Tag Archives: Ireland

The INLA, PUP,and Marxism in Northern Ireland – Can Marxism beat Sectarianism? Part 2 – Loyalism, Two Nations, and Breaking the Chains of Atavism

The amount of material on loyalist culture is abysmal. This is not a culture that is especially adored anywhere, with the possible exception of Scotland and Toronto, Canada. There was never a massive diaspora to America, which in turn would have laid the groundwork for an entire culture of expats (complete with music, film, novels, and generations of Americans far removed from Ulster yet still claiming to be Ulster Scot). The Ulster Scots are generally one step removed from hillbillies in the United States, with the the more respectable members of the diaspora largely confined to the UK and Canada. One can still see Canadian flags being tossed about on July 12th Parades in Belfast..

Of course, this is mostly due to the fact that the loyalist has stayed put. They are the working class of Northern Ireland, and as opposed to the forced diaspora of the Famine, the North was sufficiently industrialized to sustain itself and integrate itself with the rest of Europe’s trade (the fact that the North’s loyalty was guaranteed, as opposed to Western Ireland, certainly aided things as well). But most importantly, no one talks of the “overseas Belfast Loyalist community” anymore than they would talk of Lancashire, or Manchester, or Newcastle’s “overseas community”. These were/are local industrial hubs, and at least until the Thatcher years, they were successful.

Belfast also followed industrial-city suit by attracting a large, “red” working force. Unions were the norm here; the shipping yards which formed the backbone of Belfast’s industry, and which employed a vast quantity of loyalist men, were unionized. These were not open unions however; following partition, it became very difficult for a Catholic to find work within union jobs. This did not stop a nascent left-wing from growing however, and a non-sectarian Communist group came into being in Belfast during the 30s. Numbers were limited, although like many Northern British working class cities “Communism” wasn’t equated with devil worship.

The arrival of the civil rights movement changed the attitudes of many loyalists, who felt that their way of life was being threatened by outside aliens like the specters of the “IRA” (who as noted in the previous post had nothing to do with the civil rights group, NICRA). The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the amalgam of two pre-Troubles parties, was quickly viewed as just another Irish nationalist group. Many loyalists became bitterly disillusioned, not only by the supposed attacks against their community by the “IRA”, but were beginning to feel sold out by mainstream political parties as well. Ian Paisley’s ultra-right wing Democratic Unionist Party may have had a fundamentalist Protestant at the helm, but at least they were offering a fighting chance against the depredations of both the Irish “terror” and mainstream Unionism.

Socialist/Marxist Loyalism remained alive however, as best exemplified by David Trimble throughout the early 70s. Trimble, a member of the loyalist paramilitary UVF and later founder of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), maintained an interesting outlook; as much as the republicans had done with their Marxism (which they took seriously and were certainly not dilettantes), and confined that Marxism within the prism of republicanism, loyalist Marxism could do the same – a Marxism for loyalists, for the working class of Northern Ireland (which of course predated the economic downfall of most of the great industrial hubs of the UK in the 80s to follow, and with which would have a major engagement during the dark days of Thatcherism and the de-industrializing process of the 80s).

Central to the initial concept for loyalist Marxism was the “Two Nations” manifesto, jointly arrived upon by Northern loyalist Marxists and a strange southern entity called the British Irish Communist Organization, another loyalist communist group strangely formed and administered by Irish in the Republic. The general notions were that a) Ulster loyalists constitute their ethnicity, their own “nation” rather than Britons who were just “living across the sea”, and that b) the two nations (Irish and Ulster Loyalist) had a right to coexist without supremacy/hegemony of any kind. What this translated as was an acceptance that both Ulster loyalist Marxism could exist with republican Marxism, WITHOUT THE TWO NECESSARILY DEPENDENT ON ONE ANOTHER OR EVEN IN CONTACT WITH ONE ANOTHER. The transnational aspect of Marxism was gone, although not to the degree of Stalinism wherein “communism in one country” was given precedence over another.

