Paper presented to James Connolly Education Trust
Dublin, 21 March 2006

A comradeship of principle:
Connolly and Pearse

Mícheál Mac Aonghusa




Without the First World War there would have been no Easter Rising. The year 1914 saw the beginning of a war which was an inevitable phase in the development of capitalist imperialism. The so-called Great War was the first large-scale conflict about markets as much as colonies. Imperial chauvinisms called working people to their wretched flags and destroyed their lives. Communities hundreds of miles from the theatre of war were decimated. It was the greatest challenge to date for the international socialist movement, and the movement failed. Its leaders with very few exceptions clambered to the colours of king, kaiser, or tsar. The Second International collapsed in shameful submission to the dictates and interests of the ruling classes of the major European states. Virtually every socialist party pledged its members to the war effort of their respective states. It was a catastrophe from which we still have not fully recovered.
      Dulce est mori pro patria1 was the shibboleth of the era, endorsed by employer and landlord, by preacher and journalist, by butler and foreman. To question that shibboleth was considered an obscenity throughout most of civil society. To this day there is still a clinging reverence to that ethos. Those who were sent out by the warlords to butcher each other are spoken of as having made a sacrifice, as if they offered up their lives for something sacred. Each side claimed the other was tyrannical. God was called upon to bless both sides. The deity had almost as acute a split personality in 1914 as she, he or it has now in the days of Bush and Osama.
      In Ireland the imperial power had no qualms about appealing to the nationalist instincts of most people. “The real Irish spirit,” the posters proclaimed, showing the recruit setting out for the trenches. Religion too was brought into the game with reference to “little Catholic Belgium.” And religion, nationalism and machismo came together in the call for chivalrous Irish soldiers to protect nuns in Belgian convents from the unspeakable horrors that faced them if the barbarous Huns caught hold of them. The war seemed to open up the possibility of a general crisis in capitalism, especially if socialists had kept to their principles and refused to back the war on either side. It might have been different if a significant number had followed Lenin’s call to turn the imperial war into a civil war, if workers refused to be cannon fodder and stopped the war by revolting against their class masters. Unfortunately it didn’t happen. At least it didn’t happen except in Russia and, with less success, in Ireland.
      In this talk I want to concentrate on James Connolly and Patrick Pearse, the two main leaders of the rising, and particularly on Pearse, who is so much a hate figure for fatuous commentators. They were two different men with different personalities. Both of them are representative of dynamic political tendencies, and it is precisely because of this that both are derided in an infantile way in order to prevent serious discussion of their politics.
      The two men had different backgrounds. Connolly was born into a poor Irish community in Edinburgh. It was a life that allowed no adolescence, and hardly any childhood. At fourteen he found himself in the British Army, something he was so unproud of that he never told his children about it. At a young age he became a socialist organiser, agitator, and educator. By the time he arrived in Dublin in 1896 he was well read in Marx and other socialist writers, an educated and experienced political activist. He had achieved a good general as well as political education despite very little schooling.
      Pearse had a more comfortable upbringing in this house2 and a different kind of education. In his teens he developed a vibrant interest in the Irish language, its literature and folklore and as a young man was already an accomplished scholar in Irish and a ground-breaking writer.
      Every national cultural movement has two aspects which often constitute a dynamic contradiction: the traditional and the modernist. The traditional emphasises the folkloric, literary and linguistic wealth of the culture while the modernist aspect concentrates on merging the culture into modern life and enabling it not merely to survive but to deal with mainstream life in the future. In the context of this analysis Pearse quickly became very much the modernist. He introduced the modern short story into Irish, against the opposition of those who somehow believed the form did not suit the language. Pearse also supported the development of the written language on the basis of contemporary spoken usage rather than the seventeenth-century standard of Geoffrey Keating. Later, when he became more politically minded, he published An Barr Buadh, a journal in Irish specifically devoted to discussion of political matters. It is worth noting that he was very much aware of conditions, tendencies and movements abroad which might have relevance for the Irish language movement. It should be said he was not alone in that. If you look at radical nationalist periodicals in Ireland in the twenty years before 1916 it is quite striking how much material appeared in them concerning events in other countries. Indeed there is a clear differentiation between them and the media of the parliamentary party, which focused more on London.
