No one at all acquainted with Ireland at the present can doubt that the country is feeling the throbs accompanying the birth of great movements. Everywhere there are stirrings of new life - intellectual, artistic, industrial, political, racial, social stirrings are to be seen and felt on every hand, and the nation is moved from end to end by the yeast-like pulsations of new influences. Amid such a renascence it would, indeed, be a strange phenomenon if Labour remained passive; if Labour alone moved in the old ruts and failed to respond to the call for a new adventuring of the spirit. Such a lack of response would argue a lifelessness of attitude, a blindness of mental outlook in the part of the toilers which would go far to neutralise and discount the value of the higher aspirations of the rest of the nation. Considering the state of slavery in which the masses of the Irish workers are to-day, some few aspects of which we have already noted in these columns, a state of restlessness, of "divine discontent", on the part of Labour in Ireland is an absolutely essential pre-requisite for the realisation of any spiritual uplifting of the nation at large. With a people degraded, and so degraded as to be unconscious of their degradation, no upward march of Ireland is possible; with a people restless under injustice, conscious of their degradation, and resolved, if need be, to peril life itself in order to end such degradation, though thrones and empires fall as a result - with such a people all things are possible - to such a people all things must bend and flow. A large nation may become great by the sheer pressure of its magnitude - the greatness of its numbers, as Russia to-day. A small nation, such as Ireland, can only become great by reason of the greatness of soul of its individual citizens.
It is, therefore, a matter of sincere congratulation to every lover of the race that the workers of Ireland are to-day profoundly discontented, and, so far from being apathetic in their slavery, are, instead, rebellious, even to the point of rashness. Discontent is the fulcrum upon which the lever of thought has ever moved the world to action. A discontented Working Class! What a glorious promise for the future! Ireland has to-day within her bosom two things that must make the blood run with riotous exultation in the veins of every lover of the Irish race - a discontented working class, and the nucleus of a rebellious womanhood. I cannot separate these two things in my mind; to me they are parts of the one great whole; different regiments of the one great army of progress. To neither will it be possible to realise its ideals without first trampling under foot, riding roughshod over, all the false conventions, soul-shrivelling prejudices, and subtle hypocrisies with which a tyrannical society has poisoned the souls and warped the intellect of mankind. Apart from the material, political and industrial forms in which the Labourer or the Woman may clothe their respective struggles, there is, in the fact of the struggle itself, in both cases, an emancipating influence which cannot be expressed in words, much less formulated in programmes.
The Struggle Emancipates, let who will claim the immediate petty triumph.
We of the Working Class have much to be thankful for in the fact that in the upward march in which we are engaged, we are permitted to reap advantages of a material nature at each stage of our journey. If our wages are not increased, our toil lightened, our hours lessened, our conditions improved as a result of the daily conflict in which we are engaged, we know that it is because of some faltering on the part of ourselves or our fellow-workers, some defalcation on the part of some being of our army, and not a necessary or unavoidable part of the conflict itself. The Modern Labour Movement knows that a victory of any kind for the Working Class is better for the Cause, more potent for Ultimate Victory than a correct understanding of Economic Theory by a beaten Labour Army. The Modern Labour Movement is suspicious of theorising that shirks conflict, and seeks to build up the revolutionary army of social reconstruction by means of an army that fights and wins concessions for the fighters while it is fighting. Every victory won by Labour for Labour helps to strengthen the bent back, and enlarge the cramped soul of the labourer; every time the labourer, be it man or woman, secures a triumph in the battle for juster conditions, the mind of the labourer receives that impulse towards higher things that comes from the knowledge of power. Here and there, to some degraded individuals, the victories of Labour mean only increased opportunities for drink and degeneracy, but on the whole it remains true that the fruits of the victories of the organised Working Class are as capable of being stated in terms of spiritual uplifting as in the material terms of cash.
Let us then, with glad eyes, face the future! Ireland salutes the rising sun, and within Ireland Labour moves with the promise and potency of growing life and consciousness, a life and consciousness destined to grow and expand until the glad day when he who in this Green Isle says "Labour" must say "Ireland", and he who says "Ireland" must necessarily be planning for the glorification and ennobling of Labour.
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.