JC: Essentially, can someone from the pro-Union community - or a Unionist - also call themselves a Loyalist, or is there a key difference between being a Unionist and being a Loyalist, in much the same way as there is a clear difference between being a constitutional moderate nationalist and being a militant republican socialist?
Is it too sweeping a perception to enter the class structure into this defining process, namely there is a perception that most people who call themselves Unionist are from the middle and upper classes of the pro-Union community, and most people who define themselves as Loyalist are from a working class background.
Does being a Loyalist simply mean you come from a working class housing estate, play in a flute band, support Glasgow Rangers Football Club, and the highlight of your year is getting drunk at Eleventh Night bonfires before walking off your hangovers at the Twelfth demonstrations the following day or basking in the sunshine at the traditional Sham Fight at Scarva on the 13th?
Tragically, for many this is the perception of what being a Loyalist entails. Perhaps for some, this is an enjoyable lifestyle.
BS: Loyalism can mean many things, but at its heart what it is, is an angry intolerance, and a compulsion towards performative superiority. Loyalism can be as hedonistic as it is nihilistic. I have always pitied the Fermanagh unionist, stoic and sober, compared to the wild men of the Shankill or Sandy Row. The latter have alcohol, drugs, camaraderie, and shows of strength, all of which appeal to the immature, or the inferior, personality. But an “enjoyable lifestyle” it certainly is.
JC: Perhaps a key task of Revolutionary Loyalism is to shatter this childish image; to give Loyalism purpose; a radical identity; a reason to be proud to call oneself a Loyalist.
BS: What possible reason could someone be proud to call themselves a loyalist? What have loyalists done that encourage or enable society to progress? When have loyalists reached out to others in the spirit of friendship? To be a loyalist is to believe in the unbelievable (loyalty to an abstract notion: the crown, superiority over another class of people) and to defend the indefensible (marching where not wanted, supporting a vicious terrorist campaign).
The fact is that progressive loyalists are in fact progressive unionists. Loyalism is a quasi-fascist ideology that requires an “Other” – an enemy – to function. Loyalism believes in myths and mythology, including its own. The recent violence unleashed at a made-up belief that the threat of “nationalist violence” brought about the self-inflicted sea border demonstrates that, once again, loyalism is primed for manipulation, and that violence is usually a first resort.
JC: Revolutionary Loyalism will have a primary aim to bridge that class barrier between all classes in the pro-Union community, a role which was previously done by the Orange Order.
However, given the realities of the class structure within the pro-Union community, should that movement now be renamed The Unionist and Loyalist Party?
BS: This won’t work because the DUP, and to a lesser extent, the UUP, despise and are embarrassed by the loyalist working/under class. They dislike them only less marginally than they disdain Catholics. Unionism needs loyalism because unionism otherwise has no negotiating block. Unionism is immature, and has always lacked leadership and strategic thinking. Loyalism is the wayward, dysfunctional, violent, feral offspring of unionism. Unlike Sinn Fein, however, the DUP doesn’t understand true politics, and are therefore constantly wrong footed by a Westminster Government that just wants them to fuck off.
JC: Does this mean that Loyalism is merely a reactionary or defensive set of beliefs? Or put crudely, being a Loyalist means you simply want to defend your part of this island from Irish unity?
BS: What else can loyalism be? Loyalism is obsessed with Catholics and republicanism, and infected with bizarre conspiracy theories. Loyalism needs conflict to thrive. It’s martial leanings and iconography create an errant, lawless army to terrorise a civilian population.
JC: As the Troubles progressed and more Loyalists were jailed for terrorist offences, a bitterness evolved between working class Loyalists and some of the Christian Protestant denominations.
Is this why political concepts such as Hard Left socialism, Marxism and even communism gained ground within the Loyalist terror groups, and especially among their political movements? At one time, some Christian fundamentalists would have referred to the Progressive Unionist Party - the party which closely represented the views of the UVF and Red Hand Commando - as ‘the Shankill Soviet’.
Did working class Loyalism believe that some in the Protestant Churches were adopting a ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ approach to working class Loyalism, namely ‘we will lead them up the hill with our Christian rhetoric, but if they get caught in acts of terror, we will disown them as sinners bound for hell’?
BS: The left-wring machinations of loyalists in prison can be seen as akin to sixth formers reading Marx and Engels for the first time and becoming radicalised. The main bloc of loyalism is hostile to anything that looks “progressive” because it equates progressive politics with republicanism. And besides, the mythology that loyalism grants itself is one of superiority, so it therefore cannot see itself as an alienated, poverty stricken, oppressed community.
