British and Irish Communist Organisation: Wikis

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The British and Irish Communist Organisation (B&ICO) was a small but highly influential group based in London, Belfast, Cork, and Dublin. Its leader was Brendan Clifford. The group produced a great number of pamphlets, and many regular publications including, The Irish Communist and Workers Weekly in Belfast. Its current formation is as Athol Books with its premier publication being the Irish Political Review.

Contents

Origins

Communist Comment, ICO publication, from 1970

Brendan Clifford (born 1935) was an Irish emigrant from the Sliabh Luachra area of Cork who had migrated to London and become involved in left-wing politics there.[1] Clifford and some of his followers had been in Michael McCreery's Committee to Defeat Revisionism, for Communist Unity and later they joined the Irish Communist Group.[2][3] This body consisted largely of Irish people who were living in London and were opposed to the official Communist organisations intended for Irish people. Following a 1965 split, the Maoist wing named itself the Irish Communist Organisation, which later became the British and Irish Communist Organisation. The broadly Trotskyist wing, led by Gery Lawless, became the Irish Workers' Group.[4]

The ICO undertook an investigation into the development of Maoism, and concluded that it was not a suitable model for an anti-revisionist group. The Chinese Communist Party had supported some aspects of Khrushchev's "revisionism", and then been inaccurate about its past positions.[5]

One founder-member, Dennis Dennehy, was Secretary of the Dublin Housing Action Committee, which organised a highly successful protest in the early 1960s.

They republished works by Stalin and by James Connolly, accusing the official Connolly Association of seriously misrepresenting his views.

In 1968, the ICO issued a press release which defended the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.[6]

Northern Ireland crisis

In the initial stages of the conflict in Northern Ireland, the ICO (as it then was) took part in the defence of Catholic areas from Protestant attacks.[7] It was critical of both the IRA leadership and of the people who later created the Provisional IRA. The ICO line was the Two Nations Theory - that the Ulster Protestants were or had the potential to become a nation in their own right,[8] and that Irish Catholics could not determine the whole of the island of Ireland as a country. Their seminal publication on the question was The Economics of Partition which ran to many editions. Following the adoption of this pro-Unionist position, the ICO withdrew and destroyed their earlier pro-Republican pamphlets. A number of members were opposed to this new direction (including Jim Lane) and resigned to form the Cork Workers' Club.[9]

The Two Nations theory led B&ICO to consider that the Ulster Workers Council Strike[10] was based on a reasonable demand - the rejection of a Council of Ireland until the Republic of Ireland dropped its constitutional claim to be the only legitimate government of the whole island. As is documented in the republished strike bulletin, there was no actual connection between them and the Ulster Workers Council. Their position naturally led to heavy criticism from the left[11] and the nickname "The Peking Branch of the Orange Order". A small group disagreed with the party's policies, and split to form the Communist Organisation in the British Isles.

The B&ICO's immediate line was to advocate a separate Trades Union Congress for Northern Ireland, and a front group, the "Workers’ Association for the Democratic Settlement of the National Conflict in Ireland", (usually abbreviated to the Workers' Association) was formed to campaign for this and other aims.[12] The WA had both Catholic and Protestant members, some of whom had been involved in the various civil rights and socialist groupings in the late 1960s in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Notable WA members included Eamon O'Kane, Jeff Dudgeon, Henry Patterson, Peter Cosgrove, Paul Bew and Manus O'Riordan [13]. On 4 April 1972 a group of nine WA members chained themselves to radiators inside Iveagh House, the Department of External Affairs office in Dublin, calling for the removal of Articles 2 and 3 and with a banner and placards reading 'Recognise Northern Ireland' and 'National Rights for Protestants: Civil Rights for Catholics'. The nine were arrested and held overnight before bail was granted. They were convicted on 11 April of forcible entry of land.[14] The Workers' Association also supported the Fine Gael government's strong measures against the IRA, while condemning Conor Cruise O'Brien for not deleting Articles 2 and 3.[15] A similar group in the late 1970s was Socialists Against Nationalism, which included B&ICO members as well as members of the Socialist Party of Ireland (1971) and Jim Kemmy's Limerick Socialists. SAN campaigned against Articles 2 and 3 as well as the IRA. [16]

They also advocated that British political parties should organise in Northern Ireland. Protestants and Catholics could not easily join parties strongly identified with the other community, but all three major British parties have always included Roman Catholics and the B&ICO theorised that this could have overcome the divisions [17].

The B&ICO strongly opposed Ulster independence, producing a number of pamphlets against it, most notably Against Ulster Nationalism. This warned that any such movement would produce civil war, since it would be unacceptable to Ulster Catholics. Despite this, its writings have had some influence in the Ulster independence movement, including activists who identify as part of the far right.[18]

Future Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble was an enthusiastic reader of B&ICO and WA material, although the B&ICO was often critical of Trimble, claiming he was sympathetic to Ulster Independence [19].Enoch Powell also expressed admiration for B&ICO's publications, calling them "nice, comfortable Unionist Marxists".[20] Clifford Smyth and David Ervine are other notable Unionists who expressed support for B&ICO.

Other activities

1970s

In the February 1974 UK general election, Clifford proposed advocating a vote for the Conservative Party over the Labour Party, but this proposal was defeated, and instead the group produced a pamphlet mildly supportive of Tory policies, without calling for a vote for any party.[21] The group initially saw Thatcherism as a result of Labour's errors, but never supported privatisation or 'free market' ideas.

The B&ICO was strongly anti-Trotskyist, and it also opposed the Marxism of Rosa Luxemburg and Che Guevara.[22]

All through the 1970s, the B&ICO was advocating Workers' Control as the next step forward. They regarded the scheme set out in the Bullock Report as a good idea, whereas most of the left opposed it.[23]

One noted and controversial writer associated with the B&ICO was Bill Warren, who wrote a book and several articles challenging the traditional Leninist view of imperialism[24]. John Lloyd, later editor of the New Statesman, was also a B&ICO member: some observers have suggested Lloyd's sympathetic view of the Ulster Unionists comes from being influenced by B&ICO's ideas.[25] Labour party activist Nina Fishman was also a B&ICO member in the 1970s.[26]

The B&ICO opposed Welsh Nationalism [27] and Scottish Independence [28] It also strongly supported the state of Israel,in contrast to the anti-Zionist positions of much the radical left of the time.[29]

Unlike most of the left, the B&ICO supported the Khmer Rouge regime and opposed the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.[30]

Their actions at that time still cause some bitterness[31] and have caused some commentators to express cynicism about the group's current pro-nationalist position.[32]

1980s

In the 1980s, B&ICO was advocating the extension of the British parties to organise in Northern Ireland, and many B&ICO members were involved in the organisations, the Campaign for Labour Representation (CLR) and the Campaign for Equal Citizenship (CEC) in Northern Ireland.[33] One member of B&ICO, James “Boyd” Black, ran on an “Equal Citizenship” platform in the Fulham by-election in 1986.[34]

The B&ICO also believed nuclear power and nuclear weapons were beneficial to humanity, and were against the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. [35] It also praised Wojciech Jaruzelski's imposition of martial law in Poland.[36]

When the Falklands War broke out, the B&ICO supported the UK war effort on the grounds the UK was more "progressive" than Argentina.[37]

Some of B&ICO's members in the Irish Republic were involved in the Campaign to Separate Church and State and published the linked Athol Books magazine, Church and State.[38]

In tandem with these campaigns, the B&ICO also urged a hard line against the Provisional IRA; it opposed the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike[39], and supported the use of the Diplock Court system and Section 31 against Irish Republicans.[40] Its publications also opposed the campaign to free the Birmingham Six, insisting on their guilt.[41]

In August 1988, Clifford was involved in controversy after BICO publication, A Belfast Magazine printed an article, "The Knitting Professor" that was strongly critical of Mary McAleese. McAleese claimed the article was libellous and took legal action against the publication with the help of her lawyer, QC Donal Deeney.The case was eventually settled out of court in September 1990; as a result of the undisclosed settlement, A Belfast Magazine ceased publication for several years [42]

The B&ICO's British branch, the Ernest Bevin Society, continued to agitate for Workers' Control throughout the 1980s. It also took unconventional positions, such as defending the British Monarchy[43] and most controversially, opposing the UK miners' strike (1984–1985).[44]

1990s to now

The B&ICO was never officially disbanded, but came to work solely through Athol Books, the Aubane Historical Society and the Ernest Bevin Society. In the 1990s they decided that the Irish nationalism that they had originally opposed had collapsed and that it was necessary to oppose the new Globalist forces that now dominated the Republic of Ireland. The group now calls for a United Ireland based on a revival of traditional Irish Nationalism. Their chief outlets are the magazines Irish Political Review (1986–present) in Ireland, and the Labour and Trade Union Review in the United Kingdom.[45][46]

BICO's successors are also advocating the extension of the Irish Labour Party to Northern Ireland.[47] This project has however been stymied by the Irish Labour Party in its 21st Century Commission report published in January 2009.[48] It said "we are not at all convinced that parties based in either Dublin or London have any real or significant contribution to make to Northern Ireland politics by organising there...We are also far from convinced that there is sufficient demand at present within the North itself for a single, all-Ireland social democratic party."

B&ICO strongly criticised the Western response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, saying that Saddam had been given no chance to back down.[49] They also argued that removing Saddam was a bad idea, on the grounds that pan-Arab nationalism was a historically progressive force and that its accomplishment required the leadership of a powerful state (comparable to the role of Prussia in German unification and Piedmont-Sardinia in the Italian Risorgimento). It remained sympathetic to Saddam throughout the 1990s and opposed the Second Iraq War.

Around the time of the Second Gulf War,the Ernest Bevin Society backed George Galloway and his Respect campaign to oppose Blair's policies. [50] Galloway has endorsed the EBS' publications on Iraq. [51]

At one time B&ICO was pro-Israeli, but since the late 1980s it has become fiercely pro-Palestinian.[52] (Angela Clifford is the daughter of a Palestinian father and an Israeli Jewish mother.) Malachi Lawless of the Irish Political Review Group and several other writers associated with the IPRG were among those signing a petition protesting against the Israeli government's handling of the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict.[53]

B&ICO has also supported Robert Mugabe in what it calls "the Zimbabwe Land War" (by analogy with the Irish Land War of the 1880s); it argues that Mugabe's opponents are manipulated by white commercial farmers (whom it compares to nineteenth-century Irish landlords) and other neo-colonial interests.[54]

The Irish Political Review has also defended the Chinese occupation of Tibet[55] and supported Russia during the 2008 South Ossetia war.[56]

Athol Books have also criticised the traditional history of World War One and World War Two, arguing they were both triggered by British Foreign policy.[57] The Irish Political Review has defended General Toshio Tamogami's controversial article on WWII, claiming Japan ran a "very moderate" regime in Korea and Manchuria and was tricked into war by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration.[58]

Recently, the Irish Political Review has also expressed support for Declan Ganley's campaign against a second Lisbon Treaty and Libertas' plan to run for European Parliament elections[59].

Mark Langhammer, the ex-Newtownabbey Labour Party councillor is affiliated with this political tradition.

In April 2009, former B&ICO member Patrick Murphy (1937–2009) passed away. [60]

The Aubane Historical Society

The Aubane Historical Society (Aubane is an area of North Cork where some BICO members, including Brendan Clifford and Jack Lane, originate) has published numerous pamphlets on local history matters, often in relation to the Home Rule politician William O'Brien, the novelist Canon Patrick Sheehan, and the local poet Ned Buckley.According to Jack Lane, the AHS was originally intended to be a local history organisation,but later expanded into the role of opposing the "revisionist" movement in Irish history.[61] Favourite preoccupations include attacks on Peter Hart, whom it regularly accuses of falsifying interview material,[62] and denunciations of Roy Foster, Brian Hanley, Paul Bew, and Henry Patterson. The AHS regularly attacks Hubert Butler (whom it accuses of being a quasi-racist defender of Protestant Ascendancy) and Elizabeth Bowen, whom it claims acted as a British spy in Ireland during the Second World War and hence lacking any Irish identity [63] AHS/B&ICO has worked with some writers who might be seen as representing a more traditional republican perspective, including Desmond Fennell, Brian P. Murphy, Eoin Neeson and Meda Ryan.[64]

B&ICO/AHS has also denied that the murder of two young Cooneyite Protestant farmers at Coolacrease, Co. Offaly in 1921 was sectarian (it claims they were properly executed for resisting the forces of the legitimate (Dáil) government). It has been associated with commentators and the Roger Casement Foundation who argue that the diaries ascribed to Roger Casement were forged by British Intelligence while arguing that Casement's published opposition to England and participation in the First World War was a correct position for Irish people to take.

