Back to ‘normal’ politics

Around the left

Clarity is everything. On the other hand vagueness, looseness and ambiguity can lead to disaster. Our emphasis on the necessity for scientific accuracy has led to the inevitable accusation that we are engaging in needless hairsplitting or even sectarianism. Such charges were regularly levelled against Lenin and his Bolshevik faction.

Such political, theoretical and polemical sharpness is even more essential when discussing Ireland, a question of supreme importance for revolutionaries based in the UK state. From this Leninist perspective, the article by comrade Ronnie Stevenson in Scottish Socialist Voice, the publication of Scottish Militant Labour, makes for disappointing reading.

In his article entitled ‘Green, orange - or red?’, comrade Stevenson says nothing that is untrue - or scandalous - as such. But it is what is unsaid that sends alarm bells ringing. Discussing sectarianism in Glasgow, the comrade writes:

“Sectarianism has been part and parcel of life in the west of Scotland for a century and a half. Because of the close geographical, cultural, religious and family links that exist between both communities in Northern Ireland and the people of west central Scotland, tensions in Northern Ireland spill over” (October 24).

All perfectly correct. But you would deduce from the comrade’s neutral tone that these “tensions” are a purely negative phenomenon, not something that presents an opportunity for revolutionaries. Comrade Stevenson’s studied neutrality also leads him to state, “The influx of Irish immigrants, mainly catholics, in the 19th century, formed the basis of the sectarianism which exists in the west of Scotland today.”

Well, er, yes - perhaps. If no black people had come to Britain, there would probably be very few incidents of racism. Similarly, if the entire female population of Britain were moved to Greenland, levels of rape and sexual violence would dramatically decrease. However, this is not really the point. What comrade Stevenson singularly fails to emphasise, or even mention, is that the Irish catholics were an oppressed population seeking to escape dire poverty and starvation. The only way to transcend or remove sectarianism is to tackle it at its source: ie, the continuing national question in Ireland and the historic anti-catholicism that underpins the formation of the Scottish-English - ie, British - nation and state.

Instead, the comrade is reduced to superficial - and virtually pro-imperialist - comments. The “partition of Ireland in the early 1920s also played a major part in heightening sectarianism in the west of Scotland”. In similar vein he bemoans the existence of two football clubs, Celtic and Rangers, which “have acted as a focal point for sectarian divisions”.

Comrade Stevenson’s ‘answers’ do not do much to address the real problem. “Celtic, meanwhile has embarked on a ‘Bhoys against bigotry’ campaign, aiming to challenge sectarianism.” Also, “as a result of intermarriage and a general relaxation among catholics a smaller percentage of the catholic population attend catholic schools than before. Meanwhile, in some areas, non-catholics are increasingly sending their children to catholic secondary schools, many of which are now in effect mixed schools.” Comrade Stevenson does not raise the demand to abolish all religious schools. He foolishly relies on demographics.  “[The] days of mass involvement in sectarian battles are long gone”.

Coming from the lips of SML, these words express the economistic desire for the working class to return to ‘normal’ politics - ie, campaigning for the latest pay rise, not concerning itself with questions of the state. The highest level of political organisation comrade Stevenson aspires to is the Anti-Poll Tax campaign, which “united workers in catholic Coatbridge with those in loyalist Larkhall; in protestant Bridgeton with those in the catholic Gorbals”.Such initiatives should be applauded and encouraged. But they do not come close to providing the answer.

Even if sectarianism has decreased in Scotland, what about the Six Counties then, comrades? Like the Socialist Party in England and Wales, SML damns both the ‘green’ and ‘orange’ in equal measure. This is to equate the nationalism of the oppressed with that of the oppressor.

Don Preston