The Communist Tradition on Ireland: part nine - Revolutionary war

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 15, January 1982

The demands of the nationalist minority for basic democratic rights could not be satisfied without destroying the very foundation of the loyalist state. The statelet was unreformable. The attempt to buy off the nationalist rebellion with cosmetic reforms could not succeed. As nationalist resistance refused to subside, the intervention of British imperialism in the Six Counties more and more assumed the character of open warfare against the nationalist minority. What for the nationalist minority began as a struggle to reform the Six Counties was now to turn into a revolutionary war to smash the loyalist state, end Partition and drive British imperialism out of Ireland. As British imperialism increasingly turned to institutionalised terror to break the resistance of the nationalist minority, so that minority gave greater and greater support to the army that defended it – the Provisional IRA.

Many incidents over the next six months were to confirm this trend. On 31 July 1970, in New Lodge Road Belfast, Danny O'Hagan was shot dead. Local people insisted that he was unarmed after the British army had tried to justify the shooting by saying a petrol bomb had been found on the ground by his side. All too often the nationalist minority were to hear similar British army lies to cover up cold-blooded murder.

In this period the British army made regular use of criminal Justice Act introduced in July 1970. This gave mandatory six months prison sentences for offences associated with rioting, including ‘behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace’. One of its first victims was Frank Gogarty, a former chairman of the Civil Rights Association. He was arrested when tape-recording sounds of a disturbance taking place on 1 August 1970 in Belfast. Stopped by an army patrol, he was thrown against a wall, searched, kicked, sworn at and thrown into a jeep. His offence was to shout ‘Stop kicking me, you British bastard’. For that, he got a six months sentence in Crumlin Road Gaol. Another nationalist, a Belfast docker, John Benson, got six months for writing a slogan ‘No tea here’ on the wall of his street. Between August and December 1970 a stream of nationalist youth involved in skirmishes with the army got the mandatory six months sentence under the Criminal Justice Act, many on the perjured evidence of British troops.

With the British army stepping up its attacks and harassment of the nationalist minority, anti-Unionist politicians soon began to realise that support was rapidly slipping away from them and their programme of reform through the Stormont parliament. In an attempt to contain this development, six anti-Unionist MPs came together on 21 August 1970 to form a new party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). The SDLP supported the eventual reunification of Ireland but argued that it could not be achieved by violent means. The names of the founding members of the SDLP read like a roll call of those who for the next 12 years were to spend most of their energy attempting to divert nationalist support away from the Provisional IRA – Gerry Fitt, Paddy Devlin, Austin Currie, John Hume, Ivan Cooper and Paddy O'Hanlon. This party, the voice of the Catholic middle class in the Six Counties, was supported by the 26 Counties government and financed by Southern Irish businessmen. The Dublin government not only supported this development but shared the SDLP’s hatred for the Provisional IRA. By the end of 1970, the Dublin government had already rounded up and gaoled many Republicans. In December 1970, Lynch, after press rumours of plots to kidnap Dublin government ministers, even threatened to re-introduce internment without trial. This clearly would have given great encouragement to both the SDLP and the Loyalists in the Six Counties.

The SDLP, however, did not speak for the nationalist working class. Increasingly, the Provisional IRA did, and they were rapidly recruiting the nationalist youth to their ranks. Small scale sabotage operations, striking at communications and power supplies, and retaliatory actions against British troops by the Provisional IRA built up towards the end of 1970.

In the Ballymurphy area of Belfast, where British troops were permanently stationed, skirmishes between the nationalist youth and the British army were frequent occurrences. On 11 January 1971 a major confrontation broke out.

Ballymurphy is a strong nationalist area, where the Provisionals were in the process of training hundreds of new recruits. The last thing they wanted, at this stage, was a major confrontation with the British army. The activities of the youth were, however, inviting a large scale occupation of the area by British troops. And the Provisional IRA took steps to cool down the situation. They had almost succeeded in doing this when, on 14 January, 700 troops invaded the area to carry out a house-to-house search of the Ballymurphy estate.

The situation immediately blew up again. Guns, petrol bombs and sulphuric acid were used by residents on the estate to resist the invasion of their area. One soldier was wounded. Republicans warned the army to withdraw if the situation was not to reach a point of no return. It took another two days before the Provisional IRA was able to end the confrontation and bring the situation under its control.

During the Ballymurphy confrontation an approach was made by the British army to the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA. Contact had been made on a number of occasions before the latest events blew up. A meeting took place, with the consent of the Provisional leadership, during which the British army representatives agreed that there would be no activity by their own forces or the RUC in certain areas of Belfast. Control of community peace in those areas was to be left to the IRA.

Despite the fact that the British forces could not be trusted for very long, this agreement had the merit of not forcing the Provisional IRA into a premature confrontation with the British army. It also meant that nationalist areas were seen to be policed successfully by the IRA. Republican courts were set up and in many areas petty crime was significantly reduced. The Provisional IRA was beginning to emerge as a People’s Army.

The war begins

After the Ballymurphy events, pressure on Chichester-Clark from the Loyalist side began to build up. Already in August 1970 Paisley and Craig had called for the re-arming of the RUC, the re-introduction of the B-Specials and internment. And at the end of November the influential Belfast County Grand Orange Lodge passed a motion of no confidence in the government. On 18 January 1971 Chichester-Clark saw Maudling and demanded more troops, more arrests and a military offensive against the IRA. He got a declaration from Maudling, that the army ‘may now take the offensive’ against the IRA. On 25 January 170 delegates of the Ulster Unionist Council, the Unionist party’s main body, not satisfied with the declaration, called on Chichester-Clark to resign. On 27 January Craig announced in Stormont that two RUC men had been surrounded by a nationalist crowd in the Clonard area and had been told by members of the Provisional IRA to leave if they valued their lives. They were rescued by British troops who, after escorting them out of the area, advised them to stay out. This, according to Craig, was proof of British army complicity in ‘No-go’ areas. Pressure was now building up for the British army to act.

On 3 February 1971, on the orders of General Farrar-Hockley, a force of the Second Royal Anglians cordoned off and searched the Ardoyne and Clonard areas. Crowds gathered and fights broke out with the troops. At lunchtime that day, in the Clonard area, the predominantly loyalist workers from the nearby Mackie’s engineering works came out onto the streets and began to abuse and jeer at the nationalist crowds, throwing ball-bearings and other missiles at them. The army and the RUC deliberately turned their backs on the loyalist attackers and confronted the nationalist crowds. After the Mackie’s workers had gone back to work, the army decided to clear them off the streets by roaming up and down the streets in their jeeps. At least two people were knocked down and injured. Two nights of the fiercest battles the British army had faced in Belfast followed. Eight soldiers were wounded by gun-fire and one by a gelignite bomb.

