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Left Archive: “Hands Off Ireland!” – The Revolutionary Communist Group, Number Nine, November 1979 October 25, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Revolutionary Communist Group (UK).
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The file is in the following link: REVCOMGRP BINDER

Here is a quarterly bulletin of the Revolutionary Communist Group, which emerged from the International Socialists as part of an internal, albeit undeclared platform. Leading figures associated with the RCG include David Yaffe. As noted on wikipedia their line of eschewing support for the Labour Party was a substantive break with many other further left formations. The RCG itself suffered further splits, including perhaps most famously those who departed to form what ultimately would be the Revolutionary Communist Party (a document from whose precursor, the Revolutionary Communist Tendency, is available here in the Archive).

As with this document the RCG was strongly supportive of the Irish republicanism and so there are articles on a H-Block Press Visit, ‘Resistance on the Border’, and interview with the Provisional IRA and a piece by Terry Marlowe which reflects on Communism and Revolutionary Nationalism. Perhaps the editorial best gives a flavor of the contents and opinions within.

It lauds what it sees as ‘confirmation of the growing strength of the Irish people – the events of August 27 when Mountbatten and 18 soldiers were killed by the Provisional IRA. In this context it is more vital than ever for the British ruling class to isolate the Republican movement from the working class in this country.’

It continues: ‘This isolation takes many forms – the bourgeois propaganda against the Republican movement, the anti-Republican propaganda of the petit bourgeois left, the development of the pro-imperialist Young Liberal campaign and outright attacks on those who support the Republican movement and fight to unite workers in this country behind the Irish people’s struggle. Thus when the petit bourgeois left turns its back on a PSF march (as it did on October 20) it is directly aiding the ruling class in the effort toisolate the Republican movement’.

It speaks of attacks on Hands Off Ireland supporters, and argues that ‘Our reply to these attacks can be seen in the appearance in this issue of a full length interview with a spokesman of the military wing of the Republican movement – the Provisional IRA’. That interview is interesting, not least due to some insights into attitudes within PIRA to the INLA and to some fulsome quotation of Marx and Lenin, perhaps deliberately tailored to the audience. There’s an echo of the argument put forward in the document posted last week from Peoples’ Democracy about elitism in armed struggle, though in this instance it’s quite the reverse.

All told a useful reflection on the attitudes of some on the further left in the UK during this period.

Comments»

1. FergusD - October 25, 2010

A bit of my political history here. I was in IS (the International Scoialists, later SWP), very, very briefly in 72/73 and supported the position of the “Revolutionary Opposition” which the IS leadership dubbed the “Right Opposition” (right = bad, anyway it wasn’t “right”, but there was already a feft opposition, left = good(ish)). The RO (take your pick of meaning) had a more traditional Trotskyist outlook than IS and was expelled. The expellees then split (as is the the way) with some (the majority) forming the RCG and the remainder, influenced by the old Trotskyist Roy Tearse, formed a loose “Discussion Group” (we felt there were plenty of small left groups at the time already).

I think I was expelled at the same meeting my application for membrship cof IS came up, I may even have been formally expelled without being a member!

Anyway, the RCG were a surprise to me. Their position on Ireland seemed even less Trotskyist than IS and kinda ultra-leftist. The talk of “petit bourgeiois” groups in this leaflet is calling the kettle black, most all of us these groups were, at least in social composition, petit bourgeois. In fact it seems to me the RCG’s position of PIRA was petit bourgeois politically – almost a kind of liberal guilt – must support the Irish struggle no matter what – it is a sign of our seriousness that we support their armed struggle.

Maybe I’m wrong but that’s what it felt/feels like.

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2. Mark P - October 25, 2010

You were actually in the Discussion Group, Fergus? That’s a group with almost legendary status amongst trainspotters of the far left. John Sullivan wrote a highly entertaining history of the group, but it has to be said that Sullivan isn’t necessarily the most reliable person to rely on (he started the rumour that David Yaaffe, leader of the RCG had invented a machine which precisely measured the tendency of the rate of profit to fall).

Sullivan’s account of the Discussion Group:
http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/revhist/otherdox/whatnext/tearsite.html

Your comments on the RCG strike me as being fairly accurate by the way. There’s something awkwardly self-flagellatory about groups of that kind. And their gradual conversion to cheerleading for Stalinist regimes abroad is fairly repulsive.

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WorldbyStorm - October 25, 2010

Snap, that was what I thought reading that Fergus. What was the Discussion Group like? Was it subsumed into the LP eventually?

