Monthly Archives: December 2015
Red nationalism of the blood or cultural gesture?
by Liam Ó Ruairc
The issue of support for Germany indicates some of the divergences between Connolly and Lenin. A major study written by a follower of Greaves was forced to conclude that Connolly “underestimated considerably the role of German imperialism. While understanding the roots of the war to be economic… he nevertheless overlooked the aggressive nature of German imperialism…Undoubtedly much of what Connolly wrote during this period was directly propagandistic…but his arguments concerning the imperialistic nature of the war lack the perspicacity and directness which are evident in Lenin’s articles of the same period” (Metscher, 1986).
Support for Germany aside, another problem indicating a divergence with Lenin is that a careful reading of Connolly’s articles in the Workers’ Republic newspaper reveals quite clearly the extent to which he had been influenced by what could be called a ‘red nationalism of the blood’. Shortly before the Rising, in an article entitled ‘The ties that bind’, Connolly wrote in the 5 February 1916 edition of the Workers’ Republic:
“Deep in the heart of Ireland has sunk the sense of the degradation wrought upon its people – our lost brothers and sisters – so deep and humiliating that no agency less potent than the red tide of war on Irish soil will ever be able to enable the Irish race to recover its self-respect or re-establish its national dignity in the face of a world horrified and scandalised by what must seem to them our national apostacy. Without the slightest trace of irreverence but in all due humility, and awe we recognise that of us, as of mankind before Calvary, it may truly be said: ‘Without the shedding of Blood, there is no Redemption'” (Yeates, 2015, 319).
Earlier, in the Workers’ Republic of 7 August 1915, Connolly had written an extraordinary article entitled Read the rest of this entry
James Connolly, imperialism and anti-imperialism
Born in 1868 in Edinburgh of poor Irish parents, James Connolly is one of Ireland’s most important and controversial historical figures. He is known as Ireland’s foremost marxist thinker and activist, the working class leader who effected a union of socialist and nationalist forces in a radical anti-imperialist front. In 1896 he founded in Dublin the Irish Socialist Republican Party “to muster all the forces of labour for a revolutionary reconstruction of society and the incidental destruction of the British Empire” (Connolly 1973, 167), and remained committed to that aim until his death. Financial difficulties forced him to emigrate to the United States between 1903 and 1910 where he worked as an organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World (better known as the Wobblies). After his return to Ireland, he became the Belfast organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union from 1911 to 1913, was then deeply involved in the great Dublin lock-out of 1913-14 and had a key role in organising the Irish Citizen Army – a workers’ defence force.
Connolly was an outspoken opponent of Irish involvement in the First World War. A convinced socialist revolutionary, he was at the forefront of the struggle against the British Empire and allied with the revolutionary Irish nationalists to organise the 1916 Easter Rising. One of the signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic, he was appointed vice-president of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic and commandant-general of its army. Wounded in the Rising, he was shot in a chair by the British authorities on 12 May 1916. Throughout his life, Connolly was a prolific writer, and maintained a constant stream of books, pamphlets articles and speeches. His work is almost exclusively centred on Ireland and was elaborated largely in isolation from the international socialist movement and for that reason is not well known globally.
Connolly developed a number of innovative theoretical positions regarding the relationship between marxism and anti-imperialism; Read the rest of this entry
Commandant Thomas Behan commemoration, this Saturday, Dec 13
On 13 December 1922, a detachment of Free State troops set out from the Curragh Camp to raid for arms. At Mooresbridge, about a mile and a half from the camp, they discovered the woman owner of a farmhouse in possession of a loaded revolver. A thorough search of the house uncovered a large dugout hidden under the floor. There were eight IRA Volunteers in the dugout. They had ten rifles and ammunition.
The Volunteers surrendered but after they did a Free State soldier struck one of them, Thomas Behan of Rathangan, with a rifle butt and broke his arm. The republicans were ordered to board a truck. When Behan was unable to do so, because of his broken arm, he was beaten savagely around the head and fell dead. The murder was covered up by the authorities with the usual excuse, ‘shot while trying to escape’.
The seven surviving republicans were taken to the Glasshouse, the military prison in the Curragh. Under powers given them by the Free State government, a military tribunal imposed the Read the rest of this entry
Imperialism, Connolly and Lenin – some comments
Liam O Ruairc, with his usual attention to detail, has produced an interesting and useful discussion on Connolly and Germany from the opening of WW1 to the Rising. Liam has, I think, proven that some of Connolly’s writings during this period present Germany as being more progressive or less reactionary than Britain. At the same time he has shown that Connolly was not, as suggested by Austen Morgan (and others), a Germanophile. Liam has shown that Connolly remained opposed to German imperialism and looked forward to its being brought down by the German working class while rather glossing over Germany’s record in public.
Liam has also challenged the idea that Connolly was a kind of Irish Lenin and that certain writers, mainly (but certainly not exclusively) of the CPGB and CPI variety (eg C. Desmond Greaves), smuggled that connection in as a way of justifying their own two-stage politics in relation to Ireland. Liam suggests that Connolly and Lenin also had different attitudes to the First World War and that, although Connolly was no Pilsudski, he did have a few positions in common with the right-wing Polish social-democrat leader.
I think there are some problems with the Connolly/Lenin and Connolly/Pilsudski connections.
Firstly, I agree with Liam about Greaves and those closely associated with him. Greaves had a view of the struggle in Ireland which was both Read the rest of this entry
James Connolly, Germany and the First World War: Was Connolly a proto-Lenin?
by Liam O Ruairc
This article will question the thesis that Connolly’s stance on the First World War was similar to that of Lenin’s and argues that he favoured a German victory on socialist grounds. Lenin saw the First World War as a product of the general crisis of capitalism and imperialism and sought to transform the imperialist war into civil war. Connolly’s stand on the first world war as W.K. Anderson notes “frequently been compared with Lenin’s” (W.K. Anderson (1994), James Connolly and the Irish Left, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 63). It is often assumed that Connolly’s position on the question of the First World War was, with only minor if any qualification, similar to that of Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
C. Desmond Greaves, for instance, argues that “Connolly’s thought ran parallel with Lenin’s… almost phrase by phrase” and only the Irish labour movement together with the Bolsheviks and the Serbian socialists opposed the war (C.Desmond Greaves (1961), The Life and Times of James Connolly, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 353). Bernard Ransom’s study of Connolly’s marxism has argued along similar lines that Connolly’s stance on the First World War was substantially similar to that of Lenin’s (Bernard Ransom (1980), Connolly’s Marxism, London: Pluto Press, 79). Such has been the accepted viewpoint for many studies of Connolly. This has less to do with Connolly’s actual stance on the First World War than using Connolly as a trojan horse to introduce Leninism in Ireland.
Joseph O’Connor related in a letter to the Irish Times (5 August 1976 page 11) the circumstances behind the construction of the ‘Leninist’ Connolly myth:
“I was involved, though somewhat passively, in an earlier cycle of this controversy. It was not conducted publicly but within a limited circle of members of the Read the rest of this entry