In the nineteenth century, when capitalism was still developing, creating the basis for a world economy and the possibility of communism, there were instances when revolutionaries such as Marx supported national struggles. For example, the struggle for an independent Poland was backed as a way of creating a check on Russian tsarist reaction. The struggle for German unificationtruggle for German unification and against the domination of Prussian militarism was also supported by marxists. Marx and Engels also supported the movement for Irish independence, seeing it as a way of weakening the power of what was then the dominant capitalist nation, Britain, and its use of the Irish question as a means of controlling its own proletariat.
The experience of the working class in the twentieth century, with the global dominance of decaying capitalism, has shown that 'national liberation' struggles are now fought only in the interests of what is now a reactionary capitalist class. The attempt to mobilise the working class behind nationalist slogans is nothing more than an attempt to get workers to die in the service of their class enemies.
Sinn Finn: reactionary from the start
The left pretend that there is no continuity between today's 'ministers of the crown' and the 'honourable' paramilitaries of the past. In Ireland there have been countless examples over the last hundred years of how nationalism, in all its guises, has been used against the working class.
Sinn Fein was founded in 1905.Its initial programme involved the retention of the monarch the retention of the monarchy, import controls to protect Irish capitalism, and opposition to higher wages for, or strikes by workers as they would harm the interests of businesses in Ireland. Its founder, Arthur Griffith, called for strikers involved in the Dublin Lockout of 1913 to be bayoneted. How could it be any other way when,
"Sinn Fein was heavily dependent upon shopkeepers, employers and large farmers for income and [later] Republican county councils for their rates." (Politics and Irish Life 1913-21: Provincial Experience of War and Revolution, David Fitzpatrick 1977)
The Easter Rising of 1916 would only have achieved its nationalist aims if it had gained the backing of German imperialism, which was sought, but did not materialise. As Trotsky said at the time "an 'independent' Ireland could exist only as an outpost of an imperialist state hostile to Britain" (Nashe Slovo 4th July 1916). This has been the fundamental reality behind the Irish national 'liberation' struggle ever since.
In 1919 the IRA was founded. This nationalist body started life while the working class had embarked on a wave of struggles (including Ireland) which profoundly expressed iich profoundly expressed its internationalist nature. There was a
"growing number of strikes, strikers and strike days that Ireland saw between 1917 and the slump which set in at the end of 1920." (The Politics of Illusion: A Political History of the IRA, Henry Patterson 1997).
These strikes were often accompanied "by well-organised picketing, sympathetic action and even active sabotage, and adopting the iconography of 1917, with red flags and even detachments of 'Red Guards'" (ibid) this helped to "strike fear into the heart of republicans" (Fitzpatrick op cit).
"Workers in Cork and Limerick took over some factories ... and set up 'Soviets', so-called in imitation of the Russian ones. These were crushed by local units of the IRA ... and ousted owners were handed back their plants at the points of IRA guns" (Revolutionary Perspectives first series, no.15)
In June 1920 the illegal Irish parliament Dail Eireann, set up by Sinn Fein, issued a proclamation against the class struggle, saying that it was "ill chosen for the stirring up of strife among our fellow countrymen"ong our fellow countrymen". The secretary of the Dail wrote "the mind of the people was being diverted from the struggle for freedom by class war" (quoted in Ireland's Permanent Revolution Chris Bambery). Not surprisingly, workers' struggles come up against the interests of the bourgeoisie.
Sinn Fein: basis for all Irish bourgeois politics
If the early days of Sinn Fein and the IRA established them as part of the capitalist class and against the workers' struggle then nothing has happened subsequently to alter that. Over the years there have been many splits in Republicanism, but nothing that deviated from the defence of Irish capitalism.
For example, take Fianna Fail, the largest Irish political party since the early 1930s. In power for some 50 of the years since then, it has presided over a regime equally as repressive as that in Northern Ireland, and defended the economy with as rigourous austerity measures as any other bourgeoisie. Massive unemployment has only been avoided because of the massive extent of sustained emigration.
Fianna Fail was created by those Sinn Fein members that opposed the 1921 treaty that introduced the 1921 treaty that introduced the partition of Ireland. Among the most important Fianna Fail Prime Ministers were Eamon de Valera and Sean Lemass (serving 28 years between them), both veterans of the Easter Rising and the Civil War. As leaders of the 'liberated' 26 counties they were acting in continuity with their Sinn Fein origins.
The other, most obvious, example of a Sinn Fein split was Cumann Na nGaedheal, made up of those Sinn Fein members who supported the 1921 Treaty. They were the governing party from 1922 until 1932, and, subsequently, one of the main constituents, with the fascist Blueshirts, among others, of Fine Gael, which has, ever since, been Ireland's second largest political party.
Whether based on pro- or anti-treaty Sinn Fein members the two main political parties in Ireland share the same heritage. It could hardly be otherwise. For a small economy with its relatively powerful British neighbour, nationalism is bound to continue to be one of the main strands of the ideology of the Irish ruling class.
