Bernadette McAliskey, the Irish socialist, feminist and anti-imperialist joined film maker Ken Loach and author Geoffrey Bell at a large meeting in London to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising in Dublin. The event, hosted by Pluto Books and Socialist Resistance, in Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church was both a statement that it is right to revolt against oppression and an affirmation that there has always been a radical tradition in England stretching back to the Levellers in the 1640s which is willing to take a stand against British imperialism.
Geoff Bell, author of Hesitant Comrades, a new book on the British labour movement’s reaction to the Irish revolution (reviewed here) reminded the audience that much of the anti-imperialist history of British socialism has been frequently forgotten about. He remarked that when Sylvia Pankhurst is discussed her opposition to British rule in Ireland and support for the revolution against it rarely receives attention, yet this was one of the things that distinguished her from other socialists at the time.
Ken Loach focussed on the fact that Ireland, as the first British colony, was the place where the imperialists honed the methods that they would use in other parts of the world. He was sharply critical of the role of the British press, particularly the BBC, which he described as the “voice of the state”. He offered a suggestion that in three years time another commemoration be held to mark the centenary of the overwhelming vote of the Irish people for self-determination, a result that the British government and much of the labour movement of the time ignored.
Bernadette’s speech was much more than a vindication of the events of one hundred years ago. Surveying the political scene in Ireland and the British state she observed that conditions were becoming intolerable for many people. Taking heart from the decline of the vote share of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and the success of Bernie Sanders’ campaign she said that the time is right for a new radical generation to emerge and do things their way.