a Workers Solidarity Movement position paper

The National Question

[NB: This paper is outdated and archived here for historical reasons only. The current position paper coving this area is The Partition of Ireland ]


1. The national question is important to us because:

a) we oppose the oppression which imperialism and northern loyalism brings on the Catholic population,

b) we recognise that this question splits the northern working class,

c) we recognise that this question can and has been used in the south to bind southern workers to their bosses.

2. The partition of Ireland in 1922 was carried out in the interests both of British imperialism which maintained military bases as a result and of the northern bosses as it provided a weapon to divide the working class. At the time the economic interests of northern and southern bosses were opposed. The north was well developed with export orientated industry (linen and shipbuilding) and needed access to English markets. The south was underdeveloped and for industry to develop southern capitalism would have to be protected from cheaper English imports, partition therefore favoured both sets of bosses.

3. The north was created in such a way to ensure a permanent unionist rule by tying Protestant workers to their bosses in return for marginal privileges in a 6 county rather than a 9 county "ulster". These privileges were maintained by northern bosses (e.g. Brookborough's famous statement about employing 'good Protestant lads') and meant Protestant workers can be mobilized against Catholic workers demanding a fair share under Northern capitalism or unity with the republic . Examples of this in action can be seen in the Loyalist and police attacks on the nationalist ghettos in 1969 in response to a peaceful civil rights movement demanding basic democratic rights, in the 1974 unionist strike against power sharing and in the mass demonstration of Protestants against the Anglo-Irish agreement. The end result of this is there is no way of fundamentally reforming the 6 counties, the state is sectarian by its very nature.

4. Economically the southern state is no longer a colony of Britain but rather the Irish bourgeoisie have become junior partners in capitalism under the control of British and American imperialism. The north is still a British colony but also becoming increasingly dominated by multi-nationals.

5. The majority of the British ruling class are not ideologically opposed to withdrawal and/or the creation of a united Ireland. however, they remain for a variety of reasons including the fear of a politically unstable island off the British coast, the weakening of the visible powers of the British state, and the absence of a strong & efficient local ruling class capable of either solving or containing the problems created by partition and sectarianism.

6. British troops were not sent into the North in 1969 in order to keep the peace but rather to provide a breathing space for the northern security forces and to stabilize in the interests of the British ruling class what could have became a revolutionary situation. This essentially is their role to-day, therefore we call for "Troops out now". In addition they were used also to break the back of any mass peaceful reform movement through actions like Bloody Sunday in 1972.

7. The RIR and the RUC are a sectarian security force created to protect Protestant privilege and we call for their immediate disbandment.

8. Loyalism is a reactionary ideology in all its forms including those that try to appear socialist. It serves only to maintain sectarianism and Protestant privilege and protect the interests of the British and northern ruling classes.

The Ulster Democratic Party sand the Progressive Unionist Party have emerged since the declaration o the loyalist paramilitaries' ceasefire at the end of 1994. While these two parties claim to be socialist and use a lot of working class rhetoric, it is important to remember where they have come from. They are the public faces of paramilitary organisations which have waged a blatantly sectarian war against the nationalist population of the six counties for the past two and a half decades. Unless and until they renounce these actions, they cannot be considered part of the socialist movement.

We do not, however, agree with the position that socialists should not enter into debate with members of these parties. It is only through such debate that the ludicrousness of their position of claiming to be socialist while at the same time pedging loyalty to a monarchy can be exposed. In order to win Protestant workers in the six counties to the fight for anarchism we must first convince them to break with the sectarian ideology of loyalism/unionism.

9. Republicanism is a petty-bourgeoisie ideology and not a socialist one. Even those brands which claim to be socialist preach a theory in which workers must submerge their own interests and fight alongside their Catholic bosses until a united Ireland is achieved. Nevertheless it has considerable working class support in the north, but because of its stages theory where labour must wait it has little attraction for Protestant workers and has no strategy for approaching Protestant workers.

