Permanent revolution: a Provo-IRA socialist revolution?

Submitted by dalcassian on 29 January, 2010 - 3:53 Author: Sean Matgamna

INTRODUCTION
The evolution of the Provisional IRA-Sinn Fein movement into just another constitutional-nationalist party has evoked only a discreet, and yet very eloquent, silence from those on the international"revolutionary left" who had spent decades weaving "socialist" fantasies around the communal war which the provisional IRA-SF was waging in the Six Counties.

The Provo war, they used to insist - that was the "Permanent Revolution" unfolding in Ireland! It would surely end in an all-Ireland socialist revolution. Gerry Adams would be Ireland's Fidel Castro; a Provo-ruled Ireland - the Provos of their political opium-dreams! — would be Europe's Cuba. For decades, the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and its predecessors has come in for much denunciation and more abuse because we refused to buy into these fantasies, and because we insisted on describing and defining things as they are in Northern Ireland.

In the past as now, it was always extremely difficult and usually impossible to get the fantasists to engage in rational discussion about Ireland. Rayner Lysaght's little rant may open the possibility of engaging with some of those who are so uncharacteristically coy about their politics on Ireland

A rare exception to the political "shyness" of the "Permanent Revolution" left was the discussion that took place in Socialist Organiser, over a period of months in 1983. Triggered by an article I (as John O'Mahony) wrote it called forth not only - much! - abuse, but also political contributions that represented all the different viewpoints on the "revolutionary left". These discussion-pieces were collected together in Workers' Liberty No 5, in 1986.

Alongside them in that issue of Workers' Liberty was published an attempt by me at a Socratic dialogue on the question. In this imaginary 'discussion', all the issues of politics and Marxist theory raised by the Provo War were discussed, in some detail. I put the words used in the SO exchanges into the mouths of the participants in the dialogue, adding any additional arguememnts for their position that I could think of. Donal Rayner is Rayner Lysacht. Much that he is made to say here, and the style of it, was taken directly from his contributions to the Socialist Organiser debate (including the comments about my — John O'Mahony's — national identity).

The others on his side of the argument in SO and in the Dialogue were the leaders of what is now Alan Thornet's "Socialist Resistance", the British Section of the Mandelite "Fourth International" and, now that the SWP have withdrawn from "Respect" the chief remaining "Trotskyist bag-carriers for George Galloway and the rump "Respect" party. Between 1981 and 1984 they were part of one organisation with AWL. They, "Tony", "Anne-Marie" are represented here by things they wrote and said. The participants are meant to represent various viewpoints, including that of Unionist workers. My own views are put by "Jackie" and "Mick." "Militant" here is now "The Socialist Party".

That "dialogue" summed up the state of the "Irish Question" on the "revolutionary left" in the 1980s. The arguments in favour of spinning "anti-Imperialist" and "socialist" fantasies around the provo war, and the socialist fantasies which were spun, which are used by one side in this dialogue were, in the 1970s, '80s,and early 1990s, during the Provo War common to the "Trotskyist" and Trotskisant left throughout the world. Rayner Lysaght and his friends are, it seems, still addicted to their old political opium pipe!

It would be good if the republication of 2 segments of the Dialogue here were to generate a belated discussion of the Provo war as seen, while it was raging, by most of the international revolutionary left, on how they see things now that, so to speak, the "returns" are in.
[See:Part 2

Sean Matgamna` 29-1-'10

See:The whole dialogue

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Session 5:

Jackie:
Wait a minute. Let me answer the door. One other person is expected for this last session.

(Jackie goes to the door and returns followed by a tall bearded man in a long overcoat looking rather like Holbein's well-known portrait of Henry Vl1l. Jackie introduces all those seated, and then says:) .

This is Donal Rayner. He's from Dublin. He's in People's Democracy. We're in touch from time to time. I mentioned this discussion to him and he said he'd like to come. He has contributed a couple of pieces to the discussion in SO, as you may recall. He knows a lot about modern Ireland, having written a book on the 26 County state after 1922. He agrees with you, Tony, I'm sorry to say.

Donal:
Sorry I couldn't get here earlier. How is the discussion going to proceed?

Jackie:
We've already had four sessions. It makes most sense if we have a look at your views - the stuff you put in SO. We all read your articles with great interest.

Donal:
You mean my open letter to John O'Mahony and the follow-up piece I did? That man always gets everything wrong! I've been telling him for 15 years that he doesn't understand the national question and the permanent revolution in Ireland.

Mick:
Oh, you know John, do you, Donal? I didn't realise you did.

Donal:
Yes, Sean and I go back a long way - '67 or '68, I think. We used to be in the same organisation, the old Irish Workers' Group. In one of my SO pieces, I mention a conversation I had with him six or seven years ago, where he confirmed over a few pints that he is convinced that Northern Ireland's Protestants were originally colons.

