Plan of Campaign for Irish Working Farmers, by Peadar O’Donnell (1931)

LAST YEAR a conference of working farmers met in Galway. It was an actual in-out-of-the-fields conference composed of men who had to struggle hard to make a living. Unfortunately no women delegates were present, and a small-farmer congress that does not include women misses the sharpest details of the economy of the homes. This conference arose out of the fact that in Donegal, Clare and Galway there are many townlands in revolt against landlordism and struggling against bailiff raids. The folk in these districts know that local resistance is likely to be crushed, they know that what they are doing is right, and they know that the worsening conditions are pushing an ever-increasing number of working farmers into a position where the burden of rents, taxes, bank interest, etc., is becoming unbearable.

In the discussion at the congress, West Donegal delegates explained that their farms had been literally quarried out from between the rocks. The landlord was a planter, a member of the British ruling class and so-called aristocracy. In 1918 the people decided to pay no more rent; they contributed to volunteer funds instead; they welcomed and sheltered wanted men and were themselves the local Irish Republican Army organisation. After the mistakes of 1921 and the defeat of the resistance to the Treaty the puppet Government in Dublin set about re-imposing landlordism, and this reimposition found, and continues to find, resistance. Police have been resisted, there have been many jailings —even women and old age pensioners coming within the reach of the vengeance-wreaking law. And the resistance is a broad-based affair of neighbours: men who served in the Free State Army and men who fought on the Republican side have come together in a common struggle and have been jailed together. Hundreds of court decrees have been issued and the pressure is so great that the district, if isolated, will be crushed. The delegates appealed for a broad front, organisations to prevent sale of seized cattle at home and to see that they were not shipped abroad. They were quite frank that they were breaking before the ferocity of the attack and yielding ground according to an agreed plan, individuals making occasional payments to gain time while other districts were organising and a National Congress was being formed. The delegates told of the healthy public opinion that was active even in unorganised districts. Cattle cannot openly be sold, and the Government funks even attempting to ship branded cattle knowing that cattle tarred with the magic word RENT would not be put aboard the boats for Scotland in face of appeals to the workers. Seized cattle are guarded until they can be stolen off by long night marches to be passed into the hands of some crook organisation. There are instances where nothing went to the credit of the decree from seizures, and a bailiff who took the only cow from a byre credited the tenant with one shilling and sixpence against his rent bill. A pony and cart, and brand new harness, three head of cattle did not satisfy a rent arrear of six pounds! Bailiff gangs in Ireland have racketeers beaten to a shadow; they just rustle cattle.

The Men of Clare

Clare delegates told, too, of glen-sides that had refused rents in 1918 and were now so burdened with arrears that to fight was a necessity. They could not meet the demands that were being made on them. Since the congress a fine instinct towards organisation has been shown and again the evidence that in this struggle past dissensions can be healed is shown in the election of ex-Free State Army officers and active members of Republican groups in joint leadership of the struggle. And this was not an artificial gesture towards unity, but simply that the best fighters are chosen by their neighbours. Bailiff escorts are thus coming in conflict with compact masses of neighbours.

Bank Attacks

Tipperary had a slightly different story to tell. Here the chief burden is the pressure of the banks. During the war banks pushed their paper wares on farmers until holding’s changed hands like shares in the Stock Market and were finally bought at prices that have no close relation to to-day’s values. Thus many farmers are just servant boys for the banks, not able to keep up with the interest charges, and breaking under the pressure here and there and being sold out. A series of committees of action to lead the struggle against forced sales, just as seized cattle sales are campaigned over elsewhere, is the urgent demand in many areas there.

Fr. Fahy Jailed

Galway delegates told of the treachery by which the Free State Government saved the landlords from the dispossessed natives who were fighting to get land. The Government acquired the big estates and then parcelled them out among a number of tenants who were saddled with a crushing annuity to repay the fancy price that was allowed the landlord, without consulting them. Under the burden of the annuity, rates, and interest on money borrowed to stock the farm’s these holdings are going derelict. The conference was encouraged by the details of incidents in the Galway farmer struggle. The city pound was broken into and seized cattle rescued and despite the fact that a wide police hunt was set afoot the rescued cattle were safely disposed of. Then, too, there was the splendid story of the “assault” by Fr. John Fahy on a bailiff gang raiding the home of a poor struggling widow. The cattle were rescued and Fr. Fahy was arrested and sentenced to six weeks imprisonment, which he served in Galway Jail. Thus in holy Ireland a “Catholic administration” that is so horrified over the reported arrest of priests in the Soviet Union slams an Irish Catholic priest into prison because he raises his hand in defence of a neighbour against a British raiding party.

Other delegates included men from Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon, Limerick; and all agreed on decisions to popularise a platform struggle against rents, against forced sales of banks, against the suppression of local councils, against the Farmers’ Union type of rancher leadership, and for a working-class alliance.

