal system, to liberate land subject to tribute and transform it into free, modern property?
If one were to say to French landowners: «Do you realise what the Polish democrats want? They want to bring into their country the form of ownership already existing in your country»; then the French landowners would answer: «They are doing the right thing». But say, like M. Guizot, to the French landowners: «The Poles want to get rid of landownership as established by you in the 1789 revolution, and as it still exists in your country.» «Good God!» they would cry, «then they must be revolutionaries, communists! These evil men must be crushed.»...
Let us go back further: in 1789 the political question of human rights concealed the social question of free competition.
And what was happening in England? In all matters from the Reform Bill to the repeal of the Corn Laws, have the political parties fought for anything but changes of property, questions of property - social questions?
Here, in Belgium itself, is the battle between liberalism and Catholicism anything other than a battle between industrial capital and the large landowners?»...
The ruling class in various countries are divided amongst themselves over the question of democratic agitations and reforms. Those already in power are conservative in their outlook and bitterly hostile to reforms. Those propertied classes contending for power advance forward their demands as reflecting the interests of the nation as a whole. It is as soon as the new classes enter the government and ruling circles that they also turn on the working class, the poor and dispossessed and create a bloodbath. This was the clear lesson of the revolution in France in 1848 and every other bourgeois revolution. Here we quote Marx again, from «Neue Rheinische Zeitung», 29 June 1848, on «The June Revolution»:
«'Fraternité', the brotherhood of opposing classes, one of which exploits the other, this 'Fraternité' was proclaimed in February and written in capital letters on the brow of Paris, on every prison and every barracks. But its true, genuine, prosaic expression is civil war in its most terrible form, the war between labour and capital. This fraternity flamed in front of all the windows of Paris on the evening of 25 June. The Paris of the bourgeoisie was illuminated, while the Paris of the proletariat burned, bled and moaned in its death agony.
Fraternity lasted as long as there was a fraternity of interests between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Pedants of the old revolutionary traditions of 1793; constructors of socialist systems, who went begging to the bourgeoisie on behalf of the people, and who were allowed to preach long sermons and to compromise themselves as long as the proletarian lion had to be lulled sleep; republicans, who wanted to keep the whole of the old bourgeois order, but remove the crowned head; supporters of the dynastic opposition, upon whom chance had foisted the fall of a dynasty instead of a change of ministers; Legitimists, who wanted not to cast aside the livery but to change its cut; all these were the allies with whom the people made its February....
None of the inumerable revolutions of the French bourgeoisie since 1789 was an attack on order; for they perpetuated class rule, the slavery of the workers, bourgeois order no matter how frequent the changes in the political form of its rule and this slavery.»
In Ireland at the end of the last century the long struggle for independence was renewed leading towards open confrontation with England. The division of the English ruling class into two antagonistic parties, the Tories and Liberals, was exploited by the Irish Party. Parnell's Irish MPs were prepared to support the Liberal Party because of the promise of Rome Rule for Ireland. The Liberal Rome Rule Bill was sabotaged by the Tories, who used the religious conflict between Catholic and Protestant (in fact a reflection of the economic differences between the South and North of Ireland) from the 1880's onwards. It was Lord Randolph Churchill who decided to «play the Orange Card» in Belfast in 1888 to exploit the religious difference in order to get the protestant minority to defend the economic links with England. The playing of the «Orange Card» was in fact a recognition by the Tories that they could not hope to keep hold of all Ireland. If necessary they would be prepared to keep hold of only a part.
The fomenting of the religious differences was an important factor: in the downfall of Parnell, the last Protestant leader for a united independent Ireland up to the present time. The fragmenting of Parnell's Irish Party deferred the question of a united independent Ireland for some time to come. The struggle for land reform throughout Ireland was bringing about the material base for a catholic landowning class. It would strengthen the claim for the autonomy of their own interests, that is in self-government.
