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The Left Archive: The Communist Party of Ireland and the “Irish Socialist” from the late 1980s September 28, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Communist Party of Ireland, Irish Left Online Document Archive.


I’ve always been fairly intrigued by the CPI. It has had a remarkable, some might say even a tenacious, ability to remain extant in the face of all the slings and arrows of the Irish political system (or in spite of that system might be a more accurate description). Despite the fact that the support for the further left is quite minimal, despite the fact that it supported a political system that was excoriated by both Church and (as Donald Horne would put it) the Public Culture and that it came under sustained attack for that support, despite the fact that it was more or less unquestioning in its support for ‘actually existing socialism’, or rather the one state which gave it a go, the CPI has survived. Those of us of a certain age may remember Left Bank Books, the WPs short-lived attempt at a left bookshop down on the Quays in Dublin. Short-lived being the operative word. No such problem – indeed none of the high-falutin’ trendiness of the name ‘Left Bank Books’ for the CPI which even today manages to run the more astutely Connolly Books (although the goodwill and support of individuals such as the worlds most progressive builders Wallace shouldn’t be overlooked there).

In many respects the CPI was and is admirable. The issue of Irish Socialist here
(4.5 mbs approx) is well worth a read for determining the particular worries of the party (and as a counterpoint to the IRSP newspaper posted up in the Left Archive last week). Their chiding of the WP is fascinating in itself. it must have been difficult for the CPI to view their rise during the 1970s and 1980s with many of the same policies as the CPI (well, bar the idea that one should vote FF!). Of course the national question was the biggie. And here the CPI took a line which would be reasonably progressive being resolutely antagonistic to the armed struggle but still clearheaded enough to see that the then status quo was a busted flush. Something the WP never quite got. In a way what is remarkable is not how much has changed – farewell Namibia as a cockpit of global change but hallo again and again and again to the Middle East.

Still, I wouldn’t join it, and problematically for the CPI, neither would most on the left. Because it raised one major problem.

What exactly did it do?

Who would be a communist when one could be a Militant/Socialist, or a Socialist Worker of SF or WP – as was? The Soviet experiment had failed and 1968 was arguably crucial in pushing a disconnect between the CPI model of communism and students or others. The WP in the 1980s mopped up a huge reservoir of those who wanted an activist Marxist party model. Don’t laugh, but the DL served a similar function for at least part of the 1990s, and today SF (and offshoots such as Éirígí) do much the same.

My own personal reason was a combination of a certain aversion to the Moscow line (Dubcek was always a hero of mine, Tito also in his own way, and reading Rudolf Bahro made me fairly certain that socialism with a human face was a damn good idea, but not one likely to be practised with any seriousness in the SU, and sure while the WP might well have been Moscow’s pal in all but name at least there was some some blue water there) and the sense that for all the good intentions the CPI was a talking shop. The CPI popped up in the unions and here and there, but for such an avowedly collective organisation it seemed oddly individualistic. I’m not sure how much that fed into a broader dynamic of disinterest in the CPI, but the fact that other political formations were littered with former CPI members (I’m thinking say of people involved in community activism, the LP and so on) tells its own story.

But for all those criticisms one cannot fault individual CPI members – or at least not much. They have hauled the flag and banner out for many a meeting or protest. Their very existence was and is an exemplar and they have had the advantage of locking into a broad communist fraternity, one which ironically contained, and contains, a huge diversity and range of opinions. The truly legendary Mick O’Riordain was a tireless contributor to the Irish Times letter page. I vividly recall his apologia for the Soviet incursion in Afghanistan and while as Emerson noted consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, I was somewhat amused by his rather less effusive response to the US intervention in that same country some twenty odd years later.

So today the CPI remains part of a network of various ‘traditional’ CPs. Their fraternal party in the UK is the Communist Party of Britain – probably best known for their prominence in the Stop the War coalition.

The CPI has an interesting take on the Soviet Union.

Sufficient time has now passed since the demise of the Soviet Union to assess what that counter-revolution has delivered. Though under attack from its first days, the Soviet Union was able to transform the lives of millions of people for the better, in comparison with the feudalism and colonialism they were rescued from by the October Revolution. This was never acknowledged amidst the advertised promise of the post-Soviet utopia. Throughout the history of the Soviet Union one of the pillars of the propaganda war waged against it was presenting a bogus contrast between a caricature portrait of “life under communism” and the treasures that awaited its citizens once capitalism had come to their rescue.

…As the leadership of social democracy retreats from its own goals and preaches neo-liberalism as the only economic model, imperialism aims to stir up ethnic tension within the former Soviet republics, particularly in the southern states, such as Georgia and Uzbekistan, and to install compliant governments. This is carried out in alliance with organised criminal gangs masquerading as entrepreneurs.

Their aim is to destroy any potential co-operation between Russia and the western republics—primarily Ukraine—with the ultimate prize of the vast oil reserves in the Caspian basin and the Black Sea. An additional weapon in the armoury of imperialism in this context is the use of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as conduits for money, ideas and personnel seeking to secure their interests throughout the former socialist countries and to prevent any return to socialism. These bogus organisations provide a cover for imperialism’s political machinations and aim to subvert any nation that challenges neo-liberal orthodoxy…

In short, the dismantling of the Soviet Union has been catastrophic, impoverishing millions of its former citizens and encouraging imperialism’s confidence in imposing unfettered market solutions in western Europe by threatening that cheaper, unregulated labour will be used or imported if organised labour tries to retain its hard-won working practices, benefits, or health and safety requirements.

Some interesting stuff there.

In the policy platform there are also many interesting elements.

Note their view of the EU which is pragmatic, albeit negative, to a fault:

We would welcome the break-up of the European Union, but the possibility of that happening at this time is slim, particularly as Ireland, one of the smaller member-states, would be vulnerable to the economic consequences. If one or more of the bigger countries were to withdraw, that would open up a completely new scenario. Our strategic position is to work for its break-up, but we must develop tactics that bring new forces into play and defend Irish national interests. This presents new challenges to those forces that share our understanding of the European Union.

Their view of the GFA:

The consensus reached in the multi-party negotiations resulting in the Belfast Agreement marked a rejection of the use of violence to achieve political ends in favour of a political and constitutional arrangement, with protections built in, through which they could pursue their aims. The Belfast Agreement provides for
• a power-sharing arrangement capable of exercising executive and legislative authority, with protections built in to avoid the domination of one section of the community over the other
• joint North-South governmental bodies to implement shared polices
• the decision to join a new all-Ireland political structure or remain within the United Kingdom to lie with the people of Northern Ireland.
Communists are well aware of the nature and limitations of the political “solutions” for Ireland that the hegemony of international capitalism is prepared to accommodate and accept. While fully recognising its faults and shortcomings, the CPI supported the Belfast Agreement and continues to do so.

