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Correspondence: A reader’s view of a Socialist Democracy meeting in Birmingham 

17 July 2007

Bennetts Bar Birmingham

Dear SD

Thirty six people packed the room at Bennetts in the largest of the local Resistance series (so far) to hear John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy Ireland - section of USFI  - explain the situation under the British occupation there, and what socialists in Britain should be doing.

I attended the meeting in Birmingham and would like to share my impressions with you:

What has happened under the terms of the “peace process” is the total defeat of Republicanism - from armed opponents of British colonial rule in Ireland and the sectarian state in the Six Counties, Sinn Fein are now a central part of the administration of that state and the replication of the sectarianism that the occupation rests on. 

Supporters of SF may point to the fact that SF are ‘in power’ in the Northern Ireland Assembly (Stormont) as evidence of ‘gains’, but even apart from the fact that Stormont is little more than a ‘shield’ for the British occupation, which the British government control from Whitehall, the ‘gains’ for SF as the majority ‘nationalist’ party in the Six Counties (having replaced the SDLP) and for the population on which they rest are ‘Catholic’ rights which are representative of the defeat of the struggle of the past 30 years in that these “rights” are not the universal civil rights originally demanded and divide society into sectarian camps.

John mentioned the link between the collapse of the USSR/transitional states and the collapse of national liberation movements around the world - as well as in Ireland. In my view this has been most clearly seen in South Africa with the ANC as a pro-capitalist government and in Palestine with PLO collaboration with Israel.  Principled socialists have throughout the past 30 years and longer recognised the nature of these nationalist movements as “petit-bourgeois nationalist”, meaning that their methods of struggle have not been those of the working class and that they ’vacillate’ between the workers and the bourgeoisie.  In Ireland, the defeat of the Hunger Strikes in the early 1980’s and the international offensive of capitalism (led by “Reaganism” and  “Thatcherism”), combined with the total crisis of the Soviet Union and the impossibility of victory for the armed struggle pushed the SF leadership into the diametrically opposite but equally flawed strategy of electoralism.

This has led directly to the situation we have today, with SF ministers implementing neo-liberal attacks on the working class from their positions of power in the Stormont Assembly.

It was said during this meeting that Stormont must be opposed because of its undemocratic nature - but of course it is undemocratic:  it is a colonial parliament whose role is to bolster the occupation and sectarianism.  A comrade from the USFI united secretariat of the Fourth International (the hosts of the meeting) tried to explain what demands should be put on SF members of Stormont (eg, that they should make a stand against privatisations and other neo-liberal measures), but this shows the lack of understanding of this organisation in relation to participation in bourgeois governments, and this “government” in particular.  A response to this (from me) was that the role of revolutionary socialists is not to advise petit-bourgeois nationalists in government attacking working class rights and living standards but (in Ireland) is to expose and denounce the Stormont Assembly for what it is and attempting to build up an independent working class organisation.

The nature of the Northern statelet can also be seen by the subsidy from Whitehall that sustains it:- £5bil per year.  Sixty per cent of workers are employed by public services of some sort.

The secretary of the (UK based) Troops Out Movement criticised the ”Left”, saying that if they were serious about the demand for “self-determination for the Irish people as a whole” [one of the 2
central demands of the TOM ] they would be  supportive of the decisions of “the Irish people” in voting massively in  favour of the Good Friday Agreement (in the North) and for the removal of  Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of the Republic. 
This was answered by John explaining that we are Marxists who respect the views of the majority but are not bound to agree with them.  The sectarian nature of these “ballots”, and the similarities with the situation in Ireland at the time of Michael Collins with the threats of the British if partition was not accepted were barely touched upon. 

One issue was how the trajectory of SF has made it difficult for socialists or even progressives to work with them around issues of democracy and repression such as the murder of lawyer Pat Finucane. Because  SF are sitting on top of the very structures of collusion that led directly to Finucane’s murder and it’s cover up, they are not  prepared to possibly endanger their own positions. They bluster a lot, but remain in a settlement that depends on burying the past.

John said that the Left in Britain must think again. They must oppose the “peace process”, exposing it’s reality; oppose the social partnership in the Republic, which ties workers’ organisations to the implementation of neo-liberal reforms, and the Left has to theorise the Irish Question. This latter, I think, means the drawing of some kind of balance sheet of the struggle in Ireland and the role played by Leftists here.  Perhaps we could get some clarification on this matter in later discussions.

This report is not complete - it was a very full meeting which soon ran out of time, and some of the report is my own view of things which perhaps didn’t receive the treatment merited.

I intend to visit Ireland and investigate the situation further, and I will write then.


Simon R


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