Written in the weeks before the Treaty was accepted by the Irish Dail in January, 1922 this analysis from the prolific Communist writer T.J. O’Flaherty, brother to Liam O’Flaherty, an Irish speaker from the Aran Isles and editor of the Irish People, Daily Worker, and Labor Defender.
‘A Workers Republic for Ireland’ by Thomas J. O’Flaherty from The Toiler. December 17, 1921.The Toiler. Vol. 4 No. 201. December 17, 1921.
TO many Americans the Irish question is as inevitable as a revolution in South America. They think it is a kind of necessary evil that must be tolerated like growing pains. Most people are in favor of freedom for Ireland, but until recently they thought that Ireland did not want freedom, only an excuse for fighting with England and giving the Irish-American politicians something to talk about at election time. They believed that in favoring freedom for Ireland they had performed their full duty in the same way that a Christian performs his religious duty by making an annual contribution to the sustaining fund of his favorite sky pilot. The Irish in America have always conducted the fight for Irish freedom in a respectable sort of a way. An Irish American patriot could favor Irish freedom and the subjection of Mexico at the same time and get away with it. He could denounce England as a robber Empire for her predilection to international loot and at the same time praise the altruism of the United States for going to the trouble of licking the Spaniards in order to save the Philippines and Cubans from Spanish oppression and sweeten their lives by turning them over to the sugar trust. It was not exactly consistent but as the Irish question was looked upon as an election promise and not a reality the average American did not consider the conduct of the seeker for Irish votes inconsistent or unethical. All in all the fight for the freedom of Ireland from British rule was conducted by the exiled children of the Gael in America according to the highest conception of civilized warfare. In fact the manner in which the lion’s tail was twisted was humanitarian enough to satisfy the demands of even a pacifist.
The most prominent of the Irish revolutionists in America were silk hats and frock coats and occupied such revolutionary positions as that of Supreme Court Judges or Police Commissioners. It is true there were divisions in the. Irish movement in America. Some of the patriots were Democrats and others were Republicans. Some favored sending the money across the waters so that John Redmond could impress the British government with banquets in London while others favored spending it in America on United States Senators who it was claimed were entitled to at least one good meal as their share of the Irish question. Nobody thought of fighting the-enemy, with the exception of a few like James Connolly-he got out of here as soon as he could raise his passage-who believed that only through a social and political revolution combined could the freedom of Ireland be attained. Connolly oftentimes had to borrow the price of a plate of beans while he was in the United States. But he was a revolutionist and he went to Ireland and when the opportunity arose struck the blow that set the feet of the Gael on the revolutionary path that leads to one inevitable goal-the workers’ republic. It is because many otherwise well informed people do not understand the significance of the present struggle in Ireland that this article is written. Those who judge the Irish movement at home by the reactionary speeches made on American platforms by the apologists of the capitalist system who pose for the time being as Irish enthusiasts arc mistaken. The present struggle in Ireland is not revolutionary in the sense that the Russian Revolution was, but as the Irish question will not be settled until the capitalist system on which British Imperialism is based is destroyed, it is inevitable that the present fight for political separation should develop into a struggle for political emancipation from England and social emancipation from the capitalist system which is the cause of misery in Ireland and in every country under the sun. While splendid phrases are being bandied about the right of all peoples to self-determination and national independence is proclaimed to be the highest ideal that any people could strive for, the workers of all countries irrespective of whether the flag that shields the bandit who robs them is a foreign flag or a native one, are robbed and starved and murdered.
Judging from the press reports, the negotiations carried on in London between the representatives of the Irish Republic and those of the British Government do not consider the position of the workers. It is quite likely that the official Sinn Fein element believe that the workers should be satisfied with an Irish flag and Irish exploiters happy in the knowledge that when they were beaten over the head by an Irish policeman at the command of an Irish capitalist during a strike that the baton would be made of native Irish hickory and as they succumbed to the ministrations of the wooden argument the strains of “God Save Ireland” would lull them into unconsciousness. But there is an element in Ireland that understands the economic basis of British rule; an element that has tasted the benevolent despotism of an Irish employer and went into the industrial trenches not against a foreign born master but against his own kith and kin of another class. This element knows that there can be no freedom in Ireland until the capitalist system is overthrown in Ireland and all over the world. The Irish Transport Workers’ Union and the Communist Party of Ireland represents this element.
When Connolly led the revolt in Dublin in 1916 some of his comrades in other countries did not understand why he lined up with the Nationalist elements. They claimed that Connolly. lost his original Marxian purity. These elements could not see in the revolutionary opportunism of Connolly the tactic that is today the guiding star of every revolutionary party in the world. Connolly’s idea was to mobilize all the available discontent in Ireland and hurl it at the enemy. Out of the inevitable sacrifice which the Easter Week Revolution entailed would spring a new movement inspired by the example of the martyrs of Easter Week. Connolly knew quite well that national independence alone would never give Ireland independence until the Empire was overthrown, therefore every move made to overthrow the Empire tended to bring about the inevitable revolution. The Citizen Army composed of members of the Trade Unions was pledged not alone to strike for Irish freedom but for the Workers’ Republic. The Nationalist Volunteers had a certain contempt for the men of the citizen army. The former were carried away with their hostility to England into a feeling of sympathy with Germany. The citizen army, however, was just as much opposed to the Kaiser as to King Gorge and hung over its headquarters the banner with the inscription “We serve neither King nor Kaiser.”
