A socialist republic is the application to agriculture, and industry; to the farm, the field, the workshop, of the democratic principle of the republican ideal.James Connolly.
I first met James Connolly in the year 1910 on one of his visits to Belfast to engage in Socialist propaganda, soon after his return from America. I was at that time a member of the Independent Labour Party, which had many branches in the city of Belfast, and was actively engaged in Socialist propaganda work. I knew little of James Connolly and his work at this stage, as we were nurtured on the British brand of Socialist propaganda, and all the literature we read, as well as all our speakers were imported from Great Britain.
I had been introduced to the faith by some of my friends, who like myself worked in Messrs. Harland & Wolff's shipyard, and although my mind, like most teen-agers at the time, was concentrated on sport to the exclusion of almost every other consideration, I was induced to take home and read Robert Blatchford's Merry England and Britain for the British, and I was kept judiciously supplied with pamphlets on various aspects of the Socialist movement until I became quite interested in the subject, and shortly afterwards did not object to the description of Socialist being applied to myself, although at the time, in the circumstances and particularly in the environment this was quite a momentous decision to make. I soon became a frequent attender at Socialist meetings and found myself taking the chairas we described itat street corner meetings, and introducing the speaker to the audience, which invariably was not large in those days if one excluded periods of stress or the Sunday afternoon meetings at the Custom House steps, where a large crowd was attracted by the variety of oratorical fare offered, from the vending of quack medicine
p.182to the robust oratory of some of the political cum religious orators. There was at this stage a very active Socialist movement in Great Britain, and as our school of Socialist thought had no nationalist tradition, and was not conscious of, and even if it had been would have been contemptuous of, a Socialist movement in any other part of this country. We did not give any thought to much, save the conversion of as many of our fellow workers as possible to the Socialist creedand often marvelled at their obtuseness in not embracing itand regarded ourselves as being part of a vast International Socialist movement, which one day would emancipate the toiling masses from the thraldom of wage slavery through the disintegration of the capitalist system of society, a fact which we too fatalistically accepted as being inevitable in the fullness of time.
It is quite true I had heard James Connolly and his works discussed, and an odd copy of his magazine The Harp, which was published during his sojourn in America, (1903-10), had fallen into my hands. As it expressed Socialism in a different way, I was sufficiently interested, when he appeared in person, to listen to anything he had to say, and secure copies of his writings from the easily read and easily assimilated Socialism Made Easy and the Axe to the Root to his more ambitious Labour In Irish History, and the Reconquest of Ireland, both of which latter books particularly opened up a vista before me of which I was but dimly conscious.
Prior to seeing him and meeting him, and hearing him speak, I had conjured up a picture of him in my mind, which actual contact with him proved to be an illusion. I had conceived of himmy imagination had undoubtedly been coloured by the visits of some oratorical gladiators I had heard from Great Britainas being tall, commanding, and as the advance notices said of him, a silver-tongued orator. I found him, however, to be the opposite of my mental picture; short, squat, unpretentious, with a distinctive even if with a slightly raucous
p.183brogue, which seemed to be a blend of his native Monaghan and the city of his adoption Edinburgh. I recall that the subject matter of his speech, and his method of delivery, were different to what we had been used tothere were no highly imaginative flights of flamboyant oratory. The appeal was not to the emotions, but to the head. Calm, clear, incisive analysis of his subject, interlarded with frequent references to Irish history, and a restrained eloquence calculated to carry conviction. I was impressed but disappointed, as he was somewhat less spectacular than I had expected, but of course I was young, and my standards were false.
My mind was, accordingly, attuned to his message a year later in 1911, when he came North to settle in Belfast, and later became District Organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union. Meantime, I had considered myself sufficiently conversant with Socialist philosophy and trade unionism to mount the rostrum at the various street corner meetings and lecture my fellow citizens on the errors of their political and economic ways. I was also ready to embrace all of the invitations extended to me by Connolly to assist him in addressing meetings of dockers and mill workers whom he was organising into the Union at this time.
His permanent advent to our City meant that we had two main political Socialist organisations where one had mainly held sway, i.e., the Socialist Party of Ireland and the British organisation, the Independent Labour Party, of which I was a member, and of which James Keir Hardie, M.P., was one of its leading figures. Connolly's organisation was Marxist and nationalist in outlook, while the Independent Labour Party was reformist and pseudo-internationalist. Obviously the latter in such an environment as Belfast was the more popular organisation, although Connolly, being on the spot and engaging in active propaganda, was attracting a number of the more thoughtful elements of the Socialist movement
p.184of the City to his standard. Perhaps it is pertinent to mention here that in the main in those days, the members of the Socialist movement in the City were Protestants, as the Catholics were in the main followers of the Irish Parliamentary Party and their local parliamentary representativeJoe Devlin, M.P., for West Belfast, who was credited with having Labour sympathies. This was an additional handicap to the growth of the Socialist Party of Ireland, and the obvious reason why no attempt had been made to have the Socialist movement in Belfast Irish based until then. This fact, however, did not prevent a few of the leading members of the I.L.P., such as Tom Johnson and the late Davy Campbell, and others, from being interested. Connolly was, of courseincorrigible optimist that he wasstriving unremittingly to get the entire movement of the City to leave the Independent Labour Party and join the Socialist Party of Ireland. This was a much more difficult matter than Connolly, realist as he was, appeared to apprehend. In those times it was difficult enough for one to break with the Unionist family tradition and embrace Socialism, but much more difficult to swallow the hook, line and sinker of Irish Republicanism as well. A number there were who did it and paid the inevitable price some twelve months later, during the fierce sectarian troubles which broke out in the Belfast Shipyards when practically every known Socialist found it impossible to continue at work, and were subjected to physical violence, or exposed to the threat of it, as also was every Catholic employed there, and it was a long time following before passions became sufficiently cooled to enable either to return with safety to their former places of employment.