On 5 February Farrar-Hockley went on television and said that the area had been searched because of evidence that ‘it harbours members of the IRA Provisionals'. He proceeded to name five men who he claimed were members of the Provisional IRA. He failed to mention the fact that these were the men with whom the British army had been having talks.

There were no more talks. An agreement had been broken, and the Provisionals had publicly stated that further repression against nationalist areas would be met by force. From defence of nationalist areas and limited sabotage operations, the Provisional IRA moved onto the offensive – into a more determined phase of retaliation.

On 6 February 1971 a British army patrol was ambushed in the New Lodge Road in Belfast. Gunner Robert Curtis was shot dead and four other soldiers were wounded, one who later died. This was the first time in almost fifty years that a British soldier had been killed in action by the IRA.

That same night, in the Old Park area, UVF snipers began firing from a loyalist street into a nearby nationalist street. Residents asked British troops to take some action against the sniping. They refused. During this attack on a nationalist area Jim Saunders, a company officer of the Third Battalion IRA, was killed. When the British army did become involved it was to shoot dead an unarmed man, Barney Watt, a member of Sinn Féin.

Next day, Chichester-Clark went on television and announced that ‘Northern Ireland is at war with the Irish Republican Army Provisionals’.

On 9 February the funerals of the two Republicans killed took place. After the traditional volley had been fired over Jim Saunders’ coffin and a guard of honour formed round the hearse, British troops tried to enter the street and interfere. Hundreds of furious people surrounded them and drove them out of the area. The funeral of Barney Watt was attacked by Loyalists and the tricolour draping the coffin was seized. The funeral processions of both men were followed by immense crowds.

Almost every day now the British army and the RUC cordoned off and searched nationalist areas, harassing and beating up the residents. These areas also had to face sectarian attacks from Loyalists. The nationalist minority replied with stones and petrol bombs, and the IRA with bombs and guns. Some of the most blatantly corrupt judicial decisions took place in the courts in this period. When Republican supporters picketed courts, they were arrested and got mandatory gaol sentences. Loyalist counter-demonstrators were left alone. A loyalist dealer in illegal guns got a suspended sentence whereas a nationalist labourer, Joseph Downey, was gaoled for a year for shouting ‘You shower of bastards, up the IRA’ as an Orange parade passed by.

On 27 February two RUC men were shot dead after savage clashes between nationalist crowds and the police and army in the Ardoyne. On 10 March three Scottish soldiers were found dead in a ditch in unexplained circumstances. Both the Provisional and Official IRA denied having any responsibility. Loyalist pressure on Chichester-Clark increased. He again demanded more troops, greater repression including troops permanently stationed in nationalist areas. The British government could not meet his requirements and on 20 March he resigned.

On 23 March 1971 Brian Faulkner was elected leader of the Unionist Party. Faulkner had been Minister of Home Affairs during the IRA’s 1956-62 Border Campaign. He believed internment was a major factor in bringing about the IRA’s defeat. He immediately took steps to force Westminster to agree on internment again. The army was sceptical at this stage, believing that internment would unite the nationalist minority behind the Provisionals. Nevertheless, in April, British army intelligence and RUC Special Branch set up a joint internment working party to draw up the names and addresses of those who could usefully be interned. During March, as Faulkner and the British government were preparing for internment, the Official IRA launched a series of criminal attacks, including torture and murder, against Provisional IRA personnel. The Provisionals kept retaliation to a minimum and took steps to bring about a truce. Even after the truce the Officials shot down Tom Cahill, a Provisional IRA volunteer. The Officials are the same people who, today, under the guise of Sinn Féin, The Workers’ Party, parade themselves as ‘democrats’ and consciously spread pro-imperialist propaganda about so-called Provisional ‘atrocities’.

In April the Provisional IRA began a bombing campaign. The aim was to bring down the Stormont regime. The immediate object of the campaign was ‘(1) to stretch the British army to the limits of its resources and to keep pressures off the nationalist areas; (2) to weaken the economy by sabotage operations against government and commercial property with the British taxpayer picking up the bill for damage done’. In April, 37 major explosions took place; May – 47, and June – 50 operations.

The British army propaganda apparatus attempted to make out that the IRA operations were of a sectarian nature and directed against civilians. And there was no shortage of overpaid hack journalists, working for the pro-British, pro-Unionist media, prepared to spread this propaganda. The IRA, in fact, always gave warnings when bombs were placed so that civilians could be cleared from the area. The British army and the RUC have, on certain occasions, failed to pass on warnings, no doubt to sustain their anti-IRA propaganda campaign, and civilians have been killed and injured as a result.

In June, Faulkner tried to buy off middle-class Catholic opinion by making a gesture to the SDLP, which he hoped might tie them more closely to the Stormont parliament and begin to take support away from the Provisionals. He offered the SDLP the chairmanship of two of the three new committees to be set up to consider government policies. At the same time, with this ‘carrot’ followed more and more ‘stick’. Repression of the nationalist communities, which supported the Provisionals and wanted an end to Stormont, continued unabated. Faulkner had announced, on 25 May, that the troops could shoot ‘with effect’ anyone acting suspiciously.

In July in Derry, the nationalist youth and the British army were involved in serious clashes for nearly seven days. The British army used CS gas, rubber bullets, truncheons and rifle butts to break down the resistance of the youth. They eventually used real bullets. Two unemployed Derry men, Seamus Cusack and Desmond Beattie were shot dead. Neither belonged to the Republican Movement. The British, as usual, claimed that they were armed and later said that Beattie had thrown a bomb. They could produce no evidence to substantiate this. Forensic tests proved that Beattie had had no contact with explosives and local people said that Cusack was going to remove a child from the danger zone when he was shot.

After the shootings, immense crowds attended a Provisional IRA rally and young people literally queued to join the IRA. John Hume knew he had to act if he was not to lose all support in the area for the SDLP. He held a press conference in Derry with other members of the SDLP (Fitt, however, refused to attend) and announced that, unless an ‘impartial’ inquiry into the killings of Cusack and Beattie was set up within four days, he and other SDLP members would leave Stormont. No inquiry was granted, in spite of the attempts of the wretched Fitt to find some compromise, and the SDLP had no alternative but to leave Stormont on 15 July. Now the ‘carrot’ that Faulkner had offered in June was no use – the donkeys were in no position to bite.

