Thoughts on Socialism, Nationalism and Partition today

by C. Desmond Greaves

Irish Democrat March 1977

It was James Connolly who advanced the idea that the road to socialism, which was his objective for the Irish people, lay through national independence. 

That was long ago. Since then Ireland has been criminally partitioned by the English Government, but twenty-six counties have been given the benefits of a native Parliament and administration. And that also is a situation that dates back for quite a long time.

But now there are a number of fresh factors in the situation which are naturally giving rise to different points of view. The most important are, the rise of huge transnational monopolies, and the beginning of the process of merging the national Governments of western Europe into one supranational administration.

It is not surprising, in these conditions, that people are asking if Connolly’s principles are still valid today, when “nationalism” is a dirty word to educationalists, economists and lawyers, and every twopenny cross-channel journalist is lecturing the Irish on the folly of wanting to remain Irish. Quite worthy people are known to speak of the internationalism of the Common Market, of making it democratic, and so getting to a united socialist Europe.

We would like to know what our readers think about these questions, which are due for debate among Irish socialists and Republicans, but put out a few ideas of our own, to see what people think of them.

First, we would question whether the transnational companies or the EEC have any effect in promoting the unity of the peoples of western Europe.

It is clear that even if this was intended and practicable, it would take generations before all the peoples spoke one language for ordinary purposes, even though French or German was to be taught throughout. What the late Mr Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the British Labour Party, called a thousand years of history cannot be blotted out in a few decades. So for the foreseeable future we are stuck with a variety of languages. And what goes for languages goes for most of the other factors which make nations out of the language communities.

It is moreover already clear that the overt policies of the Common Market are not class politics, such as exist in the separate nations, but the politics of competing nationalities. The horse-trading that goes on when the heads of state gather together concerns making the decisions of Brussels acceptable to this or that national community.

Even if the national parliaments are stripped of their exclusive sovereignty, they will be scaled down into, or be replaced by, national pressure groups. The superstate will thus resemble the old Austro-Hungarian empire, a jumble of nations, whose internal politics were concerned only with the national question, so that the place became a by-word. This is a situation where reliance is put on the continuing antagonism of nations to keep them all balanced and impotent. It was recognised by all thorough-going socialists before the First World War, that what had to go was the overall state structure, the empire, and the separate nations must be allowed to develop.

The factor of competition between nations within the EEC, and the Common Market’s divisive effect is not often spoken of. The people who want to smash it up are the true internationalists, who want friendship and co-operation between free nations.

The Common Market is ideal for the transnational companies. It is not only that rules are made to benefit them, to crush small businesses, to drive farmers off the land and create a reserve army of unemployed to bring down workers’ conditions in all countries. The separate states within the Common Market are set into competition to secure the investments of the big monopolies. This means offering inducements which are allowed, provided big businesses gets the booty, and you have the absurd position where a country offers tax concessions to persuade a vast corporation to operate within its boundaries, in order to produce something which is exported-away somewhere else altogether.

“Export-led growth” is what all Governments are told to seek. This is ideal for the transnational companies. From the first investment to the sale of the final product there is one profitable bonanza after another. Each competing nation, if it is to have exports, must restrict its home market.

Yet the test of the prosperity of any people is precisely the size of the home market.

So what appears at first sight to be an internationalising tendency, proves to be the reverse. The enforced merging of nations is found to set them at each other’s throats, and to replace class politics with nation-politics.

It may be asked, however, how do we envisage it ending.

Do we envisage a country with a very sharp economic crisis like Italy bending the rules of the EEC to such a degree that she is as good as out of it?

Dare the Commission, or the Court, go to the length of allowing the Italians, or the British for that matter, to go the length of virtually tearing the Treaty up?

If there was otherwise a danger of social revolution, they would probably go a long way.

If that is so, the close relation between socialism and national independence is made very clear.

Under present conditions one cannot see the establishment of an EEC army, or the use of NATO forces against a recalcitrant nation. Nor can we envisage a Europe-wide surge to socialism, because of the differentiating factors that exist within the Common Market. The things which cause crisis in Italy and impel the people to the left, are the things which concentrate the wealth of the Community in Germany, so that the reason why one of them moves towards socialism is the reason why the other moves away from it.

In these conditions is the issue of the partition of Ireland relevant?

From the fact that this is the subject that there is a universal agreement among all reactionaries to veto, to keep silent about, one would think it probably is relevant.

And this would seem to be its relevance: Partition was designed to make Ireland weak, to divide and control both parts of the partitioned country.

This was in the interests of English imperialism.

But imperialism has now entered a new phase. There is a kind of transnational imperialism today. It is seen in huge monopolies which straddle the capitalist world, including the former colonies. The old colonialism has gone. There is neo-colonialism, to use the phrase coined by the late Mr Palme Dutt, and the huge transnational corporations exploit the ”third world” through local stooges, economic manipulations, and the CIA’s dirty tricks department.

It might almost be speculated whether neo-colonial forms of exploitation are not now affecting countries previously regarded as advanced, which is leading to a situation where the transnational companies operate as a kind of supranational piratocracy responsible to nobody but themselves, pushing the local national Governments around, and intent only to rob and rob.

But though there is a new phase, much of the old remains, and where the old methods still serve, the old methods remain. It is the function of partition now, not just to make Ireland easy meat for Britain, but to leave us to be plucked by the transnational firms as well, and the same transnational firms are busy plucking the people of England too.

It is clear of course that under these conditions the demand for the end of partition is very relevant indeed. And if the English workers are seriously concerned with stopping their country from being the world’s largest atom-bomb base, and with striking free from the economic stranglehold of the EEC, they will have to pluck up their courage to face this question boldly.

It is no use bleating piteously, or objecting angrily, about the actions of British imperialism, and leaving unmentioned the essential means by which it operates in Ireland. 

There are now two aspects to the national independence question in Ireland. The old one continues, the occupation of Irish territory by England. The new one is that thanks to the control England established through partition, she has carried Ireland with her into the Common Market.

Clearly the ending of partition could take place without changing the capitalist system, although many will think that it would raise social questions that capitalism would not be able to solve, and there would be a consequent increased demand for socialist measures.

Getting national independence from the Common Market, is however another thing. The Brussels dictators would probably just tolerate a secession provided the transnationals continued to rule the roost economically. But to break the power of these vast financial and industrial empires, many of which possess more assets than some of the wealthiest countries, there is only one thing, and that is socialism.

And the experience of Cuba and Angola, admittedly very undeveloped countries in comparison with Ireland, would seem to suggest the need for economic relations with socialist countries, especially in Eastern Europe.

The conclusion we suggest to our readers is therefore that the issue of national independence is still at the heart of Irish politics, and the future of the country depends on how it is solved. But fresh elements have become tacked on to it, and it does not therefore exist in precisely the same form. But it is still England’s hand that holds Ireland down, and the issue of partition therefore remains as alive as ever it was. This spectre can not exorcised.