The Hidden Connolly 19

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,

and

  • 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.

Home Thrusts

[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.

Brothers both.

Spailpín

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.

Notes

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. Having taken the Philippines from Spain in the war of 1898, the United States were now attempting to suppress a guerrilla movement for independence.

The Hidden Connolly 14

Issue 14 in November 2002 published more articles by James Connolly which hadn’t been published since his execution.

Home Thrusts

[The Workers’ Republic, September 17 1898]

The Horse Show is past and gone, but it has left its mark behind it. Our own Lord Mayor of Dublin will “remember it with pride,” I understand, for did he not at that function shake hands with the representative of royalty?

Of course he did. But it is not true, as has been rumoured, that he has resolved never again to desecrate with soap and water the hand once honoured with the vice-regal grasp. The statement is totally without foundation.

But here is a statement even more startling and unfortunately true. It refers to no less a personage than the Mayor of Cork, who also attended the Horse Show.

There seems to have been quite a number of Mayors at the Horse Show. NB—This is not a pun.

Well, the Mayor of Cork attended in state whereat a Cork paper comments in the following fashion: “Had an invitation came voluntarily from the Royal Dublin Society there would be no objection, but it can hardly be said to have been very dignified on his part to send a request to that body soliciting permission to attend in state, nor was public appreciation of his action increased by the letter in which his secretary next morning hastened to inform the public that his lordship was escorted by a body of mounted police… There was too much of a suspicion of aspiring Vice-royalty about the whole business to be palatable.”

But I am not quite satisfied in my own mind that the Mayor of Cork should be held responsible for the toadyism of the Lord Mayor, especially when he has sins enough of his own to answer for.

Here, for instance, is a report from the Cork Daily Herald of a luncheon given by the New York Life Insurance Company, at which attended Mr P H Meade TC, Mayor of Cork; Mr Maurice Healy MP; Alderman Fitzgerald, and a few other patriots of the same peculiar brand. The first toast honoured by these fire-eaters was “Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen.” Hurroo for ’98.

Paragraph for the sporting papers. I hear that the Mayor of Cork has sent a challenge to the Lord Mayor of Dublin for a contest with him for the championship of Irish Phlunkeydom. Betting is even.

“While the lamp holds on to burn, even a Mayor may return.”

Somewhere or another I have heard that beautiful sentiment, and I now, with my wonted generosity, offer it free to Mr P H Meade, Mayor of Cork, and as a help to a better frame of mind I desire to quote for him the following beautiful sentiment also which I think he will require.

“He (Brian Dillon) was a man who had the courage of his convictions.” No loyal toast drinking for him, Mr Meade, eh. “He found in his day parliamentary agitation a farce,” just like now, O Mayor of Cork. Parlia­mentary agitation is a farce, and the parliamentarians low comedians. “That huge demonstration by the side of the monument erected to the memory of Brian Dillon showed that there in Cork the memories of the men of ’67 and their principles were revered and cherished” (what about that toast?) “and if the occasion arose the Corkmen who admired the noble and unselfish example of Brian Dillon would show to the world that Irish Nationality was not dead and would never be conquered.”1

Thim’s my sentiments, Paddy Meade, almost. You recognise the speech, no doubt. It was made by a man for whom you have a great regard, viz., yourself.

But what is meant by that curious phrase, “if the occasion arose”? What occasion? If by the “occasion” is meant the necessity for fighting for freedom, it is here now.

We are still slaves, nationally and socially; and the occasion is present ever and always, whenever we are men enough to rise to it. But the atmosphere of a country ripe for revolutionary action would be fatal to that peculiar kind of Mayoral patriotism which cannot withstand the seduction of any invitation to drink—even when the toast given is a dishonourable one.

Here let me work in a little Latin. Hold your breath. Facilis descensus Averni. The descent to the nether regions is easy.

It is only a small step from preaching a ‘union of all classes’ to kow-towing to royalty—and kicking the working man.

The Mayor of Cork is started on the down grade. After the festivities alluded to above one is not startled to read that on the occasion of the discussion in Cork Corporation, he gave his vote against the proposed night sittings of that body and therefore, as far as in him lay, against labour representation.

The tradesmen of Cork, recognising that the ‘right’ to sit on the Corporation is a mere farce if the ‘opportunity’ is denied to them, sought to get the time of Corporation business changed from mid-day to evening, that they might attend after work was done.

The voting on the proposal was evenly balanced, and the ‘un­compromising’ Mayor gave his casting vote against the workers.

So that the Tory government gave to the workers of Ireland a right which the Home Rule councillors deny them the opportunity to exercise.

Such is middle-class patriotism.

What will the Cork workers do? Sit quiet under it. I hope not. I hope to see the men of Cork teaching a much needed lesson to a few of these gentlemen who acted against them in the Cork Corporation. Let it once become a recognised principle in politics that any man acting in antagonism to the workers on any public question will never again receive a working­man’s vote, nor be tolerated in any organisation which the workers can influence, and politics will no longer be the fool’s game they are today.

In this connection it was interesting and instructive to observe how the Cork Constitution (newspaper champion of orange aristocracy and loyal West Britishism in general) rushed in to defend the Home Rule Mayor from the attacks of the Cork working men. These men see where their class interests lie, and are not in the least deceived by the sham politics of today.

While on the question of municipal politics, I cannot but express my deep regret at the foolish action of the Dublin Trades Council over the matter of the Lord Mayoralty.

In my view the proposal to invest a Tory with that office is indefensible and foolish. Except the criminal opposition of our Home Rule councillors to every proposal calculated to benefit the working class, it is the least defensible public act of recent years.

Toryism represents the most insulting form of privilege, national and social. The man who preaches toleration of Toryism is of necessity either a knave or a fool. Toryism ought not to be tolerated but extirpated, crushed out of public life wherever possible.

Our Home Rule leaders are now pretending to great indignation over the act of the Trades Council in coquetting with Toryism, but it was themselves set the example.

They wanted a ‘union of classes,’ and behold, here it is. Representatives of the trades proposing to elect a representative of the moneyed and aristocratic class as Lord Mayor; a veritable ‘union of classes.’ Presto, the trick is done.

A broad platform, my friends—the one thing needed for Irish politics. How do you like it?

The Trades Council say they are sick of the trickery of politics. Well, so am I. But when I am tired of a game I don’t rest myself by taking a hand in it. I get out.

We are not yet deprived of all choice between a Home Ruler and a Unionist—the devil and the deep blue sea.

Which is the devil and which the deep sea I don’t pretend to say. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

There is another alternative. Several of them in fact. The Socialist Republican party to which I belong aims at placing in every official position in the power of the Irish to bestow, a representative pledged to use the influence of that position in such a manner as to arouse the hatred of the people for our present governors.

Can the Trades Council not find in Dublin a thoroughgoing republican and class-conscious worker, and run him for the Lord Mayoralty.

One of their own number would fill the position quite as well, aye and a thousand times more creditably than either M’Coy or Tallon has done.

Let them run their candidates on the understanding that they support a republican worker for the Mayoralty, let them make every candidate in the city make a similar pledge, and either abstain or vote against him if he refuses, and when the election is over let all the elected candidates of what I might call the anti-tory party meet and decide who they shall support for the job.

That, I think, is practicable. At all events it would be better than voting for the open enemy of the freedom of your country and your class.

But the present course of action taken by the Trades is only playing into the hands of the Home Rule faction, and giving them the needed excuse for opposing the labour candidates. An excuse they are already grabbing at with joyful eagerness.

At a recent meeting of the Independent League,2 Mr William Field MP declared that that body were willing to debate the question of the wisdom of their tactics with any body in Ireland.

But he omitted to say what the tactics were. And as nobody outside the League has any idea, and as the Parnellite Press carefully suppressed that portion of Mr Field’s speech, it looks as if the challenge was only bluff.

Mr Field is, I believe, a thoroughly honest man, but I also believe he is being used by men of whom the same cannot be said.

He should remember that about a year ago, when the Independent League was launched, it was triumphantly declared that ‘Home Rule’ was to be thrown overboard and Repeal or Grattan’s Parliament substituted in its place.3 Mr Field MP and Mr Redmond and all his following joined in dis­crediting Home Rule and shouting for Repeal.

Now the same men are shouting for Home Rule, and Repeal is never mentioned.

There’s tactics for you. The tactics of a porker going to Cork by way of Garryowen.

Spailpín.

Regicide and Revolution

[The Workers’ Republic, September 17 1898]

As most of our readers are probably aware the Empress of Austria was assassinated in the streets of Geneva, Switzerland, on Saturday last.

We deeply regret the untimely death of this lady as we would regret the untimely death of any other unoffending woman, but we cannot see any reason for the hysterics into which our daily papers are attempting to work their readers on the subject. A woman has been foully murdered. Stated thus simply the fact would arouse in all thinking men a righteous horror of the deed. But when column is piled upon column, when we are told “humanity stands aghast,” that the crime is “unparalleled,” that the “world is plunged in mourning,” etc., we begin to suspect the presence of more cant than sincerity in all this newspaper grief. When sailors are lost in rotten ships at sea, miners choked in the mine, labourers killed by falling machinery, women and girls poisoned in match works, etc., our friends on the capitalist press do not shed many tears over or devote many columns to the matter. Wherefore we conclude that these newspaper tears are shed for the Empress and not for the woman.

For our part we regard all human life as equally sacred, whether it be the life of an Empress or the life of a charwoman, and we have no desire to emulate our contemporaries in their attempt to magnify the horror of a crime because the victim belonged to the former rank of life rather than the latter. The deed was the deed of a madman, its perpetrator will be punished, in all probability with the utmost severity the law of Switzerland allows. Had we the power we certainly would not lift a finger to save him from or to modify that punishment, whatever it may be, but we can see nothing in the case to justify the outbreak of savagery to which our Dublin daily and evening papers are at present treating their readers. When we find ‘respect­able’ newspapers actually regretting that the barbarous tortures of the Middle Ages are no longer possible, indulging in fearful and disgusting recitals of the fiendish cruelties perpetrated in the name of Law upon regicides in the past, and openly wishing they could be revived, we feel that even the fear of being misrepresented would not justify us in keeping silent longer, in longer refraining from uttering a protest against this outburst of ferocity in those who are so fond of posing as guardians of public morals. The old Mosaic law demanded a life for a life, but our newspaper oracles, who at ordinary times are so fond of mouthing their devotion to the new dispensation which replaced the stern justice of the Mosaic code by the more merciful ethics of Christianity, would now surpass that code in the ferocity of their vengeance. A life for a life, it appears, may serve as a basis of justice among ordinary mortals, but the life of a crowned head must be hedged round with greater terrors, or else the masses of desperate and starv­ing people whom society creates in our midst cannot be kept in subjection. Here, then, we find the real reason of the outcry. The governing classes seek through Press, platform, and all other means to impress the public mind with the divinity of their persons, the ‘divinity’ which doth hedge their positions. A hundred working-class women are murdered in the streets of Milan—bayonetted and shot with their starving babes at their breasts;4 society grudges a paragraph in its newspapers to chronicle the fact; one Empress is stabbed in the streets of Geneva, and lo! Humanity is Shocked. Yet, perhaps the remorseless hand of history will reverse the procedure: give to that holocaust of the workers a dedicatory chapter as to the martyrs of humanity—and dismiss this murder of an Empress with the curtness of a footnote. As we progress toward a proper recognition of the dignity of humanity we lose the inculcated respect for the tinsel glory of a crown. Democracy is ever merciful and humane. The crime of a Luccessi is in no sense attributable to the revolutionary party in Europe, no more than the Phoenix Park murders were justly attributable to the Nationalist party in Ireland.5 The criminal passions which blazed out in Geneva last Saturday are nurtured and blossom only in the dark shadows cast by capitalist society and its financial and hereditary rulers. The present social and political order in Europe breeds such criminals. They are its children. Let them deal with each other.

