The Irish War: What is to be done in Britain

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.8 January/February 1981

hunger strikes

The hunger strike by Irish political prisoners ended on 18 December. It has become clear that the British Government secured the ending of the strike by making secret promises. Those promises have not been kept. The prisoners’ struggle to achieve recognition as political prisoners continues and as long as it does, the duty of British Communists is to express full support for that struggle and total opposition to the British state’s attempts to portray Irish freedom fighters as criminals.

The hunger strike aroused the worldwide anger of democratic and working-class forces against British imperialism. Only in Britain, where pressure could most effectively have been exerted, was there a minimal and ineffectual response. The hunger strike dramatically exposed the continuing stranglehold which a pro-imperialist leadership has on the British working-class movement. It exposed the treachery of what passes for the British left – the CP, SWP, IMG. It also shows the enormous task facing the small forces of communism in Britain.

Working class silent

The organised working-class movement, the Labour Party and trade unions were largely silent throughout the hunger strike – just as they have been silent during the past 13 years of the Irish people’s liberation struggle. When the leadership of this movement has spoken – it has taken the side of British imperialism against the Irish people.

This lack of any significant movement of support for the Irish cause must be explained. Any working-class movement that stands by whilst its Government, one of the strongest imperialist powers, turns its armed forces against the people of a small nation and slaughters, interns and tortures them – that movement must have imperialist poison deep within it. The British working class is not only failing to defend the Irish people but increasingly, what were once held to be the strongest sections of the working class are proving impotent in the face of attacks from the reactionary Tory Government. Whilst 2½ million workers are unemployed, sections of steel workers accept management plans involving the destruction of 20,000 jobs. Whilst Leyland Management dances a jig on the grave of trade union rights, the workers return to work leaving their work-mates and shop stewards outside the gates, sacked.

It is no coincidence that the British working-class movement which has failed to produce significant support for the Irish struggle, whose leadership has actively opposed the Irish struggle, should now be showing weakness and perplexity as it confronts a capitalist class no longer content to grind the bones of oppressed peoples but determined to grind the bones of British workers as well.

The imperialist Labour Party

The connection between support for imperialism in Ireland and the working class’s inability to defend itself is the continuing strength of British imperialism. That strength is based on the oppression of nations, which enables it to bribe a section of the British working-class movement into the camp of British imperialism. By virtue of its security and its privileged and stable existence a labour aristocracy has come to dominate the organised British working-class movement. What is commonly referred to as the party of the working class, the Labour Party, represents nothing but privileged workers and is a thoroughly pro-imperialist party. The Labour Party, the TUC, their MPs and officials are imperialist agents within the working class, working to defend that which grants them their privileges – British imperialism.

This leadership stands totally opposed to the peoples of oppressed nations because their struggle threatens imperialism and therefore its agents within the working class. It has also long since shown its contempt for the oppressed black and Irish workers in Britain; the unemployed, the poorly paid; the old-age workers; single parent families; the disabled. It cares only for the narrow self-interest of the privileged aristocracy of labour, only that this section should continue to get a share of the blood-stained proceeds of imperialism.

This is why the Labour Party has been one of the most determined enemies of the Irish struggle. Labour introduced the troops into Ireland in 1969, the PTA in 1974, and it withdrew special category status in 1976 and created the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. Predictably the Labour Party during the hunger strike toed the imperialist line and was if anything more anxious than the Unionists to receive assurances that ‘no concessions’ had been made to the Irish prisoners.

What, some will ask, about the Labour lefts? The ‘Left’ Labour MPs kept silent for 7 weeks of the hunger strike and then as the eighth week began some of them issued a ‘daring’ statement: the British government should adopt a ‘humanitarian’ approach to Irish prisoners. Why? Because the death of prisoners would

‘ . . . strengthen the hand of all those who favour force rather than democratic political campaigning.’

There summed up is the so-called ‘breach’ between Labour Left and Right. The Right presses on baying for Irish blood whilst the Left says: ‘Hold on, won’t this make the Irish even more determined to resist us and therefore even more dangerous for our Lord and Master, British imperialism?’ The Left opposes imperialist violence only when it threatens to unleash a violent response from the oppressed.

