James Connolly was born in June 5th 1868. For a man so linked to Irish history, Connolly was actually born in Edinburgh, Scotland. The area he lived in was nicknamed ' Little Ireland' and was one of the city's slum areas. He subsequently spoke with a Scottish accent throughout his life. His parents were originally from County Monaghan and their life in Edinburgh was hard.
James Connolly joined the British Military at age 14 to escape his extreme poverty. Seven years later at the age of 21, Connolly left military life and eventually settled in Dublin in 1896.
In 1903 Connolly emigrated to the United States,living for a brief period in Troy New York with a relative, and worked for an insurance firm as a salesman. But by 1905 he left Troy to persue his ideals of organizing a militant working class movement and soon joined the newly formed IWW ( Industrial Workers of the World ), as a member and full-time organizer.
A prolific writer of historical, cultural, political, economic, and social analysis, as well as a one man editor and publisher of his own books and newspaper, many people of opposing political beliefs within the Labor movement and the Left valued and praised Connolly's insightful views.
Connolly did not consider himself an Anarcho-Syndicalist, however in 1908 when a split in the IWW occured between the Marxist Daniel De Leon and the Anarcho-Syndicalists, Connolly sided with the Anarcho-Syndicalists.
Connolly hated sectarianism, which he considered one of the greatest obstacles preventing worker anti-capitalist unity. One of his writings that reflects this belief ;"The development of the fighting spirit is of more importance than the creation of the theoretically perfect organization. That indeed, the most theoretically perfect organization may, because of it's very perfection and vastness, be of the greatest possible danger to the revolutionary movement if it tends, or is used, to repress and curb the fighting spirit of comradeship in the rank and file.Connolly also was distrustful of centralized government, best reflected in his statement that ;
'Without the power of the industrial union behind it, democracy can only enter the state as the victim enters the gullet of the serpent.'
Connolly returned to Ireland in 1910 and became an organizer for the Irish Transport and General Workers Union ( ITGWU ). In 1913 along with Jim Larkin ( a supporter of the IWW who in coming years traveled to America to support Ben Fletcher's IWW Maritme and Dockworkers Union in Philadelphia ), the President of the ITGWU, Connolly organized a general strike in Dublin that paralyzed commerce and transport for many weeks. During the general strike Connolly organized the Irish Citizen Army amongst striking workers, in a self defense response to wide spread beatings of striking workers by the Irish police and British military. The Irish Citizen Army became the nucleus of the Dublin Division of the Army of the Republic during the 1916 Easter Rebellion against British rule of Ireland.
With the outbreak of war, Connolly became increasingly committed to formenting an insurrection against British rule in Ireland; he had gradually changed from labour organiser and agitator into military commandant and theorist. In mid-January 1916 he reached agreement with the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council to co-operate in an insurrection the following Easter. He joined the Council, and on the day before the Rising its members appointed him vice-president of the Irish Republic and Commandant-General, Dublin Division, Irish Army.
Connolly proved himself to be the most effective and inspirational of the rebel leaders during the insurrection. On Easter Monday, 24th April, he led the Headquarters Battalion from Liberty Hall to the General Post Office and commanded military operations there throughout the week – supervising the construction of defences, determining and adjusting strategy, summoning reinforcements and deciding on the disposition of his forces. That only nine volunteers in the post office garrison died during the fighting is testimony to his talents. He himself took constant risks with his own safety but even after being severely wounded on 27th April, he remained, as Patrick Pearse said, "still the guiding brain of our resistance".
Connolly after the failed Easter Rebellion was imprisoned, and despite his severe wounds, was tied to a chair and executed by the British military on May 12th 1916 by firing squad to the outrage of many people in Ireland and across the world. It certainly significantly contributed to the mood of bitterness in Ireland.Although the Easter Rising had little support from the Irish people, it was the martyrdom of its leaders, and particularly of Connolly, that sparked the flame of Irish republicanism across this island, launched a mass rebellion, and ultimately led to the creation of an Irish republic.
Though considered by many historians to be an " Irish Nationalist ", Connolly did not believe in ignoring class divisions in the name of nationalism. That Ireland could not be free until the working class of Ireland was free.
Today, he is regarded as one of Ireland's greatest heroes. He was a revolutionary socialist and militant unionist who dedicated his life not just to the cause of Irish liberation, but also to international socialism. I am sure that if was alive today. he would be opposed to the privatisation policies of both the British and Irish governments and that he would challenge the austerity policies being imposed on the working class.
In the history of the international working class movement we should remember James Connolly as a hero and martyr who acted on his beliefs .I will end with this final quote from him :-
"A revolution will only be achieved when the ordinary people of the world, us, the working class, get up off our knees and take back what is rightfully ours."
Andy Irvine - Where is our James Connolly