Socialists and the Scottish independence referendum

In the run-up to the vote on independence, Colm Breathnach reported from Scotland in Issue 55 (March 2014).

In November 2013, the Radical Independence Conference, based on a grassroots left-wing campaign for a Yes vote in 2014’s Scottish in­dependence referendum, brought together over a thousand delegates. When you strip away the paid lackeys and lobbyists, there are few political organisations in Britain which could muster such a number. So why has a conference and campaign centred on Scottish indepen­dence brought together almost the whole of the Scottish radical left, as well as hundreds of people who don’t belong to left organis­ations? Why are local RIC sections beginning to shape up as real campaigning groups where activists are working together in a non-sectarian way? Primarily because there is a consensus that in­dependence could mean much more for Scotland’s people than a saltire replacing the Union Jack and that it will have major implications for the future of the British state.

Independence: a beginning not an end

A socialist approach to self-determination is based on two principles: the democratic right of a population who identify with a certain national identity (since nations, of course, are social/cultural constructs, not essential/racial ones) to decide on the political struc­ture that they wish to reside in. This does not mean that socialists always support the creation of independent states, autonomous regions, etc. but they do support the right of people to democratically decide on this. However, a second principle comes into play because, while socialists support the right to self-determination, they must balance this with the interests of the working class. So questions must be asked about how this will affect the immediate interests of the working class and the terrain on which the struggle for the emancipation of that class occurs.

So how would a victory for the Yes side advance the interests of the working class? Of course, the day after a Yes vote we would still have the same exploitative, patriarchal capitalist society that we had the day before. What’s more, we would find ourselves in what Allan Armstrong has accurately called the Scottish Free State: tied to the UK by the monarchy, sterling and NATO membership. However, no one on the pro-independence left claims that we will immediately enter some Scottish socialist nirvana, but simply that the tilt of the field of struggle will be more to the advantage of the working class.

Firstly the political terrain would be profoundly different. Two slightly social democratic parties, Labour and the Scottish National Party, would be competing, in a state where the popular pole of gravity is well to the left of the ‘Rest of the UK’, to be more ‘welfarist’ than the other, especially if they were battered by pressure from below. Anyone who doubts the impact of the political culture on Scottish politics should simply look at the difference between the SNP and Westminster parties on immigration and refugees. The SNP openly advocates greater immigration to Scotland, while Labour and the Tories compete to be seen as ‘tough on’ immigration. Scotland is not immune to racism, but the dominant political culture renders such right-wing populism less effective. The steady moves to privatise the NHS in England have not been mirrored in Scotland, again largely because of the SNP’s need to appear to be a party of the welfare state and thereby sometimes having to act as such.

Independence would also deprive the establishment politicians of the ability to squeal: “It wasnae me, it was the big man frae London” as an excuse for implementing neo-liberal policies. In addition there would no longer be the prospect of major right-wing projects being imposed from London, and the ability to do so from Edinburgh would be restrained by the electoral challenges posed for those who wished to do so. The prospects of the creation of a serious radical left force would have a much bigger impact in an independent state, forcing the big two to go further than they would like to. The electoral system will guarantee that any half-decent left force will have significant representation in parliament, but more importantly, such a movement will have far more weight in an independent state. So the battle to defend and advance the immediate interests of the working class would face much more conducive circumstances.

Secondly, the future institutional structure of the new state would immediately become a key battleground for both defending and advancing the interests of the working class. Regardless of Salmond’s assurances that all will remain as is, a struggle over the shape of the institutions of the independent state will immediately open up. A written constitution will differentiate the new state from the UK, and all the anti-democratic laws and traditions of the British state will be up for grabs. Of course, a more democratic state will not be less capitalist than the centralised, overly bureaucratic, monarcho-parliamentary UK, but it will provide more room for manoeuvre in the class struggle. It’s quite easy, for example, to envisage that the highly restrictive trade union laws of the Thatcher era could be un­done. Revolutionary socialists have always been to the forefront in fighting for democratic rights and institutions, even within the confines of bourgeois democracy, because such gains, though quite compatible with capitalism, give the workers much greater room for manoeuvre in their struggle to overthrow capitalism. This is not a case of postponing the struggle for socialism until you have moved through a succession of stages, but taking the opportunity to shape the terrain as you engage in the struggle for socialism.

Freed from the overwhelming power of the British state, fighting now on the firmer ground of an independent democratic state, the prospects of a radical socialist transformation would be enhanced in the context of regional and international developments. Even in the short term, the goal of a socialist republic would begin to look far less fanciful: major battles for the public and democratic control of Scotland’s energy resources, including not only oil and gas but also renewables, would no longer be hamstrung by the direct intervention of the British state. Socialists could now be in a much better position to challenge the retreat into simply defending the welfare state that has been the hallmark of much of the British left, as ‘welfarism’ would define the political consensus. There would be no excuse for failing to strike out and fight for workers’ control, for democratic planning, for real equality for all regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality.

The class politics of the referendum should alert us to the radical potential of independence. A small section of the capitalist class in Scotland favour independence on the basis that it will increase profitability for this nascent national bourgeoisie, but the fact that the overwhelming majority of capitalists favour the No side and have poured money into the unionist Better Together campaign is proof enough of where the interests of that class lie. The working class are the key to winning a victory in the referendum. Opinion polls have consistently shown that those lower down the socio-economic ladder (and the younger) are more likely to favour independence. The question is, can this trend be strengthened? Here is where RIC could play a decisive role. During summer 2013 RIC began a voter registration campaign in some of the poorer urban working class communities where voter turnout is traditionally low, but the polls show that people are more likely to vote Yes if they do turn out. Such communities do not, however, constitute the majority of the working class, and RIC will have to connect with a broader layer of the class via the trade union movement, the struggles of public sector workers, etc.

International implications

Despite the half-hearted nature of Salmond’s version of indepen­dence, it would spell the beginning of the end of the British state and open up new possibilities for social transformation throughout these islands. This has serious implications for the north of Ireland. Given the strong ties of the Protestant working class in the north with Scotland, it could contribute to a significant change in that section of the class. It is possible that Scottish independence would precipitate a crisis of identity amongst northern Protestants. This is all the more likely given a process of unravelling in the ‘Rest of the UK’ entity. How long before the Welsh Assembly demands more powers or the Welsh people begin to baulk at their subordinate position? What about the impact on the north of England if people see the last remnants of the welfare state being dismantled while, in close proximity, Scotland heads in a different direction? Such a process could lead to a breakdown in traditional allegiances amongst Protestant workers, leading to a greater receptivity for socialist ideas in that community and the development of an orientation towards an all-Ireland perspective.

A Yes vote will also have serious global implications. It will greatly reduce the power of the British state as the USA’s key ally and as an international ‘player’. What will be the status of the rump UK in the UN? Will it maintain its Security Council membership? Will it be able to play the key role it did in imperialist adventures such as the Iraq war? One thing for certain is that independence will contribute to the reduction of influence. As a bonus card, it will also pose a threat to another key state in the EU, Spain, whose right-wing prime minister has strongly hinted at blocking an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU, fearful that a Yes victory will give added impetus to Catalan and Basque demands for independence, with a similar referendum in the offing in Catalonia.

The consequences of a No vote

At the moment opinion polls consistently point to a commanding lead for the No side. Not surprising, given that almost all the mainstream media, the majority of the capitalist class and the trade union bureaucracy have sided with the No campaign, leading to a constant stream of well-funded propaganda washing over the public. Now all this could change overnight, and the Yes campaign seems to be stronger on the ground, but it is important to consider the con­sequences of a No victory.

While the No side has targeted voters’ fear of the unknown, one thing is certain: a No victory will not simply mean maintenance of the status quo. The attacks on workers’ wages and conditions, the dismantling of the welfare state, the increasing militarisation/ securitisation of society and the constant pandering to anti-immigrant racism will accelerate as the ConDem Government in London act with the confidence that the most proximate threat to the British state has been seen off. They will quickly go in for the kill to reduce the funding available for Scotland and to impose further cuts. And tragically, the greatest security threat to the population of Scotland, the nuclear weapons base at Faslane, will now be confirmed rather than removed. A defeat will also strengthen Scottish Labour’s shift to the right, from the traditional thuggish but vaguely social democratic boss politics that has dominated for long to a more technocratic but also more rightist direction, encapsulated by the ineffectual leadership of Johann Lamont, who recently echoed vicious Tory rhetoric with her very own Thatcherite reference to “something for nothing” culture in Scotland.

Yes, Yes Plus, and beyond

The official Yes campaign is dominated by the SNP and based on the ‘nothing will change’ principle. It argues for a Scotland that keeps the monarchy and sterling, combined with vague assertions that this will be combined with Norwegian oil-based social democracy. The tight link with the SNP only helps to confuse the issue: it leads many floating voters to see a Yes vote as a vote for Salmond and his party. The mistaken strategy of some socialists which, initially confining themselves to this official campaign, was largely based on a selfish calculation that this seal of approval would give them advantage over the rest of the left, has now been quietly dropped as they have seen the growth and energy of the Radical Independence Campaign. The failure of that ‘embedded socialists’ strategy has been highlighted by the success of the RIC in uniting a broad layer of socialist, green and social movement activists in support of a more radical vision of in­dependent Scotland. RIC has not operated in direct opposition to the Yes campaign, and indeed has co-operated on practical measures, but it has effectively become the Yes Plus campaign, with increasing signs that it is making a serious impact in the referendum debate. RIC is important because it takes the campaign for independence out of the SNP’s control, it raises questions and poses solutions that are far to the left of the official campaign, and it unites a wide swathe of activists in a campaign that could play a key role in the emergence of a new left movement post-referendum.

Yet it’s important to keep this development in perspective. RIC is a not a socialist movement, still less a revolutionary one, although many of those involved fit those categories. Revolutionary socialists are joined by a variety of left reformists, including members of the Green Party, current and former SNPers, and even a scattering of ex-Labour Party members. The politics advocated by the majority are certainly well to the left of anything else on offer in Scotland, but it is fair to characterise much of it as broadly social democratic in the old sense of that word: you will hear a lot of talk about protecting and advancing the welfare state and public ownership, but not much about workers’ control! This poses a challenge for revolutionary socialists in RIC. There is a balance between insisting that a broad campaign adopt a revolutionary socialist programme, thereby reducing it to a bickering bag of mini-groups, and the opposite mistake of socialists hiding their light under a bushel so as not to frighten the children. The key point with RIC is that, despite certain organisational problems, in comparison to other broad campaigns it has been an open forum for debate and discussion as well as a vehicle for action, so that socialists have been able to articulate the arguments for a socialist Scotland and influence the shape of the campaign. It is not a revolutionary campaign, but it is a campaign where revolution­aries can have a decisive impact and argue their case openly.

It should not be forgotten that a few short years ago the left in Scotland was hopelessly divided and weakened by the bitter split in the Scottish Socialist Party caused by the spectacular fall of self-indulgent sexist Tommy Sheridan and his travelling circus of opportunistic camp-followers and misguided fans. This one-man-induced freefall was unfortunately compounded by the failure of many of Sheridan’s opponents to face up to the lessons of this terrible setback: failure to face up to the perennial reliance on ‘charismatic’ leaders, failure to understand that this was the price of prioritising short-term electoral gain, failure to face up to sexism not in theory but when practised by leading members. Yet the Sheridan split has all but faded, with the culprit himself and his diminishing band of followers playing no role in RIC. Most of his leading opponents, to their credit, have done what so many socialists fail to do: put the interests of the working class before their own or their organisations’ interests by taking a low-profile but positive role in the campaign. In fact, many of those who are at the heart of the campaign are young people who were too young to play any significant part in the Sheridan affair or not involved in any central way. This is not to idealise RIC—there are still problems—but the situation is fluid, and most of the problems are ‘growing pains’ rather than deliberate manipulation.

Contrary to the view expressed by some on the left, the referendum is not just an inter-capitalist dispute that we can ignore while we wait for the magical millennium when the pure armies of labour and capital line up and fight to the death on the day of judgement. Socialists who refuse to enter combat, waiting to line up on the perfect battlefield, usually find that the real messy battles of life have passed them by. Revolutionaries can have no illusions when fighting on democratic questions: they do not deliver the eman­cipation of the working class, nor are they stages which must be passed through while ‘labour must wait’. Rather, they are part of the long and complex process of emancipation, a process that we must engage in at every twist and turn, unapologetically raising the banner of the liberation of the class while we engage in those struggles. It is with that banner firmly raised that we enter the fray in the struggle for the independence of Scotland.

An frithdhúnadh ón bhFrainc

Céad bliain tar éis frithdhúnadh Bhaile Átha Cliath, thug an t-aistriú seo ar altanna a scríobh Fabra Rivas léargas ar dhearcadh eite chlé na Fraince air, in Eagrán 54 (Nollaig 2013).

Cuireadh tús le l’Humanité mar pháipéar laethúil sóisialach i bPáras i 1904, agus Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) ina bhun. Ghlac páirtí sóisialach na Fraince, an SFIO, leis mar pháipéar oifigiúil i 1911. Bhí tuairiscí aige ar ghluaiseacht na n‑oibrithe sa Fhrainc féin agus ar fud an domhain. Ní hionadh go raibh frith­dhúnadh Bhaile Átha Cliath i measc a chuid nuachta i 1913.

Ba é Antonio Fabra i Ribas is mó a thuairiscigh ar thús an aighnis. Rugadh é sa Chatalóin i 1879 agus tar éis céim ollscoile a bhaint amach i 1900 bhí sé gníomhach sa gluaiseacht shóisialach sa Fhrainc, sa Bhreatain, agus sa Ghearmáin. Chaith sé tamall i mBéal Feirste, áit ar mhúin sé i scoil teangacha. D’fhill sé ar Barcelona i 1908, ag cur páipéar sóisialach amach agus ag glacadh páirt i Seachtain na Tragóide, nuair a throid oibrithe na cathrach le harm na Spáinne. D’fhill sé ar an bhFrainc ina dhiaidh sin. Bhí sé i bpáirtí sóisialach na Spáinne tar éis an chéad chogadh domhanda. Ba theachta dála i bpoblacht na Spainne é, ag obair sa roinn oibreachais ó 1931 ag tacú le comharchumainn, agus ansin ina thaidhleoir san Eilvéis. Theith sé go Meiriceá Theas nuair a tháinig Franco i gcumhacht, mar a raibh baint aige leis an gcomharchumannachas arís, ag scríobh a lán leabhar. Ligeadh ar ais chun na Spáinne i 1950 é, ar choinníoll nach bhfágfadh sé a cheantar dúchais. Fuair sé bás i 1958.

Aistrítear anseo a chuid tuairiscí ó Shasana a foilsíodh ar l’Humanité i dtús fhrithdhúnadh Bhaile Átha Cliath, a thugann léargas maith ar an gcaoi ar fhreagair gluaiseacht na n‑oibrithe dó sa Bhreatain agus sa Fhrainc.

Troid ar feadh dhá uair dhéag ar shráideanna Bhaile Átha Cliath

[L’Humanité, 2 Meán Fómhair 1913]

Tá trioblóidí Bhaile Átha Cliath, ar labhair l’Humanité orthu inné san Eagrán Stadchló, thar a bheith tromchúiseach. Is éard a spreag iad, an cosc ansmachtúil a cuireadh le cruinniú a ghairm Ceardchumann Oibrithe Iompair Éireann de bharr gabháil cheannairí stailc na dtram­bhealaí agus bagairt na bhfostóirí bata is bóthar a thabhairt do na hoibrithe a ardaíonn bratach dhearg an cheardchumainn.

Níl sé ach beagán le cois deich lá ó thug an Dublin Tramway Company bata is bóthar do roinnt oibrithe ar aon chúis amháin, gur bhaill iad dá gceardchumann, an Irish Transport Union. Mar agóid in aghaidh an ghnímh ansmachtúil seo, d’fhógair an ceardchumann an stailc atá ar siúl le seachtain. Deich la tar éis fógairt na stailce, gabhadh ceathrar ceannairí de chuid na n‑oibrithe,1 ina measc an Saoránach Séamas Ó Lorcáin, rúnaí an cheardchumainn, ach scaoileadh saor ar bannaí iad. Ar deireadh, Dé hAoine, chuir na póilíní cosc le cruinniú a d’eagraigh an ceardchumann, a bhí le bheith ar siúl Dé Domhnaigh seo caite.

