Book Reviews: ‘1968 Marching in the Streets’ & ‘James Connolly – The Lost Writings’
1968 Marching in the streets by Tariq Ali and Susan Watkins. Bloomsbury, London 1998. £20.
Hey man, ’68 was so great! Like everything was happening all at once and everyone was groovy. Tarry tells it like it was. There was like Vietnam, man. The Cong versus the US. Sampson versus Goliath like. Ho was the man there man. Like he was never just another nationalist dictator. Yeah right. “Hell no we won’t go.” Unless it’s someone we really dislike like the Nazis. Then there was Che, man. He was like Jesus, man. And like Che had nothing to do with the repressive Cuban regime at all. And there was Czechoslovakia too. Dubcek and “state managed capitalism with a human face”. Or whatever it was. Then there was the students in Paris, man, who were like really radical and didn’t just want bigger beds and bigger grants at all. There was a real revolutionary situation there, man. Although de Gaulle did get a totally massive election victory. We all loved Meow, the Chinese cat, too. After all millions of dead red Chinese can’t be wrong. And then there was Free Love, man. Which didn’t just mean I could get laid more often. And we weren’t like just into getting stoned like today’s kids who smoke dope and do LSD all the time. Everyone was just so radical and everyone was out marching just like Enoch Powell, man. And rioting: “to loot is to liberate”. Unless it’s my shop of course. Then there was like the Blacks thing, man, and Women’s Liberation. Those things changed the world forever, man. Like Blacks aren’t discriminated against at all now and women still don’t get the shitty end of the stick. Now like everyone’s totally sold out, man, they used to be so radical and now they’re like bourgeois. Not Tarry though. Even though he’s got a job on the TV and he’s a rich man, man.
Repeat this mournful, self-indulgent, semi-Trot dirge until bored to death or organise for a real socialist revolution.
Traitor to Socialism
The Lost Writings. By James Connolly. Pluto Press. £13.99.
James Connolly is an Irish National Hero, a Martyr no less, executed by the Brits for his leading role in the fool-hardy and intentionally suicidal 1916 “Easter Rising”. He also had the reputation for being a socialist, and in fact was for a while a participant in the impossiblist, or anti-reformist, revolt in Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation (SDF) which led to the formation of a British equivalent of the American Socialist Labour Party (SLP) in 1903 and of the SPGB in 1904.
Connolly had been born in Edinburgh in 1868 and first became active in the SDF’s equivalent there. In 1896 he moved to Dublin where he was one of the founders of the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP) which had a similar policy—socialism as an aim, but combined with a programme of reforms to be achieved under capitalism—except that it also stood for an independent Ireland.
Connolly soon saw through Hyndman (this collection contains an article of his denouncing Hyndman’s anti-semitism) and was attracted by the ideas of Daniel De Leon and the American SLP. Thus, in the impossiblist revolt within the SDF, Connolly was associated with the SLP not us (though he was in correspondence with some of those who set up the SPGB). In 1903 he moved to America where he got a paid job with the SLP but soon fell out with De Leon and went to work for the rival SPA. He was also involved with the IWW. In 1910 he returned to Ireland where he became an organiser, first in Belfast then in Dublin, for the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.
In this collection of articles by Connolly not previously republished it is those up to 1910 that are interesting from a socialist point of view in that they give an idea of the intellectual milieu out of which our own party emerged, in particular the view that there was an irreconcilable conflict of interest between the working class and “the master class” and that the working class, once enlightened, could use the ballot box as an instrument of emancipation. Connolly, however, was always wrong on the issue of a reform programme. It was him who drafted the Platform of the SLP (included here) after it broke away from the SDF which, surprisingly since this was not the policy of the American SLP, contained a list of immediate demands short of socialism. The SLP later dropped this, but not Connolly.
In fact by the time he returned to Ireland he was a Labourite reformist and fervent Irish Nationalist. Whereas in his ISRP days he had laughed at those who invoked “the spiritual inheritance of the Gael”, his articles (in this period best described by the title of one of them, “Some Rambling Remarks”) now spoke of the “soul” of the “Irish Race” and he denounced Protestant workers in the North as “a local majority of bigoted traitors of Ireland“. And, whereas in 1899 he had argued that “the cry for a ‘Union of Classes’ is in reality an insidious move on the part of our Irish master class to have the powers of government transferred from the hands of the English capitalist government into the hands of an Irish capitalist government” (Workers Republic, 2 September 1899), he was proudly declaring at a public meeting in 1914 to discuss “The Position of the Nation” with regard to the First World War that “he had with him on the platform men drawn from all classes” (Irish Worker, 17 October 1914).
Connolly to his credit opposed the war, but more on Irish Nationalist rather than international socialist grounds. Indeed, a pro-German stance can be detected in some of his articles. For instance, in the speech above in October 1914 he was reported as saying that “Germany was fighting for the commerce of the seas and for the means of building up a sane civilisation in Europe” and, a month later, wrote that “in this attack upon Germany it [the Irish working class] sees an attack upon the nation whose working class had advanced nearest to the capture of the citadels of capitalism” (Irish Worker, 21 November 1914).
As the war dragged on, he turned more and more to the physical-force Irish Republicans and began to talk like the nutcase Patrick Pearse about the need for a blood sacrifice to save the soul of the Irish race, declaring that “no agency less potent than the red tide of war on Irish soil will ever be able to enable the Irish race to recover its self-respect” and that “without the Shedding of Blood there is no Redemption” (Workers Republic, 5 February 1916).
At least he practised what he preached and sacrificed his own blood. After his death he got his “red tide of war on Irish soil” in which thousands of Irish workers were killed to establish an Irish Capitalist state which did absolutely nothing for those who survived. Connolly had died a “bigoted traitor” to the international working class.