The Hidden Connolly 24

Issue 24 (March 2006) published a classic article by James Connolly for the first time since its original appearance a century earlier.

Harp Strings

[The Harp, March 1908]

We are a great people!

Possibly you may have noticed that before; but it is no harm to remind you of it. But even if I did not remind you, a cursory glance at the newspapers would establish the fact in your mind without doubt or question.

We are a great people—we Irish. What other people could or can produce such a large and varied assortment of characters looming large in the public eye? Never a day passes but someone with an Irish name “does a stunt”—to use an expressive Americanism—that draws public attention upon the Irish race, and adds another few pounds weight to the load of responsibility that race is staggering under.

We are a great people, we Irish. We turn out in our tens of thousands on St Patrick’s Day to celebrate the memory of the Apostle who, our orators tell us, “introduced Christianity into Ireland”. But every historian tells us that the Christian religion was planted in Ireland, churches were built, and Christian services held before ever St Patrick saw the country.

We hear all our great orators loudly proclaiming that St Patrick banished snakes from Ireland, and we believe them, although we know that Home Rule and Unionist politicians are still there in large numbers.

We are a great people! Mr Yeats1 comes all the way from Ireland to tell us in New York that we Irish are a spiritual-minded people, and every Irish saloon keeper in America swells with pride as he reads the modest eulogium, and then passes on the graft to the District Leader,2 to allow him to break the law and keep open on Sunday.

We are a great people! So spiritual-minded are we that we allow one of the sweetest poetesses of the “48” movement to want for the common necessaries of life in an Australian city;3 we looked placidly on whilst the mother of J K Casey, the high-minded poet of the Fenian movement, suffered the degradation of the workhouse in Athlone; but we will turn out in Dublin in our tens of thousands to cheer a Croker whose money is derived from blackmail upon crime, and from the graft levied upon poor Irish workers as the price of being allowed to earn a living in the service of this city; or, in America, we will gladly honor a T F Ryan, whose money is the result of gambling in Wall Street and of shady transactions in the realm of “high finance”, as thieving in a large style is euphemistically styled nowadays.4

We are a great, spiritual-minded people! When W B Yeats, son of the gentleman whose remarks elicited the above comment, produced in Ireland a play, The Countess Cathleen, which purported to treat of a mythical Irish lady who in a time of famine sold her soul to the Devil in return for food for the starving people—all the spiritual-minded journalists in Dublin were horrified at the suggestion that an Irish woman could do such an act. Yet not one of them could go to or from the newspaper office of an evening without passing scores and sometimes hundreds of Irish girls whom the pressure of want had driven to sell themselves body and soul for a crust of bread and a slum to hide their misery in.

And every one of the spiritual-minded gentry are supporters and upholders of the system of society which continually compels this traffic by the Devil in the sweet young bodies and clean souls of our Irish maidenhood.

Spiritual-minded, eh? If Mr Yeats was one of the Irish Working Class, and had been so unfortunate as to work for his living in the service of a “strong farmer” in Ireland, or to toil under the eye of an Irish boss or contractor in this country, he would be inclined to believe that the spiritual side of their characters at least needed a little more nourishment to keep it alive.

We are a great people, and so spiritual, too! When we remember how the Irish turned their backs upon their own language and literature because they believed that it paid them best to speak the language and read the literature of their oppressors, all this talk of spirituality is calculated to bring on a feeling of nausea.

Let us be frank with ourselves. I am as great a stickler for the honor of the Irish race as ever stepped in shoe leather, but when I hear any man throwing blarney into the race by the shovelful, so to speak, I have the same instinctive suspicion of their motives as I have when a man praises me too profusely to my face.

And my suspicion is always increased by the fact that it is always some member of the propertied classes who tells us that our hills are higher, and our valleys deeper, and our grass greener, and our people holier than the same things elsewhere, for I observe that not one of the blarneying capitalist crew will ever consent to forego a cent of their profit from our labor as a tribute to our common spirituality.

We are a great people! Witness the following paragraph:

Mr Frederick Ryan, a prominent Dublin Sinn Féin journalist, left London this week, says the Daily Chronicle, for Cairo, where he is to take up the editorship of a newspaper to be run on Sinn Féin lines for Egyptian Nationalists.

So here we have an Irishman going to Egypt to teach the Egyptians how to organize against British rule! But that is only half the story. The other half the London journalist did not know, or would not reveal if he did know. It is that Mr Ryan is a well known Irish Socialist, was one of the first members of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, and is the author of a play, The Laying of the Foundations, in which the present-day municipal corruption of Irish cities was mercilessly exposed, to the intense delight of the Dublin Working Class.