Connolly's permanent advent to Belfast synchronised with the fierce debates proceeding in the British House of Commons on the question of Home Rule, and the organisation of the Ulster Volunteers in the North of Ireland. Sir Edward Carson, K.C., Bonar Law, Galloper F. E. Smith, K.C., Lord
p.185Londonderry, Sir James Craig, and many lesser lights, were organising the movement for the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant to resist the granting of Home Rule by every means in their power, and this phase of the agitation culminated a couple of years later in the signing of this Covenant by the leaders in their own blood on a Saturday in June, outside the City Hall, Belfast, as a symbolical gesture of their determination to resist Home Rule, even by the shedding of their blood. In addition, the utmost political, social and economic pressure, was applied in home, factory and workshop to secure the maximum number of signatures for the Covenant, and some there were who, against their better judgment, succumbed to the pressure, and it was only the most determined who withstood it.
This is the background against which Connolly and a few of us kept alive and engaged in active propaganda work, an Irish based political organisation, having as our dual purpose the spread of Socialise ideals and the securing of Home Rule for the country. It had been the practice during my membership of the I.L.P. if we were interrogated at question time regarding our attitude to Home Rule, to reply that a person could hold whatever views he liked on that question and still be a Socialist, but I remember Connolly advising me, as I was invariably the Chairman at all the meetings, at this stage, that if we were asked our views on this question that we had to be brutally blunt about the matter, and categorically state that we favoured the granting of Home Rule to Ireland, and that it was entirely inconsistent with the principles of Socialism to deny such a right to Ireland, or any other country struggling to be freed from the rule of their conquerors. We henceforth nailed our colours to the mast, and whatever part of the City we held forth in, there was no dissembling on this vital but highly unpopular matter in some quarters of such a city as Belfast.
Almost simultaneous with his taking up residence in Belfast,
p.186Connolly, who was a frequent contributor to the Socialist press, wrote an article in Forward (Glasgow), a weekly Socialist journal, in the issue on the 27th May, 1911, headed A Plea for Socialist Unity in Ireland. After mentioning that there were two Socialist organisations in Ireland, the I.L.P. in the North and the S.P.I. in the South, although the latter had a Branch in Belfast, and that as organisations they had more in common than various sections within each organisation, he proceeded to make an appeal for an effort to merge these two organisations into one, in view of the impending political change in the status of the country with the granting of Home Rule. He posed the question of what kept the two organisations divided, and proceeded:
Laying aside all questions of personality, personal ambitions and personal jealousies as being accidental and unessential, it may be truthfully asserted that one point of divergence is that the I.L.P. in Belfast believes that the Socialist movement in Ireland must perforce remain a dues-paying organic part of the British Socialist movement, or else forfeit its title to be considered a part of International Socialism, whereas the Socialist Party of Ireland maintains that the relations between Socialism in Ireland and in Great Britain should be based upon comradeship and mutual assistance and not upon dues-paying, should be fraternal and not organic, and should operate by exchange of literature and speakers rather than by attempts to treat as one, two peoples of whom one has for 700 years nurtured an unending martyrdom rather than admit the unity or surrender its national identity. The Socialist Party of Ireland considers itself the only international Party in Ireland since its conception of Internationalism is that of a free federation of free peoples, whereas that of the Belfast branches of the I.L.P. seems scarcely distinguishable from Imperialism, the merging of subjugated peoples
p.187in the political system of their conquerors. For the propagation universally of our ideal of a true internationalism there is only required the spread of reason and enlightenment amongst the peoples of the earth, whereas the conceptions of internationalism tacitly accepted by our comrades of the I.L.P. in Belfast required for its spread the flash of the sword of militarism, and the roar of a British 80-ton gun. We cannot conceive why our comrades should insist that we are not Internationalists, and that we cannot be unless we treat the Socialists of Great Britain better than we treat the Socialists of the Continent, or of America or Australia.
This article of Connolly's evoked a reply from William Walker, who was and had been the chief spokesman of the I.L.P. in the North of Ireland for many years. Before dealing with Walker's reply, it might be well to say a few words about the type of man he was. A joiner by trade, at the material time he was the Trade Union representative of the Joiners for Belfast. He was a highly intelligent man. In appearance he would have passed for one of the professional classes, was a brilliant and gifted speaker, was universally popular with the citizens as well as the workers, and was generally held in very high esteem. He had been a Poor Law Guardian, a City Councillor, and had contested North Belfast as candidate of the British Labour Party on several occasions, and had also, unsuccessfully, contested an election in Leith Burgh, Scotland, as a Labour Party candidate. In addition, he had been a member of the Executive of the British Labour Party, and was a former President of and also a regular Delegate to the Irish Trade Union Congress. He, however, had the disadvantage of his upbringing and environment, and while as Connolly reminds him during this controversy he was guilty when a candidate for North Belfast of the most egregious offences a Socialist could commit in giving an undertaking to the Belfast Protestant
p.188Association that he would vote against the extension of self-government to this country, and more heinously still that he would vote in favour of the Protestant succession. Yet it has to be said that he was a man of great courage, possessing a progressive mind, if one could pardon his reactionary views concerning Ireland, and undoubtedly had fought a strenuous fight throughout his life to make his particular brand of Socialism a factor in the public life of Belfast and the North of Ireland. This controversy with Connolly revealed, however, that he was abysmally deficient in his knowledge of Irish History and the history and philosophy of Socialism. In my judgment he proved an unworthy opponent for Connolly on the question of Socialist polemics.