There were several Home Rule Bills put before Parliament by the Liberal Party, the last one of 1914 was actually passed. There were real divisions within the British ruling class on whether to allow Irish Independence or fight a war in that country. The faction in England which was for total Irish independence was expressed by Winston Churchill. He actually went to Belfast in 1912 in order to try to convince the Ulster protestants to fight for the leadership of the movement for Home Rule. This message being ignored, the opposition to any decision by Parliament was deemed to be treason. Churchill, as head of the British Navy, later declared
«that if Belfast showed fight [my] fleet would have the town in ruins in twenty-four hours».
Churchill displayed the same opposition to rebellion in Ulster as he had to workers strikes and riots. All opposition to law and order was to be dealt with.
The continued prospect of the Irish Home Rule Bill meant the drift towards civil war right through to the summer of 1914. Only the outbreak of the First World War diverted the open clash between the Irish Volunteers organised in the South and the Ulster Volunteers of Carson in the North. The World War merely postponed the inevitable.
During the First World War the nationalist movement was by-and-large silent as far as a struggle against England was concerned, mainly on the grounds of the Home Rule for Ireland Act had actually been passed. There were two tendencies which pursued an active course during the War. Firstly, those like Roger Casement who turned to Germany as a source of support and assistance as well as guns (in the same way that later on some would look towards Nazi Germany in the Second World War). A deal of that nature would offer another country the help and assistance of an independent Ireland in its struggle against England, but would only have transferred the subordination of Ireland to that other country. The second tendency was those who like Connolly saw England's peril and Ireland's chance for a successful rebellion. This led to the Easter uprising of 1918 which was mainly confined to Dublin because the Irish Republican Brotherhood pulled out at the last minute. Taking the British occupying force by surprise, the rebels were able to seize a section of Dublin. Bravely holding out despite their isolation, the rebellion was put down with much slaughter. After a parody of a trial the leaders of the Easter rebellion were executed by British firing squads, with the wounded Connolly having to be tied to a chair to be executed.
With the end of the First World War, the Irish contest for independence broke out again. The reaction of the London Government was to try and drown the opposition in blood. The atrocities of the Black and Tans and by the later refined terror of the Auxiliaries only further inflamed the struggle for independence. The burning of Irish towns, the ambushes in the countryside and individual executions in the Cities; arrests, internments and hunger strikes; the secret war between the British Intelligence Service's notorious «Cairo Gang» and Michael Collins' network (which resulted in the elimination of the British side in the 'Bloody Sunday' of 1920; all these were, the unending symptoms of Ireland fighting for its independence. Finally, the London Government opened secret negotiations to come to terms whereby they offered a form of Parliament for the 26 Counties providing the separate status of the 6 Counties of the North was accepted. The ground bad been laid by the Government of Ireland Act 1920 which made provisions for the separate Parliaments for the two parts of Ireland which they envisaged. The British government gave more and more ground until finally a truce was called on Monday 21st July, 1921. All Irish prisoners were to be released and negotiations opened for a form of Irish Independence to be brought about in which the South would become a Free State.
The provisions of the Treaty with London was for elections to a Parliament in the South and the constitution of its own state forces in the form of a police force and a National Army. By 1922 a National Army was being formed alongside the armed Volunteers which had conducted the fight against England. New recruits, along with experienced military men (whether from a Irish, American or British Army background) went into the formation of this new National Army.
Bourgeois counter-revolution in the South
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The arguments went on within the Republican ranks on whether the Treaty should be accepted, in the sense of the division of Ireland. For some months the new state in the South was paralysed by the conflict between accepting the Treaty or in continuing the fight by extending it to the North. It was Arthur Griffith, one of the founders of Sinn Fein and a signatory of the Treaty, who urged Michael Collins, another signatory, to get the new state and Army organised and deal with any opponents. There followed a short period whereby both sides of former comrades were reluctant to fight each other. But this situation could only last for a short time. A state by its very existence needs to encourage the economy, protect public safety and disarm any rebels. The new state of the 26 Counties was no different from any others. An open collision was being prepared between this National State and its opponents.
