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: Another Stormont crisis

On 12 August former IRA volunteer Kevin McGuigan was shot dead outside his home in the Short Strand, East Belfast. Arrests followed, as did a press conference at Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) headquarters on 20 August. There, Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes told reporters that the PSNI suspected the killing was a revenge attack for the fatal shooting earlier this year of Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison, a prominent republican. He went on to say he believed members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army had been involved – words then echoed by the Chief Constable of the PSNI George Hamilton. Cue gasps of horror from the loyalist establishment: a decade since decommissioning and the Provisional IRA still exists? Who knew about this? Well, the PSNI for one. The British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, said she did too. Spurred on by further arrests of high-profile republicans, including Sinn Féin’s northern chairperson Bobby Storey, the loyalists at Stormont have lost no time in transforming a long-running political impasse into a hastily-manufactured political crisis. PATRICK CASEY reports.

Resignations, rogues and renegades

On 1 September Mike Nesbitt’s Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) withdrew its sole minister from the Stormont Executive on the basis that it was now ‘impossible to do business with [Sinn Féin] because we do not trust them’. The party will, however, continue to do well-paid ‘business’ with Sinn Féin and everyone else in the assembly chamber and in its various committees. The UUP move was, in part, opportunistic, intended to wrong-foot the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which has been loyalism’s dominant electoral force for the past 12 years. In the British general election in May, the UUP halted its electoral decline and made gains at the DUP’s expense. With the DUP leadership facing a challenge from its party’s own right-wing and the threat of financial scandal hovering overhead, the Ulster Unionists saw an opportunity to capitalise.

Determined not to be outdone or outflanked by its UUP elders, the DUP responded. Having variously failed to either exclude Sinn Féin from the Executive, to temporarily adjourn the Stormont Assembly or to indefinitely suspend it, DUP leader Peter Robinson threatened to resign as First Minister – again. Then on 10 September, along with three other DUP ministers, he did. Sort of. ‘Resign’ has since become ‘stepped aside’ with the DUP’s Arlene Foster taking over the reins as interim First Minister – again. By leaving Foster in place, the DUP is propping up the Executive and avoiding an election it does not want while ‘defending the unionist community’ from ‘rogue Sinn Féin’ and ‘renegade SDLP’ ministers who may have used the DUP’s absence to make ‘financial and other decisions…detrimental to Northern Ire­land’. If seats in the Stormont Execu­tive are left empty for a week without re-nomination, it falls to the Assembly to reallocate them to other parties based on the d’Hondt system. So, six days later the DUP ministers were back at their posts…only to promptly resign all over again. They say they will repeat the process until Westminster legislates to suspend power-sharing and reinstate direct rule. And so it goes on.

Criminality and terror

As Sinn Féin insists that the ‘IRA has gone away’, loyalists meanwhile have demanded the reintroduction of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) as part of ‘decisive action’ against ‘criminality and terrorisation of communities’. Of course whether you are Peter Robinson or the PSNI, in order to oppose ‘criminality and terror’ whilst aiming to preserve a sectarian statelet founded on and sustained by criminality and terror, you have to be somewhat selective.

Little more than two years have passed since the leaders of mainstream unionism were rubbing shoulders with political representatives of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association as part of their ‘Ulster Forum’ united front. In the case of recent UVF shootings, the PSNI has admitted loyalist involvement only after significant delay. No ‘crisis talks’ or ministerial resignations have followed. In August it was revealed Peter Robinson was among a number of DUP politicians who wrote to a Belfast court judge urging ‘leniency’ in the case of former loyalist paramilitary Samuel Tweed.

Deadlock to crisis

Behind the farce and bluster is a determination on behalf of Britain and loyalism to break the deadlock that has existed since the signing of the Stor­mont House Agreement in December 2014. Threats to suspend the Assembly, reintroduce the IMC or revoke release licences of former political prisoners are intended to pressure Sinn Féin into making further concessions – particularly on the issue of welfare cuts. Whilst Stormont has presided over years of austerity, a very limited opposition led by Sinn Féin has delayed full implementation of the welfare ‘reform’ demanded by imperialism. With the Easter Rising centenary and elections at Stormont and Leinster House fast approaching, Sinn Féin has relied on these delay tactics to help maintain a pretence of opposition to austerity – of the ‘Tory’ and Troika varieties. In reality, its history in Stormont is one of perpetual capitulation.

