|Volume 51 Number 14, April 24, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Year 20 of the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan
Biden Announces the Latest Final Withdrawal Plan of the US and NATO from Afghanistan
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Fire and rehire strikes:
Workers at SPS Win Concessions and Gas Workers Continue Battle against Mass Sackings
Prison Education Workers Due to Strike
105th Anniversary of Easter Rising:
Glory to the Irish Patriots Who Fought for Ireland's Freedom
We Only Want the Earth
The H-Block Song
The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up
On April 14, President of the United States Joe Biden made some remarks "on the way forward for Afghanistan" from the White House Treaty Room and said that the US and its NATO allies intend to withdraw from Afghanistan. Saying that he had "inherited a diplomatic agreement, duly negotiated between the government of the United States [Trump's previous administration] and the Taliban, that all US forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, just three months after my inauguration," Biden committed to "begin our final withdrawal - begin it on May 1 this year". He also said that "it is time to end the forever war", but he made no mention of the anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, choosing to claim the same justification as Bush and Blair for this war on the Afghan people as he focused on the anniversary of 9/11 for the final withdrawal on September 11, 2021. Reports also suggest that the 2,500 troops would be replaced by 20,000 mercenaries.
The same day, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace made a statement saying that "as we drawdown, the security of our people currently serving in Afghanistan remains our priority". However, he pointedly did not mention any date for withdrawal of the remaining British forces in Afghanistan. The last combat troops from Britain left in 2014, but about 750 British special forces remain as part of the NATO mission to "train" Afghan forces.
The fact that the Defence Secretary speaks of a "drawdown" in Afghanistan, without giving specific dates of withdrawal, appears to be of significance. In a foreword to Defence in a Competitive Age , released by the government on March 23, Ben Wallace said that the armed forces will "become more present and active around the world, operating below the threshold of open conflict to uphold our values and secure our interests, partner our friends and enable our allies, whether they are in the Euro-Atlantic, the Indo-Pacific, or beyond". An article by Mayer Wakefield for Stop the War pointed out , "Despite the significant cutbacks to the regular army, the paper details the increasingly interventionist intentions of the British government and its armies with commanders apparently determined to increase the number of armed forces operations around the world 'in smaller but more highly trained units'. As part of this, the Royal Marines will be overhauled into a new Future Commando Force (FCF) which will be deployed around the world on an 'enduring basis'. It will also fight alongside the new special operations Ranger Regiment announced in last week's review which, according to the Defence Secretary, would 'be able to operate discreetly in high-risk environments and be rapidly deployable across the world'".
In other words, the British ruling elite and the warmongering interests they represent, whilst they may reduce their static forces in Afghanistan, are planning to retain "special forces" on an "enduring basis", supplemented by mobile marine forces, in even more places where they should not be in the world. Rather than reducing Britain's bases on other countries' soil, overseas bases are "critical", claims the government in its news story announcing its paper, "to both supporting operations and in ensuring the vision of a more globally engaged defence" . Also significantly, Biden in his Whitehouse remarks confirmed that the US was "refining our national strategy to monitor and disrupt significant terrorist threats not only in Afghanistan, but anywhere they may arise - and they're in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere".
In March too, Boris Johnson, in The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy , laid out his vision for Britain in 2030, where "the United Kingdom will be a beacon of democratic sovereignty, and one of the most influential countries in the world, tackling the issues that matter most to our citizens through our actions at home and overseas".
These are all code words for the US and Britain continuing to interfere and occupy countries around the world but with a shift to "operating below the threshold of open conflict". We shall see. Will the people's opposition to the violation of their sovereignty be quenched because the intervention operates "below the threshold of open conflict", and, indeed, will this threshold prove to be a reality? Using the justification of "significant terrorist threats" rather than the previous pretext of a "war on terror" is unlikely to rescue Anglo-US intervention and aggression from the condemnation by the people of all countries. There has been massive opposition to these wars over the last 20 years, as the chaos wrought by these big powers has continued to escalate.
