Irish Revolutionaries Contribute to the Comintern Discussion of Lenin’s ‘Theses on the National and Colonial Question’ at the Second Congress of the Communist International. July, 1920.

The Second Congress of the Communist International took place in Petrograd and Moscow between July 19 and August 7, 1920. One of the key decisions of the congress was approving the transformative position put forward by Lenin on July 27th with his report on the ‘Theses on the National and Colonial Question’ as supplemented by M.N. Roy. That day John Reed also made a major report, with genuine depth, on the ‘Negro Question’ in the U.S. Two days of of reports and debate followed. On the second day, two Irish delegates, Roddy Connolly and Eadmonn MacAlpine spoke in the discussion on the situation in Ireland, then fighting an anti-colonial war of independence, as well as the larger issues, including those raised by M.N. Roy. As Ireland’s official delegate, Roddy Connolly also delivered his report, ‘Revolutionary Ireland and Communism.’ Along with Lenin, Zinoviev, Roy, Serrati, Henk Sneevliet, Lao Hsu-Tao from China, Karl Radek, John Reed, and Louis Fraina, a host of other international leaders participated.

Below are Connolly and MacAlpine’s discussion contributions as well, Connolly’s report on Ireland, and the ‘Theses’ as passed.

Irish Revolutionaries Contribute to the Comintern Second Congress’ Discussion of Lenin’s ‘Theses on the National and Colonial Question’ from the Proceedings of the Second Congress of the Communist International. Publishing Office of the Communist International, New York. 1921.

Fifth Session, July 28, 1920.

Discussion by Connolly (Ireland): Comrade Lenin’s Theses have sketched the basic features of the general tactics of the Communist International towards the national revolutionary movement in the oppressed countries. In order actually to apply these Theses, the Communist International must be correctly informed about the economic and historical movement in these countries and moreover have the opportunity to be able to assess the revolutionary significance of the various forces at work in the countries in question. Therefore we would like, without discussing the Theses as a whole, to give a detailed report on the situation in Ireland.

Lenin speaking at the Second Comintern Congress.

The Irish question can be considered as a question of national oppression from three standpoints: from the standpoint of the national revolutionary movement, from the standpoint of the petty-bourgeois social democrats and liberals, and from the standpoint of the Communist International. The first tendency considers Ireland as a separate national unit economically and politically oppressed by England over the last seven hundred years and sees the solution to the question purely and simply in the complete independence of Ireland from Great Britain. For that purpose however a bourgeois-democratic Irish state must be set up after the pattern of the democratic republics of western Europe. In no other case could Ireland ever succeed in developing fully in the economic and cultural respect.

From the standpoint of the liberals, which is shared with slight differences by the petty-bourgeois social-democrats, Ireland is already economically and politically a part of Great Britain. Therefore it is sufficient to satisfy national demands by means of sensible political concessions within the framework of limited self-government.

Meanwhile this independence must be prevented from becoming a danger to the realm.

From the standpoint of the Communist International the position is very different. In the last phase of capitalism the position of all national minorities and colonies is exceptionally complicated. Among the majority of these oppressed peoples and races there is a revolutionary movement directed against imperialism. Even if the struggle of the Communist International is proceeding in another direction, it cannot simply turn its back on these revolutionary uprisings, whose purpose also is to free themselves from imperialism. It must rather support every movement that can contribute to the advancement of the world revolution. The Communist International must encourage and support every movement that strives to weaken the imperialist powers and to advance the growing world revolution. The Communist International must strengthen and unite all communist groups involved in such struggles. Such policies would lead to the formation of a Communist Party in which, under the pressure of the military dictatorship of imperialism, a strict centralisation and a good discipline develop, and which thus will be rendered capable of carrying on a bitter struggle for power against its own national bourgeoisie, after liberating itself from the imperialist yoke. Taking these circumstances into account we demand the support of national revolutionary movements by the Communist International. The only means which promises success is the active support of national movements with the help of the communist groups in the countries in question, however weak they may be. This is especially true of Ireland, where support for the national movement by the Communist International and its British section, without the inclusion of communist groups, would only weaken the latter. Support by the Communist International is the only means that permits them, even in the very first stages of revolutionary struggle, to play a significant role. In their struggle against British imperialism the Irish nationalists will use any means, and if the struggle of the Communist International is only carried out through the mediation of the little communist groups I have mentioned, the nationalists will be forced to remain neutral towards the communists, who will meanwhile be able to develop and attract new forces. Indeed, they may perhaps have to support these communist groups actively, thus unconsciously making their propaganda easier.

If there was no communist movement in Ireland, the direct result, regardless of whether it remained subject to the military dictatorship ruling it at the moment or formed a bourgeois state, would be that it would be turned into the basis for the counter-revolutionary attack on the coming social revolution in Britain. And here we must pay particular attention to the fact that in the British struggles the fleet would play no small role, and that Ireland possesses splendid harbours and submarine bases for a white fleet destined to blockade Britain. This takes us back to the first part of our report which considered Ireland’s strategic position in its importance for communism. If we consider the international situation as a bitter struggle between the centre of the world revolution, Soviet Russia, with the small states grouped around Russia on the one hand, and the League of Nations led by British imperialism on the other, then Ireland, that constant hearth of revolution in the heart of the empire, which keeps an English army of 200,000 men permanently occupied, is of great importance for the international revolutionary movement. On the other hand we must strain every nerve to prevent Ireland from being converted into a kind of basis for the hangmen of the English revolution in the sense that we mentioned above.

As far as the Irishmen are concerned who live in America and scattered throughout the British Empire, everybody knows of the lively interest that they take in the political development of their homeland, as well as of the speed with which they react to events there.

