“…Of the great European political edifice there shall not rest a stone upon a stone. For the seat of Liberty shall be changed… Sow ye then the love of the Fatherland and the spirit of sacrifice, and be certain that there shall spring therefrom a fair and great Republic.”
– THE BOOK OF THE POLISH PILGRIMS.
IT is an excellent thing that workers should be exhorted to moderation, charitableness and equity. It is also desirable that the rich should be reminded of their duties to their employees. But to wait for reform until Christian charity shall govern the acts of the rich classes, would be to act on the principle of “Live, horse, and you’ll get grass.” Lectures on moral duties addressed to a tiger would be a poor means of defence; and not much is to be hoped for from appeals to the moral sense of a class which owes its position to immoral operations. So far from Labour which is the body of the nation having “no right to interfere with the rights” (i.e., monopolies and privileges) of the present capitalistic class, the fact is that the nation which gave these people their wealth and power has the right to drive them forever from the positions which they have so hideously abused. The Capitalistic Order has been tried. It has trampled on art and virtue, and has favoured craft and cunning. It has made the basest qualities the most profitable, and has left refinement to languish and genius to beg. Its rich men are the crafty honest ability is offered none of its rewards. It was a social experiment and has failed. Society has the right to cast it and its machinery aside.
The individuals of the Capitalistic Order have a right to consideration in the substitution of a new order. But in Ireland this right is very small. The basis of wealth in this country is plunder. The rich classes are largely those who were set up by the confiscation of the Irish Nation’s goods. In the second phase, wealth has been amassed by the exploitation of the dispossessed people. Where free institutions are lacking, and unemployment is rife, the masses are the easy victims of the adventurer. An unprotected people has been obliged to buy all its goods at prices above “just value,” and wealth has been amassed by advantage taken of the plight of the people. Thus, business houses by the score have been raised in Dublin on the foundation of wickedly-underpaid labour, the nation being thus doubly robbed. Thirdly, the iniquity of Irish wealth has been added to by the fact that till recent times it has been almost impossible for a Catholic Nationalist to earn a good salary or set up in business without first selling his principles. Unless he saluted a flag which he knew to be piratical and cut himself off from his race, he was ostracised and ruined. It therefore happens that only a small minority of commercial concerns exist in Ireland which have not been founded with stolen capital, or built up on underpaid labour and over-priced goods and bartered principles.
Confronted with a bourgeoisie so base in origin, the Gael is not surprised to find that he has to deal with one of the most unscrupulous, unintelligent and cruel of vested classes. No bourgeoisie in Europe is more materialistic than the Irish none voider of public spirit, none more barren of fruits meet for repentance. All remember that historic indictment of the “Masters of Dublin” in “AE’s” Open Letter in the Great Strike year. He accused them of being uncultivated proved by their utter ignorance of cultured things. Of being incompetent as shown by their dwindling enterprises. Of being bad citizens none were found to endow their city as is done with pride by the merchants of other lands. Of immorality they had grown rich amid scenes of bestial poverty unequalled, while doing nothing with their wealth for the victims around them. Of savagery for they sat in council and decreed that a city should starve ere a Union be recognised. Of insolence for they cast aside the rights recognised in every other state.
It is not the greatest employers who are the worst. There are a few big employers who pay fair wages, like the efficient business men of other lands. But the overwhelming majority, with their semi-efficient concerns, are relentless, narrow-browed, irredeemable exploiters. This is not invective. It is history. Against the nation’s resolve to sweep away a system that leaves such a class in the place of power, it is urged that the ideal is impracticable. Capital and Labour, Employers and Employed, will always exist; the order cannot be changed, says the bourgeoisie’s defender. Let us examine this.
In the ancient world slavery was universal: the absolutely normal basis of political institutions. The greatest philosopher of those ages, Aristotle, drew all his political theories from the assumption that slavery (the use of “animated tools”) would always exist, as a natural outcome of human nature. So persistent was this conviction, that in the thirteenth century we find the greatest of Catholic philosophers, St. Thomas Aquinas, regretfully following Aristotle in the belief that human chattels would always be bought and sold. Yet Christianity succeeded in abolishing throughout the world this horrible enormity. Serfdom succeeded slavery on the Continent. (Ireland escaped till the new serfdom of the Penal Code was devised). And so firmly did serfdom hold the masses in Feudal centuries, that all mediaeval Catholic philosophers write in the full conviction that “men” will always be subject to ” lords,” i.e., tenants with no power to move so long as they live from the estate they are born in, obliged to render armed service in whatever cause their arbitrary master may choose to fight. All the philosophers were as firmly convinced of the permanence of serfdom as Aristotle was of that of slavery.
