Category Archives: Ireland and British revolution

SPI leaflet against 1911 Royal Visit

Britain’s George V visited Ireland in July 1911.  The protests against this visit were the first point we can see the coming together of the forces which would launch armed rebellion five years later.  Crucial to the protests was the Socialist Party, whose leaders included James Connolly and Constance Markievicz.

Two years later, Markievicz would be a central founding leader of the workers’ militia, the Irish Citizen Army, and serve on its Army Council from then until the Rising.  Connolly was living in Belfast at the time of the founding of the ICA in November 1913. He would return to Dublin and take over leadership of both the Transport Union and the ICA from James Larkin when Larkin departed for the United States in October 1914.

Below is the text of the leaflet issued in 1911 to Dublin workers by the SPI branch in the city. 

 

THE ROYAL VISIT.

“The great appear great to us only because we are on our knees:

                                                                              LET US RISE.”

Fellow-Workers,

As you are aware from reading the daily and weekly newspapers, we are about to be blessed with a visit from King George V.

Knowing from previous experience of Royal Visits, as well as from the Coronation orgies of the past few weeks, that the occasion will be utilised to make propaganda on behalf of royalty and aristocracy against the oncoming forces of democracy and National freedom, we desire to place before you some few reasons why you should unanimously refuse to countenance this visit, or to recognise it by your presence at its attendant processions or demonstrations. We appeal to you as workers, speaking to workers, whether your work be that of the brain or of the hand – manual or mental toil – it is of you and your children we are thinking; it is your cause we wish to safeguard and foster.

The future of the working class requires that all political and social positions should be open to all men and women; that all privileges of birth or wealth be abolished, and that every man or woman born into this land should have an equal opportunity to attain to the proudest position in the land. The Socialist demands that the only birthright necessary to qualify for public office should be the birthright of our common humanity.

Believing as we do that there is nothing on earth more sacred than humanity, we deny all allegiance to this institution of royalty, and hence we can only regard the visit of the King as adding Read the rest of this entry

John McAnulty on lessons of People’s Democracy & 50+ years of revolutionary struggle in Ireland

Some time back I suggested to my friend Mick that John McAnulty was someone he should interview for his series of videos.  I have a bit to do with John from time to time as I have immense admiration and respect for the original People’s Democracy group.  I finally met John in Belfast in 2013 and spent several hours talking to him.  Mick also got John down to speak in Dublin a couple of years ago to speak on political developments involving anarchism and Marxism (with anarchist Alan MacSimeon) in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Alan, sadly, has since died.

 

In Review: Marisa McGlinchey’s ‘Unfinished Business’

Marisa McGlinchey, Unfinished Business: the politics of ‘dissident’ Irish republicanism, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2019, 231pp; reviewed by Philip Ferguson

Marisa McGlinchey’s book should be read by all radical republicans, Marxists and anyone else genuinely interested in national liberation and socialism in Ireland.

Don’t be put off by the fact that the back cover features praise for the book from the likes of Lord Bew of the Stickies and Richard English, both of whom have carved out well-rewarded academic niches writing attacks on republicanism and producing material that can only aid British imperialism.  Their reasons for praising the book are entirely different from those of anti-imperialists.

There are two key strengths to this book.

One is that it is based on on a substantial set of interviews (90 in all) the author conducted with republicans opposed to the Good Friday Agreement and the Provo leadership’s move into the service of the British state and the statelets which are the result of partition in Ireland and the Provos’ move from sort sort of vision of socialism to embracing the market and capitalist austerity.

The other strength is that she largely lets the interviewees speak for themselves, rather than trying to stitch them up.  Thus, for instance, she refrains from referring to them in the book as “dissident” republicans – the book’s sub-title was chosen, presumably, by the publisher.  Instead, she refers to them by the much more accurate term of “radical republicans” and treats them as rational political activists rather than some kind of pathology.

