In my article last week I said that only from the working-class democracy could a real lead be expected in this crisis. I am happy to be able to state that we are not so isolated in this matter as I at first feared. In many other quarters the fact that keeping the foodstuffs in Ireland is the first duty of every true Irishman and woman had already been realised before my article appeared. We of the Irish Transport Workers' Union are so often Ishmaels in public life, with every man's hand against us and our hand against every man, that it is a rare treat to be able to acknowledge that on a question of supreme importance such as this we are but one among many agreeing voices. The editor of Sinn Féin strikes a perfectly correct and sane note upon the crisis, we are glad to say, as does also Claidheamh Soluis, the Gaelic League weekly. Other newspapers and journals make tentative and truly fearful suggestions along the same lines; in many Dublin companies of Volunteers the members have discussed the matter and came to agreement on the right side, and despite the fearful wave of pro-English filth now spread over the country signs are multiplying that in actions upon these lines there will be found the possibility of making a stand for Ireland that will win the adhesion of all that is best in the land.
Meanwhile the daily Press continually reports news that confirms the attitude of the Irish Worker towards all the sections of the enemy upon whom it makes war. The Carsonites remain as obdurate and anti-Irish as ever. It is noticeable that all the talk about a "union of North and South in defence of Ireland", about "blending the Orange and Green", about "marching united as Irishmen against the common foe" and all the other clap-trap has been strictly confined to the Nationalist side. No response has come from the Ulster Volunteers; no Carsonite official has made the smallest overture towards peace; there has not been the slightest melting of the sour bigotry of the Orangeman. The following extract from the columns of a Belfast evening paper of last week is a valuable index of the present frame of mind of these people -
The verdict of the Dublin coroner's jury on the victims of the Bachelor's Walk shooting is not so extreme as was expected. Counsel sought to have a verdict of wilful murder brought in against persons by name, but the jury wisely did not go that length. A great deal of vindictiveness was displayed during the inquiry by some of the counsel against the soldiers. These men, it is clear, did not fire till they were in deadly peril from a mob of Dublin hooligans, who are the greatest cowards on earth. The testimony of the witnesses who sought to show that nothing more harmful than banana skins were thrown at the military was disproved by abundant testimony. It is to be hoped that no more will be heard of the affair now the country has sterner things to do than squabble about this incident.One cannot but admire in this connection the tact and skill with which Sir Edward Carson has conducted, and still continues to conduct, his campaign against any extension of liberty to the Irish people. It has been marked by one long series of success. Despite sneers and jeers and laughter, despite reason and justice, despite threats and against seemingly overwhelming odds, he has kept serenely on his way pursuing the policy he had marked out for himself and his followers. For him there was no compromise, no conciliation. He met each fresh concession with studied insult; at each fresh offer of peace he shook fresh rifles in the face of the Government; when the Home Rule Party basely consented to put the question of the integrity of their country at the mercy of a local majority of bigoted traitors of Ireland, he put machine guns upon the streets of Belfast and Lisburn. Mr John Redmond now blatantly declares in the House of Commons that the National Volunteers will defend Ireland for the Government. Sir Edward Carson says grimly that nothing is yet altered in Ireland, and the Belfast Orange Press warns the Ulster Volunteers against being sent out of Ireland and leaving Ulster to the mercy of a Government that they cannot trust. Like the Irish after the Battle of the Boyne, the National Volunteers should offer to "swop leaders" with the Orangemen. It would be to Ireland's advantage if Sir Edward would fight for Ireland as skilfully and as courageously as he has fought against her.
Contrast with such leadership the attitude of Mr Redmond and his Party towards the Volunteers. First he slights and secretly opposes them. Then when they get strong he demands the power to control them. Granting that he is honest, here was a great blunder. His former leader - Charles Stewart Parnell - always believed in a physical-force party, but would never join it. This gave him always the power to say to the English Government that if it did not grant his moderate demands then the physical-force party would take control of Irish affairs out of his hands. "And," he would assure Mr Gladstone, "you know I have no control over that extreme party." Had Mr Redmond pursued a similar policy and kept clear of the Irish Volunteers he could always have met every move of the Government towards the Carsonites, every proposal to mutilate Ireland's rights, with the quiet statement that the Volunteers over whom he had no control would scarcely allow it. "You know, Mr Asquith," he could have said, "I would be willing to do what you ask, but I have no control over the Irish National Volunteers, and I am afraid that they would cause trouble if I gave in to Carson." Thus, like Parnell, he would have had the power of an organisation of armed men behind him whilst he had no responsibility for their actions. This he threw away when he set out to obtain control of the Volunteer forces.
