Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

J. B., Revolutionary Communist League of Britain

The Irish Struggle, the CFB and the RCL

First Published: Interim Journal, No. 3, June 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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1. A series of articles published in Marxist-Leninist Quarterly, the theoretical journal of the Communist Federation on Britain, in 1974 showed that there were two sharply demarcated lines within that organization concerning the nature of the struggle in Ireland and the associated solidarity tasks of the British communists. One line argued that the Protestants of Northern Ireland had been assimilated into the United Kingdom and that there was no material basis for the ending of partition. That line identified the main and principal content of the struggle in the Six Counties as being the fight for civil rights. That same line also attacked the Provisional IRA on the grounds that they were terrorists and that, as there was no national democratic revolution, their actions divided still further the people of “Northern Ireland”.

2. A second line was that the struggle in the Six Counties was an integral part of an overall Irish national democratic revolution. This line argued that the partition of Ireland was a device used by British imperialism to halt and divide the Irish national democratic revolution and to deepen the divisions of the Irish people.

3. Both lines opposed the Provisional I.R.A. The national liberation school at that time took the view that the Official IRA was a more genuine national liberation movement. Both these lines coexisted within the CFB (ML) which did not practice democratic centralism, permitting different local, groups to implement their preferred lines.

4. The struggle between these two lines was effectively halted at the time of the formation of the RCLB. As a result of the struggle for unity between the CUA [Communist Unity Association – EROL] and the CFB (ML) several “developments” were made in the line on Ireland. The positive side of things was that the manifesto of the new RCL [Revolutionary Communist League of Britain – EROL] stood for supporting the Irish national democratic revolution and for reuniting Ireland. A self criticism was made for the previous view that there was not a national democratic revolution. However, this self criticism was not made systematically, nor was it made in public. Then came the negative developments. It was declared that the RCLB would build branches in the north of Ireland to help further the Irish national liberation struggle. This was supported by the contention that “one party-one state” was a “Marxist Leninist principle ”.

Given the idealist atmosphere prevailing in the League at that time this contention was sufficient to silence or confuse most of the opposition to the new line. It was further argued that, as party-builders, it was to be the RCL’s responsibility to struggle against opportunists in Northern Ireland. Foremost amongst these was named the Provisional IRA, who were declared to be “the foremost props of imperialism within the Republican movement”. This set the scene for a two year period in which the RCLB vied with the bourgeoisie in the vehemence of its denunciations of the Provisional IRA.

5. During the struggle for unity between the RCL and the CWM [Communist Workers Movement – EROL], the RCL line on Ireland was the major line of demarcation. In general, the CWM held a national liberation line, was opposed to building of a section of the British Communist Party in Northern Ireland, and understood the re-unification of Ireland as, the strategic goal of the present phase of the Irish national democratic revolution.

The CWM also understood the significance of the Irish revolution for the class struggle in Britain, a factor that was not grasped at all by the RCLB. The struggle between the two organisations on this question stretched over a period of two years. The exchanges were conducted in private, and on the RCL side they were not reported to the rank and file, or to the Central Committee in any systematic fashion.

6. At the end of the struggle, the RCL surrendered its position on party building in the six counties. All of the other lines of demarcation remained blurred and confused. The Unity Committee could not decide who constituted the leadership of the Irish revolution, what importance to attach to partition, how to evaluate the Republican movement, and what attitude to take to the Loyalists. In fact, by now deep divisions existed on these questions within as well as between both organisations. At the Unity Congress of the new organisation, formed by the amalgamation of the RCL and the CWM, the Unity Committee presented a document which attempted to gloss over all these contradictions. Quite rightly, the founding Congress refused to vote on this document and referred it back to the, new Central Committee. The Central Committee in turn referred it back to the Irish Commission.

7. It, quickly became apparent on the Irish Commission that we were dealing with deep-rooted differences, and that in many instances, we had to argue over the ABC of Irish solidarity. Many of the lines of demarcation have been deep-going. In criticising the minority position in this document we wish it borne in mind that many individuals in the Marxist-Leninist Movement have held reactionary views on the Irish question. This is a result both of the imperialist ideology of our own ruling class and of those privileged sections which support it and it is also a product of our extremely weak and dogmatic grasp of revolutionary communism. Only a few have any cause for pride. However, the past ten years in Ireland have been momentous. The struggle has been more deep rooted, had more widespread effect and has achieved greater advances than at any time since the Irish civil war. The Unionist monolith has crumbled, the ruling classes in Britain and Ireland are forced to take account of the Irish revolution, and the Republican movement, with mass support, daily forges on its armed struggle against British imperialism. As, we write, the hunger strikers in H-block, with massive nationalist support in Ireland, openly defy the attempt of the British state to name them as criminal. It is under these circumstances that the Irish commission calls all comrades to support the Irish national democratic revolution and its republican leadership. In this view we will attempt to thoroughly criticise the minority point of view.

8. The Commission, like every other body of the League, has been short of resources. As well as having to pay attention to other aspects of the internal life of the League, its members have also been engaged in practical solidarity work. On the whole we have been in a position to do very little new research or investigation. Instead we have seen it as our job to make clear the lines of demarcation on this question. This is the first time it will have been done in the RCL. We have had six meetings. We have studied the ISTP [Added note: Ireland Solidarity towards a programme] document (and recommended it as an official League publication with some improvements), and we have studied the Unity Conference document, as well as circulating some documents and articles amongst ourselves.

