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(en) Ireland, The partition of Ireland - amended WSM position paper by National Conference - WSM* As amended Oct 2005

Date Tue, 08 Nov 2005 13:54:14 +0200

The recent WSM* conference passed 24 motions amending our position paper
on the Partition of Ireland. Below is the full text of the new paper.
> The Partition of Ireland
1.1 As anarchists, we oppose imperialism (see our position paper
Capitalist globalisation and imperialism) and believe it cannot play a
progressive role . The role of the British state in Ireland is a particular
case of imperialism which we have always opposed. The relationship
of the British state with Ireland is imperialist because the decisions it
has imposed have always been autonomous of the wishes of the
people of the island and any section of the people. That is British state
policy follows the perceived needs of the British state and not the
wishes of the 'Irish people', those who are 'loyal to the crown' or even
the local ruling class.

1.2 However in opposing imperialism we see no form of nationalism
as offering a definitive solution to either the working class in Ireland or
the working class across the globe. In the final analysis nationalism
argues for a common interest between workers and bosses of one
'nation' against the workers and bosses of another. As anarchists we
stand for international working class solidarity against all bosses.

Communal identity

2. However as anarchists living on the island of Ireland we have to
deal with rather than ignore the divisions in the working class that
exist based on communal identity in the north and the issues of state
repression that continue around them. When we talk about
"communal identity" we acknowledge that not all Catholic are
nationalists, not all Protestants are unionists, and not all nationalists
and unionists are religious believers. There are, however, two main
communal identities, which can be summarised as
Catholic/nationalist on one hand and Protestant/unionist on the other.
In this paper the terms 'communal identity" and 'religion are used

3. We reject the idea that there are any differences between workers
from different religions on the island that make partition either
desirable or inevitable. Rather we see partition as the main reason why
conflicts based on religious divisions continue to exist.

4. All sections of the working class have lost out as a result of these
religious divisions. In the north the divisions in the working class
make it more difficult but not impossible to unite against the bosses.
In the north the divisions have historically meant that workers from a
catholic background suffered state discrimination and were often the
targets of loyalist and Orange attacks. In the south, the birth of mass
socialist politics in the working class has been delayed for decades,
Southern workers were subject to a theocratic state regime which not
only denied abortion rights but also subjected the vulnerable, in
particular children, to brutal regimes of 'discipline' based on physical
and all to often sexual abuse.

Historical roots

5. Partition is not a historic accident but rather the result of centuries
of imperialism and struggles against imperialism. From the
reformation onwards the British State encouraged religious conflict in
Ireland in order to divide and rule.

6.1. The radical republican rebellion of 1798 offered the opportunity to
simultaneously remove the rule of the British state and to end
sectarian conflict as a major political force. The defeat of the rebellion
in part through the deliberate deepening of sectarian divisions enabled
the British state to not only preserve its rule but entrench and extend
the sectarian divisions that existed prior to the rebellion.

6.2 Of particular significance was the encouragement of the Orange
Order as an instrument of counter-revolution open to 'Dissenters' as
well as Anglicans with the common purpose of physically suppressing
Catholics and radical Protestants alike. The creation of the founding
nationalist and loyalist mythologies towards the end of the 19th
century saw even that rebellion presented as part of a seamless history
of catholic Irish versus the British state and its loyal defenders / local

6.3 Thus the period of the Home Rule crises and the War of
Independence saw the creation of two distinct nationalist identities
that were to be cemented by partition and the carnival of reaction -
north and south - that followed it. The class politics that emerged -
north and south - in the opening years of the 20th century was to
vanish to be replaced by the Catholic Irish and the Ulster Protestant -
each with their own statelet containing unhappy minorities.

6.4 These myths of separate national identities continue to be built by
reactionaries north and south to bolster their agendas.

7.1 The truce of July 1921 happened at what we now know to be the
closing of the period of intense class struggle in Ireland that opened
with the 1907 dockers strike. 1919 had seen saw large scale land and
workplace occupations as well as the 'Limerick Soviet' when the
trades council ran the city for 14 days during a general strike. In
Belfast in 1919 40,000 engineering workers struck. All this in the
context of the revolution in Russia and the attempted revolution in

7.2 With the ruling class of Britain and Ireland - including many of the
nationalists - worried about revolution partition represented a
compromise that could offer stability. The economic differences
between the agricultural south and the industrial north meant that
most of the rulers north and south could accept partition as an
unavoidable tragedy. British imperialism was guranteed the military
bases it needed to patrol the north Atlantic because it kept the north
and the five treaty ports in the south. And instead of the threat of a
working class united by a struggle for better wages and conditions
partition held the promise of deepening the sectarian divide in the
working class and strengthening national identity over class.