We, who detest equally the criminal and the social order which creates him, work unceasingly for the coming of the day when an enlightened people by abolishing the latter will render impossible the former.

Notes

  1. Dillon fought in the Fenian uprising of 1867.
  2. An organisation representing the Redmondite faction of the Home Rule movement, still fragmented after Parnell’s downfall.
  3. Repeal of the Act of Union, and re-establishment of the Irish parliament that existed until then, involved a greater measure of autonomy for Ireland than that envisaged by Home Rule.
  4. Earlier in the year, workers demonstrating in Milan against food shortages and inflation were brutally attacked by troops.
  5. Luigi Luccheni was the actual name of the empress’s killer. In 1882 the colonial Chief Secretary and his deputy were killed in the Phoenix Park by a Fenian splinter group, the Invincibles.

The Hidden Connolly 3

Issue 3 (November 1998) featured more articles by James Connolly unpublished since his execution.

Home Thrusts

[Workers’ Republic, 15 September 1900]

A Critic.

Cork’s own city has provided itself with a critic who, in the Evening Special of last Saturday, runs full tilt up against the President of the British Trades’ Union Congress, and against Socialism in general.

The Cork critic is a curiosity in his own way. He is in the first place a born journalist; you can see that with the first glance at his writings. The first qualification of a journalist on a capitalist paper is a perfect readiness to write columns of matter upon any subject which may turn up, without wasting any time acquiring a knowledge of what he is writing about.

So with this Cork critic. Every line he writes gives evidence of the density of his ignorance on all matters Socialistic, but he apparently conceives that fact to be of trivial importance for he continues to spread himself out on the question with a recklessness of grammar and an ignorance of economic teaching not to be surpassed by any collection of old women in the land.

As to the grammar, will the reader cast his eye over this gem from the edi­torial in which this critic lets himself loose upon an unoffending community.

Speaking of the President of the Congress he writes: “He does NOT look at Labour and Economic questions from NO mere sordid bread and butter point of view.”

If the schoolmaster was indeed abroad when this journalistic critic was developing I would suggest that for the sake of that schoolmaster’s reputation this Cork critic should never tell what school he had attended.

Further on in this interesting article he declares that the President “soars aloft into the regions of Philosophy, and lectures the world on the prehistoric state of man AND OTHER WILD ANIMALS.”

The confusion of thought shown in the paragraph, the entire inability to discriminate between a reference to the accepted facts of biological and eth­nographic science and the mere speculations of philosophy is proof enough that the writer’s sole acquaintance with these subjects was limited to the names he juggled with so deftly, and used so wrongly.

But it is when he essays to argue out his position that this poor scribe becomes really touching in his simplicity. Here, for instance, is a specimen of his reasoning, and a sample of his knowledge, which should not be lightly passed over but should rather be preserved and carefully framed as a literary curiosity, born of an intellectual freak.

Pickle’s Philosophy of Collectivism1 put into a nutshell amounts to this: Everybody is to own everything, and nobody is to own anything. A nice comfortable philosophy for a considerable section of the world. Take for instance the man without any brains. What need he care if he has none? His neighbour has enough for the two, and as he would have the same right to an even share of the country’s wealth as his brainy neighbour he would be the better off of the two, because he would have everything with­out worry or exertion.

There now, that is a gem. You will observe that the idea it means to convey is that Socialism means an equal divide of the wealth of the world— an idea which nobody holds now outside of lunatic asylums or the editorial rooms of capitalist newspapers.

Nobody ever heard a Socialist advocate a divide up, and when you hear any person tell you that Socialism means dividing up depend upon it he is either a fool who does not know what he is talking about, or else a rogue who means to deceive you.

Socialists say the land and all things necessary to life should be made public property and the journalistic tout for the capitalist class shouts out that that means an “equal divide.”

Now just to emphasise the foolishness of such talk remember that “all things necessary to life” includes the rivers and canals. Do you suppose then that Socialists propose to divide up the Lee, the Blackwater, or the Liffey, and apportion to each inhabitant of Ireland a share which he can carry away in his pockets?

We do not propose to divide anything but the labour and that we hope to divide if not equally, at least equitably. When that division comes off I think that an enlightened community will find for this Cork scribe some function more suited to his intellect, or to his lack of it, than writing articles upon subjects he does not understand.

“Take for instance”, he says, “the man without any brains.” Certainly my friend, anything to oblige you, I will take your case—your case in every sense of the word. And really it is touching to observe how the poor uninstructed instinct of this scribe brought him at once to the point which affected him most—the man without any brains.

Under Socialism those who labour will receive the full reward of their labour, no part whatever being deducted for the upkeep of a master class. The only deduction permissible being that proportion of the product necessary for the renewal of raw material and appliances.

The man who has brains will be expected to do his best, and the man who has no brains (a curious kind of animal he would be) will be expected to do his best, and both would be rewarded according to the length of time they spent per day, week, or year, in the service of the community.

Possibly the man with brains would not receive more per hour than the man not possessed of brains; he would however have that incentive to exert his intellect which would come from the knowledge that he would be honoured and respected by his fellows in proportion to the worth of his labours.

The respect and honour of our fellows is payment enough for full grown men after our material wants are satisfied, and only perverted intellects and debased natures conceive a useless superfluity of wealth or powers of master­ship to be necessary as an incentive to human ambition.

A truly civilised society would no more think of rewarding a man because nature had endowed him with brains, than it would think of rewarding another man because nature had endowed him with good looks.

Yes, my Cork friend, the man without the brains will be looked after. Be under no apprehension.

Then our friend asks again:—Is the man who spends most of his share in public houses and lets his family suffer, to be entitled to an equal share of the spoil just like the industrious man who spends his money to good account.

The question thus put implies that the questioner would answer in the negative. The question has little bearing on Socialism, as Socialism only pro­poses to secure a man the reward of his labour and does not presume to dic­tate how he shall use that reward.

But observe the folly of the question and the implied answer. A man is presupposed to have a certain share of wealth, to drink that share and leave his family to suffer. As a remedy it is proposed to decrease his share as a punishment for his drinking. But by decreasing his share you shorten the period required to exhaust his funds, and therefore bring to want so much sooner the family about which you professed to be so solicitous. Which is as absurd as the remainder of your attempts at reasoning.

It is like the case of the henpecked husband who had his wife charged at the Police Court with assaulting him. The lady was fined, the husband had to pay the fine, and he spent the rest of the week trying to figure out where his satisfaction came in.

The question belongs to the regime of capitalist society and not at all to Socialism, under which the family would not be dependent at least for neces­saries upon the dissolute husband, but the fact of the question being put is here mentioned as showing the habit some people have of thinking the condi­tions of the present into the future, instead of honestly attempting to master the problem they pretend to discuss.

The greatest minds of our time both in Science and Philosophy have given in their adhesion to Socialism; their works on the subject are accessible to all in most of our free libraries; the fact that such libraries are free does not surely lessen the educational value of the books contained therein; what then can be thought of the scribe who sneers at “Free Library Philosophy” and “Free Library Gleanings”?

What can be thought, except that this sneer is the only honest thing in his writings, betraying as it does the hatred with which his class view every facil­ity for popular education, everything which would equip the worker for the task of measuring his intellect with the much vaunted brains of his masters.

That sneer and that hatred reveal who has most to fear from such a contest.

SPAILPÍN.

How to Release Larkin

[Irish Worker, 1 November 1913]

We have always held that when we are at war we should fight according to the rules of war, and that means that the first aim and object of all our activi­ties ought to be to disable and destroy the enemy. Everyone familiar with the history of working class revolts in the past knows that these revolts generally failed through the fact that the revolutionists tried to practise their ideas of humanity before the war was over and their victory assured; they, in short, wished to practise peace in the midst of war. The enemy, the possessing gov­erning classes, on the other hand, having no scruples of conscience and desir­ing only their own victory, proceeded ruthlessly to the work of extermination; and so naturally and inevitably the established order won over the working class idealists. We do not propose to make that mistake. We are at war. Our enemy is the governing class; the political force of that enemy is the Liberal Government. Next year it may be the Conservative Government, and Sir Edward Carson may be again prosecuting Irish rebels as he did in the past;2 but this year and this moment it is the Liberal Government that fills the jury box with employers to try strike leaders; that sets policemen to ride roughshod over the law guaranteeing the right of peaceful picketing; who orders the bludgeoning of men and women in the streets of Dublin; that has turned Dublin into an armed camp, in which the citizens walk about in terror of their lives in the presence of uniformed bullies—in short, it is the Liberal Govern­ment that has lent itself to the employers to imprison, bludgeon, and murder the Dublin working class.

Therefore, the Liberal Government must go.

Larkin is in prison, jailed by this cowardly gang!3 We appeal to the workers everywhere in these islands to vote against the nominees of that gov­ernment at every contested election until Larkin is released. To-day we are sending a telegram to the electors of Keighley,4 asking them, in the name of working class solidarity, to vote against the murderers of Nolan and Byrne,5 against the bludgeoners of the Dublin working class, against the jailers of Larkin.

It is war, war to the end, against all the unholy crew who, with the cant of democracy upon their lying lips, are forever crucifying the Christ of Labour between the two thieves of Land and Capital.

JAMES CONNOLLY.6

Notes

1    Pickle was the British TUC president under the critic’s gaze.

2    Carson, leader of the Ulster Volunteers, set up a few months earlier to resist home rule, had previ­ously been the British government’s Solicitor General.

3    Larkin had just been sentenced to seven months in prison for a seditious speech.

4    Where a by-election was impending.

5    James Nolan and James Byrne were killed by a police baton-charge on 30 August.

6    The Liberal candidate was defeated at Keighley and Larkin was released the following day.

The Hidden Connolly 57

Issue 57 (September 2014) published more articles by James Connolly for the first time since his execution, this time discussing wartime recruitment, and how a socialist society would work.

Notes on the Front

[The Workers’ Republic, September 25 1915]

We reprint the following letter from the Dublin Daily Independent. It is a gem:

To the Editor, Irish Independent.
Sir,—
Being much astonished at seeing the statement “Jim Larkin astonishes the Americans” on the poster for the last issue of the Workers’ Republic, I purchased a copy, and was much interested to find how the redoubtable “Jim” had astonished the Americans.
It appears from a report quoted from an unnamed American Socialist paper that an immense crowd in Court House Park, in Fresno, California, listened to “Jim Larkin—a striking personality and a most enlightened and convincing speaker”.1
One cannot be surprised at the astonishment of the Americans when one finds that he stated: “My crime in my own country consisted of preaching solidarity. The workers said: ‘We will not move one wheel; and we won the Dublin strike.’” At such a statement the Dublin workmen will be even more astonished than the Americans.
No Influence
I have before me some letters from America which have something to say about Larkin, and may help to show how much the Americans are astonished by him.
From Chicago:
“We have heard of ‘Jim’ Larkin in several of our New England towns. At the present time he is not associated with any of the well-recognised organisations, and he has done nothing to draw public attention particularly to him.”
“While James Larkin has made a number of speeches I do not believe his influence has been at all marked.”
From New York:
“With respect to Larkin, none of our people here know anything about his movements in this country.”
From Kansas City:
“As regards Larkin, from what I am able to learn from better grade of Labour leaders, his movement is utterly un­successful. He has not been recognised by the better class of Labour leaders. The only impression he has made, if any at all, is with the IWWs,2 who are themselves thoroughly dis­credited by the general public, as well as by sensible Labour men.”
Such is the astonishment of the Americans.

