Clasaicí Sóisialacha: Leon Trotscaí, ‘An tIdirchlár’

In Eagrán 53 (Meán Fómhair 2013) mheas Seán Ó Gadhra saothar mór an Trotscaíochais 75 bliana ar aghaidh.

Ceann de mhórscéalta laochais an tsóisialachais atá ann: Leon Trotscaí ar ionnarbadh ó fhothrach na réabhlóide, ar a sheachaint i Meicsiceo, ag iarraidh an bhratach a choinneáil ar foluain ar éigean agus scáil na deachtóireachta is na cogaíochta ag titim anuas ar an gcine daonna. Chreid sé go raibh sé in am ag an dornán beag dílis a fhógairt go raibh gluaiseacht úr dá tógáil acu ar fud an domhain. Rinneadh amhlaidh i 1938, agus chum sé Arraingeacha Báis an Chaipitleachais agus Cúraimí an Cheathrú hIdirnaisiúntán mar chlár dóibh. Ní hionadh gur ghreamaigh ainm ba ghonta de roimh i bhfad, An tIdirchlár, agus ba shin a bhí ann, clár a dhéanfadh ceangal idir inniu agus amárach, idir na cathanna beaga agus na coimhlintí báis is beatha, idir céadriachtanais na n‑oibrithe agus an claochlú sóisialach: “Caithfear cuidiú leis an bpobal i rith na coimhlinte laethúla teacht ar an droichead idir éilimh an ama i láthair agus clár sóisialach na réabhlóide.” (Leon Trotscaí, An tIdirchlár: Arraingeacha Báis an Chaipitleachais agus Cúraimí an Cheathrú hIdirnáisiúntán, foilsithe ag D R O’Connor Lysaght, Baile Átha Cliath 2013, lch 20.)

Is é freagra Throtscaí ar an mboilsciú an sampla is cáiliúla de na hidiréilimh a bhí i gceist aige. Agus praghsanna bunearraí ag ardú thar acmhainn na n‑oibrithe, “ní féidir troid ach faoi mhana an scála aistritheach pá”: go rachadh pá suas bonn ar aon le praghsanna (lch 21). Tá an chuma air gur réiteach breá simplí é, ach más ea, tuige nach gcuireann oibrithe chun cinn mar éileamh ariamh é?

Ar an gcéad dul síos, i dtréimhsí maithe don aicme oibre, bíonn siad in ann arduithe go maith os cionn an ráta boilscithe a bhaint amach, agus ba dhíchéillí dóibh cloí le scála ba lú ná sin. Is éileamh é nach bhfuil feidhm leis ach amháin nuair nach bhfuil na hoibrithe sách laidir lena chur i gcion. Anuas air sin, thabharfaí mar fhreagra láithreach air nach bhféadfadh an córas caipitleach a leithéid a sheasamh. Go breá, arsa tusa—ach má tá sciar mhaith den aicme oibre ullamh a ghabháil chomh fada leis an gcóras a chur ar ceal, cén call dóibh a bheith ag méirínteacht le scálaí pá ar chor ar bith? Déanann an t‑éileamh dearmad ar ghá a shonraíonn Trotscaí in áit eile, manaí “a bheith faoi réir ag comharthaí na gluaiseachta” (lch 24). Agus gluaiseacht ag fás, tugann sí a cuid éileamh féin chun tosaigh le freastal ar riachtanais na huaire. Is leis na héilimh seo a chaithfeas sóisialaithe tosaí, nasc a dhéanamh idir iad seo agus an sóisialachas. Ní gar dóibh éilimh réamhdhéanta a tharraingt as a bpóca mar mhalairt orthu. Nuair a leagtar éilimh síos roimh ré, cothaíonn sé meon aisteach i measc sóisialaithe, gur againne atá na freagraí agus nach gá ach iadsan—na hoibrithe—a thabhairt ar aon bharúil linn. Go deimhin, spreagann sé amhras roimh éilimh a eascraíonn ón ngluaiseacht féin, an tuairim go gcaithfear a theacht rompu sula gcuirfí an réabhlóid den bhóthar ceart, mar dhóigh de.

Is minic a cheapann daoine—lucht leanta Throtscaí san áireamh—gurb ionann idiréileamh agus éileamh nach féidir a chomhlíonadh faoin gcaipitleachas, ach dearbhaíonn Trotscaí: “Braitheann sé ar sheasamh na bhfórsaí i ngach cás ‘an féidir’ nó ‘nach féidir’ rud a bhaint amach”. Díreach ina dhiaidh sin, áfach, deir sé go dteaspánfaidh coimhlint ar shon idiréileamh bealach na réabhlóide, “cibé rath praiticiúil laithreach a bheidh uirthi” (lch 22). Cheapfá uaidh seo gur cuma bua nó bris i bhfeachtas an lae inniu ach na ceachtanna cuí a fhoghlaim as. Is beag tuiscint a léirítear anseo ar thábhacht na bhfeachtas seo, ar an difríocht a dhéanann feabhas anseo is ansiúd do staid agus meon an aicme oibre. Is fearr a throideann daoine agus buanna ar a gcúl. Níl aon chodarsnacht idir an réabhlóid agus gnáthchathanna an lae, agus ní féidir “an obair seo a dhéanamh gan aon deighilt ó fhíorchúraimí na réabhlóide” (lch 20) má cheapann tú nach luíonn siad le chéile go dlúth.

Is fíor do Throtscaí go bhfuil gá leis an droichead a luann sé, ach is fíor dó freisin nach bhfuil idiréilimh ach “mar chuid den droichead seo” (lch 20). Ní féidir an milleán a bhualadh airsean as an nós atá ag go leor dá lucht leanta ó shin idiréileamh a spíonadh mar aonfhreagra gach ceiste. Ní annamh a dhéantar sin leis an éileamh go mbunófaí “grúpaí féinchosanta oibrithe” (lch 30), ach leagann Trotscaí béim ar an gcomhthéacs, go raibh caipitlithe ag eagrú buíonta armtha in aghaidh na n‑oibrithe, agus an faisisteachas féin ag fás. Ní bithéileamh i gcomhair chuile ócáid é, cuma cá seasann gluaiseacht na n‑oibrithe, ach é “ag dul ar aghaidh léi céim ar chéim. Nuair a theastóidh sé ón bprólatáireacht, tiocfaidh sí ar bhóthar agus modh a harmála.” (Lch 31.) Ní hé liosta beartanna a dhéanann droichead go dtí an réabhlóid, ach tuiscint ar an méid a bheas ag teastáil leis an mbruach thall a bhaint amach as seo.

Agus i measc na n‑idiréilimh réamhcheaptha uilig, tá tuiscint dá leithéid le fáil anseo. Ní leor éilimh is manaí a fhógairt don saol (lgh 34-5): “Caithfear na bunsmaointe seo a léirmhíniú, á mbriseadh síos i smaointe níos nithiúla éagsúla, ag brath ar an gcaoi a dtéann cúrsaí ar aghaidh agus meon aigne an phobail.” Ba iomaí caint faoi ‘chosaint an náisiúin’ a bhí le cloisteáil sa tráth seo, mar shampla, ach seachas í a cháineadh as éadan, ba cheart aithneachtáil idir náisiúnachas na saibhre a bhí ag iarraidh a gcreach impiriúlach féin a chosaint, agus náisiúnachas na cosmhuintire a raibh cosaint a dteallach féin ar a chúl, “agus caithfimid an chaoi le breith ar na gnéithe seo a thuiscint” (lch 35).

Tá ceann de na rudaí is luachmhaire a chuir Trotscaí le stór an tsóisialachais le fáil san Idirchlár, leiriú ar an gcaoi a gcomh­cheanglaítear bunéilimh dhaonlathacha—ar neamhspleáchas náisiúnta, parlaimint, deireadh leis an tiarnas talún agus a leithéid—go dlúth leis an gcoimhlint ar shon an tsóisialachais. “Ní scartar ó chéile manaí daonlathacha, idiréilimh agus fadhbanna na réabhlóide sóisialaí ina réanna stairiúla ar leith sa choimhlint seo: leanann siad ar a chéile go díreach.” (Lch 42.)

Agus teastaíonn an daonlathas go géar ón gcoimhlint shóisialach. Is iad comhairlí na n‑oibrithe a buaic, iad ag eagrú troid leathan an aicme oibre agus ag freagairt go beo di (lgh 41-2):

Osclaíonn siad a ndoirse don phobal faoi chois ar fad. Tagann ionadaí gach sraith isteach trí na doirse seo, á dtarraingt isteach i sruth ginearálta na coimhlinte. Athnuaitear an eagraíocht seo, ag leathnú in éineacht leis an ngluaiseacht, arís is arís eile ina broinn.… ag feidhmiú mar mhaighdeog a n‑aontaítear na milliúin den lucht oibre timpeall uirthi ina gcoimhlint in aghaidh na ndúshaothraithe…

Bhí fios a ghnóthaí ag Trotscaí anseo, nó bhí sé féin chun tosaigh nuair a cuireadh comhairlí mar seo ar bun sa Rúis, na ‘sóivéidí’, i 1905 agus aríst i 1917. Cé go raibh ainm na sóivéide ar institiúidí riaracháin ansin fós, b’fhada an daonlathas glanta chun siúil astu. Ní raibh sa stát sin anois ach “arm foréigneach maorlathach in aghaidh an aicme oibre”. Mar sin féin, “is stát meata de chuid na n‑oibrithe i gcónaí é”, dar le Trotscaí (lch 47). Cé go raibh maorlathas Stailin i gceannas an stáit, bhí seilbh ag an stát ar an ngeilleagar, agus ba cheart do shóisialaithe troid leis sin a chosaint le linn dóibh troid leis an maorlathas a chur ó chumhacht.

Ach—mar is léir ó na bancanna a bhfuair muintir na hÉireann seilbh orthu le deireanas, mar dhea—cén mhaith seilbh an stáit gan an stát a bheith i seilbh na n‑oibrithe? Riar daonlathach na n‑oibrithe ar mhaithe leis an bpobal a chuirfeadh réabhlóid shóisialach ar chúrsaí eacnamaíochta, agus ní bheadh aon chosúlacht idir sin agus an riar ollsmachtach ar mhaithe lena aicme féin a bhí ag Stailin orthu. Ní fhéadfái an sóisialachas a chur chun cinn aríst gan é a dhealú glan ón Stailineachas, agus ba laincis ar an iarracht sin an chaoi ar sheas Trotscaí is a lucht leanta air go raibh fiúntas áirid le cosaint i gcóras na Rúise.

“Tá an réamhchoinníoll eacnamaíochta leis an réabhlóid phrólatáireach bainte amach cheana i gcoitinne”, a chreid Trotscaí, agus ba “D’aineolas nó dallamullóg d’aon turas” a mhalairt a rá. Ba mhinic “go raibh an phrólatáireacht ullamh ó chroí an córas caipitleach a threascairt” gur chuir ceannairí a ngluaiseachta stad leo: “Is é nádúr deistapaíoch cheannaireacht na prólatáireachta an phríomhbhacainn sa bhealach”. Dá bharr sin, “níl i ngéarchéim stairiúil an chine dhaonna ach géarchéim na ceannaireachta réabhlóidí” (lgh 17-18).

Is dearcadh coitianta ar an eite chlé ariamh é, go bhfuil fonn cráite ar na hoibrithe an caipitleachas a leagan ar maidin marach na fealltóirí diabhlaí i gceannas orthu dá gcoinneáil siar. Ach má bhíonn na hoibrithe chomh réabhlóideach seo i ndáiríre, ullamh an aicme chaipitleach a chur de leataobh, ba réidh a bhrúfaidís ceannairí gan mhaith as a mbealach freisin. Is fusa réamhchoinníollacha eacnamaíochta an tsóisialachais a chur ar fáil ná an coinníoll is cinniúnaí ar fad, go mbeadh formhór mór an aicme oibre suite de ina gcroí istigh gur gá agus gur féidir saol nua a chur in ionad an chaipitleachais. Ach an dearcadh gurb iad na ceannairí bun is barr na faidhbe, tógtar é ar mhímhuinín as an aicme oibre, ar an tuairim nach dtig leo iad féin a fhuascailt as a stuaim féin, go gcaithfidh ceannaireacht sheachtrach de chineál éicint iad a stiúrú chun bua. Is é an bunghnó i gcónaí, mar sin, ceannaireacht cheart a chur le chéile le áit an cheannaireacht mhícheart a ghlacadh.

Tá an dearcadh le brath agus Trotscaí ag fiafraí cé a réiteos anchás an domhain: “Faoin bprólatáireacht atá sé anois .i. a hur­gharda réabhlóideach go príomha” (lch 18). Go tobann, ní hí an aicme oibre a chuirfeas an sóisialachas i gcrích, ach dream amháin díobh ag obair thar a gceann. Dá chomhartha sin, is é “príomhchúram” na linne eagar a chur ar an dream seo, “Páirtithe réabhlóid­eacha náisiúnta a thógáil” (lch 23). Ar ámharaí an tsaoil, bhí eagraíocht nua ag Trotscaí féin a dhéanfadh sin: “is ar ghuaillí an Cheathrú hIdirnaisiúntán ar fad a thiteann an choimhlint réabhlóid­each” agus cogadh ag bagairt (lch 33). Seachas é, go deimhin, “níl oiread agus sruth réabhlóideach amháin ar an bpláinéad ar fiú an t‑ainm é” (lch 57).

Bhí mórdhifríocht idir bunú an idirnáisiúntáin seo agus an trí idirnáisiúntán a chuaigh roimhe. Cuireadh iad sin ar bun tráthanna a raibh borradh ag teacht faoi ghluaiseacht na n‑oibrithe, in 1864, 1889, 1919. Ba scéal eile ar fad é i 1938, áfach, cúis na n‑oibrithe ar an bhfaraoir géar mara raibh sí báite faoin deachtóireacht. D’amhdaigh Trotscaí gur eascair an Ceathrú hIdirnaisiúntán ó “na díomuanna is mó a bhain don phrólatáireacht i rith a staire” (lch 57), ach d’fhéach sé le áil a dhéanamh den éigean seo, ag rá go mba é donas an scéil go díreach a d’éiligh é. Bhí an aicme oibre ag cúlú, agus ba é a gcloch nirt greim a choinneáil ar a raibh acu, ach gheall an t‑idirnáisiúntán beag bídeach seo dóibh go raibh “bratach an bhua atá chugaibh” ina lámha (lch 57). Agus an fhéiníomhá seo ina aigne, ní fhéadfadh sé maireachtáil ach i dtuilleamaí na dallamullóige, ag iarraidh comharthaí bua a léamh áit a raibh tubaist le feiceáil. Is deacair a chreidiúint go bhféadfadh Trotscaí abairt mar seo a thabhairt uaidh (lch 47): “Tá oibrithe tosaigh an domhain deimhin de cheana nach dtreascrófar Mussolini, Hitler agus a gcuid gníomhairí is aithriseoirí ach faoi cheannaireacht an Cheathrú hIdirnaisiúntán.”