The rebel movement, which had adopted the name of the Irish Republican Army was now split right down the middle. Those who adhered to the Treaty with England gathered around the Government, with Griffith as President, while those who wanted to continue the fight into the North to include Ulster in the new Irish state remained outside the new state. A rebel garrison in the Four Courts in Dublin wanted to be involved in the fight in the North. A garage was raided for transport and one of the rebel garrison was arrested later in retaliation. The rebels, sometimes referred to as Irregulars, replied by seizing a General of the National Army. In the meantime, other Irregulars had seized other parts of Dublin. With this Collins was furious and demanded that the situation was settled at once.
At midnight on 27th June, 1922 an ultimatum was issued for the rebels holding the Four Courts area to surrender. The Four Courts was heavily shelled for three days, causing much death and destruction, by the National Army. For Cathal Brugha, veteran republican fighter, it was another 1916. Many preferred death rather than to be captured by their former compatriots. Of those captured in the assault on the Four Courts, many were held as hostages. Four of these hostages were later executed in retaliation for the shooting of a member of the Dail. The Cabinet discussed the shooting of hostages as an example to others and four were selected - Rory O'Connor, Liam Mellows, Joseph McKelvey and Richard Barrett - and were summarily executed the following morning. There wasn't even a parody of a trial. The four represented the provinces of Ireland: Leinster, Connaught, Ulster and Munster. It was a declaration of war against all those who rebel against the state and showed that it wasn't just the British who could oppress the Irish. Arrests followed, some in the fashion of the old occupying forces, often in the middle of the night. Some of the prisoners, such as Harry Boland, were shot «while trying to escape». The civil war was then taken into the countryside, from town to town. Flying columns were formed to deal with the Irregulars - it was on one of these expeditions that Collins was killed in an ambush.
All-in-all it constitutes a formidable list of actions against former comrades-in-arms. The state needed to be defended by the bourgeoisie. Order needed to be asserted! How different were these events from the. experiences of other bourgeois revolutions? They do not differ by one jot. With the bourgeois revolution accomplished, the only road open is for the proletarian struggle.
Since 1923 Ireland has been full of internment camps of one form or another - both in the North and in the South. Despite their differences, there has been a convergence of interests between Belfast, Dublin and London in ensuring that any opposition to the existing states be fought and defeated. The ruling class in Ireland have their own form of self-determination, and they intend to keep it that way. One final word on the state in Eire. There you have Special Courts, internment camps, Offences Against the State Act, censorship, etc. - some «free nation» Arthur Griffith envisaged!
What Sinn Fein today senses is that things are in flux. What had appeared to be fixed and immutable at the beginning of the century, in this case Britain's military and economic strength, is now undergoing change. The British economy is in serious decline - it is now a net importer of industrial goods for the first time in two centuries! - and who knows whether it might not suit their interests in the future to get rid of the six counties in Ulster, if they become too much of a liability. But what conditions would be attached to such a deal? What would be involved in coming to terms with the Protestants in the North? How far must the economy of Eire be transformed to take in an industrial base in the North? We would hazard a guess that it would lead to the federation with England which Marx talked about a century ago. Of course this may be masked by the Common Market, but economic federation is still federation. What price a «free nation» Mr. Griffith?
Some may still long for a unified Ireland in the hope that it will solve all the problems of the people who live on that island. But what if they should manage to unify it? If Gerry Adams and the other members. of. the Provisional Sinn Fein were able to convince the Protestants and London to agree to a deal - what strings would be attached to such a deal. A secular state? - the separation of the Catholic Church from the state would provoke more unrest from the bourgeoisie than Union with Britain. What measures would a unified state of Ireland have to carry out in order to keep the peace! How many former comrades-in-arms would have to chased, oppressed, gaoled or killed? Who would be the new Michael Collins (who finally earned the nick-name the Irish Pilsudski) in taking the war into all areas to bring Order!
