Saturday, January 29, 1983

Communists just want to have fun

Overnight I managed to escape into sleep for a few hours: I was very conscious of Lindsey lying next to me on the floor. Some people didn’t sleep at all, and we rose to find a wintry sun blasting in through the window above a vista of terraced rooftops and scruffy backyards. We hung about for a long time waiting for word, being treated to RCP Carl and co.’s early morning wit, which I do not like at all.

Finally we set off for the conference. Lindsey and I didn’t want to go but everything was very structured and regimented and there was no way out of it. So we walked in a freezing wind to the Trades Union Hall where we were hand-stamped and ushered into a large seated auditorium. Along the back wall, behind the stage, stood an array of banners (Irish Freedom Movement, Troops Out Now! etc.).

Carl advised us to take notes. Patrick and Phil and Fiona were there too, Phil in a serious and earnest mood. The day began with an introduction by a small humourless woman from the Whincliffe RCP who acted as chairperson throughout proceedings. She introduced Frank Richards who seems to be one of the leading figures in the national RCP. He looked to be about 30, with short black-hair, glasses and prominent front teeth. He spoke with what sounded like a slight Germanic accent and talked about the Irish question.

Much of what he said made sense to me, and once I even felt fired up with enthusiasm. Question time followed, and a few trade unionists rose to query him or applaud him for his comments. When the RCP reps spoke to the crowd, they strode to the front of the stage, as if to emphasise their presence.

There was a fair degree of political back-biting going on, especially toward the end when an arrogant young woman named Joanne leapt up and condemned Workers Power and the Revolutionary Communist Group for their lack of participation in the Irish Freedom struggle. “You have no right to question us—look at your own record!” she yelled as the session ended, before demanding money from the audience in a patronizing and irritating fashion. She raised £229.

We broke for a lunch of samosas, fruit and salad and I sat there eating and feeling thoroughly out of my depth.

Then back for the second half and a talk by a leading contributor to The Next Step, whose speech was full of humourous anecdotes which had the hall roaring with self-congratulatory laughter and gave me the impression that he was making light of what is, after all, a particularly unfunny situation. I sat unsmiling at the back. A final word from arrogant Joanne about a badge everyone is wearing that quotes Trotsky saying that every socialist who doesn’t support the struggles of the Irish people deserves to be shot: much cheering and clapping at this.

It all sounded so crap coming as it did from what is essentially a middle-class audience, many of whom (I thought to myself) would no doubt grovel shamelessly at the sight of a gun, yet here they were talking coldly about shooting and bombing people without, it seemed, fully appreciating what it was they were talking about. However, this did make me see another side of the argument.

It does seem hypocritical to condemn the IRA as murderous psychopaths when the British Army does things that are equally bloody, this the British Army whose soldiers gun people down mercilessly too and repress them to a greater degree than the IRA. Yet they are always blindly supported in this by the British press. After all, we are all here in Whincliffe to commemorate the gunning down fourteen civilians during Bloody Sunday in 1972.

For the first time I began to see a clearer picture of the situation in Ireland. But somehow I hated the cold way it was all discussed. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t, and so my mind boils with confusion. Is this all there is? IS it the answer?

While the rest of the conference settled down to wait for the evening social, Lindsey and I left to walk into Whincliffe. I drew out £10 from the cashpoint and we found a Pizza Land and ate one huge pizza each, followed by ice cream. While we ate we discussed our doubts.

Carl counters the internationalist arguments against supporting the nationalist and sectarian IRA by stressing the need to follow the stages of economic development laid out by Marx. If Ireland is still fundamentally an agrarian nation Carl says (echoing Marx), it must first become a capitalist and bourgeois one. But this seems to me to be using the IRA and the Irish people as pawns and not fully explaining to them why the RCP supports Irish liberation.

This difference was thrown into perspective by a story we both heard later; the red-faced, beery members of the Glasgow Provo youth band, hired to entertain conference-goers, were seen ridiculing a made-up and lipsticked member of the Revolutionary Gay and Transgendered Caucus. The Provo lads didn’t know about Marx, didn’t know about the intricacies and the ideological wrangling over Ireland, or the factional tensions and differences between the RCG, the RCP, WP, the SWP etc. They didn’t know and they didn’t care. They were just ordinary lads from the back streets of Glasgow.

And yet all these “ideologically sound” middle class RCPers clapped and cheered them, echoing their shouts of “Up the Provos!” with upraised fists. It felt (and feels) like a pantomime of solidarity, because come the actual revolution, the RCP will be the efficient and cold apparachniks while the lads in the band and people like them will be the poor bastards who are being mobilized into ‘labour armies.’ I can’t help being so cynical, because this is how it will happen.

Lin and I returned to the social; strange walking back through Whincliffe on an ordinary unconcerned Saturday night. Somehow it seemed safe, it seemed real, and that other place didn’t. In a way it was like walking back into a dream.

We got back to find everyone plunging into festive oblivion (“See? Communists know how to enjoy themselves as well”). I noted with detached contempt those people we'd traveled up with from London as they leaped stupidly around the dance floor—mustachioed Dennis, whose monologue to me in the motorway dark about the history of N. Ireland ended with “Yeah, but do you get to study any good books?” when I’d told him about my American Studies course; droning, boring, arrogant Kate with the (stereotypical) short hair, heavy face, large mouth, monkey-boots. Are these the people we are to hold up as revolutionary examples? Will everyone be like this one day?

The band finally struck up again towards eleven, three flag-bearers at the front before the stage, legs apart, flags held at chest level, their young faces scowling, the band roaring out pipe and drum tunes, the drummers thrashing their drums with violent grimaces. One little group stood up to watch and clapped along, cheering, shouting “Troops Out!” and smiling broadly as they thumped the air in time to the beat. Down in front, a small kid hurled a baton high into the air.

Finally, back out into the night, organised chaos for quite a while, minibuses everywhere, dark figures hurrying to and fro. Tonight we were destined for a Church Hall somewhere. Patrick, Barry, Carl, Lindsey, Michael (another Barry Duckworth communist friend) and I are upstairs in a small room while the majority are downstairs in the main hall. Carl, Patrick, Michael and Barry have each other in fits of laughter.

I feel subdued and somehow worthless. At least tonight we have heaters.

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