It is not fanciful, I think, to offer my grandfather’s contribution to the golden period of the Irish revolution up to 1922 as an exemplar of the need to maintain the structure of the current Right2Change movement with its three pillars – the political pillar, the trade union pillar and the community pillar. Let me explain.
When John Stokes turned up for duty at Ringsend Bridge with ‘D’ company, 3rd Battalion of the Irish Volunteers on Sunday 23rd of April 1916, he was part of the political pillar, albeit giving expression to republican politics through armed intervention against the opposing forces of British imperialism. The Volunteers were stood down that day as a result of MacNeill’s countermanding order, but John was back on the bridge with his comrades the following day to do his duty, and went into action with them in the Boland’s Mills garrison area. That was as much a political action as it was a military one.
When he joined the Volunteers in 1913, that was a political action. When he went to Howth on 26th July 1914 to collect his Mauser rifle from the Asgard, that was a political action. When he and his comrades of the 3rd Battallion drilled on the streets between then and the start of the revolution, that was a political action.
John, a true republican, was part of the political pillar.
But three years previously, John was part of the trade union pillar. A tram driver (motorman), working for the Dublin United Tramways Company owned by William Martin Murphy, John and his comrades walked off the job on the 26th August 1913, striking for recognition of their right to belong to the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. That trade union action precipitated the 1913 Lockout, but it also provided the spark that would become the flame of revolution, and Liberty Hall would be the key to that, not least in the creation there of the Irish Citizen Army.
John, a committed union man, was part of the trade union pillar.
After 1916, after a spell in Frongoch internment camp, John returned to my grandmother Catherine and their children He was not on active service in the War of Independence or the Civil War, but he and Catherine provided ‘services’ to the republican active service units by way of a safe house for men and weapons, and moving weapons to where they were needed. He said that he had no problem using a weapon on British forces but would not personally use one on his fellow-Irish.
John, together with Catherine, was now part of the community pillar.
Those three interconnected pillars – political, trade union and community – were essential to the success of the revolution between 1916 and its suppression by the Cumann na nGaedheal-Fine Gael counter-revolutionaries in 1923 which continued with the accession to power of de Valera’s Fianna Fáil.
The community pillar was as important in 1913 and in 1916 as the political or trade union pillars. The 1919-21 War of Independence could not have been prosecuted on the republican side without the involvement of a community pillar. And the heroic last stand of enlightenment republicanism between 1922 and 1923 in the Civil War could not have occurred even for that duration without the involvement of a community pillar on its side.
And here we find ourselves again, one hundred years after 1916, ninety-four years after the counter-revolution, attempting to begin the reclamation of that enlightened republic of equality and justice, and relying on those three pillars again as is always the case for any successful revolution – revolution being a fundamental change in political power brought about by the people for their benefit. That, and nothing less, is what we are attempting to bring to pass.
But there are flaws today in each of those pillars, just as there were in 1916. Just as then, those flaws must be overcome.
Today, the political pillar is incomplete. There are those in Leftist parties and groups, and some independents, who have refused to commit fully to the battle to defeat the continuous 94-year-long counter-revolution.
Today, the trade union pillar is incomplete. Some trade unions, bewitched by that odious 1930s corporatist-fascist device of ‘social partnership’ with its origins in Mussolini’s Italy, or led by centre-Right Labour Party ideologues, remain in practical terms supportive of the counter-revolution and in essence opposed to change.
Today, the community pillar includes those who say they eschew politics, or who are overly-protective of their own group’s ethos, or who identify and target spurious bogeymen and bogeywomen within the Right2Change movement for reasons best known to themselves.
Yet in each of those pillars we have enough truly committed groups and individuals to press on towards revolution. There is no other option, other than capitulation, open to us.
James Connolly knew what was required to create a revolution. In his call-to-action in ‘Erin’s Hope’, written in 1897, he pointed out that in order to create a successful revolution it is necessary to gather together all of the voices of discontent, even those with whom you do not find full agreement.
Connolly was correct. And the Right2Change movement is attempting to do what he called for. We are trying to gather all of the voices of discontent to our side so as to achieve through force of argument and not force of arms a transformational change in politics, society and the economy for the benefit of the mass of people.
Whatever the outcome of the 2016 General Election, when we go to the Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration of 1916 at the GPO on Republic Day 2016 we need to be able to stand tall, to look the ghosts of 1916 in the eye and say to them and to ourselves that we did our best, and if not good enough to win power for the people this time, we will do better the next.
And let those who try to drag at our heels, who refuse to play their part, who spread calumnies against good people, who try to divide and not unite, hang their heads in shame.
Three pillars – political, trade union, community – working together to create something good and destroy something bad.
As it was in 1916, so let it be in 2016. Revolution!