A workers' guide to Ireland

Submitted by martin on 4 October, 2016 - 7:49 Author: Sean Matgamna

This pamphlet is dedicated to all the victims of the crime the British Empire and the divided Irish bourgeoisie - Orange, Green, and Green-White-and-Orange alike - did by partitioning Ireland in 1922.
It is dedicated too to the Irish labour movement on both sides of the border, which must fight its way out of the blood-soaked mess capitalism has made in Ireland and build the only republic that is not a grim and cynical mockery of the long struggles of the Irish people for freedom - the workers' republic.

First published 1993. This e-book edition 2016.


Table of Contents

The dates

7th and 8th centuries - "Dark Ages" in Europe, following collapse of Roman Empire; Ireland is a major centre of surviving Christian culture.

12th century - Norman conquerors arrive in Ireland.

14th and 15th centuries - "The Pale", round Dublin, is the area under direct English control.
Laws are passed to try to stop Anglo-Normans in Ireland becoming assimilated to Irish life.

Early 17th century - English rule finally established not just in patches, but across Ireland. The north-east (Ulster) is the last area to be thus conquered.

17th century - Scots and English settle in Ulster, partly under state sponsorship, partly under private initiative. The "private" settlements are the ones that thrive.

1641 - The native Irish (Catholics) rise up to try to get back land taken by Scots or English (Protestant) settlers. Conflict intertwines with the Civil War in England, 1642-8.

1649-50 - Reconquest of Ireland by Cromwell, followed by drive to push Catholics off their land and send them to "Hell or Connaught" (the remote mid-west of Ireland).

1660 - The monarchy is restored in England, and allies to Catholic powers in Europe like France.

1688 - 'Glorious Revolution' in England. City merchants and others call in William of Orange to depose James II and establish a constitutional Protestant monarchy. James II retreats to Ireland; defeated in 1690 by William at the Battle of the Boyne.

From 1695 - Penal Laws against Catholics enforce Protestant rule in Ireland by grinding down the Catholics under a form of apartheid. By 1714, Catholics will own only 7% of the land of Ireland, as against 59% before Cromwell.

Later 18th century - Irish Protestant elite demands independence from Britain.

1798 - The most radical of the Protestant rebels combine with Catholics to launch the "United Irishmen" uprising, aiming to establish an Irish Republic and win in Ireland "the rights of man" proclaimed by the French Revolution. They are defeated by savage and pervasive government repression. Then Orange Order emerges as an English- and landlord-sponsored counter to radicalism.

1800 - Ireland is united with Britain, under direct rule from one parliament, in London.

1823 onwards - Daniel O'Connell launches mass agitation among the Catholic people of Ireland, first for "Catholic Emancipation" (the right of Catholics to sit as MPs in Westminster, won 1829), then for "Repeal of the Union".

1845-49 - Famine in Ireland. Millions die or flee for their lives.

1858 - Irish Republican Brotherhood ("Fenians") founded. They aim to get an independent Irish Republic by organising secretly for an armed rising. They draw very heavily on Irish-American support.

1870 - Liberal Government in London passes first of a series of Land Acts which, by the 1920s, will transfer the land from Anglo-Irish Protestant landlords to small farmers.

Later 1870s - Tenant-farmer "Land War". Irish MPs become a great force in the Westminster Parliament, under the leadership of Charles Stuart Parnell.

1886 - Liberals come out for Home Rule for Ireland. The Tories, linked to the Anglo-Irish landlord class, oppose Home Rule.

1890s on - Gaelic cultural revival (most of Ireland has become English-speaking over the 19th century); rise of a new militant nationalism, and of Irish socialism and trade-unionism.

1912-14 - Third Home Rule Bill has majority in Parliament. Protestant Ulster organises for violent resistance to Home Rule, encouraged by British Tories and an officers' revolt in British Army. The Home Rule Act is passed in 1914, but suspended on pretext of outbreak of World War 1.

1913 - Dublin "labour war" between Irish-nationalist capitalists and Jim Larkin's Irish Transport and General Workers' Union.

1916 - The "Easter Rising" in Dublin is crushed.

1918 - UK General Election. Sinn Fein win 73 out of 105 seats in Ireland, with 48% of the votes cast and uncontested victories in 25 seats. Labour does not contest the election. Sinn Fein MPs refuse to sit at Westminster and set up an independent Irish parliament, Dail Eireann.
War follows: Irish nationalists and Britain fight for control of southern Ireland.

1921 - July: truce. December: Anglo-Irish Treaty. Ireland is partitioned into two "Home Rule" states. Northern Ireland becomes a Protestant-sectarian state, entrapping a one-third Catholic minority.

1922-23 - Civil war in south between supporters and opponents of the Treaty.

1926 - De Valera founds Fianna Fail, bringing anti-Treaty IRA into Irish parliamentary politics.

1932 - Fianna Fail wins power in Ireland; embarks on nationalist economic policy.
1937 constitution is
"a Republic in all but name".

1939-45 - Second World War: Ireland remains neutral.

1949 - Anti-Fianna-Fail coalition government in Dublin declares Republic of Ireland.

From 1958 - Southern Ireland reopens its economy to the world market and improves trade relations with Britain. Britain moves cautiously towards reforming the North.

1968-72 - Mass Catholic revolt explodes in the North. Northern Ireland state lurches towards civil war. British troops go on the streets (August 1969).
Provisional IRA emerges and starts military campaign (1970-1). Ulster Defence Association formed, as a mass-based Protestant paramilitary group (1971-2). Britain abolishes Northern Ireland's "Home Rule" parliament (March 1972), introducing "direct rule" from London.

1972-6 - Britain seeks a solution through reform (Sunningdale agreement, December 1973), but is beaten back by Protestant militancy (Ulster General Strike, May 1974). Prevention of Terrorism Act introduced as "temporary measure" (November 1974). Further British efforts at reform (1975-6) get nowhere.

1976-82 - Britain tries to hold the ring and "sweat out" the Catholic revolt. Britain found guilty of "inhuman and degrading treatment" of prisoners by European Commission for Human Rights (1977). Ten Republican hunger strikers die (1981).

1981-3 - Sinn Feiners Bobby Sands, Owen Carron, and Gerry Adams elected as MPs. Sinn Fein makes a "political" turn.

1984 - "New Ireland Forum" of southern Irish political parties proposes options for a solution.

1985, November - Anglo-Irish Agreement signed. Major Protestant revolt follows in 1986, but dwindles thereafter as it fails to break the Agreement. Few reforms result from the Agreement, but it remains in place.

1993 - Hume/Adams initiative seeks all-party all-Ireland talks with a British commitment to back the results, and indicates that the Provisional IRA will then call a ceasefire and seek Protestant consent for Irish unity. Whether any decisive political shifts will come out of it remains uncertain

Saints, scholars and Vikings

Ireland's geographic position meant that it was always the last stop for the peoples who migrated westward across Europe in primitive times. This meant that the social organisation in Ireland generally lagged behind that of the rest of Europe. When Europe was dominated by feudalism Ireland was still a tribal society, like that found in Gaul by Julius Caesar when he invaded it 50-odd years before Christ. This did not mean that Irish civilisation was always at a lower level.
A land of tribes and many states which shared a common culture but with no cities, Ireland nevertheless became a major centre of learning in the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries. Irish monks converted large parts of Europe - including Britain - to Christianity. When, in the 9th century, the Emperor Charlemagne wanted Greek scholars he had to send to Ireland for them. All this learning and religious zeal was centred in monasteries. It was a golden age of
"saints and scholars".
Then, all through the 9th and 10th centuries, Viking raids laid Ireland in ruins.

The battle of Clontarf (above). On Good Friday 1014, armies that were mainly Irish inflicted a decisive defeat on the Viking forces and their Irish allies, breaking their power. The Vikings had wreaked havoc on Irish society in the previous 200 years, but they also founded what were to become the major Irish towns and ports, such as Dublin.

The 9th century High Cross of Moone in County Kildare

The coming of the Anglo-Normans

The Viking power was broken early in the 11th century. Ireland was probably evolving towards feudalism but its socially backward state made it very vulnerable to invasion from England. The establishment of a bridgehead around Dublin by the feudal Anglo-Normans in the 12th century was only the first practical demonstration of the superior organisation of English feudal society.
The Normans soon made themselves nominal masters of the whole island. But over centuries Gaelic Ireland reasserted itself slowly. Many of the invaders, including the lords, became Gaelicised. Their allegiance to the English king, who was
"Lord of Ireland" was loose and unreliable. Gradually real English control, which lived in English dress and manners, shrank back to an area around Dublin. England "ruled" Ireland through Gaelicised nobles, such as the Fitzgeralds, the "Geraldines", until the 16th century.
The major consequence of this for Ireland was that the English intrusion acted against the unification of Ireland around a centre in itself. It remained a land of petty kings and princes and Hiberno-Norman nobles like the Fitzgeralds, who acted as kings. The King of England was
"Lord of Ireland", titular feudal lord of all the Lords and Kings on the island. Here, in the 1390s, Richard II (above) is shown making the four Kings of Ireland - O'Neill, O'Connor, O'Brien and MacMurrough - into English Knights. The power of the English King was largely nominal in Ireland, except for an area around Dublin, "the Pale" (see maps) which was then shrinking in size. It continued to shrink until the Tudor Kings and Queens launched a determined drive to re-conquer Ireland.

The King of England was "Lord of Ireland", titular feudal lord of all the lords and Kings on the Ireland. Here, in the 1390s, Richard II is shown making the four Kings of Ireland - O'Neill, O'Connor, O'Brien, and MacMurrough - into English knights. The power of the English King was largely nominal in Ireland, except for an area around Dublin, "the Pale", which was then shrinking in size. It continued to shrink until the Tudor Kings and Queens launched a determined drive to re-conquer Ireland.

The German artist Albrecht DĂĽrer made this detailed drawing of Irish mercenary soldiers in Europe in the early 16th century.

The Tudor conquest

The Reformation changed things forever. England went Protestant and then faced the threat of invasion by the great Catholic powers of Europe, in the early period from Spain.
In the 16th century, spurred by fears that the Catholic powers would find Ireland a willing base for operations against England, the Tudor kings and queens decided to conquer Ireland thoroughly and completely in the interests of the English landlord class and of the developing capitalist class, who came in their wake.
They found Ireland divided, still on a half-tribal, half-feudal level, and without a national state. After wars of conquest lasting decades they finally smashed all organised opposition to English rule.
These were savage and terrible wars, in many respects wars of genocide. Irish tribes and areas were used against other tribes and areas, as Indian tribes were used against other Indian tribes in the later wars of the French and British in America.
The last such conflict was in the 1590s, centred on the last great bastion of Gaelic Ireland, Ulster. Led by Hugh O'Neill, the tribes of the north, allied to Spain and with Spanish soldiers to help them, put up a terrific resistance but were forced to surrender.
After a short interval vast areas of their lands were confiscated and given to English and Scottish newcomers.

In 1541 Henry VIII, already head of the English Church and hereditary Lord of Ireland, made himself King of Ireland.

The Great O'Neill: Hugh O'Neill, chief of the O'Neills of Ulster, was raised at the court of Queen Elizabeth and was, according to the then English policy of making Irish leaders nobles of the English monarchy, Earl of Tyrone. He remained Gaelic and hostile to English rule, biding his time. In 1600 he roused much of Ireland against English rule. He was allied to Spain.

He surrendered after the battle of Kinsale (1601), and was left in possession of his lordship, but insecurely. In 1607, together with others, he fled to Spain - "the flight of the earls" - and his lands were confiscated and "planted" with Anglo-Scots settlers.

The plantation of Ulster

During the 16th century wars of conquest against the Irish, the English rulers learned that an overlord's presence in Ireland was not enough.
For English security and profit it was necessary to permeate and control every area of Ireland. They opted for a policy of 'plantation', aiming to replace the Irish with settlers, as the American Indians were later to be replaced by colonists.
Under Elizabeth and her successors thousands of the native Irish were driven from their land and replaced by English and Scottish Protestants unconditionally loyal to the Crown.
All the land was given into the hands of apostate Irish landlords and English adventurers being paid with land for their services to Crown or Parliament.
This policy, between the reign of Elizabeth and the bloody Cromwellian 'final solution' after 1649, shaped Ireland politically and economically for centuries to come.
The planters were not evenly distributed throughout Ireland. In fact most of the plantations were a failure from England's point of view. The newcomers either soon abandoned the struggle for life in a hostile
"frontier" environment, or assimilated. Often the newcomers would marry Irish women, with the consequence that their children would be brought up as Catholics. This, ironically, was the fate of the descendants of many of Cromwell's fanatically Protestant soldiers in the mid 17th century.
The only successful plantation in the north-east of the island. Many of the migrant Lowland Scots who came under private, not state-sponsored schemes had traditions of manufacture which they brought with them to their new land. They were able to get terms from landlords radically better than those which the native Irish had.
They would develop Ireland's first industry, handloom weaving of linen.
These Presbyterians had a history of rebellion and dissent in England and Scotland. They had to struggle against the landlords - but their struggles were separate and on a different plane from those of the Catholic natives.
Both planter tenants and alien landlords had a common interest against the 'natives' driven off the land which the one newcomer now owned and the other settled.
The planter tenants were able to get liveable terms from the landlord, while the native Irish tenants were as conquered and degraded a race as ever were the natives of Peru or Mexico.
The divisions and conflicts to be found in the Irish people originate here.
In modern history there are two types of colony. In one type a whole segment of an old society is transplanted and its class divisions preserved and reproduced in the new territory. The natives are driven out or massacred. Such colonising produced the USA, Canada, Australia, Argentina etc.
The other sort of colony is the sort found in most of Africa in which a thin stratum of exploiters lord it over an enslaved native population.
In Ireland both types of colony existed side by side from the early 17th century, the
"American type" in north east Ulster and the "African type" in the rest of the island. The thin stratum was eventually sloughed off in most of Ireland: the Ulster colony enabled a distinct people to develop with firm roots in north-east Ulster, as "Irish" as any other Irish.

