Connolly and Casement

Charles Donnelly and AJAX

Left Review, Vol. 2 No 7, April 1936, Revolutionist's Handbook, Part 5.

Mr Hogan (Labour, Liverpool, Scotland) referred to the case of the removal of Napoleon's body from St. Helena, and asked why Casement's body could not therefore be sent home.

Mr Baldwin: The cases were not quite parallel. Report of Parliamentary Proceedings, March 12, 1936.

"The cases are not quite parallel." Mr Baldwin has said it. Connolly, Casement, Pearse, Clarke, the chief men of the Easter Rising were all executed; Casement was hanged in London, the rest shot in Dublin. They were all 'traitors' according to the Crown. But were they?

Subjoined is a certain basis for the argument. In the first place is a discarded defence of Sir Roger Casement which George Bernard Shaw wrote and Casement commented on: in the second, a defence of Connolly's leading of the Easter Rising, from the point of view of Socialism and Internationalism.

It will be seen that Bernard Shaw is a good nationalist, Casement a good anti-Imperialist. It is claimed that Connolly went the next step and became a good internationalist.

In the following paragraphs, Shaw's and Casement's names precede the paragraphs of the 'discarded defence' and the commentary, for which they were responsible. Part of the time, Shaw is writing in direct speech, as if he were the prisoner.

Shaw (for the defence): The line taken by the prisoner should be as follows: First, that his plea of Not Guilty must not be taken as implying any denial of the essential facts relied on by the Crown, but simply a denial that any guilt applies to them except the guilt that attaches under the higher law of God to all who draw the sword against their fellows even for their country: a guilt which attaches to all present in the court equally with the prisoner himself. That he heartily wished that the court might have been spared the tedium of calling witnesses to prove facts which he did not dispute. He was in no was ashamed of his conduct, and was quite willing to add and to amplify if the Attorney-General cared to call him.

Casement: Just what I said at Scotland Yard.

Shaw (for the defence): As far as the facts are concerned he embraces the Crown case instead of repudiating it. He has made up his mind (query: After the shelving of the Home Rule Act) that his country ought to achieve her independence of English rule by force of arms. He had hoped that in a very humble way he might do for his country what Garibaldi had been honoured in England for doing for his country.

CASEMENT: The Crown and the Press call me filthy names, not because I am an Irish rebel, but because I tried to seduce the Irish soldiers from their allegiance. They say that was a vile, base and treacherous act, etc. My reply if 'You admire Garibaldi and say he was the noblest and most chivalrous of men. But Garibaldi deliberately went into the Navy at Piedmont to seduce the sailors form their allegiance, and was condemned to death as a traitor for that act.' The English Press, etc., say that in his case all was patriotic and noble. How about this of his in Genoa? This is the only comparison I institute between my case and Garibaldi's. When ac at does not hurt them the English ignore and condone. When it hurts them they find it 'dastardly.'

Shaw (for the defence): It was no more possible, in the prisoner's opinion, for Ireland to free herself without foreign alliances than it had been possible for Italy to free herself without the help of France, or than France, Belgium and Russia could not withstand the Central Powers single-handed. He therefore naturally and properly sought to obtain, and to a certain extent did obtain, the assistance of the German Empire in his enterprise. He had no apology whatever for that. It was his plain duty to his country….The prisoner might proceed as follows: I did not want German troops in Ireland. I have just the same objection to a German occupation of Ireland that this country has to a Russian, French or Italian occupation of England, however friendly. I did not want to have any soldiers in Ireland except Irish soldiers. What I wanted from Germany was money, munitions, and Irish soldiers, and this was all I accepted.

CASEMENT (scoring out the word 'money' heavily): I did want a German army in Ireland for the very reason that Wolfe Tone, Lord Edward Fitzgerald and every sensible Irish rebel wanted French - or Hugh O'Neill Spanish - troops, because it is not possible for Ireland without effective foreign help to cut the connection. The Irish Brigade was to be the justification for Germany sending her men - quite rightly, too. Germany said to me, 'Prove that Irishmen will fight as well as talk for their liberty and we will help,' and I said, 'I'll try and prove it with the only material to hand, and if I do, will you help?' And Germany aid, 'Yes', and signed, sealed and delivered it.

