Why We Say: Troops Out of Ireland!
Date:September 1980
Organisation: Socialist Workers' Party [UK]
Collection:The British Left on Ireland
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

21st December 2009

As part of the Archive which addresses perceptions of the conflict on the island of Ireland during the past century, this is a useful example of the view from the Socialist Workers Party  in Britain. This document starts with an Introduction that asserts:

British troops were sent to ‘keep the peace’ in Northern Ireland in August 1969. Eleven years and almost 2000 deaths later the army remains on the streets. The violence that followed their arrival has been far greater than what went before. We live in the shadow of that war. It affects us in many different ways. We in the SWP - and many other socialists too - believe that the only way to end the war for the benefit of the workers of Ireland and Britain is to get the troops out of Northern Ireland, and to get them out now. In these short pages we answer the arguments of those who oppose this view: Won’t there be a bloodbath? Surely the troops are keeping the peace over there? We will also look at some of the things that workers in this country can do to bring this war to an end.

And the same near chatty semi-informal style continues throughout.

The history of the development of the ‘Civil Rights Movement’ is given in a rather brief form, as seeen on page 5…

Against this discrimination the CRM marched, peacefully. But however ‘moderate’ their demands, these threatened the privileges of the Protestants that were the very foundation of the government and state of Northern Ireland. The government replied with force.

No mention is made of the genesis of the modern part of the conflict and the document seems to propose rather more continuity than most might accept…

‘While such a government and such a [sectarian] police force existed [in NI], the majority of Catholics knew their only protection lay in defending themselves. They determined that any future attacks would not find them unprepared. The IRA, previously a small, isolated group, started to grow rapidly. The growth of the IRA added a new political dimension to the situation, or more accurately it resurrected an old one. For the IRA had fought for a united Irish republic since before the partition of 1921. The open involvement of Republicans now raised the stakes from the pursuit of civil rights to the struggle for a re-united Ireland.

The Provisional IRA (and there is no differentiation in terms of the IRA’s) is presented as being ‘an essentially working-class organisation’…

The fact is that the growth of the Provisionals was essentially a defensive reaction to the presence of the British Army and the violence it uses. The IRA barely existed before the present ‘troubles’ began in 1969, and emerged from the remnants of the old republican movement to defend the Catholic areas against attacks by loyalists, the RUC, and then the Army. When it became clear that the Northern Ireland state was not capable of being ‘reformed’, the Provisionals went onto the offensive.

An interesting analysis.

And the document is unequivocal in its support of the IRA.

As socialists we give full support to all those who fight oppression and for the right of self-determination, whereever in the world they may be. This applies equally to the Provisionals, who are fighting a war against the oppression of a minority in Britain’s oldest colony. But this does not mean that we necessarily support the politics of the Provisionals, nor we consider them socialists, nor that we support all the tactics they use.

And perhaps an overly optimistic reading of the future, given that it was 1980.

Recently, however, the Provisional IRA have moved significantly away from their old traditions and are more receptive to explicitly socialist ideas. This does not mean they have made a clean break with the politics of nationalism, but it is a step towareds the struggle for a socialist republic. But whatever the criticisms we have of the politics of the Provisionals and other Republican groups, and their resulting tactics, we have to be clear that the people of Ireland have every right to control of their own country and the Provisionals are a leading force in that struggle.

There’s some useful material on what the SWP believes can be done in the UK context to argue for Troops Out.

The pamphlet itself is attributed on the inside cover to ‘members of the South Manchester and North London districts of the Socialist Workers Party’.

More from Socialist Workers' Party [UK]

Socialist Workers' Party [UK] in the archive


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You can join this discussion on The Cedar Lounge Revolution

  • By: Starkadder Tue, 22 Dec 2009 17:47:06

    Interesting document.

    I think the Troops Out pressure group, mentioned in the
    pamphlet, is still going.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 22 Dec 2009 17:58:01

    In reply to Starkadder.

    Ah, that’s something I didn’t know. I’m interested there’s been so little response in a way.

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Tue, 22 Dec 2009 21:31:57

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    In fact they tended to keep their distance from TOM, and the two fulltimers at the centre who specialised in matters Irish seemed to spend a lot of their time making sure party members didn’t get involved with TOM. By the time of this pamphlet, anyway. Earlier on, IS been rather active on the Irish issue, taking Bernie Devlin on speaking tours. Cliff had hoped, in his whimsical way, that PD might become IS’s sister group, but then he found some more enthusiastic people.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 22 Dec 2009 22:20:11

    That’s again something I wasn’t aware of. Am I wrong or wasn’t there a certain closeness on the part of IS with OSF? Or was it more a convergence of interests? I’m thinking early on. Or was it a lack of differentiation between the SFs?

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Wed, 23 Dec 2009 00:29:37

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    Thinking backwards, there was a preference initially for the SF that was more socialist, but I don’t think that really survived some of the very trenchant pro-Soviet positions coming from such as O’Hagan or O Murchu. “Stalinism” was a very big taboo – still is in some ways.

