“Before the time of the conquest, the Irish people knew nothing of absolute property in land. The land belonged to the entire sept; the chief was little more than the managing member of the association. The feudal idea which came in with the conquest was associated with foreign dominion, and has never to this day been recognised by the moral sentiment of the people.”
In these few words of Mr John Stuart Mill the impartial student may find the key for unravelling the whole tangled skein of Irish polities. Latter-day politicians, both on the English and Irish side, have done their utmost to familiarise the public mind with belief that the Irish question arises solely out of the aspirations of the Irish people to have more complete control over the internal administration of the affairs of their country than it is possible for them to exercise while the seat of government is located at Westminister, and that, therefore, some form of local self-government, as, for instance, Mr. Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill, is all that is needed to settle this question, and lay forever the troubled spirit of Irish discontent. According to this luminous (?) exposition of Irish history, we are to believe that the two nations have for seven hundred years been engaged in unceasing warfare, that the one country (Ireland) has during all that time been compelled to witness the merciless slaughter of her children by famine, pestilence and the sword; that each succeeding generation has witnessed a renewal of the conflict and a renewal of the martyrdom, until the sensitive mind recoils from a perusal of Irish history as from the records of a shambles, and all, forsooth, because Irishmen and Englishmen could not agree upon the form of political administration best suited for Ireland.
If this new reading of Irish history were true the intelligent foreigner might be forgiven for rating at a very low standard the intelligence of the two nations, which during seven hundred years had not evolved a satisfactory solution of such a simple question. At precisely the same low standard may safely be rated the political acumen of the English and Irish party leaders, who are to-day complacently trotting out the discredited abortion of Home Rule as a sovereign remedy for Ireland’s misery.
The Irish question has, in fact, a much deeper source than a mere difference of opinion on forms of government. Its real origin and inner meaning lay in the circumstances that the two opposing nations held fundamentally different ideas upon the vital question of property in land. Recent scientific research by such eminent sociologists as Letourneau, Lewis Morgan, Sir Henry Maine, and others, has amply demonstrated the fact that common ownership of land formed the basis of primitive society in almost every country. But, whereas, in the majority of countries now called civilised, such primitive Communism had almost entirely disappeared before the dawn of history and had at no time acquired a higher status than that conferred by the social sanction of unlettered and uneducated tribes. In Ireland the system formed part of the well defined social organisations of a nation of scholars and students, recognised by Chief and Tanist, Brehon and Bard, as the inspiring principle of their collective life, and the basis of their national system of jurisprudence. Such a striking fact will, of course, be interpreted in many ways, according to the temperament and political and racial sympathies of the reader. The adherent of the present order of society will regard it as proof of the Irish incapacity for assimilating progressive ideas, and will, no doubt, confidently assert that this incapacity is the real source of Ireland’s misery, since it has unfitted her sons for the competitive scramble for existence, and so foredoomed them to the lot of hewers of wood and drawers of water.
Stages of Development
The ardent student of sociology, who believes that the progress of the human race through the various economic stages of communism, chattel slavery, feudalism and wage slavery, has been but a preparation for the higher ordered society of the future; that the most industrially advanced countries are but, albeit often unconsciously, developing the social conditions which, since the break-up of universal tribal communism, have been rendered historically necessary for the inauguration of a new and juster economic order, in which social, political and national antagonism will be unknown, will perhaps regard the Irish adherence to clan ownership at such a comparatively recent date as the 17th Century as evidence of retarded economical development, and therefore a real hindrance to progress. But the sympathetic student of history, who believes in the possibility of a people by political intuition anticipating the lessons afterwards revealed to them in the sad school of experience, will not be indisposed to join with the ardent Irish patriot in his lavish expressions of admiration for the sagacity of his Celtic forefathers, who foreshadowed in the democratic organisation of the Irish clan the more perfect organisation of the free society of the future.
The Pivotal Issue
Whichever be the true interpretation of Irish history, one fact at least stands out clear and undeniable, viz., that the conflict between the rival systems of land ownership was the pivot around which centred all the struggles and rebellions of which that history has been so prolific. The Irish regarded with inveterate hostility their English rulers, at all times set little store upon promises of incorporation within the pale of the constitution, and rose with enthusiasm under their respective chiefs, because they regarded this as the all-important question, because in their eyes English rule and Dublin parliaments were alike identified as the introducers and upholders of the system of feudalism and private ownership of land, as opposed to the Celtic system of clan or common ownership, which they regarded, and, I think, rightly, as the pledge at once of their political and social liberty.