Níor mhian leis an Saoránach Ó Lorcáin déanamh de réir eascaire phóilíní Bhaile Átha Cliath. Chuir sé litir chuig an Sunday Freeman, a aistrítear anseo:

A chara,
Tuigtear dom go bhfuil fógraithe agat nach mbeidh aon chruinniú in O’Connell Street amárach. Ba mhaith liom a chur in iúl duit go bhfuil sé de rún agamsa, Séamas Ó Lorcáin, cibé tuairim atá ag oibrithe eile, an cruinniú a thionól ar ais nó ar éigean. Dá bhrí sin, má dhearbhaítear a mhalairt duit, is in aghaidh mo thola-sa é.
————————————Is mise, Jim Larkin.

Dé Domhnaigh, idir a haon is a dó a chlog san iarnóin, bhí O’Connell Street, ceann de na bóithre is gnóthaí i mBaile Átha Cliath, dubh le daoine. Chomh maith leis na daoine a bhíonn ag dul thar bráid de ghnáth, bhí roinnt oibrithe tar éis teacht le chéile.

Go tobann, ar vearanda an Imperial Hotel shómasaigh, tháinig fear faoi chasóg eireabaill agus hata ard i láthair. Bhí croiméal fada air agus féasóg fhada den dubh is deise. Le gotha mór dá lámh dheas, tugann an duine uasal aghaidh ar an slua, agus tosaíonn ag labhairt.

Is é Séamas Ó Lorcáin, i mbréagriocht, ag fógairt don phobal go bhfuil sé tagtha lena gheallúint a chomhlíonadh agus nach n‑imeoidh sé go ngabhfar é.

Is é an chuid is spéisiúla den scéal gur leis an Uasal Murphy é an Imperial Hotel, stiúrthóir an Chomhlacht Trambhealaí arb iad a imeachtaí ansmachtúla a spreag an stailc, agus gur bheannaigh na póilíní le mórmheas, tar éis dóibh mionchuardach a dhéanamh san óstán, don Saoránach Ó Lorcáin, a raibh Miss Donnelly in éineacht leis, agus a shínigh an clár mar thaistealaí a tháinig ó Learpholl.2

Thóg teacht Uí Lorcáin ar bhalcóin an Imperial Hotel callán ollmhór i measc an tslua. D’fháiltigh bualadh bos díograiseach roimh ghaisce Uí Lorcáin.

Ghníomhaigh na póilíní láithreach bonn. Phléasc siad isteach san óstán agus thug ruathar faoi na léirsitheoirí. Chaith na marcghardaí iad féin leis an slua go fíorfhíochmhar. Bhuail na póilíní buillí smachtín ar mhná agus ar dhaoine óga. Thit a lán agus fuil lena gcloigne. Agus iad ag iarraidh seasamh arís, thug na póilíní fúthu arís, ag bualadh le smachtíní as an nua iad.

Bhí radharc agam ar an iomlán—a deir comhfhreagraí an Daily News—ritheadh i ndiaidh daoine a bhí iomlán neamhurchóideach agus iad ag teitheadh thar lánaí in aice le páirc an áir agus buaileadh gan trócaire iad.

Ach níor dhada iad radharcanna foréigin is fiántais na hiarnóna le hais radharcanna an tráthnóna.

Idir a seacht agus leathuair tar éis a hocht tráthnóna—a dhearbhaíonn an Daily News—thug na póilíní breis is leathchéad ruathar.
Ó mhoch maidine inniu tá tuilleadh daoine gortaithe á dtabhairt chun an ospidéil.

Thairis sin, scríobhann comhfhreagraí an Manchester Guardian i mBaile Átha Cliath na focail thromchúiseacha seo:

Tá go leor finnéithe neamhchlaonta tagtha chun cinn, agus tá siad ar aon fhocal go raibh na póilíní ag gníomhú faoi thionchar an óil tráthnóna aréir, cuid mhaith.

Ta torthaí an chatha a d’fhear na póilíni in aghaidh muintir na cathrach scanrúil.

Tá breis is 400 (ceithre chéad!) duine, idir fhir, mhná is pháistí, gortaithe go trom nó go héadrom. Áiríodh daoine marbha, ce nach eol an líon cruinn.3

Cuireann ár gcomhghleacaí an Daily Citizen,4 agus nuachtain liobrálacha uile Shasana leis, go dian dúthrachtach in aghaidh na radharcanna cruálacha atá ag titim amach ar shráideanna Bhaile Átha Cliath.

Dearbhaíonn sé: “ní féidir na modhanna a mbaintear leas astu sa Rand5 a chur i bhfeidhm sa mhórchathair”.

Táimid cinnte—a deir an Daily Citizen lena chois—go dtacóidh tuairim an phobail sa Bhreatain Mhór ar gach bealach is féidir leis na hÉireannaigh atá ag troid leis an gceart cruinnithe a chosaint.

Déanta na fírinne, is é anois nó riamh é le cruthú gurb ann don tsaoirse in Éirinn freisin agus go bhfuil na cearta céanna agus na pribhléidí céanna ag muintir na hÉireann iathghlaise is atá ag saoránaigh Shasana agus na hAlban.

Fabra Ribas

An t‑ár i mBaile Átha Cliath

[L’Humanité, 3 Meán Fómhair 1913]

Tá tuairim an phobail agus nuachtáin Shasana ar aon fhocal in aghaidh na radharcanna fiántais agus brúidiúlachta a bhfuil Baile Átha Cliath mar láthair dóibh.

Tá iallach ar an Times, a dhéanann iarracht maolú ar chúraimí troma phóilíní Bhaile Átha Cliath, a admháil: “i gceantair áirithe thug na póilíní ruathar le brúidiúlacht nach raibh gá léi” (unnecessary brutality).

Dearbhaíonn an nuachtán céanna gurbh éigean cóir leighis a chur ar 500 duine, agus 57 póilín ina measc, de bharr créachta troma nó éadroma a fuarthas tráthnóna nó oíche Dé Domhnaigh.

Scríobhann an Daily Citizen, in alt ina gcuireann sé go feargach in aghaidh ár na bpóilíní i gCorn na Breataine6 agus i mBaile Átha Cliath:

Dá mhéid nuachta a fhaighimid ó Bhaile Átha Cliath, is amhlaidh is mó ár bhfearg le hamaidí choiriúil na n‑údarás agus seasamh barbartha na bpóilíní.
…Is féidir na rudaí a spreag an chruálacht seo a achoimriú mar a leanas: Tá socraithe ag dornán caipitlithe i mBaile Átha Cliath deireadh a chur leis an gceardchumannachas agus thar aon ní eile ceardchumann na n‑oibrithe iompair a chur faoi chois. Tá siad tar éis leas a bhaint as beart ansmachta nach bhféadfadh gan stailc a thabhairt. Tá tacaíocht ríchroíúil na n‑údarás acu ina ngníomhartha… Tá gach ab fhéidir leo déanta ag fostóirí, údaráis agus póilíní le fearg a adhaint agus anord a spreagadh.

Cuirimis leis sin gurb é an tUasal Murphy atá ar cheann na gcaipitlithe. Is leis an duine uasal seo trambhealaí uile na cathrach, nach mór; is é úinéir an Imperial Hotel inar chuir an Saoránach Ó Lorcáin faoi, úinéir shiopa éadaigh Clery, úinéir nuachtán an Irish Independent, uachtarán an West Clare Railway Co., stiúrthóir an Great Southern and Western Railway Co., agus tógálaí bóithre iarainn in Uganda agus san Airgintín.

Is é Mr Murphy féin a threoraíonn an choimhlint in aghaidh an Irish Transport Union, agus is eisean a chomhairligh go dtabharfaí an frithdhúnadh mar fhreagra ar agóid na n‑oibrithe.

Rinne an tUasal Murphy iarracht fáil réidh le ceannairí na n‑oibrithe, go mór mór an Saoránach Ó Lorcáin, a bhfuil géarleanúint righin déanta air.

Ach ainneoin a chuid airgid, a thionchair agus a chuid póilíní féin, ní éireoidh leis an Uasal Murphy. Le ceardchumainn Bhaile Átha Cliath atá sé ag plé go dtí seo. Anois tá aicme oibre uile na Breataine Móire os a choinne.

Óir, faoi láthair, is é an ceardchumannachas uile go léir, agus an Chomhdháil ata ina suí anois i Manchain mar ionadaí air,7 a éilíonn fuascailt Uí Lorcáin, atá ag iarraidh fiosrúchán iomlán ar na himeachtaí i mBaile Átha Cliath, agus atá ullamh chun cuidiú le hiomlán a fhórsa ar gach bealach is féidir le stailceoirí agus ceard­chumannaithe phríomhchathair na hÉireann.


An caipitleachas in aghaidh na gceardchumann

[L’Humanité, 14 Meán Fómhair 1913]

Ta alt an-deas agus an-bhríomhar ag an Saoránach Keir Hardie san eagrán is deireanaí den Labour Leader8 ar na himeachtaí i mBaile Átha Cliath.

Tá Keir Hardie tar éis dul go dtí príomhchathair na hÉireann. Theastaigh uaidh tábhacht na gluaiseachta atá ar siúl a thuiscint lena shúile cinn, agus is é an t‑adhmad a bhaineann sé aisti, cibé tábhacht a bhain le cosc an chruinniú agus le brúidiúlacht na bpóilíní—tábhacht ollmhór, gan amhras—níl iontu seo ach sonraí d’fhadhb atá i bhfad níos tromchúisí.

Is féidir an fhadhb seo a chur i bhfocal mar seo: Tá na caipitlithe i mbun comhcheilge leis na ceardchumainn a chur faoi chois.

Seo ceann de na hargóintí atá ag Keir Hardie chun tacú lena chás:

Is toradh í forbairt ollmhór na gceardchumann le blianta beaga—ní amháin ó thaobh ball ach ó thaobh na tuisceana aicmí agus na dlúthpháirtíochta freisin, agus bunú an Labour Party, spreagtha ag an sóisialachas—ar mhearbhall mór i measc na haicme caipitlí. Ní sos do na gnéithe is mífhreagraí de Pháirtí na dTóraithe agus na nuachtáin ach ag éileamh dlíthe ansmachta agus gníomh bríomhar ag na húdaráis.
An Páirtí Liobrálach atá i gcumhacht faoi láthair, ní eilíonn sé dada: gníomhaíonn sé. Caithfear fórsaí an lucht oibre a mhúchadh má tá contúirtí níos mó le cosc.
…Tá buíochas poiblí tugtha ag an gComhlachas Tráchtála don Uasal Murphy as “an Lorcánachas a chur faoi chois”. Tacaíonn Caisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath (áras fhear ionaid an rí in Éirinn)9 leis an Uasal Murphy, agus seasann Downing Street (áras phríomh-aire Shasana) ar chúl Chaisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath.

Ansin, ag tabhairt aghaidh ar naimhde na prólatáireachta, scríobhann Keir Hardie na focail laidre seo:

Ach ní chloífear oibrithe Bhaile Átha Cliath arís. Ta an leath­chéad míle fear agus ban a shiúil i ndiaidh corp James Nolan lán misnigh agus diongbháilteachta. Tá na deich míle saoránach ar labhair mé leo ag Beresford Square10 ullamh chun troid mar aon duine amháin. Tuigeann ceannairí ghluaiseacht ceardchumann na hÉireann, ó thuaidh agus ó dheas, an scéal go binn. Is cinnte go dteastaíonn ó ghluaiseacht Shasana uile go léir a cion a dhéanamh ar an ócáid seo. Ní stailc atáimid a fheiceáil i mBaile Átha Cliath; is comhcheilg é le gluaiseacht na gceardchumann a scrios.

Críochnaíonn Keir Hardie le hachainí ar na hoibrithe uile agus na sóisialaithe uile teacht i gcabhair ar na comrádaithe i mBaile Átha Cliath. “Caithfear an chomhcheilg chaipitleach”, scríobhann sé, “a mharú i mBaile Átha Cliath. Mura maraítear, beidh orainn í a throid sna hOileáin Bhriotanacha ar fad.”

Níl feicthe ag an gceannaire cróga sóisialach ach an ceart. Déanta na fírinne, cuireann Times an lae inné in iúl dúinn go bhfuil socraithe ag fostóirí Bhaile Átha Cliath go dtroidfidh siad an Irish Transport Union go deireadh agus nach bhfreastalóidh siad ar na cainteanna a osclóidh Dé Luain seo chugainn ina bhféadfadh ionadaithe na n‑oibrithe agus na bhfostóirí réiteach ar an gcoimhlint seo a lorg.

Ní mian leis na fostóirí a thuilleadh margaíochta a dhéanamh. Is mian leo troid. Níor chuir ár ‘Dhomhnach na Fola’ aon eagla orthu. Is é an chaoi go bhfuil cluiche mór á imirt acu agus go mbraitheann siad go bhfuil an rialtas ar a gcúl.

Idir an dá linn, tá Ó Lorcáin scaoilte saor ar bannaí. D’fhógair sé in óráid a thug sé ag Beresford Square go bhfuil socraithe aige féin agus a chomrádaithe go dtroidfidh siadsan go deireadh freisin. Imeoidh sé inniu, Dé Domhnaigh, go Sasana, áit a míneoidh sé an chaoi a gcaitheann an rialtas agus na póilíní le hoibrithe na hÉireann.

Tá comhcheilg an chaipitleachais in aghaidh na gceardchumann cáinte ag Keir Hardie. Tá fógraithe ag an Lorcánach agus ag an Uasal Murphy go bhfuil sé ina chath agus go rachaidh siad go bun an angair leis.

Más fíor nach gcuireann an méid seo isteach ar rialtas Shasana agus nach gcuireann sé a ladar isteach leis an tsíocháin agus an ceart a chur ar bun athuair, cruthóidh sé nach bhfuil liobrálachas ar bith ag baint leis agus nach bhfuil ann ach oifig ghnó atá faoi threoir agus smacht chaipitlithe na tíre.

Fabra Ribas


  1. Cúigear acu a gabhadh.
  2. Donnelly a thug Ó Lorcáin mar ainm, agus ba í Nellie Gifford a lig uirthi féin gurbh í a iníon í.
  3. Fuair James Nolan bás maidin Dé Domhnaigh ó bhuillí a thug póilíní dó an oíche roimhe. An lá a foilsíodh an tuairisc seo, bhásaigh John Byrne de bhuillí a fuair sé ó phóilíní ar an oíche chéanna.
  4. Páipéar Chomhdháil Ceardchumann na Breataine.
  5. Mharaigh na póilíní 25 léirsitheoir le linn stailc mianadóirí san Afraic Theas mí Iúil roimhe seo.
  6. Rinne póilíní ionsaí smachtíní ar mhianadóirí le linn stailce i gCorn na Breataine.
  7. Comhdháil Ceardchumann na Breataine.
  8. Ba é James Keir Hardie an chéad chathaoirleach ar Pháirtí Lucht Oibre na Breataine nuair a bunaíodh é i 1906. Tháinig sé go Baile Átha Cliath le labhairt ag cruinniú ar shon oibrithe na cathrach go gairid tar éis Domhnach na Fola. Ba é féin a bhunaigh an Labour Leader in 1888, paipéar Pháirtí Neamhspleách an Lucht Oibre faoi seo.
  9. Ní ansin ach i bPáirc an Fhionnuisce a bhí a áras seisean, ach ba é an Caisleán croílár rialtas na Breataine in Éirinn.
  10. Plás Beresford atá i gceist, in aice le Halla na Saoirse.

Remembering Pat Guerin

This tribute to a contributor to Red Banner appeared in Issue 53 in September 2013.

The unexpected death of Pat Guerin on 13 June saw the initial shock give way to a deep sadness. Anyone who faces racism in Ireland has lost someone who unflinchingly stood with them; anyone active in the fight against racism lost a valued comrade; and anyone lucky enough to know Pat lost a warm-hearted friend.

Pat got the proverbial “good job at Guinness’s” as a young man, working his way up from the bottling plant to the human resources department. He did his bit in the unions there too, serving as shop steward and branch committee member in the old FWUI, and secretary of SIPTU’s Laboratory Officers Association. But the job became an obstacle to other things he wanted to do in life, and in 1999 he eventually packed it in after twenty years.

By then he was a leading figure in Ireland’s young movement against racism. The early years of the Celtic Tiger were accompanied by a frightening rise in racism—or maybe a racism that was always latent just assumed a more naked and vicious form. There was no shortage of politicians wading through this rubbish for votes, having not yet got used to the less obtuse expressions of state racism that usually characterise Ireland today. Looking back, the contribution of those who stood up to this wave at its start did priceless work, laying a foundation that anti-racist activism has relied on since.

Pat Guerin was nothing less than a constant presence in this early resistance. At public meetings and in the media, he put the case for an Ireland that would welcome people from other countries instead of stigmatising them with lies and bigotry. He stood in protest at every centre of official racism in Dublin, from the Dáil to the Department of Justice, Mountjoy to the Refugee Applications Centre, and more besides.

