Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Keith Anderson

A Task Taken Up For Solution

First Published: Class Struggle, December 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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The November 20 Conference on “Building an Irish Solidarity Movement”, called by the North and South London Irish Solidarity Committees was a great success, a success that was achieved by the activists of the Committees working flat out in the weeks that led up to it.

250 delegates packed Caxton House in North London. They included members of Ireland Solidarity organisations, left groups and the Labour Party, black people, Irish Republicans, and local Irish workers. A broad range of organisations and individuals sponsored the Conference. They included 20 Irish prisoners of war, a Scottish political prisoner, other prisoners, Rhona Toland, aunt of plastic bullet victim Stephen McConomy, the Wolfe Tone and Connolly Keegan Cumainn of Sinn Fein, Bangladesh Workers Association (London), Plaid Cymru MP Dafydd Elis Thomas, veteran black activist John LaRose, Labour Councillors Charlie Rossi and Keith Veness, Hemel Hempstead Branch of ACTT (a trade union), Epsom & Ewell Peace Group, Mosquito Press, Bradford Irish Solidarity Committee, Tyneside Action Committee on Ireland, Glasgow Irish Freedom Action Committee, South London, West London, Harringey, Bristol and Merseyside branches of the Troops Out Movement, the Revolutionary Communist League, Revolutionary Communist Group, Michael Holden (shop steward and Sinn Fein member), International Solidarity Front – Iran, Welsh Political Prisoners Defence Committee and Hornsey Constituency Labour Party. In addition messages of support came from ten Ireland Solidarity groups in West Germany and from the Aboriginal Commission to Europe.

The attendance and sponsorship of the Conference showed that it is possible to build a movement in this country that supports the struggle of the Irish people. It also showed that such a movement will only be a living movement if it is firmly based on the working class and the oppressed. Therefore, the November 20 Conference can be said to have been a powerful blow to the opportunist forces in the Ireland Solidarity Movement who deny that a movement based on the oppressed can be built, who try to distance the Solidarity Movement from the anti-imperialist struggle of the Republican Movement, and who make concessions to the Labour Party rather than to the Irish people.

The theme of the Conference was set in a keynote speech by the author of “The Communist Tradition on Ireland”, Comrade David Reed, entitled “Building an Irish Solidarity movement”. Starting from the end of the hunger strike and tracing his theme back into Irish history, Comrade Reed focused his talk around two main themes: that “British imperialism cannot play a progressive role in Ireland” and that “Ireland is the key to the British revolution”. Drawing attention to the historical experience of the Easter Rising of 1916, the 1918 General Election that led to the convening of the first Dail Eireann, the partition settlement, the civil rights movement, the current war of liberation and the hunger strikes, Comrade Reed summed up,

“The history of the last 13 years, like the history of the period 1916-22, conclusively proves that British imperialism cannot play a progressive role in Ireland. That British imperialism has only made any concessions at all in the face of mass revolutionary force. That the Irish people can only be free if British imperialism is driven out of Ireland. That is why to fight in this country for the right of the Irish people to self-determination means to fight for the defeat of British imperialism in Ireland. That is why we call for Victory to the Irish people and Troops Now!

“The second major lesson to be drawn from the Irish national liberation struggle is that Ireland is the key to the British revolution. Therefore an Irish solidarity movement in Britain will be supported by those in Britain whose interests lie in the overthrow of British imperialism and will be opposed by those whose interests lie in the continued existence of British imperialism. Over 100 years ago Marx and Engels first established that the question of Irish self-determination stands at the heart of the British revolution. Before 1848 Marx and Engel’s thought Ireland would be liberated as a result of the victory of the working class movement in Britain. Deeper study, however, convinced them that the opposite was true. The British working class would never accomplish anything until it had got rid of its present connection with Ireland. Ireland is the key to the British revolution.

“In defending their stand on the Irish question in the First International, Marx and Engels came up against the opportunist leaders of the British Labour movement who at the time were moving closer to Gladstone and the leaders of the liberal bourgeoisie. They were forced to deal with political attacks upon the Irish liberation movement which have recurred ever since. These include those of the ’English would be liberators’ who thought Fenianism was ’not altogether wrong’ but wanted the Irish movement to use ’legal means of meetings and demonstrations...’ by which the English movement conducted its struggles. Supporters of Marx and Engels argued that the Irish had every right to use force since force was used to deny them their freedom. When Marx, in supporting the call for an amnesty for Irish political prisoners, accused Gladstone ’of deliberately insulting the Irish Nation’, and attacked the conduct of his government, there were those who thought he went too far. Marx’s reply is a political guideline for today:

’It is more important to make a concession to the Irish people than to Gladstone.’ Finally, Marx and Engels faced defenders of British rule over Ireland who argued that Ireland could not be independent because it would undermine the security of Britain. That the International was able to build a demonstration of nearly 100,000 people in support of the demand for an amnesty for Irish political prisoners was mainly due to the political fight Marx and Engels conducted in support of Irish self-determination in the First International.