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FergusD - October 26, 2010

Gosh, I feel something of a celebrity!! There could be a TV show in this “I was in…”, name your obscure left wing group. Could be like “This is your life” with that great Irishman Eamonn Andrews (second only to Sir Terry Wogan). “And here is the bastard that harangued you at that acrimonious meeting of Bristol IS!”. Tony Cliff was there – and it was acrimonious! Mind you some of the DG harangued TC!

The Discussion Group distinguishing feature was modesty! That meant we didn’t rush off and form the International Revolutionary Marxist Communist Party to be the new vanguard. It does leave you in a a bit of a limbo though. We did continue to meet and discuss and yes, most of us joined the LP as a forum to try and develop and disseminate ideas and pick up “members”. Not all joined the LP, the decision was pragmatic, if you were active in a TU in a situation where you could raise ideas that was good enough. Some members did gain some influence in Trades Councils etc (see “Bristol Socialist” in the Sullivan article – I remember helping produce and distribute that). The group was small though and eventually faded away. I lost contact largely due to pressures of my studies/career – I was working for a science PhD at the time and it was hard going (I am a wimp).

I still have fairly warm fuzzy feelings for the DG. This modesty kick is important IMHO. So many left groups think they have all the answers (they don’t) and they shout at the working class rather than trying to discuss (to learn as well as “teach”) with working class people. Also there is/was a view (in the 70s anyway) that the workers were frustrated revolutionaries who were cheated or “sold out” by Labour leaders. There didn’t seem to be an appreciation that most workers shared the same basic ideology as their leadership. This led to the shouting, “Trators!” etc. Which to our eyes they may have been but workers didn’t necessarily see it quite like that. IS certainly took the “traitor” line, rather than it being a question of ideology – mostly. So IS could be reduced to “more militancy” and little politics.

I have just read the Sullivan article – thanks for that link. I drifted away before the end of the DG, for personal rather than political reasons. I can see that the DG needed to have moved forward if it was to grow and do something useful. But the problem always was, and is, how to do that. To start yet another grouplet at that time just seemed silly. Maybe we should have just joined Militant (entrysts!) – certainly they were interested in the DG for a time. I had many discussions with Andy Bevan (chair of the LPYS then) which I enjoyed, but Militant were too formulaic for us/me I think.

BTW I was very small fry!

Indeed those were the days. These days I am strictly an armchair socialist and frankly cannot see myself joining a small left group again. I’m not even in the UK LP any more, perhaps I have adopted IS’s position of 30 years ago – it is terminally hopeless as a progressive working class party. If you wait long enough your political position may well be right sometime!

Or I could be wrong and the UK LP will be a vehicle for development/dissemination of socialist ideas! Hmm.

THis interest in the DG reminds me of bif demos in London in the 70s (Vietnam war etc) when we would train spot small Trotskyist groups. Yes I saw the Pabloites!! Long Live UFOs! Bring on nuclear war! (for the affianados).

Pardon my ramblings.

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ejh - October 26, 2010

These days I am strictly an armchair socialist and frankly cannot see myself joining a small left group again.

Would you care to join mine?

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NollaigO - October 27, 2010

@Mark P:
Yaaffe’s machine was definitely a joke. I just meant that the joke started with Sullivan.
I should have made it clear that my query was in response to Dr.X’s #3 post which referred to a Guardian article claiming that the machine crashed along with the Stock Market in 1987.
I also tend to agree with your view (a rare occurrence on my part!) that Sullivan provided humour rather than insight.
Mar buile scór:
Militant were on the march where the notorious SLL leaflet was distributed, weren’t they?

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3. Dr. X - October 25, 2010

After a big spread on the RCP in the Guardian in the late 1990s, Yaafe himself wrote in to say that his prediction-machine had overheated and broken down during the 1987 stock market crash.

Good times, good times.

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4. ejh - October 25, 2010

Starter for ten: of which notorious pamphlet had Discussion Group member Tony Polan previously been the author? No conferring (with Google).

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5. NollaigO - October 26, 2010

“..he started the rumour that David Yaaffe, leader of the RCG had invented a machine which precisely measured the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.. “.
It really existed?!
I always though that this was an example of Sullivan’s sense of caricature.
http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/Sectariana/Articles.html [Enjoy!]

ejh: I remember meeting Tony Polan circa 1970/1971. At the time he was in the IS (aka SWP in later years) after writing a critical pamphlet on his experiences in the SLL. IIRC he was with the bold Seán’s WF at the time but quickly fell out with them. According to a WF acolyte, Tony viewed the dissipation of the 1968 general strike movement in France as a sign of the weakness of the class consciousness of the French working class movement, a cardinal sin in the eyes of the majority of the far left at the time.

