“That Parliament is a lie, an imposture, an outrage – a game in which our part and lot is disgrace and defeat forever; to Ireland it is nothing besides a conduit of corruption, a workshop of coercion, a storehouse of starvation, a machinery of cheating, and a perpetual memento of slavery.”
– JOHN MITCHEL, on Westminster.
SO long as grass grows or water runs, National Ireland will never again be seen begging at Westminster, fighting the battle on ground chosen by the enemy. How the Gael was betrayed into wasting half-a-century playing with a useless weapon need not be discussed. It is not alone that Ireland is awake to the tactical blunder which she committed in the period of Anglicisation; it is not alone that re-awakened national dignity recoils from a policy that involves in its very adoption the renunciation of the prime national claim and the recognition of a foreign authority, the taking of a perjuring oath; but that Ireland has turned from Parliamentarianism with an eager resolve to follow a definite and indefeasible plan of campaign.
In many of the attacks made by the bourgeois press on the policy of Abstention, the objection is advanced, either through ignorance of Sinn Fein propaganda, or through unscrupulous misrepresentation, that Abstention is a policy of Inactivity on the one hand, or futile bloodshed on the other. Sinn Fein is asked in order to secure the support of “moderate men” (i.e., the Anglicised bourgeoisie) – to turn from its councils all men of advanced views.
The allegation of Inactivity is as unjust to Abstentionists as that of irresponsible revolution. It is wrong to suggest that when candidates are returned for Irish seats, pledged to abstain from Westminster, they must henceforth twiddle their fingers when they are not using gun and pike. The representatives of the Irish Nation, duly elected, will, both by the natural law and the first principles of democracy, be the de jure National Authority. A National Authority, with a loyal nation behind it, will have far more constructive work ready to its hands than any forsworn party could in a foreign parliament, where Irish business is considered only once in a long period, and then with six foreign representatives ready to vote down every one Irish member. No, the nation has not exhausted its ammunition now that the votes are cast at the polls. The real effort now begins.
Self-reliance will now be supplemented by self-help. A hundred activities, authorised and co-ordinated by the national leaders, will be launched. Just as the farmers, by co-operation, have taken rural reconstruction into their hands, so Ireland will take up the task of National reconstruction, instead of waiting for legislation to that end by a body indifferent, when not hostile, to the object in view. The early Manifestoes of Sinn Fein set forth a complete programme of reconstruction, which a nation drowsed by Anglicisation then ignored, but which the Ireland of 1919 will enter on with determination. The nation realises now that to get a child taught Irish instead of English, to buy an Irish suit instead of a foreign, to get an artisan family to eat home-produced food instead of American canned chemicals and English biscuits, to set up a young man in a productive and promising business, to plant a tree in the wild or reclaim a rood of waste land, to train Irish actors and playwrights, or to enrich an Irish fisherman with effective equipment and offer him an inland market for his catches, is to cut through a strand in Ireland’s bonds. Every chapter of O’Growney learnt, every penny saved from foreign manufactures, is a brick built into the edifice of a Free Gaelic Nation. Practical endeavour in all these matters, and in greater issues, though it is in many small victories that the most effective progress will be made, is now to be organised. English power in Ireland will be killed by denial to it of sustenance.
In the great national boycott of the English language, English manufactures, English institutions, Labour will play a large perhaps the largest part. Labour has practical work before it no less than Sinn Fein. Neither is a mere agitation or a theory turned into a party. Sinn Fein is the nation’s expression of its identity and right to Self-Determination, and its mandate does not authorise it to declare for any specific programme save in so far as that programme proves to be the out-working of the Self-Determining Nation. Once in history Capital stood for liberty. In the Polish war against Russia a hundred odd years ago, the capitalists – Jewish bankers of Poland – cast in their lot with the weaker side. Were the wonder to be repeated, and were Irish capitalists to stand in with the nation, Sinn Féin would accept their aid. But Irish patriotism has proved to be solely resident in the democracy, and Labour is the only party which has waived its private aims for the National cause. In the Labour movement, harmonising as it does with reviving Gaelicism, we see the nation determining itself. Sinn Féin, that asks all citizens to work for Ireland in their individual ways, is by its principles and nature bound to sanction the patriotic endeavours of the Labour Party, and to use the weapons which a truly national body places in its hands. By sheer force of patriotism, the Labour Party is engrossing political power, and by forming – let us not say the workers but, what is synonymous, the nation -into “One Big Union,” it is forging the most powerful weapon ever held by the Gael. Before the united action of the One Big Union, English capitalism, and with it, English political power, are to be rendered impotent. The one-day anti-conscription strike showed how a nation, wakened by Labour to a sense of its economic solidarity, even though deprived of political power, can assert its will.
