The Communist Party of Ireland
A Critical History, Part 4 by DR O'Connor Lysaght, 1976

By the end of the 1950s, the international environment in which Irish Stalinites had worked for so long was notably changing in their favour. The Cold War was becoming less easy to wage. The colonial revolutions were beginning a new wave in Africa while the protagonists of the wave of the 1940s and early 1950s (Nehru, Sokharno and Nasser) had established their international positions as being one, at least in intent, of political and military independence of the two power blocs. This refusal to side with America and western Europe annoyed the people of the metropolitan powers there at first but afterwards they began to reconsider. Admittedly, Russia invaded Hungary, but, then, the bourgeois democratic governments of Britain and France invaded Egypt at the same time. France was engaged in a brutal colonial war in Algeria which led in 1958 to the weakening of its internal democratic institutions after a military coup. As against this Krushchev denounced Stalin and began to open many of the prison camps. The neo-colonial neutralists of what was now beginning to be termed by many 'the Third World' (the first being metropolitan capitalism; the second that of the Workers' States), claimed to be 'Socialists'. Their ranks were reinforced by the establishment of a genuine revolutionary Workers' State in Cuba, which could not be dismissed by moderates as the eastern European states could be as a 'colonial satellite' of the USSR. Even the liberal 'Welfare State' was no longer the all-purpose panacea that it had been claimed to be by its propagandists. It could not surrender power to all its subject peoples without crises (as with Britain in Rhodesia and Nyasaland, with France in Algeria, with Belgium over the Congo). More to the immediate point, it created new economic demands and failed altogether to eliminate old ones. In Belgium, attempts to pay for decolonisation out of the workers' pockets provoked widespread strikes in 1961. And, against the very mechanics of the Cold War there developed a mass spontaneous movement; the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, protesting against the idea that a balance of terror (of total annihilation) could prevent such annihilation. In December 1958, an Irish CND was proclaimed formally.

In Ireland, these tendencies were felt and interacted with internal developments. However, these developments themselves differed from one side of the border to the other. Although partition was originally related to the unevenness between economic developments in the north-east and the rest of Ireland it had itself, in its forty years, deepened this unevenness so that the revolutionary potential in the situations in the two areas appeared dominant at different times. This was not entirely the fault of Irish Stalinism; its own organisational split along the border was partly an expression of this division. However, the said split was a surrender to the politics of British imperial colonialism which, in turn, handicapped the Stalinites on top of their continuing political debilities from dealing with it as it deserved.

The events of the 1950s had already revealed the fact of this increased uneven political development. The British welfare state had ensured better living conditions than before the war for Catholics as well as Protestants in the six county statelet. The population of the 26 counties lived in conditions that provided a major contrast to this. It was a protectionist capitalist economy that had reached a stage in which it would either have to drop protectionism or capitalism if it were to develop at and and which showed signs of increasing decline as it failed to make the choice. This economic difference was the objective basis for the failure of the Republican movement's border campaign of 1955-62. Sinn Féin and its breakaway Saor Uladh mobilised more permanent support in the Republic than the divided Republican movement had done during the past seven years; their weakness was to be found in Northern Ireland.

By the end of the border campaign matters were already changing. The Republic's economic crisis had been stabilised for the decade by the ending of protection and the opening of the economy to foreign investment. The real problems of 26 county capitalism had not been solved – indeed, at certain times (as in 1967) it could show itself able merely to combine some of its worse defects. However, industry did expand in comparison to agriculture and though the unemployed figures did not go down very far, they did not affect the existing urban proletariat, as they had in the 1950s. Such unrest as then was expressed in purely economic struggle; from 1964 to 1970, Ireland had the highest recorded strike record in the world. This was reflected in the growth of the Social Democratic (and utterly philistine) Irish Labour Party, simply because it claimed to express the specific aims of the working class.

On the other hand, in Northern Ireland, the economic well-being of the '40s and '50s was no longer sufficient for the Catholics. They had increased unemployment benefit but they still suffered a higher rate of unemployment than the Protestants. They had a more fair chance of housing, under the Housing Trust, but their chance was still less than wholly fair, due to the extent of local control in this sphere. Above all, politically, they were second class citizens; the local and regional constituencies and the very franchises were drawn to prevent the possibility of Nationalist dominance in any but those areas where the six county minority was overwhelmingly the majority. This was the case, was seen to be the case, and, increasingly, became an intolerable case for the Northern Irish Catholics. From their discontent would come the movement for civil rights and, in turn, the current struggle for Irish national unification. However, this would come at a moment when feeling in the Republic was unable to respond to the claims of this struggle because it was dominated by Economism.

The Irish Moscow-Line Stalinites in the Sixties
In these circumstances, Irish Stalinism could not provide the theoretical leadership necessary to clarify the economic struggle in the twenty-sic counties and to unite it with the political struggle for national unification (let alone the embryo struggles of students and later of women). This was not simply because of its size or because the objective situation made this impossible (though, as it has been remarked, in the 26 counties, the CPI or its successors have never enjoyed a broad base comparable to that of the CPNI at the end of the Second World War). Basically, it is because the situation required highly developed political leadership such as Stalinite ideology could not provide. In the case of Irish Stalinism, this basic theoretical weakness was compounded further by the experiences of the previous decades. The division of the Party along the border, the CPNI's industrial base amongst the Protestant workers, the persecutions of the years of the Cold War all contributed to an essentially bureaucratic view of the movement's priorities. In practice the two parties of Irish Stalinism followed the Revisionist line, 'The Movement is Everything; the Ultimate Aim is Nothing'. It must be admitted that, by this yardstick, what is now, again, the Communist Party of Ireland has been on the whole successful – though with some significant exceptions. The reunited Party is larger than its two component parts were sixteen years ago and it is backed by the Connolly Youth Movement – the largest Socialist youth movement in Ireland. In the general election of February 1973, the Irish Socialist's correspondent, John Riddy, remarked that 'Mick O'Riordan has received nearly twice as many votes in the recent general election as any Communist candidate in the 26 counties since the Second World War'. Irish Socialist, May 1973 (this estimate does not include O'Riordan's 1946 campaign in Cork City). This result was followed by the CPI's fielding four candidates in the Dublin municipal elections of 1974. In Northern Ireland, in 1973 the Party organised several candidacies for the elections for the reconstituted Belfast Corporation and ran a candidate for the Assembly. However in the latter case comes a major weakness; previous CP candidates had fought for the cause in the constituencies of Bloomfield, Cromac and West Down – all Unionist strongholds; now, however, James Stewart, the reunited Party's Assistant General Secretary, found it expedient to run for the mixed denomination West Belfast constituency – no part of which had been fought previously by his organisation. The Party has maintained three periodicals – the Irish Workers' Voice, the revived Belfast Unity (since 1961) and the printed monthly Irish Socialist (also since 1961). Above all it has good subjective prospects for making major recruitment from some of its allies. The trouble is that these prospects may yet be terminated by the objective situation developing in a manner for which the Communist Party of Ireland will have to bear a share of responsibility commensurate with its revolutionary pretences.

