James Connolly


“Enlist or Starve”

“Come on or we will fetch you”


Workers’ Republic, 27 November 1915.
Reprinted in Red Banner, No.9.
Transcribed by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The above seem to represent the attitude of the ruling class to the people of Ireland at present. They represent the dilemma in which the worker finds himself who tries to act up to the dictates of his conscience. The employer whom an absurd social system makes the arbiter of his means of living tells him that he must go and enlist, even should his whole soul cry out in revolt against the degradation of fighting for his own and his country’s enemies. That if he does not go he will be thrown on the streets in idleness, and that every other employer will refuse to give him work. That he must enlist or starve.

A meeting of Dublin employers was held on Tuesday in the Mansion House under the chairmanship of the Lord Mayor, and at the direct command of the Lord Lieutenant who attended in person. Before attending each employer received a circular marked ‘private and confidential’ asking him to bring to the meeting a full list of all his employees of military age who could be dispensed with, or replaced by older men, boys, or women.

All the employers who locked out their workers in 1913 were there in person or through their representatives. Mr Wm. Martin Murphy, ever prominent in anything that savours of an attack upon popular rights, sent a letter promising his hearty co-operation, and the secretary of the Dublin Employers Association was prominent and zealous in the evil work.

All these employers pointed out to each other in their private conversations that every active trade unionist, or other person of independent mind, could be put first upon the list of eligible men, and that all blacklegs, pimps, and toadies could be certified as ‘indispensable’, and the military would do the rest. Thus trade unionism could be destroyed by sacrificing the trade unionist to the military press gang now being organised.

Thus all the plans are being laid for a wholesale, well organised, and persistent victimisation of the working class. Every man of military age is to be given the choice of slaughter abroad or starvation at home. The Employers are planning well. Their father in Hell could not have done it better.

Behind this terrible conspiracy against the lives of the poor there looms up also the spectre of conscription – a conspiracy against the life and honour of the nation. Lord Derby [1] and his associates have told us that if by such means as the foregoing they do not get enough recruits before November 30th all the unmarried men will be compelled to serve. When the unmarried men are exhausted, that is to say when they are all killed or wounded, the married men will be seized and sent out as food for cannon.

The carrying out of this plan means the end of the historic Irish nation.

The peaceful carrying out of it means that the Irish Nation will end in dishonour.

Will it so end? Could anything be worse than such an end?

Mr Redmond and his supporters tell us that it is useless to struggle against the Empire, that we should devote all our powers to the task of pleasing the Government by services to the Empire. That we might win by favours what we cannot gain by struggling, and that the sole hope of Ireland is to win reward by giving pleasure.

It is a prostitute’s argument. The argument of the street walker who sneers at the poverty of her honest and virtuous sister, and flaunts her jewels as a proof that the ways of sin are more profitable than the paths of virtue.

And yet this argument that Ireland as a nation should seek to win her nationhood by advertising her prostitution – that is the last word in the statesmanship of the Home Rule party and its leaders.

Was ever nation so beset by its enemies? Was ever nation so betrayed by its friends?

Comrades! Scripture tells us that the fool hath his eyes on the ends of the earth. Are all our leaders fools? Do none of them turn their eyes from the red glare of battle abroad to note the swift poisoning of the race at home, encouraged by enemies sleepless in their hatred?

Dark clouds hover over us. Is there a light beyond these clouds?

Who can tell?



1. Secretary of State for War.


Last updated on 15.8.2003