Perplexed
Dublin, September 14, 1915.

The reader will observe that this letter writer, in making his attack on Larkin, does not give his own name, nor in quoting the opinions of his correspondents in America does he give their names. It is easy filling up space in that fashion, but is there anybody foolish enough to take stock in such anonymous stuff?

Following his example, we quote here some letters this office might have received from various quarters about William Martin Murphy and his friends:3

From Petrograd:
“We sadly missed Murphy’s trams in our recent brilliant advance backwards from Warsaw. Often when the German guns were booming in our ears we strained our eyes anxiously for the promised relief forces led by the commander from Dartry Hall.”4
From Gallipoli:
“The brilliant genius who organised the attack upon the people outside the Imperial Hotel5 is badly needed here. We were to be through the Dardanelles in March, but the military forces of the allies have as poor a footing in the peninsula as Murphy’s scabs have upon the port of Dublin. It is almost October, and the promised Expeditionary Force led by General Martin Murphy and ably captained by Tom McCormack, Barry, and Matty Long has not even sailed, and we are in despair.”
From Flanders:
“The Germans have just attacked us with great fury. They said they heard that we were eating Jacob’s biscuits.6 We sent for reinforcements to General Joffre,7 but he said that if the report was true he could not help us, that we must be a rotten lot. A German chemist taken prisoner said that eating Jacob’s biscuits is in violation of the Hague Convention, and a contra­vention of the rules of Civilised Warfare, as these biscuits were infected by the scab.”8
From South West Africa:
“Anxiously awaiting the arrival of the last tram from Dartry. We hear that Guinness’ Fleet have anchored outside of the Thirteenth Lock and threatened to throw a shell into Richmond Barracks,9 and that the Colonel in charge defiantly declared that he did not want a shell but could do with a couple of barrels. The last of the German forces here had strongly entrenched themselves, and were prepared to resist to the last cartridge, but gave up in despair when they heard that Lorcan Sherlock, Alderman Farrell, Alfie Byrne, Lord Mayor Gallagher, High Sheriff Scully, Shackleton of Lucan, J D Nugent, Wee Joe Devlin, and Paddy Meade of the Telegraph had joined the Pals Battalion, and were last seen advancing in skirmishing order upon Mooney’s pub.”10

That kind of thing is easy. As the Americans would say, “it is as easy as falling off a log”. Just try it and send in the result for publication in next week’s Republic. Just try your imagination and the result will be as trustworthy as the letter of the correspondent of the Independent, or as a Russian account of a victory.

We have pointed out in this page before that all sorts of people are engaged in hoodwinking the Censor under pretext of writing loyalist letters, and making loyalist speeches.11 Here is another sample of how the poor, dear man is being fooled. It is an account in the daily press of a recruiting meeting:

Ballybough Recruiting Meeting
Mr James Brady, Solicitor, presiding at a largely attended recruiting meeting held at the Tramway Terminus, Ballybough, last night, said he was accompanied by his son, Private Matt Brady, who came over with the Canadian contingent and had been through the battlefield of Flanders, and was there to ask his old pals in Dublin to help to rid Europe of the Germans. He was also accompanied by Lieutenant Maurice Healy, a member of a well-known Nationalist family, who had done good service to the country.12 Addresses were also delivered by Mr J C Percy JP, Private Bray, Private Trower, Professor Edmund Burke BA. Lieutenant M Healy, of the Dublin Fusiliers, said if the war were lost Great Britain and Ireland would be saddled with the cost, which would amount to twenty thousand millions, and represent a tax of £250 on every man, woman and child in Ireland.

Now if that is not rank treason I do not know what is. Lieutenant Healy said in effect that it would cost every man, woman and child in Ireland the sum of £250 if England lost the war and Ireland was left under the British Empire. If that is so then every man, woman and child in Ireland should leave no stone unturned to destroy the British Empire which would tax them each £250 for a war about which they were never consulted. Lieutenant Healy is trying to frighten the Irish people into hatred of England, for if you ask any sensible person in Ireland if he or she is willing to pay £250 for the privilege of being in the British Empire then that sensible person would surely answer that his or her share in the British Empire would be dear at the price.

When the average Irish workingman or woman is out looking for a job and can’t get it, their share of the British Empire would look very insignificant compared with £250, or, indeed, compared with a week’s rent for a room in a tenement.

We would advise Lieutenant Healy to run along and play at marbles or some other job suited to his intellect. And while he is looking for someone to play marbles with him, let him exercise his poor little brain upon this problem:

Over fifty women and girls have been dismissed by Williams and Woods13 in the interests of cheap labour. These women and girls are in danger of starvation. Can Lieutenant Healy tell a waiting world how the British or any other Empire can raise a tax of £250 each from these sisters of ours who do not possess two pence halfpenny.

Another returned hero at a recruiting meeting at Stillorgan gave his opinion of the national demand for Ireland for the Irish. Read:

Captain Frank Crozier, Royal Irish Fusiliers, who has returned wounded from the Dardanelles, said that he was proud to have joined the Army, where he found the best men in the world. Speaking of the fighting at Suvla Bay, Captain Crozier said that he saw one Irishman taking off his clothes on the beach. When asked whether he was going to bathe, he said, “It is something tickling my back.” The something was a big wound, but the man fought another two days before a bullet in the leg made it imperative for him to go to hospital. He had heard a lot about Ireland for the Irish, but there was a better cry in “Irish regiments for the Irish”. There were big gaps to be filled, and he wanted the men of Stillorgan and Foxrock to come back with him and carry rifles. They would never regret it.

Here you have condensed in a phrase the real loyalist opinion about Ireland and the position a kind providence allots to Irishmen.

Ireland for the Irish is ridiculous. Ireland for the classes who live on rent, profit and big Government sinecures and fat jobs, and Irishmen for the regiments recruited in Ireland to fight abroad for the above classes who plunder them at home, and insult them whilst doing so.

Captain Crozier is back from the Dardanelles. The published casualties there last week were 87,630, an enormously large pro­portion of which were Irish. What interest had these unfortunate countrymen of ours in the Dardanelles? What interest the people of Stillorgan and Foxrock? The unfortunate farm labourers around that district dare not join a trade union for fear of being dismissed, blacklisted, evicted and starved by the Croziers and their kind, and yet it is those poor slaves who dare not call their souls their own, who must cringe and crawl and lick the dust before their squireen employers, it is they who are asked to carry rifles, and add to the number of Irish corpses that manure the hills and ravines before the guns of the Turk.

Tommy Atkins14 does not talk of the Dardanelles. He calls it the “Garden of Hell”. And he is not far out. It is either a garden or a gateway.

Or a suicide club!

‘The Programme of Labour’[…]15

[The Workers’ Republic, February 12 1916]

comment by editor

In our editorial upon the meeting in the Trades Hall we said last week that the only points of difference between Father Laurence and ourselves seemed to be more matters of definition than of principle, and as we were more interested in satisfactory results than in definitions we would not press the points for discussion. But this correspondent seems determined that if we will not discuss definitions with Father Laurence we shall discuss them with him. Hence he labours the words “share equally” until he works himself into a sweat upon the matter, in conjuring up possible evils.

We still decline to waste our available space and time in such word-splitting. Our contention was and is that the entire people of the nation are the heir to all the nation’s resources, that those resources ought to be equally at the service of each and all to the extent to which they are able to avail themselves of such service, that physical or mental superiority does not entitle its possessor to the power to dominate or rule the weaker members (just as the stronger or brainier child in a family is not allowed to gorge itself before its brothers and sisters are allowed to the table) and that the ideal of the Labour Movement is a well ordered community in which the powers of the individual should be multiplied by all the powers of the organised community.

The problem is to find the social system by which that ideal can be secured. But it is a problem to ponder over and work out in the face of society, not a thing to quibble and wriggle around. Given the acceptance of the governing principle humanity will find the means to realise it. Or else humanity would not be worth saving.

Notes

  1. This report appeared on the front page of the Workers’ Republic for September 11.
  2. The Industrial Workers of the World.
  3. The following imaginary letters all come from battlefronts in the world war then raging.
  4. Home of Murphy.
  5. Bloody Sunday in O’Connell Street, 31 August 1913.
  6. Jacob’s took a leading role in the attack on the Dublin workers in 1913.
  7. Joseph Joffre, one of the leading generals in the French army.
  8. Among other things, the rules on the conduct of war laid down in the Hague Convention of 1899 forbid the use of poisonous substances.
  9. The British army’s Richmond Barracks at Inchicore was close to a lock on Dublin’s Grand Canal, used by Guinness to transport their wares, but Connolly is referring to a superstition that Lock 13 of the Royal Canal was unlucky.
  10. Sherlock, and before him J J Farrell, preceded James Gallagher as mayor of Dublin. Alderman Byrne was then the official home rule candidate in the Dublin Harbour by-election, which he won a week after this article appeared. James Scully was Dublin’s high sheriff. George Shackleton owned a flour mill and was to the fore in the 1913 lockout. Nugent had narrowly beaten the Labour candidate in the College Green by-election in June. Himself and Belfast MP Devlin led the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Meade edited Dublin’s pro-home rule Evening Telegraph. A company of the Dublin Fusiliers was nicknamed the ‘pals’ battalion’ after groups of friends and workmates enlisting.
  11. In the July 17 ‘Notes on the Front’ Connolly quoted a letter in support of army recruitment which also criticised social conditions in Ireland. This was a “distinctly treasonable idea”, wrote Connolly, and “the poor Censor was fooled… unable to observe the plotting of treason and inciting of seditious letters in the mansion of an Irish aristocrat”.
  12. Healy’s father, Maurice senior, was a nationalist MP, as was his uncle Timothy who represented the employers in the Board of Trade inquiry into the 1913 lockout.
  13. A confectionery company in central Dublin.
  14. A nickname for British soldiers.
  15. This was the title of Connolly’s editorial in the January 29 Workers’ Republic, in which he discussed a talk given by Father Laurence to Dublin trades’ council. Connolly argued that in society, as in a family, all members should share equally in the common resources (see Collected Works II, New Books 1988, p 366-8). Joseph Bailey wrote to the paper, objecting that natural differences in individuals would lead to different demands upon social resources, and so they couldn’t be shared equally. Connolly’s reply follows.

Socialist Classics: James Connolly, ‘Labour in Irish History’

In Issue 40 (June 2010) Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh celebrated the centenary of Irish socialism’s most important work.

It doesn’t say much for the Irish left that not nearly enough is being said about the centenary of its most important work. While its earlier chapters were published twelve years before, it was in November 1910 that Labour in Irish History appeared in book form and provided Irish socialism with its most substantial literary asset to date. It ambitiously attempted to uncover a historical basis for its author’s political project of making Ireland into a workers’ republic, to show that aim arising logically from historical development rather than being any kind of ideal imposed from outside the social context in which Ireland’s working people had lived and fought.

While it remains the foundation stone of Irish labour history, Connolly emphasises that “This book does not aspire to be a history of labour in Ireland; it is rather a record of labour in Irish History” (Chapter XVI). He succeeds in rescuing from the enormous condescension of posterity countless movements and activists: the rebellions of tenant farmers and rural labourers, the utopian socialist community at Ralahine, trade union organiser John Doherty, socialist philosopher William Thompson, and many more. He debunks the mythology of nationalist heroes from Patrick Sarsfield to Daniel O’Connell, and insists on the revolutionary international­ism of the United Irishmen and Robert Emmet. The Famine he lays bare, not as a natural disaster or a mere symptom of British misrule, but as a logical consequence of the capitalist system and its laws. He was making “the first attempt to treat Irish History from the standpoint of the Working Class”,1 not just to bring the reality of their past struggles and interests to the fore, but “the lessons to be derived from a study of that position in guiding the movement of the working class to-day” (Chapter I). Connolly is a meticulous and dedicated historian, but refuses to adopt a pose of neutrality between workers and their oppressors.

