‘Kitson and Counter-Revolution’ was first
featured by News Line on 30th April 2015.
We are producing it once again because the British state is now preparing to use Kitson methods against the working class in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere.
THIS week it emerged that retired British general Sir Frank Kitson is to be sued by the widow of a Catholic worker murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1973.
Eugene ‘Paddy’ Heenan was a building worker who was killed when a loyalist gang threw a grenade at the minibus taking him and 14 other workers to a building site in east Belfast.
His widow, Mary, is taking legal action against the Ministry of Defence and Kitson on the grounds that her husband died because of ‘negligence’ and ‘misfeasance’ in office.
Court papers against Kitson claim he is ‘liable personally for negligence and misfeasance in public office’, because, in creating his policy, he was ‘reckless as to whether state agents would be involved in murder’.
At the time of the murder Kitson was in charge of military operations in Northern Ireland, he went on to become Commander-in-Chief UK Land Forces, 1982 to 1985.
Solicitor Kevin Winters, representing Mary Heenan, said of the action by her and relatives of the murdered man: ‘These are civil proceedings for damages but their core value is to obtain truth and accountability for our clients as to the role of the British Army and Frank Kitson in the counter-insurgency operation in the north of Ireland during the early part of the conflict and the use of loyalist paramilitary gangs to contain the republican-nationalist threat through terror, manipulation of the rule of law, infiltration and subversion – all core to the Kitson military doctrine endorsed by the British Army and the British government at the time.’
Kitson is famous above all for his book, the counter insurgency manual for the British army ‘Low Intensity Operations’ written in 1971.
Kitson was an operations commander in Belfast between 1970-72 and it was in this period that he put into practice the theories that he had elaborated in his book – theories that would become the British ‘model’ for dealing with uprisings, civil unrest and the subjugation of people suffering under military occupation by the British state.
It is a model that has been applied rigorously by the state ever since, from the north of Ireland through to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kitson developed his theories in a military career that took him to many of the dirty wars conducted by British imperialism against national independence struggles against colonial rule.
He was active around the world from Malaysia, Kenya to Cyprus directing a murderous war against the strivings of colonial people for independence and honing his theories in his 1971 book and an earlier book written out of his experiences fighting the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya entitled ‘Gangs and Counter Gangs’.
Essentially the Kitson doctrine was that at times of civil unrest there needed to be a coordinated political, military, legal and media operation against ‘subversives’.
He defines subversives anyone who aims ‘to overthrow those governing the country. . . .or to force them to do things which they do not want to do.’
Kitson outlines his proposals in the preface saying:-
‘If a genuine and serious grievance arose, such as might result from a significant drop in the standard of living, all those who now dissipate their protest over a wide variety of causes might concentrate their efforts and produce a situation which was beyond the power of the police to handle. Fumbling at this juncture might have grave consequences even to the extent of undermining the confidence in the whole system of government.’
Kitson goes on that attempts to force changes on a reluctant government ‘can involve the use of political and economic pressure, strikes, protest marches and propaganda.’ (Low Intensity Operations: subversion, insurgency, peacekeeping – p 3)
Under this definition, one that was wholly and openly endorsed by Thatcher, trade unions are automatically in the category of ‘subversive’ organisations along with pressure groups campaigning against everything from GM crops, airport extensions, privatisation of the NHS etc.
Note that Kitson is careful to speak of ‘genuine grievances’ arising from a refusal by workers to accept poverty level wages and the destruction of their living standards as grounds for the military to use all its force to keep the government – no matter how unpopular – going, along with the capitalist system it represents.
In order to deal with these subversives, Kitson advocated a whole range of tactics from setting up special groups to carry out targeted assassinations of the leaders of these subversives and, in order to ‘poison the water’ in which they operated, to create a whole campaign of media propaganda aimed at discrediting them and the formation of ‘counter-gangs’ or ‘pseudo-gangs’ and networks of informers.
Counter-gangs were simply gangs of alleged insurgents who were actually working for the British state.
Their role was to carry out murderous attacks on the civilian population designed to intimidate or alienate them from the fight against the British, while providing a pretext for ever more brutal suppression.
Kitson also had a method for controlling protests that threaten the government.
He states: ‘An excellent example concerns the way in which the law should work. Broadly speaking there are two alternatives, the first being that the law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, and in that case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public’.
That chilling phrase ‘disposal of unwanted members of the public’ would find its actualisation in the streets of the north of Ireland where Kitson’s theories would be put into practice.
This position of Kitson on the role of law and the use of propaganda under bourgeois democracy is particularly telling when we consider the response of the right-wing bourgeois press to the threat of dragging Kitson before a civil court to answer for his actions.
The editorial in the Daily Telegraph under the headline ‘Rip up the absurd laws which threaten our armed forces’ called for the next government to take urgent action against what it calls ‘vexatious litigation’ and quotes approvingly the Tory defence secretary, Michael Fallon, who is promising to ‘rip up’ laws that put the military at risk of legal proceedings that could expose their dirty war as part of the capitalist state.
It was these methods and the doctrine behind them that Kitson brought to the north of Ireland in the early 1970s and which continued to be followed by his successors.
The other main contribution to the army manual on framing, discrediting or killing republicans in the north was the setting up of ‘special units’ in the army to wage this dirty ‘unconventional war’ a war that would claim not just the life of Paddy Heenan but of numerous other innocent Catholics.
The unit set up under Kitson’s reign of terror in the early 1970s was called the Military Reaction Force (MRF).
In November 2013, a BBC Panorama programme called ‘Britain’s Secret Terror Force’ lifted the veil of secrecy that surrounded the MRF for its 18-month-long existence on the streets of Belfast and other towns and cities in the north.
