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The Pursuit qfthe Workers’Republic since 1916

Communism activity

in

and the

Modern

Ireland describes the

fate of a variety of organisations

in Ireland which regarded themselves as heirs to the views of James Connolly, the socialist leader executed for his part in the Easter rising of 1916.

The book traces the origins and developments communist movement and the attempts by various groups, North and South, to establish a viable communist party in Ireland of the Irish

and to influence left-wing parties, the republican movement, the trade unions and in more recent times the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.

Mike Milotte highlights the frequently violent opposition which communists encountered from within the working class, and from clerical, right-wing and state forces, and the degree to which anti-communist sentiment and activity affected the movement’s development. It shows how the relationship between Irish and international communism was structured and examines the degree to which the Irish communist movement retained the revolutionary traditions

it

embraced on

its

inception.

The

history of Irish Marxism is a colourful one, involving serious and committed individuals who were prepared to sacrifice much for their beliefs. In recalling their experience, the book fills a gap in the study of Irish labour history, and rescues the Irish left from an obscurity it does not deserve.

For note on author see back flap.

BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

Digitized by the Internet Archive in

2017

https://archive.org/details/communisminmoderOOmilo

COMMUNISM

IN

MODERN IRELAND

To Rachel and

Saoirse

Mike Milotte

COMMUNISM IN

MODERN IRELAND The Pursuit of the Workers’ Republic since 1916

and Macmillan Holmes and Meier Publishers, Gill

Inc.

Published in Ireland by Gill

and Macmillan Ltd

Goldenbridge Dublin 8 with associated companies in Auckland, Dallas, Delhi, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Lagos, London, Manzini, Melbourne, Nairobi, New York, Singapore, Tokyo, Washington

© Mike Milotte, 1984 0 7171 0946 First published in the

1

United States of America 1984 by

Holmes and Meier 30 Irving Place,

Publishers, Inc.

New York,

N.Y. 10003

ISBN 0-8419-0970-9 Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Milotte,

Mike

Communism

in

Modem Ireland.

Bibliography: p. 302 Includes index. 1. Communism — Ireland — History — 20th century. 2. Communism — Northern Ireland — History — 20th century.

I.

Title.

HX250.3.A6M54 1984 335.43’09415 84-629 ISBN 0-8419-0970-9

Print origination in Ireland

by

Print Prep Ltd, Dublin

Printed in

Hong Kong

All rights reserved.

may be copied, reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission of the publishers.

No

part of this publication

Contents Acknowledgments Abbreviations

Introduction 1

2

1

The Heritage of James Connolly Connolly, Syndicalism and the Easter Rising Labour after the Rising Class Struggle and National Struggle

From

Socialist Party to

Congresses

The Launching of the Communist Party

The Communist

From Truce

Party, Nationalism

to Civil

Irish

in the Civil

War

41 46

49 59 63

Communism

The Irish Worker League The Workers' Party of Ireland Left Turn 5

36

and Syndicalism

War

The Communist Party The Turn to the Class 4 James Larkin and

29

Communist Party

The Socialist Party and the Internationals The SPI at the Second and Third Comintern

3

9

24

70 83 93

Revolutionary Workers’ Groups, Ultra-Leftism and the Crisis Class Against Class Suppression Castlecomer and Catholic Reaction

96 106 1 14

6

Communist Freedom

Struggles

in Belfast:

For Bread and

Communism Comes North Unemployed

and Anti-Imperialism

Struggles

The National Railway Strike 7

The Second Communist

Party:

122 128 138

Fascism and the

Republican Congress

Communism and Irish Fascism

141 150

The Republican Congress 8

The Unpopular Popular Front The Transition to the Popular Front The Spanish Civil War Political Capitulation

9

158 169 175

Communism

in the Second World War War or Imperialist War? Liquidation Class Struggle and Twenty-sixCounty Neutrality Patriotism, Class Collaboration and Partition ‘Just ’



\

182

,

Communism Communism Partitioned Irish Communism after Stalin

191

200

10 Cold War

The National Question 11 Ireland’s

Dual

in a

Carriageway

Period of Transition to

216 224 229

Socialism ... or

Nowhere Opportunism and the Search for Respectability Reforming the Six-County State The Communists and the Northern Explosion

239 251 267

Epilogue: 1970-1980

281

Bibliography

302

Index

313

Acknowledgments The sources for this study have been, for the most part, the communist movement’s own publications, in the form of newspapers, pamphlets, articles, journals, manifestos and I should like to express my thanks to the of the following libraries, whose unstinting assistance made it possible for me to locate virtually everything I knew to have been published — and much more besides: the National Library of Ireland; Trinity College, Dublin; Queen’s University of Belfast; Belfast Central Library; the Linen Hall Library, Belfast; the British Library, London; the British Newspaper Library, London; the British Library of Political and Economic Science, London; the Marx Memorial Library, London; and

programmes, and staffs

the Public Record Offices in Belfast, Dublin and London. For permission to consult the voluminous but unclassified papers of Sean Murray, held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, I wish to thank Jimmy Stewart, Assistant General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland. Thankfully, not everything was gleaned from dull newsprint in libraries. Many past and present members of the communist movement, and many others who had special knowledge of it, helped put flesh on the bones with their fascinating anecdotes and their always courteous answers to my occasionally third-degree-type questioning. Some of those who were kind enough to talk to me asked that they be not named. The others, some alas now dead, were: Elsie Armstrong and Robert Armstrong; Jack Bennett; Andrew Boyd; John Byrne; Paddy Carmody; Roddy Connolly; Nora Connolly O’Brien; Anthony Coughlan (by letter); Geoffrey Coulter; Tom Cusack; John Freeman ;Malachy Gray; Desmond Greaves; Andy Holmes; John de Courcy Ireland; George Jeffares; Roy Johnston; James McCartney; Vincent McDowell; Michael

Mclnerney; Sam Nolan; Sean Nolan; Michael O’Riordan, Stewart, and John Swift. To my friends and colleagues who lived through successive drafts and who, nevertheless, are still friends, thank you all. To my family, who lived not only with the drafts but with their author too, I could also say thank you, but I’m sure you

Jimmy

I said sorry. To some I owe special thanks: Brian Trench, Chris Harman and Mick Cox, who read various parts of earlier drafts and offered many insightful comments, But who, of course, bear no responsibility for the arguments

would rather

and analysis presented here.

Much

of the research for this book was carried out on a

grant from the Social Science Research Council, under the

supervision of

Con O’Leary,

University, Belfast, and to

Professor of Politics at Queen’s

whom

I

owe

a great deal. Thanks

too to Hubert Mahony of Gill and Macmillan, whose patience helped me persevere from one promised completion date to the next.

Abbreviations ACA AP

Army Comrades An Phoblacht

Association

BTC

Belfast and District Trades Council Confederation of Irish Unions (1945-59) Comintern Third (Communist) International (1919-43) Communist Party of Great Britain CPGB Communist Party of Ireland (1921-23; 1933-41; 1970CPI Communist Party of Northern Ireland (1941-70) CPNI Dublin Trades Council DTC Executive Committee of the Communist International ECCI

CIU

EEC FI

HMSO

European Economic Community Fourth International (1938- )

ICA ICTU

His Majesty’s Stationery Office Irish Citizen Army Irish Congress of Trade Unions (1959-

ID

Irish

ILPTUC Inprecorr

INUM

)

)

Democrat Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress (1918-30)

International Press Correspondence Irish National Unemployed Movement

Republican Army Republican Brotherhood Republican Socialist Party (1974-

IRA

Irish

IRB IRSP

Irish

IS

Irish Socialist

ISR ISRP

Irish Socialist

ITGWU

Irish

Irish

)

Review

ITUC ITUCLP

Republican Party (1896-1903) Transport and General Workers’ Union Irish Trade Union Congress (1894-1912; 1930-59) Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party (1912-18)

IW

Irish

IWL

(1923-32); Irish Workers’ League (1948-62) Irish Workers’ Party (1962-70) Irish Workers’ Voice Irish Workers’ Weekly Labour Party (Irish) (1930- ) Northern Ireland Committee of the ITUC/ICTU (1944- ) Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (1967- )

IWP

IWV IWW LP NIC

NICRA

Irish Socialist

Irish

Worker Worker League

NILP NISP

Northern Ireland Labour Party (1923Northern Ireland Socialist Party

NUR

National Union of Railwaymen People’s Democracy (1968- ) Red International of Labour Unions Revolutionary Socialist League Royal Ulster Constabulary Revolutionary Workers’ Groups (1930-33) Sinn Fein the Workers’ Party (1977- ) Sean Murray Papers (Public Record Office, Northern Ireland) Socialist Party of Ireland (1909-21; 1972- ) Trade Union Congress (British)

PD RILU RSL

RUC RWGs SFWP SMP SPI

TUC UPC UPL UVF

UWC WIR

Unemployed

Protest

Committee

Ulster Protestant League

Ulster Volunteer Force Ulster Workers’ Council Workers’ International Relief

WNV

World News and Views

WPI

Workers’ Workers’ Workers’ Workers’

WR WUI

WV

)

Party of Ireland (1926-27)

Republic Union of Ireland Voice

As in private life one distinguishes between what a man thinks and says of himself and what he really is and does, still more in historical struggles must one distinguish the phrases and fancies of the parties from their real organism and their real interests, their conception of themselves from their reality. KARL MARX

Introduction Marxist studies of Ireland are rare; studies of Irish Marxism even rarer. A considerable amount has certainly been written about James Connolly and James Larkin, Ireland’s most outstanding and internationally acclaimed working-class leaders, but while the history of Irish Marxism may be said to begin with them — and with Connolly in particular — it certainly does not end with them. By 1916 Connolly was dead, and although Larkin lived for another three decades, he had faded from the limelight by the mid-1920s. Marxist organisation in Ireland did not cease, however, with the passing of its first advocates, and even if there was no single Irish Marxist organisation with a linear, unbroken history from Connolly’s time to the present, it remains the case that not one year has passed without some organised group — or many — laying claim to the Marxist tag. There are many organisations in Ireland today which claim to be Marxist in character. Some incorporate the word ‘communist’ in their title; others do not. This book, however, does not attempt to provide an account of Irish Marxism in its many contemporary forms; nor does it deal with the history or the politics of the multitude of organisations which profess communist objectives — whether or not they actually call themselves ‘communist’. Rather it is concerned primarily, indeed almost exclusively, with the history of what might best be termed the ‘orthodox’ or ‘Moscow-oriented’ communist movement — what in many other countries would be known simply as ‘the Communist Party’ of the country in question. Today the movement with which we are concerned is indeed known as the Communist Party of Ireland, but it would have been both misleading and inaccurate to have reproduced that name in the title of this book for the simple

2

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

reason that the movement itself has been organised under a variety of titles throughout its history. A brief resume will help set the scene. On the occasion of the first Russian revolution in February 1917 James Connolly’s old Socialist Party of Ireland was revived under the leadership of William O’Brien and Cathal O’Shannon, powerful trade union officials and leaders also of the mainstream Labour Party. Through the SPI they expressed their faith in a communist future. Nevertheless, by the end of 1921 these established leaders of the SPI had been expelled

and James Connolly’s young son, Roddy, was in command the party formally adopted the title Communist Party of Ireland. Young Connolly visited Russia and discussed the situation in Ireland with Lenin and other leading Bolsheviks, and won their approval for the strategy the CPI pursued through the period of the truce, the Treaty, the civil war, and the establishment of the Irish Free State and the state of Northern Ireland. In 1923, when Larkin returned from America — where he had spent many years in jail for his communist activities — the CPI was dissolved into his new organisation, the Irish Worker League, which continued in being until 1932. In the interim two other communist organisations emerged: the Workers’ Party of Ireland (1926-27), led by Roddy Connolly and others (including Maud Gonne MacBride and Charlotte Despard); and the Revolutionary Workers’ Groups (RWGs, 1930-33) whose leaders included Jim Larkin junior and former IRA commandant Sean Murray. Unlike their predecessors, the RWGs had an all-Ireland character — at least in the sense of having active members both north and south

when

of the border.

The RWGs were transformed into the (second) Communist Party of Ireland in 1933, again with Larkin junior and Murray as its best-known figures. This party retained its all-Ireland character until 1941 when the Dublin section was dissolved and its members were instructed to join the Labour Party — from which many were expelled in a major purge in 1944. In the North the party became known as the Communist Party of Northern Ireland, a title it retained until 1970, for although the Dublin communists regrouped

in

1948

as

the

Introduction

3

Workers’ League, no attempt was made to unite the two organisations into one all-Ireland communist party. The key figures south of the border in this period were Michael O’Riordan, former IRA man and bus worker, and Sean Nolan, a veteran of the communist movement since the mid- 19 20s. The party in Belfast was led by a group of full-time trade union officials (all from Protestant backgrounds): Andy Barr, Billy McCullough and Betty Sinclair. The Dublin-based IWL changed its name to Irish Workers’ Party in 1962, and eight years later the IWP and the CPNI merged to form the (third) Communist Party of Ireland, which is still in being. As well as their historical continuity, these organisations Irish

shared a

common

allegiance to the Soviet Union. Until the

Third (Communist) International, the Comintern, in 1943, all were either affiliated or sought affiliation to it. After its dissolution the orthodox communists still looked to Moscow for the ‘general line’ they should follow in their political pronouncements and practical activities. This began to change in the later 1950s when Joseph Stalin posthumously fell from grace and the Kremlin’s supposed infallibility was duly shaken. Yet when in the early 1960s Ireland’s communists claimed to have found an ‘Irish road to socialism’ its two main elements — nationalism and reformism — had their roots deep in the period of Stalinist dissolution

of

the

and while the communists increasingly asserted independence of Moscow — to the point of condemning the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 — the links were never really broken. In more recent years the ‘Moscow connection’ has again been emphasised strongly, so much so, in fact, that the Irish Communist Party today is one of the few in Western Europe that can be relied upon to voice uncritical support for all of Moscow’s declarations and deeds, including, for example, the invasion of Afghanistan and the forced suppression of free trade unions in Poland. In 1975 the Communist Party of Ireland produced its own official ‘outline’ history (CPI 1975b), a simplistic and very incomplete self-eulogy. Apart from this, the history of these organisations has been almost totally ignored, not least by Marxist writers. The occasional reference may be control, their

4

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

found to the existence of a communist movement, or there even be a descriptive account of its activities at any one time, but no one has yet attempted a systematic analysis of how Irish communists themselves understood and sought to grapple with the complexity of Irish society as both it and they developed over the last half century. The apparent reluctance of Marxists to uncover the history of communist organisations in Ireland has not been entirely shared by their opponents on the far right. While no systematic study has come from this quarter either, the ‘Bolshevik threat’ is a recurrent theme in much of their literature, where it is most frequently presented in terms of an actual or impending alliance between the communists and the

may

forces of militant republicanism. Much of this may certainly be dismissed as mere ‘red scare’ propaganda, yet underlying it may also be detected a real and enduring fear on the part

of

the

establishment

— Unionist,

nationalist

or

British



own power could not long survive such an alliance. Dawson 1920; Hogan 1935a; McEoin 1948; Smith

that their (See:

1970.)

While the right wing has maintained a consistent ‘contheory’ regarding the designs of communism in Ireland and has warned over and over of the concealed strength of communism and of the communist/republican alliance, less partisan observers have all but ignored its existence. The American political scientist Warner Moss, in his pioneering study of Irish political parties — written in the same period as James Hogan’s infamous, if meticulous, expose of the vastness of the ‘communist threat’ (Hogan 1935a) — dismissed the communist movement as ‘little more than a handful of intelligentsia and a body of labour extremists’ (Moss 1933: 7). Another professional political scientist, Maurice Manning, writing on the same theme some forty years later — and at a time when various Unionist politicians were blaming the growing political and social crisis in Ireland on ‘communists’ — did not even accord the communist movement the courtesy of a dismissal, but simply noted in passing that ‘red scares’ have had a malign effect on the Labour Party (Manning 1972: 82). Even in a recent book with the promising title Nationalism and Socialspiracy

Introduction ism

in

Twentieth-Century

Ireland

5

(Rumpf and Hepburn

1977) there are only the briefest of references to the

com-

munist movement. What has been — indeed what is — the real situation? We have seen that communist organisations were more or less permanently maintained in Ireland since Connolly’s time; but how effective have they been? What are their true aims and objectives? What difficulties and obstacles have they encountered throughout the years? The communist movement has indeed been small throughout its existence, numbering its followers in scores more often than in hundreds or in thousands. It has contested many parliamentary elections, but has never won a seat; in local government it has captured only one seat, and that was over fifty years ago. On the other hand, communists

been able to attain relatively influential positions industrial workers and the unemployed, both North and South, and among sections of the republican movement

have

among

times since the 1920s. Two Irish trade unions, one that is now the second largest in the country, the Workers’ Union of Ireland, were once affiliated to the communist Red International of Labour Unions. The chairman of the Communist Party, Andy Barr, was president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in the mid1970s. No communist has ever occupied the equivalent post in Britain. Another prominent communist, the late Betty Sinclair, was for thirty years the full-time secretary of the Belfast Trades Council. It was communists who led one of the most celebrated struggles in Irish working-class history — that of the outdoor relief workers in Belfast in 1932. In the 1930s prominent republican leaders such as Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore and Frank Ryan were close to at various

including the

communist movement, and communists played a crucial in the important Republican Congress movement. In the 1960s similar developments were apparent, and when the republican movement split into Official and Provisional camps at the end of that decade it did so amid loud and pub he allegations of a communist (Irish Workers’ Party) bid to take over Sinn Fein and the IRA. Communists were the

role

Communism

6

in

Modern

Ireland

involved in the formative stages of the civil in the North in the late 1960s. Indeed, the first chairman and secretary of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association were members of the Communist Party. In addition, the Communist Party can claim to be closely

also

rights

movement

one of very few political organisations that unites workers from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds in the North, as well as workers from both North and South. There is no doubt, however, that the Irish environment has proved an inhospitable one for the communists, both in terms of a permanent and at times violent hostility from conservative forces, clerical and lay, and in terms of the actual organisation and consciousness of the working class



weak outside north-east on a North/South axis; polarised along sectarian lines inside the North, and subsumed politically within the inter-class alliances of Unionism and nationalism. To a large until

recent times numerically

Ulster; divided

all have a common source: country’s unresolved national question; and it is which provides a continuing theme throughout this

extent, of course, these problems

the

in this

book, in the sense that we are concerned to understand the communists’ proposed solutions — and they have been many and various — to the problem of conducting the struggle for socialism in a country where the issue of national unity and independence was — and remains — unresolved.

Was

it

the

case

that

the

struggle

for socialism

could not commence in earnest until the country had been reunited and its independence secured? If so, then what social forces were going to reunite the country, and what would be the nature of the regime presiding over it once that task had been completed? Or was it the case that national unity and independence could only be secured through the triumph of the working class and socialism, and the spreading of their revolution to Britain, Europe and beyond?

Was

there a national solution to the national question, or

could it only be resolved within an international revolutionary process? For most of its history the communist movement has adhered to the view that there is a national solution, whether it be simply an all-Ireland republic, or a ‘people’s’ republic,

Introduction

7

more recent parlance, a ‘progressive government’. these would entail the reorganisation of society along socialist lines; they would be brought into being so or,

in

None of

as to create the conditions necessary for

an advance towards

what we shall refer to throughout as the theory which draws a sharp line between stages theory a the struggle for national freedom and the struggle for socialsocialism. This

is

,

ism.

We

have outlined some of the objective conditions miligrowth of the communist movement in Ireland. These conditions, however, have not been static. Irish workers have shown their ability for independent militant class action on both sides of the border — and across it. The persistence of the national question, as well as being an issue which has helped blur class separateness, has been a constant stimulus to revolutionary struggle, promoting widespread disrespect for the established institutions of the two partitioned states and in each succeeding generation propelling large numbers of young workers, among others, to rebel in arms against constituted authority. tating against the

Throughout its history the all-class alliance of Unionism has proved more fissiparous than monolithic, and while Catholic ideology has been a powerful deterrent to the growth of the communist movement, it has not been paralleled by a strongly organised Catholic social movement. There example, no Catholic trade unions in Ireland as some Western European countries where the communist movement is, none the less, a powerful force. It is the contention of this book that the weakness of communism in Ireland cannot be explained by reference only to unfavourable objective conditions (among which the incomplete national struggle inevitably looms largest), but that subjective factors — the communists’ own understanding are,

there

for

are in

of their tasks, their strategies and their tactics — must also be considered at every point. When this is done two general conclusions may be drawn: first, that the communist movement was unable to develop or sustain anything even approaching a consistent analysis of Irish society and the class forces at work within it, largely because of its entanglement with Stalinist Russia and its constant need to reflect the foreign

8

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

policy requirements of the Soviet state; secondly, and consequently, that many opportunities for strengthening the communist movement and advancing the interests of the working class were either inadequately used or entirely missed. Moreoever, it is only by analysing the policies and activities of the communist movement over the years that we can arrive at a picture of how Marxism — and the term is used loosely here — has sought to come to grips with the actualities of the Irish situation, on a day-to-day basis and in a dynamic manner, rather than a purely theoretical method of exposition and analysis. The fact that the Irish communist movement has never

been a major force length of time

in public affairs

— does

not

make

its

— at

least,

not over any

history any less interesting.

It has a colourful history, impinging on the labour and republican movements at many crucial junctures, and involving serious and committed individuals who have been prepared to sacrifice much for their beliefs. In recalling

their experiences it is hoped that the following account will help to fill an obvious gap in the annals of Irish labour history and to rescue from an undeserved obscurity some re-

doubtable working-class struggles.

activists

and

their frequently heroic

1

The Heritage

of James Connolly

Connolly Syndicalism and the Easter Rising ,

Our story must begin with James Connolly: Marxist, calist,

republican, internationalist



and

Ireland’s

syndi-

first

re-

volutionary working-class leader. Two principal aspects of Connolly’s politics will be considered: his conception of the relationship between the national struggle and the struggle for socialism, and his efforts to forge a revolutionary movement capable of leading the working class to power. When he came to Ireland from Scotland in 1896 as organiser for the small Dublin Socialist Club Connolly had two main objectives: to build an independent working-class party — for none existed and all previous attempts to establish one had foundered; and to weld together in theory and practice the struggle for socialism and the struggle for free-

dom from

British rule.

Within a week of his arrival he had launched the Irish Socialist Republican Party, and in its first programme he declared that ‘The national and economic freedom of the Irish people must be sought in the same direction, viz. the establishment of an Irish Socialist Republic.’ (Greaves 1961: 62) The struggle for national freedom, Connolly argued, could only be consummated in the achievement of socialism because all sections of the propertied classes were ‘bound by a thousand golden threads to Empire’. Equally, socialism could only be won if the working class secured leadership in the struggle for national freedom, since the working class could never be free in a subject nation. To those who objected that the struggle for a socialist

republic

he retorted:

would

alienate

middle-class nationalists

Communism

10

in

Modern Ireland

this objection mean? That we must conciliate the privileged classes in Ireland! But you can only disarm their hostility by assuring them that in a free Ireland On no their ‘privileges’ will not be interfered with.

What does

.

.

.

other basis will [they] unite with you. Do you expect Nationalism withthe masses to fight for this ideal? out Socialism ... is only national recreancy. (Connolly 1973a: 123-4) .

.

.

These themes were developed in his first major theowork, Erin's Hope (1897), where to the question ‘On whom devolves the task of achieving the downfall of the ruling classes in Ireland?’ he answered: ‘The Irish working class — the only secure foundation on which a free nation The Irish working class must emancipate can be reared. itself, and in emancipating itself it must, perforce, free its country.’ (Connolly 1968: 23) In presenting socialism as the aim of the working class in the struggle against imperialism Connolly was not denying that the immediate

retical

.

.

.

objective tasks of the

coming

Irish revolution

the middle class (bourgeoisie) at least as

much

would benefit

as the workers:

the winning of national independence, the final eradication

of landlordism, and the establishment of basic political freedoms. He was saying that because the bourgeoisie was incapable of carrying through its own revolution the task fell

to the working class and that they could only complete

by proceeding without interruption

to the establishment of a socialist republic. This formulation was a highly original contribution to Marxist thinking. The international socialist movement had given little consideration to the role of the working class as an independent factor in the colonial or backward countries. The possibility of the working class attaining power in these countries without them first passing through a more or less stable period of capitalist development under bourgeois rule was almost unthinkable. Indeed, in his extensive writings on Ireland Karl Marx depicted the importance of its national struggle mainly in terms of the revolutionising effects it could have in Britain and on the British it

working

class.

1

The Heritage of James Connolly

1

Of all Connolly’s Marxist contemporaries who pondered the role of the working class in countries that had not achieved advanced industrial status, only the Russian, Leon Trotsky, argued (in 1905) for the possibility and the necessity of the working class seizing power for itself and carrying out socialist measures prior to — and therefore pre-empting — the establishment of bourgeois parliamentary democracy and ‘normal’ capitalist development. The Russian experience, of course, was to prove crucial to the whole subsequent history of the socialist movement, and the theories surrounding it must be briefly considered. Trotsky argued that the bourgeois revolution, led by the working class with the support of the peasantry, would continue until the working class attained power not only on the national level but internationally,

in the era of international capitalism

for,

and imperialism, socialism in one country was as impossible as independent national capitalism (Trotsky 1965). Lenin, on the other hand, had written (also in 1905) that ‘the democratic revolution will not immediately overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships’ and ‘will not weaken but strengthen the domination of the bourgeoisie’ (Lenin 1962: 57, 23). This would be so despite the leading role of the working class in the bourgeois revolution, because, Lenin held, the working class was not aiming for power for itself, but for a ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship’ alongside the

the land,

peasantry who, after seizing force, siding with the

would become a conservative

bourgeoisie and compelling the working class to resume the position of revolutionary opposition (ibid.: 136).

Although Lenin had insisted that attempts to give ‘immediate effect to the conquest of power for a socialist revolution’ were ‘absurd’ (ibid.: 28), in the course of the Russian upheaval of 1917, and along with Trotsky, he led .

.

.

to power in a socialist revolution that the prognostications of 1905. How had this

the working class

overturned

all

been possible? In February 1917 the bourgeoisie were swept to power in Russia on the back of a mass revolt. Although this was not the ‘democratic dictatorship of the working class and peasantry’ that Lenin had spoken of in 1905, he never-

12

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

theless insisted that the bourgeois revolution had been completed. But there were those within the Bolshevik Party who continued to assert that the bourgeois revolution could only be consummated in the ‘democratic dictatorship’ and that this should therefore remain the slogan and aim of (he Bolsheviks. Lenin, however, argued that the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, thrown up in the course of the February revolution, had ‘come close’ to the democratic dictatorship (although they did not wield centralised state power) and that the old slogan, superseded by events,

now ‘antiquated’ and ‘useless’, while those who still clung to it, the ‘Old Bolsheviks’, ‘should be placed in the archive of “Bolshevik” pre-revolutionary antiques’ (Lenin 1964b: 42-54). Instead of the democratic dictatorship Lenin now argued forcefully for the passing of state power to the proletariat, and when the Bolsheviks had obtained majorities on the key Soviets of Petrograd and Moscow he advocated an armed insurrection to carry through the task. The revolution succeeded, and power rested with the workers through the Soviets. It has been necessary to deal with these theoretical propositions and their consequences in some detail not simply because Lenin’s 1905 writings assumed almost scriptural qualities for latter-day Irish communists, but also because was

controversies did not disappear with the vindication of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution in the triumph of Bolshevism but reappeared in the 1920s when a dogmatised variant of ‘Old Bolshevism’ came to dominate the communist movement internationally, with very serious repercussions for Ireland’s communists, confronted as they were with an incomplete bourgeois revolution. But why was it that Trotsky’s perspective, which became also Lenin’s in 1917, succeeded — initially at least — while Connolly’s, which set broadly similar tasks for the working class, failed to bear fruit? Why did the working class not achieve leadership in Ireland’s bourgeois revolution? Although Connolly’s socialist objective was unambiguous, conditions in Ireland at the turn of the century were scarcely conducive to its implementation. Irish society was predominantly rural, and the petty bourgeoisie the largest class. While

the

The Heritage of James Connolly in the

13

nineteenth century the struggle for ownership of the

land had given the national independence movement a potentially social revolutionary character, by the beginning of the twentieth century the land was already being transferred from landlords to tenants with the express purpose of creating a socially conservative peasantry. By 1916 64 per cent of all farmers were owner-occupiers, and though they had to pay for their land through a system of annuities that imposed a heavy burden on the poorest, this was not a contentious issue during the independence struggle, in which the slogan ‘Land to the Peasants’ — so crucial in the Russian revolution — figured not at all. These changes in the Irish social structure left the working class as the only force with the potential for social revolution. But outside north-east Ulster the working class was numerically and organisationally weak. There were none of the massive industrial concentrations that existed, for example, in Petro-

grad, centre of the Russian revolution.

An

Trade Union Congress had been established in but most of its 30,000 affiliated members were of 1894, the artisan class and many of them sought to advance themselves to the status of master craftsmen employing the labour of others. The ITUC represented their guarded reformist outlook and refused to endorse militant methods to advance their claims. The unskilled workers were as yet unorganised. Nor had the ITUC its own political wing but relied upon the middle -class nationalist Irish Party to speak for it in the British parliament. While demands for an Irish labour party were raised in the ITUC around the turn of the century, a combination of Irish Party supporters and Northern Protestant workers — who sought affiliation to the British labour movement — prevented any such development. In sharp contrast to Connolly, who argued that the working class must be to the fore in fighting national oppression in every form, majority feeling in the ranks of the Irish labour movement was hostile to the idea of involvement in the national struggle, counterposing to it an abstract internationalism. This hostility was strengthened by the division within the working class as a whole, for the Protestant workers of the north-east were actively opposed Irish

Communism

14

in

Modern Ireland

to Irish independence — at least in its bourgeois form, which was the only form on offer. These workers, systematically exploited though they were, laboured under a distinct advantage: it was they, and not Catholic workers, who monopolised the skilled and best-paid jobs. Employer and employee shared a common religion, and discrimination against Catholics encouraged loyalty. What was more, the major industries in the North, textiles, engineering and shipbuilding, were closely integrated into the British imperial network, and their predominantly Protestant workforce (no less than the employers) were convinced that an independent Irish government pursuing protectionist policies to develop industry in the South would separate the already industrialised North from its materials and markets, thereby ensuring its rapid decline. They also feared that an authoritarian Catholic Church would wield immense power in an independent Ireland. The combination of sectarianism, underpinned by tangible privileges, and an identification with the ‘benefits’ of British imperialism, kept the Protestant section of the working class loyal to their industrial and political masters and hostile to the national movement. The British ruling class, of course, was not neutral in this conflict but encouraged sectarian rivalries, knowing that a divided working class was more easily dominated, and knowing also that the forces of Unionism could be relied upon to defend Britain’s imperial interests in Ireland.

So long the hands

of the national of the Catholic middle class,

as the leadership

movement was

in

who looked no

further than to the development of native capitalism, then the bonds uniting Protestant workers to the local Unionist bosses,

and through them to the

British

Empire, would

This gave even greater significance to Connolly’s belief that without a working-class leadership in pursuit of socialist objectives, national freedom was unobtainable, for the opposition of Protestant workers to a Catholic bourgeois republic gave the Unionist upper class a mass

remain.

from which to mount resistance to independence and ensured the inevitability of compromise in the struggle for freedom. The trade union leaders, rather than devise a

base

The Heritage of James Connolly

15

strategy that might have overcome the political divisions within the working class, tried to ignore those divisions for the sake of organisational unity. These difficult objective conditions, coupled with serious internal problems, prevented the development of Connolly’s Socialist Republican Party. Membership never exceeded one hundred, and delegate conferences were not held — although the party did engage in some significant agitations, contested several elections (all unsuccessfully), and published a paper,

Workers' Republic

,

through which Connolly expounded his

theories with brilliant clarity.

Almost permanently unemployed and

living in terrible

poverty, Connolly left Ireland for America in 1903 and did

not return for seven years. One writer has nolly’s American experience in these terms:

summed up Con-

America he

learnt the value of industrial unionism. But too well. The results of the backwardness of the Irish working class that had forced him to go to the USA were misrepresented by him as being entirely due to the absence of industrial unionism. In fact, this absence was itself a by-product of the existing economic weakness which had been the overall reason for the failure of a potentially correct political strategy: the development of the ISRP. (Lysaght 1971: 15)

In

he learnt

it

Connolly now began expressing the syndicalist notion that only when the working class had taken control of the means of production could it advance to the seizure of state power, an assertion that rested on a mechanical comparison of past bourgeois with forthcoming proletarian revolutions. The capitalist class developed their economic power before they raised the banner of political revolt, and Connolly argued that the working class would do likewise. Marx, by comparison, had stated that it was only after attaining political power that the working class could wrest the means of production from bourgeois hands, and that a parallel course to that of the bourgeois revolution was impossible because of the centralised nature of the capitalist state which contrasted sharply with the conditions prevailing under feudalism (Connolly 1973b; Marx and Engels 197 la: 53-4). The upshot of these differences

16

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

was crucial, for if the first goal of the syndicalist was industrial power, then the logical instrument for achieving it was not a revolutionary party (as it was for Marx, and even more for Lenin) but the revolutionary trade union. Back in Ireland in 1910, Connolly saw the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union as the weapon with which the ‘industrial republic’ could be won. This union had been founded by James Larkin in 1909, and it made the first serious attempt to organise the unskilled workers. Larkin, born in Liverpool of Irish parents, had made his first impression on the Irish labour scene when, as the thirty-year-old organiser for the National Union of Dock Labourers, he led a mass strike of Belfast harbour workers in 1907. The strike, over wages and union recognition, had been characterised by strong class unity across the sectarian divide and was accompanied in its later stages by a full-scale and sympathetic police mutiny, the mobilisation of British troops, and the shooting dead of two workers in the course of a riot. The strike was only partially successful and ended in considerable confusion, but the real tragedy was that the unity Larkin had built around common economic interests had not been consummated in unity of political purpose. For that process even to have begun Larkin would have had to integrate at least a solid core of Belfast workers, including Protestant workers, into a socialist-directed

anti-Unionist,

anti-imperialist

movement.

But no such movement existed, and Larkin did not yet acknowledge the need for it. Although Connolly had returned to Ireland again to organise his old party, revived in 1909 as the Socialist Party of Ireland, within a year he had found a more suitable outlet for his syndicalist views: he accepted a post as Belfast organiser of the Transport Union. The SPI, if not entirely forgotten, was certainly neglected, although the prospects for building it up appeared greater than at any time in the past, with the development of militant trade unionism and the awakening of class consciousness among new layers of workers. One indication of the potential was the circulation of Larkin’s paper, the Irish Worker (founded in 1911), which peaked at 95,000 copies a week and averaged around 20,000. By comparison, the bourgeois nationalist paper, Sinn Fein had an average circulation of 2,000 (Larkin 1968: 71). ,

7

The Heritage of James Connolly

1

great Dublin lock-out of 1913, which affected workers, the militant labour movement made a 20,000 second and even more profound impression. Connolly, who led the struggle along with Larkin, described the outcome somewhat sanguinely as ‘a drawn battle’, and although the Transport Union was not destroyed, as the employers had intended, it was severely disrupted and financially crippled. The dispute, however, gave a tremendous fillip to independent working-class consciousness, if for no other reason than that the bourgeois nationalists, led by Arthur Griffith, had condemned the workers out of hand. These gentlemen maintained that socialist doctrines, and even the class struggle itself, were ‘foreign imports’ to Irish soil and as harmful to the masses as British rule. The workers did, however, win support from a section of the republican intelligentsia, an event of some consequence for Connolly’s

In the

later actions.

As a defensive measure against police brutality Larkin and Connolly had set

in the course of the struggle,

up the Irish Citizen Army, the first-ever proletarian ‘Red Army’. Immediately after taking this action Larkin left for America to raise funds for the union. He remained spending three of them in prison and his absence was a serious loss to the labour movement as it entered one of the most demanding periods in its history. Following the British general election of 1910 a minority there

for

eight

years,

for his

political

Liberal

government was

activities,

in

power and was dependent on

Party support. In 1912, in return for that support, the government had introduced a Home Rule Bill designed to establish an Irish parliament with limited powers within the Empire. Convinced that such a parliament would soon be established, and realising that the SPI was too weak to provide a socialist opposition within it, Connolly had turned Irish

again to the

ITUC and

finally

convinced

its

1912 conference

of the need for an independent Irish labour party. Although the ITUC added the words ‘and Labour Party’ to its title,

was done to implement Connolly’s resolution, and the Home Rule crisis erupted the labour movement was still without a serious voice of its own. Aided by British Tory leaders who were determined little

when

18

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

above all else to maintain Empire unity, the Unionist Party bosses organised the 100,000-strong Ulster Volunteer Force and publicly threatened armed rebellion to prevent Home Rule and defend their

own economic

interests.

A

number

of British army officers offered their resignations when it was suggested that they might be used to crush the Unionist resistance; and faced with this concerted upper-class revolt, the Liberal government was paralysed. In response, militant nationalists set up the Irish Volunteers to counterbalance the UVF, and within their ranks the clandestine and separatist Irish Republican Brotherhood began planning for offensive military action — not for Home Rule but for a completely independent republic. This crisis dragged on, with civil war threatening, until March 1914 when a ‘compromise’ was suggested: Ireland would be temporarily partitioned. The Irish Party accepted without resistance, and the Unionists

—a

small minority within Ireland as a whole, but determined prevent Home Rule for the entire country — agreed reluctantly. The issue was still unresolved when war broke out in Europe and the Home Rule Bill was set aside. The national and international consequences of the war prompted Connolly to make plans for an armed insurrection, and in January 1916 he joined the Military Council of the IRB so that the Citizen Army and militant Volunteers could work together. The result was the abortive rising of Easter 1916. An Irish Republic was declared, and for a few brief days the rebels held Dublin’s centre and scattered outposts. Their defeat was terrible, with sixty insurgents killed and over twice that number injured. But it was the heavy civilian casualties, with 300 dead and possibly 2,000 to

wounded,

that

compelled Connolly and

his

fellow-leaders

to surrender. Fifteen leaders of the rising were court-martialled

and executed, the wounded Connolly shot dead sitting in a chair. The Irish working class had lost its most outstanding leader.

Did Connolly’s participation in the non-socialist Easter Rising along with non-proletarian forces mean that he had

abandoned his others, was to achieve?

socialist principles

allege?



as

Sean O’Casey, among

What did he hope the

rising

would

The Heritage of James Connolly

19

Before he joined forces with the IRB Connolly planned use the Citizen Army to stage an independent revolt, believing that the rank and file of the Volunteers, mostly workers, would follow the leadership of a militant vanguard. He doubted the willingness of the Volunteers to make an insurrection on their own. However, Pearse and other IRB leaders convinced Connolly that if he collaborated with them they could guarantee the participation of the mass of the Volunteers. He accepted their assurances after much soulsearching. Thus the alliance with the most advanced republicans was purely tactical and implied no sudden modification of Connolly’s political beliefs. What was more, these IRB leaders were not of the capitalist class but from the radical intelligentsia, the very ones who had supported the workers’ struggle in 1913. In addition, just before the rising Connolly had instructed his Citizen Army comrades to ‘Hold on to your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty’ — and what did the economic liberty of the working class mean other than socialism? In his spirited defence of the Easter Rising Lenin emphatically rejected the charge that it was a ‘putsch’. Nevertheless, from a socialist standpoint its organisation and conduct could be justifiably criticised. From the moment he joined with the IRB Connolly accepted its conspiratorial approach. In the nature of things, and especially with the official bourgeois leadership of the Volunteers known to be wholly opposed to insurrectionism — and able in the end to prevent ninety per cent of the Volunteers from participating — preparatory agitation at a mass public level was ruled out. Not only was Connolly left dependent on a spontaneous upsurge, but he had been unable to inform even his closest Citizen Army comrades of the planned revolt until just days before it began. There was no prolonged and serious political debate within the ICA, such as occupied the Bolshevik Party’s central committee for days before their insurrection. Connolly’s somewhat cryptic ‘hold on to your rifles’ speech was no substitute for a clear and precise statement of just how the revolt might actually be made permanent. He presented no programme for the working class to follow to

20

Communism

in the period

in

Modern

Ireland

ahead that might have enabled the most

mili-

tant sections to cut through the confusion that reigned in

the ranks of organised labour after his death so as to achieve a leading position in the ensuing fight for freedom. During the rising no real efforts were made to draw in broader layers of workers. The original, semi-mystical Pro-

clamation of the Republic was followed by just one issue of a largely descriptive bulletin, Irish War News and a second, minor, proclamation which, inter alia called on the people of Dublin to ‘preserve order’. Apart from these, no serious political propaganda was made. The revolt was confined ,

,

to

the

districts

commerical centre of the city; the working-class were unaffected. No attempt was made to back the

armed action with industrial action such as strikes or factory seizures. Even though the success of such endeavours would have been slight, they might have pointed a way forward to the mass of the workers who were politicised

at best

rapidly after the rising.

These shortcomings could be summed up in a phrase: Connolly had not established a revolutionary party of the Bolshevik type. The Socialist Party, which did not participate as a body in the rising, was not a disciplined unified or democratic-centralist organisation. Revolutionaries and non-revolutionaries coexisted in its leadership and among the rank and file. It was not an interventionist party in its own right but, in effect, a propaganda body subordinate to the Transport Union in much the same way as the Labour Party, in so far as it existed, was to the ITUC. But in 1916, outside Russia, no such vanguard party existed, and Lenin’s own writings, so influential in the years ahead, were unavailable

in

English in Connolly’s lifetime.

Indeed,

it

is

unlikely that Connolly even knew of Lenin, let alone of his theory of the revolutionary party.

What, then, did Connolly hope to achieve from the rising? Contrary to some interpretations, he did not imagine that it would light the fuse to a general proletarian uprising throughout Europe. By early 1915 he had to admit that ‘that possibility has receded out of sight’ (Connolly 1915). Connolly was deeply perturbed at the sight of Europe’s socialist parties rushing to support their respective ‘fatherlands’,

The Heritage of James Connolly

21

hope of a workers’ uprising had certainly not abandoned his internationalism. Its focus had shifted, however, and as the war progressed there can be little doubt that Connolly came to favour a German victory — not in the interests of German capitalism, nor even as a backdoor to but

if

he had abandoned

all

internationally to end the war, he

Irish independence — but because in the absence of a European workers’ revolt Germany was the only force capable of challenging Britain’s world domination which, if unchecked, would be disastrous for the future of world socialism. ‘I believe the war could have been prevented by and as the Socialists,’ Connolly wrote, but ‘as it was not the issues are knit, I want to see England beaten’ because a British victory would leave no opportunity for ‘the nations of the world [to] develop that industrial status which Socialists maintain to be an indispensable condition for So.

.

.

triumph’ (ibid.). The defeat of Britain in the war, Connolly maintained, was an absolute precondition for the future unhindered development of capitalism, without which socialism was impossible. The rising — the self-sacrifice of the best elements of the Irish working class — would speed cialist

and therefore also international socialism. This was not entirely the politics of despair. Connolly’s reasoning was in line with the theoretical position of syndicalism (as well as of the Second International), resting as Britain’s defeat

it

did

on a mechanical application of Marx’s Marx had stated that

historical

ma-

terialism.

No

social order

ever destroyed before

all the productive have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. (Marx 1971: 21)

forces

for

Working-class

conditioned capitalism;

between

is

which

it

is

sufficient

consciousness

and

activity,

however, were

by more than the physical development of they were conditioned also by the relationship

capital

and labour, and while proletarian revolu-

tions did not break out at the beginning of the war, the

war

itself

dramatically affected the relations of classes and

22

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

was the major factor promoting the revolutionary upheaval in Russia, a country where capitalism had by no means developed fully and which, on Connolly’s reckoning, was not ripe for socialist revolution. Within nine months of Connolly’s execution the Russian revolution had begun, and within a further nine months the Russian working class was in power and Europe was ablaze with revolutionary fervour.

often quoted as recognising the legitimacy of the blow against imperialism, but one of his comments is less frequently recalled. ‘It is the misfortune of the Irish’, he wrote, ‘that they rose prematurely when the European revolt of the proletariat had not had time to mature.’ (Lenin 1964a: 358) Had Connolly held a less mechanical view of the conditions under which international socialist revolution was possible, he might have acted less

Lenin

is

Easter Rising as a

precipitately.

The international

was not the only factor that course, dismayed at Ireland too. In fact Connolly first mentioned situation

forced Connolly’s hand. events

in

He was, of

armed revolt in response to the proposal to partition Ireland in March 1914. Partition, he argued, ‘should be resisted with armed force if necessary’ because it ‘would destroy the Labour movement by disrupting it’ (Connolly 1972: 49). But Connolly believed such armed resistance should be mounted by the workers of the North and when it was obvious this would not happen he advised that in the Easter ,

Rising ‘not a shot’ be fired in Ulster. Just how Connolly imagined the Unionist workers of the North would regard the rising is not at all clear; he left behind no writings on the matter. But it is clear he believed the rising would rekindle the spirit of revolt among Ireland’s nationalist workers, a spirit that was in grave danger of extinction as those workers flocked in their thousands to the British army in the hope that their loyalty would be rewarded with Home Rule when the war ended. It was not just that Connolly regarded Home Rule as inadequate — the ‘shadow of freedom’ as he put it; but the notion that freedom was a privilege to be dispensed by Ireland’s British rulers was anathema to him. The rising

The Heritage of James Connolly

23

would restore flagging self-confidence and self-respect in the working class. In this regard we might again quote Lenin,

who wrote

that in such revolts ‘the masses gain experience, acquire knowledge, gather strength, and get to know their real leaders, the socialist proletarians, and in this way prepare for the general onslaught’ (Lenin 1964a: 358). In the wake of

the Easter Rising the masses did gain experience, knowledge and strength, but they did not get to know ‘the socialist

Why not? There is little doubt that Connolly was the driving force behind the rising, pushing the republicans forward and prepared, if need be, to stage a revolt without them. It is also true that the rising was the first in Ireland’s long history of rebellions in which working-class forces played an autonomous role. But this did not amount to working-class

proletarians’ as their real leaders.

political

leadership

the

in

national

struggle.

Connolly’s

few in number and effectively confined to Dublin. Many more workers belonged to the middle-class-led Volunteers than to the Citizen Army, and neither the Socialist Party nor Transport Union participated in the rising. Socialism in 1916 was still regarded with suspicion, if not awe, by most Irish workers, and few shared Connolly’s belief that without it Irish freedom could never followers

were

relatively

be complete. *

*

*

In Ireland after the Easter Rising there was a political vacuum: no national movement and no national leadership had yet emerged to replace the declining and increasingly irrelevant Irish Party. Connolly had only set a pattern, plotted a course, but his work had still to be accomplished. Just who he thought would carry out that task, and in what precise manner, remains an unresolved question. In later years the orthodox communist movement offered its own answer to this question, claiming that Connolly had modified, indeed corrected his original assertion that only through socialism could Irish freedom be won when he recognised the need for an alliance ,

with sections of the bourgeoisie to achieve a non-socialist republic as a first and unavoidable stage on the way towards socialism. This interpretation has been most clearly expressed

24

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

C. D. Greaves, who ‘was Connolly’s mature and considered the national revolution takes precedence’,

by Connolly’s communist biographer, has written that

opinion

[that]

it

what would now be called a “national bourgeoisie” with whom the working class must form a ‘National Front’ for the winning of independence. In an independent republic ‘those capitalists who accepted the National State were to be left in possession of their capital’ (Greaves 1961: 344). The privileged classes were to be conciliated after all! This estimation of Connolly, for which no serious evidence is offered, must in fact be understood as an attempt to rationalise, with his posthumous blessing, communist theory and practice in Ireland from the mid-1920s onwards. The stages theory, which artificially separates the national struggle from the struggle for socialism, owes more to developments within the Soviet Union and the international communist movement under Stalin’s dominathat he had ‘recognised the existence of ’

tion than

it

does to Connolly’s actual beliefs or actions.

Labour after the Rising In the immediate aftermath

of the Easter Rising it was obvious that Connolly’s colleagues at the head of the labour movement, many of them his self-professed followers, would not fight for the leadership of the masses who, quiescent and even hostile during the revolt, were quickly stirred out of their apathy by the execution of its leaders and the indiscriminate repression that followed. The leaders of the Transport Union went so far as to deny publicly any connection between the Citizen Army and the union, and hence between the union and the rising. (As the rising gained popularity, however, they were prepared to use the connection to boost recruitment.) In fact the ICA was decimated. Unlike the Volunteers, whose organisation was national, the ICA was confined to Dublin and consequently suffered disproportionately from the repression. It was revived in 1917; but without someone of Connolly’s stature to guide it, it never again achieved significance, becoming instead the plaything of contending but non-revolutionary factions. In the same way the Socialist Party was allowed to fall into

The Heritage of James Connolly inactivity:

no attempt was made to

after the rising, and, as

we

revive

shall see, this

it

had

25

until a year little

to

do

with the developing Irish struggle. The Transport Union was undoubtedly Connolly’s most enduring legacy to the Irish working class, but it was no substitute for a revolutionary party. The strength of syndicalism in the labour movement may have been a reflection of the movement’s backwardness, but it was also syndicalism that gave the movement what strength it had. It emphasised the self-reliance of the rank and file and opposed bureaucratic officialdom; solidarity through the sympathy strike was the rule rather than the exception; it inspired a strong reverence for the picket line; and above all it argued forcefully for workers’ control at the point of production and for proletarian democracy based on direct workshop representation as the workers’ alternative to bourgeois parliamentarianism. On every score it was incomparably more principled and revolutionary than the orthodox communist movement, especially as it developed from the 1930s onwards. But the very nature of the trade union — incorporating non-revolutionary workers while excluding revolutionary non-workers, and playing an essentially defensive role under capitalism — ruled out the possibility of syndicalist ideas becoming the common property of all its members, or of the union substituting itself for a revolutionary party. After Connolly’s death, and with Larkin in America, control of the union passed into the hands of its non-revolutionary leaders; and whatever potential it previously had as a revolutionary weapon, that potential quickly evaporated. This was not just a ‘failing’ on the part of the post-Connolly leadership; it was rooted in actual material conditions. At the time of the rising the union had only 5,000 members and assets of just £96. By 1919 membership had passed the 100,000 mark and income had soared to £75,000. A great many of the new recruits were agricultural labourers among whom proletarian class consciousness was almost non-existent. Their proprietorial yearnings made it unlikely that they would champion the cause of workers’ power and communism. By the end of 1919 the transport workers, who had previously formed the backbone of the union and who

26

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

knew something

of the message and methods of Connolly and Larkin, were outnumbered by six to one. These developments made it both possible and necessary to

the number of full-time paid officials, who numbered twenty -nine by the end of 1918. More

increase

already

often appointed than elected, these officers took to running day-to-day affairs, allowing less and less initiative to the rank

Between May 1915 and August 1918 no union meet between January 1916 and February 1918. These were the years when Ireland’s workers, newly aroused into political activity, were seeking a leadership that would reflect the growing rebelliousness in the country at large. But Connolly’s heirs were more intent on maintaining the union machine and its bulging coffers than on putting themselves forward as candidates for that leadership. Foremost among Connolly’s successors was William O’Brien, secretary of the SPI, secretary of the Dublin Trades Council, vice-chairman and later general secretary of the ITUC, and from the beginning of 1919 treasurer and acting general secretary of the ITGWU. The concentration of so much administrative power in the hands of one man did not pass without protest, but the opposition, led by Larkin’s sister Delia and former IRB man P. T. Daly, and

file.

delegate conference was held, nor did the executive

fought their battle in personal rather than political terms. From America Larkin ordered the opposition to desist, and the last vestige of organised resistance to the growing bureaucracy and its inevitable conservatism ended abruptly. (It would be resumed, however, when Larkin himself returned.) While the labour leaders were securing their organisational grip on the working class the middle-class nationalists were striving for political hegemony over the awakening masses. Within months of the Easter Rising it was known universally as the ‘Sinn Fein rebellion’, although Sinn Fein had not participated in it. At Easter 1916 Sinn Fein was confined to Dublin with only a hundred active members, about onequarter of the number in the ICA and SPI taken together, and one-fiftieth of the number in the Transport Union. By early 1917 Sinn Fein had 11,000 members in 166 branches, and by October a quarter of a million members in 1,200 branches. The Volunteers, largely proletarian, had flocked

The Heritage of James Connolly

body

from

moderate pro-monarwas the election of Eamon de Valera, the most

to Sinn Fein, transforming chist

27

it

a

to a republican separatist one. This change

evidenced in

senior officer to have survived the rising, to the presidency

of both Sinn Fein and the Volunteers. The rise of Sinn Fein was facilitated not only by the quiesence of the labour leaders but also by the total discrediting of the Irish Party. It had supported Britain’s war, expecting Home Rule for the

whole of Ireland as its reward, but in July 1916 the British government announced that partition, first mooted as a temporary expedient, was to be permanent. The Irish Party concurred without protest. In 1917 Sinn Fein won four byelections, and the course was set for its triumph in the 1918 general election.

What, then, was the relationship between the labour movement and Sinn Fein? On the question of Irish independence the labour movement was officially neutral, a position it justified on two main grounds. First, it was argued that ‘taking sides’ would divide the ranks since Protestant workers

opposed national independence. Secondly, the idea that the movement should concentrate on economic issues and leave national politics to nationalist politicians was still prevalent. Connolly’s assertion that the national and social questions were inseparable had not gained wide acceptance. Paradoxically, however, by opting out the labour

labour

movement ensured that the leadership of the national struggle remained in the hands of the Catholic middle class who had nothing of substance to offer Protestant workers and whose leadership could only serve to exacerbate the divisions that already existed. Nor could the nationalist middle class promote the far-reaching social transformation necessary to mobilise the masses in a decisive onslaught on British interests in Ireland. Labour’s official stand, however, did not prevent individual leaders from offering support to the growing nationalist movement, but assisting the middle class in their efforts to gain hegemony was something quite different from fighting for independent proletarian politics within the national struggle. This was something the labour movement’s leaders adamantly refused to do. The one-day general strike of April 1918, called to prevent

28

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

the introduction of conscription, has often been cited as evidence of the labour movement’s independent role in the

but wrongly so. Labour opposition to was expressed not in terms of proletarian internationalism as the answer to imperialist war, but in support for a purely nationalist ‘pledge’ drawn up by de Valera and approved by the Catholic hierarchy. The fact that the strike won no support among Northern Protestant workers might have indicated to the Southern labour leaders that their tailing of the Catholic bourgeoisie was doing nothing to overcome the divisions in the working class. The anti-conscription protest was the turning-point for the national movement, and the general strike gave new confidence national

struggle,

conscription

uninvolved workers; but by it ended, the labour leadership permitted Sinn Fein to reap all the benefits. In the light of what had gone before it was not surprising when the Labour Party decided not to contest the general election in November 1918 (although the ITUC and Labour Party had earlier reversed its title to Irish Labour Party and TUC to emphasise its political aspect). The leadership’s fears that a contest between themselves and Sinn Fein would have split the vote without winning any seats for Labour were well founded, for matters had moved too far since 1916 for the labour movement to come forward now as a contender for the political leadership of the workers. Among the rank and file, whose political education had been neglected as the nationalists advanced, there was little enthusiasm for opposing Sinn Fein on a class basis. In the election Sinn Fein won 73 of Ireland’s 105 seats at Westminster. The Irish Party was obliterated, retaining only six seats, while in the North, with no one appealing to them on a class basis, Protestant workers, not surprisingly, voted overwhelmingly for the Unionist Party. Sinn Fein’s electoral victory set the scene for the final showdown. Abstaining from Westminster, the party’s reto

thousands

of previously

retreating to the sidelines once

established their own ‘illegal’ parliament, Dail feireann, in Dublin and set about extending their authority

presentatives across

to

— soon Republican

the country. Simultaneously the Volunteers

gain

official

Dail recognition as

the

Irish

The Heritage of James Connolly

Army (IRA) — took

29

against the Royal of armed defence. Intense and bloody guerrilla warfare matched by brutal and often indiscriminate state repression continued until the summer of 1921 when, faced with the alternatives of Irish

action

offensive

Constabulary, Britain’s

first

line

continuing stalemate or a war of genocide (which would have been internationally unacceptable), the British agreed to a truce, followed by negotiations towards a settlement. The 1918 election had confirmed the Southern labour leaders’ hopes. Unimpeded by ‘divisive’ social issues, the Irish people, outside the north-east, had given the clearest possible expression of their desire for national freedom. Throughout the ensuing war for independence the labour leaders abstained from any activity that might have undermined Sinn Fein’s authority and justified their collaboration on the grounds that the Dail, at its first meeting in January 1919, had passed a Democratic Programme that promised a just social system in Ireland after independence was secured. The Democratic Programme was originally drafted by Thomas Johnson of the labour leadership, but it had been greatly amended to exclude such key phrases as ‘workers’ control’ and ‘nationalisation without compensation’. Indeed, had there been any prospect of putting even the revised version into effect, it certainly would not have been adopted without fierce opposition,

if

Class Struggle

adopted

at

all.

and National Struggle

Although the labour movement

now

to be the Workers' Republic, this

declared its ultimate aim remained a complete abstrac-

tion while, in the midst of war, the institutions of bourgeois

power — political,

military, financial

and

legal



were created,

they replaced. Yet throughout the independence struggle the working class flexed its muscles largely in imitation of those

of political strikes against British rule and in coneconomic struggles in pursuit of its own class interests. On both fronts the labour bureaucracy kept a tight rein on

in a series

stant

rank-and-file

militancy, guaranteeing action did not transcend the narrow

nationalism, ensuring that their

that

their

political

bounds of bourgeois economic struggles remained

Communism

30

in

Modern Ireland

and refusing to offer the kind of leaderbegun to transform that militancy into a struggle for political power. We shall illustrate the point by looking first at the four most significant political confrontations: the ‘Limerick Soviet’, the Motor Permits strike, the general strike for the release of republican prisoners, and the

largely unconnected,

ship that might have

munitions transport

When

in April

strike.

