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1916: Attempting to square an orthodox circle March 28, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Here’s the voice of the orthodoxy from the Irish Times. Yes, it is Stephen Collins, valiantly continuing his efforts to suggest that independence was a more likely outcome of a world without 1916. Now, 1916 is far from beyond critique and criticism, but there is something very strange about his argument which is near indistinguishable from that of John Bruton:

Taken in isolation, the Rising can indeed be interpreted as an endorsement of violent and anti-democratic action. What is so little understood in the popular version of Irish history is that with the passage of the third Home Rule Bill in 1912, Ireland was going to have its own parliament one way or another.

But that only holds true if the meaning of words parliament and Ireland are altered to fit the broader thesis. Ireland as a whole wouldn’t have any such parliament, partition was clearly on the cards in advance of 1916. Moreover the parliament envisaged was one of a stunted autonomy, not of what most of us would consider ‘independence’.

But as noted yesterday so much of what we hear in relation to 1916 from the orthodoxy betrays a terrible fear that somehow 1916 could sway the Irish people in relation to the North. That Northern Ireland’s history both before and after the conflict of the 1960s onwards was subject to dynamics all its own seems to largely escape those making the case. This isn’t to say that 1916 was of no influence, but matters more immediate would, I think, have a larger prominence and importance in terms of shaping the nature of the conflict there.

Yet time and again – Ruth Dudley Edwards in the Guardian this weekend and a raft of other commentators in other outlets – the case is made that somehow the ‘Troubles’ were a direct result of 1916 and that its very invocation could unleash a sort of atavistic (as they would regard it) approach? This reductionism, this simplification of history, serves multiple purposes but above all, as I noted before, it is a remarkably patronising view of the people of this island. It is also self-evidently incorrect, the southern state was never at risk of falling, its institutions remained perhaps remarkably solid given partition and the divisions of the civil war and after. What to make of it? A sort of nightmare that the bourgeois told/tell themselves in order to experience a frisson of fear whatever the reality, a diversion from the very real culpability of this state in not engaging with the reality of partition and where that left hundreds of thousands, something else entirely, all or none of these?

Whatever, it genuinely remains one of the most embedded tropes of Irish politics, and one that deserves careful deconstruction.

But Collins particular approach is summed up well in the following:

For all the violence of 1916 and later years, the independence movement did not discard the democratic tradition of Irish nationalism. The fact that an independent Ireland is one of the oldest continuous parliamentary democracies in the world is a tribute to the roots planted by Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond.

There may be an element of truth in that, but there’s a larger truth that it was wrested in the teeth of fearsome opposition, military, political and economic from Britain.

That’s not the only simplification either. For example:

Another important feature of Irish life distorted by the cliché of the rebels versus oppressors version of the Rising is the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom. After painful decades of hostility and suspicion between the two countries, stemming from the Rising and its aftermath, relations have improved dramatically in recent decades.
The two governments were brought together in response to the IRA terror campaign and co-operated closely in the painstakingly slow process that ultimately led to the Belfast Agreement.

Does that come close to engaging with the reality of that process or indeed the manner in which governments before Labour engaged or not with those dynamics? Hardly.

And then there’s this:

By contrast, it is hard to believe that leaders of the 1916 Rising would be quite as happy with how things turned out. Modern Ireland is hardly the Gaelic-speaking, devoutly Catholic, anti-materialist nation dreamed of by Padraig Pearse. Neither is it the dictatorship of the proletariat envisaged by James Connolly.


1. EWI - March 28, 2016

W.T. Cosgrave and Michael Collins were both ‘out’ in 1916, Collins as an I.R.B. man and member of the Kimmage Garrison. Would Stephen Collins argue that either of these were ‘anti-democratic’, or wrong in their placing 1916 as the key event which enabled independence for twenty-six counties?

Liked by 1 person

2. Dr. X - March 28, 2016

I don’t recall Connolly ever using the term ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. His pet phrase, if memory serves, was “the extension of democracy to the social and economic life of the nation”.

Come to that, did Marx ever use the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat?”

Liked by 1 person

John Goodwillie - March 28, 2016

Marx used it in 1852 in a letter to Joseph Weydemeyer, who first used the term. He published it in Critique of the Gotha Programme. Possibly elsewhere as well. Connolly probably never. But the phrase is unimportant, it was popularised by people who thought correct slogans were more important than comprehension.


Ed - March 30, 2016

I saw one of the Jacobin editors on Twitter, responding to a Red-baiting article by an establishment liberal denouncing them and Bernie Sanders, point out that the guy who actually coined the phrase ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ went to the US and fought in the Civil War as an officer in the Union army. A true American patriot.


3. CB - March 28, 2016

When I watched Brian Hanley demolish a lot of John Bruton’s arguments regarding the 1912 Home Rule Act on the VB show about a year or so ago I thought well maybe we can now have a full and interesting debate about Home Rule, the IPP and the effects of the Rising etc. now that we’ve dealt with some of these canards.

Sadly the Brutons and Patsy McGarrys and Stephen Collins just continue to make the same points over and over again like a stuck record. During the Primetime special last week McGarry even came out with the statement that without the 1966 Golden Jubilee commemorations there would have been no troubles, which is a remarkable statement.

Their argument doesn’t seem to be about historical accuracy or furthering the debate merely repeating the mantra that 1916 was bad, Home Rule was achieved, the Rising created partition over and over again and hoping it will stick in the public consciousness.


Michael Carley - March 28, 2016

They seem to want to argue that (a) Home Rule was coming so there was no need for 1916 and at the same time (b) 1916 didn’t lead to the secular pluralist republic we all like to say we want. Funny thing though, you don’t see many of them standing up for pluralist secular, social-democratic principles in the actually-existing republic.


6to5against - March 29, 2016

The whole home-rule-was-coming argument surely founders on the fact that it didn’t arrive! 1916 was, after all, a military failure.
The British remained in power. If home rule was to be delivered after the war, then where was it in 1918? Why was there not even a timetable for its introduction? If the people of Ireland retained faith in British democracy, why did the gov’t of the day not deal honestly with that majority and their representatives and implement the pre-war plans.

Liked by 1 person

EWI - March 29, 2016

Their argument doesn’t seem to be about historical accuracy or furthering the debate merely repeating the mantra that 1916 was bad, Home Rule was achieved, the Rising created partition over and over again and hoping it will stick in the public consciousness.

The problem is, that by repeating it over and over again on RTÉ, in the Irish Time, the Independent and the Examiner, a lot of people are internalising this nonsense without knowing the actual history.

It’s like the Skinnider and O’Farrell thing. Feminist activists have repeated so often that Skinnider was refused a military pension because of her sex (wrong) and that Farrell was deliberately airbrushed out of that photograph for being a woman (also wrong) that at this stage it’s being referenced by people who don’t know that it’s a tissue of misrepresentation and lies. This was repeated at a 1916 talk in the People’s College the other week, where the female academic giving the talk (a last minute stand-in) even had a photo up of someone who certainly wasn’t Skinnider. And how many people know that O’Farrell isn’t in the supposedly ‘definitive’ Military Service Pensions Collection?


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