In an account by BBC investigative reporter, John Ware, he revealed a catalogue of drive-by shootings carried out by the 40 strong members of the MRF, the murder of completely innocent people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time along with all the undercover work aimed at identifying potential targets and the running of double agents within paramilitary groups.
One of the most notorious attacks attributed to the MRF was the 1971 bombing of McGurk’s Bar in Belfast – a bar frequented by Catholics and republicans.
The bomb, which killed 15 and wounded 17, was planted by members of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Forcer (UVF).
In a book written in 2009 by a former UVF member entitled ‘Killing for Britain’ the author (who goes by the name John Black) revealed that the MRF had organised the bombing and ensured that the gang responsible for placing the bomb escaped from the area afterwards.
This bombing is a bloody illustration of Kitson’s theories being put into action, a point that clearly emerges from the confessions of one of the convicted UVF bombers, Robert Campbell.
Campbell revealed that the original target was not McGurk’s Bar but the nearby Gem pub which was frequented by members of the Official IRA.
The MRF plan was to bomb the Gem and then plant evidence blaming the Provisional IRA with the intention of causing a murderous feud between the two republican groups, diverting them from the struggle against the British occupation forces and draining their resources.
The closure of the MRF did not mean an end to these special units or their killing campaign.
They were replaced by the 14 Intelligence Company (SRU) and finally by the infamous Force Research Unit (FRU) all of whom recruited and ran agents in the loyalist paramilitaries, agents who were to play a decisive role in the murder of solicitor Patrick Finucane amongst many others.
In 2002, a retired Canadian judge, Peter Cory, was commissioned to carry out an inquiry into the murders of Patrick Finucane and another solicitor Rosemary Nelson both of whom were targeted by the Loyalists gangs and the British State for their legal work on behalf of republicans.
The report was damming, laying the blame for these and other killings firmly at the door of the FRU.
The Cory Report uncovered enough evidence to conclude that the brutal murder of solicitor Pat Finucane was set up by an FRU agent, Brian Nelson, with the knowledge of the FRU and as such they were complicit in his murder.
When the Labour government of Harold Wilson sent British troops into the north of Ireland in 1969, it was a move hailed by every reformist and revisionist group as a necessary move to ‘protect’ the Catholic civil rights movement from the brutal attacks of the RUC police and loyalist groups.
Only the Socialist Labour League, forerunner of the WRP, opposed Wilson’s deployment of troops.
We stood by the Marxist position that the troops of British imperialism were not there to protect Catholic workers but to suppress the struggle for a united Ireland.
All through the 1970s, the WRP and the News Line worked tirelessly to expose the plots being prepared by the state throughout the 1970s.
This was the period when the economic crisis of capitalism really started to hit the ailing British economy.
What we fought for, was to constantly prepare and warn workers in Britain that the methods being employed by the state in the north of Ireland would be used against the mainland working class.
In 1982, the News Line published all these articles over the past 12 years in a booklet entitled ‘Britain’s State Within the State’ in which all the highly developed counter-insurgency plans of the ruling class that we were aware of were analysed and published.
These plans included the setting up of a secret strike breaking force called GB75 by Colonel David Stirling (founder of the SAS) in the aftermath of the 1974 miners’ strike which brought down the Tory government of Edward Heath.
Stirling described the role of GB75 as ‘curbing the power of the militant trade unionists’. Its formation was justified because in his opinion the government would be unable ‘to mobilise the Armed forces and Territorial Army to combat the catastrophic effect of the first few hours and days of a general strike’.
The existence of some plots, such as the plan by MI5 to oust Wilson, only became knowledge after the publication of Peter Wright’s book ‘Spycatcher’.
All through this period it was widely known – but officially keep quiet about – that the army leadership were actively contemplating a coup against the minority Labour government aided by outfits like Stirling’s.
The capitalist state was preparing to bring the methods developed in the north of Ireland and throughout its bloody decades defending imperialism against colonial uprisings right back to mainland Britain.
These preparations and plots did not cease with the so-called peace agreement in Ireland.
In the introduction to ‘Britain’s State Within the State’, we wrote: ‘Scarcely a week goes by without a major incursion by the Tory government and the capitalist state against basic rights and civil liberties . . . there is increasing use of agents provocateurs and police informants in the labour and trade union movement . . . the Welfare State, gains like the National Health Service, council housing and social services are being ruthlessly dismantled. . .’
That was in 1982. Over the intervening years the capitalist crisis has deepened immeasurably and with it the attacks by the capitalist class on every gain of the welfare state have increased a hundredfold since then.
The recent revelations about the use of police spies and provocateurs infiltrating protest groups and trade unions, not to mention left-wing organisations has proved conclusively that the capitalist state has never stopped gearing up for an all-out and dirty war with a working class determined to defend its gains and rights from a bankrupt capitalist system.
The insistence of the SLL/WRP that the armed force of the capitalist state are not and never have been a neutral, benevolent peacekeeping force anywhere placed us firmly with Karl Marx and Frederick Engels who insisted that the capitalist state in the final analysis is nothing more than bodies of armed men, whose job it is to suppress the working class.
The history of the British state’s long and dirty war in the north of Ireland has revealed the historic truth of this position and it is not surprising that the ruling class are prepared to ‘rip up’ laws to prevent its role from being exposed before the working class.
For workers the lesson couldn’t be clearer, the capitalist state, its army, judiciary and police force cannot be reformed, it will be used against the working class of Britain until this rotten capitalist system and its state are smashed and replaced by a workers government and socialism.