Le fírinne, ba é “bratach gan smál” (lch 57) an t‑aon rud a bhí le tairiscint acu: mara raibh aon bhua bainte acu ná a chosúlacht sin orthu, ní raibh siad páirteach sa bhfeall agus sa gcur i gcéill a bhí ag gabháil in ainseal ar ghluaiseacht na n‑oibrithe. Tráth a raibh ceannairí ag baint slí beatha shocair aisti, scríobh Trotscaí (lch 56): “Ní bhfaighidh bealach isteach chugainn ach iad siúd arb ail leo a bheith beo ar son na gluaiseachta, seachas a bheith beo ar an ngluaiseacht.” Tráth a raibh an bhréag is an cleas in uachtar inti, dhearbhaigh sé (lgh 53-4): “Aghaidh chóir a thabhairt ar an bhfírinne; gan slí na saoráide a lorg; rudaí a ghlaoch ina n‑ainm; an fhírinne a rá leis an bpobal, dá sheirbhe í; gan eagla a bheith orainn roimh chonstaicí; a bheith fíor i dtaobh rudaí beaga chomh maith le rudaí móra; an clár a bhunú ar chiall choimhlint na n‑aicmí; a bheith dána nuair a thagann uair an ghnímh—seo iad rialacha an Cheathrú hIdirnáisiúntán.” Scríobh sé an méid seo agus é ag faire thar a ghualainn dóibh siúd a mharódh gan trócaire é roimh i bhfad eile. Ní hionadh an fonn sin a bheith orthu, agus tá tairbhe le baint againn i gcónaí as a chath uaigneach in ainneoin na n‑ainneoin.

Who got Larkin out?

In Issue 52 (June 2013) Noel McDermott examined how solidarity won an important victory in the Dublin lockout a century earlier.

A hundred years on, the most iconic image of the Dublin lockout remains Joseph Cashman’s photograph of Bloody Sunday. Before the internet had been dreamed of or television was more than an idea, this picture went around the world and showed the brutality of the state forces employed in support of Dublin’s capitalists as they attempted to crush fighting trade unionism. However often seen, it always repays another look, which will bring home a fresh image that hadn’t registered before: another baton raised in search of a skull, another person fleeing from the palpable danger. Although reproduced again and again, it avoids becoming a cliché purely because it gives such a true illustration of what was happening.

And what was happening on 31 August 1913 was that a meeting in support of the locked-out workers was due to take place on O’Connell Street, only to be banned by Ernest Swifte, a magistrate who earnestly and swiftly evicted and imprisoned many a striker in 1913 (and who just happened to be a shareholder in William Martin Murphy’s tramway company). Having publicly burned the banning order two days before, Jim Larkin put on a false beard and a big coat —a disguise which somehow managed to beat the finest minds of the Dublin Metropolitan Police—and made his way to a balcony of his arch-enemy’s Imperial Hotel. When he began to speak in defiance of the ban, he was arrested. The police, primed with alcohol and class hatred, cut loose on the crowd in O’Connell Street and its environs, many of them no more than curious onlookers on a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Larkin was remanded in custody, but after twelve days inside was allowed out on bail. His trial was fixed for 27 October, where he was sentenced to seven months in prison. The sentence caused wide­spread outrage: the state was putting him away for seven months for using seditious language, while Edward Carson was running a union­ist army in the north pledged to resist the will of the government, receiving no punishment and much encouragement from the British establishment. The blatant injustice of it underlined who exactly had right on their side in the Dublin labour war. “Release Larkin” naturally became part of the escalating struggle and of the movement in solidarity with it.

By the morning of 13 November, however, Larkin was free. This was clearly a big deal. The hope was that, with the charismatic leader of the ITGWU out of harm’s way for a stretch, the balance of forces might tilt in the employers’ direction and more ‘moderate’ counsels prevail on the workers’ side. Instead the gates of Mountjoy flew open after just seventeen days.

This release is usually attributed to the results of three parlia­mentary by-elections the week before. The Dublin strikers called on people in Linlithgowshire, Reading and Keighley to vote against the Liberal government’s candidates as a protest against Larkin’s im­prisonment. James Connolly spoke loudly in support of the idea, ITGWU organiser William Partridge went over to help out the Labour candidate in Reading, and fireworks were set off from the roof of Liberty Hall to celebrate Liberal reverses in the elections. Chancellor of the Exchequer Lloyd George cited Larkin’s imprison­ment as the main factor behind the results.

So Larkin was released because by-election results went against the government, leaving it no choice but to yield to the electoral pressure and set Larkin free. It is a common interpretation featuring in many works—good as well as bad—on Larkin, Connolly, and the lockout:

Ministers stood firm while they were being told in peremptory language by their press organs that “Larkin must be released”… But directly the Larkinite influence appeared to their dis­comfiture, apparent or real, at by-elections, their stoic resolution broke down.1

working British voters had turned not merely restive but wrathful, and a couple of electoral knocks for the government led to the hasty opening of the prison doors on the 13th of November.2

Irish workers cheered the two Governmental election defeats which quashed Larkin’s seven months’ sentence.3

…the effective plan of campaign that was to bring about Larkin’s eventual release… that everyone work and vote against the Liberal Government until Larkin was free.… In referring to the by-election reverses at the National Liberal Club in London, Lloyd George admitted that “there are explanations, the most prom­inent of which is, probably, Jim Larkin.”4

Following government defeats in the three by-elections, Lloyd George said: “There are explanations, the most prominent of which is, probably, Jim Larkin.” On 13 November he was released.5

The government lost seats in by-elections, and this resulted in their deciding unanimously that the sentence was “grossly excessive” and should be reduced. Lloyd George had already stated that the “most prominent explanation” for the Liberals’ setback was probably Larkin.6

Following poor by-election results, government intervention secured his release on 13 November.7

Nevertheless, the claim doesn’t stand up too well if we take the unprecedented step of actually looking at those by-election results them­selves. Failure to do so has fed the argument that those results freed Larkin. Even historians who haven’t gone along with it, or even argued against it, have got their facts wrong:

organised Labour worked hard to effect the Government defeat in two by-elections.8

The news of the government defeats in Linlithgow and Reading caused great jubilation in Dublin.… On November 12 the Liberals were defeated at Keighley also.9

When on 10 November the news came that the Liberals had been defeated at both Reading and Linlithgow, rockets were fired from the roof of Liberty Hall. The third contest was at Keighley, where there was a spectacular increase in the Labour vote.10

The Liberals suffered ignominious defeats in the bye-elections.11

Liberal candidates were defeated in two by-elections in England and Scotland on 10 November, and Labour’s vote increased substantially in Keighley, Yorkshire.12

But what actually happened in the by-elections?

Linlithgowshire in Scotland (now West Lothian) went to the polls on 7 November 1913. In the last general election in 1910 the Liberal Alexander Ure held the seat (as he had since 1895) with 5,835 votes to the Conservative James Kidd’s 3,765. Following Ure’s appoint­ment to the judiciary, his successor won the by-election with 5,615 votes to Kidd’s 5,094.13 So the opposition increased its vote well, but didn’t eat into the government vote much, and the Liberals held the seat.

Reading voted the next day. Again a judicial appointment led to the Liberal incumbent vacating the seat, which he had only held at the general election by 5,094 votes to 4,995. The same Tory, Leslie Orme Wilson, stood in the by-election, with the Liberals parachuting in a new candidate. Wilson got his vote up to 5,144, while the new Liberal managed 4,013. A first-time candidate from the British Socialist Party won 1,063 votes.14 So the government lost a marginal seat which had been hanging by a 1 per cent thread. It couldn’t be claimed that the BSP had split the anti-Tory vote: even their vote added to the Liberals wouldn’t have beaten Wilson.

The by-election in Keighley, Yorkshire, took place on 11 Nov­ember. Its Liberal MP, who gloried in the name of Stanley Owen Buckmaster, had won the seat in a by-election himself two years earlier, winning 4,667 votes to the Conservatives’ 3,842 and Labour’s 3,452. He now had to put himself forward again after being appointed Solicitor-General. In 1913 he got 4,730, while the Conservative got 3,852 and Labour got 3,646.15 So everyone’s vote increased slightly, making little difference to the relative proportions, the government share being down about one third of 1 per cent.

So, despite what many books tell us, the Liberals didn’t lose most or all of the by-elections, nor was there any spectacular increase in the opposition vote. Overall, the government held two of the seats—one with a much reduced vote share,16 another with a drop that wouldn’t register on the swingometer—and lost a very marginal seat. It is a set of mid-term by-election results that any government would be very happy with. The last of the three contests, the one which is supposed to have dealt the final blow that won Larkin’s freedom, went extreme­ly well for the government. Their majority in parliament, with the support of the Home Rulers, remained. These were nothing like the sort of catastrophic reverses they are assumed to have been, nor the kind of results to force a government into releasing a political prisoner.

This is not to say that the attempt to use the by-elections to the Dublin workers’ advantage was a mistake. Every opportunity to press their case had to be grasped, and these elections provided a chance to push it further up the British political agenda. All three constituencies would have contained a big enough Irish population, whose natural sympathies were there to be won.17 And spinning the Reading result into a major victory was harmless enough when Dublin workers needed every morale boost they could get.

The link between the results and Larkin’s incarceration originated with Lloyd George, as we have seen. If ever there was a politician whose statements needed questioning sceptically, it is him, whose legendary craftiness would tie the Irish delegation in knots at the 1921 treaty negotiations. His comments following the Reading defeat had more to do with internal Liberal Party politics. Undermining Augustine Birrell, the minister responsible for ruling Ireland, did no harm to his own ambitions. It is strange, however, that his partisan election analysis has found so much favour with historians of Irish labour.

What did win Larkin’s release, then? Answering that question requires a shift away from the historical consensus which has down­played if not dismissed an important factor in the Dublin lockout: solidarity action by workers in Britain. The spread of sympathy among British public opinion in general is well documented, as is the money and food sent by British unions, but industrial action in support remains an under-researched topic. What we know from standard histories is impressive, though: railworkers in various parts of Britain refused to transport goods for firms in Dublin involved in the lockout, and when they were victimised by their employers, thousands of their colleagues walked out. They weren’t just backing Dublin as an end in itself, but also hoping to settle grievances with their own bosses, and defending their right to boycott scab cargo as a basic union principle.

While Larkin was in jail, the employers escalated their fight, shipping in scabs from England. Connolly responded in kind, calling out every trade unionist in the docks and shutting them down altogether. He has been roundly criticised ever since for a move which brought into the dispute shipping firms which had taken no part in it but were sticking to their contract with the ITGWU. However, alien­ating a strand of ‘public opinion’ was better than platonically bemoan­ing the influx of scab labour. Putting the port of Dublin out of action showed that the union could also take extraordinary measures in extraordinary circumstances, could “carry the war into every section of the enemy’s camp”, as Connolly put it.18

The move also involved a direct appeal to the rank and file of British labour. In a ‘Manifesto to the British Working Class’ on 12 November Connolly called for all traffic from companies locking out workers to be stopped. In Holyhead and Liverpool, from Newcastle to Derby, the call was heeded, with workers setting up ‘vigilance committees’ to oversee their boycott and protect against victimisation. The solidarity of workers in Britain with strikers in Dublin was reaching a new height, and organising independently. This, together with the closure of Dublin port, was enough to tilt the balance. Larkin being in prison made it difficult for the government and bosses to head off the new threat. The British cabinet had decided that day that he should be released early, but left it up to Birrell to decide exactly when. Although he had opposed that decision, he set Larkin free the next day. “Not Liberal justice but solidarity—class solidarity is the reason why I am free”, he insisted.19

Himself and Connolly immediately appealed for British workers “to go ahead and strike while the iron of revolt is hot in our souls”,20 and followed up with a series of meetings over the water. It was clear now that only action in Britain could cut the Dublin employers off from their profits and bring them to heel. The fact that such action didn’t materialise was at the bottom of the defeat the workers finally suffered.

It is commonly held that Larkin blew any chance of it by his reck­less attacks on British union leaders. He did indeed fly off the handle at times, but what he said was no worse than the insults they hurled at him. If Larkin’s words really hurt them more than the sight of sticks and stones breaking the bones of workers in Dublin, they deserved every epithet. His denunciation of rail union leader J H Thomas as “a double-dyed traitor to his class”21 sounds harsh until you consider that Thomas actually helped employers to sack railworkers who refused to handle Dublin goods. (When you look at his subsequent career—joining Ramsay Macdonald’s national government in the 1930s, and then caught selling budget secrets to stockbrokers—it proves to be a prophetic statement of cold fact.)

It is too often forgotten that Britain’s union movement in 1913 was experiencing an acute expression of the ever-present divide between the rank and file and the bureaucracy. Dublin brought it to a head: ordinary trade unionists acted on the instinct to engage in solidarity action off their own bat, while their officials acted on the instinct to dampen down such action and reassert their own position as intermediaries between capital and labour.

The impressive scale of official support from Britain’s TUC—the equivalent of €10 million today, as well as calling the first special conference in its history to discuss the dispute—was a response to pressure from below. The first TUC donation came as 2,000 Liver­pool dockers and railworkers were out, and a continuing blacking of Dublin goods there and in South Wales was the backdrop to the conference being called. Attacks on Larkin were only one flank of the union leaders’ strategy: the other was to offer generous assistance as an alternative to effective solidarity action.

In these circumstances, fighting for Dublin’s cause in Britain had to involve disconcerting the union leaders, in fact encouraging revolt against them. Larkin and Connolly were in contact with the British left for years, of course, and that network formed the backbone of the solidarity movement. The decision to campaign in the Reading by-election incidentally helped the British Socialist Party, a radical organ­isation very critical of official labour, to a very decent poll. No paper had championed the Dublin strikers more than the Daily Herald, the paper of the British left, whose editor told them that their victory would not only put a stop to Murphy but “will have stimulated… the great working class warfare in Great Britain”.22 While on bail Larkin had told an audience in London to “tell their leaders to get in front or get out”, and following his release he issued a manifesto calling on British trade unionists to force their leaders to support trade union struggle instead of being “apologists for the shortcomings of the Capitalist system”.23 Appealing over the heads of the leadership like this had won solidarity thus far, and intensifying the appeal to the rank and file was the only way to intensify the solidarity.

