“Ripples of Freedom”
Dublin, 13 May 2006

The British labour movement and responses to the Easter Rising of 1916

David Granville

Member of the International Committee, Communist Party of Britain



Comrades, brothers and sisters, friends,
      On behalf of the Communist Party of Britain I’d like to thank the James Connolly Education Trust for inviting us to participate in this important event, marking the 90th anniversary of Connolly’s execution by British occupation forces in reprisal for his leading role in the 1916 Rising.
      It is a particularly great honour to be involved in an event which pays tribute to the life and work of a great Irish revolutionary and patriot whose contribution to the struggles for socialism and national independence in Ireland continues to inspire, inform and educate those of us for whom the ultimate goal remains a world where social and economic justice, national sovereignty and peace prevail, not only in our own lands but throughout the world.
      Unfortunately, it is not possible in the limited time available to examine the relationship between British labour and the Irish question over the last hundred years. I have therefore decided to confine myself to examining two specific areas: British labour-movement responses to the events of the 1916 Rising, and what I see as the role and responsibilities of the British labour movement in relation to Ireland’s ongoing quest for national independence and unity in the current period.
      I think that it is fair to say that, with notable exceptions along the way, the British labour movement’s understanding of, and sympathy for, those Irishmen and women whose objective has been to “break the connection” with Britain, and who dedicated themselves to ensuring that Ireland is able to take its place in the community of nations as a sovereign, independent and united country, has been, at best, faltering and partial. At worst, an inadequate understanding of the role of British imperialism in Ireland, and a poor or confused theoretical understanding of the national question, particularly insofar as this relates to eight hundred years of colonial domination in England’s oldest colony, has all too often combined to produce a range of negative responses, stretching from incomprehension to open hostility.
      The reasons for this are rooted in the legacy of British imperialism within Britain itself and the dead hand of political reformism, which have long been factors in the British labour movement. While the former has resulted in the development of tendencies towards national chauvinism in key sections of the working class, the latter works to deprive us of the tools of analysis needed to view the Irish question as an anti-imperialist struggle.
      But what of British labour and the 1916 Rising?
      A search through a more than one-foot-high pile of official and what could best be described as semi-official histories of the British labour and trade union movement on my own bookshelves in Sheffield revealed precious few references to Ireland, Connolly or the Rising. Of those that do appear, most relate to the 1913 Dublin lockout or the growth of syndicalism. Only one, G. D. H. Cole’s A History of the Labour Party from 1914, specifically mentions the Rising. In a chapter dealing with the Labour Party and opposition to the inter-imperialist war, which had broken out in 1914, Cole almost casually notes, without further explanation: “Hard upon the Clyde deportations followed the Easter Rebellion in Ireland, which cost James Connolly, Sheehy Skeffington and other socialists their lives . . .”
      This virtual absence of the Rising is remarkable for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the Labour Party leader, Arthur Henderson, though not a member of the inner war cabinet, was a government minister and a member of the British cabinet at the time and therefore directly implicated in the decisions to bombard Dublin during the Rising and to execute Connolly and the other leaders in the rebellion’s aftermath.
      As Brian O’Neill in his book Easter Week, published in 1936, notes, “it was difficult for it [the labour movement in Britain], therefore, to protest against either, and it made no protest.” However, as O’Neill clearly indicates, the Rising, effectively one of the first major strikes for freedom from within the British Empire in the twentieth century, was subject to a variety of responses and interpretations on the left.
      Most of these, it should be said, were either overtly critical or uncomprehending of how, in their eyes, a socialist like Connolly could abandon his past beliefs and throw in his lot with a bunch of reactionary nationalists to take part in an irresponsible and flawed military adventure that was always doomed to failure.
      In Ireland Her Own, the English Marxist historian T. A. Jackson echoes O’Neill’s analysis and explains that while the English labour movement was sympathetic to the Irish demand for Home Rule, at the time of the Rising its “orthodox upper-strata” were “co-operating cordially in the prosecution of the war.” At odds with the anti-war left in Britain, both pacifist and revolutionary, Jackson concludes that it was hardly surprising that the very same labour leaders who rejected the rebels’ anti-imperialist strike for Irish freedom found little difficulty in accepting the pro-war Redmondite view of the rebellion as being “totally unrepresentative of the main body of Irish opinion.”
      It also goes a long way to explaining why the only reference to the events of Easter Week and its aftermath to be found in the report presented to the Labour Party conference in January 1917 is to the “calamitous outbreak in Ireland,” which had made the outlook “blacker than ever.” It’s not clear which outlook the report refers to, though it’s reasonably safe to assume that the one in question had little or no connection with the prospects for an end to British colonial involvement and the establishment of a united and sovereign Irish republic.
