Revolutionary Lives: Friedrich Engels (part two)

Following on from part one, Joe Conroy concluded his look at the life of Engels in Issue 4 in May 1999.

A year and a half after Marx’s death Engels wrote to a comrade of theirs:

All my life I have done what I was cut out to do—I played second fiddle—and I think that I did it fairly well. I was glad to have so splendid a first violin as Marx. And now that I am unexpectedly called upon to replace Marx in theoretical matters and play first fiddle, I cannot do so without making slips of which nobody is more keenly aware than I.

to Johann Becker, 15 October 1884

But effectively Engels took up this role a few years before Marx’s death. Marx’s worsening health meant that, from the mid-1870s on, it largely fell to Engels to defend and advance their political standpoint, so that he took up the first fiddle before 1883 as well as after. For the last twenty years of his life, Friedrich Engels became the senior partner in the Marx-Engels business.

When a certain Eugen Dühring proposed his own superior socialism in place of Marx’s, and got a favourable reception in the SPD, it was Engels who hit back with a series of articles. In book form Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (1878—more commonly known as simply Anti-Dühring) became one of the most influential expositions of Marxism, especially when a section of it was published as a pamphlet: Socialism Utopian and Scientific. Engels researched and wrote on the natural sciences in the seventies and eighties, although his scientific manuscripts were only published after his death. His The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) examined the social development of the human species. Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy in 1886 attempted to show how Marxism had developed from its philosophical ancestors. Engels acted as literary executor for Marx, editing and publishing Books Two and Three of Capital, and writing introductions to new editions of his works. A steady flow of articles and letters advised and argued with the socialist movement internationally, of which he became a sort of elder statesman until his death on 5 August 1895.

Defending Marxism

In 1878 the SPD was made illegal, its members subject to arrest. Some of its leaders believed the party had brought it upon itself, that they should now moderate themselves, concentrate on achievable reforms, and try to attract a more respectable class of supporter. Engels wrote a reply on his own and Marx’s behalf, characterising reformism sharply: “The programme is not to be given up, only postponed—indefinitely. One accepts it, only not actually for oneself and one’s own lifetime, but posthumously, as an heirloom for one’s children and one’s children’s children. In the meantime one devotes one’s ‘entire strength and energy’ to all kinds of trifles and patching-up of the capitalist social order”. This was only the old middle-class fear that the workers might go ‘too far’, that it was better therefore to reach a servile compromise with the capitalists than to overthrow them.

It was entirely natural that people from other classes joined the socialist movement, as long as “they bring no leftovers of bourgeois, petty bourgeois etc prejudices with them, but that they adopt the proletarian outlook unreservedly”.

As far as we are concerned, in light of our entire past only one way is open to us. We have for nearly 40 years stressed the class struggle as the most immediate driving force of history, and especially the class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat as the great lever of the modern social revolution; it is therefore impossible for us to go along with people who want to strike this class struggle out from the movement. When the Inter­national was founded we expressly formulated the battle cry: The emanci­pation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself. We therefore cannot go along with those who openly declare that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves…

letter to Bebel and others, 17-18 September 1879

Marxism had its followers amongst the German workers in the United States, but according to Engels, “most of them do not understand the theory themselves and treat it in a doctrinaire and dogmatic way as something that has got to be learned by heart and which will then satisfy all further require­ments without more ado. To them it is a credo and not a guide to action.” (Letter to Friedrich Sorge, 29 November 1886.) The actual movement of the workers would clear the way: “The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class; that once obtained, they will soon find the right direction, and all who resist… will be left out in the cold with small sects of their own.” (Letter to Florence Kelley-Wischnewetsky, 28 December 1886.)

The German anti-socialist law was repealed in 1890, and the SPD began to draw up a new programme the following year. Engels contributed to the debate firstly by publishing the scathing criticism Marx had made of their 1875 programme. It trod on the party leaders’ toes, and some of them opposed its publication, but Engels wrote to one of them, August Bebel:

What is the difference between you people and Puttkamer [the Prussian minister of police] if you pass anti-socialist law against your own comrades? It does not matter to me personally. No party in the world can condemn me to be silent when I am determined to speak. But I think you should reflect whether you would not be wise to be a little less Prussian in your behaviour. You—the party—need socialist science, and such science cannot exist unless there is freedom in the party.

In his critique of the draft new programme itself, he criticised the “attempts to convince oneself and the party that ‘present-day society is devel­oping towards socialism’ without asking oneself whether it does not thereby just as necessarily outgrow the old social order and whether it will not have to burst this old shell by force”. This attitude often led the SPD to bring immediate everyday questions to the foreground and push the big issues into the background. “This forgetting of the great, the principal considerations for the momentary interests of the day, this struggling and striving for the success of the moment regardless of later consequences, this sacrifice of the future of the movement for its present, may be ‘honestly’ meant, but it is and remains opportunism, and ‘honest’ opportunism is perhaps the most dangerous of all!”

But Engels failed to see the greater danger—not naked reformism, but the belief that the inexorable growth of the SPD’s support was its surest guarantee of ultimate victory. Indeed it was an attitude he himself did something to encourage:

The two million voters whom it [the SPD] sends to the ballot box… form the most numerous, most compact mass, the decisive ‘shock force’ of the international proletarian army.… it increases incessantly. Its growth proceeds as spontaneously, as steadily, as irresistibly and at the same time as tranquilly as a natural process.… To keep this growth going without interruption until it of itself gets beyond the control of the prevailing governmental system, not to fritter away this daily increasing shock force in vanguard skirmishes, but to keep it intact until the decisive day, that is our main task.

introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France, 1895

He had a surer touch when the Italian socialists asked for his advice. Hangovers of feudalism still haunted Italian society, and the working class was small and the socialist movement weak. How should they stand in relation to those who wanted to set up a modern democratic republic in Italy? The place of socialists was always, replied Engels, “in the ranks of those fighting to achieve immediate results in the interests of the working class. They accept all these political or social achievements, but merely as payments on account.” A republic would give the workers democratic rights and greater room to manoeuvre, so they should obviously take part in it “without ever losing sight of the fact that these phases are just so many stages leading to the final goal: the conquest of political power by the proletariat as a means for reorganising society”.

They should strike in their own time, though, “to see that the scarcely formed nucleus of our proletarian Party is not sacrificed in vain”. If a genuine democratic movement got underway, however, the working class would not be found wanting.

But in such a case it should be clearly understood, and we must loudly proclaim it, that we are participating as an independent party, allied for the moment with radicals and republicans but wholly distinct from them; that we entertain no illusions whatever as to the result of the struggle in case of victory; that far from satisfying us this result will only mean to us another stage won, a new base of operations for further conquests; that on the day of victory our ways will part; that from that day on we shall constitute the new opposition to the new government…

Above all they should refuse seats in any new government, where they would play the role of a minority sharing responsibility for the government’s treacheries but powerless to do anything about them.

Engels stressed that this was only his own opinion, expressed reluctantly in response to a request, but said that these tactics had never failed him. As for applying them in the Italian situation, however, “that must be decided on the spot… by those who are in the thick of events” (letter to Filippo Turati, 26 January 1894).

Making sense of history

Marx’s understanding of history was another aspect of Marxism that Engels attempted to promote and defend. At Marx’s funeral he praised the idea that “the production of the immediate material means of existence, and conse­quently in each case the stage of economic development of a people or a period, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, the art and even the religious ideas of the people in question have evolved, and from which they must be explained”. In Anti-Dühring he wrote that “The materialist conception of history starts from the principle that production, and next to production the exchange of its products, is the basis of every social order… Accordingly the ultimate causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought… not in the philosophy, but in the economics of the period in question.”

But this was somewhat different to the idea that Marx had put forward (together with Engels in the case of The German Ideology): that people enter into certain social relations that correspond with their economic development, and that these relations form the basis of politics and ideology in general. Engels here makes the economic development into the basis, rather than the social relations of human beings in production, and thus shifts the emphasis away from human activity in society and towards the technological background.

And indeed, the phrase Engels coined to describe the Marxist view of history—“the materialist conception of history”—isn’t strictly accurate. Obviously, in the great philosophical debate of materialism versus idealism— whether the world exists independently of human conscious­ness—Marxism comes down on the side of materialism. But it developed as much in opposition to traditional materialism as to idealism, insisting that we are not simple creatures of our environment, but active creators and changers of it.

Engels insisted, however, that Marxism didn’t downplay the role played by individual will in history. “People make their own history, however this turns out, by everyone pursuing their own conscious, desired aims, and the resultant of these many wills acting in different directions, and their diverse effects on the external world, is precisely what history is.” Their motives can be noble or ignoble, political or personal. The thing is to go deeper into the story, to ask “what driving forces in turn stand behind these motives, what historical causes exist which transform themselves in the heads of the actors into such motives?” (Ludwig Feuerbach.)

And while ideology is dependent on economic relations, it does develop to a certain extent in its own terms:

each ideology develops, once it comes into existence, in conjunction with the given conceptual material, elaborates on it; otherwise it wouldn’t be an ideology, i.e., something that deals with ideas as with autonomous entities developing independently subject only to their own laws. That the material conditions of existence of the people in whose heads this thought process goes on ultimately determines the course of this process, these people necessarily remain unaware, for otherwise there would be an end to all ideology.

Ludwig Feuerbach

The law, for instance, reflects the economic basis it arose on, but is very rarely “the rough, unmitigated, unadulterated expression of a class’s rule: That would itself go against the ‘concept of justice’”. The law expresses class domination but it must be “an expression coherent in itself”, meaning that “the faithfulness of the reflection of the economic relations more and more comes to grief” (letter to Conrad Schmidt, 27 October 1890).

This relative independence of law, the state, ideology plays its own part in history:

in the last instance, the determining factor in history is the production and reproduction of actual life. More than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. If someone now distorts this so that the economic factor is the only determining one, they transform that proposition into an abstract, absurd phrase that says nothing. The economic situation is the basis, but the various aspects of the superstructure—political forms of the class struggle and its results—constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle etc—judicial forms and especially the reflection of all these real struggles in the brains of those involved, political, judicial, philosophic theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogma exercise their influence on the course of the historical struggles and in many cases determine chiefly their form. There is an interaction of all these aspects, in which ultimately through all the endless mass of accidents… of necessity the economic movement asserts itself.

letter to Joseph Bloch, 21-22 September 1890

So, for instance, a certain government policy can hold back economic development as well as promote it; a certain legal system can help the concen­tration of capital ownership or hinder it; a certain religious outlook can lead to the acceptance of the economic system or a rejection of it. “It is not that the economic situation is cause, solely active and that everything else is only passive effect. No, there is interaction on the basis of economic necessity in the last instance asserting itself.” (Letter to W Borgius, 25 January 1894.)

But Engels stressed that this view of history was not the answer to every question. “You would hardly succeed in explaining economically”, he warned, the existence of every petty principality in German history, or the different dialects of the German language, “without making yourself laughable” (letter to Bloch). Too many people were using “historical material­ism” as a label to stick on things, as an excuse to avoid serious investigation of history. “I must say first of all that the materialist method is turned into its opposite when it is used, not as a guide in historical study, but as a ready-made pattern to which the facts of history are trimmed.” (Letter to Paul Ernst, 5 June 1890.)

The origins of women’s oppression

The Origin of the Family is now in many respects an outdated work: a century of anthropological study has refuted some of Engels’s propositions, and turned up paths of historical development besides those he traced. But his central idea has been generally confirmed. Humanity originally lived in hunting-gathering communities without private ownership, without classes, without oppression. When changes in productive methods led to a surplus of wealth, however, a class arose to take control of it. The traditional division of labour between the sexes based on biology became one in which the decisive means of production belonged to men, and women were more and more pushed into a subordinate role. “The first class antagonism that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman… the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male.”

This oppression continues in the present-day family:

The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed domestic slavery of women, and modern society is a mass composed of these individual families as its molecules. In the great majority of cases today, at least among the possessing classes, it is the husband who is obliged to earn a living and support his family, and that in itself gives him a position of supremacy without any need for special legal privileges. Within the family he is the bourgeois and the wife represents the proletariat.

But modern industry draws women into the social workforce, giving them a greater independence and undermining the foundations of inequality. It also creates the conditions where housework can be transformed from a private, domestic responsibility into a public, social one.

The overthrow of capitalism would remove economic considerations from personal relationships. Whether this would loosen monogamy further, or on the contrary make it a reality for the first time, is not up to us, wrote Engels:

That will be answered when a new generation has grown up: a generation of men who never in their lives have known what it is to buy a woman’s surrender with money or any other social instrument of power; a generation of women who have never known what it is to give themselves to a man from any other considerations than real love, or to refuse to give themselves to their lover from fear of the economic consequences. When these people are in the world, they will care precious little what anybody today thinks they ought to do; they will make their own practice and their corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual—and that will be the end of it.

Dialectics in nature

Engels’s work on the natural sciences was mainly concerned to show that, like society, nature has a dialectical development—that it develops through constant change and self-contradiction, rather than through straightforward, simple progress. Some Marxists have since criticised him for this, claiming that he laid part of the ground for Stalinist philosophy, by seeing human beings as just another part of nature subject to blind natural processes beyond our control.

But, firstly, dialectical movement can be seen in nature. In human history gradual changes in quantity tend to become sudden changes in quality—as when the development of trade and commerce reached a point where it broke the bounds of feudalism and established capitalist societies. The same thing happens in nature—water gets gradually hotter, until it reaches 100°C and is transformed into steam (or indeed gradually colder, until it changes into ice at 0°C). Of course there are plenty of natural phenomena that aren’t dialectical and can be understood with simple common sense—but such straightforward facts exist in human history too.

As Engels put it, “there could be no question of superimposing the laws of dialectics on nature but of discovering them in it and developing them from it” (Anti-Dühring). But his enthusiasm did sometimes get the better of him, leading him occasionally to see dialectics where there weren’t any. It was also wrong to see dialectics in terms of “laws”, like scientific laws, rather than tendencies; and certainly wrong to reduce them to three laws, as he did at one point.

Dialectics works differently in nature than in society. But no one stated this more clearly than Engels himself:

In nature there are—in so far as we leave aside humanity’s reaction upon nature—nothing but unconscious, blind agencies that act upon one another and in whose interplay the general law comes into effect. What­ever happens… doesn’t happen as a consciously desired aim. On the other hand, in the history of society the actors are always endowed with consciousness, people who act with deliberation or passion, who work towards certain aims; nothing happens without conscious intention, without desired end.

Ludwig Feuerbach

Finally, it is impossible to build some kind of brick wall between humanity and the rest of nature. We are fundamentally different from the natural world, but at the same time inescapably a part of it. For all our victories over nature (Engels pointed out in ‘The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Human’, an essay begun in 1876) it still revenges itself upon us: cutting down forests to bring land into cultivation eventually deprives the land of water and nourishment and ruins it—which is only to be expected under an economic system which puts the quick buck before long-term benefit.

Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing over nature —but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.… we are more than ever in a position to realise, and hence to control, even the more remote natural consequences of our day-to-day production activities. But the more this progresses the more people will not only feel but also know their oneness with nature, and the more impossible will become the senseless and unnatural idea of a contrast between mind and matter, humanity and nature…

The state

The state arose at the same time as class division arose, wrote Engels, as “a power seemingly standing above society that would moderate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of ‘order’”. This state was a coercive power existing apart from the people, something that was unknown in pre-class societies. It is “as a rule the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which, through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class and so acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class”. Even in the most democratic republic the state remains an instrument of the ruling class. (By way of exception, though, sometimes “the warring classes balance each other so nearly that the state power, as ostensible mediator, momentarily acquires a degree of independence of both”.) (Origin of the Family.)