Cromwell and the 17th Century

Ireland knew peace in the early 17th century. Then in 1641 the dispossessed Catholics of Ulster rose to throw out the settlers on their land. The English Civil War broke out in 1642. This was the English bourgeois revolution. Parliament, representing the bourgeoisie, fought the Crown for supremacy, in a conflict that ended with the victory of Parliament and the decapitation of the king, Charles I, in January 1649.
When the English Civil War broke out, the people of Ireland -
"old English", as long-dominated ex-English Catholics were called, and Gaelic Irish alike - backed the king. They controlled most of Ireland in uneasy and bickering alliance for seven years.
Parliament had raised money to finance its war against the king on the strength of yet-to-be re-conquered Irish land. Then in 1649, victory over the King secure, Cromwell came to conquer and lay waste the country. The forces against them were no match for Cromwell's New Model Army.
Terrible massacres - like that in Drogheda, where English Royalists and Irish Catholics were slaughtered en masse - followed. The land was redistributed once again. The Irish were told that they could only occupy the west of the country (present day Clare and Connaught) -
"Go to hell or go to Connaught". Systematic slaughter of Irish Catholics became so common that the Cromwellian soldiers had a tag of potted wisdom to justify them in killing children: "Nits will make lice." Slave catchers roamed the country hunting young men and women to send to Barbados in chains.
In fact, the severity of the Cromwellian conquest was checked only by the reluctance of English settlers to take the land. The new landlords let land to the Irish because it was in their interest to do so. But the Irish elite was ruined.
"Bloodshed, devastation, depopulation of entire countries..." wrote Karl Marx. "By engaging in the conquest of Ireland, Cromwell threw the English republic out the window. Thence the Irish mistrust of the English people's party."

Owen Roe O'Neill: a scion of the Ulster aristocracy. After serving with the Spanish army against the Dutch, he returned to Ireland and led the native Irish armies in the wars of the 1640s. He died, perhaps from poison, on the eve of the decisive battle - "Benburb" - in 1649.

Oliver Cromwell broke the power of the absolute monarch in England and cut off the king's head. In general human history he represents progress and liberty. In Ireland Cromwell was a savage force of spoliation and would-be genocide against the Irish, whose land Cromwell's Parliament had sold in advance to speculators, using the money to finance their war with the king.

William of Orange and James II

The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 brought some relief to Catholic Ireland. Though the confiscated land was not restored, toleration of Catholics brought widespread relief.
Then, once again, the English bourgeois revolution brought ruin to Ireland.
After 1660, relations between monarch and parliament were not fully defined. The restored king, Charles II, was not inclined to test them. His brother James II, a Catholic convert who became king in 1685, was so inclined and did. To suppress parliament he allied secretly with the absolutist French king, Louis XIV and took money from him, and he built up an army outside the control of Parliament - namely an Irish army. James's representatives - in the first place Richard Talbot, Duke of Tyrconnell - roused the Catholics of Ireland. In 1688 the English parliament threw out James and invited his Protestant daughter Mary to become Queen and her husband, the Dutch Prince William of Orange, to rule jointly with her, as king. Nobody in England would fight to defend James. The fighting took place in Ireland between on one side English and Dutch Protestant forces and on the other French and Irish Catholics. The English and Dutch won.
A Catholic parliament led by Talbot in Dublin reversed the land confiscations and - though it declared itself in favour of religious tolerance - did to the Protestant landlords what had been done to the Catholics. After their victory, the Protestants turned the clock back once again with a vengeance.
Before the final surrender the Irish armies got
"terms" - the Treaty of Limerick - that guaranteed Catholics the right to practise their religion. That treaty was "broken 'ere the ink wherein 'twas writ could dry."

King William crossing the Boyne

Tyrconnell or Tone

Wolfe Tone's declaration in 1796 that he aimed "to unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions and to substitute the common name of Irishmen in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter..." is now a cliche, empty, hollow, and often denied in practice by those who mouth it.
To understand what a radical departure Tone advocated, you have to contrast it not with Protestant sectarianism but also with the old sectarianism of Catholic Ireland, too.
For the Catholic majority of Ireland, Richard Talbot, Duke of Tyrconnell (top picture), who was King James's chief agent in Ireland as James prepared to suppress the English parliament, represents the exact opposite to Wolfe Tone. Talbot's Catholic parliament of 1689 understandably tried to undo the plunder of the Catholics in the previous hundred years by widespread confiscations. Catholic landlords were to replace Protestant landlords.The parliament declared itself in favour of religious tolerance - in sharp contrast to the policy of its French allies and paymasters - but still it was a matter not of unity but of section against section, creed against creed, of the old Irish against the new.
The confiscation which Tone and later Republicans, like the Fenians, wanted, was confiscation by the people - Catholic and Protestant alike - of all landlords, Catholic and Protestant like. (And after the Famine, there were again Catholic landlords in some numbers).
It was the difference between the old wear of the sects and septs, and modern secular Republican politics.

A series of Acts of Parliament, from 1695 onwards, set up laws against Catholics. Taken as a whole, they showed remarkable parallels with South African apartheid.

100 years of Orange-Green Apartheid

Just as the Cromwellian revolution - a giant step in the progress of humanity as a whole towards enlightenment, liberty and democracy - meant massacre and enslavement for the Irish, so too did the Glorious Revolution bring down terrible things on Gaelic Ireland. In England and Scotland "1688" brought final freedom from arbitrary government, Habeas Corpus, the rule of law and so on, things of such an order that for a century afterwards Britain would represent the idea of liberty for men like Voltaire, living inside Europe's absolute monarchies. The ideas of 1688 would be picked up by the American revolutionaries in the 1770s and influence the French Revolution too.
For Ireland it mean subjugation of the big majority of the people to a system of discriminatory rule that was remarkably like South African apartheid.
King William, who was not a bigot by the standards of his time, was inclined to honour the treaty of Limerick. The newly restored Protestant landlords of Ireland who sat in parliament were not. They made, year after year, the
"penal laws". Catholics could not buy land; carry arms; own a horse worth more than ÂŁ5; get an education. In the early decades, Catholics were formally forbidden to enter cities such as Galway. If a Catholic's son turned Protestant he could take possession of his father's property. The difference between this system and apartheid is that a Catholic could change his religion. Very few did. The Catholic religion became fused with the Irish Nationalism of most of the Irish. The Penal Laws were an Irish mirror-image of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in France, in 1685, which left French Protestants (Huguenots) persecuted. Half a million Huguenots fled France, some settling in Ireland, and becoming prominent in industry and trade. But the Catholic Irish could not flee. The Penal Laws never made Ireland Protestant as France had been made Catholic.
At the beginning Protestant Dissenters (Presbyterians) were also discriminated against, but not savagely, though a sizeable stream of the
"Ulster Scots" fled Ireland for America during the 18th century because of religious discrimination. They formed a strong element in the American Revolution against England (1776). Early US Presidents such as Monroe and Jackson were of Ulster Scots descent.
The penal laws fell into abeyance towards the end of the 18th century and the epoch of the French revolution. The British state came to rely on the Catholic church in Ireland against the Protestant Republicans of the north, even to the extent of endowing a Catholic seminary, Maynooth.
Nevertheless, it was as late as 1829 that full civil rights were won by the Catholics of the United Kingdom.

The Penal Days

Oh! weep those days, the penal days,

When Ireland hopelessly complained.

Oh! curse those days, the penal days,

When godless persecution reigned;

When year by year,

For serf and peer,

Fresh cruelties were made by law,

And filled with hate.

Our senate sate

To weld anew each fetter's flaw.

Oh! weep and curse those penal days

Their memory still on Ireland weighs.

They bribed the flock, they bribed the son,

To sell the priest and rob the sire;

Their dogs were taught alike to run

Upon the scent of wolf or friar.

Among the poor,

Or on the moor,

Were hid the pious and the true,

While traitor, knave,

Apostate, slave,

Had riches, rank and retinue;

And exiled in those penal days,

Our banners over Europe blaze.

A stranger held the land and tower

Of many a noble fugitive;

No Popish lord had lordly power,

The peasant scarce had leave to live;

Above his head

A ruined shed,

No tenure but a tyrant's will -

Forbid to plead,

Forbid to read,

Disarmed, disfranchised, imbecile -

What wonder if our step betrays

The freedman born in penal days.

Thomas Davin

1798: the French Revolution in Ireland

Not all lower class Protestants were concentrated in the north. Landlord parasites swarmed all over Ireland and had around them a retinue of providers for their various wants - a manufacturing and trading community in the towns of the south, linked by religion to their masters.
From this group towards the end of the 18th century came some of the foremost democratic and republican leaders in Irish history. They were stimulated first by the American and then the French Revolutions.
One of these was Wolfe Tone. Born into the Church of Ireland in a Dublin trading family, he was a freethinker; a radical republican; a sympathiser and active supporter of the Great French Revolution of the 1789 and the architect of the United Irishmen, who sought to unite all the oppressed,
"the men of no property," in a united Irish republic.
Some of Tone's comrades, like Henry Joy McCracken and Samuel Neilson, were Ulster Dissenter capitalists.
A mainly middle-class organisation who wanted to sweep away every vestige of feudalism in Ireland, the United Irishmen proposed to put an end to the conflict of religious sects in Ireland by making religion
"a private matter" of individuals and no business of the state in which people of all religious persuasions - Protestants, Catholics and Dissenter - would be equal citizens. It is often forgotten today what a radical break with the past this was (see page 4).
They wanted to set up an independent Irish Republic which would free the peasants from the bonds of landlordism and pave the way for the development of an independent capitalist Ireland.
But this was not to be. The forces behind Tone were too weak to stand up to the combined weight of the British state and the Irish landlords. He was not backed by the mass of the middle class men of small property, as the Parisian masses who carried out the revolution there had been at the beginning.
The United Irishmen's rebellion of 1798 was ruthlessly suppressed. The leaders were driven overseas or exterminated, the whole peasant population terrorised.

Terror and rebellion

Ireland seethed with rebellion in 1797 amongst Northern Protestant and Southern Catholic alike. The British responded with systematic terror to disarm the people. Vast numbers were flogged, "half-hanged" (hanged and cut down alive) and "pitch-capped" (gunpowder rubbed in their hair and then set alight). The middle-class United Irishmen national organisation was broken.
Nevertheless in 1798 a number of risings took place. In Ulster the rising was mainly Presbyterian. In the west French troops landed and roused the local people. In Wexford there was a powerful Catholic peasant rising, which in some districts became sectarian war on local Protestants. The final Catholic defeat, followed by much hanging, flogging and jailings, took place at the Battle of Vinegar Hill (pictured).

British terror: the song, "The Wearing of the Green", popular in 1798, says: "They're hanging men and women for the wearing of the green". Here a piper is hanged for playing a seditious tune.

Robert Emmett (inset picture), a Protestant graduate of Trinity College Dublin, planned a "rising" in 1803 which was ruined by an accidental explosion in a Republican arms store, forcing them to act prematurely. Emmett wrote this, contemplating the graves of those killed by the state in 1798:

No retribution should we seek

Too long his horror reigned

By mercy marked must freedom rise

By cruelty unstained

Nor shall a tyrant's ashed mix

With these our martyred dead

This is the place where Erin's sons

In Erin's cause have bled.

Captured, he himself met with murderous vindictiveness. He was hanged cut down alive and disembowelled, and then chopped up in front of a crowd in Thomas Street, Dublin. He was 25.

Wolfe Tone: In 1798, Tone was on a French ship captured off the coast of Ireland by the British navy. Summarily sentenced to be hanged, he cut his throat to avoid the ignominy of the rope. Doing it badly, he lingered for a week. He managed a joke: "I always was a bad anatomist". His death mask is shown above.

The cartoon above shows the shooting of Edward Fitzgerald. A younger son of the Duke of Leinster, Ireland's premier aristocrat, he became a Jacobin in Paris and was at the heart of the United Irish movement.
Before the planned action could begin, he was shot and captured, and died of his wounds in jail. Ironically, he is usually called "Lord Edward Fitzgerald", a title he had disowned and spurned.

The Act of Union

Britain responded to the 1798 rising and to the Irish alliance with invading French forces by taking control of Ireland out of the hands of the Protestant landlord oligarchy who controlled the Dublin parliament.
The limited but promising success of the United Irishmen in bringing together the Catholics with a section of the Protestants (the Presbyterian, not, significantly, the Anglicans) had threatened, the existence of their whole system. At war with revolutionary France, Britain needed to secure its own interests. The British Prime Minister William Pitt resolved upon a 'Union of Parliaments'.
They forced an Act of Union through the Irish Parliament by the bribery and corruption of men who hardly needed to be either bribed or corrupted. Reprimanded for having
"sold your fatherland", one of them is reputed to have replied "And damned glad I was to have a fatherland to sell."
At that point the Protestants of Ireland tended to oppose Union, Catholics to favour it.
Pitt's plan for Union involved granting full civil equality to the Catholics with in the new United Kingdom. The half-idiot of a king, George III, vetoed that. Pitt resigned for a while on the issue.
Union without Catholic equality determined the future. To get equality -
"Emancipation" - the Catholics organised a mass movement led by Daniel O'Connell and staffed in the towns and villages by Catholic priests.
This movement alarmed the Protestants. Men and women, or their descendants, who had supported the United Irishmen, began to fear a priest-led Ireland and now came to support the Union they had opposed.
The 30-year-long struggle for Catholic Emancipation alienated the Catholics from England. After they won Emancipation (in 1829), O'Connell and his friends came out for
"Repeal of the Union", and an Irish - Catholic-led - parliament in Dublin. The Protestants were now against this: the two elements had swapped around. Revolutionary Republican politics was in the process of migrating from Protestant to Catholic Ireland, though it never touched O'Connell. He was challenged after a time by a movement of a more radical and republican nature, the "Young Irelanders" in the 1840s. Also in the 19th century, the split between Anglicans and Dissenters - now no longer seriously discriminated against - became unimportant.
There were economic reasons for the Protestant/Catholic about-change on the Union and the fading of the Anglican/Dissenter split among Protestants. The north-east of Ireland began to thrive economically within the UK, with new cotton mills, linen mills, and factories. Belfast and the surrounding area became a replica of Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and the newly industrialised cities of the English north, integrated with them through trade and a common industrial development. Belfast, previously a minor port, became busier than Dublin after 1835. The opposite happened in the south and west, which were thrown backwards industrially. Ireland became, not one economy, but two-economies, two provinces, connected to Britain through two centres, Dublin and Belfast.
Union threw Ireland wide open to unfettered competition from vastly superior British industry, with no possibility of the protective tariffs an independent Irish state could have erected.
Irish industry withered in most parts of the country, and in Belfast became part of British industry.
Most of Ireland was transformed (as Marx put it) into
"an English sheep walk and cattle pasture". The possibility of an independent capitalist Ireland at the end of the 18th century had been destroyed by a combination of economic forces and their reflection - the strength of the English and the feebleness of the Irish middle class.