We have voted a series of amendments to the Unity Conference Document to bring it into line with the majority position. This has been circulated and in the main our comments follow the general layout of that document.

Is there a Revolution in Ireland?

9. The minority line does not take the view that the present struggle in Ireland is revolutionary. It was proposed that we should delete the word ’revolutionary’ from the first sentence of our resolution. Here is the proposed amendment: “to para I, a line I. Delete ’revolutionary’. (This confuses the present concrete struggle, which is not in itself revolutionary, with the potential long-term struggle.)” This small deletion lies at the very heart of the two-line Struggle, and we will consider the question at some length.

10. Exactly why is the present ’concrete struggle’, not revolutionary? Because, we are told, the present fight in Northern Ireland is one for civil rights. Because the people there have supposedly not moved beyond the consciousness of the struggle for civil rights, and because there can be no revolutionary advance until a significant section of the one million Protestants have been either neutralised or won over. Thus to talk of revolution now is simply to build sandcastles in the air. We are told that this is a scientific question of the re1ative balance of forces. To deal with these arguments, which have been used many times, many times before, is to get to the roots of the struggle in Ireland.

11. The Northern Ireland state was created in 1921, but its origins go back further. As is well known the Protestant community in Northern Ireland is there as a result of the English policy of plantation in the Seventeenth century. This plantation, similar to those in Australia and North America, drove the natives off their land and replaced them with settlers. This difference between native and settler was strongly accentuated during the nineteenth century when Belfast industrialised rapidly, its ship-building, linen and engineering industries operating as a practical adjunct of British imperialist expansion. The settler system was carried into industry. Protestants filled the skilled and semi-skilled positions and Catholics the unskilled. The Protestant labour aristocracy in the North East of Ireland was considerably more highly paid than its English equivalent, and the unskilled workers considerably more badly paid. The situation was thus more equivalent to that in South Africa than to the rest of the United Kingdom. (With the possible exception of Glasgow where a similar situation was reproduced with a strong predominance of Catholic Irish in the lower stratum of the working class.)

12. Throughout the greater part of Ireland the rising Catholic petty bourgeoisie wished to break the link with Britain and form an independent republic within which native capitalism could flourish. In this they had the support of the Irish peasantry, groaning under the weight of rents and taxes. However, the Protestant capitalists of the North East with their close connections with British manufacturing and imperial trade were opposed to any independence of Ireland. In their Opposition they ware supported by the Protestant workers who saw their privileged Position could not be maintained if they were a minority within an independent Ireland.

13. The Ulster ’Unionists’ at first thought to oppose Home Rule altogether. Then, seeing the weight of the Irish nationalist movement, they thought that all nine counties of Ulster could be excluded from a Home Rule Ireland. In the desire they had the support of the British Conservative Party, the British Army, and a large part of the Liberal Party. This was at a time of profound political re-alignment in Britain when the Conservative Party were prepared to wage civil war to topple the Liberals. Their open support for Unionist war preparations in Ireland and the Curragh mutiny are instances of this. During the First World War, and after the Easter Rising, Lloyd George, anxious to pacify Ireland and open the way to conscription there, proposed the partitioning off of the Six Counties and the passing of a Home Rule Bill for the rest of Ireland. Now, the rebellion in Ireland intensified over the following years and the nationalist forces won a Free State and eventually a Republic, in considerable advance of a Home Rule settlement; but the Six Counties were partitioned off from the Free State. Thus in the North of Ireland, the balance of forces was in favour of the Unionists and they could build what their first Prime Minister proudly referred to as , “A Protestant state for a Protestant people”.

14. The resulting partition was disastrous for the Irish people. The 26 Counties were conceded virtual constitutional independence, but only as an element in a wider scheme through which British imperialism aimed to ensure the continued subservience of the Irish economy to its needs. For the industrial areas of the North-East were still incorporated directly into the British imperialist state by means of the institution of the Six-County State entity. While a Six County economy produced ships to sail the seas ruled by Britannia and shirts for the backs of all Who sailed in them, the Twenty-Six Counties remained an agricultural backwater more helplessly dependent on the vagaries of the British imperialist market for agricultural goods than it had been even in the days of the great famine of the 184Os.

15. Only a unified Ireland held out the prospect of building an integrated economy in which agriculture and industry could give each other mutual support for their further development, instead of each separately serving an aspect of British imperialism’s needs. Partition thus constituted the central obstacle to the development of the productive forces in Ireland and to the achievement of economic independence from British imperialism.

16. In the North-East, in the Six County State, partition put a state machine into the hands of the Orange/Unionist alliance, guaranteeing that the privileges of the Protestant workers would be reinforced at the expense of the Catholics. Situated on the periphery of the British manufacturing area, the Six Counties experienced far more acutely than the mainland the portrayed decline of British manufacturing during the inter-war period. High levels of unemployment made sectarian methods of distribution and patronage more important than ever. The prospects of “building unity between Unionist and Nationalist workers became worse, not better. This was exactly as envisaged by Connolly who pointed out that so long as partition lasted no class unity would be possible and that partition would therefore usher in “a carnival of reaction”.

17. Since that time, in both parts of Ireland, the struggle for political and economic progress has been bound up with the struggle against the partition system. The fundamental nature of the partition system is that politically it divides the people of Ireland, North and South, and in the North it is the means of guaranteeing the supremacy of the Unionist bourgeoisie. It is in this fundamental struggle against partition is revolutionary; it is a necessary and intrinsic part of the struggle against the imperialist domination of Ireland.

