Letter: Trying to win Unionists is futile

Submitted by AWL on 3 April, 2019 - 11:36 Author: Rayner Lysaght

I have been reading the record of my last October pre-debate discussion with Sean Matgamna. Your record tallies with my memory of it. However, I would like to clarify some points, especially as our second debate has had to be cancelled.

As can be seen from the dates, this document reports two discussions made before the original debate on “Socialism, Ireland, Permanent Revolution and the Provo Campaign”. The cancelled debate was to be a second round of the actual polemic. Inevitably, mistakes were made. Having been interviewed over the telephone, I should have mentioned that the great mistake of Official Sinn Fein and the Communist Party of Ireland after Bloody Sunday was less abandoning the armed struggle than that of abandoning the mass struggle, although for the same reason, that of trying quixotically to win the mass of Unionist workers.

For the record, Matgamna’s main errors are all too akin to those of the Stalinites. He accuses the left of being “destructively ultra-left” between ‘68 and ‘70. In fact they tried to avoid the national question and concentrate on precisely the economist programme of jobs and housing on which he says it should have concentrated. More basically, there is his misunderstanding of the nature of Unionism.

Despite its name it is not just an expression of a national culture distinct from that of the Irish majority. “Britishness” is an expression not of nationhood but of imperialism in the traditional sense, of a joint stock company of two nations exploiting others. The Ulster Unionists are not just people who live together in one place a la James Joyce. They are in the same place to hold at least their part of Ireland for Britain inc. against the will of the Irish majority. This has hampered them from either leading that majority into merging with that of the neighbouring island or, save for a relatively brief period at the end of the eighteenth century, trying to lead it to make a clean break.

Loyalist culture is less British than it is anti-Irish. How it is to be described, save as an ascendancy is uncertain. The nearest definition would seem to be “Cossack”. None of this means that the Unionists are necessarily irredeemable, or that they are to be driven out of shelving space. It does mean that any immediate attempt to win them to establish any type of workers’ republic is likely to be futile. British imperialism sees Ireland as a single unit that it has divided for tactical reasons. Socialists should wage their struggle with the same analysis.

Rayner Lysaght, Dublin

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