He is eager to explain his methodology, “the Socialist key to the pages of history”, quoting Marx that “the prevailing method of economic production and exchange, and the social organisation necessarily following from it, forms the basis upon which alone can be explained the political and intellectual history” (Chapter II).2 Connolly is unabashedly proud of this Marxist view of history and its potential:

Without this key to the meaning of events, this clue to unravel the actions of “great men,” Irish history is but a welter of unrelated facts, a hopeless chaos of sporadic outbreaks, treacheries, intrigues, massacres, murders, and purposeless warfare. With this key all things become understandable and traceable to their primary origin; without this key the lost opportunities of Ireland seem such as to bring a blush to the cheek of the Irish worker; with this key Irish history is a lamp to his feet in the stormy paths of to-day.3

Labour in Irish History testifies in every chapter to how fruitful Marxism is in understanding history. Connolly sees what other historians missed because he knows to look in different places and ask different questions about different subjects. His conviction that the struggle of classes is the fundamental characteristic of social life enables him to present events as part of a consistent development with certain trends visible and certain conclusions to be drawn.

But his theoretical descriptions of this Marxist approach are often awkward, or just wrong. He intends to demonstrate how “economic conditions have controlled and dominated our Irish history”, and praises Thompson for expounding “economic determinist philosophy” (Chapters I, X). That “social organisation” following from the economic forces is left out of the picture altogether here, and there is quite a step from explaining political history on the basis of economics to portraying it as “controlled and dominated” by economics. Connolly warns us of “the vital truth that successful revolutions are not the product of our brains, but of ripe material conditions” (Chapter I), as if any revolution took place without human beings thinking, realising and arguing that the material opportunity could and should be grasped. The ideology of the capitalist class, which leads it and its representatives to genuine­ly believe that the conditions of its own rule are good for society in general, is explained as the fruit of eternal selfishness (Chapter IV): “The human race has at all times shown a proneness to gloss over its basest actions with a multitude of specious pretences, and to cover even its iniquities with the glamour of a false sentimentality.”

Sometimes this harsh determinism stands side by side with a more accurate insight, though, as in the foreword:

Just as it is true that a stream cannot rise above its source, so it is true that a national literature cannot rise above the moral level of the social conditions of the people from whom it derives its inspiration. If we would understand the national literature of a people we must study their social and political status, keeping in mind the fact that their writers were a product thereof, and that the children of their brains were conceived and brought forth in certain historical conditions.

The first sentence posits a straightforward correlation between social and literary conditions: good circumstances lead to good literature, bad circumstances to bad literature. But even the period discussed in the foreword, the second half of the seventeenth century, gives the lie to this, as a time of bleak existence for most people saw some of Ireland’s greatest literature produced by poets who did “rise above” the wretched social reality to characterise it powerfully. Other grim phases of human history have seen the same, while many periods of general prosperity have been times of bland artistic complacency. Art reflects society, but not directly or simply: artistic imagination and creation mediates the reality it confronts. On the other hand, Connolly’s second sentence here is perfectly correct, very well put and a useful presentation of an important point.

The determinism evident in theoretical formulations is balanced in descriptions of history in action. At one point, Connolly argues that if the commander of a French fleet sent to aid the United Irishmen in 1796 had had the guts to land in stormy weather, “Ireland would almost undoubtedly have been separated from England and become mistress of her own national destinies” (Chapter VII)—clearly an instance where a successful revolution needed brains as well as ripe objective conditions. He ascribes the United Irishmen’s successes to a combination of economic con­ditions, the influence of the French revolution, and “the activity of a revolutionist with statesmanship”, Theobald Wolfe Tone (Chapter VIII). While the book’s theory tends towards a paralysing belief that history is in the lap of the economy, its practice—its constant focus on the hopes, thoughts and movements of working people them­selves—outweighs that in favour of throwing active interventions into the scales of history. While we can follow the latter path in preference to the former, it would be easier if such a contradiction didn’t exist, if Connolly had explicitly resolved it.

Some of the faults consequent on this contradiction can be seen in the book’s close discussion of Grattan’s parliament, the semi-independent assembly of the late eighteenth century abolished by the Act of Union. Nationalist politicians claimed that it brought un­paralleled prosperity to Ireland, but Connolly disagrees: “we must emphatically deny that such prosperity was in any but an infinit­esimal degree produced by Parliament”. The Irish economy was subsequently left behind by Britain, he argues, because it lacked a coal supply to exploit the new manufacturing processes of the industrial revolution. Modern historians would certainly give more credence to this interpretation than the traditional nationalist reading, and of course Connolly is primarily concerned to refute the claim that re-establishing such an assembly would bring the Irish people to economic bliss: “true prosperity cannot be brought to Ireland except by measures somewhat more drastic than that Parliament ever imagined” (Chapter V).

The problem is that he starts from the premise that a Marxist almost has a duty to deny that parliaments and their legislation could possibly play any meaningful role in economic growth: “the Socialist philosophy of history provides the key to the problem—points to the economic development as the true solution” (Chapter V). But seeing economic relations as fundamental to history doesn’t mean that politics are only shaped by them, never influencing them in turn. Otherwise, why would capitalists do their best to ensure that states implement laws and policies favourable to their own interests? Engels put the point well:

Political, legal, philosophical, religious, literary, artistic etc. development is based on economic development. But they also all react upon each other and upon the economic basis. It is not that the economic conditions are cause, solely active and every­thing else only their passive effect. Rather, there is reciprocal action on the basis of economic necessity always asserting itself in the last resort. The state, e.g., influences things by protective duties, free trade, good or bad taxation system…4

And the issue of protective duties is where Connolly goes astray. He is right that “the Union placed all Irish manufactures upon an absolutely equal basis legally with the manufactures of England” (Chapter VI), but applying the same law to the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, never creates a truly level playing field. The fact that Irish capital didn’t have the legislative power to restrict British imports and give their own commodities a competitive advantage definitely contributed to its failure.

In fact, later in the same chapter we read: “An Ireland controlled by popular suffrage would undoubtedly have sought to save Irish industry while it was yet time by a stringent system of protection, which would have imposed upon imported goods a tax heavy enough to neutralise the advantages accruing to the foreigner from his coal supply, and such a system might have averted that decline of Irish industry”. So the lack of an Irish parliament did play a significant role in the economic decay after all. Once again, Connolly feels in theory bound to uphold an economic determinism, but overcomes its limitations in practice.

The book’s most unsound historical claim, however, is that “communal or tribal ownership of land” prevailed in Ireland as late as the 1640s (Chapter I). In reality, that original common ownership was gone long before Cromwell arrived, or even the Normans. Although the old forms and legal fictions were often maintained, clan leaders had effectively taken land and cattle into their private ownership. While Connolly puts this privatisation down to English colonialism, he recognises in the same chapter that

Such an event was, of course, inevitable in any case. Communal ownership of land would, undoubtedly, have given way to the privately owned system of capitalist-landlordism, even if Ireland had remained an independent country, but coming as it did in obedience to the pressure of armed force from without, instead of by the operation of economic forces within, the change has been bitterly and justly resented by the vast mass of the Irish people, many of whom still mix with their dreams of liberty longings for a return to the ancient system of land tenure—now organically impossible.

Even if feudalism had been introduced at the point of the English sword, how is that so different from the typical run of history? Economic systems rarely succeed each other through peaceful internal evolution, but usually through external pressure of trade or warfare. Even in England, feudalism was established—at least in its systematic, classic form—by Norman invasion.

Connolly’s intention is to argue that “the capitalist system is the most foreign thing in Ireland”, and therefore the nationalism of “the politicians and anti-Socialists of Ireland” is not genuine but “apostate patriotism” (Foreword, Chapter XIV). Placing opposition to capitalism on a nationalist basis is mistaken on several grounds. Firstly, the historical rationale given for it here is so easy to refute. Secondly, growth of a native capitalist class could soon turn this “foreign” system into a guaranteed Irish product. Thirdly, while Connolly illustrates that the revolutionary socialism he stands for corresponds well to Irish history, it happened to be born abroad in the struggles of French, English and German workers, and not even the most zealous genealogist could get Karl Marx an Irish passport. But principally, instead of challenging nationalism (a commitment to the Irish nation above all) with socialism (a commitment to the world’s working class above all) Connolly is trying to marry the two, to introduce socialism as no more than a logical extension of nationalism.

Again, though, Connolly supplies his own refutation, at least in part. The defeat of the clans, he writes in Chapter VIII, “made it impossible thereafter to localise an insurrectionary effort, or to give it a smaller or more circumscribed aim than that of the Irish Nation… And from that day forward the idea of common property was destined to recede into the background as an avowed principle of action”. So, far from nationalism going hand in hand with common property, the idea of the Irish nation only truly emerged through the final defeat of common property as a principle. And the notion of “the vast mass of the Irish people” resenting the death of communal ownership and longing to bring it back is contradicted by Connolly’s frank acceptance that “to-day the majority of the Irish do not know that their fathers ever knew another system of ownership” (Foreword).

The differing attitudes are occasionally due to the circumstances in which Labour in Irish History was written. The book’s first five chapters were originally published in 1898, with the remaining chapters and foreword only appearing (and probably only written) in 1908-10. Originally Connolly had dismissed left-wing rhetoric from middle-class nationalists, whose only purpose—even when it was “hardly distinguishable from the critical doctrines of Socialism” —was “to arouse the enthusiasm and obtain the support of the propertyless masses”, and was always cancelled out by right-wing statements anyway.5 This was dropped from the book, however, and Chapter XIV especially shows a marked softness towards the militant wing of the Young Ireland movement.

Thomas Devin Reilly is quoted as saying that “Communism destroys the independence and dignity of labour, makes the workingman a State pauper and takes his manhood from him.” Connolly pleads in his defence that “many who are earnest workers for Socialism to-day would, like Devin Reilly, have ‘abhorred’ the crude Communism of 1848”—but we are clearly reading the statement of someone who wants to prevent socialism rather than refine it. John Mitchel’s condemnation of the Parisian workers’ insurrection of that year is likewise explained away: he was “led astray by the garbled reports of English newspapers”. Mitchel did indeed complain that French press reports weren’t available, but he reacted to the insurgents with a bitter hatred of socialism that even the most accurate reportage wouldn’t have shifted: “they were swept away from the streets with grape and canisters—the only way of dealing with such unhappy creatures… Socialists are something worse than wild beasts”.6 James Fintan Lalor’s attempt to win in­dependence through a radical land reform is impressive, but Connolly’s depiction of him as an “apostle of revolutionary Socialism” heavily over-eggs the pudding.

The strongest feature of the book and its most enduring contrib­ution to socialist theory is how it delineates the position of various classes in Irish history. Capitalists were discommoded by British restrictions on their business, but their unhappiness had its limits: “Irish capitalism became discontented and disloyal without, as a whole, the power or courage to be revolutionary” (Chapter VIII). The empire at least provided some protection for their property, whereas a popular insurrection would be an unknown quantity, so “the Irish capitalist class dreaded the people more than they feared the British Government” (Chapter VI). They now “have a thousand economic strings in the shape of investments binding them to English capitalism as against every sentimental or historic attach­ment toward Irish patriotism” (Foreword).

