5 December 2020

Hands off Ireland! Founding Statement

Originally published in The Leninist No.69 September 26 1988. Available on our archive here


The coming year will be the twentieth anniversary of the latest phase of Britain’s colonial war in Ireland. It has seen thousands killed and many more thousands jailed for resisting the British imperial oppressor.

The level of resistance to the British occupation of the Six Counties of the north of Ireland by the nationalist masses there has been inspiring. Britain has tried many different ways to break the intransigence of the nationalist people, from internment to ‘Ulsterisation’; from ‘criminalisation’ to shoot-to kill and the London-Dublin accord. It has failed: the struggle for Irish freedom continues unabated.

But there is one aspect of the Irish war that Britain has so far won. It has maintained the allegiance of the majority of the working class in Britain, against the Irish people. Successive solidarity movements have failed to change this. Within the solidarity movement sectarianism and opportunism have been the rule.

Hands off Ireland! Was established at a meeting in London in mid September 1988 to reverse this situation. Unlike such apologies like the ‘Time to go!’ charter (when in the last 800 years was it not ‘time to go’?) Hands off Ireland! Unequivocally states that the only role Britain can play in Ireland is a reactionary one. To evade a call for troops out now is to sow the illusion that Britain can, in some way, play a progressive role in Ireland. The last twenty years have made a mockery of any such claim. We stand by the two slogans which represent the bottom line for solidarity with the struggle for Irish freedom, and the fight to turn these anti-imperialist slogans into anti-imperialist practice: ‘Troops Out Now!’ and ‘Self determination for the Irish people as a whole!’

We will be putting forward a powerful challenge to the implicitly pro-imperialist politics of ‘Time To Go!’, as the first step towards building a mass solidarity movement demanding Irish freedom.

Hands off Ireland! Is a democratic, militant campaign based on those individuals and organisations willing to fight for troops out now. We call on all anti-imperialists and supporters of Irish freedom to join us in this fight.

  • Troops Out Now!
  • Self determination for the Irish people as a whole!

AS COMMUNISTS we see  the need to take support for the Irish fight for self determination from being the sole property of small revolutionary groups and sections of the Irish community in Britain and transform it into a position which the mass of workers in Britain make their own.

Campaigns like the Troops Out Movement and the Labour Committee on Ireland have through their work shown their inability to achieve this. The latest campaign, ‘Time To Go!’, does not even address itself to the task. It is a ‘bring our boys back and save British taxpayers’ money’ farce.

Any campaign on the ‘Irish question’ which does not challenge the British state can only but fall into opportunism. For Britain, the Six Counties is not a Vietnam or South Africa. It is part of the British state. And the British state is not going to see part of its territory taken away from it without the most bitter fight. Imperialism will not go of its own volition. It must be forced out.

The two slogans ‘Troops Out Now!’ and ‘Self determination for the Irish people!’ constitute the only solid basis for workers in Britain to support the Irish people’s struggle for self determination. Those, like TOM, who claim to stand on them have never been able to translate it into practice. Hence to date, there is no effective challenge to Britain’s rule in Ireland from the working class in Britain.

The Leninist has put forward an initiative based around these slogans. In mid September, with the support of the Irish Republican Socialist Party and others, Hands off Ireland! Was launched.

In launching this we are standing on the shoulders of the revolutionary CPGB of the ’20s. We are reclaiming the name of Hands off Ireland!, established by our Party in the early ’20s, for genuine communism. Like the British section of Lenin’s Comintern, through Hands off Ireland!, we aim to  mount an effective challenge to British imperialism and its reformist apologists such as ‘Time To Go!’. 

Initially, we will be mobilising for a distinct anti-imperialist contingent on the latter’s march in August 1989, giving an effective challenge and alternative pole of attraction for anti-imperialists to this stunt’s implicitly pro-imperialist politics.

It is therefore unfortunate that, of the large number of anti-imperialists groups which we invited to take part in our initiative, so few felt they could sign the founding statement. Those that felt unable to do so, for one reason or another, included Workers Power, the Revolutionary Communist Group, the Revolutionary Democratic Group and Red Action.

This is a pity. But it will not divert us from our aim of building Hands off Ireland! Nor will it blunt our aim of establishing anti-imperialist unity in action. In doing so an effective challenge to the politics of ‘Time To Go!’ is necessitated. Those, such as the IFM/RCP who seem to favour a boycott are, in our view, mistaken. We would urge them to drop their agnostic stance on this and join Hands off Ireland! In confronting the miserable apologism of ‘Time To Go!’ head on. We call on all anti-imperialists to join us in this.

There is both a great need and potential for a mass movement based on such principles in theory and practice. Faced with this, as genuine anti-imperialists, we cannot afford to be lethargic. We must seize the time. Hands off Ireland! Has the potential to make a significant impact. If we approach our tasks with energy, initiative and principle, there is every reason to believe that it will be the beginning of the mass movement in support of the demand for Irish self determination that is so desperately needed. We call upon all principled anti-imperialists to join us. There is no time to waste.

Alan Merrik

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