If anything, the ITGWU could be accused of not going far enough in distinguishing leaders from rank and file. From early in the lockout Ben Tillett, head of the National Transport Workers’ Federation in Britain, spoke loudly and radically in support of the Dublin workers. This left-wing union leader shared platforms with Larkin and Connolly and got a good few column inches in The Irish Worker. But when push came to shoving a knife in their back, it was Tillett who turned to lead the TUC’s condemnation of Larkin and abandonment of Dublin: the strikers’ Waterloo, as Connolly re­marked. Of course, plenty of others on the left were caught off guard by Tillett’s betrayal, the prelude to his vociferous support for the war a year later.

The left wing of British labour was not a little disorientated by these events, and unofficial solidarity with Dublin would face an uphill fight against what was now a solid front of union bureaucracy as well as the inevitable retaliation from employers. 30,000 rail­workers were out in South Wales for another week or so, but were forced back by national officials without winning reinstatement of two colleagues sacked for refusing to handle Dublin goods. It is hardly surprising that such support petered out, and once the pressure from below eased off, financial support from the official movement dried up too. The Dublin workers were now staring defeat in the face.

The story of how Larkin was imprisoned and released throws up issues that were central to the struggle in 1913. Electoral campaigning was only an adjunct to the real fight. Not liberal justice but class solidarity, across national borders, was the key to success. The rank and file had to organise its own activity independently of union leaders, left or right, to ensure success. Whenever the spirit of 1913 takes flight again in Dublin and the rest of Ireland, such lessons will be invaluable.

Notes

  1. Arnold Wright, Disturbed Dublin (London 1914) p 233. This book was, of course, the employers’ bought-and-paid-for account of the dispute.
  2. W P Ryan, The Irish Labour Movement (Dublin 1919), p 231.
  3. Desmond Ryan, James Connolly (Dublin/London 1924), p 70.
  4. Emmet Larkin, James Larkin: Irish Labour Leader (London 1965), p 141-2.
  5. Ruth Dudley Edwards, James Connolly (Dublin 1981), p 108.
  6. Dónal Nevin, James Larkin: Lion of the Fold (Dublin 1998), p 199.
  7. Emmet O’Connor, James Larkin (Cork 2002), p 46.
  8. R M Fox, Jim Larkin: The Rise of the Underman (London 1957), p 104.
  9. C Desmond Greaves, The Life and Times of James Connolly (London 1961), p 261.
  10. C Desmond Greaves, The Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union: The Formative Years (Dublin 1982), p 109.
  11. Kieran Allen, The Politics of James Connolly (London 1990), p 117.
  12. Francis Devine, Organising History (Dublin 2009), p 60.
  13. Debrett’s House of Commons (London 1916), p 240.
  14. Ibid, p 258.
  15. Ibid, p 287.
  16. Pádraig Yeates, Lockout (Dublin 2000) is very careful with the facts and doesn’t accept the by-elections as a crucial factor in Larkin’s release, but even here it is claimed that the Liberals “only retained Linlithgow by the barest majority” (p 385). There are majorities far barer than 5 per cent.
  17. Campaigning in Keighley yielded a dividend in the form of a £20 donation to the lockout fund from the local trades council: The Irish Worker, December 13 1913.
  18. Quoted in Greaves, The Life and Times of James Connolly, p 263. It has since come to light that other shipping firms were on the point of joining the lockout anyway: see Yeates, p 400.
  19. ‘Justice, Moryah’, editorial, The Irish Worker, November 15 1913.
  20. Quoted in Larkin, p 144, footnote.
  21. Quoted in ibid, p 146.
  22. Charles Lapworth, ‘The Lesson of Dublin’, The Irish Worker, November 1 1913.
  23. Quoted in Larkin, p 138, 146.

Cúis na bhfear oibre

Céad bliain ar aghaidh ó fhrithdhúnadh Bhaile Átha Cliath, in Eagrán 51 (Márta 2013) foilsíodh alt a scríobh Liam P Ó Riain ar son na n-oibrithe lena linn.

Céad bliain ó shin bhi sé ina chath idir oibrithe is fostóirí i mBaile Átha Cliath. Bhí Liam P Ó Riain (1867-1942) suntasach an tráth sin mar iriseoir agus údar sóisialach i nGaeilge agus Béarla araon. Bhí sé ina eagarthóir cúnta ar an Daily Herald, páipéar lucht oibre i Londain, agus rinne sé a lán le dlúth­pháirtíocht a chothú d’oibrithe Bhaile Átha Cliath. D’iarr sé a chur ina luí ar lucht na Gaeilge, freisin, gur chóir dóibh dul le taobh na n‑oibrithe. Foilsíodh an t‑alt seo ar an bhfrithdhúnadh ar leathanach tosaigh eagrán Mheadhón Fóghmhair 13 1913 de An Claidheamh Soluis, páipéar Chonradh na Gaeilge, agus seo é an chéad uair a foilsíodh ó shin é.

Tá ‘éirí amach’ i measc na bhfear oibre i mBaile Átha Cliath agus in áiteacha eile in Éirinn, agus tá sé ag déanamh buartha do Ghaeilgeoirí áirithe. Samhlaítear dóibhsean nach bhfuil na fir oibre dílis do “spiorad na hÉireann” agus spiorad náisiúntachta; gur cóir dóibh a bheith ciúin, foighdeach nó go mbeidh ár rialtas féin againn; go bhfuilid meallta le “cumannaithe Shasana”1 agus smaointe Shasana. Sílim féin go bhfuil na Gaeilgeoirí úd ag dul amú go mór.

Tá an scéal céanna—nó scéal i bhfad níos láidre—le hinsint fána lán tíortha seachas Éire agus Sasana. Chím go leor páipéar ón mhórthír gach lá—L’Humanité, La Bataille Syndicaliste,2 srl., srl.—agus baineann siad le troid na n‑oibritheoirí ó thús deireadh, nach mór. Is beag tír san Eoraip nach bhfuil troid den tsaghas sin ar siúl inti. Tá sí ar siúl go dian in Aimeiriceá mar an gcéanna, agus san Aifric Theas, agus anso agus ansúd san Áis féin.

De réir dealraimh is ag dul i dtreise a bheas sí ins na laethanta atá romhainn. Tuigeann na fir oibre nach bhfuilid ag fáil a gcirt; tá eolas ar a gcumhacht ag a lán acu i mórán tíortha anois, agus cuirid rompu aondacht agus cumann iltíriúil (une confédération internationale) a bheith eatarthu. Tá na mílte díobh agus nílid sásta leis an rud ar a dtugtar náisiúntacht. Deireann siad go mbíonn a lán ráiméise dá rá agus a lán tíorántachta dá déanamh in ainm náisiúntachta; go mbíonn saol crua acu féin i ngach uile thír agus só agus saibhreas ag na “máistrí”. Táid cinnte gur mithid dóibh athriaradh a dhéanamh.

Ní dóigh liom go mbeidís in aghaidh fíor-náisiúntachta dá mbeadh a leithéid le fáil. Ach cá bhfuil sí? Ar shlí, tá fíor-náisiúntacht cosúil le fíor-Chríostaíocht. Ba mhór í dá mbeadh sí dá cleachtadh. Is cuid den domhan oideamach3 í agus theip orainn fós í a thabhairt chun cinn.

Bheadh fíor-náisiún cosúil le teaghlach mór breá daonna. Bheadh comhoibriú, cairdeachas, carthanacht, síbhialtacht ann ar fad. Ní bheadh mór-shaibhreas anso agus mór-dhaibhreas ansúd, daoine foghlamtha in áiteacha agus sclábhaithe aineolacha in áiteacha eile; comhlucht oibre agus comhpháirtithe a bheadh i ngach uile áit. Déarfaidh tú nach féidir linn náisiún den tsaghas sin a chur ar bun cé go mbeadh ár rialtas féin againn. Deirimse go mb’fhéidir é ach an spiorad ceart a bheith ionainn. Deirim fós go raibh a lán den spiorad sin ag na Gaeil fadó agus go rabhadar dá chur chun críche ar feadh aoiseanna. Anois, fairíor, ceapann na Gaeil féin, nó a bhformhór, go bhfuil gá le sclábhaithe agus lucht daibhris ó aois go haois. Tuigeann na fir oibre go gceapann na Gaeil amhlaidh agus de bhrí sin níl mórán acu go laidir ar thaobh na nGael agus chúis na Gaeilge. Is ar na Gaeil atá an locht. ’Sé an donas nach bhfuil na Gaeil Gaelach go leor—ina bhfealsúnacht agus ina ngníomhartha.

Ní fiú trácht ar an ‘náisiúntacht’ nach mbíonn in aghaidh an bhochtanais, an daibhris, agus an aineolais. Tá siadsan chomh holc i gcás náisiúin agus atá peacúlacht agus breoiteacht i gcás daoine. Cén fáth go bhfuilid ann? De bhrí go bhfuil daoine áirithe go santach, neamhchóir; de bhrí nach bhfuil go leor leor de thalamh na hÉireann faoi shaothar; de bhrí nach mbíonn oideachas ceart—oideachas ceirde chomh maith le oideachas liteartha—le fáil go fairsing; srl., srl. An mbeidh leigheas ar an drochstaid nuair a bheas ár rialtas féin againn? Is dócha go mbeidh, ar shlí; ach beidh daoine áirithe chomh santach ansin agus atáid anois, agus daoine eile chomh míthuisceanach. Tá athrú spioraid ag teastáil uainn chomh maith le athrú rialtais. Ní foláir dúinn tuiscint nach féidir fíor-náisiún a bheith againn nó go mbeidh daibhreas agus aineolas díbeartha. Caithfidh maoin go leor (idir shaolta agus intleachtach) a bheith ag gach uile dhuine. Nuair a bheas an dúchas riartha i gceart beidh a lan saor agus ceardaithe cliste againn arís, iad faoi mheas agus onóir, agus chomh cumhachtach le lucht na talún. Beidh deireadh le sclábhaithe ó cheann ceann na tíre. Is millteach an rud daibhreas, is damanta an rud sclábhaíocht. Teaspáineann siad go bhfuil an náisiún breoite, míchiallda, santach, neamhchráifeach. Mar a dúirt Lamennais i leabhar clúmhar: “Ce n’est pas que la pauvreté vienne de Dieu, mais elle est une suite de la corruption et des mauvaises convoitises des hommes”.4

Nuair a bheas na hoibritheoirí de gach uile chineál (intleachtach agus ceardúil) aontaithe go dlúth i mbuíonta móra—na múinteoirí go léir, na hiascairí, na treabhadóirí, na saoir cloiche, srl., srl.—beidh ceart le fáil acu gan dua, gan trioblóid. Ní féidir dul ar aghaidh gan iad. Ní fhaigheann siad a gceart anois de bhrí nach bhfuilid aontaithe (i mbaile ná i gcéin) agus go mbíonn comórtas eatarthu. Tá siad ag fáil amach cá bhfuil an locht agus an lagbhrí. Beid chomh haontaithe agus chomh láidir leis na sagairt, na dochtúirí, agus na dlíodóirí in am is i dtráth. Ansin beidh deireadh le daibhreas. Ní bheidh imní ar oibritheoirí mar gheall ar bhia agus deoch. Beidh saol sona acu, agus beid in ann a meanma agus a n‑intleacht a shaothrú. Beidh uain acu i gcóir ealaíon agus smaointe agus litríochta. Beidh fíor-shíbhialtacht le fáil. Teaspánfar na cumhachta is doimhne den chine daonna.

Ba cheart do Ghaeil smaoineamh go dian, doimhin ar na ceisteanna so go léir. Tuigfidh siad sa deireadh go seasann cúis na Gaeilge agus cúis na síbhialtachta ar chúis na n‑oibritheoirí—na hoibritheoirí intleachta agus na hoibritheoirí ceirde.

L P Ó R

Nótaí

  1. Cumannaithe is mó a thugtaí ar shóisialaithe i nGaeilge na linne.
  2. Páipéir lucht oibre ón bhFrainc. Ba leis an bpáirtí sóisialach L’Humanité, agus le cónaidhm na dtionscalchumann La Bataille Syndicaliste.
  3. I cosúil gur ‘domhan teoiriciúil’ atá i gceist anseo, cúrsaí a bhaineann le hoidim seachas leis an bhfíorshaol.
  4. “Ní hé gur ó Dhia an bochtanas, ach gur toradh é ar thruailliú agus drochshaint an duine.” Fealsamh Caitliceach a lochtaigh an caipitleachas ab ea Félicité Robert de Lamennais (1782-1854), agus scríobh sé an méid seo ina leabhar Paroles d’un croyant.

Labour’s love lost

In December 2012, the year the Labour Party celebrated its centenary, Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh examined its past and present in Issue 50.

Discussing the Labour Party as it celebrates its centenary year is not unlike going to the dentist. Unpleasant, even painful, but it has to be done. It’s not nice to be constantly negative, but then, it’s worse to varnish the truth. Whatever way you cut it, Labour just hasn’t got as much to show for all its years as it should have. As for what it’s been up to this year, well, there’s nothing to celebrate there.

What we should be celebrating is the centenary of what actually happened in Clonmel in 1912: James Connolly and other socialists finally managed to convince the congress of the Irish trade union movement that it should establish an independent political party of the working class. This marks a big milestone in our history, an end proposed to the deep-rooted tradition of supporting nationalist or unionist parties purporting to represent all classes. It was also a defining moment in that Ireland’s labour movement was breaking with the idea that it should be a western outpost of Britain’s movement.

Unfortunately, it was to take its place in a bulging file of fine resolutions never implemented, for several reasons. A couple of months before, the courts had barred Jim Larkin from standing in elections, arising out of a legal dispute over the breakaway he had led from the British seafarers’ union. This deprived the potential labour party of its natural leader, as well as dampening Larkin’s own enthusiasm for the project. That year’s home rule bill never made it from parliament to the real world, and so the Irish political arena envisaged for the new party to operate in never materialised. The world war left the movement’s leaders all over the place, and Connolly with forces too small to strike out on an independent path any time soon.

Labour candidates were fielded here and there, as they had been since the turn of the century, on a more or less haphazard basis. While it wasn’t the labour movement’s fault that no general election took place until 1918, it was to blame for shirking that opportunity to present itself as a national party. With Connolly dead, labour tended to see the national struggle as something it could support but was not called upon to lead, and even in the 1921 election they left the politics to others.