Jackie:
Yes: three and four hundred years ago!

Donal:
He gave his entire position away by admitting that, don't you think?

Mick:
Something puzzles me, Donal. You denounce O'Mahony In SO as British. But he isn't, and if you know him you couldn't possibly think he is.
Donal:
It depends what you mean by Irish. O'Mahony doesn't agree with us politically. He is not for Ireland.

Jackie:
Your idea of Ireland!

Donal:
It's nonsense for him to claim to be Irish. There's a consensus on that: the IRSP made the same point in their SO polemic with O'Mahony.

Jackie:
I remember. But that was just yahoo stuff, Donal! You should know better, or at least feel inhibited about it.

Patrick:
It's all yahoo stuff!

Jimmy:
Is this worth pursuing? I can't see the point

Mick:
I don't know if it is worth pursuing, but I have a sneaking feeling that it has a bearing on the whole Protestant-Catholic business. After all, what is an Irish person? You rule out the Protestant community from your idea of Irishness by defining them as pro-imperialist. And in the same way you reclassify John O'Mahony, someone you know to be Irish, as British because he doesn't agree with your version of Irish nationalism. On one level, of course, this is all laughable nonsense. But it has a terrible logic. Nationality becomes the same thing as political allegiance, and you transpose the attitudes proper to struggle against political trends into a struggle of community against community. That produces chauvinism.

Tony:
If the Protestants stopped being Unionists, then they'd just be Irish, no problem. We have to break them from their pro-imperialist consciousness. If…

Jackie:
All these 'ifs', Tony! As the old saying goes, "'if' was never in a true story". We have to begin from where we are, and that includes the overweening fact that the Protestants have a conception of their own identity different from the identity of the rest of the Irish. Objectively there is no doubt that they are a distinct community - in origin, history, culture, religion, and, for most of the time since the Ulster colony arrived, language (the majority on the island then spoke Gaelic).

Tony:
There is no doubt that politics is decisive here - otherwise you wind up like O'Mahony arguing that Poland has national rights, even if that leads to anti-socialist counter-revolution. Donal is quite right, O'Mahony can't be Irish, wherever he was born, however he talks or looks, and even if he calls himself Irish!

Mick:
Not even if he has an Irish passport?

Jackie:
Don't be stupid, Mick! Who cares about passports? We can't be formalists about these things. Look at Donal Rayner: he's probably got a British passport. Or he used to have, anyway, because he's Welsh!

Donal:
No I'm not, I'm Irish.

Jackie:
You are if you want to be, Donal. And plainly you do want to be. I remember the biographical details you put at the back of your book on the 26 Counties - descent from Fergus O'Connor the Chartist and from Arthur O'Connor the United Irishman and Napoleonic general, wasn't it?

Donal:
Yes, so I'm Irish - even if I was born and grew up in Wales.

Jackie:
Not only Irish, Donal. With that genealogy you are surely a descendant of the last crowned High King of Ireland, Rory O'Connor.

Donal:
So I believe.

Jackie:
Ours is no narrow workerist discussion group! All Irish classes are represented here, including some that died out long ago.

Patrick:
But it isn't a joke. You really think you have the right to give out national identity tags and take them away as if they were nicknames! The spectacle of the Irish nationalist Welshman reclassifying the socialist Irishman as British may be the stuff of farce. But there's no way that approach isn't going to lead to the most vicious and intolerant chauvinism: because of course the political virtues for which you award the Irish national identity-tag - anti-imperialism, Republican separatism, ingrained hostility to Britain - are to be found in one community only, and are detested by the other. Nationality is not for you an objective fact, but a political definition you can award or remove according to your whim. You use it as a political hatchet!

Anne-Marie:
What are you people? Sociologists? Of course we use political definitions! If the Protestants don't accept Irish nationalism, and prefer a link with Britain, then they're British - and they should go and live in Britain! In any case O'Mahony isn't Irish - look at the way he writes about Ireland. Peter Flack nailed him on that in SO.
Calling the leaders of Ireland "backward, Catholic, bourgeois, partitionist bigots'', indeed! As comrade Peter said, he has a "vitriolic hatred'' for the real Irish.

Jackie:
Yes, disgusting stuff, Anne-Marie. I suspect he is what we used to call here a "godless communist". I'll bet he even thinks romantic Ireland is dead and gone and with O'Leary in the grave!

Donal:
I think you have to accept that the Protestants are for now, at this stage of the revolution, outside the national cause and pitted against it. They will be drawn in as that cause develops and becomes a socialist movement according to the logic of the permanent revolution. There is no other solution - the movement must be spread to the South.

