The Red Plough
Vol. 1-No 10
28th June 2010
1) Sunday, Bloody Sunday.
2) Unionism in Crisis
Sunday, Bloody Sunday.
The Saville report has been delivered and all those killed were innocent victims. That is the decision of a second British inquiry nearly forty years after the event. The day after the actual killings the vast majority of people in Ireland knew that the dead were innocent victims of brutal Paratrooper murders. The first British inquiry by Lord Chief Justice Widgery was a complete British whitewash slandering the dead and praising the actions of the British paratroopers. However the Saville report cleared the dead, denied there was complicity between the Government and the Army to killed innocent protesters and blamed the deaths directly on the loss of control by the paratroopers and the wrong actions of their immediate commander on the ground on that Sunday. The good old “ a few bad apples” argument!
Why the difference between the two reports? Forty years ago the British state’s main allies in Ireland were the then monolithic Unionist Party, who controlled Stormont in the interests of the Protestant ascendancy with close links to the British ruling classes. The Tories were then known as the Conservative and Unionist Party. In the south of Ireland Britain’s allies were then mainly in the Fine Gael Party while the main ruling party, Fianna Fail still paid lip service to its republican traditions while selling of Ireland assets to the highest bidders.
It could not be seen to be too close to the British and some of its members had helped get arms to northern nationalists after loyalist mobs, at the behest of the ruling unionist ruling class had unleashed a sectarian pogrom on northern nationalists to crush the civil rights movement in August 1969. But those guns were not to go to the leftist IRA that posed a threat to the Southern ruling class. These events split the IRA and started a long running competition between the two IRA’s for support within nationalist areas eventually won by the Provisional IRA
So in the interests of the Union the British state decided to back their Unionist allies and clamp down on the increasingly militant civil rights movement. Already they had introduced internment of nationalists only in August 1971 alienating the whole nationalist population, forcing the moderate nationalists to boycott Stormont and spawning a rent and rates strikes within nationalist working class estates.
British agents had also infiltrated the IRA engaging in bank robberies in the South of Ireland to force the Government there to clamp down on the IRA and discredit the growing mass movement.
As event spiraled out of control the British government unleashed the para-troopers knowing full well what the consequences would be. The week before Bloody Sunday they had British troops beat moderate civil rights leaders from Magilligan Strand where they were protesting against the internment of nationalists. They also warned “influential nationalist leaders “ what they would do in an effort to get mass protests called off. When that failed they murdered people on the streets of Derry. It should not be forgotten that the then unionist leaderships applaud the massacres in Derry indeed some calling for even more “Bloody Sundays”
Fast forward to 2010. With the political and economic changes since the seventies, including the closer integration of the European Union, the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the establishment of the power sharing administration at Stormont and the establishment of cross border bodies relationships between Britain and Ireland’s ruling classes are now closer than ever. Unionism is fragmented and even the previously hard-line DUP has agreed to work jointly with nationalist and republicans (of the PSF variety).
Hence the remarkable statement in the British House of Commons by Prime Minister Cameron accepting the Saville report in full and hanging the paratroopers out to dry. Better them than the British establishment!!
For the vast majority of the people of Derry the result was welcome vindication of what they knew all along and particularly for the relatives of the dead and wounded of Bloody Sunday. Their remarkable persistence in exposing the truth of the events of those days eventually has paid off. Britain stands before the world guilt of mass murder against innocent unarmed civilians. - And not for the first time in its history.
But Bloody Sunday not only saw the death of the 14 civilians it also saw the death of the mass civil rights movement. No longer were people prepared to argue that non-violent protest for civil rights was justified. Nor were organizers of marches prepared to bring people onto the streets after the initial shock of Bloody Sunday. Instead many activists came to the conclusion that the only thing that would make the British listen was violence.
Literally hundreds of young men and girls rushed to join the IRAs. The more militant Provo (IRA) attracted the most recruits and the influence of the Officials (IRA) declined especially after it called a ceasefire just months after Bloody Sunday and then the IRSP/INLA was formed from a split two years later. Few of the initial recruits joined for ideological reasons for a united Ireland, a republic or socialism. Most wanted revenge and only during the subsequent years, through the experience of guerrilla warfare, did some begin to take clear ideological positions. Hence the struggles within the IRSP for Marxist ideas and later on the formation of the League of Communist Republicans inside the prison camps. (www.fourthwrite.ie/lcr.pdf)
The adoption of a long war strategy by the Northern Provos did not as it was believed it would, sap the will of the British to maintain its control of the North. The North was not Britain’s Vietnam.
Political activists who had grown up in the sixties were influenced by the Cuban revolution, the Vietnam War and the student unrest in the Universities. The repression of the Stalinist regimes held no attraction for political activists. Instead many saw armed struggle as generally applicable to overthrow regimes. Hence the popularity of the writings of Che Guevara despite the failure of his Bolivian adventure and the popularity of books such as “War of the Flea” Even many influenced by Marxism followed the guerilla tendencies. They used quotations from the Marxist classics to justify and tail end armed struggle forgetting the central tenet of Marxism provided by Marx himself in the Communist Manifesto itself
“In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole? The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement. The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only:
1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.
