The National Hunger Strike 35th Anniversary Commemoration leaves Rosemount in Derry at 2pm where it will make it’s way with the Red Flag of International Socialism leading the Colour Party to the Irish Republican Socialist Movement memorial in the City Cemetery. Transport arrangements can be arranged via the IRSP HQ at Costello House, Belfast; the Derry offices of the IRSP or via your local IRSP representative
Alex McGuigan, Belfast
We are here today to commemorate the events of Easter week 1916 and also to remember our comrades and volunteers of the Irish National Liberation Army and Irish Republican Socialist Party who fell in the struggle for national liberation and socialism in Ireland. Those events in 1916 were a turning point in the struggle for Irish freedom and nationhood. The joint effort by a wide range of Republicans, nationalists, trade unionists and socialists could accurately be described as the first broad front in modern republicanism.
Our main objective has always been, and continues to be, a society free from prejudice, discrimination and exploitation, a people’s republic. A secular, stable, sovereign, sustainable, non-sectarian, socialist society, a republic organised from the bottom up, with the means of production, distribution and exchange in the collective ownership of every Irish citizen.
As we strive to create a workers republic in this vision, our current political position will never be reconcilable with either rogue State on this island. We exist solely to bring the pillars of the 26 County Free State and the Six County sectarian northern State tumbling down, to expose those institutions as implements and apparatuses of the wealthy, designed to ultimately serve their interests.
The destruction of the society for the wealthy, the expulsion of imperialist interference in the affairs of the Irish people, the cessation of carefully fostered sectarianism ,created by an alien government to divide the Irish working class, these are the tasks the Irish Republican Socialist Party busy ourselves with in the centenary year of the 1916 rising.
The IRSPs political analyses has been correct at every major political juncture over the last four decades. But comrades we can be correct and wrong at the same time. We can be correct in continuously remaining principled, in continuously using our republican socialist political programme in the interests of our class but wrong if we fail to communicate that political programme correctly to the mass of the Irish people or fail to attract our class to our cause, ultimately their cause. We must continue Connolly’s revival.
We must continue the work of the martyrs who fought and died on Vinegar Hill. We must continue in the footsteps of the Workers who walked out on strike against exploitation, who fought pitched battles on the streets of Dublin during the 1914 Lockout. We continue to stand in solidarity with the spirit of the broad front of progressive forces who rose in 1916 against foreign physical and economic control of this island.
We stand here in the tradition of all progressive republicans and socialists who stayed the course, who remained principled, even in the darkest days of struggle. We continue to stand here on the shoulders of the giants of the martyrs of the Irish National Liberation Army who rose against imperialist occupation and lie buried in this graveyard and graveyards like it all over this island.
Republican Socialism has never had a strategic code to follow. To even try and create an authoritarian set of rules in which to pursue our struggle denigrates the journey to a people’s republic. The Irish working class are the sole instrument in which we can achieve our goals. Only by working through them, by convincing them of our political programme, that our vision is their vision, that a Republican Socialist society is in their best interests, that our Republic is their Republic, that it will belong to them. Only then will we see the fruit of our revolutionary labour.
Our core principals, our tolerance, our fairness, our tradition of resistance, our uniquely Irish socialism, these are the things that will keep us on the correct path. We don’t claim to be perfect, yes mistakes have been made, but all done in the best interests of our class at any given time. We hold no romantic notions of martyrdom, like the men and women of the 1916 Rising, we are just as prepared to do what has to be done, when it has to be done.
As the struggle against foreign interference in our affairs, the fight for national liberation and socialism has evolved over the last century it has gone through many eras. From armed rebellion to civil war, from social and political activism to the dark years of the Long War from 1969 to 1998, the key for survival and growth is in identifying the transition from one era of struggle to another.
Today, 18 years after the Good Friday defeat, and after numerous treaties aimed at solidifying the peace, after the entrenchment of sectarianism in the north, after the absurdities of greed and gluttony during the boom and bust cycle of capitalism in the south, and the un-flinching implementation of cruel unjustifiable austerity, we are on the threshold of a new era of struggle and like those who have gone before us, we must embrace it and thrive. The stakes are too high to ignore the realities.
As the young capable comrades of the IRSP position themselves for leadership of this organisation, how will we be judged in 100 years time. As future generations gather at this very spot to commemorate the sacrifice for a workers republic, what will they say about the new era of struggle we are moving into? What will the history books say about us? Who knows? But it’s up to us to write that chapter of struggle, our struggle against imperialism and oppression and for national liberation and socialism.
Like the men and women who rose in 1916 we have a clear vision, we have the same motives.. To address our national sovereignty denied and to create a nation worthy of a people who have never known a nation, a nation waiting to be born, that exists today in the hearts and minds of young Republican Socialist’s.
The primacy of our political project will bring us towards the Workers Republic. It will abolish the physical border partitioning our island, from North to South, and it will destroy the economic border partitioning our island from East to West. The primacy of our political project will redistribute the wealth of the nation collectively and equally giving ownership of the nation to its entire people.
