review a book on Irish republicanism written by
a long-standing member of the bloody, racist, imperialist
British Labour Party? Because socialists needs to
understand the significance of the revolutionary
national class struggle against imperialism and
for socialism, particularly with developments in
Latin America. Woods' analysis of Irish republicanism
totally fails in this respect. Indeed, his book
is an example of a trend which Lenin called imperialist
economism, and which today expresses the interests
of a narrow section of the working class - the labour
says that 'the only way to solve what remains (sic)
of Ireland's national problem is as a by-product
of the revolutionary struggle for socialism.'(p127)
He continues: 'There can be no reunification of
Ireland while the working class remains divided
along sectarian lines' (ibid). He concludes that
'It is time to put an end to the sectarian divisions
that have bedevilled the working class of the North
of Ireland for so long' (p129). This will be achieved
by fighting 'on issues that unite working people,
not those that divide us' (p130). But these fine
words are really no more than idealist drivel which
in the end capitulates to imperialism.
and imperialist economism
had to deal with a number of trends during the First
Imperialist War to re-establish the principled position
on the struggle for national self-determination,
amongst them the imperialist economists. Lenin described
'the same economist refusal to see and pose political
questions', continuing 'Since socialism creates
the economic basis for the abolition of national
oppression in the political sphere, therefore our
author refuses to formulate our political tasks
in this sphere (Lenin, Collected Works Vol 23 p
16). In particular, imperialist economists disagreed
with the right of oppressed nations to self-determination
because, they argued, it would mean capitulating
to the nationalist bourgeoisie. This is exactly
Woods' argument. He is of course against national
oppression. But he does not translate this into
any concrete political tasks. Instead he says, in
relation to partition:
border is of course an abomination that must be
removed. It is not, however, the task of socialists
to erect new frontiers. Our aim is altogether different:
our aim is to abolish all frontiers, not just the
one that separates the South from the North. We
stand for a socialist revolution in the North and
South of Ireland, and a socialist revolution in
Britain and the rest of Europe.' (Woods p132)
follows from this? Frontiers, including the one
that separates North and South, can only be abolished
by socialist revolution. Therefore the issue of
frontiers (ie self-determination) should not be
posed as a concrete question today because it cannot
be resolved under capitalism. Hence his utterly
one-sided view that 'The whole history of the national
liberation struggle in the 20th century shows...that
the achievement of formal independence on a capitalist
basis has solved nothing' (p131).
never differentiates between the tasks facing the
working class of oppressor and oppressed nations.
He rejects Lenin's clear exposition of the two-fold
character of the struggle of the working class against
first, it is the "action" of the nationally
oppressed proletariat and peasantry jointly with
the nationally oppressed bourgeoisie against the
oppressor nation; (b) second, it is the "action"
of the proletariat, or of its class-conscious section,
in the oppressor nation against the bourgeoisie
of that nation and all the elements that follow
it'. (Lenin: 'A caricature of Marxism and imperialist
economism', Collected Works Vol 23 p62)
position was clear: socialists in imperialist nations
must support the right of oppressed nations to self-determination
down to an uprising or war. Does Woods agree with
this? You cannot find out from his book.
argued that imperialist economism had both a left
and a right face. Woods presents the right face:
for him anyone who engages in struggles for national
independence is by definition subordinating the
interests of the working class to those of the national
bourgeoisie. Hence they must be opposed and condemned.
In the case of Ireland, this means attacking the
IRA. Woods justifies his position by distorting
Marx, Engels, Lenin and Connolly.
provides a very selective account of Marx and Engels'
position on the struggle of the Fenians in the 1860s,
one which depends almost entirely on their private
assessment of Fenian tactics (p34). He does not
mention their intensive public campaigning in support
of Fenian prisoners, nor their challenge to English
working class leaders in the First International.
Marx and Engels were indeed at times very scathing
about the Fenians - but only in their private correspondence.
In public they fought Woods' equivalents in the
ranks of the English trade union movement. Their
supporter Dupont argued in the International against
those he called 'English would-be liberators' who
argued that 'Fenianism is not altogether wrong'
but asked why they did not employ 'legal means of
meetings and demonstrations.' He continued:
is the use of talking of legal means to a people
reduced to the lowest state of misery from century
to century by English oppression...Is it well for
the English to talk of legality and justice to those
who on the slightest suspicion of Fenianism are
arrested and incarcerated, and subjected to physical
and mental tortures?...The English working men who
blame the Fenians commit more than a fault, for
the case of both peoples is the same; they have
the same enemy to defeat.' (Marx and Engels
on Ireland p486-7)
Connolly and Trotsky
Woods seeks justification for his position in Lenin
and Connolly, as an imperialist economist he feels
much more at home with Trotsky's generalisations.
