Extracts from the Annual Reports
IRELAND AT BERNE
Being the Reports and Memoranda presented to the International Labour and Socialist Conference held at Berne, February, 1919.
JAMES CONNOLLY, 1910
Meanwhile amongst the Irish workers in the United States of America the founder of the Socialist Party in Ireland, James Connolly, had been carrying on a successful Socialist propaganda. At the same time he kept in close touch with the developments of the movement at home. His definitely Socialist organ, “The Harp,” was published in American and Irish editions. So satisfactory to him was the progress in Ireland, so closely did he agree with the principles and methods of the new movement, and so promising was the situation in Ireland, that Connolly in 1910 gladly accepted the invitation of the Socialist Party of Ireland to return and organise the movement in Ireland.
From this date there was no turning back. Connolly became organiser for both the Socialist Party and the Transport Workers’ Union. Side by side the propaganda of Socialism and militant trade unionism was carried over the country. The publication of Connolly’s study, “Labour in Irish History,” and of pamphlet after pamphlet, gave the Labour movement at last a Socialist literature. On every side the capitalist Press and capitalist speakers denounced, the movement as revolutionary, Socialist and subversive of all authority. The more denunciation the more revolutionary the workers became. When the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union entered the Irish Trade Union Congress in 1910 the Labour movement in Ireland had been re-born. The fraternity of the Socialist Party with the Transport Union had been cemented and the influence of both upon the unions as a whole and the movement generally had brought Irish Labour right into line with Labour and Socialism in other countries. Henceforward the story of Labour in Ireland is more and more that of the Irish Trade Union Congress without being less that of the Socialist Party and the Transport Union.
THE WAR, 1914-1915
In August 1914 and for twelve months afterwards the war divided but did not disrupt the movement. Tens of thousands of workers joined the army and fought and bled for no other reason than that they were told and they believed that it was being fought solely in defence of Belgium against the German invasion, and that participation in it by the men of Ireland would hasten and secure Home Rule, already enacted in law but repeatedly delayed and postponed in its practical application. A strong section of the leaders and a majority of the rank and file, however, opposed participation in the war on the ground that the people had not been consulted and that Great Britain’s declared principle of the recognition of nationality had not been carried out in practice in Ireland.
After the repeated failure of Great Britain to carry out her own obligation in Ireland this latter view began to prevail very widely from the autumn of 1915, particularly when, at the behest of the Home Rulers, the National Volunteers broke away, and the Government began a vigorous campaign of repression. The national question came more and more into prominence, but at the same time the industrial activities of Irish Labour did not change to any considerable extent, and in the political field Labour put forward its first Parliamentary Candidate and suffered defeat only by a comparatively small majority. Early in the war “The Irish Worker” and its successor, “The Worker,” were suppressed by the police, but in 1915 they were replaced by a new series of Connolly’s “Workers’ Republic.” Throughout this trying period the most hopeful sign amongst the Irish workers was their unanimous and strenuous opposition to the Government’s proposal to partition Ireland and exclude the province of Ulster or part of it from any settlement of the national question.
THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION AND THE STOCKHOLM CONFERENCE
The Russian Revolution of March, 1917, gave Labour in Ireland its longed-for opportunity. In no country was the overthrow of the Tsardom hailed more gladly than in Ireland, and by no working class was the triumph of the Workers, Soldiers and Peasants of Russia, and the establishment of the Republic, more enthusiastically welcomed than by Irish Labour. When the Petrograd Soviet issued its first call for an International Conference the National Executive of the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party cabled immediately to Petrograd approving of the Conference, accepting an invitation to send delegates, and thus definitely aligning itself in the International. The National Executive took the further step of appointing two delegates to attend the Conference at Stockholm, but passports were refused them by the British Government. At the same time the Socialist Party of Ireland appointed a delegation for Stockholm, and in July sent a delegation to Great Britain to greet the delegation of the Soviet then visiting Western Europe. This Irish delegation paid its fraternal respects to Tchitcherine. Both bodies opened up formal communications with the Secretary
of the International Socialist Bureau and the Dutch-Scandinavian Committee.
From this dates the resumption of formal relations between Irish Labour and the International. When the Annual Congress assembled in August, 1917, the action of the National Executive in accepting the invitation to Stockholm and the appointment of delegates were ratified by an overwhelming majority. The following mandate was given to the delegates to Stockholm by the August (1917) Congress:—
(1)To establish the Irish Labour Party as a distinct unit in the International Labour movement.
(2) To approve cordially of the declaration of the Russian Conference of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates “that the delegates cherish the firm hope that the idea of a real democratic peace without annexations and indemnities, on the basis of the right of the peoples to dispose of their own destinies, an idea in the name of which every national conference has been convoked, will meet with the warm sympathy of the working class, and that they, supported by their powerful organisations, will give the most energetic support to the fight for the realisation and carrying into effect of this idea in life without faltering before any obstacle, which undoubtedly will be placed in their way by people in Imperialistic circles,” and to co-operate with the delegates of the workers of other nations in promoting these objects.