The English Government was also astute enough to perceive that the political or national subjection of Ireland was entirely valueless to the conquerors while the politically subjected nation remained in possession of economic freedom. Consequently, we find that the first stipulation made to the Irish tribe upon its submission always provided that the lands of the tribe should be regarded as the private property of the chief; that he should therefore accept them as a grant from the crown, from which he should in future hold them; that he should drop his Irish title, which proclaimed him the freely elected chief of a free community, and should instead accept an English title, such as duke or earl, and in all things conform to English ideas of civilisation and social order. All these stipulations were in the last degree repugnant to Irish ideas. The chief, as Mill has justly observed, was but the managing member of the tribal association, although in the stress of constant warfare they usually limited their choice to the members of one or two families; yet the right of election was never abdicated by the tribesmen. Whenever the seductions of English gold overmastered the patriotism of an Irish chief, and succeeded in inducting his acceptance of the alien property system and the alien title (as in the case of Art O’Neil and Nial Garbh O’Donnell, the Queen’s O’Reilly and the Queen’s Maguire), they immediately elected another chief in his stead; and from that moment the unfortunate renegade became an outlaw from his own people, and could only appear in his native territory under an escort of English spears.
The Septal System
The Irish system was thus on a par with those conceptions of social rights and duties which we find the ruling classes to-day denouncing so fiercely as “Socialistic”. It was apparently inspired by the democratic principle that property was intended to serve the people, and not by the principle so universally acted upon at present, viz., that the people have no other function in existing than to be the bondslaves of those who by force or by fraud have managed to possess themselves of property. They did not, indeed, regard all forms of productive property as rightfully belonging to the community; but when we remember that the land alone was at that time of importance, all other forms of property being insignificant by comparison, we see that they were as Socialistic as the industrial development of their time required. The English civilisation against which they had fought was on the other hand, thoroughly individualistic; and, as it triumphed, we are reaping the fruits to-day in the industrial disputes, the agricultural depressions, the poor-houses, and other such glorious institutions in Church and State as we are permitted the luxury of enjoying in common with our fellow-subjects in this “integral portion of the British Empire”. The results of the change on the national life of Erin are well illustrated in the scornful words in which Aubrey De Vere apostrophises the “new race” of exploiters which then arose:
The chiefs of the Gael were the people embodied;
The chiefs were the blossoms, the people the root.
Their conquerors, the Normans, high-souled and high-blooded,
Grew Irish at last from the scalp to the foot;
And ye, ye are hirelings and satraps, not nobles –
Your slaves they detest you, your masters, they scorn;
The river lives on, but the sun-painted bubbles
Pass quickly, to the rapids incessantly borne.
The National Struggle
The break-up of the Kilkenny Confederation in 1649, and the consequent dispersion of the Irish clans, was the immediate cause of that confusion of thought and apparent lack of directness in aim which down to our day has characterised all modern Irish politics. Deprived of any form of political or social organisation which might serve as an effective basis for its practical realisation, the demand for the common ownership of the land naturally fell into abeyance until such time as the conquest of some form of political freedom should enable the dispossessed Irishry to substitute for the lost tribal association the fuller and broader conception of an Irish nation as the natural repository and guardian of the people’s heritage. But when the fusing process of a common subjection had once more welded the heterogenous elements of Irish society into one compact nationality it was found that in the intervening period a new class had arisen in the land – a class which, while professedly ultra-nationalistic in its political aims, had nevertheless so far compounded with the enemy as to accept the alien social system, with its accompanying manifestations, the legal dispossession and economic dependence of the vast mass of the Irish people, as part of the natural order of society.