When Bertie Ahern informed the world in 2000 that putting asylum seekers on to prison ships seemed like a good idea to him, Pat was prominent in taking the protest up a notch. In an action which combined good and bad planning in roughly equal measure, members of various anti-racist groups occupied St Luke’s—Ahern’s constit­uency office, which went on to feature in tribunal dispatches—usefully publicising the issue before getting arrested. Most of them received suspended sentences in the subsequent trial, on condition that they steer clear of St Luke’s for two years. Up popped Pat to inform the judge that his work sometimes took him through Drumcondra, and could he still transit the area? The judge solemnly clarified that he could go through there, as long as he didn’t stop. History doesn’t record whether or not Pat ducked below the windows whenever the No. 16 bus met a red light at the junction with Botanic Avenue.

He had studied at UCD during his time at Guinness’s, but after leaving took a master’s in ethnic and racial studies at Trinity, followed by four years researching for the Refugee Council. His abilities in uncovering and expressing the realities of racism are clear from the article on ‘Immigration policy, racism and national identity’ he contributed to Red Banner 10. He pointed to the double standards applied to human beings as against capital: “As it becomes increasing­ly easier for goods, services, money and wealth to traverse the globe unfettered by frontiers, it is at the same time becoming ever more difficult for people, and especially for those from outside the wealthy club of nations, to cross international borders.” His study of the experience of racism never represented a retreat into academia, and nor did his work for a state-funded body mean making his peace with the system. He continued to take his place on the picket lines as before.

He insisted that anti-racist theory and action shouldn’t be in opposition, that those engaged in researching racism could work hand in hand with those opposing it on the ground. In this he was right, of course, but the problem has never really arisen from the side of activists, who have had plenty of differences with the academic and funded sectors but bemoan the limits of their active participation rather than blocking it. On the other hand, people with letters after their names have sometimes insisted on pre-booking a privileged position for their own way of doing things, while those dependent on grants have often allowed the piper call the tune to the extent of denying support to people who seek solidarity from radical anti-racists. Pat sometimes preferred to paper over these cracks and was guilty of being generous to a fault, but he did play an important role in ameliorating unnecessary divisions, with his own example con­stituting an eloquent argument.

Pat had personal and family issues to confront, issues which may have ultimately proved overwhelming. This led to periods where his activism could be sporadic, but it is untrue to say that he ever left the anti-racism scene. Pat Guerin could no more stop being an anti-racist than a fish can survive without water. While his involvement was far less organised than before, he continued to put in welcome appear­ances at protests against racism, and indeed other injustices.

For the last three years he presented a programme on community radio dedicated to highlighting the realities of racism in Ireland and globally. It was typical of him that he recently became an advocate for the Roma community, one of the most despised and ill-treated of Ireland’s immigrant communities. His emphasis was always on action, as expressed in his frustration at an anti-racist meeting a few months back where racism and anti-racism were discussed back and forth, meetings planned to talk about more meetings, but nothing actually being done. Pat was always concerned to look for a way to tackle racism practically, to cut through the waffle and get down to some activity, and we can all learn from him there.

Throughout all the ups and downs of fighting racism, Pat never failed to alleviate the mood with a joke. Once, when a year’s sub­scription to Red Banner was suggested as a prize in a fundraising table quiz, his reply was to propose it as first prize, with second prize being a two-year subscription. His humour was valuable not just in putting smiles on our faces, but in preventing us losing the run of ourselves, reminding us that making the world a better place requires a sense of humour as well as hard and serious work. It’s hard to think that those quips of his won’t lighten and enlighten our protests any more, that he won’t be standing at our side in those struggles. But the memory of what he did remains, and remains important. If there is any justice in the world—and here is someone who believed there could and should be—then Pat Guerin will still be remembered when racism is long forgotten.


Shortly after the death of Margaret Thatcher, Tara O’Sullivan looked back in anger in Issue 52 (June 2013).

With these words the Witch fell down in a brown, melted, shapeless mass and began to spread over the clean boards of the kitchen floor. Seeing that she had really melted away to nothing, Dorothy drew another bucket of water and threw it over the mess. She then swept it all out the door. After picking out the silver shoe, which was all that was left of the old woman, she cleaned and dried it with a cloth, and put it on her foot again. Then, being at last free to do as she chose, she ran out to the court-yard to tell the Lion that the Wicked Witch of the West had come to an end, and that they were no longer prisoners in a strange land.

— L Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)

There’s no doubt about it, the air has been a little sweeter to breathe since 8 April. The death of Margaret Thatcher has seen a collective straightening of the shoulders. Yes, some of the more raucous expressions of joy have gone a wee bit over the top, but beyond that there is a feeling of relief, of a burden being eased, which is no less sincere for being expressed calmly. Her own triumphal wartime call to “Just rejoice at that news” has finally come home to roost. The death of an 87-year-old from a stroke, following a slow battle with Alzheimer’s, is nothing to celebrate, but Thatcher long renounced the notion of human sympathy. Many pensioners died cold and lonely deaths from her politics, whereas she slipped away peacefully in the Ritz. Her belief that “there is no such thing as society” has rebounded in society’s reaction to there no longer being any such thing as Thatcher.

In life and death, she is in a class of her own. Ronald Reagan pursued much the same policies, but never seemed to be as grimly vindictive about it—although the Atlantic Ocean may well have distorted our view. Their contemporary Charlie Haughey was another nasty piece of work, but the way he always tried to forge a consensus around his right-wing policies meant that popular reaction to his death was mainly characterised by indifference. Though Thatcher came to power through the conventional mechanism of elections, she inspires a hatred normally reserved for dictators.

The attempt to portray her as a feminist icon is a particularly obtuse expression of the media degeneration of women’s liberation into girl power. Thatcher never paid so much as lip service to the myriad disadvantages faced by her gender, and did things which exacerbated those advantages no end. Her career was not an example of a humble grocer’s daughter pulling herself up by her own efforts, but of marrying a millionaire who bankrolled her academic and political career.

In many ways, her big break came with the failure of the system she loved. The oil crisis of 1973 heralded the first big economic slump since the 1930s, and its political consequences paved her path to power. Old-fashioned paternal Toryism had to give way to unabashed attacks on the living standards of workers, but the old-fashioned paternal Tories weren’t up to the job. The space for sanding down the rough edges of capitalism got smaller and smaller, which meant that traditional Labourism got its redundancy papers too. Labour turned on its traditional supporters with a vengeance, and many of its traditional supporters were ready to return the compliment.

Thatcher’s intent was not to beat Labour at its own game, to persuade the working class that their social betters could look after them, but to split the working class, winning over enough of them to undermine the foundations of Britain’s post-war political com­promise. She told workers with jobs that they should suspect dole scroungers, workers with white skin that they were being swamped by foreigners, that they should identify with hard-working, aspiring types like herself rather than the shiftless lefties who presumed to lead them.

She got by with a little help from her enemies. The British labour movement had settled into a routine of pushing for no more than improvements in wages and working conditions, something it could do quite successfully in the long boom, and was out of the habit of a political consciousness. In the face of mass unemployment, it saw little need for a broader offensive on general economic policy, prefer­ring rear­guard actions to preserve the jobs of its members. While Labour had the votes of immigrant workers by default, the racism faced by black or even Irish people in Britain was never that high among its priorities. It clung to a bland defence of nationalised industries and services, refusing to accept that they had become remote bureau­cracies which resembled some of Thatcher’s dishonest caricature. The attempts of socialists to argue for a consciousness based on more employment, more solidarity, more popular control were brave but unsuccessful.

Thatcher was actually quite weak after coming to power in 1979, leading a divided party, unable to implement her pet policies, with unprecedented unpopularity. She never launched an all-out attack, preferring to pick off groups one by one. To begin with, she concen­trated her fire on those less likely to evoke solidarity from the labour movement. The intensified harassment of black communities met with a strong response, but mainly from those communities them­selves. Her stubborn refusal to grant political status to political prisoners in Ireland was never going to be opposed by Labour, who had introduced the criminalisation policy in the first place and could think of nothing better than despatching their spokesperson to tell Bobby Sands they would do nothing for him. The war in the South Atlantic was a godsend for Thatcher, not least because British Labour’s new-found opposition to war was trumped by its traditional loyalty to empire.

It was only with the 1983 election landslide under her belt that Thatcher really got going. Her well-timed attack on the miners was pivotal, and really threw down the gauntlet to the workers’ movement, but even here she was careful to buy off threats of industrial action from other groups of workers. Given the odds against them, it is remarkable how close the miners came, relying on half-hearted official support and an inspiring growth of solidarity from the grassroots of their class. The miners’ strike was like a football match where our side repeatedly hit the post and was on the wrong side of a couple of controversial refereeing decisions. Thatcher won her Waterloo but, like the original battle, it was a near-run thing.

Her steadfast support for Rupert Murdoch’s smashing of the print unions in 1986 helped cement media support for Thatcherism, important in winning her third election the following year. But even now, she didn’t have it all her own way. Much is made of inherent Conservative decency reasserting itself in 1990 to replace her with a less offensive eejit. But the splits in the Tory facade and the way her own comrades dumped her in the end is evidence of the growing dis­content she was provoking in Britain. Her mirage of “a property-owning democracy” was reaching its inevitable end in a property crash. Public sector strikes had begun to take place again, and even to win. She might possibly have managed to force the poll tax through at the height of her power, but with her tide gone out it was a bridge too far.

Of course, the damage was done by then. The reason we hate her so much—the reason so many of us are vowing to visit her last resting place with a full bladder—is not so much for what she wanted to do, but the fact that she succeeded in doing it. Thatcher’s reign saw a depressing series of humiliating defeats for the working class and the left, and the repercussions are with us still.

It is painfully true to say that Thatcherism is still alive and kicking the hell out of working class people. The mark she left on politics in Britain and beyond—more of an ugly stain, really—is still blatantly visible. Irish history tells of conquerors being eventually assimilated by the natives, but Thatcher’s conquest was so strong that those who came to power after her demise remain helplessly under its sway. Labour parties proclaim that “there really is no alternative” to Thatcherite policies, and they are not for turning. For all her stubborn railing against the European Union, its treaties impose as a con­stitution­al imperative the unleashed free market and low public spending which she loved.

So does the left need its own Thatcher, an unapologetic class warrior, but one who fights for our side instead of theirs? No, because our job is very different to hers. Putting an end to oppression cannot involve a mirror image of it. Building a society of free people living and working in solidarity means people taking control of their own destinies, never abdicating that responsibility to any leader or leaders, however benign. It cannot be a matter of cynical calculation by politicians, but of openly challenging and replacing capitalism.

The only homage we owe Thatcher is our hatred. But she did articulate a radical change in politics and society, a total philosophical project rather than surface reform, and did so with persuasive skill. She can still look up and laugh at us unless and until socialism develops the capability to do likewise, and consign her political legacy to the same depths as herself.

Guerrilla warfare in India

Issue 51 (March 2013) featured this article by Citizen Army leader Michael Mallin.

As a review in our last issue pointed out (Ciarán Ó Brolcháin, ‘Portráid d’athair ceannairceach’) the remarkable articles on warfare written in 1915 by Michael Mallin, chief of staff of the Irish Citizen Army, have been unjustly neglected. Mallin served with the British army in India from 1896-1902, becoming more and more disillusioned with its role in oppressing the peoples of India and Ireland alike. His articles draw on his experiences there, explaining the tactics used by popular forces against the British, and drawing lessons for the similar warfare that the Citizen Army was preparing for. The first of these articles is reprinted here for the first time since its original publication in The Workers’ Republic of August 7 1915.

In June, 1898, the British Government in India sent an armed force to collect taxes in one of the tribal lands in the North West Frontier.1 The tribe had resented the imposition of this tax, and hence the attempt to collect it by force of arms.

The column was made up of Ghurkas and Sikhs with some mountain guns and a detachment of British soldiers. The tribesmen on this particular occasion were ill-armed but well led. Their arms consisted of about 200 rifles, of which 50 were Martini Henry and Lee Metfords. The remainder were old obsolete muzzle loaders.2 The feature of the fighting was the excellent tactical disposition of the tribesmen.

Approaching the principal village of one of the leading tribes the British force halted about 300 yards outside the village, on almost level ground, the outskirts of the village almost directly to their front. The officer in charge placed sentries some forty or fifty yards out with strict orders to note and report every move in the village. His guns he placed directly opposite the village, so as to batter down the walls of the houses, or to stop a possible rush.

Having completed the arrangements to his entire satisfaction, he then gave orders to the troops to prepare their dinners. Directly in front of the village, running parallel with the British front, was a dried ditch, or nullah, which had not been seen owing to the nature of the ground. In this and in the houses on the fringe of the village were concealed about fifty of the best shots among the tribesmen. On the right of the British the ground was of a very broken nature for a considerable distance. On their left were low hills running back to their rear for about two miles or more.

Whilst the men were at dinner one of the sentries reported a large force of natives moving across their front, as if to get at the right flank of the column. He could not say whether they were armed or not, as they were so far off. As a matter of fact it was the old men and boys taking the women and cattle out of the way, but the tribal leader used them to distract the attention of the invading British and the ruse succeeded. The British officer in charge became alarmed, and thinking the natives were about attacking his flank, ordered the guns to be changed in the new direction. Immediately the men of the batteries began to place the guns on the backs of the mules, the tribes­men hidden in the ditch in front of the British, and in the houses beforementioned, opened a deadly fire, directed particularly at the guns. Nearly all the gunners were killed or wounded; the mules broke loose and stampeded, kicking and plunging amongst the men, and causing considerable confusion in the ranks.

With the supposedly large force moving on his right, and not knowing the exact number on his front, the British commander decided to take up a position on the hills or rising ground on his left, as to a certain extent this ground commanded the village. Anticipating some such move, the tribesmen cleverly laid their plans, and here I wish to emphasise the exceeding usefulness of their arrangements. At the beginning I pointed out that they had only about two hundred rifles or firearms of all descriptions. With the exception of about fifty placed in the ditch and in the houses of the village, the leaders organised all the others into parties of from fifteen to twenty strong, with instructions to them to act either independently or jointly as occasion required.

Running along the foot of the hills was one long nullah or dried up watercourse to the extent of about a mile and a half, and about four feet deep by six feet wide. Smaller dried up watercourses or nullahs ran into this main one, much in the nature of lanes leading into a street, or traverses crossing a trench.

To the tribesmen knowing every foot of the ground these nullahs were of the greatest assistance; to the troops who were strangers in the country, and did not know whither they led, these nullahs and water­courses were to the last degree dangerous. The natives took up their positions in the main nullah, each party keeping one of the connecting nullahs at their back, so as to retire into it if necessary. In many cases reserves lay in wait in the connecting nullahs. As soon as the troops got within one hundred yards of the nullah a hot fire was opened upon them. The officer in charge gave orders to drive out the enemy. Immediately any considerable force got too close the natives retired along the connecting nullah, and coming into the main one further down, took up a new position. In some cases detachments of troops followed into the connecting nullahs, and were ambushed and destroyed by the parties lying in reserve, as were the Northamptons later on in the war against the Afridis.3 Pressed from the direction of the village the British troops had to retire, and with this new danger arising from the operations of the enemy in the nullahs their position soon became desperate. The officer gave orders for a general retire­ment (or, as the military apologists called it, “a demonstration in force followed by retrograde movements for tactical reasons”). Their position soon became worse. The men from the village pressing on their rear, and all the time a galling, flanking fire from the nullah. Any detachment that entered the nullah in pursuit was cut to pieces and never seen again. The retreat soon became a headlong panic-stricken flight, and thus ended the attempt to collect taxes by force.


You can understand twenty or thirty men defending a barricade in a main street, and on the troops pressing them too closely, retiring down one of the side streets. Further on that main street is another barricade. The troops cannot leave it behind them, and at best can only send detachments after the men who have taken to the side streets.

To parties defending their own cities in such a manner the lanes and side streets are of incalculable value. They retire from a position on the main thoroughfare as soon as it becomes untenable, and retiring up one of these intersections, come down upon it again further on, just as the tribesmen did with the nullahs I have tried to describe. In such fighting the lanes and alleys are a great source of danger to regular troops; they lead to nowhere but to the street fighters, organised in squads of eight or sixteen; they have a definite place in their scheme of fighting. Led by resourceful leaders such bodies do incalculable damage, and are all the more dangerous from the fact that they do not need rifles, nor guns, machine or otherwise. A disciplined force in reserve they do need, but the real dangerous de­moralising fighting is done by small irregular bodies, hastily dividing, using anything capable of killing or wounding that lies ready to their hand.

