In every country of the earth in which Socialism has taken root its advocates meet with the objection that their doctrines are "unpatriotic", that Socialism is a foreign idea. Whether it be in Ireland, Germany, France, America, England, Russia, Italy or any other country we find the enemies of Socialism harping upon this one theme, the unpatriotic character of the Socialist movement. It is fitting, therefore, that we should examine and analyse this theory in order that we may find out upon what it is founded, how it is that in countries so widely separated the Socialist movement meets with an almost identical objection - in conservative Ireland as in cosmopolitan America.
We need not go far in our analysis. It is an axiom accepted by all Socialists that the ruling class industrially will always be the ruling class politically, and will also dominate in all other walks of life and fields of thought.
That until the epoch of revolution arrives the interests of the class who hold the dominant machinery of production will colour and mould the entire thought and institutions of society at large; making whatever serves such interests appear as "patriotic", "native" and thoroughly "Irish" or "American" or whatever the nationality of the possessing class may be. And in like manner stamping as "foreign", "unpatriotic", "un-Irish" or "un-American" everything that savours of danger to that possessing class. In other words the possessing class always and everywhere arrogates to itself an exclusive right to be considered the Nation, and basing itself upon that right to insist that the laws of the land should be in its hands to frame and administer in its own interests, which, it pleasantly informs us, are the highest interests of the nation.
This is a characteristic of the propertied classes everywhere, even where they are not a ruling class. The Land League agitation in Ireland, and in a lesser degree the present Land agitation, exemplified this trait. The Land League agitation centred round the fight of the tenant farmers for better terms for their holdings. It was primarily a contest betwixt tenant and landlord.
The agricultural labourer had no concern in it, indeed he invariably got better terms from the landlord than the tenant farmer; the urban population had no interests directly at stake, town workers were not considered in Land Bills; all the mercantile, industrial and professional classes knew they would be left outside the scope of the settlement between landlord and tenant should one be arrived at, yet, the tenant farmers being organised politically and industrially, and above all being class-conscious, that is to say conscious of the identity of their class interests, succeeded in impressing the character of their movement upon the whole life of Ireland.
Every farmer's grievance became an Irish national grievance, every farmer refusing to pay rent was idealised as a patriot battling, not for his own purse, but for his country, every farmer evicted was acclaimed as a martyr for his country; if a man took an evicted farm he was not merely a landgrabber or scab on his class, he was a traitor to "Ireland", and every person who spoke to him, or helped to feed, clothe or shelter him was also an enemy to Ireland, a traitor to his native land, a Judas or a Diarmuid Mac Murchadha. Thus the tenant farmers dominated the thought of the country and made the fight of their own class for its rights identical with the idea of Irish patriotism.
Now we are not pointing this fact out in order to denounce it. On the contrary we consider the farmers acted wisely in their own interests. But we do point it out in order to emphasise our contention that any particular act or political doctrine is patriotic or unpatriotic in the exact proportion in which it serves the interests of the class who for the time being hold political power. The Farmers of Ireland denounced as unpatriotic everything that failed to serve their class interests, - including even the labourer's demand for a cottage; let the Working Class of Ireland follow their lead and test the sincerity of every man's patriotism by his devotion to the interests of Labour. In the eyes of the farmer no wagging of green flags could make a landgrabber a patriot: let the Workers apply the same test and brand as enemies to Ireland all who believe in the subjection of Labour to Capital - brand as traitors to this country all who live by skinning Irish Labour.
For the working class of the world the lesson is also plain. In every country Socialism is foreign, is unpatriotic, and will continue so until the Working Class embracing it as their salvation make Socialism the dominant political force.
Then the interests of the Working Class will be in the ascendant and every man's patriotism will be gauged by his services and devotion to these interests, thus Socialism will be patriotic and native everywhere, and the advocates of Capitalistic property will be the unpatriotic ones.
By their aggressiveness and intolerance the possessing classes erect the principles of their capitalist supremacy into the dignity of national safeguards; according as the Working Class infuses into its political organisation the same aggressiveness and intolerance will it command the success it deserves, and make the Socialist the only good and loyal citizen.
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.