To those who have witnessed the production of his play, the photograph-like fidelity with which he portrayed the sham patriots and equally sham loyalists, and their trick of arranging little business deals in private, at the expense of the public, whilst in front of the public they posed as mortal enemies, is a remembrance to be treasured for a lifetime.

If he had done nothing else than produce that play, he did not live in vain. So, Frederick, a mhic mo chroí, sláinte.

Talking of plays reminds me that the Irish National Theatre have produced a play in New York entitled A Pot of Broth, which represents how an artful Irish beggar deluded some simple Irish people into giving him a pot of broth by pretending to produce it from a stone. The play, if it was presented as an illustration of the things which amuse Irish children, would be harmless, but pre­sented as an evidence of a literary revival in Ireland, it is calculated to afford sport for the Philistines.

At all events, when the average American looks upon those simple, innocent, easily deluded Irish men and women on the stage, and then remembers the shrewd, aggressive, calculating Irish who are his competitors in every walk of real life, he is apt to wonder where all the simple and easily deluded types go to. They don’t come here.

Surely the Irish National Theatre could find something better, something more representative of the new life now stirring in the heart of Erin than an old pishrog, fit only for old women to tell to giggling boys and girls.

It was well enough, while Paddy and Mary, or Bridget and Micky were sitting in the shadow beside the turf fire, to encourage their old grandmother to tell such a story and pretend a great interest in it, because whilst she was telling the story she could not be watching the courting going on; but to present it as a specimen of the plays of the Irish Renascence—

Ugh! but then the Irish National Theatre assured the authorities at Dublin Castle that they were a harmless, “non-political body”. And that explains a lot.

Miss Anna Parnell was recently mobbed and assaulted while attempting to address a meeting in Leitrim in favor of the Sinn Féin candidate.5 The Irish chivalry towards women is proverbial. Is this the modern sample of it?

An old Irish legend popularized and given world-wide currency by Thomas Moore in his poem, ‘Rich and Rare Were the Gems She Wore’, tells how the people of Ireland were so honest and chivalrous that a beautiful woman traveled alone and unmolested through the country, although carrying many jewels on her person. Seems to me she would not have fared so well in Leitrim on a fair day and in the midst of an election.

But then Ireland had not at that time had the benefit of seven hundred years of English civilization, nor yet had she on her soil the human by-products of capitalism. It was the latter, the unscrupulous capitalist Home Rule politician working through his agents upon the ignorance of a people crazed and brutified by vile, adulterated “Fair Whiskey” that was responsible for the outrage.

The practice our “spiritual-minded” publicans in Ireland follow in “doctoring” their whiskey for sale at fairs is well known to every­one acquainted with rural life in Ireland; men filled with their poison are capable of any crime, and it was a master stroke worthy of their whole policy for the middle class Home Rule gang to whoop up a gang of such creatures to assault a lady whose shoes they were unworthy to blacken.

And it is no mere reverence for the name of Parnell makes me say so, but knowledge of the fibre and quality of the lady in question. I don’t care much for names at any time, and any reverence for the name of Parnell was most effectually killed in Ireland by John Howard Parnell when High Sheriff of the city of Dublin.

When Queen Victoria was about to visit that city on a recruiting mission for the English army after preparing the way by “graciously consenting” to allow Irish soldiers in her army to wear shamrocks on St Patrick’s Day as a reward for their loyalty to her (and treason to liberty) in the war upon the Boer Republics,6 Miss Anna Parnell wrote to the Irish press that the Irish people that year should dip their shamrocks in ink in memory of the horrors of Victoria’s reign.

And immediately John Howard Parnell wrote to the press that he would be proud to go on his knees to present the keys of the Irish capital to his lawful sovereign(?). He thus publicly slapped his sister in the face in order to proclaim himself a crawling slave. The act debased him and ought to have exalted his sister in the eyes of the manhood of Ireland.

And it did so exalt her. The heroes of this Leitrim exploit are not representatives of Irish manhood, they are the types produced by the constitutional agitation, and its time-serving policy. They are of the same type as those male and female criminals who in 1900, 1901, 1902 were dragged up out of the haunts of vice and crime in the North Dock, North City and Wood Quay Wards in the city of Dublin to vote for the Home Rule candidates and save our “holy religion” from the assaults of the Irish Socialists.

I have been in a few elections in Ireland in which Home Ruler and Tory alike would have gone down in defeat before the candidate of the Socialist Working Class had they not been saved by the purchased vote of the criminal classes, recruited from the slums. Therefore I do not wonder at Leitrim, I only wonder at the naïve wonder of the Sinn Féin journalists.

