2 July 2004
E-Mail Newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party
1) James Connolly and the Reconquest of Ireland
2) What's On?
This edition has only one article first published in 'The Blanket: A
Journal of Protest and Dissent'
written by IRSP member Liam O'Ruairc. We believe the issues discussed
are of relevance today.
On a personal note the editor is taking a short holiday. Be back in
circulation in time for the 12th of July Celebrations!!!!!!
JAMES CONNOLLY AND THE RECONQUEST OF IRELAND
Book Review: Metscher, Priscilla, "James Connolly and the Reconquest
of Ireland," Marxist Educational Press [ISBN: 0-930656-74-1].
James Connolly (1868-1916) is one of Ireland's most important and
controversial historical figures. The founder of Irish Marxism, his
legacy has been claimed by Republicans and Socialists alike, and not
just in Ireland: he is still a major influence on some sections of the
Scottish left, and even in England Scargill's Socialist Labour Party
claims Connolly as its founder! Surprisingly, over the last ten years,
his ideas have not been much discussed by the Left. This is why
Priscilla Metscher's sympathetic study of Connolly's life and thought
has to be welcomed.
The book gives an orthodox outline of Connolly's major theoretical
contribution. Connolly's principal achievement is to have understood
the relation between nationalism and socialism in Ireland, between the
national question and the class struggle. A lot of socialists saw (and
still see) the national struggle as a diversion from class struggle
and as being incompatible with socialism. Connolly's fundamental
teaching is that the struggle for national liberation is not opposed
to the struggle for socialism, but an integral and necessary part of
it. This is why "The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland, the
cause of Ireland is the cause of labour. They cannot be dissevered."
Connolly rejected bourgeois nationalism, and rejects any subordination
of the working class to bourgeois nationalism. "As a socialist I am
prepared to do all one man can do to achieve our motherland her
rightful heritage independence; but if you ask me to abate one
jot or title of the claims of social justice in order to conciliate
the privileged classes, then I must decline."
Connolly's teaching is not simply that socialists should participate
and take a stance on the national question, but should actively seek
to give it political leadership. This is the classical strategy of the
national democratic revolution under the hegemony of the working
class. On the basis of a concrete analysis of social forces in
Ireland, Connolly concluded, "only the Irish working class remain as
the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland." The
working class is the only class who will be able to lead the national
liberation struggle to a successful conclusion. All the other social
classes will capitulate and sell out at some stage because they are
not prepared to risk their wealth and power.
The genuine motor of the national liberation struggle is the working
class. "Ireland cannot rise to freedom except upon the shoulders of
the working class knowing its rights and daring to take them."
However, it is also true that Connolly argued for a strategic alliance
with other classes. A successful revolution could in the specific
conditions of Ireland only come about through an alliance of all anti
imperialist forces: "We are prepared to co-operate with all...even
should the aim they set for such organisation be far less ambitious
than our own. We invite the co-operation of all who will work with is
toward that end."
But while Connolly recognised that national liberation required the
support of different social forces, he insisted that the working class
had to organise itself independently to ensure that the struggle would
not be degraded by the narrow concerns of the Irish capitalist class.
So it is incorrect to argue that in 1916 Connolly had capitulated to
bourgeois nationalism. On the evening of 16 April 1916, Connolly
informed members of the Irish Citizens Army: "In the event of victory,
hold onto your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop
before our goal is reached. We are for economic as well as political
liberty." The working class cannot wait until after independence to
fight for its own separate interests. Labour cannot wait.
The separation of the movement for independence from the struggle for
socialism is always resolved against the interests of the masses.
