In the last post Boffy alerted me to a debate he has had on imperialism, the last few comments of which brought up the question of Ireland and its relationship to imperialism, and it is on this I want to make a few remarks.
He asks – “Does Ireland today conform to the ideas portrayed in Lenin’s “Imperialism, of a colony? Has development in Ireland been held back, by foreign investment or has it been advanced?”
On the first question the answer is partly yes – at least the North-East of the country, Northern Ireland – is a colony. It is a part of one country ruled by a larger foreign neighbour that has not been integrated into the larger conquering territory, witness the howls of rage at the DUP supporting a Tory Government when not the slightest notice is taken when this Party is lauded for peacemaking in Ireland by being in government.
A settler-colonial population has historically claimed superior social and political rights over the native population, including most importantly, the claim that it needs a separate state because the native Catholic Irish cannot be trusted not to discriminate against Protestants the way Unionist Protestants have discriminated against them.
Sectarian social and political practices have been carried out that have been variously allowed, sanctioned and enforced by the British rulers. When resistance to this erupted, the British State employed its superior force, armed the local settler colonial population and facilitated some of the worst sectarian atrocities by paramilitary thugs based in this population. In the worst period thousands of Catholics moved in order to escape potential pogroms.
Even today the marking of territorial conquest is expressed through segregated residential areas with flags flown and footpaths painted to denote sectarian control.
A lot of this is widely recognised but the label colony is avoided in order to legitimise the role of the British, the role of the colonialists and the role of the erstwhile resistance to this British rule which has now accepted the partitionist framework. It is also less easily appreciated because the native population are white West Europeans and could not have been, and generally have not been, subject to the barbarity of darker skinned native populations in other parts of the world. The Great Famine, an Gorta Mór, is a major exception.
An English leftist, working for a while in Belfast in the 1980s and attending a meeting, noted that the ‘war’ that was taking place was indeed ‘low intensity’ and comparatively few people had or were being killed. It was noted by a comrade of mine that while this was true the conflict was remarkably prolonged and protracted. The two are undoubtedly related, but it is also the case that the North of Ireland is a small place and scaled up the scope of the violence looks less meagre.
But for all the reasons that the North is a colony the Southern Irish state is not. It is as independent a state as any small Irish state could be. As I have noted before, the last trappings of foreign British rule, including the oath of allegiance to the British monarchy and ownership by Britain of certain Irish “treaty’ ports, is history.
Some ‘anti-imperialists’ reject this level of independence and want a ‘real’ independent Irish State, one that can only come from being what is called a Workers’ Republic. In fact, behind this ideal of ‘real’ independence lies Stalinist notions of state socialism, which involves nationalist politics and nationalisation, in other words it is much more likely to involve state capitalism.
What it isn’t is socialism and a Workers’ Republic. It’s also utopian because there can be no independence, in the sense of a self-determining autonomy, for an Irish State within globalised capitalism. It also has no support, as the tiny level of support for the Irish State leaving the EU demonstrates. As for a real Workers’ Republic, it will enjoy much greater integration and unity with its neighbours than the current Irish State, so if you’re supporting socialism in order to be a ‘real anti-imperialist’ and have ‘real independence’ you’re backing the wrong horse.
These considerations matter for the approach of Irish socialists to the fight for socialism. Whoever thinks that anti-imperialism is the banner under which to organise the whole Irish working class has to explain what national liberation content there is for Southern workers who face their own state and not a British one. On this score, the answer to Boffy’s second question – “Has development in Ireland been held back, by foreign investment or has it been advanced?” – is that it has been advanced.
In the debate, Phil remarks that “In Ireland the pro-Moscow Sticks (Workers Party) supported imperialist investment for precisely the reasons you give. But the choice was not imperialist investment or no investment. Completely missing from that approach is the overthrow of capitalism. Not waiting until some magical figure of output has been reached and the industrial working class has grown to be a certain percentage of the population. All thanks to imperialism.”
Ignoring the irrelevant flourish of the last two sentences, and the fact that we are nowhere near approaching socialist revolution in Ireland, as a real, concrete and practical proposal in the here and now, in the sentence before these, Phil will know that it’s not just the Workers’ Party that supports multinational investment in Ireland – everybody does!
As the political joke goes, the difference between the Official Republicans and the Provisionals is merely a matter of timing; Sinn Fein do not now oppose this investment. And neither does the social-democratic left, in the guise of the small self-proclaimed Marxist organisations, who signal their acceptance of this investment by proposing only that the low corporate taxation especially set to attract this investment actually is 12.5%; that the tax rate does what it says on the tin and is not lower than this headline rate.
The real question at issue is whether the struggle for socialism must be prosecuted under the banner of national liberation. Those who say yes have taken last years’ centenary anniversary of the founding blow for national liberation as the guide for future action. As I pointed out in a series of posts beginning with this one, the 1916 Rising did not itself pose a solution to the division of Ireland and neither has any nationalist or republican struggle since.
A purely democratic struggle or revolution could on paper offer a solution to the undemocratic abomination that is partition and the sectarianism that passes both for the problem and the solution in the North. A truly democratic platform would be enough to indict the colonial Northern state but what would it offer to Southern workers. Even a classic capitalist democracy in Ireland would destroy sectarianism and destroy the power of reactionary unionism but it would offer little to Southern workers.
What is required in Ireland therefore is the strengthening of the working class, and the prominence today of foreign capital, and the country’s history and current reality of foreign state intervention, should make it blindingly obvious that the alternative is not any sort of nationalism, under the banner of ‘anti-imperialism’ or not, but the international unity of Irish workers with their class brothers and sisters across Europe. The idea that Irish workers will overthrow Irish capitalism because they want to get rid of foreign imperialism is utter nonsense. Southern workers won’t go to war to fight British imperialism in the North and they won’t go to war to drive out multinational companies.
The stages involved in increasing the strength of the Irish working class include building stronger and more active trade unions; cooperative production that visibly heralds the alternative to capitalism, and a working-class party that expresses the best impulses to political independence among Irish workers, no matter how under-developed that may currently be. It also means clarity on the nature of Irish reality and the lessons to be learnt from the history of the Irish and international socialist movement.
I’m not sure that further discussion of whether the North is a colony or not will shed more light than heat, and I think discussion of what routes from the existing situation exist is more fruitful. I’m pretty busy myself at the moment, but I would be interested if you have any statistical data in relation to the actual extend that discrimination continues to exist, is diminishing etc., and forms it is taking.
It would be interesting to analyse any data in respect of how employment patterns may or may not have changed, the distribution of income and so on. My impression is that with all of the multinational capital that has invested in Ireland, and given that workers from the North routinely cross the border to jobs in the Republic, the material foundation for discrimination should have been reduced, and should continue to be reducing. The nature of Presbyterian Protestantism after all is pretty unique after all, let alone its specifically Northern Irish context. Again its why I think Brexit is such a threat. I can see that although big capital dominates the economy everywhere, the multiplicity of capitals still resides with all of the small capitalists, whereby discrimination of all kinds can persist, although increasingly big capitals on which the small capitals depend, require those subordinate capitals to comply with various minimum standards on gender, race, disability equality and so on.
I will try to respond to some of the other points in relation to political programme as soon as I have time.
My question for you is, if the North of Ireland is still taken to be a colony, and it is a British one, what importance does the designation of A Colony have for a correct political designation for the rest of Ireland? One conventional way of viewing it is to argue that the colonial ‘Occupation of the North’ must entail the South is a Neo-Colony. This is clearly not your understanding, but the conclusion is hard to walk away from without causing intellectual damage. Boffy in my opinion is wrong but his merit is logical consistency, the terminology of colonial- imperialism is no longer relevant to any part of Ireland.
Your question is a good one – how can the division of the Irish nation against its will not involve the continued national oppression of both Irish states resulting from that division, with one subject to direct subjugation and the other having a nominally independent existence? One a colony and one a semi-colony? Certainly, for Irish nationalists this is an affront and for anyone that defends democracy it must also be seen as an important infringement of democratic rights.
The latter is the view that I adhere to – that partition is undemocratic and the demand for its removal a progressive demand considered on its own terms.
However, as a Marxist, that is very obviously not the end of the story; for as a Marxist, as Boffy says in another comment – “the primary concern for Marxists is not the niceties of bourgeois democratic freedoms, but the struggle for socialism, and of prime concern within that struggle is the unity of the working-class across borders.” The struggle for bourgeois democracy (for that is all that the demand for self-determination for Ireland as a whole means, or the demand for a united Ireland) can only be supported, and supported to the extent that it is, by its role in advancing the unity of workers and the struggle for socialism.