This being so, the tendency of Irish politics towards communism will draw with it the masses of Irishmen living in British possessions and in the United States, strengthen the communist movement in these countries, and lend power to the international proletarian movement in general.

(Connolly then delivered his delegate’s report ‘Revolutionary Ireland and Communism,’ below. Fully published in Communist International. Nos. 11-12. June-July, 1920, it is followed comments from Eadmonn MacAlpine in thr continuing discussion.)

‘Revolutionary Ireland and Communism,’ report by Roddy Connolly, Irish Delegate.

Ireland is of primary importance to international communism primarily for the following two reasons, viz: 1) its strategic position with regard to England, the seat of British imperialism; 2) the influence of Ireland’s political development on the broad masses of its nationals scattered throughout the British Empire and the United States of America.

For the purpose of this report it is necessary to give a brief survey of the Irish labour and socialist movements, and the personalities who played and are playing a part in their development. The recent history of the Irish labour movement may be said to start from the coming of Jim Larkin to Ireland in 1907. Up to this time very few of the Irish workers were organized in trades unions, and of these about 75 per cent were in Irish branches of English unions. They were mere dues-paying members who exercised little or no effect upon the policy of these unions, whose executive offices were in England.

Larkin, who was identified with the Independent Labour Party of England from its inception, came over as organizer of the English Dockers’ Union, and within a short time of his arrival the first big strike in Ireland took place in Belfast. This strike is noteworthy in as much as, along with the dock and transport workers of the city, the police came out on strike. It was marked by much rioting and military activity. Within a few months of the settlement of the Belfast dispute the dockers in Cork went on strike. As a result of the treatment meted out to the Belfast strikers by the executive of the union in England, and a continuation of the same policy with regard to the Cork workers, Larkin broke away from the English Dockers’ Union and organized the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union on the lines of industrial unionism. After a series of fiercely fought strikes the Transport Workers’ Union got a permanent foothold in the bigger ports and industrial centres. Connolly returned from America in 1910 and immediately went to see Larkin, who was in Mountjoy prison in Dublin. As a result of this meeting Connolly took over the management of the union during Larkin’s imprisonment, and on his release they joined forces. From this onwards they worked together until Larkin went to America to raise funds for the union treasury, which had been completely exhausted by the great Dublin strike of 1913-1914.

Connolly spent his early life in the Social Democratic movement in Britain, particularly in Scotland. He was one of the few intrepid young Marxists who in the early days of the Social Democratic Federation split from the first manifestations of Hyndman’s social-patriotism and reformism to form the Socialist Labour Party, of which he was the first chairman and organizer. Up to the last he was in constant touch with it and his influence is still felt in this organization, which is one of the few fighting socialist bodies in Britain. In 1896 he returned to Ireland and founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party, the first socialist party in Ireland. He was editor of its official organ, The Workers’ Republic, by means of which the revolutionary doctrines of the party began to make themselves felt on the Irish working masses. It is noteworthy to record that alone of all other parties, no matter how extreme in nationalism, the ISRP was the first to openly advocate the establishment of an Irish Republic. The party was small though active, and contested some few municipal elections without success.

In 1902 Connolly went to America to raise funds for the party by a lecture tour. The tour completed he stayed on and was identified with the foundation of the IWW, and was for a time an organizer of the American Socialist Labour Party. In 1908 he founded the Irish Socialist Federation in America and was editor of its official organ, The Harp, which was later transferred to Ireland. In 1910, on his return to Ireland, he published Labour in Irish History, the only Marxian interpretation of the history of the development of the Irish proletariat and peasantry.

From 1910, Larkin and Connolly dominated the Irish labour and socialist situation. Their work consisted in organizing the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, educating the masses in the use of the mass strike and the sympathetic strike, and in the transformation of the Irish Trade Union Congress into an Irish Labour Party. So powerful did the Transport Union become, with its revolutionary cry for the abolition of the wage system, that in 1913 the Irish bourgeoisie and English capitalist interests in Ireland combined to crush it. This resulted in the Dublin strike and lock-out, which lasted for over ten months and was the first great proletarian upheaval in Ireland. The radical section of the British workers rallied to the aid of their Irish comrades, sending money and food into Dublin; but the British labour leaders, true to their position as henchmen of the capitalist class and saboteurs of every revolutionary act of the workers, killed the demand for sympathetic action in Britain, and the Irish workers were forced back to the shops. This proved a pyrrhic victory for the bourgeoisie, the Transport Union emerging from the struggle depleted in membership and in funds, but still with its organization intact, and with a bitterness in the minds of the workers which flared into action in 1916.

The outbreak of the world war found the Transport Union sufficiently recovered to make vigorous protest against the social-traitors of British Labourism, who, rallying to the defence of the British Imperial state, assisted in the already beginning double brutal coercion of Ireland as a small nationality and the Irish workers as a class. Larkin and Connolly held meetings throughout the country, baring the capitalist-imperialist nature of the conflict; urging the workers to use the crisis by every means in their power; ruthlessly criticizing British Labourism; revealing the essentially bourgeois-imperialist content of the Irish Parliamentary Party, which had hitherto masqueraded as the party of democratic opposition to British imperialism, and now supported the war, and the equally bourgeois reaction of Sinn Féin, which declared Ireland to be neutral. Realizing that the difficulties of British imperialism must necessarily be the opportunity of the Irish proletariat, they set about the development of the Irish Citizen Army, extending its scope, arming its members and intensifying the military nature of its organization. In order to raise funds Larkin went to America, being exiled immediately the British government found he was out of the country, Connolly taking full charge of both the union and the Citizen Army, and carrying on the work alone. From now until Easter 1916, the Irish Citizen Army dominated Irish Labour politics.