If it does, and if it uses working - class forms of struggle, then that can change the entire situation in the North, and the Protestants can come in from the cold.

And it has spread and used the said methods two times already - after Bloody Sunday, in February 1972, when there were strikes, and during the hunger strikes of 1981.

That's the solution.

Mick:
I'd like to see it your way, Donal, but it doesn't add up. Three objections:
Why do you think even big strikes and working-class activity in the South in support of the Northern Catholics should be able to somehow 'get through' to the Protestant workers? They would not be seen as working-class action, but as activity by the Catholic workers to help their own in the North.

That's what they would be. Strikes for such a cause would not necessarily have implicit in them any sort of working-class politics. It depends.

And why do you think socialism would eliminate the Protestants' reluctance to be a minority? Even if the fear of Rome Rule were eliminated, it might well be that you would still have to find some federal framework. A national identity different from the Irish majority is a big part of the Protestant community. You yourself call them a "national minority", don't you? The idea that socialism will eliminate all such divisions and supersede the need for a democratic programme is childish.

Again I urge you to read Lenin's polemics against Bukharin and Pyatakov in 1916. There is a short answer to all the 'socialism-is-the answer' merchants - whether it's your 'Provos-will-lead-the-permanentrevolution-in-lreland' or Militant's up-in the-air call for 'Socialism now. It is irrelevant. Questions of national and communal relations will exist after the socialist revolution, and probably for a long time. Read Lenin!

And, finally, you contradict yourself utterly. If working-class methods of struggle - strikes etc. - in the South in support of the Catholic community in the North are ipso facto working class in the political sense, then why would not the stupendous working-class action in the 1974 Protestant General Strike in defence (as they saw it) of their community, not also working class politics?

Donal:
Because they are not anti-imperialist! Because they oppose imperialism, if at all, only from the right! Because they had the collusion of the state forces for the May 1974 strike and could not have had that "strike" otherwise - and anyway, the Protestant workers were coerced into that strike!

Jackie:
I think you grossly exaggerate the level of collusion, Donal - and also the importance of coercion at the beginning of the 1974 strike.

Jimmy:
There is always coercion! What do you think pickets are for?

Jackie:
However it began, the strike quickly became a real expression of the drive of the Protestant community against the Council of Ireland and the power-sharing executive. You have a strange belief in the omnipotence of the state against a general strike, Donal!

Mick:
Especially for someone whose international organisation spent much of the '70s throughout Europe advocating the all-purpose instant general strike for all occasions!

Jackie:
To get back to the point I was making: you can't say strikes in the South in support of the Northern Catholics are working-class politics without also implicitly saying the same about the 1974 Protestant General Strike. I don't think either can be said to express working-class politics.

Mick:
You ascribe a character to strikes in the South straight out of your own political preconceptions. You try, ridiculously, to diminish what happened in '74 and to pretend that it wasn't a genuine act of the Protestant working class. Like Tony, you wear blinding ideological spectacles!

Tony:
Everyone has ideological spectacles!

Donal:
Yours are those of a British reformist, scared of Permanent Revolution and wanting to deny the relevance in Ireland of the said process and strategy!

Mick:
Yes, of course, we all structure reality according to our preoccupations. But you take similar things, Catholic strikes for the Catholic community and Protestant strikes for the felt concerns of the Protestant community. You say that one of them - the feeble ripples of Catholic solidarity in the South - is of one kind, genuine working-class action, and the other, the powerful and victorious general strike in the North, is no sort of working-class action. I think your ideological spectacles are very thick indeed!

I'm not saying, incidentally, that you should not take the political differences into account - only don't equate the Southern strikes with working-class politics on the basis of their allegedly anti-imperialist drive and pretend that he Northern general strike has no working-class character at all because of its aims. Otherwise you miss the point. The most terrible thing about Northern Ireland's tragedy is that the Orange cause was reduced to "the men and women of no property", and it was a working-class weapon which won the Protestant community their greatest victory.
And, Donal, I'd be cautious in flinging about labels like 'anti-imperialist' and 'pro-imperialist' here. It was the Protestants who smashed British strategy, and that strategy was heavily dependent on majority Catholic support and on the SDLP. If the Protestants were to the right of Britain, that only emphasis that they are not to be adequately defined as Britain's tools and pawns. They have their own interests, for which they are prepared to oppose Britain. Your distinction between good and bad "anti-imperialism" is rather arbitrary.

Incidentally, if strikes in support of one side have a magic healing power for the working class, then why didn't the stupendous general strike - and that's what it was, Donal R, whatever about its objectives - up here evoke some sympathy in the South? Wrong politics? Politics and objectives that repelled the Southern workers? Of course! But it would work the other way round too. Strikes in the South in support of the Catholics in the North would, for the Protestant workers, be strikes with the wrong politics and repellent objectives.

Mick:
Donal, I think your own chosen definition of the Protestants - a national minority - rules out your 'political' distinction between pro-Catholic strikes, which you see as working-class politics and Protestant or pro-Protestant strikes, which you see as not.

If they are a national minority, then the entire body of literature of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky on the subject of distinct peoples, nations, and fragments of nations, tells us that they have certain rights. Whether you mean it or not, you are saying that the intra-lrish aspects of Northern Ireland come down to the struggle of a national minority with the majority.

Donal:
Overlaid by the artificial Six County state and snarled up by British interference.

Mick:
Yes of course. But what follows as a result of British involvement cannot for us be that those who you say are a national minority have no rights. The tragedy is that the workers on both sides line up strictly according to communities, or, if you like, nationalities. Both sides have rights!

Anne-Marie:
You talk as if imperialism doesn't exist! You say that the oppressed and the oppressor are on an equal plane, but national rights are only for the oppressed, not for oppressors!

Patrick:
That's one of the most common ideas on the Trotskyisant left - and one of the most stupid. You support the oppressed, sure, but you can't support a proposal to replace the present situation where there are half a million oppressed Catholics in the Six Counties with one in which there will be a million oppressed Protestants in a Catholic state!

Donal:
I don't know what you people are going on about on the Provos and federalism. Don't mind what David O'Connell has said: federalism was never intended as 'the hand of friendship' for the national minority. Federalism in the early '70s reassured the Provos' backward element that the religious sectarian features of the 26 County state would not have to go when Ireland was united.

Mick:
Suppose that's true. It's just another way of saying that Ireland is not inhabited by one homogeneous people, and that the old Provo leadership understood that. I find the idea that such an arrangement as federalism could only shield and protect backward and undesirable things pretty childish, Donal; and that's your point, isn't it? A1l the stranger coming from you because, in your SO piece you accept that the proposal of federalism may have a useful role to play in conciliating the Protestants at some time in the future.

Donal:
But not now!

Jackie:
That's one of the most revealing things about your position, Donal R, but I'll come back to that. Go on, Mick.

Mick:
In any case, none of us support the Provo version of federalism: we say it contained the core idea that could be developed.

Patrick:
Donal, you give a picture of the Southern Provos' reasons for wanting federalism. But what about the Northern Provos' reasons for wanting rid of it? The reasons are to do with the peculiar situation of the Northern Catholics, with the fact that they are something like a new and distinct Irish minority. The Northerners oppose federalism because they would be a minority within any remotely likely Northern sub-state. (The Provos' nine county Ulster is a romantic fantasy).

Tony:
And why shouldn't they? Why should they consent to be a minority in their own country? Accept Protestant oppression and privilege? That's what's at issue.

Patrick:
We Catholics in Northern Ireland should not accept any discrimination or inequality - not one jot of it. And we won't! But there is no getting away from the fact that we are the minority. Even if you lop off the Catholic areas along the Border - and you surely would in any rational federation…

Mick:
Don't be too sure. De Valera was willing to accept a federation of Six Counties and 26 - and I suppose such an arrangement in the future is not inconceivable.

Patrick:
Maybe. The point is that some of the Northern Catholics would always be the minority in any Northern Ireland entity. That is what is at the root of the Northern Provos' revolt against the old Provo policy.

Anne-Marie:
You're saying here that the Six County Catholics are driving to get into a position to oppress the Protestants! What someone in the SO discussion called 'Catholic irredentism'.

Patrick:
No I'm not. Whatever you think of the Provo politics grafted onto it, the Catholic revolt is a just revolt against oppression. But that doesn't tell us the best objectives for that revolt to aim at.

In my view it should aim at achieving a democratic settlement and a framework for Protestant-Catholic coexistence on this island. No such framework is possible that doesn't take account of the separate Protestant identity. The problem for the Six County Catholic minority is that if they accept that, then they are accepting that they'll always be a minority - not necessarily an oppressed minority, or anything other than a fully equal minority, but still a minority.

You can see why we don't feel at all easy with the idea of any Protestant-majority sub-state. Yet without that no resolution is possible.

Jackie:
Not quite, Pat. Another resolution is possible - by way of sectarian civil war, the massacring and driving out of populations, and the terrorisation of those not driven out. To me that is a very strong recommendation for seeking an agreed solution.

Patrick:
The tragedy is that the long and unequal struggle of the Provos has pushed them into a variant of Irish nationalism that is now organically confined to one community and expresses the narrow sectional interests (or what they think are the interests) of one community. It expresses those interests in such a way as to exclude the broader all-Ireland, conciliating, Republican framework. The demand for a unitary Irish state is completely unrealisable. The attempt by the Northern Ireland minority to realise it can only - at a certain stage, if Britain were to pull out without a widely accepted settlement - lead to sectarian civil war and repartition.
Say what you like about it, Donal, the old Provo leadership are better Republicans than the Northerners!