Some years ago – and I know I’ve mentioned this before – I was talking to a former member of the CPI who told me with all seriousness that while Gorbachev had been little better than a traitor Andropov was the real deal who, had he lived, would have steered the SU to a better place, a bit ‘more free’ I think the phrase was. But not too much. Hmmm… (Incidentally, one has to admire the hammer and sickle T-shirts now available on the CPI site with the legend ‘Made in Ireland’ underneath them. Would I buy one? You never know)

But that is to evade the point of the various CPs. As the CPI notes:

Its aim is to win the support of the majority of the Irish people for ending the capitalist system and for building socialism—a social system in which the means of production, distribution and exchange are publicly owned and utilised for the benefit of the whole people.

In the absence of any clear route to winning this support it is hard to see and in a way this reminds me of that other great casualty of left history, the legendary SPGB, which in a way retreated into an ideological cul-de-sac that negated the need for any particular activism. Sure, the revolution is coming, but in its own time. Truth is neither the CPI, or the SGB, are alone in such a position despite the assiduous hand waving of their larger rivals on the further left.

And in fairness to the CPI it is no slouch when it comes to operating as a sort of think tank on the left, the recent Greaves Summer School being one such. But it’s an odd position, isn’t it. Respected, affection for individual members and with some fondness for the overall entity (perhaps more for its oppositional stance in the past than its actual ideology). Still, as legacies go that’s probably a bit better than the poor old WP – eh?

I’d be fascinated to hear from others on this topic. As you’ll gather from above my contacts with CPI members has been quite limited so these are only my own impressions. And perhaps the last word should go to the CPI in their summation:

The Communist Party of Ireland is a partisan party of the working class but not a sectarian one. We do see and understand the need to build alliances, to walk the road with those forces that will walk the road with us, both on immediate demands and for the transformation of our society. We champion the cause of our class within the broader labour movement, in the political, social, cultural and gender spheres of struggle. The challenges facing our class and nation are manifold; but it is only in class struggle, with the development of the consciousness of workers, that advance will be made and sustained.


1. Joe - September 28, 2007

Another great post WBS. Haven’t read the Irish Socialist in a long time. But if their take on the GFA is anything to go by, I should start paying attention again. It’s well worth copying and pasting whenever possible, so here goes:
“The consensus reached in the multi-party negotiations resulting in the Belfast Agreement marked a rejection of the use of violence to achieve political ends in favour of a political and constitutional arrangement, with protections built in, through which they could pursue their aims. The Belfast Agreement provides for
• a power-sharing arrangement capable of exercising executive and legislative authority, with protections built in to avoid the domination of one section of the community over the other
• joint North-South governmental bodies to implement shared polices
• the decision to join a new all-Ireland political structure or remain within the United Kingdom to lie with the people of Northern Ireland.
Communists are well aware of the nature and limitations of the political “solutions” for Ireland that the hegemony of international capitalism is prepared to accommodate and accept. While fully recognising its faults and shortcomings, the CPI supported the Belfast Agreement and continues to do so.”

Not sure if I said before on the Cedar Lounge but I’m a member of ISN. We’ve an interesting mix of views on the North, surprise, surprise. But on the GFA, I say the CPI line is spot on.


2. Ed Hayes - September 28, 2007

A great read and I’m struck by what a reasonable stand they took on the north, reasonable from my point of view of course. I never had much dealings with the CPI aside from venturing into Essex St the odd time. But reading their current remarks on the decline of Russia since 1989-92 I’m struck by a couple of things.

Firstly is there not a good deal now of nostalgia on the left when faced with America’s power and the media in Iraq? Is there not a danger of forgetting why the old Eastern Bloc was such an uninspiring place for millions of socialists and western workers alike?
A whole succession of illusions/hopes were shattered from the 1930s on; the Moscow Trials, Berlin 1953, Hungary 1956, Prague 1968. On the Splintered Sunrise site there was a discussion about Che and someone asked what about the SED in the GDR. Well the difference was that Che and Castro at least came to power in the revolution. The GDR existed because of Russian tanks. None of the states of the Eastern Bloc had free elections. Workers had to join government approved unions. Now some will say yes but look at the health care, the public housing and fair enough…but look at the health care for the top party bosses and where they lived {not usually in tower blocks}.

What kind of vision of society supports places where people can’t leave if they want? Then people will wheel put the ‘USSR stopped Hitler’ and again a very important point. But they were allied to him for two years, trading and supplying the Germans when they conquered France etc. It was always considered impolite to bring this up. As it was to point out the Red Army leadership had to be re-built from scratch because Stalin had killed most of them in the 1930s. The Doctor’s trials anyone? The use of old religious and ethnic rivalries to maintain control?

People will say well what about McCarthyism? Again fair point. But two people died because of McCarthyism, the Rosenbergs, and terrible as that was the numbers in the USSR were huge. And lots of people lost their jobs or were blacklisted in the US but not usually sent to penal camps. Think the numbers who died in the construction of ‘socialism’ in the USSR (or China) don’t matter and we really are in ‘can’t make omelettes’ territory. And thats a bad place because then anything goes as long as the ends right.

Then some will say well look at it now…true, a mess. But not all eastern Europe is banjaxed and does this deep down mean, what I think it means for many left-wingers; that the stupid bastards always vote Tory or Fianna Fail or Republican so therefore whats wrong with a bit of enlightened despotism. Because, stripped of all the arguments about super health care and great trams what you are saying is; we know best. Socialism has to be about more than that.


3. Ed Hayes - September 28, 2007

I meant the ‘mess in Iraq’ although I’m sure the media are messed up too.

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4. Wednesday - September 28, 2007

I vividly recall his apologia for the Soviet incursion in Afghanistan and while as Emerson noted consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, I was somewhat amused by his rather less effusive response to the US intervention in that same country some twenty odd years later.

Interestingly, Fisk kind of does the same thing. Somewhere in the midst of The Great War for Civilisation he suggests that Afghanistan’s secular Soviet-puppet rulers were preferable to the Islamist rebels who were going around burning schools and killing teachers.

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5. splinteredsunrise - September 28, 2007

Interestingly, I used to read Unity every week but I rarely saw the southern paper. The styles are very different, and it probably shows how much of a federation the CPI always was. Not least in the over-the-shoulder glance at the WP – that you never really got in the North.

The perestroika period would have been quite a trying one for the CPI. I seem to remember Jimmy Stewart being quite sceptical about perestroika, although that didn’t make it into the press. There’s something to the fact that Eurocommunism never really made it to Ireland, except maybe briefly with DL, and a fairly orthodox Muscovite group would be better able to survive. It’s like the Morning Star wing in Britain still being a going concern, while the British DL sank without trace.

Then again, the CPI always had its main base in Belfast (and outposts in odd places like Coleraine!) and the northern CPers have been much more of a left-Labour type group than anything you could really describe as Stalinist.

Again, great to see some of this old stuff.


6. WorldbyStorm - September 28, 2007

Those are two very interesting points indeed. I think there is the sort of ost-nostalgia written large for the USSR, and in some ways it’s understandable. Things were more predictable back then. The current world is utterly chaotic, we have as in Burma many different poles of power and I’d think that’s perhaps something of what informs Fisks thinking as well. Ed, I’ve a post half written about Len Deightons novels which deal with something very similar to the dynamic of betrayal you mention. Incidentally, thinking about national sovereignty it’s remarkable isn’t it how Leninism in practice ignored sovereignty, aka Czechoslovakia/Dubcek. That makes me mightily worried about some of the blue sky thinking about how power relationships work in any political formations…

Joe, the Irish Socialist was always worth a read. Like Splintered Sunrise I kind of like Unity too.


