Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Row in Northern Ireland Labour Party, Boyd Black: ‘Maoist’ BICO Resurfaces.

with 4 comments

Image result for British and Irish Communist organisation

BICO Once again.

There is, as yet, no comprehensive history of British and Irish ‘Marxism-Leninism’. Popularly known as Maoism, for the various groups’ alignment with Beijing during the 1960s, this political current had influence in much of the rest of Europe, and in the United States, where it was described as the New Communist Movement in the 1970s (1) French Maoism continues to draw attraction, with many colourful escapades to its name, and even a proto-armed wing, La Nouvelle Résistance Populaire (NRP), and the leader of the Gauche Prolétarienne, Benn Lévy, the hardest and the hard M-Ler, who became Sartre’s secretary and ended his days as student of the Torah in Jerusalem. (2) The former M-L Dutch Socialistische Partij, Socialist Party, with parliamentary representation, and its counterpart in Belgium, the, Parti du travail de Belgique /en Partij van de Arbeid van België, also attracts interest, not least in the latter’s days as enthusiasts for North Korean Juche.

But here possibly only Alexei Sayle’s learned tome stands out. Largely concerned with his activism in the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) he summarised their, and his orthodox Communist parents’ activism as, “my hobby and my family’s hobby was the elimination of private property via the violent expropriation of landowners, industrialists, railroad magnates and shipowners…”(3)

Maoism is however back in the news. A former member of  the British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO) are apparently involved in the controversies taking place in the Northern Irish Labour Party.

John Rogan writes,

There was an article in the Belfast Telegraph about the ruction in the Labour Party in NI by its ex-Secretary (Kathryn Johnson) which may be of interest.

The main person she seems to be angry with is Boyd Black. As a curious historical footnote for Leftist Trainspotters everywhere, Mr Black was at one point a member of the pro-Stalin, pro-Mao, pro-Kymer Rouge British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO) and stood as a “Unionist” candidate in the 1986 Fulham by-election.

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/news-analysis/kathryn-johnston-the-fight-for-the-soul-of-the-labour-party-in-northern-ireland-36016846.html

Black seems to have something of  a history of “controversy”.

Image result for British and Irish Communist organisation

His background is acknowledged.

On another occasion, “Boyd Black, Blacks election agent confirmed that he had been a member of the British and Irish Communist Organisation at one time.” 

Whatever his present relations to the group, if there are any, are  we note that BICO’s publication in Britain at the present is Labour Affairs which takes a keen interest in the Labour Party.

This is how they describe their present form,

Who We Are

Monthly journal of the Ernest Bevin Society.  It is a small independent left-wing magazine based in Britain, but covering the wider world.  Previously Labour and Trade Union Review.

The Ernest Bevin Society began as the British portion of the British and Irish Communist Organisation, but then decided Leninism was no longer relevant.  In the 1970s it advocated Workers Control as general reformism as the best way forward in Britain.  It warned ahead of time that the methods being used to fight Thatcher were going to fail.  But retained a general confidence in socialism after the Soviet collapse.

We did also warn well ahead of it becoming obvious that Yeltsin was going to fail.  And said in 1989 that People’s China was not in fact about to collapse.

We condemned New Labour for having adjusted to Thatcherite fantasies rather than what actually existed.  And were flatly against the war on Iraq, fully expecting Saddam’s rather bad system to be replaced  by something much worse.

See out publisher’s website at Athol Books.

For historians we lack a complete organigramme of the groupuscule’s original relations to other supporters of Marxist Leninism. Indeed while Wikipedia mentions this it is difficult to see the nature of the link to either the “first wave” M-L split with orthodox Communism, based on the Sino-Soviet dispute, or the “second wave” , which arose from enthusiasm for the Cultural Revolution.

Wikipedia sets them out as this,

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.[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 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.[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 Nikita Khrushchev‘s “revisionism“, and then been dishonest about its past positions.[5]

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

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

BICO is known, above all, for the writings on the Irish Question of Brendan Clifford. According to the Bible in such matters, he was an “unemployed Jesuit trained, gravedigger” who spent time in Trinity College Library Dublin researching Irish republicanism. This is what he found in works on the founders of this tradition.

