James Connolly

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Born Seamas O’Conghaile on June 5th
1868, Connolly is one of the single
most important persons in the history
of Ireland in the last 100 years. Born
and raised in Edinburgh Scotland to
Irish immigrant parents, he joined the
British army at age 14 to escape
extreme poverty and deserted from the military at age
21 in 1889. He moved to Dublin in 1896 to take a fulltime
job as secretary of the Dublin Socialist Society,
which later evolved into the Irish Socialist Republican
Party (ISRP).
Connolly emigrated to the U.S. in 1903 and in 1905 he
became a Union organizer for the IWW (Industrial Workers
of the World) until he returned to Ireland in 1910. At
that point he became an organizer for the Irish Transport
and General Workers Union (ITGWU) and within a year
became the General Secretary
of the ITGWU. In 1913,
along with Jim Larkin
(Dublin president of the
ITGWU), he organized a general
strike in Dublin that paralyzed
commerce and transport
for many weeks. During
the general strike, Connolly
organized the Irish Citizen
Army amongst striking workers,
in a self-defense response
to wide spread beatings of
striking workers by the police
and British military. The Irish
Citizen Army became the nucleus of the Dublin Division
of the Army of the Republic during the 1916 Easter Rebellion
against British rule of Ireland.
Connolly was badly wounded and imprisoned during
the Easter Rebellion, and despite his severe wounds was
tied to a chair and executed by the British military on May
12th 1916, several weeks after his capture. James Connolly
died for his belief in social justice, but this belief was
not merely a theoretical ideal. It was a belief based on a
lifetime of experience, of seeing thousands of men and
women exploited to the edge of despair and starvation by
the greed of a few.
Though considered by many historians as an Irish
“Nationalist” , Connolly’s nationalism was the view that a
revolution in Ireland, or anywhere in the world, was worthless
unless the revolution substantially improved the well
being of the vast majority of the people, in particular those
most impoverished. Connolly’s nationalism encompassed
an international perspective in that he believed in a brotherhood
of equal nations in the world as well as a brotherhood
of equal citizens within every nation. Thus Connolly
believed that colonialism and feudalistic capitalism were the
cause of Ireland’s problems and most of the world’s problems.
Connolly instead advocated for a social/economicpolitical
system called a Co-operative Commonwealth.
Connolly’s Co-operative Commonwealth was influenced to
some degree by the social structure of ancient Celtic Ireland
as well as modern realities of the industrial age.
According to Connolly, the Co-operative Commonwealth
would be a societal structure where major industries and
resources would be owned by the people in common,
administered by a democratically elected government, and
the government held in check by the industrial Unions of the
respective industries. Connolly was extremely cautious of
too powerful of a centralized government. One of his more
famous quotes that reveals this was ” Without the power of
the Industrial Union behind it, democracy can only enter the
state as the victim enters the gullet of a serpent.”
A prolific writer of historical, cultural, political, economic,
and social analysis, many people of opposing political
beliefs valued and praised Connolly’s insightful articles and
books. Two of his more famous books are Labour in Irish
History and The re-conquest of Ireland. An article this
length cannot begin to do justice to the legacy of James
Connolly. You can learn more by googling
www.wageslave.org (James Connolly Society). A film about
the life of James Connolly is planned for 2007, with Peter
Mullan in the lead role and Adrian Dunbar as Director.

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