1919 the

British authorities

attempted to

regulate entry to Limerick city through a system of military

permits, 15,000 workers responded to a general strike call from the local trades council, and for twelve days the strike

committee controlled the

city in

what became known, as the

Limerick Soviet. The ITUC executive, through Thomas Johnson, advised the workers to evacuate the city, advice which, had it been heeded, would have destroyed their power base. Later that year Limerick delegates to the ITUC conference were sharply critical of the national leadership for giving too little practical assistance and for allowing ‘certain undercurrents’ — an allusion to the Catholic hierarchy — ‘to sap and undermine’ the strike (Kemmy 1976: 46; ILPTUC 1919a: 57). Church opposition and ITUC timidity forced the workers to abandon the strike before victory was won. The next major confrontation between workers and the British authorities came in November 1919 with the attempted introduction of special driving permits designed to root out republican lorry-drivers and so deprive the IRA of potential

The small and newly established Automobile and Mechanics’ Union (ADMU) took immediate

transportation. Drivers’

official strike action in defiance

not only of the British but

ITGWU

and ITUC leaders, who advised drivers whose employers would let them work without permits to do so. In the eyes of the ADMU activists this was ‘scabbing’, and their anger increased when the ITGWU rejected calls for the blacking of goods diverted from the roads to the railways. The ADMU’s general secretary later claimed that without the strike half his members would have lost their jobs, whereas, when the strike ended in February 1920 with the introduction of modified permits, only six drivers were refused them. The also

of the

strikers

the

claimed victory, but the strain of their action forced to dissolve, and most of its members joined the

ADMU

The Heritage of James Connolly

31

an event that gave some credibility to ADMU O’Brien withheld support because all along he sought the destruction of the militant drivers’ union to his own union’s advantage (ILPTUC 1920: 11-18, 82-91). On 5 April 1920 workers again took action in support of the national struggle, this time in the form of a general strike

ITGWU — claims

that William

to secure the release of a hundred republican prisoners who had gone on hunger-strike for political status. Although the workers’ strike was official, the ITUC had made absolutely no preparations, and it was left to the rank and file to conduct it from below. As it continued into the second day workers comandeered municipal buildings in many centres and organised food supplies and other civic tasks. They had thrown up their own machinery for controlling the strike, and their action brought success: all the prisoners were unconditionally released. Ireland’s workers had again shown their power, but no sooner had their confidence begun to mature when the strike was abruptly terminated. The Irish Times saw the potential: ‘A continuation of the fight which ended yesterday’, it commented, ‘might have witnessed the establishment of Soviets of workmen in all parts of Ireland.’ But that was certainly not the intention of the labour leadership.

The following month, May, saw the beginning of what proved the longest

if

least

premeditated involvement of

organised labour in the national struggle. Inspired refusal of

London dockers

Soviet Russia, Michael Donnelly, a Dublin

ICA

by the

to load munitions for use against

dock worker and

veteran, persuaded O’Brien to order the blacking of

British ships carrying war materials for use against the IRA. The dockers responded immediately, refusing to unload two ships in port; and that, it seems, is as far as O’Brien intended the action to go. It was only through rank-and-file initiative that the struggle spread: railway workers defied their union leaders by refusing to transport soldiers under arms, an action which, if emulated outside Dublin, could have totally disrupted the British war effort. But the ITUC executive opposed strike action and ordered transport workers to handle everything but war supplies. The employers were less moderate, and by July they had locked out 1,500 workers. Fearing that they would be blamed for ‘the disruption of commerce’, the

32

Communism

ITUC

in

Modern Ireland

leadership again refused to sanction strike action to win

reinstatement, but despite

such official caution, blacking continued into the winter and was overwhelmingly endorsed by a special conference of labour bodies on 16 November. A month later, without consulting the rank and file, the ITUC ordered an immediate resumption of military transports. Faced with mass dismissals and increased repression, it was clear that a stalemate had been reached, offering only two ways out: preparing for an indefinite general strike, or capitulating. The labour leaders chose the second. On the economic front the labour leaders acted with the same ambivalence. Coinciding with the Russian revolution of February 1917 there had been extensive land seizures in Roscommon, and a second wave of seizures, through Clare to Sligo, followed the attempted introduction of conscription in 1918. Early in 1920 estates were taken over in all four provinces. These seizures were the work of the poorest farmers and landless men, and although 40,000 agricultural labourers belonged to the ITGWU, the union leadership neither directed nor attempted to co-ordinate the agitations in a general struggle to expropriate the landlords. Sinn Fein, which had condemned the early seizures, began preparing through the Dail the machinery to end them. Between May 1920 and the summer of 1921 new republican land courts — set up after an appeal by dispossessed landlords and applying British law — dealt with around 400 cases of ‘illegal’ seizure. In the midst of the ‘war of liberation’ many landless families were evicted by a newly established republican police force, based

on the IRA. The republican government

later

summed up

the

situation:

All this was a grave menace to the Republic. The mind of the people was being diverted from the struggle for free-

dom by

a class

war

There was a moment when it seemed

that nothing could prevent wholesale expropriation. (Dail Eireann 1921)

But the crisis was surmounted thanks to the IRA and the unwillingness of the labour leadership to promote social conflict with the fledgling state. While the land seizure movement was militant and offen-

The Heritage of James Connolly

33

sive, the class composition of those taking part was so heterogeneous as to rule out the possibility of this becoming the spearhead of a thoroughgoing social revolution. And the industrial struggles in this period were on a small scale. In fact it was in Belfast that the largest and most significant occurred. In January 1919, coinciding with the foundation of the Dail and the beginning of the armed struggle against British rule, Belfast engineering workers came out on unofficial strike for a 44-hour week. At the height of the strike 40,000 workers were involved, and although Glasgow workers, striking for a 40-hour week, had been defeated, the Belfast men refused to accept a compromise deal. On 14 February British troops, armed with machine-guns, occupied the power stations,

challenging the

step up their action by and beyond, or to retreat. representing an overwhelmingly

strikers either to

calling a general strike in the city

The

strike

committee,

Protestant workforce, was not prepared to take

on the

British

and recommended a return to work. The strike had shown that the Unionist all-class alliance was less solid than it appeared, but without independent working-class politics in the national struggle there was little likelihood of Protestant workers’ economic militancy growing over into political opposition to British rule. The militancy was soon dissistate

pated in a flood of sectarian violence as the Unionist rulers endeavoured to break nationalist resistance to partition through pogroms. In the South, with its minute industrial base, there could be nothing on the scale of the Belfast strike, but in 1920 a new form of struggle emerged which reflected, to some extent, the experience of the Russian revolution as workplaces were occupied and run as ‘soviets’ under the red flag. Three Transport Union officials —John Dowling, John McGrath and Jack Hedley — were closely involved, but not necessarily with the approval of their head office. Dowling had worked with Connolly in the old ISRP, while Hedley, a deserter from the British navy, had attempted to politicise the Belfast engineering strike from the outside and, using the name O’Hagan, had helped launch the tiny and short-lived Revolutionary Socialist Party in the city. In May 1920, under Hedley ’s guidance, workers at the

34

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

Cleeves creameries in Knocklong, Co. Limerick, took over their factory in pursuit of a

wage claim. Output was main-

tained, a red flag flew overhead, and above the door of the

‘Knocklong Soviet’ was a banner proclaiming ‘We make conceded and the creamery was returned to them — only to be blown up a few months later by the police as part of a British campaign of economic sabotage against the Republic. In the spring of 1921 coal-miners at Arigna in Leitrim seized their mine to resist a wage cut. Production continued, with coal sold locally. The ‘Arigna Soviet’, led by Geoffrey butter, not profits’. Within days the owners

Coulter, a self -professed Bolshevik, lasted two months before the employers withdrew the cuts and offered further concessions to the men.

As with the land seizures, the republican forces were hostile would move against them too. Nor were the labour leaders over-enthusiastic. John McGrath argued forcefully for the tactic at the 1921 TUC conference, but a resolution from the Women Workers’ Union, proposing measures to encourage occupations, was sidestepped (ILPTUC 1921: 92). It was left to militants on the ground to improvise as best they could. While in themselves these economic struggles did not pose to workplace occupations and in time

a serious threat to British rule in Ireland, they did point out

an alternative path to that of the ‘national front’ of Sinn Fein

and the labour bureaucracy. Militant agitation on social and economic issues, combined with direct working-class action in pursuit of national freedom, was the only way the broadest layers could be drawn into a sustained struggle that would differ quantitatively and qualitatively from guerrilla warfare waged by a small if brave minority. As it was, guerrilla warfare led only to stalemate and compromise as the truce of July 1921 was followed five months later by the Anglo-Irish Treaty. *

*

*

None of the organisations which Connolly had created within the working class had been capable of resisting the growing labour bureaucracy which, in the interests of a spurious national unity (that excluded the Protestant section of the

The Heritage of James Connolly

35

had accepted the dictum that ‘Labour must major consequence of their denial of independent proletarian politics was that most militant workers were absorbed into the republican melange. The official labour leadership could not have acted differently, for they were not revolutionaries. Those who were were slowly surfacing. working

wait’.

A

class),

2

From Socialist Party Communist Party The

Socialist Party

to

and the Internationals

The years from 1917 to 1921 were

decisive not only in shaping Ireland’s future but also in determining the class nature of political regimes throughout Europe. They were the years that saw the division of the international working class into the camps of social democracy and communism, and Ireland did not entirely escape the trauma. In the wake of the first Russian revolution of February 1917 William O’Brien and Cathal O’Shannon re-established the Socialist Party of Ireland and through it presented a revolutionary face to the Irish working class and to the emerging international communist movement. When the Bolsheviks triumphed in October the SPI celebrated the event with a 10,000-strong rally at Dublin’s Mansion House, described in a contemporary report as being

among

the three or four greatest ever held in Dublin under it is historic in the annals

any auspices for any cause, and

of Irish Labour. Amid great enthusiasm, resolutions were unanimously voted rejoicing with the people of Russia [and] declaring the people of Dublin to be at one with .

.

.

[them] in accepting the programme of the Revolution. (ILPTUC 1919b: 28)

One of the

principal speakers

patriate English trade unionist

was Thomas Johnson, an exwho had supported the Allied

and who, possibly more than any other union had sought to disentangle the labour movement from the national struggle, a struggle for which he had little sympathy. His sympathy with Bolshevism was every bit as tenuous.

war

effort

leader,

On

the

first

anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution



From

Socialist Party to

Communist Party

37

which coincided with the overthrow of the Central European monarchies — the SPI, pressurised by the Citizen Army, formed a Russian Revolution and Republic Committee along with the Dublin Trades Council, to organise commemorative celebrations. Although the British authorities banned the proposed celebrations and sent armed police to occupy all likely meeting-places and remove red flags hoisted on various public buildings by members of the ICA, two illegal meetings were in fact held. An anniversary pamphlet was published, declaring that the central lesson of the Russian revolution

was that ‘the state must be destroyed and industrial control by the workers established’ (Aronson 1918: 3), but it did not mention the ongoing struggle in Ireland. The SPI leaders’ frequent pronouncements in favour of Bolshevism were, as we have seen, belied by their practice, but they ensured that the more ardently communistic members of the party did not challenge their authority for a considerable time. The unity of reformists and revolutionaries, however, could not last for ever, but it was significant that it was a dispute over the Irish labour movement’s international affiliations, rather than any clearly expressed opposition to the policy of tailing the nationalists, that eventually brought the revolutionaries to the surface.

While

still

voicing support for the Bolshevik cause, the

leaders of the SPI

ference of the

had endorsed a resolution

ITUCLP which

at the

1918 con-

called for the re-establishment

of the Second International, a move which the Bolsheviks vehemently opposed as the International’s constituent parties had supported the war efforts of their various ruling classes. When a conference to resurrect the International was held at Berne in February 1919 the SPI and Labour Party gave their support and sent delegations, even though a principal organiser of the event was Arthur Henderson, the British labour leader who had held a wartime cabinet post throughout the Easter Rising and the subsequent executions and repression. A joint committee from the Labour Party and SPI, calling itself the ‘Irish Section of the International’, prepared a long document, Ireland at Berne for presentation at the conference, and before the delegates —Johnson and O Shannon — left for Switzerland the document was presented to Sinn F£in for ,



38

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

approval, underlining the fact that they were acting also as emissaries for the nationalists. Ireland at Berne presented a detailed case for Irish self-determination but said little about the struggle for socialism at home or abroad. In the course of a discussion at the Berne gathering on the new Soviet regime in Russia the Irish delegates opposed a resolution that favoured the parliamentary road to socialism over the dictatorship of the proletariat, but this did not imply, as has been claimed (Mitchell 1974: 111), that they endorsed proletarian dictatorship. They voted, in fact, for a middle-of-the-road resolution which stated: ‘We are on our guard against any kind of branding of the conditions in the Russian Soviet Republic since we do not possess sufficient

knowledge to make a judgement.’ (Braunthal 1967: 155) Pragmatism, not Bolshevism, was what characterised the Irish approach. Eight days before Johnson and O’Shannon returned to Ireland the Bolsheviks had launched the Third (Communist) International, the Comintern,

ment not mentioned

on 4 March 1919, a develop-

in the Irish delegates’ report. This report

gave a very favourable account of the Berne conference, describing it as ‘successful’ and ‘satisfactory’, despite the fact that it had emphatically rejected proletarian revolution and had been boycotted by socialist parties from fourteen countries. What was more, only the Bolsheviks and the Comintern unequivocally recognised the Republic of 1919 and the legitimacy of the armed struggle to defend it — the very things that O’Shannon had demanded at Berne, but

without success. Despite their delegates’ favourable report, the executives of the ILPTUC and SPI decided against affiliation to the revamped Second International. But they simultaneously rejected affiliation to the Third. It was the fact of disorganisation, and not the issues of principle underlying the conflict between the two bodies, that kept the Irish labour movement out of either. Although no Irish delegation was present at the founding conference of the Comintern, James Larkin, then serving a prison sentence in America on a charge of criminal anarchy, took it upon himself to send a telegram of support:

From

Socialist Party to

Communist Party

39

In the name of the Irish revolutionary socialist proletarian Rest assured that movement we send you greeting. your Irish comrades are with you in everything you might .

.

.

undertake. Yours for the Revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. (Larkin 1919: 237)

who

Larkin thought the ‘Irish comrades’ were is not unlikely he had any notion that a small group of revolutionaries, taking their cue from the Comintern, had finally begun to organise a left-wing takeover of the SPI. In September 1919 the ‘Bolshevik’ faction won temporary control over the party and passed a resolution for affiliation to the Comintern. The ITGWU officials, who had been bypassed in a moment of complacency, were quick to stage a comeback when press, priests and Sinn Fein publicly condemned ‘creeping Bolshevism’ in the SPI. Consequently the attempted affiliation was never carried through (SPI 1920a). The takeover had been engineered by Sean McLoughlin and Paddy Stevenson. McLoughlin, at the age of sixteen, had fought in the Easter Rising with Fianna Eireann (junior Volunteers) and had been promoted to the rank of commandant by James Connolly. After the rising he had reorganised the Volunteers in Co. Tipperary before joining the Socialist Party. Stevenson too had fought in 1916 as a member of the IRB. Among their faction in the SPI was James Connolly’s nineteen-year-old son, Roddy, who had also served in the

Just

clear,

but

it is

Fianna.

The young Connolly, who was to emerge as the dominant Communist Party, had joined the SPI when it was re-formed in 1917, but in the following year had gone to work at the Parkhead Forge in Glasgow and there became

voice in the Irish

involved with the leading Marxists of the day, the men who would shortly emerge as the leaders of the British Communist Party: Arthur MacManus, first chairman of the CPGB, who was himself from an Irish Fenian background and had known James Connolly; Willie Gallacher, future general secretary and president of the CPGB and a frequent visitor to Ireland in the years ahead; and William Paul, future editor of the communist Sunday Worker and something of an Irish expert. But Roddy Connolly also maintained an active interest in the 6migr6 world of Irish republicanism, holding the rank of

40

Communism

Modern Ireland

in

captain in the local Volunteeers and associating with veteran republican Charlie Diamond, then engaged in smuggling explosives to Ireland.

Shortly after the abortive coup of September the left

document Comintern executive (ECCI) (SPI 1920a). It said that under O’Brien, ‘who was never a socialist’, the SPI was ‘now merely a debating society’, while the nearly defunct leaders of the ITGWU were ‘for the most part under the faction in the SPI submitted a lengthy perspectives

to the

.

.

.

influence of the Sinn F£in representatives

[and] content with a big membership and a big bank balance’. They named their own faction as the Workers’ Communist Party, ‘of whom nothing has been heard yet, but who will get support later [as] the rallying ground for the discontented’. Thenassessment of the political situation and the potential for social revolution was exceedingly optimistic. The 40,000 IRA volunteers, ‘for the most part proletarian’, were ‘bitterly hostile’ to the employing class and ‘hostile to the Sinn Fein leadership’, while most favoured the Workers’ Republic. ‘They and they alone’, the report continued, ‘are the factor They can sway Ireland as they wish.’ Similarly, in Ireland. of the ITGWU’s 100,000 members, ‘the majority would support the struggle for a Workers’ Republic’. But in assuming that the great majority of those fighting the British were already socialists and revolutionaries simply waiting for the ‘correct’ leadership to materialise, the left in the SPI seriously underestimated the strength of ‘pure’ republicanism, economism and reformism in the working class. Reliance on the spontaneous emergence of socialist consciousness among the Irish masses was to prove one of the left’s greatest weaknesses .

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

in the years ahead.

The reinstated O’Brienite leaders of the SPI wrote an angry reply to the Comintern describing the left’s report as ‘slanderous lies’, demanding its retraction, and again asserting that they were the only ‘true’ Bolsheviks in Ireland (SPI 1920b). But the Comintern, well used to dealing with ‘centrists’ who liked to keep a foot in both reformist and revolutionary camps, ignored their communication and kept all lines open to the McLoughlin/Stevenson/Connolly group. At the ILPTUC conference in August 1920 the left had an

From

Socialist Party to

Communist Party

41

opportunity to test the feeling in the broader movement on

A

resolution the question of its future international affiliations. backed by the Dublin Trades Council — from which O’Brien

supporters had been purged late in 1919 when was elected secretary — called for principled opposition to the Second International without going so far as to advocate affiliation to the Third. All the prominent leaders, with the exception of O’Shannon, opposed the move,

and

his

P. T.

Daly

and while it was rejected by 97 votes to 54, a large minority had taken a clear stand to the left of the leadership. An earlier Trades Council resolution which did propose affiliation to the Comintern had been withdrawn when O’Shannon argued — probably correctly — that the Comintern would not accept the Labour Party as it was not communist (ILPTUC 1920: 97, 106). But the fact that the Dublin Trades Council favoured the affiliation of the Labour Party to the Communist International was in itself very significant. The SPI at the Second and Third Comintern Congresses

The Second World Congress of the Third International had opened in Moscow on 17 July 1920. In what amounted to another minor coup the left in the SPI had nominated two of their number, Roddy Connolly and Eamonn Mac Alpine, as

Mac Alpine, an Irish- American, a friend of member of the Socialist Party of America, had come to Ireland in 1919 and joined forces with

official delegates.

Larkin, and an executive

On their Russian journey Connolly and MacAlpine pioneered the route to the Soviet Union followed by British communist leaders in the future. Their visit was financed by Captain Jack White, the former British army officer who had helped found and train the Citizen Army. Arrangements had been made through Sylvia Pankhurst’s Workers’ Socialist Federation with the assistance of Erkki Veltheim, a young Comintern agent in Britain. Without passports, the two Irish delegates departed illegally from Hull aboard a small boat bound for Norway. On the second day at sea a fierce storm swept them two hundred miles off course, and with the captain and crew all violently ill, the boat drifted helplessly. Connolly thought his days O’Brien’s opponents in the SPI.

42

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

were over, but the storm eventually subsided and they put in at Murmansk, from where Comintern representatives escorted

them

to the Congress.

For the Irish delegates the most vital matter on the agenda was the discussion on the national and colonial question. A special commission, presided overby Lenin and with Connolly as one of its members, was set up to examine the issue in detail. In the commission Lenin emphasised strongly the need for the communists in the colonies to enter into tactical alliances with the emerging national revolutionary movements, and particularly with their peasant base, so as to forge an alliance between them and the Soviet state against their common enemy, world imperialism. He wanted also to ensure that the small communist groups in the colonies did not adopt a sectarian attitude that would isolate them from the revolutionary bourgeoisie (Lenin 1966: 240-5). In contrast to Lenin, the young Indian Marxist M. N. Roy emphasised the class polarisation that was occurring within the colonial countries between the bourgeoisie and the workers, and advocated a more independent line for the communists. Ireland, where the bulk of the small farmers had been transformed into a class of owner-occupiers and where the workers’ movement was already well developed and experienced, seemed to conform more to the pattern outlined by Roy, but the Irish communists, as we shall see, adhered fairly dogmatically to the strategy set out by Lenin, a strategy devised for conditions very different from those pertaining in Ireland. It must be stressed that the projected alliance between communists and revolutionary nationalists was regarded by Lenin as a temporary tactical expedient only. The triumph of the working class in the advanced capitalist countries, then believed to be imminent, would enable the backward countries

to proceed to socialism without an intermediate capitalist stage. But the question of how communists in the colonies

should act if the metropolitan revolutions failed to materialise, or materialised and failed, was left unanswered. The Irish communists were also faced with a more immediate dilemma. Why should the republicans tolerate, let alone ally with them — a minute sect with no social or political

From

Socialist Party to

Communist Party

43

weight? Connolly believed that they would be forced to do so only if the communists in Britain and other countries filtered all their assistance to the Irish struggle ‘through the agency of the small Communist groups’ in Ireland. This, he argued, would force the republicans ‘to remain neutral to the Communist groups gathering force and strengthening themselves, or they may have to actively assist this strengthening by unconsciously affording the groups propaganda facilities’ (Connolly 1920: 138). In arguing thus Connolly had, intentionally or otherwise, criticised the Soviet government, whose American agents, without consulting the Irish communists, had recently entered into negotiations with Sinn Fein’s Washington bureau for a possible trade agreement. The proposed treaty, which entailed among other things the supply of 50,000 rifles to the IRA, was uncovered and published by the British authorities (HMSO 1921) in an attempt to create a red scare. In the end the treaty fell through, though the Soviet regime did supply Sinn Fein with a valuable collection of jewellery for use as collateral in raising loans. Although Sinn F6in’s main external source of support lay in the socially conservative Irish-American community, it seems reasonable to suppose that had the Irish communists been involved in republican negotiations with the Bolsheviks, their stature could only have risen. As it was, Sinn F6in had no reason to do anything but ignore them. The British delegates to the Second Comintern Congress were taken to task on a number of occasions for their attitude to the Irish struggle. Tom Quelch of the British Socialist Party had stated that ‘The rank-and-file British worker would consider it treasonable to help the enslaved nations in then-

remark that drew a forceful from Karl Radek of the ECCI:

uprisings against British rule,’ a retort

The British proletariat would never be free of the capitalist yoke unless it actively supported the colonial revolutionary movement. The Comintern would judge the British comrades not by their articles in favour of liberation, but in the number of them imprisoned for agitation in Ireland, Egypt or India, and among the troops dispatched to suppress risings in these countries. (Degras 1971 i 139) :

Communism

44

in

Modem Ireland

Connolly in turn argued that as Ireland was of definite importance to the struggle for the overthrow of British capitalism, it was therefore in the interests of the British communists to assist their Irish comrades as best they could, and he rebuked them for not doing so (Connolly 1920: 138). Mac Alpine returned to the same theme, stating that

strategic

Hitherto the attitude of the British revolutionary movement towards Ireland has either been one of condescending tolerance, or it has adopted the Social Democratic attitude of supporting by phrases the aspirations of the revolutionary [While British communists must support nationalists. the nationalist movement] it is also important that they differentiate themselves from it; pointing out that their attitude towards Ireland is not a bourgeois humanitarian reaction against oppression, but the result of the common The class interests of the proletariat of both countries. sooner the British workers get familiar with treason to the bourgeois state, the better for the revolutionary movement. .

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

(Mac Alpine 1920: 139-40) This note of discord, struck at the Second Congress, remained a feature of British/Irish communist relations long into the future. The Irish communists, perhaps because of their familiarity with armed subversion, had little respect for what they perceived as the legalistic and moderate approach of the British communists, who in turn had as little regard for their Irish comrades, preferring the political company of the official labour leaders, whom they took for genuine revolutionaries. Sylvia Pankhurst’s Workers’ Socialist Federation was the only group on the British left to engage openly in anti-militarist activity in support of the Irish struggle, and towards the end of 1920 Pankhurst herself faced charges

over the publication of material ‘calculated to cause dissension’ in the armed forces (Kendall 1969: 247). Connolly and MacAlpine left Russia with great hopes; the Comintern had sanctioned the establishment of an Irish communist party, based on the left wing of the SPI, and had

promised financial assistance. But on 20 October their hopes were dashed with the arrest in London of Erkki Veltheim, the Comintern agent assigned to Irish work. A coded letter to

From

Socialist Party to

Communist Party

45

the ECCI, which was seized by the police, read in part: ‘Impossible to go successfully [to] Ireland to start party without money.’ Veltheim had already spent much etc. of a £300 Comintern donation to the railwaymen who were blacking British war materials in Ireland, and had received .

.

.

(ibid.: 255). Without funds, Connolly and his comrades had no alternative but to bide their time in the SPI. In the summer o.f 1920 Connolly, under the pseudonym ‘Thomas Darragh’, had published another scathing attack on the leadership of the SPI (Darragh 1920: 2291-2). Although the party had a membership on paper of some hundreds, only thirty were ‘effective’ in Dublin, he said, while country having no direct connection members were ‘badly organised with each other or the Dublin headquarters’. No paper was produced; occasional pronouncements were issued, but they were of no immediate relevance; the party had made no impact whatever throughout the war of independence and had been content to lend the reputation of ‘the party of James Connolly’ to the official labour movement, which in

nothing further

.

.

.

turn simply tailed the nationalists.

Again the SPI leaders attempted to re-establish their revolutionary credentials with a lengthy reply to the ECCI (SPI: 1920c). The party, they claimed, had instigated almost every upheaval from the Easter Rising to the land and factory seizures; it stood unequivocally for the dictatorship of the proletariat; its members on the executive of the ILPTUC were responsible for that body’s ‘direct and fearless action’. But while ‘the Marxian character of the SPI has been maintained’, it went on, ‘the preoccupation of the people with the struggle against British imperialism [is an obstacle] preventing the spread of revolutionary socialism’. Economism reigned: the union officials at the head of the SPI saw no potential for connecting the class and national struggles. In the following summer Connolly was again in Russia as the SPI delegate to the Third World Congress of Comintern. This time he travelled by air, the passenger in a two-seater open plane piloted by a German war-ace turned Bolshevik. Lacking maps, they navigated by following the old wartime The atmosphere at the Third Congress was very different from that of the Second. The high hopes of the trenches.

46

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

year before had been replaced by the sobering realisation that the revolutionary tide that had swept Europe had now ebbed. But if working-class victory in the advanced countries was postponed, did that mean that the backward countries would, after all, have to go through a period of capitalist development? And, if so, how should the communists in those countries conduct themselves? Regrettably for the Irish communists, no light was shed on these problems by the Congress. The Bolsheviks, who had pinned all their hopes for constructing socialism in Russia on the victory of the revolution in the West, were forced to retreat at home: the New Economic Policy, which gave concessions to capitalist and peasant producers, replaced the rigorous economy of War Communism. Connolly discussed the Irish situation at some length with Lenin and again received the ECCI’s blessing for the transformation of the SPI into a communist party, adhering to the twenty-one conditions of membership of the Comintern. Accordingly, on his return from Moscow, Connolly immediately moved to re-establish left-wing control over the Socialist Party. This time the takeover was accomplished

without resistance.

The Launching of the Communist Party

At a SPI meeting on 9 September 1921, with O’Brien and his supporters absent, the left captured all the seats on the executive. Connolly was now president; his sister Nora was treasurer; and Walter Carpenter, son and namesake of one of James Connolly’s old comrades, was secretary. Easter Rising veterans Seamus MacGowan and J.J. O’Leary were also elected ( The Communist 17 Sept. 1921). Early in the ,

month

members voted to seek affiliation to the Comintern, while O’Brien and O’Shannon were expelled for following

the

and con‘reformism, consecutive non-attendance attempts to render futile all efforts at building a Communist Party in Ireland’. Several others ‘whose adherence to socialism has consisted in their names appearing on our

their

.

.

.

sistent

books and nothing more’ were also purged (O’Leary 1921; WR, 22 Oct. 1921). The removal of ‘reformists and centrists from all responsible positions’ was a condition of member-

From

Socialist Party to

Communist Party

47

ship of the Third International. The party met again on 28 October in the SPI rooms at North Great George’s Street and, unperturbed by a Black and Tan raid, adopted a new constitution committing it to the violent overthrow of the state and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The final condition of Comintern membership was now met: the members formally voted to change the name from Socialist to Communist Party of Ireland ( WR 5 Nov. 1921). Misgivings had been expressed by some of the members, including Connolly, about the haste with which this transformation was being conducted. Connolly had opposed immediate affiliation to the Comintern and argued for the temporary retention of the old name and constitution, which he believed would allow ,

a

much needed

munists,

collaboration of sections of

pseudo -Communists,

socialists,

all

views,

Com-

labourites,

to

advance the party some degree, and then it will be worth splitting over. ... A change in the substance rather than in the adornment of the party

is (

more

preferable.

The Communist 8 Oct. 1921) ,

The Comintern’s conditions of membership to which the Irish communists were now adhering so rigidly were drafted primarily to deal with the mass reformist and centrist parties of Europe where the communists had already achieved a firm foothold, or were aimed at clearing out the few centrists who remained in parties that were otherwise communist. In either case splits and expulsions would produce strong pro-Comintern organisations. The SPI, with only a couple of dozen Comintern supporters and virtually no influence in the working class, fitted neither category. In this situation

Connolly’s strictures

seemed to make sense, but he was outvoted at every juncture. On taking over the SPI in September 1921 the left had at once published a paper, Workers’ Republic, the first edition of which appeared on the 16th of the month. It was the first revolutionary socialist paper produced in Ireland since the demise of James Connolly’s paper of the same name over half a decade earlier. Its first issue was given over entirely to one long article, ‘Main Points in a Policy for the Party’. Almost certainly the work of Roddy Connolly, it concentrated

48

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

on economic and trade union matters and excluded

all

reference to the national struggle, then in abeyance under the July truce. The party’s twenty or so active members were

deemed ‘ample and sufficient to start with’, and while no mass recruitment or great extension of influence was anticipated in the coming months, it was confidently predicted that the party would eventually ‘lead the masses to a successful social revolution and establish a Workers’ State’. Party nuclei were to be set up in every union and factory groups established in every industry ‘to carry out a socialist agitation directly concerning the point at issue’, while ‘later we shall see to having a nucleus in the ICA, the IRA and any other organisation that contains members possible to exploit for revolutionary socialism’. Not until they had recruited at least 300 members in Dublin and set up a branch in each main town, the article insisted, could they justify the term ‘party’ in their title. While there were still many outstanding theoretical and practical issues to be resolved, the communists were elated with their success in taking over James Connolly’s old party and converting it into what they believed was a proper Bolshevik organisation. In the five and a half years since Connolly’s death the Irish political scene had been transformed utterly. A war of independence had been fought to the point of stalemate, and the country awaited expectantly for the outcome of the negotiations under way in London. The republican movement had captured the imagination and the active assistance of the militant workers, although it had no social programme capable of sustaining that support. The official labour leaders had deferred to the nationalist middle class. How would the new Communist Party come to grips with the complex situation now facing it?

3

The Communist

Party,

Nationalism and Syndicalism From Truce

to Civil

War

month when

the Communist Party of Countess Markievicz, Minister of Labour in the government of the Irish Republic, submitted a memorandum to the cabinet warning of the ‘imminence of social revolution’. Her fears had been prompted not by the formation of the Communist Party but by the outbreak of another wave of strikes and factory seizures in the aftermath of the July truce. In August the Cleeves mills and bakery at Bruree, Co. Limerick, were occupied by the workers and run under the red flag as the ‘Bruree Workers’ Soviet Mills’. In the same month workers had seized the creamery at Charleville, Co. Cork, to enforce a closed shop. In September the Cork docks were taken over in the course of a wage dispute; red flags were hoisted and a ‘soviet’ proclaimed. At the same time striking engineering workers occupied the Drogheda foundry, restarted production and announced plans for further seizures in Drogheda and Dublin (Lysaght 1972). Across the country railway workers were resisting a massive wage cut. Fearing that such activity would ‘disrupt the republican cause’, Markievicz recommended ameliorative action ‘to show the workers that we have their interests at heart’, but her cabinet colleagues preferred to retaliate. In November republican police were used against striking farm workers at Bulgaden, Co. Limerick, an action that resulted in a four-day general strike in the area during which several hundred men marched through the town behind a red flag. Arrested strikers were freed and the strike continued. Also in November the republican police were used to break a corporation workers’ strike in Kilkenny, and in December they evicted workers from yet another occupied factory. In October 1921, the

Ireland

was

launched,

50

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

This all appeared to be the kind of activity the communists could relate to, but they did no more than report the disputes in the Workers’ Republic and denounce the actions of the republican police as ‘treasonable against the working class’. On 12 November the paper admitted that the party ‘is not yet even in touch with the organisations of the masses in any definite working manner’, and two weeks later Connolly sought to justify this inactivity by asserting that ‘The masses are not in motion just now — they are apathetic.’ There is little doubt that Markievicz’s prediction of social revolution was exaggerated, but Connolly had gone to the other extreme.

The

Irish

working

class

had suffered no major defeats, and

the small-scale localised struggles then in progress seemed to offer opportunities for communist intervention and influence

would have been denied in large-scale nation-wide where the tiny communist forces might easily have been swamped. In place of outward activity Connolly advocated ‘a fierce that

struggles

internal struggle’ to purify the party of a group of ‘intellectual fops’, led

by

a Russian emigre

named

Peterson,

who opposed

the democratic centralist structure that Connolly was intent

demanding ‘stern was placed on probation at the beginning of December. If there were plans for a turn to the working class now that the internal problems had been resolved, they were quickly set aside when the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in London on 6 December. Under the Treaty the twenty-six southern counties were granted dominion status as the Irish Free State, and the oath of allegiance to the King of England was retained. Partition, already enshrined in the Government of Ireland Act (1920) and institutionalised with the establishment of a separate Northern parliament in the summer of 1921, was upheld, although the final borders of the Northern state were to be determined by a Boundary Commission. In addition, the British retained control over Irish naval bases, and the Free State was to pay an annual sum as a share of the United Kingdom’s public debt. If the road to Home Rule had been opened by the virtual demise of the landlord class in Ireland, that to partition and

on building within the

party. With Connolly

discipline’, the Peterson faction

The Communist Party Nationalism and Syndicalism ,

51

by the revolt of powerful British with the Northern Unionists. Both dreaded the economic consequences of Irish independence: the first fearing the spread of protectionism in the Empire at large if Ireland were allowed to set a precedent; the second fearing the collapse of their own industries cut off from the British market. Compromise, in the form of the Treaty, was possible because the division of Ireland and the denial of its complete independence were quite compatible with the economic interests of leading sections of the Southern bourgeoisie. Both the British ruling class and the Irish bourgeoisie would have recognised that failure to terminate the national struggle at this stage could have resulted in its transformation into a social upheaval; it was clearly much better from the British point of view to strike a bargain and let the Irish bourgeoisie deal with the subversive elements in the country. Last, but by no means least, Britain’s rulers ensured through partition that both parts of the country remained in a state of economic dependency. The coalition of class interests that comprised the nationalist movement fell apart with the signing of the Treaty. Opposition to it was led by Eamon de Valera, who resigned as President of the Irish Republic to form his own anti-Treaty party, Cumann na Poblachta — best described as the representatives of nascent native capitalism. A pro-Treaty Provisional Government, headed by Michael Collins, was set up to transfer power from the British to the Irish administration, dismantling the ‘illegal’ Republic of 1919 en route. The Catholic hierarchy, the established commercial, trading and substantial farming classes, backed by the full weight of the press, lined up in support of the Treaty, along with the IRB and a minority of the IRA, but including its Chief of Staff, Richard Mulcahy. The urban and rural petty bourgeoisie, the land-hungry, the Republican intelligentsia and a majority of IRA officers and volunteers, drawn from all these elements, backed de Valera. Officially the labour movement tried to steer a neutral course, but soon emerged on the pro-Treaty side. Workers who opposed the Treaty moved to the de Valera camp, while many of the unemployed were recruited to the ranks of a paid professional army established by the Provisional Governthe Treaty had been opened capitalist interests allied

52

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

ment. Public opinion, reflecting a desire to maintain the peace Ireland had known since the truce, and fearing a renewal of hostilities should the Treaty be rejected, was easily convinced that it was the best deal that could be hoped for. Against a massive array of organised pressure favouring acceptance, the Republican opposition prevaricated, and while they satisfied themselves with claiming moral superiority the pro-Treaty faction prepared for the inevitable showdown. The first organisation publicly to reject the Treaty was the infant Communist Party of Ireland. Even before the Dail met on 14 December to discuss the terms, the CPI had produced a long and hard-hitting manifesto (published in WR 17 Dec. 1921) in which it predicted that the Free State ‘will bring neither freedom nor peace. Instead, civil war and social hell will be loosed if it is accepted.’ The manifesto continued: ,

Workers of Ireland, heed not the declaration of politicians that this is a step towards the republic. ... It is not towards freedom. What freedom can we expect allied to the bitterest foe of freedom in the world? ... As against any state that will foster or promote the interests of the British Empire we will fight for an Irish Republic. We stand and fight for an Irish Republic against the Free State. We will ally ourselves to whoever fights against the Free State for an Irish Republic. leaders’ attitude was condemned as ‘weak-kneed, cowardly and yellow’. The communists had no doubt as to who could and should lead the resistance: ‘The people and fighters of Ireland must stand resolutely for de Valera and Brugha — and this despite however reactionary either may be as regards the workers’ social aims.’ The fact that de Valera proposed an alternative compromise that amounted to considerably less than an allIreland Republic appeared to have been overlooked. Nor did the communists’ call for rejection of the Treaty mention partition, which they, like the Republicans, assumed would end when the Boundary Commission recognised the wishes of the Catholic minority in the North and transferred so much

The labour

territory to the Free State that the six-county state would a four -county state and as such be rendered unviable.

become

The Communist Party Nationalism and Syndicalism

53

,

With the benefit of hindsight

it is

easy to recognise such

reasoning, then prevalent, as simplistic in the extreme.

comprehensible was

less

Roddy

Much

Connolly’s fanciful notion

that

many respects the problems of the communists [in the North] are much easier [than elsewhere in Ireland] it being possible to rally the proletariat to their banner on the straight issue of the capitalist state versus the proIn

,

letarian state.

on the

The lack of any

nationalist republican feeling

part of the majority of the proletariat renders

hostile to the establishment of

an

them

bourgeois republic. Ulster presents a problem similar to that presented by any large industrial centre, and for this reason may become one of the chief centres of the proletarian struggle against an Irish bourgeois state. (Darragh 1920: 2294) .

.

Irish

.

Partition

was seen

as

simply a reflex of religious bigotry which

was, anyway, ‘steadily declining of late years’ (ibid.). In fact even before Connolly’s predictions had gone to press in July 1920 Belfast was torn apart in the bloodiest sectarian rioting of

its

history as the Unionists unleashed a

wave of

terror,

with

Protestant workers to the fore, with the purpose of finally

subduing the Catholic community into accepting partition. The first Communist Party of Ireland never gained a foothold in Belfast, for although trade union consciousness was not lacking among Protestant workers, anti-imperialist consciousness was. In this respect it is worth noting that the British

Communist

Party’s paper,

The Communist had a circulation ,

than in Dublin, while the Irish Communist Party’s Workers’ Republic was not sold in Belfast at all. Indeed, with its calls for support for de Valera and the middle -class Republicans, it would have won no sympathy from the North’s overwhelmingly Protestant workforce. The CPI’s anti-Treaty manifesto, which advocated the Republic rather than the Workers’ Republic as the alternative to the Free State, was based on the belief that social revolution was not possible under existing conditions, but that a thoroughgoing political revolution was. A more forceful expression of this belief had been given in the party press a month earlier: in Belfast six times greater

We stand with all

our resources at the disposal of any move-

Communism

54

in

Modem Ireland

ment

led by capitalists, by Bourgeois Democrats, or by Labourites, which attempts to destroy or injure British Imperialism in Ireland. We shall fight as actively as our .

means permit

.

.

for an Irish Republic, for a Capitalist Irish

Republic, for a Republic wherein we shall still be wage still be an oppressed class, so long as this helps to destroy British Imperialism, the greatest enemy to world revolution. This fight will teach us and prepare us for our own coming class fight — our fight for a Workers’ Republic. slaves, shall

(MR, 12 Nov. 1921) Other than

in the forcefulness of its expression there was here to differentiate the communists from the (unofficial) stand of the labour bureaucracy during the independence struggle: both drew a sharp line between the fight for national freedom and the fight for socialism, assuming that the latter could not begin until the former was completely successful, and that such success entailed the elevation of the bourgeoisie

little

to power.

Relations between the Irish and British Communist Parties, already strained, deteriorated further in the course of the Treaty crisis. It is not widely known that the Republicans in Dublin received advance notice from the Communist Party

of Great Britain that Collins and Griffith intended accepting the terms of the Treaty. On 5 December Willie Gallacher, one of the CPGB’s most prominent leaders, travelled secretly

where he presented Cathal Brugha and others with ‘information from an inside source’ that the Treaty would be signed. The Republicans dismissed his warning incredulously, and when news of the signing came through they rejected also his advice that they should act at once before those favouring the settlement gained the upper hand. Gallacher ’s to Dublin

main purpose had been to urge upon the Republican leadership ‘the necessity for a wide social programme that would gather the workers and poor farmers around them, and make them invincible’. In this he also failed. Brugha inter.

.

.

rupted him: ‘Don’t try to bring Communism here, we don’t want it. We have our own faith and by that we shall stand or fall.’ (Gallacher 1941: 11) Gallacher’s mission was one example of outside communist assistance being offered to the Republicans without the

The Communist Party Nationalism and Syndicalism

55

,

involvement, or even the knowledge, of the Irish party — precisely the sort of behaviour that Connolly and Mac Alpine had vigorously criticised in the Comintern. Gallacher had made contact with the Republicans through William O’Brien, completely ignoring the CPI. Indeed, when the CPI had been founded the event was not reported in The Communist and it was not until the end of December 1921 that the Irish party’s existence was even acknowledged. In October Roddy Connolly’s ‘Notes from Ireland’ column had been dropped from The Communist following his description of O’Brien and O’Shannon as ‘sham communists’. The CPGB leadership offered an official and abject apology for Connolly’s remarks {The Communist 15 Oct. 1921). Initially too there was a sharp difference of opinion between the CPI and the CPGB’s Irish expert, Tommy Jackson, on the meaning of the Treaty. Jackson had declared that ‘the Free State is in great measure “free”’ and had predicted a peaceful transition to the Republic {The Communist 24 Dec. 1921). In the following week, however, the CPGB published its ‘official’ response, which endorsed the stand taken by the CPI, describing the Treaty as ‘dishonourable and inadequate safeguarding British imperialism’. In general terms both parties shared the view that an Irish bourgeois republic had to be formally inaugurated before the class struggle could commence. In support of this perspective the CPGB had gone so far as to claim that James Connolly ‘supported Sinn Fein’ {The Communist 26 Mar. 1921). ,

,

,

.

.

.

,

*

*

*

When

the Treaty was eventually ratified in the Dail in January 1922 the CPI turned from predicting civil war to advocating it, and while criticising the anti-Treaty forces for not taking offensive military action, the Workers' Republic offered de Valera’s party six of its eight pages ‘unconditionally and absolutely without expense’, adding: ‘As long as they require our services we are at their disposal in this crisis.’ ( WR 24 Dec. 1921) Full-page advertisements for Cumannna Poblachta began appearing in the Workers' Republic, and when one CPI ,

member

criticised

disassociated itself

de Valera as ‘bourgeois’ the party quickly

from that view, describing

it

as ‘personal’.

56

A

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

was adopted towards the IRA when it all-Republican executive in March. They, the party declared, ‘will redeem the people of Ireland from the slavery and degradation that faces them in the “Free State”. The only hope today of the Irish people, of the revolutionary similar attitude

elected a

new

workers, is the IRA Executive.’ ( WR 25 Mar. 1922) This uncritical, even adulatory attitude towards the Republican faction contrasted sharply with that of the labour leaders, who professed neutrality but whose actions assisted the proTreatyites. On 24 April, ten days after the Republicans defied the Provisional Government by occupying the Four Courts in Dublin, the labour leaders called a one-day general strike against the ‘militarism’ of both sides. But as the pro-Treaty forces were already the de facto power in the land, the strike was essentially anti-Republican and was widely seen as such. The hierarchy and press applauded it, while the employers guaranteed its success with a lock-out which effectively denied workers any choice in the matter. In the general election of June the pro-Treaty party won 58 seats to the Republicans’ 36. Seventeen of Labour’s 18 candidates were elected, and with the Republicans abstaining, the Labour Party accepted the role of ‘His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition’, thereby giving official recognition to the Free State. By now the Labour Party was regarded, almost universally, as a pro-Treaty body. Lacking sufficient funds to enter the election, the CPI urged workers to vote only for Republican candidates so as to ‘defeat the Free State Party and its hanger-on lap-dog Labour Party Executive’ (WR, 1 Apr. 1922). Faced with the Labour leaders’ ‘treachery’, the Communist Party had taken aboard the task of convincing Ireland’s workers that it was in their own class interests to reject the Treaty and support the Republicans, whose triumph would be a blow to the British Empire and would speed the day of the international proletarian revolution. But while urging support for the bourgeois republic the CPI did not attempt, even in a modest way, to prepare itself or the working class for an advance beyond that stage through the struggle for workers’ power. In the months between the Treaty and the civil war workingclass struggle continued unabated. In January the communist ,

The Communist Party Nationalism and Syndicalism ,

57

press reported briefly a workers’ occupation at the flour mills in Quartertown, Mallow, without attaching any significance

to the event. In

May

there was a further bout of land seizures

Roscommon, while Hedley, McGrath and Dowling were initiating the most ambitious programme of

in Leitrim and

factory occupations to date, with the wholesale takeover of Cleeve’s creameries in opposition to a proposed one-third cut in wages. Factories at Aherlow, Athlacca, Ballingarry, Bansha, Bruree, Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, Kilmallock, Knocklong, Mallow and Tankardstown were occupied, ‘soviets’ declared, and red flags hoisted. The County Waterford Farmers’ Association issued a warning against the ‘Professional Red Flag Terrorist Agitators’ and declared war on ‘the tyranny of Bolshevism’. The IRA was not above the class war: in January units of the force had finally broken the three-month-long farm labourers’ strike at Bulgaden, and in the following month they evicted the Quartertown mill workers. While the CPI denounced these IRA attacks, it did not see the seeds of

Bolshevism in the workers’ struggles, but those of reformism. On 20 May the Workers' Republic reported the seizures but saw no hope of them leading anywhere ‘until the Communist Party develops and is powerful enough to organise and direct the workers during such times of crisis’. These were merely ‘spasmodic seizures’, while what was needed was ‘taking possession for good and getting rid of the exploiters for all time’. The novelist Liam O’Flaherty, then a prominent CPI member, dismissed the occupations as ‘merely incidental to the everyday struggle against capitalism not by any means revolutionary, the workers are not acting beyond the bounds of capitalist production’. The party did not explain how it could develop and become powerful while standing aloof from the actual workers’ struggles going on around it. Nor did it seem to think it had a role to play in advancing the workers from reformist to revolutionary consciousness. Hedley, McGrath and Dowling were known to the Communist Party by reputation only, and no attempt was ever made to contact them, let alone recruit them or influence the way they conducted the .

.

.

struggles.

There was, however, one area where the CPI was able to provide independent leadership — among the Dublin unem-

58

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

ployed. At a public meeting on 9 January, called on the

unemployed committee was elected with O’Flaherty as chairman and two other party members in its

party’s initiative, an

ranks.

The committee adopted the CPI’s programme, which

included demands for work or maintenance at trade union rates, a public works scheme, a ban on overtime, and a levy on rich property-owners to cover the costs. When the Lord Mayor refused to provide a permanent meeting-place for the committee O’Flaherty and a group of unemployed workers occupied the Rotunda, a large hall in the city centre. O’Flaherty, however, had acted without the consent of the party leadership, and after four days they intervened to negotiate the evacuation of the building, a move they subsequently justified by claiming that Dublin employers had armed a mob with bombs in preparation for an assault. The evacuation, the party admitted, ‘was much against the will of the leaders and rank and file of the unemployed’. The agitation on unemployment was halted while the party held an internal inquiry into the whole affair. In the meantime the initiative passed to others. In June 1,500 workers met at the Mansion

House to organise resistance to a proposed cut in unemployment benefit. An Unemployed Council of Direct Action was set up, but the CPI appeared to know nothing of these moves until after the event.

Between January and June the party had concentrated almost exclusively on trying to persuade the Republicans to start a civil war. On 29 April the Workers’ Republic stated bluntly: ‘The workers have nothing to fear from civil war,’ while the front-page headline in the following issue declared: ‘Civil War Necessary’. The party believed that when pro- and anti-Treaty forces came into open conflict the workers would swing behind the Repub Leans, ensuring their speedy victory and clearing the way for unimpeded class struggle. When the civil war finally did break out on 28 June the Communist Party was as small as it had been on its inception eight months earlier. Apart from the debacle with the Dublin unemployed, it had not intervened in any struggles. Yet its general perspective had been endorsed by the Comintern. In a message ‘to the workers of Ireland’ (WR, 1 July 1922) the

ECCI

declared:

The Communist Party Nationalism and Syndicalism ,

59

It is only the young Communist Party of Ireland which has the courage and the determination to point the right path and say:— ‘It is only after the yoke of the English Imperi-

alists

has been shaken off that the struggle against the Irish any chance of success! It is only after establishment of real independence that the class

exploiters will have

the

struggle

will

be able to develop untrammelled by any

National Question.’

Labour, the Comintern agreed, must wait. The CPI carried this strategy into the civil

The Communist Party

war.

in the Civil

War

At 4 a.m. on 28 June 1922, under orders from the British government and using British artillery, the Free State army began bombarding the Four Courts. The civil war had begun. After three days the Four Courts had fallen and the IRA seized a number of city-centre hotels. It was at this point that the Communist Party decided to join the fight. Despite numerous reports in the Workers' Republic over the past months to the effect that the CPI had a fully armed and trained ‘Red Guard’ under its control, its contribution to the actual fighting was minimal. No such organisation existed, and in claiming that it did the communists simply hoped to persuade the IRA to take them more seriously. A few party members, including Connolly, had acquired guns, and after some elementary training from Liam O’Flaherty they put themselves at the disposal of the IRA. One group remained to defend the party headquarters in North Great George’s Street while others occupied Moran’s and Hughes’s hotels in Gardiner Street. Connolly, with a dozen party members and a few ICA men, took over Findlater’s grocery store in the city centre. A few shots were exchanged with government forces, but when the main assault on the hotels began the communists withdrew. After five days the IRA was forced to retreat from the capital to the countryside, and at that point the Communist Party turned its attentions to political matters.

Early in July Connolly travelled to London to make arrangements for the printing of the Workers' Republic by the CPGB so to avoid the government’s strict censorship.

60

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

There he met Michael Borodin, a key figure in the Comintern, and in the bar of a London hotel they drafted a new social programme which, it was hoped, the Republican leaders would adopt as their own. The programme was extremely radical, although not fully communist. It called for state ownership of heavy industry, the transport system and the banks; municipalisation of all public services and their free use by the workers; rationing of housing and the abolition of rents; an eight-hour working day and control of working conditions by joint councils of workers, unions and the state; trade union rates for the unemployed; confiscation, without compensation, of the large ranches and estates and distribution of the land to landless families and farm labourers, together with the abolition of all forms of indebtedness, whether to private interests or the state; and finally, the arming of all urban and rural workers ( WR 12 Aug. 1922). The programme’s most detailed clauses dealt with the situation on the land and were clearly aimed at the social base from which the Republicans drew their greatest strength. Significantly, the programme did not raise the matter of which class would ,

control the state.

Dublin Connolly prepared to take the programme Liam Lynch, the twenty-nine-year-old Chief of Staff of the IRA. Sean McLoughlin, who had gone to work in Sheffield, returned to accompany him. On the morning of 26 July the two set out for Fermoy, Co. Cork, narrowly

Back

in

directly to

missing arrest in Abbey Street by bluffing their way past a detective who ‘thought’ he recognised McLoughlin. They thus avoided joining their comrades Seamus MacGowan, Walter Carpenter and James Ralph, who had already been interned.

When

they finally met Lynch they urged him to set up a Republican government in Cork city and from there proclaim the Connolly/Borodin programme. Lynch listened politely before reminding them that he was a soldier, not a politician, and although he reported the meeting to his staff next day, no action on the proposal was suggested and none civilian

was taken. Lynch persistently refused to consider any tactics other than guerrilla warfare, even though the Free State army had easily achieved the upper hand, taking Dublin early in July, Limerick on the 21st, and Waterford the day after. De

The Communist Party Nationalism and Syndicalism ,

61

Valera, likewise, refused to give political leadership and had

IRA. McLoughlin too rejoined the IRA in the course of this mission and was immediately made a commandant. He was soon captured, however, and sentenced to death — a sentence that was never carried out. Before his arrest McLoughlin had

in fact returned to the ranks of the

‘How the Republicans May Win’ ( WR 29 July 1922). ‘Victory’, he declared, ‘lies with the side that can attract to itself the masses, the workers of the towns and cities and the landless peasants.’ They were moved by economic pressures, not by ‘sentimental appeals’ to defend an abstract republic. ‘And the masses are correct,’ he went on. written a long article,

In the

first

,

place they are tired of war. In the second they

no matter who wins they will still be slaves grinding out their lives for wages and ruled by a rod of iron by their bosses and landlords, and they cannot summon up enthusiasm enough to enable them to fight on behalf of wage slavery. see that

McLoughlin’s forceful linking of class and national struggles contrasted sharply with the CPI’s earlier declaration that it would fight ‘for a Republic in which we shall still be wage slaves, shall still be oppressed as a class’. While the communists clearly recognised their own limitations in attempting to win mass support for such a programme, their efforts to convert the Republican movement — the petty bourgeoisie and the spokesmen of embryonic native capitalism — to such a radical perspective inevitably proved futile, just as Willie Gallacher’s had earlier. Of all the Republican leaders only one responded to the challenge, and his response was, to say the least, ambiguous. From Mountjoy prison Liam Mellows sent out two documents advocating a reappraisal of Republican policy on the basis of the Communist Party programme which had been smuggled in to him. Mellows, however, had not been won over to socialism as has frequently been claimed, nor even to a recognition of the workers’ interests as valid in their own right. The adoption of a social programme, he wrote, ‘is essential if the great body of workers are to be kept on the side of independence [but] this does not require a change of outlook on the part of Republicans .

