Report of the Socialist Party of Ireland to the Third International
1920, first published in Marxist Review, Issue No. 2, January-February 1973.

The document was written by the SPI in response to Roddy Connolly's political attacks on the SPI leadership and was presented to the ECCI after the Second Congress (August 1920) in their defence. As such, it (intentionally) overestimates their influence at the time.


The first attempt at establishing a socialist party in Ireland was made by James Connolly on his return from Scotland to Dublin in 1896. Gathering a few friends around him he embarked upon propaganda which issued in 1898 in the production of a weekly paper called the Workers' Republic. By 1903, the Irish Socialist Republican Party, as it was called, had been almost completely extinguished in Dublin and Cork, the two centres in which it was established, [due] to an unrelenting personal persecution of its members by the Nationalist and Catholic reactionaries.

Its members were scattered abroad, Connolly and other members going to the United States, others to Great Britain and the British Colonies. The files of the Workers' Republic of that period show the passage of the Irish Socialist Republican Party from the stage of social-democratic political propaganda with a programme of palliative measures to that of revolutionary socialism, basing itself upon the industrial organisation of the working class, without denying to itself any field of action upon which it could meet and do battle with the forces of capital.

Before passing from the work of the ISRP, it is well to observe that it was the first Irish organisation of any kind to express in a public manner the hostility of the Irish people in general to the piratical policy of the British Empire in attacking the South African Republic and the Orange Free State in 1899-1903. The lead then given with a courage that none of the bourgeois parties could muster was very effectively done by the party and several members were arrested.

In 1904, the Socialist Party of Ireland was founded by the survivors of the ISRP, and maintained the revolutionary tradition. In the industrial struggle between 1907 and 1914, its members were the unpaid propagandists of direct action who welcomed the work of James Larkin in founding the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union established in 1909 to be an industrial union of Irish workers. James Connolly's return to Ireland in 1910, restored to the party an asset of immense intellectual and practical value. Operating at first as the Party's organiser, he and they recognised that, in the then industrial and Psychological condition of the country, the propaganda of socialism, apart from industrial organisation was an almost hopeless task. Joining the Irish Transport Workers' Union as Ulster organiser, James Connolly continued to work for both sides of the movement.

The capitalists of Ireland realised the extreme danger of the Socialist form of organisation, teaching and practising the solidarity of labour in every industrial dispute, and in 1913 the federated employers of Dublin began a series of lock-outs against the ITGWU. The struggle was maintained for two years until the outbreak of the War in 1914. The British Government in Ireland, all the political parties, (among which the Nationalist (Home Rule) Party was predominant), the press, and the clergy, both Catholic and Protestant, co-operated with the employers against the workers, a telling lesson in class solidarity, valuable in a subject nation whose people had always been taught to regards every Irishman as a brother.

On the outbreak of the War in August 1914, the Socialist Party had no doubts or hesitation. It declared war upon war and displayed the legend 'We serve neither King nor Kaiser'. Co-operating with it were such people as Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, who was a pacifist-socialist, but the SPI was not pacifist but anti-militarist.

During the 1913-14 lock-out the savage attacks by the police upon the workers had led to the formation of the Irish Citizen Army; a military force composed solely of workers for the protection of the people from capitalist violence. On the departure of Larkin to America, James Connolly took command of the Irish Citizen Army, perfected its equipment and prepared to take action when the opportune moment arrived.

The Citizen Army was pledged to fight for the Revolution but its membership was small and practically confined to Dublin.

There was also in existence the Irish Volunteers, a much more extensive organisation, established to win the political independence of Ireland. Connolly effected an alliance and impelled the Irish Volunteers toward open war. At the crucial moment, the commanding officer of the IV countermanded the mobilisation orders for Easter Monday 1916, and in consequence the rising of Easter Week was confined to Dublin. The leaders of the Volunteers who took up arms on that occasion, men like PH Pearse, and Seán MacDermott, were those who had reached identity of outlook with Connolly during the pre-war industrial struggle. The result of the conflict was the surrender of the Irish Forces after a week's siege of Dublin by 60,000 British troops who had at their command all the resources of modern armament. During the week, no movement of British labour took place to assist the insurgents. British labour, indeed, was rendered useless and helpless at the crisis by the social patriotism of the trade unionists and the Tolstoyan pacifism of the Socialists. It had been Connolly's hope to signal his fate to fail at the moment because European Socialism, where it is powerful, was faithless, and where it was faithful was at the moment powerless. His orally expressed belief in his fellow revolutionaries' co-operation, is the justification of the attempt to begin in Ireland the policy that triumphed in Russia.

