Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Communist League of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), Ireland Sub-Committee

On the Question of Unconditional Support for the Republican Movement and the Struggle of the Irish people

First Published: October, Vol. 1, No. 2, Autumn 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.

The main priority for anti-imperialist solidarity work directed against the British bourgeoisie is in solidarity with the armed struggle of the Irish people for self-determination and the destruction of the partition system. ...We stand for unconditional support of the armed struggle and its republican leadership.

The above stand was taken by the RCL at its 2nd Congress last year on the question of ’unconditional support’. This is one which is at variance with that of most of the British ’left’ and indeed, one which some Marxist-Leninists would hesitate to support. The Standing Committee of the Central Committee of the League therefore asked the League’s Ireland Sub-committee to prepare a document on this upholding the line of the 2nd Congress. The following is the result: we hope it will produce discussion and rally support for the position we hold to be correct.

The Ireland commission majority report made clear firstly that the Republican movement is an anti-imperialist movement with a mass base amongst the most oppressed sections of the Irish people and, secondly, that communists have a duty to support colonial revolutions as a vital part of the struggle against colonialism, imperialism and hegemonism. These views are based on long and deep experience in the International Communist movement.

Parties in countries whose bourgeoisie possess colonies and oppress other nations must pursue a particularly distinct and clear policy in respect to the colonial and oppressed nations. Every party wishing to join the Third International must ruthlessly, expose the colonial machinations of the imperialists of its ’own’ country; must support – by actions and not merely by words – every colonial liberation movement, demand expulsion of the imperialists from colonies, educate the workers in a spirit of brotherhood with the labouring population of colonial and oppressed nations and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all colonial oppression.[1]

and again,

. ..the semi-colonial countries like China, Persia, Turkey and all colonies which have a combined population amounting to a billion. In these countries the bourgeois-democratic movements have either hardly begun, or are far from having been completed. Socialists must not only demand the unconditional and complete liberation of the colonies without compensation – and this in its political expression signifies nothing more or less than the recognition of the right to self-determination – but they must render determined support to the more revolutionary elements in the bourgeois-democratic movements for national liberation in these countries and assist their rebellion – and if need be, their revolutionary war – against the imperialist powers that oppress them.[2]

Thus for Lenin and the Comintern, solidarity was a matter of practical action – not mere words. On this basis, there can be no doubt that our duty is to identify ourselves wholly with the Irish struggle – there can be no question of remaining at a politically safe distance. It was in this spirit that the early CPGB wrote in 1921:

The Communist Party in assisting Ireland does so as part of its international policy. We believe in a Republic for Ireland because this is precisely what the majority of the Irish workers want. We believe in helping Ireland because she is the victim of capitalist imperialism and we are against imperialism all the time. It is nothing to us that our fight for Ireland brings us into opposition with the imperialism of Britain. ..

But above all, when the Irish proletariat decide to take power in their own hands, wee shall be prepared to render them all the assistance that is humanly possible. And we promise them here and now, that whatever cost we may have to pay, our life’s blood will be the test of our comradeship and the price of our solidarity.[3]

Now it may be that some on the ’left’ have reservations over whether the Republican movement is an anti-imperialist representative of the oppressed sections of the people. In thinking this, they are in disagreement with the British Army:

The Provisional IRA (PIRA) has the dedication and the sinews of war to raise violence intermittently to at least the level of early 1978, certainly for the foreseeable future. Even if “peace” is restored, the motivation, for politically inspired violence will remain.

The PIRA is essentially a working class organization based in the ghetto areas of the cities and poor rural areas…..Nevertheless there is a strata of intelligent, astute and experienced terrorists who provide the backbone of the organisation.

Our evidence of the calibre of the rank and file terrorists does not support the view that they are drawn from the unemployed and unemployable.

PIRA will probably continue to recruit the men it needs. They will be able to attract enough people with leadership, talent, good education and manual skills to continue to enhance their all round professionalism. The movement will retain popular support sufficient to maintain secure bases in the traditional Republican areas.[4]

Another problem may be that comrades have doubts about the correctness of this or that tactic of the Republicans – perhaps they do not conduct people’s war in the best orthodox manner for Irish conditions (!) Here is what Lenin had to say about the Irish rebellion of 1916.

To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church and the monarchy, against national oppression etc. – to imagine all this is to repudiate.

Social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says “We are for socialism” and another, somewhere else and says” “We are for imperialism” and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a “putsch.”[5]

We may be getting nearer to the mark when we note that for many on ’left’ reservations seem to arise when the PIRA carry the Irish war to the British Mainland. As communists we recognise the right of the Irish to bring the war to Britain.

Only the most cowardly chauvinist would say that it is fine for republicans to fight and die in Derry, Belfast or Armagh so long as they keep the carnage off British streets. In the course of their campaign against political, military and economic targets in Britain, civilians have most regrettably, been injured or killed. Such is the nature of war. However, if we are to detach ourselves from the republicans at those moments when there is a chauvinist chorus raised against them – then our support is worthless, for the bourgeoisie have no problem in co-ordinating such a chorus and would bomb British civilians themselves if they thought it necessary to create one. If we adopted this attitude we would be more contemptible allies than even the Labour ’left’ , who make no bones about their rejection of military tactics. And we would win no support or respect from the most oppressed in Britain itself.

In a related vein, some may take the view that Republican tactics in Britain or Ireland are mistaken and, viewed from our standpoint, do not promote the Republican cause. That is a quite straightforward position. Those who hold such a view are of course aware that our own strategic conceptions are exceptionally immature and also know that in the course of our future progress we will make a million and one mistakes that the bourgeoisie will use to conduct campaigns against us. All that being so, we should, whenever we, think it necessary, convey our views to the republicans – in fact we should aspire to be on the friendliest terms with them. But this is quite different from public criticism which would align us with the heroes of the gutter press, and the safety-first readership of Socialist Worker.

Some people have apparently taken the view that the term “unconditional” is metaphysical. They say, “’what if the, Republican movement changes its nature?”, or “what if owe find ourselves supporting fascist ideas?” Now in the most formal sense there is a point to this. Everything in the world can change – even the ML movement has changed its positions on a number of important questions. But such a point is abstract mischief making taken in the present context. On the one hand stand the bourgeoisie and their allies, making bloody war on the Irish and increasing their neo-fascist oppression of the most oppressed sections of the people in Britain. On the other hand stand these oppressed elements and their leadership; and in particular the Republican movement. Where will the communists stand? Not amidst a welter of qualifications and equivocations. No, we must stand for active, explicit and unswerving support for the Irish people and their Republican leadership. We call on all friends and comrades to uphold the call for unconditional support for the Republican movement.


[1] Conditions for Affiliation to the Communist International July 1920

[2] The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination. (theses) 1916

[3] CPGB pamphlet 1921, reprinted British Labour and Ireland 1969-79

[4] British Army Document, Leaked late 1978

[5] The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up July 1916