The abolition of class society would mean getting rid of the state, although the working class would have to use state power temporarily in order to suppress any attempts at counter-revolution and the re-establishment of capitalism. This is how Engels saw the death of the state in Anti-Dühring: “The interference of a state power in social relations becomes, in one sphere after another, superfluous and fizzles out of itself.… The state isn’t ‘abolished’, it withers away.”

But surely the state won’t just go away of its own accord once its work is done? Surely the victorious working class would have to consciously decide to get rid of its coercive forces as and when this becomes possible? Curiously enough, Engels in Origin of the Family pointed towards such an active casting aside of the state rather than its passive decay: “Society, which will reorganise production on the basis of a free and equal association of the producers, will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong—into the museum of antiquities, by the side of the spinning wheel and the bronze axe.”

While maintaining, correctly, that the workers would need a state to main­tain their revolution against its enemies, Engels now and again presented this as a reformed version of the capitalist state. For example: “the victorious proletariat must first refashion the old bureaucratic, administratively central­ised state power before it can use it for its own purposes” (letter to Eduard Bernstein, 1 January 1884). It finds the state “ready-made for use” although “It may require adaptation to the new functions” (letter to Phil van Patten, 18 April 1883).

Socialist revolution, however, isn’t about reconditioning the capitalist state, but scrapping it altogether and putting an entirely different one in place for the duration. And once again Engels corrected himself. In his 1891 intro­duction to Marx’s Civil War in France he praised the Paris Commune precisely for its “exploding of the former state power and its replacement by a new and truly democratic one”.

Engels’s place in Marxism

When examining the development of Marxism as a theory in Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy Engels referred in a footnote to his own role:

That I, before and during my forty years of working together with Marx, had a certain independent share in both the foundation and especially the elaboration of the theory, I cannot deny. But the biggest part of the leading ideas, particularly in the economic and historical spheres, and especially their final sharp formulation, belongs to Marx. What I contributed— except for a couple of specialised fields at most—Marx would have achieved without me. What Marx accomplished I could not have achieved. Marx stood higher, saw further, surveyed more and quicker than all the rest of us. Marx was a genius, we others were at most talents. Without him the theory would be far from what it is today. Therefore it rightly bears his name.

This passage is characteristic of Engels’s modesty regarding his own achievements, and his fierce loyalty regarding the achievements of his life­long comrade Marx. But he wouldn’t thank us for dismissing the above as mere sentiment. Engels was second fiddle to Marx, which in no way belittles him: coming second to Karl Marx is no mean feat. Engels’s role as Marxism’s greatest populariser often meant that he was forced to stress the particular point at issue at a particular moment, rather than to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s at all times and in all places. And, not surprisingly, he missed the instinct of Marx, straying from time to time into the odd confused interpretation.

But Marx would have missed the instinct of Engels if the roles were reversed, and it was pure conjecture for Engels to claim that his contribution would have been discovered by Marx anyway. A much surer proposition would be to say that Marxism wouldn’t be what it is today without Engels. The work of Friedrich Engels stands on its own two feet, and stands proud, playing its leading part in fighting for the socialist revolution he outlined in Anti-Dühring:

It is humanity’s leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.
To carry through this world-emancipating act is the historical vocation of the modern proletariat. To get to the bottom of its historical conditions, and with it its very nature, and so to bring the conditions and the nature of its own action to the consciousness of the now oppressed class which is called to act, is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement—scientific socialism.

Revolutionary Lives: Friedrich Engels (part one)

Joe Conroy opened an examination of the work of Engels in Issue 3 (November 1998).

Friedrich Engels has suffered a curious fate in the century since his death. Some have consigned him to the role of Karl Marx’s other half, fashioned from one of the ribs that surrounded Marx’s dodgy liver. According to this view, he had imbibed Marx’s ideas by symbiosis and was to spend his days repeating them, never daring to have an independent thought of his own. The phrase “Marx ’n’ Engels” trips off the tongue like “rock ’n’ roll”, but the second word is only there to make up the numbers when necessary.

The estranged twin brother of this conception paints Engels as Marx’s evil genius, engaged for forty years in corrupting that nice young man and his nice young ideas with his own infernally unpleasant politics. It usually turns out that the pedlars of this view are rejecting Marxism, not Engels, and are only using him as a scapegoat upon which to heap any element of Marxism they find distasteful. Both versions miss the point altogether—the point being that Engels was a great revolutionary in his own right, and a revolutionary whose independent contribution plays a vital part in Marxist theory and practice.

The making of a communist

Friedrich Engels was born on 28 November 1820 in Barmen in Germany to a family of textile manufacturers. As a result his upbringing was economically secure but spiritually stifling. His family were intensively conservative in politics and puritan in religion, and Engels had to fight to gradually emanci­pate himself from this atmosphere. This area, the Wupper valley, was at the heart of Germany’s weak industrial revolution, and Engels’s break with religious and political tradition coincided with a recognition of the injustices that capitalism was bringing with it.

After leaving school he went to work as a clerk in his father’s office, but also developed a talent as a journalist. A series of anonymous articles scandal­ised the local establishment, mercilessly satirising the narrow-minded tyranny prevailing in the region. Going to Berlin to do his year’s military service, he soon became a leading light amongst the Young Hegelians, the radical phi­losophers of the capital’s intellectual world.

On returning, in 1842, he was sent to England to work in the family firm’s mill in Manchester. He went willingly, because by now he was becoming convinced of the need for a revolution to establish common owner­ship of wealth, and in industrial England he would see the conditions of such a revolution growing. He established contact with the workers’ movement in Manchester and reported on it for German radical papers, while at the same time spreading German communist ideas in British working-class papers.

An article on the ‘Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy’ attacked capitalist economics and its law of supply and demand, a law which could operate only through regular economic slumps:

If the producers themselves knew how much the consumers needed, organ­ised production, shared amongst themselves, the fluctuations of competition and its tendency towards crisis would be impossible. Produce consciously, as people, not as splintered atoms without consciousness of our kind, and you throw out all these artificial and indefensible contradic­tions.… The community will have to work out what it can produce with the means available and, in the light of the relation of this productive power to the number of consumers, determine how far to raise or lower production, how far it allows luxury or has to restrict it.

Engels’s experience of the English working class led to his first book, The Condition of the Working Class in England (published in 1845). The book relentlessly catalogues the oppression of the workers: the overworking, the toll of industrial injury and death, the slum housing, the desperate poverty and demoralisation of the early working class. The book is marred by a romanticised picture of life before the industrial revolution, and by its accep­tance of racist portrayals of Irish immigrants, but its indictment of the capital­ist class is unparalleled. Engels didn’t waste his time trying to remain ‘objective’ about the misery he saw, but put the blame where it lay. He openly sided with those “condemned to work”:

As voluntary productive activity is the highest enjoyment known to us, so is compulsory toil the most cruel, degrading punishment. Nothing is more terrible than being constrained to do some one thing every day from morning until night against one’s will. And the more a human being the worker feels himself, the more hateful must his work be to him, because he feels the constraint, the uselessness of it for himself. Why does he work? For love of work? From a natural impulse? Not at all! He works for money…

In such a society the workers “can maintain their consciousness of humanity only by cherishing the most glowing hatred, the most unbroken inward rebellion against the bourgeoisie”.

The Condition of the Working Class stands out from the literature of social problems in nineteenth-century England because it not only describes the suf­fering of the workers, not only sympathises with them, but recognises the power that this new class had to end its suffering:

The workers begin to feel as a class, as a whole; they begin to perceive that, though feeble as individuals, they form a power united; their separa­tion from the bourgeoisie, the development of views peculiar to the workers and corresponding to their position in life, is fostered, the con­sciousness of oppression as workers, and the workers attain social and political importance. The great cities are the birthplaces of labour move­ments; in them the workers first began to reflect upon their own condition, and to struggle against it; in them the opposition between proletariat and bourgeoisie first made itself manifest; from them proceeded the Trade Unions, Chartism, and Socialism.

Engels dedicated the book “To the Working Classes of Great Britain”, and forecasted their victory in “the war of the poor against the rich”.

Enter Marx

Engels left Manchester in August 1844 but stopped off in Paris on his way home, where he met Karl Marx. They had met two years earlier—in the offices of a paper which Marx edited and Engels wrote for—but Marx was distant, taking Engels for one of the Young Hegelian dilettantes he’d had cause to row with. But he continued to publish Engels’s articles from England, and published his ‘Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy’ earlier in 1844 in a journal he co-edited in Paris. This article made a big impression on Marx and launched his own researches in economics. The two found themselves in agreement politically and agreed to work together. The collaboration would last until Marx’s death in 1883.

They decided to write a pamphlet criticising the Young Hegelians. Engels wrote his own twenty-odd pages, attacking amongst other things their deifi­cation of History: “History does nothing, it ‘possesses no immense wealth’, it ‘fights no battles’! On the contrary, it is humanity, real, living humanity, that does all that, that possesses and fights; it is not that ‘history’, using people as a means, works for its aims—as if it were a separate person; no, it is nothing but the activity of people pursuing their own aims.” Much to Engels’s surprise, Marx’s contribution had grown on his hands, and when The Holy Family was published in 1845 it was a hefty enough work.

The French government expelled Marx a few months later, and Engels—his relationship with his father becoming more strained by the day—joined him in Brussels. The pair got down to writing a more compre­hensive criticism of the Hegelians, The German Ideology—but this book would also contain a more positive statement of their own views.

The understanding of history, they wrote, begins with “the real individu­als, their action and their material conditions of life”—people as they actually are, not imaginary beings existing all on their own. People produce their means of existence in a certain way, and the way they produce influences the way they think. “People are the producers of their conceptions, ideas etc, but real, active people as they are conditioned by a certain development of their productive forces and the intercourse that corresponds to it”—people’s con­ceptions can’t be understood without understanding the way they live and work:

In complete contrast with German philosophy, which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. I.e., we don’t set out from what people say, imagine, conceive, nor from people as described, thought of, imagined, conceived, going from there until living people are reached; we set out from real, active people and from their real life process demonstrate the development of the ideological reflections and echoes of this life process.

So religion, morality, ideology in general have no independent history of their own: people change the way they work and, along with it, the way they think. “It is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness.”

The most basic condition of history is “that people must be in a position to live in order to ‘make history’”—they have to eat, drink, clothe and shelter themselves, reproduce, and they have to co-operate in one way or another to do so: “a certain mode of production or industrial stage is always combined with a certain mode of working together or social stage”. People’s conscious­ness is formed by these economic relations.

When these relations take the form of a fixed division of labour, of classes,

a person’s own act becomes an alien power standing against him, enslav­ing him instead of being controlled by him.… each person has a certain exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him, which he cannot escape from; he is a hunter, fisherman or shepherd or critical critic and has to remain so if he isn’t to lose his means of existence—whilst in communist society, where no one has an exclusive sphere of activity, but can train himself in any branch he likes, society regulates the general pro­duction and therefore makes it possible for me to do this today, that to­morrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, drive cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I please, without becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

In class society the state pretends to look after the common interest, but in reality it serves the interests of the dominant class. “It follows from this that all struggles within the state, the struggle between democracy, aristocracy and monarchy, the struggle for the right to vote etc, etc, are only the illusory forms in which the real struggles of the various classes with each other are fought out”.

As people’s productive forces expand they outgrow the old economic rela­tions, and this conflict leads to ideological and political battles, to revolutions. “So all collisions in history have their origin, according to our view, in the contradiction between the productive forces and the form of intercourse.”

Those who deny such a basis for history “have to share the illusion of the epoch”—if people fought in a religious guise, these historians tell us it was a religious epoch, instead of investigating the real roots of the conflict: “Whilst in everyday life every shopkeeper knows well how to tell between what a man claims to be and what he is in reality, our historiography still hasn’t reached this trivial insight. It takes every epoch at its word”.

The class which controls production controls the production of ideas as well, and so “The ideas of the ruling class are in each epoch the ruling ideas”. These ideas are challenged, but “The existence of revolutionary ideas in a certain epoch presupposes the existence of a revolutionary class”.

To overthrow class society requires a huge development of productive forces: “without it privation is only made general, and so with need the struggle for necessities begins again and all the old shite has to come about”. A class has to exist “which has all the burdens of society to bear, without reaping its advantages”. This has to happen internationally, “making each revolution dependent on the others”, otherwise communism would be no more than a local, short-term phenomenon: “Communism is only empirically possible as the act of the dominant peoples ‘all at once’ and at the same time”. Finally, those making the revolution would have to revolutionise them­selves: “the revolution is therefore not only necessary because the ruling class can’t be overthrown any other way, but because the overthrowing class can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the old rubbish and become fit to establish society anew”.

Instead of setting up a new division of labour, this communist revolution would abolish classes, and for the first time bring humanity’s products under the common control of society. But “Communism for us is not a situation which should be established, an ideal according to which reality is to be corrected. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of affairs.”

Despite Marx’s and Engels’s best efforts, however, The German Ideology found no publisher, and they had to abandon the manuscript, as Marx later wrote, “to the gnawing criticism of the mice”. But they spread their ideas amongst the German workers in Brussels and in Paris, to where Engels moved in 1846, setting up Communist Correspondence Committees.

They began to win over the League of the Just, an organisation of emi­grant German workers in various European countries. Engels attended their conference in London in June 1847, where the League dropped most of its conspiratorial and utopian trappings and renamed itself the League of Com­munists. He and Marx travelled to London at the end of the year when, at another conference, the League adopted their outlook and appointed them to write a manifesto. This, of course, took final shape as the Communist Mani­festo, completed by Marx in early 1848. But Engels had written the first draft, and his influence is clear in the finished product.

Revolution

1848 saw revolution spread throughout Europe: beginning in France, the old ruling classes from one end of the continent to the other faced a serious challenge to their rule. Germany’s turn came in March, when the king of Prussia was forced to concede democratic rights in the face of popular unrest. Engels and Marx reached Cologne, the centre of the democratic movement, at the end of April and began to publish the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (New Rhenish Gazette). Engels’s attack in the first issue on the weak-kneed depu­ties of the National Assembly frightened away half the paper’s sharehold­ers— an event which prefigured in microcosm the middle class’s reluctance to fight the aristocratic regime throughout the revolution.

In September Cologne was put under a state of siege: the paper closed down, and Engels fled from a warrant the authorities had out on him. Although the paper reappeared the following month, it wasn’t safe for Engels to return from hiding in France until January 1849.

It was he, for the most part, who dealt with international affairs in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, including the various national movements that sprang up in 1848. The only nationalities within the Austrian empire, he wrote, that were capable of independence were the Germans, the Poles, and the Hungarians, because they had sided with the revolution. The other Slav peoples were counter-revolutionary, condemned to extinction as “national refuse” (‘The Magyar Struggle’). When some proclaimed independence for the Slav nationalities while supporting the revolution, Engels described them as “Peoples which have never had a history of their own”. The Croats, for example, were “a naturally counter-revolutionary nation”, and historical development couldn’t take place “without forcibly crushing the occasional sensitive specimen of national plant life” (‘Democratic Pan-Slavism’).

