December 2015        

Letter

Republicanism and Socialism in Ireland


Ballynacloghy
Maree
Oranmore
Co. Galway H91 REK6

(091) 792297 | 087 9159787 | niallbocht@yahoo.ie

October 2015

A chara,
     To mark the centenary of the Easter Rising from a socialist perspective I am seeking your support for republishing Republicanism and Socialism in Ireland: A Study in the Relationship of Politics and Ideology, from the United Irishmen to James Connolly, which was written by Priscilla Metscher, a native of working-class East Belfast and former lecturer at the University of Oldenburg in Germany.
     The book is a brilliant piece of progressive Irish historical research and well worth republishing. It was first published in the 1980s by Peter Lang, a Swiss publisher normally used by PhD students for publishing their theses. In that limited edition it unfortunately did not reach the audience it deserved. In my view, and that of several political colleagues I have consulted, now is the perfect time to bring this study to a wider public.
     For that reason I approached the Communist Party of Ireland, and it has agreed to assist in bringing this project to fruition. I am now seeking forty sympathetic individuals who will contribute €100 each to ensure that the book can be published in 2016. In return—apart from the satisfaction of contributing to this worthwhile project—you will be presented with a copy of this substantial volume.
     To give you an idea of the book’s character it is perhaps best to turn to Metscher’s original preface to the first edition of Republicanism and Socialism in Ireland to set out the content of the book. In the opening paragraph of the preface the writer does not hide her own understanding of history: “My approach is based on the precept that the primary motivating force in history, in social formation, is the class struggle.”
     The book is in three parts. Part I shows “how the movements of the United Irishmen and Young Irelanders formed the backbone of Irish Republicanism from the late 18th to the middle of the 19th century . . . I have examined the ideas of the United Irishmen and the Young Irelanders against the background of the social conditions of the period. In fact each major part of my work is preceded by a corresponding section on the economic and social changes in Irish society . . .
     “Part II is concerned with Fenianism and the Land War, as movements essentially of the lower classes in the second half of the 19th century . . . Parts I and II deal mainly with a peasant society and thus with the political, radical, popular movements which are strongly connected with a rural society. Where possible I have pointed to elements of ‘derived’ ideology (such as the Rights of Man) or certain elements of a proto-socialist or socialist theory as emerged with the Fenian Movement and the Land League.”

     With regard to that latter movement there is a section that deals with the political thought of the Land League leader Michael Davitt. An academic and specialist on Davitt informed me a few years ago that Priscilla Metscher’s examination of his political outlook was unique among studies of Davitt.
     Part III deals with the political ideas of James Connolly. As Priscilla points out in her original preface, these “cannot be isolated from the republican tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries . . . My emphasis on Connolly is due to the fact that his life and work is the culminating point in the history of radical ideas in Ireland up to the present. The process of the development of his political ideas in relationship to the republican tradition in Ireland is a field of research that has been largely neglected. Much misunderstanding concerning Connolly and the national question arises from the inability or refusal to see his socialist theory within the context of the radical republican tradition.”
     I hope this synopsis of Priscilla Metscher’s work gives you an inkling of what the book contains. In its original edition the book came to a sizable 600 pages. This included, however, 100 pages of references, which include excellent thumbnail sketches of relevant political movements, such as the Chartists, and even a comparison of certain aspects of the Moscow Uprising of 1905 with the Easter Rising of 1916.
     Finally, a brief biography of Priscilla Metscher. She was born in Belfast in 1944, studied German and French at QUB, and was a teacher in Methodist College, Belfast, from 1966 to 1971. She then moved to Germany with her German husband, Thomas Metscher, where she lectured at the University of Oldenburg. She received a doctorate (Dr.Phil.) at the University of Bremen in 1984. She is also the author of the book James Connolly and the Reconquest of Ireland, which was published in 2002. At present she is writing an article on Connolly and 1916 for the journal of the Marx Memorial Library and Workers’ School, London.
     There will be much hullabaloo and hypocrisy as part of the Easter Rising centenary commemorations, and much reactionary material will be published about that seminal event. I believe the publication of this important work, written from a socialist viewpoint, will prove a significant counterbalance to this. It will also give members of the present generation access to an important work of progressive Irish historical scholarship. May I appeal to you to help in this endeavour by contributing €100 to this project, and if you know of others who you think might support it in similar fashion to let me know their names and contact details.
     If you are willing to participate in this project, please post a cheque or money order—made out to Connolly Book Club—to my address (above), or transfer the amount to the bank account (details below) with the reference “Republicanism and Socialism in Ireland.” In that case it would be helpful if you would drop me a line by e-mail or post, and I will immediately verify the arrival of your generous contribution.
     Is mise le meas,
     Niall Farrell
AIB, Capel Street, Dublin (sorting code: 93-11-01) .
Account: Connolly Book Club. Account no. 20624254.
BIC: AIBKIE2D
IBAN: IE26 AIBK 9311 0120 6242 54

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