Settler Colonialism in Canada and Ireland

Rally in front of the Canadian embassy in Dublin to protest the imprisonment of the three comrades from the 32CSM after their arrival in Canada.

On Friday, July 25, 2014, three members of the 32 Counties Sovereignty Movement (32CSM) had planned to speak with communist organizers in Toronto about the revolutionary struggle in Ireland. The event was jeopardized by the fact that the Canadian state refused entry to the three Irish comrades, despite the fact that they had committed no crime in Canada. They were detained—one of them at Maplehurst maximum security prison—before being deported back to Ireland. Nevertheless, the event went ahead with Martin Rafferty, one of the speakers, joining us by speakerphone from his home in Ireland.

The refusal of entry for these three activists demonstrates just how seriously the Canadian state views the threat posed by genuine anti-colonial and anti-capitalist agitators in Ireland. It is no coincidence that in the 1860s, Fenian revolutionaries from Ireland attacked British bases in Canada, and Irish immigrants in Canada staged a series of raids against the state.

Both Ireland and Canada have been British settler colonies, where the project for the English bourgeoisie has been to colonize Indigenous populations and establish capitalist social relations. Today, both states have capitalist classes of their own, and benefit from the imperialist world order, while happily exploiting their working classes at home, especially those from Indigenous groups.

But as Rafferty demonstrated, Canadian communists have much to learn from our comrades in the 32 counties of Ireland, who have maintained a strong movement demanding an end to British colonialism and capitalism, despite ongoing and severe state repression. Rafferty described the conditions faced by 32CSM political prisoners, who have recently been mixed into the general prison population and subjected to a variety of violent tactics designed to break their revolutionary spirits. Such efforts have so far failed.

Activists in the 32CSM have been hardened by decades of struggle, and the long history of direct confrontation with colonial authorities has meant that the prisons have become another site of struggle. Inspired by a legacy of defiance, Irish political prisoners use a variety of tactics of non-compliance, including hunger strikes and ‘dirty’ strikes, to maintain their own resolve and solidarity. Prison authorities have often been forced to concede to some of the prisoners’ demands, including a demand to end violent, forced strip-searches.

Campaigns around political prisoners, then, loom large in the Irish Republican struggle. Nevertheless, Rafferty emphasized that the central issue is the ceaseless exploitation of working people in Ireland by both the British and Irish capitalist class. Despite the media spin that suggests that the problem is one between Protestants and Catholics, the reality is that the Catholic Church has consistently taken a cultural nationalist line, rather than a revolutionary republican line, preferring to see the Irish flag flying over the same exploitative social relations that the Protestant Brits brought with them when they conquered Ireland hundreds of years earlier.

In Ireland, as in Canada, the struggle is to liberate working people from the colonial capitalist apparatus and its agents of violence in the police and armed forces.