Comintern Papers QUB

Reel 5 p.354-65.

Comintern Reference: MS 57/4/2/495/89/87/30-41 (Dec 1933)

Copying EN


By Seumas MacKee

The present situation both here and abroad makes necessary an examination of our position and of the experiences gained since the formation of the Communist Party of Ireland six months ago. It is necessary for us to review the policy pursued, to examine our mistakes and map our course for the next period in the struggle for winning the majority of the Irish workers for the CPI, for the struggle for the Workers and Farmers’ Republic, for an independent and united Ireland.

In the Free State the DIRECT representatives of British imperialism – O’Duffy, Cosgrave, MacDermott – have carried through a reorganization and mobilization[1] of their forces in order to combat the growing mass movement of the workers and exploited farmers against social and national oppression. The Blueshirts and  United Ireland Party represent a concentration of the most reactionary bourgeois and capitalist farmer elements closely connected with British imperialism, acting as the outpost of  British imperialism in the Free State.

Their FASCIST program marks a step towards the establishment of open bourgeois dictatorship directed against the “internal enemy” – the masses of workers and farmers; to find a capitalist way out of the economic crisis; and to aid British imperialism in its war preparations, i.e. to make Ireland a safe military base in the event of imperialist war for British imperialism. The reactionary imperialist UIP concentration sees that only by the forcible suppression of the workers’ and farmers’ movement, and complete unity with British imperialism, can the


Irish bourgeoisie find a way out of the crisis on a capitalist basis, Such a program can only be successful by the destruction of the working class movement, the forcible subjection of the mass of the farmers to exploitation by the banks, ranchers, etc., and the maintenance of Ireland as a pawn of British imperialism in its struggle against its imperialist rivals. The UIP program for the Irish masses means more intense social and national oppression enforced by a regime of bloody terror that would make the Black-and-Tan terror seem to be a mere picnic in comparison.

DeValera’s government, and his party Fianna Fáil, are feverishly working to canalize the growing tide of mass radicalization into national reformist channels. Faced with growing dissatisfaction of the workers and farmers with his policy, DeValera has developed a widespread series of radical manouvers which are calculated to bolster up the illusions of the masses that DeValera is “marching to a Republic”, that “a new social order” is being introduced, and that the Blueshirts are being suppressed in the name of “democracy”. By these means DeValera hopes to distract the attention of the masses from the bitter reality of the deepening of the economic crisis, growing unemployment, wage cuts, the growing menace of fascism and imperialist war.

With the most brazen demagogy DeValera tells the masses that his policy of export subsidies on behalf of the ranchers, subsidies to manufacturers and high protection tariffs, etc., “to make the country economically independent” will result in securing the well-being of the masses and the establishment of a “new social order” different from “pagan capitalism”. The facts of the situation show that DeValera’s economic program is solely in


The interests of ranchers and capitalism. The capitalist attack on the wages and conditions of the workers received the complete support of the Free State government which openly acted as a strike-breaker either by the use of troops as against the railwaymen, or by “arbitration”. The new unemployment bill increases the burden of insurance payments on the workers. Under the pretense of “vesting” the agricultural labourers with “ownership” of their cottages, they are burdened with payments for all repairs and maintenance of the cottages. DeValera’s whole policy is directed towards increasing the burdens on the masses, and attempting to find a capitalist solution to the economic crisis.

DeValera utilizes the “struggle” against the Blueshirts in order to fascize the state apparatus. The Military Tribunals introduced by Cosgrave are re-established, composed of military officers appointed by the Cosgrave government, and while the UIP leaders are only fined by the tribunals, revolutionary republicans and workers are sent to prison for longer terms because they fight against the armed bands of the Blueshirts. While “outlawing” the Blueshirts armed bands DeValera organizes a military reserve under the pretext of “national defence” and attacks the IRA, suppresses its paper, and jails its members. To sidetrack and break up the growing anti-imperialist upsurge DeValera utilizes his police and military tribunals to prevent the masses really smashing the Blueshirts. At the same time he lets loose a flood of cheap “republican” phrases, and indulges in shoddy manouvers such as his candidature in the Ulster elections, and his correspondence with Thomas, in order to fool the masses into thinking that he is fighting for the independence and unity of the country. While Duffy and Co. are direct agents of British imperialism, DeValera in opposing British imperialism makes the friendliest overtures to Britain’s chief


imperial rival – the U.S.

