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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Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Bertie Ahern resigns at last

Gombeen Man wishes Bertie (Dig-out) Ahern good riddance, but doubts that his likely successor - Brian Cowan - will offer any improvement in terms of integrity. Note Cowen's U-turn on stamp duty in the last budget - which he had promised he would not alter - after a reported meeting in the Radisson with property developers and leading estate agents before its presentation. Note his recent decision not to close off a stamp duty tax avoidance "loophole" used by developers. More of the same, I'm afraid.

In Britain, politicians resign when they are caught at it. Here, they have to be drummed out of office - and the most worrying thing is that in Ahern's case this has been brought about by the airing of his affairs by the tribunals, and the resultant (and justified) pressure from the press.

Sadly, if Ahern stood up for election again tomorrow, the Irish public would vote him back in.

What does that say about us as a nation?

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