Showing posts with label james connolly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label james connolly. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What is nationalism?

The SNP have now released a draft constitution for a possible independent Scotland. As a left wing group also critical of nationalism explained, Scotland is to be offered a choice between two ‘Yes’options in the independence referendum: “ ‘Yes’ to an ‘independent’ Scotland under the British crown, NATO and  austerity policies; or ‘Yes’ to the current UK state under the British crown, NATO and economic austerity.” In this referendum you can choose capitalism...or ...ermmm...capitalism.

The Socialist Party lends no support to the ‘Yes’ fantasies about ‘national independence’. Nor do we endorse the “No” campaigners for the continuance of the status quo. We advocate a socialist change. We stand for a united working class not a class divided by nationalities or borders. Unlike some on the Left, the Socialist Party follows the advice given in the Communist Manifesto and disdains from “concealing their views and aims”, particularly by hiding behind the cloak of nationalist patriotism.

Nationalism first appeared during the rise of capitalism, in the struggle of the emerging capitalist class to establish the nation state as a framework for the expansion of private property, freedom of enterprise and trade. The bourgeoisie was then the revolutionary class, and capitalist ideology, including nationalism, was progressive.

Identifying with the country and nation-state you live in creates the ideology of nationalism. This entails loyalty to its state; its economic and military interests, its flag, respect for its institutions (and the perceived obligation to support its national sporting teams, whether they be good, bad or indifferent!) The nation-state defines itself geographically and politically and if you define yourself primarily as its supporter, whether qualified or unqualified, you subscribe to a nationalist ideology. Socialists see things completely differently. For us, the human race is divided primarily on the basis of social class, and as we have seen, the division is between the employing class and the working class.

A nationalist outlook preaches to the people of a nation or national group that regardless of class they have more in common with one another than they do with the people of other nations. Nationalism helps bind the working class to the ruling class of its nation. It says: “We’re all Scots.” The Socialist Party say that working people’s destiny around the world must not be tied to the capitalists. If the working class holds nationalist ideas, it is allowing its destiny to be determined by the capitalist class. Marxists no longer differentiate between the nationalism of the reactionary or progressive. Socialists do not fan the flames of nationalism that divides the working class and instead we promote working class internationalism to unite the workers of the world. Therefore, we reject the ideology of nationalism, as it unites the worker with the capitalist, the oppressed with the oppressor and makes it harder for the exploited to throw off their oppression. Our reply to nationalism is to support working class internationalism. For us, the class war is central. The working class has no country.

Every nation is an integral part of the world capitalist system. Capitalism can neither be fought nor weakened through the creation of new nations but only by opposing capitalist nationalism with working class internationalism. Socialists should not hitch their wagon to nationalism for the former invariably lose.

“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 and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs. England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that Freedom whose cause you had betrayed. Nationalism without Socialism – without a reorganisation of society on the basis of a broader and more developed form of that common property which underlay the social structure of Ancient Erin – is only national recreancy.[a disloyality to a belief]” – James Connolly, “Socialism and Nationalism,”

The columnist Torcuil Crighton in the Daily Record writes:
"There have been 29 general elections to the Dàil, Ireland’s parliament, since independence. Ireland’s Labour Party have won precisely none. When socialism goes up against nationalism in a country where all civic politics is about the nation, then Labour doesn’t stand a chance....Eamon de Valera’s specific strategy – was to smother the Labour movement in the embrace of Fianna Fáil. His nationalist party talked the language of social democracy with enough rhetoric to rob Labour of a distinctive voice, while never delivering the goods.”

And do we not detect the same electoral tactics within Salmond’s SNP? Dividing the workers’ movement on national lines is allowing us to be played off against each other which can only serve the interests of employers on both sides of the border.

It is a terrible pity that the memory of a great labour agitator – who was motivated by internationalism, a hatred of injustice, poverty, the class system, and inequality – has been hijacked by both the Irish State and Sinn Fein, thanks to Connolly’s ill-judged and ill-fated participation in the 1916 Rising. As a student of Esperanto, he hoped the synthetic language would transcend linguistic differences and help unite the world’s workers. He 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 newspaper, Clerys, and the Dublin United Tramway Company.

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 the capitulation of the 2nd International to war jingoism, and thus threw his lot in with the Irish 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. Whatever the reasons, his legacy has been claimed by socialists, internationalists, anarchists, nationalists, Irish Republicans, and – even more ironically – the capitalist State he despised so much. Connolly’s portrayal as an Irish independence hero has led many potential socialists up the blind alley of nationalism - so making the dawning of a socialist world, united by class, all the more unlikely.

