1913: lessons from the lockout

1913 lessons from the lockout
We are rapidly approaching the 100th anniversary of many of the seminal moments of the 1913 strike and lockout. The meagre attention afforded to the centenary both by the state and the media is nothing short of a historical whitewash. The stark contrast to the airtime and soundbites we were forced to endure during the royal visit in 2011 is hard to ignore. There were no shortage of right wing commentators during that week falling over themselves to remind us of the importance of history’s link to present political conditions. History it seems has been co-opted as another tool in the state’s war on the Irish working class.
It is not difficult to deduce the reasoning behind this orchestrated silence. The events of the lockout present an embarrassing reminder of how little progress has been made in the subsequent century, cosmetic changes aside. The Free State has been from it’s inception a bastion for gombeen capitalism. The changing of the flag, the painting of post-boxes and other nationalistic alterations did little to alleviate the devastating poverty in the slums of Dublin. The slums today have been replaced with sprawling housing estates. The scourge of TB gone to be replaced with drug abuse, unemployment, and for the fortunate low paying unsecure employment. The figure of William Martin Murphy is left to the shadows of the past, a supposed relic of times long since improved. Today we have Michael O’ Leary, a latter day Murphy complete with PR firms and colourful press releases. His disdain for the rights of workers is celebrated as the spirit of entrepreneurship by the Irish media. The essence of what drove Murphy is all pervasive. We can hear it on the Anglo tapes. Capitalism uncensored, gloating at their stranglehold on power. Murphy would no doubt be impressed with Denis O Brien’s media influence, in 1913 the Irish independent and Times cheered on the reactionary right wing causes of their owners. They’ve gotten worse since.
The trade unions have made tokenistic efforts at commemorating the lockout. The truth is they have too been cowed by the establishment. The years of social partnership and cronyism have left them floundering and toothless in the face of austerity. In 1913 the sympathetic strike was utilised because the workers understood that their only defence was solidarity. Trade union members in England were aware of and supportive of their comrades in Dublin. The unifying element was not Nation but class. Solidarity in Irish trade unions has been replaced with complicity.
The poor efforts at Commemoration and education surrounding the lockout is perhaps not surprising given the nature of the Free State. What is surprising is the attitude of the Republican organisations to the centenary. Tokenistic efforts and the odd meeting aside 2013 has not been used to highlight the anniversary. This perhaps speaks to the current political stances taken by the various groups. Since 1997 there has been a paltry attempt made to politically analyze or develop. Beyond a reiteration of the right to conduct armed struggle there has been little original offered in the way of strategic development.
The veneration of 1916 remains a key element of commemoration for all of the groups, in fact it has become the very point for some. Their is a safety in this stance, no requirement to actually produce the political goods. It also masks the internal political differences between their supporters. The past can become quite a convenient place to focus your efforts on in lieu of planning for the future. They use the proclamation as a template for their political stances. Yet if they were to examine the events of 1913 they should find considerable cause for concern.
1913 marked the formation of the Irish Citizen’s Army, arguably a more truly revolutionary and important body than the Irish volunteers. The ICA was formed to protect the rights of the Irish working class, to protect them from the state and it’s thugs in uniform. They were dedicated not only to removing the stain of Imperialism from Irish soil but to a complete destruction of the existing exploitative social order. The Volunteers on the other hand find their origins in response to the Home Rule crisis of 1912 and in response to the formation of the UVF. Their leadership was a mixed bag, moderate nationalists such as Redmond and MacNeill were far more influential with the organisation than the Republicans within the IRB who intended to utilise the Volunteers for their own purpose. The Volunteers were not committed to fighting for the rights of the Irish working class, like all nationalists they subsume the working class into the wider concept of the nation.
Republicans today rightly remember the leaders of the Rising and their contribution to the fight for freedom. However it is all too frequently glossed over that they did not all share the same objective. James Connolly led his ICA volunteers into an alliance dictated by necessity rather than by political affinity. The ICA were in truth the vanguard of the revolution, ready to strike before the Volunteers. This necessitated the co-option of Connolly onto the IRB supreme council. Ultimately it was to be the more radical ICA born from the turmoil of 1913 that would lose out in 1916. Today there are those who have taken up arms ostensibly to finish the job, to once and for all liberate the country. It is pertinent to ask how exactly they intend to truly free the Irish people. They make no attempt to build up a wider working class movement, they refuse to elaborate on their analysis of the relationship between capitalism and imperialism.
If the objective of the current armed campaign is to liberate the occupied six counties what is their position on the Free State? It has consistently defended the interests of the British government, it contains the bulk of the Irish people. Connolly wrote that the struggle for Workers liberation and national liberation were intertwined. He did not write that one could be subordinated to the interests of the other because he was explicitly stating that there could be no true liberation of the Irish people without the defeat of Capitalism.
So what to make of the organisations which have so little to say to and for the Irish working class. There are no doubt many dedicated revolutionaries in their ranks. However without any attempt to build up a proper political analysis their efforts will make no positive contribution. In truth they will be utilised as a cover for the inevitable negative elements which flourish within the armed groups. Criminality is a deep rooted problem within the armed groups its examples known and obvious to all observers familiar with the various groups vying to be considered the most legitimate. Those genuine activists who find themselves within the ranks of the current groups will have their positive contribution stained by the guilt of association. They will find themselves in years to come defending whatever shift or compromise is made, loyal to individuals rather than politics.
There are many lessons to be learned by looking at the past century. We have seen revolutionary movements destroyed not by politics but by the wrong political stances. This lesson appears to have been misapplied with many so called Republicans having no political motivations rather than the wrong ones. What must be done to find a solution will not be discovered whilst People refuse to admit there is a problem. The tired rhetoric of nationalism may be used as long as there are those willing to subscribe to it. Yet as we watch our families and communities reeling under economic attack is it not time to ask do we not have more to offer them.


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