The Provisionals stepped up their campaign after the murder of Cusack and Beattie. There were 91 explosions in July. In Derry alone 70 troops were injured, several with gunshot wounds. Two soldiers were shot dead in Belfast and elsewhere many more soldiers were shot and wounded. On 17 July an IRA active service unit took over the Daily Mirror plant near Belfast and blew it up. Damage was estimated at £2 million. The plant never reopened and the compensation bill paid by the British government was said to be in the region of £10 million.

On 19 July Faulkner informed Heath that internment of Republicans and their supporters was now necessary. The army began to get prepared.

Internment without trial

The aim of internment was two-fold. It was firstly to destroy the nationalist resistance to the loyalist state by removing committed Republicans and their supporters from the struggle on the streets. And secondly, it was to terrorise the nationalist minority to such a degree that it would no longer be prepared to support the IRA.

Internment required adequate information and intelligence. On 23 July the army carried out a series of dawn raids on Republican homes in the Six Counties using 1,800 troops plus RUC men. The aim was to gather information and to serve as a dry run for internment day which was set for 10 August. It is claimed by the Sunday Times that a list of names was then drawn up. It included no more than 120-130 said to be members or officers of either wing of the IRA, and a further 300-500 regarded by the police as ‘IRA sympathisers’. There were also 150 or so names of older Republicans who had been interned before – one of them picked up during internment was 77, blind and had been jailed in 1929. Finally, there was a small group of left-wing socialists and NICRA activists who were included because, in Faulkner’s words, ‘they would have called meetings to protest against internment’.

On 7 August a soldier opened fire on a van in Springfield Road killing the driver, Harry Thornton, a building worker. The army, as usual, claimed that shots had been fired at them – this ‘explanation’ was later changed to a soldier ‘mistakenly’ thinking he had been fired on when an old van backfired. A passenger in the van, Arthur Murphy, was dragged from it, assaulted by the soldiers, taken into Springfield Road RUC Station and savagely beaten up. He was reluctantly released six hours later, after a great deal of pressure and argument from local people. His face was a mass of bruises. Local people testify that when soldiers gathered round the van some were shouting gleefully ‘we got one, we got one’. The anger of the people soon led to major confrontations with the army. It was at this stage that the British army decided to bring internment forward by 24 hours.

At about 4 am on 9 August 1971 the internment swoops began. By the evening 342 men from all over the Six Counties had been dragged out of their beds, arrested and distributed to three holding centres. They were detained without charge or trial under Section 12 of the Special Powers Act. The whole operation was directed at the nationalist minority. Not a single Loyalist was arrested. Very few members of the Provisional IRA – 56 in all according to a Provisional IRA statement were taken in and none from their leadership. The Provisionals had been warned by their own intelligence officers that internment was imminent. Volunteers had been told to stay away from home. Mac Stíofáin says that he was able, by the use of elementary security procedures, to contact every local leadership in the Six Counties before noon of the first day of internment. There can be little doubt that the vast majority of those interned had no connections with either wing of the IRA.

Of the 342 picked up, 116 were released within 48 hours and nearly all the others were taken to Crumlin Road prison or to HMS Maidstone, a prison ship moored in Belfast dock. Soon, news of systematic sadistic brutality in the interrogation of internees began to surface. Arrests had been conducted with considerable force, houses were damaged and relatives of the interned had insults and obscenities hurled at them by the arresting soldiers. Most of the detainees were subjected to one or more forms of physical and psychological brutality over a period of sleeplessness and enforced hunger. Almost everyone taken in had been beaten up. Men had been blindfolded and terrorised by being thrown out of a moving helicopter which they were told was high in the air but which was, in fact, only a few feet off the ground. Many men had been made to run the gauntlet barefoot between lines of troops with batons across an obstacle course with stumps of trees, sharp stones, broken glass and tacks. Others were forced to do exhausting exercises for hours on end. All were continually abused and made to feel that the British army were their absolute masters and had to be obeyed no matter what ‘illogical’ commands were given.

As news of the internment raids spread, and later of the brutality of the arrests and interrogation, the nationalist people rose up in outright defiance against the British army. In Derry, on 9 August, the people reacted with such fury that the army was prevented from completing its operation. Obstructive behaviour, from standing in a crowd and refusing to allow soldiers to pass to petrol bomb attacks on army vehicles, took place everywhere. The IRA took on the British army in battles which in some places lasted over several clays. In Belfast gunfights were raging in the Falls Road, the Markets, Ardoyne, Andersons-town and the New Lodge Road. The fiercest battle took place around the Ballymurphy estate involving paratroopers sandbagged into the nearby Henry Taggart Hall. Three civilians and a Catholic priest, who was giving last rites to one of the victims, were killed. Six people were wounded and an 11-year-old boy was castrated by a high velocity bullet fired by one of the soldiers.

Co-operation between the people and the IRA was increasingly close especially on the big estates in Belfast. Crowds would draw troops towards them and then scatter leaving the British army as open targets for the IRA.

Believing the claims of the British army to have arrested a large proportion of the membership of the IRA, loyalist mobs used the opportunity to ‘help the army’ to put down the resistance in the nationalist areas. Loyalist snipers opened fire in the Ardoyne. Armed UVF members came out on to the streets. They were confronted and driven back by organised IRA units of quite unexpected strength. Whole streets were soon on fire with both Protestants and Catholics leaving their homes. Over 7,000 refugees were reported to have arrived in army camps set up in the 26 Counties. The death toll for 9 August was two British soldiers and ten civilians, seven of them Catholics. After four days, there were 22 dead, 19 of them civilians.

Claims by Faulkner, Maudling and the British army that internment had been a success and a high proportion of the IRA leadership had been arrested were soon made to look foolish. On the very day, 13 August, the British army claimed to have inflicted a major defeat on the IRA, killing between 20 and 30 gunmen, Joe Cahill, leader of the Provisional IRA in Belfast, addressed an international press conference in a school behind the barricades in Ballymurphy. He announced that their organisation was intact, that they had lost only two men killed in action and had not been badly affected by internment.

During August, there were over 100 bomb explosions throughout the Six Counties, many of them massive, as the Provisionals stepped up their offensive. In Derry, the Creggan and Bogside were effectively sealed off, protected by IRA manned barricades and beyond the reach of not just the RUC but also the British army. Free Derry was a secure base to launch guerrilla operations. The same was largely true for many nationalist areas in Belfast.