The Irish middle class, who then by virtue of their social position and education stepped to the front as Irish patriot leaders, owed their unique status in political life to two entirely distinct and apparently antagonistic causes. Their wealth they derived from the manner in which they had contrived to wedge themselves into a place in the commercial life of the “Saxon enemy”, assimilating his ideas and adopting his methods, until they often proved the most ruthless of the two races in pushing to its furthest limits their powers of exploitation. Their political influence they derived from their readiness at all times to do lip service to the cause of Irish nationality, which in their phraseology meant simply the transfer of the seat of government from London to Dublin, and the consequent transfer to their own or their relatives’ pockets of some portion of the legislative fees and lawyers pickings then, as at present, expended among the Cockneys. With such men at the helm it is no wonder that the patriot parties of Ireland have always ended their journey upon the rock of disaster. Beginning by accepting a social system abhorrent to the best traditions of a Celtic people, they next abandoned as impossible the realisation of national independence. By the first act they set the seal of their approval upon a system founded upon the robbery of their countrymen, and by the second they bound up the destinies of their country with the fate of an Empire in the humiliation of whose piratical rulers lies the Irish people’s only chance of national and social redemption.
As compensation for this gross betrayal the middle class politicians offer – Home Rule. To exactly analyse what Home Rule would confer on Ireland is a somewhat difficult task, since every one interprets the “thing” in his own way and according to his own peculiar bent. Perhaps the safest way, and at any rate the one least open to objection, will be to regard as Home Rule the Bill introduced by Mr. Gladstone. As this scheme represents the utmost that the statesmanlike prowess of Mr. Parnell, with a solid phalanx of eighty-six members behind him, could wrest from the fear or favour of English Liberalism, it is surely safe enough to assume that no other merely political body from Ireland is ever likely to improve upon this concession by any alliance with either of the great factions who watch over the interests of the English propertied class. Home Rule proposed to establish in Ireland a domestic legislature that would be carefully divested of all those powers and attributes which by the common consent of civilised peoples are regarded as properly belonging to the sphere and functions of government; that would have no power in controlling diplomacy, post office, commerce, telegraphs, coinage, customs and excise, weights and measures, copyrights and patents, succession to the Crown, or army, navy, militia or volunteers.
Home Rule – Its Meaning
The only conceivable result of such a state of affairs would have been to create in Ireland a host of place-hunters and Government officials, who, secure in the enjoyment of a good income themselves, would have always acted as a barrier between the people and their oppressors. As a method whereby the English legislature might have been relieved of some of its duties at home, and thus left more free to pursue its policy of plunder and aggression abroad, it ought to have delighted the heart of the Jingo politicians. That they were too dunderheaded to see their opportunity is a mercy for which far-seeing Irish democrats can never be sufficiently thankful.
The second Home Rule Bill was slightly more democratic than the first, therefore the Government made no effort to force it upon the Upper House. The English Liberal Party – the most treacherous political party in Europe – has always had two favourite devices for destroying obnoxious proposals of reform. First: unscrupulous slander and opposition; second: theoretical acceptance of the principle of reform, but indefinite postponement of its practical realisation, continued on one pretext or another, until the hearts of the reformers are broken and their organisations disrupted. The first was defeated by the genius of Parnell; how well the second method has succeeded let the present political chaos of Ireland testify.
Realising that, taken on its own merits, Home Rule is simply a mockery of Irish national aspirations our middle class leaders have industriously instilled into the public mind the belief that the advent of Home Rule would mean the immediate establishment of manufactures and the opening up of mines, etc., in every part of Ireland. This seems to them the highest possible ideal – an Irish society composed of employers making fortunes and workers grinding out their lives for a weekly wage. But, to say the least, the men who talk in this manner must either be woefully ignorant of the conditions of modern industry, or else, for some private reason of their own, are wilfully deceiving those who believe in them. To establish industry successfully to-day in any country requires at least two things, neither of which Ireland possesses, and one of which she never can possess. The first is the possession of the wherewithal to purchase machinery and raw materials for the equipment of her factories, and the second is customers to purchase the goods when they are manufactured. Now, we find that England, who has had the start in manufacturing over every other nation, who has been extending her commerce and perfecting her machinery for a hundred and fifty years at least, who has created a nation of highly skilled artisans, adept in every form of industrial achievement – England, the wealthiest country in the world, has brought her industries to such a degree of mechanical perfection that her customers cannot keep her going. She can supply goods of every description much quicker than the world is able to purchase and consume them, and as a direct consequence of this vast producing power she is compelled every few years to either wholly or partially stop her machinery and close her factories, to discharge her artisan subjects, and compel them to walk about in enforced idleness and semi-starvation until such time as the goods they have produced are purchased and consumed by other people – their customers.