The gap they left was often filled by those immediately below them. “The lower middle class gave to the National cause in the past many unselfish patriots”, but tended always to push the movement along constitutional and reformist lines, “leaving untouched the bases of national and economic subjection” (Chapter I). Connolly’s point was illustrated better still in the years after his execution, when a middle-class movement did the work of an absent capitalist class, characteristically botching the job. Internationally, the phenomenon of bourgeois revolutions being carried out by proxy has recurred with varying results, but the overall failure to win full national or social liberation under middle-class leadership has persisted.

Hence the justly celebrated conclusion that “only the Irish working class remain as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland” (Foreword). Again and again Connolly points up the folly of a strategy for national independence which doesn’t involve working people getting what’s theirs (Chapters I, IX):

The workers, though furnishing the greatest proportion of recruits to the ranks of the revolutionists, and consequently of victims to the prison and the scaffold, could not be imbued en masse with the revolutionary fire necessary to seriously imperil a dominion rooted for 700 years in the heart of their country. They were all anxious enough for freedom, but realising the enormous odds against them, and being explicitly told by their leaders that they must not expect any change in their condition of social subjection, even if successful, they as a body shrank from the contest, and left only the purest minded and most chivalrous of their class to face the odds… the producing classes could not be expected to rally to the revolution unless given to understand that it meant their freedom from social as well as political bondage.

And again and again, he points up the need for a combined on­slaught on both the oppression of Ireland and the oppression of the workers (Chapters XIII, XIV, XVI):

a social and national revolution, each resting upon the other. …the same insurrectionary upheaval that destroyed and ended the social subjection of the producing classes would end the hateful foreign tyranny reared upon it. …the nationalist aspirations of their race pointed to the same conclusion, called for the same action, as the material interests of their class—viz., the complete overthrow of the capitalist government and the national and social tyranny upon which it rested.

Labour in Irish History is, from first to last, a sustained attack on the idea of national unity, of workers patriotically postponing their demands until the nation as a whole has won its freedom. Instead it is founded upon a strategy of fusing the national and social struggles in the fight of the working class, a permanent revolution that rids Ireland of British imperialism and the capitalist system together.

Connolly would be the last person to claim that his book was free of weaknesses. Indeed he explicitly says he is only clearing the way for “other and abler pens than our own” (Chapter I). It is doubtful if we have had any abler pens or abler minds than James Connolly’s in the century since, but we have a duty to treat him as a comrade rather than a idol, to try and correct the mistakes he couldn’t help but make. Not only will such criticism cast an even stronger light on the inexpressible political debt we still owe him in every aspect of our activity, but it will help bring his practical vision of the workers’ republic closer to realisation.

Notes

  1. As The Workers’ Republic, February 1903 said when publishing the first chapter.
  2. The sentence is actually from Friedrich Engels’s preface to the 1888 English translation of the Communist Manifesto. Like other quotations in Labour in Irish History, it isn’t 100 per cent accurate.
  3. Chapter XVI. This passage first appeared in ‘A Text for a Revolutionary Lecture’, The Harp, August 1908. I have outlined the history of the book’s composition and publication in ‘James Connolly and the writing of Labour in Irish History’, Saothar 27 (2002).
  4. Letter to Heinz Starkenburg, 25 January 1894.
  5. This sentence appeared in all four newspaper publications of the first chapter, from The Workers’ Republic, 17 September 1898 to The Harp, August 1908.
  6. John Mitchel, Jail Journal (University Press of Ireland, 1982), p 78. Connolly doesn’t mention Mitchel’s later support for the slave owners in the American civil war.

The Hidden Connolly 39

More articles by James Connolly were published for the first time since his execution in Issue 39 (March 2010).

Home Thrusts

[The Workers’ Republic, August 5 1899]

Wicklow and the Mansion House.1

Who can do full justice to them?

The hillsiders and the firesiders, the physical force men and the Home Rulers, the Separatists and the Parnellites, all eagerly climbing in each other’s hair, denouncing each other as tricksters, and making the world merry over the spectacle of Irishmen fighting about monu­ments to the dead—

Whilst the living are starving and perishing around them.

Let us take them in their order.

I had an idea Wicklow would afford good sport, and I was not disappointed. When you see it announced that a meeting is to be addressed by men holding the most diverse opinions on the subject of the meeting, and that those men are to speak from the same platform, you may reasonably expect curious development.

At Wicklow I got full value for my money.

When a Home Ruler talks about the “Freedom of Ireland”, he means a parliament in Dublin under the gracious protection of the British Army.

When a hillsider talks about the “Freedom of Ireland”, he means, or ought to mean, that form of national independence which can only be realised by expelling the British Army.

At Wicklow they were both on the platform, taking turn about at the spouting.

Here is a brief resume of the speeches—no parody either, though it reads like one.

Mr William Field MP said:—

England is now surrounded by enemies on all sides—Germany, France, Russia, all waiting the opportunity for a blow, and the time is fast approaching when she will have to battle for her very existence, and how much better it would be for her to give us our right, and have us as her friend and ally, instead of her enemy.

That is to say that if England gives Ireland Home Rule, we will supply her with an army to defend her stolen possessions abroad, and help her to keep down and rob all her subject populations.

A true friend of liberty is Mr Field.

Then Mr T Byrne of Blackrock, the next speaker, said he believed in the weapons of Billy Byrne and was prepared to adopt them “at 48 hours notice”.

This helped to take the taste of Mr Field’s speech out of our mouths, and we breathed again.

Though personally, I would have liked to hear the speaker explain the meaning of the “48 hours notice” clause, and would 47½ hours not do in an emergency?

Mr Walsh, of Arklow, was the next speaker. He said:—

Since 1798 every generation of Irishmen has planted a milestone on the road to Irish freedom. It is our turn now to plant the second last milestone, and let us plant it on an eminence, so that if we are not permitted to plant the last, we may at least see it afar off—not merely a milestone, but a great monument of free­dom, erected by the genius and intellect of the Irish people, a restored parliament in College Green.

Then Mr C G Doran, of Queenstown, “tuk the flure” and said:—

The man who tells you that a parliament in College Green means the realisation of Ireland’s struggle for freedom is a disgrace to the cause of Irish nationality.

It was like the variety “turns” in a Music Hall; each succeeding speaker scoffed at the ideas of his predecessor, and the audience went away declaring it was as good as a pantomime.

A mace, presented to the Corporation by some English king, was carried in procession around the town; one of the county ’98 clubs bore a banner with the inscription, “Who fears to speak of ’98? Restore us our Native Parliament”, its bearers being apparently blissfully unconscious of the fact that the ’98 insurrection was directed against the “Native Parliament”; and in order to demon­strate to all and sundry that it is unwise to take life too seriously, or to think middle class public men ever mean what they say in public,

Alderman Russell of the Temperance Association and Alderman Hussey of the publicans’ association (Licensed Vintners) spent the day driving around together on a side car.

The Lord Mayor got into a fight with Mr Doran; the one cheered for Parnell, the other for Wolfe Tone, and the audience cheered them both, with the same impartiality and much the same spirit as animates a crowd of urchins at a dog fight.

And this is what is called “honouring the dead”.

It served to make me more and more convinced that in the un­compromising spirit, the rigid intolerance, and stern exclusiveness shown by the Socialist Republican party are to be found the only true methods whereby an effective revolutionary movement may be built up.

Unquestionably, were we to soften down our programme, or hide our purpose under a cloud of misty phrases, we could also get big gatherings, as at Wicklow.

But then we would be as contemptible for any effective purpose as was the Wicklow gathering.

A big gathering, attracted by a cheap railway fare, a good day, and bands and banners, but united in no one purpose or wish, except—

A wild, burning, maddening, insatiable, consuming, all-devouring, absorbing, scorching, overwhelming, excruciating, exhil­arating, renovating, never abating hope—that the pubs would open.

What could they do for Ireland?

Not one of the speakers, except Mr Doran, seemed to have any idea that there was anything the matter with the social system, or that the social arrangements of Ireland nationally free might be exhibited as being on a higher plane of perfection than the social system of Ireland nationally enslaved.

Yet, it is in the revolt of the workers against the degradation caused by the present social system will be found the needed force to carry the national hopes of Ireland to a successful realisation.

In hatred of the present, not in raising monuments to the past, is to be found the key-note of success.

The men who alternately reviled and cringed to each other at the Mansion House are also worthy samples of the movements they represent, mere political back numbers, as useful for present day purposes as a Queen Anne gun before a Nordenfeldt.

When the working class of Ireland begins to manifest a desire for real freedom, and a determination to possess it, then you will see “Unity”, for you will see all those warring kites and crows flocking together for mutual support against that danger.

From Alderman Meade, Parnellite and member of the Privy Council in control of the Police who keep down the people, down to the wirepullers on the ’98 Executive, there is not a man of who it may not be safely predicted that in the next revolutionary outburst in Europe—now only a matter of a few years—they will be found side by side with the British Imperial government, supporting the powers of oppression, and attacking the revolutionary party.

They are doing it now. Read their papers—their advanced papers, mar dhea—and you will see they are doing it now; in every reference to European politics they champion the cause of militarism and class oppression, preparing the Irish people for the dirty work they purpose in the future.

But the working class of Ireland are no longer the gullible people they were; we are no more inclined to risk making ourselves food for powder, inmates for prison cell, or milch cows for politicians, simply in order to transform Ireland into a pocket edition of capitalist nations like England or America.

We mean to be free, and in every friend of freedom we recognise a brother, wherever be his birthplace; in every enemy of freedom we also recognise our enemy, though he were as Irish as our hills.

The whole of Ireland for the people of Ireland—their public property, to be owned and operated as a national heritage, by the labour of free men in a free country:

That is our ideal, and when you ask us what are our methods, we reply:

“Those which lie nearest our hands.”

We do not call for a “United Nation”. No nation can be united whilst capitalism and landlordism exists. The system divides society into two warring sections—the robbers and the robbed, the idlers and the workers, the rich and the poor, the men of property and the men of no property.

Like Wolfe Tone and Mitchel before us, we appeal to “that large and respectable class of the community, the men of no property”.

Let them rally to the Socialist Republican banner, the banner of true freedom, and so rallying, remember that

Those who wait for justice, never gain it,
That the multitudes are most sublime
When, rising armed, they combat to obtain it

Spailpín

Wolfe Tone and his “Admirers”?

[The Workers’ Republic, August 5 1899]

The wordy warfare at present being waged between the partisans of a monument to Wolfe Tone and the partisans of what, we think, the former are justified in considering the rival monument to Charles Stewart Parnell is an interesting exemplification of one of the most persistent and fatal characteristics of the Irish people, viz., their tendency to worship the glories of the past, whilst remaining in­different to every practical proposal for remedying the evils of the present.