Congress unanimously decided that in future International Labour Day be observed by the workers in Ireland as a holiday as abroad.
Finally, amid applause, Congress adopted the following resolution congratulating the people of Russia:—
This Congress of Irish workers hails the Russian Revolution. With gratitude and admiration it congratulates the Russian people upon a Revolution which has overthrown a tyranny that resisted the intellectual and social development of Russia, which has removed the standing menace of an aggressive imperialism in Eastern Europe, and which has liberated the people of Russia for the great work of establishing their own political and economic freedom on a firm, foundation, and of taking part in the international movement for working class emancipation from all forms1 of political, economic and imperialist oppression and exploitation.
IRISH MISSION TO THE CONTINENTALS, JANUARY, 1918
In January, 1918, advantage was taken of the visit of Camille Huysmans, Jean Longuet, Pierre Renaudel, Emile Vandervelde and others to the Nottingham Conference of the British Labour Party to send an Irish Labour mission to meet the Continental leaders. William O’Brien and D R Campbell represented the National Executive of the Trade Union Congress, and Cathal O’Shannon represented the Socialist Party.
The delegations first visited the plenipotentiary of the Soviet Republic, M Maxim Litvinoff, in London, and exchanged fraternal greetings. On behalf of the Socialist Party an address of congratulation from the workers of Ireland to the Russian Soviet was presented along with the formal welcome of the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party. On the way to Nottingham Renaudel was met by the Irish delegates and greeted fraternally. At Nottingham Huysmans and Longuet were kind enough to devote portion of their busy time to an interview with our delegates. The International, the old relations between the International and Ireland, and between the French and the Irish, the war, and the attitude, development and principles of the movement in Ireland, and the situation and aspirations of the Irish people were reviewed and the old bonds of international fraternity were renewed and new bonds of proletarian solidarity were forged.
The Irish delegates renewed old acquaintance with many of their English and Welsh comrades and assisted at the reception to the Continental delegates. The reply of the Socialist Party of Ireland to the Questionnaire of the Dutch-Scandinavian Committee for the Stockholm Conference was handed to the Continental delegates and the International Secretary. The mission of the Irish Labour delegates had a most lively success in Ireland, cementing the growing spirit of solidarity amongst the workers and strengthening the rising tide of internationalism amongst the people.
IRELAND, EGYPT, INDOCHINA, ETC
It will be noted that the Irish movement and section insists upon the application of the same principles, and the exercise of the same rights in the case of peoples and populations presently under the military and political domination of one or another of the Entente Powers, as in the case of peoples and populations recently under the rule of the late German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. With the workers of Ireland these principles and rights are not mere commodities for exportation, but real commodities for home consumption.
In the name of the Irish people, whose determined will and passionate desire for political and social freedom it expresses, the Irish Section protests with all its strength against every narrow and inadequate interpretation of the equal right of all peoples and nationalities to full and free self-determination, and therefore demands that the International and the Labour and Socialist Parties participating in the Conference shall compel the established Governments to apply this first principle of international right by free, equal, complete and unhindered plebiscite, to all peoples and nationalities without exception, reservation or restriction, irrespective of their present political and military domination or occupation.
With special and particular authority the Irish Section claims the immediate application of this principle in the concrete case of the people of Ireland, who have but recently by the vote of an overwhelming majority in the General Election of December, 1918, fought upon this specific issue and upon no other, made this claim in an unequivocal manner, and in the name of whose martyred dead of many generations right up to our own, and of the living men and women of this our day, it speaks to the workers of all countries.
The Irish Section has no mandate to speak on behalf of the Socialist or Labour Parties of Egypt, India, or Indo-China, but it realises that these are peoples suffering under the same imperial yoke as the people of Ireland, for whom it speaks with direct authority, and it feels in duty bound to claim for all others, and especially these sister peoples whose voice may not reach the Conference, the same rights and the application of the same principles as it claims for its own people, and it should feel shamed and stultified before the world and the workers if it did not apply its principles generally instead of particularly.
The peoples of Ireland, Egypt. Indo-China, and India are in exactly the same position, so far as wrongful imperial domination is concerned, and therefore are entitled to the same consideration and the same treatment as the peoples of other sister nations, Finland, Poland, Belgium, whose state sovereignty was forcibly destroyed, and, until recent months, was still forcibly held in submergence by imperialist and capitalist powers; they have again and again demonstrated their unceasing discontent with the existing order of affairs, and in various forms, and in such manner as they could, have asserted their still unsatisfied claims to national independence; and for these reasons they are entitled to the support, in the application of this principle of self-determination in their particular and concrete cases, of all the Labour and Socialist parties in belligerent and neutral countries, which have proclaimed their acceptance of this general principle…
It should be unnecessary to add that by the self-determination of peoples the Irish Section means the ascertaining of the will of the whole body of a people by means of a free, unfettered plebiscite, on the basis of free, adult, equal, and secret suffrage, conducted under a specially constituted International Commission of the nationals of disinterested states, and in the absence of an occupying army or military force of any… kind, of any dominant imperial Power.