The Communist, No. 23
Date:1969
Organisation:Irish Communist Organisation
Publication:The Communist
Issue:Number 23
Collection:Remembering 1969
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

3rd August 2009

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.

It continues…

“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 worldbystorm@eircom.net. 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…

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  • By: Starkadder Mon, 03 Aug 2009 15:50:31

    The Communist? Interesting statements about
    “in the 1930s the IRA under the extreme right-wing leadership of
    Twomey,McBride and Russell was the force mainly responsible for aborting the strong revolutionary movement of the early thirties….”
    “In the late thirites the leadership was more or less fascist
    and collaborated with the Nazis”.

    I have read some later issues of the Communist, and a lot
    of them contain lengthy discussions of Marxist-Leninist theory,
    including a long attack by Brendan Clifford on Louis
    Althusser. IIRC, the Communist also an article by future NS editor
    John Lloyd.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 03 Aug 2009 16:17:50

    ‘more or less’… hmmmm… more? Less?

    It’s great stuff though, an overheated charge on every page…

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  • By: Starkadder Mon, 03 Aug 2009 16:59:03

    I was looking thru the online edition of the Irish Times a few
    weeks ago, and I found a letter in the March 31th,1965
    edition by Angela Clifford. The letter was an attack on a
    Nicholas Murray who attacked the Irish Communist Group,whose
    secretary was Mrs. Clifford. One VERY odd sentence in it
    (excuse the language):

    “James Connolly will always remain the Marxist n*gger in
    the Irish bourgeoise woodpile as the Marxist who led the workers’
    army to the barricades in 1916 at the head of the national
    army.”
    .

    Since the sentence is intended as a compliment, why did Angela use a well-known ethnic slur as a term of praise for Connolly?

    There’s another line about the Lemass government that anticipates the AHS’ current stance:

    “The Leinster House Government must serve either the
    Republic or the Empire. It is not viable in its own right.
    Since it will not serve the Republic it must serve the
    Empire.”
    .

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 03 Aug 2009 19:30:45

    Although one would have expected the left to be more savvy perhaps at that time it was perceived as less contentious particularly in a sarcastic fashion? I’m presuming though that she’s actually saying that this is a contradiction for the Irish bourgeouise rather than for Marxists.

    Good to see consistency on their part re LH.

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  • By: Starkadder Mon, 03 Aug 2009 20:17:31

    Yeah. Nicholas Murray was attacking the ICG from the
    viewpoint of a political conservative, so that’s what Angela
    was replying to.

    Something I would like to look at are “Vanguard” and
    other magazines from McCreery’s CDRCU,to see if Noel Jenkinson,
    Brendan Clifford, or other Irish people contributed to them.

    Angela Clifford wrote an autobiographical booklet a few years
    ago,which partly concerned her great-grandfather
    Austrian businessman Karl Holzer. It had little material about her time in B&ICO though.

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Mon, 03 Aug 2009 22:37:46

    Great stuff. Those guys are buck mad, but always in a really entertaining way. Whenever I want a good chuckle, picking Against Ulster Nationalism and opening it at random is pretty reliable.

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  • By: Starkadder Tue, 04 Aug 2009 18:54:43

    I have heard of A.H. Evans-he was a British Maoist in
    the CDRCU as well (I think an analysis of CDRCU’s influence
    on the Irish left would be interesting-in addition to B&ICO
    and Jenkinson being ex-members,it seems the members of CPI(M-L) were familar with CDCRU’s material).

    I have no idea who the ” A. O’Neil ” referred to disparagingly
    in the mag is, and Rick Stead and Mick Murray are new names
    to me. I suspect Sean Matgamna is the only bloke outside
    the B&ICO circle who’d know.

    Sometimes I wish I were still in university-writing a thesis on
    these little-known groups might be an interesting area of
    research.