The mass of the nationalist population now joined those in the working-class nationalist estates who had already started a rent and rates strike in protest against internment. Soon even government figures showed there were 26,000 families participating in the strike. By October it was costing the government in the region of £500,000. On 16 August 8,000 workers took part in a one-day protest in Derry. On 19 August, after a demonstration in Derry had been broken up by the army with water cannon and rubber bullets and John Hume and Ivan Cooper had been arrested, 30 prominent Catholics in Derry announced their resignations from positions on public bodies. On 22 August 130 councillors withdrew from local councils. Internment was now forcing even the Catholic middle class into opposition to the state. The nationalist minority had now united around one of the key Provisional IRA demands – to destroy the loyalist state.

The anger of the nationalist minority intensified when news began to filter out about a number of internees (there were 12), who had been secretly moved from the internment holding centres to an unknown destination (in fact, the Palace Barracks, Holywood – a few miles from Belfast) and held there for over seven days. There they were subjected to sophisticated psychological torture. They became ‘guinea-pigs’ to test out ‘sensory deprivation’ techniques. The 12 internees had black hoods placed on their heads throughout the seven days. They were stripped of their clothes and given ill-fitting boiler suits to wear. They had no idea where they were. Some had been told they were in England – and they were kept in total isolation. They were forced to stand spread-eagled against the wall, supported only by their fingertips, until they collapsed. They were then revived and put back. This went on, in some cases, for 2 or 3 days. They were severely beaten. During the seven days, they were on a diet of dry bread and water – some said they went without water for days. They were prevented from sleeping and were subjected to a ‘noise-machine’ in the large cold room in which they were held, which bombarded the brain with monotonous sounds of a certain pitch. An ordinary tape recorder, out of sight, added weird cries, screams and other demented sound effects. Finally, they were regularly interrogated and then returned to the room.

The hood, the noise machine, standing at the wall for prolonged periods, sleep and food deprivation and the beatings were ‘sensory deprivation’ techniques – a combined torture to disorientate the mind and facilitate interrogation in depth. Pat Shivers relates part of his terrifying experience:

‘Bag still over head . . . Taken into room. Noise like compressed-air engine in room. Very loud, deafening . . . Hands put against wall. Legs spread apart. Head pulled back by bag and backside pushed in. Stayed there for about four hours. Could no longer hold up arms. Fell down. Arms put up again. Hands hammered until circulation restored. This happened for twelve or fourteen hours until I eventually collapsed . . . Slapped back up again. This must have gone on for two or three days; I lost track of time. No sleep. No food. Knew I had gone unconscious several times, but did not know for how long. One time I thought, or imagined, I had died.’

However, given the degree of disorientation involved any ‘confessions’ forced out of anyone undergoing these techniques were just as likely to be false as true. No doubt, the sadistic criminals directing this torture were not terribly concerned. Their aim could only have been to strike terror into the nationalist minority as the news of the treatment of the internees gradually became known. In fact it had the opposite effect and intensified the determination of the nationalist minority to destroy the loyalist state. The Provisional IRA, by this time, had a waiting list of recruits.

As news of the brutality of the internment operations during the first 48 hours began to appear in Irish newspapers, pressure built up on the British government to hold an official inquiry. Labour MPs demanded a recall of Parliament. The government conceded an inquiry to be chaired by Sir Edmund Compton, a government hack who had served as ‘ombudsman’ for the Unionist government. It was to sit in secret and investigate allegations of ‘physical brutality’ during the first 48 hours of the internment operation. Specifically excluded was all mention of mental cruelty. 340 of the detainees refused to have anything to do with the inquiry, recognising that only a whitewash was to be expected from a secret British inquiry into British behaviour.

When the inquiry was nearly complete, the Sunday Times published information concerning the treatment of the ‘guinea-pigs’ and the reports of torture using ‘sensory deprivation’ techniques. This information had been in the hands of the press for some weeks. The techniques were, in fact, still being used on two further men while the committee of inquiry carried out its work. Compton was forced to broaden the inquiry to include some of the new reports.

The Compton Report was published on 17 November 1971. It was not only a whitewash but was clearly designed to hide the fact that psychological torture of an experimental kind had taken place. So the forcible exercises inflicted on the men ‘were devised to counteract the cold’. Requiring detainees to stand in with their arms against the wall ‘provides security for detainees and guards against physical violence’. The hooding, it seems, was designed for the same purpose although it added that it ‘can also in the case of some detainees, increase their sense of isolation and so be helpful to the interrogator thereafter’. The noise was a ‘security measure’ to prevent men overhearing each other or being overheard etc. Finally, while recognising that ill-treatment of some of the internees had taken place, Compton said that this did not amount to physical brutality. That was because the interrogators had not ‘enjoyed’ their work.

‘We consider that brutality is an inhuman or savage form of cruelty, and that cruelty implies a disposition to inflict suffering, coupled with indifference to, or pleasure in, the victim’s pain. We do not think that happened here.’

Needless to say, most people with a scrap of honesty treated the Compton Report with the contempt it deserved. All of those who went through the sensory deprivation torture, suffered permanent psychological damage. Sean McKenna, one of those subjected to the torture, died on 5 June 1975 at the age of 45. On 13 February 1974 Pat Shivers, another ‘guinea-pig’, was awarded £15,000 damages for ‘false trespass, false imprisonment, assault and battery, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment’. No defence was offered by the British government. Other internees also received compensation. Yet no member of the British army or RUC has been, or will be, charged with the torture of the internees. No international crimes tribunal has ever tried Heath, Maudling, Carrington, Whitelaw, Faulkner and many others centrally involved in directing the whole internment operation. Indeed, Lord Carrington, the present Foreign Secretary, and at that time Minister of Defence, tried to cover up the crimes by going on the radio and referring to all detainees as ‘thugs and murderers’.

In the wake of the scandal which the Compton Report provoked internationally, the British government made another effort to justify their interrogation methods by setting up a second official inquiry with three senior judges. It was announced on the very day when the Dublin government said it intended to place before the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg the allegations of brutality by British troops in the Six Counties. The report of this new inquiry (March 1972) created more of a stir than the first. The majority report by Lord Parker justified the interrogation techniques, subject to certain safeguards, on the grounds that ‘new information was obtained’ which included an ‘identification of a further 700 members of both IRA factions’, ‘arms caches’, ‘safe houses’, etc. This clearly was a lie, but it gave a justification for torture. Lord Gardiner, disturbed by such open and blatant contempt for ‘law’, submitted a minority report saying that the methods used were not ‘morally justifiable’ and were ‘illegal’. He did not recommend the arrest and trial of those responsible for the crimes. The Heath government said it would no longer use the ‘sensory deprivation’ techniques as an aid to interrogation. Mr Harold Wilson, leader of the Labour Party, welcomed this. Both had allowed the Gardiner minority report to be used as a cover for crimes which had actually been committed. Needless to say the torture and brutality went on and ‘official reports’ would again be found necessary. There never has been a determined, organised opposition in Britain to the torture carried out by British imperialism in the Six Counties of Ireland, or anywhere else for that matter over the last 35 years. One paragraph in the Parker Report says it all:

‘Some or all [of these methods of interrogation] have played an important part in counter-insurgency operations in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus and more recently in the British Cameroons (1960-61), Brunei (1963), British Guiana (1964), Aden (1964-67), Borneo/Malaysia (1965-66), the Persian Gulf (1970-71) and in Northern Ireland (1971).’