Such is the lesson of this incident I have just described, as it is the lesson of the irregular fighting dealt with by our Commandant in previous issues.4


  1. Of British-occupied India, in present-day Pakistan.
  2. The last version of the Martini-Henry rifle had been replaced in the British army by the Lee-Metford ten years earlier, which was in turn superseded by the Lee-Enfield in 1895. Muzzleloaders, guns loaded from the front, had long been surpassed by breech loaders.
  3. The Afridis, a Pashtun tribe in the region, rose against the British in 1897. The Northamptonshire Regiment suffered heavy losses against them on 9 November. Mallin’s articles ‘1898: Samana Range’ (The Workers’ Republic, October 23-30) and ‘1899’ (August 28) discuss the same campaign, in which he fought in the Royal Scottish Fusiliers.
  4. James Connolly had written on the lessons of various insurrections in The Workers’ Republic between May 29 and July 24: see James Connolly, Collected Works, II (New Books 1988), p 451-83.

Austerity bites

This article by Maeve Connaughton opened the fiftieth issue of Red Banner in December 2012.

As the recession just keeps rolling along, the figures are there to show that we are anything but all in it together. The latest National Income and Expenditure report in September contained tables which, like any honest attempt to tell the truth about the economy, really come into the category of seditious material. From 2008 to 2009 total wages in Ireland fell sharply by 9.3 per cent, another 6.5 per cent in the following year, and then a further 1.4 per cent from 2010 to 2011. If you really wanted to see a glass less than empty in those figures, you could maybe raise a pathetic cheer at the slowing of the rate of decline. But look at this picture, then at that. Total profits also fell from 2008 to 2009, by 7.8 per cent: not as much as wages did, but still down. The very next year they were up again, however, increasing by 4.3 per cent. Nor was this some freak bounce, because 2011 saw an even bigger rise of 6.6 per cent. The upshot of it all is that the total profits of Irish capital are now back above 2008 levels again, whereas the wages of Irish labour are now 16 per cent lower than they were in 2008.

Some people are clearly having a very good war indeed. Certainly good enough to sustain a veritable legion of spokespersons to pop up at every opportunity to tell us that we have to sacrifice yet more in the national interest of keeping them in the style they have become accustomed to. Times are tough, they tell us between puffs of their cigars, and we have to think the unthinkable. Incomes and services we have become used to will have to be seriously looked at, they say, and no one can be immune. Every one of us has to do their bit, they opine when a Churchillian mood takes them.

Watching such characters makes it very easy to empathise with Elvis Presley’s habit of critically reviewing the television with his shotgun. Because the imperative to tighten our belts doesn’t apply to their class. Apparently, if any attempt were made to divert some of those profits into paying for useful services, it would damage the economy and hamper their ability to create employment. Hmm, so that increase in profits over the last three years has led to an increase in employment, then? Well, no: just the opposite, in fact. Capitalists don’t create employment, or anything else for that matter. They appropriate wealth created by those they employ, the employment being very much a necessary evil from their point of view. The less people they employ, the better, and they would soon go out of business if they didn’t keep it to a bare minimum.

When they say that everything has to be on the table, they don’t include the things their class enjoys, of course. The criminally low contribution they make towards state expenditure is especially sacrosanct. The people who tell us the money isn’t there are the same people who tell us that we have to find it from anywhere, even our grandchildren’s communion money, in order to bail out banks that are no more use than a chocolate teapot.

A particularly pernicious aspect of their strategy is to divide workers into groups and invent antagonisms between them. The supposedly soft conditions of workers in the public sector is claimed to have privileged them above private sector workers facing harsh times. This crock holds little water, especially when you remember that they are not advocating cutting pay in the public sector so that they can raise it in the private sector, but the exact opposite: trying to enforce a lower pay level across the economy so that they can depress wages further still.

There is something sickening about the concern these spokes­people evince for frontline services. The time-honoured patronising of nurses, for instance, tries to counterpose their work to the penpushers supposedly clogging up the health system. But a hospital requires administering too. You don’t just need nurses and doctors to take your appendix out, but someone to schedule your appointment in the first place and make sure the hospital is running smoothly. Refusing to replace clerical workers, together with demanding ‘flexibility’, means that more and more administrative work is thrown on to the shoulders of nurses, pushing the frontline into the back office.

The hue and cry over the Croke Park agreement underlines how offensive (in every sense of the word) the Irish capitalist class is. Having already enforced a cut in public sector pay across the board, they agreed to go no further on condition that workers agreed to an open-ended agenda of working harder for longer. The income of public sector workers still gets cut further, purely by defining some of it as ‘allowances’ rather than ‘pay’. In the meantime, anyone newly employed comes in on far worse wages and conditions. This historic advance for the interests of the rich hasn’t satisfied them, though. While unions are apologetically pointing out just how much they have given away, employers have simply pocketed all the concessions and pushed ahead for more, showing an aptitude for class warfare unfortunately absent on our side.

Never wanting to waste a good crisis, the bosses are attacking out­right the principle of universal benefits. ‘Why should millionaires get the children’s allowance?’ they ask with an innocence that would almost make themselves eligible for it. It seems funny that the very people who would scream at the prospect of millionaires having to pay another €140 a month in tax are scrambling to take that much away from millionaire parents, and that’s because they’re playing another game entirely. Once a means test is in, the cut-off point can be lowered way below millionaire level. And of course, means tests function to deny benefits to those who should be entitled to them. There is no shortage of people whose earnings or lack of them should qualify them for a medical card, but still don’t have one, because proving your poverty to the HSE inquisitors is an achievement in itself. The very fact of having to show officialdom where every cent comes from and goes to, not to mention what you had for breakfast, is enough to make sure that means-tested benefits are taken up at a lower level than they should be—which is precisely the point of the exercise, of course.

The upshot is that we are trapped within an ever decreasing vicious circle. If we want to maintain special needs assistants, we have to close hospital wards. If we want to keep wards open, we have to cut the pay of clerical assistants. If we don’t want to impoverish already low-paid workers, we have to get rid of special needs assistants. And so on: in this scenario, robbing Peter is the only way to pay Paul. With the notorious ‘low-hanging fruit’ well and truly macheted to the ground by now, cutting into the diminishing remainders can do nothing but harm. However you spin the cylinder, every chamber of the revolver is loaded in this version of Russian roulette.

This is why the current economic parameters can’t be tweaked, pushed out, or even revised: they have to be broken. The vicious circle can’t be squared. Attempting to stay within those lines means accelerated misery for working people, and attempting to defend a decent life for working people means walking all over those lines.

We have to put forward an altogether different way of looking at the problem. ‘The economy’, this boat we are all supposed to be in, is a domain more mythical than anything found in a C S Lewis wardrobe, and a lot less picturesque. It chains us to the idea that maximising profit for a few is the only conceivable way of producing, hoping that if we stuff their pockets enough, a little might fall out in the direction of the likes of us. We should fight instead for the idea that wealth is produced by and for human beings, and that their needs should determine how it is used and distributed. To paraphrase Marx, the political economy of labour has to triumph over the political economy of capital.

Of course, this does mean advocating an entirely different kind of society, rather than a budgetary adjustment or a reform of taxation. This has presented some problems on the left since the recession hit. Socialists haven’t been immune to the demoralisation inflicted by the crisis, or the overwhelming pressure to lower expectations. Trying to halt and reverse the cuts has taken the place of trying to replace capitalism. It’s almost as if revolution was a luxury we could afford to be talking about in the good times, but now we have to cop ourselves on and be realistic. In the space of a few years, many have gone from insisting that another world is possible to pleading that a return to 2007 levels of public expenditure is possible.

The fact that the change in direction we want to see amounts to a revolution is something we should be delighted about rather than apologetic. No other point of view can inoculate us fully from the ever-present centripetal pull of the limits of orthodoxy. It is time socialists shouted from the rooftops that capitalism as a system is to blame for all of this, that it will regularly lead us into similar catastrophes as long as it lasts, and that our present predicament is all the more reason to be scrapping it.

Making this argument is not an academic business, a question of philosophically expounding the merits of a socialist society. It is rather a matter of showing in practice that the fight to defend a human existence against the ravages of capitalism logically leads to the building of a socialist society. There can be no contradiction between present battles and final aim. Anyone who thinks or acts as if there was—presenting socialism as something separate in time or place from the reality we live—is no socialist at all, frankly.

It was commonly maintained until recently that this year’s would be the last tough budget, that the bulk of the adjustment would be done, most of the metaphorical heavy lifting (metaphorical heavy lifting is the only kind that politicians ever do) out of the way. The claim soon wore thin, and like an ageing rock band insisting that this next comeback tour would be the last, it soon came to be seen as an obvious marketing ploy. They’re not even bothering to spin this line any more. But could it possibly be the last soft budget as far as the left is concerned? The last time they counter it with proposals to stimulate capitalism, and instead come up with proposals to undermine it, to point beyond it, to unashamedly put the interests of working people forward in open antagonism to the class which currently runs things?

Socialists need to be formulating and presenting demands which can make sense to large numbers of workers today. But that is not the same thing at all as demands which make sense within current mainstream ideology. The consciousness of the working class at the moment is a complicated mixture of resignation and indignation, putting up with things rather than agreeing with them, open at some level to the notion of an alternative way if only it seemed plausible. Socialist politics shouldn’t just mirror these contradictory attitudes, but engage with the fighting aspect of them, arguing for it to go further and look deeper, taking things all the way to the necessity of a world run to satisfy people’s needs and capacities.

Any significant success that such an approach met with would not just be a great promise for the future, but a powerful contribution to beating the austerity offensive here and now. Many of us have repeatedly asked ourselves of late: When will it all end? When will the relentless drive to take away what we took for granted stop? The answer, of course, is that it will never stop as long as capitalism is left to its own devices. It is a system which learns from our mistakes, thrives on our weakness, prospers on our poverty. It never ceases to maximise its profits, which is only another way of saying that it never ceases to minimise our lives. The devastation it is wreaking these days is only an extreme blitzkrieg version of the constant attack it inflicts as a matter of course.

The one thing that has stopped it, from its dawn as an economic system onwards, has been the resistance of the working class. That resistance has always been fuelled by the conviction of workers that they were entitled to more than capitalism was pleased to allow them. The tragedy of this recession is that millions of workers have seen little option but to go along with the sacrifices demanded of them. They have to persuade themselves that they deserve better, to develop a self-respect which demands that what they and their class and humanity needs should come first: We are nothing, and we should be everything! In times like these, that requires an outlook which is unafraid to envisage a fundamental transformation in society. And the existing possession of such an outlook—a socialist outlook—entails a duty to come out and argue for it, now more than ever.

Céard atá ó Chonradh Spartacais?

Foilsíodh an saothar seo le Rosa Luxemburg ar Eagrán 49 i Meán Fómhair 2012.

Mí na Samhna 1918, d’éirigh oibrithe is saighdiúirí amach in aghaidh réimeas an Impire Wilhelm II sa Ghearmáin, ag cur comhairlí dá gcuid féin ar bun. Thit an impireacht, agus 9 Samhain d’fhógair an Páirtí Daonlathach Sóisialta poblacht. Scaoileadh saor an sóisialaí Rosa Luxemburg agus atheagraíodh Conradh Spartacais, an t‑eagras lenar bhain sí. Scríobh sí an clár seo don Chonradh, a foilsíodh ar an bpaipéar Die Rote Fahne 14 Nollaig. Nuair a bhunaigh an Conradh is grúpaí eile Páirtí Cumannach na Gearmáine ag deireadh na bliana, glacadh leis mar chlár don pháirtí nua. Seo é an chéad aistriúchán Gaeilge air.


Ar 9 Samhain scrios oibrithe agus saighdiúirí an seanréimeas sa Ghearmáin. Seachrán fuilteach chlaíomh na Prúise an domhan a chur faoina smacht, d’imigh sé ina ghal soip ar mhachairí catha na Fraince. An bhuíon bithiúnach a chuir tine leis an domhan agus a sheol an Ghearmáin isteach i muir na fola, bhain siad deireadh a gcúrsa amach. An pobal ar cuireadh dallamullóg orthu ar feadh ceithre bliana, a rinne dearmad i seirbhís an Moloch1 ar dhualgas na sibhialtachta, an onóir agus an daonnacht, a lig leis an mí-úsáid a baineadh astu ina leithéid d’fheallghníomh, dhúisigh sé ó mharbh­shuan na gceithre bliana—ar bhéal an duibheagáin.

Ar 9 Samhain d’éirigh prólatáireacht na Gearmáine leis an gcuing náireach a chur di. Cuireadh an ruaig ar na Hohenzollern,2 toghadh comhairlí oibrithe is saighdiúirí.

Ach ní raibh sna Hohenzollern ach ionadaithe na buirgéiseachta impiriúlaí agus na dtiarnaí talún. Ceannas aicmeach na buirgéis­eachta, sin é atá ciontach as an gcogadh domhanda—sa Ghearmáin agus sa Fhrainc, sa Rúis agus i Sasana, san Eoraip agus i Meiriceá. Caipitlithe na dtíortha uile, ba shin iad fíorúdair an chinedhíothú. An caipiteal idirnaisiúnta—sin é an dia bréige doshásaithe ar caitheadh na milliúin is na milliúin íobairt bhalbh dhaonna sa chraos fuilteach ar a shon.

Ta an cogadh domhanda tar éis an rogha a fhágáil ag an saol: leanúint an chaipitleachais, cogaí nua agus titim go luath san aimhréidh is ainriail, sin nó an dúshaothrú caipitleach a chur ar ceal.

Le críoch an chogaidh dhomhanda tá a cheart chun beatha caillte ag ceannas aicmeach na buirgéiseachta. Níl sé in ann a thuilleadh an saol a threorú amach as an gcliseadh scanrúil eacnamaíochta atá fágtha ina diaidh ag an bhfleá impiriúlach.

Tá gléasanna táirgthe millte ar scála uafásach. Na milliúin oibrithe ar lár, an bunadh is fearr agus is oilte den aicme oibre. Ar fhilleadh abhaile dóibh siúd a mhair, bhí dearóile fhonóideach na dí­fhostaíochta ag fanacht leo. Bagraíonn gorta agus galar an pobal a bhánú ó fhréamh. Níl éalú ó loiceadh airgeadais an stáit de thoradh ualach uafásach na bhfiacha cogaidh.

As an míréir fhuilteach seo agus an duibheagán uaibhéalta seo, níl aon chúnamh, aon éalú, aon tarrtháil ach an sóisialachas. Ní fhéadfaidh ach réabhlóid dhomhanda na prólatáireachta eagar a chur ar an aimhréidh seo, obair agus arán a chur ar fáil don uile dhuine, deireadh a chur leis an ár atá á dhéanamh ar na pobail, síocháin, saoirse, fíorshibhialtacht a thabhairt don chine daonna faoi chois. Léirscrios ar chóras an phá! Sin é gairm na huaire. Glacadh an obair chomrádúil áit an obair pá agus an cheannais aicmigh. Caithfidh na gléasanna oibre gan a bheith mar mhonaplacht aicme a thuilleadh: caithfidh siad a bheith mar chomhshealúchas an uile dhuine. Ná bíodh daoine á ndúshaothrú ag dúshaothraithe a thuilleadh! Riar an táirgthe agus dáileadh na dtáirgí ar son na coitiantachta. Modh táirgthe an lae inniu a chur ar ceal, an dúshaothrú is gadaíocht, agus tráchtáil an lae inniu, nach bhfuil ann ach caimiléireacht.

In áit na bhfostóirí agus a gcuid sclábhaithe pá, saorchomrádaithe oibre! Gan an obair ina crá ag aon duine, ach ina dualgas ar an uile dhuine! Beatha fhiúntach don uile dhuine a chomhlíonann a dhualgas don saol. Ní bheidh an t‑ocras mar mhallacht na hoibre a thuilleadh, ach pionós an leisceora!

Ina leithéid de shaol amháin a bhaintear fuath náisiúnta agus daoirse ó fhréamh. Go gcuirtear a leithéid de shaol ar bun, beidh marú na ndaoine mar náire ar an domhan. Ansin amháin a bheidh sé le rá:

Is é an cogadh seo an ceann deiridh.

Is é an sóisialachas an t‑aon chrann seasta ag an gcine daonna ar an uair seo. Thar bhallaí an tsaoil chaipitligh is iad ag titim as a chéile, bladhmann focail an Chláir Chumannaigh mar chéalmhaine lasrach:

Sóisialachas nó titim faoin mbarbarthacht!3


Is é bunú an eagar sóisialach saoil an cúram is ábhalmhó a thit ar aicme agus réabhlóid riamh i stair an domhain. Éilíonn an cúram seo atógáil iomlán an stáit agus muirthéacht iomlán i ndúshraith eacnamaíochta is shóisialta an tsaoil.

