The Irish Industrial Revolution
Organisation: Sinn Féin The Workers' Party
Series:Studies in Political Economy
Contributors: Info
Eoghan Harris [uncredited], Eamonn Smullen
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Discuss:Comments on this document

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

6th September 2010

This document, arguably one of the most significant released by any left wing party in Ireland during the 1970s, is an important addition to the Archive.

It is an interesting blend of hard information supported by rigorous and comprehensive research and a quite informal, occasionally sarcastic, tone. To this one could add that it is surprisingly readable and accessible. It has a useful appendix on the state sector.

The overall thesis is well known, although in its printed form it is arguably more nuanced than often acknowledged. And it is certainly somewhat different to a simple formula of international capital developing an Irish urban working class, with the document arguing that the 1960s had already seen the development of such a class and that the necessity was for the state to take the lead role in forwarding the interests of that class.

In the following weeks contributors to the CLR will be dealing with aspects of this analysis in greater detail. But there are some interesting points worth commenting on briefly.

In its Foreword, written by Eamon Smullen, then Director of Economic Affairs, it notes that:

This book is a study of the political economy of Southern Ireland, written from the standpoint of scientific socialism. The period dealt with in the first part of this study stretches from the Penal Laws down to the present day. In the backgronud therefore looms the two great revolutions that shaped the modern world and gave birth to the twin concepts of democracy and socialism.

It notes a self-perception of SFWP…

…as the vanguard of the Irish working class, [which] has a clear duty to explain its historic role to that class without sentiment or arrogance. This involves giving a clear outline of where the party has come from, where it now stands, and what its future course will be. This party also has a duty to acknowledge any mistakes and errors made in its long and difficult struggle to understand the history it inherited and to transcend that history.

But it positions the document…

The party which has produced this book, Sinn Fein - The Workers’ Party, is the historical product of the French Revolution. In turn, the product of the our party in history must be the creation of an Irish Industrial Revolution. The second part of this book therefore, is a systematic plan for the making of an industrial Ireland. This plan in turn means the emancipation of the Irish working class so that it can carry out its historic mission - the construction of socialism in Ireland.

Interestingly this mission is one which is focused entirely on an urban working class which is set against ‘the populist demands of a peasant society’.

As long as Ireland remained a largely rural society Republicanism could not transcend the populist democratic legacy of the French Revolution and make contact with the larger world of socialism which had been ushered in by the Industrial Revolution. Similarly, the struggle between Republicanism and Hibernian nationalism could not assume the clear form of a struggle between democratic socialism and degenerate right wing nationalism until such time as an Irish working class arrived on the stage of history in such massive numbers as to decide the outcome once and for all.

However, the Foreword argues that ‘…the 1960s saw a dramatic and historic change in the nature of class forces in Ireland. These changes left the Irish urban and industrial working class the dominant class in Ireland. This party further believes that this change took place largely under the stimulus of American monopoly capital, which, in that period, replaced British imperialism as the major economic tendency in the Irish economy.’

It proposes that…

The national question for this party has nothing to do with the setting up of ‘Independent’ Ulsters and neither is it confined simply to the removal of British troops. These are symbols not substance. For us the national question can only be formulated as peace among the divided working class in the two states in Ireland so as to allow a united industrial revolution in all Ireland and the overthrow of Anglo-American Imperialism and ultimately the construction of an Irish Workers’ Republic.

Perhaps inevitably there is mention of ‘middle class degenerate right wing nationalism’, ‘Socialist Republicans’ (with SFWP implicitly making the point that many groups that used the title were not Socialist Republicans from their point of view) and ‘Trotskyist reflections’ in a discussion on the use of terror and violence, all of which appear somewhat esoteric in a discussion on political economy.

In conclusion the Foreword positions the document…

…as a guide to Irish history, a remedy for our economic misery and an earnest of good faith.

In terms of the second part of the document, the Introduction argues that…

…because we are scientific socialists that short term plan is embedded in a larger and more detailed framework of a plan for the transformation of Irish political economy. The industrial revolution which we plan is the basis for the construction of socialism in Ireland. It is not a plan like others on offer which involves the state in subsidising the dying Irish bourgeoisie. It is not a populist plan for a return to a Tir na nOg village society, peopled by casual handymen and weatherproof farm labourers. It is not a plan for any kind of Eire Nua with its seedy echoes of an old and unlamented Ireland.