.

.

62

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

or the adoption of a revolutionary

programme

as such’. It

simply meant recognising that ‘whether we like it or not’ there was no one to fall back on except the working class, and they should be turned to as a last resort, not to advance them to power but to secure ‘the republic’. The government, which captured Mellows’s documents

and released them to the Irish Independent (21 Sept. 1922), did not suggest that he had adopted communist politics, but rather that he pretended to in order to win the workers as ‘cannon fodder’ for his cause. The Communist Party, however, was delighted. ‘Republican Leaders Adopt Our Programme’ declared the Workers' Republic on 30 September. The CPGB exaggerated further, claiming that ‘the best and foremost’ Republicans had endorsed communist policies. Mellows himself dismissed such claims in one word — ‘silly’ (Greaves 1971: 377). No support for Mellows’s suggestions, however interpreted, was forthcoming from his colleagues in the Republican movement, and after their appearance in the Independent nothing further was heard of them. Throughout the autumn of 1922, a period of successive defeats for the IRA, the CPI continually predicted the imminent collapse of the Free State and triumph for the Republicans. But this heady optimism was not to last. By its ruthless methods — seventy-seven Republican prisoners, Mellows among them, were executed without even the formality of a trial — and through its superior military might and political strategy the government was steadily grinding down the IRA’s resistance. On 6 December 1922 the Free State was formally inaugurated, and from then on the civil war consisted largely of a mopping-up operation against the shattered Republican forces. On the industrial front too the state was becoming more aggressive. In September striking postal workers in Dublin had been attacked by Free State troops, and a girl picket was shot and wounded. Building workers, dockers and workers in the meat trade were all subject to military harassment when they struck in opposition to proposed wage cuts. The employers’ economic offensive was gathering momentum as political and military victory approached. The Communist Party had ignored virtually every industrial

The Communist Party Nationalism and Syndicalism ,

63

struggle while it attempted to turn the Republicans leftwards. That strategy had failed to make even the slightest impression, and when the communists finally realised that the IRA was not going to win, their morale was shattered. Connolly was held largely responsible for the party’s one-track policy and for preventing serious contact with workers. The national struggle was now virtually abandoned as a lost cause while a turn to the working class was attempted. But the possibilities for advancement in this direction were now much narrower than before.

The Turn

to the Class

The impetus

to

change direction was not entirely home-

generated. At the Fourth World Congress of the Comintern,

which met

November and December 1922, ending just as came into being, the tactic of the was adopted. The Theses on Tactics defined the

in

the Free State officially

united front united front as ‘the offer of a joint struggle of communists with all workers who belong to other parties or groups, and with all non-party workers, in defence of the basic interests of the working class against the bourgeoisie’ (Degras 1971 i: 424-5). It was a temporary expedient aimed at detaching the mass of the workers from reformist leadership by showing that in the day-to-day battles for limited demands the communists were the most consistent and militant fighters. Its adoption as the main line of advance was conditioned by the fact that the revolutionary tide had continued to ebb. (This conception of the united front, a militant working-class antibourgeois movement fighting on immediate issues, contrasts sharply with the communist policy under Stalin when popular fronts were advocated — i.e. alliances between the workers and sections of the bourgeoisie with the aim of forming ‘progressive’ governments.) The Fourth Congress also discussed the national question at some length, concluding that

The communist workers’

parties of the colonial

and semi-

countries have a dual task: they fight for the most radical possible solution of the bourgeois democratic colonial

revolution,

which aims

at the

conquest of political indepen-

Communism

64

in

Modem Ireland

dence; and they organise the working and peasant masses for their struggle for their special class interests,

and

in so

doing exploit all the contradictions in the nationalist bourgeois-democratic camp, (ibid.: 389)

The

CPI’s uncritical support for de Valera, whose social aims recognised as reactionary, was clearly out of step with the second of these ‘dual tasks’.

it

Roddy Connolly and George Pollock — a Scot who had come to Ireland in 1914 to avoid conscription and who, under the name of McLay, was now treasurer of the CPI — represented the party at Moscow. In private discussion with ECCI members they faced sharp criticism for the Irish party’s lack of independent activity in the working class, and when they returned to Ireland the Workers' Republic began an open assessment of past failings. ‘Let us be frank both with ourselves and with each other,’ began the editorial on 23 December. ‘The past year, one of the most disastrous to the workers, has shown us the defects of our industrial organisation. We have failed to give a lead to the rebel elements of labour We acknowledge our mistakes.’ The elaboration .

.

.

of a clear industrial perspective and the establishment of a solid industrial base were to be given priority. Over the next three weeks the paper carried a long theoretical analysis by Connolly, ‘Past and Future Policy’, in which he conceded that too much attention had been paid to the Republicans and too little ‘to the organisation of the

working

class

and to

assisting

it

in its

own

struggles’.

He

maintained, however, that the general strategy of attempting to mobilise the masses behind the Republicans had been correct, but agreed that they had erred in failing to distinguish themselves sufficiently from the de Valera leadership. While a republic would have been infinitely preferable to the Free State, Connolly argued, the latter was nevertheless a positive advance on open British domination because it might be possible to move directly from it to the workers’ state. ‘The greatest factor in the determination of this question’, he continued, ‘is the growth and development of the organisational forces of the Irish working class.’ He then called on the IRA to recognise ‘a temporary defeat’ and dump arms; to secure the release of their prisoners by letting them sign the ‘prison

The Communist Party Nationalism and Syndicalism ,

65

promise’ (an agreement not to resume hostilities); and to form a new Republican party, take the oath and enter the

Dad.

On

20 January 1923, the day when the

last

part of Con-

Communist Party’s first congress opened in Dublin. Only twenty-three members attended, all but one from the capital. Of twenty ‘country members’ —

nolly’s analysis appeared, the

unorganised individuals who simply sold the Workers’ Republic in their localities — only five had replied to the congress invitation, all to say they could not attend. Walter Carpenter, recently released from prison, was in the chair, and the meeting began with Connolly’s presidential address. In it he sought to justify the strategy pursued under his leadership, but in the subsequent discussion most speakers were critical of the one-sided nature of that strategy. On the following day Connolly, who had been party president and editor of the Workers’ Republic since the party’s formation, failed to win re-election to the party executive. No one at the conference disputed Connolly’s assertion that it was possible to move from the Free State to the Workers’ Republic without the intervening stage of a fully-fledged bourgeois republic. Nor was his call for an IRA ceasefire seriously contested. The main point at issue was whether — as Connolly claimed but as Pollock denied — the Comintern had sanctioned Connolly’s advice to the IRA. This dispute caused more turmoil than the actual substance of Connolly’s remarks and was a major factor in his downfall. With Connolly out of the leadership, a complete reorientation in party policy was attempted. Under a new editor, A. B. F. White, the Workers’ Republic referred less and less to the civil war. The war itself ended on 24 May 1923, when the IRA dumped arms. A few weeks earlier Liam Lynch had been fatally

wounded, and

several leading officers

tured or killed. But the

IRA had

had been cap-

not surrendered, as the government demanded, and a Public Safety Act was passed permitting the imprisonment of demobbed IRA personnel. There were already 15,000 Republican prisoners, and with the war over, their numbers soared even higher. While virtually ignoring these events, the Workers’ Republic became increasingly syndicalist in tone, with articles describing the ‘One Big

66

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

Union’ as the weapon ‘for the final conflict with capitalism’ and equating political struggle with par liamentarianism, which was said to be ‘a small but necessary adjunct to the industrial struggle’. The author of these views was Paddy Read, one of Connolly’s bitterest opponents. In February a second and even smaller congress was held

more fully the ‘turn to the class’. Comintern direcadvocating this course were adopted with only one dissenting vote. A ‘Communist Cycling Corps’ was set up to expand circulation of the paper, and weekly public meetings were organised. By April the party was claiming a threefold increase in membership, with new branches at Cork, Carlow, and north of the border at Newry. The Carlow branch was organised by Paddy Gaffney, who had been elected to the Dail in June 1922 on the Labour ticket but who had abstained over the oath. A member of both the Labour and Communist Parties, Gaffney had been elected to the CPI executive at the January congress. The Newry branch, formed by James Fearon, one of Larkin’s old comrades, was involved in local unemployment agitation, and on one occasion it mobilised unemployed workers to act as pickets during a seamen’s strike on the Newry canal. (Fearon died in Glasgow in 1924.) While the turn to the class had clearly brought some successes, the party was not involved in any of the major workers’ struggles that occurred in the closing stages of the civil war. In Cork in February, just before the Communist Party gained a foothold in the area, there was a widespread strike of millhands that culminated in the seizure of the city’s flour mills. In the same month workers occupied the Waterford gasworks to prevent a wage cut and the red flag was raised. Waterford dockers were also on strike against cuts in pay, and there was a county -wide strike of farm labourers. Free State forces evicted the gas workers in March and, with considerable violence, eventually suppressed the farm workers too. The Free State government, intent on turning its military victory into a political rout, called a general election for 27 August. The CPI, which could not afford to run a candidate, issued a strongly worded statement calling for the abolition of the parliamentary system which existed ‘only to maintain the capitalists and landowners in power’ and advocating its to discuss

tives

The Communist Party, Nationalism and Syndicalism

67

replacement by an ‘all-Ireland convention of Soviets’ (WR, 7 July 1923). At the same time, however, the party’s election address reflected the changed political climate and was much less revolutionary in tone than the radical social programme of a year before. It called for ameliorative action in the areas of housing, unemployment and taxation and urged the repeal

army estimates. In some Labour Party’s programme was more extreme,

of repressive laws and a cut in respects the

demanding the abolition of the oath, the release of all political prisoners and an even larger reduction in the military budget.

Unlike the 1922 election, the communists now advised workers to support Labour candidates as well as de Valera’s anti-Treaty party (which had readopted the old title of Sinn F6in), although no order of preference was suggested. This further emphasised the abandonment of the national issue in favour of more immediate economic issues on which the pro-Treaty Labour Party appeared progressive. In the election eight more Republicans were returned than in 1922, despite the strict enforcement of the Public Safety Act. Opposition to the Free State was still widespread, but Sinn F6in had no real notion of how to reactivate it. Abstention was maintained, allowing the Labour Party to continue as the official opposition. Labour, in fact, had polled very badly, losing three of its seats, including those of O’Brien and O’Shannon, and the party no longer represented any city constituencies. CPI member Paddy Gaffney, who stood as an independent Labour Republican in Carlow, also lost his seat. The main reason for Labour’s setback was the deep split in the broader movement (discussed below) which came about with the return of James Larkin to Ireland in the early summer of 1923. Five Larkinite candidates stood against official Labour men, and although none was returned, they split the labour vote, and the general atmosphere of disunity undoubtedly dissuaded many workers from voting for either labour group.

By October

it was clear that the Communist Party’s turn had not radically improved its fortunes. Membership turnover was high; income was low; many members were still in prison (in defiance of a Comintern recommenda-

to the class

tion

that

they

sign

the

‘prison promise’),

their

families

Communism

68

in

Modem Ireland

dependent on contributions from British communists; and the internal faction struggles continued. In the world outside, the Free State was consolidating, the employers’ offensive

was gaining momentum, and the labour movement was divided and declining. As despair set in the Comintern intervened directly to restructure the party leadership. Connolly, whose expulsion from the party had been considered a few months earlier, was co-opted back onto the central executive as ‘director of propaganda’; Carpenter replaced White as editor of the Workers' Republic and in the following month Pollock was removed from the political secretaryship and Connolly installed in his place (Wi?, 13, 27 Oct., 17 Nov. ;

1923).

Connolly immediately went onto the offensive against those led the party since his downfall. There had been, he

who had

declared, ‘a deliberate suppression of the truth concerning the weakness of the party, its leadership, its tactics and policy’. The party press had ‘degenerated into a meaningless,

misguided soulless rag which gave no lead, cultivated no thought and aroused no enthusiasm’. Of the fifty or so new recruits, few with any previous political experience, ‘we hardly made ten new communists’. Personality clashes, he argued, played a large part in the party’s difficulties. He concluded: ‘There are until

it

many more

receives a real

crises in store for the

party

knock and rubs shoulders against reality.’

(WR, 27 Oct. 1923)

An alternative view of the party’s predicament was given by Paddy Read. He depicted Connolly and Carpenter as leaders of a ‘right wing’ within the party, a faction of ‘social

who demand that we as communists sing the Song louder and wave the green flag harder than any other group in Ireland’. In Connolly’s eyes, he went on, the role of the CPI was ‘to lay down tactics and policy for the big wigs of the republican camp’. On the other side was a ‘left wing’ who rejected such ‘Don Quixote tactics’. It was they who extended the party beyond Dublin and who replaced

republicans Soldiers'

Connolly’s ‘romantic republicanism’ with serious Marxist education. This public washing of the party’s dirty linen ended abruptly when the Workers' Republic ceased production at

The Communist Party Nationalism and Syndicalism ,

69

the end of November. Shortly afterwards the Comintern intervened again, this time to order the party’s dissolution. What had been revealed by this final exchange between Connolly and Read was the ever-present tension within the party between those who saw the national question as the startingpoint for all activity and those who sought to concentrate on economic issues. Neither faction seemed to have grasped James Connolly’s point that the two aspects were inseparable and that only an autonomous workers’ movement, linking them together in theory and practice, could bring the struggle to a successful conclusion. The attempt to turn the Republicans to the left, which had characterised the first period of the party’s existence, was undertaken in the hope that Republican militarism could be complemented with a militant social policy. But the petty bourgeoisie could not make the social revolution. The assumption that they could had prevented the communists from approaching the working class directly until it was too late to make any real impression. The immediate reason for the party’s dissolution, however, was the refusal of James Larkin to associate with it after his return from America, and the Comintern’s belief that only under Larkin’s leadership was any advance possible. We will now turn to the era of Larkin’s ascendancy in the Irish communist movement and see how mistaken the Comintern was.

4

James Larkin and The

Irish

Irish

Communism

Worker League

Larkin’s return to Ireland coincided with the end of the civil war and the stabilisation of the Free State. The ailing Communist Party had reason to believe that he would join its

ranks, bringing with

him many of

his personal followers.

might have salvaged something from an increasingly desperate situation. In America Larkin had been involved in Communist Party politics and fully supported the Comintern, to which the CPI was affiliated. Like the CPI, he had denounced the Treaty and urged that the fight continue for ‘a Workers’ Republic or death’. His militant past record in the Irish labour movement suggested that he would oppose the O’Brienite bureaucracy as the CPI was doing. Roddy Connolly, for one, eulogised Larkin as Together

they

the incarnation of the great revolutionary upswelling of the Irish masses. His mind is a mirror to the every thought, feeling, impulse, demand of the heterogeneous throng. This concentrating of the revolutionary aspirations of a people in one person makes that person of tremendous value to the people and to the revolution. (WR, 16 June 1923)

But the Communist Party’s hopes

in Larkin

were misplaced.

by hostile comments from who had met him at Southampton on his

Larkin, possibly influenced Willie Gallacher,

the USA to Dublin, kept his distance from the CPI after his return, and at a Transport Union conference in May he attacked them as ‘little wasps’, declaring that he would ‘defend his friends who were working for the union’

way back from

(ITGWU

1924: 148). The

honeymoon between Larkin and

James Larkin and

Irish

Communism

71

ITGWU leaders was short-lived, however, and soon he was denouncing them in language more violent than the Communist Party had ever used. The immediate cause of his disillusionment was new union rules, drawn up by O’Brien and passed by a delegate conference hurriedly convened only days before Larkin’s return. By greatly increasing the powers of the executive the rules simultaneously reduced the autothe

nomy

of the general secretary, the position

still

legally held

by Larkin. When he discovered that most of the delegates had been hand-picked by O’Brien, ‘to down one man’ — himself — as he put it, Larkin opened a campaign against O’Brien and his ‘Tammany Hall machine’ which was to culminate in a prolonged court case (which Larkin lost) and in his expulsion from the ITGWU in March 1924. Although the CPI tried to

discourage

Larkin’s

personalisation of the

dispute,

it

him openly and unconditionally. But his antipathy towards it was not weakened. On the political front Larkin had expressed opinions similar to Roddy Connolly’s when he called on the IRA to

nevertheless supported

accept the

its

IRA

defeat and urged Sinn F6in to enter the Dail.

finally

dumped arms

at the

end of

May 1923

When

Larkin

asked the government to reciprocate by freeing all jailed Republicans. The government refused, and the prisoner issue remained paramount through the summer and autumn of 1923. It was to be the cause of the final public disagreement between the CPI and Larkin when it became enmeshed with the continuing offensive against wages. In July 1923 Larkin called the Dublin dockers out on strike against a proposed wage reduction. At the height of the dispute 10,000 transport workers were involved in Dublin and Cork, and while the Communist Party called for a general strike and nationalisation of the docks, it was in no position to influence events. Larkin received little assistance from the

ITGWU leadership, who in October utilised the new rules to terminate the strike without consulting those involved. Disillusioned and disheartened, the men began to drift back to work, and the employers seized the opportunity to push through sweeping cuts for other port workers. A few weeks earlier the prime minister, W. T. Cosgrave, had intervened with the suggestion that if the men returned to work then,

72

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

the wage cut would be reduced by half. The strikers had refused the offer, but now Larkin announced that he would recommend its acceptance if Cosgrave would free the prisoners. Cosgrave declined. By the end of October 8,000 prisoners

were on hunger-strike, and in November two died. Even Cardinal Logue, a firm government supporter, urged thenrelease.

Larkin’s dramatic proposal was denounced by the Communist Party, which argued that the prisoners’ release must not be bought at the expense of the workers’ living standards. Connolly, however, expressed his personal support for Larkin, declaring that it was ‘good tactics’ to be able to change from industrial to political action, especially when the former was in such a weak state. In fact after the collapse of the hunger-strike at the end of November the prisoners were gradually released, and by the summer of 1924 the issue had been defused. That the position on the industrial front was weak there could be no doubt. The defeat of the dockers represented the most decisive victory to date for the Irish employers, for if 10,000 key industrial workers with the most militant leadership available could not resist the offensive, it was unlikely that any other sections could. The back of the Irish workers was broken: trade union membership plummetted, strikes became less frequent and involved fewer workers, living standards declined, unemployment rose, and emigration remained high.

Number Year

1923 1924 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929 1930

Number

of

of

workers

strikes

involved

131

104 86 57 53 52 53 83

20,635 16,403 6,855 3,455 2,312 2,190 4,533 3.410

Number

of days lost

1,208,734 301,705 293,792 85,345 64,020 54,292 101,397 77.417

Trade union

membership

130,735 126,522 98,986 95,002 89,013 87,696 85,600 70.573

Emigration

n.a.

19,077 30,180 30,041 27,148 24,691 20,802 15,966

James Larkin and Irish Communism

73

encouraged the fall and blind persons’ pensions were cut, along with teachers’ and civil servants’ salaries. Unemployment benefit not covered by stamps paid

The government’s economic

policies

in working-class living standards. Old-age

1920 was stopped. The resulting disparity in social welpayments between North and South strengthened Unionism’s appeal to the Northern workers. The government had neither housing nor education policies and did little to relieve unemployment or emigration. Tax cuts, benefiting since fare

only the country’s richest inhabitants, failed to stimulate private investment. Industrial production stagnated outside

the government’s own ventures with the Shannon electrification scheme, the sugar-beet industry and the Barrow drainage

scheme. Government policy was biased towards the large farmers; industries which were unable to compete in the cutthroat business world of the 1920s were allowed to collapse. One estimate put the number of factory closures between 1923 and 1932 at 117 (Fianna Fail 1951: 12). * It

was against

*

*

this depressing

background that Larkin founded

the Irish Worker League in September 1923. It was centred on his paper, the Irish Worker, which first appeared in June.

Within a few months of the League’s formation the Comintern, knowing that it was to Larkin and not the CPI that Ireland’s militant workers would look for leadership, ordered the dissolution of the Communist Party and instructed its members to enrol individually in the IWL, which in turn was accepted as the official Comintern section in Ireland. The ECCI regarded this move as a necessary prelude to the building of a mass communist party in the future. But Larkin had different ideas.

The League’s purpose was working-class

movement

‘to

organise a militant Irish

to achieve in our time economic,

and intellectual freedom’ (IW, 8 Sept. 1923). It was not, however, a political party; conditions of membership

political

were extremely lax, and there was no dues scheme. Larkin saw the League as a sort of Irish International, ‘spiritually leading the van of the earth’s people’, with sections in every country where there was a large Irish working-class popula-

Communism

74

in

Modem Ireland

The fact that in a period of ebbing militancy 500 workers attended the IWL founding rally in September, while 6,000 marched with the IWL in Dublin when Lenin died in the following January, was an indication of Larkin’s appeal. Within weeks he was claiming a whole network of branches, not only throughout Ireland but in England, America and Canada as well. In fact the Dublin and London branches were the only ones ever to materialise. For the first months of its existence the League’s main activities were a lottery for IRA prisoners’ dependants, a dance for striking gas workers, and the sale of cut-price foodstuffs. There was no consistent political activity; meeting after meeting was cancelled on the grounds that Larkin himself was unable to attend. Yet despite the chaotic organisation, Larkin could claim: ‘The organisation is growing exceedingly fast. In another year we expect it will be the dominant force in Irish life.’ (7M7 13 Nov. 1923) Plans for extending the League beyond Dublin and for adopting a ‘programme of action’ were announced in December, only to be shelved in

tion.

,

the following month.

hoped for immediate organisational must have been disappointed. Not until April 1924, when the first IWL congress took place, was a If

gains

the Comintern had

from Larkin,

it

constitution adopted.

It

declared for a Workers’ Republic

and attempted to tighten up the IWL structure by introducing dues and setting up an executive with decision-making powers. Larkin became honorary president, and the executive was dominated by officers of the Dublin Trades Council: John Lawlor, Ned Tucker and P. T. Daly. (Among other executive members were Jack Dempsey, then world heavyweight boxing champion, and Muriel MacSwiney, communist widow of Terence MacSwiney, the martyred IRA Lord Mayor of Cork.) The CPI members inside the League remained fairly isolated. One of them, Bob Murray, was elected to the executive in June, but soon resigned in protest at the lack of activity. With his departure the old CPI lost its only foothold in the leadership of the League.

Throughout the summer of 1924 the London branch was more active than that in Dublin. Its secretary was a young Antrim man, Sean Murray, an IRA commandant in the war

James Larkin and Irish Communism

lb

of independence, who in the years ahead was to become the most prominent leader of the Irish communist movement. Captain Jack White was also active in the London branch,

speaking at regular demonstrations for the release of the

IRA

prisoners.

Larkin himself had departed for Moscow on 27 May to attend the Fifth World Congress of the Comintern, which was meeting in June and July. This Congress marked a decisive turning-point in the history of international communism. Under Lenin, the Bolsheviks had maintained that the progress of socialism in Russia was dependent upon the triumph of proletarian revolution in the advanced capitalist countries. But no successful revolutions had occurred. The Russian working class, already decimated in the civil war and wars of foreign intervention following their revolution, had steadily lost the power they exercised through the soviets to the Bolshevik Party itself, and within the party to a growing bureaucracy whose leading figure was Joseph Stalin. The policies Stalin and his followers were beginning to put across were summed up in the phrase ‘socialism in one country’ — the belief that, regardless of the international setbacks, Russia could ‘go it alone’. In effect the notion of ‘socialism one country’ was a rationalisation for putting the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy ahead of the world revolution. From the vanguard of that revolution the communist parties

in

were to be transformed into the frontier guards of Soviet

Union

interests.

Larkin played a minor role in the Comintern proceedings, speaking only twice. He opposed the ECCI’s contention that the British working class was moving rapidly leftwards, a view he repeated at a conference of the Comintern’s trade union body, the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU). In the process he clashed with leading Russian communists Kalinin and Losovsky, but there was no question of him opposing Stalin or his policies in general (Larkin 1924: 74). Larkin’s second contribution came during the debate

on the national and colonial question, a subject that was barely mentioned in the ECCI’s major political and economic perspectives. That omission led

numerous delegates from the and Larkin took up

colonial countries to complain bitterly, the issue when he spoke:

76

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

I mount this tribune with some deference [he began] and only at the request of Comrade Zinoviev, who said that the congress was interested in Ireland. I have failed to notice it. The congress seems interested only with those parties which have the largest membership. ,

But if the delegates were interested in Ireland, they learned nothing from Larkin. He offered no analysis of the Irish situation, did not refer to the civil war or its outcome, and made no attempt to assess the relative strengths and interests of the contending class forces. He neither offered information nor sought advice (ibid.: 204). The main theses on the national question were presented by Manuilsky, described by E. H. Carr as ‘a Stalin man’. Manuilsky called for long-term strategic alliances between the communist parties in the colonies and the national bourgeoisie for the achievement of independent capitalist regimes as the first ‘stage’ towards socialism. This retreat from the hard line taken against the national bourgeoisie at the 1922 Congress was itself a consequence of Soviet isolation and reflected the bureaucracy’s desire to win whatever allies it could against imperialism. Larkin neither accepted nor rejected this analysis, although there was a further opportunity to discuss Ireland when Manuilsky himself raised the issue with a bitter attack on the CPGB for its lack of action in support of Ireland’s demand for independence (Manuilsky 1974: 311-14). On the last day of the Congress Larkin was elected to the Comintern executive, an honour that led him, on his return to Ireland, to describe himself as ‘one of the 24 rulers of the earth’. But there was really little chance of the Comintern’s policies being made effective in Ireland as long as the IWL continued along its old path. But that was precisely what it did, despite more grandiose promises from Larkin at a League conference in September 1924 that ‘the movement was going to sweep the country within a year’. The Irish Worker made no attempt to appraise the outstanding issues involved in Ireland’s national question, and the League remained politically dormant. During Larkin’s absence in Moscow his brother Peter had finally split their supporters

away from the

ITGWU and estab-

James Larkin and Irish Communism lished the Workers’

Union of

77

Ireland, apparently disregard-

ing Larkin’s instructions that unity should be maintained.

Although the WUI affiliated to the RILU, the League’s meant that the crucial struggle now developing in the trade union movement had no political echo. While twothirds of the Dublin ITGWU members and a small minority from the country — a total of 16,000 workers — came over to Larkin’s new union, the Irish Worker League benefited in no way. Larkin himself was engaged on a speaking tour in London in late September and early October, and in his absence no League meetings took place. When he returned, union business took priority, and once again IWL meetings were cancelled for the sole reason that he was unable to attend. At the end inactivity

November the executive apologised for its inactivity ‘for some time past’. The League had now been in existence for over a year, and in both political and organisational terms it had proved a huge failure. of

* It

was into

sent

this

*

*

unpromising situation that the Comintern representative on the ECCI,

Bob Stewart, the CPGB’s

with instructions to establish a communist party in cooperation with Larkin. Stewart arrived in Ireland in January 1925, to plan, as he put it, ‘a political campaign leading to and culminating in the formation of an Irish Marxist Party’ (Stewart 1967: 148-54). Bob Stewart was a veteran of the communist movement. He had been jailed for his opposition to the First World War, and as leader of the Scottish Prohibition Fellowship he had been a founding member of the CPGB, a member of its first executive, and the party’s first parliamentary candidate. But in spite of his impressive record, and the expenditure of a great deal of effort in Ireland over the next five months, Stewart was to fail completely in his attempts to set up a party. As he got to work, Larkin’s paper announced that the period ‘when the League had seemingly ceased to exist has now ended’. At a reorganising meeting Stewart spoke for over an hour on the ‘immediate priority’ of establishing a Marxist party. A spring campaign was announced; there was to be a series of outdoor meetings and a speakers’ class to

78

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

The campaign was to culminate in an Easter by which time the League would have been transformed into ‘a real live working-class organisation’. The first indication of the IWL’s revival was a huge public meeting to

train cadres.

congress,

commemorate the first anniversary of Lenin’s death. In his speech Larkin appeared fully convinced of the validity of Stewart’s mission; he called for ‘the formation of a revolutionary Workers’ Party in Ireland which would bring the Irish working class into its rightful place amongst the advance guard of the World Proletariat’ (IW 7 Feb. 1925). The groundwork for the formation of a new party went hand in hand with the establishment of Irish sections of two ,

War (ICWPA) and the Workers’ International

Comintern

‘front’ organisations, the International Class

Prisoners’

Aid

Relief

and

(WIR).

prominent

CPGB

executive

‘fellow-traveller’

Mayor of Bethnal Green, were was

clearly

the

manner

member Helen Crawfurd Joe Vaughan,

drafted in to help.

a

former

The CPGB

taking Manuilsky’s harsh words to heart, but which it set about the task revealed a lack of

in

understanding of the real needs and possibilities in Ireland. The ICWPA had no chance of getting off the ground, as the political prisoner issue had ceased to agitate any section of public opinion since the release of the internees almost a year before. After the inaugural meeting no more was heard of the Irish section of the ICWPA. The WIR appeared to offer greater chances for success. It was envisaged as a united front body which, on the issue of near-famine conditions in the west of the country, would draw in workers who otherwise followed the official labour leadership. Real wages for agricultural labourers were declining, and falling prices for farm produce meant that thousands of small farmers were unable to meet annuity payments. Hundreds were forced off the land either to seek labouring jobs or take to the emigrant ship. Poverty, amounting to actual famine in places, was widespread along the western seaboard. The WIR organised famine relief in the form of free food and seed distribution, mostly paid for by money collected among British miners. Republican stalwarts like Maud Gonne MacBride, Charlotte Despard, Hannah SheehySkeffington and Peadar O’Donnell were induced to join the

James Larkin and Irish Communism Irish

executive of the

League

leaders.

WIR

The WUI

79

along with Larkin and other became Stewart’s head-

offices

quarters, and the union supplied him with a car. But the broader labour movement stood aloof. The ILPTUC executive refused to support the WIR on the grounds that it was exploiting humanitarian impulses in ‘pursuance of propagan distic effort’ and was ‘preaching the doctrine of aggressive class warfare’. Above all the WIR was maligned for going first to Larkin and not ‘to a responsible trade union body’ (IW, 7 Mar. 1925). Failure to interest the broader labour movement was not the only shortcoming, for although Stewart claimed that the WIR’s ‘prodigious relief and welfare work’ gave the

communists

‘a

good

political footing in

many

Irish counties’,

refused to agitate on the basic issues — the inability of small farmers to pay their annuities and the insistence of the British government that payments continue in full — issues which, according to Stewart, were ‘outside the scope and ability’ of the WIR. The annuities issue raised fundamental questions about the nature of the Free State as the guardian of British imperial interests, and a year later Peadar the

WIR

its potential when he organised a widespread anti-annuity struggle in the west — only to hand over the leadership to de Valera, for whom it provided a major plank in the 1932 election, helping to. bring Fianna Fail to power. The WIR, adhering rigidly to predetermined

O’Donnell revealed

Comintern formulae, had let slip an opportunity for linking the urban workers of the League with the rural poor, and whatever ‘political footing’ was achieved, it soon evaporated. In Dublin the efforts to establish a workers’ party were continuing, with meetings and rallies throughout the spring of 1925. Shapurja Saklatvala, the former British Communist MP, was brought over to address them. On 18 April the Irish Worker claimed that the party ‘is in the making and will soon take its place in the political arena of this country’. Stewart’s efforts were to have culminated in a mass demonstration and founding rally at the Mansion House on 24 May. A manifesto containing a proposed constitution and programme for immediate action had been drawn up. Th z Irish Worker ‘could not find room to print it’ but claimed

Communism

80

in

Modem Ireland

it was ‘endorsed by the Executive of the Irish Worker League and by active workers throughout the country’. The claim was not strictly correct. The one signature to the manifesto on which the whole venture hinged — Larkin’s own — was missing. He and Stewart had discussed the manifesto at length and Larkin had promised to endorse it, but never did. Although Stewart had already decided that the launching of the party could not proceed without Larkin’s full and open support, it was too late to cancel the Mansion House conference. The hall was packed to capacity, and 200 applications for party membership were received, only to be set aside as the plans to found the party were abandoned. Stewart left Ireland shortly afterwards, disillusioned and bitter over Larkin’s last-minute ‘betrayal’, and while the IWL continued in existence until the early 1930s, it

that

.

never again achieved the momentum evident in the spring of 1925. Why had Larkin withheld his support? Stewart offered his own explanation: Big

Jim would never accept the democracy of He always had to be at the

ciplined Marxist party.

dis-

and to join a party where the emphasis put on collective work was not for him. (Stewart 1967: 154)

of the stage is

a

centre

.

.

.

The implication was

that Larkin

had simply strung Stewart

along, never really intending to involve himself in the pro-

posed party. Although Larkin never offered a public explanation for his withdrawal, some reasons for his behaviour did emerge at a Comintern executive meeting in Moscow the following September. Jack Carney, Larkin’s right-hand man since their days together in America, spoke on the situation. His report revealed the existence of serious disagreements between the IWL and CPGB (HMSO 1926:

Irish

98-9, 102-3).

The good

relations Stewart

had established with Larkin

CPGB decided to channel famine relief through the British Labour Party, which sent George Lansbury over in person, thus undermining the work of the WIR and Larkin’s personal were

£500

first

disrupted

for Irish

when

the

James Larkin and Irish Communism

81

Carney extracted an apology for the Lansbury from the CPGB representative in Moscow, E. H. Brown, who, in giving it, expressed his party’s lack of faith in Larkin’s administrative abilities. ‘Shouting wildly’, Carney had also alleged that ‘big financial assistance’ promised by the Comintern had not been forthcoming, and while plans had been made in anticipation, all costs were borne by the Workers’ Union, which was as a result ‘on the verge of bankruptcy’. ‘How’, Carney demanded, ‘can we produce the goods if we do not get assistance?’ He went on to accuse standing.

‘blunder’

CPGB

of using ‘sabotaging tactics’ to subvert the attempts Irish party. It had, he said, ‘refused to lend assistance [and] would not even print notices of their struggles in Ireland’. Finally Carney charged that the CPGB had gone ‘behind their backs to send republicans to Moscow’. This was a reference to a visit of three top IRA men, ‘Pa’ Murray, Sean Russell and the future Fianna Fail government minister Gerry Boland, who had apparently gone to seek Russian military aid. Stalin, it seems, refused their request because he the

to set

up an

believed their security was poor and feared the consequences

should Russian weapons be discovered in IRA hands. Even though the mission proved abortive, the Irish communists had grounds for complaint. As with the Soviet negotiations with Sinn Fein five years earlier, they had not been consulted or even informed in advance. The upshot of the ECCI discussion was the establishment of a special Comintern commission, with Carney and Brown among its members, to deal directly with Ireland. At the same time the central committee of the CPGB — its leading body — took over from the party’s colonial department

For a moment it apwas in the making, but when the inquest into the Larkin debacle was concluded, direct responsibility for Irish affairs.

peared that a

new

Irish initiative

nothing further materialised.

Although the situation in Ireland in the mid-1920s was from revolutionary, an opportunity to lay the foundations of an organisation which could have grown and intervened when circumstances were more favourable had clearly been missed. The failure to offer a clear political perspective at the time of the rift in the Transport Union, the refusal far

Communism

82

in

Modern

Ireland

on the annuities

and the turning party were not the only lost chances. The possibility of making gains from the deep split that now occurred in the Republican movement

to take the initiative

away of the 200

was

recruits to the

issue,

new

also let slip.

On

the surface the Republican movement appeared strong: Sinn Fein had won four Dail by-elections and two seats in the Northern parliament. The IRA, now reorganised, claimed 25,000 members. But with no policy, save for its negative abstentionism, the movement was in serious trouble. At the end of 1925 the findings of the Boundary Commission, set up to determine the final border between North and

South, were

made

public.

The Republicans had expected

the commission to redraw the border in such a way as to make the continued existence of the Northern statelet unviable.

It

was

largely for this reason that they

had ignored

the issue of partition since the end of the civil war. When the commission came out in favour of the existing border Sinn

IRA

could offer nothing by way of opposition The lack of political perspectives was causing disquiet among a large section of the memberFein and the

save for

muted

protests.

ship.

In March 1926 the movement split when de Valera resigned from Sinn Fein and founded a new party, Fianna Fail; entry to the Dail would not be long postponed. Unless

Sinn Fein rump could counterattack with a militant programme, it would be outmanoeuvred yet again. But even the left faction in the IRA failed to appreciate the significance of the split, which, in effect, signalled the abandonment of the facade of revolutionism behind which the ‘rearguard’ of the nationalist bourgeoisie had obscured their real interests and intentions for so long. Peadar O’Donnell, leader of the left, wrote editorials in the IRA paper An Phoblacht on ‘The Deep-Down Spirit of Unity’ and on ‘One Movement, Two Groups’. The split in the Republican movement, which had exposed the weakness of its radical left wing, might have presented opportunities for the advancement of a Marxist party, had such existed. Not only had the IWL signally failed to offer an analysis of the national question in any the

social

James Larkin and Irish Communism

83

form, or of the real material and ideological reasons for the perpetuation of partition, or of the significance of the split in the Republican ranks; it remained totally dormant while the split was taking place.

The Workers’ Party of Ireland

An attempt to regroup the revolutionaries and launch a genuine interventionist workers’ party was now made by the leaders of the old Communist Party. After Stewart’s abortive mission the former CPI leaders, together with a few of those drawn in by the prospect of a new party led by Larkin, established the Connolly Workers’ Educational Club to carry on some form of Marxist education and public debate — tasks clearly beyond the IWL. Around these meetings the nucleus of a new party emerged, and, in May 1926, less than a month after the founding of Fianna Fail, and at the height of the British general strike, the decision was finally taken to break completely with Larkin and launch the Workers’ Party of Ireland. Old CPI members prominent in its leadership included Roddy Connolly, George Pollock, Michael McCabe and Seamus MacGowan. Several ‘Larkinite’ Dublin Trades Council officers were won over: Peter Verden, John Farrelly and the chairman of the IWL, P. T. Daly. Gains were made among republicans. Sean McGlynn and Joe Troy, both members of the Dublin IRA, were party secretary and youth organiser respectively. Charlotte Despard

and

Maud

Gonne

MacBride were also on was party president and editor of its paper, the Irish Hammer and Plough. Although issues consisted of only a few duplicated sheets, sometimes printed on paper so thin that only one side could be used, the Hammer and Plough had a lively agitational style which concentrated on exposing the follies of the rich in a land where so many were poor. The party came on the scene with a flurry of activity: eight public meetings in the first fortnight of May and a

the

WPI

rally in

Connolly

O’Connell Street to commemorate the tenth annivers-

James Connolly’s death. Party members were active anti-eviction struggles in Cavan, Westmeath and Dublin.

ary of in

executive.

84

Communism

in

Modem Ireland

On one occasion Connolly and 200 others defied a police ban and marched, to the strains of ‘The Red Flag’, to help Liam O’Flaherty resist eviction from his North Dublin home. Dublin members set up the Irish National Unemployed Movement (INUM), which claimed six branches in and around Dublin, including one with 230 members. Chris Ferguson, a future national organiser for the Workers’

Union, was

INUM

‘Chief of Staff’.

The WPI was exceed-

ingly active in support of the British general strike, popular-

miners and collecting money to enable on when the TUC abandoned them after only nine days. The strike itself had little impact in Ireland, although for the last two days Irish dockers struck in every port from Derry to Dun Laoghaire to prevent the shipment of foodstuffs to Britain. When the general strike came to an end the Hammer and Plough described the TUC action as ‘an awful betrayal’ and urged Irish workers to ‘watch your leaders, make them fight, and only agree to terms that are ratified by the rank and file’. Although there was a noticeable absence from the Hammer and Plough of the long analytical articles which had characising the cause of the

them

to

carry

under Connolly’s editorship in 1921-22, the party’s policy came across clearly enough. It was ‘fighting for the overthrow of capitalism and the setting up of the Irish Workers’ Republic’. Connolly argued that ‘only on the basis of the workers’ struggle for emancipation could the fight for national freedom be carried to a successful end’. Fianna Fail was seen as the party of national capitalism, and a capitalist Ireland could never be free. De Valera stood only for ‘the Free State without the oath’; the national bourgeoisie had run their course and were now a reactionary force in Irish politics. Such a policy, however, was at variance with the current ‘line’ of the Comintern, which held that the terised the Workers' Republic

communist

parties in the colonial and backward countries should not only support their respective bourgeois nationalist movements, but should actually subordinate themselves to them — as was done in China with the most disastrous consequences. The WPI, however, had arrived at its strategy free from Comintern tutelage, basing it on its own analysis of the relation of classes in Irish society. But, when the party

James Larkin and Irish Communism decided revised

to

its

apply

for

membership of the Comintern,

85 it

attitude.

The change became apparent in September when the unemployed movement opened its platform to Fianna Fail speakers. At one rally Sean Lemass, Sean MacEntee and Countess Markievicz spoke alongside Connolly, McCabe and Ferguson, and Connolly called for ‘unity among all progressive parties’ to defeat the

and Plough

Free State.

On

9 October the

Hammer



meaning

called for ‘unity of the left-wing forces’

the Labour Party, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail — ‘to fight the common enemy’ — the ruling Cumann na nGaedheal party — in the general election of 1927. itself,

Just as the application to join the Comintern was lodged at the end of October 1926 the Hammer and Plough ceased pro-

duction without explanation. The British Communist Party had refused point-blank to support the WPI’s attempted affiliation to the International, and in February 1927 the

ECCI

replied to the official application:

Since the Communist International dissolved the small Communist Party of Ireland, the Executive of the Cl refuses its re-establishment in the shape of the Workers’ Party of Ireland. It does not recognise this party as the Irish section of the Communist International, nor establish any relations with it, and it asks all sections of the Cl and

to sanction

all

international parallel organisations to do likewise. Since

the

members of the party declare themselves Communists, them to dissolve their organisation.

the Cl asks

No

was offered for the boycott and suppression other than the implicit one that the Comintern still put its trust in the Irish Worker League, which the Workers’ Party members were instructed to rejoin ( WR 2 Apr. 1927). Although the WPI’s political bureau (unanimously) and executive committee (by a majority of one) accepted a motion from Roddy Connolly to obey the directive and dissolve the WPI, the majority of rank-and-file members, ‘at one of the best attended [meetings] since the birth of the party’, refused to submit. How, they asked, could they carry out an order which instructed them to join a non-existent organisation? real reason

of the

WPI

,

86

Communism

Michael McCabe,

in

Modem Ireland

now

the WPI’s organising secretary,

moved

no firm decision be taken until the ECCI had received and replied to a full report from them on the true situation. that

He

‘believed in Communist discipline’, he said, ‘but the Cl did not demand, nor expect, the unreasoning discipline of paid mercenaries, but rather the wholehearted loyalty of

comrades

in a minority

with the decision of the majority, and cons of the subject

after full consideration of the pros

under discussion’. There was the rub. As the communist around the world came to be regarded more and

parties

more by Moscow

as

instruments of Soviet foreign policy, in

pursuit of ‘socialism in one country’, their unquestioning sub-

mission to Comintern dictates, no matter how irrational, was Rigorous bureaucratic control had replaced the democratic centralism to whose principles McCabe had eloquently but fruitlessly appealed. In this respect what was happening in Ireland was but a microcosm of the communist movement internationally. The communist parties were being ruthlessly purged of all who refused to accept ‘Stalinisation’. Inside the Russian party Trotsky vigorously opposed Stalin’s

required.

was fighting for survival. There is no indication, however, that those who supported McCabe were conscious of these developments. Their opposition was instinctive and commonsensical and did not imply a rejection of Stalinist

leadership and

politics.

The defeat of the executive’s recommendation that the party disband was followed by a number of resignations from the WPI. Among the leaders to go were Connolly, Ferguson, Troy and Sean Nolan. A new executive was elected on 20 March. George Pollock became chairman and editor of its new paper, Workers' Republic, the first issue of which appeared a week later. McCabe became general secretary, Walter Carpenter financial secretary, and Peter Verden trade union liaison secretary. S6amus MacGowan was also on the executive. All had creditable records in the national and class struggles of the previous period. They now set about the task of convincing the Comintern — by their strict adherence to its policies — that it had made a mistake in continuing to support Larkin and the IWL against the Workers’ Party. In its call for the dissolution of the WPI the ECCI had also

James Larkin and Irish Communism given instructions

87

the reorganisation of Larkin’s Irish

for

Worker League as ‘a real party with the organisation, programme and activity of a Communist Party’. It was to ‘carry on the revolutionary struggle for national independence of separation from the British the Irish people, to complete .

.

.

Empire’ by establishing ‘a united front with the nationalist organisations which have not abandoned and betrayed the cause of independence’. On the industrial front it was to ‘struggle for the unity of the Labour movement’ and seek alliances with ‘reformist organisations’. Both the Workers’ Party and the Worker League interpreted the reference to ‘nationalist organisations which have not abandoned and betrayed the cause of independence’ to include Fianna Fail, and the WPI revived the old CPI tack of urging de Valera’s republicans to become more socially radical so as to attract working-class support ( WR 27 Mar. 1927). But on this occasion there were fewer excuses for illusions concerning the potential radicalism of de Valera. When Fianna Fail was criticised it was for its lack of policies with working-class appeal, not for its objective role as the party of emerging national capitalism, and as the June 1927 election approached even these criticisms disappeared. On 28 May the Workers' Republic described Fianna Fail as ‘the national revolutionary ,

force .

.

.

still

They

carrying

on the

struggle against British imperialism.

are the standard bearers of the national struggle

would ‘be one more on the way to the Irish Workers’ Republic’. An equally conciliatory attitude was adopted towards the official labour leaders, who were ‘undoubtedly representative of the expression of organised Labour’ and whom the workers could ‘compel [and] must be supported.’ Their election

step

to

become leaders of the

the

WPI advocated an

struggle’.

alliance

On

the basis of this analysis

between the Labour Party and

Fianna Fail for the creation of a coalition government. In the working-class constituencies Fianna Fail was indeed presenting itself as ‘the workers’ true hope’. It promised many of the social reforms contained in the Labour Party’s 1923 manifesto, some of which Labour had now dropped, and added a demand for the withholding of land annuities. In the eyes of the working-class electors Fianna Fail certainly appeared socially radical. The Workers’ Party did its utmost

Communism

88

in

Modem Ireland

to foster that appearance and paid the price of conformity with the Comintern’s ‘stages’ strategy by forgoing any independent socialist perspective for the working class. Larkin’s response to the ECCI directive was somewhat different. In the election he offered unconditional support to Fianna Fail, but scorned the idea of rapprochement with the Labour Party, which he wanted to see defeated. His refusal to advocate the unity of Labour and Fianna Fail was described by the WPI as ‘anti-communist tactics’ stemming from ‘personal antipathy’. Larkin did not refute the charge but retorted that the Workers’ Party was a dubious outfit whose members masqueraded under false names, earned their livings by suspect means, and had been associated with the old CPI which, Larkin alleged, had robbed banks. It was ‘a curious little crowd without any political influence and without any following among the mass of the workers’ (Collins 1928: 54).

Keeping up the verbal

flak, the

WPI

gave vent to

its

most

hostile denunciation of Larkin to date:

Mr James

Larkin, to

whom

has been entrusted the task of had nothing

organising the left-wing forces in Ireland

.

.

.

better to do than to endeavour to split the ranks and so

help to keep the Free State in power

His temperamental any combined work has ended in disruption in everything he has been connected with. [He has] completely smashed whatever there was of a left-wing movement, and now, like an enfuriated animal, he is stamping on the wreckage lest anyone might possibly make inability

to

fit

into

order out of the chaos. his friends that

.

.

.

His tactics have so disgusted

today they are

all

turned against him.

(WR, 18 June 1927) Such disunity in the ranks of the miniscule luxury that could scarcely be afforded.

Irish left

was a

The June 1927 election results indicated a desire for change. The three parties offering a ‘radical’ alternative, Labour, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, between them won 73 seats to the government’s 47; but with Fianna Fail maintaining its abstentionist stance, Cumann na nGaedheal continued in office. Labour, with fewer candidates than in

James Larkin and Irish Communism 1923, had a

marked

won

22

seats,

89

an increase of eight. There had been

shift to the left in the

working class, despite the union membership and

prevailing depression, the fall in trade

the absence of any resistance to the cuts in living standards. However, with the Worker League virtually moribund, the

Workers’ Party

split

and impoverished, and both at each was in any position to capitalise on

other’s throats, neither

the growing mood of discontent. The Comintern’s insistence that the present ‘stage’ of the Irish struggle required all

communists to support the nationalist bourgeoisie gave little encouragement to either organisation to approach the working class directly with socialist politics. While the WPI continued to urge de Valera to enter the Dail and form a coalition with Labour, it was an event elsewhere that finally forced Fianna Fail to take their seats. On 10 July the deputy prime minister, Kevin O’Higgins, was assassinated. The government responded with a new Public Safety Act and a law prohibiting abstentionist candidates from contesting elections. Faced with the alternative of going underground or taking the oath, de Valera led his party into the Dail. Thus

strengthened, the opposition nearly toppled the government in a vote of no confidence, and a new election was called for

September. Outside the Dail there was scattered resistance to the new repressive laws. The Workers’ Party, quite unrealistically, called on the Labour Party to organise a general strike. Larkin, defying a police ban, addressed a meeting of several thousands outside his union headquarters where he called for a conference of all opposition parties, under Fianna Fail auspices, to plan resistance. De Valera took up his suggestion, but only he and Larkin turned up for the conference. In the meantime the Labour Party was negotiating privately with Fianna Fail for future co-operation in the Dail. Larkin’s re-emergence into the limelight, in the company of de Valera, was coupled with a half-hearted attempt to reorganise the IWL. The League had no local organisation, no newspaper, no money and no offices, but it decided to run three candidates in the September election. A programme was issued declaring in favour of the Workers’ Republic and advocating, among other things, wholesale nationalisation,

90

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

the abolition of the Northern and Southern parliam ents along with the Free State army and the North’s Special Constabulary,

the arming of the workers, and the reunification of the country under a workers’ government [Workers’ Life 9 Sept. 1927). But the programme raised no immediate demands ,

around which workers could have been drawn into struggle, and it played no part whatever in the election campaign, in which Larkin again urged first -preference votes for Fianna Fail and none for Labour. Larkin himself stood against the assistant secretary of the Labour Party in North Dublin; his twenty-three-year-old son and namesake opposed Thomas Johnson, the Labour Party leader, in Dublin County, and a third Larkinite fought Labour in South Dublin. Collaboration between Fianna Fail and the League was widespread and led Cumann na nGaedheal to point the anti-communist finger at de Valera, and the Irish Independent to run a feature on ‘Fianna Fail and the Communist Party’. While in public Larkin and his associates urged support for Fianna Fail

as

the revolutionary anti-imperialist party, in

they justified their policy on the grounds returned to power, Fianna Fail ‘certainly will expose themselves as helpless petty-bourgeois politicians incapable of leading the workers and peasants out of slavery and misery’. When this had happened ‘a revolutionary workers’ party and organise would be able to rally the working masses them for the overthrow of capitalism’ (Collins 1928: 56). But if the ‘helpless’ and ‘incapable’ petty-bourgeois politicians would expose themselves then clearly Larkin had no need to do so, nor did he attempt to. The Labour Party had been able to field only eighteen candidates, four fewer than the number of seats it already held, and now Larkin’s intervention threatened to deplete its parliamentary ranks even further. It responded with a campaign of personal abuse, depicting Larkin as an English communist Orangeman who took his orders from Moscow. Despite this slanderous invective, and a violently anticommunist campaign in the press, the three IWL candidates polled nearly 12,500 votes between them, 3,500 more than the Labour candidates they had opposed. Larkin was elected, and although neither of his two fellow-candidates was returned,

communist

that,

circles

if

.

,

.

.

James Larkin and Irish Communism

91

they had split the vote sufficiently to oust Johnson in County Dublin and prevent a Labour victory in South Dublin. The IWL was overjoyed at the Labour Party’s loss of nine seats. But the IWL’s intervention was not the major factor contributing to this massive setback to Labour. The September 1927 election was the first in which Fianna Fail had stood as a non-abstentionist party. With its radical-sounding policies and its past record in the national struggle, it was able to capitalise on both republican and militant working-class frustration with the existing regime. Having won fifty-seven Dail seats, it was now established as the major political party enjoying working-class and small-farmer support.

It

had polled

over 35 per cent of the votes cast in Dublin and had done best in the working-class constituencies. The party of national

comand active

capitalism had achieved this position not against the

munist movement but with

its

explicit approval

assistance.

The Irish Worker League had been revived only for the duration of the election campaign, and it functioned then simply as a vote-catching machine. After the election it went back into suspended animation, to be revived once more when Larkin was forced to recontest North Dublin after being disqualified from taking his seat as an undischarged bankrupt, his status since the long legal battles against the ITGWU in 1923-24. The by-election was set for April 1928, and to Larkin’s amazement and disgust Fianna Fail stood a candidate against him, making it a three-cornered fight in which he was defeated. The friendly relations between the League and Fianna Fail were abruptly terminated. Despite the setback, Jack Carney remained optimistic, predicting no fewer than ten seats for the League in the next Dail. In a style reminiscent of Larkin’s utterances in the early days of the League, and every bit as hollow, Carney promised a ‘nationwide organisation in the near future’. In fact the Irish Worker League was on its last legs. While Larkin’s star had appeared to rise in the autumn of 1927, the Workers’ Party found itself facing insurmountable difficulties. Early in July 1927 the Workers' Republic began appearing only irregularly, and it disappeared entirely in December. For a moment it had seemed there would be a

92

Communism

reconciliation

Modern

in

Ireland

between the WPI and the

Gallacher, Stewart and Saklatvala had assist in Larkin’s election

at his

British

communists.

come

to Dublin to

all

campaign but were deeply perturbed Labour Party, and they made

attitude towards the

contact with the leaders of the Workers’ Party. Larkin was so incensed that he had the whole matter raised in the ECCI. The IWL demanded clarification from Moscow on the question of support for the Irish Labour Party and asked also for a Comintern ruling that the British communists ‘break off every connection with the Workers’ Party of Ireland’ (Collins 1928: 55-6). When the ECCI finally pronounced on the disagreement, it did so in Larkin’s favour: total opposition to the Irish Labour Party was the correct friendly

communist

tactic.

This ruling was a blow from which the

Workers’ Party never recovered. Throughout the dispute with Larkin it had claimed to be pursuing the ‘correct line’ against Larkin’s anti-Comintern deviation. It had thrown all its scarce resources into campaigning for Labour candidates in the two elections of 1927, at one point holding two meetings a night over a two-week period. It had rendered itself penniless as a result, and now had its knuckles rapped for its trouble. But the ECCI decision was in fact less of a rebuke to the CPGB WPI attitude to the Labour Party than a foretaste of another dramatic about-turn soon to be affected in Comintern tactics

— a sudden

shift to the left.

*

*

*

The demise of the Workers’ Party of Ireland under these hammer-blows marked a sharp turning-point in the history of the Irish communist movement. Most of its activists had been involved in the first Communist Party, which functioned at a time when the Communist International was still guided by revolutionary principles. They knew something of its early congresses when policies were shaped in open debate and sought to reflect the needs and interests of the working

relentless

class

internationally, even

Most of these communists collapsed,

sorely

if

they did not always succeed.

left active politics

disillusioned

at

when

the

WPI

the treatment they had

received at the hands of the Comintern. They had done everything possible to match up to the Comintern’s requirements,

James Larkin and Irish Communism

93

own independent and falling into line with Stalin’s two-stage dogma. Yet even then they were spurned. By breaking from the IWL in the first instance, and then refusing to obey a Comintern order to rejoin it (at a time when it did not even exist!), they had shown themselves capable of defiance, and that was something the new Soviet leadership would never tolerate. The prominent leaders of the Irish communist movement in the next decade were all specially trained in Moscow; there was never any doubt as to where their loyalties even to the extent of abandoning their

analysis of the Irish situation

lay.