Ní féidir an atógáil seo agus an muirthéacht seo a reachtú trí údarás, coimisiún nó parlaimint ar bith:4 ní féidir ach le sluaite an phobail féin é a ghlacadh ar láimh agus a chur i gcrích.

I ngach réabhlóid go dtí seo, mionlach beag den phobal a stiúir an cath réabhlóideach, a thug cuspóir is treoir dó, agus a bhain leas as an slua mar uirlis lena leas féin, leas an mhionlaigh, a thabhairt chun bua. Is í an réabhlóid shóisialach an chéad réabhlóid nach féidir léi an bua a bhaint ach ar son an mhóraimh mhóir agus trí mhóramh mór an lucht oibre.

Tá ar shlua na prólatáireachta, ní amháin tuiscint níos soiléire ar chuspóirí agus treoir a thabhairt don réabhlóid. Caithfidh sé féin, lena ghníomhaíocht féin céim ar chéim, an sóisialachas a thabhairt ar an saol freisin.

Is é nádúr an tsaoil shóisialaigh go stadann an slua de bheith ina shlua rialaithe, agus a mhalairt, go gcaitheann siad an saol polaitiúil is eacnamaíochta ar fad iad féin agus go stiúrann siad é faoi fhéin­cheannas saor i gcomhfhios.

Ón bpointe is airde den stát go dtí an ceantar is lú, mar sin, caithfidh slua na prólatáireachta a ghléasanna aicmeacha féin—comhairlí na n‑oibrithe is na saighdiúirí—a chur in ionad gléasanna cheannas aicmeach na buirgéiseachta a tháinig anuas chugainn—na comhairlí cónaidhme,5 parlaimintí, comhairlí áitiúla—gach suíomh a ghabháil, maoirseacht a dhéanamh ar gach feidhm, gach riachtanas stáit a thomhas de réir a leasa féin mar aicme agus cúraimí an tsóisialachais. Agus is trí idirghníomhú buan beo amháin idir sluaite an phobail agus a gcuid gléasanna, comhairle na n‑oibrithe is na saighdiúirí, is féidir lena gcuid gníomhaíochta an stát a líonadh le sprid shóisialach.

Agus ní féidir an muirthéacht eacnamaíochta a chur i bhfeidhm ach oiread ach mar phróiseas a thugann gníomh shlua na prólatáir­eachta i gcrích. Níl i reachtanna loma na n‑údarás réabhlóideach is airde ar an sóisialú ach caint san aer. Ní féidir ach leis an bpobal feoil a dhéanamh den bhriathar lena ghníomh féin. I ngleic chrua leis an gcaipiteal, aghaidh ar aghaidh i ngach monarcha, le brú díreach na sluaite, le stailceanna, lena ngléasanna ionadaíochta buana a chur ar bun is féidir leis na hoibrithe maoirseacht a dhéanamh ar an táirgeadh, agus ar deireadh é a riar i ndáiríre.

Caithfidh sluaite na prólatáireachta foghlaim le bheith, seachas ina meaisíní marbha a chuireann an caipitlí sa siúl sa phróiseas táirgthe, ina saor-riarthóirí smaointeacha gníomhacha dóibh féin ar an bpróiseas seo. Caithfidh siad meon freagrach mar bhaill ghníomhacha den choitiantacht, ar leo gach saibhreas sóisialta, a bhaint amach. Caithfidh siad dúthracht gan lasc an fhostóra, an t‑éacht is airde gan maor caipitleach, smacht gan chuing agus eagar gan cheannas a leathnú. Is iad an t‑idéalachas is airde ar son na coitiantachta, an féin­smacht is déine, fíorsprid pobail na sluaite an dúshraith mhorálta leis an saol sóisialach, ar an gcaoi chéanna gurb iad amadántacht, féin­spéis agus breabaireacht dúshraith mhorálta an tsaoil chaipitligh.

Ní féidir le slua na n‑oibrithe an meon pobail sóisialach seo a fháil, chomh maith le tuiscint agus cumas ar stiúradh an ionad sóisialach oibre, ach lena ghníomhaíocht féin, a thaithí féin.

Ní féidir sóisialú an tsaoil a chur i gcrích ach i gcathaíocht chrua gan staonadh shlua na n‑oibrithe ar fad, i ngach áit a dtugann lucht oibre is lucht caipitil, pobal is ceannas aicmeach na buirgéiseachta, aghaidh ar a chéile. An aicme oibre féin a chaithfidh fuascailt an aicme oibre a bhaint amach.


Sna réabhlóidí buirgéiseacha, ba iad doirteadh fola, sceimhle, dún­mharú polaitiúil na hairm riachtanacha i lámh na haicme ag teacht in airde.

Ní gá aon sceimhle do réabhlóid na prólatáireachta le haghaidh a cuid cuspóirí: is fuath agus gráin léi dúnmharú daoine. Ní gá di na gléasanna catha seo, mar nach daoine aonair a throideann sí ach institiúidí, mar nach ngabhann sí chun páirc an chatha le dallamullóg shaonta arb éigean di díoltas fuilteach a bhaint lena cur di. Ní haon iarracht ráscánta í ag mionlach an saol a mhúnlú de lámh laidir de réir a n‑idéil, ach gníomh shluaite an phobail ina milliúin ar gá di misean na staire a chomhlíonadh agus riachtanas na staire a chur i ngníomh.

Ach san am céanna, is í réabhlóid na prólatáireachta creill an bháis do gach daoirse agus leatrom. In aghaidh réabhlóid na próla­táireachta, mar sin, téann gach uile chaipitlí, tiarna talún, mion­bhuirgéiseach, oifigeach, gach brabúsaí is súmaire ar dhúshaothrú is ceannas aicmeach chun catha go himirt anama bonn ar aon.

Is seachrán buile é a cheapadh go nglacfaidh na caipitlithe go toilteanach le breith parlaiminte nó comhdhála náisiúnta, go ligfidh siad uathu an sealúchas, an brabach, pribhléid an dúshaothraithe go réidh. Throid gach aicme ceannais go deireadh leis an bhfuinneamh is crua ar son a cuid pribhléide. Paitrigh na Róimhe agus barúin fheodacha na meánaoise, Ridirí Marcra Shasana agus máistrí daor Mheiriceá, bóidhir na Valáice agus déantúsóirí síoda Lyons6—dhoirt siad uile na sruthanna fola, shiúil siad thar chorpáin, dúnmharú is loscadh, ghríosaigh siad cogaíocht chathartha is tréas lena gcuid pribhléide agus cumhachta a chosaint.

Scoitheann an aicme chaipitleach, mar an sliocht is deireanaí ar aicme an dúshaothraithe, brúidiúlacht, ciniceas nocht, suarachas a sinsear uile. Cosnóidh sí a dia rónaofa, a brabach agus a pribhléid dú­shaothraithe, go bun an angair le gach modh fuar mailíse atá léirithe aici i stair an choilíneachais ar fad agus sa chogadh domhanda deireanach. Tarraingeoidh sí neamh anuas agus ifreann aníos in aghaidh na prólatáireachta. Slógfaidh sí muintir na tuaithe in aghaidh na mbailte móra, gríosóidh sí sraitheanna ar gcúl de na hoibrithe in aghaidh an urgharda shóisialaigh, spreagfaidh sí sléachta le hoifigigh, iarrfaidh sí gach beart sóisialach a chur ó mhaith le míle gné de fhriotaíocht chiúin, saighdfidh sí scór Vendées faoin réabhlóid,7 gairmfidh sí an namhaid iasachta—na dúnmharfóirí Clemenceau, Lloyd George is Wilson8—mar shlánaitheoirí na tire, déanfaidh sí fothrach dóite den tír seachas an sclábhaíocht pá a ligean uathu go toilteanach.

Caithfear an cur i gcoinne seo ar fad a bhriseadh le dorn iarainn, le fuinneamh míthrócaireach. Caithfear lámh láidir réabhlóideach na prólatáireachta a chur in aghaidh lámh láiidr na frithréabhlóide buirgéisí. In aghaidh buillí, uisce faoi thalamh, cealgaireacht na buirgéiseachta, soiléire dhiongbháilte shlua na prólatáireachta faoina cuspóir, a airdeall agus a ghníomhaíocht shíorullamh. In aghaidh contúirtí bagracha na frithréabhlóide, armáil an phobail agus dí-armáil an aicme ceannais. In aghaidh trasnáil parlaiminte na buirgéiseachta, eagrú gníomhach shlua na n‑oibrithe is na saighdiúirí. In aghaidh na mílte acmhainn cumhachta de chuid an tsaoil bhuirgéisigh i ngach uile bhall, cumhacht chruinnithe dhlúthaithe mhéadaithe an aicme oibre. Tosach dlúth catha phrólatáireacht na Gearmáine ar fad: an deisceart leis an tuaisceart, na bailte móra leis an tuath, na hoibrithe leis na saighdiúirí, ceannasaíocht bheo intinne réabhlóid na Gearmáine leis an Idirnáisiúntán9—is é leathnú réabhlóid Ghearmánach na prólatáireachta amháin a fhéadfaidh an bonn eibhir a chruthú ar féidir áras an ama le teacht a thógáil air.

Is é an cath ar son an tsóisialachais an cogadh cathartha is foréigní dá bhfaca stair an domhain, agus caithfidh réabhlóid na prólatáir­eachta an chathéide riachtanach i gcomhair an chogaidh chathartha seo a ullmhú di féin, caithfidh sí an méid is gá a fhoghlaim chun catha is bua.

An chumhacht pholaitiúil uile a sholáthar do shlua dlúth an phobal oibre le haghaidh cúraimí na réabhlóide, sin é deachtóireacht na prólatáireachta, agus mar sin, an fíordhaonlathas. Ní shuíonn an sclábhaí pá le hais an chaipitlí, an prólatáireach tuaithe le hais an tiarna talún i gcomhionannas bréige chun díospóireacht parlaiminte a dhéanamh ar cheisteanna a mbáis is a mbeatha, ach slua prólatáireach na milliún ag glacadh an chumhacht stáit uile lena dhorn fhearbach, leis an aicme ceannais a bhaint anuas ó bharr ar nós an dé Túr lena ord, sin é an t‑aon daonlathas nach feall ar an bpobal é.

Le cur ar chumas na prólatáireachta na cúraimí seo a chomh­líonadh, éilíonn Conradh Spartacais:

I. Mar bhearta láithreacha leis an réabhlóid a chosaint

  1. na póilíní ar fad, oifigigh i gcoitinne, chomh maith le saighdiúirí neamhphrólatáireacha, a dhí-armáil; baill uile na n‑aicmí ceannais a dhí-armáil
  2. gach soláthar arm is armlóin, chomh maith le monarchana arm, a choigistiú ag comhairlí oibrithe is saighdiúirí
  3. an pobal fásta fireann prólatáireach ar fad a armáil mar mhílíste oibrithe; Garda Dearg a eagrú as prólatáirigh mar chuid ghníomhach den mhílíste le bheith mar fhórsa seasta cosanta na réabhlóide ar bhuillí is uisce faoi thalamh na frithréabhlóide
  4. ceannas na n‑oifigeach is na bhfo-oifigeach a chur ar ceal, smacht toilteanach na saighdiúirí a chur in ait géilliúlacht bhalbh an airm; na gnáthshaighdiúirí gach sinsear a thoghadh le ceart aisghairmthe ag am ar bith; an dlí airm a chur ar ceal
  5. na hoifigigh is na saighdiúirí athliostáilte10 a chur as gach comhairle oibrithe
  6. ionadaithe chomhairlí na n‑oibrithe is na saighdiúirí a chur in áit gléasanna polaitiúla is údaráis uile an tseanréimis
  7. cúirt réabhlóideach a cheapadh, a dtabharfar os a comhair príomhúdair an chogaidh agus a fhadaithe, na Hohenzollern, Ludendorff, Hindenburg, Tirpitz agus a gcomhchoirpigh,11 chomh maith le comhchealgairí uile na frithréabhlóide
  8. an bia uile a choigistiú láithreach le cothú an phobail a chosaint

II. I gcúrsaí polaitiúla agus sóisialta

  1. gach mionstát a chur ar ceal; poblacht aontaithe shóisialach na Gearmáine12
  2. fáil réidh le gach parlaimint is comhairle áitiúil, chomh maith lena gcuid bord is gléasanna, agus comhairlí oibrithe is saighdiúirí a gcuid feidhmeanna a ghlacadh ar láimh
  3. comhairlí oibrithe a thoghadh ar fud na Gearmáine ag an bpobal fásta ar fad, idir fhir is mhná, i mbaile mór is faoin tuath, de réir ionad oibre, chomh maith le comhairlí saighdiúirí a thoghadh ag na gnáthshaighdiúirí, gan oifigigh ná saighdiúirí athliostáilte san áireamh; ceart na n‑oibrithe is na saighdiúirí a gcuid ionadaithe a aisghairm am ar bith
  4. lárchomhairle na gcomhairlí oibrithe is saighdiúirí a thoghadh ag teachtaí na gcomhairlí oibrithe is saighdiúirí ar fud an stáit, a thoghfaidh an ardchomhairle mar an gléas is airde maidir le cumhacht dlí is feidhmithe
  5. an lárchomhairle a thionól gach trí mhí ar a laghad go sealadach—agus teachtaí á n‑atoghadh gach uair—le maoirseacht sheasta a dhéanamh ar ghníomhaíocht na hardchomhairle agus teangmháil bheo a chruthú idir sluaite na gcomhairlí oibrithe is saighdiúirí sa stát agus an gléas rialaithe is airde acu. Ceart na gcomhairlí áitiúla oibrithe is saighdiúirí a n‑ionadaithe ar an lárchomhairle a ais­ghairm am ar bith agus ionadaithe nua a chur ina n‑áit i gcás nach gcloíonn siad le meon na ndaoine a cheap iad; ceart na hard­chomhairle coimisinéirí an phobail,13 chomh maith le húdaráis is maoir stáit, a cheapadh is a bhriseadh
  6. gach idirdhealú céime, ord agus teideal a chur ar ceal; lán­chomhionannas dlíthiúil agus sóisialta an dá ghnéas
  7. dianreachtaíocht shóisialta; ciorrú an am oibre leis an dí­fhostaíocht a chosc agus i bhfianaise lagú corpartha an phobal oibre de thoradh an chogaidh dhomhanda; lá oibre sé uaire ar a mhéid
  8. an córas cothaithe, tithíochta, sláinte agus oideachais a ath­mhúnlú ó bhonn laithreach de réir meon agus sprid réabhlóid na prólatáireachta

III. Éilimh eacnamaíochta ar an bpointe

  1. sócmhainí agus teacht isteach ríoga ar fad a ghabháil don choitiantacht
  2. fiacha stáit is fiacha poiblí a chur ar neamhní, chomh maith le bannaí cogaidh i gcoitinne, ach amháin síntiúis faoi bhun leibhéil áirithe, ceaptha ag lárchomhairle na gcomhairlí oibrithe is saighdiúirí
  3. talamh gach mórfheirme is meánfheirme a choigistiú, comhar­chumainn shóisialacha talmhaíochta a bhunú faoi threoir lárnach aontaithe sa stát ar fad, mionfheirmeacha ag fanacht i seilbh na ndaoine a bhfuil siad acu go n‑aontaíonn siad leis na comhar­chumainn shóisialacha dá ndeoin féin
  4. poblacht na gcomhairlí gach banc, mianach, teilgcheárta, chomh maith le gach mórfhiontar tionsclaíochta is trachtála, a choigistiú
  5. gach maoin thar leibhéal áirithe, ceaptha ag an lárchomhairle, a ghabháil
  6. poblacht na gcomhairlí an córas poiblí iompair ar fad a ghlacadh ar láimh
  7. comhairlí monarchan a thoghadh i ngach monarcha le cúrsaí in­mheánacha na monarchan a riar, coinníollacha oibre a leagan síos, maoirseacht a dhéanamh ar an táirgeadh agus ar deireadh stiúradh na monarchan a ghlacadh ar láimh, i bpáirt le comhairlí na n‑oibrithe
  8. lárchoiste stailce a chur ar bun a chinnteoidh stiúir aontaithe, treoir shóisialta agus tacaíocht láidir trí chumhacht pholaitiúil na gcomhairlí oibrithe is saighdiúirí i gcomhar seasta le comhairlí monarchan an ghluaiseacht stailce atá ag tosú ar fud an stáit

IV. Cúraimí idirnáisiúnta

Caidreamh leis na páirtithe bráithriúla iasachta a thionscnamh láithreach, leis an réabhlóid shóisialach a chur ar bhonn idirnáisiúnta agus an tsíocháin a fhorbairt is a chinntiú leis an mbráithreacht idir­náisiúnta agus ceannairc réabhlóideach phrólatáireacht an domhain.