Could anyone have any doubts what the Provisional IRA were fighting?

The fall of Stormont

On 5 September 1971, the Provisional IRA announced political conditions for a truce: immediate cessation of the British forces’ campaign of violence against Irish people; abolition of Stormont; free elections to a nine county Ulster parliament as a step towards a new government structure for the entire country; release of all political prisoners, tried or untried, both in Ireland and in England; compensation for those who have suffered as a result of British violence. The British government was given until midnight 8 September to reply, otherwise the IRA would have no option but to intensify its campaign.

On 8 September Harold Wilson, however, preempted an official British government reply. Recognising the pressure building up in support of the legitimate demands of the nationalist minority for an end to Stormont and the reunification of Ireland, he put forward his own 12-point, Labour-imperialist plan – a ‘half-way house’ to hold back the inevitable fall of Stormont. It included having a British minister of Cabinet rank installed in the Six Counties on a permanent basis, elections under proportional representation and a Council of Ireland between North and South. Later in November Wilson was to develop this theme calling for the re-unification of Ireland within the British Commonwealth over a period of 15 years. The British Labour Party, as in 1918-21, only makes this kind of gesture to the Irish people’s demands in order to hold back what the Irish people have fought for and so nearly won. On 23 September the Labour Party supported the government in its ‘handling of the Northern Ireland situation’. However, 60 Labour MPs voted against, defying the advice of the Shadow Cabinet.

Nationalist resistance to the loyalist state intensified. On 12 September 15-20,000 attended a massive anti-internment rally in Casement Park, Belfast. Civil Resistance committees were set up all over the Six Counties in protest against internment, and to organise the rent and rates strike and other forms of protest. On 26 September even the SDLP made its own gesture of opposition, by holding the first meeting of an ‘Alternative Assembly’ after its walk-out from Stormont.

In October, Stormont introduced a punitive measure directed at those protesting against internment. It passed legislation allowing the government to deduct arrears of rent and rates, plus ‘collection charges’, from the wages or social security benefits of people on rent and rates strike.

The British army kept up its offensive with raids, searches, arrests and internment. In a four-week period to mid-November, 2,500 nationalist homes had been searched – which invariably meant doors smashed in, furniture broken, houses wrecked, money and valuables stolen. In some areas, where the pressure was on, the same houses could be searched each day and, in reported cases, three or four times a day. In September a permanent concentration camp for internees had been set up at Long Kesh near Lisburn – with its Nissen huts surrounded by barbed wire cages and watch-towers. Between 9 August 1971 and 16 December 1971, 1,576 men were arrested under the internment regulations with no fewer than 934 – 60 per cent – being released. That so many had to be released says a great deal about the army’s operation designed to harass and terrorise the nationalist population.

Torture of the internees continued and over the next period included electric shock treatment, drugs, injections, being placed in a small cubicle and made to stare at a white perforated wall, as well as the sadistic beatings and modified versions of the psychological torture that were going on before. The fact that by October 1975, with 567 cases outstanding and many more never brought to court, £420,823 had already been paid out in compensation to 222 claimants (220 settled out of court) who had been assaulted by the security forces, surely says it all. Yet again, it needs to be said, no member of the security forces, no government ministers and/or officials have been tried and convicted for these crimes.

On 13 October the British army began blowing up and spiking the border roads. Frequent clashes with the soldiers took place as local people and organised groups filled in the craters formed by the blasts. These actions by the British army further consolidated support for the Provisional IRA.

By November 14,000 British troops were in the Six Counties and were mainly concentrated in the nationalist areas. The tendency to shoot-to-kill in these areas was growing. On 23 October soldiers shot dead two women, Dorothy Maguire and Maire Meehan, who were passengers in the back of a car touring the Lower Falls. As usual the army claimed they had been fired on, but too many witnesses had seen what really happened. After the shooting the British beat up and systematically persecuted Maire Meehan’s husband for months in revenge, after their story had been proved false. On 24 October, in Newry, the British army shot three youths dead as they attempted to carry out a robbery. The nationalist minority now faced an army of occupation which was intent on terrorising it.

The IRA intensified its campaign. Sabotage operations continued daily over a wide area and ambushes and attacks on British army, RUC and UDR personnel increased. After internment the IRA had revoked an instruction that the RUC and UDR were not to be subjected to deliberate attack. In October Lord Carrington had announced that the level of the UDR would be raised from 4,500 to 10,000 men. The UDR was a sectarian force of mainly ex-B Specials and Loyalists – its Catholic membership had already dropped from 15% to 8% – and it had been used during the internment operations to allow more British troops to move into nationalist areas. The RUC had been gradually re-armed during 1971 and RUC men had participated in the brutal interrogation of the internees. Both the UDR and RUC, like the British army, were now to be treated as legitimate combatant targets at all times, whether on duty or not, armed or not, in uniform or not.

The British army and Faulkner regularly claimed that, as a result of internment and the interrogation of the internees, they had the IRA beaten. Towards the end of November the IRA responded to this with a massive weekend bombing blitz throughout the Six Counties. This involved a coordinated wave of almost 100 operations, 60 of them taking place on the first day. All the border custom huts were blown up or burned down. Explosions followed in Belfast, Derry, Dungannon and Coalisland during the night and many more took place the next day.

Before the end of the year, there were some sensational prison escapes. On 16 November nine Provisionals escaped from the top-security Crumlin Road prison. And on 2 December three more Provisionals, including the Ardoyne commander, escaped from the same place. They were able to give detailed reports on the brutal torture and interrogation techniques used on the internees.

