Correspondence: A response to D.R. O’Connor Lysaght on James Connolly
26 October 2007
I found much to agree with in D.R. O’Connor
Lysaght’s “By way of Ken Loach: socialism, republicanism and Connolly”
However, the comrade also seems to have misinterpreted me badly on a couple of occasions. In the opening paragraph where he summarises the counterposed positions of Jim and myself he says, “Philip Ferguson tends to accept the struggle, and, more importantly, the revolutionary nationalists who wage it, as leading naturally to the achievement of socialism.” I’m mystified as to how he got this view from what I wrote on Connolly’s strategy. After all, if I held that view I would think Connolly should have just immersed himself in the Republican Movement of the time – rather than, as I believe he did, tried to make a united front with the most advanced section of republicans.
Least there be any remaining confusion here, let me state again: I don’t believe republicanism can (spontaneously or otherwise) develop the programme and organisation necessary to lead and win the struggle for national liberation (let alone socialism) in Ireland.
My pieces on Connolly show that he stood outside of organised republicanism, built an independent force and pursued a revolutionary strategy that aimed to unite the most radical forces of the time, including the most advanced republicans and feminists, around his own.
The fact that he pursued this strategy from the time war broke out also shows that he was not any kind of “desperado” – indeed, I’m perplexed at how Raynor could possibly think I view Connolly as such. My whole argument is clearly the opposite to such a view.
Raynor’s argument seems to be that Connolly was left with little choice but to participate in the Rising – indeed, the action of a rather desperate individual. My argument is that while the Rising fell short of Connolly’s plans, it was nevertheless the fruition of what he had worked and fought for. He was the key political leader of the Rising and the ICA played a political role well above its numerical size. He was in the GPO not because he had no alternative, as Raynor seems to suggest, but because he was the chief political architect of the Rising. And, far from ditching socialism for nationalism, as the revisionists claim, Connolly had pulled the most advanced republicans leftward.
Connolly’s strategy was a model of how Marxist revolutionaries could proceed in the concrete context of Ireland and the importance of the national question. The tragedy was the absence of a revolutionary party, the importance of which did not become more clear until the 1917 October revolution.
Today, the situation is different. While objectively crucial (and structurally key) the national question in Ireland does not appear to have the same ability to mobilise people as in the past. The mass defection of the Provos to the camp of the enemy has largely obliterated organised republicanism and shown the shortcomings of even the most militant forms of Irish republicanism. It is also not a lone process. National liberation movements around the world have taken the same course (indeed, the Provos were among the last to take this road). So we may be entering a new era in which national liberation movements are over and conscious revolutionary socialist parties alone can lead the struggle for national liberation, doing so within the context of fighting for socialism.
In this case, Connolly’s specific strategy
is a historical debate with little relevance to today, except insofar as
it shows the need to take a creative approach to other radicalising forces
and draw them around the revolutionary movement. This is counterposed
to the approach of liquidating the revolutionary movement in other social
movements as has been the wont often in the case of the Fourth International
or adopting a petty sectarian attitude to new movements as has often been
the case with other Trotskyist currents.