      For many years Pearse was an outstanding cultural nationalist. His instinctive sympathies from his youth were separatist, but apart from that he did not write very much about political issues in his early days. But we know he was not blind to the wider world as he showed in his interest in the rights of women and in education. He very much put his head over the parapet in the discussion preceding the establishment of the National University of Ireland, siding with those who demanded equal rights for women in the new institution. This was at a time when the desirability of women being conferred with degrees (much less holding academic posts) was far from universally accepted in nationalist Ireland. He also agitated for women’s suffrage at a time when such a demand was not taken seriously by that many men. And, although it might appear a minor thing, he broke with convention when he went on holiday, on one occasion at least, with Mary Hayden, the historian. I have no reason to believe that the relationship between them was anything other than platonic. The point I am making is that he went against the mores of the time. One can also see a certain international liberationist character coming into Pearse’s thoughts. At one stage he commented: “There have been States in which the Rich did not grind the poor, although there are no such States now; there have been free self-governing democracies, although there are few such democracies now.”
      Pearse held that there was no education in Ireland apart from the efforts of a few people, mostly mad. He claimed that what existed in place of an educational system was a murder machine, aimed at turning young men and women into things or commodities. And things, as he pointed out, had no allegiance. They were goods or products to be bought or sold. “Education,” he went on, “should foster; this education [the murder machine] is meant to repress. Education should harden; this education is meant to enervate.”
      Pearse noted how much the educational system—even at that time—had taken on itself the terminology of capitalism.
Our common parlance has become impressed with the conception of education as some sort of manufacturing process. Our children are the “raw material”; we desiderate for their education “modern methods” which must be “efficient” but “cheap”; we send them to Clongowes to be “finished”; when “finished” they are “turned out”; specialists “grind” them for the English Civil Service and the so-called liberal professions; in each of our great colleges there is a department known as the “scrap-heap,” though officially called the Fourth Preparatory—the limbo to which the debris ejected by the machine is relegated. The stuff there is too hard or too soft to be moulded to the pattern required by the Civil Service Commissioners or the Incorporated Law Society.
      As an educationalist Pearse was far ahead of his time and, I believe, of ours. His views are couched in national terms but are of universal validity. His ideal educational system was one where freedom would reign—“freedom to the individual school; freedom to the individual teacher, freedom as far as may be to the individual pupil.” For Pearse freedom was essential to growth, and education was the fostering of the growth of personalities.
      Speaking of the school syllabus in 1914 he wrote:
There are no ideas there, no love of beauty, no love of books, no love of knowledge, no heroic inspiration. And there is no room for such things on earth or in the heavens, for the earth is cumbered and the heavens darkened by the monstrous bulk of the programme.
      We have an elaborate machinery for teaching certain subjects, and the teaching is done more or less efficiently; more efficiently I imagine, than such teaching is done in England or America. We have three universities and four boards of education. We have some thousands of buildings, large and small. We have an army of inspectors, mostly overpaid. We have a host of teachers, mostly underpaid. We have a Compulsory Education Act. We have the grave and bulky code of the Commissioners of National Education, and the slim impertinent pamphlet which enshrines the wisdom of the Commissioners of Intermediate Education. We have a vast deal more in the shape of educational machinery and properties. But, we have, I repeat, no education system; and only in isolated places have we any education. The essentials are lacking.
      Pearse was not merely a theoretician. He pleaded for proper payment for teachers: “between the salary offered to teachers,” he said, “and the excellence of a country’s educational system there is a vital connection.” And he went on to complain about high salaries earned by the officials who lorded over the system.
      He condemned the domination of the classroom by the law of “Thou shall not” and “Thou must.” He reviled the pressure on every school, every teacher and every pupil to conform to type. When a parent approached him in St Enda’s complaining that his son was no good at anything but playing a tin whistle, Pearse retorted, “Buy him a tin whistle.”