As we enter this new era of struggle it’s important to remember the words of Liam Mellows as he was led out of a battle scarred Four Courts in 1922 to see uninvolved and apathetic workers cleaning the rubble from the streets after the republicans garrisoned there were attacked by the Free Staters. The ordinary worker didn’t care for the fate of the Republicans being escorted to prison or execution, Mellows commented that “the workers are not with us”, meaning the republican side in the Civil War. We must be vigilant that we do not repeat those mistakes, we must learn from history, any future actions must lead towards the Workers Republic; there can be no backward steps. It’s only by standing shoulder to shoulder with workers in their daily struggles can we attempt to fight against the powerful forces lined up against us. We must always act in the interests of the working class.
In 1994, twenty two years ago, in the interests of our class, our armed wing adopted its “no first strike” policy in response to the changing political climate of the day. Our entire movement had an intense period of internal political discussion which led to the collective decision to move towards total cessation of armed actions in 1998.
Although we supported the peaceful resolution of the national question we could not support the Good FridayAgreement in 98. The GFA contained nothing to further advance the struggle for national liberation and socialism in Ireland. It was a defeat for the wider republican struggle. But our path had been chosen, the primacy of our political project had been ratified by the entire movement and our support base.
The ensuing years of political struggle led to the IRSPs calls in Bray 2005 for “ all anti-GFA republicans need to take a step back and engage with each other, those not on cease-fire need to call a cessation to their campaigns. Put simply it is not working; there is no support within the working class community for armed struggle to defeat imperialism, at this present time”.
Dialogue did eventually take place in 2008 which eventually led to the formation of the Irish Republican Forum for Unity, which had the potential to politically unite all strands of anti-imperialist republicanism, predictably it failed, due to the influence of British intelligence and the hidden agenda by elements within the IRFU to use it to create a new IRA, aimed at continuing failed tactics, tired rhetoric and the zero-sum political programme of the past.
The IRSP totally opposed these moves to use progressive dialogue for regressive aims and eventually withdrew our support for the IRFU over the “cloak and dagger” tactics being used. Culminating in our current political position that support for armed struggle is one of the biggest barriers to creating an anti-imperialist broad front in the interests of the working class and for the building of socialism in Ireland. The IRSP will never condemn those who engage in armed struggle, although we ask those engaged in it to analyse their actions further than the maxim “Ireland un-free shall never be at peace” or smashing normalisation.
Since 2010 to entire movement has moved forward in the spirit of the Ta Power document, continuing our ideologically principled political struggle for national liberation and socialism in Ireland whilst implementing the Ta Power principles of politics in command and collective leadership.
I will finish with an excerpt from comrade Powers analysis document which states:
“WE MUST MAKE NO SECRET OF THE FACT THAT WE ARE A REVOLUTIONARY PARTY, PREPARED TO GIVE LEADERSHIP ON THE STREETS AS WELL AS IN THE ELECTED CHAMBERS, AND THAT WE ARE OUT FOR A REVOLUTIONARY STATE”.
“What we must do is examine the above statement by Seamus Costello and draw all the necessary implications from it. A revolutionary party must have a revolutionary ideology, an ideology that enables us to analyse the world, the motive force at work in the world, and plan a campaign based on the analysis.”
“A campaign that is consistent, principled, and bold in its implementation, maxims as a guide to action is an ideology; it represents the historical interests of the working class, which through the medium of a revolutionary party, aims to overthrow the capitalist order and begin the construction of communism.”
Comrade Power continues:
“We must make no secret of the fact that we are such a party, make no secret of what we stand for and aim for. We cannot try to fool the Irish people, we must recognise that it is fatal to confuse and deceive them. “
“We must define our socialist republic, explain exactly what it entails; innuendoes, vagueness and good intentions are not enough: The road to hell is paved with good intentions! We must define all this with the utmost clarity so that the Irish people are under no illusion of what we are fighting for. “
“A revolutionary socialist party means that we must engage in revolutionary politics throughout all of Ireland, both on the streets and in the elected chambers.”
Comrade Power finishes
“It means that we must first identify the major contradictions in Ireland today, which is the continued occupation by the British of the six counties, the resulting denial of our right to self-determination and sovereignty, the resolution of the national question, partition and all the evils and divisions that spring from it, it entails a struggle against imperialism, it entails the mobilisation of the mass of Irish people in the struggle for national liberation, but it doesn’t mean confining ourselves solely to the national question.”
“As we said before, there are many strands to the anti-imperialist struggle; it means involvement in campaigns against unemployment, emigration, repression, involvement in trade unions, action groups and EVERYTHING! “
“We must agitate, propagandise and organise around these issues (but not a reformist manner). There is no easy road to a socialist republic, no short cuts; we must strive towards uniting and politicising the working class no matter what obstacles confront us in our task, for we cannot win our struggle without the working class.”
Comrades in this centenary year of the 1916 Rising its imperative that the party of Connolly, the Irish Republican Socialist Party, continue and accelerate our growth and struggle for national liberation and socialism in Ireland.”
The so-called “expert writers” on the Irish Trade Unions have no experience of the trade union culture in Ireland. Many of these trendy lefties have never attended a branch meeting, or participated in any trade union activity. Indeed some of these people live and work in Ireland and do not see the need to organise in their own non-union workplace.
According to the European Union half the working population in Ireland are trade unionists. Union density overall in Ireland was around 50% for a number of years in the 1970s and early 1980s, but by 1987 it had fallen to 43.5%. There has once again been a growth in membership since then, and current union density is estimated to lie at around 50%.
