(Reading time main text: 4 mins.)
As I sit down to write this there is an armed conflict occurring in eastern Europe, in the Ukraine, with the potential to escalate into a greater – and possibly even world – war. The mass media is quite clear on its position, which side it supports and which it opposes. Considering the antagonists involved and the conflict’s background, that is not surprising. What is surprising perhaps – and certainly concerning – is the confusion in the Irish Left1.
This may not have much practical effect on the conflict itself but it will indubitably affect the minds of the Irish general population and, in doing so, is highly likely to assist a move of the Irish ruling class to membership of US-led NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) or to contributing towards an imperialist EU military force. That would be an end to formal Irish state neutrality for the foreseeable future with Irish military in foreign conflicts and Ireland seen as a legitimate target.
The different positions on the current conflict2
One position, let’s call it position A, is totally or mostly condemning Russia. The invasion is seen as an attack on the national sovereignty and self-determination of a nation: Ukraine (which Putin has declared does not even exist as a nation). Furthermore it is being carried out on behalf of a capitalist Russian ruling class, is hurting ordinary working people and possibly endangering the world through war, as NATO moves to support Ukraine. Therefore Russia should withdraw from the Ukraine and we should mobilise in solidarity with the Ukrainian nation.3
Position B takes almost a diametrically opposite view: the invasion has been necessary because NATO is encircling Russia and doing so with the assistance of many former USSR states, in particular in this case, Ukraine, with which Russia shares a border. Furthermore a legitimate government in the Ukraine was overthrown by a NATO-supported coup in 2014, which led to attacks on – an protests by — ethnic Russians in the Donbas region and an armed conflict during which civilians were bombed, ethnic Russians targeted along with communists, at least 39 of which were burned to death in a trade union hall by organised fascists (a unit of which is integrated into Ukraine’s armed forces). Therefore we should call for an end to NATO encirclement of Russia.
Position C seeks to straddle the opposing views, condemning both the Russian invasion and NATO’s encirclement of Russia. It urges us to call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukraine and for diplomatic negotiations around resolving the conflict between NATO’s expansion and Russian national security.4
My position is different from all of the above, arrived at by seeking to identify the fundamental causes of the conflict and proceed from there while taking into account another serious danger (to be addressed in the section below).
The specific fundamental cause of the conflict is NATO’s expansion against Russia in Eastern Europe (and not alone there but in the Middle East also) therefore calling both NATO and Russia out equally is not only incorrect but unhelpful. Not that the Russian ruling class would listen to us anyway but if it should for some reason pull out of the Ukraine now that would only bring the situation back to the previous status quo, i.e the very situation that led to this conflict in the first place. NATO would have no reason to agree to Russian demands for its withdrawal and, indeed, it and its allies are arming the Ukraine to the teeth. NATO would in fact press its advantage seeking the total defeat of Russia and to bring it under its control.
There is not only that to consider but on a world scale too, the expansion of US Imperialism in alliance with other imperialist states through NATO is by far the greatest culprit in terms of wars and suppression of liberation struggles in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America5 and therefore ridiculous to be viewed in equal terms with Russia.
On the other hand the Russian state is a capitalist state and a (smaller) big power with its own agenda of expansion and we cannot appear to be supporting it. Nevertheless, the first step towards peace in the region has to be a withdrawal of NATO.
Danger of the Irish State joining a military alliance
There are no doubt elements in the Irish armed forces that would welcome involvement with the armed forces of NATO – interesting military exercises, the chance to use more sophisticated weapons and systems, along with probably greater chance of promotion for officers. A part of Ireland is already in NATO – the British colony of the Six Counties.
There are also elements in the Irish capitalist ruling class (the Gombeens6) who are striving to get Ireland into an EU strike force and/ or NATO. The non-military status of Shannon Airport has been repeatedly violated by the US military with clear collusion from the Irish State. Just recently Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach (i.e Deputy Prime Minister) was quoted as saying, arising out of the conflict in the Ukraine, that Ireland’s independence status might need to be reconsidered. This is of course spurious reasoning, since Ireland is a long way from Russia across a NATO-full Europe, but joining a European military alliance has been a proposition of Fine Gael politicians for over a decade7.
Then there is the section of the Gombeen class that has been muttering for years about joining the UK, promoting historical commemoration of the UK’s repressive forces in Ireland and particularly in earlier decades, along with the wave of revisionist historians seeking to undermine the national history of resistance to invasion and occupation. Jumping into a military alliance is no big step for the Gombeen class, having acted historically as a broker selling Irish resources, networks and labour to foreign capitalists as well as laundering their taxes for them.
Resistance among the general population to permitting the State to merge with the UK is probably at a fairly high level but is not necessarily so with regard to NATO, as a US-led military alliance. This is not because Irish people are fond of US imperialism as such but because we have been fed so much of its mass culture as to affect how we speak and even think. And not only general mass culture but specifically representations of the military, with films showing US military in action from WWII to Afghanistan and Iraq. Futuristic films depicting the military also often present us with an imagined future version of the US military or even worse, perhaps, a solar system or wider military which is run by the US or its future projection. Spy films and novels tend to give us the CIA or some similar force; crime fiction gives us US Police or FBI heroes while the tough private investigator is often not only ex-US military but from their special forces.