The IRA leadership in the present situation displays the utmost wavering and hesitation. Its policy can only be described as one of straddling every important question. In the struggle against the Blueshirts they have not given a militant lead to the rank and file. Such actions by republicans against the Blueshirts as have taken place were the work of local groups, “An Phoblacht”, the IRA organ has even gone the length of letting it be known that !a definite army order instructing volunteers not to interfere with the Blueshirts”, has been issued. While accusing DeValera of betraying the republic they have nothing more definite to put forward than complaints of persecution, appeals to past struggles, and the abstract slogan: “forward to the Republic”, but with a conciliatory attitude toward the DeValera government.

In Ulster the continued deepening of the economic crisis, growing unemployment, wage slashing, robbing the Belfast unemployed of the gains they won in their struggles in October, 1932, creates a situation where the Craigavon government is forced more openly than before to let loose widespread police terror against the masses. The recent elections were carried on in an atmosphere of police terror, but in spite of this the growth in republican sentiment is shown in the election of an IRA candidate. The attitude of British imperialism to Ulster was shown very clearly during the Thomas-DeValera controversy when the bourgeois press openly talked of the necessity of a military occupation of Ulster in the event of any attempt to establish an Irish Republic.

Our young Communist Party is confronted with a very complicated situation which requires redoubled energy and revolution-


ary determination on the part of every member. It seems to us that during the past period the Party has made mistakes which must be brought to the attention of every Party organisation, every party member, in order that our course for the future can be established on a Bolshevik basis.

The main weakness during the past period has been the failure to make clear the leading role of the Communist Party. In our agitation “Workers Voice”, leaflets, manifestos, etc’, in the majority of cases not even the name of the party is mentioned.[2] Whole issues of the paper have appeared in which not even the word “communist” is mentioned, not to mention the Party. Concretely: in the issue of December 16 the editorial deals with the struggle against the fascist menace. It says: “the grave situation confronting the Irish nation demands that all republican bodies, Fianna Fáil clubs, trade union and working class organizations, be brought together in a country-wide anti-imperialist movement”. Not a word about the CPI.

This raises the serious question: Does the Irish working class require its own class party – the Communist Party – to lead it in the struggle against its enemies? It is possible for the Irish working class to secure hegemony in the mass struggle for independence and socialism unless it is led by its own Communist Party? Is a Communist Party necessary in Ireland or something else? If we are seriously struggling for the building of the CPI, then a sharp change must be made regarding this matter, or we shall be guilty of a policy of liquidation of the whole conception of the leading role of the Party and utterly fail in building our party.

The CPI must bend all its energies to establishing clearly and definitely before the workers and small farmers the identity


Of the Communist Party as the Party of proletarian dictatorship, the vanguard of the proletariat leading there struggle for the Workers’ and Farmers Republic.

Since the Party Congress very little has been done to popularize the Manifesto adopted by the Congress. Besides some speeches delivered at the Congress (in which the erroneous conception is put forward that the CPI is “a 20th Century Society of United Irishmen”)[3] the Workers’ Voice has printed only one article on the Manifesto. Unfortunately since the Congress, the Workers’ Voice has appeared irregularly, and in its contents appears more as a left republican journal rather than the organ of the CPI. Without a real understanding of the Manifesto, and the most persistent and patient popularization of it, the CPI will be unable to establish its identity as the Party of the Irish proletariat fighting for national independence and socialism.

Hiding the role of the Party is a characteristic feature of the work carried on in many spheres. In the Dublin Municipal elections there was little or nothing in our election literature to show that our candidates were Communist candidates. In the leaflets and articles on the fascist danger [the][4] leading role of the Party is not mentioned. The same applies to the work in the trade unions and among the unemployed.


