“It is a fallacy to believe that a Republic of any kind can be won through the shackled Free State. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The Free State is British created and serves British Imperialist interests. It is the buffer erected between British Capitalism and the Irish Republic.”
– Liam Mellows
As I watch the Mowag Personnel Carriers and formations of men carrying rifles walking up O’Connell Street to comemmorate 1916, my main thought is “how dare they?” There’s a lot of revisionism around the Rising, mainly around the real politics of it. Chief among it is the idea that Pearse and Connolly were “founders of the state” and that the Irish Army are the inheritors of the Irish Volunteers. Even among the opposition to our establishment, this idea has taken hold, the idea prevailing that our current leaders sold out the state they were given, that this state represents anything besides greed and inequality. Of course this is true, but the fact is the state was founded on these principles, they are its raison d’être.
The Irish Republic was proclaimed in 1916, in the Proclamation. It wasn’t the first attempt at a Republic, you had the United Irishmen 1798 rebellion, the Rober Emmet 1803 rebellion and the 1867 Fenian Uprising. These all had a central objective, as Wolfe Tone put it:
To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country—these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissentions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter—these were my means.
To unite Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter under the common name of Irishmen in order break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils, that was my aim.
If the men of property will not support us, they must fall. Our strength shall come from that great and respectable class, the men of no property.
Tone is very clear here as to his aims, which were modelled on the French Revolutionary ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. All rebellions adopted these principles as the basis for Irish Republicanism – any Irish Republic had to be democratic, egalitarian, inclusive, secular and independent. These were the basis for all Irish republican uprisings, 1916 included.
When the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the successors of the Fenians, began its process of “infiltrating” national organisations, the newly-formed GAA, the Gaelic League and so on, the reason was to turn these groups into vehicles for obtaining those very principles. Only through a Republic could Ireland stand before the world with political, economic and social sovereignty. Of course, doing this would mean the largest empire in the world simply giving in, which was an obvious impossibility, therefore, there had to be a rebellion. The mechanisms and road to Easter Week are well known and I wont repeat them here.
In 1916 a Provisional Government was formed, which was “entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irish man and woman”, it promised universal suffrage for men and women, it guaranteed “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”
After the events post-1916, the Republican movement grew with an added emphasis after it led the organisation against conscription being extended to Ireland – when our modern “republic” is progressing further and further into pushing us into NATO and EU battlegroups. In 1918, Republicans won 73 out of 108 MP positions and using this mandate, declared an independent Republic, encompassing all 32 counties, with a new Parliament, Dáil Eireann, and a military force to defend the Republic, the Irish Republican Army. A Democratic Programme was adopted, which, building on the ideas of the Proclamation, and of Republicanism historically, enshrined “the ownership of all the wealth and wealth-producing processes to the nation”. The Republic would not be merely independent from Britain, it would be independent of its inhuman Capitalist system, based on exploitation.
After almost 3 years of guerilla war, terror from the British occupation forces, the establishment of the Republic was still holding, with a court system, policing system and so on. The British Government had to offer concessions, they could not crush the Republic. The shrewd British decided the best way to pacify Ireland would be to take advantage of the broad-church formation of Republicanism. The middle-class and capitalist-aligned nationalists such as Griffith, Collins, Mulcahy, were swayed into accepting a Treaty which increased the prosperity of Irish business people, but was not in the interests of the majority. The new Irish Free State crushed the Irish Republic, replaced with it was a 26-county dominion, with the Church in full control, with Britain still retaining control of Irish banking and the economy based largely on a dependence with the British economy, with plenty of profit to be made for Irish financiers, politicians and gombeens.
The Republicans fought on, the Republican Army’s headquarters at the Four Courts in Dublin were shelled by the Free State army, on the orders of the British, with the use of British arms, with an army made up of not a few ex-British army soldiers who simply transferred their allegiance to the new Free State. Up to 77 Republicans were executed in the Civil War, with many reprisals and massacres by the Free State, such as Ballyseedy. The citizens of Ireland were told by the Church not to support the Republicans, the media denounced them as a “gang”, its leaders, Mellows, O’Connor etc. were eliminated. After the defeat of the Republic in the so-called Civil War (1922-23), the Republicans were prevented from gaining employment, organising politically, forced to emigrate. In 1927, the Fianna Fáil party would break with the Republicans and enter parliament, its desire was to change it from within. However, they did not analyse the core conditions that led the Free State to establish itself, FF merely increased the role of the Church, kept the economy linked to Britain, including our currency linked to sterling, and built a country which was still run by the gombeens, for the gombeens. Executions, such as of Charlie Kerins, censorship and internment were continued under Fianna Fáil. The Free State was solidified. The Republican ideal, further undermined.
This state went through further years of lack of independence, lack of democracy, inequality, exploitation, but had the gall to declare itself a republic in 1949, with the 6 counties seemingly forgotten about! Fast forward to 2016, we can see little difference. The link to Britain is still there, 6 counties are still controlled by Britain, Irish banking and finance is linked to the EU, the gombeens are still getting richer, and we’re getting poorer. The Republic envisioned by Pearse and Connolly, of Mellows and O’Donnell, of Costello and Sands, is still not there. We need, on the centenary of 1916, to continue the fight for the Republic. We must learn from our failures in the past, as Connolly said, “only the Irish working-class are the incorruptible inheritors of Irish freedom”, as Tone said, “if the men of property do not help us, they must fall, we will rely on that noble and respectable class, the men of no property”. We must accept the Republic of 1916 was there, but it was betrayed and destroyed, driven underground, and with it the ideals and beauty contained in the ideals of 1916 and its leaders. This is why we have a bank bailout, a state subservient to the EU and the banking class, why we have water privatization, homelessness, a healthcare crisis, mental health issues, an education system that does not teach us what Pearse and Connolly believed and a leadership that seems not to care. Is it really corruption when they’re only doing what they’re meant to do? We can’t say we weren’t warned:
If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.England would 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 shehas planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that Freedom whose cause you had betrayed.
– James Connolly