James Connolly




The Worker, 16 January 1915.
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.
The notes, which are © 1997 Pluto Press, have not been included.
HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Socialist press of the world continues to make every effort possible to arouse the conscience of the working class against the iniquity of war. Taking advantage of the stand made in the German Reichstag by Dr Liebknecht against the jingo sentiment now aroused in Germany, several French Labour leaders sent articles to a French newspaper, La Bataille Syndicaliste, dealing with the declaration of their German comrade. We quote the translation from the New York Call:–

The first, L. Jouhaux, secretary of the French Federation of Labor (CGT), does so in an article entitled Hope and Comfort! He thinks the declaration comes somewhat late, but, he continues, “it comes at its own time. And if we cannot yet say that the whole of the working class of Germany shares the point of view of heroic Liebknecht, we can at least assert that these words have been the clarion call which bids us hope. We who do not wage a war of conquest, who do not wish the extermination of the German nation, we are also determined that the end of these horrible sufferings shall be the alliance of the peoples.

“That conception of ours is also that of the working class of England, Belgium, Italy, the United States; from one end of the world to the other it represents the hope of the working class, because it is the only basis for a lasting peace, and can assure the uninterrupted development of democracy on the globe ... Liebknecht, you have been our comforter, we shall be your supporters,” Jouhaux concludes his article.

The second French labor leader, who is scarcely less well known than Jouhaux, is A. Merrheim, the secretary of the important French Metal Workers’ Union. Merrheim has been very reticent during the war. He and his friend Lenoir have not found themselves in agreement with the general sentiment prevailing at present in the French labor movement, where nationalism – to use no worse term – is very rampant, as it is indeed in the whole of Europe. Merrheim explains that for the second time he will break his self-imposed silence. His article has the heading, For the International Entirely and Before Everything. About Liebknecht Merrheim writes:

“And I doubly applaud the courageous declaration of Karl Liebknecht supporting the view which I, together with my friend Lenoir, have never ceased to affirm wherever it was possible for me to do so since the beginning of the war. And I repeat here that of which I am profoundly convinced, viz., that this war will not mean the end of militarism, which is, on the contrary, as necessary to capitalism as the sea is indispensable to men-of-war and trading vessels.

“The present war will not kill, will not abolish, capitalism; that is incontestable. And, with Karl Liebknecht, I cry with all the power of my conscience and conviction to the French workers:

“Only the peace which has germinated in the soil of the international solidarity of the laboring class can be a lasting peace. It is for this reason that it is the duty of the proletariat of all countries to continue also in this war mutual socialistic labor in behalf of peace. It has been an imperishable honor for the CGT (French Federation of Labor) to have affirmed it clearly and loudly with Karl Liebknecht.”

From America, along with the demand of the American Socialists, which we publish in another column, we gladly reprint the following quotation from the Leader of Milwaukee as typical of the efforts to arouse the peoples to the fact that this war, like all such wars, is, in the striking American phrase –

A Rich Man’s War, but a Poor Man’s Fight

Occasionally the horror of the present is lifted from the mind long enough to glimpse the greater horror of the future. At first there seems to be nothing but horror heaped upon horror in the vision.

Financiers and professional statisticians have made many guesses as to the public debt that the war will leave behind. Most of these guesses fall close to $50,000,000,000 as the load that will be piled up at the end of the first year. This will be added to a debt that was already commonly designated as crushing.

This debt, if present property relations continue, will erect an idle bond-holding plutocracy to which the remainder of the earth will be bound in perpetual servitude. The interest on such a debt at 5 per cent, and none of these nations will borrow for less, rises to the incomprehensible sum of $2,500,000,000 annually. These bonds will bind the entire laboring population of the nations involved to a small capitalist class with fetters of gold stronger than ever held the serf to his master.

The remnants of the miserable wretches that are freezing in the trenches in Flanders, along the Aisne, in East Prussia, Poland, and a hundred corners of the four continents where mechanical mayhem is being practised on a wholesale scale will crawl back to their homes to find themselves bound out for life and the lives of their descendants to the class of money lenders who send dollars instead of bodies to the front.

Bearing the stupendous weight of this monstrous debt upon their mangled bodies, these poor devils will be required to drag wealth from a land shattered back almost to savagery by the explosions of military blood lust.