In a war, in spite of the care taken by the IRA, not only are IRA volunteers injured and killed by accidents or mistakes, but, inevitably, so are innocent civilians. The British propaganda machine always tried to make a great deal out of such tragic events, cynically using them in an attempt to drive support away from the IRA. When 15 people died as a result of the bombing of McGurk’s Bar, Belfast, as usual the British propaganda machine tried to blame the IRA. The IRA, however, was not involved. Indeed, the next day a group calling themselves ‘Empire Loyalists’ claimed responsibility. No-one had heard of such a group being active in Ireland. Forensic evidence and the power of the explosions indicated that plastic explosive had been used. Such explosive was only available to the British army and had not been used by the IRA. This might explain the real identity of the ‘Empire Loyalists’ involved. There were other unexplained explosions at both Protestant and Catholic owned premises in this period which pointed to British undercover agents at work, trying to stir up sectarian confrontations.

From 1 January to 8 August 1971, before internment was introduced, 34 people had been killed in the Six Counties: eleven British soldiers, four RUC men and nineteen civilians. From 9 August 1971 to the end of the year, the number was 139 dead: 32 British soldiers, seven RUC men, five UDR men and 95 civilians. Hundreds of soldiers and civilians had been injured. British imperialism now confronted an all-out revolutionary war against its occupation of the Six Counties.

Over the Christmas period, the IRA announced a three-day truce. Faulkner responded by saying that there would be no let up whatsoever in the drive to combat the IRA.

All marches and parades had been banned in the Six Counties since internment day. Nevertheless illegal marches did take place, including a 1,000 strong protest march against internment from Belfast to Long Kesh on Christmas day – it was stopped by a massive force of troops and RUC on the main M1 Motorway. The British army was given instructions to break up future demonstrations, and in many areas fighting with the troops took place. This was the situation when an anti-internment march was called by NICRA for Derry on Sunday 30 January 1972.

About 20,000 people turned out for this march. The British army sent in the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment to prevent the march leaving the Bogside. Inevitably there were small skirmishes between the marchers and the army, but no shots were fired. Suddenly, near the end of the march, the army opened fire repeatedly into the crowd, then at people fleeing, then at others tending to the wounded. Thirteen civilians were killed, another was to die later from his wounds. Many were wounded. Several had been shot at close range on the ground and some in the back. All were civilians. The IRA had been instructed to keep away from the march after a request from the organisers and for the safety of the marchers. The IRA had not been on the march.

The British, as usual, claimed they had been fired on first, and had shot only gunmen and nail bombers. Four of the men dead, they claimed, were on their wanted list. The Parachute Regiment is a brutal, highly disciplined, highly trained assault force. Its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilford, had been forward with his troops. There could have been no mistakes. This was a shoot-to-kill operation, a planned cold-blooded murder of civilians, which had the aim of drawing out the IRA into a direct confrontation with the British army. It must have had the go-ahead from the Army Command and have been approved by the British government. The result was another ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Irish history.

The British government instituted the inevitable inquiry under Lord Chief Justice Widgery – he had been a senior army officer himself and was admirably suited for the job. He fully exonerated the Parachute Regiment. He said they had been fired on first ‘although none of the deceased or wounded proved to have been shot whilst handling a firearm or bomb’. He did, however, admit that some soldiers fired recklessly but put this down to their temperaments. The army was not guilty of murder. No disciplinary action was ever taken against the officers and men responsible for the killings. And to cap it all, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilford was decorated with the OBE for his services in the Six Counties!

After Bloody Sunday nationalist Ireland exploded. The guerrilla war intensified and in the next eight or nine days nearly 300 IRA operations were carried out. By mid-February another five British soldiers had been killed and many more wounded.

Tens of thousands of workers throughout Ireland stopped work and demonstrated in protest. Lynch was forced to declare 2 February, the day of the funerals of those murdered, a day of national mourning. On that day a 30,000 strong crowd marched to the British Embassy in Dublin and burnt it down. More than 20,000 attended the funerals which took place in the Bogside, Derry. 20,000 marched in London on 5 February, including many thousands of Irish workers and their families. The march was attacked by the police and 130 were arrested. Arrests took place in Oxford, York and Edinburgh as protests against the murders took place. Bernadette Devlin attacked Maudling in the Westminster parliament and punched him in the face.

On 22 February the Official IRA bombed the Parachute Regiment’s base at Aldershot, England, killing an Army Chaplain and six women cleaners. By mid-March 56 British soldiers had been killed and the centres of Belfast and other towns looked as though they had been blitzed. The Six Counties was rapidly becoming ungovernable. The British would have to do something to destroy the unity of the nationalist minority, and increased repression, it was now clear, could not succeed.

On 10 March 1972 the Provisional IRA ordered a unilateral 72-hour-truce. It was to demonstrate that the IRA was under effective control and discipline. A revised three-point peace plan was put out. It called for: (1) a withdrawal of British armed forces off the streets as a prelude to eventual evacuation, and a recognition of the right of the Irish people to self-determination; (2) abolition of Stormont; and (3) a total amnesty for political prisoners. If a positive response was received, the IRA’s military operations would be suspended indefinitely. The British government did not reciprocate. They, on the contrary, took advantage and moved into nationalist areas making over 20 arrests.

Harold Wilson came to Ireland again in March, meeting the Dublin government and also having secret talks with leaders of the Provisional IRA. In an interview, he argued for all-party talks without limits on the agenda and called for a ‘radical decision on internment’. He said the IRA ‘had a disciplined, tightly-knit organisation and that their writ did run to the extent that a truce could be honoured’. His remarks greatly angered the Loyalists.

The Loyalists wanted more repression to deal with the nationalist minority. A new political movement of loyalist organisations, Vanguard, was created and lead by Craig. On 18 March it organised a 60,000 strong loyalist demonstration to oppose any further reform. Craig called for a dossier to be built up ‘of the men and women who are a menace to this country’ and said if the politicians failed them ‘it may be our job to liquidate the enemy’. Thousands marched in formation wearing paramilitary uniforms. Craig threatened to form a ‘Provisional government’ if an initiative expected to be announced by the British government wasn’t satisfactory.

On 24 March 1972 Heath announced the suspension of Stormont for one year. The British government would take over direct rule of the Six Counties. A British Secretary of State with Cabinet powers would be installed in Belfast – it was to be William Whitelaw. Stormont was destroyed. No-one could have any doubt that the Provisional IRA’s military struggle had brought it down.

The Loyalists organised protests and strike-action, but they soon fizzled out. There were, in fact, no loyalist riots or serious clashes with the British army and certainly no ‘Provisional government’.

The IRA had not fought to bring Stormont down in order to have it replaced by direct rule imposed by Westminster. The Provisionals announced that their military campaign would continue until their demands had been met. The Official IRA also said it would fight on. However, the SDLP, the Catholic Church, the Dublin government saw things in quite a different light. They welcomed direct rule and called for all IRA military operations to cease. British imperialism now had some room for manoeuvre. It would do all it could to prise open the cracks which the abolition of Stormont had created in the unity of the nationalist minority. 

