Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Labor Action, 9 June 1947


Workers Republic

Commemorating an Irish Revolutionary Marxist

James Connolly and the Socialist
Struggle for Irish Unity


From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 23, 9 June 1947, pp. 5 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The following is the lead article which appeared in the first issue of Workers’ Republic, new periodical issued by the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Irish section of the Fourth International. We are reprinting the main body of the article because we believe it will be of interest to American readers, particularly because it treats with James Connolly, the great Irish revolutionist, in the light of present-day conditions and the needs of the Irish working class.Ed.

ONLY the Unionists unreservedly scorn Connolly’s memory. The Eire ruling circles have to be more circumspect. They are even compelled to acknowledge him as a national hero. For, as the Irish capitalists are unable to falsify the history of Easter in the manner that Stalin has falsified October, it remains common knowledge to every schoolboy that he was one of the two outstanding leaders of the Easter rebellion. Thus it is that Connolly, the revolutionary socialist, has suffered the unusual and curious fate of becoming an object of involuntary homage rendered by capitalist exploiters.

To be sure, the Fianna Fail conservatives, while paying cautious tribute to his memory, piously lament his “tragic error” in embracing the class war doctrines of Marx. They would prefer to erase the socialist imprint from the hero’s pedestal, and to insert ”purely national” in its stead. On the other hand, the fascist fringe of the nationalist movement, posing as the champions of the downtrodden unemployed and low paid workers, freely cull excerpts from Connolly’s teachings to suit their own reactionary purposes.

Connolly’s Debasers

Within the republican wing of the labor movement, Connolly is hailed by all as the final authority in matters of socialist principle. Unfortunately, however, the much quoted texts from his works are seldom understood and frequently perverted. To revive the genuine tradition of Connolly among the youth, and among the members of the labor movement generally, is the major task of Workers’ Republic. This tradition, however, is not like a dish of Irish stew which can be apportioned to, the various sections of the labor movement, in accordance with the requirements of each of them. If by Connollyism is meant uncompromising class struggle against every shape and form of capitalist exploitation – and an honest study of Connolly’s teachings cannot lead to any other interpretation – then only the sprinkling of socialist workers grouped around the banner of the Revolutionary Socialist Party have the true right to designate themselves Connollyites.

We assert this tranquilly and confidently, happy in the knowledge that we shall hardly offend the leaders of official labor who love to drape themselves in Connolly’s cloak on holiday occasions. For most of them won’t even read our paper and, if they do, they will give broad, tolerant grins. The class war doctrines of Marx seem realistic to these people only when they seem to relate to past history and have come to rest in the works of someone already dead and famous.

Long experience has likewise habituated us. to the sarcastic jibes of the so-called Communist Party, North of Ireland and British, whose Connolly Club – a part of the Stalinist solar system – is designed to divert the patriotic and class militancy of Irish émigré workers into channels useful to Stalin’s diplomacy. We recall how, during the Stalin Hitler pact period of the war, the Irish Stalinist leaders played the role of antipartition crusaders and how later, during the Churchill-Stalin pact, with breathtaking effrontery, they proclaimed themselves adherents of the constitutional position of the Six Counties. They hailed Brooke as the leader of the ”progressive” wing of the Stormont Tories. They flew the Union Jack, symbol of imperialist oppression, at their demonstrations. And – make sense of this who- an – they demanded the substitution of the Civil Authorities Special Powers Acts by the British Emergency Powers (which in the hands of the Tory Unionists, would have fulfilled precisely the same function). And during this period, the bust of Connolly escaped the indignity of being decorated by an orange sash by a hair’s breadth; for, while bowing and scraping before Brooke and ”our” Irish generals, the Communist Party continued to profess allegiance to Connolly, Lenin and Marx.

* * *

The Tactic of Easter Week

Connolly, first, last and always, based himself on the class struggle, and his Citizen Army grew directly out of the picket of the great 1913 strike in Dublin. He was an internationalist whose fiery denunciations of imperialist brigands of 1914 are still the most invigorating writings that have ever appeared in the British labor press. Liebknecht’s slogan,. ”Down with war! The main enemy is at home!” and Lenin’s “Turn the imperialist war into civil war!” found a ready echo in Ireland. Connolly was full of praise for the heroic Liebknecht. In his Forward articles he urged the leaders of the European labor movement to throw their influence into transforming the imperialist war into a struggle for socialist liberation. The northern star gleaming beyond . the shadows of night is no further dtstaiir front this orbit of ours than Connolly’s program of class struggle is from the reformist vaporings of the republican socialists of today.

