Kevin McCorry reviews James Connolly and the Reconquest of Ireland by Priscilla Metscher, Marxist Educational Press/NST, University of Minnesota pbk (ISBN 0-930656-74-1)
CONNOLLY’S STATURE as a giant of the Irish and European left is borne out by the fact that his political legacy has struck a responsive chord with generation after generation.
The socialist figure most often criticised as being less a socialist and more a nationalist can today speak to the anti-capitalist globalisation generation. His insights into the dynamics between the national and the international and the democratic and the socialist levels of struggle provide a rigor and clarity to the sometimes-imprecise programmes of the Seattle and Genoa generation.
This reviewer belongs to a left republican generation whose political formation took place in the 1960’s. I can remember listening to George Gilmore speaking to the Trinity College Republican Club about the crucial distinction between the socialist republicanism of Connolly and the capitalist nationalism of Arthur Griffith in the independence struggle.
Gilmore always insisted that Griffith’s betrayals were not because he was not a socialist but because he was not a republican. The task of the socialist was to push the democratic struggle to its limit and to do this required clear thinking about the nature of alliances and programmes that would transform and push the situation forward.
The Griffithite instinct was to counter this approach in every way possible. A left that ignored the democratic struggle and only stressed the class issues abdicated to the Griffithites.
At the time, a lot of the Irish left would wax eloquent about the ‘irrelevance’ of partition, discrimination and the general denial of civil rights in the north. George Gilmore taught us that far from being irrelevant these were crucial issues for the left. Gilmore and Peader O’Donnell carried forward the Connolly tradition that linked the democratic and the socialist transformation of Irish society in one dialectical process.
Priscilla Metscher very perceptively locates her excellent study in the broad anti- historical-revisionist camp.
Citing Brendan Bradshaw’s plea for a more imaginative and empathetic approach in dealing with historical subject matter she believes that this approach comes close to E P Thompson’s ‘socialist humanist’ approach.
She insists that empathy is essential and that it is the ability to ‘listen’ or to ‘tune in’ to people in the past without imposing a moralising tone from above. Rejecting the allegation that Connolly developed a sort of ‘hibernicised Marxism’ she stresses the fact that Connolly saw socialism as carrying on and developing the best non-socialist Irish revolutionary tradition of republicanism established by the United Irishmen.
Priscilla Metscher’s husband Thomas Metscher developed this theme further in his lecture to the international Connolly conference held in Dublin in 2001.*
The sort of dogmatic reductive Marxism that collapsed with socialism in the Soviet Union and the former socialist states of eastern Europe ended its days in a state of intellectual and moral bankruptcy. Marxism in the 21st century must be ‘integrative’ if it is to revitalise itself again.
The Metschers are among those who have argued that by that including the best and most progressive aspects of other theories Connolly made a vital contribution to the development of such a Marxism.
The text of Thomas Metscher’s lecture Connolly and the Future of Marxism given is soon to be published on the world wide web and in pamphlet form. Anyone wishing to obtain a copy before then can contact Kevin McCorry via the Irish Democrat.
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Copyright © 2003 Kevin McCorry