Liam O’Rourke is from Belfast.
The Easter Rising weakened not just British rule in Ireland but the idea of Empire as a whole.
It was not simply part of a series of Irish rebellions against British rule (“six times during the past 300 years” as the Proclamation put it), but part of a wave of challenges to imperialism globally.
In 1916, Ireland represented the weakest point of the British Empire, the colony from which most pressure could be exerted.
By 1916, many of the eastern European nations colonized by Russia were also at the point of insurrection, and many colonies of the European empires were already in open revolt
e.g. The German Cameroons, 1914,
Dahomey, French Indochina and Niger, 1916,
Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique), 1917
As well as Chad, Egypt, India, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda and, most successfully, Libya.
The year before the Easter Rising, Indian Sikh soldiers mutinied in Singapore and hoped that, with German help, they would be able to drive the British out of the Malay peninsula and eventually the whole of the Far East.. The strategy behind the Singapore mutiny bore some similarity to that of the insurgents in Dublin.
But the importance of the Easter Rising is that it took place in Europe and not in some distant colony…Lenin underlines its explosive political effects, “A blow delivered against British imperialist …rule by a rebellion in Ireland is of a hundred times greater political significance than a blow of equal weight in Asia or Africa.”
The Chittagong uprising in Bengal on Good Friday 18th April 1930 by the ‘I.R.A.’ = Indian Republican Army! ‘The Sinn Fein of India’….was inspired and modelled on the 1916 Rising….Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of independent India, on a visit to Dublin in April 1949, acknowledged the role that Ireland had played in the Indian freedom movement.
In 1943, radical Indian revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose in a radio broadcast reminded his listeners of the extent to which the Irish had taught the Indians their ABC of freedom fighting: “Of all the freedom movements we Indians have studied closely and from which we have received inspiration, there is perhaps none that can equal the Irish struggle for independence. The Irish Nation has had the same oppressors and exploiters as ourselves. It has had the same experience of ruthlessness, brutality and hypocrisy.”
From the reaction of members of leading sections of the British ruling class, it is evident that the threat of the 1916 Easter Rising was not just to the British presence in Ireland but to the concept of empire and imperialism as such. Leading establishment figures saw Ireland as a vital link in the chain that bound the British Empire together, “If we lose Ireland we have lost the Empire” declared Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson on 30th March 1921..
In 1919, General Smuts.warned that, “Unless the Irish question is settled, this Empire must cease to exist.”
After the 1916 Rising, Unionist leader Edward Carson warned the British government of the consequences of defeat in Ireland for the Empire:
“If you tell your Empire in India, in Egypt, and all over the world that you have not got the men, the money, the pluck, the inclination and the backing to restore order in a country within 20 miles of your own shore, you may as well begin to abandon the attempt to make British rule prevail throughout the Empire at all.”
In response to the Irish demand for independence, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George observed, “Suppose we gave it to them – It will lower the prestige and the dignity of this country and reduce British authority to a low point in Ireland itself. It will give the impression that we have lost grip, that the Empire has no further force and will have an effect on India and throughout Europe.”
King George V reminded Ulster MPs at the first opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament that “everything that touches Ireland finds an echo in the remotest part of the Empire.”
An example of this is the IRA’s Kilmichael ambush which is said to have “jerked the people of India to a new appraisal of their position. Egypt stood amazed. It ultimately pervaded darkest Africa.”
According to Sir Ronald Storrs, the British governor of Jerusalem under the British mandate, the purpose behind the ..partition of Palestine was for the British Empire to set up ‘a loyal Jewish Ulster’ in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”
The project of creating another ‘Ulster’ was not limited to the Middle East. When King George V met the Rhodesian self-government delegates in 1921 in London, he told them they were ‘the Ulster of South Africa.’
Connolly’s trenchant analyses such as ‘The Coming Revolt in India (1908), The Friends of Small Nationalities (1914) or What is a Free Nation (1916) indicate that he was unusual in is time in seeing Irish politics within the context of British and European imperialism. Connolly always argued that ‘the movements of Ireland for freedom ..cannot be divorced from the worldwide movements of the world’s democracy.’.. He insisted that Ireland should be regarded in relation to India, Egypt and other regions of the British Empire due to a share experience of imperialism. In his “In Praise of Empire” (1915), he says the British Empire, “stifles the ancient culture of India, strangles in birth the new-born liberty of Egypt, smothers in the blood of ten thousand women and children the republics of South Africa, connives in the partition of China, and plans the partition of Ireland.”
There were 3,606 persons of Indian birth living in Ireland at the time of the 1911 census, a third of which were in Dublin… There have been claims that Indians had undergone training along with the Irish Volunteers in Dublin… V.V.Giri, at the time an Indian student in Ireland who would later become the fourth President of India (1969-74) wrote:
“I remember vividly meeting Connolly on several occasions as I was regularly invited to their Citizen Army meetings.. More than any of the leaders of the uprising, it was Connolly who inspired me. I resolved that as soon as I returned to India, I would give a graphic account of these struggles to inspire our own people…With the fervour inspired by the revolutionaries still fresh in my mind, I determined to return to India and take an active part in the political movement to secure the independence of my country.”
The story of how the 1916 Easter Rising affected people of Indian or African origin living in Ireland at the time still remains largely to be told.
The Easter Rising also influenced movements working for the emancipation of subordinate racial groups elsewhere in the world. If Frederick Douglass and W.E. Du Bois were already very much interested in the Irish struggle, the 1916 Rising provided the major ideological mainspring for Marcus Garvey’s radical political transformation. The Easter Rising had more impact on the Universal Negro Improvement Association than the struggles against imperialism in India, China and Egypt. (See “Negro Sinn Féiners and Black Fenians”, Bruce Nelson 2012).
In 1919, the Military Intelligence Division of the US Justice Dept. reported that “all the Coloured speakers in Harlem are using the Irish question in their discussions”, and another government agency warned that “all these negro associations are joining hands with the Irish Sinn Feiners” and with “Hindu, Egyptians, Japanese and Mexicans.”
In 1920, black communist Claude McKay wrote: “I suffer with the Irish. I think I understand the Irish. My belonging to a subject race entitles me to some understanding of them”… and Roger Casement wrote that Belgian King Leopold’s exploitation of the Congo was “a tyranny beyond conception save only, perhaps, to an Irish mind alive to the horrors once daily enacted in this land.” And ..”It was only because I was an Irishman that I could understand fully.. the whole scheme of wrongdoing at work in the Congo.”
..Between 1919 and 1922, the African Blood Brotherhood for African Liberation and Redemption published a monthly journal, ‘the Crusader’ in which they wrote:
“The Irish fight for liberty is the greatest Epic of modern history. It is a struggle that should have the sympathy and active support of every lover of liberty, of every member of an oppressed group. The Negro in particular should be interested in the Irish struggle, for while it is patent that Ireland can never escape from the menace of the ‘overshadowing empire’ so long as England is able to maintain her grip on the riches and manpower of India and Africa, it is also clear that those suffering together under the heel of British imperialism must learn to co-ordinate their efforts before they can hope to be free.”
Roger Casement placed the Irish struggle in a context “as wide as the world”, “a movement of human liberation all the world over”. ..He wrote articles about the Swadeshi movement of India, Egyptian nationalism, the Maoris of New Zealand..
The challenge today for Irish Republicans is to be not just some particular movement for Irish independence but part of the global advanced movements against..imperialism in the 21st century just as the insurgents in 1916 were in their own time