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Some time ago Kieran Allen wrote a very dishonest book: 32 Counties: The Failure of Partition and the Case for a United Ireland in which he hinted thar our organisation had held a "colon" theory that would have amounted to a demand for the expulsion of Protestant workers from Ireland. This slander was repeated by Micheál MacEoin in a book review in the BritIsh group Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL). We publish the full correspondence below in the hope that it might clarify the different positions on the left. (ed)

Two Nations once again?

18 April 2024

Recently I complained about a review of Kieran Allen’s book in Workers Liberty, written by Micheál MacEoin: 32 Counties: The Failure of Partition and the Case for a United Ireland

I accepted that the review itself was of value in raising a number of important issues and restricted my complaint to a slanderous obfuscation by the book's author, accepted by the reviewer, that claimed that my organisation, Peoples Democracy, had advocated a theory of Unionist workers as Colons.  Micheál grudgingly accepts my point, but goes on to make the case again. Did not Michael Farrell, in a pamphlet, The Battle for Algeria, sail close to the wind, he asks?

Mind you, Farrell says explicitly that Unionist Workers are not colons, but doesn't saying that they have no class consciousness and support fascist groups amount to the same thing is the AWL argument.  In relation to the pamphlet, context is everything. The inspiration was not the Algerian struggle in general but the 1966 film "The battle for Algiers".  This classic film covered all the issues thar arise in colonial war: the savagery of the imperialists, the courage of the militants, atrocities by the resistance.  Above all it catalogues the defeat of the military approach only for the struggle to emerge again as a mass mobilisation of the workers.

I feel no need to defend the formulations made by Michael Farrell 50 years ago. He is as far away from us in one direction as Ronnie Munck on the other. I would point out that People's Democracy was founded on a joint revolt of Unionist and Nationalist youth. And that our policy statement at that time was;

"Free Citizen Vol. 2 no. 34 front page 29th of May 1971

Terrorism!!! Not the answer

But while we can sympathise with the motives of those who would launch such a campaign against the army we have nothing but contempt for those would try to build a Republic on the bodies of dead or maimed Protestant Irishmen.  Such ‘Republicanism’ would have disgraced the movement of Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken, Jeremy Hope, George Plant. They would too be the greatest enemies of the cause they claim to support.  For the only Republic that can be established today is the Workers’ Republic – and it can only be built with the aid of those very Protestant workers whom these men seek to murder"

There are far more recent disputes with the left that could be referenced by Micheál; the almost universal welcome by the left of the Ulster Workers Council strike as a progressive mobilisation of the workers and, more recently, the acceptance of the Progressive Unionist Party as the socialist voice of Unionist workers despite its reactionary politics and its role as a mouthpiece for the UVF.

The current dispute is around the Good Friday Agreement. The People Before Profit alliance argue that Stormont can be modified to lead to a socialist majority. We see the agreement as cementing partition, reinforcing British rule and as building sectarianism into every crevice of society.

Micheál gives the game away when he says:

"Nowhere does the pamphlet register that “the Protestants of N Ireland” were then the two-thirds local majority, "

No, we didn't register that, then or now. The two-thirds local majority was constructed by the Unionists and the British by carefully going through parish registers to create that majority and later through savage repression of the nationalist minority and of "rotten Prods" who opposed Orangism.  Its purpose was to prevent an Irish democracy and unity of the working class and it has succeeded in that.

One last point.  Why troll through 50 years of documents to score points? Why not just ask us? We would rather have a direct debate that might bring political clarity than a dusty exchange of old quotations.

Our original complaint follows with a link to AWL’s response.

Your review of Irish political theory is spoilt by “alternative facts.” Some time ago you reviewed Kieran Allen’s book, 32 Counties: The Failure of Partition and the Case for a United Ireland. The review (Solidarity 624) has just come to my attention.

The piece, by Micheál MacEoin, suffers from a fatal flaw. Early in its introduction the reviewer replaces opinion with manufactured fact, fatally weakening the overall weight of what was otherwise a reasonable effort at polemic.


The section in question says: “Its chapter on the Protestant working class is of particular interest. It refutes the notion, expressed by Michael Farrell and others in People’s Democracy in the mid-1970s, that Ulster Protestants are equivalent to colons in Algeria, and can never be won to socialist ideas”.

There are no references to People’s Democracy in the Allen book. There is a reference to Michael Farrell, but he is charged with saying that sections of working-class Protestants constituted a labour aristocracy, a socialist concept advanced by Lenin and applied in many different struggles. The colon idea was advanced by Ronnie Munck, who was not associated with People’s Democracy.

At no time did PD assert this theory. It was founded with a high proportion of Protestant members and the membership of its daughter organisation, Socialist Democracy, continues to reflect different confessional backgrounds. No one really familiar with socialist history in Ireland could have put forward this smear.

It is true that Kieran Allen has constructed a nasty little confabulation, eliding the idea of colons with the idea of a labour aristocracy in a way that suggests an identity without actually saying so. That’s no excuse for Micheál MacEoin. As the Irish-American senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan remarked: ‘You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts”.

I look forward to a retraction from Micheál MacEoin and a correction from Workers’ Liberty.

John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy, formerly People’s Democracy).

Link to AWL’s reply

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