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(en) Ireland pamphlet by Subversion - Nationalism and Imperialism, the myths Exploded.

From ManchesterOldham AF <anarchist_federation@yahoo.co.uk>
Date Sun, 1 Jun 2003 16:11:55 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

New on the Manchester AF web site: Ireland,
Nationalism and Imperialism, the myths Exploded. A
pamphlet produced by the now defunct Subversion group.
> www.af-north.org/ireland2.htm
Ireland, Nationalism and Imperialism, The Myths Exploded

Written by the now defunct Subversion group, before the Good Friday
Agreement, at a time when the 'armed struggle' was still part of daily
life in Northern Ireland. Though inevitably somewhat dated, this
remains a cogent analysis of the recent history of Ireland.

'... the fate of the province [Northern Ireland] is still, as it has been for
so long, poised on a knife- edge between a slow climb back to some
form of ordered existence, or a swift plunge into unimaginable
anarchy and civil war.'

These words - from the closing sentence of F S Lyons' book, Ireland
Since the Famine - were published as long ago as 1973. Leaving aside
the misuse of the term "anarchy', it is a measure of how little seems to
have changed in the two decades since, that a similar assessment is
the commonplace conclusion to virtually every present -day
commentary on Northern Ireland. Just about the only sign of
movement in this bloody deadlock has bee the remorselessly rising
death toll. In 1972 it passes what Lyons described as 'the appalling
figure' of 600; by 1992 more than 3000 had been killed.

As the bloodshed continues, year after year, with no end in prospect,
it's not surprising that opinion polls carried out in mainland Britain
over the past 20 years have consistently shown that between 50-60%
in favour of a British military withdrawal from Northern Ireland.

The reasons why such a view is expressed are no doubt diverse.
Britain's Ireland Problem, or as some prefer, Ireland's British
Problem, has a complex history stretching back for hundreds of years.
Few people really understand 'the Irish Question' and most have no
answer to it except to wash their hands of the whole sordid mess. If
the Irish want to shoot and bomb the hell out of each other, they say,
why should we stand in their way - just get 'our lads' out of there and
let them get on with it.

The best that can be said about such people is that at least they are
not organised into political groups claiming to represent the interests
of the international working class .... which is more than can be said
for a different element within the 50-60% who want Britain to get out
of Ireland, and whose ideas we mainly want to challenge in this

We are referring of course to the members and sympathisers of the
left-wing groups who support 'self-determination for the Irish people',
and who would regard withdrawal from the 'Six Counties' as a victory
for the Irish people over British Imperialism. Since 'Irish
self-determination' is these groups' goal, they naturally push the idea
that it's not for 'us Brits' to tell the Irish people how to conduct their
own national liberation struggle. If you oppose the British state and
what it's doing in Northern Ireland, you must automatically give
'unconditional support for republican resistance to sectarian attacks
and British terror' ( so say the Anarchist Workers Group).

In this way the left present a mirror image of one of their own
accusations against the British state; while they complain that 'any
challenge to Britain's role in Ireland is interpreted as support for the
IRA and therefore subversive', they themselves tend to see any
criticism of the IRA as justifying the actions of the British state and,
therefore, as apologising for imperialism.

The way we see it, however, these 'options' - to oppose the British
state and support the IRA, or to oppose the IRA and support the
British state - are both wholly contained within the bounds of capitalist
politics. Instead of looking at the entire range of political and military
groupings critically and arguing that the interests of the working class
lie beyond and against this whole spectrum, they encourage the
working class to line up behind one capitalist faction or another. This
is one of the prime functions of the left, which it performs as usefully
(for capitalism) in relation to Northern Ireland as it does with regard to
many other issues.

It's certainly not hard to grasp why the British state is regarded with
such loathing in certain parts of Northern Ireland. For over twenty
years the Catholic population has been on the sharp end of a
repression which has been applied in many different ways, but mainly
through the use of armed force and the legal system.

On a military level this has involved the constant presence of as many
as 30,000 members of the British Army, UDR and RUC, who at their
most ruthless have carried out such acts as the massacre of 14
unarmed demonstrators on 'Bloody Sunday', January 1972, and
killing of over a dozen people (many of them young children) with
plastic bullets, and numerous undercover 'shoot-to-kill' ambushes
aimed at 'terrorist suspects' but frequently resulting in the violent
execution of innocent passers-by unwittingly caught up in stake-outs,
or of teenage joy riders speeding through roadblocks. Clearly, there
are more 'terrorists' operating in Northern Ireland than just the IRA!