But unforeseen events smashed the whole institution of serfdom in its turn, and the masses secured a further concession of liberty. The worker now had though circumstances reduced its advantages freedom of contract. He could move where he liked, if employment was available, and had no insuperable barrier to prevent him bettering his position. Wage slavery, indeed, ensued, when the exploitation of the New World and other great reservoirs of newly-discovered wealth began to near exhaustion. This evil has many of the traits of slavery and of serfdom, but it must be candidly admitted that, except in extreme cases, it is not so terrible as either. The workers’ chain has lengthened. Now to declare that wage-slavery must remain forever is obviously unphilosophic in view of the explosion of similar gloomy prophecies as to slavery and serfdom – prophecies not made lightly, but by the greatest thinkers of the world. Twice changes have come that the wisest thought impossible. It would be foolish to suppose that a third and feebler bond than the others could not be broken.
We therefore see nothing impossible in the abolition of the Capitalistic Order least of all in Ireland, where we have the example of a non-capitalistic and successful state in our history. Nor do we see aught illegitimate in our aim. Capital acquires its power over the destinies of the people, not by the productive labour of the capitalist no individual could produce half-a-million of wealth by his innate productive energy but by the impersonal multiplication of figures. When Catholic economics ruled the world, not only did the Canonists demand that goods should be sold at their “just value” instead of their fortuitous market rate thus preventing all those excessive profits of fortune on which the capitalist to-day relies for his lucky increases of wealth but they also forbade usury, or interest on money, on the principle that money was not an organic thing like an animal or the soil, to be able of itself to produce. The plain man cannot see why, if usury was immoral in the Middle Ages, a check placed on the power of money to go on multi- plying at the expense of the workers’ liberty should be unjust to-day. He even ventures to hold that his war on Capitalism is the modern embodiment of the Canonist’s aim. He contends that the doctrines of the “just price” and the injustice of usury, were intended to check exactly the abuses which he now attacks. He finds in the Canonists, allies.
Finally, the Irish democrat rejects the charge (advanced by the reactionaries from their arsenal of Anti-Socialistic arguments) that the Workers’ Republic will abolish that practice of Private Ownership which the famous Social Encyclical of Leo XIII. declared to be necessary to a stable and just order of society. We have already exposed the falsity of the allegation that the Workers’ Republic or the Gaelic State would deprive the individual of reasonable enjoyment of the world’s good things. But we go farther, and assert that the national ownership of Ireland, and the production of wealth by co-operative endeavour these in the sense of the Gaelic State of former times, and hence of the Workers’ Republic for to-morrow will be found in no particular to conflict with the principles of property set forth by the great Papal Letter. Criticising Socialist doctrinaires, Leo XIII. points out that those who till the bare soil, make that which was wild, fruitful; their labour has been mingled with the land till in the cultivated form they are indistinguishable. “Is it just that the fruit of a man’s own sweat and labour should be possessed and enjoyed by anyone else? As effects follow their cause, so it is just and right that the results of labour should belong to those who have bestowed their labour.” This penetrating criticism is directed against those who would make of all productive workers mere tenants or employees of the state – civil servants with no place of their own.
This is not sought by the Gaelic State. The Irish farmer is to hold his land with undisputed tenure, though he shall not own more than he can work, at the expense of landless men. It is not proposed to interfere with his liberty to use the land how he likes – to order him to grow oats or barley; nor to restrict his choice as to the disposal of its fruits. He will adapt his private activities to the prevailing Co-operative Order, not because he will be forced to, like a slave, but because to harmonise with the National ideal will, in the future as in the past, be the most beneficial and attractive course open to the individual. National sovereignty in national wealth will not deprive the individual of that use and control of property that amounts to ownership.
We submit that this offers the farmer all the benefits of property as defined in the Encyclical. But the right to abuse property is to be refused him. No Catholic economist has ever denied that the state has the right to check the disposal of goods within its realm, to prevent anti-social uses, and to safeguard the interests of the community. To take an extreme example: it has always been held that were the farmers to cease tillage and leave the community without food, the state could justly override the farmers’ normal right to do what they liked with their land. The necessity of the people overrules all personal rights. Again, so far from private property possessing sovereign rights, the Canonists declare that the relief of poverty is a legal obligation. The possessor of goods may not, in the presence of necessity, deny them to those who need. Should he refuse to relieve the poor, the state may assert control of his possessions. Hitherto, in the interests of capital, which besides engrossing wealth, has engrossed political power, the rights of private property have been one-sidedly emphasised. Sovereignty has been claimed. The obligations of property have been obscured and the rights of the community ignored.