Left Turn

At the end of 1927 an Irish Worker League delegation, accompanied by prominent IRA men, attended the tenth anniversary celebrations of the Russian revolution in Moscow. While there, Mick Fitzpatrick, a left-wing member of the IRA Army Council, represented Ireland on the presidium of a newly established body, the Friends of Soviet Russia. Soviet leaders were impressed by Fitzpatrick’s account of a growing left-wing group in the IRA, while at the same time they received only disparaging reports about Larkin. Larkin himself arrived in Moscow early in 1928 to attend the Ninth Plenum of the ECCI which was primarily concerned with the task of introducing a new ‘line’ to the communist parties. Under the rubric of ‘class against class’ this marked a sharp left turn. Inside Russia the slogan referred to the supposed struggle of workers and poor peasants against the rich peasants — soon to be liquidated in their millions. Internationally it meant a complete break with the broader social-democratic labour movement in preparation for what was assumed to be an imminent upturn in class struggle as world capitalism once more went into crisis. Labour reformists were depicted as the only thing standing between the workers and the revolution. For that reason they were regarded as the workers’ principal enemy. This new turn also had decisive effects on the attitude of the communists to the bourgeois nationalist movement. In so far as it demanded a complete break with all shades of labour reformism, the policy of ‘class against class’ appealed

94

Communism

On

in

Modern Ireland

own

he had pursued such a policy and at the Ninth Plenum he urged the reluctant CPGB delegates now to do likewise. The British communists, however, feared that if they did so they would lose their influence over the mass of non-communist workers with whom they had established strong links through the National Minority Movement. Under pressure they eventually capitulated to the new line — and ultimately suffered the very fate they had predicted for themselves. For that Larkin could claim some of the credit. While in Moscow Larkin also attended the Fourth World Congress of the Red International of Labour Unions, to which his own Workers’ Union of Ireland was nominally affiliated. He returned with instructions to strengthen the WUI politically and numerically and to campaign for the establishment of a revolutionary rank-and-file opposition within the unions which would eventually displace the reformist leaders and bring Ireland’s trade unions into the Red International. In the circumstances, and given Larkin’s abysmal record with the Irish Worker League, it was an ambitious scheme, and one that bore no fruit — although Larkin did momentarily try to organise his own National Minority Movement. Larkin’s failure, yet again, to live up to the Comintern’s expectations seriously undermined the Soviet leaders’ faith in him, and he would soon be bypassed. Larkin had returned to Ireland for the Dail by-election in April 1928 and missed the Sixth World Congress of the Comintern which met in the summer. This was only the second Congress held since Lenin’s death, one indication of how little regard the growing Stalinist bureaucracy had for internationalism. Jack Carney represented the IWL, and the most important part of his report was that dealing with Fianna Fail. The present political situation, he maintained, to Larkin.

his

initiative

since his return to Ireland in 1923,

was characterised by

‘the

abandonment of the revolutionary

even by that section of the bourgeoisie which still stood out after the signing of the treaty with Great Britain, and by the urban, and a section of the rural petty bourgeoisie’ (Carney 1928: 133-7). This analysis of Fianna Fail fitted well with the Comintern’s new ‘leftist’ policy, as did Carney’s analysis of all other parties. All reformist opponational struggle

James Larkin and Irish Communism

95

sition, whether labour or nationalist, was severely discredited, he argued, while the forces of revolutionary socialism were everywhere advancing — led by the Irish Worker League. This may have been what the Comintern leaders wanted to hear, but it had little basis in reality. With the demise of the Workers’ Party, the stagnation of the Worker League, the Labour Party’s electoral rout, and the continuing depression, the workers and small farmers were not looking to the dis-

organised and divided forces on the far left for leadership,

but were turning more and more to Fianna Fail. Having helped Fianna Fail along the road to success, the communists would now find it impossible to stem its advance in the future. The adoption of the ‘class against class’ principle, as we shall see, gave the communist movement a dynamism it had lacked up to now, but the new policy proved inadequate for the task of establishing the movement firmly within the working class. By underestimating the strength of social democracy and pure republicanism, the communists were unable to devise tactics which could separate the workers from the nonrevolutionary leaders to whom they still looked for answers. After the conclusion of the Sixth Congress the ECCI appointed Tom Bell, a member of the CPGB’s executive, as the new Comintern representative in Ireland. Bell, a Scot of Irish parents, had worked with James Connolly in the Scottish

Labour Party, and when the CPGB was founded in 1920 he became its first national organiser. Accompanied by Bob Stewart, Bell finally arrived in Ireland early in 1930, and together they set about the task of salvaging what they could from the chaotic and embittered situation bequeathed by Larkin. A new era in Irish communism was dawning. Socialist

5

Revolutionary Workers’ Groups, Ultra- Leftism and the Crisis Class Against Class

The

situation confronting Bell

entirely desolate.

deteriorating

De

and Stewart

in Ireland

was not

Valera’s ‘betrayal’, together with the

economic

situation,

was forcing the hardline

republicans to re-examine their policies, and a left social republican faction was coming into prominence in the IRA.

The attraction between them and the communists was mutual. Mick Fitzpatrick, who had visited Moscow in 1927, was the first

for

IRA man to go An IRA

guns.

there for political purposes rather than

colleague

who had accompanied him

‘Our task is to convince our fellow workers that their hope, their salvation is bound up with Soviet Russia.’ (Hogan 1935a: 37) In the same year IRA delegates had attended a conference of the Comintern’s League Against Imperialism (LAI) in Berlin, and on their return an Irish section was formed with Sean MacBride of the IRA Army Council as secretary (AP, 13 Oct. 1928). MacBride and the British miners’ leader, A. J. Cook, addressed a mass LAI rally in Dublin in October 1928, and in November the Russian revolution was cotnmemorated at a large public meeting. MacBride and Peadar O’Donnell attended the second congress of the LAI in July 1929, while in November of that year ten declared:

delegates from the Dublin Trades Council visited Moscow, publishing on their return a glowing account of their experiences which was circulated widely in labour circles (DTC 1929). In June 1929 communists, trade unionists and IRA members had established the Labour Defence League following a mob

attack

on

he addressed a meeting in Dublin. national secretary, and among leading

Willie Gallacher as

George Pollock was

IRA men on

its

its

executive were MacBride, Mick Price and

Revolutionary Workers' Groups

97

Geoffrey Coulter, the Arigna Soviet leader of 1921 and now deputy editor of the IRA paper, An Phoblacht. The Defence League was the Irish section of the Comintern’s International Red Aid,^ and the police reckoned it had 200 members (Saorstat Eireann 1930a). IRA delegates attended the second congress of the Friends of Soviet Russia in March 1930, and in the following month an Irish section was launched, again with a joint

communist/IRA executive including Stewart,

Fitz-

Dave Fitzgerald and George Gilmore. There had been other developments too, with the Connolly Workers’ Club revived in 1928 to serve as a centre for Marxist education and for the regroupment of a revolutionary nucleus. Several of its students were sent to study at the Lenin College in Moscow, and although most proved ‘unsuitable’ and returned home within a few months, Jim Larkin junior, Sean Murray and Bill Denn remained for the full course of training and assumed leading positions in the revolutionary movement when they came home in 1930. These various threads were pulled together in March 1930 with the establishment of a ‘Preparatory Committee for the formation of a Workers’ Revolutionary Party’ (PCWRP). Bob Stewart chaired the founding meeting; Chris Ferguson and Tom Bell were on the executive along with Donal O’Reilly, a building worker and Easter Rising veteran. Patrick Rooney, intelligence officer of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA, was its secretary. A weekly paper, Workers' Voice was produced with a print-run of 3,000 copies; Bell was editor and O’Donnell covered ‘peasant affairs’. The Preparatory Committee’s principal objective was ‘to organise the vanguard of the Irish working class into a revolutionary workers’ party which will lead the daily struggles of the workers and will fight to overthrow the capitalist state and establish an Irish Workers’ Socialist Republic’ (Saorstat Eireann 1930a). However, it did patrick,

,

not yet seek affiliation to the Comintern. In the early stages much of the committee’s operations were financed by Herbert Ward, a wealthy English revolutionary and brother-in-law of future Tory Foreign Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare. Among other things, he hired a Dublin cinema for a week and screened Russian propaganda films. The Gardaf, alarmed at the prospect of the IRA coming

98

Communism

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Ireland

under such direct communist influence, intercepted mail, sent informers along to meetings, and built up a collection of detailed files. Joe Troy, now back in action, was described as ‘very intelligent’; Bill Denn was ‘steeped in Marxian theories’; Ward was ‘a genuine fanatic’; Pollock was ‘one of the intellectuals’, while Mick Price was ‘one of the most dangerous individuals’. The Friends of Soviet Russia had ‘achieved quite a considerable success’, and leading members of Cumann na mBan were ‘permeated with Red ideas’. The unemployed movement, which was being revived, attempted to ‘foment strife such as riots, looting of shops etc.’, and while its 300 followers were ‘of the corner-boy type’, its leader Chris Ferguson was ‘important and dangerous’. Of 73 PCWRP members known to the police, 29 were suspected of belonging to the IRA, and Peadar O’Donnell was regarded as the most vital link between the communists and militant republicans. The police claimed that at one meeting in May 1930 O’Donnell proposed setting up an officer corps of 120 armed and trained

men

within

the

Workers’

Revolutionary

Party.

Another police report alleged that several prominent Fianna Fail politicians, including Frank Aiken, Frank Kearney, Eamon Cooney, Seamus Robinson and Robert Briscoe (named by the police as ‘Briscoe the Jew’), were ‘close to the Reds’ (Saorstat Eireann 1930b). Simultaneously with the launching of the Preparatory Committee an Irish section of the Comintern’s European Peasant Committee (Krestintern) was set up. O’Donnell was secretary, and some prominent republican councillors in

Galway and Clare

sat

on

its

executive.

It

sent delegates to a

March 1930 where O’Donnell presided. The main activity of the Irish section was agitation against land annuities, an issue that O’Donnell had taken up Krestintern congress in Berlin in

but without official IRA support. Now a militant campaign was conducted in the west of Ireland by O’Donnell and Stewart. Conditions there were grim. The numbers employed in agriculture were falling steadily, but unemployment benefit, meagre as it was, did not extend to the rural workless. With a world economic depression setting in, the traditional avenue of escape — emigration — was closing rapidly. While over 60,000 emigrated in 1925-26, only 1,500 in 1926-27,

:

Revolutionary Workers' Groups

99

did so in 1931. Emigrants’ remittances, to the value of

some

£6 million annually, and which benefited mainly the small farmers of the west, dried up completely, while falling wholesale prices for agricultural produce reduced thousands of the poorer farmers to unimaginable poverty. The annuities issue was certainly explosive, and O’Donnell’s campaign gathered momentum, with thousands of poor farmers simply refusing to pay. Bob Stewart remained closely involved. These friendly relations between the communists and IRA were not to last, however. In July 1930 Jim Larkin junior returned from Moscow with instructions from the Comintern to split the

IRA

volunteers

from

along class lines by detaching working-class their petty-bourgeois leaders who only

mouthed

‘pseudo-communist programmes and slogans’. IRA men were to be confronted with the choice of either sinking into oblivion — their fate if they remained with the IRA — or of joining a fully-fledged communist party affiliated to the Comintern (Saorstat feireann, 1930c). This was the application of the ‘class against class’ policy to the IRA. At the same time Sean Murray elaborated its theoretical Rank-and-file

implications

The

no longer ‘oppressed’ by

Irish bourgeoisie are

British

imperialism, but are ruling Ireland, North and South, in alliance with British capitalism.

.

.

.

They have abandoned

a single move can now be made for independence without a struggle to overthrow the Irish capitalist class [which] means, obviously, the

the struggle for a Republic.

.

.

.

.

.

Not

.

establishment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. This means that the old slogans ... of ‘Ireland against England’, ‘Independence’, ‘Republic’, must now be replaced by the slogan of class against class. (WV, 19 July 1930) .

The bourgeois revolution had run

its course, and argued, ‘The British/Imperialist/Capitalist system

now, is,

it

.

.

was

when

all

and done, fundamentally the same as the Irish/National/ Capitalist system.’ (WV, 18 Oct. 1930) There was no way forward save through the struggle for workers’ power. With communist influence in the IRA still restricted to a small and unrepresentative grouping in Dublin, the Comintern’s prescribed course was exceedingly ambitious. Several

is

said

100

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

IRA militants were willing to engage in common activity and even to hold dual membership with the embryonic Workers’ Revolutionary Party, but they were not yet ready to accept the full discipline of a communist party, nor to subordinate themselves to Moscow. Consequently relations between the communists and the IRA became severely strained as efforts were made to implement the Comintern directive. By September 1930 the communists had lost their foothold in the executive of the Friends of Soviet Russia, the IRA had withdrawn from the Labour Defence League, and the League Against Imperialism had ceased to function. The possibility of fully integrating the IRA left into an Irish communist party finally evaporated when, in February 1931, O’Donnell, Fitzpatrick and Fitzgerald, with official (if cool) IRA support, launched an alternative revolutionary party, Saor Eire, based on IRA units throughout the country and incorporating O’Donnell’s peasant committees. For some time to come, however, there was still an overlap in membership between the IRA and embryonic Workers’ Revolutionary Party, but when a communist party was eventually launched this was brought to an end on the orders of the IRA leadership. *

*

*

On the industrial front the story was similar: initial successes followed by isolation as the ultra-left and politically sectarian methods that flowed from the ‘class against class’ policy took their toll.

Even before the full rigours of the world depression were a terrible economic malaise was apparent in Ireland. Although industrial employment in the Free State had risen from 103,000 in 1926 to 111,000 in 1931, over 120,000 had emigrated in the same period, while agricultural employment was down by 35,000. Recorded unemployment increased by only 4,000 between 1927 and 1931, but that figure belied the real extent of the crisis. Wage reductions and short-time working were common throughout industry. In the North (discussed in the next chapter) unemployment soared from under 40,000 in 1929 to 75,000 in 1931. Trade union leaders were compelled to respond to the wage-cutting practices of the employers; the number of official strikes increased, more felt

Revolutionary Workers’ Groups

101

workers were drawn into struggle, and the strikes themselves were fought with greater intensity than at any time since the early 1920s. Despite rising unemployment, trade union membership increased steadily throughout the 1930s. The policy of ‘class against class’, as applied in the industrial arena, meant more than pitting labour against capital: it amounted to no less than a declaration of war on the whole reformist labour movement. The Workers’ Voice made it clear that no distinction was to be drawn between left- and right-wing reformists. Left-wing trade union officials were said to ‘mouth radical policies only to secure good positions for themselves’, while left-wing resolutions adopted by the unions were ‘not worth the paper they are printed on’. The identification of a distinctive labour bureaucracy and the advocacy of a rank-and-file alternative — a central plank in the ‘class against class’ perspective — were not in themselves ultra-left; such had been Comintern policy in Lenin’s day. What was ultra-left was the belief that the labour leaders were the only prop left to the capitalist state apparatus, a view that ultimately led to the belief that labour reformism and fascism were two sides of the same coin. It also made difficult any serious or consistent work inside the organised but ‘tainted’ labour movement — and that at a time when the workers were returning to the unions and the officials were calling and leading strikes. United front tactics would have been more appropriate. The re-emerging communist movement had gained its first industrial foothold at the Inchicore railway works in Dublin in mid-1929. Militants there, who included Chris Ferguson, produced a rank-and-file paper, the Steam Hammer which was described as ‘the first workshop paper in Ireland that based its politics on the clear-cut principles of class against class’. However, several of the militants were sacked, and the Steam Hammer folded following an abortive two-day unofficial sit-in strike against a wage cut in June. In August the Labour Defence League became involved in a Dublin tram workers’ strike, issuing a paper, Dublin Strike News which advocated rank-and-file autonomy and urged the strikers to ‘seize the trams and work them in the interests of the citizens of Dublin’. The paper claimed, with some justifi,

,

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Communism

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Modern

Ireland

‘August 1929 will go down in history as the the revival of Irish Labour.’ The sacked Inchicore workers had turned their attentions to the unemployed, reviving the Irish National Unemployed Movement (INUM) in July, with Ferguson back in charge. It obtained rooms from the Dublin Trades Council and began a vigorous campaign of street meetings and demonstrations, five of which, up to March 1930, ended in violent confrontations with the Gardai. Guided by the ‘class against class’ principle, the INUM eventually and inevitably came into conflict with the official labour leaders. In April its members broke up a Labour Party rally at the Mansion House, and in May they disrupted the labour movement’s Connolly commemoration. The Trades Council retaliated by expelling the INUM from its headquarters at the Trades Hall, and thereafter the movement began to fall apart. Tom Byrne, non-communist secretary of the INUM, blamed its collapse on the sectarian attacks on labour, which had, he said, disheartened the rank cation, that

month which saw

and file and scattered the leadership (IFF, 6 Sept. 1930). Ferguson himself resigned from the leadership and was expelled from the communist movement shortly afterwards. While the INUM had called for unity in action between the employed and unemployed, its denunciations of the official labour leaders as ‘scabs’ and ‘capitalist agents’ helped render the call ineffective. In May 1930 600 busmen working for the Irish Omnibus Company were called out on official strike to oppose a pay cut. Almost immediately, however, the main issue became recognition of the men’s union, the National Union of Rail-

waymen.

In Dublin an unofficial strike

committee was

set

up, and the communists were able to influence its actions to to be ‘one of the greatest a small degree. Holding the weapons the Irish capitalists have against the Irish workers’, the communists declared that fighting for its recognition was worse than useless and came close to advocating a breakaway union — attitudes that helped only to keep them isolated from the mass of the strikers. When the strike ended in July, with the recognised but only fifty of the original 600 strikers re-employed and the wage cut forced through, the communists could not claim one new recruit from among the busmen.

NUR

NUR

Revolutionary Workers’ Groups

103

strike had been characterised by considerable violence buses operated by ‘scabs’ were held up, hijacked, set on fire and shot at. Scores of strikers and IRA men who had

The as

come to By now

were arrested and fined or jailed. odds with the IRA, the communists neither suggested a campaign in the broader labour movement against the repression — which continued long after the strike ended — nor brought the Labour Defence League into action. Either move might have helped them salvage something from the long and bitter struggle. The communists did have one small success in this period: the election of Jim Larkin junior to the Dublin Corporation in September 1930. Campaigning for improved social amenities, but also condemning the ‘bourgeois electoral system’ and advocating government by workers’ councils, he polled 967 votes. But the result has to be seen in context. For one thing, Larkin had come second bottom of the poll, far outstripped by Labour and Fainna Fail candidates to whom the communists had advised workers ‘not to give a single first ... or even tenth preference vote’. Secondly, another communist candidate, Esther MacGregor, a local tenants’ leader, had won only 129 votes, the lowest number cast for any candidate, suggesting that Larkin’s name may have contributed more to his success than any widespread acceptance of the ‘class against class’ policy, as the Workers’ Voice claimed. On the other hand, the Irish Worker League, revived for the election, polled more votes with twelve candidates than the Labour Party did with nineteen, and Larkin senior was also elected. The communists claimed fifty new members from a their assistance

at

recruitment drive after the election. *

The

revival of

communism

clerical quarters.

The

Irish

*

*

in Ireland did

not go unnoticed in

Catholic , an influential weekly

whose staff laboured under the apostolic blessing of the pope, had described the Workers’ Voice as ‘a pestilent sheet’ and spoke of the ‘reek from the pages of its putrid print’. ‘No measure could be too drastic or too summary’, it went on, ‘for the immediate and effective stamping out of the plague that threatens to affect Irish

life.’

(

Irish Catholic ,

12 Apr.

104

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

1930) The Longford Printing and Publishing Company, which printed Catholic Truth Society pamphlets as well as the Workers’ Voice was told by theCTS secretary, Mr F. O’Reilly, ,

in July I,

1930: should not place any printing with a firm was associated with the production of this type of

as a Catholic,

that

printed matter. ... If you continue to print this paper you will lose other business. No doubt you will weigh up your loss against

your

gain.

(WV, 29 Nov. 1930)

The Workers’ Voice contract was immediately terminated, and the paper moved to a printer in Dun Laoghaire. But four of its eight pages had to be dropped, and the new printer insisted on censoring the remainder. Under pressure from another clerical paper, Catholic Mind this printer pulled out November, a particularly inopportune moment as the Voice had just announced a ‘paper week’ in which sales were to be increased by 1,000 a week in Dublin alone and extended into every city and town in preparation for an all-Ireland communist conference. Speaking at an Irish Worker League meeting in the Mansion House on 23 November, Larkin senior had warned that the attempted suppression of the Workers’ Voice was an assault on the whole working-class movement and called for united opposition to growing reaction. The communists, however, ruled out the possibility of an alliance with Larkin when they denounced him for wanting to join forces with ‘the bourgeois parties and their Labour toe-rags’. The Comintern had earlier instructed its Irish supporters to ‘neutralise’ Larkin and, if necessary, ‘take up the fight against him’ if he refused to co-operate ‘as a propagandist in the work of organising the Communist Party’ (Saorstat Eireann 1930c). Their decision to do so at a time when he alone was holding out the hand of friendship seemed particularly ill-judged. ,

in

*

*

*

Despite these setbacks, the drive to launch a workers’ party continued. In November 1930 a new title was adopted — Revolutionary Workers’ Groups (RWGs) — in recognition of the decentralised state of the organisation and in an effort to boost recruitment through greater local autonomy.

Revolutionary Workers' Groups In the building industry,

105

where wage cuts had been threat-

ened for several months and where a dispute was looming, some new recruits were claimed. Two of the RWGs’ leading members, Bill Denn and Donal O’Reilly, were prominent militants in the industry, but there was no real periphery. While the RWGs advocated immediate unofficial strike action to prevent cuts, one building worker wrote to the Voice arguing that while ‘the morale of the militants is good, these do not consist of the majority. The majority do not want a prolonged struggle. Things are bad in the building trade in Dublin. There are many on the unemployment books.’ (WV, 13 Dec. 1930) This warning was dismissed as ‘defeatist talk’ by the RWGs, who claimed that it was only the leaders who were ‘afraid of a fight’. When wage negotiations broke down, an official strike was called for 12 January 1931. Six weeks into the strike the RWGs succeeded in convening a broad-based rank-and-file conference attended by 300 strikers, but at the meeting Denn and O’Reilly clashed, Denn advocating the immediate establishment of an independent alternative leadership, and O’Reilly pointing out that the ‘lack of enthusiasm’ among the rank and file for a more militant struggle rendered such calls futile (WV, 21 Feb. 1931). The strike finally ended in April with a cut in pay considerably smaller than originally demanded by the employers, but cuts were immediately forced through in Belfast, Waterford and other centres as well. A handful of building workers had been recruited to the RWGs, but that rank-andfile

movement

from

,

so vital to their

whole

strategy,

was

still

far

realisation.

While the builders’ strike was still in progress the RWGs were able to put their policy of rank-and-file leadership to the test elsewhere

— at

the

Greenmount

linen mill in Dublin,

where several of the RWGs’ supporters, most of them nonunionised, were employed. When management proposed a 10 per cent wage cut the RWGs called for a strike, set up a strike committee — ‘the first rank-and-file leadership in Ireland’ — and submitted a claim for a 20 per cent increase in pay, together with better conditions all round. The strike committee called the workers out on 16 February. Frequent mass meetings were held, mass picketing was organised, and

Communism

106

in

Modern

Ireland

were shown no mercy. Five strike leaders were and charged with intimidation, but, defended by the Labour Defence League, all were freed. After three months and with only a few defections the strikers were finally forced to capitulate. There had been no strike pay, and

strike-breakers

arrested

other unions refused financial support because the strikers

were not union members. The

RWGs had consistently

opposed

recruitment to ‘reformist’ unions, and while they had shown how rank-and-file leadership could maintain a militant struggle against overwhelming odds, this attitude made it exceedingly difficult to campaign for solidarity action. In the last stages of the dispute Larkin senior recruited the strikers to his own union, but it was by then too late to prevent defeat. Again, at the end of the strike the RWGs had recruited a few new members but had achieved little else. The RWGs blamed ‘organisational weaknesses’ for the failure of their strategy in this and the builders’ strike and sought organisational remedies. But the problem was really political: their own ultra-left sectarianism. Nor did the

communists learn from

their experiences.

Suppression

On

7

June 1931 some seventy members of the

RWGs

attended

a conference in Dublin to hear William Rust of the

CPGB

report on the Eleventh Plenum of the ECCI, which had just

Moscow. Its main outcome had been a call for an even on social democracy. ‘It has been said that our main enemy is fascism,’ declared the ECCI. ‘Such a view contains within itself great danger, because it bolsters up [which] can most successfully play the social democracy met

in

fiercer attack

.

.

.

1971 iii: 149) So believing, the RWGs entered the most crucial period of their history to date. The ECCI had also ordered the immediate formation of an Irish communist party, but there was little likelihood of its directive being put into effect. With only £8 in its coffers, the Workers' Voice was suspended at the end of June and did

role of fascists.’ (Degras

not reappear until September. As the RWGs struggled to survive, the forces of reaction were gathering. The immediate focus of their concern was Saor Eire, which

Revolutionary Workers' Groups for

107

many months had been organising throughout the country.

In the words of the Minister for Justice, James FitzgeraldKenney, its aim was ‘to force by means of threats and crimes

of violence, a republic of Soviet nature on this country’ (Irish June 20,000 republicans had defied

Press , 14 Sept. 1931). In

government ban to march in the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration at which Peadar O’Donnell delivered a distinctly communistic oration. The IRA executive had recently affiliated as a body to the Friends of Soviet Russia, and Dave Fitzgerald, organising secretary of Saor Eire, had spent August and September in Moscow. Only days after his return Saor feire was officially launched as a political party. This was a

to the mill of the ‘red scare’ fanatics. Relations between the RWGs and Saor fare were less than amicable. While the new party was being organised the Workers' Voice remarked: ‘Workers who follow Sinn Fein or

all grist

the IRA are victims of the policy of deception and fraud pursued by the leaders of these organisations.’ (WV, 28 June 1930) The communists had stayed away from the illegal 1931 Wolfe Tone commemoration and did not involve themselves in the protests that followed the subsequent arrest of

IRA

leaders. Their hostility resulted partly

from the

applica-

tion of the ‘class against class’ policy to the republican

move-

ment. But they also felt threatened by Saor fare, whose stated objectives were remarkably similar to their own: ‘to achieve an independent revolutionary leadership for the working class and working farmers towards the overthrow in Ireland of British imperialism and Irish capitalism’, and for the building of ‘councils of action among the industrial and agricultural workers to lead the day-to-day struggles’ (AP 3 Oct. 1931). Both organisations were competing for the same ground. The government, possibly happy to find a distraction from the deepening economic crisis, and under pressure from the panicky Garda Commissioner, Eoin O’Duffy, who saw ‘reds’ around every corner, decided to approach the Catholic hierarchy and plan a combined offensive. On 30 July 1931 the cabinet resolved that ‘a dossier on the subject should be prepared by the Ministry of Justice for the information of the Bishops [and] that an interview between Ministers ,

.

.

.

108

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

and the Cardinal should be arranged’ (Saorstat feireann 1931a: 140). O’Duffy himself prepared the report (Saorstat Eireann 1931b) and presented it to the cabinet and the bishops in October. On 14 October the Constitution (Amendment No. 17) Bill was introduced in the Dail. It established a military tribunal with power to inflict the death penalty and gave the government authority to summarily ban any organisation thought to pose a threat to the state. Police powers would be greatly increased. After three days of debate (Dail Debates

,

Vol. 40, cols 32-196) the bill passed into law. Throughout the debate the government sought to justify the repressive measures by pointing to increased IRA violence, but references to the ‘communist threat’ were almost as common. ‘Nothing in the Bill forbids the advocacy of political beliefs,’ declared President Cosgrave, but added that ‘The advocacy in this State of Communistic doctrines cannot be tolerated.’ After declaring communism ‘alien to Irish tradition’ he went on: .

.

.

Let us not delude ourselves into believing that the

new

doctrines could never subvert the traditions of this country.

Subversive

movements

are usually carried out

by a relatively

no very sound reason to be convinced that large sections of our people would not, like other people, succumb to Communist teachers when The Church allowed complete freedom of utterance. and the State are the only bulwarks against chaos. small minority, and that

is

.

.

.

Fitzgerald-Kenney spoke of ‘an endeavour ... to impregnate country with Russian ideas’ and doubted if ‘it is possible for Ireland to remain in the future a really Catholic country’ unless such endeavours were halted. Fianna Fail opposed the measure, arguing that existing laws were adequate for the suppression of communism. The Labour Party voted against for fear that the coercion might strengthen the forces it sought to destroy. In the course of the debate one Labour TD had even referred to 600 paid Russian agents operating in Ireland. Only one voice was raised in sympathy with the intended victims of the bill, that of Tom Mullins, Fianna Fail TD for West Cork. Alleging a conspiracy to provoke an uprising and obscure the economic this

Revolutionary Workers' Groups crisis

109

with repression, he argued that the organisations under

attack ‘had their origin, their genesis and tradition in the social inequality that exists here today, in the bad housing,

unemployment and in the quest for bread’. He proudly admitted belonging to four of the organisations named by Cosgrave as subversive, and he praised the Revolutionary Workers’ Groups by name for their useful work. Two days after the passing of the act the bishops issued a long pastoral which was read in every Catholic church in the country. It spoke of ‘the growing evidence of a campaign of Revolution and Communism’ aiming at ‘the ruin of Ireland both soul and body’. Communism, ‘in its principles and actions, wherever it appears, means a blasphemous denial of God and the overthrow of Christian civilisation’. The bishops declared both Saor fare and the IRA to be ‘sinful and irreligious’ and placed them under the ban of the Church (Irish Independent 19 Oct. 1931). Priests throughout the country were told to go onto the offensive, through Catholic Action, while diligently instructing their flocks in ‘the malice of murder and the satanic tendencies of Communism’. On 20 October the government issued a list of proscribed organisations. It included not only Saor fare and the IRA but Fianna Eireann and Cumann na mBan; the Labour Defence League; the Friends of Soviet Russia; the Irish Working Farmers’ Committee; the Workers’ Research Bureau; the Irish Tribute League; the Women Prisoners’ Defence League; the Workers’ Defence Corps; and the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (Saorstat Eireann 1931c: 200). It was clear that much of O’Duffy’s information was out of date or simply confused: organisations that had ceased to exist were included, as were the old titles of some of those that had changed their names. The RWGs were not in fact banned by name, but their predecessor, the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, was. O’Duffy had also considered naming the Workers’ Union of Ireland as ‘subversive’, but resisted the temptation. The government was clearly taking no chances; any organisation, no matter how small, which had expressed views to the left of the Labour Party was to be destroyed. the

,

memorandum to the cabinet suggesting various ways which the Constitution Amendment Act could be imple-

In a in

110

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

O’Duffy named six ‘Communist agitators from who were ‘very active and very harmful’ and who ‘should be warned to leave the country’. Printers who handled their literature should be ‘warned of the consequences’. He also requested 200 extra men for the Special Branch to ensure that the repression was conducted rigorously (Saorstat Eireann

mented

England’

1931d).

The IRA reacted with unexpected calm. The Army Council ordered restraint and instructed the volunteers to work peacefully for the defeat of Cumann na nGaedheal in the general election which Cosgrave had called for February 1932. Saor Eire, which had gone public only three weeks before it was outlawed, was the real victim of the combined church and state assault. It was outraged at the allegation that it was anti-Christian and sought to justify itself in the eyes of the hierarchy by redefining its aim as ‘a new Christian Civilisation’ rather than ‘Godless Communism’ (AP, 17 Oct. 1931). The Galway County Council, chaired by Saor Eire leader Eamonn Corbett, called for a conference between the bishops, the papal nuncio and the banned groups to dispose of the ‘misconceptions’ about communism. But no one was impressed by these recantations, least of all those who sought Saor Eire’s destruction. Many years after Saor fore’s demise Peadar O’Donnell admitted that it ‘was not as revolutionary as it seemed to be. It was academic really, and constituted in effect, an IRA alibi enabling it to slide out of doing something practical to implement its aims.’ (Mclnemey 1974a: 116) Many IRA men who had never been happy about the turn to politics, and especially leftist politics, were relieved at Saor Eire’s collapse.

For

all

the anti-communist hysteria that had preceded the

Groups were relatively unmolested. Only two issues of the Workers' Voice were banned, and only one of the RWGs’ members was arrested — for belonging to the IRA. But the general atmosphere forced the communists to curtail their activities, and eventually, rather than submit to their printer’s censorship, they decided in December to discontinue the Voice. The bishops’ call for Catholic Action met a wide response, and ‘respectable’ organisations for the unemployed and underprivileged began repression, the Revolutionary Workers’

Revolutionary Workers' Groups to spring up around the country, frequently run

by

111

priests.

All served to increase the isolation of the revolutionaries.

RWGs

responded along the lines of ‘class they declared, came not from Cumaiin na nGaedheal but from the Labour Party and Fianna Fail who were ‘perfecting their weapons for holding the weapons of deceit and sham down the workers opposition’. ‘Irish capitalism’, said the RWGs, ‘has taken the road to naked fascism. Every vestige of capitalist democracy has been wiped away.’ But since fascist dictatorship was ‘the final form of capitalist rule’, it would be wrong — indeed reactionary — to fight for the restoration of democratic liberties, as this would simply reverse the process of capitalism’s collapse. There was ‘no difference between a military dictatorship, a parliamentary democracy, a Free State or a Republic, a religious state or a non-religious one’, and ‘it will make no difference to the Irish workers whether the executive councils of Irish capitalism are dominated by the parties of Cosgrave, de Valera or O’Connell’ — the last named being the leader of the Labour Party (WV, 31 Oct., 7 Nov. 1931). In short, a Labour government would be no different from one that had ‘taken the road to naked fascism’. Cosgrave’s supposed ‘fascism’, however, had left the labour movement, the trade unions and Labour Party intact; it placed no restrictions on parliament and permitted free elections. By ignoring these facts, and by writing off as ‘reactionary’ any attempt to defend basic democratic liberties, the communists effectively excluded themselves from participation in the wave of indignation that now swept the country, and cut themselves off entirely from the rapidly increasing numbers who now looked to Fianna Fail to provide a radical alternative. In that respect they had done more to harm their own future chances than either church or state had yet managed to do. Although regarding themselves as proscribed, the RWGs fielded two candidates in the February 1932 election: Larkin junior and Joe Troy; and still maintaining that there was nothing to choose between ‘reformism’ and ‘fascism’, they advised workers to abstain rather than vote for either Labour or Fianna Fail (WF, 28 Nov. 1931). Larkin senior Politically the

against class’.

The

real danger,

.

.

.

112

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

entered the election on a violently anti-Labour Party platform (although his motivation had nothing to do with the politics of ‘class against class’; it was simply part of his decade-long battle against the labour leaders who had put him down in 1923). ‘It is the bounden duty of every militant’, to see to it that the Labour Party is so he declared, ‘. decisively defeated that it will be impossible for it to gather together the pieces.’ (IW, 9 Jan. 1932). With the working class, the rural poor and the urban petty bourgeoisie falling in behind Fianna Fail, the Labour Party did indeed suffer a major blow, but the far left candidates polled badly too. Larkin senior’s vote, at under 4,000, was almost half what it had been in 1928, while his son poped less than 1,000, and Troy a mere 127. By promising to end the coercion, free the IRA prisoners, abolish the oath, withhold the land annuities and encourage native industry and small-farm tillage, de Valera had channelled the rising tide of militancy into the safe waters of constitu.

.

tional democracy.

With Fianna

Fail’s

electoral victory the

petty bourgeoisie and small manufacturers had triumphed over the big farming, commercial and financial interests. That was a victory the communists had fought hard for

now that it had come about they expressed no joy. While the atmosphere in radical circles generally was one of euphoria, the RWGs continued to argue that Fianna Fail was ‘pursuing under other forms and phrases the objectives of the Cosgrave Ministry’ (WV, 9 Apr. 1932). As de Valera fulfilled his election promises one by one — including lifting the ban on the communists themselves and making it possible to resume publication of the Workers * Voice, which they did from April — few outside the ranks of the faithful, or the blind, could accept the RWGs’ distorted logic. Militant workers and republicans of all hues were less concerned with fighting de Valera than with countering the deposed forces of the right who were gathering around the Army Comrades Association. Set up as a non-political body in the spring of 1931, the ACA was now transformed into a militant force for combating the ‘twin evils’ of communism and republicanism. Its less than peaceful methods half a decade earlier, but

Revolutionary Workers' Groups

were prompted by two

IRA campaigns

113

then developing

along violent lines. The first of these aimed at denying free speech to the ‘traitors’ of Cumann na nGaedheal; the second, in the form of a Boycott British League, at boosting native capitalism by stopping the sale of British beer and confectionery in Ireland. The Saor £ire debacle, combined with a willingness, albeit tinged with scepticism, to give de Valera a chance, had produced a climate within the IRA favourable to the more right-wing elements. Saor £ire was formally buried at the 1932 IRA convention, and henceforth the republican left was isolated. *

*

*

summer of 1932 the British government placed a 20 per cent tariff on Irish imports to recoup the income lost through the unpaid land annuities — which the new government in Dublin continued to collect and retain for itself. When de Valera responded with a similar tariff on British imports to Ireland an ‘economic war’ began. As it did, and as many thousands demonstrated on the streets of Dublin and Cork against ‘British aggression’, the RWGs were compelled to change their attitude towards Fianna In the

Fail.

At the Twelfth Plenum of the ECCI, held in Moscow in August and September, Joe Troy announced that Fianna Fail was ‘conducting a struggle with British imperialism’ and that the masses were moving into action behind de Valera’s leadership. This did not, however, imply that Fianna Fail should be supported, but simply that the communists would have to fight it for the leadership of the revived national struggle (Troy 1933: 83). Sean Murray, addressing the CPGB congress in London in November, emphasised the significance of the change in communist strategy. Previously, he pointed out, they had believed that it was sufficient to organise and agitate on economic issues alone and that, as a result of a successful struggle against capitalism, the national question would be finally resolved. Now, Murray argued, it was clear they had erred; the national question was the key to the struggle for socialism. He continued:

114

The

Communism task that

in

Modern

we

Ireland

are faced with

is

the bringing to the

leadership of the national revolutionary struggle in Ireland

the class which

working

class.

.

is .

.

capable of carrying

it

through, the

The Communist Party must be the

This national issue party of national independence. is not something in the road of the CP keeping back the struggle, but is the most powerful weapon in the hands of the working class in Ireland. The main thing about the situation is that we have to convince the Irish workers yet much more strongly that the parties of the Irish middle class are not able to carry on the struggle to a successful conclusion. (Daily Worker 28 Nov. 1932) .

.

.

.

.

.

,

made

it necessary once more to only to displace it. But that was easier to hope for than to achieve. IRA volunteers, who up to now had provided a substantial proportion of the

This changed perspective

co-operate with the IRA,

if

RWGs’ membership, were drifting away as the IRA itself moved steadily to the right. The volunteers increasingly had to choose between

more recent

flirtation

their traditional loyalties

and

their

with communism. Most chose the

former. While this political reassessment was proceeding in the autumn of 1932 the RWGs were deeply involved in two of the most significant struggles in their history: one among the Belfast unemployed (discussed in the next chapter), the other with the anthracite miners at Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny.

Castlecomer and Catholic Reaction

A

communist group had been

summer of 1930 under

IRA

set

up

at

Castlecomer in the

the leadership of mine worker and

veteran Nicholas Boran. In August that year Boran fifth Red International of Labour Unions congress in Moscow where the policy of establishing ‘parallel red trade unions’ by splitting the reformist unions was forcefully stressed (RILU 1931). In December the Castlecomer group decided to take as many miners as possible out of the Irish Transport Union and organise them into a new revolutionary union, the Irish Mines, Quarries and

had attended the

Revolutionary Workers’ Groups

115

Union (IMQAWU), with Boran as secretary (WV, 20 Dec. 1930). But the road to revolutionary unionism in rural Kilkenny was not an easy one. When news of the intended breakaway union reached the police they raided the homes of militant miners, while the local priest, Father Cavanagh, visited each miner in turn, informing them that God, through His Church, wished them to remain in the Transport Union. Initial recruitment was slow. Of 150 Allied Workers’

miners who heard Larkin junior address the founding meeting of the Castlecomer branch, only thirty joined. Another branch was formed at Ballyragget with only thirteen members (WV 21 Feb. 1931). Over the next eighteen months, however, several ITGWU members, angered at their own leaders’ failure to oppose the introduction on two separate occasions of half-time working on half pay, came over to the f

IMQAWU, and

in

October 1932 Boran called

his

members

out on strike for a wage rise of 3d per ton. Some 400 miners heeded the call. After six weeks Boran recommended a return to work, declaring the strike a ‘complete victory’: 2d extra

had been won. But it was a Pyrrhic victory. Throughout the strike the IMQAWU had to contend with two major problems: the official trade unions and the Church. The strike was started without funds; there was no strike pay, and financial assistance had to be sought elsewhere. But the miners’ appeals went largely unheeded. The Dublin Trades Council, like other official bodies, refused to help on the grounds that the IMQAWU was not affiliated to the ITUC — a body which the communists scorned since, in the words of Larkin junior (a future ITUC president), it was ‘moving to fascism’ (WF, 6 Aug. 1932). Labour leaders refused to speak at a major fund-raising rally in Dublin, which was hardly surprising as they were regularly lambasted in the communist press as ‘social fascists’. The isolation of the strikers and their union from the broader layers of the labour movement was the inevitable consequence of the sectarianism of their theoretical mentors. The Church proved an equally formidable obstacle. Father Cavanagh warned his flock that communism was ‘devouring all before it’ and threatening to ‘drench the whole world in blood’.

Bishop

Collier

in

his

new-year pastoral declared

116

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

RWGs

the communist-led union and the of the Church’:

No

Catholic can buy,

communistic

‘under the ban

read, receive, or support any

sell,

or paper, such as the Workers' Voice.... We warn all obstinate leaders or agents of communism that we will fight for our Faith with all the tenacity and courage of our forefathers. (Kilkenny Journal 26 Nov. 1932; 7 Jan. 1933) literature,

journal

,

Cut off from any organised working-class support, the could neither defend itself from the clerical onslaught nor dissuade its members from bowing before the bishop. Soon after the strike ended the breakaway union was dissolved back into the ITGWU. Militant rank-andfile leadership, it was true, had won a wage rise from an employer not known to have ever previously made con-

IMQAWU

cessions to his workers. It also gave the miners a sense of

confidence and self-respect that remained strong for many RWGs’ real purpose, the establishment of a revolutionary opposition to the official leadership, had, after two and a half years’ effort, come to naught. For the first time, anywhere in Ireland, the communist movement had secured a strong foothold among organised workers, and although the mines themselves were of no strategic importance to Irish capitalism, several hundred militant workers under communist leadership could conceivably have become the nucleus of a genuine rank-and-file movement inside the Transport Union — the largest union in Ireland. The policy of splitting from the ‘social fascists’ precluded consideration of such a perspective. years to come. But the

*

*

*

The reaction encountered by the communists in Kilkenny was slight compared with what was developing elsewhere. From a special communist congress in Dublin on 6 November 1932 had come a public announcement that the RWGs would be transformed into a fully-fledged communist party in the following February. Within days Cardinal MacRory issued a dire warning from Maynooth: ‘Like a plague Bolshevism seems to be spreading.

It is

time that

all

of us should

117

Revolutionary Workers’ Groups feel called

upon

to prepare ourselves for this trouble that

seems to be coming.’ ( Standard 19 Nov. 1932). The effect was immediate. The printer of the Workers’ Voice cancelled his contract, and sixteen other Dublin printers refused the work. It had to move to Glasgow, and the coverage of events was greatly reduced as valuable space was filled with cartoons and photographs. The additional expense was crippling. The Standard a rabidly right-wing and quite influential lay Catholic paper (that was soon to welcome Hitler to power in Germany), urged its readers to ‘assert their Cathol,

,

icity and, if necessary, fight for their faith

and

and

liberty’

declared menacingly: ‘We must take care that no Communist Party will ever be founded or allowed to function in Catholic Ireland.’

(

Standard 10, 17 Dec. 1932). ,

Army Comrades

Association attacked and broke up a communist-run unemployment meeting, and in Dublin clerical-inspired mobs began to do likewise. Cumann na nGaedheal branches were instructed to recruit ‘active In Cork the

young men’ to prepare for the coming battles. Tadhg Murphy, Labour TD, called on the government to deport ‘the two or three foreign communists who are in the country’. Others in

movement joined the rising chorus. group of trade unionists in Portarlington pledged themselves to ‘support our Parish Priest in whatever action he the may consider necessary to discover and banish representative of the anti-Christ’ — the sole sympathiser of the RWGs known to be living in the town. The Labour Party at Durrow passed a resolution ‘condemning communism and pledging unalterable loyalty to the Church’, while that at Enniscorthy passed another describing communists as ‘perverts’ and calling on ‘Irish Catholic working men’ to ‘rise up against them’. The mid-Kilkenny Labour Party organised church-gate meetings to make public its hostility to communism, and Bishop Collier called for the establishthe ranks of the labour

A

.

ment of

‘Vigilance

Committees

expose the Red Menace’.

A

in every parish to

.

.

watch and

Catholic Able-Bodied Men’s

was set up to rival the communist -led Irish Unemployed Workers’ Movement (the old INUM revived under a new name) which had been making headway in a number of provincial towns. (The CABMA, holding unAssociation

Communism

118

in

Modern Ireland

employment to be ‘a on the erring human

just race’,

punishment meted out by God was not concerned to improve

living standards but only to give the unemployed ‘a spiritual bucking up’.) The Lenten pastorals of 1933 might, at another time and in another place, have occasioned numerous prosecutions for incitement to violence. The Bishop of Killaloe spoke of an approaching ‘life-and-death struggle [in which] the Church will suffer many losses’. The Bishop of Kildare urged his people: ‘Be prepared to fight. There is no reason why anyone who undertakes to propagate communism should be allowed to do so. There should be combined .

.

action against

its

.

.

.

.

spread, against

its

very existence.’ The

Bishop of Derry called on his flock to ‘clear out the foreign agitators’, while the Bishop of Kilmore said that communism ‘the nationalisation of women and children’. In the midst of all this the national press brimmed with reports of the bloody liquidation of the rich peasants in

meant

Russia which followed Stalin’s forced collectivisation of the up an image of the typical communist as a

land, conjuring

man

[sic]

who would ravish your wife, impound your children, home and, if you had any, your land as well.

confiscate your

To

these charges the communists responded

Stalin as the greatest liberator of

all

by defending

time, denying that mass

murder was taking place in the Soviet Union, and printing, with monotonous regularity, the picture of a Russian peasant girl smiling at the wheel of a new tractor on a collectivised farm. Try as they might, communism retained its hideous image in the popular consciousness. The Lenten pastorals soon achieved the status of selffulfilling prophesies. At Effernagh, Co. Leitrim, Jim Gralton, who led the local Revolutionary Workers’ Group, became the first victim. Gralton organised dances and political meetings in a small hall belonging to his family. In the eyes of the village priests, Fathers O’Dowd and Cosgrove, the coming together of young people on the dance floor was a reprehensible sin, surpassed only by the abomination of Gralton’s frequent, if small, demonstrations against unemployment. The priests initiated a violent campaign to have him disposed of. Fifty shots were fired into the hall when Gralton refused

Revolutionary Workers’ Groups to surrender

it

119

and when that failed to curtail was fire-bombed. The two priests now

to the Church,

his activities the hall

began a campaign for Gralton’s deportation to America, where he had become a naturalised citizen in 1909. Their efforts were rewarded when the government ordered Gralton to leave the country. He was deported from Cork on 13 August 1933. It was the first political deportation in the history of the Free State.

The RWGs had attempted, without much

success,

to

organise a campaign in Gralton’s support. All sections of the official labour leadership steered well clear of the issue, and while Peadar O’Donnell did much in a personal capacity to

help Gralton, the IRA remained officially neutral. Memories of Saor Eire were too fresh to allow a second confrontation with church and state on the question of communism. While the hounding of Gralton was under way the reaction

On 27 March, after listening sermon in the city’s Pro-Cathedral, an incensed mob marched from the church to attack Connolly

was gathering strength

in Dublin.

to a bitterly anti-communist

House, the recently acquired headquarters of the RWGs, situated in Great Strand Street. After three days and nights, when the communists inside repulsed their assailants with bricks from demolished internal walls, the mob, to the accompaniment of hymns, set fire to a bedding factory next to Connolly House, forcing its defenders to flee across the rooftops. Throughout the attack the police had watched

from a distance, making only one arrest: Charlie Gilmore, one of the very few IRA men who had come to the communists’ defence. He was charged with being in possession of a gun. When the violence began all Dublin battalions of the IRA were suddenly moved out of the city on exercises. Those who remained to help the communists were publicly disowned by their leaders and subjected to internal discipline. From Connolly House the mob moved on to sack the Workers’ College, a centre of Marxist education located at Charlotte Despard’s house in Eccles Street, and from there to Unity Hall, headquarters of Larkin’s Workers’ Union, and Kevin Barry Hall, a republican meeting-place. Both were badly

damaged. Only when the crowds moved to O’Connell Street and started looting shops did the Gardai intervene to halt

120

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

them. Professor James Hogan, soon to emerge as one of the leading ideologues of Irish fascism, was among those who applauded the mob, whom he described as ‘bodies of Catholic citizens [taking] the law into their own hands in default of

Government action’ (Hogan 1935a: 64). The clerical-inspired anti-communist hysteria had the desired effect. The launching of the new communist party was postponed from February to April and then to June. Between the March events and the final establishment of the Communist Party of Ireland only three issues of the Workers’ Voice appeared. Some time later Sean Murray assessed the attacks and the communists’ response to them in these terms: and social power of the Church in Ireland is and this campaign undoubtedly put big obstacles in the way of the development of our movement and was answered by us with insufficient resolution and vigour. There were tendencies to capitulate before the

The

political

tremendous,

onslaught, to accept the position of illegality, tendencies

towards going into a similar position to that of the conspiratorial organisations. (Murray 1935: 904)

Murray, however, was speaking with the benefit of hindsight and from a radically changed perspective. At the time of the attacks the RWGs had acted in accordance with the ‘class against class’ policy: they did not consider democratic liberties, even their own, worth fighting for. To have called, for example, for a united front with established labour bodies, would have been to foster dangerous illusions concerning the ‘social fascists’ who led them. While the RWGs were increasingly forced to retreat, and as the IRA turned away from involvement in left-wing politics, the ultra-right was now moving in an overtly fascist direction. In a surprise general election in January 1933 Fianna Fail consolidated its grip on the Dail, winning a clear majority of urban working-class votes. A month later de Valera sacked Eoin O’Duffy from the Commissionership of the Garda Siochana, fortuitously providing the extreme right with a new figurehead. On the industrial front the workers had suffered badly, with unemployment and wage cuts, and resistance was minimal. It was scarcely an auspicious moment for the launching of a

communist party.

Revolutionary Workers’ Groups

121

Before discussing the progress of the Communist Party in we will look at the fortunes of the communist movement north of the border. the later 1930s

6

Communist

Struggles in Belfast:

For Bread and Freedom Communism Comes North The

Irish

communist movement

in the 1920s, apart

from

its

Newry in 1923, was entirely confined to The Northern working class was politically

brief incursion into

the Free State.

divided into the camps of Unionism and nationalism which

bound Protestant and Catholic workers

to their respective

and partition had had shattering effects on the labour movement in the North, and while Catholic workers, in many ways even closer to the Church than their counterparts south of the border, viewed communism as alien and Godless, Protestant workers regarded it as synonymous with republicanism and in more fanciful moments even envisaged a Vatican/Kremlin alliance. But the Dublin revolutionaries also had tactical reasons for avoiding any serious attempt to spread their influence northwards. The communists saw the Free State as the cockpit of the Irish revolution, a revolution which, they maintained, was still at the stage of the fight for the Republic. Victory for the Republican forces over the ‘pro-British’ Free State, it was assumed, would automatically lead to the ending of partition, which persisted only because the British wanted it to. The communists of the 1920s had neither seriously analysed Unionism as such nor the widespread support the Unionist Party enjoyed among Protestant workers. The hostility of these workers to the establishment of an independent united Irish Republic, in so far as it was considered at all, was seen as resulting from religious bigotry and little else. The material privileges which Northern Protestant workers enjoyed over Catholic workers, and which were, in a sense, ‘payment’ for their loyalty, were ignored, while, equally importantly, little middle

classes. Sectarian conflict

Communist

Struggles in Belfast

123

attention was paid to the way in which the socially reactionary stance of the bourgeois Catholic-led nationalist movement helped strengthen the ties between Protestant workers and their masters. all-class alliance, however, was not as solid sometimes appeared. In the aftermath of the First World War the fortunes of the Belfast labour movement seemed to be flourishing. In January and February 1919 there had been a general strike for a shorter working week, and the May Day demonstration that year had attracted 100,000 workers. In January 1920 thirteen of the Labour Party’s twenty candidates were elected to the city council, compared with only one from the Unionist Party’s ‘Labour Association’, set up in 1918 to counter the Labour Party’s appeal to Protestant workers. Fear of a Labour parliamentary victory had even

The Unionist

as

it

led the Unionist leader, Sir

wisdom of

Edward Carson,

to question the

North after Support for Labour, however, did not imply rejection of the Union with Britain. Most Northern labour leaders, themselves drawn from the Protestant section of the working class and reacting to similar pressures, were unsympathetic to the struggle for national independence, although in public, and for the sake of organisational unity, they endeavoured to setting

up

a separate legislature in the

partition.

appear neutral on the issue. Labour’s advance was nevertheless regarded by the Unionist bosses as a serious threat: if they lost their own political power within the Union, the Union itself, they feared, could not long be maintained. And so in July 1920 they set off a train of sectarian violence that was to result in 550 deaths within two years and the expulsion of 11,000 workers from their jobs, almost 3,000 of them Protestant trade union militants and socialists. The labour movement was devastated. None of its candidates was returned in the first election to the Northern parliament in 1921, and Catholic resistance to partition and the establishment of a Protestant-dominated state was finally crushed. By the mid-1920s, however, the Unionist establishment again appeared to be losing its grip on Protestant workers. In the general election of 1925 — in which the Unionist Party campaigned solely on the issue of the border — the

124

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

Northern Ireland Labour Party returned three candidates. (The new title, Northern Ireland Labour Party, had been adopted in 1923, but it did not yet signify open support for partition.) Four Independent Unionists, fighting mainly on the issue of unemployment — then 23 per cent — were also elected. In October 1925 the government used the Special Powers Act, a fiercely Draconian law mainly intended for use against Republicans, to suppress an unemployment march in Belfast, and in November a labour leader was jailed for six months for a speech in which he said that ‘by the aid of the rifle, revolver and bomb we can blow the government to hell, its proper country’ (Belfast Newsletter 26 Nov. 1925). In the following year there were protest marches to the workhouse demanding unemployment relief, and dockers in Belfast, Coleraine, Derry and Newry joined the closing stages of the British general strike in May 1926. In the course of a speech in support of the British strikers the prominent Labour MP Harry Midgley (a future Unionist Minister for Public Security) urged soldiers to ‘turn the guns on those who gave the orders’ ,

(Milotte 1976). The disillusionment of Protestant workers with the Unionist

regime, however, was unlikely to develop into opposition to Unionism itself in the absence of some force in the Twentysix Counties which could convince those workers that a united Ireland would be to their advantage. By their very nature neither of the capitalist parties, Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fail, was capable of doing this. The Labour Party, collaborating in the institutions of the Free State and frequently deferring to the Catholic Church, did not offer an alternative to Northern Protestant workers, and the forces of the revolutionary left were, in the mid-1920s, virtually extinct. The advance of the Northern labour movement was halted in the later 1920s by a combination of economic recovery and the abolition of proportional representation in all Northern elections. In 1929 the Labour Party lost two of its three seats, while the Independent Unionists lost one of theirs. The ranks of the Unionist all-class alliance seemed to be closing again, but it was a temporary stabilisation only. After the Wall Street crash of 1929 unemployment in the Six Counties soared from under 40,000 to over 70,000 in just

.

