Friday, September 9, 2016

James Connolly and the Easter Rising (2016)

This is the text of a talk given by Adam Buick, one of the speakers at the Wakefield Socialist History Society forum on James Connolly and the Easter Rising
I want to develop the case put by Sean O’Casey in 1919 in his The Story of the Irish Citizen Army that, in participating in the 1916 insurrection, Connolly was not acting as a socialist.
O’Casey wrote that “Connolly had stepped from the narrow by-way of Irish Socialism on to the crowded highway of Irish Nationalism”. He gave “fixing on the frontage of Liberty Hall a scroll on which was written ‘We serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland’” as an example of Connolly’s “determined attachment to the principles enunciated by Sinn Fein and the Irish Volunteers, which were. in many instances, directly contrary to his life-long teaching of Socialism”. As a result, O’Casey went on, “Liberty Hall was no longer the Headquarters of Irish Labour, but the centre of Irish disaffection”.

The Easter Rising, so-called, was an insurrection planned and led by the Irish Republican Brotherhood whose aim was to establish a Republic in Ireland along the lines of those in France and the United States. In other words, an independent Irish capitalist state.

Connolly had always stood for Ireland becoming a separate country. But in this, he was only adhering to the general viewpoint of the Second International that workers had a country and should strive to establish socialism  in it. In so far as they didn't think “socialism in one country” to be possible they envisaged a federation of independent socialist countries. Connolly was insisting that Ireland should be one of these countries. This view led to their downfall in 1914 when most of them rallied to the defence of their “country” in the First World War. It could also be said to have been Connolly’s too as it led to him also rallying to a capitalist state, albeit a would-be one.

Connolly had been a part of the revolutionary socialist scene for a period. In Scotland, where he was born, he had been a member of the Social Democratic Federation, the organisation that first introduced Marxist ideas into Britain, and then of its equivalent in Ireland, the Irish Socialist Republican Party. He participated in the “impossiblist revolt” in the SDF against the authoritarianism and opportunism of its founder Hyndman, which led to the formation of the Socialist Labour Party of Great Britain in 1903 and of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904. Connolly was, in fact, the first chairman of the SLP, but soon afterwards left for America where he joined the Socialist Labor Party of America. Other members of the ISRP who left Ireland joined the SPGB.

The SLP of America was a party which, under Daniel De Leon, combined Second International Marxism and Syndicalism. Syndicalism is the doctrine that the best way, both to get improvements under capitalism and to overthrow the whole system, is through industrial action, culminating in the working class seizing control of the means of production. “Taking and holding” them was the phrase used. Unlike the French revolutionary syndicalists who rejected electoral action, De Leon and the SLP held that the “taking and holding” of the means of production would have to be backed by political action to win control of the state via the ballot box. The SLP called its view “socialist industrial unionism”.

The SLP participated in the formation of the IWW in 1905 but in 1908 the IWW adopted an anti-political stance, i.e. a pure syndicalist position, and De Leon and the SLP were expelled. Connolly, who by this time had fallen out with De Leon, remained and left the SLP.  In 1909 he published a pamphlet Socialism Made Easy setting out his views. The first part was made up of short “workshop talks” he had written some years previously; the second of longer articles explaining his “industrial unionism” which showed that, despite what the IWW had decided in 1908, he still adhered to the same basic position as De Leon: industrial action to overthrow capitalism backed up by political action at the ballot box. Writing in capitals he emphasised:
He went on:
The workers will be industrially organised on the economic field, and until that organisation is perfected, whilst the resultant feeling of class consciousness is permeating the minds of the workers, the Socialist Political Party will carry on an independent campaign of education and attack upon the political field, and as a consequence will remain the sole representative of the Socialist idea in politics.”
Although I think he got it the wrong way round – I think that, while both are necessary, political action is more important than industrial action and he was clearly wrong in assuming that “industrial union consciousness” would automatically reflect itself on the political field as socialist consciousness – this pamphlet shows that Connolly had once been part of the revolutionary socialist scene.