All this sounds impossible. The one hope of the race is that it will be made impossible. The one bright spot in this black vision is the strong probability that the hypnotism of patriotism may be shocked away in the clash of battle, and that, when the warriors once more become workers, they will have retained their intelligence to such an extent that they will war upon their real enemies, the capitalists, the money lenders who are now seeking to fasten themselves leech-like to the class that must furnish the great mass of the fighters and all of the producers of wealth.

This war is teaching some big lessons as to the ease with which property relations can be changed when they conflict with the interests of rulers. The ruled are certain to learn some of these lessons, and the first of these should be that public debts can be repudiated when they become instruments to the enslavement of half the world.

Dr Liebknecht himself writes upon the subject in last week’s Labour Leader:–

As a German Socialist I am pleased to be able to write a message of brotherhood to British Socialists at a time when the ruling classes of Germany and Britain are trying by all means in their power to incite bloodthirsty hatred between the two peoples. But it is painful for me to write these lines at a time when our radiant hope of previous days, the Socialist International, lies smashed on the ground with a thousand expectations, when even many Socialists in the belligerent countries – for Germany is not an exception – have in this most rapacious of all wars of robbery willingly put on the yoke of the chariot of Imperialism just when the evils of capitalism were becoming more apparent than ever. I am, however, particularly proud to send my greetings to you, to the British Independent Labour Party, who, with our Russian and Servian comrades, have saved the honour of Socialism amidst the madness of national slaughter.

Confusion reigns amongst the rank and file of the Socialist army, and many blame Socialist principles for our present failure. It is not our principles which have failed, however, but the representatives of those principles. It is not a question of changing our principles; it is a question of applying them to life, of carrying them into action.

All the phrases of ‘national defence’ and ‘the liberation of the people’ with which Imperialism decorates its instruments of murder are but deceiving tinsel. Each Socialist Party has its enemy, the common enemy of the International, in its own country. There it has to fight it. The liberation of each nation must be its own work. ...

Only in the co-operation of the working masses of all countries, in times of war as in times of peace, does the salvation of humanity lie. Nowhere have the masses desired this war. Nowhere do they desire it. Why should they, then, with a loathing for war in their hearts, murder each other to the finish? It would be a sign of weakness, it is said, for any one people to suggest peace; well, let all the peoples suggest it together. The nation which speaks first will not show weakness but strength. It will win the glory and gratitude of posterity.

The Labour Leader, we may say, has covered itself with imperishable glory owing to the stand it has taken against the war. It should never be forgotten also that to take such a attitude in England requires more insight and moral courage than in Ireland. All the national history and traditions of this country move influences against our participation in this war on England’s side. To those Irish men and women who opposed the war, the act was thus easier, and required less clearness of vision than was required from the English workers who refused to bow before the war god erected for their worship by the jingo press and the secret diplomacy of their country. It was hard for them as it was easy for us. We know, of course, that military rule and Government persecutions will get a freer hand in Ireland than in England, that jailing, and deportations from certain districts, will occur more frequently here than there; that stealing printing machinery in Ireland will not cause so much trouble to the Government as it would in England. But that does not alter our argument. Irish people, as a rule, would rather a thousand times face the worst a Government can do than face an adverse Irish public opinion. Therefore, we can the better appreciate what the English opponents of the war have had to face.

On the same subject, the following letter appeared last week in the columns of our Glasgow contemporary, Forward:–

(To the Editor of Forward.)

Dear Sir,

It is questionable whether any appreciation of the good work done by Forward since this war began would be helpful to Forward if that appreciation comes from one who, like myself, had the misfortune to edit the only paper in the United Kingdom to suffer an invasion of a military party with fixed bayonets, and to have the essential parts of its printing machine stolen in defence of freedom and civilisation! But as the Editor of Forward has declared that the action of Jim Larkin in New York makes it impossible to arouse feelings against the forcible suppression of the Irish Worker in Ireland, it becomes at least probable that Forward, after that disclaimer, will not suffer even if I do write a word or two in its praise.

I wish I could express myself freely in this matter. If I could I would tell how proud I was to have been associated ever so slightly with the little paper that held so close to the idea of Internationalism when so many who had given that principle lip services had so basely deserted it. The moral and physical courage required to take up and maintain such a position is, in my humble opinion, a hundredfold grander than anything on exhibition in the trenches from end to end of the far-flung battle line of the warring nations.


Yours fraternally,


Last updated on 28.9.2007