Donal:
Even if the said Northerners are socialists?

Patrick:
Not socialists - populists!

Anne-Marie:
You support the right wing against the left, the petty bourgeois against the socialists!

Patrick:
And you support the communal populists - because of a little garnish of socialist phrases arranged around a core of increasingly sectarian politics!

No, I don't deny that some people in the Provos have sincere socialist intentions. But in any case we don't need the Provos to be socialists; or, anyway, it would be unfair and inappropriate to condemn and dismiss them, a nationalist movement, for not being working-class socialists. As a nationalist movement, they must be judged by how they relate to the central question which gave them their origin and with which they concern themselves - the national question and the intra-lrish conflict.

Here they are narrow, divisive Catholic chauvinists! They leave themselves no other policy than the suicidal attempt to conquer the Protestants. They disguise this political logic with utterly futile demands that Britain should 'disarm' the Protestants before it leaves; that is, they evade facing up to the impossibility of the Six County Catholics coercing the Protestants by fantasising that Britain will do it for them!

You say they are a radical new departure, Donal? On this issue they have the politics of John Redmond and the pre-1914 Home Rule Party.. John Redmond, too, looked to Britain to deal with the Protestants.

Robert:
Yes, but they were always like that, whatever they talked about. Blowing the guts out of our towns and cities in the early '70s - that was no 'hand of friendship' from David O'Connell and his car-bombers!

Tony:
They were fighting imperialism.

Mick:
They were trying to smash the old sectarian state. You might not have chosen their methods, or advocated them, but you had to support their revolt.

Jackie:
Here, though, Mick, the attitude you take differs a bit whether you live in Britain or Ireland. In Britain it may be enough to say that it's the revolt of an oppressed people, or section of a people, against your own state, and you have to support it, whatever you think about its advisability, methods, and objectives. For me, I'm sure it wasn't enough, and those who confined themselves to doing that, keeping reservations and criticism at best for the small print, like your friend O'Mahony for example, have a lot to answer for.

But at least you can see their point of view. Here in Ireland you had to oppose the Provo campaign as something growing out of traditional physical-force-on-principle Republicanism. It wasn't just murderous - and Robert is essentially right on that - it was always hopeless and always counterproductive.

If the unity of the Irish people, and especially of the working class, is the prerequisite for progress, then you don't 'fight the Brits' in such a way as to push the possibility of that unity back for decades and fill the chasm dividing Catholics and Protestants with a river of blood.

Tony:
You see how far you've gone, Jackie? You condemn the war of national liberation against British imperialism.

Jackie:
It's not a matter of condemnation, Tony, but of understanding. The majority here want the British link. Of course there is also the ages-old question of Irish independence and the question of the Six County Catholic minority. But, despite that, to define the situation as one of 'British-occupied Ireland' is crass stupidity.

It's not politically true, and it implies physically conquering the Protestant community. That's what the Provo campaign implies. Do you know, Tony, that lots of people in Northern Ireland whose ancestors have been here for hundreds of years think it means them when they hear talk of 'Brits out' ?

Mick:
Yet the Provos brought down the old Stormont majority - sectarian - Belfast Parliament, and it would not have fallen without them. The Provo campaign has been the locomotive of change. It has been the spur that set the politicians seeking changes and solutions. Before that there was 50 years of stagnation and Catholic oppression.
It may be true - I think for sure it is - that no clear sweeping victory is possible for the Catholics, and that the Provisionals' campaign has pushed back the remotest possibility of Northern Ireland working-class unity for decades. Nevertheless, working-class unity didn't exist before that campaign.

Jimmy:
On a trade-union level it did.

Mick:
United trade unions agreeing not to discuss the fact that Catholics were second-class citizens and suffered job discrimination! The point I'm making is that the Provos' campaign was, maybe, the only way out of the impasse. That's how it's always been in Irish history - the Irish against the overwhelming might and power of Britain, and the revolutionaries forcing the rulers to make reforms from above. The constitutional nationalists - now, the SDLP - reap the harvest sown by the 'men of violence', the 'mountainy men'.

Jackie:
Yes, but the chapter isn't ended yet, Mick. The Protestant community has been set in motion over the last dozen years, and had an extreme new sharpness of identity carved out for it. That process probably isn't finished yet - and so history hasn't yet said its last word on the Provo campaign.

I'm not entirely sure of it, but a case could be made that the Provo campaign cut right across a line of development which might have seen some form of a united Ireland, as part of Britain and Ireland moving into the EEC.