Cheer up, my friends! Ireland will not be saved by a few chance votes in Leitrim, nor is Ireland lost because of the acts of a few scoundrels whom all true Leitrim men and women would disown. Ireland can only be saved by her working class industrially organized to seize, hold and operate all her industries—free people in a free nation.

SPAILPÍN

Notes

  1. The painter John Butler Yeats.
  2. A local official in the Democratic party.
  3. Mary Kelly, known as ‘Eva of the Nation’, was a prominent poet in The Nation, paper of the nationalist Young Ireland movement in the 1840s. She and her husband Kevin Izod O’Doherty, another Young Irelander, emigrated to Australia and died in poverty.
  4. Croker and Ryan were leading Irish-American politicians of the time. Richard Croker headed Tammany Hall, the notoriously corrupt organ­isation of the Democratic party in New York, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, after which he returned to Ireland. Thomas Fortune Ryan was a millionaire who backed the Home Rule party.
  5. Parnell was a leading figure of the Ladies’ Land League during the Land War, and sister of Charles Stewart Parnell. Sinn Féin lost the Leitrim by-election to the Home Rulers in February.
  6. Between 1899 and 1902.

The party of the first part

In Issue 23 in November 2005, Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh reviewed a study of the pioneering Irish Socialist Republican Party.

David Lynch, Radical Politics in Modern Ireland: The Irish Socialist Republican Party 1896-1904 (Irish Academic Press)

The activity of Ireland’s first revolutionary socialist organisation has understandably held the attention of the left ever since. Only a few years after its decline and fall, Irish socialists were getting a bit misty-eyed about the ISRP’s pioneering work, and rightly so. The resolve of a small group of determined activists to spread the socialist message over a century ago should inspire even the most cynical in our midst to go forth and do likewise.

James Connolly was the party’s towering figure, of course, and the ISRP has featured prominently in biographies and studies of him. Seán Cronin’s unassuming short work of 1978, Young Connolly, focuses on this period and has stood the test of time remarkably well. But this is the first full-length study of the organisation, and manages to get a bit beyond Connolly, touching upon some of the unsung members: E W Stewart, Murtagh Lyng, William McLaughlin and others.

Lynch’s best work is on the end of the ISRP, giving a pretty full account of a confusing demise. He is right to see a division between reform and revolution at play, but gives it a little too much importance as against the general exhaustion of an organisation frustrated at its lack of progress. He is rightly critical of the ISRP’s timidity when it came to religion, and its failure to present its socialism as a more thoroughgoing alternative to the republican tradition.

The author is justified in insisting that the party’s socialism envisaged a clean break with capitalism, a new society under democratic workers’ control. But this is weakened if not nullified by his later claim that “the ISRP gave birth to both the reformist socialist movement in Ireland represented by the Irish Labour Party and the more revolutionary strand” (p 158). This is based on the old chestnut that Connolly founded the Labour Party, when he did no such thing. He successfully proposed in 1912 that the unions organise to achieve independent representation of the workers on local authorities and in parliament. This was left idle (as was a similar resolution, passed ten years before) until after his death, when a Labour Party was finally established which bartered the working-class vote with whoever it could. Any similarity with what Connolly wanted, let alone the ISRP, is too superficial to credit.

In something of a break with tradition, the ISRP’s agrarian policy is taken seriously here. However, its big flaw in missing class differentiation in the countryside escapes Lynch: he himself refers to “the rural class” (p 113), as if there was only the one. The party’s proposal that local authorities rent out modern farm machinery at cost would have been little use to poor farmers whose small plots of bad land would be inaccessible to this machinery.

The myth that Connolly and the ISRP dismissed the cultural revival has persisted despite the facts, and the author is to be praised for giving it short shrift. But a proper refutation would have drawn on the publications of the Irish Ireland milieu to illustrate the fairly common cross-fertilisation of left-wing ideas with the revival, and that is something Lynch doesn’t do. He does remind us that Engels learnt some Irish so that he could study Irish history, but in contrast to his and Connolly’s example, the vast majority of Irish labour historians seem to think that the other language spoken by working people on this island holds nothing in store for them. (The few books on Connolly written in languages other than English aren’t utilised in this study.)

Here and throughout the book, Lynch is like a detective who stumbles upon leads but doesn’t follow them up. The ISRP, he writes, “consistently kept in touch with the mainstream press in Dublin” (p 22), and anyone who has looked through contemporary news­papers will often turn up a report of an ISRP meeting or speech or demonstration. But the author just hasn’t gone to the trouble of looking through these reports, letting a quite valuable source slip through his fingers.

