Ireland & Republicanism

Easter 1916 mural panoramioIreland was Britain's oldest colony. For 400 years, the British capitalists and landlords pillaged Ireland and first perfected their system of divide and rule there, pitting Catholics against Protestants. The nationalist bourgeoisie, weak and dependent on British capitalism, failed to complete the revolutionary task of expelling British imperialism and instead came to a reactionary compromise with the latter, resulting in the partition of the island.

Ever since, the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalists have led the struggle to disaster. This was particularly true after the revolutionary events of 1968-69, when the IRA led the movement into the cul-de-sac of individual terror.

British imperialism had hoped it had solved the problems in Ireland with the sticking plaster of the Good Friday Agreement. The re-emergence of the crisis of capitalism has completely exposed this hope as false to the core. Nothing was solved. Today, the national question is reemerging with renewed force. British imperialism no longer has any interest in maintaining partition, but the sectarian monster that it has created means it cannot rid itself of Northern Ireland either.

The Irish Revolution is full of lessons for Marxists: on the national question, the role of individual terror, reform versus revolution, etc. Above all, it teaches that the task of undoing partition can only be completed by the Irish working class through socialist revolution. In the words of the great Irish Marxist, James Connolly, "The cause of Ireland is the cause of Labour. The cause of Labour is the cause of Ireland."

As Ireland enters a new turbulent period, it is imperative that Marxists – in Ireland and internationally – study its rich revolutionary history so as to learn its lessons and to avoid old pitfalls.

50 years ago, on Sunday 30 January 1972, the British Army opened fire on a peaceful civil rights march in Derry in the North of Ireland. 14 innocent people were killed in an atrocity. For decades, the British ruling class attempted to cover up the atrocity. When British troops were sent into Ireland in 1969, some mistakenly believed they were there to bring peace.

One hundred years ago, on 3 May 1921, the partition of Ireland became law in the British parliament. As the Marxist revolutionary, James Connolly, had predicted, partition created “a carnival of reaction both North and South”. It took years of terror, pogroms and bloodshed to establish what the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, James Craig, termed a “Protestant state for a Protestant people”. In the South, the newly established Free State was baptised in the blood of the Republicans who resisted the Treaty and partition.

The shock result of the Irish general elections, which put Sinn Féin on top in terms of votes, has sent the Irish ruling class into a panic. No matter what road they take, the next period will be one of great political turbulence.

The 12 July celebrations, 'The Twelfth', are the height of the marching season in Ireland. It's a day for Protestants and Unionists in Ireland to celebrate the defeat of the Jacobite forces by the Williamites in 1690. The parade was used politically by the Orange Order and reactionary loyalist forces to show their dominance in the North, especially in Belfast, often invoking sectarian riots and violence, which plague the Twelfth. In 1913, James Connolly, Irish revolutionary, explained his thoughts on this day, its real historical basis, and what it means to the people of Ireland.

On Sunday an official state ceremony was held in Dublin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. The officials present, including the men of the Church, represent a class that did not support the Rising in 1916, but who now wish to present themselves as heirs to that heroic struggle. Here Alan Woods exposes the utter hypocrisy of these people and recalls what the Rising was really about.

At Easter every year in every parish in Ireland and in many places around the world Irish Republicans gather to pay homage to those men and women who died in the struggle for independence. This year, 2012, will be no different. However, whereas 50 years ago there was only one Republican Movement, today there are at least seven different republican traditions that have emerged out of the northern struggle.

Belfast in 1907 was a hotbed of militancy.  It was the fastest growing city in the British isles. Its most successful industries were labour intensive. 

When the Irish Catholic priest Fr. Hugh O’Donnell decided it was time to build a Catholic church in Belfast he had a problem: it costs a lot of money to build a church. The Catholic population of Belfast was too small and too poor to provide enough money, so if he had to rely on the Catholics alone it would take forever. He had to seek help elsewhere. So he asked the Protestants of Belfast to help him out. As you do.

We are reprinting this article because the arguments used by Connolly in answering the capitalists are as valid today as when they were written in 1901. Taken from the Workers’ Republic, May 1901.

We are publishing here a speech given by Phil Mitchinson at the 2005 International Marxist school in Barcelona. Dealing with the history of the centuries old struggle for freedom in Ireland, and the part played in that history by republicanism and socialism, as well as the political developments that have led to the current impasse. 

Recent weeks have seen Ireland bear witness to two factory occupations that subsequently inspired similar actions across Britain. These events are significant developments in class struggle in that they pose the question of whether power resides with the boss or the workers. It is fitting that these events should coincide with the ninetieth anniversary of the Limerick Soviet.