IRA: force for capital
Turning to the 'troubles' of the last 30 years, there has been no change in the nature of Republicanism. For example, in Republicanism. For example, in another split, in 1970, the Official IRA was portrayed as 'marxist', but 'reformist', while the Provisionals were 'Catholic', but 'revolutionary'. In fact they both retained programmes for Irish capitalism, two paragons of nationalism. The only practical difference lies in the propaganda they used to mobilise for the nationalist cause. It is true that the Officials were loyal to the Russian-dominated Eastern bloc, while the Provisionals were reliant on American support, but this was not initially important. The Officials were soon eclipsed and went through a number of transformations, while the Provisionals links with US imperialism were not to become important until the break up of the blocs after 1989.
On the estates dominated by either version of the IRA, any differences were irrelevant as their activities were indistinguishable from the loyalist paramilitaries. One of the most important functions of all the paramilitary forces over the last 30 years has been their actions as an auxiliary policing force, providing 'law and order', in the form of beatings, kneecappings, expulsions and executions. The protection rackets, drug-dealing and other businesses are common to all the paramilitaries. As for the 'protection' of the oppressed, in 1988 John Hume was able to point out that Republe to point out that Republicans had killed twice as many Irish Catholics as the security forces.
Hume has, in the past, called Sinn Fein 'Fascists'. For revolutionaries republicanism is a particular weapon of the capitalist class and stands condemned, not just for its indiscriminate terrorism, but as a pillar of the exploitation of workers, and opponents of the class struggle. The leftists who pretend that Sinn Fein or the IRA were ever anything else stand condemned as accomplices of nationalism.
Not only that. In the period since the break up of the American bloc, the US has tried its best to deal with signs of independence from its former allies. In the case of Britain there has been, for example, the backing of different sides in the conflicts in ex-Yugoslavia. Closer to home, the actions of Sinn Fein and the IRA over the last decade have been determined by the needs of US imperialism to put pressure on Britain. This has been more pronounced at some times than others. For example, during the final negotiations that preceded the Good Friday agreement the Sinn Fein delegation, as described in a speech by Martin McGuinness, was in constant, often hourly, contact with leading figures in the US administration, from the White House downwards. It was no surprise todownwards. It was no surprise to find the new Sinn Fein Minister of Education rushing off to the US to consult with Secretary of Education Richard Riley. "Riley spent most of the day with McGuinness, an unusual and very generous allocation of time" boasted Sinn Fein's An Phoblacht (20/1/00). Such contacts by Sinn Fein with leading figures in the American capitalist state have not just started because of the new Executive; they've been going on for years.
So, whether Republicans are bombing Canary Wharf or Manchester, or sitting round the table with leading unionists, they are still serving the same cause. In the case of Sinn Fein we are not just dealing with nationalism, but an arm of US imperialism. Revolutionaries oppose such forces in the same way that they stand against the loyalist terrorists that act in the interests of British imperialism. When the leftists pretend that somehow there can be, or was, in the twentieth century, an 'authentic' national 'liberation' struggle that can break away from the imperialist framework of global capitalism, they have the historical experience of the working class against them.
SWPSWP echoes propaganda about 'peace process'
No treatment of the role of leftism in Britain would be complete without a few words on the largest group, the Socialist Workers Party. Their response to the new Executive was distinctive.
"The new Assembly in Northern Ireland has been welcomed by nearly everyone except a tiny minority of hardline Unionists gathered around Ian Paisley. Millions of people are hoping the new Assembly will mean the dawn of a new era of peace in Northern Ireland." (Socialist Worker 4/12/99).
'Millions' might be hopeful, but that's only because the capitalist media has put a lot of effort into trying to give the impression that there's the possibility of a "new era". Politicians of all colours have presented the new Executive as another step forward in the democratic process. However, the Unionists (who extend rather further than Paisley's gang) are fulfilling their familiar role as a potential fly in the ointment. If they should bring the Executive down no one will blame their backers, the British government, because the Unionists are well established as "hard line bigots" with their "obstacles to"obstacles to [the] peace process" (ibid).
Having shown their commitment to capitalist democracy (against the 'bigots') the SWP give it a left-wing twist. They criticise the fact that "Sinn Fein calls for cutting taxes on big corporations, so they match the low levels of Southern Ireland" (ibid). This is not much of a criticism, but it helps to establish the SWP as a left-wing voice, supposedly above 'communal politics'. In practice, they'll always find a faction of the bourgeoisie that they want workers to support. They always say 'vote Labour' at elections in Britain, for example. And they've never been shy of supporting Sinn Fein or the IRA when it suited them in the past. But when there is a "rejection of sectarianism and the desire for wider change among working class people" the SWP are there because it "opens up the possibility of the re-emergence of class politics." And wherever such a possibility exists, left-wingers like the SWP will be there to divert workers' struggles into trade union actions and campaigns which sabotage the development of the class struggle.