Communist

Struggles in Belfast

125

over a year. It was against this background that the revived communist movement appeared on the Northern scene. *

*

*

The

first Northern communist group, affiliated to the Dublinbased Workers’ Revolutionary Party, was established in Belfast in January 1930. Among its leaders were Jimmy Kater and Loftus Johnston, both Protestant shipyard workers; William Boyd, an unemployed Protestant docker; and Arthur Griffin and Tommy Geehan, unemployed Catholic textile workers. In Coleraine Jimmy Murphy was active. He, like Johnston, had earlier been in the CPGB. Geehan, who despite incurable 7

tuberculosis emerged as Belfast’s

most prominent communist

the 1930s, had previously led the West Belfast branch of the NILP, which was distinctly anti-partitionist. In 1927 Geehan had made contact with the anti-Larkin Workers’ Party in Dublin, and he wrote regular ‘Northern leader in

its paper, the Workers’ Republic He visited Moscow 1929 with a delegation from the Friends of Soviet Russia and on his return was firmly committed to building an Irish communist party. Activity in the North, not surprisingly, centred on the unemployment issue. In March 1930 the independent Belfast unemployed movement, with its roots in the agitations of the mid-1920s, affiliated to the communist-led Irish National Unemployed Movement. As in the Twenty-six Counties, all activity was guided by the policy of ‘class against class’, which meant outright hostility to the established labour leaders, including those on the left, and a reluctance to

Notes’ for in

work

consistently

in

the reformist trade unions. William

Boyd, invited to address the NILP conference in April 1930 on behalf of the unemployed, gave forceful expression to the communist policy:

We

under no

illusions as to the attitude of you bureauunemployment question. We intend to denounce this party! We call upon the rank and file to help us denounce this bunch of traitors and social fascists, this bunch of bloody scabs. (WV, 3 May 1930)

are

crats to the

When he

called

upon those present

to support a ‘real workers’

126

Communism

in

party’, however, only

Modern

Ireland

one delegate followed him out of the

hall.

in the May 1930 election Poor Law Guardians, the administrators of the Belfast workhouse and its associated poor-relief schemes. The com-

The same approach was evident

to the

munists welcomed the defeat of all NILP candidates in the election as ‘a step forward’ since the Labour Party was ‘part of the capitalist state apparatus’ (WF, 14 June 1930). Three revolutionary candidates, including Geehan and Boyd, polled an impressive 1,183 votes which they greeted as ‘votes against the Labour Party’. While there was some headway among the unemployed, contact with employed and organised workers remained minimal. There was a small group of supporters at the Jennymount linen mill, and a rank-and-file paper,

was produced for awhile. But, influence

Jennymount Worker

,

Free State, communist the official trade unions re-

as in the

waned quickly when

asserted their authority.

In Belfast there was none of the collaboration between communists and the IRA which had given the Dublin group an early boost. The Belfast republicans, who had acted primarily as a Catholic defence force since the pogroms of the early 1920s, exhibited few of the leftward trends which characterised the Southern IRA in this period. Saor Eire, for example, had no base in Belfast. It was perhaps for this

reason that the police paid scant attention to the Belfast communists in the initial stages, although in September 1930 Loftus Johnston was jailed for six months on a charge of sedition. At a recruiting meeting he was alleged to have said that ‘it was only when you took the gun and threatened society that you ever got anything’ (Belfast Newsletter 31 Sept. 1930). Johnston was the first of many Belfast communists jailed under the Special Powers Act, although this time, thanks to the intervention of his union, the Woodworkers, he was freed after one month. As the economic depression worsened in the spring and summer of 1931 the communists, now known as the Revolutionary Workers’ Groups (RWGs) made significant progress in the North. Around campaigns on unemployment, groups were established in two strongly Unionist towns, Ballymena ,

Communist

Struggles in Belfast

127

and Bally money in Co. Antrim. The RWGs claimed that up to 1,000 workers attended their meetings there. After the fall of the British Labour government in August 1931 — on the question of a 10 per cent cut in unemployment benefit demanded by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald — sales of the Workers’ Voice rose to 1,200 a week in Belfast. Daily

demonstrations were held at the unemployment exchange in Frederick Street and were attended, it was claimed, by thousands, while in September alone 300 new recruits were

have joined the RWGs (WV, 13 Sept. 1931). The advance of the communist movement provoked a backlash in the Six Counties just as it had done in the Twentysix. The extreme right-wing Ulster Protestant League, set up ostensibly to ‘safeguard the employment of Protestants’, began attacking communist meetings in the East Belfast shipsaid to

yard district of Bally macarrett. Bob Stewart, now permanently based in Belfast, was the most frequent speaker at these meetings, and his platform was guarded by workers from Sandy Row, a traditionally Unionist working-class area where the veteran British communist Tom Mann had conducted recruiting meetings earlier in the summer. On one occasion in September communists and UPL supporters fought running battles along Templemore Avenue which only ended when the police batoned the communists off the streets. Tom Watters, a future general secretary of the Irish Communist Party, and Captain Jack White, who had moved to Belfast

work with the RWGs, were both jailed for a month. Meetwere now broken up by the UPL: Stewart and Jimmy Murphy were dragged from their platform by the

to

ings in Bally money

RUC

and ordered to leave town.

The

Unionism and the ground in their violent hostility to communism. ‘In so far as the Pope attacks Socialism and Communism,’ announced the staunchly Unionist Northern Whig in May 1931, ‘we must wish him well.’ The loyalist reaction, coming at the same time as the combined church and state attack south of the border, greatly impaired the RWGs. As we saw above, the Workers’ Voice was not published between December 1931 and April traditionally hostile forces of Ulster

Catholic Church had found

1932.

No

common

section of the official labour

movement came

to

Communism

128

in

Modern

Ireland

RWGs’ defence

in the North, nor did the communists support from ‘social fascists’ was something they should seek. What was more, the majority of Northern members, most of them unemployed, had not been integrated into the organisation whose incessant activism left little time for internal education. As hostility grew on the streets recruitment ceased and many existing members drifted away. By the autumn of 1932 total membership in Belfast stood at fifty, while the smaller groups outside the city had virtually collapsed (Bell 1933). Yet despite its numerical and industrial weakness, the Belfast was able to make an unprecedented impact as the unemployment crisis came to a head in October 1932.

the

believe

that

RWG

Unemployed

Struggles

and Anti-Imperialism

in the Six Counties now stood officially at 72,000, but a further 30,000 or so were unregistered. While living conditions for all unemployed workers in Belfast were miserable, they were incomparably so for those whose insurance benefits had run out and who were forced to seek ‘exceptional distress relief’ from the Board of Guardians and the detested workhouse. Such relief, given to married men only took the form of either cash payments — the lowest in any United Kingdom city — to those employed on outdoor relief schemes, or food parcels to those not so employed, with no allowance for rent, heating or clothing. The official labour leadership argued that the only answer to rapidly spreading poverty lay in the return of a Labour majority to the Board of Guardians when the next elections came in June 1933, and they vigorously opposed direct action of any sort. But the unemployed, whose ranks were swollen with the elite of the Protestant workforce from the shipyards and engineer-

Unemployment

,

ing factories, were in no

mood

to starve quietly until then,

and when the communists proposed militant direct action on the streets they attracted massive support.

With the help of

RWG

Willie Gallacher

and Bob Stewart the

up an Outdoor Relief Workers’ Committee in July 1932. Geehan was its secretary, and it began to organise the relief workers to fight for better pay and trade

Belfast

set

Communist

Struggles in Belfast

129

union conditions, the extension of relief to single persons, and an end to payment in kind. Communist-led demonstrations grew rapidly from the first, 1,000 strong in July, to an estimated 20,000 at the end of August. Labour leaders who appeared at the demonstrations were roundly denounced in the

communist

tance’,

press for ‘advocating the line of least resis-

‘peddling reformist dope’, and for being primarily ‘the protection of private property’. The Labour Party branches who did much of the organisthe marches were largely ignored by the Belfast

concerned with left-wing

ing for

communists.

At the end of September the 2,000 outdoor relief workers voted overwhelmingly to strike from 3 October in pursuit of their demands. On that morning a 2,000-strong ‘flying picket’ paraded the streets to ensure that the strike call was heeded everywhere, and in the evening 20,000 marched through Belfast in support of the strikers. The RWGs’ paper (whose title was changed to Irish Workers' Voice on 8 October) described the scene: It

was an overwhelming demonstration of

class

might and

moved

forward, rank after contingent, their crimson banners of the lighted torches they were working class — no political party or religious sect. Old differences and prejudices had vanished, burnt out in the fire of a common suffering and need. (IWV, 8 Oct. 1932)

determination, as the rank, contingent after gleaming in the flare carrying. This was the

masses

Further mass demonstrations were held at the workhouse over the following days, and confrontations developed between the police and the unemployed; batons were drawn, clothes and food shops were looted, and there were

The

many

Committee decided

that the

protests should culminate in a vast demonstration

on Tues-

arrests.

Relief Workers’

day 11 October, accompanied by a rent, hire-purchase and school attendance strike. The communists also called for a general strike of all workers for the same day, but the Trades Council, completely opposed to the communist tactics, refused to endorse the call and instead voted a token £5 to the relief workers’ fund (BTC Minutes, 6 Oct. 1932).

130

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

The Unionist establishment, which up to now had shown remarkable complacency — parliament was in recess from May to November — began to take fright. The proposed demonstration of 1 1 October was formally banned under the Special Powers Act; the pro-government Belfast Newsletter condemned those who spoke at unemployment meetings as ‘enemies of the State’; the Rev. John Spence, who ran a city charity, called for church action to halt ‘the menacing advance of atheistic communism’, while Herbert Dixon, MP, spoke of socialist agitators attempting to ‘smash the machine and throw out the Government’ and urged rich and poor Protestants to stand together as in the past.

Tommy Geehan announced that the demonstration would proceed despite the ban and called on the unemployed and their supporters to gather at various points throughout the city and prepare to march on the unemployment exchange. By the Tuesday morning the working-class districts of Belfast, Catholic and Protestant, were under virtual siege by the RUC. Seven hundred extra police had been drafted in, and the Royal Iniskilling Fusiliers were put on alert. As well as their customary revolvers many policemen had been issued with rifles, while 2,000 others stood by in armoured cars. The police offensive began at 11 ajn. in East Belfast when, in the words of the Newsletter ‘about eighty police advanced at the double and laid about the crowd’. For the rest of the day, and most of the next, crowds of unemployed workers, Catholic and Protestant side by side, fought long pitched battles with the police in many districts of the city. Barricades were erected, trenches were dug across side streets, and assorted missiles were stockpiled at street comers. As the police were forced to retreat from both the Protestant Shankill and Catholic Falls districts they drew their guns and fired. Two workers were killed, one Protestant and one Catholic, and many more suffered gunshot wounds, several shot in the back as they tried to flee. A week-long curfew was introduced, the first since the riots of 1922. By the second day the police were concentrating their attentions on the Catholic districts, where house-to-house searches were begun, ostensibly to seek out ‘armed communist agitators’, ‘IRA gunmen’ and ‘secret documents’ ,

Communist which, the Northern Whig

said,

Struggles in Belfast

131

would prove the existence

IRA leader George Gilmore was soon to claim (IWV, 29 Oct. 1932) that ‘the revolt brought the IRA and B Specials together’, there is no evidence that the IRA as a body was officially involved in either the fighting or the intense organisation that preceded it. The IRA paper, An Phoblacht, gave favourable coverage to the workers’ struggle, and individual IRA volunteers were among the ranks of the fighting unemployed, but the Belfast IRA leadership played no important role. Two young IRA men were caught with guns, and a few shots had been fired at the RUC in the Falls area, but there were no ‘gun battles’ as such, and no policemen suffered gunshot wounds. By blaming the IRA the government no doubt hoped to rekindle sectarian animosities, but in the short term at least the Unionists also had to compromise. On 12 October government officials opened negotiations with the leaders of the Trades Council, who at the last moment had threatened to call a general strike if a satisfactory increase in benefits were not offered immediately. The Newsletter welcomed the Trades Council’s intervention on the grounds that ‘the firebrands are being swept aside by responsible trade union leaders’, and the paper’s labour correspondent dismissed Trades Council talk of a general strike as pure bluff. Herbert Dixon praised the Trades Council’s ‘sense of responsibility’, while the Prime Minister, Lord Craigavon, publicly thanked the union officials for stepping in. ‘It is infinitely preferable’, he said, to have ‘some responsible persons with whom to negotiate [rather than] a rabble running round the town’. With the co-operation of the Trades Council the government defused the situation by announcing an increase in relief rates ranging from 15 to 150 of a subversive

conspiracy. Although

per cent. As the responsible union officials assumed the role of negotiators on behalf of the unemployed the press began blaming the troubles on ‘outside agitators with orders and money from Moscow’. The British Daily Mail had even spotted a ‘husky Russian’ among the rioters. When Tom Mann arrived to speak at the funeral of one of the dead workers — a funeral watched by 100,000 people — he was

132

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

arrested and deported under the Special Powers Act and forbidden from ever again entering the Six Counties without

prior police permission. Belfast

RWG

Mann was seventy-six years old. Two Boyd and Maurice Watters, had

leaders, William

been arrested and charged respectively with sedition and incitement to murder. Remaining communist leaders, including Geehan, went to ground, and some workers were to complain bitterly that they had done so before the battles with the police had even begun. ‘You did not do your part in the fighting,’ one worker shouted at Geehan at a subsequent meeting, while

Bob Morrow,

secretary of the Trades Council,

TUC that ‘These would-be Revolutionary leaders went into hiding and let the fighting be done by the poor fellows that don’t hardly know what alleged in a letter to the British

.

.

.

movement stands for.’ (Morrow 1932) Geehan reappeared on the 15th, the day after the new rates were announced, and describing them as ‘a glorious victory’ recommended acceptance. Work was resumed on 17 October. The most dramatic and unified upheaval in Northern working-class the Labour

history

was

over. *

*

*

The RWGs immediately claimed the victory as their own. It proved the superiority of ‘rank-and-file independent leadership [over the] Labour reformists’ policy [and showed that] the workers will unite precisely around the fight for food and wages’ (/WF, 22 Oct. 1932). Under the leadership of the RWGs, Catholic and Protestant workers had certainly been brought together, and it was undoubtedly communist-inspired direct action and not the Trades Council’s belated and insincere general strike threat that forced concessions from the government. But communist organisation and strategy also contained defects that made the October victory less significant than was — and frequently still is — claimed. By December the unemployed organisation was divided three ways, with disastrous consequences for both the communists and the unemployed. The first split came even before the strikers had returned to work when the militant left-wing Court ward branch of the Labour Party denounced Geehan for calling the strike off before relief had been

Communist

Struggles in Belfast

133

granted to single persons — one of the strikers’ main demands. 17 October left-wing NILP members launched a breakaway organisation catering for single persons only; it claimed 500 members and was vigorously opposed by the RWGs ( Newsletter, 18 Oct. 1932; Irish News 19 Oct. 1932). In November the Trades Council isolated the communists further by setting

On

,

own moderate unemployed organisation. The Belfast responded by attempting to draw its unemployed supporters into the supposedly national Irish Unemployed Workers’ Movement, but failed to attract any significant numbers outside the actual membership of the Group itself (Daily Worker 29 Nov. 1932; JW, 10 Dec. 1932). Relations between the communists and the broader labour movement in Belfast had always been tense. Rightwing labour leaders like Harry Midgley were naturally hostile to communist influence, but the ‘class against class’ stance of the RWGs, which identified all shades of reformism as tantamount to ‘social fascism’, made open co-operation with leftwing NILP members and trade unionists virtually impossible. The communists had also neglected to work seriously in the trade unions, which meant that when they called for solidarity action, in the form of nothing less than a general strike, they were forced to rely on a spontaneous response from the workers. That response never came, save from a number of mill girls who stopped work for half a day when the fighting began. Nor was the Belfast RWG in any position to make the Trades Council act on its threat of a general strike. Council leaders had been able to intervene at the crucial moment in up

its

RWG

,

communist leadership just at the the state began to retreat, negotiating terms that fell short of the strikers’ original demands, and thus hastening a split in the ranks of the unemployed.

the struggle, deposing the

point

when

These shortcomings, but not the reasons for them lay in the ultra-left

— were

and sectarian policy of

soon recognised.

Tom

— which

‘class against class’

Bell admitted that

The ‘Labour Leaders’ showed by

their actions they were only toying with the general strike, and the RWGs were so weak in the trade unions that they were unable to give leadership to the sentiment for a general strike among the

trade union membership. (Bell 1932)

134

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

Sean Murray expressed similar misgivings:

The absence of effective rank-and-file leadership among the employed workers was one of the chief weaknesses of the situation. The union leadership was able to prevent any considerable extension of the fight to the factories in the form of a cessation of work. IWV 22 Oct. 1932) (.

,

Proposals for united front activity with the left within the Labour Party might have given the communists access to the audience they sought, but even after the struggle they refused to acknowledge the existence of anything other than ‘social

the official labour movement. Geehan summed up ‘I say without hesitation that the record of the Labour Party in this struggle brands it for all time as the most fascists’ in

the feeling:

servile tool

.

of the capitalist class

.

.

enemy within

the workers’

ranks.’ (ibid.)

With the unemployed divided and confused, the Poor Law Guardians declared that the terms they had agreed to were maximum rates only and could be reduced at will. The new rates were paid to some relief workers and not to others, and no settlement was ever reached with regard to the single unemployed. A year later the government felt strong enough to again cut back on relief expenditure and to further reduce insured benefits. The material gains of the struggle were whittled away. Another aspect of communist strategy at this time must be considered. The Belfast strike had been seen quite consciously

by the

RWGs

as part

of the

much

greater struggle to build

the Irish communist party and advance to the revolutionary seizure of state power. None of the RWGs’ leaders would have

denied the allegations levelled at them by the Unionist establishment that they were out to destroy capitalism and unite Ireland in a Bolshevik-type republic. They never attempted to conceal those goals. What was more, they seemed to think they were on the threshold of success. As the struggle in Belfast was reaching its climax Joe Troy had written that ‘Decisive struggles for the dictatorship of the proletariat are near at hand.’ (IWV, 8 Oct. 1932) It was assumed that the Protestant workers who participated in the struggle had rapidly developed an anti-imperialist consciousness. They were not

Communist

Struggles in Belfast

135

only fighting the Board of Guardians, Larkin junior told a public meeting in Dublin, but ‘they were up in revolt against the British Empire and all that the Empire stood for’ (Newsletter, 11 Oct. 1932). When the strike began the Workers' Voice, as the RWGs’ paper was then still called, declared: ‘It signifies the

perialists

when

it

beginning of a desperate struggle against the im-

by the working population of the Six Counties,’ and ended the paper — its title significantly changed to

Irish

Workers' Voice

The

British



urged: ‘Forward to United Republic.’

Communist Party made

the same assumption. October the Daily Worker advanced the slogans ‘Away with the artificial frontier! Forward with a United Irish struggle.’ Next day it claimed: ‘Catholics and Orangemen united against common imperialist enemy.’ When the fighting began the CPGB said the struggle was one for ‘bread and

On

7

independence’.

The

fact that

some unemployed Protestants were

the police did not, however,

mean

Protestant working class as a whole, or even

who

fighting

that they, let alone the all

the Catholics

participated in the struggle, were fighting for a united

Ireland or for socialism.

Such

a spontaneous emergence of

proletarian anti-imp erialist consciousness could not simply be

assumed. In fact the Orange Order had continued to grow throughout the economic crisis, and District Nine, covering the largely working-class areas of West Belfast where most of the October rioting took place, received a high proportion of the new recruits (Burge 1932; Davison 1932). Two ultra-loyalist organisations, the Ulster Protestant League and the Loyalty League, remained active throughout the period, and although neither dared confront the unemployed on the streets, the UPL in particular grew rapidly in the years ahead. The comment of William Close, a Shankill Road Protestant arrested during the fighting, was probably typical of the reaction among his peers. ‘It is very unfair,’ he complained to the arresting officer, ‘I am a loyalist.’ (Newsletter, 20 Oct. 1932) The unity of the working class was a product more of sheer desperation than of any conscious abandonment of old allegiances. That did not mean, of course, that an event as traumatic as the October upheaval was irrelevant to the overcoming of sectarian and political divisions within the working 7

Communism

136 class.

in

Modern Ireland

The problem was one of political leadership and political

organisation slogans

The

for

was no Belfast

which the incantation of revolutionary

substitute.

RWG did in fact recruit a number of new mem-

how many varied from one meeting alone to a more modest but still substantial sixty throughout the period [Daily Worker 11 Oct. 1932 ;IWV, 12 Nov. 1932). The latter figure, if accurate, represented a growth of 120 per cent. Most of the recruits were unemployed Catholics, but there were also Protestants, and in the long term a higher proportion of the Protestant recruits remained in the organisation — people such as Betty Sinclair, Billy McCullough and Davey Scarborough, who would provide the leadership of the Belfast communist movement for the next generation and beyond. More massive recruitment, difficult enough in a situation where the majority of workers were not even ‘reformists’ in the labour/trade union sense, but loyalists and nationalists still, was made more difficult by the RWGs’ continuing polibers during the struggle. Claims as to a

hundred

at

,

Their treatment of William Boyd may help Boyd, as we have seen, had been charged with sedition — he had referred to the RUC as ‘a bunch of skunks’. At his trial he agreed to keep the peace for a year as tical sectarianism.

illustrate the point.

an alternative to imprisonment. As a consequence he was immediately expelled by the RWGs, who argued that the ‘correct class position’ was to go to jail. The RWGs then published a long and bitter attack on Boyd which stated that his attitude ‘draws its inspiration from the labour reformist apparatus’ and that he had ‘capitulated politically to the standpoint of Midgley and the bureaucracy. No amount of militancy in other directions’, it went on, ‘can cover up an Poliattitude which results in such a political surrender. tical war must be waged against the rubbish of the reformists.’ [IWV, 22 Oct. 1932) Few of the many thousands of workers who had participated in their first-ever political struggle could have offered the degree of revolutionary purity which the .

RWGs

demanded of

.

.

members. In the circumstanwas scarcely surprising that so few of them were retained for long. Just how far working-class consciousness was from being clearly

their

ces sixty newrecruits was a phenomenal achievement, but it

Communist

Struggles in Belfast

137

revolutionary, let alone reformist, was seen in the January 1933 city council elections. Geehan, standing as an un-

employed candidate in the solidly working-class Court ward, and opposing the NILP, polled one vote for every three that went to the Unionist — although he did marginally better than the Labour man. Overall the NILP increased its share of still lost its only council seat — an event warmly welcomed by the RWGs. In the June elections to the Board of Guardians the Labour Party won only one seat to the Unionists’ twenty -nine. The three unemployed candidates were all heavily defeated. By now the campaign to destroy communist influence in the working class and reawaken old sectarian animosities was well advanced. There had been a tide of bigoted speeches from all quarters of the Unionist camp, from the Prime Minister through local party bosses to the Ulster Protestant League — who deplored the fact ‘that some few of our loyal

the vote fractionally, but

unemployed were misled to such an extent that they associated themselves with the enemies of their faith and principles the communist Sinn Fein element’ (Newsletter, 15 Oct. 1932). Sir Dawson Bates, Minister for Home Affairs, and Herbert Dixon, MP, launched a Unionist Distress Committee with financial backing from the city’s most prominent Protestant employers with a view to providing relief to unemployed Protestants only. Separate relief schemes were also organised by the Protestant churches ‘for ensuring that no member of a Protestant Church in the city will suffer dire distress’. TJpon the Protestant community’, declared the Newsletter on 22 October, ‘is cast the duty of seeing that those of their own faith and loyalty experience a touch of real fellowship.’ The Shankill-based Rev. John McCaffrey denounced the ‘mad outburst of Bolshevism, Godlessness and downright wickedness’ that had erupted in his parish, and appealed to working-class Orangemen not to ‘truck with traitors or enemies of the State under any pretext’. At the end of October the Youth Evangelistic Campaign inundated Belfast with twenty preachers who conducted a three-week mission against the evils of communism. Welcoming them to the city, the High Sheriff said they ‘had come at an opportune time in the lives of this community’. A combination of Protestant

.

.

.

.

.

.

Communism

138

in

Modern

charity and pulpitry,

nicious influence of

it

Ireland

was hoped, would destroy the per-

communism.

The Northern Catholic establishment,

possibly

happy

to

discomposed, maintained a prudent silence on the issue of communism. But the Belfast upheaval was discussed between Pope Pius XI and Dr Mageean, Bishop of Down and Connor, when the latter visited Rome, and in November the pope urged the Irish bishops to be ‘vigilant in regard to the Communist evil and to warn priests and people against Communism’s poisonous doctrines’ ( Irish Catholic 26 Nov. 1932; Catholic Herald 3 Dec. 1932). Nationalist support for the unemployed, voiced by a number of city councillors, was tinged with a concern that failure on the see

the Unionists so

,

,

part of the government to grant concessions

would

‘discredit

authority’ and encourage radicalism, something from which

the socially conservative nationalists

much

would

suffer every bit

the Unionists. Thus, for example, Joe Devlin, leader of the Nationalist Party, had urged the Unionists to ‘face the issues that are involved, issues that vitally affect as

as

the stability of the State’ [Irish News 13 Oct. 1932). While the campaign of sectarian disruption may have ,

caused

much

confusion

among

the

unemployed and

their

supporters, and certainly contributed to the anti-communist

atmosphere in which the unemployment movement fragmented, it produced no immediate results by way of intercommunal violence, if such were its aims. In fact there was

much

evidence of continuing working-class unity, if at a some considerable time to come.

less

spectacular level, for

The National Railway Strike

At the end of January 1933 Northern railway workers came out against a wage cut, an action which marked the beginning of the largest and most important strike in the whole of Ireland since the early 1920s. The great majority of the workers were Protestants, and they gladly accepted the support of Southern transport workers who struck in solidarity, despite the fact that their own wages were subsidised by the Fianna Fail government and were not immediately threatened. As the employers, with the help of the RUC and Free State

Communist S truggles

in Belfast

139

troops, tried to break the strike through the massive deploy-

ment of blackleg labour, the IRA intervened with bombs and guns. Possibly because they had already resorted to drastic measures themselves — derailing a train and killing two blacklegs — the strikers showed no obvious antipathy towards the IRA when they began bombing track, bridges, buses and railway stations, nor when they shot and killed a policeman who was protecting strike-breaking lorries in Belfast. While Lord Craigavon saw in these acts ‘an insidious attempt by Nationalists, Communists, and Socialists to betray Ulster into an all-Ireland Republic’ ( Newsletter 21 Mar. 1933), the strikers remained solid. But the militant action of the armed few proved futile in the face of a compromising trade union ,

leadership.

The

strike

was made

official

from the

start,

though the

decision to do so was taken reluctantly. There was an un-

committee’ in Belfast, chaired by William Crozier, and through it the communists sought to extend the strike to the ports of Belfast, Lame and Derry, where dockers and carters had offered to come out in sympathy. The communists also used the weakened but still extant Relief Workers’ Committee to organise against the recmitment of unemployed workers as blacklegs. The RWGs’ influence, however, was too weak to have any serious effect on the course of the struggle, and, ignoring the offers of assistance from the dockers and the unemployed movement, the union leaders settled at the beginning of April for a pay cut of half what the employers originally demanded. The outcome was the biggest defeat suffered by the Irish working class since the defeat of the Southern dockers in 1923. The pay cut was pushed through in the Twenty -six Counties as soon as the government subsidy ran out a few weeks later. Hundreds of strike-breakers were retained in employment, while, under a clause in the agreement dealing with ‘overmanning’, 700 workers were paid off in May. Another decade was to pass before any key section of the Irish working class engaged in a comparable struggle official

local

‘central

RWG

strike

member

against the employers

The

RWGs

and the state. had seen in the railway

strike ‘the road to Irish unity’ (IWV, 4 Feb. 1933). Similarly, a correspondent to the

140

Communism

British

in

Modern Ireland

communist rank-and-file paper Railway March that

Vigilant

had

written in

The

gallant solidarity displayed

by the men stationed

in

Dublin with their comrades in Ulster is history in the making. This unity North and South has broken through the carefully fostered religious differences which were a .

.

.

cause of disunity.

But the merits of working-class unity were not so easily recognised when unity in action resulted not in victory but in defeat. The failure of the railway strike, like the confused and divided outcome of the unemployed struggle a few months earlier, did as much if not more to shake non-sectarian solidarity as all the phrasemongering and flag-waving of the Unionist bigots. A defeated working class was more easily turned against itself than a victorious one could possibly have been. Throughout the period of the economic crisis the communists had let slip many opportunities, if not for making the socialist revolution, at least for gaining a foothold in important sections of the working class. True, the reaction they had encountered from right-wing Protestant and Catholic forces had been fierce and violent, but the communists’ ultraleft and politically sectarian response made serious resistance impossible, just as it had kept them on the fringes of the organised working class and its struggles. Nevertheless, the ‘class against class’ strategy was carried into the new Communist Party of Ireland when it was finally launched in the summer of 1933.

7

The Second Communist

Party:

Fascism and the Republican Congress Communism and Irish Fascism

On

3-4 June 1933 the ‘Dublin Total Abstinence Society’ met conference in rooms rented from a religious body in Leinster Street, Dublin. A contemporary report stated: ‘The atmosphere was electric. In every delegate there seemed to be the realisation that he or she was participating in an event that was destined to be historic.’ (IWV, 17 June 1933) The citizens of Dublin, however, were not about to be deprived of their drink, for this was in fact the founding conference of the (second) Communist Party of Ireland, forced into clandestinity by the still violent anti-communist atmosphere of mid-1933. Jim Larkin junior — himself a total abstainer — was in the chair, and almost fifty delegates, representing the various Revolutionary Workers’ Groups were present. The programmatic basis of the party was laid out in the manifesto presented by Sean Murray (Murray 1933; CPI 1933a). Central to it was the assertion that the fight for communism in Ireland would grow out of the national struggle, which Murray described (IWV, 17 June 1933) as ‘the way to the smashing of the class power of the capitalists’, who were ‘the main barrier to a unified independent nation’. In the past, Murray chastened, ‘we did not see clearly that it was necessary to change the leadership of the national struggle’. The primary task facing the CPI was to displace both Fianna Fail and the IRA from their leading positions because ‘the communists alone can really solve partition. [They] bring together workers from Waterford and Shankill who could meet on no other basis.’ Under communist leadership the goal of the national struggle would be the ‘Workers’ and Farmers’ Republic’, a phrase sometimes used as if synonymous

in

.

.

.

142

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, but effectively signifying a retreat from the straightforward ‘Workers’ Republic’ slogan of the earlier period, a retreat deemed necessary if the supporters of Fianna Fail and the IRA — the small farmers — were to be attracted to the new Communist Party. As well as adopting the manifesto the congress passed a number of resolutions (MacKee 1933; McGrath 1933; CPI 1933c), one of which declared for affiliation to the Comintern, and the most important of which laid out the tasks ahead (CPI 1933b). It combined optimism for the future with criticism of past errors and ordered more resolute work in the factories and trade unions. At the end of the congress Murray was elected general secretary and Larkin junior chairman. Among the central committee members were Nicholas Boran, Loftus Johnston, Betty Sinclair, Tommy Geehan and Sean Nolan, all established leaders of the RWGs. One not unsympathetic observer has described the CPI on its foundation as ‘a small futile rump with one or two good men [sic ] a few imported Englishmen, and the distant support of the Left IRA’ (Bell 1972: 132). But the communists took a different view. The very launching of the party, according to Murray, was ‘proof of the growth of the revolutionary movement’, while the main resolution before the congress had described the situation as ‘extremely favourable for the rapid growth of the party’ and confidently predicted that it would soon ‘win over the majority of the Irish working masses to its policy’. Such bold predictions may have been necessary to maintain the confidence and morale of the members, but a more honest assessment would have shown that the movement was indeed at a low ebb. Simultaneously with the founding of the party its paper, the Irish Workers' Voice, virtually collapsed. From the beginning of April to mid-October 1933 only nine issues of what was supposed to be a weekly paper were published. Impoverishment and the unwillingness of printers to handle the paper were not the only problems. Contributions from ‘worker correspondents’ around the country, which had appeared regularly in earlier issues, and which gave a flavour of widespread communist involvement in local struggles, had disappeared completely and were replaced with dull commentary ,

The Second Communist Party

143

on the activities of others in the national and labour movements. ‘During the last few weeks’, lamented the editor on 26 August, ‘hardly a line has come in from outside the four walls of the editorial office.’ His plea for a return of the worker correspondents went unheeded. The party’s showing in the Dublin local elections of June 1933 was a further indication of its over-optimism. Larkin junior lost the seat he had won as a communist candidate in 1930, polling only one-third of the votes he had won then. Sean Murray, with 75 votes, came bottom of the poll in his area, as did Esther MacGregor, party member and president of the Municipal Tenants’ Association. Polling fewer than 1,000 votes, Larkin senior also lost the seat he had won as an IWL candidate in 1930. In June too relations between the communists and the IRA reached an all-time low. Although an IRA convention had recently voted down a proposal to exclude communists from their ranks, the army executive proceeded with an extensive campaign against Communist Party members who did not leave the

IRA

voluntarily.

The communists indignantly

des-

cribed this as the IRA’s ‘retreat from Moscow’, and in the purge they lost many members who decided that their first loyalty was to the IRA and not the CPI (McGrath 1933: 310;

Mcllhone 1934: 325). In truth, the purge could hardly have come as a surprise, as the CPI had already declared its intention of forming factions within the IRA to win over its rank and file and displace the existing leadership as the vanguard of the national struggle (CPI 1933c: 374). At the Wolfe Tone commemoration on 18 June 1933 CPI members were attacked and their literature seized and destroyed by IRA volunteers. It was ‘the grossest impertinence’, declared the party, ‘a piece of gratuitous police activity’, which showed that the IRA had ‘sunk to the gutter of the anti-communist crusade’, had ‘never broken with the capitalists’, and stood only for ‘the republicanism of the provincial trader’ (IWV, 24 June 1933). In communist eyes they could not sink much lower than that. Almost a year after the CPI’s foundation an unmercifully critical article appeared in the Comintern journal, Communist International (Mcllhone 1934). The party’s main weakness, it said, lay in its social composition. The republican background

144 of

Communism

many

of

its

in

Modem Ireland

members and

their experience in clandestine

many

of these comrades from active

guerrilla warfare ‘kept

participation in economic and political struggles of the masses’.

was from these members — and, by implication, not from the policy of ‘class against class’ — that the party ‘inherited

It

sectarian tendencies’.

The

critique

went on:

Even today the party comrades

in the southern towns outDublin are completely underground, carrying on no independent communist work. The party suffers acutely from lack of cadres, of leading local, district and national comrades who have some knowledge of Leninist strategy and tactics, who are able to give political direction to the party work. Apart from one workers’ study circle in Dublin, there is not a single other party workers’

side

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

educational circle in the entire Free State. [In the North] there is a strong tendency for the party members to be submerged in the mass organisations, to hide the .

.

.

face of the party. *

*

*

As the Communist Party struggled hard to keep going, the forces of the right were advancing. In February 1933 Hitler had come to power in Germany, and two months later the Army Comrades Association adopted the blue shirt as its uniform. Under Eoin O’Duffy ’s leadership it changed its name to the National Guard, used the Hitlerite salute, and devised a corporatist programme. Capitalising on the frustrations of the wealthy farmers and traders, who were feeling the pinch of Fianna Fail’s tariff policy, the new fascist movement grew rapidly, and behind a smokescreen of anti-communist propaganda, set about its real task — to topple Fianna Fail and restore the big bourgeoisie to power. On 13 August de Valera’s cabinet revived Cosgrave’s Public Safety Act, pro-

scribed the National Guard, and re-established the military

These were measures the communists had demanded now proved to be a double-edged sword, their implementation brought little joy to the left. Nor was O’Duffy deterred. He regrouped his followers in the Young Ireland Association and joined forces with Cumann na nGaedheal and the wealthy farmers’ Centre Party early in tribunal.

a year before, but as they

The Second Communist Party

145

September to launch a new party, Fine Gael. With that, blue shirts began appearing in the Dail. Throughout the following months clashes between IRA men and Blueshirts became more frequent and more violent. While police and troops guarded Fine Gael meetings, the IRA were batoned and arrested, and by the end of the year the military tribunal had convicted thirty-four IRA to only eleven Blueshirts. But while de Valera hit out at IRA activists who went beyond the law, he retained the support of their more passive followers by creating a new Volunteer Reserve, an opportunity to pursue their goal At the same time the Labour Party and trade unions were placated with the introduction, over time, of a wide range of social measures, and the labour movement made clear that its opposition to fascism was based on a desire to see the existing institutions of the state maintained. This was a crucial period in the development of Fianna Fail, the period when it severed its last links with the offering republicans

legally

and

IRA and

lucratively.

isolated the militants.

The most

significant thing about the IRA’s resistance to the spread of fascism was not its violence but its spontaneity. The army executive had not sanctioned the use of force against the Blueshirts, and as the attacks continued into 1934 the IRA leadership publicly condemned ‘the campaign of

and ‘acts of local or individual terrorism’ [Irish Press 10 Feb. 1934). But the clashes continued, and the aloofness of the IRA leaders from

hysteria against the wearing of blue shirts’ ,

the struggle was causing their

much

frustration in a large section of

army, with dramatic consequences,

The Communist Party entered the

as

we

shall see.

struggle against fascism

under the banner of ‘class against class’, depicting Fianna Fail and the Labour Party as the ‘principal enemies’. In June 1933, two months after the Blueshirts came into being and the month when the CPI was launched, one communist writer had warned that ‘The chief danger menacing the very foundation

of

the

Communist Party

.

.

.

[is]

the

Social

Fascist

Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy.’ (MacKee 1933: 289) In August the Labour Party was attacked for ‘boosting the democratic institutions of the capitalists which are the carpet over which the fascists walk to power. The .

.

.

.

.

.

146

Communism

Labour Party fascism.’

fWV

(.

are ,

in

Modern

Labour

Ireland

Fascists, preparers of the

19 Aug. 1933)

Thomas Johnson,

road to

the former

Labour Party, was said to ‘stand for the fascist Fianna Fail had ‘taken a big step in the fascicisation of the State apparatus’ (O’Neill 1934: 51), and de Valera was ‘driving along the fascist road’ ( Inprecorr 15 Sept. 1933). Democracy was not to be defended, even as a tactic in preparation for greater struggles to come. Instead the ‘united front from below’ was to be advocated, to detach the rank and file from the ‘fascist’ leaders of Fianna Fail and Labour and win them to the struggle for communism. All of this leader of the

social policy’.

,

was, of course, in strict keeping with the Comintern’s description of fascism and reformism as ‘twins’. *

*

*

In the Six Counties there were deviations from this course

communists to seek assistance from On 6 October 1933 seventy unoff to march from Dublin to Belfast,

as dire events forced the

the official labour leaders.

employed workers set under CPI auspices, as part of

planned celebration of the At the border they were met by police in armoured cars and were refused permission to cross. Some slipped through but were captured at Newry and sent back, while others were intercepted trying to cross Carlingford Lough in a boat. A few did make it to Belfast, but on the night of their arrival the IRA shot dead an RUC man in the city, and the government immediately banned all meetings and demonstrations — including the communists’ commemorations. Arthur Griffin, a CPI member and one of the October 1932 leaders, was jailed for three months for defying the ban by addressing a street-comer first

tfye

anniversary of the relief workers’ strike.

meeting. (When released at the beginning of 1934 Griffin was seriously ill and went for treatment to the Soviet Union, where he died a few months later.) On 15 October Harry Pollitt, general secretary of the CPGB, who was to have addressed an illegal party rally that night, was arrested and served with a deportation order. The rally went ahead, but when Sean Murray rose to speak two detectives, with guns drawn, dragged him from the platform. He too was served with an exclusion order — although he was a native of Co.

The Second Communist Party Antrim



and put on a

train for Dublin.

Two

147

days later the

and wrecked by the police. On 22 October Murray reappeared in Belfast and spoke at a public meeting; he was arrested next morning and jailed for a month. Jimmy Kater, in whose house he had stayed, was jailed for five months. In December Val Morahan, party member and unemployed organiser, was jailed for six party’s premises in East Belfast were raided

months on a charge of

sedition.

With the Belfast party leadership facing extinction through imprisonment, the NILP and Trades Council were asked to join a united campaign for the defence of free speech, the release of all political prisoners — communist and IRA — and the repeal of the Special Powers Act. But the idea that democratic liberties were worth fighting for had not permeated very deeply, as was shown in the comment of one party

member who

wrote:

The Craigavon Government of this marionette Statelet is making a summary end to those superficialities of bourgeois democracy so intoxicating to the social democrats — free speech, the rights of assembly and the usual citizens’ rights. (Inprecorr, 27 Oct. 1933)

The road from

‘class against class’ to the united front was not an easy one to tread. Not surprisingly, the official labour leaders rejected the communists’ unity proposals, but the Trades Council did pass a resolution condemning the Special Powers Act and calling for the release of political prisoners. Advocacy of the ‘united front from above’ did not last beyond the immediate crisis, and by March 1934 the Belfast communists were again attacking the NILP in no uncertain terms as ‘the agents of imperialism inside the working class’ and denouncing the prominent Labour MP Harry Midgley as ‘the most outstanding Labour imperialist in the North’. The Labour Party’s influence over the working class had to be smashed before ‘Craigavon capitalism’ could be overthrown (IWV, 24 Mar. 1934).

*

*

*

South of the border, meanwhile, the ‘united front from below’ approach did produce some results. In January 1934 the

148

Communism

communists cribed as

‘a

in

Modern

Ireland

up the Labour League Against Fascism, desworkers’ united front ... to prevent a fascist

set

dictatorship in Ireland’

was John Breen,

a party

Mayor of Dublin. On

1

IWV

(.

,

13 Jan. 1934).

Its

chairman

member and a future Labour Lord May the LLAF sponsored a 4,000-

strong anti-Blue shirt rally in Dublin, giving CPI members an opportunity to address the biggest demonstration yet held against the fascists. Several of Larkin senior’s closest associ-

Jack Carney and Walter Carpenter, were on and they echoed the communist speakers’ violent attacks on the Labour Party and ITUC leaders as ‘the ates, including

the platform,

worst enemies of the workers’ struggle against fascism’. A few days later, however, the Labour Party and ITUC executive held their own anti-fascist rally in the city; it was attended by 10,000 people. The labour officials, of course, did not hold with fighting fascism on the streets; and while it was here that the communists and radical republicans proved their superior militancy, at the political level labour reformism still had a strong edge on communism, and no amount of abusive name-calling could alter that fact. By the middle of 1934 the Fine Gael alliance had in fact begun to fall apart, and the fascist threat turned out to be more imaginary than real. Violent clashes between the fascists and the forces of the state were becoming more frequent as the Blueshirts initiated a no-annuities campaign, in addition to the withholding of rates, in an effort to make Fianna Fail’s ‘economic war’ with Britain unworkable. In 1934 a total of 349 Blueshirts were convicted by the military tribunal, compared with 102 anti-fascists. In September O’Duffy was forced to resign the leadership of Fine Gael as many of his former colleagues turned against his violent methods. While he set up a National Corporative Party, Fine Gael returned to the constitutionalist fold, leaving the

movement isolated. Communist and IRA militants were opposition on the streets had stopped

fascist

to claim that their

the fascist advance,

but of greater importance, ultimately, was the fact that the

had spawned the Blueshirts quickly discovered that fascism was not necessary to safeguard the interests of the rich. In de Valera they came to recognise, not the revoluclass that

The Second Communist Party

149

tionary firebrand they had feared, but a solid middle -class pragmatist whose militant anti-imperialist talk turned out to be a populist rhetoric behind which the institutions of private property, native and foreign, continued to thrive. Foreign capital had not been touched, and profits accumulated in Ireland could be freely invested in more lucrative areas outside the state. Moreover — despite O ’Duffy’s efforts and the hardships suffered by the small traders and farmers in the ‘economic war’ — the Blueshirts failed to detach the petty bourgeoisie from their traditional loyalty to republicanism, and fascism without a petty-bourgeois base was a non-starter.

its

In one respect the weakness of communism, rather than strength, contributed more to the demise of the fascist

The Blueshirts had tried to disguise their aim — the overthrow of de Valera — behind a cloak of anti-communism. James Hogan, mathematics professor at University College, Cork, and for a time a leading Blueshirt theoretician, wrote a series of inflammatory articles in the Fine Gael paper, United Irishman in which he pointed to the danger of Ireland succumbing to a communist takeover. Drawing on a vast amount of empirical data — which some suspected came straight from Special Branch files — Hogan argued that the IRA had been thoroughly permeated with communist ideas, that the Communist Party itself was growing rapidly, and that together they posed a real and massive threat to private property, the state and the Catholic faith. Widely read, these articles contributed much to the atmosphere of apprehension and insecurity in which the Blueshirts thrived. Hogan’s arguments, however, were simply propaganda for public consumption, and in private he had described his anti-communist diatribe as ‘a cloud of poison gas’ containing only ‘some grains of truth’. ‘A work of this sort’, he went on, ‘must necessarily be indifferent to subtleties. The sledgehammer method of argument is the one I have adopted.’ (Hogan 1935b) It was, in truth, a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and when it was seen to be so the hammerblows rebounded on those who delivered them. The nonappearance of the predicted red takeover damaged the credibility of those who played on the fear of it so loudly and so often. threat in Ireland.

real

,

150

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

The Republican Congress

when many thousands

of militant workers and had been mobilised in political struggle on the streets the Communist Party might have anticipated a substantial growth in numbers. But despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it claimed to be the only organisation capable of resisting fascism, it emerged just marginally stronger at the end of the day. It was the left wing in the IRA leadership who made the most determined effort to win over these militants — not to the IRA, however, but to a new organisation, the Republican Congress. In a period

radical republicans

The refusal of the IRA Army Council to lead or even to sanction the fight against the Blueshirts, or, for that matter, to distinguish itself clearly from Fianna Fail, forced the left within the army to take a stand, and in March 1934 Peadar O’Donnell, supported by Frank Ryan and George Gilmore, proposed to the IRA convention that they supplement their military organisation with a new political movement. The proposal was defeated by one vote, and the three resigned from the IRA. So too did Mick Price, who, with Seamus MacGowan, Roddy Connolly (now chairman of the Bray Trades Council) and others, immediately revived the Irish

Army. The republican

Citizen

issued a manifesto

dissidents

met

which declared

at

Athlone

in April

and

at the start:

We

believe that a Republic of a united Ireland will never

be

achieved

capitalism

on

They claimed

through a struggle which uproots way. (Gilmore 1968: 30)

except its

to stand for the same political objective as de Valera — the Republic — but maintained that he could never achieve it because he would not break with capitalism. By proposing to fight capitalism because it stood in the way of the Republic, O’Donnell and Gilmore were, in effect, appealing to the ‘men of no property’ in the social republican tradition of Tone and Mellows, rather than the Marxist tradition of James Connolly. Nevertheless, for its implementation their policy required an orientation towards the working class. The Athlone conference also decided to issue a new paper, Republican Congress whose title reflected the immediate objective ,

The Second Communist Party

151

— a mass

congress of all republicans. To that end a Republican Congress Organising Bureau was set up, and it immediately directed its attentions towards workers in struggle. It was scarcely a coincidence that the Congress movement had come into being at a time when the workers’ economic struggles, although relatively small-scale, were once more moving onto the offensive. Most strikes in the period 1930-33 had been concerned with defending existing wage levels, and

most had been unsuccessful. Now, and particularly in the Free State, there was an upsurge of militancy in pursuit of higher wages and better conditions as profits began to rise in industries protected by tariff barriers, industries where sweatshop conditions were rife. There were strikes in clothing and shoe firms in Dublin and Drogheda; at the De Selby Quarry in Co. Dublin; among road workers in Galway and the miners at Arigna and Castlecomer. Some 4,000 Dublin print workers were on strike for most of the summer, and the city was without newspapers for ten weeks. Congress supporters were active in most of these, picketing, organising support and providing publicity through their paper. At De Selbys several were jailed for over-exuberance on the picket line. At the Somax shirt factory in Dublin mass picketing was organised, strike-breakers were hounded, and the blacking of goods was arranged in support of striking women workers. There were fierce clashes with the police, many arrests and some jailings. In Waterford the Congress branch helped run a strike of

1,200 building workers, while local Congress groups organised solidarity strikes in Bray, Kilkenny and Carrick-onSuir.

Regular mass meetings and demonstrations were held and one of them culminated in prolonged

in Waterford,

between strikers and police. Through an extensive network of Tenant Leagues, built up in June 1934, Congress militants organised and led housing struggles in Dublin, Cork and other centres against high rents and slum conditions. Scores of Congress members were arrested for resisting evictions and for reinstating evicted families, and several were jailed. There was renewed agitation over unemployment as well.

rioting

In May the Belfast section of the Irish Unemployed Workers’ Movement, supported by Congress and some twenty trade

152

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

union branches, organised a 3,000-strong rally at the Custom House. It was the largest workers’ protest meeting in the city since the events of October 1932. At the same time Congress members helped organise a five-day hunger march from Cork to Dublin, and there were agitations over Fianna Fail’s unpopular Unemployment Assistance Bill and against renewed benefit cuts in the North. In the South’s local elections in

June two Congress candidates and a representative of the unemployed were returned. The activities of the Congress militants in these months were unique occasions

in

when

the annals of republicanism. On previous republicans had gravitated towards workers

they had done so in an elitist and secretive way, intervened with guns and bombs in the transport strikes of 1930 and 1933. Their involvement in the struggles of 1934 was at an open, mass level, with the full knowledge and consent of the workers. Such involvement was paying dividends as more and more workers turned to Congress, supporting it and joining its ranks. A number of Belfast trade union organisers, some of them Protestants, sent a message supporting the Congress idea and advocating combined struggle against capitalism and imperialism. The Northern Ireland Socialist Party, a mainly Protestant grouping to the left of the NILP, also pledged its support. So too did the chairmen of the trades councils at Bray, Dundalk and Mullingar, the presidents of three large unions, Plumbers, Stationary Engine Drivers and Boilermakers, and several in struggle as

when they

union branch officers and rank-and-file members around the country. The support voiced by so many union leaders and officials, whose past and future actions could scarcely be described as revolutionary, reflected the growing desire on the part of their rank and file for a militant trade

realignment of forces. The establishment of Congress sections in Belfast was one of the movement’s greatest achievements. Peadar O’Donnell and Nora Connolly O’Brien, James Connolly’s daughter, had gone there to organise in the early summer, and, building

on the radicalism engendered by the 1932 unemployment struggle, they attracted workers whom the Communist Party had failed to win. Many of them were Protestants, and

The Second Communist Party

known

153

James Connolly Workers’ Republican Newtownards Road districts — both traditional Unionist areas. Most of these workers joined an organisation they believed was going to branches,

as

Clubs, were established in the Shankill and

lead the fight for socialism in Ireland.

On 18 June the Belfast members marched in the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown behind a banner inscribed: ‘Shankill Road Belfast Branch. Break the Connection with Capitalism. Connolly’s Message our Ideal. On to the Workers’ Republic.’ According to the next day’s Irish Independent there were 500 Connolly Club members present, ‘composed largely of Protestants and Presbyterians drawn in Orange districts of Belfast’. Their the main from the presence, however, was not welcomed by the right-wing IRA leaders, who ordered that the ‘communist banners’ of the Belfast workers be tom down. Fierce fighting followed, and although the Belfast banners were damaged, they were not ,

.

.

.

captured.

Next day the

marched through Dublin where a Shankill man, Robert McVicker,

Belfast contingent

to Connolly’s grave,

gave an oration:

We

do not pretend to speak on behalf of the majority of

Belfast workers.

We

are a

Vanguard of the working

body of Protestant workers, the [come from Belfast] to

class

.

.

.

pledge our determination at the graveside of Connolly to do all we can to carry out [his] message ... to break all connection with England and to smash Irish capitalism. (Republican Congress 23 June 1934) ,

This was the

first organised group of Protestant workers to campaign actively against partition and to join forces with Catholic fellow-workers and workers in the Twenty-six

Counties in pursuing a socialist solution to the national question. In an editorial on 23 Jun c Republican Congress explained the basis of the new movement’s appeal to Protestant workers: Sectarianism dies out slowly when the fight against it is one of words. Sectarianism bums out quickly where there is

team work

in

common

struggle.

Those who see in Partino way forward

tion just a reflex of sectarian strife see

except

in

foolish

talk

about toleration, charity,

real

154

Communism

religion, etc.

in

Modern Ireland

Those who

see in Partition the link

between

capitalism and Imperialist finance, see in the comstruggle for the Workers’ Republic the solution of

Irish

mon

Partition,

ering

and

away of

in the destruction

of exploitation, the with-

sectarian strife.

Events were soon to show, however, that not everyone involved in the Congress movement believed that it should be fighting for the Workers Republic. The Republican Congress finally assembled in the Rathmines Town Hall, Dublin, on 28-29 September. There were 186 official delegates, all elected by workers’ organisations and active Congress branches. Fourteen trade unions and trades councils were represented. There were delegates from

Labour Defence League, the Labour League Against the Unemployed Workers’ Movement and the Tenant League; from the Communist Party, Northern Ireland Socialist Party and Republican Socialist Party; and from Congress groups in Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Waterford and half a dozen other centres. It was probably the most representative gathering of working-class and republican the

Fascism,

militants ever seen in Ireland. It was, moreover, the first time

was given to the relationbetween the struggles for national reunification, independence and socialism. On that issue the movement split, and the split proved fatal. in public that serious consideration

ship

One

section of the Congress’s organising bureau, represented

Price, Roddy Connolly and Nora Connolly O’Brien, favoured the creation of a new political party that would lead the fight for the Workers’ Republic. The other section, led by O’Donnell and Gilmore, proposed that Congress act as a united front with the aim of securing the Republic, as distinct from the Workers' Republic. After a debate that ran over into the second day the O’Donnell/Gilmore resolution, calling for the Republic, was passed by 99 votes to 84. The Price/ Connolly resolution, advocating the establishment of a new workers’ party, was then withdrawn, and its proposers refused to allow their names to go forward for the Congress executive. The conference ended in considerable disarray, and although the Republican Congress formally continued in existence for some time to come, it never again achieved the momentum of

by Mick

The Second Communist Party

155

the period between March and September 1934. It was finally disbanded in 1936. The Communist Party had been involved with the movement from its earliest stages. All CPI members had been instructed to work locally with Congress sections, and having done so quite effectively they could claim much of the credit for directing the movement towards working-class struggles. But at the same time the Communist Party had serious reservations. It was totally opposed to the creation of a new party which, it argued, ‘could be formed only as a barrier between the Communist Party and the masses’, and it promised to forcefully resist any attempt to set up such a party IWV 14 Apr. 1934). While the Communist Party supported the idea of Congress as a united front, it argued strongly that the purpose of a united front was not to raise ultimate political objectives, whether Republic or Workers’ Republic, but to build maximum unity around immediate issues like opposition to fascism and repression (IWV, 9, 16 June 1934). On this point, however, the communists failed to convince O’Donnell and Gilmore, and when the Rathmines conference finally debated the issue of the Republic versus the Workers’ Republic the CPI had to take sides. In the debate all the party’s leading members spoke forcefully for the Republic against the Workers’ Republic, and every party delegate voted likewise. With a delegation larger than that from any other organisation present, partly the result of their control over the various ‘front’ organisations — Labour Defence League, Labour League Against Fascism and Unemployed Workers’ Movement — the Communist Party’s votes were crucial in ensuring defeat for the Connolly/Price faction. Indeed, Sean Murray told the Comintern Congress in Moscow the following year that the CPI had ‘decided influence’ in the Republican Congress (Murray 1935). By siding with O’Donnell, Gilmore and their republican supporters, the Communist Party destroyed any possibility of a new workers’ party emerging from Congress, and so fulfilled their earlier promise to do just that. But their reasons for backing the Republic against the Workers’ Republic were not dictated by the instinct of self-preservation alone. By putting themselves forward as the ‘genuine’ republicans, in (.