“What was true of the relationship of Britain and Ireland in the latter part of the nineteenth century was mirrored all over the world with the development of imperialism as a world system. By the turn of the century capitalism had entered its imperialist phase – a world-wide system of colonial oppression and financial domination of the overwhelming majority of the world by a small number of imperialist countries. Imperialism divides the world into oppressed and oppressor nations. It also divides the working class. A handful of imperialist countries obtain high monopoly profits out of the brutal exploitation of oppressed peoples worldwide. Out of these ’super-profits’ imperialism is able to create and sustain a small privileged and influential layer of the working class in the imperialist countries whose condition of life isolate it from the suffering , poverty and temper of the mass of the working class. This privileged layer has a material interest in the continuation of imperialism for it is the source of its economic and political privileges. Such workers, a labour aristocracy, constitute the social base of opportunism in the working class movement. So critical was this development for the working class movement and so great the damage done to the interests of the working class as a result of the activities of these opportunist layers that Lenin, at the Second Congress of the Communist International (1920), said that opportunism is the principal enemy.

’Opportunism is our principal enemy. Opportunism in the upper ranks of the working class is not proletarian socialism but bourgeois socialism. Practice has shown that the active people in the working class movement who adhere to this opportunist trend are better defenders of the bourgeoisie than the bourgeoisie itself. Without their leadership of the workers, the bourgeoisie could not remain in power.’

Marx and Engels had already come into conflict with the opportunist layers of the working class movement in Britain especially in relation to Ireland. These opportunists argued in exactly the same way as their successors in today’s Labour Party and trade union movement.

The developments in Britain towards the end of the nineteenth century in fact proved to be the forerunner of developments worldwide. So that by building on the political experience of Marx and Engels on the Irish question, Lenin was able to formulate the revolutionary position in relation to national oppression in the epoch of imperialism. In particular, he was able to make clear the attitude the working class of an imperialist nation should adopt towards national movements.

“The mass of the working class in the imperialist countries cannot liberate itself without uniting with the movement of oppressed peoples to destroy imperialism. Only such an alliance will make it possible to wage a united fight against the imperialist powers, the imperialist bourgeoisie and its bought-off agents in the working class. The unity of all forces fighting imperialism can only be achieved on the basis of the internationalist principle ’No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.’ And this is expressed through the demand of the right of nations to self-determination. Far from being counterposed to the socialist revolution, this demand must be insisted upon precisely in order to promote socialist revolution. For unless imperialism is fatally weakened and opportunism defeated the socialist revolution cannot succeed.

“This standpoint demands that the working class in the imperialist nation ’makes common cause’ with the oppressed peoples fighting imperialism. And, as Lenin argued, socialists could not, without ceasing to be socialists, reject such a struggle right down to an uprising or war. For the working class to side with its own ruling class, or not actively oppose it, in the imperialist domination of the oppressed people necessarily means to strengthen the domination of opportunist forces over itself. Further, it undermines the unity of the working class in the oppressed and oppressor nations and hence the possibility of defeating imperialism and beginning the socialist revolution.

“Since the rise of the Fenian movement in the 1860s up to today, the most critical revolutionary challenge to British imperialism has come from Ireland. The dominance of opportunist forces in the British working class movement, however, has not only held back the working class struggle in Britain but also limited support for the Irish revolution. The failure of the working class movement in Britain to rid itself of its opportunist leadership and ’make common cause’ with the Irish revolution has meant a severe set-back for the socialist revolution in both Ireland and Britain. Ireland is undoubtedly still the key to the British revolution.”

“During the last 13 years, at crucial moments of rising revolutionary struggle against British rule in Ireland, the Labour Party and official trade union movement have come forward as the best defenders of British imperialist rule. In doing so they only confirm Lenin’s description of these elements: ’they are better defenders of the bourgeoisie than the bourgeoisie itself.’ Without their influence over the working class British imperialism would already be defeated in Ireland. Far from being potential allies of the Irish people, the British Labour Party and official trade union movement have proved to be their most treacherous enemies. This has however not topped all the major organisations of the British left active on the Irish question from trying to find some section of the imperialist Labour Party prepared to play a ’progressive’ role on Ireland.”

Finally, Comrade Reed dwelt on the connection between democratic rights in Britain and the Irish Revolution. He showed how the solidarity movement will inevitably confront the British state, and also spoke of how the uprisings showed that there were real forces for revolution in Britain who would stand for the Irish people’s right to self determination. He concluded,

“In this context an Irish solidarity movement must be based on the two central demands which express support for the right of the Irish people to self-determination, Victory to the Irish People! Troops Out Now! It would give unconditional support to the struggle of Irish POWs in British gaols who have been murdered, brutalised and continually harassed by the British state. It would also campaign on issues such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the appointment of Kenneth Newman, the abolition of plastic bullets, the defence of democratic rights such as the freedom to speak out against British rule in Ireland.