Just as Sinn Fein has its practical programme, so Labour has means of direct action. The farmers by co-operative action have found a means to trade at a ”just price,” and rid themselves of the exploitation of a gombeen-middleman. Labour has it in its power analogously to escape the exploitation of bad employers. Doing away with exorbitant dividends, high payments to non-productive middlemen, and economically-absurd huge expenditure on advertisement (for the public at present has to pay not only for its soup and the packing, but for wildly-expensive booming, so that the newspapers levy a tax on every workman’s meal), it will be possible for workers’ industries to undersell the capitalist, with the One Big Union like a great National Trades Union, to protect them against retaliation by subsidised selling below cost price. The One Big Union will control more than half the buying-power of Ireland, and no tactics of capital will then divert that buying-power from native and democratic enterprises.
In view of the passing of political power into Labour’s hands, it might be considered regrettable that the elected authority in Ireland should have “no specific representatives of the Labour Party in its composition. On the other hand, it is well to remember that in speaking of the Irish Authority we are not considering a Parliament, or even a Parliamentary institution. For the Parliamentary institutions of the British culture, Ireland has not, as an Irish speaker would say, a “dog’s respect.” During the war, their inefficiency as democratic organs was amply exposed. All the civil rights upon which Englishmen prided themselves were suppressed only “for the period of the war,” indeed; but at what period did the individual need them more ? Representation was completely overruled by a self-appointed clique of three or four men, and the boasted Parliament existed only to vote for and ratify their decisions when told to. The common man was robbed of conscience forced to give his life far overseas in causes that he knew nothing about, and for secret treaties in the provisions of which he had no interest. He was told at first that Tsarist Russia was fighting beside old England for democracy Russia that had been a by-word for bloody brutality up to six months before the war. The only class in England to raise the voice of principle and conscience – the C.O.’s – were condemned to actual torture, and Parliament was mute.
Ireland has no use for the corrupt, inefficient and decivilising institution called Parliament, and if her national agitation has been, during a century, shaped as a claim for a “national parliament,” this is merely because the suppressed Anglo-Irish Parliament offered a convenient symbol and catch-cry. Had Irish Nationality been recognised by the setting-up of a Parliament in Ireland, the native genius would have “re-shaped it nearer to the heart’s desire.”
The fault which is obvious in parliamentary institutions is, that Parliament arrogates powers that it cannot possibly exercise. It seeks to become the Nation-in-little. It attempts to administer labour, economics, international affairs, education, farming and sugar distribution. It is a “Jack-of-all-trades and master of none.” To attempt to handle all the matters which Parliament takes in hands is like trying to add ten yards to seven ounces and divide them by four and threepence. Seeking to deal with contradictories, Parliament cannot but fall victim to the Party System, and so to corruption. It promises every industry and interest representation at the seat of power, and behind this camouflage of freedom it hands true power to a non-responsible cabal. The man who wants Protection for his industry has to vote for the Unionist Party, which is opposed to (say) Welsh Disestablishment, which he happens to favour, though he is less eager for it than for Protection; and thus his vote goes to strengthen in minor matters things he hates. It is obviously absurd that an economic theory and a sectarian problem should be cast for with the one vote, and decided by the one body of men, instead of by separate expert institutions.
Ireland has a different conception of the right way to conduct a state. Mr. Figgis, in the books already quoted, has shown how the Gaelic state devolved the direction of the nation’s many interests into the hands of those concerned therewith, and has shown how the Irish constitution of the future may restore this principle. The governing body of the state will not attempt the expert handling of the agricultural industry, as is done in Parliaments, where men who never saw a spade have a vote on Agricultural Bills, and must either blunder or else blindly vote as they are asked to by others who are seeking private ends. The Irish State will make the agricultural industry, the educational profession, and all other great agencies of public service, self-directing (and thus free them from being the sport of parties), just as in ancient Ireland the Bardic Order had its own directorate, and just as in all ages in Ireland the Church has enjoyed autonomy. “Just as in the old State, each council held authority in its own concerns,” writes Mr. Figgis, the philosopher of Gaelicism, “LEAVING TO THE MONARCH THE CO-ORDINATION OF THE WHOLE, so the modern councils would each rule their own affairs, subject to the control of the assembly of the Nation. There would thus be two kinds of representation gathered together. There would be the direct representation of the Nation, and there would be the representation of the special interests, the union and pattern of which create the national life. Both would meet in the Government.”
With that strange though predictable instinct which characterises the evolution of modern Ireland, the present political movement has begun to shape exactly on these lines. The wise, the brave and the good are being invested with national authority, but there is no effort being made to override specific movements by the inexpert. The Labour Party, the Gaelic League and other institutions that are not less national than Sinn Fein itself (that are vital, too, to the nation’s welfare), are being called into council by the nascent national authority, but no attempt is made to appropriate their powers, usurp their government, or dictate their measures. The liberalism and wide tolerance that made the Gaelic State of old so attractive to the stranger, so secure in the affections of its citizens, are thus reappearing in the beginnings of the Workers’ Republic.
Ireland has turned her back forever on the English Parliament, and now realises that not only is that concern unauthorised to control so much as a hen-run in Ireland, but that her late absorption with it inhibited her from practical work that might have saved half her emigrants. And her experience of that Parliament has doubled the intensity of her resolve to have no institution modelled upon it. She is determined to shape her constitution in the only way in which a Government can secure health and equity – by adhering in all details to the dictates of nature and tradition.