Provos, Protestants, and working-class politics - a dialogue: session three

Submitted by cathy n on 22 February, 2007 - 1:37

Contents

Introduction (2007)

Session one: The issues stated

Session two: a foothold for imperialism?

Session three: Ireland, "permanent revolution", and imperialism

Session four: Two Nations?

Session five:a Provo socialist revolution?

Appendix: a way to workers' unity?


Session three: Ireland, Permanent revolution and Imperialism

Anne-Marie:
The problem with you people is that you reject Permanent Revolution for Ireland. You don't understand the centrality of the National Question for Ireland. You think that the bourgeois democratic revolution is finished. You don't understand that the national question can grow over into the Socialist Revolution. Because of that you look for solutions to the existing national conflict that will get it out of the way and allow the class struggle to develop.

Tony:
Exactly. And therefore you argue for a reformist solution to the national question, and not a revolutionary one. Like De Valera in 1922, you don't want to struggle. You want a settlement, not revolution.
As I said: "The struggle for independence is a precondition for the development of the Irish working class for social revolution". That's Permanent Revolution.

Mick:
These are lovely, familiar and reassuring generalities. What do they mean for the concrete situation? God knows!

You have a strange view of permanent revolution. Your document says that if O'Mahony "did accept that permanent revolution applied to Ireland, then presumably he would connect the fight for reforms to the fight for state power! But since he argues the opposite position - that Ireland is a fully-developed capitalist state - he can put forward a reformist 'realistic' solution".

So we argue revolutionary politics only in underdeveloped countries, and never in fully-developed capitalist countries?

Jackie:
And do you seriously mean to say that Ireland is not a fully-developed capitalist state - or two states? What is it then?
In fact it is an advanced capitalist country, fully capitalist, integrated into West European capitalism as an equal partner, though economically a weak one compared with most E EC states.
Ireland is an exporter of capital, and has been since before its independence. Who rules if not the bourgeoisie? There is no agrarian problem - or not one different from that of France, the classical country of the bourgeois revolution.

The problem is a problem of a split Irish bourgeoisie, one section of which (rooted in the Protestant community) wanted different relations with the old British Empire than those favoured by the Catholic bourgeoisie.

Tony:
So there is no National Question in Ireland? Ireland hasn't been convulsed for the last 15 years? And you accuse me of fantasy! You use a mass of words to avoid supporting the Republicans and to deny that a solution to the national question is the central precondition for an Irish socialist working-class revolution.

All that is the result of your denial of the Permanent Revolution for Ireland.

Jackie:
When you say that national liberation is the precondition, that is not Trotsky's permanent revolution, but its logical, political, social and historical opposite - it is the Stalinist and Menshevik stages theory, which is also the central theory of populist Irish Republicans.

Mick:
It's not Gaelic you speak in Oxford, but it's not Marxism or its Trotskyist dialect either! For sure you speak a language Trotsky wouldn't know except in the mouths of the bitter enemies of his politics.

If you are right that the success of the Catholic-nationalist struggle being waged by the Provos is the precondition for working-class action in any part of Ireland, then the situation is hopeless.
In reality, the only solution is to break out into Ireland-wide class politics. The national question in all its existing variants is divisive. In its green nationalist variant, which you support, it is divisive and alien to our politics.

Trotsky once defined the permanent revolution as "the reconstruction of the nation under the leadership of the working class". In Ireland you should more accurately talk of negative permanent revolution if - as you do - you see permanent revolution as the completion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the solving of the Irish national question to the satisfaction of the Catholic community. Negative permanent revolution , because the national question divides the Irish working class, without whom there can be no revolution, "permanent revolution" or revolution of any other sort.

Far from Ireland needing the completion of the "bourgeois revolution" - agrarian revolution, the achievement of national unity against semi-feudal, precapitalist particularism - Ireland is more free of pre-capitalist relics than Britain is!

As Engels said, a revolution - even the peculiar Irish variant of the bourgeois-democratic revolution - is good for something after all!

Jackie:
The British bourgeois democratic state still has the forms and the trappings of the old feudal state. Britain is a monarchy, Ireland a republic.
The Stalinists have spent 50 and more years trying to justify formulas such as yours to avoid placing the working class at the centre of the stage with its own programme and banner. They say national liberation first, not only for Ireland, but for Britain now and for pre-Nazi Germany! What you are maintaining has nothing to do with Trotskyist politics.

Tony:
You are a Kidronite! You don't believe Imperialism exists. You reject the struggle for national liberation!
Since you don't believe that there is the possibility of developing the present Northern Ireland struggle to a socialist revolution, you are a reformist.