Engels was motivated by the fact that the national claims of these peoples were being exploited by Tsarist Russia, the heart of the counter-revolution, and he saw opposition to Russia as paramount. And of course, no national­ity’s right to self-determination should be conceded when doing so would strengthen the forces of reaction in general. But Engels’s mistake was that he didn’t address the question in such a tactical manner, and instead set up a his­torically false division between viable great nations and petty nationalities doomed to extinction. As well as having little historical basis, this failed to take account of the shifting nature of national politics, which often leaves established nationalities behind and awakens those that once seemed gone, and which often transform yesterday’s enemies of the revolution into tomor­row’s friends. This led him (and Marx)—despite their constant support for particular national movements, such as the Poles and the Irish—to underestimate the role that national movements in general could play in weakening the capitalist system.

The initiative in the German revolution had already passed to the old gov­ernments, but the revolution gave its last kick in May when uprisings in support of a democratic constitution broke out. Engels took part in Elberfeld, in his own neck of the woods, where he was in charge of the town’s defences. But when the local middle classes, although full of praise for his military expertise, expressed the fear “that Engels might proclaim the red republic at any time”, he decided to give way to them and leave, despite the workers supporting him. He had the chance to fight, however, in the revolution’s last stand, playing a leading part in the Baden insurrectionary force, which held out until late July before retreating to Switzerland.

In November Engels moved to London, where Marx had gone after his expulsion from Germany, and the two planned to rally the communist forces for the imminent return of the revolutionary opportunity. In March 1850 they wrote a circular to the League of Communists on behalf of its central board. Individually, they wrote, the League’s members were to the fore throughout the revolution, but the League’s organisation had weakened considerably. “An end must be put to this situation, the independence of the workers must be restored.”

In the next outbreak of the revolution the middle classes, the petty bour­geoisie, would play the same treacherous role that the capitalists played in 1848-9. The communists’ position in relation to them was: “they stand together with them against the faction whose overthrow they aim for; they stand against them in every case where they seek to establish themselves”. These middle-class democrats want only to modify society, in their own interests: to lessen the pressure of big capital, to set up parliamentary demo­cracy, to grant wage rises to the workers.

Whilst the democratic petty bourgeois want to bring the revolution to a conclusion as quickly as possible, carrying out the above demands at most, it is our interest and our job to make the revolution permanent until all more or less possessing classes are ousted from their rule, the proletariat has conquered state power, and the association of the proletarians—not only in one country but in all the dominant countries of the entire world— has progressed so far that the competition of the proletarians in these countries has ceased and that at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians. For us it cannot be a question of altering private property, but of destroying it; not of hushing up class antagonisms, but of abolishing classes; not of improving existing society, but of establishing a new one.

The workers will be told they should unite with the middle classes against the common enemy, instead of putting forward their own divisive demands. “It comes out in the end that all such phrases mean that the proletariat is to be swindled.” The workers must organise their own clubs and councils alongside the official ones, they must stand their own candidates in elections to affirm their independence, they must always be pushing the revolution forward instead of being satisfied with what has been achieved. They have to prepare for their victory “by clarifying their class interests for themselves, by taking up their independent party position as soon as possible, by not letting the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie mislead them for a moment from the independent organisation of the party of the proletariat. Their battle cry must be: The revolution in permanence.”

But within a few months it became obvious to Engels and Marx that revolution would have to wait, that capitalism had survived the revolutions of 1848 and could look forward to a period of sustained development. In October they wrote: “In the light of this general prosperity, in which the productive forces of bourgeois society develop as exuberantly as is possible within bour­geois relations in general, there can be no question of a real revolution.… A new revolution is only possible in the wake of a new crisis. But it is as certain as this crisis.

“Responsible only for ourselves”

The League of Communists split at the end of 1850 and led only a shadow existence until being formally wound up two years later. Engels, in spite of himself, went to Manchester to work in his father’s mill again. This sacrifice meant that he would be able to keep the Marx family’s head above water financially while Marx continued to study and write. They had no connection with any organisation at all, and Marx wrote to Engels that they were well rid of all the petty squabbles that went with all that. Engels agreed (13 February 1851):

We now finally have again—for the first time in ages—an opportunity to show that we need no popularity, no support from any party of any country and that our position is totally independent of such shabby tricks. Hence­forth we are responsible only for ourselves, and when the moment comes that the gentlemen have need of us we will be in a position to dictate our own terms.… How do people like us, who run from official positions like the plague, fit into a “party”? What do we, who spit on popularity, who get mad whenever we start to become popular, want with a “party”… ? Truly, it’s no loss…

The fifties and sixties were the quietest period of Engels’s career, busy as he was playing the role of respectable businessman. He helped, advised and encouraged Marx, writing articles for him when Marx’s grasp of English, or grasp of the question at hand, was wanting. It wasn’t until 1869, when he sold out his interest in the family firm, moving to London the following year, that Engels could take an active part in the workers’ movement again.

He joined the general council of the International Working Men’s Asso­ciation, and was especially involved in spreading the International in southern Europe. When the workers of Paris took power for a couple of months in 1871 Engels was active in supporting the Paris Commune before and after its sup­pression, a suppression that dragged the International itself down with it.

In 1874 a group of exiles of the Commune published a programme for the revolution they believed to be just around the corner. They proclaimed them­selves atheists—which, wrote Engels, was meaningless posturing. For most class-conscious workers, “it can be said that atheism has already outlived its usefulness for them… they are simply through with God” and had no need to waste time proclaiming his non-existence. The plan of the exiles to ban religion would do nothing to remove the causes that gave rise to it—on the contrary, it would probably be the best way to strengthen it.

They were communists, they declared, because they refused to stop at intermediate stations or enter into compromises. But, replied Engels, it was historical development that created such stops and compromises on the way: the thing was to work through them towards socialism. These exiles, how­ever, “imagine that as soon as they have the goodwill to jump over inter­mediate stations and compromises everything is assured… What childish naïveté to advance impatience as a convincing theoretical argument!”

The exiles’ manifesto not only stood by the Paris Commune, but expressly claimed responsibility for every single act of violence carried out by the Commune. Engels was not so uncritical:

A lot of mistakes are unavoidably made in every revolution, as they are indeed at all other times, and when at last people calm down sufficiently to be able to review events critically, they inevitably draw the following conclusion: we have done many things which it would have been better to leave undone, and have failed to do many things which it would have been better to do, and that is why things took a bad turn. But what a lack of critical attitude is needed to declare the Commune impeccable and to assert that every time a house was burned down or a hostage shot, this was a case of retributive justice, down to the dot on the “i”. Is this not tanta­mount to asserting that during the week in May [the Commune’s last stand] the people shot exactly those persons that it was necessary to shoot, and no more, that exactly those buildings were burned down that had to be burned down, and no more?… Such childish patter results when essen­tially quite good-natured people give in to the urge to appear savagely brutal.

‘Programme of the Blanquist Commune Emigrants’

The German socialist party stood its ground best of all in the wave of reaction after the Commune’s defeat, and it naturally claimed much of Engels’s and Marx’s attention. But when it merged with another socialist group in 1875 to form the SPD (the Social Democratic Party of Germany—socialists at the time had picked up the habit of calling themselves social democrats) they were by no means satisfied with the basis of unity. Engels had thought anyway that the best way was “not to entice away a few individuals and local groups here and there from one’s opponent, but to work on the great mass which is not yet taking part in the movement” (letter to August Bebel, 20 June 1873). But the actual draft programme for the united SPD exasperated him further.

The programme declared everyone but the working class to be a single reactionary mass, cutting off the workers from their potential allies. It watered down the principle of internationalism. It proclaimed that it was impossible to raise wages above a bare minimum, and said nothing about the unions—“the real class organisation of the proletariat, in which it wages its daily struggles with capital, in which it trains itself”. The demands for democratic rights were weak, and its main social demand was for the state to set up workers’ co-ops. One of its aims was “a free state”:

Taken in its grammatical sense, a free state is one where the state is free in relation to its citizens, hence a state with a despotic government. The whole talk about the state should be dropped, especially since the Commune, which was no longer a state in the proper sense of the word.… Since the state is only a transitional institution which is used in the struggle, during the revolution, to hold down one’s adversaries by force, it is pure nonsense to talk of a free people’s state: so long as the proletariat still uses the state, it does not use it in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist. We would therefore propose to replace state everywhere by Gemeinwesen, a good old German word which can very well convey the meaning of the French word “commune” [letter to Bebel, 18-28 March 1875].

First fiddle

A year and a half after Marx’s death Engels wrote to a comrade of theirs:

All my life I have done what I was cut out to do—I played second fiddle— and I think that I did it fairly well. I was glad to have so splendid a first violin as Marx. And now that I am unexpectedly called upon to replace Marx in theoretical matters and play first fiddle, I cannot do so without making slips of which nobody is more keenly aware than I.

to Johann Becker, 15 October 1884

But effectively Engels took up this role a few years before Marx’s death. Marx’s worsening health meant that, from the mid-1870s on, it largely fell to Engels to defend and advance their political standpoint, so that he took up the first fiddle before 1883 as well as after. For the last twenty years of his life, Friedrich Engels became the senior partner in the Marx-Engels business.

Part two >

The Hidden Connolly 2

In Issue 2 (May 1998) we continued to publish articles by James Connolly which had never appeared since his execution.

“Soldiers of the Queen”

[Workers’ Republic, 15 July 1899]

The opprobrious epithet “hired assassins,” so often applied to the Army by Socialist propagandists, seems to many people in Ireland—accustomed as they are to the double-dealing of the Home Rule press—as a somewhat harsh characterisation of the military forces of the Crown. We have been so long accustomed to see our capitalist patriots playing fast and loose in this matter, so long been inured to seeing and hearing the journalists and poli­ticians who profess to hate our English masters, devoting whole columns of space in their newspapers to “Garrison Gossip,” and other tittle tattle rela­tive to the Army, so often seen our Home Rule Corporations petition the British Government to allow the permanent establishment of a military force in their towns, are so familiarised with the strange spectacle of Irish MPs rising in the British Parliament to demand better treatment for those British soldiers to whom Ireland had the misfortune to give birth, that the public mind of this country has almost lost sight of the grim and ugly fact that the British Army in Ireland has only one reason for existence—that reason being the desire of the governing and oppressing classes to possess ready for use a body of highly disciplined armed men, who, on the first sign of an active desire on the part of the oppressed to get rid of their gov­ernors and oppressors, can be relied upon to proceed without asking ques­tions to cut the throat of, or otherwise destroy, every man so aspiring to freedom. In other words, the Army is, in plain matter-of-fact language, what the Socialists so bluntly describe it to be, viz, a body of hired assas­sins, creatures in the shape of men, who, upon enlisting as “soldiers of the Queen” agree in exchange for the sum of 8d or 1/- per day to take the life of any person, be it man, woman or child, whom our rulers desire to get rid of. Of course, unlike private assassins who only murder under the influence of passion, the Army performs its work under the approval of a Christian hierarchy—bishops bless its banners, churches pray that the army of their particular nation may cut enough throats to secure a victory, and each bat­talion carries upon its payroll a clergyman whose especial function it is to assure the delights of Heaven to such of the gallant heroes as fall in the course of the work of murder. We admit the presence of clergymen amid such surroundings, although in glaring contrast to the teaching of the Master they profess to serve—“Thou shalt not kill”—is not without prece­dent. The brigands of the Middle Ages usually had attached to their bands some disfrocked priest, who also, like his modern prototype in the Army, issued absolution to the wounded members of his band of marauders.

The soldier then is, no matter in what light we examine his position, a “hired assassin”—his first duty, he is told, is to “obey.” To obey whom?  His superior officers, who in turn must obey the Government. When the mandate goes forth, “Kill,” he must kill and dare not ask the reason why. The government under whose orders he serves may have been elected to power on some question of internal administration in England, Local Option,1 Franchise, or Disestablishment,2 but as soon as it is in power it has the right to launch all the military and naval forces of the Crown into a war of aggression in the interest of the possessing class, even if it should be upon a people with whom the vast majority of its constituents desire to live in peace. It has also the legal right to use its power against the working class in its own land should they become restless under the system of wage slavery. Whatever be the excuse for ordering out the Army, the soldier has no option but to obey. Whether it be Egyptians revolting against oppres­sion, Boers defending their independence, Indians maddened with famine, or Irishmen hungering for freedom; whether the human being coming within his line of sight be stranger or friend, father, mother, sister, brother or sweetheart, the soldier has no option but to press the trigger, and send the death-dealing instrument on its errand of murder. He is only a “hired assassin,” and must earn the wages of his hire. What is a hired assassin, properly defined? One who engages to take human life without having per­sonal injury to avenge, at the command of whoever pays him for doing so. Does not this description suit the soldier exactly?

The demoralising effect of this occupation is further exemplified in the life and language of the soldier himself. The moral atmosphere of a bar­rack room is of the most revolting character, as is the ordinary language of the soldier the most bestial conceivable. The Army is a veritable moral cesspool corrupting all within its bounds, and exuding forth a miasma of pestilence upon every spot so unfortunate as to be cursed by its presence. The most degraded races within the wide-spreading British Empire sink lower in the scale of humanity after peaceful contact with the British Army; indeed it may be truthfully averred that a desolating war would in­flict upon a country less injury than a peaceful occupation by the “Soldiers of the Queen.” Do our Irish mothers, who see their sons enlist in this sink of corruption without erasing their names from the family roll, do the Irish maidens who give themselves up to the embraces of this hireling soldiery, realise the awful depravity hidden beneath the gaudy uniforms and daz­zling trappings of the British garrison?  A standing army anywhere, in any country, is first of all unnecessary; secondly, a tool in the hands of oppres­sors of the people; thirdly, a generator of prostitution, but the British Army is in the last particular the most odious on the face of the earth. Witness the OFFICIAL STATISTICS, which tell us that the rate per 1,000 of ad­missions to hospital for venereal diseases is

In the Prussian Army    26.7
… …   French   …         43.8
… …    Austrian     …        65.4
And
British in India               458.3

or nearly every second man; ten times as many as in the French Army.

“Soldiers of the Queen.” Gallant Army, noble Queen.

Many people will, no doubt, question the propriety of our action in dragging this unsavoury subject into the light of day in this manner, but our action is prompted by the desire to awaken in the minds of our Irish workers such a real and abiding hatred of this instrument of tyranny, mingled with loathing of its character, as will serve in the first place to de­stroy the prospects of recruiting in Ireland, and in the second place to fire their brains and nerve their arms against the day when we will wipe the foul stain of its presence from our midst. This is our purpose, and to place within reach of our Irish girls a knowledge of the constituent parts that go to the make-up of a British soldier, that they might flee from his polluting embraces as from a thing accursed.

Should we succeed in planting in the breasts of our fellow wage slaves a tenth part of the hatred we ourselves feel for this blood be-decked tool of our tyrants, we shall feel confident that the day is not far distant when the long standing account between the Irish worker and his exploiters will be paid in full.

Home Thrusts

[Workers’ Republic, 9 September 1899]

Rebel Cork!

Well, well, who’d have thought it?

Cork, whose Labour men showed such a splendid example to Dublin;3 Cork, whose Labour men fought their way into the Council, while the Dublin Labour men only begged their way in; Cork, whose Labour men forced on the Evening Sittings4 while the Dublin men had not the manli­ness to press the question; Cork, whose Labour men, immediately they were in, increased the wages and bettered the condition of the Corporation labourers; Cork now takes a flop back into the bog of reaction, and its treacherous middle class councillors deal Labour a terrific slap in the face.