      The idea still current in certain quarters that Pearse was a religious sectarian is totally at variance with his lucidly expressed attitudes. Speaking of Tone he said: “The great clear conception came to him then in Ireland there must be not two nations or three nations, but one nation, that Protestant and Dissenter must be brought into amity with Catholic and that Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter must unite to achieve freedom for all.”
      Equally he was against any notion of Irish nationality based on race or ethnicity. Writing in January 1914 he said:
I challenge again the Irish psychology of the man who sets up the Gael and the palesman as opposing forces, with conflicting outlooks. We are all Irish, Leinster-reared or Connacht-reared; your native Irish speaker of Iveragh or Erris is more fully in touch with the spiritual part of Ireland than your Wexfordman or your Kildareman, but your Kildareman has other Irish traditions which your Iveragh or your Errisman has lost. It is a great thing to have heard in childhood the songs of Tadhg Gaedhealach or to have seen a Raftery or a Colm Wallace; it is an equally good thing to have known men who fought in Wexford in ’98, or to have been nursed by a woman who made bullets for the Fenians. All such memories, old and new, are part of Irish history and he who would segregate Irish history and Irish men into two sections—Irish-speaking and English-speaking—is not helping toward achieving Ireland a nation.
      Am I a Palesman and is Lord O’Brien of Kilfenora a Gael? I propose that in future we reserve the term of Palesman for those who uphold the domination of the English in Ireland. I propose also that we substitute for the denominations Gael, Gall and Gall-Gael the common name of Irishman.
      Around the same time he wrote elsewhere:
Ní gá do scoil Éireannach a bheith ina scoil lán-Ghaeilge oiread níos mó ná gur gá do náisiún Éireannach a bheith ina náisiún lán-Ghaeilge; ach i gcás scoil Éireannach, ba chóir go mbeadh an cultúr Gaelach go smior ann, agus sí an Ghaeilge gabhdán an chultúir.
      Nineteen-twelve was a pivotal year in Pearse’s political development. He supported the Home Rule Bill as a huge step forward but, addressing a public meeting in O’Connell Street (on the same platform as John Redmond), he warned that if London failed Ireland by turning down, watering down or delaying the bill “go mbeadh sé ina chogadh dearg in Éirinn.” From now onwards he spoke more and more at meetings and gained a public political profile. When Provost Mahaffy of Trinity College banned a meeting in the college to commemorate Robert Emmet he cited as one of his reasons that it would be addressed by “a man called Pearse.” Before long the IRB began to worry about Pearse, that he was saying too much too publicly, and they took him into membership, partly to shut him up. It is ironic that in late 1915 Pearse had the same worry about Connolly. In fact some of the labour leader’s continuous calls to arms infuriated him because of the danger that they might bring down repression which would destroy the IRB’s plans. For Connolly it would have been catastrophic for the war to end without an armed uprising in Ireland. He didn’t expect all that much from the Volunteers and was unaware of the extent of IRB control of the organisation at this stage or their advanced plans. His relationship with the Volunteers under the nominal command of Eoin Mac Néill was somewhat fraught. Mac Néill, for instance, had banned the Citizen Army from using a Volunteer drilling hall, on the grounds that some of their members had been in trouble with the police. At the beginning of 1916 Pearse was one of those who had Connolly virtually kidnapped to confide in him, get him to be more careful about what he said in public but more important to bring him into the planning of the rising (and apparently into membership of the IRB).
      Pearse’s journalistic work in 1912 and 1913 shows a broadening of his political interests. The events of the 1913 lock-out were a challenge to every politically conscious person in Ireland.
