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For the month that’s in it this is a useful document from the Irish Communist Organisation. As a precursor to the British and Irish Communist Organisation the ICO is particularly noteworthy to those interested in the Irish left both during and after this period. This issue of the Communist, number 23, is devoted in the main to Northern Ireland.
But reading the issue, which was written in the aftermath of August 1969, it is easy to see the seeds of future developments. For instance from the front page there is considerable criticism directed towards Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) and in particular a pamphlet on Ireland entitled “Ireland One Nation”. This the ICO argued:
…[was] already a basic difference. An article in the September issue of the Irish Communist maintains that the uneven development of capitalism in Ireland, which was the economic cause of partition, gave rise to a development towards two nationalities in Ireland. But, perhaps, IRELAND ONE NATION is intended to be only a mere phrase by the CPB and one should not try to find any concrete meaning in it with relation to the national contradiction in Irish society. If that is so it is an irresponsible phrase. One-third of the population of Ireland showed that it was prepared to go to war to avoid inclusion under a Nationalist government in Dublin. If the CPB has nothing concrete to say about that, it would be better if it didn’t phrasemonger about nationalism.
“The people of N. Ireland are now face to face with the British imperialist state”. The Northern Ireland state has always been an integral part of the U.K. State. Stormont was set up by, and remained subordinate to Westminister. It is a basic Leninist principle that all workers oppressed by the same state, regardless of nationality, should organise themselves in the same Communist Party. The CPB violated this principle at its inception, and when criticised for this refused to account for itself.
For more contemporary concerns, what of:
“It is… Absurd for some people in the Civil Rights movement to call for assistance from Westminster against Stormont. How can you recruit the puppet master against the puppet?” More rrrevolutionary [sic - one imagines] phrasemongering. Many of the Civil Rights leaders may be opportunists posing as socialists, but they are not fools. The object of the CRA is not socialism but bourgeois democratic reform. As the ICO showed years before the present crisis erupted, a new economic situation came into being in ireland about 1960 in which partition was no longer economically necessary. That being so the sectarian politics made necessary by Partition was no longer necessary. And that being so the elimination of the most blatant fascist and sectarian manifestations came to be in the bourgeois interest (as it had been the bourgeois interest to develop and maintain these forces in the previous situation).
And what of this for an analysis of the events of August 1969?
The CPB remarks that if the Bogside were attacked “the Dublin Government… Might not have intervened but the Republican movement certainly would. The result would have been not only a bloody defeat for the police but quite possibly also a political crisis in the south as mass sympathy shifted from the government to the Republicans” (this is the reason given by the CPB for the intervention of the British Army). The record of the IRA in Irish politics since the early thirties is a dismal one. It has misled and disillusioned thousands of genuine anti-imperialists. It reduced anti-imperialism to a matter of military technique, often coupled with fascist politics: and even in the matter of military technique it was a negative force. In the early sixties the Republican leadership abandoned even its elitist militarism. In the August crisis in Belfast the IRA contributed nothing, at the critical moment, to the areas subjected to the terror. As predicted by the ICO early this year, the IRA has been rapidly losing its support among the masses in the 6 counties. During the last six weeks it has been clearly seen to be hand in glove with the British Army. The IRA which would “certainly” have intervened to defend the people of the 6 counties is a figment of the CPB imagination (and Chichester Clarks!). The Civil Rights leaders who appealed to the British Army to intervene were in fact taking account of the realities of the situation from a bourgeois democratic viewpoint. They were not nearly as ‘absurd’ as the CPB. (While the IRA made virtually no contribution to the defence of the people in mid-August, it - along with the Peoples Democracy - made a substantial contribution of the strategic barricades in September, so that the fascist attacks could be renewed - as they were within a week of the removal of the strategic barricades.).
Meanwhile there’s an essay entitled Once Again on Intellectual Revolutionism which analyses a pamphlet that in passing takes to task “Brendan Clifford and his group of followers in the ICO” and remarkably, as detailed in “The Communist”…
“The main ‘criticism’ of the ICO is on the peasant question. It appears that the ICO, seeing everything in terms of Ireland, imagine that every peasant has ‘the mentality of the corner shopkeeper’, and is a hardened petty bourgeois. They ‘bring with them their particularised knowledge of the Irish and British countryside and apply it universally’.
And then there is a further essay entitled “Ulster” on the events of July 1969.
It’s quite fascinating, and not merely for the line about…
…on the one hand, B. Devlin has gone behind the barricades and helped to fight the RUC - though, notably, this intervention was post hoc, ie she can be accused of tailism, of following, not leading mass action.
The rhetorical and actual concerns of the ICO, and later BICO, are here albeit in a modified variant due to the time at which this was published. But it also allows us a glimpse of how the events of 1969 were analysed and internalised in the thinking of a specific grouping.
The Irish Left Archive [Remembering 1969] seeks to bring into the public domain documents and publications from 1969 with a left and Republican slant. Already there are a number of documents that have been donated or are on file, but if you have any material you think might be appropriate – and, in particular, Official and Provisional Sinn Féin publications would be welcome – please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can I also take this opportunity to call again for any donations to the Archive – we’re adding trade union material and other materials of interest would include left-wing unionist publications from the last thirty years…
This text and these files are a resource for use freely by anyone who wants to for whatever purpose – that’s the whole point of the Archive (well that and the discussions). But if you do happen to use them we’d really appreciate if you mentioned that you found them at the Irish Left Online Document Archive…