,

156

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

alliance with the O’Donnell/Gilmore faction, they thought they could ‘expose’ de Valera and the ‘sham’ republicans of the IRA and so attract the support of their petty-bourgeois followers. ‘To raise issues about “Workers’ Republics” and the like’, the Irish Workers' Voice had warned on 29 September, ‘can only retard the creation of an alliance of the workers and farmers.’ In his speech at the Rathmines meeting Sean Murray had stated that ‘Congress should stand for an Irish Republic. I say you cannot smash capitalism until you get rid of British imperialism.’ [Republican Congress 13 Oct. 1934) This was a reversion to the ‘stages’ theory of pre-‘class against class’ days: national freedom could be achieved while capitalism still existed; the republic they aimed at was a capitalist republic, although by avoiding the prefix its precise class nature was obscured. (In fact no one who advocated the Republic at Rathmines ever said which class would rule, an omission that Roddy Connolly put down to a lack of understanding of the nature of the state as the instrument of class power.) By proposing to move forward on the groundswell of rural petty-bourgeois republicanism, the Communist Party and its allies knew they would lose the support that had been built up among Northern Protestant workers, workers who had no illusions about de Valera or the IRA, and who therefore had no need for their ‘exposure’, but who had backed the call for the Workers' Republic. George Gilmore, for one, justified this sacrifice by arguing that these workers were not really committed to Irish national freedom and that those who sought to put class issues to the fore were attempting to avoid this problem. The ‘carefully nurtured hostility [of Protestant workers] to Irish independence’, he maintained, ‘would not be eliminated by a change of phrasing. Those who might venture towards us in that mood were, for the most part, people who were trying to be radicals without accepting the antiimperialist struggle’ and as such were ‘unlikely to advance further than a vote for the North of Ireland Labour Party’ ,

(Gilmore 1968: 56). There was certainly some truth in this claim, especially with regard to the Belfast trade union officials who had associated with Congress, but the proposal for a worker/farmer alliance for the achievement of an ill-

The Second Communist Party

157

defined Republic held out little hope for changing Protestant working-class attitudes. Nor, as history testifies, did it bring the Republic any closer. The long-term implications of the Communist Party’s strategy, first outlined in the founding manifesto and clarified at the Republican Congress, were far more startling than

anyone

Rathmines meeting could have

at the

forecast.

The

assertion that national independence should be fought for

and not in unison with, the struggle for socialism ultimately led the Irish communist movement back to supporting Fianna Fail, and even to declaring that only Fianna prior to,

could unite Ireland and free it from Britain’s grasp. While some extent this subsequent adulation of Fianna Fail was dictated by immediate requirements — related to the approach of war — the theoretical assumptions that made it possible had already emerged by mid-1934. Fail

to

By

the time the Republican Congress met, developments

on the world

were forcing the Comintern to abandon Union began seeking allies against Hitler among the Western capitalist countries. In the domestic activities of the various communist parties this turn took the form of seeking alliances, at first with its ‘class

stage

against class’ policy as the Soviet

social-democratic leaders



the ‘social fascists’ of yesterday



and eventually with anyone, conservative, capitalist or imperialist, who would oppose Hitler. One commentator has summarised the issues involved in these terms:

The idea of

proletarian revolution receded far into the

as to become almost indistinguishable; the support of Russian foreign policy became the openly admitted paramount aim of world communism. Instead of the class struggle, co-operation with the bougeoisie. Instead of the Soviet system, eulogy of democracy. Instead of internationalism, nationalism. (Borkenau 1971: 387-8)

background so

In short, the Popular Front, in whose direction the Communist Party of Ireland had taken its first major step at the Republican Congress of

September 1934.

8

The Unpopular Popular Front The Transition

to the

Popular Front

the period between the Republican Congress and the Second World War the Communist Party moved steadily to the right. The quiet abandonment of the ‘class against class’ policy in mid-1934 was followed by a period of attempted rapprochement in which the CPI sought to draw the official labour and trade union leaders into united action. Gradually the party abandoned its criticisms of reformism, subordinated the communist movement to the broader labour movement, and moderated its policies in an attempt to attract liberal middle -class support. The counterposing of class struggle and socialism to capitalism, fascism and the threat of war was replaced by calls for ‘peace and democracy’ as the CPI In

tried desperately to present itself as the staunchest defender

of constitutional government. The wooing of reformist labour and the middle class ultimately failed and was paid for dearly in terms of lost influence among the country’s militant workers. For a few months after the Republican Congress the communists advanced the slogan of the workers’ united front and scored some successes North and South. In October 1934 the Labour Party in Dublin was invited to join a united front based on ‘mutual abstention from criticism’ in written and

spoken propaganda (MF, 3 Nov. 1934). Although no reply was forthcoming, several speeches at the Labour Party’s annual conference that month left no doubt as to its attitude to co-operation with communists. Thomas Farren probably reflected the views of most Labour members when he asked: ‘Why should they not declare themselves against Communism? What had the Communists done for the Labour

The Unpopular Popular Front

Movement?

159

[They had] tried to destroy the Labour (LP 1934: 117-18) A resolution was adopted committing the party to ‘strongly oppose any attempt to introduce anti-Christian Communistic doctrines into the Movement’. Despite such hostility, however, the Labour Party leaders were soon forced into limited unity in action as the communists mobilised thousands of unemployed on the streets in opposition to Fianna Fail’s Unemployment Assistance Act. The Irish Unemployed Workers’ Movement was again revived under the direction of CPI members Dan Layde and Willie Watson, and on 13 November Layde and Sean MacBride, IRA Chief of Staff, addressed a crowd of 3,000 unemployed workers and IRA men who, quite fortuitously, had come together outside the Fianna Fail Ard-Fheis at the Mansion House. Next day unemployed demonstrators and police clashed in Grafton Street, and when two days later the Unemployed Workers’ Movement marched 5,000 workers to the Dad, Labour Party leaders agreed to join the platform along with CPI and IRA speakers. Under growing pressure the government increased benefits by 25 per cent within a mattter of weeks, and the communists, who had pushed Labour forward, could claim much of the credit. By March 1935, after non-sectarian united front tactics had been pursued for several months, Pat Devine of the CPI central committee (and previously in the CPUS A and CPGB) could claim that ‘The influence and prestige of the Communist Party today is greater than it ever was.’ The claim was considerably borne out in the huge Dublin tram strike which began on 2 March and which, thanks largely to communist efforts, remained solid and united for the whole of its eleven weeks (Devine 1936). The strike, initially for the reinstatement of a sacked employee, was official, involved 3,000 workers, and was characterised throughout by militant picketing and enthusiastic meetings. Two CPI members, Billy Conway and Tom Burke, organised a militant rank-and-file group .

.

.

Party.’

which published over thirty issues of its own strike paper, Unity whose very name symbolised the communists’ new approach. It was on a proposal from the Unity group that the ,

strikers

voted in the

first

days to stay out until a longstanding

wage claim was conceded. Although the communists were

Communism

160

Modern

in

Ireland

critical of the official strike leaders for trying to end the dispute before anything had been won, their interventions, whether in the party press or in Unity at their own strike meetings or at those called by the officials, were never so intemperate as to alienate the majority of strikers. But still the united front with other organisations evaded them. ,

The

dispute escalated

on 20 March when the government

sent in troops and the action-starved fired

IRA responded

with were on, and three Gardai were shot and injured. On 25

Army

guns in hand.

lorries carrying civilian passengers

March the IRA Army Council declared

its ‘willingness to the workers in their struggle’, an offer that was rejected the union executives but welcomed by the strike com-

assist

by

mittee that was running the dispute (Bell 1972: 150). Next day the police swooped, making forty-three arrests in Dublin. Christy Clarke and Jack Nalty of the CPI spent five weeks in jail for refusing to answer questions, and the military tribunal handed out stiff sentences to many of the others. In Co. Longford, simultaneously, the IRA was helping tenants resist eviction, and an estate agent’s son was shot dead. By 20 April over a hundred IRA men were in jail, and An Phoblacht was hounded out of existence by July. But there was no question of a united front between the CPI and IRA. Veteran IRA leader Tom Barry protested at being tried alongside Clarke and Nalty and made an anti-communist speech from the dock. An Phoblacht which had urged labour/republican unity, remarked on 16 April: ‘It is most unfortunate that the slogan call for a united front should have been adopted by the Communist Party and should thus have cast a suspicion on all efforts to achieve unity.’ In June the IRA again attacked Congress and CPI members at Bodenstown, an event that led the CPI to describe the IRA as ‘would-be Hitlers’. In the course of the strike there were five separate raids on Communist Party headquarters, and in one raid Larkin junior was arrested. There were also several attacks on party ,

.

.

.

meetings by right-wing mobs, and Dan Layde ended up Consequently the communists again wrote to the Labour Party and Trades Council seeking unity, but again the strike

in hospital.

request was refused.

Labour and IRA

hostility

was not the only danger to the

The Unpopular Popular Front

161

Communist Party’s influence in the strike. Of more immediate concern was an organisation calling itself the ‘Anti-Communist League of Bus and Tram Men’ which published the Eyeopener as a rival to Unity. The sole aim of this paper, the CPI maintained, was to discredit party militants and subvert the strike, and it was said to be produced and paid for by Lombard Murphy, owner of the Dublin Tram Company and the Irish Independent. The communists called on strikers to ‘smash’ those behind the Eyeopener. This attitude, as we shall see, was to change. The tram strike ended on 18 May with the reinstatement of the dismissed worker and an increase in wages. The outcome, said the communists, was ‘by no means as big as it could or should have been’, but was nevertheless ‘a victory for working-class solidarity and militancy’, something that

owed much

to Communist Party initiative. This period in the party’s history, which combined militant action with sincere if ultimately futile efforts to establish a workers’ united front, ended in the summer of 1935 with the Seventh (and final) World Congress of the Comintern, which met in Moscow in July and August. Sean Murray represented the CPI and, like every delegate without exception, fully endorsed a major rightward shift in policy — the final sanctioning of the Popular Front, the projected alliance between communists, left and right-wing social democrats, and the ‘progressive middle classes’

(Murray 1935).

new turn were the group in the transport unions, and the Unemployed Workers’ Movement, the party’s greatest achievements of the period. On 5 October the Workers' Voice (‘Irish' had been dropped from the title at the beginning of March 1935) reported that Unity had merged with the anti-communist Eyeopener and the rank-and-file group itself ceased to operate. This move, said the Voice gave ‘a fine lead’ to the whole trade union movement in establishing unity between all sections. In fact it was a capitulation. With the militants silenced, In Ireland the

first

casualties of the

rank-and-file

,

,

Lombard Murphy went on

the offensive: over a hundred

workers were sacked, and dozens more were regraded to lowerpaid jobs. ‘Here’, said the Communist Party, ‘are issues that demand the immediate attention of the different union

Communism

162

leaders.’

(WV,

7

in

Modern

Dec. 1935)

Ireland

No

official action materialised.

But the Communist Party remained conciliatory towards the union bosses.

The Unemployed Workers’ Movement

suffered a similar

On

26 October the Voice proposed that ‘the official representatives of the trade union movement take the fate.

.

lead

on [the unemployment]

.

.

question’. Shortly afterwards

the Irish Unemployed Workers’ Movement was disbanded in favour of the Unemployed Workers’ Rights Association a body dominated by Labour TDs and which, in place of mass action, sought to represent individual workers before the benefit tribunals (ID, 11 Sept. 1937). *

*

*

In the Six Counties the transition from

‘class against class’

was also marked by some initial and significant advances, and was also characterised by a greater degree of unity in action with labour and trade union bodies than had been evident in the Free State. In October 1934 the Unionist government again invoked the Special Powers Act to ban commemorations of the relief workers’ struggle of two years before. When Tommy Geehan was arrested for addressing an illegal meeting the Communist Party decided to turn his trial into a test case against the act and to build a united front around the issue, combining it with opposition to a new Unemployment Act which resulted in further benefit cuts. An observer from the British National Council for Civil to Popular Front

trial, and, in the glare of pubthe court imposed only a £10 fine. On appeal the fine was halved, but Geehan refused to pay. In December the Belfast Trades Council, which now had some Communist Party members, responded favourably to a

Liberties attended Geehan’s

licity,

request from the party for unity against the Special Powers in unemployment benefit. The Trades Council condemned the fining of Geehan and invited the CPI-led Unemployed Workers’ Movement to participate in a mass rally at the Ulster Hall on 19 February. At the rally, which attracted 4,000 workers, Geehan and Billy McCullough shared the platform with NILP leaders Midgley and Campbell and the Trades Council chairman, Dawson Gordon. McCul-

Act and the cuts

The Unpopular Popular Front

163

lough, a railway worker whose father had been very prominent in the Orange Order, was now one of the leading com-

munists in Belfast. Three days later Gordon and McCullough led a demonstration of 3,000 workers in protest at the cuts and the Geehan fine. Like its Southern counterpart, the

Stormont government soon capitulated, restoring the cuts at the beginning of March. Although Geehan was jailed briefly for non-payment of his fine, the workers’ united front had won a major success on the unemployment issue. It was perhaps to encourage more Protestant followers of the NILP to buy and read its paper that the CPI at this point decided to drop the word Irish' from the paper’s title. From the issue of 9 March 1935 the paper was again known as the Workers’ ‘

Voice.

The communists maintained the momentum with unemployment meetings in the Protestant districts of Sandy Row and the Shankill and in Geehan’s own area of the Lower Falls. The IUWM announced plans for a Six-County hunger march; new branches were set up at Newry and Armagh; and the trade unions were asked to call a half-day general strike when the hunger marchers arrived in Belfast. Simultaneously, through the Tenants’ Defence League, led

by CPI member James Fay, the communists initiated a major rent strike. By the beginning of April 1935 some 1,500 tenants were withholding rent in both Catholic and Protestant districts in East and West Belfast. Democratically elected street committees, under TDL co-ordination, ran the strike, and despite numerous arrests and evictions, they finally forced rent reductions in

all

affected areas.

Such working-class unity and militancy, although

less

dramatic than in 1932, still worried the Unionist leaders, and with their prompting the sectarian undercurrent was getting stronger. In the summer of 1933 the Minister of Agriculture, Sir Basil Brooke (a future Prime Minister of Northern Ireland),

and Orange Order leader Sir Joseph Davison had called on Protestant businessmen not to employ Catholics. Throughout 1934 and early 1935 the Ulster Protestant League was again

and although it failed to foment a mass sectarian upwere sporadic attacks on Catholics which left two dead, many injured and dozens of homes wrecked. After active,

surge, there

164 the

Communism

in

unemployed and

Modern

Ireland

tenants’ victories the

attentions to the communists, announcing in

UPL May

turned that

if

its

the

them it would do so itself. That communist and unemployed meetings were broken up by UPL supporters, and in June the CPI and NILP government

month

failed to suppress

five

headquarters were ransacked. ‘This is not an inter-religious struggle,’ said the Workers' Voice, ‘but an attempt on the part of the Government to stop the growing disintegration among its supporters and to strike a blow at the rising working-class support of the Communist Party.’ The CPI said it would establish a Workers’ Defence Force to counter ‘Craigavon’s storm troopers’ {WV, 22 June 1935). While the Unionist Party could scarcely have welcomed the growth of communist influence, it did not in fact control the UPL, which was a petty-bourgeois and lumpen proletarian reaction against what was seen as government softness towards Catholics and communists. By the time the Orange Order parades began on 12 July tension was running high in Belfast, and when a section of the parade reached York Street, scene of much UPL activity in the weeks before, shooting broke out. Whoever started it, the result was the worst sectarian rioting since the pogroms of 1920-22. When it finally subsided three weeks later thirteen were dead and scores injured; 500 Catholic and a dozen Protestant families had been forced from their homes, and hundreds of Catholic workers had been expelled from their jobs. Considering the working-class unity that had been evident in the months before, it is significant to note that it was Scottish loyalists, members and followers of a band known as the ‘Bridgeton Billy Boys’, who initiated the evictions and house-burnings. The Bridgeton loyalists had long engaged in violent attacks on Glasgow socialists. They were distinctly lumpen: police reports among the Northern Ireland cabinet papers show that six who were arrested in Belfast had between them over forty convictions for assault and robbery and, despite their youth, had collectively spent more than twelve years in Glasgow prisons. The Communist Party suffered a major setback as a result of the riots. Its calls for mass workers’ demonstrations and a one-day general strike to stem the pogromists brought no res-

The Unpopular Popular Front

165

ponse. Only twenty members attended an aggregate meeting called at the height of the trouble to discuss the whole future of the party in Belfast. McCullough admitted that retaining members was proving extremely difficult, and the Six-County

hunger march was called off. To overcome its increasing isolation the CPI resolved to draw closer to the NILP, although that party had remained passive throughout the upheaval and party leader Midgley, in whose Dock constituency most of the rioting occurred, had maintained a prudent silence while it

lasted.

The Comintern Congress coincided with the Belfast riots, its directives on the Popular Front encouraged the communists in their search for unity at any price with the Labour Party. The price they were prepared to pay was considerable, and

NILP opposed neither partition nor British dominacommunists were obliged to set aside many of their own political principles on the national issue if unity were to for as the tion, the

become even

faintly possible. In fact

reference to the

all

national question was henceforth expunged from

communist

propaganda in the Six Counties; ‘Labour imperialism’ was forgotten; and the Unionist Party’s Unionism was transformed into straightforward Toryism. The Workers' Voice began talking of ‘our comrades in the Labour Party’, and Harry Midgley, still a bitter foe of communism, was feted with headlines such as ‘Capitalism Must Go, says Midgley’ ( WV 28 Sept. 1935). The Communist Party even approached the NILP leaders with a proposal that non-party ‘people’s candidates’ be put forward in the Westminster election of November 1935, the Belfast municipal election of May 1936 and the Board of Guardians election in June. Although the ‘people’s policy’ which the CPI suggested as the basis for unity was exceedingly moderate, even by NILP standards, the Labour Party refused ,

to co-operate.

Tommy Geehan, the intended ‘people’s candidate’ in the Westminster election, had to withdraw when the necessary deposit could not be raised — despite claims in the Voice that he had won ‘wide support [from] middle-class sections of the population’. In the municipal and Guardians elections a modest electoral alliance was achieved with the Court ward branch of the NILP, but the three ‘non-party’ candidates, who

166

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

included CPI members Geehan and Johnston, were heavily defeated by Unionist opponents. Sectarian attitudes were hardening in the working class, and appeals to liberal sentiments made no headway. What was more, at a time when the NILP was retreating rapidly in face of rampant loyalism, communist strategy served only to obscure the differences between the two parties. On the industrial front, where the communists might have hoped to distinguish themselves more clearly, quiescence prevailed. There had been growing unrest in the railways, trams, furniture trades and linen mills and although the Communist Party had members in each, it looked no further than to the ;

official

trade union leaders to initiate action.

industrial militancy too

had been

sacrified for the

Communist still

elusive

Popular Front. *

*

*

In Dublin, meanwhile, similar approaches were being made to the Labour Party, and with the same negative results. At its

annual conference in 1936 the Labour Party, through anew constitution, had declared for the Workers’ Republic — to be based on the existing state machine and achieved by constitutional means. While the Communist Party of today has described Labour’s 1936 constitution as ‘ultra-leftist’ (CPI 1975b: 25) (thereby showing how far it itself has moved to the right), at the time it was eulogised, and even reproduced in the party press, where Pat Devine announced that it ‘places the Labour Party side by side with revolutionary nationalist Ireland’. ‘A Labour Party which draws to itself the best men and women in the national and industrial life of the country’, said the Workers’ Voice, ‘would be a great step forward for this nation.’ (WV, 4 Jan. 1936) The CPI, implying that it would make do with second best, promised to do everything possible to boost Labour’s fortunes and ‘turn its words into deeds’.

The Communist

Labour had to be mounting repression as Fianna Fail moved decisively against the IRA, whose widespread if aimless activity had left three dead in 1935-36. IRA violence, together with the Labour Party’s apparent left turn, provoked Party’s promise to help

carried out in conditions of

The Unpopular Popular Front

167

the inevitable backlash. The Lenten pastorals of February 1936 attacked both socialism and militant republicanism, and in the same month the Republican Congress paper collapsed.

Easter Sunday — the twentieth anniversary of the Easter Rising — the republican parade was attacked by a right-wing mob and the CPI’s small contingent suffered badly. On the

On

following day Willie Gallacher was driven from the platform CPI/republican meeting, and the attackers moved on the sack the CPI and Congress headquarters. ‘It is all to

at a joint

the good,’ said the Standard. On 18 June the government declared the IRA an unlawful body and banned its annual Bodenstown demonstration. In the Dail two days earlier the Minister for Justice had promised to ‘smash’ the IRA, and one TD asked if similar measures would be taken against the Communist Party. Not one Labour TD participated in the debate, and the Labour Party continued to support the government after the military tribunal began

sentencing

IRA men

The Labour

to unusually long terms in

jail.

CPI from supporting its candidates, fully and unconditionally, in the Dublin Corporation elections of 30 June. Sean Murray and Larkin junior were withdrawn from the contest in defference to Labour candidates, and the communists organised pro-Labour Party meetings throughout the city. To rally support for its ‘people’s policy’ the CPI issued a manifesto proposing exceedingly detailed ameliorative measures on every conceivable issue from the municipalisation, with compensation of Dublin’s transport system, to the opening of a municipal pawn shop for the poor. It even demanded that churches be built in all new working-class housing estates (WF, 21 Mar. 1936). When the Labour Party won only two seats on the Corporation the communists declared that they would now seek to extend their projected alliance to include Fianna Fail and other, unspecified ‘national organisations’. The Communist Party’s attitude to Fianna Fail had become Party’s acquiescence did not prevent the

,

completely transformed since the days of ‘class against class’, it had been seen as the party of ‘fascisisation’. In his speech at the Seventh Comintern Congress Sean Murray had outlined the new approach. The CPI, he said, ‘committed many errors of a sectarian and opportunist character due to

when

Communism

168

in

Modern

Ireland

unclarity in the handling of the national issue. In the begin-

ning

we

alists

classified de Valera in the same camp as the imperiand confused the workers,’ but now they would try to

‘stimulate the opposition to the vacillating policy of de Valera in

the

struggle

with

British

imperialism’

(Murray 1935:

906-7). Fianna Fail’s failure to present a serious challenge to imperialism was no longer seen as a congenital defect, rooted capitalist nature, but was due to vacillations which could be overcome. In short, Fianna Fail could be made to

in its

fight.

On his return from Moscow in September 1935 Murray had told the Dublin members that the CPI now sought an alliance against ‘the monopolies and bankers’. The smaller property-owning bourgeoisie — the backbone of Fianna Fail — were to be considered potential allies, and in December the CPI wrote to the Fianna Fail Ard-Fheis urging delegates to ‘fight for a common national front’. Even after de Valera banned the IRA the communists still said their aim was to ‘drive [Fianna Fail] along and make it act republicanism’ [Worker, 22 Aug. 1936). In keeping with this new conciliatory approach the communists refused to call for the release of the growing number of republican prisoners. Instead they asked for an inquiry into prison conditions, and when one young IRA man committed suicide in Arbour Hill jail the communist press responded tamely: ‘There is only one answer: Arbour Hill must be reformed.’ In fact de Valera’s turn against the IRA had a significance which the Irish communists seemed not to have grasped (or to have deliberately ignored). Until now de Valera had skilfully used the IRA to contain the extremism of his own opponents on the far right, but with an independent base now secured, he could afford to sacrifice the IRA. At the same time official hostility to Britain was giving way to rapprochement in both political and economic fields. Sean Lemass’s Control of Manufactures Act (1934) had failed to bring a virile native capitalism into being, and the ‘economic war’ had been considerably eased with the coal-and-cattle trade

agreement of 1935. Reaccommodation with British

capitalism could not proceed smoothly so long as the

IRA

both British and

Irish

remained strong. In the

interests of

The Unpopular Popular Front

169

capitalism militant republicanism had to be suppressed. It was indeed ironic that the Communist Party should choose the very moment when Fianna Fail jettisoned the last vestiges

of

its

national radicalism to seek an alliance with de

no longer militant supporters; even more ironic when we recall that the communists had deliberately isolated themselves from Fianna Fail when it did have a mass radical following and the appearance of genuine anti-imperialism. Such, however, were the requirements of the Popular Front.

Valera’s

The Spanish

The CPI’s

Civil

War

was soon put to the test in circumstances brought about by the Spanish civil war. In July 1936 General Franco attempted a coup d'etat against the Spanish Popular Front government which had been elected the previous February on promises of land distribution and the release of political prisoners. The Spanish conflict, in which Franco claimed to be fighting for God and the Church against the hordes of communism and the Antichrist, appeared the sort of war envisaged in many an Irish bishop’s pastoral, and Franco’s fascists won widespread sympathy in Catholic Ireland. Before long former Garda Commissioner O’Duffy was leading a 700-strong Irish Brigade in aid of the Spanish fascists. Their involvement, however, was exceedingly inglorious, and within months, as mutiny threatened, O ’Duffy’s men voted overwhelmingly to return strategy of moderation

the exceedingly

difficult

home. Before Connolly gone into O’Duffy’s

1936 Irish anti-fascists in the James Battalion of the International Brigade had also Christmas

action in Spain, and while fewer in

number than

followers, they fought to the bitter end, suffering

fifty-nine fatalities before the International Brigade was disbanded at the end of 1938 (O’Riordan 1979). Among the dead were some of the Communist Party’s leading personnel: Kit Conway, Frank Conroy, Liam MacGregor and Jack Nalty. Several Belfast Protestants, won over to socialism and

republicanism through the Republican Congress, were also killed.

In Ireland the

Communist Party and

its

few

allies

conducted

170

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

campaign in an atmosphere that was masand violently hostile. Paddy Belton, a Fine Gael TD, set up the Irish Christian Front in support of Franco, and with the blessing of the hierarchy, the approval of Fine Gael and the encouragement of the Irish Independent he conducted a full-scale anti-communist crusade with Nuremburg-style rallies around the country. An estimated 120,000 attended the largest at Dublin’s College Green. His campaign was fuelled by the most bloodcurdling reports of Spanish nuns raped, orphanages burned and churches desecrated; audiences were told, among other dreadful things, that Peadar O’Donnell, prominent in the anti-fascist cause, had ‘studied churchburning in Moscow’ (where he had never been) and that the communists in Ireland had plans for turning the churches into dance halls and public houses. In a civil war situation attacks on the Catholic Church, which was actively partisan on Franco’s side, were inevitable, but the atrocities committed in the name of Christian civilisation went unreported. Under the weight of massive right-wing and clerical pressure their anti-Franco sively

the official Irish labour movement declared itself neutral on the question of fascism, but some party branches passed resolutions in support of Franco, while Michael Keyes, a future Labour leader, spoke from Christian Front platforms.

Among

the trade unions only the British-based Amalgamated Transport Union offered support to the anti-Franco cause — £1,000 for humanitarian relief — a move that led to several resignations and the self -dissolution of its branches in Galway and Tyrone. Even the executive of the Workers’ Union of Ireland, with James Larkin’s approval, banned its officals from speaking on anti-Franco platforms. Jack Carney, Larkin’s closest associate for over twenty years, refused to accept the ruling,

and resigned from the union and

left for

England

in

disgust.

The Northern Ireland Labour Party, unimpeded by Catholicism, took a firm stand for the Spanish government, while the

left-wing Socialist Party in Belfast



which sent members

to

Spain even before the CPI did — supported POUM, the Spanish Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification, which advocated policies far to the left of the Spanish Communist Party (but which was not, as has frequently been claimed,

The Unpopular Popular Front

171

An all-Ireland Spanish Aid Committee was organised under Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, and the Republican Congress was revived for the duration of the Spanish war, but even in combination these groupings were no match for the vastly superior pro-Franco forces in Ireland. Of them all the Communist Party was, initially, the only one publishing a paper, the Worker a small duplicated bulletin that replaced the Workers' Voice when it collapsed from lack of Trotskyist).

,

money on In

the eve of Franco’s uprising. first mention of Spain in the Worker (25 July Sean Murray interpreted the fascist revolt in clear

the

1936) terms and was very

class

critical

of the Spanish government’s

response. Franco’s supporters, he argued, were ‘the employers, landlords, fascist monarchists and army generals’ against

whom

‘the workers demanded action’. But the Popular Front government, which contained neither socialists nor communists, ‘hesitated [and] took only half-hearted measures’. In fact the workers did not simply demand action but took matters into their own hands to defeat the fascist coup. Before Franco’s revolt the workers and peasants, impatient at the government’s tardiness in carrying out its election promises, had stormed the prisons, seized much land, and engaged in mass strikes for higher pay. The fascist revolt itself was met with even greater militancy: barracks were seized, soldiers disarmed and workers’ militias established; the expropriation of the landlords intensified; factories were taken over and run collectively; and, as the government still prevaricated, effective power lay with the workers’ organisations

(Morrow 1963). To the uninformed it seemed that the communists’ wildest dreams were coming true. In fact, however, the workers’ revolt was a nightmare to the communist leadership, who, in place of the social revolution that was proceeding around them, argued that the only way to defeat fascism was to restore and defend bourgeois democracy. As the Spanish

Communist

Party’s central committee explained, ‘The Spanish people are not fighting for the dictatorship of the proletariat, but know only one aim: the defence of the republican order while respecting property.’ (L’Humanite, Aug. 1936) This policy was dictated by Stalin’s desire for an

172

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

alliance with Britain and France against Hitler, pursuit of which ruled out the creation of a revolutionary workers’ state on France’s southern border (Deutscher 1968: 41517). As a consequence the communists found themselves in conflict not only with the advancing fascist forces but with the revolutionary workers as well. As the official Comintern response to the Spanish events filtered through, and as the fascists actually gathered more support from the Spanish middle class, the Worker abandoned its class-based analysis of fascism. Franco’s allies were no longer depicted as the employers and the landlords but as ‘a tiny clique of conspirators’ whose strength lay not in the support they enjoyed from the property-owning classes but only from the military aid they received from Hitler and Mussolini. The epithets now used to describe them — corrupt, reactionary, barbaric and anti-Christian — had been cleansed of all class connotations, while the whole outcome of the struggle was now said to depend not on the militancy of the Spanish workers but on which side — government or fascists — had superior fire -power. Its analysis ‘corrected’, the Worker set about exposing the lies of Church and press. To prove how responsible and respectable the Spanish government was, the Worker regularly and extensively quoted the editorials of the Irish Times which maintained that private property was not threatened in Spain and advocated support for the established government on the grounds that it was ‘almost as bourgeois-capitalist as the Government of the Irish Free State’. The Worker emphasised repeatedly that communism was not an enemy of the Catholic Church and suggested at times that communists were more Christian than their traducers. Any prominent Catholic who spoke against Franco was guaranteed maximum coverage in the Worker and much propaganda was made of the fact that ‘Black Heathen Moors’ were killing ‘Christian workers’ on ,

,

Franco’s behalf. This attempt to appeal to Christian sentiment was not a peculiarly Irish phenomenon to be explained in terms of the exceedingly harsh Catholic reaction confronting Ireland’s communists. The Communist Party in Britain carried on a similar campaign, although the clerical backlash there was

The Unpopular Popular Front

173

minimal. It was in fact a universal feature of the Popular Front strategy, so widespread that Pope Pius XI felt compelled to counter it through an encyclical, Divini Redemptoris (1937), which was sold at every chapel door in Ireland

under the

To

title

refute

Communism

the

Enemy of God.

the right-wing propaganda in Ireland Harry

Midgley produced

Spain — the Press the defence of representative

own pamphlet,

his

Pulpit and the Truth

,

written

‘in

,

government and democratic institutions’, against which the author saw fascism and communism as twin enemies. Despite Midgley ’s undeviating hatred of communism, the CPI applauded his pamphlet as ‘brilliant’ and undertook its distribution in the Free State, where all workers were urged to read it. Midgley himself was now hailed as ‘a worthy son of the democrats of Ulster and the victims of October 1932’ ( Worker 29 Aug. 1936). (Midgley ’s behaviour during the 1932 events had been described at the time as ‘corrupt careerism’ and worse.) By February 1937 the Worker could declare that there was really no difference between the CPI and NILP, as both .

.

.

,

stood for ‘a new social order’ to be achieved by ‘democratic methods and constitutional government’. In Dublin a few months earlier, when a Fine Gael TD had alleged in the Dail that the Communist Party aimed to ‘overthrow the Government by force of arms’, the Worker replied indignantly: ‘The CPI does not have as its objective the overthrow of the democratically elected Government.’ (Worker, 14 Nov. 1936) Again, this wholehearted defence of bourgeois democracy was not simply the Irish communists’ response to a right-wing campaign against them, but was, like the attempted accommodation with Christianity, integral to Popular Front politics and designed to win middle-class support internationally. In a final act of self-denial the Communist Party decided, in

March 1937, to abandon its own independent publication, Worker and join with the Republican Congress and

the

,

Northern Ireland Socialist Party in producing the Irish Democrat under the imprint of the amorphous ‘Progressive Publications Society’. In the issue of 8 May Frank Ryan (who had commanded the Connolly Battalion) reported a major assault by communist forces on revolutionary workers in

174

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

Barcelona in which he described POUM as ‘a Fascist force in the rear’ and advocated ‘crushing this pest once and for all’. (The article containing this attack is unsigned, but Sean Nolan of the CPI executive attributed it to Ryan in an article in the Irish Workers' Weekly 7 Dec. 1940.) The NISP, against whom the Belfast communists had engaged in fierce public debate on the issue of the workers’ revolution in Spain, objected strenuously to Ryan’s disgraceful slander ,

against their

drew

POUM

comrades and shortly afterwards withDemocrat which collapsed

their support for the Irish

,

before the end of the year. Its strenuous efforts to attract middle-class support had failed completely — but it had alienated

many good

socialists.

in March 1939 when Madrid and Valencia were finally surrendered to Franco. Limited to purely military means, the anti-fascist struggle had been unable to achieve victory over the better-equipped Franco forces. The workers’ revolution had been subverted, and, with the assistance of hundreds of Stalin’s secret police, many revolutionary workers had been murdered. Yet despite the price paid to keep the anti-Franco faction of the Spanish bourgeoisie in power, Stalin failed to convince the Western capitalist nations that his conversion to democracy was genuine. While the Spanish Republic went down to defeat, the alliance with the West did not materialise. In the years of the Spanish civil war the British Communist Party more than doubled its membership, recruiting largely from the ranks of the middle -class intelligentsia. In Ireland, however, the CPI was unable to recruit sufficient numbers

The Spanish

civil

war ended

even to replace those lost in combat or through resignations. certainly proved a massive obstacle

The Catholic reaction had

which all appeals to Christian principles failed to shift. But even without that reaction it is unlikely the Irish communists could have

made much headway with for

appeals,

if

class, at

whom

their Popular

Front

no reason other than that the liberal middle so much of their propaganda was aimed, was

virtually non-existent in Ireland.

The Unpopular Popular Front

175

Po li tic a l Cap itu la tio n

The Communist

had a telling effect on its 1937 there was a resurworkers fought for better pay

Party’s moderation

relationship with militant workers. In

gence of industrial unrest as and conditions and, in many instances, for the closed shop. By far the most significant strike of the period was that involving 15,000 building workers in Dublin and Cork. The strike, for higher wages and shorter hours, began on 13 April and lasted twenty-seven weeks, but the final settlement was so complex that neither side could claim a clear victory. Although several CPI members in Dublin were building workers, the party had shown no inclination to initiate any rank-and-file activity, and at the end of the strike Christy

communist in the industry, complained of the over-reliance on union officials and expressed disappointment at the lack of militancy throughout (ZD, 9 Oct. Clarke, the leading

1937). At the height of the strike the Dail had been dissolved and a general election called for 1 July. On the same day a new constitution for the state was put to referendum. It aimed to establish a republican form of government in all but name

and claimed jurisdiction over all thirty-two Irish counties. the dismay of all concerned with civil liberties it incorporated a heavy dose of Catholic social policy. Civil rights were guaranteed ‘subject to public order and morality’; private property, religion and the family were enshrined in law; divorce was prohibited, and a woman’s place was emphatically declared to be in the home. Without hesitation the Communist Party denounced the constitution, which, it said, ‘bears from beginning to end the reactionary clamour of recent years’ and in which the influence of ‘clerical fascism’ was strong. The section on the family was said to have ‘a suspiciously Hitlerite ring’, while its claim on the Six Counties was attacked vehemently:

To

De Valera and

the Catholic Hierarchy [the CPI maintained] are evidently determined to prove to the Northern

masses that union with their fellow-countrymen of the South does mean that they will be placed under the heel of the Vatican. The Protestant masses will never accept this and rightfully so. (Inprecorr 5 June 1937) ,

176

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

This unambiguous stand against the constitution soon gave way to unconditional support for de Valera’s efforts to unite Ireland under the constitution. In the general election the party initially proposed running its own candidate, Bill Scott, the first Irishman to fight in Spain. Scott was a building worker, and the CPI apparently to capitalise on the builders’ strike to win electoral

hoped

support. But Scott was eventually withdrawn in favour of

Frank Ryan, temporarily home from Spain, who stood as a ‘United Front Against Fascism’ candidate. In its election manifesto the CPI did not call for the ousting of Fianna Fail, but only for the replacement of the existing opposition ‘by a vigorous working-class and republican opposition’ — to make Fianna Fail ‘fight’. In both the election and the referendum Fianna Fail suffered serious setbacks. The constitution was accepted, but only by a small majority, while a quarter of the electorate did not vote, and the population of the North, over whom it claimed jurisdiction, had no say either way. In the election there was a marked swing to the Labour Party, which gained five seats, while Fianna Fail, with eight fewer, was again left dependent on Labour’s support in the Dail. Republican disquiet at the government’s vindictive treatment of the IRA since the ban of 1936 was probably the main reason for the swing away from Fianna Fail, while Labour attracted republican support through the appeal of its ‘Workers’ Republic’ constitution and also benefited from the revival of workingclass militancy and the growth of trade union membership. The Communist Party, although it secured no direct advantage from the upturn in Labour’s fortunes, was greatly encouraged by that party’s electoral success, which it described vaguely as

‘a

victory for the electorate over reaction’. Al-

though Ryan polled only 875 votes, the left could console itself with the fact that both Paddy Belton and the former leading Blueshirt General Richard Mulcahy lost their seats — Mulcahy’s going to Larkin senior, who stood as ‘Independent Labour’. In June 1938 there was another general election after the government was defeated in the Dail. Fianna Fail completely regained the ground lost in 1937, while the Labour Party lost

The Unpopular Popular Front

111

four seats. The main reason for the swing back to Fianna Fail was the ending of the ‘economic war’ through the Anglo-Irish agreement, signed by de Valera and the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the previous April. The agreement was principally concerned with harmonising trade and commerce, and de Valera crowned the deal by securing the return of the Irish naval bases ceded to Britain under the 1921 Treaty. At the same time he guaranteed that the Free State — henceforth to be known as Eire — would never be used as a launchingpad for an attack on Britain. The Communist Party’s response to this agreement was determined by the current state of international power politics. Only a few weeks before it was signed Hitler had annexed Austria with no opposition from the Chamberlain government. The CPI now believed that war was inevitable and that when it came Britain would side with Hitler to attack Russia. Where previously the Irish communists had tempered their denunciations of British imperialism in the hope that a military alliance with Stalin might materialise,

they ing

now that

reverted to militant anti-British propaganda. Arguthe Anglo-Irish agreement safeguarded Britain’s

western flank in its coming war with the Soviet Union, the Communist Party denounced it as ‘one of the most easily purchased triumphs yet achieved by British imperialist policy in relation to Ireland’. The party’s statement concluded on a note of militancy not heard for many years:

The working

class of Ireland cannot be a party to the de Valera/Chamberlain pact. The period of revolutionary struggle of the Irish people for their complete national and social emancipation enters a new and greater scale. Inprecorr 8 May 1938) .

.

.

(.

,

This analysis, however, was to change completely when, Munich crisis of September 1938, British public opinion swung sharply away from the appeasement policies of Chamberlain and an alliance between Britain and Russia after the

once again seemed possible. To argue for such an alignment, however, the CPI had again to revise its attitude towards British imperialism, and particularly to the Anglo-Irish agreement. Sean Murray undertook the task, writing in January

178

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

1939: ‘The Chamberlain/de Valera agreement settled the chief problems in dispute between the Irish and British Governments so far as “Southern Ireland” is concerned.’ (IfiVF, 28 Jan. 1939) The only outstanding issue was partition, which stood in the way of ‘co-operation in matters of defence’, and the removal of which would ‘strengthen the Anglo-Irish democratic front in face of the common threat to democracy and peace of Nazi Fascism’. Murray went on to declare that the CPI fully supported de Valera’s efforts to end partition — which in fact amounted to little more than a call for the transfer to Dublin of Westminster’s powers over the Six Counties. Murray concluded by describing Fianna Fail as ‘truly representative of the Nationalist masses’. The rehabilitation of de Valera was now complete. If Ireland could be united through

negotiations between the capitalist governments in

London

and Dublin, it would become a ‘free’ country ready to join Britain in a war pact. Not only were the concepts of economic domination and exploitation completely expunged from the analysis, but in backing de Valera’s anti-partition proposals the communists were now prepared to abandon the ‘Protestant masses’ to their fate under the ‘clerical fascist’ constitution of 1937 — the constitution that would govern de Valera’s united Ireland. No sooner had Murray declared in de Valera’s favour when Fianna Fail introduced the Offences Against the State Act and began interning republicans, the first time such powers had been used since the civil war ended in 1923. The reason for this latest attack was the IRA’s English bombing campaign which began in January 1939. Throughout the campaign the CPI denounced the IRA for ‘helping Hitler’ and continued to support de Valera’s efforts to unite Ireland by peaceful and constitutional means. As communist praise for de Valera rose, Fianna Fail moved closer than ever to the conservative centre of the Irish political spectrum. In Britain the IRA campaign was met with the Prevention of Violence Act, which gave the Home Secretary powers to expel Irish citizens and to exclude others trying to enter Britain. The British police could write their own search-warrants and now had the power to arrest and detain suspects for five days without warrants. Both the British and Irish Communist Parties remained silent in the face of this growing repression.

The Unpopular Popular Front *

*

179

*

In the North in this period the party concentrated its efforts on a campaign to dislodge the appeasers of Hitler — a campaign that paralleled that of the British Communist Party —

ignoring completely the question of partition. In pursuit of ‘progressive’ allies against the ‘Tory’ government in Belfast the communists proposed some strange liaisons. Against a background of soaring unemployment a prominent Unionist businessman and Westminster MP, W. J. Stewart, broke from the Unionist Party in 1937 to form his own self-styled Progressive Unionist group which combined support for the Union and partition with populist appeals on unemployment, housing and agricultural issues. Its overtly pro-imperialist

notwithstanding, the Communist Party in Belfast the first chance to broaden the Popular Front beyond the tenuous links it had made with the Labour Party. Tommy Watters, a leading member in the Belfast branch, wrote that ‘This movement of the middle class can play an important part in the political life of the North,’ and he called on the NILP to form an alliance with Stewart. This, said Watters, was ‘practical politics’ (ID, 19 June 1937). At the same time Billy McCullough introduced the most significant revision yet in communist thinking on the Northern state when he declared it essential to ‘replace the official Unionist gang with a progressive government at Stormont’ (ibid.). The idea that the Six-County partitioned state could be ruled by a progressive government was to dominate communist strategy in the years ahead, but McCullough’s call for such a regime in 1937 marked a unique break from all previous communist analysis of partition and its effects on the working class. A minor conflict between the Unionist government and the Presbyterian Church set the scene for the next proposed extension of the Popular Front. In October 1937 the Presbyterian Moderator, the Rev. Dr Johnston, had been fined for contempt of court, and during the proceedings he accused the government of trampling on the ‘freedoms’ won in the loyalist revolt of 1912-14. The CPI immediately proposed that Johnston and his followers join the still elusive progressive alliance (ID, 16 Oct. 1937). policies

saw

in

Stewart’s group

180

Commun ism

in

Mo dern Ire land

But it was still primarily to the NILP that the communists looked for unity, for ‘whatever its past weaknesses,’ the CPI said, ‘it holds the key to the immediate future of the people of Northern Ireland’ ( Inprecorr 13 Nov. 1937). The unity policy was put to the test at the NILP conference in October. Billy McCullough had been nominated for the Labour Party executive by the Belfast Trades Council, and there were important left-unity resolutions on the agenda. In the event, however, the NILP executive, under Midgley’s guidance, refused to even accept McCullough’s nomination, and the call for unity of the left was defeated by 90 votes to 20. Official Northern Labour remained firmly right of centre, but still the CPI urged: ‘Build up the Labour Party the only effec,

.

.

.

tive alternative to Craigavon.’ (ibid.)

When the Stormont general election came round in February 1938 the Labour/Progressive Unionist alliance was unthought of outside communist circles. Stewart’s group failed win a seat, and six of the NILP’s seven candidates were defeated, including Midgley, on whose behalf the CPI had campaigned vigorously. The Unionist Party, campaigning solely against hire’s new constitution with its Catholic social doctrines and claims on the North, increased its vote from 72,000 of 1933 to 186,000. In the midst of an even deeper depression than that of 1932 the Unionist bosses had easily

to

closed the ranks of their

all-class alliance,

while the CPI’s

pursuit of right-wing Labour and Progressive Unionists left

no room for independent agitation on the unprecedented unemployment crisis. What was more, de Valera’s 1937 constitution, which contributed so much to the Unionist revival, was, as we have seen, soon accepted by the Communist Party as the framework for a united Ireland. The Communist Party’s twists and turns in the 1937-39 period had a devastating effect on party organisation — which virtually disintegrated. In August 1938 the four-monthold Workers' Republic the CPI’s own successor to the Irish ceased publication. The paper’s name belied its politics; in style and content it was designed for a middle,

Democrat

,

class audience rather than for workers. Party activity now consisted almost entirely of discussing what others were doing. The CPI’s failure to win the allies it sought seemed to

The Unpopular Popular Front

181

have produced a state of paralysis. The Dublin section, composed largely of former republican activists whose antiimperialism proved stronger than their loyalty to Moscow, virtually collapsed. Several of its best-known figures had drifted away without explanation, among them Jim Larkin junior, the only remaining prominent trade union militant. Others left to work in the now flourishing arms industry in Britain.

In the North the party’s support for Britain — albeit a — enabled it to hold onto, and even to slightly increase, the support it had in the largely

Britain purged of the appeasers

Protestant trade unions, while

the

anti-partitionist noises

coming from Dublin — albeit from behind de Valera and for a war alliance with Britain — ensured that it retained a foothold in the Catholic districts too. But it was still very weak. Tommy Geehan, its most respected and best-known leader, had resigned, while Loftus Johnston had gone to England. Betty Sinclair and Billy McCullough struggled hard to keep the remaining membership intact. The sectarian riots in Belfast in 1935; the anti-communist campaign in the Free State during the Spanish civil war; the unflinching hostility of the Labour Parties, North and South; and the deepening economic depression — all had undoubtedly taken their toll on the Communist Party. But pursuit of the ever-elusive Popular Front through the abandonment of militancy, coupled with the subordination of all theory and practice to the foreign policy

had

also contributed

requirements of the Soviet Union, to the near-collapse of the com-

much

munist movement in Ireland.

9

Communism

in the

Second World

War

Just ' War or ‘Imperialist ' War?

'

By the beginning of 1939 the Irish Communist Party had prepared itself to support the British ruling class in the event of a war against Germany. A new party paper, Irish Workers' Weekly appeared on 29 April. Its first issue declared emphati,

Labour must place the interests of the working and come out clearly against the worst enemy — fascism. We cannot be neutral against fascism, for peace and against war.’ This remained the party’s view until news broke on an amazed world on 23 August that Stalin had cally:

‘Irish

class first .

.

.

signed a pact of non-aggression with Hitler. A week later the Nazis invaded Poland, and on 3 September Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Six Counties were at war; the Twenty -six remained neutral. The communist parties of the world had not been forewarned of Stalin’s intentions, and his pact with Hitler shook them to their very foundations. The Workers' Weekly of 26 August reported the pact under a strange headline: ‘Soviet Union’s Policy Strengthens Peace’. But it continued to advocate mobilisation against the ‘Nazi aggressors’. An official party statement, dated 6 September, read:

The Communist Party of Ireland has no hesitiation in saying that the cardinal enemy of the national liberty of all and peoples is fascism. It brands fascism as the deadly foe of peace, of honourable dealing between men and nations, the enslaver of working men, the mortal The working-class movement of enemy of civilisation. all lands will battle for the downfall of the fascist lands

.

.

tyrannies.

.

.

.

.

(IWW, 16 Sept. 1939)

Communism

in the

Second World War

183

The only complaint was that neither Chamberlain nor Craigavon was sufficiently determined in the prosecution of the war.

Support for British capitalism’s ‘anti-fascist’ war was the outcome of the whole Popular Front strategy, but it did not last long. At the end of September, on direct orders from Moscow, Britain’s war was suddenly rechristened ‘imperialist’ and the epithets ‘just’ and ‘democratic’ were dropped. This latest turn caused even greater consternation. The anti-fascist middle classes, wooed for over five years, were now imperialist warmongers; the Popular Front, for what it was worth, was dead. To struggle against one’s own ruling class was now the primary duty of communists. Although there were some fairly heated discussions in Belfast and Dublin, the volte-face was eventually accomplished with few defections, and by October the communists were calling for peace. But it was to be peace on Hitler's terms. logical

The

fascist countries are talking for

peace [the CPI dec-

non-aggression pacts with the Soviet Union, discarding their anti-communist war-cries. There is little doubt that the peace proposals will have the careful consideration of the working-class movement everywhere. (IWW 14 Oct. 1939) lared]

entering

,

.

.

.

,

The terms which the communists wished to see accepted would have left fascism firmly installed in Germany, Italy, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Austria and half of Poland, as well as extending it to Germany’s pre-First World War colonies. In these new circumstances Ireland’s communists again

phenomenon of

imperialism and they readopted a militant stand on workers’ economic struggles. Harry Midgley, the NILP and all anti-fascist Unionists were now branded as reactionary imperialists, and those who refused Hitler’s discovered

opposed

it

the

vigorously.

‘peace’ overtures

British

Simultaneously

were dubbed the aggressors. A campaign from the war began in

for the withdrawal of the Six Counties

October, and the first public meetings held for some time were called around this demand. A resolution adopted at one such rally in December stated:

The declared slogans about democracy and

liberty

are

Communism

184

in

Modern Ireland

smokescreens concealing the imperialist aims of the ruling [who] are waging war to defend their colonial circles plunder. Any fight for liberty or a better life abroad is a sham while these are denied at home. We demand therefore that the Six Counties withdraw from the conflict. .

.

.

.

.

.

(IWW,

1

Jan. 1940)

This analysis was applied by the CPI with seemingly proachable logic to the Irish situation:

The

British National

Government

is

irre-

financially subsidis-

ing and guarding with British troops in the partitioned area a regime which

is the nearest approach to Hitler Fascism in the whole English-speaking world. (WNV, 16 Sept. 1939)

How

then, the communists asked, could Britain possibly be war for democracy?

fighting a

Co-operation with the IRA was again possible, and to emphasise the point the party stated:

When its

the British Empire

becomes involved

in a

war with

imperialist rivals, Ireland has always taken advantage

of her difficulties to strike a blow for her independence. The existence of the Irish Communist Party ensures that British imperialism’s difficulties will once more be taken advantage of. (ibid.) .

.

.

.

.

.

In Belfast communists and republicans united in a militant campaign for the release of Peter Barnes and James McCor-

mick, two

IRA men

sentenced to death for their part in a

England in which five people died. When one reprieve meeting was banned communists and IRA supporters fought with the RUC on the Falls Road, and when Barnes and McCormick were executed in February 1940 — for actions which the CPI had denounced at the time of their occurrence as ‘helping Hitler’ — the Workers’ Weekly said the two IRA men had ‘trod the path to the gallows in a definite and imperishable cause, none other than the liberation of a nation’ (IWW, 10 Feb. 1940). In April 1940 the Workers’ Weekly was banned in the Six Counties under the Special Powers Act. Its virulently antiBritish tone, its sympathy for the IRA and support for illegal

bombing incident

in

Communism strikes in the

in the

Second World War

war industries had inevitably brought

185 it

into

was restricted to £ire, while the Northern communists produced their own — the Red Hand — which carried on the same propaganda. In October it too was banned, and Betty Sinclair and Billy McCullough were jailed for one and two years respectively — reduced on appeal to two and four months — for publishing an article by Belfast IRA man Jack Brady which advocated "enlisting foreign aid for our cause’, taken by the courts to imply Nazi aid (Red Hand 24 Aug. 1940). Another party leader, Val Morahan, was jailed for eighteen months for possessing a party manifesto that called on workers to ‘intensify the class struggle push ahead the struggle for complete liberation from British imperialism’. His sentence was reduced on appeal to three months, suggesting that the state did not believe the communists posed conflict with the authorities. Henceforth the paper

,

.

.

.

a very serious threat.

In Britain in this period the

CPGB and

its Irish

immigrant

offshoot, the Connolly Association, demanded an end to partition and conducted a ‘Hands Off Ireland’ campaign to

counter Churchill’s demands for the use of the Irish naval Willie Gallacher wrote a hard-hitting pamphlet in defence of Irish neutrality in which he recounted the horrors of British rule in Ireland, denounced Churchill as an archimperialist, and ridiculed all who urged Eire to join Britain’s imperialist war (Gallacher 1941). The British party also had published a collection of James Connolly’s First World War writings, which created the impression that the communists would not look unfavourably on another rising (Connolly bases.

1941).

The CPGB’s campaign on the

Irish issue

was the most

militant seen since the beginning of the ‘economic war’ in

1932.

Some

party and Connolly Association

members moved Among them

to Ireland to strengthen the anti-war agitation.

were Michael Mclnerney, originally from Limerick,

came

who

be-

Communist Party Birmingham optician who

full-time industrial organiser of the

and Frank Herbert, a assumed a leading position in the Dublin branch.

in Belfast,

This militant anti-imperialist phase of the CPI’s history its last expression in a campaign against the introduction of conscription to the Six Counties, a move proposed

found

Communism

186

in

Modern

Ireland

by the new Prime Minister, J. M. Andrews, who succeeded Craigavon on his death in November 1940. The threat of conscription led to a huge protest movement, by no means confined to nationalist quarters, and the CPI put all its resources into the struggle until the proposal was finally withdrawn. Wartime conditions in industry also offered unlimited scope for communist agitation. While prices and profits soared, wages stood still and strikes, illegal under the Defence of the Realm Act, were frequent. Although fairly small in phase of the war, these strikes laid the basis for the important development in wartime working-class organisation — the Belfast shop stewards’ movement. Most of the strikes were led by Labour Party militants who rejected Midgley’s call for a ‘class truce’, and although the CPI was rarely strong enough to provide independent leadership, it supported every strike without exception. As a consequence it recruited some trade union militants in this period and was able to maintain a foothold in the Trades Council. Sinclair the

first

most

was elected to

its

executive, and McCullough was re-elected (NUR) and its delegate to the

secretary of his union branch

Trades Council while still in prison for the Red Hand affair. But support for the party’s industrial policies did not imply acceptance of its attitude to the war. While the CPI’s stand against the North’s involvement in the war appeared to have revolutionary implications, the appearance was illusory. The Belfast communists did not advocate the overthrow of the Orange state, but simply called for ‘changes’ at

Stormont that would remove the most

warlike Unionists and, they hoped, pave the

way

for negoti-

ated reunification. Ireland, united under de Valera’s leadership, would remain neutral (IW7W 29 June, 6 July 1940). Even Cahir Healy, the right-wing Nationalist leader whose alleged Nazi connections eventually landed him in Brixton prison, was considered a potential ally in this campaign. Nor did the communists propose any alternative to imperialist war as a means of defeating fascism internationally. National,

ism and pacifism, not international proletarian revolution, were the CPI’s proposed solutions.

