Monday, 23 May 2011

Irish Socialism and Royal Visits

Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, President, Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth

"Some men, faint-hearted, ever seek
Our programme to retouch,
And will insist, whene'er they speak
That we demand too much.
'Tis passing strange, yet I declare
Such statements give me mirth,
For our demands most moderate are,
We only want the earth".

James Connolly

Last week Queen Elizabeth made an 'iconic', 'extraordinary', 'hugely symbolic' four day visit to Ireland. The Irish Times described her visit to Croke Park as a "watershed moment in Anglo-Irish relations". It said of the wreath-laying ceremony at the Garden of Rememberance, that it was "the moment many thought they would never see". Martina Devlin, writing in the Irish Independent said, "I don't know if the men and women who struggled for Irish freedom would have been moved by her salute or surprised by it. But I can't imagine that they would have been indifferent".

It's hard to gage the mood of the people of Ireland concerning the visit. There were protests on a small scale which seemed to have been quelled very rapidly by the Garda. But of the population as a whole, little is known. Dublin's Evening Herald said, "There were no flags, no banners and few cheers as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were whisked past by a fleet of outriders and a long motorcade of black cars". Though the columnist Eamonn Carr said that the Queen "played a blinder" during her visit. As to the lasting legacy of this visit we'll have to wait and see. It was certainly an opportunity for the 'great and the good' of Ireland to dust down those suits, join in the specially invited occasions and pay fawning homage to a foreign Monarch.

Much has been made of the fact that it has been nearly 100 years since the last Royal visit. This was in July 1911, when George V came to an Ireland that was part of the British Empire, and would remain so until Independence was gained in 1922.

King George V in Ireland, July 1911
Royalty stands for all that is unequal in society, and nothing sees this more clearly than socialism. I don't think that enough people remember that the fight for independence from British rule, was also a fight for social equality. No one could doubt that particularly in the early 1900's, Ireland was largely bereft of social justice, and the plight of the workers was not being addressed. The war for independence came to a head in 1916 (though it would be another six years before independence was gained), with the Easter Uprising, where Irishmen took over the main Post Office in Dublin. This was short lived however, as the rebellion was quickly dealt with by the British Army, resulting in over 400 deaths, and the execution of the leaders. The fight for social justice and Irish feedom had been long and hard, and one man who was prominent in both was the Socialist, James Connolly.

James Connolly
He was born in Edinburgh on the 5th June 1868 to Irish parents, and became active in the Socialist movement in that city in the early 1890's. He came to Ireland in 1896 and founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party. In 1902 he lectured on socialism in Britain and the US. He emigrated to America in 1903, and became a member of the Socialist Labour Party (US) and the Industrial Workers of the World, founding the Irish Socialist Federation in New York in 1907.

He returned to Ireland in 1910 as organiser for The Socialist Party of Ireland, and became Belfast organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union in the same year.

In 1914 he was Commandant of the Irish Citizen Army, and Commandant General of Dublin Division of the Army of the Republic in 1916. He was executed by the British on the 12th May 1916 for his part in the Easter Uprising earlier that year. The manner of his execution outraged many (he was carried on a stretcher from hospital, tied to a chair and shot, then with others put in a mass grave without a coffin), and it was said that this gained the movement more followers than his life.

James Connolly Statue in Dublin
I cannot identify with his militant fight for freedom, as I haven't been in that position, and honestly don't know what I would do if I was. I can however identify with his fight for social justice.

I have no doubt that his social conscience was first aroused as a result of his mother dying at an early age due to the deprivation they faced in the slums of Edinburgh. This was in an area known as "Little Ireland".

Prior to the visit of King George V to Ireland in July 1911, he addressed the workers of Ireland on that visit, and though now 100 years old, the message still resonates with me as being at the heart of true socialism.

Though it has been reproduced many times before, I make no apology for reproducing it again.

"Fellow Workers, as you are aware from reading the daily and weekly newspapers, we are about to be blessed with a visit from King George V. Knowing from previous experience of Royal Visits, as well as from the Coronation orgies of the past few weeks, that the occasion will be utilised to make propaganda on behalf of royalty and aristocracy against the oncoming forces of democracy and National freedom, we desire to place before you some few reasons why you should unanimously refuse to countenance this visit, or to recognise it by your presence at the attendant processions or demonstrations. We appeal to you as workers, speaking to workers, whether your work be that of the brain or of the hand - manual or mental toil - it is of you and your children we are thinking; it is your cause we wish to safeguard and foster.

