1980s >> 1988 >> no-1003-march-1988

Hate and its Causes

One of the difficulties facing terrorist organisations is the fact that they leave their dead and their maimed on the spot to repel their supporters and anger and increase the resolve of those who oppose them.

 

That is one essential difference between the act of dropping bombs from aeroplanes onto “enemy” cities and planting duffle bags stuffed with lethal manure. When aircraft crews dropped their bombs over Germany or Britain, during the last war, despite the fact that they were doing exactly the same thing — in a much bigger way, of course — as the IRA are currently doing, and for the same imagined reason, it was easy for the people at home to laud them as heroes. Not only had the population at home been hyped up with hate propaganda based frequently on lies that government would not have to admit to until thirty or fifty years had passed, but the corpses, the maimed bodies and the wrecked homes that the local population witnessed were the work of “the enemy” and, as such, reason enough for “our boys” to retaliate.

 

Neither we, nor the Germans, were exposed to the handiwork of our respective “heroes”. The sight of innocent people slaughtered needlessly, the vision of dead children and maimed people condemned to live would not have been in keeping with the view that the war was between good and evil.

 

IRA bombers have no such protection from the consequences of their bloody deeds. Incidents like Enniskillen leave them openly exposed as brutal killers. The barbaric incident at Enniskillen not only brought horror and sadness to the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, it brought remorse and genuine grief to the great majority of the nationalists and it had an undoubted effect on the level of support amongst the latter for the IRA. But it brought more — the most cynical exploitation of the dead and the injured who became a mere propaganda ploy in the hands of the government and the leadership of the Ulster Unionists.

 

With the active assistance of the media, the idea was promoted that Enniskillen was the definitive horror, a new dimension in the magnitude of terror. As a matter of bloody record, of course, there was less than half the number of casualties at Enniskillen than there was on the occasion when the UDA bombed Dublin and Monaghan and less than on the occasion, in Derry, when an obviously calculated political decision was taken by the British government to stop embarrassing protests once and for all by allowing paratroopers to open fire on innocent protest marchers.

 

The utter hypocrisy of politicians, like Paisley and Molyneaux, was revealed a few weeks after Enniskillen when they publicly mourned the death of an assassinated leader of the UDA — the IRA’s opposite number in terror and the perpetrators of murder by both the bullet and the bomb.

 

Every week, since Enniskillen, brings its quota of victims of murder or maiming from one “side” or the other. But without exception, all the victims are from the ranks of the working class. The politicians may breathe fire from their protected homes and their armoured cars but all the active participants in this remorseless war of attrition are people whose life is governed by the need for a job or by the meagre limits of state hand-outs. All are members of the working class.

 

Shorn of the callous hypocrisy, the tribal slogans and the insidious righteousness of the politicians, this surely is the central point. If the conflict, that draws on the loyalty and sacrifice of its working class participants and is fuelled by the murder and maiming of people who share a common class identity, serves any purpose, that purpose must be the belief that victory will bring some benefits, at least to those in whose name the victors claim to act.

 

Members of our class are dying; members of our class are being maimed; members of our class are being sentenced to long periods of imprisonment; members of our class are becoming increasingly imbued with bitterness and hatred of other members of our class.

 

Like the people who cheered on “our boys” during the war. without being exposed to their handiwork, so there are those in Britain and elsewhere, who have never heard a bomb go off, never seen a bullet-riddled corpse and never seen the smashed knees or the hooded body of a kid sentenced by a terrorist court for “anti-social” behaviour. It is easy for such people to have notions about a revolution in Ireland and to fit such notions into their crazed jig-saw of revolutionary romantics. Such nonsense might prove ego fodder for the left-wing heroes of the public bar. But, surely, it behoves workers here, in Northern Ireland, and especially those workers who give active or passive support to the political violence of any “side”, to examine the options and. especially, to look at how victory for one side or the other will affect their way of life.

 

The nationalists have their dreams. The Provisional IRA leadership may try to translate those dreams into the politics and economics of a modern welfare-capitalist republic but their followers, and most of their active cadres, know even less about the economics of capitalism than their leaders. To the followers, the Republic is a Brit-free fairyland where the unionists, if they stay, are for evermore silent.

 

Poverty, jobs, economic crisis, homes, crime, all the social problems that are present in every state of capitalism, including so-called “socialist” republics, are not on the agenda. In the cultural euphoria of a victorious tomorrow, there will be solutions; Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison will come up with answers that no politician, alive or dead, has so far come up with to solve these problems.

 

The hated RUC will be gone. If the new police are modelled on the current IRA custodians of law and order, hooded corpses and youthful cripples will be commonplace. But that won’t happen. The new force that would succeed the RUC would have different uniforms and different personnel, but their work and their methods would be exactly the same: ensuring that the laws on which capitalism’s property rights are founded were rigidly enforced on the working class.

 

Sinn Fein’s social and economic policy consists of a number of statements airing Sinn Fein aspirations for the future. Fortunately for Sinn Fein and the IRA. their supporters and most of their activists accept the bait of sectarian and racist propaganda and are not too concerned about the social realities of life in a future Sinn Fein Ireland. According to Sinn Fein, those social realities would be based on “a social and economic system which would strike a balance between Western individualistic capitalism with its poor and hungry amidst plenty on the right, and Eastern Soviet state capitalism (or any of its variations) with its denial of freedom and human rights on the left”! (Eire Nua p4)

 

So Sinn Fein policy for the future of its supporters and the people of Ireland is a synthesis of “free” capitalism (which Sinn Fein, rightly, claim allows poverty amidst plenty) and Russian-style, state-capitalist tyranny. It is for this, an even more brutal and even less democratic form of capitalism than we endure now. that men, women and children have had to die; for this that men and women are imprisoned; for this that Enniskillen happened!

 

If the loyalists, like the republicans, have their dreams then either their hopes for tomorrow are dismally limited or their memory of yesterday seriously flawed! Unlike the republicans, who think they can go forward to an Alice-in-Wonderland future where economic realities will be blotted out by ubiquitous tricolours and street names in Irish, the dream of those who lead the loyalists is to go back!

 

The ambition of both the Unionist Party and the megalomaniacal Paisley is to see Northern Ireland return to the method of government that existed before the troubles. Doubtless Molyneaux and Paisley each see themselves as Prime Minister and each is prepared to make certain concessions to the nationalists in order to achieve their political ambitions.

 

Amazingly, despite the fact that it is less than twenty years ago since the Unionists did rule at Stormont, they have managed to create the myth among many working-class Protestants that those were the good old days. Were they? What exactly was Northern Ireland like during the period when it was ruled by the Unionist Party?

 

Perhaps the most attractive memory for those hardened into sectarian prejudice by the troubles is the naked bigotry of successive Unionist governments. The brutal, repressive laws may not have affected those who supported the Orange state; they may have been as oblivious of the evils of sectarianism and repression as the law-abiding South African white is of the evils of apartheid. But, even the most case-hardened bigot must now realise that it was fifty years of sectarian posturing, of discrimination and vote rigging, that prepared the ground for the savagery of the Provisional IRA.

 

Nor were the working-class Protestants of Northern Ireland the beneficiaries of the vicious sectarianism promoted by Unionist politicians. Certainly, some puny peripheral rewards were handed out to working-class supporters of the government in order to feed the illusion that they were looking after those workers who were Protestants.

 

The facts were different. Unionist Ulster had a poorer standard of living than that endured by workers in the rest of the UK Unemployment was higher, the anti-trade union Trades Disputes Act was retained long after it was scrapped in Britain, slums were the worst in western Europe and the Unionist Party showed its distaste for social welfare legislation when its Westminster representatives opposed the extension of British welfare schemes to Northern Ireland.

 

The staunchest Unionist working-class supporters have only to look at the wee streets of the Shankill and Newtownards Road, at the rural slums of south Antrim and north Armagh to realise the contempt and neglect that they received from the successive Unionist governments for their loyalty and support. Slums, unemployment, and general poverty may have been marginally worse in Catholic working-class areas but these miseries were general and any working-class Protestant who thinks the Unionist state conferred any real benefits on him or her must surely suffer from an acutely impoverished imagination.

 

The Unionist Party was guilty of promoting bigotry and distrust among the working class but. contrary to the fictions generated by nationalists and republicans, the general poverty of working-class life in Northern Ireland was not caused by the Unionist Party. It had the same cause as poverty in the rest of Ireland and elsewhere; capitalism. The bigotry and the fictions surrounding it were simply part of the varying strategies that governments employ to conceal that cause.

 

Northern Ireland is just one of the many trouble spots of capitalism. The Lebanon, Israel, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Korea, Nicaragua, to mention but a few, are others. The slogans and “cultural” battle-cries may be different but behind these is the poverty that gives validity to the aspirations of the contending forces.

 

Irish and British politicians and their obedient servants in the media refer to the “two traditions” in Northern Ireland and that idea has been promoted into general acceptance by the public at large. Certainly, the political and, more particularly, the economic history of Ireland has created illusions of traditional differences that have a grim reality in the events of the present. That those “two traditions” did arise largely from economic causes is borne out by the present phase of political strife.

 

The Provisional IRA was not born out of popular consensus among northern Catholics for an all-Ireland gaelic state. On the contrary, it was the rejection of the demand for jobs and homes and a widening of the franchise, to put them on a basis of perceived equality with Protestants within the northern state, that created the conditions out of which the Provos emerged.

 

The government did abolish the property qualification that limited local government franchise — a qualification that discriminated against working-class Protestants as well as Catholics. Even if the government had had the will, there was no way in which, within capitalism, it could have provided jobs and homes for everybody.

 

In other words, had the Unionist government been able to abolish unemployment and solve the disastrous housing problem in 1969. the Provisional IRA would never have emerged and incidents like Enniskillen would never have happened.

 

The various Unionist governments that ruled Northern Ireland repeatedly showed their contempt for the working class as a whole. They can hardly be blamed, however, for failing to solve the poverty problems which underpinned the present troubles. These are the normal, insoluble problems of capitalism; the problems that governments of all political complexions throughout the world have repeatedly failed to solve.

 

That is something that workers in Northern Ireland should bear in mind when the politicians, green or orange, or the hard men of the paramilitary organisations, canvass their support or assistance.

 

Richard Montague