The party’s failure to spread beyond Dublin is rightly noted as a big weakness, although it did have a fitful existence in some other cities. The Cork branch, especially, showed some promise. But there is nothing new on it to be found here, only a footnote directing the reader to Cronin’s chapter on socialism by the Lee. (Dónal Nevin’s new biography of Connolly turns up pages of information on the Cork ISRP.) Connolly often wrote of the ISRP’s work in later years, especially in his American paper The Harp, providing valuable facts and opinions—but none of that merits a mention in this book.

But the dogs that do nothing are often the most curious incidents. For my sins, I once happened to put together a collection of Connolly’s unavailable writings, the only book of new Connolly material to appear for thirty years now. Lynch is clearly aware of it, since he includes a review of it in his bibliography, but the collection itself is missing. Every other Connolly collection is listed there—at least one book on Connolly that he never quotes from is in there—but not a sign of The Lost Writings.

Although our paths have never crossed, chances are that he has imbibed a second-hand hostility to the kind of socialist politics that I go in for. This is fair enough, of course: Mr Lynch will just have to take a ticket and wait his turn with the rest. But allowing such con­siderations to dictate which books you quote or don’t quote is a kind of meanness foreign to Connolly’s tradition.

Then again, his objection could be of a more historiographical nature. Readers of that collection and other work of mine will be aware of an attention to detail that some find excessive. It would obviously seem excessive to someone under the impression that Connolly’s Labour in Irish History “had all appeared in the Workers’ Republic by 1903” (p 52) or that a Yiddish election leaflet issued in support of Connolly was “in Hebrew” (p 102) or that Connolly was executed in “the forecourt of Kilmainham Prison” (p 156).

I can only hope it isn’t too anal retentive of me to point out that there are bits missing from the quotations on pages 30, 58 and 112; that the quotation on page 58 has been switched back to front; that those on pages 60 and 80 have the wrong date. Those who read Connolly’s ‘Home Thrusts’ column of 21 October 1899 in Red Banner last year will already be aware that the sentences attributed to it on page 51 aren’t there at all: anyone free to nip into the National Library for twenty minutes will find them in an anonymous article in The Workers’ Republic a month earlier. There may be more of this kind of thing, but the publishers shouldn’t have all their corrections done for free. If you believe that getting your facts right is only a bourgeois prejudice, then you will lose no sleep about all this, but those with a care for historical accuracy may think otherwise.

Lynch gives Connolly’s 1903 election address as an appendix—or rather, he gives the version of it already available in Volume Two of the Collected Works, a version which takes certain liberties with the text. The original would have been better, but better still would be ISRP election addresses not so readily available—like the one printed in the March 1902 Workers’ Republic which proclaimed:

the Working Class must win its own Freedom, by its own hand; and this can only be done by electing Workers who, like Stewart and McLaughlin, have only one interest—the Well-Being of their Class; only one hope—the Freedom of their Class; and only one purpose to achieve—the Breaking of the Chains which bind their Class, the Workers…

Those who were bold enough to take this message to the Irish working class way back then deserve our admiration and comrade­ship. This book takes its place alongside Cronin’s and others—greater in terms of quantity—and is certainly well worth a read. Its prohibitive price means that a trip to the library is advised, while more reckless souls will know that there are still 47 shoplifting days left before Christmas. But there is the air of a missed opportunity about it all. The author remarks that writing about Connolly and the ISRP is more laborious and more rewarding than just talking about them. If he had only been a bit more laborious, it would have been a bit more rewarding.

Socialist Classics: Leon Trotsky, ‘Literature and Revolution’

One of Marxism’s best discussions of art was discussed in Issue 22 (July 2005) by Joe Conroy.

Marxist writings on literature are often irritating. Either they content themselves with unobjectionable generalisations, or engage in such particular analysis that only the specialist can get much out of them. Very few manage to steer between the two rocks, and Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution is possibly the best of them. It bears the marks of its time, of course: most of the writers from the Russia of 1924 that he refers to have passed into obscurity, so that today’s reader can make little sense of the specifics. But there is enough that still applies in there to stimulate thought among socialists on questions of art and culture.

First of all, Trotsky insists that socialists should actually be thinking about such questions. The victory of socialism would not be measured by its ability to satisfy basic needs like food and clothing, but by its ability to foster a new art. This was an indispensable part of humanity creating a free life for itself: “the new man cannot be formed without a new lyric poetry”, for instance (Literature and Revolution, Michigan 1960, p 170).

