Monday, 27 June 2016

For A United Ireland

The result of the EU Referendum makes consideration of the question of a United Ireland once again front and centre. Marxists must continue to argue for Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom, so as to maintain the unity of the working-class within a single unitary state, though we should consider the options of a so called “reverse Greenland”, whereby Scotland could remain within the EU, and also within the UK. But, there is no reason for the North of Ireland, which voted by a similar margin as Scotland to Remain in the EU, to remain trapped within the UK.

The existence of the Northern Ireland statelet was always an affront to democracy. It is clearly a part of the island of Ireland, and should have been a part of the Irish Republic when it was established. The only reason it was not was the power of British imperialism to keep it separate, and thereby to support the Unionist majority. In fact, even that Unionist Majority had to be gerrymandered. On the basis of the nine counties of Ulster, the Unionists were in a minority, and so the border was deliberately gerrymandered so as to provide a Unionist majority.

But, Ireland had a bourgeois democratic right to self-determination for the whole of Ireland that was denied them by British imperialism and force of arms. The consequence was that the nationalist minority in the six counties were perpetually discriminated against, including having fewer rights in employment and in voting compared to the Unionists. It was a recipe for communalist violence, which perpetually broke out.

From the late 1960's, until the late 1990's that violence continued. Marxists continued to argue for a United Ireland, but our concern has never been simply to argue for such bourgeois democratic rights in isolation. As Lenin said, these bourgeois democratic demands are always subordinate to our primary goal of forging the greatest possible unity of the working-class as part of the struggle for socialism. No part of our programme and approach to Ireland, therefore, could be about simply dismissing the concerns and rights of Unionist workers in the North.

It was on that basis that in the 1980's, I supported the idea of a Federal United Ireland, which provided the maximum rights for minorities in each part of the country. That indeed, was the kind of approach that Lenin sought to the issue of minorities within Russia, as the basis of forging working-class unity.

Marxists always favour a single unitary state, as the most effective form of state organisation. That is why I thought the proposals for devolution were always a first step on the slippery slope of fragmentation within the UK that we now see. It is why, although I defend absolutely the right of Scotland to become independent of the UK, if that is what they choose, I argue strongly that they should not choose to become independent, and thereby weaken that unity, and the unity of the Scottish and English and Welsh working class that goes with it.

As I have written before, the EU is not yet a state, and so binding Scotland to the EU, is not the same as it remaining part of the British state. But, that does not apply to the North of Ireland. The North of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. Its not surprising, because the North of Ireland has obtained considerable benefits from being in the EU, as has the Irish Republic. Its no wonder, that even Unionists in the North have been trying to get Irish passports, which mean that they can retain EU citizenship.

A large part of the reason that the conflict in the North was dissolved in the late 90's was precisely because of the role of the EU, as people and trade moved backwards and forwards across an increasingly irrelevant border between the North and the Republic. The rights of nationalists were themselves in large part underpinned by the EU, and the ECJ. Nationalists could feel themselves as much EU citizens as Irish or citizens of the UK, and the prospect opened up that the issue of the border and of a United Ireland would itself resolve itself peacefully over time.

But, the referendum result throws all of that now into the air. It is quite clear that if the main concern of those voting for Brexit was immigration, then the border between the North of Ireland and the Republic must be closed, or else border controls and checks would have to be imposed between the North and the rest of the UK. Without that, there is nothing stopping EU citizens flying into the Republic, and from there walking across the border into Northern Ireland, and from there into the rest of the UK.

The only way of stopping that is to close the border and to reintroduce border checks. It will open up all of the old divisions that caused the years of violence and communal conflict. The obvious solution is to abolish the border by reuniting the North with the Republic of Ireland. In fact, as part of the EU, and with all of the protections it provides for minority and human rights, there is no longer any need to argue for a Federal United Ireland. For a United Ireland, within the EU, and for the unity of the working class, for a struggle for a United States of Europe.

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