The Easter Rising
Irish bourgeois nationalists and British Socialists sought and seek still in vain for an explanation of Connolly's leadership of the Easter rising. Much as these latter sympathized with Connolly as a labour leader and Socialist they could not understand how he could take part in such an act and thus we see the strangest endeavours to explain, or rather to excuse Connolly's attitude during the Red Easter of 1916. It is no small wonder that the Irish rising was either rejected by the British Labour movement, or in the most favourable instance was received with a lack of general understanding.
Some attributed Connolly's attitude to the influence of his comrade, Pearse, the Republican, who is said to have believed in a mystic manner that every generation of Ireland must offer up a blood sacrifice. The others explained the rising as a result of Connolly's depression and despair caused by the war and the position of Ireland. His decision was also attributed to the fact of his bitter sorrow at the breakdown of the Socialist International and his mental rejection of the mutual slaughter of the workers of all countries, which impelled him to deal a blow, no matter how few people he could win to his side.
"The time is now ripe. (Irish Worker, August 15, 1914), nay the imperious necessities of the hour call loudly for, demand the formation of a committee of all the elements outside, as well as inside the Volunteers, to consider means to take and hold Ireland, and the food of Ireland, for the people of Ireland. We of the Transport Union, we of the Citizen Army, are ready for any such co-operation. We can bring it the aid of drilled and trained men; we can bring to it the heartiest efforts of men and women who in thousands have shown that they know how to face prison and death; and we can bring to it the services of thinkers and organizers who know that different occasions require different policies - that you cannot legalize revolutionary actions and that audacity alone can command success in a crisis like this."
This collaboration became a reality and under Connolly's influence the Volunteers moved more and more to the Left. The desire for revolutionary action grew amongst their ranks.
After a period of stormy events April, 1916 came. A highly charged atmosphere prevailed; mobilization of both sides began. The British government prepared for the disarmament by force of the Volunteers and of the Citizen Army and the destruction of the entire movement. Connolly and his friends were of the opinion that now the time had come for the revolutionaries to act and to proceed from the defensive to the offensive. The leaders of the Volunteers actually gave the order for general manoeuvres on a large scale at Easter, i.e., in other words, the signal for a rising. At the last moment the petty bourgeois leaders of the Volunteers rescinded the order, mainly because the German help which they had expected had failed to arrive. This typical and despicable act of petty bourgeois cowardice was too late. It was not able to restrain the rising, but simply undermined the onslaught. The people from "Liberty Hall" who constituted the life and soul of the rising had already drawn up the proclamation of the Provisional government of an Independent Irish Republic. The workers and the revolutionary section of the Volunteers were not prepared to give in without a struggle and refused to carry out the order to disband. The rising was unavoidable.
In accordance with the plan previously drawn up, Connolly undertook the leadership without any hesitation.
He undoubtedly hoped that they would succeed in carrying with them the majority of the Volunteer Army and that in any case the rising, even if it should fail, would constitute the preliminary to a general large scale revolutionary struggle. Hence, he also calmly and with decision weighed the possibilities of its failure. His first hope was shattered, not because the masses of the Volunteers were not ready, but because the disorganization which the cowardly petty bourgeois leadership caused at the last decisive moment was too great. Subsequent events confirmed his second expectation to the full.
On the morning of April 24, the most important points of the city of Dublin were in the hands of the revolutionaries. Proclamations of the Provisional government were posted up and the radio stations proclaimed on all sides the foundation of an Independent Irish Republic. The people participated in scenes of the most intense enthusiasm.
Then the struggle began. About one thousand Volunteers and workers' troops maintained their position for more than a week against a powerful British army. Only by ruthless use of artillery, which completely destroyed the whole centre of the city, and by numerical supremacy did the British succeed, with great losses, in forcing the revolutionaties to surrender after a week's fighting.
Then an orgy of White Terror ensued. Mass shooting of leaders, mass arrests, executions of non-combatants, devastation. In short, imperialistic British civilization showed itself in its full development. Connolly did not escape his doom. The British government, a government in which sat Arthur Henderson, the present Secretary of the Labour Party, signed the order for his execution, which took place on May the 12th. He had been severely wounded in the struggle and was so weak that he was unable to stand and was shot seated in a chair. He met his end calmly and philosophically. Up to the last minute he remained what he had always been, a proletarian revolutionist.
The slogans of the rising were, "Down with the War! Down with British Imperialism! All hail a free Irish Republic!" One may wonder, perhaps, that more definite Socialist slogans did not play a bigger role in this struggle, but we must not forget to take into consideration that this rising was not the final struggle of the Irish workers, but merely the preliminary thereto. In this way, this first revolutionary outburst of the masses obtained expression at a moment when pressure was felt most strongly from British imperialism and the war. But still the entire rising had a definite Socialist colour. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic declared, although in vague terms, the right of the Irish people to the means of production of wealth. It is apparent from the fact that the rising primarily appealed to the workers, that the masses of the fighters were workers and agricultural labourers, and a considerable section of the leaders Socialists and trade unionists.
The warm words with which Lenin wrote of this Easter rising will best show our appreciation. In his article, "The Results of the Discussion on Self-Determination" of 1916 (Published in Against the Stream) he attacks the "monstrous judgment" of those who termed this "heroic rising" a Putsch.
"Those who can term such a rising a Putsch are either the worst kind of reactionaries or hopelessly doctrinaires, incapable of imagining the social revolution as a living phenomenon."
"To assume the possibility that a social revolution without risings of small nations in the colonies and Europe, without revolutionary outbursts of the petty bourgeoisie, with all their prejudices, without movements of the unconscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against the oppression of landowners and the church and monarchists and national oppression, is equivalent to denying the social revolution."
The Irish rising was, as Lenin shows, a manifestation of the serious crisis of imperialism, a crisis which in 1917-18, led to the collapse of a number of imperialist states and to the Proletarian Revolution.
"The crisis of imperialism was at that time still far removed from the stage of its highest development: the power of the imperialist bourgeoisie had not yet been overcome (the war to a finish can bring that about, at present it has not gone so far); proletarian movements are still very weak in imperialistic states."
"The misfortune of the Irish lay in the fact that their rising was untimely, since the rising of the European proletariat was NOT YET ripe.
Capitalism is not so harmoniously constructed that separate sources of risings can suddenly unite without failure of overthrow. On the contrary, the difference in time, the difference and dissimilarity in the place of the risings act as a guarantee for the greatness and depth of the joint movement; it is only by untimely, partially and consequently unsuccessful attempts at revolutionary risings that the masses will again experience, learn, assemble their forces, recognize their true leaders, the Socialist proletarians, and thereby prepare the joint attack; just as isolated strikes, town and national demonstrations, mutinies in the army, peasant risings, etc., prepared the general attack in 1905."
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