7. Phil - September 29, 2007

Think the numbers who died in the construction of ’socialism’ in the USSR (or China) don’t matter and we really are in ‘can’t make omelettes’ territory.

Back when I was a regular on soc.history.what-if, there was another guy who took a real lip-smacking relish in any episode involving dead Communists; he argued at one point that the role of anti-semitism in the Rosenberg case showed that anti-semitism wasn’t all bad. I used to tell him he would have made a great Stalinist…


8. WorldbyStorm - September 29, 2007

He was arguing from an anti-communist position?


9. Phil - September 29, 2007

“Anti-Communist” was the beginning and ending of his position. I told him that if he wanted heaps of dead Communists, Stalin’s USSR was a good place to start, but he never really went for it.


10. WorldbyStorm - September 29, 2007

What an incredibly stupid argument, his defense of anti-semitism. Hmmm. I think you had a good point about his nascent Stalinism… another man for whom anti-semitism was a means to an end…


11. Garibaldy - September 29, 2007


I think you’re attributing to much consistency to the CPI position on the North. As Splintered Sunrise points out, it was strongest in Belfast and other parts of the north. These people on the whole tended to oppose terrorism, although not always. I can think of several examples where CPI members (including an ex-IDYM members who had been shot during the 1975 attack on the Republican Clubs) were runnng around various communist things internationally praising the Provos. I suspect the ex-Official was towing the party line rather than voicing his own thoughts. In the south, where the experience of violence was merely the whiff of grapeshot and the photo of the gunman as opposed to th reality of sectarianism in places like Ardoyne, CPI members were (and are) much more likely to support the Provos (in fact you have a link to a blog which proves the point exactly). CPI members were divided by the North, but found a position all could live with.

In effect, the CPI has at this stage lined itself up behind PSF. One need only look at the almost universally positive coverage of PSF in their media and statements (as well as from the CPB and Morning Star which to a great extent take their line on Ireland from the CPI). Time will tell how sustainable this is as the Provos continue to be ever more right wing both north and south, a process that the eventual entry of FF into northern politics may well accelerate as PSF seeks to gain and keep hold of the Catholic business community.

Personally I could never join the CPI because I believe it is now as much if not more a collective that protects its members within the trade unions as a political party, and because their support – tacit or not – for a Catholic nationalist party like PSF violates the first rule of socialism – workers, unite. Having said that, it retains some excellent people who can and should be part of the revitalisation of the Left.

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12. WorldbyStorm - September 29, 2007

I’m being genuinely curious, not picky, would you extend the same thoughts as regards certain people inside SF?


13. Garibaldy - September 29, 2007


I assume you mean whether I think there are some people who can and should be considered part of the Left. I think there probably are, and more likely than not they are to be found in the south, amongst the younger people or those who have joined in the last decade or so.

Having said that, I think that the view such people have of the North is very lopsided, with sectarianism being seen as restricted to Protestants. For me, a socialist analysis (and indeed a republican analysis in the true, Wolfe Tone, sense) of sectarianism means that if a party seeks to represent only one side, then they are guilty of perpetuating a sectarian mindset. I can give an example or two. I had discussions years ago with a guy from Ogra when it was just getting off the ground. He, and the other representative, were adamant that they were socialists and would leave if PSF ever ended up in coalition with FF. This was shortly after Adams had said that the residents groups and the campaign against the Orange Order had been organised by PSF. I asked him how he squared workers, unite with this attitude that deliberately sought to divide workers. He didn’t really have an answer – and clearly the thought that seeking to build “pan-nationalism” (as the phrase was at the time) was sectarian had never occurred to him. That was almost a decade ago. Today, I think one of the most disappointing elements of eirigi has been its attitude to sectarianism too, which seems to regard it as emanating overwhelmingly from one side.

So to get back directly to your question, I think there are people who could be part of the rebuilding of the Left, but not as many as some other people might think. Certainly I would be massively sceptical that anyone who was a member of PSF during the Troubles has anthing much to add to the serious Left. I see them as left Catholic nationalists. That might reflect the fact I’m from the North and judge these things primarily in terms of attitudes to sectarianism, whereas in the south people probably judge differently.

This should not however prevent cooperation on common issues where possible, which it certainly did in the past.


14. WorldbyStorm - September 30, 2007

I’d have other criticisms of éirígí, not just their view of sectarianism. Still, what of the former Peoples Democracy people who went into PSF in the early and mid 1980s? They clearly came from a ‘left’ position. That didn’t colour PSF overly much, but… And another thought. Although what happens norther of the border seems to be quite different to what happens south of it in terms of policy etc, the southern element of the party in policy terms is probably the most left serious political grouping with any sniff of serious representation. I don’t think that’s a minor thing.

I guess it’s the old problem that when we discuss the Left in the context of the North we have to ask ‘whose left?’, not because that is the way it should be but because that is the way it works out. Parties take positions that push inevitably into an alignment with nationalisms of British or Irish varieties.

Your point earlier about CPI people making nice about PIRA is a case in point. There was always a strong whiff of opportunism on the left (and BTW the WP wasn’t innocent of this in my experience) to identify with – even at a remove – armed campaigns…and since there was a sort of inability to move past the colonial model vis Unionism it was unlikely that the UDA and UVF would ever provide the necessary candidates (quite apart from their being ideology free zones)… In any case, if one did accept the bona fides of Northern Ireland why bother with the proxies when one could simply cosy up to the state(let)?

Of course, another thought strikes me which is what exactly constitutes the serious Left?


15. Garibaldy - October 1, 2007


AS for the PDs who joined PSF, I think I’d tie that in with your point about the limitations of the colonial model. The idea that NI was a colonial society (note I said society rather than deny it had elements of colonial governance) led to the automatic dismissal of a fifth of the Irish people as inherently reactionary. This ultra-leftist position is both wrong-headed and anti-republican and leads logically to what those people from the PDs did. But of course, they were never going to be able to do anything more than provide a(n ultra) leftist gloss on the traditional Catholic nationalism of PSF. They, like others, remain locked only in a left nationalist position.

On the point about the serious Left, I suppose the best definition I can come up with is people who can be relied upon to put the interests of ordinary people first be it in the legislature or beyond it, in trade unions etc. And I should add people who are not nuts.

I agree the policies presented by PSF in the south are left-wing, and that the Left must encourage PSF to use their TD’s effectively. The question however is can they be trusted to follow through on those policies should they ever get near power. The experience of NI, the corporation tax thing, and the fact that 3/4 of the seats they hold are traditional nationalist ones (as are the places in Donegal they hope to pick up next time) rather than left-wing ones all suggest that they can’t as a party, and so I’m not sure I would define them as part of the serious left. That does not exclude positive contributions from both the party as a whole on certain issues, and from individuals on almost everything and who can have a part to play in promoting genuine left values in many areas.