18. Now we must see whether or not the present struggle in Ireland constitutes an integral part of the struggle against partition and the imperialist domination of Ireland; we must see whether or not it is a revolutionary struggle. The present phase of the struggle in Ireland started with a Catholic demand in the Six Counties for civil rights. However, it soon became clear to the most oppressed sections of the Catholic people in the North that the struggle was a national one. The immediate manifestation of this was the fact that the civil righters were beaten back into their own ghettoes by the weight of the RUC, ’B’ Specials and their Paisleyite supporters.

The Paisleyites and the Unionist ruling class knew that a demand for civil rights in an economically declining sectarian statelet could only be met by taking privileges away from Protestants. Sectarian privilege and its defence was the raison d’etre of the Six County State. So the Paisleyites understood, even if some Marxist-Leninists did not, that the demand for civil rights was, a demand which challenged the existence of the Northern Ireland state, i.e., a National and revolutionary demand.

19. Now, is it true as the minority line says that the consciousness of the oppressed nationalist people is still at the stage of civil rights? Over the past ten years, the British government has tried every conceivable piece of fake reform that their experienced minds could dream up. At the end of that time the model Protestant worker is still skilled, and the model Catholic worker unskilled, and every other statistic and social index shows no improvement in the position of the nationalist population. During that ten years the Republican movement, with the support of the nationalist section of the people in the North and with considerable support in the rest, of Ireland, have overthrown Stormont, atomised the Unionist Party and sustained ten years of armed struggle in the face of Europe’s most experienced “counter-insurgency” forces – the British Army. Every family living in the ghettoes of Northern Ireland has suffered directly or at second hand, murder, torture, imprisonment. If the same struggle were to take place in Britain, the corresponding figures in 1978 would be(pro rata) over 4 million unemployed, 100,000 anti-imperialists in gaol, (150 of them having been killed in gaol), 75,000 workers a year being tortured in police stations and some 500,000 homes raided and ransacked. There would be one and a half million troops working in working class areas. Faced with corresponding conditions, the Nationalist people are still giving their support to, the Republican movement.

20. The Republican movement are fighting for a united Ireland, they are directly opposed to partition. And in the immediate context they are fighting for the destruction of the Northern State. It is true, as the Republicans themselves point out, that their have been weaknesses in their political work that have allowed the SDLP and other reformist parties to maintain an electoral dominance. But, despite that, what is the situation? It is that the most oppressed, sections of the people are pursuing a struggle with revolutionary consequences under the armed leadership of a revolutionary movement with a revolutionary programme against opponents whose main concern is to stabilise and protect their own class rule. Is that not a revolutionary struggle?

The Wrong Revolution?

21. As far as the minority line is, concerned, the foregoing arguments fall on deaf ears. When forced to consider the question it concedes that there is a revolution to be made in Ireland, but not, the one that is going on now. Their argument is that the sectarian state cannot be broken, and the road to Irish unity opened up, unless and until a significant section of the one million protestants in the North East consent to it. Until that happens, the present fight can be no more than a diversion and a guarantee of further divisions.

22. This is a line of argument with a long, reactionary and counter-revolutionary pedigree. Its most recent adherents have been the Official IRA (now known as Sinn Fein, the Workers Party, SFWP) and the revisionist Communist Party of Great Britain. This line argues that the Republicans, must put away their guns, and unite with the Protestants on ’bread and butter’ issues. Only when the Protestant worker sees that the Republicans have his interests, at heart will he be prepared to consider a United Ireland. James Connolly opposed and exposed this, line at the turn of the century in his polemic with Walker, the Belfast socialist, describing it as “gas and water” socialism. (The material of this polemic is available in the Cork reprints series.)

23. It is a false line of argument on three counts. First of all, it is not materialist. The Protestant working class contains a large privileged section who are tied to the Union because, and only because, it protects, their position vis a vis that of the Catholics. At the point at which the Union appears unreliable, their ’Loyalism’ quickly turns to naked sectarian separatism a la Paisley. If the nationalist people are to unite with the Loyalists, when the Loyalists surrender their privileges, then they will have to wait forever. In precisely the same way, if the black civil rights campaigners in the Southern United States had to tail their demands to the consciousness of the white majority they would cancel their own progress.

24. Secondly, this line of argument targets the wrong enemy. It idealistically places the responsibility for the continuation of partition on the Six County Protestants, and ignores that partition was devised by a sector of the British big bourgeoisie. The existence of the Northern Ireland state and its economic and military viability is, in the final analysis, in the hands of the British state. It is against the British state that the Republican movement directs its fire. Since the fall of Stormont, the Government of Northern Ireland is in the hands of the British state directly. when that British state is forced to give ground and is compelled to allow for an all-Irish settlement, there will be the possibility of disintegrating the loyalist alliance (in just the same way that ZANU\Patriotic Front) could deal with the setters in Zimbabwe once it was clear they were the dominant force). As that possibility approaches, the loyalist alliance is increasingly consolidating under the leadership of its most reactionary elements. To give up the struggle now, to surrender ground how, would be to expose, the Catholic community to the worst setbacks and pogroms since the Twenties. Let anyone who doubts that consult the historical record, or read a few current loyalist papers.

