James Connolly Memorial Lecture, 2016

The Consistency of Connolly‘s Marxism, his Participation in the Easter Rising, and his Continued Relevance


Dr Priscilla Metscher


14 May 2016


Before I begin to talk about James Connolly and 1916 I would like you to cast your mind back to another Irish rising, with a similar tragic ending, namely the rising of the United Irishmen in 1798.
     One hundred years later, in 1898, James Connolly was engaged in the centenary celebrations for that rising. Members of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, founded by Connolly two years previously, set up the Rank and File ’98 Club, the main purpose of which was to disseminate the true aims of the United Irishmen. This was all the more important as the Home Rulers, i.e. the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond, publicly equated the cause of the United Irishmen with their own very limited brand of nationalism, interpreting the aims of the United Irishmen as a “union of all classes.”
     Connolly was not deceived by the intrigues of the Home Rulers. He realised that they were propagating “nationalism” from a specific class point of view. In the Workers’ Republic, 5 August 1899, following the celebrations, he wrote: “I have observed that in Ireland, and in the mouths of our politicians, the class interests of the capitalist are treated as if they represented the highest form of patriotism.”
     Concerning the controversy over the erection of a monument to either Charles Stewart Parnell or Wolfe Tone, Connolly sarcastically comments: “It is because the men who so loudly profess their adhesion to the faith of Wolfe Tone are so hopelessly incapable of appreciating the originality of his genius and the broadness of his outlook that the advanced Nationalist movement has been narrowed down from the revolutionary promise of its inception to the limits of a squalid squabble over precedence in collecting the coppers of a nation of slaves in order to erect a monument to the memory of a free man.”
     I think we should bear in mind these words of James Connolly in connection with the present-day “commemoration” of the 1916 Rising, concerning the ideological struggle about the nature of 1916 and the motivations of those who participated. Is Ireland today still maybe in Connolly’s words “a nation of slaves”? I will come back to this point when considering his continued relevance.
     James Connolly had his political baptism in the British labour movement. In the early 1890s he was a member of the Edinburgh Branch of the Social Democratic Federation. He came under the influence of John Leslie, a native of “little Ireland” in Edinburgh and socialist propagandist. In 1894 Leslie published a series of articles in Justice, the organ of Keir Hardie’s Independent Labour Party, under the title “The present position of the Irish question.”
     Leslie underlined the relationship between the struggle of the working people for a better life and the fight for Irish freedom. Summing up the situation in Ireland at the time, Leslie explained that he did not believe that the Irish Parliamentary Party, the party of John Redmond and the Home Rulers, represented the interests of the Irish working class. The Irish working class should organise its own working-class party.
     James Connolly took up this challenge when he was offered the job as full-time organiser of the Dublin Socialist Club in 1896. He saw it as his prime task to establish a genuinely Irish socialist party which recognised the needs of the Irish nation as distinct from Britain.
     Socialism in Ireland had a long tradition, going back to the early socialist William Thompson at the beginning of the nineteenth century, whose socialism Connolly places as “midway between the utopianism of the early idealists and the historical materialism of Marx” (Labour in Irish History). It must be said, however, that prior to the founding of the Irish Socialist Republican Party in 1896 socialist parties and organisations in Ireland, such as the Socialist League, were branches of British parties. Connolly stresses that the ISRP was an independent Irish party of the working class, with the goal of establishing an Irish socialist republic. None of the previous or contemporary socialist organisations in Ireland at that time had this on its agenda. The ISRP programme contains the following statement: “The Irish Socialist Republican Party holds that the subjection of one nation to another, as of Ireland to the authority of the British Crown, is a barrier to the free political and economic development of the subjected nation, and can only serve the interests of the exploiting classes of both nations.”