In my document I show at great length that O'Mahony's federalism is a direct response to the interest that the left reformists have shown in the last three or four years in finding a reformist solution for Ireland. O'Mahony rushes to help them.

Mick:
But he argued for autonomy or federalism as long ago as 1969.

Tony:
You still forget about imperialism! Every defeat inflicted on British imperialism is a blow for freedom throughout the world. It weakens the Imperialist camp. It encourages the Nicaraguans, the Salvadoreans, the oppressed Argentinians. If you weaken British imperialism, you will also weaken the forces of reaction in Ireland and weaken the Irish bourgeoisie too, who are only Britain's stooges. If we can beat the British state, we can easily take care of its Irish stooges, north and south of the Border! You will unleash a whole series of struggles throughout the world which will affect Ireland.
In that way you will open up the road to socialism in Ireland. The present struggle of the Provos links up with the world struggle against Imperialism and for socialism.

If the Protestants can be persuaded to side against British Imperialism, well and good. If not then they should be coerced, unless you can think of a third alternative.

The armed struggle against imperialism is the thing. It is qualitatively different from any negotiated settlement, even one that agrees a united Ireland, of whatever kind. Any talk of democratic rearrangement that would conciliate the Protestants would undercut the armed struggle, and is thus pro-imperialist.

Mick:
We must have blood! Didn't the great Republican Patrick Pearse himself greet World War 1 with the words that bloodshed is a cleansing and ennobling thing, and that the tired old earth needed to be refreshed with blood?

Jimmy:
Yes, and James Connolly said he was 'a blithering idiot'.

Jackie:
You shouldn't go along with the new fashion to denigrate Pearse. Give or take a bit of foolishness here and there, Pearse was much bigger than those who made plaster-of-Paris statues of him. Our schools still haven't caught up with the pioneer teaching methods he used at the turn of the century.

Tony:
Bloodshed is always part of revolution and anti-imperialism. We shouldn't be afraid of it. You can't make omelettes without breaking eggs. What does the fate of one million Irish people matter in the scale of these gigantic revolutionary perspectives? In the scale of the defeat we can help inflict on the Tory government?

Mick:
That is British nationalism comrade! Upside-down and inside-out British nationalism, but it's got the red, white and blue smeared all over it
when you say that defeating the Tory government is more important than anything that happens in Ireland!

Tony:
No it's not! The main enemy is always at home. And in any case you are wrong, comrade! On the other side of the great struggles I'm talking about it would not be a Catholic-dominated Ireland north or south, but a socialist Ireland. We'd have a Red Belfast in a Soviet Ireland! That's what we have to say insistently to the Protestant workers.

Jackie:
Excuse me while I go to the bookshelf and find Trotsky's collected writings for 1935. I'm opening it where Trotsky deals with the plebiscite in the Saarland.
The Saar, you remember, was German, but was separated from Germany after the First World War and put under French administration.
In 1935 a plebiscite was held to let the Saarlanders decide if they wanted to join the German state. In the event they voted overwhelmingly to do that.

The plebiscite posed a dilemma for the left. The Saar was German, and, should not have been separated from Germany. According to the national principle, it was a clear-cut question: vote yes. But Germany was Nazi Germany: by voting yes, the Saarlanders were voting to submit themselves to fascist dictatorship which would smash the labour movement.

Trotsky thought these were more important considerations than unity of the German nation, and advocated voting "no" to reunification. However, the Stalinists, for a variety of reasons which need not concern us here, chose to take the same approach as Tony.

Tony:
Outrageous!

Jackie:
Bear with me, Tony. To the immediate concrete dilemma facing the German workers of the Saar, the Stalinists answered with the slogan: 'Eine rote Saar in Soviet Deutschland' - a red Saar in Soviet Germany.
The German CP was smashed to bits, the German working class was atomised, and murderous fascism was firmly in control. But only traitors, reformists, Trotsky-fascists and running dogs of the imperialists would take account of this and answer the question posed to the Saarland workers in terms of making a choice within the limited options.

So: 'An Beal Feirste Dearg ar Eireann Soviet!' - a red Belfast in Soviet Ireland! (Close observers of my English will know how to take my rusty Gaelic). We need answers to the real problems and to the real situation.
In the Marxist arsenal as distinct from that of the sectarian socialists we have all sorts of limited - reformist, if you like - proposals, demands, democratic and "transitional" proposals to make a bridge between where we are now and socialism. We also try to answer concrete questions, and not take refuge in private fantasies.