Bear this in mind, and remember also, that Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Russia, every state on the continent of Europe and America, India, China and Japan, are all entering into the struggle; that each of them is striving hard, not only to provide what it had formerly relied on England to provide, but also to beat England out of the markets of the world. Remember that for all those countries the great difficulty is to find customers, that the old-established firm in the business – viz., the British Empire – finds that her customers cannot keep her mills and factories going. Remember all this, and then tell me how poor Ireland, exhausted and drained of her life-blood at every pore, with a population almost wholly agricultural and unused to mechanical pursuits, is to establish new factories, and where she is to find the customers to keep them going. She cannot create new markets. This world is only limited after all, and the nations of Europe are pushing their way into its remote corners so rapidly that in a few years time, at most, the entire world will have been exhausted as a market for their wares.
Go to the factory towns, to the ship-building centres, to the coal mines, to the Trade Unions, or to the Stock Exchanges of England, the continent of Europe or America, and everywhere you will hear the same cry: “The supply of cotton and linen goods, of ironwork, of coal and of ships of every description, is exceeding the demand; we must work short time, we must reduce the workers’ wages, we must close our factories – there is not enough customers to keep our machinery going.” In the face of such facts the thoughtful Irish patriot will throw rant aside and freely recognise that it is impossible for Ireland to do what those other countries cannot do, with their greater advantages, viz., to attain prosperity by establishing a manufacturing system in a world-market already glutted with every conceivable kind of commodity. It is well also to remember that even under the most favourable circumstances, even if by some miracle, we were able to cover the green fields of Erin with huge, ugly factories, with chimneys belching forth volumes of poisonous smoke and coating the island with a sooty desolation – even then we would quickly find that under the conditions born of the capitalist system our one hope of keeping our feet as a manufacturing nation would depend upon our ability to work longer and harder for a lower wage than the other nations of Europe, in order that our middle class may have the opportunity of selling their goods at a lower price than their competitors. This is equivalent to saying that our chance of making Ireland a manufacturing country depends upon us becoming the lowest blacklegs in Europe. Even then the efforts would be doomed to failure, for the advent of the yellow man into the competitive arena, the sudden development of the capitalist system on China and Japan, has rendered forever impossible the uprise of another industrial nation in Europe.
But, we are told by some of our leaders, “if we cannot compete with other countries in the world-market, we can at least produce for ourselves.” Under no circumstances can we do so without bringing upon ourselves disasters as great as those we wish to escape from. With greater advantages and larger experience in the field than we possess, the capitalists of the other countries can easily undersell our goods, even in the home market, and if in order to give our manufactures a chance we were to adopt protection (impossible under Home rule), the result would be to immediately increase the price of every kind of goods while no one would benefit except teh few capitalists for whose sake our Irish workers would be working harder and longer and paying higher prices than before.
Again, it is said we need not perhaps establish industry or try it, but we can at least establish peasant proprietary, and make every man the owner of his farm, let every man live, if not under his own vine and fig tree, at least upon his own potato patch. In the first place, I consider such an act to be, even if practicable, one of very questionable justice. To make the land of a country the property of a class is to my mind equally iniquitous, whether that class number a few hundreds or a few thousands. The land of a country belongs of right to the people of that country, and not to any particular class, nor even to any single generation of the people. The private ownership of land by the landlord class is an injustice to the whole community, but the creation of a peasant proprietary would only tend to stereotype and consecrate that injustice, since it would leave out of account the entire labouring class as well as the dispossessed millions of former tenants whom landlord rule had driven into the Irish towns or across the sea.
Nationalisation of Land
It is, of course, manifestly impossible to reinstate the Irish people on the lands from which they have been driven, but that fact only lends additional point to the demand for the nationalisation of land in the hands of the Irish State. Setting that fact aside, however, have our advocates of peasant proprietary really considered the economic tendencies of the time, and the development of the mechanical arts in the agricultural world? The world is progressive, and peasant proprietary, which a hundred years ago might have been a boon, would now be powerless to save from ruin the agriculture of Ireland. The day of small farmers, as of small capitalists, is gone, and wherever they are still found they find it impossible to compete with the improved machinery and mammoth farms of America and Australia. Whereas each Irish farm is burdened with the support of its field workers for the entire 365 days in the year, the capitalist farmer of the States hires his “hands” by the hundred for harvesting operations, and discharges them immediately it is completed, thus reducing to one-fourth the annual wages bill of his workers.