     From the outset it is clear that Connolly’s socialism is intrinsically connected with the struggle for freedom in Ireland. Ten days before the Easter Rising he wrote the now-famous words: “The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland, the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour. They cannot be dissevered.” Ireland seeks freedom, and at the same time the labour movement there seeks to make a free Ireland the guardian of the interests of the people of Ireland. He points out that socialists must realise that a socialist movement must rest upon and draw its inspiration from the historical and actual conditions of the country in which it functions. This requires not only an understanding of the development of the liberation movement in Ireland, with all its contradictions, but also the capability of assessing those progressive elements in the republican movement which can assist in the establishment of socialism in Ireland.
     It was, Connolly believed, a historical necessity for the revolutionary elements in the national movement to join forces with the Irish working class. Just as Wolfe Tone conceived of an Irish republic in the establishment of a radical bourgeois democracy, in keeping with the advanced revolutionary thought of the eighteenth century, so Connolly saw the establishment of an Irish republic in line with the most advanced scientific-socialist ideas of the twentieth century. “A domination as long rooted in any country as British dominion in Ireland can only be dislodged,” he maintained, “by a revolutionary impulse, in line with the development of the entire epoch.”
     On another occasion he commented that the two currents of revolutionary thought in Ireland, the socialist and the national, were not antagonistic but complementary, the Irish socialist being in reality the best patriot. The relationship between socialism in Ireland and Great Britain should not be based on unity but upon comradeship and mutual assistance, should be fraternal and not organic, and should operate by exchange of literature and speakers.
     As a focal point in his writings Connolly draws our attention to the republican tradition formed by the United Irishmen. In an article in the Workers’ Republic, 5 August 1899, entitled “Wolfe tone and his admirers,” he speaks of the Irish socialist republicans fighting for “the realisation of that freedom for which the United Irishmen fought.” In a later article he writes of socialist republicans going beyond the national freedom conceived by the United Irishmen “to a fuller ideal,” which, he writes, “we conceive to flow from national freedom as a natural and necessary consequence.”
     He points to the radical nature of the manifesto of the United Irishmen: “It would be hard to find in modern socialist literature anything more broadly international in its scope and aims, more definitely of a class character in its methods, or more avowedly democratic in its nature than this manifesto.” In fact T. A. Jackson, in his book Ireland Her Own, maintains that the programme of the United Irishmen anticipated that of the English chartists by half a century. Of Wolfe Tone, Connolly adds, “the Irish socialist alone is in line with the thought of this revolutionary apostle of the United Irishmen.”
     From its inception the ISRP was looked on favourably by the young nationalists of the literary and Fenian movements. Maud Gonne, for example, expressed her agreement with the republican and socialist ideal of the party. She had, however, no deeper understanding of, or interest in, the theoretical side of the socialist question. Although failing to understand Connolly’s teachings, she nevertheless gave him the opportunity to publish his thoughts in her Paris journal L’Irlande Libre. Likewise the republican Alice Milligan, whose paper the Shan Van Vocht, founded in Belfast in 1886 and which was the main literary expression of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, sympathised openly with the ISRP. The Shan Van Vocht gave Connolly a platform to express his thoughts on socialism and the national question.
     Connolly, on his part, did not shy from his alliance policy with the radical nationalists. This is true concerning the ’98 centenary celebrations, his role on the Transvaal Committee (against the Boer War), and in the organisation of the anti-jubilee demonstration to counteract the celebrations in preparation in Dublin for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
     In this early stage of his political career Connolly was convinced that the Irish working class alone was capable of continuing the revolutionary republican tradition in Ireland and of uniting the principles of republicanism and socialism. After his return to Ireland from the United States in 1910 he was to realise that his vision of an Irish socialist republic could only be achieved if the working class was to join forces with the radical elements within the national movement.
     At this point I would like to draw attention to certain aspects of Connolly’s Marxism. He was what Antonio Gramsci termed an “organic intellectual” of the working class. Unlike the founding fathers of Marxist theory, who were intellectuals by training and profession, Connolly did not come from an intellectual background. He was one of the few theoreticians of the labour movement to come from the working class. Leaving school at an early age to support the family financially, his education was mainly autodidactic, gained through long hours of reading in the National Library of Ireland here in Dublin. His education in socialism was derived from the writings published by the British socialist movement—the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party—and from the works of Karl Marx which were available in English translation at that time. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, volume 1, for example, appeared in English in 1887, and Value, Price and Profit was first published in English in 1898.
