Recent events in Ireland have gone far to show that the old lines of political demarcation no longer serve to express any reality in the lives of the people. The growth of unrest in the industrial field, the bitterness of industrial conflict, the maimer in which employers of the most varying political and religious faiths combine against the workers in the attempt to starve them into submission, and the marked increase in the fraternal feelings with which all classes of Labour regard each other, all serve to indicate that there is preparing in our midst the material for a new struggle on a national scale – a struggle fierce enough, deep enough, and enduring enough to obliterate completely all the old landmarks carried over from past political struggles into the new conditions.
In the great Dublin lock-out of 1913-1914 the manner in which the Dublin employers, overwhelmingly Unionist, received the enthusiastic and unscrupulous support of the entire Home Rule Press was a foretaste of the possibilities of the new combinations with which Labour in Ireland will have to reckon. The semi-radical phrases with which the middle-class Home Rule Press and politicians so often duped the public (and sometimes themselves) were seen to have no radical feeling behind them. Sham battle-cries of a sham struggle, they were hurriedly put out of sight the moment the war-cries of a real conflict rose upon the air.
From this lesson, as from the others already mentioned in this book, Labour must learn that the time has come for a new marshalling of forces to face the future. As the old political parties must go, so must many of the old craft divisions in the ranks of Labour. We have learned the value of the sympathetic strike; we must no longer allow craft divisions to fetter our hands and keep us from helping our brother or sister when they are attacked by the capitalist enemy. We must pursue the idea to its logical conclusion and work for the obliteration of all division of the forces of Labour on the industrial field.
The principle of complete unity upon the Industrial plane must be unceasingly sought after; the Industrial union embracing all workers in each industry must replace the multiplicity of unions which now hamper and restrict our operations, multiply our expenses and divide our forces in face of the mutual enemy. With the Industrial Union as our principle of action, branches can be formed to give expression to the need for effective supervision of the affairs of the workshop, shipyard, dock or railway; each branch to consist of the men and women now associated in Labour upon the same technical basis as our craft unions of to-day.
Add to this the concept of one Big Union embracing all, and you have not only the outline of the most effective form of combination for industrial warfare to-day, but also for Social Administration of the Co-operative Commonwealth of the future.
A system of society in which the workshops, factories, docks, railways, shipyards, &c., shall be owned by the nation, but administered by the Industrial Unions of the respective industries, organised as above, seems best calculated to secure the highest form of industrial efficiency, combined with the greatest amount of individual freedom from state despotism. Such a system would, we believe, realise for Ireland the most radiant hopes of all her heroes and martyrs.
Concurrently with the gradual shaping of our industrial activities towards the end of industrial union, Labour must necessarily attack the political and municipal citadels of power.
Every effort should be made to extend the scope of public ownership. As democracy invades and captures public powers public ownership will, of necessity, be transformed and infused with a new spirit. As Democracy enters, Bureaucracy will take flight. But without the power of the Industrial Union behind it, Democracy can only enter the State as the victim enters the gullet of the Serpent.
Therefore political power must, for the working classes, come straight out of the Industrial battlefield as the expression of the organised economic force of Labour; else it cannot come at all. With Labour properly organised upon the Industrial and political field, each extension of the principle of public ownership brings us nearer to the re-conquest of Ireland by its people; it means the gradual resumption of the common ownership of all Ireland by all the Irish – the realisation of Freedom.
Not the least of the many encouraging signs given to the world during the great Dublin Labour dispute just mentioned was the keen and sympathetic interest shown by the ‘intellectuals’ in the fortunes of the workers. In itself this was a phenomenon in Ireland. Until then, there had been discovered no means of bridging the gap between the Irish workers who toiled as ordinary day labourers, and those other workers whose toil was upon the intellectual plane, and whose remuneration kept them generally free from the actual pressure of want.
