Adams highlights importance of republished Greaves classic

A GROUP of Republican ex-prisoners in Belfast, An Ghlór Gafa, has got together with British publishers Lawrence and Wishart to produce a new edition of the C Desmond Greaves's classic book, Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution, with a special introduction by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution

The book is the first in a series of radical political studies to be produced by the Belfast republican ex-prisoners. They intend also to republish Greaves's Life and Times of James Connolly, Sean Cronin's Irish Nationalism"and other radical political books that were important for republican prisoners over the years, as they grappled with issues of Irish politics and history in Long Kesh, Magilligan, Durham Prison and elsewhere.

An Ghlór Gafa, whose address is Tar Anall,Conway Mill,5-7 Conway Street Belfast BT13-2DE, is the Irish joint-publisher of the volume, while Lawrence and Wishart, 99A Wallis Road, London E9-5LN is the British joint-publisher.

The new edition retails for £10 in paperback and may be ordered from either of these two addresses.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams points to the importance of the book in an insightful Introduction to the new edition, excerpts of which are published below:

" ' The Irish revolution was a national revolution. It was directed by a small people isolated by geographical position, against what was then the most powerful Empire in the world. Its objects were to secure for the Irish people control of their own destinies so that they could solve their social and economic problems themselves. Its basis was the firm ground. But its story is shot through with heroism and romance.

" ' No one man so perfectly combines in his character the realism and the romance of the Irish struggle as Liam Mellows. He began his political life at the beginning of the revolutionary period and perished in the flames of counter-revolution at the end of 1922.

" 'A revolution cannot be understood without the examination of its base. But neither can it be understood without sharing the hopes, disappointments, fears and aspirations of its participants. This book tells the story of the revolution through the life of the man who should be its symbol. It is therefore called, Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution"'.

"With these words Desmond Greaves introduces this book. He rightly regarded it as his most mature and significant work. It was first published in 1971. Greaves had originally set out as a young man to write a history of the modern Irish working class movement up to the 1920s. When this became too long and unwieldy, he decided that the main elements of the story could be told in the form of life histories of James Connolly and Liam Mellows. Hence the two biographies judged by many to be the definitive works on their respective subjects...

"This new publication of Greaves's Mellows biography is hugely welcome. (The Life and Times of James Connolly will be published later and that too will bring to a new audience an important and essential study for anyone interested in the Irish struggle.) These books will always be a standard source for the important period in modern Irish history which they cover.

The Mellows book in particular gives an incisive insight into the important 1916-22 period when the island was partitioned. It is particularly important because of the insight it provides into the social and class politics which underpinned the republican split on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty.

"The establishment of the Free State provisional government at that time gave the forces of Irish conservatism and large property a new rallying point. After the destruction of John Redmond's Home Rule party in the 1918 general election these interests were left temporarily homeless. Then they found a new home in Cumann na nGael, later Fine Gael. And in the new Free State.

"I read both these books in Long Kesh prison camp in the mid 1970s. A group of us in Cage 11 formed a book club and we used to buy in books from the Connolly Association in Britain and from old Joe Clarke, himself a veteran of the 1916 Rising, in Dublin.

"Interestingly enough, while there was formidable censorship, after many protests and disputes political books were permitted into the prison. But Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution was not! Whether this was at the whim of a prison official or whether it was because the Mellows book was deemed to be more dangerous than others I cannot say.

"However censorship rarely works and by dint of changing covers I duly received my copy, which I still have, rebound and retitled as The transformation of Spain from Franco to the Constitutional Monarchy'by David Gilmour...

"Greaves defined the Irish revolution in Connolly's terms as 'the Reconquest of Ireland by its people.' It was a democratic and national, though not a socialist, revolution, that aimed to establish an independent united Ireland, with the most radical and advanced social forces in its leadership because of their role in the independence struggle - and in a good position therefore to advance socially radical economic policies and demands within a politically independent state when that was attained.

"As an historian Greaves places the commencement of that democratic revolution in the Irish national cultural revival of the 1890s. Its first phase culminated in the establishment of the first Dáil Eireann in 1919. But it was struck a fatal blow by Labour's failure to take an organised stand for national independence in 1918 - thus 'losing the whole of Ireland for the sake of Belfast', as Peadar O'Donnell used to put it. The Irish TUC adopted a 'neutral' attitude and decided not to contest the 1918 election for fear of splitting the north-south organisational unity of the trade unions.