     Connolly’s thought was formed in the first instance by his activities and experiences in the British, Irish and American labour movements. In fact his work as organiser in political and trade union organisations left him little time to write. The main function of his writings was propagandistic; the aim was to develop the political consciousness of the working class and to aid political action. Bearing this in mind, it is remarkable that Connolly achieved so much.
     There are a number of points to be taken into consideration which are essential to Connolly’s Marxism, such as his contribution to the concept of historical materialism, to class as a key concept of social formation and historical progression, women’s emancipation, including the equality of the sexes, etc.; but today I would like to concentrate on two points, namely socialism and war and anti-colonialism, the idea of a free nation.
     First of all I think that in these two points lie Connolly’s most original Marxist theory, and secondly they contribute to an understanding as to why he participated in the Easter Rising.
     To begin with, Connolly’s political career corresponded roughly to the life-span of the Second International (1889–1914), a period characterised by the redistribution of the world territory among the most powerful states. It was a period overshadowed by an aggressive colonial policy and ever-increasing military conflicts between the Great Powers. This period can accordingly be described as the early stage of imperialism, characterised, according to Lenin, as the merging of banks, international cartels, which produces finance capitalism, leading to the exportation and investment of capital to countries with underdeveloped economies. The period is characterised by division of the world among monopolist business companies and the Great Powers. As Lenin points out in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, in the epoch of imperialism national suppression and the urge to annex countries becomes intensified, leading to the violation of national independence. And so there is a connection between imperialism and the intensification of national suppression; and, as Lenin adds, imperialism leads at the same time to a strengthening of the resistance to that suppression.
     Thus imperialism and the national question, and conflicts between nations leading to war, were burning issues which confronted socialists of the period. Connolly’s stand on war is clear: “War,” he writes, “is ever the enemy of progress. It is only possible when humanity is stifled, when the common interests of the human race are denied. The first blast of the bugles of war is also the requiem note of human brotherhood.”
     On another occasion he writes: “There are no humane methods of warfare, there is no such thing as civilised war: all warfare is barbaric.” However, he makes a distinction between the imperialist wars of the capitalist class and the struggle of the smaller nations for self-determination. The war of a subject nation for independence, he writes, “for the right to live out its own life in its own way may and can be justified . . . but the war of nation against nation in the interest of royal freebooters and cosmopolitan thieves is a thing accursed.” There is the ring of Marx’s Communist Manifesto here in the reference to “cosmopolitan thieves.”
     The Boer War (1899–1902) gave Connolly sufficient opportunity to reflect on the roots of modern war. As he writes, “every war is now a capitalist move for new markets, and it is a move capitalism must make or perish.” Reflecting on the South African War, Connolly maintains that the British government declared war on the South African Republic “for the purpose of enabling an unscrupulous gang of capitalists to get into their hands the immense riches of the diamond fields.” Although aware of the implications of modern imperialism generally, he was particularly concerned with British imperialism, as it belonged to the realm of his immediate experiences. He insists that his hostility to the British Empire does not arise in the first instance from the fact of the national and racial subjection of the Irish by Britain but is, he maintains, “a result of a study of the economics of Marxism and an understanding of the class struggle.” Thus he makes a distinction between his position as an Irish socialist and what he calls “the anti-British sentiment of a chauvinist Irish patriot.”
     Closely connected with the question of socialism and his understanding of the implications of imperialist war is Connolly’s stand on the national question. In his articles on this subject, as a socialist of a suppressed nation, Connolly arrived at very similar conclusions to his contemporary, Lenin. It can be reasonably assumed that he never had an opportunity to read any of Lenin’s writings. (The only article by Lenin to be translated into English before the 1920s was “What is to be done?” It appeared in 1902.)