Unionism and Loyalism

8.1 The 6 counties of the north was separated out of the 9 counties in
Ulster so as to ensure a permanent unionist rule based on tying
Protestant workers to their bosses in return for marginal privilege.
This was not a secretive project but openly talked of by Northern
Prime Ministers (e.g. Brookborough's famous statement about
employing 'good Protestant lads') in particular when workers did start
to unite around shared economic issues.

8.2 Sharp sectarian divisions around the issues of access to jobs and
housing already existed, particularly in Belfast. But the rhetoric of
those who ran the northern state helped further build a sense amongst
a layer of protestant workers that they had to actively defend 'their jobs
and houses' against the demands of catholic workers for an equal
share. This layer could be mobilised not only against catholic workers
but also against protestant workers who either identified with the call
for a fair redivision on humanitarian grounds or who saw the
possibility of more being won for all workers through a united struggle.

8.3 This layer represents a minority of protestant workers but it has
been and remains a sizeable minority. When its interests have
coincided with the unionist ruling class tens of thousands have been
mobilised on the streets, in 1969 in response to a peaceful civil rights
movement demanding basic democratic rights, in 1974 in the strike
against power sharing that brought down Stormont, in the 1980's in
the mass demonstrations against the Anglo Irish agreement and in the
1990's at Drumcree. But as the examples from the 80's and 90's show
its power is dependant on its demands corresponding with a significant
section of the British ruling class. Where such support is not
forthcoming this movement fractures and retreats into an abstract
loyality to the more reactionary symbols of the British state (the
monarchy, the empire and the flag) coupled with a sense it has been
betrayed by the same British state.

8.4. Thus loyalism is a reactionary ideology in all its forms including
those that try to appear socialist. It serves only to maintain
sectarianism and Protestant privilege and protect the interests of the
British and northern ruling classes.

The south

9.1 Not all of the reasons why northern protestant workers support
partition are reactionary. Post partition the southern state followed a
path that did indeed lead to a form of 'Rome rule'. A huge amount of
formal and informal power was handed to the Catholic church. From
1937 to 1972 the Irish constitution even included the statement that
the Catholic church held a 'special position'. Taioseache's would
routinely pledge loyality to the catholic church or even the pope as
with Costelloe 1947 letter pledging "our devotion to your August

9.2 It is not just a question of rhetorical statements - the catholic
church was given de facto control of almost every school, hospital and
orphanage in the country. Until the 1990's it had an effective if
informal veto over government policy. It was also not subject to the
criminal justice system - the Gardai not only ignored hundreds of
reports of physical and sexual abuse of those in church run institutions
but at least up to the 1960's they went so far as to capture and return
even adult women who had fled Magdelene laundries into the hands of
the clerics. There was no equivalent of the religious pograms of the
northern state in the south but all the same partition was followed by
mass migration of the southern protestant minority and a sharp
decline in the percentage of protestants in the population.

10. The struggle to achieve workers unity in the North can not be
separated from the struggle to build an anarchist workers movement in
the south. Such a movement in the south attacking both capitalism
and the dominance of religious law will be a great spur to winning over
Protestant workers in the North. The Catholic Church's position of
power in the South has been severely weakened over the last decade.
However it still maintains a dominant role in crucial areas such as
education and health. The complete smashing of this dominance will
help in the building of common links between northern and southern


11. Republicanism seeks to create a society where there will be a fairer
division of power but where capitalism and a ruling class will continue
to exist. Republicanism in Ireland and internationally contained radical
democratic roots but with the development of autonomous working
class politics these were relegated to the fringes in order to eliminate
the threat of the working class seizing the reins during any upheavel.

12.1 Irish republicanism is now based on a practise which first seeks
to unite Catholic workers with Catholic bosses in a common struggle
for a united Ireland. Republicanism has considerable support among
sections of the catholic working class in the north but it has no
attraction for Protestant workers and has no strategy for approaching
Protestant workers beyond rhetorical appeals.