The interviewees, some of whom are now dead and some of whom have left the organisation they were in at the time they were interviewed, cover the gamut of radical republican groups, some of which are linked to armed organisations and some of which are not.  Thus the interviewees include independents and members of Eirigi, RNU, Saoradh, the IRSP, RSF and the 32CSM.  They range from younger activists such as Louise Minihan to veterans who go back to the 1956-62 border campaign and even earlier, such as Peig King and Billy McKee.  Some of the activists support Read the rest of this entry

The political evolution of the Provisionals

The article below appeared in the July issue of Socialist Voice, paper of the CPI, as an opinion piece under the headline “Provisional Sinn Féin, republicanism, and socialism: Some comments”.

by Eddie O’Neill and Mark Hayes

By any relevant psephological indices, it is absolutely clear that Sinn Féin did exceedingly poorly—perhaps disastrously—in the recent local and European elections; and the results have clearly precipitated some reflective introspection by various party members.

For example, a defeated Sinn Féin candidate in Dublin, Lynn Boylan, has called for dialogue and co-operation with other “left-wing parties” in future, arguing that competition for votes had handed seats to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. She claimed: “I am a republican, I am a united Irelander, but I am a left wing activist.” Indeed she went on to claim: “That’s how we were able to stop water charges—it’s because the left came together and worked together.”

Let’s just leave aside Sinn Féin’s specific role in the campaign against water charges, which is contentious, and concentrate on the more significant ideological proposition about Sinn Féin and its relationship with “the left.”

Over the years the Provisional movement has undoubtedly flirted with socialism as an ideology. For example, the original Éire Nua programme articulated by the Provisionals had a reasonably well-defined social component, with the emphasis on a more equitable and decentralised distribution of resources. By the late 1970s, under a new “Northern” leadership, this trend was accentuated. This was perhaps most vividly expressed in Jimmy Drumm’s speech of 1977 (apparently written by Adams et al.) which stressed the need for social liberation and the importance of standing in solidarity with workers against British colonial rule and the “fascist” Free State. (The speech also, incidentally, rejected a reformed Stormont and power-sharing.)

In this period Adams not only criticised capitalism, he was fond of quoting Connolly, while Sinn Féin explicitly identified itself with the ANC, PLO, and Sandinistas. Some commentators even detected the influence of Marxism; and though this was hugely exaggerated, there was a sense in which Sinn Féin identified itself as an integral part of a global “left” movement. It undoubtedly established its radical credentials through community work and activism in working-class areas.

However, there was always another, more pragmatic and opportunistic dimension to Sinn Féin strategy. This could be detected during and after the Hunger Strike, when the process of politicisation sought to reconfigure Sinn Féin as an electoral force. It was confirmed in a very personal way to one of the writers of this article when a letter was smuggled out of Albany prison in 1983 (written by Eddie O’Neill and Ray McLaughlin, and signed by other Republican prisoners). This missive explicitly addressed “the left” and urged all comrades to show solidarity with the Irish revolution while calling for a “broad front” of left progressive forces to form a common platform against imperialism.

The correspondence was completely disregarded by the Republican leadership at the time. The writing was on the wall: Sinn Féin was moving towards conventional constitutional politics. It eventually came to see itself as the natural repository for middle-class Catholic votes and positioned itself as the successor to the SDLP as the primary representative of the “Nationalist” community.

In relation to the north, Sinn Féin eventually adopted the diplomatic strategy of. . .  continue reading here. . .

When CS gas came to the floor of the House of Commons

by Mick Healy

The RUC used CS gas for the first time on August 12, 1969, in the Bogside of Derry. It invisibly covered the streets and seeped into every room of the houses, causing choking, vomiting and irritation of the eyes and skin. The British Army first used the gas in April 1970 when they indiscriminately fired off 104 gas canisters in Ballymurphy in West Belfast during a night of rioting.

