Introduction by Workers' Voice 1974

Submitted by Mike Harman on September 13, 2007



It is not very often that such an important pamphlet as this is produced for the information of the workers' movement, not only in Britain but for other countries as well. We are doing this not out of historical interest but to show that in Britain, as in other countries, there was a principled fight for a revolutionary programme and perspective against all the opportunism and reformism that has permeated the Socialist movement. This document "Communism v Reforms" represents one of the high-points in this struggle. It is a critique of the founding programme of the Communist Party of Ireland. This programme shows how reformist was the nature of the CP of Ireland from its inception and throws light on the willingness of the Communist International to trade revolutionary politics for numbers (the demand for large Communist Parties at almost any price).

The relevance of this pamphlet today is that these same ideas, that it attacks, are still held by the overwhelming majority of the so-called "revolutionary" Left - nationalisation, workers' "control", taking over and utilising the capitalist state through elections etc. These conceptions, in reality, leave the basis of capitalism intact -the wages system. The worker only changes exploiter from the private capitalist to the State.

Various organisations on the Left take up these ideas and follow them like an article of faith (Stalinists, Trotskyists, Maoists) because they accept the traditions of the formation of the Comintern and the Communist Parties in Western Europe. What they do not know or are unwilling to reveal is that these Communist Parties in western Europe were founded on reformist. programmes - on the insistence of Lenin, in his "Left Wing Communism - an Infantile Disorder" and the Comintern.

The reformist nature of the CPI's programme is shown if we examine some of the questions facing the working class in the fight against capitalism and for Socialism.

The State
The State is, and has always been, the means of maintaining the rule of the dominating class or classes. Under the present society, capitalism, the forces of the State (army, police, etc.) and the bureaucracy (civil servants, and other administration, judges, courts, etc.) together with press, radio and other means of propaganda, and the Church, are all for the defence of the established order. Its role is to maintain the exploitation of the working class. It follows from this that if any other social force attempted to use this State, then it can only mean that it will continue with the exploitation of the working class (in one form or another), The only way to begin the emancipation of the working class is to destroy the established State,

This has been the experience of the working class internationally. The best example of this was the Paris Commune of 1871. The workers seized state rower, abolished the capitalist State and developed its own organs of power to protect its conquests - the Commune. This destroyed, in Paris, the twin features of the State, the standing army and the bureaucracy (civil service). These were replaced by a militia in which all able-bodied citizens were enrolled (officers were elected and supervised by each unit) and representatives were elected democratically with the right of recall and paid no more than the average workers wage.

However, the CPI's programme does not call for this. True, it calls for the arming of the workers in town and countryside to "defend their rights". To whom is this demand made - the State? To defend what "rights"? At first glance, the call for the universal arming of the workers may sound revolutionary, but it is not the same as Revolution. In the USA, it is the constitutional right of workers to carry arms. On many occasions, it is necessary to protect picket lines, workers' meetings, premises from attacks by scabs, bosses' hired thugs, police, state troops etc., with armed workers but all this is still within the bounds of capitalism and doesn't necessarily lead to the overthrow of capitalism and its State. And what is this same universal arming of the Irish workers for and to protect their rights from -capitalism and the State which this programme has not demanded the abolition of.

This same State is to own all heavy industry, transport and the banks "for the benefit of all the people". But the capitalists, landlords and other exploiters are part of the "people". So it certainly can't be called a Communist programme. This is nationalisation -"national" capitalism as Engels called it. The fallacies of "workers' control" is explained in the article. The only basis for Socialism is for the means of production to be turned into "social" property and run by the workers for society as a whole. Along with this goes the abolition of wage labour, suppression of the market, capital accumulation (where it is not necessary for society) etc,

The CPI's programme also calls for representation from the trade unions, along with capitalist State, together with those of the workers. What are these Joint Councils to discuss, production levels? wages? No, only "workshop conditions". How very revolutionary! Improving workshop conditions invariably lead to higher production and exploitation. The workers will be helping to make a rod for their own backs.

The trade unions are but the horse-traders in the labour market. Their role is to get the best price for the workforce it negotiates for, but within the bounds of profitability of capitalism. The uniting of representatives of the State, trade unions and the workers is, in fact, the perfect model of the Corporate State.

The trade unions will disappear along with the abolition of wage-labour.

Revolutionaries often say there is a tendency for the trade unions to be incorporated into the State. Then, from this, they say this process must be reversed and be made to represent the interests of their members. It is wrong to pose it in this way because the trade unions are an integral part of the capitalist system. The trade union will not be the instrument of the Revolution. It will be the revolutionary organisation and revolutionary workers' councils.

Land Question

The fallacies of the slogan "all land to the peasants" is dealt with at length. The problems in Russia and East Europe about the land question is covered very well. There, it was dealing with the capitalist revolution in the countryside and the peasants were breaking up the remnants of Feudalism. In taking these actions as a model, the CPI's programme did not take into account the very big difference - Capitalism had developed in the countryside a long time before. The land was extensively cleared of tenant farmers during the last century and converted into larger farms and ranches. Almost a million people were deprived of a livelihood - the cause of the depopulation of Ireland, which helped to create the Great Famine (together with the potato blight) and not the result of it.

