Socialism and Internationalism:
Forward, 17th June 1911.
Comrade Connolly evidently recognises that his cause is lost, as from argument in his first article he descends to personal abuse in his second, and this is a sure symptom of defeat. But, however tempting his example, I have too much regard for Socialism to follow the path he has unfortunately chosen to tread.
Personal abuse is much too plentiful in our movement, and should not be tolerated; as if we cannot discuss principles without introducing personalities, it were time we had ceased to call ourselves Socialist. In his first article, Comrade Connolly set out to prove certain articles. (a) The need of an Irish Labour Party; (b) the failure of Protestant Democratic Ulster to help the Nationalist movement; and (c) the non-National character of the I.L.P. in Ireland.
From all of these Comrade Connolly keeps as far away as possible in his last article, preferring copious extracts from Karl Marx and a résumé of a Parliamentary experience of mine as matter to review, rather than the propositions he set out to father.
May I assure Comrade Connolly that much though I admire Karl Marx, he is not a deity to me, and I trust I will always preserve the right to exercise my own judgment, and not merely when I am in trouble, turn to Marx to have his ex-Cathedra opinions rammed down my throat: and as to my Parliamentary experience, which is evidently quoted with the object of making an appeal to sectarianism and opening a chapter long closed, may I say that I am willing to take the verdict of the Belfast Catholics themselves upon the question, as I know that they and I have long since reconciled the difference so magnified by our Socialist comrade.
Now, Friend Connolly, you don’t answer my question. Who are the S.P.I., how many of you are there, what have you done, and what are you going to do that the I.L.P. cannot do? These are pertinent to the issue, and I would like an answer.
I have glorified Belfast! – have I? Well, I have only told the truth – which, by the way, friend Connolly doesn’t dare to challenge; and though he may sneer at Belfast, still I am glad to think that I am going to welcome him as a citizen within its borders. Democracy, my friend, has no geography, and when you query Lord Charlemont as a democrat, you query something I never wrote, as I was replying to your charge that “the Protestant Democracy of the North had not contributed to the Irish movement.” And I simply wrote that he was of the Protestant Democracy, a vast difference; which I trust you may now comprehend.
Into a pitfall of errors Comrade Connolly falls when he assumes that I was quoting “the Protestant rebels,” as approving of them. I wasn’t, but I was pointing out that Catholic Ireland had many Protestant leaders in all the great revolutionary movements, and this evidently was information to friend Connolly. But to get to essentials. What do you want an Irish Labour Party for? Will Ireland more readily respond to it than to the British Labour Party? What is your experience? Have you proved that? No; everything that the people of Ireland want can be safeguarded much better under the protection of the United Democracies than if we were isolated. This truth has been reaffirmed at the recent Irish Trade Union Congress, when once again a Congress of Irish representative workmen pledged themselves over to the British Labour Party, recognising therein the elements of protection; but Comrade Connolly, who three weeks ago found me without Nationalism, finds me today full charged with parochialism, and this he declares is why I am not an Internationalist like unto him. Just so. That is just the reason. Whilst frothy talk about “Nationalism forming the basis of Internationales” has been plentiful with some people, some of us in Belfast have been doing something to improve conditions – in the Poor Law Board, in the City Council, and the Trade Union branch. Amongst the textile workers, the sweated and oppressed, the dockers and the carters, we have gone to help to lift them to a better condition of life. Of course this is Parochialism. Well, Friend Connolly, I am proud of my ‘parochial’ reputation. It has meant something to the poor consumptive, to the workhouse child, and the Trade Union member; with this knowledge I am well content to be so labelled. But my ‘parochialism’ is true nationality. I would give each locality (within certain well-defined limits) local autonomy, and thus develop a healthy rivalry in the supply of those amenities to our municipal life, which, alas, in the larger part of Ireland are in the hands of the private speculator. As to my Parliamentary defeat (?) My friend, I don’t feel scandalised a little bit about your being glad. If I mistake not, you were in the land of the Stars and Stripes when we in Belfast were essaying a tilt with the forces of reaction, and may I assure you from a very intimate knowledge of Belfast life, that had you been with us, and canvassing and speaking against me, it wouldn’t have affected one vote beyond your own. Against clericalism I am (and I have said much more about the Protestant than the Catholic clergy); yet there is not a worker in either ranks who doesn’t know that my activities are not self-interested. But that my opinions are honestly if wrongly (?) held, and that not once in all my public career did personal religion in the least influence me.
Now for the tit-bit of the article. Comrade Connolly “is to ask the Labour Party whether in my action I have their support,” and I assume he will make them expel me. Wonderful! This is the tolerant spirit which at its birth the S.P.I. discloses. Those with whom you agree on everything are blessed; otherwise, be ye accursed. My friend, remember the injunction of Ruskin, “To tolerate everything but every other man’s intolerance.” Try first of all to do something for Ireland or a part thereof, in addition to talking, and whilst so doing you will learn a lesson which we of the plodding and non-ornamental party have been taught, viz., that the revival of Ireland and the prosperity of her people lie not in platitudes or vain-glorifying, but in doing that work which, bringing no personal remuneration or glory, yet lifts the veil of poverty and shame a little more from the face of the people.
Try to remember that your opponent may be as honest as yourself, and that in his own way may be working out Ireland’s salvation – and that the best tribute (you unconsciously pay) ever rendered to my humble self lies in the last paragraph but one of your last article, in which you accuse me “of joining with the bigoted Orangemen and the equally bigoted followers of Mr. Redmond.” I am proud that I have been with others an humble instrument to draw on to a common platform the bigoted sections of both armies. It is a matter for sincere congratulation. That this spirit may flourish like the green bay tree is the earnest wish of yours truly.
Last updated on 12.8.2003