16. Ed Hayes - October 1, 2007

Question Garibaldy: I’m sure you would oppose an AOH march through a largely Protestant area. Then why should socialists not oppose Orange marches through largely Catholic areas? I my experience and memory ‘unity of workers’ for the WP meant pandering to Loyalist prejiduce and never being as clear on opposing Loyalist violence as you were opposing the Provos. Maybe that was inevitable given your past. But I’m sure I’ve heard de Rossa and others talk about the 3,000 people the Provos killed or talk about the entire troubles as if the Provos caused them all.
The interesting thing about the CPI was they actually did have a certain working class Protestant membership while the WP never did (to my knowledge) despite bending over backwards to adopt what they thought was a position that would appeal to working class Protestants. Yet the CPI had a much ‘greener’ line.


17. WorldbyStorm - October 1, 2007

Garibaldy, that’s an interesting point about the nature of the seats SF holds. Although I wonder is that the full story. Still, parties change over time. The WP certainly did.

That’s also a point worth examining Ed about the failed efforts of WP to attract Protestant members… and the difference with the CPI.


18. Garibaldy - October 1, 2007

I am here representing only myself, not on behalf of anyone. However, The WP had and has small numbers of people from working class Protestant backgrounds. As for the failure to attract more, as opposed to the CPI, two main things I guess. One is the fact that many, probably most, of the CPI’s Protestant members were involved from before the two organisations north and south (re-)merged. Funnily enough these were usually the members most opposed to terrorism. The other thing I’d point to is history, which undoubtedly played its part. On a less significant point, the CPI was much smaller and so the proportion made it more obvious.

As for pandering to loyalist prejudice and not being equally opposed to loyalist as Provisional violence. I’ve seen this type of argument crop up regularly in various places. I suggest you ask the families and comrades of the members of The WP murdered by loyalist terrorists for being in The WP (or some of those who survived the attacks which continued right into the 1990s) what they think of that. Further perhaps you can look back at the statements issued throughout the Troubles condemning every sectarian murder, and the campaigns organised against sectarianism. In The WP analysis as I understand it, sectarianism was responsible for the violence, not just the people who pulled the triggers or planted the bombs. So not just the Provos or the UDA etc. But also the DUP, SDLP and UUP. And everyone who voted for them. All had their part to play in fostering the poisonous sectarian mindset and perverted politics that allowed sectarian violence to flourish. Loose choice of wording may well have occurred, adn the Provos may well have come in for added criticism for perverting the republican position, but all sectarian violence was viewed as the same.

As for the marching issue. A complicated question. I know that the Burntollet march made a point of not respecting the “right of local residents to object to marches”, as did several NICRA marches. I think that to talk about community rights is a dangerous and wrong headed way to think. I have rights as a human being and as a citizen of a polity. Not as a Catholic/Protestant/Hindu etc. So the discourse of the rights of Catholic communities not to have Protestant marchers walking through their areas, or of Protestant communities not to have Catholic schoolchildren and parents walking through their areas – whether the marchers are accompanied by unsavoury people/bands or not – is not a language that I think is helpful, or politically (or for that matter morally) correct.

One of the rights that I and all citizens do have is to live free from violence or intimidation. Any speech or action which is incitement to violence or hatred should be held accountable before the law, and if sectarian should be treated as a hate crime. And this is the right that I think should be emphasised in the context of marching. People have a right to march, but must do so in a peaceful and dignified manner. And whether a march should be allowed to go ahead or not should also be judged on these criteria. So if the AOH decided it would like to march down the Shankill, then clearly that would be purely to incite violence, and should not be allowed. Ditto if the Orange Order decided it wanted to march up, say, Etna Drive in Ardoyne, rather than march past the Ardoyne estate on a main road.
I am opposed to sectarian marches, sectarian speeches and sectarian actions. However, I don’t think either an OO or AOH march is automatically and inherently an act of sectarian aggression.

To say that residents can decide who marches along a main road near their homes is a dodgy suggestion. After all, what would we all be saying if local residents decided they didn’t like certain of the Easter Parades and tried to have them banned – I doubt we’d all be so comfortable with the concept of residents controlling who walks the roads then.


19. Ciarán - October 1, 2007

The WP had and has small numbers of people from working class Protestant backgrounds.

So does Sinn Féin. Big deal.

The WP analysis as I understand it, sectarianism was responsible for the violence, not just the people who pulled the triggers or planted the bombs. So not just the Provos or the UDA etc. But also the DUP, SDLP and UUP. And everyone who voted for them. All had their part to play in fostering the poisonous sectarian mindset and perverted politics that allowed sectarian violence to flourish

So where’s the British government in all of this? Sitting in the background twiddling its thumbs, trying to keep the peace between the barbarian natives?


20. Garibaldy - October 1, 2007


The Protestant background thing was a response to someone else. I agree it’s not that big a deal. I was addressing sectarian violence above. As for governmental responsibilities, both the British and Irish governments, especially in the early 1970s, bear a heavy responsibility, through the encouragement of tribalism and then collusion. Having said that, we need to face up to a reality. The core problem is no longer the presence of the British government in Ireland, but rather divisions among the Irish people. At this point in time, and I would say for several decades, and more particularly since the end of the Cold War, Britain has been ready to leave at the first available opportunity as long as face can be saved and stability ensured. Sectarianism has and does and will continue to exist independent of British behaviour.


21. WorldbyStorm - October 2, 2007

Garibaldy, isn’t there an alternative narrative that it is precisely because SF (and perhaps the DUP) have faced up to the reality of divisions among the Irish people that the opportunity you speak of has arisen. I’m not letting any players off the hook as regards the past, but nor do I think there were any angels in this process and I think the process had its own dynamic once started. But whether sectarianism was responsible for violence is a different matter, I think that socio-political factors which included sectarianism were involved. And a big part of that was the role of the British state in underwriting a political settlement in the North between 22 and the early 70s that institutionalised sectarian structures.

I don’t disagree with you that given the opportunity most British govts. bar probably Thatchers would have been relatively comfortable with disengagement – indeed sadly or entertainingly depending on viewpoint are the files that reveal that in the 70s Irish politicians were lobbying the British not to go for fear of stability.

As for marching, I simply don’t believe it is possible to apply the strictures one finds in broad civic democracies to Northern Ireland. Which means that for all the coat trailing etc marching is part of a political culture there and therefore has to be negotiated in a way that it simply doesn’t in societies where its not an issue. I remember the old WP lines which while completely sincere (mostly anyhow) argued from perfection rather than reality (i.e. a broad acceptance of the security forces as then structured etc… well Patten put paid to that utopianism).

In a way what I’m saying is that this current dispensation is like the first time people have had the opportunity to stop and breath and perhaps find a bit of space to work out how to share the polity and to rework linkages east and south. That’s no bad thing, but there is little point in lobbing implicit accusations of bad faith against players based on past deeds when all acted in bad faith at one point or another…


22. Ed Hayes - October 2, 2007

Garibaldy; I don’t want to demean or insult the memory of anyone who died or lost family to any of the paramilitaries. But the WP’s position as I remember it was that no-one should talk to the Provos AT ALL while their campaign was ongoing. John Hume was a Catholic bigot and trying to form some sort of alliance of nationalism, not someone trying to get the IRA to stop killing people. However, and if your from the north you should know this, WP members could sit down with Loyalist groups while their armed campaigns continued, sometimes for political reasons, sometimes, not. I take your point about marches but I don’t think opposing a sectarian march automatically divides the working class.
On Protestant members, well it isn’t a big deal if its not important. But the WP did think it was important.