That partition is a historical wrong and that it has continuing harmful effects does not in itself determine the approach of socialists and their programme but must be situated within the requirement for workers’ unity and socialism. In other words, how far does this oppression go in determining the socialist view of the role of democratic demands in the struggle for socialism; not how far do we want it to go, but how far is it necessary to require inserting national democratic demands into the socialist programme in Ireland?
Two ways to answer this. First the scale of this oppression has never been great enough, or never seemed important enough, to the bourgeois democratic forces themselves to make either the prevention of partition or its ending the centre of its programme. The 1916 Rising had no programme to end or prevent partition, as I noted in the posts on the anniversary of the Rising and neither did the subsequent war for independence. In the civil war the contending nationalist forces were not fighting over partition but the character of the new Free State. Partition was and always has been very secondary to Irish nationalism.
Two objections might be made to this. First that after partition, republicanism did put ending partition to the fore and second that the failure to really oppose partition was due to the class character of the leadership of the republican struggle, one that was more interested in having its own bourgeois state than completing the national character of their revolution. Doing the latter was and is still seen as endangering, first the existence, and now the stability of the former.
But these two objections are proof of the point I want to make – how salient and vital was partition to the forces of Irish democracy, either in geographical and/or class terms? In geographical terms the state builders of a new Irish state had the majority of the territory and accepted that, and in class terms the aspiring Irish bourgeoisie had no interest in taking on British imperialism over six stranded counties. The republican forces more and more confined to the North were and are too weak to enforce their democratic programme because it is the political expression of too weak and small a section of Irish society. In so far as their attitude to the South has been concerned, the ending of the trappings of British colonialism (oath and Treaty ports etc.) was enough to undermine the republican movement. This was because it was not a working-class movement in favour of the unity of its class and opposed to both partitioned capitalist states.
In other words, the national oppression of both parts of Ireland as a result of partition was not enough for even the most radical section of republicanism to seek fundamental change to both partitioned states, and so oppose the national oppression of the Southern state consequent to partition. By and large republicanism in real terms simply seeks the extension of the Southern state to encompass all 32 counties. So why would it be central to the socialist programme in that part of Ireland, unless we thought this question of democracy had a particular debilitating effect on the Irish working class in the nominally independent state?
The answer to this question is that it does effect the Irish working class in a particular way because the other classes, especially the Irish bourgeoisie, was happy enough with their new state, truncated or not, whilst Irish workers faced a strengthening of all the politically reactionary forces in Ireland – North and South. But if it’s the interests of the Irish working class that is the issue, once again it is necessary to say that this interest lies in creating socialism, not bourgeois democracy, and any tasks arising from the latter are subordinated to the task of winning the former.
Since Irish workers in the South face an Irish State and the Irish bourgeoisie most immediately, any talk that they must first fight Britain is a diversion because it mis-educates them as to their fundamental interests. And again, as Boffy also points out, Irish workers in the South quite immediately face international capitalism, in the form of the EU and foreign multinationals. Ending partition is no solution to the class exploitation that these effect.
So, yes, it is possible to see the South as semi-colonial in the sense that it suffers national oppression resulting from partition. But the importance of this is massively diluted by the Southern state being as independent a state formation as a small Irish capitalist state is going to be (as I said before) and there are no class forces in the South going to fight Britain over partition because this material reality is much more important than any national oppression.
So it might seem logical that, if the North is a colony and partition frustrates national democracy on both sides of the border, then the South must be a semi-colony. But history moves on, or to be more precise, capitalism develops. And its development has resulted in the Southern State we have today. This state no longer has sterling as the effective currency; it is no longer massively dependent on trade with Britain; it is no longer so dependent on purely British foreign investment, and it no longer relies on protection its interest on the world stage through subordination to Britain – it can seek to advance its particular state interests through the EU, and it isn’t going to leave it because the Brits appear to be doing so.
Finally, in terms of popular sentiment, Irish nationalism is stronger among workers in the South than among its capitalists, but the vote for the removal of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution claiming sovereignty to the North, shows that any national oppression suffered in the South is not exactly keenly felt. Why some Marxists would seek to hold on to an analysis and programme than foregrounded this national oppression in the South is something that they need to explain. Marxists take up bourgeois democratic demands to clear the ground for the most open class struggle, not to right moral wrongs in how capitalism actually works so that this is a more perfect expression of its ideological claims to democracy.
The other point I would add to reinforce your argument, in relation to,
“So it might seem logical that, if the North is a colony and partition frustrates national democracy on both sides of the border, then the South must be a semi-colony.”,
is that the existence of Gibraltar could by viewed by the Spanish as meaning that Spain must then be counted as a semi-colony, as it is prevented from exercising control over all territory it lays claim to. But, Spain, quite clearly, like the Irish Republic is not a colony.
I’ll come back to the question of the North later.
You make some interesting points, I hope I can make some interesting comments.
One thing you place a deal of stress on is the fact that History has moved on. Yet almost all ‘marxists’ have an intellectual habit of emphasizing the changes and downplaying the continuity of History. There is a reason why this is so, the priority awarded to the economic base, since the economic base is driven by fast moving technological changes. However the superstructure is often more resistant to change, the political superstructure does not seem to change very much, this is why some people can compare the political regimes of ancient Greece and Rome and find a continuity with the present. If you set out the range of political available political formations, city state and empire for the old world, nation state and confederation in the new world, the role of likely changes gets much diminished. The persistence of the same is evident even when it comes to political parties, the British economy has changed drastically in the last one hundred yet the same three political parties via for influence and power.
This brings me back to Ireland, what strikes you just how the economic base has changed drastically, from a closed rural colonial economy to an open trading and urban manufacturing one, yet for me there is a tremendous staying power of the same superstructure. I have just witnessed the most successful Twelfth of July, in terms of numbers participating and sentiments expressed in a hundred years, like it was some sort of proof of the principle of the eternal return of the same superstructure.
By why of agreement with you, the question of national partition was not much of an issue fore those in conflict over the terms of the Treaty. In fact national partition was of anything, even less of an issue for the small band of northern republicans.
Your scenario about the conflict in the north having little purchase with southern workers may be true from the point of view of the economic base, but just remember the partition of Ireland removed most of the industrial infrastructure of the country as a whole, slowing economic development for the first four decades of national freedom.
There is also the subjective factor, southern workers and others voted for the Good Friday Agreement for the same reason as everyone else did, to end the long term violence and because the Republicans in the persona of Sinn Fein urged them to do so. Does the fact that norther SF supporters also voted for the Good Friday Agreement mean that they no longer care about a united Ireland, the same query applies to the subjective mind of southern workers?
Finally a more general point, the thread began speaking about Lenin’s account of imperialism, we can say that in his pamphlet, Lenin presented an account he admitted of the economic base, the explanation of monopoly capitalism, he confirmed in a side note that monopoly was only half the story of imperialism, imperialism is the ideological and political superstructure of monopoly capitalism and it is recorded as a thesis about a future of likely conflicts and wars between old and rising States, I don’t think you can say that he was wrong when he made this forecast in 1916.
The really major difference I have with you of several controversies, as with the European Union can be positioned by what Lenin said about the law of economic concentration ‘Everyone would laugh…if parallel with the law that small-scale production is ousted by large-scale production, there were presented another law…of small states being ousted by bigger ones.’ ‘A caricature of marxism and imperialist economism.’
Lenin may not have been consistent about the above, he frequently changed his mind about political things. In one sense though the quotation is merely a restatement of the political wisdom of the ages, that large populous States tend to decay into the worst of Tyranny. This was the verdict of Aristotle , it was the verdict of writers who knew the history of Rome, it is was such an entrenched verdict of political science that when the American writers of the Federalist Papers came to advocate for a Great Union of States they had to give reasons why the enlarged State of the proposed Union would not also become an oppressive Tyranny. This was down to the fact they well knew Montesquieu and one of his major themes was the size of populations and the makeup of States.
I don’t think you have this historical bias against the larger populous State and I do. On this issue we find not just a disagreement between me and you, but a division between political science and economic science, the economists generally advise larger populations and the political scientists advise smaller populations, the political scientists like less populous Republics the economists don’t care for them. It is hard not to note how the economists are generally in favour of the free movement of people ie open societies.
In the nineteenth century all of Ireland was treated as a definite unequal territory within the British Empire. In 1800 it was the British Whigs who abolished Grattan’s Parliament, the political committee of the Protestant Landed Ascendancy. The immediate reasons were several, in essence the Whigs felt the Anglo-Irish Aristocracy had lost political control over Ireland, with the 98 popular rebellion and even the threat of a French invasion. They decided to take back control and reconstituted an unequal union between Britain and Ireland.