In the course of one sitting the rule establishing Evening Sittings, and the rule enforcing the insertion of a Fair Wages clause in all city contracts were rescinded by a majority of the City Council.

One councillor gravely informing the meeting that if the Fair Wages clause was insisted on it would close all the factories in the country inside twelve months.

This is as much as to say that the factories of Ireland are dependent upon the systematic underpaying of their employees, and that if they were to pay what is known as a “Fair Wage” they would speedily be ruined.

Remember, a Fair Wage, as here understood, means nothing more than the wage established as a standard by trade-union effort in the district.

It is not an ideal wage, nor even necessarily a high wage.

It may even be a starvation wage.

It is only “fair” in so far as it is the standard agreed upon between the trade union and the majority of the employing class.

Therefore, when the Cork City Council thus rescinded the resolution enforcing a fair wage, they were virtually declaring the standard wage of the district to be too high, and therefore inviting every employer in the city to refuse to continue paying that wage to their employees.

And plead the example of the City Council as their justification.

The whole disgraceful performance is a confirmation of the truth I have so often pointed out, that the employing class are the most immediate enemies of the Irish workers, and that until we have mustered up courage, and acquired knowledge, enough to drive this home-made breed of tyrants from public life we need not delude ourselves with the hope that the gates of national emancipation will ever open to us.

The English oppressor, indeed! Why, here are Irishmen—rulers elected by Rebel Cork—openly declaring that the prosperity of Ireland depends upon the robbery of her working class, and that to insist upon a Fair Wage being paid would ruin the country.

Thus showing that when men of their class speak of “loving their coun­try” they do not mean that they love the people, but only the soil—the in­animate earth, not the living, suffering men and women.

But I have every hope that the working men of Cork will, at next elec­tion, remember the men who thus trampled upon the political and social rights of the labourer.

And remembering them, give them a much-needed rest from municipal exertions.

The Labour Councillors of Cork were careful to disassociate themselves from the ISRP5 during, and immediately after the elections.

They wished to respect the “rights of property,” and, I think, honestly believed that the propertied classes could be brought to listen to reason and the appeals of common humanity.

They should know better now. They should be able to realise now that the members of the propertied class are so blinded by the lust for gold, have their souls so steeped in the desire for power, that they cannot be rea­soned with, or argued out of their resolve to maintain unfettered their rights to plunder, any more than the tiger in his jungle can be reasoned or argued out of satiating his appetite upon his helpless victim.

The Labour men of Cork should now, in the light of this latest object lesson in the cannibalistic instincts of the employing class, reconsider their attitude towards the Socialist Republican Party.

Listen, Oh, Men of Cork!

The employing class has said, through its representatives on the City Council, that it will have no compromise with you, but will fight you to the bitter end.

The only answer you can make, and still preserve your self-respect, is to accept that challenge, and tell them in addition that since they will not have a compromise with you, neither will you ever more dream of suggest­ing a compromise with them, but

That henceforth you will rally the working class to fight for the full fruits of their labour, all they produce by their toil, which can only be made theirs through the subjugation and dispossession of the propertied class.

When you are urging their extinction as a class they can not fight you more bitterly than they are doing now.

Therefore, let the Socialist Republic be your watchword; the tools to those who use them, the product to the producers.

The Socialist Republic! What does that mean?

It means that the industries of Cork shall be owned by the people of Cork, that the organized trades of Cork find in their own ranks men to under­take all the managerial work and superintendence of those industries, that you, the workers, could elect suitable men to such positions, and hav­ing elected them would serve under them as zealously as you now serve the slave-driving foremen of a private employer; that therefore the capitalist is unnecessary, and the profits he now absorbs could be retained for the use of the workers—to whom they properly belong.

And that, freed from the necessity of maintaining this idle and super­fluous class, the length of the working day could be easily cut in half, while the remuneration for your toil might be multiplied fourfold.

That no one should want, that none should be overworked, that none should live in insolent idleness, that man should no longer prey upon his fellow man, that JUSTICE will be realised.

That productive property—all property held for profit—should be made the public property of the community, State or City, and co-operatively oper­ated by the labour of the adult population, under whatever rules they themselves might like to frame for their own guidance.

That is Socialism, in brief. Not so awful, is it?

But the mere advocacy of it would frighten more reforms out of the master class than all the speeches you could make about the rights of Labour.

SPAILPÍN

A Plea for the Children

[Workers’ Republic, 2 December 1899]

We wonder how many of our readers fully appreciated the significance of that plank in our municipal programme6 which demands the free mainte­nance of children at School. In no item of the Socialist programme are the economic and humanitarian aspects of the movement so closely blended, and none are so much required in the interest of future generations. For the misery and oppression under which the adults of this generation suffer, they have themselves largely to blame as much of it is immediately remov­able, and all of it could be abolished by a concerted effort on the part of its victims. But the children who suffer most from this inhuman social system; who are stunted in growth, physically and intellectually; who are dragged up, for the most part, in tenement houses which ever tend to become veri­table cesspools of crime and degradation; who are shut out by the poverty of their parents from every avenue of enlightenment, and who find their whole lives warped and distorted by the evil conditions surrounding their infancy; their claim for consideration is superior to all political exigencies, and ought to be pressed forward with all the energy we possess.

It may be urged against such a demand that it introduces the public power of the community into a sphere from which it ought to be ex­cluded—the home. But this is an argument which cannot be seriously en­tertained when we consider the many and varied inroads upon private life which the power of the State has already made, and in which such public intervention has proven to be in the highest degree beneficent. The indi­vidual can no longer use his property as he pleases, even when that prop­erty is in inanimate things, but when property takes the form of human beings, as children, the “rights” of the individual are circumscribed and limited in the most thorough manner. And what sane man to-day would venture to assert that the right of parents to do as they like with their chil­dren—a right which all too often took the form of brutal maltreatment and systematic starvation—was more compatible with public welfare, or private morality, than the supervision enforced by the State at present. And as the right of the individual to maltreat his children has been suppressed in the interest of the children, should not the social maltreatment of the children which follows as a result of the enforced poverty of the parents also be sup­pressed? If it is right that parents should not be allowed to sentence their children to corporal punishment of a severe character, or to curtail their supply of food below what is necessary for their subsistence, is it not also right that Society which, through its faulty economic organisation, sen­tences the parents themselves to a lifetime of drudgery and ill-requited toil, should use its power to provide the children of the poor it has created with sufficient of the necessaries of life to allow of their proper development into capable, self-respecting men and women? It is said this would encourage drunkards and loafers to neglect their children. But the children of such people are neglected now, and the maintenance of their children out of public funds could not increase such neglect, but would only save the helpless little ones from its consequences. Why should children suffer, even if the parents are criminal and indolent?

Society owes a duty to these children—they are the citizens of the future; as their childhood is made happy and healthful, and therefore truly susceptible of receiving education, so will their manhood and womanhood tend to become; so will the civilization they mould be worthy of an en­light­ened people. Therefore, we repeat, the Free Maintenance of the Chil­dren is a most important item to be fought for, and we look to see the revolution­ary working class making this demand a prominent feature in its future agitation—resolved that capitalist society, which starved and stunted our childhood, and debases and exploits our manhood, shall, at least, be com­pelled to take its clutches off the lives of our children and leave the rising generation physically and mentally capable of accomplishing the glorious task of social reconstruction now awaiting it.

Notes

  1. The right of local areas to legislate for themselves, especially in re­gard to licensing laws.
  2. Disestablishment of the Anglican Church, that is.
  3. Cork elected nine Labour candidates in 1899.
  4. Evening sittings of the Corporation, so that workers elected could attend without endangering their employment.
  5. The Irish Socialist Republican Party, founded by Connolly in 1896.
  6. The programme put forward by the ISRP in local elections.

Unfurling Red Banner

In November 1997 the first issue of Red Banner opened like this:

Red Banner is a revolutionary socialist magazine. If you are sick of the way the world is run, then Red Banner is for you. We intend to present socialist ideas to as many people as we can, and to develop and apply those ideas to the needs of the struggle for socialism today. It is our belief that that struggle requires a clear understanding of its situation, of its history, of the conditions of its victory.

That necessity is as great today as it has ever been. Capitalism every day proves itself to be incapable of resolving the basic problems facing humanity. If the human race is to have any kind of a future at all, the creation of a socialist society, in Ireland and internationally, is a crying need. Red Banner wishes to contribute, as far as it can, to ensuring that socialism succeeds in rescuing the world from barbarity.

Just as obvious as the failure of capitalist society is the failure of the left, thus far, to get rid of it. There is no use denying it: there are too many on the left who see the struggle in terms of their own narrow organisational success, and not enough whose main concern is the strength and fighting consciousness of the working class. Red Banner has no illusions whatsoever that it is destined to form some revolutionary vanguard, but we are convinced that a powerful socialist movement can be built in the working class, on condition that the sectarian disorder is eradicated, and that the actual fight for socialist revolution once again becomes all-important.

We will be affording zero tolerance to sectarianism. The petulant squabbling of one group with another will find no echo in our pages. As far as we are concerned, the left can beat each other up outside any dance hall they like, but we won’t be holding their coats. Organisational affiliations will in no way preclude contributors, but we will have no advertising and no jargon. We refuse to condemn the readers of Red Banner to the sight of sets of initials hurling freshly-coined insults at each other in the spirit of comradely fraternity. Neither convoluted internal gibberish nor patronising tabloid journalism will find its way in here.

Rare as such an admission may be in this part of the political world, Red Banner is not the bearer of all truth, does not have all the answers. None of us have climbed Mount Sinai, and the only tablets we possess are of the paracetamol variety. (Although they can come in handy when navigating the murky waters of the left….) We have our opinions, and believe them to be correct: but we can’t summon up enough arrogance to deny that others have lessons to teach as well.

This is not to say that Red Banner will be a retirement home where bewildered lefties can rest their weary heads. We intend to work out, in the heat of debate, clear strategies for the battles ahead. We are attempting to answer the question generations of revolutionaries have put to themselves: What is to be done?

Red Banner will be an unapologetically revolutionary magazine: the answers we propose arise from the politics of Marxism. Like Karl Marx before us, we are convinced that the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. The rainforests are in bad enough shape as it is, so we won’t be wasting paper with appeals to seek salvation in the election of nice politicians, or in the ascendancy of benevolent dictators. We stand for the workers of the world independently and self-consciously taking control of it.

But we won’t be resorting to censorship and heresy-hunting to put our views forward. Only those unsure of their politics need gunboats in the bay to enforce an intellectual monopoly for their product. We, on the other hand, have enough confidence in the strength of revolutionary socialist politics to believe that they will win through and grow stronger in the free competition of ideas. We want Red Banner to act also as a forum to discuss the ways and means of making socialist revolution a reality.

This means we will need the help of our readers. We want them not to be passive consumers of this magazine, but actively involved in making it something of a force to be reckoned with. Send us articles, write us letters, make proposals and criticisms. Subscribe to the magazine, get others to read it, take a few copies to sell. The magazine will appear every six months to begin with—with the next issue out in May 1998—and hopefully more often in the near future. But the existence of Red Banner depends on the support we get from our readers. We firmly believe it is high time something like this magazine came along. The situation is ripe for the spread and development of socialist ideas. The success of those ideas depends fundamentally on the concrete struggles of the working class. Our aim in Red Banner is only to play a part, however modest, in the ultimate triumph of socialism, in theory and in practice.

Revolution in legend and reality

In March 2016 Red Banner bowed out with Issue 63, which featured the first English translation of this article by Victor Serge.

The Russian-Belgian revolutionary Victor Serge (1890-1947) lived in Russia from 1919, witnessing the triumphs and tragedies of its revolution. As well as working for the revolution within Russia, he attempted to win over to its side European socialists, particularly of the libertarian tradition. This article, published in the French Communist Party’s Bulletin communiste on 27 October 1921, is an example of that. It is translated into English here for the first time.

Man thinks badly and little—as little as possible. In order to lighten the task of thinking, he has imagined ready-made ideas which need only be accepted and repeated, commonplaces, conventional images, clichés. It is essentially a verbal currency. It rarely occurs to those who think to inquire as to the true value of the coin passing through their hands, to test the metal. So they become dupes and playthings of a mass of illusions, which are all the more difficult to unravel because our mind, obscured by book knowledge, has to some extent lost the sense of reality. The generations which have seen and experienced the great war did not expect to play a certain role in “great revolutions”. Before the war the word revolution had a certain vogue. You could say that a kind of general admiration surrounded it. Thinking of 1789-93,1 it was freely given the epithet great, and peaceable people of bourgeois and fairly conservative customs honourably earned their good daily living by compiling or writing laudatory tomes on the personalities of “the revolutionary epic”.

Witnesses to the Russian revolution, not those who speak warmly of it from thousands of miles away but those who have lived it in the dismal streets of Petrograd or Moscow, can now almost conceive what the great French revolution was—what the citizens of the One and Indivisible Republic lived through. History—which is usually legend, let us note—has almost nothing to say of it. It has done worse. It is through Victor Hugo, Michelet,2 and every Tom, Dick and Harry who vulgarises them that we have learned to conceive the revolution: tragic, epic, great, magnificent, superb, poetic, what have you! To find a more objective description of it you have to open Taine,3 who the general public don’t read—precisely because he offends their love of the legend, perhaps.

Danton, Robespierre, Marat.4 The Homeland in danger, Valmy, Thermidor!5 The adolescent closes his history text book (or Ninety-Three) and sees a luminous procession of heroes file past in his feverish imagination, surrounded by lightning and light. Madame Roland dies while reading out a most beautiful phrase…6 Essentially, and it is an absolute truth, the literature has completely falsified the idea of the French revolution in our minds. When you consider that it is after all recent—less than a century and a half—a great scepticism has arisen regarding historical works and notions… All that has been conserved of the revolution by the literature and the legend certainly happened—but is lost, drowned, inextricably mixed up in a mass of other things altogether. ’89-93 was a long torment where the wisest no longer saw clearly, an infinite anguish, an era of brutalities, of crimes, of errors, of exaltations, of inexpressible misfortunes. Concretely, the terror was nothing but a pool of dark blood that stank below the guillotine erected night and day, which was only, if you want a symbol, a heap of hideously decapitated, disfigured heads… The “giants of the Convention”7 were afraid of each other; the war had led to atrocious butcheries greater—if possible—than the “lace warfare” of monarchical times;8 the campaigns burned and savaged, people were hungry, and desperately asked themselves when the un­intelligible drama would come to an end. And hardly anyone could foresee anything.

In Russia the revolution legend coincided powerfully with the success of the revolution in reality; then it did the greatest harm to it. It has divided the revolutionaries. Many—among the best—were frightened upon seeing the thing. They didn’t recognise it, and disowned it. Essentially I have no other explanation for the aberration of certain absolutely sincere and unselfish people (Tchaikovsky, Breshkovskaia)9—who have in fact passed to the side of the counter-revolution, and the sorrowful stupor of a Kropotkin in the face of events which confirm his own theories (see his Great French Revolution)10 is of the same kind. Only such people could remain un­moved in the presence of realities greater than themselves—due to clairvoyance, equanimity, prejudice—or whose heart and obtuse mind live only a life without intensity. A revolution is not an epic poem; it makes more sense to compare it to an unexpected violent attack during a disease. And there is no better comparison here than that borrowed from the language of biology or medicine. The abscess bursts open, the larva laboriously transforms itself, perhaps painfully, into an insect, life begins again in suffering and physical destitution. “The childbirth of societies”, it has been called.11 So be it. Childbirth is not pretty. The flesh contracts, tears, rebels, bleeds, and the new being is born without intelligence, without power, but bent on living and already suffering as it cries. And it too begins by being hungry.

