James Connolly


Capitalism and the Irish Small Farmers


From The Harp, November, 1909.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.

Internationalism is not an invention of socialists. As socialism itself has sprung out of the combinations of modern society, and as the international organisation of labour and the international scope of commerce are but manifestations of these conditions, so the internationalism of the socialist movement simply reflects the development of society at large.

For example: Certain ignorant people in Ireland, (politicians and such like) claim that Ireland should have no concern with matters other than Home Rule, land reform and taxes, and other matters adjustable within the four seas of Erin. To such people I recommend a study of the following cutting from an American capitalist paper.

Then let him remember that one of the chief industries in Ireland today is the rearing and exportation of cattle for the English market, and that tens of thousands of people are dependent upon that for a livelihood.

The American Beef Trust has taken an important step toward securing complete control of the London refrigerated meat trade. A powerful shipping combination backed by the Beef Trust has been organised here to provide fast steamships to bring refrigerated meat from Argentina carrying only beef controlled by the trust, which hopes to freeze out all independent shippers from Argentina.

Regular weekly service between London and the Plate river will be maintained, for which nine fifteen-knot steamships are to be built.

Owing to the decrease in supplies from the United States, England is becoming daily more dependent on Argentina for her meat supply. The Plate river trade has been controlled hitherto by two independent firms, both English and South American.

In the past few years the trust has been endeavouring to get a foothold in Argentina and has absorbed two important firms here.

The recent enormous issue of new capital by the Chicago ‘big Four’ is designed to be used to capture the Argentina trade. The trust has enormous holdings here already, owning a large number of stalls in Smithfield market, and some hundreds of shops in different parts of the country.

Now, just as a lesson in economics, figure out how far-reaching will be the effect of that deal when it is completed. It means that there is a capitalist concern in Chicago which has hundreds of stores or shops in Great Britain, large number of stalls in Smithfield market, London, great refrigerators and enormous castles ranges in the Argentine Republic, and will have a complete service of steamships plying between Europe and America solely for its own use. It employs thousands of workers in England, in the United States and South America, it operates under the flags of three independent nations, a monarchy and two republics; and in all three countries it builds up its trade by underselling and ruining the small merchant.

Now turn to its effect upon Ireland. I have already spoken of the tens of thousands of people who in Ireland are dependent upon the cattle trade. This living is menaced by the competition of the Beef Trust, and nothing within the purview of Irish politicians can save them.

There is another angle from which this situation can be approached. For some time in Ireland there has been an agitation against the huge grazing farms. It has been felt – and rightly – that the land so given up to cattle would be better occupied by human beings. That it were better to see thriving men and women and children, and happy homes than to see sheep and cows.

But sheep and cows paid better than men and women, and hence despite the unpopularity of the grazier he stayed and waxed fat and prosperous, and the Irish men and women came to America, some to spread the Catholic faith, and more to fester and rot in the slums, to populate the brothels and the jails, or to die overworked and miserable among strangers. As long as cattle raising pays better than raising Christian men and women it will flourish in Ireland as elsewhere.

Now comes along the Beef Trust with its elaborately organised machinery of competition to bring the product of Argentine Republic to compete with the grazing farms of Meath and Kildare, and I make the prophecy that if this trust succeeds in its designs cattle raising in Ireland will be unprofitable. And if it becomes unprofitable to raise cattle for the London market then the Irish grazier and his landlord will become convinced of the error of their ways, and the farms will be let for tillage purposes to the people now clamouring in vain for their possession.

Is it not calculated to provide thought, even in a politician, that the chances of some Irish peasants getting farms in Ireland depend upon the success of the Beef Trust in conquering the markets of the Argentine Republic?

In like manner the question of whether Irish peasants are paying too much or too little for their farms under the new Land Acts does not depend upon the quality of their lands so much as it depends upon agricultural prices, and agricultural prices depend upon the development of transatlantic steam service bringing the product of the mammoth farms of the United States and South America to Europe. Every Lusitania which shortens the distance between Europe and America hastens the doom of the petty farmers of Ireland under the capitalist system. But to study those things savours of internationalism, and internationalism, according to the amadán politicians, is “so un-Irish.”


Last updated on 30.7.2007