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The Easter 1916 rising was only an episode of the revolution in Ireland. The fact that the revolution is not over, and that the 1916 rising continues to play a significant part in the social life of Ireland today is pointed out by the song “Zombie”, composed by the Irish band “Cranberries” in 1990’s (watch video of the song, read the lyrics ). (Also, see Cruachan (band) , and U2 ). 

So, what is this “revolution in Ireland”? Why did the 1916 rising failed? Why the numerous groups involved in Ireland cannot bring it to victory?

First, it must be understood that Ireland is England’s oldest colony. The process of conquest of Ireland and an attempt to bring it to its knees goes back to the middle ages, when numerous Irish chiefs could not settle the question of power on the island themselves, and so sailed to England asking for help. The English kings “helped” some of these Irish chiefs to take back the power, but in the process they did not forget themselves, and so Ireland eventually became an English colony (see "History of Ireland ", in Russian).

The Irish people continually rose against the English dominance and they were continually brought down, through violence, but mostly through internal divisions among themselves. One especially notable attempt at independence came in the time of the French revolution and Napoleonic wars, when the French were fighting the English. We all know about the adventure of Napoleon in Egypt, where he went to conquer his way to India,

an English

The Irish rebellion of 1798. Notice the atrocities.

colony. However, we hear little about an attempt of one of his

generals to sail to Ireland, together with one of the Irish rebellious chiefs, and take over the island, making use of an Irish nationalist rebellion against England. This particular attempt failed because of a violent storm, which separated the French military ships sailing for Ireland with around 16000 French troops and guns for the rebellion.

However, a lesson in revolutionary politics is clear before us: if we want to defeat an imperial power, we must make use of the internal divisions in his camp, especially the native people rising in arms against his colonial rule


Soldiers of the British Occupation Forces on guard in front of rubble in the city-centre of Dublin in the aftermath of the Easter Rising of 1916

The Easter 1916 rebellion was a

part of a series of revolutionary explosions which shook Ireland in the course of the next 7 years. It was followed by the Anglo-Irish war of 1919-1921, i.e. immediately after the cessation of Word War I. Then, this was followed by the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. So, then the question remains: why did the 1916 rising failed?

Lenin believed that the 1916 rising was not a coup. He attributed failure of the rising to wrong timing: the Irish "proletariat" rose at the time when other "proletarians" were not yet ready, i.e. the international proletariat has not coordinated its policy. If the Irish rose a year or so later, for example in time with the Russian 1917 revolution, then perhaps they would have been succussful. So Lenin thinks. 

However, examining all evidence from today's perspective, we're led to believe that the 1916 rising was more like a Blanquist coup of 1870 in Paris. It was a premature rising of a small number of conspirators who did not prepare the public opinion for the necessity of rising. Hence, they have found themselves isolated from the majority of the people, and the rising in Dublin did not spread to the rest of the country, as a fire does not spread in wet conditons. 

Wikipedia describes the start of the rising like so: "Early on Monday morning, 24 April 1916, roughly 1,200 Volunteers and Citizen Army members took over strongpoints in Dublin city centre. A joint force of about 400 Volunteers and Citizen Army gathered at Liberty Hall under the command of Commandant James Connolly."

But then what happens? Wikipedia continues: "many members of the Dublin public were simply bewildered by the outbreak of the Rising.[93] James Stephens, who was in Dublin during the week, thought, "None of these people were prepared for Insurrection. The thing had been sprung on them so suddenly they were unable to take sides". 

Parts of the Irish society and political movement were opposed outright to the rising: "There was considerable hostility towards the Volunteers in some parts of the city. When occupying positions in the South Dublin Union and Jacob's factory, the rebels got involved in physical confrontations with civilians trying to prevent them from taking over the buildings. The Volunteers' shooting and clubbing of civilians made them extremely unpopular in these localities.[95] There was outright hostility to the Volunteers from the "separation women" (so-called because they were paid "Separation Money" by the British government), who had husbands and sons fighting in the British Army in World War I, and among unionists.[96] Supporters of the Irish Parliamentary Party also felt the rebellion was a betrayal of their party.[97]"

Moreover, the rising was weakly prepared militarily, as the militants failed to take over the Dublin castle, which was guarded lightly and was the center of the English power in Dublin, the capital. They also failed to take over other key buildings and installations in Dublin, such as the Trinity College and Magazine Fort. 

Easter 1916

A modern mural in Belfast

A successful rising requires a combination of conspiracy together with a wide popular opinion prepared for the cause of the rising.

Conspiracy is obviously needed to prevent the state from repression of the revolutionaries.

Wide propaganda and agitation is needed to make the cause of the revolutionaries understood by the people, and hence supportive of the rising, once it has started.

An example of a successful combination of the two opposites we see in the Cuban revolution. Similarly to the Irish revolution, the first assault on the army barracks by the Castro brothers was not successful, and they were put in jail. But once they left the jail and went to Mexico, they started to prepare a rising in secrecy, which was to be supplemented by a wide rebellion on the island. Once Fidel Castro went back to Cuba, the people knew who the leader of the rising was, and hence they supported the rebels. 

In addition to preparing a conspiracy in combination with a wide popular support, the potential revolutionaries should be prepared to deal with an opposition to the rising from within their own ranks, and from adjacent and hostile parties. Not all socialist parties supported the October 1917 rising in Russia. In fact, almost all of them were against it, and attempted both an outright rebellion (as did the Social Revolutionaries), and support for the White Forces (as did the Mensheviks). The Bolsheviks were able to suppress them all, while the Irish revolutionaries were not. 

Finally, an organization of the rising should be on level with the tasks which the revolutionaries want to accomplish. If a person fails to pull away a gun held in the hands of an old, delapidated man, then this person is weaker than the old man and does not deserve the gun. 

Next: revolution in Ireland continued

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