Lenin, however, never adopted Trotsky's perspective;
to think that he did would be to ignore his contribution
to the debate on self-determination at the Second
Congress of the Third International where he pointed
to the vital importance of supporting the revolutionary
nationalist struggle against imperialism.
is a simple test of Trotsky's and Lenin's respective
positions: their responses to the 1916 Easter Uprising.
Trotsky wrote that:
all-Ireland movement such as the nationalist daydreamers
had expected failed to materialise...The basis for
national revolution has disappeared even in backward
Ireland... The experiment of an Irish national rebellion...is
over. But the historical role of the Irish proletariat
is only beginning. Already it has brought into the
revolt, even though under an archaic flag, its class
indignation against militarism and imperialism.'
imagine that social revolution is conceivable without
revolts by small nations in the colonies and in
Europe, without the revolutionary outbursts by a
section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices,
without a movement of politically non-conscious
proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against
oppression by the landowners, the church, and the
monarchy against national oppression etc - to imagine
all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one
army lines up in one place and says "We are
for socialism", and another, somewhere else
and says, "We are for imperialism", and
that will be a social revolution!' (Lenin, Collected
Works, Vol 22 pp355-56)
was Connolly a Trotskyist. He could not have made
himself plainer when he asked a few weeks before
the Rising: 'Is it not well and fitting that we
of the working class should fight for the freedom
of the nation from foreign rule, as the first requisite
for the free development of the national powers
needed for our class? It is so fitting' (cited in
Reed, Ireland: The key to the British Revolution
p25). You would not know this from reading Woods.
split in the working class
constantly seeks to minimise the significance of
the split in the working class in the occupied Six
Counties. Every time he is forced to concede that
discrimination against Catholic workers in the North
exists, Woods tries to belittle its significance
by saying that conditions for Protestants are also
bad (eg p70, pp80-81). But that is not what is at
issue. The split in the working class is not merely
ideological, as he tries to suggest, but has a material
basis in British imperialist domination, and Connolly
understood its significance when he observed that:
Orange working class are slaves in spirit because
they have been reared up amongst people whose conditions
of servitude were more slavish than their own. In
Catholic Ireland the working class are rebels in
spirit and democratic in feeling because for hundreds
of years they have found no class as lowly paid
or as hardly treated as themselves.'
doctrine that because the workers of Belfast live
under the same industrial conditions as do those
of Great Britain, they are therefore subject to
the same passions and to be influenced by the same
methods of propaganda, is a doctrine almost screamingly
funny in its absurdity'
it is this doctrine Woods wants the Irish movement
to pursue: 'A programme based on issues that can
unite the class: jobs, wages, conditions, housing,
women's rights - only the struggle for this can
succeed where all else has failed' (Woods, p126).
Connolly may not have used the term 'imperialist
economism', but this is what he was dealing with
- the Woods of his day.
and the introduction of British troops
this subject, Woods just lies. He states that the
Marxists in the Labour Party 'came down firmly against
the sending of the troops to the North. They wrote
at the time: "The call made for the entry of
British troops will turn to vinegar in the mouths
of some of the civil rights leaders. The troops
have been sent in to impose a solution in the interests
of British and Ulster big business" ' (p110).
But he omits to mention that the self-same article
in Militant of September 1969 also says:
slaughter would have followed in comparison with
which the blood-letting in Belfast would have paled
into insignificance if the Labour Government had
not intervened with British troops.' (cited
in Reed p177)
the 'Marxists' were not against the introduction
of troops at all! Indeed, ten years later, they
were describing those who called for the withdrawal
of British troops as 'attorneys for the Provos'
(Bulletin, November/December 1979). Needless to
say, Woods makes no reference to this either.
of countless examples of Woods' capitulation to
imperialism, we will take just one. His account
of the struggle of the 1970s against the criminalisation
of Republican prisoners ignores the crucial role
of the 1974-79 Labour government in establishing
a regime of institutionalised torture and repression.
Although he now seems to endorse the struggle led
by the Relatives Action Committees (RACs) in support
of the prisoners it was a quite different story
at the time.
October 1979, Militant Irish Monthly issued a virulent
condemnation of the Mountbatten and Warrenpoint
bombings entitled 'Mass action not individual terror',
saying that: 'Above all these events have, very
temporarily, stunned the rising movement of the
working class just at a time when the attention
of all workers needs to be focused on opposition
to the policies of the Tory government.'
The article is silent on the prisoners' struggle
let alone the role of the RACs.
arguments express the interests of a privileged
section of the working class, the labour aristocracy.
His defence of the Labour Party, his opposition
to armed resistance to the British occupation, his
re-writing of the shameful history of his organisation,
his misuse of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Connolly all
have a purpose: to keep opposition to British imperialism
within the confines of bourgeois respectability.
Together they amount to a deeply reactionary standpoint.
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