The absence of a firm Communist conception of the role of the Party, the hegemony of the proletariat in the mass struggle for national independence and socialism, is shown in the agitation of the Party regarding the fascist danger, and also in the confusion in the organization following the attack on Connolly House.


The leaflets and directives issued on the question of the fascist danger (the Blueshirts) are limited to abstractions, there is nothing as to how to organize the struggle. These leaflets are variously headed “Unite Against Fascism”, “Crush the Guardsmen”, “The Fascist Danger and the Workers’ Struggle Against it”. Naturally one would expect to find some concrete proposals as to how to organize the struggle against the fascists. But each in limited to the general appeals: “Form a united workers front”, “all together in the fight”, “continue the struggle”. There admonitions are no doubt encouraging, but cannot take the place of concrete proposals as to how the CPI intends to initiate, organize and lead the workers’ united front against the fascists. But in general the role of the CPI in initiating, organizing and leading the united front is ignored except to say that “the CPI sounds the call of alarm”, and in the directives of the Secretariat it is said: “The secretariat directs the attention of all local organizations of the CP to the danger of fascism and the necessity for rousing the workers in all parts of the country against it”, and “concretely” proposes that trade union branches should pass resolutions condemning O’Duffy and his National Guards, and “conferences of all labor and nationalist organizations and public meetings should be pressed forward and carried out everywhere”.

The slogans put forward show the upmost confusion regarding the Communist struggle against fascism. The Dublin District Committee puts out the slogan “For the Rights of Free Speech” in a leaflet which states that the Blueshirts are out to establish fascism in Ireland. Further it asks “all together in the fight against the enemies of the nation and the Irish working class” in the directives of the Secretariat the aim of fascism is de-


fined as abolishing the right to organise trade unions and political parties, abolition of the franchise rights of the workers, “gagging of every avenue for ventilating the workers’ grievances, the press, public meetings, etc.” Against this the workers must struggle, but not one word is said about the struggle for the Workers’ and Farmers’ Republic, on the contrary, anyone would think that the CPI struggles against the fascist menace in order to preserve the “democracy” of the Irish Free State as it was before O’Duffy appeared with his “Guardsmen”. At the same time, the position of the CPI is a justification for DeValera’s slogan in his “fight” against the Blueshirts that the “Majority rule must prevail”, i.e. the Blueshirts are a menace to “democracy” which is represented in the Free State by DeValera and his government.

The CPI now calls any violent or anti-working class action on the part of the Irish government “fascism”. Thus we have the term “Craigavon fascism” applied to the Northern Ireland government because of its display of force against the unemployed fighting against a reduction in relief when it is well-known that this government has been notorious for its use of force alone since its formation in 1920. A city official in Cork who worsens conditions of relief workers is called “Cork’s Hitler”.

Herin lies the danger of completely confusing what we really mean by fascism, and being unable to rally the workers against it. The Workers’ Voice of October 28th deals with the resolution of the Labour Party on fascism which “instructs the Administrative Council to take every possible step in conjunction with all forces of opposing that reactionary dictatorship to combat this great danger to the Labour movement”. In commenting on this the Workers’ Voice does not criticize the Labour Party bureaucracy


For not fighting fascism, on the contrary, it spreads the illusion among the workers that the labour fakers will fight by writing: “The job for every sincere Labour Party worker is to see how that the resolution is put into practice and that the Administrative Council carries out its instructions”. Further the Workers’ Voice hands over the initiative in the organization of the united front against fascism to the Labour Party by stating: “The Labour Party conference called for a united working class struggle against the forces of fascism. Every Labour Party branch and member should press for this campaign to the initiated at once.”

Without a decisive change in its policy regarding the fascist menace the CPI shall be unable to organize and lead a united front of the workers, small farmers against this danger.


