Monday, 21 April 2008

James Connolly, socialism, internationalism, and nationalism / Republicanism

"The cause of Labour is the cause of Ireland, and the cause of Ireland is the cause of Labour "

Out of context, not one of Connolly’s most incisive statements - but the one chosen to inscribe the State’s monument to the socialist revolutionary, which stands opposite Liberty Hall.

At face value, it’s a pretty nonsensical utterance; as the interests of “Labour” (ordinary working people engaged in class struggle against their rulers) obviously are not the same as the State’s and the governing class behind it. You might as well say “the cause of chickens is Bernard Matthews, and the cause of Bernard Matthews is chickens”.

In fact, it’s a terrible pity that the memory of the country’s greatest social agitators – who was motivated by internationalism, a hatred of injustice, poverty, the class system, and inequality – has been hijacked by both the State and Sinn Fein, thanks to Connolly’s ill-judged participation in the nationalist putch that was the 1916 Rising.

Connolly was himself a product of the working class. Born in Edinburgh in 1868, he served in the British Army, in common with many of his social background. His own life experiences led him to question the status quo and the nature of the society in which he lived, leading to a Marxist position on the nature of the nation-state and its institutions of oppression. No armchair, academic socialist here.

A founder of the Irish Labour Party, he also co-founded the Irish Citizen Army – an organisation formed to protect Dublin workers from the brutality of the police during the 1912 Strike/Lockout - when they were engaged in bitter struggle with the bosses’ class. This class was personified by bourgeois Irish nationalist and leading advocate of independence, William Martin Murphy; owner of the Irish Independent, Clerys, and the Dublin United Tramway Company.

As a socialist and internationalist, Connolly’s politics were inimical to the nation-state and the narrow patriotism engendered by it; a patriotism that divided workers, whose common ground was not nationality or creed, but class. A student of Esperanto, he hoped the synthetic language would transcend linguistic differences and help unite the world’s workers. Esperanto has since lost its place as a potential lingua franca of the World - a position now, arguably, occupied by English.

Surprisingly – again in today’s context - Connolly saw the Irish Language (Gaelic) movement of his time as a progressive one, opposed as it was to the existing establishment of the day. Though it also counted the likes of Sean O’Casey as one of its supporters, it was primarily supported by petite bourgeois nationalist elements. They envisaged a Gaelic Ireland based on folkish myth, and Gaelic itself as cultural tool to weaken links with Britain, in order to facilitate a nationalist revolution to establish the emerging, Irish, ruling elite.

This is exactly what happened in the aftermath of 1916, and Irish (or Gaelic) is now the first official language of the State, as set out in DeValera’s reactionary 1937 Constitution – despite this having little basis in realty in terms of usage or support. For many years its promotion was pushed by the State with a fervour unseen since British rule, excluding people without it from State jobs and even denying them educational qualifications (see Language Freedom Movement article on Wiki). Connolly’s assertion, however, that 'you can't teach a starving man Gaelic', gives an insight into the pragmatism of his stance of the time.

The reasons for Connolly’s participation in the nationalist 1916 Rising are contested. One school of thought goes that he was demoralised by the defeat of the Dublin workers in the 1912 Strike/Lockout , and thus threw his lot in with the nationalists; envisaging a common front that would first tackle the existing British State in Ireland, leading on to a socialist revolution. Sadly, Connolly did not live to explain his motives, as he was executed by State forces – an act that added fuel to the fire of narrow Irish nationalism, devoid of any social element.

Whatever the reasons, the socialist movement was deprived of one of its leading lights, and a thorn in the side of the emerging Irish ruling class. His legacy has been claimed by socialists, internationalists, anarchists, nationalists, Irish Republicans, and – even more ironically – the capitalist State he despised so much (albeit run by an Irish ruling class, rather than a British one).

The State portrays him as a patriot, Sinn Fein and successive manifestations of the IRA as a nationalist (with the odd bit of socialist rhetoric incorporated when it suits them - though many would contest that the thinly disguised sectarian campaign of the IRA, which included the murder of protestant workers, was contrary to such ideals). Worse, Connolly’s reinterpretation as a nationalist hero has at once defiled and sanitised his memory – leading many potential socialists and internationalists up the blind alley of Republicanism - so making the dawning of a socialist Ireland, united by class, all the more unlikely.

William Martin Murphy would have been pleased.

Gombeen Man

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Bill Chapman said...

