James Connolly


Notes on the Front


Workers’ Republic, 19 February 1916.
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.


We wonder how many men have been led into the British Army by the lust for adventure. It seems to us that they must form no very inconsiderable proportion of the whole.

It is natural that the young should thirst for adventure; we would not think very highly of a boy who did not lust after excitement, or be eager to do deeds the smug respectable property-respecting world would deem unlawful.

If he was our boy we might possibly spank him for doing such things, but even whilst the spanking process was in full swing we would be secretly proud that the boy – our boy – had enough of the adventurous spirit in him to override conventional restraints.

It is the spirit of adventure that has carried the world upward from savagery and ignorance into civilisation and knowledge. It is the spirit of adventure that discovered new continents, opened up ways over trackless waters, mapped and charted snow-covered mountains and pathless forests, and linked together territories and peoples seemingly destined by nature to be isolated and alien.

It is the spirit of adventure that drove men to harness the elements to the service of mankind, to utilise steam and electricity, and all the wonderful secrets of nature that the powers of man may be strengthened by the natural forces of the world.

Beneficent has been the spirit of adventure in man, and destructive also.

It is the spirit of adventure in man that enabled the tyrants of the world in all ages to secure the services of the stronger and healthier and least thoughtful of the race to be armed bullies over and slayers of their more peaceful or more freedom-loving fellows.

Given a state of hard and soulless bondage to labour, a round of grinding, miserably-paid toil, with no outlook save in the direction of more labour, and more toil as miserably paid, and who can wonder if the spirit revolts at times, and sets the feet of the labourer straying on the path of adventure that the life of a soldier in war time seems to open.

How often do we meet in life the tale of a labourer who has served an employer, or a public board for 20, 30, or 40 years, and found at last that his faithful service had earned him no security in his old age. Must not the thought sometimes come to the younger generation who read such a story that it would be better for them to ‘break loose’ occasionally, rather than be such perfect machines for others to exploit, and then throw in the rubbish heap.

Or even when peace in old age, and comfort, awaits these patient plodders in industrial harness can high-spirited people help speculating upon the question whether that life is really worth living. Thirty years, forty years, in one job! Think of it. For thirty, forty years, to have no variety, see no new faces, break no new territory, adventure into no undiscovered grounds. For thirty, forty years, to be able to forecast a year ahead just what you would do on such and such a date. That you will get out of bed at such an hour, breakfast at such an hour, cease work at a definite moment, and so on from day to day, month to month, year to year, without a change until all the sap and vigour of life had gone out of you. And all in the hope that when you were grown too old to be useful you might be fed and sheltered, like a favourite dog, until you died.

“When we reach to a certain age,” says a French cynic, “we think we have abandoned our vices, when in reality it is our vices that have abandoned us.”

The patient industrial plodder is a man who plods away in harness in the hope that he will have a good time when he is old, only to discover that when he is old he becomes incapable of enjoying a good time.

What wonder then that the tacit rebellion against such a fearful, drab existence – that rebellion which no man can permanently silence in his bosom – what wonder that sometimes that rebellion surges up triumphantly, and carries off the plodding slave into the adventurous path.

Ordinarily the means of escape into the alluring paths of adventure are awanting, and the slave plods on, and before the opportunity comes the adventurous surge within him has subsided. But the beating of the drums of war, the insistent call of the bugles to battle, continued for weeks and months, and aided by all the resources of a powerful and astute government anxious to dominate the imagination of its subjects, provides eventually for all such men the opportunity for escape and keeps it open long enough to catch the fancy at the proper moment.

The spirit of adventure then must be reckoned with among the many factors that help to drive men into the profession of hired assassins – as soldiering for pay has been well and fitly termed.

But it also must be counted amongst the forces that make for revolutions. The revolutionists of the past have ever been adventurous spirits, else they would never have been revolutionists. “I perceive,” said Wolfe Tone in his Diary, “that merchants make bad revolutionists.” And, as usual, Tone was right. The spirit of calculation which is the very essence of the spirit of a good merchant is the destruction of a good revolutionist.

For no matter how carefully you plan, how wisely you arrange your course of action, how astutely you have everything thought out, how admirably every contingency is provided against, there is always for the revolutionist the knowledge that a sudden move of the enemy may set all your schemes at naught, and force action along lines never even dreamed of by your wisest heads. In such a contingency the swiftest thought must be instantly followed by the swiftest action – the spirit of adventure then becomes the greatest revolutionary asset.

And just as the spirit of adventure sent hundreds, perhaps thousands, into the British Army, so it would send its thousands, and its tens of thousands, into the revolutionary ranks. Indeed it is safe to say that there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of young Irishmen serving in the British Army to-day, in obedience to the spirit of adventure, who would have served far more gladly in the revolutionary army of Ireland, had they been convinced that such an army was even a possibility of the near future.

Hard it will be in the future to apportion rightly the responsibility, the guilt, of allowing that splendid spirit of adventure in young Irish hearts to be perverted to the purposes of the foreign ruler, instead of being wisely handled for the Cause of Freedom.

The Irish Race is an old race – perhaps the oldest in Europe. But in its individual members the Irish Race is ever young. Amongst no other people do the old so readily sympathise with and share in the hopes, the joys, and the spirit of the young. The Irish Race rises responsive to the call of battle; the beat of the drums seems to set its blood tingling through its veins to feel its feet once more set upon adventurous paths. A thousand times defeated the Irish Race once more pants to challenge its destiny.

And this is the spirit in which we hear the Call to the Great Adventure of our generation.


Last updated on 15.8.2003