Introduction: In 1919 it looked to many - to Lenin and Trotsky, for instance - as if the capitalist system was breaking down and that a working class revolution was beginning, at least in Europe. There was tremendous working class militancy all across Europe. Short-lived Soviet Republics were set up in Hungary and Bavaria.
In Ireland, the big majority of the M P s elected in the General Election at the end of 1918 had seceded from the British Parliament, and met in Dublin as an Irish Parliament, Dail Eireann. They pronounced themselves the elected government of the Irish Republic proclaimed in the 1916 Rising. A bitter struggle with the British occupying power for control of Ireland, of such things as local government, taxes, law courts began. The shooting war had started in January, in Tipperary, but it was still very small scale and intermittent.
The Irish working class, in the North as well as the South, was also showing great and sustained militancy. In 1918 they had organised a general strike against conscription. In January 1919, the Limerick Workers Council, the equivalent of a trades council in Britain, declared itself a Soviet and began to contest control of the city with the British authorities. In the next 3 years perhaps 3 dozen strike committees would raise the red flag and proclaim themselves a soviet.
Engineering workers in Belfast, who in politics were mainly Unionist, fought a great strike battle. So did agricultural workers in Leinster.
The Revolutionary Socialist Party of Ireland seems to have been one of a number of small, transient, Irish communist groupings that sprang up then. Some of its formulations suggest the influence of Sylvia Pankhurst. Its "ultra-left" impatience with the Irish national question should be seen against the seeming imminence of a Europe-wide proletarian revolution that would in passing resolve smaller issues. Perhaps because of that, it is a splendid proclamation of our working class communist outlook.
To The Irish Working Class
Fellow Workers: There has not been a cause in Ireland for which Irish workers have not fought on the side of the oppressed against the oppressors. The time has at last come when they must fight for their own-for the emancipation of their class. The time has come when we must organize towards the establishment of our liberation from the wages-system which exploits our human power to labour and produce wealth.
If Ulster Unionist prevails there will still remain an Irish working class.
If Sinn Fein prevails there will still be an Irish working clsas. There will still remain an Irish master class, content to be masters of Irish human beings Let us determine that we who produce all that is produced In Ireland —that we who make Ireland habitable and fertile shall no longer yield the produce of our labour to the maters who whip us with the tyranny of wages. Let us resolve that we shall no longer "build and another inhabit —sow and another reap," but that we shall make Ireland a Socialiit Republic, wherein shall dwell no parasite nor profit-taker and all will contribute to the needs of all and the harmony of the commonwealth.
Irish Labour haa been organised to a high percentage during the last two years particularly. All over Ireland are Trade Union branches. On the basis of "increasd wages." workers have organised. The working-class represents the vast majority of the people, and yet. even with "increased wages." its standard of living never exceeds the bare subsistence level and never will as long the wages system endures, because wages, or the purchasing prices of human labour are always measured by the employing class according to the minimum level of qualifying and sustaining the wage labourer.
James Connolly pointed out that "Capitalism is the most foreign thing in Ireland." It has now become the most obsolete because the national, or mass-mind of the rank and file see far beyond it in their conception of industrial democracy. They respond with an irrepressible fellowship to the new economic order with which Russia has begun to deluge the vile tyrannies of the capitalist system of the world.
Capitalism, which originated in aggrandisement and wholesale expropriation, has endured into the warfare of exhaustion.
We can dispense with the capitalists. We cannot dispense with labour and the power to produce wealth.
Only the working class possesses this power. The working class of the world has begun to assert this power.
The working class of Ireland is ripe for the same assertion.
The leaders of official Labour have failed during the revolutionary years of 1917-1919 to formulate or direct an economic policy upon the basis of the emancipation of the exploited Irish people.
They have not admitted their failure and claim that, as leaders, it is their function to be led by the rank and fileLet us lead them! Let us see to it that they become the obedient servants of the class whose interests they advocate. Let us point the way and see to it that they neither impede nor fail us, but that they march side by side with us in fidelity to the magnificent cause of our emancipation. Remember! There is but one thing to destroy — capitalism; one thing to construct Socialism.
It is impossible for us to take immediate control of the land of Ireland—the industries of Ireland because the existing organization of the workers is based on surface Trade Union safeguards and reform of present conditions.
Reform is no use to us. We require a revolution of the existing economic order, so that the many who have not shall come into control and possession, and the few who have all shall become dispossessed of all but the right to co-operate with us on terms of mere human equality.
We must organize ourselves into workers'committees round the factories, farms and workshops where we are employed, and from these works' committees elect in all the existing Parliamentary Divisions of Ireland Workers' Councils, 1.E. councils of working men and women, to whom we can depute the fulfillment of the social and industrial needs of the special areas which elect them.
By organizmg on these lines we shall be liberating the local forces of the Irish working class. We shall create the incentive towards control and ownership of the means of production and social life, which at present, in the hands of the master class, are used as the means wherewith to exploit the mass of the Irish people.
Fellow-workers, it is in the power of the rank and file to do this. It is in our power to transform existing organizations of our class out of their present appeals for "increased wages" and similar palliatives into forces which will function towards control of the means of life, and establish uo once for all above our present slavery into a moral standard of human life Let us be fearless. In liberating the Irish working class we are lifting Ire· land into the lofty purpose of the Russian pioneers who have turned the base greed of the European war for possession of fresh markets of exploitation into the tremendous redemption of the world's working class.
Let us contribute our heroism to the class war which is spreading over the world, so that from "generation to generation" those who come after us will do homage to our courage in an era of human release and golden opportunity, an era wherein the common and equal peoples of the future will tread across the memories of our age of degradation into the happy triumphs of human attainment such as the world has never theretofore known.
Let us not dream now. but arise and act. Let us act quickly. Let us escape from a neutrality which supports the master class of the world and take our stand firmly with the working class of the world in the class war which is thundering over the earth. All power to the Workers' Councils of Ireland; the speedy emancipation of the Irish working class!
On behalf of the National Executive of the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Ireland.
THOMAS PENNYCOOK, (National Secretary.)
FROM July 26, 1919 ISSUE OF THE COMMUNIST, USA