From the Victorian slums of the Cowgate in Edinburgh to becoming one of the world’s greatest Socialist heroes.
He would become the head of movements for social justice, worker solidarity and economic equality in both colonised Ireland and that supposed ‘land of the free’, America.
Not to mention that this man, James Connolly, is very much symbolic of many of the core values associated with labouring classes – humility, solidarity, determination as well as being born of poverty; and all of this whilst showing an eternal pride of an unapologetically Irish heritage.
In addition to highlighting the obscene levels of ignorance and misplaced shame which the current Scottish political climate places upon James Connolly, this article will also detail in brief some of his Socialist and anti imperialist achievements.
Some of Connolly’s Socialist achievements are to be found in relation to his leadership of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) which helped militarise the defence of exploited industrial workers in Dublin, such as in the famous ‘lockout’ of 1913.
In other words, have a striking workforce defend themselves, militarily, on an even playing field against the Crowns heavily weaponised army and state police whilst picket lines remain doggedly manned in the interests of worker solidarity.
Another example may also include his raising of finances and awareness for socialism on both sides of the Atlantic or the extent to which he was a key player in the International Workers of the World (IWW) movement – all of these successes being amassed in the hope of liberating the shackles of oppression from the disadvantaged and exploited members of the working classes, before he was cowardly executed by the British in 1916.
This article could also wax lyrical regarding the key role he played in the Easter Rising- Ireland’s militarily doomed mission to fight against the distracted military might of the then world’s largest colonising force, the British – but better jobs have been done elsewhere from the pen of historians such as Tim Pat Coogan and Fearghal McGarry.
Remembering Connolly Correctly
If Connolly is to be remembered correctly, it ought to be in the way that the Irish mainstream remembers and commemorates this fine man.
For example, Connolly is martyred in Ireland and is, rightfully, portrayed in their state primary school curriculum as a founding father figure of their Republic. James Connolly is also, and again rightfully, celebrated by the seekers of social justice and economic equality throughout the world.
This is, unfortunately, a neo-liberal world where remembering Connolly is not supposed to be a positive exercise.
To any Socialist or individual with a social conscience who desires income inequality to be a thing of the past, remembering Connolly correctly is of the utmost and immediate significance however as his historical relevance has perhaps been never more, well, relevant.
For example, in the current days of state imposed austerity, pension swindles and public sector pay caps whilst blame is attached to the nations poorest and most vulnerable folk toiling for a daily ‘existence’ under the oppressive bourgeois boot of state manipulated poverty and economic inequality, I simply cannot imagine these inhumane politicised atrocities being executed so nonchalantly to a fairly passive electorate if James Connolly was still around.
Essentially the point being made here is that Connolly’s politics, socialism and hunger for worker solidarity has never been more necessary.
Yet some representatives of our people, like one time MSP for the Scottish Conservatives, Cameron Buchanan, opt to refer to him as a ‘terrorist’ or cast him as a ‘divisive political figure‘, thus completely de-legitimising him and distorting a powerful historical narrative simultaneously.
Some people really do need a history lesson every now and again.
One man’s terrorist…
Let’s be clear, Connolly was no terrorist. Anti imperialist revolutionary, yes – but no terrorist.
But of course, depending on one’s chosen narrative then, surely, one could colour Connolly a terrorist just like one could colour Ché or Mandela a terrorist.
It appears to be a strange and very obvious form of contradiction however, one which Marxist historian Neil Faulkner declares as being born of a British ‘holier than thou’ mindset, to declare men such as Connolly as the ‘terrorists’ when the colonising force, in this case the British, are occupiers of a land which they had never been invited and continue to remain there protected through the ages by fortified castle or militarised border.
Who indeed is the terrorist in this scenario, is entirely down to one’s own narrative and perception.
Those of the Scottish political establishment who choose the ‘terrorist’ narrative are usually belonging to the same political party whose former leader, and warmonger in chief of the Islas Malvinas (Falklands), Thatcher, once had the enraging ignorance to allow her party to print t shirts emblazoned, ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ whilst allowing senior MPs like Terry Dicks to declare Mandela simply as a ‘black terrorist…’ as late as 1990. (The Independent, 09/12/2013)
The point being made here is that perhaps the Conservatives chosen narratives are emanating from a ‘moral’ compass which is far too poisoned and blood soaked by historical policies of imperialism, war and anti republicanism in order to be taken too seriously when defining who the enemy or ‘terrorist’ really is.
‘…is another man’s Freedom Fighter’
Connolly as anti imperialist revolutionary in the name of Socialism however, continually sacrificing himself to fight for ‘the other man’ with certain martyrdom of his own short life almost a guarantee, is more accurate and justified.