Rosa Luxemburg understood that the problem of nationalism could not be solved as long as capitalism existed. Only socialism can resolve national antagonisms. Workers everywhere are beginning to rise from their knees to their feet again. They have unprecedented latent power. But the gap between their objective power and their subjective consciousness has never been wider. At no time in their history have they been so silent politically. Their struggles are diffuse and uncoordinated. There is no world party, no mass movement  to change society. Socialists have always understood that without international unity The creation of a worldwide party of the working class is not at all an abstract or unrealistic idea, as the World Socialist Movement demonstrates but it i still merely a work in progress. The internet and social media have made the present generation incomparably connected and informed. The world has drawn together and a new global consciousness has arisen. Unity and democracy depend upon each other. Each is impossible without the other.

“Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for” sang John Lennon. He was singing about a socialist world. Such a world becomes possible once capitalism has been defeated, when social classes have finally been abolished along with the competing nation states and inequality that have accompanied them.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dublin Uprising

After one week of fighting, the 1916 Dublin Uprising was bloodily suppressed. Lacking any real basis of support, the insurgents did not have the slightest chance of victory. Connolly was wrong when he thought that it would ignite the class movement in Europe. The idea that any group of workers can be incited into action by heroic example and martydom is a false one. Only when the conditions for struggle actually exist, only when the majority of people are prepared to do battle and make enormous sacrifices, can a revolution movement take place. Many of those who advocate the false tactics of the barricades and street-fighting today draw, in part, their inspiration from the Easter rising. If they removed their blindfolds they would discover that the actual experience of the rising proved the futility of such action. The conditions for revolution action expressly did not exist in 1916. They did not exist in Ireland and they did not exist in Europe. In Ireland, the IRB and the Citizen Army were only a handful in number. As a self-avowed Marxist, Connolly forgot that it will take the working class to change society, not a handful of individuals to do it for them

Connolly used his charismatic authority as a party leader, and a trade union organiser, to drag his men behind him. He ignored criticism from the other leaders of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union because his sights were set on action, no matter how futile. A large section of the of the workers’ movement was destroyed and into the vacuum stepped in bourgeois opportunists ready to lavish praise Connolly, in order to divert the working class struggle. It was made all the more easier because Connolly had not fought for a workers’ demands on the question of hours of work, of wages, of factory conditions, and of the ownership of the land and industry but a purely nationalist proclamation.

Those who advocate alliances between the workers’ organisations and pro-capitalist political parties on the basis of Connolly’s participation in the 1916 rising should heed the consequences. Connolly himself ignored his own advice. On January 22, 1916 he made a statement which many in the Left in Scotland who hang on to the coat-tails of the pro-independent nationalists should understand to-day: “The labour movement is like no other movement. Its strength lies in being like no other movement. It is never so strong as when it stands alone.” At the turn of the century the French socialist leader, Millerand, accepted a position in the French cabinet. Connolly denounced this betrayal, on the basis that a workers’ party should “accept no government position which it cannot conquer through its own strength at the ballot box”. He denounced Millerand’s stand by saying that “what good Millerand may have done is claimed for the credit of the bourgeois republican government: what evil the cabinet has done reflects back on the reputation of the socialist parties. Heads they win, tails we lose.”

Post-war Ireland saw the Limerick Soviet in the south and, in the north, the Belfast 40-Hour Strike where “Bolsheviks and Sinn Feiners” were leading astray many“good loyalist protestants” to the dismay of the Orange Lodge, where the composition of the strike committee was a majority of Protestant, but the chairman was a Catholic. Sectarianism was being challenged. Working class militancy had entered the Shankill Road and Sandy Row. The National Union of Railwaymen in a resolution at a conference in Belfast stated:“without complete unity amongst the working classes, (we should not allow either religious or political differences to prevent their emancipation) which can be achieved through a great international brotherhood the world over, no satisfactory progress could be made.”

Instead of a Connolly to seize the opportunity for working class unity and solidarity, we had De Valera declaring “Labour must wait”, the interests of the nation must come first (read “the interests of the capitalists”). It was to be national unity, not class unity. By pressing their interests the workers were said to be “endangering” the unity of the republican forces! On the land where the tenants were seizing the estates only to find themselves held back by Sinn Fein and the IRA, who even went to the lengths of carrying out evictions in order to break the back of the land-seizure movement.