What can never be forgiven or forgotten is that on October 7, 2001, the then Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, as an ally of Bush and the US warmongers, launched a war on the Taliban government of Afghanistan, claiming it was a "war on terror". After two weeks of the invasion, named by the invaders as"Operation Enduring Freedom", Tony Blair declared to Parliament, "We have now significantly damaged the Taliban's military capabilities," adding, "It is important we continue this military action and make sure it is successful." For nearly twenty years it has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghan people, with thousands maimed and injured and left without proper treatment. It has forced even larger numbers of Afghan people to flee their country, depleting their economy of professional and qualified people who now work in low paid jobs subject to the racist treatment of the ruling elites that invaded their country. It has further wrecked the economy of one of the poorest countries in the world and caused immense suffering. The resistance of the people to occupation has never ceased and the Taliban were never defeated as Tony Blair had claimed. In fact, it is with the Taliban that the Anglo-US imperialists and NATO have negotiated their withdrawal.
Over the last twenty years, the people of Afghanistan have defended themselves against all the odds with such resilience and courage. It is they who must decide their future and their own destiny as they face the catastrophic legacy left by the occupiers and the prospect of continued interference in their affairs by the Anglo-US and NATO powers.
These twenty years have been twenty years of the struggle against war, state terror and reaction. The flood gates were opened by the response of the US and Britain to 9/11, just as the new millennium got under way, with the trampling of any norms of international conduct. These have continued, as Bush and Blair's successors have espoused the doctrine of regime change, "soft power" combined with "hard power" and a so-called new legality where the rights of nations to sovereignty and self-determination are cast aside and the actions of the big powers are justified in the name of "fighting terrorism", "opposing ethnic cleansing" and "human rights" and so on.
This is not how international affairs should be conducted. For the people, these last twenty years have brought to the fore the necessity to bring into being an anti-war government that stands for a vision of society that recognises the rights of all, that ends Britain's interference in the internal affairs of other countries, that withdraws from NATO and stands for democratisation of international relations and the equality and rights of all nations big and small.
1. Corporate report - Defence in a Competitive Age, March 23, 2021
2. Mayer Wakefield, "Let Us Be Clear, There Are No Cuts - Just Huge Budget Hikes For An Increasingly Aggressive War Machine", March 22, 2021
3. "The Defence Command Paper sets out the future for our armed forces", 23 March 2021
4. The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, March 16, 2021
Lindsey German, Stop the War
The announcement by Joe Biden that he is to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by the anniversary of 9/11 this September has ruffled the feathers of the British military - and apparently of some of his own advisers. Their discomfort is because his announcement is an admission of defeat for US imperialism and for the whole War on Terror, begun 20 years ago. This was a war of revenge launched by George Bush, aided and abetted by his ally Tony Blair. Those of us who opposed the war argued at the time that it would solve nothing, would not end terrorism or bring peace to the country - already embroiled in a civil war - but would have catastrophic consequences for the people there.
Now we have come full circle. The war and occupation rapidly overthrew the Taliban government but resistance to the western powers and the government it supported continued. The Taliban now controls large parts of the country again, and groups like Isis have grown. Meanwhile the Afghans have suffered at least 100,000 dead, mass displacement and are citizens of one of the poorest countries in the world. They have suffered aerial bombardment and continuing conflict.
There was no point to this war, which also cost the lives of thousands of US, UK and other NATO soldiers. Yet instead of any honest accounting by the governments who endorsed it, they have learnt none of the lessons of their failed wars here and in Iraq, Libya and Syria. As Tariq Ali said at the Stop the War conference which took place at the weekend , we are seeing side by side the failure of their existing wars and the determination to engage new military conflicts.
Hence the sanctions and belligerent rhetoric against Russia and China, the bolstering of NATO in Eastern Europe in particular, military exercises in the Indo-Pacific region, the sending of Britain's new aircraft carrier to the South China Sea. The latest flashpoint is over Ukraine, where there is talk of conflict over the Donbass.
The declining power of US imperialism, along with its very junior partner here in Britain, is leading to increased militarism and conflict. And those who brought us this endless war in Afghanistan have neither the intention nor the ability to learn the lessons from it.