The idea of the revolution must be revised in our minds, in contact with actual reality, in order—above all—to replace a false notion with an exact one—purely for the benefit of intelligence (which is reason enough), so that, finally, those who desire the revolution and go towards it know well where they are going.

War is not glorious. It is frightening. Glory is merely a subjective notion on the part of the observer—the distant observer, what’s more. Without doubt, d’Assas, pierced by bayonet thrusts for crying in the night: “Over here, France! Here is the enemy!”12 is magnificent… to describe, but the reality he lived through himself, the only reality for him was the frenzy, the sudden despair of the man in dire straits, encircled—and then the frightful physical pain of his flesh torn by the knives. Social war, with its innumerable dramas, must also be judged objectively and especially outside of literary considerations…

Two vast experiences should finally allow a healthy judgment to those who care. When an old society is weakening and dissolving but, determined to persist, represses with senile violence the new forms of life arising, a jolt from without or within is enough to bring about the revolution. One world bursts open, another world is born. Mental disequilibrium becomes frequent among both masses and individuals. Fanaticisms are enraged. People and things are carried away by a kind of tempest where the strongest survive—but many by chance… Economically, chaos and disorganisation. No one can work, and production seems to be destroyed. Besides that, robbery. It is always a matter of expropriation (in 1789-93 the third estate13 expropriate the nobility and clergy, in 1917-19 the proletariat and muzhik14 expropriate the bourgeoisie and nobility); and no one expropriates without thinking—at least, not as a general rule. Morally, trouble, disturbance, anguish, disarray. The old values vanish; the new are not at all certain. Such is the revolution in reality. It cannot be otherwise. To pursue his path to the future through this torment—or to consent in advance to all the risks of a voyage through this torment—he who wants “the old world burst open” and the new order born must not view reality through the legend—but while stoically taking its side. The great revolution­ary work must be accomplished as a rough and painful task necessary for the birth of the future.

Petrograd, August 1921

Notes

  1. The most radical period of the French revolution.
  2. Hugo’s last novel Ninety-Three revolves around counter-revolutionary revolts of that year. Jules Michelet’s History of France included a widely-read account of the revolutionary period.
  3. Hippolyte Taine’s Origins of Contemporary France offered a very critical, but wide-ranging account of the revolution.
  4. George Danton, Maximilien Robespierre, and Jean-Paul Marat were radical leaders of the revolution who suffered early deaths as a result.
  5. The French National Assembly proclaimed that “the Homeland is in danger” in 1792, mobilising the people to resist invasion. The battle of Valmy that year saw the first major victory of the revolutionary army. Two years later in the revolutionary month of Thermidor, the con­servative Directory took power from the Committee of Public Safety.
  6. Jeanne Manon Roland was executed in 1793 in a purge of conservatives, announcing at the guillotine: “Oh, Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name!”
  7. The French National Convention sat from 1792 to 1795.
  8. This refers to warfare before the revolution, when dynasties supposedly fought each other with due respect for each other’s noble status, while the soldiers suffered on their behalf.
  9. Nikolai Tchaikovsky was a veteran revolutionary whose opposition to the Bolsheviks led him to collaborate with foreign armies invading Russia. Ekaterina Breshko-Breshkovskaya’s activity earned her the nickname ‘Grandmother of the Russian Revolution’, but she too took up with the Bolsheviks’ enemies.
  10. Pyotr Kropotkin, anarchist philosopher and author of The Great Revolution 1789-1793, was openly critical of the Bolsheviks.
  11. “Force is the midwife of every old society which is pregnant with a new one”, wrote Karl Marx in Capital.
  12. Surrounded by British soldiers at the battle of Kloster Kampen in 1760, Captain Nicolas-Louis d‘Assas is supposed to have cried out to this effect, sacrificing himself to alert his comrades.
  13. The third estate comprised commoners, all those outside the two estates mentioned here.
  14. Peasant.

The case of Michael Fennell

In Issue 62 (December 2015) Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh unearthed the story of a man jailed for innocently opposing war.

Someone must have been saying things about Michael Fennell because, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested one day, on 18 April 1915 on Shelbourne Road in Ballsbridge.

While the area has often served as a lazy shorthand for Dublin opulence, Fennell was far from wealthy. He was a labourer, the most nondescript and precarious living the city had to offer, and lived nearby in Turner’s Cottages. Built in the mid-nineteenth century for the employees of a local ironworks, these houses had become tene­ments, each of them accommodating four families with a single room each. There was a communal lavatory, and water came from a tap in the yard.

Fennell wasn’t a native of Ballsbridge, having been born in Kilmainham in 1870. But by the time his brother John was born ten years later the family was in 3 Turner’s Cottages—having lived in the meantime in the north inner city—and were still there in 1897 when his sister Margarita married. Come the 1901 census, Michael was living with his widowed mother and his sister Mary in Barrow Street. This was nearer the Grand Canal and the docks—convenient as he is described as a corn porter—and it looks like they lived upstairs while another family was downstairs.

He married Maria Lacey on 6 August 1905. She was eighteen, half his age, and pregnant, judging by the birth of Jack on 28 January next. Michael junior was born the year after that, as well as another child who didn’t survive. The marriage must have hit problems, because the 1911 census sees the couple separated: Michael and Michael junior living with his mother, sister and niece in Keegan’s Lane (now Ballsbridge Avenue), while Maria and Jack are three miles away with her mother and stepfather in Temple Street. From 1913 voters’ registers show Michael living in the “left hand top room” of 23 Turner’s Cottages, although there’s nothing to tell whether his son lived there with him.

On 18 April 1915 Michael Fennell was walking down Shelbourne Road when he saw two men putting up posters. There was a war on, of course, and these posters aimed to recruit people into the British navy. Fennell took exception, and told one of them: “Do you think you are an Irishman? No Irishman ought to put up such notices. No Irishman should enlist. You remember a hundred years ago.”

Unfortunately for him, only one of the two men he confronted was an actual billposter. Although in plain clothes, the other was Constable 132E Martin Heelan of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. He arrested Fennell, who told the policeman he thought he was a friend of his. Fennell was taken to Irishtown station, where Sergeant Crosbie charged him with “making statements likely to prejudice the recruiting of His Majesty’s forces in breach of Regulation No. 27 of the Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Regulations, 1914”.

Those regulations were intended to beef up the Defence of the Realm Act introduced at the outbreak of the war, legislation which was draconian enough to begin with. Regulation 27 prohibited verbal or printed statements which were false or might cause disaffection in the forces, weaken the currency, or “prejudice the recruiting, training, discipline or administration of any of His Majesty’s forces”. It would be hard to imagine any opposition to the war getting past that, and such was presumably the intention of those who framed it. If Fennell’s castigating of Irish enlistment and recruitment was accurate­ly recorded, then things weren’t looking good for him.

His case came up on 28 April in the Southern Police Court. Empathy for the social position of the accused was unlikely to be forthcoming from the judge, Thomas Chalmers Drury. As well as an eighteen-roomed house with two servants in Pembroke Street, he owned a lodge in Kiltiernan in the Dublin mountains. The state sent John Robertson from the Chief Crown Solicitor’s Office to prosecute the case. Fennell was defended by John George Lidwell, a solicitor who had previously advised James Joyce on potential legal problems with Dubliners.

Constable Heelan related the events of 18 April, a version which was not contested by the defence. Lidwell did ask the policeman, however, whether his client seemed intoxicated on the day. Heelan replied that “the defendant had some drink taken, but was not drunk”. Lidwell then informed the court that Fennell was nursing a bad cold at the time, and had taken “a good deal of rum”, a remedy which “was very stimulating, and used extensively in the trenches”.

The military allusion provoked laughter in court, but the judge was not in the mood: “Your client ought to be in the trenches. The leaders of his country are encouraging recruiting, and I don’t understand why any Irishman should attempt to prevent recruiting.”

Counsel for the defence “quite agreed”, he said, and insisted that his client was “a respectable labouring man in good employment, and who had no sympathy whatever with the Germans”. The influence of alcohol was to blame, and he expressed regret on behalf of Fennell, who had been under the impression that “he was addressing a friend, and jocularly said what he did”. The crown solicitor interjected that “this was no time for joking”.

So the prisoner didn’t boldly hurl the charge back in the face of his accusers, defiantly asserting his democratic right to oppose the war. His solicitor clearly advised the path of least resistance, disavowing any hostility to the war, apologetically acknowledging the ill effects of the demon drink, and throwing himself on the mercy of the court. Was this an honest defence on Fennell’s part, or a strategic ruse?

Drinking rum to treat a cold is not unknown, although numbing the symptoms may be its only benefit. 18 April was a Sunday, and Fennell could well have been imbibing on his day off. It also happened to be his forty-fifth birthday, an occasion likely to be marked with a drop or two. A “good deal” of rum could easily have caused him to mistake someone in the street, or even have sparked patriotic remembrance of Ireland’s woes. There certainly seems to be no evidence of him ever being involved with nationalist politics.

Whatever motivated Fennell, he paid dearly for it. The judge agreed that this was no laughing matter, and imposed a sentence of two months’ imprisonment. As he was led away to Mountjoy jail, it was probably cold comfort for Fennell to think that it could have been worse: he could have got up to six months and a £100 fine.

The case was reported in national newspapers but, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t become a cause célèbre for the rebel press. Most of it had been suppressed under the same Defence of the Realm Act, leaving only two papers in the breach. The Spark didn’t mention Fennell at all, but Ná Bac Leis gave him a sentence: “Risteárd Fennel, Baile Átha Cliath, a stróic fógrán leis an Arm, gearradh dhá mhí phríosúntachta air agus crua-obair ina theannta san”—which not only got his name wrong, but magnified his act to tearing down a recruitment poster. (An Aloysius Brennan had been convicted of tearing down such a poster in Tullamore six months earlier, despite pleading his innocence, and got a month.)

After that, Fennell seems to just fade into history. Presumably his criminal record for undermining the war effort would have adversely affected his status as a gainfully employed, respectable working man, with consequences for his fragmented family. Although two neigh­bours from Turner’s Cottages were arrested for taking part in the Easter rising, there is no evidence of Fennell taking on the empire again. The cottages themselves were pulled down in the 1970s, and luxury apartments have recently replaced them.

But the case of Michael Fennell points up some harsh realities about Ireland during the first world war. In the huge wars waged in recent decades, opponents have been free to march through Washington, London or Dublin, hold anti-war meetings and distribute anti-war literature. Defacing or removing recruitment posters, even verbally abusing someone putting them up, are actions which would carry little if any consequences.

Such democracy didn’t prevail in Ireland in 1915, however. As Fennell’s sentence was nearing its end, Seán Mac Diarmada joined him in Mountjoy on a four month sentence for publicly regretting the enlistment of Irishmen in the British army. Mac Diarmada was admittedly itching for a chance to violently overthrow the empire, but the avowed pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington was put away for six months for the same thing. And although Michael Fennell was not a political activist by any stretch of the imagination, he was locked up too, by a judge who would clearly have sent him out to fight in Flanders if he could have.

This cuts short some of the questions often put regarding the popular mandate of those who launched an insurrection in Dublin a year later. There were no elections for the duration of the war, anti-government newspapers were censored or shut down, denouncing the empire or its war at a public meeting risked imprisonment, and even objecting to a recruitment poster landed you in jail. When the conventional methods of winning a popular mandate just weren’t available, how exactly could it be obtained?

In such circumstances, judging support for militant nationalism is problematic, and requires an imaginative reconstruction of popular moods. In April 1916 as defeated rebels were being led away, any sympathisers on the streets wisely kept their opinions to themselves. But even a year before, you could get your collar felt just for vigorous­ly letting it be known that the war wasn’t in Ireland’s interest. It looks as though a birthday drink may have loosened Michael Fennell’s tongue, but it is safe to assume that there were others of a similar opinion who had no means of freely expressing it. In the safety of the secret ballot, 43 per cent of those with a vote in the College Green constituency favoured the anti-war Labour candidate in a by-election that June.

In fact, the democratic credentials of the other side don’t stand up too well to scrutiny. No one in Ireland or Britain had voted to go to war with Germany in 1914 or since, and yet bloodletting on a horrific scale was taking place across the world. As Fennell went to trial for interfering with naval recruiting, troops from Dublin were among those being landed in Gallipoli for a notoriously disastrous campaign which would end a hundred thousand lives. Someone deserved to be in the dock, but it wasn’t Michael Fennell.

Sóisialachas in aghaidh an chogaidh

Céad bliain tar éis do Grúpa an Internationale é a chur amach, aistríodh an forógra seo in Eagrán 61 (Meán Fómhair 2015).

I 1915 thosaigh sóisialaithe na Gearmáine ag eagrú in aghaidh an chogaidh mhóir, ainneoin formhór a bpáirtí a bheith ar a shon. D’éirigh leo nuachtán a chur amach, Die Internationale, agus ainmníodh a ngrúpa as. Ba í Rosa Luksemburg, agus í i bpríosún, a dhréacht an cháipéis seo le treoir a leagan síos. Tar éis do Karl Liebknecht leasuithe a mholadh, ghlac cruinniú den ghrúpa leis ar Lá Caille 1916, agus cuireadh i gcló é mar bhileog faoin teideal ‘Bunphrionsabail i dtaobh Cúraimí an Daonlathais Shóisialta Idirnáisiúnta’. Aistrítear ó Ghearmáinis go Gaeilge anseo é den chéad uair.

Tá líon mór comrádaithe as gach cearn den Ghearmáin tar éis glacadh leis na bunphrionsabail seo a leanas, a chuireann Clár Erfurt1 i bhfeidhm ar fhadhbanna an tsóisialachais idirnáisiúnta faoi láthair.

1    Tá torthaí dhá scór bliain oibre ag sóisialachas na hEorpa scriosta ag an gcogadh domhanda, sa mhéid go bhfuil brí na prólatáireachta réabhlóidí i gcúrsaí cumhachta polaitiúla agus gradam morálta an tsóisialachais curtha ar ceal aige, idirnáisiúntán na prólatáireachta briste, a ranna i mbun fionaíola ar a chéile,2 agus brath is dóchas na bpobal sna tíortha is mó forbartha caipitlí ceangailte de long an impiriúlachais.

2    Ag vótail airgid ar son an chogaidh agus ag fógairt síochána polaitiúla3 dóibh, tá ceannairí oifigiúla na bpáirtithe sóisialacha sa Ghearmáin, sa Fhrainc agus i Sasana (cé is moite de Pháirtí Neamh­spleách an Lucht Oibre4) tar éis an t‑impiriúlachas a neartú ar a chúl, ag tabhairt ar na pobail cur suas le dearóile agus uafáis an chogaidh, ag ligean fraoch an impiriúlachais den iall, ag cur fad leis an sléacht agus méadú ar na híobartaigh, ag glacadh freagracht as an gcogadh agus a iarsmaí orthu féin.

3    Tá beart seo cheannasaíocht na bpáirtithe sna tíortha atá i mbun cogaidh, sa Ghearmáin thar aon áit eile, tír thosaigh an Idirnáisiúntáin go dtí seo, ina fheall ar na prionsabail is bunúsaí de chuid an tsóisialachais idirnáisiúnta, ar bhunleas an aicme oibre, ar leas daonlathach na bpobal ar fad. Tá an pholaitíocht shóisialach curtha ar neamhní leis sin i ngach tír, fiú áit ar fhan ceannairí na bpáirtithe dílis dá ndualgais: sa Rúis, sa tSeirbia, san Iodáil agus—seachas eisceacht amháin—sa Bhulgáir.