Such an attitude—of fierce excitement over monuments to DEAD heroes—is the attitude peculiar to all political parties when they have reached the stage of political bankruptcy, as the worship of past glories is the inevitable accompaniment of the decline of a nation. It is because the men who so loudly proclaim their adhesion to the faith of Wolfe Tone are so hopelessly incapable of appreciating the originality of his genius and the broadness of his outlook that the advanced Nationalist movement has been narrowed down from the revolutionary promise of its inception to the limits of a squalid squabble over precedence in collecting the coppers of a nation of slaves, in order to erect a monument to the memory of a free man. These, it may be, seem harsh words, but will the reader pause to consider the real inner meaning of the fracas at the Mansion House the other day between the supporters of the two rival monument schemes. To us it seems as if both sides were so little convinced of the strength of their cause, or of the place of their idols in the affections of the Irish people, that they felt assured that any other similar project would effectually ruin the chances of their success; if this is not the reason for all the acrimony displayed, it must be that both sides, feeling themselves to be out of touch with the thought and feeling of the present, were zealously striving to focus attention on the past—in order to galvanise into fresh life their decaying organisations. Certain it is that no political party having a potency of power in the national life of today, no political party having an answer to the deeply pressing problems of the present, and no political or revolutionary organisation having the slightest hope of success, requires the adventitious aid of post-mortem hero worship to smooth its path to popularity, and when any political party is seen raising a furore over the dead, whilst remaining dumb on the wrongs of the living, it may be taken for granted that such party contains no germ of new revolutionary vigour—and is painfully conscious of the fact. Every really great movement in history has arisen spontaneously in response to the needs of the time; the move­ment of the United Irishmen in 1798 arose in response to the demand of the people for a political and social order more suited to the needs of industry than the corrupt and antiquated despotisms of Europe would permit of. Such revolutionary movements heeded but little the “glorious memories of the past,” but they unweariedly insisted on the necessity of a change for the sake of the present: in fact a comprehensive study of the voluminous literature issued by the United Irishmen will scarcely reveal one instance of those appeals to tradition, or to the memory of “patriotic predecessors,” so common at the present day in circles priding themselves on “following in the footsteps of Tone and the United Irishmen.” On this point we may safely challenge contradiction: strange as it may seem to those who know nothing of ’98 except the record of its battles, the revolutionists of that day were so intensely wedded to the idea that only from a just resentment at their own wrongs could the people be induced to move that even references to the past glories of Ireland before the Norman invasion were never indulged in by their pamphleteers and pressmen; they turned the attention of the people, not to the “glorious past,” but to the shameful and hateful present, to the pregnant and fateful future.

We are told to imitate Wolfe Tone, but the greatness of Wolfe Tone lay in the fact that he imitated nobody. The needs of his time called for a man able to shake from off his mind the intellectual fetters of the past, and to unite in his own person the hopes of the new revolutionary faith and the ancient aspirations of an oppressed people; as the occasion creates the hero, so the Spirit of the Age found Wolfe Tone, and out of the seemingly unpromising material of a briefless barrister created the organising brain of an almost successful revolution, the astute diplomat, the fearless soldier, and the unconquered martyr.

A monument to such a man can only be erected by a free people. The attempt of a body which has publicly repudiated one half of his principles to pose as the inheritors of his cause is as insulting to his memory as to the intelligence of the Irish people. The man who held out the right hand of friendship to the revolutionists of Europe is not honoured, but insulted, when his name is invoked by men who, in press and on platform, are continually prating of the armed help of the despots of Europe as one hope of Ireland.

Let Ireland seek help where Wolfe Tone found it, viz., in the ranks of the democracy in revolt; wherever the Socialist banner flies, there gather the true friends of freedom; there let us take our stand, and there let us prepare to raise the only worthy monument to the pioneers of freedom—the realisation of that freedom for which they fought.

Notes

  1. The month before, a demonstration took place in Wicklow to lay the foundation stone for a monument to the local United Irishman Billy Byrne, and a meeting was held in Dublin’s Mansion House to launch the building of a monument to Parnell. The latter was opposed by others wanting a monument to Wolfe Tone.

The Hidden Connolly 28

A speech and an article by James Connolly were published in Issue 28 (June 2007) for the first time since his execution, illustrations of his militant trade unionism.

Timber Trade Lock-Out and the Railway Strike

Great Mass Meeting1

[The Irish Worker, September 27 1911]

[…]Mr James Connolly, Organising Secretary, Irish Transport Workers’ Union, Belfast, said—I am glad to see such a large meeting gathered here today. As you know, I come from the Black North (laughter and applause), and in the course of this fight and the fight that immediately preceded it I have been doing all I could to enrol the men of the North, irrespective of party or religion or race, in one great army of labour. Now, in the North I have been told, and especially in Belfast, that this fight was being carried on by a Fenian Lodge. I come down to Dublin and I hear that the fight is being carried on by imported English agitators (laughter). The difficulty is to know which of the statements is right—perhaps the imported agitators have joined the Fenian Lodge. If they have, it must make a good fusion. Now, I am going to say a few words relative to the cause of the present dispute, and in dealing with it I am going to refresh your memory and the memory of others on some facts of Irish History—the more we know of it, the better we can fight. The more we know how our fathers fought and endured, the more it will be possible for us to fight and to suffer and to endure also. Through the fight today I find one recurrent note in the newspapers. It is that the demand of the railway men that they shall not be required to handle goods contaminated by blackleg labour is absolutely new—in a word, that it is revolutionary to a degree that was never dreamt of before. Now, in the first place, I am going to point out to you that that demand is reasonable, and, what is more, it is of the last consequence to the working classes. Not only in this country but in all countries, history has been marked by certain well-developed stages. It has come to be recognised that what was an injury to one was an injury to all. Until that one idea entered into the minds of men, there was no place for human progress. We were savages—each man fighting his own battle; but when that idea came into men’s minds they formed the clan, and from that developed to the nation. We of the working class have had our individual period, when the employer could do with us as he liked, when he took us on or dismissed us, and robbed us at his will. Some of us have been in the clan stage. We have our little unions, and there are yet some who can’t see outside the fences of their own little union. But we are developing on to something broader, and we have come to realise that while the interest of the individual and the little union is great, the interest of the working class is greater still, and today that is where we stand. The railway men see that what injures the transport workers injures them, and the transport workers see that when the railway men are in dispute, what injures them injures the transport workers also. We are thus all together, and we stand or fall together; and we feel that if our class loses, the loss is not to the working masses but to the whole of Ireland. Let us recall the struggle of the tenant farmers, and take as my witness the Freeman’s Journal or the Independent or so-called Nationalist newspapers in Ireland. At one time or another they backed up the tenant farmers in doing what the railway workers are doing today. Do you remember what gave that magnificent word “boycott” to the English language? As we have enriched the English nation, we have also enriched the English language. Michael Davitt (applause) and men like him had told them that when one tenant farmer was struck, that blow went home to every man in Ireland; and when a landgrabber, or a “scab” in trades­men’s language, took the place of a tenant farmer, the whole of the tenants struck against him. Those newspapers which today have such short memories had declared that the man who took a farm from which another was evicted was not only a traitor to his class, but a traitor to the whole of Ireland. Irish patriotism came to be synonymous with the interest of the tenant farmers, and consequently all Ireland was turned against the scab—the butcher nor the grocer would not supply him, the doctor would not visit him, nor the schoolmaster teach his children, and even the clergy would not favour him. But today, up in James’s St, they had a clergyman telling the railway men to go back to work. It was hard to say whether he spoke as a clergyman or a shareholder. When it was driven home to the conscience of the people that the man who took a farm from which another was evicted was doing an injury to all, how could these men have the hardihood to tell us that the demand of the railway men was an unheard-of demand? For years and years the Freeman’s Journal and all the politicians had advised the tenant farmers to do what the railway men were beginning to do now. It is a good thing to imitate your superiors—all these men say they are your superiors (laughter). They are the upper classes (laughter). Well, we will imitate them, and as they required security and economic independence for tenant farmers, we will see to it that we get it also for the working classes (cheers). No matter how the present dispute goes, it is not the end. It is in fact only the beginning. We are resolved that from that vantage point the working class is going to advance steadily—we are going to advance, bit by bit, inch by inch, until we plant the flag of labour on the fortress of the enemy (cheers). And when that is done we will solve not only this little problem, but Ireland, from Cape Clear to Malin Head, will be for the benefit of the working classes (applause). […]2

Belfast Mill Strike

[The Irish Worker, October 28 1911]

Readers of The Irish Worker will, we believe, be interested to learn of the mill workers’ strike in Belfast. It may at once be said that the conduct and termination of the strike was a most striking exemplific­ation of the superiority of the new conceptions of industrial union­ism over the old theories and methods. Measured in terms of wages there was nothing gained; measured in terms of industrial self-respect and decreased industrial slavery the gain has been immense. Employers and workers alike have gained a valuable lesson in the power of organisation and the uplifting force of the new ideas.

Your Ulster correspondent has already told how the strike started.3 The Ulster linen manufacturers had agreed to curtail the output 10 per cent. In conformity with the letter of this agreement the mills were put upon short time; in direct violation of the spirit of agreement with his fellows every individual manufacturer pro­ceeded to speed up his machinery in order to get as much out of the short time as out of the full time. They wanted to curtail the output alright, but it was the output of wages. In addition to this the opportunity was taken to give notice of the enforcement of new rules, which for cold-blooded tyranny and scientific slave-driving could not be surpassed outside the domain of a convict prison.

Fines were inflicted for laughing, for whispering, or humming a song, or fixing the hair of the head, and instant [dismissal]4 was the penalty for daring to bring a pennyworth of sweets, darning or knitting needles, into the mill. The whole [atmosphere of the]4 mill was an atmosphere of slavery. The workers were harassed by petty bosses, mulcted in fines for the most trivial offences, and robbed and cheated in the most deliberate and systematic manner. If a spinner, whose weekly wages averaged 11s 3d, lost a day’s work, stayed out a day, she was fined 2s 7d—a sum out of all proportion to her daily earnings. The same was true of the half-timers and the doffers—little children.5 The godly employers of Belfast cheated those little ones in the same barefaced manner, waxing rich out of their pilferings from the helpless girls.

Well, at last they struck. The spinners marched out and all the others in their department followed suit. There were over 1,100 women and girls out. At their own request we organised them. No other trade unionist looked near them, helped them, or encouraged them. The employers threatened a lock-out if they did not return. They defied them, and they locked them out. But on the day the lock-out was to commence our friend, Mary Galway, of the textile operatives society, accompanied by Mr Greig, of the National Amalgamated Union of Labour, appeared at the factory gates and advised them to return to work, Miss Galway announcing that she would not pay strike pay to the few members of her own society who were among the strikers. The latter scorned to crawl back at Miss Galway’s bidding, and when Mr Connolly appeared on the scene, flocked, cheering, around him. From that time the whole conduct of the struggle was in our hands. The newspapers tried their hardest by lying misrepresentations and boycotting to distort public opinion and alienate public sympathy. But the girls fought heroic­ally. We held a meeting in St Mary’s Hall, and packed it with 3,000 girls and women. They were packed from floor to ceiling, sitting in the aisles, squatting on the floor between the platform and the seats, 3,000 cheering, singing, enthusiastic females, and not a hat amongst them. The following resolution was passed unanimously:—

Resolved:—That this mass meeting of millworkers welcome the establishment in this city of a textile branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, and that we pledge it our undivided and unfailing support, and that we condemn as a disgrace to our civilisation the conditions sought to be imposed upon us by the millowners, and heartily endorse the strike in the mills, and recommend the strikers to the sympathy and support of the Belfast public.

We held processions through the streets, and at various meetings the strikers were addressed by Mrs Johnson (who has worked herself nearly to death in the struggle), Mr Flanagan,6 Mr D R Campbell, President of the Trades Council, and Mr Connolly. Over £87 was collected in the streets, and strike pay to the extent of 2s only was paid to over 1,100 women.

We knew when the strike started that it was a particularly bad time to ask for higher wages, but we calculated that if we had the leading and instructing of the strikers for a week or two we could teach them how to evade the tyranny of the rules and oppressive conditions generally inside the mills. Having acquired that ascend­ancy by earning the confidence of the strikers, we told them to go back to work, and to systematically break every absurd and harsh rule. Mr Connolly said, “If a girl is checked for singing, let the whole room start singing at once; if you are checked for laughing, let you all laugh; and if anyone is dismissed, all put on your shawls and come out in a body. And when you are returning do not return as you usually do, but gather in a body outside the gate and march in singing and cheering.”

