When James Connolly, Marxian Socialist and Commander-in-Chief of the Irish revolutionary army of Easter Week, 1916, was awaiting his doom at the hands of a British firing squad, his last words spoken to his daughter Nora, expressed a fear that his comrades would not understand this action. And few of them did.
If we believe that working class struggle for better conditions within the society in which we live must, to achieve a worthwhile result, be pushed ahead to the overthrow of the social system that rests on the exploitation of the working classes, and to the organisation of society on a socialist basis instead then we can consider the question of the relevance of Connolly’s teaching to the tactics of today.
No popular movement ‘comes from nowhere’. Injustices in the past, repression and exploitation, aspirations for the future, these all play a part in historic struggles. This is especially the case with the struggle for the independence in Ireland where the fight against British invasion and oppression goes back to just after the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066.
Reaction always seeks to deny any historical context, preferring to denigrate revolutionary forces as irrational and terrorist, having no basis in the society and merely acting as murderous individuals. In Ireland itself Republicans know their history (although some of their leaders seem to have forgotten much of it themselves) so perhaps this page will be more useful for those outside that country but with a wish to understand why the ‘Irish Question’ will not go away.
A selection of the writings of James Connolly, arguably the greatest leader of the Irish people so far, can be found on a separate page.
‘Engels wished, by using Ireland’s history as an example, to unmask the system and methods of English colonial rule, and to expose its serious effects on the historical fate of both the oppressed and oppressor nations.’ From the German introduction to Engels’s uncompleted ‘History of Ireland’.
‘In addition to being an outstanding pioneer of Irish trade unionism, he was also a patriot and socialist, who saw far beyond the immediate aims of industrial organisation. He wanted an Ireland completely free of exploitation, where a worker’s hope of a job no longer depended on an employer’s ability to make a profit out of him.’
‘ .. they considered the Irish Revolution not merely the concern of the Irish people themselves, but because they knew that its success would have immense consequences for the world revolution, for the liberation of all oppressed peoples and classes.’
‘ .. we also believe that in times of war we should act as in war. We despise, utterly despise and loathe, all the mouthings and mouthers who infest Ireland in times of peace, just as we despise and loathe all the cantings about caution and restraint to which the same people treat us in times of war.’ James Connolly, ‘What is Our Programme?’, January 22, 1916.
‘The present booklet, analysing as it does the long and bitter record of class antagonism in Ireland, will prove an invaluable guide to the thousands of struggling Irish workers and farmers who, at the moment, find themselves at a loss to explain the forces that oppress them.’ From the March, 1931 Introduction.
‘If we accept that the answer to the problems of our time is a socialist society we have to start by discarding the prejudices and the outlook in which we were brought up. … Our history is far too full of heroic failures, and I sometimes think that small injections of insurrectionism have put us in very serious danger of being immune against the development of a genuine mass revolutionary movement.’ From 1st paragraph.
‘The main conflict which affects the lives and destinies of the Irish people today is that between English imperialism and the Irish nation. The great majority of the Irish people, who make up the Irish nation, are adversely affected by imperialist domination and pressure, as they have been for many years.’ The first words of the pamphlet.
‘ .. the Catholic Church in Ireland is a new Church that was constructed between the 1820s and 1840s as an integral part of the social movement by which the mass of the Gaels sloughed off their Gaelic heritage and entered European civilisation as a new people. The Gaels had not been Roman Catholics in any meaningful sense while they were Gaels. And in the light of this knowledge the great mystery about the Irish dissolves. The mystery was only a misapprehension.’ From the Introduction.
The Irish Question, John Leslie, Historical Reprints No 7, Cork Workers Club, Cork, 1974, 32 pages.
Apart from Karl Marx’s and Frederick Engels’s writings on Ireland, this pamphlet is the first known analysis of the Irish situation written from a Marxist viewpoint.
This pamphlet was originally published by the Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI). First published in New York in 1919. When he returned from America James Connolly became the National Organiser for the SPI.
‘.. as the squeezing out of the Labour leadership from the vanguard of the Independence movement was of such importance in ensuring its defeat, so it would appear that, if there is to be any future for the Irish people as a free people, it must depend upon a return by organised Labour to the politics of Connolly.’
Republicanism Part 2, 1922-1966, Repsol pamphlet No 10, Republican Eduction Department, Dublin, 1972, 44 pages.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922 was hailed at that time as a stepping stone to a Republic. It, in fact, became as time went on, a surer means for Britain to retain her hold on Ireland.
Republicanism Part 2 charts the sellout from 1922 to 1966.
The struggle of the unemployed workers in Belfast, Northern Ireland, including the heroic struggle against the armed police on October 11, contains many lessons on proper methods of work among the unemployed.
Ireland Her Own, an outline history of the Irish struggle, T A Jackson, edited and with an epilogue by C Desmond Greaves, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976, 513 pages.
Irregulars, tales of Republican Dissonance, collected by the Hungry Brigade Collective, 2014, 252 pages.
No Pasaran, The Story of the Irish Volunteers in the International Brigades in defending the Spanish Republic against International Fascism, 1936-1938, Belfast Executive of Republican Clubs, Belfast, 1975, 44 pages.
Sworn to be Free, The Complete Book of IRA Jailbreaks 1918-1921, Anvil Books, Tralee, 1971, 207 pages.
On this page I intend to post documents that have been produced since ‘The Troubles’ began again 1968 after just over 10 years of relative quiet in Northern Ireland. They come from a variety of sources, almost all pro-Republican, and I hope it will help to provide background material for those who seek to understand what has happened in the island that ‘has for long been half free, Six counties still under John Bull’s tyranny’.
This paper was prepared for a series of educational conferences organised by the leadership of the Republican Movement. It does not pretend to be a final, definitive statement of the relation between culture and revolution. It is, however, an attempt to initiate discussion on this subject which has so largely been ignored by revolutionary thinkers in Ireland.
This pamphlet focuses on 2 incidents in Derry in April 1981 when three young men lost their lives. On April 15 Paul Whitters (aged 15) was shot in the head by a plastic bullet and died 10 days later. On April 19th, Easter Sunday, Gary English (19) and James brown (18) were run over and killed by a Land Rover driven by a Lance Corporal in the British Army.
‘The moment the very name of Ireland is mentioned, the English seem to bid adieu to common feeling, common prudence and common sense, and to act with the barbarity of tyrants and the fatuity of idiots.’ Sydney Smith (1771-1845)
Belfast Bulletin No 8, The Churches in Ireland, Belfast Workers’ Research Unit, Belfast, Spring 1980, 64 pages.
Ireland, North and South, is one of the most religious countries in the world – perhaps the most religious country in the Western Christian world. And not only is it religious, but its own peculiar forms of Catholicism and Protestantism are among the most insular, fundamentalist and reactionary in existence.
Belfast Bulletin No 10, The Law in Northern Ireland, Belfast Workers’ Research Unit, Belfast, Spring 1982, 88 pages.
‘The law is the embodiment of the interests of various groups in society, the most influential one by far being the ruling class. Other groups in society, such as the working class, can struggle and have struggled against the powerful …. But the struggle of such groups to protect and advance their interests is a difficult and constant one.’
Cormac Strikes Back, Resistance cartoons from the North of Ireland, Information on Ireland, London, 1982, 116 pages.
The struggle for independence in Northern Ireland depicted in cartoons.