British and Irish Communist Organisation

British and Irish Communist Organisation

The British and Irish Communist Organisation (B&ICO) was a small and independent-minded communist organisation based in London, Belfast and Dublin. Its leader was Brendan Clifford. The group produced a great number of pamphlets, and a regular publication, "The Communist".



The ICO undertook an investigation into the development of Maoism, and concluded that it was not a suitable model for an anti-revisionist group. Mao had supported Khrushchev's "revisionism". [ [ "The Communist Party of China and the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU"] , B&ICO, on the Communist Party Alliance Website.] .

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.

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. Fact|date=February 2007 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 a nation in their own right, [ [ "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] and that Irish Catholics could not determine the whole of the island of Ireland as a country. This led them to consider that the Ulster Workers Council Strike [Brian Cahill, [ "Irish Stalinists"] , on the Marxism Mailing List, 7 November 2000] 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 [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.] 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.

There had earlier been limited contacts with small elements within loyalist paramilitaries seen by the B&ICO as leftist, [Dave Douglass, [ Letters: Crazy] , "Weekly Worker", No. 299, 29 July 1999] for instance, in the Ulster Defence Association. The B&ICO believed Ulster nationalism also included some "fascist" elements, [Peter Hunt, [ "The 'Marxism' of the British & Irish Communist Organisation"] , from Peter Hunt, "Northern Ireland: For Workers' Unity" (1974), Socialist Party of Ireland] but that these were never dominant.

The B&ICO's immediate line was to advocated a separate Trades Union Congress for Northern Ireland. 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.

Other activities


The group began co-operating with the Socialist Party of Ireland, with which it shared support for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and in particular Stalin. In 1972, some members of the B&ICO left to join the Democratic Socialist Party.Fact|date=July 2008

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. [ [ "The Lost Worlds of 1974"] , "Labour and Trade Union Review" (date unknown)] 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. [ [ Bullock to all that] ]

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. [Christian Bouchet, [ 1994 Interview] (with David Kerr), translation of interview originally published in "Nouvelle Résistance", a French fascist magazine - from the "Ulster Nation" Archive.]

Their actions at that time still cause some bitterness. [Philip Ferguson, [ "Paul Cockshott, Bill Warren and anti-Irish nationalism"] , Marxism Mailing List, January 1999.]


In the 1980s BICO were regarded as the mainstay of the Campaign for Labour Representation, which argued that the British political parties (particularly the Labour Party) should organise in Northern Ireland, and that such electoral integration would lead to the absorption of Northern Ireland into the British state. It argued that the displacement of sectarian divisions in Liverpool by Labourism showed such an approach could work. (Critics pointed out that Liverpool's status as part of the United Kingdom had never been in doubt.)Fact|date=July 2008 After the Anglo-Irish Agreement, this approach was taken up by some Unionists, notably Robert McCartney;Fact|date=July 2008 however, BICO fell out with them on the grounds that their activities were a new form of Unionism rather than an attempt to overcome existing division. More recently, BICO has advocated the extension of the Irish Labour Party to Northern Ireland. [Mark Langhammer, [ "Time to stop digging and star"] (on Labour organisation), "Labour & Trade Union Review", No. 157, October 2005] Critics would suggest that its view of the integrative role of political parties fails to take account of the long-term trend away from masss-membership organisations (whose multifarious activities might be described as a form of civic religion) to smaller groups with passive members, directed by oligarchies of highly-professionalised administrators.Fact|date=July 2008

1990s to now

In recent years BICO has defended the historic role of Fianna Fail in creating and maintaining the Irish state; it has argued that the allegedly corrupt practices of Charles Haughey were a necessary cost of modernisation and has accused its critics (including the "Irish Times") of Anglophilia bordering on downright treason.Fact|date=July 2008

BICO has always emphasised the role of the state as an integrative force in society, and favoured European-style corporatism when this was opposed by many British leftists as involving state control over the labour movement. (In "The Left Against Europe" Tom Nairn states that in the early 1970s BICO was the only far-left group known to him to support British membership of the European Community.) In recent years it has adopted a more Eurosceptic approach, claiming that the Gaullist-Christian Democrat-Social Democrat tradition within the EU has been eclipsed by neoliberalism.Fact|date=July 2008

From the late 1980s Clifford and his associates argued that James Connolly's expressions of sympathy for the Central Powers in the First World War had not been merely tactical but represented genuine conviction and were essentially correct; the Kaiserreich represented a superior social model and the world would be a better place had it been victorious. Clifford has argued that the First World war was deliberately precipitated by Britain in a plot to cripple Germany, and that the long-term fallout from this mean that Britain is morally responsible for Hitler's accession to power and hence the Second World war also.Fact|date=July 2008

BICO strongly criticised the Western response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, saying that Saddam had been given no chance to back down. [Editorial, [ "America Right or Wrong"] , "Labour & Trade Union Review", No. 78, February 1998.] 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.

At one time BICO was pro-Israeli, but since the late 1980s it has become fiercely pro-Palestinian. [David Morrison, [ "Israel is a rogue state"] , "Labour & Trade Union Review", No.186, March 2008.] (Angela Clifford is the daughter of a Palestinian father and an Israeli Jewish mother.)

BICO 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 nineteeenth-century Irish landlords) and other neo-colonial interests. [Angela Clifford, [ "Zimbabwe: One Farmer, One Farm"] , "Irish Political Review", Sept 2002]

Later developments

The B&ICO was never officially disbanded, but came to work solely through organisations such as Athol Books, the Aubane Historical Society or 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 Irish Republic. Their chief outlet is the monthly magazine "Irish Political Review".

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. Favourite preoccupations include attacks on Peter Hart, whom it regularly accuses of falsifying interview material, denunciations of Roy Foster, Paul Bew, and Henry Patterson and attacks on 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. AHS/BICO 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.

BICO has also denied that the murder of Protestant farmers at Coolnacrease, Co. Offaly in 1921 was sectarian (it claims they were legitimately executed for resisting the forces of the legitimate (Dáil) government) and has been associated with commentators who argue that the diaries ascribed to Roger Casement were forged by British Intelligence. It often presents itself 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.

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


External links

* [ Athol Books]
* [ "From Peking to Aubane"] , Indymedia Ireland

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