It often presents itself in populist terms as a group of amateurs speaking for the plain people of Ireland as against academic historians, whom it presents as elitist snobs with sinister political agendas.[65] [66]

The B&ICO/AHS's interpretation of Irish history has been criticised by some Irish academics. [67][68]

References

  1. ^ Clifford often mentions his Sliabh Luachra upbringing in his writings, for instance,see the autobiographical introduction to "The Dubliner:The Life, Times and Works of James Clarence Mangan" (Athol Books,1988) and the entry in "A North Cork Anthology" (Athol Books,1993).
  2. ^ See David Widgery, The Left in Britain (1976) p.489
  3. ^ The Method of Marxism and A Reply to Comrade Clifford (1966) A critical article on the ICG and Clifford by Ted Grant
  4. ^ Sean Matgamna, "The RSL (Militant) in the 1960s - a study in passivity", introduction to re-issue of What we are and What We Must Become, Alliance for Workers' Liberty Website
  5. ^ The Communist Party of China and the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, B&ICO, on the Communist Party Alliance Website.
  6. ^ Irish Times, August 23, 1968, pg.6
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ "Labour in Northern Ireland", originally published in the Irish Times, from the Daily Moiders Website, 19 October 2004; Phil Ferguson, "BICO", on the Marxism Mailing List, 7 November 2000
  9. ^ "The BICO Influence on Irish thought", The Kerryman, June 21st, 1974.Jim Lane is unrelated to the B&ICO/AHS member Jack Lane.
  10. ^ Brian Cahill, "Irish Stalinists", on the Marxism Mailing List, 7 November 2000
  11. ^ Peter Hunt, "The 'Marxism' of the British & Irish Communist Organisation", from Peter Hunt, Northern Ireland: For Workers' Unity (1974), Socialist Party of Ireland; Peter Taaffe, Two Nations?, Militant Irish Monthly (1972), reprinted in ibid.; Brian Trench, "The Two Nations Fallacy", International Socialism 1:51, April 1972, pp. 23-29.
  12. ^ What's Wrong with Ulster Trade Unionism? Workers' Association pamphlet,1974. See also Have the Trade Unions Failed the North? Andrew Boyd, Mercier Press,1984 (pg.91) and Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA by Ian S. Wood,(pgs.57-8).,
  13. ^ http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/letters/2009/0115/1231738223523.html
  14. ^ Irish Times 5 and 12 April 1972
  15. ^ Malachi Lawless, letter to the Irish Independent on behalf of the Workers' Association,September 3rd, 1976.
  16. ^ The British in Ireland: a suitable case for withdrawal? by Geoffrey Bell. Pluto Press, 1984
  17. ^ Under Siege:Ulster Unionism and the Anglo-Irish Agreement by Arthur Aughey, Blackstaff Press, 1989 (pgs. 146-167) and Explaining Northern Ireland:Broken Images by Brendan O'Leary and John McGarry, Blackwell, 1995 (pgs. 138-9,151,287).
  18. ^ Christian Bouchet, 1994 Interview (with David Kerr), translation of interview originally published in Nouvelle Résistance, a French fascist magazine - from the Ulster Nation Archive.
  19. ^ Himself Alone:David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism by Dean Godson, Harper Collins, 2004.,pgs. 29-30, 81, 91.
  20. ^ Fortnight Magazine,Nov. 1983.
  21. ^ "The Lost Worlds of 1974", Labour and Trade Union Review (date unknown)
  22. ^ See the letter from Noel Kearns on behalf of B&ICO's Dublin Branch,in the Irish Times,Jan. 28,1972.
  23. ^ Bullock to all that
  24. ^ http://archive.workersliberty.org/wlmags/wl102/globalisation.htm
  25. ^ Godson, pgs. 30, 253-4.
  26. ^ Nina Fishman Obituary, The Guardian, 13 December 2009
  27. ^ Is Wales a Nation? B&ICO,1972,see also Tom Nairn The Break-Up of Britain (3rd Edition) 2003.
  28. ^ The Communist, March 1976.
  29. ^ From Peking to Aubane.
  30. ^ "Socialists at War" (Editorial), The Communist, March 1979.
  31. ^ Philip Ferguson, "Paul Cockshott, Bill Warren and anti-Irish nationalism", Marxism Mailing List, January 1999.
