James Connolly

An Open Letter to Dublin Castle

(1898) [1]

Workers’ Republic, 13 August 1898
Recently republished in Red Banner, No.1 (PO Box 6587, Dublin 6).
Transcription: Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

MY LORDS AND GENTLEMEN AND HONOURABLE BOARDS, – To-day you occupy the seat of power. You are the ‘constituted authorities,’ and knowing as I do that our advent in however humble a manner on the political horizon will be to you a matter of some slight interest, I hasten to address your honourable Lordships to let you know the whyfor and whereof of our coming. I am sure your lordships and honorable Boards will hear patiently what I have to say. At least if you do not you certainly ought, for I know you have the time at your disposal, there being no need for you to worry about your daily bread, as the industrious though ‘vulgar crowd’ whom you so kindly condescend to govern see to it that you are all provided with bread and a great many other things besides: in quantities that are much more than sufficient. I have always noticed my honorable lords and gentlemen when occasions have arisen that seemed to you to require it, your solemn instructions and advice to the ‘vulgar crowd’ one of whom I am, have always been issued commencing with the word whereas, and thinking perhaps you understand a statement better when so begun, I therefore follow your honourable lordships’ example. If I did otherwise I might err, but of course everyone knows that what is done by your lordships must be right, and if they do not so understand, your lordships can easily convince them, having at your disposal all the necessary legal and other machinery for that purpose. In saying so I am, perhaps, referring to a fact, to remind you of which is rather disagreeable, but you cannot at least pretend that you have been slow to use this convincing machinery when opportunity or necessity occurred. Now to my statement.

It has been found, and is a matter of everyday experience, that within the shores of Ireland poverty, misery, degradation, slums, overwork and underpay [lies in store] for those of the workers who succeed in selling themselves into the slavery of some member of the capitalist class, and unemployment with all its attendant evils of degradation, misery and contempt for those who suffer when their effort to do so is unsuccessful. Constantly recurring famine in the agricultural districts, overcrowding and general wretchedness in the towns. A population steadily dwindling, driven from the land by grasping landlordism and huddling together in the towns, either to be used as a means of keeping down the wages of those already there in the interest of the landlord’s twin brother, the capitalist exploiter of human flesh and blood, or crossing the ocean to some other land, there to swell the ranks of slavery; there to become victims of the cursed system sought to be escaped from here. And whereas further, it is manifest these things do not exist without a cause, and as your lordships profess to be unable to find it, it behoves the masses of the people to do so, they being the parties most interested, as they are the sufferers.

It is right I should admit that your lordships often apply palliatives and soothing measures generally to this terrible social evil, this festering sore on the back of humanity. That is all you profess to be able to do; indeed you are never tired of asserting it is all can be done. It is true also these soothing measures often allay the pain just as the pain from a rotten tooth is allayed by the application of some so-called ‘cure’. The tooth, however, still continues its course of decay, and again and again imposes upon its possessor the natural penalty of allowing its continued existence, until the evil becoming unbearable, the sufferer at length decides to remove the cause by means of the care and instruments necessary for that purpose; or in other words, my lords, to completely remove the cause of discomfort by means of what your lordships would term ‘sudden revolution,’ if applied to social or political matters. The palliatives do not remove the cause of pain, they only temporarily abate its force. Just so is it my lords with the economic system of society to-day.

Capitalism, or in other words the private ownership by a small minority (your class, my lords) of the land and all other things necessary to the life of the community, is the curse, the terrible sore. The great table of nature is abundantly spread, overflowing with luxuries as well as necessaries of life. Your class are in possession; the other class, now commonly called the proletariat, possess nothing but their own ability to labour, their lifelong occupation is the work of producing. They produce all that exists. Your class then, as the law says, “fraudulently appropriates to your own use” almost all they have produced. You get all the luxuries and the best of necessaries, their share is the refuse; that is, the plainest and coarsest of everything and often not enough of these. Things, my lords, at which, if placed before you, your aristocratic noses would turn up in a manner more eloquent than words. They have never respite or ease from the work of producing and distributing. Your only occupation is gambling with each other on the different stock exchanges to see which of you shall become possessed of a greater share of the results of the workers’ toil. This is capitalism. This is what you so highly extol as the competitive system of modern society. It is truly a competitive system, but working in different directions according as the individual belongs to the possessing or unpossessing class.

The members of your class being in possession, and therefore certain of the first fruits, have, as I said, only to gamble with each other (that is, compete) for a larger share of the total. But the unpossessing class being certain of nothing, compete with each other in an endeavour to live upon the lowest possible quantity in order to obtain the right to work, and therefore live at all.

You never hear of the unpossessing class competing with each other to see who will obtain the most; oh! no. No more than you ever hear of the possessing or capitalist class competing to see who will obtain the least. These are the beauties of the competitive system; blessings on it, why should we ever try to get rid of it?

It is true though, we do want to get rid of it, and it is with this object, what you would call the “red spectre of socialism” is spreading itself over every country where the system exists. We will have in its stead the co-operative, or National ownership of the land and industries necessary to everyday life. Originally, my lords, your class obtained possession by fraud; to-day you retain it, partly by fraud and partly by force. The time is at hand, however, when an educated democracy will control and permeate the organizations of force, then your fraud, your cant and humbug will be of no avail.

The private property system is the festering sore on the back of humanity to which I have alluded. Notwithstanding your constant palaver and soothing measures, the pain and sting is becoming more and more unbearable. Palliatives will not do, the cancer must be cut out. My lords, when the people so decide it will be cut out, and the mission of Socialist propaganda is to educate the masses up to the point necessary to have the operation of removing the cancer carried out scientifically and successfully.




1. Dublin Castle was the seat of the British administration in Ireland.


Last updated on 11.8.2003