The prospects of a unified Ireland today are different to those of two centuries ago. The constitution of states today are light years away from those envisaged during the heady days of «the Rights of Man» - today capital rules openly and brutally. Today we have a decaying social system which throws all its problems on the poor and exploited. There is no room for manoeuvre in the creation of free and independent states. The world is formed of blocs of countries who compete fiercely for the world markets. What role would a unified Ireland, with an industrial base, play? Which smaller country would the unified Ireland choose to kick around or invade? Eire may have been able to keep the facade of a neutral country by being a small agrarian country, but what if it had to compete with others for the shrinking markets. Which countries would it want to go to war with? Eire's neutrality has been protected in practice by Britain and the United States for the last fifty years. Could a unified Ireland afford to have its defence determined so. Would membership of Nato become a requirement of unification? Oh no, Mr. Adams, unification does not solve problems, it would merely intensify them.
We cannot, however, deny that there is oppression of a vicious nature in Ulster, nor do we want to brush it to one side. The attitude towards the Catholics, as descendants of the Irish race, is one of hatred and vindictive attacks by the Orange lodges. We could never condemn anyone for struggling against their own oppressions, the catholic men being doubly oppressed, with the catholic women perhaps being trebly oppressed. In the absence of a determined class struggle which would draw in the overwhelming majority of the poor and oppressed, as well as organised proletarians, what can one expect but individual struggles and the falling into nationalism in the likes of Ireland. It is the price to be paid for the subservience of the British workers to the Imperialist aspirations of the British bourgeoisie. A workers movement which cannot oppose and fight discrimination and oppression will never achieve anything, never mind a revolution.
We do not welcome the prospect of a unified Ireland today, nor do we deny its possibility; but would see it as one more enemy of the proletariat. It is towards the unification of the workers of the British Isles as part of a world process that we dedicate our work.
Class war in Dublin
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«Ireland is something of a British Poland, only rather more of the Galician type than of the Warsaw-Lodz-Dombrovski variety. [That is, rather more clerical-agrarian than industrial - Ed] National oppression and Catholic reaction have turned the proletarians of this unhappy country into paupers, the peasants into toilworn, ignorant and dull slaves of the priesthood, and the bourgeoisie into a phalanx, masked by nationalist phrases, of capitalists, of despots over the workers; finally, they have turned the authorities into a gang accustomed to every kind of violence.
At the present moment the Irish nationalists (i.e. the Irish bourgeoisie) are the victors. They are buying up the land from the British landlords; they are getting national Home Rule (the famous Home Rule, for which such a long and stubborn struggle between Ireland and Britain has gone on); they will freely govern «their» land in conjunction with «their» Irish priests.
Well, this Irish nationalist bourgeoisie is celebrating its «national» victory, its maturity in «affairs of state» by declaring a war to the death against the Irish labour movement.
In Dublin lives the British Lord-Lieutenant. But in actual fact his power yields to that of the Dublin capitalist leader, a certain Murphy, publisher of the «Independent» (seriously - «Independent!»), the principal shareholder and director of the Dublin tramways, and a shareholder in a whole number of capitalist establishments in Dublin. Murphy has declared, on behalf of all the Irish capitalists, of course, that he is ready to spend three-quarters of a million pounds (nearly 7 million roubles) to destroy the Irish trade unions.
And these unions have begun to develop splendidly. On the heels of the Irish bourgeois scoundrels engaged in celebrating their «national» victory followed the Irish proletariat, awakening to class consciousness. It has found a talented leader in the person of Comrade Larkin, secretary of the Irish Transport Workers' Union. Possessing remarkable oratorical talent, a man of seething Irish energy, Larkin has performed miracles among the unskilled workers - that mass of the British proletariat which in Britain is often cut off from the advanced workers by that cursed petty-bourgeois, Liberal, aristocratic spirit of the British skilled worker».
Lenin - 1913
Source: «Communist Left», No. 1, July-December 1989
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