James Connolly


Facets of American Liberty


The Harp, December 1908.
Republished in Owen Dudley Edwards & Bernard Ransom (eds), James Connolly: Selected Political Writings, New York 1974.

Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“Where Liberty is, there is my country.”

So said the enthusiastic 18th century revolutionist. But if he lived nowadays he would have a long search for his country – where Liberty is. The only liberty we know of now, outside the liberty to go hungry, stands in New York Bay, where it has been placed, I am told, in order that immigrants from Europe may get their first and last look at it before setting foot on American soil.

You see, it would be decidedly awkward for our Fourth of July orators to be orating to the newcomers about the blessings of American liberty and then to be asked by some ignorant European to tell where that liberty is to be found.

Some ignorant, discontented unit of the hordes of Europe, for instance, might feel tempted to go nosing around in this great country in search of liberty, and his search might take him into the most awkward places.

He might go down South and see little white American children of seven, eight and nine years of age working in our cotton mills enjoying their liberty to work for a boss at an age when other children are still compelled by tyrannical laws to stay on wrestling with the dreadful problems of reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic.

He might have visited Alabama and seen American citizens out on strike, driven out of their homes by the power of the capitalist mine-owner, and when they erected tents upon private land granted by a charitable farmer for that purpose, he might have seen a Democratic governor order in the state militia to cut down the tents and drive the American workers back to the mine at the point of the bayonet.

He might, being an ignorant European, visit Florida and see men lured from the big cities to the railroad construction camps and kept there on a hunger diet, compelled to endure blows and foulest insults, and when they attempted to escape he might see the power of the state detective force employed to arrest them as if they were criminals and take them back handcuffed to their slavery.

This ignorant representative of the scum of Europe might have visited Colorado in 1904 and seen armed militia invade newspaper offices and imprison printers and journalists alike without legal warrant or pretense at trial, trade union meetings suppressed, duly elected public officials compelled to resign under threat of lynching, respectable men taken out of their beds in the middle of the night and without [being] given a chance to even put their shoes on marched under armed guards across the state lines, hundreds of men thrown into cattle enclosures and kept there for months without trial, and Pinkerton detectives employed to manufacture outrages in order to hang innocent men.

This pilgrim in search of liberty might have learned from the coal miners of Pennsylvania that their state is dotted over east and west with localities where union miners were shot down like dogs whilst peacefully parading the streets or roads in time of strikes, he might have learned that practically every industrial center in the country from Albany, N.Y., to San Francisco, Calif., from New Orleans to Minnesota, has the same tale to tell of the spilling of workmen’s blood by the hirelings of the master class, and he might have attended the unemployed demonstration in Union Square, New York, and have seen the free American citizens rapped on the head for daring to ask a job collectively, instead of begging for it individually.

Or this greenhorn might have strolled along West Street, New York, and interviewed some Irish longshoremen, who could tell him that when in Ireland they stayed at home and played cards and bothered the women of the house every time it rained (and in Ireland it rains oftener than it is fair), that they stopped work every time there was a fair day, or a Saint’s Day, or a Feast Day, or a Home Rule, Nationalist, Gaelic League or Orange Demonstration, when they stayed up too long at a wake, or wished to go a few miles to attend a wedding.

But that since he became a participant in the freedom of America he has to turn out to his work rain or shine, winter and summer, and be ready to stand in line to be picked out of a gang as he used to pick out pigs at a fair at home, only that the pigs got fed, if they were or were not picked, whereas he and his family are likely to go hungry if he does not keep on the soft side of the boss and get picked. And if he does get picked for a job, he has to stand worse driving and foul abuse than an Irish ass ever received from its driver.

As for holidays – tell it not in Gath. A holiday in Ireland meant rest and recreation for his body and mind; in America a holiday means a rest for his stomach and anxiety for his mind.

I think I can work in a joke here. There was once a hardworking Irish girl who married an enterprising Irish-American. On the day after the wedding she remarked, “Well, thank God, now I can get a rest for my bones.”

“’Deed, if you do, Mary,” responded her loving spouse, “it will be a rest for your jaw-bones.”

(This joke is going to be copyrighted).

After making this pilgrimage through the state possibly our representative of the destitute alien might be impertinent enough to interrupt the Fourth of July orator with the demand to be shown where this American Liberty is.

Then the orator, thanks to Bartholdi, could arise in his dignity and crush the interrupter with the statement that Liberty is to be found outside in the Bay of New York.

It is a waste of time to look inside for what is standing outside. Verb sap, or as we say in the Gaelic, “An tuigeann tú?” In the classic language of the Bowery, “Are you next?”

The Liberty we have in Bartholdi’s statue is truly typical of liberty in this age and country.

It is placed upon a pedestal out of the reach of the multitudes; it can only be approached by those who have money enough to pay the expense; it has a lamp to enlighten the world, but the lamp is never lit, and it smiles upon us as we approach America, but when we are once in the country we never see anything but its back.

’Tis a great world we live in.

P.H.B., of Shaft, Pa., wrote to the Harp in September asking for enlightenment on several points connected with the practical workings of Socialism in the mining industry. The chief points he dealt with were the difficulty of having a system that would insure absolute justice to every individual, and who would do the dirty work, and who would be induced to waste his time in qualifying for a mining engineer when the ordinary miner would be as highly remunerated.

Our friend should remember that Socialists do not suppose that the substitution of common ownership for private ownership will of itself abolish all difficulties or solve all questions of administration. It will not. But it will make the solution of those questions on a just basis easier than it is to-day. In fact, to-day justice is simply not taken into account in such matters. Expediency and profit-making are all that are sought. Yet our friend, like many others, demands of Socialism perfect, absolute, flawless justice down to the minutest detail, and if he cannot be assured of it he will continue to support the capitalist system, although he knows it to be saturated with injustices of the most horrible description.

