Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

H. Stephens

Irish Independence and Britain’s Communists

First Published: Class Struggle, November 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

“It is time that a genuine movement in solidarity with the Irish people’s struggle was built in Britain,” says recent leaflet issued by the North London Irish Solidarity Committee announcing the forthcoming one-day national conference on November 20th on the theme “Building an Irish Solidarity movement.”


This question ought to be of central concern for communists in Britain. For the lesson of history is that of all the forces for revolution that have seriously threatened capitalist class rule in Britain, the most constant and continuous has been the unbroken tradition of Irish national uprisings. Time and again this unbroken tradition has sent shockwaves over into Britain itself, offering to the oppressed in Britain the opportunity of coordinating and linking up with the Irish revolutionary tradition which has historically always taken a more advanced and insurrectionary form than the struggles of the oppressed in Britain.

British capitalist class rule has managed to survive into our day only because it has so far always succeeded in driving a wedge between Ireland and progressive forces in this country. The reverberations in Britain of the Irish national uprising have thus on every occasion so far been success­ fully restricted by the capitalist state.

Always this has been a ’close thing’. For the cyclical movement of capitalism has always ensured that the capitalist system in Britain has gone into crisis at much the same time as British colonial rule in Ireland has faced crisis. At such times, there have always arisen forces for revolutionary internationalism in Britain who have identified with Ireland in struggle – from the Scots and other ’Corresponding Societies’ of the 1790s who supported the United Irishmen, through to the ’physical force’ wing of Chartism, the Red Clydeside of 1913-1922, and up to the black youth of the 1981 youth uprising who proudly described themselves as the ’Black IRA’.

However, in spite of this recurring revolutionary opportunity which history always has and always will provide us with, there has so far been no case where the British ruling class has had to face the combined threat of an all-Ireland uprising and a revolutionary class threat at home operating in close and active coordination with each other. This is the only reason capitalist class rule has survived.

Communists thus face the task of remedying this and building active and enduring solidarity with the Irish people that can ensure that any forthcoming showdown of the new revolutionary forces in Britain led by black youth can occur in step and in active and growing coordination with Irish insurrectionary forces. Only this can successfully prevent the British state from once again driving a fatal wedge between the revolutionary forces of the two countries, and thus ensure that next time round we can tip Britain’s rulers over the edge.


No problems arise from the Irish side on this score. The Irish Republican Movement represents a fine internationalist tradition that historically has always aligned itself with the progressive forces of mankind ever since the 1790s. The Republican Movement has always shown itself ready to collaborate with revolutionary forces in Britain and indeed with all oppressed and humiliated peoples around the world who are fighting for their independence. All failures in internationalist coordination have been fundamentally due to shortcomings from the British, not the Irish, side. Communists in Britain must therefore take on themselves the responsibility for laying the basis for a movement that can in the fullest and most genuine sense provide solidarity. Without such a movement, British capitalism will be able to continue to stave off its immediate nightmare of simultaneous showdown with revolutionary forces in Britain and in Ireland in active coordination.

Such is the overall historical significance of Ireland Solidarity work, and there is a growing conviction among the most determined Ireland solidarity activists that the forthcoming November 20th Conference is going to be a significant step towards coordinating efforts in this direction. All sympathisers with the views of ’Class Struggle’ absolutely must try either to get to this conference or at any rate to make contact with one or other of the Ireland Solidarity Committees who have taken the initiative in calling it.


Readers of ’Class Struggle’ will be particularly interested to hear how we who uphold the Asian communist tradition will be applying the lessons of our worldview to our immediate tasks in Ireland solidarity work.

The questions raised by the Sino-Soviet split could not be more relevant to this matter. Those who followed the debates of the time will remember that the focus of contention was Kruschev’s ’peaceful coexistence ’ policy which affirmed that armed struggle against imperialism was hopeless as it risked the outbreak of world nuclear war. In opposition to this, the Asian communist parties argued that it was precisely through isolating imperialism amid a worldwide sea of people’s war that imperialism’s ability to launch world war could be restricted.

This remains the standpoint of the Asian communist parties. For example, Korea’s leader Kim Il Sung declared in1980: “Ours is an age of independence when the oppressed and humiliated people have appeared as the masters of the world and are pushing the wheels of history with vigour according to their own will and demand. The people of the world oppose all forms of domination and subornation and call for independence, and many countries are taking the road to national independence and sovereignty. This is the main trend of our times which no force can stop. ...World peace and security can be defended only through struggle against the imperialist policy of aggression and war... To safeguard world peace and security it is essential to dissolve all military blocs.”