For some reason, this conviction of the absolute necessity of art is rare among socialists. Our indictments of capitalism tend not to mention the stifling of artistic creativity: the changes we call for tend not to encompass artistic revolution. The occasional criticisms we make of official arts policies usually boil down to mumbling that more money should probably be spent on that sort of thing. The idea that we should be talking about art and its role, pushing artistic debate forward as opposed to just reviewing the odd novel, is still lacking. Most socialists prefer to stick to bread and butter in their politics—forgetting that bread and butter is only a bare culinary minimum, not a proper square meal.

For Trotsky, art was not just necessary in a holistic sense, as part of a fully-rounded development, but also as part of the struggle to change the world: “how can one reconstruct oneself or one’s life without seeing oneself in the ‘mirror’ of literature?” To reject this would be “to strike from the hands of the class which is building a new society its most important weapon” (p 137). He writes this in a post-revolutionary context, with the capitalist class overthrown: prior to such a situation, art can hardly be the “most important weapon” in the working-class arsenal. But it is one of the most important. To fully understand the world we are trying to change and the world we are trying to create, we need a sense of perception that is artistic.

Many, if not most socialists underestimate the transformation that a socialist revolution would try to bring about. It’s not a matter of writing a new name on the title deeds to the means of production, but of human beings living an entirely different kind of life. Escap­ing from the chains of material want is an indispensable foundation for this, but no more than that. The key is people relating to each other as freely associated active individuals, making a reality of “All the emotions which we revolutionists, at the present time, feel apprehensive of naming—so much have they been worn thin by hypocrites and vulgarians—such as disinterested friendship, love for one’s neighbor, sympathy” (p 230). At the end of the day, socialist politics is about creating a desire for such a life—or rather, awakening the desire for it that is already in us, but buried—and a contempt for a condition that denies it.

To comprehend how the need for human liberation is crushed out of us calls for an approach which is beyond the journalist’s statistic, the documentary maker’s camera, the orator’s phrase. To see the reality of how class society distorts and constricts the most intimate aspects of human relations requires a reconstruction and a presentation of them that only an artist can accomplish. To realise how people do their best to maintain a human existence with each other in spite of it all can’t be done without the peculiar type of ‘mirror’ that art holds up to us. It is only right that most socialists admire the work of Ken Loach—but how many have noticed that Kes is a far more revolutionary film than Land and Freedom?

Trotsky naturally insists on art being indissolubly linked to the society it is produced in, and the class make-up of that society. The retort that art is an expression of individual feeling doesn’t contradict this at all, because it doesn’t ask how this individuality is formed and how social change “shakes up individuality” (p 12). Socialism is not about suppressing individuality but developing it, and again, literature is necessary to do this (p 225):

What the worker will take from Shakespeare, Goethe, Pushkin, or Dostoievsky will be a more complex idea of human personality, of its passions and feelings, a deeper and pro­founder understanding of its psychic forces and of the rôle of the subconscious, etc. In the final analysis, the worker will become richer.… [The literature of Maxim Gorky] fed the early Spring revolutionism of the proletariat on the eve of 1905, because he helped to awaken individuality in that class in which individual­ity, once awakened, seeks contact with other awakened individualities. The proletariat is in need of artistic food and education…

All this is Greek to a lot of socialists: “there are many people in this world who think as revolutionists and who feel as Philistines” (p 147). This applies equally to some of those socialists who ‘go in for’ the arts. The high jinks, politely termed ‘street theatre’, that accompany some left-wing demonstrations these days are usually painful to behold. Much of the poetry solemnly recited at the odd left-wing event with cultural pretensions should really have stayed in the shoebox under the bed. A lot of the time, this is just a case of people who, if they were half as good as they think they are, would be twice as good as they really are. But often, their artistic in­adequacies are not unrelated to the shallowness of their political commitment. Formally, they accept the socialist principles and all the rest of it, but it’s only skin deep: “they have not entered, so to speak, into their blood”, as Trotsky says of one group of writers (p 146), and so they can’t express them artistically.

“Proletarian art should not be second-rate art”, he writes (p 205). The fact that it so often is shows how low a premium is put on it. Artists have to pay their dues, and Trotsky devotes much of the book to straightforward formal criticism. A poet has to learn how to fashion a line of verse, a musician has to learn the chords, a painter has to learn how to wield the brush. Praising a bad work of art and putting it on the wall might be justifiable for a national school teacher, but socialists shouldn’t allow diplomacy or even political affinity to come between them and honest criticism.

And that criticism has to be artistic before it is political (p 178): “A work of art should, in the first place, be judged by its own law, that is, by the law of art.” Trotsky goes on to say that Marxism can explain the historical roots of artistic development, but is careful not to make any more extravagant claims for it (p 218):

The Marxian method affords an opportunity to estimate the development of the new art, to trace all its sources, to help the most progressive tendencies by a critical illumination of the road, but it does not do more than that. Art must make its own way and by its own means.… The domain of art is not one in which the Party is called upon to command.

The last sentence betrays the way Trotsky had come to conceive of socialist thought and activity as coming entirely out of and through “the Party”. The book came out in the midst of the squabble for Lenin’s succession, and Trotsky, with the zeal of a late convert to Bolshevism, was at pains to prove himself Leninicis ipsis Leniniores: more Leninist than Lenin. But his point about socialist attitudes to art is clear and correct.

A socialist society being built should allow “complete freedom of self-determination in the field of art” (p 14). Of course, a play advocating the return of the Tsar and the shooting of all the Bolsheviks should be treated the same as a pamphlet advocating the same, but outside of clearly counter-revolutionary art, artists should face no hindrance. The persecution of artists who wouldn’t bend the knee to the Russian Communist Party was still a few years ahead as Trotsky was writing but, although he deplores any “petty partisan maliciousness” towards awkward artists (p 221), such maliciousness was already paving the way.

He makes clear that “a desire to dominate art by means of decrees and orders” is foreign to Marxism, as are demands “that the poets should describe inevitably a factory chimney, or the uprising against capital” (p 170). On the other hand, the only artist Trotsky singles out for wholehearted praise is one Demyan Biedny. The reason none of us have heard of him is that he was a not too significant author of agit-prop poetry. There’s no reason why propaganda art can’t be good art, of course, but Trotsky praises the propagandist rather than the artist (p 213): “Not only in those rare cases when Apollo calls him to the holy sacrifice does Demyan Biedny create, but day in and day out, as the events and the Central Committee of the Party demand.” Faced with this, the best approach is: Don’t do as Trotsky does, do as Trotsky says.

When socialism has finally triumphed over capitalism, he writes, political struggles will be replaced by aesthetic ones: people will form ‘parties’ for or against a particular architectural project or artistic style. This is already happening to some extent, as the threat to drive a motorway through the Tara-Skryne valley has shown, and nothing goes up in Dublin without everyone having an opinion on it. (Trotsky’s impression of the Eiffel Tower could equally apply to the Spike (p 247): “one is attracted by the technical simplicity of its form, and, at the same time, repelled by its aimlessness”.) “The wall between art and industry will come down” in a socialist society (p 249), making all work into a work of art. Mountains will be moved and rivers re-routed, says Trotsky, adjusting the world to human taste. The results of reckless interference with nature would cause us to be more humble today than to treat the earth as clay to be moulded as we wish—but this is maybe only counselling a more cautious way of doing the same thing. Whether Trotsky is right in believing that socialism would make Aristotle average, his vision of artistic liberation dwarfs the limited horizons of many socialists. But above this ridge, new peaks will rise.

The Hidden Connolly 21

More articles by James Connolly previously unpublished since his execution appeared in Issue 21 in March 2005.

The Corporation and the Children

[The Workers’ Republic, November 24 1900]

At last meeting of the Dublin Corporation a motion was under consideration dealing with the practice of street trading by children. It was resolved to refer the matter to the Law Agent to see if the Corporation had power to frame bye-laws dealing with the subject.

So runs the bald newspaper report. Not a word in the Corporation, never a sentence in the papers as to the evil social conditions which compel parents to send their children out to hawk articles on the street for the sake of the help to be derived from the few additional pence so earned. The Corporation, it is true, recognises that there is an evil, but the evil recognised by the Corporation is only that resulting from the noise and importunities of the youthful merchants in their efforts to sell their wares—that, and the competition which these embryo capitalists offer to the shopkeeping class to which our corporators belong. The other and greater evil, viz., the hopeless misery in which the parents of such children must exist to compel them to expose the latter to all the dangers of street sellers—dangers including the inclemency of the weather, inevitably sowing the seeds of disease; the pollution of the filthy talk they must hear going on around them; the temptation to immorality to which the young girls are exposed by the attentions of all manner of dissolute blackguardism; the education of the streets supplanting and obliterating the influences of school and home—that parental misery and degradation the Corporation will not refer to. Why? Because that misery cannot be investigated without publicly incriminating the capitalist class and the capitalist system. The corporators know that as long as the wages of the working class are at the present low level, the lower grade of manual labourers will always find it to be next to impossible to live and rear a family without taking the earliest possible opportunity to utilise the services of the youthful members of the family to assist in their own maintenance, by street selling or otherwise. Knowing this, the astute middle class who control the Corporation recognise that to evoke a discussion upon the conditions which compel children to act as street sellers would lead to an investigation into the social con­ditions, wages, etc., of the parents, and this could not be investigated without condemning the majority of the capitalist class, for whose benefit those parents are exploited.