The legal system has also played a vital role, through the use, at
various times of mass internment without trial, torture and
ill-treatment of suspects during interrogation, Diplock courts ( i.e. no
jury ), conviction of defendants on the basis of uncorroborated
evidence provided by 'supergrasses', and the sweeping measures of
the Prevention of Terrorism Act. (During the past 10 years -
1982-1991 - nearly 14,500 people in Northern Ireland and mainland
Britain have been detained under the PTA, supposedly on 'very real
suspicion of terrorism'; of these only 230 - 1.5% have even been
charged with terrorist offences, let alone convicted). On top of all this,
there is also the systematic and calculated everyday harassment of
car drivers and pedestrians being stopped for identity checks, and the
frequent invasion of Catholic areas by the army and RUC in order to
carry out house-to-house searches (amounting in 1990 to an average
of at least one house raid taking place every two hours).

Of course, there's little justification for any expressions of moral
outrage by the IRA and its supporters about any of this. To claim, as
they do, that there is a war going on in Northern Ireland, and then to
criticise the British state for behaving just as any state does in
war-time, is like wanting to have your cake and eat it. Nevertheless, as
we've said, it's no wonder the British state is hated - and that many on
the receiving end of its brutalities want to fight back against it. The
question is, though, by what means, and to what end?

Although our argument is that the Republican struggle is not in itself a
struggle for working class interests, there are certain things mixed up
with it that we would support. Like, for example, the 'Free Derry'
'uprising' of August 1969, when the Catholic Bogsiders organised
themselves to repel attacks by Protestant marchers and the police
with stones, petrol bombs and burning barricades.

This is no different to the solidarity we have expressed in the past
with the working class inhabitants of inner city areas in Britain such as
Toxteth , Brixton or Tottenham, when, fed up with daily police
harassment on the streets and with having their homes smashed up in
raids for drugs or stolen property (the like of which is part-and-parcel
of everyday life for thousands of working class people in Northern
Ireland), they have erupted onto the streets and temporarily driven
out the police.

We support such riots not because we think they are somehow
inherently revolutionary, but for the basic reason that they show a
spirit of rebellion alive within the working class and an unwillingness
to put up with attacks on its conditions of living. A class which doesn't
fight back against the hardships which are imposed on it is unlikely to
ever rise up and overthrow its oppressors.

We are for the expulsion of all armed gangs from working class areas
of Northern Ireland - be they the British army, the loyalist
paramilitaries, or the IRA. However, the type of working class
self-defence against state oppression and sectarian attacks which
mainly took the form of rioting seems to have become less common in
Northern Ireland.

On one side, the army and the RUC have been less willing to tolerate
the existence of the semi-official barricaded 'no-go areas' which were
commonplace in the early years of the present day 'Troubles. While on
the other side, Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA have been equally
determined to keep as much resistance to the British state as possible
under their control: 'This is a special message for young people - no
hijackings, no joy riding, no stone throwing at the Brits. If you want to
do these things, there are organisations to do this for you.' - Gerry
Adams, President of Sinn Fein.

This as an important consequence for the position we adopt towards
events in Northern Ireland, because, when groups like the RCP
(Revolutionary Communist Party) state that 'Workers who live in the
imperialist heartland have a special duty to back those fighting
against the British oppressor', what this largely boils down to at the
present time is that we should support the 'armed struggle ' being
waged by the IRA and the other, smaller Republican groups.
The Rise of the Provisional IRA

In our view the rise of the Provisional IRA represented a tragic step
back for the Catholic working class in Northern Ireland.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Civil Rights Association in
Northern Ireland was agitating for an end to discrimination against
Catholics. At the origins of the civil rights movement lay genuine
working class concerns over issues such as housing and
unemployment. If these issues had been taken up on the basis of
fighting for working class needs, there would have been a chance of
uniting Catholic and Protestant workers, since all workers have a
material interest in struggling for better housing and higher wages.