I'm not sure that you're being fair to Esperanto, which Connolly championed and which continues to attract support all over the world. There is a long-established broadly left-weing organisation called Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (something like Worldwide Non-nationalist Association) with offices in Paris which brings together ordinary people from some fifty countries.

The Gombeen Man said...

Sorry Bill - didn't mean any disrespect to Esperanto, or the philosphy behind it!

Toño said...

For Esperanto and anationalism, you can read

The Gombeen Man said...

Sorry lads, sorry! No offence meant to Esperanto or its practitioners! I just meant that I don't think it caught on, in terms of speakers, as intended (and as it deserved to). Respect!

TdB said...

Do not worry, I didn't feel offended. I just wanted to inform about a text I thought it might interest you :-)

Nik said...

You're full of it gombeen man...a name well chosen it seems...It is hardly accurate to suggest that Sinn Fein refer to Connolly "with the odd bit of socialist rhetoric incorporated when it suits them "

I'll tell you right here and suits us all the time. We are a Socialist Party, a party that cares for the working class of all nations not just the Irish working class.

"Only the Irish working class remains as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland." - James Connolly, from Labour in Irish History, July 1910

"We went out to break the connection between this country and the British empire, and to establish an Irish Republic . . .believing that the British government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland, the presence, in any one generation of Irish men, or even a respectable minority ready to die, to affirm that truth, makes the government forever a usurpation and a crime against human progress . . . We succeeded in proving that Irishmen are ready to die endeavouring to win for Ireland those national rights which the British government has been asking them to win for Belgium . . . I personally thank God that I have lived to see the day when thousands of Irish men and boys and hundreds of Irish women and girls, were ready to affirm that truth, and to attest it with their lives, if need be . . . We shall rise again! - James Connolly, court martial 9 May 1916.

“If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle., unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts will be in vain. England will still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs”. - James Connolly, from Socialism and Nationalism in Shan Van Vocht, January 1897

James Connolly said...

"We are out for Ireland for the Irish. But who are the Irish? Not the rack-renting, slum owning landlord; not the sweating, profit-grinding capitalist; not the sleek and oily lawyer; not the prostitute pressman - the hired liars of the enemy . . . but the Irish working class . . . The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland. The cause of Ireland is the cause of labour. They cannot be dissevered . . . Therefore, on Sunday, April 16th, the Green Flag of Ireland will be solemnly hoisted over Liberty Hall." James Connolly, Commander of the Citizen Army, writing in the Workers' Republic to alert members of the imminent Rising, April 8, 1916.

The Gombeen Man said...

Thanks for the quotes. However, I think you need to interpret them in the context of today, rather than 1897. Forget the obsession with the Auld Enemy and the 800 years. We've moved on.

You say of your party, Sinn Fein "...We are a Socialist Party, a party that cares for the working class of all nations not just the Irish working class."

Funny then, that the biggest cheer of the last Sinn Fein conference went to some backwoodsman who took the podium to say "I don't mind British people but - BRITS OUT!". Cue rapturous applause and whooping. Nice illustration of the socialism of your grassroots members.

Similarly, I can't forsee any stampede of protestant workers in the North to sign up to your party's gaelocentric vision of socialism.

To me, socialism and patriotism/nationalism are incompatible.

Anonymous said...

Sinn Fein a socialist party MY ARSE !!!

Tell us "comrades" when the revolution comes will every "unemployed barman" own a holiday home in Donegal ?

The Gombeen Man said...

Sure, the bastards are so up to their necks in corruption they make Fianna Fail look squeaky clean. Do you know they describle themselves as "nationalist and internationalist"?

Opportunistic scumbags more like.

Captain Swing said...

Gombeen man, when you say that socialism and patriotism/nationalism are incompatible Connolly would not have agreed with you:

In hisn ymposiom on Nationalism he wants to set out the Socialist position on the nationalist question as it was widely recognised:as he states:

"Permit me to quote to you some International testimony. I take, first, the testimony of that brilliant Socialist orator and publicist, Gabriel Deville, the veteran pioneer of Socialist Internationalism. The quotation is from a speech delivered in Paris, in November, 1893, and regarded as such a valuable statement of the Socialist position that it has been printed and published in book form in both France and America. Read:

“To safeguard the little independence left to them as labourers, the workers have been led by the state of affairs, by actual conditions, as were the business men before them, to be Internationalists; but they are patriots, and must be patriots only, whenever their country is menaced by danger from abroad. I hope you now see that the Internationalism of the workers and the Socialists cannot, by any possibility lead to anti-patriotism.”

The Gombeen Man said...

Captain Swing.