V. Sin é atá ó Chonradh Spartacais!

Agus mar go dteastaíonn an méid sin uaidh, mar go gcuireann sé daoine ar an airdeall, go mbrúnn sé ar aghaidh, mar gurb é coinsias sóisialach na réabhlóide é, tugann naimhde oscailte is ceilte uile na réabhlóide agus na prólatáireachta fuath dó, á chiapadh agus á mhaslú.

An chroch dó! a scairteann na caipitlithe, ag crith ar son a gcuid taisceadán.

An chroch dó! a scairteann na mionbhuirgéisigh, na maoir, na frith-Ghiúdaigh, dianghiollaí na buirgéiseachta, ag crith ar son potaí feola cheannas aicmeach na buirgéiseachta.

An chroch dó! a scairteann leithéidí Scheidemann,14 a bhfuil na hoibrithe díolta leis an mbuirgéiseacht acu ar nós Iúdáis Isceiriót, agus iad ag crith ar son boinn airgid a ceannais pholaitiúil.

An chroch dó! a thagann ar ais mar mhacalla ó shraitheanna den phobal oibre is de na saighdiúirí a bhfuil bob buailte orthu, mealladh bainte astu, atá curtha amú, nach dtuigeann go bhfuil siad ar buile lena gcuid fola is feola féin agus iad ar buile le Conradh Spartacais.

San fhuath, sna maslaí a chaitear le Conradh Sparatacais, tagann gach atá frithréabhlóideach, in aghaidh an phobail, frithshóisialta, fimíneach, drochamhrasach, doiléir le chéile. Cruthaíonn an méid sin gur ann a bhuaileann croí na réabhlóide, gur leis an todhchaí.

Ní páirtí é Conradh Spartacais atá ag iarraidh an chumhacht a bhaint amach os cionn slua na n‑oibrithe nó trí bhíthin slua na n‑oibrithe. Níl i gConradh Spartacais ach an chuid is teanntásaí den phrólatáireacht, a chuireann a gcúraimí stairiúla ar a súile do shlua leathan an phobal oibre uile ag gach cor, a sheasann ag gach céim ar leith den réabhlóid don chuspóir sóisialach deiridh agus do leas réabhlóid dhomhanda na prólatáireachta i ngach ceist náisiúnta.

Diúltaíonn Conradh Spartacais an chumhacht rialtais a roinnt le cúlaistíní na buirgéiseachta, le lucht Scheidemann is Ebert,15 mar gur léir dó gurbh ionann a leithéid de chomhar agus feall ar phrionsabail an tsóisialachais, neartú na frithréabhlóide agus martrú na réabhlóide.

Diúltóidh Conradh Spartacais an chumhacht a bhaint amach nó go mbeidh lucht Scheidemann is Ebert millte acu féin, agus na Neamhspleáigh sáinnithe i gceann caoch de bharr a gcomhoibriú leo.16

Ní ghlacfaidh Conradh Spartacais an chumhacht rialtais ar láimh go deo ach le toil ghlan shoiléir mhóramh mór shlua na prólatáir­eachta sa Ghearmáin uile, agus de bharr a dtacaíocht chomhfhiosach le dearcaí, cuspóirí is modhanna catha Chonradh Spartacais.

Ní féidir le réabhlóid na prólatáireachta soiléire is aibíocht a ghnóthú di féin ach de réir a chéile, céim ar chéim, ar bhóthar Gholgatá a taithí seirbhe féin,17 as díomua agus bua.

Ní ag tús na réabhlóide a sheasann bua Chonradh Spartacais ach ag a críoch: Is ionann é agus bua na prólatáireachta sóisialaí ina milliúin.

Seo libh, a phrólatáirigh! Chun catha! Tá saol le gabháil agaibh agus saol le troid. Sa chath aicmeach deiridh seo i stair an domhain ar son an chuspóra is airde dá bhfuil ag an gcine daonna, is é an focal faire roimh an namhaid: ordóga ar na súile agus glúine ar an gcliabhrach!18

Conradh Spartacais


  1. Seandia Seimíteach a d’éilíodh íobairt uafásach.
  2. Rítheaghlach na Gearmáine.
  3. Chríochnaigh cathanna aicmí uile na staire, a scríobh Karl Marx is Friedrich Engels i gClár an Pháirtí Chumannaigh in 1848, “le claochlú réábhlóideach an tsaoil uile nó le titim na n‑aicmí cathacha ar fad”.
  4. Bhí coimisiún ceaptha ag an rialtas Daonlathach Sóisialta le scrúdú cé na tionscail ab fhéidir a thabhairt i seilbh an stáit.
  5. Comhairle na Cónaidhme a bhí ar an gcoiste, agus ionadaithe ó na stáit éagsúla uirthi, a rialaigh impireacht na Gearmáine.
  6. Throid na Ridirí Marcra ar son réabhlóid Shasana san 1640idí. Bóidhear a thugtaí ar uasal sa Valáic (cuid den Rómáin anois) suas go dtí an naoú céad déag. Cuireadh éirithe amach ag oibrithe síoda faoi chois go fuilteach i Lyons na Fraince, go háirithe in 1831.
  7. I 1793 thosaigh ceannairc i Vendée na Fraince, ag iarraidh an rí a chur i réim arís.
  8. Ceannairí na Fraince, na Breataine, agus na Stát Aontaithe faoi seach.
  9. Thit an tIdirnáisiúntán Sóisialach as a chéile i dtús an chogaidh dhomhanda, agus dlúthpháirtíocht an aicme oibre i gcoitinne atá i gceist ag Luxemburg seachas an eagraíocht.
  10. B’éigean do gach fear sa Ghearmáin seirbhís mhíleata a dhéanamh, ach ag deireadh a dtéarma d’fhéadfaidís a gceart imeachta a ghéilleadh agus fanacht san arm dá ndeoin féin.
  11. Ba é Paul von Hindenburg ceann foirne na Gearmáine, Erich von Ludendoff ceannasaí an airm, agus Alfred von Tirpitz ceannasaí an chabhlaigh.
  12. Bhí an Ghearmáin ina cónaidhm de chuid mhaith stát beag fós.
  13. Comhairle Choimisinéirí an Phobail a tugadh ar rialtas na poblachta nua.
  14. Bhí Philip Scheidemann, duine de cheannairí an Phairtí Dhaonlathaigh Shóisialta (SPD), i gceannas ar Chomhairle Choimisinéirí an Phobail.
  15. Ba é Friedrich Ebert, duine de cheannairí an SPD, uachtarán na poblachta nua.
  16. Bhunaigh daoine a scar leis an SPD, de bharr a thacaíochta leis an gcogadh, an Páirtí Daonlathach Sóisialta Neamhspleách i 1917. Bhí ionadaithe an pháirtí seo i gcomhrialtas leis an SPD ó mhí na Samhna.
  17. Is é Golgatá ceann de na hainmneacha ar an áit ar cuireadh Críost chun báis.
  18. Dúirt an seancheannaire sóisialach Gearmánach Ferdinand Lassalle uair gur chóir an namhaid a threascairt “agus ár n‑ordóga ina shúile is ár nglúine ar a chliabhrach”.

Solving the Mallin mystery

Noel McDermott reviewed the biography of a Citizen Army leader in Issue 48 (June 2012).

Brian Hughes, Michael Mallin, (O’Brien Press)

Michael Mallin was executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter rising, leading the Citizen Army forces in the Stephen’s Green area. If he never did anything else, this should assure him a permanent place in the history of modern Ireland and its labour movement. In reality he has remained something of a mystery man, with little known of him beyond isolated incidents and his appearances in the stories of others. But now he has an excellent biography which finally tells us in full how Mallin lived and how he died, part of a series which bids fair to lift the lid on a few others executed in 1916 and little known since.

The mystery arises from the very beginning, with Mallin’s birth. He himself appears to have believed he was born in 1876. He gave his age as 34 in the 1911 census, and was registered as a forty-year-old on his death certificate. The fact that his birth wasn’t officially registered has fuelled various birthdates in accounts of his life, one as late as 1880.1 But the truth has been on the record since 1966 when Séamus Ó Mealláin wrote a remarkable series of articles on his father’s life, ignored purely because they are in Irish. Brian Hughes has drawn extensively on them, however.2 Mallin was born on 1 December 1874 at 1 Ward’s Hill in Dublin’s Liberties, and baptised in St Nicholas’s church six days later.3

The author writes that “The family lived in a number of locations around the Liberties over the years” (p 20), but quotes no evidence. Baptismal records of John and Sarah Mallin’s children (five died in infancy and six survived) allow us to trace their movements beyond the addresses noted here. By 1877 they had moved up the street to 5 Ward’s Hill (home of Sarah’s parents, judging by her address in the marriage register), and were still there the following year. But they had left the Liberties for the northside by 1883, living at 6 Findlater Place until 1886 at least. The statement that “by 1901 they had moved to a residence in Cuffe Street where they would remain for at least the next decade” (p 20) misses the fact that they moved between three addresses in that street—around the corner from where their eldest son would fight in 1916.

Michael Mallin joined the British army in 1889, but the tradition­al motive of escaping poverty seems not to have been behind it. With his father a carpenter and his mother a silk winder, the Mallins wouldn’t have been the worst off. Although his mother didn’t share in it, there was a tradition of military service in her family. It seems an aunt brought Michael to see a military band at the Curragh in 1889, where an uncle worked as a pay sergeant. Much to the indignation of his nationalist father, the pomp and circumstance seduced the teen­ager into joining up with the Royal Scots Fusiliers on 21 October.4 The author doesn’t go into the anomalies of his recruitment form: Mallin’s birthplace is given as the neighbouring St Catherine’s parish, and his age as 14 years and no months. He may well have believed he was lying to barely claim the minimum age. At any rate, the form only asked for “Age physically equivalent to”: in other words, what the army could get away with.

His earliest years in the army seem uneventful enough in various parts of Britain and Ireland, where he became an accomplished bandsman and a good shot. But in 1896 his battalion was sent to India to subdue a rebellion in the Tirah region. They were successful, if only for the time being, and were decorated accordingly.5 But this period saw Mallin develop from an impressionable drummer boy to a man filled with righteous hatred of the empire he was serving. Hughes performs a real service in quoting from letters Mallin wrote home to his girlfriend Agnes Hickey, where his new outlook is clear (p 36-8):

the British army is a Hell on earth I wish I were well out of it…
we aught to leave the poor people alone… if I were not a soldier I would be out fighting for them.
while we are fighting for England’s Queen and Government they were letting our poor people starve…
if I had my way I would take all our members of parliament out into the Bay put a rope round their necks with a stone at the end of it and throw them in…
a day will come when we will be able to pay England back with Interest all she has done to us and I hope I am alive and in Ireland I will help to pay it.

Mallin was happy to shake the dust of the British army off his feet on returning to Dublin in 1902. He became a silk weaver, evidently using his mother’s connection with the trade to bypass the usual apprenticeship period. But silk weaving alone proved insufficient to feed a family that would eventually grow to five children following his marriage. Mallin became a shopkeeper at various points in the city. Judging by the repeated moves from shop to shop, he may not have been a very effective one, but one of them failed due to the 1913 lock­out: many of his customers had no money, and policemen took their custom elsewhere after he expressed vocal support for the strikers they were batoning. Other business ventures, from a cinema in the city centre to a poultry farm in Finglas, came to nothing too.6 But he did derive a little profit as well as much pleasure from his talents as a musician.

This book does a fine job in unearthing the details of Mallin’s activity as a trade unionist. He became secretary of the Dublin silk weavers’ union by 1908, and led a strike in his own factory in 1913. One of many such disputes overshadowed by the great lockout that would soon follow, this strike saw a hundred weavers out for four months before winning some improvement in their conditions. Mallin’s statements during the strike breathe a defiance which isn’t found often enough in today’s movement, naming names of scabs and insisting on solidarity.

But within a year, the union removed Mallin from his position and went to court to force him to hand over its books. There is no evidence at all that he was on the fiddle, but perhaps he wasn’t the most efficient keeper of accounts. Hughes speculates that it could have been “the result of his growing radicalism” (p 81). At the end of the day, the weavers’ union was a 200-year-old craft society, as concerned with indenturing apprentices to the trade as with wages and hours, and Mallin may have been adopting a Larkinite attitude that militant spirit meant more than organisation, that throwing everything into the fight was more important than keeping the official ledgers up to date.

The left in Dublin enjoyed a revival around 1909, leading to the establishment of the Socialist Party of Ireland that year. Mallin attended a unity conference and was elected to the committee it established. The author claims that “this appointment to the socialist unity committee places Mallin firmly among the leading Dublin socialists at the time” (p 53). But that goes too far: this would remain the highpoint of his involvement with them, and he was never active in the new party.

Soon after the Irish Citizen Army emerged in 1913 Mallin became instructor to its Fintan Lalor Pipe Band. But the ICA’s musical wing was no cushy number: if they understood the importance of a band in boosting the morale of their troops and supporters, so did the police. They made repeated efforts to put the band’s instruments verifiably beyond use, and it was a point of honour for the Citizen Army to defend them. Mallin was subsequent­ly put in charge of the ITGWU’s hall in Inchicore. He used it as a drilling centre, and his background helped in cajoling soldiers from the local barracks to part with the odd rifle. Before long James Connolly appointed him chief of staff.

A story is mentioned here as “a revealing picture of their relation­ship” (p 92). Mallin contracted malaria in India, and once suffered a relapse in Connolly’s presence, causing him to slur his speech and appear delirious. Connolly rebuked him for being drunk on duty. The anecdote has been cited as “an indication of the well-authenticated insensitivity of Connolly in his dealings with colleagues”,7 but this is an unfair reproach, either in general or in this particular case. Instead of telling Connolly of his condition, Mallin replied: “I gave you a promise when joining the Citizen Army that I was finished with all that.”8 This would suggest that, although an active teetotaller, Mallin may well have had an occasional fondness for the drop after all. This is only human, of course, but so is Connolly’s reaction to the facts as he knew them.

While Connolly’s military writings are quite well known by now, the same cannot be said for Mallin’s contributions to the same series in The Workers’ Republic in 1915. Drawing directly on his personal experiences in India, they hold up the methods used against Britain then as a model for the Citizen Army in the warfare that lay ahead:

In such fighting the lanes and alleys are a great source of danger to regular troops; they lead to nowhere but to the street fighters, organised in squads of eight or sixteen… Led by resourceful leaders such bodies do incalculable damage… the real dangerous demoralising fighting is done by small irregular bodies, hastily dividing, using anything capable of killing or wounding that lies ready to hand.9

Hughes tells the story of an ICA unit coming second to an Irish Volunteer company in a shooting competition, only to discover that Mallin was the judge who marked them down. But he misses an article where Mallin explained his decision, insisting that, instead of “wild firing” for “the spectacular effect”, every bullet should be made count: “Two hits in five is so much better than ten in fifty.”10

But the author is right to point out that “what is most striking about Mallin’s writing in the Workers’ Republic is how little resem­blance the tactics of the Indian tribes bear to the events of Easter Week, in Mallin’s garrison or elsewhere in the city” (p 104). He ended up with the hopeless task of occupying Stephen’s Green, a park wide open to the tall buildings surrounding it on four sides. There were no narrow streets in here for the Citizen Army to split up into small fighting units, and they only avoided the fate of sitting ducks by retreating to the College of Surgeons. As a consequence Mallin has often come under criticism since, and a chapter is devoted here to assessing this.

The motivation behind occupying Stephen’s Green cannot be definitively explained, as no plan for the rising has come down to us. And the confusion in which the rising was put off and on again that Easter weekend means that what took place was far less than what was intended. As a result, we are forced to rely on more or less well informed speculation.

It bears emphasising that the plan for the rising was not Mallin’s or Connolly’s or the Citizen Army’s. It was the work of Joseph Plunkett in the main. Although Connolly led the rebel forces from the GPO, he had been brought on board only three months earlier, by which stage he could have done no more than add some details to the plan. While the theory and practice of the ICA had some influence on the Volunteers, its military approach was not the keynote of the rising as planned. Much of it consisted of taking and holding prominent positions in Dublin. This is not wrong in itself, of course. While the GPO had little value militarily, as one of the capital’s most prominent landmarks, no one could reasonably rise in Dublin without occupying it: after all, an insurrection is armed propaganda too. Possibly Stephen’s Green was seen as a similarly significant position to be taken. Mallin was anything but happy when he was shown the plans, anyway, seeing the whole approach as far too inflexible.

