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by MARKIN Saturday, Apr. 15, 2006 at 11:05 AM



A word. They tell a story about James Connolly that just before the start of action in Easter, 1916 he told the members of the Irish Citizen’s Army (almost exclusively workers, by the way) that if the uprising was successful to keep their guns handy. More work with them might be necessary against the nationalist allies of the moment organized as the Irish Volunteers. The Volunteers were mainly a petty bourgeois formation and had no intention of fighting for a Socialist Republic. True story or not, I think that gives a pretty good example of the strategy and tactics to be used in colonial and third world struggles by the working class. Would that the Chinese Communists in the 1920’s and other colonial and third world liberation fighters since then had paid heed to that strategic concept.

James Connolly, June 5, 1868-May 12, 1916, was of Scottish Irish stock. He was born in Edinburgh of immigrant parents. The explicit English colonial policy which created the Irish diaspora produced many such immigrants from benighted Ireland to England, America, Australia and the far flung parts of the world. Many of these immigrants left Ireland under compulsion of banishment. Deportation was a standard English response in the history of the various “Troubles’ from Cromwell’s time on.

Connolly, like many another Irish lad left school for a working life at age 11. The international working class has produced many such self-taught and motivated leaders. Despite the lack of formal education he became one of the preeminent left-wing theorists of his day in the pre- World War I international labor movement. In the class struggle we do not ask for diplomas, although they help, but commitment to the cause of the laboring masses. Again, like many an Irish lad Connolly joined the British Army, at the age of 14. In those days the British Army provided one of the few ways of advancement for an Irishman who had some abilities. As fate would have it he was stationed in Dublin. I believe the English must ruse the day they let Brother Connolly near weapons and near Dublin. As a phrase in an old Irish song goes- ‘ Won’t Old Mother England be Surprised’.

By 1892 Connolly was an important figure in the Scottish Socialist Federation which, by the way, tended to be more militant and more Celtic and less enamored of parliamentarianism than its English counterpart. The failure to gather in the radical Celtic elements was a contributing factor to the early British Communist Party’s sterility. Most of the great labor struggles of the period cam from the leadership in Scotland and Ireland. Connolly became the secretary of the Federation in 1895. In 1896 he left the army and established the Irish Socialist Republican Party. The name itself tells the program. Ireland at that time was essentially a classic English colony so to take the name Republican was to spit in the eye of the English. Even today the English have not been able to rise to the political level of a republic. Despite Cromwell’s valiant attempt and no thanks to today's British Labor Party’s policies this is still sadly the case. All militants can and must support this call- Abolish the monarchy, House of Lords and the state Church of England.

In England Connolly was active in the Socialist Labor Party that split from the moribund, above-mentioned Social Democratic Federation in 1903. During the period before the Easter uprising he was heavily involved in the Irish labor movement and acted as the right hand man to James Larkin in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. In 1913 when Larkin led a huge strike in Dublin but was forced to leave due to English reprisals Connolly took over. It was at that time that Connolly founded the Irish Citizens Army as a defense organization of armed and trained laboring men against the brutality of the dreaded Dublin Metropolitan Police. Although only numbering about 250 men at the time their political goal also became to establish an independent and socialist Ireland.

Connolly stood aloof from the leadership of the Irish Volunteers, the nationalist formation based on the middle classes. He considered them too bourgeois and unconcerned with Ireland's economic independence. In 1916 thinking they 'were merely posturing, and unwilling to take decisive action against England, he attempted to goad them into action by threatening to send his Irish Citizens Army against the British Empire alone, if necessary. This alarmed the members of the more militant Irish Republican Brotherhood, who had already infiltrated the Volunteers and had plans for an insurrection as well. In order to talk Connolly out of any such action, the IRB leaders, including Tom Clarke and Patrick Pearse, met with Connolly to see if an agreement could be reached. During the meeting the IRB and the ICA agreed to act together at Easter of that year.

When the Easter Rising occurred on April 24, 1916, Connolly was Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, and as the Dublin brigade had the most substantial role in the rising, he was dc facto Commander in Chief. Following the surrender he was executed by the British for his role in the uprising. Although he was so badly injured in the fighting that he was unable to stand for his execution he was shot sitting in a chair. The Western labor movement, to its detriment no longer produces enough such militants as Connolly (and Larkin, for that matter). Learn more about this important socialist thinker and fighter. ALL HONOR TO HIS MEMORY.

A word on the Easter Uprising. The easy part of analyzing the Uprising is the knowledge, in retrospect, that it was not widely supported by people in Ireland and militarily defeated by the British forces send in main force to crush it and therefore doomed to failure. Still easier is to criticize the strategy and tactics of the action and of the various actors, particularly in underestimating the British Empire’s frenzy to crush any opposition to its main task of victory in World War I. Although, I think that would be a point in the uprising’s favor under the theory that England’s (or fill in the blank) woes were Ireland’s (or fill in the blank) opportunities. The hard part is to draw any positive lessons of that national liberation experience for the future. If nothing else remember this though, and unfortunately the Irish national liberation fighters (and other national liberation fighters later, including later Irish revolutionaries) failed to take this into account in their military calculations, the British (or fill in the blank) were entirely committed to defeating the uprising including burning that colonial country to the ground if need be in order to maintain control. In the final analysis, it was not their metropolitan homeland, so the hell with it. Needless to say, British Labor’s position was almost a carbon copy of His Imperial Majesty’s. Labor leader Arthur Henderson could barely contain himself when informed that James Connolly had been executed. That should, even today, make every British militant blush with shame. Unfortunately, the demand for British militants and others today is the same as then- All British Troops Out of Ireland.

In various readings I have come across a theory that the Uprising was the first socialist revolution in Europe, predating the Bolshevik Revolution by over a year. Unfortunately, there is little truth to that idea. Of the Uprising’s leaders, only James Connolly was devoted to the socialist cause. Moreover, while the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army were prototypical models for urban- led national liberation forces such organizations, as we have witnessed in later history, are not inherently socialistic. The dominant mood among the leadership was in favor of political independence and/or fighting for a return to a separate traditional Irish cultural hegemony. Let poets rule the land. As outlined in the famous Proclamation of the Republic posted on the General Post Office in Dublin, Easter Monday, 1916 the goal of the leadership appeared to be something on the order of a society like those fought for in the European Revolutions of 1848, a left bourgeois republic. Some formation on the order of the Paris Commune of 1871 or the Soviet Commune of 1917 did not figure in the political calculations at that time.

As noted above, James Connolly clearly was skeptical of his erstwhile comrades on the subject of the nature of the future state and apparently was prepared for an ensuing class struggle following the establishment of a republic. That does not mean that revolutionary socialists could not support such an uprising. On the contrary, Lenin, who was an admirer of Connolly for his anti-war stance in World War I, and Trotsky stoutly defended the uprising against those who derided the Easter Rising for involving bourgeois elements. Participation by bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements is in the nature of a national liberation struggle. The key, which must be learned by militants today is who leads the national liberation struggle and on what program. As both Lenin and Trotsky made clear later in their own revolutionary experiences in Russia revolutionary socialists have to lead other disaffected elements of society to overthrow the existing order. There is no other way in a heterogeneous class-divided society. Moreover, in Ireland, the anti-imperialist nature of the action against British imperialism during wartime on the socialist principle that the defeat of your own imperialist overlord, as a way to open the road to the struggle merited support on that basis. Chocky Ar La.


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