British and Irish Communist Organisation
Aubane Historical Society
Ernest Bevin Society
Two Nations Theory
Unionism (until 1990s)
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. It also continues to publish Church & State, Irish Foreign Affairs, Labour Affairs and Problems.
Origins as Irish diaspora Maoist group
Brendan Clifford was an Irish emigrant from the Sliabh Luachra area of County Cork who had migrated to London and become involved in left-wing politics there. 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.
This body consisted largely of Irish people who were living in London and were opposed to the Soviet-aligned 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 Gerry Lawless, became the Irish Workers' Group.
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 Nikita Khrushchev's "revisionism", and then been dishonest about its past positions.
In 1968, the ICO issued a press release which defended the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Dawning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland
In the initial stages of the conflict in Northern Ireland, the ICO (as it then was) took part along with the IRA in the defence of Catholic areas from Protestant attacks. 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, 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. Another important ICO publication was Connolly and Partition, described by the ICO magazine the Irish Communist as offering a "Stalinist analysis" of Connolly's ideas. 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.
The B&ICO argued that it was the Southern government's refusal to accept the Ulster Protestants right of self-determination that was the cause of the "Troubles":
- "The cause of this strife is not Unionism nor the Unionists. Responsibility for it lies at the door of the Southern ruling class which on the basis of "One Historic Nation" has pursued a reactionary policy of national oppression for the last fifty years."
The Two Nations theory led B&ICO to consider that the Ulster Workers Council Strike 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 and the nickname "The Peking Branch of the Orange Order".
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.
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 Eamonn O'Kane, Jeff Dudgeon, Henry Patterson, Peter Cosgrove, Paul Bew and Manus O'Riordan. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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. Enoch Powell also expressed admiration for B&ICO's publications, calling them "nice, comfortable Unionist Marxists".
Bullock Report, against Celtic nationalisms in 1970s
In the February 1974 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. The group initially saw Thatcherism as a result of Labour's errors, but never supported privatisation or 'free market' ideas.
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. A small faction disagreed with the B&ICO leadership's stance on Workers' Control, (which it criticised as "Fabian" and "fundamentally anti-Marxist") and split to form the Communist Organisation in the British Isles.
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. 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. Labour party activist Nina Fishman was also a B&ICO member in the 1970s.
Unlike most of the left, the B&ICO supported the Khmer Rouge regime and opposed the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.
The B&ICO publicly praised the ideas and political career of Joseph Stalin, arguing Stalin had been unjustly depicted by historians.
Unconventional political positions on left in 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. One member of B&ICO, James "Boyd" Black, ran on an "Equal Citizenship" platform in the Fulham by-election in 1986. The B&ICO group were extremely antagonistic to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and much of their activity in Northern Ireland was directed at publishing material and supporting groups who shared their hostility to it.
The B&ICO also believed nuclear power and nuclear weapons were beneficial to humanity, and were against the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It also praised Wojciech Jaruzelski's imposition of martial law in Poland. The B&ICO also took issue with other left-wing parties for adopting anti-Stalinist and anti-Zionist political positions.
When the Falklands War broke out, the B&ICO supported the UK war effort on the grounds the UK was more "progressive" than Argentina.
In tandem with these campaigns, the B&ICO also urged a hard line against the Provisional IRA; it opposed the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike. Its publications also opposed the campaign to free the Birmingham Six, insisting on their guilt.
In August 1988, Clifford was involved in controversy after his 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
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 and most controversially, opposing the UK miners' strike (1984–1985).
Nationalist turn and afterlife as Athol Books
The B&ICO was never officially disbanded, but came to work solely through Athol Books, the Aubane Historical Society and the Ernest Bevin Society. Their chief outlet in Ireland became the magazines Irish Political Review (1986–present). In the United Kingdom it is the Labour and Trade Union Review, journal of the Ernest Bevin Society. This continues as Labour Affairs.
In the 1990s B&ICO former members 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.
BICO's successors are also advocating the extension of the Irish Labour Party to Northern Ireland. This project has however been stymied by the Irish Labour Party in its 21st Century Commission report published in January 2009. 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.