None save the blind need find any difficulty in telling which of these two main contenders for the title of communist – the Russian and the Asian – has the closest affinity with the Irish republican tradition! Indeed, some of James Connolly’s remarks on socialism and national independence are quite startlingly prophetic of the views currently propounded by Kim Il Sung and others. For example, Connolly early on stated that “under a socialist system, every nation will be the supreme arbiter of its own destinies, national and international, it will be forced into no alliance against its will, but will have its independence guaranteed and its freedom respected by the enlightened self-interest of the social democracy of the world.” Later, he was to state that: “The internationalism of the future will be based upon the free federation of free peoples and cannot be realised through the subjugation of the smaller by the large political unit.”


It is many years since James Connolly made his biting comment that it was “Irish fighters in Great Britain whose unselfish sacrifices have gone to make a record for an ’English’ labour movement”. The course of working class history in the period 1913-1922 was to give further confirmation of the truth of this assessment, above all in the case of the Scots-Irish among whom John Maclean organized on the Red Clyde.

In our own day, it is still the national minorities, in particular black youth, who have once again banner of proletarian class struggle in the sense Marx used the term – street fighting and the development of organized violence in confrontation with the state.

In such a situation, the Asian communist tradition is of great importance to us in charting our path to an internationalist movement in Britain that can actively coordinate with an Irish rising. The Asian communist tradition, for example, its Indian expression in the Naxalite movement which basing itself among the most oppressed has waged revolutionary struggle since the late 1960s, provides a potential political bridge between the national minority forces in Britain (Irish, black and others) and the mighty independence movements of the third world of which the Asian communist movement is the vanguard force.


Even among contemporary British communists, it is those who have identified most strongly with the Asian communist tradition who have the longest record of support for Ireland’s fight for independence.

For example, “Vanguard” a newspaper published in Britain in 1963-1965 by a pro-China splinter group from the CPGB, published an article signed by A. O’Neill in its July 1964 issue which rebutted the notion which has since become the core of Stickies treachery that “the conditions exist for a peaceful transition to socialism in Ireland.” O’Neill describes this idea as “idiotic” and correctly describes the Irish revisionist party which propagated it as “Irish parrots for the erroneous gibberish of RP Dutt.” (Dutt being a leading Kruschevite in the CPGB). O’Neill goes on to quote the Communist Party of China’s affirmation that “an awakened people will always find new ways to counteract the reactionaries’ superiority in arms and win victory for themselves. This was so in past history, it is so at present, and it will remain so in the future.”

To take another example, a 1974 pamphlet issued by the Association of Communist Workers (ACW, a later Maoist group), provided perhaps the first attempt to popularise the communist tradition on Ireland which had been so shamefully neglected for so long by the CPGB. The pamphlet also included a detailed critique of the current policies of the Labour Party, the CPGB and various Trotskyites for failing to support in word and deed immediate troop withdrawal and “Victory for the Irish people”.

Early in 1971, the English Communist Movement, another Maoist group, held a rally in the Bullring in Birmingham in support of Ireland. Three arrests took place and savage jail sentences were served. A memorable photo of this event showed a comrade armed with an enormous red flag holding a policeman at bay. She got five years.

Such are some examples of how those inspired by the Asian communist tradition have the most continuous record of supporting Ireland’s fight for independence, in strong contrast with the middle class left who always find excuses not to support the oppressed when they rise up, whether those oppressed be those of Ireland or of the world of Asian communism.


The record of the Revolutionary Communist League and its predecessor organisations has not always been good. There was a long period of seven lean years (1974-1980) when we took a shameful stand of opposing the Irish republican Movement. It is thus largely we who are to blame for the fact that many of the most determined and dedicated Ireland solidarity activists who have meanwhile stepped into the breach left by our failings have as yet little conception of the significance of the Asian communist tradition.

The onus now rests on us to show in word and deed that we are prepared to undertake a genuine reorientation of our priorities and thus begin to make up for lost time. An important aspect of this is to work for the success of the November 20th Conference, and thus contribute to the task of upholding among British communists and other anti­imperialists the three great revolutionary movements that illumine our path to an inter­ nationalist future: the unbroken tradition of Irish uprisings led by the Republican Movement; the unbroken tradition of third world national independence struggles with Asian communism as the most conscious vanguard force; and the youth uprisings led by black youth which have brought genuine class struggle back to the streets of Britain.

We look forward to seeing as many as possible of our readers at the November 20th conference to stand with us in this task.