23. Garibaldy - October 2, 2007


I agree that the parties in the north have moved a great deal, and I welcome it. Hence why I canvassed for a Yes vote in the referendum despite my reservations about the sectarian nature of voting in the Assembly. I also agree PSF has realised that the cause of partition consists of divisions among the people here. The breathing space you talk about is exactly what was needed, and why first and foremost the most important thing in the last 30 years was to stop the violence that was causing further division and hampering the emergence of real politics.

However, while we have seen the extremes move towards the centre, none of the major parties has changed the divisive mindset of their politics. There’s a good argument that PSF and the DUP won the last election because people believe that they are the hardest negotiators who will get the best deal for their side, and stop the other side getting the most advantages. So the next election will prove interesting to see how far the confrontational dynamic that both parties built their success upon changes or remains the same. The further decline of the UUP and SDLP will suggest that both sides are consildating to ensure the maximum efficiency in governing and in representing themselves from the other, I reckon. I note how little shared future rhetoric in terms of society rather than government there is coming from either of the main two parties.

Violence did indeed spring from a number of causes but I would still maintain sectarianism – be it in institutionalised discrimination in housing or jobs in both public and the private sector, gerrymandering, the actions of the police, or hatred on the ground – was the main cause. And of course Westminster bears a huge amount of responsibility, both for the creation of the state and the way it developed.

As for arguing from positions of perfection. I’d see it more as arguing from positions of principle. On the RUC, The WP called for a democratic civil police service both north and south. I think the first major policy document on that was about 1975, and that remained the position since. Support for the police was not due to any delusion it was perfect, but rather a belief that terrorism had to be stopped if any real political or social progress was to be made. Which seems at this point to have been an accurate assumption.

NI does indeed require special attention and special arrangements. The question is from how to organise that. Let’s take the forthcxoming and hugely delayed Human Rights Act. There’s a lot of talk of including community rights in it. I reject that. A strong bill of rights with a court to enforce it and aid the creation of a culture of human rights seems to me to be the proper way to guarantee the rights of a citizen rather than relying on communalist assumptions.

Again, I have to say that your readings of the positions of The WP vary greatly from those I’m familiar with. It seems being involved in Dublin in the 1980s, especially in the years leading up to 1992, was a very different thing to being in the North.


24. Garibaldy - October 2, 2007


In response to Ciaran I expressed myself badly. I meant that I wasn’t claiming that The WP had succeeded massively in breaking through and recruiting heavily among people from a Protestant background. The aim of appealing to and attempting to recruit from all sections of the community in the North is however certainly a big deal as it defines what type of political struggle you are engaged in. If you confine your message and canvassing and activity to one side or the other, then you are engaged in sectarian politics. Hence why I regard the politics of the four big parties as fundamentally the same, especially now that the violence has ended – each of them defines themselves as representatives of one section of the Irish people, despite the odd rhetorical flourish to the contrary. I find such a position contrary to the principles of Irish republicanism and socialism. I was once told by some of his election workers that people in West Tyrone should vote Pat Doherty for Catholics and a United Ireland in response to them seeing a leaflet calling for the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter. The differing worldviews seem to me to be a big deal.

The WP did indeed talk to loyalist politicians, stemming from contacts in gaol (as did others). And it did have a positive effect. I recall hearing Hugh Smyth say that it was talking to Seamus Lynch in the City Hall that made him realise that his own viewpoint was sectarian, and that sectarian violence was not the way forward. Others have said similar things. I don’t remember any comments on Hume – Adams, but I would certainly say for myself that Hume was doing the right thing in attempting to end violence. The possible creation of a more closely knit Catholic bloc – as hinted at by the photo with Reynolds – would not have been the right thing.

On marches. Opposing sectarian marches is not automatically divisive. But the danger is an assumption can arise that any OO march (and it is OO marches we are talking about, not loyalist paramiltary ones) is automatically sectarian. I don’t take this to be the case, and in fairness, even PSF where saying that it was about a dozen of 3000 marches that were a problem. In my opinion the way those marches were opposed did increase division and sectarianism. And furthermore I think this was part of a very clever strategy to invigorate areas where PSF thought they could increase their votes by being seen to be the leading opponents of marches. And it worked. For example, new councillors were elected in areas that previously had very poor PSF electoral performances, and MLA since that. The marching issue helped PSF capture virtually an entire generation of young voters. These radicalisations however in combination with an even more aggressive sectarian policy adopted by the UDA in particular in interface areas that they feared might become Catholic was a rise in sectarian tensions and low-level violence in many areas.
So the way the campaign against OO marches was conducted was productive of more divisions, and I’m inclined to say on the basis of close observation of several areas that this was the intended result for electoral purposes.


25. John Mc Anulty - October 3, 2007

One of the things that always made my blood boil was the WP slogan ‘sectarianism kills workers’ Rather than exposing sectarianism it acted as a cover for its continuation. Sectarianism was seen as some sort of illness from which we all suffer – like institutionalised racism it floated in the air without agency. Suggesting that Britian carried a great deal of responsibility is a weasel way of avoiding the fact that setting up and continuing a sectarian society requires a great deal of energy and resources.

The fact that every facet of the current settlement is sectarian and colonial is because the major actor -Britian – wanted it that way.

I continue to be amazed by the Irish left’s capacity to ignore material causes summed up by 40 years of people remarking casually that the British really want to be gone

Meanwhile the Brits pour in an army, spend billions, and design a settlement that leaves them the soverign power.

In regard to the left – I’m afrad that any definition of left that includes Sinn Fein leaves me incredulous


26. Garibaldy - October 3, 2007


I would allow people, especially working people, in NI more agency than you would. After all, as socialists our whole ideology is based on the assumption that people can organise and act contrary to the directions of the state. To blame Britain for everything is to ignore the realities of Irish history stretching back centuries. And I think a flaw in any simplistic analysis of the Irish situation as purely colonial.


27. WorldbyStorm - October 3, 2007

John, some interesting points there. But I’m a bit confused as to whether you blame the British entirely or just somewhat. For example, there is an interesting issue as to how sectarianism evolved. It doesn’t appear to have been implicit to the UK state building project which eventually encompassed the North, although it had a political hue. Rather it seems to have been part of the spin off of political events during the reformation and earlier which then assumed a greater significance in certain parts of Ireland, although sectarianism also exists in Scotland. That it was used at certain times is self evident, but, take 1922 onwards. I think there is a strong case that the UK state was disinterested in the extreme in NI. And basic political pragmatism would suggest that had the UK any serious goals in the North the easiest route for them would have been to simply coopt Catholics and Nationalism into the state structures (as some might argue is the situation under the GFA) something they didn’t do. So that suggests a different dynamic to the one you posit which seems to be, as Garibaldy says, something rooted in a colonial view of the situation.