However, it was the tactic of harnessing to the goal of socialism that earned Connolly, a distinctive place in history. All other aspects of his greatness he shares with others. But this uniqueness lay in the circumstances themselves. What, then, was the Easter Week tactic? Was it a putchist effort? An act of desperation arising out of a loss of faith in working class mass action? Was it a desertion of the socialist goal, as Connolly’s socialist critics allege?

Putschism, whether left-wing or right-wing in tendency, is characteristically based on the notion that the mass of people will remain passive onlookers, while an attempt is made at the seizure of state power by an elite of politicians turned militarist; or, more familiarly, by the members of the officer caste itself. The insurrection of October, 1917, for example, was not in any sense of the word a putsch, although accomplished by a comparatively small number of Red Guards. The Czarist and capitalist reaction inside the country was demoralized, and foreign intervention had not yet begun. The mass of workers, fully conscious of all the issues at stake, stood ready to answer a call to arms as they had done against the putschist attempt of General Kornilov.

The Irish war of liberation took place in reverse order to the Russian Revolution. There the popular mass struggle of February paved the way for the October overturn. Here, the insurrection of Easter preceded and, in fact, produced the popular upsurge. Thus Easter Week had every appearance of putschism; for here was a small body of fighters, numbering not more than several hundreds in all, who challenged to battle a mighty empire whose soldiers were undemoralized and armed for a large-scale war.

Connolly, Pearse and their comrades were the nation’s idealists. Yet nonetheless they were a part of a trampled populace, whose dream they expressed and whose understanding they sought to gain through struggle. Hundreds of years of imperialist tyranny had made the vision of liberation so much a part of the personalities of Irish men and women that, trading with Britain and even fighting for her, they scarcely took account of their yearning to be free. The Easter battle broke the habit of compliance. It brought the dream to life. Going down in defeat it touched potent springs of revolt and brought welling out of the nation’s heart a flood of patriotic courage and resolve. The British had won a Pyrrhic victory. Their power over most of Ireland was broken.

Was it not the military debacle in itself which is of first consequence when a popular insurrection goes down to defeat but the political conduct of the insurgent leaders. The magnificent struggle of the Asturian miners in 1934, although bloodily suppressed, left the Spanish workers undismayed and paved the way for the bitter resistance to Franco. On the other hand, the battles which raged in the streets of Madrid in 1939. between the forces of the Spanish “Communist” Party and those of Colonel Casado – their erstwhile ally in the Popular Front – were prestige saving putschist actions. The rival factions grappled while the victorious fascist army stood at the gate, and while the Spanish working masses, bewildered by betrayal and bled white by the war, looked on impotently.

The valiant uprising of the Warsaw Jews against the Nazis, in the latter part of the war, was strikingly reminiscent of the Easter Week rebellion in some of its features. Here were representatives of a people doomed to physical extirpation, who rose against their oppressors and fought with legendary courage until they were overwhelmed and massacred. The situation of the Irish under Britain in the 20th century did not parallel the plight of the Jews under Hitler. But in the threat of the Northern Carsonites, the presence of a strutting, alien soldiery in the land, the slaughter of Irish youth enlisted with the British, there was inflammable material enough at hand to light the flames of the Easter insurrection.

Connolly’s Patriotism

The patriotism of capitalist exploiters is a quality altogether different from the selfless idealism of rebels fighting to free their land. To insist that Connolly was above all an international socialist is not thereby to fall into the error of supposing that the passion of patriotism was absent from his feelings. His patriotic fervor was intense and his fiery hatred and contempt for his country’s oppressors inevitably betrayed him into occasional exaggerations. For instance, in his War Against the German People he favorably contrasts the German industrialists to the brutal, mean and slothful ruling class of England. On the other hand, in other articles of the same period, he heaps equal hatred and contempt upon the German imperialist brigands.

It is worth noting that the Stalinist party, during the Stalin-Hitler pact period, published Connolly’s War Against the German People without a word of criticism. Within two years, however, they were describing the German people as “Huns.”

An erstwhile revolutionist, Koestler, makes a mock of those Marxists who continue to harbor feelings of passionate personal animosity toward their political enemies, in apparent contradiction to the doctrine that the evil lies not in man but in his circumstances. But this is theorizing out of time and space. It is the “whips and scorns” of capitalist society which shape the rebel soul of the revolutionist long before he has worked out his philosophy of life. Lenin understood this when, writing of Gallagher in his youth, he spoke of “his noble proletarian hatred.”

