James Connolly


Liberty and Labour


The Workers’ Republic, 19 June 1915.
From P.J. Musgrove (ed.), James Connolly: A Socialist and War (1914-1916), London 1941, a collection of Connolly’s anti-war articles published on behalf of the Communist Party of Great Britain shortly before the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
The notes from this edition are included because of their historical interest.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Decidedly we are getting on! Since this war started we have been progressing at a rate calculated to bewilder the mind of the ordinary man or woman. Especially in the direction of freedom our prowess has been of quite a giddy character.

First, on the grounds that their activities were calculated to hinder the fight which the Allies were making for liberty, the liberties of the Press were curtailed. And as if to emphasise the great truth (?) that militarism must be crushed, the military were sent in to break up the machinery on which the Irish Worker was printed.

Then other papers which ventured to doubt the peaceful intentions and liberty-loving enthusiasm of the British Government were squelched in their turn.

Then certain Irishmen were ordered to leave military districts, and under a kind of ticket-of-leave system report their residence elsewhere. We would not presume, being laymen, to doubt the wisdom of the military authorities, but it does seem a little erratic when you suspect a man of knowing too much to remove him out of your lurisdiction. It would seem safer to keep him under your eye.

Next, trial by jury, that great bulwark of British liberty, went by the board, and we have seen men refused the right of such trial, and summarily sentenced to a long term of imprisonment for expressing opinions upon the war.

In all the great wars of England, the war of the American Revolution, the war against the French Revolution, the Crimean War,, there were men who stood out against those ventures, and against a nation lashed to madness by the appeals and lies of its leaders. They were but a miserable minority, but history has triumphantly vindicated them.

They suffered from mob fury, and from legal oppression, but none was condemned and sentenced without a trial by jury. The jury may have been, and was in most cases, composed of bitter partisans of the Government, but it was still a jury. The Government of those days did not dare to destroy the civic rights of its subjects on the pretext of military necessity.

Every one of those men, whose names Englishmen to-day delight to honour for their courage in withstanding the tyrants and demagogues of their day, would now be arrested under the Defence of the Realm Act, as other men have been for ‘crimes’ not a hundredth part as well calculated to ‘give aid to the enemy’.

Now we find that a new office has been created, that of Ministry of Munitions, and we are already told that the Minister in charge will have absolute power over the labour and liberties of the subjects whose labour he requires, or thinks he requires, in the factories, workshops, or shipyards of the nation.

All Trade Union regulations are swept away at once, and swept away, be it remembered, with the connivance of the British Trade Union leaders. [1] It does not seem to matter that those Trade Union regulations are the result of generations of experience of what was necessary to safeguard the lives and health of the workers – they are swept away as ruthlessly as if they were but the idlest speculations of Utopian dreamers.

Yes, we are getting on! Our right of a free Press no longer exists, our right of public meeting is a trap and a peril instead of a safeguard, our sanctity of domicile – the privacy of our homes – is continually violated, our Trade Union rights are going where they have not already gone, and all sections of the master class have instructed the leaders of their political parties to support each other against any criticism from the under dogs.

The Coalition Cabinet is the sign and symbol to all who understand that the ruling classes no longer think it necessary to pretend that great principles divide them.

The Liberal lies down with the Conservative, and the Home Ruler with the leader of the Orange hosts. Home Rule is on the Statute Book, but the chief figure in the new Cabinet is the man who organised 50,000 armed men to resist by force its passage from the position of an Act to that of a fact. [2] Could anything be truer than the following remarks, reported in the daily Press, of Father O’Grady, P.P., Chaplain of the Keash (Co. Sligo) Branch of the A.O.H.? [3]

“What, Father O’Grady asked, had they got in return? Could the purpose of the Coalition Government be achieved without inflicting a more deadly wound on three-fourths of Ireland’s population than a thousand Zeppelins could inflict? Could any more traitorous indignity be offered by ‘the sympathetic Government’ to loyal and Nationalist Ireland than the appointment of Sir E. Carson, and the proposed appointment of Mr. Campbell – rebels of years’ standing – to positions demanding respect for law and order at least to those who hold them? Twelve months ago Home Rule was a certainty; to-day it is dead.”

Carson organised an army to fight the forces of the Crown, but now he is one of the men who will direct the armed forces of the Crown to whatever end he and his may desire. Jonah has swallowed the whale.

We are progressing! O, yes, but whither?

Never was it more necessary for the forces of Labour to be alert, watchful and determined. The classes who control these countries are seemingly determined to utilise every opportunity given them in order to further their class interests, quite regardless of how their schemes may injuriously affect the nation at large.

We have seen the monies promised for the work of tearing down the slums and rebuilding Dublin blown away at the cannon’s mouth, along with the sums needed to complete the Land Purchase Schemes; we have seen the war crisis taken advantage of to compel the enforcement upon Ireland of compulsory vaccination without the Conscience Clause that safeguards the English parent; we have seen pliant Labour leaders assisting at the organisation of a Dockers Battalion under military law to do work which civilian Trade Union dockers were willing to do, and we have seen members of that battalion subjected to severe military penalties for trifling delays which in civil life would only cause a frown; [4] we have seen an Englishman arrested for mentioning that the King is of German descent – a fact that said Englishman was taught in the public schools of his country. In short we have seen, and are daily seeing, a continual narrowing of the bounds of freedom, a steady increase of the power of a plutocratic State, a silent, relentless invasion of military power upon the domain of civil law and civil rights.

Against such things it behoves all who value freedom and the possibilities of peaceful progress to organise our forces to make a determined stand. In this matter every man’s battle is our battle. Every man or woman who takes up a stand for liberty is our comrade, and their cause should be our cause. No petty personal quarrels should count, no question of the rivalry of organisations, no foolish strivings after exclusive credit for any man or any party. In this battle, the lines of which are now being traced, it will be the duty of every lover of the country and of the race to forget all minor dividing lines and issues, and in contemplating the work before us to seek earnestly after the unity of the progressive forces.

Labour must be the backbone of all the resistance to tyranny. Labour has won a few steps forward and upward, but it has a long and weary climb before it – a climb so long and weary that it cannot afford to lose a single one of the liberties it has already gained.

Already our eyes have been gladdened by the sight of that rally, and from all over Ireland comes the answering shout of joy at the sight. The heart of the nation is good and sound, the courage of the workers not abated one whit.

We are living in perilous times. But we shall not flinch from the struggle.




1. Compare with to-day; Mr. Bevin, for example, at the Southport T.U.C. (October 9th, 1940): “We have to ask you to agree to what ire virtually great restrictions, to give up treasured rights ...” If confirmation is required from the enemies of Labour, what about this: “The labour leaders in our present Government are exhibiting a magnificent power of leadership in the furtherance of our war effort, even to the extent of abandoning many cherished Trade Union principles” (from a circular issued by a well-known firm of London stockbrokers and discussed in the Financial News, September 10th, 1940).

2. Sir Edward Carson.

3. Ancient Order of Hibernians – a Roman Catholic organisation in many respects comparable to Freemasonry.

4. To-day the Pioneers (tradesmen, etc., ‘under military law’) are at work clearing the streets of debris after air raids for 2s. 6d. per day while able-bodied trade unionists are unemployed. Conscripted craftsmen are also driving railway engines, doing municipal plumbing, etc.


Last updated on 14.8.2003