It was only in 1922 that the Labour Party actually took shape, putting forward policies of its own, contesting a state-wide election, and forming a parliamentary group. By then, it was only a 26-county party. So the historical facts stubbornly rain on the Irish Labour Party’s parade: this is, in fact, the ninetieth anniversary of the Free State Labour Party.

But it’s the politics that really pull the plug on the celebrations and pour everyone’s drinks down the sink. In 1912 Connolly moved that the ITUC adopt “the independent representation of Labour” in Irish politics as an aim, and told the congress: “They were not going to tack themselves on to some political party of their masters in order that they might swell the fortunes and help the ambitions of their employers.” The ship that sails under the colours of Labour, on the other hand, has now clocked up twenty years governmentally tacked on to the political parties of our masters, not to mention the pacts by which it tethered itself to them electorally. The claim that Labour has betrayed its founder is made with good intentions, but is too kind: it never was the party of Connolly, and couldn’t sell out a legacy it never possessed in the first place.

Time after time Labour has gone into coalition with the right, and time after time it has been roundly punished for it. While cattle are officially lower on the evolutionary scale than Labour politicians, they know not to return to an electric fence which has stung them before. Labour, on the other hand, just keeps on going back for more. Surely naked self-interest should cause it to spurn the hand of coalition in circumstances such as last year’s, to let the poisoned chalice pass by, to stand apart and build support for itself?

Labourism, however, is founded on the idea that change comes from above, that history is made behind ministerial desks and around cabinet tables. So if you’re not in government you’re not at the races, and can’t achieve a thing. The categorical imperative to be in govern­ment trumps all else, even if being in government means doing things contrary to everything you are supposed to believe in. The idea that you might actually choose not to be in government, but to advocate changing things from outside it, goes against the party’s entire approach.

This trait can be traced all the way back to the party’s childhood. Emerging in the middle of a civil war, Labour did deplore the worst excesses of the state, but defined itself unambiguously as a stout defender of it. While it acquiesced in the 1921 treaty more than it enthusiastically endorsed it, it was clearly a pro-treaty force. The 1922 election pact between the two former wings of Sinn Féin played a part here, leaving Labour as one of the few choices for voters who wanted to express a clear preference for the treaty. Such voters abandoned the party in droves at the next opportunity, but the mould was cast. Labour’s constant presence as a loyal opposition with the Free State gave an appearance of constitutionality to a government which rested on martial law, executing prisoners and suppressing outright opposition.

This stance as steadfast champions of the state’s institutions has become an inherent part of Labour’s make-up, bred into it over generations, and far stronger in practice than its attachment to any other political principle. It came to the fore again most notably in the 1970s when Labour was happy, not just to go along with, but to actively participate in a regime which censored, framed and tortured active opponents. Even as the war in the north was winding down, many Labour politicians took a perverse pride in generating more froth at the mouth than anyone else in condemning the slightest threat to the state they love.

The Labour Party’s leftism has never amounted to more than positioning itself at the left end of capitalist politics, with whatever radicalism it has displayed safely confined within these limits. Labour now likes to think of itself as guardian of the liberal agenda, but it happily kissed the ring of the Catholic church as long as that church wielded power. Notoriously, it once even amended its constitution to meet episcopal objections, a length de Valera would never have gone to. Its timidity on abortion rights and its painfully piecemeal approach to clerical control of schools show that its current liberalism is not the strongest either.

One of the brakes on Labour’s politics has been the way the party has organised around local electoral machines. The state’s electoral system has encouraged this, but Labour is often worse than average. A party whose title proclaims that it stands for the interests of a social class should be better able to transcend regional divisions, but the link between Labour parties in various towns is sometimes no more than a federal one, with individual politicians allowed to place their own parochial concerns above party policy. And there can be few social democratic parties which have never built a sustained base in their capital city.

Comparisons with such parties elsewhere bring out some of the peculiarities of Irish Labour. It never introduced a welfare state, never housed the working classes, never nationalised key industries — things which won other Labour parties a real loyalty among workers, a hegemony over working class politics that seemed unbreakable for decades. It was never even the political expression of the union leadership, who have often supported it but were just as often more comfortable with Fianna Fáil. Without sharing the virtues of social democracy elsewhere (dubious as they have been) it enthusiastically shares its vices, particularly its headlong rush rightwards in the last couple of decades.

In certain periods and in certain ways, however, Labour has occasionally been pushed beyond its limits. In the late 1930s a few socialists from the defunct Republican Congress joined Labour along with Larkin and others, and in circumstances of deep economic crisis the party shifted noticeably to the left. In Dublin it played a leading role in organising against wartime austerity measures, becoming for the first time a vehicle for an extra-parliamentary movement of workers. Fianna Fáil was so scared that it engineered a split in the labour movement soon afterwards. In the 1960s Labour saw an influx of radicals, and this combined with the wave of global protest to bring the party to officially embrace the S word, although the shift was never as strong as that of a generation earlier.

The 1980s were different. There was an organised Labour left with threatened the party leadership, as well as more closely struc­tured opposition further to the left. Party conferences were often close-run battlegrounds between left and right. But this was only the left wing of Labour, not the left wing of Irish society, not the expression of a fightback going on outside the conference hall. While socialists could win constituency organisations, committees, or votes within the party, they could hardly win strikes or campaigns outside. The Labour left of the eighties was an internal movement running on its own steam, sometimes winning arguments among a retreating army, and its collapse at the end of the decade exposed how hollow its victories and how weak its foundations had been all along.

Was there ever any point in socialists going into the Labour Party, then? This has to be looked at as a question of tactics, dependent on the circumstances prevailing. Laying down that no socialist should ever have crossed Labour’s threshold makes no more sense than laying down that every socialist had a duty to do so. It essentially comes down to whether being in Labour increased the opportunities to spread and strengthen socialist politics. It would have made sense in the late 1930s and 40s, when radicalised workers were starting to make Labour their own and thus creating a space for socialists to organise freely. The 1960s is a less clear case, particularly when left-wing politics had so many other expressions. But 1980s Labour looks like no place for socialists at all. The general retrenchment of the left in society meant that energy needed elsewhere was spent on internal wrangling, and the price of party membership was too high. Hanging on to that membership card required breaching socialist principle, in canvassing for reactionary Labour politicians, for example. When socialists find themselves knocking on people’s doors asking them to vote for an anti-semite, something has gone very wrong somewhere.

The question hardly arises these days, as Labour stands further to the right than ever. If it once claimed to want a workers’ republic, it is now busily creating a bankers’ republic, and Labour’s way leads straight to Frankfurt after all. For all the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing, Labour supports and upholds attack after attack on workers, and countersigns cheque after cheque for bondholders. However, just as there are some endangered species of fish who survive in the desert, there are some left-wingers hanging on in the Labour Party.

It is easy to just write them off: too easy, in fact. They are indeed few and far between, with precious little influence on events, and consequently they tend to be quite demoralised. But such a description, or one quite similar, could well apply in large part to socialists outside Labour too: we’re hardly in a position to boast. Besides, the question is not so much how big or strong the Labour left is, but how big or strong it could become. These things can change, and we would be better preparing to meet such an eventuality than ruling it out.

Cracks have already appeared in the Labour edifice, four TDs having jumped ship since it joined this government. It may well be the case that they were largely motivated by saving their own political skins, but the focus on the character of individual politicians is misplaced. If breaking with Labour in the Dáil makes someone more electable, that shows there is an appetite among workers for such a choice. If being a Labour rebel makes someone more electable than standing on a more genuinely left-wing platform, then Labour leftism holds more attractions for the working class at present. That would point to some kind of growth in some kind of Labour left in future. And if socialists outside Labour keep up their current incapability of creating a credible force to vote or work for, a Labour left would be better placed to reap some of the fruits of discontent.

The case of recent fugitive Róisín Shortall is instructive. She was never that left-wing, but had adopted fairly classic social democratic stances on fairly classic social democratic issues such as health and education. While never being a thorn in the leadership’s side, the fact that she hadn’t gone the whole hog with them in ditching absolutely everything, as well as the bag it came in, placed her outside the inner circle. Her resignation cut the feet from under the traditional argument that, while having to make tough choices, Labour in government could still get progressive policies implemented. But again, it is not the TD who matters, but the people who keep electing her. What she stands for is obviously quite popular in Finglas and Glasnevin and Ballymun, popular enough to withstand an internal challenge from Proinsias de Rossa, a well-organised threat from Sinn Féin, and weaker attempts by socialists.

However, it isn’t rebel Labourism but socialist politics that can really address the problems faced by workers in Ireland today. Can such politics be effectively presented to them, though, without coming into contact with Labour left politicians? We could say that we want to work with their supporters but not with them, but that’s just a return to the rhetoric of the Communist International’s Third Period about ‘united fronts from below’. Telling people that the politicians they admire are only treacherous running dogs and then expecting them to join you wasn’t too successful in the 1920s and 30s, and is unlikely to be any more successful today.

Where a Labour politician has withdrawn support from the government, chances are that they will have a genuine following among people looking to oppose the attacks coming from the ruling class. Socialist activity is bound to come across such supporters, and if it is to achieve anything, will have to involve them. This requires the ability to welcome a politician’s break with the government as far as it goes, to work alongside them as far as they are prepared to fight, while criticising them unashamedly in a way which is intelligent and fair, and seems so to their supporters. It is an art that has to be learned in practice, and involves dangers to be navigated.

But confronting and navigating such dangers is better than holding ourselves apart. The independence of socialist politics is asserted in relating to others, not in splendid isolation. How many people are likely to move directly to socialist revolution, without passing Go, without collecting £200? Some will, of course, and maybe more than we think. But for the most part, a sincere belief in modifying the system for the better will precede the conviction that it needs to be replaced. Holding your nose and telling such people that they can come back and find us when they have shed their illusions will fail as it deserves to, but positively engaging with them and their opinions holds a chance of success—and that means engaging with them where they are, not where you’d prefer them to be.

There is no doubt that genuine left-wingers in Labour have some questions to answer, and if they are genuine, they will need no one but themselves to ask them. “If the Labour Party isn’t about the allocation of resources based on need,” asked Shortall on resigning, “then what is it about?” If the answer comes back along the lines of ‘Maintaining the privileges of the rich and powerful at the expense of the working class’, then their duty to oppose the party should be clear. If they honestly see a likelihood of opposing it from within, good luck to them, and we should be on the picket lines and demonstrations alongside them. But if that likelihood is exhausted, their principles should take precedence over their party.

Will there be anywhere else for them to go, though? At the moment, the alternatives differ from Labour more in degree than in kind. They are more energetic than Labour, have less baggage because of not yet facing the temptations of office, as well as a lot less success in their attempts to attract electoral support. While they appeal to an indefinite socialist future in a way Labour no longer does, for all practical purposes they offer a sharper, clearer way of achieving what Labour used to stand for, without yet offering the practical effectiveness to make such radical reformism fully credible. They spend most of their time taking up Labour’s slack, filling the social-democratic void vacated by them, advocating the kind of policies that at times wouldn’t have been out of place in Labour manifestoes, albeit with more conviction.

What is still largely lacking is a socialism based on an entirely different premise altogether. It would advocate revolution as a practical and pressing answer to our current situation, rather than a nice idea to be tacked on to the end of a rousing speech. It would make electoral interventions as and when feasible, as an optional extra to building a movement of workers from below. This would be very different to what Labour Party members are used to, but that clear-cut difference itself can persuade the best of them to take another direction, whereas trying to beat Labour at its own game is unlikely to convince them.

Socialists fighting alongside people in the Labour Party need to candidly ask them if their membership of the party helps or hinders them, if the compromises and associations it entails don’t hold them back in working for the fundamental change the world needs. Honest­ly answering that question would go a good way in strengthening the left. But socialists outside the Labour Party need to ask it of themselves and their organisations too, to put principle before party. Holding up a mirror to Labour reveals a less than pretty picture, but those of us who aspire to do things differently need to take a good look at ourselves too.

Dear General Secretary

This poem by Kevin Higgins appeared in Issue 49 in September 2012.

after Osip Mandelstam

You’re the folksinger beard
you spent years trying to grow;
the Afghan jacket you used to wear
on Bank Holiday bus trips to Galway.
But the complete set of Bob Dylan LPs
in the corner of your living room
is not telling the truth.

When you read Animal Farm, it’s to see
how the pigs did it.
Whatever the Revolution demands,
you are what it will get.
Your loudest supporters,
those just out of nappies, or refugees
from the Central Mental Hospital.

The inconvenient turn up accused
of attempted rape, pilfering funds…
you leave it to others to execute the details.
Anyone who questions the verdict
can take their case to the committee
that never meets.

You sleep soundly, dream
of the portrait that’ll decorate
every town centre, every crossroads
from Donegal to Waterford:
that folksinger beard
you spent years trying to grow
finally come to heroic fruition.

Socialist Classics: Hal Draper, ‘The Two Souls of Socialism’

Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh wrote in Issue 48 (June 2012) on a work that insists real socialism can only come from below.

Having been active on the US left since the 1930s, by 1960 Hal Draper was prominent in a socialist group not claiming to be a party and refusing to be a sect, concentrating on spreading the ideas of a truly revolutionary socialism where it could. This essay was first published that year, and appeared in various forms before taking final shape as a pamphlet in 1968. While the crowning achievement of Draper’s legacy is his outstanding series examining Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, the approach that underlay his Marxism is explained in The Two Souls of Socialism, and it remains an important work in clarifying just what socialism is, a question no less relevant half a century on.

The clarification was needed because of “a crisis in the meaning of socialism” that had gripped the left. Vast swathes of the world officially defined themselves as socialist and permitted no other definition, but the claim was commonly swallowed elsewhere. Draper echoes Connolly in his characterisation of such countries: “The state owns the means of production—but who ‘owns’ the state?” Social democracy in the west exuded sweetness and light in its desire to reform capitalism, but “It bears a fatal family resemblance to the Stalinist conception of imposing something called socialism from the top down, and of equating statification with socialism.” The basic similarity between them outweighed any differences. Draper traces the same faultline through the history of left-wing activity and thought: “the fundamental divide is between Socialism-from-Above and Socialism-from-Below”.

Perhaps surprisingly, he excludes anarchism from the camp of socialism from below. Its affirmation of absolute individual liberty logically leads to the right of individuals to impose their own tyranny on others, even on the majority. “It is the other side of the coin of bureaucratic despotism, with all its values turned inside-out, not the cure or the alternative.” His argument is based on the founders of theoretical anarchism, and he undoubtedly has a case as he dissects their writings. Proudhon, in particular, was a convinced sexist and racist, an opponent of trade unions, and a cheerleader for dictators when he wasn’t eying up their position for himself.

