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William John MacCausland

Irish Labor and the Bombings

Letter to The New International, August 1939

Copied with thanks from the Workers’ Republic Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


To the Editors:

Though Ireland’s population is a mere four millions the Irish question is of international revolutionary importance both because of Ireland’s strategic position athwart Britain and because there are some twenty million folk of immediate Irish extraction outside Ireland who are liable to he swayed by Irish nationalist sentiment. In the States that sentiment operating through Clan na Gael was a big factor in blocking an Anglo-American alliance under Roosevelt the First.

Comrade Sherman Stanley is correct in demanding a scientific and exhaustive study of the Irish question but I’m not sure such a study wouldn’t bring him pretty close to comrade Morgan. If the Irish Republican Army should become a valuable revolutionary force in the future it will be in some degree due to the sympathetic efforts to understand their problems and to guide them [free] of such as comrade Morgan. Casual cracking-down on them for failure to work in accordance with principles of which most of them have never heard would merely tend to drive them towards fascism.

Before I go any further I want to assure comrade Stanley that the IRA has no relations, ambiguous or otherwise, with de Valera or Franco nor can I imagine what led him to suppose otherwise.

My own credential for writing on Irish affairs, particularly matters regarding the Border dispute between Éire and Northern Ireland, is as follows. I was born in Northern Ireland of Down Protestants. I was brought up in Tyrone and East Donegal among a mixed Protestant and Catholic population, and I learned. the Irish language living among the native Gaelic-speaking peasantry of West Donegal. My Presbyterian paternal great-grandfather fought against the British in Down in 1798 as a member of the United Irishmen, their aim an Irish Republic with The Rights of Man as their textbook and I fought in the Irish Republican Army, retiring from its reserve seven odd years ago as a protest against the action of GHQ in court-martialling and expelling Charlie Gilmore (an other Ulster Protestant by birth) for, without official authorization, using firearms to defend Communist party headquarters in Dublin against a gang of “Catholic Action” hoodlums. For the past twenty years I’ve lived and worked on and off in Dublin and I served with the IRA in the West, so I reckon to understand both the Catholic and the Protestant, Éire and Northern Ireland side to the Border issue, and I try to look at it as a socialist.

The New International is not a military technical journal, but some appreciation of Ireland’s strategic position is necessary for understanding of Britain’s desire to hold Ireland, of Hitler’s desire to meddle in Irish affairs. Look at any map of the world and you’ll see that Ireland, most westerly point of Europe, lies athwart Europe-North American sea and air routes; that Ireland’s deeply indented western coast line from Cork to Londonderry affords several magnificent deep water harbors, sonic almost completely landlocked, in which fleets of the largest battleships can ride at anchor and scores of hideouts for submarines, hydroplanes and fast surface boats; that Ireland’s saucer-like central plain fringed by mountain ranges is potentially a vast aerodrome; that could a hard-pressed British Government shift key personnel and key industries to the West of Ireland they would be shifting them no doubt only a few hundred miles further from Continental air bases but, nevertheless, putting another belt of sea-crossing in the way.

Ireland as ally would be a hell of an asset to Britain in war. But no matter what bargains Mr de Valera may strike, so long as Ireland is partitioned and is denied full international recognition as an independent republic a big section of Irish folk is going to consider the British Government Enemy No.1, is going to adopt passive resistance and sabotage the moment war breaks out and – face it frankly – is likely enough to go the whole hog, facilitate and link up with landing in Ireland of anti-British forces wherever they come from. In point of fact it would he easier for the British to deal with an independent Ireland run by a hostile Government if that Government joined forces with the Axis Powers, the British could then walk in and squelch opposition by overwhelming military force. Instead they face a situation in which it is hard for them to distinguish between friend and foe and they fear to alienate the former by cracking down on the latter. And Mr de Valera knows very well what he is up against from his own folk – the present strategy of the Éire Army is based, not upon danger of enemy air raids, but upon danger of enemy landings on coast supported at point of landing by IRA and by IRA risings in the rear.

Ireland unfree is not going to be an ally of Britain, so far as the plain people are concerned irrespective of their Governments, and what socially-conscious folk ought to try to stop is the likely progress of rank-and-file Irish nationalism from being rightly and naturally anti-British Empire to being ignorantly and shamefully pro-fascist.

The vast majority of Irish industrial workers and many professional workers are fully organized in labor unions which are linked into one organism by the Irish Trade Union Congress. A weakness is the rivalry between native unions and British unions which operate here but are affiliated to the TUC.

In point of fact for an industrially backward country Ireland has been remarkably progressive as regards labor unionism and has sent missionaries abroad as potent in their way as were the Irish Christian missionaries of early mediaeval days – Bronterre O’Brien and Feargus O’Connor of the Chartist movement, James ConnoIly and James Larkin are names that spring to mind.

Labor unionism here is remarkably poor in theory but strong in practice. By that I mean that the Irish workers, while economically illiterate, tend in practise not merely to fight sectionally for better wages and conditions but as a whole show a high standard of class solidarity. There is no worse insult to an Irishman than to call him “scab”. Class solidarity is equally noticeable among the peasantry.

Economically illiterate, the majority of the Irish workers believed that the war against the British in 1920-21 would, by bringing self-government, bring about a kind of Utopia here. The still-potent organization of unskilled workers, Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, reached its highest level in numbers and influence at that period, but the political side of the labor movement, became of real importance under Connolly prior to his execution in 1916, was swamped in political nationalism.

That political and industrial labor organization received a setback from which it is still recovering was due to the disillusionment which spread to all departments of life in Ireland, but very specially to the Pontius Pilate role which the Irish Labor Party leadership adopted from the beginning of that crisis when they might instead have assumed leadership of a genuine revolutionary movement.

Today the labor union movement is definitely on the upgrade and is likely to learn from experience what it has failed to learn from textbooks. The same cannot be said of the Irish Labor Party which continues to play an opportunist, cowardly, vacillating and evasive role, though, and this cannot be too strongly emphasized, it contains very good elements in the shape of Connolly veterans, clear-headed young folk and IRA who have had their viewpoint widened by experience. The Dublin branches in particular contain a number of sincere, intelligent and hardworking socialists who are trying to get past their leaders a message to the masses which is Marxist in essence, and in bright contrast to the collaboration with the so-called democratic governments preached by the Communist Party of Ireland.

The record which earns condemnation for the Labor Party leadership is this. In 1922, instead of giving a revolutionary lead, it vocally condemned both parties to the Civil War on quite arguable premises but gave material support to the pro-imperialist side. Today that leadership is vocally as violently nationalist as the IRA itself but has not regained the confidence of the nationalist masses.

It shrieks to the high heavens in protest at fascist aggression, in Austria, Czechoslovakia and China, but it remained silent while fascism crushed the Spanish workers. It piously condemns the bureaucracy of the USSR but ignores that of the USA.

Only last month, to secure the support of the petty-bourgeois elementary teachers’ union it agreed to discard the first plank in its own platform and the very slogan on which James Connolly based the Irish labor political movement – that its aim is the establishment of an Irish Workers’ Republic.


William John MacCausland [1]
Dublin, June 6, 1939


Note from Workers’ Republic Website

1. Possibly Geoffrey Coulter, leader of the “Arigna Soviet” in 1921 and ex-Assistant Editor of An Phoblacht by this period.

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