25. Thirdly, this line of argument conceals a fundamentally revisionist view of the national question. In essence, it puts the Unionist cause on a par with the Republican cause. It becomes indistinguishable from the view that the Protestants are a nation whose political and economic development depends, on their right to self-determination. This is not true. Fifty year’s of day-by-day practical historical experience shows that a Protestant state is inseparable from economic decline, political reaction open fascism and naked sectarianism. Leave aside all arguments of what does or does, not constitute a nation. The fundamental Marxist view of the national question is that the revolutionaries must do all they can to sweep aside those undemocratic and reactionary obstacles that stand in the path of the socialist revolution; that not for one minute than is historically necessary shall the suppression of one people by another stand in the way of the question of the epoch – the socialist revolution. Now, what is the historical evidence in Ireland? That the quickest and most economical way to open the road for socialist revolution is to confer nationhood and their right to self-determination on the shoulders of the protestants of the North-East? No. Fifty years of practical historical experience shows this to be a reactionary dead end. The fight on an all-Irish basis for the democratic settlement of the question is the only realistic and revolutionary alternative.

26. Confronted with these arguments and facts, the minority line falls back on other diversions. We are told that now is not the time for armed offensive; that the struggle has to be put on an all-Ireland footing, and so on. We mall come back to some of these arguments later. At this point it suffices to say that we do not call on revolutionaries to be perfect, nor do we call on n people struggling for their freedom to achieve it without mistakes. Even if the present phase of the struggle was to bring no positive results in the foreseeable future; even if the Republican movement were to renounce and denounce all their present tactics (and we do not admit these at all as likely possibilities) it would still be right to give firm and resolute support to the struggle of the most oppressed against their oppressors, and to give it the name of a revolutionary struggle.

27. There is a vital general aspect to this question. Marx and Engels originally felt that colonialism was objectively progressive (while always denouncing its brutality) because of its development of the productive forces. He and Engels did not live to see the rise of imperialism as a world system, but they saw it taking shape in England and this led them to reverse their opinion. They revised their previous position on Ireland and said quite openly that the British revolution could only triumph subsequent to the liberation of Ireland. They because explicitly anti-colonialist and began to develop their analysis of the corrupting effects of colonialism upon the metropolitan working class. This view was opposed by the early revisionists such as Hyndman and Bernstein who called for a “socialist colonial policy”. This revisionist line has knocked around on the British left ever since, today in the capable hands of the CPGB. One of Lenin’s greatest contributions to the Marxist movement was to analyze imperialism and its effects on the working class. At the second congress of Comintern, in 1920, he fought for the Theses on the National and Colonial Question and the policy that the proletariat must support national liberation movements, and build a revolutionary alliance between the workers movement in the oppressor nations and the national liberation movements in the Oppressed countries. Later that same year in Baku this line was dramatically put into effect in the Congress of the Peoples of the East which was organized by the Comintern and united Communists and revolutionary nationalists. Summing up and defending Lenin’s contributions to Marxism, Stalin pointed out that even the struggle waged by the Emir of Afghanistan was revolutionary in that it weakened and undermined imperialism. In the same passages he exposed and denounced those so-called socialists in the European labour movement who failed to support the liberation movements in the colonies.

28. The Sixth Congress of Comintern affirmed that the struggles in South Africa and the struggles of the black peoples in the United States were national questions, concerning the rights of people to self-determination. The triumph of revisionism in both the United States and South Africa were closely tied to the victory of the line that the black people’s struggles were merely civil rights struggles. In Mao’s article, “On New Democracy”, Lenin’s and Stalin’s analysis is developed further and Mao explicitly states that in the era of imperialism, the national liberation struggles are a component part of the world proletarian socialist revolution. The attitude to adopt to the struggles of the oppressed was a major factor in the anti-revisionist struggle waged by the CPC in the early sixties. The CPSU accused the CPC of sham revolutionism, war-mongering, anti-white racism and collaboration with reactionaries in what we now call the Third World – all because the CPC stood firm on the standpoint of Lenin, Stalin and Mao Zedong on the national and colonial questions. Today, the Theory of the Three Worlds explicitly states that the countries and people of the Third World are the main force in the world revolution. This theory states that because of repeated splits in the workers movements in the First and Second worlds they can only remain at the stage of regrouping and accumulating strength for some time; it openly calls on the Third World to exercise its leading role even more vigorously. This thesis is argued within the tradition of revolutionary communist theory.

28a. Within Ireland this two-line struggle in the world revolutionary movement is reflected in two traditions; one stretches from Connolly through to the Provisionals and the other stretches from William Walker, ”Gas and Water” socialism through to the “Better Life for All” campaign, the SFWP and even sections of the, UVF. Similarly in Azania it is the PAC and the BCM that have picked up the revolutionary national banner raised by the Comintern in 1928 of the Black Republic, that has been discarded by the SACP. The history of the struggle between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism has thus been bound up with the struggle between those who understand clearly and resolutely affirmed the revolutionary nature of the national question and those who sought to deny it.

28b. Here we are, in the heartland of a broken down old empire in a revolutionary movement that has yet to take its first steps. And when the oppressed people rise up in the oldest British colony and demand the overthrow of the system that oppresses them, what are they to hear? That it is all just a question of civil rights? Absolutely not. We must give the fullest possible support to their revolutionary struggle. As we shall see, that support is not just the expression of fine sentiments or a masterly grasp of revolutionary theory, but an absolute necessity for our own further advance.

