First published in the 'Communist International' (London), Journal of the Comintern, 1926.
First published as a pamphlet by the Workers'(Communist) Party, Chicago, U.S.A., 1926. The introduction to that edition by T.J. O'Flaherty, brother of the novelist Liam O'Flaherty, is included in this reprint.
Reprinted Cork, March 1974
THE CORK WORKERS' CLUB
When James Connolly, Marxian socialist and Commander-in-Chief of the Irish revolutionary army of Easter Week, 1916, was awaiting his doom at the hands of a British firing squad, his last words spoken to his daughter Nora, expressed a fear that his comrades in the socialist movement would not understand this action. And few of them did. British socialists in particular, not all of them though regarded Connolly's heroic act as a nationalist gesture, not having any relation whatever to the class struggle. That Connolly was a revolutionist of the new type, a man who knew all the weak spots in the imperialist structure and also knew how to mobilize all the anti-imperialist forces against the enemy, is proven by Comrade Schuller in his excellent article to which these few words are an introduction.
James Connolly was born of proletarian parents in the northern part of Ireland. (It has since been established that Connolly was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. His parents were Irish.-SERIES EDITOR.) He was obliged to go to work for a boss at an early age. In fact, he had to lie about his age in order to evade the law regarding child labour. Early in his life he became interested in the socialist movement and agitated in Scotland, England and Ireland, before his first visit to the United States for a speaking tour.
Though extremely active in the American working class movement, despite the mental agony he suffered owing to the distress of his family, through poverty, Connolly never lost interest in the Irish revolutionary movement, nationalist and proletarian. He attached considerable importance to the necessity of reaching the Irish nationalist workers in the United States with the message of socialism. He founded the Irish Socialist Federation and The Harp, as its official organ. Of this monthly sheet Connolly was editor, printer and newsboy.
The Federation, and its mission, was sneered at in a superior manner by the official socialists and it gradually declined. In 1910 Connolly returned to Ireland at the invitation of some of his old comrades and he went to work in Belfast as organizer for the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, which was founded by Jim Larkin. Connolly held this position until 1914, when Larkin went to the United States on a speaking tour and remained there involuntarily for over eight years.
After Larkin left Ireland Connolly took charge of the I.T. and G.W.U. The union existed chiefly on paper. It was demoralized after the defeat inflicted on it in the great lockout of 1913-14. With all Connolly's ability as an organizer, he was unable to bring the member ship up to more than 5,000 when the Easter Week uprising took place.
When Connolly took charge of the union, one of his first acts was to establish a printing plant for turning out illegal literature in Liberty Hall, the union headquarters. It was on this press that most of the revolutionary literature was turned out in the early days of the war.
Connolly was everything but a pacifist. A student of military tactics, particularly of street fighting he developed the Citizen Army, a military organization composed of trade unionists which grew out of the Dublin strike. This little army was the back bone of the force that challenged the mighty power of imperial Britain in 1916. The Citizen Army guarded Liberty Hall against the British soldiers and defended the illegal printing press with their lives.
Connolly was determined that the opportunity presented by the imperialist war must not be allowed to pass without revolutionary Ireland rising in arms against the empire. With this end in view he sought an alliance with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the descendant of the Fenian Brotherhood, which gave England a nightmare after the American Civil War. The alliance was consummated and thus Connolly brought about a union between the revolutionary nationalists and the militant section of labour, though taking care to preserve the independence of the labour movement. He consistently pointed out that Irish labour was always betrayed in the past when it allowed itself to be made the tool of the bourgeois class who always sold out to the foreign enemy at the first opportunity.
When the world war broke out Connolly like other revolutionists expected that the social democratic leaders would raise the standard of revolt. He gave vent to his disappointment in language that burns and sears. He excoriated the social patriots and spurious pacifists with voice and pen. He said that the declaration of war by the capitalists should be the signal for civil war on the part of the European working class, that the workers should raise the banner of revolution when the "first note from the bugle of war rang out upon their ears". Instead the traitorous leaders "who pledged the life long love of comrades in the international army of labour" became the hangmen and murderers of the working class and the bullets that snuffed out the life of James Connolly were fired by guns directed by a British cabinet in which sat a member of the Second International, the Honourable Arthur Henderson.
When Connolly bid goodbye to his comrades in the union headquarters as he was leaving for his last fight he said to one of them with a smile on his lips and that laughing glint in his eye: "We are going out to get slaughtered. Stay with the union. It needs you."
