Was the War of Independence necessary?

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2019), Letters, Volume 27

Sir—Might I respond to Rayner Lysaght’s latest critique (HI 27.4, May/June 2019, Letters) of my article ‘Was the War of Independence necessary?’ (HI 27.1, Jan./Feb. 2019)? As it was a ‘What if?’ article about alternative strategies for securing independence, it achieved its objective in prompting some debate. One hardy perennial to emerge was the old question of whether the nationalist struggle for independence could have been transformed into a socialist struggle for a Workers’ Republic, and the Bolshevik revolution was trotted out as an example of what might have been. The Bolshevik revolution, regrettably, ended, as it almost certainly had to, in a society governed by a bureaucratic kleptocracy. Like Ireland, Russia had a small industrial base, but the Bolsheviks had the advantage of exploiting the chaos left by Tsarism’s collapse. Britain, on the other hand, was one of the victors of the Great War. Sinn Féin was happy to incorporate a pliant Labour leadership into its ranks in the South, and Joe Devlin and Edward Carson were equally ready to smash the same movement in the North because it would not align tamely with either. The one certainty was that the War of Independence ended any prospect of building a united labour movement throughout Ireland that was centred on class interests rather than tribal allegiances. Working-class unity was fragile, but it was real until the guns came out. I concede that violence long pre-dated 1919 and was almost inevitable, given the fondness of militant unionists and nationalists alike for idealising it as an intrinsic part of their political DNA. Regrettably, many socialists and trade unionists were not immune and had little choice but to join the pack or be eaten by it.—Yours etc.,

PADRAIG YEATES

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