Tony, you're abandoning the workers who can't join you in a private world in which the vision of a bloody sectarian holocaust in Northern Ireland is made acceptable by waving the magic wand of "permanent revolution."

Mick:
I might point out that Tony is using the same method as Militant. If you use the general formula 'a socialist Ireland' as the immediate answer to every immediate question, then that cuts both ways. You can fantasise that socialism is built into the logic of the present Catholic struggle. Or you can come to the conclusion that, since it isn't, we should oppose the limited struggle actually going on.

Tony:
No, I'm not like those Pabloites who say that the struggle will automatically develop into socialism. I fight for an alternative revolutionary leadership, which will develop the struggle according to the logic of permanent revolution.

It would be sectarian civil war only in appearance. Again, you are being undialectical. You can't see the wood for the trees - or the revolutionary significance of the struggle. Be dialectical: subordinate the parts to the whole! There would be not a sectarian bloodbath but permanent revolution!

You have the wrong conceptual framework, comrade, and you are terrified and depressed by things which a Marxist who knows we live in the epoch of wars and revolutions takes in his stride. He knows the inner reality is different from what he sees around him.
Don't you Proddies have something in your bible like: 'Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil. For the Lord is my shepherd. he lays me down in green pastures'. Or something like that?

There you are. We have something in common after all - except that I live in the real world, and your head is stuck up in the clouds. I'm a Marxist - that's what keeps my feet on the ground.

Jackie:
I'm afraid I haven't got much of a head for your sort of "dialectical" thinking. My mind is rather practical and empirical, and plodding reasonableness is the highest I aim for. Perhaps it's got something to do with the Protestant Reformation and the bourgeois culture it produced in England and Scotland and Northern Ireland.

So I can't make any sense of what you have just said. What is imperialism? Export of capital? Colonialism? Or both? But Ireland and England have been tied together since the time England was Norman feudal, with a French-speaking ruling class. The English language we speak today had yet to develop! That was long before capitalism or modern imperialism.

The Protestant colonies in Ireland were put down before the English bourgeois revolution and consolidated in the course of that revolution, in the 1640s and 1688-91. When Ulster was planted, the English colonial empire consisted of a couple of feeble colonies on the eastern shore of America. For centuries, until well into the 20th century, the Anglo-lrish, or anglicised Irish, ruling class was fully integrated as part of the UK ruling class. Even the Irish Free State was a privileged white dominion in the British Empire, or Commonwealth, in the '20s and '30s, while the African countries were Crown Colonies.

Southern Ireland showed its independence by remaining neutral in World War 2. Even so the separation between Britain and the 26 Counties is still less than total: Irish people when they choose to go to England continue to have, effectively, UK citizenship. You cannot explain Anglo-lrish relations, or such complex questions as the Protestant-Catholic relationship, in terms of modern imperialism or capitalism.

It's much more ancient and complex. The two peoples are too entwined, despite the conflicts. Did you know that Mazzini, the great exponent of the national principle in Europe in the mid 19th century, denied that the Irish were a distinct people at all?
Now that's for the Irish to decide, whether they are distinct, and they have decided that they are. The conflicts and problems between the two countries began before capitalism colonial empires, and modern British imperialism, and they have outlasted the British Empire.
Britain retreated from a world-wide Empire with comparatively few upsets. yet you think that Britain would not be able to survive a reorganisation of Ireland. Britain would maintain its close links with Ireland, and probably develop closer links once the Northern problem was solved. Both countries would be in the EEC. Yet you think that reunification and independence for Ireland would shatter the British state.

A curious notion! It hasn't anything to do with the real world, as I'm aware of it. Perhaps I am wearing the wrong ideological spectacles.
You seem to have a 'camel's back' theory: Britain survived the loss of a world empire, but the solution on the basis of a united Ireland of a small-scale war that drains it of resources will be the last straw!

Maybe I was wrong when I talked about ideological spectacles. You can only hold such a fantastic view of Ireland if you yourself think not of real things and real events but in terms of symbols. It's the symbolic importance of Britain's defeat that will be important. I suspect that not only most Protestants, but also most Catholics and even most Provos, don't see it like that, and would say harsh words against your approach.

Patrick:
The Provos call for a negotiated settlement. They have talked to the British. They call for a declaration of intent to withdraw by the British, and say they will stop the war if they get one. Plainly they are unworthy of you, comrade Tony, and all your "perspectives"!

