|Dublin 1916 after British imperialism shelled the city. Looks like the Middle East today.|
Dublin 1916 rising. the role of the Irish capitalist class.
by Sean O'Torain
The 1916 rising is being discussed by just about every political entity in the country. But it is amazing what is not being discussed - the role of the Irish capitalist class in this event. There are many aspects to the uprising that deserve attention. It was clearly premature. This cannot be denied. A couple of years later and the Russian revolution would have taken place and larges sections of the working class in Europe and internationally were challenging capitalism. In Ireland workers were seizing creameries and land and in 1919 there was the Limerick Soviet. The 1916 uprising was premature. The impatience of its leaders, the mysticism and religious nonsense of its leaders, contributed to the premature nature of the uprising and its defeat and the deaths of so many civilians in Dublin.
Of course the ferocity of British imperialism in putting down the uprising was above all else what was responsible for the repression and slaughter that followed. But we have to be honest. What other role could British imperialism have been expected to play. They had proven their vicious politics of slaughter and repression round the world for centuries. They were going to the same in Ireland. in fact the leaders of the 1916 uprising even acknowledged this in advance as they saw the rising as a way to provoke this repression and from this light a spark which would ignite a wider movement. It did ignore a wider movement but the problem was there was no revolutionary socialist leadership to lead this wider movement and so the country headed into the catastrophe of the civil war.
Against this background let us discuss the role of the Irish capitalist class. This is the main aspect of 1916 which is not being discussed. It is obvious there is some dirty little secret here. The Irish capitalist class should have been leading the movement. It was the national or bourgeois revolution that was on the agenda. The tasks of this were to thrown out imperialism, unify the national territory and build a viable vibrant economy. But this class did not do this. Murphy the Dublin 1913 strike breaker actually called for the executions of the 1916 leaders to continue until it was clear that Connolly was killed. The Irish capitalist class was missing in action in the 1916 rising and to a great extent in the years that followed. The uprising and the war of independence that followed was fought by a section of the working class in the Citizens Army, various class backgrounds in the Volunteers and small numbers of intellectuals. The cowardly weak Irish capitalist class as a class were not present, they were not leading.
There were a number of results from this. As the war of independence dragged on the Irish capitalist class began to assert pressure for a deal. This was reflected mainly through Collins and co. But the arch hypocrite and extreme right wing Catholic capitalist De Valera was playing his sneaky maneuvers in the background and while holding the stance of opposing the treaty in reality was for a deal with British imperialism. He would later go on to make this deal. What was this deal and what was the role of the Irish capitalist class.
The Irish capitalist class was extremely weak. It had come out of the rising and post rising period with just about no authority. The reason was because it had played just about no role in leading that rising. Its lack of authority was also due to its inability to develop the economy or to unite the country, the tasks of a strong national bourgeois class. The result was a divided country and a northern Protestant state still under the direct control of British imperialism and a southern Catholic state with some trappings of independence but still dominated by British imperialism. In any discussion on 1916, if it is to be accurate and useful then the role of the Irish capitalist class must be taken into account. This is not being done. From SF to FF to FG they never mention this. The reason is not hard to see. They are all part of that class or seeking to be part of that class in the case of SF, to one degree or another. The country is about to be drowned under a tidal wave of hypocrisy and lies by these people as the commemorations for 1916 unfold.
One other aspect of the inability of the weak Irish capitalist class to play a leading role in the 1916 uprising and the war of independence can be seen in the role of and power of the Catholic church. Irish capitalism due to it being just about missing in action in 1916 and the war of independence came out of these events in a very weakened condition. They needed allies if the new state was to be secured. In establishing the new state they had to conduct a civil war. In this they got help from British imperialism. But they also had to conduct another war. This was a war for the consciousness of the population who had just come through the terrible events. They found their ally in this war in the Catholic hierarchy. A deal was struck. The Catholic hierarchy would preach support for capitalism at every turn, would crush all left movements that threatened to arise. And in return for this backing up if weak Irish capitalism it would get control over the education system, the health system, the right to veto all laws in relation to social and religious and sexual matters, and of course would get thousands upon thousands of young women to work as virtual slaves in their laundries and earn money for the Catholic church. And of course have the new state declared a Catholic state.
The discussions around 1916 must if they are to reflect the real events and to help us understand contemporary Ireland discuss the weakness of Irish capitalism, its role and the deal it made with Catholic hierarchy. This is essential. The writings of Leon Trotsky on the Permanent Revolution and how they apply to Ireland will be very helpful on this.
The discussions must also reflect serious issues of revolutionary strategy and tactics. Capitalism will not be overthrown by electoral means. 1916 raises issue of uprisings and timing of uprisings, raises the need for the revolutionary forces to be able to stand against opportunism, pro capitalist ideas but also against ultra leftism. The 1916 uprising was premature. The revolutionaries such as Connolly should have stood firm for their socialist alternative but also should have stood firmly against the rising taking place when it did. It was premature. They should have stood against it taking place when it did to give the world situation time to ripen as inevitably was going to as the World War would come to an end. instead they did the opposite, they pushed to bring about the uprising as quickly as possible. In July in Russia there was a movement for an armed uprising against the regime. The mass of the working class and the peasantry were not ready. An uprising then would have been premature, just as the 1916 uprising was premature. What did the Bolsheviks do in those July days. ? They put their forces to work to talk the impatient sections of the working class who wanted an uprising at that time to hold back, to turn to the broader sections of the working class and work to convince them of the need for a revolution. This they were able to do and by October the situation was ripe and the revolution, the armed uprising took place and power was taken from the landlord and capitalist class and imperialism. if the Bolsheviks had not held back the impatient sections of the working class in the July days they would have been massacred, the working class would have been beheaded and their would have been no October.
1916 was premature. The irish capitalist class were missing in action or supporting imperialism. Think of this when we see the hypocrites in the capitalist FG and FF and SF line up and pretend to be the inheritors of 1916. Think also of the role of the Vatican who congratulated the "zeal" with which the leadership of the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland opposed the rising. They try to hide this with their photographs of priests and bishops leading processions. They need to do this to pretend they deserved to seize the influence and control they grabbed in the new Irish state.