      Sharp criticism of the Irish rebellion also came from some nominally on the left of the movement, like the ILP, which, while opposing the imperialist war on pacifist grounds, insisted on equating and condemning the “militarism” of both the insurgents and the imperialists. “We do not approve of the Sinn Fein rebellion,” announced the ILP’s Socialist Review in September 1916. “We do not approve of armed rebellion or any other form of militarism and war.” Leading ILP anti-war figures such as Ramsay MacDonald, at that time well to the left of the Labour Party leadership, were among those “on the left” to vigorously condemn the rebellion.
      Even so, opinion within the ILP was far from uniform. One of the ILP’s leading figures, Shapurji Saklatvala, a communist who was to become Britain’s first black MP and champion of anti-colonial struggles around the world, was sympathetic towards the rebellion and, as his daughter Sehri confirms in her biography of her father, “an ardent upholder of the right of the Irish to freedom and independence.” Saklatvala was to retain his interest, sympathy and support for Irish freedom throughout his political life, working alongside, among others, another leading ILP figure and lifelong friend of Irish freedom, Fenner Brockway, in organisations such as the League Against Imperialism.
      In 1925, according to the London Times of 21 April, Saklatvala visited Ireland along with fellow-communist Robert Stewart for the purpose of “promoting the interests of a Workers’ Republic.” According to the paper, “both speakers declared that they were advocating the principles of the late James Connolly. The revolutionary method, said Mr. Saklatvala, was the only course that could befriend the labouring classes.”
      But to return momentarily to the Rising and its detractors. In Scotland, the editor of the left-wing journal Forward declared it “a mystery” as to how a socialist such as Connolly could have got mixed up with a nationalist rising. Clearly unfamiliar with Connolly’s writings on nationalism and socialism, especially within the context of Britain’s colonial domination of Ireland, Forward’s editorial proclaimed that “a man must be either a nationalist or an internationalist.”
      The Plebs, the journal of the movement for independent working-class education in Britain, took a similar view. “The tragedy of the revolt from a socialist point of view is that ‘romantic nationalism’ was largely the inspiration of it; and that Connolly—the industrial unionist, the sane writer and thinker—should have been goaded by circumstances into sharing it.”
      Connolly’s old mentor John Leslie also misunderstood Connolly’s actions and compounded matters by helping to perpetuate the erroneous “blood sacrifice” myth to which neo-unionist “revisionist” historians have clung in their desperate efforts to separate the events of Easter 1916 from their social and political context. “Knowing the man, I say it is possible that, despairing of effective assistance from that quarter [the British labour movement] . . . he determined at all costs to identify or to indissolubly link the cause of Irish labour with the most extreme Irish nationalism, and to seal the bond of union with his blood if necessary,” wrote Leslie in Justice less than a week after Connolly’s execution.
      The blood-sacrifice myth was to be comprehensively dispelled by the labour historian, political activist and Connolly biographer C. Desmond Greaves in a lecture delivered on the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising and subsequently published by Fulcrum Press as 1916 as History: The Myth of the Blood Sacrifice. Important research conducted since Greaves’s death has further confirmed the military integrity of the rebels’ plans for the uprising and challenged another favoured neo-unionist myth concerning the level of public support for the insurgents, especially in the poorer districts of Dublin.
      While it is true that Connolly became openly frustrated with the leaders of the British labour movement, and despaired of ever receiving the kind of solidarity for Ireland’s struggle to free itself from the yoke of British colonial domination that he had once hoped would be forthcoming, the split in the Second International over socialists’ attitude to the imperialist war almost made this inevitable.
      At the outbreak of the inter-imperialist war of 1914–18 only the Irish, Russian and Serbian sections fulfilled their commitment to oppose their own national governments in the event of war. It was surely a recognition of this that led Connolly himself to predict, rightly, that his actions in joining the revolt would be widely misunderstood by the labour movement in Britain.
      Yet, despite the criticism and bewilderment at Connolly’s participation in the Rising, the attention given by the leaders of British labour to the Rising is astonishingly minimal, particularly given the circumstances and the challenge to British imperial rule that the rebellion signalled. It is difficult not to conclude other than that the deeply reformist, pro-war Labour and trade union leadership went to considerable lengths to ignore the rebellion, so far as that was possible, rather than place themselves in the invidious position of having to justify their actions to a working class which, while not necessarily understanding Connolly’s participation in the Rising, felt nothing but revulsion for the British government’s response, in which their leaders were thoroughly implicated.