The Famine

In the early 19th century Ireland was a land of absentee landlords and labyrinthine sub-lettings. Rich men would let large amounts of land from one landlord and then sublet it in parcels to men who would in turn sublet in smaller parcels and so on down. At the bottom of this pyramid, in which lived 8 million people by 1841, hundreds of thousands sublet potato fields of a quarter-acre, to grow their staple food - the potato. This would be supplemented by seasonal work, sometimes in England. Summer, before the harvest, was a time of near starvation for them. This system began to collapse in 1845 when the potato crop was destroyed by blight. The potatoes turned to an inedible mess in the ground. The same thing happened in 1846, '47 and '48. Over a million starved to death at the bottom of the pyramid.
"famine fever" - cholera - struck in the wake of famine up through the social pyramid. People fled the country en masse; vastly crowded ships would sail for America and arrive with half or fewer of their starved and sick passengers still alive.
The potato blight struck everywhere in Europe, but only in Ireland was there mass starvation.
While the people starved vast quantities of food - corn - were being exported. Government aid came late - 1847 - and was grudging and inadequate.
After the famine, the population of Ireland fell dramatically. (It is five and a half million today). The memory of the priest and landlord induced docility with which the people let themselves be starved in a fertile country hardened the minds of subsequent generations of nationalists. A great bitterness entered Irish nationalist politics.

No other food, no credit, no charity, all their neighbours in the same condition - a family faces starvation. People were found dead, their mouths all green from eating grass.

Workhouses were harsh prisons for the poor who had no choice but to ask for public relief. They could not accommodate those who now came to their doors. People were turned away to die by the side of the roads on which whole convoys of food for export travelled.

A man of paradox, John Mitchel was a Newry Protestant Republican of the 1840s, one of the "Young Ireland" journalists who criticised the Catholic leader Daniel O'Connell. When the Famine struck, Mitchel preached revolution to save the people. He was jailed before he could act and transported to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), from where he eventually got to America. Mitchel was considered by James Connolly to be one of the most radical and best of the Republicans of the 1840s. In the early mid 1890s, Connolly's paper The Workers' Republic reprinted some of Mitchel's writings. Mitchel was influenced by a radical criticism of mid-19th century English capitalism by Thomas Carlyle, whom Karl Marx bracketed with the "reactionary socialists", those who glorified the past in recoil from the horrors of early industrialism. Like Carlyle, Mitchel explicitly supported black slavery and wound up supporting the Confederated States of America in the Civil War (1861-5).

Sir Charles Trevelyan (above) was the administrator of government relief.
A good mid-Victorian, sure of his "values", his great concern was that the industry and self-reliance of people dying of hunger should not be sapped by free food hand-outs. Limited relief was given for such work as road repairing. Afterwards, Trevelyan believed that he had erred on the side of mercy and that "too much" was done for the starving people.

The Fenians challenge English rule

Republicanism revived in the 1840s, with the middle class - and still partly Protestant - "Young Ireland" movement, led by Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy and John Mitchel. On its fringe was Fintan Lalor, whose ideas on landlordism would influence Henry George and through George, millions in America, Britain, Australia, etc, at the end of the century.
Repression and famine destroyed this movement. Republican politics made a radical new start in 1858 with the foundation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, kKnown generally by the name of their American branch, the
This was a secret society modelled on the left-wing secret societies of France where the IRB's principal founders, James Stephens and John O'Mahony, were political refugees after 1848 and held membership in one of the secret societies.
The IRB drew on Irish Americans - many of them refugees from the famine - to back revolution in Ireland. They planned an armed rising. In 1865 they had perhaps 15,000 sworn Fenians inside the British army in Ireland. But they did not act. The best chance had been lost through delay when a small scale action occurred in March 1867, the
"Fenian Rising". But the Fenians survived, scattered into factions, shrivelled and transfused into other movements like the Land League.
They can be said to have organised the 1916 rising.

The Fenian Michael Barrett became, in 1868, the last man to be publicly hanged in England, for his part in the Clerkenwell explosion in December 1867, an attempt by the Fenians to blow a hole in a prison wall to allow comrades to escape which miscarried and caused many civilian casualties.

Membership card of the Fenians of America

Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa was a Fenian who defied his captors through years of jail. In American exile he backed the Republican faction of dynamiters who set off bombs in England in the 1880s. When he died in 1915, his body was brought back to Ireland and his funeral was a mass demonstration for Irish nationalism. It was at his graveside that Patrick Pearse delivered the oration that contains these words: "The fools, the fools, they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree will never be at peace".

James Stephens, a founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and chief of the Fenians in Ireland. Reportedly a man of "advanced" left-wing views, his strategy was first to get rid of English control by an uprising and then solve the social problems. At the head of a very powerful movement, he hesitated to act while British-US tensions (connected with the US Civil War, when Britain favoured the South) provided the best chance of success. He was removed as "head centre" of the Fenians in 1866.

Founder, with James Stephens, of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1858, John O'Mahony organised the American branch, to which he gave the name "Fenians" after a mythical band of warriors in ancient Ireland.

Even by the middle of the 19th century, the Catholics were still half-outcasts in their own country. Here, a crowd attends open-air mass, lacking an adequate church. A big programme of church building ensued.

Home Rule

At the head of the Catholics of Ireland, whom he welded into a serious political force and raised up from their abject position at the time of the Union (1800/1), Daniel O'Connell in 1840 demanded "Repeal of the Union" and the restoration of an Irish parliament in Dublin. The Union had thrown Irish industry into unprotected competition with British steam-powered machine production and Ireland was being ruined.
Daniel O'Connell's movement declined and fell apart with his death (1847) and the Famine (1845-48). Irish MPs at Westminster were now mere coteries of job-hunters. In 1870 Isaac Butt, a Protestant lawyer, formed the Home Rule Association, and MPs began to be returned as Home Rulers. But it was still a loose and ineffective party. The MP Joseph Biggar began to change that. A Belfast Protestant pork merchant, Biggar was a Fenian, and when he started his parliamentary activities, still a member of the supreme council of the Fenian Irish Republican Brotherhood. Biggar used guerrilla tactics in Parliament and urged the Irish MPs to do the same. They would filibuster - talk indefinitely - disobey the Speaker, and take every chance offered to disrupt the business of the House of Commons, then still a
"gentlemen's club" of unpaid MPs, with much looser rules than now.
Biggar's lead was followed by a young Wicklow landlord, a half-American Protestant, Charles Stuart Parnell. Parnell welded the Irish MPs into a phalanx at the heart of British politics, aiming and often succeeding to make the government of the UK unworkable.
They build a powerful party in the country, which collected money to pay MPs who were not
This was the period of the Land War. When in 1879 crop failures and a general agricultural crisis threatened famine once again the memory of
"Black '47" spurred people into action. They demanded rent cuts, refusing to pay rent. This movement - and in the background the threatening shadow of Fenian terror - gave force to the parliamentary activities. (Some of the Fenians in the underground backed Parnell's activities.)
All this agitation convinced the most far sighted of British statesmen, WE Gladstone, that Home Rule had to be granted, and in late 1885 he declared himself for it.
Parnell, strictly independent between the British parties had been angling for the support of either party. The Tories, the main party of the landlord class, declared themselves bitterly against Home Rule. Winston Churchill's father, Lord Randolph Churchill, played
"the Orange Card" against Gladstone - how could there be Irish Home Rule if one set of Irish were against it? The Liberal Party split, losing most of its Whig landlord grandees to the Tories and also part of its Radical wing, led by the future arch-imperialist, Joseph Chamberlain. The Tories became the "Conservative and Unionist" party.
Home Rule was defeated in the Commons in 1886 and passing the Commons in 1892, was then vetoed by the lords.
In power for 13 years before 1906, the Tories, combining reform with police rule, tried to
"kill Home Rule with kindness," granting local government (1898) and beginning to transfer land from landlords to peasants, transforming rents into mortgage repayments for many farmers.

A Protestant landlord in Wicklow, Charles Stuart Parnell emerged as the leader of the Irish MPs in Westminster at the end of the 1870s. He had immense power in Ireland until he was cited as an adulterer in the divorce court. The English Liberals and the Catholic Irish bishops turned on him and shattered his party. He died soon afterwards. The Home Rule Party - which reunited in 1900 - was a tame and docile tail of the Liberal Party from then on. The Liberals betrayed them in 1914 by agreeing to partition. The Home Rule Party, led by John Redmond, agreed even to partition - "for now".

Reform from above - the Land Acts

Faced with peasants organised to fight a land war and a Fenian revolutionary underground still powerful, Britain now exerted herself to solve the "Irish problem".
Liberal leader, WE Gladstone, recognising that Ireland was a powder keg at Britain's foundation, energetically set out to remove it by placating the Irish peasants - who were still living at starvation level and without legal rights on the land, comparable in some senses to the serfs of the Middle Ages.
Britain's ruling class sought to remove the powder keg by passing a number of Land Acts after 1870.
The later Acts - decisively the Wyndham Act passed in 1903 - allowed the peasant, with government finance and the prospect of decades of repayment, to buy out some landlords and make himself, still impoverished, into the owner of a patch of land. It was this right of ownership that most of the peasants wanted, so they withdrew into the background of the political struggle, as supporters of a Home Rule movement which after the fall of Parnell (1891) became a docile tail of the Liberal Party in Parliament. James Connolly and the Irish socialists at the turn of the century opposed peasant proprietorship, demanding the nationalisation of the land instead.

In a succession of laws, the British government intervened in Ireland to give the tenant farmers a measure of protection against once all-powerful landlords. The cartoon above shows Irish awareness that the English government did not act out of kindness but under pressure of the popular movement in Ireland.

Peasant family eviction. Touring Ireland in the mid-1850s, Karl Marx's friend Frederick Engels reported that the most noticeable feature of the countryside was the vast number of abandoned peasant dwellings. After the Famine (1845-8), vast numbers had been evicted, sometimes to starve on the side of the road, maybe to flee to Britain or America.
Some of the evictees were Catholic landlords who had bought out bankrupts under the "Encumbered Estates Act" of 1849. In the great agricultural crisis of the late 1870s and early 1880s, evictions on a large scale began again. Large numbers of soldiers or armed police would evict a family, and then the walls and roof of the house would be knocked down to make it uninhabitable. This time, the people were organised and fought back.

A forlorn child, evicted with his family

The Land League was a sort of agrarian trade union, of people who aspired to own their land and meanwhile united to force concessions from the landlords. The landlords were regarded as an alien people, put in place by conquest and robbery.

Michael Davitt was a Fenian who turned to constitutional politics. Moved from Mayo to Lancashire as a child, he lost an arm while working in a cotton mill. He spent seven years in jail for Fenian activities. He founded the Land League of farmers to fight the landlords, and considered himself part of the international labour movement. On the eve of his death, he backed the Marxist candidate Harry Quelch in an English by-election.In Ireland, however, Davitt did not act for independent working-class politics, but was part of the Home Rule movement. He was bitterly criticised for this by those trying to organise the working class independently, James Connolly for example in his paper The Workers' Republic.

Marx, Ireland and the bourgeois revolution

In 1868, when the Liberals were proposing that the Anglican Church should cease to be the official state-sponsored Church in Ireland - so that the Catholic people would no longer have to pay for its upkeep - Karl Marx wrote:
"The Irish question predominates here just now. It has been exploited by Gladstone and company, of course, only in order to get into office again, and above all, to have an electoral cry at the next elections, which will be based on household suffrage. For the moment this turn of events is bad for the workers' party; the intriguers among the workers, such as Odger and Potter, who want to get into the next Parliament, have now a new excuse for attaching themselves to the bourgeois Liberals.
However, this is only a penalty which England - and consequently also the English working class - paying for the great crime she has been committing for many centuries against Ireland. And in the long run it will benefit the English working class itself. You see, the English Established Church in Ireland - or what they use to call here the Irish Church - is the religious bulwark of English landlordism in Ireland, and at the same time the outpost of the Established Church in England herself. (I am speaking here of the Established Church as a landowner). The overthrow of the Established Church in Ireland will mean its downfall in England and the two will be followed by the doom of landlordism - first in Ireland and then in England. I have, however been convinced from the first that the social revolution must begin seriously from the bottom, that is, from land ownership" - Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann, April 6, 1868.
Because in Ireland the landlords were an alien force, never accepted (as the landlords were in England) by the people except at the point of the gun, Marx believed that Home Rule would immediately be followed by a great Irish
"bourgeois" revolution against landlordism, and that this would trigger a similar final phase in settling accounts with remnants of feudalism in Britain. In fact things went the opposite way. Beginning timidly, English governments - Liberal first and then, decisively, Tory - organised an agrarian revolution from above. The decisive point was reached in 1903 with the Tory Wyndham Land Act substituting large scale peasant ownership for old landlordism. The plan had first been agreed by a conference of landlords and representatives of the people, like William O'Brien MP. The state would finance the buying of the land and the new owner would pay the state for decades. The effort almost collapsed financially in 1909, but it continued, and was finished off by the Free State government after 1923.
For fear of revolution from below - and specifically fear of the Fenians - they organised revolution from above. This could not trigger or evoke a similar movement in Britain.
In so far as there was ever a British settling of accounts with the remnants of its own feudalism that was the struggle to establish the supremacy of the elected House of Commons over the hereditary House of Lords, which the Liberals won in 1910. The bitterness engendered by that struggle reacted back on Ireland and made the divisions there over Home Rule deeper and more bitter. It gave the Orange opponents of Home Rule an ally, a Tory party made reckless by the struggle over the Lords. It helped rip Ireland in two. You could say it was the third time that the English bourgeois
"revolution" had bad effects in Ireland: only this time the Protestants and not the Catholics were allied with reaction and the "progressive" Liberals, on whom the Catholics relied, were a weak force, despite their recent victory.

The working class

By the 1890s, a working class had begun to develop in the South. But the Irish working class was (and is) a working class divided against itself. The industrial workers of the north-east of Ireland were the descendants of the colonists, still maintaining, in changed times and conditions, petty privileges over the Catholics and large illusions of superiority.
The Orange labour aristocracy looked with contempt on the Catholic workers.
Like northern Italian workers who looked, and look still, it seems, with almost racist contempt on the southern Italian, and Mexican workers who enlisted to quell the revolutionary peasants during the post-1910 Mexican Revolution, they felt they belonged to a different people.
In 1907 Jim Larkin organised the Catholic and Protestant workers together in Belfast for a brief period - to the terror of the capitalists. It was a brief, shallow but prophetic unity, broken by the rising tide of Home Rule politics and opposition to Home Rule - the attempts to complete the normalisation of the Irish situation by granting limited autonomy to the Irish middle class.
The Southern working class was small and weak, it was divided, it was disorganised - it was only in 1894 that an Irish TUC was organised - but it was the only force that in the circumstances could hope to lead the fight for Irish freedom to a successful conclusion. It showed its potential in its great
"Labour War" with Dublin's Irish-nationalist capitalists, in 1913.
The middle class were stooges of one British ruling-class faction and the working class's enemies; the Southern working class was born with the memory of the centuries of slavery as its only heritage, and a battle for both Irish freedom and for its own class freedom as the only realistic prospect.
James Connolly, the greatest figure of the socialist Irish working class movement, put the situation very clearly when he said:
"The Irish working class is the only true inheritor of the fight for Irish freedom." He meant that nothing less than a socialist Ireland could really free the people of Ireland, that it was not enough to throw out the British.

