Corbyn’s defeat in the UK general election illustrates the point made by Marx, Lenin and Stalin that no country that oppresses another can ever be free. The question is, do we appreciate the significance of this statement, or do we just repeat it because it sounds worthy?
The British occupation of Ireland is an important reason for the failure of socialism to take hold in the UK. This is as much the case now as it was when Karl Marx himself decided that the British working class would never make revolution until Ireland was liberated.
This is not a point the British Left seems to be focusing on much at the moment. The Left is trying to argue that the decline in Corbyn’s vote share was down to the failure of his Brexit policy. The Right is trying to say that it was Corbyn’s left-wing beliefs that were to blame. The opinion polls seem to show that Labour was either not so far behind the Tories, or actually ahead, until July 2019 when Boris Johnson took over as Tory leader. After this, a big gap opened up between the Tories and Labour which Corbyn could do little about. As Johnson is a Leaver and Theresa May was a Remainer, it seems likely that Brexit had a lot to do with Labour’s poorer showing in 2019.
It must be remembered, however, that ‘security’ was also a big factor in Corbyn’s loss in both 2017 and 2019. Even if the Brexit issue had not existed, it is unlikely that Corbyn could have achieved anything like an overall majority due to his perceived lack of support for British military aggression.
We must never forget that the Labour Party is an imperialist party. It is the party of the Iraqi genocide, and it has voted for many other imperialist atrocities during its existence. It went into the 2019 election with a pledge to support NATO. Corbyn personally, however, is seen as an opponent of western imperialism and hence a ‘terrorist supporter’. The issue of Corbyn’s support for the Palestinian cause and the allegations of antisemitism connected with this has been dealt with extensively elsewhere. The press campaign over Corbyn’s historic support for Irish unity which saw him labelled as an ‘IRA supporter’ has been less analysed by the Left. It does seem likely that this had an important role in undermining support for him. Plenty of British people still remember the bombs going off and the press reports of deaths and injuries; all, of course, blamed on the IRA rather than anyone else. Labour party activists and candidates reported that this had a big effect on support for Corbyn.
It may be that the activists are biased but what they are saying seems very plausible given the coverage these allegations received. I can testify that efforts by revolutionaries to get working class support in the UK during the time of the ‘Troubles’ were consistently hampered, if not crippled, by bitter allegations that you were an ‘IRA supporter’. The Corbyn campaign seems to have brought all this up to the surface again.
The problem is that the British never left Ireland. A British defeat in Ireland would have forced the UK population to question if the role of the security forces really was the selfless, heroic peace-keeping mission that most of them believe it was. As it is, they can stick to the fiction that the IRA were just a group of criminals or ‘psychopaths’ who killed people for no reason.
The real truth is that the British army did not just carry out the well-known atrocities like Bloody Sunday and Ballymurphy, they were also responsible for colluding with ‘pro-state’ Loyalist paramilitaries in their murder of innocent Catholic civilians. This happened on a mass scale. For example, British agents were involved in the importation of arms by Loyalist paramilitaries that were used in horrific acts of violence such as the Loughinisland pub massacre:
In fact, collusion by the security forces was intimately connected with the activities of the Loyalist murder gangs throughout the whole period of the ‘Troubles’. The Loyalist death squads killed 900 people:
‘..men shot on their doorsteps, or on their way to work, or in bed; men mown down in ‘spray jobs’ in pubs and bookies’ shops; men tortured with red-hot pokers; men and women beaten and stabbed to death with inhuman savagery.’
Continual collusion between the security services and the Loyalist paramilitaries runs like a red thread through the history of the conflict:
Now Corbyn never ‘supported the IRA’ but his association with republican political campaigns is enough to damn him in the eyes of the public. The British public is woefully blind to the murder and devastation visited by the British military on the oppressed peoples of the world from Ireland, to Iraq to Yemen.
Ideology is the product of material reality. If the material reality is the continued British occupation of the six counties of Northern Ireland, then the ideology of the British people will be that this occupation is righteous and those who oppose it can only be evil ‘terrorist supporters’. The issue will keep coming up as the pressure to unite Ireland is growing, not declining. Given no socialist can ever endorse imperialism and remain a socialist, our movement seems to have little hope of success in the UK at the current time. Any socialist who supports Irish unity will be associated by the press with Sinn Fein and be labelled a traitor and a ‘terrorist supporter’. The only hope for British socialists is that Irish unity could actually occur. Rather than just standing in the street demanding more funding for the NHS, socialists should devote rather more time to the urgent business of defeating UK imperialism in Ireland and elsewhere.