Although the fight for national freedom takes a logical priority in
that it represents an attack on the most immediate and most tangible
manifestation of domination, it cannot be chronologically separated
from the struggle for social liberation. To postpone the objective of
socialism to a distinct "stage" in the future invites a form of
independence, which is necessarily on the terms favouring vested
Metscher offers a substantial analysis of Connolly's interpretation of
sectarianism and of the divisions within the working class -- a
subject very relevant today. For Connolly, Protestant workers "are
slaves in spirit because they have been reared up among a people whose
conditions of servitude were more slavish than their own". By
contrast, Catholic workers "are rebels in spirit and democratic in
feeling because for hundred of years they have found no class as lowly
paid or as hardly treated as themselves". Sloganising abstractly
around "working class unity" in the six counties is not progressive
because it fails to confront the reactionary nature of Loyalism, and
practically condemns the most oppressed sections of the working class
to subordinate their democratic revolt and interests to the
backwardness of the Loyalist labour aristocracy.
Connolly's position has been heavily criticised, and Metscher
brilliantly outlines the nature of the polemic. "Connolly
underestimated the difficulties involved in convincing the Protestant
workers of their objective interests. The phenomenon of Orangeism was,
and is, very complex, and Connolly examined it on the ideological
level only, understanding it as religious sectarianism" [p113].
Historians like Henry Patterson and Peter Gibbon have attacked
Connolly for pointing out that the Orange ideology is a creation of
the ruling class. For them, it cannot be explained as simply a product
of Unionist ideological hegemony, it is a relatively autonomous
expression of Protestant working class interest within the formation
of Ulster society in the 18th and 19th century. However, they neglect
"to consider the historical fact that Orangeism, which undoubtedly
arose from certain traditions within the Protestant section of the
working class, was also the outcome of a deliberate policy of divide
and conquer." It was, for example, openly used as a weapon to suppress
the United Irishmen in the 18th century. As an alternative to the
undialectical arguments of Patterson and Gibbon, she points that
Orangeism is simultaneously part of Protestant working class culture
and a weapon directed against the objective interests of the
Protestant workers by dividing the working class, "and Connolly was
keenly aware of this danger" [p117].
She concludes "even had Connolly been able to fathom the full
complexities of Orangeism, it is questionable whether he could have
achieved more than he did in the Belfast of his times" [ibid].
Connolly also clearly understood the dangers of partition and had
warned that partition "would mean a carnival of reaction both North
and South and would set back the wheels of progress". Subsequent
history proved him absolutely right on that point, but Metscher
unfortunately does not discuss this matter further.
One of Connolly's major theoretical contributions was his discussion
of the relations between socialism and religion. Connolly's views on
that matter are fairly original and atypical. The reason why Connolly
engaged with the subject is that a great proportion of the Irish
working class was influenced by the Roman Catholic religion. The
Catholic hierarchy was trying to keep workers away from socialism by
saying that socialism and the Christian religion were incompatible and
antagonistic. The priests pointed out that socialism, especially in
its Marxist form, was intrinsically bound with materialism and
atheism; so it is impossible for workers to be socialist and Christian
at the same time. Connolly struggled ideologically against this
position, and tried to demonstrate to the workers that they could be
socialists and good Catholics at the same time. Connolly's position
was a version of the old adage "render to Caesar what is Caesar's and
to God what is God's".
For Connolly, Socialism is concerned solely with political, social and
economic issues, all other matters are beyond its scope: "Socialists
are bound as socialists only to the acceptance of one great principle
-- the ownership and control of wealth-producing power by the
state, and that therefore, totally antagonistic interpretations of the
Bible, or of prophecy and revelation, theories of marriage and of
history may be held by socialists without in the slightest degree
interfering with their activities as such or with their proper
classification as supporters of the socialist doctrine." Socialism
deals with facts explainable by reason; religion has to do with
theological matters and faith. Religion is totally outside the realm
of socialist discussion, it is a private affair: "Socialism, as a
party, bases itself upon its knowledge of facts, of economic truths,
and leaves the building up of religious ideals or faiths to the
outside public, or to its individual members if they so will. It is
neither Freethinker, nor Christian, Turk nor Jew, Buddhist nor
Idolater, Mohammedan nor Parsee -- it is only human."