The opening of the 26 county economy, the resultant revival of economic agitation in the Republic and, in the six counties, the growing-over of the struggle for civil rights into a fight for national unity have all provided obvious opportunities for Socialist revolutionaries but, so too, have they provided responsibilities that these individuals do not hinder their development. As the CPI and its parent organisations have lasted throughout the last fourteen years more consistently than any of the organisations of the 'Ultra-Leftists' that they criticise so bitterly, it follows that their political responsibility for the development of the situation is correspondingly greater. The Party's organisational achievements of this period have been listed above. How far did its political contribution advance the struggle?

The IWP and the CPNI Before the Northern Crisis
At the beginning of the 1960s, political consciousness both north and south of the border was awakening but only to bourgeois democratic illusions. In Northern Ireland, the sheer incongruity of the political order was becoming obvious compared to the prevailing standards of west European democracy. Reform had to come and it was thought bound to come by peaceful means – perhaps even under a Unionist Government. The real question was, at this time, whether or not Unionism could expand the economy sufficiently to make up or, rather, to more than make up for the loss of jobs caused by the decline of traditional industries – ship-building and linen – so as to reduce unemployment to the British level. It was this economic approach that was expressed in the programme (entitled, significantly, Ireland Her Own) that was passed in 1962, by the Irish Workers' League when it voted to transform itself into the Irish Workers' Party:

'A drive against imperialist interests in the 26 Counties and a strong anti-imperialist stand in the international field are essential if we are to prove to the people of the 6 Counties, who are not yet won to the idea of national unity, that independence means prosperity and national dignity.

'Immediately the 26 Counties Government should be pressed to put forward concrete plans for economic development to the Stormont Government, plans which they can reject only by exposing the fact it is not in the interests of the 6 Counties people but the interests of imperialism which they are serving.'

'Ireland Her Own' from Irish Socialist, December 1962.

As befitted the people on the spot, the CPNI was already finding it necessary to go beyond 'plans for economic development' and grab the political nettle. It participated in the Belfast Council for Civil Liberties. McCullough's motion persuaded the Belfast Trades Council to demand an amnesty for the Republican prisoners in Northern Irish jails. But, as yet, such a demand was not such an explosive issue; indeed the specific demand was one of the very few democratic measures to be executed by Terence O'Neill before October 1968; and he did so on taking power in April 1963.

The Struggle Against the EEC
The central focus of the 26 county Stalinite strategy at this time was not partition but the struggle against the entry into the EEC. While this struggle was perfectly valid and necessary, the IWP's approach to it reflected the limitations of its theory, increased further by its reaction to its experiences. Basically, it fought the Common Market with the traditional 'two stage' method. Instead of 'First the Republic – then the Workers' Republic' – the call was for a 'Progressive Government' (Ireland Her Own Programme) with a 'programme of large scale industry to develop a strong independent economy' (Irish Socialist June 1961). That this would not involve maximum or even transitional demands was shown by the publication in Irish Socialist of March 1962 of 'an immediate programme to rally the Labour movement and the entire (sic) people for an independent prosperous Ireland'. The most definite demands therein that refer to industry and finance are for:

'4/ The development of the economy by the setting up of state industries, and by state support for the setting up of farmers' co-operatives;

'5/ Measures to force the banks, insurance companies and other big investors to invest the profits made from the Labour of the Irish people inside the country.'

Specific measures of nationalisation of existing industries were left to the long-term programme of the IWP – Ireland Her Own – already quoted. Even here, however, the proposals were limited to imperialist-owned concerns, and there was no more than a qualified but vague proposal for workers' control therein:

'The workers in these and the people of Ireland generally would have a say in running them'.

In any case this was only for the IWP; its strategy involved a broad anti-imperialist (anti-Common Market) front in which state control rather than state ownership would be a central policy. This demand was restated in the Irish Socialist of October 1963.

It is fair to say that the IWP's opposition to the EEC was fought on Nationalist rather than Socialist lines. Thus in Ireland Her Own it is stated:

'At one time Fianna Fáil hoped to end the backwardness which gave rise to the critical (economic) position, by the creation of a self-sufficient economy.

'The policy of self-sufficiency – that is, living entirely off our own resources – was unrealistic, but it had the germ of the right idea, the conception of economic independence'.

In August 1961, the Irish Socialist declared editorially:

'At one time Fianna Fáil opposed that policy (of British imperialist dominance).

'They claimed that they could build an independent Ireland.

'Now, without enthusiasm but without an alternative, they are admitting that they are wrong.

'But are they? . . .

'For many years our independence has been taken for granted by most people.

'Now the Government's action has revealed that our independence was far from complete.

'It is obvious now that we can never be a free country until the economic links with imperialism, its grip on our banking system, on our trade and on a large number of industries is broken.

'Under the Common Market there will be fewer jobs for our people.

'Only a free and independent country can provide the economic basis for our development as a nation with an expanding population.'

The next month the Irish Socialist quoted O'Riordan's election address:

'The issue of national independence in the context of the present situation is not some sentimental issue; it means not only political freedom, it embodies the problems of jobs, security, the right of the Irish people to live and work in Ireland.

'It extends further – even into the sphere of war and peace.

'The two major parties – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are in favour of this country joining the Common Market. There is no doubt that this will mean the end of what political independence we possess, a calculated increase of 150,000 in unemployment, and, consequently, emigration of a magnitude never known before in our history. It will mean the end of our neutrality and involvement in a war bloc.

'To forecast the consequences is not to be as a Jeremiah. Indeed the prophets of doom are the politicians who have lost faith in Ireland's ability to build up an economy on the basis of the brains and labour of the Irish people, which will provide work for our people, the best education facilities for our children, and decent social services for the sick, the aged, the blind and our widows and orphans.'

Later on, O'Riordan did mention 'a policy of Socialism – those great principles which inspires Connolly and Larkin', but he did not make it clear that it was such a policy rather than 'Ireland's ability to build up an economy on the basis of the brains and labour of the Irish people' that would be the decisive factor in providing the benefits that he detailed.

The appeal for 'independence' as the EEC was claimed to be not merely implicitly but explicitly 'above the classes'. In the Irish Socialist for June 1961, the threat from it to the small businessman and small farmers was given priority of mention against the threat to the workers. In the next issue (July 1961), it was declared:

'How completely the monopolies dominate the Common Market is shown by two of its economic objectives; these are the replacing of small firms by bigger firms and the replacing of the population in the countryside ...'

At the founding conference of the IWP, O'Riordan declared:

'Joining the Common Market would mean that all our native industries, including those run by the State, would be left defenceless against the ruthless competition of the huge West German monopolies.

'It would mean that a large section of our small farmers would be driven off the land to make the way for big factory farms. It would lead to a huge increase in unemployment, as most of our industries relied on protection from foreign competition'.

Irish Socialist, March 1962.

