Socialist Worker, No.134, 21 August 1969.
Transcribed by Michael Gavin.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.
BRITAIN’S POLITICAL SLUM in Northern Ireland exploded last week. The population of Bogside, discriminated against, confined to appalling houses, often without hope of ever getting a job, stood up for themselves. Immediately there was an organised attempt to beat the who1e Catholic population back onto their knees.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary, controlled by members of the sectarian Orange Order and the B-Specials, recruited entirely from Orangemen, moved in to smash all resistance. In Derry they used batons and the notorious CS gas (readily supplied by the British government), in Belfast hundreds of automatic rifles and sub-machine guns.
Eight Catholics were killed, hundreds wounded, hundreds more burnt out of their houses. Only a heroic fight back against overwhelming odds, armed with petrol bombs and at most a dozen rifles, prevented a massive pogrom.
What took place was not a riot over religion. The discrimination and denial of civil rights in Northern Ireland does not flow from different religious beliefs.
It is the result of a deliberate and sustained effort to develop and deepen religious hatreds by the Unionist rulers of Stormont. By making the condition of the Protestant population seem marginally superior to that of the Catholics, by arming them in the B-Specials, and by permitting them to engage in periodic pogroms, the Protestants have been prevented from seeing their real interests in opposition to the Unionist ruling class.
While unemployment is heaviest among the Catholics, even among the Protestants it is at a level that would not be tolerated anywhere else in these islands.
The most oppressed section of the working class of Northern Ireland has begun to fight back in the last ten months. In the last week they have been fighting for their lives.
For us the immediate priority must be to give as much support as possible to this beleagured minority. We can hope that Protestant workers will see their own true interests and fight alongside them and socialists must ceaselessly press for Protestant-Catholic workers’ unity.
But if not, the Catholic working class have no choice but to fight alone.
The British troops have been presented in the press as restoring “law and order” and welcomed by the Catholic population. Certainly the mass of Catholics, after three days of bitter fighting were relieved to see the RUC and the Specials withdraw, and to this extent were glad to see the British troops.
But it should not be thought that the presence of British troops can begin to solve their problems.
Because the troops do not have the ingrained hatreds of the RUC and Specials, they will not behave with the same viciousness – although the former terrorisers of Aden and Cyprus are not the angels the press present them to be.
They are in Northern Ireland to preserve “law and order”, which means preserving the existing set-up. The Catholics will still be confined to their ghettos. They will still have the worst houses and the highest unemployment rate.
And when the troops leave, the RUC. the Specia1s (in or out of uniform) and the armed Orange thugs will still remain.
The “law and order” imposed by the British troops at the moment that the Stormont government is free to arrest “repub1icans” while leaving untouched the armed thugs who have burnt whole streets in Belfast.
It was Catholics who were murdered – and it is Catholics who are being arrested and disarmed.
The role of the British troops is not to bring any real solution to the problems of the people of Northern Ireland, but to freeze a situation that looked like getting out of hand and damaging the interests of the British ruling class in Ireland.
British capitalism, with more investments in Southern Ireland than in the North, was worried by the effects of an undisguised pogrom in the six counties on the rest of the island. They preferred to send in British troops rather than risk intervention by the population, and even sections of the army, of the South.
The Stormont regime has never existed in a vacuum. It was set up with the of the British ruling class. Its boundaries (artificially devised to ensure a Protestant majority) were fixed by Britain. The arms it uses to keep the population down come from Britain.
In return it has in the past served British imperialism by safeguarding British capitalist interests in the North, and making impossible any real independence of the regime in the South
The British ruling class feels that it can no longer afford to keep control over its enclave in Ireland in the old way – through a sectarian-based openly repressive regime. The impression must be given that reforms are being carried through peacefully.
But it is not prepared to jettison the source of the repression – the Stormont regime. The British armed presence may prevent the worst excesses of the Specials in the short term, but in the long term the troops are there to protect the regime.
In Bogside the population are making it clear that they will not dismantle their barricades until the RUC are disarmed, the B-Specials disbanded, prisoners released and the Stormont regime ended. They are absolutely correct. The only force that will ensure the end of the repressive regime and its arbitrary terror is the continued mobilisation of the oppressed population.
Every help must be given to them in their efforts. But this needs to be real help, not the sort of meaningless gestures made by the Southern government last week
The green Tories of the South showed that while unarmed Irishmen were being attacked by armed sectarian mobs, their chief concern was keeping the southern arsenals locked, while making unrealistic speeches about a United Nations “peace-keeping force”.
The real answer to the hypocrites in the Dublin government was given in last weeks demonstrations of dockers and other workers in the city. They demanded that the government gives the only meaningful form of aid at their disposal. They should open the arsenals of the 26 county army for the oppressed people of the north and those southern volunteers who want to go to their aid.
But in fact the Southern regime is a good friend of British capitalism and the status quo. They have the army mobilised along the border. It is claimed that they are there to give medical aid to the victims of the Northern fighting. In fact they are there to intercept those moving north to aid the beleagured communities.
The only hope for the people in the North is a mass mobilisation of the Southern workers and small farmers. The refusal of the Dublin dockers to unload anti-civil rights British newspapers was an example to other Irish workers.
In the South, British factories and land estates should be seized and held by the people in ransom for the lives of the Northern Catholics.
Time is vital to bring aid to the Northern people. The intervention of the British troops only allows a temporary breathing space in which the defences of the Catholic community can be strengthened.
In Derry in particular the Bogside has a real chance of holding out. The Derry people, who are overwhelmingly anti-Unionist, were never consulted about the border.
They were forcibly co-opted into the Northern state and their city was allowed to die. One day the people of Derry will take their city from the Chichester-Clarks and the slum landlords.
British workers have a grave responsibility in the present situation. They can take action in many ways: by raising funds for the Irish Civil Rights Solidarity Campaign to send medical aid and other equipment to Northern Ireland. but most of all by joining with Irish workers in taking strike action to demand that the Mafia thugs spawned by Britain in Ireland – the Specials and the RUC, are finally removed and the Irish people allowed to decide their own future.
Last updated on 7.3.2002