There is an absolute separation between socialist and religious
issues, so there should be no necessary conflict between socialism and
religion. Metscher is surprisingly weak and succinct in her discussion
of Connolly's position on religion. She notes that his writings on
religion "not only illustrate how keenly aware Connolly was of the
significant role that Catholicism could play in the Irish road to
socialism, they also show Connolly's extreme sensitivity to the
religious feelings of the Catholic worker" [p128]. Some socialists
have criticised Connolly for making too many concessions to religion,
but Metscher does not discuss those objections. She could also have
contrasted Connolly's attitude to the Catholic Church with that of
Rosa Luxemburg in Poland.
The book is far better in discussing Connolly's position on sexual
questions. Sexual relations, according to Connolly, are -- like
religion -- beyond the bounds of socialism:
"I personally reject every attempt, no matter by whom made, to
identify socialism with any theory of marriage or sexual relations."
Metscher is right to criticise him: "It is unfortunate that he should
have relegated gender relationships to the private sphere. He was
doubtless right in asserting that the abolition of the capitalist
system would solve the economic side of the woman question only, but
to him 'the question of marriage, of divorce, of paternity, of the
equality of woman with man are physical and sexual questions.'"
Connolly did not see that gender relationships are basically social
relationships, which in turn, are tied up with traditional patriarchal
concepts of the family and women's role within the family. Thus, he
failed to understand divorce as a fundamental democratic right. He saw
the emancipation of women basically as economic and political
emancipation. "Connolly's statements on marriage and divorce were
certainly a step behind the ideas of democratisation of gender
relationships advocated by the early Irish socialist William Thompson
for example" [p157-158].
The author outlines the different phases of Connolly's career as an
activist as well as their historical context. Connolly was the first
to see the necessity of organising a genuinely Irish Socialist Party
that recognised the needs of the Irish people as distinct from
Britain. In 1896, he formed the Irish Socialist Republican Party
(ISRP). He was able to secure independent Irish representation at the
international conference of Socialist parties in Paris in 1900.
Metscher shows that the ISRP programme may perhaps have lacked the
political sharpness of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party for
example, but on one point was more advanced than any other party in
the British Isles: whereas other parties pursued a "colonial socialist
policy" of Home Rule for British colonies and dependencies, the ISRP
clearly stood out against British imperialism and for national
self-determination. The party was very weak, mainly based in Dublin,
with no real influence among industrial workers and just a few dozen
members. It nevertheless played a role in 1798 celebrations, protest
against the Queen Victoria Jubilee and the Boer War.
When Connolly emigrated to the USA in 1903, his experience had shown
that a political party had little value as an organisational mode of
mass mobilisation. Being on the left of the Second International, he
also understood that trying to create socialism gradually through
parliamentary measures led to an impasse. In the USA, Connolly was
very impressed by syndicalism through the theory and practice of the
American socialist Daniel De Leon. Syndicalism is a socialist current
that seeks to overthrow capitalism and the state by primarily if not
purely industrial organisation and struggle. If political parties and
action lead to reformism, to destroy capitalism the working class must
concentrate on the industrial battlefield. Syndicalism seeks to
mobilise all grades of workers in a single revolutionary trade union
organisation, the "One Big Union." Although Connolly still advocated
the use of political action and organisation, he relegated them to a
secondary position. Thus in his "Socialism Made Easy," Connolly
downgrades the political struggle: "The fight for the conquest of the
political state is not the battle, it is only the echo of the battle.
The real battle is the battle being fought every day for the power to
control industry." Political action is important, but only as an
accompaniment to action in the workshop.
Metscher notes, "despite his ardent advocacy of industrial unionism,
Connolly never rejected political action. It was to occupy his
attention more and more after his return to Ireland." Unfortunately,
Connolly never placed the party (be it the ISRP or its successor, the
Socialist Party of Ireland founded in 1909) at the centre of his
attention. His main energies went into the trade union (the Irish
Transport and General Workers Union, founded 1908), not the party.
Connolly formed political parties, but failed to attach central
importance to them. His failure to establish a vanguard party resulted
in a situation where there were no trained and experienced
revolutionary leaders to take his place. Political class-consciousness
does not spontaneously grow from trade union consciousness, and
industrially organised workers will not spontaneously also mean
politically organised workers.
