E. Belfort Bax

Dynamite in England

(March 1884)

From Justice, 8th March 1884, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (July 2006).

The newspapers have been mainly occupied during the last few days with two topics, the slaughter of Arabs by Englishmen at El-Teb and the would-be slaughter of Englishmen by Irish-Americans in London. The massacre of untrained Soudanese with whom Englishmen confessedly have no quarrel, is described as “a military operation,” and hailed by the man whom England delights to honour, the hero of a similar exploit at Tel-el-Kebir; as “glorious news.” The attempted massacre by Irish-Americans of Englishmen, with whom as a race they have very distinct grounds of quarrel, is universally execrated in the phrase of current journalism, as a “dastardly outrage.” As to the conventional charge of dastardliness or cowardice, we should very much like to know how much the men who turn out these stock phrases so readily, would take to trot about London for a few hours with ten pounds of nitro-glycerine close to them, even without any risk of penal servitude for life should they be detected, which is what the “cowardly” Irish-American does. The truth is, what is exciting and interesting in the Soudan becomes no laughing matter at home, where we ourselves are concerned.

But while we fully recognise the inconsistency and disingenuousness of current writing and conversation upon this subject, we are none the less convinced of the uselessness and wickedness of such attempts as those recently made by the followers of certain Irish-American leaders. The mere fact that we regard the criminality of the action of the English privileged classes in the Eastern Soudan, or in Ireland itself, as greater, must not prevent us from saying this.

That the policy of the dynamiter is senseless as well as criminal is evident when we consider that all the recent attempts have been directed not even against the governing classes, or their official buildings, but against places of common public resort, and were more likely to hurt friends or neutrals than foes. The dynamiter must have known that it was far more probable his railway explosives would destroy or injure persons belonging to the working class, some of them possibly themselves Irishmen, than the enemies of Ireland. As a matter of fact, the first of the explosions on the Metropolitan Railway was within an ace of killing a Member of Parliament who has supported the restitution of Ireland to the Irish in season and out of season. The second actually maimed not only English workmen, but some unfortunate German Socialists whose sympathies with the Irish in their efforts at independence, have always been of the strongest. The excuse of war will not avail against such facts as these. Even in a state of war, care is taken not to injure friends and non-combatant neutrals.

At the same time, it is well that the English working classes should understand the bitterness of the hatred which the misdeeds of those very classes for whose benefit Ireland is still retained in subjection to England have engendered. No one who has not visited the United States can imagine the intensity of the inherited hatred of generations pent-up in the Irish American, a hatred which every fresh tale of wrong and injustice calls into new life.

There is another lesson to be learnt from these outrages, that the diplomatic relations upon which oar present system of international comity is based are being encountered by new forces and combinations which are fast rendering them impotent and antiquated. The United States is what is termed a “friendly power,” that is to say, the governments of both countries are at peace for the simple reason that they and the classes they represent have no special object to serve in going to war. Yet this same friendly American Government is powerless to prevent a section of its own citizens from waging unofficial war against the “subjects” of the friendly English Government. The breakdown of the diplomatic regime could not be more signally exemplified.

A word in conclusion as to the attitude of the Socialist party generally, on the much-talked of question of the use of “physical force” to overthrow the current authority. The case is a perfectly plain one. Socialists have no objection on principle to the employment of physical force. They recognise that the whole of our existing civilisation, as of every previous one, is ultimately based on “physical force”; that “physical force” is often criminally used to open up new markets and sinecures for the “privileged classes,” and for many other purposes. This by itself is a sufficient answer to the furious language of these classes at any suggestion of its employment against themselves and their privileges. What the Socialist maintains is that recourse to violence of any kind should always be a last resort, organised and sanctioned by a body representing the interests of the class fighting for freedom. As such it is needless to add that Socialists repudiate and condemn acts of individual hostility in any country possessing freedom of press and of public meeting.



Last updated on 4.7.2006