These British, French, Italian trendy lefties rather than criticise the Irish Unions should look at their own back yard; at the very least become involved in the trade union movement. Contrary to belief amongst the Continental trendy left, Irish trade unions have both a democratic content and mechanism.
Republican Socialists acknowledge the Irish Trade Union movement as the organised working class. As such, it is our only access to organise workers. It is not our aim to control and manipulate but rather to give a lead with ideas and action within our specific unions. Republican Socialists need to mobilise trade unionists on the ground to re-engage with their trade unions by participation within the democracy of trade unions at all levels.
However, it must be admitted that it was through this democracy that trade union bureaucracy set in. The struggle to transform the unions inevitably comes up against this conservative bureaucracy, whose jobs depend on maintaining their role as middlemen in the struggles and negotiations between workers and bosses. The top three officials in SIPTU receive nearly £80,000 a year.
In 1987 the propaganda machine of the Free State government and the bosses worked overtime to sell the Social Contract. Trade union leaders too were keen to sell their members the idea of social partnership; management and unions would get together to cooperate over improving the state of the Irish economy in order to share out the subsequent wealth generated. The Programme for National Recovery committed these ‘social partners ‘ to “seek to regenerate the economy and improve the social equity of our society through their combined efforts.”
As long as workers worked harder the size of the national cake would grow and consequently the workers share would grow to.
Today the government and the bosses yell bellicose attacks at workers fighting to defend themselves that there must be no conflict, no challenge to the social partnership, which has produced this redistribution of wealth to the rich, or the whole boom will fall apart.
Is it the case that the boom was created and is sustained by the social contract, which holds workers wages in check while the bosses rake in super profits? The social contract has been the cover behind which foreign capitalists have sought to boost their profits by rising productivity, that is changing working conditions to make us all work harder and longer.
As ICTU put it, partnership means moving from “the clenched fist of confrontation to the open hand of cooperation.” They are tied to the idea of social partnership, more accurately class collaboration. They act like referees in the fight between workers and bosses rather than leaders. Yet they are not the ones suffering short-term contracts or total quality management.
Nevertheless, this can change. One Republican Socialist openly opposed this bureaucracy [and] moreover, using the same democratic mechanism was elected with more than 50% more votes under his hat than the bureaucrat.
Revolutionary change of the unions is about a fight to change the leaders and in many cases the structures and rules whereby all trade union officials are elected, recallable. Moreover, to achieve this requires the organisation of the rank and file of the unions against the bureaucracy. Remember every vote in the trade unions is by postal ballot. It is worth noting that in some cases for a trade unionist to be elected on to the Executive, it takes 5 times as many votes as a local authority councillor. Trade unions might be “schools for socialism”, but trade union consciousness is not spontaneously socialist.
Some have asked the question why trade unions exist. Workers are aware what the Unions do. They know that they defend wages and conditions, and provide legal aid both inside and outside the place of work. These things are important. However, why was it important to fight for them?
The answer to this question is to be found in the foundations of trade unionism and more importantly socialism also. Workers had to fight for these things because the employers and governments were not prepared to give them until they were forced to. That is true and the force which they used was based upon their power to stop work, in other words in their power to strike. For that reason, Trade Unionists have always aimed at 100% organization, and have regarded the non-unionist as a danger and the strikebreaker as a “blackleg“.
Why have the workers had to rely upon their power to withhold labour? “For the reason that workers have no other power than their labour power.” In a capitalist society, the working class is in a distinctive position. In comparative terms, workers have no property. It is dependent upon the class, which exploits it. The capitalist, owns the factories, mills, mines, railways, transport. That is why the removal of labour by the workers can be so powerful a weapon when used on a large scale.
When Trade Unionists fight the employers on wages questions and the conditions of labour they are really fighting against consequences of the capitalist system. The existence of the private ownership of the means of production means also the private ownership of the things produced and their sale as commodities in competition with one with another.
Labour also is a commodity and those who sell their labour power, the members of the working class, manual and brain-worker alike, also compete (…)
Trade unions are the basic organisation of the Irish working-class. However; they are much more than that. They are the kernel of the future Irish society within the old.
Of course, since the workers’ organisations exist in a capitalist Ireland they are subjected to alien class pressures. This includes both the Irish Ruling class and US imperialism. These pressures weigh heavily on the upper stratum and this often leads to degeneration. We are not dealing with an ideal norm, but with the mass organisations, as they really exist in class society. The distortions that occur, especially in periods when the working class is not on the move, can produce a feeling that the unions cannot be changed. This serious mistake is contradicted by the historical experience of the movement. Repeatedly the workers have moved to transform their organisations into organs and schools of solidarity, struggle and socialism.
The history of the Irish unions is not a straight line. On the contrary, it unfolds in an uneven fashion with various contradictory shifts in one direction or another. It is constantly characterised by the struggle between two traditions and two tendencies. A revolutionary one, reflecting the unconscious will of the working class to change society, and a subservient one, reflecting the pressures of the ruling class on the upper stratum, that then attempts to block the movement to change society and lead it instead like a lamb into safe channels.
In normal periods, the consciousness of the workers is affected by the dead weight of tradition and routine. In such times, most people are prepared to accept the leadership of the Professionals, Bourgeois and reformist politicians, Members of the Dail, Parliament, councillors and trade union leaders.