After his return to Ireland in 1910, Connolly came to abandon this position about the need for a socialist party to carry on a campaign of education and attack on the political field and to be “the sole representative of the Socialist idea in politics”. In 1912 he supported the setting up of the Irish Labour Party, a non-socialist party modelled on the Labour Party in Britain, to be the political arm of the trade union movement in Ireland. His 1915 pamphlet The Re-conquest of Ireland envisages this happening through the spread of co-operatives and the gradual nationalisation of more and more industries. It also lists a number of social reforms which “Labour”, i.e the Labour Party, should campaign for. He still believed in “One Big Union” but more to defend workers within capitalism than to take and hold the means of production.

It is not his drift towards Labour reformism that’s the issue here. The mystery is how he came to play a leading role in a pure and simple Irish Republican uprising. He had of course always been a republican in a sense. After all, he was a founding member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party with its paper The Workers Republic (although the terms “Socialist Republic” and “Workers Republic” were also in use outside Ireland as an alternative name for socialism as a system of society). But, precisely, a “socialist” or “workers” republic, not a capitalist republic as in France or the United States.

One of the articles included in Socialism Made Easy was a reprint of an article from The Workers Republic of 1899 entitled “Let Us Free Ireland !” Here’s an extract:
“After Ireland is free, says the patriot who won’t touch socialism, we will protect all classes, and if you won’t pay your rent you will be evicted same as now. But the evicting party, under command of the sheriff, will wear green uniforms and the Harp without the Crown, and the warrant turning you out on the roadside will be stamped with the arms of the Irish Republic. Now, isn’t that worth fighting for?And when you cannot find employment, and, giving up the struggle of life in despair, enter the poorhouse, the band of the nearest regiment of the Irish army will escort you to the poorhouse door to the tune of St. Patrick's Day. Oh! It will be nice to live in those days!“With the Green Flag floating o’er us” and an ever-increasing army of unemployed workers walking about under the Green Flag, wishing they had something to eat. Same as now! Whoop it up for liberty!”
This is prophetic of what did happen after an Irish State was established in 1922. The only thing he didn’t get right was that the flag that floated over the unemployed was a tricolour and not a green one with a harp.
This was not aimed at the Irish Parliamentary Party at Westminster as they supported only Home Rule. It was, and can only be, a criticism of pure and simple Republicanism, of “patriots who won’t touch socialism” as Connolly called them. So why then did he later join them in a vain attempt to set up an Irish capitalist Republic?

People have speculated as to why Connolly departed even from his later commitment to Labourism to support a typical Fenian stunt. Psychological explanations have been offered such as disillusion with workers for supporting the war or with Irish workers joining the British Army. It’s even been suggested that he had come to share Patrick Pearse’s view that a blood sacrifice was needed to revive Irish Nationalism.

Certainly, the insurrection was suicidal. Its leaders must have known that it had no chance of success, not even with German aid. It had very little popular support and was challenging the might of the world’s most powerful capitalist states which, being at war, was going to be at its most ruthless. And it was.
I want to finish by quoting what the Socialist Standard, the SPGB’s paper, said at the time:
From the May 1916 issue:
“A grave armed revolt in Dublin against English rule is raging at the time of writing. It is a revolt doomed from the outset, both because of the futility of its narrow nationalist aims, and the utter hopelessness of such a revolt against the mighty organised force of the political State.”

From July 1916:
It is true that the Irish workers have a fearful struggle to live, like the rest of their class the world over. But an anti-social movement like theirs, with "Ireland for Irishmen" for its slogan, was doomed to failure from the start. We, the working men and women who form the Socialist Party of Great Britain, sympathise with our fellow workers in Ireland in their struggle against the hideously squalid conditions that prevail among them, but must record our hostility to any movement that is not based upon the class struggle.h

And, finally, from August 1916:
It is a false notion of the Sinn Feiners and Nationalists that the Irish workers must struggle for national independence before they can tackle the problem of poverty. But the working class everywhere is under one capitalist government or another. To split territories, set up new governments, or to re-establish old ones will not help them nor even simplify the problem. Their only hope lies in the speedy establishment of Socialism. They must join hands with the workers of the world, and make common cause against the ruling class. They must make ready use of the last war – the war of the classes, in which classes will be abolished and a real equality established on the basis of ‘common ownership and democratic control of all the means of life.’”
Adam Buick

Solidarity governs in Poland (1990)

From the February 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is happening in Poland?

