Monday, March 24, 2008

Ireland: Easter 1916 - Easter 2008

By Gerry Ruddy
Monday, 24 March 2008

Every Easter since 1916 all over Ireland and in some other parts of the world homage is paid to the men and women of 1916 who on Easter Monday went out to do battle with the then greatest imperialist power in the world. The Easter Rebellion was crushed, the leaders executed, but a spark had been lit that inspired oppressed peoples throughout the world to believe that freedom and independence from Colonialism and imperialism was possible.

Easter 1916 has international significance but unfortunately many of the republicans who gather all over Ireland will not see the international dimension of the 1916 [uprising]. Irish bourgeois nationalists began soon after 1916 to revise the history of 1916.

It became a glorious sacrifice by pure minded Irish nationalists like Padraigh Pearse to redeem the soul of Ireland who by shedding their blood just like Jesus Christ at Calvary reasserted Ireland's manhood and justified the creation of a bourgeois state.

The actual class conditions that motivated the likes of James Connolly and the trade unionists who set up the Irish Citizen's Army to battle capitalism were written out of history. Radical ideas were demonised and the heroes of 1916 elevated into almost saint like status with no politics but a pure love for Ireland and of course totally identified with the Roman Catholic Church. Connolly's Marxism was airbrushed from history. Liam Mellow's call for republicans to appeal to the men and women of no property was demonised as anti-Catholic and communistic. Rome spoke and the people listened! Censorship, piety, poverty, emigration and intellectually sterility became the order of the day from the twenties to the fifties.

During that period those few active republicans in Ireland were generally speaking non-drinking, non-cursing and upholders of Catholic morality. They survived in a stifling environment channelling all their revolutionary energies towards yet another armed uprising or establishing a guerrilla campaign against British interests in Ireland. They had no time for social protest, saw class struggle as alien, and had no understanding of the position of the majority of the Protestant working class. This is not to condemn them for they were in a sense prisoners of history caught in a time warp where intellectual freedom was frowned on, censorship all-controlling and clergy particularly in the partitioned 26 counties almost looked up to as next to God!

But not all conformed. There has always been class-consciousness within republicanism and the story of the role of the left within that fine revolutionary tradition has not yet reached wider layers of the working class.

Only in the late fifties and early sixties did the radical ideas of Connolly and Mellows and the class nature of the struggle for liberation begin to re-surface within Irish Republicanism. That republicanism had gone through many stages since 1916.

It had fought a sustained war of national liberation that ended in partition and the splintering of the Republican forces. It had embraced physical force and the exclusion of any political activity. It had swung to the far left in the thirties and then at the bidding of the bishops rapidly abandoned that left radicalism. It flirted with fascism and Nazism in the late thirties and early 1940's. It began to look to the left when yet another armed campaign, Operation Harvest 56-61, ended in dismal failure with many ex-prisoners demonised, ignored and neglected within areas of Belfast that later became known after 1969 as "republican areas". Older republicans referred to the newcomers as 69'ers.

That swing to the left of course raised issues of policy. The divide between those who argued for a step-by-step approach, first democracy, then national independence and then finally a struggle for socialism, and those who argued for both socialism and independence began. But while that debate was simmering there was also the international explosion of 1968 worldwide when revolution looked to be possible.

Those heady days convinced many that success was just around the corner. Ireland would be united, socialism would reign supreme and the world would be a better place. Yes indeed! The Provos emerged believing that all this talk of socialism was nonsense and was indeed an alien ideology and only direct military action such as bombing the shit out of the 6-counites would yield success. They got it wrong and ended up re-establishing British rule in the north on a firmer basis and without any of that nasty socialism they had so despised in 69/70.

And the left including all the different sections of the republican left? Sadly yet another failure-too introspective, politically sectarian and some were seduced into believing that the rattle of rifles was the sound of revolution. Others believed that they had the way, the truth and the light and so looked down with contempt on others of the left or else launched either verbal or physical murderous assaults on those who failed to share their world-view.

