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Emanuel Garrett

Men and Women of Labor

Out of the Past

James Connolly
(June 5, 1870–executed May 12, 1916)

(28 March 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 19, 28 March 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The newspapers report the resurgence of the Irish independence movement. “Up the Rebels,” is again heard in the streets of Dublin – this time directed against a one-time rebel, Eamon De Valera, as well as the British tyrants. The anniversary of Red Easter Week is only a few weeks away.

* * *

Jim Connolly was once asked at a lecture how it was that he knew so much about revolutionary and military matters. “You forget,” he replied, “that revolution is my business.”

And that it was. For though he worked at any number of trades in Ireland and in this country – as baker, shoemaker, tiler, machinist, linotyper, etc. – Jim Connolly was primarily a revolutionist, in the words of his biographer, Desmond Ryan, the “first builder of an insurgent barricade in war-wrecked Europe.”

Irish Question Is a Social Question

Himself a worker, and the son of a worker, Connolly sought to free the movement for Ireland’s freedom from the petty-bourgeois and nationalist elements who dominated it at the time; he viewed with distrust the official nationalist leaders who had, he said, “bowed the knee to Baal.”

A student of Marxism, and proud to acknowledge that, he insisted that “only the Irish working class remains as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland.” For “As we have again and again pointed out, the Irish question is a social question, the whole agelong fight of the Irish people against their oppressors resolves itself in the last analysis into a fight for the mastery of the means of life, the sources of production.” His great book, Labor in Irish History, is based on that thesis.

Back in the 90’s when Connolly first began his socialist work, the nationalist movement was in pretty bad shape. The British, riding the wave of imperialist prosperity, tossed the Irish a few crumbs and devitalized the movement for liberation into a mere plea for Home Rule. (Connolly was especially bitter against the Home Rulers.) Such revolutionary work as was being done, was done secretively. Connolly broke through this “ridiculous secrecy,” and brought the socialist movement into the open. In 1896 he founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party, and became editor of its paper, the Worker’s Republic. (The paper bore on its masthead this legend: “The great appear great only because we are on our knees, let us arise!”)

Emigrating to the United States in 1903, he immediately enrolled in the trade union and socialist movements of this country. An industrial unionist all his life, he became in America one of the earliest organizers of the I.W.W. For a time he was a member of the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Labor Party. Disagreeing with Daniel De Leon, leader of the S.L.P., over some questions of policy, he joined the newly formed Socialist Party, for which he worked as a national organizer.

England’s Crisis – Ireland’s Opportunity

Returning to Ireland in 1913, he arrived at the very moment when the great strike battle, led by the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, against Dublin’s united bosses was getting under way. 20,000 workers fought for six months to assert their right to join a union. Jim Larkin, a striking figure and orator, was the best-known leader of the strike. Connolly worked as Larkin’s right-hand man.

Connolly judged crises according to their revolutionary possibilities. In England’s war crisis, he saw revolutionary Ireland’s opportunity. Realizing that collaboration of all the independence movements was absolutely vital, Connolly united, in preparation for action, the I.T.G.W.U., the Socialists, the Citizen’s Army the Sinn Feiners, and the Republican Volunteers.

Both sides mobilized. April was stormy with preparations and preliminary skirmishes. Finally, the British moved in to disarm the Volunteers and the Citizen’s Army. Connolly, who, as the most popular and undoubtedly most able person, had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the revolutionary forces, gave the order for the rising on April 23. The petty-bourgeois leaders of the Volunteers rescinded the order, but the rising went on – their cowardice was too late. The “Provisional Government of an Independent Irish Republic” was proclaimed.

By the morning of April 24, virtually every important point of Dublin was in the hands of the rebels, so carefully had Connolly laid his plans. Facing the ruthless bombardment of British artillery which destroyed the center of the city, the rebels nevertheless fought fiercely for a week with inferior weapons. The uprising was crushed, and the democratic British immediately imposed a bloody reign of White Terror.

Ours ... Fighting and Hoping

The moment may not have been fully ripe for revolutionary action. But the valiant action led by Connolly was by no means an ill-considered, valueless stroke. Like the Russian 1905, it was a preliminary battle, preparatory to the final struggle. Weak-kneed traitors, and “I-Told-You-So” cowards can dismiss Red Easter as an adventuristic putsch; but in the words of Lenin, “those who can term such a rising a putsch are either the worst kind of reactionaries or hopeless doctrinaires, incapable of imagining the social revolution as a living phenomenon.”

Connolly was held prisoner in Kilmainham Jail (Eamon De Valera was privileged to be there with him). On May 12, wounded, carried out on a chair, “fighting and hoping” (he always ended his letters thus), courageous beyond flinching, he faced a British firing squad.

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