James Connolly


The South African War


Workers’ Republic, 19 August, 1899.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At the time of going to press it seems probable that in a few weeks at most the British Government will have declared war against the South African Republic. Ostensibly in pursuance of a chivalrous desire to obtain political concessions in their adopted country for British citizens anxious to renounce their citizenship, but in reality for the purpose of enabling an unscrupulous gang of capitalists to get into their hands the immense riches of the diamond fields. Such a war will undoubtedly take rank as one of the most iniquitous wars of the century. Waged by a mighty empire against a nation entirely incapable of replying in any effective manner, by a government of financiers upon a nation of farmers, by a nation of filibusterers upon a nation of workers, by a capitalist ring, who will never see a shot fired during the war, upon a people defending their homes and liberties – such is the war upon which the people of England are criminally or stupidly, and criminally even if stupidly, allowing their government to enter. No better corroboration of the truth of the socialist maxim that the modern state is but a committee of rich men administering public affairs in the interest of the upper class, has been afforded of late years, than is furnished by this spectacle of a gang of South African speculators setting in motion the whole machinery of the British Empire in furtherance of their own private ends. There is no pretence that the war will benefit the English people, yet it is calmly assumed the people will pay for the war, and, if necessary, fight in it.

It must be admitted that the English people are at present doing their utmost to justify the low estimate in which their rulers hold them; a people who for centuries have never heard a shot fired in anger upon their shores, yet who encourage their government in its campaign of robbery and murder against an unoffending nation; a people, who, secure in their own homes, permit their rulers to carry devastation and death into the homes of another people, assuredly deserve little respect no matter how loudly they may boast of their liberty-loving spirit.

For the Irish worker the war will contain some valuable lessons. In the first place it will serve to furnish a commentary upon the hopes of those in our ranks who are so fond of dilating upon the ‘peaceful’ realisation of the aims of socialism. We do not like to theorise upon the function of force as a midwife to progress – that, as we have ere now pointed out, is a matter to be settled by the enemies of progress – but we cannot afford to remain blind to the signs of the time. If, then, we see a small section of the possessing class prepared to launch two nations into war, to shed oceans of blood and spend millions of treasure, in order to maintain intact a small portion of their privileges, how can we expect the entire propertied class to abstain from using the same weapons, and to submit peacefully when called upon to yield up for ever all their privileges? Let the working class democracy of Ireland note that lesson, and, whilst working peacefully while they may, keep constantly before their minds the truth that the capitalist class is a beast of prey, and cannot be moralised, converted, or conciliated but must be extirpated.

One other lesson is, that Ireland is apparently a negligible factor in the calculations of the Imperial Government. In certain ‘advanced’ circles we hear much about the important position of Ireland in international politics. The exact value of such talk may be gauged by the fact that troops are being taken from Ireland to be sent to the Transvaal. The British Government has no fears on the score of Ireland; the Home Rule Party, and their good friends the Constabulary, may be trusted to keep this country quiet. But if the working class of Ireland were only united and understood their power sufficiently well, and had shaken off their backs the Home Rule-Unionist twin brethren – keeping us apart that their class may rob us – they would see in this complication a chance for making a long step forward towards better conditions of life – and, seeing it, act upon it in a manner that would ensure the absence from the Transvaal of a considerable portion of the British army. The class-conscious workers who chafe under our present impotence, and long to remove it, will find the path pointed out to them in the ranks of the Irish Socialist Republican Party.


Last updated on 11.8.2003