4    Ó thréig daonlathas sóisialta oifigiúil na dtíortha móra cath na n‑aicmí le linn an chogaidh, á chur ar fionraí go mbeidh an cogadh thart, tá ré an achair tugtha aige do na haicmí ceannais i ngach tír a suíomh a neartú go hollmhór ar chostas eacnamaíochta, polaitiúil agus morálta na prólatáireachta.

5    Ní dhéanann an cogadh domhanda cosaint na náisiún ná leas eacnamaíochta nó polaitiúil pobail ar bith, agus níl ann ach droch­iarsma ar theannais impiriúlacha idir aicmí caipitleacha na dtíortha éagsúla ar son ceannas an domhain agus monaplacht ar bhánú is dúshaothrú na gcríoch nach bhfuil faoi cheannas an chaipitil go fóill. I ré an impiriúlachais seo gan srian, ní féidir cogaí náisiúnta a bheith ann a thuilleadh. Níl i leas an náisiúin ach seift le dallamullóg a chur ar an lucht oibre chun giollaí don impiriúchas, a mbithnamhaid, a dhéanamh díobh.

6    Ní féidir le saoirse agus neamhspleáchas aon náisiúin faoi chois teacht as polaitíocht na stát impiriúlach agus an cogadh impiriúlach. Níl sna náisiúin bheaga, agus a n‑aicmí ceannais ina lútálaithe is ina gcúlpháirtithe ag a gcomrádaithe aicmeacha sna stáit mhóra, ach fichillíní i gcluiche impiriúlach na gcumhachtaí móra, agus—ach oiread leis an lucht oibre—bainfear mí-úsáid astu le linn an chogaidh agus íobrófar ar son leas na gcaipitlithe iad ina dhiaidh.

7    Agus an scéal amhlaidh, cibé a bhuafaidh nó a chaillfidh, tá an cogadh seo ina bhriseadh ar an sóisialachas agus an daonlathas. Cibé toradh a bheidh air—ach amháin an phrólatáireacht idirnáisiúnta a ladar a chur sa scéal—neartaítear an míleatachas, an chointinn idir­náisiúnta, an teannas eacnamíochta domhanda leis. Géaraítear ar an dúshaothrú caipitleach agus an frithghníomh polaitiúil inmheánach leis, lagaítear smacht an phobail agus déantar uirlisí míleatachais de na parlaimintí, níos géilliúla i gcónaí. Leis seo, forbraíonn cogadh domhanda an lae inniu na coinníollacha uile le haghaidh cogaidh úir.

8    Ní féidir síocháin an domhain a chinntiú le pleananna atá útóipeach nó frithghníomhach ó bhonn le haghaidh cúirteanna idir­náisiúnta eadrána de thaidhleoirí caipitleacha, comhaontuithe taidhleoireachta i dtaobh “dí-armála”, “saoirse na mara”, cealú cheart na gabhála ar muir, “cónaidhmeanna de stáit Eorpacha”, “aontais custaim i lár na hEorpa”, stáit idirnáisiúnta eadrána agus a leithéid. Ní féidir fáil réidh leis an impiriúlachas, an míleatachas agus an chogaíocht ná iad a chosc fad a bheidh na haicmí caipitleacha i gceannas gan bhac. Níl aon bhealach le cur ina n‑aghaidh i gceart agus síocháin an domhain a chinntiú ach cumas gnímh pholaitiúil agus toil réabhlóideach na prólatáireachta idirnáisiúnta a cumhacht a chaitheamh sa mheá.

9    Is é an t‑impiriúlachas, mar chéim dheiridh agus ardfhorbairt cheannas domhanda polaitiúil an chaipitil, bithnamhaid choiteann na prólatáireachta i ngach tír. Ach ar nós céimeanna is luaithe den chaipitleachas, tá sé i ndán dó cumais a bhithnamhad a neartú ar aon dul lena fhorbairt féin. Géaraíonn sé ar dhlúthú na gcaipiteal, cnaí na meánaicme, méadú na prólatáireachta, ag dúiseacht ceannairceacht mhéadaithe na ndaoine agus ag cur faobhair ar chontrárthacht na n‑aicmí. Caithfidh cath aicmeach na prólatáireachta cur le chéile in aghaidh an impiriúlachais, in aimsir síochána nó cogaidh, thar rud ar bith eile. Is ionann don phrólatáireacht an cath ina aghaidh agus an cath ar son cumhacht pholaitiúil an stáit, gleic na cinniúna idir sóisialachas agus caipitleachas. Ní chuirfidh an phrólatáireacht cuspóir deiridh an tsóisialachais i gcrích mura dtugann sí faoin impiriúlachas tríd síos, mura nglacann sí le “cogadh ar an gcogadh” mar threoir lena polaitíocht phraiticiúil agus a cumas is a híobairt go léir a chaitheamh leis.

10  Chuige seo, is é príomhchúram an tsóisialachais inniu prólatáireacht na dtíortha go léir a thabhairt le chéile mar chumacht bheo réabhlóideach, trí eagrú idirnáisiúnta láidir agus tuiscint aontaithe aici ar a leas is a cúraimí, beartaíocht aontaithe agus cumas gnímh pholaitiúil in aimsir síochána nó cogaidh, le cumhacht chinniúnach na beatha polaitiúla a dhéanamh di, mar is dual di ón stair.

11  Tá an 2ú hIdirnáisiúntán briste ag an gcogadh. Nuair nach raibh sé in ann bac ceart a chur roimh scoilt na náisiún sa chogadh agus beart is gníomh coiteann don phrólatáireacht i ngach tír a chur i bhfeidhm, chruthaigh sé nach ndéanfaidh sé cúis.

12  I bhfianaise feall ionadaithe oifigiúla pháirtithe sóisialacha na dtíortha móra ar chuspóirí agus leas an aicme oibre, i bhfianaise tréigean thalamh idirnáisiúntán na prólatáireachta ar thalamh na polaitíochta buirgéisí impiriúlaí acu, is bunriachtanas don sóisialachas é idirnáisiúntán nua oibrithe a bhunú agus é de chúram air an cath aicmeach réabhlóideach in aghaidh an impiriúlachais i ngach tír a threorú agus a aontú.

Lena chúram stairiúil a chur i bhfeidhm, caithfidh sé seasamh ar na prionsabail seo a leanas:

1    Tá an cath aicmeach in aghaidh na n‑aicmí ceannais taobh istigh de na stáit bhuirgéiseacha agus dlúthpháirtíocht phrólatáireacht na dtíortha go léir mar dhá bhunriail dhoscartha an aicme oibre ina chath stairiúil saoirse. Ní hann don sóisialachas gan dlúthpháirtíocht idirnáisiúnta na prólatáireachta, agus ní hann don sóisialachas gan cath na n‑aicmí. Ní féidir leis an bprólatáireacht shóisialach, in aimsir síochána nó cogaidh, éirí as cath na n‑aicmí ná an dlúthpháirtíocht idirnáisiúnta gan lámh a chur ina bás féin.

2    Caithfear gníomh aicmeach na prólatáireachta i ngach tír, in aimsir síochána nó cogaidh, a stiúradh de réir an chath in aghaidh an impiriúlachais agus cosc na cogaíochta mar phríomhchuspóir. Caithfidh gníomhaíocht pharlaiminteach, gníomhaíocht ceard­chumainn agus gníomhaíocht ghluaiseacht na n‑oibrithe ar fad tús áite a thabhairt don aidhm seo, an phrólatáireacht i ngach tír a chur in aghaidh na buirgéiseachta náisiúnta chomh géar agus is féidir, an chontrárthacht pholaitiúil agus intleachtach eatarthu a thabhairt chun cinn ag gach cor agus ag an am céanna bráithreacht idirnáisiúnta phrólatáireacht na dtíortha go léir a chur chun tosaigh agus i ngníomh.

3    San idirnáisiúntán atá croílár eagrú aicmeach na prólatáir­eachta. Is é an t‑idirnáisiúntán a chinneann in aimsir síochána beart­aíocht na ranna náisiúnta maidir leis an míleatachas, an coilíneachas, polasaí tráchtála, Lá Bealtaine, chomh maith leis an mbeartaíocht le cur i bhfeidhm in aimsir cogaidh.

4    Is airde an dualgas rúin an idirnáisiúntáin a chur i bhfeidhm ná aon dualgas eagraithe eile. Ranna náisiúnta a théann in aghaidh a chuid rún, cuireann siad iad féin taobh amuigh den idirnáisiúntán.

5    Sa chath in aghaidh an impiriúlachais agus na cogaíochta, is iad sluaite dlútha na prólatáireachta i ngach tír atá in ann an chumhacht chinniúnach a chur i gcion. Is é príomhsprioc bheart­aíocht na ranna náisiúnta, mar sin, na sluaite fairsinge a thabhairt chun cumas gnímh pholaitiúil agus treallúis chinniúnaigh, dlús idir­náisiúnta ghníomhartha an phobail a chinntiú, an t‑eagrú polaitiúil agus ceardchumainn a thógáil, chun comhar sciobtha gníomhach na ranna uile a ráthú gach uair a chuirtear sa siúl é, i gcaoi gurb ionann toil an idirnáisiúntáin agus gníomh na sluaite fairsinge oibrithe i ngach tír.

6    Is é neaschúram an tsóisialachais fuascailt intleachtach na prólatáireachta ó choimirce na buirgéiseachta, a chuirtear in iúl i dtarraingt idé-eolaíocht an náisiúnachais. Ní mór do na ranna náisiúnta a ngríosadh i bparlaimintí agus i nuachtáin a shocrú chun caint thraidisiúnta an náisiúnachais a cháineadh mar ghléas de chuid an cheannais bhuirgéisigh. Níl de chosaint ar aon fhíorshaoirse náisiúnta inniu ach an cath aicmeach réabhlóideach in aghaidh an impiriúlachais. Tír dhúchais na bprólatáireach, a gcaithfidh gach rud eile tús áite a thabhairt dá cosaint, sin é an t‑idirnáisiúntán sóisialach.

Nótaí

  1. Ghlac Páirtí Daonlathach Sóisialta na Gearmáine le clár ar a ardfheis in Erfurt in 1891, a bhí ina mhúnla ag páirtithe sóisialacha eile.
  2. Bhí geallta go minic ag an Idirnáisiúntán Sóisialach (an Dara hIdir­náisiúntán, a bunaíodh in 1889) go gcuirfeadh sé go tréan in aghaidh an chogaidh a bhí ag bagairt, ach nuair a tháinig sé thacaigh formhór na bpáirtithe ann leis.
  3. Sna tíortha i mbun cogaidh fógraíodh ‘síocháin pholaitiúil’, go n‑éireodh na páirtithe as ionsaithe ar a chéile, ag cur le chéile leis an gcogadh a bhuachan.
  4. Sheas an Independent Labour Party lena chuid prionsabal i 1914, ag cur in aghaidh an chogaidh.

The political contradictions of Yeats

A century and a half after the birth of W B Yeats, Kevin Higgins gave this assessment in Issue 60 in June 2015.

When I was at school I had next to no interest in poetry, even managing to fail English in the Leaving Cert the first time around. It was the way it was taught, yes. But the fact that I was, from second year on, more focussed on helping bring about the downfall of world —or at least British and Irish—capitalism was also in the mix. I had little use for poetry then. It was, after all, mostly written by a class of people many of whom, come the great event, would unavoidably end up being put against some wall or other and disposed of because, well, they’d leave us no alternative. Some days I think that this is not an altogether bad solution for many poets, though there are of course legal difficulties, and if carried out, it would probably lead to complaints from a few people on Twitter.

One poem did stick in my head, though. Ever since the moment in the autumn of 1983 when I heard our fifth year English teacher Mr Maguire read the lines

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone;
For men were born to pray and save…

—Yeats’s poem ‘September 1913’ has stuck in my head. I remember thinking I know which shopkeeper on Shop Street he means. My teenage mind took a moment to focus all its considerable hatred on this one shopkeeper, to whom I now think I was likely being a little harsh because, while I have often seen him fumble in his till—indeed, he continues his fumbling to this day—I have no evidence at all that he has ever said a prayer, let alone one to which the word “shivering” might be attached. In this poem Yeats displayed a detestation of two things I had just begun to loathe in 1983: the acquisitive small town petit-bourgeois personified by the shopkeeper and his “greasy till”, and the ghastly combination of tyranny and sentimentality that is Irish Catholicism with its shivering renditions of the ‘Hail Holy Queen’ and the ‘I Confess’.

I was more aware than most of my contemporaries of the back­ground to this particular Yeats poem: the 1913 lockout. To me, in this poem at least, Yeats sounded like some sort of socialist who was against both the employers and the church, and his words had a beautiful brutality only rivalled by those of Trotsky, which I had begun to read around then. What was not to like about this W B Yeats, even if he did have the misfortune of being a poet rather than an active revolutionary like myself and old Leon?

Quite a lot, actually. The strange thing about Yeats is that he managed to write a number of poems just as full of deadly clarity as the one quoted above, inspired by major political events as they were happening, despite the fact that his head was crammed with every sort of pseudo-intellectual junk. Be you a guru who believes that the world can only be saved if each of your followers runs naked down the Newcastle Road after first buying you a red Porsche, or a guy with mad eyes who likes to march around the Barna woods in uniform with a picture of the late Klaus Barbie poking out of your breast pocket, then you can be sure that William Butler Yeats would have given you at least half an hour of his time. And probably a good deal more than that.

Yeats believed in fairies, ouija boards, astrology, and thought the spirits spoke to him through his wife, who apparently used that to get him—via advice received from the great beyond—to do what she wanted. He sympathised with Benito Mussolini, and was appointed a member of the Seanad in 1922 by Cumann na nGaedheal, where he spoke in favour of liberal divorce laws, the likes of which weren’t actually enacted until 1995. He wrote marching songs for the Irish fascists, Eoin O’Duffy’s Blueshirts, despite the fact that O’Duffy was very much in favour of both shivering prayers and greasy tills. As a political thinker Yeats was next to worthless, a kind of thinking woman’s Éamon Dunphy, with the obvious difference that he never played midfield for Millwall. A snob and often a bit of a fool intellect­ually, Yeats was at the same time too smart not to realise what a dirty shower the new Irish ruling class that stumbled into power in 1922, in coalition with the Church, on the back of the sacrifices of others, really were. In most of us, such contradictions are in time resolved, for better or for worse, but in Yeats they mostly remained, and so his poems exist to some extent apart from the silly ideas of which his head was full.