The Dublin Labour War of 1913

After 1907 Jim Larkin came south and built up the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, mostly with unskilled workers. The methods he used were new and bold, particularly the systematic use of sympathetic strike action as the basis of union policy.
The standard of living in Dublin rose by about fifty percent in a few years, and eventually the employers were driven to unite in an attempt to fight Larkin and smash the Union. In 1913, all workers were told not to join Larkin's union.
They were sacked when they refused to comply, and were locked out.
This led to a large scale battle for trade union rights, costing a number of workers' lives.
Out of this was born the Irish Citizen Army, a workers' militia to defend the working class against the police.
The lockout of 1913 ended in partial defeat. The Union survived despite the bosses' intention to smash it. The workers in Dublin were forced to draw back for two main reasons: the refusal of solidarity by the British trade unions; and the intervention of the Irish Catholic Church.
The British labour movement sent ships full of food up the Liffey to help the starving workers. However, a special TUC Conference refused strike action in support of Dublin.
As James Connolly put it bitterly at the time: where the British working class organisation could have delivered a decisive blow at the employers, they held their hand, contenting themselves with giving aid in money and food, where they could not possibly deal a comparable blow at the ruling class.
The Catholic Church intervened, naturally, on the side of the employers. Many English working class families offered help and to look after the children of the Dublin strikers during the eight month strike. The Church denounced it a a plot to undermine the religion of the children! The priests organised gangs to forcibly prevent them leaving the country. So, in the words of a song born out of the strike:
"But hungry houses and crying children, They broke our hearts, we could not win". Yet the union survived and between 1916 and 1920 expanded spectacularly.
After this the struggle subsided for a period, until after the rising of Easter 1916, in which the Citizen Army participated, led by Larkin's comrade James Connolly. (Larkin was in the USA).

The labour movement sent shiploads of food up the Liffey to feed the strikers and their families. Here some of them wait for a ship to dock.

Larkin's people: Dublin boys dressed in hand-me-down clothes - girls' clothes, sometimes, and without shoes.

These are members of the Irish Socialist Republican Party in Phoenix Park, Dublin, 1901. In the front row, second from left, is William O'Brien, who would after 1916 preside over a great expansion of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union and its simultaneous bureaucratisation. Oddly, O'Brien vainly tried in 1930 to get Leon Trotsky - denied entry everywhere except Turkey - a visa to reside in Ireland. James Connolly is on the right.

Connolly put the small ISRP together out of elements of the Dublin branch of Keir Hardie's Independent Labour Party, and others, in 1896. It began to publish Ireland's first Marxist paper in 1898, The Workers' Republic. The very advocacy of a Republic was startling in the Ireland of the 1890s. Such bold policies gained the party a hearing for uncompromising class-struggle socialism. But conditions were unfavourable. The labour movement was small and still made up of craft trade unions. Even so, the granting of the local government franchise in 1898 led to a mushrooming of loose "Labour" parties in all the towns of Ireland. They did surprisingly well, and cities like Limerick got "Labour" mayors. These organisations quickly fell apart into corruption and individual self-seeking. They were mainly absorbed by the Home Rule Party (united once more in 1900). Perhaps in response to this disappointment, the ISRP was somewhat sectarian. It began to fall apart in 1902-3, and James Connolly went to America for seven years.
Elements of the ISRP continued and were reorganised as the Socialist Party of Ireland. When the mass labour movement of Jim Larkin got going after 1908, the SPI had some influence, but it was loose and feeble. Reorganised in 1921, it renamed itself the Communist Party of Ireland and affiliated to the Communist International.

James Connolly was born in Edinburgh in 1868. He was educated and politically formed in the British Marxist movement, which he joined at the beginning of the 1890s. He moved to Ireland in 1896 and set up the Irish Socialist Republican Party in the same year. When that organisation fell apart, he left for America in 1903, where, among other things, he was an organiser for the syndicalist trade union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). He came back to Ireland in 1910 and joined the new Irish trade union movement whichJim Larkin was organising. Connolly responded to the outbreak of world war in 1914 with an article opposing war and praising Karl Liebknecht (who, he thought, had been killed). He tried to keep faith with the prewar Manifestos of the Socialist International, before it collapsed at the outbreak of war. Greatly disappointed by the failure of the European labour movements to stop World War One, or even to try to resist it, he switched over to an Irish nationalist perspective. He turned his attention to organising an Irish nationalist revolt against British rule. He backed a Germany, fighting, so it said, for the “Freedom of the Seas”, over which the British Navy had ruled for over 100 years. Roger Casement wrote a pamphlet backing Germany and its fight for the “Freedom of the Seas”. The 1916 declaration of the Irish Republic spoke of Ireland’s “gallant allies” at war with Britain. Allies, not masters. Connolly hung a large banner above the entrance to the union headquarters, Liberty Hall: “We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser”. He saw this work too as part of an international movement against imperialism. Military leader of the 1916 Rising, he was wounded in the leg on the second day of the fighting, but continued in command for the four remaining days. He was shot, his wounds only half-healed, propped up in a chair, on 12 May 1916. He saw the rising too as part of the perspective he had outlined in an article in August 1914: "Starting thus, Ireland may yet set the torch to a European conflagration that will not burn out until the last throne and the last capitalist will be shriveled on the funeral pyre of the last warlord".

Home Rule Crisis: The UK faces the threat of civil war

Twice - 1886 and 1892 - the Liberal leader Gladstone tried to pass a bill to give Ireland Home Rule. He lost in the Commons in 1886 and won in 1892 only to have the measure vetoed in the House of Lords. The Home Rule crisis on the eve of World War I was triggered when the House of Lords lost its veto.
A major crisis in the British state erupted when the Lords vetoed the Liberal government's radical budget in 1909. The conflict was resolved by the surrender of the House of Lords, where absolute veto was now abolished, leaving only a delaying power for two years In the course of this struggle the Liberals fought a General Election which left them dependent on the 70-odd Irish Home Rule MPs at Westminster. The new Liberal Prime Minister, Henry Asquith was not, like Gladstone, a believer in Home Rule. When they had a big majority after 1906 the Liberals had made no move for Home Rule. Now they proposed a new Home Rule Bill and did it under compulsion of the Irish Nationalist MPs. All the Lords could do was hold it up for two years.
Still keyed up from the struggle for the Lords, the Tory party resolved on direct defiance of the government.
They helped organise and arm a powerful private army in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Volunteer Force. They pledged - some of them signing the Ulster Covenant in their own blood - that they would not accept the proposed Home Rule government in Dublin and would instead set up a Parliament of their own in Belfast if the issue were forced.
The opposition to Home Rule was a great mass movement in North East Ulster. It included the big majority of the working class of all Ireland and most of its modern industrial working class. They saw themselves as British and feared being a minority in a Catholic-ruled all-Ireland state. Their Tory-Unionist allies in Britain stood by them while the Liberal allies of the Catholic Irish did not stand by them.
They were still importing guns from Germany a few weeks before World War I broke out.
In contrast to the Tories the Liberals abandoned the interests of their long too-docile Irish middle-class Parliamentary allies and agreed to partition the country. They persuaded the Irish leader John Redmond to
"temporarily" accept partition. Because they though that they could rely on the Liberals if necessary to coerce the Irish resistance to Home Rule, the nationalists had made no efforts to reach an intra-Irish agreement allowing the Protestant areas local autonomy.
The Protestant example of arms and threats - and victory! - together with the discrediting of the Home Rule parliamentarians generated a movement for armed revolt in Catholic Nationalist Ireland such as had not been dreamt of for four or five decades.

Irish Volunteers drill

Oglaigh na hEireann - the army of Ireland. The army of nationalist Ireland was called into being by the revolt of Protestant Ulster against the British government's plans to set up an all-Ireland Home Rule Parliament in Dublin. Led by the Liberal-allied Home Rule Party, the Volunteers split in 1914 when the Home Rulers supported Britain in the World War.

Tory Unionist Edward Carson (who joined the British government during the World War that soon broke out) reviews the armed forces that he, together with other leaders of the Tory Party, had built up to resist Home Rule and an all-Ireland government. Declared rebels against the London Liberal government which wanted to give Ireland limited Home Rule, Carson's Unionists first introduced the gun into 20th century Irish politics.


Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force pose before one of the "Big Houses" of those who led them into open revolt against the British government. Backed by the Tory Party, they were importing guns from Germany on the very eve of the World War. One school of thought holds that Germany would have behaved differently in the crisis that led to war had she not believed that Britain was paralysed by the Ulster crisis.

The Orange Order

The Orange Order was set up by Anglican peasants in 1795 in County Armagh. It grew out of Orange secret societies which had been competing and warring with Catholic secret societies for decades.
In the 1790s the Catholic
"Defenders" overlapped with the United Irishmen, who were mostly Protestant but more often Presbyterian than Anglican. The Orange Order was immediately made a vehicle for resistance by the Establishment to the revolutionaries.
It was always a sectarian, supremacist organisation. It fell into disfavour in the 19th century, and was a banned organisation for a while in the 1830s.
It was heavily involved in agitation against the disestablishment of the Anglican Church of Ireland in 1869, demonstrating with banners threatening to
"kick the Queen's crown into the Boyne'' as King James's crown was once kicked. The movement has always had its own concerns, and it has sometimes clashed with the British government, most notably in the 1870s and '80s.
It became the mass base of the upper classes in their fight against Home Rule from the 1880s onwards, patronised by Colonels and MPs and other gentry.
A working-class Independent Orange Order broke away in 1905 and was briefly radical.
After the Six County state was set up in 1921-22, the Orange Order became a great machine of patronage and discrimination, closely tied up with the state. It is still a great force.
There was also a Catholic
"Orange Order", the "Ancient Order of Hibernians". Modelled on the Orange Order and claiming descent like the Orange Order from 18th century secret societies, the AOH became a big force in Catholic Ireland in the early years of the 20th century, when it was registered as a benevolent society, administering parts of the early social security system set up by the Liberals before World War 1.
It was bitterly hostile to the militant labour movement. It declined in strength and never had anything like the role in 26-Counties Ireland that the Orange Order had in the Six. Other Catholic agencies took its place, above all the Church.

Why Protestants opposed Home Rule

The Anglo-Irish Protestant landlord class opposed Home Rule for class reasons. Home Rule would end their domination of Ireland, and might lead to the process of "buying out" the land being completed in a radical or revolutionary way.
The compact Protestant community of the north-east, including the workers, opposed Home Rule from a different angle.
A society radically different from that in Ireland's south had grown up around Belfast: they did not feel at one with the rest of the Irish. The extension of the franchise in 1867 and '84 meant that in a Home-Rule Ireland the Protestants would be a minority, at the mercy of the politics of the majority. Their identity was that of a
"Protestant" colony in a Catholic country: the Catholics, in contrast to the 1798 period, were militant, organised, and often priest-led. In Protestant eyes Home Rule would inevitably become "Rome Rule". They did not want an Irish exchequer with Northern Ireland as the biggest taxpayer to carry the burden of financing the buying out of the landlord. They had seen the power of the priests when they - together with the British "non-conformists" of the Liberal Party - had pulled down and destroyed the great nationalist leader, Parnell. They saw that the Home Rule political party on the ground in rural Ireland and in the small towns was venal and deeply corrupt - and they did not want to submit to it. A few Southern Unionists would in 1917 and 1918 express a preference for the "rebel" - but clean and honest - Sinn Fein movement over the 'moderate' Home Rulers. The Protestant working class of the north had contempt for the south, seen typically as a land of backward superstitious peasants.
All of these reasons operated in varying degrees on top of the basic thing: the Protestants had begun as, and never ceased to be a distinct and different people. A Protestant-Jacobin-led revolution in 1798, uprooting the landlords and allied to Revolutionary France, would have fused the different elements in the population of Ireland into one people. But Britain's strength was too great, and that movement was crushed. Historic development then took the form of the Catholic struggle for equality and the striking economic divergence in the development of North and South.


The Easter Rising, 1916

On Easter Monday 1916 1200 men and a few women - 200 of them members of the trade union militia set up in the 1913 strike, the Citizen's Army - seized the main buildings in the centre of Dublin. Patrick Pearse read out a the Declaration of the Irish Republic from the steps of the General Post Office. Fighting lasted a week. The British government sent gun-boats up the Liffey to shell the Republican positions. On the Saturday they surrendered. In the next 10 days 15 men were court martialled and shot.
The rising was a catalyst. It first evoked much Irish hostility. Then the cold blooded killings of prisoners of war began to turn sympathy in their favour. More than that, though, the policy of peaceful pressure on England pursued for a generation had been discredited by the success of the Orange revolt. Then when Britain tried to introduce conscription in Ireland there was a mass turn to the
"Sinn Fein" movement. With 48% of the vote (but with 25 seats in the south going to Sinn Fein unopposed) 73 of Ireland's 105 Parliamentary seats were won for a policy of seceding from Westminster and setting up Dail Eireann in Dublin. The War of Independence was about to begin.

British soldiers behind a barricade during the fighting in Dublin, April 1916

Constance Markievicz (née Constance Gore-Booth) abandoned upper-class trifling to support the workers in the 1913 strike. She took part in the 1916 Rising as a member of the Citizen Army, second in command to Michael Mallin. Her death sentence was commuted and she lived to be the first woman elected to the Westminster Parliament, which she boycotted to sit in Dail Eireann. Her sister Eva Gore-Booth was secretary of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council in the same period.

War of Independence

In 1919 there were two states in Ireland: the powerful British state with its armed gendarmerie, the Royal Irish Constabulary, its army, and its mass Orange support in the north east; and a state coming into being at the call of Dail Eireann. Dail Eireann set up its own police and courts and took control of local and county councils. War between the two forces was inevitable when the British refused to withdraw. Beginning with the shooting of two policemen by the IRA at Soloheadbeg early in 1919 - without the authority of Dail Eireann - war escalated until in 1920 the British set up a special terrorist force, the "Black and Tans". They went around the country shooting and burning, utterly lawless. They burned the centre of Cork City, and also various small towns such as Milltown Malbay in Clare. In reprisal for the shooting of British police agents by the IRA they mounted a machine gun in Croke Park, Dublin, during a sports match and fired on the crowd. They made a special target of rural factories - 'creameries' - where the workers were militant, and these blows had, by 1920, a crippling effect on the labour movement.
The war ended in a truce in July 1921. The British were now willing to offer the Irish
"Dominion status".