In other European countries the Socialist movement had brought these two elements together, in organised defensive and aggressive warfare against the brutal regime of the purse; but in Ireland the fight for national freedom had absorbed the intellect of the one, and prevented the development of the necessary class-consciousness on the part of the other.
But when the belief that some form of national freedom was about to be realised spread in Ireland, and consequently the minds of all began to turn to consideration of the uses to which that freedom might be put, the possibility of co-operation between these two classes became apparent to the thoughtful patriot and reformer.
The incidents accompanying the great Labour struggle furnished just the necessary common denominator to establish relations between the two.
We have no doubt that it will be found in Ireland, as it has already been found in Italy, that the co-operation of the wage labourers and their intellectual comrades will create an uplifting atmosphere of social helpfulness of the greatest benefit in the work of national regeneration. We have in Ireland, particularly outside of the industrial districts of the North, a greater proportion of professional, literary and artistic people than is to be found in any European country except Italy, and, without enquiring too closely into the cause of this undue proportion, it may be predicted that its existence will serve the cause of Labour in Ireland.
Arising out of the same struggle, what may yet develop into a perfect understanding and concert of action was opened up between the Urban labourers and the apostles of co-operation amongst the agricultural population of Ireland. The great genius and magnetic personality of Mr. Russell, editor of The Irish Homestead, brought to the long-neglected toilers of Dublin a new conception – viz., that the co-operative societies which had been so long and so successfully propagating themselves throughout the agricultural areas of the country, might yet be linked up with the fortunes of the industrial workers in such a manner that, each serving the other’s temporary needs, they could between them lay the groundwork of a new social order.
Almost throughout all historic periods there has been a latent antagonism between town and country; the Socialist has predicted that the Socialist state of the future will put an end to that antagonism by bringing the advantages of the city to the toiler in the country; Mr. Russell foresees, however, a co-operation in which the city and the country shall merge in perfecting methods of fraternal production and distribution that shall serve, first to enable each to combat capitalism, and finally to supplant it. Such a development of co-operative effort between the workers of town and country would be a great achievement, and we can at least bespeak for the effort and the constant support of every friend of progress in Ireland.
In conclusion, we may say that this hope of co-operation between town and country for the purpose of common regeneration is typical of the hopes and possibilities now opening up to the workers of Ireland.
Everywhere we see friends, where formerly we met only suspicion and distrust; and we realise that the difference in the attitude with which Labour is regarded now to what it met formerly, is the difference with which the world at large treats those who simply claim its pity, and those who are strong and self-reliant enough to enforce its respect.
Labour in Ireland tends to become more and more self-reliant, and in its self-reliance it discovers its strength. Out of such strong self-reliance it develops a magnetism, which will draw to it more and more support from all the adherents of all the causes which in their entirety make for a regenerated Ireland.
The Gaelic Leaguer realises that capitalism did more in one century to destroy the tongue of the Gael than the sword of the Saxon did in six; the apostle of self-reliance amongst Irishmen and women finds no more earnest exponents of self-reliance than those who expound it as the creed of Labour; the earnest advocates of co-operation find the workers stating their ideals as a co-operative commonwealth; the earnest teacher of Christian morality sees that in the co-operative commonwealth alone will true morality be possible, and the fervent patriot learns that his hopes of an Ireland re-born to National life is better stated, and can be better and more completely realised, in the Labour movement for the Re-Conquest of Ireland.
Our readers will help forward the purpose of this book, and hasten the coming of the good results that should flow from the happy synchronising of facts just alluded to, if they will always remember that the objective aimed at is to establish, in the minds of men and women of Ireland, the necessity of giving effective expression, politically and socially, to the right of the community (all) to control, for the good of all, the industrial activities of each, and to endow such activities with the necessary means.
This, historically speaking, will mean the enthronement of the Irish nation as the supreme ruler and owner of itself, and all things necessary to its people – supreme alike against the foreigner and the native usurping ownership, and the power dangerous to freedom that goes with ownership.