In his most famous poem, ‘Easter 1916’, the unresolved nature of said contradictions is actually an asset. In an earlier short poem about republican activist and society beauty Maud Gonne—with whom Yeats had a long, unsatisfied obsession—he accuses her of having “taught to ignorant men most violent ways” and of hurling “the little streets upon the great”. This is a better written version of the foam that can be regularly seen emerging from the mouths of Ruth Dudley Edwards and Éilis O’Hanlon. Gonne was guilty of many things, such as, for example, engaging in a bit of Holocaust denial in later life and, worse than that, giving birth to Seán MacBride, but “hurling the little streets upon the great” by, for example, supporting the locked out workers in 1913, was one of the better things she did. Given such pre-existing prejudices, one might then expect that Yeats’ big poem about the 1916 rising would be an all-out Kevin Myers style attack on the whole enterprise, written out in verses. In fact, Yeats’ take on the rising was at worst ambivalent, and in its best lines full of quiet admiration for the fact that Connolly, Pearse, McDonagh, and John MacBride—by then married to Maud Gonne—had each in turn had the courage to resign “his part in the casual comedy”. When it came to it, Yeats admired them for having had the guts to actually do some­thing rather than just sit around safely passing gas. This puts him well to the left of many, including a well-known Cork poet with a long-standing supposed interest in ‘international socialism’ who has of late taken to social media to froth about the gob about how the methods of anti-water charges protesters have had certain similarities to “fascism”. Many literary types prefer gas over action—it will always be thus—but Yeats was drawn to men and women of action, whether or not he exactly agreed with them.

Yeats’s surprisingly sympathetic take on the rising did not lead to him becoming any sort of left-winger or radical republican. His Mussolini-admiring, writing-songs-for-the-Blueshirts phase came after that. And in his poem ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz’ (1927) he fondly remembers the sisters in their youth at Lissadell: “Two girls in silk kimonos, both / Beautiful, one a gazelle”, before going on to attack their feminist, republican socialism in a way that sounds almost like Eoghan Harris on a good day, only much, much better:

The older [Constance Markievicz] is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams—
Some vague Utopia—and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.

This is, to say the very least, harsh on Gore-Booth and Markievicz, who were both altogether more serious about politics and activism than WB, however vague some of their Utopias may have been. In parts of this poem Yeats sounds almost like a slightly grown-up version of one of those eternal masturbators who populate university debating societies. Later in the same poem some nuance does creep in:

Dear shadows, now you know it all,
All the folly of a fight
With a common wrong or right.
The innocent and the beautiful
Have no enemy but time

Though, as ever, he says it well, it is not true to say that a fight over a “common” issue—there he goes with the snobbery again—is necessarily a “folly”. But it is certainly true that revolutionary activism takes a huge toll personally on those, such as Markievicz and Gore Booth, who take that general path, though there are of course rewards too, of which Yeats would have known not very much.

My personal favourite Yeats poem—by far—is ‘The Second Coming’ (1920) in which he turns his face fearfully away from the revolutionary tidal wave which hit Europe—including Ireland—in the aftermath of the war John Bruton and Co. still like to call ‘Great’. In the last two lines of this poem Yeats wonders “what rough beast, its hour come around at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” Now, while Yeats desperately wanted back the deceased pre-1914 world order—and so was in a way his own kind of vague Utopian—it is certainly true that some very rough beasts indeed were born during the long interwar crisis, which wasn’t really at an end until the gates of Treblinka and Auschwitz had been opened and the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Politically, Yeats may have been more than a bit of a messer, but to be able to put such big political stuff into poems that still speak is indeed the mark of genius, whatever about the ouija boards and the parlour fascism.

Where, oh, where is our James Connolly?

In Issue 59 (March 2015) Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh uncovered a sorry chapter in the publication of James Connolly’s writings.

There is always some excuse ready for evasion. The difficulty is, that every party likes some part of the truth; no party likes it all; but we must have it all, every line of it. We want no popular editions and no philosophic selections—the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

—Terence MacSwiney, Principles of Freedom

SIPTU’s Head of Research publicly announced in 2001 that the union would be sponsoring “the publication in several volumes of all Connolly’s articles and letters”, which would “at last enable us to appreciate Connolly’s own originality and greatness to the full”.1 I happened to be sitting next to him on the platform, and in my own contribution I welcomed the announcement but hoped people wouldn’t take it as a signal to sit back and think all was now well in the world of publishing Connolly. I was aiming for that curious amalgam that goes under the name of ‘cautious optimism’, and probably came off as a moany old begrudger. In fact, I was guilty of being far too generous altogether.

My presence on that platform was a result of the momentum that had been building up for five years previously. On the unveiling of a statue of Connolly in Dublin in 1996, I was allowed to point out in the programme that hundreds of his articles had never been made available since their original publication, and to republish the first Connolly work for twenty years.2 The year after, The Lost Writings was published, in which I assembled 65 articles of his unpublished since his execution. It never ceased to amaze me how many people were under the sincere impression up until then that all of Connolly’s work was available. The Collected Works title put on a reprint of previous Connolly selections in 1987-8 had been taken all too literally by many. Also in 1997 Red Banner began its ‘Hidden Connolly’ series, underlining that The Lost Writings wasn’t even the half of it.

A group including some prominent labour historians then tried to get an initiative off the ground which would assemble a team of researchers to publish all of Connolly’s works, an initiative which had the blessing of the Labour Party leader (dubious as that may be). But the SIPTU announcement cut the feet from under that. While ‘The Hidden Connolly’ continued to mine a seemingly inexhaustible seam, any impetus towards publishing Connolly’s complete writings was sucked into the Liberty Hall plughole.

The first fruit of SIPTU’s project appeared in 2005 in the shape of aConnolly biography by Dónal Nevin. It was a disappointing work, but promised “the publication of James Connolly’s collected writings”, sponsored by SIPTU and edited by Nevin in collaboration with researchers from the union.3 The same year SIPTU received €20,000 from the state for “Production and publication of two Volumes regarding James Connolly.”4

Between Comrades, Nevin’s collection of Connolly’s letters, was published in 2007.5 Reviewing it, I pointed out a welter of errors in the texts: letters left incomplete, omitted altogether, misread and mis­understood. “The editor’s failure is fundamental: he has not produced a fully accurate and reliable version of the texts themselves”, I wrote, and concluded that “the job will have to be done again and done properly, this time with due editorial care and attention”.6 That review caused outrage in the Labour History Society, with a former cabinet minister decrying my attack on Nevin, but wisely demurring when asked to actually refute what I had said. That year €50,000 more came from the government, specifically for Between Comrades.

In 2009 Nevin admitted that “A number of Connolly’s letters in Between Comrades were incomplete.” He filled gaps in just three of them, as well as providing the text of two further letters uncovered by Theresa Moriarty (in Liberty Hall, somewhere Nevin evidently hadn’t thought to look).7 SIPTU received another grant of €19,000 that year and €16,000 in 2011,8 in which year two more volumes of ‘Writings of James Connolly’ edited by Nevin were published, gathering Connolly’s books and pamphlets, and his articles.9 Launching them on 17 November, Éamon Gilmore called Nevin “the leading scholar in Ireland on James Connolly” and his collection of Political Writings “a real treasure trove”.10

But there was something a little strange about these two volumes, or about their availability. Very few shops sold them. Hardly any reviews appeared as, clearly, no review copies were sent out. Most curious of all, no copies went to the National Library or Trinity College Library or the other institutions legally entitled to any book published in Ireland. As far as can be ascertained, there is only one public, reference or academic library in the world which holds a copy of just one of the volumes. (Arise, Bray Public Library, and take your place among the nations of the earth!) They became bibliographic rarities very quickly. You could be forgiven for thinking that SIPTU circulated only a limited number of the edition while holding on to the rest, as if to formally fulfil the letter of a commitment rather than making the books generally available.

Nevin’s Collected Works (confusingly employing that title again) contained seven books or pamphlets of Connolly’s, songs, and a play. The Political Writings contained 266 articles and manifestos, while its introduction (p xxi) claimed that about 600 articles exist in all. So whatever we had here, it was not all of Connolly’s writings, not by a long chalk. The project of publishing the complete works of James Connolly as an integrated series—first proposed in the 1920s11—is back waiting to reach square one.

In the meantime, there is plenty of Connolly’s work which has never been published since his execution, which lies in a limited number of libraries beyond the access of most. Making that available can be a valuable stopgap pending the complete works and—on the principle that appetite increases with eating—a real stimulus towards their publication. Much of Connolly is available in print, and latterly on the internet.12 A good deal of this consists of articles reproduced in part rather than in full, but there is still no shortage of Connolly writings yet to be republished at all. If people can’t or won’t bring out the lot, then publishing these articles and speeches in full is the most worthwhile contribution.

Nevin’s Collected Works contains nothing which isn’t already available. While it claimed that Connolly’s 1916 play Under Which Flag? was being “printed here for the first time” (p xii), it had in fact been published three years earlier,13 and Nevin’s version contained several errors.14 The raw texts of Connolly’s books and pamphlets aren’t hard to come by, and in more reliable form. Connolly explained in Socialism Made Easy that a capitalist getting a 20 per cent return on a $1000 investment would accumulate $2000 profit in ten years and $3000 in fifteen—but Nevin’s copying and arithmetic is faulty: “in the course of ten years he would draw three thousand dollars” (p 95). In Labour in Irish History Connolly claims that William Thompson’s work “might have been written by a Socialist of the twentieth century”, but here he was made to say the exact opposite, that it “might never have been” (p 232).

But it is among Connolly’s articles, letters, and reports of his speeches that the big gaps in publication lie, and this is where Nevin’s collection of Connolly’s Political Writings came in, you would think. However, of the 266 items it gave, 199 had already been published elsewhere in whole or in part at the time the book came out. Fully three quarters of them could be read easily enough in print or on line. Of the 67 which hadn’t been republished, 34 were extracts rather than the full article. Only 28 articles—less than one ninth of the total—were being made available in full for the first time since Connolly’s death.15

The appearance of truncated articles is a serious defect that runs throughout the book. Two fifths of the articles, 106 of them, are not reproduced fully. This is problematic in itself, but even more so is the fact that it wasn’t done openly. While the reader can often make an educated guess, only in eight of these instances is an indication given that we are presented with an extract from a longer work. A part is obviously less than the whole, and an incomplete article can give a skewed idea of an author’s intentions. When it is presented as if it were complete, the danger of misunderstanding is greater still.

Publishing incomplete articles without saying so unfortunately has a pedigree in Connolly selections. The volumes edited by Desmond Ryan in the 1940s and ’50s16 are full of this practice. Other collections have followed Ryan’s example, and the 1987-8 Collected Works were a reprint of those volumes. But when Ryan gave an extract rather than a full article, at least he gave the extract in full. On the odd occasion that he omitted sections in the middle of an extract, he indicated as much.

The worst aspect of Political Writings is that the editor surrep­titiously cut here and there in the middle of articles as he saw fit, without so much as a hint to the reader. In fact, it takes a close familiarity with Connolly’s work, and not a little forensic comparison, to uncover this. To take some instances, a paragraph has been cut on each of pages 119, 179, 391 and 415, and a big paragraph and a half on page 421. Two paragraphs are missing from pages 80, 162, 527-8, 567 and 572; three from pages 139 and 559; and four from page 605. Pages 234 and 257 are both five paragraphs short, while nine para­graphs are absent from page 256. The article extract which Nevin entitled ‘Emigration’ (p 219-21) has had three paragraphs removed on the quiet and then another three further on, while ‘The Ballot or the Barricades’ (p 482-3) is missing three paragraphs in the middle and two at the end. Two paragraphs are gone from the extract ‘The Catholic Church and Human Progress’ (p 282-5), as well as twenty more paragraphs later on.

Some of these are undoubtedly down to editorial error, a straight­forward failure to compare the text with the original. But bad and all as that is, in most cases it is clear that Nevin consciously cut parts of articles, took it upon himself to covertly sub-edit Connolly’s articles a century on. A clear example is ‘Ballots, Bullets, or—’, in which Connolly debates with Victor Berger on how to respond if the capitalist class refused to accept a socialist victory. He discusses the development of the airship and its effect on the balance of military advantage in such a situation—but these dozen sentences have been removed from the version of the article in Political Writings (p 306-9). A page later, a single sentence referring again to airships has been taken out—for fear that the earlier cut would show, clearly. Finally, the last page of Connolly’s article is omitted altogether. It reads:

But all this requires organization inspired by a revolutionary aim, and at every stage of the game instilling into the mind of the worker that he is being organized, not as a carpenter, a miner, a steel mill employee, a printer, or a teamster, but as a member of the working class, with rights and destinies bound up with all others of his class.
What is Industrial Unionism? The economic manifestation of Socialism.
I take it, then, that the real answer to the problem Comrade Berger propounds is:
Not the Bullet or the Ballot, nor the Ballot or the Union, but rather the Union and the Ballot, each resting upon, fortifying and completing the other.17

The absence of this last passage—a crucial part of the article, and a significant illustration of Connolly’s position on the matter—is a sin of omission rather than commission. We know this because Ryan made the very same mistake when he published the article.18 Nevin clearly copied from Ryan rather than consulting the original article, and while others have been guilty of the same laziness,19 the other excisions within the piece are all his own work. Evidence of covering up such copying is to be found on page 468: although his abridge­ment of ‘The Friends of Small Nationalities’ is the same as Ryan’s, Nevin takes out the dots which Ryan put in to indicate where he had cut.20

Some of what is left out of Political Writings has a tragicomic air to it, as if to include it would be too ironic a commentary on the book’s adulteration of Connolly’s work. A passage which should be on page 560 contains the phrase: “Always and ever the working class move­ment seeks after clearness of thought”.21 “In Ireland, however, we have ever seized upon mediocrities and made them our leaders”, writes Connolly in a passage omitted, and in a later section left out of the same article (p 585-6) he says that “in Ireland words are generally the means by which we conceal our ideas”.22

Liberties were taken with the text to hide cuts, as on page 242, where the first half of a sentence is chopped, but a capital letter put on the next word as if the sentence were intact. On page 264 two sentences are clumsily rearranged into one for the same purpose. Attempts by Ryan to ‘improve’ Connolly’s text are adopted in preference to the original. Even though Shakespeare himself uses “learn” in the same sense, Connolly’s “You cannot learn starving men Gaelic” is changed to “You cannot teach” (p 99).23 In an article written in the US, “our Socialist party locals” is translated into “our socialist party branches” (p 309),24 which removes, not alone an easily understood Americanism, but a reference to a specific organ­isation. Throughout, Nevin frequently preferred to substitute a title of his own for the one Connolly chose, without telling the reader.

Connolly published differing versions of his article ‘British Rule in India’ but, instead of giving his latest version and indicating differ­ences from earlier ones, Nevin took the awkward option of publishing the earliest version and listing later additional material—while managing to miss a paragraph (p 31-8). When Connolly replied to a questionnaire on Polish politics, he published the questions before his answers, but the editor here took it upon himself to change that arrangement, and also mixed in a bit of a paragraph from another article altogether in the middle of it all (p 645-6). We don’t have all of Connolly’s editorial on ‘The Painters’ Lock-Out’ in the June 24 1899 Workers’ Republic: it breaks off mid-sentence, and the following page hasn’t survived. Political Writings solved that by changing the comma at the end of the page into a full stop, as if the article was complete—but not before dropping the preceding paragraph (p 119).

Some articles are dated wrongly (p 163, 202, for example) or in­completely (p 84, for example), and an election address is dated a year early (p 638). Where Connolly gives the day and month of a lecture by Pádraic Pearse, the editor decided to give the year too, but got it wrong (p 579). Repeatedly, Connolly’s quotations were made indistinguishable from his own words, as on pages 111, 200, 206 and 536. Two 1913 editorials from the Irish Worker are included (p 430-2, 434-6) although they were clearly not written by Connolly at all, but by Jim Larkin: any editorials Connolly wrote for the paper at that time were signed by him.