The Irish revolution and the British left

The Labour Party, strongly backed by the organised trade union movement, had begun the assault on the Irish revolution as it entered its latest phase. When the American trade union movement was about to boycott trade with Britain in protest against the Bloody Sunday murders, it was Vic Feather, General Secretary of the TUC, who persuaded them to call it off. He was subsequently thanked by the Prime Minister, Edward Heath. Given this background of a totally bankrupt pro-imperialist Labour and trade union movement in Britain, a great deal of responsibility for building a movement in solidarity with the Irish revolution had to fall on those organisations which considered themselves part of the revolutionary, socialist left. British communists and socialists were faced with a major test of their revolutionary credentials.

Before we go on to examine their response to the Irish war in the period 1969-72, it is necessary to say something more about certain individuals and groups on the Irish socialist left. We do this for one reason only. On many occasions the British left groups justified essentially backward and reactionary positions by reference to what Irish socialists were arguing and doing. McCann, Farrell, Bernadette Devlin and other Irish socialists regularly write for British left publications and their views are often used directly or indirectly to attack the organisation leading the Irish revolution — the Provisional IRA.

Irish socialists, mainly drawn from the educated layers of Catholics who had benefited from the growth of the welfare state during the post-war period, have had very little influence on the direction of the Irish revolution. Certain individuals and groups, such as Peoples Democracy, did play a role in the Civil Rights campaign. However, once the struggle turned into a revolutionary war against British imperialism, once the main support for the struggle came from the nationalist working class, they became irrelevant. Essentially, they could not meet the challenge and sacrifices demanded by a revolutionary war against the loyalist state and British imperialism.

McCann, in his book War and an Irish Town, explains this. In the Civil Rights Movement, one issue had united them all – the need to reform the loyalist state:

‘Partition was irrelevant . . . we were not out to destroy the state but to achieve change within it – the extent of the change desired varying according to our different tendencies.’

Essential to this position was the belief that British imperialism could play a progressive role in Ireland by forcing the Unionist government to introduce reforms. But the loyalist state could not be reformed and had to be destroyed. And it was not the ‘socialists’ but the working-class youth in the nationalist areas who followed the logic of those posters in their windows depicting a clenched fist saying ‘Never Again!’. In McCann’s words:

‘Never again were mobs, whether in uniform or not, going to be allowed to rampage through our streets shooting or petrol-bombing. The logic of that demanded a physical campaign against the state.’

The ‘socialists’ tried to organise ‘the unemployed youth of areas like the Bogside’ – the force that was driving the Civil Rights Movement into inevitable confrontation with the state. But they offered the youth nothing but abstract formulas, programmes and organisations for fighting ‘imperialism’. The imperialists were, however, down at the street corner and the youth kept asking ‘when the guns were going to be handed out’. They instinctively grasped that the state had to be smashed. They were not against organisation as such but demanded a relevant one. They turned to the only organisation that represented their class interests – the Provisional IRA.

‘When raging bitterness swamped the ghettos and carried partition onto the centre of the political stage, no support flowed over into the socialist camp . . . The Provisionals are the inrush which filled the vacuum left by the absence of a socialist option.’

McCann’s explanation is incomplete and, therefore, wrong. There is no socialist option separate from the national liberation struggle to drive British imperialism out of Ireland and separate from the revolutionary war to bring this about. What McCann and his friends were looking for was the non-existent middle course, a radical reformist option between the middle-class orientated Civil Rights Movement for reforms, which failed, and the political confrontation with Partition and British imperialism, which, given the nature of imperialism, necessarily required a turn to armed struggle.

The position of the Irish socialists on every major political question stemmed from their class position, which expressed itself in a belief that British imperialism could play a progressive role in Ireland. And this is their real point of contact with the British middle-class socialist left.

Our Irish ‘socialists’, the CPGB, SWP, IMG together with most of the British left all agree on one essential thing. British imperialism has an ‘economic’ interest in reuniting Ireland and this goal is put in danger by the intransigence of the sectarian bigots who run the loyalist state. So, for example, Socialist Worker could argue

‘Britain has more money invested in the South than in the North . . . The Ulster police state is an embarrassment and an obstacle to (the) ultimate goal: a united capitalist Ireland subjected as a whole to the domination of British capital in the context of the Common Market’. (Socialist Worker 18 September 1969)

Why the partition of Ireland, which was carried out precisely to preserve Britain’s economic interests in Ireland and to divide the Irish working class (surely an important political consideration), should now be a barrier to imperialist exploitation of the ‘whole of Ireland’ is never actually explained.

The logic of this so-called ‘socialist’ position is to support British imperialist intervention in the Six Counties. So Bernadette Devlin sent a telegram to Harold Wilson on 5 August 1969 calling on the British government to take over housing and police. The CPGB called for decisive intervention from London – it called on British imperialism to reform the loyalist police state! When the troops were sent in, it continued with this line (Morning Star 4 August & 15 August 1969). This was ‘socialist’ colonial policy all over again (see FRFI 8). The Militant Tendency, as always fully behind Labour-imperialist policy, supported the introduction of the troops under the guise of concern lest there be a bloodbath.

‘A slaughter would have followed in comparison with which the blood-letting in Belfast would have paled into insignificance if the Labour Government had not intervened with British troops.’ (Militant September 1969)

Finally, Socialist Worker showed the same deep concern urging the nationalist minority to accept the troops

‘Because the troops do not have the ingrained hatreds of the RUC and Specials, they will not behave with the same viciousness . . .

The breathing space provided by the presence of British troops is short but vital. Those who call for the immediate withdrawal of troops before the men behind the barricades can defend themselves are inviting a pogrom which will hit first and hardest at socialists . . .

To say that the immediate enemy in Ulster is the British troops is incorrect . . .’ (Socialist Worker 21 August, 11 September, 18 September 1969)

This fundamental belief that the SWP has in a progressive side to imperialism was confirmed when the demand for the withdrawal of British troops from abroad was dropped from the ‘Where We Stand’ column in Socialist Worker. Today the SWP still justifies this position by taking cowardly refuge behind an ‘internationalism’ which, at that time, required ‘having the same position as comrades in Ireland’.