1. Final session from Threats of War: Britain's New Global Role - Conference, Saturday April 17 2021
Employers, particularly monopolies, across the socialised economy are imposing changes of working arrangements under variations of what is being labelled "fire and rehire". According to the TUC some 1 in 11 (9%) of workers of over 2,000 people polled last November had experienced the increasingly prevalent tactic in some form. Strikes at SPS Technologies and Centrica are two of many struggles against fire and rehire currently ongoing.
Strikes that have been held since March 12 at SPS Technologies, which supplies parts to the aerospace industry, have ended as an agreement was reached to end fire and rehire threats. Over 90% of around 200 workers, members of Unite, at the firm's Barkby Road site voted to accept the negotiated deal, in which planned cuts will be halved. The agreement also covers terms and conditions including pay for breaks, overtime pay, shift premiums and sick pay.
Unite regional officer Lakhy Mahal said: "Striking in the midst of the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic is not an easy thing to do. But our members would not roll over and accept SPS's fire and rehire demands.
"Their strength and solidarity has resulted in a deal that protects their incomes and that allows them to return to work with their heads held high.
"Fire and rehire is a blight that is taking hold in workplaces across the country, as employers look to take advantage of the pandemic and its aftermath to target workers' pay and T&Cs."
Even though the struggle is victorious for the moment, workers are conscious of the fact that concessions are not solutions. Settlement and truce bring an aftermath of stresses and strains where relations had been stretched.
Meanwhile, gas workers took their 43rd strike day on April 14, after British Gas (Centrica) sent confirmation letters of mass sackings to staff. The company had announced in July 2020 that those who refused to accept 15% cuts in pay rates and other changes would lose their jobs .
Since the April 14 strike day, British Gas and GMB have entered an official national lockout dispute. This will include further strike action and action short of a strike.
The number of people now waiting for emergency repairs is now reported to run into the hundreds of thousands, while millions more are waiting for service visits. British Gas has frozen sales of its standard boiler service insurance.
Strains in relations have been stretched to breaking point making settlement extremely difficult.
GMB regional secretary Justin Bowden said: "That British Gas doesn't give a toss for either its customers or staff is evidenced by the mass sacking of the engineers that it badly needs to service these customers.
"Whilst there is sadly nothing to stop a company bullying its own staff to sign terms they don't accept, and sacking those who won't submit to bullying, GMB members will not accept the outcome of this 9-month campaign of British Gas bullying. That is why they are staging their 43rd day of strike action today.
"We have news for Mr O'Shea and Centrica: this dispute will continue and become an official national lockout dispute. There will be more strikes and action short of strikes.
"With hundreds of thousands waiting in the backlog for service, customers have been treated as collateral and so it seems too will staff - as Mr O'Shea prepares to go down in history as the first major FT listed CEO to carry out mass sackings of his highly skilled and qualified engineers whilst his customers are waiting for visits. The workforce are Mr O'Shea's most valuable asset and he will be universally condemned by politicians and the public alike for doing so.
"The arrogant gamble has been lost. Any fool can start a war and, it seems, ruin a good business. History will not be kind to Mr O'Shea or the Centrica Board who failed to rein in him and his out-of-control leadership team."
The Manchester bus drivers' strike is also becoming a significant battle against the use of fire and rehire. There has been a continuous strike since February 28. The employer, Go North West, is arbitrarily tearing up long-agreed contracts of employment under the method of fire and rehire .
Imposing fire and rehire is part and parcel of the anti-social offensive. A general disequilibrium exists in the social relation between those who work and those who employ them, the owners and controllers of business and the economy. In general, the arrangements of civil society are being torn up and the elite increasingly exercise control through direct imposition.
In the workplace, employers dream of absolute control, but workers aim to reverse this delusion. The diktat of fire and rehire rejects the right of workers to negotiate and is an attempt to render workers and their unions powerless to resist. It must not pass.
It is the right of all workers to be able to have a voice and control over their conditions, and must be able to negotiate collective agreements, which is a starting point for regaining an equilibrium in a workplace. It also contributes to bringing about an equilibrium in society. Centrica, SPS, Go North West, and others imposing fire and rehire, are out of control resulting in chaos. At the level of society as a whole, and the arrangements of how it is governed, people throughout the country are concerned about the direction being taken and are expressing this in their opposition, for example, to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Through such legislation, the government is attempting to further curb the right of people to protest and dissent and to bolster the arbitrary powers of the executive and the judiciary.