However, rather than fighting for more and better resources, which
could have achieved real material improvements in conditions for all
working class people, the Civil Rights Association's campaign to
establish the so-called rights of a persecuted minority within civil
society amounted to merely demanding a more equitable sharing out
of the miserable resources which already existed. This movement
was, moreover, deeply imbued with liberal illusions about achieving
equality and justice - in a system which by its very nature cannot do
anything but generate inequality and injustice.

The direction of this movement was driven even further away from its
origins by the reaction of the Northern Ireland Unionists, who
regarded the civil rights campaign as a threat to their 'privileged'
position. Northern Ireland was certainly no paradise for working class
Protestants. Their 'privileges' didn't amount to much more than
having a slightly less shitty slum to live in or a slightly less miserably
paid job to go to than their Catholic neighbours. As the Dublin based
anarchist Workers' Solidarity Movement puts it, 'The reality of Orange
bigotry is one of 2 1/2p l looking down on 2p'. Nonetheless, the civil
rights movement's demand that Catholics should have equal access to
jobs and housing previously reserved for Protestants was perceived
by Protestant workers as something that would undermine their own
already precarious standard of living. It's not hard to see, for example,
that if a factory employed 600 Protestants and no Catholics, where
without religious bias in employment there would be 400 Protestants
and 200 Catholics, then 200 Protestants would feel their jobs under
threat by any call or an end to discrimination.

Protestant working class hostility towards the civil rights movement
was of course fostered by the Northern Ireland ruling class. Ever
since the establishment of the Northern Irish state at the start of the
1920s, the outlook of the Unionist ruling class had been dominated by
a mixture of aggression and insecurity aptly summed up as 'the
politics of siege'. It pursued its own survival through a classic policy of
'divide and rule', on the one hand demonising the Catholic population
within Northern Ireland as the treacherous 'fifth column' of its
southern enemy, and on the other hand tossing just enough crumbs to
the Protestant working class to convince them that their interests
were identical with those of their rulers.

Whenever Catholic and Protestant workers did show any signs of
joining together, the ruling class was always quick to find a way to
whip up renewed sectarian hostility, in order to destroy working class
unity. The Outdoor Relief strike of October 1932, for example, when
the unemployed of the Falls and Shankhill fought side-by-side against
the police, was followed less than three years later by a long summer
of bloody sectarian rioting in Belfast which left 11 dead and nearly 600

In the late 1960s, if the Northern Ireland ruling class needed any extra
incentive to crush any signs of working class struggle within its own
territory, then it only needed to look across at mainland Europe, where
in France in 1968 and in Italy in 1969, the working class was defying
all the sociologists and media pundits who said it had been dissolved
in the 'affluent society' with a series of massive strikes.

It was against this background that the Civil Rights Association's
mainly peaceful protests were frequently met with savage violence
meted out by the RUC and the notorious B Specials. The IRA did
nothing to halt these attacks; legend has it that its initials were now
said to stand for I Ran Away. Initially Catholics had to organise their
own self-defence - as they did, for example, at the start of 'Free
Derry'. It was in these circumstances that the Provisional IRA
emerged. Increasingly, Catholics turned to the Provisionals for
defence, first of all against sectarian pogroms, and later against the
British army.

Although in recent years Sinn Fein and the IRA have fought a
twin-pronged campaign 'with the ballot paper in on hand and an
Armalite in the other', the Provisional IRA initially came together as a
purely military organisation. Unlike the Official IRA, from which they
had split during 1969-70, the Provos had no interest whatsoever in the
sort of reforms demanded by the Civil Rights movement, since the
Provos' aim was not to modify the Northern Ireland state ate but to
get rid of it. At first even the Stalinists of the Official IRA were
denounced as too left-wing by the Provos - though when the
Provisionals came to write their own programme after the split
(published as Eire Nua in 1972), they actually based it on an old
document that the Stalinist Coughlan [i.e. Official IRA member
Anthony Coughlan] had written before the split.
Revolutionary Potential?

In a relatively short space of time, therefore, the reaction of the
Northern Ireland Unionists and the British army aborted a movement
with its origins in working class grievances over jobs and houses, and
rejuvenated in its stead, among a section of the population which
throughout the 1960s had shown little explicit interest in wider
constitutional issues such as partition, a military campaign for the
political end of uniting Ireland.