It is not necessary to accuse the 26 county Stalinites of urging that the economic clock be put back to recognise that their propaganda on the EEC inevitably confused people on the decisive matter of the alternative. By its insistence on counter-posing 'independence' rather than on 'workers' power' to the Common Market strategy of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the Irish Workers' League/Party tried to provide a basis for an alliance of the workers with the small businessmen, in the tradition of the Popular Front. (Small farmers should be included in this Front). Of course, it was fudging the whole issue of state power: no substantial bourgeois interest in Ireland would support the relatively moderate economic policies advocated by the Stalinites as an alternative to entry[. It] was answered by the demand for a Workers' Republic (and, vice-versa, after entry any genuine attempt to set up such a Republic must soon lead to withdrawal, or, optimistically, European, or world, as opposed to purely Irish, revolution). On the other hand, entry itself would not rectify the employers' need to peg wages, would not end unemployment or inflation. In other words, entry to the EEC was opposed by Revolutionary Marxists not because, in itself, it would cause rural depopulation and unemployment but because it was and is a distraction presented by the capitalists, a further argument that, under their system they would solve all social and economic evils, and because it places a further if not major obstacle in the way of achieving the only real solution to these evils: the Workers' Republic. Thus not only did the Socialists have to oppose entry to the European Economic Community but they had to oppose it as SOCIALISTS not as superior Nationalists. With all its weaknesses, the Revolutionary Marxist Group, appearing at the very end of the anti-entry campaign, tried to conduct its struggle on this basis. Had all other forces done so, it may be doubted at that whether the defeat of the left could have been more overwhelming than it was, and some more people might have been led to Socialism.

Of course the Stalinites wanted to defeat the proposal to enter the EEC. Equally inevitably, their method was to try to do so without alienating hypothetical 'progressive' or 'national' capitalists. The immediate possibility of defeating Common Market entry was presented as a final end in itself rather than as one, albeit important, battle in the struggle to replace capitalism with socialism. It may well be argued that, even in the short-term, this policy was counter-productive since 1) neither the Irish Workers' League/Party had much support among the small farmers and small businessmen and 2) its constant appeals for an 'independent Ireland' and its praises for the 'pre-1957 Seán Lemass' led many to believe that the only alternative to the EEC was the Protectionism that Irish capitalism had outgrown.

The CPI in the EEC
In May 1972, after the reconstitution of the Communist Party of Ireland, the electorate of the Republic voted overwhelmingly to enter the European Economic Community. The CPI accepted this accomplished fact rather better than it had tried to prevent its accomplishment. In the Irish Socialist, June 1972, Seán Nolan wrote an article under the heading: 'Common Market or no Common Market, the fight against monopoly goes on', sentiments apart from the use of the central concept of 'monopoly' rather than 'capitalism', which can be accepted by any Marxist.

Since then, however, the strategy of the CPI in fighting 'Monopoly' has been somewhat disjointed. This is, in part, inevitable; the entry question provided a major focus for all economic-political struggles. However, part of the Party's weakness is programmatic; at its second (or 15th) National Congress of October 1971, it produced 10 points as the basis for a programme for a 'People's Alliance' of associations, citizens and housing action groups, and other progressive political and cultural organisations, clubs and groups. This included:

'1) The withdrawal of the application for Common Market membership.

'2) The scrapping of the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement, and the negotiation of a new trade agreement on a mutually equitable basis which would provide for more North-South trade and economic relations.

'3) Immediate contact with a view to joint activity with the Labour and other anti-Common Market forces in the 3 applicant countries, viz. Britain, Denmark and Norway.

'4) The extension of trade contacts with all countries and especially with the socialist countries, whose expanding and crisis-free economies can provide stable markets; as well as with the ex-colonies and underdeveloped nations whose economies, like ours, are subject to imperialist pressures.

'5) Public ownership of the principal foreign concerns and the big Irish industries connected with them.

'6) Development of our natural resources by the State and the setting up of new state industries.

'7) Division of large estates and cattle ranches amongst the landless and the small farmers, with Government incentives including provision of machinery, seed, fertiliser and stock on favourable terms, for co-operative farming.

'8) Public ownership of inland fisheries and the equipping of our sea fisheries with the most modern boats and plants for processing, together with training schemes for crews, process workers and marketing staff.

'9) Intensive development of rural industries using local raw materials, where possible, including food processing; a pharmaceutical and chemical industry, with extra investment in Irish speaking areas of the country to help maintain traditional communities.

'10) Protection of the small and self-employed businessman and the prohibition of foreign owned supermarkets.'

A Democratic Solution, Programme of the Communist Party of Ireland,
adopted 15th National Congress, Belfast, 16-17 October 1971, pp. 10-11.

The first three clauses have necessarily been reduced to two – to continue the fights against the EEC and to maintain military neutrality. To the new list a demand for free medical service and social welfare benefits was added by O'Riordan to constitute 'a Labour policy which resolutely stands in opposition to the bi-partisan policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael' (Irish Socialist, July 1972). The result remains the most definitive programmatic statement of the current aims of the Communist Party of Ireland (Southern Area, or Twenty Six Counties). It is, as usual, full of loopholes where the question of power is concerned. What are 'the principal foreign concerns and the big Irish industries connected with them'? Do they include banks and insurance companies? How is there to be increased trade with Socialist and emergent under-developed countries without a state monopoly of foreign trade? What about the political and cultural (and, indeed, negative technical) influence of the Church? (On pages 9-10 of the Programme, purely political, 'Programme for Action', there is a call for 'a secular Irish Constitution which would involve discussion with all the people on this island'. It is the only published proposal on the subject in the booklet; it was not brought forward by O'Riordan). Above all, what is proposed about Workers' Control of the industries to be seized? If, as clause 10 suggests, the new Government is to give a prominent place to the small businessman, should it not recognise, at least, offer some power at the workplace to the employed person? Or is this feared as too radical for the

In practice, after Ireland affiliated to the EEC, the CPI continued to attack the Community centring their attacks on a development that it did not prophecy; the rise in prices (particularly food prices) since May 1972. The new campaign was handicapped by certain objective factors; not least being the difficulty of proving that prices rose because of entry to the EEC, and the fact that a genuine Socialist Government could not make any immediate reduction in food prices, (for many food commodities, it might, indeed, be forced to raise prices because of capitalist blockade). Arising from these, the only political contributions that could be made by the Party were to blame the EEC and until the advent of the 'National Coalition' to demand the removal of VAT on foodstuffs; the Coalition did the latter in a way that ensured further inflationary developments. It must be added that, as usual, the organisation was better than its politics; in Ballyfermot, it was encouraged by the revival of the co-operative – this time under impeccable community control. This is to be welcomed and, if possible, extended just as other co-operative movements may be welcomed under capitalism. By themselves, however, they cannot bring about the Workers' Republic. Apart from these proposals, the sum of the overall political advice given by the CPI is to vote for its candidates in elections and:

'The Trade Union Movement must begin to assert its independence and carry out independent policies which are opposed to both foreign and national big business.

'It is time that the organised working class told the Labour Ministers in the Coalition that they were not elected to carry out Fine Gael 'free enterprise' policies, either on wages or economic development.'