The need is to bring into being a new coherence and arrangements amongst the people, the socialised economy, and the state. Workers must be able to maintain their current free collective bargaining arrangements. They must also be allowed a resounding voice in the planning of a way out of the crisis in the economy, for which concessions provide no solution. Central is the direction of the economy, considering, particularly in the case of British Gas, energy and environmental concerns, and having fidelity to the human relations.
What is required is for working people to constitute a new kind of authority, with the aim of guaranteeing the rights of all, so that they have more control over their lives and livelihoods. This will allow them to set the terms in establishing an equilibrium in their favour and in favour of society instead of the rights of profit-seeking monopolies and the elite. Public right should trump monopoly right. To achieve this requires strengthening the workers' independent outlook and organisation, as part of building their resistance. It also requires the working class to strengthen its solidarity and step up its struggle so that it can put the full weight of its organisation and strength behind its consciousness and outlook.
(Sources: Union News, National Shop Stewards Network)
1. "British Gas Workers Take Further Strike Action as Centrica Reveals £700m Profits", Workers' Weekly, February 27, 2021
2. "Bus Drivers' Strike and Actions Continue", Workers' Weekly, April 17, 2021
Prison education workers and their union UCU have announced three days of strike action at prisons across the country over Covid health and safety concerns. Education workers will stage a one-day walkout at 49 prison and young offender institutions on April 26 followed by a two-day strike on May 11 and 12. The employer, Novus, along with the rest of the prison service authority has failed to resolve notorious problems affecting both prisons and the prison workers.
This comes at a time when workers, many of whom have worked throughout lockdown and have not been furloughed, have continued to demand satisfactory working conditions. It also coincides with the TUC recently commenting on easing of restrictions.
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said:
"As we reopen the economy, we must not drop our guard on workplace safety. If workplaces aren't Covid-secure, coronavirus cases could spiral out of control again.
"Ministers must tell the Health and Safety Executive to crack down on bad bosses who play fast and loose with workers' safety. It's a national scandal that not a single employer has been prosecuted and fined for putting workers or the public at risk.
"Vaccinations can't be a substitute for comprehensive health and safety measures to make workplaces safe.
"And the government needs to wake up to the fact that a lack of decent sick pay undermines safe return to work. Ministers must raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage, and make sure everyone can get it."
Novus is responsible for providing education at the sites where staff are taking industrial action. The strike is over the company's refusal to listen and meaningfully engage with UCU over Covid health and safety concerns and on-site provision. The employer is upsetting the social relation in which it stands with its employees and is imposing its control over conditions. Such a breakdown of equilibrium calls into question the credibility of authority in the prisons. If that authority cannot secure the welfare of all of its workers, whether or not they come under a separate contracted-out company such as Novus, how can they oversee the safety and security of the prison population? The situation is not conducive to good human relations of any kind. According to the union, Novus has been using complaints and investigations to intimidate UCU's health and safety representatives, making it difficult for staff to raise and discuss safety concerns.
Two-thirds of UCU members who were balloted on April 23 voted for strike action. Over 82% of members voted to take other forms of action, such as working to rule, and refusal to enter prison wings other than to access education departments. There may be non-attendance on site where members believe that inadequate safety measures are in place.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:
"Strike action is never taken lightly, but prison educators will not allow Novus to put their health and safety at risk. If Novus wants to avoid these strikes, it needs to listen to this strong mandate from staff, stop intimidating our health and safety representatives, and withdraw the unfair complaints and investigations against them, so that we can have meaningful health and safety discussions.
"Unless Novus stops its bullying behaviour, our members will walk out on April 26, followed by a two-day strike on May 11 and 12. We have a mandate to take sustained industrial action and Novus needs to urgently address staff health and safety concerns if it wants to avoid further disruption."
The struggle for workers' right to work in safe environments continues. Security lies in the fight for the right of workers to speak and act in their own name. The dispute underscores the need for new public authority, and it is up to workers to constitute it.
