2.07 Internationalism: Ireland

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2.07 Ireland. Ireland's 5 million population is divided into 3.5 million in the south and 1.6 million in the north. Ninety percent of the southern population is Catholic; seventy percent of the northern population is Protestant. From its beginnings, Ireland's working class movement has included Catholics. One of its early leaders was James Connolly (1870-1916). His father worked as a carter (manure collector) in Edinburgh's municipal cleaning department. James was a laborer in the construction trade. James had no formal education and taught himself to read and write. He was a steady worker, a non-drinker, non-smoker with a wife and six children. He believed in both Catholicism and communism.

In 1896 Connolly helped establish the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). The ISRP proclaimed the creation of a socialist republic as its goal and national independence, universal suffrage and the 8-hour work day as immediate aims. The ISRP beginning in 1902 splintered with some members becoming the Irish section of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) and others becoming the Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI). Later the SLP and SPI amalgamated as the Irish Socialist Party (ISP). On October 14, 1921 the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) was formed with about 20 members as a result of a split in the ISP. [Desmond Greaves, The Life and Times of James Connolly (New York: International Publishers, 1972), p. 187; James Connolly, Selected Writings, ed. P. Bernesford Ellis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), p. 305].

Besides the ISRP and its SLP and ISP successors, a second part of the working class movement to which Connolly made significant contributions was the Irish Socialist Federation (ISF), which was associated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). As an ISF organizer in 1907 Connolly brought garment workers, milkmen and dockers into the union. Thirdly, Connolly also helped the Union of Transport and Unskilled Workers (UTUW), which was founded in 1909. The UTUW became the center of Ireland's proletarian strike movement. During a massive strike directed by the union from August 1913 to January 1914, the Irish Citizen Army, an armed proletarian organization, was created.

During World War I (1914-1918) Ireland's working class movement attempted to take advantage of Great Britain's difficulties in order to bring about a revolution. Connolly led the revolutionaries as commander-in-chief of the Irish Uprising during Easter Week of 1916. In putting down the uprising, the British killed or severely wounded 1351 people. Connolly was among those who were executed on May 12, 1916. Others were deported.

In his many writings and speeches on the subject, Connolly maintained that, first, communism was a natural outgrowth of him being a Catholic; second, that Catholic and Protestant workers had to keep unified against their real enemy: the capitalist class. The following passage illustrates Connolly's belief in it being a religious duty to overthrow capitalism:

It is not socialism but capitalism that is opposed to religion; capitalism is social cannibalism, the devouring of man by man, and under capitalism those who have the most of the pious attributes which are required for a truly deeply religious nature are the greatest failures and the heaviest sufferers.
Religion, I hope, is not bound up with a system founded on buying human labor in the cheapest market, and selling its product in the dearest; when the organized socialist working class tramples upon the capitalist class it will not be trampling upon a pillar of God's church but upon a blasphemous defiler of the sanctuary, it will be rescuing the Faith from the impious vermin who made it noisome to the really religious men and women. (Connolly, Selected Writings, p. 41).

Connolly debated with those who equated the church with capitalism and British imperialism. His debate with Fr. Kane, S.J., was published as a pamphlet, Labour, Nationality and Religion [(Dublin: Harp Pub., 1910), republished in Connolly, Selected Writings, pp. 57-117]. Desmond Greaves summarizes Connolly's approach in this pamphlet:

To the allegation by Fr. Kane that socialism was based on covetousness, Connolly quoted St. John Chrysostom's aphorism: "The rich man is a thief." To such infantilities as allegations of "compulsory equality," "state ownership of children," "free love," "destruction of incentives," "inability of socialists to agree," "impossibility of planning," and "obligatory atheism," he made replies which were not only scientifically and historically acceptable within the limits of Catholic teaching, but threw a piercing light on the realities of Irish history in general and the class struggle in particular. (Greaves, The Life, p. 182).

Other Irish Catholics have followed in Connolly's steps. Prominent in the CPI during the early years was James Larkin (1876-Jan. 30, 1947). He was born in Liverpool and orphaned as a child. He had three years of schooling before going to work. He joined the SPI at age 9, a labor union at age 13, was a union organizer and leader at age 20, was an early member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and was a temperance advocate. [Jim Larkin, The American Trial of Big Jim Larkin (Belfast: Athol Books, 1976), p. 74]. In August 1913 he was leader of the Dublin Tramway Workers during their nine-month battle against the Great Lock-Out. When a strike meeting was barred by the police, Larkin disguised himself as an old man, slipped into the hall and spoke from a balcony. "I am Larkin. I said I would be here, and I am," he said, as police looked on in dismay. In the bloody police riot that followed, 400 strikers and supporters were injured. Larkin was arrested and jailed for many months. After his release from prison Larkin traveled to New York to regain his health and raise funds for the Irish Trade Union Congress (ITUC). He ended up being a founding member of the CPUSA in 1919 and doing prison time there before being deported back to Ireland in 1923.

