James Connolly


A Forward Policy for Volunteers


From Irish Worker October 10, 1914.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.

I wish today to write something about the necessity of a ‘Forward’ policy for the Irish Volunteers and all those who agree with the revolt of that body against the unscrupulous intrigues of the official Home Rule Party. That some Forward policy must be evolved, and when evolved, acted upon with swiftness and determination, must surely be clear to anyone who understands the present situation in Ireland. The Redmondite forces are at work all over the country in an endeavour to recapture their lost prestige, and to demonstrate their ability to deliver the goods to the British Empire in the shape of lusty young Irishmen to swell the ranks of its sorely depleted army. No stone will be left unturned. North, South, East and West the emissaries are already at work spreading insidious lies, retailing unprintable slanders, inventing every hour fresh excuses for, and explanations of, the transformation of Irish MP’s into English recruiting sergeants.

The scriptural injunction to be all things to all men is being interpreted and practiced by these agents of Messrs. Redmond and Devlin in a thousand ways unthought of by the holy writer. To those who really believe that Ireland is irrevocably bound by nature and destiny to the car of the British Empire these agents whisper that every effort must be made to secure an Irish Brigade to serve at the front, that Ireland’s credit as a loyal part of that Empire may be firmly established in the British mind. To those whose loyalty to all the high ideals that Irish Nationalism has hitherto stood for makes service in England’s army seem an act of treason to Ireland, the agents of Messrs. Redmond and Devlin whisper that this appeal for recruits is all a stage play, that the ‘Party’ does not want the Volunteers to enlist, that they only make that call in order not to be outdone by Carson, and that if the Volunteers will only affirm their loyalty to Redmond they are welcome to stay at home as much as they like. No mention is made to these Volunteers of the hundreds of young Irishmen who have taken Messrs. Redmond and Devlin’s appeal for recruits at their face value and offered themselves up for England as these gentlemen advised, nor yet is any attempt made to explain in what manner people can know whether the party politicians are lying in their open professions of loyalty to the Empire, or lying in their secret professions of loyalty to the cause of Irish Nationalism. Lying in either case they must be, and yet this is the chief stock-in-trade of the wirepullers in their endeavour to recapture the Volunteers – and with these double-edged lies upon their lips they stand up and sing with Davis that

“Righteous men must make our land
A Nation Once Again.”

Face to face with such unscrupulous opponents the Volunteers must recognise that their fight is a struggle to the death, that the prize at stake is the soul of a Nation, and that therefore every ounce of energy, every bright coinage of the brain, must be flung at once into the struggle. The Volunteers must realise that against the shamelessly vile methods of the politician there is but one effective weapon – the daring appeal of the Revolutionist.

You cannot fight the devil with brimstone; you cannot beat the politicians at their own game. The secret methods of character assassination, elaborated by hordes of ward politicians and perfected by the foul manipulators of Hibernian lodges, cannot be countered by any mere policy of marking time, nor defeated by any organisation that hesitates to attack in the open the organisations that are everywhere in secret striking at our very life.

Let us be plain-spoken! The United Irish League, the Parliamentary Party, the Board of Erin Hibernians have at the present moment a thousand foul agencies at work to destroy the Volunteers who dared to spoil their attempt to betray Ireland into the grasp of British Imperialism. The hatred of these organisations for the men and women who dared to prefer Ireland to the Empire, who dared to prefer the memories of a glorious past and the hopes of a glorious future to the sordid service of England – that hatred is as deep and as implacable as is ever the hatred of the traitor spoiled of the fruits of his treachery. Here and there in the Volunteer ranks are some who, whilst true to Ireland, are not yet sufficiently convinced of the treachery of their leaders to forsake their old allegiance to them. The presence of such persons will be, and is being used as an argument against the Volunteers taking aggressive action. It is argued that these good men must be converted more fully before the Volunteers can do more than remain on the defensive, else they will be lost. To this it must be answered that in politics as in military affairs the attack is ever the best defence. The Provisional Committee must attack aggressively, resolutely, openly, or they and their followers will be wiped out of existence. Aggressive action will convert the waverers better than a thousand speeches, or a hundred printed proclamations.

Again let me repeat it, let us never forget it: This fight against Redmondism and Devlinism is a fight to save the soul of the Irish Nation.

Volunteers, your policy must be that of the old German Marshal, Blucher – “Forward!” “Forward!” “Forward!”

In what way can that policy best be formulated?

I have neither the ability nor the authority to formulate the fighting policy of the Irish Volunteers, but I would respectfully suggest that there are certain things which the Volunteers might at once initiate a campaign for, with the certainty of winning the adhesion of everyone worth their salt in Ireland.

They might

Pledge the Irish Volunteers to remain in armed service in Ireland for Ireland, and to resist all attempts of any other nation to deprive Ireland of their services,

Pledge the services of their armed forces to Ireland to enforce the repeal of all clauses in the Home Rule Act denying to Ireland powers of self-government now enjoyed by South Africa, Australia or Canada.

These two articles would appeal to all true Irishmen and women as the very minimum of a National programme for a Volunteer force. If the Provisional Committee would adopt some such pledges, and begin to educate and organise public opinion on its side, it would be provided with a basis of attack upon its opponents that would effectually place upon these gentry the onus of defending things morally and politically indefensible.

It would compel them either to defend the recruiting consistently, or to abandon it.

It would compel them to defend all the worst iniquities in the Home Rule Act, or else to join in the attacks upon them.

Such a policy would attract the best elements in the country. But it would need to be carried out vigorously by public agitation, as the Volunteers of 1782 agitated for Free Trade and for the Reform of the Franchise. Merely to indicate the adhesion of the Volunteers to such a pledge will not be enough. It will be necessary everywhere to support and push forward the agitation.

The Volunteers, I will be told, are only a military body, not an agitation. But even the army of an established government requires the support of a public agitation in its campaign, as the English Government well exemplifies at this present moment.

Agitation for a definite object is the best recruiting campaign that the Volunteers can carry on; their pledge to fight for that object will be the guarantee of their success in their fight for the soul of Ireland.



Last updated on 19.8.2007