November 2011        

Party news

Ninety years of struggle

To mark the ninetieth anniversary of the formation of the first Communist Party of Ireland in October 1921 a public meeting and social event was held in the New Theatre, Dublin, on Saturday 5 November. The guest speaker was Charlie McGuire, author of two recent biographies: Roddy Connolly and the Struggle for Socialism in Ireland and Seán McLaughlin: Ireland’s Forgotten Revolutionary.
     His talk outlined the difficulties experienced by those early revolutionaries and their efforts to establish and build a communist party in conditions of an emerging civil war. Its formation was the result of the impact of the Russian Revolution and the determination by revolutionaries to carry on the work of Ireland’s greatest working-class revolutionary, James Connolly. When volunteers of the Citizen Army were released from internment in Fron Goch they joined the fledgling party.
     He described the attempts by the Communist Party to influence republicans to link the social and the national struggle. The young party was the first to openly criticise the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It argued that the main beneficiaries would be the conservative forces within the national struggle, who would betray the aspirations of the people. It proved to be correct.
     The young party took an active part in the Civil War, with Seán McLaughlin leading a flying column in the Limerick region.
     The speaker also described how Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey had approached the CPI to discuss membership of the party. Both were put to death by the Free State government before they were able to follow through.
     The speaker offered new insights into working-class history and especially the role that communists played in supporting the many workers’ occupations and strikes as well as the establishment of a number of “soviets” or workers’ councils around the country. He emphasised the role of the Comintern and Lenin and the latter’s deep interest in the Irish struggle.
     The young party was affected by the continuing debate about its relationship to the national struggle and the extent of the support it should give to it and attempting to influence the IRA, as against the social struggles of the day. It did break new ground in its analysis of the political nature and role of the native bourgeoisie and its relationship to the former colonial masters. Most importantly, the party developed an understanding of neo-colonialism nearly thirty years before this concept became part of the common political understanding of communists and other anti-imperialist forces.
     Tom Redmond, member of the National Executive Committee, brought the story of the CPI up to the present with an outline of the work of communists over the last ninety years. He emphasised the all-Ireland nature of the party and of the struggle today, guided by steadfast commitment to anti-imperialism, a class approach to political questions, consistently applying the ideas and analysis of James Connolly, and internationalism, including solidarity with those struggling against national and social oppression everywhere and to those building socialism.
     The commemorative event was a mixture of politics and culture. Ronan Wilmot, director of the New Theatre, read four poems, opening the event with James Connolly’s famous poem, written in 1907, “Our Demands Most Moderate Are,” as well as poems from the French and Turkish and one from Pablo Neruda.
     Francis Devine read a number of his own poems dedicated to past communists and finished with a great song written in 1913, dedicated to the “Red Hand,” about the ITGWU, the union built by Connolly and Larkin—a powerful rallying call for a more militant working-class movement.
     A group of traditional musicians organised by Máire Ní Bheaglaoich put on a display of the finest traditional music. Mel Corry from Belfast sang songs of the labour movement, beginning with “Connolly Will Be There!” and finishing with “The International.”
     The afternoon was completed with a call to resist the EU and the institutions of imperialism and to mobilise against the debt, as well as a call for greater solidarity with revolutionary Cuba.
     The New Theatre was filled to overflowing, with some people not being able to gain entry. Altogether this was a fitting tribute to the ninety years of a revolutionary working-class party and to past generations of communist fighters whose work and the struggles they led are only now being explored and understood.
     It was a moving tribute to past generations. Also heartening was the number of young people in attendance, contributing to the new challenges that today’s generation face in the struggle against the EU and the odious debt imposed on our people.
     The struggle continues.

■ Charlie McGuire’s talk will be published shortly as a pamphlet by the CPI.

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