The Venezuelan CTV (the old national trade union federation) sold its soul to the old two-party capitalist system and governments it produced. For 40 years, the Venezuelan trade union movement lived through its worst period, because workers were puppets in the games played by the old parties (Copei and AD) and the bosses’ organizations. Venezuelan still remember how AD (Democratic Action) decided the fate of workers, bought and sold contracts and worked with the government to control the unions and the CTV. We should remember that the bosses’ strike of 2002-3was led by the CTV and Fedecamaras (the bosses’ organization) working hand in hand. The Irish trade unions were doing just the same when they signed the social contract.
However, there are periods of crises and upheavals, when the working class is shaken out of the old apathy and begins to take action, demanding solutions, asking questions. Being close to the class, the unions reflect this changed mood very early on. Moreover, what happens in the unions today will be expressed perhaps as problems in the Irish Republican Socialist Party tomorrow?
The pioneers of Irish Labour, Connolly and Larkin were inspired by a vision. They believed that the trade union movement and Republican Socialism would become a powerful weapon of social emancipation. This revolutionary aspiration was, and in many cases remains, enshrined in trade union rules and constitutions.
Through the experience of collective struggle, the working class gradually raises itself to an understanding of the need to change society. It develops a sense of its own power and ability. One can see this in every strike. Marxists base themselves on this fact and strive to develop this tendency and bring it to the fullest expression.
The role of Marxists in the trade unions is to make conscious the unconscious will of the working class to change society. The working class has within its ranks a tremendous strength and resilience. Even when it suffers a terrible and crushing defeat, it recovers and again reasserts itself. It is like the Greek god Antaeus of ancient mythology, who when thrown to the ground, drew strength from his mother the earth.
Whatever obstacles lay in its path, the objective conditions of life force it to continually struggle against the system of capitalist exploitation. Those who argue that the class struggle is out of date are obviously out of touch with the reality of Ireland in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Trade unions must be organised to recognize that all the efforts of the working class must be directed to the goal of the conquest of political power. Their fight in the industrial field must be linked with the fight to obtain a Socialist Government which, backed by the might of the working class, would transfer the ownership of the means of production and distribution from private hands to social ownership.
(Edited by Alex McGuigan. This article by Comrade Black was originally published in The Plough, E-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Vol. 4- No 25, Monday, 19th November 2007)
This Easter marks the centenary of the Easter Rising in Dublin against British imperialist rule. The outstanding revolutionary leader of that movement was James Connolly. There have been many attempts by some Republicans to portray him simply as an Irish nationalist. But Connolly was, first and foremost, a militant workers’ leader and a Marxist. He alone in the annals of the both the Irish and Sottish Movement succeeded in developing the ideas of Marxism.
Born in 1868 into a poor family in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, James Connolly was a true proletarian. His working life commenced at the age of ten. All his life he lived and breathed the world of the working class, shared in its trials and tribulations, suffered from its defeats and exulted in its victories. Connolly was a self-educated man who became a brilliant orator and writer whose words were always aimed and intended to be understood by the Working Class, not so-called ‘Marxist academics’ ensconced in their ivory towers.
On the basis of a James Connolly’s careful study of the writings of Marx and Engels, he developed an independent standpoint, making an original philosophical and strategic contribution to the class struggle. Even more remarkably, he did this without the benefit of direct contact with the other outstanding contemporary Marxist thinkers of the time, such as Lenin, Trotsky or Luxemburg.
From the beginning, Connolly had to contend with the same problems that blighted the existence of the rest of his class: dire, desperate poverty, which at times made it all but impossible for him to feed his family. But nothing could deter him from his chosen path. With unceasing vigour and absolute single-mindedness, Connolly fought for socialism, in other words, the full socio-economic emancipation of the Irish working class. The programme of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, written by Connolly, was not a nationalist but a socialist programme based upon:
“The establishment of An Irish Socialist Republic based on the public ownership by the Irish people of the land,the means of production, distribution and exchange. Agriculture was to be administered as a collectivist public function, under boards of management elected by the agricultural population and responsible to them and to the nation at large. All other forms of labour necessary to the well-being of the community to be conducted on the same principles.”
Connolly was, first and foremost, a militant workers’ leader. The Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), under the leadership of Larkin and Connolly, led the stormy wave of class struggle that shook Ireland to its foundations in the years before 1914. This affected not only Dublin but also Belfast, where Connolly succeeded in uniting Catholic and Protestant workers in struggle against the employers. In October 1911, he led the famous Belfast Textile workers strike. Connolly organised the workers of that sector, who were predominantly low-paid, females viciously exploited and victimised by their employers. (Unfortunately in contemporary times we still see this practice carried out against workers!)
The wave of strikes was countered by the employers in the notorious Dublin lockout of 1913. Here we saw the real despicable face of the Irish bourgeoisie: grasping, repressive, reactionary. The Dublin bosses, organised by chief Gombeen William Martin Murphy, chairman of the Employers’ Federation and owner of the Irish Independent newspaper, supported by Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Fein party, set out to crush the workers and their organisations. The ITGWU replied by blacklisting Murphy’s newspapers, and he retaliated by locking out all ITGWU members.
The issue of class unity runs like a red thread through all the writings and speeches of Connolly:
“Perhaps they will see that the landlord who grinds his peasants on a Connemara estate, and the landlord who rack-rents them in a Cowgate slum, are brethren in fact and deed. Perhaps they will realise that the Irish worker who starves in an Irish cabin and the Scots worker who is poisoned in an Edinburgh garret are brothers with one hope and destiny.” (C.D. Greaves, James Connolly, p. 61.)
