Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Hugh Stevens

Connollyism and Leninism

First Published: Class Struggle, April 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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James Connolly, the greatest of all the proletarian revolutionaries to have been brought forth by the class struggle in the British Isles, was shot at dawn on May 12th, 1916. Seriously wounded in the fighting during the Easter uprising, he was unlikely to have survived long, as gangrene had set in to his wounds and was affecting his whole body. Nevertheless, even a few days were too long for British imperialism to wait for his death, and he was taken down from his hospital bed at Dublin Castle on a stretcher and across to Kilmainham Jail. There he was propped up in a chair, and shot by a firing squad.


What were the last thoughts of this great class warrior as, fighting off the great pain of his wounds, as he looked back over the eventful previous few days, made what arrangements he could for the future of his family, and prepared himself for his death?

We can catch a glimpse into his thoughts from a remark he made to his daughter, Nora, during her last visit to him, which was less than two hours before he was shot. “My socialist friends on the Continent,” he said, “will never understand why I am in this position. They will forget I am an Irishman.”

James Connolly was a socialist and a Marxist. He was not one to be satisfied with the ideal of national independence alone. He saw the national freedom for which he fought in Easter week not as a final goal in itself, but as a step towards social freedom for the working and oppressed classes. But at the same time, he had no illusions about the socialist movement as it then existed. He realised just how blind so many socialists were to the absolute necessity of national freedom as a step towards social freedom. Such were the final preoccupation of James Connolly before his execution.


While Connolly was building unity of his socialist forces with the independence movement in Ireland, an internationalist tendency had also arisen in the socialist movement on the Continent. Led by Lenin and other revolutionaries, these internationalists stood against the imperialist war and upheld the right of freedom for oppressed nations. They did not make contact with the socialist movement in Ireland, and Connolly did not live to build unity with Lenin and his comrades.

However, the Easter rising was a source of tremendous inspiration and encouragement to Lenin. For Lenin, it was proof of the correctness of his view that the national aspirations of oppressed peoples, both in the colonies and in Europe, were to play an important role in the struggle against imperialism. He turned with fury upon those’ pure’ socialists who complained that the Easter uprising, as it was a national fight and not yet a social fight, was of limited significance to socialists.

For example, Karl Radek dismissed the uprising as a “putsch”, while Trotsky grumbled about the “nationalist dreamers” who “ensured the preponderance, in the working class movement, of the “Green flag over the Red.”” The basis for a national revolution has disappeared even in backward Ireland,” said Trotsky.

Lenin rounded on such views as “monstrously doctrinaire and pedantic.” Far from being the action of a circle of conspirators, said Lenin, the uprising “expressed itself in street fighting conducted by a section of the urban petty bourgeoisie and a section of the workers after a long period of mass agitation, demonstration, suppression of the press, etc. Whoever calls such an uprising a “putsch” is either a hardened reactionary, or a doctrinaire hopelessly incapable of picturing a social revolution as a living thing.”

Lenin ridiculed those who waited for the workers of the world to line up on one side of a battlefield while the imperialist bourgeoisie lined up for the final conflict on the other. A ’socialist’ who waited for this would be effectively “repudiating social revolution”, said Lenin, for such a simple situation will never arise. Revolution will always present a complicated picture of various classes and aspirations. Only those are true socialists who, like Connolly, can grasp the hand of all oppressed and discontented social groups who are prepared to strike a blow for freedom against imperialism.


Everyone engaged in promoting solidarity with the Irish people’s struggle is all-too-familiar with the ’pure’ socialists who, in the case of Ireland, put forward just such views as those which Lenin ridiculed. There is always some fellow in any meeting who get s up and starts moaning on about the Protestants of the six counties and saying it is ’sectarian and counter-productive’ to support the revolutionary republican struggle . First of all, he or she will say, unity of the two sections of the working class there must be secured through ’patient persuasion and discussion’, or some such means, and only then should socialists give their support.

For Lenin, it was enough that “the most mobilised and enlightened section of certain classes in an oppressed nation” had struck a blow against its oppressors. Such a blow should secure the immediate and unquestioning support of any true internationalist whose heart beats with the most oppressed classes and peoples. Particularly in the case of Britain, the oldest imperialist country, it is of the most vital importance for socialists to repudiate the ’ascendency ideology of Ulster Unionism, rooted as it is in the most reactionary, racist, colonialist thinking. Those British ’socialists’ who perpetually quibble about the question of the politics of the Protestant section of the Irish working class can do incalculable damage to the promotion of Ireland solidarity in Britain and indeed to the cause of revolutionary organisation in Britain in general.

Bitter experience shows that, as Connolly feared in his last moments, such people will never understand the fight against imperialism. Armed with the ideology of Lenin, Stalin and Mao Zedong, revolutionary leaders who did understand, we must clear out such Ulster Unionist ’socialism’ from the revolutionary movement once and for all.

As a British communist wrote in 1922 of Connolly’s remark: “Could he had seen the succeeding years, welcomed the Russian revolution and felt the quaking foundations of capitalism, he would also have heard the answering cry – the revolutionary socialists do understand, and greet James Connolly as one of the valiant few who by their deeds rescued Marxism from sterility and led the way into the epoch of social revolution.”


James Connolly did not entertain any illusion that nations would miraculously melt away after the victory of socialism in a number of countries or throughout the world. “Under a socialist system,” he wrote, every nation will be the supreme arbiter of its own destinies, national and international; it will be forced into no alliance against its will, but will have its independence guaranteed and its freedom respected by the enlightened self­interest of the social democracy of the world.”

What a strong contrast this presents with those who, under the banner of socialism, oppose the oppression of Ireland and other countries by British imperialism, and yet nevertheless condone the ruthless aggression of the Soviet Union’s rulers against the people of the world. Trampling over the national rights of the peoples of Eastern Europe and so many other countries, the Soviet Union’s rulers have betrayed every principle that Connolly, Lenin and Stalin stood for.

It was Ruairi O’Bradaigh, President of Provisional Sinn Fein, who spoke the true voice of Connollyism when, at a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis last year, that stalwart fighter against British imperialism voiced “heartfelt support” for the struggle of the people of Afghanistan against the brutal occupation of their country by Soviet imperialism. How Connolly would have appreciated this standpoint! As Connolly said, “The internationalism of the future will be based upon the free federation of free peoples and cannot be realized through the subjugation of the smaller by the larger political unit.”

Thus did Connolly’s thinking anticipate the stand taken by Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung and the Chinese and Korean comrades in. upholding the independence of socialist countries and in repudiating the dominationist activities of the Soviet Union.


The politics of revolutionary socialism call to mind the pioneering work of Marx and Engels, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia; and the political struggles in far-off China. We must take the opportunity of Easter week to remember those armed detachments of workers who seized much of central Dublin in 1916, and thereby founded a movement which still lives on in the revolutionary republican movement of today. In its great leader, Connolly, Irish socialism anticipated much of the politics of Lenin and Mao, and showed itself a significant part of the world revolutionary socialist movement.

How proud we can feel that by building unity with Connolly’s successors in Ireland ’s fight today we can be working in the direct tradition of Connollyism, which constitutes such a proud page in the record of revolutionary socialism.