Many members of the Socialist Party participated in the struggle, some were killed in action: James Connolly, a wounded prisoner of war, was tried by court-martial which assembled around his bed, and placed in a chair, his arms and legs fastened by bandages to it and carried thus to the place of execution and shot. At the moment of the insurrection, the British Labour Party was in coalition with the bourgeois parties of England, Mr Arthur Henderson, Mr Wm Bruce, and Mr GH Roberts being members of the Ministry, the first mentioned having Cabinet rank.

Naturally, the Socialist Party of Ireland did not modify its opposition to Imperialism, recognising in it the most complete expression of capitalism. It was reorganised in 1917 after the release of the interned prisoners and began such activities as the conditions permitted.

When the Russian Revolution occurred it was prompt to recognise it was to point out that its progress must be from political to industrial from democracy to socialism. The call to Stockholm was responded to and as no passports could be obtained arrangements were on foot to secure the passage of the Party's delegates by other means.

The definite triumph of the Bolshevik forces was celebrated in Dublin by a startling demonstration, which, by its size and enthusiasm astonished even the promoters. About 10,000 people attended the meeting which overflowed from the Round Room of the Mansion House into the streets. The speakers were with one or two exceptions all members of the Socialist Party, including Wm O'Brien, Secretary of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress, Thomas Johnson, Treasurer of the same, Cathal O'Shannon, editor of the Voice of Labour and WP Coates at present organiser of the 'Hands off Russia' movement in England.

When Comrade Litvinoff came to England, a delegate from the Socialist Party of Ireland was sent to greet him and to assure him of the Party's co-operation with the Russian Proletariat.

When it was proposed to convene an International Socialist conference at Berne to re-constitute the International, the Socialist Party of Ireland decided unanimously to participate in it for two reasons:

First: to cleanse the working class movement from the elements of social patriotism and coalition with capitalism which had characterised, in particular, the British, French, Belgian, and German constituents during the war.

Second: to bring before the world the subject condition of Ireland under a military terrorism fully endorsed by the British Labour Party.

The first aim was defeated by the abstention of the Communist elements, but our mandatories established friendly relations with the communists of Switzerland and France. The second object was attained by securing publicity at Berne and at the Amsterdam Commission a resolution was unanimously adopted [which] called for unfettered self-determination for Ireland; a resolution which was promptly belied by the British Labour Party.

But before the Amsterdam Commission had met, the Socialist Party had received the report of its mandatories at Berne and had decided to cease all further connection with the II International.

The Marxian character of the Socialist Party of Ireland has been consistently maintained. Its literature distribution department has grown steadily and has been confined to the works of Marxians. Its own publications have been the works of James Connolly and The Historical Basis of Socialism in Ireland by T. Brady. The writings of Marx, Engels and Daniel De Leon have been steadily circulated during the past twenty years. Within the past three years, thousands of pamphlets on Russia, and by the Bolshevik leaders, have been sold. One that had a potent influence in affecting working class action is The Land Revolution in Russia by Lenin. Its circulation has been followed by widespread demands for land by the landless labourers, and has resulted in the distribution of many large estates under the pressure of popular feeling. While that is far short of a social revolution it is indicative of the quality of the Irish workers and their responsiveness to revolutionary teaching.

The Irish Transport and General Workers' Union which now musters 130,000 members in the total of 250,000 organised in the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress, affords the Socialist Party facilities for the circulation of this literature and for the conduct of oral propaganda. The position of the ITGWU in the Irish Labour movement and the significance of its strength relative to the entire body of Irish Labour, shows that the young industrial Union movement in Ireland, beginning under the auspices of the Socialist Party but having its greatest growth since 1916, bids fair to have a decisive influence in the destinies of the Irish Labour movement. Already the one big Union is dominant and the work of reorganising its internal structure is keeping pace with its growth by the absorption of craft and local unions.