And it continues:

This book sets forth a plan for the construction of a modern urban society, resting on a powerful industrial base. That foundation is to be built by the application of the hand and brain of the Irish working class, aided by modern technology and working through the form of State companies, to the processing of our great natural resources, our land, forests, mines, gas and oil. From this industrialisation of nature will flow the endless abundance of commodities that will enable our people to move from the present realm of scarcity to the realm of freedom.

The influence of the document is difficult to tell, particularly at this remove, but it might be interesting to attempt to make some assessment.

The following links to other WP documents of this period - in the Left Archive and Dublin Opinion - are included because they are referred to in the text of the IIR:

The Public Sector and the Profit Makers

Tony O’Reilly’s Last Game

The Banks 

More from Sinn Féin The Workers' Party

Sinn Féin The Workers' Party in the archive


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  • By: Mark P Mon, 06 Sep 2010 10:42:53

    Great to have this available online. It’s probably the seminal WP document (even though it both predates the WP name and wasn’t ever quite official).

    I do however strongly suspect that there’s a chance of a riot breaking out in the comments box!

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: HAL Mon, 06 Sep 2010 12:16:44

    The notion of a planned economy,and a bit of forward thinking in this regard seems to have been disregarded by governments of late.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Mon, 06 Sep 2010 13:46:51

    Interesting how it links knowningly or unknowningly to BICO material. Can’t resist. Could you describe Harris link to FG as a surrender to the stated enemny in this.
    Aside from that I found it turgid.

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  • By: LeftAtTheCross Mon, 06 Sep 2010 13:58:37

    Aside from that I found it turgid.

    Jim, when you say “found”, as in past tense, do you mean at the time it was published? Or did you read it recently and hence the comment comes with a 2010 perspective? I’m presuming you didn’t read the entire 168 pages this morning. It’s a genuine question by the way, I’m interested in knowing your views as you stated elsewhere on the blog in the past that you were in OSF at one stage (apologies if I’ve misqouted you), so your views on how that organisation changed into SFWP are of interest, and how works such as this one were part of that journey from OSF to WP.

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  • By: Paul Wilson Mon, 06 Sep 2010 14:17:37

    This was quite good for it’s time. The perception that the objective enemy was now Multinational Capital was then and is now true. As for Harris Jim if you take the comment that the WOI was fought by Farm Labourers and Workers who were then shot by the Gombeen class in the Civil War then yes he did surrender. The language used in the writing was over the top but there are some truths contained within.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Mon, 06 Sep 2010 18:03:29

    Read it close to the time. Harris blamed the big farmers for everything at one stage. I remember a WUI congress where he blamed them for the starvation and elimination of farm labourers in the famine. I was one of the few to actuially listen with diufficuly to hime. He shouted into the mike, some mistake for a media expert. I left OSF about the same trime as Costello. I saw it coming.

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  • By: Budapestkick Mon, 06 Sep 2010 18:50:46

    In reply to Jim Monaghan.

    That’s interesting. It popped up again in the PAYE movement where the WP’s coverage was quite populist and anti-farmer rather than taking a more progressive stance on the issue.

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  • By: Mark P Mon, 06 Sep 2010 19:26:08

    In reply to Budapestkick.

    Being hostile to big farming interests was a progressive stance at almost all points in 20th Century Ireland. The ranchers were a substantial part of our indigenous bourgeoisie.

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  • By: Budapestkick Mon, 06 Sep 2010 19:57:20

    In reply to Budapestkick.

    I didn’t say otherwise but the focus on farmers (and the tone suggested farmers as a broader category than the big landowners) rather than capitalism and inequality was tapping into a broader anti-farmer mood and staying on that level rather than raising it to a more progressive and systematic approach.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 06 Sep 2010 21:41:01

    In reply to Budapestkick.

    There’s definitely a point there Budapestkick though I think Mark P is correct too. But is it a tactical rather than a strategic act on the SFWP’s part at the time? I’m presuming they’d have said their overall programme embodied the progressive and systematic approach (although in fairness it’s pretty systematic in the IIR).

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  • By: Budapestkick Tue, 07 Sep 2010 02:34:12

    In reply to Budapestkick.

