For the Olympic athlete, see James Connolly (athlete)
James Connolly (June 5, 1868 - May 12, 1916) was an Irish nationalist and Labour leader. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland to Irish emigrant parents. He left school for working life at the age of 11, but despite this start to life he would become one of the leading left-wing theorists of his day.
He is believed to have joined the British Army at the age of 14, and was stationed in Dublin where he would meet his wife. By 1896 he had left the army and established his Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). While active as a Socialist in Britain Connolly was among the founders of the Socialist Labour Party which split from the Social Democratic Federation in 1903. He was right hand man to James Larkin in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union . In 1913, in response to the Lockout, he founded the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), an armed and well-trained body of labour men whose aim was to defend workers and strikers, particularly from abuse by police. Though they only numbered about 250 at most, their goal soon became the establishment of an independent and socialist Irish nation.
Connolly stood aloof from the leadership of the Irish Volunteers as being too bourgeois, and unconcerned with Ireland's economic independence. In 1916 thinking they were merely posturing, and unwilling to take decisive action against Britain, he attempted to goad them into action by threatening to send his small body against the British Empire alone, if necessary. This alarmed the members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who had already infiltrated the Volunteers and had plans to use them for an insurrection that very year. In order to talk Connolly out of any such rash action, the IRB leaders, including Tom Clarke and Patrick Pearse, met with Connolly to see if an agreement could be reached. It has been said that he was kidnapped by them, but this has been denied of late, and must at some point come down to a matter of semantics. As it was, he disappeared for three days without telling anyone where he had been. During the meeting the IRB and the ICA agreed to act together at Easter of that year.
When the Easter Rising occurred on April 24, 1916, Connolly was Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, and as the Dublin brigade was the only one that took any substantial role in the rising, he was de facto Commander in Chief. Following the surrender he was executed by the British for his role, although he was so badly injured in the fighting that he was unable to stand for his execution, and was therefore shot in a chair. He was survived by his wife and numerous children.
His legacy in Ireland is mainly due to his contribution to the nationalist cause and his Marxism has been largely overlooked by mainstream histories (although his legacy as a socialist has been claimed by the Labour Party, the Communist Party of Ireland, the Socialist Party and a variety of other left-wing and left-republican groups). However, despite claims to the contrary, Connolly's writings show him to be first and foremost a Marxist thinker. In several of his works he rails against what he calls the bourgeois nationalism of those who claimed to be Irish patriots.
Connolly was among the few left-wingers of the Second International who opposed, outright, the Great War. This put him at odds with most of the Labour leaders of Europe - but meant he was a co-thinker of those that would later come to call themselves communists, such as Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg.
Apparently Lenin was a great admirer of Connolly, although the two never met.
In Scotland his thinking was hugely influential to socialists such as John Maclean, who would similarly combine his leftist thinking with nationalist ideas when he formed his Scottish Workers Republican Party.
There is a statue of James Connolly in Dublin, outside Liberty Hall, the offices of the SIPTU Trade Union.