From Solidarity 3/21, 11 January 2003
Two items in the papers recently released by the Public Records Office interested Solidarity:
- Britain discussed repartitioning Ireland
- Some charity! Some revolution!
In 1972, so previously secret Cabinet papers now reveal, the British government considered deporting Northern Ireland Catholics, or ceding Catholic-majority areas of Northern Ireland, to the Irish Republic.
The British state, though hard-pressed to see any path to a solution in Ireland, decided such transfers were "not feasible". In the event it would try to construct a "power-sharing" government in Belfast, a first draft of the now-suspended Good Friday Agreement structure. It would succeed briefly in doing so. After the "power-sharing" executive was brought down by a Protestant general strike, it would settle for "sweating out" the conflict by straightforward repression until the early 1980s, when it started a long process of edging towards what eventually became the Good Friday Agreement.
The root of it was Britain's decision, at the end of Ireland's war of independence in 1921, to impose a settlement which partitioned the island. The partition did not only, or even mainly, safeguard the legitimate autonomy of the "British-Irish" Protestant minority in Ireland's north-east. It retained for Britain a "Northern Ireland" state so constructed that a large nationalist (Catholic) minority, and a large land area within it where Catholics were the majority, were artificially cut off from the new independent Ireland.
Half a century later, that Northern Ireland state broke down in communal conflict which remains unresolved another 30 years on.
The only viable recasting of relations was and is a federal united Ireland with regional autonomy for the Protestant north-east. And the only straightforward way to achieve that is "from below", by a united labour movement taking the lead for a democratic agreement between the communities.
Looking at it "from above", there were only three alternatives: letting the communal conflict rip, and escalate into mass population movements and repartition; pre-empting that by organising the population movements and repartition from above; or sustaining the unviable Northern Ireland state by a scaffolding of British Army force.
Some charity! Some revolution!
The Workers' Revolutionary Party was, 20 years ago, a strange kitsch-Trotskyist sect influential enough to get the then leader of the Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone, and other prominent labour movement figures, to join it in denouncing the BBC and a predecessor of Solidarity, Socialist Organiser, for reporting that it was taking money from Colonel Gadaffi of Libya, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Gulf oil sheikhs and other such reactionary scum, who thereby bought its services as a propaganda agency.
In the person of their most prominent member, Vanessa Redgrave, they sued us for libel for comparing them to the Moonies and accusing them of the emotional and sometimes physical abuse of young people whom they recruited under the false pretence that they were honest socialists.
Papers just made available by the Public Records Office show that in 1981 one of their enterprises, "Youth Training", was refused registration as a charity because those responsible for such things believed that "Youth Training" would allow the WRP to recruit young people into "revolutionary politics"! They were quick on the uptake!
In fact it was a way of recruiting people into a Mickey Mouse outfit that had nothing whatsoever to do with socialist politics, and which polluted the political world it inhabited. It also polluted those like Mayor Ken, who helped the WRP in return for certain benefits What did Ken get out of it? He got a weekly paper, Labour Herald, printed for him and edited by the WRP, but with his politics.