Mural, Falls Road, Ireland, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016
The heroic Easter Rising, begun on April 24, 1916, and centred on Dublin, though crushed barbarically by British imperialist troops within six days, was a turning point in the history of the nation. It led directly to the stunning victory of pro-independence candidates in the General Election of 1918 and the establishment of Dáil Éireann in 1919, albeit also brutally suppressed by the British. There followed the War of Independence of 1919-21, fought against the British armed forces, including quasi-military and paramilitary forces. Following this, the partition of Ireland on May 3, 1921, took place one hundred years ago with the implementation of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 - although this Act was repealed in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, partition is still in force and being used by the British government to egg on reactionary forces and cause trouble for all the Irish people. The Irish Free State was founded in 1922; and eventually the fruits of the Rebellion led to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland on April 18, 1949. This assertion of national sovereignty, this nation-building project, whatever the tortuous and often appalling twists and turns, continues to this very day.
As Lenin later stated, the Citizens Army, one of the main components of the Rising, was the first workers' Red Army, and the pity was that the Easter Rising occurred before the revolutionary movement in Europe had reached full maturity. Nonetheless, the Irish revolutionary forces were to be an inspiration and example for revolutionary fighters throughout the world for the remainder of the 20th century, as were to be their mirror image in Ulster the model for counter-revolution, reaction and foreign manipulation.
The Rising took place in the middle of the inter-imperialist World War I, and represented the rejection of the Irish people of this war. It upheld the slogan, "Neither King nor Kaiser!" It was a pointer towards the principle that progress in the 20th century, when the whole world had become the target of the domination of the imperialist powers, involved the self-determination of peoples and nations. Those who gave their lives in the rebellion have had their heirs in the 20th century. In particular, the brave martyrs who gave their lives in the hunger strike of 1981 who demanded to be treated as political prisoners and not criminals. They gave their lives 40 years ago. It was on May 5, 1981, that Bobby Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike, aged 27, to be followed by nine other heroic young Irish patriots.
The crushing of the rebellion by the British was carried out with the utmost brutality, destruction, and vindictiveness. The leaders of the rebellion, including James Connolly, were executed. In May, 1916, following six days of fierce fighting, military court martials were held and 93 rebels, including one woman, were sentenced to death by the British Military Court, presided over by Colonel Charles Blackader, commander of the 59th brigade of the 177th regiment which had fought against the rebels. Nearly 2,000 rebels were deported to England where they were imprisoned without trial. Fifteen rebels were executed by firing squad at Dublin's Kilmainham Gaol, including the seven leaders who signed the proclamation of the Irish Republic. One was hanged later. James Connolly, who was wounded in battle, was shot on May 12, 1916, tied to a chair with no blindfold. The British medical officer who attended the executions stated: "They all died like Lions."
The racism of the British state towards the Irish, then and now, has demonstrated that this racism has been directed to all the peoples oppressed by the British state and its monarch. Barbarity has been a standard reaction of British imperialism to any move for colonial freedom throughout its Empire. In fact, it can be said that this very tyranny it was that made armed uprising inevitable in 1916.
With the Downing Street Declaration of 1993, the then Prime Minister John Major stated that Britain had no territorial interest or claim in what he called "the island of Ireland". If so, why more than 20 years later, does Britain maintain its hold on part of the island? Why is there a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Why doesBritain maintain a military presence in the north of Ireland, even if troops have been withdrawn from the streets for some years now - admittedly mainly so as to free them for other criminal interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere. Notwithstanding the sincere efforts being made by various forces in Ireland to achieve progress through the Good Friday Accord and the Peace Agreement, why does the British state and its government continue to interfere in Irish affairs and block progress?
The anniversary of the Easter Rising is an important occasion for the British working class and people to express their condemnation of the British state and its violence which over the centuries has been meted out to the Irish people. The British state has also attempted to try out and perfect its counter-insurgency methods in Ireland. To demand that the pro-war Westminster government be held accountable for its crimes before the people is a just demand.