An alternative reading is that it suited the British to retain Northern Ireland with relatively little effort (for many different reasons including shoring up the integrity of empire) and that either residual sympathy with or fear of the capacity of Unionism (those who professed loyalty) to cause trouble within the UK polity and ignorance of those who weren’t Unionist meant that the state(let) was left to its own devices for much of the 20th century.

Within Unionism itself there was considerable argument as to whether they were a freestanding entity or a subsidiary one within the UK.

Incidentally while the GFA may have a sectarian hue – a byproduct of the intermingling of political and religious strands through history, I’d be dubious that it is ‘colonial’ in any meaningful sense.


28. John Mc Anulty - October 4, 2007

I think the debate still flinches away from a materialist analysis. It has a strong idealist tinge that runs together many different sectarianisms.

Sectarian movements can be seen as involving some level of capitalist manipulation and some level of rivalry within different sections of the working class, with capitalist hegemony the dominent feature. The situation changes completely when a sectarian state – a protestant parlliament for a protestant people – is constructed.

That’s how I understand Connolly’s comments about a ‘carnival of reaction’

The state is, by definition, an instrument of capitalism, so the reinforcement of sectarian discrimination and intimidation, the impunity of the loyalist death squads, the current subsidy of the loyalists and their incorporation into civic society, own nothing at all to the spontaneous assertion of a loyalist sentiment and everything to the actions of the British state.

It is true that the current setup confers communal rights to catholic groups, but it is not ‘equality of the two traditions’ – a totally unworkable concept. The conversion of the GFA to St. Andrews was the recognition that to put Paisley in government ment that loyalism had to be accorded majority rights.

Garibaldy says “The idea that NI was a colonial society (note I said society rather than deny it had elements of colonial governance) led to the automatic dismissal of a fifth of the Irish people as inherently reactionary”.

Turn that on its head: The dismissal of the colonial role of Britian means that we are forced to accept the political structures of unionism as some form of culture and the task of socialists becomes one of concilaition of loyalism rather than one of opposing a reactionary idealogy, of seeking to supplant and defeat unionism.

As I said in my first post – the inevitable outcome is that oppositon to undefined sectarianism, where we all to blame, and a refusal to confront the Orange Order and loyalism as the mechanisms for enforcing that sectarianism ends up as support for continuing sectarian devision and conciliation of reaction

I know that the left have difficulty with this, but that is because their belief in the legitimacy of unionism as in some way menopolising protestant workers rests on an even deeper illusion that the British are here by accident, wish us no harm, and would be out the next day if they did not have the unpleasant duty of civilising the Irish.

Why is it that you have no difficulty with striaghtforward catagories of colonialism when they occur in Iraq and can’t get you head around the occupation of Ireland?


29. WorldbyStorm - October 4, 2007

Okay, let’s ask a different question. How do you propose to deal with unionism considering that unionists believe that they are unionists? The only routes to dealing with them seems to me to be negotiation, or alternatively through some authoritarian structure. There’s not a whole lot in between.

I have no ‘belief’ in ‘legtimacy’ of Unionism, but nor do I have any belief in imposing what, the might of the Irish Army upon them? And I simply don’t agree that your categorisation of them as ‘colonialist’ is either illuminating or helpful in this context. To describe them as somehow an ‘occupation’ of Ireland seems to me to misunderstand Irish history across centuries.

I might point out that I consider myself a Republican, and a socialist. FWIW.


30. Garibaldy - October 5, 2007


I don’t agree that a recognition that NI is not a straightforwardly colonial situation means that loyalism is recognised as legitimate. Like WBS, I consider myself a republican, which means I’m a socialist. Unionism is a reactionary ideology, as is nationalism in Ireland. Both must be confronted and defeated by socialism. This won’t be done by allying with one against the other.

You condemn the money going into the CTI or whatever it’s called and the incorporation of loyalists into civic society. Isn’t this what happened with nationalist terrorists? Was that wrong? Isn’t the state just buying off violent elements to create a secure situation for capitalism?


31. WorldbyStorm - October 5, 2007

Or social stability…


32. John Mc Anulty - October 6, 2007


We have three things here. All pretty old hat. One is the UDA position – we’re the British – That’s not what I said. My view is that the British state occupies the North of Ireland. They have mass support for that occupation but that doesn’t make their supporters British or colonists. It does make the unionists reactionary, but that’s no different from white support for the BNP – an organisation to the left of most unionist formations. Socialists do what they always do – struggle politically agaist that reaction and pose the alternatives of socialism and democracy.

Why would anyone imagine for a second that the ‘might’ of the Irish army could be used to solve the situation? The reason the question is posed is because there is an implicit recognition that the sectarian state is such a good idea for capital that defeating it internally is almost impossible.and the history of the North is the history of episodic working class unity immediately smashed apart by unionist reaction. A solution is possible because the North is part of Ireland and the Northern workers part of the Irish working class. The extreme weakness of our class across the island is both a consequence of partition and sectarianism and a condition that allows their continuation

I don’t want to be rude. There is Catholic as well as Protestant sectarianism within a sectarian state. They are not equal. They don’t come within a million miles of being equal. Nationalism is not the mirror image of unionism. It has what Lenin called a generally democratic content while unionism is reactionary to the core.

A process in the North is the incorporation of republicanism. They have to be incorporated because they have a mass base. The loyalists have tiny bases. The more we learn of them the more they appear direct adjuncts of the state. They could be rounded up in a day by the British. The reason why the British spend so much time and energy on thugs who find it impossible to put forward a political line is because the republican capitulation will not give then equality and a counterbalance is needed to keep them in check.

The unionist population voted for unionist parties and they are the majority in government. Why this immense energy and resoiurces over a decade to incorporate the Loyalists death squads? The process should tell us all we need to know about the settlement.


33. WorldbyStorm - October 6, 2007

I can go some way with your analysis. But… I’m not sure that unionism is intrinsically more reactionary than nationalism. Why should it be intrinsically ‘rotten to the core’? Linked into a democratising albeit capitalist state, civic unionism didn’t have to be any more or less reactionary than say Scottish unionism or English unionism, all could simply be political viewpoints or positions. I’d suggest it was the sectarian/religious axis married to a residual colonial mentality within a very confined geographic space that gave Ulster Unionism (and we are talking about Ulster as against Irish Unionism here) its particular anti-progressive twist that has blighted it across the last century (worth noting the differences between Carson Unionism and Craig Unionism, or for that matter Empey Unionism and Paisley Unionism and once we do we notice all manner of interesting divergences from grand narratives about it). That wouldn’t incidentally convince me personally of the merits of unionism more broadly – although I have some sympathy with civic unionists, call it the liberal deep inside me – but it just makes me see it as yet another variant of nationalism on the island and therefore to be dealt with as such – which oddly enough isn’t a million miles away from your points about the working class.