One writer associated with Athol Books, Dr. Pat Walsh, has denied that there was attempt to exterminate the Armenian people by the Ottoman authorities during World War I, arguing responsibility for their deaths rests with the British government: "If the deaths of Armenians are seen as ‘genocide’, the power that was most responsible for it was Britain. In the interests of destroying Germany and conquering the Ottoman territories it made the Ottoman State an impossible place for Armenians to live in the space of a few months after they had lived in it peacefully for centuries."
Athol Books' Church and State magazine was critical of the British media's coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United Kingdom, arguing the media were unfairly biased against the Catholic Church. Church and State also took issue with a BBC documentary on Cardinal John Henry Newman for featuring a contributor who suggested Newman may have been homosexual.
The Aubane Historical Society (AHS) is named after Aubane, an area of North Cork where some BICO members, including Brendan Clifford and Jack Lane, originate. 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. It has published research by a wide range of authors who question, from a variety of perspectives, the 'revisionist' analysis of irish history by authors such as Roy Foster (Aubane Versus Oxford, The Embers of Revisionism), Peter Hart (Troubled History, Embers of Revisionism, West Cork's War of Independence), Eoghan Harris (An Affair with the Bishop of Cork, Embers of Revisionism, West Cork's War of Independence), Kevin Myers (Embers of Revisionism).
British activities continued as the Ernest Bevin Society, with its journal Labour & Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs. Also a quarterly journal called Problems of Capitalism and Socialism, now just Problems.
- The Crisis in the Unionist Party. (Belfast: Irish Communist Organisation, 1969).
- The Communist party of China and the 20th Congress of the C.P.S.U. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1970).
- On Trotskyism. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1971).
- The Economic struggle in Britain. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1971).
- The Two Irish nations : a reply to Michael Farrell. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1971).
- Is Wales a nation?. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1972).
- Connolly and Partition. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1972).
- The Economics of Partition. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1972).
- The Home Rule crisis, 1912-1914. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1972).
- Catholic political culture and the Constitution of Ireland. Jack Gannon. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1972).
- Article 44 : the historical background to Constitutional change in Southern Ireland. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1972.)
- The Twentieth Congress and After. Neil Goold. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1973).
- Zionism: its European origins. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1974).
- A Reply to Michael Barratt Brown. (London: Communists for Europe in association with the B&ICO.)
- The Stalin Era. Anna Louise Strong. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1976).
- Against Ulster nationalism. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1977).
- How Right are the Racists?. Peter Brooke. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1978).
- Stalin and the Irish working class. (Belfast: B&ICO, 1979).
- The EEC: The Economic Case for!. (London: B&ICO, 1979).
- 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).
- See David Widgery, The Left in Britain (1976) p. 489
- The Method of Marxism Archived 9 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine. and A Reply to Comrade Clifford (1966) Archived 9 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine. A critical article on the ICG and Clifford by Ted Grant.
- Sean Matgamna, "The RSL (Militant) in the 1960s - a study in passivity" Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine., introduction to re-issue of What we are and What We Must Become, Alliance for Workers' Liberty Website
- The Communist Party of China and the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine., B&ICO, on the Communist Party Alliance Website.
- Irish Times, 23 August 1968, p. 6
- Selfless activist of the Irish left Archived 14 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Labour in Northern Ireland" Archived 23 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine., 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
- Jack Lane, "Socialism and Nationalism", The Irish Communist, July 1971, (pg.1)
- "The BICO Influence on Irish thought", The Kerryman, 21 June 1974.Jim Lane is unrelated to the B&ICO/AHS member Jack Lane.
- "This trend towards a "Two-Nations" theory caused a split in the Cork branch of the ICO and the emergence in January 1971 of the Cork Workers' Club." "Left in Focus" by Fred Heatley, Fortnight Magazine, 11 April 1975, (p. 14).
- "Communists support "Two-Nations Concept"", The Irish Times, June 1971. (p. 9)
- Brian Cahill, "Irish Stalinists", on the Marxism Mailing List, 7 November 2000
- 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" Archived 6 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine., International Socialism 1:51, April 1972, pp. 23–29.