Among Catholics Larkin was vocal on being both a Catholic and a communist. At meetings he would unbutton his shirt, show the cross and say there was no conflict between Jesus Christ and socialism:

There is no antagonism between the cross and socialism. A man can pray to Jesus and be a better militant socialist for it. There is no conflict between the religion of the Catholic Church and Marxism. I stand by the cross and Marx. I belong to the Catholic Church. In Ireland that is not held against a socialist. I defy any many to challenge my standing as a socialist and a revolutionist! Emmet Larkin, James Larkin: Irish Labour Leader, 1876-1947 (Menton: The New English Library, 1968), p. 174; Benjamin Gitlow, The Whole of their Lives (1948), pp. 38-39].

The victory of the October 1917 Soviet revolution brought an upsurge in the revolutionary struggle in Ireland. In April 1918 Catholics and Protestants successfully united in an anti-conscription general strike against Britain's imperial war. (Greaves, The Life, p. 341). Throughout the country a national liberation, anti-imperialist war against Britain developed between 1919-1921 with the moving force coming from workers, farm laborers, small farmers and office workers. The Sinn Fein (Ourselves Alone) Party, which had been established in 1905 to represent Ireland's bourgeois and petite bourgeosie class, signed a peace treaty with the British in December 1921. In the treaty Ireland, except for the six industrially developed counties of the the northeast, gained dominion status (Irish Free State). Nevertheless, Britain retained the right to keep military based on Irish territory, to receive "redemption" payments for the former holdings of British landlords, and for British capital to remain secure, which meant continued exploitation.

Despite the treaty, during 1922-1923 Irish workers and farm laborers continued their class struggle for workers' control of production and agrarian reform. The program of the CPI was to promote working class interests within and via both the republican movement and the 20,000-strong IRA. The treaty conditions agreed to by Sinn Fein provoked not only the indignation of the great masses of Ireland's population but caused a split in Sinn Fein. Those who favored continuation of the struggle for complete independence launched a civil war ("the troubles") against the Dominion government.

Illustrative of those who took up arms during the war was Liam O'Flaherty, the younger brother of Thomas O'Flaherty of the Communist Party of the USA. Liam had studied for the priesthood and had wanted to be a Holy Ghost missionary to Africa, but had dropped out before being ordained. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World in the 1910s. During the Civil War, he organized a council of the unemployed and led a troop of Republican dockers on January 18, 1922 in seizing control of the Rotunda in Dublin and in raising the red flag of the Irish Soviet Republic over the building. The Rotunda was the Free State's main government building. After holding the building for three days against the Free State, the revolutionaries retreated. [Patrick Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O'Flaherty: A Study in Romantic Realism (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1976), p. 74; Paul Doyle, Liam O'Flaherty (New York: Twayne, 1971), p. 21]. A journalist for the Freeman's Journal (Dublin) wrote about the takeover:

Liam O'Flaherty has seized the Rotunda. He has run up a red flag from the roof of the building. Some say that it is a challenge to the government--others that he has declared an Irish Soviet. My belief, however, is that he just wants to draw the attention of the government to attend to the desperate plight of the Dublin poor. [Gerald Friffin, The Wild Geese (London: 1931), pp. 191-192].

The following year Liam published a novel, Thy Neighbor's Wife (1923) in which the hero is a priest who joined the Republican side against the Free Staters during the Civil War.

Taking advantage of British military and financial aid, and the Republican leadership's lack of desire to support the demands of the working class, the Dominion government defeated the Republicans. As a result during the next decade government policy was to use police terrorism to keep Ireland as an agrarian appendage of Great Britain. There was mass unemployment, emigration, and an increase in class conflict involving an upsurge in strikes and the agrarian movement.

