Who drove the Rising?
Posted by Admin
A recent article on their site says, “The driving force behind the Rising was the IRB; it was in effect a Fenian Rising.” (See here.)
I think this is not only wrong historically but it has some important political implications for today too.
The IRB was not the driving force behind the Rising and nor could it be. Connolly, Mallin, Markievicz and the Irish Citizen Army made up the driving force. From the time the First World War broke out, Connolly determined on a Rising and began preparations. The IRB position was rather more confused. The left of the IRB – Clarke, Pearse, Mac Diarmada etc – also wanted a rising, but the situation in the IRB was far more complicated as the organisation contained far more equivocal figures, like Bulmer Hobson, and wavered continually.
The classic example is that the IRB capitulated to Redmond’s demand for a bunch of his sycophants – 25 of them I think! – to be added to the leading body of the Irish Volunteers. If you are the driving force for an imminent rebellion you don’t agree to have a large number of opponents of such a rebellion being added to the leadership of what is ostensibly to be the main force of the rebellion.
And, utterly predictably, when war came, the Redmondite element of the Irish Volunteer leadership supported British imperialism and they and Redmond took the vast majority of the members of the Volunteers out of the movement and into the British Army and onto the imperialist killing fields in France. The IRB leaders who were responsible for the capitulation of Redmond had not only made a serious political error, they had in effect sabotaged the Volunteers.
While the IRB floundered about, with its left elements wanting an insurrection but not really understanding how to proceed, Connolly was pursuing a consistent insurrectionary strategy all along. He told the IRB not to capitulate to Redmond’s demands, he told them to break with the utterly worthless (and spineless) Eoin MacNeill, but they didn’t. By contrast, Connolly prepared consistently for revolt. He pursued a strategy of trying to bring all the most progressive forces – the left republicans, the left of the suffrage movement – around his banner. I write in more detail about this, here (see, in particular, the section which deals with Connolly, Markievicz and the militant labour strategy. Without Connolly, there may well have simply not been a rebellion. Or it would have been a shambles, like 1867 and 1848, and resulted in a long period of despair. In the piece for which I have provided a link I look a bit at why the IRB was ill-suited to organise rebellion.
The problems with the IRB also came to the fore quickly after 1916. The better militants, like Mellows, left it and the more socially conservative elements, like Collins, were in control. When the Treaty came, the IRB was the only republican organisation whose leadership backed it. And they did so by a sizeable majority – 11 to 4! So an organisation which had been set up in the late 1850s to organise an Irish revolution became crucial to the counter-revolution and partition.
No, the IRB was not the driving force for 1916. It was a chain around the legs of the Irish revolution and, a mere six years after the Rising, was crucial to the victory of the counter-revolution and the maintenance of British control over the island, with the south as a neo-colony and the north as the Orange state.
Eighty years later, the IRB’s heirs in the Provos have taken the same path. Militarism and undergroundist politics always prove to have a soft underbelly. It’s in Connolly’s footsteps we need to be treading, and treading further, not in the footsteps of the IRB.
Posted on April 6, 2016, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, Constance Markievicz, Free State in 1920s, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Irish Citizen Army, James Connolly, Liam Mellows, Padraic Pearse, Partition, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Republicanism post-1900, Republicanism pre-1900, Revolutionary figures, The road to the Easter Rising, Thesis chapters, War for Independence period. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.