And noble, too, was the patriotic wrath of Connolly and Pearse, contemplating the trampled pride of the Irish people.

Did He Abandon Socialism?

It would be interesting to discover how many of those who accused Connolly of abandoning the working class struggle found themselves later in the bandwagon of capitalist imperialism, or else found comfortable posts in the official opposition – in reality, the junior partnership of the De Valera regime.

These guardians of purity notwithstanding, the revolutionary military alliance with the volunteers was entirely in accordance with socialist principle. “Keep your arms, your allies of today may be your enemies of tomorrow” was the warning issued by Connolly to the Citizen Army on the eve of battle; and when it is borne in mind that Pearse and his friends were men who wielded no means of coercion over the workers – unlike the allies of Stalinism, such as de Gaulle and Churchill – but were, indeed, men prepared to live or die as outlaws in the eyes of official society, the principal difference between the revolutionary tactic of Connolly and the opportunist policies of the Stalinist Popular Fronters, of of labor reformist capitulators to the capitalist state, is apparent.

At the end of the Second World War the European capitalist classes found themselves in perilous circumstances. War and occupation had reduced the capitalist economy to conditions of chaos. The professional armies and the police, formerly reliable instruments in holding down the workers, had either been shattered or dispersed; or else had so compromised their standing through Quisling collaboration with the Nazis, as to have forfeited the allegiance of even the backward elements of the population. The working class forces emerging from the underground had won sufficient moral authority among the middle classes to have been able to lead virtually the whole of society in a struggle against the capitalist exploiters. Intervention, blockade, as well as the exhausted state of the economy, would have presented huge difficulties to the newly-arisen workers’ states; but the Russian workers survived such conditions and, in any case, no lesser dangers and difficulties can be envisaged for the future. However, the Stalinists and reformists used their influence to dissolve the militias, and formed coalition governments with the exploiters to work for the restoration of the capitalist state. Had the militias of the working class been trained in the Citizen Army tradition by leaders of the stamp of Connolly, the rotting structure of capitalism would have been swept away. Connolly would have fought the Nazis in the underground and would have formed military alliances with non-socialist sections of the Resistance Movement, but he wouldn’t have dreamed of liquidating the independent military formations of the working class in the interests of reconstituting bankrupt capitalism; and far from entering into political partnership with Badoglio and de Gaulle, he would have described them as criminals on an equal plane with the Nazis.

It may be added that whereas the Stalinists incessantly preached racial hatred against the German workers there can be found nowhere in the works of Connolly, even by the implication of a chance phrase, a single word of insult directed against the English working class.

The Easter Week proclamation was revolutionary nationalist in tone, and capitalist-liberal in content. But, as the German Marxist Lassalle has taught, the essence of constitution lies in the balance of power between the classes. It was far from a foregone conclusion that, once the British power had been vanquished, a new native, capitalist state would take its place. The final outcome of the struggle begun in Easter Week depended on the further course of the international class struggle. Meanwhile, the supreme immediate task lay in smashing the coercive power of the British and casting out of the Irish race the spirit of submissiveness.

But nevertheless, argue the critics, the capitalist state DID consolidate itself, and the Easter rebellion led to the triumph of Cosgrave and De Valera’s regime. These entirely superficial critics belong to the same camp as those who attribute Stalinism to the thought and action of Lenin. The truth is, however, that the triumph of the reactionaries took place despite the revolutionaries, and because of the aid afforded them by the treacherous leaders of the workers.

Had the conflagration which consumed the Russian state extended to the West, then the role of the Citizen Army, thanks to the prestige won in the struggle of Easter Week, would have been immense in advancing the cause of the workers’ revolution throughout the whole of the British Isles. But the Western capitalist powers stood immune from the fires of revolution, and, in Central Europe, reformist socialism extinguished the flame. The survival of capitalism in the decisive centers ruled out the prospect of a revolutionary development in Ireland.

Rise of Partition Problem

The struggle between the partisans of the treaty and the wing of irreconcilable republicans, and the partitioning of the country by the British led to the victory of the De Valera regime in the South an.d the rule of the Carsonite Tories in the six Northeastern counties. Two generations of ardent youths expended themselves in the apparently hopeless effort to oust the British from their Orange bridgehead in the North. The more fiercely and resolutely glowed the spirit of struggle among the baffled republican forces, the more firmly the Tory regime consolidated its support in the ranks of a misled, bigoted working class. Today, the proof that the Irish working class is the most conservative in Europe lies in the longevity of the rival governments.

