Although James Connolly was murdered by the British Empire more than a hundred years ago his analysis of the situation in Ireland then is still valid today.
The Teachings of James Connolly
Connolly was a Marxist Socialist. This truth is at the heart of his life’s work; without it his struggles and sacrifice cannot be understood.
James Connolly and Irish Freedom
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.
The Relevance of James Connolly in Ireland To-day
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.
James Connolly was, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest Irish Republican and Socialist leader – but he was born in Edinburgh. Not too much of a surprise when you realise that due to the conditions under which Irish workers were forced to live under the rule of the British that running away was preferable to staying and fighting. Connolly’s parents left, he returned to take the fight to the British Imperialists.
Unlike most of the leaders that preceded him, and most that have come since, he understood that the only way that the Irish would be truly free was when the working class and peasantry took control of their own country, and not allowing Irish exploiters to take the place of the British variety. His adoption of the ideas of Marxism make him stand out in Irish Republican history. He realised that national liberation for the majority meant nothing if it did not come, at the same time, with their freedom from capitalist exploitation.
He also understood that if they remained unarmed the working class would always face defeat from a ‘armed to the teeth’ occupation force. One of his most important achievements was the formation of the Irish Citizen’s Army, an armed (although initially not with fire arms) and organised group of men who defended workers in the 1913 Great Dublin Lock Out. It was from this organisation that the Irish Republican Army (the IRA) evolved – though too often without the same ideological basis.
James Connolly also stands as one of the few who realised that the war of the capitalists, that sent millions to the slaughter fields of the First World War, was yet another ‘game’ of capitalism and imperialism and which true working class leaders should shun like the plague. Although the so-called working class leaders and parties of the Second Socialist International, had declared that they would not call upon their respective working classes to fight in an imperialist war (in The Stuttgart Resolution of 1907 and The Balse Manifesto of 1912) they almost all adopted nationalistic and jingoistic stances once war was declared in 1914 – including the British Labour Party. The two international leaders who stood on principal at this moment of decision were Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (who later led the Russian working class and peasantry to victory in the 1917 October Revolution) and James Connolly.
Despite this seeming understanding of revolutionary reality of the early part of the 20th century Connolly ended up in the futile and doomed to failure Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. Whereas Lenin had learnt from the past Connolly still had aspects of Blanqui‘s (the 19th century French revolutionary) ‘small group who will stir the rest of the population’ mentality. They were isolated by the much more organised British Imperialist forces, even at a time when they were involved in the biggest war (at that time) in world history on the other side of the English Channel. In less than a week the uprising was crushed and 12 days later Connolly was shot by firing squad by the vengeful British.
In a chair!
Connolly had been wounded in the ankle and was unable to stand so the arrogant British provided him with a seat so he wouldn’t be inconvenienced. This attitude that the British displayed in Ireland, that they had displayed another part of the world before and since, angered the Irish working class and although the Rising was not the most astute of political moves it did result in a realisation that the British had only total contempt for the Irish and their sensibilities.
This was immortalised in a verse of the 1957 song by Dominic Behan, the Patriot Game
They told me how Connolly was shot in his chair, His wounds from the fighting all bloody and bare. His fine body twisted, all battered and lame They soon made me part of the patriot game.
It’s unfortunate that revolutionary movements around the world have since made similar mistakes in ensuring the success of a proletarian revolution, perhaps most notably the idea of the ‘foco’ followed by Che Guevara in Bolivia in the late 1960s.
Nonetheless Connolly left a legacy in his writings that could be useful for revolutionaries in Ireland and other parts of the world. For that reason as many as possible are reproduced here.
Click on the image to download a pdf version of the article/book.
Erin’s Hope and The New Evangel
Erin’s Hope is Connolly’s first published pamphlet and is a strong exposition of the Socialist case published in 1897.
The New Evangel is a collection of short essays published in 1901.
The Axe to the Root and Old Wine in New Bottles
The Axe to the Root and Old Wine in New Bottles are two articles where Connolly stresses the need for solidarity, militancy and organisation in the work of Trade Unions in the class struggle.
Labour in Irish History
Labour in Irish History is not an academic tract but is based upon well researched facts. Here Connolly passionately argues that for the Irish working class to know where they are going in the future they should be aware of their past.