In the economic struggles during the past year the party has issued many agitation leaflets, especially during the struggles of the Northern railwaymen, Dublin clothing workers and seamen and dockers. Most of these leaflets were issued either by the Secretariat of the Workers’ Voice, and the impression is that while the center was active in this agitation work, in the localities very few of the comrades were drawn into active work in these struggles. While this agitation was correct in urging unity and solidarity, to take the strikes out of the hands of the treacherous leaders, exposing the strike-breaking role of both governments, for example, during the Northern railwaymen’s strike we put forward among other demands the abolition of capitalism.


But the chief weakness in the work during these struggles was that emphasis was not placed on the necessity of building a trade union opposition to the bureaucracy. In Belfast during the railwaymen’s strike the first beginnings of such a movement was made in the Railwaymen’s Vigilance movement. It is significant that both in Belfast and Dublin the chairman of the railwaymen’s strike committees were members of the Party. But even the possession of these vantage points did not bring about the consolidation of an opposition among the railwaymen. It is not sufficient to continually appeal for the setting up of a “rank and file leadership” as was done during these strikes, it is essential that such a leadership be organized and the first step toward this is the organization of the trade union opposition. Because of the lack of this the railwaymen, seamen and dockers were betrayed by the officials (either the bureaucrats from the Executive Committee of the Unions, or the local “left” Irish officials.

The resolution of the Politbureau [sic] on economic struggles (July 22, 1933) in summing up the situation speaks of the “isolation from the economic struggles of the masses”, “the weakness of the Party influence among the railwaymen”, and correctly draws the conclusion that: “There united actions of the workers as a class in the economic struggles shows the necessity and prospects for the building of the revolutionary class party of the Irish workers”. But in the practical measures outlined in the resolution, the question of building a trade union opposition is mentioned only in connection with the railwaymen’s vigilance movement. It seems to us that the main conclusion that should have been made was to mobilize and impress the Party members with the fundamental importance of trade union works and


to make plans for the development of a broad trade union opposition movement as the main task confronting the Party at the present moment in the trade unions.

At the same time it seems to us to be a mistake to put forward the railwaymen at this time “the establishment of a united all Ireland union of all grades of railway workers”. Such a perspective may be an effective barrier to building the Vigilance movement, and aid in the splitting off of small groups of railwaymen (for example, the new Rail and Road Union), and lead to the disintegration of the militant forces among the railwaymen. If the Party seriously puts forward the aim of building a separate Irish railwaymen’s union then it is necessary to increase the work of building the Vigilance Movement and a general trade union opposition to the extent that it becomes the main everyday task of the Party.

The final directive in this resolution shows the mechanical attitude adopted toward trade union work: “… the Politbureau instructs the Secretariat to take measures to issue FROM TIME TO TIME[5] a paper devoted to industrial and trade union matters which will have for its object the drawing around it all the militant workers in all sections of the movement”.

In the present period of increased capitalist attack on the wages and conditions of the workers, both employed and unemployed, the CPI must by means of the application of the tactic of the united front from below rally the workers in struggle for their everyday demands. Participation in, and leadership of the everyday struggles of the workers, is the main path toward making the CPI a mass Party, to free the workers from the paralyzing influence of the trade union


and labour party bureaucrats. Therefore the Party must place as the main duty of every member the task of mass work in the factories, the trade unions, among the unemployed, organizing and leading the workers’ struggle in defense of their interests against the capitalist attack. The CPI must put in the forefront the organizing of the united front from below, applying that tactic in accordance with concrete circumstances but directed always towards setting in motion as great a number of workers as possible in the struggle.

[1] Throughout the document O’Neill uses American spelling.

[2] The words ‘leading role’ and ‘not even the name of the Party is mentioned’ are underlined in pencil in the original.

[3] This was made by Seán Murray at the inaugural meeting of the Communist Party of Ireland, June 1933. See Comintern Papers, MS 57/4/2/495/89/88/ (Reel 5, p.374 of QUB digitized Comintern Papers for actual quote).

[4] In the original it says “and” but that appears to have been a typo/error.

[5] Upper case in original

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