Sometimes when I read a news story my mind goes off at a tangent and that is what happened yesterday.
It started with the report of the elderly couple in London who were alleged to have held three women as slaves for around thirty years. They were named as Aravindan Balakrishnan (76) and his wife Chanda (67).
During the day it emerged that back in the 1970s they had been part of a small Maoist cult, the Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedung Thought, which they led and which was formed in 1974 when they were expelled from the larger Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), another Maoist organisation. Balakrishnan had been a member of the central committee of the CPE (ML).
This was a time when there was a proliferation of extreme left groups, some of them mainstream Marxist, some of them Stalinist, some of them Trotskyite and a few of them Maoist.
The CPE (ML) had a sister organisation, the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist), and they worked together very closely. For example, on 12 May 1973 the CPE (ML) and the CPI (ML) organised a rally in London. One of the speakers was David Vipond, an official representative of the CPI (ML) and a report of the rally states that 'after each speech the participants rose to shout enthusiastically “Hail the tenth anniversary of the founding of The Internationalists' and 'Long live the revolutionary spirit of youth and students.'
Organised Maoism was introduced into Ireland on 9 December 1965 by Hardial Bains, who was working at Trinity College Dublin. He formed a group known as Internationalists in Ireland and in 1969 they renamed themselves the Irish Communist Movement (Marxist-Leninist). The group was relaunched on 4 July 1970 as the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist).
Both Maoist organisations, the CPE (ML) and the CPI (ML) supported the terrorist campaign of the Provisional IRA and their slogan was 'British Imperialism Get Out of Ireland!'. The CPI (ML) even formed the Spirit of Freedom Committee to work with Irish republicans. Indeed many of the plethora of far-left groups supported the Provos.
On 10 October 1974 the CPI (ML) fielded three candidates in Northern Ireland in the UK General Election. David Vipond (South Down) secured 152 votes, Alan Evans (Fermanagh-South Tyrone) got 185 votes and between them the three candidates gained a total of 540 votes. David Vipond also stood in a by-election in Monaghan in November 1973, securing 157 first preference votes.
Other prominent members of the CPI (ML) included John Dowling, Arthur Allen and Carole Reakes
At that time the CPI (ML) published the periodical Red Patriot and for a period of time it devoted many pages to the works of Mao. However in 1978 there was a split between China and Albania and at that point the CPI (ML) rejected Mao and upheld the writings of the Albanian leader Enver Hoxha. They also supported the Communist regimes in Vietnam and Cambodia.
In he early 1980s the CPI(ML) was a major force in student politics with Brendan Doris becoming president of the Union of Students in Ireland and Tommy Graham becoming president of the College of Technology (Bolton Street) Students Union. Graham is now the editor of the journal History Ireland. After a long period of passivity the CPI (ML) was disbanded in 2003.
The tragic story that has emerged in London will be reported in the media and over time more details of the case will become known but some time in the future I will post rather more about some of the far-left organisations which proliferated in Ireland, north and south of the border, in the 1960s and the early years of the Troubles, as well as their counterparts in Great Britain.