The development of capitalism in the countryside has produced a section of the working class, the agricultural labourer. Their emancipation is the same as the industrial workers - the socialisation of the means of production (of which the land is part). The CPI's programme would have these workers declassed and converted into small farmers in inefficient small units.

These small farmers will then be easy prey for the propaganda of the capitalist parties. They will tell them that the workers will force up the price of industrial products these new farmers need They will whisper in their ears that private capitalism could produce them cheaper and it would be in their interests. This could place these former workers at the throats of the industrial workers.

This section of the CPI's programme is openly reactionary and counter- revolutionary.


This critique of the Irish Communist Party's programme by Pankhurst was not some fanciful dream, straight out of her head. It was written against the background of rising class struggle in Ireland in the period following the signing of the treaty that created the "Free State". The British exodus from Dublin Castle did not stop the class war in Ireland.

The manifestations of independence by Irish workers grew up with the unsettled conditions which attended the Republican struggle to throw off British rule.

Limerick Soviet
The Limerick General Strike of 1918 called the Limerick Soviet (workers' council) into being. This was the first incident to draw general attention to the new spirit developing amongst Irish workers. The Limerick General Strike was however a strike against the imposition of British military permits and though it was regarded with distrust in some Nationalist quarters, it was supported by numbers of Limerick employers and shopkeepers. That the Limerick Soviet was used by workers to bring down prices and force up wages was a fact overshadowed by the military permit question.

The state of war that increased in Ireland from 1916 until the truce in 1921, the occupation of the country by rival military forces which rendered impossible effective control by either force, facilitated seizures of plants by industrial workers and the land by peasants and agricultural labourers. The Nationalist Government Land Courts and Ministry of Labour endeavoured to check such seizures and to protect the property owners.

Already, the Irish struggle seemed to be shifting from the contest between British Imperialism and the Nationalists, to the contest between the Irish property owner and the proletariat.

Cork Soviet
The 'Workers' Dreadnought' contained many reports of the growing workers struggles and in particular the seizures of factories and land by workers in Cork (mills, creameries and later railways and docks). Workers at the mills and creameries at Quartertown, near Mallow County Cork, faced with wage cuts did not remain at home and starve, reported the Dreadnought, but seized the plants and formed themselves into a workers' council and ran production. The workers ruled off the books of the firm and began entering their own transactions (for cash only), A large contingent of the Republican Army arrived fully armed, publicly displayed its force by drilling through the town, and placed guards by the mills. The Commandant in charge, Moylan, notified the workers' council that he would hold their leaders responsible for any looting or damage to the mills. They replied by placing their own guards on them.

The Commandant then awaited instructions from the Dail Minister as to future action. The new Irish Government, which clearly and inevitably was on the side of the property owner, scorned to hesitate as to how far it was willing to intervene in the struggle. The Cork employers were, of course, dissatisfied with the hesitation and wired to Michael Collins, Chairman of the Provisional Government, demanding that the Government should restore the mills to the employers. Michael Collins wired back that the Government had "arranged to end the unauthorised action of certain persons, in taking over mills referred to".

This was only to be expected: the Irish Provisional Government was a purely bourgeois Government, and Arthur Griffith, the President, was a hardened old Tory in his political views where social questions were concerned.

What was not expected was that the executive of the Transport Workers Union in Dublin should have instigated the eviction of the Malow workers' council. Such, however, was the allegation made against the Executive by the Malow workers' council.

The council declared that the Transport Workers' Executive began by refusing lock-out pay. Later, the local Free State Army Commandant, in evicting the workers from the mill, announced that their Union had asked the Army General Headquarters to "shift them".

On August 12, 1922, the Workers' Dreadnought reported in an article called "workers control in Ireland",

"The movement has now spread through-out Munster and across its borders, and all the works that have been taken have been held, except at Bruro, Bruree and Kilmallock. The attempt to take the Lansdowne in Limerick and the Kanturk works, failed. But everywhere else the workers attempts at seizure have been successfull. The workers are now controlling sixty creameries and a number of farms. They control the Tipperary gasworks, where fourteen men are employed, as well as fourteen creameries in the neighbourhood. In the glen of Aherlow is an estate of 400 acres of arable land and 1,400 acre of woods and mountains owned by Marcy Dawson, a British naval officer who went mad. This estate fell under the control of the agent, a man named Henderson. Did he appropriate it? Dawson called in the Black and Tans to blackleg on the farm workers. The place was finally closed down after a prolonged dispute Eighteen months later, the workers' council of action re-opened the place. The workers repaired the disabled machinery and leaking boiler, set going the saw mill, which employs ten men, and is one of the best in that part of Ireland".