     The only difference was the starting point. Lenin wrote primarily from the standpoint of a socialist in a suppressing or dominant nation who had the insight to understand theoretically the significance of the role of the suppressed nations in the epoch of imperialism in the general struggle for socialism. Connolly, on the other hand, worked out a strategy for the establishment of a socialist republic in the specific context of Ireland, through his first-hand experience in the national liberation and socialist movements there. One could say, perhaps, that Connolly’s writings gave flesh and blood to the more theoretical writings of Lenin on the national question. Although written with a specific experience in mind, they nevertheless have a general implication by indicating how socialism can be established within the context of national independence.
     The right of the oppressed nations to self-determination and the role of the national liberation movements in the struggle for socialism was by no means a clear issue within the Second International. In the ranks of the European socialist parties there were those who accepted colonialism as a fait accompli, and on the question of self-determination there were sharp differences of opinion even among the left-wing socialists, as the Lenin-Rosa Luxemburg debate reveals. (Very briefly: Luxemburg argued that by supporting the fight for national independence in the suppressed countries the socialists were merely helping to strengthen the power of the native national bourgeoisie. To her, national liberation movements were anachronistic, petty-bourgeois, and reactionary. Lenin, on the other hand, saw the revolutionary potential in such movements. Although small nations were powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, they played the part of a ferment or enzyme which helped the anti-imperialist, socialist forces to come to the fore.)
     At the Stuttgart Congress in Germany in 1907 the left-wing socialists succeeded in adding an amendment to August Bebel’s resolution which asserted that the source of wars lay mainly in capitalist economic rivalries. If war threatened to break out, then it should be the duty of the working class in the countries affected and the parliamentary representatives to make every effort to prevent war by all means at their disposal, depending on “the intensity of the class struggle and the political situation in general.” The amendment continued: “Should war nonetheless break out, it is their duty to intervene in order to bring it promptly to an end, and with all their strength to make use of the economic and political crisis created by the war to stir up the deepest strata of the people and precipitate the fall of capitalist domination.”
     Some years later, in November 1912, an emergency Socialist Congress was called at Basel, following the outbreak of war in the Balkans. Its purpose was to present a unified socialist front against the war and to prevent the Balkan war from being turned into a European war. The manifesto which was issued reiterated the principal theses of the earlier Stuttgart Congress.
     By August 1914 the main European powers were engaged in the war. The socialist parties in the belligerent countries had been unable, or even to a large extent unwilling, to prevent its outbreak. In Great Britain the labour movement generally supported British government policy in the war. As Connolly commented, “with the honourable exception of the Independent Labour Party and the Socialist Labour Party, the organised and unorganised Labour advocates of Peace in Great Britain swallowed the bait and are now beating the war drum.”
     With the main body of socialists in the belligerent countries supporting the war effort, the ideological and political collapse of the International was inevitable. In Germany, Karl Liebknecht was the only socialist in the Reichstag who voted against the war credits. He sent an explanation to the parliamentary president, explaining his position, which was very similar to Connolly’s stand. “This war,” he wrote, “did not occur in the interests of the German or any other people. It is an imperialist war for the capitalist domination of the world market, for the political domination of important territory for industry and finance capital.”
     Connolly’s main attack during the war was focused on British imperialism. He believed that the weaker Britain became, the stronger became the revolutionary forces. He believed that a German victory would bring socialism nearer, as only the full development of the capitalist system would make socialism possible, the British Empire standing in the way.
     There are two factors, I think, that explain Connolly’s view. First of all, he saw it as his duty to juxtapose his position to the jingoism and slander against Germans in the British and Home Rule press. Secondly, British imperialism had an immediate effect on Ireland, for it was British imperialism that was responsible for Ireland’s colonial status. But while attacking British imperialism Connolly could not have had the clear insight that Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht had concerning the nature of German imperialism. Rosa Luxemburg, as a socialist in Germany, believed that that country’s imperialism required unrestricted expansion. It was not a question of peaceful development but rather of the profits of the German bank in Asian Turkey and the future of the profits of Mannesmann and Krupp in Morocco.