Why did he throw it away? What did he get in exchange that was good for Ireland? Would it be too much to suggest that he was compelled by the Government to try and get the Volunteers into his hands, and that the Government so compelled him because they knew that this European war was coming.
With a European war on and Ireland organised with Volunteer regiments, such regiments, even without arms, could have made the adhesion of Ireland to either side, or even the real neutrality of Ireland, of so much importance that great and substantial national advantages would have been offered her to secure such adhesion or neutrality. With a European war on and the Volunteers in the control of Redmond and Party, the active co-operation of the Volunteers in the defence of the empire was given to the Government without a single concession of any kind being obtained; nay, even whilst the menace of an amending Bill to mutilate Ireland was still part of the Government plan. Now we are assured by the Home Rule Press that as a consequence of the happy union of Ulster and National Volunteers (which exists only in their imagination) still more generous concessions are to be given to Ulster.
Alas that I should live to see it! North, South, East and West the Irish Volunteers are marching and parading with the Union Jack in front of them, their bands playing God Save the King and their aristocratic officers making loyalist speeches.
North, South, East and West the anti-Irish landlord classes are now hurrying in to officer the Irish Volunteers, and brave true-hearted men who have given their lives in earnest, unobtrusive service to their motherland are thrust contemptuously aside that positions may be given to those aristocratic jackanapes. The fools who are in control hail this as a sign of national unity. The wise who know the history of their country ask how can we expect swift and prompt action for Ireland in any emergency when the officers in command will thus be men whose whole life, opinions, instincts, class bias, and prejudices have been coloured with hatred of all that the Irish National Movement ever stood for. Remember the words of the greatest Irish Revolutionist, Wolfe Tone:-
When the aristocracy come forward the people fall backward; when the people come forward the aristocracy, fearful of being left behind, insinuate themselves into our ranks and rise into timid leaders or treacherous auxiliaries.The fatal policy of the Irish Volunteers is producing and pushing these timid leaders and treacherous auxiliaries into every position where their timidity or treachery will work the most havoc in any emergency.
It is a humiliating thought that Mr Redmond's declaration on this war has completely changed the status of this country. Before it we were a "subject province of England", now we are "an English province" in the eyes of the world. And there are more enemies of the Empire in a small corner of Toulon than there are in the whole of Ireland.
We have reached the very lowest depths as a race, and the greatest part of the responsibility lies with those who in their cowardly fear of an ignorant, newspaper-rigged public opinion surrendered the control of the Volunteers to the Redmondite wirepullers. Henceforth Irish discontent will not be regarded abroad as symptoms of an aspiration after distinct nationality, it will only and rightly be interpreted as the discontent of leisure in the game of imperial politics.
I have had few more unpleasant experiences in my life than I underwent when listening to the pitiful attempts of some members of the Provisional Committee to explain and justify their votes upon their surrender. To hear them telling of their great diplomacy, and their wonderful wirepulling was a revelation. It showed at once that they were attempting to do the work of a revolutionary movement by the methods of a ward-canvasser in a Municipal election; that they were approaching a supreme crisis in a nation's history in the temper and spirit of a political registration agent out for votes for his party. The kindest thing that can happen to them now is that their names may be forgotten; at present it seems an equal chance between oblivion and malediction.
The time is now ripe, nay, the imperious necessities of the hour call loudly for, demand, the formation of a Committee of all the earnest elements, outside as well as inside the Volunteers, to consider means to take and hold Ireland and the food of Ireland for the people of Ireland.
We of the Transport Union, we of the Citizen Army are ready for any such co-operation. We can bring to it the aid of drilled and trained men, we can bring to it the heartiest efforts of men and women who in thousands have shown that they know how to face prison and death, and we can bring to it the services of thinkers and organisers who know that different occasions require different policies, that you cannot legalise revolutionary actions, and that audacity alone can command success in a national crisis like this.
Freedom, we believe, cannot flourish, or even awaken into life in the miasmatic atmosphere of wirepulling and intrigue, but as St Just said:-
We who have faced the storm for industrial liberty, and wept the tears for the sufferings of our own class will not shrink from either for the sake of our country.
BY JAMES CONNOLLY
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.