      William Martin Murphy was the proprietor of the Irish Independent and Evening Herald as well as the Irish Catholic. He also had a controlling interest in the Dublin United Tramway Company, where workers worked long hours in bad conditions and were paid much less than their counterparts on the Belfast trams. His other interests included Clery’s department store in O’Connell Street. He later became president of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. He devoted himself to defending the privileges of capital over any consideration of the rights of workers. In this he was supported by the biggest employers in Dublin, including Eason’s and Jacob’s. It was the DUTC which made Murphy a particularly rich man. He was vicious and ruthless and summarily dismissed any employee caught trying to recruit for the ITWU. “He can,” he said, “go to Mr. Larkin for his pay.” At Murphy’s instigation a total of 20,000 workers were dismissed or locked out in Dublin for refusing to sign a pledge that they would not join the Transport Union. This was followed by a concerted attempt to impose a regime of non-union labour in employments where the workers had been previously unionised.
      Connolly realised the need to broaden the 1913 struggle and avoid what we might nowadays label a narrow “workerist” position. He welcomed “the keen and sympathetic interest shown by the ‘intellectuals’ in the fortunes of the workers” and went on to comment:
In itself this was a phenomenon in Ireland. Until then, there had been discovered no means of bridging the gap between the Irish workers who toiled as ordinary day labourers, and those other workers whose toil was on the intellectual plane, and whose remuneration kept them generally free from the actual pressure of want. In other European countries the Socialist movement had brought these two elements together, in organised defensive and aggressive warfare against the brutal regime of the purse; but in Ireland the fight for national freedom had absorbed the intellect of the one, and prevented the development of the necessary class-consciousness on the part of the other. But when the belief that some form of national freedom was about to be realised spread in Ireland, and consequently the minds of all began to turn to consideration of the uses to which that freedom might be put, the possibility of co-operation between these two classes became apparent to the thoughtful patriot and reformer.
      For the Sinn Féin leadership of the day working-class militancy and consciousness was a shock and an unwanted complication in Irish political life. Arthur Griffith was totally opposed to the workers and sided with William Martin Murphy. He made vitriolic attacks on Larkin, characterising him as an imported English evil. (He later made similar attacks in 1922 on Erskine Childers, calling him “a damned Englishman.”) The IRB took a more benign view, telling one member at least, namely Seán O’Casey, that they were not opposed to members supporting Larkin’s union. It should also be said that not all the trade union leaders of the day were supportive of Larkin. Nevertheless it is clear that the tram strikers and, especially, the locked-out workers had widespread public support.
      In The Reconquest of Ireland, published in 1915, Connolly reiterated his belief that the English conquest had ensured “the imposition upon Ireland of an alien rule in political matters, and of a social system equally alien and even more abhorrent.” For Connolly national liberation was not an optional or secondary goal. On the other hand, national independence would be merely symbolic if it did not facilitate radical economic and social change.
      He also understood quite clearly that national independence could never be achieved without an alliance of progressive forces. But he never hid his socialist aims from his allies and always worked to win significant elements to the socialist cause.
The Gaelic Leaguer realises that capitalism did more in one century to destroy the tongue of the Gael than the sword of the Saxon did in six; the apostle of self-reliance amongst Irishmen and women finds no more earnest exponents of self-reliance than those who expound it as the creed of Labour; the earnest advocates of co-operation find the workers stating their ideals as a co-operative commonwealth; the earnest teacher of Christian morality sees that in the co-operative commonwealth alone will true morality be possible, and the fervent patriot learns that his hopes of an Ireland re-born to national life is better stated, and can be better and more completely realised, in the Labour movement for the Re-Conquest of Ireland.
This appeal to non-socialist progressive forces anticipated the development of the internationally practised United Front approach of twenty years later.
      The events of 1913 did divide Irish society seriously. For most of bourgeois Ireland the new aggressive trade unionism was a destructive force, creating mayhem and threatening chaos to the established economic order. Many conservative Irish nationalists saw it as pitting Irish people against each other and introducing foreign ideas about socialism, which we could do without. Nevertheless the appalling living and working conditions in central Dublin were exposed as never before and caused great concern to thinking people regardless of their social background. There was widespread middle-class sympathy with the plight of the workers, especially after the ruthless mass lock-out and the brutal and fatal batoning of workers.
      Pearse responded vigorously to the intellectual and moral challenge posed by the events of 1913. I would like to read at some length a piece written by Pearse in a series called “From a Hermitage,” the hermitage being the house of that name in Rathfarnham; and he playfully refers to himself as a hermit, although there is nothing heremitical about his awareness of what was happening in the Dublin of those days and weeks.
It is not amusing to be hungry; at least (for I desire to be moderate in my language), it is not very amusing. Though hunger be proverbially good sauce, one may have too much of it, as of most good things; and while meat without sauce is tolerable, sauce without meat is apt to pall. Yorkshire Relish, I am told, is delicious, but one would not care to dine upon it. Hunger sauce must be still less sustaining. Indeed the only advantage that Hunger Sauce seems to possess over other brands is its extreme cheapness. The very poorest can enjoy it and it is one of the few luxuries that the rich will not grudge them. But, as far as nutritious properties are concerned, the cakes recommended by Marie Antoinette to the starving peasants of France in lieu of bread were preferable. “Why are the people crying?” “Your Majesty, they have no bread.” “But why not eat cake?” asked the Queen.
      Poor Marie Antoinette did not quite grasp the situation in France. In the end they grasped her and hurried her to the guillotine. If Marie Antoinette could have got at the peasant’s point of view there might have been no French Revolution. There are only two ways of righting wrongs: reform and revolution. Reform is possible when those who inflict the wrong can be got to see things from the point of view of those who suffer the wrong. Some men can see from other men’s point of view by sympathy; most men cannot until you actually put them in the other men’s shoes. I would like to put some of our well-fed citizens in the shoes of our hungry citizens, just for an experiment. I would try the hunger cure upon them. It is known that hunger is a good sauce; it is also known that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. It is further known that a pound a week is sufficient to sustain a Dublin family in honest hunger—at least very rich men tell us so, and very rich men know all about everything, from art galleries to the domestic economy of the tenement room. I would ask those that know that a man can live and thrive, can house, can feed, clothe, and educate a large family on a pound a week to try the experiment themselves. Let them show us how the thing is done. We will allow them a pound a week for the sustenance of themselves and their families, and will require them to hand over their surplus income, over and above a pound a week to some benevolent object. I am quite certain that they will enjoy their poverty and their hunger. They will go about with beaming faces; they will wear spruced and well-brushed clothes; they will drink their black tea with gusto and masticate their dry bread scientifically (Lady Aberdeen will tell them the proper number of bites per slice); they will write books on “How to be Happy though Hungry”; when their children cry for more food they will smile; when their landlord calls for their rent they will embrace him; when their house falls upon them they will thank God; when policemen smash in their skulls they will kiss the chastening baton. They will do these things—perhaps; in the alternative they may come to see that there is something to be said for the hungry man’s hazy idea that there is something wrong somewhere.
      It is, of course, easy for me, a well-fed hermit, to write with detachment about hunger. It is always easy for well-fed persons to take detached views of such things; indeed, sometimes the views of the well fed on these matters are so detached from their subject as to have no relation to it at all. If I were hungry, I should probably write with a little more passion than I am displaying. Indeed if I were as hungry at this moment as many equally good men of Ireland undoubtedly are, it is probable that I should not be sitting here wielding this pen; possibly I should be on the streets wielding a paving stone. I frankly admit that I am well fed; but you must not imagine me a sybarite. Being a hermit, I limit myself to four square meals a day, except on feast-days when, for the greater glory of God, I allow myself five. If I were not thus explicit my views on economic questions might be discounted; I should be described as belonging to the “lowest stratum” of society, and therefore not in any real sense a member of society, or indeed of the human race, at all; it would be hinted that I am a “loafer,” that I frequent “street corners,” that I am a “socialist,” a “syndicalist,” and other weird things. I once took up a modest part in breaking up a meeting in the Antient Concert Rooms. The next day the Independent called me an “unwashed youth.” A youth I certainly was, but I had washed myself with scrupulous care that blessed morning; indeed, it is my habit to wash myself in the mornings. A distinguished scholar (now a Professor of the National University) and a distinguished woman of letters (now prominent in the counsels of the United Irishwomen) were beside me on that occasion, and they too were described as “unwashed youths”: the words “of both sexes” were added, lest it might be left open to inference that even the ladies who disagree with the Independent were so virtuous as to wash themselves. When, therefore, you differ in opinion from a newspaper it is always well to let it be known that you wash yourself regularly, that you take the normal number of meals, that you pay your rent and taxes, that you go to church or chapel, and that, in short, you conform in all particulars to the lofty standard of conduct set by such an eminent fellow-citizen of yours as Mr. William M. Murphy.
