Whilst having been a strong supporter of Irish Republicanism for most of my life, when comrades from Eirigi, a Dublin based Republican Organization asked me to write a short piece on what the Proclamation of the Irish Republic means to me, I was somewhat taken aback.* Not being Irish and having spent the greater part of my life living in the heart of Perfidious Albion, I wondered if I was up to this task and if by attempting it, would I not be in some way usurping something that is precious to millions of Irish people and their descendants around the world. But I quickly placed such thoughts to one side, for this short document is not just the property of the Irish people. For since it was first proclaimed by Padraig Pearse, from the steps of Dublin’s main Post Office on Monday 24th of April 1916, to mark the beginning of the Easter Rising, it has had an enormous influence upon freedom loving and oppressed people in almost every corner of the world.
Coming as it did at approx the half way stage at what was to become known as World War One, only added to the Proclamation’s significance. For that bloody conflagration which engulfed the whole of Europe and beyond was being waged over the future spoils of Imperialism; and would leave its filthy skid marks across the whole of the 20th century. It was a time when the fault lines of the British Empire were becoming increasingly obvious to all who toiled under it’s yoke. Thus the Proclamation became a spur for National Liberation Movements the world over, many of whom were then experiencing the throes of their birth pangs. Few of the founders and foremost leaders of these Liberation Movements, who were in time to rock both the French and British Empires to there core and eventually bring about their downfall, would not have read the Irish Proclamation of Independence.
It was Vladamir Illich Lenin from his Swiss exile who was amongst the first to articulate the importance of the Easter Rising, when he observed the events of 1916 and wrote: “The misfortune of the Irish is that they rose prematurely when the European revolt of the proletariat had not yet matured. Easter week was not a proletarian revolution. It was a national rising in which a new factor appeared – the working class was no longer content merely to provide man-power, but participated as a separate force with its own organization, leaders and outlook”. **
What Lenin means here is the very presence of James Connolly as one of the Proclamations Signatories; and the amalgamation just prior to the Easter Rising of the ITWU’s Citizens Army with the Irish Volunteers, which resulted in the establishment of Óglaigh na hÉireann, was a clear signal that the Irish working classes were staking their claim to not only Nationhood, but a major say as to what type of Nation an independent and free Ireland would become. The fact that the Rising was accompanied by such an eloquent call to arms which demanded a better life for all, only added to the Proclamations international impact amongst those Frantz Fanon sympathetically called the wretched of the earth.
Beyond Irelands shores, it was amongst the dispossessed of the British Empire, the men and women of no property, where the Easter Rising and the Proclamation which heralded it was to have the most dramatic impact. The news of it the events of Easter 1916 spread throughout these distant lands like red hot volcanic lava. The Proclamations message was also not lost on the millions of Empire troops then fighting on behalf of the ‘mother country’ in the trenches of northern France, the desert’s of the middle east, or along the shore of the Dardanelles. [Galllipoli] For they had been recruited on the pretense of fighting to defend small nations from the Hun. But if those who lived as the Irish did in the heart of the Empire, regarded it as less than a privilege and were prepared to risk all by Rising against the English Crown, then why should they, who came from the four corners of the Empire continue to shed their blood, only to return home to live in poverty and as second class subjects of a far away Monarch.
It is impossible to read the Proclamation without seeing James Connolly’s finger prints all over the document. Connolly understood clearly that the removal of the British State and its military enforcers from Ireland would only be the half way stage of the freedom struggle. For an Irish Socialist Democratic Republic was the end game for the working classes if it was to achieve freedom with equality. As Connolly new full well from his work as a Trade Union activist, there would be Irish men and women from the bourgeois classes who would be only to willing to step up to take the place of the English satraps, who had oppressed and exploited the toiling masses of Ireland for centuries. Connolly understood that if this were not to happen, the working classes must be independently represented at the Nations top table; and if necessary in the field, by their own organizations and leaders. By placing himself and the men and women of the Citizens Army who he led at the fore of the Rebellion, he was laying down a marker in blood as to the role of the working classes within any future Irish Republic.***
Like millions of others, when I went to school the history I was taught revolved around the reigns of English Kings and Queens and the rule of great men, according to this infantile version of history all historical acts came about via the Great and Good; and the Irish Proclamation of Independence, written by a school teacher at a minor Irish school and proof read and bettered by a working class man, born of Irish blood in an Edinburgh slum was not something to be taught to working class boys who were destined to be the pack animals of Capital, it might give them ideas above their station in life.
But read it I did and to understand the words were written by men who lived much as I did, in humble circumstances and among their number was a man like James Connolly, who like millions of working men and women, then and now had little formal education.**** Was an inspiration and a spur to educate myself and understand the iniquity of those who felt that they, due to their economic might, have an absolute right to manipulate and chart the course of billions of peoples lives; and for no better reason than to enrich and empower themselves. The Irish Proclamation of Independence also taught me, along with countless others that once you understand the inequalities of the world, the point is to change it.
**Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 22, 1964, pp. 320-360
*** James Connolly on the Irish capitalists, “Therefore the stronger I am in my affection for national tradition, literature, language, and sympathies, the more firmly rooted I am in my opposition to that capitalist class which in its soulless lust for power and gold would bray the nations as in a mortar”. And again, “We are out for Ireland for the Irish. But who are the Irish? Not the rack-renting, slum-owning landlord; not the sweating, profit grinding capitalist; not the sleek and oily lawyer; not the prostitute pressmen – the hired liars of the enemy. Not these are the Irish upon whom the future depends. Not these, but the Irish working class, the only secure foundation upon which a free nation can be reared.” Labour in Irish History, 1910.
**** See also, http://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/index.htm