Thus the question of street trading by children is seen to be linked inextricably with the capitalist system. In every country capitalism brings in its train the exploitation and degradation of children; coins into profit their tender limbs, and blots the sunshine out of their young lives. In countries where the factory system has taken root, as in England, the children are caught up into the factory, and there made to supplement by their pitiful earnings the wages of their parents. The millowner reduces the wages of the factory hand and, when remonstrated with, tells his wage-slave to send the children to work and their earnings will make up for the reduction in wages. In Ireland there are few factories, so when the competition for employment drives down labourers’ wages, or trade depression throws the labourer out of work, he uses his children also to supplement his earnings, and as he cannot send them to the factory he sends them, too often, to the street. Whose is the fault? The capitalist class, and all who uphold the capitalist class and their accursed social system.

The Corporation will take action in this matter. They will pass bye-laws to empower the police to harry these unfortunate youngsters; to chase them from their standings, to cuff them and maltreat them as if they were criminals, and eventually to make criminals of them. Thus the “respectable” traders for whom the Corporation caters will no longer be bothered by their poor competition; thus the precious children of our masters will no longer have their susceptibilities shocked by the sight of the ragged and shivering children of the poor endeavouring to earn a living; thus the misery and squalor of our life will be pushed into the background and only the bright side allowed to show itself—and what more could the municipal statesmanship of the shoddy capitalist class devise?

Where, it may be asked, were the Labour men in the City Hall when the subject was under discussion? Why, they were wirepulling with the politicians as to which middle class candidate they would agree to sell the labour vote to in the various contested wards at the municipal election. That is all the Labour members, save the mark, are good for. At least two of them, Alderman Doyle and Councillor Richardson, publicly accused each other in the Trades’ Hall of such conduct, and in the opinion of their hearers, each fully substantiated his charge against the other.

Thus while the rich proceed with their schemes for the aggrandisement of their class, the working class are betrayed by their representatives who spend their time in political intrigues for personal profit.

An Object Lesson

[The Workers’ Republic, December 15 1900]

On Wednesday November 28, there appeared in the Dublin newspapers an advertisement announcing the issue of shares in a new electrical syndicate, the “British Electrical Street Tramways, Limited”. We do not suppose our readers are interested in that fact as probable subscribers for the shares of this company, but we nevertheless venture to draw their attention to the circumstance, because the advertisement in question was in itself an eloquent tribute to the validity of many of the points raised by Socialists in their criticism of the capitalist system. The Syndicate is formed, the advertisement tells us, “to construct and work lines of electric railways and tramways licensed by special Acts of Parliament, or by Municipal or other authorities, and to extend the service of traction vehicles in large towns”.

Here we have a proposal by a number of rich men to engage in the business of constructing and working electric trams, etc, in any town of Great Britain and Ireland where they can procure permission to do so, and coupled with the proposal is an estimate of the large profits to be acquired by such a proceeding—to be acquired by whoever purchases shares in this company, even though the person so purchasing may be entirely ignorant of all that pertains to electric traction, or unable to visit any of the towns where the profits are to be earned. Tender-hearted humanitarians and benevolent persons generally, aghast at the miseries of the workers but loth to relinquish their belief in the institution of private property, are never tired of proclaiming that the cure-all for those miseries is to be found in the cultivation of feelings of friendship between capitalists and their workers. They affirm that strikes, lock-outs, and industrial disputes of all kinds would be rendered impossible if the employers and employed were only to meet and know each other better.

To this contention Socialists have always replied that the development of modern industry renders impossible any such rapprochement between the classes; that the employer is no longer a person but a thing—a company; that, the shares of said company being saleable on the market, the personality of the shareholder is of a fleeting character, and that consequently the possibility of human, personal, intercourse between master and man is fast being destroyed by the inevitable tendency of industry to fall into the hands of companies, and of companies to form combinations or trusts. The man who holds shares in companies situated a hundred or a thousand miles distant from his home cannot have a personal regard for the employees who earn his dividends, and the employees cannot be expected to remember in their prayers share­holders whose very names are unknown to them. The fact of this company offering its shares promiscuously to all who choose to buy, and proposing to exploit the needs of towns wherever possible, proves this Socialist contention to be absolutely correct. How can anyone believe that the monied people rushing to buy these shares could be brought to regard as men and brothers the unfortunate workmen whose labours they hope to profit by?