The labour movement and working-class unity were the real victims of the 1916 Dublin Rising by subordinating their class interests to the nationalist interests of the capitalist.

See also SOYMB blog

Thursday, November 22, 2012

James Connolly Commemoration, 1949

 The following is the text of a leaflet that dates from 1949, and was produced by the Dublin Socialist Group for distribution at events organised in the city to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the execution of James Connolly. The socialists who made up the Dublin Socialist Group later helped form the World Socialist Party of Ireland.


May the 15th, 1949 – thirty-three years after his death which you now commemorate, and less than thirty-three days after the roar of guns ushered in “The Republic of Ireland”. What relationship is there between these two events? That is the question which, on this day, it is only fitting that you should ask yourselves. Once a year you can march through the streets in your thousands to commemorate his death yet every other day of the year your actions – your very ideas – are, apparently, in violent conflict with all that the man lived for. Is that an unwarranted assumption? Emphatically, we reply: NO. The truth remains the truth, however unpalatable it may be.

We have not the least desire to advance any claim to James Connolly, nor do we consider ourselves the especial inheritors of all of his ideas. But to-day, when everybody acclaims him and sings his praise, we think it very necessary to re-state the simple but vital fact, namely, that JAMES CONNOLLY WAS OF THE WORKING CLASS. His ideas are not, and never will be, the sole preserve, nor in the custody, of any particular section BUT THE WORKING CLASS. Here it is as well to recall – when many are clamouring to bask in the light of the but recently-discovered glory of Connolly – that his ideas were vehemently denounced, and his very person attacked, by the representatives of those interests who, to-day, so anxiously press their claim to his name. We would not be so much concerned at this were it not for the fact that the workers have been “taken in” by these spurious claims. You, fellow-workers, have been duped; for you have supported political parties which have acted in the interests of any and every class in and out of this county but the working class. And you have supported them and placed them in power mainly on the strength of their nationalism and Republicanism. You, who now march to-day in memory of James Connolly, have you forgotten his “Labour in Irish History”? Have you forgotten the thoughts he put on paper in order that you might the better be able to wage your struggle against a social system which condemns you to poverty and insecurity? We think you have forgotten. At the cost of remembering the symbolic moment of his death in a national struggle you’ve forgotten the toiling years of his life on behalf of the working class. Connolly didn’t struggle, and write and speak, and organise, in order that the workers might adhere to this or that Republican constitutional formula; no, not for that. There was no James Connolly if such a man did not desire and work to change the world, not its paper constitutions.

And you, fellow-workers, who, in your Trade Unions and political parties stoutly maintain that you strive to follow in his footsteps, do you direct your efforts towards changing the world? Evidence that you do is certainly very much lacking; for on every occasion you’ve entered the polling-booth you’ve either returned you out-going set of masters or merely changed them for a new set. Not yet have you evinced any great desire to get rid of the master class AS A WHOLE. And that, simply, is what is meant by “changing the world”.

FELLOW-WORKERS ! As you may march, as you may stand at the meeting-place, to-day, why not summarise your present position in your own mind – after twenty-seven years of native government, and after twenty-seven days of “The Republic of Ireland”? Line up your wage-packet (assuming you’re not one of “the 75,000”) alongside the cost-of-living figure: which is higher? Dwell a little on the plight of the thousands “living” in the tenements – that is, of course, if you happen to be blessed (!) with a suburban (!!) “working class house”. Recall the thousands who are unemployed (if you’re not one of them, of course), and remember they’re the ever-present threat of capitalism which hangs over your head – you may join their ranks to-morrow. Again, tuberculosis and other medically-classified poverty diseases are capitalism’s constant threat to the health and happiness of your children. And topping these and the other social evils you know only too well the experience is the threat of another capitalist war – yes, another, and promising to be everything (and much more) that all the previous wars of history weren’t together.

That is the real world you live in. Say – if you wish – that you reside in a portion of that world known as “The Republic of Ireland”. So what? Does that alter your position one bit? Of course not. And that world, reflected in the capitalist system of that country and the conditions of the Irish working class, surely deserves to go. And it will go WHEN THE WORKING CLASS WILLS IT. If James Connolly can be said to have left a message for the working class, it is this: THE WORKING CLASS MUST ACHIEVE ITS EMANCIPATION ITSELF AND IT CAN ONLY DO SO THROUGH THE ABOLITION OF THE CAPITALIST SOCIAL SYSTEM.