The Irish Citizen Army

The Irish Citizen Army was founded in Cork in 1908. Its purpose was to protect the strikers from the brutality of the police, but beyond this it was little heard of and of no particular importance until the latter end of 1913, when it figured in several riots arising out of the Dublin strike. With the outbreak of the world war serious attention was paid to its organization, military instructors were obtained (the first instructor being Captain White, son of British Field Marshal Sir George White. He was identified with the Dublin strike and subsequently, in 1916, was arrested in South Wales for attempting to bring the miners out on strike to prevent Connolly’s execution) and the systematic arming of its members was begun. Connolly as Commandant surrounded himself with a socialist staff, the chief of whom was Michael Mallon, a silk weaver subsequently executed by the British in 1916. National revolutionary ferment developing rapidly all over the country was met by British military suppression, which resulted in the establishment of military staff co-operation between the Irish Volunteers (the Nationalist Republican armed forces) and the ICA, upon the initiative of the latter, which dominated the alliance until the 1916 rebellion. British activity in suppressing all revolutionary papers resulted in Connolly’s paper, The Workers’ Republic, being published under an armed guard of the Citizen Army, which also provided a guard for Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the Transport Union. This condition of affairs lasted for about three months, the last number of The Workers’ Republic being issued two days before the rebellion.

The Army was designed upon a proletarian basis, with the Commandant, staff officers and ordinary officers elected by the soldiers, and in addition, a governing committee consisting of equal representatives of the officers and the men. Its activities were confined to the neighbourhood of Dublin city. It was of first rate efficiency, outmatching in many competitions the rival Irish Volunteers, holding on several occasions demonstrations of actual street fighting, and its well-trained officers, especially the Commandant, lecturing and instructing the Irish Volunteers, particularly in street fighting. The ICA being drawn from the proletariat had within its ranks many men who through economic necessity had served in the British Army.

It was the ICA which set the pace in the months preceding the rebellion, and despite the usual wavering of the middle class leaders of the IV, when faced with the actual crisis the iron determination of the ICA and its leader forced the participation of the IV in the uprising. The immediate causes of the failure of the revolutionary forces was the countermanding at the eleventh hour of the mobilization order of the Irish Republican troops throughout the country by the timid right-wing bourgeois leaders, who had always opposed Connolly and the co-operation of the IV with the ICA. Despite this, 1,000 raw Republican troops defended the captured capital against 47,000 disciplined and modernly equipped British soldiers, a victorious onslaught on Dublin from the north county took place, and there were several attempts at uprisings in the West of Ireland.

In the rising the Citizen Army, as a unit of the Republican forces, attacked and seized Dublin Castle, the executive headquarters of the British government in Ireland, as well as holding several strategic positions throughout the city. Connolly was Commander-in-Chief of all the fighting forces of the Republic during the rising. After the surrender Connolly, who had been severely wounded during the fighting, and Michael Mallon, Chief of Staff of the ICA, were executed along with several of the left-wing nationalist leaders, while the majority of the remainder of the prominent proletarian leaders were killed during or after the fighting. An overwhelmingly greater percentage of the ICA than of the IV participated in the fighting, and as a result during the arrests that followed the ICA was practically destroyed as an organization, while the IV was able to preserve its organization intact throughout the greater portion of the country, where no fighting had occurred.

On its reorganization after the release of all prisoners in December 1917, the ICA retained its proletarian basis, but as the situation was now dominated by the IV and all the leaders of the ICA were killed, it steadily weakened, and is not now an effective influence on Irish political life. It must be remembered that it is not a Communist organization, although it is hostile to the present social democratic tendencies of the Socialist Party of Ireland, having co-operated with it only once, when it forced the holding of a meeting, despite the military, in favour of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution.

The ICA programme is the establishment by force of arms of a Workers’ Republic in Ireland, though the form and structure of such a republic are not consciously understood by the majority of its members.

Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers

In order properly to understand Sinn Féin it is necessary to deal with its political predecessor, the Irish Parliamentary Party. This party dominated Irish national politics for well over 40 years. Its aim was to secure Home Rule for Ireland within the British Empire, by constitutional means. Out of a total of 104 Irish members in the British Parliament the Irish Parliamentary Party numbered about 80, the remainder being mostly Unionists returned from the Protestant constituencies of North-East Ulster, who stand on the anti-Home Rule platform and are a wing of the English Tory Party.

Under the leadership of Parnell the Irish Parliamentary Party pursued a policy of obstruction in the British Parliament, and maintained its independence by refusing to ally itself with any British party, throwing its weight now to this side and now to that. This policy led to its gradually compromising, until finally it became the tail end of the English Liberal Party. Though still protesting its independence in Ireland, this attachment to the Liberal Party caused it to become identified with English Imperial politics, thus relinquishing its so-called democratic opposition to English imperialism. Its final act in this role was its opposition to the Boer War, 1899-1901.

Whilst this party was losing its hold on the national revolutionary mind of the people a new national policy in the form of Sinn Féin made its first appearance. A pamphlet called The Resurrection of Hungary. A Parallel for Ireland began to attract attention. In this work Arthur Griffith, an independent bourgeois journalist, traced Hungary’s fight for political independence against Austria, and advocated the adoption in Ireland of the tactics employed by the Hungarian nationalists. He sketched a programme, subsequently amplified with the attainment of his party to power after 1916, the most salient points being (a) the election of members by the English electoral system pledged to abstention from the British Parliament; (b) the actual setting up of an Irish Parliament or General Council; (c) refusal to pay taxes to the English imperial exchequer; (d) establishment of a policy of protection, especially against England; (e) the encouragement of Irish industries; (f) the building up of an Irish Consular service; (g) and the general encouragement of all Irish national movements, such as the Gaelic League, the organization of the Irish language-revival movement, the Gaelic Athletic Association for the revival of old Irish sports and games, the Irish literary and dramatic renaissance and the Irish Boy Scouts (Fianna), organized in opposition to the English military Baden-Powell Boy Scouts.