Throughout the lockout, Larkin and Connolly repeatedly appealed to the class solidarity of the British workers. They addressed mass rallies in England, Scotland and Wales, which were also the scene of large class-based battles in the years before the war. The appeal of the Irish workers did not fall on deaf ears. However, in Ireland the Catholic Church and assorted bigots played their part in trying to break the strike. Their cause was enthusiastically supported by the rank and file of the British movement, although the right wing Labour leaders were preparing to ditch the Irish workers as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Despite the solidarity and sympathy of the workers of Britain, the trade union leaders refused to organise solidarity strikes, the only way that victory could have been achieved. In the end, the workers were starved back to work. Bitterly, Connolly noted:
“And so we Irish workers must again go down to Hell, bow our backs to the last of the slave drivers, let our hearts be seared by the iron of his hatred and instead of the sacramental wafer of brotherhood and common sacrifice, eat the dust of defeat and betrayal. Dublin is isolated.” (p. 23)
In the years preceding World War One, the British ruling class was facing revolutionary developments in Ireland and in Britain. In order to head off the danger of revolution, they resorted to the “Orange card”. Edward Carson organised and armed the reactionary lumpenproletariat of the north east of Ireland into the Ulster Volunteer Force, who pledged to resist Irish Home Rule legislation by force, ironically, for those who claimed ‘loyalty’ to Britain they imported arms from the Brit’s belligerent rivals, Germany. Doubly ironic was the fact that they opposed by force of arms legislation passed by ‘Her Majesty’s parliament’ which they claimed allegiance to! When the Liberal government in London contemplated using the British army in Ireland, they were met with what is now known as the “Curragh Mutiny.” Connolly remained firm in the face of the reactionary rabble rousing and attempts at sectarian strife. He organised a Labour demonstration under the auspices of the ITGWU, “the only union that allows no bigotry in its ranks.” In answer to the sectarians and religious bigots, he declared class war, issuing his famous manifesto: “To the Linen Slaves of Belfast.”
In order to protect themselves against the brutal attacks of police and hired thugs of the employers, the workers set up their own defence force, the Irish Citizens’ Army (ICA). Indeed the ICA was the first Red Army. This was a socialist militia that the workers had organised themselves, on an armed basis to defend against the common enemy of the bosses and the scabs. The latter, it should be remembered, were much more numerous than at the present time, as a result of the widespread conditions of poverty and despair. The two main leaders were Connolly (himself an ex-soldier) and Captain Jack J. White DSO – a Protestant Ulsterman. But Connolly saw the ICA not only as a defence force, but as a revolutionary army, dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism and imperialism. He wrote:
“An armed organisation of the Irish working class is a phenomenon in Ireland. Hitherto, the workers of Ireland have fought as parts of the armies led by their masters, never as a member of any army officered, trained, and inspired by men of their own class. Now, with arms in their hands, they propose to steer their own course, to carve their own future.” (Workers Republic, 30 October 1915)
As we see from these lines, Connolly envisaged the ICA in class terms, as an organisation organically linked to the mass organisations of the proletariat. It was funded out of the subscriptions of the members of the union, and its activities were organised from Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the ITGWU in Dublin. The Citizens Army drilled and paraded openly on the streets of Dublin for several years before 1916. Here was no secret organisation engaged in the methods of ‘individual terrorism’* such as elements of the Narodniks but a genuine workers’ militia: the first workers’ Red Army in Europe, prepared to take armed action when appropriate.
Unfortunately, the movement in the direction of revolution in Ireland was rudely cut across by the outbreak of the First World War. In August 1914, despite all the resolutions passed by the congresses of the Socialist International, every one of the leaderships of the Social Democratic Parties betrayed the cause of socialist internationalism and voted for the War. The only honourable exceptions were the Russians, the Serbs and the Irish. Right from the start, Connolly adopted an unswerving internationalist stance, which was, in all fundamentals, identical with the position adopted by Lenin.
Commenting on the betrayal of the leaders of the Socialist International (which in latter days has become the organisational fraternity of such ville reformists as the present day British Labour Party and even the SDLP!), he wrote in Forward (15 August, 1914):
“What then becomes of all our resolutions; all our protests of fraternisation; all our threats of general strikes; all our carefully built machinery of internationalism; all our hopes for the future?”
And he reached the same conclusion as Lenin. In answer to the kind of pacifism that was the hallmark of Labour Lefts such as Ramsay MacDonald (at that time) and the leaders of the ILP, he wrote:
“A great continental uprising of the working class would stop the war; a universal protest at public meetings would not save a single life from being wantonly slaughtered.”
Connolly was not just a socialist, not just a revolutionary: he was an Internationalist to the marrow of his bones.
From the start of the War, Connolly was virtually isolated. Internationally, he had no contact. Outside of Ireland, the Labour Movement seemed to be as silent as the grave. True, there were symptoms of a revival in Britain, with the Glasgow rent strike of 1915. But Connolly feared that the workers of Britain would move too late. The idea of an uprising had clearly been taking shape in Connolly’s mind. The threat that Britain would introduce conscription into Ireland was the main issue that concentrated the mind, not only of Connolly, but also of the petit bourgeois nationalists of the Irish Volunteers. Connolly therefore pressed them to enter a militant alliance with Labour for an armed uprising against British imperialism. In the event, the leaders of the Volunteers withdrew at the last movement, leaving the Rising in the lurch.