Trade Union sectarianism

The official Trade Union leadership did and said nothing throughout the hunger strike. It should be remembered that British unions in the TUC also organise the majority of unionised workers in the north of Ireland. That ‘organisation’ has long consisted of colluding in wholesale discrimination against Catholic workers and therefore support for Loyalist privilege and ascendancy. Yet periodically this ‘leadership’ will utter platitudes about the need for trade unions to ‘bridge the sectarian divide’ in the north by concentrating on ‘bread and butter issues’. Such words are a reactionary farce when the British Government is killing and imprisoning Republican workers and moreover when the ‘butter’ has always gone to the Loyalist workers as payment for their servile support for the British occupation of Ireland! It is in fact British imperialism which created the 6 County statelet on the basis of sectarianism and divided the working class by buying off the Loyalist workers. As long as the artificial statelet exists, the working class will be divided into hostile camps. Not until Britain is driven out of Ireland will there be any possibility of Loyalist workers seeing themselves as or acting as part of the working class. It is precisely for this precondition of working-class unity – the defeat of British imperialism – that the Republican Movement is fighting and for which the British Labour Party and TUC constantly attacks them.

Revolutionary forces

The deadweight of the imperialist Labour Party is paralysing the working class. From where then, will the revolutionary movement come? It will be based on those who have no privilege – the most oppressed workers, the black, the Irish, the low paid and unemployed workers. Within their ranks can already be found signs of the spirit of revolutionary opposition to the British state and also an internationalism which will give rise to effective solidarity with the Irish peoples struggle and an effective defence of the British working class.

Today, Communists confidently turn to these sections and there begin to find fertile ground for the views which must shape the new revolutionary movement and also find the forces which will conduct a relentless struggle to destroy the Labour Party and create a working-class movement worthy of the name.

We can be equally confident that the groups which today are known as the ‘Left’, the CP, IMG, SWP et al, not only will play no role in forging the new revolutionary movement but are an obstacle to doing so. Whilst the new revolutionary forces are instinctively turning away from the Labour Party, the petit bourgeois socialists try to tie them to it by spreading the lie that the Labour Party can be turned ‘left’ and made to fight. Whilst the new forces have a healthy attitude to the necessity to use physical force when under attack, the petit bourgeois socialists spread pacifist illusions in the possibility of reforming and democratising the military and police apparatus of the British state.

We have seen all this in their attitude to the Irish struggle. Whilst the new revolutionary forces instinctively identify with the Republican Movement – recognising in it a kindred spirit of rebellion, democracy and revolutionary determination – the petit bourgeois socialists viciously attack Republicanism as ‘petit bourgeois nationalist’, ‘anti-working class’, ‘elitist’ and given to ‘mindless violence’. In particular they reserve their venom for the armed struggle of the IRA and take any opportunity to ‘advise’ the IRA to dump its arms. During the hunger strike the CP and immediately after it the SWP, called on the IRA to end the armed struggle. These groups are not fit to bear the names communist or socialist.

Communists and the Irish war

Against the Labour Party and petit bourgeois socialism a new Communist party must be built in Britain. Central to this task will be work in support of the Irish struggle. Today in Britain it is Communists who are fighting for the revolutionary programme on the Irish question, around which will be mobilised the vanguard sections of the working class. The Communist programme fearlessly states:

  • British imperialism is waging a reactionary war against the Irish people. The purpose of which is to continue to divide Ireland in order to oppress it. British imperialism can only rule Ireland by the use of torture, terror and murder.
  • The Republican Movement is waging a revolutionary struggle for the right of national self-determination. In fighting to rid Ireland of imperialist oppression, it is acting in the interests of all Irish workers. Only when Britain is driven out can Ireland and the Irish working class be united – the precondition for a socialist Ireland.
  • The British working class must, in its own interest, support the Republican struggle and work for the defeat of the British imperialist state. British workers must give unconditional support to the Republican Movement in its struggle against British imperialism and must defend the right of the Republican movement to pursue its struggle by whatever means it sees necessary. Those so-called ‘socialists’ who claim to support the Irish cause but attack the armed struggle are not socialists but traitors, both to the Irish people and to British workers.
  • Recognising that victory for the Republican Movement will represent a huge blow to British imperialism and a huge gain for British workers, a movement must be built which calls for:
  • The immediate granting of political status to all Irish prisoners of war and the right of repatriation for Irish POWs held in England.
  • The immediate repeal of all anti-Irish legislation such as the PTA, whose sole purpose is to prevent Irish workers in Britain giving active support to the Irish struggle.
  • The immediate withdrawal of British troops from the north of Ireland.
  • The right of self-determination for the Irish people as a whole.

The building of a movement on this programme is the most vital task which faces British Communists. In doing so we will both be giving the greatest possible assistance to the Irish revolution and advancing the British revolution. To support the liberation struggle in Ireland is at one and the same time to work to liberate the British working class from the choking grip of the imperialist Labour Party.

This is the only road to revolution in Britain. We call on all honest socialists to step with us onto this road.


Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed

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