Sam Nolan, 'EEC Crisis Hits Us All', Irish Socialist, No. 137, March 1974

Irish Mainstream Stalinism and the Civil Rights Struggle
This weakness is essentially a political failure, and like most political failures arises from the strategy of the CPI as expressed in its current programme. A Democratic Solution is in fact composed of three sets of programmatic demands: one each for the immediate stages of the struggles north and south of the border and one to link the struggles within the Irish Labour Movement. Thus the detailed programme for an alternative to the EEC does not mention the question of partition – nor does the programme for civil rights in Northern Ireland. The idea that the struggles are linked immediately politically – rather than through the hypothetical action of the Labour Movement – is not considered. National unification (which is, for the CPI, now a maximum aim: the call for the reform of Northern Ireland) and the EEC are treated as separate issues in the struggle against imperialism. This attitude arises inevitably from the generation-long division of the Party along the border, and from the separate strategies followed by the two halves of the organisation. Unity has failed to end the political schism.

To understand how this was, it is necessary to consider the two component Irish Stalinite Parties in the 1960s. At the beginning of the decade, they consolidated their position after the hostile pressures of the 1950s. The CPNI's base among the organised Protestant workers seemed secure, though, inevitably, smaller than it was in 1945. It had relatively less support among the Catholics; most of those who might have been attracted to it otherwise were alienated by its Unionist-economist tradition and outlook.

Both north and south of the border Irish Stalinism had opposed the IRA's campaign – not because it was a purely military strategy which had little hope of winning but because it was considered wrong in its aims. In the south, the IWL had been cut off from the Republican Movement; in the north-east, the CPNI chose to remain aloof from it to protect its Protestant base.

When the border campaign was defeated, the way was open for the Republican Movement to consider new means of advancing. Outside it, members of the Catholic middle-class were demanding an improvement in their political position within the 26 county state. The CPNI moved to influence the new political thinking that was commencing. In this, it was backed by the the Communist Party of Great Britain through its base within the Connolly Association whose paper, the Irish Democrat, is edited by C. Desmond Greaves who has succeeded Jackson as leading theoretician of Irish Stalinism.

The problem facing the Communist Parties of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was that of how to win Republican (and other Nationalist) support without alienating the Protestant working class base that had been created by a policy of opposition to, or, at least, aloofness from, the national struggle. The immediate means was obvious; the Communists in the Belfast Trades Council moved motions for the release of internees and Republican prisoners. But Captain O'Neill granted the amnesty and even the Northern Ireland Labour Party passed motions demanding fair distribution of houses and jobs.

The trouble was that the Northern Ireland minority was not prepared to wait for the Belfast Trades Council or the NILP to lead it in the struggle for democratic rights. They were even less predisposed to wait for Captain O'Neill to translate the shadow of his gestures towards them into substance. (Part of O'Neill's weakness, as is obvious from his Autobiography was that he believed too readily in gestures that could satisfy nobody else). From 1963 onwards the Northern Irish Catholic community was organising itself for its own civil rights and, apart from occasional conferences was doing so outside the organised trade union movement. The struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland was not going to be a matter of an intelligent labour aristocracy winning reforms from a liberal Premier for inarticulate underdogs. The 'Croppies' wanted a say in what they were going to get. All but the most advanced Protestant trade unionists began to lose their fervour; after all, if the Catholics' own claims to be treated as equals were recognised, might not some of them deprive some of the Protestants of their jobs and houses? At the Conference of January 1967 which established NICRA only three trade unions (all British) were represented compared to 15 at a similar – but inconclusive – conference two years previously. The new Association, in its first six demands, made it obvious that a genuine united front of Nationalists and Protestant trade unionists was impossible within the six Counties. The demands were:

1) One man – one vote in local elections.

2) The ending of the gerrymander of the local government boundaries.

3) Laws against local government discrimination and the provision of machinery to deal with complaints.

4) A points system as the basis for allocating public housing.

5) The repeal of the Special Powers Act.

6) The disbanding of the Ulster Special Constabulary.

But none of these demands could be sold to the Protestant plebeian majority in Northern Ireland without long and painstaking education involving, even then, the definite prospect of a society in which no-one would have to worry about privileges. In other words, lasting reform of the Northern Irish status quo was practically impossible without the destruction of Northern Ireland itself. For, within that unit, the objective facts were that Protestants (and, most of all, Protestant workers and small businessmen) had benefited from local government discrimination, from the partial allocation of houses and, it is worth recalling, from the pocket money that they could earn as members of the entirely Protestant Special Constabulary. Nor were the other proposals reassuring. Even 'one man – one vote' (the end of the property franchise in local elections) meant ending the keystone of Orange power in many areas. A disproportionate percentage of the very few Unionists who supported NICRA were from the capitalist class; they were secure enough to be (relatively) liberal. The Civil Rights demands could only be enforced from an area greater than the six counties; either the United Kingdom or a hypothetical united Irish Republic. As is now evident a Republic that had the will to unite Ireland would be the better guarantor. And it is doubtful whether they could provide a lasting settlement, even so, without a Socialist Republican Government.

But to expand perspectives, thus, could not be done by the Stalinite Movement in Ireland, or by such ex-members as Dr Roy Johnston who had joined the Republican Movement after a spell in London and the CPGB. The Communist Party's base in the Protestant working-class had to be defended; it became the justification for limiting the struggle to a demand for 'Civil Rights'. The struggle could not be allowed to exceed the claim for civil rights because if it did it would totally alienate the CPNI's base in the Protestant working class which was the main reason why the CPNI was a necessary ally in the said struggle. That there might be another strategy that might avoid the necessity for immediate dependence on the dwindling ranks of Protestant civil rights supporters by spreading the struggle to the 26 counties (and the aims to one of unity) only got pitiful mention – by individuals who were themselves not immune from pro-Protestant worker illusions. As long as these remained, the CPNI was strong; just as its supporters were determined to maintain their positions and not endanger them by the risk of civil rights and, possibly, unity, so it was determined to keep its support and not risk a revolution.

Its limitations are reflected by C. Desmond Greaves in his book, The Irish Crisis:

'To overcome the economic crisis required victory over Unionism . . .. But for this was required in turn the unity of the workers on political as well as economic issues'

The Irish Crisis, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1972, p.148; present author's emphasis.

'The Catholics were not strong enough to defeat [the Unionists or imperialists] without winning allies. but where were they to find them? Among the Protestant workers of Belfast? These were not yet ready. Across the border? The Government was up to its neck in European integrationism. Among the British workers who might force Westminster to legislate? Here again the movement was not determined enough or convinced of the necessity. The only possible tactic was there to conduct all demonstrations and other actions in such a way as to win these allies . . ." p.155

These passages (and they merely make explicit the whole tenor of the book) emphasise the basic assumptions that had governed the thought of the Communist Party of Northern Ireland (and, through the NICRA, the Republican Movement first as united and, then, as at Gardiner Place). For them civil rights struggle was, and is, to achieve full non-sectarian bourgeois democracy for Northern Ireland. ('To overcome the economic crisis required victory over Unionism' – not necessarily unification or Socialism). Once this is achieved, the situation can stabilise and a new set of demands will become the programme of the struggle in its second stage, whether it be a 'Workers' Ulster' or a united Ireland (probably, for the CPNI not a 32 county Workers' Republic at that stage).