The British army in Ireland (above), together with the Royal Irish Constabulary, had always been an army of occupation. After Dail Eireann was set up in 1919 the British forces came more and more into open conflict with the people of nationalist Ireland.

Fifteen men were shot, a few at a time, after the Irish forces surrendered in 1916. Roger Casement, the sixteenth man, was hanged a few months later in Pentonville Prison, London.

Members of the first ever democratically elected Irish Parliament, Dail Eireann. Elected in the British General Election of November 1918, they refused to go to England and set up an Irish Parliament of their own instead. Constance Markievicz, the first woman elected to the House of Commons and a founder of Dail Eireann, is absent from this 1919 picture.

Jubilant children hold a street party to celebrate the end of the war with England. The US flags indicate Nationalist Ireland's belief that American pressure was on their side against England.

July 1921: the official circular from army headquarters telling units of Oglaigh na hEireann (the army of Ireland) of the truce.

Civil War, 1922-3

Ireland's Civil War was a war without clear goals on the Republican side.
Britain faced Dail Eireann's representatives - Collins, Griffith, Barton and others - with an ultimatum: accept Britain's terms or face a resumption of
"immediate and terrible war" (Lloyd George). We know now that Britain had contingency plans to intern a large part of the population of the south, as Britain had interned the civilians in the first so-called "concentration camps" during the Boer War two decades earlier. Collins and Griffith accepted. Dail Eireann split; a seven-vote majority went with Collins (who was the head of the secret Fenian organisation, the IRB, which backed him), the minority with De Valera, who opposed the treaty.
There were two central issues: should Ireland continue as the Republic proclaimed in 1916 and again in 1919, or join the British Empire, accepting the English king as King of Ireland? Should Dail Eireann accept the exclusion of the Six Counties of north-east Ulster, which already had a functioning parliament in Belfast? The Dail debate on the treaty only touched on 'Ulster' once or twice: everyone know that there was little they could do about it. Even the hard core Republicans ruled out attempting to conquer the Protestant areas. All of them hoped that partition would be short-lived (see box).
The main point of debate centred on the proposed oath to the English king. They had sworn allegiance to the Republic; many would have died - and did die - before they would break that oath. Many of them - Liam Mellows for example - did not want to make a separate Irish peace because that meant scabbing on the Indians and others seeking freedom from the British Empire.
After the vote, everything was still unclear: Sinn Fein was split, but efforts would be made for months yet to repair the split. The majority, backed and armed by the British, formed a government and a state. The Republican minority were armed, and held key parts
"for the Republic". There was a sort of dual power.
In June 1922 the British gave Collins an ultimatum to disarm the Republic's army or see Britain abrogate the Treaty. The Free State went to war on the Republicans, bombarding the Four Courts in Dublin with borrowed British cannons! They would soon control Dublin, but hostilities in the south went on for a year. The Free State government would kill nearly two times as many prisoners of war as the British had killed during the War of Independence. In parts of the Republican south, the government had to land troops from ships like a foreign invader.
Yet the political objectives of the war were unclear and the main consequence of the war was that it greatly weakened the south in face of London and Belfast, and led to the south abandoning the Six County Catholics.

The Provisional Government at Dublin's Mansion House to sign the Treaty with Britain, 16 January 1922.

Dublin Castle, the symbol of British oppression in Ireland for hundreds of years, is handed over to the Free State government in 1922. Striding forward is Kevin O'Higgins, Free State "strongman" during the Civil War which would soon break out. They killed 177 prisoners of war, considerably more than the British had. In O'Higgins's wake comes Michael Collins, leader of the Irish forces in the war against Britain. Collins was shot soon afterwards, in an ambush in County Cork.

Sinn Fein split on the terms of peace dictated by Britain in 1921 under threat of "immediate and terrible war". The majority of Dail Eireann accepted Britain's terms and formed a government. The minority rejected the terms. A period of chaos followed. In June 1922 the British government, which was then still in occupation of Ireland, gave the "Free State" government an ultimatum: "Disarm the opponents of the Treaty, or we will go to war with you". With borrowed British cannons, the government complied.
Bitter civil war followed for a year, opened by government bombardment of anti-Treaty headquarters, the Four Courts in Dublin (above).

Under ultimatum from Britain, the new Irish government attacked the strongholds of the Republicans in June 1922, and open civil war - which lasted a year - began. Here Republican "irregulars" move down through Dublin's prosperous Grafton Street.

June 1922: the Republican forces have been defeated in Dublin, and here some of them come out to surrender. Six months later some of those who now surrender will be treated as hostages for the good behaviour of those still fighting the Free State government, and shot.

Liam Mellows

In the debates in Dail Eireann on the Treaty with Britain - which offered Dominion status like that of Canada - Liam Mellows made a passionate appeal to the deputies not to abandon India and other peoples fighting British control, not to opt for "the fleshpots of Empire". Captured at the outbreak of the Civil War and jailed, he set to pondering why 'The Republic' had lost the support of the people to such an extent that the compromisers were winning elections and battles. Influenced perhaps by "The Workers' Republic", the organ of the tiny Communist Party of Ireland, Mellows concluded that the rich "the stake in the country people", had betrayed the Republic and that, therefore, Republicans were - he employed words by Wolfe Tone a century and a quarter earlier - back to relying on "the men of no property". He recalled the words of another '98 man: "The rich always betray the poor." For Mellows the turn to the workers was to serve nationalism. He was therefore a populist.
For this strain of Republicanism, however, the labour movement is assessed and prized for what it can bring to the nationalist cause.
For Marxists it must be the other way around.Letters in which he communicated these ideas were captured and published by the Free Staters. In December 1922, after 6 months in Mountjoy Jail, Mellows and three others - O'Connor, Barrett and McKelvie - were woken up at midnight and told that they would be shot at dawn in response to IRA attacks Free-State Dail deputies. Mellows and his comrades were devout Catholics, but the Catholic Church had outlawed their cause and Republicans could not receive the Sacraments unless they formally agreed to abandon their cause. Mellows spent the few hours left to him writing letters and haggling with political priests for - as he believed - his soul. With a courage difficult for those who do not believe what he believed to appreciate, he refused to bow to the authority of his church and went out to meet his God in a state - so his church said - of mortal sin, the probability that he would be condemned to burn in the fires of hell for all eternity.
Republican prisoners afterwards discussed setting up a breakaway Irish National Catholic Church. They did not.

The Boundary Commission

How did the British Government in 1921 get the Sinn Fein movement to accept the partition of Ireland - and a partition which left an excluded area with a one-third Catholic population? (Catholics are now 40% of the population of Northern Ireland).
The Sinn Fein leaders were tricked and cheated. Three possible areas for exclusion were discussed after 1914: four counties, where there would be a massive Protestant-Unionist majority; nine counties, the whole of the province of Ulster, where Protestant-Unionists would be only half the population; and six counties, where the ratio would be two-to-one in favour of the Protestants.
Lloyd George
"sold" partition to Michael Collins with the following argument: 'Realistically, we cannot coerce the Protestants into a united Ireland. Neither can you. Give them six counties for now, but we will set up a Boundary Commission. That will lop off the Catholic-majority areas, make Northern Ireland unviable, and so force the Protestants to come into a united Ireland of some sort'. He used other arguments with the Unionists.
When the Boundary Commission met in 1925, a Free State weakened by civil war faced London and Belfast prepared to make no concessions at all. What they had, they held. The last 25 years show how short-sighted that was for the Unionists.
The Commission report proposed to take territory (a small piece of it) only from the South! The Dublin government settled for a cash sum in compensation, proclaiming that they had got a
"good bargain".

From "The Wake of William Orr", by William Drennan, 1754-1820

Hapless Nation, rent and torn,

Thou were early taught to mourn;

Warfare of six hundred years!

Epochs marked with blood and tears!

Hunted thro' thy native grounds,

Or flung reward to human hounds,

Each one pulled and tore his share,

Heedless of thy deep despair.

Hapless Nation! hapless Land!

Heap of uncementing sand!

Crumbled by a foreign weight;

And by worse, domestic hate.

God of mercy! God of peace!

Make this mad confusion cease;

O'er the mental chaos move

Through it speak the light of love.

Monstrous and unhappy sight!

Brothers' blood will not unite.

Holy oil and holy water

Mix, and fill the world with slaughter.

Who is she with aspect wild?

The widow'd mother with her child -

Child new stirring in the womb!

Husband waiting for the tomb!

(Drennan was a United Irishman)

Between 1919 and 1923 as many as 40 working-class strike movements declared the formation of a "soviet" - a workers' council, of the sort thrown up in the Russian Revolution and then in Austria, Germany and Hungary. These were small movements, usually of workers who were islands in an agrarian sea. The biggest occurred in Limerick City in 1919. The Workers' Council (like a British trades council) declared a soviet, and contested control of the city with the British military authorities. There was a general strike. Above is Limerick Soviet money printed during the strike.

An issue of the bulletin put out by the Limerick Soviet in April 1919.

From Free State to Fianna Fail to free trade

Despite the savagery of the civil war, the Irish Free State emerged from its fratricidal struggle in 1923 as a functioning bourgeois democracy on the Westminster model. The old Unionist ruling class and all the "stake in the country" people rallied around the ruling party Cumann na nGaedheal.
The losers in the civil war still commanded - as Sinn Fein - a powerful block of seats in Parliament, but they proclaimed it a matter of principle not to take their seats in one of the
"partition Parliaments". In 1926 Sinn Fein split, the bulk of its people going with Eamonn De Valera to found Fianna Fail, "The Republican Party"; in 1927 De Valera entered the Free State Dail.
A heavily agrarian area, the Free State was now also overwhelmingly, unchallengeably Catholic. Ironically, the lopping off of the Protestant population of north-east Ulster helped ensure that Home Rule in the 26 counties did become Rome Rule. Laws which permitted divorce, inherited from Britain, were changed in 1925. The nationalist poet WB Yeats spoke against it in the Free State senate on behalf of - generally middle and upper class - 26 county Protestants. Poignantly he repeated on their behalf the words of an English monarch 340 years earlier, when England faced invasion by a much stronger Catholic power:
"We are no petty people". But they were a helpless minority people.
All the way through the to De Valera constitution of 1937 , the legal and moral basis of the state came to be based more and more overtly on the teachings of the Catholic Church. According to the testimony of former minister, Noel Browne, bishops and cardinals behaved behind the facade of secular politics like the rulers of the country, which they often were. But still the Irish bourgeoisie proclaimed a fervent desire for unity with the Protestant north, and the same constitution - 1937 - that proclaimed the
"special position of the Catholic church in the state" (this formula was dropped in the '80s) also defined "the national territory" as the whole of the island. It was as if they forgot that there were people on the island, substituting geography for politics.
The labour movement, cut off from labour's big industrial battalions in the north, was weak and increasingly hegemonised by right wing Catholic ideas. Under the direct pressure of the church, exercised through the teachers' union in the late '30s, the Labour Party dropped its nominal commitment to winning a workers' Republic.
In the '20s, and from the '40s onwards, emigration bled the working class. By the '50s, 1,000 people a week left the 26 counties (population then: 3 million). After virtually ceasing in the '70s, emigration again rose to a flood tide in the '80s.
In 1932 the losers in the civil war won the election and formed a government - at first backed by the Labour Party - which soon introduced Ireland's equivalent of FD Roosevelt's New Deal.
Rudimentary social security was brought in; the state assumed a role in stimulating and organising industry, to create jobs. When Britain, in response to De Valera's ending of repayment of money owed the British exchequer by farmers who had bought out the old landlords, blocked Irish exports of beef, De Valera distributed cheap food to the unemployed. In this way, Fianna Fail became an immensely powerful party - though increasingly a careerist and self-serving one - to which most southern Irish trade unionists gave their allegiance, and, after a while, much of the Irish bourgeoisie too. The Labour Party was marginalised.
From 1932 to 1958, the 26 counties tried to build up industry behind high tariff walls. Lists of imports were compiled and published with a government offer to put on a sufficiently high import tax to make manufacture and sale in Ireland profitable. The tariff barriers were applied against Northern Ireland too. It was part of the world retreat by trade behind national barriers in this period. Small industries were built in this way, and jobs created, in the '30s and during World War II. But such goods were not generally exportable. The country stagnated and stifled, bleeding 1,000 migrants each week. In 1958 the Fianna Fail regime that had initiated protectionism in '32 - and even the same man, Sean Lemass, Taoiseach (prime minister) from '59 - broke out of the strait jacket and began to open Ireland up to freer international trade and investment. In 1965 a free trade agreement was signed with Britain, accepting and accelerating the reality of British-Irish economic
This drawing together of Britain and the south was one of the detonators which blew up the stability of the north at the end of the 1960s.
(See next section).
The labour movement grew as the working class grew. Politically, however, it scarcely advanced. The Labour Party, pushed to the right by Catholic Church pressure in the '30s, had long accepted that its best hope politically was to get into a coalition of all the other parties against Fianna Fail. It did this in the late '40s, the mid-'50s and then in the '70s and '80s. Today it is in government with the shrinking Fianna Fail, come full circle to its first days in government, when Fianna Fail ruled with tacit Labour support.
Reaping the benefits of the liberalisation of trade after 1958, the south began to become more industrial; after 1972 there was a lush flow of EC subsidies, especially to farming.
In the '60s and '70s the south was forced to face up to the question of the north. In 1969 when Catholic-Protestant fighting broke out in the north, Dublin politicians blustered and blustered, but did very little. The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 gave Dublin a political voice in the running of Northern Ireland, which however remains completely in Britain's hands.

In World War Two southern Ireland remained neutral, thus estranging Northern Ireland even further. There was serious danger of invasion until 1944, and detailed German, British, and US contingency plans for invasion were drawn up. The Irish army was on permanent alert.

In 1933 and '34 Ireland suddenly acquired a mass fascist movement. The Collins-O'Higgins-Cosgrave party won the civil war in 1922-23 and ruled until 1932. Then the losers in the civil war, led by De Valera, won the election and formed a government. There was an upsurge of Republicanism to the left of the De Valera movement and a sudden eruption of labour militancy too. Great things were expected. The new government cancelled money being paid to England and in response England slapped heavy tariffs on Irish agriculture. Alarmed, and harried by the now triumphant Republicans of all factions, the Cosgrave Party turned itself into a blue-shirted continental style fascist movement. Led by the former Chief of Police, Eoin O'Duffy, whom the new government had dismissed, the Blueshirts were backed by the rich, by the professional classes, and by many Blueshirt bishops, like Dr Fogarty of Killaloe. De Valera used the state against them, banning their uniforms, forbidding a projected "March on Dublin". There were mass labour and Republican mobilisations against them. The Blueshirts split in 1934. Thereafter the fascists were a small and declining force, and the majority became today's Fine Gael Party.