The Socialist Party has always maintained its independence of other political parties. In the struggle for national independence, while endorsing the claims of the nation it has ceaselessly proclaimed 'Ní Saoirse go Saoirse Lucht Oibre' – "No Freedom without the Freedom of the Working Class'. It has envisaged that freedom as based upon the economic organisation of the actual workers. It has rejected always the idea of political administration of social industry and regarded participation in electoral struggles as a means of propaganda only. Thus the Soviet organisation with the dictatorship of the Proletariat has aroused no controversy among us. Both are foreshadowed in James Connolly's Socialism made Easy (Chapter 5). 'The Workers' Republic' is our idiomatic phrase which anticipated the recent spread of the phrase 'The dictatorship of the Proletariat'. The content of both is identical.

Laying the emphasis thus upon the industrial organisation, the substance of power, our members have given the ITGWU its present basis, upon the direct representation of the workshop in the Shop Stewards Committee, an integral part of the Union's organisation. Workshop Committees have been formed in all large plants. Recently in a dispute in the rural Creamery district, fourteen creameries were seized by the workers and operated by them as the 'Soviet Creameries'. This was only possible owing to the linking of each creamery with the others in the Transport Union Creamery Committee. Workers' Councils are formed in all small towns and during the general strikes of 1918-1919 and 1920 these councils have taken full control of food supplies and kindred matters, in some cases ordering the British police (an armed force) to be confined to barracks. The policy of the general strike has been adopted by the Irish Labour Party & Trades Union Congress with great success on three occasions. On the Executive of that body are four members of the Soviet [sic, Socialist] Party of Ireland, to whose revolutionary initiative the movement owes its representation for direct and fearless action. Two of these members are William O'Brien and Cathal O'Shannon (editor of the Watchword of Labour), who have been imprisoned without trial and were released subsequent to the general strike, during which two members of the SPI, JW Burns and JR White DSO (ex Captain of the British Army) were arrested for propaganda amongst the British soldiers.

On the side of education the party took the initiative in establishing the James Connolly Labour College, a federation of the Labour Movement for the purpose of Marxian education within the movement. Courses of lectures in economics in industrial history and public speaking have been given during the last two winters and work has been carried into the rural districts.

The Socialist Party has now got branches in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Newbridge and Sligo, and a large number of corresponding members in other parts of the country.

The absence of big industry with its corresponding ideology, the wide diffusion of a sparse population, the predominance of agriculture carried on by small farmers, many of them peasant proprietors, the pre-occupation of the people with the struggle against British Imperialism have been obstacles of importance in preventing the spread of revolutionary socialism. The terrorism exercised, during, and, in a worse degree, since the war, by the British military occupation, has prevented propaganda by means of lectures. Our Comrade John McLean, of Glasgow, was among those who have been prevented from addressing meetings under our auspices by sheer force of arms. The terrorism has been approved and confirmed by the inaction of the British Labour Party, which indeed has its own reason to fear the Irish Socialist movement. The friendly co-operation between the revolutionary sections in Britain (the BSP, the Workers' Committees and the Workers' Socialist Federation and the official Labour Movement in Ireland, threatens the social-patriotism of the British Labour Party with opposition from within its own ranks. That this opposition springs from revolt against its own imperialism, it does not seem to realise.

On the other hand, the Socialist Party of Ireland enjoys the results of its own lean [?] work in the economic field, and the prestige of James Connolly's martyrdom. In place of the unrelenting hostility with which he and his colleagues met in their propaganda the revolutionary message of Communism is heard gladly by the Irish people. In the last three years it has been impossible to respond to all the demands made upon us by people to participate in the work. But steadily pursuing the work of agitation and education, consolidating it by labour organisation, that is building up the new society, co-operating with the militant forces of discontent, and rejecting no weapon of offence against capitalism, the future is faced by us with the hopes inspired by the supreme victory won by our Comrades of the Russian Revolution.


Marxist Review was the theoretical journal of the Revolutionary Marxist Group.

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