Iris review of 'Ireland: the key to the British Revolution' and RCG reply

The review and reply below relate to our book 'Ireland: the key to the British Revolution' by David Reed (Larkin Publications, 1984). (18/02/16)

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 52 - September 1985

Iris review

Iris is a Sinn Fein quarterly publication. The review below was written by G McAteer

Writing to Frederick Engels in December 1869, Karl Marx commented that 'deeper study' of the Irish question had convinced him that 'the English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland. That is why the Irish question is so important for the social movement in general.'

In so writing, Marx was echoing his earlier sentiments that 'a nation which enslaves another cannot itself be free.' It's a view which David Reed believes to be as relevant today as it was when Marx put pen to paper, and it is that view which forms the kernel of the argument in Ireland: the key to the British revolution. Based on a series of no less than seventeen articles originally published in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (the paper of the Revolutionary Communist Group in Britain), this hefty volume examines the history of the Irish struggle from the 1840s to the present, concentrating however on the current phase from 1968 to 1983.

Right from the outset, David Reed lays his political cards firmly on the table, declaring that he fully supports the Republican Movement as the revolutionary inheritors of the republican tradition.

However the main thrust of his book is not to provide a history of the Irish struggle, but to examine the revolutionary implications of this struggle for the British working class. Predictably, Reed's findings in that respect are gloomy. He maintains that the British working class and their political and trade union representatives have consistently failed to make 'common cause' with the Irish struggle, and by so doing have not only held back Irish self-determination but also have fatally undermined the struggle for socialism in Britain.

Since Reed's supposition about the dependence of British socialism on withdrawal from Ireland is surely correct, then it follows that the sooner this comes about the better both for the British and Irish working classes. It would therefore seem logical to republicans that the role of British socialists is to build on whatever support there is in Britain for a withdrawal, so that a broad-based climate of opinion will develop which supports disengagement from Ireland. But this is where David Reed fundamentally differs, not just from this reviewer but from the perspectives adopted by most socialist organisations in Britain itself.

Using support for the Irish struggle as a litmus test on which to judge the political credentials of British socialists, Reed proceeds to lambast virtually every left-wing group in Britain and those individuals within the Labour Party and elsewhere who are attempting to raise the issue of a British withdrawal. His impatience with such groups and individuals stems from their ambivalence or indeed opposition to the IRA's armed struggle.

While of course the optimum position would be that the British working class and their representatives understood and supported the Republican Movement, this is a totally unrealistic expectation given the political situation for the foreseeable future. Republicans cannot afford the luxury of waiting around until the British working class becomes sufficiently politicised to fully support our struggle in all its forms. We must encourage, pragmatically, any willingness — for whatever reason it comes and from whatever quarter — to withdraw from Ireland. Whether from a left-wing IRA supporter, or from a Liberal who believes the British government has spent too much in Ireland, or from a Tory whose will has been broken by the bombing in Brighton.

Reed's insistence that only mobilisation on an RCG political programme can bring about British withdrawal is an isolationist stance that is doomed to obscurity. His contempt for other political groups is hardly conducive to the building of a groundswell of support for British withdrawal. This same antagonism may well cause the book to be dismissed out of hand by most members of the British working class, at whom it is aimed.

Reprinted from Iris No 10 July 1985


RCG reply

As we go to press this letter has not been published

The Editor

22 July 1985

An Phoblacht/Republican News

51/53 Falls Road



Dear Sir

I am writing in response to G McAteer's review of my book Ireland: the key to the British revolution in Iris (No 10 July 1985). The review unfortunately gives a false picture to Irish readers of the political argument of the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) on the crucial question of how to build an Irish solidarity movement in Britain.

G McAteer claims that the RCG insists that 'only mobilisation on an RCG political programme can bring about British withdrawal' and he further implies that the RCG is opposed to working with all trends and individuals, socialist and non-socialist prepared to oppose the British presence in Ireland. This is simply not true. RCG comrades working in the Irish Solidarity Movement (ISM) have consistently campaigned for unity in action on the Irish question. It was our trend which supported the call by Albany Irish POWs in 1983 for a united solidarity movement and initiated a unity campaign culminating in a demonstration and conference in 1983. This campaign foundered on the sectarian refusal of other solidarity organisations to take part. When Ken Livingstone was attacked for speaking out on Ireland, the ISM publicly defended his right to speak. During the miners' strike ISM supporters worked to form links with the striking miners. This resulted in an historic ISM conference in 1984 when the then recently released Irish POW John McCluskey clasped hands with Kent miners' leader Malcolm Pitt on a public platform, which I was proud to share. Finally the ISM is today working with others in the Maire O'Shea defence campaign.

Where we differ with others in Britain and possibly with G McAteer is in our belief that a strong and effective solidarity movement must be based on the most oppressed sections of the working class who have nothing to lose but everything to gain from the victory of the Irish revolution. Far from ruling out alliances with other less reliable forces this offers a solid foundation for building effective campaigning alliances with them. History confirms this view. What have those who have based themselves on the official Labour Party and trade union movement and other less reliable forces produced over the last 15 years in Britain? The honest answer is nothing. And with the Labour Party today moving rapidly to the right it should be obvious that a new approach is required. Neil Kinnock has recently demonstrated his slavish loyalty to British imperialism by rejecting out of hand Tony Benn's amnesty bill for imprisoned miners, while congratulating the police on breaking a so-called IRA 'summer bombing campaign'. The Irish people can expect nothing from a movement led by such a man. Those who disagree with this have yet to produce any tangible evidence for their point of view.

The best summary of the RCG's real position on building a solidarity movement was given at the founding conference of the ISM in November 1982,

'While an Irish solidarity movement itself would be based on those forces who fully support the anti-imperialist position on Ireland, it would also work with other organisations and individuals who supported, for example, the abolition of plastic bullets ... this would include, for example, members of the Labour Party and individual MPs ... The Irish solidarity movement would, of course, be fighting to win all those it works with, in whatever campaign, to the anti-imperialist position on Ireland without making this a condition for working with them.'

Finally, neither the RCG nor the ISM demands support for the armed struggle of the IRA as a precondition for united work.

 Yours fraternally

David Reed

 cc The Editor, An Phoblacht/ Republican News, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1

The Editor, Iris, 44 Parnell Square Dublin 1


Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed

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