Category Archives: Republicanism pre-1900

Where, oh where, is our James Connolly?

by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh

“There is always some excuse ready for evasion. The difficulty is, that every party likes some part of the truth; no party likes it all; but we must have it all, every line of it. We want no popular editions and no philosophic selections—the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” —Terence MacSwiney, Principles of Freedom

SIPTU’s Head of Research publicly announced in 2001 that the union would be sponsoring “the publication in several volumes of all Connolly’s articles and letters”, which would “at last enable us to appreciate Connolly’s own originality and greatness to the full”.1 I happened to be sitting next to him on the platform, and in my own contribution I welcomed the announcement but hoped people wouldn’t take it as a signal to sit back and think all was now well in the world of publishing Connolly. I was aiming for that curious amalgam that goes under the name of ‘cautious optimism’, and probably came off as a moany old begrudger. In fact, I was guilty of being far too generous altogether.

Recovering Connolly

My presence on that platform was a result of the momentum that had been building up for five years previously. On the unveiling of a statue of Connolly in Dublin in 1996, I was allowed to point out in the programme that hundreds of his articles had never been made available since their original publication, and to republish the first Connolly work for twenty years.2 The year after, The Lost Writings was published, in which I assembled 65 articles of his unpublished since his execution. It never ceased to amaze me how many people were under the sincere impression up until then that all of Connolly’s work was available. The Collected Works title put on a reprint of previous Connolly selections in 1987-8 had been taken all too literally by many. Also in 1997 Red Banner began its ‘Hidden Connolly’ series, underlining that The Lost Writings wasn’t even the half of it.

A group including some prominent labour historians then tried to get an initiative off the ground which would assemble a team of researchers to publish all of Connolly’s works, an initiative which had the blessing of the Labour Party leader (dubious as that may be). But the SIPTU announcement cut the feet from under that. While ‘The Hidden Connolly’ continued to mine a seemingly inexhaustible seam, any impetus towards publishing Connolly’s complete writings was sucked into the Liberty Hall plughole.

The first fruit of SIPTU’s project appeared in 2005 in the shape of a Connolly biography by Dónal Nevin. It was a disappointing work, but promised Read the rest of this entry

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United Wolfe Tone Commemoration: Time for hope – time for radical change.

pics and words by Mick Healy

The Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum held their first commemoration at the grave of Theobald Wolfe Tone in Bodenstown, Co. Kildare, on Sunday, 20 August 2017.  The gathering attracted a large crowd of socialist-republicans, communists, trade unionists, and women’s and community groups who marched from the village of Sallins to Bodenstown graveyard. The march was led by a colour party from the 1916 Societies, followed by a large banner declaring “Break the Connection with Imperialism” carried by members of the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum.

Colourful banners and flags from socialist-republican group Eirigi and the Communist Party of Ireland, along with rousing tunes from a republican flute band, lifted the spirits as the marchers made their way, in very wet conditions, to the monument in Bodenstown Churchyard.

The main oration was delivered by John Douglas of Mandate trade union.

Wreaths were laid by Eirigi, the International Brigades society, trade unionist Mick O’Reilly on behalf of Dublin Trades Council, the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum, Mandate trade union, the Communist Party of Ireland, 1916 Societies and many other organisations. The Internationale were sung and the clenched fist salute was given.

20 August, 2017, could be a historic date bringing together socialist-republicans, communists and trade unionists for the first time at Bodenstown in decades. The large contingent of young people evident at this event shows the continuing growth of left-wing republicanism that hopefully can be harnessed in the future for anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist projects.

 

Lindie Naughton’s biography of Markievicz

I must admit that when I saw journalist Lindie Naughton had a book coming out on Markievicz my initial response was one of trepidation.  Even if it was a good book, what was there left to put into a Markievicz bio that hadn’t already been covered by Anne Marreco, Jacqueline Van Voris, Diana Norman and Anne Haverty?