However, we better let him speak for himself. He describes Connolly's brand of Socialism in these words
For if what he preaches therein be Socialism then surely he has a monopoly of the brand he adumbrates. I hold no brief for Belfast, but past bigotry aside, we have moved fast towards municipal Socialism, leaving not merely the other cities of Ireland far behind but giving the lead to many cities in England and Scotland. We collectively own and control our gas works, water works, harbour works, markets, tramways, electricity, museums, art galleries, etc., whilst we municipally cater for bowlers, cricketers, footballers, lovers of band music (having organised a Police Band), and our works department do an enormous amount of time and contract work within the municipality. With the above in operation, we in Belfast have no need to be ashamed of being compared in municipal management with any city in the Kingdom.
Referring to Connolly's remark on the relationship that should exist between the Irish and British Socialist movements, he comments:
That the S.P.I. want the Trade Unionists of Ireland to cease to contribute dues to [British] amalgamated Unions. That the co-operative movement should cease its
p.189financial connection, that the great Friendly Society Branches in Ireland should divorce themselves (financially) from their brethren across the Channel, and that having done so, we would raise aloft the flag of Internationalism and declare that we, and we alone, are the only true Socialists and Internationalists.
Walker also cited Scotland as a nation seeking, academically at least, legislative independence, which in the earlier years started a Scottish Labour Party, and continues
For years that Party appealed in vain to the workers with the result that in 1909 the Scottish societies agreed to affiliate with the British Labour Party and their national organisations, whilst the delegates to the Portsmouth [Labour Party] Conference (theoretically Home Rulers) unanimously adopted this policy.
Bailie Jack (Scottish Ironmounders) declared that what was wanted was the unity of our forces all over. Just so, but Ireland has to be, must be, treated differently. Why? Because of the conservative temperament of certain Irish propagandists, and because of their insistence on viewing the class war as a national question instead of as it is, a world-wide question.
He next quotes from the report of the British Labour Party, Internationalism, regarding the reception accorded to British Labour Party delegates during a visit to Germany. They were entertained to lunch in the Reichstag building in Berlin. One of the speakers who welcomed them was Dr. Von Bethmann-Hollweg, afterwards Imperial Chancellor, who expressed the hope that the German Socialist delegates would be treated in the same hospitable way on a return visit. Walker comments:
This is internationalism, and it is the I.L.P. who has pioneered this, and with their policy and aims on the question, I, at least subscribe to. My place of birth was accidental, my duty to my class is world-wide, hence my internationalism.
In an attempt to justify the role the North had played in the National struggle, he wrote in reply to Connolly
p.190just to correct your history. You say that nationalist Ireland contains all the elements of social struggles and warring political theories. . .. But in all the warring the advanced sections of Nationalist Ireland have looked in vain for help to the sturdy Protestant Democracy of the North. Did you understand what you wrote and what a libel the above is upon many of the greatest leaders whose recorded deeds illumine the pages of Irish history?
The leader and founder of the '48 revolt was a Presbyterian from UlsterJohn Mitchel. It was in Ulster that the Irish Volunteer movement had its birth, and its President (Colonel Irvine) and its Commander (Lord Charlemont) were of the sturdy Protestant Democracy of the North. It was in Belfast their first grand review took place. Twenty years before Michael Davitt started on the great career for the solution of the Irish Land problem, Ulster had taken and given a lead to Ireland. A meeting was held in Dublin on 6th August, 1850, presided over by an Ulster Protestant, James McKnight, L.L.D., to protest and organise a crusade against landlordism in Ireland, and in the great fight of the '50's both in Parliament and the country for the three F's, the name of three sturdy Protestant Democrats of the North are always found leadingWilliam Sharman Crawford, M.P., Rev. Mr. Rodgers of Comer and Daniel McCurdy Greet, B.L., are names whose association with agrarian agitation is so intimate as to call for no further comment.
It was a sturdy Protestant Democrat of the North who led the revolt of the Irish Party, and began that career of obstruction so effective to Ireland. And Joseph Gillies Biggar, the Belfast Pork Merchant, can challenge any section of Nationalist Ireland for work done for the country, whilst in the great fight on the Land Bill of Gladstone, Lord Russell's name, a Belfast Catholic is inseparably associated, and the famous Protestant Theobald Wolfe Tone found Belfast to be
p.191the most favourable place to found that wonderful organisation the Society of United Irishmen, an organisation that has to its credit at least wonderful doughty deeds. In fact, whilst not disparaging the other provinces of Ireland, one can truthfully say that Ulster has given her fair quota to the work so much believed in by Comrade Connolly, viz.Nationalism.
And may I further point out that the Protestant faith has given more leaders to the Irish rebels than the Catholic faith, Grattan, Davis, Butt, Mitchel, Parnell, Shaw, Biggar, etc., are all names to conjure with, and all without exception were Protestants. . .. May I remind Comrade Connolly of the famous dictum of that still more famous rebel James Fintan Lalor, who declared that The land question contains and the legislative question does not contain the materials from which victory is to be manufactured.. . .. But it does seem a peculiar brand of Socialism that aims at legislative independence before socialism.