Science in Agriculture
How are our small farmers to compete with a state of matters like this, or like unto that revealed in the report of the American Social Science Association, even as far back as 1878? It tells how science and invention, after devoting so much time to industry, have turned their attention to agriculture, and as a result have effected almost a revolution in that branch of human activity. Ploughs which, driven by horses, plough more than five acres per day, or the extent of many an Irish farm, and steam ploughs which do much more; machines for sowing seeds, with which a boy and horse can do three times the work of a man, and do it much better; reaping machines, with which a man with one or two pairs of horses can do the work of at least sixty men with reaping hooks; reaping machines which not only cut the harvest, but tie it as well, are now so common in England and America as to fail to attract attention, and we hear on good authority of machines which cut, thrash, winnow, and sack it, without the intervention of any other human hands than those of the engineer who tends the machine. In cutting the corn a man or boy, with a horse and machine, can do the work of twenty men cutting an acre an hour.
All this, be it remembered, is only possible to the farmer who holds his thousands of acres. The first cost of any one of those machines would be enough to ruin the average small farmer in Ireland, and the result is that while he is painfully labouring on his farm his American competitor can bring in his harvest, send it thousands of miles by railroad, load it into ships, send it across the Atlantic, and eventually sell it practically at our doors as cheap as, and cheaper than, our home produce. The competition of New Zealand beef and frozen mutton has already inflicted incalculable harm upon the Irish cattle trade, and within the last few months I have received private information of a contract entered into with the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company to transport butter from the huge cattle ranches of Australia to any port in Great Britain and Ireland at a price that spells ruin to the dairy farms of these countries. While, then, in order to avoid even the appearance of injustice, we may rigidly respect those “rights of property” in land our peasant farmers have acquired by purchase, we must recognise that peasant proprietary in itself offers no hope of a free and unanxious life – not even to the peasant proprietor.
Effects of Conquest
Ere we can forecast the future we must understand the present and bring a just sense of proportion to our review of the history of the past. What, then, are the conditions which govern life in Ireland to-day, and of what are those conditions the outcome? According to the most eminent authorities who have ever dealt with the subject the soil of Ireland is capable of sustaining a population many times larger than she has ever borne upon its surface, yet Ireland is in a state of chronic starvation. Every ship that leaves our ports is laden down with harvest for human consumption, while the people whose strong hands have reaped that harvest pine in wretchedness and want, or fly from the shores of this fertile land as from the arid sands of a desert. The landlord class, infatuated with that madness which always precedes destruction, press for their rents to the uttermost farthing wherever they can wheedle or coerce a too-compliant legislature and executive to support them in their exactions. The capitalist farmer, driven to the wall by the stress of the competition, seeks in vain to maintain his foothold in life by unceasing struggle with the lord of the soil on one hand and a ruthless oppression of the labourer on the other; the small farmer, bereft entirely of hope for the future, settles despairingly into a state of social wretchedness for which no savage land can furnish a parallel; the agricultural labourer, with his fellow in the towns, takes his strength, his brains, his physical and intellectual capabilities to the market, and offers them to his wealthier fellow-creatures, to be exploited in return for a starvation wage. On all sides anarchy and oppression reign supreme, until one could scarcely wonder if even the most orthodox amongst us were tempted to echo the saying of the Spanish Don Juan Aguila after the battle of Kinsale: “Surely Christ never died for this people!”
The Use of the Soil
These are the conditions under which life is endured in Ireland to-day. From what do such conditions spring? There are two things necessary for the maintenance of life in Ireland, as in every other country. They are land and labour. Possessed of these two essentials, the human race has at its command all the factors requisite for the wellbeing of the species. From the earth labour extracts alike its foods and the mineral wealth with which it contrives to construct and adorn its habitations and prepare its raiment. Therefore the possession of the soil is everywhere the first requisite of life. Granting this as a proposition too self-evident to need elaborate demonstration, we at once arrive at the conclusion that since the soil is so necessary to our existence the first care of every well-regulated community ought to be to preserve the use of that soil, and the right to freely share in its fruits, to every member of the community, present or prospective, born or unborn.