10. The tactic of armed struggle, as carried out by the Republicans was never capable of achieving a solution as it was incapable of delivering a military victory over the British army. In addition the British ruling class cares little for the deaths of individual soldiers in its army. Furthermore a 'commercial bombing campaign' will always, whether deliberately or not, cause civilian casualties and heighten sectarian tensions.

11. The armed struggle was also faulted because it relied on the actions of a few, with the masses left in either a totally inactive role, or one limited to providing intelligence and shelter to the few. It is claimed that it did serve to maintain the gains made in the 60s and early 70s. The mass campaigns (civil disobedience, rent & rates strike, street committees, etc.) would have been a far greater protection for the gains won than the elitist militarism of a few.

12. The British state is responsible for the long history of armed conflict in the North. As long as the British remain in Ireland there is likely to be armed resistance, especially when there is no mass movement to demonstrate an alternative to militarism. Every generation has thrown up a new group of people willing to physically fight for "Irish freedom". Permanent peace can only come about after British withdrawal. When the 1994 ceasefire was declared we welcomed it because the ending of the armed struggle opens up real possibilities for revolutionary politics. We oppose the republican armed struggle because it is an impediment to working class unity. It is based on wrong politics, it is a wrong strategy and it uses wrong tactics. However we refuse to blame the republicans for the situation in the six counties. Their campaign is the result of a problem and must not be confused with its cause. We are clear that, in the final analysis, the fault lies with the continuing British occupation.

13. We did not see the IRA ceasefire as a sellout. Rather it is merely the natural progression of nationalist politics which was always going to lead to a compromise with imperialism.

14. The IRA is not responsible for the creation of or the continuation of sectarianism. Rather it was re-created in 1969 as a response to the sectarian attacks by the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries on what had been a peaceful civil rights movement.

15. We condemn all sectarian actions (i.e. those carried out because of religion) including any that may be carried out by republicans. We combat sectarianism not by appeals to the state forces for protection but by calling for workers to act through strikes, demonstrations etc against such outrages.

We condemn without reservation the 'punishment' beatings and shootings of people accused of 'anti-social behaviour' or drug dealing carried out by both republican and loyalist paramilitaries.  These actions are nothing more than a crude attempt by these groups to maintain control over what they view as 'their communities'.  They are authoritarian thuggery.  It is no justification for these groups to claim that there is a 'policing vacuum' or that the communities are pressurising them to act.  None of these groups have any mandate to enforce their 'rule of law'.  They certainly have no right to set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner.

We further condemn the harassment and intimidation which has been meted out to groups such as the Irish Republican writers Group.  The Republican Writers Group have helped to facilitate debate among republicans, without promoting a return to armed struggle.  We condemn outrightly the attempts made to silence them.  We wish to see an atmosphere free of intimidation which will allow for the free flow of political ideas. 

16. The Good Friday Agreement came about as the culmination of Sinn Féin's strategy for over a decade which was aimed at building various broad fronts around different issues in an attempt to gain respectability by pulling in Fianna Fáil members and church figures. This involved dropping all references to socialism to maintain unity with "the broad nationalist family". This strategy was never going to‚ deliver a united socialist Ireland, or any other significant improvements apart from those associated with "demilitarisation". It represents instead a hardening of traditional nationalism and the goal of achieving an alliance of all nationalists - Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, SDLP, the Catholic Church and "Irish America". Such an alliance has nothing to offer working class people, North or South, and we oppose it outright.

The Good Friday Agreement offered nothing except a sectarian division of the spoils and in fact copperfastened sectarian divisons. We called for an absention in the referedum on this deal, refusting to align ourselves with those calling for a 'no' vote, pointing out that they have no alternative to offer, just more of the same conflict that has ruined tens of thousands of working class lives. The republican forces of the 32 County Soverneignty Committee, the Real IRA, Republican Sinn Fein, Continuity IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army has nothing but increased communalism and sectarianism to offer. The loyalist opponents-whose rallies were attended by vocal supporters of the Loyalist Volunteer Force death squads -wanted a return to the time when Catholics lived on their knees in fear.