In a second article Connolly, as was to be expected, waxes sarcastic over what he describes as tawdy rhetoric, cheap and irrelevant schoolboy history, and badly digested political philosophy, all permeated with an artfully instilled appeal to religious prejudice and civic sectionalism, carefully calculated to make Belfast wrap itself round in a garment of self-righteousness, and to look with scorn upon its supposed weaker Irish brethren. And continuing in the same vein he refers to Lord Charlemont as an aristocratic poltroon who deserted and betrayed the Irish Volunteers when they proposed to use their organisation to obtain a Democratic extension of the suffrage and religious toleration. That he should be cited as a Democrat proves that there is a kink somewhere, either in Walker's conception of Democracy or in his knowledge of Irish history.
But friend Walker blunders on from absurdity to absurdity. Remember that he is opposed to self-government to Ireland,
p.192and then admire his colossal nerve in citing the glorious example of sturdy Protestant Democrats who gave their whole lives in battling, suffering and sacrifice for the cause of National Freedom which Comrade Walker rejects. He cites Theobald Wolfe Tone. Wolfe Tone recognised that National Independence was an essential element to Democracy, and declared that to break the connection with England the never failing source of all our political evils. He cited James Fintan Lalor. Lalor declared that the Irish people should fight for full and absolute independence for this island, and for every man within this island. Lalor was not a Protestant, but our Comrade also cites Lalor's contemporary, Mitchel, whom he wrongly describes as a Presbyterian. He was instead a Unitarian. Mitchel summed up his politics in these words We must have Ireland, not for certain peers, and for nominees of peers in College Green; but Ireland for the Irish.
Comrade Walker also cites Joseph Gillies Biggar, a sturdy and uncomprising Home Ruler. In fact, practically all the sturdy Protestant Democrats he cited are men who would have treated with contempt Walker's pitiful straddle on Irish politics. They are all men to whom he would have been opposed were he living in their time. He reminds us of this section by quoting among the names of Irish Rebels, Grattan, Butt and Shaw, a quotation that must have brought a grin to the face of anyone who read it, and had even a rudimentary knowledge of Irish history.
In passing let me remark that the names cited by Comrade Walker but confirm my point. We do not care so much what a few men did as what the vast mass of their co-religionists do. The vast mass of the Protestants of Ulster, except during the period of 1798, were bitter enemies of the men he has named, and during the bitter struggle of the Land League, when the peasantry in the other provinces were engaged in a life and death struggle against landlordism, the sturdy
p.193Protestant Democracy of the North were electing landlords, and the nominees of landlords, to every Protestant constituency in Ulster. . .. All these men will live in history, because they threw in their lot with the other provinces in a common struggle for political freedom. In the exact measure that we admire and applaud them must we condemn and deplore the sectional and parochial action of Comrade Walker.
To demonstrate that Walker's Socialist theories for the movement in Ireland was not any more sound than his Nationalistic ones, Connolly quotes an extract from a letter written by Karl Marx to his friend Dr. L. Kugelmann, on the 29th November, 1869, as follows:
I have become more and more convincedand the only question is to bring this conviction home to the English working classthat it can never do anything decisive here in England until it separates its policy with regard to Ireland in the most definite way from the policy of the ruling classes, until it not only makes common cause with the Irish, but actually takes the initiative in dissolving the Union established in 1801 and replacing it by a free federal relationship. And, indeed, this must be done, not as a matter of sympathy with Ireland, but as a demand made in the interests of the English proletariat. If not, the English people will remain tied to the leading-strings of the ruling classes, because it must join with them in a common front against Ireland. Every one of its movements in England itself is crippled by the disunion with the Irish, who form a very important section of the working class in England. The primary condition of emancipation herethe overthrow of the English landed oligarchyremains impossible because its position here cannot be stormed so long as it maintains its strongly entrenched outposts in Ireland. But, there, once affairs are in the hands of the Irish people itself, once it is made its own legislator and ruler, once it becomes autonomous, the abolition of the landed aristocracy (to a large extent the
p.194same persons as the English landlords) will be infinitely easier than here, because in Ireland it is not merely a simple economic question, but at the same time a national question, since the landlords there are not like those in England, the traditional dignitaries and representatives, but are the hated oppressors of a nation. And not only does England's internal social development remain crippled by her present relation with Ireland; her foreign policy, and particularly her policy with regard to Russia and America, suffers the same fate.
In a further reply Walker attempts to answer Connolly with the following:
Into a pitfall of errors Comrade Connolly falls when he assumes that I was quoting the Protestant Rebels as approving of them. I wasn't, but I was pointing out that Catholic Ireland had many Protestant leaders in all the great revolutionary movements, and this evidently was information to friend Connolly. But to get to essentials. What do you want an Irish Labour Party for? Will Ireland more readily respond to it than to the British Labour Party? What is your experience? Have you proved that? No; everything that the people of Ireland want can be safeguarded much better under the protection of the United Democracies than if we were isolated. This truth has been reaffirmed at the recent Irish Trade Union Congress [Galway, 1911] when once again a Congress of Irish representative workmen pledged themselves over to the British Labour Party, recognising therein the elements of protection; but Comrade Connolly, who three weeks ago found me without Nationalism, finds me to-day full charged with parochialism, and this he declares is why I am not an Internationalist like unto him. Just so. That is just the reason. Whilst frothy talk about Nationalism forming the basis of Internationalism has been plentiful with some people, some of us in Belfast have been doing something to improve conditions
p.195in the Poor Law Board, in the City Council and the Trade Union Branch. Amongst the textile workers, the sweated and oppressed, the dockers and the carters, we have gone to help to lift them up to a better condition of life. Of course, this is parochialism. Well, friend Connolly, I am proud of my parochial reputation. It has meant something to the poor consumptive, to the workhouse child, and the Trade Union member; with this knowledge I am well content to be so labelled. But my parochialism is true nationality. I would give each locality (within certain well defined limits) local autonomy, and thus develop a healthy rivalry in the supply of those amenities to our municipal life, which, alas, in the larger part of Ireland are in the hands of the private speculator. . .. Against clericalism I am (and I have said much more about the Protestant than the Catholic Clergy); yet there is not a worker in either ranks who doesn't know that my activities are not self-interested.
