Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Solidarity not squabbling

First Published: Class Struggle, Vo. 13, No. 7, September 1989
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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After attending both the Irish solidarity marches in August, I was struck by the thought that what characterises the withdrawal movement in Britain was stagnation and sectarianism.

The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) may be pleased that nearly one thousand marched with the Irish Freedom Movement on August 8th. But this was achieved in the context of boycotting the following week’s march and carnival organised by Time To Go (TTG). The August 12th events, while nurtured by members of the Labour Party, needed the Socialist Workers Party contingent to boost the attendance to between four to five thousand.

At both the marches were in the same area of North London, some consistent propaganda work was achieved. But the very size of the consecutive marches illustrated the weaknesses of the withdrawal organisations.

After 20 years, the vast majority of people in Britain can still live with the war in Ireland. It is evident that there can be no short cuts to making Ireland a priority on the political agenda, let alone a popular issue.

After a year of action, culminating in the march, TTG failed to match the numbers – around Ten thousand – mobilised on the tenth anniversary of the Labour government sending in troops. That march was organised by a coalition convened by the Young Liberals in 1979.


In the present situation, it would be foolish to predict an end to the factionalism that has bedevilled Irish solidarity work in Britain. The reasons for such collective sectarianism is rooted in factors other than the nature of the Irish struggle.

Where clarity can be established is the principles that should guide our own activity.

In Britain, marches that call for ’Troops Out’, on whatever argument, are regularly attacked as “pro-IRA”. Standing in support of Irish self-determination is seen as supporting the Republican position, lock, stock and barrel.

Calling for a British withdrawal is implicitly regarded as taking sides in the Irish war.

There are many deep-rooted illusions that exist in the working class about the neutrality of the British state. The lack of official Labour movement support for either march demonstrates that there remains a hard slog to win people away from the passive acceptance of events in the occupied six counties.


There remains the task of building a significant movement of opposition to British occupation. Given the divisions amongst those now active in solidarity work it is unlikely that there will be a unified withdrawal movement. There is and will continue to be many threads to the movement, including those who provide a supportive infrastructure for visiting POW relatives or ’material aid and comfort’.

What guides communist activity – at whatever level of solidarity they are engaged – should be principled support for Irish self-determination. Communists defend the right of the Irish people to exercise that right in whatever manner they choose. To date, the emphasis for those challenging the rabidly pro­British line that dominates the left on Ireland, has been on the defence of the armed struggle waged by Republican forces.

In real terms, it also means supporting the right to exercise that self-determination through a negotiated settlement to remove partition. Those who would only glorify the armed struggle are in danger of militarism, forgetting that the armed struggle is a means to an end : Republicans are fighting for a thirty two county Ireland.

There are still those who raise the question of “What kind of united Ireland?” to deflect from any commitment to supporting those forces who are facing up to British imperialist forces in the north.

Others use the gulf in political positions between themselves and others active on Ireland, to justify attacking other activists’ platform and devote time, energy and resources to this task to the detriment of expanding the audience for a withdrawal argument. Such gutter-sniping does little to enhance the reputation of the British left.

Communists’ unconditional support is given to the cause of national liberation in Ireland and not to any particular organisation. There are different Republican forces active in the struggle against Britain’s armed agents. Some elements have a Marxist perspective, others do not. But it is not up to the British left organisations to fight the Irish revolution; our own is not very advanced.

Respect for Irish determination should not mean taking sides in the internal politics of, and between organisations.


The war will go on. After 20 years of trying, retired army generals now appear on our television to state that there is no possible military solution.

The army tells its masters: “We can contain but not defeat the IRA.” That is an admission of defeat. The consensus at the heart of the political establishment precludes any attempt to tackle the underlying cause of the nationalist resistance: partition. The Labour Party is content to parrot the Tories in terms of “security” and “terrorism”. This ability is seen in terms of an acceptable “level of violence”.

Labour’s allegiance to its imperialist duty has never been successfully challenged in its history. It has never acted decisively on its own long-held “socialist” principles. Why will its actions on Ireland be any different? Solidarity work cannot be narrowed down to lobbying the Labour Party for change. There is a passive, ill-informed working class to be won to supporting the right to self-determination.

Britain has negotiated withdrawal from most of its previous colonial commitments. Withdrawal from Ireland involves the dismantling of part of the structure of the British state. That alone would make it “difficult issue” to work on.

Communists in Britain have a responsibility to hasten the day of what will still be a long drawn-out process. Once again, Britain will be forced to negotiate with Irish Republicans.

Constant displays of petty sectarianism spite only serve to hold back the contribution that can be made, and should be developed, to that end. Attention should not be focused on attacking those who are active on the issues around the Irish war, but directed against Britain’s continuation of that war. In that campaign, Irish self-determination remains the key demand that should in whatever form the activity of those engaged in Irish solidarity work.