If the Irish state should join a military alliance, the countdown begins to the participation of Irish military personnel in conflict, against power blocs competing with NATO and even more likely in suppression of liberation struggles, insurrections etc, whether in other parts of the world or in Europe itself. In turn that also entails Ireland becoming a target for retaliation in destruction of bases or even simply in revenge.
Needed steps forward
If we are to avoid being sucked into wars, if we are to defeat any plans of the Irish ruling class to take us into a military alliance, we need to ensure the mass of people are prepared ideologically to oppose any such moves.
We urgently need to build (or rebuild) an anti-war movement in Ireland. Such a movement needs to be
- Broad, encompassing as many as possible under basic principles (which presupposes not permitting itself to be ruled by any particular political party or clique)
- anti-imperialist (i.e not against liberation struggles)
- specifically targeting the imperialist powers nearest to us – in particular the UK and EU
- targeting also the currently major imperialist power in the world, the USA
- and upholding Irish state neutrality in opposition to the state joining NATO or an EU military force.
The movement needs to be as broad as possible to include all the viable forces for alliance and to do that must be free of manipulation by any one party, organisation or clique. It cannot be one that is simply against all armed struggle (though pacifists should be free to join it), since imperialist and colonialist aggression brings many people to justified resistance in arms.
It must target imperialism, the chief cause of war for over two centuries and in solidarity with the people oppressed by it around the world and by implication we must also oppose colonialism, even had we not our own reasons to oppose it here. In that regard, our chief targets both in terms of size of threat and practical application must be the UK, NATO and any EU military alliance. Therefore, logically, we must strenuously oppose the Irish ruling class taking us into alliance with any of the aforementioned.
The application of the above principles into organisational measures will need to be developed but once some initial agreement on the need to act along those lines is taken, unity is best built in practice, in action. The need to get to work on this initiative is urgent.
Nor is this only about keeping Ireland out of wars, urgent though that need is. In the event of a revolutionary regime in Ireland at some time in the future, do we have any need to fear invasion? I would say “Yes, certainly” — unless the whole world were in revolution at that time. Where is such danger of invasion most likely to come from? From a capitalist Russia, however repressive? Hardly. From places closer? Yes, obviously: from an unrevolutionised UK, from an unrevolutionised western Europe and from NATO – should it still be in existence.
Realistically, we can exercise little influence on the decisions of either NATO or Russia. We can have an effect on the decisions made on Ireland’s behalf and for that we need a strong and informed popular movement. We have two practical self-preservation reasons to get this right.
1 I am including the Left Republicans in the “Irish Left”.
2I have consciously refrained from identifying these positions with particular organisations or individuals on the Irish Left. I am arguing with the positions rather than targeting those who hold them in a debate which is becoming increasingly acrimonious, making agreement even further unlikely.
3This is a major position on the Left or if not, certainly the most visible. It is also to one degree or another, the position of the political parties of the State (in which I include Sinn Féin) and of the mass media.
4This is another major position on the Irish Left.
5It is US imperialism that is the fundamental cause of the current armed conflict in Iraq and was the chief cause in the war in Afghanistan, where it funded Islamic Jihadists and has been arguably the cause of the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism. The US is the chief supporter of the criminal Israel Zionist state; it overthrew the Libyan regime and tried to do the same in Syria, where another ally, Turkey, is also involved in armed action. Saudi Arabia, an ally of the US, is the chief cause of the ongoing war in Yemen. US imperialism instigated the coup in Chile to instal the Pinochet dictatorship with huge loss of life and misery for survivors; it instigated other coups and supported military dictatorships across South America and indeed Africa. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Korea ….
6From Gaimbíneachaí, disparaging Irish term for a middleman strata under colonialism who profited on the misfortunes of their co-nationals and after colonialism constitute a foreign-dependent ruling class.
NATO is the main aggressor (with maps showing NATO encirclement of Russia): https://rebelbreeze.com/2022/02/23/usas-ambitions-bring-danger-of-war/
Active Nazis in Ukraine (pro-West report): https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cohen-ukraine-commentary-idUSKBN1GV2TY
Ukrainian coup (pro-West analysis): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolution_of_Dignity
Ukrainian coup and Nazis (anti-NATO but not pro-Russia source): https://www.wsws.org/en/topics/event/2014-coup-ukraine
Varadkar on possible end of Irish neutrality: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/neutral-ireland-likely-get-more-involved-eu-defence-policy-deputy-pm-2022-03-01/
Brian Hayes, MEP in 2017 on Ireland joining EU military alliance: https://www.thejournal.ie/irish-neutrality-brexit-3596044-Sep2017/
FG policy on ending neutrality (2003): https://www.irishtimes.com/news/fg-calls-for-ireland-to-end-neutrality-sham-1.479628
NATO arming Ukraine: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/02/world/europe/nato-weapons-ukraine-russia.html
Criticism of US military aid to Ukraine from a USA military think tank: https://www.defensepriorities.org/explainers/the-futility-of-us-military-aid-and-nato-aspirations-for-ukraine