“If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs. England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that Freedom whose cause you had betrayed. Nationalism without Socialism – without a reorganisation of society on the basis of a broader and more developed form of that common property which underlay the social structure of Ancient Erin – is only national recreancy.[a disloyality to a belief]” – James Connolly, “Socialism and Nationalism”
There have been 29 general elections to the Dàil, Ireland’s parliament, since independence. Ireland’s Labour Party have won precisely none. When socialism goes up against nationalism in a country where all civic politics is about the nation, then Labour doesn’t stand a chance. Eamon de Valera’s specific strategy – was to smother the Labour movement in the embrace of Fianna Fáil. His nationalist party talked the language of social democracy with enough rhetoric to rob Labour of a distinctive voice, while never delivering the goods.
After one week of fighting, the 1916 Dublin Uprising was bloodily suppressed. Lacking any real basis of support, the insurgents did not have the slightest chance of victory. Connolly was wrong when he thought that it would ignite the class movement in Europe. The idea that any group of workers can be incited into action by heroic example and martydom is a false one. Only when the conditions for struggle actually exist, only when the majority of people are prepared to do battle and make enormous sacrifices, can a revolution movement take place. Many of those who advocate the false tactics of the barricades and street-fighting today draw, in part, their inspiration from the Easter rising. If they removed their blindfolds they would discover that the actual experience of the rising proved the futility of such action. The conditions for revolution action expressly did not exist in 1916. They did not exist in Ireland and they did not exist in Europe. In Ireland, the IRB and the Citizen Army were only a handful in number. As a self-avowed Marxist, Connolly forgot that it will take the working class to change society, not a handful of individuals to do it for them
Connolly used his charismatic authority as a party leader, and a trade union organiser, to drag his men behind him. He ignored criticism from the other leaders of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union because his sights were set on action, no matter how futile. A large section of the of the workers’ movement was destroyed and into the vacuum stepped in bourgeois opportunists ready to lavish praise Connolly, in order to divert the working class struggle. It was made all the more easier because Connolly had not fought for a workers’ demands on the question of hours of work, of wages, of factory conditions, and of the ownership of the land and industry but a purely nationalist proclamation.
Those who advocate alliances between the workers’ organisations and pro-capitalist political parties on the basis of Connolly’s participation in the 1916 rising should heed the consequences. Connolly himself ignored his own advice. On January 22, 1916 he made a statement which many in the Left in Scotland who hang on to the coat-tails of the pro-independent nationalists should understand to-day: “The labour movement is like no other movement. Its strength lies in being like no other movement. It is never so strong as when it stands alone.” At the turn of the century the French socialist leader, Millerand, accepted a position in the French cabinet. Connolly denounced this betrayal, on the basis that a workers’ party should “accept no government position which it cannot conquer through its own strength at the ballot box”. He denounced Millerand’s stand by saying that “what good Millerand may have done is claimed for the credit of the bourgeois republican government: what evil the cabinet has done reflects back on the reputation of the socialist parties. Heads they win, tails we lose.”
Post-war Ireland saw the Limerick Soviet in the south and, in the north, the Belfast 40-Hour Strike where “Bolsheviks and Sinn Feiners” were leading astray many“good loyalist protestants” to the dismay of the Orange Lodge, where the composition of the strike committee was a majority of Protestant, but the chairman was a Catholic. Sectarianism was being challenged. Working class militancy had entered the Shankill Road and Sandy Row. The National Union of Railwaymen in a resolution at a conference in Belfast stated:“without complete unity amongst the working classes, (we should not allow either religious or political differences to prevent their emancipation) which can be achieved through a great international brotherhood the world over, no satisfactory progress could be made.”
Instead of a Connolly to seize the opportunity for working class unity and solidarity, we had De Valera declaring “Labour must wait”, the interests of the nation must come first (read “the interests of the capitalists”). It was to be national unity, not class unity. By pressing their interests the workers were said to be “endangering” the unity of the republican forces! On the land where the tenants were seizing the estates only to find themselves held back by Sinn Fein and the IRA, who even went to the lengths of carrying out evictions in order to break the back of the land-seizure movement.
The labour movement and working-class unity were the real victims of the 1916 Dublin Rising by subordinating their class interests to the nationalist interests of the capitalist.
The following is the text of a leaflet that dates from 1949, and was produced by the Dublin Socialist Group for distribution at events organised in the city to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the execution of James Connolly. The socialists who made up the Dublin Socialist Group later helped form the World Socialist Party of Ireland.
FELLOW-WORKERS ! TRADE UNIONISTS !
May the 15th, 1949 – thirty-three years after his death which you now commemorate, and less than thirty-three days after the roar of guns ushered in “The Republic of Ireland”. What relationship is there between these two events? That is the question which, on this day, it is only fitting that you should ask yourselves. Once a year you can march through the streets in your thousands to commemorate his death yet every other day of the year your actions – your very ideas – are, apparently, in violent conflict with all that the man lived for. Is that an unwarranted assumption? Emphatically, we reply: NO. The truth remains the truth, however unpalatable it may be.