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  • By: splinteredsunrise Tue, 04 Aug 2009 23:38:35

    Reminds me of that pleasant time spent reading old Ailtiri na hAiseirghe pamphlets…

    Which reminds me, I’ve a couple of archive things myself that I’ve been meaning to put up. Get the old scanner working and away we’ll go.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 05 Aug 2009 06:45:54

    Ah yes, that sounds good. 🙂

    Starkadder, back to university with you then… there’s no better time…

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Wed, 05 Aug 2009 07:51:34

    Ailtiri na hAiseirghe pamphlets…

    There is a book out on them. I saw a documentary on them on TG4. They seem to have fallen apart because of the megliamania of the leader. They are also the backdrop for Hugo hamilitons autobio on his childhood.

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  • By: NollaigO Wed, 05 Aug 2009 19:09:58

    I met Evans in London in 1970.
    He wrote an interesting pamphlet, “James Connolly, the ICO and the Irish bourgeoisie”, which was very critical of the analysis of Irish society contained in ” Labour and Irish History”.

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  • By: Vabian Thu, 06 Aug 2009 16:07:06

    Interesting. However, as has been mentioned by other posters…
    how influential were the whole B&ICO/AHS group? After all, they
    only ran around two politicans (Boyd Black and Mark Langhammer)
    for office (three, if you count Jim Kemmy). The Workers’
    Association only made a splash around the time of the UWC
    Strike, and by the mid-80s the WP had stolen much of B&ICO’s
    anti-Provo thunder.

    I don’t think the CLR and CEC were very
    successful, and I don’t know what the Campaign to
    Separate Church and State are up to nowadays.

    Indeed,by the early ’90s you could arguably see
    comments that would formerly only been B&ICO’s
    turn up in mainstream publications like the Sunday
    Independent,Myers’ IT column and the books of revisionist
    historians like Clare O’Halloran.

    Given that the group seemed to vanish from
    public sight until the late ’90s and their campaign
    against Peter Hart, many people must have thought
    B&ICO had disbanded and its members given up politics.

    To ordinary Irish people unaware of the AHS’ past, such agressive
    attacks on the revisionist movement by what seemed to
    be a small group of local historians must have seemed
    like a breath of nationalist fresh air. While the AHS were
    far from the only opposition to the revisionist movement
    (look at the Field Day Group) they were unashamedly
    populist.

    AFAIK, there’s no book published which deals with the
    B&ICO’s transformation into the AHS/IPRG. Perhaps
    Sean Swan, Brian Hanley or someone else might publish
    one.

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen Linken « Entdinglichung Fri, 07 Aug 2009 09:29:33

    […] * Irish Communist Organization (ICO): The Communist, Ende 1969 […]

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  • By: GLOSSARY OF THE LEFT IN IRELAND, 1960 TO 1983, by JOHN GOODWILLIE, GRALTON, AUG/SEP 1983 | Irish Labour and Working Class History Fri, 21 Aug 2009 09:08:16

    […] Irish Communist Organisation – formed in 1965 as a Stalinist breakaway from the Irish Communist Group. As a result of the developing situation in the North, it formulated its “two nations theory” and changed its name to the British and Irish Communist Organisation in 1971. (Copy of one its publications, The Communist, on Cedarlounge here. […]

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  • By: PJ Callan Wed, 27 Jan 2010 07:21:15

    Manus O’Riordan’s thesis “Connolly in America”, first published in 1971 by the Irish Communist Organisation, is now freely available on the Athol Books website.

    http://www.atholbooks.org/

    http://www.atholbooks.org/connolly_america.pdf

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  • By: NollaigO Wed, 27 Jan 2010 13:28:55

    Thanks for that PJ.
    Manus is always worth reading.

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  • By: Left Archive: Irish Communist Organisation “Crisis in the Unionist Party”, May 1969 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Tue, 30 Nov 2010 18:54:45

    […] is an useful document from the Irish Communist Organisation, of which we have this document already in the […]

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