To my delight – especially since I bought the book after a few internet chats with Lindie  – I can report that Lindie’s biography does bring more stuff to the table and is a really good read.  In fact, I found reading the lead-up to the Rising had me quite excited, indeed riveted.

Lindie has made a good deal of use of the Bureau of Military History archives, most particularly the witness statements from the revolutionary period.

She seems to have been through papers of the time pretty methodically, looking for more stuff by and about Markievicz, as well as using the body of Markievicz’s articles that I dug up in the 1980s and put up on this site when I started it.

One result is that, even though I think a know a lot about Markievicz, I have found out more by reading this book.  I think it’s also interesting that Lindie has brought a journalist’s research skills to the work – these are far superior to those of a so-called professional historian like Anne Matthews.  And, speaking of Matthews, Lindie puts another nail in the coffin of Matthews’ attempt to frame up Markievicz for shooting an unarmed Dublin cop at point-blank range and then gloating over it (Anne Haverty also demolishes this frame-up).  I did, however, think Lindie could have said a bit more about the problematic nature of the Geraldene Fitzgerald claim to have witnessed Markievicz killing the Dublin policeman and exulting over it, especially as she had mentioned to me some problems with the Fitzgerald statement.  While Anne Haverty utterly demolishes Matthews’ attempt to stitch up Markievicz on that one, Lindie does, however, show it to be highly unlikely that Markievicz did any such thing.  Also, Lindie notes that Connolly had specifically ordered ICA members not to shoot unarmed cops and soldiers.

Below is a page from Lindie’s bio.  It will give you a taste for the book and, I hope, encourage you to go out and buy it.  It deserves to sell well and be well-read.  The extract deals with some stuff at Liberty Hall a few weeks before the Rising:

By the time the police returned, Connolly, Constance and Helena Molony, all armed, were Read the rest of this entry

Fenian Declaration of an Irish Republic, 1867

Taken from An Sionnach Fionn; GRMMA, mo chara.  It’s the 1867 Fenian declaration of an Irish Republic.

The Irish People to the World

We have suffered centuries of outrage, enforced poverty, and bitter misery. Our rights and liberties have been trampled on by an alien aristocracy, who treating us as foes, usurped our lands, and drew away from our unfortunate country all material riches. The real owners of the soil were removed to make room for cattle, and driven across the ocean to seek the means of living, and the political rights denied to them at home, while our men of thought and action were condemned to loss of life and liberty. But we never lost the memory and hope of a national existence. We appealed in vain to the reason and sense of justice of the dominant powers. Our mildest remonstrance’s were met with sneers and contempt. Our appeals to arms were always unsuccessful.

Today, having no honourable alternative left, we again appeal to force as our last resource. We accept the conditions of appeal, manfully deeming it better to die in the struggle for freedom than to continue an existence of utter serfdom.

All men are born with equal rights, and in associating to protect one another and share public burdens, justice demands that such associations should rest upon a basis which maintains equality instead of destroying it.

We therefore declare that, unable longer to endure the curse of Monarchical Government, we aim at founding a Read the rest of this entry

On the Saor Eire Action Group, 1967-1975

Below is the talk given by Séan Ó Duibhir at the social/political history conference From Civil Rights to the Bailout organised in June 2015 by the Irish Centre for the Histories of Labour & Class.

Engels on internationalism and Irish freedom

imagesFrom Report by Engels to the May 14, 1872 meeting of the General Council of the First International:

“If members of a conquering nation called upon the nation they had conquered and continued to hold down to forget their specific nationality and position, to ‘sink national differences’ and so forth, that was not Internationalism, it was nothing else but preaching to them submission to the yoke and attempting to justify and to perpetuate the dominion of the conqueror under the cloak of Internationalism.  It was sanctioning the belief, only too common among the English working men, that they were superior beings compared to the Irish, and as much an aristocracy as the mean whites of the Slave states considered themselves to be with regard to the Negroes.

“In a case like that of the Irish, true internationalism must necessarily be based on a distinctly national organisation. . . (Irish sections of the First International) “not only were justified, but even under the necessity to state in the preamble to their rules that their first and most pressing duty, as Irishmen, was to establish their own national independence.”