FRFI 247 October/November 2015

Fighting against water charges in Ireland

The battle against the implementation of water charges continues across the 26 Counties, although the story is no longer on the front pages of the mainstream media as it was in November and December 2014. 40% of households have still not completed the self-registration forms which the government sent to every household in the country in what can only have been a fit of blind optimism.

Read more ...

Irish working class fights water charges

Ireland is seeing a massive upsurge in working class militancy and resistance to the Fine Gael/Labour government’s attempt to impose water charges on the nation.

The water charges are a double taxation that the government intends to extort from the Irish people, to help bridge the massive budgetary deficit incurred by the EU-IMF bailout of the banks and property developers. The Irish working class has taken a battering from the austerity measures brought in by this and the last government, with long-term unemployment rising to 16.4% at the height of the crisis in 2011; home repossessions, benefit caps and massive mortgage arrears are all part of the day-to-day plight of the people. The reduced unemployment figures the current government boasts of flatter to deceive when one considers that over 300,000 people have left the country in the last four to five years.

The current struggle against water charges echoes the campaign against the bin tax in the early 2000s which saw the state take out injunctions against and then go on to imprison 22 people for ‘obstructing the collection of rubbish by the council’. Today, even more so than in 2003, the working class has no option but to fight and, as with the bin tax, water charges are recognised as privatisation by the back door and a licence to increase charges year on year.

Although resistance to the proposed water charges has been on-going for a number of years the recent increase in mainstream media coverage began with the Dublin South West by-election. In a constituency that should have been a fairly safe Sinn Fein (SF) seat, the Socialist Party’s Paul Murphy won on second preference votes. This was in no small way thanks to his work and profile in the anti-water charge campaign. Commentators have noted that SF’s failure to win the seat may be a reflection of its new-found respectability in the mainstream and desire to be in government come the next election, which means while it is arguing against the charges in the parliament (SF deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was expelled from the Dail chambers for refusing to leave when the Dail was suspended after a robust exchange with Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton) it has refused to advocate non-payment. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, along with other forces on the left – Eirigi, People before Profit etc – has been at the forefront of the campaign of non-payment.

On 1 November there was a mass rally in Dublin, along with smaller rallies in cities and towns around the country, with an estimated total attendance of over 200,000 people, a colossal proportion of the Irish population taking to the streets. The rally demanded the repeal of the proposals. In time-honoured tradition the government decided it was not the charges that need to be reconsidered; it was how they were proposed to the people that was the real problem (see the second Lisbon and Nice treaty referendums for what happens when the Irish people do not give the government the answer it wants).

On 14 November Joan Burton arrived in Jobstown, in the constituency of recently elected Murphy, to speak at the graduation ceremony at a local college. Upon leaving the event Burton was heckled and harangued by a massive crowd of anti-water charge protesters, a well-placed water balloon adding to her humiliation. While heavy-handed policing ensured she made it to her car, she was held up by protesters beating on her car and blockading her way for over three hours.

Video footage of the action revealed the Garda (police) doing what it does best, dragging elderly women to the ground, assaulting protesters (a photo of an Eirigi member appears on their website, bruised with his shirt half ripped off him) and attempting to terrorise and prevent this working class community from exercising its right to protest. It didn’t work. The following evening the Taoiseach Enda Kenny was attending an a book launch at the Lord Mayor of Dublin’s residence when he had to run the gauntlet of another crowd of angry protesters, where once again people were brutally attacked by the Garda.

Then on 16 November reports came in of two Irish water trucks burnt out in an apparent arson attack in County Cork. The next day the government and press, particularly national broadcaster RTE, began the counter-offensive. Joan Burton was given any amount of radio time to recount how: ‘children could have being seriously hurt by the mob’. ‘Well it’s not about water, is it?’ Enda Kenny told us. ‘Sinister elements’ are at play around the country (typical Free State shorthand for militant Republicans), according to Kenny, trying to scare people away from further protests which are beginning to escalate around the country.

