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Party Debates on Ireland

On Bourgeois 'Peace Talks' and 'Nationalist' Bombs

At the first congress of our party the draft policy paper on Ireland received an important amendment. The call for ‘Troops out now!’ was added to the list of demands and signalled that the majority of members was committed to fight the enemy at home. In fact, any socialist organisation that does not call for the immediate withdrawal of the British army from Ireland is not worth anything.

However, there is an alarming element of illusion regarding the 'peace talks' in the party's perspectives. These talks were regarded as a genuine opportunity to achieve peace in Northern Ireland. While it is normal that a lot of people in Ireland and Britain would like to see an end to the war in Ireland, socialists cannot simply endorse a call for peace. We have to ask ourselves the question: ‘Peace on whose terms?’

The answers given so far by the leadership of the SLP have been far from satisfactory. The article by Pat Sikorski in Socialist News No. 2 (November 1996) was entitled ‘Ireland: Rebuild peace from the bottom up’. It stated correctly that the Docklands bombing, the Orange stand-off at Drumcree and the RUC riots in Derry meant the collapse of the peace process. It also pointed out that little change could be expected from a new Labour government. Strangely enough, the projected solution to the problem did not even mention united class struggle of the working-class. The ‘peaceful way forward’ was to be found in...renewed peace talks!

According to this reformist logic, peace could only come if the talks involved Sinn Fein: ‘If democratic organisations and communities in Britain fail to challenge the current veto on genuine debate towards lasting peace for Ireland, that failure will itself perpetuate the undemocratic exclusion policy, and the sort of events we have witnessed this year.’ (Ibid.) The task of socialists is to make clear that talks between Orange and Green bourgeois parties are not held to benefit the working-class in Ireland. They are simply a tool in order to establish capitalist peace in this region. The role of Sinn Fein, whether included in the peace talks or not, is to maximise the influence of Irish nationalism not socialism.

Do bombs have a socialist programme?

Other comrades in the SLP have put forward different perspectives. Comrade M published ‘A Critique of the Draft Youth Charter of Comrades Duke, Lenk and Parkin’ in Socialist Labour Action No. 2. In the section on Ireland he argues that to oppose forcible reunification amounts to ‘accepting the partition of Ireland’. Of course, this is not the case. What it means is that a forced reunification dictated by the Irish bourgeoisie would not benefit the working-class. Under the present circumstances, this development would meet with resistance from the Protestant community and would therefore prevent the ‘national unity’ that comrade M would like to see.

Consistent with his priority of ‘national unity', he envisages the means to achieve this as a two stage concept: First there is the military struggle of the IRA and then we have the democratic vote for a united Ireland. The fact that the military struggle of the IRA has failed aside, it seems odd that socialists ‘must unconditionally support the IRA’ in this. Must socialists support every action of the IRA, including indiscriminate acts of terror against civilians such as the Manchester bombing last year? The answer is no.

Socialists must defend the IRA against the British state and its appendix in Northern Ireland, however, this does not mean that we must endorse acts of violence against ordinary people. It is our task to win both Catholic and Protestant workers to the programme of socialist revolution. In order to do this we have to fight for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the British army, but we also have to critisize nationalist misleaders such as IRA/Sinn Fein. If we fail to do this workers will not break with nationalism. This nationalism is expressed in the call for national self-determination, but in the Irish context Catholic self-determination would be at the expense of the Protestant community.

If the struggle for equal rights of Catholic and Protestant workers plays an important part in a socialist campaign, as comrade M correctly says, we should uphold these equal rights at all levels and not just on issues such as jobs and housing. Equal rights mean that Protestants should not be forced into a Catholic-capitalist united Ireland against their wishes. Only a workers republic can guarantee equal rights on all levels. Socialists who support the demand for a united Ireland do not advance the struggle for socialism but provide a left cover for Irish nationalism.