The following article has been written by as a guest polemic by a supporter of Anti Imperialist Action Ireland
‘For as long as anyone can remember, Protestant fanatics and Catholic fanatics have been blowing each other up for no good reason in Ireland. They do this because they are both obsessively attached to their own superstitions and want those who believe different ones thrown out of the country; ergo, there is no right or wrong side in the conflict, and if either side had any sense it would be over. Also, much the same is happening in Palestine, but with Jews and Muslims instead.’
This is history, as the liberals would have you believe it to be (though they would no doubt call Palestine “Israel”). Always, to dampen any budding concern amongst their peers about the sufferings of the colonized world, the liberals deploy the old trope of religious sectarianism: the absurd notion that every conflict in a colonized country can be basically understood as nothing more than a religious squabble, which they- the ever-enlightened, always rational, liberal-humanist scholars- are simply above. Therefore they need not take a side, therefore they need not consider underlying material political-economic problems, therefore they need not question the bourgeois system even momentarily. As swiftly as a crack in the facade of peaceful enlightenment under neoliberal imperialism appears, it is pasted over with the nonsense of blaming everything on religious fanaticism and refusing any notion of systemic contradictions.
To a critical eye the notion that the long, complex histories of anti-imperialist struggles like those in Ireland or Palestine or a dozen other countries can be explained in such a grotesquely oversimple way is obviously absurd. But to the liberal, its absurd simplicity is a point in its favor: “Jews and Muslims will always hate each other” or “Protestants and Catholics are just too stupid to change” can be spat out in a moment, and committed to memory in a moment. They are easily taught in the home or classroom whenever a child or student questions why situations of colonial and anti-colonial violence exist, learned instantly, and then passed on by repetition to anyone else who does so. These mantras become reflexive responses to complex issues that require no complex thought whatsoever to arrive at, indeed, that in their continual thoughtless repetition actively negate any mental fumblings toward complex thought that may lead to questioning the bourgeois order. A parasitic meme, the trope that colonized revolt is simply a matter of brutish fanaticism and can be dismissed offhand as silly takes root in the liberal brain and harshly limits its areas of thought, ensuring people continue to eat and drink, piss and shit the ideology of the capitalist class and their political-cultural superstructure.
But we must clearly disprove the trope, for, although its erroneousness is apparent to anyone thinking clearly without bothering to do this, doing it will nonetheless be helpful in revealing precisely the nature of the falsehood and of the truth it obfuscates. At the heart of this trope’s simplicity, both appealing and absurd, is its total negation of the material interrelation of systems and events. If one accepts that material conflicts can be explained as having absolutely no basis or explanation beyond purposeless superstition, one is accepting the total negation of any effort to understand deeper fundamental contradictions within the overarching structures of our present society.
So, the questions at hand are: 1. What material conditions are really at play, and what really causes explosions of violence? 2. What motivates violent actions by persons and groups on either side of an imperialist vs anti-imperialist conflict? 3. Who is actually ideologically and ethically correct in these conflicts?
I: Material Circumstances of Anti-Imperialism
The idea that conflicts in colonized countries have been going on “as long as anyone can remember” or “forever and ever” or some such is used, even if it is not stated explicitly as though it were fact, to obfuscate the fact that such conflicts have exact and precisely definable circumstances, including beginnings and endings. In the case of Palestine’s situation especially, as much as liberals love to repeat that Jews and Muslims have been fighting “forever,” the reality is that the start of the present conflict between Palestinian forces and zionist-colonialists can be pretty conclusively placed between the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the end of the second world war. Much the same can be said of Ireland: anti-imperialist conflict dates at the very earliest to the invasion of Henry II (imperialism at that time being a phenomenon under feudalism rather than the fully developed system it is under capitalism); religious concerns did not become prominent in perceptions of the conflict until much later.
Furthermore, these beginnings (and the conflicts in general) are not phenomena existing in causal vacuums- no object and no phenomenon does. The ongoing process of protracted revolution in Ireland cannot be causally reduced to the bigoted and dismissive junk-psychology of “Catholics hate Protestants.” It ignores the fact that the only reason for Protestant Anglo-Irish presence in Ireland is a long history of colonization-displacement (or “Plantation”) and cultural repression. It ignores the fact that anti-imperialist violence in Ireland has come only after and in response to and defense against original imperialist violence, which has always been motivated by economics and not religion- the obvious examples being said Plantation, used to establish a pro-Crown feudal ruling class under James I and others, the campaigns of environmental destruction for economic purposes under Cromwell, etc. All of these phenomena are manifestations of a larger one, a real and objectively documentable interaction between objects rather than an immaterial handwave, which is nothing less than imperialist pillaging in all its forms of Ireland by Britain, chiefly England, and its state and ruling classes (first feudal, then capitalist).
If events of republican violence are explosions, then they have happened only because the British state and ruling classes have been funneling gunpowder into Ireland for centuries. Across the years, British imperialism in Ireland has quantitatively built up and built up in severity of exploitation and oppression, punctuated by resultant atrocities like those mentioned above. In the historic moments when this exploitation builds up to a breaking point, the working masses of Ireland have responded violently in revolutionary explosions like the Easter Rising or the start of the heightening of anti-imperialist conflict in 1969, which have been the only historical events to offer meaningful alleviation to the imperialist onslaught. And from this it is evident that it will be such an explosion of revolutionary action, the violent conclusion to a long-ongoing protracted process, which will decisively bring a total qualitative end to the relationship of oppression and revolt between the English/British ruling class and the Irish masses. From this it must be concluded that anti-imperialist violence in Ireland or any comparable colonized country cannot be written off as pointless, or as purposeless, or as simply the product of superstition and religious sectarianism. What it is is the continual motion of the masses towards this necessary end, the overthrow of the economic structures by which they are oppressed.