 

David Reed’s 1988 review of Republican POWs’ Questions of History

 

downloadby David Reed

The defeat of the hunger strike in 1981 was a severe setback for the Republican Movement. While initially, in the wake of the heroic sacrifice of the prisoners, certain political gains were made especially on the electoral front, the last few years have not seen any significant political advances by the revolutionary forces in Ireland.

The greater emphasis on electoral work and the decision to reject abstentionism in elections to the Dail has not led to the gains clearly expected. The work around ‘economic and social’ issues has not yet produced any substantial results. The revolutionary forces in Ireland have been unable to halt the growing collaboration between British imperialism and the puppet governments in the Twenty Six Counties. Finally, on the military level, the stalemate which has existed for some time between the IRA and the British and loyalist security forces remains.

Inevitably in such a period every revolutionary movement is forced to reassess and rethink its strategy if the impasse is to be broken. The Republican Movement is no exception. It is in this context that we should welcome Questions of History written by Irish Republican Prisoners of War and produced by the Education Department of Sinn Fein ‘for the purpose of promoting political discussion’. Part I has so far been made available and covers the period from Wolfe Tone to the Republican Congress (1934).

The book is a valuable historical document which uses the history of the Republican struggle as a vehicle for raising crucial Read the rest of this entry

Who drove the Rising?

imagesI’m well-disposed towards the 1916 Societies, so this short piece should be taken as a disagreement in a comradely spirit.

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 Read the rest of this entry

Critiquing the construction of ‘dissident republicans’, pt 1: Intro and ‘The Eternal Flame’

The following is the opening section of a recently-completed masters degree in Ireland which looks at how the term ‘dissident republicans’ has been constructed to serve ideological ends.  In particular, the term frames those placed in the category to be simply ‘unreasonable’ and ‘violent’ people opposed to the ‘Northern Ireland ‘peace process’ being developed by supposedly ‘moderate’ and ‘reasonable’ people.  It suggests that the Provisionals, who have abandoned all their old republican principles, actually remain republican and those who disagree with their new course are ‘dissident republicans’ rather than simply people who continue to adhere to republican principles.  Below is the introduction and pt 1.  Over the coming few days, I’ll be sticking up pts 2, 3 and 4.

Theobald Wolfe Tone, 1763-1798, principal founder of Irish republicanism

Theobald Wolfe Tone, 1763-1798, principal founder of Irish republicanism

by Lawrence Hughes

Introduction

This work offers what is considered to be a much needed alternative assessment of how traditional Irish republicans have come to occupy the position of political isolation and unpopularity as perceived dissidents. It argues that it is in fact Sinn Fein under the leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness who over a very long period of time deliberately steered the Provisional republican movement onto an irreversible path from insurrection to constitutionalism and the acceptance of partition. It was the Sinn Fein leadership and not traditional republicans who deviated from republican ideology and values and they who slaughtered every republican sacred cow whilst doing so. This work does not dwell upon the political realities of 2013 nor the merits or otherwise of Sinn Fein tactical and pragmatic politics. Nor does it dwell on the fact that traditional republicans seem determined to live their political lives in the realities of a century ago. What this work sets out to show is that within the much vaunted ‘republican family’ it was Sinn Fein under the leadership of Adams and McGuinness which diverted from republican political dogma and values and not those who today are dismissed out of hand with the mere word, dissident.