Sinn Féin was a party designed to use political and extra-parliamentary action, but did not advocate the use of arms for the accomplishment of its object, nor did it aim at the establishment of an Irish Republic. It remained true to the Hungarian parallel and urged the establishment of an Irish Parliament which should be united to the British Parliament only in the person of a British monarch, who would also be king of Ireland, thus ratifying the decrees of both Parliaments. In fact in the first decade of the twentieth century no party except the Irish Socialist Republican Party openly advocated an Irish Republic.

For many years, even up to the rebellion, despite the waning popularity and political bankruptcy of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Sinn Féin made little headway, existing rather as a critic of the Irish Parliamentary Party than as a definite political party. In its economic doctrine it followed the obsolete bourgeois economist Friedrich List, and its pronunciamentos on economic questions were reactionary in the extreme. In 1913 it assumed an attitude of hostility to the Dublin strike.

From the outbreak of the war to the rebellion Sinn Féin assumed a more revolutionary role, being largely influenced by the Irish Volunteer movement, which rather than Sinn Féin itself was the dominant National force in Irish politics. After the rebellion, though Sinn Féin played no actual active part in the struggle, by shedding the more reactionary portions of its doctrines aid harmonizing its programme with the now popular demand for an Irish Republic, it assumed the position of the political leader of the Irish people. It leaped from success to success until in the 1918 parliamentary general elections it swept the country, following which it set up its own Parliament, Dáil éireann, and attempted to form ministries and assume the government of the country. It was immediately declared illegal; since then it functions whenever possible, though most if its members and prominent officials are being continually imprisoned in English jails, from which they escape by hunger-striking, jail deliveries and other means. With the increasing oppression of English militarism Sinn Féin is coming more and more under the dominance of the Irish Volunteers. In the recent elections Sinn Féin captured the majority of the municipalities and rural councils, its nearest competitor being the Irish Labour Party, which co-operates with it in the local government of the country. The whole policy of Sinn Féin is to make British government impossible in Ireland, and at the same time to establish as many of its own institutions as possible, so that it may step in and function as the government of the country.

The Irish Volunteers in form is a purely military organization with a General Staff and officers elected by the rank and file. Its programme originally consisted in the establishment of an Irish Republic by force of arms, and now the Republic has crystallized into the form which is in the process of establishment by the united efforts of themselves and Sinn Féin. Its membership consists mostly of proletarians and the peasantry, though on the average mostly officered by the younger members of the petty bourgeoisie and farmers. The majority of the rank and file look upon the establishment of the Irish Republic as of the first importance, and are inclined to defer the solution of social problems to the successful accomplishment of this aim. The allegiance of the country members to this ideology is being somewhat under-mined by their being now mostly organized in the IT&GWU, the consequent spark of class consciousness derived from this, and the increasing economic difficulties which force them into opposition to the farmer-class members of the IV. On the whole there are but few socialists within their ranks, but many sympathizers and admirers of Connolly and the idea of a Workers’ Republic.

Owing to the constant national revolutionary ferment that dominates the activity of all classes of the population, and the almost universal opposition to England, which throws otherwise antagonistic classes into spasmodic co-operation, it is difficult actually to determine of what classes the various organizations are the Political expression. Roughly speaking Sinn Féin is controlled in the rural districts by the small farmers and petty peasantry or tenant farmers, in the towns by the small shopkeepers and middle men, and in he cities by the smaller manufacturers, merchants and bourgeois intellectuals. There are practically no big landowners or even moderately big capitalists in this movement; this class in Ireland being economically dependent upon English capitalism and having as its Political expression the English Liberal parties. The conglomeration of classes comprising Sinn Féin necessarily causes antagonism to develop within the Party and results, as long as endures the co-operation of these classes and the working masses, necessary to achieve political independence, in its being unable to formulate any definite socio-economic programme. Its aim being political independence, it finds it necessary to draw all classes of the population to it to accomplish this object, and, to preserve the co-operation of the classes, it dare not issue any definite political and economic programme. Instead it has issued a so-called democratic programme, breathing all the false glittering generalities of bourgeois democracy—the will of the sovereign people, the ownership of the land and resources of the country by and in the interests of the whole people, the equality of all citizens, etc., etc.; but it reveals its essential class content by promising international regulation of the conditions under which the working class will live. The ideology of the two allied movements, Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers, is similar to that of any small nationality. Finally the hope of Sinn Féin is the development of the already existing antagonism between America and England, and the tendency is to rely more and more on American capitalism and to become subservient to its interests.

The Irish Labour Movement

The Irish labour movement is composed of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, local or national craft unions, and branches of the big English trades unions, such as the National Union of Railwaymen and the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. It functions nationally through the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party, and locally through Trades Councils, composed of representatives of the various unions in the district. By far the most powerful body is the IT&GWU, which now numbers 120,000 members. It was originally organized on the lines of industrial unionism, and though small in numbers and restricted to the larger towns, it wielded with tremendous efficiency and success the weapons of the mass and the sympathetic strike, at the same time carrying on an almost incessant revolutionary propaganda campaign. Since the rebellion, with the loss to the union of its two leading figures and the indiscriminate increase of its membership, its revolutionary outlook has deteriorated, until now it has become a federation of unskilled workers with a large sprinkling of craft unions and with bureaucratic and strong centralization tendencies. It is not a craft union, but neither has it kept abreast of the later developments of industrial unionism, consequently tending to become an unwieldy and ineffective weapon for the proletariat either against alien imperialism or native capitalism.