What sort of policies are coming from the Solidarity-led government? What are the prospects for the workers? And can it really be possible that the "vanguard" party—the privileged elite—could have really given up their power and privilege, voluntarily?

Over the New Year steep price rises were announced and meat disappeared from the cities' markets. No police were to be seen in Warsaw: even during New Year's Eve festivities in the centre, where thousands of people, many very drunk, celebrated noisily. Some say the police, unpopular and demoralised, are afraid to be seen on the streets. Many have left the force, some setting up in business as private detectives and security guards. Their clients are mostly rich people: "despite appearances. there are more and more wealthy people in Poland" (Warsaw Voice, 31 December-7 January).

With the move towards a market economy and private enterprise there are pickings to be had for the rich, and for Western capitalists. Lech Walesa has been begging Western businesses to set up shop in Poland, and the Economist reminds its readers that, like Portugal. Poland pays very low wages. Why is this? After all, isn't Solidarity supposed to be a trade union, representing workers interests. and doesn't it control the government?

Experts Hi-Jack Solidarity
Almost from the start Solidarity was dominated by so-called "experts". At its birth in Gdansk, in August 1980. when the workers' representatives wanted to demand the abolition of censorship and free elections, a representative of KOR (a group of intellectuals sympathetic to the workers) was the only one to plead for them to be reasonable. That man is now Prime Minister Mazowiecki.

As a result of the advice of such people, the Gdansk Agreement and later policy documents of Solidarity were mealy-mouthed, meekly accepting the status quo. avoiding any challenge to the “leading role of the Party”:
These new unions . . . will be established on the basis of . . . the socialist system which exists in Poland today. They will recognise the leading role of the PUWP in the state and will not oppose the existing system of international alliances. (Gdansk Agreement)
The workers' delegates were furious at this acknowledgement of the Party's “leading role", which had not been discussed with them. "From that moment on. they wanted to throw all the experts out of the shipyard", wrote an eyewitness. Jadwiga Staniszkis.

The Gdansk Agreement also urged workers “to show greater work discipline in co-operation with the management of the factories and enterprises", and "to work towards the increase of output'. Later. in its Draft Statutes (31 August 1980), Solidarity's aims are defined as to attempt to bring the workers' interests into harmony with the functioning of the enterprise".

This is the language of the Church, very influential with the leaders of the movement. Lech Walesa is on record as saying that he wouldn't trust himself to be a leader "if it were not for the influence of God" (BBC TV. 12 July 1981).

For the record, previous workers demands had been less humble and had insisted on free elections. Just before the Gdansk Agreement, at another shipyard occupation strike in Szczeczin. an agreement was reached which had nothing in it about the "leading role of the Party". But in Szczeczin no “experts" were allowed to hijack the workers' negotiations.

These "experts", like Mazowiecki, Michnik, Kuron and others of the KOR faction are now elected members of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, endorsed by Solidarity. However, last summers "free" and democratic elections were something of a fraud. Within a few weeks of the announcement of the election, Citizens' Committees (note: not workers' committees) sprang up and produced nominations: academics, writers, actors, film directors, names of all sorts, including KOR activists. Endorsed by Lech Walesa in the name of Solidarity—but without any process of consultation with the membership—these Solidarity candidates all got elected in the one-third of the seats open to them.

The election meant that the old PUWP. and its allies, held most of the seats but wherever there had been a choice, voters had shown their preference for Solidarity candidates. Jaruzelski chose to opt for a coalition, a form of power-sharing. Mazowiecki became Prime Minister and Kuron Minister of Labour while his side retained the key ministries of Defence, Internal Affairs, Transport and External Economic Relations. In short, the PUWP retained control over the armed forces and the police.