We are not given to lip-service, and much (judicious) quoting of Connolly, but the following, we think, is by no means out of place, and we especially commend it, on this particular occasion, to those who – to put it bluntly – have made a good thing out of such practices.

 “Ireland as distinct from her people is nothing to me; and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for ‘Ireland’ and yet can pass unmoved through our streets and witness all the wrong and suffering and the shame and the degradation wrought upon the people of Ireland:
aye, wrought by Irishmen upon Irishmen and women ithout burning to end it, is a fraud and a liar in his heart, no matter how he loves that combination of chemical elements he is pleased to call ‘Ireland’”. 'The Coming Generation' 1900 [our emphasis]

Fellow-workers, there is but one way to really commemorate Connolly, and all those – whoever and wherever they may been – who have fought and died for and on behalf of the world’s workers, and that is by striving to abolish capitalism and establish SOCIALISM, THE COMMON OWNERSHIP AND DEMOCRATIC CONTROL OF THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION (the factories, mills, mines, railways, etc.), BY AND IN THE INTERESTS OF THE WHOLE OF THE COMMUNITY WITHOUT ANY DISTINCTION WHATSOEVER. By devoting your time and energy to the achieving of such an aim you will be truly commemorating Connolly and all those of his kind every day.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Celtic Communism, the Gaelic Commonwealth

 St Kilda

The remotest inhabited place in the British Isles lies some 110 miles west of the Scottish mainland, "on the edge of the world", a small cluster of islands known as St Kilda. St Kilda may have been permanently inhabited for at least two millennia and the population probably never exceeding 180.

In theory St Kilda was part of Scotland but it was effectively overlooked. The Inland Revenue never attempted to impose taxation, and the inhabitants of St Kilda were never invited to register on an electoral roll. No crime was ever officially recorded. No one from St Kilda was called up into the armed forces. Until the nineteenth century money was not used on St Kilda.

On the islands, consisting of 1575 acres of Hirta,  244 acres on Soay and  79 acres on Dun, the islanders had developed a self-sufficient communal economy based on seabirds (meat, oil & eggs), Soay sheep, fishing, and some small scale crofting. A form of primitive socialism prevailed on the island.

In 1838 Lachlan MacLean wrote "If St Kilda is not the Eutopia so long sought, where will it be found? Where is the land which has neither arms, money, care, physic, politics, nor taxes? That land is St Kilda. No taxgatherer's bill threatens on a church door-the game-laws reach not the gannets. Safe in its own whirlwinds, and cradled in its own tempests, it heeds not the storms which shake the foundations of Europe - and acknowledging the dominion of M'Leod, cares not who sways the British sceptre. Well may the pampered native of happy Hirt refuse to change his situation - his slumbers are late - his labours are light - his occupation his amusement. Government he has not - law he feels not - physic he wants not - politics he heeds not - money he sees not - of war he hears not. His state is his city, his city is his social circle-he has the liberty of his thoughts, his actions, and his kingdom and all the world are his equals. His climate is mild, and his island green, and the stranger who might corrupt him shuns its shores. If happiness is not a dweller in St Kilda, where shall it be sought?"

On the whole the people were left free to develop their own type of society. The outcome was a form of communism in which decisions affecting the whole community were taken in a collective manner (though only by the men), work was assigned on the basis of individual skills, and there was no private property apart from accommodation, furniture, and other personal items. The community made sure that those who were sick, disabled, or elderly could live at the same standard as anyone else.

A very large proportion of the communal work involved the catching of sea birds and the gathering of eggs. After a day capturing fulmars, for example, all the dead birds would be placed on a large pile, and then distributed to each family according to the size of the family. Men who returned with especially large quantities of fulmars would receive the same share as any other.

"To discover the socialistic principle you have only to toss a roll of tobacco—an ounce will serve the purpose as well—to the first man that accosts you. True to the apostolic theory of “all things common” this latter-day Ananias will share his spoil, to the last leaf, with every smoker on the island."

The men of Hirte (the only inhabitable island) would meet every morning in what was the daily "Parliament". It had no rules, no chairman and participants arrived in there own time.This was a meeting to share information, discuss current issues, resolve disputes, and make decisions, in particular in relation to work that needed to be done. Decisions were reached by consensus. "Often the proceedings are anything but harmonious, and the loud talking of the men at one and the same moment is suggestive of anything but a peaceful solution. However, when a decision is arrived at the malcontents readily give way, and co-operate cordially with the majority." Never in recorded history were feuds bitter enough as to bring about a permanent division in the community.