When the gallant little army of rebels surrendered, neither Connolly nor his comrades asked for quarter. They insisted that their followers be exempted from the death penalty. The promise was made only to be broken, in harmony with Britain's record through Irish history. Connolly was carried on a stretcher to the place of execution, propped up against a wall and murdered. The British knew what they were doing when they murdered James Connolly but they paid through the nose for it since then and the debt is still unpaid.
In Connolly's death the Irish labour movement lost its only revolutionary theoretician. Connolly had little use for the windy blatherskite or for the cloister sociologist. He was a well-rounded revolutionary, indeed, as Comrade Schuller points out a true Leninist before that word was coined into the English language. His life, his work and his heroic death should be an inspiration to those who must carry forward the flag where it dropped, torn and bloodstained from his hands. Not only is Connolly's memory a heritage of the Irish working class but his tactics in the Irish struggle against British imperialism can be studied to advantage by the workers of all lands. He is Ireland's most precious contribution to the international proletariat.
In publishing this little book the Workers (Communist) Party, not only pays a deserving tribute to our martyred comrade, but it also wishes to bring the attention of workers of Irish birth or descent in the United States to the necessity of joining hands with workers of all races in the land in which they are exploited to the end that they may emancipate themselves from the thralldom of the system which Connolly died fighting against and to erect upon its ruins the Workers' Republic which Connolly laid down his life fighting for.
T. J. O'Flaherty
The Significance of Ireland For the Comintern
Missing this section.
The Role of the Working Class in the Irish Struggle for Freedom
A biographer of Connolly (D. Ryan. James Connolly. London, 1924) who examined the origin of his popularity amongst the Irish workers refers to the problem of "Connolly's secret." As a solution he finds only a few general phrases about understanding how to subject the lesser to the greater, etc. "Connolly's secret," however, is quite clear. It is the combination of the national revolutionary struggle and of the revolutionary class struggle of the working class. It is the proof of the necessity of leadership in the struggle for national liberation in Ireland.
Connolly ardently sympathized with the hatred of the masses against the imperialist oppression of Great Britain, and with their longing for national liberty. In the narrow sense of the word he was no nationalist; on the contrary, he was active both in theory and practice as a Marxist Internationalist. He was a stranger to any feeling against England as such. He spent the greater part of his youth in England, where he was active as an agitator in the Social Democratic Federation and frequently worked in the closest harmony with the British Labour movement against capitalists both in England and Ireland. He loved to use the declaration of the United Irelanders from the time of the first French Revolution.
"As to any union between the two islands, believe us when we assert that our union rests upon our mutual independence. We shall love each other if we be left to ourselves."
Connolly took a deep interest in the history of the Irish struggle for liberation, those 700 years of tragic history of wars, unsuccessful risings, treason, terror and famine. He raised the question as to the causes of the failure of the former movements, especially those during the past hundred and fifty years. As answer he found that the national struggle had not been linked up with the social struggle. He declares in his most important work, "Labour in Irish History" (This classical Marxist treatment of the Irish question is quite unknown on the Continent. It is really most important that this book should be published in both the Russian and in the German languages.):
".... As we have again and again pointed out, the Irish question is a social question, the whole age-long fight of the Irish people against their oppressors resolves itself in the last analysis into a fight for the mastery of the means of life, the sources of production in Ireland. Who would own and control the land? The people or the invaders; and if the invaders, which set of them - the most recent swarm of land thieves, or the sons of the thieves of a former generation? These were the bottom questions of Irish politics, and all other questions were valued or deprecated in the proportion to which they contributed to serve the interests of some of the factions who had already taken their stand in this fight around property interests."
The result of this was that very many struggles for freedom failed because they did not carry with them the working masses, for -
"the producing classes could not be expected to rally to the revolution unless given to understand that it meant their freedom from social as well as from political bondage."
This, however, does not give quite a clear interpretation of the failure of the national struggle. A further reason was to be found in the leadership of this struggle. The rich bourgeoisie, bound by a thousand ties to the ruling class in England and terrified of the class struggle, betrayed the struggle for national liberty; the middle and petty bourgeoisie wavered helplessly and sought a peaceful compromise in the most constitutional manner possible, always in fear that their agitation might cause the working masses to raise the social question.
"The spokesmen of the middle class, in the press and on the platform, have consistently sought the emasculation of the Irish National Movement, the distortion of Irish history, and, above all, the denial of all relation between the social rights of the Irish toilers and the political rights of the Irish nation. It was hoped and intended by this means to create what is termed 'a real National movement,' i.e., a movement in which each class would recognize the rights of the other classes and laying aside their contentions would unite in a national struggle against the common enemy - England. Needless to say, the only class deceived by such phrases was the working class.
Hence, declared Connolly, the liberation struggle in Ireland was only possible under the leadership of the working class, which should now take over the lead in this struggle.
"The result of the long drawn out struggle of Ireland has been, so far, that the old chieftainry has disappeared, or through its degenerate descendants has made terms with iniquity, and become part and parcel of the supporters of the established order; the middle class, growing up in the midst of the national struggle, and at one time, as in 1798, through the stress of the economic rivalry of England almost forced into the position of revolutionary leaders against the political despotism of their industrial competitors, have now also bowed the knee to Baal, and have a thousand economic strings in the shape of investments binding them to English capitalism, as against every sentimental or historic attachment drawing them towards Irish patriotism, only the Irish working class remain as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland."
The National movement was at a low ebb when Connolly began his activities in Ireland in the '90's. The development of British capitalism had not been without its effects on Ireland, and crumbs from the table of imperialist England had fallen to the upper and middle classes in Ireland. The land reforms had had a temporary pacifying effect on the peasantry, hence the National movement had adopted a rather tame form. Its programme was simply Home Rule, limited autonomy within the framework of Great Britain, and the road thereto was by constitutional methods.
Connolly started a bitter struggle against the Home Rulers. His programme was clear and definite: complete separation from Great Britain, an independent Irish Republic. The road thereto was by means of mass organization and of mass struggle, using every possible legal method and in the final issue revolutionary instruction.
In 1898 Connolly founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party and its organ, "The Workers' Republic." The I.S.R.P. declares its programme to be the development of an Irish Socialist Republic based on public ownership by the Irish people of the land and the means of production, distribution and exchange.
Connolly himself writes about the effect of the new Party upon the political life of Ireland:
"It is no exaggeration to say that this organization and its policy completely revolutionized advanced politics in Ireland. When it was first initiated the word 'Republic' was looked upon as a word to be only whispered among intimates; the Socialists boldly advised the driving from political life of all who would not openly accept it. The thought of revolution was the exclusive possession of a few remnants of the secret societies of a past generation, and was never mentioned by them except with heads close together and eyes fearfully glancing round. The Socialists broke through this ridiculous secrecy, and in hundreds of speeches in the most public places of the metropolis, as well as in scores of thousands of pieces of literature scattered through the country, announced their purpose to muster all the forces of Labour for a revolutionary reconstruction of society."
Just as Connolly founded the first Socialist Labour Party in Ireland, so too he worked with the greatest enthusiasm in organizing the trade unions. Together with Jim Larkin he roused with his fiery agitation and apt leadership the working masses in Ireland, and worked for the foundation of trade union organizations. When Jim Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union he received the full support of Connolly, who together with Larkin became the most important organizer in the movement. And what is still more, it can be justly said that Connolly was the theoretician of the movement. He applied in a brilliant manner the good that he had learned in America from the Industrialists. Still, although he fought for the correct revolutionary aspect of industrialism in contrast to the out-of-date reformist ideas of craft unionism, he struggled against every tendency towards separation from the "political movement." On the contrary, the Transport Workers' movement formed the basis for the creation of the Irish Labour Party, and was at the same time the most active factor in the national revolutionary movement for liberation.
The general strike of the Dublin workers in 1913 marked the brilliant climax of the trade union mass movement which was thus created.
The Union with the Peasantry
Just as Connolly was convinced of the necessity of the leadership of the working class, so too he realized that its fate was inseparably involved with that of the peasantry, with whom union must be established if national and social liberation were to be attained. He stood for the Leninist interpretation of this alliance both in theory and in practice. Since the Irish question, at least until the beginning of this century, fundamentally revolved around the question, "Who possesses the land and governs?" he took as starting point the understanding of the Irish struggle for freedom.
During the 700 years of British rule the Irish peasantry, which had hitherto owned and tilled the land on the basis of a kind of clan kinship, had been robbed of their land with the most fearful cruelty. The land was given to the British conquerors and their supporters and servants. The peasants were driven away and physically destroyed by wars, hunger and terror, or remained as tenant farmers. In this way, the peasants came to live as tenants on that same ground which in reality belonged to them, and at the same time were obliged to pay the landlords scandalously high rents. The result was misery amongst the peasants, which was hard to distinguish from chronic famine. Ireland produced and exported large quantities of corn, but the peasants mainly existed on potatoes.