- 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 (p. 91) and Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA by Ian S. Wood,(pp. 57–8).
- O'Brien and the UK Unionists Archived 8 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Irish Times article (subscription required)
- Irish Times 5 and 12 April 1972
- "We recognise the anti-IRA measures proposed by the Coalition Government as a necessary step towards the normalisation of Irish politics...Parts of the present Constitution legitimise IRA terror and guarantees its survival for a later date whatever law and order measures Fine Gael enforce.... Conor Cruise O'Brien and his colleagues in the Coalition are wasting the momentum of the peace marches by not holding a referendum on Articles 2 and 3." Malachi Lawless, letter to the Irish Independent on behalf of the Workers' Association,3 September 1976 (p. 10) .
- The British in Ireland: a suitable case for withdrawal? by Geoffrey Bell. Pluto Press, 1984
- Under Siege:Ulster Unionism and the Anglo-Irish Agreement by Arthur Aughey, Blackstaff Press, 1989 (pp. 146–167) and Explaining Northern Ireland:Broken Images by Brendan O'Leary and John McGarry, Blackwell, 1995 (pp. 138–9, 151, 287).
- Christian Bouchet, 1994 Interview Archived 13 January 2006 at the Wayback Machine. (with David Kerr), translation of interview originally published in Nouvelle Résistance, a French fascist magazine - from the Ulster Nation Archive.
- Himself Alone: David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism by Dean Godson, Harper Collins, 2004., pp. 29–30, 81, 91.
- Fortnight Magazine, Nov. 1983.
- "The Lost Worlds of 1974" Archived 30 December 2004 at the Wayback Machine., Labour & Trade Union Review (date unknown)
- See the letter from Noel Kearns on behalf of B&ICO's Dublin Branch, in the Irish Times, 28 January 1972.
- Bullock to all that Archived 13 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
- What is the Communist Organisation in the British Isles? Archived 6 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. in Proletarian, No. 1, c. 1974.
- The politics of globalisation and imperialism today Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Alliance for Workers Liberty
- Godson, pp. 30, 253–4.
- Nina Fishman Obituary, The Guardian, 13 December 2009 Archived 5 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
- Is Wales a Nation? B&ICO,1972, see also Tom Nairn The Break-Up of Britain (3rd Edition) 2003.
- The Communist, March 1976.
- Danny McGrain, From Peking to Aubane Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine., Indymedia Ireland (Tuesday January 02, 2007 12:55). Retrieved 03.01.2015.
- "When traditional society broke down in Cambodia under the impact of US imperialism, it was the Khmer Rouge, constituting the anti-imperialist movement, who emerged as the representatives of social progress there after US imperialism had been repelled... if the Khmer Rouge were exceptionally brutal representatives of social progress, it does not appear that there were any other representatives of social progress around". "Vietnam's Game", Comment magazine, Athol Books, 12 January 1979, (p. 5)
- "Socialists at War" (Editorial), The Communist, March 1979.
- "Stalin's was beyond comparison the most important individual career in the remoulding of world politics over the past half-century....the great revolutionary leader has been cast in the role of the serpent, to be blamed for the loss of innocence. It was common for Russian Orthodox writers to represent Stalin as the devil; public opinion in the West tends towards the same comforting simplicity"."Stalin's Place", Letter by John Minahan on behalf of the British and Irish Communist Organisation to the Irish Times, 4 December 1979, (pg. 11)
- Philip Ferguson, "Paul Cockshott, Bill Warren and anti-Irish nationalism" Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine., Marxism Mailing List (January 1999).
- BICO and Bew Archived 20 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Marxism Mailing List Archives
- Mark Langhammer, "Time to stop digging and star" Archived 9 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine.(on Labour organisation), Labour & Trade Union Review, No. 157 (October 2005).
- "Orange Red", The Times, 24 March 1986.
