The Irish Socialist Who Organized an Uprising
By Paul Buhle / truth-out.org
Apr 25, 2016

Why should we care about a failed independence uprising that occurred 100 years ago on April 24, led by Irish rebel James Connolly?

It's a question answered within the pages of A Full Life: James Connollythe Irish Rebel, a graphic remembrance of Connolly illustrated by artist Tom Keough that I helped bring into the world.

It's also a question that I might not have asked myself if I had not been in Dublin, Ireland, the day before Ireland's marriage equality vote in May 2015.

The throng of young people in particular, eagerly distributing leaflets, cheering each other with smiles, waves and songs, was something to see. Same-sex marriage was clearly to be approved by a massive margin across the Republic. A literature table and some very grouchy characters represented the official, deeply anti-LGBTQ views of the Catholic Church in Ireland. The Catholic Church, with its views on divorce and much else, has long been utterly dominant in the Republic of Ireland, but has more recently been discredited by reports of child sexual abuse committed by priests and sex scandals involving clerics, and by the emergence of a new, more secular generation.

By May 2015, the solemn-faced devotees almost seemed harmless -- remnants of an unpleasant and widely regretted past. When the vote came, the church politicians carried only one county. Ireland had come into modern times.Not quite times for a wide-ranging discussion of James-Connolly-style socialism, however. That remained for the future.

Something equally remarkable and unpredicted for 2015 happened in the United States. Here, Sen. Bernie Sanders began talking up one of Connolly's great admirers, Eugene V. Debs. Before Sanders rekindled public interest in this topic, Debs -- the most beloved socialist of US history -- seemed to have vanished. A historic site devoted to Debs exists in Terre Haute, Indiana, and every now and then, the public hears once again about how Debs won nearly 1 million votes in the 1920 presidential election while campaigning from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary where he was being held as a political prisoner.

By way of contrast, the public in Ireland has never forgotten the story of James Connolly (1868-1916). Statues, portraits, inscriptions, assorted celebrations, songs from Connolly poems and songs about Connolly are recited or sung in Irish taverns by scores -- all these seem available in any season. The run-up to the centenary of Connolly's failed revolt for independence naturally offers a special case.

(Image: PM Press / Hungarian Literature Fund)

Connolly, actually born in Glasgow, Scotland, among Irish immigrants seeking industrial labor, became a teenage factory worker and then British soldier until he managed a permanent AWOL, and then he became a socialist agitator and editor. Notorious in 1898 for leading a nationalist protest against a visit by Queen Victoria (among his fellow nationalists were poet William Butler Yeats and Maud Gonne, "the most beautiful woman in Europe"), Connolly continued to educate himself to an extraordinary degree. Meanwhile, he wrote immensely appealing, deeply sentimental class-conscious poetry. And then, broke as usual and with a growing family to feed, he abandoned Ireland for the United States.

On this side of the ocean, Connolly became an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer, founded the Irish Socialist Federation and published its lively tabloid, The Harp, while writing furiously and traveling widely as a socialist lecturer. In 1910, Ireland called him home.

His extraordinary volume, Labour in Ireland -- a historical inquiry into the workings of empire rivaling Marxist (or other) anti-imperialist analysis anywhere at the time -- had as much as predicted catastrophic war between the rival empires. How right he was, and what conclusions to draw for Ireland's quest to throw off the British yoke? "England's adversity is Ireland's opportunity," according to the old adage. Against his own former reasoning that Irish capitalism would be no better than English bondage, he threw himself into plans for an uprising -- the doomed uprising (or "Easter Rising") of 1916.

(Image: PM Press / Hungarian Literature Fund)

Anticipations that the countryside would rise with the population of Dublin -- or even that the poor population across Dublin itself would rise -- proved worse than false. Within days, the Easter Rising was crushed. A badly wounded Connolly faced execution along with his comrades. But that would not be the end of the story, of course.

The British suppression was brutal almost beyond description. Wholesale murders, torture and the full gamut of horrors stirred Irish sentiment as the rebellion had not. In the end, the British seemed glad to get out, and in 1922, the Irish Republic emerged. The former colonialists retained the northern five counties with mostly Protestant populations, planting the seed for future strife bordering upon internecine guerilla warfare, and for repressive state violence by British authorities.

The Irish Republic, nurturing nationalist resentments but run by a repressive clerical clique and a pack of corrupt politicians, remained a site of heroic memories alongside a most unheroic present. Connolly, the socialist ghost, inspired labor activists and a persistently fragmented left, recalled, if distantly, by the 2014 Ken Loach film Jimmy's Hall. His mustache glowers out from photos and paintings, a sign of fierce resistance. But perhaps Connolly is best remembered as the autodidact theorist and inveterate sentimentalist who comes to life again in popular culture. Hence the James Connolly comic, A Full Life, with the artwork of a veteran Irish-American activist and of myself, an aging editor.

(Image: PM Press / Hungarian Literature Fund)


All images: PM Press / Hungarian Literature Fund

0.0 ·
0
Trending Today
What Happens When You Rebel Against the Herd
Sofo Archon · 11,596 views today · Are You Truly Living Your Life? You live, but are you living the way you want to live, or the way others want you to live? You choose, but are your choices based on...
The Coming War on China
John Pilger · 5,753 views today · A major US military build-up – including nuclear weapons – is under way in Asia and the Pacific with the purpose of confronting China. John Pilger raises the alarm on an...
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 4,647 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
Murdoch and Trump, Sitting at the Tee, S-C-H-E-M-I-N-G
Frankie Boyle · 4,028 views today · Say what you like about Donald Trump but he's already done things people said were impossible, like made Twitter worse. Looking back, the Harambe situation is the closest...
Real Underground Kingdom That Has Existed for Millions of Years Went Unnoticed, Until Recently...
Kid Krunk · 3,057 views today · 28 Stunning Photos Of The World’s Largest Cave
Thich Nhat Hanh: How We Can Learn to Love Our Enemies
5 min · 2,987 views today · This is a short excerpt from Peacemaking. I often think about this story when I think about the kind of activism I would like to bring into this world. I want to help build a...
I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
3 min · 2,498 views today · In his new film, director Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished - a radical narration about race in America, using the writer's original words. He draws...
Simple Social Experiment Shows We Are More Than The Boxes People Put Us In
3 min · 2,480 views today · We live in a time where we are quick to put people in boxes. Maybe we have more in common than what we think?
What Would It Take to Stop the Raids?
CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective · 1,333 views today · Responding Effectively to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Attacks
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,246 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
How Wolves Change Rivers
4 min · 1,147 views today · When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable "trophic cascade" occurred. What is a...
The Charter For Compassion
2 min · 1,108 views today · The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 1,084 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 1,023 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 964 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Surviving Capitalist Depression
Michael Emero · 774 views today · We live in a toxic society filled with toxic people. Even the ones with the best hearts- including ourselves- have been raised in ignorance, with disinformation. Our examples...
Hans Rosling Brilliantly Explains Complexity of Population and Resource Issues Using Simple Tools
3 min · 560 views today · Let me show you the world, says Swedish academic Han Rosling as he demonstrates the dynamics of population growth, child mortality and carbon dioxide emissions. The challenge...
"The Myth of Time" - Martin Luther King Jr.
3 min · 539 views today · Excerpt from MLK Jr.'s last sermon, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution". Delivered at The National Cathedral on March 31, 1968 (4 days prior to his...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 536 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 392 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
The Irish Socialist Who Organized an Uprising