When the IRA split over the recognition of the imperialist parliaments, and the need to organise armed struggle to end Partition and drive British imperialism out of Ireland, most of the British left took the Official IRA’s side, and began to systematically attack the Provisional IRA. So the IMG studiously informed us

‘The Official Republican Movement . . . is . . . the most important socialist organisation in Ireland today. We think that in the long term, they will play a much greater role in liberating Ireland than will the Provisionals.’ (Red Mole 23 March 1971)

And Socialist Worker tells us that although

‘. . . at present the militancy of many young workers takes the form of support for the “provisional” wing of the republican movement . . . this wing . . . is hostile to revolutionary socialism. The Provisionals are unable to lead the militants out of the blind alley of brave but fruitless confrontations with the troops . . . They are unable to provide a political lead.’ (Socialist Worker 15 August 1970)

They, of course, had criticisms of the ‘Officials’ and argued that although they had taken a good line in ‘denouncing Catholic bigotry’, their ‘Dublin leadership has not been willing to follow through the logic of its position’. Well, no doubt Socialist Worker was relieved when later it did. However, it went much further than the British left did and completely drew out the reactionary logic of seeing a progressive side to British imperialism. The Official IRA was soon to give up the armed struggle, and became Sinn Féin, The Workers Party, a pro-imperialist, pro-Stormont rump of reactionaries.

Finally, when the Official IRA bombed the Aldershot barracks after Bloody Sunday, the British left showed where it really stood. IRA bombing campaigns were soon to unite them all. So the Morning Star:

‘The real fight against those responsible for the Derry shootings will be hindered not helped by bombings such as that carried out at Aldershot yesterday . . . They make more difficult the forging of unity between the working people of Britain and . . . Northern Ireland.’ (23 February 1972)

The Socialist Worker agreed:

‘The official wing of the IRA . . . has done nothing by this act [Aldershot] to weaken the Tory government . . . A policy of individual terrorism has nothing in common with a socialist aim of building a mass working-class movement’. (26 February 1972)

And finally the Socialist Labour League, forerunner of the Workers Revolutionary Party:

‘WE CONDEMN THE BOMBINGS . . . until now the Official IRA has opposed the reactionary, indiscriminate violence of the Provisionals . . . the terror of the oppressor cannot be overcome by the terror of the oppressed . . .’ (Workers Press 24 February 1972)

The one exception, at this time, to the outright condemnation of the bombings was the IMG. Arguing correctly that 'all violence in Ireland stems from imperialist oppression’, Bob Purdie then said:

‘The oppressed minority, through its armed vanguard, the IRA, will be forced to reply to oppression in equally, if not more violent terms . . . Aldershot was a legitimate military target despite the tragedy of civilian deaths.’ (Red Mole 13 March 1971)

This position was not maintained. As the revolutionary war continued, the IMG was soon to join the rest of the left in condemning the Provisional IRA.

Building an Irish Solidarity movement in Britain was never an important political concern of the British left. The ones that did come into existence in the period 1969-72 reflected the essentially middle-class character of the British socialist left with its ambivalent attitude to British imperialism.

The Irish Solidarity Campaign was founded on 9/10 October 1970. The main organisations involved were the IMG, IS (SWP), and Clann na hÉireann (an Official IRA support group). It called for self-determination for the Irish people; the release of all political prisoners; the immediate withdrawal of troops; it supported the right of the Irish people to arm and organise self-defence; and opposed those fostering religious sectarianism in Ireland and preventing working-class unity. The latter two of these positions were implicit attacks on the Provisional IRA, not surprisingly since the ‘Officials’ were working in the organisation. The mythology has it that the Provisionals supported offensive action against British imperialism while the Officials only defensive, although Aldershot took some explaining. The Provisionals were often described as sectarian Catholic nationalists by the British left. This was nothing but an Official IRA slander.

The ISC represented very little and did even less. A dispute between the IMG and IS(SWP) dominated its existence. The IMG, in those days called for ‘Victory to the IRA’ whereas the IS(SWP) argued for ‘unconditional but not uncritical support for the IRA’. When internment came and the left had to respond in some practical way, we soon saw what this division was all about.

The IS(SWP) established the Labour Committee Against Internment (LCAI). Its first act was to betray the internees in order to build an alliance with the Labour Party ‘left’. It called for the release or trial of the internees. The signatories to the LCAI included Frank Allaun, Sydney Bidwell (who recently told Tariq All to go back to Pakistan), Eric Heffer, Arthur Latham, Joan Lestor, Michael Meacher (who voted for the PTA in March 1977), and Jock Stallard. This open abandonment of the internees, who wanted no trials conducted by British imperialism but only their freedom, was defended by the IS(SWP) using an argument that has become a cover for the left’s reactionary positions ever since.

‘The LCAI was set up at the request of socialists in Northern Ireland, who appealed to the British labour movement to arouse the maximum possible protest at conditions there . . .

Socialist Worker and the International Socialists fully support the LCAI and we are willing to participate in the campaign regardless of the difference we may have with some signatories on many issues.’

So hiding behind Irish socialists, IS(SWP) set up a campaign with a fundamentally reactionary demand for release or trial of the internees. This not only implies the possibility of a ‘fair trial’ under imperialist rule, but also allowed them to construct one of their many rotten alliances with those so-called ‘progressive’ imperialist forces – the British Labour Party ‘left’.

The LCAI achieved nothing and was pushed into oblivion by the Anti-Internment League (AIL) which called for the release of all internees. Given its principled position, the AIL was able to organise significant support among the Irish community in Britain for this demand. However, following Bloody Sunday, and given its relative success, the British ruling class decided to smash the campaign in Britain.

The Saturday following Bloody Sunday, 5 February 1972, a massive demonstration of 20,000 people called by the AIL marched from Cricklewood to Whitehall. The march was composed mainly of Irish workers, students and the middle class socialist left. There was little support from the British working class. In Whitehall, the police reneged on an agreement to allow thirteen coffins to be carried into Downing Street. A Union Jack was burned. Immediately, a flying wedge of police smashed into the march and mounted police attacked it from both ends. Chaos ensued. Fighting with the police broke out along Whitehall, into Trafalgar Square and as far as Piccadilly. Over 100 marchers were injured and 130 arrested. The next morning, three of the organisers were arrested in dawn raids.

Faced with the need to confront the state in order to oppose British rule in Ireland, the British middle class socialist left retreated. Never again was there a march of such a size.

Over the next ten years, and especially after the IRA military campaign in Britain began, that retreat turned into headlong flight. Rather than confront British imperialism, the British middle class socialist left has attacked the Republican Movement, denounced the armed struggle and betrayed every later attempt to build a mass anti-imperialist movement in Britain.

David Reed
December 1981

to be continued

[Material from this article later went on to become part of Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed]