Arthur Griffith

Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2017), Letters, Volume 25

Sir,—Arthur Griffith was in many ways an estimable human being. In five sixths of a page, Colum Kenny has shown this (HI 25.2, March/April 2017). Unfortunately for him, very little of his argument is relevant to this writer’s proposition, which is that Griffith’s ‘single-minded nationalism’ was quite inadequate for the problems of Ireland in his time (and even less so for its problems today), and that it was particularly inadequate, and therefore hostile, for Irish workers.

Certainly, Connolly’s friendship did not prevent him from rubbishing Griffith’s Hungarian pamphlet before attending Griffith’s marriage. Equally, the continuing advertising of Irish Worker/Workers’ Republic in Griffith’s newspapers after the Lockout is almost certainly due to commercial rather than personal/political considerations. (And, after August 1914, previous political differences would have disappeared in the need to build alliances to stop the World War.)

Less excusable is Colum Kenny’s attempt to elevate Griffith’s personal integrity at the expense of Connolly and Larkin. He points out that they went to America whereas Griffith refused ‘an offer of well-paid employment’ there, the implication being that the socialists deserted Ireland for such employment, a suggestion that can be answered only with a hollow laugh. In fact, neither Connolly nor Larkin were inspired by such an offer. They went because, unlike Griffith, they were socialist internationalists and saw opportunities in the USA that would benefit Irish workers if they were fulfilled.

In any case, the acid test of the effectiveness of Griffith’s benevolence towards the class from which he came remains his attitude to the Dublin Lockout. Colum Kenny excuses this by saying that it ‘would ultimately be counterproductive for the poor’. However, that is exactly what his allies, the bosses of Dublin, were working to ensure. No one would think from Colum Kenny that the Lockout was begun by those bosses tearing up an agreement to establish negotiating machinery in disputes between the classes in favour of outright war against the workers’ right to organise. Yet that was the issue at stake and Griffith supported the bosses.

There is one final point. Colum Kenny drags in Soviet Russia as this writer’s ideal in opposition to the Ireland for which Griffith drafted the blueprint. Well, it is arguable that a Soviet Ireland might well have been an improvement not just for Ireland but for the world, though it would not have had the same positive effect as a successful German revolution instead of the one betrayed by the social democrats.

To get back to real rather than alternative history, I cannot say that the results of the two revolutions are so much different. Certainly the Russian wars were worse than the Irish troubles, and Ireland avoided Stalin’s hecatombs. On the other hand, Ireland matches Russia for gulags, and is probably worse in that the inmates were children and that they were supposed to be kept in them for their own good, rather than for alleged subversive activities. Both states censored literature. More positively, the Soviet welfare system was far in advance of the nineteenth-century structures here. Larkin, Connolly and the Bolsheviks thought big; Griffith did not. In the aftermath of the Soviet implosion, it is understandable that Griffith’s thinking should get a dusting. Sadly, today it would seem reflected in what passes for thinking by President Trump and the Brexiteers.—Yours etc.,

D.R. O’CONNOR LYSAGHT

This thread of correspondence is now closed.—Ed.

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