The larger portion of its membership at the present time consists of the poorer peasantry and agricultural labourers, who are not in close sympathy and whose activities are not in co-ordination with those of the industrial proletariat. It should not be forgotten, however, that the organization of the rural proletariat has been a tremendous accomplishment, and has imbued them with a certain amount of class consciousness. On account of the form of the organization and the failure of the IT&GWU sufficiently to educate these rural workers as to their class position, it has been demonstrated that this is not the organization to bridge the gulf between the agricultural and industrial proletariat.

The general condition of Irish life being nationalistically revolutionary, the IT&GWU, in common with the craft unions, has a much stronger fighting spirit than its English prototypes. In alliance with the Nationalists the Irish labour movement defeated conscription in 1918; on May 1, 1919, it stopped industry throughout the greater portion of the country; and only recently, again in alliance with the Nationalists, by a two day general strike it forced the British government to release over 100 political prisoners who were on hunger strike. In the majority of these cases, however, the general sentiment of the people practically forces the labour movement to take action, and the strike is carried out by unionists and non-unionists alike.

It is only comparatively recently that the IT&GWU has entered the political arena as a dominant force, and its successes in the late municipal elections have only strengthened its tendency toward reaction. The Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress, acting through its local Trades Councils, emerged from the municipal elections as the second party in numerical strength, and of the labour members elected the IT&GWU secured an overwhelming majority. This solidifies the domination of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress by the IT&GWU, which gave to it its present form and programme. Despite the insistence of the Labour Party that this programme was constructed by Connolly and must therefore be revolutionary, it refuses to understand that such a programme was designed for use by the proletariat in a pre-world-revolutionary period.

The attempt of the IT&GWU, under the slogan of the One Big Union, to absorb the craft unions, has led to the development of antagonisms within the Labour Party. The craft unions object to such absorption primarily because of their craft ideology, and also because they claim that the transport union does not represent industrial unionism, but the growth of a federation which is tending to bring the whole labour movement under a bureaucracy. The craft unions in Ireland are small and constantly dwindling. They are of little political importance with the exception of one or two big branches of English unions, the tendency of which is to break away from the parent bodies and form national unions. A large section of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers has already done so recently.

The transport union publishes the only labour paper in Ireland, The Watchword of Labour a weekly with a circulation of about 10,000 and which shares the common fate of all nationalist and rebel papers in Ireland—continual suppression by the government. This paper, while claiming to be the successor of Connolly’s revolutionary Workers’ Republic, in fact constantly emasculates his application of revolutionary Marxism to Ireland in much the same manner as Kautsky emasculates the general principles of Marxism. It voices or represents the views of the dominant section of the IT&GWU, the Irish Labour Party and the Socialist Party of Ireland.

Internationally the Irish labour movement is affiliated to the Yellow International. Cathal O’Shannon, the editor of The Watchword of Labour, executive member of the Irish Labour Party and at present President of the Socialist Party of Ireland; Thomas Johnston, treasurer of the Irish Labour Party; William O’Brien, secretary of the Irish Labour Party, treasurer of the IT&GWU, and one of the biggest forces in the Irish labour movement, and another Irish Labour Party executive member, together with Hughes, assistant secretary of the IT&GWU, who represented the Socialist Party of Ireland, being the delegates from Ireland. O’Shannon and Johnston, who were equipped with supplementary mandates from the SPI, were the only two to reach Berne. They signed the Adler-Longuet resolution and generally adopted the policy of that wing of the conference.

The Socialist Party of Ireland, which was founded in 1896, underwent many changes of programme and name, until now it is a very small and ineffective party with no bearing upon national politics. The same personalities who dominate the Irish Labour Party and the IT&GWU influence and direct its policy and tactics. For one brief spell it was captured by the left wing, which during its brief term of power, against the violent opposition of the rest of the Party, succeeded in introducing a few revolutionary conceptions into its long established programme, ordered the revocation of the affiliation to Berne and secured a majority vote in favour of the Third International, and held a meeting in Dublin on the last anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Before it had time to consolidate its forces it lost power, consequently its orders regarding the internationals were never put into force. It is now a party numbering scarce 150 members in Dublin, about 30 of whom may be considered effective members, and a few hundred members throughout the country, badly organized and having no direct connection with each other or the Dublin headquarters. It is very inactive, has no paper and but a few pamphlets by its own members, none of which deal with the problems facing the Irish proletariat.

A force which will undoubtedly play an important part in the revolutionary development of Ireland is the Co-operative movement led by George Russell (A.E.) There are several well organized branches of this movement, which now form a considerable part of the economy of the country, and may readily be utilized by the proletarian state for the solution of the immediate problems of food distribution, etc. during the first period of the proletarian dictatorship. It is in the co-operative production on the land by the poor peasantry that the Communists will be chiefly interested. This movement, which tends to destroy, even now, the ideology of small private property ownership among the land-hungering poorer peasantry, is of paramount importance to the Communists. For it actively tends to the solution of one of the most important and difficult problems of the proletarian state, by initiating the organization of the poorer peasantry on the basis of large-scale co-operative production, thus mentally harmonizing the two sections of the working class and making certain the unity of the industrial proletariat and peasantry under the dictator-ship of the proletariat.