The trouble was that the situation could not be stabilised on democratic lines. The readiness of the Protestants (including or perhaps, most of all, Protestant workers) to grant reforms was never very great. It declined steadily as the Catholics began to expect more and as, having gained small gains their expectations escalated further. After all, if the Catholics could achieve reforms by militancy – even though these reforms might benefit their opposite Protestant numbers – there was a real danger that they might press for rights that directly affect the Protestant position – and not just on paper but for real. Only a mass movement for Irish unity on both sides of the border could end this position; only a 32 County Republic of the workers could hope to provide a settlement that would ultimately satisfy the Protestants of this class.

Despite some moves among mainly the better-off Protestants in support of the civil rights demands, there was never really any likelihood that what was a mass movement of Catholics would become a non-sectarian force. The mobilisation of the Northern Irish minority fed on newly awakened expectations and promises [which] could not be held back until the Protestant trade unionists caught up with it. A clash between the communities was inevitable. The activities of the 'ultra-lefts' (most notably the People's Democracy) denounced so monotonously by Mr Greaves and his friends might have helped hasten this; their desistance from these activities could not have prevented its occurrence.

There were only two possible ways to equalise the terms on which the actual communal clash occurred in 1969. One was that which actually happened and which the Stalinites and Social Democratic Parties in Britain and Ireland generally supported: the drafting in of reinforcements of British troops to 'keep the peace'. As subsequent events proved conclusively these troops had not been sent to help the Catholics but to help British imperialism against the Catholics. This was easy to see in 1969 but the Communist Party could still welcome them in because, immediately, they did take the pressure off the ghettoes. But, also, this method of removing the pressure harmonised far better [with] the stages theory that insisted that until all (or, perhaps, just the bulk of) democratic rights were established in Northern Ireland, the border was not an issue and it was Britain's responsibility to protect its citizens.

The alternative was a mass civil rights movement north and south of the border growing over into a movement to smash partition, and imperialism in Ireland (and ultimately abroad). To PD's credit, it came close to recognising this fact, though it hadn't a clue how to help it along, except through a disastrous march from Belfast to Dublin in April 1969. Naturally, the CPNI and, indeed, the then united Republican Movement did nothing to clarify this confusion; rather they opposed any extension of the struggle. In the second quote above, Greaves makes it obvious that any support (if such was needed) for the minority was to be left to the 26 county Government even though it 'was up to its neck in European integrationism'. Any grass-roots agitation would merely irritate the Protestant workers on whom the success of the civil rights stage of the Irish revolution depended. Except in solidarity meetings held after each of the larger Unionist atrocities, little was done by the Stalinites or the Republicans in the 26 counties to mobilise support for their comrades over the border. Not only did those comrades not want it but it offended against their own view of the Irish revolutionary strategy.

The Dublin Housing Action Committee
This is not to say that the Stalinites and Republicans had no policy in the 26 counties. They had and it often involved mass action or the possibility thereof. Only the latter (if that) was involved in the anti-EEC campaigns; the referendum result could be seen from the failure of the Stalinites and their fellow-workers ever to mobilise more than several hundred for the cause.

But two fields provided more impressive short-term results. In the matter of housing, the Irish Workers' Party (and, even more actively, its new Connolly Youth Movement) played a leading role in a Dublin Housing Action Committee. This was aimed officially at repairing the gross neglect of housing which had been maintained since the opening of the economy, the effects of which were magnified by this opening and the resulting admission of large foreign companies demanding higher standards of office accommodation for their staffs than Dublin was able immediately to supply. In these circumstances, many speculators, both Irish and foreign were able to make a fast buck by adding further to the shortage.

The Communist Party's approach to the housing crisis shows that their approach to agitation is the same whether it is agitation for housing in the Republic or democracy in the North of Ireland. In the first place, the metaphysical approach (that is isolating the issues to be achieved) is the same. Just as in the Northern Ireland, the civil rights demand cannot be achieved without the destruction of the colonial state and the establishment of an all-Ireland Workers' Republic, so, in Dublin, there are only two ways to end the housing shortage; either a slump leading to massive emigration (as was the case in the mid-fifties, the last time of housing glut) or a Socialist economy. However, just as the CPNI, through the NICRA, sought to solve the civil rights by a series of makeshift proposals culminating in its now notorious 'Bill of Rights' ideal so, too, its comrades in Dublin, through the Housing Action Committees issues a demand that could only tinker with the problem; a 'housing emergency'. Nobody knew what this meant, though Séamus Costello of Bray Sinn Féin, on election to the UDC in 1967, obtained such a situation for his area with good results that might be credited either to it or to the fact that the situation in Bray was less acute than in Dublin. The most definite summary of 'the housing emergency' was given recently (Irish Socialist, March 1974) by Bernard Brown the ex-Chairman of the DHAC:

'Apart from a crash building programme to meet the emergency ... the first thing it would do would be to stop the demolition and conversion to other uses of sound living accommodation'.

However, by then the Dublin Housing Action Committee was long in Limbo. At the recent elections for Dublin Corporation, the CPI candidates were wise enough to drop the 'emergency' gimmick and to make more specific demands for 'direct building' of houses by Dublin Corporation, a minimum annual output of 2,000 dwellings, abolition of ground rent and nationalisation of urban development land.

The decline of the DHAC from its activist peak in 1967-1969 is a further point of resemblance with the career of the NICRA. In both, the Stalinists were, of not the only participants, the most effective because they could claim both experience and political sophistication, only one of which was possessed by any one of their colleagues on these bodies. Furthermore, despite being Marxists, their opposition to 'ultra-leftists' made a natural appeal to the timidity of the petty-bourgeois Republican Movement. Both bodies participated in opposing proposals to broaden the perspectives of the struggles in which their fronts were engaged. But, more importantly, both also acted to slow down the front's potential for mass action even within their limited perspectives. For the Dublin Housing Action Committee the moment of truth came on 21 January 1969: the 50th anniversary of the founding meeting of Dáil Éireann. The Secretary of the DHAC, Dennis Dennehy (then of the Irish Communist Organisation: see Appendix), had been imprisoned for squatting and was now on a hunger strike. In protest, the Committee led one of its largest demonstrations to the Dublin Mansion House, where the members of Dáil Éireann were commemorating their parent body. Once there, the demonstrators waited relentlessly in the rain for something to happen. Of course, nothing did except that they had to tolerate a set of boring speeches that might have been (and, indeed probably were) designed to help the rain cool down their ardour. Having done so, the crowd left the scene without being seen, let alone noticed, by ant TD. No further demonstration was called and a few days later, Dennehy was released. But, for an evening, the situation had approached that which in Northern Ireland the CPNI and NICRA were trying currently to cool. The DHAC avoided calling any further mobilisations and concentrated, instead, on the useful, unspectacular work of helping squatters in privately owned dwellings. The vast bulk of the increasing number of Dublin squatters carried out their actions without help and, what was more, tended to prefer to squat in corporation rather than private dwellings, as they had a better chance of being recognised as bona fide tenants in the former. What was more, the political affiliates of the DHAC were not strong enough even to aid all the private squatters without expanding their numbers – and the mobilisations that would do this quickly had been discontinued. The DHAC first stagnated and then, with resources being diverted by the escalation of the Northern struggle and the Republican split, began to decline.