Earlier someone described the Provos as SDLPers or Fianna Failers with guns. It's also true that the Provos have been pursuing British policy - with methods which have mainly had the effect of mobilising Protestants against any resolution of the problem that the Catholics would find acceptable.

Tony:
British policy!

Jackie:
Yes, Britain was moving towards trying to shed responsibility for Northern Ireland in the'60s - gingerly, slowly, empirically. The civil rights movement and the Protestant backlash, and then the Provos, cut right across that, and you could argue that the result after 12 years is that they have erected new barriers against any such reunification from above. Certainly the chasm dividing Protestants and Catholics - and that's the root problem - has been gouged deeper.

Donal:
Emotional crap! Where's the evidence that Britain would do anything like that? It was international companies that put pressure for changes to the sectarian Northern Ireland state.

Jackie:
Evidence? The Anglo-lrish free trade agreement in 1965, the O'Neill-Lemass meetings around the same time. The stuff about international companies is just a ploy to feed your picture of Britain as the eternal villain. What about the British declaration about Britain agreeing to a united Ireland, if the Northern Ireland majority would?

Tony:
But Britain maintains the present state!

Jackie:
Yes, that's the point, and that's the great crime - maintaining the status quo, instead of radically changing it. However, things might have been changed piecemeal that can't be changed now.

It may be that the Protestant backlash that started to gather strength in the mid '60s would have prevented change anyway. The point is that the Provos' campaign built up that backlash into one of enormous proportions.

So while it is true that the Provos have spurred on the politicians, and got rid of Stormont, you also have to measure the price of that in deepening the division in the Irish people, in making the root problem more intractable.

Anne-Marie:
So they should have relied on and trusted the government?

Mick:
No, but they should have refrained from doing anything that avoidably made the root problem worse.

Patrick:
That was the fatal effect of the delusion expressed in such of our ideas as the description of the Six Counties as just 'British-occupied Ireland'.

Donal:
This is just idle speculation! Meanwhile the Revolution is alive, well and walking about in Ireland! And you are against it, Mick, with O'Mahony's nonsense in SO.

We should get back to federalism. I think SO uses federalism to deny Permanent Revolution. SO seeks reformist solutions and counterposes them to a thoroughgoing radical and revolutionary solution. You want to stop the process of Permanent Revolution!

So did the Provo right wing. For them federalism was an insurance against the revolution spilling over from the North to the South. However, the said process asserts itself. Federalism has been ended by the Sinn Fein left.

It's either federalism or Permanent Revolution right now: you must choose your perspective.

Tony:
Exactly!

Donal:
Once the Permanent Revolution has fully taken hold, and there is a 32 County mobilisation, then sections, and eventually the bulk, of the Protestant workforce will join it. Perhaps then, the idea of a federal Ireland will be revived as a tactical move to ease the Protestants into Irish unity. However, we can't know: it remains a matter of conjecture.

Mick:
So you do think that federalism may be useful?

Donal:
At a later stage, perhaps.

Mick:
Why then and not now? You should think about it, Donal R. You accept that federalism may help conciliate the Protestants. But it can't be used yet! They can't be conciliated yet? Why?

I leave aside your fine distinction in your SO article between tactics and principles, except to say that consistent democracy in such matters as national minority (your definition) rights is not just a matter of 'tactics' for Marxists.

But given that you think federalism may be useful at some stage, then why not use it from the very beginning? Why do you exult in the dropping of the 'said demand' by the Provos?

Donal:
Because they have moved a bit towards the Permanent Revolution, and see Ireland as a whole as needing to be revolutionised.

Mick:
But this doesn't make sense! You think that after most of working class Ireland is 'mobilised' (whatever that means) and the majority of Protestant workers have begun to join 'the mobilisation', then it may make sense to propose federalism as a means of conciliating the Northern Protestant community. But you can't offer it before, because that somehow wouldn't be 'revolutionary'!

Or is it that you calculate that the Provo leaders are going in the right direction and that their move from the old federalism is part of that process, and so you accept their position for the moment, while you reserve the right to think that federalism may be some use later.

Donal:
I've already said what I think about the old federalism of the IRA right wing. I say only that the said proposal is a tactic, not any sort of principle. The general trajectory of the Provo left is the decisive thing.

Mick:
The entire political history of the Mandelite international tendency to which you belong consists of weaving political events into super-optimistic scenarios, and relating not to the world as it is, but to the prospects read back from that scenario. Your stuff on federalism and the Provos doesn't make sense to me.

Jackie:
It does make sense, Mick. Donal R and his comrades believe that
Fidel Castro Adams will lead the Irish socialist revolution. The revolution will be triggered by the war the Provos are waging in the North. That being their scenario, everything else follows.

As I say, I'd prefer a more general formula than 'federalism' - 'as much autonomy as is compatible with the democratic rights of the majority of the Irish people'. But I'm at one with Mick in seeking a democratic solution to the intra-lrish conflict.