Incidents of the rescue of cattle from bailiffs, police, and C.I.D. in Kerry were related to the conference and the lesson, that these sharp conflicts, without publicity, agitation, and organisation, would be incidents in a retreat—not the first blows in a rising struggle—was urged.

Put the struggle stories in the News so that fighters may not feel isolated

Discussion was focussed most on NO RENT. The Congress rejected the Fianna Fail policy that rents be paid into a Free State Exchequer and declared bluntly for a No Rent Campaign. Conditions since sharpen the impulse in this direction and history endorses it.

Now, on the straight issue of to pay or not to pay, minds are uneven; the conditions they reflect are uneven. Some are strong for immediate stoppage because they find it hard to pay, others with better stocked farms fear the bailiff raids. All agree, however, that rents are a wrong charge.

The task of evening up in the direct struggle with bailiffs is, however, made simple by the situation. There are thousands of instances where households just can’t pay. If such folk can be induced to come before then’ neighbours and state their position frankly, and call for protection from the neighbours against the threatened bailiff raid or forced sale, local defence groups will arise immediately. Such happenings, however, will not be quite spontaneous: the man that can’t pay must be encouraged to get up on the chapel wall and tell his tale, and the impulse of neighbourliness must be encouraged towards defence. There must be no collections to pay rent: only for defence. Remember Lalor. There are men being crushed to death by landlordism in every county in Ireland, and defence groups will spring up if a lead is given.

But the levelling up cannot be all on the one plane: indeed the broadest front will be got in a drive to capture the Co. Councils to use them for the popularisation of the struggle of the working farmers and working class. Storm the Co. Councils; drag out the crook gangs who are formed round the bailiffs and sheriffs in a dastardly traffic over seized cattle. Get the Council out into a campaign behind the men who are being looted at the bidding of the British Imperial interests. In short, push the Council out into the very vanguard of the people’s struggle and make it a weapon in the people’s hands instead of in their sides.

Meet the Junta threat to suppress the Councils by a demand for more power for the Councils.

To-day the Co. Councils are not standing up to the Imperialist control. Arrears of rent in a county are paid to the British Exchequer by the Free State Government who recoup themselves by stopping money due to the Councils from the Central Fund. The Central Fund that arises from home taxation and is thus raided in the interests of the British ruling class; it must be safeguarded in administration; its administration should be under the control of the Central Council of Co. Councils.

No Jobbery

Then, too, there is the concentration in the hands of the Government of the power to appoint local officials. In the interests of “clean administration” the local councils have been stripped of the privilege of appointing their officials. The result is that the canvassing is done in Dublin by those who can afford to travel to the city and live there for days. It makes jobbery respectable and puts an end to any local popular agitation for particular candidates. Administration is best safeguarded by being done openly before the eyes of the masses, but bargaining for party advantage through appointment is best done in the hush-hush of city entertainment. The appointment of local officials should rest in the local councils, where the people can see it done and make their will known.

The Co. Councils should expose the trickery of the banks and popularise the campaign for a moratorium until the crisis is over. With the backing of the Co. Councils attempts at forced sales would be useless and the agony that harrows many minds to-day would be ended.

The Coast Fishermen

Then there are the problems of the coast fishermen. Here we have what we are pleased to call the remnants of the Irish of history” pottering about in coracles and flats, and yawls attempting to fish with equipment that was out of date at the Flood. For sheer waste nothing could equal the state of things here. Fine seamen driven to periwinkle gathering! The Government has no way out except to slander the coast fishermen, and one hears the usual stories that the fishermen won’t work, that they would drink the cross off an ass, that they won’t even crop their patches of land.

This sort of talk would not get away in the local councils where stout men from the coast, and their neighbours, would be present and know the truth. The campaign for the rescue of the coast fishermen is urgent and it can be quickly collected around local councils. The councils must demand that there be free equipment for coast fishermen and that this free equipment is to be no more repayable than the dole to the unemployed or wages on relief works is repayable, for the coast fishermen are part of our unemployed problem. Away with the tinkerings of the Ministry of Fisheries. Free, modern equipment for the fishermen.

River Fishermen

Working fishermen on the rivers are the victims of a particularly blackguardly form of landlordism. Irish tradition is very hostile to the planter monopoly over the rivers, and when it comes to a state of things that the natives are crushed back while the “gentry” have their will of the rivers and that this crushing back brings hunger to the native hearth, then it is high time the call and the struggle for the destruction of landlordism in rivers was better served. The river fishermen must be put in full possession of the industry, its protection and development arranged for by them. Free the rivers from Landlordism.