The Irish Revolution, the Struggle in the World and the Struggle in Britain (Relating to para 1 amended UC Resolution)

29. The oppression of the Irish people by the British ruling class dates back to the 11th Century and since the invasions of Elizabeth 1st has involved the entire Irish nation. For the past two hundred years. There has not been a single Irish generation in which there has’ not been an armed uprising against British rule. At various times the British ruling class has benefited from its mastery of Ireland in different ways. Unequal exchange, rent, tithes, taxes, forced conscription, settlement, strategic gain. Located on the backdoor of British imperialism and tied to it by a thousand and one threads, the political stability and reliability of Irish political life is a matter of cardinal importance to the British ruling class. Ireland also remains an important market for Britain. The Irish struggle is thus a component part of the worldwide struggle against colonialism and imperialism.

30. The struggle in Ireland also has a bearing on the two superpowers and particularly Soviet social imperialism. The unequal and oppressive relations between Britain and Ireland and the consequent divisions that exist within that Ireland constitute precisely those ’troubled waters’ that social imperialism looks for when plotting further advances. In seeking to further the fight against hegemonism we must unite with the desire of the Irish people for a united, free and independent Ireland. If Irish revolutionaries have the faintest doubts concerning the solidarity of the British revolutionaries (and they do), there is the wedge for social imperialism.

31. In the past the Irish revolution has been a great source of support for British revolutionaries. This has been so in at least two ways. Firstly, the Irish revolution attacks and weakens our own main enemy. In this generation with the deepening of the world imperialist crisis, it is obvious that the ’Irish problem’ is once again a running sore in the side of our rulers, causing division amongst them. It costs the British exchequer approximately one billion pounds per year to control Northern Ireland. It weakens the credibility of the British bourgeoisie all round the world. It is an open secret that at least one section of the bourgeoisie wishes to withdraw from Ireland.

32. There is a second sense in which the Irish revolution is a source of support for the British revolution. In the past the periods of the most intense class struggle in Britain have coincided with the most forceful entry of the Irish question onto the British political scene. The activities of many prominent revolutionaries have spanned both countries (the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor and the great socialist James Connolly, to name but two examples.) Now, at present, the revolutionary forces in Britain are pitifully weak. We have had a sectarian style of work and weak links with the mass movement that exist. A sectarian style of work that manifests itself in a superior attitude to the revolutionary movements of the oppressed has been fed by the minority line on Ireland. The oppressed national minorities in this country contain literally hundreds and thousands of individuals with an understanding of the imperialist and oppressive nature of our ruling class. Many of them have experience of struggle against it, either there or in their home country. The Irish people in this country stand in the ranks of the doubly oppressed. If we free ourselves from chauvinism, and are genuinely willing to learn, then we can indeed link up with an important reservoir of opposition to our own ruling class.

The minority line claims that we overrate this factor. We say that at this stage of party-building it is scarcely possible to over-estimate it.

33. If we chose the opposite course, if we wish to remain a small sect with pure reservations about the Irish struggle then it will be true, as the minority line claims, that we ’overestimate’ the importance of the Irish revolution. There will also be no question of us playing any role other than a counter-revolutionary one in any British revolution.

34. In fact, this question of the relative strategic weight to place on the Irish revolution within the context of the British revolution has been a line of demarcation between the majority and the minority. The minority line (and this has been RCL policy) has repeatedly laid emphasis on the fact that we must be prepared for the possibility that the socialist revolution may triumph in Britain before the Irish win their freedom. Now revolutionaries must indeed be prepared for every eventuality. But let us think carefully. We live in a decayed imperialist country in which the mass of people, including the working -class, are riddled with racism and great nation chauvinism. So long as these, prejudices are not overcome the masses will be tied to the racist and chauvinist Labour and Conservative Parties. What kind of “revolution” can we have without these prejudices being overcome? Will not the liberation of Ireland be a necessary step in the fight against that racism and chauvinism? Won’t that be a necessary step on the road to socialism in Britain? The minority line falls into the revisionist position of ignoring-the revolutionary significance of the struggles of the oppressed and therefore sees imperialist influence on the working class as either insignificant or unimportant. It is an essentially chauvinist viewpoint.

The Present Situation in Ireland

(This section relates mainly to paragraphs 3 & 4 of the amended resolution. Most of the ground in para 2 has been dealt with in the first section of this article.)

35. In the past twenty years the Irish situation has undergone some significant changes that we have not analysed as yet.

36. Firstly, the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Britain. Until the late 1960s Eire was primarily an agricultural country. It exchanged its primary produce for British coal and manufactured goods and was almost totally dependent on the U.K. Under progressive Fianna Fail administrations it made some limited progress building up a small protected manufacturing sector behind a tariff wall. However, the economy foundered and in the early 1960s the Irish bourgeoisie dismantled the tariff wall and allowed in foreign investment. An inflow of capital came from Britain at first, but then in increasingly large amounts from Europe, Japan and the United States. This investment has had dramatic effects. The industrial sector expanded rapidly and has overtaken the agricultural sector in volume of exports. Ireland’s economic dependence on Britain has been significantly weakened by this, and this has been reflected and reinforced by Irish membership of the EEC. On the other hand the Southern Irish economy has become more closely tied to the world economy as successive governments have made concessions to multinational companies, along the same lines as many Third World governments. All this has been reflected in full Irish participation in the present world. In return, for the closed cooperation with Britain imperialism implied by the dismantling of tariffs, the then Irish premier, Sean Lemass, made overtures to London for some improvement in the condition of the nationalist population in Northern Ireland.