The social organisation of the people of St Kilda can be summed up as a form of feudal communism. It was  feudal  in the sense that the islands were the property of a wealthy laird. At the time of the evacuation the owner was Reginald MacLeod, at Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye who unverifiably claimed that the population of St Kilda had been "tenants of my family for a thousand years". He received his rent in kind and not in cash. The factor for St. Kilda took over 1,080 fish from its tenants in 1875. (Also in 1875 St. Kilda residents exported over 500 gallons of oil from seabirds, for use as medication).

Like the free workers of Jamaica that Marx describes in Grundrisse who, being "content to produce what was strictly necessary for their own consumption", and how they were portrayed by the plantation owners as idle and indulgent, so the St Kildans were similarly held in contempt by visitors and church-men for their production of use-value and their adherence to their home-grown version of socialism of simply satisfying needs.

The entire population was evacuated in 1930. Despite their reservations every member of the community came to the conclusion it would be right to leave. So ended perhaps the longest surviving "Communal Democracy" on British soil.

 On the mainland, several of them were particularly aggrieved at conditions in which they found themselves. They wrote repeated letters of complaint, a typical comment being that included in one letter from one John Gillies, saying "This home is worse than the cattle byre I had in St Kilda..."


Celtic Communism, the Gaelic Commonwealth

Marx considered certain tribal societies  "in some ways, more essentially human and liberated than a clerk in the city and in that sense closer to the man of the socialist future". The early Celt’s system of communal organisation could perhaps be cited as an example

The word "clan"derives from the Gaelic form 'Clann', meaning "children" or "stock". When a clan occupied  a territory it belonged to the clan as a community.

Engels discussed the New Lanark experiment of Robert Owen and  suggests that the success of the New Lanark experiment was in part due to the fact that the Scottish "workers' were familiar to working in communistic way as a kind of cultural or socio-economic hangover from the Scottish clan system. Which as well as operating co-operatively, as far as the labourers were concerned, the Clan leaders were more sort of paternalistic than purely exploitative. So the story goes; the Clan leaders were viewed and viewed themselves rather like a father of the clan family and likewise had a responsibility towards the rest of the clan as his "children".  The clan leader would be also like a repository of culture and knowledge etc and a matter of civic or clan pride, as far as his up keep was concerned, and an impartial administrator of the production within the community and disputes."

John Maclean's call for a communist republic of Scotland was based on the belief that traditional Scottish society was structured along the lines of "Celtic communism". He argued that "the communism of the clans must be re-established on a modern basis" and raised the slogan: "back to communism and forward to communism". He wrote in  his 1920 "All Hail the Scottish Workers Republic!" that "The communism of the clans must be re-established on a modern basis. (Bolshevism, to put it roughly, is but the modern expression of the communism of the mir.) Scotland must therefore work itself into a communism embracing the whole country as a unit. The country must have but one clan, as it were – a united people working in co-operation and co-operatively, using the wealth that is created."
He reminded the Irish in Scotland that "communism prevailed amongst the Irish clans..." so that by allying with Scottish socialist republicans they would be "carrying forward the traditions and instincts of the Celtic race".

Many have criticised James Connolly as having betrayed socialism through an infatuation with Irish nationalism. He too cites the workers' forebearers socialistic tendencies in his book "Labour in Irish History" where he refers to "The Gaelic principle of common ownership by the people of ther sources of food and maintainence".

It would indeed be wrong to follow either MacLean or Connolly and give the impression that it is by such means the workers will emancipate themselves. Engels had already pointed out that:
 "...the Celtic clans...In the course of time, under the influence of commodity production surrounding them, or arising in their own midst and gradually pervading them, and of the exchange between individual families and individual persons, they all lost more and more of their communistic character and dissolved into communities of mutually independent landowners."
The Communist Party would call MacLean supporters "claymore communists" for their nationalism and we too caution against any idea that implies socialism is possible in one country. We should not over-romanticise our history with such concepts as a brotherhood of the kilt but we can use examples and experiences from our past to demonstrate the potential for the future and that neither human nature nor national character stands in the way of achieving socialism  -  indeed, in many ways it is "back to communism and forward to communism"