The full liberation of Ireland, and progress in its nation-building project, will be the act of the Irish people themselves. In this they have the support of millions throughout the world, especially in the Americas and Caribbean, and across Europe, especially in England, Scotland and Wales, not least because of the diaspora, working people proud of their Irish heritage, even centuries after emigration, showing their support directly and in their struggles for the same aims.
The present generation in Ireland is once again inspired by the vision of a risen people, a united Ireland and the Irish people deciding their own destiny as a whole, free from all the interference of the British state and its "United Kingdom". The cause of the Irish people, a people inspired anew by the Easter Rising, will surely prevail!
Hail the Easter Rising!
Victory to the Struggles of the Irish People!
Our demands most moderate are - We only want the earth!
From James Connolly's Message to the Field General Court Martial, held at Dublin Castle, on May 9, 1916:
We went out to break the connection between this country and the British Empire, and to establish an Irish Republic. We believed that the call we then issued to the people of Ireland, was a nobler call, in a holier cause, than any call issued to them during this war [World War I], having any connection with the war. We succeeded in proving that Irishmen are ready to die endeavouring to win for Ireland those national rights which the British Government has been asking them to die to win for Belgium. As long as that remains the case, the cause of Irish freedom is safe.
Believing that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland, the presence, in any one generation of Irishmen, of even a respectable minority, ready to die to affirm that truth, makes that Government for ever a usurpation and a crime against human progress.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997
Poem by James Connolly, 1907
Some men, faint-hearted, ever seek
Our programme to retouch,
And will insist, whene'er they speak
That we demand too much.
'Tis passing strange, yet I declare
Such statements give me mirth,
For our demands most modest are,
We only want the earth.
"Be moderate," the trimmers cry,
Who dread the tyrants' thunder.
"You ask too much and people fly
From you aghast in wonder."
'Tis passing strange, for I declare
Such statements give me mirth,
For our demands most moderate are,
We only want the earth.
Our masters all a godly crew,
Whose hearts throb for the poor,
Their sympathies assure us, too,
If our demands were fewer.
Most generous souls! But please observe,
What they enjoy from birth
Is all we ever had the nerve
To ask, that is, the earth.
The "labour fakir" full of guile,
Base doctrine ever preaches,
And whilst he bleeds the rank and file
Tame moderation teaches.
Yet, in despite, we'll see the day
When, with sword in its girth,
Labour shall march in war array
To realise its own, the earth.
For labour long, with sighs and tears,
To its oppressors knelt.
But never yet, to aught save fears,
Did the heart of tyrant melt.
We need not kneel, our cause no dearth
Of loyal soldiers' needs
And our victorious rallying cry
Shall be we want the earth!
Bobby Sands and fellow hunger-strikers who gave their lives so Ireland might be free.
I am a proud young Irishman.
In Ulster's hills my life began;
A happy boy through green fields ran;
I kept God's and man's laws.
But when my age was barely ten
My country's wrongs were told again.
By tens of thousands marching men
And my heart stirred to the cause.
So I'll wear no convict's uniform
Nor meekly serve my time
That Britain might brand lreland 's fight
Eight hundred years of crime.
I learned of centuries of strife,
Of cruel laws, injustice rife;
I saw now in my own young life
The fruits of foreign sway:
Protestors threatened, tortured, maimed,
Divisions nurtured, passions flamed,
Outrage provoked, right's cause defamed;
That is the conqueror's way.
Descended from proud Connacht clan,
Concannon served cruel Britain' s plan;
Man' s inhumanity to man
Had spawned a trusty slave.
No strangers are these bolts and locks,
No new design these dark H-Blocks,
Black Cromwell lives while Mason stalks;
The bully taunts the brave.
Does Britain need a thousand years
Of protest, riot, death and tears,
Or will this past decade of fears
Of eighty decades spell
An end to Ireland' s agony,
New hope for human dignity;
And will the last obscenity
Be this grim H-Block cell?