Connolly further replied:
All that unctuous self-glorification and holier-than-thou attitudinising about his work for the poor consumptive, the workhouse child and the Trade Union member, the textile worker, the dockers and the carters, the sweated and the oppressed, and that work bringing no personal remuneration or glory, yet lifts the veil of poverty a little from the face of the people, all that is valuable, as a study in the psychology of Comrade Walker, and as an indication that the Pharisaical spirit of the unco guid and rigidly righteous still walks abroad amongst us, but as a real contribution to the question in dispute, like the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la, they have nothing to do with the case.
Reverting to the main theme of the controversy, he wrote:
We of the Socialist Party of Ireland now, as in the past, hold it to be our duty to assist and foster every tendency of
p.196organised Labour in Ireland to found a Labour Party capable of fighting the capitalist parties of Ireland upon their own soil. Comrade Walker and his followers insist that every such tendency is to be fought to the death, that in its upward march the ideal of a Labour Party in Ireland must fight its way against the combined hosts of Orangemen, Redmondism and I.L.P.ism. That the Labour Party of England is the enemy of every attempt to found a similar party in Ireland. I refuse to believe him. I hold that his policy in Ireland is the very reverse of all that the I.L.P. stands for in Great Britain.
At the Irish Trade Union Congress, held in Galway on Whit Tuesday,  a motion to establish a Labour Party in Ireland was defeated by an amendment moved by Comrade Walker to the effect that the way to secure Independent Labour Representation was to affiliate with the Labour Party in England. If he had moved an amendment leaving it optional upon the Trade Unions to choose which Labour Party they should join, no one could find fault, but no such option was left. His motto was Either affliate with England or we will squelch you. His amendment was carried by 32 votes to 29. The unborn Labour Party of Ireland was strangled in the womb by the hands of the I.L.P.ers. The 29 votes for the motion represented all the militant forces of the more progressive Trade Unions of Ireland; forces anxious for a battle on behalf of Labour against the political forces of Irish Capitalism; the 32 votes for Walker's amendment represented the forces of reaction anxious at all costs to save the present political parties from the danger inherent in a proposal to give the political forces of Labour an Irish home, and an Irish basis of operations. Had the motion been carried, next General Election would have seen some seats in Ireland fought by Labour against all comers. The motion was defeated by an unholy alliance, and reaction in Ireland breathes freely once more.
After a long citation from a speech delivered by the Socialist
p.197orator and publicist, Gabriel Deville, in Paris in 1893, setting forth the position the Socialist Parties of the various countries of the world should occupy in the Socialist International movement, Connolly quotes Jean Jaurès, whom he describes as the peerless orator of the International Socialist movementon the Nonvay and Sweden Parallel to Ireland and England, speaking at Limoges in 1905:
Norway, conquered nearly a century ago by Sweden, and seeking ever since at intervals, but with increasing vigour, to recover its automony, has at last proclaimed its national independence. It has broken the link which for nearly a hundred years has bound it to Sweden. And there has been in Sweden certain of the Conservative governing class proud and obstinate, who, for a time, have dreamt of resorting to war to compel Norway to submit in spite of herself to the Swedish Union. If this war of the Swedish bourgeoisie had broken out in spite of the Norwegian Socialists, in spite of the Swedish Socialists, it is very clear that the Norwegian Socialists who, beforehand, had by their votes, by their suffrages, affirmed the independence of Norway, would have defended it even by force against the assaults of the Swedish oligarchy. . .. But at the same time that the Socialists of Norway would have been right in defending their national independence, it would have been the right and duty of the Swedish Socialists to oppose, even by the proclamation of a general strike, any attempt at violence, at conquest, at annexation, made by the Swedish bourgeoisie.
Walker, in a subsequent contribution, descended to a personal attack on Connolly, and the Editor was constrained to state in a footnote that unless the controversy could be raised to a level of discussion on principles it had better cease. Despairing then of maintaining it on that level, Connolly forebore to write further.
These quotations serve to show the wide gap that separated
p.198the disputants in their approach to Socialist problems and particularly to the question of International Socialism, as well as to the claims of Ireland to the status of full nationhood. As I have already mentioned, neither the claims of Ireland to legislative independence nor the claims of the Socialist movement of the country to its rightful place in the international scheme of things ever entered the calculations of those who espoused this particular brand of Northern Ireland Socialism, and it may not be irrelevant to state that this tradition has continued since through all the vicissitudes of the national struggle, until to-day we have the pitiful spectacle of the Six Counties Labour Party recognising the territorial status of Northern Ireland and functioning as an open and avowed partitionist Labour organisation.
Little more need be added by way of comment on this controversy except to say that it is not without significance to add, in view of the reference to the workhouse child and the poor consumptive by William Walker that within a period of twelve months he had accepted a position from the British Government under the new National Insurance Acts, introduced by Lloyd George, and took his departure from the Labour movement and the scenes of his former activities.
