UK death squads in the north – a warning for today

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LAST night’s Panorama programme, entitled ‘Britain’s Secret Terror Force’, threw yet more light on the murderous activities of the British state in its war against the people of Ireland.

Although this has been presented as a horrific episode consigned to the history of ‘the troubles’ back in the early 1970s, it is, in fact, a timely warning to the working class today about the ruthless nature of the capitalist state and the lengths it is prepared to go to in its war against the working class, whether in the north of Ireland or in Britain.

The programme dealt with the activities of the Military Reaction Force (MRF), formed in 1972 and comprising 40 soldiers recruited from across the army who operated in total secrecy.

They continually roamed the streets of Belfast, armed to the teeth with non-standard weapons, in plain clothes carrying out ‘surveillance’.

As the programme reveals, surveillance was a cover for a trail of murders of unarmed civilians with at least two being killed in drive-by shootings carried out by MRF members.

All this is admitted by ex-members of the unit interviewed, under heavy disguise, by the programme.

According to one of them, their operational remit was as follows: ‘We were not there to act as an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group.’

This statement chimes with the writings of Colonel Frank Kitson who was active in the north of Ireland in this period, putting into practice the theory he had outlined in his 1971 book ‘Low Intensity Operations: subversion, insurgency, peacekeeping’.

Kitson, who had learnt his trade in the 1960s carrying out a dirty war against communist insurgents in Malaysia and against the Kenyan people in the so-called Mau Mau uprising, had developed the theory of gangs and counter-gangs; this involved the setting up of secret gangs of army personnel or hired mercenaries to carry out atrocities against anyone perceived as an enemy, atrocities that could then be blamed on the insurgents themselves.

The north of Ireland was to be the testing ground for this type of murderous operation: the dirty war against the colonial peoples was brought back to the UK for use against the Irish and British working class.

In fact, Kitson and his fellow war-lords in the services were prepared to go from massacres in the north to unleashing the army against the working class in Britain when they engaged in plotting for a military takeover in Britain just a few years later.

It was the period when a weak Tory government under Edward Heath was thrown out of office in 1974 by the strength of the working class when, during a miners’ strike, he called a general election on the slogan of ‘who runs the country’.

Heath’s defeat at the hands of the miners was a traumatic event for the ruling class, and a powerful section of the military around Kitson and his army mentor and former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Carver, began to plot the overthrow of the Labour government of Harold Wilson through a military coup.

In 1980, Carver publicly admitted the existence of this plot.

From murdering Irish workers to plotting the overthrow of a Labour government is all part of the same struggle as far as the capitalist state is concerned.

All the methods of repression developed by the state in the north of Ireland throughout this period – the use of police informers and provocateurs, mass surveillance through CCTV, phone tapping – have been brought back to Britain to be used against the working class.

The warning from history for us today is that if this is what the state was prepared to do in the 1970s, what are they prepared to do today when the crisis of capitalism is so much deeper.

In his speech to the Lord Mayor’s banquet, PM Cameron explained that such was the depth of the capitalist crisis there could be no return to the conditions of life that existed in 2008, just before the crisis erupted.

His speech was hailed as permanent austerity for the working class.

That the working class will not have it is obvious. This is where the strong-arm men of the capitalist state come on the scene with intimidation, and even murder on their mind.

We must learn from the 1970s. The only way forward is for the working class to take the power through the socialist revolution and smash the capitalist state forever, to bring in a new socialist society.