What this says to us is that the Provisional IRA did not develop
organically out of the struggles of the Catholic working class in
Northern Ireland, any more than, say, the Labour Party or the trade
unions are a direct outgrowth of the current struggles of the working
class in Britain.

When we point this out, one response we get is that we should still
support the armed struggle, even though it is controlled by the IRA, in
the same way that we support strikes, even though they may be
controlled by the trade unions. Or as someone who wrote to Class war
about this issue put it: 'So what if the IRA defends a Catholic,
nationalist community? Would you attack strikers if they supported
the Labour Party?'

In fact, this analogy only strengthens our case against supporting the
armed struggle in Northern Ireland. The basic motivation of workers
who join a trade union or the Labour Party thinking that it will fight for
working class interests may be sound but their course of action is not.
Yet a strike organised be a trade union and involving workers who
support the Labour Party does have the potential to go beyond these
initial limitations. This is because strikers are pursuing their material
interests as members of the working class. Sooner or later this will
bring them into conflict with capitalist organisations such as the trade
unions and the Labour Party. If their struggle is then to proceed any
further, the strikers are forced to go beyond the forms and ideas they
started with, by in practice rejecting trades unionism and Labourism.

We know, both from our own experiences of direct involvement and
political intervention in strikes, and from looking at the history of
previous high-points of the class struggle in many different countries,
that this does frequently happen. So far it has been most noticeable
only among a minority of the working class, because only a minority,
usually, is ever involved in the class struggle, and it is only this active
involvement which is necessary for the old practices and ideas to be
challenged and overturned. Nonetheless, such a process does occur.

By contrast, the fact that after 20 years of the modern day 'Troubles'
in Northern Ireland there is still no sign that any significant minority of
the Catholic working class has gone beyond the outlook which
dominated it back in 1969, nor any indication of the armed struggle
developing wider perspectives than those set by the IRA, speaks
volumes about the class nature and potential of the struggle in
Northern Ireland.
'My Enemy's Enemy Is My Friend'

We don't shed any tears for the police, soldiers and politicians killed
by the IRA; our only regret on seeing someone like Norman Tebbit
dug out of the ruins of the Grand Hotel in Brighton after the IRA
bombed the 1985 Conservative Party conference was that he was still
alive. But this doesn't mean that we automatically share a common
cause with anyone and everyone who opposes the British state
besides ourselves. We don't judge the class nature of a struggle by
the targets it attacks. We must also take into account the purposes
and intent which motivate such actions.

As communists we oppose the state because it is the instrument the
capitalist class uses to enforce and maintain its domination over the
working class. In overthrowing capitalism the revolutionary struggle
we agitate for will abolish ALL nation states and national boundaries.
Clearly, the Irish Republican movement's opposition to the British
state is not founded on this basis. It seeks merely to re-arrange the
existing national boundaries by establishing a new state with
jurisdiction over the whole of the island of Ireland. This new state
would be just as much an enemy of the working class struggle as are
the existing British and Irish states.

The notion that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend", which leads
some people to support the IRA, invariably misjudges who or what the
real enemy is, and so ends up dragging the working class into taking
sides with 'nice" factions of the capitalist class in its squabbles with
the 'nasty" factions of the same class. We see this in anti-fascist fronts
where the working class allies itself with 'democratic" capitalists
against 'totalitarian" capitalists, and in anti-imperialist struggles
where the working class fights its present 'imperialist" bosses in
alliance with its future 'home grown" bosses. However, the real enemy
of the working class is not any of these different factions of the ruling
class but the entire capitalist system itself.

What is wrong with the working class taking sides in struggles among
rival capitalists was neatly summed up during the Spanish Civil War
by the council communists who published the journal International
Council Correspondence, when they said that it amounted to
encouraging the working class to co-operate with one enemy in order
to crush another, in order later to be crushed by the first" ....which is
exactly what did happen in Spain, when the social revolution which
also broke out in 1936 was first of all subordinated to, and then
destroyed by, those who sought to preserve one form of capitalist rule
(democracy) against another (fascism), and when, from May 1937
onwards, members of the POUM and the CNT-FAI were imprisoned,
murdered or generally terrorised by their erstwhile anti-fascist allies,
the Spanish 'Communist' Party.