He also proved an unreliable prophet during this discussion claiming, as he did, that the I.L.P. propaganda had so produced an atmosphere of toleration that anyone could be certain of a fair hearing, even if he did allege that Connolly, with his nationalistic brand of Socialism, was endeavouring to reap where he had not sown. How false this claim was, was revealed by the fierce outbreak of sectarian passion during the summer of 1912 already referred to, when none but the most orthodox, politically, economically and religiously, were permitted to work in the shipyards and leading engineering establishments of the city, and when unoffending citizens were subjected to excesses of brutality for no reason other than they worshipped
p.199at a different shrine to the bigoted Tories who held sway in the manufacturing industries or large districts of the city.
This controversy had not the effect of detaching many members of the I.L.P. from their allegiance to it, but the following year (1912) an attempt was made to secure the unity of the Socialist movement in Ireland, and during the summer a conference was convened in Dublin to consider ways and means and invitations were extended to organisations and individuals to attend. I remember travelling from Belfast to Dublin to attend this conference with amongst others, James Connolly, Tom Johnson, Davy Campbell, Danny McDevitt and Joseph Mitchell. The conference was held in the premises of the Socialist Party of Ireland in the Antient Concert Buildings, Gt. Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) and there was a morning and afternoon session. I did not know any of the Southern delegates personally but, amongst them, I remember Francis Sheehy Skeffington and Bill O'Brien being present. An incident that occurred is fresh in my memory. The delegates from the British Socialist Party, i.e. the organisation founded by the late Victor Grayson, M.P. , which was operating in Belfast in a small way, had attended the morning session of the conference but failed to attend the afternoon one. On my enquiring the reason, I was informed they took objection to being compelled to walk over a Union Jack that was spread on the floor over which we crossed on our way to the conference room. This incident ended their interest in the proposal to unify the Socialist movement in Ireland.
The main decision of the conference was to found a new organisation, with the same principles as the Socialist Party of Ireland, but to name it the Independent Labour Party of Ireland. A short time after our return to Belfast, I was chosen as Chairman of the Belfast Branch of the Party, with a room in Upper Donegall Street, for business purposes, while we used the room above Danny McDevitt's tailoring premises
p.200in Rosemary Street, known as the Bounders College for our propaganda meetings during the winter. Our forum during the summer was at the lamp in Library Street where, on occasions, we drew large crowds.
As I have already mentioned, Home Rule for Ireland was being hotly debated, not alone in the British Parliament but from every political platform in the country as wide apart as from Portrush to Cork. The Unionist Party, under the vigorous leadership of Sir Edward Carson, had organised the Ulster Volunteer movement throughout the North of Ireland and had armed it with rifles, which had been run into Larne and parts of the Co. Down coast in an effort, as they stated, to prevent the extension of Home Rule to Ireland. The Liberal Government of the day, under the Premiership of Mr. Asquith, in an effort to avert what he regarded as the impending civil war in Ireland had induced the leaders of the Irish Parliamentary Party to agree to the temporary exclusion of certain counties of Ulster from the provisions of the Home Rule Bill. John Redmond, Joe Devlin and others had addressed their followers at a meeting in St. Mary's Hall, Belfast, early in 1914, and had secured their acquiescence to the Liberal Government's proposal to exclude Ulster for a period of years.
This betrayal of the Nationalist interests was not allowed to pass unchallenged by Connolly, who organised a demonstration in the same hall in April, 1914, under the auspices of the Independent Labour Party of Ireland, to protest against the exclusion of Ulster. As Chairman of the Party in Belfast, I presided at the meeting and, in addition to Connolly, I was supported on the platform by Captain J. R. (Jack) White, D.S.O., Thomas Johnson, Davy Campbell and Dick Breathwith, the latter who was known as the Bubbleburster was a convert from the Belfast Protestant Association. This was the first big political demonstration I had addressed indoors and the hall was packed to capacity, mainly by a Falls Road
p.201(Nationalist) audience. Two incidents occurred which are still fresh in my memory. I had been handed a list, containing the order of the speakers, by Davy Campbell and, according to this list, Connolly was to precede Captain White. I assumed this had been done by agreement with the speakers and soon after I had delivered myself of my speech as Chairman, without any consultation with him, I called upon Connolly to address the meeting, only to find there was no response from him. He sat rivetted to his seat without even deigning to offer me an explanation of what I regarded as his strange behaviour. I was, frankly, non-plussed and after hesitating for a few seconds to see if he would change his mind I turned to Captain White, who was sitting on my left on the platform and asked him if he would speak and, on his readily agreeing, the incident passed over. In a friendly way at the end of the meeting I asked Connolly why he would not speak when called upon and he replied he was not sure what Captain White was going to say and he desired to speak after him in case he did not take the right line on the subject. This fear, however, was groundless, as Captain White was quite sound on the question.
The other incident was the contrast in the reception given by this audiencean almost exclusively Nationalist oneto the speakers. Captain White, who was an indifferent sort of speaker in those days, had a short time prior to this been mixed up in some trouble with the police in Dublinan aftermath of the 1913 struggleand came to the meeting with his head swathed in bandages. He was given a vociferous reception by the meeting and an attentive hearing during the course of a short, hesitant speech. In contrast Connolly, who made an infinitely better speech, in fact one of the best I had heard him deliver, was received with tepid lukewarmness and had to shout above the subdued hum of conversation of the audience to make himself heard and understood by those who desired to hear him. The explanation of this was that Captain White
p.202was the scion of a Unionist family and a son of General Sir George White, of Boer War and the defence of Ladysmith fame, had forsaken the traditional politics of his family and had come over to the Nationalist side of politics. Hence the warm welcome that was given to him; whereas Connolly, during his propaganda in Belfast, was extremely critical of the Irish Parliamentary Party and Joe Devlin, M.P., in particular, as the local representative of the Party, and during the course of his speech at this meeting had been strong in his denunciation of that party for their treacherous conduct in agreeing to cut off from Ireland that portion which had been the home of the United Irishmen, and the cradle of the Republican movement of the country. It was at this meeting that I first heard him quote Charles Gavan Duffy's simile of Ireland as a corpse on the dissecting table and, as he added, amputating the Northern portion. The meeting was voted an overwhelming success, our resolutions condemning the exclusion of Ulster were unanimously carried and Connolly was quite jubilant at its close. It is, I think, worth recording that Connolly was the only Catholic amongst the platform speakers.