In the US at the time Draper was writing, this purely individualist anarchism was dominant, and still persists there. In Europe anarchism took a different road, however. In many countries it fused with early labour movements, whose instinctive solidarity trumped the indiv­idualism in anarchist doctrine while fiercely maintaining its libertarian impulse. As a result, most anarchists do accept the need for collective cohesion based on democratic decision making, while insisting that it operate directly and from the grassroots up. Such an anarchism undoubtedly finds its rightful place on the same terrain as socialism from below.

Socialism from below rests on the principle “that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activized masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny”. This principle, and the rejection of other supposed roads to socialism, was at the heart of Marx’s politics especially:

“The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”: this is the first sentence in the Rules written for the First International by Marx, and this is the First Principle of his lifework. …Marxism came into being, in self-conscious struggle against the advocates of the Educational Dictatorship, the Savior-Dictators, the revolutionary elitists, the communist authoritarians, as well as the philanthropic dogooders and bourgeois liberals.

The essay surveys the later history of the movement and identifies as representatives of this tradition William Morris in Britain, Rosa Luxemburg in Germany, and in the US Eugene Debs, who he quotes at some length:

Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. He has not come; he never will come. I would not lead you out if I could; for if you could be led out, you could be led back again.

Draper argues that “a socialism-from-below is possible, on the basis of a theory which sees the revolutionary potentialities in the broad masses, even if they seem backward at a given time and place”. This is the importance of socialism having a theoretical basis if it is to survive. The immediate evidence of our own eyes often presents us with a working class that doesn’t want to liberate itself, that is either more or less happy with its lot, or is unhappy but looks to other forces to solve its problems. To see beyond that, to the possibility of workers being willing and able to take direct collective control of their own destinies, requires the ability to abstract from what currently exists to what can exist, to divine within the current state of affairs the elements of an entirely changed situation. In circumstances where that seems to be a perspective belonging to other eras or worlds, it is un­deniably difficult to keep your eyes on the prize, to hold to an understanding, a conviction that workers’ revolution is a genuine potential.

But that conviction is the indispensable ever-present condition for socialism from below: “all socialists or would-be reformers who repudiate it must go over to some Socialism-from-Above”. And to look for socialism from above is far more pervasive and widespread than envisaging it from below:

Instead of the bold way of mass action from below, it is always safer and more prudent to find the “good” ruler who will Do the People Good. The pattern of emancipation-from-above goes all the way back in the history of civilization, and had to show up in socialism too.… The history of socialism can be read as a continual but largely unsuccessful effort to free itself from the old tradition, the tradition of emancipation-from-above.

Socialism from above isn’t always imposed by those in positions of power. It can sometimes be brought about by a movement of sincere self-sacrificing revolutionaries:

The new order will be handed down to the suffering people by the revolutionary band. This typical Socialism-from-Above is the first and most primitive form of revolutionary socialism, but there are still today admirers of Castro and Mao who think it is the last word in revolutionism.

The best will in the world can run into the stream of socialism from above. People who honestly want to end injustice in the world may not have freed themselves of the prejudice that some group has to be in charge, may still be unable to imagine that the working class can rule in concrete reality rather than having someone rule in their name. “It must not be supposed that Socialism-from-Above necessarily implies cruelly despotic intentions.” People with a heartfelt desire to end human exploitation, with no desire for self-aggrandisement, can end up organising “a movement-from-below to effectuate a Socialism-from-Above”, purely out of a belief that ‘someone has to take charge of things’, even if only ‘for the time being’ until the masses have had a chance to get with the new set-up.

Such a belief comes of the opinion that, when all is said and done, the working class cannot actually liberate itself by its own efforts. One of the foundation texts of socialism from below should be a letter written to German socialist leaders in 1879 by Engels on behalf of himself and Marx in reply to moves to replace advocacy of class struggle with general reconciliation. When the International was founded, writes Engels, we insisted that the emancipation of the workers had to be won by the workers themselves: “So we cannot go along with people who openly state that the workers are too un­educated to free themselves”.

But such people are legion, more numerous than is known, and even among the most vaunted theorists of socialism. Kautsky wrote in 1901:

Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge.… The bearer of science is not the proletariat, however, but the bourgeois intelligentsia: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated… Thus, socialist consciousness is something brought into the proletarian class struggle from outside…

Such words would have been well forgotten by socialists if it wasn’t for Lenin pronouncing them “profoundly true and important” in What is to be Done? and adding his own twopenceworth:

The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade-union consciousness… The doctrine of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes… as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia.

If all this were true, then socialism from above would be the only game in town. If the workers don’t have the knowledge to work out their own emancipation unaided, their only hope is that some kindly bourgeois intellectuals will be so good as to show them the way.

Thankfully, it isn’t true. Modern socialism didn’t arise in the minds of Marx and Engels, or as a result of them reading Hegel that bit more assiduously than anyone else. It arose from the struggles of workers in Germany, in France, in England, and the contribution of Marx and Engels generalised from the ideas and theories thrown up by these struggles. Socialist consciousness has repeatedly appeared within the working class, on an individual and a mass basis. Lenin, of course, went on to often say the opposite of what he said here, but appealing from Lenin drunk to Lenin sober only makes sense if we acknowledge that he clearly should have had his keys taken off him when he claimed that workers cannot become socialist independently.

One of Lenin’s great achievements is that, when faced with a workers’ revolution from below in 1917, he had the sense to join it rather than try and dictate to it. But still, the old conception remained and surfaced from time to time. Even a late recruit to Bolshevism like Trotsky could write in The History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk: “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.” The “revolutionary party” here becomes an independent actor in its own right on the historical stage, boldly making the revolution against the innate instincts of the workers. This is a socialism explicitly coming from somewhere above the working class, even if it recognises the necessity of their support from below.

Draper doesn’t deny the slavishness bred into the working class by its oppressors, but he believes that it can overcome that slavishness in revolutionary action:

How does a people or a class become fit to rule in their own name?
Only by fighting to do so. Only by waging their struggle against oppression—oppression by those who tell them they are unfit to govern. Only by fighting for democratic power do they educate themselves and raise themselves up to the level of being able to wield that power. There has never been any other way for any class.

This is not to say that socialists should sit around waiting until this glorious event comes to pass. They have a job to do, doing their best to hasten it, but by working for the strengthening of their class rather than their own agenda: “the function of the revolutionary vanguard is to impel the mass-majority to fit themselves to take power in their own name, through their own struggles”.

Where socialists see themselves as the subject of revolution rather than the working class, base their political activity on developing their own project rather than the fighting capacity of that class, the most they can hope for is to construct the vehicle for another tilt at socialism from above. There is “extraordinary insensitivity” on the left, as Draper notes, “to the deeprooted record of Socialism-from-Above as the dominant component in the two souls of socialism”. Socialists who take their bearings by what is good for their own organisation rather than the interests of the working class are renewing that tradition, however much they may pride themselves on having broken from it.

The struggle between the two souls of socialism is a truly Faustian one, above all because they do indeed dwell within the one breast. There is a permanently powerful temptation to reconcile them, to blur the lines and muddle through, but such short cuts veer in a different direction sooner or later. A certain type of resolve is needed to break through to the difficult road of revolutionary transformation from the ground up. After all, Draper is right: “To choose the road of Socialism-from-Below is to affirm the beginning of a new world.”

The Hidden Connolly 47

James Connolly exposed politicians, corruption, and recession in articles which were published for the first time since his execution in Issue 47 (March 2012).

Home Thrusts

[The Workers’ Republic, September 1 1900]

Labour Representatives!

The latest joke of the season is that the United Irish League1 is in favour of Labour Representation.

At the monthly meeting of the Provisional Directory of the United Irish League, Mr Michael Davitt in the chair, in response to a resolution passed at the Mallow Convention of the Land and Labour Association, it was agreed that the Directory had the “warmest sympathy” with the demand for Labour representatives.

The resolution at the Directory meeting was proposed by Michael Davitt—the same Michael as he who resigned his membership of the House of Commons on the grounds that that body would listen to nothing but force.2

And the same Michael Davitt as he who in his farewell address to his constituents denounced the members of the Home Rule Party as unworthy of confidence, and more interested in society functions and company promoting than in serving the cause of their constituents and country.

Now he solemnly declares his sympathy with the desire of Labour to get into a Parliament—which will listen to nothing except force.

Mr Davitt’s attitude might be summed up in these words:—“Parliament is too tyrannical and many of the Home Rule Party too corrupt for ME to waste my time there, but YOU may go.”

Mr Davitt means well and has been always prepared to suffer for his opinions, but we know of no man in Irish public life whose career has been more disappointing in its results, or who has been more systematically exploited in the interests of political sharps and confidence trick men.

Such contradictions as we have noted above would have been proof of dishonesty in any other man; in Mr Davitt they are fresh proofs of continued gullibility. They signify that the wirepullers of the United Irish League have succeeded in convincing Mr Davitt that a small trifle such as eating his own words should not be allowed to stand in the way of “unity”.

But our “Land and Labour” friends must be very unobservant if they cannot see that “Labour” representatives are the certainties of the future.

We have two men here in Dublin who have been acting as touts for the United Irish League for some time back—Councillor Briscoe and Alderman Farrell—and it is well understood that the price of their services is to be a seat in Parliament, whereon each can conveniently sit and conscientiously draw a share in that Parliamentary Fund for which such urgent begging appeals are at present being issued.

Councillor Briscoe does not exactly require a salary, but then he is a young man with ambition, small, very small political knowledge, a large, very large opinion of himself (not shared by many men, but by large numbers of women), a shock head of hair, and one speech which always begins with a reference to the fact that a grandfather, or grand-uncle or some other relative, was hanged in 1798.

Whether the speech be on Home Rule, Financial Relations, Main Drainage, the Boundaries Bill, Temperance, Unity, or the Price of Gas, that unfortunate, deceased, martyred relative is dragged into the discussion, waltzed around the floor, and dangled before the audience—all to the greater glory of Joseph Niall Maw Coghlan Briscoe.

In passing I may remark that the number of politicians who claim that their ancestors were hanged in ’98 is to my mind somewhat extraordinary. And if their ancestors were anything like themselves, I am inclined to believe that the British Government of those days had more justification for their action than is generally supposed.

Alderman Farrell is a horse of a different colour—a dark horse indeed. He has been a member of every freak party in Dublin for the last ten years. He was a member of the Dublin branch of the Independent Labour Party, and was at the same time an active follower of Mr Healy.3

He has indeed been always noted for his broad-mindedness, being ever ready to join any political party which could give him a shove forward into prominence.

He was elected to the City Council by the efforts of a committee appointed by the Gloucester Street Temperance Club, and ran on a programme which never mentioned the word “Temperance”.

He told a meeting of the locked out tailors in the Mechanics’ Hall he knew “from his own personal knowledge” that much of the work being done for the master tailors was prepared in homes which were hotbeds of immorality.

Yet he never called upon the authorities to investigate, and put a stop to, this immoral state of affairs.4

Having astuteness enough to recognise that in the company of rogues the only way to attract attention is to simulate honesty, he has done some good work in the Corporation by exposing the mal­practices of the other tricksters.

These other tricksters, in order to get rid of his criticisms, gave the tip to Mr Harrington5 who, knowing just what the Alderman amounts to, “put the spake on him”, with the result that Alderman Farrell now voices his eloquence in the country, and criticises no more the Home Rule sharks of the City Hall.

The price of his silence in the Corporation is to be a seat in Parliament.

Thus Tim Harrington does two things at one stroke, viz.—He secures immunity for his friends in the Corporation, and he baits his electoral hook with another tit bit for the working class gudgeons to rise at.

A Labour Representative! Of his own kidney.

Wherefore, let us rejoice! We are to have Labour Representatives, who will undertake not to say anything to offend the wirepullers who nominate them—or do any good for the voters who elect them.

Spailpín

Home Thrusts

[The Workers’ Republic, September 8 1900]

Municipal Politics.

The municipal politics of the City of Dublin have lately taken a turn which fully illustrates the Socialist theory that material interests lie at the bottom of all political activity.

The fight over the attempt of the Tramway Company to procure the contract for the electric lighting of the city gave rise to some curious developments of political wire-pulling.

The Daily Nation championed the cause of the Tramway Company; the Daily Nation was the property of Mr Murphy,6 who is a principal shareholder and director in the Tramway Company—the Daily Nation, which always professed to have a special mission to promote the cause of Religion and Patriotism, was thus seen to be the pliant, conscienceless instrument of a capitalist clique.

On the other hand Mr Sexton, ex-MP and Managing Director of the Freeman’s Journal,7 ran his papers for all they were worth against the Electric Syndicate and their attempt to secure “a monopoly”.

This enthusiasm against monopoly was, of course, highly consistent in the case of a man who has financial interests in some of the biggest monopolistic concerns in the country, but it was also interesting as showing how the capitalist class are always prepared to ring the changes on the watchwords of reform in order to serve their own interests.

It was known to all that Mr Murphy controlled the Nation and that this was why that journal advocated the cause of his other venture, the Electric Lighting Syndicate; it was openly asserted, and never denied, that Mr Sexton is a shareholder in the Gas Company, and that this was the reason why the papers under his control opposed the electric lighting proposals of the Tramway Company, but as both sides to the controversy are shining lights of patriotic virtue, what dog dare bark?

None but the Socialist dog!

Then when the Corporation finally decided to reject the scheme of the Tram Company, and to undertake the electric lighting of the city by an extension of their own plant, the ever active Mr Murphy, recognising that the Nation was not the power in the land he had imagined, shifted his ground and sought to secure a better journalistic ally by purchasing the entire outfit of the Independent Newspapers Company.

So it was loudly trumpeted abroad that the Nation had purchased the Independent, and that the two papers were about to amalgamate. But when the amalgamation took place it was discovered that the high-minded and pure-souled proprietors of the Nation had resolved to drop the peculiar and unpopular policy which had marred the usefulness of that paper for Mr Murphy’s purpose, and to bless in the columns of the Independent what they had cursed in the columns of the Nation.

This may not be consistent on their part, but then it pays and that consideration is enough for them. Consistency is a jewel, no doubt, but it is a jewel which cannot be readily converted into coin of the realm.

Now our enterprising capitalist friend, Mr Murphy, with the Independent papers at his back will have more opportunity to hoodwink the Council into his schemes than he had when only supported by the Nation which few read and still fewer respected.

The first sign of the amalgamation was seen in the benevolent attitude taken up by the amalgamated papers towards the United Irish League demonstration in the Phoenix Park last Sunday.

