The creation of The Workers' Party came after many years of arduous and
costly struggle. At the jubilant Ard Fheis, held in Liberty Hall, Dublin in 1982, when the decision was ratified formally,
delegate after delegate spoke of the efforts and sacrifices which had gone into producing Ireland's first major revolutionary
democratic, secular, socialist party.
It is not possible to tell that entire story in a few pages. The decades
from 1962 include one of the most horrible and evil chapters in the history of modern Ireland; a chapter which unfortunately
has not yet concluded. The history of the Party is woven into the fabric of those years. It played a major role in shaping
the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in the 1960s. Subsequently it opposed the growing sectarian, murderous terrorism
which has polarised Northern Ireland as never before.
At the same time it set about the task of bringing alive the consciousness
of the working class in the Republic through housing action committees, trade union activity, anti-ground rent campaigns,
fishing rights and against the private ownership of rivers, defence of public enterprises, tax marches and many other localised
During the period 1962 - 1969, the Republican Movement as it was then
known, was being altered from a militaristic organisation, solely concerned with securing "national unity“, into a revolutionary
political organisation with an embryonic socialist agenda.
From the French Revolution to the present is a mere two centuries.
But they have contained some of the most turbulent years the world is ever liable to witness.
Unfortunately there are those who see Ireland as somehow insulated
from the intellectual, political and physical turmoil which dominates world life. This is particularly true for elements who
have interpreted "republicanism" as a unique and specific, Irish phenomenon, identical to nationalism and congruent with the
perceived political aspirations of the country's Roman Catholic majority.
Republicanism, as The Workers' Party understands it, cannot be separated
from the fundamental principles of the French Revolution - for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
Opposition to the concept of a secular society is part and parcel of
both states in Ireland. Equally there is significant hostility to the idea of socialism. Much of this derives from the country's
"religious value systems", a scanty knowledge of socialist philosophy and a conservative dread of the future. (Naturally events
in Eastern Europe have added to the problems facing Irish socialists). A statement by the late former leader of the Irish
In the course then of the late sixties, Republican activity was directed
to social problems which had the purpose of developing a new type of membership but which sought also to heighten class consciousness.
At the same time internal education stressed the socialist dimension of the Republican tradition - from Tone to Frank Ryan.
The product of the major events from August 1969 was to provide a fertile
recruiting ground for the Provisionals. At the same time a variety of loyalist terrorist organisations were spawned in response
to the growing violence. The outcome would be twenty five years of terrorism with the goal of a democratic, secular, socialist
republic buried in the pervasive murderous sectarianism which has at this time left Northern Ireland polarised as never before
and the majority of citizens in the Republic apparently alienated from any concept of "national unity".
The Ard Fheis of 1977, however, decided overwhelmingly that Sinn Féin would be retained and The Workers' Party attached as a suffix. A new era had begun.
The next five years saw, what at the time looked like, the completion
of the pre-stage of Party building. Although the Party had won seats in Local Government elections North and South during
the previous decade, the major breakthrough into parliamentary politics had still to happen. Paradoxically, as the Party progressed
in the Republic, in Northern Ireland it suffered both by its refusal to support the Provisional hunger strike and by its endorsement
of the Chilver's Report on Education proposing the creation of a single teacher training college in place of the existing
The third period identified stretches then from the Ard Fheis of 1982
until the betrayal of the Party and its programme in 1992 by the group subsequently to become the Democratic Left, now absorbed
into the Irish Labour Party.
The events surrounding the efforts to liquidate The Workers' Party
have been well documented in the publication "Patterns of Betrayal : The Flight from Socialism", available from Party offices,
and require no further elaboration here. It is important though to state that the damage done to the Party far surpassed any
of the murderous assaults of the mid-seventies. This was true not only for Party structures and morale but also in terms of
the many thousands of voters who had placed their hopes in an honest, serious, democratic, secular, socialist party and saw
those hopes dashed by the gross opportunism and individualism of those who betrayed the Party.
From the early seventies the Party had campaigned strongly in support
of a wide range of international struggles. At the same time the party was prominent in opposing terrorism and sectarianism
in Northern Ireland, in defence of natural resources and the state sector in the Republic, in trade union activity, in the
development of nationwide tax protests. In fact it had become the cutting edge of radical thinking and activity, particularly
in the Republic.
As a result there was a steady rise in electoral support for the Party,
with new seats won in the 1985 Dublin local government elections, culminating in the elections of 1989 which saw seven members
in the Dáil and a first ever European Parliament seat in Dublin. This increase was also reflected in Northern Ireland where
the Party polled just short of 6% of the vote in the Belfast Local Government elections of the same year.
It must be recognised that the present political condition is hostile
to the democratic politics of a socialist party. This is compounded by the fairly widely held view that politics is not seen
by a growing number of people as a vital, central, and critical component of everyday life. In addition many citizens are
cynical as to the
In particular there is the clear shift to the centre-left / right which
has had the consequence of both seeking to remove ideology from politics and at the same time blurring any difference between
parties in the eyes of the electorate. The recent anti-war, anti-World Bank, and anti-globalisation mobilisations may herald
the beginning of a new resistance to capitalism's ideological and political hegemony.
Socialists and their parties will find themselves increasingly being
disparaged and dismissed as "old hat" - "not in touch with the times" - "clinging to outworn dogmas". In fact every possible
verbal trick in the book will be played in order to persuade socialists that there is nothing to do but go along with the
The problem for the Party is to gear and develop ourselves to take
advantage of this situation in a period of ongoing vicious sectarianism and fundamentalism in Northern Ireland and the media-led,
ideologically denuded politics of the Republic.
There are no easy answers. No instant solutions. Indeed we will need
to shun any such suggestions; at the same time we cannot rely solely on our correct theoretical perspectives. The challenge
is to reconstruct, recognising that it will take time, foresight, planning and meaningful political activity.