History proved that the mass strike would not spontaneously transform
itself into a political insurrection. The mass strike happened in 1913
(Dublin 1913), but did not lead to a mass political insurrection. The
insurrection happened in Easter 1916, but without broad mass
involvement. The merging of the two could only be organically mediated
by a party. 1913 showed the irruption of the Irish working class on
the Irish scene, but simultaneously showed the weakness of the
political organisation of that class. Ireland at that time possessed
the objective conditions for revolution, but the subjective conditions
lagged far behind. The point is that the organisational theories of
Connolly meant that once he was killed, the full revolutionary
potential of the labour movement began to degenerate without anything
to prevent doing so. The working class in Ireland, famed for its
militancy became prey to the leadership of opportunists. The fact that
the Socialist Party of Ireland was a loose centrist organisation and
the very all-embracing nature of the ITGWU meant that the workers'
movement had no ideologically trained vanguard to resist the
replacement of Connolly and Larkin by opportunists like William
The Citizen Army, under the new leadership of James O'Neill, became an
uninfluential group, which eventually ceased to exist for all
practical purposes. All this was not unconnected to the influence
syndicalism exerted on Connolly, indeed syndicalism provided fertile
ground for opportunism to flourish. Connolly had the right political
analysis, but was unable to draw the correct organisational
conclusions from it. However, Connolly nevertheless was the most
far-sighted socialist in the British Isles in regards to the military
organisation of the working class. The Irish Citizen Army was founded
in 1913 to give protection to the workers during the Dublin lockout.
Hailed as the first Red Army in Europe, it was a very significant
phenomenon. "An armed organisation of the Irish working class is a
phenomenon in Ireland. Hitherto the workers of Ireland have fought as
part of their armies led by their masters, never as members of an army
officered, trained and inspired by men of their own class. Now with
arms in their hands, their propose to steer their own course, to carve
their own future."
Connolly understood the importance of arming the masses and creating
workers' militia. The Citizen Army was always a stalwart of the ITGWU
and was able to use its Liberty Hall as a base. Connolly conceived it
as the armed wing of the trade union, in the same way the Socialist
Party was its political wing. That limited its political potential.
But the Citizens Army managed to play a decisive role once the First
World War started. Connolly hoped that the working class in the
different European countries would revolt against the war: "Should the
working class of Europe, rather than slaughter each other for the
benefit of kings and financiers, proceed tomorrow to erect barricades
all over Europe, to break up bridges and destroy the transport service
that war might be abolished, we should be perfectly justified in
following such a glorious example and contributing our aid to the
final dethronement of the vulture classes that rule and rob the
Unfortunately, this did not happen. But this did not discourage James
Connolly to prepare for the insurrection against those "vulture
classes" in Ireland, hoping that this might inspire and help a similar
process in other countries: "Starting this, Ireland may yet set a
torch to a European conflagration that will not burn out until the
last throne and the last capitalist bond and debenture will be
shrivelled on the funeral pyre of the last warlord." When the war
started, this "should have been taken as the tocsin for social
revolution". In this process, the Citizens Army had a leading role to
play. "Holding such views we have at all times combated the idea of
war; held that we have no foreign enemies outside of our own ruling
class; held that if we are compelled to go to war we had much rather
fight that ruling class than any other, and taught in season and out
of season that it is the duty of the working class in self-protection
to organise its own force to resist the force of the master class."
While Connolly was calling for the transformation of the imperialist
war into a civil war, Metscher explains that he never developed
Lenin's position of revolutionary defeatism. Connolly thought that a
victory of Germany over Britain would be the lesser of two evils, and
wrote a number of pro-German articles. "Undoubtedly, much of what
Connolly wrote during this period was directly propagandistic, aimed
at combating British jingoism and anti-German fever hence his
insistence that Britain was the main enemy of the Irish people -- but
his arguments concerning the imperialist nature of the war lack the
perspicacity and directness which are evident in Lenin's articles of
the same period" [p184].
Priscilla Metscher's book is overall quite good. She clearly shows the
originality and strengths of Connolly, without failing to be
uncritical. However, it is disappointing that she does not discuss the
contemporary relevance (or irrelevance) of Connolly's thought for the
21st century. In the absence of such discussion, it gives the
impression that Connolly is simply a figure of historical interest.