The outcome of past 'national liberation struggles' shows that the
working class always ends up being oppressed just as much by its
so-called 'liberators" as it was by its old imperialist masters. IRA
supporters, like the RCP, admit that they can see this prospect taking
shape among 'liberation movements' such as the ANC and the PLO,
as soon as they sniff the scent of state power: 'Yesterdays freedom
fighters are everywhere climbing into business suits, talking
diplomacy, and looking for compromise on terms dictated by their
enemies' What makes them think that Gerry Adams and co. will
behave any differently when the British government invites Sinn Fein
to the conference table to settle the war in Ireland.
The Myth of National Self-Determination

Many of the left-wing groups who argue for British withdrawal from
Northern Ireland do so because they believe in the principle of
'national self-determination' in opposition to imperialism. The RCP, in
the '"What We Fight For' statement which appeared in every issue of
its newspaper, the next step, declares that it supports 'Irish
self-determination'. The slogan of the Troops Out Movement (TOM) is
'self-determination for the Irish people as a whole'. The Troops Out
Movement defines 'self-determination' as the 'right of people within a
nation to determine their own political, social and economic affairs
free from external control'.

By promoting this so-called 'right' left-wing groups such as the RCP
and TOM give credence to two dangerous myths.

First, to speak of 'the nation' or 'the people' as if these are
homogeneous entities flies in the face of the reality that capitalist
society is divided into mutually antagonistic classes. 'The people as a
whole' have never determined their own 'political, social and economic
affairs'. In every country, political, social and economic policies are
drawn up by, and in the interests of, the ruling class. What is
presented as being for the good of the nation is purely for the benefit
of the bosses. Any ideology which denies this is so, is a barrier which
must be broken down if the working class is to assert its own
independent class interests.

Even the titles of TOM's own publications - such as In Whose Name?
and Without Consent - with their central argument that 'Britain is
pursuing a war in Ireland without a political mandate to do so from its
own people' tell us that the object which TOM seeks to win for Ireland
doesn't even exist in Britain. By agitating for the 'right of
self-determination' TOM encourages workers to waste their efforts in
chasing something which cannot be achieved.

Secondly, it is an illusion to suggest that a nation such as Ireland - or
to be more precise, the ruling class within a united Ireland - could
determine its affairs 'free from external control'. The rulers of any
newly 'independent' nation-state immediately find themselves having
to come to terms with a worldwide economic system dominated by
powerful blocs and integrated on a global scale. Their room for
manoeuvre within this framework is extremely limited.

In the twentieth century the typical outcome of national liberation
struggles has been one or other of two scenarios. Either the
imperialist power relinquished direct political control but continues to
exert its domination at an economic level; or the client state frees
itself entirely from the domination of one imperialist bloc only by
switching to the all-embracing grip of a rival bloc. In neither of these
instances does even a 'successful' national liberation struggle result
in any real independence for the local capitalists; nor is there any
weakening of imperialism as a whole.
The Irish 'Free' State

Any supporter of 'Irish self-determination' who believes that 'national
liberation' is possible in any meaningful sense within modern
capitalism should look at the history of the south of Ireland since it
achieved 'independence' in 1922.

The separation of the Irish Free State from the rest of Britain did
nothing to alter the two states' economic relationship, in which Ireland
exported agricultural produce to Britain, and Britain sold
manufactured goods to Ireland. At no time before the Second World
War did Ireland send less than 90% of its total exports to British
markets. And, as the south was so dependent on 'free trade', it could
not risk placing the sorts of tariffs on imported manufactured goods
which might have encouraged growth in its own feeble industrial

In the early 1930s de Valera's Fianna Fail party came to power
determined to free Ireland from British domination through a policy of
economic nationalism. They believed that Ireland could become, "a
self-contained unit, providing all the necessities of living in adequate
quantities for the people residing in this island at the moment and
probably for a much larger number".