“This means that while an Irish solidarity movement itself would be based on those forces who fully support the anti-imperialist position on Ireland, it wou1 d a1so work with other organisations and individuals who supported, for example, the abolition of plastic bullets, whether or not they support the two main demands of the Irish solidarity movement. This would include, for example, members of the Labour Party and individual MPs who can and must be made to support such demands as the democratic right to speak out on Ireland. The Irish’ solidarity movement would, of course, be fighting to win all those it works with, in whatever campaign, to the anti-imperialist position on Ireland without making this a condition for working with them.

“This conference represents a new beginning. It is a call for real unity – unity based on the common interests of the Irish people and the British working class in the defeat of British imperialism


Following Comrade Reed’s speech representatives of the Wolfe Tone Cumann of Sinn Fein, South London Troops Out Movement, Bangladesh Workers’ association (London), Bradford Irish Solidarity Committee, Connolly Keegan Cumann of Sinn Fein, Revolutionary communist League and Glasgow Irish Freedom Action Committee took the floor to present their views on the building of an Irish Solidarity Movement.

Local work

During a discussion of local work experience statements were made by the North and South London and Bradford Irish Solidarity Committees, Tyneside Action Committee on Ireland, Glasgow Irish Freedom Action Committee and the Colchester Branch of the Troops Out Movement. Emerging very clearly from all the reports was the police harassment of Ireland solidarity work. But what also emerged equally clearly was that where there was a determination to fight back combined with a spirit of uniting all who can be united then these attacks on democratic rights could be beaten back.

Prisoners of War

Uppermost in the minds of those attending the Conference was the question of Irish prisoners of war in English gaols. Speaking on this subject were solicitor, Alastair Logan, and Helen O’Brien, the sister of an Irish prisoner of war. Alastair Logan said that our “solidarity must be up front”. He related the systematic persecution of the prisoners but equally clearly pointed out how they had always resisted and were leading the fight back inside the prisons. He told the conference of his great respect for the prisoners and said that people in the solidarity movement had to learn from how they united together, worked with a single mind, and were even prepared to lay down their lives. Helen O’Brien told how the Irish prisoners had built unity with other prisoners including Palestinians and Iranians. Relating the story of her own brother, she said that he had been inside for 8 years, including 3 in solitary confinement, but he was more determined now than before was imprisoned. Shop steward and Sinn Fein member, Michael Holden, gave an account of how the Prevention of Terrorism Act had been used to prevent the Irish community from supporting the struggle in Ireland.


Throughout the day there was full democratic discussion of each item on the agenda. The vast majority of the audience agreed with the orientation of the conference but a small number of vociferous members of Trotskyite organisation argued for a position of ignoring black end Irish people in favour of working with white trade unionists. They argued that instead of working to build an Ireland Solidarity Movement, we should be aiming to “expose” the Labour Party and trade union leaders. Many conference delegates angrily refuted this attempted diversion.

The conference concluded by adopting an extremely important resolution which reads as follows:
1. Conference agrees to set up a coordinating committee consisting of representatives of all groups and local bodies which support the two demands ’Victory to the Irish people! Troops Out now! This coordinating committee will receive and distribute all information on local activities; co-ordinate national work; support any campaign backed by the Irish prisoners in support of Irish POWs in English prisons; receive and distribute all information on all cases of police harassment of Irish solidarity work.

2. Conference agrees to launch a national petition as follows:
“We, he undersigned, recognizing the right of the Irish people to self-determination call for the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Ireland.”
3. Conference empowers the co-ordinating committee to call a national demonstration in London on Saturday, 12 March 1983 calling for Victory to the Irish people! Troops Out now! The co-ordinating committee will invite all groups active on the Irish question to support and take part in the building of this demonstration.

In addition, an amendment was passed setting up a trade union Sub-committee to co-ordinate work on Ireland in the trade union movement.

Build the Solidarity Movement

The work must now be intensified to build the Ireland Solidarity Movement, to set up new committees (new ones are already being formed in Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester and West London) and in particular, to ensure that March 12, 1983 sees a huge demonstration that can begin to tap the support which exists amongst the oppressed for Ireland’s fight for freedom.

A task taken up for solution

It is a vitally important task to build the Ireland Solidarity Movement because Ireland is the key to the British revolution, When the November 20 Conference was planned, the question of building that movement was a task placed on the agenda. The successful outcome showed that it is now no longer a task that has been placed on the agenda but is a task that has been taken up for solution.

There are those who say that the line of uniting with and relying on the most oppressed is sectarian. The Conference refuted this slander in practice and showed where a real, flourishing revolutionary movement can be built in this country.