One could argue – as BICO – did that unionism with its links to the UK could have had a progressive aspect, and BICO was always swayed by the industrialisation of the North as against the South. But that leads on to your point about the weakness of the working class. This long predates partition and I’m not certain as to how sectarianism per se was a factor in the South. And that leads me to your thought that the sectarian state was ‘good for capital’. I just don’t see that. The North was a drain on the British state, a close reading of documentation from the Stormont regime will demonstrate that they were all too aware of the precarious position of theirs within the British polity and that periodically this exercised them greatly. Throughout the existence of Stormont they had a mini-industry of propaganda materials produced in order to try to persuade Westminster of the validity of their existence. And I think, perhaps to pick up on what Garibaldy said, that you diminish agency here, not just to Nationalism, but also to a Unionism separate to and often in contradiction with Britain and British interests.

I was being a bit tongue in cheek about the Irish Army, of course that’s not part of a solution.

Regarding loyalism, I’m not sure that they were just adjuncts to the British state. They had some organic linkages – but these appear in the main to be criminal linkages, and perhaps could be characterised as essentially opportunistic taking advantage of the inability of the state to function ‘normally’ within the context of 1969 onwards. Frankly I don’t think that there has been enormous output of effort or resources by the British to incorporate the Loyalists (and to be honest although at times they had an element of death squaddism that has – thankfully – moved mostly into the background). Quite the opposite. They never presented a serious threat once the political context was worked out to at least some satisfaction to the major players i.e. Republicanism and Unionism.

So I guess I find the idea that the situation on Ireland can fit into some grand narrative – be it colonial, or indeed class based simply doesn’t tally with me. There are naturally elements of both and many other aspects but the specific dynamics seem so complex that I don’t believe that a single model can incorporate them all, and that the danger in trying to cram them into a single model can oversimplify the situation. As an example, SF is often seen as a seamless entity, but anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with that organisation will know that the character of it North and South is quite different, as indeed as the WP before it and so on and so forth. Yet in discussion after discussion they are thrown around as if they represent a single viewpoint and a single approach…


34. Garibaldy - October 6, 2007


You say the NI state cannot be defeated internally. Are you saying that if there is ever a 50%+1 vote for a UI that the British will launch a coup and maintain partition? I just don’t see it. What is there that is preventing such a vote from ever occurring apart from the beliefs of the unionist voters? Doesn’t that mean that the real struggle then is to change their minds, rather than engage in a stuggle against Britain?

And this raises the question of what is the nature of the imperialist presence in Ireland: is it the 5,000 troops withdrawn to barracks? is it at Shannon? is it in the Shell pipeline? In Google? In the EU? Or some combination of all of the above?

I agree with WBS that there is no simple model. It seems to me that what the experience of the last several decades should have taught socialists is to remind us of the importance of agency, ideology, and culture in effecting revolutionary social change.


35. John Mc Anulty - October 8, 2007

I think if you both argue against gand narratives we will have difficulty communicating. Where exactly are we to stand? From waht common position are we compare arguments? i am a supporter of the grand narrative of Marxism and have come across nothing to make me think it has lost its explanatory power. Of course, I never thought for a moment that Stalinism was an honest verion of Marxism and this to some extent this has innoculated me from the effects of the collapse of the USSR.

Lenin distinguished between nationalism and national chauvansm. Nationalism he saw as an attempt to free oneself from national oppression and by definition progressive.

Loyalism, to the extent that it represents a Protestant nationalism (it gave up on the possibility of Ulster nationalism at partition) is utterly dependent on imperialism and thus unable to develop a progressive role. It is hardly an accident that so much of their symbolism is the cast-offs of British chauvinsim.

WBS and I seem to disagree on matters of fact. He would need to demonstrate not just well-known unionist paranoia that the British would desert them, but any actions by the British to indicate that. To take one example of recent British strategy towards th loyalists – the Jonny Adair story. The British not only ignored his financial setup and open criminality, the then sectratary of state met with him in an attempt to bolster his attempt to become supremo of the UDA. When it became clear that Jonny was too unstable to fulfil that role and that the UDA could not be changed from an alliance of criminal gangs the RUC escorted hundreds of Loyalists up the Shankill road to evict Adair, warning them not to use guns and arresting the one hothead who did.

Garibaldy and his 50+1 argument for the GFA. The agreement also calls for communal rights as equality of the two traditions. I can see it easily being used to either stymie a vote or as the basis for repartition.

He is quite right that there are many forms of imperialist domination, but they have different wieghts. Quite clearly having an army in occupation, overall control of the administration and having everyone, through the GFA, accept your title to the six counties, must rank way up near the top.


36. WorldbyStorm - October 8, 2007

John, a lot to think about in your comment above and I’ll get back to you after my day of wage slavery!


37. Garibaldy - October 8, 2007


My problem is not with the grand narrative of Marxism (far from it), but rather what has often – across the globe – been the simplistic application of it. The reality is that often people do not act mechanistically according to their own class interests, and there is perhaps no better example of this than NI. Of course both Marx and especially Lenin recognised this, but sometimes those of us following in their footsteps have forgotten it. Hence the abandonment by many of Marxism after the USSR fell rather than using Marxism to analyse its defects. And in fact one of the problems the Irish left faces now is that after the collapse we have seen the abandonment by many activists of the party model, which has proven the most effective way of effecting change.

The GFA is indeed deeply flawed. And it’s very likely that should there ever be the 50+1 vote, then there will be elements of unionism that will seek to frustrate the process. Whether that is a tiny or a major element will depend on how successfully they have been convinced that a united Ireland will protect the rights of all its citizens equally. I can’t, however, see Britain backing any move for repartition. 1912 is a long time ago.

Why do you think Britain retains possession of NI? After all it costs around £9 billion per annum. In a UK that has seen the total victory of the interests of finance over industrial capitalism and that is no longer in possession of a great empire, what role does the possession of NI play? The union of Scotland, England and Wales could easily break up with or without a united Ireland, or remain united. The future of NI will not affect that question one bit. So without the imperial impulse that was there in 1912 and 1921 or without the Cold War implications what use is NI to Britain?

It seems to me that the only remaining selfish interest is in image. Unification would make little difference to British economic interests in NI. If Britain walks out and a civil war erupts it will look bad, as well as risking minor instability in parts of Scotland. Britain would never walk out before a vote for unification because it would appear to be abandoning the principles it claims to stand for. Equally, if there is a unification vote, it wouldn’t interfere for the same reason. This is a long way from the circumstances of the early or middle of the C20th.


38. WorldbyStorm - October 8, 2007

I’d second Garibaldy as regards Marxism as a grand narrative. Yes, it has enormous power but the application of it is – as with all grand narratives – open to interpretation. And the idea that it only has one specific outcome when it comes to explanatory power seems unlikely. Nor was the collapse of the USSR as big a problem for me as many others. I’d always believed that something close to euro-communism, but not the same was a better way forward – socialism with a human face. By contrast with many I hoped and expected that the collapse could lead to openings on the left, not their negation. Well, now I know better, but I never saw it as a reason to be shocked or upset by or to send me scrabbling for self-justifications of positions I simply didn’t hold in the first place i.e. Stalinism.