SHAW (for the defence): The fact that I served England well enough to have my services publicly acknowledged and specially awarded shows that I have no quarrel with England except the political quarrel which England respects and applauds in Poland, Italy, Belgium, in short, in every country except those conquered and denationalised by England herself.

CASEMENT: Yes, I have. I deny 'England's' claim to India and Egypt even as I deny her claim to Ireland - on the very ground that what I claim for one country I should never withhold from others, and not aid them, too, to obtain. I am not only an Irish Nationalist, but an anti-Imperialist.

SHAW (for the defence): If you persist in treating me as an Englishman you bind yourselves to hang me as a traitor before the yes of the world. Now, as a simple matter of fact, I'm neither an Englishman nor a traitor: I am an Irishman captured in a fair attempt to achieve the independence of my country, and you can no more deprive me of the honours of the position than the abominable cruelties inflicted 600 years ago on William Wallace in this city when he met a precisely similar indictment with a precisely similar reply, have prevented that brave and honourable Scot from becoming the national hero of his country….Will you credit me when I say that those three days of splendid fighting against desperate odds in the streets of Dublin have given back Ireland her self respect?...

And now, gentlemen, you may hang me if you like. I will not add 'and be damned to you,' because I fell no more ill-will to you than I did when you were glad enough to claim my public work as the work of an English Consul…My neck is at your service if it amuses you to break it: my honour and reputation are beyond your reach…I ask for no mercy, no pardon, no pity. I sincerely and humbly beg your pardon if at any moment during this trial my inextinguishable pride inbeing an Irishman and my exultation in the bravery and devotion of my countrymen has betrayed me into an exhibition of vanity.

Gentlemen, I have done my duty: now it is your turn.

CASEMENT: Shaw's version is all right: but he does not understand one-tenth of the issue the Crown had in view. They are not after me - except insofar as they have to keep in with public feeling. They are out to befoul Germany first of all: to show up the 'German plot' and 'Clan-na-gail' [sic] plot, and then to belittle me personally and point to the Trio as fine guides and helpers of the Irish people. The reaction is to have this effect - glorification of good will of the Irish fighters who fought and died in Ireland - misled and deceived by Germany and by me - but contempt and scorn for those who misled them and later (the aftermath of a hopeless delusion) to get all the Irish Nationalists into the war on England's side, and satisfy 'legal Irish Nationality' by some promise and pretext of Home Rule - that nauseous fraud - when the common enemy, Germany, is beaten.

'Contempt and scorn for those who misled them.' The process worked in other than government quarters. And if for years Casement became 'an unmentionable', Connolly was solemnly consigned by Labour opinion in England to the limbo for Traitors to Socialism.

'……He may, of course, have changed his views,' wrote Tom Johnston with querulous regret. 'He may have shut his eyes to the lessons of history he so ably expounded six years ago; the quiet-mannered, soft, musical-voiced man who a year ago was lecturing in Hutchinsonstown for the LRC [Labour Representation Committee?] may suddenly have run amok for a bloody revolution which, apart from its predestination to failure, could not possibly secure, not lead to the securing, of the socialist ownership and control which he spent the best part of his life in advocating. He may. But the psychology of it all is a mystery to me.' Labourism, confronted with revolutionary socialism, then reached its classic expression, 'The psychology of it all is a mystery to me.' The words seem destined for an epitaph, though not on James Connolly, for whose obituary they were written.

It is not surprising that the only hand raised in Britain in accompaniment to Lenin, Liebknecht, and Luxemburg was an Irish hand. Nor is it surprising that long before the outbreak of the war James Connolly should have uncovered theoretical veins indicative of the revolutionary socialism which later cohered in the foundation of the Third International.

In the barren soil of Irish economic life, attenuated by imperialist abuse and maladministration, distributionist socialism could not take root. Close as were the ties between socialism in England and Ireland, the basis of the movement differed absolutely in the two countries. Economically England belonged to the continental mainland in the sense that the economy, like that of France and Germany, was the hub of an imperialist system. From this bloc Ireland stood as distinct as her island position. Ireland did not belong to the European hub of the world, Ireland was merely a link in a chain of imperial relations, and Ireland's position offered a foothold not for a solution based on reforms of distribution, but for one based on a revolution of international relations. This is the material basis of Connolly's psychology. Out of this environment emerged those writings to which the British movement will turn when the insolubility of its problems within the boundaries of national reforms becomes overpoweringly clear, and then the essentially internationalist character of the revolutionary nationalism for which both Connolly and Casement stood will become as patent as the fact that internationalism is inconceivable with anti-imperialism.

