1980s >> 1985 >> no-970-june-1985

To the workers of Northern Ireland

As the Ulster Defence Association urges you to civil war we urge you to think. For quite apart from the fact that the IRA and the UDA both display contempt for working-class lives and democratic consensus, there is a striking similarity in the basic political approach of each organisation.

Both base their political assumptions on a simplistic approach to such selected historical truths and half-truths as reflect their respective politico-religious tribalism — a tribalism originally fabricated to conceal the class interests of feudal landlords and. later, perform the same service for the divided, mutually-antagonistic interests of northern and southern Irish capitalism. This ignorance of the class forces that spawned the two factions leads to calls on the working class to slaughter each other for something which can never belong to them while capitalism is the accepted social system.

Thus, the April issue of Ulster, a UDA magazine, tells the so-called ‘“loyalist” workers that “the battle for Ulster is now on”. In an article predicting a civil war within the next decade and suggesting that we might as well get the killing, maiming and home burning going as soon as possible — we are told that “This conflict is not about religious differences nor is it a struggle for civil liberties; it is the age-old battle for the kingdom of Ulster, its lands and its peoples”. The passage goes on to tell us that the Gaelic Irish nationalists want to ” . . force their foreign society and culture upon us”.

This, then, is the premise on which the UDA bases its call for a civil war the identical premise, with reversed roles, on which the IRA maintains its anti-working-class campaign of violence. Let us look at this premise.

Who owns Ulster? Well, the UDA assure us that it is the Ulster people the people of the Shankill Road, of Glencairn, East Belfast. Ballymena and such other places where the UDA seek gun-fodder to fight their proposed civil war. Are these really the people who own Ulster? The slum dwellers, the Housing Executive tenants, the low-paid, the unemployed . . .  the motley assortment of oppressed and depressed workers? Were it not such absurdly dangerous nonsense it would be hilariously funny.

Ulster, like the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the so-called developed world, is part of a global capitalist society. Much of its resources are owned, legally and above board, by southern capitalists and northern capitalists have a substantial stake in commerce and industry south of the Border indeed. a great preponderance of the resources and wealth of both parts of Ireland are wholly owned, or economically dependent on. multinational capital.

This is the “foreign society” that dominates our lives now; that gives us our poverty, our slums, our unemployment and, ultimately, creates the material conditions that lead politically ignorant members of the working class to fight for the crumbs of an illusory better social existence. It is the same “foreign society” as would obtain in the unlikely event of an IRA victory despite the vapourings of Adams and his Sinn Fein playmates about what they call a “Socialist Republic”. The only difference might then be the tribal identity of those holding the illusions and the new capitalist Republic — like the existing one — would quickly disillusion them.

That leaves “culture” – again, much loved by both the IRA and the UDA. whose erudition frequently transcends their regard for human life. Does the UDA fear lest the dole forms are in Irish? Capitalism imposes its own universal “culture” on the working class; a sameness that emerges out of mean living and the competition for existence; a shoddy “Cola” culture whose economic realities transcend and obliterate local custom and tradition. Throughout the entire world of capitalism a universal “culture” is promoted by the mass media to serve the commercial interests of capitalism. “Cultural” standardisation is cost effective; the media rules and is in the ownership and control of the capitalist class. If the UDA — again, like the IRA. but for different reasons — think that the Irish language would be of consequence to the real rulers in a capitalist united Ireland, they are as sadly deluded as the Provos. A sop to Irish — or, more pertinently. to the idea of a united Ireland — might serve the southern politicians when they are extracting votes from among the welter of ignorance and prejudice they have built up. But the Irish language, Irish culture, and even Irish unity offer only political dividends, not a reasonable return on investment. As such these things have the same low priority with the Irish Government as the hopes and fears of “loyalist” workers have with the British Government or the capitalists who really own Ulster.

Are we suggesting, then, to those workers who currently associate with tribal Protestantism that they have nothing to fear from a united Ireland? That they should withdraw their opposition to Republicanism and concede to a united Ireland? Or, should we be saying to those workers who support tribal Catholic nationalism that their interest lie in compliance with a Northern Ireland regime?

We offer no such advice to either section; what we ask both factions to do is to look at the facts. Look at the abundant evidence, from Sinn Fein and Unionist sources, supporting our contention that the situation in Ireland today was born out of the economic needs of capitalism earlier in the present century. The “Covenant of Blood”, the Easter Rising, the Black-and-Tan war and the establishment of the Border were not events that were in any way related to the condition of life of the ordinary working people of this country, north or south. Catholic or Protestant.

None of these events occurred because you. a “Protestant” or “Catholic” worker, lived in poverty, or in a slum, or were unemployed or endured starvation wages. Nor did they happen to facilitate your notions of which historical fictions should be celebrated in season. Your welfare was not an issue, any more than was the system of social organisation that had a total bearing on your condition of life and that of your children. We workers. Catholics, Protestants and otherwise, were mere pawns in a game of power politics between contending sections of capitalism in Ireland.

The game itself was about the right of southern Irish capitalists to have political independence to legislate protectionist policies for their fledgling industries and the right of northern capitalists to retain their open access to the British market and sources of energy and raw materials. Our role was to provide both sides in this conflict between rival capitalists with muscle for the threat of violence, the horrible reality of violence; to provide the corpses and the jail fodder in a fight about our masters’ interests.

Our capitalist masters, north and south, are united now; they have no basis for a conflict of interest, for a political border or the disease of bigotry and prejudice which they so assiduously nurtured in us. Now they want “reconciliation”, co-operation and “bridge-building” while we carry the pain, the hurt, the ignorance and the prejudices inflicted by them. It is this ignorance, this bitterness. that both the UDA and the IRA would now exploit to pitch us into an utterly futile civil war.

Your birthright, like that of workers anywhere in capitalist society, from New York to Moscow, from London to Peking, is that of a wage slave. Our “right” is the right to try and sell our mental or physical ability to produce wealth to any employer who thinks he can get a return on investment. Our “right” is to accept the poverty of employment or the dire poverty of the dole. Our “right” is the freedom to do what we are told, whatever the colour of the rag that floats at the top of the political masthead.

There is an alternative to permanent want and insecurity. As capitalism is a world system, however, we cannot end it solely by our own efforts. Rather than butcher one another, we must band together with our fellow members of the working class in other countries to organise for a system in which the resources of the earth would be owned and democratically controlled by society as a whole and used to produce the things that all human beings need.

This is the only action we urge you to consider.

Richard Montague