One other and more important point is brought out by this advertisement, viz., that the private capitalist is no longer necessary. Apologists for capitalism claim that the profits of the capitalist are the reward of his brains and skill in organising; that without the brains and organising genius of the capitalist industry would be impossible. But here we observe in this case, as in the case of all capitalist companies, that the profits are to be reaped by people who bring neither brains, skill, nor even technical knowledge to the work—who bring nothing but cash to purchase the brains and muscle of other men.

All the organising and managerial functions of the company will be performed by experts hired for the purpose. These experts need have no interest in the company other than their salaries. It is obvious, then, that when private capitalist companies can hire servants to perform the brain work necessary for their schemes, the same class of persons could be hired, if need be, by the public bodies, state or municipal, to perform the same functions in the service of, and for the interest of, the entire community.

By the hiring of salaried managers the capitalist class abandon all right to use the plea that the community could not progress without their aid; since personal supervision and direction by the capitalist himself is not required, the public bodies who represent the community can safely undertake the ownership and control of all the work of production and distribution; and solve the problem of organising skill and genius by the same method as that employed by the capitalist class today, viz., by hiring technical experts to organise and direct.

Thus the first step in the Socialist organisation of industry is illustrated by the last step in capitalist organisation. The capitalist having voluntarily abdicated his personal supervision, in his own interest, must now abdicate his personal ownership, in the general interest.

Socialist Electioneering

[The Workers’ Republic, February 1901]

Since the appearance of our last issue the Dublin branch of the Irish Socialist Republican Party has been engaged in its third municipal campaign. It is therefore fitting that we should place before our readers a brief resume of the results of that election, as well as of the principal lessons to be drawn therefrom.

On this occasion we were fortunate in having as our candidate a comrade who held a high position in his trade union, and was also on the executive of the Dublin Trades’ and Labour Council, as well as being a true and tried Socialist. Thus our comrade McLoughlin received the endorsement of his fellow-tradesmen and trade unionists—undoubtedly the first time in Ireland on which either a trade union or a Trades’ Council publicly identified themselves with the electoral campaign of a Socialist party. This fact was both an element of strength and a source of distraction. It was an element of strength, because it disarmed the prejudices of the trade unionists among the electors, and made them more susceptible to the teachings of Socialism; it was a source of distraction, because it temporarily admitted to our counsels many who, not seeing farther than the success or failure of the moment, were ever pressing upon the party and its candidate the supposed necessity of temporising with the middle class in order to snatch an electoral success. Needless to say such advice was promptly rejected. The following remarks of Mr Connolly, when acting as chairman of the great meeting in the Trades’ Hall, defined exactly the position of the party and its candidate towards such proposals:—

It has been said that the uncompromising working class position taken up by Mr McLoughlin, in conformity with his Socialist principles, will alienate many middle class voters, and so endanger his chances. But those who use this argument do not understand Mr McLoughlin’s position. He does not wish to crawl into the Corporation (applause); he does not wish to creep in there; he does not wish to smuggle himself in there under false pretences. He wishes to go in standing erect on his own feet as a man should; compromising no principle, yielding no point of his programme; proud, conscientious and upright as a representative of the working class should be, and if he cannot enter the Corporation in that manner he is content to remain outside.

This language was new to the Dublin Trade Unionists; the enthusiasm with which it was received, and the endorsement it received at the polls, was proof enough of its soundness. Be it remembered that the Socialist candidate was opposing the nominee of the “great Nationalist organisation” the United Irish League; that the said nominee was supported at his public meeting by three members of Parliament, viz., Tim Harrington, Pat O’Brien and P White; that one of them stood all day canvassing voters at the polling booth; that the Labour Electoral Association supported the middle class candidate; that our enemies had hired corps of paid canvassers and agents, whereas the Socialist candidate had none but unpaid volunteer canvassers; that our enemies had the funds of the capitalist class in the Ward to aid their candidature, and the Socialist nothing but the coppers of poorly paid workers; that all the prejudices of religion were played upon against us; when all this is remembered, who can say that the poll of the Socialist Republican—defeating the Loyalist, and coming within 97 votes of ousting the Home Ruler—is not a result to be proud of and full of promise for the future?