Communism

in the

Second World War

187

In £ire working-class conditions were even worse than in the North. Largely as a reprisal for the feire government’s refusal to hand back the naval bases, the export of basic industrial requisites from Britain to Ireland was drastically reduced; industry stagnated and unemployment soared; black marketeering forced prices up steeply; and there was strict rationing of basic working-class foodstuffs. Social welfare payments were frozen, and in May 1941 a wage freeze was introduced. During 1941-43 some 85,000 emigrated, while 50,000 joined the British army. As Britain was widely held responsible for much of the misery, anti-British feeling hardened. At the outbreak of the war the government had assumed new emergency powers, and early in 1940 a dozen or so members of the Communist Party, among them Michael O’Riordan and other Spanish civil war veterans, were interned. The authorities possibly feared they would offer their services to the IRA, then still ‘at war’ with Britain. While de Valera cut into workers’ living standards and leaned heavily on republicans, and to a lesser extent on the communists as well, the Communist Party in Dublin was

manner for would be replaced by a government of Fine Gael, whom the communists regarded as ‘a pro -imperialist fifth column’ that wanted to drag Eire into the war ‘for the defence of its investments in the Empire’ (IWW, 1 June 1940). Fine Gael had to be kept out of power at all costs if there was to be any chance of reuniting Ireland and ensuring its neutrality. (The CPGB’s anti-imperialist line on Ireland was conditioned by the same approach. Willie Gallacher, in his pamphlet Ireland — Can It Remain Neutral ?, had eulogised de Valera at length without once mentioning reluctant to attack his government in a forceful fear that

if it

became too unpopular

it

domestic policies.) While Southern working-class militancy Communist Party in Dublin continued to stagnate, and other forces emerged on the left to take the initiative. In April 1940 two leaders of the Dublin Unemployed Workers’ Movement, Tom Dunne and Steve Daly, were interned after organising a successful agitation against a government scheme of forced labour for the production of turf. The outcry in the labour movement was so great that the two were released within a week (Torch, 4 May 1940). The CPI his

rose, the

188

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

was not involved with the DUWM, which was led by Labour Party militants, some of whom, like its secretary Tommy Reilly and the interned Daly, were Trotskyists, members of the Irish section of the Fourth International. (The FI had been set up by Trotsky in 1938.) At the beginning of the war several British Trotskyists had moved to Ireland to avoid suppression by the British government. They were members of the Workers’ International League, the British section of the FI. Throughout the war they maintained that Britain’s aims were imperialist and argued that the only sure way to defend the Soviet Union was by fighting the class war at home. Some recruiting was done in Dublin before most of the group returned to England. Tommy Reilly, a Scot, remained, while two others went to Belfast, where, as

we

movement made The Dublin Trotskyists worked inside

shall see, the Trotskyist

a considerable impact.

the Labour Party and contributed frequent articles to a new Dublin Labour Party paper, the Torch. Reilly

left-wing

founded the Crumlin branch of the Labour Party and was secretary. Paddy Trench, a League member who had worked as a journalist with the POUM in Spain, was secretary of the Pearse Street branch. Mick Price and Owen SheehySkeffington, both prominent in the Dublin Labour Party leadership, were reputedly sympathetic to but did not join the Trotskyist movement. The largest single group of Trotskyist supporters in Eire comprised IRA men interned at the Curragh, most prominent among whom was Eoin MacNamee, a Northerner and former Quartermaster-General. They were attracted to the movement by its consistent antiimperialism which was combined with militant anti-fascism. The Communist Party denounced the Trotskyists as Hitler’s agents, but in the Curragh at least they outnumbered the Stalinists. While the communists urged Fianna Fail to make itself ‘more popular’ with the working class by ‘equalising the hardships of war’ (IWW, 8 Mar. 1941), militant workers gravitated towards the Labour Party where, at grassroots its first

level, socialist politics flourished.

*

*

*

Communist policy of advocating Irish neutrality under Fianna

Communism

in the

Second World War

was soon to change. Whatever hopes

Fail

189

Stalin entertained

for a long-term arrangement with Hitler, they were suddenly

shattered when, on 22 June 1941, German forces invaded the Soviet Union. In July an Anglo-Soviet pact for mutual aid

was signed, and the final about-turn attitude to the war was now effected that Britain was, after

all,

in the as

communists’ decreed

Moscow

fighting for the restoration of

democracy and the liberation of humanity.

Britain’s

war

ceased to be imperialist through the association of its ruling class with communist Russia. The Irish communists immediately dropped their campaign for the withdrawal of the Six Counties from the war, declared their own war on strikes, opposed the continuation of Eire’s neutrality, and again denounced the IRA as ‘agents of Hitler’. During the First World War Lenin had posed this very question: when does an imperialist war cease to be imperialist? He answered:

Only when the class which is conducting the imperialist war, and is bound to it by a million economic threads (and even ropes), is really overthrown and is replaced at the helm of state by a really revolutionary class, the proletariat. There is no other way of getting out of an imperialist

war.

.

.

.

The

socialist,

the revolutionary proletarian,

the internationalist ... he says, ‘The character of the war depends on what class is waging the war and on what .

.

.

politics the

war

is

a continuation of.’ (Lenin 1967: 59-64)

Neither the British ruling class nor its Six-County appendage had been overthrown, and the communists, far from suggesting that they should be, now emerged as advocates of wholehearted collaboration with them. The communists, of course, justified their support for the war on the grounds that Britain was now an ally of the Soviet Union. This attitude, however, contrasted sharply with the view expressed some years earlier when, in answer to the selfaddressed question ‘Supposing Fascist Germany attacks the USSR, are you now in favour of the workers supporting the British or French Governments?’, the communists had answered:

Under no circumstances. Such action would help the

190

Communism

German

in

Modern Ireland

it would immensely strengthen the and weaken the British workers; it would

capitalists ...

British capitalists,

put British imperialism in the event of a victory in a favourable position for attacking the USSR; it would mean suppressing the inevitable revolt in India and the Empire.

(CPGB 1934:

22-3)

CPGB’s leading theoretician, Palme Dutt, few months before the Nazi attack on the

In similar vein the

had written

just a

USSR: The

apologists of imperialism dilate

on the menace of a

Hitler military victory to the interests of the international

working class. But they completely ignore what the world domination of Anglo-American reaction, whose victory their policy is promoting, means for the workers of the world. Rather than face the facts, they endeavour to paint a fantastic rose-coloured picture of the lords of the City

and Wall Street

as pioneers

of a popular revolution. (Labour Monthly Feb. 1941) ,

After the Soviet Union was attacked few laid on the rosecoloured paint thicker than the communists. In the same article Dutt had gone on to argue forcefully against an Allied invasion of Europe — agaiii, something the communists campaigned for fiercely after the USSR’s entry into the war. He analysed the call for invasion in terms of its likely effects on proletarian revolution, arguing that the invading armies would be

intended for use after the collapse of the Hitler regime, and the spread of the maturing socialist revolution in Europe, for the ‘maintenance of order’ in Europe. ... In such a situation of general disorder, with spreading civil war, and with the popular forces still poorly armed and only

and disciplined army of one could do a great deal to take over from Hitler the task of holding down the peoples of

partially organised, a trained

million

men

in the field

for in Europe and strangling the socialist revolution fact the army would, of course, be presented as an ‘army .

.

.

of liberation’.

These were prophetic words, but at the time of writing them

Communism

in the

Second World War

191

Dutt could not prophesy that in a very short while his own party, and the CPI equally, would be insisting that the Allied forces were indeed an ‘army of liberation’.

Liquidation Class Struggle and Twenty -six-County Neutrality ,

Once

again the CPI found itself out of step with nationalist opinion and at odds with the working-class movement in Eire. The Torch for example, had argued forcefully that ,

the

German

attack

on Russia

in

no way

altered Britain’s

war

aims, which remained imperialist (Torch, 3 July 1941). Its opposition to neutrality meant that the Communist Party in

Dublin was even more isolated and unpopular than before. As a consequence the national committee took a far-reaching decision: on 10 July 1941 it recommended the dissolution of the Dublin branch — the only branch left in Eire — and the entry of its members, individually, into the Labour Party where they would ‘adhere to the principle of working in a conscious way and in an organised manner’ (CPI 1975b: 31). Rank-and-file members were not easily convinced by the arguments for liquidation, and a second meeting had to be called. According to one account, the vote was eleven to nine in favour of dissolution, and the decision was carried on the votes of the British communists who had come over when the war began and who acted on instructions from the central committee of the CPGB (Bums 1943). The opposition was led by rank-and-file member Barney Larkin, the least well known of James Larkin’s three sons. Some Dublin branch members refused to join the Labour Party but were unable to sustain a viable communist organisation outside. Neil Goold-Verschoyle, a party member who had been interned, attempted to reorganise the dissidents into a new communist party on his release from the Curragh, but was ordered to desist

by the

and he soon

The

Belfast leadership. His efforts

came

to nothing,

left Ireland.

liquidation of the Communist Party in the TwentyCounties occurred at a time when working-class militancy rose to a pitch not seen since the early 1930s. The revolt was sparked off by two government measures: a total wage freeze under the Wages Standstill Order, and the attempted limitasix

Communism

192

in

tion of trade union licences

Modern Ireland autonomy by

under a Trade Union

also seen as an attack

on

Bill.

the introduction of state

This latter measure was

British-based unions, as negotiating

were to be granted only to unions whose headquarters was widely suspected that the leaders of the ITGWU collaborated with the government in preparing the bill; they certainly stood to gain much from it and did not rights

were

in Eire. It

participate in the struggle against

it.

Opposition to both measures coalesced around the Dublin Trades Council which set up a Council of Action to lead the protest. This body published its own paper, Workers' Action, which advocated militant mass struggle on the streets. The workers were in a mood to respond. On 15 June the Council of Action held thirty meetings in Dublin with over a hundred speakers, and similar councils were set up in Cork, Waterford and Drogheda (Workers' Action, 21 June 1941). On 22 June, the very day Russia was invaded, 20,000 workers demonstrated in Dublin under Council of Action auspices. Larkin senior defiantly burned a copy of the Trade Union Bill on the platform, and even the moderate Labour TD James Hickey called for the overthrow of capitalism. After the invasion of Russia the CPI began calling for a Labour/Fianna Fail coalition government which would be urged to establish friendly relations with the North, secure greater trade with Britain and pave the way for £ire’s entry to the war (IWW 6 Sept. 1941). Simultaneously the communists advocated that the official labour leaders take over the direction of the militant workers’ struggle so as to prove their potential power and convince Fianna Fail of the merits of having them in government. At the ITUC conference in July 1941 Betty Sinclair, the first Communist Party member to attend as a delegate, and representing the Belfast Trades Council, declared: ,

What

the people want is a lead from the responsible people. ... If Dan O’Connell could sweep the country in his day, then I think Mr Norton [leader of the Labour Party] and his colleagues can do so in present circumstances.

The

(ITUC 1941: 110)

call to

emulate

Dan

O’Connell, staunch

enemy of

Irish

Communism

in the

Second World War

193

trade unionism, was rather unfortunate, but Sinclair’s message was clear. The call for ‘responsible’ leadership was soon answered as the Council of Action gradually relinquished its leading position to the executive of the ITUC and the administrative council of the Labour Party. Both these bodies strongly opposed the government’s measures, but they were more inclined to rely on parliamentary methods than on militant mass action. Under their responsible leadership it was soon

decided that public protest would be replaced by action in the Dail to have the measures repealed. By the time of the 1942 ITUC conference the retreat was in full swing: Labour

TDs were instructed to seek amendments to the Trade Union Act rather than its repeal, and after a few minor changes the

ITUC

executive declared

its

willingness to co-operate with

Most unions had now applied for state licences. Opposition to the wage freeze tapered off in similar fashion.

the act.

In January 1942, at the height of the official campaign, the ITUC executive submitted a memorandum to the government stating that in ‘the present crisis confronting the State the unions and wage -earners are prepared to bear their fair .

.

.

.

.

.

share of the burden imposed by the exigencies of the present emergency and are willing to make all necessary sacrifices’ (ITUC 1942: 51). The following year’s conference was told that while wages had risen by only ten per cent since the start of the war, prices had risen by sixty per cent. Under different circumstances the Communist Party might have provided a .

.

.

focus for the discontent over the official leaders’ handling of the struggle, but the Communist Party in Dublin had been liquidated into the Labour Party, where their advocacy of

them in no position to counter, even ideologically, the labour leaders’ assertions that the working class had a duty to help save the capitalist state in its moment of deep crisis. a Labour/Fianna Fail coalition left

prevented open advocacy of hire’s entry war in the pages of the Workers' Weekly and as the paper was still banned in the North the decision was taken in October 1941 to cease publication altogether. But censorship did not prevent the Belfast communists from calling on Eire Strict censorship

to the

,

to join forces with Britain. ‘The present neutrality attitude

of the Twenty-six Counties’, lamented Billy McCullough,

194 ‘has

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

been a matter of grave concern to democratic opinion.

indeed strange to find that part of Ireland out of step with the rest of progressive mankind.’ (McCullough 1942a: 14) Assuming that Fine Gael, the ‘pro -imperialist fifth column’ of the year before, was in favour of entering the war, McCullough called in October 1942 for ‘the formation of a coalition government composed of the best elements of the three major political parties’ and urged the Labour Party to ‘place this demand at the forefront of its immediate policy’ (McCullough 1942b: 25, 37). When in January 1944 Richard Mulcahy (commander of the pro -Treaty forces in the civil war and a prominent Blueshirt in the 1930s) succeeded Cosgrave as leader of Fine Gael, the Communist Party in Belfast expressed its pleasure as he had called for an end to hire’s isolationism (Unity, 12 Feb. 1944). When in November 1944 he advocated an Anglo-Irish military alliance he was hailed as a staunch democrat and lover of liberty (Irish Freedom Dec. 1944; Jan. 1945). Few Southern workers could accept the communists’ description of Britain’s war as one for democracy. At the 1942 ITUC conference an anti-fascist resolution moved by Betty Sinclair, which, inter alia approved Britain’s war aims, was rejected by 47 votes to 43. One delegate pointed to the 400 republican internees in the North, ‘workers and members of It

is

,

,

their class

.

.

.jailed for their political beliefs’,

that the sort of democracy the war

and asked:

‘Is

being fought for?’ (ITUC 1942: 155-8). At the following year’s conference Billy McCullough, representing the Trades Council, successfully moved a resolution greeting ‘with admiration the struggle of the democratic peoples the world over against Fascism’ (ITUC 1943: 125). The voting, 50 for and 28 against, with 128 abstentions, showed that the majority of workers remained sceptical. Another delegate probably expressed majority feeling when he declared that is

Britain was fighting to retain her markets, retain her Empire and to retain control over the workers. That Empire was established on the blood and tears of the countries Britain had invaded. We in Ireland have a long and bitter history of this thing. ... We have no sympathy with these war aims and we never had. (ibid.: 127)

Communism

Second World War

in the

195

McCullough, however, chose to interpret the ITUC vote very differently:

may be accepted as Government policy, but it where the sympathies of the mass of the people lie, There was nothing unparticularly the working class. There was certain about the answer given at the ITUC. Neutrality

is

clear

.

.

.

.

.

.

the real feeling of the Irish people being expressed. The task now facing the people of Ireland, particularly the Labour movement, is to campaign for the changing of the neutrality policy of the

Government. (McCullough 1943b:

9)

The former members of the Dublin branch of the CPI were end to neutrality. Instead they concentrated on building up the Labour Party and increasing

reluctant to call openly for an

electoral support — but still with the ultimate if undeclared aim of putting it into a coalition that would bring feire into the war. Shortly after the communists entered the Labour Party James Larkin senior and junior were both accepted into membership, and at the same time thousands of workers its

by the struggle (then still in its militant phase) against the wage freeze and Trade Union Bill (LP 1944: 2). The communists, together with the Larkins and a group of left-wing militants, formed the Central branch

joined, influenced

1942 — an event that was to have farconsequences. The leading communists in the branch were Frank Herbert, formerly of the CPGB; Robin Tweedy, one of the few middle-class intellectuals recruited in the Popular Front period; and Sean Nolan, active in the communist movement since the mid-1920s and formerly of the CPUs national committee. Besides the Larkins, they worked closely with John de Courcy Ireland, who had been expelled from the NILP in 1940 for his strong anti-partitionist views; Ned Tucker, veteran of the Irish Worker League; Charles Kenny, president of the miniscule Tailors’ Union and previously associated with the Friends of Soviet Russia; and Harry Ryan, a popular independent Dublin socialist. This group formed a well-organised nucleus in the Central branch, producing their own weekly bulletin which was circulated widely within the party and the unions. Their energy and dedication did much to boost the Labour Party’s fortunes

at the beginning of

reaching

in the

coming period.

196

Communism

in

Modern

Labour did exceptionally ment elections and, as the

Ireland well in the 1942 local govern-

largest group on the Dublin Corporation, secured the nomination of Martin O’Sullivan as the first-ever Labour Lord Mayor of the city. Sean Nolan had been O’Sullivan’s election agent. With the backing of a huge campaign by the Central branch Larkin senior was elected to the Corporation with the highest Labour vote in Dublin. The swing to Labour was maintained in the general election of June 1943, in which the party fielded enough candidates to form a government and campaigned on the slogan ‘Labour to Power’. Although Labour won seventeen seats and nearly one -sixth of all votes cast, it did not do as well as it had expected; the working-class militancy of 1941-42 had by now ebbed. Both the Larkins, however, were elected, with Larkin senior again polling the highest Labour vote in Dublin. Commenting on the election results the Communist Party in Belfast advised the Labour Party to ‘take a realistic approach win the attention of the more democratic elements inside Fianna Fail and state clearly in the Dail [your] willingness to take a share of responsibility in a coalition government’. Labour was urged to organise ‘an energetic and continuous mass campaign’, not for socialism, which would be hot divisive, but around ‘such vital requirements as school meals, free school books and increased army pay and allowances’ (Unity, 3 July 1943). Proposing increased pay for the army was a novel departure for the communists, and all the more significant given that the army’s major role at this time was holding hundreds of republicans and a few communists in internment. The left wing in the Central branch, and throughout the Labour Party, had ideas very different to these. They wanted a Labour government with a socialist programme, not a pro-capitalist coalition allied with Britain’s .

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

ruling class.

Just as the Labour Party seemed poised for an unprecedented advance its hopes were shattered by a deep and acrimonious split. In January 1944 the ITGWU, the largest union in the country, which sponsored eight of Labour’s seventeen TDs, disaffiliated from the party, and five of its TDs set up a separate National Labour Party. The two parties were not reunited until 1950. In 1945 the ITGWU and a number of

Communism smaller unions left the

in the

ITUC and

Second World War

197

established the Confedera-

tion of Irish Unions (CIU), excluding

from membership

all

unions with headquarters outside Eire. The Transport Union’s exit from the ITUC was prompted on the one hand by fear that contact between Congress and the World Federation of Trade Unions, which contained the Soviet and other communist-led unions, would lead to political contamination, and on the other hand by a desire to see the CIU displace British-based unions from Ireland under the Trade Union Act. Its ambitions in that direction, however, were dashed when the Supreme Court ruled in 1946 that the relevant part of the act was unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the trade union movement remained divided for the next thirteen years. *

*

*

the Labour Party centred on the former members Party. The reason given by the ITGWU for disaffiliating was that the Labour Party ‘is Communist dominated’ and that ‘a majority of the Administrative Council had

The

split in

of the

Communist

allowed and encouraged admission into the Party of people active members and well known propagandists for the Communist Party’ (ITGWU 1944). Personal animosity between William O’Brien and James Larkin, together with O’Brien’s desire for ITGWU hegemony in the labour movement at large, undoubtedly contributed much to the split, but beneath it lay a concerted attempt to smash the influence of the left among the Labour Party rank and file. In some respects the Irish labour movement in the final years of the war appears as a microcosm of McCarthyite America as a witch-hunt got under way to uncover any within its ranks who might have been tainted by communism. The ‘red scare’, the most effective in the state’s history, was begun by Sean MacEntee, a Fianna Fail government minister, who immediately before the June 1943 general election

who had been

had publicly alleged ‘communist

Labour and informing the electorate that Larkin junior was ‘Moscow trained’ ( Irish Press 19 June 1943). Close behind MacEntee, the ITGWU moved to have Larkin junior expelled from the infiltration’ into the

Party, citing Larkin senior’s past

,

communist

activities

198

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

Labour Party, along with de Courcy Ireland, on a techway in which they had nominated Larkin senior as an election candidate. But the Transport Union was really out to disrupt the Dublin Labour Party executive, which was dominated by the left-wing militants of the Central branch and which the union described as ‘the hub of the Communist organisation inside the Party’. When the expulsion motion failed the ITGWU left the Labour Party, citing the ‘communist takeover’ as its reason. Although the Labour Party denied the allegations, its administrative council set up a commission under party leader William Norton and announced bluntly that ‘Nobody will be allowed to masquerade as a member of the Labour Party with the object of promoting communism.’ (LP 1944: 7) As the Labour Party started its inquisition the right-wing Standard with a weekly circulation of around 80,000, began a series of lurid exposes concerning the alleged communists in the Labour Party. Names, aliases and photographs appeared nicality concerning the

,

alongside a graphic account of each of the accused’s sins. Professor Alfred O’Rahilly, President of University College,

Cork, and a colleague of the former Blueshirt ideologue James Hogan, wrote most if not all of the Standard articles, and he did so with a minutely detailed knowledge that some alleged — as they had done over Hogan’s earlier ‘exposures’ — had its source in Special Branch files. In the midst of this well-orchestrated agitation the Labour Party’s commission of inquiry investigated the thoughts and activities of seventeen prominent left-wingers. The commission’s deferential attitude was summed up by the party’s general secretary, Luke Duffy, who assured the Standard that ‘Communists have no right in the Labour Party; anyone pursuing communist tactics will speedily leave.’ All but four of the seventeen responded to a summons to appear before the commission. Those who did appear were subjected to a trying ordeal as allegations, based on rumours, were presented anonymously, while the ‘accused’ were called upon to either prove their innocence or renounce their past — or present —

None of those who made the original allegations gave testimony; the accused never faced their accusers. These undignified proceedings continued for many months, and by the

beliefs.

Communism

in the

Second World War

199

time of the party’s annual conference in April 1944 six party expelled: Sean Nolan and John de Courcy Ireland, both Dublin party executive members; Michael O’Riordan and William Nagle, secretary and vice-chairman respectively of the large and militant Liam Mellows Branch in Cork; and Charles Kenny and Robin Tweedy. Only three, Nolan, O’Riordan and Tweedy, had been in the old CPI. The official reason offered for the expulsions was that all six had attended a Communist Party congress in Belfast in October 1943. (The expulsion of O’Riordan and Nagle, although for the same misdemeanour, had been ordered by a separate commission set up to investigate an internal dispute in the Cork branch concerning O’Riordan’s defence of the city’s large Jewish population who had been attacked by anti-semitic labour elements.) However, some communists slipped through the net, while the main individual targets of the ‘red scare’, the Larkins, although interrogated, were not in fact expelled.

members had been

Just a week after the expulsions the left-wing Torch ceased publication on the orders of the administrative council, and the Liam Mellows Branch in Cork was soon dissolved. Without question one of the most popular and stimulating labour papers ever produced in Dublin, the Torch had contributed much to the phenomenal growth of the Labour Party in the city. In its place the leadership produced their own tightly controlled and conciliatory Irish People. The expulsions, coupled with the demise of the Torch and the chaos in Cork, effectively silenced what remained of the left wing of the Labour Party. The party as a whole had suffered a major body blow from which it did not recover for many years. The split in its ranks prompted a surprise general

June 1944, and Labour, in total disarray, lost 70,000 votes and four seats. Larkin senior, the highestpolling candidate in 1943, was among those ousted. At the time of the dissolution of their Dublin branch in 1941 the national committee of the Communist Party had promised that if they were unable to maintain their organisation within the Labour Party they would withdraw, intact and strengthened. None of this happened. Some former members — who had actually denied their Communist Party connections — remained inside, while those who were expelled election in

200

Communism

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Modern

Ireland

had no plans to reform the Communist Party. As the Labour Party veered back to the right the communists called for ‘a wide campaign throughout the country to win tens of thousands more adherents to its ranks’ [Irish Freedom, June 1944). At the same time Sean Nolan gave clear expression to the reformist politics that had permeated the communist ranks deeply:

There are many questions that beset us to which we are completely free to apply our own solution. It is of our own choice that Government policy has been along conservative lines. ... We have the power to make democracy

work

in the interests of the plain people. [Irish

Freedom, Sept. 1944)

The communist movement no longer had

a presence,

organisational or theoretical, in the Twenty-six Counties.

Patriotism , Class Collaboration and Partition

The

history of the Communist Party in the Six Counties following Russia’s entry into the war presents a very different

Twenty -six. When the Soviet Union was invaded the party had only a few score members, all in Belfast. Within two years it could claim nearly 1,000 members in branches and groups throughout the Six Counties. After Hitler’s attack on Russia the communists again became the most vociferous opponents of fascism within the working

picture from the debacle in the

class, and as such they attracted many trade unionists who were acutely aware of what the Nazis had done to the workers’ organisations in the countries they had conquered. But for most new recruits membership of the Communist Party was simply their way of expressing solidarity with the Soviet Red Army, whose victory over the Nazi forces was essential if a German attack on Britain was to be prevented. With the

Communist Party undeviatingly pro-British in all its deeds and words, it was able to build on wartime chauvinism; support for the party was one expression of patriotism

— British

patriotism.

Membership of the Communist Party no longer implied it was now regarded as a

subversive intent; quite the reverse,

Communism

in the

Second World War

201

respectable and responsible body. Party badges and red stars

were sported

in the most unlikely buttonholes. Pamphlets on the Soviet Union and its Red Army found their way into thousands of homes all over the North. Party meetings and rallies were no longer banned by the authorities, and advertisements for them were even carried in the Unionist press,

while Unionist publishing companies, such as the Northern Whig, printed most of the Communist Party’s pamphlets. Leading British communists like Willie Gallacher and Harry Pollitt, previously banned from entering the North, were free to address mass public rallies in the largest halls in Belfast. An eight-year-old exclusion order on Sean Murray was lifted, and he was again permitted to take up residence and employment in Belfast. The party was again able to produce a newspaper,

which it titled Unity. A Soviet Friendship Society, chaired by a respected Presbyterian minister, was organised, and wellknown public figures, including Sir Basil Brooke, spoke from its platform alongside Communist Party leaders. At one communist function the orchestra of the Young Men’s Christian Association entertained the audience with the Soviet

Anthem, the Internationale and Red Army marching tunes Unity 12 Feb. 1944). If the notion of ‘patriotic communists’ appeared contradictory, how much more so was the spectacle of communists in a colony expressing patriotism towards their imperial masters. This fundamental revision of first principles was initially justified with the argument that a British victory would result in Irish freedom. Pursuit of the national struggle in the midst of the war not only helped Hitler but was quite unnecessary, argued the communists, who had taken at face value Churchill’s declaration in the Atlantic Charter of August 1941 that selfdetermination for all peoples was a primary war aim. In that same month Willie Gallacher had written: ‘The defeat of Hitler Germany means immediate liberation for all the oppressed people of Europe, and thereby opens up the opportunity for full independence of a united Ireland.’ (WNV, 16 Aug. 1941) In October 1941 the Communist Party in Belfast issued a manifesto which promised that an Allied victory ‘would be a cause for the triumph of national liberty and would advance the movement for Ireland’s complete (i

,

.

.

.

202

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

freedom. Let no section of Irish opinion be deceived into harbouring any other ideas.’ (WNV, 15 Nov. 1941) These assertions were mainly aimed at public opinion in Eire and were part of the Communist Party’s general campaign to end Eire’s neutrality. But they had no effect in nationalist quarters and were soon abandoned. The only people attracted by the communists’ ‘win the war’ message were Northern Protestants, the least inclined to want Irish unity and independence and who supported the Empire as much as they opposed fascism. Under these circumstances it was no longer opportune to hold out the promise of national freedom when the war ended; a new formula had to be found, one that could show that unity and independence were not necessary for the advance of ‘progress and democracy’ in Ireland.

At the

party’s

1943 congress

Billy

McCullough

presented the new perspective (McCullough 1943b). Partition, he declared, was ‘an accomplished fact’ and a ‘bogey’; raising the issue played into the hands of the enemies of the people. Henceforth the communists would seek to unite the people of the Six Counties around basic social issues and to promote ‘friendly relations’ with the Twenty-six. ‘Progress and democracy’ within the Empire were now promised as the fruits of victory. The belief that Ireland would be ‘free’ when the war ended — if indeed it had ever been taken seriously — had been abandoned with the promise. The belief that it should be free was now abandoned also. ‘Progress’ was compatible with the survival of imperialism. The Communist Party, which now styled itself the Communist Party of Northern Ireland, had, for all practical purposes, become a partitionist party.

The

strategy of seeking progress within partition, devised

under conditions of war, at a time when the Communist Party was confined to the North, was overwhelmingly Protestant in membership and totally pro-British in sentiment, remained

more or less intact until recent times. The fact that such an unprecedented revision had taken place was never publicly admitted or justified, and the vast majority of party members were too new to the organisation to appreciate its full significance. Given their socio-political background, it was scarcely surprising that they offered no opposition.

Communism

in the

Second World War

203

The Communist Party’s support for the war brought to an end the collaboration with the IRA that had emerged again in the period of the Stalin/Hitler pact. In IRA eyes Britain was still an imperialist power whose difficulties would be utilised to Ireland’s advantage. Relations between the two organisations deteriorated rapidly. Just before the invasion of Russia the Belfast communists had agreed to sell a print-

IRA, but withdrew the offer after the invasion, knowing that the IRA would use the press to print antiBritish propaganda. The IRA, however, was determined that the sale should proceed, and an armed unit was sent to enforce the deal. The party leaders were lined up at gunpoint while the press was dismantled and removed. A bag of (stolen) money was left behind in payment. This was only ing press to the

the

first

of

many

clashes.

The communists did

broad-based of six young IRA volunteers sentenced to death after the killing of an RUC man at Easter 1942, but their motivation was very different from the days of the campaign around Barnes and McCormick. As McCullough explained, ‘It is to be feared that if the sentences are carried out, it will create greater divisions among the people thus having a harmful effect on the war effort.’ (WNV, 15 Aug. 1942) Five were reprieved, but the sixth, Tom Williams, was hanged on 2 September. He was the first IRA man ever executed in the Six Counties. The hanging was followed by a series of mass arrests in the Catholic areas, and by the time of the CPNI congress in October 1942 there were over 800 internees North and South. In his main political address to the congress McCullough made no mention of internment, of the mass arrests of the previous weeks, nor of reprieve

in fact participate in a

committee to save the

lives

the repressive laws that permitted them. Instead he launched a vigorous attack on the IRA, which he condemned ‘in the strongest possible terms’ for helping ‘only the enemies of pro-

(McCullough 1942b: 24). Elsewhere the CPNI called ‘just’ application of the Special Powers Act and, rather than oppose internment outright, asked for ‘Labour representation’ on the tribunal set up to determine each internee’s fate (Unity, 6 Nov. 1943). Given such vehement hostility towards them, it was hardly gress’

for the

Communism

204

in

Modern Ireland

surprising that the Belfast units of the

that

IRA came

to believe

CPNI members were actively assisting the police in putting

republicans behind bars. Several incidents fuelled their fears, and none more so than the sudden arrest of several members of the IRA’s special intelligence unit, made up mostly of Protestant republicans. The Communist Party in Belfast

knew of

this unit



a party

member had

actually infiltrated



but the RUC (so the IRA believed) knew nothing of it. Following these arrests it was proposed that Betty Sinclair and Billy McCullough be ‘executed’ to put an end to the alleged informing, but the plan was abandoned when Hugh McAteer, Northern IRA commander, withheld his permission. Communist denunciation of the IRA was paralleled by an equally vehement campaign against strikes and strikers in the war industries, where nothing would be allowed to stand in the way of production for the war effort. ‘A strike, no matter under what circumstances it takes place, cannot be supported by our Party,’ McCullough told the party congress in October 1942. The congress was meeting at the height of the most serious strike yet to have occurred in wartime Belfast. It began in Short’s aircraft factory at Balmoral when two shop stewards were sacked for demanding control over the allocation of overtime. Under the direction of the shop stewards’ movement, which now linked all the major factories in Belfast, the it

strike

spread rapidly until

it

threatened to close

down

all

heavy industry. The CPNI opposed the strike when it began, condemned its extension, urged an immediate resumption of work, and called for a government-sponsored conference between unions and management to settle all outstanding issues (Northern Whig 14 Oct. 1942). At a mass meeting attended by many thousands of strikers Malachy Gray, a shipyard convenor and one of the party’s most senior industrial workers, called for an end to the strike, but his resolu,

tion

won

only four votes.

When

the party organised

its

own

meeting against the strike its speakers were jeered and jostled (Socialist Appeal Nov. 1942). Eventually a full public inquiry was held, and the dismissed men were reinstated ,

(HMSO

1942).

The largest of all the wartime strikes began on 25 February 1944 when 3,000 workers at the Harland Sc Wolff shipyard

Communism

in the

Second World War

205

to push their demand for a pay rise. By 24 March 20,000 workers were involved. Again it was the shop stewards’ movement that led the strike, and again communist denunciations of it were equalled only by those of the government and employers. Leading CPNI members at Shorts had been unable to prevent the workers there coming out in solidarity.

came out

On

3 April, as paralysis crept over the city, five leaders of

movement were jailed for three months; 20,000 more shipyard workers were called out, and dockers

the shop stewards’

closed the port. Belfast was in the grip of a virtual general

on 5 April, and through a roar of Malachy Gray urged an immediate return to work. Rank-and-file strike supporters were refused permission to address the meeting, which ended in turmoil. On the following day, speaking at the Trades Council, Gray called on the strikers to ‘face up to the position realistically’ and drop strike.

At

a mass meeting

disapproval,

their

demand

for the release of their imprisoned leaders.

‘There was a feeling that the Government must be forced to unconditionally release these men,’ Gray said. It was his opinion that ‘The Government could not and would not accept that course. It would mean that the Government would have to go under, and they were not prepared to go under

without a struggle.’ (Belfast Telegraph 6, 7 Apr. 1944) To avoid such a struggle Gray advised the imprisoned stewards to accept bail, go to trial, and then appeal if sentenced, rather than demand unconditional release. On Gray’s suggestion the Trades Council sent a delegation to pressurise the jailed men into accepting this course, which, reluctantly, they did. On the day following their release on bail the employers offered a pay rise and a little more freedom of action for the stewards. The terms were accepted and the strike called off; the appeals were rushed through and the sentences quashed. The Communist Party could claim all the credit for defusing the most serious challenge the state and the employers had faced from the working class in a generation. The leaders of the shop stewards’ movement, mostly members of the NILP, were not revolutionaries. They used their strength to ensure that workers did not suffer under wartime conditions and to assert a degree of workers’ control over production as the best means of guaranteeing maximum out,

206

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put for the war effort. They doubted the commitment of management to an all-out war against fascism and even suggested that some senior managers in the aircraft industry had links with a clandestine pro -fascist organisation in England (HMSO 1942). For their part, the Communist Party members who were associated with the movement advocated maximum collaboration between workers and employers to eradicate strikes and boost production, and proposed that the shop stewards direct their attention away from industrial militancy and towards joint production committees of employers’, workers’ and state representatives as the best means of securing such collaboration (Unity, 19 Feb. 1944). But as the production committees that had been formed invariably failed to produce results favourable to the workers, the non-communist shop stewards insisted on maintaining autonomy for their movement. In the eyes of the Communist Party that was a luxury they could not afford. The shop stewards’ movement had in fact reached its peak in the 1944 strike, and after that it

moved

into decline. *

*

*

The widespread working-class discontent in wartime Belfast found expression on the political plane as well as in industry. In December 1941 Harry Midgley won a Stormont by-election in the Protestant working-class constituency of Willowfield, a

regarded as so safe for the Unionist Party that the it before. Midgley ’s majority of nearly 5,000 votes indicated the extent of working-class disillusionment with Andrews’s government. There were calls from inside the Unionist Party for Andrews’s resignation, while outside the party the demand for a general election intensified. The Communist Party refused to add its voice to the anti-government chorus. ‘To demand the resignation of the government’, said McCullough, ‘would have serious reperThe demand cussions throughout the whole Six Counties. for the resignation of the government in the present serious position ... is sheer opportunism.’ (McCullough 1942b: 1920) Instead of an election the CPNI advocated the inclusion of Labour Party leaders Midgley and Jack Beattie in the Unionist cabinet. Midgley, again applauded by the comdistrict

NILP had never contested

.

.

.

Communism

in the

Second World War

207

munists as a genuine and courageous progressive, had in fact begun to express such outspokenly pro -partitionist views that even his NILP colleagues turned against him, and only

McCullough proposed him for cabinet from the NILP and set up his own explicitly pro-Unionist Commonwealth Labour Party. When Jack Beattie was elected as the North’s first-ever Labour MP at Westminster in a by-election in February 1943 the crisis in the Unionist Party could no longer be contained, and Andrews was forced to resign at the end of April. Sir Basil Brooke, notorious fomenter of sectarian strife, formed the new government. He excluded the ‘old guard’ who had ruled since partition, and included backbenchers who might be expected to woo back Protestant working-class support to the Unionist Party. Among the new cabinet was Harry Midgley, Minister for Public Security. Beattie denounced him as a traitor, and calls for a general election grew even louder. The Communist Party, however, welcomed the new regime and called for wholehearted collaboration with it. McCullough three

weeks

after

office he resigned

presented the case for the defence: of a change? Many adquestion with hesitation and doubt. They know that Sir Basil Brooke’s record, particularly in relation to the Nationalist section of the population, is not good. However, we Communists believe that if the change of Government is approached from the point of view of personalities it will cloud from our view what has really happened. The new Government is committed to a struggle to improve the war effort. ... It is the duty of all to cooperate, and it is the duty of the Labour movement to be in the forefront of this co-operation. (McCullough 1943a: 4-5)

Will the

vance

new Government be much

this

.

.

.

.

.

.

Again the CPNI vehemently opposed the call for a general election, as it ‘would be bound to have its reflection throughout industry. Knowing the feeling that exists in the shipyards and aircraft factories ... a political fight against the Government is bound to lead to further disputes and a greater number of strikes.’ (ibid.) Although McCullough had calculated that the NILP would win ten seats if an election

208

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

were held — seven more than it had ever won before — he maintained that such a victory would be worse than useless because of the massive class antagonisms the election would give vent to

As the NILP refused point-blank to even consider a coalithe Brooke regime, the CPNI decided to seek affiliation to the Labour Party and argue its collaborationist policies from inside its ranks. The Belfast leadership described the move as being ‘of the utmost importance to the working class and to the cause of the United Nations’. The CPNI’s application was made public, and J. R. Campbell, of the CPGB leadership, was brought over to assist in a widespread campaign for support within the labour movement. The Belfast Trades Council, several of whose delegates were CPNI members, voted to support the affiliation move, as did some trade union and Labour Party branches. For several months this campaign kept party members throughout the North fully occupied, and ‘the whole future of the people of Northern Ireland’ was said to depend on its success. The NILP conference at the end of October 1943 discussed the CPNI’s application for over two hours in what proved one of the liveliest debates ever heard at a Labour Party contion with

separate labour bodies supported the but their votes, totalling 5,100, were insufficient against the block votes of the big unions: four unions alone accounted for 10,500 of the 12,500 votes cast against the CPNI. Only a few months earlier the CPGB had been refused admission into the British Labour Party, and that decision undoubtedly influenced the vote in Belfast. Suspicions were still widespread that the Communist Party was not as ‘respectable’ as it made itself out to be. Although the Communist Party in the North brushed off the failure as having ‘a retarding influence’, but one which ‘will not be decisive’, it did in fact coincide with a general downturn in ference.

Thirty-six

affiliation bid,

the party’s fortunes. Ironically, the factor that contributed most to the erosion of communist influence was the growing certainty of an Allied victory in Europe. As the German armies began to suffer major setbacks emotional sympathy with the Soviet Red Army, and through it with the Communist Party, les-

Communism sened and members began to application to join the

in the drift

NILP

the

Second World War

209

away. At the time of the

CPNI was

at

its

zenith,

branches, many in areas where the NILP had no presence. Even before the end of the war membership was falling rapidly, and only eight branches remained, four of them in Belfast (McCullough 1945a: 31). Sympathy with the Soviet Union was a weak foundation on which to build a communist party, for such sympathy implied neither acceptance of the Soviet system nor a willingness to struggle for its replication in the Six Counties. Few of those who joined the Communist Party in these years could be described as ‘communists’ in any sense of the word, although, as in the 1932 events, a new generation of future party leaders

with 1,000 members

in thirty -two

had been recruited. *

*

*

In February 1945 Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met at Yalta to divide out the spoils of victory. The fate of millions was to be settled not by any reference to their democratically expressed wishes but by the determination of the victors to establish and maintain their ‘spheres of influence’. At Yalta Churchill declared that the Atlantic Charter, the promise of self-determination, did not apply to the British Empire. Stalin had endorsed an agreement that defended the integrity of that empire. There would be no self-determination for Ireland; partition would remain. Within a month the Communist Party met for its third congress since the war began. The proceedings were overshadowed by the events at Yalta, which were not only endorsed but eulogised at great length (McCullough 1945a). The unity of America, Britian and the Soviet Union had given the world ‘the pattern not only for the defeat of the common enemy, but also for the peace to follow’. The war alliance of

communism and

imperialism was not, then, merely a tactic and the reopening of the road to militant class struggle and socialism. It was to become the permanent feature of post-war politics. As a proof of the nonrevolutionary intentions of the world’s communist parties Stalin had dissolved the Comintern in 1943, an event that for the removal of Hitler

was applauded by the Communist Party in Belfast (McCullough

Communism

210

in

Modern

Ireland

1943b: 23). With the war over, the communist parties of Western Europe rushed in to help restore and refurbish the old capitalist order. ‘Democracy can work,’ Malachy Gray told the CPNI’s 1945 congress, while Billy McCullough sang the praises of the British army, which he described as ‘our forces’. The state was no longer seen as an instrument of class rule, but was projected as a neutral institution which could be used by ‘progressives’ to ensure a bright and happy future for all. The North’s past economic decay was not the fault of capitalism and imperialism but only of Unionist Party mismanagement it could be overcome through ‘planning’. Resolutions at the 1945 congress spelled this out in detail. A ‘Council of Industry representative of Westminster, Stormont, the employers and workers’ was called ;

.

for. It

would co-ordinate

.

.

similarly representative bodies in

would plan the economic development of Northern Ireland. ‘The programme was not socialism,’ Michael Mclnerney reassured (McCullough 1945a: 15). It was a programme to save all

the major industries, and together they

future

capitalism.

The major

political resolution passed at the conference

stated:

Congress declares that the Communist Party will not advocate any change in the ‘constitutional position’ but will work for the return of a Labour/Progressive House of The Communist Party Commons in Northern Ireland. will work for the realisation of a policy in Northern Ireland that will overcome antagonisms between the people of the two parts of the country; a policy that will provide the basis for collaboration on questions of mutual interest, such as electrification, trade and commerce, tourist trade, culture and sport. (CPNI 1945: 11) .

.

.

.

.

.

The 1945 congress report was published under the title Ulster and the New Britain. It declared the aim of the Communist Party to be ‘a prosperous Ulster allied and united with a prosperous Britain’ (p. 19) and stated bluntly: ‘We are convinced that within the present framework, and under the provisions of the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the people of Northern Ireland have sufficient scope to develop along democ-

Communism

in the

Second World War

211

Connolly’s warning about the ‘carnival of was contemptuously dismissed. The policy of encouraging North/ South collaboration instead of opposing partition was soon reduced to the lowest common denominator: at the 1945 ITUC conference Malachy Gray and Michael Mclnerney argued that land drainage was the most important issue around which friendship could be developed. By the end of the war, then, the Communist Party, confined to what it now called ‘Ulster’, was to all appearances a partitionist/reformist party. Its transformation was both reflected in and strengthened by the composition of its new membership. The industrial workers who were attracted in this period were not the traditional militants but a combination, on the one hand of middle -level officials whose future role in the trade union movement would be as full-time functionaries, and on the other, of workers who had little or no past involvement in labour politics. A future Communist Party chairman, Andy Barr, who was recruited in June 1942 while a shipyard shop steward, was typical of the first group. Michael Mclnerney, then the CPNI’s industrial organiser, wrote of Barr: ‘Joining the Communist Party was almost inevitable for Andy Barr. Militants like him were not attracted to what would be their natural party in England, the Labour Party, for Labour politics in Belfast were not considered to be serious.’ (Mclnerney 1975) Yet it was at precisely the time when Labour Party militants were leading the workers’ struggles in Belfast and the Communist Party was advocating class collaboration that Barr rose to prominence in the latter. The apolitical workers recruited to the Communist Party in this period far outnumbered the trade union activists. Towards the end of the war Unity complained that ‘The bulk of the membership consists of new comrades, many with no political background and no previous connection with the Labour movement.’ (Unity, 22 Feb. 1945) This was a major problem, for although the party looked big on paper, most of its members were completely inactive. One delegate at the 1945 congress pointed out that the new member ‘in most cases becomes nothing more than a name in a book’, and ratic lines.’ (p. 8)

reaction’, persisting so long as partition remained,

.

.

.

Communism

212

in

Mclnerney proposed visit

the

Modern Ireland ‘an organisation of dues collectors to

homes of members and keep them acquainted with

was not a condition of membership. There was another significant factor regarding membership it was almost entirely Protestant. The Communist Party was virtually unknown in towns with large Catholic populations like Derry, Newry Strabane, etc. Nor had it any open presence policy’. Political activity

,

in the Catholic districts of Belfast (although there are those

who

claim that Betty Sinclair tried recruiting for the British Falls Road). The eight functioning branches in 1945 were all in strongly Unionist areas: Shankill Road, East

army on the

Road and Oldpark Road (all in Belfast) and the nearby towns of Bangor, Newtownards, Banbridge and Lisburn. (Communist Party influence in the four towns around Belfast faded as the war factories dispersed there closed down.) What was more, the party showed no intention of appealing to the nationally -minded masses. The 1945 congress called for ‘a mighty campaign that would win the thousands of Unionist workers, middle-class, and small Belfast, Donegall

business people’ to support progress within partition. All

who were likely to resent the Yalta agreement and its endorsement of the British Empire were branded ‘unsavoury elements’ (McCullough 1945a: 4). Inevitably that included the Catholic working class. In the Stormont general election of 1945 the CPNI put its those

partitionist/reformist policies to the public. Its policy

For

pam-

aim as being ‘to build a new Ulster of the common man ... to keep step with Britain and the new world’ (McCullough 1945b). Partition was not raised directly, but with all the emphasis on the British connection, it had clearly been accepted as having positive value. The Communist candidates drew an impressive vote: McCullough 5,802 in Bloomfield (East Belfast), Sinclair 4,130 in Cromac (South Belfast), and Sid Maitland 2,524 in West Down. In each case the election was a straight fight between Communist and Unionist candidates, and the average vote, 4,150 for each of the three, was roughly equal to that of the NILP’s fifteen candidates: 4,400. As in Britain, the workers in Northern Ireland were expressing a desire for sweeping changes in the post-war world, and the phlet,

a Prosperous Ulster , declared the party’s

Communism CPNI benefited from

in the

that feeling.

Second World War

213

Cromac was the only con-

stituency with a sizeable Catholic minority, and those Catholics

who voted for Sinclair probably did so more to oppose the Unionist than to endorse the partitionist politics of the CPNI. Five candidates standing under a variety of titles and representing various sections of the labour movement had been elected: two NILP, one Commonwealth Labour, one Independent, and one Socialist Republican. But, contrary to thenown high expectations, none of the communists had won a seat.

*

*

*

Throughout the war years the Belfast communists had

to

time in their history, with a serious challenge from their left. As mentioned above, members of the Trotskyist Fourth International had come to Ireland in 1939; two of them, Bob and Elsie Armstrong, settled in Belfast, where they organised the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL). Bob Armstrong had joined the British Communist Party from the Independent Labour Party’s youth section in 1932. He fought and was twice wounded in Spain, and on his return played a leading role in the International Brigade Dependants’ Aid Committee. Expelled from the CPGB in 1938 for opposing its Popular Front strategy, he joined the new Trotskyist movement. Elsie had come originally from an Orange background in Belfast; and many of her friends, young Protestant workers who had been radicalised by the experience of the 1930s, soon joined the RSL. All were enthusiastic members, selling their paper, Socialist Appeal and a number of American Trotskyist papers in both Protestant and Catholic districts. The papers were sold outside the shipyards, where several more young workers

contend, for the

first

,

were recruited.

Bob Armstrong was

a forceful public speaker, and regular

meetings were held on a bomb-site in central Belfast. Large crowds were attracted, and in time the Communist Party moved its open-air meetings from the traditional Custom steps to the same site, which soon became known as ‘Red Square’. Competition between the two organisations was fierce and at times violent, with the Communist Party

House

Communism

214

in

Modern Ireland

denouncing the Trotskyists as the actual agents of Hitler, and the RSL describing the communists as police informers and servants of imperialism. Although overwhelmingly Protestant in membership the RSL found its greatest support in Catholic areas, which was not surprising since it was fiercely anti-Unionist and antiimperialist. There was a degree of political co-operation with the IRA, and campaigns were organised against the Special Powers Act, internment, and police harassment in nationalist areas. Special Branch officers visited the homes and employers of the young RSL members, and the League was to allege, as the IRA had done, that the Communist Party was passing ,

information to the police in an effort to have it suppressed. Bob Armstrong spent a month in police custody, and the questions put to him, like those concerning his supposed ‘connections with Berlin’, reflected closely the anti-Trotskyist propaganda of the Communist Party. After his release Socialist Appeal declared: ‘The political renegades at the head of the so-called Communist Party have co-operated as stool-pigeons and informers with the police.’ [Socialist Appeal, Feb. 1943) In the wake of the Tom Williams affair, when police pressure reached its peak, the League virtually collapsed, reduced at one point to only three members, including the Armstrongs. Its fortunes revived at the time of the 1944 general strike, which, in contrast to the communists, the Trotskyists fully supported. A leaflet issued at the time gives an idea of their different approach: Russia must be defended! But how? By giving up strikes and accepting the bosses’ programme as the ex-Communist Party demands? No. The workers may agree to halt the class war, but the bosses won’t. If we sacrifice our rights they will grow bolder in their encroachments, and fascism at home will be the outcome. Then the Soviet Union will be crushed. If we cannot defend our trade union rights, we clearly cannot defend the Soviet Union. Despite their diplomatic blandishments, the capitalist politicians — Churchill included — hate Russia. Only workingclass political power can save the Soviet Union. Only by defending ourselves on the industrial front can we prepare .

.

.

for political power.

Communism

in the

Second World War

215

This type of reasoning appealed to a number of the Communist Party’s trade union members who came over to the RSL at the time of the strike. The Trotskyist movement was then at strongest, maintaining simultaneous campaigns against internment and in support of workers’ economic struggles.

its

But, like the Communist Party, it lost many of its members in the post-war collapse of industry, and it disintegrated entirely when the Armstrongs were forced to return to London in 1949 — by which time it had been rechristened the Revolutionary Communist Party and had been placed under the ban of the Catholic Church in Belfast. Some of the IRA men who were attracted to the RSL joined Harry Diamond’s Socialist Republican Party, and the influence of their politics was evident in its paper, Northern Star edited by Vincent McDowell. At its peak the Trotskyist movement had no more than a hundred members, a small number compared with the mem,

Communist Party in the war years, but many times larger than any subsequent Trotskyist grouping in Belfast, and as many as the Communist Party ever had in the city before the war. Throughout its existence it tried to uphold the traditions and principles long since abandoned by bership of the

Communist Party. The period of the Second World War had seen the Communist Party in the North come closer than ever before — or since — to being a mass organisation. But the same factor that allowed its phenomenal growth — unconditional support for Britain in the war — had led to the complete disintegration of the communist movement south of the border. Twentyfive years were to pass between the end of the war and the reemergence of a unified all-Ireland communist party. In the the

interval partitionist politics flourished.

10

Cold

Communisn

War Communism

Partitioned

communists surveyed the post-war scene with a mixand elation: despair at fare’s isolation from the Grand Alliance of Russia, Britain and America on which they believed the ‘future peace and progress’ of mankind depended; and elation at the North’s incorporation into that alliance through its union with Britain. Under the circumstances Unionism was deemed more progressive than republican separatism, and while the Communist Party in the Six Counties urged the people and government of the Twenty-six to forget partition and join forces with the ‘democratic world’ (McCullough 1945a: 5), the scattered remnants of the old CPI in Ireland’s

ture of despair

Dublin, unwilling to advocate such policies in public,

mained dormant. But the Grand Alliance was not to

last.

Relations, always

tense behind the scenes, deteriorated rapidly in the

of 1947 as America, with

re-

summer

Marshall Aid plan, attempted to secure economic hegemony in Europe and the East European communists responded with a series of coups establishing supposedly socialist regimes — without working-class revolutions — in those countries assigned to Stalin’s sphere of influits

ence. The cold war had begun, and in October 1947 Stalin performed another volte-face when he declared that his former allies had, after all, been pursuing imperialist ambitions throughout the war, and ordered renewed struggle against them. Despite the militant rhetoric occasioned by this rediscovery of imperialism, Stalin’s aim was not to turn the world red, but only to force his erstwhile allies back to their agreement for the permanent division of the world into capitalist and communist spheres. Communists internationally were

Cold War Communism

217

now

charged with the task, not of fomenting social revolubut of driving wedges between their ‘own’ nations and America — leader of the imperialist camp — by winning all ‘progressives’ to a policy of friendship and, above all, trade (forbidden under Marshall Aid) with the Soviet Union. The revival of anti-imperialist politics within the communist movement internationally made it possible for the Dublin communists to regroup, while the need for a more forceful defence of the USSR and its interests under the mounting pressures of the cold war made such reorganisation imperative. There was not, however, to be an all-Ireland communist party, but two separate organisations, North and South, pursuing divergent strategies with regard to the imperialist presence in Ireland. In November 1948 the Irish Workers’ League (IWL) was launched in Dublin by former CPI members together with several of the ‘Curragh Communists’ — the IRA men won over to communist politics during wartime internment — some Trinity students, including Roy Johnston and Justin Keating, and a few members of the Labour Party who opposed their leaders’ participation with Fine Gael in the South’s new coalition government, that had been elected in February. Sean Nolan was IWL general secretary, and Mick O’Riordan, who had been running his own Socialist Party in Cork, soon joined and became chairman. The IWL came into being at the very moment when the coalition was preparing to take feire out of the Commonwealth and declare a Republic — which it did in April 1949 — and when Fianna Fail was initiating an international anti-partition campaign. The communists opposed this campaign, fearing, perhaps with some justification, that if a ‘face-saving arrangement’ could be devised to end partition the Republic would join the imperialist camp, soon to be formalised as NATO. The IWL insisted that opposition to partition had to be linked to the campaign for friendship with the USSR and rejection of Anglo-American plans to use the South as a war base (IWL 1949). In what appeared as a left turn from communist policies of the war years and before, the League declared that neutrality in the cold war was impossible and advocated a liberation tions,

movement

for the

whole of Ireland, ‘based on the working

218

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

people and inspired by Socialist principles’ (ibid.: 8). Sean MacBride, coalition Minister for External Affairs, was denounced as a ‘pro -imperialist war-monger’, and the official labour leaders were attacked for ‘aiding the war-mongering Anglo-American imperialists ’.But the League’s anti-imperialism remained largely rhetorical. It made no attempt to influence or even to relate to the republican movement — re-emerging rapidly after 1948 and attracting many of the country’s youth. Such aloofness was justified on the grounds that the republican leadership would not offer support to Moscow, the litmus test for all would-be ‘progressives’. On the other hand, the ‘socialist principles’ that the League wished to see guide the national struggle amounted in practice to little calling on the government to change its foreign policy in favour of the Soviet Union. ‘There is not one atom of Communism in the proposals advanced,’ Sean Nolan admitted. ‘They are such as could be implemented by any bourgeois Government with the desire to prosecute the nation’s claims.’ (/ILF, June 1949) While the IWL was clearly opposed to partition, anti-Americanism, not socialism, was the keynote of all its propaganda. The cold war was greeted as a welcome development by many in Holy Ireland, and the forces of anti-communism took full advantage of it. Even before the Allies fell out £ire had refused to establish diplomatic relations with Russia and Russia had vetoed Eire’s entry to the United Nations. In 1948 Archbishop McQuaid raised over £40,000 in a matter of days to help fight communism in Italy, and in the general election of that year the Standard whipped up another red scare by exposing the past communist involvement of such Labour candidates as Roddy Connolly, George Pollock and Larkin junior. (Larkin senior had died the year before.) On 1 May 1949, just as the IWL came into the open with its militantsounding manifesto (IWL 1949) and a new paper, Irish 9 Workers Voice an estimated 150,000 people, many of them

more than

,

workers following union banners, marched through Dublin against ‘the evils of Communism’ in Eastern Europe. John Breen, the city’s Labour Lord Mayor, and himself a former member of the CPI, led the protest. The platform was dominated by trade union speakers who threatened to suppress

Cold War

Communism

219

any communist party that reared its head in Catholic Ireland. month the League had to move production of its paper to England when the Irish printer got cold feet, and in July several IWL members were savagely beaten at a public meeting in O’Connell Street. Even the pacifist, non-socialist campaign for ‘world peace’ which became the main focus of IWL activity in the early 1950s provoked a violent backlash in Dublin. League members collecting signatures on petitions for the banning of atomic weapons and calling for a ‘Peace Pact’ between the major powers were physically attacked, and on one occasion the Gardai even had to open fire over the heads of their assailants. In the following

The communist-inspired peace movement failed to attract any section of the labour movement in the Twenty-six Counties, andin the end only 3,000 signatures were collected. petitions were widely seen as part of a sinister Moscow plot for world domination, whereas their real intention was

The

to isolate the Americans

and

so force

them back

to their war-

time agreements.