It staged one last revival 18 months later, when the Forcible Entry Bill was introduced to expand the powers of the criminal law against the practice of squatting. The Committee took the lead in establishing a Committee to Oppose Repressive Enactments (CORE) which organised even larger demonstrations than the DHAC in its heyday. Once again all sections of the left were united. Their numbers were now swelled by a nascent and large movement for Women's Liberation. That the struggle against the passage of the Forcible Entry Act was fruitless cannot be blamed to any great extent on the CPI. The Bill was opposed right up to the demand that the President should not sign it. It is doubtful whether even a more determined and consistent mobilisation could have prevented its passage. Where political failure occurred on the part of the left (apart from the original discontinuance of the DHAC's mass actions) was in not preparing any plan beyond the immediate. Once the Act was passed, the CORE was forgotten and the DHAC, or what was left of it was left to disintegrate to its component affiliates. The new movement of the Dublin homeless is developing semi-spontaneously with political leadership from different bodies to those of the DHAC.

Again, the CPI's refusal to maintain the CORE was consistent with its general approach to front organisations. Since its essential focus is upon itself, its own strength even if opposed to the objective needs of the revolutionary struggle, it must consider its attitude towards and front in the light of its organisation. Unless it can dominate (or, at least, unless it and Sinn Féin – Gardiner Place – en bloc can dominate) the front it tends to lose interest very quickly. In some cases, as with the DHAC, with CORE, and, probably, as with NICRA, later on, the CPI's attitude tended to change towards joint front organisations according to whether they could continue to provide a good supply of recruits without enabling its rivals to notch up equivalent gains. In general, since 1969, but even before that, the Irish mainstream Stalinites have seen front work as involving quick mobilisations on specific short-term issues, rather than longer-term preparations leading to larger mass movements for ultimate victory in any fields. For example, the struggle against entry to the EEC involved several separate organisations at different times. The reason is obvious, the CPI is large enough to gain immediate benefits from short-term mobilisations; if these mobilisations are extended in any way, the smaller organisations of the far left will get some of the pickings, and that would never do! [1].

The CPI and the Trade Unions
This preference by the CPI is displayed in its activities in the trade unions. Here, of course, there can be no question of breaking up mass organisations through inertia or disaffiliation. In fact, the CPI has used the trade union structure very efficiently, consolidating the base it possessed before rivals to its left appeared and doing so until, at the time of writing, its national chairman, Andrew Barr, has also been the president (1974-1975) of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – something which has not happened in the British TUC. Of course this has not been achieved by political interventions; as usual, the Communists have acted simply as more efficient and militant trade unionists than the bureaucracy or of the bulk of the rank and file; this is part of what is needed but not all. Even so, it is quantitatively better for the Irish trade union movement that Barr be its elected Chairman than that some of his predecessors or probable successors be occupying this position.

But the strategy that elected Barr has produced results similar to the ones produced in fields other than trade union work. Since the CPI members are acting in their unions less as Party members than as good trade unionists who happen to be Party members, they are unable to oppose politically the trade union bureaucracies. In practice, they act against spontaneous organisations within the trade union movement but outside its framework except for the most limited aims. This has happened three times: in an organisation established in 1968 to fight anti-trade union legislation (the Defend the Picket organisation), in a much larger campaign supporting the striking workers in the cement industry in the spring of 1970 and in the matter of the recent Dublin Shop Stewards Committee.

This last is particularly interesting. It was established by a group of worker-militants, including (but not exclusively) shop stewards among whom there was a fair proportion of members of far left groups not including the CPI. Its immediate aim was to fight the current National Wage Agreement which it did with some immediate success, though with subsequent failure. During this struggle, the CPI had joined and played its part. Then the NWA was ratified and the Committee should, according to mainstream Stalinite thought, have dissolved itself. The CPI members withdrew from it but it continued, although weakened, even producing a paper. So the Industrial Committee of the CPI produced a statement for the Party press:

'We urged support for the Dublin Shop Stewards Committee in its recent campaign against the National Wage Agreement.

'The Committee through its activities succeeded in attracting many active shop stewards in the city, and this development helped to strengthen progressive policies in the trade union movement as a whole.

'We therefore regret the decision taken in March by the Committee to open its ranks to all trade unionists not only shop stewards.

'This decision means that the Committee ceases to be a Shop Stewards Committee, and will no longer be representative of serious rank and file opinion.

'Instead it has become a hunting ground for various shades of ultra-left factionalism.

'We therefore believe that this Committee should no longer receive support from Dublin Shop Stewards'

'Shop Stewards off course', Irish Socialist, May 1974.

Apart from the logic of this – which makes neither formal nor dialectical sense – there are two factual evasions. In the first place, the Shop Stewards' Committee was always open to all militants – not just shop stewards. Secondly, without the 'various shades of ultra-left factionalism', the Shop Stewards' Committee might have existed but would not have been so strong numerically, or, arguably, politically. However, it could well have been a 'hunting ground' and a happy 'hunting ground' at that time for the CPI and its friends; that it was not was its real crime for them.

But even the formal reason for the CPI's disaffiliation from the Dublin Shop Stewards' Committee exposes the Party. For its reason is not just formal but formalistic; for the CPI nothing has developed in the working class organisation since 1918! Everything has to be through the former channels, however atrophied. The trouble is: why stop there? If we follow this argument to its logical conclusion, we have no need, even, of the CPI. Less rhetorically, it might be remarked that even Soviets have to start somewhere.

This belief, not just in the working class but in its bureaucratised organisations is a central part of the CPI's ideological base for its attacks on the far left. Its belief in the present trade union movement, as organised, not just as a defender of working class rights (where all must defend) but as an initiator of policy is quite natural coming from a body

a) which has an organisational view of politics similar to that of the bureaucratic officials,

b) which believes that the USSR's bureaucracy is a necessary part of a genuine Socialist society and

c) which never goes beyond the limits of the LCD of whatever is the political thought of the average trade unionist.

In recent years three of the CPI's gurus have entered the fray against the far left on the specific question of the trade unions. In his book, The Irish Crisis, C. Desmond Greaves writes:

'The name given to the new group . . . was "People's Democracy". It is hard to know what the title was intended to convey, except perhaps that the traditional democracy of the Labour movement was not good enough'.

op. cit., p.161

'A. Raftery', in his pamphlet, is even more specific:

'To some on the left and in the Republican movement the trade union movement is seen as irrevocably lethargic, containing the revolutionary class but itself simply an instrument of capitalism. The call from these forces is for the winning of the working class for Socialism and independence outside the trade union movement.

'It is true that the trade union movement by itself cannot bring about political change. It is also true that no progressive political force can bring about change unless it is based on the organised working class.
'The trade union movement as it exists, not some ideal future manifestation of it, is where the struggle for progress is going to be decisive.

'Even before the Civil Rights Movement in the North, the trade union movement had produced plans for democracy and economic development'.