Was Connolly right to move when he did? The question is a difficult one. The conditions were frankly unfavourable. Although there were strikes in Ireland right up to the outbreak of the Rising, the Irish working class had been exhausted and weakened by the exertions of the lockout. There were rumours that the British authorities were planning to arrest the leading Irish revolutionaries. Connolly finally decided to throw everything into the balance. He drew the conclusion that it was better to strike first. He aimed to strike a blow that would break the ice and show the way, even at the cost of his own life. To fight and lose was preferable than to accept and capitulate. When Connolly marched out of Liberty Hall for the last time that fateful morning, he whispered to a comrade: “We are going out to be slaughtered.” When the latter asked him: “Is there no chance of success?” he replied: “None whatever!”
Though small and stocky in physical stature, Connolly was undoubtedly a revolutionary socialist republican and syndicalist giant. His actions were those of a genuine revolutionary, unlike the craven conduct of the Labour leaders who backed the imperialist mechanised mass slaughter of World War One with the enthusiastic support of the Irish bourgeois nationalists. Yet, like all revolutionaries and indeed all humankind, he also made some mistakes. There is no point in denying it, although some people wish to make Connolly into a ‘nationalist saint’, while simultaneously ditching or distorting his ideas. There were serious weaknesses in the Rising itself. No attempt was made to call a general strike. On Monday 24, 1916, the Dublin trams were still running, and most people went about their business. No appeal was made to the conscripted British soldiers.
Only 1,500 members of the Dublin Volunteers and ICA answered the call to rise. The nationalists had already split between the Redmondites – the Parliamentary Irish Group – who backed the War, and the left wing. However, on the eve of the Rising, the leader of the Volunteers, Eoin MacNeil publicly instructed all members to refuse to come out. As so many times before and since, the nationalist bourgeoisie betrayed the cause of Ireland, echoing Henry Joy McCracken’s words, that,
“The rich will always betray the poor”
The behaviour of the nationalist leaders came as no surprise to Connolly, who always approached the national liberation struggle from a class point of view. He never had any trust in the bourgeois and petit bourgeois Republicans, and tirelessly worked to build an independent movement of the working class as the only guarantee for the re conquest of Ireland. Since his death there have been many attempts to erase his real identity as a revolutionary socialist and present him as just one more, ‘officially sanitised’ nationalist leader. This is utterly false! One week before the Rising he warned the Citizens Army:
“The odds against us are a thousand to one. But if we should win, hold onto your rifles because the Volunteers may have a different goal. Remember, we are not only for political liberty, but for economic liberty as well.”
From a military point of view the Rising was doomed in advance , although if the Volunteers had not been stabbed in the back at the 11th hour, the Uprising could have had far greater success. As it was, the British used heavy artillery to batter the GPO (the rebellion’s command centre) into submission. By Thursday night, after four days of heroic resistance against the most frightful odds, the Irish revolutionaries were compelled to sign an unconditional surrender.
Although the Rising itself ended in failure, it left behind a tradition of struggle that had far-reaching consequences. It was just this that Connolly almost certainly had in mind. In particular the savagery of the British army, which shot all the leaders of the Rising in cold blood after a series of vengeful courts martial, caused a wave of revulsion throughout all Ireland. James Connolly, who was badly wounded and unable to stand, was shot strapped to a chair. But the British had miscalculated. The gunshots that ended the life of this great martyr of the working class aroused a new generation of revolutionary fighters eager to revenge Ireland’s wrongs!
Leon Trotsky, writing in 1916, shortly after the Rising paid tribute to,
“the heroic defenders of the Dublin barricades. The undoubted personal courage, representing the hopes and methods of the past, is over. But the historical role of the Irish proletariat is only beginning.”
The Easter Rising was like a tocsin bell, the echoes of which rang throughout Europe. After two years of imperialist slaughter, at last the ice was broken! A courageous word had been spoken, and could be heard above the din of the bombs and cannon-fire. Lenin received the news of the uprising enthusiastically. This was understandable, given his position. The War posed tremendous difficulties for the Marxist internationalists. Lenin was isolated with a small group of supporters. On all sides there was capitulation and betrayal. The class struggle was temporarily in abeyance. The Labour leaders were participating in coalition governments with the social-patriot traitors to their class. The events in Dublin completely cut across this. That is why Lenin was so enthusiastic about the uprising. But he also pointed out:
“The misfortune of the Irish is that they have risen prematurely when the European revolt of the proletariat has not yet matured. Capitalism is not so harmoniously built that the various springs of rebellion can of themselves merge at one effort without reverses and defeats.”
Had the Rising occurred a couple of years later, it would not have been isolated. It would have had powerful reserves in the shape of the mass revolutionary movement that swept through Europe after the October Revolution in 1917. But Connolly was not to know this.
