The 'Marxism' of the BICO

When considering the ideas of this pamphlet it is also instructive to consider the organisations who support these ideas. The Workers Association is a loose group fathered by the British and Irish Communist Organisation. This group would lay claims to be 'Marxist'. It is no such thing.

A 'Communist Party' as envisaged by Marx and Engels gathers within its ranks the most advanced sections of the working class. It is the brain of that class and must give a lead to the broad mass of workers. It is not an elitist body cut off from workers and their organisations but must make itself a part of the day-to-day struggles and problems of the working class. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels detail its role.

Its propaganda, they say, must aim to weld the workers together as a class distinct from all other social classes. Both its programme and its activity must be designed to raise the consciousness of workers, to give them an understanding of the task imposed upon them by history: to rid the globe of capitalist production and create a new social order. This does not place the Marxist leadership in the role of academic instructor - rather this leadership must be an integral part of the struggles of the workers' movement but must take each particular struggle and generalise it to show its significance in the fight against capitalism.

This the B&ICO do not even attempt to do. All their material is pitched at the lowest level of consciousness of the most backward, not the most class conscious workers. They make their starting point the lowest level of awareness of the class. And they advance that awareness not one step! Instead they seep into the minds of workers the poison of sectarianism and of nationalism. Neither their common interests as a class, not their historical tasks, of they ever point out. In the context of Northern Ireland the first can only be done by raising the slogan for the unity of the working class, Catholic and Protestant. The second by raising demands which challenge the existence of the capitalist system. The B&ICO fail on both counts. Rather their every speech, pamphlet and press utterance, could only have the effect of welding into the minds of Protestants the notion that they are a distinct historically evolved group, and that, therefore, present day divisions are right and proper.

Marxism is based on firm ideas and perspectives. It begins from a scientific examination of any situation using the method of Marx and Engels themselves. These writers in the 'Communist Manifesto' explained that 'the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.' A Marxist tendency must understand the class forces at work in any situation, the relative strengths and weaknesses of the classes, and be capable of relating these to the changes in the economic situation. It must be able to couple an understanding of the objective factors in the situation, the economic factors for example, with a keen awareness of such subjective factors as the mood of the masses. Tendencies, groupings and sects who lack such an approach are incapable of consistency. They do not understand the forces at work in a situation. Events therefore take them by surprise. They respond empirically to every event, reacting with random changes in their programme and ideas, easily cavorting from one incorrect position to another. Such a group is the B&ICO. In fact they are a valuable museum relic of what Lenin denounced a 'infantile communists'.

Protestant Fascists!

In the late 1960s the B&ICO evolved a position diametrically opposed to that which they hold today. Today they court the UDA, UVF and other para-military groups. In 1969 their attitude was somewhat different. At that time their leaflets were sold in Catholic areas only. One headed 'The struggle in the north' and dated 18th August 1969 begins:

The struggle of the Belfast workers from the Falls Road and other pre-dominantly Catholic working class areas is not a sectarian war directed against Protestant workers: it is a struggle against fascist terrorism. Fascist terrorism supported, equipped and financed by a substantial section of the Unionist Party and its administration. The Fascists have formed themselves into a number of front organisations such as the 'Ulster Volunteer Force', the 'Shankill Defence Association' and the 'Ulster Constitutional Defence Committee.'
Throughout the troubles of that period it was our present authors, with their now almost religious devotion to unionism, who screamed loudest for a United Ireland. Then their political instruments were tuned to the lowest level of outlook of Catholics - the idea that those on the opposite side of the peace lines were fascist. Class ideas were then as conspicuous by their absence from their material as in the latest pamphlets. For all their troubles they got no thanks from the Catholic working class. They met with total demise.

They did not disappear for long. Like the republican Phoenix they re-emerged rising out of the ashes of their past mistakes- except that from now on they were to be found on the other side of the barricades singing different songs altogether. Yesterday they denounced the Protestants. Today they denounce the Catholics. Really the difference is not all that great! Al they have done is re-write all their old material, scoring out 'Protestant' where it appears and inserting 'Catholic'. Slogans which could lead to the uniting of the working class are nowhere and at no time raised.

Is the South trying to take over the North?

In 1969 the enemy was identified as British imperialism. This concept has since disappeared from their thinking. In its place, in the writings of the WA and the B&ICO, has stepped a new force - Southern Imperialism! This, we are told, is the source of our problem. The Southern ruling class are trying to take us over! It is their 'undemocratic claims' which have ignited the powder keg of Northern Ireland!

