‘Whose Emergency Is It?’ Wartime Politics and the Irish Working Class, 1939–45

  • Donal Ó Drisceoil

Abstract

The economic impact of the Second World War provided the impetus for class-based politics to make a rare, fleeting appearance on the southern Irish political stage. At centre-stage, however, stood Fianna Fáil, armed with powerful populist rhetoric, peerless political craftiness and extraordinary state power, ready and able to repel the ‘sectional’ interloper and maintain business as usual. Fianna Fáil’s classic populist appeals to ‘the people’ for ‘unity’ in the ‘national interest’ and rejection of the divisiveness of class politics, plus the promotion of Eamon de Valera as national leader, had heightened relevance and resonance in the context of the ‘Emergency’, as the war years in Ireland were known.1 The party made skilful use of the allparty-supported policy of neutrality for its political advantage, while arbitrary emergency powers were used to pin down wages and restrict workers’ rights, as well as to marginalise and suppress the attempts of the temporarily resurgent left to force class issues onto the national political agenda. The politico-cultural bludgeon of Catholic nationalism was an added weapon, wielded to good effect. The war years provide a case study of the fate of class-based, socialist politics in the Irish state. Most of the familiar elements of that story of failure are present: the timidity, conservatism and consensus reflex of the Labour leadership; the separation of the political and economic wings of the labour movement; the surrender of the Irish communist movement to Soviet priorities; the limitations of entryism as a far-left strategy; the failure of the left to compete for the anti-imperialist card; the ‘safety valve’ of emigration; the power of Catholic Church-inspired anti-socialism and the reliability of the ‘red scare’ strategy; and, crucially, the political skill of the dominant Fianna Fáil party in countering challenge from the left and maintaining its core working-class support.

Keywords

Sugar Migration Europe Steam Income 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    On the pro-Allied nature of Irish policy, see, most recently, Eunan O’Halpin, Defending Ireland: The Irish State and Its Enemies since 1922 (Oxford, 1999)Google Scholar
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© Donal Ó Drisceoil 2005

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  • Donal Ó Drisceoil

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