The Nation of old would have poured the vials of its wrath and sarcasm upon the gathering; the Independent warmly praised the objects of the promoters, and in its account of the dimensions of the crowd lied like a—politician.

There was a large crowd, attracted, no doubt, by the persistent newspaper puffery of the last few weeks, and anxious to see what sort of animals the Leaguers were.

There was a large and enthusiastic crowd also, mainly composed of young men who went there in order to hoot William O’Brien, and to ask questions (which they were not allowed to put) about his conduct in South Mayo.8

There was also a large force of policemen, some 200 in fact, who had been considerately provided by Dublin Castle to keep the various sections of the patriots from batin’ one another.

And there was a large section of very intelligent people, some 500 odd, who bought copies of the Workers’ Republic from the sellers of the ISRP9 and thus redeemed the meeting from its useless character.

All the UI speakers did not turn up. Alderman Farrell, who had heard there was to be an attack on the platforms, suddenly discovered he was sick and could not attend. Now that he has learned that there was no disturbance he will be sick in reality.

But there were enough speakers to lend variety to the proceedings.

Mr Courtney the “Gaelic Barber”10 discoursed in Irish from several platforms to an admiring crowd who stood around and, remembering that this man a few weeks ago had championed the jingo cause at a public meeting, wondered if flunkeyism in Irish was any better than flunkeyism in English.

But nobody attacked Mr Courtney or called him in question for his acts. I wondered at this, but was told afterwards that the crowd, not knowing the Irish language, were afraid to interrupt, as they did not know whether Mr Courtney was reciting the Litany, boxing the compass, or giving a preliminary rehearsal of a song and dance.

Betting was heavy on the song and dance theory.

A gentleman writing from Donegal the other day complained through the press that the UI League boycotts Irish, and only uses English in that county where everybody speaks Irish. Imagine then their artlessness (?) in parading Irish speakers in Dublin where every­body speaks English.

The gentleman in question grumbled at this conduct of the League, but declared he always supported that body, and intended to. Well, if you caress those who kick you, why complain of the kicks?

Another speaker was Mr Peter White, Tailor, of Henry Street, who in the course of his speech denounced Mr Carew MP11 as an employer of blackleg labour. Considering that Mr White has one of the worst sweating dens in his trade in this city, his denunciation was, to say the least, not overburdened with modesty.

Mr Simmons, of the Trades’ Council,12 was there also, probably invited in order to keep Mr White company. You do not find tenant-farmers rushing to join the same political organisation as evicting landlords, or their allies, landgrabbers, therefore tenant-farmers are treated, politically, with respect; you do find working class leaders rushing to get on a political platform with sweaters and other enemies of their class, therefore the working class is treated with contempt. Heed ye the lesson!

Spailpín

Public Health

[The Workers’ Republic, September 15 1900]

The ferment at present existing in the public mind over the presence of the bubonic plague in Glasgow13 suggests some serious reflections upon the unprepared state in which the advent of such an unwelcome visitor would find the city of Dublin. Perhaps no city in Western Europe is at present so unfitted to cope with this virulent disease as the capital city of Ireland.

We do not mean to convey that the members of the medical profession here are not as fully qualified as their fellows elsewhere, but we do mean that the general health regulations governing this city are far inferior to what sanitary science has postulated as being necessary to the health of the community. This undesirable sanitary state of Dublin has its origin and present cause in the circumstance that the governing body of the city is almost entirely composed of that very class of small proprietors upon whom sanitary measures would press most hardly if conscientiously enforced. As a result of the presence on the Corporation of a number of landlords out of all proportion to the representatives of other sections of the citizens, as well as out of all proportion to the intelligence and civic spirit of landlords as a body, the tenement house system in which the majority of the workers reside is little else than a festering sore presenting to the microbes of cholera all the essentials required for their lodgment and fruition. In fact the tenements of Dublin are in most cases veritable death-traps to their unfortunate inhabitants—exhaling disease-laden germs from their defective sanitary appliances at all hours of the day and night. What wonder the worn-out worker, tired and enfeebled with his daily toil, should easily fall a victim to the maladies lurking in the air he breathes when he drags his weary limbs into the shelter he is pleased to call his home! Little wonder indeed! But that he should continue to vote for the representatives of the class which thus exploits, degrades and poisons him, that is wonder indeed.

The unsatisfactory state of the food supply is another perennial source of disease in our midst. In the little huckster shops upon which we depend for the provisioning of the workman’s home the laws of health, and even of cleanliness, are often totally ignored. Articles of all kinds are sold in the one shop without the slightest attention apparently being paid to the question of how far the health of the community may be endangered by the promiscuous arrangement of the goods. We have seen many shops in this city in which groceries of all kinds, firewood, newspapers, coal, paraffin oil, turf, and milk were sold—served by the one person, across the one counter in each instance. This system, which in most towns of England and Scotland is rightly forbidden in the interest of public health, is obviously undesirable to the last degree, especially when we consider that milk is one of the readiest conductors of disease. Shops of this description are, we know, the rule in the rural districts where one large establishment caters for the needs of an entire countryside—from ploughshares to whiskey—but what may be comparatively innocuous in the broad areas and spacious storage of the country is positively death-dealing in the restricted spaces and stuffy shops of the city slums.

The existence of a number of private slaughter houses within the city boundaries is also so favourable to the spread of infectious diseases that a progressive municipality would long ere this have demanded power to suppress them. The community can have no guarantee that animals killed for the purpose of sale as food were free from all disease prior to their death until all such animals are killed in a public abattoir under the control of public servants. As long as the use of the abattoir is optional and not compulsory no immunity from the sale of diseased meat can be guaranteed to the community; therefore as a matter of self-preservation it would seem that all should press for those reforms.

In conclusion we would point out that those things we have mentioned as desirable additions to Dublin precautions against the plague have already been adopted in other cities with the best possible results. They are not therefore in the purely experimental stage, and their continued neglect by the Dublin Corporation is due to the greed, the ignorance, or the lack of public spirit of the class now dominating that body.

Home Thrusts

[The Workers’ Republic, September 29 1900]

The Cotton Crisis.

Many of the cotton factories in the North of England have stopped work, and many others have gone on short time. Thousands of workers have been thrown idle.

Why? Because of a small cotton crop in the United States. The fact that the social system of today is international and can only be grappled with by international effort is thus once more brought home to the mind.

The stoppage of the cotton factories will mean lack of employ­ment to a vast circle of workers other than those directly concerned. The collieries which supply such factories with coal, together with the hundreds of workers engaged in the business of transporting the coal from the pit to the factory, will likewise suffer.

All the tailors, shoemakers, furniture manufacturers, etc., who depend for employment upon the mill workers in their capacity as purchasers will feel the pinch of hard times when the mill workers have no longer wages with which to purchase such commodities.

The loss of wages to hundreds of thousands of hands will cause a retrenchment of household expenses and a consequent diminution of demand for certain food stuffs, and this will react most injuriously upon the Irish farmer and pig breeder, lessening the market value of their produce and increasing the difficulty presented by the rent problem.

The stoppage of the factories from such a cause will produce a marked increase in the prices of all cotton goods—an increase telling most severely upon those who can afford it least.

Thus men and women all over Great Britain and Ireland will suffer because of the shortage of the cotton crop in America.

Yet there are still people who cannot understand why Socialists insist that the social question is an international question, requiring the co-operation of the most enlightened in all countries.

According to the newspapers a strike has been declared in America among the coal miners of Pennsylvania. I am not a prophet but I would venture to predict that if this strike lasts any time it will cause infinite suffering—in Ireland.

Pennsylvania is one of the great Irish states; from that state thousands of dollars come to Ireland every year to help to pay the rent for those left behind; the strike means the stoppage of those remittances, failure to pay the rent in Ireland, and possibly eviction as a consequence.

Queer, isn’t it? People suffering in Ireland because of strikes or shortages in America.

The General Election is not without its humours for those who can forget the grim tragedy of poverty and suffering which the political mountebanks so carefully ignore.

Thus Mr McCann, the Home Rule candidate for the St Stephen’s Green Division of Dublin, in his election address wails over the long continued emigration from Ireland, which, he says, he has witnessed for more than 50 years, and he attributes this disastrous state of affairs to—

The Overtaxation of Ireland!!!

Mr McCann is a capitalist and it is clear proof of the narrowing tendencies of capitalist thought that “after much consideration and study” he could think of no other cause for Irish misery than that which affected his own pockets.

“The bourgeoisie”, says Marx, “creates a world after its own image”, and to the capitalist as an individual there exist no interests but capitalist interests.

To the capitalist mind whatever aids capitalism is statesmanlike to a high degree, and whatever injures capitalism is an outrage upon the nation at large.

The Overtaxation of Ireland hurts the capitalist, therefore the capitalist declares that this overtaxation is the principal cause of emigration.

But some of us will still believe, despite Mr McCann, that the root cause of Irish misery is in our iniquitous system of private property, and especially in that virulent form of it known to us as Irish Landlordism.

In the Evening Herald of the 27th inst. there was an item which the archaeologist of the future should not overlook. It was to the effect that Carlingford, in North Louth, is the place where “the backbone of Mr Healy’s supporters are to be found”.

Students of natural history should note this. In the interest of anatomical science some few specimens of this curious backbone ought to be procured for our National Museum in Kildare Street.

I hope to live to see the day when I can visit the Museum and find this weird specimen safe in a glass case, ticketed as follows:—

Backbone of Mr Healy’s Supporters (Homo Rulibus, Idiotibus). Found at Carlingford, North Louth, 1900. Do Not Touch.

This from the Edinburgh Evening News is good. We gladly give it the benefit of our extended circulation:

Speaking at Earlsferry last night, Mr Briggs Constable said that the British army had not degenerated. Given discipline, a good commander, and a bayonet, the recruit would face anything. We might remind Mr Constable that there is another thing the soldier was very anxious to face in South Africa. That was a good square meal. Rundel’s division did not do that kind of facing for many weeks. Has Mr Constable any excuse to offer for the soldiers’ sufferings?14

Spailpín

Notes

  1. The organisation of the Home Rule politicians, newly reunited a decade after the Parnell split.
  2. Davitt resigned his seat as a protest against the Boer war.
  3. Timothy Healy led an anti-Parnellite faction of Home Rulers.
  4. The tailors were forced back to work later that month without winning their demands.
  5. Timothy Harrington was a Home Rule MP in Dublin and a leading figure in the UIL.
  6. William Martin Murphy.
  7. Thomas Sexton, of the Dillonite faction of the Home Rule party during the split.
  8. John MacBride, then leading a brigade of Irishmen in the Boer army, was nominated as a candidate in South Mayo in the February by-election to fill Davitt’s seat, but O’Brien was instrumental in putting up a UIL candidate who easily defeated him.
  9. The Irish Socialist Republican Party.
  10. Language enthusiast Hugh Courtney ran a barber’s shop in Dublin.
  11. James Carew was a Home Rule MP for Dublin’s College Green con­stituency, but was being opposed by an official UIL candidate in the up­coming general election.
  12. John Simmons was secretary of Dublin trades council since its foundation.
  13. Sixteen people in all died as a result of the outbreak.
  14. Andrew Briggs Constable was the (unsuccessful) Conservative candidate for East Fife. Leslie Rundle commanded a division of the British army in the Boer war, and there had been widespread complaints about the treatment of British troops.

From here to austerity

Maeve Connaughton reviewed a book on the background to Ireland’s economic crash in Issue 46, in December 2011.

Conor McCabe, Sins of the Father: Tracing the Decisions that Shaped the Irish Economy (History Press)

30 September 2008: a date which will live in infamy. The Irish ruling class launched its own Pearl Harbor on us, pledging everything the state had or could take from us to stand between the banks and all harm. That bank guarantee, together with the bailout it entailed, figures here like the body in the swimming pool at the start of Sunset Boulevard, the book going back to the start to explore how the fatal deed came about.

A frighteningly large aspect of the crisis is the difficulty thousands have in keeping a roof over their heads, and McCabe’s opening chapter on the subject is little short of masterly. Right from the foundation of the Free State, public housing policy bent over backwards to undermine public housing, providing houses not so much for people to live in as for builders and speculators to buy and sell and get rich quick from. Local authorities renting out accommodation ended up as “the housing of last resort” (p 31). Even when they did build houses, they often did so to sell rather than rent, with much of their rental stock subsequently sold off: “What had been paid for collectively had been sold off individually. The de facto privatisation of Irish housing” (p 32).

Long before the boom that just bust, housing in Ireland was a subject of naked exploitation, the price of a place to live being pushed up by state encouragement and refusal to provide an alternative. When saddling yourself with a mortgage was the only way to get a secure home, little wonder that people were desperate to do just that. The harsh and unfair realities explain this, not something innate in the Irish character. The author shows that, contrary to the accepted ignorance, the level of house ownership in Ireland is around the EU average or even a little lower. “The myths which saturate the subject of housing in Ireland, the false histories and pop psychologies, the sheer laziness of analysis which is brought to bear on the topic” (p 55) are well and truly debunked.

The next chapter doesn’t scale such heights, being a fairly derivative look at the development of Irish agriculture. Farming remained firmly based on the interests of the ranchers and the British economy, with small farmers last and definitely least. But attempts at left analysis of this area of Irish society and economy are painfully backward, and it is annoying to see this one break off in the 1950s as the state moved to more openly embrace multinational capital. The half-century since contains a plentiful furrow of agricultural injustice to be ploughed and a lot more myths to be uprooted.

Livestock farming is presented as the conduit for British influence: “although the Irish Free State gained partial independence in 1922, its economy, via the cattle industry, remained intertwined with that of the UK” (p 11). That word “intertwined”, with its suggestion of mutual connection, is laughably inaccurate, unless prisoners are intertwined with their jailers. The Free State’s economy was under the thumb of British imperialism, and there was far more to it than the terms of cattle trade. Time-honoured methods of imperial power were there to back up the sheer weight of market dominance, up to and including military force. While Sins of the Father deservedly excoriates those in government in Dublin over the years, the British rulers breathing down Ireland’s neck, and the constraints that imposed, are all but absent. After all, the sins of the grandfather must bear some of the blame.

As the author lays bare a fascinating story of state-sponsored profiteering, an even more conspicuous absentee is the role the labour movement often played in reinforcing injustices it should by rights have been combating. Yes, the generation leading up to the present crash was one of brass-neck speculation with little tax and less regulation, but it was also a generation where the leadership of the unions openly ranged itself on the same side as the capitalists and governments responsible. Social partnership is not so much as mentioned here at all, despite the fact that the one-sided nature of the game is in large part down to the way that our team was shooting into its own goal. The book’s digs at the Green Party for promoting what it claimed to be stopping are accurate, but why kick a dead dog when a live one is still whimpering away?