- "In its initial character the Hillsborough Agreement is an insidious conspiracy of state against the people of a region which is supposedly an integral part of that state, and no words used in condemnation of it can be excessive". Brendan Clifford, Government Without Opposition, Athol Books, Belfast, 1986 (p. 2) See also Aughey, Under Siege.
- Nuclear Politics, B&ICO pamphlet, 1980.
- "Poland:Mazurka", The Communist, January 1982.
- "anti-Zionism and anti-Stalinism subsequently became the opportunistic fads of assorted "New-Left" and "Eurocommunist currents...." Sean Barrett, "Bevin Centenary", Letter to the Irish Times on behalf of the British and Irish Communist Organisation. 8 April 1981, (pg.9).
- "The Falklands" (Editorial), The Communist, April 1982.
- "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.
- "The Catholic Church and the H-Block Campaign", Church and State magazine, Autumn 1981.
- Worker's Weekly, 30 February 1988, and "Shoot to Kill:Truth a Casualty" by Madawc Williams, Irish Political Review, March 1988.
- See: Justine McCarthy, Mary McAleese: The Outsider (Blackwater Press, 1999), pp. 111–2; Ray Mac Manais, The Road From Ardoyne: The Making of a President (Brandon, 2004), pp. 245–6 and Patsy McGarry, First Citizen: Mary McAleese and the Irish Presidency (The O'Brien Press, 2008).
- Does the Left benefit from the British Monarchy? by Brendan Clifford. Archived 12 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
- The Lost World of British Communism, by Raphael Samuel (Verso, 2006).
- See: Pat Muldowney, "Recognising Britishness?", Irish Political Review (January 2006).
- Where is the Irish Border? Theories of Division in Ireland. by Sean Swan Nordic Ireland Studies, 2005, discusses B&ICO’s change of position.
- Labour Affairs website
- 21st Century Commission Report Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
- Editorial, "America Right or Wrong" Archived 13 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine., Labour & Trade Union Review, No. 78 (February 1998).
- David Morrison, "Israel is a rogue state" Archived 13 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine., Labour & Trade Union Review, No.186 (March 2008).
- Dr. Pat Walsh,"Acts of Contrition: Irish and Turkish". Irish Foreign Affairs. April, 2010, Athol Books.
- "In the recent period the British media seems to have had it in mind that they could actually overthrow the Pope.Its apparent success in overthrowing some East European Governments some years ago gave it ideas above its station in life... the BBC commissioned Anne Widdecomb [sic] to do a program about Newman.... It will be noticed that the Professor of Church History at Oxford, who we gather is a post-Christian Protestant, takes the opportunity to make a bit of homosexual propaganda, thinly based." "Cardinal Newman:Report of Anne Widdecomb Program". Church and State Magazine, Fourth Quarter, 2010, Athol Books, pp. 7–9.
- "BICO Is Dead—Long Live BICO!" by Jack Lane, A Review of What? Irish Political Review, Jan. 2009, pp. 36-37 Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine..
- Labour Affairs website
- Athol Books
- Labour Affairs, journal of the Ernest Bevin Society
- The Communist Workers Organization and the Irish Communist Organization documents available at the Marxist Internet Archive
- Irish Left Archive page - contains PDFs of BICO publications from the 1970s and 1980s, with commentary
- Irish Democrat Roy Johnston reviews a book on Elizabeth Bowen, and discusses the AHS' criticisms of her activities
- Irish Political Review October 2010 has an article ("Meeting Pat Murphy", pages 20–21) describing the founding of the Irish Communist Organisation by Pat Murphy
- Irish Political Review April 2012 has an obituary, with photograph, for Gerry Lawless (pages 7–9) describing his relationship with Pat Murphy and Brendan Clifford, out of which the Irish Communist Organisation emerged
- Irish Political Review May 2009 contains several obituaries (pages 13–16), with photographs, for Pat Murphy, founder member and leader of the Irish Communist Organisation, subsequently the British and Irish Communist Organisation
- Review of Stephen Howe on Coolacrease Coolacrease and Ethnic Cleansing in Irish War of Independence: Two Nations, Aubane Historical Society, Paul Bew and BICO (British and Irish Communist Organisation)