     Looking back on the first year of war, Connolly was convinced that had the socialist proletariat of Europe refused to fight against their brothers, the war could have been prevented. At a meeting of the Dublin Trades Council on 31 July 1915 he comments: “Had we had the right kind of leaders this war would never have taken place. If the working-class soldiers of Europe had but had the moral courage to say to the diplomats that they would not march against their brothers across the frontiers, but if they were going to fight they would rather fight against their enemies at home than against their brothers abroad, there would have been no war, and millions of homes that were now desolated would be happy.” For this statement he earned applause from those present.
     From 5 to 8 September 1915 an international conference of socialists took place in Zimmerwald, Switzerland, at which the left-wing socialists, including the Bolsheviks, issued a manifesto in which the struggle of the suppressed nations for self-determination was declared to be part and parcel of proletarian class struggle. At the beginning of April 1916 Lenin stated that the development of revolutionary mass struggle must inevitably lead in the conditions of European war “to the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war for socialism.”
     In January 1916 Connolly explained his strategy thus: “We believe that in times of peace we should work along the lines of peace to strengthen the nations, and we believe that whatever strengthens and elevates the working class strengthens the nation. But we also believe that in times of war we should act as in war.” By insisting that the Irish struggle for self-determination was, on its own merits, a contributing factor to the overthrow of European capitalism, Connolly placed himself quite firmly on the revolutionary wing of the International. His understanding of the significance of national liberation movements in the epoch of imperialism as a factor making for the overthrow of capitalism is derived from the specific experience of Ireland. Connolly’s practical proposal was that labour in Ireland should take immediate action in preventing profiteering by stopping the export of food. “It could mean armed battling in the streets to keep in this country the food for our people,” he writes.
     The outbreak of war gave the British government the opportunity to shelve the Home Rule Bill for Ireland. To Connolly it was now no longer possible to work along the lines of peace. He pointed out that a defeat of England in India, Egypt, the Balkans or Flanders would not be as dangerous to the British Empire as any conflict in Ireland. In the pages of the Irish Worker, with ironic undertone, he makes his strategy clear: “We will now rejoice. Home rule is on the statute book, martial law is now in force and free expression of opinion is forbidden . . . We believe in constitutional action in normal times, we believe in revolutionary action in exceptional times.”
     The introduction of two Defence of the Realm Acts gave military authorities the power to arrest civilians and to try them by court-martial. Martial law restricted civil rights, and a succession of bills followed, authorising the death penalty for those found guilty by court-martial of intending to collaborate with the enemy. On the other hand, the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers, both formed in 1913, continued with propaganda meetings, marches, and parades. In fact the preparation of the public mind for insurrection was so impressive that the chief secretary, Birrell, confessed that before the Rising the impression he got “walking about the streets was that Sinn Feinism was in a certain sense in possession.” (Just as a footnote it should be mentioned that Sinn Féin as a party did not participate in the Easter Rising, but anything that smacked of republicanism was dubbed “Sinn Féinism” by the British authorities.)
     The idea of striking a blow at Britain by the use of armed force in Ireland while Britain was at war became a frequent subject in Connolly’s writings after 1914. Addressing the Irish workers in an article in September 1914 he wrote: “You have been told you are not strong, that you have no rifles. Revolutions do not start with rifles. Start first and get your rifles after. Our curse is our belief in our weakness. We are not weak, we are strong. Make up your mind to strike before your opportunity goes.” One month later he envisaged the possibility of insurrection. But Connolly was too much of a realist to envisage that the Irish Citizen Army, the army of the Irish working class, could achieve a successful insurrection on its own. He set about forming an alliance between labour and what he termed “the forces of real nationalism.”
     Shortly after the outbreak of war, members of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood took the decision in principle that they would rise in arms for an Irish republic during the war. They were not averse to an alliance with Connolly and the forces of militant labour. Articles appeared in Irish Freedom arguing for a union of forces between nationalists and socialists; an Irish republic would entail a social as well as a national regeneration. Patrick Pearse had certain sympathies with Connolly and the labour movement, as can be seen by his pro-labour stand for the workers during the lockout of 1913. The growth of an identity of interest between militant labour and radical nationalism, leading to an alliance between Connolly and the IRB council, was symbolised by the hoisting of the Green Flag over Liberty Hall on 16 April 1916.