The problem with every Marxist analysis of colonialism and neo-colonialism is that it expects to find an objective economic explanation for the most urgent political things. What the economic explanation come down to, in the end is providing an account in terms of some extrapolated economic tribute. The simplest version would show a direct income transfer from one political jurisdiction, Ireland to Britain.
But the social relations of capitalism are not focused on a juridical economic transfer ie an income based tribute at the level of the juridical State. The more essential economic transfer is conceived as an economic transfer between the social classes, the class of capitalists and the class of workers. The Republic of Ireland may be deemed to be in an post-colonial situation because the Irish workers are forced to transfer part of what they produce, the economic surplus to the transnationals and not to a foreign State, at an above some European average of profits, sometimes called super profits, evidence is given to the very low level of just 12 percent State levy on profits and also that the transnationals are completely free to remove the profits out of the jurisdiction.
A complicating factor is the presence of an income tribute transferred on the basis of the debts incurred by the Irish State, the budget deficit and the National Debt. This is deemed to be especially onerous as it is levied against the combined Irish taxpayers. It is often hard to discern
just who his in receipt of the above income streams.
It is then suggested that profit and income that is sent from one political jurisdiction to another is
what is now just normal for all capitalism and Ireland merely fits in with some global norm or mean of capitalism. The counter argument is that there is no single international norm, there is in fact what in ethical language we refer to as a double standard, meaning some political jurisdictions are long run receivers of extracted economic tributes and streams and others are long run senders of economic tribute and streams.
In the past it was accepted by all revolutionaries that Ireland was a sender of an extracted economic tribute however ill defined, and that this economic tribute somehow ended up in Britain. Today it is not evident that any economic surplus extracted in Ireland ends up benefiting Britain and this is reason enough to conclude that Ireland no longer stands in a colonial relationship at least as far as Britain is concerned.
However as I said at the beginning, we have to consider more than the objective economic process, we have to at the very least pay special heed to the State, especially the Irish State. An argument is made that today it is the Irish State that is in fact the permanent security agency for maintaining the social relations of capitalism in Ireland, it used to be the British State but this is no longer the case. The persistence of the neo-colonial strand of thinking within Irish revolutionary thought stems from a basic scepticism about the purported central importance of the Irish State for maintaining capitalism and ensuring the constancy of an economic tribute.
The Irish State for example is not strong enough to and maintain a basic political security over the whole of the country, both the United States of America and the European Union fully expect the British State to maintain political partition and overall stability. The neo-colonial strand of revolutionary thinking points to the history of Ireland and its partition in 1920-21, the Irish State that supposedly took back control of the 26 countries in 1921-22 was helped into power with the help of British guns and British support, its legitimacy was questioned from the beginning and while the republicans may no longer question its legitimacy, its real power to supervene for international and domestic capitalism in Ireland is what is most questionable. So the neo-colonial argument is founded more on a weighing of the relative power of States within capitalism than it is on tracing a direct economic tribute.
I should in my comment, in that debate, have specifically referred to the Irish Republic rather than Ireland, so as to distinguish my comments from that situation in the Six Counties.
In relation to the Republic, I think the situation is clear that it can in no way be considered still a colony, or even a neo-colony, in the sense that Lenin described that term in the Theses on the National and Colonial Questions. Marx in Capital, described the United States, as still effectively a colony of Britain, into the middle of the 19th century, on the same kind of basis that Lenin talks of neo-colonies or semi-colonies, i.e. as countries which have become politically liberated from a former colonial power, but which remain economically tied and dependent upon it.
The Republic of Ireland certainly still has very strong economic ties to Britain, in terms of the amount of trade between the two countries, but it is impossible to describe those economic ties in terms of some semi-colonial relation. Ireland obtains probably more investment from the US and EU than it does from the UK, and if there is any dominant politico-economic relation it is with the EU not with the UK, as witnessed by the fact that Ireland will remain a member of the EU, whilst Britain may leave.
And, in fact, this is typical of imperialist global relations as opposed to the colonial relations that existed prior to WWII, and which formed the basis of Lenin’s theory in “Imperialism”. It was precisely the breaking apart of those old colonial monopolies that multinational industrial capital sought to achieve, so as to be able to accumulate capital, and exploit labour wherever it could be found. So, even in the Six Counties, its not British capital that exerts some monopolising role, but international capital from the US, and Europe etc. In fact, it was one of those ironies that after the Iraq War, the first companies to invest in the country were not from the US, but from Europe!
Its not Britain as the old colonial power that dominates investment of foreign capital in India, but the US, and how are we to consider the relation between India and Britain today. Is Britain still to be considered the colonial overlord, and India the super-exploited colony, or is it that the Indian capitalists such as Tata, or Mittal and so on, who invest and own large British companies like steel companies and JLR, who now have to be considered the imperialists, and its is British steel and car workers who are being super-exploited by them?
But, its also for these reasons that I don’t think that Lenin’s “Imperialism” is relevant to the Six Counties either. Is the relation of the Six Countries actually to Britain that different to that of Scotland? In many ways, the Six Countries actually has a privileged position relative to Britain compared to Wales. The powers of the Welsh Assembly are extremely limited compared to those of Stormont, were it actually sitting, and the fact that it is not is a decision of Irish politicians themselves not of British politicians acting as colonial masters.
Britain does not rule over the Six Counties in some kind of monopolistic manner as did Britain over India during the times of the Empire. Indeed, the distinction between the National Question and the Colonial Question is that a colony like India is a separate state entity, under the control of the foreign ruling class, and with the compliance of the domestic ruling class. The difference is that a colony has no right to send representatives to the Parliament of the colonial power. Indeed, the slogan raised by the American Revolutionists was “No taxation without representation.” By contrast, the National Question refers to the condition of oppressed or unequally treated nations within a single state. Such nations may indeed have the right of representation within the state’s political institutions.
The importance of this was signified by Lenin who declared that only in exceptional conditions could Marxists advocate the creation of some new bourgeois state. A colony, is not a new state, but an existing state, and the question revolves only around the question of a democratic political revolution to gain control over that state. A nation that seeks to separate from the state it is a part of, as for example the calls for Scottish Independence, by contrast, does involve the creation of a new bourgeois state, which is why Marxists should be opposed to such separations.
Its true that Catholics in the Six Counties are historically oppressed, and unequally treated, but the same could probably be said about Catholics in Glasgow or Liverpool, in the not too distant past. But here too the divergence from lenin’s theory is also clear. And, indeed, the importance of the question of Brexit,a nd its implications for the whole of ireland become apparent.
The dominance of Protestants in Northern ireland was historically linked to the elements within the British Tory Party, and within the British state itself. The Liberals, of course, who were for a long time the representatives of British industrial capital – the force that Lenin cites as the driving force behind imperialism – were more than amenable to the idea of irish Home Rule. There seems little grounds for defining the North of Ireland as a colony on the grounds of lenin’s theory of Imperialism, because the domination of ireland itself goes back 700 years, long predating capitalism let alone monopoly capitalism.
Rather, British imperialism inherited Ireland from British colonialism. In economic terms, the North of Ireland is an absolute liability rather than an asset for British capitalism, even now when the sectarian violence and the cost of policing it are a thing of the past, given the large fiscal transfers from the UK into Northern Ireland. That the old patterns of oppression and discrimination followed with it is hardly surprising.
But, the reason that Brexit poses such a threat is that, over recent decades, the investment into Ireland has come from multinational capital, and the political dynamics were set by Brussels and the EU proto-state, not by London and the British state. There was a reason why British capitalists in the 19th century, and early 20th century should perpetuate in Ireland the old bigotry and relations, there is no reason why a German company, or a US company, or a Spanish or French company that invests in the North of ireland should perpetuate such policies of discrimination, which in fact act to restrict efficient capital accumulation. Nor is there any reason why the EU Commissioners, or the ECJ etc. should uphold patterns of discrimination whose only basis resides in British particularism, and British colonial history, rather than in the polity of 21st Century European capitalism.
Britain outside the EU, threatens some of that, at least, and presents a good case for Northern Ireland opting out of Brexit, and aligning with the republic inside the EU, where all of those old fears of the protestants about their own potential domination by an Irish clerical state, have now been dealt with by the guarantees provided by the proto EU state, and the ECJ, and ECHR.
I don’t believe that the North of ireland is a colony of Britain any more than is Scotland, and part of the evidence is the ability of the North not only to send its own representatives to Westminster, including Sinn Fein if they so chose to take up their seats, but is also in the ability of the Six Counties simply by process of a democratic vote, to sever their link with Britain and to form a United Ireland.