V I Lenin
The following is an excerpt from the article by Lenin, "The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up", first published in October 1916. Lenin wrote to clarify the issue of self-determination of nations including the significance of the Irish Rebellion in opposition to the opportunist and chauvinist theses put forward by Polish social-democrats and the so-called Zimmerwald Leftists. These theses dismissed the revolt of oppressed nations such as Ireland and the important role of their struggle for their right to self-determination in the proletarian revolution. In his conclusion, Lenin pointed out, "The epoch of imperialism has turned all the 'great' powers into the oppressors of a number of nations, and the development of imperialism will inevitably lead to a more definite division of trends in this question in international Social-Democracy as well."
Our theses were written before the outbreak of this rebellion, which must be the touchstone of our theoretical views.
The views of the opponents of self-determination lead to the conclusion that the vitality of small nations oppressed by imperialism has already been sapped, that they cannot play any role against imperialism, that support of their purely national aspirations will lead to nothing, etc. The imperialist war of 1914-16 has provided facts which refute such conclusions.
The war proved to be an epoch of crisis for the West-European nations, and for imperialism as a whole. Every crisis discards the conventionalities, tears away the outer wrappings, sweeps away the obsolete and reveals the underlying springs and forces. What has it revealed from the standpoint of the movement of oppressed nations? In the colonies there have been a number of attempts at rebellion, which the oppressor nations naturally did all they could to hide by means of a military censorship. Nevertheless, it is known that in Singapore the British brutally suppressed a mutiny among their Indian troops; that there were attempts at rebellion in French Annam (see Nashe Slovo) and in the German Cameroons (see the Junius pamphlet); that in Europe, on the one hand, there was a rebellion in Ireland, which the "freedom-loving" English, who did not dare to extend conscription to Ireland, suppressed by executions, and, on the other, the Austrian Government passed the death sentence on the deputies of the Czech Diet "for treason", and shot whole Czech regiments for the same "crime".
This list is, of course, far from complete. Nevertheless, it proves that, owing to the crisis of imperialism, the flames of national revolt have flared up both in the colonies and in Europe, and that national sympathies and antipathies have manifested themselves in spite of the Draconian threats and measures of repression. All this before the crisis of imperialism hit its peak; the power of the imperialist bourgeoisie was yet to be undermined (this may be brought about by a war of "attrition" but has not yet happened) and the proletarian movements in the imperialist countries were still very feeble. What will happen when the war has caused complete exhaustion, or when, in one state at least, the power of the bourgeoisie has been shaken under the blows of proletarian struggle, as that of tsarism in 1905?
On May 9, 1916, there appeared in Berner Tagwacht, the organ of the Zimmerwald group, including some of the Leftists, an article on the Irish rebellion entitled "Their Song Is Over" and signed with the initials K R. It described the Irish rebellion as being nothing more nor less than a "putsch", for, as the author argued, "the Irish question was an agrarian one", the peasants had been pacified by reforms, and the nationalist movement remained only a "purely urban, petty-bourgeois movement, which, notwithstanding the sensation it caused, had not much social backing".
It is not surprising that this monstrously doctrinaire and pedantic assessment coincided with that of a Russian national-liberal Cadet, Mr A Kulisher (Rech, No 102, April 15, 1916) , who also labelled the rebellion "the Dublin putsch".
It is to be hoped that, in accordance with the adage, "it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good," many comrades, who were not aware of the morass they were sinking into by repudiating "self-determination" and by treating the national movements of small nations with disdain, will have their eyes opened by the "accidental" coincidence of opinion held by a Social-Democrat and a representative of the imperialist bourgeoisie!!
The term "putsch", in its scientific sense, may be employed only when the attempt at insurrection has revealed nothing but a circle of conspirators or stupid maniacs, and has aroused no sympathy among the masses. The centuries-old Irish national movement, having passed through various stages and combinations of class interest, manifested itself, in particular, in a mass Irish National Congress in America (Vorwarts, March 20, 1916) which called for Irish independence; it also manifested itself in street fighting conducted by a section of the urban petty bourgeoisie and a section of the workers after a long period of mass agitation, demonstrations, suppression of newspapers, etc. Whoever calls such a rebellion a "putsch" is either a hardened reactionary, or a doctrinaire hopelessly incapable of envisaging a social revolution as a living phenomenon.
To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc. - to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, "We are for socialism," and another, somewhere else and says, "We are for imperialism," and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a "putsch".