It is true that many loyalists became sickened with the rabble rousing demagogues, who they blamed for their long jail sentences and sickening crimes. But as the last week has shown us: loyalism has learned nothing from the rabble being roused. It is happening again, and it is predictable.
JC: So where does this leave Revolutionary Loyalism as a way forward? From the outset, it must be clearly emphasised that this ideology is purely democratic. Its power is in mobilisation at the ballot box, never the barrel of a gun.
BS: Let’s name it: the “barrel of a gun” is a euphuism for loyalism’s tried and tested praxis of shooting, bombing, torturing, harassing and intimidating the Catholic civilian population. That is the one thing that loyalists can do, other than fairly easily manageable civil disorder. That’s their trump card: terrorist action against a civilian population.
JC: Put bluntly, Revolutionary Loyalism’s first loyalty is to the democratic principle of the ballot box. Immediately, this will spark the question - what happens if the pro-Union community would lose a future border poll, and Northern Ireland votes to leave the United Kingdom?
BS: Put bluntly: this will never work with loyalism. Loyalism only exists because of a usurpation of generally accepted democratic principles, and there has never been a reformation movement popular among unionists/loyalists. Had there been, the union would have been secure indefinitely, and armed republicanism would never have received the support it required to attempt revolution.
JC: Revolutionary Loyalists cannot rely on the preconception that working class republicans in Belfast or South Armagh would be prepared to give up their generous UK benefit system and UK National Health Service for the costly living standards of an Irish Republic - especially the fees for appointments at the doctor or dentist in Southern Ireland.
In such a scenario, Revolutionary Loyalism would have to accept the will of the people of Northern Ireland and campaign for an Independent Ulster, no matter how small that piece of independent ‘turf’ might be.
BS: What would be truly revolutionary, is for loyalism to realise that they could be major, major stakeholders in an agreed Ireland and act accordingly. Dublin would grant concession after concession to keep loyalism happy. Parades, even Stormont, would be allowed to stay, to keep the lumpen loyalists happy. Why not be revolutionary and accept this political reality, instead of trying to work out ways to threaten Westminster to maintain the union?
JC: However, Revolutionary Loyalism’s primary goal is to maintain the Union by ensuring that everyone who calls themselves a Loyalist voter is both registered to vote and votes on polling day.
You need only examine the percentage turnout in supposedly Unionist constituencies to see the low voter numbers.
BS: Non-bigoted, and non-tribal, unionists will be appalled by the DUP. The UUP is seen as ineffective. The PUP is seen as tarnished by the disgusting actions of the UVF. The TUV is mostly irrelevant. For those who want to maintain the union for economic reasons (which is completely understandable), there isn’t a party that doesn’t carry a lot of baggage. The DUP is loyalist in that it dislikes Catholics, nationalism, and Dublin, but is a political liability. Sammy Wilson, Nigel Dodds, Arlene Foster are utterly out of their depth, politically. Ian Paisley Jr was laughed at in the House of Commons when he spoke bitterly of “betrayal” – he was conned by Michael Gove. It would not have happened to Sinn Fein, and the unionist electorate understand that. They have elected halfwits, bigots and fools. The electorate, and the wounded men of the PSNI, are paying the price.
Where could mainstream economic unionists go? There is nowhere.
JC: In this opening chapter, Revolutionary Loyalism seeks to challenge Loyalists as to what precisely they are loyal to - a Union, set of laws, a Parliament at Stormont or Westminster, an Orange Lodge, a sporting team, a flute band, a bonfire location, a flag, the Royal family, a political party or pressure group? What?
Revolutionary Loyalism is about being pro-active and forward-thinking in your political views; it is about selling the merits of ‘putting people first’, whether they be pupils, patients or pensioners. It is about active democratic mobilisation of your local community; it is about championing the cause of UK unity among the pro-Union classes.
BS: The “fleg” protests were against UK unity. A simple law to bring NI into line with the rest of the UK was met with violence. The DUP oppose numerous progressive laws that bring NI into closer political union with the UK.
Loyalism needs to evolve and mature. It needs to jettison the criminality, quasi-fascism, unjustifiable claims of exceptionalism and superiority, and understand that what they understand as “loyalty” to Britain is not only unreciprocated, it is, where even noticed, embarrassing and rejected. NI’s future is not within the UK. The protestant population of NI could win themselves an extremely privileged position within an agreed Ireland, or continue to be the outcasts of UK politics.
The self-destructive, nihilistic nature of loyalism means that the former will never be sought, and the latter will continue until, eventually, Britain is gone.
Loyalism could have everything it wants in an agreed Ireland: but is too stupid to understand its own strength.
⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys.