From Sinn Féin Weekly, October 25, 1913.
Six hundred years ago the States of Europe fell under the domination of Internationalism. The Hansard merchants, taking their rise in Germany, extended their power over that country, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the Latin nations, the Slav countries, and England. Their factories dotted Europe from Belgium to Russia, their ships traversed all the known seas, their coin circulated from Ireland to the East: Princes, Kings, and Emperors became their vassals, national territories their farms, factories, and markets. Poland was their granary, England their sheep farm, Sweden their mine, Belgium their workshop. They claimed and enforced the claim to supply all nations with manufactured goods and produce, they bought in the cheapest and sold in the dearest market, they prohibited to all but themselves the transport trade, and on the industry of all nations they fixed their tribute. For three hundred years they ruled Europe in its commerce and industry, and formed the most potent influence in its politics. If France disputed their right and authority, they threw their resources into England or some other of France’s enemies and crushed the rebel. If a smaller nation – Sweden or Denmark – sought to free itself from their control, they locked its ports and reduced to submission. Their own country they despised and neglected, for the Nation meant nothing to them – they were citizens of the world. When at length the nations found strength to formidably revolt against the yoke of Internationalism, and the Hansards appealed to the entity they had denied, Germany cast them from her protection. The English nation, which had not dared to resent their tyranny, even when they drowned the fishermen of England for presuming to approach the fishing-ponds of these Internationalists, then tabooed their trade, and formed those companies of English buccaneers who, under the title of merchant adventurers, laid the foundations of English world-commerce and maritime supremacy. Holland and England completed the overthrow of mediaeval Internationalism in Europe, and fought to erect upon the ruins another Internationalism with Holland or England as its director. In the duel, England defeated Holland after a long struggle and thenceforward English policy was directed to the end of realising in herself the power of the Hanseatic League – to become the workshop, the carrier and the economic ruler of the world.
Her famous navigation laws, her resuscitation of the piratic States of Northern Africa to prey upon the commerce of the European Powers in the Mediterranean, her encouragement and subsidy of Continental wars, the iron protective system which she erected against foreign manufactures or goods in which she might develop a manufacturing power, her forcible suppression of Irish manufacturing industry, her famous treaty with Portugal, under which she reduced that country to vassalage and held her as a dagger at the hearts of France and Spain, her encouragement of foreign artificers and capitalists to settle in England, her State-aid to nascent industries, her interdiction of her colonies from manufacturing even so much as a horse-shoe nail, and her seizure, control, and prohibition from importation to England of the beautiful cotton and silk fabrics of India – all these were steps by which England ascended to her predominance in Europe and within a space of 200 years from the period when she had practically no export trade except the export of wool made her the great industrial and commercial power of the modern world. The end of the Napoleonic wars saw her in absolute command of the seas and chief command of the markets of the world.
It was no longer necessary for her to keep up the iron gates of her protective system, for the wasted countries of the Continent could no longer compete in the English market. Nor did it seem that her navigation laws could be longer of service, for there was no other marine in Europe to compete against her. Then, throwing down those defences which had served her purpose she preached Free Trade to the end that all the nations might be constrained to open their gates to her wares as she had opened hers manually to them. The wisdom and economic virtue of mankind, she taught, directed all nations to buy in the cheapest market – her own. Since wheat might be bought more cheaply outside England than within England. England would buy wheat from the world at large, and the world at large would buy its manufactured goods from England. Cobden told his countrymen, and believed it true, that within ten years from the enactment of Free Trade every country in Europe would be forced to throw down its Custom barriers and admit the manufactured goods of England free, and in that faith England enacted Free Trade, injuring her agricultural interest and visiting Ireland with a destruction of which the cattle grazing on the soil that once maintained double our population are today the silent index. The lure of the Big Loaf won the English workingmen away from their Chartist leaders who sought to conduct them to economic salvation by winning for them political power. “We stand,” said Peel, “on the confines of western Europe, the chief connecting-link between the old world and the new. Iron and coal, the sinews of manufacture, give us advantages over every rival in the great competition of industry, and our capital far exceeds that which they can command.”
