May 2014        

The death rattle of the establishment’s independence

The recent visit by President Michael D. Higgins to Britain turned into a feast of craven boot-licking by the Irish establishment and their hangers-on. It was trumpeted by the mass media and the ideological soothsayers as the “coming of age,” the “maturing” of the Irish people regarding our past and the historical relationship between the Irish people and the British establishment.
      Certainly the fact of the president of this republic being on the first official visit to the British head of state is worth reflecting upon. But despite all the verbiage, the grovelling, and the parading of Irish bankers, financial experts and consultants who made good in Britain, not many of the Irish labourers on the building sites of Britain or the Irish homeless living on the streets of British cities received invitations to the party.
      The constant mentioning of the president’s father as a fighter in the struggle for freedom during the War of Independence (1918–1921) and the War in Defence of the Republic (1921–22) was a signal that it has been put to rest—that the past will stay in the past, that we Irish are big enough and secure enough to draw a line under the long struggle for freedom, and that the question of Irish unity has been finally put to bed.
      What was taking place was a clear realignment of relations between the British state and its chief ally of choice, the ruling class of the Irish state.
      Unionism is no longer the main ally of British imperialism in our country. The Irish state is far more important than unionism, both economically and strategically. Unionism looks more and more like a relic of the distant past. Only a tiny minority within the Tory establishment who hanker after empire with their lost dreams of imperial glory believe, like Randolph Churchill, that “the Orange card is the card to play.”
      The choreographed speeches and ceremonies, the bowing and scraping and the babbling of the RTE presenters finally extinguished the embers of any pretence that there is anything progressive left in the Irish establishment. A century later, the political ideas, values and philosophy of Redmondism have finally trumped the naïve nationalism of Sinn Féinism, whether the Fianna Fáil or the Sinn Féin variety.
      What Redmond wanted in his home-rule strategy was that the Irish capitalist class would be given a little more opportunity to exploit the Irish people, that Irish capitalism should get a seat at the imperial table and benefit more from the fruits of the British empire and its global network of exploitation. After all, tens of thousands of Irish soldiers had fought under the British flag and played no small part in building and consolidating the British empire, but the Irish ruling class had received very little in return.
      Now the Irish bourgeoisie have a seat—albeit a small seat in the corner—at the table of the European Union. The Irish economy is now fully tied in to the global economy and completely dependent on the strategic alliances that the establishment have built over the last five decades, primarily with the EU. The British need as many allies as they can get in the context of the European Union. Their reluctance to fully engage with the EU, and the prospect of a referendum on continued membership, have weakened British influence in Brussels. So allies are required.
      The Irish establishment are fully committed to sharing the global imperial burden. Irish soldiers are now stationed in Afghanistan, Irish officers are serving in NATO headquarters, and Shannon Airport is openly used by the US war machine.
      With the Northern peace process, the British ruling class have found common interests with the Irish establishment. They know that Dublin is no more interested in pursuing Irish unity than the EU was in supporting the reunification of Cyprus. Events have shown that imperialism does not have friends, only interests: political, economic, military, and strategic.
      The attendance of Sinn Féin at the party was the logical outcome of its strategy over the last two decades. It signalled that they have come in from the cold, that they have arrived at the table of respectability and are ready for government, north and south—that they are a safe pair of hands. They recognise the new balance of forces, both between Ireland and Britain and between the Irish establishment, in its junior role, and the EU and the United States.
      The question is, What will or can unionism do? It has no influence in London, no influence in Brussels, no influence in Washington, no influence in Dublin. The only door open to them is the door to the unity of Irish working people. Unionism has little if anything to offer imperialism; and it has nothing to offer the people of the North of Ireland but a diet of sectarianism and hate.
      But unionism—like capitalism—will not simply die of its own contradictions: it needs to be politically challenged and defeated. Those who believe in establishing a national democratic state embracing all the Irish people have a primary duty to build strategies that can open up a dialogue with the Protestant section of our working class and others who are still under the influence of unionism. We need to offer them a real way out of the cul de sac that unionism has forced them into, before and since partition, a cul de sac policed by loyalism and lined by the flags of lost power and nostalgia.
      How do we reach into that community, to extend the hand of friendship to our estranged neighbours? They have lost the solidarity, shared history and shared nation and culture with the rest of the people of this island. They have now been abandoned by those who fostered division and hate in the first place, leaving them languishing in limbo.
      Unionism and loyalism are the straitjacket woven by the British establishment that has prevented us from building a united people, sharing in solidarity the possibility of a better future.
      Challenging unionism means also challenging the Southern state. The two political entities imposed on our people by the British state have failed our working people, north and south.

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