of the Socialist Party of Ireland to the Third International
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
it (intentionally) overestimates their influence at the time.
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
Republic. By 1903, the Irish Socialist Republican Party, as it
was called, had been almost completely extinguished in Dublin and
the two centres in which it was established, [due] to an unrelenting
personal persecution of its members by the Nationalist and Catholic
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
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
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
open war. At the crucial moment, the commanding officer of the
IV countermanded the mobilisation orders for Easter Monday 1916,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
own publications have been the works of James Connolly and The
Historical Basis of Socialism in Ireland by T. Brady. The writings
Engels and Daniel De Leon have been steadily circulated during
the past twenty years. Within the past three years, thousands of
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
the direct representation of the workshop in the Shop Stewards
Committee, an integral part of the Union's organisation. Workshop
have been formed in all large plants. Recently in a dispute in
the rural Creamery district, fourteen creameries were seized by
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
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
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
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
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