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[Paddy Trench]

International Notes: Ireland

Fourth International, December 1942

From Fourth International, Vol.3 No.12, December 1942, pp.382-383.
Copied with thanks from the Workers’ Republic Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The following is from a letter from Dublin [signed by Paddy Trench], dated August 21, 1942:

Labour has had a big success in the local government elections. These are elections for the various city and country councils which see to local affairs. In Dublin, where labour has always been weak, the success was especially marked. Of the 35 seats of the last Dublin Corporation elected in 1936, 13 seats were held by Fine Gael (Cosgrave’s party), 12 seats by Fianna Fáil (the government party), 7 by Independents and only 2 by Labour with 1 Independent Labour (Larkin, who to now official Labour).

The seats now stand as follows: Labour 13, Fine Gael 11, Fianna Fáil 9, Independent 1, Progressive 1.

Popular discontent with the government was bound to lead to a swing away from Fianna Fáil, but it is very encouraging to find that this did no good to Fine Gael. The voting was by proportional representation. The first choices were even more strongly Labour. One of the best Labour men up was Barney Conway, of Larkin’s Union; he helped organize the big strike of 1913, fought in 1916 in the Irish Citizens’ Army under Jim Connolly. And he is a good militant ever since, but with no backing of political theory; he lives in a slum tenement, he is not a typical trade union bureaucrat. He headed the poll in his area, and is therefore one of the city aldermen.

Dublin is not isolated. Throughout all the country districts, there was a swing towards Labour. The practical effect of this is negatived by the decision of the government to operate the county management bill, by which a government nominee is given full powers of administration in each district, leaving the elected councillors the right only to collect rates. It remains to be seen what the reaction will be, with Labour in a fighting mood. A general election is due early next year. All the newspapers now urge or forecast a bloc of the two main parties against Labour to avoid an election.

The Labour Party fought the campaign on a very small war chest and with a tiny party apparatus, especially in Dublin. In Dublin the whole weight of the campaign fell on the left wing. So far so good. Just where is it leading to?

Internal party history during the last few years has been a series of defeats for the very vague left wing. The right wing eliminated from the constitution Connolly’s Workers’ Republic as the party aim, and substituted a vague phrase about a democratic republic. On top of that the party has accepted credit reform – the hobby of the national secretary, Luke Duffy.

The Labour Party Program

Roughly the Labour Party’s financial theory is as follows. At present every Irish pound note printed is backed by sterling securities. We are to break the link with sterling and have our own currency backed by the potential resources of the country. Extra currency is to be printed sufficient to pay trade union wages to the unemployed who will then be set to work on public work schemes of permanent value. For instance forestation. Their wages will be spent mainly on agricultural goods, leading to prosperity for the farmers. The forests, etc., created by this additional labour force will in a few years time be sufficient backing for the Irish Pound in other countries. In practice the tendency of this theory is to provide a substitute for militant labour action and reduces the party to calling for a Dáil majority to carry out this financial change.

It is clear that the struggle for a Labour Government must go hand in hand with the development of a coherently organised and conscious left wing.


Ireland and the War

On the question of neutrality, the country is absolutely unanimous. Partly this to due to anti-imperialist sentiment. Partly to realisation and fear of the horrors of war. But the feeling that nothing else matters much so long as we can keep out of the war has led to political apathy. Economic suffering has been accepted as the price of neutrality. And while there is resentment against the few who, by buying up commodities that are short, make money out of the crisis, no party, not even Labour, has suggested a coherent solution for the economic crisis.

To a large extent the war crisis is, of course, insoluble. The belligerents reserve for their own use the steel, coal, petrol and other war materials which Ireland must import. Consequently, the industries close down, and even agriculture is hampered. Many of the industries were artificially created by a high tariff, policy, especially under Fianna Fáil. These hot-house plants, of course, die off first, and men are thrown out of employment and cannot be absorbed by the land. But others such as the cement industry were economically justified. Cement, however. has ceased production owing lack of coal, and sale of cement except for government purposes is illegal.

The town gas supply depends on imported coal, and has been very drastically cut down. Electricity is supplied by the Shannon hydro-electric plant, but is normally supplemented by coal-powered stations, so this too is rationed. There is no coal allowed for steam threshers which have to operate on wood, which is also short. There is a petrol allowance for tractors and essential services only. During the winter months there is a small allowance of kerosene for lighting, just enough to make farming life possible.

Efforts are made to dig up the turf bogs to provide a substitute for coal, but, though an army of men is working at this, It is impossible to get enough. There is a drastic fuel famine.