37. Secondly, in the Six counties, the decline of local industry was offset by inviting in foreign monopoly capital. Being apart of the United Kingdom, this meant relying heavily on the planning apparatus of the British state, and this in turn meant that the devolved system of local government in the Six Counties was to some extent undermined. This system of devolved government was crucial for the dispensation of patronage in the Orange/ Unionist system. This disruption led to Protestant working class suspicions of their new leader, Terence O’Neill, who presided over the process. The contract between the Protestant working class and the Unionist bourgeoisie was threatened and this destabilized the Stormont regime. O’Neill was trying to present a ’modernizing’ and ’progressive’ image to monopoly capital and to the British state, and he made a number of conciliatory statements about the position of the Catholic people in the Six Counties. This further enraged Protestant opinion, despite the fact that he did nothing at all to improve the conditions or the nationalist population.

38. It was in this conjuncture that the Civil Rights Movement appeared in the Six Counties. The British Government showed themselves more prepared to make cosmetic reform in the Six Counties than were the local bourgeoisie who were closely tied to their local sectarian base of support. Such cosmetic reforms did nothing to improve the actual conditions of the nationalist people but they further undermined the power-base of the Unionist bourgeoisie whose political leadership was supplanted by Paisley and his petty bourgeoisie “loyalist” alliance. Thus the British state now rules directly in the Six Counties and the British Army is the main military instrument for the suppression of the nationalist minority.

39. These are some of the feature underlying the crisis of British rule in Ireland. It is obvious that we need a better understanding of the modern economics of partition. However, one thing is apparent. The partition system remains the most reliable instrument of British rule in Ireland. An argument frequently deployed in the left press is that the invasion of monopoly capital in Ireland led to a demand on the part of monopoly capitalists or financiers for the dismantling of the partition system. There is no evidence for this. Capital is able to move freely throughout the two states and almost certainly benefits from the competition between them. It may be the case that, at the time of the Sunningdale Agreement, some sections of the British ruling class were prepared to contemplate a United Ireland. However, they were by no means a dominant trend and even the slightest suggestion of a move in that direction vanished completely at the first signs of Protestant protest. In fact even the cosmetic concept of’ “power-sharing” was dropped in the face of loyalist resistance. Since that time, the British bourgeoisie has spent ten years using every trick in the imperialist book to crush, cowe, swindle or cajole the nationalist people into submission.

40. The minority line disputes the importance of partition. They maintain that the passing of the years has lessened its centrality and that the main questions are civil rights in the North and independence for the whole of Ireland; reunification is very low on their agenda. They will not grasp that Partition is still the key to British control of Ireland. The British ruling class cannot devise a better way of maintaining their class hegemony in Ireland. The Irish revolutionaries recognize this and so must we if our solidarity is to be based on reality. That is why we agree with the Irish revolutionaries that the present phase of the struggle hinges on the destruction of the partition system. In our solidarity work, this should be carefully explained.

41. However, in the past the League has not wanted to put much emphasis on the question of partition because it was held that to do so would be divisive (!). But it is opposition to the partition system that unites Republicans. Although it was never clearly spelled out, the idea behind this line was that the Protestants cannot be won over if republicans or their supported mention partition. This line of argument thinks it is best to win the friendship of the protestant people first and only later raise the question of a united Ireland. This is the height, the very pinnacle, of idealism. The very first thing any Protestant wishes to know concerning a political party or programme is “where they stand on the border”.

So both loyalists and republicans are united on what the central issue is in Irish politics. The Provisional Sinn Fein have bent over backwards in making concessions to the protestants, proposing a four province federal structure for Ire1and which would give them considerable local autonomy. But in the meantime the Republicans understand, quite as well as an Orangeman, the futility of pretending the war is about anything other than partition.

Should we Support the Republican Movement?

42. Should we support the Republican movement? The failure to deal straightforwardly with this question in the initial unity resolution was a glaring one covering up sharply opposed points of view. In the comments that follow our remarks deal exclusively with the Provisional Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA, the forces which have been the focus of contention within the RCL. We think that the Republican movement as a whole, definitely including the IRSP and INLA, should be given support, but our work and investigation so far has centred mainly on the Provisional section of the Republican movement which has undoubtedly played the main and leading role in the struggle over the past ten years.

43. The point of view most fundamentally opposed to the present majority line on the Commission is the one which states that the Provisionals are a group of isolated terrorists with no mass base. In the past this point of view has informed a number of articles in our newspaper, Class Struggle. For quite a long time, Class Struggle pointed to imaginary parallels between the Provisional IRA and the Baader Meinhof gang in West Germany. The stupidity and absurdity of this parallel indicates the lengths to which the League was prepared to go to blacken the Provisional IRA.

44. It is of course a fundamentally false point of view. The Provisional IRA as an organization is just over ten years old. During their entire life it has carried on armed confrontation with the British state and its allies in Ireland. During that ten years the British state has directed systematic torture, surveillance, terrorism, mass imprisonment, infiltration and intimidation against the nationalist population in the Six Counties. They have also tried fake or partial reforms bribes and political deals of all kinds. The IRA are still there. Tens of thousands of people turn out on the streets to support them. The campaigns in support of the hunger strikers and political prisoners in H Block and Armagh prisons show that these prisoners are supported by the nationalist population as their finest sons and daughters. A blind man can see the Provisionals have a mass base. At the time of writing new confirmation of this fact arrives every day.

