Easter: The Battle for Ideas

This year as every year there will be marches and commemorations attended by the various strands of Irish socialism and republicanism to mark the anniversary of the Easter Rising. There will be a remembrance of those who fell in the struggle for national liberation and socialism in 1916, during the War of Independence and since then. Attention is already being given to the possible events to mark the centenary of the rising in 2016.

At a moment like this it is important to remember who we are, where we come from and where we stand. That is on the shoulders of giants Jim Larkin, James Connolly and Liam Mellows, and this not for sentimental reasons, but to see how they were able to connect their ideas with mass sections of the working class.

Our thoughts on the future should not be set in how we plan to commemorate the past; we must use the lessons of our history to develop the class struggle today. Throughout this island it is clear that the conditions created by the international crisis are spurring further developments in the direction of class struggle.

Following on from the November 30th strikes in the North, which were almost on the scale of a general strike, given the involvement of public sector and transport workers, the pensions struggle still has the potential to rumble on. In the South moves have been made to attack the fragile compromise that is the Croke Park deal, signed by the last government with the public sector unions in 2010 after a series of large strikes and demonstrations. Apparently over €600million worth of savings and over 5,000 redundancies aren’t enough for the bosses and more attacks are scheduled. In Greece living standards have been slashed at rates which threaten any notion of a social safety net or a semi-civilized existence. There is unfortunately every possibility that something similar could be round the corner for Ireland.

On both sides of the border it seems that workers will be facing the same threats. The conditions of crisis and austerity have produced revolutions across the Middle East, the occupy movement in America, a general strike in Spain, and a series of general strikes in Greece also. The threatening noises from the FG back benches and the yellow counter-reformism of Gilmore and the Labour leaders are preparing the ground for the resumption of the class struggle in Ireland. The heroism of the Vita Cortex workers and the widespread solidarity that they received displayed the willingness to struggle which exists in Ireland.

But in the current circumstances with Labour as the junior partners of a coalition with Fine Gael and the lack of a working-class party or a socialist alternative of any substantial size in the North there is a growing gulf between the tasks required of the workers’ movement at the present moment and the capacity of its leadership to deliver. As Marx and Engels explained in the Communist Manifesto, and as Connolly explained in an Irish context on many occasions, the working class because of its position in society is forced to struggle and fight to transform society. But most importantly, it is the only class with the social cohesion and potential power to do so. If the last 40 or more years have taught us anything it is that however brave and self sacrificing small armed groups may be, they are no substitute for a mass revolutionary party.

Connolly and Larkin understood this contradiction and sought to put themselves at the head of the movement. There are plenty of nooks and crannies in the workers’ movement on this island. To be content with spending decades occupying one or other of these would be a tragic waste of time and opportunity. Connolly’s success reflected the fact that whether working in a small group of Marxist cadres, as a trade union organiser or in the Labour Party, he theorised and agitated on the issue of the day, while at the same time explaining that the men of no property had a much greater goal, the emancipation of the working class and of Ireland itself. That is to say, he worked tirelessly to orientate towards the day to day struggles of the working class with a Marxist perspective which linked the immediate struggles with the need for the socialist transformation of society.

Most famously he stated:

“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 will be in vain. England will 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.”

Connolly put the working class at the forefront of the struggle for national liberation in Easter 1916 through his leadership of the Irish Citizens’ Army which originated during the 1913 Dublin Lockout as a force which protected picket lines from the repression of scabs and the state. He warned the ICA’s volunteers that in the unlikely event of victory they should “hold onto their rifles” and that without also attaining socialism their struggle for national liberation stood no hope.

These are not simply stories for Easter time they are an outline of the methods that Connolly successfully used to take Marxist ideas into the working class. We must study and, most importantly, attempt to apply the ideas of Marxism and the theoretical works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Connolly and Leon Trotsky also to the real movement of the working class. On the basis of these ideas, at a time when the class struggle is developing, we must play an active role in these battles as they unfold. In essence the situation has not fundamentally changed since Connolly’s time; only the mass action and mobilisation of the working class North and South, as part of an international revolution can deliver socialism and national liberation.

  • For a 32 County Socialist United Ireland!
  • For World Revolution!

Source: Fightback (Ireland)