To elide Unionism and Loyalism as if they are synonymous appears to me to be a misinterpretation. I’ve already noted how relatively marginal loyalists were to the processes of the GFA indeed to the Stormont state or the British state thereafter. Unionism is a very different matter – worth noting the entirely sincere aversion of the vast majority of Unionists to loyalism (well one might suggest they would say that of course seeing as they had state power on their side, but it’s not entirely irrelevant). Loyalism might well be reactionary, or it might not. We see how parties change and evolve over time from one form to another.

As for Adair. I’ll have to go back and check the details, but taking your account at face value the British did what all states do in such contexts, they act pragmatically and try to find those they can do business with. When that is not possible they turn to others. You say it yourself, . “When it became clear that Jonny was too unstable to fulfil that role and that the UDA could not be changed from an alliance of criminal gangs the RUC escorted hundreds of Loyalists up the Shankill road to evict Adair, warning them not to use guns and arresting the one hothead who did.”. In the context of an armed paramilitary group such cautious engagements would make perfect, if cynical sense, and frankly the amount of effort expended was as nothing compared to that expended on a serious paramilitary group such as PIRA. As for paranoia, look back to Gary’s father John McMichael and his thoughts on where the future lay for Northern Ireland. They certainly wasn’t borne of any comfortable illusions about the relationship of the British state to them. And after all, consider the current context where they refuse to disarm. If they were puppets of their masters presumably they would. If they’re not doing so then it suggests that they retain agency of their own, although like yourself I suspect it is not much more than for simple criminality.

I’d also echo Garibaldy’s points about the raison d’etre of a British presence in the North at this point. It surely isn’t economic, so it has to be identity. Now that’s no small thing, but it’s not quite the ‘imperialism’ that you propose it to be.

As for your characterisation of the GFA, I think you’re missing some of the central dynamics of the situation, again something that those such as G. and myself would agree with, and something PSF has come to recognise, that talk of ‘armies in occupation’ has no real currency in a context where a significant societal group has a specific self-identification that precludes unity today. Which is what it does. Simply put there is no schema that would alter that self-identification in any way short of armed repression which I wouldn’t countenance. Now, to my mind that presents us with challenges and choices, either we can talk about imperialism and domination or we can try to establish discussion, negotation and engagement with that group in such a way as to shift towards our objectives while recognising their own. That’s why BICO et al were so wrong. They thought that it was two nations on the island. I don’t think that’s correct because it leads to a gross simplification of the issue and simplification of solutions. It’s more like two nationalities which are intermixed in a particularly difficult way in the North east. Neither can be excised, nor should they be. Both have at least some rights to self-determination (look up self-determination under international law. A very very strong case could be made for that of Unionism or indeed Nationalism). But because they occupy a specific constrained geographic area there is a necessity for engagement. In that context ‘imperialism’ seems very distant as a useful construct in this discussion. I mean what does one do with it? Use it to beat Unionists (or your Loyalists) over the head with and impose a UI? Neither practicable nor really very ethical to my mind. And in the absence of that then it is simply rhetorical, and I can’t see what the point of that or how one wins hearts and minds with it.

Where I would move some way towards your position is the manner in which the British government retains altogether too much control over the management of the GFA institutions. They should, to my mind, be shifted away from London to some other vehicle, perhaps a joint Anglo-Irish authority which would merely ensure that they couldn’t be halted and restarted due to political considerations as we saw in the earlier part of the decade.


39. John Mc Anulty - October 11, 2007

Last word

Sorry for the long pauses. I have a number of calls on my time. I would like to thank both of you for your thoughtful and polite responses, but it seems clear that there can be no meeting of minds and that we will have settle for the possibility of supporting real-world actions by the working class and possibly skirmishes on other issues that will clarify things further

My final point is really my first repeated. You indicate respect for the Marxist narrative, but at the first base, a materialist analysis, you jump ship. You assume that Britain can’t have an economic interest in the continued occupation of Ireland and start looking for an idealist rationale such as identity. From my perspective the reality of the troubles and of the massive subvention would lead Marxists to search for the undoubted material interests that justify such an investment – the main element of a reponse , I would argue, is the continued subservience of Irish capital and the mechanisms for influence on the island as a whole.

Two footnotes; The North is not Scotland. An argument fot self-determination here fails because that is not a demand that Northern Protestants, wisely. have ever advanced as a majority position. Much more interesting is the willingness of sections of the Irish left to make it on their own accord.

The most interesting thing from my point of view was the WBS distinction between loyalism and unionism. This appears to be a widespread distinction in the South. I can assure you that it is not a distinction evident to many Northern nationalists or to the socialist mileau in which I move. I would suggest you read the work of Susan McKay, who currently has a column with the Irish News. Her thesis is quite simple – the unionists who distanced themselves from sectarian violence were liars.


40. Garibaldy - October 11, 2007


That’s fair enough. A good debate I thought. Briefly, NI was held on to for material and strategic reasons, but the situation has changed. I don’t think I was proposing an idealist position when I said it was about image. If Britain was to pull out before a vote, it would ruin people’s confidence in its self-image in a way that could not be ignored, and that could have unforeseen political and hence economic consequences at home. And as I’ve said, I think that British economic interests can thrive quite happily in an independent Ireland.
As for sectarianism. Anyone who has ever offered any support to any of the major political parties, or to the tribal politics of the north, is responsible for creating the climate for sectarian violence.


41. WorldbyStorm - October 11, 2007

It’s great to engage and thrash these out even if we’ll never change each others viewpoint, at least we can get fresh insights as to our own. I think part of the problem is that we disagree on the utility or even the credibility of a ‘materialist analysis’. If this site does nothing else it attempts to demonstrate that far from their being a single approach to the left, or indeed a single strategy preordained either by Marxism (which would be pretty much my own inclination) or other strands, there are in all probability many available. And that being the case to argue that there is an economic interest demands pretty clear evidence. I don’t see it although I see some. I think Garibaldy is closer with identity.

As for the subservience of Irish capital… to the UK? Really? And what mechanisms of influence work as they do with any modern liberal democracies of which both the RoI and the UK are, broadly speaking. That commonality of interests is vastly more important than the domination of some nebulous British capital over Irish capital. I should add that if your argument is correct then joint sovereignty would have been the optimum outcome for the British (and the Irish), and certainly the easiest one to impose since it would have got a much better response from Republicanism. Yet it didn’t work out that way so perhaps the situation is more complex still than we’re giving it credit.

You are right that the North is not Scotland, but note I said ‘some’ rights to self-determination. As for your continued conjunction of Loyalism and Unionism that necessitates a much more analytical definition of both terms. I’m using them broadly in the political meaning first and then cultural after that. And I think that if you propose that thesis, that unoinists who distanced themselves from sectarian violence were liars then you have to explain how Nationalists who distanced themselves from violence weren’t also liars…


42. Derek - April 13, 2011

It’s Greaves, C Desmond Greaves, not Grieves as in the original article.


43. WorldbyStorm - April 13, 2011

You’re absolutely correct and the text has been amended.


44. Jaqueline+Freidberg - December 31, 2013

It is your viewpoint in out conduct often changes our viewpoint. Sometimes this change is good and sometimes this change is bad but it is our paradigm that influences how we feel.


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