Proclamation is Ambiguous by Nature

Irish anarchist Sean Matthews discusses the limitations of the 'One Ireland, One Vote' campaign and nationalism in Ireland. As we approach the 100 year anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising he argues that it is important that we begin to reflect on its relevance today and what type of society we want. What, for example, is meant by 'freedom' and 'equality'?

Since their emergence a few years ago, the 1916 societies have emerged across Ireland in most towns and cities solidifying themselves within anti-GFA (Good Friday Agreement) republicanism. It is a broad church catering for every shade of republicanism based on the central pillar of the 1916 Easter Proclamation and seeking an All-Ireland referendum free from all external influence. Their main activities involve talks, commemorations, history tours and aiming for an All-Ireland referendum.

The 1916 Easter Proclamation remains a core pillar of Irish republicanism today and the 1916 Societies are no different. However as we approach its 100 year anniversary next year it is important that we begin to reflect on its relevance today in an every changing global capitalist society in an Ireland that is culturally and ethnically diverse. What do we mean by ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’?

The Proclamation is ambiguous by nature and offers nothing in terms of what an independent Ireland would look like and how to get there. Irish republicans are always keen to highlight the loaded terms such as ‘equality’ but what does this mean given all progressive political traditions claim they believe in ‘equality.’

As one Irish anarchist writer and activist points out:

The rising was heroic and it did shape the face of modern Ireland, but is there much in the rising for anyone on the left to celebrate? This blow against imperialism after all is somewhat undermined by the description of German imperialism in the second paragraph of the proclamation as "gallant allies in Europe".

And the promise that "The Republic guarantees equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens" holds no threat to the European capitalism of today which also claims to stand for such things.

Despite the fact that the Ireland of the time was deeply divided, right down to the formation of two rival and armed militias the Proclamation simply "claims the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman" despite "the differences" .. "which have divided a minority from the majority". The bitter sectarian divisions that already existed in the Belfast working class were unlikely to be overcome in such a manner!(1)

While anarchists should defend the right to self-determination, we need to ask ourselves is ‘self-determination’ and 'independence', in the real meaning of the word, possible in a global capitalist society run by imperialist powers. Is independence and nationalism a solution to imperialism?

On a global level we have witnessed a changing political landscape and conversation where the struggle and debate has shifted to posing the question to what type of society do we want?

One of the largest guerrilla organizations in the world and component of the Kurdistan national liberation movement, the PKK, is beginning to move away from nationalism towards the building a democratic confederation based on radical grassroots democracy that seeks to smash imperialism but also to build a society based on liberation from all forms of oppression and exploitation including gender oppression and capitalism.

As Dilar Dirik, an activist in the Kurdish women’s movement outlined in her talk on Stateless Democracy: How the Kurdish women's movement liberated democracy from the state.

what type of freedom is it if we do not struggle for all forms of emancipation…this cannot be addressed within the nation state because it is a deeply patriarchal and masculine structure.(2)

It is a question that anarchists answered in the early 20th century as they participated in anti-colonial struggles from Cuba, Philippines and other corners of the globe including Ireland but not limiting their aims to national liberation, but rather sought the self-liberation of the working classes from every oppression -- foreign or domestic, economic or political, cultural or social.

It is worth referring to the anarchist syndicalist Rudolf Rocker when discussing nationalism:

We must not forget that we are always dealing with the organized selfishness of privileged minorities which hide behind the skirts of the nation, hide behind the credulity of the masses. We speak of national interests, national capital, national spheres of interest, national honor, and national spirit; but we forget that behind all this there are hidden merely the selfish interests of power-loving politicians and money-loving business men for whom the nation is a convenient cover to hide their personal greed and their schemes for political power from the eyes of the world.(3)

Therefore, anarchists are opposed to nationalism because it obscures class differences and hierarchy and is essential for the survival of the global capitalist system because without it imperialist powers lose their grip. Indeed one of the reasons we oppose the nation state because instead of enhancing and protecting cultural and linguistic diversity it very often has the opposite effect. The state because of its centralizing nature where power is in the hands of the few, it often acts as the enforcer of one official language, religion etc. We only need to examine the Spanish state and African states riddled with ethnic conflict from a legacy of colonialism.

Republicans will often point to the differences between so-called progressive nationalism and reactionary nationalist movements, that often have a far right agenda.

While there can be differences depending on the political and social context and composition of each movement, Irish republicanism has still not solved its own contention between, on the one hand, an identity rooted in one side of the community in the North and on the other a much more progressive leftist universalist strand that seeks to challenge nationalism.

It is in the context of national and social revolution that we must assess the merits of any All-Ireland referendum. Will it be a step forward in building a new society that seeks to remove the conditions of exploitation and sectarian division or a deflection into a more localized version of green capitalism that is independent only in name?

What is clear is that we must continue to involve and participate in the daily struggles against capital and imperialism by providing a vision that moves beyond the shackles and confines of the nation state because this is something worth fighting for. As James Connolly said; “Organize for a full, free and happy life. For All Or For None. Speed The Day.”






  1. There's no doubt that in the context of its time, a time when a bitter and exploitative war was raging across Europe between imperialist empires, 1916 was a significant event.

    The emergence of a republican/socialist alliance was justifiable, even admirable. Indeed it could reasonably be argued that the courageous actions of the men and women of 1916 were a motivational template for further anti-colonialist and independence movements in the century that followed. If an imperialist power couldn't keep check on a near neighbour, could she maintain her grip on colonies half a world away?

    Despite these admirable qualities 1916 had glaring short-comings too. The Republican leaders blatantly ignored the existing divisions on the island. Divisions that had already led to the manifestation of different armed paramilitary factions at the time of the uprising. In that regard calls for 'allegiance to the republic by all its citizens' were shallow and facile. Ultimately they deepened divisions and thereby by their actions, in my opinion, failed (and failed grievously) in their proclaimed aims.

    We got to paint the post-boxes green, replaced colonial masters with domestic masters in the southern state, domestic enforcers of the masters' policies in the northern one and divisions as deep as ever between our peoples; yet we can convince ourselves (that) this was a success and a victory!

    Bit of a sham really to be 'celebrating' 1916!

  2. Sean,
    Nationalism, especially in its extreme form can often be the product of imperialism and oppression.

    I'm not really sure if you are arguing from an anarchist or Marxist perspective?
    Either way, it can be equally asked how equality and freedom are to flourish in a post nationalist context.
    Neo Liberalism and it's spread depends on a watered down form of Nationalism.
    The global spread of capitalism needs to break down borders and allow the ' Feel spirit' of capitalism a free global run.

    Neo liberalism hadn't taken an iron grip in 1916, extreme Loyalism had though.
    The oath of the Covenant had already been taken in blood. The UVF were geared for their onslaught.
    The British were whooping it up on a global scale fighting for their 'free world.'
    Against this backdrop, was a group of Irish Republican scholars and militarists promising, that the break with England could offer something different.

    That something different was put together in a Proclamation, a proclamation not a manifesto.
    Had the Rebellion been a success, then undoubtedly the text would have been moved from what you claim to be ambiguous to the actual.

    If they had of opened their text to include how they would overcome the dynamics of the 'Black North.'
    then that would have been a book on its own.

    It's applicability today stands not within the confines of Nationalism, but in the fact it embodied ideals that should not only be taken up by Republicans but anyone adhering to equality and freedom border less or otherwise.

  3. Sean
    Re read this today, as I couldn't concentrate last night,
    give up coffe for Lent, which I think is keeping with both Catholicism and the ascetic Protestant teaching of Capitalism.

    A very thought provoking piece, even if I don't agree with your theory on Nationalism or to the extent, equality or freedom are constrained entirely within it.

    Nationalism can't be defined or contained in such a way that it is generalised or globally applicable.
    Communists well, some would argue that, the Nationalism of an oppressed nation varies greatly from the nationalism of the oppressor.

    The free market that blood was shed for on an international stage pre 1916, by it's very definition
    rules out state or governmental interference.

    Nationalism only works for capitalism, when the State totally embodies the mobilising principles of the free market.
    The North of Ireland is now a classic model, but it can seriously be argued that those who drafted the Irish Proclamation were providing the platform for a state that was not.

    Neo liberalism tends to view itself as a border less ideology. They tend to see Nationalism in certain forms as restrictive to trans national capitalism.

    It has been written that for many of those who adhere to the Free Market theory that nationalism is indicted with a litany of problems.
    These are cited as militarist threats to peace, erecting barriers to free trade and providing a platform for racist attacks on migrant workers.

    Anti globalisation movements that emerged in the late 90s were accused of meddling in third world trade disputes for selfish reasons.

    James Connolly would have been only too aware of the dangers of deviating from his hard fought socialist ideals. Not only a great orator and writer but the very embodiment of a universal soldier. A man prepared to die forhis ideals isn't so ready to shelve them.

    Dilan Dirik is right, in saying that the only emancipation worth fighting for is one that can be devolved from patriarchy.
    Within the Proclamation the ideal of equality for women and men was there. Universal suffrage was on the table and the revolutionary theorists were open to that idea.

    The fact that this suffrage ideology was binned by the marriage of Church and State after the War of Independence can hardly be left at the door of the people of 1916.

  4. Be like me Nuala and give up Lent for Lent !!!

  5. Lol. Mackers my Ma was a great believer in the art of self denial.
    She'd believed we'd all had it basically but, a bit of asceticism could lessen the blow.
    She would be horrified to think, she thought along the lines of Weber, Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism.

  6. mccrackhead, why is it i think im on the sunday independent website when im readin ur comments, -" The Republican leaders blatantly ignored the existing divisions on the island. "

    what the fuck, seriously, fuck off.

  7. 'grouch'

    if you're losing your temper you're losing the argument!

    The republican project was and is flawed. Just look at what and where its got us.

    "We got to paint the post-boxes green, replaced colonial masters with domestic masters in the southern state, domestic enforcers of the masters' policies in the northern one and divisions as deep as ever between our peoples