In reality the Southern ruling class are little more than a shadowy reflection of British Capital. They act at the whims and dictates of the much more powerful British Big Business. It is nonsensical to put down al the problems of the north to the 'undemocratic claims of the Southern government for jurisdiction over its territory' as do the B&ICO.

To those 'Marxists the provisional are the 'unofficial army' of the Southern Government. In order to support the argument that the south is at work trying to take over the six counties of Northern Ireland, it is necessary to believe that Southern Capital, such as it exists, is behind the Provisionals. They must be seen as the 'unofficial army' carrying on a struggle on behalf of the 26 county government. That is why the Fianna Fail administration introduced emergency legislation to outlaw the IRA! That is why they reopened the Curragh camp and brought in a back door form of internment of republicans!

To give them all due credit the B&ICO attempt to explain this apparent paradox. They state 'if we are to talk of justice, Southern internment is infinitely less just than northern…Over the last three years republicans have been given every facility (including the very tangible support of eminent people in the state) for carrying out their campaign in the north. They have failed. Therefore they are being interned (Workers Weekly 2/6/72) After three years of supporting them we are to believe that the southern administration suddenly decided that the Provisionals were not efficient enough and so interned them - for inefficiency!

In 1969 a section of the Southern ruling class, Blaney, Haughey and co. financed and helped form the Provisionals. Why? To take over the north? No! Blaney and his friends saw and reacted to the developing movement to the left both North and South. They looked for a lever with which to break up that class movement. The lever was the Provisionals. Blaney wished to use them to reactivate the germ of sectarianism and push the working class into the old ruts of unionism and nationalism.

Blaney does not represent the present day interests of the southern bosses. Cosgrave and Lynch, far more representative of the wishes of their masters, wish as far as possible to extricate themselves from the situation in the North. They wish to act at every turn as the backers of the policy of Westminster. Above all far from working to bring it about, they tremble at the very prospect of a united Ireland because they are only too aware that if the might of the British army cannot hold the situation in check, their tiny forces and state resources would be paralysed from the outset. They could never hope to contain a million hostile Protestants. Nor would they be capable of gaining the support of the northern Catholics who would never accept a cut in their social standards for the sake of 'unity'. Lynch and Cosgrave are alert to the fact that although Catholic workers in the north might look to them today, in an all-Ireland under their leadership any support they now have would quickly turn to outright hostility as economic factors began to bite home.

The Southern Government must give 'full recognition and accordance of the right of the Ulster Protestant nation to remain as part of the UK state'. This would lead to a 'democratic settlement' of the conflict. So say the B&ICO. Northern Ireland has experienced five years of bloodshed. Thousands of families have been uprooted and forced to leave their homes. Over a thousand people are dead. The sectarian divide has never been wider. However there is no need to worry! The B&ICO have unearthed the cause of it all - the South is responsible! There would be no problem if only southern politicians would give up their claims on the territory of the north! As if, on the strength of a few words spoken by a group of politicians in the south, the problems built up over the last five years and longer would evaporate and a 'democratic solution' emerges.

The Two Nations theory - its implications

Behind al the political wheelings and dealing of the B&ICO over the recent period stands the belief that Ireland is not one, but two nations. This theory is totally erroneous. Also its very implication is reactionary. (See article appended for an explanation of this theory.) Yet even if Ireland were two nations, the method in which the theory is applied by the B&ICO has nothing in common with the methods of Marx and Engels or Lenin. Were a Marxist to accept that Ireland is two nations he would not draw the totally false and one-sided conclusions drawn by these people.

A second part of the B&ICO and Workers Association's 'democratic solution' is the accordance of democratic rights to the minority in Northern Ireland. In words they occasionally say this. But the conclusion drawn from 99.9% of their material is just the opposite. In their publications every article is an attack on the Southern Government - the rights of Catholics in the North are never expanded upon and explained. Quite the opposite! We have already seen how they denounced the civil rights campaign as a 'republican plot'. Not only the campaign itself but anyone who takes up the issue of Civil Rights including the trade union leaders, is branded as an enemy of the people of the north. They have nothing to say about the repression and harassment of Catholics, the internment of their men, women and children - except to support it. 'Internment must be retained until either the Provo campaign has been called off or until the Provos have been effectively disowned by the Catholic community.' (Weekly Worker, 18//8/74)

In relation to any national struggle a Marxist would support the rights of any oppressed minority within a nation. That would be is first and prime task. The B&ICO on every occasion are to be found on the side of the forces of the capitalist state against the minority in Northern Ireland. Equally they are silent about the internment and harassment of 'loyalists'. Although a Marxist would stand opposed to the methods of both the Provisionals and groups such as the UDA and UVF he would be duty bound to oppose the repression by the state forces against them.