      Even in the changed atmosphere brought about by the reaction against the brutality of Britain’s response, the end of the war with Germany, and the general election of 1918, which saw Sinn Féin take 73 out of 105 Irish seats, the labour hierarchy still didn’t feel confident enough to allow the issue to be discussed openly. In his book Easter Week, Brian O’Neill notes that the British TUC, which met in Birmingham in September 1919, prevented fraternal delegates from Ireland attending in order to prevent discussion of the rebellion and its aftermath.
      It is a pattern that was to be repeated often over the next eight decades, until what is now generally referred to as the Irish peace process and the IRA ceasefire of 1994 helped create the conditions for a more open debate within the British labour movement.
      But where were the voices of the revolutionary and anti-imperialist left within the British labour movement?
      The fact is that some of the most militant and politically advanced labour leaders in Britain, including the Scottish communists John MacLean and Willie Gallacher, were in prison at the time of the Rising. Both were serving prison sentences after having been convicted of sedition as a result of the militant anti-war and labour agitation on the Clyde, which, according to Morton and Tate in The British Labour Movement, had become “a seething cauldron of unrest and clashing ideas.” Other militant labour and anti-war activists, especially in Scotland, were subject to deportation by the authorities as they struggled to quell the growing labour unrest and anti-war sentiment.
      The claim by some historians, including some on the left, that MacLean's support for Connolly and the Rising is in some way “revisionist” by virtue of having been made “retrospectively” is surely unfair, given MacLean’s three-year imprisonment, much of which was spent in solitary confinement. It is obvious from comments made after his release that MacLean saw the Rising as the opening salvo in the struggle against British imperialism and, critically, essential to the success of British labour.
      Writing in the summer of 1920, during the War of Independence, MacLean was openly critical of those on the left who failed to recognise the anti-imperialist character of Ireland’s freedom struggle. “The Irish situation . . . is the most revolutionary that has ever arisen in British history,” wrote MacLean, “but unfortunately lads who fancy themselves the only revolutionaries are too stupid or too obsessed with some little crotchet to see the tight corner the Irish are placing Britain in. The Irish Sinn Feiners, who make no profession to socialism or communism and who are at best non-socialists, are doing more to help Russia and the revolution than all we professed Marxians in Britain,” concluded MacLean.
      His support is also evident in an election address made in November 1922 in which he stated: “When Jim Connolly saw how things were going in Edinburgh he resolved on the Easter Rebellion in Dublin, the beginning of Ireland’s new fight for freedom . . .”
      Although imprisoned for a shorter period, MacLean's BSP comrade Willie Gallacher, a leader of the Clyde Workers’ Committee, was in a similar position and therefore it is not particularly remarkable that any comments in support of Connolly and the Rising were made some years after the events. Under the circumstances, any endorsement, or otherwise, of the Easter Rising by either could only have been made “retrospectively.”
      However, it is disappointing, given Gallacher’s known “friendly association” with both the labour and nationalist side of the Irish movement, that he has nothing to say about the Rising in his account of the period, Revolt on the Clyde. However, in his account of the years following the end of the 1914–18 war, published as The Rolling of the Thunder, Gallacher recalls that “Collins and the other nationalists had looked to the shop steward movement on the Clyde as allies in their struggle for independence.” The reference appears in a section of the book dealing with the treaty negotiations between the British and Irish in 1922. Gallacher had been sent to Ireland by the recently formed British Communist Party at the end of November, to warn that the agreement about to be reached between the Irish negotiators led by Michael Collins and the British government was to include the partition of Ireland.
      In relation to MacLean, it has also been argued, tendentiously in my opinion, that his use of an ultra-pacifist defence at his trial for sedition in 1915 points to a later “conversion” to support for the armed rebellion in Ireland. There is no clear evidence to suggest that when MacLean, speaking in his own defence, refers to his opposition “to the present military system” and to a conscientious objection to settling “national disputes” by military means, his comments are a reflection of his thoughts on anti-imperialist struggles in the colonies. His remarks are obviously made in relation to the imperialist war then raging—and, importantly and understandably, at securing an acquittal, which on that occasion he did.
      David Howell in his study of MacLean, Connolly and Wheatley, A Lost Left, argues that while MacLean’s support for the Easter Rising was inevitably “retrospective,” he was nevertheless enthusiastic about the establishment of the first Dáil and appeared to believe that, despite the absence of the representatives of Irish labour, Connolly’s long-term goal of establishing an Irish socialist republic was possible. According to Howell, MacLean’s optimism was at least partly due to a recognition by MacLean of the working-class roots of the independence movement.
      There is further evidence to suggest that the views of Connolly’s critics within the labour movement were not as widely accepted as is sometimes portrayed. Seán O’Casey’s polemical history of the Irish Citizen Army, published in 1919, expresses strong criticism of Connolly for acting contrary to his own socialist teachings and for having thrown in his lot with the militant nationalists. Nevertheless, he feels compelled to point to “the earnest sympathy expressed towards the Irish people by many of the leaders of thought among the English people, subsequent to the sad events of Easter week.”
      Although he only gives one example, it is an important one as far as the question of British labour movement support for the Rising and the struggle for Irish freedom is concerned. At an event in 1917 in support of the Russian Revolution, O’Casey records that the left-wing Labour leader George Lansbury reminded those assembled that “we English people here have to clear our own doorstep.” Referring to a meeting a few years earlier at which he had spoken on the same platform as Connolly, Lansbury goes on to echo Lenin’s largely positive and thoroughly anti-imperialist assessment of the Rising. “He and his dead colleagues of a year ago were just too soon, that is all; and, friends, we British people have got to clear the Irish question up, because until we do it, it is not for us to celebrate other people’s triumphs over reaction.”
      O’Casey also refers to the “many English labour papers” which had quoted Connolly and published his songs, which O’Casey saw as proving conclusively that “the mind of the English working class has undergone a revolutionary change, and that ‘the unbought section of the English labour movement’ . . . is seriously anxious to stretch forth the hand of true comradeship towards their Irish fellow workers.”
      Support for Connolly and the Rising is also to be found in the suffragette journal edited by Sylvia Pankhurst, the Women’s Dreadnought. Pankhurst, a militant socialist and suffragette, was a friend and admirer of Connolly’s and shared a number of platforms with the Irish labour leader in both Britain and Ireland, on issues ranging from socialism to the campaign for women’s suffrage and the Dublin lockout.
      At the outbreak of the Rising, Pankhurst despatched a young Cork-born suffragette, Patricia Lynch, to Ireland to report on the event. Her eyewitness accounts, which were sympathetic to the rebels and exposed British brutality, appeared in the Dreadnought and were eventually published as Rebel Ireland and circulated widely in Britain and Europe. Patricia Lynch went on to become one of Ireland’s most popular children’s authors.
      It is obvious from the limited examples cited here that while the participation of Connolly and the forces of militant Irish labour in the 1916 Rising was undoubtedly met by a mixture of confusion, opposition and incomprehension by the British labour movement, especially from within the labour hierarchy and ultra-pacifist elements further to the left, the picture is nowhere near as unequivocal as some would lead us to believe.
      It is also clear that among the most militant and staunchly anti-imperialist sections of the movement, those who would have been closest to Connolly politically, sympathy and support was strongest, although for objective reasons, including British government attempts to suppress militant labour and anti-war agitation, it was, in a number of notable cases, some years before this support was publicly recorded.
      The Rising was followed just two years later by the victory of Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election and the Irish War of Independence, resulting from Britain’s refusal to acknowledge the democratic vote for freedom and separation from Britain.
      Partition and civil war were soon to follow, with the former unleashing, as Connolly so accurately predicted, a “carnival of reaction both North and South” of the border. The evidence of that particularly malign weapon in the imperialist’s armoury, forced upon the Irish people by the British authorities under the threat of “terrible and immediate” war, remains with us us today, as the increasing disparity between rich and poor in the south, the result of neo-liberal economic policies, and the recent murder of a young Catholic man in Ballymena at the hands of sectarian bigots, so poignantly remind us.
      However, for those of us who are active in the British-based political parties of the left or in solidarity organisations such as the Connolly Association, an organisation which has campaigned for Irish unity and independence since its birth in 1938, or indeed others associated with either the Labour Party or the trade union movement, the challenge before us today is no less than that which faced the British labour movement ninety years ago.
      The circumstances today are, of course, very different. Politically much has improved in the recent period as a result of the Irish peace process initiated by Gerry Adams and John Hume, which eventually led to the ending of the IRA’s armed campaign, the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the establishment of the devolved local assembly in the six counties of the north—soon, hopefully, to be fully functioning once again after three-and-a-half years of unilateral suspension by the British government.
      Unfortunately, many genuine supporters of the Irish peace process in Britain have reached the conclusion that the signing of the Good Friday Agreement puts matters beyond their legitimate remit or practical control. To them, we in the Communist Party of Britain say that nothing could be further from the truth.
      So long as ever the Westminster government, our government, holds ultimate political and economic authority over the north-east corner of the island of Ireland, so long as ever the British taxpayer is responsible for funding the consequences of Britain’s colonial presence—in whatever form that takes—then it is not only the right of British people to have a say on how our government conducts itself in this area and to remind it of its responsibilities, it is our duty—both as an act of international solidarity and in our own political and economic interests.
      As Ken Keable, an English socialist currently living in the Republic of Ireland, correctly points out in the Connolly Association pamphlet The Missing Piece of the Peace Process, “the inclusion of this colonial remnant within the British state poisons our parliamentary democracy, poisons our systems of justice, undermines freedom of speech and threatens the civil rights of every British citizen. It impedes the forward march of democracy in Britain as well as Ireland.”
      For those unsure as to what it is he is referring to, the following are just a few areas where the conflict in Ireland has had a direct impact on civil rights and democracy in Britain:
      • The attachment of state welfare benefits was pioneered in Northern Ireland by the Ulster Unionist regime at Stormont in 1971 in an attempt to undermine a six-county rent strike in protest at the use of internment without trial. A variant of the legislation used in Northern Ireland, enabling the attachment of earnings and benefits, was introduced in Britain by the Tories during the anti-poll tax campaign; it remains widely used.
      • Plastic and rubber bullets first used in another former British colony, Hong Kong, have been responsible for seventeen deaths in Northern Ireland, including nine children. They are now a part of the armoury of every police force in Britain. Similarly, CS gas has been widely used to quell civil disturbances in Northern Ireland. Its effectiveness there has spread to its use against a wide range of targets, ranging from striking miners to anti-poll tax protesters, football fans, anti-globalisation protesters, and even farmers.
      • The use of so-called anti-terror legislation in the form of the Prevention of Terrorism Act failed in its supposed main objective and had a dramatic “catch-all” intimidatory effect on Irish communities throughout Britain. A new variant anti-terror law—the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001)—introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, targets Britain’s Muslim communities in a similar way.
      • Introduced with disastrous effect in Northern Ireland in 1971, internment without trial, part of the armoury of oppression used by Britain over many generations of colonial conflict, has in recent year seen Belmarsh Prison in London gain a reputation as Britain’s Guantánamo Bay.
      • Revelations concerning the involvement of British forces in the mistreatment and torture of prisoners in Iraq will have come as no surprise to Irish republicans who suffered a similar fate at the hands of British-army-trained RUC officers in the notorious Castlereagh holding centre and elsewhere.
      As Connolly famously once stated, “the cause of Labour is the cause of Ireland, the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour. They cannot be dissevered.” Unfortunately, the labour movement in Britain has rarely followed his advice.
      When the bombs were going off and political violence resulting in death and serious injury was an everyday affair, the British labour movement, with a few honourable exceptions, either didn’t want to discuss Ireland for fear of creating divisions within their unions or have effectively prevented members from debating the issue by handing a veto on agenda items for debate at national conferences to regional or branch organisations in Northern Ireland.
      Now, post-IRA ceasefire and final IRA decommissioning, and post the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, conditions have never been better for facilitating political debate and for raising again the demand for constructive disengagement from Ireland alongside continued support for the Good Friday Agreement. However, at precisely this very moment Ireland has dropped off most unions’ list of pressing items of concern.
      Yet again Ireland, and therefore Britain’s responsibility for sorting out the mess of its colonial legacy in that country, remains an effective no-go area for a majority within the labour movement in Britain. It is a situation that must be addressed with some urgency.
      In addition to the TUC, every major union in Britain now has support for the Good Friday Agreement as part its national policy. However, for too many this equates, at least in terms of their leadership, as “job done.” It would be interesting to know, for example, exactly how many unions with policy on supporting the Good Friday Agreement have discussed in practical terms at national, regional or even branch level over the past three-and-a-half years ways to apply pressure on the British government to end the suspension of the Good Friday institutions and ensure that the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British and Irish governments in 1998, is implemented in full.
      Instead, the labour movement, along with such solidarity organisations that exist, has allowed the unionists to dominate the pace of progress by failing to apply the necessary pressure on a consistent basis and at key junctures throughout the process.
      In the most recent edition of the Irish Democrat, John Murphy argues the case for a new broad, well-resourced and politically effective solidarity organisation in Britain, which could influence public opinion and apply pressure on the British government to change its policy to one of “constructive disengagement,” with the ultimate objective of reunification.
      The sort of movement Murphy envisages would ideally bring together existing solidarity organisations such as the Connolly Association, the Wolfe Tone Society, Troops Out Movement, Labour Committee on Ireland and others, along with Irish county, GAA and community organisations, labour movement friends of Ireland, including trade unions.
      Murphy argues that the winning of public opinion in Britain remains the key to securing a change in British policy in the direction of the active encouragement of Irish reunification, particularly in relation to the unionist community in the north. “For partition to end, the British government needs to join the ranks of the persuaders,” Murphy writes, “to encourage northern unionists to see that their best future lies in coming together with their nationalist and Catholic fellow-countrymen to help run an all-Ireland republic that is worthy of the name. That means an Irish state in line with the best traditions of northern Protestantism itself, in particular the United Irishmen who founded Irish republicanism and whose political centre was Belfast in their day.”
      As things stand, the various groups active on Ireland work largely independently, although there is evidence of them coming together at times around certain issues, such as support for the Good Friday Agreement. However, too often this takes place on an ad hoc basis. While some good work has been achieved in this way, it bears no relation to what is being done and achieved by, for example, the Cuba or Palestine solidarity campaigns, whose campaign work includes the co-ordinated lobbying of MPs, education, fund-raising for specific solidarity projects and the promotion of cultural activities. Operating at both national and local-group level, such groups are able to influence public opinion, lobby politicians and bring real pressure to bear, ultimately, on government ministers.
      If, in Britain, such an organisation were to be formed in relation to Ireland with the objective of influencing public opinion and of changing government policy towards support for Irish unity, what genuine friend of Ireland would not see this in a positive light?
      Although our party has not discussed or taken a view on such an initiative—it could hardly do so, as one has yet to be taken—I personally believe that it would deem such an initiative worthy of serious consideration.
      However, while the need for such an organisation is not in doubt, in my own mind at least, questions must remain as to whether one could be achieved in practice—at least insofar as the proposed scope of the alliance suggested by Murphy. It is doubtful, for example, whether a majority of Irish county or community organisations would wish to associate themselves with anything so overtly political. They have a long history, based in large part on self-preservation, of steering clear of taking a view or campaigning on the national question. You have to bear in mind that it was not long ago that to be Irish alone was to be under suspicion—Muslims in Britain today find themselves in much the same situation, though their response, particularly amongst the younger generation, appears very different.
      It may be that the best consensus that can be achieved falls short of pressing the case for unity but focuses on the full implementation of the Good Friday deal, which in any case must remain our immediate priority—and which must go ahead with or without the co-operation of the DUP. With this in mind, it is likely to become increasingly important to raise the issue of “joint authority” if the main unionist party continues to fail to embrace genuine power-sharing in the north.
      In the medium and longer term, all friends of Ireland in Britain will need to consider how best we can work together to shift our government’s policy to one of constructive disengagement from Ireland, to be achieved within the shortest practical time frame and with the maximum level of agreement among those who live there.
      Let us be clear: for us in the CPB, the Good Friday Agreement has never been viewed as the end of the road. However, we believe it can be a vehicle for helping to create the conditions that can bring about that to which we remain unequivocally committed: a united and independent Ireland, the ending of British occupation and of British interference in any part of Ireland, and the development of a new and positive relationship between our two nations based on friendship and mutual respect.
      Writing in the early 1950s, one of the finest Marxist theoreticians Britain has ever produced, Rajani Palme Dutt, had this to say about British labour’s responsibility in relation to the struggle for Irish freedom: “Carrying forward the teachings of Marx in relation to the British working class and Ireland, Lenin laid down the duty of socialists to support the right of self-determination of all colonial and dependent peoples and to give them practical support in their struggle.”
      Figures such as C. Desmond Greaves, historian, political activist and editor of the Irish Democrat for over forty years, did everything in their power to ensure that the British labour movement played a full part in bringing about an end to Britain’s colonial involvement in Ireland. Sadly, Greaves is no longer with us. However, the task and the duty referred to by Dutt remains with us, and will continue to do so while ever Britain retails a hold on any part of the island of Ireland.
      The time for old excuses is over, the time for new initiatives in support of Irish freedom is upon us. Let us hope that we are up to that challenge.

Main sources for Connolly and British labour responses to the 1916 Rising

Bell, Tom, John MacLean: A Fighter for Freedom, Communist Party Scottish Committee, 1944.

Berresford Ellis, Peter, A History of the Irish Working Class, London: Pluto Press.

Cole, G. D. H., A History of the Labour Party from 1914, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Dutt, R. Palme, The Crisis of Britain and the British Empire, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Gallacher, Willie, Revolt on the Clyde, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Greaves, C. Desmond, 1916 as History: The Myth of the Blood Sacrifice, London: Fulcrum Press.

Jackson, T. A., Ireland Her Own: An Outline History of the Irish Struggle for National Freedom and Independence, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Lenin, V. I., British Labour and British Imperialism, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Lysaght, D. R. O’Connor, The Communists and the Irish Revolution, Dublin: Litereire Publishers.

Milton, Nan (ed.), John MacLean: In the Rapids of Revolution, London: Allison and Busby.

Morton, A. L., and Tate, George, The British Labour Movement, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

O’Casey, Seán, The Story of the Irish Citizen Army, London: Journeyman.

O’Neill, Brian, Easter Week, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Pelling, Henry, A History of British Trade Unionism, London: Penguin.

Saklatvala, Sehri, Fifth Commandment: A Biography of Shapurji Saklatvala, London: Miranda Press.

The Book of the Labour Party (vols. 1–3), London: Caxton Publishing Company.

Ward, Margaret, Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington: A Life, Dublin: Attic Press.

Webb, Sidney and Beatrice, The History of Trade Unionism, London: Longman.

Williams, Francis, Fifty Years’ March, London: Odhams Press.

Young, James D., “Easter Rising and Clydeside socialism,” in Militant Workers: Labour and Class Conflict on the Clyde, 1900–1950, London: John Donald Publishers.


Ripples of Freedom  >  David Granville