Airey Neave and the tactics of illusion

The killing of Airey Neave by an assassin’s bomb brought much huffing and puffing from politicians on the virtue of democracy. Margaret Thatcher said that Neave’s death “diminishes us, but it will enhance our resolve that the God-given freedoms in which he believed . . . will in the end triumph over the acts of evil men.” Some politicians have of course reacted hysterically, demanding blood letting. George Gardiner, Tory MP for Reigate, for instance, said that he “would gladly see every man and woman found guilty of causing death by an act of terrorism stood up against a wall and shot.” (Sunday Express 1.4.79).


Had Neave been an ordinary citizen it is doubtful whether the incident would have made News at Ten, but then politicians are special cases. Indeed, Neave was reputed to be a man of outstanding qualities, a real Bulldog Drummond, who escaped from Colditz and worked with the French Resistance during the Second World War under the code name ‘Saturday’. Notwithstanding his fighting qualities, he was also said to be a “soft spoken” and “gentle” man. (Sunday Express 1.4.79). Thatcher said he was “a very dear friend” who was “strong to root out injustice.”


However, for all his reputed qualities of gentility, bravery and integrity, there was another side to his character. Neave was the Tory spokesman on Ireland, and as such advocated and supported vicious and repressive government. Neither he, nor Gardiner for that matter, expressed sympathy for the 13 victims of the “Bloody Sunday” massacre conducted by the British Army. Neither was he outspoken against the torture (sorry, inhuman treatment) of IRA suspects. In fact, Neave defended the now illegal methods of interrogation. He also approved of the activities of Murder Incorporated—Special Air Services—and wanted the death penalty reintroduced for “terrorist” offences (Sunday Mail 1.4.79). In short, Neave was anything but gentle.


His death will therefore not be mourned by socialists, although we do strongly condemn the tactics of the so-called Irish National Liberation Army and other organisations who seek change by the bomb.


In recent years a number of “liberation organisations” have sought to achieve their political ends through violence. The Angry Brigade was one; the Red Brigades and Baader Meinhof Group were others. These claimed to represent the interests of the working class, although they had no mandate to do so. They sought justification for their acts in the passivity of the working class, who they regarded as blind and stupid for failing to recognise their own interests. They therefore had to be galvanised into an offensive against capitalism by an insurrectionary vanguard, who through acts of violence against the capitalist State would show the workers that the system was vulnerable and could easily be damaged. On seeing this the workers would awake from their political slumber and overthrow capitalism by armed struggle. At least, that is how the story goes; reality is somewhat different.


The tactic of terror is an old anarchist one. It came to prominence in Russia in the late nineteenth century, when a political group known as the People’s Will assassinated the Czar Alexander III. Since then various organisations have employed the tactic from time to time, assassinating leading political figures in a vain attempt at social or political transformation. By changing the leaders it was, and is, assumed that some change or collapse of the system will follow. All that happens however is the new leaders are appointed to carry out similar policies to their predecessors. It is just a simple case of new wine in old bottles.


Neither have these anarchistic groups made a favourable impression on the working class. Indeed, such actions have had the opposite effect. In Italy the recent assassination of ex Premier Aldo Moro brought millions of workers out on strike in a spontaneous protest against the murderous activities of the Red Brigades. Similar protests occurred in Birmingham a few years ago after the IRA had bombed a pub, killing a number of young people. The event led to the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act. So they are not even successful. Neither are they remembered. Names such as Prescott, Baader are quickly forgotten.


It might then be reasonable to ask why they engage in the activities in the first place, when the results seem so disappointing. Some no doubt take to it for the excitement. But the main reason is undoubtedly one of isolation. Because they have failed to gain the support of the working class by legitimate means, they abandon the hard, and more difficult task of propaganda in favour of what seems a quicker course—violence.


We reject the notion that a gun rather than an idea can bring about socialism. It can only come about through the united class conscious action of the majority of workers. There are no short cuts or easy ways, just sheer hard and repetitive work. Not a glamorous as gun battles, not sensational enough to get front page treatment from the press, but in the end more worthwhile and lasting. For if you cannot convince a person to vote for an idea, you’ll never convince him to fire a gun for it. In the struggle to win over the working class for socialism violence has no role to play. We leave that to the followers of the forgotten romantics. As for the political lackeys of capitalism, like Neave, we offer no sympathy, just implacable hostility.


Bill Knox