The Co. Councils should lead the way in a campaign for free school requisites. In rural Ireland the pennies for the schoolbooks is a big problem for the home. Working farmers and working-class homes will appreciate the need for free schoolbooks.

De-Rating

The burden of rates must be passed up, not down. De-rating as proposed would simply thin out the weight of taxation on the big farmers and pass on the main burden to the mass of working farmers and working class. The councils will demand the appropriation of a share in the income from money invested abroad, and of the interest on sums over a couple of hundred invested in the National Loan. After all, if Capitalism is prepared to conscript human life to defend itself in a crisis we may well demand the conscription of wealth to save the masses in these days of crisis. Money invested abroad by folk in this county must have been made either by profits on food sold us or on rents, and those that took our money have no squeal coming if we ask them to carry some of our burdens.

Leadership

The leadership for this struggle must be found in the working class and working farmers. It is true that in the first nervous days of bad times there is an illusion that well-to-do people could lead the way out. The farmers trek in and have a talk with the merchant, the publican, the post-master, the banker, the solicitor, and all that network of the “smart men” of the village. Political parties have their listening posts just here among this network, and immediately each party gets busy to harness the anxiety to serve its purposes. Illusions are kited, promises, prophesies, whispers “obligements” at a price—all the bag of tricks of party recruitment is let loose. And the working farmers listen and talk and grumble and hope. At this stage the man with clay on his boots has great belief in the wisdom that goes with spats. As the murmur of discontent rises, the whirl of words and illusions swells. And then one day some worker spring’s up on a wall before his neighbours and his words ring clear in the minds of his neighbours, laying bare the facts, drawing lessons that are true and stripping the “wisdom” of the smart men to its rotten core. Then, indeed, is the trumpet sounded calling men and women to a real struggle.

And just as he discovers the role of the reformists in relation to his own struggle, the working farmer will discover how “labour leaders” are tricking the working class. As it becomes clear that the merchants, bankers, big farmers, or their tools, are not the men to lead a working farmer struggle, so also it becomes clear that, in breaking from these, an alliance must be sought with the working class, but the labour leadership that co-operates with the class that betrays the working farmers cannot serve the working class. Working farmers and working class will make common cause in strikes—they will combine to expose the treachery of the reformist leaders, and assist each other to build up revolutionary party leaderships that will work in close alliance.

Irish working farmers welcome the fact that the working farmers of Europe generally are breaking away from the big farmer-landlord leadership and moving towards a working-class alliance on a revolutionary platform that can and has been accepted by the Irish struggle. An Irish delegation attended the first European Peasant Congress and their report of that Congress encourages the general Irish movement just as the movement in one parish encourages the neighbouring ones. It is a shock to us to learn that the “Free” Polish Government is running a campaign of frightfulness against the poor Polish farmers and that the great Danish prosperity about which we hear so much is only a myth like our own “turned corners.” Everywhere the cry is for the destruction of landlordism, for a struggle against forced sales by banks, against Fascism, which is manifesting itself here in the suppression of local councils, and for the overthrow of capitalism generally. The Irish working farmers will be good comrades of their brother working farmers in every country’s struggle to conquer the poverty that capitalism forces everywhere on those who toil.

Against Imperialism

We recognise special tasks where English Imperialism is the aggressor. The British Government that makes war on India, Egypt, etc., and is preparing for a war against the Soviet Union, loots this country of millions of pounds annually. To our hostility to beggar ourselves to enrich the British ruling class is added the knowledge that our money goes towards helping the British war preparations, and we say: “Not a penny of Irish money, not a drop of Irish blood to defend British Imperialism. Imperial Britain’s enemy is our friend. Up India! Up Egypt! Up the Soviet Union!”

The Councils will also lay bare to the working class and working farmers the purpose in the Treaty and expose the treachery of the Irish middle class who brought it about. The working farmers’ committees of action already include men who fought in the Free State Army as officers and privates, and men at present active in National Revolutionary circles, and both will now work together to rescue the masses from the illusion that any real solution of the difficulties we have to struggle against can come except when the power in the hands of our enemies is captured by the masses. Today, the Press, the Army, the police, the jails, the Judiciary, are all weapons in the hands of the enemies of those who toil to live in Ireland. To free themselves the masses must ultimately disarm and gag, dig up and destroy the interests the present State has been created to serve. The Councils will, therefore, campaign against police terrorism, will demand the release of political prisoners, will campaign around men on the run, and generally for the ideals and courageous struggle of those Revolutionary Nationalist forces that are struggling to break the British connection and to achieve a free Irish Republic with power resting in the working class and working farmers.

 In campaigning for immediate needs we have thus a clearly defined end towards which all our striving is directed. The Irish working class and working farmers are the incorruptible inheritors of the Irish tradition of struggle. And around the local councils the first murmurs that herald their rising out again can already be heard.

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