Some sorry ex-Marxists criticised the Easter Rising from a right wing standpoint, such as Plekhanov. In an article in Nashe Slovo dated 4 July, 1916, Trotsky denounced Plekhanov’s remarks about the Rising as “wretched and shameful”, noting the potential of 1916 as a catalyst for further proletarian action stated,
“Already into this uprising – under an archaic banner – it has injected its class resentment against militarism and imperialism. That resentment from now on will not subside. On the contrary, it will find an echo throughout Great Britain. Scottish soldiers smashed the Dublin barricades. But in Scotland itself coal-miners are rallying round the red flag, raised by Maclean and his friends. Those very workers, who at the moment the Hendersons are trying to chain to the bloody chariot of imperialism, will revenge themselves against the hangman Lloyd George.”
Unfortunately, this prediction was falsified by history. The tragedy of the Irish working class was that, unlike Lenin, Connolly did not create a revolutionary Marxist party, armed with theory, that would have carried on his work after his death. This was his biggest mistake, and one which had the most tragic consequences. In the same way that the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht later beheaded the German revolution, so the killing of Connolly removed any chance of the Irish working class leading the revolutionary movement against British imperialism. This was a heavy price to pay!
Connolly had created the Irish Labour Party, with a solid base in the trade unions and the working class. In effect, it was the workers of the Irish Citizens Army who had led the Easter Rising, not the petit bourgeois Volunteers. In fact, Sinn Fein played absolutely NO role in the uprising, while the Irish bourgeois nationalists openly betrayed it.
Yet, when Connolly was removed from the picture, it was the bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalists who took advantage of the situation to seize control of the movement. Tragically, the leaders of the Irish Labour Party, lacking Connolly’s grounding in Marxism, proved to be hopelessly inadequate to the tasks posed by history. Instead of maintaining Connolly’s fight for an independent class policy, they tail ended the nationalists, standing down in their favour in the general election after the War. Today, the Irish Labour Party bears no resemblance to it’s Connollyite origins and ranks as a cheerleader for the most reactionary of political policies.
Under the leadership of the bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalists, the movement was side-tracked into a guerrilla struggle, and then betrayed. Fearful of the prospect of revolution, the rotten Irish bourgeoisie reached an agreement with London to divide the living body of Ireland. All Connolly’s warnings about the treacherous role of the bourgeoisie were confirmed by the terrible events surrounding partition. The legacy of this betrayal is still with us today.
For the last 100 years, the Irish bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalists have demonstrated their complete incapacity for solving the tasks of the Irish national liberation struggle. In 1922, the bourgeois leaders signed the partition of Ireland. This problem cannot be solved on a capitalist basis. For 30 years the Provisional IRA failed to solve the national liberation struggle by an individualistic armed campaign whose aims were ultimately to gain entrance to the respectable corridors of bourgeois power, short-changing many of it’s bravest volunteers. Those tactics of ‘individual terrorism’ have absolutely nothing in common with the methods of Connolly and the Citizens Army, which were always based on class politics and organically linked to the proletariat and the mass workers organisations.
What have these methods achieved? Over three thousand deaths; the destruction of a whole generation of Irish youth; the splitting of the population of the North into two hostile camps; a terrible legacy of sectarian bitterness. And with what result? Has the border question been solved? Let us speak clearly: After the three decades of armed struggle, the cause of Irish reunification is now further away today than at any other time. Ignominiously, the leaders of the Provisionals have capitulated for the sake of a few paltry ministerial portfolios – ‘crumbs from the master’s table’. Nothing has been solved for either Catholic or Protestant working class people.
This is the terrible legacy of decades of individual terrorism and the total lack of any class or socialist perspective. True, there was a serious division in the past between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. But now in place of division we have a yawning abyss. Yet none of this would have been necessary if Connolly’s ideas and methods had prevailed.
In his lifetime, Connolly always fought for the unity of the working class above all national and religious lines. By concentrating on class issues, he succeeded in uniting the Catholic and Protestant workers in the struggle against their common enemy – the employing class. That is the only way to get out of the present mess. The only way to solve what remains of Ireland’s national problem is as a by-product of the revolutionary struggle for socialism. That was true in Connolly’s day. And it remains true today. There can be no reunification of Ireland while the working class remains divided along sectarian lines.
The socialist revolution in the North is inextricably linked to the perspective of socialist revolution in the South – and in Britain. In other words, it can only be solved with a proletarian and internationalist policy. There is still a ray of hope in the North of Ireland. Despite everything, the fundamental organisations of the working class – the trade unions – remain united. They are probably the only real non-sectarian mass organisations that still exist. This is the base upon which we can build! That would undoubtedly be the message of James Connolly, were he alive at this time.
One hundred years later, it is necessary to cut through all the fog of historical fantasy, revisionism and nationalist mystification that surrounds the events of Easter Week, and see the key role of the proletariat. What a great opportunity was missed with the death of James Connolly! But the new generation must take the lesson to heart. Connolly failed because he did not create – as Lenin created – the necessary instrument with which to change society: a revolutionary party and a revolutionary leadership!
Today, as Irish Republican Socialists, we pledge ourselves to defend the heritage of this great Marxist, fighter, and martyr of the working class. We must rescue the ideas of Connolly which have been stolen and distorted beyond recognition by Gombeen rogues whose reactionary world view would have been anathema to Connolly, socialism or the working class. We must continue the fight for Connolly’s ideas – the only ideas that can guarantee the ultimate victory for the Irish Proletariat, National Liberation and Socialism. We have began over 40+ years of struggle to create the necessary revolutionary organisation, soundly based on the programme, policy and methods of Marxism. And we must understand that such an organisation must be firmly based in the only soil in which it can grow and flourish: the trade unions and the organisation of Irish Republican Socialism. In Scotland, England and Wales only similar revolutionary measures can bring true freedom for the proletariat there – it will never come from placing an ‘X’ on a ballot sheet every few years for politicians who care nothing but for their membership of the ‘Westminster Club.’
