Letter to the Editor: Perfidious Albion

As I have been walking through Belfast, more and more recently I have been noticing stickers from various British groups. Usually recruiting or propagandising in the north of Ireland has been a taboo for British groups – and I am willing to imagine that it has mostly been ignorant members from England attending the various Palestine demonstrations, but it has made me wonder.

From where I am in the occupied six counties, it seems that Ireland is no longer an issue for British communists, regardless of their flavour or group. While groups and their respective newspapers will run articles about Ireland – sometimes syndicated from their fraternal organisations or produced by someone with a very Irish name – there is very little of serious substance said, and more importantly, done. 

A scroll through some social media feeds or a few dated websites will see debates about the nature of China pop up more frequently than anything about Ireland. 

While of course the nature of China in the world system is an important one for Marxists, if you were to go solely by these outlets you’d be forgiven for not realising that Britain spends £1 billion per year on security forces in the north, or that it maintains a garrison of thousands of reserves and regular troops to occupy the six counties, alongside an armed police force of almost 8,000.

Marx and Engels were both very clear on the significance of Ireland for any potential success of a British workers’ revolution. Marx even went as far as to declare: 

“The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland. That is why the Irish question is so important for the social movement in general.”

This is still the case today; a class-conscious workers movement in Britain which neglects to address the continued denial of the Irish people’s right to self-determination and ongoing occupation of 1/6 the island will be condemned to be but a half-hearted and misdirected one.

Yet despite this we are faced with hardly any solidarity action to speak of. The Troops Out Movement fizzled out in the 2000s, the Connolly Association declared “Mission Accomplished” a few years ago after it felt the Good Friday Agreement was a job well done (at the same time as Stormont was actively collapsed by the DUP), and a chunk of the British socialist movement still have delusions about the nature of Sinn Féin as an “anti-imperialist” force.

A picture of a person wearing a gas mask and riot mask, with the eye glass depicting two union flags. The text of the poster reads: "Troops out of Ireland now! Saturday 15th November, Embankment, 1 PM. Self determination for the Irish people!"
An example of the actions that used to be organised by British groups in support of Irish liberation.

Perhaps the worst offenders are those who have next to nothing to say about the situation in Ireland yet feel compelled to announce their position in favour of a “socialist federation of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.” Yet they seem to do nothing to alleviate or address the root causes for the national animosity which makes such a federation so fantastical.

It is the unfortunate reality that the scathing words of James Connolly continue to be true today:

“If there is any section of the British people who believe that Ireland would be justified in ending the British Empire if she could, in order to escape from thraldom to it, then that section may hold itself guiltless of any crime against Ireland. But if there is any such section, how small and utterly insignificant it is, since it nowhere gives public proof of its existence.”

In the north of Ireland today we continue to see collusion and a light-touch towards loyalist paramilitaries, we continue to see an extreme level of police surveillance and intimidation of republican activists, and we continue to have an ongoing British military operation known as Operation Helvetic.

This is not an abstract issue; this is not solidarity for a far-off or distant struggle; The north of Ireland remains occupied by an army recruited from your towns, recruiting in your colleges, and funded by your taxes; these are policies endorsed and enacted by your government; the misreporting and downplaying of the situation is carried out by the BBC.

Let no one complain of the Irish people’s long memory whilst even the most “advanced” of British workers refuse to act on what is right in front of them.

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