De Valera strengthened his influence during the war. His neutrality policy protected the Eire state from the shocks, upheavals and devastations which shook the political stability of the belligerent capitalist states. The safety valve of emigration prevented the unemployment question from becoming a threat to stability.

An immense force for the indoctrination of conservative ideas is the church, whose historic power as a national (and nationalist) institution is perpetuated by the stagnant condition of living standards, and the consequent absence of a sharp hunger for social change among the workers. And, in place of rebellious, landless peasants of former days, there are the petty proprietors of today who, though hostile to the monopolies which exploit them, are nonetheless imbued with a conservative dread of change.

Every child knows that the overriding political issue of the past quarter century has been the country’s disunity, and the presence of Britain in the North. The capitalist system maintains itself on the division of the workers, and no working class has ever been more effectively divided than the Irish. A unified, independent Ireland, or union with Britain? Over this problem reformist socialism has floundered helplessly for a generation. Labor reformism is by its nature compelled to keep in step with the popular prejudices. However, the thorny problem is what to do when two rigidly opposing sets of prejudices divide the workers. This split on the constitutional question has led to division among the reformist socialists themselves.

Upholders of Stormont

The Commonwealth Labor Party is the avowed defender of the British connection within the Northern labor movement. The Commonwealth Party justifies its position on the grounds of the cultural affinities and common traditions of the peoples of England and Ireland; of the superior social services under Britain; and of the anti-labor role of the Catholic Church, as demonstrated, for instance, during the Spanish War.

However, while it is true that speech, literature, history, trade unionism, politics and economics tend to cement the closest bonds between the Irish and British workers, on the other hand the tradition of greatest political consequence to the Protestant workers (whom Commonwealth aspires to represent) is the one which they share with their nationalist fellow workers; namely, the “Irish Question,” under which heading we place religious bigotry, church politics, the Orange Order, the IRA, the special powers, partition, and all, in short, that keeps the workers behind the banners of Orange or Green Toryism.

The sectarian hatreds can be finally burned away only through working class unification around a programme of all-sided struggle against the vested interests. Down with the factory bosses and the landlords, the partition politicians and the Orange leaders, the police dictators, the church politicians and sectarian ideologies of every hue! It is only through engaging in the creative task of transforming the social system and establishing the workers’ republic that the consciousness of the workers will be changed.

It is undeniable that the Westminster subsidy allows six county residents superior social services to Eire’s. But it is equally true that two generations of British workers have had to spill their blood on Europe’s battlefields in defense of these standards, won through class struggle and made possible by Britain’s world exploitive power. Let us recall in this connection the efforts of the Commonwealth leaders to persuade the six county workers to accept conscription.

High prices and ever mounting taxation weigh down the gains which the Northerners share with the British. A merciless trade war and a further military struggle loom ahead. Viewed against such an oncoming of ruin and bloody destruction, the question of the relative level of social amenities between Eire and the North is of minor importance. In raising the question of social service levels, the Commonwealth leadership demonstrates its essential adherence to capitalism, and its belief in its reliability. It does not seriously occur to them that the duty of socialists is not to choose between De Valera and Brooke regimes, but to advance the goal of workers’ power. The harsh conditions of capitalism drive thousands of fresh layers of workers yearly in the direction of the labor movement. A few thousand workers, influenced by a fighting movement, would win the masses of people behind them in a social crisis.

Meanwhile the greatest counter-pressure to the growth of a socialist consciousness in Ireland is the Northern regime, its subsidized services notwithstanding. Tory unionism is an exceptional regime, neither fascist nor democratic, which preserves itself by playing on the Protestant fears arising out of the size of the nationalist minority and the proximity of the Eire republic. To keep green the seeds of sectarian division among the people must inevitably remain the guiding principle of its policy.

It is fantastic to suppose that within even a capitalist republic the roles would be reversed and that the Protestant workers would become the object of sectarian discrimination. The concentration of the Protestants and the anti-sectarian bias which partition has given the nationalist workers, are sufficient guarantees. In contrast to Stormont exceptionalism, there is a normal, reactionary capitalist regime. Far from providing a base for the Catholic indoctrination of Protestant children – as the Protestant Action demagogues allege – the unification of Ireland would weaken the power of the anti-socialist crusaders of Catholic Action by providing a superior mobilizing point for the class struggle. Between Stormont and the Dail we therefore make some distinction. To choose a hypothetical example, we would support strike action protesting attempts to force a reunion with Britain on Eire. On the other hand, we would denounce as reactionary a strike action aimed against the incorporation of the six counties into an Irish republic. Such considerations could only be modified in the even of a fascist government coming to power in the South.