     Connolly was well aware that the gaining of Irish independence would not automatically lead to a socialist republic. As early as 1897 he was quite clear what national independence without socialism would mean. He wrote: “If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the Green Flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic, your efforts would be in vain. England would 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 . . . England would still rule you to your ruin . . . Nationalism without Socialism . . . is national recreancy.”
     He warned the Citizen Army shortly before the rising: “in the event of victory, hold on to your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty.”
     Connolly stipulates what should be done should the Rising be successful in the first days of freedom. The property of the landed classes should be confiscated and made the property of the Irish state. All the material of distribution (the railways, canals and their equipment) will at once become the national property of the Irish state. Connolly lists all things essential to a nation’s freedom. They are: “her postal service, her telegraphs, her wireless, her customs and excise, her coinage, her fighting forces, her relations with other nations, her merchant commerce, her property relations, her national activities, her legislative sovereignty.” All these, he writes, are denied Ireland.
     As we know, the Easter Rising lasted one week, ending with the capitulation of the insurgent forces. How are we to assess Connolly’s participation?
     Looking back to 1916, we can see that he had to agree to a rising which was politically much less advanced than that which he himself had conceived, for the socialist forces and labour organisations were underdeveloped. The Socialist Party of Ireland was mainly a socialist propagandist organisation, with little influence on the mass of Irish workers. The Irish TUC was loosely organised and incapable of accomplishing wide-scale industrial action to pave the way for political action. The Citizen Army was too small an organisation to achieve anything on its own.
     When Connolly committed the Citizen Army to fight in Easter Week it was not just with the hope of realising a prerequisite for a socialist republic in Ireland: He saw the Irish struggle as part of the general struggle for socialism in Europe. The war, he believed, could provide the working class of Europe with an opportunity to overthrow the capitalist system. On 16 October 1915 he wrote in optimistic spirit: “Revolution is no longer unthinkable in Europe, its shadow already looms upon the horizon.” On another occasion he wrote: “Starting thus, Ireland may yet set a torch to a European conflagration that will not burn out until the last capitalist bond and debenture will be shrivelled on the funeral pyre of the last war lord.” To Connolly, the struggle in Ireland for national independence, democracy and socialism was not an isolated struggle but one embedded in a universal struggle for freedom. He recognised the identity of interests of the international working class and of all suppressed peoples.
     Writing on the Rising, Lenin considered that its failure was due to prematurity, as it took place at a time before the European revolt of the proletariat had had time to mature. Lenin attacked those who condemned the Rising as a “putsch.” He referred to the fact that the Irish national movement was centuries old. He mentioned the mass Irish National Congress in America, which called for Irish independence, and the long period of mass agitation, suppression of newspapers, etc. “Whoever calls such a rebellion a ‘putsch’,” he wrote, “is either a hardened reactionary, or a doctrinaire hopelessly incapable of picturing a social revolution as a living phenomenon.”
     It is, I think, essential to see the Easter Rising and Connolly’s role in it within a European context, for it was not simply an isolated Irish event. As we have seen, it occurred in the middle of the First World War, which in itself was a period of revolutionary upheaval, not only in Europe but throughout the world. So in fact the Easter Rising was the first attempt in this period—crowned by the successful Russian Revolution of 1917—to change the map of world imperialism.
     It is true that in 1916 imperialism was still in an early stage of development. Nevertheless Connolly realised at that time that it was the ever-increasing drive for new markets and the exploitation of the resources in the under-developed countries which inevitably led to conflicts and war.
     During the First World War and in its immediate aftermath growing class conflict occurred within Europe. In Britain, for example, by 1916 the rank and file of the labour movement was beginning to show not just war-weariness but outright hostility to an apparently endless and indecisive slaughter.