Ulster, or more properly the north-east corner of Ireland, is the big manufacturing and industrial centre. Industrially it bears a greater resemblance than any other part of the country to the highly industrialized portions of England and Scotland. It is dominated by the only big capitalists in the country, who are closely allied with the British bourgeoisie. Economically the workers are organized in branches of English Trades unions, and politically the vast majority adheres to the Unionist Party, the party of extreme opposition to Sinn Féin and any form of Irish nationalism. One of the main factors, though steadily declining of late years, is its religious antagonism to the rest of the country. In many respects the problems of the Communists are here much easier, it being possible to rally the proletariat to their banner on the straight issue of the capitalist state versus the proletarian state. The lack of any nationalist republican feeling on the part of the majority of the proletariat renders them hostile to the establishment of an Irish bourgeois republic. With the exception of the anti-Nationalist feeling, which is partly the outcome of religious bigotry, Ulster presents a problem similar to that presented by any large industrial centre, and for this reason may become one of the chief centres of the proletarian struggle against an Irish bourgeois state. END.

Discussion of MacAlpine: I would like to draw the attention of the Congress to the 12th Thesis:

The centuries of oppression of the colonial population and of the weaker nationalities by the imperialist powers has awoken not only hostility in the labouring masses of the oppressed countries but also distrust of their oppressors in general, including the proletariat of those nations.’

As an example of this one can quote the attitude towards the English proletariat of the working masses of Ireland, who often make no distinction between the ruling class of England and the English workers. This attitude on the part of the Irish workers also explains the fact that the English labour movement has up to now failed to understand the problems raised by Ireland.

Most of the Polish revolutionaries I have talked to about current conditions in Ireland are amazed by the similarity with conditions in Poland in 1905. The similarity is striking, and while the revolutionary times are favourable to us we cannot afford to ignore the possibility that Ireland’s national claims can be exploited by the English bourgeoisie during a social crisis. The attitude of the British revolutionary movement towards Ireland has up to now neither been distinguished by tolerance nor has it adopted the attitude of the social democrats, who support the demands of the Irish nationalists in words. The fact that Ireland is an important weapon against British imperialism and that on the other hand it can be turned into a dangerous tool against the social revolution seems to have been forgotten. It seems that the shop stewards’ movement is the first to give fun recognition to the importance of the Irish question and its relationship to the British revolutionary movement. The discussions that took place at its Conference in London at the beginning of the year, and its resolutions, aroused the interest of Irish workers in this movement and contributed to creating better relations between the proletariat of the two countries.

It is extremely important that the British communists actively support Ireland, that they agitate among the British troops in Ireland and that they prevent troops and munitions from being shipped to Ireland. It is interesting to note that the result of the activity of the British labour movement on this question was the withdrawal of the Irish railwaymen from the National Union of Railwaymen, and that in the last few months the engineering workers in the southern part of Ireland have left the Amalgamated Engineering Union.

Nevertheless, no direct links can be permitted between the English communists and the Irish nationalist movement except through the mediation of the Irish communists or after consultation with them. Equally important is the condition that, while the English communists support the national struggle, they nevertheless distinguish strictly between the national and the communist revolution. They must point out that their attitude towards Ireland is no bourgeois humanitarian reaction to oppression but the result of common class interests between the proletariat and the peasantry of the two countries.

Hermann Gorter recently said that the attitude of the English workers towards Ireland is the barometer of revolutionary socialist feeling in Great Britain, and we could add that the attitude of the British communists towards Ireland is the measure of the clarity of the communist mode of thought in Britain. In relation to the claim made in the Commission that English workers would regard support for the revolutionary struggle of the colonies against British imperialism as treason, it must be said that the faster English workers learn to commit such treason against the bourgeois state the better it will be for the revolutionary movement. Such support is very necessary, even if it is only limited to the education of the English working masses.

I protest violently against our Italian Comrade Graziadei’s proposal to put ‘show active interest’ in place of ‘give support’ in number 11 of the Theses. That is a Wilsonian phrase and meaningless, like all that gentleman’s phrases. It is an underhand way of abolishing this point completely, and is reminiscent of the methods applied by the Second International towards the smaller nationalities.

I wanted to touch upon various other points, but since I have very little time available I will only mention them briefly. The position in Ulster or at least in the northern part of that province is different from that in the other parts of Ireland. In many respects it offers the communists a less complicated problem than is the case in the other parts of Ireland.

The majority of the inhabitants of this part of Ireland consists of anti-nationalists and of opponents of the other part of Ireland. Even if at first glance this makes the situation more complicated, the necessity of class struggle is thus clearer here. Political oppression is not confused with economic oppression by the workers. The circumstance that Ulster is the industrial centre of Ireland and that it thinks itself to be an equal component of the United Kingdom means that it is on an equal footing with the great industrial centres of England.

Isaak Brodsky. Lenin’s speech on the 2nd World Congress of the Comintern. 1924.

I would gladly also speak about the question of the co-operative which is developing to be an important part of Irish economic life, but I cannot do so because of lack of time. The growth of co-operatives in the countryside is neutralising that ideology of private property, which creates so many problems for communists, especially when it is present among the peasantry. The co-operatives are developing the idea of a whole range of production on a communist basis and are combating the land hunger of the rural labourers and the semi-proletarians.

We support the Theses including the additions proposed by Comrade Roy.

‘Theses on the national and colonial question’ Second Congress of the Communist International. Adopted Fifth Session, July 28, 1921.