For instance, when you read of policy premised on “providing ‘affordable’ housing for those in secure employment with relatively high wages” (p 22) you think you’re in the 2000s rather than the 1920s. When the rampant house prices of the Celtic Tiger got beyond the means of workers on or a bit above average earnings, the logical conclusion would have been to expand social housing to provide a far wider proportion of the working class with decent homes to rent. But this would have meant ‘respectable’ workers (a category which unfailingly seems to include teachers, nurses and gardaí) having to take their place in the queue with poorer workers. For all its hand-wringing over ‘social exclusion’, the trade union movement took official umbrage at this, and the concept of ‘affordable housing’ was conjured up, yet another tier of housing provision—a separate, more respectable tier. It did little to ease the problem, but much to under­line the weakness of a labour movement that pursues the narrowly understood interests of its members above the need to tackle injustice faced by the working class as a whole. But despite being a glaring example of what this book is about, the debacle of affordable housing doesn’t make its pages.

The author presents a more uncomplicated, apparently simpler enemy: “an indigenous moneyed class based around cattle, construc­tion and banking. These sectional interests were able to control successive government policy, much to the detriment of the rest of the economy” while “indigenous exporters” got no help from the state (p 10). McCabe sees the bank guarantee as a stick beating us all, not just the working class but also “the majority of Irish businesses” (p 153). This is to draw a fault-line, not between those of us who have to work for a living and the capitalists we have to work for, but between good innovative productive capitalists and bad speculating financial capitalists.

The idea of shifting the emphasis of government policy towards promoting indigenous capital is repeatedly lauded in the book. This is so even when the idea is advocated in reports by management consultants, one of which apparently “offered viable solutions to help the Irish economy grow on a solid, sustainable level” (p 124).

But how viable would it have been for Ireland to have developed a strong industrial capitalism in the twentieth century? Imperialism had already divided up most of the spoils. Economies with the advantage of size and population could give it a shot, as well as ex-colonies that were far away from their former masters. But the misfortune of geography compounded Ireland’s position as an integral and sub­ordinate minor part of the British economy, with partition cutting the 26 counties off from an industrial heartland. Finding an equal place for themselves in world capitalism was a less likely option for budding Irish capitalists than slotting in “as an interface between foreign capital and the Irish State” (p 114).

Likewise, the turn from the production of actual commodities to financial gambling is far more than a policy choice in Merrion Street. It is a shift that capitalism has undergone globally, driven by the system’s inherent tendency to diminish its own rate of profit. Ireland bucking that trend, within capitalism, was hardly on the cards.

While every page of this book turns up more reasons to kick Irish capitalism to the kerb, it approvingly quotes a good few people who would run the proverbial million miles from such an intention. Shane Ross comes out most favourably of all, someone who has done some good in the muckraking line but who would do serious damage if let loose on economic policy. Economists who opposed NAMA are given great prominence—with the name, rank and academic serial number of each tiresomely enunciated in a footnote that takes up half of page 213—even though they envisage nothing in the way of left-wing policies.

But the author’s own sympathies appear to lie with an approach put forward by a group of left-of-centre economists last year (p 188-9):

it set out to explain why the government’s deflationary policies were counterproductive, and what the government could do to help, rather than hinder, growth.… Borrowings should be used to enhance and modernise the country’s infrastructure, as such investments lower business costs for all in the long term, and they stimulate growth… ‘Embedding investment, rather than debt, into the economy,’ they said, ‘while restructuring taxation and expenditure in a progressive and expansionary manner to ensure a job-rich recovery—this, and not the current deflationary strategy, is the road to success.’

It is an approach that seems to have become hegemonic on the left as its tries to respond to the crisis. But this attempted Keynesian reboot of capitalism amounts to trading in old myths for a new one. Capitalist economies grow by exploiting workers to the maximum, not satisfying their needs, by cutting jobs to the bone, not providing employment. Calling for increased social provision is right and necessary, but makes no sense when it is presented in the interests of ‘the economy’ in the abstract, rather than the interests of flesh-and-blood people. In truth, the very fact that there exists such a thing as an economy separate from flesh-and-blood people is the root of the problem.

Another fatal flaw in the reflationary strategy is that it is to be carried out by the state, the very same state which McCabe’s book repeatedly points up as an inherently capitalist entity. From the “private sector that needed public money in order to deliver an ‘efficient’ service” in the 1920s (p 17) to the state “being a lodger in its own country” in the 1960s, grant-aiding the construction of offices it then rented (p 100) to the government that “put up the entire Irish State as collateral” for the banks in 2008 (p 169), this state has been an indispensable component at the heart of Irish capitalism. It is so much part of the problem, and so not part of the solution. The state is not a car that anyone can get into and drive in whatever direction they choose, because the steering is stuck permanently to the right. It needs to be replaced by another type of vehicle entirely—a special purpose vehicle of the working class, to coin a phrase—that can attack capitalism at source.

Sins of the Father is one of the best books you could read to find out how venal capitalism is in Ireland, how the hardships it is currently inflicting are cut from the same cloth it has always traded in. But this historic and contemporary reality is so rotten that hoping for some kind of good capitalism to take its place is forlorn. When it is literally being brought home to people just how bad the system really is, advocating a clean break and a fresh start makes more sense than a reshuffling of the pack. As the author says, “it falls on us to make different choices” (p 195), and it falls on socialists to put the choice of total transformation front and centre.

Idol or ideologue? James Connolly and republicans in the 1930s

This talk by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh was published in Issue 45 in September 2011.

James Connolly has always been an inspiration for people wanting to rid the world of privilege and injustice, and it’s no surprise that he featured prominently in the work of republicans in the generation or so following his execution.

However, as often as not, references to Connolly in republican discussion in the 1920s and 30s are recruiting him to support an already established point of view rather than actually engaging with Connolly’s work in its own right. A phrase like “As Connolly said…” can be tacked on to back up what you already think, rather than taking on board what Connolly argued for and changing your own point of view accordingly.

Connolly often features as a name on a list: Pearse and Connolly, for instance, or Pearse and Plunkett and Connolly, or Tone or Lalor or Mitchel and others. Usually the thing that unites the names on these lists is that they fought for Irish independence, so Connolly is essentially presented as another of the same. Of course he did fight for Irish independence, but only that one aspect of his work comes through.

You can often find republicans in this period mentioning Connolly in connection with social injustice, but ironically enough, this sometimes becomes an excuse for reinforcing a lack of ideas to address that injustice. So if republicans are talking about slum housing in Dublin, for instance, they can say that Connolly con­demned such things, and he was one of theirs, so there’s no need for republicans to say any more or specify how the problem can be solved. Connolly himself, on the other hand, would make explicit the social changes needed to end landlordism and provide housing according to social need rather than how much money people have.

The tendency to refer to Connolly like this instead of seriously engaging with his work was not by any means confined to republicans: it can be found too in the Labour Party, and among Marxists of varying strands. And one of the factors that made it extremely difficult to come to terms with what Connolly wrote was the fact that so little of it was available.

Imagine someone who becomes politically active soon after 1916, a great admirer of Connolly who diligently buys every book and pamphlet of Connolly’s writings that comes out from then all through the 1920s and 30s. That person would have the main works—Labour in Irish History, The Re-Conquest of Ireland, Labour Nationality and Religion—and some others besides, but a huge swathe of what Connolly wrote would still not be available to them. It’s difficult to understand what Connolly was arguing when so many of his arguments couldn’t be read.

And it’s not just the amount of his work that was unavailable, but the specific parts of it. The latest work of Connolly’s published in all this time was an article from 30 April 1914. Nothing from the last two years of Connolly’s life was available to the general reader. And at the risk of stating the obvious, those two years are a crucial part of Connolly’s life, when he had to grapple with all the dilemmas posed by the outbreak of war and the virtual collapse of the socialist move­ment internationally, and eventually went on to fight in the Easter rising. But people couldn’t read for themselves what he was thinking from week to week, and that’s how rumours get started. People could claim or imply that Connolly left all this socialist stuff behind him in his final years and became just a simple nationalist. That’s not an argument that stands up to an examination of Connolly’s work in those years, but it’s a myth that could be spread in the absence of that work.

On top of that, hardly any of Connolly’s work on the north was to be found among what was published. He had to address the back­ground to sectarianism in the north, the reality that the most industrialised city in Ireland had the most divided working class, and the threat of partition. But the first generation of republicans to face, not just the British state, but the two states Britain established in Stormont and Dublin had to do so without the benefit of Connolly’s analysis here.

The inability to access the raw material of Connolly’s writings was a major obstacle to understanding and using his work. The problem still exists today: even after a lot more of Connolly’s work has been published, a huge amount remains unavailable.

One of the most well-known leftward shifts by republicans of this period was Saor Éire, established by the IRA in 1931 with the object of creating “a freely functioning Irish Republic and the organisation of a Workers’ State”. But strangely enough, Connolly and his work don’t feature heavily in Saor Éire’s activity at all. Its manifesto doesn’t even quote him. The talk of “a Workers’ State” rather than a workers’ republic is significant. ‘Workers’ republic’ is a better term for a number of reasons, but the same thing was probably meant. However, it is surprising that republicans weren’t using it, even if only for the sake of popular familiarity with Connolly.

The “Workers’ State” is closer to the language of the contem­porary Communist movement than that of Connolly, and that move­ment did have an influence within the IRA leadership of the day. They are often to be seen taking part in international committees and organisations which were created by the Communist International. Many people around the world looked to Russia in the 1930s, often because they genuinely believed that a socialist society was being built there, and usually they weren’t to blame for not knowing that wasn’t the case. But some admired Russia, not for any ideological reason, but just because it was a large powerful state.

This is evident if you look at some of those involved in Saor Éire. One of the most prominent was Seán MacBride, a leading figure in the IRA of the 1930s. He was coming out with shocking left-wing language altogether in 1931, but hadn’t done so before and didn’t do so later. He subsequently proved as leader of Clann na Poblachta that he was in favour of some reforms, but nothing that would attack the bastions of privilege. It’s hard to escape the opinion that he wasn’t personally committed to left-wing politics, but was just carrying out a party line that the IRA was trying. Since losing the civil war, and then seeing most of its supporters go over to Fianna Fáil, the IRA was prepared to give Saor Éire a whirl.

What confirms how superficial this shift to the left was is the way that it disappeared as soon as it had arrived. Saor Éire was immediately subjected to a co-ordinated church and state attack: the Catholic bishops had a pastoral read in every church saying that it was “sinful and irreligious”, and the Free State government then banned the organisation, rounded up republicans, suppressed their news­paper. In this context, the IRA dropped Saor Éire like a hot potato.

It was always a top-down initiative from the leadership of the IRA, not something that had been argued for from the ground up. Many IRA volunteers were bemused by the whole affair, and some openly opposed it, seeing it as a diversion from what should be their main aim. This is always a problem when an organisation is formed around one objective and tries to embrace wider objectives: many republicans just wanted to win an Irish republic, and had widely divergent views on the social framework of that republic, or even had no view at all.

Saor Éire was not a serious attempt to embrace socialism, but an artificial temporary manoeuvre. The absence of Connolly from it is an aspect of its weakness. Thankfully, the same cannot be said of another initiative which, while it is often mentioned in the same breath as Saor Éire, was very different to it: the Republican Congress.

At the 1934 convention of the IRA Peadar O’Donnell and others proposed that a congress of republicans be organised. They were narrowly beaten, and left the IRA. They and others met in Athlone in April and issued a manifesto calling for a Republican Congress, which began:

We believe that a Republic of a united Ireland will never be achieved except through a struggle which uproots Capitalism on its way. “We cannot conceive of a free Ireland with a subject working class; we cannot conceive of a subject Ireland with a free working class.” This teaching of Connolly represents the deepest instinct of the oppressed Irish nation.

So Connolly’s work was front and centre in the Republican Congress: the first thing it did in announcing itself to the world was to quote Connolly. And that quotation is far from well-known: it comes from an article published in The Workers’ Republic of 18 December 1915, which of course hadn’t been published again since. So obviously someone had been doing some serious study of Connolly’s writings.

This could be something to do with the first signatory of that manifesto, Nora Connolly, James Connolly’s daughter. But I think it could also be down to the second signatory, Michael Price, a neglected figure in left-wing and republican history, but just as important as O’Donnell or Frank Ryan or George Gilmore. Price had been a leader in the IRA, but opposed Saor Éire in 1931 for being too left-wing: like others in the IRA he supported distributism, which believed in sharing out private property more fairly instead of abolishing it. But by 1934 he had gone through a political conversion, and it’s clear that Connolly’s work played a big part in that.

At that year’s IRA convention, before the motion for a republican congress came up, Price put down his own motion committing the IRA to “the Republic of Ireland based upon production and dis­tribution for use and not for profit, in which the exploitation of the labour of human beings with all its attendant miseries and insecurity shall not be tolerated” and never to disband until such a republic was achieved. There was a procedural wrangle and few supported him, not even O’Donnell and the supporters of a congress, so Price walked out of the convention and out of the IRA. He then organised an Irish Citizen Army, trying to revive the force Connolly had led two decades earlier.

He became a leading organiser of the Republican Congress, and Connolly featured heavily in this work. A speech of his said that the Labour Party leadership wouldn’t be welcome in the Congress because they had “betrayed the Connolly teaching and tradition”. The IRA leadership could come, but to explain “why they should not pledge themselves not to disband the IRA until the unity and freedom of an Irish Republic based upon the organisation of society visualised for a free Ireland by Connolly has been achieved”. He was clearly still sore about the IRA convention, but just as clearly motivated by a deep commitment to Connolly’s politics. This is also evident later in the same speech when he quotes Connolly’s writings on the oppression of women and commits the Congress to address this.

This wasn’t just a personal preference on Mick Price’s part. The Republican Congress newspaper announced that it would be publishing Irish translations of Connolly’s writings. In the end they didn’t actually get around to it, but the reason they give for publishing them is interesting: “D’fhonn eolas ar na scríbhinní sin a chur ar fáil do Ghaeilgeoirí—is é sin, d’fhonn réalt eolais ar shlí na saoirse a thabhairt dóibh”. As far as the Congress was concerned, this was what Connolly’s work constituted: a guiding star on the way to freedom.

Another episode from 1934 illustrates the same point. That year’s Bodenstown commem­oration included a contingent of Congress supporters from the Shankill Road, and one of their banners read: “Connolly’s Message Our Ideal: On to the Workers’ Republic”. This was one of the reasons for the pheno­menon of the Republican Con­gress winning significant support among Protestant workers in the north, that Connolly’s message of the workers’ republic was their ideal. Branches of the Congress in Belfast even called themselves James Connolly Clubs.

