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Womens Coalition departs the stage – goodbye to the ‘radical’ face of imperialism.

14 April 2006

John McAnulty

The dissolution of the Women’s coalition following a birthday bash at Belfast’s city hall on Thursday 11th of May, 10 years after the organisation’s founding, should not pass unremarked.  The movement should not go into the dustbin of history without those socialists who are still able to fire a salvo of expletives after it.

Why such hostility?  In part it is because of socialist opposition to the single plank on which the coalition was founded – unswerving support for the Good Friday agreement and the willingness of its members to take any steps to ensure its success.  The coalition was a perfect example of how capitalism, with its control of all the major levers of power and information, can throw together political groups to advance its cause in an instant, and disband them just as easily.

The movement was a loose coalition thrown together with the help of the Communist Party to take advantage of an undemocratic ‘fast track’ mechanism that the British built into the pre-Stormont convention elections. This was meant to ensure the inclusion of Loyalist paramilitaries, and it succeeded, but a side effect was the appearance of the Coalition (and also a short-lived ‘Labour’ party, but that’s another story).

The main role of the 2 MLAs subsequently elected to the Stormont assembly was to popularise the British plan and encourage continued public support.  They also acted as background advisers, helping to establish a whole series of ‘equality’ mechanisms based on religious identity rather than human rights that had the effect of increasing the sectarian polarisation of society. They were a major force in the ‘Civic Forum’ – a way of sweeping trade union bureaucrats and community and academic figures into an active role in advancing British plans. Perhaps their most malign role was in aiding the Loyalist organisations that the British were ushering into the political arena.  They helped to popularise these gangsters as representatives of working class Protestants – a myth that the Loyalists themselves demolished time after time.  Coincidentally, David Irvine of the PUP, touted by members of the Womens coalition as a socialist, choose the day following the dissolution of the group to announce that he was signing up with the Ulster Unionist Party – and signing up with a capitalist party is actually the least of Irvine’s actions in opposition to working-class politics. 

Because of their role as a tool of imperialism, the group was relieved of many of the responsibilities of genuine political parties, such as having a programme.  Outside of the Good Friday Agreement they never developed policies in many areas.  On other crucial areas, such as the battle around the Orange siege of Drumcree, the members simply shrugged their shoulders and agreed to disagree.  Incredibly, despite their faint aura of feminism and radicalism, the group was never able to agree a programme of womens rights, shying away from the abortion issue.  Their feminism consisted of a belief that more women should be involved in politics.  If the women concerned refused to support the emancipation of humanity in general and endorsed sectarianism and bigotry, that was not an issue for the coalition.

All of the above is enough to justify the opposition of socialists to the Womens Coalition.  To understand the hostility and contempt the group engendered we must also take into account their role as a recycling point for the failed radicalism of former activists.  It was made up of exes – ex liberals, ex socialists, ex republicans and ex feminists. Petty-bourgeois ‘thinkers’, they decided that support for imperialism and unionism was a small price to pay to end the republican campaign. In the way of such things the former activists become the most corrupt opponents of the politics they once espoused.  The emptiness at the heart of the Womens Coalition is summed up by the lighthearted decision to disband.  Founder Jane Morrice proclaimed that ‘the political baton is there to be taken up by others’ – in other words they have so little faith in their non-existent political programme that they are prepared to discard it.  She went on to explain that former members were active in the Parades Commission, the Policing Board and the Human Rights Commission.

These people are shameless.  In any other organisation the admission that you were disbanding your movement because the leadership had been absorbed into highly paid jobs in the state apparatus would bring a blush of shame to the cheeks – not this crew!

It is however no coincidence that the movement is disbanding on the eve of a reconvened Stormont assembly.  The Womens Coalition was set up to support the Good Friday Agreement.  The new assembly stands outside that agreement.  The Coalition has gone and the mad illusion that British imperialism was going to bring peace and stability to Ireland is going too.  For those who bought into the illusion, including many on the left, this is a cause for depression.  However the Good Friday Agreement, like the Womens Coalition, was a delusion. If we face reality we can begin to turn our attention to the Irish working class and to real solidarity, such as that displayed by Catholic and Protestant youth in Ballymena following the sectarian killing of Catholic schoolboy Michael McIlveen.

What passes for a decayed intelligentsia in the North of Ireland have interpreted reality to suit their own class interest.  The illusions that they peddled are starting to fade.  The point, as Karl Marx said many years ago, is to change the future reality, and for that we should look to the working class.


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