In reference to his Socialist Republicanism one should remember some of his last words which were declared in the weeks before the 1916 Rising in which he stated that to raise the Green, White and Gold tricolour of Eire in place of the Union Jack would be useless if not the Red flag of Socialism was raised alongside it.
Flags may change and new landlords found, but Connolly believed only a Socialist Republic can provide the people of their own land with true collective ownership of power.
If any doubt lingers over this notion consider the extent to which imperialist nations go into hyper-drive in their attempts to thwart nearby Socialist risings. For example, the US with Cuba, El Salvador or Nicaragua. Not to mention the British in relation to the United Irish rebellion of 1798 led by visionary Republican and champion of the United Irishmen movement, Theobald Wolfe Tone.
In his own words Connolly subscribed vehemently to such anti imperialist ideals, in his 1898 lecture, ‘Men of Honour‘ he wrote,
‘Wolfe Tone was abreast of the revolutionary thought of his day, as are the Socialist Republicans of our day. He saw clearly, as we see, that a dominion as long rooted in any country as British dominion in Ireland can only be dislodged by a revolutionary impulse…’
Although it appears obvious by now that only the mainstream of British thought, traditional and Conservative in its core composition, is quite unique in that it declares Connolly a ‘terrorist’ whilst the International consensus is to recognise an anti imperialist martyr, these views are seemingly loud and proud – and legitimised – amongst the Scottish political classes.
Even worse, the only Scottish politician of late to openly recognise Connolly in a positive light is the same politician who was largely responsible for the introduction of a law which could see anyone arrested for discussing or singing about Connolly or Irish Republicanism in general.
This article is of course referring to the the now retired SNP stalwart Kenny McAskill, who was also former Minister for Justice, who attempted in 2015 to have a statue of Connolly erected in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, the place of Connolly’s birth.
On the face of it this is a tremendous, if long overdue, idea. However, in reality this episode allows those the politicised amongst us to conclude two things.
Firstly, it highlights the utter selfish careerism of a man who, practically minutes away from a well publicised retirement after three decades in politics, decides to push the positive and ‘Scots Working Class Hero’ narrative of Connolly.
Too little, too late Kenny.
Where was this narrative when MacAskill had more political clout? Was he simply too scared to push through such an idea or too cushy in his political office – if so, then shame on him.
If he had any real desire to honour James Connolly he would have surely put this idea forth in Parliament when he had more authority and political substance.
Secondly, as the Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC) movement pointed out at the time, it highlights the total cognitive dissonance, the idea that you may actively preach one thing whilst consciously aware you support its opposite, of one of Scottish politics heavyweights, the aforementioned MacAskill.
After all, this is the very same man who was a key architect and supporter of the discriminatory and legally ludicrous Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA) which could see an individual criminalised for even singing a song about Connolly within earshot of a matchday steward.
Connolly Bad – Famine Song, ok?
Lastly, to many who identify with the Celtic family or who identify ethnically as Irish living in Scotland, predominantly of a Catholic heritage, it just doesn’t seem morally correct that the mere mention of Connolly’s name, let alone debating the construction of a statue at the place of his birth, can get you arrested or publically ridiculed in this country.
Simultaneously, the same custodians of law, Police Scotland, appear to provide informal escorts to the pavement shuffling ‘Famine Song’ groupies and hangers on of the Orange Walk – something which is witnessed, recorded and has been retweeted throughout the public domain for a number of years now.
Connolly once stated in his lectures that,
‘The apostles of Freedom are ever idolised when dead, but crucified when living’
However, it appears that in 21stC Scotland the admiration or even simple acknowledgement of this working class hero is still yet to take place even a century after his execution.
Connolly’s achievements and self sacrifice in the name of the exploited workers of the world deserve idolisation, not continual misinterpretation.
If Connolly is to be remembered the way he ought to be by the mainstream, as a Scottish working class hero of great significance to Ireland and beyond in the name of worker solidarity and anti imperialism, then many in Scotland who identify as working class or as trade unionists with a belief in socialism, need to act. This could range from students and teachers to football fans and beyond.
Buy his books, read his free of charge printed lectures which have been lovingly digitised by the James Connolly Society, self educate about the Dublin Lockout of 1913 and, at the very least, Google his name and brush up on the basics of a man who held the interests of the working classes of the world more closer than anything to his defiant Proletariat heartbeat.
– This piece has been adapted from my earlier article which I submitted to the Celtic Star (05/2018)
– Image credit: independent.ie