Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ireland's Easter Rising 1916

Pat Stack has written far better than I could on the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising, when Irish rebels rose up against British Imperialism and were bloodily repressed. They were led by the Irish revolutionary socialist James Connolly, who made the following last statement to his daughter Nora Connolly, on the eve of his murder by the British in May 1916:

'We went out to break the connection between this country and the British Empire, and to establish an Irish Republic. We believed that the call we then issued to the people of Ireland, was a nobler call, in a holier cause, than any call issued to them during this war, having any connection with the war. We succeeded in proving that Irishmen are ready to die endeavouring to win for Ireland those national rights which the British Government has been asking them to die to win for Belgium. As long as that remains the case, the cause of Irish freedom is safe.

Believing that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland, the presence, in any one generation of Irishmen, of even a respectable minority, ready to die to affirm that truth, makes that Government for ever a usurpation and a crime against human progress.

I personally thank God that I have lived to see the day when thousands of Irish men and boys, and hundreds of Irish women and girls, were ready to affirm that truth, and to attest it with their lives if need be.

Commandant-General, Dublin Division,
Army of the Irish Republic.'

Today, some socialists (including many anarchists) still argue that nationalist revolts - such as those taking place in Palestine and Iraq today - should not be supported by socialists as they are not simply 'class against class'. Yet this is what Lenin felt at the time about the Easter Rising:

'To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.-to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, "We are for socialism", and another, somewhere else and says, "We are for imperialism", and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a "putsch". Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.'

Moreover, Lenin argued the role of nationalism and the national question in general is crucial for socialists: 'The dialectics of history are such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real anti-imperialist force, the socialist proletariat, to make its appearance on the scene'.

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At 10:11 pm, Blogger ygkpd said...

There are some interesting parallels between Ireland and Quebec. The struggle to free Quebec from the yoke of British then Canadian imperialism was held back in great part by the Catholic Church. Its hegemony collapsed by the late 1950s unleashing all sorts of social uupheavals including the October Crisis of 1970 which involved a Weathermen-like FLQ waging war with the Canadian state which eventually invaded the province, declaring martial law and rounding up thousands of socialists, trade unionists and radicals (all of whom had no ties to the FLQ). 1972 also saw the Quebec general strike which led to the formation of workers councils in many towns and seizures of radio stations.

Unfortunately, the (english)-Canadian working class did nothing to support the general strike. The class in general was awash with nationalism. The organized left - the NDP (Cdn labour party), Waffle and Cdn Labour Congress were adhereing to left nationalism (read this critique of Cdn left nationalism by Paul Kellogg, editor of SW). In this sense, Marx's famous comments regarding the Irish national question and the role of the English working class are identical when it comes to the Quebec question and the english-Canadian working class. Even today, left nationalism (Canada is oppressed by America) remain the greatest obstacle between working class unity across nations. This is even true of most Canadian socialists.

This is unfortunate because in recent years, Quebec has seen some of the most inspiring social movements in North America. This includes the 2005 Quebec student strike which defeated the government, a militant trade union movement (100,000+ strong May Day in 2004) and of course Feb15 2003 which saw 150,000 in Montreal and a quarter million a month later (Canada's biggest anti-war demos ever).

Anyway, to make a long point short, the lessons of Ireland are quite important for Canadian socialists when it comes to the national question. its also why my district convenor, who is Quebecois, is in love with Connolly.

One final thing...I have read up on the SWP's position regarding Scottish nationalism and independence. Any cursory survey of Canadian history strongly reinforces the SWP's position regarding the role of the Scottish bourgeoisie in the empire. For example, the merchant and then industrial capitalist class in Quebec, from the early 1800s onward, was comprised almost entirely of Scots. They played a central role in the British Empire's oppression of Quebec.