45. Have the Provisionals made mistakes over the past ten years? Yes, of course they have (although probably not as many as the British Marxist-Leninists!) They say so themselves. Some of their earlier bombings did not allow sufficiently for the difficulty of conveying warnings. They have learned only lately the value of uniting all who can be united in the course of genuine and systematic struggle against the main enemy. Only recently have they begun to intervene in the labour movement in the Twenty Six Counties. Every lesson they learn is learned under fire and is paid for, with blood. They are not able to discuss things calmly in political education classes in periods of relative political stability. The question which Marxist Leninists and all revolutionaries should ask is, “Do these fighters represent the most oppressed people and are they striking at their enemies?” if the answer is yes, then we are duty-bound to extend support.

46. Faced with the difficulty that the Provisionals have a mass base, the opponents of solidarity fall back on another line of attack. The Provisional Republican movement is not Marxist, it is petty bourgeoisie. Their programme does not call for, real socialism but for collectivism. And so on. Only genuine Marxist revolutionaries can see the national liberation movement through to the end, so how can we support these people? This may seem like a set of insuperable obstacles, and so it is, as long as we are guided by a set of sterile recipes and trotskyist formulae. Fortunately, genuine, living Marxism does not see matters in this way. The present stage of the revolution in Ireland is national democratic. Progress lies in the expulsion of imperialism and the reunification of the country. We evaluate political organizations according to the vigour with which they pursue these objectives. Of course we think that a Marxist Leninist organisation with a mass base and a New Democratic programme would be a fine thing. In fact it would be a fine thing if the world was stuffed full of ’correct’ organisations. Unfortunately it is not. The world is stuffed full of suffering humanity who, time after time, take up arms against their oppressors and learn revolutionary politics the only way, the hard way. Where the task is socialist revolution we look for communists. That is not so difficult to understand. The fundamental principle here is that we support the actual living movement that is taking place, not the imaginary one of our ideal desires.

47. In fact, the RCL has understood that principle quite well for a long time. We do not ask the Afghan fighters to be socialists. We do not throw up our hands in horror when our Kampuchean comrades say that socialism is not now on the agenda. We did not ask the Imman Khomeini to be a good socialist. So why then do we apply different criteria on our back door?

48. The answer is that is on our back door. We live in an imperialist country where the great mass of people, including the working-class, are inculcated with imperialist and racist ideology, and where the upper strata of the working class and substantial sections of the intelligentsia benefit from imperialist super profits. It can be a sticky business trying to get a hearing amongst the British working class if your support the Irish struggle. This is made especially difficult if the IRA bring the war to Britain. And it is made doubly-difficult if either as a result of certain strategic or tactical conceptions, mistakes in work, activities of splinter groups or the work of British agents provocateurs, British workers are killed on the mainland.

49. However, solidarity with the Republican struggle means recognition of their right to bring the war to the British ruling class on its own territory. And the British working class will not be brought forward to socialist consciousness if its self-appointed educators are frightened to point out that the aggressors in the Irish war are the British ruling class and that it is to their advantage if the ruling class is attacked.

50. The strategy and tactics of the Irish National liberation struggle can and will only be decided by the Irish liberation fighters themselves.

51. Traditions of individual terrorism as an expression of anti-colonial resistance are deep-rooted in countries which are colonized. Communists engaged in national liberation struggles face the task of developing this spontaneous form of rebellion into more effective and organized forms of mass struggle and people’s war. In doing this, they have drawn on the rich ideological heritage of Marxism-Leninism.

52. Progress in the adoption of the tactics of people’s war by a national liberation struggle has the by-product of making it more straightforward politically and ideologically to build internationalist solidarity for that struggle in other countries. However, there is no way in which a solidarity movement, least of all one in the oppressing country itself, can intervene directly to hasten this progress in the liberation struggle. Much as some of those engaged in solidarity work might wish it were possible: For such political and ideological struggles can only be conducted in accordance with the objective laws governing the revolution in the country concerned – laws which can only be grasped by integrating theory with the practice of revolution in that country.

53. In Ireland there is a centuries-old tradition of individual terrorism as an expression of resistance to British rule. This tradition has been inherited by the republican movement. The main republican organizations still rely to a certain extent upon the spectacular acts characteristic of that tradition. Comrades in Britain frequently face political and, ideological problems in promoting Ireland solidarity as a result of some of these actions – problems which have been particularly severe in cases where such actions have taken place in Britain and have injured or killed workers. However, we should not allow this fact to tempt our organization into trying to conduct facile beginners’ courses in Marxism-Leninism for Irish republican organizations. To do this could only associate the name of ’Marxism-Leninism’ with the chauvinist chorus of British imperialism, and would be doubly contemptible in view of the extremely limited activity so far undertaken by British Marxist-Leninist organizations regarding Irish solidarity. The struggle for the hegemony of proletarian politics and ideology in the Irish revolution is the task of Irish revolutionaries, just as the progressive abandonment of aircraft hijackings by Palestine liberation organizations was the fruit of their own political development, not of the advice of outsiders.

54. Nor should we be blind to the fact that within the traditions and current practice of Republicanism there is also a deep and strong trend of mass struggle – a trend which is coming increasingly to the fore.