The north of Ireland is a colony but with the qualification that it is a loyal colony. The loyalty is not unconditional, the republicans made the mistake of thinking the loyalty was unconditional and only political violence held out any prospect of changing things. They now appear to come to the conclusion that the loyalty is indeed conditional and ‘normal politics’ may hold out a better chance of changing things. The idea of normal politics implies the act of persuasion, to see the good sense of your argument for freedom and for justice you have to begin to be a persuader. However the way of persuasion is blocked not as before by the presence of the British military but by the persistence of the sectarian ideology that accompanied the economic development of the north of Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century. The ideology of economic progress in Ireland was for a very long time associated with Protestantism and disassociated with Catholicism. The idea that Protestantism is the historical carrier of economic progress is not specific to Ireland but it has a very powerful influence over Irish affairs. That Reformed Protestantism meant progress is still promoted in intellectual circles even within the Republic of Ireland, Ireland’s very slow economic progress until recently is still attributed to the anti-capitalist side of Roman Catholicism by influential authors like Tom Garvin. What is only an intellectual sideshow in the Republic is the basis of the Establishment Ideology in the north of Ireland, you might say that Max Weber’s thesis about Reformed Protestantism leading to progress and capitalism became the very basis of the Orange State. The Republicans have made little or no progress in persuading the loyal Protestant colonialists that their ideology has been refuted by the modernisation that has taken place in the Republic of Ireland this past 40 years. The typical North of Ireland loyalist thinks he is living in a very modern part of Britain when in fact he is actually living in a very backward part of Ireland. As I like say history is the long story of Irony.
You give a number of reasons why the North of Ireland cannot be considered a colony in any way.
First is the ability to send representatives to the foreign parliament and second is the ability to vote to leave Britain if the majority so wish.
Northern Ireland MPs do of course attend Westminster (or rather they can if they want) although it’s not very often that they make much difference, and today is one of those limited occasions.
But this signals no real political integration as, unlike Scotland, the political struggle here has never been along the same political axis as in Britain. There is for example no meaningful Labour Party in Northern Ireland and the British Labour Party has always been unenthusiastic about organising in the North. In other words, political forces in the North act on Britain from outside and not from within the British political struggle. In general we are bystanders waiting to see who will rule us. This is also evidenced by the general ignorance of NI politics in Britain and its completely different, seemingly alien, political concerns. Even the trade unions are nominally at least Irish. Of course, it was not always like this and there was once a more united Conservative and Unionist Party, which Theresa May now refers to as well, but which doesn’t exist.
Comparisons with the treatment of Catholics in Scotland can be made, but only to illustrate the difference in extent of sectarianism and discrimination in the North of Ireland. Catholics in Scotland suffered discrimination but were a rather small minority, distinguished by their nationality as much as by their religion, or rather by their combination. They never suffered the repeated sectarian pogroms of the North, or the level of political discrimination and exclusion from political power. Most obviously, hundreds have never been killed because of their religion by sectarian bigots aided and abetted by the British State.
In parts of Scotland the Irish Catholics or their descendants were able to carve out their own areas of political patronage but not in the North of Ireland despite their larger numbers.
That is until the last few years, with the advent of the power-sharing deal at Stormont. However, while those of an Irish Catholic background could gain influence in Scotland without disturbing greatly the political landscape, in the North of Ireland even some subordinate influence by Catholics has led to political instability and regular political crises. At the moment we are going through yet another one. Partition doesn’t exist to allow equality between Protestants and Catholics. It exists to preserve an artificial sectarian majority and it is the latter that has determined the former.
This was demonstrated during the negotiations of the current so-called peace process, where it was argued that even if the Protestants became a minority, a vote for a united Ireland would have to have a majority of Protestants vote for it for it to happen.
There is a certain logic to this since this is the logic that has been used in the past and on which the Northern State was created. So it isn’t quite the case that the Six Counties by democratic vote can enter a united Ireland – the Six Counties exists to frustrate democracy and this frustration of democracy will, with little doubt, be a force attempting to deny a united Ireland in the future, regardless of any vote. Again, an enormous difference between Scotland and the North of Ireland, where it was agreed that the result of the Scottish referendum on independence would be respected. In Ireland, the past in this was not the case and had a similar end to the Scottish referendum been the case in the Six Counties, with the possibility of leaving the UK appearing a real possibility near the end of the campaign, there would have been serious and extensive reactionary violence.
The rather particular history of Ireland does not make for neat categorisation, so for example the position of Ireland within the UK has been called internal colonialism. The Six Counties has a majority that wants unity with Britain although for most of its history this majority has jealously guarded its own parliament and its own prerogatives.
The point is not that the description of the Northern state as a colony can be made on the basis of Lenin’s imperialism, but because certain features of it have a colonial character. The issue of partition is a national question in so far as the Irish are concerned – that there is a question of an oppressed minority within the country but not within the state while this oppression, viewed from Britain, is within the state but is occurring in part of another country of which it is in control. And it is important to emphasise here the active role of the British State in this oppression and not as some historical hangover it has just been saddled with.
In so far as the attitude of socialists is concerned, the sharp denial of democracy that has existed in the North of Ireland has meant that socialists in Ireland could not avoid, even if they wanted to, taking up the demand for an end to partition. This is not to take sides between two sectarian blocs, but to seek the grounds for unity among the working class of both.
Such an approach has also been framed as seeking the unity of the whole Irish working class in all 32 counties, in part as an attack on the reactionary clerical character of the Southern State as well, where the power of the Catholic Church had its own oppressive results. For socialists a united Ireland would destroy unionism and its reactionary hold on Protestant workers while weakening the power of the Catholic Church. It would not involve the creation of an additional capitalist state and yet another resultant division but a reconfiguration of two existing states and increasing the unity of the working class.
But just as certain bourgeois democratic tasks, if not solved by the working class, are solved after a fashion by capitalism itself and its political forces, so is this also the case in Ireland. In the North the unbridled rule of unionism is no longer possible, although that hasn’t stopped this being unionism’s objective. But instead of equality of civil rights we have been offered equality of sectarian group rights and while it is possible to build on the equality of citizen rights to go beyond the limits of equality under capitalism, it is not possible to build upon group sectarian rights, which stand as a barrier to workers’ unity. Socialists cannot intervene into the struggle of Catholics for equality if this simply means equality of sectarian privileges and patronage, because this is not democracy and does not point to any higher unity beyond a sectarian identity.
In the Six Counties, the sectarian division of society proved too strong for a democratic renewal built on civil rights, even when this struggle was initially led by the left, broadly understood. This is mainly due to the alliance between unionism and the British state, the latter by far the strongest political actor.
In the South the influence of the Catholic Church has taken a hammering but the failure to achieve this from the ground up means it retains almost all its previous levers of power. Its holy character means that it has held tight to its money and wealth even if this has meant lost credibility in the eyes of its flock. It still has powerful influence on health and education even as the numbers of cadres able to impose this power is dwindling as the priestly vocations have declined enormously. From this retained earthly power it will no doubt hope to re-establish at some point the ideological dominance it once had. Southern society therefore has, and has not, secularised without the need for a united Ireland, and women and young people have been the main forces challenging the restraints of the church on their rights.
In terms of imperialism in the South of Ireland, the influence of this will not decline but will grow and the deepening of the EU project can only be at the expense of any little autonomy smaller countries have. Instead of trying to wish this international integration away, socialist should seek to exploit it by increasing the international unity of the working class as a result. Such unity should recognise the nature of the current divisions that exist.
Let me be clear what I was saying about Northern Ireland in terms of it being a colony. Firstly, I am saying that Ireland as a whole most certainly was a colony. But, it was a colony that clearly is contrary to Lenin’s theory, as set out in “Imperialism”. In other words, the occupation and oppression of Ireland goes back 700 years, long before capitalism existed in Britain, let alone the kind of monopoly capitalism that Lenin describes as being the defining character, and cause of imperialism and the division of the world into monopolistic, closed colonial empires. You can’t explain Ireland as being a colony, on the basis of Lenin’s thesis, given that it existed, as such, for centuries before the conditions required for imperialism, according to that thesis, existed. But, as I’ve said elsewhere, that is just a particular example of what is wrong with the thesis in general, i.e. it described a world of colonies and colonial empires that had already been established long before the advent of monopoly capitalism, which according to Lenin was the explanation of the phenomenon, and indeed a world that was already in dissolution, by the time the thesis itself was developed.