On the other hand, the government is paying a subsidy of two million pounds to the milling millionaire ring to compensate them for the smaller amounts of wheat available and keep their profits up to normal.

The cost of living figures are what you might expect. For food only, with base July 1914=100, the indices are (for the second quarter of each year) 1939–157; 1940–180; 1941–197; 1942–208. I think there has been sharp rise since the last figures available.

The cost of living index for all items has risen more steeply than for food. The food Index figure does not, however, show the situation accurately, in is effect upon low wage earners. There are no cheap substitute fats such an margarine. Drippings are very hard to get and often reserved for favored customers, or by the black market pirates. There is no lard. So the only fat for cooking is butter, which is short and expensive. There to no bacon, or practically none, and no oatmeal. Potato prices have not risen significantly, but with this exception the price rises are especially on food items which are important in the workers’ diet.

By an emergency order wage increases are made illegal.

I was very interested to read the article that Fourth International published on price rises in the USA, showing how it makes possible armament production. You can see from these figures that we have the same kind of inflationary tendency here, but for a different reason. By and large capitalism here has no independent existence, it is on too small a scale, it is closely linked with, and often dependent upon, English financial imperialism. Our inflation is not the result of free decisions on policy made by the Éire government, but is the consequence of inflation in the industrial countries.

But note that unemployment is not on the increase in Éire! Employment in England is the safety valve and remittances sent home keep the wives going. There is a lot of sentiment against emigration, draining the country of its best blood, etc. But the hard fact is that on the present crisis and under the present economic system the country couldn’t carry on without it. It is another case showing how indirectly the economy of small countries is secondary to that of the big imperialists.

The Agrarian Situation

The most unexpected thing is, however, in relation to agriculture. We are having difficulty in producing enough food, and we are a farming country! Long before the war Irish farming had degenerated into cattle fattening for the English market, on permanent pastures which are never ploughed. Now we have a compulsory tillage order. Holdings over 10 acres must be 12.5 per cent ploughed. Wheat growing here was formerly ruined by American competition; now, of course, we cannot get much foreign wheat. So a guaranteed price is offered to the farmers; It is illegal to feed wheat products to animals, and the whole wheat is now milled into flour, so that the bran and pollard formerly available for pig and poultry feeding is now used as human food, making a wholesome, but not very popular brown loaf. In spite of this, we were just saved from a wheat famine last year by the timely arrival of some foreign wheat!

This year a good harvest is expected. But, of course, the effect of having no bran or pollard is that most of the pigs and poultry have vanished or are liable to go. The bacon factories, many of them, have had to close down or are producing very little.

Another effect of the tillage necessary in the emergency is that by reducing the grazing area it is tending to reduce the cattle and dairy farming. Meanwhile the English government is telling English farmers buy up the Irish milch cows! But how is it that when England increases her tillage, she can also increase her livestock, while In Ireland, it works the other way round? The answer is heavy industry linked to farming.

British Agriculture

In England the pre-war tractor force of 52,000 has been increased to 120,000 and each machine is more intensively used. The arable land has been increased from 12 to 18 million acres and is more intensively farmed. Crops such an wheat, potatoes and oats have been increased from 33 per cent to 100 per cent. At the same time grassland is ploughed up and reseeded to make better pastures and silage is becoming universal (it is still a rarity here). Milk production has increased by five million gallons since 1941 in England. The total increase in production is approximately 112 per cent since the first year of war, and already supplies the population with food for 210 days out of the 365. The production figures are still increasing and I believe will increase until England is producing all her own food. The tillage limit has now nearly been reached in England. But not the limit for reseeded pasture and beef production. And the limit for intensity (that is high capital investment per acre) has not yet been explored. In Great Britain and Northern Ireland 47.5 million people are living on 94 thousand square miles. In Éire three millions live on 26 thousand square miles. England’s agricultural achievement is astounding and very alarming for small farming countries.

Hitherto there has not been a tendency to heavy capital investments in land on a world scale. Certainly, the technique of scientific agriculture has only been worked out recently. So it to now possible to industrialise land. I see from Comrade Charles’ articles in Fourth International that this is now happening on the largest scale in the USA. But I don’t think he draws the full conclusions.

USA farming now makes English mechanisation look very small. The conclusion to be drawn from Comrade Charles’ articles in that monopoly capitalism will now develop on the land, and not only in America. In the course of a comparatively short time it will ruin the economy of traditional farming countries.



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