Tony:
But what you're doing is giving reformist advice to the government, or to the Labour leaders!

Donal: What else is it? It certainly isn't Permanent Revolution!

Mick:
You could say that about every democratic or transitional demand we make - about everything we call for short of the socialist revolution!
And, after all, the ruling class sometimes listens to our demands and grants them - so you could say they heed our 'advice', especially when we can link it up with threats!

What separates revolutionary socialists from reformists when they advocate the same limited demands? We rely on the masses, we try to organise the working class to fight for the demands. We link our demands with other, more advanced, demands, and try to lead the workers' movement forward, as far as possible, beyond the initial limited demand.

Read the Transitional Programme.

Tony:
There's nothing in the Transitional Programme about autonomy for the Protestants!

Donal:
We have no use for such a demand now. Later, maybe.

Jackie:
The reason you don't have a use for it, Donal, is that you in Peoples' Democracy see yourselves as the fifth wheel of the Provo chariot, to which you are trying to hitch yourselves. You see no independent role for an Irish Trotskyist group. At best you see it as no more than a propaganda auxiliary of the Republicans. And in fact that's what PD has been, since 1971.

You talk about the working class, but all your hopes are centred on the military elitists in the Provisional IRA. That is why you cannot see any use for a democratic programme now.

Donal:
You mean that we're not sectarians like you, standing aside from the actual struggle!

Jackie:
The immediate use for us of a democratic programme in Ireland is to enable workers from both communities to relate to each other and to reassure each other honestly that neither side wants to impose or continue any form of national, communal, or sectarian oppression of the other.

Donal:
That'll bring the workers together, just like that?

Jackie:
No it won't, just like that. But no other basis of working-class political unity is possible - not even the unity of a few hundred from both communities. You can't ignore the “constitutional question'' that is tearing Northern Ireland apart and may yet tear all Ireland apart.

Donal:
We don't ignore it! We have a fully adequate solution - a united Ireland which in the course of the unfolding of the Permanent Revolution will also be a socialist Ireland.

Patrick:
You have a programme of forcibly incorporating the Protestants into a Catholic-dominated Ireland. The rest of your hopes and 'perspectives' are just fantasy and window-dressing, though I'm sure you sincerely believe in them.

Robert:
You say, Jackie, that we can't unite workers without a proposal for constitutional readjustment. What about Militant? They have got a bit of support here.

Jackie:
Militant makes abstract propaganda for socialism now instead of dealing with the immediate political issues. It belongs to the same order of sectarian socialism as the Socialist Party of Great Britain, or the old sterile maximalists of the Second International. Militant is a hopeless sect without any prospect of affecting developments.
Read Lenin on this sort of question, in 'What Is To Be Done', for example. Constitutional questions are, and for a century have been, at the centre of Irish political life. Socialists cannot fail to have an answer for these questions.

Even if socialism would eliminate such questions, and supersede the now all-absorbing "constitutional" concerns, you would still have to live in the here and now and answer the questions as posed, from a working class point of view.

In fact, socialism does not automatically answer questions of what constitutional arrangements to have between national minorities and the majority, or between long-antagonistic communities. Again I urge you to read Lenin's 1916 polemic against Pyatakov and Bukharin.
The net result of preaching socialism in the sweet by-and-by is to leave the living immediate political questions to be posed for solutions in other than working-class terms, by bourgeois or petty-bourgeois forces.

Donal:
You have a stages theory! You don't know how to get from where we are now to socialism: you lack the road map of Permanent Revolution, and without the said strategic guidelines you are politically lost.
Your anti-imperialism will increasingly come into conflict with your theories and the said contradictions will set up a process akin to overtight shoes and growing feet! You will foresake the strait and narrow path of commitment to anti-imperialism and to the process and strategy of Permanent Revolution, and sink into the swamp of social imperialism.

Robert:
I don't find what you say about preaching socialism very convincing, Jackie.
Of course we preach socialism!

Tony:
Of course we do!

Jackie:
Of course we do! But socialism isn't going to come by preaching alone. Various types of socialism have been preached for hundreds and hundreds of years. Marxist socialism is rooted in the class struggle. Socialism can come about in no other way than by the working class taking power.

Our job is to help the workers develop politically. That means we have to answer all the political questions. If we don't answer questions objectively posed to the workers, then the workers will seek other answers elsewhere. In Northern Ireland the workers will, according to the traditions of their own Catholic and Protestant communities, arrive at murderously antagonistic, mutually exclusive, answers.

It's no use saying "socialism is the answer". Of course it is, in general. But the workers also need immediate, interim or supplementary answers. They need to know what a working-class socialist government would do about specific immediate problems.
We must give answers that help the workers move towards socialism, and help the progressive part of the working class in both communities to avoid having the working class divide murderously along the lines of the communal antagonism.