Máirín Keegan of Saor Eire suggested to Butch Roche, an original member of Peoples Democracy, that they mount a publicity campaign to highlight the use of CS gas, because they were convinced it had done considerable harm. She also acquired two CS gas canisters that were photographed with the intention of using them in the publicity campaign. Roche decided on a symbolic action that wouldn’t injure anyone but bring home to the British public and establishment the impact of its use against the civilian population in Belfast and Derry.

On July 22, 1970, Butch arrived in London with the two CS gas canisters. The next day he entered the Public Gallery of the House of Commons, with a newspaper to cover the bulkiness in his pockets. He threw the gas grenades Read the rest of this entry

Markievicz letters: a new, expanded edition

The first edition of Constance Markievicz’s prison letters was put together by Esther Roper, the partner of Markievicz’s sister Eva Gore-Booth, to whom many of the letters were addressed.  The editon was published by Longman Paul in 1934.  Roper, with help from Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, one of the executors of Markievicz’s will and  longtime friend and fellow activist, wrote a substantial biographical essay for the book.

Over 50 years later Amanda Sebestyen worked on a new edition and wrote her own introduction.  This edition was brought out by the feminist publisher, Virago, in 1987.

Thirty-one years later (last year, 2018) Lindie Naughton, the author of a new recent biography – Markievicz: a most outrageous rebel (Dublin, Merrion Press, 2016) – has put together a new edition.  This edition returns the letters to their original form.  (Lindie notes, “Consulting the originals in the National Library of Ireland makes it obvious that the published versions of the prison letters skirted around some sensitive issues and blanked out the names of people who quite possibly were still alive at the time of the original publication.”)

The prison letters come from her various stints in jail: May 1916-July 1917 in Mountjoy (Dublin) and Aylesbury (Buckinghamshire); June 1918-March 1919 in Holloway; June-October 1919 in Cork; September 1920-July 1921 in Mountjoy; and November-December 1923 in the North Dublin Union.

Moreover, this edition adds a bunch of letters that haven’t appeared in print before.  These include letters to Read the rest of this entry

“My object is to repeal the conquest – not any part or portion, but the whole and entire conquest of seven hundred years”: Fintan Lalor, 1847

A letter from Lalor to John Mitchel on the landlords, repealing the Union and repealing the Conquest.  Lalor subsequently shifted from the views here, becoming totally opposed to the landlords as a class.  (See “They or we must quit this island: Fintan Lalor on the landlord class, June 24, 1848”; I will have this up on the blog by the end of this month.)  The piece below originally appeared as a single, long paragraph; I have broken it up into shorter paragraphs.

From Sir C. G. Duffy’s Four Years of Irish History: 1845-1849, London, Paris & New York, Cassell, Petter, Galpin, 1883.

I know the Confederation and you by speeches and writing only.  But men may speak and write forcibly and yet act very feebly, and be very competent to criticize, yet utterly incompetent to construct.  Ireland’s greatest and last opportunity was in your hands – a revolution that would have put your own names in the blaze of the sun for ever was in your hands; you have flung it away as the cock flung the diamond, useless to him as the crisis was to you. Vain to him the flash of the gem which he could not polish; vain to you were the lightnings of heaven and the meteors of earth, which you could or would not kindle and guide.

You appear to be under mistakes as to my objects which I cannot permit you to retain.  I have nothing to do with the landlord and tenant question, as understood.  The question of the tenure by which the actual cultivator of the soil should hold his land is one for an Irish Parliament.  My object is to repeal the conquest – not any part or portion, but the whole and entire conquest of seven hundred years – a thing much more easily done than to repeal the Union.

