BMD: So you’ve written quite a bit about anarchism, about politics and history in Ireland. In this context of struggles learning from each other across borders and finding that unity too, I want to step back in history, and wanted to ask if you could expand a little bit about who James Connolly was. For anyone who does not know, Connolly lived in exile in Troy, New York for a while. But, tell us about him and the movement he came out of. And tell us if there is anything important that came out of those struggles for those of us to learn today.
AF: So in the context of the Irish left, James Connolly is kind of everybody’s founding father figure. Everybody sort of claims to come from him. It’s a very interesting story. He was born in Scotland, had served in the British army and then arrived in Dublin as a union organizer. And with Jim Larkin he built a very successful General Workers Union that was very strongly based on direct action.
They fought a massive battle here in Dublin in 1913 when the bosses tried to break that union by locking everybody out. There was a nine month struggle of resistance to that. In the course of that struggle they formed something called the Irish Citizens Army which some people call the first workers militia in Europe. It was basically formed to defend picket lines against police attacks. And that went on to take part then in the 1916 insurrection in Dublin. He was executed after that so there is this whole history of the war of independence where there’s lots of general strikes. There were seventeen general strikes in the course of two years. There were train strikes that happened which meant that British troops couldn’t be transported around. So there is a whole hidden side for that kind of struggle for Irish independence which had very much to do with the left after Connely and the influence of what was a syndicalist union that he built in terms of its ability to then run these massive labor struggles against the ongoing British military presence at the time.
As I said, he’s interesting in that almost every political party claims some sort of connection to him. Some of that is a little more dubious than others. But for anarchists I think the key thing is the kind of syndicalist politics. The idea of workers self organizing and direct action was the way to win struggles. That’s probably what is key. Certainly, some of that was coming from his experience in the States and working with the IWW there.
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