Donal:
But they are divided! One side is to the right of imperialism, the other is the anti-imperialist vanguard!

Jackie:
Yes, Donal, perhaps they are. The question is, what can we do about it?
You say nothing can be done about it until the Provos win - which is the same thing as saying that nothing can ever be done about it, or at any rate not this side of sectarian civil war and repartition.

We must have our own socialist and working-class answers to all the living political questions. Such answers will generate no miracles, and will not eradicate the events of the last decade and a half. But they are a basis on which to begin to build some workers' unity.

If workers are not given our socialist, democratic, answers, then they will continue to choose, as now, between the answers of the communal politicians. One of those answers is, if you like, anti-imperialist; and a case could be made that both communities are anti-imperialist in their different ways. The point is that neither of them can unite the working class.

Mick:
That's why we need to advocate a democratic solution, a democratic framework for the coexistence without oppression or fear of oppression of Ireland's divided people. It's an essential part of our programme for Ireland - part of our transitional programme for Ireland, if you like.

Militant makes abstract propaganda for socialism now, instead of dealing with the immediate political issues. As was said, it belongs to the same order of sectarian socialism as the Socialist Party of Great Britain, or the old sterile "maximalists" of the Second International. Militant is a hopeless sect without any prospect of affecting developments'.

Jackie:
Northern Ireland’s own recent history provides the proof,
Robert, that the abstract preaching of an abstract socialism is no use except maybe for building a sect.

It's often forgotten now, especially on the left, but when Northern Ireland 'blew' in 1968-9, leftists were dominant on the Catholic side - or they seemed to be, anyway. Most of the civil rights leaders were socialists of one sort of another. So were the Republicans, the group that evolved into what is now named the 'Workers Party'.

One of the central problems was that most of the socialists tried to avoid the national question, the Border and so on. Many of them said that there could be no question of a united Ireland except as part of a socialist solution. They had no answers to the immediate questions.

The Provos soon gave the traditional Republican answer, and found the most militant Catholics agreeing with them and joining them.
The Protestant workers listened to the answer of the various Protestant ultras - and in the first place to Ian Paisley, who had a nice line in pseudo-radical political patter directed against the old Unionist establishment.

This should not have surprised anyone who read what Lenin wrote against the 'Economists in 1902.

Donal:
Yes, but all this is shadow-play and nonsense. You can't unite the Protestant and Catholic workers at this stage. And if you could it would be wrong to create the said unity.

You are looking for a short cut. This false short-cut has been pursued by, among others:
Paddy Devlin
Conor Cruise O’Brien
The Workers' Party
The British and Irish Communist Organisation
Militant Irish Monthly.

All the above have tried to unite an anti-imperialist section of the working class with a section that opposes imperialism, if at all, from the right. They have all rejected Permanent Revolution.

Mick:
Jim Denham in SO was rather rude about this sort of stuff. You're saying that the people you list have got their right-wing politics from paying too much attention to the Protestant working class? Because they didn't get inoculated in time with 'permanent revolution', which would have convinced them that the majority of the Six Counties working class don't have to be bothered with "at this stage"?

What is permanent revolution ? A hallucinogenic drug like LSD? Maybe that's it, Donal - yours are psychedelic politics. You're too 'high' to bother with the real world!

Donal:
Perhaps it's better to be psychedelic and see moving pictures than to be frozen in a paralysing ice-pack of doubt, scepticism, and defeatism!

Mick:
I'm not sure about this anti-imperialism business. What does it mean?

Anne-Marie:
It's not that you are not sure about it, comrade Mick. You are pro-imperialist! You can't recognise imperialism when you see it down the road there, armed to the teeth and with its guns pointed at the anti-imperialist Catholics.

Mick:
The point is that there are many anti-imperialisms. 'Anti-imperialism' is a negative slogan, with many different possible positive contents - just as many of those in Britain who shout 'Troops Out' in chorus have radically different ideas about what will replace the existing British state power in Northern Ireland.
Your anti-imperialism, Donal, is nameless and classless.

Donal:
No, it's not. It's working class. That's what Permanent Revolution means - the anti-imperialist struggle can be made to develop into a socialist revolution. We counterpose Permanent Revolution to all the other anti-imperialisms, though we form anti-imperialist united fronts when the said strategy and tactic is the right one.

Patrick: The problem in Northern Ireland is that, given the facts, all this talk about permanent revolution is utterly fantastic. A socialist revolution is impossible without the Protestant workers; and much of the 'anti-imperialist' struggle which is supposed to 'develop' into a socialist revolution is directed against the Protestant workers.

...Continued in Part 2......Part two