The philosophical framework we can use to more completely, correctly, and clearly understand the above described relationship between Britain and Ireland, or between any colonized country and the country which has colonized it, is dialectical materialism. The above described relationship is a dialectic, a material phenomenon centered around a contradiction between the fundamental functions and characteristics of two sets of material entities which amounts to struggle between the two to resolve this contradiction, in so doing creating a new set of circumstances, transforming both sides of the dialectic into new elements with new characteristics and functions. In this case, the contradiction at the heart of it, the contradiction we may call British and chiefly English ruling classes↔Irish masses, is the exploitation and brutalization of one class and national group by another for the sake of profit, in contradiction against the oppressed group’s rights and wants. This contradiction is a fundamentally antagonistic one; as such, it can only be resolved by the violent overthrow of the one group’s authority over the other.
From Engels’s Anti-Duhring to Mao’s “On Contradiction,” Marxists have been developing the theory of dialectical materialism and showing it to be true in every application. Its central Law of Contradiction, that all things contain contradictions over which dialectics develop and that those dialectics define the nature of the things over time, is generally universal; every phenomenon in the real material universe can be understood as a sum of dialectics. In the case of our above described case of a dialectic defining imperialism and anti-imperialism in Ireland, the contradiction British and chiefly English ruling classes↔Irish masses is itself a manifestation of a larger contradiction, that of the imperialist bourgeoisie of the world, and the finance capital they own (capital being a characteristic of economic property under their ownership) and states they control, against the working masses of the countries those states and that finance capital have colonized. This is the fundamental contradiction in the global economy of our present era of imperialist capitalism, and must be resolved in every country by dialectical class struggle, the defining struggle of the change of society over time, of the progress of history.
Dialectical materialism is terrifying to liberals, because it guts their ideology like a fish. The person who sees the world clearly through the dialectical materialist lens cannot be taken in or convinced by any of the myths of liberal thought: one cannot buy the nonsense of “every man for himself” liberal-capitalist individualism when understands the deeper social dynamics of class dialectics; one cannot buy the nonsense of capitalism’s “fairness” when one understands the fundamental contradictions between exploiters and exploited; one cannot believe that conflicts arise from nothing more than religious foolishness when one understands that all phenomena in society and the world consist of causally interconnecting dialectics, that nothing is without its concrete contradictions and causes.
II: Ideological Motivations of Anti-Imperialism
We have established that causally, anti-imperialist violence cannot be reduced to “religious conflicts” because of its role in the broader dialectics of present class society. But what of the guiding ideological thoughts of anti-imperialist actors? We will see that here too, the notion that anti-imperialist conflicts can be reduced to religiosity is utterly baseless.
We will begin again with the Irish example. Parnell was a Protestant, as was Tone, as was Erskine Childers, who smuggled guns from England for the Irish Volunteers in 1916. Connolly, furthermore, was raised Catholic but was deeply ambivalent about religion, sometimes practicing and often not. The actions of this Great Leader of the Irish masses’ cause were motivated not by religion but by the science of Marxism and by Socialist Republicanism. Catholicism may have a cultural role in Irish anti-imperialism because it is the dominant religion in Ireland, and anti-Protestant sentiments may arise because Protestantism is dominant among the English imperialists, but this is a mistaken and if anything a betrayal of the real ideological guiding thought of the movement: Socialist Republicanism.
Similar things can be said of Palestine. It may be granted that Islam plays a rather larger role in the Palestinian national liberation struggle than Catholicism does in the Irish one, but nonetheless writing it off altogether as a religious war of Muslims is erroneous. There are also many Christian communities in Palestine, and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Theodosios Nizar Hanna recently gave a speech calling for Christian solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. Jews, too, are not excluded from the struggle for the basic dignity and sovereignty of the Palestinian nation- Neturei Karta Jews, though admittedly a deeply reactionary community in other respects, can often be seen at Quds Day protests in Western Europe. And while many Palestinian nationalist groups are Islamist, certainly all are not; the Marxist-oriented PFLP and DFLP are secular.
We can generalize, then, to say that anti-imperialist struggles dismissed as being mere religious causes are certainly not so. We can further extrapolate that any notion to the contrary is only something liberals adopt to obfuscate the truth, the truth revealed by dialectical materialism, that such struggles in fact exist as manifestations of the inevitable and overpowering dialectical motion of human history toward freedom from oppression, exploitation, and all unjust societal contradictions.
III: Right and Wrong
With the above facts established, this final section can be short. It is simply fallacious to assert, as liberal apologists for imperialism do on the basis of the “religious war” myth, that there is no right or wrong side in these conflicts. The fact is that the imperialists, loyalist or Zionist or whatever, are fighting to prolong oppression and hold history back, that the anti-imperialist national liberator forces in every oppressed country are fighting to end oppression and push forward history by means of dialectical struggle. The former are wrong, the latter right.