Production for Use
The moment when the land of a country passes from the care of the community as a public trust, and from being the common property of the entire people becomes the private property of individuals, marks the beginning of slavery for that people and of oppression for that country. With the land held as the property of individuals there are immediately created two antagonistic classes in society – one holding the land and demanding from the other a rent for permission to live upon it, and the other driven by a constant increase of their own numbers to offer larger and larger shares of the produce of their labour as tribute to the first class, who thus become masters of the lives of their fellow-beings. With the land held as the common property of the people an abundant harvest would he eagerly welcomed as an addition to the wealth of the community, guaranteeing against want every one of its members. With the land held as private property the abundant harvest must be sold to satisfy the exactions of the holder of the soil, and as he jingles in his pockets the result of the sale of his tenants’ produce the families who reaped it may be perishing of want.
As one crime begets another, so one economic blunder invariably brings in its train a series of blunders, each one more fruitful of disaster than the first. When the production of food for public use was abandoned in favour of production of agricultural produce for private sale and private profit, it was almost inevitable that the production of almost every other necessary of life should be subjected to the same conditions. Thus we find that food, clothes, houses and furniture are not produced in order that people may be fed, clad, sheltered or made comfortable, but rather in order that the class who have obtained possession of the land, machinery, workshops and stores necessary for the production of these essentials should be thereby enabled to make a comfortable living at the expense of their fellow creatures. If the landlord and employing class think they can make a rent or profit by allowing the people to feed, clothe, or house themselves, then the latter are allowed to do so under the direction of the former – when, where, and how the masters please. If, on the contrary, they imagine it will pay them better to refuse that right (as they do in every eviction, strike, or lock-out), then they do refuse that permission, and their countrymen go forth starving, their children die of want before their eyes, and their wives and mothers pine in wretchedness and misery in what their forefathers were wont to call the “Isle of the Blest”.
By the operation of certain historic causes the workers have been deprived of everything by which they can maintain life and are thus compelled to seek their livelihood by the sale of their capacity for work, their labour power. The worker thus finds that the most essential condition which he must perform in order that he may possess his life is to sell part of that life into the service and for the profit of another. Whether he sells it by the hour, the day, the week, or the month is immaterial – sell it he must or else starve.
Now, the worker is a human being, with all the powers and capabilities of a human being within him, just as is a landlord, a capitalist, or any other ornament of society. But when he approaches the capitalist in order to complete that bargain, which means the sale of his life piecemeal in order that he may enjoy it as a whole, he finds that he must carefully divest himself of all claims to be considered as a human being, and offer himself upon the market subject to the same law as govern the purchase or sale of any inanimate, soulless commodity, such as a pair of boots, a straw hat or a frock coat. That is to say, the price he will receive for this piecemeal sale of himself will depend upon how many more are compelled by hunger to make the same horrible bargain.
In like manner with the farmer seeking to rent a farm in the open market. Each competitor seeks to outbid the other, until the rent is fixed usually out of all proportion to the price which will in the future be obtained for the produce of the farm bidden for. The agriculturist finds that in years of universal plenty, when throughout the world the earth brings forth its fruits in teeming profusion, the excess of supply over effective demand operates to lower the price of his farm produce, until it scarcely repays his labour in garnering it, and in times of scarcity, when a good price might he obtained, he has little to sell, his customers have not the wherewithal to buy, and the landlord or the money lender are as relentless as ever in their exactions.
As a remedy for such an array of evils Home Rule stands revealed as a glaring absurdity. The Home Rule parties either ignore the question altogether or else devote their attention to vain attempts to patch up the system with schemes of reform which each day tends to discredit more and more. The tenant who seeks in the Land Court for a judicial valuation of his holding finds that in face of the steady fall in agricultural prices (assisted by preferential railway rates in favour of foreign produce) the ‘fair’ rent of one year becomes the rack-rent of another, and the tenant who avails himself of the purchase clauses of the Land Act finds that he has only escaped from the personal tyranny of a landlord to have his veins sucked by the impersonal power of the money lender.