1. An abstract or formal conception of the question of equality in general and national equality in particular is characteristic of the bourgeoisie by its very nature. Under the pretence of the equality of the human person in general, bourgeois democracy proclaims the formal legal equality of the proprietor and the proletarian, of the exploiter and the exploited, and thus deceives the oppressed classes in the highest degree. The idea of equality, which is itself a reflection of the relations of commodity production, is transformed by the bourgeoisie, under the pretext of the absolute equality of the human person, into a tool in the struggle against the abolition of classes. The true significance of the demand of equality lies only in the demand for the abolition of classes.

2. As the conscious expression of the proletarian class struggle to throw off the yoke of the bourgeoisie, and in accordance with its main task, which is the fight against bourgeois democracy and the unmasking of its lies and hypocrisy, the Communist Party should not place the main emphasis in the national question on abstract and formal principles, but in the first place on an exact evaluation of the historically given and above all economic milieu. Secondly it should emphasise the explicit separation of the interests of the oppressed classes, of the toilers, of the exploited, from the general concept of the national interest, which means the interests of the ruling class. Thirdly it must emphasise the equally clear division of the oppressed, dependent nations which do not enjoy equal rights from the oppressing, exploiting, privileged nations, as a counter to the bourgeois democratic lie which covers over the colonial and financial enslavement of the vast majority of the world’s total population, by a tiny minority of the richest and most advanced capitalist countries, that is characteristic of the epoch of finance capital and imperialism.

3. The imperialist war of 1914 has shown all the enslaved nations and oppressed classes throughout the world with particular clarity the mendacity of bourgeois-democratic phraseology. Justified on both sides by phraseology about peoples’ liberation and the right of nations to self determination, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest on the one side and the Treaty of Versailles and St. Germain on the other have shown that the victorious bourgeoisie determines even ‘national’ frontiers to suit its economic interests. Even ‘national’ frontiers are merely objects of trade for the bourgeoisie. The so-called ‘League of Nations’ is merely the insurance policy by which the victors in this war mutually guarantee their booty. The strivings to re-establish national unity, for ‘reunification with ceded territories’ are for the bourgeoisie nothing other than the attempts by the vanquished to gather strength for new wars. The reunification of nations that have been artificially torn apart also corresponds to the interests of the proletariat. The proletariat can however only achieve real national freedom and unity by the path of revolutionary struggle and over the body of the defeated bourgeoisie. The League of Nations and the whole post-war policy of the imperialist states reveal this truth even more clearly and sharply, everywhere strengthen the revolutionary fight not only of the proletariat of the advanced countries but also of the toiling masses of the colonies and the dependent countries, and hasten the collapse of petty-bourgeois illusions in the possibility of peaceful coexistence and the equality of nations under capitalism.

4. From the principles set forth it follows that the whole policy of the Communist International on the national and colonial question must be based mainly on the union of the workers and toiling masses of all nations and countries in the common revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the landlords and of the bourgeoisie. For only such a union can secure victory over capitalism, without which the destruction of national oppression and inequality is impossible.

5. The international political situation has now placed the dictatorship of the proletariat on the order of the day, and all the events in international politics are concentrated inevitably around one single central point, around the struggle of the international bourgeoisie against the Russian Soviet Republic. The latter rallies around itself, on the one hand, the soviet movements of the vanguard of the working class in every country and, on the other hand, all the national liberation movements of the colonies and the oppressed nationalities who have been convinced by bitter experience that for them there is no salvation outside an alliance with the revolutionary proletariat and the victory of soviet power over world imperialism.

6. Consequently it is impermissible today to limit oneself to mere recognition or proclamation of sympathy with the toilers of various nations, but it is necessary to pursue a policy of bringing about the closest possible alliance between all the national and colonial liberation movements with Soviet Russia. The forms of this alliance will be determined by the stage of development of the communist movement among the proletariat of every country, or of the revolutionary liberation movement in the backward countries and among the backward nationalities.

7. Federation is a transitional form on the way to the complete unification of the toilers of all nations. Federation has already showed its expediency in practice, not only in the relations between the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic and the other Soviet Republics (the Hungarian, Finnish and Latvian in the past, those of Aserbaijan and the Ukraine at present), but also within the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, even in relation to nationalities who possessed neither political existence nor self-government (for example the Bashkir and Tartar Republics in the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, which were set up in 1919 and 1920).

8. The task of the Communist International in this respect consists not only in the further development of this federation based on the soviet order and the soviet movement, but also in its study and the testing of our experiences with it. Recognising that Federation is a form in the transition to complete unification, we must strive for an ever closer federal link. What must be taken into consideration is first the impossibility for the Soviet Republics, surrounded as they are by the militarily significantly stronger imperialist states of the whole world, of continuing to exist without closer links with other Soviet Republics; secondly the necessity of a close economic alliance between the Soviet Republics, without which it is impossible to restore the productive forces destroyed by capitalism and assure the welfare of the toilers; and thirdly the efforts to create a unified world economy according to a common plan regulated by the proletariat of all nations. This tendency has already emerged quite openly under capitalism and insistently seeks its further development and completion under socialism.

9. In the sphere of relations within states the national policy of the Communist International cannot confine itself to the bare formal recognition of the equality of nations, expressed only in words and entailing no practical obligations, to which the bourgeois democracies confine themselves, even those that call themselves ‘socialist’.

It is not sufficient for the Communist Parties to expose unflinchingly in their propaganda and agitation both on the parliamentary tribune and elsewhere the continually repeated offences in every capitalist state, in spite of all the ‘democratic’ constitutions, against the equality of nations and the guaranteed rights of national minorities. It is also necessary first to clarify constantly the point that only the soviet order is capable of assuring nations true equality by uniting first the proletariat and then the whole mass of the toilers in the fight against the bourgeoisie, and secondly to give direct support to the revolutionary movements in dependent nations and those deprived of their rights, through the Communist Parties of the countries in question.