The idea caught on and was taken up with enthusiasm at Mile Water, York Road mill. Mr Flanagan advised the girls to “go in singing, and if the boss did not like it, then come out singing at once.” They went in singing and cheering for Connolly and Flanagan. The manager was furious, and singling out one particularly active girl, sent her down to the gate-house. When she was missed, the workers, who were just about to start [work again, immediately stopped, put on]7 their shawls, and demanded her re-instatement. She had gone home, and the manager had to send home for her, ask her to come back, and bring her into the room before anyone would do a stroke of work. Her appearance was greeted with cheers and choruses of strike songs improvised for the occasion. At York Street the girls did not return till dinner-time, then, congregating outside, they formed up and marched in cheering and singing.

Inside they have acted upon the advice given. As a result the whole atmosphere of the mill is changed. The slave-driving is checked, laughter and songs and pleasant chat can be heard, and the work is in nowise interfered with. In York Street also an attempt was made at victimisation, but it was met by the same solid front on the part of the workers. No such complete unanimity was ever known in the mills of Belfast before.

Had the advice of Miss Galway and Mr Greig been taken in the previous week the strikers would have gone back broken-hearted and dispirited. The employers would have treated them as a lot of senseless, irresponsible females who could be trampled on at will. But taking our advice, they grew into a solid, compact body, animated by one spirit, and standing unitedly together.

No such inspiring, cheering spectacle has been seen in Belfast as the sight of these girls and women marching in, more defiant, radiant, and hopeful than when they came out. We believe that out of such material, leavened by the spirit of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, we will be able to create a movement that will soon absorb the best and most of the Belfast mill workers.

SÉAMUS

Notes

  1. A rail strike throughout Ireland and Britain began on 16 August. The disruption to the timber trade led employers to lock out their workers. Although the rail strike was settled in August with substantial wage increases, the timber lockout continued. At this meeting in central Dublin on 23 September, Connolly was preceded by Thomas Murphy, president of the Dublin Trades Council, and J E Williams, general secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants.
  2. Other speakers from the ASRS and the ITGWU followed, including Jim Larkin. Despite further strike action later that month by Irish railworkers, the timber workers had to give in early the next month.
  3. The ‘Ulster Notes’ in the previous two issues of The Irish Worker had reported on the strike.
  4. The newspaper is damaged here.
  5. A doffer’s job was to ‘doff’ or tie up spindles of linen thread. Half-timers were children between 12 and 14 years of age who worked half of each week in the mills.
  6. Marie Johnson became secretary of the ITGWU’s textile workers’ section, and James Flanagan was central in establishing the union in Belfast.
  7. The newspaper is damaged here.

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 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?

Rediscovering the reconquest

Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh examined a new edition of James Connolly’s The Re-Conquest of Ireland in Issue 61 (September 2015).

John Callow, James Connolly & The Re-Conquest of Ireland (Evans Mitchell Books / GMB / RMT,)

James Connolly’s pamphlet The Re-Conquest of Ireland was first published in early 1915, selling for sixpence. In 2008 Adam’s auctioneers, apparent experts at monetising our history, sold a copy of that edition for €650. Now we have a lavishly produced edition of the work, in the dimensions of a coffee table book but containing the clearest breakthrough in Connolly scholarship for a long time. Its de luxe presentation comes at an affordable price, thanks to generous sponsorship from two unions based in Britain but conscious of their debt to Connolly. In a preface, the late Bob Crow makes amends for what he openly calls the “treachery” of the RMT’s predecessors against Dublin’s locked-out workers a century ago (p 19), while stressing that the rank and file acted more honourably. The Jim Connell Society and London’s Marx Memorial Library also contrib­uted to the book’s production.

John Callow, director of archives at that library, has rediscovered a cache of papers deposited there in 1969 by Bert Edwards, husband of Connolly’s youngest daughter Fiona. They contain papers relating to the Connolly family, including Fiona’s childhood memoir, letters written to her by Constance Markievicz, and documents relative to the political activities of Connolly’s children after his death—activities more extensive than is sometimes assumed. The jewel, however, is the manuscript of the last book Connolly published, The Re-Conquest of Ireland.

The story of these papers in itself forms another interesting chapter in the history of Connolly’s Nachlass. After their acquisition was announced in the Library’s bulletin, they were ignored and even neglected. Callow speculates that the tangled politics of British Communism had an influence in Connolly’s work being downgraded in the eyes of the library, but it is clear that straightforward lack of funds, personnel and care played a large part. It seems that Fiona Connolly herself had no hand in the donation, having separated from Edwards some time before. An inquiry from Connolly’s grandson Ross in 1984 was rebuffed, and what cataloguing was done confirms little understanding of what the library had in its possession. When Callow got his hands on the collection in 2005, gaps showed that some material had gone astray or simply been stolen.

Much of the collection touches on ground which has been well covered elsewhere, and the discussion of it here is sometimes lengthier than is warranted. But there are pointers which should serve to reorient our approach to Connolly. It is significant that Fiona kept a 1910 article by Peadar Ó Maicín welcoming Connolly’s return from the US. Given that she was a three-year-old in New York at the time of its publication, it seems safe to assume that it was her father who cut it out of the Irish Nation. While it is extremely refreshing to find a labour historian willing to utilise a source in Irish, it is unfortunate that he has had the article translated by someone whose Irish just isn’t up to the job. Anyone of middling fluency could have told him that “Togha Gaedheal” doesn’t mean “one of our best speakers”, that “leabhraíní” doesn’t mean “writers”, or that “beatha lucht saothair” doesn’t mean “who will feed labour” (p 56).1

While The Re-Conquest of Ireland didn’t finally appear until 1915, its genesis goes back a good bit before that—in fact, a deal longer than Callow notes. Connolly first employed the title and central concept of the pamphlet in 1899. He welcomed moves to bring public works under the control of the new county councils as the worker using “one weapon of his emancipation—the ballot box… to transfer himself from the employment of an irresponsible master to the service of a public board”, with implications for national liberation too:

The subjection of Ireland which is represented to-day as a mere political question is instead an economic, a social question.… The conquest of Ireland is founded upon the dispossession of her people from all right to the soil, and from all right to life except upon terms dictated by the possessing class… in exact proportion as the workers take the control of the work of the country from the hands of private individuals and vest it in the charge of public bodies representing the Irish people, in the same proportion does Ireland strike from off her limbs the shackles of slavery.

Class-conscious workers could “vote to take every industry from the hands of the master class and vest it in the hands of associations of workers”. When “this socialization of society, this gradual re-conquest of Ireland” would inevitably be opposed by British imperialism, “the fight for national independence will be taken up by the working class already in possession of the internal government of the country”.2 The same concept, referred back to the same period, would reappear in the opening chapter of The Re-Conquest. As the first germ of its central idea, it would have been useful to reproduce that article in this book.3

A series of articles by Connolly on ‘Labour and the Re-Conquest of Ireland’ commenced in the Irish Worker of 4 May 1912. Its first sentence placed the series in the context of the home rule bill which had just passed its first reading. Connolly was “prepared to accept it as a working measure of reform, by means of which we may secure a foothold to enable us to still further extend our grip in the future over our country, and thus over our own lives. But a final settlement it is not.” He condemned the Redmondites’ exclusion of women from home rule, and their marginalisation of workers, as evidenced in the refusal to allow Ireland school meals or the medical benefits of the National Insurance Act. Connolly’s series would focus on the results of misgovernment in Ireland, with a lofty aim in mind:

The goal which the Labour Movement of Ireland sets before the Irish worker is nothing less than the complete reconquest of Ireland.… This is the Irish expression of that world-wide struggle of the workers for the mastery of the earth.

The sixth article (although numbered ‘V’) appeared on 15 June. Connolly hoped that the Labour Party—whose formation he had successfully proposed to the ITUC the month before—would prioritise the plight of those injured at work. He returned to conditions in the north, “glancing briefly, from the working-class standpoint, at the causes responsible for the nurture and progress of that religious bigotry which has earned for this quarter its unenviable notoriety… no good purpose could be served by seeking to ignore it as, in fact, it will not and cannot be ignored”. He traced the economic development of Ulster after the Williamite war, the scarcity of land causing tensions “which the aristocracy carefully manipulated into a religious feud”. This continued with the industrial growth of Belfast, “the employers skilfully playing the one section off against the other”. Such sectarianism perpetuated the employers’ economic dominance to the detriment of all workers: “It is due to the capitalist-landlord system that we have seen in the North of Ireland Catholic worker pitted against Protestant worker”.

Two more articles were to follow. Jim Larkin had suggested that the series be published in pamphlet form by the Labour Party, but when he failed to respond to Connolly’s enquiries on its publication, they didn’t appear. Larkin’s coolness towards the Labour Party did a lot to ensure the organisation failed to take shape, and The Re-Conquest of Ireland was amongst the collateral damage. There is something to Callow’s suggestion that Larkin may have been un­comfortable that the pamphlet “might also have confirmed Connolly as the party’s leading theorist”. He is right to regret the fact that the work didn’t appear as originally intended, “forcing a hiatus in the writing and editing… that had a significant impact upon its eventual form and focus” (p 146).

A year later, Connolly was clear that the Labour Party wasn’t about to materialise any time soon. “Last year they passed a proposal to establish an Irish Labour Party”, he told the 1913 ITUC, “but up to the present it had not been carried out.”4 He set about reorganising, rewriting and expanding The Re-Conquest for publication elsewhere. Here, this process is located during “the Christmas and New Year of 1913-14” (p 146), following other authors.5 However, Connolly was still up to his ears with a certain industrial dispute in Dublin at that time, discussing its details from his sick bed and spending the new year away from his family.6 As Callow relates, he was sending the work to an agent on 26 January 1914, after it had already been considered and rejected by a publisher. The timing doesn’t really fit, and an earlier period in 1913 seems more likely. The articles which form the core of Chapter II were published in July and September that year in the Glasgow Forward.7 A reference to the present time is followed with “(1913)”, a handwritten addition (p 204) unlikely to have been made on the cusp of 1914.

The result is reproduced photographically here. It is a collection of manuscript pages and newspaper cuttings, often cut and re-ordered, interspersed with additions, corrections and emendations. The whole is transcribed, including chapters absent from the manu­script. In all, it provides a priceless opportunity to witness Connolly at work, writing and rewriting, honing his message.

Connolly prefaces the work with a ‘Foreword’, before dropping the first article of the Irish Worker series. The prospect of home rule had receded with the growth of unionist resistance and establishment collaboration with it, and this may have influenced Connolly to broaden the context of his work beyond that. The title became just The Re-Conquest of Ireland, as the existence of a formal labour party looked increasingly doubtful. The second article in that series became the opening chapter, reordered and spliced with a section from an article of Connolly’s in Forward. The next chapter, ‘Ulster and the Conquest’, added extra material before and after a Forward article (including extracts from another article in the same paper). The next consisted of the third Irish Worker article (word for word, not “heavily reworked and edited” as claimed on p 141), plus the end of another Forward article—although only the latter cutting survives with the manuscript. ‘Belfast and its Problems’ combined articles III and IV from the Irish Worker series, with two cuts and a passage moved. The final article from the original series was dropped. Chapters on women and on education are in manuscript form. They may well have been the next two chapters intended for the Irish Worker in 1912, but must have been written later, as one refers to a schools inspection report published in the summer of 1913. A concluding chapter entitled ‘Re-Conquest’ is also in Connolly’s hand, with its final paragraph taken from article III of the original series.

