One hundred and four years after the death of James Connolly, we have an extremely important opportunity to look back on his life. Irish people are in another historical crisis that must be faced up to with the same courage, leadership and, above all else, understanding of Irish working class struggle as Connolly had in 1916.
The crisis of 2020 can be a rupture in the status-quo of capitalism as much as the First World War and the 1916 Rising was. We must look at his contributions to applying Marxism to the Irish context, and his unique ability to recognise the political moment he was living in. For Connolly, Marxism was not an abstract theoretical position to be talked about in universities, nor a dogma to be appealed to as an authority. Marxism was simply a key to be used to unlock Irish History.
Born in Scotland in 1868, Connolly joined the British Army at fourteen years of age – from where he developed a hatred of the British that lasted his entire life. After briefly living in Scotland again, he became a paid member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party. This is where Connolly develops the ideals of Socialist Republicanism, reconciling the need for the emancipation of Ireland, with the need for a working class revolution. Neither struggle was more important for Connolly. They were equally important because he correctly assessed that neither was possible without the other.
“The working class remain the only true inheritors of the struggle for freedom in Ireland.”
Connolly moved to America for a time and was involved with the Industrial Workers of the World and Socialist Party of America. In America, Connolly wrote his most important work ,Labour in Irish History. In this work he provided a Marxist account of Ireland’s history, and prioritised the perspective of Irish workers, tenants, serfs and slaves in a way that had never been done before.
Returning to Ireland, Connolly founded the Irish Citizen’s Army as the first army of the proletariat anywhere in the world. This army took part in the Easter Rising of 1916, the doomed rebellion that not only relit the spark of revolution in Ireland, but also in Irish Socialist Republicanism.
As one of the leaders of the Rising, Connolly, who despite his wounds from the Rising, was shot by the British Army while tied to a chair in Kilmainham Gaol, 12th May 1916.
Connolly understood his place in history and how his sacrifice would contribute to the development of Irish Socialist Republicanism. Only a few short years later, Ireland successfully won part of her independence from Britain politically, yet British troops remain an occupation of the 6 counties and all 32 remain under capitalist economic rule one hundred and four years later.
Marxism & Connolly
There are tragic parallels between the life of Karl Marx & James Connolly; both losing young children for example, but any connection to Marx is often conveniently left out of our education system.
Since Marxism is a tool of the working class that can guide us into class struggle, History is to be revised to place Connolly’s nationalism at the forefront, and distort his socialist ideals.
“The only true prophets are those who carve out their own future.” Connolly wrote, echoing Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach to remind us all that despite having so little control over our own lives, that the working class can reclaim its own future. All we have to do is refuse to play the Capitalist’s game, by making up our own game, and writing our own rules.
Honouring Connolly’s life & legacy means carrying the weight of history on our shoulders. It means accepting the responsibility of taking a genuine Marxist approach to building socialism in Ireland, without relying upon the old dogmas of electoralism and bourgeois democracy.
At the time of global crisis we find ourselves in, nothing could be more true. We would do well to remember the lessons that Connolly’s life and works can teach us in a moment like this. We must understand the place in history that we find ourselves in, and what we can do to advance the cause of the Irish working class, to build class power and achieve socialism.
Only once the Red flag flies over Dublin Castle, can we consider Connolly’s sacrifice to be truly commemorated.
Written & Performed by LG, Baile Atha Cliath
Video by AC, Baile Atha Cliath
It is belief in the working people
that will tear down this sham democracy
It is belief in the working people
that must be our philosophy
It is belief in the working people
that martyred James Connolly
who believed that without a socialist state
1916 was for nothing
who believed that if it wasn’t the Brits ruling us
the capitalists, the imperialists, would be governing
The USA uses Shannon airport
where was the people’s vote for that?
Fianna Gael and Fianna Fáil in government again?
Pretty sure we voted against that
Our lives are not our lives when our choice has been taken away
What more do we have to say
We want it our way
Not under the pretence of some ‘democracy’
A load of richies beg for your vote, then blatantly display their hypocrisy
and serve their own interests and the interests of the US and the EU
And pee ew the stink of taking on their debt
and feck you if you think we’re doing that again
These are our lives too and we’re not playing the same game
104 years ago James Connolly was shot, what a shame
That we still haven’t kicked the crappiest system away
Where all the rich get richer
While the working poor have to pay
Many are aware that pretty soon comes the day
Where we stand united and refuse to be exploited any more
and shake off the propaganda you’ve been spouting since the cold war
Take back what was stolen from the hands that built it
Knock down the ones that took our planet and killed it
They have held us down for so long with violence with oppression
with stories with lies, they’ve gotten better at hiding their weapons
Like the ones that shot James Connolly right here in Kilmainham Gaol
for an idea that still stands, for an idea that has not gone stale
To rip down the system that poisons our souls
Put in place for the minority to achieve their goals
To stay powerful, when they know we are the ones with the real power
A majority, and hundreds of years of working hour to hour
Living from week to week on a shitty wage
And they’re the ones who make the decisions, and we are enraged
Slaves to capitalism and forced to carry the burden
And austerity will only get worse, of that I am certain
”And our demands most moderate are: we only want the earth”
We wouldn’t murder her for profit, we know what she’s worth
So when this is all over we won’t forget
We won’t work twice as hard to pay off their debt
The day has passed for patching up the capitalist system, it must go
Less slow and just throw
Just rip them down from above
And we’ll take authority as the majority
with the ability to right a monstrosity
a monopoly, thriving on inequality
a tyranny, with no place in our economy
in the actual sustainable economy that we can build
where the ordinary working people’s needs are fulfilled
and don’t think it’ll never happen
because it’s been done before
it’s not folklore and we’ll no longer just ignore
because we’re reaching the end of our tether
and guess what, we know better
how to run our own lives
in a system that won’t deprive
”Governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich
to manage the affairs of the capitalist class”
Take a look at your hourglass
Time’s running out
”The day has passed for patching up
the capitalist system; it must go”
Wise words from a wise man, it’s time to overthrow.
James Connolly believed in the working class
It cost him his life
but he was right
We’ve taken all that we can clasp
Capitalism’s given all it can give
”Men perish but principles live”