Consensus on Economic Reforms
The policies of the Mazowiecki government include the old classics of economic reform: ending food subsidies, increasing productivity, and introducing some form of “market economy". This is in line with the policy decided at the 1981 Solidarity Congress. and not very different from those which the PUWP were then advocating. As Marxism Today commented at the time. “Solidarity's reform proposals for economic decentralisation and the introduction of market mechanisms only diverge in degree from those of the Party and the government" (January 1982).

The continuity in policies is really quite striking. In July 1980. the then PUWP leader. Gierek, said that "rises in the standard of living have to be earned". The solution to Poland's economic crises, then and now, is to make the workers work harder and earn less.

Today, with inflation running at from 100 per cent to 500 per cent, workers' pay rises are not allowed to be above 80 per cent of the rise in the cost of living. So, even if they can obtain a rise, their earnings are cut by 20 per cent. If enterprises pay more, they are attacked with punitive taxation, even bankrupted. Kuron, as Minister of Labour, wants to limit the right to strike. His plan is for strike organisers to "be charged with paying the costs of strikes, a ban on political strikes and strikes concerning collective agreements that had previously been signed by the union"(Warsaw Voice). Incidentally, he appears on TV on Tuesday nights with helpful hints. Like his idea for solving the problem of poverty by opening an SOS bank account for people to send money to for distribution to the needy (a scheme which flopped due to objections from the Polish National Bank).

Under Solidarity rule, conditions for workers are not better than under Gierek in 1980, with shortages of basic essentials, high rates of accidents (in the mines, one death for every 500,000 tonnes of coal), the need to work weekends to supplement low wages, and so on.

Looking back, it seems that a consensus was reached in 1980-1 on plans for economic reform. These would include “marketisation", profit maximisation, ending the nomenklatura system, and some form of "workers' self-management". Already in 1980. Jerzy Urban of the PUWP wrote of the need to do a deal with the trade unions: “to find a place for the new trade unions in the whole system of government in Poland" (Polityka, November 1980).

Jaruzelski's strategy was to incorporate Solidarity as a partner in a coalition government. A similar policy was urged by the Church, always favouring national unity and “harmony". The result is that the PUWP does not have to carry the can for the unpleasant, harsh effects for workers of these “reforms". In fact the situation is one of role reversal. Once the workers' movement, Solidarity is now attacking workers’ living standards, forcing real wages down, and limiting their right to strike. And the PUWP and the old “official" unions are in opposition, protesting against price rises and objecting to Kuron's plans to limit the right to strike.

Enfranchisement of the Nomenklatura
So far the working class have not benefited from government policies. Who is benefiting? Quite a few members of the old elite, the nomenklatura of apparatchiks and managers, are busy feathering their own nests, setting up companies and acquiring business assets. Perfectly legal but decidedly unscrupulous activities are going on, according to the Warsaw Voice (31 December-7 January) in an article headed Watch Out, Thieves!’:
A new process called the "enfranchisement of the nomenklatura" began deep within the Polish economy. Beneficiaries of the previous system used their positions to secure their own financial futures by setting up companies which claimed state properly.
This began with buying up cars and property belonging to state offices and enterprises but "the extent of this destructive procedure is wider than had been believed".

Soon, when a scheme has been worked out for privatising industry, who do you think will have money to spare to buy shares and become legal capitalists? Not the working class, obviously. Effectively the "vanguard’' will re-establish its control of the means of production in a different form, no longer mediated through state ownership.

The Church will preach to the workers about the need for harmony. And Solidarity's activists will urge that their members be "responsible in their demands . . .  We as activists will ask our people here to understand and support the government of Mazowiecki", in the words of Edward Folcik, the Solidarity shop steward at a Wroclaw factory.

On a visit to Poland over the New Year I heard much that reminded me of the period, in the 1970s, when a Labour government arranged a deal with the TUC, a "social contract". This was not in the interests of the workers: in a period of inflation they were told that they could not demand pay rises; that this would not be in the national interest, and could mean the Tories getting back into power.

Similar arguments are used in Poland. Sacrifices must be made to get the economy on its feet again, “there is no other way", the only alternative would be to bring back the PUWP. And trade unions and clergy actively preach at the unfortunate workers about the need to work harder, for a “better tomorrow".
Charmian Skelton