It was a novel idea which was propagated during the 1974 Ulster Shop Steward strike, which brought an end to the very short-lived experiment in power sharing. It was also a bloody period, in which 39 died, mostly during clashes with Ulster paramilitary groups.

Which brings me to the intransigence of paramilitary backed leftist/Marxist groups, as well as Marxism in hardline sectarian communities in general. It is folly to believe that you can have two Marxist groups, of roughly the community (Trotskyite, Leninist, post colonial, etc) operating at the same time, in some kind of vacuum, in which the OTHER group with identical views are also operating at the same time/place but without any kind of communication with the other. I believe that that is the central flaw of the Two Nations concept, as it pertains to the day-to-day functioning of a purportedly universally appealing agenda. It is divisional, and while it addresses the immediate problems of sectarian communities that are forced to live with each other during emergency periods, it is not a long term solution – and the sectarianism of Northern Ireland is long term. “The Troubles”, the most recent spasm of violence that wracked the area for thirty years, is only the latest manifestation of a long gestating problem, and longer term solutions are needed.

Can Marxism rise above sectarianism? Yes, I believe it can – evidence of this exists in abundance with certain anarchist communities in the Middle East, and I have seen how non-state Marxist groups can cooperate with each other in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon. Although Northern Ireland is falling back in love with sectarianism, although segregation has become embedded in cities such as Belfast (where if you moves into a given neighborhood, it’s like you’ve made a personal, political commitment to whichever sectarian group runs the neighborhood), I have also seen the growing popularity of hard-left groups such as the SWP and People Before Profit – an electoral group which has won seats in Stormont, in both neutral and republican ridings. And I’ve seen an entire, newly-educated group of young people who are both driven to improve their communities as well as reach out to the other. Sectarianism isn’t impossible.

 

 

 

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The INLA, PUP,and Marxism in Northern Ireland – Can Marxism beat Sectarianism? Part 1 – The Republican Heritage and a quickie historical tour

Marxism (or more specifically, socialism) has a long storied background in Ireland, a homegrown tradition which has arisen from almost survival-level necessity: in the 1800s, as Ireland was exploited along with every other British colony for raw materials and cheap muscle, people had to band together in order to survive. It was that, or face an ugly little rat race with equally deprived creatures fighting for scraps. This created the first combines, the first worker’s societies, the first unions in the industrialized cities of the North such as Belfast, an economic/industrial powerhouse on the island. It created men like Jim Larkin, James Connolly, and later laid the bedrock for radical organizations such as the SWP and the native Socialist Party in the Republic.

These conditions also created the conditions¬† for Irish republicanism. The IRA did not begin its existence as a radical socialist organization; it was the birthright of earlier, 19th Century groups that were determined to drive the Brits out by force – they included forebears such as the infamous “Fenians”. Whilst the British Empire was busy butchering its’ young men in WWI, in 1916 the first stones were cast and the irrevocable process of separation began. In the North however, British Loyalists vastly outnumbered their Irish compatriots, and refused to allow Home Rule to become Rome Rule (get it? it’s a really funny anti-Catholic joke that more than anything summed up the mentality of the British loyalists who also happened to be Protestants: the new Irish Republic would be nothing more than a puppet for Rome as far as they were concerned).

The War for Independence ended with a partition of the island, as well as a giant leap backwards for leftism in both Northern Ireland and especially the Republic. The IRA were considered a hangover from the war, and were despised by the new de Valera administration in Dublin. Anti union legislation was established by the former charming gentleman, whose idea of Ireland included maidens dancing in the fields.

In the fifties, an almost satirical, failed attempt to liberate the North took place, entitled (imaginatively) the Border campaign, or Operation Harvest. The IRA were a laughing stock amongst the Irish who were unlucky enough to be born and raised in the apartheid North (IRA stands for I Ran Away was one such wag). But the IRA wasn’t stupid, and it took certain lessons to heart, the most important lesson being Che Guevara’s dictum about guerilla warfare. A fish needs water to breathe, and a guerilla movement needed the hearts and minds of the denizens around them in the community to flourish.

