The Ballot or the Barricades
From Irish Worker, October 24, 1914.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Towards the close of last week the British Government flew a kite in Ireland. Flying a kite when practiced by a Government means getting some person or paper to issue a statement that the Government contemplates taking certain action. If the announcement arouses no hostility of a serious nature the action is forthwith taken. If, on the contrary, the announcement is met with a storm of hostility the Government declares it did not authorise and does not contemplate any such action as was announced, and that it regrets that any such statement should have been made by unauthorised persons. Having flown its kite to learn how the wind blows, the Government then proceeds to do a little more spade work to prepare the ground better for taking the action it has just declared it does not intend to take.
The kite flown last week was the announcement that the Militia Ballot Act was to be enforced in Ireland. As it evoked hostility the Government proceeded to officially repudiate it. The ground was not well prepared, the game was too shy. But nevertheless the iniquitous proposal is only temporarily abandoned. In some form or another conscription is inevitable.
The only thing that can avert conscription is the speedy collapse of the German army – a thing as remote as the conversion of England’s rulers to Christian principles. Already a responsible authority, Sir Thomas Barclay, has declared that England will, before the close of the war, have two million men with the colours, an army impossible without conscription. In addition to this we have the fact that the slaughter at the front is almost inconceivable. A great surgeon, Dr. Haden Guest, says, that at present the military sick and wounded in France number half a million. Thus the gaps in the firing line require the presence of a continually increasing army of support to fill them. Where and how are all those soldiers to be got, if not by and through some form of conscription?
The truth about the Germany army is that its position becomes more secure every day. At the beginning of the war the Allies joyfully declared that time was on their side, that every day gained was equal to the winning of a battle, that the Allies could afford to wait and the Germans could not. It is now beginning to penetrate the heads of the military experts of Fleet Street that the boot is on the other leg. The Russians were the great hope of England. Unless the Russians can achieve victory before the closing in of the terrible Russian winter that hope is gone. It will be impossible to maintain in the field the enormous masses of Russian troops, to provision them, to keep them supplied with munitions of war, to handle all the elaborate, cumbrous but necessary machinery of transport and commissariat, whilst the snow king has his grip upon Russian railroads and rivers. Add to this the terrible cost of the maintenance of such an army as Russia requires to face the Germans – the most uneducated nation in Europe to face the most educated, and we see at once that England cannot hope to see Russia win the war for her. She must produce the men herself. Russia is bankrupt. The Czar was only able to crush the Russian Revolution because of the loans from France and England. Now these countries need all their moneys for their own salvation.
Thus on the side of Germany there are fighting the influences of time and of money, of superior equipment, and of wise provision for the future.
Therefore the Militia Ballot Act or some form of conscription will come. Are we, like our rulers, to await the evil day, and then ‘muddle through’ with ineffective protests? Or are we to make provision beforehand for the fight that will be necessary?
We of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union, we of the Citizen Army, have our answer ready. We will resist the Militia Ballot Act, or any form of conscription, and we begin now to prepare our resistance. Upon the Volunteers we urge similar resolves, similar preparations.
Understand what this means. It means a complete overhauling and remodelling of all the training and instruction hitherto given to those corps. It means that the corps shall be taught how to act and fight when acting against an enemy equipped with superior weapons, instead of all teaching being based upon the ideas of British military text books which always presume an equality of weapons, or even a superiority upon the British side. It means that much that has been taught will be worse than useless if acted upon, as such teaching presupposed that the corps receiving instructions were to form part of a regular army in the field, an army properly supported and reinforced by complete arms of the service. The resistance to the Militia Ballot Act must of necessity take the form of insurrectionary warfare, if the resisters are determined to fight in Ireland for Ireland instead of on the Continent for England. Such insurrectionary warfare would be conducted upon lines and under conditions for which text books made no provision.
In short, it means barricades in the streets, guerrilla warfare in the country.
To all who are prepared to face that ordeal rather than shed their blood for the tyrant and exploiter we appeal to join our Citizen Army. We propose to make that force the best equipped mentally in Ireland. We want no parade ground soldiers. We want young men prepared to die for Freedom in Ireland. If the Government proposes to force us to fight against our consciences and our desire we propose to challenge it upon its own ground; and if it wants us it must take us by force.
From this date greater decision and promptitude in action will be enforced in our army though even now it is an example to follow. All those who fell away because we had not rifles enough are requested to enrol at once and take a course in the preliminary training in the new course of instruction on the lines we have indicated.
The rifles will come all right. And there are other modern weapons of warfare.
The Citizen Army Offices at Liberty Hall, Aungier Street, Inchicore, Thomas Street, and elsewhere are open every night for enrolment. We want a new muster of men prepared to face the worst and to take the best if taken it can be.
Last updated on 14.8.2003