Without the last particularly important condition the struggle against the oppression of the dependent nations and the colonies and the recognition of their right to a separate political existence remains the kind of mendacious hypocrisy that we see in the parties of the Second International.

10. Recognising internationalism in words alone and watering it down in practice with petty-bourgeois nationalism and pacifism is a common phenomenon not only among the parties of the Second International but also among those that have left the International. This phenomenon is frequently seen even in those parties that now call themselves Communist. The fight against this evil, against the most deeply-rooted petty-bourgeois nationalist prejudices, which appear in every possible form such as racial hatred, the baiting of minorities and anti-semitism, must be brought all the more into the foreground the more burning becomes the question of transforming the dictatorship of the proletariat from a national dictatorship (i.e. a dictatorship existing only in one country and incapable of pursuing an independent international policy) into an international dictatorship of the proletariat in at least a few advanced countries which is capable of exercising a decisive influence on international politics). What petty-bourgeois nationalism means by internationalism is the mere recognition of the equality of nations (irrespective of the fact that such recognition is granted in words alone) which leaves national egoism untouched. Proletarian internationalism on the other hand demands: 1) the subordination of the interests of the proletarian struggle of the one country to the interests of this struggle on a world scale, and 2) the ability and the readiness on the part of the nation that carries out its victory over the bourgeoisie to make the greatest national sacrifice in order to overthrow international capitalism.

Therefore the first and most important task in those countries that are already completely capitalist and have workers’ parties that really do represent a vanguard of the proletariat, is to combat the petty-bourgeois pacifist distortions of the conceptions and policies of internationalism.

11. In relation to those states that have a more backward, predominantly feudal, patriarchal or peasant patriarchal character, special attention must be paid to the following points:

a) All Communist Parties must support the revolutionary liberation movements in these countries by their deeds. The form the support should take must be discussed with the Communist Party of the country in question, should such a party exist. This obligation to offer active assistance affects – in the first place the workers of those countries on which the backward countries are in a position of colonial or financial dependence.

b) An unconditional struggle must be carried out against the reactionary and medieval influence of the clergy, the Christian missions and similar elements.

c) A struggle is necessary against Panislamism, the Panasiatic movement and similar currents which try to tie the liberation struggle against European and American imperialism to the strengthening of the power of Turkish and Japanese imperialism, the nobility, the big landlords, the clergy, etc.

d) Support for the peasant movement in the backward countries against the landowners and every form and remnant of feudalism is particularly necessary. What must be striven for above all is to give the peasant movement as revolutionary a character as possible and wherever possible to organise the peasants and all victims of exploitation in soviets and thus bring about as close a link as possible between the Western European communist proletariat and the revolutionary movement of peasants in the East, in the colonies and in the backward countries.

e) A determined fight is necessary against the attempt to put a communist cloak around revolutionary liberation movements that are not really communist in the backward countries. The Communist International has the duty to support the revolutionary movement in the colonies only for the purpose of gathering the components of the future proletarian parties – communist in fact and not just in name in all the backward countries and training them to be conscious of their special tasks, the special tasks, that is to say, of fighting against the bourgeois-democratic tendencies within their own nation. The Communist International should accompany the revolutionary movement in the colonies and the backward countries for part of the way, should even make an alliance with it; it may not, however, fuse with it, but must unconditionally maintain the independent character of the proletarian movement, be it only in embryo.

f) It is necessary continually to lay bare and to explain among the broadest masses of all, but in particular of the backward, countries the deception committed by the imperialist powers with the help of the privileged classes in the oppressed countries when, under the mask of politically independent states, they bring into being state structures that are economically, financially and militarily completely dependent on them. The Zionists’ Palestine affair can be characterised as a gross example of the deception of the working classes of that oppressed nation by Entente imperialism and the bourgeoisie of the country in question pooling their efforts (in the same way that Zionism in general actually delivers the Arab working population of Palestine, where Jewish workers only form a minority, to exploitation by England, under the cloak of the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine). In today’s economic conditions there is no salvation for the weak and dependent nations outside of an alliance with Soviet Republics.

12. The centuries of enslavement that the weak and colonial nationalities have suffered at the hands of the great imperialist powers has left in the toiling masses of the enslaved countries not only a feeling of combativity, but also a feeling of mistrust towards the nations that have exploited them in general, including the proletariat of those nations. The base betrayal of socialism by the majority of the official leaders of that Proletariat between 1914 and 1919, when the social patriots masked the defence of ‘their’ bourgeoisie’s ‘rights’ to enslave and plunder the financially dependent countries under ‘defence of the Fatherland’ – this betrayal could only strengthen that completely justified mistrust. Since this mistrust and national prejudices can only be rooted out after the destruction of imperialism in the advanced countries and the radical transformation of the whole basis of economic life in the backward countries, the removal of these prejudices will only be able to proceed very slowly. This means that the class conscious communist proletariat of every country has the duty of giving special care and attention to national feelings, in themselves outdated, in those long-enslaved countries and nationalities, and at the same time the obligation to make concessions in order to overcome this mistrust and these prejudices all the more rapidly. Without the voluntary alliance of the proletariat and with them the toiling masses of every country and nation in the world united as one, the victory over capitalism cannot be drawn to a completely successful conclusion. (Adopted unanimously with three abstentions; Serrati, Pestana, and Graziadei.

The Proceedings of the Second Congress of the Communist International. Publishing Office of the Communist International, New York. 1921.

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