I am no academic, but my readings of Marx many years ago, applied to my own working class origins led me to believe that the working class had no country.

For me that was the attraction of socialism - long since corrupted, so even the like of Gerry Adams and Pat Rabbitte can now call themselves socialists.

Das Kapital makes the idea of working internationalism clear enough in the opening lines.

Rosa Luxemburg later spelt it out when the official communist line was to support bourgeois nationalist movements as a way to social revolution at a latter stage. She was proven correct through history, Connolly was not.

Connolly, by his participation in the 1916 Putch with cultural nationalist reactionaries such as Pearse and de Valera, sold socialism and the idea of working class unity on this island down the river. He is now just part of the establishment "1916 Heroes Hall of Fame". A shame, as he could have done better than that.

If you don't believe me, have a look around you. Look at the state we live in. Look at those who call themselves socialists.

The current brand of Irish "republicanism" - the people who now claim succession to Connolly - cannot even unite the working class of this island, never mind the world. They are, to use capitalist phraseology, bankrupt.

It is why I do not call myself a "socialist" any more. It is a term, and an ideal, long debased and corruputed.

Captain Swing said...

I, like you, am also not an academic, I just happened to be reading some perspectives on Socialism, nationalism and Internationalism when I came across your post.

I do think, however, that you have made a common misunderstanding.

The definition of internationalism:

The condition or quality of being international in character, principles, concern, or attitude; A policy or practice of cooperation among nations, especially in politics and economic matters.

At every International Socialist Congress a separate vote and recognition is given to such subject nations including those struggling for independence. The prevailing wisdom being that one consequence of the growth of Socialism would be a renascence of national culture and sympathies in countries now politically suppressed, and this was welcomed as the civilisation of the future would be all the richer from the presence of so many distinctive forms of intellectual growth arising from different racial and national developments.

Such, in brief, is the real position of International Socialism towards subject nations. It is a concept based upon the belief that civilisation needs free nations just as the nations need free individual citizens, that the internationalism of the future will be based upon the free federation of free peoples, and cannot be realised through the sub-jugation of the smaller by the larger political unit.

Marx was explicit in his view of the Irish national question I quote from a letter sent to his friend, Kugelman, on 29th November, 1869, from Toulon, and re-printed in the Neue Zeit of 1902:

“I have more and more arrived at the conviction – though this conviction has not entered the mind of the English working class – that we shall never be able to do in England anything decisive if we do not resolutely separate its policy in all that concerns Ireland from the policy of the dominant classes, so that not only will she be able to make common cause with the Irish, but will even be able to take the initiative in dissolving the Union founded in 1801, and replacing it by an independent Federative bond, and this aim should be followed not as a matter of sympathy with Ireland, but as a necessity based on the interest of the English proletariat ... Each of the movements in England remains paralysed by the struggle with the Irish who even in England form a considerable proportion of the working class ... And it is not only the social evolution established in England which is retarded by these relations with Ireland, but also its external policy, notably with Russia and the United States.”

Eleanor Marx Aveling, daughter of Karl Marx, in her History of the Working Class Movement in England, says sympathetically of the irish national struggle:

“It is certain that the hope of ‘Ireland a Nation’ lies not in her middle-class O’Connells, but in her generous, devoted, heroic working men and women!”

your reference to Rosa Luxemburg was spot on, but Irish Nationalism in the context of empire was not 'bourgeois' but an anti-imerial struggle to provide a Nation state on which internationalism is predicaed.

In a response to William Walker of the ILP who was an opponent of both Irish nationalism and an Irish Labour party (on the basis he believed irish trade unions should affiliate to the British labour party in the spirit of internationalism) Connolly says:

"It is, I repeat, a brand of mere parochialism, which seeks to hide its true essence by flaunting the International banner, but when examined in the light of its acts, we find that the banner under which it seeks to rally us is not the sacred banner of true International ism, but is instead the shamefaced flag of a bastard Imperialism"

Socialism in its barest elements is simply the working class owning and controlling the means of production and exchange. Internationalism needs free nations of free citizens to exist.

The Gombeen Man said...

The definition of internationalism: the common interests of the working class.

Forget the old hat of nationalist "struggles".

How do we unite the working class of this island, never mind the world?

Should not a "socialist" movement be able to do that?

Captain Swing said...

So I take it you concede that you have misinterpreted both internationalism and Connolly?

Captain Swing said...