A Socialist Republic
Confronted with such facts, the earnest Irish worker turns in dismay and joins his voice to that of the uncompromising Nationalist in seeking from the advocate of an Irish Socialist Republic the clue of the labyrinthine puzzle of modern economic conditions. The problem is a grave and difficult one, alike from the general ignorance of its controlling conditions and because of the multiplicity of vested interests which must be attacked and overthrown at every forward step towards its solution. The solution herein set forth is therefore not guaranteed to be absolutely perfect in all its details, but only to furnish a rough draft of a scheme of reform by means of which the ground may be prepared for that revolutionary change in the structure of society which can alone establish an approximation to an ideally just social system.
The agriculture of Ireland can no longer compete with the scientifically equipped farmers of America, therefore the only hope that now remains is to abandon competition altogether as a rule of life, to organise agriculture as a public service under the control of boards of management elected by the agricultural population (no longer composed of farmers and labourers, but of free citizens with equal responsibility and equal honour), and responsible to them and the nation at large, and with all the mechanical and scientific aids to agriculture the entire resources of the nation can place at their disposal. Let the produce of Irish soil go first to feed the Irish people, and after a sufficient store has been retained to insure of that being accomplished, let the surplus be exchanged with other countries in return for those manufactured goods Ireland needs but does not herself produce.
Thus we will abolish at one stroke the dread of foreign competition and render perfectly needless any attempt to create an industrial hell in Ireland under the specious pretext of ‘developing our resources’.
Apply to manufacture the same social principle, let the co-operative organisation of the workers replace the war of classes under capitalism and transform the capitalist himself from an irresponsible hunter after profit into a public servant fulfilling a public function and under public control. Recognise the right of all to an equal opportunity to develop to their fullest capacity all the powers and capabilities inherent in them by guaranteeing to all our countrymen and women, the weak as well as the strong, the simple as well as the cunning, the honest equally with the unscrupulous, the fullest, freest, and most abundant human life intelligently organised society can confer upon any of its members.
“But,” you will say, “this means a Socialist Republic; this is subversive of all the institutions upon which the British Empire is founded – this cannot be realised without national independence.” Well, I trust no one will accuse me of a desire to fan into flame the dying embers of national hatred when I state as my deliberate and conscientious conviction that the Irish democracy ought to strive consistently after the separation of their country from the yoke that links her destinies with those of the British Crown. The interests of Labour all the world over are identical, it is true, but it is also true that each country had better work out its own salvation on the lines most congenial to its own people.
The national and racial characteristics of the English and Irish people are different, their political history and traditions are antagonistic, the economic development of the one is not on a par with the other, and, finally, although they have been in the closest contact for seven hundred years, yet the Celtic Irishman is to-day as much of an insoluble problem to even the most friendly English as on the day when the two countries were first joined in unholy wedlock. No Irish revolutionist worth his salt would refuse to lend a hand to the Social Democracy of England in the effort to uproot the social system of which the British Empire is the crown and apex, and in like manner no English Social Democrat fails to recognize clearly that the crash which would betoken the fall of the ruling classes in Ireland would sound the tocsin for the revolt of the disinherited in England.
Who are the People?
But on whom devolves the task of achieving that downfall of the ruling classes in Ireland? On the Irish people. But who are the Irish people? Is it the dividend-hunting capitalist with the phraseology of patriotism on his lips and the spoil wrung from sweated Irish toilers in his pockets; is it the scheming lawyer – most immoral of all classes; is it the slum landlord who denounces rackrenting in the country and practices it in the towns; is it any one of these sections who to-day dominate Irish politics? Or is it not rather the Irish working class – the only secure foundation on which a free nation can be reared – the Irish working class which has borne the brunt of every political struggle, and gained by none, and which is to-day the only class in Ireland which has no interest to serve in perpetuating either the political or social forms of oppression – the British connection or the capitalist system? The Irish working class must emancipate itself, and in emancipating itself it must, perforce, free its country. The act of social emancipation requires the conversion of the land and instruments of production from private property into the public or common property of the entire nation. This necessitates a social system of the most absolute democracy, and in establishing that necessary social system the working class must grapple with every form of government which could interfere with the most unfettered control by the people of Ireland of all the resources of their country.
