More writings of James Connolly, unavailable for over a century, appeared in Issue 19 in July 2004.
Landlordism in Towns
[The Workers’ Republic, November 18 1899]
In an early issue of the Workers’ Republic we pointed out that the Corporation of Dublin had it in its power to sensibly mitigate the sufferings of the industrial population in the City by a wise and intelligent application of its many powers as a public board. Among the various directions we enumerated as immediately practical outlets for corporate enterprise, there were two allied measures which, were they applied, might do much to at once relieve the most odious and directly pressing evils arising from the congested state of our cities. Those two measures were:—
- Taxation of unlet houses,
- Erection at public expense of Artisans’ Dwellings, to be let at a rent covering cost of construction and maintenance alone.1
The wisdom of the proposal to increase the funds and utilise the borrowing powers of the Corporation in this manner cannot be questioned. The housing accommodation of the Dublin workers is a disgrace to the City; high rents and vile sanitary arrangements are the rule, and no one in the Corporation seems to possess courage enough to avow the truth, or to face the storm of obloquy which would be directed upon the head of the councillor who would take the opportunity to expose on the floor of the City Hall the manner in which the interests of house landlords are protected, and the spirit of sanitative legislation set at naught.
The so-called philanthropic companies which profess to cater to the needs of the workers by providing cottages, etc., in reality charge higher rents than do most individual house owners elsewhere. We all remember how the owners of the Coombe area property attempted to raise the rents on their cottages, because they were compelled to undertake the construction of some necessary drainage, which they culpably neglected to supply when their property was being built. Now the Dublin and Suburban Artisans’ Dwellings Company have in like manner initiated an attempt to raise the rents on their Cork Street buildings by another sixpence a week, in spite of the fact that the property has lately been allowed to get into a most dilapidated condition—roofs leaking, footpaths all broken up, roadways full of holes and pitfalls, and lamps never lit in the darkest nights of the year.
We are glad to record that this attempt at extortion is being met by the tenants in a most spirited fashion, and that it is likely to prove successful. Councillor Cox has also stood by the tenants in this matter, and has used his position on the Corporation to stop the rebate of taxes which this company usually obtains on the score of its philanthropic character.
This action of our friend, Councillor Cox, shows how much influence for good can be exerted by our representatives when imbued with the proper spirit. What a Socialist Republican could do in the way of remedying grievances, and pushing forward measures for the benefit of the workers, can be easily surmised by those who have observed the keen grasp of public questions which at all times distinguishes the Socialist above his fellows.
But, lacking the measures spoken of at the beginning of this article, all other measures must be only of a partially remedial character. Each proposal bears the stamp of a truly practical measure; each can stand the test of rigid economic analysis, and may be put into operation whenever the working class democracy are enlightened enough to demand it.
The taxation of unlet houses would compel the owners of property to accept rents much lower than they now demand, in order to avoid the disagreeable necessity of paying taxes upon unremunerative property. But the erection of houses to be let at cost of construction and maintenance would place in competition with the speculative house landlord, dwellings which, not needing to yield a dividend, could easily beat down his rents to a point more within the compass of the working man’s purse. One point more needs to be noted. It is that a large proportion of the houses in Dublin are owned by persons too poor to keep them in a habitable state. When this is the case such houses should be taken over by the Corporation and made habitable at public expense, or where this would be too costly, razed to the ground. The owners could be compensated according to the condition of their property when taken out of their hands.
It must be remembered, however, that all those measures are merely tentative. Our cities can never be made really habitable or worthy of an enlightened people while the habitations of its citizens remain the property of private individuals. To permanently remedy the evils of city life the citizens must own their city.
[The Workers’ Republic, December 9 1899]
A Close Season.
During the Boer war the English Jingo press will observe a close season for the sport of making game of the German Emperor.
He is a great man, is the Kaiser. When Dr Jameson raided the Transvaal, and Kruger defeated his little game, the Kaiser sent a telegram of congratulation to Paul.2 Then all the Jingo press of England went for the “mad Emperor,” and called him all the pet (?) names they could think of.
There was peace at that time. But now there is war, and as the mad Emperor, if he chose to take a hand in the game, could successfully humiliate the British Lion, that animal is now down kissing the ground at his feet, and all the Jingo crowd who a few months ago were howling for his blood are now prowling around on the hunt for his photograph.
His photograph. Yes, for he wouldn’t condescend to gratify them with a look at his imperial person.
Now observe, ye workers, that this crowd of swashbucklers are our masters. And if you have any contempt for the crowd who spit upon a man one day, and crawl for a smile from him the next, what sort of feeling must you have for yourselves, who are lorded over by such a pitiful crew?
And don’t make the mistake of lauding the Kaiser, either, as our so-called nationalist journals do.
He has always proven himself to be a most determined enemy of the working class, and longs for the day when he may drown in blood their hopes for freedom.
He, only the other day, introduced to his Parliament a bill which would have made it a penal offence to ask a workman to go on strike, had it not been defeated by the determined opposition of the Social Democrats.
He is continually rallying all the conservative classes in Germany against the demands of the workers, and striving by his speeches to his soldiery to familiarise them with the idea of firing upon their own countrymen.
He is your enemy, as the English governing class is your enemy, as the Irish propertied class is your enemy, as all the classes who live upon your labour in all the nations of the world are your enemy.
And the same law of self-preservation which makes the propertied classes stand together throughout the world, ought also to make you realise the necessity of studying the position and prospects of the revolutionary working class opposed to those classes.