At the time of partition, that condition of being a colony continued for the North, and the South existed as a semi-colony. But, the world is not fixed frozen in those relations. It is in constant flux, and the job of Marxists is to analyse the world as it exists, today, including the current dynamics, using the tools that Marx and others provided. Marx himself, in Capital, refers to the US as still being a colony, given the nature of its economy, in the middle of the 19th century, Engels revised the view, when he edited the later volumes, and no one today would describe the US as a colony. The Irish Republic is today neither a colony nor a semi-colony. It is a relatively developed capitalist state, in its own right, within the EU. The dominant politico-economic relation is with the EU, not with the former British colonial overlord.
The question then is, in the nearly 100 years since partition, has the nature of the Six Counties changed? Can it still be considered merely a colony, or has it been effectively annexed to the British state, in the same way that say Texas was annexed to the US, or that we might expect Crimea to now be annexed to Russia. I think that it has. The fact of being annexed to, and incorporated within the British state does not at all mean that it has to be a mirror image of the rest of that state, any more than we expect to see the SNP operating in Wales, or Plaid Cymru operating in Scotland, or either operating in England. Even the Welsh Labour Party, and Scottish Labour Party, have different positions, and if you consider somewhere like Spain, the politics within the different regions, even within the PSOE, are different. If the EU does become a federal state, the particularities of each state within it, are not going to change, because those differences will have been inherited from the past. As you say, we should not deny the existence of those differences, but attempt to go beyond them in terms of building working-class unity.
The nature of politico-economic relations within each of the different nations within Tsarist Russia had their own peculiarities, and many if not all of those nationalities were oppressed, often more brutally than have been the Catholics in Ireland. But, those oppressed nations and nationalities within Russia were not colonies, they were integral parts of the Russian state. That is why Lenin distinguishes between the colonial question and the national questions, and the distinction between the two categories is also important for the question of how Marxists relate to the two different conditions.
A colony is already a state in its own right. It is a state over which some external state exerts control, usually with the compliance of the domestic ruling class, as for example, with the British in India, or indeed in Ireland. The appropriate response in such cases, is for socialists to support a democratic political revolution, to achieve political independence for that existing state, whilst arguing, in line with the concept of Permanent Revolution, for the need to focus upon the building up and role of the truly revolutionary, proletarian elements within that state, and for them to place no faith in the domestic bourgeoisie and ruling-class, who tomorrow will be their immediate enemy. A responsibility lies with socialists and workers in the country which exerts domination over that state to facilitate the struggle of the workers in the colony, to achieve that independence. But, this immediately throws up a question, because we are led to ask exactly who are the domestic ruling-class in the Six Counties, and in what way are they separate from the ruling-class in Britain or in the Republic? The answer is that they are, by and large, the same people.
Its precisely the development of gigantic, multinational industrial capital, which dominates the economy, which makes discussion framed in terms of national bourgeoisies now appear somewhat quaint. Part of the problem that socialists face today is that the ruling class has long ago recognised that it is an international class, a global class, particularly as that class, in the age of socialised capital, owns its private wealth almost exclusively in the form of fictitious capital, of shares and bonds that are internationally traded, and can be bought and sold instantaneously, shifting that paper wealth from assets in one country or continent to another in a matter of milliseconds, whilst, the working-class, still sees the world in national terms, and is still seeking solutions in national terms, as the Brexit vote indicated, and, as the ridiculous calls for Lexit showed, infect the organisations of the working-class that are supposed to be its most advanced representatives.
Even then the question over whether such a state is entirely separated as a colony, or whether it is, in fact, largely incorporated within the more powerful state is often not entirely clear, as witness the discussions of Marx and Engels, in relation to Ireland and Poland, and the subsequent discussions on those matters by Lenin, Luxemburg and others. The primary concern for Marxists is not the niceties of bourgeois democratic freedoms, but the struggle for socialism, and of prime concern within that struggle is the unity of the working-class across borders. Where possible we seek to remove borders not erect new ones. Given the nature of international capital, as described above, framing solutions in national terms is even more irrelevant.
And that is where the position in relation to the National Question differs to that of the Colonial Question. No one doubts that within a single state such as Tsarist Russia, there can be oppressed nationalities, and other minorities. The question is what is the appropriate response to that oppression or unequal treatment of those minorities. The Marxist answer has always been to focus not upon a sectionalist or nationalist solution, but to marry the struggle for a solution to that oppression to the general struggle of the working-class, for socialism, within the existing given state. Jews, for example, were terribly oppressed and faced repeated pogroms within Tsarist Russia, but Lenin rejected the calls of the Bund, and of Bauer and others within the Austrian Social-Democracy for national-cultural autonomy.
In some ways the solution provided in Northern Ireland via the Good Friday Agreements, which rather than providing for civil rights, provides, as you say,for separate sectarian rights, is an application of that concept, of national-cultural autonomy. In some ways devolution in Scotland served a similar purpose, because for Blair, it was a way of attempting to retain votes for Labour in Scotland, where workers were seen as not being so likely to be wooed by the ideas of New Labour. Few people today, would support the ideas of Marcus Garvey, for example, that the answer to the question of the oppression of blacks in the US, is the creation of a separate state. Its impossible to see the problems of blacks in the US being addressed separate from the struggle of the US working-class in general. Its not only why I oppose calls for Scottish independence, but why I found the proposals for devolution to be highly dangerous, as the history proved it to be the case.
But, its also impossible to see how the problems of Catholics in the North of Ireland, today, are to be resolved separate from a struggle by the Irish working-class as a whole for socialism, and indeed, the struggle of the Irish, British and EU working-class in such a struggle. Moreover, a significant element of that working-class, in Ireland, and certainly in the North, comprises Protestant workers. Had partition never happened, we might today, be viewing the situation from the other end of the glass, and asking how best to deal with the oppression of a Protestant minority within a Catholic clerical-state. In fact, its only necessary to look at the reversal of fortunes of Sunnis in Iraq, or of Kosovan Serbs in Kosovo, to see how formerly oppressed groups, themselves become the oppressors, when solutions are framed in purely sectionalist or nationalist terms.
If Northern Ireland is a colony, then the appropriate response is to call for a political revolution so as to bring about its independence as a sovereign state. But, no one is calling for such a solution, although there were some Protestants floating the idea some time ago, when it looked possible that Britain might just walk away from its commitments. In fact, its unlikely that any kind of political revolution would be required if there was any groundswell of opinion calling for such a solution, because its likely that Britain would be more than happy to walk away from the North of Ireland, and the costs to the exchequer it involves. The main motivation for the British state not walking away from Northern Ireland is, in fact, that it would undoubtedly lead to a backlash from sections of the Protestant community, and the creation, once more, of instability on its border that would inevitably flow over into the mainland. Its not a settler community of colons acting as the agents of a colonial power, but a former colonial power, being held hostage by the consequences of history. It certainly cannot be explained on the basis of anything that Lenin wrote in “Imperialism”.
And, of course, in fact, in the last Stormont elections, it was Sinn Fein that for the first time became the largest party. It is undoubtedly the case that many of today’s workers in the North including young Protestant workers do not have the same fears of the Republic that their parents had, precisely because the last thirty years of EU membership, of economic development across the whole of Ireland, and of free movement across the border has fundamentally changed the material conditions. It is why a large majority in the North voted to Remain in the EU, leaving the DUP considerably at odds even with the community it purports to represent. Its still unlikely that a border poll would come down for reunification, but it is at least today something that is not as impossible as it was even twenty years ago, and there is absolutely no possibility that should such a poll vote for reunification, the British state would prevent it, any more than they would have prevented Scottish independence had the people there voted for it.
And that is even more so the case as far as capital is concerned. To the extent that it makes any sense now to speak of British capital or Irish capital, as opposed to EU capital or even just multinational capital, the problems of the border, post-Brexit, are considerable. If Britain is to leave the EU, then by far the simplest solution for capital will be for a reunification of Ireland.
First to set out the areas where I think there is agreement. I agree that “the primary concern for Marxists is not the niceties of bourgeois democratic freedoms, but the struggle for socialism, and of prime concern within that struggle is the unity of the working-class across borders.”
I agree that “you can’t explain Ireland as being a colony, on the basis of Lenin’s thesis.” I also agree that “at the time of partition, that condition of being a colony continued for the North, and the South existed as a semi-colony.” For the South this character derived from the extreme dependence on the British economy and various features of the Treaty settlement, that included the understanding that re-integration of the national territory was subject to a British veto, one that had just been enforced through the threat of war by Britain if the Irish sought to reject its Treaty terms. For reasons set out in another comment, while the South can be said to suffer some form of national oppression as a result of this, the state and its economy have developed and it now is a small independent capitalist state.
Where we depart is in our characterisation of the Northern State. I agree with the statement, and with the approach that lies behind it, that “even then the question over whether such a state is entirely separated as a colony, or whether it is, in fact, largely incorporated within the more powerful state is often not entirely clear.” In my last reply I noted the various features of the Northern State that would not fit a simple definition of a colony. However I do not believe that the arguments that you have advanced demonstrate that it is not, and I would maintain that in very important respects it is.