The Easter Rising was a glorious harbinger of what is still to come. The Revolution was left unfinished in 1916. The task now falls upon our shoulders, those who see the struggle for National Liberation and Socialism as symbiotic, who march behind the Red Flag of Socialism and the Starry Plough. Seamus Costello, who Nora Connolly-O’Brien, the daughter of Irish Marxist philosopher and Easter Rising leader, James Connolly, said:
“Of all the politicians and political people with whom I have had conversations, and who called themselves followers of Connolly, he was the only one who truly understood what James Connolly meant when he spoke of his vision of the freedom of the Irish people.”
It is correct to say that the Red thread of Connolly’s Revolutionary Republican Socialism still runs brightly through the Irish Republican Socialist Movement co-founded by Seamus Costello. It would be folly to concur that Connolly would ever have condemned Costello’s politics or his movement’s aims, in fact it echoes Connolly’s vision for Ireland’s proletariat, when he stated,
The Plough and the Stars is an on-line publication that is steadfastly supportive of the founding principles of the Irish Republican Socialist Party. However, the views expressed within are solely those of the various authors/
This blog contains articles, poetry, digital media and announcements by a variety of authors.
This blog is strongly opposed to Zionism, Fascism/Neo-Nazism, racism, religious sectarianism, sexism, homophobia, and neo-liberalism.
Guest articles are welcomed from authors, who can contact the admin via the blog's front page.
Saoirse go deo!
Let us free Ireland! Never mind such base, carnal thoughts as concern work and wages, healthy homes, or lives unclouded by poverty.
Let us free Ireland! The rackrenting landlord; is he not also an Irishman, and wherefore should we hate him? Nay, let us not speak harshly of our brother – yea, even when he raises our rent.
Let us free Ireland! The profit-grinding capitalist, who robs us of three-fourths of the fruits of our labour, who sucks the very marrow of our bones when we are young, and then throws us out in the street, like a worn-out tool when we are grown prematurely old in his service, is he not an Irishman, and mayhap a patriot, and wherefore should we think harshly of him?
Let us free Ireland! “The land that bred and bore us.” And the landlord who makes us pay for permission to live upon it. Whoop it up for liberty!
“Let us free Ireland,” says the patriot who won’t touch Socialism. Let us all join together and cr-r-rush the br-r-rutal Saxon. Let us all join together, says he, all classes and creeds. And, says the town worker, after we have crushed the Saxon and freed Ireland, what will we do? Oh, then you can go back to your slums, same as before. Whoop it up for liberty!
And, says the agricultural workers, after we have freed Ireland, what then? Oh, then you can go scraping around for the landlord’s rent or the money-lenders’ interest same as before. Whoop it up for liberty!
After Ireland is free, says the patriot who won’t touch socialism, we will protect all classes, and if you won’t pay your rent you will be evicted same as now. But the evicting party, under command of the sheriff, will wear green uniforms and the Harp without the Crown, and the warrant turning you out on the roadside will be stamped with the arms of the Irish Republic. Now, isn’t that worth fighting for?
And when you cannot find employment, and, giving up the struggle of life in despair, enter the poorhouse, the band of the nearest regiment of the Irish army will escort you to the poorhouse door to the tune of St. Patrick's Day. Oh! It will be nice to live in those days!
“With the Green Flag floating o’er us” and an ever-increasing army of unemployed workers walking about under the Green Flag, wishing they had something to eat. Same as now! Whoop it up for liberty!
Now, my friend, I also am Irish, but I’m a bit more logical. The capitalist, I say, is a parasite on industry; as useless in the present stage of our industrial development as any other parasite in the animal or vegetable world is to the life of the animal or vegetable upon which it feeds.
The working class is the victim of this parasite – this human leech, and it is the duty and interest of the working class to use every means in its power to oust this parasite class from the position which enables it to thus prey upon the vitals of labour.
Therefore, I say, let us organise as a class to meet our masters and destroy their mastership; organise to drive them from their hold upon public life through their political power; organise to wrench from their robber clutch the land and workshops on and in which they enslave us; organise to cleanse our social life from the stain of social cannibalism, from the preying of man upon his fellow man.
Organise for a full, free and happy life FOR ALL OR FOR NONE!
The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.
Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from the thought objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. Hence, in The Essence of Christianity, he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-judaical manifestation. Hence he does not grasp the significance of “revolutionary”, of “practical-critical”, activity.
The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.
The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.
The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.
Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis.
But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self-contradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionized in practice. Thus, for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be destroyed in theory and in practice.
Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, wants contemplation; but he does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human-sensuous activity.
Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual.
In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.
Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence, is consequently compelled:
To abstract from the historical process and to fix the religious sentiment as something by itself and to presuppose an abstract – isolated – human individual.
Essence, therefore, can be comprehended only as “genus”, as an internal, dumb generality which naturally unites the many individuals.
Feuerbach, consequently, does not see that the “religious sentiment” is itself a social product, and that the abstract individual whom he analyses belongs to a particular form of society.
All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.
The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.
The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.