Connolly deserves more than that.
(Liam O'Ruairc -- 30 June 2004 -- FIRST Printed in The Blanket)
PROTEST JULY 3RD: WHITE LINE PICKET IN CASTLEWELLAN, SOUTH DOWN.
THERE WILL BE A WHITE LINE PICKET IN CASTLEWELLAN, SOUTH DOWN ON
SATURDAY 3RD JULY AT 3.00PM. THIS PICKET WILL BE IN SUPPORT OF THE
REPUBLICAN POWS IN MAGHABERRY GAOL AND A PROTEST AT THE CONTINUED
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES THEY ARE CURRENTLY BEING FORCED TO ENDURE. ALL
ASSEMBLE UPPER SQUARE.
Wednesday 7th July, 2004
Professor Arend Lijphart
The de Borda Institute has invited Professor Arend Lijphart, a well
recognised protagonist of consociationalism and a patron to The de
Borda Institute, to conduct a seminar on voting procedures in The
Linenhall Library at 10.30 - 12.00 on Wednesday 7th July, 2004.
All welcome on a first-come-first-served basis, but places are
limited. Further details from The de Borda Institute:
Friday 9 July
Honouring anti-fascist fighters
A monument to the eleven Waterford men who fought in defence of the
Spanish Republic, 1936-38, will be unveiled at the Mall, Waterford.
The work of the acclaimed artist Michael Warren from Gorey, it will
be unveiled by the International Brigade veterans Michael O'Riordan
and Jack Jones.
Aoine 9 Iúil
In onóir trodaithe frithfhaisisteacha
Nochtfar leacht i gcuimhne ar an aon fhear Port Láirgeach déag
a throid i gcosaint Phoblacht na Spáinne, 1936-38, sa Mheal, Port
Láirge. Saothar de chuid an ealaíontóra mholta Michael
Warren as Guaire is ea é, agus is iad Michael O'Riordan agus Jack
Jones, seansaighdiúirí de chuid na Briogáide
Idirnáisiúnta, a nochtfaidh é.
[from CPI website]
SATURDAY 17th JULY 3PM: WHITE LINE PICKET AND RALLY
Meeting @ entrance to Falls Park.
Speakers to be announced.
"(We) call on all groups and concerned individuals to attend the
above protest to highlight the ongoing harassment and abuse of
Republican prisoners in Maghaberry Jail.
"Despite achieving the hard won but moderate demand of segregation
from Loyalists and criminals the POW's in Roe House are still under
pressure from the Prison Administration and vindictive screws. This
includes the continuation of forced strip searches, denials of basic
amenities, the intensification and lengthening of lock-up time plus
the humiliation still being endured by visiting family members,
friends and political representatives.
"We urge everyone to stand behind these men and their families by
coming out onto the streets in the coming weeks and making their
voices heard once more."
Friday, July 30th
Democratic Dialogue is organising a seminar, in conjunction with the
Institute of Governance at Queen's University Belfast and the de
Borda Institute, on 'The Difficulties of Democracy Building, Identity
Formation and Ethnic Nationalism in the Balkans'. The seminar is to
be led by Rory Conces, an assistant professor of philosophy and
member of the International Studies faculty at the University of
Nebraska at Omaha, who is also editor of the International Third
World Studies Journal and Review. The event will take place on
Friday, July 30th, at 11.00am in room 101 Lanyon North (first floor,
Lanyon Building), at Queen's (directions from the porter's lodge at
main entrance). Prof Conces has lectured in China, Croatia, and
Kosovo; as well as having been a Fulbright Scholar in Bosnia and
Herzegovina. Approaching issues of ethnic identity from a political-
philosophical standpoint, his talk will be of considerable resonance
to Northern Ireland.
Further information from email@example.com.
Saturday 31 July
As part of the discussions and debates at the West Belfast Festival
there will be a event about Racism, featuring prominent speakers.