From the Oxford English Dictionary:
Definition of internationalism
[mass noun]
1the state or process of being international:
the internationalism of popular music
the advocacy of cooperation and understanding between nations.
2 (Internationalism) the principles of any of the four Internationals.

for point 2 see my reference to the official position of all four Internationals:It is a concept based upon the belief that civilisation needs free nations just as the nations need free individual citizens, that the internationalism of the future will be based upon the free federation of free peoples, and cannot be realised through the sub-jugation of the smaller by the larger political unit.

Irish National struggle = Anti Imperialism. The Irish Nationalists were represented at all four Internationals and their struggle was recognised.

The Gombeen Man said...

How middle-class doctrinaire.

Answer my question

Captain Swing said...

I'm not even sure I understand what Middle class Doctrinaire means.

If there were a straightforward recipe for uniting a working class as deeply divided as Ireland's I'm sure it would have been pointed out by someone by now, trial and error is all we have.

I was merely pointing out the flaws in your assertions on both Connolly and Internationalism, Perhaps you would answer those rather than respond with questions so far reaching.

I think it's pretty clear that you have no answers.

Your attempt at witty insult betrays your lack of understanding of socialism as well as Connolly; a person with a better grasp of his subject matter would immediately recognise the fallacy of the 'middle class'

I'm just a simple wage earner, TAL.

The Gombeen Man said...


Apply your "socialism" to this island.

Captain Swing said...

You've lost the argument, accept it and move on.

Socialism is simply the common ownership of the means of production and exchange.

How you get there is the problem.

Of course if you actually did read Kapital, which I don't for a second believe you did, Marx argued that the inherent conflict within capitalism would lead to its own destruction; hence the more frequent and ever more destructive financial crisis.

So we build strong working class links through the trade union movement and push the agenda.

Marx didn't mention anything about internationalism or socialism in Kapital. Not sure what copy you read.

Must have got it from the same place you got your books on Connolly.

The Gombeen Man said...

The "argument"? It is far more than an argument for me.

I fear you are not a socialist, you are a nationalist.

"build strong working-class links".


Back to my original question.


Fuck me. Cop on to yourself.

Captain Swing said...

You are all hot air. You have no response on substance of my criticisms of your poorly written, pearly informed rant on Internationalism, socialism and Connolly all of which it is absolutely clear you have been found out on. To avoid answering the substance of my criticisms you ask questions of your own, vague as your responses and clumsy. You claim to have read Kapital when you have not.

I never made any claim to be a socialist. Nor did I propose that I had a socialist road map for the unification of working class divided by the effects of imperialism.

I say again; you misinterpret internationalism, socialism and the context of irish nationalism.

Your piece on Connolly is absolutely wrong on the fundamentals.

You cannot answer my criticisms so you resort to counter questions and empty waffle.

The Gombeen Man said...

Explain your "TAL" reference. How does that apply to the working class of the Shankill, who might not read Marx as you do?

So, by the naive sounds of it, you are a middle-class academic.

Happy studying. Socialism can do without yis.

Captain Swing said...

I'm a working class railway worker who left school at 15.

Im not a pretentious arsehole who writes claptrap about giants like Connolly, Internationalism and socialism without knowing what I'm talking about.

like you.

Captain Swing said...

And I don't pretend to read Marx.

The Gombeen Man said...

Well, you sound like a student to me.

Cop on to yourself and re-discover yourself and re-discover your class.

"And I don't pretend to read Marx" ....Really? Read above quotes.

Anyway. I will leave you to it.

And they wonder why "socialism" has never worked. Applied.

The Gombeen Man said...

Any other TAL-quoting national socialists reading might care to consider Rosa Luxemburg's thoughts on nationalism's incompatibility with socialism, even when used in a tactical sense as Lenin and Marx and did on the matter of Polish self-determination:

"A right of nations which is valid for all countries and at all times is nothing more than a metaphysical cliche of the type of 'rights of man' and 'rights of the citizen'.

"If we find in the history of modern societies 'national' movements, and struggles for 'national' interests, these are usually class movements of the ruling strata of the bourgeoisie."

Her earlier organisation, Proletariat, also argued against Polish "self-determination" and called for a united working class throughout the Russian empire (Luxemburg was a Pole).

Connolly's participation in the 1916 bourgeoisie putch was a fatal error for him and working-class unity in Ireland. It was a misjudgment and the culmination of his sometimes confused analyis - which is precisely what this post is about.

It dealt a death-blow to socialism in Ireland - then comprising of 32 counties - and led to a "carnival of reaction" north and south (That's Connolly, by the way).