      That, by the way, is a damned good piece of writing, as good as, if not better than, anything written by Swift.
      The writer later said:
I calculate that one third of the people of Dublin are underfed; that half the children attending Irish primary schools are ill-nourished. Inspectors of the National Board will tell you that there is no use in visiting primary schools in Ireland after one or two in the afternoon: the children are too weak and drowsy with hunger to be capable of answering intelligently. I suppose there are twenty thousand families in Dublin in whose domestic economy milk and butter are all but unknown: black tea and dry bread are their staple articles of diet. There are many thousand fireless hearth-places in Dublin on the bitterest days of winter; there would be many thousand more only for such bodies as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Twenty thousand families live in one-room tenements. It is common to find two or three families occupying the same room; and sometimes one of the families will have a lodger! There are tenement rooms in Dublin in which over a dozen persons live, eat and sleep. High rents are paid for these rooms, rents which in cities like Birmingham would command neat four-roomed cottages with gardens. The tenement houses of Dublin are so rotten that they periodically collapse upon their inhabitants, and if the inhabitants collect in the streets to discuss matters the police baton them to death.
      These are among the grievances against which men in Dublin are beginning to protest. Can you wonder that that protest is at last made? Can you wonder that the protest is crude and bloody? I do not know whether the methods of Mr. James Larkin are wise methods or unwise methods (unwise, I think, in some respects), but this I know, that here is almost hideous wrong to be righted, and that the man who attempts honestly to right it is a good man and a brave man.
      One of the brighter aspects of the 1913 struggle was the cargoes of material help sent to Dublin by English workers. This was not welcomed by everybody, especially by those who feared that the immortal souls of starving children might be endangered by accepting aid from such an alien source. Archbishop Walsh preached against socialism and Larkinism but lost the head completely when mothers sent their children to England for the duration of the lock-out. Pearse, on the other hand, pointed out the contradiction in “an employer who accepts the aid of foreign bayonets to enforce a lock-out of his workmen and accuses the workmen of national dereliction because they accept foreign alms for their starving wives and children.” By this stage of his life he had become somewhat adept at recognising contradictions. He opined, for instance, that a millionaire supporting universal peace was an incongruity.
      In the couple of years that followed, the influence of the radical labour movement and its literature had a clear effect on Pearse. He moved from a decent humanitarian approach to a more politically defined stance. In The Separatist Idea, published in February 1916 but written months earlier, he argued that the nation must have jurisdiction over property. He went out of his way to introduce this principle in a work primarily making the case for national independence. Up to then hardly anybody in Ireland apart from Connolly and his supporters would have raised the issue.
      The establishment of the Ulster Volunteers initiated a period of militarisation of Irish society. It was followed a year later by the Citizen Army, then the Volunteers, which had a mass following before it split into pro and anti-imperial war bodies. When recruiting for the British Army gained momentum, armed and marching men of one allegiance or other were common sights on the roads of Ireland.
      In The Coming Revolution Pearse wrote:
There will be in the Ireland of the next few years a multitudinous activity of Freedom Clubs, Young Republican Parties, Labour Organisations, Socialist groups and what not; bewildering enterprises undertaken by sane persons and insane persons, by good men and bad men, many of them seemingly contradictory, some mutually destructive, yet all tending towards a common objective, and that objective the Irish Revolution.