  32. ^ http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/marxism/2001w07/msg00018.htm
  33. ^ Mark Langhammer, "Time to stop digging and star"(on Labour organisation), Labour & Trade Union Review, No. 157, October 2005
  34. ^ "Orange Red", The Times, March 24th 1986.
  35. ^ Nuclear Politics, B&ICO pamphlet, 1980.
  36. ^ "Poland:Mazurka",The Communist, January 1982.
  37. ^ "The Falklands" (Editorial), The Communist, April 1982.
  38. ^ "Ireland : Now and Then" by Brendan Clifford, Irish Political Review May 2007, states the B&ICO was involved in setting up and influencing the CSCS. See also From Peking to Aubane .
  39. ^ "The Catholic Church and the H-Block Campaign", Church and State magazine, Autumn 1981.
  40. ^ Irish Political Review, December 1987.
  41. ^ Worker's Weekly, 30th February 1988, and "Shoot to Kill:Truth a Casualty" by Madawc Williams, Irish Political Review, March 1988.
  42. ^ See Justine McCarthy,Mary McAleese:The Outsider,Blackwater Press, 1999,pgs. 111-2, Ray Mac Manais, The Road From Ardoyne:The Making of a President Brandon,2004, pgs. 245-6, and First Citizen:Mary McAleese and the Irish Presidency Patsy McGarry, The O'Brien Press,2008
  43. ^ Does the Left benefit from the British Monarchy? by Brendan Clifford.
  44. ^ The Lost World of British Communism,by Raphael Samuel, Verso, 2006.
  45. ^ See "Recognising Britishness?" Pat Muldowney, Irish Political Review, January 2006.
  46. ^ Where is the Irish Border? Theories of Division in Ireland. by Sean Swan Nordic Ireland Studies, 2005, discusses B&ICO’s change of position.
  47. ^ Mark Langhammer, "Time to stop digging and star"(on Labour organisation), Labour & Trade Union Review, No. 157, October 2005
  48. ^ http://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/21stcenturycommission.pdf
  49. ^ Editorial, "America Right or Wrong", Labour & Trade Union Review, No. 78, February 1998.
  50. ^ John Clayden, "Respect Coalition Wins Sixteen" Labour & Trade Union Review No. 164, June 2006
  51. ^ See Galloway's introduction to Iraq: Blair's Big Lie Confirmed by Dr. David Morrison. Athol Books, 2005.
  52. ^ David Morrison, "Israel is a rogue state", Labour & Trade Union Review, No.186, March 2008.
  53. ^ http://www.ipsc.ie/pdf/IPSC%20Irish%20Times%20Advert%20-%20FINAL.pdf
  54. ^ Angela Clifford, "Zimbabwe: One Farmer, One Farm", Irish Political Review, Sept 2002
  55. ^ IPR April 2008 (pg. 3) and June 2008 (pg. 11)
  56. ^ Editorial "International Law?" Irish Political Review, Sept. 2008
  57. ^ "Notes on Eire" by Brendan Clifford & Jack Lane 2008
  58. ^ "Has the General A Point?" by Philip O'Connor, Irish Political Review, January 2009.
  59. ^ Editorial "Interesting Times!" Irish Political Review, January 2009..
  60. ^ Selfless Activist of the Irish Left Pat Murphy's Obituary
  61. ^ "BICO Is Dead—Long Live BICO!" by Jack Lane, Irish Political Review, Jan. 2009.
  62. ^ An Phoblacht "Hart Trouble Diagnosed" Review of the AHS' book Troubled History,which is critical of Hart
  63. ^ For the AHS’ criticism of Bowen, see “The Dubliner:The Life Times & Works of James Clarence Mangan”, Clifford 1988, “A North Cork Anthology” by Jack Lane, 1993, and "Notes on Eire" by Clifford & Lane 2008.
  64. ^ See,for instance, Myths From Easter 1916 by Eoin Neeson, AHS 2007, and About Behaving Normally In Abnormal Circumstances by Desmond Fennell, Athol Books 2007.
  65. ^ Coolacrease: The True Story of the Pearson Executions edited by Philip O'Connor, AHS, 2008.
  66. ^ Coolacrease Book has Numerous Axes to Grind, Sunday Business Post.
  67. ^ See, for instance, Jeffrey Dudgeon, "He Could Tell You Things",Dublin Review of Books, [2]and W.J McCormack's article "Harnessing the Fire" in Books Ireland, Dec. 2004,both critical of the AHS' position on the Casement Diaries.
  68. ^ Anthony Coughlan reviews the AHS' book James Connolly Re-Assessed. [3]

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