Irish unity is now a question of when, not if. The British-EU border debacle illustrates the imperialist domination of the 32 counties. Regardless of how the inter-imperialist rivalry plays out, the needs and interests of the Irish working class will not be the main topic of discussion, whether it be in Brussels, London, or even Dublin. Our country and people will be laid on the dissecting-table, to be toyed with by our imperial masters.
The only democratic solution is the ending of partition, to be used as a vehicle towards a truly independent Ireland. A workers’ republic will not be parachuted from the sky, nor will it be granted by either the EU or the British state.
Both failed states in this country were a result of a compromise between Irish capitalism and the British ruling class. The counter-revolution of 1922–23 not only ended in partition but also undid the gains of the working class in this period, namely the workers’ power that led workers to establish soviets and other radical measures.
The Irish left has yet to fully learn from its mistakes in this period. James Connolly articulated very clearly that the working class had to lead the national liberation struggle, and to set its direction, or else the gains made would be undone. The organised workers’ movement is not a passive bystander in the national independence struggle but a necessary part of it.
Partition prevented the development of a national capitalism, and forced the opening up of the southern state to foreign direct investment in the 1960s. The state continued to be subservient to Britain. Even at the height of de Valera’s nationalist measures the Irish pound was still at parity with the English pound.
In the north, the neo-colonial statelet has never achieved, and probably never will achieve, any stability, with the former Orange state morphing into a sectarian state that is just as much in thrall to imperialism as ever.
Any attempts to reform these states will only serve the forces of imperialism. They are simply acting as the colonial bulwarks that they were designed to be.
The workers’ movement was saddled with an economistic approach to political struggle, favouring instead a vision of class struggle as simply bosses v. workers. The republican movement fell into the cul-de-sac of militarism, seeing the struggle as purely a military one.
The crucial struggle facing the Irish working class, then as now, is for breaking the chains of imperialism and establishing an independent Irish state. The Irish question is not about managing sectarianism in the Six Counties but about how our class can liberate the country while on the way to liberating itself.
National liberation struggles are not clear-cut, with two forces lining up on either side of each other, one side for imperialism and one side for socialism. If only it were so simple! Building socialism is not a single event that happens overnight but a process. In countries subjugated by imperialism, the best way forward to socialism is in an anti-imperialist struggle. V. I. Lenin wrote that “the socialist revolution is not a single act, it is not one battle on one front but a whole epoch of acute class conflicts, a long series of battles on all fronts, i.e. on all questions of economics and politics, battles that can only end in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.”
He also wrote that “the socialist revolution may flare up not only through some big strike, street demonstration or hunger riot or a military insurrection or colonial revolt but also as a result of a political crisis such as the Dreyfus case or the Zabern incident, or in connection with a referendum on the secession of an oppressed nation.” (My emphasis.)
This is not to suggest that a socialist revolution will happen after a border poll; but it is impossible to reach socialism if we have not even achieved an end to partition. The forces of capitalism, north and south, will set out their class interests in the event of a border poll being called. It is up to the working class to do the same and set out our vision of a united, independent Ireland. We should not wait and allow imperialism to set the terms but take the initiative.
Irish unity is a political and economic demand first and foremost, not a romantic nationalist one, nor a diversion from the work-place struggles.
The best way we can struggle for our vision of an independent Ireland is first of all to build the strength of workers as a force within society, as well as to ensure that a vote for Irish unity is a workers’ victory, that the working class will form the character of the new all-Ireland state. This will not be granted to us or happen spontaneously but must come from struggle.
We must cast aside the neo-Walkerite views that advocate abandoning the national liberation struggle and instead supporting reformist “gas and water” measures that do not challenge the system. Mobilising as many organised workers as we can gather will be the sharpest weapon in our arsenal against imperialism and its native lackeys.
In 1982 the programme of the Communist Party of Ireland stated that “territorial unity is only important in so far as it forms the basis of a genuinely independent, that is, anti-imperialist, Irish state. The character of such a state will only be forged in class struggle.”