Gary MacLennan, originally from Omagh, gives this take on what’s happening with UK politics, Irish border and Brexit. I first met Gary during the Queensland street marches campaign (1977-1979) and we have been involved in many struggles over the intervening 40 years: including Democratic, Aboriginal, and Palestinian rights campaigns. We haven’t always agreed on tactics but that all seems irrelevant now.
A more recent epistle Socialism, Ireland, Permanent Revolution & the Provo War comes from Workers Liberty in Northern Ireland – Ian Curr, Nov 2018.
It would seem that things are coming to a head in the UK. The negotiations over leaving the EU are at a delicate stage. Yet the ruling Tory government would appear to be making a thorough hash of the negotiations.
There has been bluster and wild rhetoric from the Tories about “No deal is better than a bad deal”, but the reality is that life outside the European Union will be very tough, especially for the many millions who voted to leave.
That is not to say that remaining within the EU was an easy option. The EU had been given a ruthless neoliberal character and there definitely was a left case for leaving. Just look at what they did to Greece for instance. And of course there was the disastrous situation where there was monetary but no fiscal union.
However, the UK did have its own currency and in many ways had the best deal available because of that.
But this is not the sole focus of my post. As everyone knows the Tories cling to power thanks to the support of the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. Richard Seymour has a brilliant post on Patreon about that party and I can add nothing to that. But I will say that I was astonished that the Tories agreed to a deal that would have seen Northern Ireland remain in the union in terms of customs so that there would be no hard border between the Norther and the South of Ireland.
That deal makes sense, of course. But the politics of the DUP are not based on sense – not at all. They are fuelled by a religious, colonial and racist hatred of what they perceive as the Indigenous population of Northern and Southern Ireland – the Irish.
Always in the DUP imaginary, they are a besieged minority – the last outpost of the British Empire who could get over run at any moment by the natives. That is why every week end they stand outside the Belfast City Hall waving the Union Jack and the flag of Israel.
It is also why they said “no” to the deal May had worked out and it is why they enforced her public humiliation. The Unionist slogans “This we will maintain, Not an inch, No surrender and Ulster says No” are part of the cultural DNA of the Ulster Loyalist community. How could the Tories not know that a DUP veto was coming? Have they stopped teaching history at Eton and Rugby?
We are at a juncture now when quite clearly the Tory Party cannot satisfy the needs of British capitalism nor the needs of the UK state, never mind the needs of the people of the UK. So we have a massive crisis of legitimization on the political and economic fronts.
Murdoch and the other Press Barons refuse to acknowledge this crisis of course. They are like the Bourbons learning and forgetting nothing. But their monopoly over communication has been challenged by the growth of the social media and that is an essential part of why they cannot command when they feel most threatened.
In the mean time it is just now being recognised that Corbyn has manoeuvred most skilfully around the whole leaving the EU affair. He ran a low key campaign during the EU referendum and avoided appearing on platforms with Tories or with the execrable Tony Blair. He was challenged for the leadership because of this. But he had kept his political base intact and saw off the challenge from the racist United Kingdom Independence Party.
He avoided talking of Brexit during the election and concentrated instead on breaking from the neoliberal consensus that Blair has signed the Labour Party up to. As a consequence, he got 3 million lost voters to return to Labour, and he is now the only political leader who is in a position to deliver a deal on Brexit that will not destroy the British economy.
Caste consciousness is very strong in the UK still and when people hear the accent of Eton, Rugby etc many feel still that they are listening to their betters. But Theresa May has assembled such a pack of clowns and incompetents that even caste consciousness may not be able to save her government.
My favourite quote from Marx has never seemed more relevant to me. Writing to Lasalle in 1858 he said:
“All in all the present period is pleasant. History is evidently bracing itself to take a new start, and the signs of decomposition everywhere are delightful for every mind not bent upon the conservation of things as they are.”
Socialism, Ireland, Permanent Revolution & the Provo War
After the Troubles erupted in 1968-9 the machinery of government broke down in a whole chunk of the British state, in Northern Ireland. The old Northern Ireland parliament was abolished, from 1972. Up to 21,000 British troops were sent in. For a quarter of a century there was semi civil war.
Even now, a stable new political set-up has not been evolved. The bureaucratic balance of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement are complicated makeshifts. There has been no Northern Ireland Executive for nearly two years. Brexit may bring the re-erection of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the South, which will destabilise politics even further.
What perspectives did this breakdown offer for the left, particularly in the hot years of the crisis and the “Long War”? What should the left have advocated? What lessons do we learn from the experience? Did Trotsky’s formula from Russia, “permanent revolution”, fit the dynamics? Or was it diversionary wishful thinking to suppose that?
Debating these questions
Sean Matgamna (Workers’ Liberty) and Rayner Lysaght (author of The Story of the Limerick Soviet, The Great Irish Revolution and From the GPO to the Winter Palace: How a Workers’ Revolution was Lost and how a Workers’ Revolution was Won)