The boast was even less than the truth. Yet within fifty years of its utterance, England instead of capturing the markets of Europe and dominating the world as the Hansards dominated it, has lost half her power. Europe and America refused to fulfil Cobden’s pledge to his countrymen to open their gates. Friedrich List and Prince Bismarck in Europe and the Irishman, Henry Carey, in America, kept the defences up, and the projected conquest of the world has failed. When a cry echoes in this country today that Capitalism and not England is the enemy, the reply is obvious – the Capitalism that denied its obligation to the moral law and the law of the nation – the Capitalism that enunciated the doctrine of non-interference with its operations as a binding commandment on States and Nations – that concept of Capitalism had its germ in no Celtic or Latin civilisation, but in the Teutonic Hansards and its modern development the world owes to England. Tell me not that the evil itself, nor the creator and fosterer of the evil alone is to be abhorred. England, with her savage doctrine of the irresponsibility of Capital to aught but itself has begotten a misery on the social system which has driven men to dream that in a revival of Feudalism with the State instead of the Noble as all-provider – wherein the subject is relieved by a benevolent despotism from the exercise of his personal initiative and the discipline of personal responsibility – the Salvation of humanity is to be found. Not Capitalism, but the abuse of Capitalism, oppresses Labour, and not in the destruction of the Capitalist, but in his subjection to the law of the State, interpreting the conscience and the interest of the Nation, will Labour be delivered from its oppression and restored to all its rights.
I affirm that the evils of the social system, as they exist in this country and in Great Britain, are wholly due to English policy and Government, and that that policy and that Government are partly responsible for those evils, as they exist, though in a modified form, outside the radius of the British flag. I deny that Socialism is a remedy for the existent evils or any remedy at all. I deny that Capital and Labour are in their nature antagonistic – I assert that they are essential and complementary, the one to the other. I deny to any member of the human race as a member of that important part of creation any natural right except the right to live, and I affirm that every other man becomes possessed of he holds through religion and the nation. Therefore though there is not, has never been, and can never be individual equality amongst men, within the nation there is a equality in which all men must be judged. It is not the right nor the function of the Nation to say to one of its sons:
“You are a capitalist; you must use your capital at my pleasure.”
It is the right and the function of the Nation to say:
“You are a capitalist. It is your right to use your capital as you please so long as you do not use it to the injury or oppression of the poorer of your brethren and my children.”
It is not the right of the Nation to say to Labour:
“You are Labour. You shall see yourself to Capital at Capital’s price, or my policemen shall punish you.”
It is the right and function of the nation to say to Labour:
“You are Labour. You shall sell your service to Capital for a lawful price, and a lawful price is that which will enable you to live in decency and comfort and provide against the material ills of the world. For I am the Nation – your father and the father of Capital also, and in my house my children shall not one oppress the other – it shall not be a house divided against itself.”
Whether the egg or the hen came first none of us know, but we all know that without the hen we cannot have the egg, and without the egg we cannot have the hen. Whether Capital begot Labour in the beginning or Labour begot Capital, without the wedding of Capital and Labour we cannot have production. We cannot slay the one without destroying the other. The incentive and right of both is the profit on production, and the security of the one and the efficiency of the other are essentials of national prosperity. Do not let us be misled by words and phrases. Let us inquire what they mean. When Labour is defrauded of its fair share of the profit it is the voice of stupidity which denounces Capitalism, instead of the abuse of Capitalism. If a thief puts his right hand in our pocket and takes our purse, we do not cry out that the security and happiness of mankind demand that henceforward men shall chop off their right hands. We punish the thief, not because he has a right hand, but because he has abused its functions to the injury of other men. Labour is entitled to be protected against the misuse of his hands by the thief. The organised nation does not say to the citizen,
“You must yourself protect your possessions against the cunning or the force of the dishonest.”
“I shall be your protector.”
To Labour it owes a similar duty and protection. When I affirm this I deny the whole basis of the present English social system, with its doctrine of laissez-faire and its policy of unrestrained competition. It is under that system that the abuse of Capital has been invested with a pseudo-moral sanction and that we in Ireland are squirming, because we have not the political power to protect ourselves against it.
