Monthly Archives: August 2021
Connolly on Emmet’s rebellion
In chapter IX of Labour in Irish History, Connolly deals with Emmet’s movement and their rebellion in 1803. Connolly records they were even more politically radical than the original United Irish movement. This is because all that was left after the crushing of the 1798 rebellion were the rank and file plebeian elements, whereas the UI had been an alliance of the more radical section of the Protestant middle class and the Catholic peasantry. But Emmet’s group was more specifically working class – it was also tiny, as was the working class at the time.
It was less able to be infiltrated by the state as Irish workers were well used to secrecy because of the anti-trade union laws. Workers at the time made good underground activists. The area with the best-organised trades (weavers, tanners, shoemakers) was also the best-organised in Emmet’s rebellion in Dublin. Wicklow rebels brought to Dublin by Dwyer were, Connolly records, sheltered by dock labourers.
In Waterford, Limerick and Tipperary, rebellion was also working class-centred.
Emmet’s rebellion was very much economically-focussed. It brought together a working class social base and the national question. The class and national questions were merged. Emmet’s group also were linked to English radicals democrats, 8 of whom were hung.
Robert Emmet, records James Connolly, was “the Irish apostle of a worldwide movement for liberty, equality and fraternity.”
The manifesto of his rebellion was very much anti-clerical. The very first article decrees taking over and nationalising church property (the established church in Ireland at the time was, of course, the Church of Ireland) and bans the transfer of land, bonds, etc until public will and independent government is established.
Robert Emmet was probably the first major republican figure to so clearly merge the national and socio-economic. He realised that the exploited class – the emerging working class – had no reason to rally to independence unless they were freed from social bondage as well as British rule.
Subsequently, of course, he was hung, drawn and quartered by the British ‘civilisers’ of Ireland. His body was never returned to his family and its whereabout remains unknown.
Connolly’s view on the defeat of the clans
These are my notes on Connolly’s Labour in Irish History, chapt 8.
The defeat of 1641, according to Connolly, ended the old clan system. The involvement if old Anglo-Irish noblemen, he says, weakened the Irish side as they mainly wanted to maintain their own class position, in turn based on earlier confiscations. These contradictions meant they were riddled with equivocation and treachery. This movement of clans was huge and powerful, but had this fatal weakness: its own class divisions (like the Republican Movement in the Tan War period, I might add.)
With the destruction of clan society came a mixture of feudalism and capitalism, says Connolly.
He is very insightful about how the Protestant landed gentry and capitalists used more fanatically Protestant types to drive down the Catholic masses while, at the same time, exploiting the Protestant lower orders. (This is what later came to be in a really concentrated form, of course, in the six counties statelet.)
Incipient Irish capitalism was stymied by British rule, as the British capitalists did not want competition. But it reproduced opposition in Ireland over and over.
Once the economic reason ceased to drive Irish landlords and capitalists into opposition the upper elements ceased championing independence. Meanwhile, common suffering opened the way to the unity of Protestant and Catholic masses, argues Connolly.
The United Irish movement, he notes, represented the coming together of a series of developments in Irish society, an exceptional person (Tone) – or generation! – and a galvanising event (the French revolution).
Connolly notes how the French revolution changed the consciousness of both Catholics and Protestants, helping bring them together. Tensions between Catholics and Protestants gave way to conflict between the ruling class and a new force, which Connolly class “the democracy”. He reflects that Tone was waging a class war. It is very important to grasp that class war was key.
Moreover, United Irish and the English could only unite when Ireland was independent (a point very reminiscent of what Engels said.)
Connolly recorded that the aristocracy was “anti-freedom”, the Irish fight was part of a global struggle and that Irish fighters were allied with British revolutionaries. (Of course, today it is quite hard to find these today!) The Irish struggle represented what in those days were called “the rights of man” in Ireland.
Tone had asserted that when the aristocracy go forward, the people fall backward, and we might say that when the Irish capitalist class today run things, the masses (in particular, the working class, goes backwards).
Connolly records the celebrations in Belfast over the fall of the Bastille.
Lastly, in this chapter, he records that Tone was combining the national and the socio-economic. He was for making a revolution.