An intriguing possibility mentioned here11 is that the Citizen Army was originally intended to occupy Jacob’s biscuit factory as well, Mallin and a comrade doing reconnaissance of the factory shortly before Easter. Now, Stephen’s Green starts to make sense if it is seen as a major outpost of Jacob’s rather than a position of its own. Jacob’s was situated in a maze of narrow streets, many of whose occupants would have been sympathetic to the Citizen Army, and could have been a solid base for guerrilla operations such as Mallin had envisaged.

In the event, Jacob’s was placed under the command of Thomas MacDonagh, who held the factory and did little else, to the frustration of some of the Volunteers there who were left with little to do in Easter week. MacDonagh was brought into the leadership of the rising only weeks before: was Jacob’s transferred at the last minute from Mallin to him, so as to give the last member of the provisional government a major command post? The Citizen Army in Jacob’s is an idea to conjure with. They would probably have made better use of it, and could conceivably have linked up with republican forces a mile away in Marrowbone Lane. But Jacob’s was also despised by the labour movement for the way it humiliated women who returned to work there after the lockout.12 This would have been an occupation by a workers’ militia of an enemy factory, the combination of industrial and military revolution that an ICA man spoke of during the rising.13 Perhaps the concern that such an action would give too left-wing a flavour to the rising may have influenced the decision to change the plans late in the day?

Whatever lay behind the change, it left exponents of urban warfare fighting in the most rural part of Dublin city (with the exception of the Phoenix Park). They did remarkably well, consider­ing, and managed to put into practice some of the tactics they had learned.14 It is unlikely that anyone else could have done a much better job than Mallin did. Hughes’s overall conclusion is sound: the position was indeed poor, but Mallin cannot be blamed for the tough hand he was dealt, and acted as well as could be expected in the circumstances.

A well-known photograph is reproduced in the book, supposedly showing Mallin and Constance Markievicz after their surrender. But it has been claimed that the man in the picture is not Mallin at all,15 and it certainly bears little resemblance to other pictures of him, with the impressive moustache he sported in civilian life noticeably absent. What Mallin would say about Markievicz at his court martial, how­ever, constitutes the one big stain on his character.

He claimed there that he was only a simple silk weaver who taught the Citizen Army band and, having no involvement in their rebel activities, got caught up in a rising he knew nothing of. It could be argued that no one is obliged to tell the truth to a military kangaroo court, and that any lie necessary to escape its clutches could be justified. But Mallin went further, telling them that Markievicz was in command in Stephen’s Green and had appointed him as deputy. This was the exact opposite of the truth, and threatened to place her in front of a firing squad. He may have believed—rightly, as it turned out—that the British wouldn’t go so far as executing a woman, but he had no way of knowing that, and putting a comrade’s life on the line to save his own neck was indeed “particularly dishonourable” (p 169), not to mention ultimately futile.

The predicament that led him to this desperate attempt to avoid a death sentence was the fact that his execution caused greater personal tragedy than anyone else’s. Others left families who were reared, or young families that were well provided for. Mallin’s widow was left with four young children and another on the way, and next to nothing to live on. Even in the frantic build-up to the rising, Mallin was weaving a square of poplin in the hope that Agnes could get a few pounds for it. Much was raised after the rising to help, but scandal­ously, the relief was distributed to dependents of executed men “in a manner that reflected their social standing prior to the Rising” (p 212). Different classes were kept in the manner they had become accustomed to, with the widow and two children of a university lecturer allocated five times as much as the Mallins.

The pain of the separation is laid bare in a letter Mallin wrote to his wife after hearing of his sentence. Hughes calls it “the most striking piece to emerge from the writing of those facing the firing squad” (p 177), and reproduces it in full for the first time. Poured on to the page “as a near stream of consciousness, with little or no punctuation” (p 178), it bursts with the thoughts of a man deter­mined to get some important things said while he still has the chance.

The author protests against the way extracts from the letter have been used over the years to emphasise its author’s Catholicism, but he seems concerned to go the other way. The letter can leave no one in doubt that Mallin was a very devout Catholic. It is replete with references to God’s will, help, blessing and protection. There is no upping the republic—not to mention the workers’ republic—but the belief that “Ireland will come out greater and grander but she must not forget she is Catholic she must keep her Faith” (p 232). He asks his wife never to love another man, to make a priest of one son and a nun of their daughter. Unsurprisingly, these instructions were followed, and only one of the Mallins briefly followed their father into political activism, fighting on the republican side in the civil war. While Mallin comes across as more pious than most, a coincidence of religious belief and labour activism was not uncommon in the Ireland at the time.

It would be nice to hope that his faith provided Mallin with some consolation on the misfortune that was staring him in the face. While his last letter dwells less than others did on the cause he was to die for, it is argued here that (p 185)

Mallin shows a far more developed sense of the loss and sadness that his execution would cause for others… Here is a portrait of a man who had two priorities in life, and for whom one tragically cost him the other.

This seems a little unfair, as the letters of others executed in 1916 show no shortage of love and concern for wives, children, friends and comrades. Every one of them had to reconcile their duty to the cause with their duty to their loved ones. The fact that Mallin expressed his anguish in such a raw manner is not so much evidence that he cared more, but that he hadn’t managed to resolve those conflicting priorities as well as others had.

The empire Mallin had served for thirteen unlucky years, and battled for six brave days, stood him in front of its rifles on the morning of 8 May 1916 and put an end to his life. Whatever criticisms are due, that life is one we should know and admire, not least because the dilemmas and injustices Michael Mallin tackled are anything but a matter of history.


  1. In 1948 Dublin’s Fighting Story described him as “about thirty-six years of age when executed” (Mercier 2009 edition, p 202).
  2. They appeared from 23 September to 28 October 1966 in the weekly Inniu. Unfortunately, they are all wrongly dated in this book’s footnotes.
  3. Hughes is a day out on the baptism (although Séamus Ó Mealláin gives the correct date). He also dates the marriage of Mallin’s parents no more precisely than “around 1874” (p 17), while records of the same parish show Sarah Dowling marrying John Mallin on 1 February 1874.
  4. Strictly speaking, he didn’t join up in Birr (as stated on p 21) but in Dublin, being formally attached to the Fusiliers in Crinkill Barracks on 24 October. Mallin’s attestation form, WO 97/5453/27, National Archives (Britain).
  5. It should be pointed out, however, that Mallin’s medals (as listed on p 25) were awarded to the entire battalion rather than to himself personally.
  6. Shortly before his execution Mallin asked forgiveness for his failings “in the management of my father’s business” (p 234) which suggests that his father may have lost money in one of his enterprises.
  7. Dónal Nevin, James Connolly: ‘A Full Life’ (Gill & Macmillan 2005), p 627-8.
  8. Frank Robbins, Under the Starry Plough: Recollections of the Irish Citizen Army (Academy Press 1975), p 70.
  9. Michael Mallin, ‘Guerilla Warfare in India’, The Workers’ Republic, August 7 1915.
  10. One of the Judges, ‘Impressions of a Judge at St. Enda’s’, The Workers’ Republic, September 11 1915.
  11. And many years ago in R M Fox, The History of the Irish Citizen Army (James Duffy 1943), p 130-1.
  12. See the sheer hatred that comes through in James Connolly, ‘The Outrages at Jacob’s’, The Irish Worker, 14 March 1914 (reprinted in Red Banner 5).
  13. See Max Caulfield, The Easter Rebellion (Four Square 1964), p 127.
  14. One such was breaking through the nearby Turkish baths in an attempt to take the battle to the enemy in the northern buildings of the Green. But the reference to Lincoln Place (p 143-4) is mistaken: Millar & Jury’s baths there had closed down in 1900, and it was their baths at 127 Stephen’s Green that were tunnelled through.
  15. Joe McGowan (ed.), Constance Markievicz: The People’s Countess (Aeolus 2003) identifies him as John Ginnell.

Socialist Classics: Leon Trotsky, ‘The History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk’

In Issue 47 in March 2012 Joe Conroy looked at this early attempt to spread the message of 1917.

One of the most striking scenes of the Russian revolution sees the representatives of the new soviet government meeting the represen­tatives of German militarism at Brest-Litovsk at the end of 1917 to negotiate an end to the war. Revolutionaries armed with little but the power of principle come face to face with generals determined to defend and extend their empire. As the Russian delegation leaves its train, one of them—once well known as a militant in the German socialist movement—breezes past the dignitaries lined up on the platform to distribute revolutionary leaflets to the ranks of German soldiers behind them. These would be no ordinary peace talks.

Leon Trotsky led the Russian delegation in a game of buying time for the revolution, staving off a German offensive to allow Russia recover. In between inconclusive talks this book was “written in snatches”, as the author puts it, “to acquaint the workers of the world with the causes, progress and meaning of the Russian November Revolution”. (Writing for an international audience meant using an international calendar, and so Russia’s 25 October becomes the west’s 7 November.) It was translated into various languages, becoming for many their first substantial introduction to the politics of the new Russia.

The work features hardly, if at all, in accounts of Trotsky’s life and work, even supportive ones, and it is hard to see why. On a straight historiographical level it is overshadowed by The History of the Russian Revolution Trotsky wrote in the early 1930s, an epic treatment written at leisure (albeit enforced) with access to documents and the benefit of hindsight. But the disadvantages of The Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk are its advantages too. It is written largely from memory in whatever moments were available, relating events of the present and recent past. Trotsky’s justifiable desire in later years to vindicate himself against Stalinist slander sometimes got in his light, but here he writes from the standpoint of fresh victory, however precarious, explaining and defending a revolution at high tide.

From early on, the book throws up some intriguing and unusual insights on the revolution’s background. For instance, a reference to “1912, when it really began” dates the revolution to that year’s strike wave and revival of the labour movement. The exceptionally prominent role of the peasantry in 1917 is attributed to scattered farmers being mobilised in the army, organising them collectively “not on a political, but on a military basis”.

The keynote of 1917, though, was the development of councils (soviets) of workers’ deputies, a tradition that came down from the 1905 revolution. In a revolutionary period, as people “constantly gain experience, revise their views of yesterday, think out new ones, reject old leaders, follow others, and press ever forward”, these councils could accurately reflect their will because

They depend directly on organic groups, such as workshops, factories, mines, companies, regiments, etc. …the direct and immediate contact of the deputy with his electors. The member of the Town Council or Zemstvo depends on an amorphous mass of electors who invest him with authority for one year, and then dissolve. The Soviet electors, on the other hand, remain in permanent contact with one another by the very conditions of their life and work; their deputy is always under their direct observation and may at any moment be given new instructions, and, if necessary, may be censured, recalled, and replaced by somebody else.

Such a straightforward explanation of the basic difference between workers’ democracy and the superficial democracy of parliamentarism goes to the heart of the transformation that socialist revolution envisages.

The plain reason behind the Bolsheviks’ success in 1917 was their demand that these workers’ councils should take control of Russia. The demand was raised even when the soviets were led by parties vehemently opposed to the Bolsheviks and to the very idea that the working class should take power, but

the constant re-elections to the Soviets provided the necessary machinery for securing a sufficiently faithful reflection of the growing radicalization of the masses of the workers and the soldiers. …the radical tendencies would necessarily gain the upper hand on the Soviets. In such conditions the struggle of the proletariat for power would naturally shift to the floor of the Soviet organizations, and would proceed in a painless fashion.

The thing was to get the workers’ councils in the driving seat: then the shift from a policy of reform to revolution could take place non-violently through argument and elections. As it transpired, the foundations of the provisional government were undermined well in advance, before they properly took root, leaving only a “phantom Government” to be knocked over. Come 7 November, the insurrec­tion was quite a peaceful affair: “quietly, without any street fighting, without firing or bloodshed, one Government institution after another was being seized by highly disciplined detachments of soldiers, sailors, and Red Guards”.

But finishing the job would never be as easy. Officer cadets held out against the revolution for a few days, and answered an offer of escape with gunfire. “The exasperation and bitterness accompanying any civil war” broke out in response. Trotsky admits that revolution­ary soldiers “undoubtedly committed cruelties on individual cadets”, but insists that the ultimate blame lay with their opponents,

that the Revolution of November 7th-8th had been accomplished without a single shot and without a single victim, and that it was only the counter-revolutionary plot which had been organized by the bourgeoisie… that led to inevitable atrocities and victims. The events of November 11th effected a radical change in the temper of the Petrograd people. The struggle took on a more tragic aspect.

While the claim that no one was killed in taking the Winter Palace is untrue, it was remarkably bloodless as insurrections go. But Trotsky feels no need to hide the casualties wrongly inflicted by the revolution, to hold up a spotless banner to his audience, and his explanation of their context is anything but a blanket justification. The move is clear from an uprising of generous humanity to a tough fight forced to sink to its enemies’ level, and the inevitable loss of innocence involved is tragic indeed.

Trotsky is also honest about the failings of the Bolshevik party in 1917. At the time of writing, he had only six months’ membership of the party under his belt, and rather than present a picture of an all-knowing organisation, he emphasises the need for the Bolsheviks to be pressurised from below and outside before they did the right thing. By October, “Amongst the rank and file there was great frustration and growing discontent, because the Bolshevik Party, now in a majority in the Soviets, was not putting its own battle-cries into practice.” He openly criticises the timidity of party leaders and vindicates his own opposition to them. He speaks of “the left wing of the party” being strengthened by the course of events and finally triumphing over the hesitancy of the leadership. This honest lack of organisational reverence is a far healthier attitude than the party loyalism which has characterised many of his followers.

But if Trotsky is refreshingly free at this stage of cheerleading for a particular party, he still sees ‘the party’ in general as the central actor in revolution:

One must always remember that the masses of the people have never been in possession of power, that they have always been under the heel of other classes, and that therefore they lack political self-confidence.… Only when the revolutionary party firmly and unflinchingly speeds to its goal can it help the working masses to overcome all the slavish instincts inherited from centuries and lead the masses to victory.

This is an unashamed assertion that the working class are too down­trodden to liberate themselves, and need a party whose exemplary decisiveness can rise above the ingrained slavishness natural to them.

It is true, of course, that working people haven’t held power but been held down by it, and that that has consequences for their political self-belief. But how does membership of a left-wing organisation free a person from that situation? Neither Trotsky, Lenin, nor any other Bolshevik leader had held power either: did they possess some magical ability to rise above the effects of capitalist oppression on mere mortals? Marx, on the contrary, always insisted that workers would change themselves in changing the world, that the oppression of the working class was all the more reason for the socialist revolution to be their own business. The experience of Russia in 1917 confirms this, as the Bolshevik party was shaped by a class in revolt more than the other way round, with the determination of radicalised workers pushing aside the conservatism of the Bolshevik organisation.

When the November revolution left the soviets in control, they elected a government nominated by the Bolsheviks. “There was un­doubtedly a certain amount of political danger in this”, admits Trotsky, but still, “we had no doubt that our party alone was capable of producing a really revolutionary Government”. The danger was greater than Trotsky imagines, however, and of a different nature. The new government was not a government of workers’ councils, made up of their representatives, of people active in their work. While some were well-known soviet activists—Trotsky himself, notably—this was overwhelmingly a slate of Bolshevik party representatives, some of whom had never taken part in the soviets. The workers’ councils were so grateful to the party that had stuck by them through thick and thin that they outsourced their power to the Bolsheviks. Rather than the new government being an organic outgrowth of the councils, directly answerable and recallable by them, a party was allowed to take that function to itself. A further shift in the consciousness of the working class would have been needed to regain it.

“As Marxists, we have never been worshippers of formal democracy”, writes Trotsky. Indeed: Marxists by their very nature refuse to worship anything, but they only oppose formal democracy in the name of a genuine democracy exercised over social life in reality. Unfortunately, such is not Trotsky’s concern, but to dismiss any and all talk of democracy. He takes up arguments made by prominent left-wing thinker Karl Kautsky against the Bolsheviks’ actions:

He endeavoured to prove that the observance of the principle of democracy was always, in the last resort, advantageous to the working class. Of course, in a general way, and on the whole, that is true. But… If it always, in the end, pays the proletariat to wage its class struggle and even to exercise its dictatorship within the frame of democratic institutions, it does not at all follow that history always affords the choice of such a combination. It does not follow from the Marxian theory at all that history inevitably creates conditions which are the most “advantageous” to the proletariat.