The reader will soon give up on the editor’s footnotes. In the first hundred pages alone, they miscalculate Connolly’s percentage share in an election (p 19), place the foundation stone for a Wolfe Tone monument at the wrong corner of Stephen’s Green (p 72), and tell us that Dublin’s Mendicity Institution no longer operates (p 89). Things improve when footnotes are lifted from Ryan (p 496, for example), but modesty forbids me from praising those on page 571, taken verbatim as they are from The Lost Writings!25

Let’s remind ourselves what SIPTU promised: “the publication in several volumes of all Connolly’s articles and letters”. What they gave us is a collection of works already available, a collection of letters with many omissions and inaccuracies, and a selection which claims to have nearly half of Connolly’s articles. They said we would be able “to appreciate Connolly’s own originality and greatness to the full”. Instead, Connolly’s originality and greatness were made to give way to the editor’s preferences as he cut and changed according to his own inclinations, unbeknownst to the reader.

Dónal Nevin passed away at the end of 2012, after a life which included some genuinely valuable contributions to labour history. The tradition of not speaking ill of the dead should counsel us to ensure that necessary criticisms of his work are valid and stand up to rigorous research. Those of us who openly gave voice to such criticisms during Nevin’s lifetime cannot be accused of waiting until he was unable to answer back, although his reputation as an editor of Connolly is bound to suffer from the future scrutiny of others. The shine will wear off Éamon Gilmore’s treasure trove as quickly as it wore off himself, while claims that Nevin produced “a definitive collection of his writings… allowing us access to what Connolly himself thought and said, without the filter of editorial interpretation or omission”26 will soon be passed over in embarrassed silence. But there is another dead man whose legacy we should be concerned to defend above all from being insidiously undermined: James Connolly.

Looking at the resources behind these volumes only underlines the scandal. We know that €105,000 of taxpayers’ money was poured into them, although it is hard to see what it was spent on. SIPTU annual reports aren’t specific enough to itemise that, or how much of the union’s own funds were put in, or whatever logistical support its officials provided. However, the truth is that more has been done better with less. Far fewer resources would have been sufficient to do the job right, if only there had been a far more conscientious approach to it.27

Some are contenting themselves with the belief that, if not Connolly’s complete works, the 2011 volumes come close enough, or constitute a real step forward. There is a positive to be found in them: 28 new articles reproduced in full. But that falls far short of what has been achieved elsewhere, and is heavily outweighed by the negative, which has slipped past what little scrutiny has been brought to bear. Connolly’s works have been subjected to many editorial indignities over the years, but the concealed disfigurement wrought upon so many of them here represents a new low. Understanding that is a crucial first step: the thread must be untangled so it can be taken up again.

Even a passing familiarity with the history of Connolly’s post­humous publication will tell you that such wasted opportunities litter the road. The reputation of making Connolly’s work available has proved far more attractive to many than the hard work necessary to actually do so. The sluggish attitude that ‘Ah, sure, it’ll do’ has proved hardier than the simple realisation that, at the end of the day, it’s as easy to do something right as to botch it. But, for all the attempts to muffle it, Connolly’s voice will one day be heard loud and clear and undiluted, illuminating a path for workers in Ireland and beyond.

Notes

  1. Manus O’Riordan, ‘Researching Connolly’, http://www.iol.ie/~sob/jcet/ 2001-04-22-mor.html.
  2. ‘The Hidden Connolly’, James Connolly: Memorial unveiling, Dublin May 1996.
  3. Dónal Nevin, James Connolly: ‘A Full Life’ (Gill & Macmillan 2005), p xxii.
  4. Enda Kenny, written answer in the Dáil, 20 September 2011, https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2011-09-20/41/?highlight%5B0%5D=connolly&highlight%5B1%5D=connolly&highlight%5B2%5D=connolly#spk_708.
  5. James Connolly, Between Comrades: Letters and Correspondence 1889-1916 (Gill & Macmillan 2007).
  6. Saothar 32 (2007), p 109-11.
  7. Saothar 34 (2009), p 135-8.
  8. Enda Kenny, written answer in the Dáil, 20 June 2012, http:// oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/DebatesWebPack.
    nsf/takes/dail2012061900070?opendocument
    .
  9. Political Writings 1893-1916 and Collected Works, edited by Dónal Nevin and published by SIPTU.
  10. http://www.siptu.ie/media/video/launchofjamesconnollywritings/
  11. By his son Roddy: see my introduction to James Connolly, The Lost Writings (Pluto 1997), p 5-6.
  12. Most of what has been published can be accessed at http://www. marxists.org/archive/connolly/index.htm. Every issue of Red Banner continues to publish the ‘Hidden Connolly’, and the first 128 articles of that series are at https://redbanner.webs.com/hidden-connolly.
  13. In James Moran (ed.), Four Irish Rebel Plays (Irish Academic Press 2007), p 105-29.
  14. As well as more minor mistakes, exchanges of dialogue are missing on p 357 and 364. See Ms 13945, National Library. (Moran’s version also has a couple of issues.)
  15. These articles can be found on p 1-5, 28-30, 39-40, 44-6, 50-2, 67-8, 72-3, 165-7, 170-6, 205-8, 270-2, 322-4, 392-5, 403-6, 407-10, 432-4, 517-18, 644, 645-6. I have no access to the original publication of twelve of these articles, and am therefore making the assumption that they are reprinted in full—which seems a generous assumption in some cases.
  16. James Connolly, Socialism and Nationalism (1948); Labour and Easter Week (1949); The Workers’ Republic (1951); Labour in Ireland (no date), all published At the Sign of the Three Candles.
  17. International Socialist Review (Chicago), October 1909, lch 355-8.
  18. The Workers’ Republic, p 68, reprinted in Collected Works, II (New Books 1988), p 246.
  19. See James Connolly, Selected Writings, edited by P Berresford Ellis (Penguin 1973), p 205. Similarly, the identical mistakes in Nevin’s version of ‘Old Wine in New Bottles’ (p 512-16) show it to be a copy of Ellis’s version (p 175-80). See James Connolly, ‘Old Wine in New Bottles’, The New Age (London), April 30 1914, p 810-11.
  20. Socialism and Nationalism, p 148; Collected Works, I (New Books 1987), p 430.
  21. ‘The Man and the Cause!’, The Workers’ Republic, July 31 1915.
  22. ‘Notes on the Front’, The Workers’ Republic, December 4 1915. Nevin leaves out another passage later in the article.
  23. Compare ‘Home Thrusts’, The Workers’ Republic, October 1 1898 with Socialism and Nationalism, p 58 and Collected Works, I (1987), p 340.
  24. Compare James Connolly, ‘Industrialism and the Trade Unions’, Inter­national Socialist Review, February 1910, p 714 with The Workers’ Republic, p 75 and Collected Works, II (1988), p 253. Ryan’s sub­stitution of full names for initials and surnames here is followed exactly by Nevin, as is his amalgamation and separation of paragraphs.
  25. See Socialism and Nationalism, p 181-2; Collected Works, I (1987), p 463-4; and The Lost Writings, p 234-5.
  26. John Callow, James Connolly & The Re-Conquest of Ireland (Evans Mitchell/GMB/RMT 2013), p 23.
  27. Recent examples of what can be done are provided by two pamphlets edited by D R O’Connor Lysaght. James Connolly, Old Wine in New Bottles: Some Lessons of the Dublin Lockout (2013) provides five articles unpublished since Connolly’s death (not nine as the contents page claims, unfortunately), while James Connolly, The Steampacket Company Strike: Articles (2014) gives six, mainly short announcements.

Oh, what a lovely war?

Maeve Connaughton marked the centenary of the first world war in Issue 58 (December 2014).

Listening to much of the standard media coverage of the first world war’s centenary, you get a scratchy feeling at the back of the throat, and a certain tightness in the lungs. No doubt about it: this time round, the enemy is launching its poison gas on us very early in the conflict. Optimistic souls hope it will all be over by Christmas, but it would be more realistic to settle into the trenches for a prolonged attack of this sort of thing.

The fact that the first world war is increasingly being presented as a just effort to defeat militarist violations of the rights of small nations is not just a bombastic triumph of right-wing ideology, but a down­right insult to the very idea of history. It doesn’t just make truth into the first casualty of war, but inflicts a continuous injury on it down the generations, like nuclear fallout. Europe and the world had many small nations in 1914, most of them denied the right to decide their own future—but the powers at war were not their liberators but their enslavers.

It is true that Germany invaded Belgium on 4 August 1914, and that this invasion was accompanied by war crimes against civilians. The idea that Britain entered the war to defend Belgian neutrality, however, holds considerably less water than a soldier’s canteen. Firstly, Belgium was not a righteous state that took a principled moral stand against warfare, but an empire which had inflicted inhuman abuses on the people of the Congo a few short years earlier in order to steal their natural resources. Secondly, Britain’s supposed regard for the rights of neutral nations went clean out the window in places where it had an economic or strategic interest to assert.

Many a pacifist was led by the atrocities in Belgium to support Britain’s war or even join in, but this is a classic case of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Yes, Belgians had suffered horrendous wrongs, but supporting the war could only add bigger wrongs to them. It was impossible to take the side of the British empire without taking the side of the Russian empire too, an empire with feet on the necks of countless nationalities. Any real war for the defence of small nations would surely have started here, where the Tsars had managed the feat of forging a vast state under Russian control although most of its population weren’t even Russian or particularly wanted to be.

The German empire was an empire too, of course, having wasted little time in carving its own legacy of colonialist injustice. But any fair look at the politics of 1914 reveals that both sides were as bad as each other, with neither having any redeeming features worth supporting. The best result once battle was joined would have been the mutual destruction of all sides—and in fact, that was a prospect which at various points was close enough to being realised.

Millions of people were sacrificed in the world war in a futile cause, to decide which gang of thieves would take the lion’s share of imperial plunder. That implies no shadow of disrespect to those who fought in the war. Undoubted bravery was displayed throughout the war, and not just in actual combat but in the everyday business of surviving its horrors. Many imagined themselves to be fighting for noble causes, but their actual war aims were decided for them by politicians and generals far from the front line. Those killed, maimed, mentally scarred by what they were put through should of course be remembered. But denying the reality that they were victims of meaningless butchery, failing to point the finger at those responsible for their needless deaths, is to add outrageous insult to unimaginable injury.

The focus on Irish involvement in the war has strange results. At its worst, it borders on the parochialism which reports on multiple aeronautical casualties under a headline like ‘Carlow Man Dies in Plane Crash’. Ireland’s part in the war was small enough, about a quarter of 1 per cent of combatants and casualties. In fact, the question no one seems to want answered is: how come Ireland’s involvement was so small?

British recruiters made little attempt to hide their dismay at the reluctance of the Irish to become cannon fodder. When they called on the fighting Irish to be true to their traditions, they had something of a point. In the empire’s last major international conflict, the Crimean war of sixty years earlier, Irishmen made up more than one in three of their forces, at a conservative estimate. The main difference in the meantime was that a good few farmers had got a bit of land for them­selves. The results of the 1879-82 land war may have disappointed radicals, but at least a considerable chunk of the population were no longer so poor that they had to send their sons off to kill and be killed whenever the monarchical shilling was proffered.

Large-scale recruitment was mostly confined to the early period of the war, when people could be forgiven for not understanding that they faced a long drawn-out slaughter. It was also greater in the cities, largely because the urban equivalent of the land war—the wave of fighting trade unionism known as Larkinism—had gone down to defeat at the start of 1914. If the lockout had had a different result, tens of thousands of lives could have been saved. Recruiters made a blatantly economic appeal, comparing a soldier’s pay and allowances with the poor wages available at home.

This lack of enthusiasm for getting killed for the king of England was due in no small part to the forces in Ireland—small but quite effective—who rallied against the war. Although they themselves often took fright at the scale of enlistment, it seems clear in hindsight that their arguments had a definite purchase on the public consciousness, even if only engendering indifference to the war rather than outright hostility. By continuing to organise and publish in defiance of an increasingly restrictive regime, republicans and socialists threw important obstacles in the path of the wartime assault on civil liberties at home.

It is worth remembering that the Easter rising was, among other things, a rebellion against the war. To the lying imperial propaganda about small nations, it counterposed the reality of a small nation which remained under the control of an empire although a vast majority of its people would have it otherwise if given a free choice in the matter. In the midst of a conflict dragging millions into an abyss where living under a slightly less brutal regime was the best outcome they could hope for, the rising held out the prospect of fighting voluntarily to create a situation where people could democratically decide their own destinies. Connolly was right to tell his court martial that this “was a nobler call, in a holier cause, than any call issued to them during this war”.

And this is especially where the war should hold its greatest interest for Ireland today, not in the way that many tragically went along with it, but in the way that more and more began to turn against it and bring about social change. Already in early 1916, passive distaste for the war had forced the British government to exempt Ireland from conscription. Their next try in 1918 brought forth a mass movement including a one-day general strike, one of the most effective campaigns against the consequences of the war any­where in Europe. From there to challenging the right of the British empire to rule in Ireland at all, to hammering one of the first nails into its coffin, was not such a big step.

But here again, Ireland was only one among many. Mutiny and revolt gripped more or less every country at war. Munition workers in Britain went on strike; Russian soldiers deserted or surrendered rather than fight an increasingly futile war; the French army was forced to virtually take six months out of the war, so widespread was the refusal of its troops to fight. The war was not ended by simple military victory, but by revolution. Russian workers and soldiers stopped their war in 1917 when they stopped the regime responsible for it. It was a workers’ revolution against the German empire a year later which called a final halt to the killing.

The centenary of the war’s outbreak revealed a world still cursed by war. Israel launched an unrelenting attack on Gaza, in an attempt to stop any movement towards creating viable Palestinian political structures. When the Israeli response is to kill thirty Palestinians for every Israeli, to destroy any and all infrastructure, it seems the project of a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel has run out of road altogether. It has all the viability of a chicken coop built next to a fox’s lair. The task is not just to give the Palestinians a state, but to remove a state whose entire premise is the dispossession of the Palestinians. The idea of a democratic pluralist state embracing Jews and Arabs may seem a pipedream, but the two state solution is looking far more utopian these days. The struggle can only succeed as part of a wider radical movement in Middle East politics, with active solidarity particularly in the US, Israel’s main prop. The wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations and boycotts in Ireland have showed a very healthy political attitude.

The continuing war in Ukraine stemmed from the attempt of Russian imperialism to reassert its traditional dominance over the country after a protest movement ousted pro-Russian oligarchs. The eventual hegemony of right-wing forces in that movement doesn’t lessen the need to oppose Putin’s aggression, but underlines the need to do so in the name of something very different from the current Kiev government, a democratic Ukraine which guarantees the rights of its minorities and opposes the expansionism of NATO as well as Russia.

More tragic still is the situation in Syria and Iraq, where a viciously despotic force claiming the mantle of Islam is massacring those of differing religious or cultural backgrounds. Millions find themselves trapped between this horror and the murderous Assad regime. These people are being cast by imperialism in the role of ‘poor little Belgium’, the excuse for military intervention which is unlikely to achieve little beyond perpetuating the post-war sectarian carve-up in Iraq, the poisoned soil in which ISIS flourished. As in 1914, it is important not to let our sympathies for the victims be used to justify political actions which promise yet more victims.

It is easy to contemplate the battlefields that scar today’s world and despair. Such despair was far worse as the first world war raged across a whole continent and beyond. But for thousands, that very despair became the catalyst for transforming the situation from top to bottom, ending the war and starting a struggle for a world where war would be only a painful memory. The very depth of the horrors faced today can engender a similar response, re-igniting hope and discerning paths out of the bloodshed.