Nationalist road?

Steve Riley reviews ‘The Downing Street Declaration - new unionism and the communities of resistance’ by the Republican Workers Tendency

THIS PAMPHLET by the RWT, a communist group with a left nationalist bias, reflects much of what the British revolutionary left is currently saying about the Six Counties. It also has an interesting angle of its own. Its main thesis runs as follows:

The Downing Street declaration is the major plank of a new strategy to underpin the union, under threat from communities of resistance, led by the Provisionals. The declaration, by not crushing the Provo’s hopes that they might yet gain a seat at the negotiating table, draws them on towards the constitutional nationalist dead end. At the same time conservatives cement their strategic alliance with the unionists through the implicit offer of a new Stormont.

The pamphlet continues: the Provisionals are now busy allying themselves to the SDLP and the governments of the Irish Republic and the US, all of which are consistent opponents of the cause of Irish republicanism. The spectre of the 1922 treaty is raised. But the context of the new unionism is wider than just the Six Counties; it is a counteroffensive against a general nationalist attack against the UK state, which is also being fought out in Scotland and Wales.

There is of course some merit in what is written, although it does not lie in the main thesis already outlined. If another potted history of the Six Counties political struggle were needed, then this pamphlet performs that task. Its identification with the fight of the nationalist communities, rather than simply the republican movement, is an identification with the wider political interests of the working class. And it offers telling parallels with South Africa and Palestine.

As to the main thesis however, the Downing Street Declaration was no master stroke of cunning unionist strategy. It was more like a vacuous stop gap from a programmeless government perched on the edge of oblivion. The pamphlet’s main problem is rooted in the left nationalism of the RWT comrades. Although in its introduction and conclusion it mentions a “republican road to communism”, it does nothing to develop this programmatic pronouncement. In fact, the underlying perspective seems to be that the forces of nationalism have a revolutionary role to play by breaking up the UK state. And the left should tail these forces or else: “The consequence of leaving it to the nationalists to take the lead in the break up of bureaucratic multi-national states can be seen in the ex-USSR and ex-Yugoslavia.” (p33)

This left nationalism cannot understand the principles of anti-chauvinism, internationalism and working class unity which should always guide communists.

It fails to oppose nationalist tendencies within the workers' movement almost as a point of principle. On the contrary, the programmatic statements of the pamphlet decline the task of fighting for an independent politics of the working class. Instead it lines up the RWT as apologists for sectionalism and separatism within the workers’ movement.

In light of recent developments within the Six Counties the CPGB welcomes all contributions to the discussion of how to take revolutionary politics forward. This pamphlet is such a contribution, but the comrades have got it quite wrong. It is not a republican united front for the break up of the UK which the working class needs but a mass Communist Party for the overthrow of the bourgeois ruling class.

Steve Riley