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NollaigO - October 26, 2010

The link in my post connects to an article “As soon as this pub closes..” which is written by the late John Sullivan. This is a long essay from which the link in post #2 is an extract.

@FergusD: It was the Posadists not the Pabloites who believed in unleashing revolutionary nuclear war and communicating with UFOs clearly representatives of a superior socialist civilisation.

@ejh: Google has revived my memory of the title of Tony Polan’s pamphlet, The SSL, An Anatomy. This was attacked by SLL red professor, Chris Slaughter, using the familiar Mark Twain saying.

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ejh - October 26, 2010

No, it’s a more notorious pamphlet than that. I’ll not tell you the answer until I’m sure Mark P has had a go. I reckon Jim Monaghan might know too.

Do you mean Cliff Slaughter, by the way?

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Mark P - October 26, 2010

ejh:

Ok, I have to admit that I don’t really know anything much about Polan, but if he was ex-SLL, ex-WF and ex-Discussion Group, anything he wrote which was “notorious” would really have to be from the Healyite period.

Three possibilities spring to mind:

1) Something to do with the “Security and the Fourth International” campaign accusing everyone they didn’t like of being spies. But wasn’t that much too late? Without using Google I can’t be sure.

2) “Why the SLL isn’t marching”, otherwise known as “this whole anti-war movement is just aimed at undermining our revolutionary leadership”, but I have a vague suspicion that this was probably a leaflet rather than a pamphlet.

3) Something to do with Healy’s cosying up to Arab dictatorships. Although, actually that one’s definitely too late.

Sorry, I can’t be more precise.

Nollaig0:

Yaaffe’s machine was definitely a joke. I just meant that the joke started with Sullivan.

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Mark P - October 26, 2010

Ah, I should have finished reading the thread before guessing. So it was “Why the SLL isn’t marching”. And apparently there was both a leaflet and a pamphlet.

Ken, what was the distinction between the leaflet and the pamphlet? Were they both about the same thing?

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Ken MacLeod - October 27, 2010

Mark P – The pamphlet by Tony Polan took as its starting point a leaflet that the SLL had handed out at one of the big London demos against the Vietnam War. The leaflet claimed that the leadership of the organizations that had called the demonstration were Stalinists, pacifists, Pabloites, etc – and that this was why the SLL was not marching. For the SLL to march alongside such types would be to lend them political credibility, and thus undermine the only possible way that British workers could aid the Vietnamese struggle, which was to build the SLL.

It was very easy for Tony Polan to show that this approach was a long way from the Trotskyism the SLL so stridently proclaimed, and he went on to criticise in some detail the sectarianism and bombast that characterised the SLL of the late 60s in just about every area of its political intervention.

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6. Ken MacLeod - October 26, 2010

Tony Polan was the author of Why the SLL is Not Marching (the title was a play on an even more notorious SLL leaflet).

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ejh - October 26, 2010

Correct! Will you take the Libyan money or go into the box?

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Ken MacLeod - October 26, 2010

If it’s the moeny or the box, I’ll take the money. I’ve been in the box.

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7. NollaigO - October 26, 2010

ejh:
I’m not having a good day! Of course it was Cliff Slaughter and I should have written An Autopsy instead of Anatomy.!
Ken is only three quarters correct; the full title was
Why the Socialist Labour League is not marching: An autopsy’
http://dscalm.warwick.ac.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqIni=DServe3.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqDb=Catalog&dsqCmd=show.tcl&dsqSearch=%28RefNo==%27BAK%2F1%2F6%2F7%27%29

This link confirms that Polan was in WF when he wrote the pamphlet.

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8. WorldbyStorm - October 26, 2010

Darn you all… I’m glad I didn’t enter that competition.

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9. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - October 28, 2010

[…] * Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG): Hands Off Ireland, Nr. 9, Oktober 1979 […]

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10. Left Archive: The Next Step – Revolutionary Communist Party [UK], May 1987 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - September 19, 2011

[…] Communist Tendency [see here] which itself had emerged from the Revolutionary Communist Group [see here]. The RCP had a Trotskyist orientation – albeit this dissipated as it entered the 1990s and […]

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