Thursday, 12 May 2016

Where is our James Connolly?

One hundred years ago today, the greatest leftist leader Ireland has produced was tied into a chair in the Breakers' Yard at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, and executed by soldiers of the British Army.

James Connolly was a remarkable man by any measure: a former member of the British Army himself, he was a party founder, a union organiser, a fiery orator, a gifted polemicist, and an international Marxist revolutionary.  Though one must recognise the qualities of the other 1916 leaders, Connolly stands out head-and-shoulders above them, for the sheer force and power of his combination of intelligence, commitment, courage, writing and action.  Alas, of course, his death after the Rising deprived the Irish workers of a leader of tremendous grit and ability in a time of extraordinary agitation and ferment.  It's a truism of Irish history that the great Dublin Lock-Out of 1913 was a climactic battle between employers and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.   The drama and suffering of the Lock-Out was indeed exceptional, and the ITGWU weakened by its defeat.  Yet the years 1917-1923, as demonstrated so powerfully by Conor Kostick in his wonderful book Revolution in Ireland: Popular Militancy in Ireland, witnessed an even greater, more creative and in many ways more radical flowering of labour agitation, with general strikes in Limerick and Belfast, and over one hundred soviets declared all over Ireland.   Better led and organised, these movements and forces might have shaped the emergent Ireland in all sorts of interesting ways.

Connolly spent the years 1903-1910 in America, active with the Socialist Labor Party, and then with the Industrial Workers of the World (better known as 'the Wobblies').  These years were crucial to his political development.   Here is a link to an article I've just published on the excellent Jacobin website, on Connolly's American years.  Warm thanks for their help in preparing this go to Bhaskar Sunkara, and Bashir Abu-Manneh.


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