Hopefully all those of a left orientation within the broad family of republicanism will study the barren years from 1916 until 2008 and learn the simple basic lesson that republicanism without socialism is a dead end and that unless and until Left republicans embrace the totality of the international class struggle the prospects of success are nil. Back to Connolly, back to Marx and forward to the liberation of the Irish working class as part of an international victory of the world proletariat.RENEGADE EYE

16 comments:

Phil BC said...

Well, a potentially interesting development covered here by Mick.

K. said...

For a fine novel set against the 1913 hunger strike in Dublin, read James Plunkett's Strumpet City. The hero of City is the labor leader James Larkin, His statue on O'Connell Street bears this quote:

The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.

Graeme said...

Connelly's socialism really has been written out of history. I believe he was a Wobbly.

The wind that shakes the barley is a good film.

Larry Gambone said...

Yes, Connelly was a good revolutionary socialist. And as many revolutionary socialists were in those days, he was also a syndicalist. It has also been forgotten that not only was there anarcho-syndicalism, but there was also a Marxist syndicalism as well, the Canadian and Australian OBU's as prime examples.

Larry Gambone said...

I forgot to mention what a good article this was!

sonia said...

Back to Connolly, back to Marx and forward to the liberation of the Irish working class as part of an international victory of the world proletariat.

Fortunately, such retrograde appeals will fall on deaf ears in the Celtic Tiger which has one of the world's most dynamic capitalist economies.

Ireland has succeeded precisely because it has turned its back on the socialist nonsense.

Té la mà Maria - Reus said...

sensational is post !!

It is a real pleasure to return to your blog to throw a glimpse, since always we are a good moment in
Regards of your friend of Reus Catalunya

Larry Gambone said...

"Fortunately, such retrograde appeals will fall on deaf ears in the Celtic Tiger which has one of the world's most dynamic capitalist economies."

Sonia is guilty of vulgar Marxism in the first degree. Punishment - To read the Collective Works of Joseph Stalin and Kim Il Sung.

A growing economic pie can often be the motor of class conflict, as we saw in the 1960's. Poverty and misery are more often than not a brake on class consciousness rather than the opposite. In a nutshell, things are complex, not simple reductionisms.

sonia said...

Larry,

I am surprised to actually agree with you...

peter said...

Back to Connolly, back to Marx and forward to the liberation of the Irish working class as part of an international victory of the world proletariat.

Shakespeare, he is not.

Larry, growing economy might be a motor for class conflict, but only if there is a class consciousness to form that conflict. There is none of this in Ireland. Ireland has changed and so has the world, and the empty sloganizing in that article was sad. A museum piece. Time to grow up.

ajohnstone said...

For all my admiration for James Connolly , i have to admit to being sympathetic to Sean O'Casey's view that the Easter Rising was a betrayal since Connolly placed what was the unions workers militia , The Citizens Army , into the service of the aspiring Irish capitalist class , the very people that the ICA was created to resist and fight.

http://mailstrom.blogspot.com/2007/01/james-connolly-great-betrayal.html

Larry Gambone said...

Peter, I forget how many times in the last 120 years that class struggle and socialism were deemed finished and "of the past."

Aaron A. said...

Precisely,
I think people look back and see the struggle, but are unable to in the present.

Great article.

Renegade Eye said...

Peter: You seem familiar (wink). Nobody believed 20 years ago, that Venezuela would be the center of socialist struggle.

ajohnstone: Thanks for finally visiting. I think your post was harsh.

Sonia: One thing about capitalism is that it's dynamic, boom and bust are built in.

Larry: Since IWW is a union, it's to some extent an open house, not just anarchist.

Phil: Interesting development.

Té la mà Maria - Reus: Greetings.

Aaron: look at the changes even in Fargo, in the last few years.

K: Colorful quote.

Pageturners said...

Very interesting blog and comments. Thank you all.

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