It was open to Trotsky to make the obvious point that the workers’ councils were in fact a higher form of democracy than parliaments, that the rule of the working class deepens democracy beyond anything capitalist society can ever offer. Instead he relegates this Marxist principle to the realm of utopia: all very well in theory, “in a general way, and on the whole”, but of no relevance to the real world. When ‘democracy’ becomes a dirty word only three months into a revolution, warning signs should have started to appear.

The book concludes with the peace negotiations its author was involved in. Having spun them out as long as possible, Trotsky argued that soviet Russia should refuse to sign a peace treaty with Germany, and unilaterally withdraw from the war. This position was adopted, even against the opposition of Lenin who wanted to just accept the harsh German terms so as to exit the war as soon as possible. The German empire pushed on to take huge swathes of Russian territory, however, far beyond what it had claimed in the talks. Because Russia was then forced to hastily acquiesce in far worse peace terms, historical judgments tend to support Lenin’s approach. But Trotsky stoutly defends his corner in the book, arguing that it was important to show the world that the Russian revolution was giving in only under duress, after trying every other option, bowing against its will to superior military might—and it is an argument that makes a lot of sense.

The great thing was that the revolution “must win time in the expectation that the revolutionary movement in the West would come to her aid”. Only socialist revolution in Europe could end the isolation of Russia:

I believe that the revolutionary workers of Europe and of other parts of the world will understand us. I believe that they will, in the near future, start on the same work as we are now engaged in, but that, aided by their greater experience and their more perfect intellectual and technical means, they will perform this work more thoroughly, and will help us to overcome all difficulties.

This would have seemed an optimistic wish in February 1918, but not so by the end of the year. Revolution in Germany made a dead letter of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, and 1919 brought forth a potential for revolution across Europe. The failure to realise that potential meant that the days of revolution in Russia were numbered. What could have survived as a weak link in a revolutionary chain rusted from lack of movement. The heroic spirit evident in The History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk didn’t go down without a fight, but the book also betrays theoretical accommodations to the revolution’s weaknesses, rationalisations which played their part in its downfall. Its lesson must be to take up the revolutionary work of 1917 but “more thoroughly”, going further and deeper in tearing up the roots of capitalism.

“Socialism is the objective”

Shortly after the publication of his book The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament, activist Tommy McKearney was interviewed in Issue 46 (December 2011).

In your book you mention a shift that the Provisionals underwent from being a broad-based defence force which would more or less train or arm anyone willing to fight back to being a more tight-knit military force. What kind of impact do you think that had on how the struggle developed?

Ultimately it was to mean that the Provisionals were able to exercise a hierarchical influence within the movement and change it from being a people’s movement to a very tight, hierarchically organised move­ment. Prior to that, the Provisionals were willing to take anybody for training, they didn’t have to join the Provisional IRA. You were finding middle-aged men who were unwilling to commit themselves to all the actions of the IRA but were anxious to provide military protection for their neighbours. Then you also got a broad range of what you would call left-wing people who understood that there was a need for military protection and a military role but weren’t willing to subscribe to an association called the Provisional IRA. Now, by the make-up of Northern Irish society, obviously those left wingers were very much in a minority to the concerned Catholic middle-aged people, but they would have been able to have a certain ideological impact in a broader constituency had it still been there.

But probably after Operation Motorman, when the British decided to smash the no-go areas, the Provisionals felt strong enough to effectively issue an ultimatum to join the movement and subscribe to it totally, or you didn’t join. So you start to take away the idea that it is a broad-based popular movement, a popular mobilisation. It meant that the people, as a people, were not conditioned to provide them­selves with a popular defence. It all starts to fit into a grander scheme which allows a small amount of people to dictate, to militarise and control that process. My argument in the wider context is that what was required—and is still required, for that matter—is a broad, mass popular movement which is, almost by definition, beyond the control of a hierarchy or an elite.

Do you think that could have worked?

I’m convinced it would have worked, because we got a couple of opportunities to see a broad mass movement. The first opportunity came in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when there was obviously a mass civil rights movement. I think one of the difficulties for those who organised the civil rights movement is that the original concept came from within the left. The earliest documents outlining the absence of democratic rights in Northern Ireland came from the old branch of the Communist Party. Eventually it broadened out, and they lost control because of very real circumstances where the Orange state was quite unwilling and incapable of self-reform. Whenever the democratic movement came up against the oppression of the Orange state, many of those on the left thought nothing justified a military response, the traditional tool of providing an armed response. But in the early days the Provisionals were much broader. Their enemies have often described them as right-wing and Catholic, but it wasn’t that simple, it was more broader-based than that and not quite as hierarchical, and that was the clincher thereafter. That was the first opportunity and, if you like, the Provisionals stamped their authority on that in late 1972.

The second opportunity, and it was a major one, was in the aftermath of the hunger strikes, when there was a mass movement, many of whom were not affiliated to Sinn Féin but were, in the widest sense, of the left. That was a threat to the state, if we couple the mass unemployment and emigration with the fact that we had a couple of hundred thousand on the streets in demonstrations. Obviously, we’re not talking about chemistry here where one gram of this plus two grams of that gives you a certain result, and society doesn’t work in simple A‑B‑C‑D‑E, but the conditions were certainly there to have a mass movement. But then, because the Provisionals exerted their stamp of hierarchical influence on that broad national movement and turned it into a Sinn Féin electoral machine, we lost an opportunity for a mass movement north and south. I would have argued from within the jail that we had to have an organic connection with the organised working class. The ICTU might try and prevent us doing that, but with the numbers we had at that time we could organise enough people to get a negotiating licence despite the ICTU.

But the Provisional leadership was as opposed to that type of national movement as it was to the state north and south. You can see that in the hostility towards Bernadette McAliskey whose election campaign was picketed to prevent her becoming an MEP, and in the way they ordered personnel to gain control of all the H-Block Committees, not obviously up front but in an underhanded way, never open or democratic. They made sure that the mass movement didn’t gain control of the situation, and that’s again a sign of the imposition of a political hierarchy. And the first sign of that comes in late 1972 when they moved away from trusting the people with arms. Only a revolutionary democracy can trust the people with arms.

Did that kind of hierarchical control help the shift towards electoral politics and away from a military campaign?

It would have been much, much more difficult without a compliant military machine. Because, at the end of the day, what took the Sinn Féin project along was the input of the Provisional IRA. In exactly the same way, a century earlier the republican movement had been controlled by the IRB as a secret society within the IRA that pushed through the Treaty. By the same token, the IRA acted within Sinn Féin, taking it where the Army Council wanted it to go. It’s not by force of arms that it’s done, the IRA didn’t send personnel into Sinn Féin cumann meetings to draw weapons and threaten people there. But because of the nature of the campaign and the dynamics of human beings, if two or three or four people follow a plan at a meeting, knowing exactly what they want, also having prestige because of their involvement in the war, they were generally able to get it, to move things on a certain path. On occasion that path was taken through a fear of parliamentary politics, but there was no option to argue for the mass movement.

It’s very much the critique by Rosa Luxemburg of Bolshevism: whatever value there was in Leninism—and there was certain value—the party substitutes itself for the people, the politburo then substitutes itself for the party, and eventually one man substitutes himself for the politburo, and thereafter socialism in that state will only be as good or as bad as whatever is in the head of that one man. That’s what we’re looking at: the political, social and economic outlook of the party that emerges as Sinn Féin is only as strong as the most dominant figure on the Army Council.

Do you think they were helped by the fact that much of the opposition was stuck in a traditional, militaristic mode?

That was a huge factor. In the first significant rift, when Sinn Féin moved in 1986 to end the old abstentionist policy, defined opposition came from Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill: honourable men of integrity, but men with very traditional conservative views. It ensured that other points of view were not heard. But having said that, we may have to eventually look at this as the dialectics of history. Many who viewed themselves as people of the left saw themselves as siding with progressives on the side of what has now become the mainstream, and viewed Ó Brádaigh as reactionary. Economically, he’s not any more right of centre than Sinn Féin is, but he was construed as such.

The success of the Sinn Féin party, in some ways, has been to deal with its opposition by what could be described as the shedding of leaves rather than the smashing of branches, taking the opposition off in salami slices. I’m always reluctant to describe Sinn Féin as Stalinist because it’s a different era, but it’s a tactic of man management that was used in the Stalinist era, where the opposition always came out in small pieces. Had they all come out at once they may have been successful. It happened very slowly, so the opposition forces never had a chance, they were so shocked. We have seen some movements away from Sinn Féin, but the momentum of Sinn Féin left them significantly behind. Another factor, of course, was that many of those that were putting forward broadly a leftist position from within the republican movement were in jail, people like myself. Others that would have been broadly sympathetic to a leftist position were subsequently expelled in what was known as the Ivor Bell affair.

You argue that the outcome of the Good Friday Agreement is that the Orange state and one-party Unionist rule is gone, but what we have in its place is still a sectarian state. Does that mean that politics in the north is divided into two equal but separate groups?

Well, the demographics mean there’s a larger unionist community than the nationalist community, but we are talking about equal but separate. The way I describe it is no longer an Orange state, but an Orange and Green state, to the exclusion of class-based politics. Whereas Sinn Féin has moved away from being a republican party and is now a Catholic party, the DUP was always a unionist and Protestant party. The DUP now represents Protestants, and Sinn Féin now represents the Catholics. Hence, now Sinn Féin concen­trates on its Gaelic language programme and its GAA programme, enhancing the Catholic community and its ethos, and the DUP stands up staunchly for the Protestant community and its ethos. Politics is divided in Northern Ireland into the Protestant camp and the Catholic camp. I don’t use the word ‘power-sharing’—there’s not a lot of power to share: power resides firmly with the sovereign parliament in London—it’s administration sharing. It’s no longer as it was in the old days, when one community was able to overlord the situation to the exclusion of the other in return for marginal benefits—and that’s all it ever was: marginal benefits. Now we have that sectarian divided state, and that is anathema to class-based politics because it is a road block in the way towards class and common interests. So long as that exists, you have a sectarian state.

It has been described as a type of benign apartheid, as opposed to a malignant and vicious apartheid. The analogy I sometimes use is the Irish News and the Belfast News Letter. Neither the editor and staff of the Irish News or the editor and staff of the News Letter are sectarian: in many ways they are very decent people. But if Northern Ireland wasn’t divided into a Protestant readership and a Catholic readership, there would be no significant role for the Irish News or the News Letter. Many people would, unfortunately, buy the Sun or the Star! By the same token, if we didn’t have sectarian headcounts, you wouldn’t have Sinn Féin representing the Catholics and the DUP representing the Protestants, we would have an end to parties that have a vested interest in having a sectarian division. If you had a working class party that went across the working class, there would no longer be a role for Sinn Féin apart perhaps from organising one or two buses for Bodenstown.

That’s why we’re in this lamentable situation. But having said that, we have moved on and the Orange state has gone. The old type of privilege that existed, when it was simply a matter of sending your son around to see the local Grand Master on a Friday evening to organise a job in the shipyard on Monday morning, that doesn’t happen now. Houses are allocated on points, not on religion. There is no material benefit any longer in being a member of the Protestant working class, in an objective sense. That’s not to say that it’s easy, or that people will move quietly or quickly away from centuries of tradition. But if we believe, as Marxists, that material conditions eventually carry the day, the objective conditions now indicate that there are no material benefits to being a member of the Protestant working class. In the past Orange and Unionist domination was maintained by a corrupted social contract, where the Protestant working class supported the status quo, since the 1790s when many abandoned their aspirations for a republican democracy, and were rewarded with some advantage marginally. But the Unionist ruling class knew that there had to be significant material benefits to ensure that the Protestant working class remained loyal. That loyalty was challenged in 1798, and in a different context in the twentieth century. Certainly it was challenged in 1907 in Belfast, the only time the RIC ever mutinied, and it happened again in 1919 when the engineering workers came out on strike, in the aftermath of the first world war, when the Unionist Party’s control over the Protestant working class was shaken. We should never dismiss the Protestant working class as definitively reactionary. What organised labour there has been in the north has been often organised by Protestant workers and their demands. People like Betty Sinclair led the working class movement for many years, raising issues of democracy and the absence thereof, and let’s be honest, it was often that tradition rather than republicans who effectively raised them.

How did you feel about Martin McGuinness standing for president?

I have several reservations about Martin’s campaign. On the one hand, I get irritated with the type of coverage in the Sunday Independent and the Irish Independent, with a type of anti-northern hostility. There’s a chauvinistic approach that comes from the Independent which is something that’s not only experienced by certain elderly northern republicans like myself: they’ve managed to offend more than me! But ‘President of Ireland’: I resent the very title. You don’t have to be a die-hard old conservative republican to believe that Ireland is the whole of the island. I don’t like this idea of calling the 26 counties Ireland. I noticed, believe it or not, that a unionist recently wrote a very angry letter to the News Letter complaining of the southern Irish claiming to be Ireland. This is worrying for me, to be on the same side as angry unionists writing to the News Letter! Secondly, the concept that the president of the Republic or the 26 counties has to get permission to go to the north, that’s frankly partitionist. And moreover the recognition for the Gardaí and the Irish army: there is an element of that which is anathema to the old republican attitudes.

Now, things have to change, move on and what not, but what really irritates me is that Martin McGuinness is being coy and disingenuous, telling us he left the IRA in 1974, saying that some actions of the IRA were murder and some weren’t. I do suspect he would have had more respect from the people if he would stand over his CV. For reasons of pure political expediency he is abandoning crucial parts of his past, denying the legitimacy of his past and denying that legitimacy to others in the northern context. The war that I fought in was a good fight and a justified fight. No battle, no war is ever fought without mistakes and regrettable incidents. Each and every action the IRA carried out, many would be deemed in­appropriate, but they were all part of a war. You don’t make war without mistakes, but I have long contended that the IRA’s war would stand scrutiny alongside any imperial war. A large amount of IRA volunteers died in premature explosions, the vast majority of which happened because they were using timing devices in an attempt to avoid civilian casualties. They did make mistakes, some of them horribly regrettable, and you put your hands up to that. Our reason for fighting was right, and you could argue that it should have been called off a few years earlier, but you don’t take war piecemeal. War is terrible, and if Martin is accepting some parts and disowning other parts, he is disowning a lot of poor people—because, for the most part, it was the less well-off people who fought that war in the north—who have not benefitted materially from the campaign, and to take the last thing away from them, which is their dignity and pride, I think that’s what really annoyed me about Martin McGuinness’s campaign for the presidency.

Many on the left would argue that the way to unite people across the divide is by leaving aside partition and the national question. Is there any sense to that, or is that avoiding the issue?

I don’t think, in general, you can ever avoid issues. Many years ago someone said that “You can ignore the national question, but the national question won’t ignore you.” That apart, I think you’ve got to look at this situation pragmatically. At this point in time, as a result of the Good Friday Agreement and the numbers of people that voted for it—and continue to support Sinn Féin today, and cannot claim to be unaware of the implications of the Good Friday Agreement, which effectively means that state won’t change until a majority in Northern Ireland desire it to change—we are going to have to come up with a programme that says we can’t defy the wishes of the people of the island: it’s not any longer just the wishes of a small northern minority. I think we have to look for a programme which says that I’m entitled, and will continue, to advocate my point of view that the best solution for the people of this island is a socialist independent state. But there has to be a situation arrived at where we can work on a range of social and economic issues, accepting each other’s different views on the constitutional issue. But that will have to be put in such a context that if and when that national issue comes up, that is going to have to be addressed honestly and not, as some have in the past, ignore these differences. The thing about it is, at this point in time, the national question is not an issue. Issues become significant when people make them significant.

Do you think that’s a long way down the road?

To be quite honest—I’m not trying to be evasive or facetious here—I don’t know. We are talking here, and by tomorrow evening or Wednesday the Euro could collapse. As I said at a meeting in Belfast a while back, if I was to stand up at a meeting in Belfast three or four years ago, before Lehmans collapsed, and say: ‘Capitalism is in crisis. We must organise. We don’t know what’s going to happen from month to month. We need to get into the trade union movement. We need to band together to look for an alternative to this free market system’, most of the people would laugh at me, some would say I’m a died-in-the-wool old Marxist. Now, at this point, a unified political system on this island where socialism is organised is not on the agenda, but with the developing conditions in the world changing so rapidly, nobody knows.

I say to republicans and people on the left that I want rid of Britain from this island because I’m a republican: I didn’t become a republican because I want rid of the English. I want rid of British rule and freedom from that empire because I’m a republican. And I’m not a socialist because I’m a republican: I’m a republican because I’m a socialist. Taking it on that basis, we don’t put the cart before the horse: socialism is the objective, and if republicanism will take us there, then we have to emphasise the republic. But nothing comes overnight: the people have to be convinced that a republic is a good idea, and that a socialist economy is a good idea, and then the rest starts to follow on.