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Revisionism and the Politics of James Connolly

The author is a QUB Pol Sci Honours graduate and has written extensively on imperialism, national liberation struggles and class issues.

What are the politics of James Connolly?

What are the politics of James Connolly?

Conolly's Ideological Legacy

It is glaringly irrational for purely nationalist parties in Ireland, such as Provisional Sinn Féin, to continue to pretend to be Connolly's ideological legacy, but it's not surprising given that entity's flair for revisionism and political opportunism. It goes without saying that if Connolly were alive in these early years of the 21st Century, he would certainly not be a member of Sinn Féin.

Before anyone makes the habitual statement that no person alive today can really second guess the possible contemporary actions or attitudes of dead revolutionaries, well, in James Connolly's case, we can. It is well documented that Connolly, during his political life in Ireland, was never a member of Sinn Féin, a party that was founded in 1905 and of which he was very much aware. Connolly, a Marxist and revolutionary trade unionist, would have been diametrically opposed to a party that largely backed William Martin Murphy and the employers during the Dublin Lockout of 1913.

In actions that would be familiar today, the then-leader of Sinn Féin, Arthur Griffiths, refused to support the workers' movement, describing it as 'sectional'. When English trade unionists organised relief ships to help the striking workers, Griffith's little Irelander hackles were raised, and they condemned the solidarity action as 'an insult' to Ireland.

James Connolly addressing an International Workers Day rally, Union Sq, New York.

James Connolly addressing an International Workers Day rally, Union Sq, New York.

James Connolly's Sinn Fein And Socialism, published in April 1908 in The Harp, which critiques the shortcomings of that party's one-dimensional nationalism, was actually used in true revisionist form by the contemporary party during their hijacking of the centenary of Connolly's residence in Belfast by quoting out of context the first few lines of the article which welcomes really only the meaning of the English translation of the term Sinn Fein,

"That is a good name for the new Irish movement of which we hear so much nowadays. Sinn Féin, or in English, Ourselves".

Of course, the unlikely Connolly centenary celebrants of anti-Marxist Sinn Fein studiously ignored the rest of Connolly's article and its message, which is roundly critical of their ideology and pours scorn on their non-socialism and the absurdities of their early Habsburgian/monarchist leanings:

'As we all know the methods adopted by Hungary to reconquer its Parliament from Austria are the trite illustrations of the Sinn Féin orators. In fact during the early stages of the movement in Ireland before the felicitous name of Sinn Féin was coined the ideas as promulgated got the name of ‘the Hungary system’.

I remember one critic declaring that “the Hungary system was only fit for hungry men!'

It could be further added that any perceived 'praise' for Sinn Fein, was not for the party but used by Connolly to make the point that the working class must rely on 'ourselves', not the national bourgeoisie (of which Sinn Fein was then a small but component part) who must be swept away so that 'the era of the strutters and poseurs will end'.

Connolly, the Marxist, in complete contrast to the limitations of bourgeois nationalism, ends his article by re-affirming that only the working class can fight and win the fight for both national liberation and real economic freedom (i.e., socialism).

"we will realize at last what was meant by Marx when he spoke of the revolt of those who have Nothing to Lose but their Chains."

No Reds in Their Beds

Therefore, it is very much in the eye of the beholder to decide whether the, at best, nationalist Centrist party called Sinn Fein's highly tenuous claims to the legacy of the Marxist, James Connolly, are the result of revisionism, political opportunism or a confused ideological compass (or perhaps a combination of the latter two?)

Certainly, it would be the height of irrationalism for a party such as Sinn Fein to attempt to claim the legacy of the Marxist Connolly, when there are such concrete assertations from the present party leader stating:

'There is no Marxist influence within Sinn Fein, it simply isn’t a Marxist organisation. I know of no-one in Sinn Fein who is a Marxist or who would be influenced by Marxism.'

We saw echoes of this edict when members of that party's youth section condemned Republican Socialist G8 protestors for having the temerity to carry red flags, the symbols of international socialism. The youthful McCathyites then camped out nearly 100 miles from the G8 summit, reportedly near the Giant's Foot (no pun intended) while, of course, their leadership salivated at the prospect of being permitted to join the chorus line of clapping seals welcoming the most insidious cabal of global war criminals and imperialists to Ireland. However, the above statement from Adams is a completely rational assertion from a party whose well-documented aim is for a unitary Capitalist Ireland that sees no contradiction in glad-handing the world's most vicious imperialists, such as Obama, Blair et al.

James Connolly was co-founder of the Irish Citizens Army - Europe's first Red Army

James Connolly was co-founder of the Irish Citizens Army - Europe's first Red Army

Ironically for a party that at one stage, using crude reductionism, viewed the modern partitioned 26 counties as a neo-colony of (British) imperialism (a view that was jettisoned during the heyday of the Celtic Tiger), it is now entirely comfortable with a future where Ireland would be a minor cheerleader of Western imperialism as it massacres its way around the world in search of oil, commodities and profit.

In conclusion, Connolly's Republican Socialism, his militant trade unionism, his adherence to Marxism, his membership of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and his rejection of one-dimensional nationalism are irrefutable and uncomfortable truths for those who have erroneously attempted to hijack his legacy.

The contradictions of these attempts are glaringly obvious for those whose minds have not been befuddled by neo-liberalism, double-speak nonsense and blatant revisionism. By the same token the 'gas and water socialists' of the Brit-centric Left and two-nations 'socialists' who choose to ignore the British imperialist elephant in the living room who periodically pay homage to Connolly, conveniently chose to ignore his central tenet that national liberation and true socialism are symbiotically linked.

Today's heirs of Connolly's legacy are those who unreservedly adhere to his most oft-quoted 'thesis' that:

"If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs."

Saoirse go deo!


His name was Connolly.

His name was Connolly.

© 2019 Liam A Ryan