Socialism Made Easy
Contains two articles:
Workshop Talks takes the form of statements made by a typical skeptical worker and Connolly’s refutations.
In Political Action of Labour argues for the necessity of industrial and political unity in any trade union or class struggle.
The Re-Conquest of Ireland
The Re-Conquest of Ireland develops the ideas of Labour in Irish History showing that the domination of Ireland by imperialism was political, economic and social.
Workshop Talks – The Meaning of Socialism
Workshop Talks takes the form of statements made by a typical skeptical worker and Connolly’s refutations.
In Revolutionary Warfare Connolly analyses insurrections, revolutions and uprisings in the previous 150 years, or so, with the argument that the Irish Citizen’s Army should develop from a defensive to an offensive force of the working class.
The James Connolly Songbook
‘No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses, they will seek a vent in song for aspirations, the fears and hopes, the loves and hatreds engendered by the struggle.’ James Connolly.
The People’s War, initiated on 17th May 1980 by the Communist Party of Peru, was one of the most significant revolutionary events of the late 20th century. Although there had been many revolutionary movements in Central and Latin America since the end of World War Two the revolution in Peru was the first led by a Party that followed a clear Marxist-Leninist ideology. Through the lessons learnt and from the experiences gained in the first seven to eight years of the struggle the Party also put forward the argument that Marxism-Leninism had developed (also through the experiences in China up to 1976) to a new and higher form, that of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
Following the Maoist principals of acting like fish in water the Party (also known by outsiders under the name Sendero Luminoso – Shining Path) embedded itself amongst the exploited and oppressed in the Andean countryside and established such a power base that there was a real chance of the collapse of the capitalist state in Peru.
That was not to be due to the capture of Abimael Guzmán-Presidente Gonzalo, the chairman of the Party on September 12th 1992.
However, the Party did produce a considerable amount of material, most of it written by Presidente Gonzalo, which analysed the struggle of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist revolutionaries in a period following the success of the revisionists and ‘capitalist-roaders’ in the People’s Republic of China.
Although severely damaged by the capture of Abimael Guzmán the Party (and the People’s War) continued in Peru, with the Party continuing to produce statements and other material for a number of years. However, the dependence of the Party (from its earliest days) on a single leader meant that the struggle was never able to regain the momentum of the 1980s. The reasons for this collapse of the People’s War is something that needs investigation at some time in the future.
Those links below which are not followed by further information are to documents that were obtained by way of optical recognition software from original material. Although these documents have been checked there’s a chance that typographical mistakes might well still exist. Apologies for that.
This is not the complete collection of material. There are still a number of documents from 1990 onwards to be added. They will be in due course.
As will also be noticed the vast majority of the material is only in Spanish.
Interview with Chairman Gonzalo. Interview with the Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Peru conducted by the editors of El Diario newspaper. The interview took place in July 1988. Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru, Berkley, 1991. 105 pages.
El Partido, la Guerra Popular y el Boicot, Comite Central, Partido Communist del Peru, Ediciones Bandera Roja, reproducido por el Movimiento Popular Peru en Francia, 1989, 191 pages. Collection of articles published between 1977 and 1988 (in Spanish).
Quien es el Presidente Gonzalo?, Colombia, 1992, 12 pages. Reproduction of three articles from the newspaper El Diario. Published very soon after Presidente Gonzalo’s capture in September 1992. (Apologies for poor reproduction.)
Gloria al Dia de la Resistencia Heroica! Primero Aniversario, Comité de Socorro Popular del Perú, May 1993, 161 pages. Unfortunately this was taken from a poor copy of the original and some pages are difficult to understand. However, the book is quite unique in the pictures that accompany the timeline – it’s almost a graphic novel. Some of the indistinct pages are of documents that can be found in other locations in this post so it’s hoped that not all information and understanding will be lost.
Luchar por un Acuerdo de Paz y Sentar Bases para el II Congreso! (Acuerdo de Paz, Lucha de Clases y Lucha de Dos Lineas), Prisoneros de las Luminosas Trincheras de Combate, Peru, November 1993, 24 pages. A potentially suspect document due to the speed at which it appeared so soon after Abimael Guzmán’s ‘letter” from prison.