Because of the repression, the membership of the CPI declined. In 1924 the CPI transformed itself into the Irish Workers League (IWL), which recruited 500 members at its inaugural rally. Jim Larkin led both the IWL and the 10,000-strong Workers' Union of Ireland. In 1927 he won a seat in Dial Eireann (Parliament). (Larkin, James Larkin: Irish Labour Leader). Larkin sometimes represented Ireland at international meetings of the Comintern. Once while in Moscow, Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938) asked him about his Catholicism. Bukharin had been in prison many times for his revolutionary activities, had been editor of Novy Mir (the New World) in New York City in 1916 and was a member of the Soviet Politburo (1918-1928). The conversation was described in Larkin's biography:

The Russians looked upon Jim as some kind of enigma. Bukharin had asked him about his Faith, being under the impression that Jim avowed himself a Catholic for opportunistic reasons. To the surprise of Bukharin, Jim said he had faith there was a God. Bukharin had asked him if he believed there was a God. Jim insisted that he had Faith there was a God and he would hold to such a Faith until he had been proved to be wrong. There was no shaking him. Although he had the opportunity of going to Mass in Moscow he did not go, which added to the mystery. (Larkin, James Larkin: Irish Labour Leader, p. 263).

When Larkin died in the last part of 1947 he was buried from St. Mary's Church on Hadington Road, Dublin at Glasnevin Cemetery.

With the great depression the IWL changed its name in 1930 to Revolutionary Workers' Groups, which led to the restoration of the CPI in June 1933 by 50 delegates from the Groups in Eire and Northern Ireland. Sean Murray was elected general secretary (1933-1940). In 1934 the CPI joined in the Republican Congress, a united front of 8000 republicans, communists and socialists. Communists and other progressives were frequently arrested in the 1930s because of their leadership in the strike movement. In 1935 the CPI helped defeat the attempted take over of the country by the fascist Cummann na Graedheal party (later the Fine Gael or United Irish party).

In the defense of the Spanish Republic (1936-1939) the CPI helped in recruiting the 145-member "Connolly's Column" that served in Spain. A majority of the column were Catholics and members of the CPI. Sixty-one of them gave their lives in the struggle. [Michael O'Riordan, Connolly's Column: The Story of the Irishmen who Fought in the Ranks of the International Brigades in the National Revolutionary War of the Spanish People, 1936-1939 (Dublin: New Books, 1979)]. Liam O'Flaherty reflected the thinking of the working class in its support of Republican Spain:

I am for the legal government and the people of Republican Spain against Franco and Fascism. As an Irishman I realize that the toiling masses of Spain are waging the same struggle which we have waged for centuries in Ireland against landlordism and foreign imperialism. . .Long live the Republic in Spain and all over the earth. (Doyle, Liam O'Flaherty, p. 23).

During World War II with Northern Ireland in the war on the side of the British and Soviets and southern Ireland neutral, the party split. In the north was the Communist Party of Northern Ireland (CPNI). In the south party members such as Michael O'Riordan were jailed for their activities. By 1945 the CPNI had 1000 members and a leadership position in Belfast trade unionism that continues to the present. In 1948 the southern party renamed itself the Irish Workers' League (IWL), which became the Irish Workers Party in 1962. On March 15, 1970 at a joint congress, the CPNI and IWP were reunited as the CPI with 600 members. The CPI is divided into a northern and southern branch. Among its leaders are: Andrew Barr (chair), Michael O'Riordan (general secretary) and James Steward (deputy general secretary). The CPI in the Republic got 342 votes in the 1989 general elections.

Most of the party in the north is Protestant and in the south, Catholic. It is governed by a 23 member national executive committee. It has influence in the trade union movement. A significant achievement for the Irish workers to which the party contributed was the 1959 merger of the central trade unions of southern and northern Ireland into the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). This unified more than 100 trade unions with 600,000 Protestant and Catholic members. In addition to trade unionism, the party had a hand in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. In 1969-1970 the Sinn Finn republicans split between the Officials who opposed armed struggle against British imperialism and the Provisionals (greens) who opted for armed struggle. The CPI remained loyal to anti-imperialism and among the Provisionals have been CPI members.

The party's program stresses state industrial development in petrochemicals, electrical power production, peat processing and shipbuilding. It advocates the nationalization of banks, mines and oil companies in order to obtain a more rational use of investment and resources for the working people. It seeks to make education free and public at all levels. Currently only elementary schools are free and public. Secondary and higher education is private and reserved for those who can pay. To achieve its economic and social goals the party seeks a unified communist republic of Ireland through a broad mass movement and the expulsion of imperialist Britain. The party opposes membership in the European common market. It publishes the weekly newspaper Unity (established in 1989, Belfast), which replaced the Irish Socialist Review (1961-1989, Dublin). It also publishes the monthly Irish Socialist (established in December, 1965, Dublin). [Richard C. Sim, "Ireland," in Richard Staar, Yearbook on Communist Affairs: 1979 (Stanford: Hoover Institution, 1979), p. 171-173].

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