"The Irish TUC and Labour Party, then one combined movement, also took a neutral stand on the 1916 rising at its Sligo conference held soon after that event, when the delegates stood to honour equally the combatants who died in the rising and in the Great War. Little wonder then that the 'counter-revolution' of 1921-22 put the most reactionary and conservative social forces in charge of the new Irish state when it was established in a divided partitioned country.

"When Liam Mellows, who opposed the treaty and partition, was in the besieged Four Courts in Dublin, he watched Dublin labourers walking along the quays on their way to work oblivious of the concerns of the republicans inside. He wondered if things might have turned out differently if Labour had been with 'The Republic'.

"Mellows expressed his advanced political views on this and related matters in his Notes from Mountjoy Jail, where he contended that to establish a genuinely independent Irish republic, the workers and the Labour movement needed to be won to stand for the Republic, side by side with progressively minded people of different social backgrounds, for example the self-employed, small employers, indigenous Irish business etc.

"That proposition and strategic method is generally applicable to all national independence struggles, and indeed to all broad democratic movements everywhere, and may be said to be just as valid today as it was then, despite the many superficial changes of circumstance between 1922 and now...

"Elements of Mellows's Notes from Mountjoy are as relevant today as they were when first written. The great pity is that he didn't write more or that the political, class and strategic view which underpins these notes was not a widespread part of the republican programme of that period. Such a programme is surely foreseen in the 1916 Proclamation and later in the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil.

"At a time when the Free State was in the ascendancy Mellows argued the need for republicans to ensure that these social and economic commitments 'should be translated into something definite':

" 'This is essential if the great body of workers is to be kept on the side of independence. This does not require a change of outlook on the part of republicans or the adoption of a revolutionary programme as such. The headline is there in the Declaration of 1919. It is already part of the republican policy. It should be made clear what is meant by it.'

"Earlier he (Mellows) observes: ' ... during the past six months we suffered badly because responsible officers in their desire to act as soldiers, and because of an attitude towards 'politicians' acquired as a result (in my opinion) of a campaign directed towards this end by old GHQ; could only judge of situations in terms of guns and men'. His anti-imperialiust and internationalist instincts are also clear from these notes...

" Although Greaves's Connolly biography was well reviewed when it appeared in 1961 - by Roy Jenkins, later British Home Secretary and president of the EEC Commission, amongst others - the Mellows biography was virtually ignored by reviewers, although it is a much more complex, mature and masterly work. Greaves offered this explanation in a remark he made in 1980:

" 'The Connolly book is socialism, and that is safe enough. There is not the least prospect of socialism in our part of the world for the foreseeable future. But the Mellows book is nationalism. And that is dangerous and unwelcome to the powers-that-be in the era of transnational capital and the Common Market.'

" Greaves regarded the Irish revolution as incomplete and as therefore still needing to be completed. He was right. An independent Irish republic in a united Ireland clearly remains still unachieved, and with it the objective of Liam Mellows's political life.

" This book provides many lessons for those of us who continue to struggle for that objective, and for that we should be grateful for Desmond Greaves.

" For his Mellows research Greaves met many people who participated in the events he described and who knew Mellows, from president Eamon De Valera down...

"We owe a debt to the publishers of this edition. It will be one of many significant and progressive works which will be repopularised in the period ahead. I thank and commend the small group, mostly of former Republican political prisoners, who have initiated this project ...

Writing about the launch of the Mellows book in Republican News, senior Sinn Fein leader Jim Gibney had this to add:

"There is not a former political prisoner in the country who has not read Greaves's Mellows, either in part or whole.

"Mellows was among a group of books deemed 'essential reading' by those in the gaols with the responsibility for political education. Another was Greaves's biography of James Connolly and Sean Cronin's'Irish Nationalism.

Before I was interned in December 1972, I didn't read books. I knew nothing about Irish history or republicanism. I was typical of the new generation of teenagers, described at times disparagingly as '69 republicans, who swelled the ranks of the republican movement.

By the time I was released nearly two years later, I was well versed in both. Connolly and Mellows were my introduction to socialism in an Irish setting.

<< | Up | >>

This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-09-25 11:25:01.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2004