2. In the various stages of development, which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.
The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”
Various Marxist tendencies in Ireland seduced by the possibility of short cuts to revolution using armed struggle forgot these ideas of Marx. They either joined republican organisations to try to win them over to Marxist ideas or gave critical support whilst criticizing their tactics. Other Marxists decided to concentrate on ritual appeals to abstract class unity whist ignoring issues that heavily impacted on working class nationalists.
It is easy to be wise after the event criticize too harshly the failure of the left over the past forty years. But after Bloody Sunday the influence of the left, which had been growing amongst sections of the nationalist working class was severely curtailed. Maybe that was the intention for as events turned out the British found it relatively easy to curb, curtail and limit the long war until eventually the Provos recognised the reality of failure, sued for peace and adopted a new strategy called the peace process.
What caused the Brits most problems were mass protests and the active involvement of thousands of people in political activity. It also certainly inconvencied the elitists within the Provos who could not tolerate independent political activity by ordinary working class nationalists. Hence they set out cynically to take over every manifestation of class or community activity within the nationalist working class and rather than reach out to disaffected sections of the protestant working class whipped up sectarian feeling and hatreds.
The left failed to win that struggle with the Provos for hegemony among the nationalist working class. But the left must learn from the mistakes made especially after the events of Bloody Sunday. There is no short cut to winning over the working class to socialist ideas.
Unionism in Crisis
The recent decision by Dawn Purvis to resign from the Progressive Unionist Party is not that surprising. The P.U.P emerged from within the UVF encouraged by UVF founder Gusty Spence and David Ervine who was the PUP’S first leader. The UVF is a loyalist armed organisation with links in the past to far right British organisations and was involved in a brutal sectarian campaign against Northern nationalists encouraged and armed by British security forces. Like many such organisations there were always contradictory tendencies within its ranks and in the past its members included former members of the now defunct Northern Ireland Labour Party and supporters of far right British organisations like the National Front. Some of its members advocated Independence for “Ulster”, others for a more left wing stance and others simply maintained the old “kill all taigs” position. It must not be forgotten that founder of the LVF and anti catholic killer, Billy Wright was also a member of the UVF for over twenty years
Under the leadership of David Ervine and after his death of Dawn Purvis the PUP tried to give some sort of leadership to working class unionists. They articulated the needs of working class people attacked “big house” unionism and accused both the DUP and Sinn Fein (P) of playing the sectarian card. In their constitution they inserted the old clause 4 of the British Labour Party advocating nationalization of the key industries in the economy. Initially they attracted membership from a wide range of opinions including ex-Workers Party and ex-CPI members and some socialist groupings like the Socialist Party even went as far as giving the PUP public platforms while denying left wing republicans any such platforms.
However the PUP was not as radical as some on the left might have hoped for. They had major difficulties, for in the main, the rank and file of the UVF itself tended to vote for the DUP rather than the PUP and UVF members were involved in a series of racist attacks against migrant workers. This, at a time when former UVF prisoners were working in joint ventures with ex -INLA, IRA and UDA prisoners only emphasized the huge contradictions within loyalism.
Furthermore large swathes of working class unionism brought up to see security forces as their forces and to have respect for law and order could not bring themselves to vote for anyone they considered tainted with “criminality.”
In this regard the association of many loyalist paramilitaries with drug dealing, extortion, prostitution and widespread criminality ensured few votes in working class areas went to organisations linked to loyalist armed militias. The UDA’s previous attempts to form political groupings had failed dismally.
For at least a year Dawn Purvis’s position as leader had been under threat from those who took a more reactionary position than their leader. Dawn herself is, in political terms, to the soft left. She has taken a progressive stand on a number of issues that did not please some of the PUP membership. She is the only unionist MLA to oppose the 11+ and one of only two Stormont MLA’s to favour the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to the North. But it was her clear rejection of the activities of the UVF including the recent murder of Bobby Moffat that was the final straw that made her break away.
Her condemnation of attempts on the Shankill by UVF members to intimidate people from staying away from the funeral of Bobby Moffat rankled with some in the UVF. She herself had no intention of defending the activities of the UVF, which supposedly had decommissioned its weapons and was on ceasefire; hence her resignation from the PUP and her stance now as an independent in the Stormont Assembly.
But it is not only the PUP that has trouble at the top. Unionism itself is in crisis. Peter Robinson, leader of the DUP lost his seat at Westminster. Reg Empey leader of the Unionist Party failed to win a seat, as his attempt to form a political alliance with the British Conservative failure met with electoral rejection. Now the Unionist Party has no representatives at Westminster.
The far right Traditional Unionist Voice failed to make any impact but has decided to continue and now plans to fight next years’ Assembly elections in the vain hope of weakening the DUP representation in that Assembly.