You say that, in contrast to it being a colony, the question to be answered is “has it been effectively annexed to the British state, in the same way that say Texas was annexed to the US, or that we might expect Crimea to now be annexed to Russia. I think that it has.” You thus say that “the fact of being annexed to, and incorporated within the British state does not at all mean that it has to be a mirror image of the rest of that state”; but the argument that I have put is that the Northern State is so far from being a mirror image of the rest of the UK that it is correctly regarded by everyone in this larger state as being a place apart, and I have set out the fundamental ways that this is politically the case.
The voters of Northern Ireland are never going to help elect the Government that rules over them, none of the main British parties get elected even if they stand, and this is not altered by either the existence or non-existence of a devolved Assembly, that doesn’t work, or by the DUP supporting the Tory Government. This support is so toxic that it is doubtful even Theresa May thinks she could get away with a DUP Minister telling English voters the score. The colonial character of the North, its historic privileging of the population of one religion that supported its rule over another (in historical terms the native population) that didn’t, was best illustrated when, in order to suppress political violence and its attendant political instability, it armed the very forces that caused the Troubles to erupt in the first place. The police that assisted the pogroms on Catholic areas were militarised; a special regiment of the British Army, and its biggest (the UDR), was created, one that quickly became 97% Protestant and was composed of unionists and loyalists who were guilty of the sectarian murders they were supposed to prevent. And, as if this wasn’t enough, when the loyalist paramilitaries became so corrupted through criminality that their murder of Catholics dropped, the British security services infiltrated their own agents into them to make them more professional killers, while financing them and facilitating their import of weapons. What we have here is not a society dissimilar to Scotland, Wales or any part of England, but one that is very, very different, which is why many British people during the Troubles thought that the best thing to do was to just get rid of it.
The North of Ireland hasn’t been annexed by Britain, nor added to it, but is the part of Ireland it retained when the whole country was its colony and it decided to leave. The Troubles demonstrate that it has not developed to be integrated into the UK, which is the argument I have put before, but that it has continue to show major features of its colonial past and origin. Lest anyone get forget, or get confused about this, we have the annual Twelfth of July demonstrations and the display of the most extreme bigotry, celebrated by the local BBC as a jolly expression of culture. This culture involves building large bonfires that burn symbols of Irish nationalism and sometimes those of foreign immigrants, like Polish flags. KKK, Confederate and Swastika flags also occasionally join the usual loyalist flags drapped from lampposts across the North’s towns and cities. The ingrained intimidation that this involves, and that is now hardly even noticed, was evident when one enormous bonfire was set on fire beside an apartment complex which started to overheat. So where did the fire brigade aim their water canons? On the fire?
You state that “had partition never happened, we might today, be viewing the situation from the other end of the glass, and asking how best to deal with the oppression of a Protestant minority within a Catholic clerical-state.” This is quite true, but it is necessary to change the world starting from the one that we find, and this is not what happened. The effect of partition was to strengthen sectarian division, through creation of states defined by it, adding a second division arising from the myriad differences that arise from separate states irrespective of this sectarianism.
You state that what we have is “not a settler community of colons acting as the agents of a colonial power, but a former colonial power, being held hostage by the consequences of history.” “The main motivation for the British state not walking away from Northern Ireland is, in fact, that it would undoubtedly lead to a backlash from sections of the Protestant community, and the creation, once more, of instability on its border that would inevitably flow over into the mainland.”
Your description does not fit the arming of the unionist population I have described and it absolves the British State of its responsibility for the defence of the state it created and of the sectarianism that both results from it and supports it. Arming loyalism to carry out murder to impose stability looks pretty much like agents acting on behalf of the colonial power to me. This is modified but not negated by these agents seeking to pursue their own agenda, one the British seek to curtail but not fundamentally oppose.
Britain is indeed mainly interested in political stability, but it has decided that this is best maintained by indulging the most reactionary significant section of Northern society. This is undoubtedly a consequence of history but the most powerful force making this history has been the British state itself. Britain today has choices in how it seeks to use its political power to maintain political stability and the policy of strengthening loyalism alternating with trying to tame it is only one.
You write with reference to a poll on the continuing existence of the border that there is absolutely no possibility that should such a poll vote for reunification, the British state would prevent it. In fact there is every reason to believe it would. The prospect of such a result would provoke loyalist violence and as I have noted before, the democratic rights of the North exist only because of the purported democratic rights of the Protestant population. A complete reversal of British policy is hardly inconceivable but this would involve more than accepting a vote. It would have to involve a policy of politically and militarily disarming loyalism. That, or progressive forces in Ireland itself performing this task.
You are correct however to say that “it’s still unlikely that a border poll would come down for reunification”, and we deal with the world as we find it. As it is, your statement that “if Britain is to leave the EU, then by far the simplest solution for capital will be for a reunification of Ireland”, is only true on paper, only the case theoretically.
To conclude on the most important point of agreement – “its also impossible to see how the problems of Catholics in the North of Ireland, today, are to be resolved separate from a struggle by the Irish working-class as a whole for socialism, and indeed, the struggle of the Irish, British and EU working-class in such a struggle.” The repeated political crises in the North denote a political form of domination breaking down and decomposing but without any positive resolution visible. For this to happen there must be some force within the North to be the agent of this positive resolution but I think the force for this will come from outside, from working class struggle in the rest of Ireland, Britain and Europe.
Here is another question for you and Boffy.
Why does the Irish Polity or an Economy have to be only one thing or the other thing? In the case of the South of Ireland, surely on empirical grounds it is both a semi-colony and an independent bourgeois state. There may be some semantic contradiction in the use of terms but in the real world both things are evident to the observer.
The observer can see that the Republic of Ireland retains a legitimate national claim over the whole of the Island, this can be queried with the recent change in Irish constitutional law but not in the political consciousness of the majority of the Irish working class. The majority of the IRISH working class supports the idea of a united Ireland, the reservation they hold is resorting to the use of arms to bring in into being. The reason why the united Ireland idea is not pressed by the any Irish Government is that they anticipate correctly that it would be resisted by force of arms by the loyalists backed by the power of the British State. The only evidence one can go on on this score is the historical evidence of 1922-23 and the recent evidence of the so called Troubles. This at least is evidence of a neo-colonial condition as opposed to mere logic and speculation as to future British intentions. There can no disputing the fact that Ulster would crumble without substantial British economic and military subsidies.
One can at the same time say that despite the weakness and failure of nerve in respect to the unresolved national question the Irish capitalist class has pursued its own class interest to the point that it can now make claim to a national capitalist independence from British imperialism. The coming Brexit period might yet put the
independence proposition to the test, we will have to follow the evidence on that one.
So both propositions can be true in the real world, the republic is both a neo colony and an independent capitalist State with its own ruling class.
I think simply repeating a small section of my previous comment answers your question:
“So, yes, it is possible to see the South as semi-colonial in the sense that it suffers national oppression resulting from partition. But the importance of this is massively diluted by the Southern state being as independent a state formation as a small Irish capitalist state is going to be (as I said before) and there are no class forces in the South going to fight Britain over partition because this material reality is much more important than any national oppression.’
I don’t think your way of expressing the question clarifies anything. If the Southern State is unambiguously a semi-colony or neo-colony, i.e. it is dominated by an imperialist power through extreme economic dependence or political intervention, then I don’t see how that can be the same as having a degree of independence consistent with its size, geographical position and significant degree of economic development.
I have provided some commentary before on the development of the Irish capitalist state and economy over the last nearly 100 years but simply lumping the two concepts into one obscures such development. The worst aspect is that it can easily lead to misunderstanding the role of national oppression in the South and potentially therefore its place in the struggle for socialism.
After all, if being a semi-colony is the same as being an independent state, or you can be both at the same time more or less to the same extent, why would those interested in a democratic programme worry about the first when it means the second?
I’m sorry to have taken a while to respond, but I am busy on a number of different fronts at the moment.
Let me also begin on the ground of agreement. I think that it is similar to what Trotsky said in relation to disagreements over the class nature of the soviet state. Whether it was defined as state capitalist or a degenerated workers state, he argued, was only a matter of intellectual discussion, whereas the important question of principle was over whether that state should be defended against imperialism. The question of whether the Six Counties are a colony, or an unequal annexed part of the British state is a question of intellectual curiosity. Whichever definition is held, I think we both agree on the practical measures required.