The Easter Rising was the culmination of Connolly's method of facing the war, as the Coalition Government was the culmination of the official labour method of facing it.

In the first article he wrote in an English socialist paper after the outbreak of the war, Connolly - as Rosa Luxemburg did later in retrospect - pointed out that the issue had now been declared between socialism and imperialism. He traced the growth of the socialist movement in the preceding years in al European countries, and the formulation of its opposition to war….'The socialist movement stands committed to war upon war, stands so committed at the very height of its strength and influence. But believing as I do,' he wrote, , 'that any measures would be justified which would put a stop to this colossal crime now being perpetuated, I feel compelled to express the hope that e'er long we may read of the paralysing of the internal transport system of the continent, even should the act of paralysing necessitate the erection of socialist barricades and acts of rioting by socialist soldiers and sailors, as happened in Russia ion 1905.' A few weeks later, in a letter to the editor of Forward, he regretted that publication of its views on the war in England would merely lead to the suppression of the temarious paper. The war snapped the close connections between the labour movement in the two countries, though the seeds of the revolutionary Trade Unionism in which Connolly had been so closely associated with the Scottish socialists were in 1917 to blossom into the Clydebank struggles. Connolly organised against the war on the Irish scene, effecting a junction of forces with the national revolutionaries which culminated in the posted of armed forces under Connolly's command in Easter Week.

The legends about Connolly's retreat from socialism probably trace to the latter event more than to anything else. That Connolly was entirely honest in his united front connections with the Irish Volunteers is undoubted. A letter from Connolly to the volunteer leader in Tralee, Austin Stack, happily preserved in the evidence of the Commission of Enquiry into the Rising, discounts the suggestion of the establishment of a Citizen Army company - in 'a town the size of Tralee'. The Irish Volunteer corps 'which has stood so splendidly by the true Irish ideal' is adequate. As to the merging of the socialist Citizen Army with the Volunteers in the rising, its effect was to give Connolly the military command of the Dublin area. On the other hand, the political independence of the labour movement from all other sections of opinion was an aim to which Connolly had devoted his entire life work, and weeks after the creation of the national united front he could still write: "Our great task now is to consolidate our ranks and educate our members, to lay broad and deep the foundations of a great labour movement in this country, and to think out and propound the plans by which we hope to make it possible for that movement to enter into possession of a regenerated Ireland."

For Connolly the attainment of socialism was not a process of rational development toward a better order, but a war of opposing forces, a war correctly stated in terms of strategy and tactics and necessitating the exercise of the qualities of generalship. The national struggle was an environmental condition of this war, the national revolutionary movement a potential temporary ally. His were dialectical politics.

Concretely the rising must be judged as a rising against the war. More accurately, perhaps, the final terms into which a determined and through-going anti-war movement inevitably worked itself. It is quite true that the nationalists looked to Germany as a new ally in the age-old fight against Britain, and there is no reason for supposing any aversion on Connolly's part to accepting assistance from such a source. The position was that two years after the outbreak of war, when the anti-recruiting campaign in Ireland had reached such dimensions as to drive the Irish nobility into forming a secret committee to discuss ways and means of dealing with the menace, caused scores of appeals for drastic action from the military and police authorities; when, after repeated conferences in Dublin and in Westminster, a decision to arrest the leaders, suppress the anti-recruiting press, and send a large military force to cow the country, then, clearly, the only terms on which continuance was possible were those of armed violence. For by this time Connolly's earlier presumption of a European socialist uprising had been negatived.

The Irish socialist movement was a predestined causality in a vanguard revolutionary action. Here, as in the case of Russia, the inversion of Marx's famous saying holds true, and the economically backward country displays to the more advanced country features of its own future. The Easter Rising is for Britain not a reminder of her own stormy past so much as a forecast of her stormy future. For today the root of all evil in Britain, as in the countries she oppresses, is the system of imperialist international relationships, and an environment arises in which revolutionary internationalism can flourish. The socialists of our day will understand what their fathers could not - that Connolly and Casement were both outstanding internationalist figures precisely because of their Irish nationalism.

A collection of articles by C Donnelly