     One of the first major strikes during the war can be regarded as a prelude to the revolutionary wave to come. It occurred in Glasgow, on Clydeside, in 1915 in the engineering industry. Out of it evolved the Clyde Workers’ Committee, which became the basis for the shop stewards’ movement. Industrial action was coupled with anti-war politics: the fight for free speech and the struggle against conscription, introduced in 1915. John Maclean was one of the outstanding Scottish socialists of this period.
     In January 1919 “red” Clydeside again came to the fore with a massive strike of shipyard workers for a forty-hour week and as a protest against the ending of wartime rent restrictions. Here the women on Clydeside played an essential role.
     In other parts of Europe revolutionary activity escalated. The Russian Revolution of 1917 had repercussions elsewhere. In Germany, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht and the Gruppe Internationale agitated for an end to the war through mass economic and political strikes.
     In April 1917 and January–February 1918 great strikes occurred in Germany in the armaments industry. The Kiel mutiny, begun by sailors, was the start of revolutionary action throughout Germany, the setting up of short-lived “Räterepubliken”—soviet republics—in Bremen and Munich. Street fighting broke out in Berlin, and insurrections took place in major cities.
     A wave of mass political strikes and anti-war demonstrations occurred in Vienna, Budapest, and the Czech regions. The Hungarian Soviet Republic of March–July 1919 was brutally suppressed. In Italy a general strike of workers occurred in July 1919 in protest against government policy of supporting the counter-revolution in Russia. August and September saw a wave of factory sit-ins in which the workers took control of production. In January 1921 the Communist Party of Italy was founded, under the leadership of Antonio Gramsci.
     Taking all these events into consideration it becomes clear, I think, that the Easter Rising was not an isolated Irish event.
     Looking at the situation today, we can see that the inherent conflict between the interests of world imperialism and those of the smaller nations has reached a new level of intensity. The well-known Swiss sociologist Jean Ziegler notes that the society we live in is a “cannibalistic world order.” As far back as the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg quoted Engels as saying: “Bourgeois society is confronted with a dilemma: either the transition to socialism or the relapse into barbarity.”
     I ask you, in which direction are we going today? The mega-concerns, the multis, operating globally today, are mightier than ever, and to make sure that this continues such iron laws as TTIP, CETA, TISA and TTP are standing ready to exploit the peoples of the world even more effectively. A recent Oxfam report into inequality of the global economy reveals that 62 individuals now control more wealth than the bottom half of the planet’s population. As the multi-billionaire Warren Buffett quite bluntly puts it, “there’s class warfare all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
     In Europe alone we have only to look at the situation in Greece, Spain, Portugal or Ireland to see how the smaller nations are dictated to by the imperialist interests within the EU.
     I think if we are to learn from Connolly and of his legacy it is high time that the left in Ireland and in Europe generally took up the interests of these nations and combined them in a programme of alternative European politics. For if the left fails, the issue will be taken up by the radical right, as is the case in France with Marine le Pen and the Front National, in Germany with the AfD (Alternative for Germany), and in Austria. It is quite clear that a revolutionary potential is absent in present-day Europe. National struggles, however, exist in many forms within and outside the EU. It is essential to bring left class politics back into these struggles, which in their progressive aspects are struggles for self-determination vis-à-vis the suppressive forces of imperialism. This is the only way we can avoid the danger of the national question being exploited by the radical right and turned into a politics of reactionary nationalism. A united socialist Europe may be a long-term issue but one which could be underlined by the presentation of a democratic and socialist manifesto of European nation-states, with the perspective of founding a new democratic and socialist order of co-operation in Europe within the construction of a multipolar world.
     It is not a question of negating the nation but rather of remoulding it in the context of democratic working-class politics. This is, for example, the standpoint of the Portuguese Communist Party, for, as a leading member of the party says, “the struggle of the people to maintain national sovereignty is a basic struggle against world imperialism.”
     This, I believe, is the Connolly line. In it the national interest and internationalism do not cancel each other out but belong together, and they should be part and parcel of present-day left politics.

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