That is part of the aim and purpose of this paper. To present to our readers a brief resume of the important advances made by the Socialist forces along the lines of the Class War.
You meet this Class War everywhere, but do not always recognise it. It is our duty to label its every manifestation, in order that you may recognise it.
This you have been told by most of your public speakers on the Transvaal War, that it is a capitalist’s war. So it is. It is one manifestation of the Class War.
So is the war in the Philippines.3 So are all modern wars; all manifestations of the struggle of Capital to enlarge its domain of exploitation.
And in like manner all efforts to beat back those forces of capitalism are of a kin to the efforts of the working class to rid themselves of the burden of capitalism.
In fact the capitalist has so far extended his powers that every political movement of the present bears a direct relation to the class war, and desires to be keenly watched for that very reason.
The effort of the British Governing Class to impose its rule upon the Transvaal is simply an exemplification of capitalism fully grown and developed; the efforts of the Irish master class to retain its hold upon public power in our corporations and other boards is an exemplification of the same unclean animal’s attitude when too weak to dare show all its teeth.
As soon as the Irish master class attains the strength of its British brother it will develop all his brutal traits; at present it can only exercise his sneaking proclivities.
The English master class bullied the Boer, and grovelled before the Emperor; the Irish master class in Ireland denounces the Englishman, and in England grovels before every English politician who winks his eye in the direction of Home Rule.
Dogma and Food
[The Workers’ Republic, December 9 1899]
At a meeting of the Sacred Heart Home in Dublin the other day a most powerful and impassioned appeal was made by the Archbishop of Dublin for funds to provide proper care and training for the Catholic children who, from the poverty and carelessness of their parents, frequently fall into the clutches of “proselytisers” who make their misery a weapon of warfare against their religion. We do not propose now, nor at any other time, to enter into the disputes of rival religions, but we do think that the occasion merits at least a passing notice on our part, helping as it does to illustrate the truth of our contention that the social question, or the bread and butter question, is the root question of all, and until it is settled no other question of fundamental importance can be grappled with in any but an incomplete and unsatisfactory manner.
For what is the position upon which the appeal for funds to carry on the charitable work of the Sacred Heart Home was based? That owing to the poverty-stricken condition of large masses of the people the Catholic faith of the children was at the mercy of those missionaries and other Protestant agencies who come with charitable contributions to the parents and make of their charity a means for obtaining control of the education and bodily person of the child. Here then we have the statement clearly made that the manifold dangers against which we are so solemnly warned spring from POVERTY. Reasoning on this matter from the standpoint of a mere layman we would be inclined to say that the first line of attack along which the Archbishop should direct the forces of his eloquence, and the attention of the world in general, is that of poverty and the institutions which create it. If you destroy the social institutions which create poverty, if you lift the working class from their present position of economic dependence, and in so doing assure to all men and women a sufficiency of the good things in life in return for a moderate amount of labour, then the insidious work of the “souper” is ended and all religious denominations will require to stand or progress by their inherent truths alone.
But nowhere in all the passionate exhortations of our clerical leaders do we find this point ever noted; instead we are to have appeals for funds to be applied for the purpose of saving Catholic children from the temptations of “proselytisers;” and as said temptations usually take the form of food and raiment, to supply food, raiment, and if necessary, shelter through Catholic sources. In all this there is no question of whether it would be a subject worthy of consideration to consider what means should be taken to abolish the poverty which degrades the workers so much that they are ready to traffic in their children in such a manner.
Yet until this question is dealt with all the efforts of the Sacred Heart Home, and such-like institutions, will be of practically no avail in combatting such degradation. The place of the children rescued today will be filled tomorrow by the children of other parents hurled into the abyss of slum life and misery by the ceaseless working of our unjust social system. We on this journal, or in this party, are not allied, nor opposed to, any particular creed or Church—seeking the emancipation of the working class from the unholy trinity of Rent, Interest and Profit we require the aid of men of all religions and of none—but we consider it our duty to point out that if the speakers at the Sacred Heart Home at Drumcondra were really in earnest in their desire to save the children, they would find in the Municipal Programme of the Socialist Republican Party a plank, that of the Free Maintenance of Children, which, if applied in practice, would prevent effectually all that hopeless misery out of which such degrading incidents as those complained of spring.
But it is at all times more congenial to a certain class of minds to nibble at consequences rather than to strike boldly at the root of the evil; that, and the unpopularity sure to be the reward of the political party which, despising cheap methods of gaining sympathy, instead of whining over the sufferings of the poor, calls upon them to rebel against the oppressive institutions which cause it, explains why our public men in general are chary about touching a reform, be it ever so practical, which appeals to manhood rather than to wealth.
But all such admissions of timidity coupled with an admission of the degrading nature of capitalist society, such as that the assembled clerics treated us to on Monday last, only tend to confirm the faith of the Socialist Republican in that uncompromising course of action which rests all its hopes in the right arms and clear brains of the disinherited—the working class.
- In ‘Home Thrusts’ in the October 8 1898 Workers’ Republic Connolly wrote: “The Corporation can provide dwellings for the working people at a rent to cover the cost of construction and maintenance alone, and can procure money for the purpose by a stiff tax on unoccupied houses.”
- At the end of 1895 L Storr Jameson, an official of the British South Africa Company, led an unsuccessful armed assault against the Boer government of the Transvaal, led by Paulus Kruger. Kruger also led the Boers in the war with Britain that had broken out in October 1899.
- Having taken the Philippines from Spain in the war of 1898, the United States were now attempting to suppress a guerrilla movement for independence.