The future of the working class requires that all political and social positions should be open to all men and women; that all privileges of birth or wealth be abolished, and that every man or woman born into this land should have an equal opportunity to attain to the proudest position in the land. The Socialist demands that the only birthright necessary to qualify for public office should be the birthright of our common humanity.

Believing as we do that there is nothing on earth more sacred than humanity, we deny all allegience to this institution of royalty, and hence we can only regard the visit of the King as adding fresh fuel to the fire of hatred with which we regards the plundering institutions of which he is the representative. Let the capitalist and landlord class flock to exalt him; he is theirs; in him they see embodied the idea of caste and class; they glorify him and exalt his importance that they might familiarise the public mind with the conception of political inequality, knowing well that a people mentally poisoned by the adulation of royalty can never attain to that spirit of self-reliant democracy necessary for the attainment of social freedom. The mind accustomed to political kings can easily be reconciled to social kings - capitalist kings of the workshop, the mill, the railway, the ships and the docks. Thus coronation and king's visits are by our astute neversleeping masters made into huge imperialist propagandist campaigns in favour of political and social schemes against democracy. But if our masters and rulers are sleepless in their schemes against us, so we, rebels against their rule, must never sleep in our appeal to our fellows to maintain as publicly our belief in the dignity of our class - in the ultimate sovereignty of those who labour.

What is monarchy? From whence does it derive its sanction? What has been its gift to humanity? Monarchy is a survival of the tyranny imposed by the hand of greed and treachery upon the human race in the darkest and most ignorant days of our history. It derives its only sanction from the sword of the marauder, and the helplessness of the producer, and its gifts to humanity are unknown, save as they can be measured in the pernicious examples of triumphant and shameless iniquities.

Every class in society, save royalty, and especially British royalty, has through some of its members contributed something to the elevation of the race. But neither in science, nor in art, nor in literature, nor in exploration, nor in mechanical invention, nor in humanising of laws, nor in any sphere of human activity has a representative of British royalty helped forward the moral, intellectual or material improvement of mankind. But that royal family has opposed every forward move, fought every reform, persecuted every patriot, and intrigued against every good cause. Slandering every friend of the people, it has befriended every oppressor. Eulogised today by misguided clerics, it has been notorious in history for the revolting nature of its crimes. Murder, treachery, adultery, incest, theft, perjury - every crime known to man has been committed by some one or other of the race of monarchs from whom King George is proud to trace his descent.

"His blood
Has crept through scoundrels since the flood".

We will not blame him for the crimes of his ancestors if he relinquishes the royal rights of his ancestors; but as long as he claims their rights, by virtue of descent, then, by virtue of descent, he must shoulder the responsibility for their crimes.

Fellow workers, stand by the dignity of your class. All these parading royalties, all this insolent aristocracy, all these grovelling, dirt-eating capitalist traitors, all these are but signs of disease in any social state - diseases which a royal visit brings to a head and spews in all its nastiness before our horrified eyes. But as the recognition of the disease is the first stage towards the cure, so that we may rid our social state of its political and social diseases, we must recognise the elements of corruption. Hence, in bringing them all together and exposing their unity, even a royal visit may help us to understand, and understanding, help us to know how to destroy the royal, aristocratic and capitalist classes who live upon our labour. Their workshops, their lands, their mills, their factories, their ships, their railways must be voted into our hands who alone use them. Public ownership must take the place of capitalist ownership, social democracy replace political and social inequality, the sovereignty of labour must supercede and destroy the sovereignty of birth and the monarchy of capitalism.

Ours be the task to enlighten the ignorant among our class, to dissipate and destroy the political and social superstitions of the enslaved masses and to hasten the coming day when, in the words of Joseph Brenan, the fearless patriot of 1948, all the world will maintain

'The Right Divine of Labour
To be first of earthly things;
That the Thinker and the Worker
Are Manhood's only Kings'".

James Connolly, like many before and after him (myself included at times) was told to moderate his demands - they are too extreme. His response was a revolutionary song written in 1907, "We only want the earth". This blog started with the first stanza, and the final stanza says,

"For labour long, with sighs and tears,
To its oppressors knelt.
But never yet, to aught save fears,
Did the heart of tyrant melt.
We need not kneel, our cause no dearth
Of loyal soldiers' needs
And our victorious rallying cry
Shall be we want the earth".

Click this link to see the whole song.

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