A. Raftery, The Exploited Island, Dublin 1972, pp.15-16

As in the Irish Socialist, Denis Fitzpatrick, its book reviewer remarks à propos Eamonn McCann's War and an Irish Town:

'Characteristically he (McCann) totally ignores the one working class institution which already exists to represent the interests of Catholic and Protestant workers – the trade union movement. Doubtless as a good Trotskyist [sic] he regards himself as above all that kind of thing, but then – as he rather charmingly admits – even Trotsky made mistakes'.

Irish Socialist, May 1974.

On the matter of the trade unions, it can be said that history is already judging Stalinite policy. Despite Barr's election to the chair of the ICTU, and the achievements of the Stalinite shop stewards and other trade union officials, it is a fact that, so far from the trade union movement uniting the workers of Ireland on a class basis, religious divisions are threatening its own unity. Since, as the CPI maintains, the far left has still little strength at shop floor level compared to the Party (and had, relatively, even less in 1968-71 when Stalinite influence was much stronger and before the Loyalist Association of Workers had started major operations), this failure cannot be blamed on the far left, nor, totally, on British imperialism. An essentially Syndicalist policy arising from an overall bureaucratic outlook both in the trade unions and elsewhere has failed. It would not be so peculiarly ridiculous if the CPI had not before it many examples from many lands of awful warnings against the futility of Syndicalism and Economism.

More generally, the illusions of the IWP and, later, of the CPI and the strategies of which they were the inspiration have played an important subjective part in handicapping the growth of a mass anti-imperialist movement in the Republic such as could, at best, link up with and, at worst act as a support to the Northern Irish civil rights agitation. Of course, the prevailing economism of the 26 county ideological situation provided a major objective difficulty against such attacks. Nonetheless, it was not made any easier by the determination of the CPI, as one of the largest and certainly the most influential political force to the left of the Irish Labour Party, to keep and such movement in its hands and opposing it determinedly when it got out of control.

The Bill of Rights
If the IWP and the CPI (Southern Area) acted as a force to limit any revolutionary potential in the 26 counties, the CPNI and then the CPI's Northern Area leadership did its best to do the same north of the border as the struggle continued. The Protestant invasions of the ghettos in August 1969 had raised to the top of the objective agenda the question of Partition. Only sections of the far left were prepared to offer this to the consciousness of the people threatened. Neither the Government nor the opposition of the Republic, the Government nor, indeed, the opposition in Northern Ireland, nor, of course, the Government and the opposition in the United Kingdom were prepared to recognise this fact and explain this. The CPNI and its opposite numbers in Dublin and London declared immediately that the situation could be solved by broadening and codifying the existing demands of NICRA to compose a Northern Irish Bill of Rights. The fullest description of what this Bill involved is given by Greaves:

'Its stated aim was to amend the powers of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland, to make other provisions for equating the civil rights of citizens of Northern Ireland with those of other citizens of the United Kingdom, and to make provisions for proportional representation in parliamentary and local government elections in Northern Ireland. The grievances which it sought to relieve had been particularly complained of by those who spoke for the Civil Rights Association, and the text had been publicly discussed in Belfast at a conference convened by that movement.

'The first section sought to extend the Race Relations Act to Northern Ireland where it would include reference to discrimination on the grounds of religion. The second section was designed to protect the political activities of nationalists and republicans. The six county government would lose the power to create political offences in the activities of nationalist and republican groups, and it would be illegal to demand or administer any oath or test as a condition of public office, employment or election. The third section was designed to destroy the 'Flags and Emblems Act'. The fourth section aimed at restoring the form of proportional representation known as the single transferable vote in all elections, local and provincial. It would not of course affect Westminster elections.

'The most important section was probably the fifth which was aimed against the Special Powers Act and similar repressive legislation. The powers of the six county Parliament to legislate were so curtailed as to prevent their passing any Act authorising without charge or trial, searches without warrant, the imposition of a curfew, denial of access to legal advisers to persons under arrest, or the arming of any species of special constabulary. The Special Powers Act would have disappeared the moment the Bill of Rights became law, and so would the Public Order Act. A final clause sought to encourage the growth of co-operation between the six county administration and the Government of the Republic'.

Greaves, op. cit., pp.197-98

A footnote to all this adds:

'Sometimes resolutions are passed calling for a Bill of Rights and the repeal of the Special Powers Act, Flags and Emblems Act, etc. If reference is made to the Bill introduced by Lord Brockway, it is unnecessary to specify these things in addition and thus make demands on two Government simultaneously, for the Brockway Bill automatically extinguishes the Special Powers Act and all similar enactments'.

Ibid, p.198

This fact was not too well understood even by Greaves' comrades of the CPI (Northern Area), since, one year after he had completed the introduction to his book, James Stewart, the CPI's assistant General Secretary, was calling in the Area weekly periodical, Unity (18 November 1972) for the passage of the Bill of Rights in addition to calls for an end to Internment, Special Courts and all coercive legislation. On the other hand, in September 1969, at Conference in Dublin to mark solidarity with the oppressed people of the North-East, the independent Stalinite, Anthony Coughlan, once a close colleague of Greaves in the Connolly Association, brought the Bill of Rights idea into Cloud-Cuckooland. His suggestion (published, later as a pamphlet), that Britain might not only grant it but, while taking responsibility for Northern Irish security, might be reasonably expected to allow the six county regime the freedom to make trade pacts with other countries and to stay out of the EEC. An inversion of Marxism, this! In effect, it was asking that an unbeaten imperialist power should agree to keep order in a colony which it was allowing to break from its economic dependence on it.

An independent observer might conclude that the 'publicly discussed' Northern Irish Bill of Rights was no more than a rather vaguely conceived nostrum around which agitations could be produced that could be guaranteed as limited in scope: rather like the DHAC's 'Housing Emergency'. But, even if it could have been a fully conceived scientific plan its implementation was still disastrous – as will be shown.

The CPI and the Republican Movement
However, there was another result flowing from the invasions of August 1969. For too many Republicans, the Unionist outburst justified their worst suspicions about the civil rights strategy. There were other causes for disaffection – such as the Fianna Fáil gold mentioned repeatedly by the current Gardiner Place leadership as the sole cause, but the main reason was the political one. The complete failure of the Republican leadership to criticise its strategy in the light of events or to slow it down rather than pushing forward to new developments such as the 'Bill of Rights' and recognition of Dáil Éireann ensured that a spilt would occur. However, and all too inevitably in the history of Irish Republicanism, it took the form of a step back towards the petty-bourgeois attitudes of the 1950s. A draft programme of petty-bourgeois socialism that had been rejected by the united movement as not Stalinite enough was adopted by the breakaways and presented to the world as Éire Nua. The civil rights strategy was rejected but a purely military one replaced it. The Communist Party was shunned as much for its alleged virtues as for its genuine counter-revolutionary Stalinism.