      On 31 March 1916 Pearse published his last pamphlet, The Sovereign People. It was the result of a period of intense political development, partly a final statement of his politics and also an effort to work out the ideas going through his head which he never had the opportunity to put into any final form. Nevertheless his whole outlook had advanced greatly in the direction of socialism. He set down: “. . . the nation’s sovereignty extends to all the material possessions of the nation, the nation’s soil and all its resources [but also to] all wealth and all wealth-producing processes within the nation. In other words, no private right to property is good as against the public right of the nation.” He goes on: “And I claim that the nation’s sovereignty over the nation’s material resources is absolute; but that obviously such sovereignty must be exercised for the good of the nation and without prejudice to the rights of other nations, since national sovereignty like everything else on earth, is subject to the laws of morality.”
      Not only does this put Pearse very much on the left of the international politics of his time but today it would leave him very much outside the pale, as delineated by colleagues of Mr Pat Rabbitte, for example. It is also worth noting that in a situation where his priority was still to make the case for sovereignty and, indeed, national independence, he acknowledges that such sovereignty must be limited by the rights of other nations and an agreed standard of ethics. Ninety years ago, although he had not got around to developing the matter further, he had touched in prototypical form on the need for international law to protect sovereign rights and to set out a code of law for their use, a need still not satisfied.
      In The Sovereign People Pearse went on to say: “It is for the nation to determine to what extent private property may be held by its members, and in what items of the nation’s material resources private property should be allowed.” He expressed, in particular, the desirability of nationalising land in Ireland and also the transport system. But, he said, “a nation may go further and determine that all resources of wealth whatever are the property of the nation, that each individual shall gives his service for the nation’s good, and shall be adequately provided for by the nation and that all surplus wealth shall go to the national treasury to be expended on national purposes, rather than be accumulated by private persons.” This was virtually the last political statement made by Pearse before the rising. It is far from an utterance one might expect from the cartoon character lampooned in the pages of the Irish Times or the Sunday Independent. It is close to the Marxist maxim “From each according to his means; to each according to his needs.”
      These last writings of Pearse were not immediately forgotten. They were enshrined in the Democratic Programme of Dáil Éireann, adopted on 21 January 1919:
We declare in the words of the Irish Republican proclamation the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies to be indefeasible and in the language of our first president, Pádraig Mac Piarais, we declare that the nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all the men and women of the nation, but to all its material possessions, the nation’s soil and all its resources, all the wealth and the wealth-producing processes within the nation and with him we affirm that all right to private property must be subordinate to the public right and welfare.
      By the way, the same document lays down: “It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold, for the lack of food, clothing or shelter . . .” That was the commitment made on behalf of a poor country in 1919. Today, in a rich Ireland, children are hungry, homeless and deprived of education and the prevailing attitude in circles patronised by Ms Harney is that it is their own fault.
      It has often being suggested that Connolly had abandoned socialism at the end of his life and became a “mere” nationalist. Only the ignorant or the malicious can make such a claim. The propagation of socialist thought, the dissemination of labour news from at home and abroad and the need for radical social reform from the word “go” in an independent Ireland dominated his writing week by week as he prepared for the rising. Those who expressed surprise at his nationalism did not know him and had not being listening to him since 1896. For Connolly, national revolution was necessary for social revolution in the Irish context. In his early writings he tended to suggest they were the one and same thing. Later he regarded them as two different aspects of the revolutionary process. In the end he referred to them as two stages of one democratic process. He talked about national independence as “the first stage of freedom.”
      Abstaining from a rising to obtain national independence was never an option for Connolly. Desmond Greaves distinguishes between two kinds of ignorance in relation to Connolly’s participation in the Easter rising. “The right,” he says, “pronounces ‘he was an Irishman.’ The ultra-left rejoins ‘he abandoned “socialism.” ’ And he goes on to declare: “Two contrary standpoints make a common assertion. The confusion is possible because Connolly is too often seen as an individual, not as the representative of a trend. That trend, despite its minority position in Ireland, in Connolly’s day as in our own” (that is, Greaves’s day, and indeed in 2006) “corresponds to the world-historical mainstream of scientific socialist thought. Until the epoch of imperialism the possibility of a socialist participating in a national revolution would never have been questioned. That Connolly held to the classical position is one of his claims to greatness.” And Greaves went on to utter the plain damning truth: “Non-republican socialism, of the right, or of the ultra-left, is inspired from one common ideological source—British imperialism.”