    There would have been quite a bit of interest in a more rhetorically leftist leadership emerging in PSF at the time of the pamphlet. McCann, who wasn’t then a member but would have been close, was running stories that reflected well on the Gerryites to the disadvantage of the O Bradaighites. The latter never having had much interest in the far left, while Gerry was willing to headhunt leftists – there are still a few former PD members in leading positions – and nick their ideas.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but Gerry Foley’s pamphlet Problems of the Irish Revolution is an interesting take on how things were in about (I think) 1972 or thereabouts, and his old articles in Intercontinental Press are well worth locating. Gerry had regular contact with Garland in the early 70s, and was particularly close to McGurran.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 23 Dec 2009 09:46:42

    In reply to splinteredsunrise.

    I have that pamphlet and a fair rake of other material of Foley’s. I should have said I was thinking of the first two or so years, which dovetails with your thoughts. and I’m thinking in particular of an SWP leaflet in the Archive on Bloody Sunday which I think reproduces a front page/editorial from the Starry Plough.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Wed, 23 Dec 2009 12:35:24

    Along with Foleys “Problems…”, his theses on Ireland and ” The test of Irealnd” are noteworthy. These were internal Usec FI cocuments so have quite a bit of punch.
    The Trotskyist who left PD and joined the PSF basically gave up on Trotskyism. I don’t know anyone of themm who could now be described as Troskyist. John Majors was prpobably the first successful on in PSF and was on the Ard C. during the H-Block period.

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Wed, 23 Dec 2009 12:59:43

    In reply to Jim Monaghan.

    Michael Browne didn’t retain his Trotskyism, nor certainly did Speedy. A certain sophistication though that meant they could be of use to PSF, many of whose leaders at the time came across as basically thugs.

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Mon, 28 Dec 2009 20:19:03

    […] Socialist Workers Party (SWP): Why we say „Troops out of Ireland“ […]

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  • By: NollaigO Tue, 29 Dec 2009 19:50:16

    In reply to splinteredsunrise.

    “..Thinking backwards, there was a preference initially for the SF that was more socialist,..”

    This does not correspond with my memories of the time. From the late 1960s there was an ongoing concerted move by IS to establish links with PD. This was far more than a whimsical hope of Tony Cliff.
    Then the PD were still a broad, heterogeneous grouping but were anti Stalinist and partial towards “the stages” critique and sectarian towards the Officials. [ A discussion at the time between Gerry Ruddy, Bob Purdie and Seamus Collins of the Clann, in The Red Mole, gives a flavour of this.]
    By late1971, IS had given up on PD and had moved to establish their own group of co-thinkers in Ireland, the SWM. While the IS might have had supporters within Clann in England and Scotland, I am unaware of any general “orientation” by IS towards OSF. Indeed I recall a public meeting of Clann in London in autumn 1972 where John Palmer gave OSF a well deserved tongue lashing for their style of political debating with other socialists and republicans. This was in the immediate wake of the notorious Provo Trot article in the United Irishman.
    The writings of Gerry Foley on Ireland are well worth a read. I recommend the tributes he wrote on Billy McMillan and Malachy McGurran on the occasions of their deaths. While his writings at the time contain a wealth of insights into Irish society, his politics , the politics of the American SWP of the 1960s/1970s, embraced the aspiration that consistent nationalism leads to socialism and that socialists’ tasks were to be the best builders of the mass movement for democratic demands. More complicated than that as time showed. Also limited on the problem of the social weight of the unionist community and on 6 County/ 32 County links.
    However in no way did he merit the demented public attach by O’Hagan in recent years.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Wed, 30 Dec 2009 10:19:14

    Before Speed et al. the left in PSF down here was Paddy Bolger, Dermot Whelan and Phil Flynn. Definitely workingclass and considered an opening to the left and the TU movement. My take is that Speed and co were not the first say sophisticated leaders of southern PSF.

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  • By: Ramzi Nohra Wed, 30 Dec 2009 18:38:56

    In reply to Starkadder.

    isnt it now linked to iraq and afghanistan though? Thats where I’ve seen the TO logo etc most recently

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  • By: Leveller on the Liffey Thu, 31 Dec 2009 00:06:22

    In reply to Jim Monaghan.

    Before Speed et al. the left in PSF down here was Paddy Bolger, Dermot Whelan and Phil Flynn.

    Er, there were a few more of us than those three, Jim. 😉

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 31 Dec 2009 13:14:46

    In reply to Leveller on the Liffey.

    And still are… which is good to know.

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  • By: Sarah Irving Tue, 26 Jan 2010 09:11:43

    Hi from Manchester – just to say that I’m hoping to be doing an interview with one of the Troops Out founders in Manchester in the near future, for the Radical Manchester history website (http://radicalmanchester.wordpress.com), so that might add another perspective on some of the debates about associations with various left groups.

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