I am a Protectionist. I believe in the protection of the capital of my country against the power of English or any other foreign capital. I believe that as it is the first duty of a nation to use all its resources to repel a military invasion of its territory, equally it is the duty of a nation to draw on and use all its strength to repel an industrial invasion which threatens its people with loss of their means of livelihood. It is the business of the organised nation to protect the employment of its people. It is the duty of the organised nation to protect Labour, and secure for it from the profits of production, not a mere competitive wage, but an adequate recompense proportioned to its services. I do not believe the renumeration of labour is to be fixed on the basis of the so-called Law of Supply and Demand. I deny that it is necessary, and I know it is unjust to pay a man less than the value of the services he renders. I know that we – Capital and Labour alike – under the English social system are gripped and squeezed in the vice of this so-called Iron Law of Supply and Demand, and that we shall not get out of that vice until we regain the mastery of our own country. Like Marx’s Iron Law of Wages, it has no truth at its base. The State may grow wealthy where the Law of Supply and Demand is worshipped as Immutable and Sacrosanct, but the nation will decay, and in its dissolution engulf the State. I see that process working before my eyes today in England. In the Ireland I hope to see, it shall not reproduce itself and work a similar destruction. The man who tells me that England is prosperous because she counts her trade by the thousand million sterling is the victim of that misunderstanding of terms so prevalent in this enlightened age of the cheap school, the cheap Press, and the cheaper university. That country, no matter howsoever wealthy it be, is not prosperous where abundant wealth exists and yet poverty and unemployment are the lot of a considerable proportion of its people. That State has abandoned its duty wherein there are men willing to work and yet condemned to pauperisation while wealth accumulates around them.
I am aware that my affirmations and beliefs are fundamentally at variance with the blessed system of Free Trade and Open Competition – a system supported today in the English Parliament and outside it by the English Labour Parties, who while clamouring against Capital, maintain in being the most iniquitous abuse of the power of Capital the modern world records – the abuse of Capital which has forced out of cultivation the soil of Ireland, with the result of making here a market for foreign wheat, and that has driven the Irish operative to America for the greater profit of the foreign market in Ireland. An acre of wheat employed three men and ten acres of grass today employs one. Was it for the benefit of the Irish farmer or the workingman, the trader, or the capitalist that Free-Trade England deprived Irish labour of employment on three acres that one bullock might be raised for her eating? Do bullocks wear boots and garments and need furniture and houses? Have the Irish bootmaker, and tailor, and weaver, and carpenter, and cabinetmaker, and bricklayer, and plasterer benefitted because cattle now range over the fields whence men who needed all these things and bought them out of the wages of their labour have vanished. And if they do not, has not the fiscal policy of England in this country destroyed, not only the men who raised the grain in Ireland, but diminished by one-half the output of the Irish artisan. The colonies now send us grain, and I have read in new illuminations of political economy that Ireland needs the colonies. The colonies Ireland needs are colonies of men on her grazing-ranches. Give Ireland these, and give her the political power to protect herself and Irish labour will no longer be an overstocked market.
In the year 1913 we are in Ireland back almost in the economic position that we occupied in 1725, when with a population of 2 ½ million people we were forced to import food to feed ourselves. Then, as now, English Economists were good enough to point out to us that since we lacked industries and could not raise food enough for our needs, we should emigrate. One man in our forlorn country saw the fallacy, and exhorted the Irish nation against it. “To force our population to emigrate,” wrote Dean Swift, “because they are short of food, is like cutting off your foot because you are short of a shoe.” And before the Union what was Ireland’s position. Her five millions, after feeding themselves on the fruits of her soil, had £3,000,000 worth of food every year to export and sell to other nations. The economic revolution was wrought when Ireland regained control of her political independence.
A wise State will, when it is necessary, tax the community to provide work for the workless. I am aware this is contrary to the doctrine and law of the English social system. That system will not permit the community to be taxed for such a purpose – it would interfere with the right it has accorded to Capital to follow what it may choose to consider its own interests regardless of the interests of the nation. Instead, it levies a tax – in the name of Poor Law – to pauperise and perpetuate pauperism. Whether it is better that a community should tax itself in two millions a year to provide employment, for those whom its ordinary capital cannot employ, in reproductive work – in reclamation, afforestation, and a dozen other ways of national material benefit, or tax itself in a million a year to keep up workhouses and provide the unemployed with the bread of charity. In the first case, the nation keeps its poor self-respecting men, and reaps a return on what they produce which will eventually overbalance the expenditure. In the latter case it destroys the spirit of some of its people and reaps no material return on the expenditure it has made. Yet the latter is the system forced upon this country under foreign rule. We are taxed in £1,100,000 a year to perpetuate pauperism, but no tax is levied upon us to provide employment for our unemployed people. The Law of Laissez-Faire, the policy of unrestrained competition, must not be interfered with, and the development of our national resources through the industry of the people – the main cause of a nation’s prosperity – must not be encouraged. To the end of our days we must go on buying English coal and iron and the world’s wheat, and pay the difference by which we could develop our own coal and iron and grow our own wheat in a demoralising poor-rate.
