1916 Comdt-General Sean McLoughlin on Civil War: “How the Republicans May Win”

Anti-Treaty IRA members in Dublin

The article below first appeared in the July 29, 1922 issue of The Workers Republic, the paper of the newly-established Communist Party of Ireland.  The civil war had begun just a month earlier.  The CPI aligned with the anti-Treaty IRA and agitated for it to adopt a social programme pointing to a workers’ republic, not just a republic. 

Sean McLoughlin was actually the senior surviving commandant of the Easter Rising of 1916.  On the Friday evening, as the Rising was drawing to a close, the 21-year-old had so impressed James Connolly and other leaders that he was appointed overall military commander.  This was done due to the incapacitation of the badly-wounded Connolly, the original commandant-general of all the insurrectionary forces.  McLoughlin then led the break-out from the GPO and into Moore Street.

McLoughlin later worked closely with Roddy Connolly in founding the original, short-lived CPI and was active in workers’ struggles during the civil war, including workplace occupations and the formation of soviets.

I have broken up some of the longer original paragraphs.  Also the article referred to both the Labour Party and labour (the working class with capital ‘L’; I have put the latter in lower case to differentiate them.

On the political side, it should be noted that the true perfidy of the Irish Labour Party was not grasped yet, although they had gone along with the Treaty – something which should have given the game away.  But a section of revolutionaries still saw them as being a party which Connolly had helped found and this produced illusions.

The text I used is taken from the appendices to Charlie McGuire’s Sean McLoughlin: Ireland’s Forgotten Revolutionary (London: Merlin, 2011).


by Sean McLoughlin

The Republicans have only one object, a purely sentimental one, as far as the masses are concerned – the establishing of a Republic, separated completely from Britain.  This is supported by the Communists and the advanced labour elements, in so far as it is a revolutionary step, in helping to smash British imperialism, but the masses are not swayed by these questions of high politics.  They are moved by economic pressures, and will not respond to sentimental appeals, no matter how impassioned they may be,  And the masses are correct.

In the first place they are tired of war.  In the second, they see that, no matter who wins, they will still be slaves grinding out their lives for wages and ruled with a rod of iron by bosses and landlords, and they cannot summon up enthusiasm enough to enable them to fight on behalf of wage-slavery.

The Republicans need support.  They are in their present position because they dallied and vacillated, while the Free State was concentrating its forces and preparing for the fight.  The Republicans trusted everyone – but the workers – and every section betrayed them.  De Valera was in the clouds.  He trusted to his powers of persuasion, and they failed him as was inevitable.  He and his gallant friends are now fighting for their lives.  How can they win?  There is only one way.  If they refuse to go the only road to victory they will go down to history as a band of noble idealists, but utterly hopeless as revolutionaries.

The way is clear.  Victory lies with the side that can attract to itself the masses, the workers of the towns and cities and the landless peasants.  The Irish Labour Party alone cannot beat the Free State plus the British Government, but the Labour Party, supported by the Communist Party, backing the Republicans and appealing to the people with a proper social programme, will be absolutely invincible.

The programme will be based upon the present needs of the masses, comprising confiscation of the land, the big estates and ranches to become the property of the landless peasants; social ownership of creameries etc; confiscation of all heavy industries, banks, etc; repudiation of all debts, and the controlling and running of industry; land and housing to be in the hands of councils elected by the workers and peasants.

Republicans, here is your chance; with the workers behind you the Free State relapses back into the black hell from whence it came.

Representatives of Irish labour, here is your chance to fulfil your pledges and be true to your class.

War against Imperialism and Capitalism, the land for the peasants, the factories for the workers, and a full, free life for all who toil.

If the Republicans fail to grasp their opportunity and the Labour Party has not the courage to act, all may rest assured the struggle is not lost.  Everyday the people will see with clearer eyes, and inevitably the future is with them, and led by a determined and vigorous Communist Party, the workers and peasants will march unaided over the corpse of the Free State to the Workers’ Republic.

The war between the Republicans and the Free Staters has entered upon its most desperate stage.  After the fall of the Four Courts, after the evacuation of O’Connell Street by the Republican forces, the hirelings of capitalism and Imperialist Britain, in their newspapers, set up a howl of joy – “The ‘rebels’ are defeated”.  “Glorious victory of the Artillery Field-Marshall Griffiths.”  But the howls of triumph were short-lived, as the Republicans have merely transferred the seat of war from Dublin to the south of Ireland.  And so the struggle begins anew.

As the struggle progresses it becomes more and more evident that the Free State is merely a puppet State, controlled and manipulated from London.  The Army, though nominally controlled by the Free State Government, is dependent upon the British War Office for its military supplies, and the organisation of the various departments in the Free State has been conducted on practically the same lines as obtained under the former rulers.

The whole of the police force in Dublin, and with it all the detective branches and secret service groups, have been incorporated into the Free State, and in addition a special spy department has been established at Oriel House, under the control, ironically enough, of a man who was responsible for the illegal importation of arms for the rebel forces when the struggles against the Black and Tans was raging.  This spy department bears all the familiar imprints of its predecessors.  Raids, searches, arrests, etc are conducted in a vindictive spirit that exceeds even the procedure of the old detective and police raids.  There is no respect shown to anybody.  Terrorism and militarism are the watchwords of the new order.  And over all rules the sacred spirit of private property and private execution.

The Free State government is, nakedly and unashamedly, a purely bourgeois and capitalist Government, hostile to labour, and carrying its hostility into action.  Even the pink Labour Party is hated by this reactionary clique.  And it is this crowd of place-hunters, renegades, and tools that has arrayed an army and launched it against the Republicans – an army composed, for the most part of half-starved proletarians – men who hate the Free State, yet are compelled by unemployment to take up arms on behalf of reaction.

On the other side are the Republicans, badly armed and ill-equipped, fighting on behalf of an ideal; and yet fighting bravely and resolutely.   They hold part of the south of Ireland, and are defending their position with the utmost determination.  These Republicans have the support of every honest and clear-thinking man in Ireland, and are supported by the Irish Communists, because of their determined stand against British Imperialism in its fight against world revolution.  Nevertheless, it is realised by most Communists today that the Republicans are faced with a tremendous task, and one which they will be compelled to meet by something more than guns and munitions.

With the exception of groups here and there, a big percentage of the Irish are apathetic to the struggle; that is particularly true of the landless peasants and the workers in the cities and big towns.  In the war that is progressing only one side has a definite programme, and that side is the Free State.  They declare for capitalism and, as a result, all of the shopkeepers, large landholders, factory owners, and capitalists, in short, everyone interested in the exploitation of labour are backing the Free State.

Posted on December 3, 2019, in British strategy, Counter-revolution/civil war period, Economy and workers' resistance, Free State in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Labour Party, Political education and theory, Repression in 26-county state, Republicanism post-1900, Revolutionary figures, Sean McLoughlin, Secret police, Social conditions, Toadyism, Trade unions, Workers rights. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Which inspired Liam Mellows’ own manifesto on turning to social reform in order for the Anti-Treatyites to win support (his ‘Notes from Mountjoy’).

  2. Yes, I did wonder about that. McLoughlin was in the Volunteers rather than the Citizen Army, so I also wondered whether Mellows and McLoughlin came across each other directly some time before the Rising or else later on, during the war for independence/Tan War or in the interregnum between the Treaty debates and the outbreak of the Civil War.

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