I presume that he would not ride on a railroad train until he had fully understood all the mechanism of a steam engine, all the principles and practice of steam propulsion, all the complicated appliances of signaling, points, switching and railroad telegraphing.

But that would not be his attitude in reality. No, he would say that he had no doubt there were difficulties in the way of railroading, but that the central principle being right he could trust the associated intelligence of those engaged in the industry to master those difficulties in line with the general principle. That, in fact, has been the general practical attitude of the human race toward all innovations, once the general principle of the new departure was accepted.

Under Socialism, mining, like every other industry, will be democratically administered by the workers in that occupation; foremen, managers, superintendents, etc., will all be elected from and by the rank and file of the workers, and those same workers will also elect the delegates who will represent them on the local and governing bodies of the land. All matters pertaining to the technical efficiency of the mines, and of labor, will be settled either by those experts whom the workers have elected as administrators, by discussion and vote of the men in the union of their industry, or by whatever method their common interest and sense of fairness can devise.

Such positions as mining engineers, or other professions, etc., can be filled by pupils chosen in a competitive examination. There will always be a sufficiency of candidates for any such post of honor, and as the cost of the education for such posts will be borne by the community, and not by the individual aspirant, they need not necessarily entail any disparity of salary.

As for the varying needs of individuals, each individual will require to “cut his coat according to his cloth,” to use a homely old saying. He whose tastes run to automobiles cannot expect to be strong on books, and he who desires the luxury of travel will have to forego the pleasures of a private garden and a secluded mansion. And so on ad infinitum.

Socialism will solve the problem of poverty by abolishing it, but it will not solve all problems, smooth all rough places, nor prevent all mistakes.

Under Socialism men will possibly often mistake their avocations in life, women will marry the wrong men, and men will marry the wrong women.

I know some Socialists say that there will be no marriage question under Socialism, but I do not see that that will necessarily be the case, and I am only concerned with what Socialism will necessarily do. I hold that under Socialism no woman will be compelled to marry a man for a livelihood or for riches, but I hold that it is quite possible that under Socialism a man and woman may imagine that they were destined for each other, love and marry, and after the lapse of years and closer intimacy find they had made a mistake and one came to hate the other.

And when that happens we will have a marriage and divorce question, or a sex question, if you will, and I do not see that the fact that each is economically independent of the other will alter that fact. If the woman desires to be rid of the man whilst the man still loves the woman, or vice versa, we will still have passion, and jealousy, and love, and hatred.

In fact, Socialism will not make us angels upon earth; it will only put a premium upon our better qualities instead of upon our baser, as is done by capitalism today. And that itself would be worth a revolution to realize, or a thousand revolutions.

Under any system of society there will be differences of opinion amongst men and women, and with some natures such differences will be intense and lead to much swinging of literary and verbal cudgels, and metaphorical belaboring with black thorns.

Talking of blackthorns reminds me of some fine verses I lately came across upon that inspiring subject. Here they are; you can read them while I mop my fevered brow:


You’re welcome to my hand, my fine blackthorn,
That grew in beauty under Erin’s skies;
Your blossom sweet, on many a bright May morn,
Gave added fragrance to the summer’s sighs.
Upon your branch the brown-robed linnet sang,
The goldfinch chattered merrily his lay,
And at your feet the primrose joyous spring
To welcome your sweet blossoms falling spray.

It moves the fount of memory to tears
To think this fine “Kippeen” had root upon
That Irish hillside, where my boyhood years
In careless glee and innocence sped on,
I hear the lark with pulsing waves of song –
Sweet herald of the dawn that knew no care –
Across the gulf of Time, again I long
To feel the rapture of that matin prayer.

And when they cut you down, my fine blackthorn,
They “saysoned” you, like bacon in the smoke
Above the ample “hob”, where night and morn
The turf fire gave you heart and strength of oak.
And round the fire I hear the welcome cheer
That burst in limpid music from the heart.
As neighbor entered with “God save all here,”
And “banact lat,” as he would slow depart.

You are welcome to my hand, for like the rod
At Moses’ touch bloomed in the desert wild,
I see again dear Erin’s verdant sod,
And every flower that on her bosom smiled.
Sure you are nurtured by the same soft rain,
Your veins were warmed by the same bright sun.
And so at your kind touch I live again
The joyous hours with which life’s morn begun.

– William J. Dawson.

Another correspondent writes to ask me “as a practical man” to tell what measures the Socialists would pass and what they would repeal in the city of St. Louis, in the state of Missouri, in the Senate or Congress if they got the victory. ’Tis a tall order.

In the first place I am not a practical man. To be practical under capitalism means that your ideas are consonant with the existence of capitalism. Mine, I trust, are not. My correspondent has not grasped that fact yet; when he does he will realize that to be “practical” is the last thing I aim at.

I would remind him that the Socialist Party of St. Louis, the Socialist Party of Missouri, and the National organization have each issued platforms which answer his questions, and recommend him to secure copies for his enlightenment. He tells me he wants it answered in the Harp, but I desire him to understand that the Harp desires only to treat of the general principles of Socialism as a revolutionary movement, and not with any patching up of the old social order.

Personally, I believe that the fact that we still have long platforms and programs is one of the signs of the comparatively backward state of the Socialist movement, of our unripeness for Social Revolution. On the day that we have so far conquered the mind of the workers that we can safely abolish our platforms and concentrate and express our whole fighting principle in one simple phrase capable of being remembered by the average school boy, we will then, and then only, cease to be a propagandist association and become a revolutionary army.

At least so thinks



Last updated on 11.8.2003