The terrible thing about the Republican Congress, of course, is that it ended in tears. Brendan Behan’s joke about the split being the first item on the agenda was literally true in this case: the Congress met in September, and divided down the middle between those who wanted a workers’ republic and those who wanted to demand a plain Irish republic. The latter group won a small majority, and the others left. Having turned its back on its initial inspiration, the Congress was a shadow of its former self, and the great potential it had shown was lost.

Connolly featured strongly in that debate on the direction of Congress, especially for those who held to the idea of a workers’ republic. Nora Connolly insisted that they had got across to northern Protestant workers because “in the Athlone Call and week in and week out in our propaganda we showed that the type of Republic we were fighting for was a Workers’ Republic”. Michael Price said:

We of the Republican movement and of the working-class movement must insist that a declaration from this Congress must be of a militant working-class nature, which will write upon the skyline the real conception, the James Connolly conception, of the Republic. …I cannot subscribe to anything less than a declaration that this Congress stands emphatically for the overthrow of capitalism in Ireland and for the enthronement of the Irish Workers’ Republic.

For Price this was something personal: he had a profound dedication to Connolly’s socialism, to the workers’ republic, and just as he had turned his back on the IRA when they couldn’t live up to that, he was prepared to do the same with the Republican Congress.

What happened next to Price, Nora Connolly and their co-thinkers illustrates just how difficult it was to argue for Connolly’s politics in the 1930s. They joined the Labour Party, which went through quite a left-wing phase at this time. They managed to win a commitment from the Labour conference that the party’s objective was to establish a workers’ republic. This was quite a big deal, especially when you compare it with today’s Labour Party, committed to establishing a bankers’ republic. But the Catholic hierarchy were unhappy and got in touch with Labour: a year later the workers’ republic was dropped. The workers’ republic is a central concept of Connolly’s thought, and if talking about that is too dangerous, then it’s hard to talk about Connolly.

Sometimes there was opposition, not just to Connolly’s politics but even to his image. Máirtín Ó Cadhain was a leading figure in the Galway IRA in the 1930s, but not involved in the Republican Congress. He was a national teacher, and put up a picture of Connolly in his classroom along with other heroes of Irish history. The parish priest told him to take the picture down because Connolly was a Communist. We have to understand this political climate, which created huge obstacles for anyone wanting to push Connolly’s ideas, and only really changed in the 1960s.

In conclusion, when Connolly’s politics were just one point of view jostling many others in a broad republican movement organised only on the basis of winning national independence, it failed to make headway. Connolly’s work came into its own when people openly and unashamedly argued for it, organising for a workers’ republic, for socialism. It’s on that basis that, in our own day, Connolly can transfer from the page to the streets and workplaces and wherever struggle goes on, and it’s on that basis that we can really address the range of problems that capitalism is creating for us in Ireland and beyond.

Based on a talk given at Saor Éire 2011 on 7 May

An teaghlach naofa?

In Eagrán 44 (Meitheamh 2011) thug Sinéad Nic Íomhair amharc ar ionad an teaghlaigh sa saol caipitleach.

1°   Admhaíonn an Stát gurb é an Teaghlach is buíon-aonad príomha bunaidh don chomhdhaonnacht de réir nádúir, agus gur foras morálta é ag a bhfuil cearta doshannta dochloíte is ársa agus is airde ná aon reacht daonna.
2°   Ós é an Teaghlach is fotha riachtanach don ord chomh­dhaonnach agus ós éigeantach é do leas an Náisiúin agus an Stáit, ráthaíonn an Stát comhshuíomh agus údarás an Teaghlaigh a chaomhnú.

Sin agat Airteagal 41.1 de Bhunreacht na hÉireann, cruthúnas soiléir go bhfuil meas millteanach ag ár rialtóirí ar an teaghlach, go ndéanfaidh siad a ndíchealt i dtólamh an tseoid bhreá seo a chosaint. Ach ní thig leat stát a mheas de réir a bhunreachta, ach an oiread is a thig leat leabhar a mheas de réir a chlúdaigh. Is leor amharc gasta ar an scéal le tuigbheáil nach bhfuil anseo ach babhta eile fimíneachta dá gcuid.

Cá mhéad teaghlach atá briste suas ag an eisimirce atá mar thoradh riachtanach ar pholasaithe na mbocanna móra atá i gceannas orainn? Cá mhéid páistí nach bhfeiceann tuismitheoir ach uair an chloig sa ló, b’fhéidir, de thairbhe iad a bheith ag obair ó dhubh go dubh le morgáiste agus billí eile a ghlanadh? Cá mhéad teaghlach atá fá bhrú de shíor ag easpa airgid de bharr na dífhostaíochta?

Ní cúrsaí eacnamaíochta amháin atá i gceist anseo, ach polasaithe polaitiúla a chuireanns an stát i bhfeidhm d’aon ghnó chomh maith. Tá páistí a rugadh agus a tógadh sa tír seo, agus dhíbir an stát tuismitheoir leo thar lear cionn is gur chreid sé go raibh an iomarca daoine gorma anseo. B’éigean do chúirt san Eoraip tabhairt orthu éirí as an pholasaí seo le deireanas. Daoine as taobh amuigh den Eoraip a thaganns ag obair in Éirinn, is annamh a ligtear dóbhtha gaolta a thabhairt anall chun cónaithe leo. Agus caidé a rinne an rialtas le cupla bliain anuas le airgead a spáráilt ach liúntas na leanaí a ghearradh, agus liúntas na ndaoine a thuganns aire do ghaolta sa bhaile?

Mar sin, is beag an meas oifigiúil atá ar an teaghlach le fírinne, is léir. Ach ag an am céanna, cuirtear an teaghlach ós ár gcomhair i gcónaí mar idéal, aidhm a mba chóir dúinn uilig go léir féachaint lena baint amach. Is iomaí polaiteoir a dhéananns scéal mór in aimsir toghcháin as an mhéid atá déanta aige ar mhaithe le teaghlaigh, nó an méid a dhéanfadh dá mbeadh sé féin sa rialtas. Thug cuid acu “Fine” agus “Clann” ar a gcuid páirtithe, fiú. Is é an teaghlach bunús nádúrtha an tsaoil, “buíon-aonad príomha bunaidh don chomhdhaonnacht”, an dóigh ba mhaith linn ar fad ár saol a chaitheamh—nach ea?

Níl an fabhalscéal ag teacht leis an fhírinne. Tá páiste as gach ceathrar á thógáil ag tuismitheoir amháin, mar shampla. Tá a lán eile á dtógáil ag beirt, ach gan an bheirt sin a bheith pósta: beirtear páiste as gach triúr taobh amuigh den phósadh. Aríst, tá a lán eile á dtógáil ag daoine atá sa dara pósadh, agus clann acu ón chéad phósadh chomh maith, b’fhéidir. Tá níos lú daoine ná riamh ag mairstin de réir tuigbheáil thraidisiúnta an teaghlaigh.

Ach caidé chomh traidisiúnta is atá an teaghlach seo, ar aon nós? Ní bhainfeadh ár seansinsir ciall ar bith as, nó mhair siadsan ar dhóigh eile ar fad. Bhíodh a gcuid clann agus finí i bhfad Éireann níos leithne agus níos scaoilte ná teaghlach an lae inniu. Ní bhíodh aon reifrinn de dhíth orthu le colscaradh a dhéanamh, ná próiseas fada costasach cúirte ach an oiread. Bhíodh páistí mar chúram ar an phobal uilig, ní ar bheirt amháin. Mhair iarsmaí dá leithéid go ceann i bhfad, agus is le fíordheireanas a tháinig an teaghlach núicléach ar an tsaol in Éirinn.

Ach más mall is mithid, a déarfadh cuid mhaith daoine. Mura bhfuil daoine ag cloí leis an mhúnla seo, is mór an trua é, a déarfadh siad, nó is é an teaghlach seo an dóigh is fearr dá bhfuil ann le páistí a thógáil agus sochaí shona a chur ar fáil. Bíonn staidéir agus tuairiscí ar bharr teangan acu leis an mhéid seo a chruthú, chomh maith.

Bhuel, luíonn sé le ciall go bhfuil sé níos éasca ar bheirt tuismitheoirí clann a thógail ná ar an aon tuismitheoir amháin. Nach fearr dhá chloigeann ná ceann amhain? B’fhéidir é, ach ní argóint ar bith é sin i bhfabhar an teaghlach traidisiúnta. Más dada é, is argóint i bhfabhar an ilphósadh é. Más fearr beirt tuismitheoirí, nárbh fhearr fós triúr, ceathrar, cúigear—nó páistí a thógáil i gcomúin, fiú? Agus braitheann sé ar caidé an bheirt atá i gceist, ar ndóighe. An bhfuil muid ag caint ar bheirt atá ag iarraidh a bheith ann ag tógáil na bpáistí, ag iarraidh a bheith le chéile? Nó beirt atá le chéile in éadan a dtola, nach bhfuil fonn orthu clann a thógáil in éineacht, a bhfuil duine acu foréigneach don duine eile? Tá sé amaideach a bheith ag cur an tslat tomhais chéanna le achan chás nuair a bhíonns an oiread sin éagsúlachta ann.

Ach cé nach bhfuil idéal an teaghlaigh ag freagairt don tsaol a bhíonns ag daoine, cuirtear brú millteanach orainn glacadh leis. Is doiligh do dhuine cinneadh a dhéanamh clann a thógáil léi nó leis féin nuair is ionann sin agus a bheith fá mhíbhuntáiste mhór eacnamaíochta. Agus cúram clainne ort féin amháin, is deacra go mór oideachas nó fostaíocht a fháil, agus beidh caighdeán do bheatha thíos leis.

Níl aon éalú ón fhírinne gurb iad na mná seachas na fir a bhíonns sa chruachás seo níos minice ná a mhalairt, nó is ina mbaclainn siúd is mó a fhágtar na leanaí. Is cuid bhunúsach den leatrom atá ar mhná sa tsaol an ról a bhíonns daite dóbhtha sa teaghlach. Is iadsan a thuganns leanaí ar an tsaol, agus tá an saol sin leagtha amach ar dhóigh a ghearranns píonós orthu dá thairbhe sin. Is corrbhean a dtig léi leanbh a bheith aici gan aon díobháil a dhéanamh dá slí bheatha, agus ní leor ar scor ar bith an beagán a thuganns an stát dóbhtha mar mhalairt.

Níl aon réiteach ar an fhadhb sin ach go nglacfadh an tsochaí uilig uirthi féin cúram leanaí a chur ar fáil d’achan duine. Chomh fada is a chuirtear iachall ar mhná a ghabháil fán ualach seo ina n‑aonar, ní féidir nach gcuirfidh sé isteach go míchothrom ar a mbeatha. Tá an teaghlach tábhachtach don chóras caipitleach mar déanann sé príobháidiú ar chúraimí bunúsacha. Dá mbeadh ar an stát íoc as tógáil leanaí, nó as aire a thabhairt do sheandaoine breoite, samhlaigh caidé an costas a bheadh air. Coinníonn an teaghlach na cúraimí seo sa bhaile, mar fhreagracht phríobháideach, ag sábháil na mbilliún ar an chóras.

Aisteach go leor, tá daoine ann atá ag iarraidh an tsaol teaghlaigh seo ach a gcoinnítear uathu é. Maítear gur mór an dul chun cinn é go bhfuil cead ag daoine aeracha páirtnéireacht shibhialta a chur ar bun anois, ach cad chuige nach bhfuil cead acu pósadh cosúil le duine ar bith eile? Cad chuige nach bhfuil cead acu páistí a uchtú cosúil le duine ar bith eile? Cad chuige a gcuirtear cosc ar dhaoine aeracha ar mian leofa gnáthshaol teaghlaigh a bheith acu? Mar b’ionann sin agus glacadh leis go bhfuil an hómaighnéasacht iomlán chomh bailí nádúrtha leis an heitrighnéasacht, go dtig tógáil leanaí a scaradh ó bhreith leanaí—agus bhainfeadh sin cuid mhaith den bhonn atá fán teaghlach sa tsochaí chaipitleach.

Ar ndóighe, is annamh a bhíonns saol an teaghlaigh chomh hiontach lena cháil. Comhfhad a théanns fuath agus grá, a deir an seanfhocal, agus is doiligh a cheapadh nach duine teaghlaigh a bhí sa té a chum é. Is foinse thábhachtach suaimhnis ag a lán daoine é an teaghlach, dídean a ligeanns do dhaoine éalú ó ábhair bhuartha an tsaoil. Ach ag an am céanna, is uafásach an crá croí é uaireanta, áit a gcúngraítear daoine i dteorainneacha plúchtacha. Ag cuid mhaith daoine, páistí agus mná go mór mór, is measa fós é, ionad foréigin is drochúsáide.

Caidé a dhéanfadh muid leis an teaghlach i sochaí shóisialach, mar sin? Ar chúpla cúis, is doiligh freagra a thabhairt ar an cheist sin. Ar an chéad sul síos, ní ceart do shóisialaithe an lae inniu a bheith ag leagan síos caidé mar ba cheart do dhaoine mairstin amach anseo, go háirid agus muid ag caint ar a saol príobháideach. Fúthu féin a bheas sé. Agus ní thig linn a rá caidé na hathruithe eile a thiocfas ar an teaghlach idir seo agus sin. Ach ní chuirfeadh sochaí shóisialach aon bhrú ar dhaoine titim isteach le idéal nó múnla ar leith. Bheadh go leor de na cúraimí atá príobhaideach anois ina gcúraimí sóisialta. Chuirfí naíonraí ar fáil saor in aisce le go mbeadh lánrogha cheart ag daoine maidir le cúram clainne, agus an scéal céanna i dtaobh obair tí fré chéile.

Seans maith go roghnódh go leor daoine cloí leis an sean­teaghlach, agus a chead sin acu, ar ndóighe. Bheadh daoine eile ag cleachtadh bealtaí eile le mairstin le chéile. Is é is dóichí go mbeadh mórchuid daoine ag athrú ó dhóigh amháin go dóigh eile ó uair go chéile. Is é an rud mór go mbeadh achan duine—mná, fir, páistí—saor chun a mbeatha a chaitheamh le chéile de réir a dtola féin, ar dhóigh a ligfeas dóbhtha a mbuanna a fhorbairt go hiomlán, mar dhaoine aonair agus mar chlann an tsaoil.