The issue of Irish neutrality has begun to gain political traction. In August the Communist Party of Ireland organised a public meeting on neutrality in Belfast, took part in a protest against the pro-NATO theme of the MacGill Summer School in Co. Donegal, and held a demonstration outside the Department of Foreign Affairs at which a letter of protest was handed in.
As the Irish ruling class, through its political parties, media, and academic institutions, continues its attempts to fully integrate the Irish state in NATO, there is the beginning of a campaign in defence of neutrality.
Why is the CPI in favour of neutrality? Do we believe that the Irish ruling class can be won to a progressive position? Is the focus on neutrality a distraction from class politics?
An article in the British publication Weekly Worker argued that the campaign to defend Irish neutrality “is a form of small-nation patriotism. Internationalism is replaced by a nationalism founded on myths and lies.”¹ To bolster her argument the writer quotes from Lenin’s critique in 1917 of the position of a section of the Swiss left who supported its bourgeoisie in positioning troops on its borders to defend Swiss neutrality.²
While the main target of the article is People Before Profit, the position adopted by the CPI is also attacked. I believe her argument is wrong, and the lesson she derives from Lenin is also incorrect.
The CPI believes that the struggle for neutrality is central to the national question and to the struggle for democracy and socialism. The 101 years since the creation of the Irish Free State has proved the truth of Connolly’s oft-quoted warning that “if you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country . . .”³
Since the decision by the Irish ruling class to open up to American capital and to join what was then the European Economic Community, the national question has become more complex. At present the Irish state is politically independent, but that independence is limited. The state is subservient to the triple lock of imperialism: Britain, the European Union, and the United States. State institutions, such as the courts, uphold the laws generated at the EU level, they uphold the rights of transnational corporations in relation to their tax contributions and their labour contracts, and they abide by British policy in the north of Ireland.
The increasing penetration of the economy by American monopolies is matched by the growing influence of such organisations as the US Chamber of Commerce in Ireland in shaping the state’s economic and political policies. Irish foreign policy is dictated by the interests of imperialism.
The dominant position of the Irish ruling class is dependent on its relationship with imperialism. It supports the so-called “rules-based international order,” by which imperialism, led by the United States, maintains control over the world’s resources and continues to extract surplus value from nominally independent countries.
Official thinking in the 26 Counties is dominated by Atlanticism, which views the world through the prism of NATO, an instrument of US foreign policy. Neutrality is seen as a hindrance to further integration. Completely abandoning neutrality would strengthen imperialist control over Ireland and with it the position of the Irish ruling class.
It should be obvious to all that the Irish ruling class do not support neutrality. Campaigning for neutrality means campaigning against the interests of the Irish ruling class. It means confronting imperialist control over Ireland. It does not mean that we “rally to the flag of our own bourgeoisie”: it means we force the ruling class to concede ground and open up new opportunities for revolutionary advance.
Protecting neutrality means inserting it in the Constitution. To give effect to such an amendment, article 29.4.6º of the Constitution, which states, “No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State, before, on or after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, that are necessitated by the obligations of membership of the European Union referred to in subsection 5º of this section,” would have to be repealed, opening up the possibility for democratic advance against EU control.
The abolition of NATO is an anti-imperialist position; the campaign for neutrality is part of the same struggle. We can only perform our internationalist duty on the national stage. Yes, we can go to rallies calling for the abolition of NATO. However, our prime task in relation to NATO is to campaign for neutrality and the closing of the NATO base in Shannon.
- Anne McShane, “Defending neutrality,” Weekly Worker, 3 August 2023.
- V. I. Lenin, “Defence of neutrality,” Collected Works (1964), vol. 23, p. 260–261.
- James Connolly, “Socialism and nationalism,“ Shan Van Vocht, January 1897.