The manuscript is transcribed here, but not as well as it could have been. Most pages have something which is questionable or plain wrong. Much of this concerns paragraph breaks, punctuation and capital letters being added or removed, but—while the transcription would have gained by sticking more closely to the original—there are more significant issues. Text is occasionally omitted or copied wrongly even from newspaper cuttings, and bigger problems arise from misreading Connolly’s writing. His handwriting was notorious and takes some skill to decipher (easiest done by those of us similarly afflicted), but just a little more effort would have made sense of it.

The opening sentence of Connolly’s pamphlet is well known: “The underlying idea of this work is that the Labour Movement of Ireland must set itself the Re-Conquest of Ireland as its final aim, that that re-conquest involves taking possession of the entire country, all its powers of wealth-production, and all its natural resources, and organising these on a co-operative basis for the good of all.” While the original printers read it properly,8 its style and substance suffers here, with “final” misread as “primal”, “that re-conquest” as “the re-conquest”, “powers” as “processes”, and “natural” as “national” (p 166). In other instances, “Conquest” is rendered as “Continent” (p 224), whole clauses are left out (p 215, 224, 233), and “244 pupils” are reduced to “144 pupils” (p 229).9

Discrepancies between Connolly’s manuscript and the printed pamphlet often go unnoticed. Some obviously arise from the thankless task of the printers having to understand what Connolly had some­times scrawled in haste. Such differences should at least have been noted, and where significant, used to correct errors in previous editions. It was right that a poem misquoted from memory (p 218) was corrected in 1915.10 It was presumably Connolly himself who chose to replace “proletariat” (p 221) with the less foreign “army of Labour”. But other divergences from the manuscript must be printer’s errors. The system of “clerically controlled education” (p 236) became “despotically controlled education”—although it could be argued that the distinction is a fine one! The division of trade unions in face of “a united enemy” (p 244) became “the mutual enemy”. Connolly’s manuscript envisaged political power emerging from the industrial arena “as the expression” of the workers’ economic power, before changing it to “as one expression” (p 245), but the correction doesn’t appear in the pamphlet. Support for the working class from rural co-operators, Irish speakers and patriots was described as a “happy synchronising of ideals” (p 251), but the printers performed the feat of turning “ideals” into “facts”.11

Two whole chapters from the final version are absent from the manuscript. One was taken from an article Connolly contributed to The Irish Review during the lockout, although there is no recognition of that fact here.12 The other, on the co-operative movement, was obviously written after the lockout, as was the concluding chapter. The first two pages of the chapter ‘Woman’ are missing from the manuscript, and that section, with its reference to “The recent dispute in Dublin”,13 must have been added in 1914. The opening of the chapter on ‘Schools and Scholars in Erin’ also seems to be a later addition.

The Re-Conquest having been rejected by Maunsel, who published his Labour in Irish History in 1910, Connolly sent it to a literary agent in London in January 1914 in the hope of publication there. This book has the merit of quoting from Connolly’s letters to that agent, Conal O’Riordan. Including the longest autobiographical note Connolly ever wrote, they would have been worth publishing in full, as they have never appeared in print.14 Callow follows the frustrating trail as O’Riordan displayed little understanding or enthusiasm for Connolly’s politics, and “the cultural and class divide” between the two men (p 150) began to rankle.

Callow writes that the book “grew out of street corner meetings held in the spring of 1912 in Library Street, Belfast” (p 139). While he is following other biographers here,15 the evidence shows that those lectures were given in 1914, after publication of the original series. In the Irish Worker Cathal O’Shannon announced “a series of lectures on Ulster History” by Connolly, beginning with ‘Religious Persecution’.16 Other Connolly speeches occupied his notes for the next two weeks, until a report on “the third of his series of lectures” describes a clear reprise of the discussion of post-plantation Ulster from 1912.17 A week later his notes extolled “the educative value of the series of lectures”, which inspired one opponent to hurl a bolt at Connolly’s head. Including these reports, along with the ‘Labour and the Re-Conquest of Ireland’ articles not included in the final pamphlet, would have rounded out the background to the work more fully.18 The lectures in Belfast may even have coincided with a final polishing of the text.

When all else failed, Connolly had The Re-Conquest of Ireland printed by the ITGWU: “Connolly wasted little time, after being installed as Acting General Secretary on 29 October 1914, in getting his work published” (p 287). However, while Liberty Hall is given as place of publication, neither the union or anyone else is mentioned as publisher. It was extensively advertised when the new Workers’ Republic appeared: “Should Be In Every Home… indispensable to all who wish to understand the many forces making for a regenerated Ireland… alike to the Social Reformer and the true Patriot”. Favour­able reviews were quoted, Forward calling it “brilliantly written”, and the suffragette Daily Citizen “an exceedingly valuable contribution to contemporary Irish thought”. Less expected were the Catholic Times’s decision to “heartily commend” it, while the Irish Times cautiously detected “food for thought which, revolving in the minds of practical men, may result in some desirable reforms”.19

So the claim here that the book received a “critical mauling” (p 137) doesn’t stand up, but it has fared poorly enough in later generations. While some biographers merely summarise it, those who engaged with it have often taken a negative view. Their criticisms do have some justification, but only apply to parts of the book. As Callow says, there is a “sense of unevenness” which “stems from the manner in which The Re-Conquest was written” (p 138). Other Connolly works, like Labour in Irish History and Socialism Made Easy, were written over more than a decade in two continents,20 but between start and finish of this one, “the political landscape had changed beyond all recognition and the immediate agenda… had evaporated” (p 153). When he first put pen to paper in 1912, Connolly was hopeful that a labour party, based on a growing union movement, could gather real political force in a post-home rule Ireland. By the time the pamphlet appeared, home rule was on the long finger and poisoned by the threat of partition. The labour movement had been devastated by the defeat of the lockout, international socialism had all but ceased to exist at the outbreak of world war, and the war itself rolled out a radically changed political terrain. The past to which the book belonged was a foreign country, and they did things differently there.

Publishing it in 1915 was, to a large extent, a tying of loose ends, bringing out a very worthwhile pamphlet whose time had passed, but better late than never. Its vision of the working class “quietly invading …every position of political power”, using the ballot box “to give expression to the soul of the race”,21 came from a very different place to the Liberty Hall of 1915 where its author was organising the Citizen Army to assault political power through insurrection. It can in no sense “be read as his last political testament” (p 154). Connolly was by then “operating in entirely unexpected and unfamiliar terrain with… only his own resources, instincts and naked eye to provide a guide” (p 271). When he was reacting to what he himself called “exceptional times”,22 it is too much to expect anything like an overarching summation of his political credo. From 19 February 1916 on, he even stopped advertising the pamphlet in the Workers’ Republic.

The electoral emphasis of The Re-Conquest of Ireland does now come across as its weakest aspect. Living in the aftermath of Enda Kenny’s vaunted “democratic revolution” at the ballot box confirms the belief that our destinies are shaped far more by anonymous financial markets than by the politicians we elect. But this only strengthens Connolly’s contention that collective popular control of the economy is key to a real democratic future. This overall goal is an essential feature of any labour movement worthy of the name, and the way Connolly articulates it as a logical progression from even the smallest details of local reform is exemplary. Past, present and future are linked in a creative and convincing manner. His eagerness to summon new forces such as the women’s and co-operative move­ments to labour’s banner, and to confront the specific problems of Irish and especially northern society, points towards a broader and deeper kind of revolution.

The fact that the manuscript has now appeared a century later is intriguing, and John Callow has left us all in his debt by rescuing and bringing it to public attention. It leaves us to wonder what other Connolly manuscripts might lay unutilised. A note here says that the manuscript of Labour in Irish History went astray after Nora Connolly lent it to Co. Galway VEC (p 138), and if so, it could turn up yet. Such documents have a crucial role to play in producing rigorous critical editions of Connolly’s writings. A thinker and fighter of his stature deserves that, and we deserve the greater insights it would shed on his work and the challenges we face ourselves.

An abridged version of this review appears in Saothar 39.

Notes

  1. Translating Ó Maicín’s use of “Cumannacht” as “communist” leads Callow to see “a brave departure” (p 58) where, in reality, he was only using the current Irish term for socialism (“sóisialachas” not appearing for another couple of years). Likewise, “Cumannacht na hÉireann” was the Irish name for the Socialist Party of Ireland rather than a reference to “Irish communism”. Ó Maicín’s article was among a selection of his re­published as ‘Caithfidh cumannacht a bheith ar bun’ in Red Banner, December 2007.
  2. ‘The Re-Conquest of Ireland’, The Workers’ Republic, September 2 1899.
  3. It is available in James Connolly, The Lost Writings, ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh (London: Pluto 1997), p 32-5, but the version in James Connolly, Political Writings 1893-1916, ed. Dónal Nevin (Dublin: SIPTU 2011), p 135-7, omits a third of it.
  4. Irish Worker, May 17 1913.
  5. See especially C Desmond Greaves, The Life and Times of James Connolly (London: Lawrence and Wishart 1961), p 270.
  6. See his letters to Lillie Connolly, 1 January 1914, and to O’Brien, 15 January 1914, reprinted in James Connolly, Between Comrades: Letters and Correspondence 1889-1916, ed. Dónal Nevin (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 2007), p 505-6.
  7. ‘July the 12th’ and ‘A Forgotten Chapter of Irish History’, reprinted in James Connolly, Selected Political Writings, ed. Owen Dudley Edwards and Bernard Ransom (London: Jonathan Cape 1973), p 143-58.
  8. James Connolly, The Re-Conquest of Ireland (Dublin: 1915), p 1.
  9. This last particular mistake has a long and persistent pedigree, first appearing in James Connolly, Labour in Ireland (Dublin: Three Candles, no date, p 233) (and reprinted in James Connolly, Collected Works, I, Dublin 1987: New Books, p 249), carried over into later editions of The Re-Conquest of Ireland (Dublin: New Books 1968, p 53; and 1983, p 57), and latterly in James Connolly, Collected Works, ed. Dónal Nevin (Dublin: SIPTU 2011, p 324).
  10. The Re-Conquest of Ireland, p 40. Connolly had form here, having mis­quoted the same poem in the same way in ‘Harp Strings’, The Harp, February 1908.
  11. The Re-Conquest of Ireland, p 41, 48, 55, 56, 58.
  12. James Connolly, ‘Labour in Dublin’, The Irish Review, October 1913. Reprinted in Political Writings, p 504-8. Similarly, a cutting from Forward is mistaken for the Irish Worker (p 170).
  13. The Re-Conquest of Ireland, p 37.
  14. While O’Riordan’s replies are included in Between Comrades, p 506-9, 513, Connolly’s side of the correspondence is not.
  15. See primarily Greaves, p 226, 231.
  16. Crobh Dearg, ‘Northern Notes’, The Irish Worker, April 25 1914.
  17. Crobh Dearg, ‘Northern Notes’, The Irish Worker, May 9 1914.
  18. They were republished in Red Banner, December 2007, March 2008, June 2008.
  19. Workers’ Republic, May 29 1915 and passim. On October 9 1915 the paper reprinted a favourable review from New Ireland, having given an extract from a review in the London Herald on July 31.
  20. See Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh, ‘James Connolly and the writing of Labour in Irish History’, Saothar 27 (2002).
  21. The Re-Conquest of Ireland, p 8, 17.
  22. ‘Notes on the Front’, Workers’ Republic, December 4 1915. This article is reprinted in James Connolly, Collected Works, II (Dublin: New Books 1988), p 114-18, but the version in Political Writings, p 585-6, silently omits several sections.