When Eoin MacNaill, the leader of the Nationalist Volunteers, issued the countermanding order which kept the full force of the members of that body from participating in the Easter Week revolution, Connolly called out his citizen army. The army of the workers was the backbone of the rising and according to Seamus MacManus in his “Story of the Irish Race,” it was Connolly’s insistence on making a fight that ultimately carried the motion for the insurrection. But since Easter Week Irish labor has been relegated to obscurity and the Irish middle class have been given credit on American platforms and in the Irish journals for the great struggle that has been carried on against British tyranny.
The most significant events of recent occurrence in Ireland are the raising of the Red Flag over the Port of Cork and the taking over of a factory in Dundalk by the local branch of the Transport Workers. In each case the Soviet idea was utilized and the institutions run by the workers themselves. In Cork the local Republican officials stepped in and made peace between the workers and the bosses, but in Dundalk the workers made a success of the undertaking; increasing the output and the number of employees. Incidents such as these point to the fact that Irish labor is skirmishing before the final attempt to take over the industries for the benefit of the workers. It is generally understood that 85 per cent of the members of the Irish Republican Army are also members of the Trade Unions and are ready to use their weapons in behalf of a Workers’ Republic. Until the English workers are compelled by force of circumstances to overthrow the government, there is no likelihood that an Irish attempt at the establishment of a Soviet form of government could be successful. At the present time, with the exception of the Communist Party, no other party in England has taken the position that Ireland is entitled to independence. The British Labor Party, -some of them are Privy Councilors-are up to their necks in the plans of Imperialism. It is not to be expected that the Gomperian Imperialists would be any more in favor of allowing Ireland to freely function than the Liberal or Tory Party. That Ireland can never function as an independent states as long as capitalism exists should be clear to any student of Imperialism whether British or American. Ireland is not held by England just for the fun of it. Ireland is a strategic point on England’s flank and no British government except a revolutionary one will ever free Ireland. When Kerensky came to power in Russia he talked a good deal about freedom, but it took the Bolsheviks to make freedom something more than a mere phrase. The only hope for Irish freedom is in a revolution in England, and whether that event takes place soon or later it will have to take place before the Irish Republic can carry out its plans.
The present stand of the Belfast defenders of the most reactionary section of the British ruling class is not due to the alleged pig headedness of the Orangemen. It is the historical policy of every British government to use a small section of Ulster as an excuse for refusing to grant Ireland what the majority of the English people themselves are willing to grant. The grand stand play of Carson is the work of Lloyd George. It must be remembered that it was Lloyd George who created the fake Orange Parliament to use as a trading point against the demands of Sinn Fein. The Orange element have the backing of the powerful English landowners and the real rulers of the Empire. They refuse to coerce Ulster, which is a diplomatic way of saying that the little bit of territory under the domination of the big landowners of Belfast has veto power over any proposition made by the British Government for the reconciliation of the differences between Ireland and England. Now the British Government cannot afford to appear before the world, while the disarmament conference is on in Washington as favoring the Orange minority over the great majority of the people of Ireland, so the question of allegiance to the King is trotted out as the main reason why Ulster would not accept the peace plan of Lloyd George. In view of the willingness of the Orangemen to kick the crown into the Boyne when it suits their purpose and their receiving arms from Germany immediately prior to the war, such an excuse cannot fool anybody except those who want to be fooled. The so-called public will take the position that England cannot afford to give Ireland permission to refuse allegiance to the King, realizing that no capitalist country in the same position as England would do it. The efforts of Sinn Feiners for a number of years to conciliate the Orange capitalists by telling them that Ireland was their country have ended in failure. The Orange capitalists puts his class interest above his sentimental fondness for his country. So does the Southern nationalist. Both would crucify the Irish working class and clasp hands over his corpse. The Irish working class can eliminate both the Orange and nationalist exploiter and in that elimination will come the unity of the so-called North and South of Ireland. Jim Larkin did more to bring the Orange and Catholic workers of Belfast together than any other living Irishman, yet it is strange that Jim is not popular either among a certain section of the Sinn Fein element or among the Tory Orange element. Jim brought the Orange and Catholic workers out onto the streets of Belfast in a strike while united against them were the capitalists Orange and Green. The branch of the Irish Transport Workers formed in Belfast numbered at one time 3,000, and this, it was believed more than any other factor was the cause of the pogroms in the Belfast shipyards, where the Catholic workers were driven out in the middle of a wave of religious lunacy artificially stimulated by fake patriotism and booze-a good combination. In fact, religion, booze and patriotism when present simultaneously in any organism make a very dangerous explosive.
