This is an extract from Miscellaneous Notes on Republicanism and Socialism in Cork City, 1954 – 69 by Jim Lane Cork, 6 August 2005 Page 2.
It needs to be stressed, however, that neither Wolfe Tone nor James Connolly was a revolutionary simply because of their participation in armed insurrection; they were so because they also advocated the most advanced democratic concepts of their time: bourgeois democracy in Tone’s time and revolutionary socialism in Connolly’s.
The 1950s was a period of great hardship in the lives of most people in Ireland, particularly the urban working class, rural labourers and small farmers. Widespread unemployment gave rise to poverty, hunger and mass emigration to Britain and America. Confidence in the politicians of Leinster House was at a very low ebb. The De Valera attempt to build an ‘independent’ Irish capitalism behind tariff barriers had failed. However, Sinn Féin, which did not even see itself as a political party in those days, made no serious attempt to give leadership to the people on the social issues that troubled them. They were unable to because their policies were quite similar to the Free State parties they derided – all were bourgeois democratic. Sinn Féin simply offered a more honest approach and pledged to do better than those they sought to replace. No thought of socialism entered their minds; they simply stuck with the bourgeois democratic concept of republicanism that was about 160 years old at that time. They considered that because it was revolutionary in Wolfe Tone’s time, it was good enough for them. It was as though everything in the world had stopped since Tone’s period. Undoubtedly, in Tone’s time bourgeois democracy represented a revolutionary phenomenon and could be seen as a progressive response to the Irish situation; as a consequence, Irish republicanism could be defined as revolutionary bourgeois democracy, tailored to suit specific needs and conditions in Ireland. But, long before the 1950s, conditions in Ireland and elsewhere had changed, and the needs and demands of the people were obviously dramatically different to what they had been in the 1790s. Bourgeois democracy had ceased to be revolutionary; it had been superseded by socialist democracy. James Connolly was among those who understood this shift and he gave great credit to both Karl Marx and Frederick Engels for their contribution in bringing it about. He said of Marx that he was ‘the ablest exponent of socialism the world has seen, and the founder of that school of thought which embraces all the militant socialist parties of the world.’ It needs to be stressed, however, that neither Wolfe Tone nor James Connolly was a revolutionary simply because of their participation in armed insurrection; they were so because they also advocated the most advanced democratic concepts of their time: bourgeois democracy in Tone’s time and revolutionary socialism in Connolly’s.