I found your attitude to the military struggle unexpected from a Trotskyist and yet strangely familiar. Then I recognised it. You are an old-fashioned physical-force republican! I never knew Marxists have that view of violence and armed struggle - the view that it is purifying or all-transforming, or that it transmutes the sort of petty-bourgeois populist politics which the Provisionals have into really revolutionary working-class politics! I thought that was a species of Bakuninism - or, in the modern word, Fanonism.

Jackie:
Connolly rejected this view. I think I can find the reference on my bookshelf.

''Ireland occupies a position among the nations of the earth unique... in the possession of what is known as a physical force party - a party, that is to say, whose members are united upon no one point, and agreed upon no single principle, except the use of physical force as the sole means of settling the dispute between the people of this country and the governing power of Great Britain...

The latter-day high-falutin hillside man exalts into a principle that which the revolutionists of other countries have looked upon as a weapon, and in his gatherings prohibits all discussion of those principles which formed the main strength of his prototypes elsewhere and made the successful use of that weapon possible.

Our people have glided at different periods of the past century from moral force agitation, so called, into physical force rebellion, from constitutionalism into insurrectionism, meeting in each the same failure and the same disaster, and yet seem as far as ever from learning the great truth that neither method is ever likely to be successful until they first insist that a perfect agreement upon the end to be attained should be arrived at as a starting point for all our efforts...
Every revolutionary movement in Ireland has drawn the bulk of its adherents from the ranks of disappointed followers of defeated constitutional movements. After having exhausted their constitutional efforts in striving to secure such a modicum of political power as would justify them to their own consciences in taking a place as loyal subjects of the British Empire, they, in despair, turn to thoughts of physical force as a means of attaining their ends.

Their conception of what constitutes freedom was in no sense changed or revolutionised: they still believed in the political form of freedom which had been their ideal in their constitutional days; but no longer hoping for it from the Acts of the British Parliament, they swung over into the ranks of the 'physical force' men as the only means of attaining it''.

Forgive me, but I thought that was the Marxist attitude here. For example, Marxists don't make a fetish of Parliament. You don't bow down before it as a fetish, and you aren't scared to use it, like the anarchists (and Republicans!) who make a negative fetish out of it. It's a tool, a weapon. Physical force is a tool, a weapon.

The Republican glorification of physical force on principle is one of the strangest things in politics, yet it is the irreducible dogma of all Republicans. Together with the parallel principle of abstention from Parliament even when elected, it does define the Republicans as a hybrid variety of anarchism. Frederick Engels accurately defined the small terrorist group of the '80s, the Invincibles, as Bakuninists.

I'm amazed that Tony should endorse their attitude and that of their modern counterparts, the Fanonists and so on.

Tony:
What it all comes down to is that you don't want to fight imperialism. You even think the South is free of imperialist domination, and independent!

Jackie:
Imperialism? In the South? I suppose you mean foreign investment? As I argued above, I really don't see what the IRA war has to do with that, or why you think a united Ireland - whether by agreement or on the basis of conquering and subduing the one million Protestants - would change that situation.
Since 1958 Southern Ireland has had an industrial revolution - and as a consequence has a massively increased working class and is transformed into a primarily urban country.

The Provos and the INLA denounce foreign investment and want to pull Ireland out of the EEC. Is that your programme against imperialism? Read your history books! From 1932-58 the policy of economic nationalism behind high tariff walls was operated by the Irish bourgeoisie. It led to a growth in employment for a while, but then to absolute stagnation. Irish goods produced behind high protective tariffs could not compete overseas. Nearly a thousand people a week - out of a population just under three million - left the 26 Counties throughout most of the '50s.

Foreign investment changed that. You forget that the Provos, INLA and so on are a pretty small minority in Ireland. Take the EEC, for example, Over 80% of the 26 Counties electorate voted to go into the EEC. The extreme nationalists haven't got a hope in hell of winning the Irish people back to the discarded and discredited policies of economic nationalism and isolationism.

Consider this as a paradox: many more Protestants in Northern Ireland voted against the EEC in the 1975 plebiscite than Catholics in the Southern plebiscite! If that's your definition of nationalism then the Protestant North is once more in the lead!
Personally I have no doubt that a return to economic nationalism in Ireland would be completely reactionary. All the recorded facts show that the vast majority, and especially in the South, think so too.


Contents

Introduction (2007)

Session one: The issues stated

Session two: a foothold for imperialism?

Session three: Ireland, "permanent revolution", and imperialism

Session four: Two Nations?

Session five:a Provo socialist revolution?

Appendix: a way to workers' unity?