Another example is the colonization of Manitoba. Scottish settlements constructed in Manitoba in the 19th century were first financed by Lord Selkirk, a Scot. These settlements were the equivalent of Zionist colonies in Palestine. It involved driving the original inhabitants of the land, whether they be Franco-Manitobans, Métis or Aboriginal. This resulted in decades of conflict culminating with the 1885 Northwest Rebellion when the Canadian state invaded and crushed the Métis nation. In contrast to the Scots, the Irish played no such role in Canada. Instead of being the vanguard of an imperialist settler-state, the Irish were central in the formation of the Canadian working class.

It would be interesting to see the SWP's arguments regarding Scottish nationalism and independence reinforced by a study of the Scottish bourgeoisie's role in Canada, which must be recognized as Imperial Britain's greatest success (we're in the G8, WTO Quad, etc). As far as I can tell from SR and ISJ articles, the work by Neil Davidson and Chris Bambery deal mostly with Scotland's own history, not the role of Scots in empire - at least in a specific sense.

Maybe I could work on something over the summer...I wonder if ISJ or SR would be interested in something like that?

At 10:56 pm, Blogger FraVernero said...

Great as usual, snowie...
This is such a lengthy and interesting subject we could spend days and days discussing... I´ll try to be brief.
I personally think that most left movements (including marxism) have always tried to use all subversive elements and all victims of any kind of repression (class, gender, race, nation) to demolish existing (dis)order. Classical marxism didn´t have a very clear-cut possition as to nations and their rights (something that would helpe explain Rosa Luxemburg´s great hostility to nationalism). Lenin, a more practical man, certainly sponsored the auto-determination of oppresed peoples in the Russian Empire (hoping they would join the mining of the Czar´s tyranny), just as for practical reasons he also sponsored the sr program regarding mujiks expropiating lands (and not collectivising them).
Of course, later, Stalin and others forgot quite soon any goodwill towards small, oppresed nations and their rights, but that´s another story...
During the sixties, nationalism and marxism went hand in hand, specially in the third world. We only have to think in Mao´s China, Ho Chi Ming and Vietnam, Ben Bella and de FLN in Argelia... Even in Europe, opressed nationalities sponsored party and armed groups which mixed a program of national reivindication and socialism.
For most citizens of solid nation-states, nationalism and plurality are hard-to-swallow realities. Even left-wingers tend to simplistically disregard 'nationalism' as pettit-bourgeous and alienating, which isn´t the case in many occasions. Opressed nations, cultures and languages exist. As marxists, we may tend to play them down, centering as we do in economical exploitaition and social class, but thing are usually entwined: for example, an 'english' worker in India during the Raj was member of a priviledged minority -and not only respecting language and culture, also from economical points of view...
But I´m talking too much. Ireland and Quebec are cases worth discussing, but I´ll let somebody else continue rambling... hehehe

At 7:12 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Cheers for the great comments/mini essays.

Doug - I think you should email the ISJ as I think they would be interested - we need more articles that look at 'British' History locating them in their colonial context. Are you coming to Marxism in London in July? There are a series of meetings on 'A People's History of the British Empire' - I think one comrade is writing a book with that title at the moment.

At 3:01 am, Blogger Frank Partisan said...

Very interesting post.

Kurdish nationalism I think is an issue in Iraq. If the coalition was friendly to Kurdish freedom authentically, there would have been an immediate plebescite on establishing Southern Kurdistan.

If Kurds seperated from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, and other areas, it would be a bigger change in maps, than the Soviet breakup. Energy agreements would have to renegotiated.

For now Kurdish are cannon fodder. In the end, imperialism will not allow independent kurdistan.

Does the world need another ethnic state? No simple answers.


At 6:13 am, Blogger Mike Ballard said...

All States are ruled by classes other than the workers. Some States are ruled by other States. The point is to change the situation so that either workers rule States or classless societies use governing structures merely to administer things, not politically rule other people.

Agreed though...to paraphrase the bearded ones: tradition weighs like an alp on contemporary consciousness.


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