On People Who Don’t Know the Enemy

A commentary on a shameful statement of the ISA against revolutionary nationalists in Northern Ireland

By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 5 March2023, www.thecommunists.net


The Irish section of International Socialist Alternative (ISA) has published a statement on a recent incident in Northern Ireland where a police officer was shot and wounded in Omagh. It has been suggested by media that this was likely an attack carried out by the dissident republican “New IRA”. The statement reveals once more the extraordinary opportunist adaptation of the ISA to pro-British social-chauvinism.

Northern Ireland is the last piece of the island which has remained under occupation since the Irish people successfully defeated and expelled British imperialism in a national liberation war in 1919-21. This colonial enclave was an artificial creation of the British Empire as London did hope to keep at least a small part in the Northeast of the island under its domination (6 counties out of 32) by relying on a pro-British (Protestant) minority population. [1]

Since then, as it is well-known, Northern Ireland has experienced a long-standing struggle (including armed guerrilla campaigns) for an end of colonial rule and the reunification with the rest of Ireland. Repeated polls over many years have consistently shown that a large majority of the Irish population favours reunification. Even in the artificially created enclave of Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein – a bourgeois-nationalist party favouring reunification – has become the strongest party in elections.

Despite all these facts, the ISA statement does not utter a single word about the still existing colonial domination of Northern Ireland. Instead, it denounces the actions of revolutionary nationalists which attack occupation forces and fight for liberation (albeit with wrong methods)! In fact, the ISA knows only one enemy and this enemy are the revolutionary nationalists whose struggle they slander as “sectarianism”! [2]

Such, the ISA statement ferociously denounces the armed attack against the police officer and calls: “we must now respond to this escalation. (…) Now we must unite against sectarianism and say: “No going back!”” The ISA calls the trade unions not to fight against the British occupation but rather to mobilise … against those who resist such occupation! “So far the response of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has been meek. They have condemned the shooting and correctly point to the power of workers on recent picket lines. They should now organise seriously to mobilise the power of their 250,000 members, Protestant, Catholic and other, to isolate and undercut sectarian forces. Working-class people and the trade unions are the most powerful force in society and have the capacity to push back the forces of sectarianism.

However, even the ISA can not deny the fact that the massive discrimination of the nationalist (Catholic) population in Northern Ireland continues to exist. “As we approach the 25th anniversary of the GFA the limitations of the “peace process” are becoming more apparent: communities remain deeply divided, the promised peace dividend has not been delivered, paramilitaries continue to operate on both sides and the political establishment relies on the continuation of sectarian division. Instead of bringing the communities together and overcoming the conflict of national identity, the GFA has served to institutionalise sectarianism. (…) In the Catholic community a sense of alienation is increasing from the NI state and Britain and feel a continuation of a denial of their rights, made worse by Brexit. Likewise the Protestant community fear there is a drift towards a united Ireland, where they fear they would be discriminated against and that the Protocol is the breaking of the link with Britain.

Note the subtle ways how the ISA tries to avoid the very fact that the British occupation represents national oppression of the Irish people. The whole statement (as it is usually the case with documents of the ISA resp. its predecessor, the CWI, on this issue) avoids mentioning the existence of such national oppression. It also prefers to say that the Catholic population “feels (!) a continuation of a denial of their rights” instead of stating that such rights are objectively denied.

Despite all this, even the ISA must admit that support for revolutionary nationalists is growing among the Catholic working-class areas. It is not a coincidence that the dissident republicans are able to grow in the most hard-pressed working-class Catholic areas. These are working-class areas that have been left behind by the peace process.” You don’t say! Nevertheless, the ISA calls for actions against the revolutionary nationalists instead of mobilisations against the British occupation forces!

This shameful position of the ISA demonstrates once more their policy which we have characterised in a recently published pamphlet as “neo-imperialist economism”. This is a policy which denies support for the resistance of oppressed peoples as it takes place. Such, for example, did the CWI/ISA denounce just wars of oppressed peoples as “reactionary” and refused to side with them. Among these were – apart from the Irish struggle against Britain – Argentina’s Malvinas War against Britain in 1982, the armed resistance of the Afghan people (from 2001-21) as well as the Iraqi people (1991, 2003-11) against the Western powers, the four Gaza Wars of the Palestinians against Israel, etc. [3]

The ISA applies the same policy of neo-imperialist economism in the Ukraine War. Here too, it refuses to recognize and to support the legitimate struggle of the Ukrainian people against the invasion by Russian imperialism. It rather denounces it as an inter-imperialist “proxy war” and vehemently opposes any military aid for the Ukraine. [4]

Authentic socialists have nothing but contempt for such capitulators to imperialism! [5]

Of course, this does not mean that we would condone petty-bourgeoise nationalism or that we would support the strategy of guerrilla war. No, the RCIT advocates the policy of mass struggle of the working class against all forms of imperialist oppression. Naturally, such a struggle unavoidable includes armed forms under specific circumstances (wars including civil wars) since the ruling class will never give up power voluntarily. (This is, by the way, why the ISA’s dogma of the possibility of peaceful and parliamentary transformation to socialism is nothing but a dangerous Fata Morgana!) [6] The goal of a socialist struggle must be the revolutionary reunification of Ireland, the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of a 32 County Workers Republic on the whole island.

Yes, revolutionary nationalists must be criticised for their wrong program and their mistaken actions. But authentic Marxists know who is the enemy and who is a errant fighter against imperialism. The ISA does not know. For them, it is not British imperialism who is the enemy but those who combat it with wrong methods! As a result, they end up of the other side of the barricade!


[1] See on this e.g. several publications of the RCIT’s predecessor organisation; e.g. Workers Power (Britain): The British Left and the Irish War, London 1983; see also our book on James Connolly: Irish Workers Group: Connolly – A Marxist Analysis, Dublin 1990

[2] Socialist Party (ISA in Ireland): Northern Ireland. No Going Back: Unite Against Paramilitary Violence and Sectarianism, 24 February 2023, https://internationalsocialist.net/en/2023/02/northern-ireland. All quotes are from this statement if not indicated otherwise.

[3] Michael Pröbsting: The Poverty of Neo-Imperialist Economism. Imperialism and the national question - a critique of Ted Grant and his school (CWI, ISA, IMT), January 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/grantism-imperialism-and-national-question/. See this pamphlet for quotes and sources for the mentioned examples.

[4] Our latest article on the ISA’s policy on the Ukraine War is by Michael Pröbsting: Ukraine War: Beating the Dummy. A commentary on a hidden polemic of the ISA against its internal critics, 27 February 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/ukraine-war-beating-the-dummy/

[5] Our most detailed works on the Marxist theory of imperialism are two books by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/; The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, RCIT Books, 2013, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-of-the-south/

[6] See on this e.g. chapter 5 “The Grantites’ utopia: reforming the capitalist state and the peaceful, parliamentary road to socialism” in the above-mentioned pamphlet The Poverty of Neo-Imperialist Economism.