12.2 However, republicanism unlike loyalism often developed
significant left strands within it because, at least in theory, it was
based on the 'equal rights of all' rather then the 'god given destiny of
the chosen people' or the secular variations on this theme. After the
rise of Leninism however these strands were deeply contaminated with
authoritarian socialist ideas. Still they sometimes, as with the
Republican Congress movement of the 1930's, could win support from
small sections of the northern protestant working class around the
slogan of the workers republic. Although we and other anarchists have
used that slogan as in the past, it is no longer a useful shorthand for
why we have different politics to republicans, so we prefer to simply
say that we are for 'an anarchist Ireland'

13.1 Left republicans talk of combining the struggle to end partition
and the struggle for socialism into a single struggle. But the sectarian
reality of the conflict meant that whatever the rhetoric their only
audience was amongst catholic workers. And they also lack any
strategy for winning over protestant workers beyond hoping they will
see beyond their 'false consiousness'. This would be a weak strategy in
any case but coming from organisations which promote Leninist
politics and are frequently seen as infested with sectarian, criminal and
thuggish behaviour it is no strategy at all. Whatever variants of
republicanism can be sketched in theory the history of the last decades
means that the language of republicanism is not a way to initiating a
meaningful dialogue with any large number of protestant workers.

13.2 In any case because of globalisation the period when
republicanism represented a viable strategy is over. The integration of
the world economy means there is no longer space for a small
economy to go it alone without its economy collapsing.

1960's to today

14.1 In common with most of the western world Ireland as a whole
began a process of radical transformation in the 1960's - here as
elsewhere it focused around democratic demands for equality. In the 6
counties however the demand for equality was rightly seen as
undermining the base of the northern state. So as elsewhere in the
world a non-violent movement for democratic rights found itself
confronted with both the physical force of the state and 'popular'
mobilisations of reactionary movements.

14.2 In some areas of the world like the USA the emergence of mass
Civil Rights movements forced capital to modernise the state in order
to achieve stability - a modernisation that only happened on the back
of intense struggle but which nevertheless was to see the federal
government impose reforms on individual states. In others like South
Africa the state was used to violently clamp down on the movement.
In the north meant that both reform and repression were rolled out
alongside each other as divisions within and between the British and
northern state structure were played out without any real resolution.
Significant reforms were won by the civil rights movement but much
of the old structure of unionist power remained in place. And the
violent repression unleashed against the civil rights movement meant
many came to the conclusion that there was no peaceful road to the
reform of the northern state.

15. British troops were not sent into the North in 1969 in order to keep
the peace but rather to provide a breathing space for the northern
security forces and to stabilise in the interests of the British ruling
class what they thought could have became a revolutionary situation.
This remained their role, which is why we call for "Troops out now".
In addition they were used also to break the back of any mass peaceful
reform movement through actions like Bloody Sunday in 1972.

Armed struggle

16.1 The tactic of armed struggle, as carried out by the Republicans,
was never capable of forcing the withdrawal of the British state
because it was incapable of delivering a military victory over the
British army. The British ruling class cares little for the deaths of
individual soldiers in its army. The 'commercial bombing campaign'
caused civilian casualties and heightened sectarian tensions.

16.2 The armed struggle was also faulted because it relied on the
actions of a few, with the masses left in either a totally inactive role, or
one limited to providing intelligence and shelter to the few. It is
claimed that it did serve to maintain the gains made in the 60s and
early 70s. The mass campaigns (civil disobedience, rent & rates strike,
street committees, etc.) would have been a far greater protection for
the gains won than the elitist militarism of a few.

17. The British state is responsible for the long history of armed
conflict in Irealnd. As long as the British state remains in Ireland there
remains the possibility of armed struggle against it, especially when
there is no mass movement to demonstrate an alternative to
militarism. We have opposed the republican armed struggle because it
was an impediment to working class unity. It was based on wrong
politics, it was a wrong strategy and it used wrong tactics. However we
refused to blame the republicans for the situation in the six counties.
Their campaign was the result of a problem and must not be confused
with its cause. In the final analysis, the cause lies with the continuing
occupation by the British state.

18. The IRA was not responsible for the creation of sectarianism.
Rather it was re-created in 1969 as a response to the sectarian attacks
by the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries on what had been a
peaceful civil rights movement. While individual IRA actions in the
years since heightened sectarian tensions they were not the underlying
reason why it continued to exist. For this reason the end of the IRA
campaign did not result in an end to sectarianism.

The peace process

19. When the 1994 ceasefire was declared we welcomed it because the
ending of the armed struggle opens up new possibilities for class
politics. We did not see the IRA ceasefire as a sell-out. It was the
natural progression of nationalist politics in the circumstances, which
was always going to lead to a compromise with imperialism.

