So Crazy It Just Might Work: On Reactivating Violent Struggle in Northern Ireland

I’ve been working through some kind of trilogy on Northern Ireland (NI), apparently, as further comments on my previous post and what I hope for NI seem necessary—necessary because I finished my last post, hopefully with some nuance, suggesting a revisitation of violence as a method for the liberation of NI. Is this some kind of craziness? The traditional wisdom is that NI does not desire any more violence. It is thought its people can work out their differences in a peaceful fashion—a profoundly liberal sentiment. Yet this sentiment, at all times, simply ignores how the current political arrangement—typified, as I said, by deadlock, neoliberal austerity, and socially destructive capitalism—actively represses the actual feelings of the people, just as it encourages, uses, and directs them. In NI violence is never far from the cultural surface, as the state cannot let it go—its management of this feeling is what keeps it alive.

NI is broken down the middle because, to stay alive, under the British state its dominant parties (the DUP and Sinn Fein) must constantly restate the cultural and social fractures to obfuscate neoliberalism and capitalism’s mechanisations in expropriating social wealth. It is for this reason parties such as Alliance—who wish to get beyond the maintenance of these fractures under explicitly liberal terms—actually represent a possible future in which the people consciously accept the reign of capital. If Alliance were to successfully see the people overcome or fully accept their cultural differences, it would represent the full enculturation of the general violence implicit in the liberal order.

Yet! More is to be said, because I advocate violence as a possible methodology for very specific reasons and under very specific circumstances—as this violence can only take place if the struggle is for national unity, and in the name of a socialist revolution. It might surprise you to hear this, but not all violence is the same, or carried out for the same reasons. The violence of the past is not the same as the violence of the present or the future. The violence of Republican ressentiment, the violence of Unionist fascism, the violence of capital and neoliberal austerity, and the violence of a possible socialist struggle are not all equivalent.

This strategy and the means of violence assumed on socialist grounds, I must admit, are practically impossible—I am calling forth a means for a purely speculative future—due to liberal miseducation, under which socialism is Stalinism and all violence is identical. There are no grounds for anti-capitalist struggle, that would see the unity of difference qua difference coalesce. Were these desires and demands to be forged, in keeping with a reactivated sense of the need for anti-colonial struggle and the demands for national unity that typified the Republicanism historically, then I advocate violence—and I advocate it not least because the response of colonial power to this burgeoning energy would be inordinately more violent. These socialist and nationalist sentiments that went lost might just be worthy of reactivation.

The fatal flaw in the nostalgic thinking of Northern Irish people, open to a united Ireland, is to see a united Ireland as a goal in isolation from anything else. Anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism, Unionist fascism, a struggle for human rights, these are the contextual markers of the struggle historically—without them the struggle loses meaning and falls into insanity (which works as a comment on people who think of the struggle in this way). We would be similarly insane to not place a new and speculative Republican struggle within this history, drawing upon these reasons, while at the same time naming new ones. This is the real craziness—a united Ireland is an incomprehensible goal in and of itself. It is meaningless without—as I specified—socialism, anti-colonialism, and the prioritising of minoritarian groups.

Against my impossible future and speculative methodology, I raise you a conceivable future instead. In this conceivable future a united Ireland is achieved without recourse to anything that has contextualised the goal in the past, and it is seen to be appropriately meaningless:

After a near century of liberal conditioning, Alliance and new parties and MLAs in its vein have achieved cultural and political dominance. Capital has drained NI dry; the parties that hold the similarly minded population together look for a new sell on Westminster’s neoliberal agenda—hardened as it has been by environmental collapse and global crisis, as world powers rally in coalitions fighting for resources. In this dystopian context, Alliance and its acolytes come to the conclusion, in concert with the Republic of Ireland, that NI is now ready for a retreat from the United Kingdom and a shift in to unity. This shift, while appearing counterintuitive, given Westminster’s need, is not so. Formally it works to appease the masses of mainland Britain, who, following the full UKIPisation of politics, are now engaging in the old imperial hatred of the Irish—the Northern Irish have finally finished stealing their jobs. Yet, economically, a mutually beneficial situation becomes clear: the Republic of Ireland is still indebted to the UK for bailing it out during the 2008 financial crisis, and the union works to provide a new source of indentured labourers from the North for the Republics’ struggling industries. Life in NI is hard, but the promise of work—any work, for good liberals know they must—grips the population, and for this promise unity can be agreed upon. Alliance and other Northern Irish parties receives seats in the Oireachtas; the population sets about deep-earth fracking; Fine Gael are superbly relieved that at least for a time the British are appeased as repayments resume; while the British set about tightening border control to pacify the racist masses, even as government back channels remain satisfied by the debt repayments and the economic coalitions that have been sustained during the global crisis.

This is a conceivable liberal future, defined by the ubiquity of capitalist and neoliberal violence. Every decision a calculation that changes nothing, every historic demand emptied of content and overdetermined into meaninglessness. People reduced to biopower and fodder for the maintenance of an elite, in ever more heightened terms. Violence is everywhere, written across the face of the globe.

Against this I want to imagine that if we were to get educated, if we were to plan, if we were to build for socialism—as Ireland has tried to do before—the reactivation of Republican gestures and violent methods are a means that will prove inevitable, for colonialism always desires to maintain strict control of its resources.

After you read this maybe you will think, “Some men just want to see the world burn.” I say, why don’t you?