This new IRA took stock and decided that Marxism, especially the orthodox Marxism espoused by Lenin et al, was the clearest way to raise the community’s hopes and hearts. Marxist studies took place, and dissemination of Marxist thought began to circulate in the more urban centers of the North.

Around the time when seemingly the entire world was changing overnight (namely the late sixties), the civil rights campaign for the Irish Minority in the North began in Derry. What was remarkable was that this movement had nothing to do with the IRA (although there are loyalists to this day who still claim that a pacifist civil rights movement was orchestrated by the paramilitary). The civil rights group, perhaps personified by characters such as Eamon McCann and Bernadette Devlin aimed to improve the living conditions of the Irish currently stuck in the North; this was quickly met by almost unprecedented violence. Naturally, the Derry group fully expected push-back – they had modeled their actions on Selma and the American Civil Rights movement – but the violence quickly escalated from attacking marchers to riots in the streets of Belfast and virtually everywhere else in the North, up to and including the wholesale destruction of entire neighborhoods which had sadly lain too close to the opposing sectarian enclave. It didn’t help matters that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (i.e. the police, whose name alone should give one a solid idea of where they stood politically).

The IRA fought back hard, and tried to keep Western Belfast from being wiped off the map. However, the Northern IRA informed their southern counterparts that they were getting slaughtered, and handing out pamphlets om Trotsky and Lenin really wasn’t helping matters. Things came to a head, and an acrimonious split too place between the “Official”IRA splitting from the primarily Northern-based Provisional IRA. The Provisional IRA is the IRA that everyone around the word knows about. The Official IRA/Sinn Fein declared a ceasefire in 1972, stating that the situation was about to devolve into murderous, sectarian anarchy.

This was then followed by yet another split, an even more vicious one that created just as many bodies on the Republican side as it amongst their sectarian foes. In 1974, Seamus Costello, a popular socialist republican politician, felt that even the tiny amount of work perpetrated by the Officials was insufficient, and so he split and formed the Irish National Liberation Army. The INLA was intended to be a genuinely national liberation front, along the lines of the Vietnamese and the Cubans. Within 13 years, Seamus was dead and the organization had devolved into vicious factional in-fighting and out right drug-gang activity. More will be written about the INLA will follow in the next few days.

As for the PIRA, they adopted radicalism as well, although it has been argued that this was not scientific in any sense and was more based on “learning from” (i.e. aping) other national liberation organizations; furthermore, there was a clear delineation between the urban members who leaned towards radicalism, while the rural republicans were more of the classic conservative farmer stereotype who nevertheless despised the English. There is some question, which we’ll get to in part two, as to how genuine those socialist views are, considering the duality of a pan-nationalist Marxism and parochial Irish Republicanism.

The Official IRA “ceased to be” in the seventies, although it is a matter of public record that their masters kept the thugs around in case anyone needed pushing around (or assassinated, in the INLA’s case). Official Sinn Fein became Official Sinn Fein/Workers Party, finally dropping the IRA bit in the 80s. It was one of the stodgier radical organizations, one which ironically drew inspiration and teaching from orthodox British Marxists throughout the 80s. As this was not a particularly popular viewpoint in Thatcher’s Great Britain, many of them traveled to Ireland to begin the revolution there,, only to find the situation wanting as well. The party imploded in the early 90s.

Everything you’ve just read has been framed within the device of republican paramilitary activity. This is not to give the impression that radicalism was hopelessly bound-up with “the boys”; there is a wide spectrum of radical orgs that attempted to varying degrees of success to alter the inexorable flow of violence as well as challenge the hegemony of what amounts to parochial, good ol’ fashioned capitalism.

It has been argued that the former communist apparatchiks of Yugoslavia became “ethnic entrepreneurs” following Tito’s death, and in the cases of some of the leaders of these republican pseudo-socialists, I believe that that moniker applies. Having been unable to offer answers and unwilling to let go of powerful positions, certain personages have utilized a combination of sectarianism and fake Marxism in order to maintain control. The question is to see if true Marxism can exist and rise above the deep-seated sectarianism that is the hall mark of divided, segregated communities. We’ll address this all in Part Two.