I was given a box of pamphlets, leaflets and periodicals during the week, by a member of the Communist Party of Ireland who’s doing a bit of spring cleaning at home. ‘They’re just in my shed, Conor, so you can have them if you want. I can leave them in the bookshop for you.’
So I called into Connolly Books on East Essex Street on Thursday morning and Eugene was there and had them ready. I had brought two travel bags with me and the collection just about fitted into them.
When I got home and sorted through the bags, I found this leaflet from March 1941, where the Communist Party calls for the defence of the Free State’s neutrality against not only Britain but also against those in the state who benefit from the economic ties with Britain - namely the ‘bankers and the ranchers, represented by the Fine Gael party in the Dáil.’
The Fianna Fáil government is afraid of this powerful faction and will do nothing to curb it. So cowardly and servile is de Valera to this rich, privileged group that instead of rousing the nation to battle against it, the government of de Valera actually entered into an alliance with it. Cosgrave, Dillon and Mulcahy have been called into a defence council together with the “Labour” leaders and the country is being swindled with statements that all parties are now united in a patriotic unity in face of the national danger.
In another section, the party points to the economic power players in Ireland, and the enormous influence they wield regarding government policy.
The Fianna Fáil government is pursuing a policy of keeping out of the war, but it looks to the bankers and ranchers to carry out this policy, and it aims to make the toiling masses in town and country shoulder the burden of these difficult times. It proclaims as its social policy the keeping down of wages, resists all demands for increased pensions and unemployment assistance and refuses to tax the rich. The entire burden is thrown on to the shoulders of the working people in town and country.
Were it not for the reference to the war, that quote could have been written yesterday. Instead of ‘ranchers’ put ’speculators’ and you have an almost perfect match.
Three months later the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa, smashing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and bringing the Communist world directly into the war and on the side of the Allies. This gave the southern Communist movement an awkward choice, as neutrality was accepted by most, while a call to join the Allies would have placed them in league with Dillon and the more extreme elements of Fine Gael.
On 10 July 1941 the party’s national committee met and passed a resolution ‘to suspend independent activity and to apply the forces of the [Dublin] branch to working in the Labour and trade union organisations in order to carry forward the fight against the heavy attacks now being launched against the workers.’ The northern branch of the party re-constituted itself as the Communist Party of Northern Ireland (CPNI) and undertook a policy of active support for the war effort.
This was not without criticism, as communist support included a ban on strike activity. This provided an opportunity for the small number of Trotskyists in Belfast at this time to present an oppositional voice. Certainly by 1944 there’s enough energy around this group for a Trotskyist party to emerge, the Revolutionary Socialist Party. This was a joint north-south venture, and its existence is not entirely down to communist support for the war by any means. However, there is little doubt that it did benefit from the CPNI’s policy, and it is from Belfast rather than Dublin that a lot of its energy was drawn.
But that’s probably for another day.
A pdf of the leaflet is available here. (approx. 4.2MB)
Images are below. Full size approx 2MB each.
CPI March 1941 - side one.
CPI March 1941 - side two.