Paul Murphy was fingered as the ring leader, accused of looking on ‘smirking’ while his gang of left-wing minions wreaked havoc around the city. Murphy for the most part has done well in the media refusing to back down or condemn the protests; although he has been drawn into a debate over what constitutes peaceful protest. This needs to stop; there should be no concession to the media or the government and their fake outrage, and there should be no limits placed on people’s resistance in an attempt to pander to respectable politics. As Eirigi closed a recent statement ‘Opportunist politicians who shout “Vote for me and I’ll abolish the water tax” cannot be trusted to deliver. The water tax and the wider injustices in our society can only be defeated on the streets by a mobilised working class and not in the Leinster House Assembly’.* This is a lesson that should be well remembered!

As we go to press local demonstrations are increasing in momentum and a national assembly is planned to take place on 10 December in Dublin.

John Byrne

* ‘First they came for us and then they came for our water!’ Eirigi statement September 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 242 December 2014/January 2015

British troops go on manoeuvres in north of Ireland

On 15 December 1993 then British Prime Minister John Major stood on the steps of Downing Street with Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds to announce a joint peace declaration. Major stated that the British Government had ‘no selfish strategic or economic interest’ in the north of Ireland, and went on to suggest that its role would be that of an altruistic neighbour whose sole interest was to see ‘peace, stability and reconciliation’ in Ireland.

What became known as the Downing Street declaration set the foundation for the much lauded Good Friday Agreement, which, from Beirut to Bogota, is held up as an example of a successful peace process.

One would have to wonder 21 years later, if there is no economic or strategic interest, why there are still over 5,000 British troops in Ireland? And why the British Army is launching a huge training operation in Derry at the moment? Manoeuvres and drilling involving 500 troops are taking place this week on Binevenagh mountain and in the MacGilligan peninsula in the north west.

This is in fact the largest training exercise the army has undertaken in Ireland since before the IRA’s most recent military campaign began. Lieutenant Colonel Matt Monroe of the Royal Scots Borderers, who is heading up the exercise, stated: ‘From a security perspective, it would have been really difficult to have run this exercise during Operation Banner’. Operation Banner was the name given to the entire military occupation during the time of the ‘Troubles’; since 2007 the army has worked under the operational name ‘Helvetic’. The goals and parameters of Helvetic are to offer specialised ordnance disposal and support to the police (PSNI (RUC)) in circumstances of extreme public disorder. Essentially it maintains the same goal as ‘Banner’ to quell any Nationalist unrest, but is tempered with a ‘softer approach’ more suitable to the current circumstances.

The army has implied that the training is not for use in operations in Ireland, but rather looking towards imperialist adventures elsewhere, with Monroe stating that ‘there's a tremendous amount going on in the world so it's important that our soldiers are prepared appropriately and well’. With regard to the impact of the operation on local people he said: ‘They shouldn't be concerned and our advice to the civilian population who could see these exercising soldiers is to simply go about their normal everyday routine lives’, adding: ‘We're here for the foreseeable future’.

The principal concern is not the training exercises but the fact that the troops are there at all. It is becoming more and more apparent to those who support the Good Friday Agreement that the British promises were made solely to secure nationalist agreement and are now past their usefulness, and that the demilitarisation of the province was a smokescreen to ensure the full-scale decommissioning of the Provisional IRA’s arsenal.

There has been very little attention paid in the press or by Sinn Fein to this (a 100 word statement on the online version of An Phoblacht), and with good reason. With power-sharing seemingly at an impasse, very much due to Unionist implacability on the subject of parades and flags, the sight of the British Army tramping through the hills of Derry puts paid to the illusion of change that the PR men at Sinn Fein have been pushing so hard. Martin McGuinness regularly declares that the so-called ‘dissidents’ are living in the past, that ‘the war is over’, urging them to step into 2014.

With the potential for power-sharing to fall apart because of Unionist intransigence, signifying that there is still a de facto Unionist veto, and with the British Army marauding through the countryside, the future is looking strangely like the past in the north of Ireland.

John Byrne

Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed