Oppressors and oppressed unite?
Around the left
Not to put too fine a point on it, politics is about whether you champion the interests of the oppressed or the oppressor. Communists align themselves with the oppressed and exploited, no matter what class, social stratum, ethnic group or religion/cult they belong to. Logically, this means that we draw a fundamental distinction between the violence of the oppressed and that of the oppressor. This is a bottom line.
Unfortunately, if not tragically, this does not prove to be the case with the Socialist Party. For this organisation, the actions of the oppressed and oppressor blur into one - a soggy, pacifistic outlook that has more in common with Mahatma Gandhi than Karl Marx or VI Lenin. When the SP looks at the Six Counties - and the Irish question in general - it genuinely cannot understand why Irish workers do not behave like British ones. Conversely, it thinks that British workers should shun ‘Irish methods’ and remain within the confines of normal, everyday trade unionism.
This is the only conclusion one can come to after reading the latest issue of The Socialist (February 6). In the week that sees the British government launch another judicial enquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday in January 1972 - when 14 nationalists were cold-bloodedly slaughtered by the armed forces of British imperialism - we see this ‘Marxist’ paper condemn even the anger of the oppressed. After all, wages, council cuts and the ‘class struggle’ between the employer and the employee is all that matters - right?
Thus, The Socialist lauds the rallies “against sectarian killings” which were held in the Six Counties last month. The sectarian and fascistic terror directed against the catholic community must indeed be condemned - and, additionally, the oppressed community must be defended against all such sectarian attacks and pogroms.
However, it becomes clear that The Socialist means something completely different when it condemns “sectarian attacks”. Discussing the anti-sectarian rally in Omagh, it says:
“The bulletin produced by Socialist Party members raised the need for working class unity and the importance of tackling ‘the economic issues which underlie the violence - poverty, exploitation, unemployment, cuts in services’” (my emphasis). Very different from the separatist nationalism Scottish Militant Labour preaches, but not that much different from the message preached by the UK bourgeoisie. Give these troublesome Irish workers better conditions and they will forget all this political nonsense about partition, the national question, democratic rights, etc. What a fillip for the UK state if republicans ever took the SP’s advice. Fortunately there is not much chance of that.
But it gets worse. The Socialist seems to think that nationalist workers should identify - empathise - with the imperialist status quo. At the Omagh rally an SP member told an audience of 2,000 people:
“The [Loyalist Volunteer Forces’s] comment that they will continue to target republicans leaves the door open for further killings of catholics whom they decide to label, rightly or wrongly, as republicans. This position is every bit as unacceptable as the [Irish National Liberation Army’s] killing of protestants whom they label as loyalists” (my emphasis).
So, perhaps the SP actually believes that Billy Wright, ex-leader of the LVF, was only pretending to be a loyalist - as was Jim Guiney, prominent in the Ulster Defence Association and also killed by Inla. Wright was only pretending to be anti-catholic when he directed sectarian killings of catholics from inside the loyalist wing of Long Kesh. He was only pretending to be a pathological killer when he murdered children and a pregnant woman - purely because they were from the catholic community. The fact that the only victims - apart from loyalist death squad leaders such as Wright and Guiney - of the current ‘troubles’ have been catholics has somehow escaped the SP’s attention. Any genuine Marxist organisation would be explaining the difference between the violence of Wright, Guiney and the like and the violence of the oppressed which killed them.
But not the SP. This is made even more obvious by its dismal reporting of the “trade union-led rally against sectarian killings” held in Belfast on January 30. In the words of The Socialist: “As thousands of trade unionists, community activists and people from both sides of the community were assembling in the city centre, some marchers came along carrying banners calling for an end to unionist killing of catholics. A majority of the victims of sectarianism in recent weeks were catholics. But as the SP special bulletin pointed out: ‘Attacks by groups like the LVF may be sectarian: the response must be non-sectarian. These people are the enemies of the working class as a whole, catholic and protestant.’
“The rally chairman asked for the banners to be taken down as they were ‘inappropriate for a trade union rally’. Despite these groups’ one-sided slogans and sectarian undertones, the rally was peaceful” (my emphasis).
These slightly sinister “one-sided slogans” were ones that explicitly condemned the loyalist killings and the British occupation of the Six Counties - with remembrance of the Bloody Sunday massacre featuring prominently on the banners. These “inappropriate” slogans clearly upset the SP. It wants Irish republicans to forget their nationality and make their peace with the sectarian, imperialist-backed Six Counties statelet - even though it is a “protestant state for a protestant people”, as numerous loyalist politicians from 1921-22 onwards have made abundantly clear.
Instead of “workers of the world unite”, SP seems to think that the oppressed should sit down and make peace with their oppressors - if not unite with them. This may make for excellent ‘turn the other cheek’ Christianity, but it makes for very bad Marxism.