“Having blown off the dust he was flabbergasted to discover that these saintly heroes, who he had been told were the Irish equivalents of Garibaldi and Mazzini, were a shower of bigoted, racist, shitbags, who hated England because it had prevented Ireland from establishing its own empire with its own blacks to chain up and flog. The odd man out among this unsavoury crew was Wolfe Tone, a Protestant who view of the Vatican tallies closely with that Ian Paisley.” (John Sullivan. As Soon As This Pub Closes)

The ‘two nations’ theory which he developed from these studies made Clifford’s name. His collected articles, from the Irish Communist, published in 1971 under the name Aspects of Nationalism (1972) begin with a long discussion of Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question. On this basis he took a stand for “Protestant national rights”. .

There is no mention of Clifford or a forerunner to BICO in Bob Purdie’s authoritative history of the Civil Rights movement Politics in the Streets (1990). It can be safely said to be beyond marginal to People’s Democracy – the most important grass-roots radical organisation in the land since the 1920s.

All COBI is known for is the ‘two nations’ theory. The view retains a certain intuitive appeal, no doubt reinforced by later Irish ‘revisionist’ histories which look at the conservative sides of nationalism, and Catholic cultural and political domination of the Republic In less studious environments problems immediately arose. COBI therefore backed protests such as the Ulster Workers’ Council and all attempts by the Protestant side to resist Irish unity. The one problem, no doubt unforeseen, but perhaps familiar to anybody who ever met Unionists, not to say, Orangemen, is that a group so dominated by violent racist bigots would be hard to find, although American ‘white nationalists’ stand muster.

The remnants of BICO seemed to have pursued with the Historical Review. The British branch became the Ernest Bevin society. The have been fading into decent obscurity.  They are rare creatures. The present writer may be one of the few people alive to have met them…..

****

(1) Revolution in the Air. Max Elbaum. Verso. 2002.
(2) De Pierre Victory à Benny Lévy, de Mao à Moïse. Philippe Lardinois. Editions Luc Pire. 2008.
(3) Page 132. Stalin Ate My Homework. Alexei Sayle. Sceptre. 2010. Sayle accurately makes this description, “Woodcraft Folk…. they formed the paramilitary wing of the Co-operative movement.”(P 91) See also the less amusing, Thatcher Stole my Trousers. Alexei Sayle. Bloomsbury Circus. 2016.

Update, for a serious account of this dispute: Clarion.

LPNI WTF?

By Labour Party of Northern Ireland members

The Labour Party in Northern Ireland’s executive committee has recently undergone a catastrophic breakdown in communication, followed by a series of resignations which received a degree of local media attention and attention on the left. Sadly, the explanations given by those involved have been consistently misleading. Whilst the context is political, as might be expected, much of the upset is interpersonal and the motivations of those involved represent a complex combination of the two. As things stand, there is a toxic air about this local party’s dissent into in-fighting, but if we look carefully it might be possible to discern some lessons for the Labour left.

 

Advertisements

Written by Andrew Coates

August 14, 2017 at 12:41 pm

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. You fail to mention the unsavoury role of Black and BICO in the 1974 Ulster Workers’ Council strike against power sharing.

    brucerob

    August 14, 2017 at 2:30 pm

  2. brucerob

    It won’t be the first time Comrades Coates has failed to mention something… 😉

    Violet

    August 14, 2017 at 3:14 pm

  3. Yes I did,,

    ” COBI therefore backed protests such as the Ulster Workers’ Council…”

    Perhaps you are not familiar with the first part of the name for this,

    “The origins of the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike : Structure and Tactics.”

    http://www.persee.fr/doc/irlan_0183-973x_2004_num_29_1_1705

    Andrew Coates

    August 14, 2017 at 4:31 pm

  4. There is always a niche in the ecology of the British far left for one contrarian group whose defining characteristic is to take the opposite line from the rest of the left. BICO occupied that niche in the 1970s (remember ‘Communists for Europe’?), the RCP tried, rather inconsistently, to play the role in the 1980s and 1990s, and these days it is the turn of the AWL, particularly on international issues. The ultimate fate of organisations which take on that role is not generally very encouraging, though.

    Francis

    August 15, 2017 at 10:25 am


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: