James Connolly


Socialist Symposium on Internationalism,
and Some Other Things


From Forward, 1st July 1911.

This is a symposium of Socialist ideas upon Nationalism and Internationalism! It is made necessary because of the crude and ill-digested ideas upon the subject, which, in certain quarters, pass muster for Socialist thought – ideas which by reason of their crude and ill-digested character have done, and are doing, infinite harm to the Socialist cause.

In passing, however, let me remind the reader that in this controversy Comrade Walker and Comrade Connolly are but representatives of two opposite policies, that as persons they are of interest to nobody, and that, therefore, any criticism of the past or present policy of either cannot be construed as a personal attack. When a Socialist whose policy has been exposed in all its baneful consequences begins to cry out about ‘personal abuse’ the most charitable thing we can do is to pass his whine over with the contempt it deserves, and stick to the subject in hand.

All that unctuous self-glorification and holier-than-thou attitudinising about his work for the “poor consumptive, the workhouse child, and the Trades Union member,” “the textile workers, the dockers, and the carters, the sweated and the oppressed,” and “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,” all that is valuable as a study in the psychology of Comrade Walker, and, as an indication that the Pharisaical spirit of the ‘unco guid’ and ‘rigidly righteous,’ still walks abroad amongst us, but as a real contribution to the questions in dispute, like the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la, they have nothing to do with the case. Comrade Walker knows that upon the side opposed to him there are as hard and unselfish workers for our class as he ever knew how to be, even although they do not write to Forward to call attention to their unobtrusive (?) self-sacrifice, as he has done to his.

Nor yet is there any question of making or asking the Labour Party to ‘expel’ Comrade Walker, as he pretends to assume I desire. I do not care three cents whether they expel him or make him chairman. If the Labour Party wish to send their electoral ship to sea loaded with such a heavy freight as the reactionary opinions of Comrade Walker, that is their business, not mine. But it is my business to know if in the struggles of the militant Irish workers to found a political party of their class upon independent Labour lines they have to regard the Labour Party in England as a helpful elder brother or as a deadly rival. That is the question.

We, of the Socialist Party of Ireland, now, as in the past, hold it to be our duty to assist and foster every tendency of organised Labour in Ireland to found a Labour Party capable of fighting the capitalist parties of Ireland upon their own soil. Comrade Walker and his followers insist that every such tendency is to be fought to the death, that in its upward march the idea of a Labour Party in Ireland must fight its way against the combined hosts of Orangeism, Redmondism, and I.L.P.’ism. That the Labour Party of England is the enemy of every attempt to found a similar party in Ireland. I refuse to believe him. I hold that his policy in Ireland is the very reverse of all that the I.L.P. stands for in Great Britain.

At the Irish Trade Union Congress, held in Galway, on Whit Tuesday, a motion to establish a Labour Party in Ireland was defeated by an amendment moved by Comrade Walker to the effect that the way to secure Independent Labour Representation was to affiliate with the Labour Party in England. If he had moved an amendment leaving it optional upon the Trade Unions to choose which Labour Party they should join no one could find fault, but no such option was left. His motto was: “Either affiliate with England, or we will squelch you.” His amendment was carried by 32 votes to 29. The unborn Labour Party of Ireland was strangled in the womb by the hands of I.L.P.ers. The 29 votes for the motion represented all the militant forces of the more progressive Trade Unions of Ireland, forces anxious for a battle on behalf of Labour against the political forces of Irish Capitalism; the 32 votes for Walker’s amendment represented the forces of reaction anxious at all costs to save the present political parties from the danger inherent in a proposal to give the political forces of Labour an Irish home and Irish basis of operations.

Had the motion been carried, next General Election would have seen some seats in Ireland fought by Labour against all comers. The motion was defeated by an unholy alliance, and reaction in Ireland breathes freely once more. By dishonesty – and I use the word deliberately ’ suppressing the latter half of my sentence, Comrade Walker says I pay him an unconscious tribute when I accuse him “of joining with the bigoted Orangemen and the equally bigoted followers of Mr. Redmond,” and he says “I am proud that I have been with others an humble instrument to draw on a common platform the bigoted sections of both armies.”

Now add the part of my sentence he has suppressed – “To stifle the aspirations of the more militant section of the Irish working class to have a party of its own, to fight its battles against the common enemy.” That, dear reader, is what Mr. Walker is proud of. What do you think?

I do not propose to discuss the municipal achievements of Belfast. They are small compared with those of Birmingham, and I have yet to hear of the Birmingham I.L.P. claiming that the municipal enterprise of the Birmingham Conservative City Council makes the Birmingham I.L.P. infallible guides on questions of national policy, as Comrade Walker seems to claim that the enterprise of the Belfast Conservative City fathers endows with political wisdom the Belfast followers of William Walker. I do not ‘dare to challenge’ his statements about municipal activities in Belfast, because they have nothing to do with the question, and were only brought in by friend William in the faint hope of diverting attention from the point at issue.

As every reader of Forward knows, I have denounced the civic rottenness of Nationalist Ireland in general, and Dublin in particular, in words infinitely more scathing than anything I have said about Belfast. As to Lord Charlemont, even the merest dabbler in Irish history knows that he was an aristocrat of the aristocrats, neither politically, socially, nor yet sympathetically “of the Protestant Democracy,” all my opponent’s wriggling notwithstanding.

Then our Comrade Walker, slipping presumably by inadvertence, into the real questions, asks – “What do you want an Irish Labour Party for? Will Ireland more readily respond to it than to the British Labour Party?”

Well, we want an Irish Labour Party because the Irish Trade Unions have not, as a whole, affiliated with the British Labour Party. Has any Trades Council outside of Belfast affiliated with it in actual practice? Where is there a branch of the Labour Party, or a Labour Representation Committee affiliated with England, south of Belfast? The vast mass of the Trade Unionists of Ireland look upon the Labour Party as essentially British, and even when they are members of an amalgamated Union nationally affiliated to that Party, they in Ireland refuse to take steps to embody that theoretical affiliation in actual Irish Practice. We want an Irish Labour and Socialist movement because we believe, in the spirit of the founder of the Internationalism of the Socialist movement, Karl Marx, whose words in favour of Irish independence I quoted in a former letter, that no nation is good enough or wise enough to be able to rule another nation. We want an Irish Labour and Socialist movement because we believe in the words of the declaration of principles of the Irish Socialist Party of 1896:

“That the subjugation of one nation to another, as of Ireland to England, is a barrier to the free, political, and economic development of the subjected nations, and can only serve the interests of the exploiting classes of both nations.”

And we want such an Irish movement because it is in harmony with the spirit and philosophy of International Socialism.

Permit me to quote to you some International testimony. I take, first, the testimony of that brilliant Socialist orator and publicist, Gabriel Deville, the veteran pioneer of Socialist Internationalism. The quotation is from a speech delivered in Paris, in November, 1893, and regarded as such a valuable statement of the Socialist position that it has been printed and published in book form in both France and America. Read:

“Just as the idea of revolution is identified with the ideas of murder and destruction, in the same way the Internationalism of the workers is identified with anti-patriotism. There is in the latter case as in the former, a fundamental error, and it remains for me to show that theoretically and practically the identification of the Internationalism of Labour with anti-patriotism is unjustifiable. And to begin with, he who says Internationalism says Internationalism, and does not say anti-nationalism; consequently, you see at once that no one ought – either to approve or condemn it – to use the word, Internationalism, to express what it does not mean and what other words do mean. Instead of allowing ourselves to be led astray by our various fantastic notions, let us here, as elsewhere, examine the facts, and see what conclusions they impose upon us. Socialism flows from the facts, it follows them and does not precede them ... Now the facts shew us two things: on the one hand, the existence of countries (fatherlands); on the other, the existence, in every social stratum, of an international solidarity. It is with countries as with classes; some deny the existence of the former, others of the latter. Now, in reason, it is no more possible to deny the existence of the country (fatherland) than the existence of classes in that country. It is all right to look forward to the day when national patriotism shall be swallowed up in world-wide brotherhood, but while waiting for the facts to turn where classes shall vanish in human solidarity, but while waiting for the facts to turn this noble ideal into a reality, we must – in both cases – adapt ourselves to the facts as they actually are at present. To wish to suppress them (classes and nationalities) does not suppress them, to protest against their existence does not at all prevent them from existing, and so long as countries and classes exist it will be necessary for us, not to deny their existencc in declarations, but to adapt our tactics to the facts which are the consequences of their existence. Just as the feeling of national solidarity is added to the feeling of family solidarity, without destroying the latter, in the same way the relatively new sentiment of international solidarity is added to the former, which is still retained. A new sentiment springing from a new situation does not annihilate the older sentiments and emotions as long as the conditions that gave them birth continue to exist, and families and nations are still in existence.

“To safeguard the little independence left to them as labourers, the workers have been led by the state of affairs, by actual conditions, as were the business men before them, to be Internationalists; but they are patriots, and must be patriots only, whenever their country is menaced by danger from abroad. I hope you now see that the Internationalism of the workers and the Socialists cannot, by any possibility lead to anti-patriotism.”

So far, Deville. Now hear the eloquent Jaurès, the peerless orator of the International movement. He is speaking at Limoges, in 1905, about the separation of Norway from Sweden. Bear in mind that this is no mere question of a Home Rule Parliament, but of actual separation. Norway had a Home Rule Parliament, but was not satisfied, and declared for absolute independence. Jaurès says:

“Norway, conquered nearly a century ago by Sweden, and seeking ever since, at intervals, but with increasing vigour to recover its autonomy, has at last proclaimed its national independence. It has broken the link which for nearly a hundred years has bound it to Sweden. And there have been in Sweden certain of the Conservative governing class proud and obstinate, who, for a time, have dreamt of resorting to war to compel Norway to submit in spite of herself to the Swedish Union. If this war of the Swedish bourgeoisie had broken out, in spite of the Norwegian Socialists, in spite of the Swedish Socialists, it is very clear that the Norwegian Socialists who, beforehand, had by their votes, by their suffrages, affirmed the independence of Norway, would have defended it even by force against the assaults of the Swedish oligarchy ... But at the same time that the Socialists of Norway would have been right in defending their national independence, it would have been the right and duty of the Swedish Socialists to oppose, even by the proclamation of a general strike, any attempt at violence, at conquest, and annexation, made by the Swedish bourgeoisie.”

Thus Jaurès affirms, in the name of International Socialism, that the Socialists of a subject nation were and are not only in the right in voting for the national independence of their country, but in defending it with their lives if need be. And what he says has at all times been acted upon by Socialist thinkers before and since.

Keir Hardie was battling for Irish Home Rule when the Liberal Government was filling Irish jails with unconvicted Irish men and women. Bruce Glasier was a member of the Irish Land League in Glasgow at the same stormy time. H.M. Hyndman sat upon the National Executive of Great Britain of the Irish Land League; Edward Aveling, brilliant expositor of Socialist science, was the first man outside Ireland to formally join the Irish Socialist Republican Party; his wife, Eleanor Marx Aveling, daughter of Karl Marx, in her History of the Working Class Movement in England, says sympathetically of our national struggle:

“It is certain that the hope of ‘Ireland a Nation’ lies not in her middle-class O’Connells, but in her generous, devoted, heroic working men and women!”

And within a month of its formation in 1896, she wrote to the Dublin organisation offering us whatever help it was in her power to give. Comrade Leatham, now editing the Huddersfield Worker, in his pamphlet, What is the good of Empire?, has some pertinent things to say of the desire for national independence, that sufficiently in dictates where he stands on such a question. The whole Socialist Press of the world cheered on the Cubans in their rebellion against Spain, and the Filipinos in their insurrection against the United States; in fact, in all the world there is not to be found such an extraordinarily perverted conception of Socialism as that fathered by Comrade William Walker. It is, I repeat, a brand of mere parochialism, which seeks to hide its true essence by flaunting the International banner, but when examined in the light of its acts, we find that the banner under which it seeks to rally us is not the sacred banner of true International ism, but is instead the shamefaced flag of a bastard Imperialism!

“The working-class International,” says Jaurès, “which is the free combination of all the national organisations of the universal proletariat, each using in the common struggle the means of action given to it by the nationalist constitution and the national traditions, this working class cannot solve the international problem by the suppression or by the isolation of any nation.”

So says Jaures, so says the Socialist world, so, as a humble member of the great international family of Socialists, says the Socialist Party of Ireland.

Who are we, what are our members?

We will answer that to any authorised official of the I.L.P. who writes to ask such information, with a view to the proposed joint convention.

Let us cast off all sectionalism, all parochialism, and sit down as brothers and sisters together in an earnest effort to find a common basis of agreement for actions on a national scale against the capitalist enemy within our shores.

Given the formation of a United Socialist Party in Ireland, and, guided and helped by such a Party, a Labour Party on Irish soil, controlled from within Ireland, thus the necessary and inevitable incidents of the electoral struggles of such a Party against the Irish political capitalist parties will teach Socialism and Internationalism to the Irish workers better than a million speeches.


Last updated on 12.8.2003