Class politics—not 21st-century Walkerism

One hundred and ten years ago James Connolly opened up what became known as the Connolly-Walker controversy with the following sentence: “All thoughtful men and women who observe the political situations of their countries must realise that Ireland is on the verge of one of the most momentous constitutional changes in her history.”

The changes predicted at the time did not happen quite as anticipated, or as quickly as expected. Now, more than a century later, a similar situation prevails. Expectations, demands and discussions abound on the reunification of Ireland.

The effects of Brexit and changing demographics have led to growing calls for a border poll, so that Ireland may once again be “on the verge of the most momentous constitutional changes” in its history. Just as in 1911, it may not happen as quickly as some would wish, but happen it will, and possibly a lot faster than others would hope. And once again the Walkerites hide behind reforms and lack of working-class unity instead of tackling the class issues.

Connolly identified the dividing issue as the question of recognising that Ireland is entitled to self-government, and argued that “every class-conscious worker should work for the freedom of the country in which they live, if they desire to hasten the political power of their class in that country.” Unless the working class dictate the outcome this time, history will be repeated.

Some on the left are using the National Health Service as a blocking mechanism to slow down the push for Irish unity, hiding behind calls for repairing and protecting the NHS in the North and building one in the South as some sort of precondition and a panacea for class unity.

You won’t build class unity by merging a subjugated people in the political system of their conquerors. The class issue that is being ignored is that the NHS in the British colony of “Northern Ireland” has been disproportionately underfunded, run down and privatised bit by bit for decades as part of British rule.

There is no comparison between the NHS provided in the North and that in England, Scotland, or Wales. It has more in common with the HSE in the South; the only difference is that it is free at the point of entry, while waiting-lists and services are as bad as, if not worse than, in the South as capitalism wreaks havoc on the working people on both sides of the border.

Partition and capitalism are the common class enemy in both jurisdictions. Neither has worked for ordinary working people and never will work for ordinary working people.

The left, instead of trying to patch up British rule, should be exposing its failure, not misleading the people into thinking that Britain is a benign influence rather than the imperialist master it is.

Some trade unionists, and even some who claim to be communists, are expressing more than a hint of Walkerism by using membership of the EU south of the border as a roadblock to Irish unity, ignoring the fact that a majority of people both north and south voted to be members of the European Union, misguided as this may have been. This was repeated in the recent Brexit referendum, where more than 55 per cent of people in the North voted to remain.

To suggest that the people in the Six Counties would be better off under the rule of British imperialism but independent from the EU than reuniting Ireland quite simply beggars belief. From penal laws to internment, pitch cap to plastic bullet, Burntollet to Dunlavin Green, famine to eviction, mass murder, rape, pillage, death, and destruction—this is the reality of British rule in Ireland.

The damage done to Ireland by fifty years of European imperialism is in the halfpenny place when compared with the damage British colonialism and imperialism have done this country for 850 years. Yes, Ireland was forced by the EU to pay off European banking debt; but a united Ireland, with a united working class, won’t be slow about ditching the EU. This can be done by a simple referendum (similar to Brexit). Unfortunately, the British have never given the Irish people a referendum on the occupation of Ireland.

Some trade unionists, in opposition to growing calls from Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland, like to cower behind the so-called “realities of existing concrete conditions,” implying that the lack of working-class unity in the North will stop revolutionary change in our lifetime and the self-determination of the Irish people.

They preach that the route to working-class unity is to lead the class into separate campaigns, north and south, on social and economic issues, suggesting that this will draw working people from both sections of the community into struggle, so creating “opportunities” to change perceptions, make connections between campaigns, and win people to the economic benefits of an all-Ireland economy.

So the way to build working-class unity in Ireland is separate campaigns, behind peace walls and borders. The suggestion that any of these campaigns could be on an all-Ireland basis is totally absent, of course.

The British partitioned Ireland and created the artificial construct of sectarian differences to keep us apart, not to bring us together. This division is the traditional route of imperialism, used to stop working-class unity in Ireland.

An alternative to the existing governments in both jurisdictions is the way to unite our class. That alternative is socialism—not a nicer form of British rule or a cobbling together of the two failed political solutions contrived to serve British interests one hundred years ago.

Socialism is the route to uniting the working class of Ireland, from Larne to Limerick, from Derry to Wexford.

Without national freedom, socialism is impossible; without socialism, national freedom is worthless.

Trade unionists who urge caution and restraint, citing the shortness of one lifetime as not being long enough for revolutionary change to come about, are ignoring the fact that if you hide behind excuses and divisions to slow down the political programme into aspirations or separate campaigns they will most certainly never happen in their lifetime. Sometimes the tree has to be shaken for the apple to fall.

A socialist programme for a united independent Ireland is the solid goal of the CPI. It is not an “aspiration,” to be kept quiet just in case you might offend somebody: it must be campaigned for and rigorously struggled for. It cannot happen, and will not happen, without the determination and the unity of the Irish working class.

Socialism is the unifying factor that benefits the entire working class, and it is the undefeatable route to building that working-class unity—not separately but together, all working and struggling for each other to build a Workers’ Republic where nobody is left behind for peace, independence, and socialism.