The 'Workers Dreadnought' went on to comment,

"Inexperience in certain directions, and the hostility met with in others, create some difficulties of course. The Soviets in Tipperary gasworks found no difficulty in collecting the money from the workers using slot meters, but when they attempted to collect the accounts off the well-to-do they found that only 50 per cent of the people concerned were willing to pay. The gasworks were needing coal and being obliged to pay cash for it - the collection of accounts was proceeded with as quickly as possible. On the necessary amount being collected, it was found that the woman clerk had banked it, as she always did in the name of the firm without realising that it would be impossible for the Soviet to withdraw the money from the bank. In order to get the coal required, it was necessary to get some more money. It is interesting to observe that the dispute which led to the taking over of the gasworks arose from the refusal of the firm to pay a journeyman's wage to an apprentice who had served his time. The apprentice was appointed manager by the workers' soviet, and he went on working at his old wage, without even getting or demanding, the increase on account of which the dispute had arisen."

The Farmers' Union carried on a warfare against the workers. They made raids on creameries, burning them down or taking away essential parts of the machinery if the vigilance of the workers was overcome.

Some Lessons
The lessons of the struggle in Ireland are little different to that of Western Europe. The only major difference was that of being an oppressed "nation", the revolutionary movement succumbed to "nationalism" more than the cancer of reformism, as in the advanced capitalist countries. The Irish revolutionary movement was beheaded in the abortive "Easter Rebellion" in 1916. The refusal of the Nationalists to assist them was a class line-up against the common foe, the working class.

Along with nationalism went syndicalism (trade unionism being enough). Despite this, the insurrectionists failed to couple the uprising with a general strike, to spread it to a social revolution. Without this action, the seizure of a number of buildings in Dublin could only have been an attempted putsch.

This left the revolutionary movement very weak for many years. When the CPI was formed, it was composed mainly by ""šmigr"šs" in Britain. The Comintern provided large amounts of money. They "bought" a Communist Party, rather than develop it out of the workers' movement. The CPI's politics was taken from Moscow and the CPGB (which had already been purged of the Left Communists around Sylvia Pankhurst, consequently had become servile). It is not surprising that the CPGB had been reformist from its inception as the main body of its membership came from the BSP (British Socialist Party), which had remained affiliated to the Labour Party throughout the first world war.

There can be no other explanation for the reformist nature of this programme. We have not found any criticism from either the Comintern or the CPGB against this programme. Maybe the defenders of the Stalinist and Trotskyist blocs would like to explain this.

The crisis during and after the First World War provided an opportunity for workers in many countries to attack capitalism. Only in the defeated countries, Russia and Germany was there a serious attempt to seize power. In the other countries it never even got to this level. The movements were contained within the system and the capitalist parties (including the Social Democrats) and trade unions were able to ensure that no such attack took place.

Where large movements to seize factories and estates took place (as in Turin in Italy) the State and employers did not immediately contest this. Their attitude was "by all means occupy them, run them if you wish" but built up their forces to crush them at a later stage.

The experience of the occupations in Ireland (as elsewhere) was they didn't challenge the whole system, wages, market, etc. They respectfully kept the companies accounts going and collected money. Where the money was mistakenly paid into the companies account, they didn't challenge the bank or even thought of seizing the coal to keep the gasworks going. Even the journeyman who had come out of his time was not paid the full rate for the job (which had started the dispute) showed a marked reverence for the old wage rates.

All this shows that the existence of workers councils is not enough. The movement must be taken forward to conquer power and in this a revolutionary organisation is vital. Ideas are not enough, they must be applied in action.

The CPI's programme would seem very revolutionary when compared to today's position with a peaceful road to socialism a la CPGB. On the question of the six counties of Ulster under direct rule, they work in the Civil Rights Movement to get a "Civil Rights Bill" passed by the English Parliament, the same body that has been responsible for centuries of exploitation and oppression in Ireland.

Both the CP in Ireland and Britain work in the Connolly Association. This organisation has a three point programme for immediate implementation.

(I) The British government must recognise the "Irish dimension', the fact that those who want independence and unity are the MAJORITY of the Irish people. We want a constitutional road to a united Ireland and a promise that Mr Heath will not block it.

(2) The establishment of political freedom in Northern Ireland by passing the FULL BILL OF RIGHTS.

(3) The cessation of the misuse of British troops on harassing security duties, and their return to England as soon as possible.

How very "progressive"! If we promise the government very nicely that we will be good boys, then they may grant these demands.

Along with these 'demands' goes the worst Parliamentary cretinism known to date:



Outside the chamber where debates go on, there is a large open space called the lobby. Anybody who wishes to do so is entitled to go in there and ask for his Member of Parliament, He does this by writing his name and business on a card, which an official takes in to the chamber. You can ask for other MP's as well, but they are not so likely to come out as your own.


No. MPs meet thousands of people and are usually very courteous even when they disagree. But you must know what you want to tell then. They are busy and do not have tine to learn about everything.


It is hard to know. If your member is waiting to speak he obviously can't come out. And if he doesn't know you are coming he may have slipped out on some other job. But other tines he'll be out within minutes. You can then ask for another one.


Members of Parliament have to take notice of their constituents. The more who go on the lobby the more notice will be taken. So bring your friends if you can.

(Extracts from a leaflet issued for the lobby of Parliament on 21 Feb., 1973).

This is the logic of 50 years of reformism and Parliamentarism. The need today is to return to the kind of Communist Programme advocated in the article and wage a merciless fight against all manifestations of bankrupt Social Democracy.