Lenin in all his writings on the national question always stressed the two sides to this issue. On the one hand a Marxist tendency upholds the right, and it is only a right - not a duty - of an oppressed nation to secede. (Who Northern Ireland is going to secede from is open to question?) On the other hand 'while recognising equality and an equal right to a national state, it values above all, and places above all, the alliance of the proletarians of all nations, and evaluates every national demand, every national separation from the angle of the class struggle of the workers.' (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. 1, p335)

The B&ICO see the first side but are completely blind when it comes to the second. Were there two nations in Ireland the question of a Socialist Ireland would still have to be posed. Marx himself, when writing about the oppression of Ireland by England advocated Ireland's separation, but added the rider: 'although after the separation there may come federation.'

The 'right of self-determination' is no abstract cure all as the B&ICO tend to assume. It is merely a formula pulled out of history which must carefully and in a class manner, nit mechanically, be applied to any situation. What a Marxist must stress in relation to a national struggle would be decided only after an examination of that struggle 'from the angle of the class struggle of the workers.'

An independent class position in Northern Ireland, reached in such a way, even in the event that there were two nations, would be to assail the leaders of the Protestant community, together with the likes of Phil Curran, for their anti-working class sectarianism and to raise demands for the uniting of the working class north, south and in Britain.

During the Ulster Workers Council strike the Workers Association produced a series of Bulletins. They boast: 'During the last days of the strike thousands of copies of the Bulletin were sold in the Shankill Road, Sandy Row and East Belfast.' Does the mark of the intervention of Marxists in the situation? Nowhere in these Bulletins is there even one criticism of any, even the most right wing, leaders of the strike. The Bulletins are without any attempt to take a class position as distinct from the stance of the UWC. Instead they declare the UWC to be 'the most open minded as well as the most powerful political organisation in the Protestant community.'

These Bulletins as with the What's wrong with Ulster trade unionism pamphlet come not from the 'angle of the class struggle' but from the angle of Loyalism and of sectarianism. Their material is totally uncritical of present day loyalist leaders, and lacks any suggestion as to what the working class should do independent of the middle class politicians. They conclude: 'what the UWC should have done during recent weeks is to give to the community the same quality of democratic, purposeful leadership that Carson and Craig did in 1912-1914.'

Such material doe only one thing - it provides a 'theoretical' gloss for sectarianism. Who invented the theory of the two nations? Marx? Engels? Lenin? No. Carson, Bonar Law, Craigavon and Brookeborough. Who upholds it today? Enoch Powell among others. These are the people who nurtured this ideological monstrosity. By your friends we know you!

What role does this 'theory' play in relation to the struggles of the working class? A strong labour movement in Northern Ireland would shatter the ties of sectarianism and bring workers together outside the bonds of Orange and Green Tories. The two nations idea can only work against such a process and in such a situation would only help repair the manacles which have bound workers on both sides to right wing and sectarian influence. It would only serve to smother the independent aspirations of the working class with the same 'democratic and purposeful'! ideas as were once used by Carson and Craig to the same end.

The Ulster Workers Council, which the Workers Association and the British and Irish Communist Organisation applauded until their hands were sore is already beginning to fragment. Many of its supporters now have doubts in their minds about this or that aspect of its activity and are looking around for some way out. All the British and Irish Communist Organisation have to say to these workers is that they should stay with the UWC. But despite the activities of the Workers Association and BICO the Protestant bloc must shatter. A growing class movement would cut through the camp of 'Loyalism' and draw to its side the mass of the Protestant working class. When this happens the British and Irish Communist Organisation, all their false theories with them, will be swallowed in the crevice which will divide Protestant workers from their exploiters and overlords.

Web site note:
There is a reference in the text to Phil Curran, someone who was prominent in the mid 1970's, but who has faded from history. Here's a note on him for the vast majority who will not know of him.
Phil Curran was a founding member of the Catholic Ex-Servicemen's Association (CEA). Set up in 1971 following the introduction of Internment with the stated aim of 'protecting' Catholic areas. Curran, in common with other members, had previous military training. The CEA was paramilitary in nature but unarmed, and at its most active in 1972 it was claimed that the membership was 8,000. Nothing else has come to light so far.

This series of articles on Northern Ireland from our archives
are available here.

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are available in our sitemap