Every bad potato harvest made a big change for the worse in the condition of the peasantry. In 1845-1849, there was a terrible famine, which brought in its wake the deaths of several hundred thousands from hunger and fever. And during this time Ireland continued to export corn for large sums of money. Even today, after the agrarian reform, such periods of famine are still possible, as was proved by the famine in Ireland in the winter of 1924-25, which was particularly rampant among the peasants in the West.
The result of this condition of the peasantry were voiced in many peasant risings and revolts, in which the peasantry supplied the mass of the troops until the time of the developrnent of the industrial proletariat. In the famine years, in 1848, and in the '70's under the leadership of the Land League these peasant risings were particularly widespread.
The year 1848 was also marked as a year of disgraceful weakness and treachery on the part of the petty bourgeoisie and the betrayal of a powerful and specially hopeful revolutionary mass movement. Connolly writes bitterly and with contempt of the leaders of the Young Ireland movement, who from fear of the social land demands of the peasantry lost a favourable possibility for revolution and separation from England.
Our Irish Girondists sacrificed the Irish peasantry on the altar of private property. With scorn he writes (Labour in Irish History) about these "revolutionaries" who wanted to carry out the rising in a "respectable" manner:
"English army on one side, provided with guns, bands and banners; Irish army on the other side, also provided with guns, bands and banners, 'serried ranks with glittering steel,' no mere proletarian insurrection, and no interference with the rights of property.... But the crowning absurdity of all was the leadership of William Smith O'Brien. He wandered through the country telling the starving peasantry to get ready, but refusing to allow them to feed themselves at the expense of the landlords who had so long plundered, starved, and evicted them; he would not allow his followers to seize upon the carts of grain passing along the roads where the people were dying for want of food; at Mullinahone he refused to allow his followers to fell trees to build a barricade across the road until they had asked permission of the landlords who owned the trees."
As a counterpart to this Connolly writes full of appreciation of the Fenians who in their struggle for national freedom and social liberty of the workers joined with the Land League, i.e., the peasants in the struggle for the land:
"When the revolutionary nationalists threw in their lot with the Irish Land League, and made the land struggle the basis for their warfare, they were not only placing themselves in touch once more with those inexhaustable quarries of material interests from which all the great Irish statesmen from Laurence O'Toole to Wolfe Tone drew the stones upon which they build their edifice of a militant patriotic Irish organisation, but they were also, consciously or unconsciously, placing themselves in accord with the principles which underlie and inspire the modern movement of Labour."
This union of the workers and peasants Connolly declared to be the basis and inspiration of the modern Labour movement, and in full recognition he points out that the principles of the Land League were not only recognized as Communist, but that the organ of the Land League in America, "The Irish World," bore the sub-title of "American Industrial Liberator."
The agrarian reform was introduced. The causes therefore were the pressure brought to bear by tne Land League movement and the circumstances that the investment of capital in industrial undertakings, because of the competition of American corn, had become more profitable than agriculture in Ireland. For this reason, the British Parliament, at the close of the last century and the beginning of the present, decided upon a series of laws enabling the peasants to purchase their land from the landlords. The peasants were able to secure the land on credit advanced by the State at 49 years' purchase at the rate of four per cent (later three and a quarter per cent). The landlords received in addition to the market price of their land an additional sum from the State varying between three and eight per cent. The result of these reforms, or rather this buying out of the landlords, was the transformation of Ireland gradually from a country of tenants to that of a country of small peasants who owned their own farms. In 1914 there were 348,855 peasants who owned their own land and 217,282 tenant farmers. This latter figure has been reduced still more since that time, and today only about one-third of the land is held on lease.
In spite of these reforms the overwhelming majority of peasants even today do not employ hired labour. That is to say, the overpowering mass of the Irish country folk is composed of labouring peasants (petty peasants and tenant farmers). This peasantry is oppressed by the heavy weight of debt. It is obliged to pay twice as much for its own land as it is worth, as a result of all this interest, extras and land speculation.
"Thus the Irish people found themselves robbed in very deed for a second time. First, the Britishers took their land away from them by force, and then by means of Acts of Parliament forced them to pay more than double the price for this same land." (Kernheizev Revolutionary Ireland, Moscow, 1923).
In addition to this, there was a further nuisance, the "Gombeen men," traders and bank capitalists, who in the small rural places acted as veritable leeches on the rural population and were hand in glove with the former landlords.
"Indeed the buying out of the landlords in many cases served only to gorge still further the ever-rapacious maw of those parasites upon rural life." (J. Connolly. The Reconquest of Ireland, Dublin, 1914.)