On the working class of Ireland, therefore, devolves the task of conquering political representation for their class as the preliminary step towards the conquest of political power. This task can only he safely entered upon by men and women who recognise that the first action of a revolutionary army must harmonise in principle with those likely to be its last, and that, therefore, no revolutionists can safely invite the co-operation of men or classes, whose ideals are not theirs, and whom, therefore, they may be compelled to fight at some future critical stage of the journey to freedom. To this category belongs every section of the propertied class, and every individual of those classes who believes in the righteousness of his class position. The freedom of the working class must be the work of the working class. And let it be remembered that timidity in the slave induces audacity in the tyrant, but the virility and outspokenness of the revolutionists ever frightens the oppressor himself to hide his loathesomeness under the garb of reform. And thus remembering, fight for your class at every point.
Shorter Working Week
Our people are flying to the uttermost ends of the earth; seek to retain them at home by reducing the hours of labour wherever you have the power and by supporting every demand for legislative restriction. Your Irish railways employ thousands of men, whose working hours average twelve per day. Were they restricted to a forty-eight-hour week of labour, employment would he provided for thousands of Irishmen who at present are driven exiles from their native land. Pledge every Irish representative to support an Eight-Hour Bill for railways; if he refuses you will know that he considers profits as more sacred than patriotism, and would sacrifice his country on the altar of greed.
Our Irish municipalities and other public bodies controlled by popular vote employ also many thousands of men. What are their hours of labour? On the average ten, and their wages just above starvation point. Insist upon Irish corporations establishing the eight-hour day in all their works. They at least do not need to fear foreign competition. If you have no vote in the corporation you can at least help to hound off the political platform elsewhere every so-called patriot who refuses to perform this act of justice.
Every Irish corporation which declines to institute an eight-hours’ working day at a decent wage for its employees has virtually entered into a conspiracy with the British Government to expatriate the Irish people, rather than pay an additional halfpenny in the pound on the rates. In all our cities the children of the labouring class are dying off before their time for lack of wholesome nourishing food. As our municipalities and public trusts provide water for the people free of direct payment and charge the cost upon the rates, let them also provide at our schools free breakfasts, dinners and teas to the children in attendance there, and pay for it from the same source. No matter what may be the moral character of the parent, let us at least save the helpless children of our race from physical and mental degeneracy, and save our teachers from the impossible task of forcing education upon a child whose brain is enfeebled by the starvation of its body.
As the next step in organisation, let the corporations and public bodies everywhere throughout the country establish depots for the supply of bread and all the necessaries of life to the people, at cost price and without the intervention of the middleman. To save our struggling farmers from the merciless bleeding of our banking system and money-lenders in general, let our representatives in parliament force forward the legislative abolition of our present banking houses and the suppression of all forms of interest mongering, and the establishment in their stead of state banking institutions, with popularly elected boards of directors, issuing loans at rates of interest as low as is consistent with economic soundness.
When, in addition to the foregoing reforms, we have demanded the abolition of our hateful poor-house system, and the imposition of a heavy and steeply graduated income tax on all incomes over £400 a year, in order to provide comfortable pensions for the aged, the infirm, and widows and orphans, we will have aroused a new spirit in the people; we will have based our revolutionary movement upon a correct appreciation of the needs of the hour, as well as upon the vital principles of economic justice and uncompromising nationality; we will, as the true revolutionist should ever do, have called into action on our side the entire sum of all the forces and factors of social and political discontent.
By the use of the revolutionary ballot we will have made the very air of Ireland as laden with ‘treason’, as fully charged with the spirit of revolt, as it is to-day with the cant of compromise and the mortal sin of flunkeyism; and thus we will have laid a substantial groundwork for more effective action in the future, while to those whom we must remove in our onward march the pledge of our faith in the Social Revolution will convey the assurance that if we crush their profit-making enterprises to-day, yet when the sun dawns upon our freedom, if they have served their fellow creatures loyally in the hour of strife, they and their children and their children’s children will be guaranteed against want and privation for all time by the safest guarantee man ever received, the guarantee backed by all the gratitude, the loyal hearts, the brains and industry of the Irish people, under the Irish Socialist Republic.