Socialism and Irish Nationalism Essay

This essay has a total of 1631 words and 7 pages.

Socialism and Irish Nationalism

The 1913 Lockout was the culmination of several years of political organisation and
agitation among the unskilled working class, carried out primarily through the Irish
Transport Workers Union. The ITGWU had been founded by Larkin in 1909 specifically as a
union of the unskilled, long deemed 'unorganisable' by the official trade union movement.
The open militancy of the ITGWU was a new departure in the history of the Irish trade
union movement and the organisation grew rapidly, from 4,000 members in 1911 to 10,000 by
1913. The ITGWU quickly came up against determined resistance from employers, the police
and the British state.

However some of the most vitriolic abuse and opposition to this manifestation of the
independent organisation of the working class was expressed by Irish nationalist
organisations, not only the official Irish Parliamentary (Home Rule) Party but also by the
more 'radical' Sinn Fein movement led by Arthur Griffith. While James Connolly declared
the indivisibility of the of the struggle for Irish independence from the fight for
socialism he was essentially a lone voice whose ideology, based on the application of
Marxist principles to the Irish situation, was a radical break from the previous two
centuries of Irish nationalism which had laid the foundations for the collection of
political beliefs that still dominate the discussion on the 'National Question'.

Irish nationalism, as it developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries was an eclectic
mixture of aspects of various political doctrines, not necessarily of Irish origin, which
were gradually amalgamated in different forms by the groups who adopted a policy of Irish
independence. In the 1890-1910 period at least four main nationalist organisations
existed, these being the Irish Parliamentary Party, Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican
Brotherhood and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Around these a series organisations, some
officially 'non political' had emerged such as the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic
League and a number of bodies promoting cultural expression and the Gaelic revival.

The genesis of what can be broadly termed as Irish Nationalism emerged from the ideals of
the United Irishmen and the failed rebellion of 1798. All of the above organisations
active in the early 20th Century claimed a heritage that stemmed from the radical ideas
propounded by Wolfe Tone and his supporters in the 1790's, Sinn Fein and the IRB more so
than the Irish Parliamentary Party or the Ancient Order of Hibernians. However the ideals
put forward by the United Irishmen in the 1790's were profoundly different the strain of
Irish nationalism that emerged in the 19th Century. The Republican tradition founded on
the ideas of Wolfe Tone, Samuel Neilson and others within the United Irishmen owed a large
measure of inspiration to the political beliefs which led to the French revolution of
1789. There was, for example, a strong vein of secularism and anti clericalism running
through the United Irish movement that found no expression in the later nationalist
tradition of Sinn Fein and the Irish Parliamentary Party.

The constitutional nationalist tradition drew its inspiration from the long political
career of Daniel O'Connell and the later Home Rule campaign directed by Charles Stuart
Parnell. O'Connell, Parnell and John Redmond dominate the stage of Irish history and are
portrayed as the champions of nationalist Ireland. Nationalists they undoubtedly were but
their political motivation, supporters and ideology do not make them champions of the
cause of the working class.

The first opportunity for organised political action by the Irish working class on the
issue of national independence and the development of internationalist links with the
English working class emerged in the 1830's but were effectively blocked by Daniel O
'Connell.

O 'Connell, long revered in Irish history as 'The Liberator' was a consistent enemy of the
working class and laid the foundations for the anti English and anti socialist premises at
the root of much of Irish nationalism. O Connell's family background is of interest as are
some of his less publicised political activities. O Connell was born into a family of the
minor landowning catholic gentry. He received his education in France during the period of
the French Revolution, which swept away the reactionary catholic ancient regime forever.
These experiences are held as the formative influences on a political career in which he
famously declared the Irish freedom was not worth the shedding of a drop of blood. It is a
less well known fact that O Connell was a volunteer with the Lawyers Yeomanry Corps which
rounded up supporters of Robert Emmet's failed rebellion in 1803, was the suppression of
Irish freedom worth paying such a price?

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