55. So let it be recognized that the people who have the right and the duty to decide their military tactics are the Republicans themselves. They debate and discuss their campaign as it develops and they have shown themselves prepared to face up to their weaknesses and admit their mistakes. Even if the present campaign should turn out to be a failure, we would still be right to extend our support and solidarity to the Provisional Republican Movement. For long years the Chinese Communist Party persisted in the line of armed uprising in the towns before they developed the strategy of using the countryside to encircle the towns. This strategy was developed at the cost of the lives of countless thousands of revolutionary martyrs. Would anyone suggest that they should not have been given support until they had a ’correct line’? Of course not.

56. The minority line takes the view that the Republicans should stick purely to defensive use of arms, presumably meaning they should stick to defending the ghettoes in the Six counties. It is difficult to comment on military strategy as we have no experience of it. However, we offer these considerations. The present Provisional campaign is designed precisely to reach outside the ghettoes in order to inflict damage on the British state and its allies. They have had some success in this. They have retained their mass base in the North, they are the fourth largest party in the Republic and they have forced the Southern Premier, Houghey to say that reunification is the central issue In Irish politics. The British Government have spent a fruitless ten years trying to crush resistance in the North and is forced to deal with the question politically. The armed campaign has therefore achieved some gains. (Also offensive and defensive strategies are not exclusive – for example, the early bomb blitz in Belfast had a strong defensive aspect in that it took the heat off the ghettoes and allowed time for reorganization. This was true despite the mistakes made and the heavy cost paid.)

57. In a revolution the enemy starts off strong and the revolutionaries are weak. All round the world wherever the state is challenged it arms itself to the teeth. The revolutionaries inside a country must decide the correct strategy and tactics at any particular time, but it is certainly not the job of revolutionaries in another country to look with horror at the strength of the state and start crying for a halt. But wait, there is a special consideration. It is the British state that is arming itself to the teeth, it is the British army that has learned counter-insurgency, it is the British police that is learning fascist methods. This affects us.

58. The minority line return in this context to the question of the balance of forces. In mainland Britain the revolutionaries face a bad situation. The ruling class is making partly successful attempts to divide the people on racist lines and is condoning the growth of old-style fascist organizations. All around us democratic rights are being eroded. The working class is still mainly tied to reformism. We are very weak. As the British crisis intensifies the ruling class faces opposition at its weakest points, Ireland and the national minorities. What shall we do? Or shall we get on and organize all this support we can for the most oppressed, unite firmly with them to resist further attacks and start to plan our way forward? The Irish war will not go away. We cannot permit ourselves the point of view that uniting with the most oppressed is a fine and condescending thing for us, to do. As the crisis deepens the ruling class will attack its enemies. If we have any intention of staying in the fight we must unite firmly with those who know how to struggle. Of course we can ignore them and no doubt the ruling class will leave us alone to do more ’party building’. That will be fine, so long as we stop pretending to be revolutionaries.

59. We thus call for support for and solidarity with the Republican movement.

Solidarity and the Protestants of the Six Counties

60. We have laid emphasis in this article on the material position of the Protestant community in the Six Counties. In every section of social and political life, the Protestant worker is in a strongly privileged position relative to his Catholic counterpart. This position he holds and retains by virtue of the existence of the Six County State and its British backing. This is the material basis of the class alliance between the protestant worker and the local bourgeoisie, and between them both and the British imperialist bourgeoisie. It is the basis also of the anti-Irish racism and sectarianism that runs through loyalist politics.

61 This state machine, located as it is in a declining backwater of a bankrupt and largely dismembered empire, requires the constant and active support of the British state. This has always been true but never more so than now when the local bourgeoisie is either bankrupted or is wholly dependent on British or other monopoly finance. There are no more local linen barons who would be prepared or able to equip a local U.V.F. In this situation, each and every policeman and policewoman, gaoler, judge, soldier and spy is paid for and equipped by the British exchequer. So are all the roads, railways and factories in Northern Ireland. The entire infrastructure of the sectarian state is financed on a massive scale by British imperialism. Without that massive subsidy, the Protestant community would have to reach an accommodation with their fellow Irishmen.

62. Once we understand this question we can understand our solidarity tasks in this country. Our main aim is to oppose British support for the Six County State. So long as that state machine exists it is highly unlikely that the Protestant community will, in any numbers, take up a nationalist or even a neutral stand; no more than did the settlers in Zimbabwe. Thus our best contribution to the unity of the Irish people, and therefore to the Protestant of the Six Counties, is opposition to partition. We do no service to the Protestant working class by supporting Unionist or loyalist demands for the retention of partition.

The minority line, which demands that the struggle tails behind the consciousness of the Protestant worker, only supports further divisions and greater sectarianism. If the Republican movement can find ways and mans of neutralizing or winning over sections of the Protestant people, then so much the better. However, the minority line mixes idealism with arrogance in attempting to make this a condition for supporting the struggle in Ireland. As it happens, the republican movement includes in its programme proposals for a Federal four-county Ireland which would give the Protestants of Ulster a large degree of autonomy in Ireland. It is ironic that for their pains they have been criticized by some on the left for lack of determination in fighting the Orange forces.

63. We therefore call for full and thoroughgoing solidarity with the Republican forces in Ireland. This article has attempted to explain and develop the main lines of demarcation that have existed in the RCLB for a long time. This has not been done from a neutral position. The minority line will reply to this article and there will be every opportunity for comrades and friends to fully discuss the question.

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