Labour proposes merely to redress the balance – to establish the rights of the community as well as the liberty of the individual. The Workers’ Republic will not destroy private possessions, but will assert, with the Canonists, their limitations, and the right of the community to control them. Its advocates claim, therefore, to be working for objects quite in accord with what is permissible to a Catholic people; nay, to be the champions of Catholic Reform.
States and social orders that fall always contribute to their own defeat by lethargy, indifference, stupidity or stubbornness. If the capitalist class in Ireland finds itself suddenly overthrown, it will have but itself to thank. At present it ignores Labour – refuses to suppose Democracy to exist. This is fatal Democracy to-day has in it the same force as the Land Movement or Sinn Féin. If it is ignored, it will suddenly achieve as sweeping and revolutionary a change as those two movements. A mighty surprise is in store for the ostrich-headed bourgeoisie. But if there be wise or conscientious employers in Ireland, they may escape the destruction that threatens their class by compounding with the resurgent nation. Let them cease to seek huge percentages of profit, such as double their capital at a rapid rate, while their workers live from week to week on weeks’ earnings, never growing richer for their labour, which is the fertiliser of capital. Let the workers be offered a share in profits bearing an exact ratio to the employers’ profits. Let them, too, be partly paid in shares in the enterprise, and given ownership and a voice in direction. So may the employers become organic parts of the Irish Nation as the landlords might have done. Let it be remembered that all constitutions appear more rigid on paper than they work out in real life.
Even the Capitalistic Order has allowed co-operative enterprises to exist and flourish. So, too, the Workers’ Republic will not subdue the nature of humanity and impose an utter uniformity. The prevailing order under Capitalism is anti-social. That order, which creates slums and slave-minds, and pollutes social life, must be replaced by an order more in harmony with prevailing needs. But it is quite conceivable that while the main industry of the country will be in the hands of industrial republics, there will be many a case of a big private enterprise under a patriotic and able director. Yet the place which really able business men of the Capitalist Order – and there are exceedingly few of such among the inefficient employers of Ireland – may seek in the Workers’ Republic, is that of great entrepreneurs, or enterprise- directors, in which position they will be honoured and well-rewarded servants of the Commonwealth.
The change which is coming to Ireland is coming to all Europe. To defend the Capitalist Order is to seek to keep out the tide with sand. For good or ill, it is going. In Ireland, the change is but a return to the Gaelic State. For the rest of Europe it is a great experiment actuated by the workings of natural impulse. The reason for the difference is obvious to the student of history. In Ireland, the native social order which lived on till the submersion of the nation, and lived even then as an ideal and objective, was an order of immemorial age. It was evolved from the Natural Law in the almost-innocent ages of pastoral and early agricultural life, and being a natural organism, it adapted itself to new conditions – such as the coming of Christianity, of navigation and of organised commerce with that easy response to new needs that a natural organism alone can display.
The Capitalistic Order was imposed on Ireland violently from without, and the submerged nation was even denied the right to practise industry according to Capitalistic rules. The Capitalistic State was ever as foreign to the nation as its chains. But on the Continent, the natural state-organism, so familiar to us in Ireland, is scarcely even a memory. In the distant ages, the so-called Barbarians enjoyed free and natural institutions, finely-devolved Republican manners, like those of the Irish State; but when these Barbarians swept down on the Roman world and founded the nations of modern Europe, they broke with their native simplicity. They attempted a compromise with an alien order. They were unable to control a vast artificial organisation like the Empire (though Charlemagne made an eternally-glorious effort) on the basis of their homeland liberties, and so in those tumultuous conditions, Militarism got control, and under the usual militaristic pretence of restoring order, Feudalism was founded. The Roman Empire had been sustained by vast industrial armies of slaves. Feudalism now administered Europe, with the Barbarian democracy, reduced to serfs, in their place. Feudalism, with its lords and barons, yielded to Capitalism, an equally unnatural and in essence Militaristic Order, and the serfs became wage-slaves. The rise of Workers’ Republics in Europe is the people’s uprise against the unnatural despotism to which they fell victim a thousand years ago. It is the natural liberties and homely laws of the “Barbarian” Republics reasserting themselves against age-old, artificial tyrannies. Ireland cried to Russia, and Russia to Germany, and Liberty, wakened in Ireland, has begun once more to walk the earth.