The right-wing reaction found its greatest expression in opposing Health Minister Noel Browne’s scheme for maternity and child welfare benefits, whose rejection by the hierarchy helped topple the coalition government in 1951 — and in the process did much to strengthen Northern Protestant suspicions that the Republic was indeed ruled from Rome. The IWL, which had publicly supported Browne, won some new recruits but also drew fire from the bishops. When O’Riordan stood in the ensuing general election Archbishop McQuaid declared it a mortal sin to vote for him. Only 295 electors were prepared to run the risk of eternal damnation. In the following year priests and businessmen forced the closure of the thriving Ballyfermot/Inchicore Co-operative Society when its chairman, Joe Deasy, and some members of its management committee joined the IWL. Every possible avenue of advance seemed to have been closed to the communists. It was not only anti-communism that ensured the IWL’s continuing isolation. The peace that reigned on the industrial front also contributed. Thanks largely to the creation of a Labour Court in 1946 and the negotiation of centralised national wage agreements, the trade unions were effectively

220

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

neutralised through incorporation and industrial militancy was at an all-time low. The continuing division in the trade

union movement, between the Irish TUC and the Confederation of Irish Unions, was a further drawback. The IWL, however, was able to gain some influence among the unemployed, whose numbers were soaring as a short-lived post-war boom ground to a halt. In the summer of 1953 IWL members helped to organise the Dublin Unemployed Association, which held mass demonstrations on the streets. In July 1,000 people staged a sit-down protest on O’Connell Bridge, while in later clashes with the police there were scores of arrests, dozens of injuries and three DUA leaders were jailed. The Standard seized the initiative and, with the declared intention of destroying the unemployed movement and its communist mentors, began printing photographs of IWL members together with their addresses and employment details. Such methods were highly successful, and as the IWL was forced to retreat the DUA collapsed. By January 1954 the Standard could boast in its headline: ‘Communists Purged in Dublin’.

While there can be no doubt that it required considerable personal courage to identify openly with the communist movement in Dublin in these years, overall the IWL’s response to the clerical-inspired attacks was moralistic and even chauvinistic. Following a particularly violent assault

on IWL

members the League had asked Archbishop McQuaid

to con-

demn

who were

bad name’. In reply to the Church’s intervention against him in the 1951 election O’Riordan had remarked that it was not communism the ‘hooligans’

giving Dublin

‘a

but ‘the current imperialist way of life that is the greatest threat to the faith and morals of our people’ (IWV, May 1951). During the peace campaign the Irish Workers' Voice argued that since priests and bishops throughout Europe were signing the petitions in vast numbers, Irish Catholics could safely do

1952 the League had called for a campaign by ‘all decent-minded people’ against the sale of American comics, flooding ‘a grossly immoral and evil type of literature our country ... a threat to our very way of life’. The Voice even found common cause with the Standard in denouncing the ‘vulgarities’ of Marilyn Monroe. Defence of the ‘Irish way

likewise. In

.

.

.

Cold War of

life’

it still

Communism

221

was part of the general anti-American campaign, but the communists few friends.

won

*

*

*

With the onset of the cold war the communists in Belfast were faced with a sharp dilemma. On the one hand they were required to take a left, anti-imp erialist turn, while on the other they were determined to retain what they could of their Protestant, pro-partitionist following in industry and the unions. They had to be anti-imperialist without being anti-partitionist The identification of American imperialism as the ‘principal enemy’ offered them a way out, and in conformity with the wartime policy of declaring partition a ‘bogey’ they now declared that the American imperialists were threatening the people of ‘North Ireland/Britain’ and advanced policies designed to split this hybrid ‘nation’ from the US-led imperialist camp. In effect the CPNI now operated as though it were simply part of the British left and the Six Counties an integral part of Britain. The Northern communists thus spoke of the ‘Anglo-Ulster ruling class’ and were critical .

of British colonial rule everywhere in the world except in Northern Ireland. After the collapse of the CPNI’s Belfast paper, Unity in 1947 they adopted the British Communist Party’s Daily Worker and sold it as their own throughout the 1950s and beyond. The Irish Workers' Voice was not sold on the streets or in the factories of Belfast. All party propaganda was geared towards fighting against British Toryism and for the return of a Labour government at Westminster that would rule ‘North Ireland/Britain’ in a ‘progressive’ manner. ,

(See especially Barr 1952.)

completely British orientation, it was hardly surthe CPNI remained quite isolated from the Catholic section of the working class and from nationalist opinion generally. It had no presence in West Belfast, the largest Catholic working-class area in the North, and rather than attempt to strengthen the development of a socialist anti-partition current, such as existed in the Socialist Republican Party and on the left wing of the NILP — both involving many Protestants — the CPNI saw such developments as just

With

prising

its

that

as divisive

and diversionary

as the

NILP

leaders’

endorsement

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Communism

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Ireland

When the SRP and the NILP’s anti-partitionists formed a Northern section of the Irish Labour Party the CPNI dubbed it derisively as ‘the Falls Road Labour Party’ and advised workers to ignore it and focus instead on the British labour movement. But the CPNI’s refusal to confront partition did not enable of partition.

it to retain widespread support among Protestant workers. This became clear in the 1949 Stormont general election, which, with feire’s coalition government on the point of declaring a Republic, was fought primarily on the border issue. Billy McCullough, again contesting Bloomfield, dismissed the partition issue as a ‘diversion’ from the ‘real’ issues, which were summed up in his election slogan as ‘work, homes and peace’. Of the 5,800 votes he had received in 1945, McCullough was left with fewer than 700, and he lost his deposit. Economism was no answer to the ideology of Unionism. The decline in CPNI membership was as dramatic as the slump in its electoral appeal. In June 1948, for example, it was reported that of the sixty remaining card-carrying members in East Belfast only thirty-one had paid their dues, while less than half that number attended meetings. There were periods when the party’s groups in the shipyards and aircraft factory ceased to function although most of the party leaders

worked

there.

By 1949

total

membership on paper was down

172, with perhaps only fifty or so active. Indeed, only thirty-two attended a crucial party conference on trade union work in the summer of 1952 (SMPb). Yet while membership and activity dwindled, individual party members were able to retain and even increase their foothold in the trade union apparatus. In 1947 Betty Sinclair became the first full-time paid secretary of the Belfast Trades to

Council, a position she held for thirty years, while in 1953

Andy

Barr,

CPNI chairman, was

elected full-time Northern

Ireland district secretary of the Sheetmetal Workers’ Union,

which provided him with a stepping-stone to the leadership of the much more important Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions in the Six Counties. Former professional footballer

Jimmy Graham, who emerged

as a lead-

ing party activist after the war, was in turn convenor of shop stewards in Shorts, chairman of the works committee there,

Cold War

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223

and full-time Northern Ireland district secretary of the Engineering Union. Other party members were frequently elected as shop stewards and convenors in Belfast’s Protestantdominated industries, and party activists regularly served as delegates to the Belfast Trades Council, to the ITUC, and to its Northern Ireland Committee (NIC). (This latter body was set up in 1944 in a futile effort to win official recognition from the Unionist government, which refused to deal with the Dublin-based ITUC proper.) Protestant working-class support for the CPNI, however, ended at the factory gate, despite all the party’s efforts to stand aloof from the partition issue. While communists occupied important positions in the unions, their effectiveness, like that of other union leaders, was inevitably restricted by the Unionists’ refusal to recognise the ITUC. In the mid-1950s right-wing, pro-Unionist NILP leader David Bleakley suggested that one way around this dilemma would be for the ITUC to move its head office to Belfast and cater only for Northern trade unionists, leaving the Confederation of Irish Unions to organise in the Republic unimpeded. In fact this ‘solution’ was first mooted within the CPNI itself as early as 1951. A document from the party conference of that year stated that all the party’s efforts to reunite the

ITUC and CIU had

failed

and

Another approach must be found

that, therefore,

along the lines of doing nothing to stop the nine Irish-based unions still .

.

.

TUC

from leaving that organisation the CIU. The Irish TUC to shift its headquarters from Dublin to Belfast, and in practice ... to become a trade union congress catering for Northern Ireland trade unionists. An agreement such as this would clear up the present mess. (SMPc) affiliated to the Irish

and becoming

.

.

affiliated to

.

This was a prescription for the permanent division of the movement along the lines of the border, and its advocacy within the CPNI was one indication of just how far the Belfast communists were prepared to go in accommodating working-class Unionism. Only under pressure from the Irish Workers’ League did the CPNI later restore the call for ITUC/CIU unity (SMPa), but in return the CPNI had asked the Dublin communists to place less emphasis on partition trade union

224

Communism

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Ireland

as the source of Ireland’s economic ills and concentrate on winning support within the CIU’s affiliated unions around the demand for trade with the USSR — the ‘correct’ anti-

imperialist

Irish

demand

Communism

In fact the

already

IWL

watery

of the period.

after Stalin

did not require

much

anti-partitionist

major factor that encouraged

persuasion to dilute

politics

this

still

further.

development was a

its

The slight

easing of cold-war tensions.

March 1953; August Russia exploded its

Stalin died in in

in

July the Korean war ended;

first

hydrogen bomb.

An

inter-

national balance of nuclear terror had been established, and

January 1954 the foreign ministers of the USA, USSR, met for the first time since the cold war began. Simultaneously a process of ‘de-Stalinisation’ was begun in the Soviet Union, more to save the economy from imminent disaster than from any other motive. Now a nuclear power, the USSR was less dependent on the world’s communist parties for the defence of its interests, and they were

in

Britain and France

able to develop a

more autonomous politics.

(This

is

discussed

below: see pp. 233-4.) The leftist rhetoric of the preceding six years was finally abandoned, never to be revived, and it was argued that the ‘peaceful coexistence’ of East and West would allow the ‘superior’ forces of Russian-style socialism to outstrip the ‘decaying’ forces of world imperialism

more

fully

own good time. Even Ireland was not totally immune from the new situation. In the Stormont general election of October 1953 Andy

in their

Barr almost doubled the party’s vote in Bloomfield over McCullough’s 1949 poll (although Barr had no NILP opponent). In the Dail general election of May 1954 O’Riordan increased his vote by almost 100, despite another Church warning that it would be a mortal sin to vote for him. In May too the CPNI sent seven trade unionists to Moscow, and on their return they relayed to eager Belfast businessmen Soviet views on the possibility of mutual trade. In August the ITUC passed a CPNI-inspired resolution calling for peaceful coexistence and trade between all nations. In January 1955 an Irish cul-

Cold War

Communism

225

tural delegation visited the USSR. It was the first step of its kind since the early 1930s, and the Standard's efforts to whip up hysteria came to nothing. In August that year Soviet astronomers came to Dublin and were hosted by government and opposition leaders; even the papal nuncio attended. In October a Soviet trade mission went to Belfast, and in the same month the Yugoslav national football team played in Dublin. Archbishop McQuaid intervened to prevent any official state representation, but the match was still played before capacity crowds. In 1955 too the USSR lifted its nine-year veto on Irish entry to the United Nations as part of a package deal that also gave recognition to the Eastern European regimes. Ireland’s communists were naturally delighted with each of these manifestations of peaceful coexistence; every gesture took some of the chill out of the cold-war winds. The Soviet Union’s changing interests helped alter the Dublin communists’ conception of their own ‘national’ tasks. Neutrality in the world arena, previously held to be impossible with the world divided into pro- and anti-imperialist camps, was now to be seen as a positive and progressive stand. The Irish bourgeoisie, who professed neutrality, were no longer to be depicted as the willing tools of Anglo-American imperialism waiting only for an opportunity to join NATO, but were to be portrayed as genuinely free from imperialist entanglements. By the time the IWL met for its third congress in October 1954 the message of its 1949 manifesto — that the whole of Ireland had to fight for its independence

under working-class leadership — was replaced by calls for the ‘defence of neutrality’ and the ‘integration of the national territory’

the

‘free’



i.e. the incorporation of the Six Counties into Republic. But this latter policy was not to be pur-

sued with any vigour. Alongside this rehabilitation of the bourgeoisie went a softening of attitudes to the trade union bosses. They were no longer attacked as the ‘agents of imperialism’ inside the working class, but were seen as genuine if sometimes misguided leaders capable of fighting for the real interests of their rank-and-file members. Their consistent failure to do so was henceforth ‘regretted’ rather than denounced. These highly significant changes in the communist attitude towards

226

Communism

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the national bourgeoisie and the trade union bureaucracy were to prove of a permanent character. But not all the old attitudes could be disposed of so easily, as Mick O’Riordan showed when he tried to deal with the attack on Stalin delivered by Khruschev at the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956. In a ‘secret’ speech whose contents were soon widely reported Khruschev had also detailed Stalin’s ‘crimes’ over the twenty years before his death. O’Riordan was quick to come to Stalin’s defence. Admitting that there may have been ‘a few mistakes’, he maintained that ‘Contrary to some lying reports there was no question of the “repudiation” of Stalin. His huge contribution to socialism was unquestioned.’ IWV May 1956) This public riposte, however, belied the turmoil Khruschev’s speech had caused among the faithful who were accustomed to look on Stalin as infallible. In Ireland as elsewhere some party members now tried to break with the old Stalinist traditions and cultivate a more thoughtful atmosphere. The demystification also encouraged the notion of a distinctly ‘Irish road to socialism’ that would avoid the Soviet example. No one, however, seriously questioned Russia’s claim to be building communism on the basis of Stalin’s ‘few (.

,

mistakes’. *

*

*

By the summer of 1956 the IWL seemed confident it could break out of the ghetto to which the cold war had confined it for so long. In September it published its first pamphlet, Emigration CAN Be Ended and planned to intervene over the scandal of high unemployment, which stood at 90,000, and soaring emigration — 200,000 people had left the Republic since 1951. But whatever hopes there were for the IWL to advance in this direction, they were dashed suddenly when, on 4 November, the Russian army invaded Hungary to suppress a full-scale workers’ revolt. De-Stalinisation did not entail handing power to the workers, tens of thousands of whom were killed before the revolt was crushed. The Soviet Union portrayed the revolt as ‘anti-socialist’ — although it was marked by the rapid spread of revolutionary workers’ councils — and claimed that it had been inspired by ,

Cold War Communism

227

and ‘imperialists’. The capitalist media, for thenpurposes, agreed that the Hungarian people were indeed fighting for the restoration of capitalism. In Ireland it was widely but mistakenly believed that the Catholic cardinal, Mindszenty, was playing a leading part in the uprising, and the flagging anti-communist cause was given a new boost. The Dublin Trades Council congratulated the ‘heroic Hungarian people on their gallant stand against the murderous attack by Godless Communist Russia’. In Cork 200 students marched behind a banner bearing the legend ‘Cork 1920 — Budapest 1956’, while in Belfast students marched on the ‘fascists’

own

CPNI bookshop demanding

its

closure.

On

8

November

3,000 people braved gale-force winds and torrential rain to march in protest through Dublin. A section of the crowd broke away and wrecked the IWL bookshop in Pearse Street. Labour Party and trade union branches around the country condemned the invasion, and the Marine Workers’ Union put a ban on Russian goods passing through Irish ports. Apart

from the activities of a few isolated left-wing republicans, none of these protests took the form of solidarity with the Hungarian workers’ uprising as such; they were simply anticommunist. They were, however, on a much smaller scale than the anti-communist agitations of the 1930s and late 1940s.

Although the Irish Workers Voice was immediately suspended (and w as not replaced for over four years), and the IWL executive was forced to meet on Sandymount Strand while the League’s headquarters were under siege, the membership showed a remarkable resilience during the crisis. Some, including founding member Paddy Carmody, had doubts about dubbing the revolt as ‘fascist’- and ‘imperialist ’-inspired, but there was only one resignation. The fact that the reaction was so blatantly right-wing helped keep the IWL together and convinced the waverers of the need to ’

r

suppress their doubts. In the North the reaction was more tant populace, at least, would not Catholic-orchestrated upsurge south Protestant-based CPNI came through

had no paper to suspend.

It

subdued side

of the the

as the Protes-

openly with the border.

crisis intact,

The and

could not, however, prevent the

228

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

Belfast Trades Council

ing the Party,

USSR

in

from passing a resolution condemn-

forceful

by comparison,

terms.

The

lost a quarter

of

British its

Communist member-

entire

ship after Hungary, many of the defectors re-emerging as the New Left, a phenomenon that did not materialise in Ireland for many years to come. For once, it seemed, the strength of Catholic reaction had done Irish communism a

small service. *

The IWL was down but not was deepening almost

*

out.

*

The unemployment

crisis

and at the beginning of 1957 an Unemployed Protest Committee (UPC) was formed, based mainly on the building trades. Five of its twelve leaders belonged

to

daily,

the League, including executive

member Sam

Nolan (son of Sean). Public meetings and demonstrations attracted ever-increasing numbers, and when a Dail general election was called in April 1957 the UPC decided to field a candidate. Nolan declined the nomination for fear of the movement being smashed in the anti-communist backlash inspired by the Hungarian events, and former IRA internee J ack Murphy went forward instead. Opposing Roddy Connolly of the Labour Party, he polled over 3,000 votes and won a seat. In May Murphy and two other UPC leaders staged a brief hunger-strike during which thousands demonstrated daily in Dublin. A parallel movement was set up in Cork after a 3,000-strong demonstration there, and in June 2,000 marched in Waterford. But as the movement grew Murphy came out against further mass activity and demanded time to adjust to his new role as a TD. In fact Archbishop McQuaid had privately ordered him to break from the communists, and this he eventually did in August, setting up his own non-militant committee. Murphy’s betrayal left the UPC in chaos, and by the beginning of 1958 it was all but finished. Murphy resigned his seat shortly afterwards and left for Canada. While the IWL strongly defended the combination of street and parliamentary activity, there is no doubt that Murphy’s election did the blossoming movement more harm than good. The UPC was not a socialist body, but treated unemployment as ‘a national disgrace’ and sought financial support from

Cold War Communism business interests as well as from the trade unions.

229

The IWL,

desperately seeking respectability, was unwilling to challenge these tendencies, and in the post-Hungary atmosphere it was

unable to counteract Murphy’s treachery. The the victim of forces beyond its own control.

The National Question

in a

IWL was

still

Period of Transition

In the meantime the IRA, after many years of steady growth, had gone onto the offensive with a series of armed attacks along the border in December 1956. Its campaign, which was to last intermittently until 1962, was immediately condemned by the communists, North and South. Adventurist military methods, of course, had no place in communist strategy, but both the IWL and the CPNI had patently failed to offer any sort of radical alternative to the idealistic and militant youth

who

gravitated to the republican movement in the early 1950s. While the IWL indulged in a convoluted anti -partitionist rhetoric that had to be adapted to each new phase of Soviet manoeuvring, the CPNI, for fifteen uninterrupted years, had eschewed anti-partitionist politics in any form, concentrating entirely on the day-to-day economic issues that confronted the predominantly Protestant workers among whom they operated. The resurgence of IRA activity only served to strengthen such economistic tendencies. The CPNI’s immediate response was to issue a statement renouncing the use of force either for reuniting Ireland or for getting rid of capitalism (ID, Feb. 1957). It went on to urge the working class to ‘maintain its unity’ as this was essential for ‘progress towards a solution of the country’s economic situation’. Without referring to partition the statement called for ‘negotiations between the British and Irish states to explore a way forward for the solution of the problems in dispute between the peoples of these countries’. The formulation was deliberately vague, but one thing was clear: the onus for solving the undefined problems lay with the British and Irish ruling classes. At the CPNI’s 1957 congress ‘all Irishmen’ were urged to support the liberation struggles in Africa, the Middle East, South-East Asia and Central America (SMPe), but not in Ireland itself. The con-

230

Communism

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Modern

Ireland

gress did suggest that the North’s nationalist population should

be allowed to pursue their objectives by ‘constitutional means’ and declared its opposition to internment which had been introduced against the IRA both North and South. But party members did not campaign publicly for the release of the internees, and the IWL was equally quiescent. Throughout the IRA campaign the CPNI’s activists were completely immersed in day-to-day economic struggles for the defence of jobs in the Protestant-dominated contracting industries. In so far as the party attempted to politicise these struggles, it did so by advocating the election of workers’ representatives to Stormont, the return of a Labour government to Westminster, and trade with the Soviet Union, which in every party statement on unemployment was presented not only as the panacea to all the North’s — and Britain’s — economic ills, but also the highest expression of ‘anti-imp erialism’. Such an approach did not challenge the deep-seated proBritish and loyalist sentiments of the Protestant workers whom the CPNI hoped to influence. Indeed, just before the 1958 Stormont general election Andy Barr shared the platform at a rally against shipyard redundancies with the right-wing Protestant Unionist MP Norman Porter, who had built his political career campaigning (along with a certain Mr Paisley) for discrimination against Catholics, and for whom the defence of shipyard jobs meant the defence of Protestant privilege. (This exercise was repeated nearly twenty years later when Barr and Jimmy Graham shared platforms against redundancies in the armaments industry with loyalist leader William Craig and Porter’s protege Ian Paisley.) Nor did the CPNI attempt to offer a serious ideological alternative to the now firmly pro -partitionist NILP. The party decided, ‘in the interests of working-class unity’, not to oppose any of the NILP candidates in the 1958 Stormont general election, although Labour was campaigning vigorously for the defence of the border and the suppression of republicanism. By combining opposition to redundancies in the Protestant industries with wholehearted support for partition the NILP was able to capitalise on Protestant workingclass frustrations, and it won four Stormont seats in 1958 — one more than it had ever previously held. It retained those

Cold War Communism

231

seats in 1962, polling the highest vote in its history: more than one in every four cast. The Communist Party again gave the Labour candidates a free run and interpreted the party’s electoral victories as proof of the advance of ‘progress’. *

*

*

The CPNI’s

persistent refusal to treat the national question with any seriousness or urgency did not pass without criticism. Between July 1957 and March 1958 a stream of articles appeared in the Irish Democrat the paper of the Londonbased Connolly Association, which took the Irish communists to task. The most forceful critic was Jack Bennett (‘J.B.’), himself a member of the CPNI. He paraphrased his party’s position thus: ‘The workers are divided by the politics of partition. Therefore to unite them don’t mention the subject that divides them, lest you divide them.’ It was, he said, a policy of ‘blind self-deception’ whose advocates were ‘frightened by the magnitude of the political problem of partition and the political division of the workers, [and] have shamefully retreated into a purely economic position’. When Paddy ,

the IWL executive (writing as ‘A. Raftery’) accused Bennett of treating Protestant workers as ‘enemies to be subjugated’ Bennett retorted that the national question could not be solved simply by incorporating the North into the reactionary Cathohc -dominated South (which would entail subjugating Protestant workers), but only through a struggle led by an all-Ireland socialist movement aiming at state power throughout all thirty -two counties.

Carmody of

It was significant that no one from the Belfast leadership defended their position in this unusually candid exchange. Instead they defied their many critics by producing a draft programme, The Irish Way to Socialism (written by Sean Murray), which attempted to justify theoretically the low priority accorded to the national question. It argued that because of the achievement of ‘independence’ by the greater part of the country ‘the National/Imp erialist issue has travelled far on the road to solution’ and that ‘the struggle for socialism is, therefore, the task of the working class on both sides of the border’ (SMPf). But the struggle for socialism envisaged in the programme was not a struggle for workers’ power

232

Communism

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Modern

Ireland

throughout Ireland, but separate electoral campaigns North and South for ‘the advance to power of a popular people’s

movement

... a return to Parliament of a majority of repre-

on the popular will’. The establishment of such governments would be ‘accompanied by immediate measures to democratise the entire state organisation. The civil service would be organised under new leadership; the same with the police, the judiciary and armed forces.’ This, the programme claimed, was ‘the path to the peaceful transformation of N. Ireland and the Republic from capitalism sentatives based

.

.

.

to socialism’.

Against this draft programme Jack Bennett produced a 25,000-word critique (Bennett 1958) reasserting the centrality of the national struggle and its interrelationship with the struggle for socialism, and taking issue with every aspect of party activity and propaganda which, Bennett claimed, rested on the ‘compromise with imperialism’ that had persisted since the war years. He urged the party to direct its energies towards building a mass-based, all-Ireland national liberation movement under working-class leadership and embracing the

who, because of their largely proletarian composition, would maintain the struggle until socialism was achieved. But these arguments were greeted with scorn. His critical document was circulated only to members of the executive. General secretary Billy McCullough dismissed it as ‘too long’, while others simply ignored it. Bennett was offered only ten minutes in which to argue his case at an illattended meeting called to discuss Murray’s draft, and while several of those present expressed concern at Murray’s failure to deal adequately with partition, Bennett’s prophetic warnings were not even dimly comprehended. After considerable discussion with leading members of the British Communist Party, including its ‘Irish expert’, Desmond Greaves, the CPNI finally published its programme, Ireland ’s Path to Socialism in 1962. (Sean Murray had died the year before.) Despite its title, this was in fact a programme for the Six Counties, and it was complemented by a separate but parallel programme, Ireland Her Own for the Twenty-six. This was published simultaneously by the Dublin communists, who in March 1962, at their first congress in eight years, had militant republicans

,

,

Cold War Communism

233

rechristened the Irish Workers’ League the Irish Workers’ Party (IWP). These were the first programmatic statements produced by Ireland’s communists since the all-Ireland programme of 1933 (CPI 1933a), and as such they drew together and codified in a precise and permanent manner all the threads of reformist theory and practice evident in the movement since then. In essence they argued that the transition from an Ireland divided and dominated by capitalism and imperialism to an Ireland united, free and socialist could be — indeed had to be — affected

by

a long series of peaceful stages, utilising the exist-

ing parliamentary and other state institutions in Belfast and

Dublin, including the civil service, the judiciary and the police (albeit ‘under new leadership’). strategy that was new, the was produced were, for the communist movement, quite novel. Since 1943 when the Comintern had been dissolved the trend in world communism had been towards ‘poly centrism’, with the demise of a unified movement revolving around a single authoritative centre.

Although there was

little in this

circumstances in which

it

the post-war proliferation of Stalinist states in Eastern Europe and beyond undermined the Soviet Union’s position as the sole bastion of ‘socialism’, to be obeyed and defended unquestioningly. The Soviet- Yugoslav split, Khruschev’s denunciation of Stalin, the Hungarian uprising, and the Sino-Soviet split — all further weakened Moscow’s magnetism. On the other hand, with the development of nuclear weaponry the Soviet state was no longer so dependent upon the world’s communist parties to defend its interests: it could defend itself with bombs. Ironically

Individual

communist

parties

were

now much

freer to

develop their own policies. What emerged from many — including the two in Ireland — was the idea of a ‘national road’ (or, in Ireland’s case, a ‘dual carriageway’) to socialism — an idea that actually had its roots in the dogma of ‘socialism in one country’ which Stalin originally applied to the Soviet

Union. This was combined with distinctly reformist politics that had their roots in the class-collaborationist Popular Front. The intention was less to serve Moscow than to convince as wide a spectrum of public opinion as possible that com-

234

Communism

in

Modern

Ireland

munists were not the agents of a foreign power, intent on subverting the institutions of the democratic state, but were genuinely concerned to put nation before all else — including the working class. *

*

Before looking

at the strategy

*

and

its

practical application in

more detail it is necessary to outline briefly the changing economic situation in Ireland which both programmes took as starting-point. From the mid-1950s onwards a very obvious transformation was being effected in the structure and composition of the two capitalist economies in partitioned Ireland. These changes, and the attempts to adapt political institutions and ideologies to accommodate them, sent massive and violent shockwaves throughout Irish society before the end of the 1960s. their

For many years the Stormont government had been enticup the slack from the declining traditional sectors of shipbuilding, textiles and agriculture. This was stepped up in the early 1960s, and by 1966 over 200 new industries had been attracted by generous tax concessions and capital grants, abundant, relatively cheap labour, and a compliant — indeed a grateful — trade union officialdom. British capital accounted for more than three-quarters of the new investment, and four-fifths of the new production was destined for the British market. The net effect was a considerable diminution in the economic power of the Orange bourgeoisie. Inevitably their untrammelled political power would soon be called into question — and all the more so since similar economic developments had taken place in the ing outside capital to take

Republic.

By

it was patently clear to most sections of south of the border that the attempt to develop an independent Irish capitalism behind protective tariffs had failed — as James Connolly had predicted it would over half a century earlier. Connolly had also warned that without socialism Ireland would never escape the clutches of

the mid-1950s

the bourgeoisie

imperialism, and indeed

nomy

it

was by reintegrating the

Irish eco-

into the British, and ultimately into the European and

world markets, that the

Irish bourgeoisie

now

sought a

new

Cold War Communism lease of life for capitalism in the Republic.

The

235

small and dec-

home market was

an inadequate basis for future growth; foreign investment and foreign capital were necessary to refurbish the capitalist system. Sean Lemass, who succeeded de Valera as Taoiseach in 1959, and who had been one of the principal architects of self-sufficient capitalism, took on the job — tentatively begun by the preceding coalition government — of dismantling the barriers to the foreign ownership of industry. Drawn by inducements like those on offer in the North, outside capital lining

some 234 firms had commenced them were British-owned. In recognition of the growing together of the two economies the Republic followed Britain in applying for Common Market membership in 1961. Both were refused admission, but four poured

in.

By

the mid-1960s

business, and almost half of

own Free Trade Agreement, and by the end of the decade the Twenty-six Counties had emerged as Britain’s third largest trading partner. This displacement of ‘Orange’ and ‘Green’ capital by largely British capital encouraged Britain’s rulers once again to regard Ireland as a single economic unit: the border no longer made economic sense. What did make sense was that the propertied classes on both sides of the border should now co-operate in the pursuit of maximum profit for themselves and their international partners. But for such exploitation to proceed harmoniously the worst sectarian features of Unionist misrule would have to be ironed out and ‘official’ nationalism emanating from Dublin toned down. Official nationalism, however, (a rhetoric with little substance) was more easily dispensed with than Protestant supremacism. This was so because the Southern bourgeoisie, who had never seriously attempted to end partition and who now reaped the rich rewards of their new client relationship with British capitalism, had little to lose and much to gain from such a development. The Unionists, on the other hand, could never forget that they had built their state and all its institutions on a foundation of antiCatholic discrimination, something that could not be dismantled without provoking widespread loyalist resistance and jeopardising the state’s very existence. Therein lay the roots of the coming conflict. years later they negotiated their

236

Communism

in

Modern *

Through

their

Ireland *

*

1962 programmes the communists, North and

South, vigorously opposed the penetration of Ireland by ‘foreign monopoly capitalism’, which, rather than capitalism in general, was held to be the ‘principal enemy’. The alternative they proposed was not a thirty-two -county strategy for working-class power and socialism, but separate Six- and Twenty -six-County anti-monopoly alliances incorporating the working class, small capitalists, shopkeepers, farmers, professionals and intellectuals, all of whom were said to be under equal threat from the foreign capitalist invasion and therefore to have common interests in seeing it halted. This was a more detailed elaboration of the electoral strategy set out in Murray’s earlier draft. As the underlying arguments and assumptions have been maintained into the 1980s, they merit consideration in some detail. First of all it was assumed that the reintegration of the Republic’s capitalist economy into the world market was avoidable that it was not the only way forward for a bourgeoisie whose efforts to ‘go it alone’ had failed (as fail they ,

must

Connolly had been correct). The opening of the ecoas a ‘betrayal’ and a ‘sell-out’ of the basically sound principles of economic nationalism on which Fianna Fail had originally come to power. Accordingly, there was an alternative course open to the Fianna Fail bourgeoisie, an ‘anti-imperialist’ course that would put the Twenty-six Counties back on the road to independent economic development. The task of the Southern working class was to compel the national bourgeoisie to take this course by allying with if

nomy was denounced

those sections of

it

who

perceived their

‘real’ interests

most

These were sometimes called the ‘left wing’ of Fianna Fail. If the workers fought for socialist objectives at this ‘stage’, they would frighten off these potential allies. Defending the Republic’s political independence and strengthening its native (capitalist) economy were therefore the immediate tasks facing the Dublin communists. In the North, however, where there was no independence to defend, the communists endeavoured to win some by demanding an increase in the powers of the Stormont government over finance, taxation, trade and foreign policy. These were powers held by Westclearly.

Cold War Communism

237

minster, powers which the communists argued must be transferred to Belfast before any Six-County government could pursue an independent, ‘anti-imperialist’ policy. In the short

term the communists, through the trade unions, would attempt to ‘pressurise’ existing governments to carry out these policies, but ultimately what was required was the election of ‘Progressive Governments’ in Belfast and Dublin, coalitions based on the proposed anti-monopoly alliances. It was further assumed that the Republic’s established democratic system would permit such a transfer of governmental power to proceed smoothly, and because the working class would eventually use the democratic institutions of the state, it had a duty to defend them. Hence, for example, the

communists opposed the Republic’s entry to the Common Market not only because it threatened ‘total economic ruin’, but also because this basis the

it

IWP

threatened ‘the authority of the Dail’.

On

participated in anti-EEC campaigns before

the Republic’s accession in 1973. In the Six Counties matters were different, for, as the CPNI argued, the denial of elementary democracy by the Unionist

regime

mont

made the return of a progressive government to Storvery unlikely. This, however, was not perceived as a

problem that could only be resolved in the destrucwas said to be surmountable through the achievement of basic civil rights. It was the task of the working class and its progressive allies to compel the government to end the restricted franchise, the gerrymandering of local electoral boundaries and the Special Powers Act. (The issue of civil rights assumed major importance in the years ahead, although by no means in the manner envisaged by the CPNI.) When the North had been democratised and the Republic’s independence safeguarded, and when progressive coalitions were in power in Belfast and Dublin, the two economies could

structural

tion of the Six-County state, but

be developed independently of foreign monopoly capitalism, through such measures as protection for native industries, massive state investment, widespread nationalisation (with compensation), centralised planning, and greatly expanded trade with the ‘crisis-free socialist world’ — whose very existence, the communists insisted, made such independent eco-

238

Communism

in

Modern Ireland

nomic development possible

in Ireland.

The two

progressive

governments carrying out these state capitalist measures would soon find it mutually advantageous — indeed absolutely essential — to establish one governmental authority: Ireland would be reunited in peace and harmony. The logical and inexorable outcome of these many stages would be ‘socialism’. Although in its programme the IWP in fact neglected to say how ‘progress’ would be transformed into socialism, the

CPNI

dowing the proposed

‘common

resolved this

all-class

dilemma by simply

en-

coalition governments with

aspirations to develop towards the establishment of

and on that basis declared itself ‘confident’ that would be achieved. However ill-defined the concept, or the method of making it a reality, it was absolutely clear that Ireland’s communists believed socialism could be won and maintained on a purely national scale. Internationalism, in so far as it entered into either programme, had nothing to do with the pursuit of world-wide proletarian power, but was socialism’

socialism

reduced to fawning expressions of solidarity with the bureaucratic anti-working-class regimes of the Soviet bloc.

These, then, were the key elements in the two communist programmes of 1962. With their adoption the CPNI and IWP believed they had at last entered the world of ‘practical’ politics, offering real, minutely detailed and workable solutions to Ireland’s many ills. When we examine the conse-

quences of these reformist theories — applied as they were in a period when Ireland, like many other countries, was moving rapidly towards massive social and political upheavals — we shall see how totally impractical they were.

11

Dual Carriageway to Socialism ... or Nowhere

Ireland’s

Opportunism and the Search for Respectability Republic in the 1960s seemed to offer strengthening the communist movement. Working-class cynicism and despondency — the result of economic stagnation and Labour Party participation in coalition governments in the 1950s — were giving way to a new combative spirit. Foreign investment, which the IWP insisted could lead only to economic ruin, was helping revive the economy.

Developments

some scope

in the

for

Emigration had slowed down, and the population was growing; the numbers in industrial employment were expanding; wages were rising faster than prices (if slower than profits); workers’ expectations, and hence also their militancy, were increasing. This could in fact be seen as the period when a modem industrial proletariat came into being in the Twentysix Counties.

The

first

major wage

strike for over a

the Electricity Supply Board in the

decade occurred in

autumn of 1961 and was

followed by a general and largely successful wages push in the following year. By 1964 the Twenty -six Counties stood at the top of the world strike league, a position it retained in

1965, and while

it

number of days

lost

slipped to third place in 1966, the actual through strikes increased that year by

almost 40 per cent (Meehan 1970: 157). Yet it was also a period of intense conservatism among union leaders, reflecting the unprecedented collaboration with state and employers that followed the amalgamation of the two congresses, the ITUC and the CIU, into the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in 1959. That year saw the formation of the tripartite National Productivity Committee, while two years later the ICTU leaders invited themselves onto the Committee on Industrial

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Organisation to help pave the way for the Republic’s entry to the EEC and to facilitate greater capital accumulation by the

incoming investors — whose arrival most union leaders warmly welcomed. The first National Employer/Labour Conference was held in 1962, and in the following year the National Industrial Economic Council was established. Through its participation in these and other state -sponsored bodies for the management of the economy, the trade union hierarchy was being further incorporated into the capitalist state. In some industries rank-and-file dissatisfaction with bureaucratic misdirection led to the establishment of (initially) more militant breakaway unions. Although the Labour Party was in no way associated with the upsurge in industrial militancy in this period, it benefited from the growing strength and confidence of the working class with a dramatic increase in membership and support. The two largest unions in the land, the Transport Union and the Workers’ Union, both affiliated, and in the 1965 general election Labour won twenty-two seats (more than at any time since 1927), and five of them were in Dublin. In 1967 it again committed itself to socialist objectives and the Workers’ Republic. In 1969 it polled the highest vote in its history (although it lost four of its Dail seats). The fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966 and the centenary of James Connolly’s birth two years later encouraged new interest, particularly among the country’s youth, in Connolly’s socialist teachings. Maoist organisations had appeared after the Sino-Soviet split of 1963, and they were particularly strong among students. (In 1968 the Communist Party in Belfast actually expelled a sizeable neo-Maoist faction, one of whose leaders was Eddie Spence, brother of the UVF leader Gusty Spence.) The Irish Trotskyist movement too was reborn — in the shape of the Irish Workers’ Group (1965). It published its own paper, Irish Militant and a theoretical journal, An Solas. Some of its adherents were veterans of the IRA’s abortive border campaign that had finally ended in 1962. The republicans themselves had begun to steer a leftward course in search of new support, ,

and

in

1967 they also declared for socialism (We shall return to this below.)

objective.

as a

long-term

Ireland’s

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241

The Catholic Church may not have welcomed these stiron the left, but compared with the 1930s and 1950s its response was exceedingly timid, indeed barely audible. The Irish hierarchy was under some pressure to adapt to the needs of a modernising economy and was wary of forcing confrontations lest it should lose more of its social power than was absolutely necessary. The development of peaceful coexistence rings

between church and state in Eastern Europe also encouraged this moderation. But while the Church permitted a slight easing in censorship and tolerated modest changes in the schools (in

recognition of the needs of industry), it still retained its hegemony in relation to the family and over

ideological

education in general. The state remained a sectarian entity. compared with the introverted ‘black fifties’, the 1960s were years of innovation and change that produced an undoubtedly more open society where the left could breathe more easily. If all of this was a result of the opening of the economy, that did not mean the left was obliged to support international capitalism against the native variety, as some on the left later argued. The IWP, on the other hand, took the opposite view and argued forcefully for the defence of native capitalism against the ‘foreign takeover’.

Nevertheless,

*

*

*

Throughout the decade the communists in the Twenty-six Counties made modest progress, more perhaps than at any time since the early 1930s but still less than circumstances suggested was possible. The IWP had been closely involved in several ‘single -issue’

campaigns



against

EEC membership;

and over Dublin’s appalling housing shortage. This last campaign, organised through the Dublin Housing Action Committee, for nuclear disarmament; for ‘peace’ in Vietnam;

was particularly militant, involving mass demonstrations, squatting and the occupation of buildings (in one of which Mick O’Riordan was arrested). The republicans were also involved in this agitation. Each of these campaigns was conducted in a self-contained manner on the assumption that each problem had its own particular solution that did not entail the socialist transformation of society, in Ireland or

Reforms at home and peaceful coexistence abroad were the essence of IWP policy.

internationally.

Communism

242

in

Modern

Ireland

The

party’s two greatest achievements in this period were paper, the Irish Socialist begun in 1961 and published more or less without interruption ever since, and its Connolly

its

,

Youth Movement, begun

in

1965 and

still

providing the party

From

proper with a steady stream of capable cadres. tion until 1975 the Irish Socialist

mody

who was

(‘A. Raftery’),

the party’s

incep-

its

was edited by Paddy Car-

also the principal

author of

1962 programme and perhaps the most con-

from a purely reformist perspective, of Stalin and Stalinism. The paper, however, was geared exclusively to the politics of national development and completely failed sistent critic,

to mirror

— let

alone to spearhead



the

new

militant

mood

working class. It remained turgid and gloomily apocalyptic. In the October 1965 issue, for example, six times more space was given over to reporting on the plight of Dublin’s

in the

street traders, threatened

by

foreign supermarkets, than to a

print workers’ strike, in progress for ten

weeks but not pre-

viously mentioned in the paper. Such priorities were deter-

mined by the

desire to

woo

petty -bourgeois

allies.

For the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966 the IWP produced two new pamphlets, one a study of Pearse (Raftery 1966), the other of Connolly (Deasy 1966). For Connolly’s centenary in 1968 the party republished several of his long-out-of-print pamphlets. A study of Larkin (Deasy 1963) and a compilation, Lenin on Ireland were also published. This was certainly a substantial output from such a small organisation, and it provided the opportunity to present Connolly as the progenitor of the IWP’s own highly refined ,

stages strategy. Thus Deasy (1966: 13) had Connolly fighting and dying for ‘a free independent Ireland [where] the workers would be freer to fight for their own social objectives’ — that is,

an independent capitalist Ireland. was the main aim of the

This, of course, first

necessity’,

the

strengthening of the

1962 programme had

economy of

IWP

itself.

stated,

is

‘The ‘the

the Twenty-six Counties’

(IWP 1962: 18). The fact that this was a capitalist economy was disguised (or denied) by describing it simply as ‘our’ economy, comprising ‘our’ industries and ‘our’ trade. At the same time the IWP, of course, advocated better living standards, but instead of militant struggle to attain them it called for

Ireland’s

Dual Carriageway

to Socialism

243

‘pressure’ to be put on the union leaders to pressurise in turn the employers and government into recognising the value to the economy as a whole of increased wages. ‘The raising of

workers’ living standards’, said the Irish Socialist in November 1965, ‘is the best guarantee of an expanding home market, which is vital if Irish industry is to expand.’ When militant struggles occurred the IWP was frequently ambivalent towards them and never sought to generalise them in an anticapitalist direction.

In an effort to curb growing industrial militancy the government, at the beginning of 1963, had proposed a wage freeze. The IWP described the move as ‘not only an anti-working-class policy [but] an anti-national policy’, and urged the Labour Party and its supporters to call on ‘the entire people, workers, farmers, small businessmen, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and Republicans, to rally to the defence of our independence and living standards’ (IS,

Feb. 1963).

When

in the following year

an attempt was made to revive the system of national wage agreements that had proved such an effective antidote to worker militancy in the 1950s the IWP did not oppose the move. In November 1965, when negotiations began for a new agreement, the Irish Socialist warned workers not to follow ‘the militant sections’ who argued that the strongest unions should fight first to win high wage settlements which others could emulate. The IWP doubted if this strategy could win — not because of rank-and-file weakness but because the union bosses were not keen on it — and called instead for ‘a national wage agreement with new safeguards for the workers’ (IS, Nov. 1965). The repudiation of the militants and the acceptance of what amounted to incomes policy under capitalism was justified as part of the wider strategy for strengthening ‘our economy’. Militant capitalism, however, was seen in a different light. There was much harking back to the days when Irish capitalists were supposedly good nationalists. ‘How Lemass Has Changed’, ran a headline in the Irish Socialist in October 1963. It went on: ‘The Lemass of 1957 was a spokesman for Irish capitalism. The Lemass of 1963 sounds more like a spokesman for British imperialism. We support Lemass 1957 against what he has now become.’ (Memories were indeed short: 1957 was a year

Communism

244

in

Modern

Ireland

of mass unemployment and emigration.)

No

party statement

on the economy was now complete without a

call for a

more

export drive. Typical of this approach was the IWP’s proposed alternative to the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement of 1965. ‘The type of policy which Ireland needs’, it declared, is ‘a drive to develop our industry go out into the world and fight [sic] for markets, North, South, East and West’ (IS, Nov. 1965). The Free Trade Agreement was seen as the final betrayal of the national economy, amounting to no less than the reconquest of the Twenty -six Counties by British imperialism. (In fact, despite the apparent increase in the Republic’s economic dependence on Britain, diversification was proceeding. Before long — and especially after EEC membership was negotiated — the supremacy of British capital was challenged by American and other Western European capital.) Central to the whole IWP approach was a belief that the state was the main instrument for developing the economy. aggressive

.

The 1962 programme had put

it

.

.

like this:

In countries like Ireland, which have been colonies, and having gained political independence, are now trying to develop a strong economy, the State is the only means through which essential industries, which will not give

back an immediate profit and which require heavy investment, can be set up. State control is also a means for ensuring that the industries will not fall back into imperialist hands. (IWP 1962: 4)

The

was currently ‘in the hands’ of the capitalist class, could be taken over, gradually and peacefully, by ‘representatives of the working class loyal to the ideas of socialism’ (IS, Feb. 1963). Thus ‘state capitalism’ — a phrase sometimes used by IWP leader Sam Nolan to describe what the party advocated — was a step towards socialism. Nolan had argued but

state

it

that

Since control of State enterprises remains with an Irish

Government, the basis exists for planning the economy. However, the Labour movement must demand greater working-class representation on the boards of state indus.

.

.

Ireland's

Dual Carriageway

to Socialism

245

tries and greater control by the Dail. This would be an important step on the road to a socialist system of society. (IS, May 1964)

Such

attitudes towards the state

tion and planning

owed much

and towards nationalisa-

to the communists’ acceptance

of the Eastern European regimes as socialist. (There the state was all-powerful, but it was not a workers’ state.) Such attitudes, moreover, were ultimately reformist, for although

they envisaged a transformation of the social system, they asserted that this could be done by the workers’ elected parliamentary representatives taking over and reforming the institutions of the capitalist state. ‘We hold that the conditions for a peaceful transition to socialism in Ireland,’ the executive declared (IS, June 1964). Another factor that helped minimise IWP militancy on the industrial front was its unwillingness to offer any serious challenge to the existing trade union leaders, despite their increasingly blatant collaboration with state and employers. When the IWP called upon the ‘Labour and trade union movement’ to ‘act’ on every conceivable issue, it did so without distinguishing between the bureaucratic, conservative leaderexist

IWP

it was to the memexecutive that the IWP invariably looked to take the initiative on every matter, and, equally invariably, the party declared its faith in their ability to do so. When these leaders continued to let down the rank and file and when criticism could no longer be avoided the IWP finally complained that the ICTU executive was ‘at times appearing to collaborate with employers and government’ and seemed to be out of touch with the rank and file’ (IS, July 1967, emphasis added). This woolly language obscured the need to either expose the reality and permanence of collaboration, or to propose ways in which the rank and file might counteract it. At the beginning of 1968 there was a great increase in the number of unofficial strikes, indicating the growth of rankand-file frustration at the leadership’s passivity. The IWP deplored the ‘gulf’ this created between officials and their members and blamed the unofficial nature of the strikes not on the bureaucracy’s unwillingness to make them official but on

ship

and the rank-and-file workers. Indeed,

bers of the

ICTU



Communism

246

the slowness of

in

Modern

management by

‘dissipating’ their energies

and

file

Ireland in

settling claims. Instead

of

striking unofficially the rank

were advised to channel their militancy

‘into the

movement’ (IS, June 1968). Under the circumstances this was a recipe for inaction. One of the most important disputes in this period was the trade union

3,000-strong maintenance workers’ strike that lasted for five in 1969. There were mass pickets which 40,000 other workers respected, despite advice from the ICTU executive that the picket lines should be broken. The IWP gave verbal support to the strike, but remained uncritical of the ICTU leaders, and when the strike ended (in success) the party expressed its doubts as to the wisdom of the mass picketing because it had so strained relations between the militant file workers putting into positions of power people they could ‘trust’ to act on their behalf. Within the unions the IWP thus occupied a space somewhere between the rank-and-file militants and the far from militant leadership, trying to reconcile the two by discouraging unofficial action in defiance of bureaucratic passivity while encouraging the bureaucracy to be more assertive. By these means the IWP’s activists displayed their ‘responsibility’, anticipating elevation to official positions, elected or appointed, as their reward. In time this paid dividends and party members began to capture full-time posts, most notably in the WUI, ITGWU and the white-collar managerial union, ASTMS. In the 1970s the Dublin communists did adopt some more radical postures within the unions, not least because they were in constant danger of being outflanked on their left. In 1972 they even participated in an independent rankand-file body, the Dublin Shop Stewards’ Movement, organised to resist further national wage agreements. However, when they found they could not secure control over this body they

weeks

withdrew. Their determination to enter and their desire ultimately to dominate the trade union hierarchy reflected their essentially bureaucratic notion of socialism from above with rank-andfile workers putting into positions of power people they could ,

‘trust’ to act

on

their behalf.

Ireland’s

Dual Carriageway

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247

for respectability, with its attendant opportunism and compromise, also characterised the IWP’s attitude towards the Catholic Church in this period. Its 1962 programme did not even mention the dominant position of the Church in the

The search

affairs of the

Republic,

let

alone suggest resistance to

it.

In

the field of education, for example — which was the locus of the Church’s ideological power — the IWP only raised the sort

of demands that liberals might have taken up in a normal programme and an end to corporal punishment. This general attitude was symptomatic of a deeper philosophical compromise, by no means unique to Ireland and in many respects similar to the period of the Spanish civil war, whereby communists denied there was any conflict between Marxism and religion. ‘Far from being in conflict with Christianity,’ said the 1962 programme, ‘it is only through can be socialism that the basic social idea of Christianity realised.’ (IWP 1962: 14) Such assertions, repeated endlessly in long articles in the Irish Socialist and mostly written by Paddy Carmody, took the place of any serious critique of religion as myth or of the Catholic Church as a reactionary

secular society, such as a school-building

.

.

.

institution in Irish society.

Such opportunism was facilitated by international developments within the Church and between it and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe where detente had been built up in the post-Stalin era. At the same time a process of liberalisation in Catholic social teaching had begun with the accession of John XXIII to the papacy in 1958. Compared with his predecessor, the ultra-conservative Pius XII, who had issued no fewer than 123 anti-communist proclamations in his nineteenyear reign, John XXIII appeared almost radical with his socially concerned encyclicals, Mater et magistra and Pacem in terris together with the Second Vatican Council in 1962. The Irish Socialist referred regularly to these encyclicals and ,

its own stand on many issues by them. For example, the fact that Mater et magistra recognised the validity of public ownership was used to give weight to the IWP’s proposals for a stronger state sector in the economy. (The encyclical’s simultaneous defence of private property as a ‘natural right’ was conveniently over-

increasingly sought to justify citing

248

Communism

looked.)

On

because

‘its

Pacem

in

in

Modern

Ireland

the other hand, the government was denounced line runs contrary to the doctrines of

whole

.

terris ’ (IS,

.

May

.

1963).

It

was certainly unusual to

autonomy of Twenty -six -County government from Church doctrine. find communists complaining about the

the

Although Cardinal Conway warned before the 1969 general was still the ‘greatest danger’ facing the Irish people, the days of widespread and violent anticommunist agitation were long over, and by 1970 the ‘Marxist/ Christian dialogue’ could be conducted safely within the walls of Maynooth itself. In October that year Mick O’Riordan was invited to the headquarters of the Irish hierarchy to address nuns and priests on ‘revolution’. Throughout the decade the Dublin communists had been able to pursue their objectives free from clerical molestation, and as they began to gain new influence among sections of the youth and in some of the unions they would not rock the boat by campaigning against continuing Church interference in social, political and moral affairs. Detente was the order of the day at home as well as abroad. The absence of Church interference, however, had not enabled the IWP to improve its electoral performance. In 1961 O’Riordan had polled 277 votes, fewer even than at the height of the cold war in 1954, and in 1965 he polled 180 first preferences, his lowest ever, and that at a time of mass strikes and in an election that saw the return of twenty-two Labour TDs. These results suggested that the fortunes of the communist movement could not be expected to rise automatically with the increase in support for the wider social-democratic labour movement. They also suggested that the IWP had failed to convince any section of the working class that it was their duty to help save native capitalism from the ravages of the foreign monopolies. election that socialism

.

*

*

*

In the light of what was soon to happen north of the border it is necessary to say something also of the IWP’s attitude to

the national question in this crucial period. From what has already been said it is clear the party in Dublin did not regard militant, socialist-directed struggle against native capitalism, bourgeois nationalism or Church domination as vital elements

,

Ireland's in

a

strategy

for

Dual Carriageway

breaking

down

to Socialism

249

Protestant working-class

and idealism shaped the IWP’s attitude towards partition. ‘Ireland is divided,’ its 1962 programme conceded, ‘but the workers North and South show that there is no division of interest between them by membership of the same trade union movement.’ (IWP 1962: 1) It went on to claim that ‘The Six Counties is divided into classes with conflicting interests, the same as every other class society’ and asserted that ‘There is complete unity of interest between the Protestant and Catholic workers.’ (ibid.: 17) Elsewhere it was argued that ‘If Mr Lemass’s Government is really interested in ending partition, the means are open to it even inside the existing framework.’ (IS, Dec. 1963) This amounted to a policy of ‘economic integration’ in which the Republic’s state -run industries could play a major role. An article in the Irish Socialist suggested that Bord na Mona establish a peat briquette factory in the bogs of Tyrone, the Irish Sugar Beet Company open a factory at Omagh, Aer resistance to Irish unity. Naivety

Lingus place orders with Short’s aircraft factory in Belfast, and Coras Trachtala, the state-run export-promoting body, assist Northern businessmen in their search for markets. If all of these were done, the author confidently predicted, ‘a wedge would be driven into the Unionist ranks’ that would ‘smash the popular basis of Unionism’, making it possible to ‘negotiate the final settlement of the Irish question’ (ibid.). Given such attitudes, it was not surprising that the communists were left confused by the meeting of Northern and Southern premiers in January 1965. It was clear that the meeting was in response to economic pressures for cross-border collaboration, something the communists had advocated for many years. But the economic forces at work here were not national as the communists had hoped they would be; they were international. So while some in the communist move-

ment welcomed

the talks as heralding in a

new harmonious

era in North/South relations (Unity, 16, 23 Jan. 1965; IS, Feb. 1965), others warned that their real purpose was to

draw the Twenty-six Counties even closer to Britain, weaken independence still further, and destroy for ever all hopes of a genuinely independent Irish nation (Unity 30 Jan. 1965). There was a similar divergence of opinion when Jack Lynch,

its

250

Communism

in

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Ireland

Lemass’s successor, travelled North in November 1967 (7S,Jan., Feb. 1968). As events were soon to show, the national question could not be comprehended, let alone resolved, on the basis of such confusion and naive utopianism. In the meantime, however, it was events elsewhere that taxed the imagination of the Irish communist movement. *

*

*

communist movement’s new self-image — defending democracy, promoting the idea of a ‘national road to socialism’, and acting quite independently of Moscow — was put to the test when the Soviet Union, backed by four Warsaw Pact countries, invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Alexander Dubbek, elevated to power in Czechoslovakia in January, had proposed to solve the country’s economic crisis with measures of decentralisation and the introduction of market principles. Encouraged by the apparent weakening of state control, a new critical movement emerged, based largely on intellectuals and students; but workers too took the opportunity to assert their interests, and a rash of strikes occurred. The Soviet Union’s grip on the Eastern bloc seemed threatened as it had been in the events in Hungary twelve years earlier, and the response was the same: full-scale mili-

The

tary invasion.

The IWP had publicly voiced support

for

Dub£ek from

the

May

the Irish Socialist had said that ‘In most East European countries went much limitations on freedom too far,’ but it was pleased to report that ‘Czechoslovakia has outset. In

.

.

.

.

.

.

now

taken the lead in the democratisation of life in the July the paper reproduced part of Dub