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

Despite the claims of certain self-styled heirs of the tradition, Ireland never really had a Marxist-Leninist Movement. The nearest it got to it was in one man – James Connolly – who applied the Marxist teachings of the Second International in a revolutionary fashion, but who, in doing so, imbibed Syndicalist organisational assumptions that prevented the creation of a disciplined, conscious force united around his teachings.

When the lessons of the October Revolution were to be learned in Ireland, they were learnt inadequately by a small group of revolutionaries in the process of breaking from (and over-reacting against) the Syndicalism of the majority of the Labour Party. RJ Connolly and his colleagues were unable to apply Leninism to the Irish situation as Connolly's father had applied Marxism to it. This was not altogether their fault; Lenin's writings were in short supply and they were handicapped, further, by the tendency of the Communist International, first to treat Ireland as an appendage of Great Britain and then by its readiness to liquidate its affiliate to appease the Syndicalist, Larkin.

When the Party was reconstituted again after nearly ten years, Marxism-Leninism had, for the Comintern become Stalinism. The heroic age of the CPI, the years of the unemployed agitations. the fight against Fascism in Ireland and in Spain and of Dublin's only elected openly Stalinite City Councillor were years in which the dedication and bravery of the comrades were manipulated directly by the Russian bureaucracy according to its own needs rather than those of the Irish workers. In the end, that bureaucracy required, once more, the liquidation of the Party in the larger part of the country.

The Party was divided for nearly thirty years. During this time, each of its parts suffered pressure that, if less than those of its comrades in a capitalist dictatorship were still considerable and necessitated continuing high standards of morale amongst their members. However, it also required political leadership and this was not to be found. The direct Moscow rule of the '30s had been discontinued by 1943. All that its supporters could do was apply the lessons of the '30s to the new situation. Even this remedy was diluted by the fact that the CPNI had gained a substantial power base among the Protestant workers who would be alienated by a popular front against imperialism. So the overriding lesson of the 1930s was drawn: defend and build the Party whatever the cost.

This organisational approach to the political issues was continued into the 1960s when the Cold War began to lessen in intensity and major opportunities – even towards overthrowing the state machines in both parts of Ireland – appeared to revolutionaries. The CPI as it was reconstituted in 1970, insisted on maintaining its controlling position in all agitations, and in using this position to enforce the limitation of their perspectives to minimum demands – even when the objective situation necessitated a more positive approach. As (the positive side of its organisational fetish) members of the CPI were genuinely more efficient than the Republicans and far leftists with whom they worked, they were able to influence the movements concerned in excess even of their numbers. Thus, the CPI bears a large share of responsibility for the failure of the Irish revolution up to now. However, it has grown numerically, and may well grow further.

In the end, perhaps the most important immediate criticism that can be made of the Communist Party of Ireland is that few of its members are likely to understand the criticisms of it made here. They will tend to counterpose to the politics the undoubted determination and bravery of such people as O'Riordan and Sinclair, the undoubted efficiency of Edwina Stewart and Madge Davidson, and the fact that 'A. Raftery' gives lectures on Marxism. What they will not answer is the charge that is made against their Party: that all these qualities are in the service of a body that counterposes its own future against that of the revolution, and that, in the end, imperils both accordingly.

 

 



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