Scabbing on the struggle

Around the left

We have consistently exposed the reactionary nature of the imperialist-driven peace process in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday agreement signals Blair’s determination to stabilise and ‘normalise’ the politics of the Six Counties statelet - itself an imperialist creation. We have also consistently sided with those democratic-revolutionary forces opposed to the presence of British imperialism. By the same measure we have sided against the counterrevolutionary forces of pro-imperialist loyalism - whether it be in the constitutional shape of the Ulster Unionist Party or the paramilitary-cum-‘respectable’ shape of the Progressive Unionist Party.

Unfortunately, not everyone one on the left has taken such a principled position. Even the most elementary form of Marxist internationalism (ie, anti-chauvinism and support for democratic struggles) has proved to be beyond some left groups. A particular grim example of this malady can be found in the shape of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, formerly known as Militant. No one can deny, of course, that the SP has been consistent. It has consistently scabbed on those waging a life-or-death struggle against the forces of British imperialism and its fascistic local - though often unruly and wayward - agents in the Six Counties. This scabbing has taken the form of a lofty, liberal even-handedness when dealing with the forces of revolutionary nationalism and counterrevolutionary loyalism. Such ‘impartiality’ is objective pro-imperialism.

The latest issue of The Socialist displays yet again the SP’s indifference to the political struggle waging around it. Desperate to be regarded as respectable, quasi-bourgeois ‘community’ politicians (remember when the Militant Tendency was held up by the bourgeois press as the ultimate in ‘loony leftism’?), The Socialist heaves a great sigh of social-pacifistic relief at the fact that the stand-off at Drumcree appears to be ebbing away:

“The horrific murder of three young boys in Ballymoney appears to have been the shock that pulled Northern Ireland from the brink last weekend. Until the arson attacks ... all sides - especially the British government - seemed to have run out of options to stop an increasingly desperate situation becoming worse. The British government-sponsored proximity talks had been postponed until after … July 12-13.”

Thank heavens, the British-sponsored “proximity talks” were put back on line by the “tragic death of the children” (was it an accident or the work of god?) - the talks “may even end in a compromise at Drumcree” (July 17). The ‘Marxist’ SP in Ireland wants an imperialist-brokered “compromise” between the forces of truimphalist sectarian ascendancy and the oppressed - to make “all sides feel the pressure of the community and step back from confrontation”, to use comrade Peter Hadden’s weasel words.

Solid and sensible as ever, the Socialist Party stands stoically between these peculiarly ‘un-British’ communities. If only both sides could see the other point of view. The Socialist declares: “This year has shown that the Parades Commission is no answer. In some ways, by appearing to offer an alternative to local dialogue, it makes things worse. Local negotiation and local agreement is the only way to resolve the problem.” If you were in any doubt as to the SP’s sincerity, The Socialist helpfully prints a photograph of a slogan which proclaims: ‘Police and troops, no answer! - For agreement on marches.’ This is the “SP message”, we are told.

Of course, the SP’s entire approach to the Six Counties is predicated on this anti-revolutionary liberal communitarianism. During the run-up to the Irish referendum, an editorial in The Socialist informed us: “The real yardstick for socialists when considering the national question is whether it will strengthen or weaken the working class movement. In our view a ‘no’ victory would be a victory for rightwing sectarians, Orange and Green, and would quite drastically weaken the potential for unity between catholic and protestant workers ... A real solution can only be based on the unity of working people and the integration of the communities, standing together on social issues and on the difficult and currently divisive issues which arise from the national conflict. Such a unity of the working class could then achieve a socialist Ireland as part of a democratic and voluntary Socialist Federation of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland” (my emphasis, May 15). The SP’s abstract socialism fails to disguise its essential reactionary position of studied neutrality between imperialism and anti-imperialism.

Disgracefully, the SP always equated republican anti-imperialists with loyalist paramilitaries. After attacking the “reactionary loyalist regroupment” of the DUP, LVF and the intransigent wing of the Orange Order, comrade Hadden goes on to write that the “sell-out” chorus of the loyalists “has its inverted echo on the republican side where the Continuity IRA, INLA and dissident Provisionals are carrying on with military attacks clearly to try and undermine the position of the Sinn Féin leadership ... We need a better choice - the choice between having to carry on with the dead end of sectarian politics or of building a new united movement to challenge and overcome sectarianism” (April 3). It is one thing to criticise republican groups like INLA, the Continuity IRA, etc, but quite another to mention them in the same breath as the LVF and DUP. The fact that the SP does not realise this says it all really.

Inevitably, given the realities of the Six Counties, such even-handedness can degenerate rapidly into an explicitlyanti-republican stance, which puts paid to the SP’s ambitions to play the role of impartial community counsellors. Its February 6 report on the January 30 “trade union-led rally against sectarian killings” in Belfast actually complained bitterly that republican marchers had turned up with banners denouncing the British army and the loyalist death squads. The Socialist stated: “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). The same report noted:

“The [LVF’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 [INLA’s] killing of Protestants whom they label as loyalists” (my emphasis).

The SP’s hatred of “one-sided slogans” (ie, anti-imperialist, republican) tells a sorry story. Bearing all the above in mind, readers of the Weekly Worker may recall the letter (July 9) from comrade Phil Bryant of the SP (Belfast) where he took objection to our “allegation” that the SP is “even-handed in their equal condemnation of both loyalist death squads and republican anti-imperialists” (Weekly Worker July 2). The comrade writes:

“The SP has never described these trends as being one and the same, or even opposite sides of the same coin. The reasons for republican armed struggle and loyalist reaction necessitates a more detailed analysis than the CPGB provides.”

We would very much appreciate it if an independent adjudicator - an impartial, even-handed one of course - could decide who has truth on their side: Phil Bryant/SP or the CPGB. We also look forward immensely to reading The Socialist’s “more detailed analysis” of the “republican armed struggle and loyalist reaction”. But don’t hold your breath.

Don Preston