For example, I think we would both agree that the British state has no right to prevent the Six Counties from demanding equal treatment with any other part of the British state, and that includes the right to independence, as with Scotland, or to attach itself thereby to some other state, if it so chooses. Indeed, the Good Friday Agreement already includes rights for the Irish State to intervene in matters concerning the Six Counties, alongside the British State. I have suggested that, especially if Scotland were to gain independence from England, and to remain in the EU, one possible course, given that Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, then might be that Northern Ireland could become an independent province within the EU, much like Andorra (I’ve suggested a similar solution for Gibraltar) with the citizen’s rights of its inhabitants thereby guaranteed by the EU and ECJ, whilst retaining a link to Britain, but with the dynamic inevitably driving towards an incorporation of the Six Counties into the Republic.
Similarly, I think we would agree that whilst Protestant/Unionists should not have a right to veto a United Ireland, given that those Protestants are overwhelmingly working-class, nor would we seek a solution that replaces the oppression/unequal treatment of Catholics, by one that results in the oppression of Protestants by the Irish Republic. As you say, there is little desire by the Irish Republic to push the question of a United Ireland, but even if there were, the question would then be to what extent should socialists support such a move, if it was then violently opposed by Protestants, behind whom the British state would feel committed to provide support? It would be an almost identical situation to that described by Lenin.
“Let us assume that between two great monarchies there is a little monarchy whose kinglet is “bound” by blood and other ties to the monarchs of both neighbouring countries. Let us further assume that the declaration of a republic in the little country and the expulsion of its monarch would in practice lead to a war between the two neighbouring big countries for the restoration of that or another monarch in the little country. There is no doubt that all international Social-Democracy, as well as the really internationalist section of Social-Democracy in the little country, would be against substituting a republic for the monarchy in this case. The substitution of a republic for a monarchy is not an absolute, but one of the democratic demands, subordinate to the interests of democracy (and still more, of course, to those of the socialist proletariat) as a whole.”
(The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up)
As an aside, I think the same kind of argument applies in relation to Israel. However much we might oppose the oppressive nature of the Israeli state, as a confessional state, the reality is that it is an established fact, and aside from Israeli workers themselves struggling to change the nature of that state, the only means of changing it from the outside would involve a terrible war that would at the very least result in the loss of life of thousands of Jewish and Arab workers, but would have great potential to spill over into a much wider conflagration with all of the devastating effect on the global working-class that implies. I would not have supported Zionism’s creation of such a state, as a colonial state, but it is now an established fact, and it is not now either a colonial state, any more than the United States, or Canada, or Australia are any longer colonial states, and nothing progressive can come of simply calling for it to be demolished to right some historical wrong,
The real problems of workers in Northern Ireland do not stem from their unequal treatment vis a vis workers in the rest of Britain, nor did the problems of Catholics in the Six Counties stem from their unequal treatment vis a vis Protestant workers. Those problems stemmed from capitalism, and in particular the capitalism as it existed in Ireland. The fact is, much like the position of white workers in South Africa relative to black workers, the privileges they enjoyed, were often quite small in absolute terms. Protestant workers in Northern Ireland were privileged compared to Catholics, but that did not mean that the condition of the Protestant workers themselves was not also quite miserable. It is often the case that where the general level of deprivation is high, even the most modest privileges become most significant. In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is King.
The significance of these privileges becomes ever more diminished the more the general level of economic development is advanced. The problem of furthering such advance is the problem that faces all smaller economies, which is why the attempts to frame solutions in national terms, in the age of imperialism is ultimately reactionary. A look at Britain in the last few days illustrates the point. Britain is by no means Ireland, even today after Ireland’s significant development in the last fifty years, but as it flounders around facing the prospect of Brexit, we see what “Taking Back Control” really means, as Liam Fox rolls over on his back in front of Trump, waiting to be told what terms and conditions the US will dictate to it for future trade relations, in terms of the US imports of poultry, beef and genetically modified crops the UK will have to let in, and the extent to which state support for Rolls Royce will have to be dropped, for Britain to sell its engines into the US market.
That is why your comments about the independence that Ireland has as a small capitalist economy are absolutely correct, and why the ideas put forward by the “anti-imperialists”, about national sovereignty simply mirror the delusions being put forward on that score by the Tory Brexiteers and nationalists. But, it is also why the solution for Ireland resides in the further integration of the EU, as a unified state, at least, until the Irish workers alongside British and other EU workers can transform that state into a United Socialist States of Europe.
In making these points, I am in no way presenting the matter in the way Militant did, for example, in the 1970’s, and 80’s, which was to put forward a purely economistic solution, which sought to deny the existence of any national question, and by assuming it away, then made fruitless calls for the forging of Catholic/Protestant organisations and defence squads etc. The national question remains a powerful force, which of itself acts to prevent such unity, without there being some political rather than economistic solution offered.
You are quite right to point to those divisions as being a defining characteristic of Northern Ireland as opposed to the situation, for example, in Scotland. However, I think it’s wrong to point to those specificities as evidence that Northern Ireland is a colony as opposed to being an unequal, annexed part of the British state. In fact, I think that if you read the sections dealing with the question of what are annexations etc. in Lenin’s discussion referred to above, you will see they apply perfectly well to the situation in Northern Ireland. A colony such as India, Canada, or America is a state in its own right, with its own administration and so on. That is not the case with Northern Ireland. Its payment of taxes, receipt of benefits pensions and so on, are tied in inextricably to the British state.
Its true that if you make a comparison of Northern Ireland with say Scotland, the objections you raise can be made, but those objections do not apply to say the various oppressed nationalities that existed within Tsarist Russia. The divisions and particularities you describe are a function not of Northern Ireland being a colony, but of it being divided along sharp communal lines between Catholics and Protestants, or more correctly nationalists and unionists. It is that division as I said above which made the economistic solutions of the Militant irrelevant. However, consider somewhere like Iraq, which is likewise sharply divided along communal lines between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities. Iraq is not a colony, and yet the same characteristics you outline of an inability to forge labour movement organisations along class rather than communal lines, the inability to forge political parties other than along communal lines also exists. Its not the nature of the political entity as a colony as opposed to being an unequal component of a larger state that explains those differences, but the division of the political entity itself along those communal lines. Indeed, we both agree that the Republic is not a colony, and yet its political parties continue to reflect its historical legacy, rather than clear class lines, as in Britain.
Going back to Lenin’s document, the other example would be Norway and Sweden. The same comments about the differences in political organisations etc. could have been made in that case too. But, Norway was not a colony of Sweden. In fact, it was not even a specifically oppressed nation, but was an unequal nation within the state. And, I think this answers your point,
“but the argument that I have put is that the Northern State is so far from being a mirror image of the rest of the UK that it is correctly regarded by everyone in this larger state as being a place apart”.
Unfortunately, many people in Britain also saw France, Belgium, Germany Spain in a similar light in the EU referendum, but the fact that they did so, did not mean that any of these countries were colonies, or even oppressed nations within the EU proto-state. It is simply an indication of historical and cultural legacies.
“The voters of Northern Ireland are never going to help elect the Government that rules over them, none of the main British parties get elected even if they stand”.
But, of course that is not only what the SNP says about its position within the UK state, it is also what UKIP and the Brexiters argued in relation to Britain within the EU.
“The colonial character of the North, its historic privileging of the population of one religion that supported its rule over another (in historical terms the native population) that didn’t, was best illustrated when, in order to suppress political violence and its attendant political instability, it armed the very forces that caused the Troubles to erupt in the first place….”
The problem for both you and me, I suspect, is that we grew up during all of this period, and it is difficult to view the world other than through the eyes that witnessed all of that. However, we have to remember that the start of the Troubles is now nearly half a century away. The world has changed a lot in half a century. Even the Good Friday Agreement is 20 years into the past. Our task is not to try to right wrongs of the past, but to deal with the world as it actually exists today.
Had the Brexit vote not happened, I think the likely course would have been for the de facto scrapping of the border to have become de jure reunification of Ireland. The domination of large multinational capital in the Irish economy (whole of Ireland) as in the economy elsewhere already has no purpose for the old sectarian divide, which is a barrier to capital accumulation, and the recruitment of labour. The Brexit vote hinders that process, but the multinational capital in the North will have no more reason to pursue sectarian practices after Brexit than it does now. Even Protestant capitalist farmers with farms that straddle the border are looking to some fudge, and their attachment to the north is not as strong as it once was. If the Northern economy struggles along with the rest of the UK, whilst the Republic continues to grow alongside a strengthening EU, all those Northern workers who currently move seamlessly to work in the South, will begin to question what purpose the border serves.
However we characterise the Six Counties, the fact remains that a political solution that protects the rights of both Protestant and Catholic workers, and is able to carry their support along with it, should be our aim.
