Connolly: Labour in Ireland

Pdf Labour in Ireland: I. Labour in Irish History II. The Re-conquest of Ireland by James Connolly
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Labour in Ireland by James Connolly outlines his left wing political analysis of Irish history. He claimed that the ancient Brehon law used by the Irish clans and crushed by English conquerers was actually a prototype of democratic socialism. He condemned the imported bourgeoise ideology of Irish revolutionaries of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries who ruptured the Gaelic tradition. Instead Connolly championed Marxist revolution as the only legitimate avenue for the liberation of the Irish people from British imperialism. He also attacked Irish apologists who he claimed extolled 'as an Irish virtue every sycophantic vice begotten of generations of slavery.'

James Connolly was born in Edinburgh in 1868 of Co. Monaghan parents and was reared in Scotland. As an impoverished Irish Catholic labourer his prospects were limited so he joined the British Army at the age of fourteen under the assumed named of Reid. Connolly served seven years in the military in Ireland during the height of the 'land war' before deserting when he learned his unit was bound for India. A highly intelligent self-taught young man, his bitter experiences transformed him into a radical socialist with a life-long hatred of the British military, imperialism and capitalism and instilled in him a commitment to Marxist revolution.

In 1896 he returned to Ireland and founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party and its newspaper The Worker's Republic. Later he emigrated to the United States and established the Irish Socialist Federation in New York in 1907 and another publication called The Harp in 1908. His radical political activities frequently jeopardised his employment prospects and his long suffering Protestant born wife Lillie struggled to raise their large brood of children.

In 1910 he was back in Ireland where he established Cummacht na hÉireann, the Socialist Party of Ireland, was a member of the Irish Transport and General Worker's Union and in 1911 was its chief organiser in Belfast. He was closely allied with fellow Scot, the charismatic orator 'Big' Jim Larkin during what became known as the Dublin Lock-out.

For seven months between 1913 and 1914 approximately 20,000 workers went on strike demanding union recognition from powerful industrial employers. Brutal methods used by the Dublin Metropolitan Police spurred James Connolly, the radical ex-British officer Jack White and others to form the approximately 250 strong Irish Citizen Army to defend the strikers. The strikes ended in defeat but set a precedent that would in time create better conditions and secure the rights of workers in Ireland.

Connally was dismayed by the sectarian and political division of the Protestant and Catholic working classes over the issue of Irish Home Rule. In 1914 the rival Ulster Volunteer Force and the Irish Volunteers were on the brink of civil war. However the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 led to both sides joining the ranks of the British Army and suffering horrendous casualties on European battlefields. Connolly opposed the war because as he saw it millions of workers were dying for the benefit of capitalist exploiters on both sides.

In 1915 Connolly began arming and training the ICA for a Marxist insurrection. A hardline nationalist republican rump of the Irish Volunteers secretly organised by Irish Republican Brotherhood figures such as Thomas Clarke and Patrick Pearse in preparation for their own insurrection were alarmed. Both groups decided to join forces and went ahead with the 1916 Easter Rising. Connolly was convinced the British military would not bombard commercial property but after a week of heavy fighting much of Dublin city was reduced to ruins by artillery fire.

With their position untenable and in order to prevent further civilian loss of life, the rebels surrendered and subsequently fifteen rebel leaders were shot by firing squad. Connolly who was severely wounded in the fighting and close to death was strapped to a chair before he was executed. Hostility to the rebels was transformed into sympathy. A resurgence of Irish nationalism would play a part in fuelling a swing of support to Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election followed by the Irish War of Independence 1919-1921. In subsequent decades James Connolly became an inspiration for a wide range of political groupings such as the Labour Party, the Workers Party, Sinn Féin, the Irish Communist Party, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party.

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