Wednesday, September 19, 2018

For workers' unity and Protestantism

“Troubled Times” is a book by Peter Hadden, who until his death in 2010 was the leader of a small Trotskyist group in Northern Ireland, the Socialist Party (previously called Militant Labour). The Socialist Party is an affiliate of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI). In the United States, the CWI is represented by a sympathizing group called Socialist Alternative, which is involved in the Sanders campaign. And yes, there is a similar group in Sweden, as well (the RS). These guys are everywhere!

Hadden wrote several books on the Northern Ireland conflict. “Troubled Times”, published in 1995, seems to be a general summary of his group's position. Hadden argues at length that Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland aren't two separate nations. Nor are Northerners in general a separate nation. Rather, the two communities in Northern Ireland are still sufficiently close for the sectarian divide to be abolished. Hadden believes that this can only be achieved on the basis of workers' unity and socialism. The Socialist Party therefore opposes all “capitalist” solutions to the Northern Ireland conflict: a united (Nationalist-dominated) Ireland, an independent (Protestant-dominated) Ulster, repartition, power sharing between Sinn Fein and the Unionists, or the British status quo. Many left-wing radical groups, including many Trotskyists, supported Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA, a position Hadden calls “left republicanism” and opposes. Hadden calls on the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) and the unions to call an extraordinary congress, adopt a set of specific socialist demands and struggle to carry them out.

The author believes that the Irish working class, North and South, could have been united and that this came close to happening in the aftermath of World War I, when a wave of militant strikes and mass rallies swept the island. Barricades went up, workers armed themselves and even “soviets” were formed. The British ruling class partitioned the island to split the working class, whip up sectarian frenzy and stop the revolutionary situation from developing. To Hadden, two sectarian states were formed through partition, not just one. The Catholic-dominated Irish Free State, later the Republic of Ireland, was just as sectarian as Protestant-ruled Northern Ireland. An opportunity to unite Catholic and Protestant workers came again during the civil rights struggles and labor upsurges of the 1960's, but was squandered when the Troubles began. Hadden says relatively little about this transition or the Troubles themselves, presumably because they are covered in another book, “Beyond the Troubles?” (which I haven't read).

What makes the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland controversial among many leftists is that they, despite pretending to be against everyone and everything, do seem to have a “Protestant” slant. As Militant Labour, they worked inside the Protestant-dominated NILP, rather than the Catholic SDLP (which is larger and in continuity with the 1960's civil rights campaigns). Hadden's group is opposed even to the slogan “For a united socialist Ireland”, instead preferring the more general “for workers'unity and socialism” or the frankly bizarre “For a socialist federation of Ireland and Britain”. It seems the Irish can never get rid of Perfidious Albion! Hadden even “guarantees” that if the Protestants want to create their own socialist state after the revolution, they will be allowed to do so (it will be smaller than the current Six Counties, though). This respect for Protestant sensibilities seems to contradict what Hadden writes in the rest of his book, however.

It implies that the Protestants really are a separate nation, after all…

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