      Pearse’s conduct during the rising was far from being that of a “suicide bomber,” as Eoghan Harris has depicted him. When the republican forces were hopelessly surrounded it was he who initiated the cease-fire and surrender, primarily to end the suffering of the civilian population. (Connolly agreed, with great reluctance.)
      Immediately after the surrender the Irish Independent and the Irish Times both howled for blood. The Indo depicted the rising as “insane and criminal” and said that the leaders had a “heavy moral and legal responsibility from which they cannot hope to escape.” It was particularly annoyed that the insurrection had tarnished the “splendid part that Ireland has played since the beginning of the war.” The Irish Times seconded its call for severity and said, “The malignant growth must be removed.” By the way, one can smell a bit of proto-fascism in the Irish Times welcoming martial law, saying that Dublin was enjoying security of life and property for the first time and hailing with satisfaction the substitution of military government for the government of Dublin Castle and the Imperial parliament.
      But the Martin Murphy daily surpassed the unionist organ in its viciousness. It claimed that the insurgents had not a shred of public sympathy—which was not true—and that the leaders deserved little compassion and should not be given leniency. As public opinion at home and abroad protested more and more against the executions, the Indo in effect called for the killing of Connolly, saying that certain prisoners deserved to be punished more than some of those already executed and that “Sir John Maxwell’s work is only half-done.” Almost on the same day John Dillon said in the House of Commons: “The methods which were being pursued by Sir John Maxwell were maddening in the Irish people, and were arousing a spirit of disaffection throughout the country.” Dillon deserves credit for taking that position, because he was an intensely conservative man.
      The Great War, now known as the First World War, created an unprecedented opportunity for revolution, an opportunity on which the European socialist movement of the time reneged. The opportunity was recognised and taken, quite independently of other revolutionary movements, by Connolly and the insurgents of 1916. On 9 May of that year Karl Radek described the Easter rising as a putsch in an article entitled “Their Song is Over.” He regarded the insurgents as a “purely urban, petty-bourgeois movement which . . . had not much social backing” in a country where the agrarian question was the main issue. Lenin attacked this analysis blisteringly:
the term “putsch,” in its scientific sense, may be employed when the attempt at insurrection has revealed nothing but a circle of conspirators or stupid maniacs, and has aroused no sympathy among the masses. The centuries-old Irish national movement, having passed through various stages and combinations of class interest, manifested itself in particular, in a mass Irish National Congress in America which called for Irish independence; it also manifested itself in street fighting conducted by a section of the urban petty bourgeoisie and a section of the workers after a long period of mass agitation, demonstrations, suppression of newspapers etc. Whoever calls such a rebellion a “putsch” is either a hardened reactionary, or a doctrinaire hopelessly incapable of envisaging a social revolution as a living phenomenon.
      To imagine that a social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.—to imagine this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism,” and another somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism,” and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a “putsch.”
He went on to say: “It is the misfortune of the Irish that they rose prematurely, before the European revolt of the proletariat had had time to mature.”
      In the years that followed, both Connolly and Pearse suffered gross misrepresentation of their ideologies and personalities. The Marxism of one and the left-wing republicanism of the other were ignored. Their place in the history of the time and even in the rising itself was belittled. Particularly lamentable was the effort by two groups of people to elevate one or other of the two in order to degrade the other one. For many years the central part played by Connolly in 1916 was deliberately under-reported, while at other times Connolly’s part was used to denigrate Pearse. No honest consideration of 1916 can ignore their deep and affectionate comradeship and their empathy with each other’s world view.



1. “It is sweet to die for one’s country.”
2. The venue of this meeting, 27 Pearse Street, Dublin.

James Connolly Education Trust  >  Mícheál Mac Aonghusa