Date: Saturday 31 July
Venue: St Mary's University College
Time: 2.00pm 3.45pm
"Anti-Irish Racism and the Experience of Belfast's Ethnic Minorities
Today: Making the Connection"
Chair: Fr. Des Wilson
Dr. Robbie McVeigh, The Experience of Anti-Irish Racism
Claire Hackett, Falls Community Council's Dúchas Oral History
Video presentation on the Belfast historical experience of
sectarianism and discrimination.
The Experience of Ethnic Minorities Today
Armie Cerezo - Filipino Nurse
Jamal Iweida - Belfast Islamic community Anti-Racist activist
Bernadette McAliskey Civil Rights, Ireland and the USA: Making
1) Resistance and Hope Assisi, August 2-7
Call for the Anti-imperialist Camp, Assisi, Italy, August 2-7
Mankind is travelling in fear on a train towards the abyss. This
abyss is the mercilessly waged global war. The train is steered by
the United States of America, to be precise, by a group of
adventurers dreaming of a dead and mute world with one single God,
the dollar; with one single banner, that of stars and stripes; with
one single language, that of American oppression.
These adventurers are driven by a vision which neither admits
compromises nor half ways: the clash of civilisations not only with
Islam but also with anybody who believes in the co-operation between
the peoples and who consider peace as the holiest of all values. They
have given a name to their doctrine: "permanent and pre-emptive war"
which not only displays the warmongering character of the North
American regime but also the idea that the US were a superior nation
with a special mission namely to exercise the global predominance at
any cost. The alibi, which this doctrine builds on, is the terrorist
threat. Those who employ indiscriminate force against defenceless and
innocent civilians, those who consider a person guilty if it does not
believe in their God, might believe to be on a straight way to
paradise but surely contribute to the transformation of this world
into an inferno without hope. The only remaining hope of the world is
the Resistance, the struggle of the peoples for freedom and self-
The American aim is not only to subjugate the poor and oppressed
nations but also those who still enjoy some liberty. The Patriot Act
and the anti-terrorist Black Lists show that the most elementary
democratic rights are at stake also in the West and particularly in
the United States. Virulent racist and chauvinist crusades attempt to
criminalise the anti-imperialist and revolutionary forces as well as
the organisations of immigrants. They even want to silence the peace
The anti-imperialist Resistance has indestructible roots and dates
back to the very beginning of the imperial North American ambitions.
Where there is oppression there will always be revolt as well, where
there is dictatorship there will always be the struggle for
democracy, where there is injustice there never will be peace.
Today the Iraqi people is testifying for the Resistance keeping up
their heads against the American war criminals and their paranoid
designs to Guantánamise the world. The Iraqi resistance has taken
the way paved by the Palestinian Intifada. By building a united front
of all the fighting forces it will gain further strength transforming
itself into a national liberation war. This front, the embryo of a
future government of a liberated Iraq, will be able once the
invaders are driven out to call upon the Iraqis to elect a
democratic constituent assembly exercising the full and undivided
sovereignty of the Iraqi people.
The future of humanity depends on the outcome of the battle raging in
Iraq. The heroic town of Falluja, having chased away mercenaries
armed with the most sophisticated weaponry, shows that the Iraqi
people are able to win as the Vietnamese people won. The decisive
factor in war even more than in peace is not technological
superiority but what motivates the people to fight.
We have to unite with the Resistance of the Iraqi people to help
mankind to liberate itself from the North American menace.
The future of the world depends on the victory of Iraq!
2) Iraqi presences and programme of Assisi
This year's Anti-imperialist Camp will have its focus on the Iraqi
resistance. The Iraqi Patriotic Alliance (IPA) will present its
efforts to build a common political front of all forces struggling
against occupation. For the Iraqi Democratic Communist Current, which
is a component of the IPA, Ahmed Karim will be present and for the
Iraqi Communist Party (cadre) Nori al-Moradi.
A global meeting of all the forces and committees in open support of
the Iraqi resistance is scheduled. The preparation of the
international day of action for the resistance scheduled for
September 25 will be one of the topics on the agenda.
The preliminary programme:
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