20.1 The Good Friday Agreement came about as the culmination of
Sinn Féin's strategy for over a decade which was aimed at building
various broad fronts around different issues in an attempt to gain
respectability by pulling in Fianna Fáil members and church figures.
This involved dropping all references to socialism to maintain unity
with "the broad nationalist family". This strategy was never going to
deliver a united socialist Ireland, or any other significant
improvements apart from those associated with "demilitarisation". It
represents instead a hardening of traditional nationalism and the goal
of achieving an alliance of all nationalists - Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil,
SDLP, the Catholic Church and "Irish America". Such an alliance has
nothing to offer working class people, North or South, and we oppose
it outright.

20.2 The Good Friday Agreement offered nothing except a sectarian
division of the spoils and in fact copper-fastened sectarian divisions.
We called for an abstention in the referendum on this deal, refusing to
align ourselves with those calling for a 'no' vote, pointing out that they
have no alternative to offer, just more of the same conflict that has
ruined tens of thousands of working class lives. The republican forces
of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, the Real IRA, Republican
Sinn Fein, Continuity IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army has
nothing but increased communalism and sectarianism to offer. The
loyalist opponents-whose rallies were attended by vocal supporters of
the Loyalist Volunteer Force death squads -wanted a return to the
time when Catholics lived as second class citizens afraid to be even
seen to protest about this status.

21. The Assembly set up under the 'Good Friday Agreement'
demonstrates quite clearly the fact that the net effect of this agreement
is to copper-fasten sectarianism, with elected members having to
declare themselves 'nationalist' or 'unionist' in order for their votes to
count. The political parties have shown that they are capable of plenty
of agreement on economic issues - with no disagreement over budgets
or spending plans, but issues such as what flowers should be put on
display in the lobby or what flags should fly over Ministerial buildings
are used to hype up the divisions between the two sides

22. The huge vote, North and South, in favour of the agreement
-whatever else it might have indicated - showed quite clearly that the
vast majority of people do not want a return to pre-ceasefire violence.
Any return to armed struggle will deliver only more hardship and
repression for working class people in the six counties..

Sectarianism in the north today

23.1 Sectarian divisions continue in the north today. We recognise that
many of the protests that take place around these divisions are
intended to inflame them and further divide the working class rather
than solve them. Often this is for the electoral gain of local politicians
or to provide a continuing role for paramilitaries.

23.2 We are not neutral on these issues. We do not support the right of
any group to determine who may or may not live, work or pass
through 'their area'. The one exception we make to this is the parades
of the Orange Order and related institutions because of the role they
continue to play in inflaming sectarian hatred. But we argue
opposition to the Orange Order must be built on a class rather then
religious basis. This means great efforts should be made to winning
workers from a protestant background to opposing the order.

23.3 We generally support all calls for public enquiries and all attempts
to limit police powers even where we disagree with the politics of
those who are the victims of the repression.

23.4 We argue for integrated housing and schooling and the removal
of all religious and nationalist symbols from public buildings and
streets by those who use them. We argue for the ending of any clerical
input into any school or hospital that receives public funding in the
north just as we do in the south.

24. We condemn all sectarian actions (i.e. those carried out because of
religion) including any that are carried out by republicans. We combat
sectarianism not by appeals to the state forces for protection but by
calling for workers to act through strikes, demonstrations etc against
such outrages.

25. We condemn without reservation the 'punishment' beatings and
shootings of people accused of 'anti-social behaviour' or drug dealing
carried out by both republican and loyalist paramilitaries. These
actions are nothing more than a crude attempt by these groups to
maintain control over what they view as 'their communities'. They are
authoritarian thuggery. It is no justification for these groups to claim
that there is a 'policing vacuum' or that the communities are
pressurising them to act. None of these groups have any mandate to
enforce their 'rule of law'. They certainly have no right to set
themselves up as judge, jury and executioner.

Workers unity

24. As anarchists we work for unity both between Catholic and
Protestant workers and between British and Irish workers. The
potential for unity has been demonstrated on a number of occasions in
the history of the north including the 1907 Dockers strike and the
outdoor relief strike of 1932 when the Falls and Shankill rioted in
support of each other. More recently we have seem united actions in
defence of the National Health Service and against sectarian
intimidation. Smaller examples of such unity are constantly thrown up
in workplace struggles in the north.

25. We recognise that although Protestant workers have marginal
advantages over Catholic workers these are far outweighed by the
disadvantages faced by the division of the working class which means
northern workers, both Catholic and Protestant are worse off in terms
of housing, unemployment and wages then any comparable sized area
in England. These are the fruits of partition.