Whoever expects a "pure" social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.
The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a bourgeois-democratic revolution. It consisted of a series of battles in which all the discontented classes, groups and elements of the population participated. Among these there were masses imbued with the crudest prejudices, with the vaguest and most fantastic aims of struggle; there were small groups which accepted Japanese money, there were speculators and adventurers, etc. But objectively, the mass movement was breaking the back of tsarism and paving the way for democracy; for this reason the class-conscious workers led it.
The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it - without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible - and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses and errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will be able to unite and direct it, capture power, seize the banks, expropriate the trusts which all hate (though for different reasons!), and introduce other dictatorial measures which in their totality will amount to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which, however, will by no means immediately "purge" itself of petty-bourgeois slag.
Social-Democracy, we read in the Polish theses (I, 4), "must utilise the struggle of the young colonial bourgeoisie against European imperialism in order to sharpen the revolutionary crisis in Europe". (Authors' italics)
Is it not clear that it is least of all permissible to contrast Europe to the colonies in this respect? The struggle of the oppressed nations in Europe, a struggle capable of going all the way to insurrection and street fighting, capable of breaking down the iron discipline of the army and martial law, will "sharpen the revolutionary crisis in Europe" to an infinitely greater degree than a much more developed rebellion in a remote colony. A blow delivered against the power of the English imperialist bourgeoisie by a rebellion in Ireland is a hundred times more significant politically than a blow of equal force delivered in Asia or in Africa.
The French chauvinist press recently reported the publication in Belgium of the eightieth issue of an illegal journal, Free Belgium . Of course, the chauvinist press of France very often lies, but this piece of news seems to be true. Whereas chauvinist and Kautskyite German Social-Democracy has failed to establish a free press for itself during the two years of war, and has meekly borne the yoke of military censorship (only the Left Radical elements, to their credit be it said, have published pamphlets and manifestos, in spite of the censorship) - an oppressed civilised nation has reacted to a military oppression unparalleled in ferocity by establishing an organ of revolutionary protest! The dialectics of history are such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real anti-imperialist force, the socialist proletariat, to make its appearance on the scene.
The general staffs in the current war are doing their utmost to utilise any national and revolutionary movement in the enemy camp: the Germans utilise the Irish rebellion, the French - the Czech movement, etc. They are acting quite correctly from their own point of view. A serious war would not be treated seriously if advantage were not taken of the enemy's slightest weakness and if every opportunity that presented itself were not seized upon, the more so since it is impossible to know beforehand at what moment, where, and with what force some powder magazine will "explode". We would be very poor revolutionaries if, in the proletariat's great war of liberation for socialism, we did not know how to utilise every popular movement against every single disaster imperialism brings in order to intensify and extend the crisis. If we were, on the one hand, to repeat in a thousand keys the declaration that we are "opposed" to all national oppression and, on the other, to describe the heroic revolt of the most mobile and enlightened section of certain classes in an oppressed nation against its oppressors as a "putsch", we should be sinking to the same level of stupidity as the Kautskyites.
It is the misfortune of the Irish that they rose prematurely, before the European revolt of the proletariat had had time to mature. Capitalism is not so harmoniously built that the various sources of rebellion can immediately merge of their own accord, without reverses and defeats. On the other hand, the very fact that revolts do break out at different times, in different places, and are of different kinds, guarantees wide scope and depth to the general movement; but it is only in premature, individual, sporadic and therefore unsuccessful, revolutionary movements that the masses gain experience, acquire knowledge, gather strength, and get to know their real leaders, the socialist proletarians, and in this way prepare for the general onslaught, just as certain strikes, demonstrations, local and national, mutinies in the army, outbreaks among the peasantry, etc., prepared the way for the general onslaught in 1905.
1. Rech (Speech): A daily, the Central Organ of the Cadet Party published in Petersburg from February 1906; closed down by the Petrograd Soviet's Revolutionary Military Committee on October 26 (November 8) 1917; publication continued under another title until August 1918.
2. Libre Belgium (Free Belgium) - an illegal journal of the Belgian Labour Party, Brussels (1915-18)
(Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 22)
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