The Republican Labor Wing

At no time would we assume a shred of responsibility for the political actions of the capitalist parties of either side, or sacrifice working class independence for blocs with dubious “in-between” politicians. The supreme task is to heighten the socialist consciousness of the workers, to arm them with an understanding., that the Fianna Fail and the Unionist politicians are the agents of the employers, to convince them that capitalism is bankrupt, and to equip them with a program for power. The main republican wing of the Labor movement, the Eire Labor Party, by its demonstrated alliance with De Valera on questions of high state policy and its purely verbal opposition on secondary issues, by its acceptance of the Papal encyclicals and by its failure to lead the class struggle of the Southern workers, plays into the hands of the partitionists and sectarians. Its anti-partition campaign is conducted on abstract historical grounds unrelated to the class needs of the workers of either side. Its activities are conducted outside the consciousness of the Northern Protestant workers.

The small group within the ranks of the Northern Ireland Labor Party adhering to the ”Back to Westminster” slogan objectively belong to the same camp as Commonwealth. The “Back to Westminster” faction starts from the correct conception that Stormont is a regime of exceptionalism; but apparently works on the theory that under the benevolent sway of the British Labor Government sectarian animosity would die away. However, the existence of a reformist labor government, whose position is bound to become precarious, and whose leaders in any case willingly collaborate with Tory Unionism, is no guarantee against a return to the pre-Stormont Carsonite era. The capitalist Unionists derive their strength not merely from the existence of the Stormont Parliament but from their social posi-tioh and from, partition and the special powers maintained by successive British governments, including the present Labor regime. “Back to Westminster” would perpetuate Irish disunity and prevent active partnership between the workers of both sides around the program of the workers’ republic, which alone can exorcise the specter of further sectarian strife.

The official labor leadership in the North likewise adheres to a pro-partition standpoint. Posing as labor purists they dismiss the border question as a “capitalist bogey!” To evade the problem of the border means, however, to accept the constitutional status quo.

The Labor Parties

The Laborites rest their hopes on the worker profiting from the British examples by returning Labor majorities on both sides of the border. An enlightened Labor Ireland would then, presumably, settle the question of partition amicable, in accordance with the expressed wishes of the constituents.

Unquestionably the swing to Labor in Britain led to a strengthening of the Labor Party’s prestige in Northern Ireland; but this can easily be exaggerated. The British leftward swing took place largely outside the consciousness of the workers here. The Labor Government was not their creation and, as County Down demonstrated, large masses of Protestants remain hostile to it.

Nonetheless, the opportunities of the Irish Labor parties depend largely upon the fate of the present British government, which is now entering heavy weather. The “tragedy” of Fabian socialism, which grew out of the theory of a peaceful partnership between the classes founded on mutual prosperity, is that its advent to power occurred not in the lush days of imperialism but in the period of capitalism’s death agony.

Today, however, Britain has been cast out of the privileged circle of nations. United States competitive supremacy, Russia’s challenge on the Continent, the Indian debacle, the fuel crisis, the burden of miltarism, her outdated equipment and her new status as a debtor nation are scale wherein to weigh the dwindling strength of imperial England.

However, the exposure of the bankruptcy of the present leadership would not necessarily terminate the Labor Party’s governmental career; and, in any event, certainly would not mean the end of the party as a mass working class organization.

The emergence from within the movement of left-wing opposition tendencies, revolutionary or pseudo-revolutionary, is inevitable. Thus it remains a likely perspective that the Labor parties, basing themselves on the left of the British movement, will win a majority of the workers of the decisive urban centers, though the rural vote renders the prospect of gaining majorities in the Parliaments remote.

Arising out of the cataclysmic conditions of crisis, such a shift to Labor would signify a revolutionary state of mind among the workers. However, to consummate the revolution would require a labor rank and file trained in the program of Marxism and in the spirit of Connolly’s tradition and a leadership altogether different in quality from the present dozing leaders.

The crying need of the hour is for the development of a tendency within the Labor parties basing itself on the program of the Workers’ Republic.

Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 19 October 2022