Northern Ireland: Unite for Socialism!
Northern Ireland — with its street riots, its shootings, its bombings, its political prisoners — is but one of world capitalism’s trouble spots. What has been happening there is only exceptional compared with life in capitalist Britain. On a world scale it is normal. Somewhere, sometime innocent people are always being killed by the forces of Law and Order or by the terrorist activities of their self-appointed “liberators”. If it’s not Northern Ireland, it’s Cyprus. If it’s not Cyprus, it’s Algeria. If it’s not Algeria, it’s Palestine … or India or Vietnam or South Africa. The only difference is that Northern Ireland is a lot nearer home.
Violence is never far below the surface of capitalism, evcn in comparatively peaceful areas like Britain. The instutionalised violence of the State exists to protect the class monopoly of a minority over the means of wealth production and its agents have continually to contain the frustrations caused by the insecure and deprived existence of the working class under capitalism. But the scarcity the working class the world over have to endure is artificial. The world means of production are quite capable of producing an abundance of wealth from which everybody could freely take according to their needs. Capitalism holds back production because it operates, and has to operate, according to the rule “No profit, no production” and it restricts the consumption of the vast majority to what is needed to keep them efficient wealth — and profit — producers.
Those who accept capitalism, and choose to work within it, inevitably find themselves dividing the working class by arguing the merits of which worker, or group of workers, should get which scarce job or house or hospital bed or university place. In Northern Ireland the Catholic workers naturally say it is unfair that they don’t seem to get a proportionate share of these things as compared with their Protestant fellow workers. The Protestant workers, on the other hand, equally naturally, don’t feel inclined to give up whatever small advantage they believe they have just to conform to some abstract principle of equality. The reformist in practice accepts the restricted choice capitalism offers and tries to make the best of it, which isn’t much. Sometimes, it is true, he does see that the solution is not a fair distribution of jobs (and so of unemployment) or of new council houses (and so of old slums) and so does propose an increase in what there is to share amongst the workers. But here he fails to see the very real restrictions which capitalism places on doing this. Under capitalism production is for profit, not for the benefit of the working class. The fact, confirmed by years of sad experience, is that capitalism just cannot be reformed so as to work in the interests of the working class, the majority of society. It is futile to try to do so — and, in the context of Northern Ireland, worse than futile.
For given the tradition of sectarianism, any move to redistribute poverty in favour of the Catholic workers was bound to antagonise Protestant workers. This is why the Civil Rights movement must take joint responsibility with the Unionists for the current violence in Northern Ireland. For their reformist campaign helped to unleash passions that have put the clock back fifty years. The very nature of their campaign — a fairer deal for Catholics under capitalism — meant that they were seen to be, and in fact largely were, a Catholic sectarian movement. The fact that this, and the resulting violence, was clearly unintended is beside the point (though it does do them credit as compared with most Unionist politicians who used all their party’s years of experience of stirring up sectarianism to manoeuvre the Civil Rights movement into this position). They should have foreseen that this was likely to happen and that the killings, the maimings and the burnings of the past few years would have been too high a price to pay for the comparatively minor reforms they were demanding.
We are not saying workers should not protest against their sufferings under capitalism. Of course they should.But they should fight back on sound lines — for Socialism, not reforms of capitalism. A redistribution of poverty from Protestants to Catholics is no answer. What is called for is an end to the situation where workers, Protestant, Catholic or whatever, are in the degrading position of having to struggle amongst themselves for the basic necessities of life, especially when the amount of these necessities is artificially restricted by the same system that degrades and exploits them.
No Workers’ Republic
Socialism alone can end this, by making the means of production the common property of all mankind so that they can be used to provide abundance for all. The struggle for Socialism will unite rather than divide the working class because it does not set worker against worker over the few crumbs capitalism has to offer but is so clearly in the interests of them all.
We would be the first to admit that, unfortunately, “Socialism” in Northern Ireland has come to be associated with pro-Catholic politics, another pernicious side-effect of the reformism of those who call themselves socialists but who in practice seek only to reform capitalism. These people — the Bernadette Devlins, the Gerry Fitts — are not, and never were, Socialists. They stand, at most, for State-organised capitalism in Ireland. The “Workers’ Republic” many of them proclaim as their aim is an empty, and misleading, phrase. In Irish politics, whether intended or not (and in this case it generally is intended), the word republic labels its advocates as in favour of a united Irish State, in effect as supporters of that section of the Southern Irish capitalist class which wants to rule all Ireland not just the 26 counties they now do. The word workers does nothing to dispel this, but merely shows that those who use it don’t want to be identified as uncritical supporters of all-Ireland capitalism and wish it to be known that they favour reforms they believe will benefit the working class. Some go further and advocate full State ownership of land, industry and trade, but such a programme of state capitalism would not benefit workers in Ireland. If anything it would probably lead to even more restrictions on the limited political democracy and trade-union rights they now have. The state capitalist government in Ireland would still have to sell exports on the world market and would still have to drive the workers to produce as big a surplus as possible for re-investment. The workers would still have to resist and struggle to return for their own consumption as much as it could of the wealth it produced (and they would probably find the likes of the IRA, in view of their record of callous disregard of working-class life, harsh taskmasters).
National or Worldwide
The plain fact is that there is no national solution to the problems which face workers in Ireland, North and South. These problems are not essentially different from those of workers in all the other countries of the world. Workers everywhere live under the same system, world capitalism, which artificially divides the world into States and cultivates loyalty towards these States in the form of nationalism in order to further the interests of the various sections of the world capitalist class who rule them. The working class, too, is a worldwide class with a common world-wide interest: the overthrow of capitalist rule everywhere and the freeing of modern technology from the fetters of the profit motive by the establishment of Socialism.
Abundance for All
Socialism is necessarily a world system because the system it will replace, capitalism, already is. As far as the production of wealth is concerned there is already one world. The production of the world’s wealth, artificially limited as it is under capitalism, is one huge co-operative enterprise involving factories, farms shipyards, railways, warehouses, offices and workers of every kind in all parts of the world. What is not worldwide under capitalism is the ownership and control of this productive system, which is scattered amongst hundreds of competing States and big international companies. What Socialism will do is to bring this vast worldwide productive network under the control of mankind so that they can use it fcr their own benefit: first of all, to abolish poverty destitution, hunger, slums, ignorance and ill-health and second, to provide an abundance of wealth from which every single human being can freely take according to their needs without money or rationing of any kind. On this basis, boring work can be eliminated and free men and women come to enjoy the fruits of the centuries of forced labour of their fathers. The degrading struggle for the means of life, and the senseless hatreds it engendered, will become a thing of the past.
Struggles can be Ended
We insist that this is relevant in Northern Ireland today as it is everywhere else. Understandably, at the moment, ordinary people in Northern Ireland want peace, an end to the pointless shootings and bombings and the added insecurity they bring. We too want an immediate end to this senseless sacrifice of working-class life to no useful purpose (not even now the interests of their masters, as was once the case). But, over and above this, we want Socialism, a far more worthwhile objective than a mere return to “normal” capitalism with its boring jobs, its dole queues, its slums and its general poverty and exploitation minus only the extra violence.
We urge workers in Ireland to join with us, and their fellow workers in all other countries, in working to establish as quickly as possible Socialism, a world of peace and plenty.