Predictably, however, the protectionist policies which were
implemented in pursuit of this drew retaliation from the south's
economic competitors. It didn't help either that the policy of economic
nationalism was set in motion in the midst of a global economic
depression. The gap between the cost of imports and the income
earned from exports widened greatly to Ireland's disadvantage. This
constant trade deficit drained the nation's foreign currency reserves
which further weakened Irish capital's standing in the world market.
Also, even extensive state intervention in the economy, intended to
stimulate Irish owned domestic manufacturing, could not provide
sufficient capital to build up industries capable of competing against
Ireland's far more advanced rivals on the world market.

Between 1931-39 the average income per head in Ireland dropped
from nearly two thirds of what it was in Britain, to just under half. 'The
Irish people' showed just how much say they had in 'determining their
own affairs' by deserting 'their nation' in droves: more than 300,000
people emigrated during the period 1936-51, followed by a further
400,000 over the next ten years to 1961. It was only this massive
export of 'surplus' population which kept standards of living for those
who stayed behind from declining even more steeply.

By the late 1950s the dream of economic self- sufficiency had been
exposed as an unattainable illusion. Protectionist policies were
abandoned and the south set about wooing investment by foreign
capital. Ever since then, as had been the case beforehand too, the
south of Ireland has been completely bound up with the fortunes of
the world market, and no more able to escape from the inevitable
booms and slumps of the global economy than any other nation state.

We would be stretching our argument beyond credibility, however, if
we gave the impression that the supporters of a united Ireland are
fine idealists whose best intentions would sadly be frustrated by the
economic dictates of world capitalism. Of course Sinn Fein and the
IRA say (as every other national liberation movement has said -
before coming to power) that the working class would be better off in
its 'Thirty Two County Socialist Republic'. But whereas for us
socialism means the complete abolition of money, wage labour, the
market system and the state, Sinn Fein's so-called 'socialism'
amounts to nothing more than a mixture of state capitalism and
self-managed (i.e. self-exploited) agricultural co-operatives which has
never been of any benefit to the working class whenever or wherever
such measures have been implemented in the past.

If Sinn Fein's economic programme leaves everything to be desired,
its stance on many social issues is equally unattractive. In February
1992, amidst all furore which followed the Irish Attorney General's
initial decision to prevent a 14 year old rape victim from travelling to
England to have an abortion, Sinn Fein's annual conference endorsed
a women's policy document which stated: 'We accept the need for
abortion only where a woman's life is at risk or in grave danger.'

It's not just the long-term aims the IRA is fighting for which make it an
enemy of the working class. There's also the IRA's present -day role
in policing Catholic communities in Northern Ireland.

According to an article which appeared in the Guardian on 22 October
1990, the IRA had so far that year carried out 89 punishment
shootings (a bullet in the ankles, knees, wrists or the base of the
spine) and 56 beatings (prolonged assaults with iron bars or baseball
bats producing multiple injuries). In addition it had also ordered
another 20 or 30 'offenders' to get out of Northern Ireland - or else
face the consequences. Since then 'expulsion orders' have been on
the increase and by February 1992 they were said to be running at 3 a
week (i.e. 150 a year).

Recently the IRA has also developed less thuggish ways of policing
the Catholic communities, such as manipulating the courts and social
services into administering what are in effect custodial sentences.
Youths who it has been made clear are under threat of punishment by
the IRA are given 'place of safety 'orders by the magistrates courts for
their own protection and have to serve their time in young offenders
centres until the IRA decides that it is safe for them to return to their

We ourselves see nothing wrong with working class communities
organising themselves to take direct action against anti-social
elements such as drug pushers or burglars who rob from working
class people's houses. Some of the 'petty criminals' dealt with by the
IRA may well fall into this category and deserve some sort of
punishment - then again, you could say the same about some of the
people punished by the ruling class's legal system. The point is that a
lot of them don't deserve it. There's nothing necessarily 'anti-social'
about, for example, people who steal from shops - yet they too fall foul
of the swift, brutal, self-appointed policing of the IRA.

Many of the victims of IRA punishments are joyriders. The police are
reluctant to respond to reports of stolen vehicles for fear of IRA
ambushes and booby trap bombs. The IRA steps into this vacuum and
takes action against joyriders under the guise of 'reluctantly
responding to community pressure.' In this way the IRA takes credit
for clearing up a mess which it has largely contributed to creating in
the first place!