Eamonn De Valera's party, Fianna Fail, called itself "The Republican Party", yet a popular song of his supporters had the triumphant refrain: "And we'll crown De Valera King of Ireland". The gross cult of De Valera is illustrated by the picture above. His opponents' hatred of him was no less extreme.

Sean Lemass, 26 County Prime Minister from 1959 to 1968. In Mountjoy Gaol during the Civil War, the draper's son Sean read Peter Kropotkin, but he became the foremost government organiser of Irish small capitalism from 1932 onwards. In 1958 he began to scrap the failed attempt to build up Irish industry behind high tariff walls.

The Communist Party of Ireland

The raw materials that made the Communist Parties of Europe after 1919 were present in Ireland in considerable abundance. The new labour movement was militant and revolutionary. There was a widespread sympathy with socialist ideas in the years of the Revolution (1916-23). The tragic weakness of this movement was that in the south it was never clearly separated out from nationalism and Catholicism, and in the north the workers - the main section of the Irish proletariat - were aloof or hostile. When a Communist Party was set up in 1920 it was weak and immature. Jim Larkin led an organisation affiliated to the Communist International in the '20s, but it was a mere appendage to his trade union. It collapsed in the late '20s, when the Comintern turned ultra-left. The Communist Party began again - first as the Revolutionary Workers' Groups - in the early '30s, led by Sean Murray, Jim Larkin junior, and others. It was a thoroughly Stalinist organisation. Its concern with socialism was lip-service only: its central politics identified it with the Republican movement because its goal was "to complete the bourgeois revolution". Over time it came to define this in practice as ending partition. The Stalinists blended into the stream of left wing populist Republicanism, often as its right wing.
When in 1934 the leftist Republican Congress split off from the IRA, the
"Communists" - along with Republican leader O'Donnell, George Gilmore and Frank Ryan - formed its right wing, rejecting a Trotskyist influenced proposal that it should set as its goal "the Workers' Republic". Witch-hunted and persecuted - Catholic mobs burned its buildings in Dublin in the early '30s - the CPI remained weak. In 1941 it split itself into a Six County and 26 County organisation the better to support Britain in the war. It grew to a sizeable, quite right wing, force in Northern Ireland during the war.

The picture above shows part of a contingent of Protestant workers from the Shankill Road, Belfast, coming to honour Wolfe Tone at a Republican ceremony in Kildare in June 1934. Organised by the CP, and linked to the Republican Congress, these Protestant Republican workers were set upon by right wing Republicans (followers of Sean MacBride and Maurice Twomey) in Bodenstown church yard!

The decadence of the republican movement

The Republican movement came out of the civil war as the embodiment of Irish revolutionary politics.
The small Communist movement was politically its satellite. Yet it was a sterile movement. Its semi-religious and semi-anarchist rejection of parliament and glorification of
"armed struggle" made it doubly impotent in defeat. The consequence is that in 70 years there have been a long succession of groups that have hived off from "Republicanism" to "work the system": in 1926 Fianna Fail; in the '40s, Clan na Potlatch; in the '60s and '70s, the Workers Party/Democratic Left; in the '90s perhaps the Adams wing of Sinn Fein. The pure Republicans - reinforced in their beliefs by the fate of those who defected to corrupt bourgeois politics - remained intransigent, but no less sterile.
The Republican movement, focussed on
"the National Question" and at best only concerned with social questions and "the Workers' Republic" as a means to gather support for the national question and "armed struggle", has acted as a force against the emergence of real revolutionary - working-class - politics in Ireland for over seventy years. Gerry Adams has more in common with Richard Talbot, Duke of Tyrconnell, than he has with Wolfe Tone.
Its 'armed struggle' position isolates it in the south. Its armed struggle in the north is now reaching its inevitable denouement: utter failure and - so it seems at the time of writing, but nothing is certain - the imminent departure of Gerry Adams and his friends into mainstream politics in the track of De Valera, Sean MacBride and Tomas Macmillan.
Worse than this: the decision in 1970-71 to fight a military campaign in the north and the subordination of everything else to that campaign inevitably turned the IRA in the north into a Catholic sectarian force, despite its
"Republican" nominal ideas. Pretending that Northern Ireland is only "British occupied Ireland" and wilfully ignoring the fact that the real opposition to a united Ireland is one million Irish Protestants, they have in fact made war on Northern Irish Protestants. Isolated from support in the south - outside episodes after "Bloody Sunday" and during the 1981 hunger strikes - they have become simply the representatives of the narrow and sectional interests and outlook of the Six County Catholics.

Historical revisionism

In the 26 counties, for the four or five decades after independence, Irish history was taught in schools as the history of a people righteously struggling against oppression. The names and dates of the "risings" were learned as a litany of glorious deeds. Thus the Irish bourgeoisie in power purveyed the myths of its own origins in the language of a struggle it no longer had much in common with and often in the voices of dead men and women with whom the bourgeoisie in power had about as much in common as the rich priests, cardinals and bishops of the Christian churches have with the carpenter of Nazareth.
All that began to change in the '60s. The acid of historical revisionism began to be systematically sprayed over the nationalist icons.
On one level this was good. Real history is not a record of glorious deeds; the history of a people is not the history of heroes and martyrs. All advances in historical knowledge - how things really were and the reasons, or probably reasons, why - objectively increases our chances of controlling the reality produced by that history, our own.
But this revisionism, which was stimulated in the 1970s by events in Northern Ireland, has another goal. It conveys the message: have done with all that old
"idealism", "utopianism", "millenarianism", all that "delirium of the brave". Accept that the best option is a quiet bourgeois Ireland, where farmers get fat and workers are exploited and exported. The grossly misconceived militarism of the Provisional IRA, the mutant pseudo-Republicanism of the trapped Six Counties Catholic minority, isolated from Southern Catholics as from the Northern Protestants - that is where "idealism" lands you. Have no more to do with it! That Irish mood is paralleled and interlaced with by the international recoil from Stalinism and its thin, albeit hard-won wisdom: have done with socialist dreams.
These moods will pass. They will pass quicker if they are understood and fought against.
The goals of the mass Irish revolutionary movements of the last 200 years - ill-defined yearnings and millenarian hopes as they so often were - were rooted in the experience of a people confronting the brutalities of capitalism in naked and savage forms. They were the responses and goals - or, if you like, mere yearnings - of a people which had not quite forgotten its tribal past and which was not inured to capitalism. They pointed the way to a future better than the begotten Ireland we have, which is a mockery of all that has gone before. (The 'Benson' were the Catholic middle-men for the landlords in the 19th century). They point now to the need to learn from history, and from the revisionists too when they are honest historians and not the ideologists of the incumbent Irish bourgeoisie - and go on fighting for the old goals. Socialism, the workers' - and not the begotten - republic!
There is a parallel in Russian history. The Narrowband populists fought Tsarist with gun and bomb; they tried to organise
"the people" so as to avoid the horrors of capitalist development.
They aimed at a vague and ill-defined socialism. They were, inevitably, a failure. The good sense in what they said and wanted was wrapped up in nonsense. Capitalism developed and changed Russia despite their efforts. Layers of the intelligentsia who had been populists began to break with their past and make peace with
"the reality" of Russia's capitalist development.
They used, some of them, a mechanistic,
"economic" Marxism to justify themselves: capitalism was inevitable. The old ideals were redundant, romantic and more than a little foolish. They led, in extremis, to the sort of monstrous conspiratorial absurdities Dostoevsky depicted in The Devils.
The Russian Marxists too saw capitalist development as inevitable and progressive. They had insisted on this against the Adirondacks. But they did not abandon the goals of the Adirondacks, or their ideals. They redefined, purified and concretised them and pursued them in the new conditions.
Irish Marxists inherit the goals - ill-defined as they often were - for which generations of the Irish common people struggled. Fighting for the workers' republic, we continue the age-old fight of the despoiled, dispossessed, and exploited common people of Ireland.

A women's nightmare: the anti-divorce campaign. A referendum in June 1986 rejected, 935,842 to 538,729, proposals to make divorce legal in the 26 Counties.

Cutting the turf: Turf (peat) is Ireland's main natural fuel. In the 1930s the government organised it into a major industry until "Lord Na Mona" (The Turf Board). Irish workers forced to go from dole to Bord Na Mona in the 1930s, then offered better prospects by wartime work in England, sang a parody of an English servicemen's song about it: "Bless them all/ Bless them all/ The long and the short and the tall./ Bless De Valera and Sean McEntee/ Who gave us black bread and a half ounce of tea/ So we're saying goodbye to them all/ And back to the boys we won't crawl./ You'll get no promotion/ this side of the ocean/ So cheer up me boys/ Bless them all".

Despite enormous emigration, about 1000 a week all through the 1950s, from a 26 Counties population of only three million, there was always high unemployment, north and south. Above: an unemployed demonstration. In 1957, Jack Murphy was elected to Dail Eireann from Dublin as an "unemployed representative".

Sean MacBride's father was shot in the 1916 Rising. MacBride himself was in Mountjoy Gaol in December 1922 when the Republican leaders captured six months earlier were shot. He remained with the "physical force on principle" IRA until the late 1930s, a leader of its right and explicitly Catholic wing. By the early 1940s he had given up the gun and founded a constitutional Republican party, Clann na Poblachta, which presented itself as radical and modernising. In fact it was run by a hard core of ex-militarists. In 1948 Clann na Poblachta's ten TDs joined a coalition of Labour (then two small parties) and Fine Gael, the quasi-fascist party of the 1930s, MacBride was Foreign Minister when the Republic was declared in 1949.
An empty gesture, the declaration’s only significance was, by withdrawing the 26 Counties from the Commonwealth, to erect further barriers between the two states in Ireland. MacBride as party leader betrayed his party colleague Noel Browne when the bishops forbade the government to bring in a free rudimentary health service. He forced Browne out. As a result of this fiasco, Clann na Poblachta was almost wiped out in the elections that soon followed. MacBride later made a deserved name for himself as a tireless human rights lawyer.

Workers divided

The War of Independence in the south generated sectarian war in the north. 1919 saw a great engineering strike in Belfast, linked to a contemporary mass strike movement in Glasgow. Yet the fighting in the south triggered pogroms against Catholics in the north. Catholics were driven out of the shipyards and other areas of employment. So were "rotten prods" - liberals and socialists who opposed the Orange Order and supported Home Rule for all Ireland. Refugees fled south.
The Protestants acted like this - and it is as well to remember it and avoid Catholic nationalist demonisation of them - because they feared being forced into a Catholic-majority unitary Irish state and saw the Catholics as allies of a hostile power.
The northern Irish workers were the big majority of the Irish industrial working class.
That class was thus cripplingly divided. Lacking an independent working class outlook of its own, lacking politics that could allow it - north and south - to build and maintain class unity despite the Orange-Green antagonism, its different sections followed their own bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, and let them set the tone politically. Such things as the one-day general strike mounted by workers in the south in 1918 against British militarism evoked no class response in the north, because they appeared to be just blows in the nationalist cause.

Politics and Labour in the Six Counties

Like the Free State, Northern Ireland began life as a state with a civil war, though it was not called that. Fully a third of the population in the new state were hostile to it, especially in the Border areas, for the Border normally went not between Catholic-Nationalist and Protestant-Unionist Ireland but right through Catholic-Nationalist Ireland. They had to be beaten down and kept down. The Orange forces formed the back-bone of the new sub-state. The Royal Irish Constabulary Special Constables were in fact a legal Protestant-Unionist militia. Nationalist propaganda often demonises the Protestants. It is better to understand them. They had escaped the incorporation against their will into a Catholic-majority united Ireland which the pre-1914 British Liberal government had decreed for them only by open rebellion against that government. Their rebellion succeeded - in sharp contrast to the 1916 rising, which the Protestant rebels had indirectly primed - because of the support they had within the British ruling class. They now found themselves with their own Home Rule - but they still felt under threat from the South and its giant fifth column within the Protestant state. Fear generated repression of the Catholics, and then repression became the norm of life in the Six Counties. Since 1968, a quarter of a century of irrepressible Northern Irish Catholic revolt against the descendants of the Protestants who had sought "self-determination" in their Six Counties have bitterly illustrated the truth of Karl Marx's saying: "the people which oppresses another can never itself be free".
Getting rid of proportional representation, which allowed minority Unionists a chance to contest elections, the Unionist party in Northern Ireland formed itself into a powerful block of all classes, workers in town and country, manufacturing bourgeoisie, pseudo-aristocrats. Prime Minister Brookeborough said openly that Northern Ireland was
"a Protestant state for a Protestant people". More explicit religious sectarianism existed in the South, which openly let the Catholic Church's teaching determine its laws and government policies than in the North. The essential difference was a class difference.
Southern Protestants were typically middle and upper-class. They could be subjected to Catholic doctrine enshrined in the law, but they still had social weight and power and money.
In the North, Catholics were not subjected to Protestant doctrine enforced by laws.
Indeed, they benefitted in not having their own church doctrines imposed on them by law - on divorce and contraception, for example.
But Northern Catholics were the poorer farmers and lower layers of the working class, and the starving fringes of the working class.
They had no standing, no power and no money. They were kept down by a sectarian militia, discriminated against in jobs, deprived of social housing because householders had votes, and deprived in practice even of their votes.
Blatant boundary fiddling -
"gerrymandering" in Derry -for example, where there were two Catholics to one Protestant, produced for decades a Council on which there were two Protestants to one Catholic.
The boundaries were so drawn that the Catholics would win what they won with a vast surplus of votes, and Protestants would win double that with just enough votes in each of the divisions.
In Northern industry the workers remained strong, but - except during World War II - there was permanent mass unemployment. Discrimination against Catholics gave Protestant workers who had jobs real privileges. Trade unions, where Protestant and Catholics held common membership developed the practice of ignoring the fact that some of their members, and people of
"their sort", were a great deal less equal than others - and thus the labour movement was sapped of much of its strength, though, broadly, it remained a force for progress.
What the labour movement was not - and could not be in the circumstances - was a force able to resist pressure from either pole of the Catholic-Protestant divide. The
"constitutional question" could always be used, in its political or debased sectarian form, to disrupt working-class unity. Only a consistently democratic, commonly-agreed approach to the Catholic-Nationalist/Protestant-Unionist divide could have allowed the labour movement to fend off the sectarian and political bigots on both sides. As it was, whenever the question of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland was raised or plausibly invoked, the workers wound up accepting bourgeois and petty-bourgeois political answers - different answers according to background - and frequently they fought each other over it.
Looked at from the 1990s, even the limited unity of the old Northern Ireland labour movement - the trade unions that organised mass demonstrations against unemployment in the early '60s and the Northern Ireland Labour Party which was among the first to raise the demand central to the civil rights movement of the '60s,
"one man, one vote" - looks like a giant step in the right direction.
But that movement, by its lack of political answers and by its tacit acceptance of much of the sectarian discrimination, prepared the way for its own breakdown and for what we have now.