    Their overall programme was undoubtedly progressive, but a tactical decision wouldn’t justify lowering the political level of one’s day to day propaganda.

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  • By: FergusD Tue, 07 Sep 2010 11:46:19

    I’ve not read this so maybe this is way off, but the snippets shown e.g. “That foundation is to be built by the application of the hand and brain of the Irish working class, aided by modern technology and working through the form of State companies, to the processing of our great natural resources, our land, forests, mines, gas and oil. From this industrialisation of nature will flow the endless abundance of commodities that will enable our people to move from the present realm of scarcity to the realm of freedom” don’t mention how this is to be done. does it envisage a “left labour” or some such govt? doe sit mention ownership and control of industry and finance (the “commanding heights” etc, or is it arguiung for a form of social democracy?

    I just have a sneaking feeling it is a stagist argument. First Ireland has to industrialise and then we have the revolution. Or am I wrong and it didn’t argue that?

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  • By: Paddy Hackett Tue, 07 Sep 2010 19:29:34

    The Irish Capital Study Group had devastatingly analysed the above mentioned work.

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  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 07 Sep 2010 19:55:26


    could you elaborate on its criticisms if possible, thanks.

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Thu, 09 Sep 2010 09:03:06

    […] Sinn Féin The Workers’ Party (SFWP): Irish Industrial Revolution: Studies in Irish Political Economy, 2nd Edition […]

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  • By: Paul Wilson Thu, 09 Sep 2010 14:35:37

    The first part of the IIR is a political economy of the south, focusing on the development of the native Capitalist class. The second section, from memory( I had a copy of the 1st edition) was a plan for full employment by 1986. This was published as a separate pamphlet and formed part of the SFWP Manifesto for the 1977 Dail election. The study concluded that an industrial revolution had already taken place and that the Working Class were the dominant class in Ireland. It was a openly Marxist analysis of the southern economy and i suppose as such it could be called ” Stagist” It wasn’t a political plan of action as such although I would think it was implicit that the struggle would be open and Democratic, though it reserved the right to use “Force” in some circumstances defining force as “The arrangements a class makes to defend itself” while rejecting Terrorism. I cant recall any other Left formations being mentioned but at that time 1977 the nearest in outlook to SFWP would probably have been the Socialist Labour Party and the CPI. Yes the study advocated the State control of the Banks and Natural Resources.

    A similar study of the Northern economy that I read at that time was “Beyond Orange and Green” by Belinda Probart which analysed the impact of Foreign investment in the North.

    As Mark P mentioned above the criticism of farmers were directed against the Ranching class, my own interpretation of the analysis was that the authors rejected the traditional populist demand for the redistribution of land as a solution to the problems of rural Ireland and instead advocated the Socialisation of agriculture.

    I thought at the time that it was a breath of fresh air and that much of the criticisms directed at it were because it offered an alternative narrative to the usual event based interpretation of Irish history. It had plenty of faults mind, but the analysis was firmly rooted as the forward points out in the Republican tradition from 1798 onwards.

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  • By: LeftAtTheCross Mon, 13 Sep 2010 08:35:11

    Little did you realise the influence of the CLR, and of the Irish Industrial Revolution. Why only this morning the IT reports that leading business figures are rubbishing the current government “smart economy” model as a vehicle for creating wealth and employment, and are pushing for a return to manufacturing as the basis of future economic sustainability.

    Will it be long before the Sindo columnists are singing the same tune (again in some cases)?

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  • By: Meanwhile back at the Seanad – the cutting edge of economic debate… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Thu, 07 Oct 2010 06:29:27

    […] to look at median incomes. Median incomes. Remarkable how a man who could have an input into the Irish Industrial Revolution could turn so completely, but then, if one looks at it in – ahem – psychological terms, […]

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  • By: Left Archive: Which way for Socialism? Communist Party of Ireland c.1977 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Mon, 22 Oct 2012 06:57:45

    […] during the 1970s, in this instance on the nature of the Sinn Féin The Workers’ Party document “The Irish Industrial Revolution”. In this respect only one other document in the Archive is even somewhat similar, that being […]

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  • By: Zora Wed, 02 Jul 2014 11:54:02

    When I originally commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new
    comments are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added I get 4 emails with the same
    comment. Perhaps there is a way you are able to remove me from that service?

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