About this time the Countess Markievicz was induced by Connolly to visit Belfast and delivered a lecture in our Hall in Rosemary Street, entitled Revolution in the Balkan Provinces. As usual, I presided and, as I had anticipated, during the course of the lecture questions and discussions on this subject were difficult to stimulate, for the main reason that few of the small audience knew anything whatever of the subject. As was my custom, I asked Connolly at an early stage of the discussion if he desired to speak and he intimated that he did not. As was not unusual at the meetings in those days, discussion was not too strictly confined to the subject matter of the lecture and ranged over a variety of subjects, including the big industrial dispute in Dublin of 1913, some eight months previously. A young Dublin man, resident in Belfast, and a
p.203party member, who had returned from a day excursion to Dublin this Sunday evening and who had not heard a word of the lecture but didn't consider this any handicap or a cogent enough reason why he should not make a speech, related an incident which concerned a parish priest, who, it was stated, had been endeavouring at Amiens Street Station to prevent children being sent from Dublin to homes in Belfast and England during the course of the recent Dublin strike, and the speaker quoted a remark stated to have been made by a striker who was looking after the embarkation of the children to the parish priest, enquiring as to what business it was of his where the children went, as they didn't belong to him. The latter portion of this remark, which was capable of either an innocent or a slighting interpretation, was given the latter construction by Connolly, who rose to his feet in a white heat of indignation, passionately denouncing and literally wiping the floor with the speaker for daring to speak so slightly and so disparagingly of a parish priest and thundered that he considered the remark not alone irrelevant but irreverent as well and one that should not be made at a meeting of that kind. Some of the audience who had read Connolly's Labour, Nationality and Religion, and regarded him as being anti-clerical, or even unorthodox in religion, were at a loss to understand why he should have become so indignant about a remark which they didn't consider in good taste, but which they thought could have been ignored, either as having been related without intended disparagement or without consideration of its pointed implication.
Connolly was the complete propagandist and was a man with a mission in life. His aims whilst active in Belfast could be regarded as three-fold, the furtherance of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, of which he was District Organiser, and his desire to raise the standard of life, particularly of the dockers and the mill workers; the development of the
p.204Socialist movement, of which he was a keen student and an active propagandist; and the complete reconquest of Ireland and ultimately the establishment of a republican form of government. He, no doubt, found the Northern environment trying and uncongenial and it was only with difficulty he could be patient with the odd stolid Orangeman whom he encountered in his propaganda work up to this. One such occasion was when he was speaking at Library Street on a Sunday evening and was expatiating on Irish history when one of this type interrupted him, and drawing a copy of the Solemn League and Covenant from his pocket brandished it in the air and remarked there would be no Home Rule for Ireland and that he and his thousands of co-signatories would see to it. Connolly, with a sardonic smile, advised him to take the document home and frame it, adding your children will laugh at it.
For a period after William Walker's defection from the movement we had a joint committee, operating between ourselves and the I.L.P., to conduct propaganda in the city. This was responsible for producing my one difference with Connolly, as I usually found him an extremely easy colleague to work with, although I have known him to be rude, if not indeed intolerant, with those who differed from him on Socialist matters.
Under this arrangement at our open-air meeting in Library Street one Sunday evening in 1913 we had as speaker a member of the I.L.P. He was an Englishman, residing in Belfast and was employed in some managerial capacity. The title of his lecture is long since forgotten by me, the subject matter of it is, however, still fresh in my memory as being the Chairman of the meeting I have occasion to remember it. During the course of his speech he produced a sovereign from his waist-coat pocket and explained that, as he had always one of these to spare, his attitude to the Socialist movement was one of benevolence as he was not like the ordinary proletarian in a
p.205hard-up condition. This could have been passed over with the contempt it deserved but then he proceeded to indulge in comments on Ireland, worthy of an official Tory propagandist, that while the people of the North of Ireland were thrifty and industrious the people of the South of Ireland were slovenly and lazy, which accounted for the prosperity in the one area, and the poverty in the other. Young as I was, I was wondering if I shouldn't pull him down from the platform when Connolly, whom I hadn't seen at the meeting up to this, approached me and inquired if he would be allowed to speak after the speaker had finished, to which, in my distraught mood, I replied in an off-hand manner that he would have the same rights as any other member of the audience. This was the cause of the trouble, as Connolly interpreted this as giving the right to mount the platform and address the meeting, whereas I held that such right was at the discretion of the Chairman which I refused him, and all others who were clamouring to speaksome in opposition to himand got the meeting closed as quickly as possible. Immediately following this I left the city for a short course of study of economics and industrial history at Bangor University, Wales, and thinking that a breach had taken place between Connolly and myself I was approached by the I.L.P. to rejoin their organisation, but on my return I continued my association with Connolly as formerly and the incident was never again referred to between us.
