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.
‘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.’
‘ .. 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.
‘.. 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.’
‘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’.
‘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.
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.
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.
‘ .. 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.’
‘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 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.
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.
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.
‘ .. 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.
Irregulars, tales of Republican Dissonance, collected by the Hungry Brigade Collective, 2014, 252 pages.