Also attempts to form a unity front of all unionists failed. Only in Fermanagh/South did unionist put forward an agreed unity candidate but he failed by 4 votes to displace the Sinn Fein (P) sitting MP Michelle Gildernew.
Now in desperation at the thought that Sinn Fein (P) might become the largest party in next years Assembly elections and that therefore Martin McGuiness could become the First Minister unionism, at the behest of the reactionary and sectarian Orange Order, has entered into talks to unify the unionist voice.
No one should be under any illusions that this is a sectarian reaction to the rise of the participation of the catholic middle classes in the Governmental processes within Northern Ireland. The Unionist political elite fears the democratic voice of the people. They entered into agreements that saw the establishment of the power sharing administration in the hope of maintaining at least a semblance of their former superiority. So they bite the bullet of power-sharing and even the hard-line DUP saw the necessity to compromise.
But they did not envisage the possible election of a “shinner” as First Minister. There is a strong possibility that Provisional Sinn Fein could be the largest party in next year’s Assembly elections. Unionist leaders are not prepared to accept that. Unionists have not yet grasped the political realities that face them. They are gradually moving into a minority position with the six county state.
Already Belfast is a mainly nationalist town. Desperate attempts have been made by unionism in the Westminster constituency of North Belfast for example to limit nationalist access to social housing in an effort to maintain the seat for unionism. North Belfast has endured sectarian violence urban decay peace walls and hatred for many years. It has the highest number of deaths during the ‘troubles” than any other area. The sectarian balance is 52.7% Protestant to 44.0% Catholic. It is almost totally segregated with unionist and nationalist working class areas cheek by jowl. The unionist population is in decline while the nationalist one is growing. Fear stalks the Unionist elites. Fear of losing their control over the protestant masses. Fear of class voices raising their voices above the sectarian clamor. Hence the increasing strident hysteria of the Orange Order over issues of marching thro or past catholic working class estates. (The middle classes never have to endure such provocation)
Unionism is no longer master of the state. It has been forced to share power with the hatred nationalists. It is in deep crisis. Its industrial base with which it could supply jobs for the protestant proletariat has almost totally disappeared. Discrimination in jobs and housing is against the law (but still operates at a low level) Within the broad European context the British Government values its close relationship with the government of the Irish State. It no longer needs to court unionism as it did in the past. While it will not desert them it will certainly let them know that times have changed and that they have to accommodate northern nationalists
Of course that does not mean that a united Ireland is on the immediate agenda. The catholic middle classes through their representatives in SFP and the SDLP will be quite prepared to administrate Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future. Already we see in relation to parading how far Sinn Fein (P) are prepared to sell out their previous principles in order to maintain control and power in nationalist areas. All protest and dissent will be under strict control and no voice will be allowed to be raised that dares question their hegemony.
Forget talks about unity by 1916 –more cross border bodies, yes, but also stronger policing and military control by the British of the Six- Counties and increasing political social and economic repression by the Irish state and by the Stormont administration of so called dissidents and subversives or those who do not accept the status quo.
The sad reality is that “ The Troubles” have failed to deliver either a united Ireland or any form of real social justice. Whereas before we had one party sectarian rule we now have in effect two party sectarian rules. Division along religious and perceived national lines is inbuilt into the system. We are now doomed to live under British jurisdiction for the foreseeable long-term future.
Essentially there are now clear choices ahead for republicans (real or other wise) and socialists. One is to continue with the failed policies and practices of the seventies and eighties, ignoring the mass of protestant workers, given unconditional or limited support to armed struggle, concentrating only on those issues that arise out of the armed struggle itself such as political prisoner recognition, harsh prison conditions and brutalization by prison guards draconian laws, abuses of policing powers etc and while paying lip service to class issues doing nothing in effect to assist workers struggles except for the odd adventurist action.
The other choice is while embracing all campaigns including those that oppose repression including prison issues and human rights abuses by whoever, (something the so-called hard left including the SP and SWP and their various fronts failed to do) rejecting the use of arms as a tactic at this historical juncture, focusing on class issues that win workers to socialism and reaching out in particular to those workers trapped in ghetto mentalities but being absolute clear all along that we reject the current two state solution to the Irish question.
People are affected by not only economic conditions but also by cultural influences, national identites, political issues and social conditions. In the Irish context class issues are not always or even often the dominant factor in determining political consciousness. Consider the way the civil war parties have dominated the political culture of the 26 counties for ninety years. Rather it is either a sense of nationality or a sense of culture or religion that is the uppermost factor in the minds of people in determining their political positions.
Hence the calls by some for so called “normal politics” i.e. those based on the British model as a way to overcome sectarian divisions. They mean organise the British Labour Party or the Tories in the north of Ireland. What these people forget is that the British system is the exception not the norm. All over the world conflicts do not take a simple left right divide but are deeply embedded in historical ethnic national or religious sectarian divisions.
Unless and until there is build a mass movement that transcends sectarian divisions and unites a majority of workers from unionist and nationalist backgrounds in a progressive struggle to end Imperialism and capitalism real progress is impossible.
James Connolly Archive http://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly
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