We have not the least desire to advance any claim to James Connolly, nor do we consider ourselves the especial inheritors of all of his ideas. But to-day, when everybody acclaims him and sings his praise, we think it very necessary to re-state the simple but vital fact, namely, that JAMES CONNOLLY WAS OF THE WORKING CLASS. His ideas are not, and never will be, the sole preserve, nor in the custody, of any particular section BUT THE WORKING CLASS. Here it is as well to recall – when many are clamouring to bask in the light of the but recently-discovered glory of Connolly – that his ideas were vehemently denounced, and his very person attacked, by the representatives of those interests who, to-day, so anxiously press their claim to his name. We would not be so much concerned at this were it not for the fact that the workers have been “taken in” by these spurious claims. You, fellow-workers, have been duped; for you have supported political parties which have acted in the interests of any and every class in and out of this county but the working class. And you have supported them and placed them in power mainly on the strength of their nationalism and Republicanism. You, who now march to-day in memory of James Connolly, have you forgotten his “Labour in Irish History”? Have you forgotten the thoughts he put on paper in order that you might the better be able to wage your struggle against a social system which condemns you to poverty and insecurity? We think you have forgotten. At the cost of remembering the symbolic moment of his death in a national struggle you’ve forgotten the toiling years of his life on behalf of the working class. Connolly didn’t struggle, and write and speak, and organise, in order that the workers might adhere to this or that Republican constitutional formula; no, not for that. There was no James Connolly if such a man did not desire and work to change the world, not its paper constitutions.
And you, fellow-workers, who, in your Trade Unions and political parties stoutly maintain that you strive to follow in his footsteps, do you direct your efforts towards changing the world? Evidence that you do is certainly very much lacking; for on every occasion you’ve entered the polling-booth you’ve either returned you out-going set of masters or merely changed them for a new set. Not yet have you evinced any great desire to get rid of the master class AS A WHOLE. And that, simply, is what is meant by “changing the world”.
FELLOW-WORKERS ! As you may march, as you may stand at the meeting-place, to-day, why not summarise your present position in your own mind – after twenty-seven years of native government, and after twenty-seven days of “The Republic of Ireland”? Line up your wage-packet (assuming you’re not one of “the 75,000”) alongside the cost-of-living figure: which is higher? Dwell a little on the plight of the thousands “living” in the tenements – that is, of course, if you happen to be blessed (!) with a suburban (!!) “working class house”. Recall the thousands who are unemployed (if you’re not one of them, of course), and remember they’re the ever-present threat of capitalism which hangs over your head – you may join their ranks to-morrow. Again, tuberculosis and other medically-classified poverty diseases are capitalism’s constant threat to the health and happiness of your children. And topping these and the other social evils you know only too well the experience is the threat of another capitalist war – yes, another, and promising to be everything (and much more) that all the previous wars of history weren’t together.
That is the real world you live in. Say – if you wish – that you reside in a portion of that world known as “The Republic of Ireland”. So what? Does that alter your position one bit? Of course not. And that world, reflected in the capitalist system of that country and the conditions of the Irish working class, surely deserves to go. And it will go WHEN THE WORKING CLASS WILLS IT. If James Connolly can be said to have left a message for the working class, it is this: THE WORKING CLASS MUST ACHIEVE ITS EMANCIPATION ITSELF AND IT CAN ONLY DO SO THROUGH THE ABOLITION OF THE CAPITALIST SOCIAL SYSTEM.
We are not given to lip-service, and much (judicious) quoting of Connolly, but the following, we think, is by no means out of place, and we especially commend it, on this particular occasion, to those who – to put it bluntly – have made a good thing out of such practices.
“Ireland as distinct from her people is nothing to me; and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for ‘Ireland’ and yet can pass unmoved through our streets and witness all the wrong and suffering and the shame and the degradation wrought upon the people of Ireland: aye, wrought by Irishmen upon Irishmen and women ithout burning to end it, is a fraud and a liar in his heart, no matter how he loves that combination of chemical elements he is pleased to call ‘Ireland’”. 'The Coming Generation' 1900 [our emphasis]
Fellow-workers, there is but one way to really commemorate Connolly, and all those – whoever and wherever they may been – who have fought and died for and on behalf of the world’s workers, and that is by striving to abolish capitalism and establish SOCIALISM, THE COMMON OWNERSHIP AND DEMOCRATIC CONTROL OF THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION (the factories, mills, mines, railways, etc.), BY AND IN THE INTERESTS OF THE WHOLE OF THE COMMUNITY WITHOUT ANY DISTINCTION WHATSOEVER. By devoting your time and energy to the achieving of such an aim you will be truly commemorating Connolly and all those of his kind every day.
THE DUBLIN SOCIALIST GROUP