A Rebel's Guide to James Connolly

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A Rebel’s Guide to James Connolly is a much needed effort to claim the ideas and struggles of James Connolly as a fighter for the working class — hell bent on sparking the wave of revolution that went on to seize Europe in the latter half of the First World War.

Connolly was a writer, orator, organiser and fighter for the working class, who dedicated his life to fighting capitalism and imperialism. He also gave his life for that fight — executed by the British state in 1916 for his part in the Dublin Easter Rising.

Sean Mitchell’s introduction to Connolly is very successful in illustrating his ideas and militancy as a product of the material conditions of the Irish working class. He had laboured from the age of eleven, and struggled constantly with poverty throughout his life. Mitchell makes clear that Connolly lived his life in the thick of class struggle, supporting the 1913 mass strike in Dublin and fighting in the 1916 Easter Rising, and did not act upon history as an individual, but worked to guide the working class to action.

No revolutionary can think of the wave of socialist upheavals that shook Europe in the early 20th century without wincing at how close the working class came to upending a world of ruling class tyranny. Therefore it is crucial that we study and learn from the revolutionaries who took part in those struggles.

Like the Rebel’s Guide to Rosa Luxemburg, this book clearly demonstrates that Connolly’s efforts were thwarted by the failure to build a revolutionary socialist party. Such a party could have provided a clearer direction to those workers prepared to rise up against imperialism.

Modern socialists must look for inspiration in the revolutionary fervour and socialist principles of activists and thinkers such as James Connolly, while actively seeking to learn from their experiences. We must always seek to apply lessons from the past to the changed circumstances in which we live today, to better prepare for the battles we will face.

The Rebel’s Guide series is an invaluable resource to socialists who want an introduction to ideas and history with which they are unfamiliar, or to educate others in the history of the working class. Sean Mitchell’s A Rebel’s Guide to James Connolly is an excellent materialist history of class struggle in the early 20th century in Ireland, as well as a principled discussion of the ideas, struggles and life of James Connolly himself.