That reactionary element is still here, even to the extent that those who quote shinner slogans call themselves "socialists".

If history has thought us anything, and we might look back to Weimar for this, it is that nationalism and "socialism" do not mix well.

Captain Swing said...

Marx supported the Irish nationalist struggle because it was because it was anti-imperialist not bourgeois nationalist.

As Lenin said: Imperialism is the highest form of capitalism.

Luxemburg was a Polish nationalist you idiot.

Pick up a book you moron.

Connolly helped found a labour movement in 4 countries, wrote extensively on internationalism, founded the industrial workers of the world spoke Esperanto as he believed it to be the future language of an international working class, was one of the most important socialist and Marxist theoreticians of his time and understood the bases of internationalism to be a free federation of free nations: I.e. free from imperialism, this is basic stuff.

Luxemburg called polish independence a 'Utopia' and asked 'why not also for the Irish?'

Here's Marx again on the Irish National question:

“I have done my best to bring about this demonstration of the English workers in favour of Fenianism.... I used to think the separation of Ireland from England impossible. I now think it inevitable, although after the separation there may come federation.” This is what Marx wrote to Engels on November 2, 1867.

Please don't pretend to poses a greater understanding of internationalism and the Irish question than, Marx, Connolly, Luxemburg and Lenin, you really are confused.

The Gombeen Man said...

Well, seeing as you want to descend into desperate name-calling, due to having been exposed for the lumpen nationalist half-wit you are, here we go.

Listen, you complete and utter arsehole. Rosa Luxembourg was a committed internationalist - not a nationalist like you and morons like you.

Marx and Lenin supported nationalist movements at times for tactical reasons. Tactical. Luxemburg, as a true, thinking socialist internationalist, did not even do that.

You are just a thick moron who dresses up his lumpen nationalism with a bit of socialist rhetoric.

You treat Marx like gospel, forgetting that the fact that the imminent demise of capitalism he predicted never happened.

Your trite talk of "imperialism", the last refuge of the nationalist gobshite... Things have moved on, you prick. Look at the shithole that was created in the wake of the Irish elite's coming to power in 1922, on the back of the iconography of the "Rising", and its schoolteacher leaders. Are you too stupid to see what a travesty of Connolly's less confused ideals it is? I don't need to ask that judging by your infantile, studenty, paste-a-quote claptrap.

Applied to Ireland there is a large working-class community who will never subscribe to your moronic distortion of "socialism". TAL me hole. Thicks like you are worse than the BNP in an Irish context.

I should not even have entertained your first dumb comment, so from henceforth any more garbage from you will automatically go into the spam folder.

Now go and fuck off.

DB said...

isnt comment notification great, GM? Otherwise I would have missed the fun in such an old Gombeen Nation post.

Who is this tosser? Captain Dim might be a better handle.

Dont fools like him know that imperialism now comes in the form of Microsoft and all the other US multinationals who hold the word ransom, never mind tax-dodge Ireland.

Your patience is admirable GM, I would have told him to sling his hook long before

The Gombeen Man said...

Reactionary idiots caught in a time-warp, DB.

DB said...

What next? Did you not know GM that Adolf Hitler was actually an internationalist socialist who was very fond of the Jewish people?

The Gombeen Man said...

Sorry, I had to delete a comment there as it was a bit too rude and abuse towards Captain (TAL) Swing even for my sensibilities. No swearing lads... this is a family blog! Me hole.

I have to laugh at idiots like "Captain Swing". "The fool, the fool" talks about building working class links, and shouts "tiocfaidh ar la" in the next breath... the catchphrase of the terminally stupid.

If this gobshite had the slightest acquaintance with the writings of Rosa Luxembourg (who he thinks was a Polish nationalist...) he would understand her arguments against Lenin's championing of "national self-determination" as a tactic to further socialism. She saw nationalism, and the championing of "national self-determination" as a bourgeoisie trap. Not just in specific cases, but as a principle. Her clever advancing of stale Marxist theory, superseded the dogma of Lenin, which later led us to Stalin's "Socialism in One Country" and the end of workers' internationalism.

The Shinners and gobshites like CS carry on this bankrupt tradition. I asked the idiot how "self-determination" and working class unity could work in Northern Ireland, with it's working class split on sectarian lines.

How can a thick gobshite shouting "TAL" forge working class links with "Protestants"?

No answer. Why can't he, and people like him, simply call themselves lumpen nationalists and leave it at that?

They are the Irish version of the BNP, but use cultural nationalist rhetoric, rather than openly racist phraseology.