Connolly occasionally made trips to Dublin during the week-ends, and whilst there, was certain to participate in some of the many industrial or political activities which agitated the Capital city in those days. After such a visit, during which he had made a political speech, a portion of which was reported in some of the Northern newspapers, he found a letter which had been addressed to his assistant awaiting him on his return signed by the dockers employed at the Liverpool boat resigning from the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union and
p.206giving, as their reason, owing to Mr. Connolly's political opinions and ungodly propensities it left them no option but to dissociate themselves from such a man and from such a Union. On showing me this letterwhich is now in the possession of Bill O'Brienhe smiled faintly in appreciation of the difficulty of making speeches to suit two such diametrically opposed view points as obtained in Belfast and Dublin. He did not, however, on account of this temper the wind to the shorn lamb.
We held meetings to commemorate all sorts of events in the Socialist and Nationalist calendars. Two of which were outstanding. The celebration of the Paris Commune (1871), which he held was the classical example of a working class insurrection, as distinct from the many bourgeois attempts to throw off the feudal ties which were hampering the development of a rising manufacturing class; the other was on McArts fort on the top of the Cavehill, on the spot where Theobald Wolfe Tone and his colleagues prior to his departure to the United States and France swore never to desist in their efforts until the last chain with England had been broken, that never failing source of all our political evils. The speaker at this meeting was Ernest Blythe of Lisburn, active I understood, in the Nationalist movement of the time and later to attain eminence in the subsequent Nationalist struggles and become Finance Minister in the Cosgrave Government.
We also contested Dock Ward in the municipal elections of January, 1913, with Connolly as our candidate on a programme of wider municipal reforms on the part of the Belfast City Council. We had a Tory as opponent but failed to make any impression on the electorate, polling some nine hundred votes and being beaten by about two to one, receiving mainly a Nationalist vote, together with a small number of Protestant Labour votes.
The shadows of World War I began to hover over Europe.
p.207For some time hopes went high that if the capitalist states were forced through inexorable economic forces to make war upon each other, the Socialist movement of Europe which had been organising to prevent such a catastrophe would, through the aid of the general strike, make such a contingency an impossibility. With the collapse of the Second International when the Social Democrat representatives in the Reichstag voted the war credits for the war lords of Germany, and with the assassination of Jean Jaurès, the leader of the French Socialist movement and the death of James Keir Hardie, M.P., Europe and its workers seemed to be reeling headlong into the shambles of war. Connolly was bitter with those Socialists who had made common cause with their hereditary enemies, the capitalists, and who had betrayed the international working class movement. One listening to his speeches at this stage would have said he was pro-German, and he probably was, though not through any love of German capitalism, which he detested as much as British capitalism, but he saw in this struggle the possibility of the defeat of Great Britain, and an opportunity presented to the militant nationalists of Ireland to take advantage of England's difficulty and make it Ireland's opportunity. He felt this was the chance he had long waited for; and some passages of his earlier speeches which had appeared obscure to some of us at the time, took on a new meaning, and we were left in no doubt as to his possible course of action if war finally eventuated, as seemed likely.
As the war clouds gathered jingoism became more rampant in Belfast and the difficulty of our type of propaganda meetings increased in ratio. Indifference to our meetings gave way to hostility and we could only continue our open-air meetings at Library Street with very great difficulty. During this period, on a Sunday, when Connolly was absent in Dublin, I addressed the meeting and was subjected to interruption so continuous during the course of an hour's speech that I only got order on
p.208two occasions during the meeting, when I was quoting poetry. As the tempo of opposition rose we got a further glimpse of Connolly the man of action. War had been declared and at a meeting in Smithfield Square he demanded the introduction by the British Government of a Homestead Act based upon a United States of America precedent; which he had knowledge of during his sojourn in that country. At the last meeting I ever spoke with him I was absent at the start of the meeting so he commenced without a Chairman and was halfway through his speech when I arrived on the scene. The opposition was so strong that he was unable to make himself heard above the uproar. I relieved him for a spell when he took over again until the end of the meeting. He dismounted from the platform and literally bored his way through the dense hostile crowd out into Royal Avenue and proceeded on his way home to the Falls Road, followed by the angry crowd.
It was not Connolly's wish that the meetings should be abandoned; it was not his method nor yet his disposition to yield to the opposition of an irate mob, but rather to meet force with force sooner than tamely submit to a noisy and turbulent element swayed by war hysteria. A meeting of the party, however, called to consider the continuation or otherwise of the meetings in those fateful late August or early September days decided to suspend the meetings until more rational days returned with Connolly and myselfthe two main speakersthe minority in favour of continuing them. This decision filled him with disgust, as designs were already taking shape in his mind should the war situation continue and develop, which led unerringly to his challenge to the might of the British Empire and his heroic fight in the ruins of Dublin's General Post Office during Easter Week, 1916, and his no less valiant death before a firing party of British soldiers.
The story of my association with Connolly in Belfast would not be complete were I to omit from it a few names of those
p.209who while not figuring prominently or at all in the matters referred to herein were at the same time coadjutors of his and were active workers with him in his many sided Labour and Nationalist activities. There was the late Miss Winifred Carney (afterwards Mrs. McBride) who was employed as his Secretary in the office of the Union in Belfast and later served with him as his personal secretary in the General Post Office, Dublin, during the insurrection of Easter Week, 1916. My friend and former colleague Cathal O'Shannon, at this period also employed in the office of the Union in Belfast, as well as being Northern correspondent for The Irish Worker, was extremely active in the Language, Nationalist and Irish Volunteer movements, and lastly Mr. and Mrs. James Grimley, indefatigable workers in all phases of the movement, who, like myself, feel life-long gratitude for the privilege of having worked with and enjoyed the friendship of so great a man as James Connolly.