The Orange capitalists fear the more advanced workers of the South of Ireland. In spite of the accepted conservatism of the Catholic, the workers of Southern Ireland manage to mix revolution and religion, or properly speaking relegate religion to its proper place in their lives. Recently a correspondent of a daily paper relates how during a conversation with an Irish Communist the latter interrupted the conversation suddenly by saying: “I am sorry, but I must go to mass.” He was after dwelling with intense satisfaction on the prospect of overthrowing the capitalist system and establishing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The Irish workers are well acquainted with secret organizations, and while the Communist movement there may not appear to be very strong judging from surface manifestations it is very likely that when the social revolution put forth its symbol many men now considered quite tame may be found in the front ranks. The great strength of the Irish revolutionary movement is in the labor organizations. In many towns every worker from the village blacksmith to the school teacher is a member of the Transport Workers’ Union and practically form a village soviet. In the remote fastnesses of the County Donegal the children sing the “RED FLAG” and some of James Connolly’s labor poems. The same occurs in the streets of Dublin. When it was possible to hold a May Day Celebration the workers carried the red flag. While the green, white and orange is a symbol of unity between the north and south of Ireland, the red flag is accepted by the revolutionary Irish workers as a symbol of the solidarity that should exist between the workers of the world. A nationalist movement today is out of date, though it is quite evident that the national question must be settled before the Irish workers can find the way clear to move forward to the ultimate goal of a Workers’ Republic.
The landowners and business men of Ireland do not want a continuation of the war between the British army and the Irish Republican Army. In case they should interpose any obstacles in the way of the activities of the I.R.A. when the British Government recommences hostilities the inevitable clash between the Irish bourgeoisie and the workers will take place. The Catholic Church will bring its powers to bear against the workers, as it has always done when the Irish people made a forward move. While the Catholic Church never interferes with the right of established governments to murder and kill, it has never failed to offer strong moral opposition to any movement on the part of the people to bring down tyranny by force of arms. But as in the past when the church interfered in Irish politics the Church was usually defeated, as the Irish people have never forgotten the relationship between John Bull and Pope Adrian’s Bull which granted England the right to conquer Catholic Ireland and civilize it on condition that the Vatican receive the equivalent of one penny for each Irish household. The authenticity of this bull has been attacked by apologists for the Roman Church but never successfully. At least every honest and intelligent Irishman believes in its authenticity. Therefore interference on the part of the church in Irish politics has in the end been to the disadvantage of the church. In the expected civil war between the Irish workers and their masters the church will have the backing of not alone the Vatican but of the Protestant British Government and the robber governments Catholic and Protestant will unite to crush the Catholic and Protestant workers of Ireland as they united in the various countries during the world war to kill and murder the foolish workers who went to war to satisfy the greed of the capitalists of the world.
Only through a revolution in England can Ireland secure her independence. This must never be lost sight of, no matter what prejudices we may have against the English worker and his non-revolutionary psychology. As a matter of fact with the exception of Russia the workers of England are as far ahead in respect of revolution as any other group of workers in Europe. They will rebel when there is no other way out of their misery. They will fly to arms “when the pains of rebellion are no greater than the pains of obedience “and not until then. The Irish workers trained in guerilla warfare may apply their experience in overthrowing the British Government with Merrie England as the battleground. They may shift the theatre of war, but the objective will be the same. The cutting off of the raw supplies from the English factories by a revolution in India will hasten the revolt of the English workers. The policy of Lenin and the Soviet Government is here revealed in its effort to foster the spirit of national independence among the colonies in the East. With Soviet Russia as the Mecca of the revolutionists of the world and the Third International, their general staff, the capitalist imperialists will not know the sleep of security until their robber rule is overthrown in Ireland and all over the world. The Sinn Fein policy of protection of Irish capitalists will never win Irish independence, but the “World for the Workers” slogan of James Connolly will.
The Toiler was a significant regional, later national, newspaper of the early Communist movement published weekly between 1919 and 1921. It grew out of the Socialist Party’s ‘The Ohio Socialist’, leading paper of the Party’s left wing and northern Ohio’s militant IWW base and became the national voice of the forces that would become The Communist Labor Party. The Toiler was first published in Cleveland, Ohio, its volume number continuing on from The Ohio Socialist, in the fall of 1919 as the paper of the Communist Labor Party of Ohio. The Toiler moved to New York City in early 1920 and with its union focus served as the labor paper of the CLP and the legal Workers Party of America. Editors included Elmer Allison and James P Cannon. The original English language and/or US publication of key texts of the international revolutionary movement are prominent features of the Toiler. In January 1922, The Toiler merged with The Workers Council to form The Worker, becoming the Communist Party’s main paper continuing as The Daily Worker in January, 1924.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/thetoiler/201-dec-17-1921.pdf