It is not to whitewash the CPI to say that it never wanted the Republican split. Its attitude towards the republican movement has always been consistent: that the movement is the petty-bourgeois component of an alliance that will achieve the first and second stages of the Irish revolution and will then become very much the junior partner in that revolution's final (Stalinite) stage. Éire Nua was originally drawn up by the past and future Communist Party, Roy Johnston, precisely as a programme for a specifically petty-bourgeois organisation. Indeed, the Kevin Street Sinn Féin fulfils the Communist Party's ideal of a petty-bourgeois ally far better than the Gardiner Place organisation, with its Marxist aspirations. But Kevin Street sectarianism and its dependence on military tactics as much as its recognition that insistence on the civil rights stage of the Irish revolution is, at best, a waste of time and at worse, counter-revolutionary, have ruled out a Provo-Stalinite alliance for the present.

Nemesis
Thus from January 1970, the mass of anti-imperial forces in Northern Ireland have divided. On the one hand stand those who insist on trying to limit the perspectives of the struggle to what has been for a long time the objectively irrelevant aim of 'the Bill of Rights'. On the other side are the Kevin Street Republicans who recognise the futility of trying to correct Northern Ireland's abuses within a six county context and with them, on this issue, must be grouped the far left who recognised this fact before they did.

But this division is far less clear, at first. The NICRA affiliates, with all their limitations had a strategy that might raise the confidence and, hence, the consciousness of the Northern Irish minority. Kevin Street rejected the mass mobilisation strategy (the baby in the Bill of Rights bath water) and concentrated on the traditional Republican method – the individual Volunteer: dependent admittedly, on the people of his neighbourhood, but a cut above them because of his gun and differentiated from them in his and their eyes – if not, of course, in the eyes of the enemy. For many, the NICRA strategy was although limited the correct one in 1970; the 'Provo' military campaign was obsolete.

The far left was prepared to work within the civil rights organisation. Indeed, despite an early resignation gimmick by the PD, it tried to work within the NICRA until 1972. Undoubtedly the left's tactics were often hazy and confused, which didn't help matters. Its basic attempt to win NICRA for permanent revolution rather than working as a permanent revolutionary group therein, was never overcome. And it was opposed by a group of people who knew exactly what they wanted: which was (again the parallel with the DHAC) a Bill of Rights and no more. Moreover, these individuals were ready to drop mass action if it looked like going beyond their control. While members of the CPI (as it was again, by now) never had an ordinary majority on the NICRA Council, they were the best infighters and, more creditably, the best organisers in the Association, particularly after internment. They, and many of their leading Gardiner Place allies, were prepared to use the 'Provo' campaign as an excuse for doing nothing ('People are too scared of the Provos to go into the streets' – this was said to the present author by Sinn Féin [Gardiner Place] members as early as October 1971) except, of course, when they wanted to do so. Until 1973, their wish to do so was usually able to mobilise more than any of their rivals or any combination thereof, as the New Year's Day 1972 "Bloody Sunday' and, above all, the subsequent Newry demonstrations all showed. But they did not trust their followers to be controlled indefinitely. By default, they lost support until today, it is the Provos who can claim the support of the largest mass movement among the Northern Irish Catholics. As the 1974 St Patrick's Day march showed, it is probable that all other organisations combined could outdo Kevin Street – but 'anti-Provisionalism' is not really an adequate programme for united action.

So the Republican Movement (Kevin Street) is now – on the streets and at the ballot box – the most powerful revolutionary force in Ireland today. This is not satisfactory; the movement is a petty-bourgeois grouping with a programme to match, a tendency to sectarianism via à vis all other left-wing groupings, and doubts about the importance of mass agitation work.

And the problems it faces are not surmountable by such a body. Despite all its talk about 'victory in '74' (victory having been elsewhere in '72 and '73) the fact is that the revolutionary struggle is now on the downturn in Northern Ireland having been starved of mass support in the Republic, its rank and file operators beguiled by the Catholic bourgeois SDLP and now facing a formidable counter-revolutionary threat besides and in addition to the British Army: the militant Loyalists. There is nothing in Provisionalism – in urban guerilla-ism, in Éire Nua or in both combined – to overcome this.

As has been shown it is also impossible for the CPI to solve these problems. Yet, this party has grown, if not (in the last years) as quickly as Kevin Street Republicans, then certainly more quickly than their allies in Gardiner Place. The failures of this period: the decline of the DHAC and the NICRA, the defeat of the anti-EEC struggle have all reflected on the latter body rather than the CPI. A further source of recruits has been the collapse of the Irish Labour Party's leftward turn in favour of renewed coalition politics.

From the Party's point of view this justifies the emphasis that it has always placed on organisation. Unlike Gardiner Place, it has long established bases in the working class movement. The CPI's Connolly Youth Movement, though newer than Fianna Éireann, has been organised at a higher political level, appealing to the older generation, as a reserve of cadres for its cause. Above all, its emphasis on organisation has served it well since its members, however confused politically, do know how to operate in the movements in which they find themselves.

On top of this, the Communist Party of Ireland has been reconstituted since January 1970. In his book, Greaves describes this as the 'one act of faith' that 'enlivened the winter of 1970' and 'an effort to halt the fragmentation of the [Civil Rights] Movement'. As immediately beforehand he stated that 'in the shipyard there was tacit agreement not to mention civil rights, so deeply had the ruling class been able to divide the two religious communities' (Greaves, ibid, p.190), it seems more likely that reunification was made more possible by the decline of the CPNI's base in the Protestant working class rather than for more positive or idealistic reasons. But whatever the cause, it has tended to help the CPI.

What is more, there are some prospects for further growth. The Party has influence in the Union of Students in Ireland. It still has connections with Gardiner Place, Sinn Féin, with the Left Liaison Committee of the Labour Party and with the Socialist Party of Ireland – a tiny ultra-Stalinite sect which broke from Gardiner Place after the main split of 1970, and which has been distinguished from the CPI mainly by its even more slavish defence of the Moscow bureaucracy. (The CPI was one of the Comintern's affiliates that voted to denounce the invasion of Czechoslovakia). All these bodies are allied to the CPI and the Connolly Youth Movement in a united May Day Committee which celebrates May Day and issues statements on many matters.

All these organisations (except perhaps, the Left Liaison Committee which has a crypto-Trotskyist current in it and has been encouraged to keep going by some of its candidates' successes in the recent municipal elections) provide possible sources for recruits. But there may be difficulties for the CPI against too open a takeover – of Gardiner Place or the SPI. The first cherishes Centrist dreams of a 3.5 International independent of Moscow and Peking though friendly to both. The latter – otherwise a more obvious candidate for fusion – has developed a 'Two Nations' line on Northern Ireland, though this may well spread to the CPI or it may recover from it.

But, though the immediate (and for Stalinites, the all important organisational) future of the CPI seems asured, its political weakness remains and is magnified by the objective situation. All that can be said is that if this situation is to be reversed in a revolutionary direction this task will have to be achieved outside; and even against opposition from, the Communist Party of Ireland.


[1] This does not apply to agitation on foreign issues – such as the Vietnamese war and apartheid, and most recently Chile where liberals and bureaucrats can work with the left without too great a commitment. Even here, however, the CPI has worked to keep these campaigns tuned to the petty-bourgeoisie.

 

 

 



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