Still An Inspiration Today

Today we march to commemorate the 90th anniversary of James Connolly’s death on Friday, 12th May, 1916, at Kilmainham Jail in Dublin. Although severely wounded, Connolly was shot by a British firing squad after being tied to a chair. In the face of rising political pressure, to at least delay his court-martial, Major General Sir John Maxwell, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, and the leading Irish Home Rule journal, Irish Independent, urged the British government to act quickly.

British imperialism was determined to have its revenge. From Connolly’s decision to found the Irish Socialist Republican Party, in 1896, he made clear his opposition to Ireland’s incorporation in the UK‘s monarchist and imperialist state. He helped to organise the very successful protests against Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, reminding people that her reign had been marked by The Famine, evictions and mass emigration. In the same year, Connolly contributed an article to the Limerick Leader, entitled British Rule in India, which he heavily condemned. The ISRP organised the first public meeting to protest against the Boer War in 1899, and played a prominent part in the wider international socialist and Irish nationalist opposition to that war.

When, in August 1914, imperialism plunged the world into its most horrific war up to that date, Connolly had a banner displayed outside the Irish Citizen Army’s Liberty Hall, We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser. Through his decision to lead the Irish Citizen Army into the 1916 Easter Rising, Connolly was able to implement the call to turn the imperialist war into a civil war, more than a year before Lenin in Russia. The Easter Rising heralded the International Revolutionary Wave of 1916-21, bringing about Six Days that Changed the World. Therefore, Connolly’s record ensured that UK state vengeance would be swift.

However, as well as being a great republican and anti-imperialist, Connolly was also a principled socialist. Together with Jim Larkin, he led the resistance to the Dublin Lock Out in 1913. The lock-out was designed to break the most militant union in the UK, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. William Martin Murphy, leading Dublin employer, Irish Independent owner, and Irish Home Rule politician, was to the forefront of this assault on Irish workers. It was during this struggle that Connolly helped to form the Irish Citizen’s Army, a workers’ militia which preceded Russia’s Red Guards by four years.

Murphy, and the rest of Redmond’s Irish Home Rule party, had opposed the Boer War, back in 1900. In 1914, however, they fell over themselves to back British imperialism in the First World War. Irish constitutional nationalists were easily duped by British imperialist claims to be waging a war for Belgium and for small nations. In the meantime, the Irish partitionist Home Rule Bill, which Connolly opposed, was put into cold storage. Reactionary Unionists, who had either sought arms from the Kaiser, or threatened mutiny, to prevent Home Rule, were given a prominent place in the British War Cabinet and High Command. To further the freeing of small nations, British troops went on to occupy Iraq and Palestine!

Leading Irish Home Rulers toured the country, seeking recruits for the British imperial cause. The Easter Rising was, therefore, also a challenge to those Irish employers, who backed the British government/Irish Home Rule party imperial war alliance to the hilt. Their press screamed as loudly as the British chauvinist newspapers in their call for Connolly’s early death. They wanted class vengeance.

We are now in another period of growing imperialist war-mongering. Fianna Fail (following Fine Gael) have taken on the old Irish Home Rulers’ role. However, in contrast to those early Irish Home Rulers, who opposed the Boer War, today’s Irish constitutional nationalists don’t even express their opposition to the Afghan and Iraq Wars. Like Leuchars and Kinloss NATO airbases in Scotland, Shannon Airport remains an important staging post for US war missions and rendition flights. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the SNP leadership, not yet in government office, is still in its Boer War stage. It opposes the Iraq War. However, their deafening silence, over Scottish regiments’ long-standing participation in the British occupation of Ireland, continues. A leadership, committed to defending the Scottish regiments of the British army, is likely to drop its current reservations over some wars, if it can cut a better deal with US and British imperialism.

In Ireland, the Fianna Fail government is to the forefront of attacks on workers’ welfare and rights, whether by enforcing water charges, or helping to slash pay and conditions on Irish Ferries. What retreats would an SNP-led Scottish Executive make before the profit-hungry global corporations, when it is already committed to lowering corporate taxes? As in Ireland, our pay and conditions would likely be on the line, pretty soon.

James Connolly clearly saw through British Unionism, constitutional nationalism, and all those trade union leaders who joined the social partnership for imperialist war, alongside the British government of the day. We commemorate Connolly because, as an anti-imperialist, socialist republican, he remains a guide and inspiration to us today.