It’s my turn to apologise for the delay in responding. I went on holiday when you posted your last comment and I am only now at a part of it where I can reply.
There are clearly areas of agreement and you provide two scenarios in which this might be tested, neither of which I think are at all likely, but I will go with them for the sake of argument.
The first is that we would agree that the six counties, if it demanded independence, should not have this frustrated by Britain. I agree that such an eventuality would have a dynamic to unity with the South, which is maybe why the only force in the North to ever champion it has been loyalist paramilitaries, whose political thinking can best be described as primitive and whose only motivation would be to maintain more vicious sectarian arrangements than the British would want to alllow.
Such an eventuality is suggested by the vote to remain in the EU by a majority in the North. This would then fulfil the necessary grounds for some shared Northern ground on which the proposal for independence would have to rest. Such grounds for unity have not existed as an option before because it is the obvious political division which has been the problem.
Unfortunately, here too division is evident. Just like the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), an overwhelming majority of Catholics voted to remain while a small majority of Protestants also probably voted to do so. However, the GFA has not led to stability and any significant diminution of sectarianism and the most vocal defenders of sectarian rights have emerged as the largest parties since the Agreement was made.
This is not built into the remain vote in the same way that a sectarian logic has been built into the GFA so the latter is not a simple guide to the fate of any unity derived from the former. The problem with the former, Brexit, is that it has less salience in terms of political traction and less immediate impact.
You are correct to say that if the UK does leave, a hard border will exist somewhere and that if Britain declines while the South does not, the unity of the island becomes more appealing to Protestants, or certainly less unappealing. But we have a long way to go before that eventuality, at least in terms of how it becomes reflected in political consciousness in large numbers of people.
So I think here there is agreement, albeit perhaps with differences over how likely it is to happen. I would also say that the British may be likely to try to obstruct the above development, but a lot would depend on how such developments evolve concretely.
I also agree with your second point “that whilst Protestant/Unionists should not have a right to veto a United Ireland, given that those Protestants are overwhelmingly working-class”, we would not “seek a solution that replaces the oppression/unequal treatment of Catholics, by one that results in the oppression of Protestants by the Irish Republic.” For socialists, the unity of Ireland only has the purpose of uniting its working class and it’s a failure if it doesn’t, which means how it is united does matter. The evolution of Southern society provides grounds for believing that such reverse discrimination would be less likely to occur.
But you then raise the question whether socialists should abjure such a goal if it would lead to violent opposition from Protestants supported by the British state. Like yourself, I do not believe that the socialist programme derives its power from some moral imperative that stands above history or reality, and a struggle for a united Ireland that ranged the Southern State and Catholic population in the North against the British State and Protestant population in the North, is not one that I would work for or would welcome.
Again, as I think you probably know, the chances of the Southern State ever getting into such a scenario is as close to zero as you can confidently predict. The Southern State has executed many more republicans than the British to prevent just such an eventuality. This scenario is not one therefore upon which one can base one’s political programme.
I think we can agree that the matter resolves itself into how we can win the working classes of each of these component parts to a united programme that involves opposition to British rule in the North, opposition to sectarian division and the creation of unity among Irish workers that demonstrates the alternative to the various political strategies of capitalism.
As the development of capitalism makes clearer, the unity above will become more and more linked to and dependent upon the rise of a working class movement across Europe and in Britain.
Where we continue to disagree is whether Northern Ireland is a colony as opposed to being an unequal, annexed part of the British state. I will follow your advice and read up again on what Lenin says about annexations and reflect on their relevance to Ireland, although it will have to wait a bit. In the meantime I would only add the following.
My argument is that inequality does exist between Britain and the six counties and that this is reflected in the many ways that I have previously outlined. It is impossible to envisage the violent actions of the British state carried out in the North arising in Britain itself, just as it is impossible to imagine the sectarianism that brought this violence being such an instrument of state policy.
I don’t think my point that the population of the North never elects a UK government is adequately addressed. You say that “but, of course that is not only what the SNP says about its position within the UK state, it is also what UKIP and the Brexiters argued in relation to Britain within the EU.”
In relation to Scotland, Scottish voters can and did vote for the Tories and their increased tally of MPs in Scotland played a major role in seeing the return of a minority Tory Government. Likewise, Scottish workers can vote for the Labour Party and can play a very important role in achieving a victory for a Corbyn-led Labour Party.
The reactionary argument that Scottish voters don’t get what they vote for is a hypocritical one for the SNP since voting for them is the best way of ensuring just this result. The point is that Scottish workers have been, and hopefully will continue to be, part of the one movement of the British working class that can take giant strides forward together in a way that is excluded to Irish workers in the North of Ireland. This is what makes Scottish nationalism so reactionary, that it intentionally disrupts the unity of the British working class.
Were the workers of the North of Ireland an organic part of this British labour movement there would be every reason to hope that sectarian differences could be more effectively combatted and the requirement to seek an end to British rule would be correspondingly much reduced, if required at all. But that is not where we are at.
As for the lack of democracy at the EU level, the Brexiters are right, the EU is a very undemocratic organisation. The question is whether we peddle reactionary rubbish about the wonders of Westminster or we seek to fight for the unity of Europe’s workers by creating real Europe-wide working class parties and trade unions. One task for such a movement would be, for example, to win a majority socialist composition of the European parliament to demand real power over law making and the EU institutions, in so far as any bourgeois parliament will ever allow such things.
In the North of Ireland the only point of political struggle is to put pressure on the British to either accommodate sectarian demands, which is best done by independent unionist organisation, or to organise to put pressure on the British either to leave, or to stop supporting and accommodating loyalist sectarian demands, either in favour of democratic rights or purely sectarian rights. The two respective blocs have absolutely no interest in what happens to the populations in Hull, Haringey or Hemel Hempstead, and aren’t interested in governing their populations.
The communal inequality that exists therefore depends crucially on the actions of the British State, which has historically supported unionist sectarianism. You are right that the inequalities are marginal but, by this token, they could more easily be removed, if the political will was there. Above all however this would require a political defeat of some significance for Ulster Unionism and the British State seeks not to defeat unionism, as it did republicanism, but to tame it by accommodating to its demands, while being wary of any potential reaction from nationalism.
You are right that “the world has changed a lot in half a century. Even the Good Friday Agreement is 20 years into the past. Our task is not to try to right wrongs of the past, but to deal with the world as it actually exists today.”
The defeat of the nationalist revolt has not led to reconstruction of the old Stormont regime. The very length of the so-called peace process has had its own impact on current politics and I am all too aware of the different political consciousness that now exists among younger people, who I work with every day.
The growth of the Catholic population on its own makes much more problematic any return to open sectarian rule but for socialists in the North of Ireland it is important to point out the dichotomy between the state propaganda that the North has moved forward and the reality of continued sectarian practices and corruption. This still forms the bedrock of continuing working class division. The British state and its loyalist support remains central to this.
It is usually taken for granted that Lenin was an absolutely frank author in regard to his own publications, this assumption is made questionable by the later words of Lenin. He prefaced his re-publication concerning Imperialism ‘This pamphlet was written with an eye to the tsarist censorship. Hence, I was forced to confine myself strictly to an exclusively theoretical, economic analysis of the facts, but to formulate the few necessary observations on politics with extreme caution, by hints….It is painful, in these days of liberty, to read the passages of the pamphlet which have been distorted, cramped, compressed in an iron vice on account of the censor….I had to speak in a slavish tongue, and I must refer the reader who is interested in the subject to the articles I wrote while living abroad 1914-1917.
Most of the articles about the direct political side of monopoly capitalism like ‘Notes for Lecture on Imperialism’, ‘The Nascent Trend of Imperialist Economism,’ ‘A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism’, ‘Imperialism and the Split in Socialism” and many more go unmentioned by modern readers.
Lenin says ‘I sometimes resorted to Esopian language,, ie the language of deception, to express myself. The very translation of title of the pamphlet makes for a difference in our immediate understanding, some have it as ‘highest’, some have it as the ‘last’ and some have it as the ‘latest’ stage of capitalism. When we take on board all that we know, latest stage seems to be the closest to what he intended.
Perhaps we should stop thinking of authors in the Marxist tradition as being unusually frank and open about what they really thought about all important matters. If you compare what Karl Marx published in respect of the Paris Commune and what he says about the Commune in his private letters you find something not the same. Marx was very drawn to classical Technics of rhetoric. When he was a student he made a partial translation of Aristotle’s book about forensic rhetoric. The right to speak and write freely or openly is of very recent origin in most locations. We know that Gramsci was forced to dress up his marxism in a whole new vocabulary and this at a time well after Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Lukacs, due to the eyes of the censor.