26.1 As everywhere else workers in the north have fought to improve
their lot and have come together to do so. Despite the legacy of
employment discrimination the workplace is the most integrated part
of northern society. There have even been significant strikes against
sectarian intimidation in the workplace.

26.2 However the ideology of loyalism has been used to break and to
undermine workers unity. This is no surprise as demands for
improvements for all run counter to the 'a protestant state for a
protestant people' (Craig, the first PM) basis on which the northern
state was explicitly founded. The Irish nationalism of the Catholic
working class may not have obvious reactionary implications.
However, if one keeps in mind that working class unity implies the
international unity of the working class, whereas national unity
requires unity between the capitalist class and the working class, it is
clear to see that Irish nationalism, like all nationalisms, calls for the
division of the international working class and the sacrificing of
working class interests for the, inherently capitalist, 'national interest'

27. The interests of workers on the island dictate a need to break with
the ideologies of loyalism and Irish nationalism. If this is true of day to
day economic struggles it is one hundred times the case in the
struggle for libertarian communism.

28. A lasting libertarian movement can only be built on a basis that
openly includes anti- imperialism and opposition to state repression
and sectarianism among its policies. These issues must be debated
within any libertarian movement and should not be rushed over for the
sake of short term growth

39. We should aid British anarchist groups in developing a clear
perspective on the national question committed to breaking British
workers from any support for the Rule of the British State in Ireland.

An end to partition?

40.1 With the peace process the British state claimed that in the event
of the population of the island voting in separate referenda - north and
south - for unity that it would respect such a decision. It is no
coincidence that this concession was made in a period when the
elected wing of the British state was imposing a program of
modernisation of the overall state structure. All of these changes faced
opposition from other factions of the ruling class and all may prove to
be reversible. The record of Britain and other imperialist powers in
sticking to the terms of verbal or written agreements is not something
to be relied on. But alongside the peace process a shift has taken place
in European politics where increasingly the EU becomes the
guranteeor for capitalist stability. After all global corporations have
little concern with which national government preserves stability for

40.2 This opens up a disturbing new route by which partition could be
ended. Previously anarchists including the WSM thought partition
could only be ended by a revolutionary upsurge that united the
working class and therefore abolished sectarian politics. The removal
of imperialism was an inevitable requirement of such a sceanario. Now
partition could end through a referendum in which a yet to be formed
majority impose a new settlement on a minority but in which
sectarianism remains in place. As anarchists we would welcome the
removal of imperialism even under such circumstances but recognise
that in the short term at least it would probably deepen sectarian
divisions in the northern working class.

Short Term Perspectives

Debate with loyalists

S1. 1The political organisations linked to loyalist paramilitaries have
become more active since the 1994 loyalist ceasefire. While the
Progressive Unionist Party claim to be socialist it is important to
remember where they have come from. They are the public face of the
UVF, which waged a blatantly sectarian war against the nationalist
population of the six counties for two and a half decades. Unless and
until they renounce these actions, they cannot be considered part of
the socialist movement.

S1.2 We do not, however, agree with the position that socialists should
not enter into debate with members of these parties. It is only through
such debate that the ludicrousness of their position of claiming to be
socialist while at the same time pledging loyalty to a monarchy can be
exposed. In order to win Protestant workers in the six counties to the
fight for anarchism we must first convince them to break with the
sectarian ideology of loyalism/unionism.

Reform of the 6 county state.

S2. We previously held that the 6 county state was irreformably
sectarian. However the current peace process may result in a state
apparatus that is divided into feuding sectarian forces on the one hand
and the encouragement by these politicians of communalist sectarian
conflict on the other. It appears that capitalism being unable to step
forwards has stepped side-wards in a manner that does nothing to
resolve grassroots sectarian conflict but overall results in a 'parity of
intervention' by the state in these conflicts.

The role of the British state

S3. It is no longer possible to assign a single motive to the British state
with regards to the north. The transfer of power to the European
union, the end of the cold war and the economic growth of the south
have all tended to do away with the historical reasons why the British
ruling class as a whole wanted to retain the north. Now the majority
faction seem open to power sharing with the southern government and
even eventual unification. The major priority of the southern and
British ruling classes is maintaining stable conditions for capitalism.

As amended Oct 2005 - subject to ratification by November 2005
Delegate council

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* WSM is the main anarchist federation of Ireland
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