Communist Party of Ireland
A Critical History, Part 4 by DR O'Connor Lysaght, 1976
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
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
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
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 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:
against imperialist interests in the 26 Counties and a strong
anti-imperialist stand in the
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
'Ireland Her Own' from Irish Socialist, December 1962.
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
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:
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
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:
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:
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'.
1961, the Irish Socialist declared editorially:
one time Fianna Fáil opposed that policy (of British
'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
'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.'
month the Irish Socialist quoted O'Riordan's election address:
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.'
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.'
Programme of the Communist
Party of Ireland,
adopted 15th National Congress, Belfast, 16-17 October 1971, pp. 10-11.
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:
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
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
by the two halves of the organisation. Unity has failed to end the political
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,
smaller than it was in 1945. It had relatively less support among the
most of those who might have been attracted to it otherwise were alienated
by its Unionist-economist tradition and outlook.
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
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
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
succeeded Jackson as leading theoretician of Irish Stalinism.
problem facing the
of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland was
that of how to win
Republican (and other
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
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
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
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
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
Counties. The demands were:
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.
none of these demands
could be sold to
the Protestant plebeian
majority in Northern
Ireland without long
and painstaking education
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
earn as members of the entirely Protestant Special Constabulary. Nor
were the other proposals
'one man – one
vote' (the end of
the property franchise
in local elections)
meant ending the
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
And it is doubtful whether they could provide a lasting settlement, even
so, without a Socialist Republican Government.
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
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:
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'.
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
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!
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
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
This last is particularly interesting. It was established
by a group of worker-militants, including (but not exclusively) shop stewards
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:
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
'Instead it has become a hunting ground for various shades of ultra-left
'We therefore believe that this Committee should no longer receive
support from Dublin Shop Stewards'
'Shop Stewards off course', Irish Socialist,
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
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
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
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:
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
in his pamphlet, is even more specific:
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:
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'.
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
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
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:
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
to all this adds:
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
for the Brockway Bill automatically extinguishes the Special
and all similar enactments'.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
From the Party's point of view this justifies the emphasis that it
has always placed on organisation. Unlike Gardiner Place, it has long
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
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
This does not apply
to agitation on foreign
issues – such