It is not to the nation which, under the guise of Free Trade, abuses the power of Capital and whose very Labour leaders support the maintenance of that system that Labour in Ireland can look for guidance and help to its salvation. Let Ireland look within itself for light, and it will find it there. Labour and Capital are not things of today or yesterday – they are things of all time. A thousand years ago in Ireland when Irish Law ruled Irishmen, the rights of Labour were recognised and established in the civil code. The Law of Ireland fixed the remuneration of the workman, not on competitive, but on absolute lines. It appraised the value of the work done, and awarded Labour out of that value the cost of Labour’s maintenance during the performance of the work and a proportion of the profit on production. The artisan by his skill could rise to the acquirement of landed property and high social status, and guilds or partnerships of workmen, were recognised, authorised, and permitted a voice in the government of the State. You cannot reproduce in the twentieth century the Ireland of the tenth century, but you can reproduce and you must continue to reproduce in every century the spirit of the nation. Alone almost in Europe, Ireland grew up untainted by the slavery of Feudalism – her people nurtured in an independence which, where it exacted duties conferred rights, and it is not to a nation still intellectually impressed with Feudalism that Ireland must or should look for light on the path of the social problem. She can look back to a State which recognised the rights of Labour when elsewhere in Europe it had none. And in the adaptation of the spirit of the Irish labour legislation of our ancestors to the conditions of our own time will be found a true solution.
We are said to be on the eve of political change which will involve a partial control of Irish affairs by the people of Ireland. In that event, there will be set up in this country a Parliament whose limited powers will not enable it to protect by tariff, as France and Germany, Holland and America protected their nascent industries against unscrupulous competition and develop them into strength; it will not have power to do one-fourth of what a free government could do for this country, but there are certain things it can do, and if the workingmen of Ireland are wise enough to realise that the true instrument of emancipation for Labour is the political instrument operated through the legislature these things it can have done. The ninth article of the Sinn Féin programme declares that the control and management of transit by rail, road and water, and the control and development of waste lands are matters for an Irish Government. The 15th article of the same programme declares that the Poorhouse system shall be abolished and substituted by adequate provision in their homes for the aged and infirm and the employment of the able-bodied in national reproductive works. The 10th article of the Sinn Féin programme supports the control and development of the sea fisheries by a National Government, and the eighth article declares that Courts of arbitration should decide industrial disputes. So much of the programme of Sinn Féin can be realised even in the hampered Parliament the Home Rule Bill proposes to set up in this country, and it was not today nor yesterday that Sinn Féin put it forward, but six years ago when it told Ireland that in dependence on herself she would find the key to work out the salvation of all her sections.
It is within the power of the proposed Home Rule Parliament to purchase for the Nation the existing railways and canals and work then solely for the Nation’s interest. The purchase price of the Irish railways is roughly £10,000,000 and the transference of the railways to the Irish State need involve little or no cash transactions. State bonds bearing a fixed interest will affect the bulk of the transaction. No man needs to be told of the impetus and development of the trade and industries of Ireland and the consequent increase of remunerative employment which the acquisition of the railways or even the canals by a National Government would produce. Who that knows anything of our sea fisheries, starved for lack of capital and denied all state-encouragement, does not know that given that state-encouragement they will produce for Ireland an additional two millions per annum and provide, as they have provided in Scotland, well-paid work for thousands of artisans in subsidiary and complementary industries. It will be within the power of that Parliament to sweep away the degrading and wasteful system under which half-a-million a year is expended in administering £600,000 in poor-relief and crushing the spirit of men and women in the process, and it will be within the power of such a Parliament to substitute for the dagger-method of settling industrial disputes a system under which the State will be the protector of Capital without being the foe of Capital. In the spirit and practice of our ancient laws, when the State through its Courts established the right of Labour to its fair share of the profits of production, and in the living example of New Zealand with its Conciliation Boards and Arbitration Courts are the model and example which even so poor a Parliament as that we are promised can follow to restore the relations of Labour and Capital in Ireland to a harmony with the national life.