That the absolute (allodial) ownership of the lands of Ireland is vested of right in the Read the rest of this entry

“The country was completely ruined by the English wars of conquest. . .” Engels on Ireland, May 1856

Depiction of Famine Ireland

In May 1856, less than a decade after the official end of the 1840s Famine, Frederick Engels and his partner Mary Burns visited Ireland, Burns’ homeland.  On May 23, Engels wrote the following letter to Karl Marx, his political co-worker, in London.  I’ve taken the text from Marx/Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, Progress Publishers, third edition (1975), pp86-88.  I have slightly edited the translation to improve punctuation.  Also, I have replaced Traice with Tralee – I assume Traice is a mistake as there is no such town in Kerry, whereas Tralee is on the route between Tarbert and Killarney.  Lastly, I’ve broken up the paragraphs.

Dear Marx,

During our trip to Ireland we traveled from Dublin to Galway on the West Coast, then 20 miles north and inland, on to Limerick, down the Shannon to Tarbert, Tralee and Killarney, and back to Dublin – a total of about 450-500 English miles within the country itself, so we have seen about two-thirds of the whole country. With the exception of Dublin, which bear the same relation to London as Düsseldorf does to Berlin, and has quite the character of a small one-time capital.  It is, moreover, built entirely in the English style.  The look of the entire country, and especially of the towns, is as if one were in France or Northern Italy. Gendarmes, priests, lawyers, bureaucrats, country squires in pleasing profusion and a total absence of any industry at all, so that it would be difficult to understand what all these parasitic plants live on if the distress of the peasants did not supply the other half of the picture.

“Disciplinary measures” are evident in every corner of the country, the government meddles with everything, of so-called self-government there is not a trace.  Ireland may be regarded as the first English colony and as one which, because of its proximity, is still entirely governed in the old way, and one can already notice here that the so-called liberty of English citizens is based on the Read the rest of this entry

Frank Keane and the Irish revolution

by Mick Healy

“The magistrate in his summing up said that he had no doubt whatsoever that I was politically involved. This should stand to my benefit at a later stage and should really nail the lie that I’m a gangster, a criminal”.      – Frank Keane, Brixton jail, 14th August, 1970.

Frank Keane, who is now over eighty years of age, was born on May 8, 1936 in Peter Street, Westport, Co. Mayo.  He was once regarded as a dangerous political opponent by the Irish establishment.

Frank was the eldest of three brothers and a sister and was educated at the local Christian Brothers School.  In 1952 he moved with his family to North Road, Finglas in Dublin.  The following year he joined the Jackie Griffith Sinn Fein Cumann. (The cumann was name after a republican activist shot dead by the Free State special branch in Dublin on 4 July 1943.)

Frank volunteered for active service during Operation Harvest, the IRA 1950s border campaign.  With training/recruitment officers interned or on the run, he enlisted in the Read the rest of this entry

Lenin (1914) on the British Liberals and the historic exploitation of Ireland

What is taking place today in the British Parliament in connection with the Bill on Irish Home Rule is of exceptional interest as far as class relationships and elucidation of the national and the agrarian problems are concerned.

For centuries England has enslaved Ireland, condemned the Irish peasants to unparalleled misery and gradual extinction from starvation, driven them off the land and compelled hundreds of thousands and even millions of them to leave their native country and emigrate to America. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Ireland had a population of five and a half millions; today the population is only four and one-third millions. Ireland has become depopulated. Over five million Irish emigrated to America in the course of the nineteenth century, so that there are now more Irish in the United States than there are in Ireland!

The appalling destitution and sufferings of the Irish peasantry are an instructive example of the lengths to which the landowners and the liberal bourgeoisie of a “dominant” nation will go. Britain owes her “brilliant” economic development and the “prosperity” of her industry and commerce largely to her treatment of the Irish peasantry, which recalls the misdeeds of the Russian serf-owner Saltychikha.[1]

While Britain “flourished”, Ireland moved towards extinction and remained an undeveloped, semi-barbarous, purely agrarian country, a land of poverty-stricken tenant farmers. But much as the “enlightened and liberal” British bourgeoisie desired to perpetuate Ireland’s enslavement and poverty, reform inevitably Read the rest of this entry