Is the Six Counties a democratically valid entity? Is a Protestant-Irish state possible?

Defenders of the status quo argue that the Six Counties is a democratically valid expression of a Protestant right to self-determination. That is precisely what it is not. If it were that, the history of the Six Counties for the last 25 years would have been impossible.
The fundamental flaw in that argument - as in the foundations of the
"Protestant state for a Protestant people", as one of its Prime Ministers called the Six Counties - is the sheer size of the Catholic minority, which is now 40%. They are the majority in about half the Six Counties land area. Whatever arguments can be offered for the Protestant areas of the Six Counties to have self-determination, those arguments could not justify the partition that was made in 1922. Doing partition in the way they did it rendered it untenable when the Catholic minority got round to resisting - as they did 25 years ago, after 50 years of second-class citizenship.
Implicitly Britain recognises this: for 22 years now the majority for whom the state was created have not been allowed to exercise their majority rights within the Six Counties.
The Six Counties is an unviable entity. Nevertheless, to go - as some on the left do - from this truth to the idea that no Protestant entity is possible, is to tell yourself lies. A smaller Protestant state is possible: that is what you would get as a result of the civil war that would be inevitable if the British troops left without a working political settlement.
For this reason people like De Valera, long-time nationalist leader in the South, ruled out force as a means of unifying Ireland - they knew that it could only, at its greatest power, result in shifting the border North and East, not in a united Ireland.

In the northern Six Counties, ruled from Belfast, there was a massive one-third Catholic minority. The majority in a large part of the territory, they had to be kept down. Armed Protestant Special Constables - the "B-Specials" - did the job. After fifty years of keeping the Catholics down, their brutalities sparked the fighting in 1969 that ultimately destroyed Protestant Home Rule.

Northern Irish Prime Minister Terence O'Neill meets Taoiseach Sean Lemass. It was as late as 1965 that Premiers of the two Irish states met officially for the first time. This was part of the growing together of the UK and Southern Ireland, whose common trade was burgeoning and who expected to be partners within the European Union. (By 1972, they were). The meeting alarmed Northern Protestants.

Harry Midgley was a leader of the Northern Ireland Labour Party in the 1930s. At a time when Catholic Ireland, roused by tales of burning Catholic churches and crucified nuns, was hot for General Franco, he was prominent among those in Ireland who backed the Spanish Republicans: many other Protestants did the same. Frustrated by perennial opposition, Midgley formed the Commonwealth Labour Party in 1942 and eventually joined the Unionist Party in 1947, becoming a Minister in the Stormont government. He epitomises the fate of would-be progressive Northern Ireland Protestant workers living amidst the "carnival of reaction" in post-partition Ireland.

The Bogside was a Catholic slum, since demolished, under the walls of Protestant Londonderry, like Indian tepees pitched outside a cavalry fort in an old Western. An attempt by sectarian policemen to invade the Bogside sparked widespread fighting in Derry and Belfast in August 1969. This sign was painted on the gable end of one of the houses at the Bogside's edge.

March 1988: a maverick Unionist throws grenades at mourners at a Republican funeral. Three people were killed.

Northern Ireland breaks down, 1968-72

Northern Ireland broke down for three interlinked reasons:
1. In the '60s Britain began to find its Northern Ireland backyard police state an expensive embarrassment.
Especially after Labour came to power in London in October 1964, pressure was brought to bear on the new(ish) Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O'Neill to reform Northern Ireland away from Orange sectarianism. This quickly destabilised Northern Ireland because
2. The Catholics began to agitate in an unprecedented way for
"civil rights", that is equality, what they then called "British standards". They saw themselves as part of a world-wide movement and identified particularly with the Black American civil rights movement. More and more they were not prepared to be ruled in the old way - and it was not now politically "acceptable" to London that they should be beaten down as in the past. The IRA was virtually non-existent as a military force, and could not be used as an excuse to quell the Catholic movement.
The attempt to use such methods - internment without trial, which had been frequently in use over the previous 50 years - against the Provisional IRA in August '71, five months after its military campaign got under way, simply made Northern Ireland ungovernable. And,
3. The Unionist block fell apart. From the late '20s this had been fervently desired by advocates of working-class unity, but it did not happen as they had hoped.
The Unionist leaders had no political skills after so long in uncontested power. They had only known how to raise sectarian Orange cries that would unite the Unionist block. Now, as a Unionist Prime Minister tried to move away from such politics, he found the old sectarian cries and alarms invoked against himself. Working-class Unionists especially feared for their jobs and status in face of Catholic demands for equality in jobs and housing. The civil rights movement way of raising it - one man [sic], one house; one man, one job; one man, one vote - seemed to imply a sharing out of what there was. The socialist approach of demanding house and job creation played no part in the civil rights agitation.
Large numbers of Protestant workers broke from the upper-class Unionists - but in the direction of Ian Paisley, militant-talking proponent of a populist Protestant sectarianism.
Large-scale sectarian fighting broke out in August 1969, and the British army moved to take control for London. Though Belfast's parliament still existed (to March 1972) senior civil servants were put in to
"shadow" Northern Ireland civil servants. The formal equality demanded by the Catholics was pushed through.
In fact, Northern Ireland remained a place of slums and unemployment for its Catholic youth. The Provisional IRA, newly formed by a split-off from the Republican movement, organised them, and changed the whole situation by launching a military campaign to
"drive the Brits out of British-occupied Ireland". They were a political sect of blind dogmatists, committed to the gun and bomb not as tactical weapons - if appropriate - but on principle; and opposed on principle to involvement in parliamentary politics.

The Northern Irish Civil Rights Association began in 1965, campaigning against anti-Catholic discrimination. Initially it had labour movement support and some Protestant support. It was also backed by the then semi-Stalinist Republican movement.

"Hey Ho, Glory O! I'm the Lord's disciple... Hand me down my Bible".
Ian Paisley and the unbending spirit of Irish Protestantism.

In the widespread fighting between Catholics and Protestants in Belfast in August 1969, many buildings were set on fire. Among the early popular activities of the British Army, which was put on the streets to stop the fighting, was putting out fires.

1972: mass Loyalist meeting. Marches and armed parades showed their determination to resist a united Ireland.

Working-class unity?

Any acceptable way forward in Ireland demands working-class unity. We do not have working-class unity except episodically in limited trade union action.
Northern Irish workers are divided about
"the Constitutional Question". A united Ireland? Union with Britain? An independent Northern Ireland?
The chronic antagonism between the big Catholic minority and the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland has prevented working class unity developing on class politics and repeatedly destroyed it where it has existed for limited trade-union-type goals. We believe that only on the basis of an agreed constitutional arrangement acceptable to most people in the Catholic and Protestant communities can real working-class unity across the divide be built. We advocate a united Ireland with Protestant area autonomy as such a basis.
Offering no such proposals, sections of the left - Socialist Worker, for example - alternate between cheering on the Provisionals and appealing for unity on the basis of bread-and-butter issues. Two examples of spectacular unity are frequently cited: 1907 and 1932 in Belfast.
Of course, working-class unity should be sought and fought for on every possible level, however small. But, as we'll see, both of these much-cited cases prove the opposite to what they are cited to prove: they prove that without an agreed solution to the
"constitutional" question, lasting unity of the working class is impossible.
In 1907 Jim Larkin united Protestant and Catholic workers for a while.
If the leaders of his trade union - the National Dock Labourers Union - had not sold out the strike Larkin was leading things would have gone better with working-class unity. But the brief unity in 1907 was followed immediately afterwards by brutal sectarian rioting.
In 1932, 'Outdoor Relief' for the unemployed was cut by the UK government, hitting Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants alike.
Both the Protestant Shankill and the Catholic Falls areas erected barricades. Influenced by the Communist Party of Ireland, militants from both areas changed places. The Catholics went to the Shankill barricades and the Protestants to those in the Falls, so that the regular police who knew them in their home ground would not be able to identify them.
Not long after this, too, there was sharp sectarian fighting.
It is no use saying that it was a matter of deliberate ruling class divide-and-rule and the fabrication of conflict. It was, to some extent. But it is not always - and it was not in 1969 and after. The point to grasp is that conflict is built into the situation, and without agreed political answers to the
"constitutional issue" there cannot be lasting unity. Without working-class political answers to the issues that put worker against worker, the unity that now exists on a trade union level can not develop into class unity for decisive political goals.

War in the North

The Provisional IRA war began early in 1971. It did not begin, as myth now has it, as a movement to defend the Catholics. Everything they did brought death and suffering on the Catholics as well as on others!

When the Catholics needed defence most, in August 1969, the IRA was paralysed. In 1962, they had ceased the desultory military "campaign" began in 1956 and gone "political".
Under the influence of Stalinists (Ray Johnstone) and a Stalinist-inclined leadership (Cathal Goulding, Tomas MacGiolla, Sean Garland) they moved from the old Republican basics of armed struggle on principle and a boycott of all parliaments in the two islands until there was a united Irish Parliament in the direction of mainstream politics. The Stalinoid IRA/Sinn Fein was discredited by its failure to defend the Catholics in the crisis of August 1969. The Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein split away in December 1969 and January 1970. Compared to the pseudo-left Stalinists, they had about them a certain old-fashioned primitive honesty. But it was a right-wing, traditionalist physical-force-on-principle and no-nonsense-about-parliament movement. Guided by their central belief in physical force on principle rather than any immediate defensive reaction they prepared for war against the British, subscribing to the grave delusion that it was a matter of getting the British out of
"British-occupied Ireland". They recruited youth stirred up by recent events and steeped in Republican myths and traditions, and in an astonishingly brief period of one year after their formation launched their war.
Internment for Catholics only, without charge or trial in August 1971 threw the mass of the Catholic population into their camp. In 1972 they won the dubious victory of direct London rule and abolition of the Belfast Parliament and they got Britain's Tory government to negotiate with them. They have won nothing notable since.

They started the war for reasons of blind traditional Republican dogma.
Two decades and more later they no longer subscribe to dogmas. They have shed the dogma against the Dublin parliament. They want to stop the war. In principle they have abandoned the axiom of physical force being the only permissible method. They want to go into mainstream politics. There they will be what all the earlier Republican
"physical force" politicians became when they turned to "real politics". Even if ceasefire proves impossible to get now, they are a political formation whose leaders have abandoned all the raison d'etre of what they have done for 23 years! The major achievement of their twenty year war is and even more immense division in the Irish people.

The Protestant General Strike, May 1974

In May 1974, the Protestant working class of Northern Ireland mounted one of the most successful general strikes in working-class history. They brought down - and it has not risen since - the Belfast Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government Britain had set up six months earlier to replace the Protestant majority-rule Belfast government.

The power-sharing executive had been set up according to the terms of the Sunningdale Agreement signed by Dublin, London and Belfast politicians late in 1973. Northern Ireland elections produced a minority of Protestant-Unionist politicians willing to form a government in tandem with the Social Democratic Labour Party, the middle-class constitutional nationalist organisation, led by Gerry Fitt and John Hume. Together, they had a majority against Ian Paisley and his friends in the Northern Ireland Assembly; they formed a power-sharing government against strong Protestant opposition. Once it had got properly going, the power-sharing executive with British money to dispense, might have slowly gained in Protestant acceptance.
But British politics cut across Irish developments, as so often in history. British Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath called a snap general election in February 1974, appealing to
"public opinion" against striking miners. 11 of the then 12 Northern Ireland Westminster seats [there are 17 today] were won by outright opponents of power-sharing.

The power-sharing executive still had a majority in the Northern Ireland assembly, but its authority was badly damaged. The strike finished it off.

The strike erupted against the setting up of the Council of Ireland agreed at Sunningdale, very loosely linking Belfast and Dublin. Such a Council of Ireland had been provided for in the 1921 Treaty but never came into existence.

There was some coercion at the beginning of the strike. But it quickly became a powerful and enthusiastic demonstration of the strength of the Northern Irish working class, albeit in a bad cause: the demand, for a return to majority - sectarian - Protestant rule over the Catholics.

After nine days, the Belfast government collapsed. Britain's plans to create power-sharing political institutions to run the Six Counties were in ruins. IRA bombs had brought down the old Stormont regime; an Orange general strike had stopped Britain replacing it with an executive in which Catholics had an institutionalised right to share power, and their aspirations for a united Ireland accommodated in a Dublin-Belfast Council of Ireland. It was stalemate. That stalemate has now lasted 20 years.

The long war

The Provisional IRA has fought a long war of 23 years. Its central achievement has been to make the division in Northern Ireland between Catholic and Protestant deeper and stronger. High walls now run between the Catholic areas of Belfast and Derry, true symbols of what the Provisional IRA has achieved. Given that the main opposition to a united Ireland was and is a compact block of one million Irish people in North-East Ulster, the war the Provos have waged could not have done other than increase the divisions. It was a war that could only be won if it conquered the Protestants or convinced London and Dublin to conquer and coerce the Protestants. The basic idea of Irish republicanism - to unite the people of Ireland - never meant that, and could not mean it. One million Protestants in a united Ireland, as alienated as the half a million Catholics in the Six Counties, would not by any measure be progress. Just as rebellion jumped from Protestant to Catholic Ireland between 1912 and 1916 it would almost certainly jump back again from the Catholics to the Protestants if they were a coerced minority in a unitary Irish state. Such a thing will not happen because there is no force that can make it happen: socialists and serious Irish republicans should not want it to happen.

If the long war is about to end, that is good. If it is accompanied by a political settlement acceptable to most people in the two communities, it will be progress. If not, it will be a lull, not the end of the war. Peace will make possible the beginning of working-class unity. But it will be a long time before the baneful effects of the Provisional IRA's war die down.

Sean MacStiofain (John Stephenson) was jailed as an IRA activist in the 1950s and was "Chief of Staff" of the Provisional IRA when they launched their war early in 1971. Son of an Irish mother and an English father, he was born and grew to manhood in England.

Right-wing Unionist leader William Craig with a crowd of 100,000 Protestants in Belfast in the run-up to the May 1974 general strike.

November 1985: Belfast Unionists denounce Margaret Thatcher as a "traitor" for signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

March 1991: the "Birmingham Six" rejoice outside the Old Bailey after being freed. They had been framed up and jailed after two Birmingham city centre pubs were bombed in November 1974, killing 14 people. After the Birmingham bombings, the then Labour government also rammed through (without a single vote against it in Parliament) the "Prevention of Terrorism Act", supposedly a temporary measure but since made permanent. Other Irish people have been wrongly jailed for IRA bombings - the "Guildford Four", the "Maguire Seven", Judith Ward - and thousands of people have been harassed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

What does Britain want?