But there is an enactment in another country which I have often admired and wished to see introduced and extended to mine. It is the law that secures to the family its house and forbids the family to be dispossessed of it except in the most extreme circumstances. I believe in a homestead law which will enable every working man in Ireland to own his house, and have that house secured to him free of seizure by any man for debt. I hold that as it was prohibited in ancient Ireland to distrain upon the workman’s tools, it must be prohibited in the new Ireland to distrain upon the workman’s house. Whatever the civil offences a workman may commit this I hold to be true, that it is the duty of the wise State to see that the penalty visited upon him for them shall not go to the extreme of rendering him and his family homeless. I believe in a homestead law which will permit every workman’s family to procure through the State a house at the cost of its building, and to have and to hold that house as its property, free from fear that if poverty and ill ever visit them they will become shelterless in their own country. I am aware of the objections that may be urged, and to these objections I answer – You have rooted the farmer in the soil and you have done well. Give the workman a home, and the assurance that in infirmity, misfortune, or old age he shall not deprived of shelter and you will do equally well. He will go through life strengthened in confidence, conscious of his citizenship and its duties, living in security, decency, and spaciousness – like the man of old dwelling in freedom under his own fig-tree.
Sinn Féin is a national, not a sectional movement, and because it is national it must not and can not tolerate injustice and oppression within the nation. It will not, at least through my voice, associate itself with any war of classes or attempted war of classes. There may be many classes, but there can only be one nation. If there be men who believe that Ireland is a name and nothing more, and that the interest of the Irish workman lies, not in sustaining the nation, but in destroying it, that the path to redemption for mankind is through universalism, cosmopolitanism, or any other ism than nationalism, I am not of their company. I have never been of their company. I never shall be of their company. If a legislature be set up in this country I shall seek to have realised through it that Sinn Féin programme I have mentioned. I shall seek to have its powers increased until they amount to national independence, and with the increase of its powers increase not only the wealth of the country, which is not prosperity, but the just distribution of that wealth, which is prosperity. The free nation I desire to see rise again upon the soil of Ireland is no offspring of despair – no neo-feudalism – with Marx and Lassalle and Proudhon as its prophets. It is the ancient Irish nation called into new being – a nation in which there will be no slums and no hunger, and every honest man who labours and performs will live in comfort and security. I am not concerned with the interests of humanity at large. I am concerned with the interests of my own people. But this I know – that he who wishes to serve humanity at large can only do so effectively when he serves it through the nation. That nation, whose sons and daughters free it of misery and produce in it understanding and harmony between all its sections, will be a light to the other peoples, and such a nation I desire, not for the sake of the other peoples, but for the sake of my own people to realise in Ireland. I trust no man who tells me he loves all humanity equally well, for I know that the man who loves all humanity equally well can love nobody in particular. I know that the man who loves all his neighbours’ children equally with his own is a bad father. I know that the one weapon with which the workingman can win his filched rights back again is the political weapon, and that those who advise him to neglect it and attack unarmed and unarmoured his oppressors where he is oppressed advise him to defeat. I know that those who represent the Nation to him as an enemy or as an illusion bid him destroy the chief factor in the world that can prevent capital abusing its power. I know that Irish Labour deserves well of the Irish nation for it was more faithful to it in the past than Irish Capital. I know that the strength of the claim the Irish workingman on the Irish nation is not that he is a workingman, but that he is an Irish workingman, that if he prefers a claim as a nationless workingman he possesses no right or title in Ireland which the last English workingman who stepped upon our shores or the next emancipated Chinese coolie who comes hither may not equally claim. I believe that when a Parliament be set up in this country the Irish workingman should use that Parliament to secure so far as is in its power the rights he is entitled to as a faithful member of the Irish nation. In that boat I shall pull an oar, but I shall never row in the cosmopolitan galley.
When Emmet died and Davis burned out his life and Mitchel descended into an English hell they did not die and labour and suffer to raise up in Ireland a replica of English civilisation – a State wherein many honest man starved while many a rascal flaunted the wealth of Croesus. But neither did they die and suffer so that their country might be delivered from the hands of one evil nation only that it might fall into the hands of men of no nation. They did not die and suffer for the tenant or the landlord, the workingman or the employer – they died and suffered for all, and the nation they saw in their prophetic eyes reared again upon this holy soil was a nation of men of many minds and many grades but of free hearts and manly brotherhood, nurtured in the love of justice and living by its law. That Ireland yet shall be, and the workingmen of Ireland who in the past faithfully served the ideal of the heroes who sustained us with their blood and sweat in the march towards its attainment will not forsake their birthright. Through that nation and not outside of it they will regain all they have lost since the black shadow of foreign rule fell upon their country and struck down that civilisation of our Gaelic ancestors in which Capital prayed of Labour a blessing on each work undertaken and Labour gave the blessing in token of its satisfaction with the recompense.