12 January 2015 Edition
Connolly in command as war intensifies
Remembering the Past
All warfare is inhuman, all warfare is barbaric; the first blast of the bugles of war ever sounds for the time being the funeral knell of human progress – James Connolly
THE YEAR 1915 opened with James Connolly in command of the Irish Citizen Army, editor of the Irish Worker newspaper, and acting General Secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. He replaced General Secretary Jim Larkin who had departed for the United States the previous October.
As the European war intensified so also did the preparations for an armed rising against British rule in Ireland. Connolly saw it as his mission to link the most militant section of the labour movement which he now led with the republicans and advanced nationalists. In October 1914 he shared a platform with Pádraig Pearse for the first time. He worked with republicans in the Irish Neutrality League.
The British Government started its repressive measures with the sacking of Irish Volunteers military instructor Captain Robert Monteith from his civil service post and his exclusion from Dublin. Then, in December, they banned three newspapers – Sinn Féin, Irish Freedom and The Irish Worker.
Connolly, a tireless writer and producer of newspapers, was determined not to be silenced. He had the The Irish Worker printed in Glasgow. It was imported to Dublin in containers marked “Glass”. He then resumed his attack on British war propaganda.
• James Connolly with his wife Lilly, daughters Mona and Nora
On 9 January he warned against the danger of the bosses of Dublin who had locked out the workers in 1913 being allowed to carry on as usual in the fog of war to exploit the poor in the city’s slums:
“War or no war, those slums must be swept out of existence; war or no war, those slum landlords are greater enemies than all the ‘Huns’ of Europe; war or no war, our children must have decent homes to grow up in, decently-equipped schools to attend, decent food whilst at school; streets, courts and hallways decently-lighted at nights; war or no war, the workers of Dublin should exert themselves first for the conquest of Dublin by those whose toil makes Dublin possible; war or no war, the most sacred duty of the working class of Ireland is to seize every available opportunity to free itself from the ravenous maw of the capitalist system and to lay the foundations for the co-operative commonwealth – the working-class republic.”
• The trenches in Flanders
In the 17 January edition of the paper, Connolly quoted international socialist voices against the war. The Leader paper in the USA called it “a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight” and stated:
“The remnants of the miserable wretches that are freezing in the trenches in Flanders, along the Aisne, in east Prussia, Poland, and a hundred corners of the four continents where mechanical mayhem is being practised on a wholesale scale will crawl back to their homes to find themselves bound out for life and the lives of their descendants to the class of moneylenders who send dollars instead of bodies to the front.”
Connolly quoted German socialist leader Karl Liebknecht (murdered after the war by the predecessors of the Nazis), who opposed the war in the Reichstag:
“Only in the co-operation of the working masses of all countries, in times of war as in times of peace, does the salvation of humanity lie. Nowhere have the masses desired this war. Nowhere do they desire it. Why should they, then, with a loathing for war in their hearts, murder each other to the finish? It would be a sign of weakness, it is said, for anyone people to suggest peace; well, let all the peoples suggest it together. The nation which speaks first will not show weakness but strength. It will win the glory and gratitude of posterity.”
• German socialist leader Karl Liebknecht
On 30 January, Connolly asked: “Can Warfare be Civilised?”, denouncing the hypocrisy of the British condemnation of Germany’s “uncivilised” methods:
“It would be well to realise that the talk of ‘humane methods of warfare’, of the ‘rules of civilised warfare’, and all such homage to the finer sentiments of the race are hypocritical and unreal, and only intended for the consumption of stay-at-homes.
“There are no humane methods of warfare, there is no such thing as civilised warfare; all warfare is inhuman, all warfare is barbaric; the first blast of the bugles of war ever sounds for the time being the funeral knell of human progress…
“This is war: war for which all the jingoes are howling, war to which all the hopes of the world are being sacrificed, war to which a mad ruling class would plunge a mad world.
“No, there is no such thing as humane or civilised war!
“War may be forced upon a subject race or subject class to put an end to subjection of race, of class, or sex. When so waged it must be waged thoroughly and relentlessly, but with no delusions as to its elevating nature or civilising methods.”