It has been felt necessary to give a brief reminder of the historical background to Irish republicanism as we know it in Ireland today. The present generation has grown up with the ‘peace process’ as the last generation grew up with ‘the troubles’ and violence. It has therefore been felt necessary to devote chapter one to the historical background of Irish republicanism and how republicans claim to be the defenders of the 1918 electoral mandate and of the first Dail of 1919 and the subsequent relevance and importance of abstentionism within the republican movement. Whilst this has left chapter one largely historical in nature, it has been felt necessary due to the somewhat Orwellian nature of Northern Ireland politics and media control since the beginning of the peace process and the signing of Good Friday Agreement. It seems there is a deliberate political and media policy of disinterest and blanket exclusion against anything which hasn’t been peace process sycophantism. This has rendered political analysis and debate endangered species. The subsequent chapters show how the Sinn Fein leadership managed to steer the movement onto a post 1981 hunger-strikes path towards constitutionalism in the guise of a pan nationalist front and examine how they avoided internal splits or feuds whilst doing so. It will be seen that rather than recruiting nationalists to the republican cause the Sinn Fein leadership was willingly pulled into the political establishments on both sides of the border, accepting partition and IRA disarmament. It will also be shown that this position was the desired destination from both the Sinn Fein leadership and the British government. Sinn Fein have ultimately, it will be seen, with a compliant and unquestioning media assistance, claimed credit for a political agreement they had almost zero part in formulating and have championed the ‘peace-process’ as the only political game in town in the absence of any coherent political strategy of its own.

Traditional republicans who have remained steadfast and true to their ideals, were to be Read the rest of this entry

C.L.R. James on importance of James Connolly and Easter Week

C.L. R. James, 1901-1989

C.L. R. James, 1901-1989

The great revolutionary writer, activist and theorist C.L.R. James wrote the article below in 1941 (April 14) on the 25th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.  It appeared in the American left-wing paper Labor Action – James was living in the US and was a prominent figure in a Trotskyist group called the Workers Party at the time.  His party name was Johnson.  The piece is taken from the Marxist Internet Archive, having been transcribed and marked up by Einde O’Callaghan.  Not surprisingly, it contains a few small errors – such as numbers – and James is wrong to say “Easter week was the herald of the Irish revolution and the first blow struck against imperialism during the war at a time when the Irish revolutionary movement in Europe seemed sunk in apathy and the futile squabblings of exiles in cheap cafes.”  Hardly any Irish were political exiles living in Europe before the Easter Rising, let alone squabbling in cheap cafes.  


by C.L.R. James

Easter Sunday morning, 1916.[1] Three o’clock. James Connolly, Irish revolutionary leader, was talking to his daughter and. some of her friends, all asking why the revolt so carefully prepared had been countermanded.

Connolly knew that the arms from Germany had been intercepted, he knew that the arrangements had broken down, but he knew that the British government was going to strike. He could not let the revolt be stamped out without resistance. It seemed to him, and rightly, that the resulting demonstration would be too great. He would fight, come what may. There was a chance that if they held out long enough the whole country might rise. But, whether or not that happened, the blow had to be struck. It was in this spirit, long range revolutionary calculation, that Connolly sent the message to his followers calling on them to begin.

They prepared a declaration of the Irish Republic, signed by Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDiarmada, P.H. Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Eamonn Ceannt, Joseph Plunkett. About noon the next day a body of Irish volunteers marched down O’Connell Street, apparently on parade. In reality they were marching on the Post Office and they seized it. At that same moment, small detachments seized other key points in the city. A little over a thousand men, workers, and a few intellectuals at their head, had challenged the whole British Empire.

They held the center of the city for over five days. By Friday, 60,000 British soldiers were fighting 1,000 Irishmen while Dublin blazed in flames. The revolutionaries hoped that the country would follow them – but nothing happened, nothing at any rate that could then be seen and measured. On Saturday, President Pearse ordered the surrender. To even sympathetic observers it seemed that the Irish had merely once more shown themselves a brave but irrational and unpredictable people. Except Lenin, who wrote fiercely in their defense, not only as revolutionaries but in defense of the circumstances of their revolt.

A History of Bloody Repression

To understand this noble, but apparently futile heroism one must have some idea, however rough, of Ireland’s past at British hands.

It is customary to speak of Turks in the Balkans and Tsarism in Poland as classical examples of imperialist barbarism. Nothing in six centuries of European history has ever equalled the British strangulation of Ireland. To get some adequate idea of this, one has to study the Read the rest of this entry