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Sherman Stanley

The Irish Question


From The New International, Vol. V No. 5, May 1939, p. 157–158.
Copied with thanks from the Workers’ Republic Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


To the Editors:

In the April issue of The New International there appeared an article by William Morgan on the subject of Ireland and its “revived” nationalist movement.

I find myself to be in complete disagreement with its evaluation of the activities of the Irish Republican Army as a revolutionary force and believe that the attitude of our international movement has not been correctly represented. The article is incorrect from two aspects: (1) some of its statements are wrong politically; (2) its omissions are of a serious nature.

Our general approach to the national revolutionary movements in the world colonial empires of Britain, France, America, etc. may be briefly summarized as follows:

1. Clearly establishing the utmost solidarity with the people of the oppressed colonial or semi-colonial nation, we direct our major attack against the imperialist oppressor. In the case of Ireland, our energetic support goes to the people of Ireland struggling for full independence from British imperialism.

To us, the British Empire ranks among the most reactionary forces in world history and its complete breakup and destruction is our goal. This is elementary.

2. Our attitude towards the colonial nationalist movement is that of active participation in its practical struggles against the imperial power and the utmost political solidarity in each progressive step forward it makes.

3. Towards the petty-bourgeois leadership of the colonial movements (Chiang Kai-shek, Gandhi, de la Torre, etc.) and their reactionary activities we retain complete independence of the right to attack and criticize. If not for these reactionary leaders world imperialism would long ago have crumbled away. They are our enemies. Against their doctrines we advance the transitional program of the Fourth International as outlined in the colonial section of our World Congress thesis. In its most general form this is the program of the permanent revolution.

The above may appear to be a repetition of the familiar, but it is my opinion that Ireland and its nationalist movement are partly an exception to the above general pattern. Ireland is a semi-colonial country that has developed a capitalist and landlord ruling class of its own, capable of independent rule. In recent years – under the de Valera régime – it has marched along the road of clerico-fascism, similar in many respects to the Dolfuss Austrian type. A reading of the new Irish Constitution will verify this. The White Steed – a new Irish play – is, I think, a fine artistic representation of the present Irish government.

This Irish bourgeoisie has succeeded in so demoralizing and isolating the nationalist forces that – in the shape of a revived IRA – it has resorted to tactics that can only increase its isolation from Ireland’s and England’s workers. Far from witnessing the upsurge that comrade Morgan speaks of, it appears to me that the movement of Ireland’s people is indeed at a low ebb. What indications are there of a mass stirring of the people in support of the IRA? Ireland’s labor movement is practically down to zero, its organized peasant movement is non-existent, there are no reports of labor or peasant strikes, demonstrations on behalf of those IRA men who were imprisoned for their bombing activities. In a word, there are no objective facts to prove that Ireland is stirring along class lines. Certainly the bombings have aroused no support among England’s workers. One could not for an instant, for example, compare the present Irish nationalist movement with that of India. In India – despite the treacherous leadership of Gandhi and his followers – there is an upsurge because it is based upon a mighty class force, namely, the throwing into action of millions of workers and peasants organized into their labor and peasant unions and struggling for independent expression in the ranks of the Nationalist Congress. What action beyond the activities of an isolated group is taking place in Ireland today? What to comrade Morgan is a “revival” appears to me as the gestures of despairing petty bourgeois, who are incapable of getting down to rock-bottom and attempting to revive the dormant labor and peasant movements.

It is necessary to be unsparingly critical of the “program” of this IRA group. There is no question that we aid and protect these men from the vengeance of the British blood-hounds. This is not the issue. But the fact that they have no program whatsoever – beyond that of bombing – only makes it more necessary for us to point out its obvious limitations. Comrade Morgan does not do this. Furthermore, in practise, the IRA has shown itself to be extremely reactionary in many instances. Its ambiguous relations with the traitor de Valera, its not so ambiguous relations with the fascist Franco régime in Spain, its kow-towing to the Irish Catholic Church, its supreme unconcern with labor, peasant and socialist problems – all of these clearly stamp the IRA as an exceptionally backward and limited nationalist movement. By no means do I state that it has no possibilities. That remains to be seen. But we cannot bury our critical attitude towards the IRA merely because it appears to be the only movement.

The question of the bombings is secondary and solely a matter of the most effective tactics to be employed. That the IRA considers it to be the only worthwhile activity to engage in only reveals its almost incredible backwardness. In my opinion, they have been ineffective in arousing sup-port and action among the people. Morgan calls them the carefully planned acts of “revolutionists”. Perhaps, but what of it? What sort of substitute are they for protest meetings, demonstrations, strikes, etc.? In what way do they further or help revive the mass movement? How do they awake England’s workers to Ireland’s situation? Where is the evidence of the healthy effect of these bombings? As a tactic they are as effective as a fast by Mahatma Gandhi (and incidentally belong in the same category!). Gandhi too, “plans” his fasts! He plans them so that he will appear to the masses as a substitute for their action, as their redeemer and savior. When Gandhi fasts India stands still and is “saved” – for the British!

In addition, there are two serious omissions in the article. First, comrade Morgan mentions the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood as a progressive development of the IRA. He says these men “go about their business”. What is their business and how does it differ from that of the IRA? Precisely what is the IRB?

Secondly – and most important – there is absolutely not a word of material or information on the present Irish labor movement – in its trade union and socialist form. Or is there no labor movement?

I strongly suggest that what is needed is a more scientific and exhaustive study of the Irish question – one based less on emotional longings and wishful-thinking than Morgan has given us.


Sherman Stanley, New York.

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