The Assembly set up under the 'Good Friday Agreement' demonstrates quite clearly the fact that the net effect of this agreement is to copperfasten sectarianism, with elected members having to declare themselves 'nationalist' or 'unionist' in order for their votes to count.  The political parties have shown that they are capable of plenty of agreement on economic issues - with no disagreement over budgets or spending plans, but issues such as what flowers should be put on display in the lobby or what flags should fly over Ministerial buildings are used to hype up the divisions between the two sides

17. The huge vote, North and South, in favour of the agreement -whatever else it might have indicated - showed quite clearly that the vast majority of people do not want a return to pre-ceasefire violence. Any return to armed struggle will deliver only more hardship and repression for working class people in the six countries.  We call on all those still involved in -or considering a return to -armed struggle to leave down their weapons. This includes the British Army, the RUC and the RIR, although we recognise that nothing short of a Social Revolution will bring this about.

We reiterate our view that permanent peace and an end to sectarianism will only come about after a British withdrawal and that working people from both communities must be convinced of the need to make the fight one for anarchism, not for 'national rights'.

18 . Where demonstrations/campaigns are organised around specific issues of repression, we will support them and take part as a separate group.

19. We should however take part in demonstrations organised by such fronts as a separate group and in cases where these fronts gain some real support enter them in order to put forward our perspective and demand working class interests and methods be made central to campaigns. This will force those elements hostile to working class interests to break away.

20. When the potential exists we should argue for northern workers to refuse to handle any work for the security forces. We are opposed to any military campaign aimed at workers who do handle security force work.

21. On occasions where the potential exists (e.g. the 1981 hunger strikes) we should argue for the creation of a mass movement playing an active role through demonstrations, strikes etc and against any attempt to turn such a movement into one of passive support either for the military campaign or for the electoral one.

22. As anarchists we work for unity both between Catholic and Protestant workers and between British and Irish workers. The potential for unity has been demonstrated on a number of occasions in the history of the north including the 1907 Dockers strike and the outdoor relief strike of 1932 when the Falls and Shankill rioted in support of each other. More recently the 1980's actions in defence of the N.H.S. and strikes against sectarian intimidation in D.S.S. offices. Smaller examples of such unity are constantly thrown up in workplace struggles in the north.

23. We recognise that although Protestant workers have marginal advantages over Catholic workers these are far outweighed by the disadvantages faced by the division of the working class which means northern workers, both Catholic and Protestant are worse off in terms of housing, unemployment and wages then any comparable sized area in England. These are the fruits of partition.

24. It is therefore in the interests of Protestant workers to break with their Protestant bosses and loyalism and fight alongside Catholic workers both in day to day industrial struggles and for a 32 county workers republic.

25. In the past the national question has been used before by northern bosses to split common struggles of Catholic and Protestant workers. It is therefore not possible to maintain the unity won in economic struggle without breaking the Protestant workers commitment to loyalism and committing them to the fight for a united anarchist Ireland.

26. Our strategy should be geared toward involving ourselves in the struggles of Northern workers and in the course of these struggles breaking the loyalties tying the workers to the bosses of either religion and so enlisting them in the fight for a united anarchist Ireland.

27. In order for this approach to succeed we must never hide our opposition to repression and our anti-imperialism, we must attempt to link these with the on-going struggle.

28. The struggle to achieve workers unity in the North can not be separated from the struggle to build an anarchist workers movement in the south. Such a movement in the south attacking both capitalism and the dominance of religious law will be a great spur to winning over Protestant workers in the North. The Catholic Church‚s position of power in the South has been severely weakened over the last decade.  However it still maintains a dominant role in crucial areas such as education and health.  The complete smashing of this dominance will help in the building of common links between northern and southern workers.‚

29. We should aid British anarchist groups in developing a clear perspective on the national question committed to breaking British workers from any support for a continued British presence in Ireland.

Ammended August 2001

[NB: This paper is outdated and archived here for historical reasons only. The current position paper coving this area is The Partition of Ireland ]

This paper is out of date - see the new WSM site for the more recent version