Starry Plough of the Congress
|Paramilitary wing||Connolly Column
|Colours||Blue and white|
The Republican Congress (Irish: An Chomhdháil Phoblachtach) was an Irish republican and Marxist-Leninist political organisation founded in 1934, when pro-communist republicans left the Anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army. The Congress was led by such anti-Treaty veterans as Peadar O'Donnell, Frank Ryan and George Gilmore. In their later phase they were involved with the Communist International and International Brigades paramilitary; the Connolly Column.
The group claimed: "We believe that a republic of a united Ireland will never be achieved except through a struggle which uproots capitalism on its way." They were not a political party as such, but rather an extraparliamentary oganisation dedicated to creating a "workers' republic," which leaned towards the Communist Party of Ireland. They split mostly over whether they should be a party in their own right.
Two councillors were elected as Republican Congress candidates in Westmeath and Dundalk in 1934. At the Republican rally at Bodenstown in 1934, clashes occurred between Republican Congress supporters and IRA members. Congress supporters among the crowd of about 17,000 were estimated at between 600 and 2,000. The IRA leadership did not authorise banners other than its own and ordered the Congress banners to be seized. The clash was given a sectarian element by the attack on 36 Congress members from the predominantly Loyalist parts of West Belfast - they formed the Shankill Road branch - who carried a banner reading, "Unite Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter to break the connection with Capitalism".
Following moderate success in agitating on behalf of the workers the Congress split at its first annual conference held in Rathmines Town Hall on September 8-9, 1934. The split occurred mainly due to organisational disunity between two factions. One side believed that a united front of leftist republicans could challenge the dominance of the mainstream political parties and form a "republic". The opposing faction believed that a political party should be formed in order to fight for a "workers' republic". The former resolution was passed following support from O'Donnell and the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI). Those calling for a "workers' republic" withdrew their support and left the Congress. The group went into decline thereafter and was essentially defunct by 1936. The Congress had its last hurrah on the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War when a group of Irishmen fought for the Second Spanish Republic in the Connolly Column (as part of the International Brigades founded by Soviet Union's Communist International).
The collapse of the Republican Congress is representative of the failure of the inter-war Irish socialist republican movement. The inability to form an organisationally coherent group was ultimately the crippling shortcoming of socialist republicanism.
- Athlone Manifesto (8 April 1934), quoted in Republican Congress 5 May, 1934