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Labor Action, 15 March 1948


World Politics

The Downfall of “Dev”


From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 11, 15 March 1948, p. 3. [1]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


After 15 years, the Fianna Fail party of de Valera came to an inglorious end in Eire and its famous leader was put out of office. Several of our friends and comrades in Dublin and Belfast have written to us about the recent general election in Ireland and its significance. Here we have put together extracts from these various letters to give our readers a clearer picture of precisely what did happen.

The policy of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Irish Section of the Fourth International, was to lend critical support to the candidates of the National Labor Party. In a manifesto directed to the workers of Ireland, from which we give extracts below, this position was advocated:

“On the back of the world crises of capitalism (just emerging from its second bloody conflict in twenty years) Fianna Fail (de Valera’s party) began its headlong dash to obscurity.

“So ends an epoch in the inglorious history of Irish capitalism. Fifteen years of Fianna Fail has meant to the working class both economic and political repression. Too well the organized workers remember the years of the Means Test. The anti-Trade Union bill; the offences against the State Act: the censorship of private correspondence and working class literature: the persecution of republican and working class internees: the terrorist methods of the Fianna Fail ‘security’ police and the host of chronicled and unchronicled acts of bribery, corruption, political gangsterism and the split engineered by Lemass in the working class movement with the connivance of the present leadership of the National ‘Labor’ Party and the Congress of ‘Irish’ Unions. Workers, ask these so-called labor leaders about the secret meetings with the Department of Industry and Commerce before the T.U. split and the Standstill Order and the anti-TU bill.

“Fianna Fail, Fine Geal, Clann and the National Laborers (that couldn’t serve fish and chips) all are seeking to protect the faith, prestige and political integrity of this ancient nation.”

Coalition of Five Groups

Among other things, the Irish party is the first official section of the Fourth International to come out publicly, in a manifesto directed to workers, equally “Against support to capitalism and Stalinist totalitarianism,” marking its break with the official policy of defense of Russia.

Our informant further writes, in describing the defeat of de Valera, the end of his political rule – for the time being, at least – that,

“The General Election demonstrates a shift away from de Valera, mainly by sections of professional workers and the rural and urban middle classes. Clann na Poblacta, led by Sean McBride, ex-Chief-of-Staff of the Irish Republican Army and top-flight lawyer, personifies this tendency. The Clann’s ‘New Deal’ politics and the all-inclusiveness of its appeal, made serious inroads on the regroupment of the Labor Party.

“However, the Labor Party did make some headway: it doubled its quota of first preference votes and almost doubled its parliamentary representation, in face of the morale shattering split engineered by de Valera in the unions. Petty-bourgeois influence is still the dominating factor in Ireland due to the nature of the economy. This type of thought has always permeated the labor movement with the exception of the Connolly period.

“The outcome of the general election has displaced de Valera’s Fianna Fail and has placed in power a coalition composed of five groups and ‘Independents.’ The line-up is as follows: the old-line Fine Geal, Labor, petty-bourgeois Clann na Poblacta, small-farmers Clann na Talham, National ‘Labor’ – who denied their illegitimacy at the hands of de Valera and voted against him – and a group of independent operators that range from political boy-scouts to full-blown imperialists.

“The whole character of the coalition is shot through with irreconcilable class conflicts and can only last as long as their horse-deals remain discreet and maneuverable. All the coalition groups are attempting to do, is to smash the de Valera hynosis [sic!] and retrench financially for another election in the near future. The interim program of the coalition is a composite of programmatic points of the different groupings. Abolition of the recently imposed tax on beer, cigarettes, cinemas and greyhound racing. Improved health service, and reforms in local government and education.

“Every party in the coalition has compromised itself in this attempt to discredit de Valera and to retain the prerogative – of the Prime Minister’s – of calling another general election at the propitious moment.”

Hang Together – or Separately!

And finally, writing from Belfast in Northern Ireland, our correspondent Bob Armstrong summarizes the election in the following terms:

“The election underscores the fact that Eire still remains a conservative backwater amongst the nations. Social relations have become petrified. The peasants, despite their drab conditions, feel that their little farms give them a stake in the system. The influence of the church is terrific. Full employment in Britain acts as a safety valve, drawing many of the potentially rebellious elements of the youth. Political adventurers of the stamp of McBride hardly exist in the more important countries. McBride is a former IRA (Irish Republican Army) figure. He formed Clann na Poblacta out of the disintegrating ranks of the IRA; and out of a crew of careerists who sensed the waning of de Valera’s influence he formed the leadership. Overnight he abandoned his program – a mish-mash of contradictory reformist slogans, with the end of partition as a focal point – for the sake of a cabinet position.

“The Labor Party – which gained some seats, reflecting a modest left swing among the workers – has likewise been sold up the river by its leadership, greedy for the prestige of office. The coalition is easily explained. If de Valera had been permitted to form a cabinet he would have seized the first promising opportunity to go to the poll again, and he would in all probability have completely smashed the Clann; thus ensuring a stable Fianna Fail regime for a further period. Having been shut out of office for so long, the rival politicians couldn’t bear to think of sitting in the opposition benches any longer. Hang together, or hang separately! There you have the whole meaning of the coalition.

“Immediately following the Eire election there was the special meeting of the Northern Labor Party to work out a policy on partition. Decision: To have no policy. Members will take a position in public according to the dictates of their own conscience.”

Note by ETOL

1. Four of the parties mentioned in this article have names in the Irish (Gaelic) language – unfortunately three of them are misspelled in this article. For those who wish to do further research on this period of Irish history the parties are Fianna Fail (or Fianna Fáil), Fine Gael (not Fine Geal), Clann na Poblachta (not Clann na Poblacta) and Clann na Talmhan (not Clann na Talham).

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