Ireland has been many things to England and Britain over the centuries. The first colony. Land and people to rob and plunder. A strategically and militarily crucial area to guard Britain's sea lanes. An area that had to be held onto to prevent other powers using it against Britain.

What does Britain want in Ireland today? Though as late as World War II Britain had serious plans to invade the island to regain the sea ports that she gave up in 1938, strategically Ireland has no value to Britain now.

It would perhaps have been useful to NATO to have had bases in the South during the long stand-off with Russia: partition ruled that out.
Partition did not help imperialism on this count, it hindered. Sean MacBride, as foreign minister in 1949, when NATO started, offered bases in return for reunification, so his Cabinet and Party colleague Noel Browne says.

Economically, Northern Ireland is an immense waste of British resources, costing probably over ÂŁ2 billion a year.

Britain stays because states do not abdicate and abandon part of their own territory to anarchy and civil war. Britain stays because it has not yet been able, or dared, to promote a political solution that would allow it to go without terrible consequences. Britain has learned to live with the limited war of the last 20 years.

There was widespread belief in the late 1960s that Britain was preparing the way for Irish unity within the European Union. It was one of the things that stirred up Protestants. The Provisional IRA war has set back Irish unity, not brought it forward!

Troops Out?

Troops out is the fetish of a British left which seems to believe that Troops Out means a united Ireland.

This is gross delusion. Troops out without a prior political settlement would put it up to the Protestants to secure their own self-determination against the rest of the Irish, arms in hand. Open civil war would ensue in the Six Counties, and probably the South would be drawn in. In areas where the populations are interlaced, there would be Bosnia-style "ethnic cleansing". Belfast, which is 40% Catholic, would become what Beirut was in the '80s; so would Derry. At the end of all this you would still have two Irelands, with the border redrawn and a united Ireland much farther away than now. Even the Provisional IRA calls not for "Troops Out Now" but for a negotiated withdrawal. For many on the left in Britain it is not a matter at all of what happens in Ireland. They are concerned above all else with "militant" posturing in Britain - secure in the knowledge that the government will not comply with the Troops Out demand. Such nonsense rules the left out of serious discussion of the real issues.

Troops Out should be demanded as part of a political settlement - and the political settlement is the harder, and more important, thing to get.

Permanent Revolution

On the "Trotskyist" left it is an article of faith that Ireland is going through or can experience a "process" of "Permanent Revolution".

What is permanent revolution? In history the bourgeoisie have made revolutions - in Britain in the 17th century, and in France in the 18th century for example. They overthrew the monarch and established the rule of law; they destroyed feudal remnants, and opened the way to capitalist economic development and trade; they set up republics based on equal citizenship.

Tsarist Russia was an absolute monarchy needing such a revolution. But from the end of the last century Russia - unlike 17th century England and 18th century France - had a powerful militant class-conscious industrial working class, which wanted a socialist revolution.
Trotsky - and Lenin in 1917 - argued that the working class could and should make both sorts of revolution in quick continuous succession, taking power and allying with the peasantry to smash the absolute monarchy, but going on without interruption to carry through socialist measures against Russian capitalism. At the same time the workers in backward Russia, which was unripe for socialism, would form part of an international chain reaction involving the advanced countries of Europe, which were ripe. Thus, the
"Permanent Revolution".

The national Russian part of the perspective was brilliantly realised in 1917; the spread of the revolution failed and went down to defeat with the revolutionary socialist workers of Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary and elsewhere.

The notion that Permanent Revolution is a scenario for Ireland depends on the belief or the unanalysed assumption that "the bourgeois revolution" has not been "completed" in Ireland, and that Irish unification is the completion of the "bourgeois revolution". But that is scholasticism gone mad, or pedantry raised to the level of idiocy!

All of Ireland is bourgeois; the south has far fewer of the trappings of a pre-capitalist era than Britain has. The division of Ireland is fundamentally a division of the people of Ireland, neither a matter of pre-capitalist division nor even, fundamentally, of a foreign imposition on the people of Ireland.

Central to the development of Ireland into what it is now is the fact that "Northern Ireland" experienced its bourgeois revolution together with England and that the plunder and exploitation of the rest of Ireland in the course of this English bourgeois revolution held back the "bourgeois revolution" in the south for centuries, so that Michael Davitt could plausibly identify the fall of Irish landlordism with the "fall of feudalism in Ireland".

In practice, what talk of "Permanent Revolution" comes down to is a rationale for uncritically supporting the militarism of the Provos. It is a phenomenon of the decay of "Trotskyism" into the kitsch Trotskyism of populist fantasies.

It is not even true that the Provo war can be a war of national liberation. It is a war of a small and isolated section of the Irish people, the Northern Irish Catholics. About one third of them, or maybe 4% of the Irish people, support the Provisional IRA.

Two nations?

From way back in the centuries, the Protestant population of north-east Ulster had been called "Ulster Scots'' or subsumed into a general category, "the English in Ireland''. Are they a distinct nation? This question has bedevilled rational discussion for 25 years, since the breakdown of the Six-County state.

Oppressed nations need to assert their identity against force and pressures, and are normally loth to admit complicating factors such as other peoples, or elements of other peoples, within their own claimed territory. The "Ulster Scots'' were long used, and were eager to be used, as both instrument and argument against Home Rule for the Irish majority. They had very powerful patrons in the English ruling class.

In 1922 they were set up in their own sub-state, with not only brutal indifference to the feelings of the majority on the island - which, in the last extremity, the "Ulster Scots'' would have had a right to defy in pursuit of their own self-determination - but also calculated disregard for the rights of the Catholic minority in the Six Counties. That minority was a bigger proportion of the Six Counties' population than the Protestants of all Ireland would have been in a united Ireland.

On the left, since the end of the 1960s, the idea of recognising that the Protestants are a distinct people has been associated with the "Two Nations'' theory and the politics of a group of scholastic ex-Maoists, with more industry than brains, who switched overnight from calling the Six Counties a fascist state to defending it and the extant Unionist cause as expressions of the rights of the Northern Ireland Protestants. They reprised the Northern Ireland Communist Party's World-War-2 identification with Unionism, with a crassness all their own.

But there are worse "two-nations-ists''.
At the heart of much that the Provisional IRA and groups like the Irish National Liberation Army and the Irish People's Liberation Organisation have done to the Irish Protestant community is the idea that the Protestants are a bad, traitorous people, against whom anything can be done if they continue to reject the
"anti-imperialism'' and anti-Britishness of the Catholic nationalists. Implicitly this is recognition that the compact block of one million Protestants forms a distinct people - a "bad nation'', so to speak.

That is even worse than the crass Unionist apologetics of the one-time Maoists.

However you define them, it is impossible to deny that the Protestants of north-east Ulster are a distinct people. It is better for people in Catholic-nationalist Ireland to accept this fact, come to terms with it, and try constructively to build a new Ireland in the only way it can be built, with the material to hand.

The only possible united Ireland is a united Ireland that recognises autonomy for the Protestant-Unionist areas. In retrospect, it can be seen that this has been true for 150 years.

It seems that Gladstone talked privately about some sort of federal arrangement to accommodate the proclaimed identity of the Ulster Protestants, but it had no part in his Home Rule Bills. De Valera toyed with the idea, too late, in the early 1920s. The federalism advocated by the Provisional IRA between 1972 and 1981 was bizarre (four provincial parliaments, one for a nine-county Ulster), but it half-recognised the problem.

Fully to recognise it is the only way forward.

Capitalism in Ireland

Until this century Ireland was mostly a country of landlords and their tenants, small farmers living off a plot of potatoes and a few animals.

Ireland's first industry was handloom weaving. This developed in the Protestant north-east in the 18th century. Capital was provided by merchants; the work was done by small-farmer households in their homes.

Until around 1800 almost all exports went through Dublin, but after that an agricultural south and an industrial north, developed, linked separately to Britain through Dublin and through Belfast. Factories - cotton mills, then linen mills - and, later, engineering works and shipyards, developed in Belfast, while the south was turned over to sheep-walks and cattle pasture.

In 1911 Ulster had 48% of all Ireland's industrial workers. But over the last 30 or 40 years, Northern Ireland's traditional industries have declined, and new industries have grown up in the South. The South is now more industrialised than the North, though it is also much more rural.

British soldiers, firing rubber bullets, charge Catholics. Many children have been killed by these rubber or plastic bullets.

In the 1980s there were referenda in the south on divorce and abortion. Divorce was rejected and a ban on abortion put into the constitution by way of an amendment.

What is wrong with physical force republicanism?

By James Connolly

Ireland occupies a position among the nations of the earth unique in a great variety of its aspects, but in no one particular is this singularity more marked than 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 agree upon no single principle, except upon 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.

Other countries and other peoples have, from time to time, appealed to what the first French Revolutionists picturesquely described as the "sacred right of insurrection", but in so appealing they acted under the inspiration of, and combatted for, some great governing principle of political and social life upon which they, to a man, were in absolute agreement. The latter-day high falutin' "hillside" man, on the other hand, 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.

Socialists believe that the question of force is of very minor importance; the really important question is of the principles upon which is based the movement that may or may not need the use of force to realise its object.

Here, then, is the immense difference between the Socialist Republicans and our friends the physical force men. The latter, by stifling all discussions of principles, earn the passive and fleeting commendation of the unthinking multitude; the former, by insisting upon a thorough understanding of their basic principles, do not so readily attract the multitude, but do attract the hold the more thoughtful amongst them. It is the difference betwixt a mob in revolt and an army in preparation. The mob who would cheer a speaker referring to the hopes of a physical force movement would, in the very hour of apparent success, be utterly disorganised and divided by the passage through the British Legislature of any trumpery Home Rule Bill. The army of class-conscious workers organising under the banner of the Socialist Republican Party, strong in their knowledge of economic truth and firmly grounded in their revolutionary principles, would remain entirely unaffected by any such manoeuvre and, knowing that it would not change their position as a subject class, would still press forward, resolute and undivided, with their faces set towards their only hope of emancipation - the complete control by the working-class democracy of all the powers of National Government…

James Connolly published the article from which this extract is taken in The Workers' Republic of 22 July 1899.

A product of the vast Irish diaspora, James Connolly was born in Edinburgh in 1868, a child of Irish parents. Here he is pictured with his wife Lillie and their daughters Mona and Nora, in Edinburgh about 1893. Connolly then worked for the council cleansing department as a "nightsoil'' man.

The way to a workers' republic

Ireland's history is the history of a people seized, despoiled, exploited, robbed, murdered, and driven across the sea - century after century.
And, as Marx said, the past weighs like a nightmare on the present.

Ireland's peoples inherit the memory of their history as song and story, prejudice and hatred, folklore and cold fact, ingrained animosity and half-healed resentment. Our own memories and our lives are sewn into that collective history.

For some fifty years, from 1870 to the 1920s, different groups in the British and Irish ruling classes tried to calm the conflicts through reform from above. They botched it.

The Northern Ireland Six-Counties entity is such a failure on every count that it might have been deliberately designed to repeat Ireland's history on a smaller scale.

After 1922, the Protestants watched as their worst fears about Home Rule being Rome Rule were richly realised in the 26 Counties. The people of the South saw in the North primarily a British presence and British dupes. They saw Catholics kept down as Catholics, as for so many centuries all the Catholic Irish had been kept down.

The working class was divided, hegemonised on both sides of the border by bourgeois politicians, Green and Orange, and by priests and preachers.

Revolutionary politics remained the politics of Ireland's strange and archaic Republican movement.

In the late 1960s, after fifty years, the Northern Catholics rebelled, demanding equality. The Republicans were there - themselves impelled, the first Provos, not by reason or political calculation but by instinct as blind and unreasoning as that of the lemming - to lead events in the direction that would allow them to apply "physical force on principle''. The vicious, panicky, violent reaction of the Protestant Northern Ireland state to the Catholic civil rights agitation, and the botched and brutal intervention of Britain, helped to push many young Catholics behind the Provos.

What the Provisional IRA has been doing has no "anti-imperialist'' meaning. The policy of slaughtering Irish Protestant workers who do maintenance work on a RUC police barracks can make no Republican or socialist sense, and no sense in terms of the Provos' own objectives, unless they think the Irish Unionists do not matter because Britain (and maybe Dublin) can be pressed into coercing them.

Such Provo ideas as the idea that Northern Ireland was only "British-occupied Ireland'' were a sort of collective hysterical denial of Irish reality.

In truth what the Provos have been pushing for, in the real Ireland as distinct from the one enshrined in their myths, is open civil war - and that would lead to repartition, not to a united Ireland.

We believe that the way forward is to build a socialist movement and convert the existing labour movement to the goals and perspectives of the Workers' Republic. To do that, the socialists must provide answers to the questions dividing the working class. We believe that only some form of federal Ireland, with local autonomy for the Protestant-majority area, linked loosely to Britain and of course to Europe, can provide a political basis for building Irish working-class political unity across the divide.

In Northern Ireland, a great step forward now would be for the trade unions to organise a party of labour. Such a Labour Party, if it were not to shatter at the first test, as have Northern Ireland Labour Parties in the past, would need to have an adequate answer to the "constitutional'' questions that obsess Northern Ireland workers. In our view, the best answer is the "consistent democracy'' advocated by the Russian Bolsheviks in 1913:

"In so far as national peace is in any way possible in a capitalist society based on exploitation, profit-making and strife, it is attainable only under a consistently and thoroughly democratic republican system of government… the constitution of which contains a fundamental law that prohibits any privileges whatsoever to any one nation and any encroachment whatsoever upon the rights of a national minority. This particularly calls for wide regional autonomy and fully democratic local government, with the boundaries of the self-governing and autonomous regions determined by the local inhabitants themselves on the basis of their economic and social conditions, national make-up of the population, etc.''

Britain's labour movement should not trust its own governments one inch, where Ireland is concerned.

The British state and successive British governments bear the greatest share of the responsibility for what has happened and is happening to Ireland. Even in the most "conciliatory'' and "constructive'' of British politicians the wonted note of imperialist arrogance and contempt is never fully silent. It keeps breaking through.

One reason why the labour movement, and in the first place its left wing, has been ineffective against British ruling-class crimes in Ireland is that the left itself is in the grip of vicarious sub-Republican myth and fantasy. Education about Irish history and Irish realities is the best antidote to this self-induced paralysis.

We produce this pictorial Socialist Organiser special in order to help the British labour movement understand Ireland, and to persuade it to take Ireland's side against the British state.

The Alliance for Workers' Liberty will continue to help Irish socialists to build an organisation to fight for the Workers' Republic.

"Freedom's Martyrs: members of the Irish Women Workers' Union who suffered terms of imprisonment in the cause of Labour".

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