165. British imperialism had maintained its control of Northern Ireland through its policy of Protestant Unionist ascendancy and a state apparatus based on anti-Catholic discrimination. The deepening economic crisis, combined with attacks by the Ulster Volunteer Force, saw the development in 1968 of a mass civil rights movement. On August 14, 1969, the Wilson government dispatched British troops to Ulster, on the pretext of defending the Catholic minority.
166. The SLL was alone in unreservedly opposing the sending of troops, warning that they would inevitably be turned against the very people they were supposedly protecting. In contrast, Wilson’s move was openly welcomed by the IMG, the Cliff Group and the CPGB. The September 11, 1969, edition of Cliff’s Socialist Worker editorialised, “The breathing space provided by the presence of British troops is short but vital. Those who call for the immediate withdrawal of the troops before the men behind the barricades can defend themselves are inviting a pogrom which will hit first and hardest at socialists.” The IMG wrote in the International the same month that the demand for the withdrawal of British troops was purely “educational” and that“[T]he emphasis given at a particular time to this slogan is a tactical question.”The considerations involved were the IMG’s relations with the petty-bourgeois leadership of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), which supported the troop deployment.
167. Against the IMG, Cliff Slaughter replied:
“The capitalist state consists, Marxists say, of bodies of armed men for the defence of capitalist property, however this state may be dressed up with democratic rights, representative government, and so on. This principled question cannot be altered in any way by “tactical” considerations. There are no situations in which troops and police are not used by the state for this purpose.… Those who are unable to fight for the withdrawal of British troops now will be utterly incapable, as they are now, of carrying through the fight against the British ruling class and its agents. [emphasis in the original]”
168. The Pabloites were complicit in the tragedy that subsequently unfolded. The year 1969 was the start of a major offensive by the British state, as Northern Ireland became the laboratory for testing counter-insurgency measures with a view to their use across the UK. Mass arrests, internment without trial, Diplock no-jury courts all followed in its wake, as did torture and assassinations. On January 30, 1972, 14 civil rights demonstrators were shot dead by British troops on Bloody Sunday. This was only the worst example of a campaign of state terror that spanned three decades.
169. The IMG’s antics in Ireland made it increasingly difficult to distinguish where petty-bourgeois adventurism ended and political provocation began. The organisation was to become an unabashed cheerleader for the IRA, with its Irish co-thinkers piloting the “urban guerrilla” Republican movement Saor Eire. Involved in bank robberies and the murder of an Irish policeman, the group was a vehicle through which Irish state forces intervened in the conflict in the North. The USec’s activities resulted in the brutal murder of its member, Saor Eire leader Peter Graham, and the laying of criminal charges against a number of others. On August 19, 1973, Gerry Lawless, a leading member of the IMG, presented himself to Scotland Yard, where he made a statement fingering the Provisional IRA for a series of fire bombings in London. Hansen and the USec defended Lawless and ruled out any inquiry into his actions.
Cliff Slaughter, “Northern Ireland—a touchstone of revolutionary principle,” Workers Press, October 3, 1969.