Once again though we must look not at the IRA's targets so much as it
s reasons for attacking them. The IRA's main reason for carrying out
punishments is to reinforce its rule over the territory it controls.
People are encouraged to contact the 'Republican movement' if they
are concerned about crime, rather than calling the police (or doing
something about it themselves). The less the RUC enters the Catholic
ghettos, the better the IRA likes it, since it gives their members
greater freedom to go about their activities. Anyone who, even
inadvertently, fouls up an IRA operation by calling the police into a
Catholic area instantly turns themselves into an informer and faces
the ultimate penalty: death.

The IRA's so-called 'popular justice' may be an alternative within the
Catholic communities to the policing carried out by the RUC, but only
in the same sense that the Labour Party is an alternative to the Tories:
it is not qualitatively different. This conclusion - that there is nothing
to choose between being policed by the IRA or by the RUC - is one
that has been voiced within the Catholic community itself: "When you
have Sinn Fein and the IRA talking about human rights abuses in the
likes of Castlereagh [the RUC interrogation centre], its sickening for
them to dish out summary so-called justice like this".

We might also point out that at the same time as it is going around
crippling petty thieves and teenage joyriders, the IRA itself is raising
funds through all sorts of rackets which, far from being petty, net it an
income amounting, according to one estimate, to around £10 million a
year. But then again,the whole of capitalism is based on robbery, it's
just that the ruling class decides what sorts are legal and what sorts
are not.

While both the IRA's present actions and the goals it is fighting for
mark it out in our eyes as an anti-working class organisation,
speculation about what a united Ireland governed by Sinn Fein would
be like is largely academic - because it's highly unlikely to come about.
Although high-ranking British military officers have admitted on many
occasions that they are never likely to be able to wipe out the IRA
completely, the British state can still just about manage to sustain the
political, social and economic costs of containing the impact of the
'Troubles' at a tolerable level.

There is no way that any Dublin government could cope in the same
way with 900,000 hostile Protestants in the north of a united Ireland.
Even the IRA doesn't expect that the Protestants would integrate
themselves happily into a 32 County Republic, and has to concede
lamely that 'They are a tiny national minority who must be given
guarantees within any united Ireland' - which is about as plausible as
arguing that if the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland was given
'guarantees' by the British state the IRA would agree to the
continuation of British rule in the north. This is the main reason, then,
why British troops remain in Northern Ireland: to prevent an
escalation of the 'Troubles' which would plunge Ireland into chaos,
thus threatening NATO's strategic interests and British, U.S. and EEC
economic interests.

So, we do not foresee any change in the constitutional set-up in
Northern Ireland in the near future. Nor are there many signs - at the
moment- of any resurgence in the currently very low level of the class
struggle there. The two communities, Catholic and Protestant - seem
to be pitted against each other every bit as much as the ruling class
wants them to be, since there is every advantage for British capitalists
in maintaining the policy of 'divide and rule' which keeps workers'
living standards in Northern Ireland so much lower than in the rest of

This isn't to say that these divisions couldn't be overcome in the
course of massive class struggle, but where this mass struggle will
come from is hard to foresee. At present, the fear once expressed by
some members of the ruling class, that 'If we lose in Belfast, we may
have to fight in Brixton or Birmingham' - in other words, that the
struggle in Northern Ireland could be the spark which ignites the
flames of insurrection on the mainland - seems less well-founded than
the prospect of a working class revolution which spreads from the
Republic, Britain and the rest of Europe. But this doesn't mean that
the prospects for the class struggle in Northern Ireland can be written
off. The inherent instability and unpredictability of capitalism, and the
impossibility of eradicating the class struggle altogether, means that
we can never predict for certain where or when the next upsurge in
working class struggle will occur.

Until this happens, no doubt the war in Northern Ireland will drag on.
But we should be in no doubts about what sort of war it is. The fact
that thousands of Protestant workers have sided with the British state
and its Loyalist appendages or that thousands of Catholic workers
give their support to Sinn Fein and the IRA does not alter the
capitalist nature of the conflict. The ruling class - or those who aspire
to become the ruling class - have always been able to rope the
working class into fighting their battles for them. Our attitude to the
situation in Northern Ireland may not find much of an echo among
workers there at present, but for genuine revolutionaries there can be
no alternative to calling for a united working class struggle against
both sides!

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